Inspiration comes from unexpected places

It Was Nice Knowing You

This was the birthday that left my youth behind. I’m not sure what triggered that realization. Was it going to the DMV and finding I could only read the eye chart with my bad eye screwed shut? Or was it lying in bed and thinking of my pregnant mother waking up in bed fifty-five years ago, three weeks past her due date, putting her bare feet on the floor and wondering if this would be the day. Fifty-five years ago: that’s probably what did it. Fifty-four still had some pieces of youth clinging to it. But then it turned inside out and died.

and it exploded.jpg

I took my birthday off from work and everyone was all, Have an amazing day off! Do something fun! And I woke up Thursday morning and thought, I’m going to have an amazing day off! I’m going to do something fun! But the only thing I had lined up for myself was to renew my driver’s license. If you need to know one thing that sums up my entire personality, congratulations, you have arrived at your destination.

The holidays sort of lovingly decimated our house this year with puzzles and pine needles and cardboard, but I wouldn’t let myself do a big clean. It was my birthday and I would not spend it decalcifying the espresso machine and organizing the recycling! So when Jackson got home from school looking aimless, I said, let me take you out for lunch. (I had already eaten lunch. Can you guess what I had? Cold leftovers! You win!) We drove to Cal Taco and I watched him eat a burger and fries. At one point he stepped out to make a phone call, which: mysterious, but he’s 17, he needs privacy, fine. He comes back in and says, “I know what I’m getting you for your birthday. We have to go to Best Buy.” We were like six blocks from Best Buy so I’m all, Hmm, what is it? New ear buds?

On the way home with a new Nintendo Switch in the back seat, I texted the only other grownup I knew who owned one: Alice. “What games do you have?” I typed excitedly. She seemed a little nonplussed about my suggestion that we both download Fortnight and get out there and shoot a bunch of strangers together. Understandably. Alice lives in New York, shooting strangers for fun isn’t something you suggest to her lightly.

When we got home I loaded up my one game and together Pikachu and I meandered about our village collecting wild Pokémon together in my new non-youthful way until it was time for me to pick up some real-life take-out sushi. Then Jack and I watched an episode of Ozark and shared a slice of Jeannine’s chocolate mocha cake, and I realized that if you were to ask me two things I’d miss about Santa Barbara if I moved away, I would say: Kyoto take-out sushi and a slice of Jeannine’s chocolate mocha cake on my birthday.

So I had a good birthday after all, thanks to zero planning on my part, but some spontaneous and well-placed trust in my mens.


1 The Only Part of 'Red Dead Redemption 2' That Matters Is My Horse. “Rockstar Games created a sprawling open world for me to play cowboy in. But truthfully, all I care about is Jeffy.” [via Todd Levin]

2 I am super excited about this Bob Fosse/Gwen Verdon thing, and not just because Sam Rockwell is in it:

3 “Immerse yourself in the forests of central Sweden, where around two-and-a-half-thousand people speak Elfdalian.” A BBC podcast collage of forest sounds and the endangered Swedish forest language, older than the Vikings, which is in danger of dying out. (19:39)

4 What I’m reading right now: Undermajordomo Minor, by Patrick deWitt—and I am not loving it the way I sincerely loved his two others, The Sisters Brothers and French Exit. If I get to page 100 and still feel ambivalent I will call it and move on, since I have A Gentleman in Moscow and The Great Alone on my library pile.

Wet Cement

Well, guess what? After five months of office cake, sitting in a comfy desk chair, and not being on my feet and hefting large bags of books up and down the library stairs all day, by January I was up about fifteen/twenty pounds. Which, frankly, wasn't a big deal, body-image wise, which surprised me. I was totally fine with the chub. What I wasn't totally fine with was that my clothes didn't fit anymore. I liked my clothes, and I wanted to avoid the ferocious waste of time and money it would take to replace my entire wardrobe. Also, my blood pressure had ticked up so much I could hear my own pulse.

Then I squeezed a sensible thought out of my frosting-filled brain: maybe I should stop eating the free cake. I thought walking to work might help, too. My friend Pam chipped in and helped me buy a Fitbit for my birthday. Then I put on my hikey shoes, strapped on a backpack that carried a healthy lunch, and off I went.

Would you like to see what I found as I traveled the sidewalks of my town?

There are decades of important sentiments like this preserved in the cement of Santa Barbara, California. 

Huh. Okay.

We've got all summer, right?


There's this place in Santa Barbara called Lotusland. It was the brainchild of a somewhat eccentric former opera singer named Ganna Walska who went through six husbands and had very little self-control when it came to plants.  She was born poor and at the age of nineteen she eloped with a Russian count. Here is a picture of her I found on the internet.

Ganna Walska

Ganna Walska

 Apparently Ganna Walska was a terrible singer, but her fourth husband, who was chairman of International Harvester, and who once had an animal-gland transplant in the belief that it would fortify his masculinity (and whose first wife, Edith Rockefeller, believed she had been married to King Tutankhamen in a previous life), threw a ton of money into voice lessons and bankrolled lavish opera productions for her to star in. Orson Welles said he used Ganna Walska as the inspiration for the Susan Alexander character in Citizen Kane.  I mean, just look at her. 

"Water stairs"

Ganna Walska bought the Lotusland property in 1941. The guide who led the tour I went on described Walska as somewhat of a hoarder, but her hoarding tendencies veered away from stacks of newspapers and used sponges in rinsed-out Ziploc bags and more in the direction of roughly 3,000 kinds of crazy, crazy plants. She knew what it was like to be poor and she knew what it was like to be rich and she sold her jewelry and her clothes and her Faberge egg so she could buy more plants for Lotusland.


Cactuses for example. Good lord, she had a lot of cactuses. That's not even the half of it. I didn't notice it until now but those yellowish guys in front look like they have faces on their tops, like happy cartoon penises. Well, now I can't unsee that. Enjoy.


This one lacks the infrastructure to stand on its own, but as with many things that become the object of someone's unbridled affection, it will be propped up until it begs for death.

Cracktus -- because she was addicted to them, like crack. Hilarious!

I once knew a professional feng shui practitioner who told me never to put poky, spiky plants around my front door unless I wanted to uninvite people inside. Ganna Walska's entire driveway is bordered with cactuses, so from that we might conclude that you didn't want to roll up to Ganna's house when you were drunk. 


Gah, more cactuses. These are weeping Euphorbia ingens, an African plant with poisonous sap. If you're going to cut these down you need to build a wall of fire around them to "set" the sap so it doesn't eat you alive if you touch it. Fun!


Here's some Dutch tile for you to look at while you frantically scrape all that caustic African sap off your hands.

Dracaena draco

Dracaena draco, or the Dragon tree, another African import. It's sap is red and is known as "dragon's blood" and it's very thick and useful if you want to mummify someone.  The fruit of the Dragon tree was the favorite food of the dodo bird, but once dodos went extinct there were no other birds to poop out Dragon tree seeds, and so now Dragon trees are endangered, because that's how nature works.


These chunks of green glass were everywhere. They are actually slag left over from glass manufacturing. Ganna Walska used to get truckloads of them from the factory where they made the bottles for Arrowhead water. Now Arrowhead comes in plastic bottles, and also California is in a drought and I am going to write a letter to our dear governor Jerry Brown so he will tell Arrowhead to quit pumping water out of our aquifers and selling it to the rest of the country. Tap water, people! Get one of those Britta jugs and quit dehydrating us. Also, I have magenta shoes.

Topiary is the tops

I will never not love looking at topiary. It makes so little sense.


Somebody gave this one a laser eyeball! Run!

This topiary is extinct

Dinosaur topiary is among the best topiary, even if it lacks eyes that shoot lasers.



Julia Child is not buried here

This is a terrible picture but those are Julia Child roses. She let them name this rose after her because its yellow was the same color as a perfect egg yolk. And also butter. Julia Child lived out the end of her life in a nursing home just down the street from Lotusland. Butter, eggs, caustic sap: the circle of life.


Another thing Ganna Walska collected? Rocks, of course. "I want to make a display for all my rocks," I imagine her telling the gardeners one morning as she stood on the patio outside her bedroom wearing a sheer white negligee and an ostrich-feather hat. And then some devoted employee of hers tumbled all her rocks so they'd be the same size and she could fiddle with them until they turned out like this.

I once went to a bullfight, did I ever tell you that story? It was pretty awful.

"I need some of your divine hand-painted tiles!" she said over the telephone to a man in Spain. She had to shout because long-distance connections were terrible back then. "There's a little skirmish near here," he replied, holding a phone to his ear with one hand and beating back fascists with the other, "but I'll get them to you as soon as I can."

Phyllis Diller's husband's name was Fang

"We have some Dracula-themed tiles," he went on. "I can't seem to give them away. Do you want those, too?"

"They're horrible," she said. "Send me everything you have."

That is one sexy Poseidon

Mer-men! Put your tridents in the air like you just don't care.


This guy. Look at that face. He was standing in a little outdoor amphitheater area getting worn away by time and the elements and I couldn't get enough of those eyes. All the little statues in this area were so-called "grotesques." But this one I wanted to take home and prop up his little feet and make him a hearty stew and let Peewee snore in his lap. I think he deserves it, he's done enough.

You can't see me!

Then the one in the bonnet was all, "Wait, why can't we come, too?" But the little egg-headed guy was like, "You can't take me, I have a clever little stone wig!" I don't know what happened to his arm but at least it was a clean break.

The birds

Part of the property has a "blue" garden where all the plants have a blue tinge to them, which is really just a coating you can scrape off with your thumbnail that protects the plant from the sun. Someone put some giant cut-out crows in the area. There was a bird-art exhibit back in the main house. It was actually quite good but I don't want to talk about it, this post is too long and I need a snack.

You eat the clam before the clam eats you

We will remember Ganna Walska as she was, busy pillaging the South Seas for its giant clam shells and making hideous yet somehow elegant fountains out of them while her last and much-younger-than-her husband, an early American proponent of yoga and Tibetan Buddhism, lay dead somewhere in Pakistan, his body never to be recovered. Here's a picture of him that I found on the internet.

Theos Barnard if you want more information. This post was not sponsored, I just felt like writing it.

My Weird Little Trip to CVS

Recently I had the opportunity to explain to a Millenial what a bottle deposit is. I wouldn't have bothered except that when she asked the cashier, who was ringing up the woman's giant bottle of Jack Daniel's, what the extra .05 cents was for, the cashier got flustered and said, "I don't know," in this dismissive way, like, "Whatever. Who understands anything?" Well, listen, CVS cashier with the Bettie Page do and knuckle tattoos, I don't normally go around shaming cashiers for not understanding every little burden you pass on to the public but why not let's try to dispel a minor ignorance whenever possible?

I took a breath before I butted in and said, "It's to encourage you to bring the bottle back to a recycling center, then you'll get your five cents back." And the woman was all, "Oh!" *flash of understanding* so I left it at that. I left it to her to recall the times she might have seen people digging through garbage to collect cans in order to turn them in for cash, since she might enjoy extrapolating this for herself in a quiet moment. Having the opportunity to relate new information to our own experience is what really cements a new concept, don't you think? Whether in the classroom or pre-paying for our hangovers at the drug store.

But then I got to thinking. Since I pay my bottle deposits and then toss my bottles into the recycling bin without getting my money back I was suddenly all, "WAIT A MINUTE WHERE'S ALL THAT MONEY I WANT IT BACK." (The Internet assures me that unclaimed funds collected on behalf of the bottle bill go to "program administration" (program administrators' annual Christmas trip to Honolulu) and "grants" (breakfast beers and Tylenol).)

On the heels of this new awareness came a moral dilemma. I was next up and the total for the box of push pins I was buying so Jackson's taped-up posters would quit falling off his wall was something like $3.31 so I gave Bettie Page a $10 bill and a penny. I've been making change semi-professionally for 35 years, sadly, so I do that shit all the time, here's two pennies and a dime and three extra dollars, just so I don't get a pound of small change back from every transaction. It makes me feel like my father but my collarbones were once made uneven from the weight of my shoulder bag and I am not having any of that anymore.

Maybe the line behind me was throwing her off, the feeling that all of these people were staring at her and willing her to go faster. I gave her $10.01. She stared at the penny and then looked at me like, What is this? Then she turned and punched $1.00 into the cash register. Naturally, the cash register said, A dollar? Did you not hear me correctly? I need $3.31. So Bettie goes, Oh, um, fuck, and punches in $10.00. Now the cash register was all, YOU GAVE ME $11.00 FOR SOME REASON and the cashier was all, GAAHHH HERE TAKE ALL THE MONEY, and just shoved a bunch of change into my hand. I didn't even question it, even though I knew she'd just paid me to shoplift a half-price box of push pins, because at that point I was 93% Wow, you really don't care you just want to get rid of me, and 7% YAY FREE PUSH PINS!

I'm not normally one to take advantage in these situations, but fuck this CVS. The same thing happened to me there last month with a cashier who was never trained on how to make change without depending on the register to do it for him, and who just mashed a bunch of buttons on the key pad and then probably lost his job at the end of the shift because his receipts were like math without numbers. But with that guy I took the time to recount my change and gave him back the extra, mostly just because he seemed kind, and who wants to see kids get fired in this economy? But with Knuckles I was less sympathetic, and I don't know if it was from some projected misogyny, or irritation at her hair-do, or the instinct to distance myself from an imminent anxiety supernova, but if I were her manager I would have somebody stand with her to oversee that shit or I'd put her back in the stock room until she realized that what she really needed to do was finish school and quit dating drug addicts.


Well, sorry, I seem to really get bent over details these days. I am writing a novel sort of just to see if I can do it, and I'm finding that inventing emotional and physical detail like all that above is not nearly as easy as just remembering it.


Last night I was coming in the door at 6:00 p.m. with two sacks of groceries and Jackson was lying on the couch and the first thing he said to me was, "Mom, just so you know, I was hungry so I ate three donuts."

And I was all, Seriously, son? I mean, I guess it's cute if you're becoming the voracious teenage boy who can put away two or three dinners a night, but come on. We're not there yet, are we? You're only twelve and where the hell did those donuts come from?


Lastly, here's a drawing I made for a yoga friend who donated to my Red Cross/Charity Water campaign last fall and guess what? I'm STILL not done with all the drawings I owe people and I'm going to have to start another campaign in a minute and I think I'm just going to do tote bags this year. Anyway, I am really, really pleased with this one and it makes me want to do more yoga-specific figure drawings. Just line drawings of happy people doing crazy things with their bodies, nothing fancy.



At some point before Thanksgiving, Jack asked me to run to the store. "Would you pick up some dry cranberries?" he asked. Huh, I thought to myself, dry cranberries. I wonder what he's going to do with those? I pictured him dumping a bag of whole cranberries into a turkey crevasse. Maybe something magical would happen to them while the turkey cooked. Maybe you dumped a bag of dry cranberries into a bird and three hours later you scooped out magical elf nipples bursting with protein, vitamin C, and sexual fulfillment. Who knew? Jack was always watching cooking shows. On Thanksgiving morning Jack started putting together his cornbread stuffing. "Goddamnit, I forgot to get pignoli nuts. Oh well, we'll do without. Where are the dried cranberries?" I opened the refrigerator triumphantly. "Here!" I said, brandishing a bag of cranberries that I'd bought at Target. He looked at them, then he looked at me. "I said dried cranberries. You know, those little things that look like raisins."

"What? No! You said dry cranberries so I bought you -- these --" I was still holding the bag of cranberries. "They're sort of dry."

And this is why I'm not allowed to cook Thanksgiving dinner, or very much dinner at all. It's better this way, really.

Last Friday was the awful day of the Newtown, CT school shooting, so I did the only thing that was within my power to do. I took a couple of kids to the zoo, bought them some nachos, and did a little drawing by the fountain.


Here is what I was looking at:

At some point I'm going to start adding color to drawings, and this would be a nice one to redraw and make pretty with the pencils and the paint and the whatnot. Art stuff!


This woman was not at the zoo, I drew her later, over the weekend, for a person who wanted a "sultry goddess." Eupraxia embodies the spirit of well-being, which I felt we all ought to call on in times like this. People kept telling me not to put boobs in their drawings, but I felt like anyone asking for a goddess would be up for some boobs, so there they are. BOOBS. TWO OF THEM. Jackson is currently fascinated by the fact that both Hitler and Napoleon had only one testicle. Today I told him that Ann Boleyn had three breasts and that blew his mind. In looking it up I find that that's not strictly true, she may just have had a supernumerary nipple. Also, a third breast is known as an accessory breast. Oh, don't mind me, that's just where I keep my phone and a pack of gum.

chasereynoldsThis one was for a friend who wanted herself portrayed in a drawing with the actor Ryan Reynolds. Underneath the color copies of friend and the Reynolds's actual faces you will find terrible, bad, never to be gazed upon not-likenesses of these two beautiful human faces. I can draw fake, imaginary peoples' faces, but for the love of all that is holy I can't do an actual, recognizable likeness yet. This will require sketchbook time, and that is time I do not have! Not when I'm busy preparing priceless works of art like this.

Fortunately, a different donor gave me a somewhat less demanding demand for a likeness, and I ended up sending him this:

hatheadI didn't want to ink it because I knew I'd just make it worse, when in fact I'd made a C-effort at copying the photo he sent me. The guy in the photo is sort of winking like a pirate, whereas in my drawing he appears to be flattening his nose against the glass of the frame. My hope is that he'll find it hysterically funny, and then we can forget the whole thing ever happened.

This next one was for a person who said "surprise me," so I found a quote on the Internet and prayed to God it was attributed to the actual person who said it.

shocked1The lettering sucked, though, so I tried it again.

shocked2I actually did this one the day before the Newtown shooting, otherwise I probably would have picked something else, but what are you going to do. Mae West walked the earth to shock us all in the best possible way, so I'm going to let her have that.

specialBThis last one was for someone who wanted her name in fancy lettering, but rather than post the whole thing, which she might not want me to do, I thought I'd just show off the capital B, which surprised me with how much I liked it. The end.

If you're interested, I wrote a post over at Babble about kids and violence called Turn Off the Gun Porn.

The Fussy Way

Time to open the mail bag!

Well, it's more of a mail lunch sack. At any rate, it's a rare and glorious occasion when someone finally realizes that their own instincts are hideously unreliable and they must look to me for parenting guidance. And so I put on my humble sackcloth, radiant halo, and fake beard* and bid them come unto me**.

Hello Mrs. Kennedy!

I have five-year-old son who goes to daycare with a kid that I'm not so sure about, if you know what I mean. This kid taught my son the middle finger salute, and also informed him that "Burglars usually go to hell. It's God's choice." Now the inevitable has happened: the note from this kid's mom asking to set up a play date at their house. What does one do in these situations??


*Or sometimes I just wear the beard and some flip flops.
**You know, once in awhile. It's not my regular gig.

Well, Maureen, here's one option: you could arrange your schedule so that you won't have to run into this woman at pick-up or drop-off times, which would give you ample time to pretend you never saw the note. Or make a tentative date with her and then cancel a polite day in advance, and then cancel every subsequent date until she gets frustrated and gives up.

Procrastination and avoidance is, after all, The Fussy Way.

But just for fun let's actually think this through. We can assume that someone in this child's family is teaching this boy the hard line on judgment, eternal reward, and endless punishment. We have no idea who taught him how to flip the bird, but you can bet he knows his mom wouldn't like it.

One: Do you want your son exposed to people whose beliefs do not, apparently, mirror yours? That's a hard one. Certainly we can socialize with people without being in philosophical lockstep with them, as long as you both are open to developing either a mutally respectful or a hilariously meanspirited dialogue about your differences.

Two: But what does your son want to do? Does he like this kid? Does he want to spend time with him outside of school? If he does, you could choose to suck it up for awhile and hang until you can get a better sense of how the bird flipper and his family operate.

The nice thing is that at this age many kids are moving in and out of friendships fairly quickly, and subtly guiding your son away from someone who makes you uncomfortable probably wouldn't be that difficult, and if your son is as weirded out as you are you're free to start making shit up. In true Fussy spirit, you'll find something to tell his mom that resembles the truth but gets you off the hook pretty much permanently without hurting her feelings. (You're so busy with after-school harpsichord-building classes, after all.)

I think the bottom line, though, is that if you think ANY kid is no good for your child, you shouldn't feel a shred of guilt about keeping your son away from him.

Uh, that makes sense, right?

Comments, please.

Mean less

Here's a nice link I found when I Googled "old fashioned clip art"

The 39 Steps: A Primer on Story Writing

1) Step one in the great enterprise of a new and preferable you in the house of fiction is: Mean less. That is, don't mean so much. Make up a story, screw around with it, paste junk on it, needle the characters, make them say queer stuff, go bad places, insert new people at inopportune moments, do some drive-bys. Make it up, please.

2) Don't let it make too much sense.