Chewing Words

noun. verb. adjective. adverb…they're all tasty in my book

Vignette: Memoried Grandma

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World War II, Brazil

Grandma was an avid reader. Her bookshelves were lined with some of the most diverse authors and genres that as a child I thought were terribly dull because they had no pictures. But she would read to me. And when she did, I didn’t need pictures because Grandma could paint a story with her voice that pulled me into the pages, crooked in the cozy curve of her arm. She read the stories of Scheherazade to me as a young girl, the name in Persian, شهرزاد, beautifully mysterious, a drawing imbued with meaning I wanted to discover. She bought me my poesy books by Shel Silverstein, adored and dog-eared. She gifted me with Coleridge’s Kubla Khan,

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

She and grandpa lived in a drafty, old, two-storey Victorian an hour’s drive from us. By the time I was born, most of her 6 children were nearly grown. The drive, for a small girl, was entirely too long, too boring, too MUCH. But the anticipation of seeing Grandma again was a tingly happiness in the pit of my belly.

Daddy drove the brick-colored Chevrolet Vega wagon out of town, through the outlying hills mottled with cows and scrub oaks, the swirl of menthol hitting our noses as eucalyptus berries crushed beneath the tires. We’d climb the North Coast Ranges, the car laboring on the inclines, heading toward the sea. Zooming up and past the county dump. Slowing for the precarious bends of Stage Gulch Road. Speeding up on the straight-away of Old Adobe. Climbing again at Middle 2 Rock and Bodega Avenue. Passing Gorilla Rock with its shaggy moss shoulders. Then the road would finally, gently drop near Chileno Valley. Daddy would pump the brakes, descending to the Shoreline Highway. The tick-tick-tick of the turn signal kept pace with my excitement. Grandma’s house and her soft-chested hugs were only a matter of minutes away. A twist of the wheel to the right, my face pressed against the glass as we rolled by the white, spired church where I was baptized, we’d enter the two-street village where Grandma lived.

They lived in a dip between mountains, where the land tumbled down in its race to meet the sea. My grandparents’ housemates were always 3 to 5 of their nearly grown children, my aunts’ and uncles’ hippie friends (I never could tell the boys from the girls) and a menagerie of animals. There was the crow who stole my hairclips straight from my curls; the raccoon whose black hands were warm on my fingertips when he reached for the oatmeal cookies; the bushy pony who ignored anyone who sat on his back, nonchalantly chewing grass as you kicked his sides. The cats splayed in the sun on the stone path from the kitchen to the barn. The dovecot rustled with feathers and the low coo of the Eurasian collared doves. We celebrated Easter and Christmas and Thanksgiving there. Flying kites in the field up the road, my uncles would run with me and my sister until we were breathless and muddy, grass stains on our knees. My aunts would walk us down to the corner store, one of those now-extinct places where canned peaches and lightbulbs and nails populated the shelves, and we’d choose penny-candy from the glass jars at the counter.

It seems it was within the space of just a few years that Grandma and Grandpa moved back to our town where they had originally begun growing their brood of six. Grandpa had his business here and the daily drive between his home and his office was long and dangerous. Their children were grown; it was time to move from the country and back into town. They purchased a house in the foothills across the road from the biggest wine family in the valley. Grandma was not a Keep-Up-With-the-Jones’ sort; she simply loved the house that was built to look like a barn, with a kitchen fashioned after the galley of a ship. By then, the raccoon had disappeared and the crow had been mysteriously poisoned. But the cats and the doves were towed behind the old pickup with the pony. A curmudgeon of horse, Tony the Pony was put to pasture in the back acreage.

Perhaps my memory plays tricks on me; I haven’t talked to my family to be certain of years and dates. But it seems they had just moved to town and it wasn’t long before Grandma began journeying around the globe again. During WWII, she had served in Brazil, a 27-year old sophisticate who’d lived a life of débutante balls and a little bit of privilege, but who’d run away to escape all of that as well as a past stippled with holes none of us has been able to accurately fill. She’d had an itchy foot all her life so when her nest emptied, she took flight.

I missed her fiercely when she’d go away. There was no one like her. I was a school girl in uniform by then, walking to her house every day. She understood my quirkiness. My fascination with words and sentences tickled her to no end. She talked to me like a person not an after-thought and used multi-syllabic words. If I didn’t understand, she’d make me fetch the 5 inch Merriam-Webster’s upstairs in her office and look up words. Baking, she taught me how to peel an apple so the entire skin came off in one, long streamer and how to break off bits, tossing them over my shoulder to see the initials written in rind of who my true love would be. She’d set before me a new set of paints and paper, leaning over my shoulder, my paw in her hand, showing me how the color could be guided with pigment and water. So when she would leave, my world necessarily changed. It would fold in on itself and become more still, less vibrant.

Grandma was a prolific letter writer. I have never before or since met anyone who writes letters like hers; newsy and sweet and descriptive and thoughtful and long and masterful. She would doodle or paint in the margin of every sheet, small scenes of the people she’d met or the new food she’s eaten. She was the original cut & paste, snipping our heads from photos and pasting them to paintings she’d made or pictures she’d torn from magazines. Her letters, for me, were a solace and a wealth. Most, if not all, have been saved and stored away in my garage. When I lived abroad, she and I corresponded like pen-pals. When she died, I found many of my letters boxed in her attic among the broken chairs and winter clothes. The postmarks spanning years from Norway then Italy reminding me of the itchy-footed inheritance she’d left me.

Fierce, she is my fiercest love.

“Ungrateful reader,” says Machado, “if you don’t keep the letters you have written in your youth, you will not know one day the philosophy of old pages, you will not enjoy the pleasure of seeing yourself far away, in the shadows, with a three-cornered hat, seven league boots and a long Assyrian beard, dancing to the rhythm of anachronistic bagpipes.”

~ from Alberto Manguel’s A Reading Diary

(1/364: PostADay)


Written by cr8df8

January 1, 2011 at 3:06 pm

A Post A Day Keeps the Doctor Away

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PostADay image courtesy of Chris Holbrow

I found this challenge on the WordPress site as I was trying to figure out my blog settings. I couldn’t, of course, find what I needed but instead I found another project in which to bury myself. I considered sloughing it off and irritating myself some more with trying to find the elusive setting I wanted. But I reconsidered when I realized I was worrying about the settings for a blog that I’ve not really made a point of executing. Furthermore, the anonymity of it is as complete as I know how to make it, so I’m not telling anyone I know to read it. So why bother putzing around with the settings?

::insert heaving of sigh here::

So I bit the bullet and decided to commit to PostADay. And besides, the end of one year and the beginning of the next is always so significant and full of promise. At least for me. Well, at least I tell myself that. But I really do become all quivery with this excited sort of expectation that anything is possible.

I keep saying I write. But I don’t. How can you tell people you do something you don’t actually do? So it’s time to actually commit, in public. Admittedly my public is nonexistent, but I am the eternal optimist! I am also feeling a touch nostalgic tonight. All of these scraps of memories flitting about. So why not pound them out on a keyboard?

Heretofore, I do proclaim that I shall write daily on this blog for the entirety of 2011.

There. I said it.




*(PostADay image courtesy of Chris at HolbrowBlog, who makes all the header images on HolbrowBlog. Thank you, Chris, for offering the use of such a stellar title image!)

Written by cr8df8

December 31, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Devil Inside

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What a Lucky Devil

My life sounds like pure high-strung crap at the moment, so I made myself have a little fun at the expense of moi-self. Christmas-time was less fun for me this year than usual, for all the reasons already hashed out elsewhere. But there are those moments that come high-jinxing in and you’d best have the good sense to appreciate them, otherwise you miss the whole point. The whole point being everything isn’t always so flippin’ serious.

I am notorious for being behind the camera and not in front of it. My daughter, however, has figured out how to take pictures with my Palm, and insists we do so frequently. So when Luckito El Gato began wreaking havoc with Ein Tannenbaum and mama was running around like a lunatic with Babes’ princess crown on her head and a water spray bottle chasing the cat, Babes thought picture taking was in order. So, I’ve created a bit of poesy (borrowing heavily from Clement Clarke Moore’s classic) that will hopefully give an idea of what a grand time was had Christmas Eve with mama a pneumonic mess, the cat with the Devil inside, and a 3 and a half year old who could appreciate the jolly, rolling time.

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house,
Was coughing and flu, mama starting to grouse;
Old holey, slippers on the footies with care,
In the hopes that Santa would bring a new pair.
The Babes was nestled with mom and well-fed,
While visions of Bratz Girls danced in her head.
Mama in Babes’ crown and her old, peely sweater
Kept silently wishing she’d start feeling better.
When from under the tree there arose such a clatter
We sprang from the armchair to see what was the matter!
Away to the tree I flew in a flash
Bent over to see what had caused such a crash.
The white lights twinkled like stars from above
And gave lustre of mid-day to see the cat that we love
All tangled in decor, his whiskers aquiver,
I roared and harumphed, I wanted his liver!
I knew in a moment Luckito’d be dead
If didn’t calm down and start using my head.
More rapid than eagles the thought did arise
To spray him with water, a squirt in the eyes.
“Now kitty, you bad boy, now get out of there!
On Gato, on spazzo, I’ll get you, beware!

To the top of the stairs you’d better not run
Now dash away, dash away, be done with your fun!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So around the house that kitty was chased,
Streaming gold beads and tinsel, his fur was so laced.
And then in a twinkling I heard right beside me
Babes prancing and pawing, excited and happy
To see so much fun for mama and kitty
So festive, don’t stop, it’d be such a pity!
A squirt from the bottle held in mama’s right hand
On Gato’s orange head did decidedly land.
Babes’ eyes, how they twinkled! Her dimples, how merry!
Her cheeks were like roses, her nose like a cherry!
Her droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the grin on her face showed teeth like white snow;
The phone that she held in her palm like a gun
Began flashing off light like rays of the sun.
She had a cute face and a little round belly,
That shook, when she laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
She was chubby and plump, a right jolly small elf,
And I laughed when I saw her, in spite of myself;
A wink of her eye and a twist of her head,
Soon gave me to know the pictures I’d dread.
She shrieked and she laughed and went straight to work
And took lots of photos, I felt like a jerk.
The kitty sat preening himself on the floor,
Daintily picking around the decor.
Babes sprang here and there, pleased all around
Managing to get mama to calm down.
And I heard her exclaim as peace did restore,
“Christmas is fun when the tree’s on the floor!”

Written by cr8df8

December 29, 2010 at 3:58 pm


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There the true Silence is, self-conscious and alone

There’s that scene in the film The Piano that is like a postcard I have put up on my bulletin board, behind the ticket stubs and business cards and fortunes from cookies.

The scene is fraught with that high pitch that is usually only achieved with the right mix of cinematography, acting, and story. They’re leaving New Zealand. Ada mutely asks Baines to throw her piano overboard, a request made as she contemplates a life voiceless – no ability for speech, no ability for music.  Catching her foot in the rope, she is dragged underwater as the piano descends, deeper and deeper into the brine. There is that moment when you are not certain if she is going to sink herself along with the piano. And then she kicks her shoe free and breaks the surface again.

But the movie ends with the echo of an alternate ending, the road not taken. That snapshot of watery silence is the one I hang in my memory box. And it’s one I’ve pulled out today along with the poem that ends the movie, Silence by Thomas Hood:

There is a silence where hath been no sound,
There is a silence where no sound may be,
In the cold grave—under the deep, deep sea,
Or in wide desert where no life is found,
Which hath been mute, and still must sleep profound;
No voice is hush’d—no life treads silently,
But clouds and cloudy shadows wander free,
That never spoke, over the idle ground:
But in green ruins, in the desolate walls
Of antique palaces, where Man hath been,
Though the dun fox or wild hyæna calls,
And owls, that flit continually between,
Shriek to the echo, and the low winds moan—
There the true Silence is, self-conscious and alone.

It’s raining tonight. It has all day. Evening has rolled into my house, me lost all day in the contemplation of an endless cup of tea and a computer screen, recovering from yesterday’s crying jag and spell of melancholy that pulled me by my ankles and down into its abyss as I kissed and waved my daughter good-bye, leaving with her father for a week-long visit to his family. It wasn’t even the leaving that hit as hard as the hissed words and reminders of failure as I drove them to my parents who took them to the train. I didn’t realize how incompetent you are. And such a disappointment not just as a wife, but as a woman. Bells clanged in my head, warning signs to shut the gate, shut the gate! You damned, fool, woman, shut the GATE! Too late, alas, those black words scurried past like shadows, leapt into my mouth, and skidaddled down my throat to lodge firmly against my heart. Ow ow ow! Such cold, little fingers that poke & prod and know just the right nooks & crannies to screw in the pain.

There is so much implicit in the short phrases and deliberate words he spoke to me. They speak of one’s very core. My competencies, my abilities as a wife, my (desirability/femininity/sexiness/empathy/intelligence) as a woman. They speak also of a man who has, in spite of a 10 year history, so completely severed his emotional ties to me that there are no qualms in practicing a bit of smack-down on my head. YOU. ARE. WORTHLESS.

And guess what? All day yesterday I struggled against the maddening, emotional fricking deluge that sluiced through my body, a physical act that tore out these huge, gulping, hyperventilating gasps for air. It was so, God-awfully, melodramatic. I felt so stupid. I felt 12 years old.

A friend called and told me if I didn’t get out of the house and go visit her, she was going to come and get me herself. So I yanked my hair back into a clip, dried my eyes and ignored the puffiness, put on red lipstick & a red scarf over my funereal black attire, and drove to her house. Where I spent all day with her 4 boys, her husband, her visiting brother and her, taken into their midst like a stray. They made me tea. They fed me. They taught me how to play poker. I won everyone’s chips in a last ditch, devil-may-care, all-in effort with a 3 ace hand. I left at midnight, unable to sleep again until the early morning hours. But able, finally, to breathe in my own house without gasping for air.

Today I have felt like I am recuperating from a hang-over. Choosing my own silence over the warmth of friends. I am too prone to shattering. Those dingy little fingers of his words still stab at my soft spots, but they’re less insistent than yesterday when I needed the distraction of someone else to stop the pressure.

I don’t feel strong. I don’t feel prepared. I just feel tired. I look in my memory box and pull out the postcard of a body suspended by a rope to a piano, under the deep, deep sea…There the true Silence is, self-conscious and alone.

Written by cr8df8

December 28, 2010 at 10:41 pm

The Angle of Repose

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Angle of Repose: the maximum slope at which sand grains are stable

n. the maximum angle of slope at which sand, loose rock, etc. will remain in place without sliding, as on a hillside; the maximum angle at which a pile of unconsolidated material can remain stable.

From Michael Welland’s blog, Through the Sandglass: Anywhere that granular materials are stored, whether it be in silos or in piles of aggregates, mining products, or cereals, the angle of repose – and its sensitivity to changing conditions – is something that needs to be carefully managed. Failure of the slope of a sand pile is a regular cause of tragedies on the beach and gold mining in placer deposits…

I finished reading Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose last week. Though this is a third read-through, I felt as stunned as I finished it as I have every time I have read it. It’s as though I erase the ending from my memory every time. I suppose, too, that each stage I have inhabited in my own life during each reading of that book has colored what I take from it. This time, 3/4 of the way through the novel, it was like reading my own life and the description of the demise of my own marriage.

“What bothers me most is to watch the slow corrosion of the affection and loyalty that held (them) together. I am ashamed that he hits the bottle when he gets low, I hate the picture of (her) sitting in the canyon house, a sulky, sullen dame, worrying half spitefully that he may fall off the bridge coming home, or show himself sodden and sottish before the children. And feeling, too, the profoundest, most hopeless pity, wanting to help and having no notion how. She knew that drink must be an almost irresistible temptation, even while she expected him, if he was a man, to resist it.

Less and less a companion, more and more a grind, she was bolted to her desk by her desperate sense that the family depended entirely on her; and the more she drove herself to work, the more she resented the separation that her work enforced between her and her children and husband. I can visualize her coming in the still early morning and looking down across the lonely desolation where she lived, and shuddering for what had happened to her; and if she caught sight of her own face in the water bucket’s dark pane, she was appalled…

…Miserable, both of them, everything hopeful in them run down, everything joyous smothered under poverty and failure.” (p. 431-432)

I was shaken reading those few paragraphs; I had to read the words, stop, reread and consider, and then read again to grasp the brilliance of how Stegner fashioned a history for the characters of this tale. Brilliant because the keen sense of loss I felt recognizing myself and my life in fictional characters was nearly overwhelming, especially when one considers that the history with these characters begins 150 years back from today. A lifetime and a half ago, there should be a generational gap that yawns, with no bridges, across a gorge of difference between then and now. Yet Stegner has captured, in 7 sentences, the very essence of the burdens that weighed down a marriage in 2010, and eventually ended it.

And what are we all but loose sand? Our slope remains stabilized only until…well, only until it’s not. An earthquake, a storm, a dynamite blast – a surge and suddenly the slippage of sand on sand avalanches until the slope re-establishes it’s angle of repose. The angle of repose, especially when man is involved, must be carefully managed, Michael Welland tells us (Welland is a professional geologist who knows his stuff. He’s made a practice of studying how piles of sand will react to changing conditions).

Conditions change. Sand shifts. And you mitigate your loss when the avalanche tumbles.

Written by cr8df8

December 28, 2010 at 2:41 am

Posted in book, divorce, emotions

Circumstance Is a Spendthrift

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Off with their heads!

I am counting down the days until I can officially say this year is over. 2010, be gone, git! 2011, come be a hit! That’s the extent of my poesy. It captures my current emotional state, that is to say, my bah-humbuggery. I posted elsewhere that I have these secret fantasies of running around like the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, turning crimson and screaming, “Off with their heads!” Or pretending I have Tourette syndrome, standing on street corners, waving my arms and shouting obscenities at cars as they pass by. And I have these outlandish hankerings to kick people in their ankles, for no apparent reason. Puzzling. I am agitated, but it’s all beneath the surface, bubbling like some cauldron of green goo.

Is this normal, you might well be asking? No, thankfully, it is most decidedly abnormal. I have always loved the holidays. Getting into the spirit of it all…baking and craftiness and eggnog and good cheer. Shop til you drop. Craft bazaars. Christmas carols. Full-on Martha Stewartitis. But this year; well, everything got toppled on its head and into the maze of Figuring It Out. Husband out the door, a 10 year relationship flushed down the pipes with nary a “Fare thee well.” Me standing in the doorway of 3500+ square feet of underwater real estate, holding the hand of the 3 1/2 year old heart of my heart, watching the retreating backside of the Beginning of the End. I suppose my unrequited desire to kick that rear view is manifesting itself now in my Queen of Hearts and ankle abuse fantasies.

In spite of that, all of that YERGH I have simmering beneath my skin, I am today nearly 30 lbs. lighter than I was this time last year. The boxes of cookies and chocolates my clients and vendors bring to my office are eaten by my skinny staff. Meanwhile the will-power that was so difficult for me to come by last year is rooted firmly in that place, wherever it is, that keeps the eye of newt, and toe of frog, wool of bat, and tongue of dog from overwhelming me. Though I am thrashed on so many levels (…emotional, financial, physical, spiritual, psychological and any other word ending in -al you can think of…), I am more in control of this one aspect of my life than I have been in a very, VERY long time. I track daily. I consider what goes in my mouth. I look in the mirror. I weigh myself. I notice the difference.

It has given me pause. A great deal of pause. Shambles all around yet driving, relentlessly, to keep this part of myself in check. Why? I have no desire for a relationship right now. There’s no hidden agenda of needing to “fix” myself for some fantasy in the wings. As the bits of my world have been summarily pulled apart by that spendthrift Circumstance, I have gone into this spot where the intention of eating a certain way equates a specific result. I find it fascinating. Circumstance may yank my mooring from me, but this one thing, NOTHING except for me controls it. Circumstance may throw a hardball. I may have a black & blue eye and a goose egg on my noggin. But that hardball cannot affect a change to necessarily make me act differently. I am my own science experiment.

And because I am still not safe to be let out in mixed company for fear of the emergence of the Queen, Tourette’s or ankle punting, I am avoiding many holiday obligations I would normally have participated in. The few I have gone to (on my best behavior, mind), have not created an appetite for indulgences.

As wise old Abe said in 1859, “‘And this too shall pass away.’ How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! — how consoling in the depths of affliction! ‘And this, too, shall pass away.'”

Written by cr8df8

December 18, 2010 at 6:46 pm

day of the dead

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Like most things these days, I am hard-pressed to keep up on this fledgling blog. It feels like another responsibility, something else to nurture and keep an eye on when I can barely do that for myself. Hanging by the bloodied tips of my fingernails, digging into the unyielding rock face of my life. I can’t remember feeling this…what is the proper word to even describe it? I can think of nothing. No sensation. No adjective. No emotion. Everything I am, is caught in this ambered state.

Rather than feeling guilty about not writing here, I suppose my energy would be better spent recognizing the fact that I am doing it right now, and hey, that’s a start. But that sort of feel-goodism doesn’t really do much for me at the moment, which is perhaps all the more reason I should do it. Gah. I thought I would come here to unload. You know, write about all the stuff that weighs down the body & mind. But I can’t seem to even address it.

The past few days I have been so sad, recognizing the loss of a 10 year marriage even with all of its inherent ups & downs. Walking around the house I am still hoping to save from the bank, there are all these memories, lurking behind armoires and folded in desk drawers like phantoms. I have been reading Salman Rushdie’s novel “The Enchantress of Florence.” There are parts of it that remind me in small ways of how unfit I am to handle endings. I am too soft, not enough corners to poke back. Believing as I have my whole life that True Love conquers all, it was something of a revelation to read:

…she knew for certain that she had met the love of her life. ‘You don’t need those flowers anymore she told him, caressing them. ‘Now you have me instead to be your good luck charm.’

He thought, ‘Yes, I have you, but only until I don’t.'”

How simple. Yes, I have you, but only until I don’t. Why do some people understand this and other people, like me, don’t? And I’m not even sure I really wanted to stay with my husband or if I just wanted to keep an image of him, a created personage of his best self, the one I kept striving to bring out in him. Was I truly in love with him or was I in love with who I thought he could become? This is a tricky line of thinking. It brings to light the potential artifice of my own beliefs. For 10 years did I believe he could be someone else? Is that what I wanted? I am shamed to think that this could be the case. And to bruise the ego even more, I ultimately failed. Because this divorce has brought out the worst parts of him that I had helped him to surrender in some cases or at least hold at bay in others. On me he has loosed the entire arsenal of his worst self. I have stood in the barrage, standing for as long as I could. Today, though, today I am bending under the strain. Today I am buckling with the weakening of my ballast.

Tomorrow is Día de los Muertos. In windows and in homes are sugared skulls in gay colors. Pictures of dead ones are intermingled with the ofrenda, families celebrating the memories of their dead loved ones. I am caught by the macabre way Mexicans remember people they have loved. Skulls and skeletons dressed to the nines, tattooed with sugared scroll work. Perhaps for me there is a lesson to learn. A way to reconcile a death with celebration.

Written by cr8df8

November 1, 2010 at 2:09 pm