Short Shorts

I have a sleeping child. I’m so much calmer when L takes his nap. He didn’t, yesterday; instead, he took off his diaper, peed all over his crib, and then drove me crazy all afternoon. Around 5:30 I was heard to mutter sotto voce, “you’re a real pain in the ass, you know that?” I’m not sure he heard. Let’s hope he didn’t.


Funny story: we have a bad habit of leaving a wine glass out on the kitchen table or coffee table and the next morning our long tall drink of an L discovers it, drinks a sip, and then comes gleefully in to tell us all about it. “I drinking wine!” he said once, with a purple mustache. Oops. You think we’d learn, but no: this morning there was a (luckily-almost-totally-empty) glass on the table. L comes into the bathroom where I was just getting out of the shower.

L: “I drank some wine, Mumma.”
Me: “You did? Sweetie, wine is for grownups.”
L, cheerfully: “Oh, it was just a little bit. Don’t worry ’bout it.”

This is not L.

In moments like those–and like this afternoon, in the car on the way home from daycare, when L told me “I need a snack and I can’t hold my horse”–he is an utter and complete joy to me.


This morning I had coffee with MB, the husband of a dear friend from college. They live out in the sticks in Colorado, where they have a farm, and he’s in town doing some music gigs at local open-mic nights and the like. Some of you remember that lately I have been lusting after the “simple life,” and I found myself peppering MB with questions. I hope he didn’t mind. It was pretty wonderful to hear about their plans (to support themselves, and when they need a little more money, sell some wool/mutton/chickens/garlic/eggs); their sheep (five of them!); and their childcare woes (1+ hour drive to school every day). Lately I’ve been really interested in farm stories. Two books recently have been rocking my world: The Urban Homestead, which is a how-to guide for turning your small urban rental into a miniature farm and canning, harvesting, and eating your way to the good life; and The Dirty Life, which is a memoir by a woman who falls in love with a farmer, moves to upstate New York, and starts a full-service farm, which is to say, a farm that supports up to 30 or 40 local families with everything they need: organic vegetables, meat, eggs, beans and grains, dairy, and maple syrup.

I think farming and urban homesteading are hip right now, and I can get into what’s hip, so maybe that’s the reason for my interest. More, though, I think I have been so in my head lately I’m likely to topple over. I think I’m really craving more manual labor and physicality and less cerebral work. I’m no couch potato–I have to exercise fairly compulsively or else I explode, and I’m back into running again–but when MB sat down across from me at a very urban coffee shop and told me being in the city was freaking him out, and I could see how much time that man spent outdoors working hard, I felt a little jealous.


I’ve decided to take a yoga workshop this weekend! I’m so delighted. It’s called “Yoga & Creativity: Building a Practice as a Writer or Artist” and I saw a flyer for it when I went to a Pilates class this morning. It’s a short one (essential, when you have a 2-year-old and your husband thinks he has to spend some time at the office) and I thought it might be a really good way of moving the energy down from my head and into my body a bit. I have this sense that if I can feel my book more than think my book, I’ll have some success in moving from a very stuck place to a more open one.

I know, I know, I sound so California.


Speaking of which: L was hamming it up at the produce market yesterday (un-napped, the kid turns into a madman). He was dancing and twirling and frenetically being crazy and this very eccentric woman came up to us and said, “Oh! What’s his name?” I told her. “Is he a Leo?” she asked. I confirmed that in fact he is a Leo. “But what’s his moon sign?” she asked. I told her I didn’t know. She put her hand on my arm and said in this very conspiratorial voice, “You have to get his charts done. There’s something else in there besides Leo. God, he’s just darling!” (L was dismantling the juice machine at that point. This was about 15 minutes before the pain-in-the-ass business.) She couldn’t take her eyes off him and gave me her card. Now, cynical B told me that of course she was just drumming up business, but I have to say that this is the third or fourth time a total stranger has come up to me and told me how…X…my kid is. One dude, who also put his hand on my arm and stared into my eyes, said, “I just have to tell YOU about the intelligence simply exuding from that child.” Not sure why he needed to emphasize “you.” Maybe he thought I didn’t already know?

Yesterday morning I had a little crying jag, and called B, as I always do (what did I do before he came along?). Last night he brought flowers and I promptly started to cry again.

B: “Whoa, it must be a long time since I brought you flowers, if they made you cry!”

Yeah, well. Tears of joy, I guess.

The Simple Life

I am sitting in one of those West coast coffee shops that sells T shirts with phrases like “Death Before Decaf!” emblazoned on the front, and I just noticed, in the bathroom, this great 1950s-style mock movie poster that’s advertising a fictitious movie whose plot is that under-caffeinated people are so lethargic they can’t save the world. Okay, coffee shop, you have made your point. A few months ago I mostly gave up caffeine, but the past couple of mornings I’m dragging so low I’m starting to wonder if a relapse is in order. A good strong latte might just solve all my problems.

Why am I so wiped out? Hmm. I’ll get to that in a minute (I’m at that stage in this blog post where I have two distinct ideas rolling around in my head, and I’m trying to draw a few threads between them before I lose everything).

A couple of months ago I had the good fortune to hear the great poet Gary Snyder read with Larry Ferlinghetti in North Beach, in San Francisco. Ferlinghetti is the more famous poet, but to my mind Gary Snyder is the more lasting and brilliant. A devout Buddhist, at age 81 he lives up in the Sierra Foothills, off the grid, where he has to haul water and shovel snow and fix generators and probably harvest his own food. In the course of his telling his audience about this at the reading in November, an audience member yelled something like “hooray for the simple life!” and Snyder said, “The simple life? Don’t call it that until you’ve tried it. The simple life is living in a studio apartment above a deli, with a big bag of dope.” The crowd roared. I did, too, because it was funny–but it was also undeniably true. Living off the grid in the mountains is anything but a simple life–I know at least one reader who does it, and the busyness of her days could boggle the mind.

And yet, lately I get why one would think to call living out in the sticks “simple.” Here, in the northern California city where I live, we have a car, a washer and dryer, trash pick-up, electricity, heat…all kinds of things to make life comfortable, easier, safe. But life in the city doesn’t feel simple at all lately. My head is so…full. L is having trouble at daycare, again, and I have been trying to make some very non-simple decisions about what to do about it. This entails two to three visits a week, to other daycares and preschools, plus emails and phone calls in between. In the meantime I am in the midst of a last revision of my book, a revision I swore I would not do until I went to proof it for typos and encountered some nagging doubts about its viability. This has me deeply exhausted, quite frankly, in a very complex and non-simple way–it’s an emotional and logistical stress, hard to explain, really. Then there are the acupuncture appointments, the babysitting co-op meetings, the earthquake preparation groups, three+ playdates a week, friends’ performances to attend. And then there is our attempt to live the “simple” life; we cook every night, we have a garden, we generate so much damn compost and recycling, we feel guilty about using the dryer, we walk to the store, we try whenever possible to leave the car at home and bike L to daycare. And school hasn’t even started yet; in two weeks I have sixty students to attend to, plus all this other…stuff.

I have lately found myself wishing that I lived in a studio apartment above a deli where I ordered in all my food and sent out all my laundry–or even on a farm in the Catskills, where I had to milk the cows every morning but didn’t have to write this Goddamned book and there was only one preschool to choose from (if that). I’m not complaining, I’m just noticing. I think a good 2012 resolution for me would be this: be less busy. Say no more. Get off that earthquake committee. Give yourself a break from the book if you need it. Or start drinking coffee again.

Here is a Gary Snyder poem for today. It’s about the simple life, don’t you think? I find it terribly romantic and wonderful, but then, you know that’s the mood I’m in today.

Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout

Down valley a smoke haze
Three days heat, after five days rain
Pitch glows on the fir-cones
Across rocks and meadows
Swarms of new flies.
I cannot remember things I once read
A few friends, but they are in cities.
Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup
Looking down for miles
Through high still air.

(From Modern American Poets: Their Voices and Visions, edited by Robery DiYanni (Random House, 1987).