Friday, November 30, 2012


This weekend I am going to do the following:

submit my manuscript six times!
contemplate how many times my manuscript has been declined
admire the shine on the street from the rain
admire the moon in the moody sky
see Lincoln
buy a Christmas tree!

--and I am already checking stuff off this list like it is my job.

See you in December, suckers!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dear guy who spoke directly to me while walking past:

You were walking in from the parking lot. I was walking toward the building where I would teach my class.You looked right at me and said something. Because you were looking right at me, I thought you were speaking to me.

I thought, "I don't know you. Do I?" And then I thought and thought about whether I did, in fact, know you. And concluded, no, no, I did not know you. And then I realized you were talking on your cell phone, with a headset, a headset that I could not see.

It might have been this that you said: "That is not a flattering outfit." Or "Aren't you going to be late to class?" or "You are not making the most of your talents and gifts." You didn't actually say any of these things. You said something I can't remember now--nothing personal, but whatever it was, it was direct, it was specific enough. And you were looking right at me. I cannot emphasize this enough: right at me.

On the one hand, you startled me out of my fervid little plan-walk.  That's not necessarily a bad thing. On the other hand, it disturbed me that you seemed to speak right to me. Who were you, and who might I be, if you knew me well enough to speak to me, interrupt my planning on the way to class, where I was to talk about clarity of form?

The form of your utterance, you looking directly at me while speaking to someone else, did not have clarity to recommend it. In the future, please take your phone out of your pocket and hold it up to your ear, like people do.

Writing a letter expressly for you from the olden days, evidently,


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Stuff I am not sorry I bought.

Lately, I have been going through (endlessly, forever) my belongings to give things away. I have too much stuff. I know it. And it's hard not to keep getting stuff, because: they keep making new stuff! That I want!


Occasionally, I make a solemn vow--a solemn, fleeting vow--that I will not buy anything new for [x] amount of time. This really only works if you are in a coma. Because there is evidence of new stuff all around you! Do you watch television? read a newspaper? look at the internet? Basically all vehicles for new-stuff-info, which seeps into your brain like a vapor until you want it! you want all the stuff!

Alas and alack.

There are, however, some kind of expensive things I've bought that I do not regret. In fact, I'm glad I bought these things, for they have improved and enlarged my life.

For instance: these shoes are possibly the most wonderful shoes I have ever had. Are they plain looking? Sensible? Comfortable? Yes, all these cozy adjectives and more. I tromped through fields and valleys in them in Scotland and the north of England. They make me feel like a timeless English gentleman. Or perhaps an early 20th century suffragette. Either way, these shoes are like time travel, globetrotting, big-idea-mongering, and badassery all rolled up in an American-made shoe. They are worth every penny I paid for them and more.

This perfume I first smelled in a museum store in L.A., that's how fancy its provenance is. The store way almost about to close, but I gathered my courage to ask the very hip, slightly haughty counterperson to bring it out so I could put it on my wrist. It's part of a series of incense-based scents made by the madly avant-garde Comme des Garcons fashion house. All the way back to our hotel, I sniffed my wrist. I smelled like the entire history of the Catholic church, like a grand cathedral after mass. I smelled like the French pope. I smelled like a hierarchy. Not all of those things are necessarily good things. But I liked how it didn't smell friendly: it smelled mysterious and a little bit forbidding. At that point in my life, I kind of needed something that was mysterious and forbidding. It was like a secret weapon. On days when I knew I needed a little bit of backup, I wore this scent. I still wear it to this day. And it was worth every penny I paid for it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ars bloggica.

We're home from walking the dog.

Me: I gotta blog. I gotta think of something to blog about.

The historian: . . . right--

Me: I don't think you understand how hard that is! Pulling a topic out of thin air.

TH: --I do get it. Because I never do it.  Whereas I, when I write, I just have to rely on . . . (rustling--he's in the kitchen, looking for an article in the paper. Or something.) . . .

Me: [what? facts? research?]

TH: (faintly)...things.

Me: [--and there it is.]

Monday, November 26, 2012

Ideal Bookshelf.

The Guardian wants to know: what books would be on your ideal bookshelf?

I love this game, naming the top five things you'd take with you to some remote place, therefore the things you'd have to live with forever, or for a really really long time.

For me, I think the books would be, probably, and with no The Collected Works of, which I think would be cheating:
  1. Leaves of Grass
  2. Underworld (Don Delillo)
  3. Housekeeping (Marilynne Robinson)

  4. --let me pause to note, putting your list on display is like inviting people to your house and hoping against hope that your house is in order and that people won't judge you for your lapses of taste.

  5. Harriet the Spy  (Louise Fitzhugh)
  6. The Big Sleep (Raymond Chandler)
  7. King Lear or maybe The Tempest 
  8. King James Bible
  9.  Perdido Street Station (China Mieville)
  10. maybe Coming Into the Country (John McPhee)
  11. Family Happiness (Laurie Colwin) or maybe Another Marvelous Thing
  12. Winter Stars (Larry Levis)
  13. One Hundred Years of Solitude  (Garcia Marquez) 
I picked books that feel large enough to use for purposes of imagination--that contain more than their own stories, if that's possible. But the truth is, and I am telling you the truth here, I think I would miss all the Harry Potter books. And even though The Big Sleep is an L.A. story, I should probably substitute a volume by Anne Carson or Yeats or Eliot. I would miss them too.

What would be on your ideal bookshelf? The historian says that on his shelf would reside American Minds by Stow Persons, The Communist Manifesto, Love and Capital by Mary Gabriel, the biography of Thelonious Monk by Robin D. G. Kelly, and The Making of the English Working Class (E. P. Thompson). He also said my book, but we agreed it was so slim it shouldn't count against the total.

For more ideas, you should click on the link and see what others said. It's a really interesting discussion. I wanted to take notes.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


"It sure seems dark," the historian said as we gave our tickets to the ticket guy and went down the hall, then down another hall, to get to our theater.

 "That's because we're sinking into darkness," I said. Yep, that's the kind of thing I say nowadays, super-poet-charged by all the pre-solsticean gloom. I think I have said something along these lines maybe four or five times in the last week. Sometimes, I give it a more hopeful spin: "Just a little less than a month, and then it will start getting lighter day by day," for instance, is something I've said recently.

Either way, sometimes you have to pick yourself up and manufacture a little metaphorical light, or you might slip on an icy little north-lying patch of gloom and not get up.

It doesn't help when, while you're walking, you listen to music that makes you search your soul and reckon with your failings.

It's also possible that the gloom can make almost any music have that effect.

During these dark times, you should make and eat this salad. It is a mashup of two salad recipes I consulted recently. This salad will cheer you up, at least while you're eating it.

Salad for the Dead of Winter

Take a bunch (and by "a bunch" I mean "fistfuls or a bag or a lot," not necessarily something sold as "a bunch," although if that amount is equivalent to my definitions, then by all means) of arugula

--Okay, let's pause here: it goes without saying that you will wash everything, right? And that after the washing, you will make sure that it is dry? Get a salad spinner if you don't have one. Entirely worthwhile gadget, in my opinion.

…a bunch of arugula, and put it in your salad bowl.

Cut the core end out of one head of radicchio; slice it into ribbons, and you don't need to be too fancy about it. Put that in the bowl, too.

Take off the outer, less attractive layer of the fennel (one bulb) and cut off the root end.
Cut off the long stalks and the feathery fronds. (Save them for stock, maybe?) Slice the fennel into thinnish slices

Put in some thin-thin-thinly sliced red onion, to your taste. (NOTE: when I made this salad, the historian put that red onion decidedly to the edge of his plate. Red onion is not for everyone, is the takeaway here.)

Thinly slice a handful of red radishes. (These can be optional, in my opinion.)

Please take a moment to notice how pretty your salad is at this point: green, red and white. Lovely!

 Now is the time to pick your wintry fruit:

Pomegranate seeds
OR Red grapefruit, sectioned, pith, seeds and membrane removed
OR Cara cara oranges
OR blood oranges

I made this salad once with pomegranate seeds and once with red grapefruit. I would have chosen either of the orange varieties, but the supermarket at which I was shopping was fresh out of fancy oranges. I pouted about that, but ultimately the red grapefruit was tart and refreshing and I liked the salad very well with it, so much so that when it came time to make the salad a third time, for Thanksgiving, I repeated the grapefruit and liked it again.

NOTE: not everyone will eat a salad with grapefruit in it. Too bad for them. More leftover salad for you.

I used two grapefruits for a lot of greens; one whole pomegranate seemed about right.

Finally, make your vinaigrette: 1 glug or 2 glugs of olive oil; a short glug of either sherry vinegar or champagne vinegar; a finely minced clove of garlic; salt and pepper. Whisk that until it emulsifies, then pour it right before serving over the salad. Toss it with your (clean) hands or tongs or whatever your preferred salad-tossing implement is.

You can add some grated Pecorino or Parmesan to this, but it's not necessary, not really. The salad tastes clean and astringent without the cheese. It wakes you up, which is a good thing when the world outside is dark, so dark it seems like it might never get light again.

But it will. It's less than a month before the days will start getting lighter, bit by bit.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Triple feature weekend.

Sometimes, when you're really lucky, both motive and opportunity arrive at the same time. I'm talking about the movies, of course. If you have a bunch of good movies (motive) and a long holiday weekend (opportunity), sometimes you can see three in a row. Sometimes even four! But we oughtn't to push our luck.

The Silver Lining Playbook. (Possible headline: Bradley Cooper, not being a jerk.) An altogether well-acted and well-written and well-made movie. As has been well-established by now, I like to keep track of directors, at least some directors, and this film was directed by David O. Russell, of the famous on-set meltdowns that made George Clooney (in Three Kings) vow never to work with him again, and whose bad behavior resulted in a bit of video, widely circulated, in which Russell spoke very rudely and unkindly to Lily Tomlin (in I Heart Huckabees). Two films, as it happens, that I love and admire very much. Add to those Flirting With Disaster and The Fighter, and you have a pretty terrific career, in my opinion, no matter how much of a jerk you are or can be on set.

This is all backstory for: when I saw the previews for this movie, I saw "David O. Russell" and I was down. And it did not disappoint. Every bit of it was vivid and fresh, and it had, as a bonus, a terrific, calm Chris Tucker as Cooper's friend from the state mental hospital. Several people said, when I mentioned it was good, "Really?" as if it were a big surprise. To them I say go. Go!

Wreck-It Ralph. We went with three grandsons and their parents, along with my youngest son. What a wonderful movie! Anyone who played video and/or arcade games in his/her youth should go: this movie was made for you. But I found it entirely captivating and altogether excellent. With a sweet short at the beginning--lovely and charming. Afterward, as we were all walking toward our cars, I asked my four year old grandson Will if he liked the movie. "Yes," he said, very definite. "It was hilarious."

The Sessions. We had been waiting for this movie to arrive, and wanted to catch it before it left, even though, as several of my children have now pointed out, we have not yet seen Lincoln or Life of Pi, not to mention a bunch of other good and not so good stuff. Well, we do have a plan to see Lincoln, and we will see Life of Pi, too. There is no doubt!

But sometimes you have to go with the movie that already has the aura of being on its way, even as it arrives. So that's what we did. We took a break after Wreck-It Ralph, got some Mexican food, and went back to the very same movie theater. It's the true story of Mark O'Brien, adapted with a fair amount of liberty, apparently, who had no ability to move his body below the neck (in real life, I guess he had the use of a muscle in his foot as well). You can read this tribute to him, written after his death in 1999.  In the movie, when he is in his thirties, he seeks to lose his virginity, as they say, with a surrogate partner (listen to this interview on Q--scroll down to the Nov. 16 program--to hear the actual woman who worked with O'Brien discuss her profession).

I highly recommend this film. It is thoughtful and emotional and lovely. I'm sure it has its faults, but honestly, I loved it. Loved it.

Friday, November 23, 2012

My Top Ten Black Friday Stories.

Just kidding. I only have one. Maybe two. But just one for today:

Black Friday Story Number ONE: "Deluded and Laughing in the Target Parking Lot."

Like so many Black Friday stories, this one begins on Thanksgiving morning, with the giant newspaper of doom. It was, like, fifteen years ago, which means that the giant newspaper of doom was even more giant and more doomier, because it was back before the Death of Print, and also the Death of a Hella Lotta Stores, because of the Economic Downturn of Doom. Anyway. I was reading the Target ad, and it had a giveaway. The first however many people at the store at 6 a.m. on Friday would win a chance to win a new car.

Aside number one: 6 a.m.! The next morning! Isn't that quaint? There will be whole nostalgic Christmas movies built around stuff like that in, like, the next five years, mark my words.

Aside number two: In case you weren't paying attention--win a chance to win a chance. Those are the operative words.

Revenons à nos moutons: Well, it so happened that I had great need of a car, a new car. And so, because it's one of my great strengths to plan for major purchases, I hatched a scheme: I would get up at the crack of dawn--even before the crack of dawn--and I would be one of those first people who would win a chance to win a chance!  And that would get me my new car, probably before Christmas. 

So I got up at the crack of dawn--even before the crack of dawn!--and hightailed it over to the Target on Fort Union. The historian was with me. There were also about a hundred thousand million people with me in the parking lot, waiting in their cars for the doors to open.

I laughed one of the great pure laughs of my own personal history of laughing. So that was good. And then we went to get breakfast.
I used to go out on the Friday after Thanksgiving with various of my kids and nieces and nephews to check stuff out and have breakfast and maybe see a movie. Today, I ate pumpkin pie for breakfast, chatted with both sons, read a couple dozen manuscripts (I'm screening for a competition), took a nap and a shower, and went to the movies with the historian. I highly recommend this as a template for all future Black Fridays. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


I've been keeping a little running list of what I'm grateful for. A lot, as it turns out:

Idaho, because it is a part of my family's history. For the bears, moose, trout, tanagers, pronghorn I have seen there, on and off, my whole life. My whole life.

Scotland, because people I love live there. And because now, it is the country I have visited the most, and therefore I have history there too. Because my granddaughters speak with its inflections and vocabularies, and so will my grandson. Because of its northerliness and its mists and rain, because of the taste of its brilliant and brief summer. Because of its rivers and because of its villages. Because of the sea.

Walking, because it lets me let go. Because of how good it feels just to move.

My neighborhood, which is not remarkable in the least, but which I love because I can follow its seasons and evolutions by walking through it. For that fantastic apricot rose bush, for the brilliance of the yellow berries in November when all the leaves have fallen from the ornamental tree. Because of its specific sequence of dogs.

Music, for all the ways it sweetens things. For music itself. For instruments and players. For singing. For listening.

Ornamental trees, which flower and fruit not to be useful but to be beautiful. Roses, one of the most elegant of flowers. Because the flowers are borne up by thorns. Because of the elegance of the thorn.

My job, which, when all is said and done, means so much to me, and which allows me to do my part. Because it has taught me so much. Because it has given me one more means to make use of my gifts and efforts. Because it has brought me friends and colleagues. Because it is worth doing.

Afar, which is how I see some of the things I love the most. My beloved, walking across campus. The furthest branches on the tallest trees. The waterfall across the river. The pronghorn leaping among a herd of cattle.

Birds, dinosaurs of the air. For the way they never fail to lift my heart when they fly. 

Wind which tosses the leaves and is the moving air. Which makes a wild music.

Rivers and bridges both, the moving water and the place to stand as the water moves under my feet.

The road, which leads everywhere. For the maps that show them, both ancient and modern. For the directions. For the journey.
Ruins, evoking the past and still standing there, solid, uncovered, still emerging and implacably themselves.
Stories, the ones we carry and the ones we invent, which are the same stories.

Photos, little distillations of atoms and light. In albums, printed and encased, or digital, shimmering from the screen. Which form sequences. Which must be rewoven into a context. Which contain the faces of the beloveds.

Cameras which capture everything and nothing. For the urge to capture. For the instruments, which are a kind of sight, and a kind of longing.

Movies, little distillations of atoms and light and motion.

Berries both edible and not. Which are the carriers of seed. Which are the culmination of flower.

Los Angeles, which is the holographic, mysterious, blatant and veiled One Place. Which is emblem of my desire to know, to reach an understanding, an agreement with my own past.

Poetry and syntax and paragraphs, ways of organizing language. For the urge to organize language, to convey, to propose, to make beauty.

Parties. Made of family or friends or both, with music and food, laughter, flowers. For all the reasons, flimsy and durable, we muster for this purpose.

For travel. Denver, Boston, Philadelphia, NoCal, Portland, Aberdeen. For the people I saw there, for what we did together, for what I learned. 

For the renewable pleasures--for dinner out and dinner at home, pancakes, the flowers that return every spring and summer. For movie night. For visits with my children and grandchildren. For television. For favorite songs.

For friends, old and new. For my oldest friends, who remember things about me that I've forgotten. For the specific pieces of their histories that I share with them. For the tea, sandwiches, scones, pho, omelets, pancakes, toast, salad, pizza, curry, cake over which we've shared confidences, laughter, outrages, gossip, movie reviews, and poems.

For my children, who transformed my life. For their energy, verve, beauty, sweetness, tartness. For the fight and the wit in them. For the kindness and the joy. For my grandchildren, who transformed my life again. For their specificity. For their enthusiasms and obsessions. For superheroes and Legos, transformers, Polly Pockets, art projects. For their jokes and fits, for the ways I can see their parents in them. 

For my parents, for my siblings and siblings-in-law. For my nieces and nephews and cousins, my aunts and uncles. My grandparents before all of us. For my identity, which emerged from this storm of love and origin. For the history connecting us. Because they are absolute and essential.

For my husband the historian, whose patience and presence in my life sometimes leaves me, literally, without words adequate to describe. For him. For the blessing of him.

happy thanksgiving to you, the people. I count you as my friends. tomorrow when I eat pie, I will be thinking of you.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A proposed new video series: denied. And pancakes.

Several years ago, I proposed a video series to the historian, called The Historian Explains:

Me: Remember when I had that idea of making a video with you explaining stuff? And maybe you'd be eating pancakes?

Historian: (eating pancakes) Vaguely.

Me: And you turned me down.

Historian: ...

Me: You wouldn't have to be eating pancakes. You could, like, explain things. Like surplus value.

Historian: ...

Me: I think people might want to know that.

Historian: Possibly.

Me: So maybe you'd do it now?

Historian: No.

I live to make this video series. We shall see what we shall see.

But the good news is, I made the best pancakes known to humankind tonight. It's the same recipe I've been using for years now, and they are still the best pancakes known to humankind. Also, we had them with peach jam that I made, and it is possibly the best jam I've ever made.

Cottage Cheese Pancakes, from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

Mix 1 c. buttermilk and 2 egg yolks (put the whites in another bowl) together. Add 1 c. cottage cheese, 4 T. melted butter, and 1 t. vanilla. Whisk away.

Add 1 T. sugar, 1/2 t. grated nutmeg (preferably freshly grated--do it! it is so choice!), 1/4 t. salt, 1/2 t. baking soda, and 1 c. flour. Whisk this all in.

Beat the egg whites till soft peaks form. Stir a quarter cup of the whites into the batter, then fold in the rest until they're incorporated--use a light hand.

Get out yer griddle. Heat it up. Cook the pancakes over medium heat the way you usually do. Be a little patient. The batter's a little bit delicate.

Eat with jam. You will feel restored. These are perfectly wonderful for supper.

Monday, November 19, 2012

You, Martha Stewart:

[NOTE: I would like to write a full-on parody of the Archibald MacLeish poem "You Andrew Marvell," because that's how I feel about you, the people. You deserve that kind of effort. But I'm not going to do it, because I am tired. So instead, I'm going to rave on about a hilarious and awful thing Martha talked about in the November issue of Living. Which I bought. Because I don't know why. Thanksgiving? Anyway:]

Dear Martha,

Thanks for the awesome recipes for Central European desserts, and the variations on a classic shortbread recipe, and, moreover, the variations on the classic caramel recipe, which I have been using for years. I got that recipe from another issue of Living, like, five years ago. The recipe has served me very well, and for that, I thank you, Martha.

Generally, I like the idea of you and your aspirational domesticity. Do you like to collect milkware? and old tin pudding molds? and all manner of ancient whatnot? Well, good for you, Martha. Someone needs to save that stuff, and make it awesome like it never was. Flea markets everywhere rejoice because of you!

Now: when I read that you were making tents for your boxwoods and peonies, I thought...well, frankly, I thought it was kind of crazy. I have some plants I love, but evidently I don't love them as much as you love yours. Then I read this sentence:
"I cannot recall where I first got the idea of tailoring coverings for certain types of plants (and even for garden planters), but we have been wrapping and sewing and protecting woody things like boxwood, tree peonies, clematis, azaleas, and many types of immature plants for a long time now."
This is accompanied by a photo shoot of sculptural looking pieces in the out of doors, wrapped snugly in burlap and stitched like a cross between the muslin mockup of an haute couture gown and a Christo installation. Evidently, Martha, your upstate New York farm is populated by burlap ghosts, all winter long. But good for you, Martha. You love those boxwoods and peonies. Protect away.

Then I read this sentence:
"I have a great group of talented groundskeepers, and each has developed his or her own techniques and methods and improved upon our system, adding flair and even beauty to the winter landscape."
So there you go. A great group, and so talented. Flair! in the winter landscape!

Off I go to buy burlap in bulk,


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Super quiet low-key Sunday.

As such, it was a great day to contemplate quiet, and how sweet it is. Even boredom, which I did not experience today--sometimes boredom can be a little bit sweet, if it is in contrast to a frenetic pace of activity. Which this past week was.

Today, I read the entire Times minus the business section. And I also read a couple of magazines. Three magazines. And I took a nap, and ate leftovers. I checked in a couple of times on my online course. That was pretty much the long and short of it. What have I learned, you ask, from this quiet, not to say contemplative, day?

Well, I read this, about riding in the Quiet Car on Amtrak. Apparently it's a real thing, which, I know you've heard about the loud Americans and how very very loud they are when they go into foreign lands? But I remember a trip on a train from Darby to London where people talked on their cell phones for hours. So, think about that, so-called "quiet" not-Americans, when you're casting your aspersions about the noisy.

(For real, though: Americans are loud.)


I also heard this (okay, I took a short trip to Target) whilst driving to Target.  I am lately fascinated by the connection of the new brain science with cultural observations of all sorts. Is this kind of analysis/synthesis revelatory? or specious? Curious minds want to know.

When I got home, I did a little more searching. Now I kind of want to read this, and this was interesting also. Both are about storytelling, and maybe some connection with brain science as well. But while I was rummaging around on this bundle of sites (they explore the intersection between creativity, technology, and branding, which doesn't sound good when you/I put it that way, but I found a ton of interesting stuff there, so--check them out, I guess?), I found a really excellent article which led me to this new tool, which I can imagine running riot with. It lets you annotate video and images from the web--essentially, a swell tool for remix. I cannot wait to spend more time with it. Maybe I'll have something to post from it soon.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Megastore recommends.

more of a diagram, really.
1. A really good recipe. I was cooking a special dinner tonight, and I thought about delving into the deep dark recesses of my cookbooks or the internets for a new swell recipe. Instead, I retrieved an old recipe that I had already tried, a good one. The people: tried and true is a good way to go, sometimes at least. You may even remember some tips and tricks from your previous go-round with said recipe. On the other hand, you may not remember anything about the recipe besides (a) it was good and (b) you once made it. Today fell into the latter camp. In fact, I'm pretty sure that when I made it the first time, I substituted mushrooms for eggplant. This time, I was going to do the same, because eggplant in November? But when I went to the store, there one was, glossy and purple, so I split the difference and used mushrooms and eggplant. Either way, it was good and it was satisfying, and it has two points at this moment in the All-Time Good Recipe derby, which is more than I can say for certain recipes hanging around my recipe file.

look like tiny skulls? not in real life.
2. Brussels sprouts. You know how people speak of the sprout, sometimes, in derisive terms? Call it cabbage-y (which, technically, it totally is) and in general impugn its flavor, ethos, and all-around good character? I am here to tell you that brussels sprouts are pretty much my new favorite vegetable. Broccoli was my old favorite vegetable, and it held that position for so long I can't even believe it--from the time I was a child! I think this speaks more to my loyalty than to my lack of imagination. But right, back to the sprouts: when I roasted them for the first time, that was the moment I began to love them. Up till then, I liked them, but they did not inspire devotion until the roasting, during which they caramelize. They take on a deep, resonant flavor. They love a little slivered garlic up in there during the roasting. Don't stint on the sea salt. So good! So very very good!
We texted all the things.

3. Breakfast with your sister. My sister texted me early this week:
Dear sister, I will be killing time in Sandy on Saturday, November 17 from 8:30-10:30. I request a breakfast rendezvous. Please note that if you are out of town or otherwise engaged I shall be forced to give up. Respectfully, your sister.
Well, (a) I don't want to be responsible for a sister of mine "giving up," not in any sense of that term. And (b) breakfast is good! So we rendezvous'd and had a great time at the crack of 9 a.m., which I think we can all agree is a civilized hour for a Saturday breakfast and a long chat with a beloved. I highly recommend it.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Moviegoing fail.

Tonight, after a long day that was the end of a long week, we agreed we would go see Lincoln after we ate Mexican food like it was our job. Which we did, the Mexican food part. It was good, although maybe the time-sensitive nature of our dining timetable meant I felt a little stuffed as we drove down the road-equivalent of the backbone of the valley, State Street, wending movie-ward.

When we reached the theater, we hustled in, only to be told that the seating for Lincoln was LOW. There it was, the word flashing intermittently with the time: 6:45, replaced by LOW. 6:45 LOW 6:45 LOW.

"When it says 'LOW,' what exactly does that mean?" the historian queried.

"Pretty much just the first row," the ticket counter woman said.

Nope. I will not be looking at the monumental head of Abraham Lincoln, in the grand personage of Daniel Day Lewis, from the front row. I, Lisa Bickmore, do not watch serious movies with gigantic heads in them from the front row.


So we headed home. On the way, I had a moment to ponder the better parts of our nature, I mean my day. Including this:

This week, my son has been looking for his immunization records, because the University of Reproach and Prohibition will not let him register unless he puts his immunization records on file. Yesterday, my son Facebook-messaged me this information:

Question: How long will I have to be held responsible for stuff like this? Also, is it crazy that I kind of feel like immunization records is a weird thing for a university to be demanding? (Oh, spare me your public health lecture. I know. I'm just saying GOSH is all.)

Important subtext and a continuation of our story: looking for anything in my study is a fool's errand. I began hallucinating about all the places I might have put his immunization record. I summoned up its very image in my mind. Then I thought about where it might be: stashed in between two books on my Shelves of Chaos? In some secret file in my Filing Cabinet of Chaos? Perhaps I moved it from my study into my bedroom? And stashed it in between two books on my Auxiliary Shelves of Chaos?

This sort of search leads to a line of thinking that inevitably spirals downward, until I am castigating myself for all my moral failings. All of them. The Several Moral Failings of HTMS, or perhaps The Myriad Moral &c &c until I am ready to cry or huff around or cry and huff around or just quietly, softly scream.

And then I went to bed, where kept on hallucinating/summoning up the very image &c/dreaming about the Lost Record of the Immunizations of Son. There may have been Book of Mormon characters in there, I can't say that there weren't.

This morning, when I awoke bleary-eyed and self-reproaching, my son came up and said, "Would this be the thing they'd be looking for?" The thing in his hand was the immunization record.

I said, calmly as all hell, "I think it is."

"I thought so," he said. He thought for a moment, and said, "I guess you gave it to me to keep."

"Huh," I said.

Immunization Record Finding WIN.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Right about now, I would like to skip over the part where we orchestrate the exit strategy of all the classes. Students would have turned in their final projects and exams, and the halls at school would be quiet. There would be no more events and all the meetings of the semester would be completed, the minutes taken, the action items nestled into their little bulleted lists.

Pies, Pies, Pies. (Wayne Thiebaud)
I would be happily grading. There would be a Christmas tree and it would be lit. I would have a warm beverage and I would be happily grading. When I had completed, happily, a swath of grading, I would bake something. Like, perhaps, a pie. Perhaps several pies. After the grading was entirely completed, I would bake so many pies that I would have become, in point of fact, a pie baker, a baker of pies. I would bake pies of all kinds and I would deliver them to people. After I had baked a zillion pies and delivered them to a zillion houses, I would open a shop. Or maybe I would start a pie blog. Either way, the endgame would be a cookbook, that I would sell on the internet. The cookbook would be called PIE, and it would sell a zillion copies.

And that's how my life would be transformed.

Alas, I am but a community college English professor, a professor of English. And, within this calling, there is nothing I make that is so delectable as pie (arguments? assignments?). Having recognized this, there is nothing for it but to orchestrate the final projects, to lift the spirits of the dejected, to take pleasure in the good work and not take the not-so-good work personally. To grade, happily, even though the halls are still teeming and the meetings still glower, and there is so much, so much work yet to do.

And cookbook or no, I will make pie within the week. You mark my words.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hightouchmegastore: The Guides for Living.

Guide #579: How to Optimize Your Trip to Target.

1. Any day is a good day to go to Target, especially on the way home from work.
2. Keep a running list in your head of stuff you might need at Target. Start this list while you are sleeping, or while you are trying to fall asleep, or when you wake up. In the last few minutes of your office hours. In fact, thinking of going to Target during the last few minutes of your office hours will sweeten those minutes right up.

3. First, cruise the part of the store where they have stuff you like. If that happens to be all the parts of Target, so be it.

4. Is there new stuff? Make a note of it. (sparkly holiday clothes; bright sweaters; shiny purse; spangly scarf.)

5. Is there stuff that's marked down? (sparkly cardigan)

6. Put the stuff that's calling your name in your cart. You did get a cart, didn't you?

7. Walk to the part of the store where they have the stuff you need. (dishwasher detergent, rinse agent, Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Castile Soap.) Put that stuff in your cart.

8. Go back to the other part of the store and put all or most of the stuff that was calling your name back on the racks. Come on. You don't need that stuff.

9. Go to the other other part of the store, where they have stuff you might need. Christmas stuff, for instance.

10. Whilst considering the expensive wreaths and possible candleholders and holiday dishes and other sundry decorative items, let the things you just put back on the rack percolate in your mind. Do you need them after all? Do you?

11. No. You don't.

12. Get a magazine. Get two.

13. Potato chips? Sure.

14. Get the hell out of there before you've spent all the kids' college money! Quick!

(15. Later that night, consider the sparkly cardigan one more time.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Today, day two of the payback cold, I came home and crept into bed. Crept seems like the right word. It was past four and already the light was dimming. My eyes were heavy in the way that they're heavy when I have this kind of cold. At four, it was still two hours before I should take medication again. Day two of this cold is the day when, with any luck, I get through it by timing the medication so that each dose just catch the end of the previous dose, so it never wears off completely. If I do this successfully, then day three will be much better, and day four better than that.

So it was dim when I crept into bed and it was dark when I woke up. Just past five. Where was everyone? My son was downstairs. I was in the corner of the house, under blankets. In the historian's study, the lamp glowed. But he wasn't home. I turned it off and got back into bed. Just one more half hour before the next dose.

Jack Gilbert died today. I remember when I spent a month at the artist's colony in Vermont, the poets adored his work--"Monolithos," they breathed. "The Great Fires." I found used copies of all his books to that point in a lucky forage at Weller's. I read them quickly: these were poems that wanted to be read.

Just yesterday, prompted by a friend, I read this. Today, inching toward the very darkest days of the year, I'm glad to be thinking about Gilbert's beautiful poems. Here's one:

Monday, November 12, 2012


"Are you sure?" our server asked.

We looked at each other. The menu was basically one large CAUTION sign, suggesting that the diner was probably was not up to it, spice-and-heat-wise. This wasn't our first time at the Thai restaurant rodeo, though. We thought we were man enough. We thought we were okay with medium. But our server gave us pause.

So we went with mild, which was, as it turned out, as hot as we could go, and maybe just a little bit more so. Even though at our regular Thai place, medium was fine, at this place, which was really, really good, medium would have been too hot, and that would have been a tragedy.

I remember when I first started eating spicy food--Indian--I thought the hotter the better. I loved it. I remember going to a place just a few blocks from my place of employ for lunch. One day, I suggested going there to a colleague. He looked doubtful. He said, "I have a meeting after--I was sort of hoping I wouldn't be digesting on the outside of my body." A good description--the heat sort of radiating from the inside out after eating curry.

At our regular Thai place, I can usually get curry--Panang is my favorite--at medium heat, but we have the papaya salad at mild. "With just one pepper," I always say when we order it, holding up the one finger. Because more than one pepper  drastically affects my enjoyment and even my ability to eat it. It wasn't always this way. But now, it is. It just is, and no amount of aspirational ordering, nostalgic for the heat, will ever make it otherwise.

One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons has a man sitting up in his bed, the Angel of Death standing at the foot. "I'm the Angel of Death," he says. "I'm here to take your muscle tone and your ability to digest fried foods. That's all for now." I remember when I was in my early 40s and I was all hahahahahahaha I can still digest fried foods. And my muscle tone's not bad either! And then BAM. Fried food, spicy food--I am the equivalent of a woman of Scandinavian descent in the 50s who worries about too much garlic. It's tragic.

Today, after a couple of weeks of not enough sleep, I woke up with my payback-cold. My body's making me slow down for a minute, DayQuil and green tea. We had leftover Thai food in the refrigerator. I heated it up, ate my curry, the medium heat feeling plenty spicy. It was hot and it was hot, medium hot. It made my lips tingle and it cleared my sinuses. For the moment, and a few moments afterward, it was just right.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Back in black.

Not really. More like, back in nightgown. Which is gray. But that is not my topic. My topic is snow.

I love it. In the wintertime, I am happiest when there is snow--snow falling, snow on the ground, predicted snow, the promise of snow. When people say, it's a beautiful day when it's winter and there's no snow either present or imminent, I feel profoundly alone in that conversation. Because there should be snow in the wintertime.

As I get older, I get that stronger urge to hole up in the dark months. I feel the darkness, and the darkness tells me to find a warm corner and stay there. I have piles and piles of blankets and sweaters and more blankets and coats and more blankets for this very purpose. I feel my bed is approximately the apotheosis of coziness, and I am drawn to it as well in the wintertime. But there is no sleep as blessed as that which takes place in view of a window through which one can see snow falling or fallen.

I particularly love the light snow casts. I know it's not really a source, precisely, of light, but there's probably a physics for why the night seems bright with snow. I could surmise--that the moon reflects more brightly the soft white surface, that the snow itself is comprise of crystals that must have a refractive capability, that the whiteness of the snow itself comprises a brightness--but my dad reads this sometimes, and he's an actual physicist, a physicist of light, to be precise. (Don't laugh, Dad. I'm a poet. I'm allowed.)

Over the course of this prodigious storm, I went out in a car to run an errand or two. On Friday morning, when the snow was wet and new, I drove across the valley for some groceries. On Saturday morning, I drove across the valley for a boutique my daughter and her friends put on to raise money for their charitable project. This morning, I drove across the valley to Millcreek where two of our favorite farmers was selling winter vegetables. When I left the west side, it was intermittently sunny; up on the bench, it was misty and there was still snow falling.

"You made it," one farmer said, handing me my eggs, to go with my red bok choy, chard, carrots, and fistsful of garlic (<< gratuitous vegetable details).

I drove myself and my vegetables home carefully, attentively. No one really loves driving in the snow--in fact, almost everyone I talk to about the snow has the "I hate to drive in it" caveat--and I saw some damage on one of my drives. But the fact of the snow, the fact that winter might really be here, after such a beautiful, warm--maybe a little too warm, but it's wrong to complain about that, I know--autumn: I could not be happier.

Tonight when we took Bruiser out, it was so cold. The sky was clear and starry. I made a note that I need to pull out more layers for walks at night. Bruiser pulled up and lingered at new stops and old, sticking his nose into the snow, his tail high.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Omnibus post (with failed blog post topics).

Is it exhaustion? Is it November, the penultimate month of Blogging Every Day in the Year 2012? Is it Friday?

I don't know, but in the last several days, I have started more posts than I have brought to fruition.

For instance, there was the post about the guys who were taking way, way, way too long to order their damned footlong sandwich in front of me, who only wanted her mere four inch BLT.  (started to write; too churlish. Could not carry on. But seriously, guys. It's a sandwich. Get it together! There are hungry people right behind you who know what they want to order. Get out the way!) (Incidentally, sandwich ordering may be the only part of my life I have completely sorted.)

I could go on and on and on and on and on and on about election-related stuff, for instance some mean comments people are writing to each other on each others' blogs. But I am sick of it myself. Aren't you? (I don't really care to discuss how I check into those mean comments periodically, like touching a bruise to see if it still hurts.)

Also, I'm really rullllllly proud of each and every one of my kids right now. Kids! You are the freaking best! Better than all the other kids! (see? that's not a blog post, right there. Annoying.) (But: FOR REAL, kids.)

Just now, I thought I would write about how my house smells like baking onions. Because I'm baking onions. And last night, it smelled like banana chocolate chip ginger bread, which is a seriously good way for your house to smell. Is that a blog post? I don't think so. (Tomorrow, it will smell like apple tart, in case you're interested.)

But none of these made it into a whole blog post of its own. None achieved Independent Blog Post Stature. Instead, each will have to live as a snippet within an omnibus blog post about how I am a little bit idea-less right now. Which also seems like a terrible blog post. But it is allllll that I have right now, and that's the truth.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

A few notes on cleaning up my study.

Big fat September Vogue, it is November now. But I can't quite quit you yet.

Big puffy chair, how did it happen that you are now the dog's chair? He doesn't even read. At least as far as I know.

How do you know if a paper is important enough to keep? How?

Big garbage bag of stuff, I just threw you away without a backward look. Well, with a mere backward glance. Half a glance.

Big bag of stuff, I'm not sure what I've just thrown away!

I need to put the books I've bought but haven't read in a place. A "Books to Read" corner. Whence I would repair upon my leisure to read and peruse. And whatnot. Perhaps when I am old, or when I am dead.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

And here we are.

I found myself, mid afternoon, feeling weary and faint. Yes, I found myself weary in well-doing. I was in my office. I had conducted my final student consultation of the day. It was lovely. Satisfying. And then, the ennui. The looming headache. The letdown. I had read what there was to read. A lot of it. Articles upon status updates upon tweets. Upon articles.

I had an election hangover.

Also, my feet were tired.

What was there to do, the people, but go home? Home home home, with its homelike snacks and the prospect of rest. Yes, America, I went to there. (That's home, rest, snacks, in case you lost track.)

When the historian got home, we talked about the articles and status updates and tweets and the chatter on NPR. I talked to my dad (I won't say who he voted for, but his initials are Barack Obama)--it's clear we all stayed up a little too late. It's possible that I am, even now, watching The Daily Show.

But tomorrow I go cold turkey. No. More. Except for this. And maybe this.

Back to work, but first: sleep.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Now what?

Oh, right:
  • talk to some students and
  • talk to some more students, and
  • grade some midterms,
  • have a meeting, 
  • take a long walk,
  • cook dinner, 
  • consider a book, a television show, my family, my house.
  • sneak in a rest?
I wonder what the candidates will be doing. I hope they sneak in a rest, too, both of them.

Frankly, I hope you all get a rest tomorrow. Bless.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Omnibus Prediction Market Prognosticator Election Edition.

Pachinko: like a heartbeat baby trying to wake up.
Like any thinking American person, my attention has been ricocheting like the steel balls in a pachinko machine on speed on crack, over the last few weeks. Also, like a roller coaster that's like the steel balls in a pachinko machine on speed on crack. Also: like a rocketship to Mars on a roller coaster that's like the steel balls in a pachinko machine on speed on crack. Ricocheting, is what I'm saying. Highs, lows. Exacerbated by speedy substances. Noise and signal.

Like you, dear reader, I'll be glad to have it all over. Unless it doesn't turn out the way I want it to, of course.
The roller coaster of my electoral attentions.

After all my reading/ricocheting, it seems to me that I'm in as good a position as anyone to declare my predictions and prognostications.

Speed, bien sur.
1. Utah will go...Republican. That seems likely.

2. Gerrymandering is the sport of choice among Utah legislators, and they don't even need a license.

3. Given #2, I predict that Utah will have four Republican congresspeople, and certain people that I have, in the past, called "demagogue" in the newspaper will no longer be the demagogue-iest of them all, and that's the truth. It can always get worse (is my basic political philosophy).

4. Orrin Hatch will retain his stentorian grasp on the Senate seat. Until his very last breath.

Not that I'm bitter.

The Presidential race? Please. I am not going to jinx that with some wild-eyed, crack-fueled, poll-reading, Nate-Silver-Sam-Wang-loving bender. I am just crossing my fingers, like all the other thinking, praying, chicken-bone-polishing, icon-kissing patriots.

to the moon! or Mars!

See you tomorrow. Vote, will ya? Like a rocketship to Mars?

Saturday, November 03, 2012

I need a book to read.

--a book that is more compelling than the internet.

Dear reader: what are you reading?

Thursday, November 01, 2012

All Hallows.

All Hallows

Even now this landscape is assembling.
The hills darken. The oxen
Sleep in their blue yoke,
The fields having been
Picked clean, the sheaves
Bound evenly and piled at the roadside
Among cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises:

This is the barrenness
Of harvest or pestilence
And the wife leaning out the window
With her hand extended, as in payment,
And the seeds
Distinct, gold, calling
Come here
Come here, little one

And the soul creeps out of the tree.

Louise Gluck


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