August 3, 2022

July 27, 2022

Fountain Street



In the sweaty June of 1986, after my first year at Wesleyan. I decided to spend the summer in Middletown, Connecticut. After yet another fight with my dad -a deadly combination of hormones, blossoming feminism, and current politics - mostly it was about money, and I wanted to prove to be independent.

Rent was a mere sixty dollars a month, which I had finagled through University housing. I lived with my former RA and my best friend. Her boyfriend was a constant feature, and the one who dubbed me, "The Macaroni and Cheese Queen." My boyfriend at the time was doing house painting with CollegePro and was crashing various floors unless I rescued him in my trusty Honda.

I scored a second job in short order as a cashier/deli girl at Sunshine Farms ($3.50 an hour plus tips), which was only four doors away from our house on Fountain Street. I would wake up fifteen minutes before my 6:30 am shift, pop in contacts, brush teeth, maybe hair, throw on t-shirt and jeans, and show up in time to make coffee for all of the summer construction crew. I also continued to do nude modelling for art classes, for a lofty five dollars an hour. The only time I felt ashamed or embarrassed was when those same workers walked by the studio when the blinds were not drawn, and I was clearly that nice girl who sold them lottery tickets every morning. Or so I imagined.

That summer, and quite a few times since, mostly I ate macaroni and cheese. There was a nominal employee discount, so a stick of butter, a lunchtime carton of milk, and the blue and white Kraft box with the perky yellow lettering, added up to all of 50 cents or so per serving.

I would start, of course, by boiling water with a little salt for the noodles. Meanwhile, I'd slice my butter into thin pats for easier melting. Once the noodles were done, tossed into the colander to lazily drain into the sink, I'd get to work - Popping the pads of butter to melt in the still hot noodle pan, ripping open the foil pouch to reveal the magic orange powder, whisking it in a fury with the now gently bubbling salty goodness, plus quite a heavy sprinkle of black pepper (which I'd always hated as a kid, when did my taste buds change? Die?) This created a roux that would make Julia Child's eyes roll to the back of her head. Next, folded in the tender noodles. Last, put one oven mitt on top, one on the bottom, then, stuffed the whole thing into my favorite canvas book bag.

I'd head on over to Olin library, flashing my student ID, jaunting downstairs to where my best friend had her job in the reserve room. She would have put up the ``out to lunch" sign, a bummer for the poor students taking summer classes trying to find their particular professor's particularly obscure articles.

We'd hide deep in the stacks, sitting cross-legged with the pot of macaroni and cheese between us, forks in hand, gossip filling us more than the carbs. I can still remember the taste of cheddar cheese, pepper, and that little spice that tingled our lips.

July 20, 2022

Thoughts on Hair


The most radical thing I have ever done was cut my hair. When I was a kid, my hair was sparse, thin,cut short like a boys. Often I was mistaken for one since I wore jeans and t-shirts instead of dresses. 

I always wanted long hair. My mother had hers down to her waist, as did both of my babysitters. This was in the early ages of Disney,  and all the princesses had long hair, long blonde hair. I remember crying at Woolworth's because the only princess mask was Cinderella and she had blonde hair when mine was brown. 


My hair finally started to grow in elementary school. This started long fights with my mother, fights with the tangles, let alone finding a freaking hair conditioner when we moved to Europe, our chant, “First the brush, then the comb, then the rubber band.” It became a constant chore. I would keep it contained in one or two braids. By the time I was in high school I could sit on it. I never got it cut. Occasionally my mother would trim the split ends. It was only in my 20's that I finally cut bangs. 


When I was fifteen, I went back to Europe to visit Julia. In London, I stopped at a hairdresser's to chop off my long locks. It was the early 80's and I was ready to pink out. The stylist convinced me I just needed coloring. Four painful hours later, my hair shoved through this bathing cap of tiny holes poke through with an embroidery needle to so that I had bleached highlights streaks in my hair was one of the most excruciating experiences of my life. Let alone the most expensive. After that  died my hair myself, I adding blonde streaks or stripes of black dye leftover from my brother's particular embellishments, and now and then a nice bright henna red. 

 

During my first marriage, things got a little bit rocky and I remember thinking,  if we broke up, what would I do? I knew instantly I would cut my hair and do a ritual with it. I became the butch babe I was always attracted to.


In 1994, At the American Booksellers Association convention in Los Angeles, I went to my brother's hairdresser, as my hairdresser was much too invested and literally would not chop off my hair. I made a thick braid which was deftly sliced off. That rope of hair lived above my altar for over a decade. One day I decided that as my hair contains my history, I should allow it to be free. I went down to Lighthouse Field and released the strands into the breeze so the birds could make their nests.


After the ABA, I walked into Herland and gave my wife a big hug from behind. She turned and put her hands on my head, stepped back, and said, "I thought you could never surprise me."


It served me well this butch cut. A classic flat top, a touch of  gel, I looked like a little spiky hedgehog. Being the queen Amazon at the lesbian bookstore, I needed to be tough, a warrior. Everyday I was baited by random men who had nothing to do but try to argue politics.


After Herland closed in 2004, I grew out my hair. I wanted to be the priestess with long hair again rather than the warrior. I exchanged my contact lenses for prescription glasses, bought a plethora of long flowy skirts and tunic tops, covered my tattoos and worked hard to embody the archetype of the healer.


Much too my surprise, my hair grew out thick and wave, when it has always been flat and straight. I keep it about shoulder length, my hairdresser, who really is my therapist and has known me for thirty years. She cuts layers upon layers to free me from the weight on my neck and still frame my face. She always cuts my bangs too long, but I love her anyways. I decided to stop dying my hair because of the amount of chemicals on my head, and switched back to using natural henna in a deep burgundy.


I walked over to my local coffee shop and ran into an old friend, who said, "Oh, you look so different!"


And I thought, yes, because I am not the same.


Transformation is a Way of Life, Not a Moment in Time

July 13, 2022

Clementine

Clementine 


The rind is firm, cool to the touch, and fits perfectly in the palm of my hand. I noticed the little pores are darker orange than the rest, the star-shaped green center where once it had been plucked from some faraway tree. There are small imperfections, soft white mottling. It has a shiny, almost greasy look. There's no smell until I dig my fingernails into the skin, releasing the essential oils as I leave little waxing moon craters on the rind.

 

Once we all began peeling, I could hear the rinds being separated from flesh. I took the time to peel mine in a lazy spiral, pulling off the long white strings. Now I can smell the fruit, different from the oily skin. I feel my mouth begin to water and I think about using zest versus juice and cooking or baking.

 

I'm reminded of living in Luxembourg during elementary school when we belonged to a fruit of the month club. Kiwis, grapes, and once a case of tangerines from the Canary Islands. Antonio ate so many that he got sick. Now as far as citrus goes, I rarely drink orange juice but occasionally I'll pick up a bag of cuties at Trader Joe's.


July 6, 2022

Thoughts on Writing


Thoughts on Writing

I love that word, Metacognition. Wikipedia defines it as “an awareness of one's thought processes and an understanding of the patterns behind them.” In taking a moment to be mindful about my own writing process and patterns, here’s what I discovered:

I love writing in my big book with my big handwriting. Two pages fill fast. Since sketchbooks are unlined, my handwriting tends to slope to the right as I move down the page. I used to hate my handwriting. It felt cramped and forced, just like having to learn cursive when we moved to tiny Luxembourg when I was seven. Later, when I went to boarding school in Dover, England, I created a secret code to write in my diary, which was mostly about crushes and middle school betrayals. I would get in trouble for my bad handwriting, especially in boarding school, where I was chastised for using a ballpoint pen. Now I see my handwriting as cryptic, magical, and tender, just like my heart. And, you know, witches spell it out.

I went a little crazy right after college, and moved to Idaho, where the rent for the Moravia schoolhouse was a mere $100 a month. I worked one day a week looking after eighty year old Betty Fox, while the rest of the time I worked on myself. Part of my healing was going through the Creative Journal by Lucia Capacchione. This is where I got the idea of starting in the middle of the journal and flipping back and forth with my entries, rather than starting at the beginning and marching through. This was pleasing after reading the French feminist Monique Wittig’s book, Les Guérillères, which is not written in linear time, but circular.

At different times I've had different notebooks - one is called “Love: A Field Notebook.” Then there are Amber's journals, which we kept in the diaper bag since Drama and I stopped talking to each other. We needed to communicate about naps, meals, and small day care events, and they now live in a tupperware box in the Tuff shed. In high school, my art teacher Mr.Bartman required us to fill a small, fat sketchbook with drawings at the end of each semester. I would fill the other half with poems, musings, lyrics, like any other high-schooler. And while this was supposed to be a daily practice, I would cram in a week's worth of drawings while waiting for my dad to pick me up after therapy on Wednesday afternoons.

I've kept various journals and diaries over my lifetime. At some point I burned seventeen volumes, ripping out the few poems I thought worthy. Amber was appalled as she had wanted to read them, but to me they were just a chronicle of pain and grief after the divorce, and I didn’t want her to read all of my scrumbly feelings towards her other parent. But I keep coming back to the big black sketchbooks. The first one spans a good decade, now this latest will be filled by the end of this class.

I use many different pens, but love thin Sharpies the most. They do tend to bleed, so pasting something every other page helps. When learning how to write cursive, we were forced to write in ink, either black, royal blue, or blue-black. I remember the stationary store, with the ultra expensive Cartier pens - the ones you got for graduation - under lock and key. My mom bought me a Happy Pen that was a sunny yellow. Recently one of my clients bought me a set of fountain pens in an array of pastel colors, and there was a certain satisfaction in popping the cartridge in and having the ink begin to flow across the page. 

I never learned to type, I learned to bake. Here I am at fifty-five and still hunt and peck with one finger, but it is fast. At the writer’s retreat I would use my iPad, but felt the tick, tick, tick sound more potentially distracting to my fellow retreatants than the scratching of my pen. Sometimes I dictate, which is great for thought process but editing all the punctuation and things made up by auto-correct is a chore of its own.

I tend to write in sprints, sometimes marathons, rather than a daily jog like Stephan King. Four day writers retreats, six or eight week classes, Write30. I'll do the work, I'll get the juice out of it, but once done I could easily be next engaged in en plein air watercolor or underwater basket weaving for the next few months. Often I'll add artwork after the fact - collages, collected ephemera that used to go into photo albums, but now get scrapped here, print outs of online inspiration, whether poems from Instagram or my own peculiar ramblings.

Usually I write my two pages, the raw stuff, around nine or ten in the morning, after I’ve finished my various crossword puzzles. Sometimes I write outside at the teak table under the Wisteria, or in my car before class, almost always afterwards when I take myself out to lunch at Burger and have my little cup of carbs -mac and cheese with bacon on top.

Right now I’m sitting in the backroom with both the black cat and the calico vying for space next to me, sketchbook cradled between my left arm and a pillow on my lap, as I baby the words forth. There’s the smell of ginger lemon tea and the occasional croak of crows or thrums of hummers. I used to time myself, but I tend to space out while writing, so two pages a day is reasonable. At some point in the week, usually if my husband is gone, I’ll dictate pieces into my phone and email them to myself for online editing. Depending on my schedule, I’ll spend some time polishing, editing, embellishing these nuggets, usually in secret pockets of time found when waiting for clients, waiting for my friend to arrive, or waiting for pasta to boil.


June 29, 2022

Thoughts on Tattoos


Thoughts on Tattoos

I am no longer afraid of mirrors where I see the sign of the amazon, the one who shoots arrows.

There was a fine red line across my chest where a knife entered,

but now a branch winds about the scar and travels from arm to heart.

Green leaves cover the branch, grapes hang there and a bird appears.

What grows in me now is vital and does not cause me harm. I think the bird is singing.

I have relinquished some of the scars.

I have designed my chest with the care given to an illuminated manuscript.

I am no longer ashamed to make love. Love is a battle I can win.

I have the body of a warrior who does not kill or wound.

On the book of my body, I have permanently inscribed a tree.

-Deena Metzger, Tree



Lori Anderson calls the body, The Nerve Bible. I see my body as an illuminated manuscript. 


Today we received luxurious couples massages at our timeshare in Carmel Highlands. As the therapist unveiled me, I thought about each of my tattoos, each of their stories. Our scars are our stories. Some people wear theirs on the inside. I wear mine on the outside, and they're pretty.


I endured my first tattoo when I was 18 years old, after a vacation in Key West, Florida.My boyfriend and I just saw the play, Talking With, Eleven Monologues with Extraordinary Women. The protagonist was covered in tattoos and told us each of the stories. I was entranced. The next day there was a bright yellowy orange sun inscribed on my left hip. Many, many years later it was joined by a blue crescent moon .


Now I am fifty-five, and have over three dozen. Usually I get about one a year but it just depends, notwithstanding COVID. My last tattoo was a mother-daughter bonding ritual when Amber came to Santa Cruz this February to get married. We both got inscribed one of our favorite quotes from the Talking Heads “Once in a lifetime. Same as it ever was.” 


I have mermaids, fairies, butterflies, dragonflies, Amber’s initials, pentagrams, hummingbirds, cats, the four directions, the red Chinese symbol for double happiness. There are black roses, pink roses, crimson passion flower, purple morning glories, pale green rosemary for remembrance, and my absolute favorite, bright orange California poppies. I have a huge back piece of an art deco woman by Mucha with a spray of olive green marijuana leaves behind her. 


I balance my tattoos between blackwork and color, neo-primitive and modern,  Celtic knotwork contrasting abstracts. Left and right, small and large, I've mapped out my body several times and choose carefully. I'll find an image or symbol  that I fall in love with, and pop it into my “Folder of Desire.” Minimally a year, but often many more will pass before I decide to permanently carve this particular totem on my body. 


For my 50th birthday, I chose  twin spirals with three dots (maiden, mother, and crone) on the inside of each of my wrists. Spiral in, spiral out. What is most significant is that they are the only ones that are always visible. I tend to cover my tattoos, and not just when I’m around my mother, who is appalled that I still “scribble on myself.” While tattoos are way more commonplace than thirty years ago, especially here in California, I think they are distracting. And they are so personal for me. Well, and for my lover, who else will see the way these particular vines twine around my breasts, connect with my spine, embrace my hip, grace my thigh, adorn my calves. Besides for the massage therapist.


My favorite tattoo is the roundabout sign when you go down to the wharf. I would walk by this every Wednesday when volunteering at the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center. I just knew this would be my next tattoo, because you know, in Santa Cruz, there is always a roundabout way.