Saturday, January 19, 2008

Someone Else's Story

Cloud Cult. I only know the tip of the ice berg about this band, but that tip has seduced and broken me.

Connie and Craig Minowa are the heart of Cloud Cult. Here's what she says on the band's web site:

Craig and I were married in 1998 and moved to Duluth, Minnesota where we
made our home. Soon we were blessed with an amazing child whom we named
Kaidin. We laughed and played endlessly and made our little family the
center of our world. Unexpected and unexplainably Kaidin passed away in

The couple went their separate ways for a time. Connie painted. Craig wrote songs. They found their way back to one another, with help.

Craig wrote over 100 songs about Kaidin. Connie painted for her child. Their friends, good friends, drew near to help carry them through. Through those friendships and Craig's songs, Cloud Cult was born. And they sing about Kaidin and the Kaidin who never got the chance to ride a bike, visit New York, go to fourth grade, have a first kiss.

A fan of the band made this video. Pretty devoted fan base? Just try to find a national music critic who isn't one, too.

And, I dare anyone to listen to "Your Eighth Birthday" (only on iTunes, sorry) without utter dissolution. But. You will not despair. Theirs is the alchemy of linking grief with life's impossible beauty, with the gift of love.

So you leave Cloud Cult, light. Ready to see the miracles you are lucky enough to get. Your story.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Matron's New Look

Like it?

Only in comparison can the real deal -- bland and brownish and duly documented below -- suddenly seems like, well, a stone-cold fox?

Lifting the Invisbility Cloak

Let's take a peek behind the matronly veil. Hair was felled. Gone! It feels good, sisters. Liberating. The woman who did the liberating, Michelle, cut Jessica Lange's hair for years. This salon is a tiny hole-in-the-wall right across the street from Garrison Keillor's book store. Be still, my celebrity-struck heart! But I remember the days when Jessica still lived in Minnesota (in a suburb straight down the street) and my friend Valerie--fresh from her own trim and foil at said salon--would sit at my kitchen table and report how she sat next to Jessica Lange: who read a magazine the entire time! Oh! She reads! It was one thing for Valerie to be giddy. She actually had some gen *u * ine star proximity. I got the shakes second-hand.

And above we see hints of orange and red visible in the Before Photo. This hair has chameleon-like qualities. Also note artwork with eerie matron-like qualities.

Back to Michelle. She told me how she used to participate in Locks for Love, the program where people got a free hair cut for donating ten or more inches of hair to make wigs for kids with cancer. Michelle got in a lot of trouble with that program. She chewed those hair volunteers right out. People showed up with bad hair they then wanted to donate for high quality wigs: uncut, under-conditioned, undernourished, split-ended, ugly, ICKY hair. Michelle felt those sick children deserved high-end hair, well cared for. So she still saves the really good hair--sleek, vitamin-buffed, pearly ended--to send to those poor children.

Look at the photo below. This is nice. See how steady the matron can hold a camera? And she was trying. But there is a hint of lift, of verve, of shimmy, to that hair. She could try again but appreciates the mystery of blur.

And while Michelle sighed with longing for the good stuff and clucked over the sheer nerve of the bad, pretending to be something pretty--she cut over a foot of the stuff off my head and threw it directly in the garbage.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Cold Feet?!

Change does not come easily to the Matron.

For example, she once had a cinnamon raisin bagel with crunchy peanut butter for lunch- for five years! Occasionally she was pried from home to a restaurant, where she would order soup or salad (Bold! Two options!).

When she slips into a pair of shoes that are magical--height! arch! sultry edge!--she wears them or their identical counterpart until the soles wear through or heels break off. Then she tries to have them fixed.

She must sleep on the same side of the bed forever.

When the Matron was still in the Wee Lass stage of life, her family included a poodle. The Wee Lass understood she loved poodles. The Matron's main requirement for the recent acquisition of the new dog, Scruffy? Part poodle.

Matron subscribes to The Pioneer Press. This is a bad newspaper. One day it pretended to be a board game on the front page of one of its sections: move your finger here, then here, then trace the bug and you win! Hooray! Headlines tend toward the "Missing Cat Was Cancer Patient's Best Friend" sort. Still, the Matron subscribes to and reads this disaster. Just because she does and must continue to do so or she may disintegrate.

Tomorrow the Matron is getting her hair cut. For the past --hmmmm? --- millennium, John has clipped the pesky ends and that job's done.

But now the Matron's friends are pulling her aside and whispering true-friend things about texture, quality, and ten inch split ends. The Matron finds herself listening to these sweet nothings with a certain degree of acceptance.

She is tired of hair caught in car doors, front doors, purses, earrings, scarves, children, ovens, and necklaces. She is ready for some bounce and fluff--some verve to the stuff. And her hair has been exactly this--long and dead straight--for the past 20 years. Yes, you heard that: decades. Two.

The matron is ready for a change.

Even as she is clinging to walls in terror.

The appointment? Tomorrow, 10 a.m.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Grits, Bologna, Spam

You intrepid defenders of Jell-O! All the waxing nostalgic and mouth-watering over the low-brow food of days-gone-by brought to mind the low-end culinary proclivities of my youth.

  • Wonder bread with Oscar Meyer Summer Sausage and Miracle Whip, flattened (Cheri aptly observes this might now be called panini--maybe then it's chic!)
  • Nacho Cheese Doritos sprinkled into said sandwich
  • Brown-sugar Pop Tarts, toasted with melted butter on top
  • Snickers bars topped in Cool Whip
  • Spam Loaf
  • Cheeze Whiz on Hot Dogs
  • Cheetos wrapped in bacon
I'm sure there's more but, all appearances aside, I have a job that I probably should pay some attention to.

How about the low-brow delectables from your childhood?

The Boy Gives Me That Old Time Fever, Twice

Can the stars align, so, twice?

Sunday, Stryker said, "I want to go through all the junk in my room and throw away what I don't need and organizing everything else."

Okay, I am dizzy.


On my knees!

Did I mention that the Matron is a tiny teeny bit of a neat freak? Is the gene finally becoming dominant in one of my offspring? Please.

He worked busily all afternoon and into the evening. John gave him early instruction in all things organization and I hauled armloads of garbage memorabilia into the basement storage.

I was only allowed to enter at bedtime, when I was given the official tour.

"Mom! Look at these drawers!" He pulls out pristine squares, glistening and spare.

"The shelves!" All books lined and alphabetized! Trinkets neatly arranged and dusted. Is this what they mean by The Rapture?

"All this empty space to move!" The piles of junk--gear, gadgets and game--gone. Yes, they wait sorting in the basement but that's a place I avoid with far more success than a child's room.

Climbing into bed, he said (casually, as if this wasn't going to break me entirely): "I have two New Year's Resolutions. When I want a snack, instead of junk food, I'm going to grab a grapefruit. And I'd like to join an algebra club."

I do believe in Jesus.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

My Success, Thus Far

Merrick's best friend, Lachlan, was over on Sunday. They were talking about being R-I-C-H someday. They're four and five. Rich means all the toys and candy you can buy. Oh, and a motorcycle. And a big house with a room for your pet elephant.

Never one to miss a Quality Parenting Moment, I probe: "Is rich about money or family and love?"

Lachlan answers with speed and absolute self-assurance. "Money."

Aha! Wrong answer! I turn to my guy, all anticipation.

The little darling smiles and says, "Family."

Before maternal pride can even find its footing, he clarifies: "Because when you're rich, you buy a family that's maybe better. And you can buy anything else you want, like guns and cars."

Then, just to make certain I understand that the situation is entirely hopeless, he looks me straight in the eye and says, "Right, Cheese Butt?"

Divisive Political Talk

Context: I like debate and dissent. Conflict doesn't bother me. So maybe I'm more open to these topics than the rest of my stoic state?

So, over the past few days I keep hearing Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama apologize for bringing race and gender into their political campaigns. It's not about race, he/she or their spinners say. Let's not talk about gender.

Well, folks, how do you think you got here? A frank, uncomfortable, heated, controversial, dynamic, tense, liberating, revelatory, decades-long national conversation about race and gender helped this country move toward an intellectual and social space in which a black man and a woman could emerge as a Presidential candidate. Or President.

I'm not advocating voting for someone solely on the basis of race or gender. I'm not sorry to see the rigid identity politics of the eighties and nineties critiqued and fading. But I'm all for keeping the conversation going and acknowledging that race and gender (and class--but that's rich white man Edward's truck to fuel, I guess) matter.

Monday, January 14, 2008

If Only He Were Here: Freud Would Love Me

Yesterday, I made Jell-O for the first time. Ever! Raspberry Jell-O. Because I cleaned out the cupboards and the expiration date was June 2007. Oh! Better use that up! (And did I buy Jell-O?)

When I told the children there was Jell-O for dessert, they actually stampeded and radiated sunbeams. They bolted from the table to the fridge to start scooping out that magic. They thanked me for the bounty, for my generosity and vision. They embraced.

Wow. I wasn't quite sure how to interpret this but John did.

"Guess there's a little bit of white trash in everyone."

Good call.

You should know that I am one foot out of the trailer park. Welfare, food stamps, low-income housing and an incarcerated father were my low-brow credentials as a child. Just where do you think that book material came from?

Perhaps you can give the girl an education but you can't take her children out of the trailer park? And yes, I am deploying Stereotype. You're allowed to when you've lived through them. Moreover, I am slamming Jell-O. Is the matron a bit of a daredevil today?

Oh, and guess what! Despite (or because of?) one's roots, it is possible to make Jell-O incorrectly and ruin it, and your children will point this out, shattered, once they take a hard look at the texture (let alone taste the runny stuff). Maybe that expiration date meant something?

My Favorite Plath Poem

Morning Song

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I'm no more your mother
Than the cloud that distils a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind's hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat's. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Room With a View

Confinement has its moments. I was able to finish Jesus Land (Julia Scheres). Was this good? Let's just say on page 349 you will read a sentence requiring you to gasp and struggle for breath. This pain, and not yesterday's intestinal revolt, will be your first waking memory. And confinement helped me remember that I live surrounded by great, simple beauty. The vase is a thrift store find and the carved box comes from Poland.

I also poured through The Abstinence Teacher (thanks Mrs G!). The section I'm currently starting is called: "Hot Christian Sex." !! Yum.

My friend Shannon won a Guggenheim that took her to New York to do art. She went through a major post-Catholic phase, during which she did a lot of saint-like stuff, as in the photograph below. This is in our bedroom. She also went through a dead Victorian era (who in Art doesn't mess with those hysteric Victorian girls?!) and I was one of her models, limp and folded. We have a few of those around the house.

I can also tell that I feel better because acid wit, as opposed to acid reflux, as returned. But before unleashing said acid, one must grapple with Self: if the matron has four sisters-in-law yet is only on genuinely comfortable, good terms with one, does the problem lie with the other three or the matron herself? This is not uncomplicated. Here's what I see when I reach for a pencil. Lucky girl!

We got the very dark news that one of my sisters-in-law has breast cancer. Important side note: my family does not know about this blog. Of course, everyone is just a click away from exposure, hmmm? And I remain bound to my own blethic, or blog ethic, that prohibits snarky from escalating to downright mean or from snaring someone else's story as my own. But I have one ethical question regarding the sister-in-law with breast cancer: is it possible to make Jesus jokes and be empathetic? Funny how this question emerged on the brink of reading "Hot Christian Sex."

Here is Scarlett's first art work, preserved and on my desk.

Now, I am not anti-Christian. I was raised Catholic. We are now practicing Buddhists, but those Ten Commandments and all the other Christian ethos are infused in my bloodstream. I have profound respect for Rick and Kay Warren who seem to embody the selflessness that was Jesus. But I find it hard to navigate our family landscape, in which we are notified about the cancer by email and the language runs along these lines: "I live in the body of Christ already for Jesus has entered me. His Glory will hold the surgeon's hands and the Holy Spirit will perform the surgery."

I'm just not sure how to answer that. "Yup!" or "Go Jesus" come to mind. Can I say I hope He has a steady hand that day?

I had plenty of time to consider this yesterday while recovering. Plenty of time to give my snarky shoulders a little shake and remember what my own religion tells me: my sister-in-law and I are one. Separateness is an illusion.

So I will set aside the Jesus jokes and stick to "Hot Christian Sex" for wit and verve. Set aside judgment (isn't that what all religions ultimately ask us to do?) and just be one, part of her, part of the whole.

After all, my sister-in-law and I are on the same journey. We all suffer and die. Buddhism can be very stark. It's very clear about that suffering stuff.

And about living in the moment. The view from the window. Lucky. Now.