Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My Girlhood Among the Outlaws

"Salty," "bittersweet." "If it took those years to get me here, I'd do it again for you."

You being two young boys I love more than anyone on Earth. When I'm at a loss for words, song lyrics often bail me out.

My Girlhood Among The Outlaws
By Maria McKee

My girlhood among the outlaws was salty, bittersweet
The things I did, ah I could just kick myself now
Through nights of lousy dreams

As visions gather in my head

I find it hard to live with the things I did and said
But for you my friend, I’d live it all again
And love you in the end

Anything for you baby anything for you
If it took those years to get me here
I’d do it again for you

Took a leap of faith and I stumbled
Tried to live outside grace and I was humbled
But I’d like to bet if I’d lived to fear regret
Then we never would’ve met

So here we are and I don’t know what we call it
‘Cause love is such a funny promise
Commitment is impossible and forever is a lie
But that still leaves you and I

Anything for you baby anything for you
If it took those years to get me here
I’d do it again for you

Playing with Fire

Someone firedancing at a party I attended last week.
At the insistence of my landlord, I had to buy renter's insurance this week. Insurance agents are so friendly, talkative and forthcoming, because they are trying to sell you something, of course.

I could add two cents here about reciprocity theory, but I know how you feel when I lapse into academic discourse. So instead I will marvel that of all the people with good stories collected up in their heads, insurance agents top the list.

Frankly, I'm surprised more of them do not become novelists. I am a writer, but I don't have any stories. What I need is an insurance agent!

Fires, floods and accidents--accidents as a result of horrendous negligence or as the result of an ordinary thoughtless moment like the ones you and I have every day. Never mind acts of God.

But it's all covered under renter's insurance: falling asleep with candles burning, adolescents hiding burning incense under the bed, using paper bags to carry out the ashes from your woodstove, tossing a bunch of solvent-soaked rags into the corner of your garage.

When I got home, I gave my son a bunch of warnings, and he asked, "Mom, don't you trust me? It's like you trust me less now that I'm older." I said, "Part of growing up is to look into the future and see possible outcomes so you can take precautions."

Not that I was very good at that myself until the awesome, overwhelming responsibility of motherhood entered my life. In fact, I lived the riskiest of young adulthoods: I was a gypsy vagabond.
On the subject of stories and outcomes, I was looking at a group on Facebook called "Grateful Dead Tour: 1980s." I was wondering whatever happened to some people I knew from my vagabond days.

Of course, people went by nicknames in those days, and we are all middle-aged now, so looking through the list of 1,500 people and their little thumbnail photos didn't help much.

There was a spot for people to post photos from back in the day, but unfortunately, a good 30 percent of the pics were of tie-dyes, ticket stubs. concert posters and acid hits. Who the hell cares about such things?

I want to see people, movement, dancing, colors, clothes, children, puppies, rosy cheeks, tents and vans.
There was also a discussion board called "Where are they now?" I read it, but it didn't bring back any good memories, quite the opposite: it reminded me how dangerous our lifestyle was.

There were so many drugs so, of course, people became junkies, sold out their friends, lost everything, died. Numerous, numerous people are dead since then, people younger than I am.

In those days, some people also sold drugs, so there is considerable lingering paranoia in those discussion threads. I learned that one of my former boyfriends just got out of prison after serving 17 years. Seventeen years --his entire blossoming prime -- behind bars!

This was a very sweet, kind guy. But last time I saw him was in summer of 1988, when he had already begun "jonesing"-- had already begun the descent into drug addiction.

As always, the difficulty lies in the fact that "drugs" is such a catch-all term. There is quite a continuum of seriousness, addictiveness, deadliness, with marijuana & magic mushrooms one one end and heroin & crack cocaine on the other. Sadly, many people don't have the critical thinking skills to do some drugs, avoid others. I thank my lucky stars I was cautious even then.

My kids like to ask me why I changed, why I am no longer a hippy, no longer "sav" (savage) as they call it. Whatever I do, wherever I go, I will always be different, a misfit. A dilettante perhaps, but I know when something is dangerous and destructive, and it's time to move on. So I move on, a lot.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Another Song about the Rain

Image courtesy of
Someone I know recently accused me of being afraid of love. I scoffed: me? A consummate flirt, a serial monogamist, afraid of love? How ridiculous.

But he's right. I am. Scared to death.

Love is like dynamite, or that highly explosive clear liquid in a bottle they tote around in action films (what's it called?). It's hard to handle, hard to control, easy to underestimate.

Wars are fought over it. Suicides and murders often have it at their core. It is the stuff of life, for heaven's sake.

Anyone who is not scared of it is not seeing the big picture!

Another Song about the Rain
Cracker, 1995, from the album Greenland

Wind of fate has pried us loose
Light of mercy hurts my eyes
Is it worth the things you lose
To board the train and watch the sky?

I sing myself to sleep at night
I sing myself to sleep

Another song about the rain
Coming down, it burns through me
Another song about the rain

Got a line straight from my heart
There was a time, it ran to you
Another place where we were smart
Before the flood and time was through

I sing myself to sleep at night
I sing myself to sleep

Another song about the rain
Coming down it burns through me
Another song about the rain

Sorry now I never made you see
Sorry now sounds so far away
Will our child cry for me
When he hears the dragon's flame?

Highway flares make red the streets
My fingers spin the dial again
But every station on to me, yeah

Another song about the rain
Another song about the rain

Never rained so viciously

Friday, April 24, 2009


This is the Tampa incident. Ours was in sunlight and strewn on green grassy embankments.
Yesterday, speeding down Highway 101 with my son, we saw a most striking sight: about a half-a-mile stretch of highway strewn with sheets of white paper. It went on and on, as if someone lost an entire ream of paper. Thickly strewn in places, dwindling away to a few sheets, a lone one and then none.

From within our moving car, we could not tell if the pages were blank or written on. We could not stop to investigate, but my curious mind made up a story anyway.

What if it was someone's novel, freshly finished, tossed or fallen for some reason from their moving car? Unwittingly, or surely someone would have been there, trying to gather those precious pages.

Maybe it was like the incident where all the voter documentation was strewn down the road in Tampa, people's names, addresses and political party affiliation physically broadcast to the world. They never found out who did that, but as in "Alice's Restaurant," it would have been possible to answer that question.

What if it was a diary, full of secrets? Life-changing, dirty little secrets.

What if someone was moving and their filing cabinet came open in the back of the truck, critical documents fluttering out onto the road? Birth certificates and immunization records flying out like trash.

We think, in our culture, that everything important is now digital, but it isn't true. We are still a culture of documentation. If you don't believe me, just try to change your name after a divorce or help your kids get their first driving learner's permit.

At any rate, it was a striking image, one I would have photographed had I not lost my camera. But the good news is I found my camera today, beneath the couch cushion my sick son had been camped out on all week long. And under which I had already looked.

I missed my camera. The world is full of visual rhetoric.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Love Stories

A group of women, talking and laughing over margaritas. The topic of conversation is love.
One woman has a new baby and is counting her blessings over the sweetness and kindness of her husband. She recounts falling in love with him, how she was leaving for a tour of duty when they were falling in love. She didn't want to ask him to wait, but she secretly hoped he would. He did.
Another is finishing her degree and living with her high school sweetheart. When she first went away to college, she cried her eyes out with missing him. But she stayed in school. Eventually he moved close to her school. Now that she's graduating, they're talking about marriage.
Another misses her lover she met while working in another country last year. But things went wrong since then, and they broke up. She still feels wistful. There is a cute neighbor that she wishes would kiss her, but she doesn't know when he will work up the nerve.
Another one is in the middle of a break up. She cares about her boyfriend of five years, regrets hurting him, but she knows he is not the one for her. Will she ever find the one for her? She doesn't know, but she is chafing from restricted freedom.
Another one met a man online but he lives far away. She loves his mind, his voice, his sense of humor. But can she know it is love without scent, taste and especially without touch?
Another one is happily married, with a husband who has been very supportive as she finishes school, doing laundry and chores, but she is looking forward to taking the burden off him soon.
They all talk about who said "I love you" first in these and in prior relationships. It seems everyone always holds back, trying not to be the first one to say it. It's a delicate dance.

I listen and listen. I don't know what love is, but they seem so sure of it. I have been mistaking so many other things for it all these years.
Post Script: As my reader, Suzy, just astutely pointed out, The Fool should not be missing from this post.

Changing Clothes

Today, I took all the heavy hot winter clothes and put them away in boxes. Flannel pajamas, sweaters, furry boots, gone away for a season.

Out of the boxes came sundresses, tank tops, capri pants and sandals. I like it when the seasons change; it's like getting a new wardrobe.

I'm still getting rid of things left and right. If it doesn't fit or flatter, it's outta here.

And for once, I was able to sit out on my porch and enjoy the beautiful sounds of living in the country. Usually, my noisy neighbors fire up a loud machine the moment I step foot out the front door. This time, they weren't home for awhile, so all I heard was an owl in the redwood tree and a woodpecker on the telephone pole. Lovely.

Beautiful, beautiful onset of the warm season. The only downside is that I seem to have misplaced my camera and can't find it anywhere. Beautiful things are passing me by and I can't capture them.

O thou with dewy locks, who lookest down
Thro' the clear windows of the morning, turn
Thine angel eyes upon our western isle,
Which in full choir hails thy approach, O Spring!

The hills tell each other, and the listening
Valleys hear; all our longing eyes are turned
Up to thy bright pavilions: issue forth,
And let thy holy feet visit our clime.

Come o'er the eastern hills, and let our winds
Kiss thy perfumed garments; let us taste
Thy morn and evening breath; scatter thy pearls
Upon our love-sick land that mourns for thee."
- William Blake, To Spring, 1820

Monday, April 20, 2009

In the 'Hood

Grandmotherhood, that is. Impending grandmotherhood is turning out to be a source of tender amusement.

My oldest son, who is going to be a father this fall, is visiting me right now. He borrowed my laptop for awhile last night, and when I got it back, all his windows were still open: MySpace, Napster, the Huggies Club and

Cute, n'est ce pas?

His girlfriend, the expectant mother, just got back from shopping in the city with her mom, and she announced excitedly to us that she'd gotten the baby a Halloween costume. The baby, who will be about 9 weeks old on Halloween, will be dressed as a banana and its mother will be dressed as a monkey.

I laughed until my sides hurt when I heard this.

Not our actual baby

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ghost Limbs

Romantic love has me baffled.

The way I see it, romantic love is the bait that draws us humans into creating family relationships. As social creatures, we need family; our first family can't sustain us forever, so we must form more family ties out there. Those ties and bonds are built around reproduction, and so the pattern continues for a new generation. Romantic love is what lures us to do this.
From Southern Nazarene University,
So what about after you've done your part to ensure the survival of the species? You've made and raised your children. If the pattern held, having done this thing you would then settle in to be the comfortable wise elder, help out with grandbabies, leave this romantic stuff for the next generation.

But more often than not, it doesn't work out like this. Romantic love is too heady a substance. We still crave it like addicts.

This is your brain on romance (from
So people cheat on their partners, they leave partners to take up with another. They have midlife crises. They chase romantic love like a will-o-the wisp through the forest.

Or worse yet, people who started out with romantic love stay together out of habit, fear or duty. And they let the romantic side of themselves go dormant, sublimate it, transfer it, repress it.
This would be transference
When people find themselves alone at midlife, what do they do with this impulse toward romantic love? What is the point? Why doesn't it go away and leave us alone?

Why must we continue to play this particular game when we are no longer properly equipped, with the beauty, charm, energy and naive hope that are necessary in order to play?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Belly Laughs

Well, apparently everyone in the entire world except me knew about Flight of the Conchords before today. It's probably from not having TV maybe, because they have a variety show in HBO which I have never seen.

But after a couple of my friends made some obscure references on Facebook today, I discovered them. And then spent the next hour or two watching YouTube videos and laughing my head off.

I can't decide which is funniest, so I'm going to share a few videos.

Business Time

Ladies of the World

She's So Hot - Boom

Foux de Fa Fa

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Easter Witches

I have discovered a fascinating Swedish tradition centered around Easter: Easter witches.
On the Thursday before Easter (Påsk), Swedish children dress up like witches and go door-to-door hoping to get treats.

These witches don't look quite like our Halloween witches -- no peaked hats or black capes. Instead, these little witches look like Baba Yaga straight out of a Russian fairy tale, with headscarves, kerchiefs, aprons, and rosy cheeks.
How does a witch come to be associated with Easter, a holiday we Americans associate with the arrival of spring, renewal, birth, and Christ's resurrection? Bunnies, lambs, baby chicks and eggs, yes, but how do witches fit into all this?
According to the Luleå Tekniska Universitet website,
"As is often the case with major holy days, certain superstitions were attached to Easter. People believed that witches were especially active and their black magic especially powerful during this week."
On Maundy Thursday, Easter hags were thought to fly off on brooms to dance with the devil at a place called blåkulla (Blue Hill, a legendary meadow) until Saturday.

On their way home, there was always the danger that witches would get caught in people's chimneys. "To be really sure that the chimney was free from magical beings you had to burn nine different types of deciduous wood" all night Saturday. People also hid away their brooms and rakes in case witches tried to steal them for spare transportation.
"These grim superstitions have one much more cheerful legacy in modern times: On Maunday Thursday or Easter Eve Swedish girls and boys dress up as hags and pay visits to their neighbors.
"Some leave a small decorated card, an "Easter letter," hoping for a sweet or coin in return. The custom of making "Easter letters" is especially widespread in western Sweden, where it is also the custom to slip the letter into a person's mailbox or under his door without being seen. The identity of the sender is a secret."
All the adorable illustrations are old Easter letters. I wonder what a modern Easter letter looks like?
Here are some Swedish children dressed as Easter hags. Aren't they cute?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Dangerous Knowledge

Photo of a fridge magnet found on
I was thinking recently about the similarity between the myths of Pandora and of Eve. Curiosity led these women to do the forbidden thing --open the box, eat the fruit -- and all evil forever after was the result.

Women are always getting the rap for bringing evil knowledge into the world.

Who makes up these myths anyway? Hint: it's not a woman.

What is up with this cautionary attitude about women and knowledge?
"Pandora's Box" by Arthur Rackham
Bluebeard's wife: Bluebeard left for a few days, giving his wife all the keys to the house. But he warned her not to use this tiny key, not to go into this certain room. And so she did, and found there all the skulls and bones of Bluebeard's previous wives that he had murdered.
"Bluebeard's Wife" by Max Scratchmann
Lot's wife: In the Bible, God has decided to destroy two corrupt cities, Sodom and Gamorrah, but he gives Mr. and Mrs. Lot a free pass out of the city before the destruction. He warns them not to look back. But Mrs. Lot still had family back there, so she couldn't resist turning around for one last look. And God turned her into a pillar of salt.
Don't look back!
Googling the names of all these women together reveals that I am certainly not the first to have thought about this. Maria Tatar in Secrets Beyond the Door discusses "woman's problematic relationship to knowledge."
"The intellectual curiosity of men may have given us fire, divided us from animals and given us civilization, but the curiosity of women --as we know from the stories of Pandora, Eve, Psyche and Lot's wife, among others -- has given rise to misery, evil and grief."

I'm not familiar with the myth of Psyche. But do I even need to mention the Taliban and the women they have killed while the women headed to school or sat in the classroom?

Why? What's in it for the myth-makers if women eschew wider knowledge? Will we otherwise become harder to manage? Bad mothers who will neglect our children? Threatening competitors for jobs and resources?

In "Gender Roles in Cross-cultural Contexts," Joan Gregg writes:
"Some theorists assume that biological factors will always prevent women from moving outside their traditional sexual-biological roles into economic or political roles outside the family.

"They state that even in the changing family structure of modernized societies, made possible by safe, easy contraception and bottle-feeding, the role that will bring most fulfillment to women is the maternal-housekeeping one.

"These social scientists claim that the woman's role has always been essential in transmitting cultural values from one generation to the next and that this conservative function is a key to social stability.

"Its form will perhaps change somewhat, but in its most important aspects it will remain what it has been in almost every culture for thousands of years."

Whew! So all cultural stability depends upon women's willingness to forego knowledge outside the home? That's a heavy load. And we're stuck with this quandary for the next thousand years?
"Eve in the Garden of Eden" by Anna Lea Merritt

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Spring Cleaning

It all started when I was without internet for the fourth day running.

After spending two hours on the phone with AT&T only to have them tell me the problem was in my router, after climbing over and under and around all the piles of stuff in the back room to try to find all the cords, outlets, plugs, jacks, wires and equipment, I called the router company who wouldn't do any technical support because my warranty is past, would I like to buy another 6-month warranty for $40? Otherwise, technical support would be $30. WTF?

Instead of traveling to whatever country my calls were routed to only to go postal in a very American way, I attacked the monumental mess in my back room with a vengeance.

With superhuman strength born from the special annoyance I feel when dealing with bureaucrats of any stripe, I cleaned, moved furniture, organized, purged, untangled cords. I even repaired a broken chair leg and hung curtains!

But now it looks so great! Thank you, AT&T and Linksys! Without your incompetence, I may have still been stuck with a messy back room.

And now that the cords and equipment are all untangled and sorted, I can see that the problem is that there is no DSL signal coming into my house. Either a bad modem or something wrong "out there." But not my now-unwarrantied (is that a word?) router.

So back on the phone to AT&T; if all doesn't go well, what will I clean next?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Gnat-like Concentration, Caveman-like Pronunciation

Coming up with enough focused thoughts to write a whole post about a particular topic requires concentration that I just don't seem to have these days. My thoughts are all over the place, my concentration gnat-like.

A few examples:
Hilarious April Fool's issue of the Arcata Eye!! If you haven't seen it, do pick it up. The photos are so funny, as if it was a city-wide conspiracy to amuse us.
How much are plane tickets to Sweden? I want to go there. Would it be better, as one friend suggested, to fly to Germany and then to Sweden? (I know at least one person who will think this is a fabulous plan!)
Image from
Why do Humboldt County organizations have to be so bloody nepotistic?
It's this freakin' cool and I miss it...
I have a non-operational yet classic car located 200 miles away at the house of my ex. What's the best way to get it over here?
Cutest li'l boots west of the Pecos
Why do I feel so great whenever I wear my cowboy boots?
We need to devise a hand signal that instantly conveys this urgent message: "Hang up your effing cellphone, a**hole!" I almost got run over walking across Central to Sutter's Mudd today.
What exactly is a memorandum of understanding, as a genre? What's its purpose? Is it legally binding? Should lawyers write them?
Image by Tricia Ward,
What should I wear to the grand opening of the Arcata Theater tomorrow night?

What's the best way to dry a tent that's been left out in the rain?
Mojitos don't really taste that great. And there is always the danger you will get bits of fresh mint between your teeth in a public place.

If you go to Six Rivers Brewery, I strongly suggest you order the Bar Fries, but it's a lot of food, so share with at least two friends.

WTF is going on with the DSL internet in Mack Town? Mine has been down since Monday night.
If I can't live in Sweden, I want to live in Lindstrom, Minn., where the water towers look like this
The film I ordered from inter-library loan through HSU library is here! The Emigrants (Utvandrarna) is the film version of a book I have been reading. It makes me feel as if I am reading the history of my own family. I am so excited to watch this film tonight!

How can it be time to pay the rent again already???
Mine aren't quite as cute as these.
The best way for me to learn anything that has to be memorized is to use flash-cards. Currently, I carry with me at all times flash cards containing Swedish phrases like, "Would you like to come to my house for lunch?" "Where is the ladies' room?" and "I'm sorry. I don't understand." I figure I'll need that last one a lot.
Image from
I spell quite well in English, but in Swedish I spell like an ape, my syntax is caveman-like, and my pronunciation is like a bad robot.
Would any of my Swedish friends care to explain a little about the wonderful, intriguing concept of lagom? Though it has no exact English translation, the word means, roughly, moderation, and it's a key concept in understanding Swedish culture (apparently).
Without this invention, we might not be able to make these milk carton presidents!
While I am extolling Swedish virtues, may I mention, as my young Swedish friend informed me, that a Swede invented the milk carton?