Thursday, June 30, 2011

Day 30

I took the Ralph Waldo Emerson's Trust30 challenge to write every day for thirty days. If you follow the blog then you know that this is only my 12th blog of the month, so I obviously came up short, but I'm okay with that. Sometimes it's advantageous to be short :)

Truthfully, I started off pretty strong, but what I discovered was that writing a blog, one like A Birthday and a Boy or Oh Baby took more than one day. I'd write for two hours one day and then finish editing for another two hours the next day. And then I was already a day behind on writing! Additionally, there are just some things one can't put on the blog. And for that there is the journal.

So I don't feel too bad about not posting every day for 30 days for I did spend much time writing, even if the readers didn't always see the results.

Additionally, the mark of a good writer is a good reader, and I did put more effort into reading during those thirty days as well. I worked on several books and plays over the month: Unprotected Texts, The Lion In Winter, You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy, and When God Was a Woman. Granted, most of these are more academic than literary, but that's okay. Jonah's Gourd by my favorite Zora Neale Hurston is on the docket for the next read.

All in all, I'm not beating myself up over "not writing" every day for 30 days. It was a good push and I did get out some stories I'd had inside me that had wanted out for while now. And it was nice to have the prompts to read (or promptly delete) as a few of them did inspire some thoughtful reflection on my part.

So thank you Emerson and thank you authors of the 30 days of prompts. And I leave you with, again, the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson...

I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you...

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Day 26: Who I Don't Want To Be

The past few days prompts have been pretty interesting. Today's asked...

I do not wish to expiate, but to live. My life is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering and unsteady. I wish it to be sound and sweet, and not to need diet and bleeding. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Think about the type of person you’d NEVER want to be 5 years from now. Write out your own personal recipe to prevent this from happening and commit to following it. “Thought is the seed of action.”

To which I would respond...

I don't want to be a bitch. (Sorry, Grandma.) But surely you know what I mean. Opinionated, strong-willed women who have experienced a fair amount of grief in their lifetime grow older and experience more stress (or maybe just loneliness) and as a result often become, well, bitchy. Their spunk for life, their loud-mouthed passion, their outrageous laughter deteriorates into crass bitterness, long-winded soapboxes and hateful fist-waving. Their sense of self or that chip on their shoulder became not something that helped them funnel their passion for truth and beauty into good work but rather something that burdened their walk weighted with empty space.

All good preachers are called to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, so I know that what I say often offends, but I don't want to turn into a bitter old biddy.

And in five years I will be 38. Prime age for getting cranky. Especially if I'm still single and without children. But I'm not complaining now mind you. I just would someday like to say that I have a partner in life. And that I love him. End of story.

And unlike Emerson, I would like to be both genuine and glittering, equal and unsteady, but perhaps we just have different interpretations of what those words mean.

I would like to be genuine. To be myself. To still be the eclectic (eccentric) high schooler who had friends in every clique at school. To still be the curious college kid, learning and teaching, re-thinking and re-imagining, always expanding and growing. To still be the silly and ironic grad student, demonstrating academic integrity while sometimes demonstrating in the streets. To still be the welcoming minister... young, female, and with a nose ring.

I would like to glitter... literally. With my nose ring and my nail polish and my excessive collection of bargain-shopped shoes.

I would like to be equal. To be courageous with truth, compassionate with goodness and defensive of beauty.

I would like to be unsteady for only then am I at the mercy of a God who is full of surprises.

But I would not want to be a bitch. I don't want to take all I have been given, all I was created to be and allow myself to degenerate into an unappreciative, prideful, middle aged woman who has forgotten who she is.

Lord willing... and the creek don't rise.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Search for the Missing Clue!

So you may have read my blog about my boyfriend and my birthday in which I describe why receiving gifts is a love language of mine. I blame my father who "spoiled us as little girls with presents hidden in the pockets of trench coats, sitting in the carseats when we opened the door, discovered at the end of treasure hunts with clues wehad to decipher to find." In the comment section of that blog, my father offered his rebuttle:

Writing: Day one. Beautiful, revealing, touching, self centered, delightful and of always, written with wit and style.

Clue # one. If you look inside a book on page thirty three perhaps you'll find a gift so special that the Bard would say, "love can be found in many places, but the best come in small surprise packages.

Love you,

Great... (she muttered with a suppressed smile).

Assuming that he hadn't planned that far ahead and left a small surprise package in the Shakespeare books on my bookshelf when he had been to visit in early May before my birthday, but not wanting to risk arriving in St. Joseph in mid-June, devouring my father's thousands of books only to discover that page 33 referenced a book in my own library, I took down my Complete Works of Shakespeare and turned to page 33. Nothing. So I'd have to wait til I got to Missouri.

Several weeks later I found myself in Missouri. Oddly enough, my father found himself in Texas. I was on vacation visiting my parents and grandparents (as a nanny, you vacation when your nanny family vacations) and my father was at work at the National Debate Tournament.

He wasn't home to watch me, but that first morning that I awoke, I started in my bedroom, which had been his former office over 20 years ago, and perused every shelf of books (22 shelves in that room) for Shakespeare books. Having googled, "love may be found in many places but the best come in very small packages" and found no play or book citing this quote, I planned on checking every Shakespeare play, but was betting on an anthology.


From my room, I moved to the official library of theater books in the den (only 15 shelves in there but they're much longer, but they're also mostly alphabetized, so I was counting my blessings).

Nothing. Dangit.

So I moved to the third library of books in the living room (13 shelves but scattered with photographs and plates on stands - subconversation: why plates on stands? - so not as many books).


I was puzzled. Surely the reference to the bard was to the most famous bard in Shakespeare, but if it wasn't, if it was to some obscure "other" theatrical bard then I was screwed. I just don't know my theater that well. On the other hand, maybe my father forgot. Maybe he read the blog, thought he'd leave me a little clue and then, well, forgot to. Life is busy. He had to retire and prepare his kids for nationals. It could have slipped his mind.

So I facebooked my father. "I have looked on page 33 of every book about Shakespeare or written by Shakespeare in both my house and yours. And you can imagine how long that took... but I got nothing. Another clue please?"

When he returned from Dallas, he came into my room and reported that "it" was still there and that I obviously hadn't looked hard enough. "Two gentlemen could find it," he mumbled as he walked off.


Okay. So Two Gentlemen of Verona, the play or in an anthology. So I went through every Shakespeare book in the house. Again. And lo and behold, I did indeed find clue number two on page 33 of one of many Shakespeare anthologies (found in the living room to be exact - and I promptly moved it to the den where it belongs).

It read:

It's about time, I thought you'd never find this. Your clue finding skills are slipping.

Now where to go for Clue #2.
Another book... perhaps an old shoe.
When you find this note you'll giggle with glee
Cause then you'll be ready for Clue #3.

Hmm. Possible hints in the clue: Book, Shoe, Glee. Book, shoe, glee. Book... shoe... glee.

In my sister's room where I sleep when I'm the only child at home (her bed is a double and the most comfortable bed in the house - and yes, I still only have a twin bed in my room!), there are a pair of Amy's old tap shoes probably a size 5 in little girls. I ran to the room and grabbed the shoes. Nothing inside. Flipped them over. Nothing taped to the bottom. I remembered a favorite framed poster or painting of my sister's with an old pair of ballet slippers on it. I searched the house, but the painting was gone. They must have given it to Amy at some point.


Let's go with the book reference. What about a book about a shoe? Brilliant. Old Mother Goose! I found the book of nursery rhymes in my bedroom (in case you hadn't noticed, that's where all the random books are stored) but no "There was an old woman who lived in a shoe..."

So I went for help again.

"Now dad, here's where I've checked so far. I'm oh for three on books and shoes. Do you and mom have the DVD of Glee by chance...?"

He just laughed and said no. And he mentioned how proud he was of how clever this clue was. "Take some time off. Look again tomorrow."

So I did. Frustrated, I quit for the day and mom and I probably went over to Grandma's to play dominos that evening. I don't remember. What I do remember though, is what I dreamed that night. I dreamed about that damn clue! I dreamed I was searching the house for the clue and that indeed mom and dad had Season One of Glee and I found it in the cabinet and found the next clue inside.

I woke up disappointed.

Dad had to go to Savannah High School to finish up some things that night and mom had to go to work, so I spent the morning revisiting the clue. "I'm really proud of my cleverness on this one..." my father had said, so I looked harder at the clue.

Some other words began to pop out at me. "Slipping" and "giggle" in addition to "book" and "shoe" and "glee." Holy cow, I've got it. Cinderella. In Into the Woods, Cinderella slips and falls every time she enters the stage which is a reference to the golden slippers she's wearing with her ball gown (needed by the Baker's Wife to reverse Rapunzel's Witch's spell... I'm digressing). Amy and I were both in that and loved it. How clever! I was giggling now! And off I ran to the DVD cabinet to find Into the Woods.

While it was there, another clue was not. Hmm. Up to the theater books again and my figured perused the S section. Sondheim. Into the Woods, there was the score. But there was nothing in it but my father's old markings. Okay... Back upstairs to the hallway of memories where my father has pictures hanging of all his old shows. There are five pictures of Into the Woods, the last show he directed. I played the Witch (don't even start in with me on type casting cause my sister played the Cow), so I checked the picture frame of me first. But after moving one by one to each, I found no clue.



So I posted on my family's private facebook page. "Amy, Emily and Mom, where are all or any references to Cinderella in our house? I've checked the Into the Woods pics in the hallway, Sondheim's script in dad's theaterlibrary, inside the DVD case of Into the Woods, there is no Cinderella Disney VHS, there's nothing in a book of fairy tales in my bedroom. HELP. Any other things in our house that reference Cinderella?!"

They were no help. I had less than 24 hours left and I was only on clue number two. This was not good. But my father did write on my wall... Okay, here is a clue. You have already been so close you were nearly burned by the clue."

Sonofa... So I checked all the frames again and the DVD and the Sondheim script and Amy's shoes... and there, tucked UNDERNEITH the tap of the shoe was the corner of a sliver of paper. Seriously dad? Could that have been more obscure. And could it have been the FIRST PLACE I CHECKED and I MISSED IT?!

"Well it's about time," the next clue read. "What happens when Noah and your birthday collide?"

A biblical reference! I've got this one.

So I began looking for the Bibles. However, as part of my Father's Day gift to my dad and part of the reason I came home in June, I promised to help him move his office from work back home. This required going through his old study (my bedroom) and getting rid of books, making piles of books to go through, give away, sell in the garage sale, etc., moving books downstairs to where they belonged. And I'd already collected all the Bibles and made mom choose which ones she didn't want or need anymore (likewise, I made my dad go through all his dictionaries and do the same - there's no need for 15 dictionaries in one house). Afterwards, I'd boxed them up and put them in the garage sale pile.

So I opened back up the boxes and in each Bible I turned to Genesis chapters 4-11. Nothing. Hmm. Not in a single one of the Bibles. Strange.

"When Noah collides with your birthday..."

Well, Noah had an arc, and ships sometimes wreck. So maybe that's the reference. My grandfather had painted a picture of a boat in a sunset that was hanging in the living room. I checked it. You got it. Nothin'.

ANIMALS! Duh. I love animals and Noah had tons of them (two of each in one version of the story and seven of each in the second - yes, there's more than one version of the Noah's arc story). So I ran back up to Amy's room and checked Binky, Emily's old stuffed bear that she loved. That and my Raggedy Ann doll are about all we've got left. Nothing.

So I asked mom for help. She had no clue (pun intended) I had even spent the week looking for clues and now here it was, 4pm the day before I was supposed to leave and again, I was coming up empty handed.

My father watched us brainstorm on the couch from his easy chair and laughed. Finally he said, "Stick with the numbers..."

"Is that a clue?!" I demanded.

Animals went on 2x2.
The flood lasted 40 days ("and nights" my father threw in).
Your birthday is 5...18... 1978.
518 ships?

UGH. Frustrated, we decided to quit for a while and go see a flood of our own: the Missouri River. Afterwards, while dining at a new local restaurant in St. Jo Mo, we returned to the clue.

"There's a chance you've got the wrong Noah," my father suggested.

"What?!" I demanded. "The wrong Noah? I don't even know any other Noahs. At least, not any famous ones."

So I thought and thought and then again returned to Glee. "Noah Puckerman! Puck on Glee! His first name is Noah!... But you don't have the Glee DVDs, we've been down that road before." My father got his biggest laugh yet on this deduction.

"Honestly. I don't know any more Noahs," I announced. "I'm turning to Google."

My father wasn't happy with this option, but it was almost 8pm and I was to leave the next morning. So I grabbed my iPhone and stuffed a little more ravioli in my mouth. "F...a...m...o...u...s...N...o...a...h..."

I scrolled past the Noah and the Arc entries and then read... "Look it up: Noah Webster's famous dictionary..."

"The Webster's dictionary guy's name was Noah?" I asked incredulously. "Who knows that?!"

"I did."
"I did," my parents both reported. Turns out my father had given my mother the hint of "wrong Noah" earlier in the evening and she'd guessed the correct answer right away.

"Oh no," I said, suddenly remembering something. "I already packed all those dictionaries for the garage sale too!"

With my parents in stitches we drove home and I began going, yet again, through the boxes of books already twice packed now for the garage sale. And in the largest Dictionary of them all, on page five hundred and eighteen I found my final note.

"That's better. Are your bags packed?"

All that work and the game was finally over.

Who knows how many hours I wasted (waking and sleeping) trying to figure out those clues. But my dad got a good laugh at my expense. And is was fun... most of the time. But the best part was after returning to Austin, finding one last little note in my... packed bags of course.

My dad loves me and loves to torture me.

And for the first time in my life, I think I'll be able to wait for my next birthday.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Six Degrees and a Couple of Encounters

Several weeks ago, I stopped by Thundercloud Subs on South Congress to grab dinner before a show. Having just dropped my nanny charge and her mother off at the downtown Metro-rail, I had time to kill before I had to be at the theater. T-cloud was close by, not too expensive and I love tuna sandwiches, and I'd brought my computer so I could work on some things while I ate and killed time. The tricky part about this particular Thunder, however, is the parking. One must parallel park on the street (no problem), then walk up the stairs and down the sidewalk to get to the restaurant. Unlike most fast food joints, you can't just park and go inside. So when I saw the man with the shopping cart approaching on the sidewalk at the top of the stairs, I knew I was stuck.

Since the stickers on my car say "Cool People Care," and unfortunately I care what people think of me, I didn't want this hobo to think I was a snob or a hypocrite if he read my bumper. Plus, like I said, I had time to kill. So when he asked me if I had fifty cents, I said no, but offered to buy him dinner.

"Do you want something to eat? I'm on my way to Thundercloud now, I can get you a sandwich."
"I just want coffee."

I'm surprised I discerned that as the man mumbled and was difficult to understand. "Okay then, I'll get you a coffee."

"Do you speak Spanish? Habla Espagnol?"
"Um... no sir."
"My name's Pablo."
"Okay, I'm Ann. I'll grab you a coffee."

Thundercloud Subs doesn't sell coffee. But the guy behind the counter who handed me my food in a plastic box (and no, I did not tip him) said there was a coffee shop down the street. So I paid for my tuna (on top of a salad instead of on wheat bread, I decided) and left. Once outside, I explained to the man I would have to walk down the street to get the coffee.

He asked me for 50 cents.

"No, you may not have fifty cents from me, but I will buy you a coffee. Wait here."

So I walked further down the sidewalk to the coffee bar with dark heavy curtains lining the windows and video games inside. I approached the bar with my salad in a box and my wallet and asked for a coffee.

"What size?"
"Latte or an extra shot of expresso."
"Save room for sugar or cream?"
"I don't know. No."

They must have thought I was crazy. And because no one had to clean up after me and I took the coffee to go, I handed over the two dollars for the coffee (good Lord!), didn't tip, and left.

"I thought you'd forgotten about me."

I hadn't, I assured him, and set the coffee down next to him on the table. He was still sitting outside the sub shop. He tried to give me a clock out of his shopping cart and then tried to offer me a pocketknife, both of which I declined. Then he asked me where I was from and lo and behold, his ex-wife had been from Missouri. And did I know where Kearney was? And had I heard about the Jesse James festival? He's a hero there, you know.

He's not. He robbed banks. And legend has it the first person he killed was a kid skipping classes from my Alma Mater, William Jewell. He did manage to clean up his act and lived, reformed, in my home town, St. Joseph, Missouri (45 minutes from Kearney) until one of his "friends," shot him in his home for the reward money. We've dug his decaying body up three times to verify stuff about him (God knows what!). I know Jesse James, he was not a hero.

"Hmm... no, I'm not familiar with that festival."
"Do you speak Spanish?"
"What's your name?"
"I'm Pablo... Where are you from?"

It went on like that and at some point in there, he began shaking my hand profusely. Of course, all I could think about was that I had to eat my dinner soon and to not panic about the germs. Two people entered Thundercloud Subs and smiled as they passed by me and the hobo holding my hand. I finally freed myself.

"Do you have 50 cents?"
"No, but look here, see, I bought you a coffee," and gestured to the untouched beverage still sitting on the table.
"Oh!" He seemed startled as though he'd forgotten about it and reached his hand out for it but instead just pushed it off the table and onto the sidewalk below. And onto my favorite pair of shoes. "I'm always doing that," he mumbled.
"Okay, well, I've got to go," and I escaped back inside Thundercloud Subs to wash both my hands and my shoe. "Did you see that?" I said to the employees and the couple. "He spilled that coffee all over!" I was incredulous and retreated to the bathroom. When I emerged, one of the employees was outside telling the man he needed to move along.

I too headed back outside. "I'll see you later, okay? Nice to meet you."

"What's your name?"
"I'm Pablo."
"Yes, I know... Goodbye!"

Fast forward several weeks and I had another interesting encounter, quite unlike this one, but interesting nonetheless.

It was Memorial Day weekend and my friends, my dog (she has her own life jacket) and I had been canoeing on Lady Bird Lake. Bailey has his own canoe and while this was a fun excursion complete with birthday candles and a Jesus night light (don't ask), the downside to Bailey owning his own canoe was that we had to get that canoe from the lake back to his house. And of course he doesn't use a car.

But he is an engineer and he has built a wheel and cart contraption that fits inside the canoe when we're... well, canoeing... and that once unloaded and put together, will serve as a sort of cart for the canoe. And after lugging it out of the water, raising it onto the wheels, avoiding the poison ivy, and running it (oh. my. god.) up a huge hill, Bailey, Catherine, my dog and I were on our way home.

"Oh look, there's the woman I ran into this morning on the way down to the lake," Bailey remarked. And as soon as she saw us, she recognized us too... or rather, Bailey and the canoe.

"Ooh you're back. Hold on now, just wait there. Oh and look, you've brought your dog! Let me run inside and get my camera, my sons are going to want to see this."

She returned, took our picture, learned our names, explained about her surfer sons. The woman appeared to be around my mother's age, and was probably retired or maybe only working part-time. The house behind her was old, not newly remodeled like much of its Zilker neighbors, and the yard was unkept. She asked Bailey if he'd ever surfed and inquired about his occupation. Bailey sort of only works when he wants to. He basically gets paid to make stuff... dog toys, high heel shoe holders, canoe carts, whatever.

"And what do you do?" the woman asked turning to Catherine and me.
"I'm an English teacher in Dallas," my friend responded.
"I'm an actor here in Austin," I said.
"Really?!" she exclaimed. "Well my father was a theater professor at UT. You've got to come inside and see this."

Sure enough, after parking the canoe, Bailey, Catherine, I, and yep, my dog, followed the woman into her dead parents' house. Inside, she pointed out boxes of files and written works by her father and his brother, piles of books and some still shelved. She'd already taken most of her father's book to the UT library, but much still remained.

"Those are his books on sexuality," she pointed to several creatively titled books on the top shelf. "He and my mother were very experimental for a while. Theater people, you know. They like to experience and understand every feeling people have. I've been reading my father's diaries and he was very explicit about his encounters."

It was an amazing house. One whole wall was pictures her dad had cut out of magazines, photos, yearbooks, whatever, of colleagues he worked with, friends he had, etc. And the books! Cat and I were in heaven. "I want to live here and help her sort all this," I whispered to Cat.

"I just want to sit and read," she replied.

"This is a book my father wrote," and the woman handed it to me. Hodge. "My dad was Francis Hodge." Sure enough, when I returned home to St Joseph last week, I checked my own father's theater library and found Dr. Hodge's book. Holy cow. What were we doing in that house?

The woman, who had introduced herself by that point, took our names and emails and Bailey's business card (who carries their business card in their swimsuit?) and said she was in town working on the house from California. She'd be returning there soon, "but the next time I'm in Austin, we should all grab a beer. Or maybe I can catch one of your shows!"

"I hope so!" I replied and we returned to lugging the giant canoe back to Bailey's house.

It's not every day that you encounter a man who's partied 45 minutes from your hometown, celebrating the life of your home state's most infamous criminal. Neither is it every day that you are invited into a stranger's home who's father authored a book that sits on your own father's library shelf. It makes this overpopulated world of almost 7 billion people (and still growing more and more by the minute) seem just a little bit smaller. And it makes this violent, war-ridden, fear-driven, hate-fueled world seem just a little more friendly.

And to that I'll raise a spilled cup of $2 coffee.

Or maybe a canoe.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Missouri and a Sense of Place

I woke up this morning to rain. Straight-forward rain. The rain that isn't from a storm, just a passing thundercloud. The kind of rain the lawn service will continue to mow straight through. Straight-down rain.

We don't have that often where I live in Texas. Or if we do, it doesn't feel the same. Here in Missouri, it is cool. It is May and the windows are open, and I slept with a breeze blowing through all night. It is just sprinkling now, at noon, and the mower has packed up and left after his 20 minutes of work and with his 20 dollars of pay. Lying in bed, with the wind blowing, and the rain trickling, I am reminded of closing my eyes as a child and listening to the rain forrest around me. The raindrops dripping and dropping from leaf to leaf, the birds tweeting and singing and making all sorts of noise, but soothing noise, repetitive noise, and I wonder if that's how we originally learned music. As a child though, all that ambient noise sounded just like the "rain forrest" sounds you heard on CDs at those earthy stores in Kansas City that I didn't really understand much except they must have been started by someone who liked to travel. There's no need for sound machines while you sleep here or white noise bunnies placed next to cribs. Not when you lie in bed in Missouri.

In Texas the birds where I live are hideous. Mostly grackles, and they squawk. And because they're not beautiful like a toucan or a peacock, their noise is obnoxious, loathesome even. And while I've had a sprinkling of cardinals in my yard in Texas this spring, it's mostly grackles that one encounters, half deformed from fighting with car tires in the parking lot of grocery stores, pecking at bits of food that have fallen and fried on the smoldering asphalt and squawking and biting at each other, fighting over that generic brand of spaghetti noodles that must have slipped out of someone's cart and been run over by someone else's car and left scattered across the parking lot for the grackles to fight over. Then they fly (if their wings still work) up to the branches of the small trees littering the lot to squawk and shit with the hundred other grackles up there scaring adults and children alike as we scuttle with our groceries underneath.

It's like being in an episode of The Birds.

But it's not like that in Missouri. How it got so peaceful here, I'll never know. I remember the fighting, and the "Get dressed!"s and "That's my barbie!"s of childhood, and the "You ruined my favorite shirt!"s and "I can't believe you read my diary!"s of adolescence. But then all the girls grew up and moved out and learned how to clean up after themselves (except with men and for that they always seemed to come home for help cleaning) and got jobs and dogs and managed both alongside a mortgage and a car payment.

Now you come home and the floors have been redone. You've never seen anything so shiny as these hardwood floors. Even that spot where your sister's bunny peed it's acidic urine all over the floors is gone. And the ceiling that always leaked rain and probably asbestos onto your head during thunderstorms (markedly different that today's brief downpour), it got fixed too, so now there's no spray painting over water stains on ceilings and no hanging posters over places where the wood has rotted. And that spot of cherries on the ceiling that marked where the trash flew everywhere after mom threw it at you because you were fighting over who got the "nicer" sheet of drawing paper as you sat in front of the television, preparing to mimic Bob Ross's lovely watercolor, that's gone too.

My point is that it's cleaner here now, calmer. And one feels safe. Much safer than during childhood even though now one knows that natural disasters and failing economies and adulterous husbands and salary-cuts and mental health disorders all make the world a much scarier place than the masked men under the bed and monsters lurking in the closet and the study room ghost ever managed to conjure up in our imaginations. So while reality has settled in, so has my sense of place in this house and quite frankly, here it has endured. Here perseverance has prevailed.

"It'll get hot here," mother warned when I remarked at how wonderful it felt stepping off the plane at 6 o'clock to be greeted by 87 degrees of heat instead of the hundreds I left in Texas. "Yes, mother but it's June. And still spring. And in Texas its been in the triple digits since May. It won't get that hot here until July." And it will. July and August will be miserable here in Missouri and everyone will be either at the pool or in their office buildings. But by July and August in Texas, we'll have been oppressed by the heat for four straight months, with one or two more to go, and morale will be down, and unlike everyone else in the world who loses weight during the summer, we'll have put more on because there's no exercise to be done when it's 107 degrees outside and the pools feel like bathwater only muggier and even driving from your home to the gym is ample time to dehydrate if you've not had a full 8 ounces before braving the scurry to the car and the rolling down of the windows and the blasting of the AC.

Yes, it'll get hot here, but only for two months. And then the season will change and the rain will fall again and the leaves will turn and new smells and scenery will startle your senses into remembering again that life is changing and we must be aware.

I love my house in Texas. I love my life there. I love my dog and two cats and my boyfriend and my budding acting career and my quirky friends. I love my black, older neighborhood and my toyota corolla with it's "cool people care" bumper stickers and bluebonnets. I love that almost anything I want to buy in Austin I can buy either local or organic. I love that we have whole neighborhoods of "green housing." I love that there are more theaters there, professional and community, than I can keep track of, and that original art can be found on every coffee shop wall. I love the tattoos and the piercings and the mohawks and the liberals and the bicycles, hybids, smart cars, metro-rail, buses and the "dillo."

But I love my parents old house too with the coal bin and the original wood floors (newly polished) and the bookshelves built into every room and the doorknobs that fall off the doors and the attic and the basement and the study where the ghost lived that I moved into when Emily grew old enough to need her own room. And I love the trees that are taller than our two-story house and the fact that it rains at least once a month and I love the flowers and rock gardens and bushes that bloom and grass that grows green without the need for perpetual sprinklers. I love the four seasons and the violent storms and the soft rains and quiet snows and sleeping all night with the windows open.

I love that finally Missouri gives me a sense of place.

Middle Class

Middle-Class Blues

by Dennis O'Driscoll

He has everything.
A beautiful young wife.
A comfortable home.
A secure job.
A velvet three-piece suite.
A metallic-silver car.
A mahogany cocktail cabinet.
A rugby trophy.
A remote-controlled music centre.
A set of gold clubs under the hallstand.
A fair-haired daughter learning to walk.

What he is afraid of most
and what keeps him tossing some nights
on the electric underblanket,
listening to the antique clock
clicking with disapproval from the landing,
are the stories that begin:
He had everything.
A beautiful young wife.
A comfortable home.
A secure job.
Then one day.

Sometimes I wish I was middle class. Sometimes I don't. Mostly I just wish I could sit on the front side of the curtain on airplanes. So. Unfair.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Day Nine Prompt

To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, that is genius. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

What is burning deep inside of you? If you could spread your personal message RIGHT NOW to 1 million people, what would you say?


I'm reminded of a poem that I didn't write, but that I love: God Says Yes to Me. And a sermon I preached several years ago, a little sad and a little beautiful: One.

Be honest, and be yourself.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

My Theory of Tippability: Why It's Not All Relative

Tonight, I'd like to write about tipping. Not cow-tipping. Restaurant tipping. Or rather, fast-food restaurant tipping.

I kind of have a pet peeve and I feel torn about it.

But first, a little background. I used to work in a restaurant. So I know how to tip. I know what it means to tip. I know who tips the most (Lovers and other Waiters), who tips the worst (Christians, Teenagers and PWT) and who tips to the penny (Asians).

I also know that when I worked at a restaurant, I made $2.13 and that's not because I'm a hundred years old and that's what minimum wage was back then. I'm only 33. And this was just after Y2K, so minimum wage was well over four dollars. Yet, I made $2.13 and hour. And yes, there were days (Monday lunches) where I never got one table and therefore walked home with less than minimum wage.

Most days though, we did fine considering the restaurants I worked in were in Waco. Actually, I should take that back. One restaurant I worked in was fine. The other was... well, not fine.

We'll call that restaurant, Chochkies (my second Office Space reference of the week, hmm...) to protect the guilty. While Chochkies didn't make me wear flair (because the restaurant I worked at wasn't actually T.G.I. Fridays, but somewhere very similar), they did make me wear all white tennis shoes, which I had to purchase, because who in their right mind owns all white tennis shoes besides grandmas and nurses? So right there I'm out $40 or so for those damn white tennis shoes. But I'm missing my point.

My first week at Chochkies, I didn't make much money and so on the final evening of that week, I worked until closing. The shift leader was sweeping the carpet (weird, I know) and a family of seven came in to eat. "You can have 'em" she said, and I was so thankful. I couldn't believe she'd given me a table of seven! She must have been taking pity on me since I'd been complaining about not making much money. Maybe I'd been underestimating these people I worked with at Chochkies...

The table ordered, ate, paid their bill (split checks three ways, I think) and got up to leave. I scurried to the table to begin busing it since it's late and I too wanted get home and that's when I saw their tip: $2.


I said this out loud. As in, not to myself, nor in my head.

This may be why when my family heard I was waiting tables to make money during grad school, they laughed.

A couple of the people from the table turned around when they heard me. "Two dollars?" I said, shocked and defeated, and let's admit it, a little defiant. One man fumbled in his pocket and threw down another dollar or two. And then they all left.

"What the hell?" I complained incredulously to my shift leader. They left me less than 10% on a table of seven people and a bill of almost $70!

"I know," she said nonchalantly. "That's why I let you have that table. Hispanics always tip bad."

And there you have it. My first (but not last!) encounter with racism in Waco, Texas, and my first of many "lessons" on tipping and waiting tables. I called my mother that night, traumatized. "She can't say that," I whispered into the phone. "It's so racist!"

And I'm pretty sure that in defiance I took as many "ethnic" tables as possible for the next week.

And then I quit.

Turns out Applebee's, oops, I mean Chochkies, and I weren't a good fit (I also couldn't stand my managers). So I moved on to a local Wacoan restaurant with a slighter different clientele, and I began serving customers there. "I need a Coors for me and a Coors Light for the little lady... oh and a dozen oysters."

All that to say, I know how important it is to tip at restaurants. When you get paid $2.13 an hour by the restaurant, your salary comes from the people you serve. Which is why you want to give good service. Everyone should know this. The managers of the restaurant know it (they adjust the prices of the food knowing that part of what the customer pays goes to the servers), the cooks know it (they're paid by the hour, which is why they can yell at the waiters all they want and not get in trouble - they don't get tipped), the waiters know it (obviously, it's their paycheck), and hopefully the customers know it.

So, if you can't afford to tip when you go out to eat at a sit-down restaurant, don't go at all, because tipping is part of the package.

But I've digressed again. This was supposed to be a post about fast-food restaurants.

You see, I was in line recently at a local chain sandwich shop that had a drive-thru window. I ordered in front of a screen showing me my options, I pulled forward and paid for my sandwich (extra for the pickle slices) and received my sandwich wrapped in paper and stuffed in a plastic bag. I drove away from the window and continued on my journey.

I did not put a tip on the line that said tip when I scribbled my John Hancock at the bottom of the credit card receipt. Because I think it's wrong to tip at fast food restaurants... for two reasons.

One: you're not really getting service.
Two: it's racist.

Let's start with the service as it's easier and less controversial. Maybe.

When you go out to eat at a sit-down restaurant, you are usually escorted to the table, seated, brought your drink, told of specials, answered any questions, given recommendations, your order is taken, you receive complimentary bread, your food is cooked to your desire, it's put on a plate and made to look nice, it comes with specialized condiments on the side, it's delivered to your place setting where you are given additional utensils if needed, in a few minutes you are asked how it tasted, do you need anything else, you receive a refill on your drink, more complimentary bread is brought to your table, your asked if you'd like dessert or an aperitif, your empty plates are cleared, leftovers boxed, and your bill delivered. After you leave, any remaining plates are cleared, washed and set out to dry, your table is wiped and sanitized and any salt, pepper, sugar or ketsup is replaced if necessary.

At a fast food restaurant, you walk up to the counter to order, you pay, you receive your food wrapped in paper or cardboard, you pick up your own condiments, you leave.

That's not service.

No one waits on you, no one washes your dishes, no one refills your drinks, and if you're lucky the table you sat at gets wiped down at the end of some kid's shift. And those people don't make less than minimum wage. So in my opinion there's no need to tip. Whether you're at a local chain sandwich shop that charges extra for the pickle or whether you're at Starbucks, I think tipping for that "service" is dumb.

The other reason I don't like to do that though, is because I think it's racist.

And it's racist, because we're not consistent with our "fast-food" tipping. Think about the places that put tip jars next to the register. (First indicator you shouldn't be tipping. if you're paying at a register, you're not getting tip-worthy service. You just had to stand in line for someone to punch in numbers and take your cash. Give me a break). Starbucks, Ben & Jerry's, sometimes Quizno's, Thundercloud Subs, Freebirds, Amy's Ice Cream (local chains here in Texas), or a local coffee shop in your town. Now, think of other places that give you food wrapped in paper or coffee poured in cardboard, i.e. "fast-food" places, that don't have tip jars next to their registers: McDonald's, Wendy's, Taco Bell, Hardee's, Long John Silvers... you get the picture.

Now, think about who works at Starbucks, Ben & Jerry's and Thundercloud Subs and where those restaurants are usually located... and now think about who works at McDonald's and Taco John's other such chains and where they are located.

You may have guessed I'm poor. If I were rich, this might be a different post. I'd tip anywhere there was a tip jar just to share the wealth. I also vote democrat for similar reasons. But because I'm poor, I have to pay attention to my money. And if I don't have enough to tip at a sit-down restaurant, then I buy fast food. And I've no intention of tipping at such places because I think it's wrong to tip at restaurants where wait service isn't offered. And I think it's wrong to tip at restaurants where the kid behind the counter is either the daughter of that lawyer who goes to your church because you're ordering from the Starbucks at the end of your block in your predominantly white, middle class part of town, or it's that kid with all the tattoos who wants to be in a rock band so they dropped out of college and they're working at a local sandwich shop cause it's local and that's awesome, and mom and dad still foot the rent, because well, there's always a fall-back plan for poor people in their twenties who come from middle or upper class families who can pay the rent until said hippie or skater or musician finds their way or goes back to school.

I'm generalizing, I know. And maybe that makes me as "ist" as my shift leader at Applebee's.

But I don't think those people in those neighborhoods reeeally need the money. They need the money, don't get me wrong. They're college kids or graduate students, or people in their twenties who lost their job and now need a gig that comes with health insurance (thank you Starbucks), but they don't need the money like the people who work at McDonald's on the east side of Austin. The people who work fast-food on this side of town may think they world owes them something, but they're not going to put out a tip jar to show it.

And that's what frustrates me. The people who really could use the extra cash, that 50 cent tip for the coffee in a cardboard cup or that two dollar tip for a sandwich wrapped in paper aren't going to get it. They'll take their meager minimum wage check home and hand it over to their parents, or cash it and head to the dollar store (where for some reason it's legal to buy expired! food), or they give it straight to the bank who's threatening foreclosure on their two bedroom home housing three kids and their grandmother)...

I had an argument with a youth from Westlake High (one of the wealthiest parts of Austin) once about kids from Johnston (a school in the poorest part of Austin that closed the year before). He thought that dealing drugs was stupid (I agreed) and that those Johnston high teens have other choices they can make in their lives. They don't have to sell drugs, they choose to sell drugs, was his argument.

"What if their parents don't make enough to support their family?" I asked him. "What if they don't get enough to eat at their house? What if they want their younger siblings to get a Christmas present this year unlike the year before?" "What if their parents give them the drugs to sell and they don't know any better or know life apart from selling drugs to make money?"

"It's their choice," was his final answer.

I guess he's right. They could go get a job at McDonald's and work for minimum wage and take home $100 after 20 hours a week (on top of school) instead of getting $200 for 30 minutes of "work" early one Saturday morning.

But this isn't a post about drug dealing or the hard choices facing teens and young adults. It's a blog about tipping.

And my bottom line is, it pisses me off that Starbucks and Thundercloud Subs ask for or expect tips (and admittedly sometimes I do tip at these places just because they make me feel so guilty like I owe them something above and beyond the bill for my tuna sandwich with lettuce and tomato, add pickle, on wheat wrapped in paper and put in a plastic bag). And it pisses me off that we comply and don't stand up for or demand tip jars at other fast-food joints on behalf of other poor people. I think it's classist and racist, and I think it's wrong.

There you have it. Ann's Theory of Tippability. Stay tuned next week for Ann's Diatribe Against the FDA or Why the Eff Do We Sell Expired Food to Poor People?

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Day Seven Prompt: 5 Years

There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

What would you say to the person you were five years ago? What will you say to the person you’ll be in five years?

To the Ann of five years ago, 28 years old, living in Austin, TX in the year 2006, having just bought a house two months previous and preparing for her upcoming ordination into the ministry I would say: take more vacations and guard your heart. Trust your intuition, unfortunately, you'll be right about most of the men you date. And don't be a pansy. Stand up for yourself. Sue the guy who sold you the house. You'll need the money someday.

To the Ann of 2016, age 38 and counting, I would like to say: I'm sorry if I screwed this up for us. Do the best with what I've left you. We'll make it through. All we've got is each other. The past, and the present. The future is what we make of it.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Day Five Prompt

Life wastes itself while we are preparing to live. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you had one week left to live, would you still be doing what you’re doing now? In what areas of your life are you preparing to live? Take them off your To Do list and add them to a To Stop list. Resolve to only do what makes you come alive.

Bonus: How can your goals improve the present and not keep you in a perpetual “always something better” spiral?

Part of agreeing to write for Trust30 includes receiving "prompts" from other "Authors" across America. I'm starting to figure out that most of these prompts are written for, I don't know, secretaries who are secretly super talented and are wasting away their ability to translate some African dialect into English so that some remote tribe can communicate with the rest of the world that their water is polluted and can someone please bus in some filters or something? without which this tribe would surely perish and thank God that secretary realized her true abilities and stepped up to bat to recognize her gifts and share them with the world.

Something like that.

Obviously I'm not a fan of the prompts. They make me feel like I'm at in High School or at a self-help seminar. Office Space explains it best...

[Peter, Michael, and Samir are chatting as they hang around the printer]

Peter: Our high school guidance counselor used to ask us what you'd do if you had a million dollars and you didn't have to work. And invariably what you'd say was supposed to be your career. So, if you wanted to fix old cars then you're supposed to be an auto mechanic.

Samir: So what did you say?

Peter: I never had an answer. I guess that's why I'm working at Initech.

Michael: No, you're working at Initech because that question is bullshit to begin with. If everyone listened to her, there'd be no janitors, because no one would clean shit up if they had a million dollars.

Samir: You know what I would do if I had a million dollars? I would invest half of it in low risk mutual funds and then take the other half over to my friend Asadulah who works in securities...

Michael: Samir, you're missing the point. The point of the exercise is that you're supposed to figure out what you would want to do if... [printer starts beeping] "PC Load Letter"? What the f*ck does that mean?

I took this writing challenge as a discipline to write daily and write about stuff and stories that are buzzing around in my head that I'm not taking time to write out properly on paper. So I haven’t been following the prompts. But quite frankly, if I had one week left to live, as today’s prompt suggests, I wouldn't sit down at my computer and write those stories out then either.

I actually hate this question. I get what it's meant to achieve. But what I would do if I had one week left to live is consume. Consume, consume, consume. And give, I'd do lots of giving too.

First off, I'd eat out for every single meal, because if I've got one week to live, then I've got money to eat with and I'm not eating one more Amy's organic gluten free pot pie if I've got one week left. The alternative is eating at friend's houses which is okay too. I'd eat at Chris and Michelle's and have Johnson cook some of my favorite meals of his... one of his soups, or his salads, or fish tacos. Point being, I'd eat good food. And I wouldn't worry about calories. I'd have dessert at every meal. And I wouldn't worry about what will clog up my arteries and what's damaging my liver. I'd consume and I'd enjoy it. Mimosas for breakfast, Bloody Marys for lunch, Grapefruit Martinis for dinner and beer on the porch later that night.

Secondly, I'd spend time only with people I love who give me energy. Unfortunately the list is so long of people I'd want to see in that last week, it wouldn't all get done. And that would suck. So I guess in that last week I'd have to double my Pristiq prescription so I wouldn't get sad that I couldn't fit in everyone I love, I couldn't see them one more time or hug them or jump up and down that I'm so happy they're my friend.

If I had a boyfriend, he'd stay at my house every night and we'd go to bed holding hands and we'd wake up holding hands and he'd sleep on the couch for the night I have the girls over for one last slumber party which would happen several nights since there's several groups of girls over the years that I'd want "one last girls' night" with.

I guess, to go back, I'd spend the first morning getting everything ready, for when I was gone, I mean. I've already got all my passwords to all my accounts written in one place and I've already got a will (I'm a little OCD and tend to obsess over death more than most people anyway). But I'd write out my funeral, how I'd want it to be. How there would be NO HYMNS to be sung at it and how the pastor to officiate must please, for the love of God, not use any male pronouns to refer to the Holy One. Of course, this prompt didn't suggest that I would die after than one week and live would go on without me, but if it's everybody's last week too then that would just cause a serious clusterfuck, so let's just assume it's only my last week and move on. I'd show my parents or my sister or maybe Lynnette or Kate Spencer where all my writings are. Where the journals and sermons and hidden blogs are all located just in case someone wanted to finish all those documents titled: My Book and Book # 2 and The New Book that I have scattered around on my computer, honest attempts at making a difference and doing what maybe I'm called to do, but half-heartedly stored away because they weren't good enough, weren't smart enough, and nobody likes me that much anyway.

And I'd bequeath my stuff. The important stuff. Who gets what work of art and which charity I would prefer to get my clothes, shoes, couches, car, electronics, etc. And I guess this would have to extend over into the last day too because after I've eaten out for every meal for a week and bought plane tickets to Missouri and back, I'd have to assess how much money was left and either write checks to the charities I most value or jot down how much each one gets so my parents can figure that out when I'm gone.

But other than that morning of organization, and other than eating delicious food for every meal, I'd just want to be with the people I love. I'd probably ask Hollywood if I could get a sneak peak of the final Harry Potter movie so I can know how it ends. And I might watch Moulin Rouge one last time, or if that feels too sad for my last week, maybe Little Miss Sunshine or Into the Woods (but only if my sister was there). I'd go dancing at Gruene Hall or the Spoke, but I'd rent the place out so that the bouncer that I put at the door says who gets in and who doesn't so all those schmarmy dancers aren't allowed in and to regulate how crowded the dance floor gets. I mean, Cinda and I need room to dance, people!

I guess there is one thing I'd do that only I can do. I'd get my friend Stephen or maybe if there's no limits on this last week, some legit recording studio in Nashville or New York to record me singing songs from musicals I've done in the past. "Honey Bun" from South Pacific, "Last Midnight" from Into the Woods, "I Don't Know How To Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar, "I'll Tell You What I Think of Him" from King and I - though, maybe not, cause I hated that show, "Pharoah Story" from Joseph, "Soon It's Gonna Rain" from The Fantasticks and I'd get Justin to sing the Matt part, and then maybe a song from the shows I did where I didn't have the lead or shows I did as a kid, or in High School like "Happily Ever After" from Once Upon a Mattress, "Shoeless Joe" from Damn Yankees (both characters I played in High School), "If Ever I Would Leave You" from Camelot (Amy and I were in the chorus of this when my dad directed it - God, that was a fun summer), "The Color Purple" from The Color Purple because I sang that several times at FBC and my mother heard it and loved it, and so did the church, especially Jeanie Spencer. And just because I love the songs, I'd probably do "Defying Gravity" from Wicked, "I Am What I Am" from La Cage Aux Folles, "Rain on My Parade" from Funny Girl, "Maybe This Time" from Cabaret, and of course, the song I've been singing on stages and in showers since I was a little girl, "On My Own" from Les Miserables. And I don't know if my family would want to have this CD. I'd make it with my dad in mind, since he directed the first musicals I was in as an adult, but he may not be into that, I don't know. I know Amy would listen to it though, and she'd burn Brent a copy, so at least two people would have a little something I left behind.

But other than that, I'd eat and drink, and watch the final Harry Potter, be with the people I love and allot my remaining few dollars to charity.

And that, Trust30, is what I'd do if I had only one week left.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Oh Baby!

Today I thought I would write about babies. And if you're sick of hearing about them, I don't want to hear about it, because I'm pretty sure I've got you beat.

From February 2009-January 2010, in just 11 months I welcomed Zoe, Laurel, Lila, Tessla, Lindley, and Arianna into my life. And those kids came to my closest friends. That doesn't include Cane, the Bauer twins, Frannie, Annajean, Win, Edward, Noah, or Marylin most of whose birth annoucements or Christmas cards decorate my fridge. Neither does it include Dillon, Carly, Corbin, Everett, Ace, Roxie or James who were born in the year after that. And neither does it include the two babies my therapist had in the two years I was seeing her. I started off making each kid a photo album on Facebook, but that quickly digressed to a "Babies album" as I just couldn't keep up.In 2010, before I quit my job, one of the steps I took to make sure I was emotionally healthy (because I was not very healthy at that time) was to swear of all baby showers. Cause I mean seriously people, who attends 18 baby showers in two years? That's ridiculous. And if you add in wedding and bridal showers, I was attending a shower for some joyous occasion once or twice a month. That's just too much happiness for one single girl to bear.

And that's the thing about babies and weddings, everyone wants you to be happy for them. And somewhere inside, you probably are.

But truthfully, it gets old.

Imagine 18 of your friends buy a Honda Hybrid. By the time 11, 12, and 13 roll into the driveway, it's old news. You're tired of saying congratulations, and tired of still climbing behind the wheel of your Toyota Corolla. Add to that society's stigma against unwed non-moms suggesting that women are only fulfilled when they're married and bearing children, and suddenly, you've got a single un-mother in her thirties who's a little confused in the head.

Now I know what you're thinking. Statistics say it's the norm now to get married in your thirties. But guess what friends, those statistics came out of New York, and I live in Texas. And while adopting babies from Haiti are all the rage among conservatives (thank you earthquake mission trips) and adopting babies from China are all the rage among rich people (thank you Sex and the City), there's still a stigma attached to adoption. "They must have had problems getting pregnant..." "Well, I heard she..." Virtually no one adopts just because they want to adopt.

Except me. And I'm dating a man who wants to have (or have his wife have) kids because of his own personal experiences with adoption. Great. But that's a post for another time.

So back to the babies.

I didn't mean for this post to be a diatribe against child-bearing adults or their prodginy. I wanted to talk about Tessla, my nanny charge and some of the other beloved babies in my life. But talking about her requires first admitting a few other things.

Truthfully, now, I'm doing a lot better with the whole baby thing. If I get invited to a shower (and of course, I've got one to attend next weekend), I no longer break out in hives. But some people are so ignorant of the way society talks about women and child-bearing, it drives me crazy! For example, here's a conversation a friend of mine had with her supervisor five months after her daughter was born. In their monthly meeting, the supervisor asked my friend, "So, has being a mother changed the way you view counseling or the way you relate to your patients?"

"No," she said.

Awesome. "Thank god," was my response. Thank God it didn't change the way she does her job because to say so suggests a certain enlightenment or change in perspective or fulfillment afforded women who have children. Furthermore, it denotes a level of inadequacy in women who don't have children.

Like: because I'm not a mom, I somehow can't relate to the world in my full potential.

And it's not that I don't think having a baby should change you. It should. But everything you experience in life should change you (hopefully for the better, or at least for a wider-
worldview). The idea that women are only really complete or cognizant or edified or illumined or whatever once they've had children has got to go.

But again, I've digressed, so let me try a third time.

Disclaimer: for those of you who aren't moms, I am not writing this blog to be a smug-pseudo-mother. And if you're as fed up with the baby talk as I was, you have my blessing to stop reading now. (However, the BEST smug pregnant woman song/skit can be found here written by two comedians in LA who've also appeared on shows like Gilmore Girls, Pushing Daisies, Scrubs, and Million Dollar Baby. It's awesome. And you've got to see it. But don't watch it if you're pregnant and emotional or if you have no sense of humor). Again, I am not writing this blog to be a smug-pseudo-mother. I'm writing this blog about the babies in my life and about my job, and I am currently employed part-time (32-40 hours a week) as a nanny. And I want to write about how ridiculously delightful my little charge is. But we must start at the beginning...

First off, there was Zoe.
When I met Zoe, the first words out of my mouth were sung: "Welcome outside of your mother's womb, I know it is frightening but now there's more room." (from "Welcome" by Lori Chaffer off her album 1Beginning) My acquaintances and friends had been having babies off and on since college, but this was the first one to really come into my inner circle, to change the lives of two people I called my best friends. And like Adam did when he saw the wonder of Eve, so did I upon holding Zoe Hilel: I sang. Her father, Peter, watched me and said it couldn't have been a more appropriate response.

Then came Laurel. Literally, out of her mother's vajayjay and onto the bed. I saw it. I was there.
I was supposed to be there for her mother who wanted women surrounding her at her daughter's birth. I was there as her friend, her sister was to take pictures, and her mom was to gush at her first grandbabby. However, Michelle's laboring went so quickly and she was such a champ that she talked herself out of believing she was really in labor for like 6 hours (the only time I will ever know more than Michelle when it comes to childbirth was that day. I knew she was in labor and that baby was coming, and when the doulah finally arrived she confirmed my suspicion and whisked Michelle off to the midwife clinic immediately). So when she finally got to the birthing center, that baby was out in like 20 minutes. Her sister missed it, her mom missed it. So there I was, trying to capture the crowning of the head on camera. I was watching Michelle push so hard that tears came out of her eyes, though I wouldn't say she was crying, I was watching the birth of a baby, something I've feared for years and it was going so quickly and so seamlessly that when Michelle sort of burped that baby out onto the bed, (the actual move from the birth canal out into the bedroom is very fast) I thought for several months afterwards that hell, I could do that too someday!

I changed my mind after Lila came into the world. Somewhere in there I acquired the reputation of being a baby photographer, so when the first couple I ever married asked me to be there for their daughter's birth, I said sure! Laurel's birth was wonderful and exciting and I'll never forget it. This woman who feared giving birth more than the boogieman suddenly heard herself saying, I'd love to help out at the birth. And good thing too. For while Patrick and Angela also chose to give birth at a birthing center, it was a much longer and more painful process.

Fortunately, I'd been at all of Chris and Michelle's meetings with their doulah (not sure how that happened except I practically lived at their house over at 5209). So as 9 o'clock became midnight and midnight turned to 2am, and their midwife just sat there watching from a chair, I began to take as active a role in helping that baby get out as Patrick did. "Let's try squatting," I suggested. "How about the shower?" "Tie this cloth over the door, close the door, hold on and hang from it. Let your body relax." "Let's try the tub now," anything I could remember Chris and Michelle's doulah telling them, I offered to Angela. She was in so much pain and was so tired. I finally napped somewhere in the wee hours of the morning so that when the pushing began around 4 or 5, I was the only one refreshed enough to get through it. Angela fell asleep in the 30 seconds she had between every contraction. Patrick looked exhausted and just lay on the bed beside her. And the midwife crouched down near her feet poking and proding and doing whatever they do to make sure the baby is okay. I saw things I was never meant to see that night and decided then and there that my first intuition about adopting had been correct. I was not designed to bear children. How in the world we got that little alien out of Angela's stomach is beyond my comprehension, but I now knew I would not be getting myself in the same predicament.
Because then I had to go home, get dressed and preach a sermon in big church.

Now that was a night.

When Lindley was born, I got to spend lots of time with her considering she lives in Nashville. I flew out to see her when she was 2 months or so and spitting up more than any creature I'd ever seen. Then again on my 32nd birthday, I was in Nashville for the Festival of Homiletics (a preaching convention) and appropriately so, she's the first baby I ever took with me to a conference. And like a child after my own heart, she cried when the organ played and quietly listened during the sermons. Her parents met as worship leader and pastor at a camp some seven years prior and her mother and I had been best friends (and cohorts in crime) at seminary, so I felt an obligation to introduce her to the theology of Tom Long, Lauren Winner, A.J. Levine and Will Willimon. Plus, her parents needed a babysitter that day.
I admit, by the time Tessla was born, I was getting a little tired of the babies. Plus, I was worried about how my poorer friends were gonna pay for those little monsters... diapers, baby wipes, cheerios, clothes they outgrow in two weeks. They're expensive little suckers. But Tessla was sweet just like the others and her parents seemed happy.
Then when she turned three months old, the shit hit the fan and everything changed. Her mother got lymphoma and went through chemo-therapy and lost all her hair and got sick but got well and finally everyone relaxed. Then I quit my job and she asked me if I wanted to nanny for Tessla for a while, so I agreed. And then, when Tessla was eleven months old, we found out the cancer came back.

But I've written about all that before. And this blog isn't about mamas, it's about babies, so let me tell you about Tessla.

First of all, she's way smarter than me.

She knows a ton of sign language. Now, some of this I taught her and some of it she learned from Baby Einstein, but check out her vocab: eat, more, please, thank you, milk, water, juice, cereal, all done, mommy, daddy, Aunt Heather, Uncle Marcus, Ann (and she made up the sign for me!!), baby, help, ball, story, library, garden, shoes, cat, dog, bird, fish, tree, play, bath, sleep, pacifier (she made that sign up too) and... I'm sure I'm forgetting some.

She can even make sentences. One day we were playing at Chris and Michelle's house, and their daughter Laurel, who is almost two now, began crying and throwing a fit. Tessla looked at me with wide eyes and made two signs one right after the other: "baby" and "asleep." I interpreted her to mean "the baby is sleepy," or perhaps "the baby needs to go to sleep." Either way, I was pretty proud of that first sentence.

And she can verbally say lots of words with her mouth too. I think her first words were dirt (her father is a landscape architech), cat, dog (which both her parents, aunt & uncle, and I all have), da da, shoes, roar (she loves lions), yellow, uh oh (she got that one from me), yeah, no, apple, banana (which she says by sticking her tongue out the side of her mouth and saying yayaya), pickle and mama. Those are the big ones. Now she blabbers all the time, and I just pretend to understand her. Sometimes she talks to me and looks at me like I should be able to understand her, and other times she talks to herself, laughing at her own jokes and having a grand old time.

She smiles and sometimes laughs when it's time to take a nap and I (finally) put her in her crib. She's a child of routine and when I put her down for a nap I change her diaper, close the bedroom curtains (this is when she recognizes what's coming next and begins to giggle), hand her the pacifier, place her in the crib, lay the blanket on top of her, turn on the sound machine, say goodnight, and close the door. She loves it. All my mommy friends hate me. Even at my house if she's ready for a nap and I don't seem inclined to put her down anytime in the near future, she'll walk to the bedroom that she sleeps in and bang on the door until I go open it for her and ask if she's ready to go to sleep.

She's a hoot. And I could seriously post a thousand pictures of her on here, but I'll spare you. Again, I don't want to be a smug nanny.

But I did want to tell you a little about my life and my job and the babies in my life. And tell you I'm happy and healthy and hoping all my patience won't get used up on Tessla and the others in case I do ever get to adopt my own children someday. And I want to apologize if I skipped your baby shower at some point over the last two years. But trust me, you wouldn't have wanted this old hag there anyway. I'm a cat lady. I smell funny.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

A Birthday and A Boy

He was late. I wasn’t surprised. He is often late. He’s unorganized, loves to sleep, and lives out of town. It’s forgivable, but annoying.

I calmly applied make-up to my starting-to-show-my-age face. I would turn 33 at approximately 4:10pm that day and wanted to look my best despite that to celebrate the day of my birth, my friends and I were mostly exercising, beginning with kayaking on Lady Bird Lake. But you never know when will be the perfect opportunity for a photo, and since my boyfriend who was also to be joining us was late, I applied make-up to my already hardening face.

It’s not like he didn’t know what time to be there. After all, I had sent out three detailed emails with the schedule in the days prior to my birthday. Weeks before, he and I had agreed that he would take the day off, we discussed the festivities to be planned, and I sent out reminder emails to the parties involved with explicit instructions on what time to be where and with what in tow.

This is what happens when a woman who’s OCD dates a man who’s ADD; inevitably one of them ends up overcompensating either with organization or minute attention to inordinate detail. Because I’m the one who’s OCD, I had them both covered.

Not only that, but I’d gone over my birthday wish-list with him so there would be no repeat of Halloween or Christmas (neither of which near-catastrophies I care to rehash now). The list was, of course, posted on my blog for the whole world to go over, but since he rarely reads my blog I knew that was a base I needed to cover. Additionally, we’d gone to visit several stores that had clothing or other items I fancied, and had perused the merchandise together. We’d even gone to my favorite piercing salon that sells (real!) diamond nose rings which avid readers of my blog will remember I have been coveting now for years.

But the morning of my birthday, he was late. So late, that I left without him for the lake.

“Don’t cry,” I told myself. "Don’t let him ruin this day. You get to choose your own attitude; you choose how to respond to this." Michelle called to ask where I was. “I’m close,” I responded, “but the boyfriend’s not with me.”

He called when I had almost reached the kayak rental booth. “I’m at your house.”

“I’m at the lake.”

“Should I grab your bike?” (We were going to bike, after kayaking, to Opal Divine’s on 6th Street).

“I guess.”

Chris and Michelle were waving as I began down the path toward the lake and the long row of kayaks. “Happy birthday!” they cried, cheerier than normal.

“You can ride with Michelle and I’ll kayak by myself,” Chris said, relieving any anxiety about me now kayaking alone. “I’m sorry about poopy-head.”

“Poopy-head’s on his way.”

Chris and Michelle are real troopers. They’ve seen me go through more men and been more accommodating and supportive and hospitable and a million other adjectives that describe what the best friends of a serial dater must find themselves embodying lest they perish in the process. They’ve been cordial to the ones they’ve hated and grieved the ones we loved and lost. They would make the most of this for my sake. And we would all be in the water together.

“Don’t worry, I won’t start the clock til you enter the lake,” the guy with the newspaper working the kayak stand told us. He’d managed to pick up on the fact that it was not only my birthday but that we were killing time trying on different life jackets and posing for pictures with paddles while waiting for my boyfriend.

“Thank you.”

The boyfriend arrived shortly thereafter. He was anxious and visibly frustrated. And his clothes weren’t exact kayak appropriate, but part of the tardiness had been that he wasn’t able to finish his laundry. I tried not to be short with him, but found my usual biting criticisms chomping at the bit when trapped in a small kayak in the middle of a huge lake with a boyfriend who was an hour and a half late and kept paddling a different direction than I wanted to go.

But we had a great time despite the minor grievances. We even got to see the last few minutes of some repelling dancers rehearsing off the side of the old Light and Power building. Yes, there are people in Austin who do synchronized repelling and spinning and leaping while 200 feet above the ground, or better yet, above water.

After returning the kayaks when our hour was up, we hiked back up to the cars and got out the bikes to pump the tires and be one our way. However, the tube was punctured on my bike. So Chris and Michelle headed on (since we were behind in the schedule and were meeting people at the restaurant) while boyfriend and I decided what to do. We chose to throw the bikes back into his jeep and just drive to Opal’s.

Lunch was super. Gabe, Bethany and Tessla were there waiting, and once our waitress spotted us, I ordered my favorite drink (a Texas Red), my favorite appetizer (the Divine Quesadillas) and my favorite meal (a Tuna Sandwich on wheat with no onions and of course French Fries). Yum! Of course, I checked in those of us without privacy settings on Facebook, and uploaded a picture of the delicious beverage. Plenty more pics (hipstamatic and regular) were taken of Tessla gobbling down her mac ‘n cheese. And the quote of the day was delivered by Gabe: “Ann, have you ever considered rapping?”

Awesome. Not even going to give you the context.

Once full, we decided it was time to head to our next activity: stuffing our stuffed bodies into swimsuits to lay out by Chris and Michelle’s apartment pool. We said good-bye to the Chances who had to return to work and we took off, Chris and Michelle on bike and boyfriend and I in our cars.

“Let’s head to a bike shop to get a tube for your bike first though,” he suggested and I complied. We found a local bike store and once inside began perusing the items. We quickly found the tube we needed and then had to hold each other back from buying everything else we might ever need for a bike. That store was very dangerous.

“I don’t have a bike lock.”

“You need a new seat.”

“I love these pink handles.”

“Let’s ask about bike pumps.”

In the end, we left the store with a tube and a bike pump, despite my objections. “Why do I need a bike pump when the only time I ride my bike is when I’m with either you or Chris, and you both have pumps I can use?” But he bought it anyway because sometimes he’s just as bull-headed as I am.

When we got out to our cars, he handed me the tube and bike pump and said, “Happy birthday,” sheepishly shrugging his shoulders and managing a smile.

Oh my god, he didn’t get me a real present.

“Thanks,” I said, and hurriedly closed the door on my car and blinked a few times before pulling out of the parking lot and heading on to Chris and Michelle’s.

My heart sank. He didn’t get me a present.

He bought me a tube and a bike pump which I didn’t even want. He bought me a present he wanted. Wanted me to have, but still - something I didn’t want or need. I’ve been talking about the importance of this birthday for a month and had the whole day planned, pro-actively, to make sure I spent it doing things I enjoy with people I enjoy, and he showed up an hour and a half late and couldn’t plan ahead enough to buy me a real present, something meaningful that suggested he cares?

I was dying. While I know presents are not the point of birthdays or holidays, they are nevertheless important to me. I’m a gift-giver. I love picking out things that are special that I think people will like and when I have money, I buy those things, write a little card, and give the gift. I love it. And I love receiving gifts the same way. It’s my love language. I blame my father who spoiled us as little girls with presents hidden in the pockets of trench coats, sitting in the carseats when we opened the door, discovered at the end of treasure hunts with clues we had to decipher to find. But right now, I was blaming the boyfriend. My no good, never on time, couldn’t plan ahead if his life depended on it, lazy ass boyfriend who I know just slept all day on Monday and even came into Austin on Tuesday for a voice lesson (and could have just swung by Parts & Labor my favorite store to grab a tee-shirt or necklace), didn’t get me a present.

I got a bike tube and pump that he bought in front of me and handed to me at the car.

I have to end this, I thought. I can’t keep getting disappointed at every holiday. Hell, we broke up once over Christmas, why not break up for good on my birthday?! Seems sadly perfect! It's just that I can’t keep doing this. I know I’m high maintenance, but I’m not that horrible of a person. All I want is for him to take off work one day and show up on time with a present in his hand. Surely some boy somewhere likes me enough to bring me a present on my birthday!

My mind began reeling through the dates I’ve had over the last few years. None of them very notable and none of them lasted very long. Then my mind moved to sadder more far away places, and played over the men who made it into the small corners of my heart and left a little bit of themselves inside. I grew more frustrated and even frightened. “All I want is a diamond nose ring!” I cried out loud in my car choking back the tears. Is that too much to ask?

I felt like Sandra Bullock in While You Were Sleeping. All she wanted was a stamp in her passport that said “Italy.” All I wanted was, well, a nose ring. And love. I guess we both wanted the love presupposed behind the stamp and the stud.

We arrived at Chris and Michelle’s and I got out of my car resigned to the fact that I would have to break up with the boyfriend… tomorrow. No sense ruining today with that. I mean, I’d bought us tickets to the theater for later that night! I was just going to have to put on my game face and get through the rest of the day.

“I got you one more thing at the bike store,” the boyfriend said, getting out of his car. “While you were in the bathroom.” He handed me a small box. “It’s a patch kit.”

“Thanks,” I replied, un-enthused, and opened the trunk of my car to get out the cooler for the pool.

“Open the kit.”


“So you can see what’s in it.”

I was so pissed. I pulled open the box. Why did he have to show me how the patch kit works right now? I don’t care about this! Could he be more clueless?

I pulled a little plastic bag out of the kit.

“What’s that?” he prompted me.

“A pin.”


I looked again, and against my will, a smile began to creep onto my face. “Is it a nose ring?” I asked, incredulous. He began jumping up and down, pleased not only that he’d pleased me, but surprised me too.

“But I’m so mad at you!” I said, smiling through my shame. “I thought…” I trailed off.

I thought. I thought. I thought. All I ever do is think. I analyze and over-analyze and assume that people will never change and that I’ll never find love. Not that love comes in a 1/8 caret stud that gets shoved up one’s nose, but it’s the symbolism of the matter. I assume and judge and exhaust myself while hope battles despair inside my brain and resignation wins in my heart. Or because I can’t stand to be made a fool, I end up alone again.

But not right now. Right now I am not alone. I may feel a fool, but I'm not alone. Right now I may be a repentant and embarrassed girl who will cry if she wants to on her birthday, but at least I’m with a man who, as it turns out, loves me anyway. A man who loves me despite my lists and organization and obsession with holidays. A man who loves me enough to hide a real diamond nose ring in a bicycle patch kit while I’m in the next car over practicing my break-up speech.

No wonder they say fools fall in love...