Unfamiliar places

Lotusland

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.

Cactuseses

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.

Cactoose

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. 

Spooky

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!

Delft

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.

Slag

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.

Grrr

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.

Astrology

Astrology.

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.

Mesmerizing

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.

Friend!

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

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

You must change your life

August was an eventful month! The first thing I did was move out of the house for five days. Alice flew in and we took over my friend Jennifer's Airbnb rental. Vacationing six blocks away from your own home is a little weird, but it has its advantages. You develop new neural pathways by figuring out how to work another family's coffee maker. A strange bed forces your body to use new muscles while you're sleeping. Dogsitting a pet not your own asks your hands to discover the intricate pleasures of unfamiliar fur.

That is Alice lying on the floor with Maggie the Irish terrier. Maggie's fur is so usefully, Irishly coarse that Alice, in her love of all things doglike, was forced to admit that petting what felt like a live loofah opened up fascinating, unexplored vistas between them. At one point Maggie actually growled at me when I came through the front door and I can only assume it was because I was not Alice. From then on I always let Alice enter the house first, though it did become awkward to fling rose petals on the ground before her wherever she walks. Turns out rose petals fling a little farther if you soak them in cold virgin spring water first. I made it work.

We had planned to use our time as a writing getaway, though it was a getaway where Jackson could ride his bike over any time he wanted a hug. One night Alice and I couldn't figure out what to make for dinner so I called Jack and we came back to my house and let him make ossobuco for us while Peewee sat adoringly at Alice's feet. We did get some writing done, however, and the rest of the time we talked about writing and ate and watched Say Yes to the Dress and My Child is Haunted, or maybe it was called There's a Ghost Inside My Child, or was it My Child Is Obsessed With The Titanic And The Only Explanation For It Is That He Is The Reincarnation Of One Of The Traumatized Crew Sent Back To Earth To Heal. I may also have tried to explain kundalini meditation to Alice, and she in turn explained to me how to release my psoas, and then we Googled all the tools you can use to reverse the corn, bunion, and posture damage caused by pointy lady shoes. And after more than two weeks of deliberation, I finally ordered some Yogitoes last week:

They stretch the shit out of my feet, but it feels pretty great, I must say. About fifty percent of that "great" feeling comes from imagining I'm heading off a geriatric health crisis somewhere down the road, but whatever. Whatever! KALE.

ELSEWHERE . . .

Jackson went to two sleepaway camps this summer, both of them required living in a dorm at UCSB and playing basketball from morning to night. The dorms were nothing like the ones I lived in in college. My college had single rooms, with doubles for freshmen, and big, communal bathrooms down the hall. These UCSB dorm rooms were suites with three and four beds crammed into each room, with adjoining bathrooms and a shared couch area. These kids had no privacy, not that they wanted any, I guess that's part of the camp experience, having people keep you up all night and flick you in the face to wake you up in the morning. All I know is somebody got his socks soaked in the toilet and he backed the hell off after that.

Jackson would text me at night sometimes just to check in, and one night he sent me a video. It was of a kid doing some shooting drill with Michael Jordan, and I texted him back and said, "Ha, that kid must have been stoked," and he texted me back and said, "That kid is me." It turns out that MJ picked Jackson to play a game of two-on-two against another kid in the camp who was paired with Kawhi Leonard, who currently plays for the Spurs, one of my most-hated teams, now even more hated because they beat Jackson and his old, slow, millionaire teammate.

FROM THERE TO ETERNITY

Jack and I have worked our way up the home furnishings ladder to the point where we have graduated from Well, it was free to where we have finally ponied up for what I think of as a piece of Investment Furniture, which is a couch from the Restoration Hardware outlet store. A half-price leather Restoration Hardware couch with scratches on it is still a goddamn leather Restoration Hardware couch, so we're pretty pleased. One of the guys who delivered it set it gently on our living room floor and then said, "This couch will last an eternity!" He seemed genuinely moved by this couch.

When I was growing up we always had just one couch. My parents had bought it when they were young marrieds and they had it until they both died fifty-odd years later. My father actually died on that couch. It was a couch for all eternity!

Our new couch is so deep and cushiony that I did briefly try to imagine myself as an old person trying to get out of it, and the vision that arose before me was so vivid and final that I immediately dropped and did thirty sit-ups. This couch will swallow the elderly if we're not careful. This is a couch you have to stay in shape for, and kale and toe-stretching alone will not be enough.

LASLTY

I migrated my website, with the expert guidance of Elan, to Squarespace, and so far so good! My old hosting service kept finding all sorts of interesting ways to increase my fees every month that I was helpless to complain about because it was all so far over my head, so fuck them. Change is good. Eventually the fussy.org URL will phase into emkennedy.net entirely, and I've dumped the fussy@fussy.org e-mail address so don't e-mail me there anymore! My new e-mail is emk@emkennedy.net, please feel free to address all your concerns to me there. I haven't forgotten I still owe you a drawing.

 

And if you go camping in drag it's called Vamping

Here is the joke I made up last night: Q: What's it called when you get your period while you're camping?

A: Cramping!

One thing that Jack loves above all things is camping, and one thing I fear above all others is camping, and so up until last week we have spent every moment of our lives as a couple not-camping. Jack would take Jackson up to camp in Big Sur every summer and try to patch the sad camping-hole in his soul while I'd stay at home and guard our stuff, reveling in clean linens and locked doors and the sterile, bug-free existence that modern civilization provides.

I have been camping three times in my life, all of them terrible, sleepless affairs on lumpy ground, soaked with rain, or intruded upon by bears. I am at two with nature, as the saying goes, and despite Jack's assurances that he would provide me with a four-star campsite -- a veritable Mandalay Bay of roughing it -- one thing I knew he wouldn't be able to control was me getting carsick on the way to the Nature. Nature has some twisty roads into it, for some reason. Teddy Roosevelt and his horse both had something to prove, no doubt. But this summer I decided that maybe if I loved my husband I ought to give him this one thing, this camping thing, so here is everything I did/you can do to successfully avoid nausea on the road to Pfeiffer State Park in Big Sur. I offer this list for posterity and nothing more, for I am not some asshole blogger being paid to pretend she knows more than you about anything. If I were I would have titled this post, "Ten Ways To Avoid Carsickness This Summer!" and been paid $500 for it. I could still use the $500, so if you find this post useful, please PayPal a lot of money to me.

1. You have to want to not get sick. Some people have inner ear problems, or they're undergoing chemo, or God knows what's wrong, and I'm deeply sorry if that's you, for that sucks. However, other people (and this used to be me) unconsciously get sick for the attention, or to get out of doing things out in the world, or they just assume that's the way they are. "I get carsick." Well, maybe you do, but maybe you don't have to. Do you want to try?

2. Do not hit the road hungover. The last time we drove to Big Sur I had a wee bit of wine the night before, which led to insomnia and dehydration, all of which ensured that I wanted to barf all the way up Highway 1 the next day.

3. Hydration. So simple. You have a bottle of water? Drink it. Drink two. If someone complains that they don't want to stop for you to pee, say to them, "Would you rather stop to have me barf?" If they still complain, roll down your window and barf all over the side of their car. That will show them how serious you are.

4. Have a nice, fatty meal. I had eggs with buttered toast before we hit the road. It doesn't have to be a huge meal, if that sort of thing makes you nervous, if you think, "What if this doesn't work? It will just be more for me to barf." If you're afraid of eating too much on a nervous stomach, I don't know what to tell you apart from what I told myself: "You have to get something down, protein and fat. Figure it out."

 5. Anti-emetics are our friends. In Morro Bay I bought some off-brand, non-drowsy, pseudo Dramamine from an angry, sarcastic young woman at the grocery store. I'm not a big fan of too many OTC drugs, but it was $2.99, and I'm sorry she hates her life or whatever, but I took half a dose and immediately felt like Wonder Woman.

6. There are natural quease-easers, too. As a back-up I also had a bottle of herbs from the acupuncturist, they're called Curing Pills, you can get them in Asian markets, and I have never had a digestive issue that hasn't vanished within ten minutes of taking them. AND I had a box of hard-core ginger candy with me, and every half hour I'd eat one because ginger is a digestive stimulant (as opposed to peppermint, which is a digestive coolant, but which works well against nausea, too, as long as it's real peppermint, not just peppermint flavoring). I am also thinking of getting a couple of magical anti-nausea acupressure wrist bands for next time -- clang! clang! Wonder Woman!

7. Do you want to drive? Some people feel better when they're driving, but I let Jack do it because it was his truck, and his patience and nerves of steel were what was needed for Highway 1, whereas if I were behind the wheel no doubt I'd be too absorbed in prayer not to drive us off a cliff.

8. Pat yourself on the back when you get there, you did not want to barf even once!

9. Except then your period came on like gangbusters. I'm sorry, I have no advice, that part of your body is totally out of my control. Would you like to hear about the convenience of Diva Cups? No?

10. Ha ha, unreliable narrator. Guess what? Half of this post is a lie because once we got to Big Sur, Jack had booked us into a cabin just in case I changed my mind about this whole outdoors thing and crawled into the bed of his truck to die. So at the end of a long day of hanging around the campsite with friends eating weenies, going for bicycle rides, waving at deer and turkeys, taunting squirrels with Doritos, drinking beer, and soaking up the glorious Parkitecture, we would drive up the hill and sleep in not-tents. But now that I seem more amenable to the not-indoors, we're going to try camping a little closer to home before the summer's over, and Jack has already started his grocery list. And I still managed to write what sounds like a sponsored post for a group of products that paid me no money to endorse them, in a way that still makes me sound like some asshole blogger who probably knows less than you do about not throwing up. You're an expert at not-barfing, aren't you?

Goddamnit, sometimes you just have to barf. It's okay, you'll feel better.

Highway 1

An un-Photoshopped photo of California Highway 1 on July 22, 2014.

And if you go camping in the rain it's called Damping.

And if you go camping with Lionel Hampton accompanying you on vibes it's called Hamping.

And if you go camping in your pajamas it's called Jamping.

And if you read a book in your tent all night it's called Lamping.

And if you go with a baby it's called Pamping.

 

Also, there are so many elephant seals just laying around on the beach on the north side of Hearst Castle, above the zebra herd (California is a crazy place, if you haven't heard). After watching them do nothing for awhile I said to Jack, "If you're a stressed-out executive in this life, in your next life you get to be one of those."

Elephant Seals Outside of Cambria, California from Eden M. Kennedy on Vimeo.

That dude was the ambitious one.

I got the swag and it's pumping out my ovaries

Yesterday, for the first time in all my days, I cracked open a chicken's egg from the grocery store (a non-organic, factory farmed, 18-to-a-carton, supposedly non-fertilized egg) and out came a yellow yolk swirling in blood. Blood, my friends. The first thing I thought was, "Oh, it's fertilized, hm." The second thing I thought was, "Wait, what would a rooster be doing in an egg-laying situation?" Commercially, chickens are either bred for meat or bred to lay eggs and there isn't much use for a male from the egg-layer breed so they're usually culled (euphemism for gassed or macerated! Let's all be vegans now). My third thought was, "Oh, maybe this is a cancer egg." Like, Oh there's a bloody tumor in my egg, I guess I will wash it down the drain and get a new one so I don't catch the cancer.

NOT COOL, MAN

Let me tell you a story about the healing power that resides in the common ice cube. Over the weekend I was pulling a sheet of sweet potato fries out of the oven and the dish towel I was using to protect my hand slipped. It just fell onto the oven door and I had that weird moment of unprotected forward momentum vs. OH SHIT. Unfortunately, it was too late for the pad of my left middle finger which, after getting a nice, firm handshake from the 450°F baking sheet, became red and oddly wrinkly, like it had spent too long in a hot bath. I ran some cold water over it right away but yeah, no. So I put an ice cube in our last remaining unbroken espresso cup and I pressed down on the ice and watched the heat from my finger melt it into a U-shape. Then I got another cube and did it again. Jack, who got his Ph.D. from Suck It Up University, was all, Yeah, but I've got a lot happening on the grill at the moment and I still need you to make a salad. So I set the table and made a salad with one hand in an espresso cup, and spent the rest of the night taking my finger out of the cup and then going, Nope, it's still on fire. After four hours of ice it was okay again, but I despair for those who burnt themselves in the days before refrigeration and who got their parts slathered in butter or lard or some such. And for people whose grandmothers still haunt them into handling small burns that way and infecting the shit out of themselves.

ICE ICE BABY

Then! I had an incident yesterday where I was carrying a three-gallon glass bottle full of water -- so, 25 pounds of water, plus around 8 for the bottle -- and my ankle turned. I was wearing an old pair of Dansko clogs on badly patched asphalt. (Although, believe me, I can fall off of a flip flop. It's a gift.) My ankle was fine but I completely lost my balance and I had to make one of those split-second decisions: drop the bottle, or not? A girl in my co-op in college once dropped a glass water pitcher and a huge shard of it ended up wedged in the top of her foot. I wasn't thinking of her at that very second, but I guess I had thought enough about her in the past to have processed Big Chunk Of Glass In Foot. It wasn't one of those times where everything goes in slow motion -- if anything, time sped up, because the next instant I had brought my full weight plus the 33 pounds I was carrying bang! down on my knees on the crumbly asphalt.

I put the bottle down and tried to stand up, but since I was just about to pass out I decided to sit on the hood of my car while two guys who saw the whole thing happen came up and asked me if I was okay. I reassured them that I was fine, and then I seriously forgot who I was for a minute. One guy offered to put the bottle in my car, and I was all, "Sure! Just ignore the bulldog in the back who is losing his mind barking." Then I was all, "Well this is a great time to operate heavy machinery," because I still had to drive a few more miles to pick up Jackson from his day camp. I felt around my knees with my hands -- they were a little sore, but I'd managed to come straight down on them equally and hadn't heard anything crack or pop -- so I started my car and drove away, like an insane person. The moral of this story is that I got us all home just fine and then I sat with my feet up and two Ziploc bags of ice on my knees and played Angry Birds Star Wars like it was my job for the next hour, and then I drank five glasses of wine.

WHAT WERE WE TALKING ABOUT?

I took Jackson and one of his good friends to Legoland and the San Diego Zoo last week as an early birthday present. The second night at the Legoland Hotel (which has the nicest staff on earth, there just aren't enough of them. Valet parking was free, but then it took them an hour to get my car. I could see it from the lobby, so eventually I was all, "Can you just give me the keys and I'll get it myself?" and the cute, sweaty valet staff was all, "Sure! We're so sorry," and I was all, "Don't you worry your pretty little head about it," and they were all, "Is there anything else we can do for you?" and I was all, "I'm in room 1044. I'll send the kids to the pool.")

Right, so the second night they were showing some Bionicle movie on a screen by the pool. The pool was pretty shallow, and Jackson misjudged the depth and jumped in and banged his heel on the bottom. There were tears. The lifeguard got him an ice pack and felt for broken bones, swelling, etc. (all clear), and I cuddled him up on a day bed and we watched the movie (which, thanks, Lego, for writing one of the four Bionicle warriors as a girl who kicked ass, made jokes, and didn't need to be saved). Afterward, he limped over to thank the lifeguard (heart: melted) and then he said to me, "I'm not cold but I can't stop shaking." I'd read something recently about how the body will process trauma by trembling, and how it's useful and not something to suppress, so I didn't worry too much, I just bundled him up and kept an eye on him and he stopped after a minute or two.

Foot injury is not optimal the day before you planned to walk 5.8 million miles through the San Diego Zoo, but he said he said he could do it so off we went. He was limping after lunch, though, so I said fuck it and rented a wheelchair for $12. He loved it until he was confronted with his first curb. It was a good lesson in not taking your mobility for granted.

This post is way too long so I will wrap it up with KOALAS AND WOMBATS, HELP ME I AM DEAD FROM UNREQUITED CUDDLE SYNDROME.

koala!Koala Yoda!

koalasThe one on the right had a baby clinging to her in its sleep.

wombat!

It's hell being nocturnal, isn't it Mr. Cuddles.

Goddamnit

I have been in a horrendous mood! So that's been hilariously fun! I'm also 1,000 years behind on drawings, so let's take a look at my terrible output for March. Four drawings. FOUR. Jesus.

old bay raven

This is obviously a personal joke for someone, because they specifically asked for a drawing with a raven and a box of Old Bay seasoning in it, two things that would rarely meet otherwise. I went online to look at reviews of Old Bay seasoning on Amazon, and that's where I discovered that at least one person in the world believes that "it adds zing" to whatever you sprinkle it in. Zing! I'm not the sort of person who uses the word zing, so I appreciate it when someone uses it sincerely and without sarcasm. As a matter of fact, I'm going to look for a way to use zing in a sentence today, on the off chance that doing so will cheer me the fuck up.

animal models

Okay, this one is cheering me up, I'd forgotten I'd done this. The person asked for animals wearing clothes or accessories, including a squirrel. So I did the squirrel, and then I did the pigeon head where accidentally it looked like it was looking over its shoulder in some sort of fashion pose, and BANG, all of a sudden I knew I was looking at a page from The Animal Models Catalog. I wish I'd made the otter more expressive somehow, but I need more otter practice to coax that chillwave vibe out of whiskers and wet fur.

budapest

I'd been looking forward to this one, but when I started penciling it out I realized that it was somewhat of a nightmare. Normally I love repeating patterns, but the detail in copying this picture turned out to be overwhelming. I hope the person who receives it isn't too disappointed. I think it still has some good qualities, but an accurate representation of the Budapest Parliament it is not.

firehouse

Fortunately, a somewhat-accurate rendering of the old firehouse in Montecito was just the thing to help me get a little of my drawing confidence back.

Does anyone else feel like blogging's just about dead? Maybe it's just me.

So Much FunCon

I went to MaxFunCon again this year and I'm not even sure where to begin.

Saturday I got to sit at breakfast with Bill Corbett. (If you're a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 you might be dying a little right now because Bill was the voice of Crow T. Robot.) Bill and his wife, Virginia, came to the reading Alice and I did in Minneapolis last year and he laughed, loudly, in all the right places. Bill is the tops. (Bill's Rifftrax partner, Kevin Murphy, is not pictured, but he is also the tops. They are co-tops.)

About six months ago I cobbled together a small life list which included the item "take an improv class." Since Maggie (who'd prompted me to make the list in the first place) was with me this weekend along with Alice (from whom I'd stolen the idea of putting an improv class on my life list), and both of them had signed up for the improv class, all three of us (along with Alice's husband, Scott) went together.

The class was taught with kindness and simplicity by Jordan Morris, and it wasn't due to any defect in his teaching that I fell flat on my face (metaphorically) several times. In fact it taught me a good lesson: don't try to be funny. When I stopped trying, I actually got a couple of laughs but, wow. Developing a character, a relationship, a location, and an obstacle on the spot with two or more people is nuts.

I had originally signed up for the pub quiz after lunch, but I guess I wasn't really in the mood for the nap-inducing effects of mid-day drinking and trivia, so I decided to crash the artisanal pencil sharpening class instead. "Crash" is probably a little strong for what I did; "audit" would be more accurate.

Artisanal pencil sharpening may sound to some like the apex of dandyism, but believe me, David Rees is somewhat dead serious about the art of using a box cutter to carefully shave a shaft of yellow-painted, eraser-tipped cedar to a lethal point. It was satisfying as well as somewhat frustrating and awkward, as learning a new skill can be (cf: improv), and it left me with a lot of questions. At one point David posited that the act of carefully sharpening a pencil and then destroying it through use could be viewed as an exercise in futility, and I wanted to raise my hand and say, But isn't use an act of love? Don't we transfer, though the labor of sharpening and wearing the pencil down as it transports our thoughts to paper, a bit of ourselves into this humble tool? You've sharpened 600 pencils and call yourself an expert, but didn't George Leonard say that only after you've done something a thousand times can you call yourself a master? But because I was just auditing, David charged me a dollar every time I asked a question. I only had three singles so after asking some basic points of instruction I pretty much had to shut up. Also, I didn't want to be a dick.

I did most of my sharpening sitting on a bench next to Maria Bamford, who as you can see sharpened her pencil to a tremendous and frightening point. She gave David $5 so she got to ask more questions.

The morning and afternoon speakers this year were Mary Roach and Susan Orlean, both of whom had blurbed Let's Panic!, so it was a tremendous honor to have two women of their stature treat us like peers. We're not, of course, but they don't know that (shhh).

I also got a little contact high from shaking John Hodgman's hand and having him tell me he loved my license plate.

(Here's my post from last year.)

Moved

We are here in our new house and I have a stress cold. I'd show you some photos but all you'd see would be hardwood floors covered in garbage bags full of socks and underwear, because when you move from a place with tons of built-in storage to a place with no built-in storage, furniture doesn't just magically appear like I somehow thought it would. I may have subconsciously hoped that I'd open up the garage and find the old wooden dresser I bought for $40 from the girl who was moving out of my room on Dean Street in 1988. (If that does happen, you'll be the first ones invited to join Mrs. Kennedy's Church of the Miraculous Furniture Manifestation.) Nor do bluebirds fly in to fold your laundry and re-hem that skirt you bought from H&M that seems to be made out of wrinkle-insistent material. I just made that up! Wrinkle-insistent! That's the kind of thing I can do when only one of my nostrils is functioning. Since our health insurance was canceled on March 1st, my Furniture Church plans are on hold so that I can temporarily become a Christian Scientist. I've managed to pray away a full-blown sinus infection, and Jack fixed the knife gash in his hand with Super glue. So far, so good! When we first got here Peewee wouldn't go out to the backyard to pee by himself. He'd spent his whole little four-and-a-half-years-long life in a condo where he had to be escorted outdoors on a leash every day, so when we got here and shoved him out the back door, naked as the day he was born, he'd just stand there uncertainly, waiting for someone to yell, "NO! STAY!" and loop a rope around his neck. But when that didn't happen, he just waited with his little bursting bowels until one of us walked him out to the grass and stood next to him while he did his thing. It was kind of funny until the night I stepped in something that made my shoes sad. It was a lesson in timely lawn-maintenance for us all.

I have a lot more to say but I've discovered a pile of bills that was due three weeks ago, and my checkbook just resurfaced, and I feel as though these two simultaneous occurrences have some deeper meaning that will all become clear if I can figure out how to manifest a roll of first-class stamps.

Moving

Posting will be light this week, as we'll taking all of this . . .

over here . . .

. . . tomorrow.

I've just finished shredding five years' worth of bank statements and I'm about to sort through a drawer full of cords that belong to electronics we haven't used since the last Bush administration. I'm hoping to weed so relentlessly that all we'll have to move will be our beds and a bag full of shoes. I'd start a Pinterest board about my new interest in possession-free lifestyles but I'm afraid it would be nothing more than an ode to freshly refinished wood floors, aesthetically challenging floor lamps, and Fluevogs. Actually, that sounds pretty good, I might do that anyway.

All of which is to say: posting will resume next week from our new location!

I haven't been avoiding you!

I didn't really mean to stop posting at the end of November, I was on a roll! But then December 1 was World AIDS Day, where you're supposed to go silent to honor all the people who've died of AIDS, and then I had to work the next few days in a row, and then bam! I was on a plane to New York reading a book about midwifery and preparing for this: This is the set in Brooklyn where Alice and I filmed the first twelve episodes of MomEd, a new series for cafemom.com. We talked about childbirth and yes, I know we are not childbirth experts, we are fake-childbirth-book-writing experts. Fortunately, not just for us but for everyone who ends up watching these videos, they hired a crack researcher and booked actual experts to sit next to us and tell us how it's done. Saul, for example:

Saul is an actual Park Avenue doctor who performed a c-section on our other guest, Lyss, who's the co-author of If You Give a Mom a Martini (which is not an adult version of the If You Give a Moose a Muffin series, though that might have some potential). Saul wanted to sing show tunes but Alice wouldn't let him! So we talked about c-sections instead.

Whenever we had to start a new take, I'd get my energy up by thinking, "I get to be in a video!" And then I'd go EEEEEEE! in my head and Ben, the director (far left), would smile because he could read my thoughts.

Joe was our prop master and Haley was our logistics coordinator and I'm sorry I don't have better pictures of either of them. The prop baby was just sort of inert after Alice dropped it on its head. Ha ha! Kidding. It was plastic.

We did one episode sitting in a birthing tub with a British person!

We also had to shoot separate footage of Alice and me explaining medical terms. We called these "knowledge transfers" because this was where we transferred knowledge from cue cards to the camera. We are magical conveyor belts of  wisdom.

I know, the cue card guy was cute! I don't know why I look slightly jaundiced here. Perhaps my bilirubin was low.

We shot in the studio for three days and then went out on the street Friday morning to corral Park Slope moms into telling us their birth stories, and may I say that Park Slope moms are uniformly adorable. Every Brooklyn mom we spoke to was cogent, thoughtful, articulate, brave, and humbled by what they went through to get their babies out, and it was an honor to talk to every one of them.

Then I got on a plane and developed a massive chest cold, from which I am still recovering, five days later. I am so happy to be in my own bed, there are no words. And now I'm going to take another nap, the end.

Day Fourteen

The second day of Camp Mighty I looked into the skill sessions. (I'm not sure what happened to me during the Friday skill sessions, but it seemed more important to black out for a couple of hours in a cozy, cozy hotel bed.) The session devoted to sabering open champagne bottles got cancelled because of the rain, so I went into the tent by the pool and discovered a man named Adam furiously making balloon animals. I was kind of like, Hmm, this doesn't really interest me but no one else is here and I don't want him to feel bad, so I stuck around. I watched him make a brown balloon monkey holding onto a yellow balloon banana:

When enough people had gathered around, he started handing out balloons and explaining some basics. Always twist with your dominant hand; always twist in the same direction because if you start twisting away from yourself and then halfway through switch to twisting toward yourself, your twists will come undone. Don't be afraid of the balloon popping, go ahead and just twist the hell out of it. (It's worth the extra couple of dollars to get the good balloons, though, as the cheap ones don't hold up under serious twisting.)

I made a dog. Then I figured that if I were really going to learn to do this I should practice a little more, so I made what ended up being a sort of hyper-masculine poodle:

But what I really learned from spending fifteen minutes doing this is that so many skills that look odd or unattainable or mysterious can be broken down into a few simple steps, and that after you practice them and gain some confidence with your materials and with your body, you can do almost anything. Or make a motorcycle.

I thanked Adam and then decided not to go over to the How to Throw a Punch session because I already knew how to break a board with my hand.

I walked over to a small yurt where the How to Give a Great Neck Massage session was happening. There I learned several more things.

  1. "Pull the meat off the bone" is the key to Thai massage in general, but deltoid massage in particular
  2. There are a string of pressure points along the scapula that, when pressed even slightly, will make a person say, "OW" followed quickly by "YES, RIGHT THERE" and "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON'T STOP"
  3. You can press with all your might on someone's head with your finger pads like you're trying to squish their brains out their ears and it won't actually hurt them, it will feel good
  4. Don't massage anyone's neck arteries or you'll obstruct the flow of blood to their brain and they'll pass out

I was gingerly trying to find Cameron's deltoid muscle when the massage therapist came around, put her hands over mine, and showed me how to lift and gently pull them toward me, and the confidence of her touch transferred into my hands and I got it. It was like when a golf pro wraps their arms around you to teach you how to swing, except not as creepy.

So again: learn some techniques+ get comfortable with the motions + practice = enviable skill that your family and friends will enjoy, plus it will help put an anxious, talkative child to sleep after you've been away for three days.

Day Twelve

Today at Camp Mighty we had our team lunches, where the group of people we raised money with for Charity: Water got together to read five things from our life lists to the rest of the group. If you, the listener, knew of a way to help the list reader take a step toward one of the items on their list, you spoke up and said so. Do you need 200 pounds of sand for your playground project? Well, there happens to be someone sitting behind you whose best friend's cousin's father is the head of Home Depot. Maybe they can help you. It was a lunch peppered with possibilities like that, as well as inspiration, goofiness, tears, nervousness, and did I say tears? Because I barely began to speak before Oh, The Choked-Upedness.

So since I've been so very life list-reluctant, I thought I'd tell you my five things that actually turned into six things.

1. I apologized to everyone for coming in late and missing the first couple of people's lists because I was busy checking off a list thing of my own: GET A MASSAGE. I plan to do this at least every quarter, but ideally every month of 2012, and possibly longer if I can budget it properly.

2. During my massage, which was a combination of cranio-sacral/energy work, Deb told me that she opened up my throat chakra. Afterward, I asked if she had any advice for keeping my throat chakra open and she chuckled and said, "Well, yeah. Say what you need to say." As someone who was a very, very angry teenager with a chronic sore throat, and who has been working on this very thing for quite some time, and who also enjoys giving energy workers shit, I then said, "Oh, is that all? I was hoping you could recommend a crystal or something." Deb then did this thing where she looked left and right, like she wanted to make sure no one else heard her, and then she lowered her voice and said, "I hear turquoise helps. Do you have a turquoise necklace?" No, but I'm on my way to the bead shop, Deb, thanks.

3. Because I want to find other ways to open my throat by connecting my brain and my mouth, the third thing on my list (and which I borrowed from Alice) is to take an improv class. This sounds somewhat terrifying to me, but there's a grain of a part of me that thinks I might like it, and I believe it will behoove me to honor that grain. Even though Honor the Grain sounds like a book about Thanksgiving starring an anthropomorphized ear of corn. Oh, wait, I actually wrote Honor That Grain, which is more of an exhortation. Honor That Grain! sounds like a silent Micky Mouse short that never got off the drawing board. Which leads me to . . .

4. When I was six I wanted to be either a truck driver or a cartoonist. I have driven some seriously medium-sized trucks, but what I've never managed to do is put together a story and drawings. I want to work on the drawing part. I can draw trees and furniture but I want to be able to draw faces and bodies, to really capture expressions and postures in just a few bold strokes. So next year we can all look forward to me posting an awkward series of stick figures with their heads on fire, maybe? Is that enough of a plot?

5. Because Jack and I just had our 15th anniversary, it felt right to include the fact that I've been experimenting with The Work, and it's helping me to loosen up some of my emotional knots, and so one of my most important goals for the next year is simply to forgive my husband* for being who he is. I mean that without a shred of arrogance. To me this means it's my job to stop projecting my own problems onto Jack and then blaming him for them. I hope that makes sense. Whenever I untangle one of these dumb little long-standing resentments, I feel ten pounds lighter, and I want to feel 1,000 pounds lighter. It's better for everyone that way. And speaking of better for everyone . . .

* and my parents, and my brothers, and everyone else in the world, including you

6. When my mom was dying, I got to witness the work of hospice nurses, aides, and volunteers over a two-year period, and they are some of the most amazing, beautiful, tuned-in, funny, grounded, and okay-with-life-and-death people I've ever met. So my last goal is to take just one tiny step toward volunteering to support a hospice group. One of the midwives who helped me have Jackson is also a hospice worker, which I think is so great -- she gets 'em coming in and going out -- and I trust her completely, and it seems like one way to become an amazing, beautiful, tuned-in, funny, grounded, and okay-with-life-and-death person myself is to hang around with people who are already like that, and then go forth in the spirit of total awesomeness.

Tomorrow I will tell you about our Skill Sessions. You might be somewhat jealous.