Poem: Terrific and Welcome News

IMG_1977

I decided I was tired of depressing news, so I made up some of my own. In verse form.

Terrific and Welcome News

Terrific and welcome news:
The glass is more than half full
All our hours are turning to gold
Older is becoming better
Our credit line is expansive
And the bill will never come due
The people before us left the place
Better than they found it
Trolls have all been blocked
And will never bother us again
We can say anything we believe
And receive understanding
Others will listen without critique
The tax refund will be large enough
To donate to charity and take a vacation
All social services are fully funded
And no missiles were fired today
We are not only survivors
We are thrivers
And nothing will ever be bad again

**

Ida Bettis Fogle, 2017

Sibling Writerly

I’m reading a narrative written by my brother, when I see the catalpa tree sitting there right in the middle of the page.  He has transplanted it from our childhood back yard into the thick of his prose. I snort out a mouthful of tea. That’s my tree; I was already using it. It’s an important symbol in the story I’ve been working on.

MINE!

MINE!

 

This isn’t his first offense. The same thing happened with a lilac bush. I’m the one who accidentally dug up the remains of our pet parakeet while playing in the shade of said bush. Surely this gives me some custody rights. I suffered for those lilacs, and he usurped them.

ALSO MINE!

 

Every writer I know evokes personal history in the practice of his or her craft, even for fiction pieces. In fact, workshop leaders all over the place are teaching us how to do it effectively. The problem for me comes with having another writer in the family, a sibling near my age. We’re both drawing from the same well.

My brother and I are creating parallel universes, where our characters drive identical Chevy Novas and own twin tortoise-shell cats. Despite my entrenched status as a grown-up, I find myself willing to share no more graciously than I did as a child. Perhaps I could be more generous if he wasn’t such a good writer. I suspect any resentment I feel is rooted in the fear that he’s putting our memories to better use than I am. Showing me up again.

My writing brain is becoming tinged with a new paranoia. One morning, I begin penning a description of a character, basing him on a former next-door neighbor. I stop mid-word, suddenly worried that my one-eyed vegetarian has a doppelganger residing somewhere in the pages of my brother’s notebooks. Worse, the hypothetical double could be a more fully realized individual than my guy, leading a more interesting life.

I falter for most of a day, returning again and again to my computer, only to sit and stare and wonder what to do.  Should I call my brother and propose a division of historical assets? Perhaps we could make a list and split it in half, like when we put masking tape down the middle of the living room as kids, saying “That side’s yours; this is mine.”

Or I could stick to events and people I encountered independently of him. Surely I have a wealth of my own material waiting to be garnered from unshared classrooms, solitary outings. I should have enough, I think, without dipping into his past at all. I almost convince myself I can be satisfied with this solution. Then I picture myself, six years old, saying I don’t want anything to do with your smelly old Matchbox cars anyway. The toys in my own room are more fun. Oh dear.

I did want to play with those cars. And I do want to use these memories. I feel the steam building inside again. I have as much right to them as he does. More, in some cases. I should be able to use whatever material I see fit.  I’ll just have to get to it first. I’ll out-write him, race my characters through the (dramatically enhanced) events of my own life before he has a chance. I must hurry that girl into the wagon she will crash into a rose bush, shatter that boy’s teeth in a bike wreck, get the elderly neighbor started on her valium habit. Then I’ll have two young siblings race each other to the car, vying for the front seat.  Or not.

I do need to be an adult, I realize, if I’m going to get anywhere with my writing. I close my eyes, counting my breaths, clearing my mind.  When I lift my lids, I see with a new clarity.  There is more than one catalpa tree in the world. There’s no reason the streets in my stories can’t be traversed in Buicks. And as for the one-eyed vegetarian?  I pick up the phone, dialing my brother’s number.  “Do you remember that old neighbor of ours with the eye patch?” I ask. “Are you using him for anything?”

**

This is a piece of creative nonfiction. A few details have been changed in the cause of making my life seem more interesting. It originally appeared in the now defunct ByLines Magazine.

How We Flunked Story Time

may_28_6968_frog_tadpole “Story time saved my sanity.” Thus proclaimed a friend with children much younger than mine. She gushed to me how much her family loves the library, and especially the children’s programs.

This sent my mind into a reminiscence of my own family history. I didn’t reveal to her my shameful secret. But I will confess it here. When my daughter was three and my son a newborn, our family flunked out of story time. At the very library where I now work.

It had to do with the green paper circles. Lily pads you might call them if you were a story time lady presenting a tale about frogs. Or, if you were my then 3-year-old daughter, you might call them wall dots, green steering wheels, round green hats, or frisbees. In her eyes, the possibilities were endless.

“Let’s sit on our lily pads little frogs, while we hear a story!” prompted the cheerful story time lady. 10 or 11 out of the group of 11 or 12 little frogs obediently criss-cross apple sauced on their lily pads.

“Frogs sit *on* their lily pads, not *under* them,” said the story time lady, still cheerfully.

“Mine’s a hat!” said my three-year-old, also cheerfully.

“Okay, well, let’s get the story started,” said the story time lady, gamely.

As the other children were doing the finger plays, my daughter was driving us to the store with the steering wheel that had been so thoughtfully provided. “I’ll drive since you’re holding the baby,” she whispered to me.

“Remember to sit on your lily pads,” prompted the story time lady, a little sternly, as the story ended and she prepared to begin a song. This time she was looking at me, a look that told me I was allowing my kid to Set a Bad Example, and I should begin enforcing the story time rules like a Good Mother.

But she’s not being disruptive, I thought back at her. She only whispered once, right in my ear. If I argue with her, that will be disruptive.

I don’t remember the song, probably something to do with amphibians. I remember I sang along, while wearing a green paper hat, held on my head by my kid. It was only fair that I have a turn, after all. See, I had taught my child about taking turns and sharing. Not a total loser mom, huh?

As a finale, there was a second song. And the kids were allowed more action this time, hopping, a little, in place, on cue. Or in one case, doing a small interpretive dance – The Dance of the Green Circle. My inner being was divided between mortification and fierce pride. I know which side the story time lady came down on, as she threw in an extra demonstration of the proper form of hopping.

As the program ended and parents left hand-in-hand with their children, I saw some other families grouping together, comparing this experience with story times of other weeks. Apparently they had a story time clique. Their offspring had been in training since birth. And here I thought I could bring in my wild child starting at the advanced age of three and have her fit in.

Said child, meanwhile, now that she was allowed to move around and talk freely, was pointing out to me all of the things you could do with a circle of green paper. You could decorate a wall with it. You could tuck in the top of your shirt in back and have a round superhero cape. You could hide your face behind it to play peek-a-boo with a baby. You could use it as a baby blanket. After a minute, my mixed feelings coalesced into amazement at my kid’s mind and attitude – that she could be so excited and could see so many possibilities in circle of paper.

I glanced around at the other families, with their conforming kids, who would have fit right in on that planet in “A Wrinkle in Time” – the one where the children bounced their balls at the exact same time on the exact same schedule every day. Suddenly, they seemed a little, hmmm, soulless might be the word? Those poor moms and dads, seeing the limitations of their merely adequate children exposed in the bright illumination cast by the creative genius shining from my daughter. Yeah, I couldn’t put them through that again.

We’d stick to our informal weekly playgroup and leave the organized story times for those others. I imagined the librarian in charge of the program that day thinking of us as “not story time material.” I suppose some people might look at it as having failed, and at times I have looked at it that way, too, wondering why my kid has such a hard time getting with the program. But I prefer think of it more as not a good fit. See how non-judgmental I’m being about the others’ rigidity and lack of imagination?lilypad

The same dynamic would continue to play out in public school as the years went on. My older kid often had “better” ideas than the teacher about how an assignment should be done. Some teachers loved this and used it to advantage. In those classes, my child learned a lot and accomplished some remarkable creative achievements. Others instructors – I call them lily pad teachers – lived by the philosophy “Rubrick uber alles!” My offspring showed a marked failure to thrive in those classrooms.

I never have completely sorted out my feelings. No, I don’t think the school should have to convert any of their computers from qwerty to Dvorak because one kid think it works better. (Pick your battles, child.) But yes, I do think my then-10th-grader should have been given extra credit instead of a zero on that world history report for having gone so far above and beyond in research and effort, in having a desire to do something that wasn’t a rehash of every other paper that had been written in the same classroom for the past decade.

Eventually the little frog grew strong enough to hop its way out of the public school pond and forge its own path to college, via self-study and a GED. Have I mentioned the college major? – Fisheries and Wildlife. Lack of preschool success at frogdom notwithstanding. I guess it didn’t go on the permanent record.

greencirclegreencirclegreencircle

What I’m Wearing for the Oscars

Update:  I know there was rampant speculation about what outfit I’d select for the after-party. Breaths were held as everyone wondered what it would be. Would I choose flannel or fleece? Even I hadn’t decided until the very last second. But fleece won the night.

A few words about my chosen ensemble for the evening of the Oscars:

The gray hoodie I’m wearing right now was designed by…um…someone who does marketing for Mark Twain Cave(?) I guess. While the t-shirt underneath harks back to the era when I was on a softball team. The jeans were chosen specially for this occasion because they’re loose enough to allow an extra layer underneath. My jacket is a family heirloom, passed up from son to mother. And the blue fingerless gloves are meant to send a message about the weather.

Things People Actually Said to Me at Work Today

1.
“You got to have the most boring-ass job in the world, working in a library. I don’t know how you stand it.”
You know what some people say when I help them with something they requested? “Thank you.” Hard to believe I know, as it hardly enlightens me as to the desperation of my situation. My reply to the guy was something about how it’s a good thing there are a lot of different types of jobs around for different types of people. I wish I’d said something more along the lines of “Not as boring as you’d think, considering the people we get in here. You never know what someone’s going to say when they come up to the desk.” Which leads me to:

2.
The very next patron who approached the desk: “Do you have any air freshener here.”
Me: “No, we don’t keep anything like that because so many people have allergies to the scent. Why? Is there a problem?”
Him: “Yeah, my friend that I’m here with? I’m sitting next to him at the computer? His feet stink. I took off my shoes to see if it was my feet, but it’s his. I need to spray him or something.”

3.
A gentleman who likes to wear vintage dresses, often with pearls and heels. He’s a regular and he can put together an outfit like nobody’s business. Next time I’m invited to a wedding, I’m asking him what I should wear.
Him: “I’m looking for a book called ‘The Secret Lives of Dresses.'”
Me: “We do have that book. It’s a novel, so it’ll be in fiction.”
Him, crestfallen: “I thought it was non-fiction.”

Just a typical day at the public library.

Local Travelogue One

“I have traveled a great deal in Concord.” – Henry David Thoreau

My husband, kids and I have taken two major vacations and several minor road trips. (The kids are 16 and 13.) The first major do was a drive to the Grand Canyon in 2006. That trip involved a lot of camping and one tornado. The other was a trip to Florida this past November, marking our first experience of flying together as a family.

I’d love to travel more, but in the past month, my life has taken a turn that promises to keep me anchored for the foreseeable future. So I’ve decided to take Thoreau as my inspiration and travel my hometown. To that end, my first hyper-local travelogue in photos.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To Do Lists

I was sorting through some of my poems, and came across this one I wrote in 2006.

To Do Lists

To be done before vacation:
Catch up all laundry
Make sure the grass is cut
And the bills are paid
Clean out the van

Upon returning:
Write a novel
Land a book contract
Transform my chronically messy house
into an aesthetically inviting
gathering place for the group of very hip
writers of which I will be a central figure
But first:
Clean out the van
Do the laundry
Pay the bills
And mow the yard

**

I’m still working my way through the line items. But I can check mark “write a novel.” And I’m making efforts at some of the others. Some photo evidence from the past year:

 

I still have a distance to go, however. One step at a time.