Best Opening Lines Ever...

O visions of salmon tremendous,
Of trout of unusual weight...

-- from Andrew Lang, Books & Bookmen, 1886



Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
Even at 7 AM, we are busy busy busy...

Stinging Caterpillar

Stinging Caterpillar
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
This morning's drawing. The caterpillar is walking on stones inscribed with words from "Jane Language." The drawing was inspired by pictures in an old entomology textbook that I found on the street in Brooklyn.

Drawn From Life

Drawn From Life
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
Jane's rendition of the flowers on the table.

The Work Table

The Work Table
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
The flowers were a big win.

Mama-School, Day Three


The idea of writing before Jane wakes up and after she goes to sleep is proving untenable.

Not writing, I am a grumpy terrible person. I am pretty sure this is not simple cussedness on my part. I understand the world through writing things down. It is like living in a dense fog, not having the time or opportunity to put things into words. My head hurts from the effort of not writing. Even as I write this, the phone rings with some inessential communication. I only have a few more minutes before Jane gets bored with what she's doing and needs me to redirect her (more on this below). Gah.

We could homeschool her if it came to that. But I would need a cook, a housekeeper, and an IT person on call (my printer is on the blink, I don't have time to fix it, and that is another source of blockage, not being able to move things from screen to paper, where I can revise them).

I also need an hour sometime during the day, just to bathe and take care of personal stuff.

MJ is traveling, which makes this whole experience much more demanding than it would be otherwise.

Some other thoughts, scribbled down randomly:

- I did not include enough down time in my plan. Jane is napping two hours solid (hooray) every day, but she requires 45 minutes just to settle down and by the end of that process, I am exhausted. It is worth it, though, because she is much less whiny and difficult in the evenings, and physically much less uncoordinated as well. Which translates into better safety, because she's less likely to stumble, for instance, on the stairs.

- I did not include time for reflection in my plan, either. I should have.

- Bedtime is still a major battle.

- Rigidity. When she starts to get bored, her play becomes very rigid -- she sings the same nonsense over and over, increasing the volume each time, until someone (me) has to intervene. ("No shouting, please.") Staving off the boredom = noting and naming it ("You seem bored") and redirecting her or (more recently) encouraging her to redirect herself ("what do you want to do next?") Lesson: annoying behavior = boredom and stuckness, not being able to figure out what to do next, how to go on. There is a language aspect to this, on some level, too (Wittgenstein). Want to think about it more.

- Whining, much improved.

- Still need to work on awareness of other people. She gives me orders ("make breakfast, make me a cup of tea") and then, as I am working on this stuff, she demands my attention for something else. I want her to understand that people cannot be expected to do more than one thing at once. There's a lot to this: turn-taking, patience, self-control. Also observation -- when is this person's attention going to be available? What is the best time to "interrupt"?


Mama-School, Day One: Science

"What do you want to do this afternoon, Jane?"


Oh. Hmm.

"Let's pretend to be scientists," she says.

"Okay. Are we in our lab?"

"Yes. We're having our coffee."

She is closer to reality than she thinks.

"What are we doing now?"

"We're mixing colors. Red and white makes pink. Red and blue makes purple."

This goes on for a while. Mixing, talking about colors. There is a pause when we exhaust the combinations we know about.

"Jane, what is science?"

"Science is when you mix things up and you don't know what's going to happen."

"Oh. So, what's not science?"

"When you mix things up, and you do know."

Mama-School, Day One: Anthropomorphic

"You be the mama kitty."

"Okay. I'm the mama kitty. Meow!"

"I'll be the baby kitty. Meow!"

This goes on for a while. Then: "You're an anthropomorphic kitty."

"What does that mean?"

"You're a kitty shaped like a person."

"What if I were a person shaped like a kitty?"


Mama-School, Day One: The Animated Alphabet

I give Jane a Sharpie and some paper.

"I'm going to write my name," she says.
"It doesn't matter if you don't do it right." Implicit in her tone: Does it?
"No, it doesn't."


"Want to see some funny letters?" I grab a copy of The Animated Alphabet. She loves the letters shaped like animals. Something clicks, and suddenly her letters are covered with embellishments, and she's good for at least an hour, scribbling away, making up stories about her letters, which turn into tigers, which turn into letters again.

Need to find some alphabet soup for lunch. And animal crackers. Put them in the soup...



In California earlier this week, I had an odd experience: I heard a raven croaking, looked up to find it on a low branch, and stepped toward it. The bird watched me but did not move. It was huge, almost two feet tall, with a large, slightly curvy beak and yellow eyes. I'd never seen anything like it. I came closer, but the bird didn't really care - it just kept croaking, and listening as another raven, in a nearby tree, croaked back. I had the feeling I was in the presence of some kind of intelligence -- not just another bird.

Turns out, ravens are as smart as two-year-olds. They are flexible, strategic thinkers. They'll even try to make a bested rival feel better. Wow.

Pet Peeve

Oh, how I dislike the sort of writing that asks you to love it, to approve of it, while pushing you away - humorless stories about self-destruction in the service of rebellion, of telling it to the Man. The writer forgets the basic instability of the reader's position, how easy it is to go from sympathy for the narrator to identification with the very thing that oppresses her. I do not understand why people bang on about, for instance, Baudelaire, who whines quite a bit about being -- get this! -- unlucky in love. Which happens to everyone, and certainly is not a cause for whining.

Often, when reading Baudelaire, part of me wishes I had lived in nineteenth-century Paris & had the opportunity to dump him. Imp of the perverse and all that.

When this happens, I reject everything, hating to be made complicit in a story that I came to all opened up and vulnerable and ready to listen.

This post is not meaningfully linked, it accuses without pointing a finger, it whines and complains. Fittingly, I suppose.


Oh, shucks, I'm IT.

Cathy just tagged me. My assignment: to confess eight random facts about ... myself. Good heavens. I guess there's a reason VANITY figures so prominently in the title of this (non)blog.

Caveat lector: I make things up for a living.

1. I have been on an anti-depressant for the past year. I don't like taking the little pill, and sometimes will avoid or reject it. (This, too, is part of depression.) I used to be opposed to medication for mood "disorders," because I think sometimes people are sad because their lives are saddening, and that's what needs to be changed. Then I read Peter Kramer's Against Depression and reconsidered. Mostly, the medication works astonishingly well.

2. My left foot is a little larger than my right.

3. I am allergic to guava and ragweed. For a long time I thought I was allergic to goldenrod, but this was a mistake - goldenrod is not allergenic, it just flowers at the same time (and more prominently) as ragweed, leading people to blame the wrong plant.

A tropical drink in a late summer field might kill me.

4. I applied to exactly one university. Good thing they let me in.

5. I was in a "gifted" education program in elementary school, one of ten kids who were swept out of our local grammar schools and brought to another school where we were separated from the rest of our grade level for most of the day.

There is nothing like being separated from one's peers and labeled "gifted" for creating the conditions for constant teasing and humiliation.

While in our "gifted" class, we took part in various "enrichment" activities, one of which involved me pouring a bottle of peroxide all over the classroom woodwork because I was curious about what would happen. "Enrichment" must have meant "not too well supervised." As far as I know, none of us wound up in jail.

6. I used to be a cocktail waitress. One night, the former of mayor of Providence, Vincent "Buddy" Cianci, stiffed me for a seven-dollar tip on two cognacs he ordered, one for him and one for the very attractive torch singer at the bar.

7. I really do have a PhD from MIT.

8. I speak four languages in addition to English -- Italian, German, French, and Russian.

9. When I was eight or nine, I shoplifted a rhinestone button. I don't know why I did it. Maybe just because it was shiny.

If you hold (as I do) that this thing called literature is a dense network of writers' allusions to (not to mention appropriations of) other writers, then this is probably the first indication of what I was going to become. No wonder my parents worried so much.

As a friend -- another writer -- once told me, "We're all just magpies, aren't we."

10. Doubtless to the disappointment of both my parents, my first word was not "mama" or "daddy" but "butter." Or, more precisely, "budda." This utterance marked the flowering, also, of my Rhode Island accent, which has softened over the years but is still present (just ask me to say "carburetor" -- "caaahbuhraytahh")...

Now I need to tag eight other people. Good lord, this make take some time.


How to Catch a Glimpse of the Perseids

A how-to guide. Doesn't sound hard.


This schedule might work:

6-8: Writing time for DG

8-8:15: Outdoor karate time
8:15-8:45: Breakfast
8:45-9: Clean up
9-9:30 or 9:45 Free play
9:45-10: Snack
10-11:30: Two 45-minute structured activities (art, patterns, cooking etc) OR field trip
11:30-12: Lunch
12-12:30: Reading time
12:30-1:30 Nap, quiet time
1:30-1:45 Snack
1:45-2:30 Free play
2:30-3:30 Playground
3:30-5 Play date, unstructured play, whatever

5-6: Dinner (probably take-out)
6-9: Bedtime (writing time for DG)

If I can actually write in the mornings and evenings, this could work. Cooking and cleaning will definitely fall by the wayside for two weeks. On Tuesdays & Thursdays, I need an hour and half to visit my mother. So, things to think about...

Two-Week Homeschool Experiment (Notes)

Jane will be home -- no camp -- for two weeks starting the week after next.

Having her home should be okay. I think she needs the break. It has been a crazy summer -- there were the vandals, then the clean-up, the move, and a problem at camp that resulted in her being switched into a group of older kids, which was good for her in the way that challenges are generally good for people, but also, well, a challenge.

I noticed her development slip back a little this summer, though it has surged ahead in the last couple of days. This is her normal pattern -- a little regression, then a big leap. This time, the regression was social and physical: she was more like her three-year-old self, wiggling and whining. Then something consolidated, and now she talks, acts, and moves like a patient, self-aware six-year-old. Which isn't bad for a kid who's four. So, that's all good.

Now that the social and physical glitches have worked themselves out, perhaps it's a good time to work on the cognitive stuff. Strengthening her reading skills; playing math games; and especially broadening her vocabulary. She is hungry for new words -- yesterday's was "annelid" -- and very interested in dictionaries. She likes looking up words in French and practicing Chinese phrases in preparation for our trip to Beijing in the fall.

The keys to making these two weeks work, I think, are: learning by doing, lots of practical stuff. Keeping sessions short and switching activities a lot. And building in a lot of unstructured time where she can choose among different activities.

She likes to paint ceramic pots, so I think we'll do some of that, & experiment with ways to fix the paint (glazes). There's a throw-your-own pottery store not too far away... Maybe we could paint some Chinese ideograms on the pots...

She likes to dig in the dirt. Maybe we can do a little backyard archaeology, coupled with a trip to the recycling facility...

I want to take her back to the natural history museum, where there's a glass-enclosed Langstroth hive that might spark some ideas about nonverbal communication (the glass sides of the hive make it possible to watch the bees waggle dancing).

A bookmaking project would be fun. Printing with stamps, maybe even carving out potatoes to make our own stamps; binding with whatever we have -- elastic bands and twigs, maybe. (A nature book!)

Cooking: homemade bread, ice cream. Projects with lots of measuring, pouring, mixing, dynamic ingredients (yeast) and state changes (freezing).

Computer skills and pattern-matching: Isermann's magic carpet game.

Photography: Jane likes taking Polaroid pictures and she's amassing a large collection of snaps. We need to make an album -- maybe out of recycled material, using hand-binding techniques ...

More pattern play: Jane really likes Colorforms. We've been talking about Mondrian and thinking about what makes his work so special. We could play with tesserae, too.

Field trips: natural history museum, recycling facility, RISD museum, Ladd Observatory (it is Perseid season), the make-your-own pottery studio down the street...

Free-play activities that she could choose from: more colorforms, dress-up, "writing corner" (paper, markers, tape, scissors), blocks, playmobils, water play outside (mud pies, etc).

Physical stuff: trips to the playground (of course) and maybe MJ will take a little time each day to teach her some karate. She's big enough now.

And, of course, reading time and quiet time and lunch and snack and nap...


Not-So-Big House

The NYT looks at tiny homes.

A big landscape -- lots of sky, plains, etc. -- may demand a small house. With big windows.

(Where do you put the books? Oh, right - on your iPod.)