Listen Up

Loreena McKennitt is a must for getting into Eiren's head and heart. I often write to music, and the right song is sometimes the only way to slip into a place where I can actually forget the mundane and drift into the fantastic, the otherworldly, the weird. It's why most nights you'll find me at my little writing desk, studying a screen and a jam jar half-full with wine, ear buds firmly plugging me up against distraction.

What do I like to write to? Here are a few of my favorites.

There's an energy to the Yoshida Brothers' music that just makes me feel like I'm whipping over some wild and unknowable landscape.

Loreena McKennitt  is an oldie but an oh-so-goodie. "The Mystic's Dream" transports me into the secret places of Eiren's world. I actually listened to her a whole lot while writing the draft that grew up to be the first draft of The Hidden Icon. It was a different story with the same heart, but trust me when I tell you that it was a mess and you never want to read it.

If I find I need to feel some feelings, Damien Rice rarely lets me down. The Avett Brothers are pretty good for this, too.

Bonobo is another that pulls me instantly out of myself and into the narrative.

And because it just wouldn't be right not to mention it, Gannet actually has his own song: Beck's "Nobody's Fault But My Own." It has some of the same haunting quality of other things that I listen to, and it just speaks to that secret, troubled dude.

Also, that hot mess of a draft? I was so young. Forgive the dance scene with a strange variation of this tune to inspire me. There's a reason it was cut, even if I do fancy it now and again when I've drained that jam jar.

A Little Less Conversation

My husband talks through my belly button, flared like the wide, wrong end of a megaphone. "Kick twice if you can hear me," he says. The baby does not oblige.

For weeks we've known our little one can hear us, can respond to music or sudden noises or the murmurings of conversation. I've tried playing clumsy Jenny Lewis and Bob Dylan, guitar hum-strumming against my belly, singing Johnny Cash or saccharine sweet classics when I'm lying in bed. Nothing. I apologize when I shout at reckless (or not reckless enough) drivers on the expressway, knowing I'm flooding my baby's ears as well as his or her little body with manic mama hormones.

M doesn't ease into it, though he's had the only response resembling success. With one hand he props his cell phone against my stomach, the other pressed to catch a kick as Cake crackles forth. They're followed quickly by Weezer, Beck, The Beatles and The Beastie Boys, shuffled through in a desperate attempt to wake or rock or roll the baby. The first notes seemed to be something of a surprise if the swift pressure I felt was any indication, but there was nothing like a rousing flip of approval and baby hasn't budged for repeat performances.

I'm not surprised that I want to communicate, want to work out some sort of elaborate hand signal or secret song we can share before we've met, properly. Baby is dreaming or doing already and I want in. And my husband, who has only the still (growing) expanse of his wife to contemplate, always hurried in too late for the infrequent and unprompted dance party, has just as much reason to want for a little conversation.

Maybe the baby is just a better listener. Or maybe we aren't speaking the same language yet.

Happy Father's Day

For me being a Daddy's Girl meant spending my Friday evenings at home watching The X-Files and Star Trek: The Next Generation, watching my dad play The Legend of Zelda and muttering into my chocolate milk when the dodongo narrowly dodged a bomb. It meant having no lecherous Captain Kirk to compare with the virtuous Picard, and nodding as vehemently as my nine years would allow at Mulder-inspired conspiracy theories offered on drives to the park where we'd throw frisbees or dig for clay. My dad understood time travel and the many ways one hapless crew could violate the prime directive. My dad had theories about aliens. Once he asked me, when had I realized that Luke and Leia were brother and sister? With an assumptive sniff, "Always, dad."

In the summertime when it was so hot we couldn't sleep, my mom and dad and brother and I slept all in the same room with a wall-mounted air conditioner, J and me on the floor on a cloud of comforters and sleeping bags. Out the window at night I could see stars and planes and once, I thought, a space ship. I woke everyone howling, convinced that I was or we were all about to be abducted. How they got me back to sleep I don't remember, but I found what I was sure were crop circles in the yard the next day: dead shapes where ten-gallon barrels full of copper wire from my dad's work truck had been left out in the sun. We spent our next Friday night with the same science fiction, proving my parents hadn't learned what I'd tried to tell them when I was a preschooler and they had to stop me watching Scooby-Doo: I have an overactive imagination.

Weaned on Skynyrd and Pink Floyd, my brother and I would bounce anxiously in the back seat as my dad quizzed us on each song - artist, song title, album - that aired on the classic rock radio station, especially Sunday nights on The Jelly Pudding Show. Aerosmith's 'Dream On' really threw us for a loop until Steven Tyler began shrieking. Every Thanksgiving we had Alice's Restaurant. When my dad put in his ZZ Top cassette with 'La Grange,' J and I played air drums and air guitar, respectively, and considered it a favorite second only to Alabama's 'Song of the South' and The Grateful Dead's 'Touch of Grey.'

After the divorce, my dad stopped listening to all of his old music, and it was like he'd stopped listening to me, too. I was twenty, too young to understand, the same as my mom had been when she'd married just a little younger. We didn't talk and when we did we shouted. It was as though the stubborn, free-spirited heathen that was my dad hadn't figured he'd raise an equally stubborn, free-spirited heathen; that the years I struggled to find myself - well after when it seemed everyone else was doing it, in high school - meant I struggled with what it meant to belong to my family, to own the things they'd given me in material and spirit.

What I'd loved as a girl, though, I loved still: my dad. The temper he'd given me. A rejection of Data's cool logic and an incalculably flawed emotion chip. I wouldn't have it any other way. We both try every day to be more human.

Laa Laa Nostalgia

"What is this?" My husband and I are hauling Christmas decorations, at long last, into the storage room in the basement. The whole basement may as well be considered storage for as tidy as I keep it, but in this particular space he could be referring to absolutely anything.

"What is what?"

He thrusts forward a Teletubbie, his look incredulous.

"That's Laa Laa," I answer, holding my arms out, into which the yellow critter is deposited. M continues to eye me suspiciously, necessitating further explanation. Namely, that she was a Christmas gift from my mother. When I was in high school.

I haven't grown up any more than I had then, and am overcome with as much desire to squeeze her cute alien brains to bits as I was at sixteen. There's a photograph of me and one of K's cousins on her water bed, Laa Laa between us, each of us with eyes half-lidded not from the dope other girls our age might have been smoking but from the delirium that follows too many cans of Dr. Pepper consumed and the liberating atmosphere of teenage girls in the company of other teenage girls. I'm wearing a scratch-and-sniff Chinese take-out t-shirt from Gadzooks and my hair is a riot of ringlets. I am young and thin and imagine myself someday to be rock star, for all I spent just as much time on that water bed sitting across from K and writing as we did curled on the floor, playing the same songs over and over again on our guitars. Hers was big and blue and beautiful and the name, I feel like, started with a B. Mine is neglected now in our spare room for all I can still play, if poorly, "House of the Rising Sun" or "Wish You Were Here" when asked.

There's a shelf downstairs, too, wide and deep enough for two rows of the journals I kept between the ages of thirteen and eighteen. I don't like to open them, but I made sure to store them high enough that should the basement flood, they'll be the last of things to go.

I brought Laa Laa upstairs and added her to the small collection of toys we keep in the living room for the increasing number of friends and cousins with children. Her laughter was meant for the young.

Hipsters Shouldn't Be Allowed to Go to the Movies

I'm guilty of loads of things, and one of the many of which I am acutely aware is thinking about myself in terms of the things that I am attracted to.  There's no shame in finding friends or lovers who listen to the same bands as you do, or read the same books, or prefer their coffee made in a press versus the greasy sludge pumped from the Bunn commercial coffee maker at the corner Speedway, but there is something of the regrettable hipster in giving oneself gold stars over your vinyl collection. Not that hipsters give themselves - or each other, for that matter - gold stars. But if they did. My point is illustrated thusly: M and I, after much deliberation, saw a midnight showing of Tron last week, and while I'm far from regretting the opportunity to ogle Sam Flynn and covet a light cycle of my very own, we rarely leave such gatherings of geeks unscathed. This time, as I'm waiting for the show to start and checking Facebook on my snail of an Android, a young man leans over his date in the seat next to the empty one I've saved for M and asks, "Do you have Google on your phone?" I replied that yes, I did, but it was extremely slow.  If there was something he wanted me to look up before the film started, he should've asked an hour ago.

But as it turns out, it wasn't about actually needing the information. It was about making sure that I knew and everyone within hearing radius knew something truly special about him.

"I just want to show her," he gestures to the pitiable female in the seat beside him, "a picture of Daft Punk. I could care less about Tron, really. I'm here because of Daft Punk."

What I wanted to say was something along the lines of Like-I-Give-A-Fuck, but I was spared by a fella sitting in front of me who had an iPhone 4 and thus, a real connection to the World Wide Web.

He didn't stop there, of course, and when M settled down we both had a nice laugh about him when he went on to assume loudly to his girlfriend - for her sake, I hope not - that he didn't think anyone else in the theatre even knew who Daft Punk were. I kept waiting for him to use the word "plebians," but was sadly let down. The things is, we were both biting our tongues because we did and do like Daft Punk, but to say as much would be to align ourselves with this silly prick. To not say anything was, conversely, to let him number us among the drooling masses. Who isn't, though, for a kid like that? And why did I care?

It's one thing to pat yourself on the back, I guess. It's another to verbally grope yourself in public.

Black & Blue Friday

The day after Thanksgiving is the one day each year when my usual temper is all but absent for the thrill of people-watching, deal-grabbing, and account-draining activities. The woman who loosed her cart upon me in Walmart? I'm sure it was full of toys for orphans. The patrons who scoffed at the lines in Target? Starry-eyed amateurs. Tomorrow they'll be bitches all, but today I've acquired Dutch ovens and all three seasons of The Big Bang Theory on DVD and stories, besides. I have a theory for why, when I rarely wish to bust down any doors - or, as aforementioned, faces - I love to shop on Black Friday. When I was a kid my parents used to cart my brother and I to the flea market on Sundays in the summertime to buy and sell, though the latter required early and absurd hours to get a whole family together and into my dad's work truck. Mom would bundle us into shorts and t-shirts and then sweats and jackets, and there was something absolutely magical about the drive and the market in the wee hours, the prospect of spending my allowance on pogs or selling enough of my unwanted plastic costume jewelry to buy someone else's unwanted plastic costume jewelry. I spotted a rabbit once in the early morning mist and descending into the Ferguson flea market - which used to be a drive-in and is now, ironically, the site of a Walmart - was a bit like tumbling down some sort of second-hand rabbit hole.

My brother and I would sit behind the table with our stuff, eating chocolate donuts out of little packages and drinking milk from paper cartons and fairly bouncing out of our plastic lawn chairs for the opportunity to look and poke and covet everything. Shopping was disorderly and it was social. Contemporary flea markets, like department stores, are just too damn clean and there's too much mass-produced junk instead of what somebody raked out of their basement or attic and just wants gone for a dollar or best offer. Digging through a bin of half-nude Barbie dolls or Guess jeans and coolats was the closest I had ever come to treasure hunting, and I'm still of a mind that finding that one perfect, dirt-cheap thing is a purchase pre-ordained. First-world problem? For sure and trust me, I'll be ashamed tomorrow.

Maybe I'm nursing a coffee instead of whole milk, but it feels the same now as it did then. I love getting up early and getting lost in it. There's nothing classy about shopping on Black Friday, and I don't want there to be. I mean, I was raised in a sophisticated kind of style, and celebrating that once a year is not such a sorry thing.

Girlhood: Redux

Save the Words reminds me of a time when K - my dearest girlhood friend, formally introduced over coconut snowballs and drawings of tigers  when we were thirteen - and I tried to revive 'groovy' in our quest to be, somehow, even more socially unapproachable than we already were. I borrowed the complete Woodstock recordings from the library, read The Feminine Mystique, and we lectured our acquaintances on how to properly draw a peace sign. We wrote stories. Our alter-egos were not only British but also teenagers in 1969, which seemed to our sheltered understanding the height of times to Be Young. My parents smoked more weed than we ever did, which is to say, a lot and none, respectively, but K and I walked the walk in thrifted bell bottoms, embroidered peasant blouses, and tinted sunglasses, and talked the talk as much as any awkward fifteen year old can. The closest we came to substance abuse was Dr. Pepper, but we both learned to play the guitar, and for one of her school projects we recorded a video of Mercutio's monologue as two enlightenment seeking hippies in an opium den.

Free love was out of the question. I couldn't talk to boys, and I took every disease-ridden slide in abstinence education more than seriously. Herpes was real and it was forever, unlike any expression of love between adolescents. When I finally did get around to kissing someone, I didn't feel Just Like a Woman. I felt like a kid, and he felt like he was giving me an oral exam (literally).

I don't wish to be helctic. Suffice to say my gipseian tendencies today better prepare me for a commune than my teenage dreams of hand-holding, vegan cookies, and rock 'n roll. Provided it has wi-fi and stand mixers, of course.