Sunday, March 16, 2008

If you lived inside a wedding cake

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Magenta and I went out taking pictures today in Social Circle, Ga. and it became all about shadows on houses. When I saw this one, I could only think how much Miss Havisham would like to live here.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Are you done choking?

Apostrophes are my extended metaphor for child-rearing, but that's simply a grammarian's approach. I tell the kids in the classroom, "There's only one rule and one exception apiece for possessives, both singular and plural." Here they are:

--when forming singular possessive, it is always correct to add an apostrophe and an s.
--the exception: when the owner ends in s, x, z, ch, or sh, you MAY drop the final s. But here's the thing: you don't have to.

Plural possessive
--when forming plural possessive, make the owner plural. Then add an apostrophe.
--the exception: when the owner doesn't end in s, add an apostrophe and an s; i.e., the children's martinis.

See, now you never have to worry about apostrophes again. But this is not really about grammar; it's about rules. And how parenting rules apply to children, your own, of course, not others'. (Please note how the apostrophe sings. It's like Maria Callas--accuracy and inspiration.)

I used to have one child. Now I have three, because I got a two-for-one deal back in 1993. When I had the one, a perfect and delightfully easy child until she was 13, Alberta used to tell me her rule of childrearing. There was only one and here it is:

"Give them what they want, and agree with everything they say."

She didn't even give me any exceptions, so according to her twisted logic, children are easier than apostrophes. I was appalled. Was she crazy? Alberta, did you USE this when raising your own two--the Planet A alien and the CPA in an infant's body? What are we talking when you say give them what they want--a Coach bag, a knife, an Oreo, a Humvee, a nap? No guidance from Alberta; she'd finished her driving the to the boys' basketball games and play rehearsals and was lording it over an empty nest. So I blew it off, even though it came from the font of all knowledge, and returned to Dr. Spock and Judith Martin.

Then the 13-year-old ran away from home(curfew) repeatedly, and the twins began their reign of terror. They threw two dozen eggs on the kitchen floor in 12 seconds, ate their grandfather's blood pressure medicine, some silicone beads from a shoebox, and an entire bottle of Flintstones vitamins, poured Clorox in each other's eyes, worked out a strategy for getting over two baby gates stacked one on top of the other, and hacked their long blonde hair off the day before Easter. So I quit. Anybody would have.

I renounced experts, embraced the Satan that was my offspring, and simply tried to maintain a facade of civility, so then of course their less bestial natures emerged. They became their middle-school's cross country champions, made honor roll, and are now competition cheerleaders with wicked senses of humor. They're clean, can make grilled cheese sandwiches, navigate New York City subways, know the "Folsom Prison Blues'," lyrics, and have money in their ridiculous Vera Bradley purses. They're a perfectly punctuated couplet--for now.

This morning, I was in the ladies' room at a bookstore when I heard a heavily-accented woman speaking to her small child. "Are you done choking?" I think she said. It made perfect sense to me. There's a mother with more innate sense than I, who knows the value of politeness. I don't know if the child had a murder victim in the stall or almond biscotti from the cafe, and I'm not saying Alberta's right, but that woman's toddler is probably destined for the Brookings Institute.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Amaryllis keeping away the evil spirits

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Down at Bucatunna Creek, Mississippi, Magenta and Amaryllis put up a bottle tree to trap the haints. The only witch down there now is Drusilla Carruthers and no one can tame her.

Billy Collins' Sweet Talk

Sonnet finito--on blindness

Milton, sure, but I was just reading another writer's blog asking what book one would read if one were going blind. Anna Karenina's the obvious choice; it's been sliding around on the back seat floor of my car for two months, much the same way that Moby Dick made my New Year's resolution list seven years in a row. (No, I never did.)

Blindness, see, has long been a subject of fascination--not total blindness but encroaching. For others, too; James Thurber and Garrison Keillor both wrote about the wondrous things you see when you're half blind. For me, who first got the 70's kind of wire-rimmed glasses at 12, it was all about leaves. Consequently, JRR Tolkien's story of a being who spent his entire life painting one leaf reverberated in a burst of resplendent light all through my rods and cones. This first awareness led me to the following:

Ansel Adams: the way light streams through the leaves of the redwoods
Adrien Coortje: luminescence of gooseberries and asparagus
Edward Hopper: beach sun streaming into an empty white room opening onto the shore
Annie Dillard: examining a mantis sack attached to a twig in the kernel of snowy winter

These artists knew the joy of observation.

All close up textures mesmerize me into a myopic trance. Far off, or approaching swiftly in the car, I mistake objects for others. A trash bag by the curb once was a small bear, and the other day on Shiloh Road, I thought I saw Darth Vader standing sentinel halfway up a steep hill until I realized he was a black metal mailbox. Do things take their shape only when we ascribe forms to them? Being legally blind in one eye makes me think it is entirely possible that the world is a cyclonic mass of swirling particles that become what they are only when we decide.

A year and a half ago, out running, I tripped over some gravel, a shoelace , I don't know what, and fell, concussing myself and smashing the left side of my face, the one with the legally blind eye. Since then, I went to my eye doctor for contacts once and he clucked and twitted over my dramatically decreased vision, proposing glaucoma when I am fairly sure it is nerve damage from the fall. I do know I can only effectively see out of one eye now.

So, to answer your question, reading blogger, I will take Anna Karenina over to Jimmy Jack's Gourmet Sandwich Shop in Athens, and order a turkey on whole wheat with avocado and sprouts to sustain me as I read But first I must take the photo I've been longing to, of the way the sun hits the white tiles by the chips rack and the day's specials chalked up on the black surface of the menu board. Only then, once I have satisfied my physical and visual hunger will I be able to take Tolstoy's words and make images from them.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

What Yeats & Will said

"Tis certain that fine women eat/a crazy salad with their meat/whereby the Horn of Plenty is undone," said William Butler Yeats.

Ava had one kind of salad; I'll take mine with a light dressing of temperance and humility. This week in crazy salad classroom, we finished Romeo and Juliet in freshman and Paradise Lost in senior English. Is is indeed better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven? Heaven is the place where I can stand on a table and sing like Tammy Wynette, Alberta is making mixed media art and leaving little scraps of paper all over the room, Zinedine Zidane is about to take a penalty kick, my grandfather is playing poker with his buddies, Mother is plotting crimes she'll never commit, the twins are coming down the chutes in a cross country race, and Josh Hartnett is dialing my number on his cell phone. I'll get down from the table and mark my place in the new Shirley Jackson novel before I answer.

Hell, on the other hand, is Wal-Mart with Nascar and rap music. John Wayne Gacy rings up your groceries and Pennywise bags them at the checkout. In the pharmacy Laurence Olivier asks, "Is it safe?" to determine whether you can have the oil of cloves. As you leave the parking lot, someone pulls out in front of you, gets in the left lane, and drives 15 mph, until you MAKE them sorry. Oh, wait; this is hell, so you just have to tailgate for the next 50 miles, or eternity.

But to bed--"Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountaintops. I must be gone and live, or stay and die." John Milton, I do believe that not only would I rather serve in Heaven, I'd make good tips.