story #5 in my “23 stories for a fried chicken sandwich” project.

today one bushtit in a small troop of bushtits fell behind, lost step, got the hiccups, or momentarily reconsidered everything about the life he’s been living thus far.

he lifted off the bare-branched pomegranate tree, just like all the others, in a perfectly choreographed swish against the backdrop of the silvery blue sky. but by the time the group passed in front of my window, the perfect lines of their group dance broke. or he broke. i held my breath and watched him hover middair in a shockingly long delay while the others soared on.

i thought sure he’d fall, drop out of the air in a hard, fast plunk onto the pavement down below. it could happen before my very eyes. his frolic in this world could just end. stop. disappear. there was even enough time for me to imagine the invisible thread hanged down from the sky, slip-knotted tightly to his wings. a thread so strong that he had an impossibly long moment to will himself skyward again. reconsider. breathe. dream bigger.

and just like that, up and away he went again without a single flap of his wings.

i ran to the next window to watch the birds’ continued path to the elm two houses down. by the time i pressed my hand to the glass, i couldn’t tell that one bushtit’s grace from the next.


story #4 in my “23 stories for a fried chicken sandwich” project.

all day, i was preparing to write something genius tonight. more genius and beautiful than ever before. but then leo found something odd on my cat’s mouth.

my calico celie is 17 years old, will be 18 in august. i stole her away from her stray mother who lived under the fence from me and my best friend K’s Melrose place apartment building (U-shaped with a pool in the middle; whacky neighbors we could spy on without barely trying). i wanted to keep Celie’s black and white brother, but she’s the one who kept squeezing under the fence to sit by me. i was 21 years old then. seems like a lifetime or maybe lifetimes ago.

her health has been deteriorating. she can’t clean or groom her whole self so well any more. but it isn’t all bad. although she’s always been an indoor car, for a few years now, she has spent hours in the backyard sun each day.

you really don’t know how you’re going to feel until it happens. i’m still holding very still.

the mass on her lip is pretty large. from what i can see, there are problems i can’t even begin to diagnose going on inside her mouth too. her eye is swollen, almost closed. my poor old girl.

i have loved this cat and, i admit, largely taken her presence for granted, especially since the boys came into our lives. but we do still share our small moments of bliss. i’ll call the vet tomorrow. tonight, i brushed her in long, long strokes for 20 minutes, and she purred and purred and threw her head back in thanks.

grade 1

story #3 in my “23 stories for a fried chicken sandwich” project.

when we are driving and i am listening, really listening, to him tell me about his day from the back seat, i can imagine him standing there in his classroom, his eyes moving in their sockets, tongue against new, much bigger teeth, his cowlick softly springing to, skinny arms, the frayed edges of his pants. i can feel the weight of his tennis shoes against the blue not-so-much carpet and smell glue, the vinyl plastic-covered desktops, the insides of lunch boxes, and the rain drying on the puffy, warm jackets.

when i am really listening, i remember how it feels, how some days are scary, the way teachers are our first loves, and that boys like to brag about things that never really happened, which makes you want to lie too. because lying is easier than having to believe all those fantastic things aren’t really happening to us all. i know how excited he can be, can get, when he realizes someone’s about to, might just, listen to the words he wants to speak, might notice him, might give him a gold star nod, but he’s also not willing to break the rules, to talk out of turn in order to put it out there. the risk is simply too great.

as he tells me stories from his day, i can feel the limitations and the possibilities. the heavy sighing over the projects that call for the steady pulsing of the tiny scissors, matched up precisely to a faded black dotted line. i can see the simple list of numbers that can go on changing forever with plusses or minuses, in the same way innumerable poems can be subtracted from a bunch stories you put altogether. i know the lost chances because you played by the rules. i know the salty choke of tears when you try something new and it fails. i can still feel the numbing way we rest our chins against the palms of our hands and watch the ever-slow tick-tick-tick while everything that’s supposed to happen in its own goddamn sweet time lines up. i wish i could keep him home the day that the morning recess changes the way he sees everything.

i don’t listen this intently every day on our drive home in the car. some days his chatter just lifts up and over me like the light raindrops that get caught in the windshield wipers. it’s simply necessary and keeps the road ahead clear. because i can’t go back. there’s no real going back, no matter how much my mind gives it a try. no matter how much i can’t resist the pull. there is only forward, the same direction he is headed, as he tells me about everything he is learning at school and he shows me what he’s going to make of it.

three photos

story #2 in my “23 stories for a fried chicken sandwich” project.

in the series of three photos she keeps in her mind, she and him are at a wedding. her best friend R’s wedding. she was the maid of honor, he was a guest, and they are slow dancing.

she only saw the photos one time in the proof book at the wedding photographer’s office, but they are burned into her memory as if by a soldering iron. they’re even yellow and curled around the edges from all the years she’s been remembering them.

but on the day that she saw the photos the first time, they were crisp and smooth and hidden deep inside a fat black album, which was open to the most lovely oval-matted photo of the bride and groom. she and R squealed when they saw this photo. it was truly perfect. “isn’t it exquiseet?” said the not-French photographer’s assistant. they couldn’t argue, despite the woman’s dramatic pronunciation. the photo was “exquiseet.”

she and R must pick the best shots of the wedding and the reception. the ones that will be forever kept inside the bridal wedding book. that was the mission of this appointment. “i’ll leave you two to peruuuse.”

so they did. they perused, flipping through pages of hundreds of photographs. they laughed and reminisced about the day. she was right there with R until they came across the series. the series of three photos held on by little paper corners and lined up on a single black page. three in a row of her and him dancing.

that’s the moment when she stopped paying attention to the others.

in the first one, they are face to face. he is dressed in khakis and a green button-up with a tie. her dress is emerald green with a cascade of ruffles trailing off the back. her shoulders and back are exposed by the cut of the gown. she is looking up into his eyes, her lips turned into a soft smile. but as she looked harder at the photo, she could tell, in fact, that she wasn’t looking directly at him but focusing on the peripheral view. the photographer. she knew he was taking a photo of them. she was stricken with the dilemma of whether to look happy or look wistful. in failing to decide, she succeeds in the latter without even trying.

in the second shot, she is looking down and away. he is pulling her in close, hands tight around her back, pressed into the fabric of her dress. his eyes are closed in a savory blink and he is smiling, but his jaw is tight.

the third shot is taken up close. the photographer has moved in and she and him are forced to turn and look. to smile. she looks like her normal put-together self. her makeup and hair perfectly put for the wedding. but you can see the exhaustion in his eyes. the soft lines around them. the paleness. the years of ache.

they turn and smile and *flash* it is done.

now there they were in that book for her to see and remember. she remembers because she felt transparent when she saw them. like everything between them was being spelled out on the page. the glorious and the awful. the history and the foreshadowing. the love and the loss.

she lifts a hand to flip past the page and R says, “wait, i love these of you two. we should include one or two.”

“no,” she says, maybe too strongly. “not the slow dancing ones.”

how it began

story #1 in my “23 stories for a fried chicken sandwich” project.

how did i get here? right here to writing this. how?

i mean, besides through the stories i have always loved to write: from elementary school shorts on blue-lined, hole-punched pages to the extra-juicy teen saga i wrote in high school, which filled an entire notebook (it was so so bad) onto the english degree and the mfa in creative writing, during which time i met melissa, my writing partner for everlasting life and forevermore.

but this place, this blog from which i write to you came from a series of starts and light-as-feather inspirations that fell from the sky into a meandering path that i would follow here. i’m not sure which came first, blogging or mamazine, but in 2005, amy and i started mamazine, a literary webzine where mamas could share their truths. we kept it going for a good 3.5 years, and some of our columnists and featured writers have become friends and some of the ones who hadn’t already have even hit the bigtime (book deals, baby!). thinking about this makes me very happy.

somewhere in there, i started blogging for myself and a few friends on livejournal. just words. and then words rolled into photos and then into a year-long the little zygote that could blog. yep, back then, clubmom (now gone) paid me to write weekly about the viable pregnancy that came after my two (and we worried maybe three then) miscarriages. here is my first post for zygote.

once the little zygote that could gig ended, i pushed it all into happinest and later started today is pretty for the photo side of things and then i just kept today is pretty — until i met shari, my cyber twin with whom i started this joy+ride, an amazing bi-monthly inspiration blog dedicated to featuring original work of artists and writers, which makes me smile. big.

after zygote, i stayed on behind the scenes with clubmom, which had become cafemom, and now they provide me a crazy-awesome day job where i write and write every day. unbelievable, huh?

as i put it all down, i seriously wonder if any of it really matters, this glimpse at the path that carried me to the moment in which i am writing this. or is what really matters the rest of the story that’s made up of scribbles on napkins, voicemails to myself, bits of fiction and poetry, a twice-unfinished novel, thousands of blurry, crooked photographs i can’t throw away, and worries worried in the dark?

i don’t know the answer. i just know blogging (and flickring and even tweeting sometimes) blows my mind.

sometimes life is so dang pretty i just have to write a post or snap a photo. sometimes i want to look at a moment long and from all sides and then package it up and keep it for myself. like a memory but somehow better.

but maybe more than anything, blogging has been about holding my breath and planting my truth like a perfect-enough flower on a path, where it waits to be discovered by someone — even just one person, even a passerby who keeps moving. because often enough, when that person does lay eyes on my truth, they completely understand and recognize what they see. in the tiniest moment, my truth is a bit of their own truth too. and that right there is what got me here.