Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas morning, 2010

Jam Guy: I'm going to the store now.

Sidewalk Monkey: Okay. Give me a hug first.

Jam Guy: Okay.

Sidewalk Monkey: Wait. Do you maybe not want to hug me because I'm sick? Because if you don't, I understand...Here! [Pulls sweater hood all the way down over her face.] This will protect you from the germs!

Jam Guy: ...

SM: Hee hee! Oh, ow, it makes my headache worse when I laugh. Hee! Oww. [Clasps arms around head.] Hee hee hee OWWWW.

JG, bemused, watching SM as she stands with a face covered in knitwear and elbows, giggling and groaning: Yup. That's my wife. I married her.

SM: Hee hee hee! Ohhh. Stop, stop, my head. Hey, I'm glad I kept this sweater.

JG: Because you can pull the hood over your face?

SM: No, because Fair Isle knits are fashionable again.

JG: Good job, honey.

SM: HA! Owwwww.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Favor returned.

On Sunday afternoon, I was tossing something in the yard waste bin when I noticed a very small ladybug being very still on the rim of the bin. She was like half the size of a full-grown ladybug, and didn't even have any spots yet. I thought she'd maybe gotten trapped under the lid, and hadn't had anything to eat for a while. She was awfully still. I wasn't sure she wasn't dead.

I put my finger over to her and she stirred a little, then climbed onto my hand. I thought I would put her in the melon patch, but when I lowered her towards one of the big fuzzy leaves, she climbed further up my hand. It seemed a pretty clear rejection of the melon patch.

So then I took her over to the tomato vines. I wasn't sure if she'd be into those either, but there are lots of plants in the garden, so I wasn't super worried. I moved my hand towards a tomato leaf, and before I'd even gotten all the way there, she sort of leaped from my hand onto the leaf and immediately disappeared over its edge to the other side of it. I waited a second, I guess wondering if that was a bid for privacy, and then peeked at the other side of the leaf. She had immediately caught an aphid and was eating it.

That was pretty much the fastest I've ever had a favor returned.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Awesome quote of the day

Sidewalk Monkey: Okay, I'm gonna have a beer, because that's what Jesus would do.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Plan

My father taught me how to polish shoes when I was about five. He taught me that you take shoes to the cobbler when the soles wear out instead of just buying a new pair. He owned few pieces of clothing, all in shades of brown so everything matched, plus one grey suit for when he needed a suit. In Honolulu, you don't need a suit very often. Still, he wouldn't go anywhere outside of the house in shorts, changing into brown slacks for a trip to the drugstore or the farmers' market. He said that growing up, he'd had only two sets of clothes--one to wear while the other was being washed. The first pieces of laundry I ever folded and ironed were his handkerchiefs, an easy shape to practice on. He ironed everything, down to those handkerchiefs and his underwear, and when my sister was tall enough to reach the ironing board she ironed everything of his when he didn't do it, and when she went to college on the mainland I did it.

Today he lives in Tampa with a woman who is more casual about appearances than my beautifully lipsticked and coiffed mother, and he wears shorts and T-shirts in the humid, hurricane-pregnant weather. I don't know if he polishes his shoes anymore or if he's found a cobbler there, but he has a tall, elaborate shoehorn that he's proud of.

I've thought my whole life I've rebelled against his care and thrift with clothes, spending my first college- and post-college job paychecks on piles of cheaply-made, trendy pieces that I'd wear a few times and then relegate to the backs of drawers and even now spending blithely on more secondhand couture pencil skirts and wrap sweaters than anyone could possibly need filched at sample-sale prices from flea markets. I think of myself as hard on my clothes, wearing them on my bicycle commute or to squat and pull weeds in the garden. I will not iron.

And yet: I know how to polish shoes, how to sew a button, how to find a tailor that will save the skirt I then won't have to throw away. I take my favorite shoes to a local cobbler for reconditioning and keep bringing them back, year after year, until the cobbler turns up his hands and tells me it's time for new shoes. I wash all my clothes on the delicate cycle, fishing one or another garment out before moving the laundry into the dryer because the tag warns me to hang dry, except for a few that I wash in the sink with Woolite because the tag warns me not to put it in a machine. I brush pills from cashmere and spend an hour working on a marinara stain.

And I avoid waste in other ways: I compost, I cook old vegetables into a mush for the dog, I give the cat the drained water from the tuna can, I rub watermelon and aloe rinds on my face for their skin-beautifying properties before composting those. I rescue ladybugs from the leaves of weeds destined for the yard waste bin and place them on the leaves of tomato plants that need defense against aphids. I try to find artists or imaginative gardeners to give the used-up pieces of yard debris--fencing, broken wheelbarrow, creepy cupid planter--that surface from time to time at our place and that would otherwise end up at the landfill. I eat leftovers for a few days after most people probably would.

In these ways I am like my father, careful with resources and respectful of them, and I see this despite a lifetime of trying to flaunt my differences. Both of us, in our own way, are aware that nothing can really be taken for granted.

And other similarities: Both of us take only the most carefully calculated risks, although he celebrates the "carefully calculated" part and I celebrate the "risk" part. What is careful about leaving a guaranteed, well-appointed government position in his hometown and traveling halfway around the work to build a life in a country where you are instantly penalized for your passport accent, where the intellect that built you a reputation as a scholar to reckon with in your country of origin is unreadable through your dark skin? And compared to that, what, really, is all that risky about moving to a town you'd never heard of before falling in love with one of its inhabitants but where you have a place to stay and a person who loves you? All I did--I, the risk-taker of the family--was take a flying leap into arms I knew would catch me. (Knowing, in all fairness, that I could be wrong about those arms because I had been wrong about arms before--but knowing also that I could always leap back, that New York City wasn't going anywhere.) What he did--he, the solid, unimpetuous rock of our family; he, the planner, the lister of pros and cons--was take a leap into unknown terms, knowing he might not actually be able to leap back, and knowing the only person that was going to catch him on the other side was himself.

Here is the path, laid out in front of me, the work I have now to do: I have a father to love, still. I have a father to forgive. I have myself to forgive, myself to love, and both of us to try to understand. I know this is an ancient storm that I am navigating, this yawning, seismic fissure between father and daughter, generation and generation, old country and new country. I have a father to lose, but not yet. I have moments in which to be present with him. I have time, still, to remember all we have in common, and to let our differences dim quietly while the love we share, the one real thing that will remain of either of us, shines.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Dear Psycho Ex:

I am in receipt of your recent email. I have some points I'd like to make in response. Please consider this a do-not-reply email. I realize it is frustrating to have someone getting angry at you and not be able to respond. I realize this because I was on the receiving end of a lot of your anger for a long time, and I didn't respond to your anger then because it always just made you more angry. Today, Mr. Psycho Ex, it is your turn to stuff it. Ready? Okay.
1) It is WEIRD to tell someone that you think it is weird that they got married. ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVE BEEN BROKEN UP FOR OVER THREE YEARS. It implies that you perceive a totally, egregiously inappropriate connection between you and said someone, one which has not been reinforced by said someone AT ALL. Said someone never implied post-breakup that she would change her mind and marry you. The fact that you asked her to marry you post-breakup and her immediate refusal should have helped you understand this. The fact that you went around during your post-breakup apartment search telling prospective landlords that "your wife Sidewalk Monkey" was just out of town and would be moving in with you upon her return does not make you married to her. IT MAKES YOU CRAZY.
2) DO NOT PUT WINKY SMILEY-FACES IN EMAILS WHERE YOU ARE BEING A PSYCHO STALKER. It is only socially acceptable to put winky smiley-faces in emails sent between friends. Psycho stalkers and their unfortunate stalkees ARE NOT FRIENDS WITH EACH OTHER.
3) Really? In your (entirely unsolicited) opinion, you believe that "we will never replace the chemistry we had"? Where to begin with this? What do you know about the chemistry I have now with my husband? Can I tell you that I didn't know how amazing chemistry can feel until I met my husband? Can I tell you than he and I are a team in a real way, in an equal partnership, that he really respects and accepts everything about me and the things we achieve together are truly remarkable products of the cooperation of two human beings that complement each other? That I never feel like we are a team with a contingency, that I never feel worried that he respects and accepts me unless and until I put on a pair of shoes with a heel or wear a pretty skirt or watch a TV show that has male actors in it or take a job in an office with more men than women or raise my head walking down the street or choose male friends/doctors/counselors/clients? Can I tell you that because of the "chemistry" that you and I had--the chemistry of controller and controllee, of false idol and misguided idolator, of narcissist and nurturer--I felt like I had to resign myself to a narrow, dim life of watching the pavement and feeling less-than? That meeting the man I married gave me back my faith, changed me back into the full and whole person I was before I knew you and made me believe that love could be everything I had hoped it would be, and then some, and that love could bring me freedom instead of taking it away?
4) Can I also tell you, along the lines of the more specific "physical...and emotional chemistry" that you reference, that you were selfish and predictable and not that good in bed? That, without giving you more insight than is appropriate into the intimacies of my relationship with my husband, I kind of want to weep a little bit every day for the girl I was when I was with you, who thought she liked sex but had no idea till now just how good it can be?
5) Your saying you think it should have been you and I getting married is creepy, and makes me feel worried and aggrieved for your wife. Listen closely, and make no mistake: I am grateful every day that I married my husband. I am grateful I did not marry you. Every day I look forward to spending my life with my own happy, beautiful family--do you really think I need you to have children that are smart and well-adjusted and creative? I do not ever picture you and I happily raising a family together. When I try to picture what my life would have been like if I had stayed with you, I always picture myself on a dirty, pilling couch, surrounded by children whom I love because they are my children and who break my heart and fill me with guilt because they do not respect their mother and are afraid of their father. And I picture myself, on that couch, getting smaller and smaller and my face getting blurrier and blurrier, shrinking inches every minute, my face erasing while no one notices, until I just disappear.
6) So you regret the art I am not inspiring in you? That does make it awfully tempting to come back to you. BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT I WANT MY LIFE TO BE LIKE: Me, doing nothing with my life except sitting around depressed in ugly clothes, attempting to be the shadowy imagined muse lady you think you want, while you make bad art, pick on me and smoke my entire paycheck. DREAMY.
7) Saying you are going to keep writing until I respond is not a normal friendly gesture. Even if you say it in a nauseatingly cutesy way with puzzling and irrelevant exclamation points, it is something a stalker says. And it is particularly abnormal given that I have not responded to anything you've written in years, that I changed my phone number and my email address and even my physical address in an attempt to foil your efforts to contact me. Seriously, buddy, take me off your Christmas-card list. And every other list. Get me on your personal do-not-call registry.
8) So you have "almost completely" worked out your "suppressed mother issues"? Oooh, tempting again--that whatever you are able to blame for making me deeply, stickily, scarringly unhappy for YEARS is "almost" cleared up. But not quite. But that's okay, you say, because you're a good person underneath! Truth be told, kid, I know you are a good person underneath. I always said it. But that doesn't mean you're not responsible for your actions. Guess what? I HAVE MOTHER ISSUES TOO. Remember which one of us has the dead mother? Hint: NOT YOU. Guess what else? I didn't take my mother issues out on you. I didn't break furniture, call you names, make you feel unsafe, constantly threaten to leave you or humiliate you if you didn't change your clothes and bow your head. Years and years younger than you, I rose above the injustice of nature that you sank under, and I saw you couldn't see your own way clear of your past. But you weren't ready for help, and I wasn't ready to sacrifice my whole life to your grief, your shame and your rage. And I thank everything that is good in the world that neither of us were ready to do what looked necessary and vital at that time, because when I ran away from you I ran into a life that kept opening wider and wider the further I ran.

And today, against all sorts of odds, only a very small percentage of which you have anything to do with, I am happy. I am living a life that is so open, so full of texture and fragrance and color, so much more in every way than I knew life could be three years ago. I love my husband. I love where we live, the world we have created for ourselves, the day-to-day joy and gratitude that we move through. As it turns out, now that I have finally given myself permission to steer my own life, I am a fucking awesome driver. I am a pedal-to-the-metal badass who does her own stunts, and I am as safe as a grandma because I know not to take my life for granted. I leapt across a continent and landed all four tires, still spinning, on a country road, at a winding creek, in a patchwork quilt of vineyards. My life. My home.

This is the gift you have unknowingly given me, the legacy of the hurt I remember every time I think of you: I know now how grateful I should be for my every day, my every unjudged breath. For that I can forgive you everything.

But if you really are the good person you say you are, if you really understand how wrongly you wounded me, if you are truly perceptive enough to be ashamed of the behavior that routinely caused me to hide in the bathtub, then you must know that it is not right for you to contact me. You must know that I would have written you back if I wanted to be in touch with you; you must know I am not afraid of using words. You must know I don't contact you because I don't want to have contact. You must know that the same words of regret and apology and cloying affection that you used three years ago will not change my mind today. I can forgive you--but you make it harder every time you barge into my inbox with your thinly-veiled fury. You must know what the right thing to do is, the most compassionate, most stand-up, caring thing you could do for me: Leave. Me. Alone.

I am done hiding in the bathtub. I am done hiding anywhere. I am standing in my own light and there is no room for you here.

Sidewalk Monkey

Thursday, July 22, 2010

shoe lust birthday boots!

the last pair in my size in the COUNTRY, gifted to me by the amazing, amazing Jam Guy.

Yeah, meant to post this nearer to my actual BIRTHDAY instead of nearly eight months later, but better late than never. I have been wearing these almost every day--literally, like, there might be one day each month I DON'T wear them--for the last almost eight months. Thank you, honey!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

lava carves its own path.

i was in an abusive relationship for a long time because sorrow and shame fit into me like a key, because the door to me was built early to open much too easily to punishment. when hurt came my way, i couldn't help but let it in, it felt so made for me.

but now.

now i am with someone who wants to melt me with the caution and patience of some old sage of metalworkers, not to resculpt me into something built to open to him, but to leave me an unformed flow, molten and dangerous and free.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

thoughts during the journey homeward from Tampa

These all are harbingers of the onrush of older age: when I am tired or overwrought, I run my hands all over my face (maybe to hide the fatigue or fright I used to wear more openly and willingly, like a Girl Scout badge for Strength in the Wilderness of the World); I reconsider the martini at the airport based on the early hour in the city I am flying home to (where once anywhere near noon in my destination city OR departure city OR layover city would have been enough reason to take my place in the lineup of throat-clearing, awkwardly displaced travelers in a bar where nobody knows your name and you know you will likely regret you came, if not when a stranger begins detailing his last week of fishing triumphs to you, then when the martini rises sourly in your throat during takeoff or landing or turbulence); and I spend three and a half days with my father and do not once feel throttled by rage fueled by grief (and feel, instead, only the originating grief, and though it is far less bearable than the rage, do not wish to exchange it, preferring and choosing the inevitably forward motion of truth).

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I married a man who says,

"Honey, why don't you grab your beer and watch your show?"


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

As though I needed another reason to love him

Sidewalk Monkey, sitting next to Jam Guy on the driveway, eating the ham sandwich he's made for them during a break in a long hot day of gardening: Oh my god. This cheese is amazing. What is it?

Jam Guy, frowning: What cheese? Oh--that's not cheese. That's a slice of butter.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Today we saw a peacock behind a chain-link fence. He had his tail all fanned out, trying to get the attention of a completely indifferent peahen. He rattled his tail at her a few times, like a man in a sports car gunning the motor when a pretty woman walks by--Look at me! Hey! Pretty lady! Over here! Look! Hey!

When she passed him by, he did a long and elaborate peacock dance for Adam and me, no doubt hating for his dazzling charm to go to waste, and appreciating at least having an appreciative audience. His tail spread above him like a stained-glass saint's halo in a Romanesque cathedral. He faced us, glittering, and then, with deliberate, precise steps, turned in a full circle, showing us the slivered profile of the splendid fan, the almost-hidden wings folded along the back, the incongruously fluffy, ducklinglike bottom. He turned back to us and stood statue-still, allowing us to admire him. He turned in another circle full, slow circle, in the opposite direction this time.

We made fun of him a little on the way home, because of how much he seemed to enjoy the attention, because of his comical failure to interest the hen. But I still can't get over how incredibly gorgeous he was, like a burlesque dancer, like a god with a hundred eyes, slowly fanning the drab, gaping humans with the transformative heat of his beauty.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Today I was walking around downtown doing some errands

and found myself walking behind a girl who works at the news and magazine store where we pick up our coffee beans twice a week.

I have always noticed this girl because 1) downtown Santa Rosa is not a big place, and you see the same people over and over again even if you don't frequent the businesses they work at, 2) she is really, really pretty and 3) she looks ethnically ambiguous with a South Asian lean, like me. Or maybe she's Filipina, I'm not sure. But there aren't a whole lot of ethnically ambiguous brown people like me here in Santa Rosa, so I take special notice of each such person when I spot one.

Today this girl was walking with an older woman who I knew at once was her mother. I could tell because of the way the girl leaned slightly away from the older woman and the way the older woman leaned slightly towards the girl: it was a mother wanting to convey something that seemed important to her daughter and a daughter not wanting to hear it. The mother looked a lot more East Asian than the daughter, but they were definitely related--they had the same walk, they wore their exasperation with each other with the same body language, and they were exactly the same height.

I am having a good day with lots of good news and beautiful weather and everything; Jam Guy drew a happy face on my egg and rice this morning with Sriracha; our fruit trees, which have struggled through a winter of weird extremes (for Northern California, anyways) are covered in tender little springtime buds. There is no reason not to have all the hope in the world today. But seeing that mother and daughter walking together made me feel so lonely so suddenly.

Going through old drafts of stuff, I found this from last January

Letter to my unconceived child

Every so often, in the lull that follows things like crises of faith, yoga classes and earthquakes, I remember you by the little flutter you make in my abdomen, curled in an unmarked tissueless organ that yawns deeply somewhere among my viscera. I feel you in the moments that I resolve to be a better person, to give everything I wished to be given, to treat my self like a temple of succor and protection. Mysterious little fish, wholly unknowable tangle of electric desire, when I am doing things right, I do everything I do so that you may swim in waters that are clean and calm.

I don't know how long I have wanted you or when you came to be part of me or which came first. I believe that I have a spleen and a pancreas and a liver because I am told that I do, but I have never felt them like I feel my heart, or like I feel you. You are a part of me that, like my heart, marches in a fragile, steady cadence, mostly unnoticed, except for knocking hard when it is time for me to pay attention.

At once so much less and so much more than my biological imperative, at times the entire reason for my existence and at others the fiercest face my self-doubt can wear: do I, can I, deserve something as whole as you? I am filled with discontent watching my body move in a mirror when I think it is the shallow reflecting pool that is only mine; but when I think of it as your little swimming hole, your oasis, then I am filled with reverence for it, with the need to be careful and gentle with it.

You are loved. You are your own. You are a link in a chain that has meaning because of you.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sometimes eavesdropping is depressing

Girl at table next to ours in a sushi restaurant: I have this, like, phobia. Of tsunamis. For real. I'm serious, I seriously have nightmares about them.

Boy, seriously: Seriously?

Girl: Yeah. Like, every night. I don't know what it is.

Boy: Do you know, like, maybe, what started it? Or like, were you involved in a tsunami, or something?

Girl: Well, you know that tsunami that hit Thailand that year?

Boy, wide-eyed: Yes?

Girl: It happened on my birthday.

Boy: ...

Girl: I hear it's really pretty in Thailand, though.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Today I spent a couple of hours doing battle against the mold on our windowsills, grown during the rainy season here in its groping sort of way; I was armed with six quarts of bleach, a big steel pot, hot water, dish soap, a scrubby sponge. I spent about the same amount of time today learning how to cultivate oyster mushrooms in our home, carefully cornering away the bag of sawdust and mushroom spawn sent to me by Jam Guy's dad. Kill the fungus! Culture the fungus! Apparently I have ambivalent feelings about fungus. I am sure there is a good metaphor here.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Awesome quote of the day:

Jam Guy, laughing at the delighted face I make when he hands me the beer I couldn't reach because it was across the table:

"You're like a four-year-old! But drunk."