Saturday, April 24, 2010

Trip the Light Fantastic

So now that I'm engaged I think about marriage, but it just seems surreal and nebulous, more of an abstraction than an event. But a wedding, why, a wedding is corporal, sensual! All of my senses are on high alert. Ideas flutter about and I tuck them into my pocket, to see how they fit, how they feel:

Wildflowers gathered in mason jars, my mother's faded cream wedding dress from 1972 (a 'union made' tag stitched inside), exchanging vows outside in September sunlight on waxy-fresh grass.

After the school-yard ceremony, a parade down Humboldt Street, noisemakers and trumpet and hand drums, announcing our love to the neighbors. My dear friends, the ones I see often and hardly, parents and siblings, his family not quite mine yet, a couple of our sweetest students, with bare feet and pimples.

A party at our home, swept clean, doors open, and simply decorated with candles and pink satin ribbons blowing in the warm Santa Ana winds.

I can practically taste the blackberry vanilla cream cake and almond champagne. See the twinkling lights as dusk bruises the sky. Hear Dr. Hook croon Years from now, I want you years from now during our first wedded dance. 'Trip the light fantastic' is how M described dancing on a long ago afternoon, our romance just beginning to blossom.

Friday, April 16, 2010


Three cheers for animated cartoonist Mark Fiore who just won a Pulitzer Prize!

Check out his politically raucous biting commentary that will leave you laughing and thinking, provoked and charmed, at

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Spring Break

Spring break is over, but thanks to the power of teaching, I am reliving it again and again, through words, some randomly picked by the kids, some my own. In English class we each write a scene from our break, incorporating words we've brainstormed in categories like river, fruit, city, occupation, month. Here are some scenes from the glorious past week that I want to keep alive.

On spring break we drive all over, dipping and climbing into valleys, M (my fiance) at the wheel and me cracking open peanut shells, scattering papery skins everywhere. My hair is desert-straight, not a hint of moisture in the air. Instead of a campfire, we walk around the campground at night, the familiar faces of Orion and The Seven Sisters burning me up. The stars shine extra bright with the big bully moon not rising until deep into the night.

I wake up warm and thirsty, tasting metal on my breath. The desert is full of metal---silver, gold, iron, all packed tightly beneath the surface of the earth like tuna squished in a can. At least this isn't the wet heat of August in Jakarta, a heat that breathes hot and heavy in your face like a nasty drunk date. No, this heat is a fresh kiwi clean---I wash my feet at the spigot and rinse the crust from my eyes. A spring flows through the campground. It is our sacred Ganges, and we chase it up into the ash-colored hills, cracking beneath our feet. All along the spring, tufts of green life scream water! water! until I can't take it and I ease myself down into the magical liquid. The wildflowers are the mailmen of this valley, bearing the news of winter's rain, in spring's fine lettering.

The car becomes home, each valuable item pressed into its special place. Daily round-ups of trash and debris keep it tidy. The McCafe cup, from M's to-go coffee on the way out of town, becomes our impromptu trash receptacle for the week. We empty it when it gets full. I am so content to have such a slim sphere to live in; the dashboard is my shelf and table, sometimes foot rest. In the passenger seat I can nap, read, write, dance, listen.

We drive like bandits, with a burning purpose, to get to the new place. M grows silent while I gulp down the last of Stephen King's "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon." It is late morning on Easter Sunday, fresh hard-boiled eggs in our stomachs, wind kicking sand outside. I don't realize that M is waiting for me to cry, as he knows I will, at the ending. He strokes my hair tenderly and I know that he cried, too. You will too when you read it.

We bathe only twice during our week on the road. Once after the desert, the dry crevices of my body like the parched valley floor nourished by the Texas springs. I use orange ginger conditioner that I can smell on my hair all evening, as M and I stroll the Santa Monica boardwalk and the beach, suddenly thronged by people. The city of Los Angeles startles the soft desert peace inside of me. We watch the sun set over Malibu and the ocean.

I get to see my brother in LA. It's been two and a half years. Then he was skinny, barking from a hollow shell. Now he looks, for the first time ever, like a man. Weight has aged his face, sobriety has calmed him. We eat at The Village Idiot. Our waitress says things like 'what are we drinking?!' and 'it has a citrus undertone, a ceviche kind of resonance.'

We walk, browse stores, and drink iced tea at Starbucks. He shows me face-book profiles on his blackberry and we crack up at all the people we know. When we are not laughing, we are silent. I think about Badwater, the lowest point in all of the Western Hemisphere. M and I walked all over the salt flats there. I think of my brother down in Badwater just now, heart sunken under grief and regret, and I think, too, that this is his chance to crouch low. From the bowl of Death Valley you are surrounded by mountains, including the highest, Mt. Whitney. It takes the valley to see the peaks. I burst out crying as soon as we leave his house and in the hot-tub later that night I feel weightless and free and wiped out.

Leaving L.A. there is the sound of a helicopter hovering above our car as it zips down the final descent of the Grapevine. M slows down and the whine grows louder. Then the car rattles and shakes and I breathe hard and M says, Yep, it's the tire, it's the tire! He coasts off at the exit ramp, the Escort sliding to a stop just in time for us to watch the tire tread roll past the window, smoking, until it finally collapses like a giant spent centipede. It takes us a few hours to get a new tire, all of it happening in too-good-to-waste sunshine, but at least I get to post a blog from the tire shop. We camp that night under gray skies, and in the morning it looks like rain and home and I am not ready.

We thrift shop on the way home, finding treasures in San Juan Batista and San Francisco--- drinking glasses with gold flowers, an oil lantern, a Talking Heads cassette tape, and, best of all, roller skates. Barely used, white, size nine, comfortable. And look at that, the sun is out again.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Life in Death Valley

Life in the desert seems sparse, almost dormant. There are scrubs and shrubs and sand and dirt and rocks and everything from the same washed-out, hazy color pallette. At first. Then I start to notice the movement among the quiet stillness---wind, alive and terrible, tiny critters like chipmunks and lizards, bright green tufts growing out of the Texas spring that runs right through our campground.

In Death Valley, I feel alive. As I hike the dry hills, feet sweaty inside my boots, I climb, and my throat hurts, and yet I don't want to stop, destination-bound, not even to notice the life. The life! Wildflowers blanket the hills, little blossoms of yellow and pink, white and purple. When people talk about the desert blooming in springtime, I pictured giant showy diva flowers, like orchids and lilies and birds of paradise. I felt a little let-down, a little womp womp womp about these little buds, so humble and timid. I had to get right down, face to face, to examine the dark red heart-like shapes stamped on the inside of delicate pink petals. I shoved a tiny white tuft, like a furry lollipop, up my nose to breathe its sugar. I sneezed for an hour afterward, and knew, at once, the majesty of these wildflowers.

Life in the desert is sparse; for what is life without water? So when you do find it, it's tame, gentle, the small offering of a child, not the proud present of an adult. The desert must conserve its energy, not waste it. The flowers are even more beautiful to me now that I've walked through their valley of death, slept in its parched arms, woken to brand new sunshine to quell the wind.