Spring!

I am aware that it appears as though I’ve been loading up my  u-haul for the last three weeks in preparation for my move to the East Coast, where I will be pitching a tent in the Guilford Green and taking showers in the Guilford Free Library, because I will have no home and no job there when I arrive.

But, in fact, that’s not what happened after my recent trip to the east coast.  I got home to Berkeley.  Spring’s arrival is unambiguous.  Poppies everywhere.  Jasmine blooming in huge bunches.   Meyer lemons bursting on our bush outside.  How could I live anywhere but where I live?  And so I became distracted from blogging and everything else, and for three weeks I’ve been picking bunches of blooming things and coloring easter eggs and cooking stuff.   Lovely.

While doing all that, I’ve been thinking about this particular time in my life.  Spring is universal and timeless.  It comes.  It goes.   Things burst into life and then they are dormant.  Against that backdrop though, my children are becoming teenagers — a season I won’t ever see again, but one I love watching from a distance.

What I’ve noticed is that this  bursting-into-life, their spring, is actually pretty wonderful.  Adolescence is a time of big, gusty emotion, which can be a pain to deal with and can really unbalance a woman who isn’t used to that kind of drama (except when she’s doing it).  It’s also, though, a hugely fun time.  My kids are mischievous — they tease each other and me, and although I know that doesn’t sound like a big thing, I love it that they feel enough freedom to give me a hard time about listening to Lady GaGa.   I also love it that Lady GaGa, with her many weird outfits exists this spring.  And my kids are excited about being freer, about going to a big urban high school in the fall, about finding their own way — on the bus and at that school and then into the bigger world.

This weekend, Jack’s performing in Rigoletto — he has three lines on that huge stage, but he belts them out beautifully.  And Charlie?  He’s jumping off things on his skateboard that are very big — and spinning around when he does it and then landing and looking like it was all no big deal.  (While he wears the helmet I force him to wear).  It’s scary and exciting and fun to watch them.  I love being the mother of these kids, love the way they’re stepping onto the stage and launching themselves into life.

Happy Spring!

Moving To Guilford

 

I’d like you to be the first to know that I’m going to move my family to Guilford, Connecticut, preferable to a house that’s right on the Green, and across the street from the Guilford Free Library, which is where I am at this exact moment.

The only trouble is that I can’t actually move, having a job I like in San Francisco, and a husband with a job HE likes in the Bay Area, and three children in schools they like in Berkeley and a dog, well, the dog could move to Guilford. Maybe. The thing is, though, he has a friend in the neighborhood, a sporty dog named Dash, who can actually play with Archie without giving in to him or getting into a big embarrassing dog fight. Archie would probably want to stay in Berkeley too, I‘m thinking.

What this is, of course, is what always happens when I travel to see friends. When I do that, I always discover thatI want to live in the places where they live. Although this isn’t possible, it is possible to list the reasons, which is what I’m going to do.

Why I Want to Live in Guilford:

If I lived in Guilford, I could be near my friend Debbie. And then I could watch her talk about her books with her beautiful long fingers making motions in the air to describe what she’s talking about and every once in a while I could even look into her office and see the drawings on her drawing table and know that here, where Debbie lives and works, wonderful books are being written for children, books that will entertain them, make them think, and make them love books even more than they already do.

If I lived in Guilford, I could be near Sandi Shelton. And then I could go for a walk with her on the beach at Hammonasset and she’d give me advice about my next book that would not only be correct but would also be inspiring. Plus, I would laugh a lot and so live a really long time, so I could take full advantage of her good advice. Also, I could watch her type, which is what I’m doing at this exact moment, and because she types fast, I’d always feel like things were good, because Sandi’s typing someone a really great,  long, funny and inspiring e-mail.

If I lived in Guilford, when spring came, I’d be so incredibly grateful that I wouldn’t quite know what to do with myself. Because after months of winter and then months of mud, flowers and green things would really mean something. I say this now, just as spring is about to arrive in Connecticut. What would it be like to actually live through these New England winters? I’m really not sure. Maybe it would be hard.

If I lived in Guilford, I could come to the Guilford Free Library, where there are just an amazing, amazing number of tables with plugs and lights and surface space. Not to mention, carrels, and little offices, and even, in the teen section, two of the kind of booths you see mostly a soda shops in tv sit-coms. Across from the booths in the teen section there’s a bunch of board games. Who ARE these people in Guilford who love library patrons so much that they even have a little table in the children’s library with a tea maker and coffee maker and an honor box where you can put in your dollar after you make yourself a cup of tea? If you were a tired parent, and it was the middle of deepest darkest winter, well, you could come here with your child and you could drink some tea and read a book because the children’s section has books for miles, plus a little yellow house where a child can sit and play for hours and hours.

If I lived in Guilford, I could walk the mile and a half down to the shore and then back again — the perfect three mile walk. I could do it every day, all year long, because that is what Gortex is invented for and so even if it was cold or icy, there are winter clothes that would make this intrepid behavior possible.

And if I lived in Guilford, my family would be wth me, and they’d be doing all these things too (well, maybe not the part about writing in the Free Library, although William might find that pretty tempting), plus W, who is a windsurfer, could windsurf out on the Long Island Sound, which is where he learned to windsurf in the first place.

I am leaving in two days, and I know I am not going to be able to move to Guilford. But I am at least able to be happy for Sandi and Debbie, and all the other people who live around here, because even though you can’t always live where your friends live, at least you can know after a good long visit that they are, in fact, living happy lives, which is pretty much why you travel to see your friends: because you need to know that they’re happy, and you need to live alongside them for a little while so when you go home their lives will feel just that much closer next time you find yourself missing them. So, I now have a good picture of the library and the Green and the way winter becomes spring, which should sustain me when I get back to Berkeley, which is a pretty fine place to live too, now that I think about it.

I Love the Farmer’s Market

The Civic Center Farmer’s Market (Wednesdays and Sundays) is one of my favorite things about working where I do. There’s no avoiding it (although who would want to?) because it’s right outside the entrance to the BART station. Just as there’s no avoiding the fact that it really, truly, finally is spring. Peaches are here! And how about that use of the word “rich”? 

It has indeed been a rich May around here.  When you look up from the peaches you can see the State Building, which is where I work, adjacent to San Francisco’s golden domed City Hall and the Asian Art Museum, which represents THE finest example of how to turn a grand library into a really beautiful museum.  One floor above the court where I work is the California Supreme Court, and haven’t THEY made this a richly happy month? 

If you happen to be visiting San Francisco on a Wednesday in the spring, all you have to do to check out these many riches is hop on BART and get off  at the Civic Center stop.  Buy some fruit, and maybe a tamale.  Go into the Asian Art Museum, which is ahead of you and on the right.  If you can’t afford to pay the entrance fee, you can ask for the red chopsticks pass, which gets you into the cafe, where you can have a cup of tea and sit on the lovely veranda overlooking the farmer’s market.  And you can still see the beautiful job they’ve done converting the library into a marvelous museum space. 

Don’t forget to visit City Hall — and the Main Library, which is across from the Asian Art Museum.  There’s cheap food to be had down Polk Street, which is officially “Little Vietnam.”  And in another three weeks or so, the Supreme Court’s marriage decision will be final, and they will begin to marry people at City Hall.  You can sit in the grass and congratulate people, while you’re eating your tamales, or your fruit, or your vietnamese food. 

Some people find this extraordinarily rich neighborhood a little scary.  The tenderloin is home to a lot of people who are right on the edge of being okay — and many people who’ve fallen off the edge.  And no, they’re not always pleasant.  But they’re part of who we are, and there’s no denying their existence around here, and that is as it should be, I think. 

On Marriage

It’s a lovely day in San Francisco, a day so warm it feels like summer. A perfect day to issue an opinion, if you happen to be the California Supreme Court, in which you say that it’s no longer acceptable for the state to call committed, loving, gay relationships anything other than marriages.

The opinion’s here, on the court’s website. To find it, you just have to scroll down to “In Re Marriage Cases.”

Today I am so proud to live in California, and very proud of our court system.

Good Heavens

My wordpress dashboard has a place where you can save up your draft posts for a rainy day like today — and I just noticed that I have sixty four such drafts, which I find astonishing, because I can’t remember writing any of them. On closer examination I realize that the reason I can’t remember writing them is because, well, I didn’t. I just made up names for posts and then went away.

I see that recently, I was going to give you something called “All Good Things Come in Threes” (what good things might those be? I’m guessing food) and something else called “Hot Kitchen Tips!” (wash berries by tipping them into a bowl of water and then swishing them around?) and another called “Marie Antoinette goes to Versailles.”

That one I remember in some detail: I believe it was going to be a travel recommendation to those who go to Versailles. My suggestion, as I recall, is that you skip the interior of the place, particularly if you are there with children, because the lavish interiors of all such places all look precisely the same: lavish. And that can bring on the kind of boredom that makes children want to break through the velvet ropes and push the spindly little chairs over. Instead, and particularly if you are there in the summer, you should head straight out to the nice cafe by the lake, the one that I think is probably named after Marie Antoinette. There, you should eat ice cream and admire the chateau from the appropriate distance, as I am sure Marie Antoinette probably did in her time. And then you should stop at the gift shop, buy a nice ruler with a picture of the chateau on it, or a pencil with the same, and go back to Paris, without a moment’s guilt about skipping the whole interior.

It is, alas, not summer here in Berkeley. It is cold, and it has been raining for what feels like my entire life. It isn’t the same as London cold and rain, because things are blooming here, spring being programmed to begin on February 1st in Northern California no matter what. The magnolia tree in our front yard is sporting fat, wet blossoms, but no greenery, and the princess plant resists any suggestion that spring might not actually be here, even though it too is wet and windblown. Still, good for them for insisting that what they expect should happen, will in fact occur.

Me, I’m inside, doing a task that I’m finding surprisingly fun, although I’m not so sure if it’s a good idea to expect anything to come of it. I might have mentioned that I sent off two of my stories to a lot of journals, and am bracing myself for the inevitable flood of rejections. That not being enough, however, I’m also putting together a package to send to agents, including an agent the nice people at that prize contest I entered suggested I speak to. I figure if I’m going to contact one person with a query letter I’ve sweated blood to create, I might as well contact another dozen or so with the same letter.

Looking for an agent is a little like internet shopping at an upscale website when you’re totally broke. You want everything, and you know that isn’t likely to happen. Still, a rainy day like today needs a little of that kind of fantasy. And if you, like me, happen to be looking for an agent for your fabulous book, this website has a really, really good list of them. Just don’t query anyone I like with your cold war mystery, the one that’s set in Bavaria in 1969, okay? Those agents are mine!

Wordless Week

My mother likes to tell people that she cannot remember when I learned to talk because it seems like I have always been talking. Others — my notably silent husband included — would agree.

Blogging has been a great place to locate all that chatting energy. Not just in the posts, but in the conversations that occur in the comments. But lately, I haven’t really felt like talking. I don’t think this is permanent –it’s not as though nothing is happening to me. I’m still reading and writing and working and parenting and cooking and hiking and finding out things I never knew before.

So here’s my plan to ease myself back into chattiness — I thought I’d list the six things I haven’t written about, things about which I normally would have told you more than you could possibly want to know:

1. Our new pressure cooker. I bought a pressure cooker last week, an appliance so weird, but so incredibly useful (and, as it turns out a terribly European thing), that it cries out for appreciation, for some sort of paean to the wonders of this sort of kitchen efficiency that, unlike the microwave, doesn’t ruin your food, but improves it. I did cook in it by the way — two vegetables, because I haven’t had a chance to consider the issue of meat. The broccoli cooked in about four minutes; the brussels sprouts in four and a half. Now that’s not a huge improvement over the normal cooking time for broccoli, but I will tell you here and now that the brussels sprouts were FABULOUS. I don’t really like that vegetable, but they were cooked in some sort of stock and thyme mixture and then a little butter and flour was mixed in afterwards and they were amazing. I’ll get back to you on the meat.

2. Erotic prose. I’ve been thinking about this particular topic a lot lately, as I’ve been warming up, so to speak, for the next novel I write which is about, among other things, sex. The trouble is that I don’t want to — and in fact cannot — write very good erotic prose. But this weekend, I wrote a short story that represented a huge breakthrough in this area. It was both funny and sexy, like the best sexual encounters. If I had time I would write about Lawrence and Joyce, and Anais Nin and Henry Miller, and how not to write a sex scene. And maybe I still will.

3. Jeeves and Wooster. We’ve been watching the BBC series, the one with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, and we love them both. We love how stupid Bertie’s friends are, how good humored he is, and how magically Jeeves sets things to rights. We also like how Jeeves keeps Bertie’s wardrobe miscues under control. Are the books as good as the series? We’re going to have to find out.

4. Colm Toibin’s Mothers and Sons. I’ve only read the first story, but I can already tell that this is a harrowing, beautifully written, wonderful book. I heard him read one of these stories at Stanford a few months ago, a story about a boy whose mother was a famous singer, and had abandoned him (or so he was told) when he was a baby. It’s the sort of story that makes you wish you were alone in the room so you could cry and not bother the people around you. By the way, his name is pronounced like this: “Call-um, Toebean”  — I think)

5. Spring. Asparagus. Strawberries. April Showers. Lemons.

6. T.S. Eliot’s Preludes, and why I loved this poem when I was in my twenties. (Because it was so wonderfully grim, and so romantic — that part about the “infinitely gentle/infinitely suffering thing” particularly) It is here, if you are interested:
I

The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o’clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimneypots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.

II

The morning comes to consciousness
Of faint stale smells of beer
From the sawdust-trampled street
With all its muddy feet that press
To early coffee-stands.

With the other masquerades
That times resumes,
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms.
III

You tossed a blanket from the bed
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.
IV
His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o’clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.

I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.

Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.

A PodLily Valentine for YOU

How lovely it is to be up and about. How lovely all of you are to have sent such nice notes and thoughts in the last four weeks. It helped immeasurably in those moments when I really thought I couldn’t bear another session of being zapped by laser-wielding technicians.

The whole experience was a little like being a target in a video game, and I’m sure everyone can see how THAT would be a good thing to finish. I’m relieved and happy to be moving on to new things.

While I was gone I didn’t read Ulysses. I barely listened to the Aeniad. In fact, I did not do a single worthy thing, book-wise.

What I mostly did was listen to the radio. Around here, that means KFOG. (Isn’t that a great name for a San Francisco radio station?) I love the radio. When we lived in Germany a long time ago, if the stars were properly aligned and we had the radio set up in exactly the right place, we’d get these great radio shows on the Armed Forces radio station. We’d hang over the edge of our parents’ bed, apparently because that was essential to good reception, and listen to comedy shows from the forties, chilling science fiction stories, and cowboy cliffhangers, a subgenre of action hero cliffhangers that the people at Armed Forces radio seemed to have gotten a good deal on, because there were a lot of them.

Toward the end of January, I started to fantasize about being one of those people on the radio. One of my sons mentioned that I could in fact sort of be on the radio. All it takes is a headphone, some software, his help, and things you’re dying to talk about. That last part? Not a problem right now. I’ve been lying around and not talking very much. I’ve got a few things saved up.

There were only two possible names for a podcast. And then just one, because my husband vetoed the other possibility. (LilyPod is not a good idea, he says, looking up for a moment from the penultimate Master and Commander book, a series he has been living in for the last four years. He adopts the tone that’s sort of a cross between Russell Crowe and Mr. Rogers and says, It would be embarrassing.) So, the podcast will be called PodLily and that will just have to do.

I’ve put some program notes here. If you can’t or don’t want to fiddle with a podcast, you might still want to read some of the content. The first podcast is a valentine — for you, dear reader.

Here are some directions to the podcast. It’s located on Odeo. There’s also a player that’s supposed to appear below — but it doesn’t always seem to show up. One of those two methods should get you to a five minute piece in which a BlogLily child sings a little song and then you’ll hear some Valentine’s Day poetry.

It’s likely that there will be more little podcasts. We all loved making this one, so you won’t be able to keep us away from the microphone.  Although I sound very odd to my own ears (who knew “procure” would be such a hard word to pronounce or that a weather report could sound faintly ridiculous), as time goes on, I’m guessing it’ll be easier to sound like me, rather than sort of me.

[odeo=http://odeo.com/audio/8717383/view]

It’s going to be a wonderful spring.

Cheers,

BL