Scarlett and Synchronized Swimming

The summer I read Gone With the Wind, I won a second place medal in synchronized swimming.  The morning I finished it, I went to practice and my eyes were already red for Rhett Butler.  After practice I went home and read the last 50 pages again and cried some more.

We weren’t supposed to like Scarlett, which puzzled me.  Why did Margaret Mitchell tell the story through the eyes of someone we weren’t supposed to like?  I liked her anyway.  I knew I should not like the way the simple slaves were so devoted to her, and I did side with them when I could, but the story pulled me into Scarlett’s eyes, green and lakelike.  I knew I should not like rich Rhett and his dirty Southern money, but he was so charming.  And he was nice to Mammy, in his way.  That red petticoat.

Why did we in my liberal Democratic suburb decide to overlook the depiction of the slaves, and have Gone With the Wind watching parties when it showed on TV?  This was the 70’s.  None of our black friends were at these parties.

It felt good to get lost in a book 1174 pages long.  And then go and swim to a song from John Lennon’s Imagine.  “Oh my love for the first time in my life, /My-y-y-y eyes are wide open.”

And red from crying and chlorine.

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Rah rah

My fifteen-year-old is on spring break and is being unusually nice to me.  Instead of grading tonight, I accepted a rare invitation to play a board game.  And she didn’t even mind that I won, twice.

She doesn’t talk to me much, and I am mostly patient, but this week when she has no homework and can sleep in and no Frisbee practice and none of the other pressures of high school life (she’s wearing no make-up) makes me see that she must be stressed out during school.  Which makes her quiet.  She seems surly, okay maybe she is surly, but she is also stressed.

She is always surprised at how good her report card is.  She does not know, fully, how smart she is.  She does not believe me when I tell her.  She writes better than most of my undergraduates.

I miss the adoring little girl she once was, but, when she lets me in this way, I like the teenage version too.  I admire her thrift shopping aplomb and her sense of style and her silly dancing.  (I of course am not allowed to dance.)

Her friend gave her every Taylor Swift CD for her birthday and we go into a Taylor Swift haze in the car, listening to one after the other.  We looked up tickets online but the only ones left cost $200.  Next tour.

She would actually think of going to a concert with me!  (And her friend.)

Rah rah!


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The snow is almost gone

And yet I resist spring

Don’t want to get fooled again

Yesterday I walked out of work

After 18 student conferences, exhausted


I simply like my students

They make me happy

It is lovely to like one another

Even as I tell them they might get not get A’s

The daffodils at the corner seemed suspect

Planted from a grocery store pot

No struggle against the snow

But they defied me with their cheerfulness

So much bright yellow

I remind myself to allow this feeling of happiness

At my students

At the daffodils

It comes and goes

It will come again

And go

And this morning I woke up


A little sick

Ate the wrong thing

Never know the right thing

Dragged myself to the library

Where I write with writers

Get something down

And the blue and pines out the window

Cheered me

In spite of myself

Why is it

I don’t trust the happiness

Determine that it’s fleeting

But let the downward drift

Seem like truth?

Down is as fleeting as happiness

Comes and goes

And comes again

And goes

Like spring.

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Even when I say I pine for you,

I am inhaling the drift

of crushed needles in the woods

behind Pausacaco, where

my siblings and I played bears

(not dolls)

piling up orange needle houses

for us to hide in

shelter from the drip of sap and rain

and a broken heart.


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My Ohio has layers of disclaimers and justifications and excuses for being affiliated with the Midwest, oh my parents are from the east, we just came here for my dad’s work, I was born in New Jersey.  My Ohio holds a sense of not really being there, on the way out, enrolling in schools one after another, just way stations on the way to living somewhere real.  My Ohio means not picking up the flat accent and spending a week every summer in New England where we’re really from.

I lived there for 17 years.

I was 4 when we moved and went to elementary, junior high and high school there, then college (with 8 months in Europe).  Then it was time to really leave.

I lived in California, Iowa, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts.  Massachusetts is my home now—I’ve lived here 22 years.  But when I go back to Ohio, it feels like home too.

The streets where I learned to drive.  The buildings where I learned to read.  My friends’ childhood homes where I hid in closets and yards and imagined monsters.  The college where I learned to think my own thoughts, not just everyone else’s (though the New Yorkers stranded in Ohio cornfields deepened my sense of inadequacy at being from Ohio, even though my parents were from the east and we only moved there because of my dad’s job and I was born in New Jersey [not that I wanted to claim New Jersey]).

The suburb where I grew up, with its wide leafy streets and beautiful homes, is where my dream mind goes in sleep.  I ride my bicycle no-handed down my quiet street under streetlights softened by cascades of new green maple leaves, sitting tall and cooling down on a warm/cool clammy summer night.  The quiet whir of wheels under me soothes, and the road goes and on.  At the end I turn around and it goes on and on again.

My Ohio is a long road of green light.

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Northampton nostalgia

noho  Northampton, Massachusetts is a vibrant New England city with a town-like feel, offering pleasures to locals and tourists alike (everyone’s getting priced out.  Whalen’s Office Supply got pushed to the margins of town before it folded).  Restaurants like the Blue Flame, serving an eclectic mix of gourmet burgers and Cajun dishes (damn, what happened to the Blue Flame? Now there’s some fancy Argentinian steak house there.  They had the best Cajun burgers with a side of dirty rice in its own little bowl.  And we’d get fancy root beer and put a dollar in that vintage jukebox full of classic blues.  Ah, listening to Billie Holiday and eating dirty rice), mix with veggie stalwarts like Paul and Elizabeth’s, (man, since I gave up soy I can’t handle the food at P&E’s anymore, I get all bloated and dizzy) located in the beautifully remodeled Thornes Marketplace.

Thornes, once a textile mill, with soaring ceilings and varnished wood floors, houses four stories of welcoming stores and cozy artists’ studios.  (Yuppieville!)  Grandparents never fail to make a stop at the Mulberry Tree, a children’s clothing and toy store with a fully equipped Brio train table and rows and rows of shiny racecars, (how much money did we drop at this place?) not to mention Groovy Girls with their plush pets and canopied beds, and a music corner full of instruments, CD’s and board books.  (Sigh.  An upscale women’s clothing store just feels wrong in the spot Mulberry Tree once occupied—out of reach leather boots costing over $200, mini dresses on mini headless mannequins, expensive handbags of a kind I’ve never seen used by anyone from Northampton.)

Shop at Faces, the headshop turned everything shop, with a funky mix of housewares, hipster apparel, and gifts for all ages.  (Quick, somebody buy Faces before it closes for good!)  Country Comfort offers a beautiful selection of women’s clothing and jewelry in that youthful but grounded Northampton style.  (That lovely woman who used to find just the right scarf or blouse to match the handmade earrings you chose for your best friend died of cancer last year, and the men’s clothing store in its spot can’t come close to Country Comfort’s sweet window displays.)

Stop by Bart’s for homemade ice cream in many flavors—Orange Dutch Chocolate is a favorite— and a wide variety of fair trade coffees.  (New owners drove Bart’s into the ground and now it’s a boring old pizza place with stale desserts.)

Disclaimer:  I am fully aware that the spots I miss likely replaced spots someone else misses, and I still love Northampton, but change is a bitch.

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A Mother

I eat Ellen and I drink Sally.  These are the words of a mother about her two daughters.  The mother eats Ellen, reveling in her searching intellect, her boundless curiosity, her Ellenness.  She drinks Sally, sipping Sally’s sharp wit, her simple joys.  If Sally is a drink, she goes down quicker, permeates the mother’s insides with Sallyness.  But she is not full.  It takes Ellen to fill her up.  Ellen takes longer to digest, to take in.  Ellen is a meal.

But this makes Sally seem less substantial.  The mother doesn’t mean that.  As a little girl, Sally says she wants to be a doctor, and the mother reminds her, encourages her, pushes her towards this goal.  Perhaps she spends less time, has less patience, for Sally is a nervous one.  Ellen does not worry about her feelings.  She lives in a world of ideas, in a life of the mind, a place the mother prefers to linger, as one lingers over a meal.

She said these words, I eat Ellen and I drink Sally, when told that Sally had always felt she favored Ellen.  No, but I feel very differently about them, she said.  I eat Ellen and I drink Sally.  She was speaking to a psychiatrist friend of the family, a woman of her daughters’ generation whom she had mentored as a girl, drawn out, been endlessly kind to.  Helen never talked to a psychiatrist as a patient, poopooed the very idea.  But to this friend, this woman who had once been a girl, grateful for her attention, she said many things she never told her daughters.  The psychiatrist friend reported the remarks in a letter to Ellen years after the mother’s death.  She also reassured Ellen (and Ellen sent the letter to Sally, toute suite) that both of them were the center of their mother’s life.

Yes, of course.  One must eat, one must drink, to live.

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