Thursday, July 30, 2009

Squaw's Eve

I leave Saturday morning for Squaw, the writer camp/intensive program I got into this year. As my friend Honduro says with despair, "I'm too excited about it." We're nervous about loving Squaw too much. Why does the excitement feel explosive and doom-like? Like I'm preparing to die from happiness there. Honduro says he looks forward to having conversations with the aspen trees along the Truckee River. I said, Ooo oo, I'll work on my hawk call and hope to get answers back from them. We happily surrender to our inner nature-word geek and we feel unashamed about it, though Husband looks at me with side glances as the time nears and says, "ookkaayy" a lot. My geekdome is busting at the seams. It's ok. Because during this week, diving deep to string words together well will be unobstructed. I'll get to freefall into understanding them. I will be un-obstacled by work, by any regular demands. I won't even be blocked by the self consciousness of my charged sense of observation, a trait I usually try not to put on display. And I won't be hindered by the self-consciousness of obsessively wanting to assemble words until they click together perfectly. It's safe for everything to be a wonder there.

I'm bringing Loops too, to commute to workshop in the morning, in the summer-mountain air, and for overwhelming rides around Lake Tahoe where the sheen of lake water will blind me. Wait until you see pictures of this place. I'm also going to meet one of my favorite writers, Dorothy Allison, who has been on staff at Squaw a few years now. She's going to sign my crinkled copy of Two Or Three Things I Know for Sure, and I'm going to be awkward, bursting with nothing to say. And I'm going to ask Rebel Girl if I can stow away in a back cabin room for the rest of the summer, well beyond the seven days of the intensive. Just until I can sort out my feelings and compose myself. My stomach hurts from loving too much what's about to happen, even when I told myself I wasn't going to let anything lilt too high or dip too low. But really, I just want to release it and let me feel it and pay the consequences later. Go ahead. I'm down for the ride.

I thought of something recently, about the corralling of feelings and why it's destructive. This has nothing to do with writing, but it has all to do with real emotion, and writing falls in that category for me. I was remembering how people used to tell Mama not to baby me when I was little. She would've coddled me to death, and I would have gladly let her, but the advice from everyone else deterred her. She'd spoil me, she was told. Don't baby her, they said. I didn't see her that often and I didn't know why she wouldn't just let me sleep with her or at least fall asleep with her, until my stepgrandfather would tell her to put me to bed to keep me from being spoiled, which is really exactly what I needed. Man, I ached for it. And Mama, who was not strong, didn't let me in her bed, she pulled the reins on how much she wanted to love me, but she did baby me as much as she could get away with. Then she died when I was still young. So really, what was the point of rationing the love? The absence of it hurt more after. And I kind of feel that way about anything where real emotion and love is felt. Like, why be scared to love Squaw or anything or anybody too much. Love the fuck out of it for god's sake. Love it now.

Come on. I'm ready for the ride.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My First Anthem

Here's Linton Kwesi Johnson singing Five Nights of Bleeding from the Dread Beat An' Blood album. I listened to this cassette tape so often in my early high school years that when the cellophane of the tape finally got eaten by the tape player and unravled into a glossy, useless pile, I nearly cried. For all my revolutionaries at heart out there, can I get a Madness!

Almost 10 years ago, I bought the album again on CD and I listened to it on my way to work this morning. It made feel better.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Grandmutter's Here

It's really not anything in particular that she does that scrapes against my nerves. She is very nice, doesn't want to be a bother in the least. Maybe it's the smacking of the lips and mouth when she eats. Loud smacking. Why does she do that? Or maybe it's the constant, bored droning. Or the restlessness. It's probably the chronic, high-intensity, east-coast neurosis deeply ingrained in her; she's a Woody Allen movie packed tightly into a fifty-something Puerto Rican woman, though the PR in her has nearly faded completely away. Every once in a while she'll say something in Spanish and it's shocking, like the Queen of England just muttered some PR jargon.

Grandmutter is visiting, Husband's blood mother (Note: not Mama Luz, who is really Husband's step mom), and I do love Grandmutter because that's what family does, right? We love them unconditionally, but to be quite honest, I'm not used to family etiquette and allowances and consideration. I was raised a lonely wild child; there was erratically random strictness, but other than that I made my own way. Time with my kin was irregular and sparse, and I didn't learn much about familial tolerance.

I've been a quick study, I think, but sometimes I question if I even like people in general, especially when they come to stay at my house.

It's not the fact that she's a Jehovah's Witness either, because we all steer clear of this topic. We all edit our conversation; Husband and I carve down our usual loose, irreverent way of talking -- all f-bombs are gone -- and Grandmutter doesn't shove a Watchtower in our face at every waking minute. She'll subtly leave one or two in strategic places, but nothing more, which we appreciate immensely. She'll read the bible to Mina -- Husband and I are a lost cause -- and that's perfectly fine with me because, really, I do love bible stories. Not the misogynistic and clearly propagandous tales that were indicative of the perception and time in which the stories were written, but there are some classics in there. I took a Bible as Literature class in high school and I loved it. And there was that Seventh Day Adventist trip I went on in my late teens. So, this morning when Grandmutter read to me a passage from a Watchtower about what the Israelites ate back in the day, I was all ears. You know I have my own agenda regarding whole, healthy food -- that's what I'm preaching -- and our worlds meshed this morning. The Israelites ate mainly a vegan diet of bread and olives and figs and almonds and fresh and dried fruit and all kinds of veggies, 30 different types she said. And I was all, see? And Grandmutter was like, yes. And I think then she was willing on me that I (re)accept Jesus, and I was willing on her that she not eat Walmart pot roast and oreos and boiled-to-mush broccoli.

This morning went well because usually she reads the newspaper and she has a knack for finding the most horrific stories. Yesterday morning she read to Mina and me at the breakfast table. "Oh my dear," she said, and you have to imagine the most nasally Bronx accent on earth, "four boys raped an eight year old girl. Took turns on her." I looked over at Mina. I'm not opposed to her hearing such terrible stories, but usually I follow them up with long talks and discussion. "Oh my, the boys ranged from nine years old to fourteen. They lured her into a shed with chewing gum." I stopped eating, anticipating where this was going. Mina, thankfully, had tuned her out because she has already mastered this trait which she learned from her dad. "The fourteen year old boy is being convicted as an adult. Oh dear, this boy has ruined his life," Grandmutter said. I couldn't say nothing. "The boy?" I said. "Forget that boy. What about the poor girl?" And then Grandmutter read the rest of the story which almost crushed my will to live because it turned out that the girl's family was from Liberia and when the father found out about the crime, he told the police he didn't want the daughter back; she had brought shame on them. The girl sits in protective services, unclaimed, unwanted. I almost blacked out from the panic of the situation. Good Morning.

When she drones out Husband's childhood name in a long, slow Bronx drawl, Husband's neck jerks into his shoulders. He closes his eyes and puts his head back. Grandmutter will repeat the name until he yells out, "What is it, Ma?" She says my name the same way now, with the slowest, most nasally emphasis on the second syllable. Repeatedly. And it's that she calls for you the second you've just sat down with a book, after the dogs curl up on your lap. Or after Husband has just gotten into bed. Or you've just sat down with lunch. Or gone into the bathroom. She says the sinus-toned name and then apologizes when you come to see what she wants.

You know what it is? It's that she doesn't want to do anything, but she's clearly bored out of her skull. She had visited a few years ago, and she was on a "health kick" back then. She had spring in her step. She loved exploring all of Santa Monica on her own by bus, on foot. She seemed alive. And I'm not sure what happened. She admitted that she was on a "diet" back then and now the diet is over and so is everything else, it seems. Her leg hurts. She wears ridiculously painful sandals to walk around. Her feet hurt. It's hot. She's bored. She doesn't like TV though I see her watching medical examiner shows where they reenact autopsies. Last night's episode was about a teenage girl who died from a tubal pregnancy. "Oh my dear." No conversation interests her. She doesn't want to sit by our new community pool. "The life guards can't always see drowning children. Sometimes they drown when they are excellent swimmers." She will go to the mall, but everything is so expensive. I thought she would enjoy the Santa Barbara farmers market. She did like the drive up, but the only thing that sparked her interest was a Marshall's she spotted along the highway. Could we go there on the way back? If it's not much trouble. "Look at the strawberries!" I said, trying to spark some enthusiasm. Nothing. She did raise her eyebrows when she heard how much they were. She really liked a tamal she bought from a vendor at the market. "I've never had tamales," she said. I told her they were like pasteles (a PR equivalent) but made out of corn. "Have you ever had one of these?" she asked me. I told her that Mexican food on the west coast is like Chinese on the east. Lots of it, cheap and good. I said, "What about this lettuce though, huh?" And she wandered off.

She wanted to fly back home earlier than her scheduled flight on Wednesday. She said at home she's always doing something. And by something she means cooking or cleaning (and going to the Kingdom Hall.) But here she can't relax. She's so restless. We're driving her nuts too, apparently. And usually Husband would have changed her flight by now, but the thing is is that she's taking Mina back to NY for her annual NY Family Visit. And if Grandmutter leaves early, then so does Mina. And I'll brave the neurosis and droning and smacking (loud smacking!) to get two more nights with my love child. So, Grandmutter is going to have to suffer two more nights with us too.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tour de Growing Food

I wanted to show you this:What?? I'm made things grow from the ground. Food is budding! I don't understand it, but I'll take it, gratefully. The carrots were a bust and yes, the eggplant didn't feel like coming out of the ground either. But look at this beauty. This may or may not turn into a green pepper at a later date.First tomato babies:I got a little baby Kaffir Lime tree. The stacked double leaves are the thing; ground up, they make a Thai-inspired dish magical.And here's the big sister dwarf Meyer Lemon tree. Can't wait for this to mature more.I'm mesmerized by the zucchini leaves.
I think there's Grow Food Fever going around, which is the best of all recent sickness. In the alley behind our apartment there are a circle of pots next to a carport. Food is growing inside of them. There are long-ass tomatoes, swiss chard, chili pepper (?) and strawberries. The pot arrangement looks junky until you walk up to it. Then your heart melts. Empty wine bottles line the concrete wall behind the plants, left for the recycle collectors, and the garbage smells and the asphalt is potholed in crumbling formation, but when I hover over the tiny alley farm witnessing a neighbor's efforts and how they put it on public display to root on the tiny plants, I feel a large sense of triumph. The pots all but scream, Isn't this a good idea? This is about the best form of food advocacy as any.

Except for maybe this which I saw when I walked the dogs down the alley next to Mina's elementary school the other day:Who are these people smart and cool enough to plant alley farms and hop a fence to graffiti Grow Food in perfect beet colors? I love them.

So anyway, I've been watching every minute of the Tour de France. It's so good and riveting; drama filled and yes, I'm drunk on Lance Armstrong's drive, but every time I open my mouth to talk about the Tour de France with people who are not watching, which is everybody, I'm embarrassed. The majority of eyes glaze over as I try to explain a Stage 3 crosswind attack -- I mean, it was brilliant! -- but still, who the fuck cares. But I so want to talk about it!! I have to restrain myself. Husband pretty much cuts me off and says, "Who's winning?" Yea but-- You can't just -- UUGG. This much restraint is cruel on me.

Grow Food!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Queen of the Cali Farmers Markets

Molly and I were talking about the farms she has visited near Santa Barbara, about the amazing work some of these organic farmers do, and the next thing you know we're putting in motion an early morning drive to the Santa Barbara farmers market. That drive is an hour and half from us and on fourth of July we just got up early and went. That long of a drive to a farmers market seems ridiculous especially when our own Wednesday farmers market, just a mile a way, is the type where LA chefs come early to fight over the first pickings. But let me tell you, a market that is set up near the actual farms is a fresh-food geek's technicolor dream. I'm considering going back so often that I'll have to conveniently redefine my concept of buying "locally." Eesh.

We arrived at the opening of the market, and once through the threshold of the parking lot lined with overflowing booths masterfully displaying gorgeous produce, Molly and I stood erect and become illuminated from the inside out. We are the ultimate admirers of such a fantasy farmers market. It was like entering a secret garden and we wove through the lanes smelling and touching and oohing and aahing, wide-eyed and floating. After fawning over a berry booth -- crouched low for microscopic views of soft, sweet Loganberries -- the farmer said to us without any lead in, "You guys are adorable." We were like, huh?

I've never considered lettuce artful. Until Saturday. Molly knows the most prolific lettuce farmer in the area and his lettuce is not just inspiring, it's jaw-dropping. Molly says he's the type of farmer who stares at the rows of lettuce for long periods of time to get a sense for what the lettuce needs. He'll weed them at one in the morning, nurture them to no end. He does nothing to prevent bugs because he believes whatever bugs come are there to balance out what the lettuce needs. And this level of mastery shows in every single head of lettuce. It was astounding. Each head was larger than any I've ever seen. Each leaf was perfectly and purposefully placed, thoughtful in design, though obviously not designed. When I sampled the butter lettuce, it tasted creamy in texture. How can that be? Creamy! I couldn't' get enough of the lettuce.Though the lettuce moved me the most, I have to say that every item at the market seemed an accelerated display of farming. It was the best in show; the lettuce taking top billing in my mind, and these taking a very, very close second: These tasted like candy. I'm not joking. No, seriously. These are what strawberries taste like in heaven. They were mind blowing, and I would've eaten all three baskets myself if I didn't keep giving them away saying, "Holy shit, you have to try one of these . . ."

Here's a collage of my day. I can't wait to go back.