Wednesday, February 28, 2007


When I was a teenager, I was mostly good. I did not smoke; I did not drink; I did not have sex. I received good grades. But there was one year -- the year before my sophomore year in high school -- when I was very, very bad. A year when I swiped things. Acquired things surreptitiously. Stole, to be exact. Shoplifted to be exacter.

I only shoplifted from one store: the Beauty Supply store in my hometown. I shoplifted there because it was so easy, like falling off a wall. The owner crammed too many aisles comprised of high shelves into a narrow shoebox-like space -- a shoplifter's paradise really.

The largest thing I ever stole was a $90.00 fake nail kit. When my mom found it in the bathroom drawer and asked me how in the world I'd acquired a $90 nail kit, I told her I bought it on sale.

Along with only shoplifting from one store, I only stole when I was with a friend, one friend in particular: Sophia Cordani. Sophia Cordani had been my best friend since third grade, when she transferred to our school from New Jersey. Her mother and father spoke Italian to one another at dinner. Her father had an Alpha Romeo in the garage, and whenever I spent the night with Sophia, we had sausage and peppers or spaghetti with cream and peas for dinner. After dinner, we listened to opera with her mother, before retiring to Sophia's bedroom with the pink chiffon "princess style" canopy bed.

By the time we were in fifth grade, Sophia could not walk down the street in our hometown without grown men stopping to stare at her as she passed by. My own father called her "that dirty Italian," as if she deserved infamy simply because she was beautiful beyond belief as a prepubescent girl.

Probably because of the lust she inspired in the entire male population, her parents decided to send her to an all-girls high school about 45 minutes away from our town, a particularly idiotic choice, which, rather than alleviating their fears regarding their daughter, caused them to metastasize. Sophia grew incredibly boy crazy, as any teenage girl starved of male companionship would. And she had her pick of male companionship believe me.

Because I went to the nearby public high school, Sophia and I rarely saw each other after our eighth grade graduation. The end of our friendship began the summer before our sophomore year. It was a summer of stealing nail files and polishes, expensive hairbrushes, a curling iron, the overpriced nail kit, false eyelashes, small tubes of hot oil. Each time I left the Beauty Supply store with my beach bag full of loot, I would say a Rosary to counteract the slew of new sins clouding my fledgling soul.

A few weeks before our sophomore year was slated to begin, we went shopping for clothes at the Mission Viejo Mall. Actually, Sophia wore a school uniform to her all-girls Catholic high school, so she was really there to steal, I suppose. She really wanted to go to Montgomery Ward, a store that no self-respecting teenager would frequent without being dragged there by a parent. I humored her, and soon we were roaming the beauty supply aisle, which was low, the shelves only coming up to our breasts. Sophia pulled a pair of cuticle cutters off its hook and handed it to me. "Here," she said, "put this in your bag."

"No way!" I said. "This store has security, Sophia."

"Chicken!" she said, dropping it in her own Mexican mesh bag. It wasn't enough that she stole things; she had to steal them in her see-through beach bag.

In that moment, I realized that Sophia had a bonafide problem. For her, stealing wasn't about getting free stuff; it was about the pleasure of getting away with breaking the law. While there may not seem to be one, there is a major difference between these two things in the mind of a teenage shoplifter.

That day was the official end of my friendship with Sophia, although not in any conscious sense. I think that more than anything, I felt sad that we had so little in common anymore. If my not wanting to steal a pair of cuticle cutters from Montgomery Ward made me a chicken in her eyes, then our friendship needed to end.

That much I knew.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Last Year at This Time

Last year at this time, David was preparing for two art shows of his work, both for Fotofest, both on the same weekend. The first was his installation in the small gallery at Diverseworks, called Urban Cathedral. The first two images are from that show. For the show, he built a false floor in the gallery, installed three light boxes underneath the floor, and installed transparencies of the freeway pattern in each lightbox. The floor and walls were carpeted with astroturf. The "windows" on the wall were laminated patterns of freeways.

The second was his show at Deborah Colton gallery, It's All Plastic. The photo featured here is called Stingray.


Because I'm muy white, almost as white as they come, people don't understand why my son has a Hispanic name. At first, I bet they assume that my husband is Hispanic, but he's not. According to him, he's Semitic.

When, toward an explanation, I tell people that I'm of Irish-Mexican descent, then they understand. Sort of. I mean, they don't really believe that I have Mexican blood, unless they're Mexican themselves. I'm really of Irish, English and Mexican descent, but that's too much of a mouthful, so I just say Irish Mexican. Furthermore, it shortens to Irexican, a term I learned from another Irish Mexican. In early California, the Anglo men married Mexican woman, simple as that; therefore, Irexicans are a larger American subgroup than one might initially believe.

More than any other reason, Diego is named so because my husband loves this name and he lobbied for it heartily. If Diego is named for anybody specific, he is named for Juan Diego, the Indian to whom the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared, the one she asked to build her a church. The Virgin of Guadalupe holds the highest place of deity in my family of origin for a variety of reasons, one being that we grew up on Guadalupe Street, another being her gift of performing miracles for my family.

After he was born and named, my uncle Joe called me to tell me how much he loved the name. "Diego is my hero!" he said.

Somewhat confused, I asked "What do you mean your hero?"

"Don Diego de la Vega," he said. "My hero."

"Who was Don Diego de la Vega?" I said.


That's cool, too.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


Diego's name could have been Oscar; it was my #1 choice during his first trimester.

Beware of telling people names you're considering for your baby before the baby is born. Besides being bad luck in some astral planes, it's also a pain in the butt to have to listen to people's personal associations regarding your choices. Although, to be honest, that's one of the reasons you're telling people; either consciously or unconsciously, you want to know their associations. Because love begins with a name. In a way. So does hate. So one must, as in all things, choose wisely.

Oscar was one of my first loves. Oscar Rosales. I met him playing AYSO soccer. One cold afternoon at practice, our girls' team scrimmaged his boys' team. It was nearing dinner, a cold dusk; coastal fog started drifting across the field. We had been practicing for an hour already before the scrimmage started. Oscar played forward and was considered the best ball handler in San Juan Capistrano. I played goalie. I remember the feeling of sheer dread I had watching him approach the goal, dribbling the ball deftly with his Adidas cleats. Our own forwards had followed him because we needed all our defensive forces to fight his formidable power. Normally, we had Leah helping me defend the goal box while our forwards fought midfield, but today, she was too busy running after Oscar to have a spare moment to gossip. Even with all our resources, it seemed he could not be stopped.

He approached, he drove, he kicked the ball. Slammed it. Pummeled it Fired it. You name it. The ball came at the goal like a cannonball. I had to dive for it. Miracle of miracles, I blocked his shot. For a moment after that, I couldn’t hear anything. The adrenaline in my blood was so high, it was muting out the world's sound. Or else, it really was quiet and frozen for a minute, time. Next, it was like the film started again, and my team was yelling and jumping up and down. My coach, clapping and pumping her fist in the air, said, "Way to go, Christa!"

Honestly, until that moment, Oscar Rosales was not attractive to me at all; in fact, he was sort of scary looking. He was short, almost squat, had black curly hair, freckles, lots of hair on his body. He had a mustache -- at fourteen!

I held the ball in my hands for a beat, soaking in the feeling of triumph, one of the first I ever experienced. Then, I lob-kicked the ball downfield. Before turning and running after it, Oscar ran over to the goal box. "Good save," he said to me. He smiled. I saw that his eyes were impossibly green, his smile wide and sincere. He smittened me. In one moment, I went from being freaked out by him to being obsessively in love with him; I remained that way for seven years.

Oscar had the same girlfriend throughout high school, Allison. She was nice. I hated her and she hated me. Because even though Oscar and I never so much as danced together, he was one of my best friends throughout high school, and Allison knew that I loved him with a passion that was unmatched by any other girl -- other than her, of course. Oscar and Allison got married within two years after their high school graduation. I'm sure they are still married.

His second trimester, my first choice for Diego was Oedipus.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

David's sick. It's Saturday, and usually we do all sorts of cool things as a family on Saturdays. But today, he's been groaning in bed all morning (it's only 12 noon) and I have been with the children. They're sick, too, although they're at the end of their colds.

Clara, Diego and I got up at 6, watched some Dora video about dancing to rescue Swiper, their kleptomaniac friend (these episodes are WAY too long). Then we played with the plastic Little People House. Clara loves this toy from Grandma MJ. "Mommy, sit! Daddy sit! Mommy, eat!, Daddy, eat!" she says, moving the plastic figurines around the little dining table. Around 8 a.m., Diego went down for a nap, and Clara and I drove to the farmer's market; we normally walk, but it's raining. We bought some Katz Coffee, some fresh broccoli, fennel, red leaf lettuce; some of Monica Pope's red pepper and walnut puree, farro, hummus, and some fresh herbed pita chips. We got home, put the stuff away, made breakfast -- eggs, cheese, and turkey sausage burritos (can I get an eeeeww from my vegan friends?), washed the dishes. Then it was 9 a.m.

Since then, we've been creating dances, rhymes, obstacle courses, listening to Indian filmi music, dancing some more, and generally trying to make the day pass as painlessly as possible, given that we're stuck inside with a sick daddy asleep in the bedroom.

I'm trying to remember what my brothers and sister and I did when we were little and stuck inside all day. Fought, of course. Built forts. Watched TV. Fought some more. Made popcorn. Drove my mom nuts (YOU KIDS ARE GONNA DRIVE ME CRAZY!). First of all, there were hardly any rainy days in Southern California; you know the song, right? Secondly, when it did rain, it didn't rain a whole lot. So I'm sure we went outside on rainy days because they were so exotic, so novel.

One of the differences between my childhood and my children's childhood is that my siblings and I lived in a small town, in a house with two yards, one in back and one in front, up on a hill where we knew all our neighbors. I used to ride my bike to the beach, which was four miles from my house. I rode on the bike trail built on the San Juan Creek flood control, where homeless men (we called them hobos) tended their fires and cooked their food in the cans set directly in the flames. My children live in Midtown Houston, which not long ago was a ghostly ghetto, though now it sports high priced lofts and a Starbucks. Our house is surrounded by major city streets -- Milam, Travis, Westheimer and Alabama -- and while there's a small patch of grass out front, most of the year it's full of stinging nettles and red ants. Not to mention the plethora of transient foot traffic (way more since Katrina) on our sidewalk, making its way to the rail line one block over. Simply put, where we live is not kid-friendly.

And I admit that I find myself sometimes fantasizing about a suburban home with a large yard where my kids can run around and throw balls hard and far.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Fun As It Comes

I got called home from the seximals at Brasil, their last "show" ever because Tony's moving to Kosovo to be with his wife Emily, who works for the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe). I love the seximals, so when David called to tell me Diego was crying non-stop and would I please come home (David's really sick, otherwise he would have taken care of it), I felt sad sad sad. I love to watch Tony play the piano; when he does, a part of him that I rarely get to see shines through, so understated he is so much of the time. But when he plays music, he becomes FIERCE. I love it. Plus, I got to hang out with Emily who is not only the best dancer on the dance floor (not that there's any dancing to the seximals at Brasil), but also one of the smartest and most beautiful women I know. I'm not hyperbolizing here.

I got home to Diego crying and crying because he's a big fat baby. Literally. So I gave him some boobie, which immediately calmed him down. But every time I tried to set him back to bed, the wail, OH! the wail he let out. So he came out to the living room with me because I am not ready to go to bed yet.

I was going to write tonight about memories of friends, but Diego is here next to me, yawning, kicking me and farting smelly farts, and he's just too present for me to do anything but get back to him.

Here's a picture we just took for you to enjoy:

Good night now.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


When was the last time I got excited about a presidential race? Jerry Brown, probably. 1992. The only reason I was excited, though, wasn't because I thought he would win -- I knew he wouldn't -- but because I knew him personally. I met him when I was 11 years old, at a cattle round up out the Ortega Highway at Rancho Mission Viejo. The Moiso family owned the ranch at that point (still do), making them gazillionaires, and they must have been financial supporters of his because every year for a while he was there, hanging out near the corral where cowboys were castrating calves.

When I moved to San Francisco at the end of the 80s, I lived with my best friend's oldest sister, Cathy Calfo. Cathy is a political wunderkind in California, a genius in grass-roots movements. At the time I lived with her (as her children's nanny), she was serving as the Vice-Chair of the California Democratic Party. Jerry Brown was the Chair. He was always coming over for dinner to strategize with Cathy about their next moves. He seemed to know EVERYBODY in the entire world. When he found out I was a writer, he asked me who my favorites were. At the time, Gabriel Garcia Marquez was one of my heroes.

"I'll introduce you to him," Jerry said. I called him Jerry. I don't know why I acted with such disrespect, but if you know the guy, he's more a Jerry than a Governor.

If you know the guy, you know that he's one of the smartest people you will ever meet. Which is exactly why I knew he would not become President of the United States. He was always coming up with new ideas, always thinking of ways to make things better, always strategizing, always caring about something huge and important and meaningful. He was so passionate, I couldn't see him in the job.

Tonight, I had the honor of meeting Barak Obama at a fundraiser in Houston. He, too, is obviously ultra-intelligent. He's clearly passionate, a risk-taker. He seems more stately than Jerry Brown, who was in fact nicknamed Governor Moonbeam when he served as governor of California from '75 to '83.

When Obama entered the room, the electricity bumped up several amperes. Like Brown, Obama spoke like a real person, a real smart person. He's aiming his campaign at those people who have grown cynical and disenfranchised regarding American politics over the past howevermanyyears. (That would be me.) He spoke succinctly but powerfully about health care, education and energy, three hot issues, surely. It's easy to sound off about these things. But I found myself thinking "yes! exactly!" several times while listening to him. I can't remember the last time I felt that way while listening to a politician.

I don't know if he'll win the nomination or not; however, I'm so glad he's put his self in the running. Finally. Someone courageous, intelligent, kind and stately, yes, someone presidential.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Happy Birthday Baby

Two years ago, Clara was born by C-section. She was due on March 5, but because of some difficulties I had with low amniotic fluid during the last months of pregnancy, she came out on February 21 instead. The safe zones for amniotic fluid fall between 5 and 25. At around month 7, my fluid had fallen to 11. She and I had to be monitored by ultrasound every two weeks until she was born. On the morning of her birth, I saw my OB, who checked to see if my cervix was dialated. It wasn't. "I'll see you soon, I suppose," she said.

That same morning, I saw my perinatalist, who was located on the Woman's Hospital of Texas campus, too. She measured my fluid and kept quiet the duration. "My OB says I'll be having the baby next week sometime, probably," I said, making conversation.

"Oh you better have it before then," she said. "You're fluid's at 5."

"Like when?" I asked.

"Like today," she said.

I looked at David. It was a Monday morning. The previous Friday, I had said goodbye to my teacher friends because I felt like the baby was going to come at any moment, and I didn't want it to be while I was teaching my Sophomore English Lit. class. "Fine," I told the doctor.

And so it was. So very, very fine.

Happy Birthday, Clara. I love you.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Francie Calfo and Christa Forster

Monday, February 19, 2007

Bigger, Fatter, NOT Better

It pains me to note that the Fisher Price Little People I played with as a child were a lot sexier than the ones my daughter plays with now. It seems that Fisher Price is currently crafting their toys to reflect a more realistic America: multi-cultural and fatter than ever. Fisher Price fashions the new Little People out of plastic instead of wood, and they have them wearing hideous outfits and carrying things like cell phones and backpacks.

Here are the Little People I played with:

Just look at the 1960's mama's figure: currrvey.

And the new ones that my daughter plays with:

I almost spent $144 on a huge lot of vintage Little People, including the house, the school, the barn and the garage, but then I stopped myself because what if my daughter LIKES the new ones?

My walk down memory lane on Ebay rustled up this baby: The Kenner Tree House, featuring the Tree Tots. Mem-OH-ries! I'd love to get one of these, but they're fetching the big bucks.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

It's Not Cable, It's Network TV

Tonight David and I watched the last hour of Prime Suspect: the Last Witness. We missed the first hour because we were watching Brothers and Sisters, the ABC hit written by playwright John Robin Baitz. Brothers and Sisters trumps any other TV Sunday nights at our house, not the least because of the great cast, including Sally Fields, Calista Flockhart, Rachel Griffiths and Rob Lowe. But really it's the writing that rocks. Tonight's show featured the word "slattern" and when was the last time you heard that word on prime time? Or saw two guys making out? On network, mind you.

I first saw Prime Suspect in 1991 on PBS. 15 years ago. Wow. I remember being stunned by how much it thrilled me to watch it. I fell in love with Helen Mirren as Detective Jane Tennyson, the policewoman of Scotland Yard who solves serial murder mysteries while having to deal with sexist B.S. from her male comrades. I'm so glad that she's being lauded now by the media: the New Yorker article, the cover of the New York Times Magazine. She deserves it royally.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Favorite School Teachers

Mrs. Hinton, 1st grade
Sr. Grace, 2nd grade
Sr. Mary Roch, 3rd grade
Mrs. Monahan, 6 grade
Sr. Noreen, 5th grade
Sr. Alexandra, 7th grade
Sr. Mary Martin, 8th grade
Mr. Dye, Algebra II/Trigonometry
Mr. Mohit, Math Analysis
Mrs. Berkshire, 9th grade English
Mr. Victor, 12th grade English AP
Mr. Bob Hoffman, Social Science
Mr. Perry, Choir Director
Renee Lacouage, Voice teacher
Dr. Carothers, Romanticism
Dr. Gail Wronsky, Poetry Workshop 101
Robert Reichle, Literary Theory
Jaime Stover, Dance Exercise, Yoga
Father Mike, SJ, Psychology and Hermeneutics
Paul Salamunovich, LMU Choral Director
Dr. Linda Bannister, Stylistics
Adam Zagajewski, Poetry Workshop and Modern Thought
Ed Hirsch, Poetry Workshop and Contemporary American Poetry
Dr. Sidyney Berger, Acting and Directing Theory
Rosellen Brown, Non-Fiction Workshop

Friday, February 16, 2007

First Poem

I began writing when I was about seven. I clearly remember composing my first poem while riding my bike one afternoon before dinner.

It was a typical California day: beautiful. The late afternoon sun bathed the San Juan Capistrano valley with a golden hue that made everything look heartbreaking. When the sun set over the ocean, the Western sky burnt orange, turning the hills into black silhouettes of themselves. To the east, indigo intensified the stars, the planets, the moon. I had no idea how lucky I was to live amidst such natural beauty. But I could feel the beauty in my body as I lived within it, and my body sang about it without even trying.

As I rode my bike, the pedals provided a rhythm to which I found myself setting words about birds, sky, leaves, god, flowers, heart, love, loneliness and loss. I remember being surprised by the way the poem was coming to me, fully formed as they say. It felt new and strange and definitely like a gift, and I pedaled home as fast as I could to write it down on a piece of paper so as not to lose it.

I don't know what happened to the poem after I wrote it down, but the memory of writing it sticks with me as clearly as if it had happened yesterday.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


The young man beneath the jacaranda walked home
finally because he had hunger.

Walnuts still fell each spring in the school yard.

The vicar ordered new stones for the cathedral.

Dodo died.

The sewage-flooded shores
of Southern California
were swept by children
who wanted to cure the sea.

Seven hours ago, a woman
sat in the dark, watching
a wedding and a funeral,

lovers everywhere rose from bed --

some of them wept; some devoured
bits of their dreams in windows
that faced the sea; some cursed
the dividing hour between
their toil and their taking-away,
lit a cigarette and drug
in smoke to kill time.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Best Worst Valentine

Years ago now (thank god!) I was dating a man who was the best worst boyfriend I ever had. He was handsome, smart, talented, and MEAN. One Valentine's day, he completely failed to give me any kind of special love: no card, no gift, no thoughtful meal, no nothing. As I sat with him at the kitchen table after giving him a card with lightning bolts raining down on a Southwestern landscape (I thought it was a symbol of our electrical chemistry; it might as well have been the harbinger of our going up in smoke), he droned on about what a lame holiday it was, how it was a holiday crafted by Hallmark, that whole nine-yard cliché.

I mean who the hell cares if it's a holiday created by a card company? It's still an opportunity to let your loved one know you love him or her. You don't have to buy a hallmark card to do so. And furthermore, I don't even think the Hallmark part rings true; it's just an excuse for lovers who don't really love. It's an excuse for haters.

So I'm sitting in our kitchen, crying because I've tried to make the day somewhat special -- the card, the special meal -- and he hasn't even bothered to say "Happy Valentine's Day" and give me a kiss, and I think to myself, "this is the last straw. This guy is SHIT;" still, it takes another five months for me to extricate myself from his cheating heart. And I'm crying hard because I feel his cold heart growing colder. So I drive, snot streaming down my face, to Fiesta -- the supermarket around the corner. I'm getting a bottle of wine in which to drown my sorrow. In the checkout line, I can't even look at the checker because my eyes are buried underneath my swollen eye sockets. I can only stare down at the check-writing platform and wait for my transaction to be over. Tears fall from my face to the platform, despite my best efforts to keep them in.

Suddenly, a red rose appears in my peripheral vision. I suck my snot back into my nose and look up to see the store manager extending a long stem red rose toward me. "Happy Valentine's Day," he says. He hands me the rose. "For you."

I break into a sob so pitiful three checkout lanes stop their transactions to stare at me.

I tried to thank the manager, but my heart broke so loudly I couldn't muster any words. I left the store, hyperventilating, holding the rose, completely wrecked by the fact that I'd received more kindness from a stranger than I did from my own so-called boyfriend.

Best Worst Valentine's Day EVER.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Grammar, C-

Today I actually used the word sensitiver. I told the Romanian woman who was waxing me, "redheads are sensitiver to pain." I used to be an English teacher. There's a part of me that could give a flying fuck about grammar, the same part who loves to use words like sensitiver.

The majority of me, however, loves the grammar.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Not Another Jedi Mind Trick

My father is fond of buying American Indian jewelry for me. Unless I'm with him to pick it out, it's usually hideous: kokopelli earrings with multicolored stone insets or something like that. When I visit my family in California over the winter holidays, sometimes he takes me to his favorite jewelry store in SJC, Zia Jewelry, to let me pick out my own stuff. One of my favorite gifts in recent years was a necklace, earring and bracelet set made from sterling silver and white opal: simple earrings, a "tennis" bracelet with rectangular white opal baguettes, and a silver ouroboros inlaid with white opal.

One winter night, I wore the necklace and bracelet to a theater show at the high school where I used to teach. After I got home from the show, David and I were sitting on the green couch, chatting about our day. He looked at my necklace and said, "That really is a pretty necklace."

"Thanks," I said, unconsciously feeling for the bracelet on my wrist. It wasn't there! I ran down to my car and looked to see if it had fallen off while I was driving home. Retracing my steps from the car to the front door, I replayed the entire evening in my mind, desperate to pinpoint the moment the bracelet had fallen off. I called the restaurant where I'd met David and his mom for dinner before heading off to the theater by myself. They were cleaning up and hadn't found it. I figured it must have fallen off in the theater. I would go look for it tomorrow.

That night in bed, I fretted over the loss of my bracelet. My father and I have a difficult relationship, and the gifts he gives me are loaded with complex feelings and meanings for me. In fact, I felt so bereft about the bracelet's loss that I started thinking to myself, "if I can't deal with the loss of this present from my dad, how in the world am I going to deal with the loss of my dad when he dies?" I know; it's morbid, but it's how my mind was working at the moment.

I turned to David and said, "My molecules are still on that bracelet. I'm gonna stay connected to them and I'm gonna find that bracelet."

He laughed and said, "Okay."

The next day, I went to teach my first two classes, waiting until my free third period to head toward the theater. On my way across campus, I told myself that I was going to follow the energy of my molecules. I would just let my body go where it was pulled. I had to cross the street to get to the middle school campus. When I got to the parking lot by the theater, I peeled away from the theater toward the lot where I'd parked the night before. In the middle of the parking slots was a small grassy esplanade. With a surety I cannot explain, I walked to the esplanade, took a couple steps on the grass, stopped, looked down, and at my feet lay my bracelet. When I saw it, I almost passed out. MY BRACELET! I could not believe that I'd found it not by "looking" but by "feeling." I picked it up, ran back across the street to the high school campus, straight to my office, where I tried to convey my sense of wonder to my two office mates.

They stared at me as if I were crazy. Given all my babbling about molecules and energy and finding-by-feeling, I can understand; nevertheless, it was a true, real, and mind-expanding experience for me, and it amplified my respect for psychic abilities, my own and other people's.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Girls Who Wear Glasses

When I was little, I strained to have blurry vision because I wanted to wear glasses, specifically black horn-rimmed ones. I spent 10 minutes a day crossing my eyes on purpose, hoping that as a result the optometrist would tell my mom that I needed glasses, stat. Now that I do need them, and do wear them -- still for reading only, but I could (and should) use them regularly -- I strain to focus without them, spending ten minutes a day doing eye exercises in hope that I might stall an ensuing blindness.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

On Catharsis

David and I tried to go see "Volver" tonight, but it was sold out. We went to the House of Te instead, in the old Washateria on Fairview and Woodhead. The House of Te was offering free mah-jong lessons, and a variety of people, of various ages -- from a 13 year boy to a 45 year old mom -- were sitting around a large table learning how to play. We did not partake of that special treat. We sat in a corner by the window, drank our tea and talked.

I talked about how getting out of the house (my mom is visiting, hence babysitting) shifts my consciousness so that I can feel my stress in a whole different way: I get this jumpy, panicky feeling, as the stress rises through my limbs to my chest area. A feeling of relief follows as I notice the stress leaving, evaporating from my body

"Is it an enjoyable feeling?" David asked.

"It's cathartic," I said.

When we got home, my mom was watching "The Proposition." The Proposition happens to be one of my favorite movies ever, and David and I arrived home near the ending, one of the most awesome endings ever. I sat down with my mom and watched.

"Why do you like this movie so much?" she said.

"It's an allegory," I said. "Shhhhhhhh."

If you've seen the movie, then you know that the ending is like a Flannery O'Connor short story ending. The screenplay for "The Proposition" was written by Nick Cave, and the soundtrack was, too, which is why the music adds as much meaning to the story as the writing and the imagery do.

As my mom headed off for bed, I asked her if she liked it. She said "Yeah, it's a pretty good movie...what's the allegory?"

"It's about good versus evil, both evil that looks like evil and evil that doesn't look like evil. The last words the main characters, Morris and Martha, speak...." Well, I don't want to give away the ending. If I did, I'd ruin the catharsis*, and I think everyone should see this movie because of said catharsis and the message said catharsis viscerally punches into the heart.

After my mom left the room, I got up to get a drink of water, and on my way to the kitchen, I thought about the other movies I've loved because they were classically cathartic. Here are five that come quickly to mind. Please add to the list if you like.

The Proposition
Open Water
Raise the Red Lantern
A Praire Home Companion (lighter, but cathartic all the same)
Little Miss Sunshine (boffo!)

*earlier tonight, I described catharsis during my conversation with David as empathetic horror. And yes it felt good. But good because it's a release of horror, horror that I carry inside me, horror that falls under the umbrella of Stress. The feeling is one of release.

Here is how defines catharsis:

1.A purifying or figurative cleansing of the emotions, especially pity and fear, described by Aristotle as an effect of tragic drama on its audience.

2. A release of emotional tension, as after an overwhelming experience, that restores or refreshes the spirit.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Hot Mama

My parents divorced in 1987, but before they did, they were married 21 years. Their wedding anniversary was October 3, and sometimes on that day my mother would put on her wedding dress and greet my father in it when he came home. I remember one time watching her put on her makeup, do her hair. Then she put on her wedding dress. "Ha!" she crowed, "it still fits! How do you like THEM apples?"

My mother used sayings like "how do you like them apples," and she would use them at weird times. She'd say "Brother, can you spare a dime?" Only she'd say it like, "Oh Brother! Can you spare a dime!" Like "Geeze! Get a load of that!"

One of her more obscure sayings -- "Are you nervous, Harry?" -- she'd use at times when no one was nervous and no one was Harry.

My mom is a self described girl-next-door type. Her name, Mary Jane, might be the most girl-next-store name a girl can be named.

To me, of course, she's one of the most beautiful women in the world. All the beneficent superlatives apply: most generous, most caring, affectionate, loving, sweet, funny, supportive, inspring women in the world.

Thank you, Universe.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

20 Favorite Songs from the 70s

My Sharona, the Knack
Forever Young, Bob Dylan
You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, Bob Dylan
Turn to Stone, ELO
Surrender, Cheap Trick
Heart of Glass, Blondie
Buckets of Rain, Bob Dylan
Help Me, Joni Mitchell
Blue, Joni Mitchell
(Our Love) Don't Throw It All Away, Andy Gibb
Boogie Wonderland, Earth, Wind and Fire
Sultans Of Swing, Dire Straits
Chuck E's in Love, Rickie Lee Jones
I Was Made For Lovin' You, Kiss
Don't Bring Me Down, Electric Light Orchestra
Hot Child In The City, Nick Gilder
I Go Crazy, Paul Davis
Boogie Oogie Oogie, A Taste Of Honey
Here You Come Again, Dolly Parton
You're the One that I Want, John Travolta and Olivia Newton John

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Blue Thunder

When I turned 16, my dad gave me my first car: a 1965 Ford Ranchero. It had been the delivery truck for the NAPA Auto Parts store he owned with his brother. When he came home one afternoon and told me my new car was in the driveway, I nearly broke my leg running outside.

I don't know what I was expecting, but I certainly wasn't expecting a canary yellow truck with fat racing stripes running down the bed, and a giant, plastic NAPA hat perched atop the cab. When I saw it, I started crying.

"What's the matter?" my dad said, acting all surprised.

"Is that really it?" I said. I imagined the laughter that would follow me in and out of the parking lot of Capistrano Valley High School.

"Well goddamn, Christa," he said. "If you don't want a car, I won't give it to you."

"I DO want a car," I said. "But...."

"But what?" he said.

"But I can't drive that car, dad."

"Why not?" he said.

"Everyone will laugh at me," I said. Tears welled up in my eyes.

"Okay," he said, "I'll take the hat off."

In the end, he had the truck redone for me, the body painted cobalt blue, the cab white. He redid the interior, too. After I left for college, my brother Marco drove it.

My dad named the car Blue Thunder, because, he said, we were always storming around town in it. In truth, it was probably the coolest car in my high school parking lot, although I didn't know it at the time.

Here's a picture of the 1965 Ford Ranchero:

Sunday, February 04, 2007

American Duty

Every Sunday afternoon, and every Monday night in my house, the white noise of NFL football served as background to our playing, our doing homework, our fighting with one another. There was no negotiating with my father about watching something else on Monday nights. For example, Little House on the Prarie aired on Mondays, and as we owned only one television, I often wound up in tears because my father wouldn't let me watch my show.

I hated football.

Now whenever I hear the roar of a televised crowd, the clacking of helmets and shoulder pads, the urgency of the sports commentators, I feel nostalgia for my childhood, for those afternoons spent playing keep away on the front lawn with my brothers on Sunday afternoons. Every 15 minutes, they'd yell "Dad!? What's the score?" through the screened windows into the family room, where my dad relaxed on the couch, reading the paper and watching a game.

Today, Superbowl Sunday, I did my American duty: our family went to a Superbowl Sunday party. The hostess, my friend Diana, is a Prince fan, hence her justification for hosting the party. I, however, felt relief that we had somewhere to go. As much as I am indifferent to the game, there is a visceral comfort in participating in the rituals of this day: the salty snacks, the half-hearted banter, the cold beer, the half-time show, the much-anticipated commercials.

Tomorrow, NFL football will fade back into the realm of meaninglessness for me. But today, it matters; I care; and my team is winning. Hoooo Yeah!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Friday, February 02, 2007

My First Poet

When I was seven, my interest in reading migrated from the bookshelves in my room to the bookshelves in our hallway, where my mom and dad kept their books, mostly antiques handed down from generation to generation, books about land surveys and war correspondences. My dad read nothing but the daily newspaper, Sunset Magazine, Time and Playboy. My mom liked John Jakes or John Jakes rip-off novels. However, she did have a small cache of literary books in the hall bookshelves, including a first edition of Robert Frost's IN THE CLEARING, and a smallish anthology of Modern Poetry.

The anthology measured 4"x 6"x3", perfect proportions for my child-hands. I appropriated the book and read it everywhere, at the dinner table, at the bathroom counter, in my bed, on the floor in the living room near the fireplace, outside on the lawn, in the white oak tree, in the station wagon on the freeway. After about a week, my mom noticed that I was attached to the book, so she read me her favorite poem from it: e.e. cummings' "Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town."

I'm still not sure if e.e. cummings became my first favorite poet because my mom loved him or because I loved him in my own right. When I was in graduate school, nobody ever talked about e.e. cummings, as if he were some sort of eccentric carny who happened to have published a boatload of wacky poems. I kept him close to my chest, rarely mentioning him in the company of other students, guarding him in my heart's shrine. After graduate school, I read him again every day. When I lived on Pinedale, I taped one of his poems to my bathroom cabinet, the one I looked at whenever I sat down to use the toilet. Everyday I read his poem like a prayer. Everyday I blessed him for blessing me.


i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Parent Trap

Earlier today I carried my sleeping 5-month old to his bed for a nap, thinking as I gazed at his sleeping face how unutterably dear he is to me. Looking at him, I felt ineffable warmth as I held him in the security of my arms. Then I returned to the family room, where I found my 23-month old daughter woofing down a bunch of tiny white teething tablets she had managed to wrestle out of their childproof bottle. As I screamed for her to Stop! Eating! Them! She shoved them quicker into her mouth; matter of fact, she raced me to them as I frantically plucked them off the floor. In a span of one minute, I’d gone from embracing mother love to hysterical mother panic at the thought that my daughter might die from ingesting – how many?!! – teething tablets. Poison Control assured me she wouldn’t die, although she might get really, really hyper from all the sugar in those Little Teethers.

“Momma,” said Michael from Poison Control, “I’ve had kids eat 100 of those things without any change in their behavior. Do you think she ate 100?”

“No,” I said.

“What’s she doing right now?” he said.


“Okay. Call me back if anything changes,” he said.

At best, parenthood is paradoxical. Life and death share the same wall, a thin wall, almost made of mosquito netting. Everyday as a parent, I hold in my heart feelings of security and vulnerability simultaneously; the existential confusion this emotional state can cause is enough to drive a person crazy – and has!

Let's talk about Sylvia Plath for a moment. Everybody knows who she is, right? THE BELL JAR -- which I haven't read. I have read her poetry; ARIEL, for example. Sylvia Plath was indeed mad, with rage at least, as anyone whose read her poetry can attest to. Perhaps most people know that she killed herself by sticking her head in an oven, leaving behind two children and a philandering husband. Perhaps she is one of those people who "should never have become a parent in the first place," a phrase I've heard said about other people too often. Because if she is one of those people, then perhaps I am, too; because there have been days since becoming a mother when, let me assure you, I have known the desire to stick my head in an oven and MAKE THE MADNESS END.

But then I'd miss out on seeing my children everyday, and that would be sadder than being dead.