Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone has a wonderful, joyous day, whether alone or with family or friends. Today is the day for a collective sigh of relief...the day is sweet with love, with warmth.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 19, 2005


Harry Potter at eleven p.m.
For just J and me.
Running to the car at 1:45 a.m.,
Shivering and laughing
and saying, that was the best one,
Don't you think?

A meeting with J's teachers to talk
About improving his school life,
English teacher asking,
"How soon are you getting him on meds?"

"Make an Indian Drum" day, today,
For A which translates to
"Pull the trigger now,
Not another written word."
Done. Finally. On his own.

Let's go to dinner.
I don't want to go.
My CD doesn't work!
If anyone cries, or fights,
We're not going.
That's it. We're not going.

We're going to dinner,
Everyone's in the car,
M has her purse and is
Waiving about her hard-collected

The housekeeper is gone
To pay for doctors.

Walking at night, the dog,
The two, A and M,
Scooter together in the dark,
Lightened by my flashlight.
Together, laughing and

Monday, November 14, 2005

Is the risk worth the legal gymnastics?

I hope the Democrats fight like hell against the confirmation of Justice Alito.

The right to privacy with regard to abortions is too important to risk on an extremely conservative judge who may or may not overrule Roe v. Wade and progeny, not to mention the potential for an even further, frightening slide of our government towards the right. I won't argue legal technicalities a la Althouse because, while such legal gymnastics is admirable, uber-attention to academic case-law-speak seems to lead to a real loss of soul, a loss of practical reality when it comes to abortion. Losing the right to have a medically sound abortions in the many states across the country will be devastating to women. Period. The bigger picture must be taken into account first and foremost, second to Alito's allegedly sound though outrageous positions in several cases. I'm not willing to risk this loss, just so a few can be proven accurate in legal analysis skills.

Sure, federalism is fascinating and oh-so-thrilling as a means to show off one's higher education, but in doing so, you've lost the fight for basic American rights. Particularly, women's rights. Is getting Alito on the court based on tearing apart his critics for their failures of technical legal smarts worth the risk of losing what women have fought so hard for over the past twenty-five years?

Is fighting for Alito worth this loss?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Thanks to Richard, I read some amazing posts today written by Tamar and Jean, blogging about self-portraits, mothers, ourselves.

I've always approached the self-portrait from a visual perspective and it has always been a photographic journey I hated – I don’t like pictures of myself, never like what I see, because in those pictures is a person who, in my opinion, will never be as beautiful or as striking as my mother. No, worse...I've often used the ugliest words when I see those pictures...ugly, she whispers. Self-portraits always stir the pot filled with insecurity, fear, longing, self-pity, anger, and sadness. Oh what a witch’s brew that is!

So I take another self-portrait, and another, and just one more, always looking for “me,” always hoping to find that perfect picture, the one of a perfect beauty, the one who dances in the middle of a crowd, a person with whom people fall in love. But…but…

“Why don’t you wear pretty shoes?”

“Mija, let’s cut your hair.”

“Let’s straighten your hair.”

“Look at that hair, you’re Medusa!”

“I never went back to Mexico because of you. How could I leave? But now I feel like a transplanted plant, underfed, undergrown…dying.”

“Wear a dress, why don’t you ever wear dresses?”

“Why do you like that girl? You need more friends.”

“You shouldn’t stick to just one friend, it’s not healthy.”

“You’re just like your father – such a nasty sense of humor.”

“Why don’t you have any boyfriends?”

“Doesn’t your school have any dances? Why aren’t you going to any of them?”

How terrible that these messages stick to a girl, stick to her and guide her every choice, every womanly decision. How desperate I search for a beautiful girl in those cursed self-portraits! How desperate I am to find a self-portrait in the glancing eyes of strangers, in the words and support of friends, in the touch of my husband, in the affection of my children.

Today I relaxed on the sofa with a book, and M sat next to me with an old toy of hers in her lap, a toy that has “piano keys” that when pressed, produce tones. The keys are laid out in front of a plastic rise decorated with animal figurines and colors. M tapped away at the keys and said to me, “I’m a mommy and I’m working on the computer, honey.” I say, “Okay.” She reminded me not to say her name, but say, “Mommy.” She will call me “honey.” She was patient when she spoke and loving when she looked at me, staying very busy, very focused on her work. As we played, I paid attention to every detail, wondering, is this how I am? Is this how she sees me?

Later, when I asked J to do something he didn’t want to do, he got sassy with me, downright nasty, and I wondered, is that how you see me? Do I do that with you?

As I cooked in the evening, I griped to D about our money situation. I said, “We can’t live on our savings, we’re running out. Something has to give, change. Like…now!”

“Don’t you think I know that? Every month we go through this…look what you’ve done.”

“What I’ve done? What do you mean, what I’ve done?”

“I mean what we’ve done.”

“You didn’t say ‘we’ve’, you said, ‘you’ve’. What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

I wonder, is this how he sees me? That somehow all by myself, I created this family, I created our circumstances by not being a working lawyer, and I spent our money.

When I checked e-mail later, after the stewing (of dinner and at my husband), a student had written to me, saying how I've changed her life, that one afternoon she heard me say, I love you, to my son on the cell phone (an unexpected interruption) and that little moment moved her to change how she related to her children. Not to mention, she added, that she will change her schedule to have me as a professor every semester she can. I laughed and reflected on the many times students have said complimentary things about my classes. I wonder, is that how I am? A good teacher, someone they will remember?

A friend wrote to me, suggesting a writing contest that we should participate in. I recall my successes...and I ask myself? Is that who I am, a writer? Someone who can write? Is that how people see me?

And what of the love of so many important people in my life? At times, I can hear my father say proudly, "My beautiful lawyer." How I cleaved to those words! I hoped that was how people saw me, too. Beautiful, smart, successful. My sister says on occasion, "you're too permissive as a parent." My brother said to me one late night at the beach, marijuana scenting the air, coloring our senses, "You were important to me in those months after Mom died, you affected me, helped me." I recall being left by a lover for another woman and I remember the pain, my destroyed ego, the message that I'd always believed in, deep inside. It had actually come true. There in real life someone said, "I do not love you - there is someone out there better than you, someone I'd much rather be with."

Lastly, I feel my mother's warmth when I'm afraid, how safe I felt when I ran to her bed...even as an adult. I do hear when I want to, my own mother's voice saying, "I love you, mija." Words which seem to erase all the hurtful ones.

Sighing deeply now, I sit in front of the computer with a Diet Coke at my side, a Butterfinger wrapper on the floor, kids waiting for baths and books and extra time awake, undone homework on the kitchen counter, ungraded papers in my backpack, my make-up rubbed away, my salt and peppery hair sticking up in places it shouldn’t, my jeans stretched out and tired, my brother’s old sweater that I nicked from my mom’s house after she died now speckled with sauce that splashed from the skillet…

I wonder about my self-portrait. In the end, in the quiet of a day done, I realize self-portraits are ever-changing, ever-fluid, a blur of history, memory, possibility, people, passing conversation, playful instances, other photographs, otherness, togetherness, aloneness, regret, and all the emotions that accompany life. My self-portrait cannot be done.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Sunday Morning Breakfast

Morning came gently - the bedroom was warm, yellow light seeped in from behind our heavy drapes, and M's little body next to mine reminded me I wasn't dreaming. Before long, the rest of the house woke, too. Sassy came pounding up onto our bed, the boys made noise, flipping on the television in the den and bickering about...something. Our conversation was quiet, so as not to wake D. But he did and after some more sweet talk, he soon got up and M and Sassy followed, leaving me happily in my bed. I flipped on the news and decided a movie was more fun than reality.

After some time, D brought me coffee, adding to the laziness of the morning, not suggesting I move from my cocoon. But that wasn't what "made" the day for me.

Just when the wife learned her long-thought-dead husband was alive, M came in with a breakfast plate for me. She'd made it herself. Red grapes dotted a plastic "Maisy" plate, a Nutrigrain bar huddled beneath one-eithth of a flour tortilla, on top of which sat five or six Wheat Thin crackers. Roundabout that were some Cheese-its and colored fishies. Next to all that was a plastic cup of applesauce. M's smile was shy and proud and with just a hint of worry. I kissed and cuddled her, saying thank you, thank you, thank you.

"Breakfast in bed! How very wonderful!"

I say, I think that was the best breakfast I've ever had.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Desperate Housewife

I am desperate for love. I am a desperate housewife in need of love and affection that doesn’t leave green and red washable-marker prints on my clothes…so I dress myself up, pulling on a dusty negligee, a silky robe that my mother bought me long ago. I put on lots of makeup, remembering my younger days when I was single and on the prowl. I tease my hair into a wild puff and spray my skin with perfume, with one, two, three kinds of perfume. Shoes…shoes, oh no, my feet are too worn for stilettos, so I slip into my pink, fluffy slippers, the ones with the shredded heels because our dog thinks they are mice that need to be killed. But oh they feel so good on my tired feet. Now I drink to you, to me, to the possibilities that lie in front of us. Kiss me you fool, because…

Please, oh please, I am so desperate for love.

Jenny Madder,
Suburbia, California
Halloween Eve.


I laugh a little when I look at that picture of me, on Halloween Eve, playing a “Desperate Housewife.” The first thing my brother said when I walked into his house was, “Mommy!” He was referring to our mother. I laughed…a little.

In fact, when I was in my bathroom slathering on the makeup and smacking on the lipstick, when I was hooking the silvery costume jewelry, I did think of her. A remembered a night when I came downstairs to spy on a party my mother was having. She’d invited her boss, some friends. My father was with her. She was drunk and had decided to read Tarot cards to her guests. She had changed into a silky robe that had slits up to her waist, choosing to wear next to nothing beneath. I saw her languishing and playing a sexy witch in dim light, titillating her company, infuriating my father. I only watched for a little, but I cannot forget her absolute obliviousness to her own desperation. I saw it then…I felt it later in her life, when she was older, when she’d look into the empty space around her, dreaming maybe, wondering maybe, what had happened to all the time passed, as she cooked something for me, something for my son A.

Today, I had an appointment with my son’s doctor to update his medication. We had a good meeting, made some logical decisions, and discussed his progress. We got a plan together regarding my oldest son, deciding to deal with his issues now, now that we have A managed. The meeting had been in Pasadena, the city where I grew up. The building we met in is an old one, from the 20’s at least. When I left the meeting, night had already fallen and I was walking down Colorado Boulevard, hugging my black blazer a little tighter to my body, feeling the edges of a winter’s cold. Traffic was a blur to my right and to my left I saw a rare-books-bookstore. Ahh…a kind of heaven to me.

I stepped into the place, walking slowly, listening to classical music. The owner was on the phone, talking in soft tones, leaving me to my suddenly-lonely thoughts. I wandered into the fiction section and saw my beloved William Faulkner and George Eliot and James Joyce and…and…

For a moment I was transported into a world I once had, a place of books, words, ideas, the possibility of a professorship maybe. I was someone else – I was where my heart wanted to be always. For a moment, I remembered feeling good about myself, living in those books, in literature, living for what I could reveal about those books. I saw across the aisles, a ghost of idealistic love that I had been searching for but was always comfortably beyond my reach.

I suppose in those few moments standing in the bookstore, I felt the comfort of a future, of looking forward.

Turning on my heels, I walked out of the store and headed for my ride, the SUV that defines who I am now. As soon as I locked the doors and started the engine, my cell phone rang. D asked me to pick up some Motrin for A because he had a raging fever of 102. I tried to talk about the appointment but D got aggravated, resorting to a pitiful whine, something to the tune of, “What’s wrong with my kids?”

“Oh shush,” I grumbled. Off to Target I went, battling the traffic of Pasadena, cramming my car into a tiny space in the parking lot of what once was Robinson’s.

What a shock the transition from classical music and the aroma of old books to Target, to the crowd of people with no expressions on their faces as they wandered the floor looking for…what? I made sure to grab a book for myself before I left, made sure to have a something of my heart before I got onto the freeway with the medicine and a toothbrush and the Star Wars DVD. I made sure to look at the cover of a favorite author’s book as I moved closer to home, doing only 15 miles per hour, surrounded by other SUV’s and people rushing home with their bags of goodies, with cell phones jammed tight to their ears.

What a transition. How quickly the feel of the bookstore disappeared. I wonder if my children will think of me when they're dressing desperate for Halloween…

“I remember the look on Mom’s face when she touched the new book she’d just bought. How far away she seemed to be…”

I wonder...tomorrow is November 2, Mexican Day of the Dead. I'll thinking of you, Mom, thinking I'll be setting out your favorite foods, your stuff, outside in the garden, sending you these things upwards, up, with white sage smoke, sending you a bit of my heart, to say, yes, I think I understand a little more of you, just like you said I would.