There are the simple things, like boot versus trunk
or toe-mah-toe sauce versus ketchup.
(Catsup? Does anyone spell it that way, anymore?)
That first time you told me you had the shits,
and I was alarmed.
When my sister killed her interview,
you were alarmed,
then turned around and murdered your burger.
Who sings that song, “I Got You Babe”?
Sonny and … Sure.
Sure. That’s not how you spell it.
Sure! Sure! You say. It’s Sure.
And then your dad offered me a rissole,
which sounded like rizzle,
at the Ari, which sounded like aria,
but was really the RSL,
which is kind of like an Elk’s Lodge,
except I don’t really know what Elk’s Lodges are
but basically families go there for affordable food and space.
Remember we played the pokeys at the Ari?
At first I thought you were inviting me
to engage in illicit acts at the family gathering
(I wouldn’t put it past you, you dirty girl)
but the pokeys are what we call slot machines, slots,
which, come to think of it, do not
sound so innocent, either.
Howyadoon? Four syllables shrunk to two,
your favorite trick.
Reckon it will rain? Grab the brollie.
I feel like bogan is a slang I shouldn’t use,
just like you should maybe stay away
from calling anyone white trash.
(It isn’t very nice.)
We both dislike pikers, except I didn’t know
I disliked pikers, I just knew I hated flakes.
We look into each other’s eyes, and you say,
“Sometimes I think you don’t understand me!”
and I stare back at you and reply
“I don’t understand you.”
How can a scone be a skahn,
and a cone be a witch’s hat?
How can someone wear a pair of carkeys?
You no longer say “Djal-ah-pee-no”,
but Carlos becomes the loss of a car
and Spanish will always be my thing,
not yours, leave the translating up to me, babe.
Do we need a translator?
Nah. It’s better this way.
There are the simple things, like boot versus trunk
A couple of months ago I joined hundreds of New Yorkers in celebration of Margaret Atwood’s birthday. I sat in the audience, by myself, as Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman engaged in witty conversation, running the gamut from books to politics to film to America. Something Ms. Atwood said resounded so poignantly, it moved me. Mr. Gaiman told her that he counted her as one of the few role models he could look up to, for she was a poet, a screenwriter, an inventor, and an author of speculative fiction as well as historical fiction. He proclaimed this an anomaly, since most writers stick to one genre or one medium, and he found himself to be more like her, unwilling to be boxed in to just one category. Ms. Atwood replied that she was one of the lucky ones, because “back when she went to college”, there was no one who sat you down and made you decide between fiction or poetry; they just let you write. This spoke to me, since I have always been able to move from prose to poetry to screenwriting with fluidity, yet have also faced barriers because of this unorthodox approach. It was even more time appropriate because just one week prior to this event, I was informed that even though I am a Creative Writing major at Brooklyn College, I actually needed to choose an emphasis between fiction, poetry, or plays. This was news to me, and frustrating news, indeed. I am primarily a fiction writer, but I really want to take a poetry class in Spring, and yet this is not recommended unless I want to choose poetry as my emphasis.
And so I sat alone in the audience, for once thankful that no-one was able to accompany me that night because I might have been more self conscious over my emotion. Margaret Atwood is my hero, and she has given me the encouragement I need to refuse a stifling label.
Tonight my sister leaves for Israel. She will be flying into Tel Aviv and then trekking over to Jaffa to start a 5 week program with UCLA. (http://www.nelc.ucla.edu/jaffa/site.html)
When I tell people that my kid sister is going on an archaeological dig in Israel for over a month, usually I am faced with wide eyes, exclamations of awe, and tinges of fear or jealousy sprinkled in the commentary. While Indiana Jones might be a stretch, she will be digging and working with stuff from 1400-1200 B.C., which is pretty awesome.
She will be thrown into a foreign environment, staying with a band of students from various cities, laboring in the heat, and learning in an environment so very far from her home. She has a stack of massively heavy textbooks stashed in her luggage, in addition to the studying she has already completed in advance. She is going to rock it.
Basically I am brimming with pride for my kid sister who is following a dream and barreling through her limitations. This is not an easy adventure, and no doubt she will be faced with surprises each week and unforeseen challenges that inevitably occur when you are on your own in a completely different environment. For those of us that know her, we can see the strength she has been building and accumulating.
She is one smartypants that will no doubt succeed, but I still sometimes look at her as my shy little sister who needs assistance talking to strangers. So proud of the little baby.
Sitting in a coffee shop, snow on the streets outside the window and glasses fogging up. Seriously, my glasses keep fogging up. I presume it means I wear them too flush against my face, but I like it this way, less times during the day of me pushing them back off the tip of my nose.
And it is cold outside, but colder than that, and I think about the girl I met yesterday who asked me if I missed California.
The girl who confessed that she hated it here, loathed living in New York, but was sticking it out a little longer because of her boyfriend. They had tried living together in LA, but he hated it, so he dragged her back to New York, and now look where they were. She wanted me to agree, to laud the warmth of the west coast and shake my head at the cold of the east coast (the wind, the stares, the lack of “hello’s” from strangers in line) but I didn’t.
How could I tell her about my friends and my book club and my work and my writing and my bike rides without sounding like a braggart? Like her year and a half of giving it a go just couldn’t compare to my success in fitting in. I thought about inviting her out but then saw the futility in my gesture because it was obvious to both of us she was going to move back to the land of sunshine.
And the sun is shining here, right now, I can see it over my misty glasses and the fogged up window and it is almost possible to forget the chill that awaits because that hopeful sun is shining so brightly.
(P.S. The photo is one I took in Australia. I am dreaming of those sunny days on the water.)
Part of the reason we joined the tour that we did was because we were gung ho about seeing the Mountain Gorillas. I had never met anyone personally who has done the trek, but I've heard about it through clients and we read about it and were intrigued. We even re-watched the movie “Gorillas in the Mist” (with a few parts that we had to fast forward through) in December to help prepare us. (Sidenote: Despite a few graphic and intense scenes, the movie is worth watching and holy cow was Diane Fossey a pioneer!)
We left our campsite early in the morning (which was status quo for the whole trip, by the way, and any time we were able to sleep past 5:30 in the morning we were ecstatic) in a combi van driven by a local. There were six of us in our group, including me and Hunya, and since the maximum allowed to see a gorilla family is eight, we had two stranger dangers placed with us by the National Park. We were assigned a tour leader, and a security guy equipped with an automatic weapon. (By this point I was so used to seeing men and women strolling around with automatic weapons, I was not that wide-eyed.) We drove to a small village near the border of the Bwindi Forest and we began our hike. Within the first ten minutes, we were winded. It was a high elevation and a steep incline and we had been sitting in the truck for days, so we were ill prepared for the seriousness of the hike. Little did we know that the beginning of the hike was easy compared to the rest of the hike once we were inside the National Park. There are not really trails and many times we were climbing over trees and branches and praying that our feet would not slip through to some unknown depth. My walking stick, which I had initially considered cumbersome, became my gauge for every step and also my balance for when I had to hop and jump and plunge and pray that I didn't miss a step and plummet down the steep mountainside deep into the rain forest. I am telling you, this hike was serious. Erika, an older woman from Germany in our group, was the unlucky one who actually fell. A tangle of interwoven branches caught her like a net, saving her from hurting herself too badly. (It was so shocking when it happened that it took thirty minutes for our concern to wear off into laughter, because she totally fell backwards like out of a movie, and of course it was funny!)
Anyway, after a couple of hours, we finally came upon the gorillas. (Trackers leave early in the morning to find the family for you to see then they radio the guides.) We were lucky enough to see two Silverbacks and one baby!! No joke, the baby did a little mini chest pounding with his tiny fists, which was the cutest thing ever. The gorillas have wee beady eyes set in their oddly shaped noggins and their necks and shoulders and biceps are massive. Beyond massive. The power exuded just when walking is incredible. They can destroy everything in their path while making it look like they are just pulling up tiny weeds. I couldn't stop staring, even though their actions were mundane and simple, and I couldn't stop taking photos. We were all enthralled.
We had to follow them a bit, and it was interesting watching the trackers at work, determining which way to go without getting too close. The law is that an hour interaction is all that is allowed, so when our time was up, we left them to go eat lunch and then head back down. While we were eating lunch, I kept looking up in the tree above us because I thought I heard something. Van and I were a little separate from the rest of our group, but we couldn't see anything above us. Then! We finally saw movement in the super tall tree above the one we were looking in and it was a Silverback shaking around!! He was so high up and disguised in leaves, but then he shimmied down and we watched the whole thing. Of course I uttered the ubiquitous, “I told you so!” but it was lost in our wonder at seeing another big guy right above us. So amazing.
Our hike down was almost as tedious, for it still had inclines and booby traps and despite the man with the machete ahead of us, it was not a trail. Then we had to drive for over two hours to get back to the camp in a van with no AC that kept sucking in red clay and blowing it all over our faces. It felt like we were in a cartoon when the cloud of red dust puffed out all over our faces. When we got back to our camp we discovered that the other group had returned three hours before us. It turns out that some people have easier hikes than others, and that different families are more accessible. Despite our exhaustion, we were so stoked to have had such an adventure. It was untoppable.
A serious highlight of our trip was the day we went to the Little Angels Orphanage in Lake Bunyoni. Duncan, a 25 year old local, had started the orphanage after growing up in an orphanage himself. The interesting thing about this school/center is that many of the kids are not orphans in the technical sense, but they often have parents who just simply cannot afford to feed or clothe or take care of them. They are fed at Little Angels, and they are schooled by young teachers. A group of us hiked over from our Lake Bunyoni campsite so we could observe and assist with the kids. As a visitor, I was called upon to teach the class something. Of course we were all embarrassed (though there were a few teachers in our group who melded in a bit more naturally) but what could we do? I dragged Hunya up with me so we could play “Simon Says” (which is kind of tricky when the kids don't speak English very well) and the “Itsy Bitsy Spider”. At the end of our “lesson”, all of the kids in unison recited, “Teacher, Teacher, you are so good and precious.” I cannot tell you enough how touching this was, and they even said it to each student who got a correct answer. Come on!!
For lunch all of the classrooms piled out onto the grass next to the lake and ate together. Lunch consisted of a plastic cup of watery porridge, a slice of bread, a banana, and a bag of orange “drink”. I would estimate that there were about 60 kids present. After lunch, the teachers would yell out questions (What is the definition of a domesticated animal? What are some examples of wild animals? How do you spell “eleven”?) and a student would stand up and answer out loud and as a reward would receive an extra slice of bread or a banana. This one kid, Jared, stood up more than once when he clearly did not know the answer!! Either he was overly confident in himself, or he just wanted the half slice of bread he would get for at least attempting an answer. Too cute.
At the end of our time there, Duncan asked if anyone would want to sponsor a child. Three children were sponsored from our group! Vanessa and I decided to sponsor a kid together, and we left it up to Duncan to choose who he thought was the neediest at the school. (Who the heck would be able to pick a kid on their own accord? Way too gnarly.) When he brought in 6 year old Tracey, it was all Vanessa could do not to lose it. She started crying, but luckily her glasses provided camouflage and I kept elbowing her because I was trying to hold it together and she was not helping. Tracey came over and gave us a big hug and a big toothy grin. We gave her the Lion King coloring book we had brought and she was obviously very excited, which made us happy. Then she got to pick out a “Little Angels” t-shirt (she picked orange, which I thought was a great choice!) and we took a few pics. Duncan told her that we were sisters and we gave her our names and hugged her a bunch. As cheesy as it sounds, it was so dang special.
We paddled our way back to the site in a canoe (which was not that easy, by the way) and we kept smiling, thinking about little Tracey and how she was bound to be the smartest in her class and how we couldn't wait until she spoke more English so we could communicate better. I knew ahead of time that we would be visiting an orphanage, but I had no idea that we would have ended up sponsoring a kid and creating a unique relationship with a 6 year old girl from Uganda.
The Little Angels accepts volunteers, monetary donations, sponsorships, and various other donations and their information can be found online at: http://www.littleangelsuganda.org/
During our tour, we camped one night at the East African Mission Orphanage. This was a new route for the Africa Travel Company and our group was trying it out to see if it was something that they would permanently add to their tour schedule.
The EAMO is located on a big plot of land and has large, open stone buildings that serve as classrooms and also contain dorm rooms filled with bunk beds on either side. I am guessing there were almost 200 kids there, and we joined them for dinner on a Wednesday night. After grabbing a bowl of soup and a few pieces of chapati, Vanessa and I made our way to the table of boys that had scooted over to make room and frantically cried out to grab our attention.
We sat with a group of 12 year olds, though you wouldn't know it by looking at them for they were all quite petite. Their English was superb and their manners were sweet. It turns out that they often get visitors (there is another tour group that makes regular stops to the site) but it was clear that they were happy and appreciative, nonetheless.
When a motorcycle came pulling up outside, the kids all raced out in excitement. When I asked my new friend Daniel about the older Aussie couple that had pulled their bike right up to the door, he announced, “It's Mom and Dad!!”. Ralph and May, the couple that had started EAMO so many years ago, was his Mom and Dad, along with everyone else's.
They all called them that and they all clearly adored them; it was touching.
To learn more, visit their website at: http://www.eastafricanmission.org/
On Friday, June 28th, my sister Vanessa and I landed in Nairobi. We slept underneath mosquito nets our first night, and little did we know it would be our one full night's sleep for weeks. (All that flying and travel time wiped us out!) Earlier in the day we had an extra bonus trip when our flight landed ahead of schedule at our layover location in Amsterdam. Our connecting flight was delayed so we ended up with a few extra hours to kill and we took full advantage and raced downtown to Amsterdam proper. It was my second time to that beautiful city and Vanessa's first time, and we wandered the streets before its citizens were awake, peering down alleys, glancing in shop windows, and breathing in the breeze off the canals. We topped off our unexpected excursion with a fresh Dutch pancake brekkie (obviously) before returning to the airport.
We met the group we were traveling with on Saturday night. Africa Travel Company is the name of the tour company and this was my very first time traveling with any sort of group and pre-set itinerary. I am aware that people often travel this way, but it was a totally foreign experience for me. Also, we traveled in an Overland truck, which means we all piled into a behemoth vehicle with 28 seats, monster tires, and a whole cabin below our elevated seats that stored our tents and luggage and cooking utensils, chairs, etc. The cool thing about going this route is that by camping every night (and bringing our own tents and food, etc.) we were able to keep the cost down while maximizing the miles covered. The not so cool thing about this method is the CRAZY long days bouncing and jouncing in a massive truck crammed in next to strangers.
Before I left for Africa, I made jokes about animal attacks, human attacks, and other various fears I was experiencing but I forgot to fear the biggest threat of all, which was the many near accidents we faced in our various forms of transportation. Between the overland truck, the safari van, the taxi rides, and the standing in the back of a truck bed, I faced near death countless times and I am pretty sure I uttered the words, “I am just not psychologically prepared for this” dozens of times. No matter, clearly we survived.
Also, we had been worried about the food situation (since we are both veg and I am what some consider a “picky eater”) but it turns out that Dom, our chef extraordinaire was a genius with the local produce and spices and he made us hot and filling veggie meals every night. What a bonus!
We kicked the tour off with a safari drive through the Masai Mara Park (it is on the southern end of the Serengeti in Kenya). We slept in semi-permanent tents outside the park the night before, and no joke I heard elephants and cats causing all sorts of ruckus outside our tents all night. It was surreal. The highlights of the drive included a few baby elephants (seriously, so cute), a young male lion resting near his kill, and a cheetah! The cheetah was so lithe and beautiful and it was uncanny how well it blended with the environment. Vanessa stood out as an “Eagle Eye” pretty much right off the bat (though she did shame herself when she yelled out, “Creature!” upon seeing an unidentifiable something in the distance) and she was a handy support for all of my photo taking.
We eventually made our way up and over to Lake Bunyoni in Uganda, which is very near the Vurunga Mountains and the Bwindi Forest where we were planning on seeing the Mountain Gorillas. Lake Bunyoni was stunning, and the campsite was lush and even had a TV so we could watch Wimbledon. (Yes, I joined in the social activity, though I pretty much wrote in my journal the whole time and yelled out periodically so as to be part of the group.) The Mountain Gorillas, and the whole experience, was spiritually moving and exciting and thrilling and exhausting. I am so stoked we were able to participate in such an awesome and unique adventure.
Another really cool (and quite unexpected!) experience we had at Lake Bunyoni occurred when we visited the Little Angels Orphanage. A group of us hiked over and participated in a classroom setting with a group of kids, then joined the whole group outside for lunch and activities. The children were sweet and excited to have visitors and the whole experience was heart tugging. At the end of the afternoon, when Duncan asked if anyone wanted to sponsor a kid, Vanessa and I just looked at each other and smiled and realized we had both been thinking the same thing. Duncan chose a kid based on the need and we ended up with Tracey, a 6 year old shy Ugandan girl with a beaming and beautiful smile. I'll write more about it later, but suffice to say it was a highlight of our trip.
Before heading back to Nairobi, we did another game drive in Lake Naivasha. This time we were in a smaller van (approx. 8 of us) so it made for a more personal experience. Highlights include the rhinos (yes, they were BIG) and TWO lion sightings! One was a beautiful lioness lounging in a tree, and the other was a massive male lion with an incredible mane (and a scar over his eye, so yes, it was basically Scar in real life). We also saw baby baboons clinging to their moms and picking fights with other baboons, which was pretty darn cute.
Our last night with the tour ended with a dance party at the “Discotheque” at our campsite. It was a massive dance floor with a DJ (and ridiculously cheap bar drinks) and even though we killed time at the bar so as to arrive when the party started, our 19 or so people consisted of 60 % of the dance floor. No matter, we made our own party and danced the night away with each other and some of the Nairobians.
Before leaving for Africa, I was filled with many expectations over-rided by zero expectations. So many things about this trip were brand new for me, and new for Vanessa, as well. I knew no matter what we would have a good time, since Vanessa and I always have a good time, but I was overwhelmed with gratitude for all of the hundreds of incredible moments and experiences we were able to cram into 19 days. I cannot recommend it enough. Yes, it took a lot of time and money and planning and effort, but it was so worth it! And I feel very lucky that we were able to swing it.
Shirley Manson is a rockstar. On Friday night, three of my friends joined me for the Garbage concert at Terminal Five in New York City. The concert hall was chock full of fans, most of them longterm fans such as myself, and the energy was a palpable buzz that pushed and shoved its way through the crowd. The two hour show was frenetic, and our voices were hoarse, and aside from a few drunken idiots who didn't listen to their bodies yelling “no more”, there were grins abounding. The night was a perfect alliance of music, best friends, nostalgia, dancing, singing, joy, and New York City.
And I walked out of the venue declaring my love for this band that has made me sing and dance for almost twenty years. Twenty years! The thing is, my love extends beyond the musical talent of this raucous band, beyond my adoration of frontwoman Shirley Manson, beyond the songs that make me pop. I love Garbage for all of those reasons, but I love them because they are humble, grateful, open and genuine. How many concerts have you been to where the band thanks the fans? Sure, most bands throw out a thank you, especially when they are young and new to the scene. But Shirley? She thanked the fans multiple times, and it wasn't a quick “thank you”; it was a speech from the bottom of her heart expressing the gratitude that she and the band have felt at the warm, welcome homecoming they received after their seven year hiatus. She made reference to the tweets and the Facebook shout outs the fans have posted. She smiled and the honesty flowed from her and it made my heart fill up. Throughout the show she made reference to how blessed the band feels, and this in turn reminded me how blessed I felt to be a part of this group of people, these odd balls, these punks, these men and women who have followed a band for two decades and who beamed, like me, when Shirley Manson doled out the gratitude.
Shirley Manson, Butch Vig, Garbage . . .they are rockstars to emulate. And to follow.
When I was younger and I thought about being a writer, I envisioned myself at my desk, with the sun streaming just so through my tall glass of orange juice, and a tree branch occasionally brushing against the window in a melodic fashion. I did not see myself as someone who needed a muse, wanted a muse, relied on a muse to inspire the flow of words. I would be my own muse, gosh darn it!, and I was proud of this plan. When I was younger, I dreamt of writing a novel that would grace the shelf of the local used bookstore, with a little sign proclaiming “Local girl makes it! Read her book!” or some such message. And maybe I would wear vintage hats, and hold salons like a blonde Dorothy Parker (though our physical appearance is so different, I am afraid our acerbity is not).
Twenty years later I am in a crowded coffee shop with bagel crumbs on my lips and I wear my hoodie to drown out the clacking and chattering and consumption around me. And I think about my retired muse. I remember confessing that I always saw myself as an independent writer (woman) who didn't need someone else (a partner) to inspire creation. I told her that it was a surprise to me that I found myself suddenly writing more after a weekend with her, that I found stories and words less reclusive when I would think about our relationship or our future. I sent her links to the Laura Marling videos, singing the word “muse” over and over. I gave her the title, capital M and all, and I was proud to disperse such a grand label. I typed away on my vintage typewriter, poetry (original) and poems (ee cummings and such) smudging away when I should have been writing my screenplay. I couldn't help it... I had a Muse!
And then my Muse dumped my a** and I felt betrayed, more so by my own trust than by her (though of course a little by her because I felt honesty lacking, felt hornswaggled, felt vindicated) but really because I had released my clutch on the muse status, apparently all for naught. What would I do? Retire the typewriter? Start fresh? Cry and cry and then throw myself into the arms of the attractive wanderers of New York City? Hope that I could manage to write amidst the sadness?
And then, the words spilled out, and the fingers typed more fervently. The screenplay was completed and the first and second edits completed and the comic kept coming and the articles were produced. And I heard rumors of my Muse becoming someone else's muse (it was inevitable, predicted, unsurprising, dispiriting, but nonetheless fine) and I realized she was never a Muse with a capital “M” but rather a muse for that particular time in my life and I shouldn't be so hard on myself and really I am and always will be a writer no matter who comes into my life.
Maybe that younger (chubbier but with fuller hair) version of me was right about one thing. I may not be the next Jane Austen, I may not hold salons full of sarcastic swordplay (though my dinner parties inspire the biting banter I always pictured when reading about Dorothy Parker), but guess what, I am my own Muse. Collecting muses and surrounding myself with inspiring and creative people is great for my writing and my life, and I will continue to cultivate those relationships. But I am, and always will be, my own Muse. I couldn't ask for a better one.