Monday, November 29, 2010


I just finished my stinky, mediocre novel that I wrote in 29 days flat. 50,179 words. 29 days. NaNoWriMo, I can't quit you. (Though I did three previous years.) This is my first completed year. The novel(ette) involves the unholy combination of the Khmer Rouge, alien abduction, peyote, ex-husbands, punk rock girls, the desert, coffeehouses, and ancient greek mythology.

This is the thing, I also painted a book through Leah's Art EveryDay Challenge, too, so I really created TWO books in one month. WHAT?!?! Are you kidding me? You called me an underachiever, Mr. Diehl, in senior Econ. Suck it, dude.

My mother sat here watching television while I called off the word countdown. 2000 words to go. 1500. 1000...and then, I was done. and I kept writing. I kept finishing my thought. That is what victory feels like. Sure, I crossed the finish line, but I am going to jog to my car too. I did lots of sprints this month with Amy, Ines and Kristin, and my friend Fisher, who appears in the novel as himself.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go on an overnight drunk, and in 10 days I'm going to set out to find the shark that ate my friend and destroy it. Anyone who wants to tag along is more than welcome. And by finding the shark that ate my friend, of course I mean, I am going to edit the shit out of this fucker, and try to make heads or tails out of it. Or I may never write again. Thank you all for the love.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


My small brown Spanish-speaking mother's Thanksgiving dinner always surprises people. Having grown up with a Panamanian mother who makes amazing Pennsylvania Dutch food seems perfectly normal to me, but I think guests expect to have arroz con pollo, or arroz con pavo, or something.  She also kind of speaks with a Spanish and Pennsylvania Dutch accent, which is neither here nor there, but kind of something other people notice. Anyway, there is not a hint of saffron on our dinner table.

My mother came to this country when she was 17, the second youngest of twelve. She learned to cook Spanish food, the country of her mother, but her older sisters mostly cooked, then she came here, worked for a while, met my dad and married. My dad's Aunt June taught her how to cook stuffing, turkey, ham, pork and sauerkraut...anyway, you get the picture. Don't get me wrong, Mami throws down the paella like no woman's bizniz, but she also makes some mean German food.

Coming from a family of twelve kids and a large extended insane family means my mother cooks like a motherfucker. I mean, she really lays it out. There is going to be a turkey, a ham, dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, creamed corn, regular corn, green beans, pearled onions, cranberry sauce, and a whole host of pies.

"Who is coming to dinner, Mama? Canada?"
"No, honey, I just want to send you home with leftovers."
**flip, pound, pound, pound.**

(that was Sam's heart doing a somersault, then running the length of his body with unconditional love for my mother.)

Actually, there is no editing involved, much like this blog. My mother actually has no ability to say the words, "Maybe that is too much."
My mother always says the same thing, "There are pearled onions for those who want it."
"But we know everyone and no one wants it."
"But you never know."
"No, actually, we always know."
"But we always make it and it gets eaten."
"Actually it doesn't. You tupperware it, stick it in my bag and I chuck a week later."
"Oh, people might want to eat it."
"Which people?"
And around we go.

The desserts are always the best and worst. By best, I mean, there is every indulgence. And by worst, I mean there is every indulgence. Here is the typical conversation pre-Thanksgiving:
"Hi, Mama. What do you want me to bring for Thanksgiving? I can make the stuffing, or the potatoes."
"Bring a dessert."
"Like a pie?"
"Well, one isn't enough. Why not bring two? An apple and a pumpkin."

The problem is she is a control freak with trust issues. So she has the same conversation with everyone who attends. This year it is just my family and my cousin, and she asked me to make three pies, and then called me tonight and told me that she thought I should just buy it, since I have a baby. Whatever that means. But here is the thing, she freaks out beforehand about the desserts and ends up buying some decadent cake, like chocolate mousse or cheesecake. After she told me I should have just bought a pie instead of baking three this morning, she also mentioned that she picked up a cheesecake, oh and some brownies, because some people like chocolate. It is literally my family, my mother and stepfather, and my cousin. WHICH PEOPLE?!?!

Anyway, the point is families, like my family, goes home with whole pies.

It is in just this scenario two years ago that I came to unload our post-thanksgiving car with bags of leftovers and two pies. We had an eight month old Beatrice who was screaming. And my husband was unloading and placing things on the roof and handling the car seat and our overnight bags, and we collapsed in our little home ready to boycott next year.

The next day, I drove to my sister's house to pick her up. We were going to visit our father with leftovers. I had enough for all of us, and despite my parent's divorce, he still enjoyed eating her food. It was one of many thing he missed about her.

As I drove down, the highway, I heard a crash, and looked behind me to see the car brake to a full stop. It wasn't a busy highway, luckily, and I pulled over. The man gave me the ole' New Jersey hug, which is a combo of fisticuffs through window, honk and the finger. I had no idea what just happened, but I suspected that I may have lost a hubcap or something. The man didn't stop, and clearly there was no damage or anything, because I was at a full stop on the side of the road, and he could have engaged me. So I got out of my car, walked up the road a piece, and there it sat in the middle of Route 70, my tin pie pan. Clearly with all the exhaustion, we left the pie up on the car roof and so in true homemama gangstah fashion, I pied the jackass behind me.

Yes, a drive-by pie-ing.

Happy Thanksgiving, You Wonderful Old Building and Loan. Hey, wait, that is not how it goes. Ah, well. I am off to visit my mother for about a week. Pray for me. And my waistline.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


When I was a girl, I would put one hand over my open right eye. My left eye would stay open too.

"I can see through my hand. I must be magic," I would conclude. 

I never whispered it to anyone, not even my twin. Mentioning it might render my magic useless. I tried to imagine scenarios where I would use my seeing-through-things power. There are surprisingly few. I believed that my body held ancient secrets. Sometimes, when I was afraid or bored, I would press the balls of my hands into my closed eyes. The universe would appear behind my lids. More than just appear, I could fly through the stars and the Milky Way. Universes rushed passed me. I touched infinity. I was one with everything.This was my secret portal to the stars. I felt sorry for others who couldn't see the universe when they closed their hands. I felt sorry.

I once believed that I was cold all the time because I held the winter solstice in my bones. I believed that my daughter's death changed my ability to handle Winter. I would shake violently from a chill in the air. My husband would watch my body shiver uncontrollably and he would rub his hands on me until I warmed enough to put more layers on my body. I believed that I couldn't lose my weight because my body couldn't accept the baby was dead. I believed that my cells held onto the nourishment my dead baby needed. I told this story to people. Therapists agreed with me, and nutritionists, and doctors. I felt like I slipped between two dimensions--the real world and the grief world. In this liminal place, calories meant nothing and a season could reside just below your skin.

There are things I know and there are truths and they are not the same thing.

When I was diagnosed with a thyroid disease with its symptoms of weight gain and inability to regulate body temperature, I felt silly. There is only one truth, I thought, and I don't have a handle on it. I am prone to magical thinking. I am attracted to finding poetry in the howling of winds, and omens in the ordinary. Yet I never quite believed in anything enough to devote the countless revisions it takes to write about something well, except my daughters and my son. It is all I write about now. And when I boil it down, I guess my writing is all very narcissistic. It is all about me. Is that what I am passionate about--little versions of me? A little version of me that dies in an oddly shaped womb? Little versions of my mortality and my shame and my beauty and my redemption?

My mother consulted a psychic a few times in her life. The same fortune teller. The first time she met with her, it was a lark. It was the early 70s. She had friends that invited the psychic to a party. When the psychic touched my mother, she told her much of what would come to pass in her life. Something would happen and my mother would remember the predictions. She told her of my father and her twin girls. Of resentments and petty strange singular occurrences that took on the gravitas of a large event. Later, after my parents separated, my mother found the psychic again. It was the 90s then. The fortune teller didn't remember my mother, two decades had passed after all, but she told her some of the same predictions, and others, with more detail. The fortune teller frequently talked about her daughters--one is this way and one is that way. But my mother could never figure out which one was which one. One had many nightmares. One was bored with this life. One was once an Egyptian priestess. One was a very old soul. One would be famous. One was wise. One would struggle. She never put these characteristics and future events into columns. She never said if the wise one was the same as the nightmared one or the famous one. She never said.And so I became the best parts of these predictions and the worst. I have always lived with a borrowed fate, one constructed out of a story told by a fortune teller.

When you were dying, I imagine a series of random memory and learning neurons rapid firing, sending a barrage of images through your consciousness. Would it feel weird to you if I admitted that I feel a bit like this tonight? I remember seeing my great-grandmother suffering with end of life dementia. I was an adult then, and I sat alone with her. She opened an invisible umbrella in her hospital bed and sat under it waiting for the rain. She called me my mother's name and told me my skirt was too short. "Who will buy the cow, after all?" She said, then she sang an Irish song she knew as a girl and looked up into the cloudless hospital ceiling waiting for rain. Then she moved again under her invisible umbrella. She outlived her daughter too. As a child, I always thought my great-grandmother looked like Pope John Paul II, and so when she sang with the umbrella, it felt holy. Sad and holy.

I am writing a novel in a month. It is a fool's task. Someone called this an exercise in mediocrity. I believe that. And yet the story I am telling can only be told this way--written quickly with the minimum amount of pain possible. It is a story that has haunted me for years, that is begging to be written if simply to be exorcised. It is not about my daughter's death, or any daughter's death, which surprises me too. It is about magical thinking and wars and fate and stupidity of youth and nightmares and aliens and love. It is always about love.

Writing this novel in this exact month is like looking through my hand. Both magic and a lie.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


I touch God in my song
Rabindranath Tagore

I touch God in my song
     as the hill touches the far-away sea
          with its waterfall.

The butterfly counts not months but moments,
     and has time enough.

Let my love, like sunlight, surround you
     and yet give you illumined freedom.

Love remains a secret even when spoken,
     for only a lover truly knows that he is loved.

Emancipation from the bondage of the soil
     is no freedom for thee.

In love I pay my endless debt to thee
     for what thou art.

I love this poem. I always think of marriage when I read this poem, and so I quote from it today at my piece over at Glow in the Woods where I am talking about marriage, counseling, grief and loss. Come over and join the conversation. Roots.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Thor and my many projects

It's been a while since I showed a picture of Thor here, or sort of updated about my life life. And so I am going to do that later on in this post, so if you aren't interested that is fine, but here is the warning statement.

I know this is weird to kind of bring up, but I realize I haven't really set the record straight or anything, but, uh, I don't know how to say this, but um, well, my son, well, his name is not really Thor. Did you know that? I guess probably you did. I mean, this is a blog and people have pseudonyms for their children all the time on blogs, but I didn't really start that way. Beatrice is really named Beatrice, but mostly, I call her Beezus, or Bibi, or Bea, or Little Bea. And Lucia Paz was really named Lucia Paz, but we call her Lucy almost exclusively, and Lulu when I am feeling really maudlin. But Thor is really named Thomas Harry. I did petition for Thor. I was very pro-Thor, but saner rather less Nordic-obsessed minds prevailed. Thomas is my father's name and Harry is my father in law's name. (Yes, we are those people who cannot come up with names on our own.)

Still, around these parts, Thor stuck. And by these parts, I mean, me. I still call him Thor, and so does my sister. Anyway, I hope Thor stays alive here, despite me telling you his other name. I will always refer to him that way here, and I encourage you to do the same. Protecting my children's privacy at this point is kind of moot. At least, protecting one kid's privacy and not the other two is ridiculous. So, welcome to your nightmare, kids. Yes, I will probably blog about your first zit, but it will be a meditation on the transience of life and a self-reflective existential crisis, so you can just tell your therapist I was narcissistic, not cruel.

This morning my family and I had an amazing brunch at Mommicked's house.  I have probably gone on and on about how I love her before, but I do. She is funny, insightful and a damn brilliant woman. She also makes me snort/laugh, or snaugh, if you will, and she is an incredible knittress. In honor of Thor's eczema, she made us dairyless quiche and also managed to put sausage in every dish, which is an amazing feat of which vegans and carnivores alike might appreciate. When Sam and I became engaged, his nephew asked me if I liked sausage, because I couldn't be in this family without eating sausage. I assured him that I dug sausage. I do dig it. Very mucho. When I mentioned earlier that she is an incredible incredible knittress, I meant it. And well, she made these for my children, and one for her own beautiful daughter, but the picture came out totally grainy, or grainier than these, and the children are almost indistinguishable from one another, and I also don't want to show her beautiful daughter here for her own privacy reasons too, so I took these when I got home. Still, well, just what can you say, but WOW, aren't they amazing?

Viking children stunned into silence by the awesomeness of their knitted helmets.

Playing "Got Your Horn" which is huge in the Valkyrie playgroups.

Thor playing the tambourine of Valhalla.

Incidentally, Thor, I realize, is wearing a onesie made by Rach of Warm Whispers. I have four onesie/shirt things made my Rach for Thor. They are all amazing. You can purchase one for yourself at her Etsy shop called Grandy and Baa. She is really not paying me for that. I just happen to think that she also is quite amazing.

In other news, October was fucking exhausting.

There I said it. I am still recovering from blogging every day.

It wasn't that I didn't love blogging every day, because, yeah, part of me loved being in blogger mode, but my "other stuff" time was sort of caught up in the daily blog thing, and still life 365 takes a lot of time. I mean a ton of time and energy and emotions, and then my art time was enmeshed in the Sketchbook project, which I wrote a few months ago and painted all last month. The whole thing. And what I mean by the whole thing is that I am kind of done. That feels pretty damn good. To set goals and accomplish them. I can kind of get addicted to goal setting. I know it must seem maniacal to people on the outside, but I am a listmaker by design. I think my cells set evolutionary goals, then cross them off. (No eating with fingers. Check. No grunting at husband. Check.)

I am very good at getting things accomplished. It might be a new superpower, which I will add right there along with super smelling in usefulness. But there was this naggy feeling all month, like I was forgetting something. Don't forget not to forget. And I couldn't quite make out the image in my head. What am I supposed to be doing after all? Right, not being on line as much and being more present for my family.

I also joined Twitter not to long ago (@StilllifeAngie) and I added a shitload of more blogs, mostly art blogs, but some new babylost blogs, to the reader feed. I also seem to be enjoying following on-line drama unfold whilst not really knowing 1. anyone involved, or 2. what the actual debate is about. So there is that. I guess what I am trying to say is that in some effort to quell my on-line fucking around time, I actually managed to ramp it up quite a bit, which is ridiculous and sad.

I do so much online crap, and then before I knew it, I was signed up for both NaNoWriMo and Art Every Day month, which are both daily challenges, for the month of November. NaNoWriMo actually stands for National Novel Writing Month. Yes, I am writing a novel in thirty days. 50,000 words. What? Why are you looking at me like that? Shit, I know. I KNOW.

Art Every Day Month (AEDM) challenges you to create a piece of art everyday of the month. EVERY DAY. FOR A MONTH. I know. I KNOW.

For AEDM, I created a wee 5" x 5" watercolor book and am selecting a word/mood that describes my day and painting it. I always post my art on my still life every day site, if you are ever interested, because that is also another challenge I signed up for this year which is Creative Every Day. Still, I actually am loving both these challenges. I am focusing on writing that isn't about my grief, which is good for me, and the AEDM is actually kind of focusing my art a bit. I am painting ONE gesture watercolor a day of a word that describes my mood. And I love it. One painting, not fifteen, or whatever I do, to express something. It is kind of like writing a haiku every day when you are used to writing lengthy epic poems about wars in which wooden horses hide men sneaking into a city-state because of a beautiful woman. Which is what I usually end up doing, hyper-creating. This is focused and it ends in less than a half an hour. It is really an amazing practice for me--spiritual and artistic. And the writing is the same. I am disciplined and it is good to remind myself of that. I have a goal for the day--1600 words, and then when it is done, I am done writing. I type and write quickly, so this is actually not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. Plus, it has managed to get me off-line a bit more. All in all, I don't feel stretched. I feel fitted. (Did that even make sense?)

Anyway, one more thing, Jenni from Demeter's Feet is hosting an ornament swap Remembering Together: Holiday Ornament Swap for babylost parents. It is non-denominational and involves our baby's names--both creating and receiving an ornament, so there is a creative aspect to it. It is really an awesome project with a cool twist, so go check it up, sign up. The deadline is November 15th, so tout de suite, people.

And since I have shared some Thor Viking pictures, I am going to share one of just him, eating bacon.
Actually, he is just sucking on it. Don't judge.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Hunter's Moon

The clerestory windows in our bedroom frame the neighbor's old oak tree. They say they are cutting her down next year. She both doesn't have enough leaves and sheds too much. It feels impossibly modern and fussy to do this, impossibly self-indulgent and kind of sacrilegious. I sigh. I say a little wish and a little hex to myself.  

Please no. Or else.

At night, I watch the tree silhouetted against the clouds blowing across the night sky. The clouds illuminated by the moon seem alive, migrating toward something large and impenetrable. It feels ancient, this ritual of watching the night sky. It feels important. We are a tribe. My family, that is. It feels like we are a thousand miles from New Jersey. We are a thousand miles from civilization. Lucy's death makes sense here. Our survival makes sense here. The Hunter's Moon, so called because it was so bright and vivid you could hunt elk at night, though waning these nights, has been rising in our window. The brightness wakes us both at 2 am. And so, suddenly, we turn toward each other, grasp hands over the sheets. We are half asleep, confused. The light makes our faces look like when we first became lovers, magical and important. "The moon," he whispers. "The moon."

We have a chill here now, a fire perpetually in the wood stove. We light candles at night, make tea and sit on the rug telling stories. The smell of burning oak takes me to the place with the Hunter's Moon. So far away, so primal, it has always been a part of me.

I feel something these days. I feel...something.

I can't quite describe it except to say that the moon wakes me.

I used to worry that my inability to imagine my children meant that they would all be taken from me. I can't see them older than they are. I can't imagine them being adult, or even older children. They are perpetually the age they are until they are not.

My son is seven months old.  My daughter is three years and seven months. My grief is almost two years old. And yet, it is much older than that. Lucy's death touched the grief that already existed in me. I realize that now. Her death reminded me of all I have not let myself feel. All the grief, I balled into a little black pebbles and stuffed into the back of my heart. All the times I bragged over beers that I never cried, it flooded me when she died.

I was never the person I thought I was. Never. I feel the grief now of three decades. Grief at my father's illness. Grief at the neglect of my teenage years. Grief at creepy old men. Grief at watching my most prized love suffer. Grief at my mother issues. Grief at friendship breakups. Grief at the divorce, and the loss of my home, and burglaries, and losing my seventh grade boyfriend to the girl who gave blow jobs.

The other name for this moon is the Beaver Moon, or the Frost moon. I love that each moon is given a name in Algonquin and Celtic circles. This is the time of the year when the frost moves in and everything prepares for hibernation. I prepare in me. I prepare my grief season. Make my bed, and light my candles. I will take down my ofrenda tomorrow. The joy seems to immediately dissipate with Halloween done. I feel staid and decidedly adult. We will make a new altar for Lucy, the autumn altar. With gnomes and acorns and very tiny things that we find to remind us of her never growing bigger.

I am not sad right now. I am not sad. I am just waiting for the Oak Moon, the Cold Moon. I am waiting for Santka Lucia Day, and a wreath of candles. I am waiting for solstice. I am waiting to make a large bonfire. She will always be with fire.

I don't know what it is about now. I just feel something.