"Our most ancient metaphor says life is a journey. Memoir is travel writing, then, notes taken along the way, telling how things looked and what thoughts occurred. . . .This is the traveler who goes on foot, living the journey, taking on mountains, enduring deserts, marveling at the lush green places...as a pilgrim, seeking, wondering." -Patricia Hampl

December 30, 2009

Best Words of 2009

A friend suggested that since I'd posted a list of grimy words that I ought to make good and post some that don't leave us feeling so much like we have poison ivy on the insides. So, in the interest of warming up for 2010 (the daily bloggers' theme for January is best), here's the official Gebell household list of best verbiage of the past year (including some from the past decade, given where we've been and what we've done, and yes, some of these will be compound nouns and some won't be nouns or words at all, and some will be in different languages, again, given where we've been and what we've done). Perhaps a pattern will emerge that will say something about how I've lived the past ten years. I'd love to hear some of your favorite words of the decade, too.

Red Line
live music
Route 1
Green Mountains
White Mountains
Revere Beach
olive grove
sunflower fields
la dolce fa niente
sea kayaking
sun bathing
teaching method
method acting
The Fogg (on rainy days, especially)
Oaxacan chocolate
Puerto Escondido
apricot pastry
book club
Elephant Walk
Diesel Cafe
Open Mic at Lizard Lounge
walking Walden Pond
Concord, Lexington
New England autumn
West Coast summer
Redwood Forest
Olympic Mountains
O Beautiful
Grand Canyon
red rocks
The Rez
Springsteen (at Fenway!)
Prince (at Boston Garden)
Club Passim
Pushkar camels
Amber Palace (by motorcycle! on my birthday!)
pink sand
treehouse (one accomodation in Kerala)
cave-dwelling goddesses
spice farm
autumn in New York
Farmer's Market
garage (I'm especially thankful for this in January--the only garage I've ever had)
Weeping Cherry tree
botanist, hippie neighbors (no, not the nudist)
Park Ave.
killer whales
tree walking
Pike Place
Rainier cherries
Experience Music
receiving blankets
sink baths
rosebud lips
toothless smile
infant passport
Japanese grandmas
Maguro sushi
hot sake
green tea
Goodnight Moon
[Also, I love the word twice.]

December 28, 2009

Sestina for Rochester

Every year, when the snow comes, it's as if something's been holding back on us. Some people say they can smell the imminent snow; the more seasoned among us feel it in their joints.

I say winter really begins when Heath and I have to figure out which company can really handle early-morning driveway plowing (I like to leave for school around 7 a.m., though that rarely happens) and we start running up to the corner hardware store for Salt Melt. We'll make lists of all the cousins for whom we're going to get Chanukah presents, start figuring out what they'd like, and make our annual pilgrimage to Target and Toys-R-Us where Heath will delight in choosing exactly the right toys for each kid. Friends' holiday cards start coming in the mail, and better, witty holiday letters that detail the highlights of their years for better or worse.

One of our favorite rituals has become the most simple date: coffee (chai lattes at Spot Coffee) and a movie (at the Little Theater) on one of our mutual days off. This year, we managed two dates (even dinner and a movie!) thanks to Bubbe and Grandma and Zaide. Two dates in one week: ah, vacation. For some odd (really odd) reason I can't decipher, I appreciate the arctic chill so characteristic of our city in the winter. It makes us huddle closer while we're walking outside. It makes us snuggle closer in the not-warm-enough movie theater. That chill settles in our bones just so that I want to wear socks to bed, but know I won't need to.

One of the poems I shared with the Creative Writing class lately was this one: it's a really difficult form to manage, but Hecht does it beautifully. Yeah, this city's pretty bleak in the winter. Maybe AH didn't have someone to hold him close.

"Sestina d'Inverno" by Anthony Hecht:

Here in this bleak city of Rochester,
Where there are twenty-seven words for "snow,"
Not all of them polite, the wayward mind
Basks in some Yucatan of its own making,
Some coppery, sleek lagoon, or cinnamon island
Alive with lemon tints and burnished natives,

And O that we were there. But here the natives
Of this grey, sunless city of Rochester
Have sown whole mines of salt about their land
(Bare ruined Carthage that it is) while snow
Comes down as if The Flood were in the making.
Yet on that ocean Marvell called the mind

An ark sets forth which is itself the mind,
Bound for some pungent green, some shore whose natives
Blend coriander, cayenne, mint in making
Roasts that would gladden the Earl of Rochester
With sinfulness, and melt a polar snow.
It might be well to remember that an island

Was blessed heaven once, more than an island,
The grand, utopian dream of a noble mind.
In that kind climate the mere thought of snow
Was but a wedding cake; the youthful natives,
Unable to conceive of Rochester,
Made love, and were acrobatic in the making.

Dream as we may, there is far more to making
Do than some wistful reverie of an island,
Especially now when hope lies with the Rochester
Gas and Electric Co., which doesn't mind
Such profitable weather, while the natives
Sink, like Pompeians, under a world of snow.

The one thing indisputable here is snow,
The single verity of heaven's making,
Deeply indifferent to the dreams of the natives,
And the torn hoarding-posters of some island.
Under our igloo skies the frozen mind
Holds to one truth: it is grey, and called Rochester.

No island fantasy survives Rochester,
Where to the natives destiny is snow
That is neither to our mind nor of our making.

December 26, 2009

Late December Admission

I am too busy and too tired to post everyday (right now). The other night, it had occurred to me that I hadn't written a lick since last week, and then I thought about all the stuff going on, like

the last week of school before break
entailing college rec's that need to get out
and preparing the midterm stuff
and grading stuff that needs to get graded
paying bills from the fall show
rehearsing the geva show
drama club officer appointments
lesson prep
grading quizzes
and the home stuff
like playing with devi
making food for devi
making food for us
making cookies for other people
helping devi learn to walk
reading devi books
reading heath's face
reading papers
rereading Romeo and Juliet
more laundry
and holiday stuff
getting presents
wrapping presents
unwrapping presents
cleaning up from chanukah
cleaning out the fridge
cleaning around playing devi
date night with heath
writing devi's 1st birthday invitations
addressing same (thank you, online white pages)
xmas dinner at aunt karen's
making stuff to bring to aunt karen's
waking up late and enjoying lazy mornings with my family
37,000 readings of hungry caterpillar and peek-a-who

and the like. Hope everyone had a lovely holiday season! Perhaps I can try this daily blogging thing next time I'm home on maternity leave.... Anyway, here's a glimpse into Devi's new occupation, hugging and kissing her Daddy.

December 17, 2009

The Stage Door Project

Oh, you want another post, do you? Well, tough. I posted today on my OTHER (temporary) blog: http://www.gevatheatre.org/learn/blog/ .

In August, Skip Greer, the Artistic Director of Geva Theater and their Artist in Residence, asked me (and eight other area high school drama directors) to participate in this amazing (and humbling) undertaking. Each of us high school drama mamas are directing one scene from John Cariani's "Almost, Maine," which will appear on Geva's Mainstage in January--our high school collaboration, resulting in a different, more amateur but just as impassioned version, called The Stage Door Project, goes up on Geva's stage on FEBRUARY 1. Interested? Call me about tickets.

I'll write more about this project later, as we get closer to opening. It's so cool, though, and my actors, designer, and marketers are working their butts off! You can read more about "Almost, Maine" at http://gevatheatre.org/plays/almostmaine.html. You can also read more about the Project at http://gevatheatre.org/learn/stagedoor.html.

December 16, 2009

Ugly Words

Today, in Creative Writing class, I had my students brainstorm the most beautiful words and the most ugly words they could imagine. The point of the exercise was that words are most powerful when they're together. For instance, the words


should right now be giving you, the reader, a general feeling of overall ickiness. If you're feeling icky right now, well, good.

But the exercise also stirred some slightly traumatic episodes from last night's adventures in teething. FILL IN THE BLANKS! Let's just say that two handfuls of baby _________, probably resulting from her swallowing too much of her own __________, was proof enough that I can handle anything disgusting this lovely little baby girl has to dish out.

I wonder what kinds of ads will pop up to the left after this is posted...

December 15, 2009

This Fuels my Wanderlust

A colleague of mine showed me this today and I've been having the warm fuzzies all day. Please go to this site (click on the video), created by a self- proclaimed "deadbeat" who in his late 20's decided to gallavant around the planet. His friend recorded his bad dancing in Hanoi, and the rest is history.

There is no agenda here, no political message. What makes me happiest watching this, I think, are seeing the sheer joy on the faces of the people, but mainly the kids, who are dancing with Matt.

Devi's passport is newly broken in...I wonder where we'll all go next?

December 14, 2009

"Author, Author"

Heath and I are sitting on the couch with our laptops, and the New York movie starring Al Pacino is on. It's a movie about a struggling father of six who also happens to be a major playwright. It's also a great bit of movie history (remember when people smoked in airports?), a hilarious insight into theater writing and production, and maybe a sneaky love letter to the Manhattan I fell in love with as a kid--the one that when I visited with my parents would make me tick like crazy. Lights. The lower west side. The Brooklyn Bridge, the Theater District.

A New York before cell phones.
A New York before 9/11.
A New York before AIDS awareness.

When doormen used whistles to call cops.

In college, I won a campus-wide essay contest (truth be told, 3rd place), and my dad, who I am missing so badly today, sent me a bouquet of flowers with a note attached:

"Author, author," it said.

He must have loved this movie too.

December 06, 2009

The Coolest Moment of the Weekend

Heath, Devi, and I have now spent two afternoons--in a row--at Eastview Mall. It wasn't as crowded as I'd suspected, I think because we're still a few weeks out from Christmas and because Anthropolgie, the answer to my shopping prayers, my (and I'm sure thousands of other area women's) clothing Mecca, hasn't opened yet.

Yesterday was a designated shopping day: with 11 cousins to shop for, we felt like we were on a zany treasure hunt for just the right set of dinosaurs, princess stuff, books, toys, etc. The megalopolis we've come to know as Target helped us get a majority of the tasks accomplished. Also, we found some adorable bedroom accents for Devi (photos forthcoming!) to boot, and to our sheer delight, some vintage toys which we played with as children but are sure our parents sold at garage sales between 1977 and 1980. Weakened but not weary, we met some friends and their kids out for dinner, where we discovered Devi's fascination with balloons and where she had her first "real" kids' meal, chicken tenders and broccoli. Our wallet exhausted, we returned home triumphant and with several things to wrap before Friday, when Chanukah starts.

Today we ventured back to Eastview, this time to watch my sister-in-law, Rachel, perform with her music group from Hochstein Music School. Rachel's been a part of this amazing, dauntless, special-needs group for quite a while, and often asks us to make certain we attend the next concert, even if it's months away: the performances give her--and, doubtless, her peers--a visceral euphoria that nothing but music can give them. Witness Rachel sending up her arms in utter joy while singing today, the smile on her face sheer ecstacy, her eyes beaming. The typical holiday concert music ("Joy to the World"--not the Credence version) was peppered with some show-stoppers, like the duet "Do You Love Me?" from Fiddler on the Roof (thank you, Wade, for sparing us the comparatively meager dreidel song) and a Bollywood number during which the 30-odd performers danced simply and with alacrity, led by fabulous, genius Wade and the music therapy student interns. Awesome. (Pictured above is the group on their home turf, at Hochstein.)

But perhaps the most touching moment was watching Wade and one of the interns dance with Nomi, who is blind and wheelchair-bound; while the violins played, they whirled and gently spun the smiling Nomi, twirling her by the hands while Nomi seemed to glide through the space. It was like watching a ballet-a-trois, of sorts, that made one think of what a perfect world is supposed to be like.

Joy to the World, indeed. Thank you Wade M. Richards, for giving some very special people some incredible experiences, and for giving us the opportunity to share them.

December 05, 2009

It Makes a Great Teether, Too

[N.B. The closest we came today to any sort of Mitzvah-doing (see yesterday's first post) was sparing some change to the Salvation Army Volunteer who opened the door to JC Penney's today while ringing that seasonally-ubiquitous bell. Otherwise, I'm at a loss for today's NaBloPoMo post, so I'll offer the short one that follows here, and promise to write about more than Devi, though she is deserving of a post a day because she ROCKS. Just see for yourself here.]

Among Devi's many accomplishments this month, in addition to her asking for her plush, pink bear by name ("Beh...beh...", though her real name is Pinky Tuscabearo and we realize that's too difficult for a 10-month-old to say right now), and pulling herself to standing on nearly every surface parallel with the floor in our house, is her near-mastery of the sippy cup. Let's let the video speak for itself.

December 04, 2009

A Day at the Museum of Play

The NATIONAL Museum of Play, that is. Yes, right here in our (postage-stamp-sized) city backyard--literally, four minutes from our street--is the home to the National Toy Hall of Fame, the precious and sometimes eerie Strong Doll Collection, the exotic, breathtaking Butterfly Garden, and loads of hands-on stuff for kids to experience serious, and even educational, fun. At the moment, the two exhibits are about Superheroes (there's even a transformer-type machine to turn you into The Hulk) and the first arcade video games (I played Ms. Pac-Man for the first time in about 20 or so years). Heath and I had each taken Devi there, but not together, and we figured what better time than our joint day off for the Thanksgiving holiday.

At every turn, our little girl kicked her legs and rubbed her feet vigorously together in that way she does (her eyes get really wide and she starts making happy noises). We'd only just paid our entrance fees when she saw the gigantic aquarium and started her little freak-out/happy noises. So there we were for a good 15 minutes, just watching the fish go by, especially "Nemo" (there are two clownfish in one tank) and the big fish with the crazy nose, and the languid anemones wave with each fish's passing, like Hollywood starlets who can't be bothered to remove themselves from a divan.

A pit stop at Sesame Street, where Devi played with Elmo and we got nostalgic (remember Mr. Hooper?). This is a fun joint if you loved the vibe of Sesame Street, so ahead of its time for bilingual education, educational television programming, and messages of unity, tolerance, urban harmony, general peace, love, and happiness for all (including fuzzy monsters--because they have feelings too). A rumor was floating about that Cookie Monster can no longer be called so because of the childhood obesity epidemic. It was time to move on.

On to the incredible Butterfly Garden. It's like walking into something like Wonka's paradise, except there's no chocolate in sight so it can't truly be paradise. Yet just through the doors it's sensory overload: you've left the florescence of the museum for the natural light of this place, and that, coupled with the humidity and your being literally surrounded by tropical plants and hundreds of butterflies--beautiful, colorful, tranquil--transports you into this Seussical and yet sensuous place.
We've been making up the hand-sign for butterfly, crossing our wrists and fluttering our fingers as, I imagine, butterflies do--I don't know, maybe I was trying too hard to entertain Devi while she was in her highchair last week--but just a couple of nights ago, she put her food down and crossed her wrists, opening and closing her fists in imitation. I couldn't believe it. And when she did that for my mother, she made plans to take Devi right back to the Butterfly Garden. You'll have to pick up my jaw and hand it back to me if "butterfly" is Devi's first word, which it just might be.

A good time was had by all, and our curious little monkey fell asleep on the way home. I wonder if there were visions of fish, butterflies, and (Berenstein) bears dancing in her head.

NaBloPoMo (G'bless You)

Here's a blogging phenomenon that's recently piqued my interest: blogging every day for an entire month. And according to NaBloPoMo's site, the theme for bloggers this month is MITZVAH (loosely translated from Yiddish/Hebrew, the act of doing good by others). Fitting that this is the theme for the month that nestles right up against the New Year.

It goes something like this: I'm supposed to try to blog every day for the month. Since I've already missed the first three days of December, I'll have to try to double-blog on those languid, lazy days I have oodles and oodles of hours to do nothing else, such as teach or read papers or grade papers or plan lessons or buy and cook and eat stuff or stare into my husband's beautiful eyes or write recommendation letters or oh yeah, RAISE A HUMAN BEING who has her father's beautiful eyes and who tries to eat recommendation letters instead of her squash.

Since this technically qualifies as my first entry for the month, I'll double blog tonight (go crazy, Monica) and take advantage of Devi's and Heath's having fallen asleep.

(Ok, who am I kidding? This is insane. There is no way I'll be able to post every day for a month. I feel a little like I'm about to go on one of those protein-only diets, where you know it's going to really suck for the first three weeks until you're so deliriously hungry you tell yourself it's not so bad, you love eating brazil nuts between meals and as meals, and there must be plenty of ways to make tofu taste good. Your vote of confidence will be in the form of suggestions for blog topics--so feel free to throw in your subject of choice.)

(Ok, but I teach Creative Writing, and I'm always going on about how writing is supposed to be a daily practice, even if it's brainstorming or freewriting, and how the more we write the better we write.)

So here goes. Day 1. Really, let's just call it Day 4, December 4. WRITE IT.