Estate Sale


Man and woman pictured with their dog in the garden of a home in Queensland


She will buy your shoes
and he, my blues
albums, the whole set.
It would amuse
you, their quips on our
decor. They cruise
the round two-toned couch—
a vacant ruse
to check out that vase,
softly abuse
my “quite kitschy” taste.
We will lose
what means the least now.
The dark bruise
of life fades gently out.
Our dues are
paid, our burdens light.




Becoming Continental

Byrd Airport terminal

I never thought I’d arrive again
unsure in my black gloves, pigeon-toed,
uncertain: This transition akin to states of grace—
But I have arrived to this terminal,
cross-eyed and wobble-legged—
I tried to brace myself against the truth
of that snapped inner thread, that wicked confusion
of air, sky, planes and landings.

I have learned entire continents this way,
landing hard on black asphalt—
with my empty stomach; a silly souvenir,
to wait out the gate in slumbering cities.
or shift heel to heel, almost dancing,
tired, worn and endlessly hungry.
Baggage mashed. Destined in my wrinkled suit
to board again. I have lived

For those seconds the large wheels turn
the slight bump before the sky appears.
I read Shirley Jackson for the fifth time, sip
water, soothe the sobbing child across from me—
knowing we will land again, her broken toy
mended, but transformed. By distance.

You know how I said last week that I only plan to post poems rarely? Well, I try to keep my words sweet, so that when I have to eat them, I don’t cringe. One more poem is scheduled for this week. What can I say? You all are inspiring me to go from drafts to finished poems at a faster clip than normal, and I thank you for your kindnesses.

Our Sunday Best: Unexpected Beauty

Velvet Painting Girl

Velvet Paintings: The Ne Plus Ultra of Kitsch.

In the spirit
of not wanting to inundate you with even more holiday hoo-ha, I’ve decided to focus on unexpected beauty today. That’s my favorite kind of beauty.

Ready? Here we go!

Earlier this week, I wrote a MASH NOTE about one of my favorite writers/artists Lynda Barry (which you can read here).

Lynda Barry now maintains a Tumblr blog called “The Near-Sighted Monkey” that I highly recommend. It is beautiful and charming, and full of the joie de vivre that all of her work contains.

My mother says that my love of kitsch is not genetic nor environmental. Every time I pick up another bodacious glittery geegaw, she merely sighs and smiles. I am my own woman. But, I am not alone. Kitschy Living is a tumblr blog that provides a feast for the eye and a little kitsch for your heart.

Street fashion blogs have become the norm these days, but some are clearly more evocative than others. StyleLikeU is an unusual blog in that it really looks at a wide variety of people of all ages and backgrounds who happen to share a love of style instead of surly, but beautiful 20-year olds with bottomless wardrobes. StyleLikeU’s closet features especially put a smile on my face.

One of the best expressions of unexpected beauty is language, a subject we’ve been discussing a lot in our household this week. (I confused my husband with a language discussion here.)

In truth, one of our common interests this year is dying and rare languages. We found Omniglot last winter, and it evokes the beauty and the rarity of the spoken, or gestured word.

Natural beauty is generally unexpected in its brilliance. I know both of these bloggers personally, having studied with them while at university and in graduate school.

Gordon Grice discusses the curious and the dangerous in the natural world on his blog Deadly Kingdom, named after his recent bestseller of the same name.

Donald Ewers photographs and writes about a broad, but narrow, scope of the natural world. His current focus is a five-day-a-week blog in which he posts photographs (with writing) from his walks in native South Texas settings. It is called, aptly, While On A Walk.

To put it more plainly, Ewers has posted 2,538 photographs since May 15th of 2011. He is a master photographer, and it is my pleasure to say that he continues to be a mentor, a friend, and one of my greatest inspirations.

At the time of this writing, it is Christmas Day and I would like to wish all of you the happiest gifts of the holiday season.

I hope everything that surrounds you today is both merry and bright, and if it is not, I hope that, like me, you’re near-sighted enough to believe it is beautiful, if a bit out-of-focus. Happy holidays!


Merry; Not So Bright



The last one standing wins.

This list/ list-poem is an homage to one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets, Michael Ondaatje.

His poem is called “Elimination Dance,”** and is based on a game (that I think he made up) in which something is called out that could happen, and anyone who has experienced the scenario must sit down.

The last one standing wins.

Anyone who has recently plugged in a set of ancient Christmas lights only to experience an electric shock so bad, it resets your clock.

Anyone that is a family member of the shocked Christmas light-checker who spent the rest of the day reminding your stunned relative that it hasn’t been 1981 for at least ten years.

Anyone who drinks eggnog straight from the carton every year without fail, and who also unwittingly walks around for an afternoon with a creamy mustache that smells like nutmeg.

Anyone who has ever laughed inappropriately at a very sad rendition of a popular Christmas song by Ernest Tubb.

Anyone who has sung a terrible version of this song.

Anyone who, in a fit of pique, roughly Scotch-taped a holiday present into an ugly red and green hobo baggie from the last of the holiday wrapping paper and then immediately regretted it.

Anyone whose last name sounds like a play on a holiday word, such as Merry, Kringle, or Bright.

Anyone whose witty parents thought it would be hilarious to name you something festive to go with your Christmassy last name— (e.g.– Holiday Merry; Christian Kringle; Light Bright).

Anyone who once undercooked or overcooked the Christmas dinner because you were exhausted from dealing with the relative who plugged in the set of crummy Christmas lights, a relative that tried to eat the children’s homemade ornaments, twice the night before, and once, today.

Anyone who has cried over the tree the cat knocked over the night before your family is due to arrive.

Anyone who has yelled at a cat for playing with the Christmas ornaments, and then felt awful about it.

Anyone who isn’t sure whether marzipan is for eating or for caulking.

Anyone who has told an embarrassing holiday story at the dinner table, only to discover that the person being talked about has walked in the room.

Anyone who has walked in the room while a relative is relating your worst childhood blunder.

Anyone who has ever witnessed a Christmas fistfight.

Anyone who started the family Christmas fistfight, but was restrained because your hand-knitted Christmas sweater from Auntie Tony turned out to be perfect for yanking over your head before you managed to really get going.

Anyone who isn’t sure if you mislabeled all the presents, or merely thought you did because you were so tired.

Anyone with an unnatural fear of tinsel.

Anyone who has ever had a terrible Christmas, Chanukah, Solstice or winter holiday, specific or unlisted.

Anyone who has ever experienced incredible joy or extreme pain.
Although this poem has the feel of a list, I have tagged it primarily as poetry.

(Once again, it is an homage, so keep in mind that Michael Ondaatje originated the idea.)

My foundation is in poetry, which I will only be posting periodically, as it takes a long time to craft what I feel is a “real” poem. That said, I have posted one here.

Additional writing about poetic list-making for your reading pleasure: Bluebird Pillow Book List.

To see my last two lists, go here or here.

And one more thing… Happy Holidays. All of them. And I mean that, sincerely.

The Marriage Interpreter (No. 10)


In every marriage, a few bad movies will appear. The Room beats all of them.


[EDITOR’S NOTE:  Normally, I wouldn’t do two Marriage Interpreters in a row, but the ongoing conversation about The Room has been a fertile area for our conversational idiocy.  For more on that subject see The Marriage Interpreter (No. 9)  Thank you.]


Bluebird is sitting on one of two yellow wing back chairs across from The Husband.  It is morning.


Bluebird:  Okay, you know how when someone is learning a language, they eventually get to the point where they stop translating from their native language into their new language when they are conversing with a native speaker?

The Husband:  Um, all right?

Bluebird:  Well, this is what I read anyway.  From accounts of people learning languages as an adult, like a total immersion situation?  You know— serious language learners.  And you know how they always say that the breakthrough point is when they start to dream in their new language?

The Husband:  (Realizing the Bluebird isn’t making sense, but proceeding carefully)   Okay….

Bluebird:  Well, did that happen to you when you were studying new languages?

The Husband:  Which part?

Bluebird:  All of it.  But I wouldn’t know because I don’t have that natural knack for languages.  But that’s what I read from accounts where people learned a new language as an adult.

The Husband:  (Polite, but cautious tone.)   I guess so?  You just… you know, speak it.  That’s it.

Bluebird:  I think I need to go back to bed for a little while.

The Husband:  I think that would be best.

(The Bluebird rises and walks out of the room, muddled more than usual.)

The Husband:  (Shouting lines from The Room to Bluebird as she retreats down the hallway)  “Oh, haylo, Dhoog!  Ai trit u lhike eh prenzess, Lissa! ”

Bluebird:  (From the bedroom)  I heard that!  You need to stop watching clips from that movie!  It’s gonna damage your brain!  And then you’re not even gonna speak one language!

The Husband:  “Ur tehrring me ehpart, Lissa!”

Bluebird:  (Groans.  It is the universal language for annoyance.)


Night Owl And Early Bird, Wrassling

Two women boxing

For the last month, I’ve been waking up between 5 and 6 a.m. — on my own, without an alarm clock, or a dog in my face. (Monkey and Ilsa would never try to wake me because I am an arm-waver in my sleep.  The Husband, however, is fair game.) 

This waking-up-early phenomenon has been happening for the last few years when the weather in Texas drops down to what I call “the bearable region” (under 85 degrees).

To compensate for the change, I go to bed between 9 and 10 p.m., and no one phones me after 8 p.m. because I’m cranky when I’m tired.  The rest of the year (also known as “why is it so #*$%ing hot?”), I wake up at about 7 a.m.   No matter what the Texas weather does, I am a person who needs my straight eight (hours of sleep), without which I am, frankly, awful to know.

Waking up early after eight hours of sleep has not always been an option for me.  I have chronic insomnia.  I have always had a touch of it, even before I was old enough to drink real coffee.  My experience with insomnia ranges from the light sleeping with periodic waking in a startle, to not being able to sleep, to only being able to sleep after 2 a.m., to a mixture of the above phenomena, to waking up at four a.m. and not being able to fall back asleep, plus a few other things I’ve managed to forget.

For years, I had intermittent chronic insomnia, which means that I might sleep for a month, and then have all these problems sleeping for a couple of months, and then back to fine.  A few years back, the insomnia stopped being intermittent, and essentially, I wandered around in the middle of the night trying to go to sleep and trying not to flip out that I couldn’t sleep.  It was awful and I dealt with it, but I would rather clean my bathroom with an old nasty toothbrush than ever go through that again.

If you’ve ever had insomnia, you know that professionals and friends and perfect strangers will offer you a range of advice.   You will learn everything conventional wisdom and science has to provide about circadian rhythms and proper sleep hygiene.  You will be offered many, many glasses of warm milk.  And, even if you follow this advice to the last letter, you may not be able to find sleep, at least, not the good nourishing, deep-in-your-bones kind that makes you feel refreshed in the morning.

You may also find, as I did, that professionals and friends may make judgment calls about your character based on your sleep, or lack thereof.  Insomnia is not a character flaw.  This is what I found myself thinking about yesterday morning after a night of pretty blissful sleep.  (How did I finally manage to kick insomnia?  A combination of good sleep hygiene and prescription medication.  That combo works for me and that’s all there is to it.)

Having gotten to the place where I can sleep like a normal person most nights, here’s what I considered as I watched the sun rise yesterday morning:  if a person gets the same things done at 2 a.m. as s/he would at 6 a.m., is there any difference?  For instance, if I wash dishes at 2 a.m. (ugh) versus 6 a.m. (ugh), does one or the other confer a sense of moral superiority, especially for Americans?

Americans are really big on hard workers.  What we really like to talk about, though, are people who do things we cannot, or will not, do, such as waking up at three a.m. every morning to work on a novel (but only if it becomes a best seller), or training for an Iron Man thingy (but only if you place in the top ten), or keeping a clean house (but only if you’re telegenic and photogenic).

The Happiness Project writer Gretchen Rubin talks about getting up early and the conventional wisdom of 18th century philosophers, and yes, a certain kind of moral superiority arises from people like Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Pepys about getting up early versus going to bed late.  (Remember, Franklin was the one who coined the phrase, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”)  (Which in my head, got turned around to “Getting up early, staying up late, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and… Wait, that’s not right.”)

We even ascribe animal characteristics to sleep habits.  A “night owl” is someone who stays up late, right?  But, consider this:  when I call someone a “night owl,” I’m also conferring a host of traits that may, or may not apply:  I’m unintentionally saying that you stay up late on purpose, that you prefer to do things in the middle of the night when most people are asleep, that you live on the wild side, and that you may even eat dead mice.  Ew.

Okay, let’s do the same for “early bird.”  An “early bird” is someone who is chipper, up early, probably has a house cleaner than yours, potentially ex-military (at least that’s where my husband’s head went when we talked about this), and definitely means you get the first worms (a metaphor for the best part of the day).

So, try thinking about people you know who goes to bed late or wake up early, and try not to think about these habits or traits we append to folks based on their sleep preferences, or insomnia— a condition that is either intermittent or continuous, which has nothing to do with sleep preference, personality flaws, stress, or housekeeping skills.  Having woken up (or stayed up) on both sides of 6 a.m., I can say with some authority that people in general tend to respond better to an early-riser-writing-at-six-a.m. story versus an insomnia-I-worked-in-the-middle-of-the-night tale.

People also don’t really understand what insomnia is.  Everyone you know will probably go through a period of disrupted or no sleep.  (It’s called “having a baby.”)  Not everyone you know will suffer through years and years of not being able to sleep to the point where it feels as though your soul is being sucked out through your left nostril and no matter what you do or how tired you are, you cannot seem to find the magic route to dreamland.

I have two friends in the midst of horrible illness-related insomnia right now, and I can’t imagine saying (in a chipper, upbraiding tone):  “Have you ever thought of turning off your television set at 9 p.m.?  Flickering light from TVs and computers can especially disrupt your circadian rhythm.”  Chances are, when someone you know is telling you about his/her insomnia, his/her doctor has already covered these bases.  (Not that I haven’t ever offered unsolicited and redundant advice to someone I care about, because I have done that and will do it again.  I love my friends and I am socially awkward.  Those two traits can produce some pretty funky results.)

What I will tell you about chronic insomnia seen from the other side is this (the unsolicited advice portion of this story.  See?  I told you I’d do it again.):
Sleep is like food— you don’t merely need the basics, you need enough to nourish you body and soul.
Sleep medication doesn’t always work.  I usually have a couple of nights per month of breakthrough insomnia, which is just enough to remind me to be grateful that I no longer have long-term insomnia.  It sucks, but I can deal with it.
Going to bed at the same time every night helps.  So does ceasing your caffeine intake after 4 p.m.  The same goes for turning off and turning down all electronic devices (including covering my super-bright clock).
If you can’t sleep, read or do something boring and repetitive.  The television and the computer will keep you awake due to rapid light cycles that you can’t even consciously register.
And, if you can’t sleep, don’t beat yourself up about it.  Insomnia is insomnia.  It’s not a character flaw, and it is not something you are doing on purpose.  No one would deprive herself of sleep on purpose in the long-term.  Sleep-deprivation is physically painful and mentally disorienting.  That’s why it is used as a torture method.
Finally, if you know someone who has insomnia, and you’ve never understood it or accidentally said something stupid about it— do me a favor and give him/her a call to let him/her know how well you think of him/her.  It will make you both feel good, and when your friend cannot sleep tonight, do you know what s/he’ll be thinking about?  What a nice friend you are for calling today.  And maybe s/he’ll get a good night’s sleep.  Probably not.  But, at least s/he’ll be thinking happy thoughts and that helps.
Every little bit helps.  Except warm milk.  Which may have tryptophan, but never did a thing for me, personally.  And it smells like boiled socks. I don’t think you can develop a taste for boiled sock, can you?

*Photograph courtesy of the archives of The Powerhouse Museum


Winter Holidays


Cheery Red Lipstick: Migrating To A Forehead Near You

Hearing a selection from Vince Guaraldi’s “Charlie Brown Christmas” at the beginning of December.  Then, listening to the whole thing at home on repeat at least four times, while drawing.

The feel of peppermint bark on the tongue, sharp but smooth, never the same twice.

Aluminum birds with real feathers, the more beat up, the better.

The annual gifting of holiday-themed Peeps, a family inside joke.  Later, putting one Peep in the microwave and watching it expand to monstrous proportions.

Wearing red lipstick for no reason except that it’s cheery.  After two hours, discovering that the cheery red lipstick has mysteriously migrated to a stripe on my forehead.  (I’m always touching my face, and I never wear lipstick.  Dangerous combination.)

1950’s stylized pine bough designs on tea cups, melamine trays, and curvy candy dishes.

New Year’s Day morning.  The morning light of the new year.

A family game of Scrabble using my mother’s Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, the one she gave me when I started high school.

The cool sensation of tinsel, light in the hand, giddy with promise.  Especially when it’s new out of the box.  Especially on a real tree.  Especially when it glints in the colored lights.

Seeing someone you know wearing felt antlers on a headband.  Or, even better, wearing felt antlers on a headband.

Using a freshly-filled pen to write a New Year’s resolution.  One resolution.  Black ink.  Crisp, white paper.

A jaunty black angora fedora, most likely worn on the same day I’ve decided to wear the cheery red lipstick. If I’m lucky, the fedora will hide the lipstick that mysteriously migrated two hours prior that I will not notice until two hours later.

This is a Bluebird Pillow Book List.  To see my last list, go here.  Or write your own and share it in the comments section!  Try it!  So much fun!

Unpacking the breath

Annoyed looking boy in horn-rim glasses studying in late 1950s.

You may have noticed these last two weeks that my essays and drawings have been a little on the sparse side.  Well, I’ve missed you all.  In my brief absence, I’ve been busy working on a thing that needed doing.  I’ve been trying to set up my office— the operative word being “trying.”  And while I’ve been trying to set up my office, and doing a few other chores betwixt and between, I’ve been thinking a great deal about expectation and boxes and breathing.

See, here’s the thing— I’ve been living in this house for a year.  Prior to this house, I lived in my last house for nine years.  Nine.  Years.  Even with rigorous editing and donating, I managed to accumulate eight lifetimes worth of stuff.  Weird sweaters that don’t fit anyone.  A wooden fertility doll with realistic hair.  Chairs that go flurp when you sit down on them.  It took my entire family to sort out the contents of the last house, shake it into boxes, and cram it into this house.  (Did I mention I come from a nice family?  Did I mention they read Bluebird Blvd.?)


For over a year now, I have lived in a house full of boxes, boxes with Sharpie labels scrawled in my own mysterious shorthand.  Every day is a twisted guessing game.  Is this the box that contains all of the photography supplies?  Is this the box of ‘50s Chinoserie? Is this the box that contains the head of Nefertiti painted in sad scribbly acrylic that my husband altered to make cross-eyed?  Did I really label that box Xxliizx?  And why does it contain sponges?

I still can’t find more than six pairs of matching socks.  Half of my lamps are in storage, so I wander in and out of pools of insufficient light.  The walls, while painted lovely colors, remain blank of art and strangely silent.  Each room is a refugee room— loved and wanted, but disoriented and unfixed in time and place.


Two weeks ago, I finally had enough of smacking my shins through boxes in my office to get to my desk.  As I’ve made my living as a writer for the better part of my life, even writing that sentence sounds foreign.  But, due to personal circumstances, I need to move a little bit slower when I’m working, and frankly, my brain has no idea what to do with that concept.  It fries me a little thinking about it.

I want it done righthtisminute.  I want the room finished.  I want the custom curtains to fly out of my unskilled fingers and the shelves to be painted by highly skilled elves.  That’s not going to happen.  What is going to happen is that I’m going to slowly put each and every thing in a place, and make it functional, and doing that, with love and patience, will take time.  And, while I’m doing it, I’m probably going to curse a little bit.


That’s the future.  Here’s the now:

At the moment, I am sitting at a desk with my two Foo Dogs that have sat on every desk I’ve ever had, Mr. Koko Mojo the raven puppet, two hideous Hollywood Regency lamps with the cherubs that look as though they’re kicking invisible people in the kneecaps, and thoughts of mystery boxes and patience.  Especially patience.  Sometimes I need to be reminded of what is—and what is not—important.  My experience this weekend was a good reminder of what a great teacher patience can be.


Over the weekend, I tutored the child of a family friend, a young twelve-year-old, who is applying to a magnet school.  M. needed direction and instruction on the basic tenets of essay writing.  We sat down on that rainy Saturday morning at the banquette in my living room.  She was stressed about writing and worried about finishing her application.  After we settled in, and had our notebooks in front of us, this is what I had to say to the young M.:

“The first thing you want to do when you are writing an essay is to take a breath.  A nice, deep breath.  I know this (application) may seem big now, but we’re going to break it down into little parts.

“We’re going to do one thing at a time.  And we’re going to take breaks.  You can do this.  You are smart and capable.  And I’m going to be right here to help you along.

Are you ready to get started?  Okay.  Close your eyes.  Take a nice slow breath.  Now.  Let’s begin.”