conflict resolution

I found this gem in the middle of an article about ethical diamond mining:
After dinner, Parker and Keith head down to our hotel’s casino. A couple of local thugs sidle up. There are threats, and things start to turn nasty. Suddenly Keith pulls out a small cardboard figure. It’s Flat Stanley, a children’s book character turned global school project, the idea being to photograph him in interesting places and report on his travels in class. Keith has been chronicling Flat Stanley’s Diamond Adventure throughout the journey for his son. He now thrusts Flat Stanley into his antagonist’s hands and barks, “Hold this! It’s for my son’s school, dude!” Unsure what to make of this gambit, that’s exactly what he does. And then he smiles. Keith takes his picture.

If only all conflicts could be resolved this easily . . . or maybe they can, and we just have to be alert to the possibility.

(article courtesy of seven things)

mad libs

We eat out fairly often. This means that we get the activity sheets for J. Both being writerly nerds, we tend to love the word games. (Colin is particularly good at word searches.)

This was the madlibs activity from Chili's last night.

One dulcet day, the Pals are squatting along, on their way to Zimbabwe. Suddenly, they're hit by a wave of turnstiles and they begin to feel fuzzy. Minutes later, they realize the wave has made them dry! Each one has a special, new fingernail! Hal has a force field of drones. Sunny can stretch her lobes nine feet! Chip raises his freckles and shoots out a beam of squishy hats. The roughest power of all is Pepper's! He can twitch high into the air and blast clammy monkeys from his fists! With their cool new powers, the Pals are ready to take on evildoers everywhere!


dear kate

It's been a few hours since your wedding. With the time difference, you're probably asleep by now.

I haven't paid much attention to you, or to your nuptials. I remember a few years ago hearing that you and William had broken up, at least for awhile. I think that was substantiated, not some absurd rumor. It makes me wonder, now, what it was about, if you think those issues have been resolved.

I looked up pictures of your dress online this morning. Since I'd heard the woman who took over McQueen's empire--she of the butterfly dresses and the intricate towering shoes--was the designer, I hoped your dress might be something remarkable. Instead, it was almost boring, so stifled by convention and what I imagine to be the Queen's ideas of decency that it seemed to have no character.

What did strike me, though, was your face. You seemed genuine, your smiles and waves a true expression, though not one of what I might call love--though it was nearer that than William's big-lipped grimaces.

I wondered, thinking about those pictures afterward, if you knew the family you were getting into. I thought about the way Charles was said to have treated Diana, about how those boys must have grown up. I wondered if one could ever win an argument against the Duke of Cambridge. I thought of the repetition of the headlines, "Prince William to Marry Commoner Kate Middleton," the "commoner" tolling over and over again like the distant sound of a funeral bell. One could never hope for any sort of equality in a relationship with that "commoner" forever ringing in the background.

I wonder, too, about the breach in your thought that must have allowed you to walk down that aisle today. I wonder how much of it might have been a political move on the part of the Royal Family, since so much of the British population seemed to find you charming. I wonder if you had fallen victim to the golden cup of poison that is our childhood fairy-tale, as so many of the people obsessed with your wedding seem to be.

You looked so fragile, in those photos, tiny breasts smoothed over with white satin, an infinitesimal waist, that bright smile. You seemed destined to break under the weight of your marriage, dragging along behind you like your absurd train. I wanted to tell you, like a friend, "Don't do this. This is not going to be the life you want."


the dream

Sam: There's no collisions out there, Hally. Nobody trips or stumbles or bumps into anybody else. That's what that moment is all about. To be one of those finalists on that dance floor is like ... like being in a dream about a world in which accidents don't happen.
Hally: (genuinely moved by Sam's image) Jesus, Sam! That's beautiful!
. . .
Sam: Of course it is. That's what I've been trying to say to you all afternoon. And it's beautiful because that is what we want life to be like. But instead, like you said, Hally, we're bumping into each other all the time. Look at the three of us this afternoon: I've bumped into Willie, the two of us have bumped into you, you've bumped into your mother, she bumping into your Dad.... None of us knows the steps and there's no music playing. And it doesn't stop with us. The whole world is doing it all the time. Open a newspaper and what do you read? America has bumped into Russia, England is bumping into India, rich man bumps into poor man. Those are big collisions, Hally. They make for a lot of bruises. People get hurt in all that bumping, and we're sick and tired of it now. It's been going on for too long. Are we never going to get it right? ... learn to dance life like champions instead of always being just a bunch of beginners at it?

- Athol Fugard, "MASTER HAROLD" . . . and the boys


love note, left on a mirror

My kisses wouldn't
make sense without you.
They'd live and die as tiny screams
on the lips of women who'd know only
that they'd intercepted
instead of received.


on the verge of méxico

On Thursday, a friend and I drove down to Nogales to go to a used clothing outlet.

I could have sworn that I've been through Nogales before, but the scenery was completely unfamiliar. As you approach the town, the highway runs among hills and comes out parallel to the border, so that you can see down the length of the wall and across it to the country on the other side.

It was a glorious day, mid-eighties, a bright sun. It made clear the one huge visual distinction between this side of the wall and the other: over there, the houses look nearly the same (close together, boxy, betraying signs of age and poverty), but they're painted bright fuchsia, blue, yellow and orange, instead of dingy grey. Some of the hills on the other side are so high and steep that one could, hypothetically, hang glide off the top of one and land easily on this side of the wall.

The roads of the town are narrow and vertiginous, such as I've rarely seen in this state, and the shops were somehow more decrepit looking than even the roughest parts of Tucson. We shopped for awhile, and once we were back in the car, I suddenly realized why the shopgirl had asked me, with a studied casualness, if I were from around there. The whole time we were inside--which was close to an hour and a half--I hadn't seen anyone besides ourselves that wasn't Hispanic. I didn't even notice, until that moment, but she must have.

The one narrow road very clearly marked "BORDER CROSSING" in the familiar green highway signs was filled with cars and at a complete standstill. I wondered at the patience it would take to sit in that line, waiting to be looked over before going through.

There's a checkpoint several miles north of Nogales, where a large white metal canopy bridges the northbound I-19 like some overarching insect. The border patrol vehicles are lined up on either side of the road, shiny white sentiels, noses toward the highway for quick calls to action. We waited in line for a few minutes, and when I rolled up to the officer, my window down, an overly-cheery "hi" escaping my lips, he waved us on without hardly giving us a glance.

I'm white, driving an SUV, with a four year old in my backseat. I could've had anything in my trunk, under my seats, along the floorboards, and they never would have known.

I'm not the sort they're looking for.


the tango shoe post

by me, with Tom's camera

So one of the major problems (I say problems facetiously) with tango is that, at least for most women, it forces you to spend exorbitant amounts of money on tango shoes.

Much of what is pretty about tango, to the onlookers, is the feet of the dancers. There's a very specific style of foot movement that goes with the dance (not just the steps, which is something different all together). The weight is nearly always on the ball of one foot, and the one that isn't bearing weight, especially if still, is usually tilted to the inside edge. That edge will often be brushed along the floor or sometimes along a partner's leg or shoe.

Like so. From Comme Il Faut Tango Shoe Addicts Non-Anonymous Group on facebook (hereafter, Addicts)

What this means, then, is that your feet have to be pretty to look at. It's a truth--though perhaps a slightly depressing one--that I (for one, although I think this is a general truth) am much less likely to enjoy watching you dance if you're wearing plain and/or ugly shoes, no matter how good of a dancer you are.

I got my first pair of Comme Il Faut (more on them in a minute) last November. All the sudden, my dancing improved quite a bit. For one, I was more aware of what I was doing with my feet, which meant I was making more elegant movements (or so I'm flattering myself). For another, it was much easier to dance in them than in the ancient character shoes I had worn before.

Purchased from, and photo by, Felina Shoes

They don't look this pretty anymore, mostly because the flour we spread on the concrete floors to make them danceable turns the suede grey, even after I brush them as clean as I can get them.

They're easier to dance in for a few reasons. One, the sole is incredibly flexible, which is important. Try taking a pair of street heels and bending the toe up. Most of them are about as flexible as blocks of wood (and you can see what this does to one's dancing when you see people foolishly trying to move in them). Two, they're soled in leather so that you can slide and turn on a dance floor (rubber doesn't let you turn). Three, because of the pitch of the shoe, you're already balanced on your toes, which is where you're going to be while dancing tango anyway.

Those are the practical reasons. The other, huge reason is that they're just damn sexy. Observe:

From Addicts.

My photo, at the Tucson Tango Festival.

Also by me.

All of the shoes in this post, incidentally, are Comme Il Faut. Long before I even really knew how to tango, I knew that Comme was the top of the line as far as women's tango heels go. (I don't recall how I found this out--probably a Google exploration). There are a few other big names, but Comme has achieved a cult status similar to Jimmy Choo or Christian Louboutin in the real world.

They're handmade in Argentina, for one thing. They're also made quite well; I've heard stories of people teaching in the same pair for 8 hours a day for years on end. The designs are infinitely sexier than almost all of the other tango shoes I've seen. They're also almost cheeky in their design choices, using extensive embellishments or unusual material or color combinations. Nearly all of their heels are a stilleto (instead of the much less graceful Louis heel).

They've also worked very hard to maintain an air of exclusivity. They only make 30 pairs of each design, so it's rare that you'll come across someone with the same pair as you. They don't let their retailers post full pictures of their shoes online to keep others from stealing their designs (this is also why I've had a bit of trouble finding the pictures I wanted for this post). I have heard, although I can't confirm, that their boutique in Buenos Aires has only about five pairs in a display case; instead of browsing their selection, you tell them what you're looking for and they go back and bring out pairs they think you'll like. It's also rumored that they only bring out the best pairs for the most stylish women.

Another nice thing about their designs is that they take into account the fact that the heels are most often seen from behind, so they'll often embellish the back of the heel cage.

From Addicts.

Also from Addicts.

Part of tango fashion also seems to be picking up some color or pattern in the heels and echoing it in your outfit.

Jennifer Richard photography (hereafter, JR). Worth clicking to view the larger image.

My photo, again at the festival. Also check out the lace pair in the background.

One of my favorite pairs I've seen is below, worn by one of the instructors at the Tango Festival, Naomi Hotta.

At rest:

In motion:


Something about the harlequin pattern, especially worn with such a simple outfit, seemed so fun and elegant at the same time.

Looking over this post, I'm not sure that I've explained quite well enough why I--and so many other women--drop $200 or more on these shoes without a second thought, or why one pair is simply not sufficient. At any rate, I'll leave you with a shot of my second pair. They weren't what I was looking for--I wanted some in regular leather, so that I could wear them on a floured floor and not worry about ruining them, perhaps with some of those scrolls on the back--but these were so pretty that I couldn't pass them up.

My photo.


things I like this week, vol. 7

Curtains, blowing. Reminiscent of that passage in Gatsby:
We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.

A fantastic painting, soon to be the book cover for the very first book
of a long and illustrious literary career.


slightly facetious

I've been pioneering a new style, recently. It's the I'm-wearing-slightly-wrinkled-cotton-but-I-look-chic-instead-of-sloppy trend. Or it will be a trend, because I'm making it one.

There's a trick to getting away with iffy sartorial choices, and it very simply involves walking around with confidence. Add that to a basic understanding of color and proportion, and I think it's pretty hard to go wrong.

The wrinkles are mostly, at the moment, coming from the fact that I left my clean laundry in the clothesbasket for over a week. But since I wore the shirts with fancier pieces (suit shorts; a tulle skirt), and got compliments, I think this pioneering has been a success.

My students, of course, at least the ones who iron everything they wear (including their denim) and look exactly the same everyday (medium-wash distressed jeans, colored Aeropostale tshirt layered over a white tee, eerily white sneakers), probably think less of me. But I'm not dressing to please them, obviously.

You should start working the wrinkled cotton, too. Let me know how it goes.


things I like this week, vol. 6

Desire to Inspire post on Mark Seelen
I keep coming back to this photo, for some reason. I'm not sure if it's because of the distressing on the walls, or if it has something to do with the angle, or what, but I'm in love with it. Wood floors, too. Sigh.

You have to click on it and see the enlarged version. Trust me.

Kate Rosalik, local tango instructor
It's hard to explain tango shoes to someone who doesn't tango. She's wearing a pair of Comme il Faut heels (which means "as it must be," a name as apt as anything I could possibly think of). Something about this shot--even though it's blown out from the flash--is still a fantastic example of how alluring these heels can be. I love especially the floaty material of the dress that just matches the contrast color on the strap on the heel.

I need an entirely separate post discussing tango shoes.

I don't even like French bulldogs, but this is adorable. Between the look on his face, and the snow . . .

I love her blog (and I know she loves mine, because she tells me so!), but this picture is especially awesome, because it looks like some sort of surrealist painting. It's just odd enough to look unbelievable.


totally true confessions tuesday

Stole the idea from Slim Paley.

1. I have never been to Mexico, despite having lived within a few hours driving distance for essentially my entire life.
2. I am an endless list of movies that I haven't seen that, apparently, everyone should. Colin is routinely appalled.
3. I also routinely forget movies that I have watched. When Colin reminds me, I say something like, "oh, that's the one where in the end, they ______, right?" and rarely remember anything else.
4. I still like the country music I grew up listening to (mostly nineties stuff, not even the stuff old enough to have street cred). I am convinced this is a sin.
5. I not only karaoke, but practice it a capella in the car.
6. Like Einstein, all my best ideas occur in the shower.
7. I am nearly as big a procrastinator as my students.
8. My Christmas tree is still in my backyard, slowly drying out.
9. Everyone goes on and on about Dickens, but I call him the Victorian Stephanie Meyer. I worry that someday Meyer will be considered "literature."
10. All of my wallpapers on my phone (I, for some reason, have four) are set to pictures I've taken of clouds, and all but one were taken while driving:


happiness hit her like a bullet in the back

My friend Leeann gave me Florence + the Machine's CD Lungs a little over a week ago, just when I'd started hearing "Dog Days Are Over" on the radio all the time and couldn't get it out of my head.

I literally listened to the album for a week straight. This is a testament to how good the music is; normally, even if I like an artist, I can't sit through an entire album of just them. For me to then repeatedly listen to hers for days on end is impressive. (I should mention that I did have to put it on random for that to happen.)

The nice thing about Florence is that even though she sticks to one style of singing, each song feels different and distinct from the others. Besides that, she has a hell of a voice, and she writes her own songs (a must if I'm going to listen to you for any significant amount of time). She even lists Tom Waits as inspiration.

And right when I'd nearly reached saturation point, I came across this picture on Vanessa Jackman's ethereal street-style photography blog:

Sigh. Girl crush.


shit in my bag*

I have a dirty secret. Well, one of many, at least. I'm a giveaway whore.

Susie Bubble's doing a purse giveaway; since I was taking a picture of what's in my bag anyway, I figured I'd post it.

From left: Mark Gloss Gorgeous in Bare (lip gloss with a stain in it . . . brilliant); Cover Girl lipstain; essie crystal nail file; eos in lemon drop <3; housekeys; Blink eyedrops for contacts; asthma inhaler; card case with the essential cards (handier than a wallet); checkbook; pen; tiny rubber black bear belonging to my four-year-old; purse from OoO! that was the result of my intense handbag search. Not pictured: coupons, receipts, snapshots of baby J, Target brand Excedrin and Sudafed, non-essential cards (library, coupon, etc.)

The purse just barely holds everything I need on a daily basis. I'm still sometimes amazed that I can fit all of that in there.

*it's a movie reference, I swear. Guess it and I'll be proud of you.


computer set up

This is, of course, after we'd just cleaned up the house and all of the nail polish, old water cups, scraps of paper, etc., had been removed.

Daffodils are about a buck fifty for ten stems at Trader Joe's right now. I took this right after I'd put them in water (they ship them dry), but they all were completely open about 4 hours later. They're my favorite flower, I think. Along with irises. (Take note.)

The cup is also my current favorite. It's a piece of Polish pottery, which can be kind of expensive unless you stalk Marshall's and TJ Maxx for the pretty pieces like I do. They're made with lead-free glaze (not a guarantee you can get for anything coming out of China), and can be put in the freezer, oven, microwave, and dishwasher. I tend to like the ones that are mostly blue. You can mix and match the patterns easily, which I appreciate. Wouldn't want everything being too matchy-matchy.

I've taken to using the laptop out here for several reasons, the two biggest being that my computer is slow because the hard drive is nearly full, and my desk chair is incredibly uncomfortable. If anyone has one to give away that can be raised to two feet off the ground and is relatively comfy, let me know . . .


the rooster

He’s awfully big,
flouncing around that barnyard,
red feathers plumed and a jaunty
fingered coxcomb on his head.

The melody of his crow
enchants his ear,
so he sings his refrain
into redundancy.
He looks around and hopes
all the hens hear.

His claws are thick
and shiny; his raptor’s scaled
feet feel powerful. He is sure
he could claw someone
half to death,
if he could ever find a chance.

He is the cock.
This is his barnyard.
But once he’s been
beheaded and defeathered,
his proud chicken flesh
makes a mighty tasty meal.



The internet, I think, so often gets a bad reputation. People talk about porn and online gaming and stalkers and the lack of socialization so often that we forget sometimes that there are good things that happen, too.

One of my favorite "good things" about the internet is that it reminds me, often, how wonderful and truly generous people can be.

Recently, Michael of Forgotten Bookmarks decided to do a book care package giveaway, and asked his readers to nominate someone who was having a tough time. I nominated one of my students (whose story, even in the watered-down, anonymous version I emailed to Michael, is personal enough that I won't share it here). Suffice to say that "tough time" is an understatement, and I've been doing my best to help this student survive it.

Michael sent me an email back, saying that of all the stories he received, the one about my student stuck to him the most, so he would be sending the handmade journal and the care package. In his follow up post he talked about how hearing these stories had changed him, and how he planned on trying to get a package out to everyone who sent him a story.

The experience has changed me, a bit, too. It's a very generous thing he's doing; I can't even begin to comprehend how much such an endeavor will cost him in books and time and shipping (although other readers have offered to donate to help him with shipping costs, which speaks well of his community of followers, too). I forget, sometimes, in the midst of our budget cuts and wars and crime, that there are people out there like Michael; there are whole communities of strangers who are willing to help brighten someone's day, even for a moment.

I don't know that that level, that concentration, of generosity between strangers has ever had such an easy forum as the internet. This is one example, and perhaps the biggest I've experienced, but there are many more; and each time it happens, my faith in humanity is resuscitated just a little bit.


blues house party

wee hours of the morning.

the song that kept the dancing going into the wee hours of the morning.


why hanging balls from your vehicle makes you look like less of a man

So, you've decided to hang a metal or plastic facsimile of larger-than-human testicles from the back of your automobile.

The imagery here, for me, is always very confusing. For one thing, you're presumably trying to put forth some positive PR for your actual cajones. But the location of these swinging grapes imply that the truck (it's usually a truck) itself is the dick--in which case, your poor huevos are grotesquely undersized.

Colin pointed out that they're often attached to a trailer hitch, so perhaps that is supposed to be the phallic portion of the symbolic genitalia. If that were true, then the penis would be protruding from, essentially, the asshole of the car, which makes your twig and berries either very deformed, very gay, or both.

The message gets even more confusing when they're constructed of blue plastic, like the pair I saw this morning. If I weren't getting laid, I don't think advertising that fact would help the situation any.

The trump card, of course, is that such an excessive display of manhood is a surefire indicator that you're feeling inadequate. It's bad enough to buy a large truck because you have to feel bigger than everyone else on the road if not in the bedroom, but to add the balls just points out that your truck is a phallic symbol. Unfortunately, it also indicates that you still don't have the intelligence to figure out that you're sending a very self-depreciating message.

Colin and I have a mutual friend from college named Tommy. Whenever someone who was obviously compensating would drive by, he would yell at the top of his lungs, "SORRY ABOUT YOUR PENIS!"

Sorry, Mr. Ballsack-hanging-from-your-bumper, about your penis.