Belated: Xamp Xmas

Xamp Xmas began as a kind of reclusive, experimental approach to the holidays that grew from my dread of spending the holidays without Ruthie. Without my little buddy, Christmas just felt ridiculous. She spent ten days with her father, and I decided to spend those ten days quietly and without all the bustle and hustle–no presents, no parties, no long trips home, no big family dinners. I allowed my days to be enveloped by a growing entropy that made time pass in strange, unmarked ways. The experience was relaxing, like living in the eye of a storm.

Armed with documentaries I’d been wanting to see and books I’d been meaning to read, Xamp Xmas was a generally cozy experience, though there were parts of it that were hard. Since I would get Ruthie back on the 26th, her dad decided to “do Christmas” a few days early so she’d have time to play with her toys and stuff. So Ruthie called me on December 22 to wish me a Merry Christmas. When Ruthie called on “Christmas morning,” I was up in Atlanta hiding out during the days while David worked. Something about that phone call made me feel sad deep down in my marrow. I hated that I didn’t get to set out her presents, that I didn’t get to wake her up and see that sleepy, swollen excitement leap into her eyes, that I didn’t know until I spoke to her on the phone that Santa was bringing her a guinea pig (which would be a lovely pet for her to keep at her father’s house). I hung up the phone with her and was overwhelmed by the desire to be a part of the holidays. So I jumped in the shower and headed to the MECCA of Christmas: Lenox Mall.

Traffic was a mess. I had to valet park. Ten freaking dollars. Clusters of people were waiting for their cars with their hands full of bags bloated with the “perfect presents.” Inside, the mall was positively vibrating with “Christmas spirit,” which felt manic. I walked from one end of the mall to the other, found a restaurant and had a mojito while I read a book. I felt ridiculous. The mayhem, the bright lights, the noise, the energy all felt so arbitrary. All of these people were fighting to cram in their shopping ahead of time while my baby girl was having her Christmas day NOW. The hype, the energy, the mania–all of it was disorienting.

That night, I picked up David from work and told him about my day–how I’d talked to Ruthie, how she’d gotten a guinea pig, how I’d gone to Lenox Mall, how I’d drunk a mojito next to a woman at the bar who didn’t speak English, how terribly cliche the experience of being a single parent without her child on Christmas had felt. I perked up when he affirmed that indeed, that did sound depressing and suggested we do take out for dinner. So we watched the Banksy film and ate a quiet dinner of Pad Thai, the unopened fortune cookies between us holding some kind of promise that felt warm and comforting to me. My cookie reminded me not to rush into things, his promised wealth and opportunity. A good night.

Christmas Eve, we made white-chocolate-covered pretzels with sprinkles and watched half a dozen movies that weren’t “Christmas” movies, but that were set during the holiday season: Die Hard, Ghostbusters 2, Batman Returns. We walked across the street and had dinner, and declared this a most excellent Christmas Eve. My family was in Colorado skiing, and, though I missed them, I was perfectly content to be sitting next to my favorite guy eating a white truffle chicken salad sandwich and sipping on a “Ruby Slipper” (a drink with rosemary syrup that tastes like Christmas). And herein lies the paradoxical emotional experience of the single parent: that you can miss your kid so completely, so deeply, that it settles like a stone caught in the bottom of your gut; and that you can, at the very same time, enjoy (down to the tips of your toes) the quiet adult time you are granted because of her absence. It’s a complicated, confusing, often enriching experience that makes me truly appreciate both the time I have with her and the time I have to myself.

Christmas morning, we woke up to a dead car battery, which, with the help of AAA, we overcame. We schlepped to David’s parents’ house two hours away for an early Christmas dinner. Their warm house and the mimosas we drank were a relief to me. Our dinner was quietly festive and warm. I had decided not to join my parents and brothers on their trip to Colorado, and, though I didn’t regret my decision, I felt sad when my dad called me that afternoon. He’d decided to call it quits earlier in the day than everyone else, and I felt a pang as I realized that, if I’d been there, I’d be sitting next to him drinking a beer and looking out at the snow and the mountains. I could hear the distance in his voice so many miles away on this, the first Christmas I’d spent away from him in 28 years. The presents my family had shipped to me before they left emphasized that distance–humbled by the brown paper packaging, the lip gloss and old holiday movies my brothers sent me were particularly touching. The simplicity of those gifts–two or three thoughtful items– made me appreciate why we give gifts at all. Because “the perfect gift,” at any time of year, reminds us that we are understood, that the people we love and care most for “get us.”

The thing I loved the most about Xamp Xmas was its balance. It was the perfect mixture of holiday and rest. Rather than being a time marked by obligation and chaos, it was a time rooted in the present and marked by gratitude.

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Haiku Haywire

© 2010 David Parker

You may have noticed that I’ve missed a few days over the course of the last six weeks. Four of them, to be exact. Today, I reclaimed those days in haiku, which, inspired by The Yawp, I tweeted. Six haikus to make up for today plus four with one to grow on.

You’ll have to catch my writing in my Twitter feed (@public_frog) as I left my computer charger at work and have had to resort to awkwardly posting from my iPhone. More tomorrow!

On Being Brave and Wearing Jeans

© 2010 David Parker

I have this pair of jeans. We’ve been through a lot together–nine patches, two fly-zippers, one busted belt-loop, most of my twenties. And they still make my ass look great. Confidence, comfort, and a nice ass all wrapped up in the perfect-shade-of-blue dreamy denim. They don’t cut off the circulation in my thighs and the waist doesn’t make my stomach pooch over when I sit down to a big plate of pasta. They forgive, but they don’t forget, and the not-forgetting is what makes them the best because they love me anyways. I’m my best self in these jeans and the more I wear them, the more myself I feel.

These and a ring I bought myself just after I got divorced. These are my everyday talismans. I wore both when I went on my Very Bravest Adventure to boldly spend 17 hours doing something I’ve never done before with people who initially intimidated the hell out of me (and meant to). And all of us–ring, jeans, self–came out living, breathing, wishing only for this life.

As Though I Knew What I Was Doing

© 2010 David Parker

The short prose poem of yesterday totally ruined me. I wrote like six of them and they were all pitifully dramatic and try-hard. It made me wonder why I’m doing this whole write-something-everyday-for-a-year thing. I thought by now, it might come easier to me, but it seems to be getting harder and harder. And I think it’s getting harder and harder because I’m kind of still expecting to be struck with the magical Something-to-Say. And today, when I subjected my students to the prose poem assignment, I realized that maybe this task has been so arduous for me because I haven’t been following my own advice.

Two things I always tell my students: writers keep notebooks, and writing is thinking. I haven’t kept a notebook since I started this project and I’ve spent a great deal of time staring at my screen. If I were in my own class, I’d be failing. So when I started today’s Writing Workshop with my students, I followed along with them and probably got more out of it than they did. For instance, the very idea of a prose poem forced us to analyze what makes a poem a poem when there are no line breaks (we came up with concrete imagery that shows an emotion, idea, or experience). Then we started building our poems together. First, choose a major life event that you can remember very clearly. Next, freewrite about a specific moment from that event that captures how you felt and why that moment was important, focusing on the five senses. Then take all that crap you wrote down and find three or four sentences to scrap together.

At the beginning, the kids were reluctant. The thought of writing for five minutes without stopping was unthinkable. But no one was ready to stop when I called time–not one out of nearly 70 kids. And most classes wrote for another ten. Then, because the space was so limited, it forced them to think about all kinds of lovely things like sentence structure and using strong verbs and how to choose an image so that it does something in a poem. They can’t wait to share their stuff with each other tomorrow, and I’m kind of proud of the work that we generated together as well. Win!

So my challenge to each of you readers is to post a three– or four–sentence prose poem here. So we can all see it. I dare you. Here’s mine from today (about my first teaching job):

The room smelled of chalkboards, dust, old papers–like the inside of a drawer that had been shut for years. Empty desks were pushed against the walls as though they’d been in a wreck. Behind the teacher’s desk was an old wooden student chair that looked like it’d been chewed up and spit out whole. I collapsed into the chair and began scratching out lessons as though I knew what I was doing.

Since I Gave Up Hope, I Feel Much Better

© 2010 David Parker

I started this blog because I got tired of waking up at 2am with the Things-I-Haven’t-Done stuck in my throat. I’ve always been an ideas person. You know, I can think of great things, but I lack the administrative assistance, domestic help, and general drive that are required to actually do great things. Usually, this is when I totally shut down and admit defeat. But not this week.

This week, I gave up on hoping for what I’m not and I picked up the phone. I just started calling people: colleagues, successful writer-friends, friends who are good at life (you know who you are), people who pay people to make art, heads of creative writing departments, someone from the Provost’s office at Auburn University, and a some kind folks in the English Department. And nearly everyone spoke to me. At great length. About  how smart I am and how we can make something together.

Richard Goodman, whom I wrote about here in my old blog, was very kind and very dear when I rung him up at 9am this morning to talk about how the hell am I going to salvage what I thought I would do with my life and I just want to do what I love to do. Within ten minutes of speaking to him, my inbox dinged with news of a low-residency writing program and how I might be able to drop in for a workshop or two in November. I’ll be there. Why? Because when Richard talks about writing, he uses words like discipline and accountability, and you can’t do anything that entails any degree of those words without a community of people working together to accomplish the same goal.  I hung up with Richard and I called Emma Bolden, who is so brilliantly brilliant, it’s positively stunning. And she hooked me up with Ross White who’s doing something with other writers who are writing everyday. The Grind, he calls it. I’ve got a phone date with him tomorrow.

Now for the so-what. Usually, when I get into a funk like this, I do nothing. I wallow for so long that I actually begin to enjoy wallowing. Then I just pre-occupy myself with something else until I remember that I should be wallowing. But this time, I made up my mind that I am nobody. I am nobody. And I started calling every somebody I knew. And stuff started happening. It’s taken me nearly 28 years to learn that in order for Things to happen, you have to do something. And the first something is generally humiliating. It could be something like, I don’t know, a BLOG where you write what you think everyday as though it matters. Next thing you know, you’re writing down things from dinner* to remember to write about because you have this ridiculous goal to say something everyday.

*Things I wrote down at dinner:

  1. The entire time that our waitress talked to us (which was a while because she’s one of those thespian waitresses with dramatically arching eye brows and a kind of “this is my voice being a voice” fakish voices), she was holding four plates, a bucket, a bottle, and a wine glass in one arm and managed to jot down our order with the other.
  2. David told me a story about one of his friends whose house was robbed. They got away with a pistol and a T.V. dinner.
  3. There was a table of girls next to us and all of their laps were lighting up.

Four is the Loneliest Number

© 2010 David Parker

It’s no surprise that today sucked. I mean, it’s August 4, the day I’ve been dreading since school got out in May. I’d like to say it was good to be back, but it wasn’t. I walked into my overturned classroom and I could feel the weight of papers to grade, after-school detention slips to hand out, seating charts to make, filing cabinets to purge. But, like everything else, the dread of the thing wasn’t as bad as the thing itself.

I spent the day emptying my room of everything that reminded me of last year. In my desk drawer, I found two pairs of shoes (heels and flats), an old lunchbox, half of a computer charger, and, near the very-very bottom, my teaching certificate. (I hate it when I find things I didn’t know were lost. I mean, unless it’s money.) During our faculty meeting I looked up quotes to hang around the room and a poem for students to read on the first day. I still can’t find a poem with the right flavor. Most teachers choose something kind of cheesy, but I like to go for more rock-your-world type stuff. Stuff that makes the kids second-guess everything they thought they knew about what school is. Like “The Toothfairy” by Dorianne Laux, which begins with the speaker’s memory of how her mother painted glittery footprints on her sheets “with a love so quiet I still can’t hear it,” and ends with the dissolution of her parent’s abusive relationship. I know. But it’s a great jumping-off place for talking about what literature is, what it does, and why we need it. Plus, the imagery is killer.

After I’d wasted away the day in my mess of a room, I took Ruthie to get her FOUR-shot checkup. What’s worse than holding your child down while someone jabs a needle into her tense little thigh muscle? I’ll tell you: nothing. Nothing’s worse than that. It’s worse than having it yourself because the whole time you’re holding her hands in her lap and her legs between yours, you’re thinking: Give me the shot. Mom-love is a strange, tortured, fierce, primitive thing. It hurts for the mother and the child. A few months ago, the doctors thought my mom might have cancer. Actually, they were pretty sure she had it.  When my mom came to visit a few weeks after all of the test results (miraculously) came back negative, she told me that when she first learned of the potential cancer, all she could think was, “Thank God it was me (and not you or your brothers).”

After Ruthie had her shots, she got to pick out a sticker. Spiderman. She was still shaky and sweaty from all the struggling and crying when we got in the car. The relief on her face when I told her she would have to have them again until she was two-whole-hands old was precious. It’s now 7:30 and she’s asleep and I’m relieved. Relieved that this day is over and that it wasn’t (quite) as bad as I thought it’d be.