Hollow Head

I’m reading Kelly Monroe Kullberg’s Finding God Beyond Harvard while I ride my exercise bike at night.  She was a Harvard chaplain who started Veritas Forums, “university events that engage students and faculty in discussions about life’s hardest questions and the relevance of Jesus Christ to all of life.” 

Reading about this sort of intellectual activity, not to mention the retreats and late-night conversations, makes me feel like a hollow tree.  If you cracked my skull open, I’m sure you’d find my dusty clumps of cat where my my brain used to sit.  I don’t harbor a single profound question about the origin of the universe or about my purpose in the grand scheme of things because every single thought in my brain centers around questions of survival.  No angst, no intellectual debate, no scintillating theories.  Just mundane stuff like:

Will I pull together a healthy meal tonight?

Did I match up all the socks?

Is that cat poop on the ground?

When can I get out of this house so people will stop asking me for stuff?  And interrupting me? 

And why can’t I fish a single thought out of the murky puddle that used to be my brain?

I’m empty, people.  Dry as the cat’s bowl.  Barren as the ivy-strangled bush in my front yard.  Disconnected from community, unplugged, turned off, burned out.

The big questions are settled in my mind.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that my mind is so full of minutia that I can’t think of anything interesting to say.

And I’m lonely for the me that used to have a thought in her head that didn’t have to do with dirt removal or drain unclogging.


Some Books You Might Like

Here is a blog by a woman after my own heart.  (And I’m not just saying that because she quoted my other blog and said I write more “honestly and inspiringly about moms and weight than anybody [she] know[s].”) 

Her book, Momfidence!, was just released, I might add. 

Which reminds me that I’ve been meaning to recommend Barbara Curtis’ new book,  Reaching the Left from the Right: Talking About Social Issues With People Who Don’t Think Like You to you, too.  She sent me my very own copy which I’m going to read any minute now.  (So many books, so little time!)  I’ve gotten to know Barbara through her blog, Mommylife.net, and through email and have to say that she is one remarkable mother and writer.  I only wish she lived next door to me!

Details, Unnecessary

I went to King’s Bookstore in Tacoma yesterday and felt a mixture of awe, longing and hopelessness. (Awe=Look at all these books! Longing=I want to curl up and read for ten years straight! Hopelessness=So many books . . . what is the point of adding to the stacks with an original work?)

I only had ten minutes before my movie started at this non-profit movie theater. I felt so cosmopolitan, shopping in the local independent bookstore and viewing a movie in an independent theater.  The streets were mostly deserted, though, because Tacoma is Tacoma, not Seattle. 

(The book I bought? Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.) At the movie theater, the woman who sold me my ticket tally-marked the movie I intended to see in a column. Then, she moved over to the popcorn area and sold me popcorn. I counted about a hundred seats in the theater itself. What an odd experience compared to the fifteen screen megaplex where I usually see a movie. (Cheaper, too, almost by half.)  And, I’m sure you’re wondering what movie I saw: “Thank You for Smoking,” which I chose by default. 

My husband has taken my daughter and her three year old buddy to the park, so I’m enjoying a guilty moment of freedom from her incessant crazy demands. When she woke up from her nap, my husband said, “You need to get dressed and comb your hair,” for she was wearing her 8-year old brother’s pajamas and had a head full of fuzzy curls. She decided this meant that she must take a bath–STAT!–and furthermore, she wanted her friend to watch her. I said, “No, he will not watch,” and she cried pitiful tears into the bathwater before forgetting her woe.

Then she poured cupfuls of water over her head and used two brushes at once on her head. She looked pretty much the same post-bath as pre-bath, except her clothes matched (sort of). Pink flowers and green leaves on pants . . . entirely different pink flowers and green leaves on jacket which was wholly unnecessary because it’s supposed to be eighty-five degrees this afternoon.

Anyway. I should be cooking up a scrumptious dinner at this very moment so the big kids will have something worthwhile to complain about.  But it’s so much more fun to blog about life than to live it.

Change: Not Just Under the Couch Cushions

So much has happened since I’ve been silent. For instance, winter ended and spring sprang. And I cooked two decent meals and one half-decent meal. The sun shone and the rain returned. Change, change, change–it’s not just floating in the recesses of your purse.

Rest assured, though. Some things remain the same. My desk still features a wide array of clutter: the yarn weavings the boys did for Art, my teacher’s guide (Spelling), five envelopes full of developed pictures, a small pile of used tissues, and a 24-pack of Crayola colored pencils. The problem with being healthy after a week (or more) of being sick is that the to-do list backs up and stacks up. And I’m still weary and my (spring) fever will not respond to treatment (la-la-la-la, I can’t hear you!).

I have to admit that I’m kind of bogged down in Jane Smiley’s 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel. Reading it makes me feel like I’m back in college, minus the broad back of the cute boy sitting in the front row. What’s hilarious to me now is that I thought I was so busy then, so stressed out, so living-the-life-of-drama.

Ha. Someone else cooked all the meals (thanks, Cafeteria Ladies!), I only did laundry for one (and I used the same towel for a week), and I could sleep all day on Saturday if the mood struck. Real stressful. However did I manage?

From The Infirmary

Her: That’s too bright for my eyes. My head hurts. I’m so sick!
Me: I know. Do you want some medicine?
Her, wailing: Noooooo!
Me: You’ll feel better. Just a tiny bit? Please?
Her: No! I want to be sick! I want my head to hurt!

And that sums up the day. She woke at 12:30 a.m. and at 5:00 a.m. (Oh wait. I think I already said this.) After accepting a dose of ibuprofen at 7:00 a.m., she has refused all medication, so once the pain relief wore off around noon, she’s been miserable. All she wanted was for me to hold her in the “big green chair,” and if it weren’t for the 9-month old who is determined to stick her fingers in the electrical sockets and her hand into the DVD player and the 15-month old who slept only one hour instead of two and the 3 and a half year old who needed snacks and the 12-year olds who needed my assistance with math, history, and science and, of course, the still-sick 8-year old, I could have held her all day.

My own head began to ache late this afternoon, but that could just be sleep deprivation talking. Even if I don’t come down with this illness, I’m not sure I can leave my baby girl while she is so ill. And yet, my grandmother is turning 100! And my relatives will all be assembled from across the country. Sigh.

Now, for a completely unrelated matter. I have just started reading Jane Smiley’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel. I have long admired Jane Smiley’s skill and talent as a novelist. I adored A Thousand Acres, her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, though the story was devastating. I’ve read nearly all her novels (but not The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton–I own it, but haven’t read it yet).

The only complaint I have so far (three or four chapters in) is that the hardback book is so huge that my hands literally fall asleep while I hold it and read. The perils of reading!

I just finished Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love, another Christian “romance” novel. In this novel, as in the last Christian inspirational novel I read (A Family Forever, by Brenda Coulter), the male protagonist wooed the obstinate and clueless (stupid?) female protagonist. Perhaps the plot similarities were not all that similar, but in both books, I found myself exceedingly annoyed by the women’s behavior. Are all Christian romance novels populated by women who are too dim to notice the stellar male character who offers them True Love? Or is it just that I happened to read two in a row? (I rarely read so-called Christian fiction.)

I think this is why I shy away from romance novels. I spend the whole book being frustrated and annoyed by the characters–which I know, I know–the story must have conflict and obstacles and all that, but I have little patience for all that nonsense.

I just sneezed. I hope that’s not a bad sign.

Oprah Fries Frey: More on the Fray

Oh boy, do I love the fury of Oprah–directed at someone else, of course. I think I would shrivel up and melt into a green puddle on the floor just like that wicked witch on the Wizard of Oz who was splashed with water if Oprah ever directed that grim-faced look at me.

I hardly ever watch Oprah because her show comes on at 4:00 p.m. when my house is usually full of children and I’m trying to think up and cook dinner while juggling an assortment of flaming children. Oh wait, no flames. Just kids and juggling. But today, I made a point of turning on the show to watch James Frey look at her with dead eyes and a dry mouth while she demanded to know what was truth and what was false.

Poor James Frey. I mean, sure, he lied and capitalized on his lies, but I felt sorry for him anyway, even though I like the ticked off version of Oprah. I like a person who does not tolerate nonsense. I admire that in a person.

I never read A Million Little Pieces. I probably won’t, either, now that I know it’s basically false. I read an excerpt and I found his writing style unimpressive anyway. And I have twenty dozen books stacked up to read. (I am not lying. Twenty dozen, at least. No exaggeration.)

Right now, I’m almost finished with A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and although it makes me feel about as old as a Pet Rock, I like it. No, I don’t like feeling as old as a Pet Rock, but I like this book, even though I’m really really really far outside of Dave Eggers’ demographic.

In other news . . . there is no other news.

The Frey Fray, Kathy Griffin’s House and Unrelated Matters

Not long ago, Daring Young Mom asked for help naming her new Daring Young Van. (I think she settled on Vincent Van Go, but you’ll have to go over there to see for sure.)

I’m almost finished reading A Severe Mercy. They lived in places call “St. Udio” and “Glenmerle,” and drove cars with names that escape me at the moment.

What do these two things have in common? I’ll tell you. Vehicle naming.

For whatever reason, I have never named a house or a car or a truck or a vehicle of any kind. I don’t even use the cats’ proper names–they are all “kitty” to me. I can’t keep the kids straight. I end up saying (literally, I am not kidding), “You! Whatever your name is!” Calling the children a car name might damage their delicate psyches and we all know I’m all about pampering the wee ones.

Naming inanimate objects seems like fun, however, and right now, I’d like to begin.

My car? Pamela Anderson. Because we got it used and it’s been around the block a few times. (And now, please think up your own joke because when I thought too much I started to veer into rated-R humor in my head and I just had to stop. But I’ll pause while you laugh at yourself.)

I did make a list today and, boy, do I feel better. I named my list, “Step-by-Step: Becoming a Nurse.” Doesn’t that sound like a magazine article title? I have three easy steps and I even highlighted the prerequisite courses I’ll be able to take online. First, I must take some placement tests, so I requested “Forgotten Algebra” from the library. If all goes well, on January 21, I’ll be taking tests. Unless I decide that’s too soon–and it might be. Wait, is that Saturday? Well, okay, maybe in a few weeks. How about February? But not the 4th or the 25th or the 18th, either. I’m busy those days.

I finished A Severe Mercy, and so tonight, I started A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. He begins his memoir by stating in the “Preface to this Edition”: “For all the author’s bluster elsewhere, this is not, actually, a work of pure nonfiction. Many parts have been fictionalized in varying degrees, for various purposes.”

In light of the Frey Fray, I bet James Frey wishes he’d put a similar warning in his memoir, huh?

Here is how pathetic I am. Just awhile ago, after finishing exercising (every day, since December 1st–be impressed, even though my metabolism is unimpressed and seems not to have taken notice of my daily exertion)–which I did while reading the aforementioned book during the commericals of “American Idol”–I came downstairs and sat in the green recliner and clicked from channel to channel. (Before I came downstairs, I watched the first skaters in “Skating with Celebrities” on FOX. In one word? No. No, no, no, no, no.) Anyway, once downstairs, I settled on “Cribs,” specifically the episode with Kathy Griffin. I couldn’t stop watching, even when I saw myself for the pitiful creature I have become. I’m not blind. I stare at my self in horror and disappointment.

But I couldn’t stop because when I was in junior high, I had to design a house in art class. And I designed a house with a waterfall in the living room. Lo and behold, Kathy Griffin is living in the house I created in my mind.

I could have had a career in architecture. Who knew?

Picking and Grinning

Glory be, I left my house today. And no rain fell upon my head, though the Rain Streak continues in the Puget Sound area. I took my daughter with me to run some errands this morning, then dumped her at home with my husband and left home again. I headed for the local thrift store, bought twenty bucks’ worth of bargains (3 pairs of shorts for the 7-year old, a Barbie princess costume for the 3-year old, a cardigan for her, two pairs of shoes for her–including a pair of real tap shoes–an Eddie Bauer fleece jacket for me) and then headed to Barnes & Noble where I purchased very expensive books with gift cards.

I spent $26.95 on Jane Smiley’s Thirteen Ways to Look at the Novel, and also picked up William Zinsser’s Writing About Your Life: A Journey Into the Past, plus finally bought a copy of the much acclaimed Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. Buying books at full price gives me shivers.

I returned home long enough to wrap a birthday present and pick up my 7-year old for a birthday party at a bowling alley. Our state recently outlawed smoking in public places and so the bowling alley no longer reeks of cigarette smoke. Only four other boys attended the party, for a total of six children (the Birthday Boy and his sister), but I stayed for the whole party anyway because my husband, Mr. Safety, can’t seem to forget about that two-year old child who was abducted from a local bowling alley a few years ago. (She was never seen or heard from again.)

I took a newspaper and a novel (Jarhead), but ended up chatting with Birthday Boy’s dad and with another mom. Toward the end of the party, Birthday Boy’s mom joined our little cluster and asked me whether I have a regular babysitter for my youngest two children and as I answered her, I had an out-of-body experience in which I watched in horror as my right index finger flew up and and scratched the rim of my nostril, coming dangerously close to plunging up to the knuckle into my nose. And as my finger touched my nose, I maintained a facade of calm, educated reason, while inside my id and my ego arm-wrestled over my lack of restraint and manners and decorum all while my finger hovered, scratched, rubbed. Then I heard a distant scream from deep inside my brain which cried out (strangely enough, in Jerry Seinfeld’s voice), “I did not pick! There was no pick!”

You can take the girl out of the house, but you cannot take her finger out of her nose. (There was no pick!)

Books I Hated

I’m one of those people who reads “The Reader’s Digest” in the bathroom. Once, for fun, I decided to read a novel, but only in the bathroom, when nature called. I read the newspaper almost every day. I scan cereal boxes, junk mail and the fine print. My two bedroom bookshelves hold hundreds of books, but that doesn’t stop me from browsing the bookshelves at thrift stores, hoping to score more books for less money. My policy is to read the book before I see the movie, but if that strategy fails, I read the book after I see the movie. (Sometimes the changes in plot are jarring.)

I just love books. I like the papery smell, the weight of a volume in my hands, the promise of pages unread. The first job I really desperately wanted was at the public library. (My brother got the job and I went on to work at Taco Time. I’m not bitter. Much.)

I have hated a few books in my day, though. Without further ado, I present a short list of books I have hated.

Waiting to Exhale. I threw this book away when I finished reading it. The movie was entertaining, but I recall despising the writing in this book.

Bridges of Madison County. Someone told me that someone she knew considered this the worst book ever written. So I had to read it. Again, the movie was beautiful–the plot itself is fine, but the writing . . . horrible. And laughable.

Four Blondes. A truly awful book. I’m just glad I only paid a quarter for it at a garage sale.

The Beans of Egypt, Maine. I bought this book while living in Connecticut when my husband was in graduate school. I attempted to read it three separate times and carted it across the country to the Pacific Northwest, then over to Michigan, then back to the Pacific Northwest. I tried again and again to like this book, to plow through it. Finally, I stuffed it into a box of books destined for Goodwill.

Boy, do I feel better now that I’ve confessed. I’m a hater.

On the other hand, I am against banning books. Did you know it’s “Banned Books Week”?

(Update: I should clarify. I am against the general banning of books in our society. That doesn’t mean I think every book should be in every school library across America. And I also believe in family book banning–that is, in my family, I reserve the right to monitor, censor and ban certain books, just as I do movies and music.)