So recently I'm in a CD store in Baltimore. I was looking for the new Prefab Sprout (successfully) and the new Brookville (unsuccessfully). 

How I shall miss the library quiet of people flipping through racks of music a few years from now when we're all downloading compressed lo-fi songs to our iPhones or whatever the hell we're talking on then. But that's another entry...

A mom has her four-year-old along while she picks up her new Death Cab for Cutie or whatever.  He's running around putting CDs in his mouth, knocking over box sets that cost more than my car, somewhat normal rambunctious kid behavior.  Her conversation with her son carries throughout the store: "Justin, you need to be next to me here now.  You've shown me I can't trust you to be alone in the DVD section."  "This is why mommy doesn't want you to have sweet snacks in the morning."

What stuck with me about this was not the kid's behavior or the mom's handling of it.  It wasn't even that I couldn't possibly miss a single word of their interaction.  Instead, it was the stagey quality of the mom's speech.  This was not, it seemed to me, an unvarnished glimpse into a particular parent/child relationship.  I seriously doubt this was the way this woman spoke to her child at home.  This was theater.  She was keenly aware of her audience, and in a way she was speaking to us more than to him.  And maybe it stuck with me because it seems to me many (most) of us do this same thing, even the alt-rock parents cruising the CD stores.

It makes me think of a certain kind of guy you see walking his dog on the street--and yes, it's always a guy.  While you wait for the light at the crosswalk, he hisses commands at and gives strange hand signals to his animal in a way that's supposed to make him look in control, but always makes him look a bit desperate and sad.

In the way that women are sometimes said to dress for other women, are a few too many of our parenting choices--especially the ones that happen outside of our homes--made for other parents instead of our kids?  If my kids were old enough to grasp the peculiar dynamics of the adult world, would they call me on this and say, "Hey, Dad, what happened to the slack-ass we know from home?  Who's this show for?"
 
 
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Let's just agree that Wordle is a lot of fun.  This is the word cloud from my story collection.  When I pasted in the full manuscript, character names were among the biggest words.  That's probably not unusual, but I think my narrators and characters do use proper names a lot.  I then excluded character names. What else can I learn from this?  "Like," "looked," and "back" are in there a lot.  Do I use enough similes to have "like" loom so large? "Little," "just," "room"--can't draw any connections there.  Clearly "time" is much on my mind.  Maybe the biggest takeaway is that, to judge by my word cloud, I write with the vocabulary of a second-grader.

 
 
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Recently I went to the Washington Arts Club to hear a reading given in honor of Captive Voices: New and Selected Poems, a brand new collection from LSU Press of the poems of Eleanor Ross Taylor.  After a day of writing and child wrangling, it can be hard to downshift into poetry-reading mode.  (And let's face it, sometimes you wish you hadn't.)  But this one was well worth the effort. 

I first met Eleanor Taylor in the early '90s when I worked for her husband Peter Taylor.  I was such a fan of his work, that I gave little attention at the time to hers.  And certainly she never asked for it.  An esteemed poet in her younger years (Randall Jarrell, in accepting The National Book Award for poetry, suggested it ought to have gone to Eleanor Taylor's book instead) she put aside writing to raise her children so as not to have the one compete with the other.  Let's leave the question of that decision's wisdom to future dissertation authors.  But it was not the decision of a great artistic ego, to be sure.  She eventually resumed her slow and steady output in her quiet way.

At the Washington Arts Club, poets Jean Valentine and Dave Smith read from the new collection.  I picked up a copy and have been dipping into in the couple of weeks since the event.  I've thought more than once about how Dave Smith (who acquired Eleanor Taylor's books for LSU Press) described her work.  He said that when he played tennis, his standing rule--no matter the opponent--was "No quarter given, none asked for."  Eleanor Taylor, he said, wrote poetry by the same rule.  Introductions at readings can be pretty over-the-top, but there was truth to this one.  Here's one of the new poems in Captive Voices.

Disappearing Act

No, soul doesn't leave the body.

My body is leaving my soul.
Tired of turning fried chicken and
coffee to muscle and excrement,
tired of secreting tears, wiping them,
tired of opening eyes on another day,
tired especially of that fleshy heart,
pumping, pumping.  More,
that brain spinning nightmares.
Body prepares:
disconnect, unplug, erase.

But here, I think, a smallish altercation
arises.
Soul seems to shake its fist.
Wants brain?  Claims dreams and nightmares?
Maintains a codicil bequeaths it shares?

There'll be a fight.  A deadly struggle.
We know, of course, who'll win...

But who's this, watching?