Dear 10-year-old Marlene. It’s the 80’s. You play for the Athabasca Tomboys. You look like this:
You’re the wrong size and shape and you’re always in left field kicking dandelions, watching clouds drift by, and wondering why you strike out when it’s your turn to bat. The other girls on your team are all effortless grace, beauty, and athleticism. Well. It seems that way from left field. Your big brother is about to come to one of your games, notice how terrible you are, and take it upon himself to teach you how not to throw like a girl. This will be an important lesson for you. It will be the most important thing you ever learn. This is the secret: the ball goes where you throw it. Your intention matters. He’ll also teach you how to bat and catch. Same dealio: intention and effort. Sounds simple enough, but you’ll get the biggest shiner of your life figuring that one out.
He’ll throw pop fly after pop fly into the air while yelling at you to “Get under the ball!” You’ll eventually do it — run to the spot where the ball’s trajectory plainly tells you it will land. You will watch it come towards you and it will land on your eye socket. It will hurt very much. But it will be a revelation: you need to watch where the ball is going, run to where the ball is about to land, and stick your glove between the dropping ball and your upturned face. “Thwack” is the sound it will make landing in your glove. It is a beautiful sound. Once you get it you’ll catch every pop fly. Then you’ll get to be a short-stop. That will be a lot more fun.
Dear 40-year-old Marlene:
That’s all you know, really. Life is balls. You’ve gotta get under them. It requires effort and risk. Effort and risk are the twin engines that make anything go. That’s how you make a baby laugh. That’s how you write a play. That’s how you bet out of bed in the morning and how you love someone. Effort and risk are the twin engines of love. Effort and risk are the twin engines of creativity. Same dealio.
Dear Newborn Marlene:
I hate to tell you this but you are a writer — not the famous kind. It’s going to suck and it’s going to be wonderful. I don’t think there’s much you can do about it. In the meantime, please try to nap as much as possible. You’re going to need your strength. Please, please, please, Marlene, at this very important point in your life do not resist sleep. Resisting sleep and refusing rest is a bad habit that will exhaust you and those around you for the rest of your life and you should stop — just stop it — right now. You look like this:
You think your mama is the most beautiful thing in the universe. You are right. Of course. She is.
Dear 20-year old Marlene: It’s the 90’s and you are a baby who wears plaid and army boots and patchouli. Holy smack you’d be mad at me for saying that. Because you’re a baby. I could also offend you greatly by telling you that you have small-town hair. Because you do. You think it’s hard to be 20 but that 40-year-olds effortlessly have their shit in a nice tidy pile. You’re right — it is hard to be 20 though I’ll be damned if I can remember why. Something about being at the bottom of some very steep hills? Something about trying way too hard to appear not to be trying? Something about being judged, graded, cut loose, and expected to fit into a world you didn’t make? But you’re wrong about the effortlessness at 40 part. That one will come back to bite you in the ass when you start teaching 20-year-olds at 40. Hahahaha. Dummy.
But whatever. Like you’d listen to 40-year old me. Don’t. Have fun. 20-year-olds are better at having fun than anyone else. Make some great friends. Oh, and the freedom! And the having time to kill! Go ahead and kill time, Baby. Waste it lavishly and feel sorry for yourself about all the responsibility on your shoulders. Hahahahaha. Responsibility. Don’t be ashamed about being young, 20-year-old Marlene. There is nothing shameful about young. If you are too busy trying to act like you know everything already you won’t learn anything at all. Protect your face with your glove, of course, but don’t be so protective of yourself that you don’t bother running for those pop flys. Effort and risk, Marlene. Your intention matters.
Dear 30-year old Marlene. You’re going to spend this decade producing a small pile of babies in the suburbs. It will be the most wonderful thing that every happened to you, pudgy cheeks pressed up to yours and milky dreams, and it will be exhausting and paradoxically lonely. You won’t have a photo of yourself in this decade without babies and toddlers cropped out of it. Your house will be a disaster and you’ll often wonder if you’re doing everything wrong. You’ll feel like your writer-self is lost down some rabbit hole. Don’t worry about any of those things. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. The intensity of making all those decisions will ebb. Having babies is not an easy thing. It is better than easy, it is worthwhile. Worthwhile costs and it rewards.
But you should probably worry about money more. Or perhaps less? I don’t honestly know. We should ask 50-year-old Marlene when she gets here.
House of Flurfel recommends these Kelowna road-trip musts:
1) Hold your daughter in your arms while wracked with worry that her appendix is about to explode and then count the cherry pits in the cup holder beside her. 26 = a rite of passage; not a medical problem. We’ve all done it. Amiright?
2) Terrify your children by listening to Ogopogo monster “documentaries” on YouTube as you drive along Lake Okanagan. If you stop at a fruit stand, ask the cashier if she knows anything about the monster. If she says she’s never seen the monster but definitely has friends who say they have, ask her if her friends seem like reliable types. If she answers “sort of,” nod solemnly in plain view of your children.
3) Stop at a winery with your kids and find out it has brothel theme. Get the stink-eye from a couple there for being someplace inappropriate with children. Enjoy your glass of Gewurtraminer anyway. If your children notice you are quite relaxed on the patio over-looking the vineyard and take the opportunity to ask you about the cosmos, consider the time well-spent.
4) Learn a new constellation while star-gazing with old friends.
5) Start a blogpost on your iPhone using the WordPress App. Make sure the title promises a list of 10 things but don’t finish the list because it’s 39 degrees out and you’d rather go swimming. Publish it anyway.
If you check out the line-up for this year’s North Country Fair you’ll see Paper Wings Puppet Co. That’s us. We’ve got a gig. Papa Flurfel is starring as the Moosicorn in “The Moosicorn’s Tale.” There will be giggles. There will be uke. There will be a giant moth. There will probably be a giant moth. Follow our Paper Wings Puppet Co. blog for snapshots of what we’re up to. You can get a peek at Mordecai the Moosicorn there. I think he’s handsome.
Spring doesn’t photograph well at this latitude. Because it looks just the same as winter.
It feels different, but it looks just the same. The sun setting on an March day in the Edmonton River Valley:
Until this happens:
Pussywillows! Every year I snip a bouquet. Every year, my feet get soaked getting to them.
House of Flurfel
There are some angel voices that I can tune into when I need them: one is my beautifully accented yoga teacher saying, “Marlene, you are doing soooooar awehersome.” Another I’ve been summoning to get me through spring break with the kids:
We were at the City Hall, once upon a time, picking up a communities in bloom award for the community garden: so you’d think I’d be feeling all smug and self-righteous or something, but I’d just made my small children last through a lot of polite sitting and polite clapping and polite speeches about… I don’t remember. I remember the sound of their young, shrill voices bouncing through the glass pyramids, I remember the swivel of heads when my kids made noise at inappropriate moments (psssst… all the moments were inappropriate) and I remember the librarian-like frowns that the sudden and unpredictable movements they made were garnering from the crowd we were standing out in (pssst… all my children’s movements are sudden and unpredictable). Someone had given them plastic promotional toys, produced in China, that said something about conserving energy or some such, and they span around delightfully when you tossed them into the air on their way to quickly breaking and becoming trash.
“These are outside toys,” I insisted, but their counter-argument was to simply to take turns dashing under chairs and tables then throwing their spinners gleefully up into the glassy peaks while I wrestled the toy away from their sibling. By the time I had them all gathered up, children and toys, I was mortified and entirely certain that everyone was staring at me and wondering why my kids weren’t behaving like they do at the end of Nanny 911 episodes after they’ve been wisely bribed and properly threatened and smartly edited. I wanted out of that scene and into the open air. If I could just get from point A to point B without knocking over any displays about sustainability…
I was herding them through the gloom and the dour when an elderly man across the hall waved to me and made the international sign for “I need to tell you something.” I signaled back with the international sign for, “I’d love to hear you out but, gosh, we’re in a rush,” and he signaled back, “Don’t be silly, wait right there, I’m coming over now.” He must have been at least in his late nineties, and very slow to drag himself over after his walker, foot by foot across the vastness of City Hall. I considered dashing away, but my children’s habit of proceeding through a building in an… unlinear way made us even slower then the gentlemen. I braced myself for his arrival and the dispensing of his wisdom. I was pretty sure it would be something along the lines of, “Your children hurt my hearing aides,” or, “When we did things properly women just stayed home so children didn’t bother anyone,” or perhaps, “Ma’am, your children are bad because you aren’t even trying. You should try.” Oooooooh, that’s the worst. That really gets me. But he didn’t say that.
What he said, when he finally inched his way across the tiled floor, beckoned me closer with a bony, age-spotted finger, and held me with his glittering eye, leaning over his walker to speak, was:
“You want them lively like that. The ones that are dull in the eyes are no good.”
Remember that, now: You want ‘em lively like that. The ones that are dull in the eyes are no good.
Deconstructing stock photo images and satire.
Happy Lunar New Year. Predictions for the Chinese New Year promise a fast 364 at full-gallop, tail and mane aloft in a rush of speed. One of the reasons I adore Chinese New Year is because I’m slow. Or at least I’m aiming for slow. It’s a process, really, not something I could reasonably say I’ve achieved. In any case it takes a while after Jan 1st for me to reflect and ponder the whole “New Year” thing and by the time Chinese New Year rolls around I’m more or less ready with resolutions and resolves. Also, animal metaphors just work for me. They’re more meaningful than numbers. This year, the year of the horse, I’m focusing on the value of process over product. This year, I’m focusing on mindful. This year, I’m focusing on slooooooow. Or, I should say, doing things at the right speed, which is sometimes fast and sometimes slow.
Good-bye Year of the Dragon (2013). I very much enjoyed reading Cressida Cowell’s fantastic “How to Train Your Dragon” series to the kids — wonderful books. I very much appreciate all the beautiful flying creatures my kids have drawn for me this year, all the imaginary dragon’s eggs that have been sat on and hatched in forts and nests in my home this year, and the many conversations about the merits of, say, flame power vs. water power in respect to the fighting strength of dragons. The House of Flurfel has been full of dragons in 2013.
This winter in 2013 our baby turned 4, thus making us a baby-free household by this important standard:
If you aren’t familiar with this “no unhappy babies” symbol, it is on almost everything ever manufactured on this great Earth from toys to bicycles to pajamas to instruct watchful parents to keep said manufactured good away from their babies, lest the baby try to swallow the product whole, thus making the baby unhappy, possibly to the point of death. It seems to me that our world, albeit filled with dragons, became quite a bit calmer and less stressful as soon as those “no 0-3 warnings” became inapplicable to us. It seems to me that life is markedly easier when you don’t have to worry about someone swallowing your bicycle. Or lego. Or pebbles on the beach.
I have become three things in the year 2013 that I was not in the year 2012: An Ashtanga yoga do-er, a ukulele player, and a university instructor. I love all of these things, they have each transformed me, and it’s difficult for me to imagine myself without them now. Funny how that goes. A lot can happen in a year, day by day, increment by increment. Here’s to process; it’s a beautiful thing.
I am converting the room that was our nursery into office space. I’m taking it slow — first I repaired the drywall where the nursing rocker knocked so many little dents into the plaster. Now I’m painting over the “night fury” dragon that someone sketched on the wall with a Sharpie marker. It will take at least one more coat. Goodbye year of the Dragon. Hello year of the Horse. Horses run. Horses work hard when it’s time to work hard. Horses know how to lean into a job. Horses know how to enjoy a meadow full of flowers.
Dragons are lovely with their flight, their sheen, their speed and their tempers, especially when they’ve been tamed. I’m all for the Year of the Horse though. Horses don’t just gallop. They walk, trot, and canter too. They go the right speed.
Some mantras for Marlene: “This will take as long as it takes.” “We will get there when we get there.” “Breathe.” “Why does everyone get to go to Mexico except for me?” Oh wait, not that last one.
Here’s to ploddingness! Here’s to sniffing roses and munching on daisies! Here’s to things taking a while to sink in and to getting them just right! Here’s to process! Here’s to change! Happy Lunar New Year.