Friday, July 22, 2005

Stomach Pain

My stomach has undergone major surgery twice now in under six months: first for the C-Section, and the other day for an emergency appendectomy. "Emergency appendectomy" is redundant, because the only reason one gets an appendectomy is due to an emergency situation -- like the thing is gonna burst or something.

My stomach is sore!

And Clara is a kicker -- when she nurses she wiggles and kicks with glee. "Don't kick mommy!" I keep pleading with her, but she doesn't yet understand these words. I'm gonna have to duct tape a pillow around my waist or something to keep the OUCH down.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Remember Toulouse-Lautrec

One year before I moved to Houston, I dreamed:

I'm a cabaret singer in an LA soup kitchen. The food line is full of preppy boys dressed in plaid bermudas and college sweatshirts. I'm standing at the grand piano in the corner, dressed in a purple lamé gown, singing "New York, New York." The piano player is an older man, balding, with a beard. Suddenly, one of the boys breaks out of line and accosts me. He throws me to the floor and begins assaulting me. The piano player jumps up from his bench, storms over to us, and yanks the boy off of me. He says to the boy, whom he's got by the collar, "Do not touch her. YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO TOUCH HER. She is sacred." Then the piano player looks at me and says, "Remember Toulouse-Lautrec." Then he looks up and announces to the soup kitchen patrons, "Remember Toulouse-Lautrec!"
I woke up with "Remember Toulouse-Lautrec!" resounding in my mind, although I didn't know how to pronounce his name properly at that point. It sounded in my head like "To-Louise Lautrec." Likewise, I can't say I knew conscioulsy who he was at the time. I had to ask the cafe manager when I got to work that morning, "Who is To-Louise Lautrec?"

"You mean Too-Loose La Trek," she said. "French Painter."

"Oh. Huh." Why was I supposed to remember him?

Later that Fall, I moved to San Francisco, one day after the 1989 earthquake. My housemates-to-be were still stuck in their old house in Santa Cruz, where the main street had caved into the ground.

I pulled up to the curb in SF's Richmond district and went searching for a phone to call and find out when my housemates would arrive with the keys. The Richmond showed signs of damage -- sidewalk corners buckled up like giant termite mounds, yellow caution tape draped across doorways -- though it wasn't devastated like the Marina District, where whole city blocks had collapsed.

The truth is, the quake shook me up quite a bit, even though I had missed it by a matter of hours (I've told stories of how I was in the shower at the time of the quake; they were fictions, I have to admit now) The ruin cast a palpable vulnerability over the city, and the pall heightened my senses, set me on alert for signs.

I found a cafe around the corner on 35th and Balboa, and went in to use the pay phone. "We'll be there this evening," my roommate-to-be said.

I hung up and went to use the bathroom. Sitting in the closet-cum-watercloset, I worried that I'd gotten myself into a mess. I had no plans except vauge ones "to become a writer." I had no job. I had no family there. I had a place to live and a car, but I had no idea how I would support myself. I'd moved to San Francisco after flipping a coin to decide between there or Seattle. SF won.

Through my worry, another feeling started to emerge: this strange sensation of familiarity and at-homeness that I couldn't quite place. My breast expanded with that feeling one sometimes has that "everything, EVERYTHING, is O.K." Gradually, I focused on the wallpaper. When I recognized it, I started: Toulouse-Lautrec's lithographs of the Moulin Rouge surrounded me as I sat on the pot. "Remember Toulouse-Lautrec," I heard the piano player say. An omen, I thought. A good one.

It was Tolouse-Lautrec that guided me to Houston,TX.

By spring of 1990, I was sick of San Francisco. I had a great job at the Exploratorium Museum, a trove of artistic and thrilling friends who dined and danced together almost every night, an obsessive crush on a robotics artist who actually had a crush on me, too. Life was sweet. Life was fun. Nonetheless, I was depressed.

Fatefully, I applied to graduate schools in Creative Writing. My main criterion for choosing a school was money: whoever gave me the most money, that's where I was going. I had an offer from New York University, which came with 16 points of tuition (whatever that means), a one-semester teaching assistantship (for $1500!?) and personal phone calls full of praise for my work from Sharon Olds and Galway Kinnell. I was rejected by Iowa. Montana and Arizona accepted me, but I didn't want to live in those places. Then Ed Hirsch from the University of Houston called and offered me fellowship on top of fellowship and three guaranteed years of teaching undergraduate comp and lit classes (that once actually sounded like a good thing). I didn't know who Ed Hirsch was at the time, but I knew that I could live richly in Houston on what they were offering me. Ed Hirsch invited me to Houston so that I could check it out before making my decision. They flew me here in April, during Azalea Trail Week. Cheaters!

One of the best advertisements for Houston was the lineless face of the 45 year old hostess on Wroxton Street with whom I stayed. "It's the humidity, honey," she drawled when I looked stunned by how old she said she was. My last afternoon in Houston, I still hadn't made a decision. Mr. Hirsch asked me if it were likely I'd accept their invitation. Not knowing how to make such a decision, and lacking a coin, I went to my hostess's library and randomly pulled a book out of her bookshelf: the 20th anniversary edition of Antaeus Magazine, a now defunct literary journal.

Using the lit mag as one might a Bible, I closed my eyes and flipped open the book to a page, any page, stuck my finger to the page and thought, "This page will help me make my decision." When I opened my eyes, and this is the honest to goodness truth, I saw my finger pointing to a poem by Richard Howard, who taught in the U of H program at the time. "If this isn't a sign, then I don't know what is," I thought. But just in case I had doubt, here is the kicker: Howard's poem was titled, "An Homage to Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec," and the poem mentioned in it a dream.

Who knows what might have happened had I gone to New York, New York? If my dream was any indication, it might not have gone well for me in the Big Apple.

I'm not sure if I should love or hate Toulouse-Lautrec for leading me here. I feel a bit of both, really: love/hate.
I am stunned at the beauty of my daughter, and I wouldn't have had her without my husband, and I wouldn't have met him without Houston.

Right before I graduated, I wrote a poem for Toulouse-Lautric that I liked. I included it in my manuscript. Ed Hirsch, who was somewhat of a mentor to me during my graduate years, praised it during my thesis defense as the best poem in my collection.

I don't necessarily agree with him, but it was a poem that came out whole, as if I already knew by heart and was simply catching the words on paper.

I like to believe that life can be like this, too; what we have in our hearts -- our dreams -- can be captured and realized with minimal effort. That maybe by letting our lives live us, we get out of our own way and live more gracefully, more magically.

Friday, July 15, 2005


Our "crazy" neighbor lady just rang the doorbell and slam-knocked on our door. I was finishing nursing Clara, so I hooked my bra-shirt shut and carried Clara downstairs, imagining Zorca standing on the doorstep, bearing food. (I knew her by her salutation.)

"I brought you some excellent spaghetti!" Zorca yelled on the other side of the door.

I undid the deadbolt and opened to her holding a black electric pot in her hands. She smiled huge. "It's really good."

Because my arms were full with Clara, I invited Zorca to bring the pot upstairs.

"Thank you for the food, Zorca," I said. "And thank you for the last time, too." The last time she rang and slam-knocked, she bore pork with peas. This was her first time upstairs, however.

"Your husband loves you SO much," she said as we climbed the stairs.

This isn't as out of the blue as it sounds. During lunch, David told me about how this morning, while I was at my annual well-woman exam, Zorca came over to borrow a can opener. He lent her one. She came back 10 minutes later to ask him if he could come over and help her open the cans. "You know how cans are different on the bottom than they are on top, so you can't open them from the bottom?" David says.

"Uh huh," I say, although prior to his telling me, I'd no idea that the bottoms of cans were different from the tops.

"Well, she was trying to open them from the bottom."

"Huh," I say. "What's her house like inside?"

Last year, I called the cops on Zorca, before I knew her by name, because I could have sworn she was going to run her White SUV over her grown-up son one overcast afternoon. Could have sworn because I saw her jump into her Ford Explorer, yelling "I-ma gonna keeell you!" Then she gunned her car in the direction of her son. Her son jumped in his own car and gunned back toward her. They played chicken like this for 20 minutes in the empty lot next to our house. By the time 911 arrived, Zorca and her son had retired to her townhouse across the street. This was not the first time I'd seen and heard them fight, although the chicken-fight WAS a first. But it was the last time I called 911.

"Her house is nice inside," David says.

This woman traded two prime lots in Midtown Houston for a new corner townhouse. It might have been a good deal at the time, but now the trade seems ridiculous, what with current Midtown prices per square foot, Zorca having received the short end of the deal. Regardless, she loves her townhome; every day she spends an hour watering her roses and her band-aid width strip of grass. Through the downstairs, street level window, the one with a "nice room for rent" handwritten sign taped to the inside, I've spied a wicker shelf system filled with knicknacks like porcelain white rabbits, fake (or real?) IIadro, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, Spanish Dancer Dolls, ceramic Buddhas. On her balconies, hibiscus and plumeria florish. A windchime with 4 foot long gongs hangs from the lower balconey.

"Zorca wants me to make her a website," David tells me.

"What for?" I ask.

"She's a psychic."

"SHE IS?!" This is interesting news. "I wonder if she knows that we didn't eat the pork and peas," I say.

I think she really IS psychic. She couldn't have picked a better time to come over and tell me how much my husband loves me because I had been reading this sad short story by Charles Baxter about a dissolving marriage, and, while reading, I was worrying about the dim attention I've been paying to David whenever he tries to talk to me lately.

"Thank you for telling me that, Zorca."

"You're welcome," she says. She puts the spaghetti on the countertop. "You wanna do some writing for me about gypsies?" she asks. Rumor from the slumlandlord is that Zorca is, herself, a gypsy.

"Maybe," I say.

"You know, nobody knows about the gypsies. They think we are either thieves or robbers or steal the babies." She kisses Clara's cheeks. "Oooooh you such a cute baby."

"You and your husband should go out and let me babysit," she says as I walk her to the door. "I'm right across the street, you know. But you probably won't do that."

Psychic. She is.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Ruin Came in a Trap (American Puritan)

Today's blog title is the name of a poem I wrote a long time ago. Like in 1993. The first part of the title is an anagram for the second part of the title, the part in parentheses. When I wrote the poem, I wasn't thinking about the Middle East, of bombs bombarding Baghdad, of the dissolution of Babylon. But I like that the poem is prescient this way. I feel good when I'm prescient. Or else, I feel scared.

In my opinion, anyone who supported this current war of George Bush's in the Middle East before it started, and anyone who supports it now, is stupid. Not paying attention to anything but his or her own butt. Anyone who supports this war is not thinking critically. Too much "Dancing with the Stars." Too much "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"

I'll never forget when my dear friend F. outlined the idea for "Who Wants to Be a Millioniare?" for me, before the show existed. F. was developing shows for ABC (nee Buena Vista), and this was one of the shows in development. It was 1991. I listened to her, aghast at what she was describing. Then I told her "it sounds ridiculous. I wouldn't watch it."

As it turns out, this was the beginning of my career as the "negative psychology prognosticator" for F.'s shows in development. If I hated the sound of them, they were sure to be hits.

*** *** ***

Ruin Came in a Trap (American Puritan)

In the beginning, a trick of light: the serpent
coiled around a branch. Eat me,
he whispered, and you shall live forever.

Eve ate, and in her eating, Hunger grew
a womb. She swooned toward Adam, bathing nearby
admiring his symmetrical reflection. Stunned,

he growled, What are you doing here?
With stuttering hands, she offered the apricot,
half-bitten, golden, red veins sweeping outward

from a wooden heart. Though she desired the demon
commanding the garden, she spoke so that breath
could gentle itself, bore this breath deeply; gave air

a body – infant, girl, woman. Kin lived, fought, died,
leaving Eve empty, never sated, never still.

Life is so long.

You, whores of Babylon,
with diseased tongues—thrush-coated, black and blue,
stippled with sores, loving what they lick,

happily wagging and prehensile -- vomit disorder
into our hearts, so that we will remember
the stones beneath Babel and the forgotten ladder.


Wednesday, July 13, 2005


Whenever I have to make a decision, and I'm no good to myself on my own for advice, I flip a coin. I've found this to be a reliable method. I do two out of three, just to be sure that the coin is telling me some sort of truth. I don't know if this method would work for ALL decisions to be made. But it's as good as my opinion, which is as fickle and as sturdy as any coin.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


I'm so fucking happy. And I mean that 196%. The remaining four percent I reserve for my morbid inherent depression (comes with the model); my fascination with the perverse (She taught me to love it, Jael); my deep despair in the state of the world (not the universe, the universe -- like it or not -- is cool); and "other." "Other" being the Mystery, for which I reserve awful amounts of respect.

What more can I say?

To paraphrase my friend Diana (Now-My-Character-Is-Going-to-Kiss-Your-Character Diana), paraphrasing our friend, or hero? Walt Whitman:

Do I contain multitudes? Very well then;
I contain multitudes.

That's how I heard it from the cosmos.

There's a rain storm, a thunder storm, here in Houston, Texas. Thunder over Lightning. It's not frightening.

It's like Thunder (Thunder), Lightning (Lightning).

The way you love


is frightening.


Originally uploaded by xtaforster.
Just so you know: I'm a satisfied woman.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

We Rent

Behold the house: an early 1900s Victorian, shabby on the outside -- to the point of looking haunted -- palatial on the inside. We live in the second-story apartment: Three bedrooms, three bathrooms (one the size of a Manhattan efficiency apartment); 14 foot ceilings; crown moldings; hardwoods with inlaid parquet borders throughout; built-ins, built-ins, built-ins, including beveled mirrors, armoires, and a wall of drawers in the 30x20 foot bathroom. Water-glass windows, central heat and cooling, gas stove, washer/dryer. Location, Location, Location: Midtown Houston (smack between the rival Vietnamese restaurants); one block off the brand new Light Rail; celebrated restaurants replete with interesting drinks, a Saturday organic farmer's market, and world famous soul-food breakfasts less than a five-minute walk away.

All this for less than $1200.00 per month.

Were you to visit us, you would be stung with envy, and I bet before leaving you'd say, "let us know when you're gonna move."

Only, you don't want to live here, really.

First there's our slumlord, who lives in the apartment below us and has the annoying habit of crashing our parties.

Second there are the plagues that come with the house.

Last summer it was the month-and-a-half flea infestation that our slum landlord would not properly deal with until I told him I could be pregnant. I wasn't pregnant, nor did I want to be pregnant at the time, but -- go figure -- it worked to tell him that I COULD be. Or maybe it was the mention of "lawsuit" in the same conversation. Within hours, a certified exterminator was in the house, and that afternoon the fleas were gone.

In an ironic twist, I became pregnant that very same day. I thought I wasn't ovulating, but, as it turns out, I was. Nine months later, Clara and I lay in bed together, recovering from the trauma of giving birth and being born, suffering the rancid stench of a rodent who was decomposing directly beneath the master bedroom floor. "Only thing we can do about the smell," said our slumlord "is wait till it goes away."

After the rodent fully decomposed, there was the fly infestation. "Must be the spring hatch," said the slumlord. Two flyswatters and five days later, the flies were gone.

Then there were the ants -- the millions of them that swarmed out of the stroller undercarriage bag as I was carrying it and Clara to the car one morning. Miraculously, I only got three ant bites (did I mention they were RED ants?) and Clara was unharmed. But by the same afternoon, the red ants had migrated to the red couch in the living room. The slumlord brought up some homemade organic ant killer -- citrus and coconut based -- which was actually very considerate of him, and after a few days the living room was ant-free. But the house wasn't. The ants had surreptitiously traveled to the bedroom. "They like to eat foam core," the slumlord said, when I showed him how they were crawling in between the mattress and the box spring.

My husband tells me our slumlord is scared of me. He should be. I may just slip some biocontaminant into his Brita as payback for all the pain and suffering his negligence has caused my family.

Lest you think "house of plagues" too strong a term here, let me assure you that there was even a flood. Memorial Day Weekend, I lay in our king-size bed with Clara, drifting into sweet, necessary sleep after returning from an overnight in Galveston. Outside, "gale force winds" raged. Buckets of rain began pouring over our city. I thought to myself, "wow, that rain is so loud, it sounds like it's raining inside." I turned to look toward the bedroom door, and, lo and behold!, it WAS raining inside. POURING! Through the attic pull-down stairway door.


Turns out, a bunch of shingles blew off the roof (which the slumlord had promised to fix a year ago) in the gale force winds.

You may be wondering.... the answer is yes, we're looking to move. Our two-year lease is coming to an end. We'd like to buy, so we're assessing our financial situation. It may take a while, but sooner or later, WE'RE OUTTA HERE.

You can start putting your names into the hat now.

Saturday, July 02, 2005


This morning is a typical Houston July morning: before 9 a.m., it's 84 degrees, but it feels like 92, according to There's a breeze out there, but it's not helping: I'm still bathing in my own sweet sweat from walking to the farmer's market two blocks away. Humidity is only in the 70s right now. Weatherman said the humidity will reach the 90s, with 99 degrees predicted as the high temp for today.


I won't forget the day I moved to Houston: August 10, 1990. The first morning I walked outside and felt the heat, the humidity, I bellowed -- to no one -- "YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!" Walking to the convenience store down the street, the air around me felt like a wet wool blanket slathered in mayonnaise.

Weather apologists try to sell the "yeah, but living in Houston is great for one's skin!" story. That's bullshit. Any benefits of the moisture in the air are obliterated by the blistering sunshine plus the appalling air quality (most polluted city in the U.S.!), both of which contribute to the gaping hole in the ozone layer above Space City. If you don't wear sunscreen here, you are taking your already jeopardized life in your own keratoid-covered hands.

I grew up in Southern California, in a mission town, located on the balmy shores of America's answer to the Mediterranean -- the South Pacific Coast -- known for surf spots like Trestles, Doheny and T-Street. In the early 1900's, Laguna Beach was home to the California Plein Air school of painting. This group was inspired by the verdant arroyos stocked with lazy eucalyptus, the breathtaking cliffs racked with fuchsia bouganvillea, the unbelievable blue expanses and, on clear days, the views to Catalina Island.

Today's high there will be 77 degrees.

Why don't you just go back there, then?

Because I love to suffer, and I'm good at it, too. I'm a lapsed Catholic, which means I don't have the church anymore to flog my soul. Nature abhors a vacuum and all that. The Houston Summer is my hairshirt.

But the weather isn't the only thing that keeps me here. I love how no-zoning laws result in streets that go like this: church, convenience store, adult bookstore, seeded lot, restaurant, elementary school, candy store, single family dwelling, church, convenience store, adult bookstore....

It makes no rational sense, this city. What reason-minded type of folk build their lives in a swampy, croc-infested, floodplain rife with mosquitoes and cockroaches the size of Ford Fiestas?

People like me, I guess.