This One Time, At Band Camp, Part II

This afternoon, we picked JackMan up from band camp. First, though, we were treated to an exhibition of what they've learned of the show so far. I'm still swooning from the smell of grass mixed with the sounds of drums and trumpets.

On the way home, we asked him to tell us secret band camp stuff. We got this: Every night at lights out, the chaperones would come around and check to see that all students were safely in their own rooms before locking up. Then, after the adults had padded back down the halls, the guys in drumline, following long tradition, would pop out the ceiling tiles and tunnel through the overhead passages to the designated Halo game room.

Gawd, I'm so proud.

End of story, back to Atlanta:


Friday Nostalgia

When I was in elementary school, Clutch Cargo would be on in the early mornings while I was getting ready to catch the bus. It didn't matter that it made me want to puke up my Quisp, I watched it anyway, the way I'll watch ants eat a worm on the sidewalk. Thanks to that new-fangled Syncro-Vox, those real human lips, red and wet, poking through the illustrations, were the only animation.

It was disgusting. And awesome.

Bald Python

Lo, nonstop watcher of Animal Planet, desperately wants a ball python, actually, though she has her own name for it. "Mom, mom," she says, "they only bite if you touch their heads, and they're not poisonous. I'll buy it with my own money. I'll buy the mice too."

"Let's talk about it after you save $200," I tell her, believing that should postpone the conversation indefinitely.

God help me, in two days she's already saved $13.50, and she's planning a garage sale for Saturday.

Pants on Fire

Turns out someone ain't the expert noodler we thought he was. Big Fish was just a prop for an ad campaign. Shame on you, Beau, for telling such tall tales.


Recommended Reading

I've been haunted by this poem since I read Jim Moore's book at Fripp, what it says to me--an American, a mother, a woman, a human being with a propensity for selfishness.

On the Train To Venice

The first and least important mistake
was to take the train on Sunday, September 1st,
the last day of vacation for millions of Italians.
Though the train was packed,
we had thought to bring sandwiches.
We ate while everyone around us—sitting, standing,
filling every possible inch of floor space—
went profoundly silent and watched
as if we were demonstrating a new technique
for brain surgery, one never tried before,
gone horribly wrong.

Not long after we finished, out of nowhere
came water, sandwiches, and fruit,
every last bit of it offered all around,
especially to those who had brought
nothing with them. Such kindness
and pleasure, such gratitude, except
on the part of the two Americans
who had eaten their fill alone,
in silence, as if the world was empty
of everything but themselves.


Writers Write

After thinking about it for more than a week, I finally want to address the issue of why I write the poems I write, and why I write the blog the way I do. Ten days ago, I couldn’t say how the blog relates to the poems, but I’ve really considered it, and now I think I know. But that doesn’t matter anyway--whether I actually know or not; the questions are always more important than the answers.

When I was six or seven, I knew I wanted to be a writer and tried to make sense of my world by writing. Back then, though, and for much of my life, I hid behind abstracts, naming my feelings but never telling the stories behind them. To tell those stories, my secrets, would be dangerous. It could get me into trouble.

I was only a child. I couldn’t risk it.

As a young adult, I survived the telling of my secrets and was willing to write the stories. I tried, but the poems were full of explication, overly sentimental. I didn’t have the tools I needed to do it properly. I had an instinctive appreciation for the music of poetry, and for image and metaphor, but I had no real grasp of how to use them. I didn’t understand that poems are events. I was entering middle-age when I learned, with three kids, a busted marriage, and 32 years of stories to get out.

Once, while I was in grad school, I lamented to Ellen Bryant Voigt, “Who cares about what I write? It seems all I ever write about is my dead sister, my divorce, and my childhood,” to which she replied, “You have to write the poems you have to write first—before you can write the poems you want to write.” I think she meant a sort of clearing out of the obsessions that compel us to write. For me, however, there’s always the next poem I must write, and so the poems like "My Ass Says Hello," the fluffy, funny things I enjoy and don’t get mired up in, are few and far between.

I carry around Gregory Orr’s Poetry as Survival, a book that explains and validates why I write poetry and how I feel better when I do. In chapter one, Orr quotes Isak Dinesen, author of Out of Africa: “Any sorrow can be borne if it can be made into a story, or if a story can be told about it.” I love this quote. It reminds me that I have souvenirs from any tragedy I endure, testaments to my perseverance and survival.

In chapter seven, Orr says, “Story is both primal, a concrete way of ordering experience, and also a way of opening the self to disorder… One of story’s primary purposes is to lay claim to experience. Autobiographical storytelling can take personal experience back from silence, shame, fear, or oblivion. It says, ‘I cherish this,’ or ‘This haunts me.’ It asserts the significance of events in one’s life: ‘This happened to me.’ ‘I did this.’ This is part of who I am.’ ‘This should not or will not disappear, and I act to preserve it by turning it to words and shaping it to story.’"

I’ve personally experienced the power of storytelling, and I teach it every day. I teach it to designers, photographers, art directors, and illustrators, as well as to other writers. Whether you’re telling your story through a visual or a written grammar, your work will be more powerful if it comes from your experience and is told in your unique voice. The photographers in Hank’s Creative Concepts class learned that in 24 hours. I saw their work transcend the expected results that come when you look for a story outside yourself (stained glass, religious icons) to become exquisite manifestations of their own experiences, beliefs and values.

I’ve never felt the need to apologize for my poetry, perhaps because poems are such “made things” that in my mind they might as well be paintings or sculptures. I know that some people, loved ones at that, have been upset or disturbed by my work, but once I commit a story to poetry, I give it its life. If I can get it published, I do. If it ends up in a book, that’s its destiny. There is only one poem in Karaoke Funeral that gives me the slightest twinge of regret, and that’s the title poem, because it exploits the funeral of my children’s great grandmother, a wise, beautiful, woman.

There was no other way to tell the story, though, of how it felt when my touchstones to the past had disappeared, when I no longer had my sister (my only sibling) to poke with, “Hey, remember that time at Aunt Jo’s…" or my husband to reminisce about “the time Sadie ate the Vaseline…" when I had only myself and my suspect memory to rely on. It’s a special brand of loneliness and it needed to be written.

Now, I’ve finished a new book, which is more difficult than the first, because it begins in a place full of hope—a hope achieved through long struggle, a hope that turns out to be short-lived. Everyone ‘goes down’ in this manuscript, not the least of whom is myself. I believe that was true of the first book; I didn’t make myself (the speaker of the poems) smell like a rose in that one either.

But what has this got to do with your blog, Tania? Well, the blog has been a way to exercise, sort of like paddling along in class I and II until I can hit whitewater again. Since I finished the last manuscript in January, I haven’t been able to write poems. I’m not worried. I know they’ll come. I’m just tired is all, worn out from living the life that became that book, and from writing it.

Yet, every day, I see poems--in my house, at school, in the street. I grab those moments and put them down here. Sometimes, as with the poetry, the past gets mixed up with the present. Something reminds me—dontdatehimgirl.com, for instance, and off I go. I feel like telling the story. Because I tell it better now, since I’m not emotionally involved, since I’m able to look back in wonder that such things actually happened—and that the girl I was, the young woman, was so gullible, so stupid, or so hopeful. She was such a survivor.

I took the comments of my ex sister-in-law to heart: “…it is time to move on and let go.” I considered how it must make her feel to read the stories about her brother (whom I did not name or identify in any way) and whether I was indeed stuck, somehow, to still be writing about him.

I thought about my husband and mother, who’ve expressed some hurt of their own about my posts, and who’ve come around as they’ve trusted me to paint a bigger picture of our lives.

I asked myself if I had anything to apologize for.

Then I remembered the Dinesen quote, and that the stories, those mementos, are mine.

No one can tell me whether I should put them away in a drawer or hang them from the lamp post.

And I’m not sorry. I’m not.


This One Time, At Band Camp...

JackMan left this morning for a week of sunburns, blisters, bugbites, bee stings, and monkeybutt. I'm so jealous! Biggy and I were both marching nerds, so I'm thrilled that, FINALLY, one of my kids is following step (even if he is in drumline and considers himself better than the band), and I can live it all again vicariously--the twelve-hour practices, the evening dances when you're too tired to stand, the cold showers at 5 a.m....

And I can't wait for Friday night football games, competitions and exhibitions...

Of course, in my enthusiasm, I lost a few mom-points before his departure. First, I fetched the big-ass suitcase from the garage and was sitting in his floor packing it when he walked in. You'd have thought I'd decorated his room in unicorns. Apparently, only GIRLS use large pieces of luggage. I was supposed to fit seven days' worth of clothes, towels, bedding, dvd player, toiletries, etc. in a smaller, less conspicuous bag--a duffle bag like those Lacrosse players in the A&F catalog toss over their shoulders while smacking each other's bottoms. THEN, he noticed I'd written his name--TWICE--with a sharpie on his 1/2 gallon thermos. He was mortified. Strike three came when I handed him the Target bag full of snacks I'd bought for him to take along--Little Bites muffins and brownies.

I hope he calls me.

Right Now At My House

Biggy is working, JackMan's at band camp, and George is hanging out with GareBear. I'm so bored, I cleaned a bathroom.


Waxing More Nostalgia

From the time I was four until about age ten, I lived with my family in a little brick ranch on Hiram Lithia Road in Powder Springs, GA. The neighborhood was a row of six or seven houses just like ours, sandwiched between the busy two-lane in the front and an old dirt road in the back. Most of the families had kids, and most days, the pack of us would walk the mile or so down the dirt road to Reece's, a little general store/gas station (quite similar to the photo above but without the mountains) to spend the nickels our moms bribed us with to go buy their cigarettes.

If we kicked the dry Georgia red clay in front of us as we walked, it looked like our feet were on fire. The dirt road was lined with honeysuckle and wild rose bushes, where we'd find things like kittens or snakes or old Penthouse magazines. Sometimes, we heard strange sounds from the deep woods, and we'd plan the seance we were going to have when we got home. Just within sight of Reece's, we'd hide, either behind the trees or in some bushes, and pray to get a glimpse of the dwarf family who lived in the basement of the store. And oh, to spot the baby dwarf! Mom, dad, sister, brother, sometimes the infant in one of their arms. They were so "other" in a small town where everyone looked alike.

We had all the elements of the ideal adventure: an interesting journey, grave danger (If Mr. or Mrs. Reece caught us spying, they wouldn't let us get our Zero bars and Chico Stix.), and the possibility of discovering that treasure at the end.


Friday Nostalgia

I know it's still around, but I sure don't see people making fried Spam sandwiches (on white bread, with mayo) like we used to--or Spam pie, for that matter.

Same with deviled ham and vienna sausage. Anyone out there eating canned meat sandwiches?

Confess. We won't tell your doctor.



I know what you're thinking: Why, pray tell, do you have a bed in your office?! Well, let me explain. At 6:41 a.m. we began a 24-hour class project that Hank has named "Charette." What is a Charette? The term evolved from a pre-1900 exercise at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in France. Architectural students were given a design problem to solve within an allotted time. When that time was up, the students would rush their drawings from the studio to the Ecole in a cart called a charrette. Students often jumped in the cart to finish drawings on the way. The term evolved to refer to the intense design exercise itself. Today it refers to a creative process akin to visual brainstorming that is used by design professionals to develop solutions to a design problem within a limited timeframe.

This particular class, Creative Concepts, is a very promising group of photographers Hank feels will benefit from being pushed in extreme ways.

Their assignment goes like this: First they had to read the book, MR. GOD, THIS IS ANNA, by Fynn, a book I highly recommend if you're in the mood to change your life. Then, using the book as a catalyst, they are being sent out for six-hour intervals to shoot their idea of God. Four times, they will return and submit up to 20 images on dvd, which will be printed on contact sheets and judged. As the work is being judged, they are back out in the street, shooting again, getting just a little more exhausted, dealing with a different kind of light, and having to dig a little deeper into their souls.

Currently, they're on their third round, due back in two and a half more hours, etc. So I'm here until sunrise tomorrow, to assist with the storytelling, or to help them frame the questions that will become their stories told through the images. Or, really, just to hand them the kleenex if things get too tough. I'm glossing this over, 'cause I'm a little tired myself, but it's a difficult mission, this figuring out who/what god is to you and how to share that through a visual narrative. What it ain't, though, is a bunch of stained glass or statues of Jesus, the unfortunate products of round one. They'll get it.

Many thanks to George and GareBear, who brought me the air mattress, and to Biggy, who's holding down the fort and is a way better sport than I would be. Right now, I'm just lying around, listening to Elvis. If anything interesting happens, I'll post as the evening progresses.

A little before 12:41 pm, they trickled in to submit round one and had sack lunches (with notes of encouragement), lovingly prepared by Fern(ando)and Catherine, our awesome admissions team.

Fellow students, instructors, and members of the professional community stopping by to judge the work.


Separation Anxiety

This morning, Lo was packing for a sleep-over at her friend Elizabeth's. She was very excited (or maybe it was the birthday cake she ate for breakfast) and could hardly contain herself. As we were walking out, she said, "Mom, I'm going to tell you a secret. We are going to have a WIYALD party. I mean WIYALD. We've been planning and making decorations all week. We're setting the tent up in her room and putting mats down on the floor. WIYALD! Hey, can I shoot you once before I go?"


A Real Star

Happy 38th Birthday to Biggy!

(Yeah, I love him anyway.)



George went to Publix with me today, ostensibly so she could supervise the shopping. Really, though, she can't resist anything that involves a list. On the way home, our conversation went like this:

G: I can't wait till I leave for college and I get to make a list of all the things I need. Now, THAT'S an important list.

T: I don't imagine you think any list you make is UNimportant.

G: True, but that one will be VERY important. I mean, I'll need everything. Sheets and blankets, towels, a trash can, my own hairdryer...What other things of yours do I use?

T: Let's see...my lipstick, my razor, my toothbrush, my jogging bras, my underwear...

G: Oh, a spatula!

T: Yeah, and spoons.

G: I forgot all about that kitchen stuff. Dishes, a can opener, potholders, icecream. I'll make a separate list for each room! [Reaches in purse for notepad] You got a pen?

T: We're a quarter mile from the house. You don't leave for a year.

G: Still, I should get started.

Happy Sunday

To save you the trouble of clicking on the Poetry Daily link at the top of this page, I've lifted today's exquisite poem, by David Barber.

To the Trespasser

A quiet akin to ruins —
another contracted hillside, another split-level
fretting the gloaming with its naked beams.

The workmen have all gone home.
The blueprints are curled in their tubes.
The tape measure coils in its shell.

And out he comes, like a storybook constable
making the rounds. There, where the staircase
stops short like a halting phrase,

there, where a swallow circles and dips
through the future picture window, he inspects
the premises, he invites himself in.

There he is now: the calculating smacks
of a palm on the joints and rails,
the faint clouds of whispered advice.

For an hour he will own the place.
His glasses will silver over as he sizes up
the quadrant earmarked for the skylight.

Back then, the houses went up in waves.
He called on them all; he slipped through walls.
Sometimes his son had to wait in the car.

So I always know where I can place him
when I want him at one with himself, at ease:
there, in the mortgaged half-light;

there, where pinches of vagrant sawdust
can collect in his cuffs and every doorframe
welcomes his sidelong blue shadow;

anywhere his dimming form can drift at will
from room to room while dinner's going cold —
a perfect stranger, an auditioning ghost.

David Barber
Wonder Cabinet
TriQuarterly Books


Who Taught My Child THAT Word?

Father-Daughter Chat:

Biggy: You're so beautiful. You look just like me, you know.

Lo: Well, we might have the same eyes. But you have a unibrow and I don't.

Not Obsessed

Courtesy of StatCounter.


Speaking of Dogs

Daisy got her teeth cleaned this week also.

Aged Cheddar

Remember the puppy Lo and the rest of us were so in love with?

Now she's the Big Cheese.

Here's another picture of most of her with owner, the writer Angie:

Friday Nostalgia

Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, 1976-1978

It was so terrible, you couldn't not watch it.


Those Wacky Kids!

Taken today at Portfolio Center. Reminds me of a nursery school class--sitting on the floor...playing games.

But you don't make stuff like THIS in nursery school:

Consider Yourselves Warned

This ain't a Grandma's Brag Book or a Family Reunion Page.

My goal is to present a life, which happens to be my own--in all of its complex beauty and ugliness. The adventures, the mistakes, the lessons, and the triumphs. I don't whitewash, and I don't censor much. I am as flawed and as fallible as the next guy, and I don't pretend otherwise.

You're welcome to stay for as long as you're interested or entertained.

You are also welcome to leave.

Note To The Armchair Therapists (who are always named "Anonymous"):

Thanks, but I already have a shrink.

Minus-Five could use your help, though.


First Step

I've waited ten years for my husband to open up, to allow himself to be vulnerable, to risk real communication. Finally, tonight, this:

Biggy: You know, when Daisy dies, I'll have a new puppy within 24 hours.

Tania: That's pretty fucked up. You wouldn't even mourn her for a whole day?

Biggy: Remember, my biological parents gave me away.

Save The Date

I've waited three years for this gig. Y'all come!


If Wishes Were Scooters, Then Beggars Would Ride.

This is my new heart's desire. You listening, Santa?

We Return To Our Regularly Scheduled Program

All Lo, All the Time.

Yesterday, at the dentist: No whining, no clinging. Not one single tear.

JackMan and I have appointments today. We plan to cry.


You Can Thank Minus-Five For This One

All right, I managed to resist the urge to write about my ex-husband when Thursday's post went up, but Sarah's comment today, her link to the court tv thing, pushed me over the edge.

I have to admit, I was disappointed that no one had posted an entry for my ex on dontdatehimgirl.com, especially since, once divorce papers were filed, women crawled out of the woodwork to tell me of their seedy misadventures with him. One even met me for coffee and allowed me to record the meeting for my attorney. Keep in mind, these tales of depravity were offered even as the male and female staff of the restaurant we owned were calling to bear their own witness to ten years’ worth of his sexploits. I was weary with it.

Why hadn’t they come forward years earlier—when he’d been convincing me I was a crazy, suspicious biotch? All those nights I’d tried to believe he really was leaving at midnight to go spray the restaurant for roaches!

Suddenly, everyone was filling me in on the backstory while providing daily updates as to his whereabouts: “He was at the Darkhorse last night with somebody's babysitter.…we saw him buying a pony ride for his girlfriend at the Inman Park Festival…Saturday he was at the Grateful Dead concert, wearing boxers over his jeans like he thinks he's 19…” Yeah, thanks. Just leave a message.

Seems the ex loves waitresses, which stands to reason, since we met when I was a server at the Gyro Wrap in Athens, putting myself through school (and he was, incidentally and unbeknownst-to-me-at-the-time, pretending there was actually a major in Golf--well, something like that--so his family would support him). In any event, he also likes wine reps, food critics, his golf buddies’ wives, sales girls at the mall, his old girlfriends from high school (Hi Shanna!), and local co-eds.

Yes, he was an equal opportunity cheater. Since he’d made no bones about the fact he liked his women bony, I’d existed on beansprouts and egg whites, only to hear later that one of his paramours was a woman I knew who resembled Roseanne. Fat, thin, young, old, professional, student: I give him credit; he did not discriminate.

I remember saying to him, as I turned 28, “I can’t believe there are full grown women in the world who are 10 years younger than I am.” Little did I know, he was dating them (and their mothers). In the end, I hired a private investigator, and the girl he was seeing at that particular time was about 20, a student at Emory. It had been going on for a while, so I suspect he got at her while she was still a teen. When she and I came face to face, I seriously felt a little sorry for her. She looked as wholesome as nine-grain bread, and I could only imagine how he’d buttered her up.

Somewhere along the way, he actually cheated on her with ME (Old habits, even very bad ones, die hard. Ick!). And when I found out they were indeed still seeing each other, despite his teary-eyed claims to the contrary, I marched over and told her the truth.

“How do I know it won’t happen again?” she cried.

“Oh, honey,” I said, “it WILL happen again, but you can bet your sweet young cheerleader ass it won’t be with me.”

After the divorce, even as I was begging out of those informative chats with everyone from the fry cook at the restaurant to the counter girl at the video store, evidence kept bubbling up in odd places. Like at the drycleaner’s, over a year later, when I went to have a skirt altered and they brought out a half dozen dress shirts of his I’d never seen before. Apparently, he’d kept a separate gigolo wardrobe stashed away, along with his PO Box and his hidden bank accounts.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by this, though, seeing as how the night I threw him out, I’d gone searching for him in the basement of the new restaurant he’d just opened and discovered a space right out of Love American Style: a sort of small studio with stereo and cd library, washer and dryer and a rack of clothes to go in them, and his friends (Hi GH!) to keep lookout.

I ended up with a black eye that lasted for three weeks.

Suffice to say the black eye was what finally ended my misery, the one thing I couldn't talk myself out of. I’d rationalized the other things—the stripper he brought home, the mysterious trip to Rhode Island (where it turned out his high school sweetheart was in school), the STD—not to mention the way I had to live, like a single parent in poverty.

He’d stripped the wallpaper, taken the doors off all the cabinets in the kitchen, killed the grass and my favorite plants, and destroyed my bedroom furniture, claiming he was going to finish/replace everything, and it would eventually be better than new. Half a decade later, the only progress that had been made was the waist-high weeds in the yard. He’d even had the shade trees cut down (which caused the basement to flood) and told the workers to knock down the swingset the kids played on every day. Nothing was finished and I’d disintegrated into a creature too ashamed to make new friends or let my children ask their school chums over.

The day I really should have kicked him out, however, was the Sunday I ran down the driveway after him as he was leaving to play golf yet again, and I asked, “Do you ever plan to see your children?” to which he responded by yelling, “They’re YOUR children,” and spun away. I didn't know, until I headed back into the house, that the oldest, seven, was standing at the window and heard.

After he left, and I’d dug the remnants of my old self out of the rubble, I'd take the Amex to Home Depot, telling the cashiers, “My husband has been so busy nailing dancers and screwing his hostess, he hasn’t had time to use his tools at home. So I’m going to run this sucker up until the bathroom is tiled or the card is cancelled; you just tell me when.” They were happy to oblige, and it was a couple of weeks before one of the ladies shook her head sadly and handed me the scissors.

This month would have marked our 20th wedding anniversary. I thank god every day it’s over.

I hope he has changed as he’s gotten older. But just in case he still thinks it’s okay to be married and date, consider yourselves warned:

Don’t date him, girl!

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Writer, teacher, student, mom.

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