I Don’t Want a Pickle…

Since the song loses something if you haven’t heard it, I invite you to listen now.  You really only need the chorus, so if it’s not your thing, you don’t have to listen long.

It’s by this guy: Arlo Guthrie.

From Flickr user pwbaker

The famous American folksinger, Woody Guthrie, is his dad.  Woody’s work is stellar, and much more earnest than Arlo’s.

Today in the car, Child said, “hey mommy, you wanna hear a song I know?”

It was after she’d demanded I play Regina Spektor’s “Uhmerica,” which Child calls “The OOh song.” She prounounces that Ooh as if she’s getting socked in the gut.  Click the link.  Hear the song.  Good times.

So while I scrolled through tracks and discs, Child sang, “I don’t want a pickle, I just wanna ride on my mooooooootorsickle…”

This is a song that my father sings.

He instilled a fondness for that and for “Alice’s Restaurant” in all four of us kids via the vinyl copy of Alice’s Restaurant that’s probably still swimming around in the clutter at my parents’ house.

God I loved “Alice’s Restaurant.”  Some of my earliest artsy teen memories are of open mic night at the local coffee shop where I’d always ask this hippie guy, the Em Cee, to do his full, 20-minute rendition of the song.

But all of us sing “The Motorcycle Song.” Dad’s rendition is particularly cute. My sibs, both my parents, and now Child.

So I asked her, “Did Pop Pop teach you that?”

She said, “Nah. I just heard it and learned it.”

She sang all of the words perfectly.  I said, “Who did you hear singing it,” hopeful for a moment that there is some kind of neo folk fan movement about which I am not aware because I suck at pop culture.

She said, “You, Grandma, Auntie, Auntie, Uncle Kuppie, Pop Pop.” She said this like some sort of bored, teenage list.  Seven is sassy. You should know that she calls one of her aunts Anty (the Southern pronunciation) and one of her aunts Ahnty (the New England pronunciation).

Aside from the way this exchange tickled me, and aside from the fun Child and I had thinking up words that rhyme with pickle and die, to insert into silly renditions, it occurred to me that Arlo Guthrie is the author of a pretty significant chunk of cultural influence on  my family’s.  I can’t decide if I think that’s awesome or sad.  At this moment, I’m leaning hard on awesome.

What about you–what are your family’s theme songs?

Self (Publishing) Help: Food in Fiction

Flickr user Vegan Feast Catering

I’m proofing a book right now that actually makes food awkward.

The book is set in a swank vacation spot, think resort Jamaica.  The food is so poorly imagined that I find it to be distracting.  Here’s an example: a three-course dinner at a 4-star restaurant is described as sausage soup, meat with Jamaica Style sauce over rice, then ice cream with syrup.  Hm.

Here’s the thing: that’d be a terrific three-course dinner at a diner, or a family style restaurant, Friendly’s, Eat ‘n’ Park, but it’s not even fancy enough for Ruby Tuesday.  At a resort?  Please, at least make the dessert Peach Melba.  More likely some fussy custard with a pear reduction glaze that is scented with cloves (yes, scented).    The rice would probably at least be saffron rice, and the sauce would probably have some wordy title far less vague than Jamaica Style (which would be called jerk.  Further, Jamaican Jerk is more often a spice rub or a marinade, and if it is a sauce, it is wrong).

I spent all of my 20s and half of my teens working at least part time in food or food-releated endeavors.  I am a respectable cook.  I love to eat. I read about food, and have tried all kinds of wacky recipes.

So I’m sure you can imagine the pure, soul-wounded helplessness I’m experiencing when a book milimeters from publication has such an uninspired relationship with food, even though so far at least five scenes have included it, either cooking, dining out, or ordering in.

So here are my Dos & Don’ts for Food in Fiction.

Do make the food appetizing. You awake your reader’s senses when you describe food.  It’s like you’re feeding her, so if you must do it, do it well.

Do research. If you want to know what a typical gourmet meal looks like, google gourmet restaurant menus.  It’s the future.  The world is in your computer.  Take advantage of it.

Do enjoy the pursuit. Writing about food can be exciting, you’ll probably learn things, maybe find recipes you can try.

Do consider your characters. For example, if your heroine is an athlete, she will eat differently than if she is a neurotic depressive.  Many folks eat with their principles, and fictional folks can do better than those of us situated staidly in the real world.

Do familiarize yourself with some cooking terms before you write people cooking.  Here are a few basic terms: saute, bake, blanch, boil, broil.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew: If you don’t know anything about food, don’t try to write a scene in which someone makes a souffle beautifully.  Those of us who have done so will know you’re faking it.  You lose credibility and possibly a reader.

Don’t feed your characters eggs. There are loads of other breakfast options: cereal, toast, bacon, sausage, diners, room service, Dunkin Donuts.  Feed your characters how you’d like to eat.  If it’s important that a character cook for someone and you don’t cook, ask for help.  Friends, neighbors, relatives, the internet–I don’t care.

Don’t have a vegetarian eating egg drop soup.  If you’re writing a vegan, know she will never eat cheese.  If one of your characters is on paleo, do enough research to find out that she won’t be eating white potatoes or green peppers.

Don’t give your characters 5-star room service at the Motel 6.  Don’t give them the option to order Japanese at 2 a.m. unless they’re in a major metro area.

Observations from the world.

From flickr user road_less-travled. This is a building near where I live.

A man holds a garbage bag full of rumpled white paper towels.  He puts his cigarette out inside a big USPS Mailbox.  His eyes pingpong in their sockets.

A kid riding a too-small bike has a haircut that makes it look like he’s receding.

A very fat woman wearing a lavender T-shirt plays on an iPad while her five dirty children run around her in circles.

A girl on roller blades wearing plaid cutoffs wheels a black cat down the hall by my studio.

The girl who lives on the first floor of my building sells pink lemonade, I want to buy some, but have no cash; she offers, “Lemonade?” I say, “no thanks.”  She won’t make eye contact when I tell her “good luck” on my way out.

In front of the building where I keep my studio, a man wearing jeans takes a picture of a printed email that’s been taped to the gate with blue painter’s tape.

An old, thin man on a geriatric scooter makes his way across the street via a light that’s not in his favor.

The six-word memoir

I think it was Jamie who posted a bit about the six-word memoir postcard project.

Here’s mine for today:

Delayed understanding is her specialty.

What’s yours?



People do Zany Shit on the Internet & Notes from the Cosmos

Child started playing this game, Tapfish, on my first generation Galaxy Tab.

I’m kind of into it, too.  I’m babysitting our two tanks while she visits Grandma this week.

This game is mildly frustrating because the cool stuff costs real money (in the form of fish bucks), but I’m in the middle of an “event” right now where you breed these two special clown fish that the game puts in your tank for free over and over again and you get all these other special clown fish.

There are challenges like raising sea turtles which take two weeks to grow.

And selling multiples of adult fish.

And breeding specific kinds of fish that become available as you ascend the levels.

I’m not really sure what constitutes ascension, it just says once in a while, “congratulations you’re on level X! Have some free coins!  Also a fish buck!”

One of the features is that you can visit other people’s tanks.  If you help them by cleaning or feeding their fish (or reviving their dead fish), you earn coins and experience points.

Sometimes visiting someone else’s tank feels a little like snooping in their drawer of underpants.

We visited this tank last week.

Dirty Screen, yeah, but you get the picture.

And all I can think about is some webcam-furry-antisocial-internet-people romance, where Sally Interwebs made this special tank for Henry Interwebs, and paid real money to get the bride and groom divers, and how sweet Lord, the whole thing strikes me as, well, creepy.  Yes.  Creepy.

And I am an internet dater.

But seriously.  Look.

Sally & Henry Interwebs

I picture greasy-haired embrace, awkward, saliva-rich kisses.  I picture acne scars and sweatsuits.  Think People of Walmart.

And that makes me a horrible, horrible snob.  I know it.  Especially since I have done somewhat extensive internet dating.  Especially since I spend more hours than I care to admit staring at screens.  Especially since I am really digging Tapfish!  But my oh my.

Also last week, on the same day, this little fella flew into our house, landed on my bed.


The last time I saw a Katydid that close was when I was a child.

Child said, “What is it, mommy?!”

“A Katydid, Child.”



“What is it?”

“It’s a bug that looks like a leaf so it is safe from being eaten.”

“Oh. What should we do with it?”

“We’re going to capture it and put it outside.”

We did.  Katydid lives to die another day.

Child’s totally a city kid.  We visited friends who live in the hills who practice burning of trash, and Child asked, “Why are you making fire?”

And I’m left wondering what the Universe wants me to know about my life, sending me the sensation of being a judgmental ass the same day she sends me and Child the gift of nature and the privilege to free it.

Anybody else with incongruous missives from The Universe (or God or gods or the cosmos or whomever you observe)?

PA School Press Association Rules!


Pennsylvania School Press Association is an organization I’ve been involved with intermittently in the past decade or so, presenting at their conferences in 2002 and in 2010.  Their next conference is coming up in Harrisburg.  Check out speakers and panels here.

I was recently asked to join their Advisory Board which is an honor.  I am officially one of the spokespeople for literary journals owing to my literary profession, my stints as editor and associate editor of my university literary journal, and my fondness for literary journals since.  I published a story here in 2006.  I’ll be launching an eJournal here sometime within the next year.

But I’m excited to be engaged with PSPA, to promote responsible media consumption for young people.

Here’s their mission statement:

The mission of Pennsylvania School Press Association is to promote excellence and responsibility in scholastic journalism through developing students who possess sound journalism skills, demonstrate ethical decision making and recognize, uphold, and advocate First Amendment rights through responsible citizenship and informed media consumption.

And they have a swank new website.  Check that out, too.

If you want to promote their mission financially, you can do that here.

And for my part of it, though I do not feel like I am a particularly old person, young people energy gets my juices flowing.  I’m looking forward to contributing to PSPA’s efforts and to helping them to generate ideas.


Oh God, the Feelings! And Candy Land.

New Candy Land, From Flickr User NathanReed

It has been an intense month for Child and I.  I am a generally sensitive person with loads of feelings.

But I have been in the midst of this confronting-feelings tsunami for about a month.

There are two things I want to tell you about.

1.  My sister’s wedding.  I already told you about it, sort of.  I am happy for her.  But I am also worried.  I am worried because she does not know how young she is the way I’ll say I didn’t know how young I was ten years from now.  This is a thing.  It is a hard thing.  I don’t really care about marriage.  I think it can be a reasonable pragmatic choice for some people, whether they are in love or not.  And my sister’s wedding RULED.  Here are some pictures.  But oh gosh, she actually did it.  She actually got married.  And oh man, she moved to Texas.  And holy birds, this is just kind of age-making.  I mean, I helped to take care of her when she was a baby.  I changed her diapers.  If it’s this intense when my baby sister gets hitched up, I can’t imagine what it’ll be like when Child does it.  Sheesh.

I am a crier. I cry when I am happy and sad and frustrated and occasionally if I am hungry.  I cry at weddings and funerals.  Whether I know or love the people or not.  I am still, a week later, occasionally crying about my sister’s wedding.  Especially when I see pictures or think real hard about how my family is different now: Richer, and more interesting, and with potential for greater closeness (but also for greater pain), for having made this milestone, for welcoming a new person.


2.  Child met her paternal grandparents for the first time.  If you’ll recall, she hasn’t met her father.  We spent a lovely late morning with them, had some lunch, played at the mall, chatted.  It was cool and nice.  But it felt kind of similar in terms of adding new people.  In terms of overwhelming love and complicated, conflicting feelings.

They were sweet and loving toward both of us.  They did not have to be.  I wasn’t expecting them to be.  I wasn’t expecting anything.

But this was the third time we’d scheduled a visit.  So I was kind of scared they wouldn’t show up. I was half worried it’d be some kind of ambush.  I remain concerned for Child’s emotional health.  I have had the swell luxury of not really having to examine my feelings about Child’s bio father.  Maybe not about him, exactly, but about this situation as it relates to him.  I haven’t believed I’d have to.  I haven’t believed we’d have to figure out how to give Child that part of her family without giving her him.

I can’t help but think that this intense emotional overwhelm is at least partially responsible for the way I had the first migraine headache in like 15 years, and the way Child spent last night puking and moaning.

So this morning, during her little uptick of energy before she ate anything, she asked to play Candy Land, and so I took a break from playing catch-up and played with her.

I was struck by how absurd that game is.  It’s unfair and ugly (like life), but it’s all swaddled in pink and the excitement and indulgence of CANDY!, and it requires no skill.

The image above is the new version.  I played a very squared-edges, bare version compared to what exists now.  The board is vertically oriented, and just gauche, and the gingerbread man pawns are these wavy, pretty critters, totally unlike the basic, barely-recognizable cutouts of my youth.

Candy Land struck me as a metaphor for lives: It doesn’t matter how pretty you try to make it, or how much candy you eat, it still sucks, will often be boring, and it is more likely than not that you’ll lose, even–or especially–if you do everything right.

So.  Enjoy the cynicism for a Monday afternoon.  Any of you have moments of clarity over kids’ media?

Thanks for being here.

Birthday #7: One Mother’s Oldness

Child says, “Seriously, mommy.” kind of a lot.

It sounds like an accusation.  Like, “How dare you doubt my perfect logic?  I am seven, and therefore infallible.”

 Seven.  Six plus one.  Five plus two.  Wasn’t she an infant mere months ago?  How is this possible?

Here’s Child over her cake.  I like seven.  I liked six.  Five was all right.  Before that, I did what needed doing, but I don’t really know how or what.  I think I’m the sort of mom who will enjoy her kid more with each passing year.  I have little use for the antics of the pre-pubescents.  I am interested in misery and suffering and awkwardness.

Neither misery nor suffering. Pure, toothless joy.

I also like life more with each passing year.  I do not feel old, especially, though I say I do.  I feel jaded and am lately nostalgic for my wide-eyed acceptance and eagerness toward the world around me.  Missing that feels like age, but I am energetic and healthy and only have a few gray hairs.  I am relieved by the way in which being experienced assuages self-consciousness.  I no longer feel the need to apologize for myself.  I no longer judge myself by others’ standards.

Child reminds me of inexperience.  She is so full of energy and hope.  She loves people and living.  She runs everywhere.  I want to put her in a padded box and protect her forever.

She did not notice the shitty astroturf or the teenaged litter or rained-on paint containers and brushes all over the mini golf course we found outside of Baltimore.  She thought the non-flush holes were funny indicators of the adults’ incompetence.  She was thrilled to have another chance at a freak hole-in-one, which she got.  I don’t think it’s freak.  I think I am the arty, uncoordinated mom of an athletic child.

Check it out, now.

It hardly seems possible that seven years have passed; when I try to think through all the specific events, it’s like looking at a blur of growth and conflict and joy. For both of us.

So I leave you with this cake picture which is funny because, like the Sprats, between us, Child and I can lick the platter clean.

Cake Skeleton: my birthday gift to Child