Monday, March 31, 2008

the Best Day of the year

the best day of the year dawned raw as my feelings after visiting my mother, gray as the sweater made from black-sheep wool Beloved presented to me along with my morning coffee. the irony of such a sweater tickles me. there are gifts, and there are Gifts. this is a Gift.

i did not officially make my entrance into this side of the veil until 8:55 this evening, and so today has never exactly felt like my birthday. my mother was so proud she saved me from the awful fate of being an april fool. aren't you glad you're a march lamb and not an april fool, she'd coo.

considering my two favorite characters in all of literature - both from King Lear -are Edmond and Lear's Fool, no.

but that's another story. tonight, tomorrow - those are REALLY the first 24 hours of my life. my life began, as the ancient celts believed the day did, on the cusp of the night - the night of the Day of the Fool. as much as my mother tried to cloak me in lamb's clothing, i am very much an April Fool.

maybe it is the very perversity of my nature - nine of fifteen retrograde planets makes for a lot of perversity - that, unlike a lot of other people i know, i adore my birthday. i don't care how much older i get. i hope i celebrate as many birthdays as possible. when people stop celebrating your birthdays, the jig is generally up.

but it's the third scene of thornton wilder's Our Town that made an indelible mark in my 16 year old soul, and seared in me forever an appreciation of my birthday. it was the spring play my junior year in high school - for some reason i don't remember, i was not involved, which was unusual. but it meant that instead of strutting my little lines across the stage, i was sitting, in the audience, beside my best friend, josie. listening.

the line is spoken by the main character, emily, on the occasion of her 12th birthday - an unusual one because on it, she's back from the dead. what she sees, as she relives her 12th birthday, is the jarring clear juxtaposition between the dazzling magnificence of ordinary life, and lack of attention and appreciation we generally have for it.

as she stares at her mother, so young, her father, so vigorous, even her little brother looks cute - she realizes that something very precious is passing through her fingers, running like sand through an hour glass. everyone is busy, everyone engaged in the business of living, running to school, to work, to necessary obligations. but no one, emily realizes to her absolute astonishment, is noticing how wonderful, how beautiful it all is. can't we all just be? she pleads, and for one brief, shining moment, everyone - including the audience - does.

can't we all just be?

yes, i thought, that's how i want to live my life. it was one of the first times in my life that i heard truth, recognized it and felt it shape me, change me, alter something in me.

just being is a Big Task and i live a little life, chronicled more thoroughly here than anywhere else, i think. just being is a path from which i am easily blown off track, buffeted as we all are by needs and demands of all kinds. but ever since that moment, my birthday is the day - if none other - i devote to just being. whatever that happens to be.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed BE.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

there and back again

my mother, in her own way, goddess bless, is as hale and hearty as anyone in their 70's with as many problems as she has, could possibly be. i was astounded to see how well she's moving around, how fast and light on her feet. allergic to most pain medications, she has somehow gotten through hip replacement surgery and recuperation on one percoset a day.

my mother regaled me with tales of her convalescence, extolling repeatedly the virtues of her friends, and my little brother, david, who despite his downs syndrome, stepped up to the plate and has been tending my mother with devotion.

as i listened to my mother talk, i remembered her stories about my great-grandmother, her grandmother, who had repeatedly hurt her feelings unintentionally by continously calling her ugly. quande se' brut'! my mother would quote, and explain to me that in it-lee, or the Old Country, it was considered bad luck to tell a child he or she was beautiful. it would either summon demons or have a bad effect on their heads, i can't remember which - probably both. but the upshot, my mother would gravely say, is that she learned not to tell a child he or she was ugly.

my mother has never told me i am ugly. however, if i had a nickel for every time this weekend my mother said "my genius children are worthless to me; it's the retarded one who's added value to my life," i could've paid my way across the tappan zee bridge.

it's not the first time i've heard this, of course. once i said in response, so the grandchildren, the great-grandchildren, the books, the degrees, the accomplishments in business and politics and the arts that john and sheila and i have achieved - they don't count?

my mother looked at me and said, nope.

i wondered how this woman of so many years and miles and experiences could miss that telling a child he or she is worthless could be just as hurtful as telling one he or she is ugly.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

back to the mother

i'm going down to see my mother today. i am not especially looking forward to the trip - it feels obligatory. and yet, i do relish the thought of those three or four hours today and tomorrow alone in the car.

i like to drive long distances. there's a stephen king short story about a woman who's always looking for the shortest way to get anywhere and ends up finding a Way into Somewhere Else. at the end of the story, she drives off into Somewhere Else with her handyman and i have to say i always thought she was not only obviously a very good driver but a highly practical woman.

my mother is a highly practical woman, the embodiment of the queen of the swords of the tarot. encased in a queen of pentacles body, she is the epitome of a woman who makes decisions with authority if not compassion. as much as i admire her ability, and understand that she is restricted by her culture as much as any of us, i still shudder at the sacrifice.

i read an article this morning by jamaica kincaid about her mother. her mother died three years after ms kincaid stopped speaking her, wrote her mother, in essence, out of her life. wow, i thought, that's what i wanted my mother to do to my grandmother. and in ms kincaid's honesty, i read something of the cost. and for the first time in my entire life this morning, i understood, by just a glimmer, why mother could not do that. it was just a glimpse - a peek of dawn across a mountain, or a sliver of sunlight through storm clouds - there, and just as soon gone.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.

Friday, March 28, 2008

the week in review

i hear birdsong from my writing room windows this morning, despite the gloomy weather. Not simply the experimental cheeps and trills of mornings past, these are complex sound-signals in a language i can't help but try to imitate when i walk the puppies. buddy always looks at me strangely when i do. for awhile i thought maybe he was impressed i speak bird, albeit badly, but then it occured to me that maybe he understands what they're saying and i don't.

i gathered up my lists this morning from the week. i was pleased to see how much i was able to get done. i've been able to develop routines within the overall structure, routines like throwing in the first load of laundry for the day after i take libby up the hill, and before i do my morning minutes on the treadmill.

it's important for me to have these structured pieces, propping up the hours of my day. without them, the minutes merge and blur and 8 AM becomes 4 PM in a blink. and as creative and satisfying and soothing as that OtherPlace may be, there is a hazy nether-space, that's not quite one, and not the other, a very easy place to become trapped. as deeply as i immerse myself, so fully must i disengage.

the best way for me to do that, apparently, is via list, spreadsheet and treadmill.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

happy birthday, mister ray

i don't know if this is a true story or not...but i thought it was really funny and since today is my ex husband's birthday, i figured everyone should enjoy a laugh. so thank you to cheryl for bringing this little gem to my attention:

A little old lady from Wisconsin had worked in and around her family
dairy farms since she was old enough to walk, with hours of hard
work and little compensation.

When canned Carnation Milk became available in grocery stores in
approximately the 1940s, she read an advertisement offering
$5,000 for the best slogan. The producers wanted a rhyme beginning
with 'Carnation Milk is best of all.'

She thought to herself, I know all about milk and dairy farms.
I can do this!

She sent in her entry, and several weeks later, a black limo pulled
up in front of her house.
A man got out and said, 'Carnation LOVED your entry so much,
we are here to award you $2,000 even though we will not be able to use it!'

and here, at least according to cheryl, is the award-winning effort:

carnation milk is best of all,
no tits to pull, no hay to haul,
no buckets to wash, no shit to pitch -
just poke a hole in the son of a bitch.


which never seems like a bad idea in terms of my ex, either.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

the list - or more about me than you ever wanted to know

What is your favorite word? Yes
Least favorite word? No
Favorite sound? a final manuscript printing off
Least favorite sound? nails on chalkboard or a whining toddler

Favorite author? william shakespeare; jane austen, emily bronte, anya seton, margaret atwood, christopher bojahlian and sue monk kidd are a few of my favorite novelists.

Favorite book or poem? book - a prayer for own meany; poem - the cremation of sam mcgee, the highwayman and wynken, blynken and nod

What is your most proud accomplishment? my four children

Least proud moment? marrying their father
What are your top five wishes for your children? that they live happily ever after...what else?
What is your favorite food? coffee

Least fave food? cheese
Is there ONE particular event in your life that you will NEVER forget? selling my first novel
What are your favorite debate topics? i don't like to debate. it upsets one's equilibrium and brings on indigestion
What do you wish your MOTHER did different? i wish she hadn't given me to my grandmother
What are two promises you will keep to your child(ren)? i will always do the best i can with what i have to work with at any given time, and i will always be their mother.
One reason you are married? he asked.

Have you lost touch with a close friend? many Why? their paths diverged from mine
What are two of your favorite animals? pigs to eat and dogs to cuddle
Least fave animals? cats - we're all allergic

Do you have any pets? yes - six kids, two dogs and one husband

How many children? see above

Divorced? thank goddess

Age when married? 21 the first time. 46 the second time. Or how long? far too long the first time and hardly long enough this time.

Two foods you DO NOT like. other than cheese, tomato sauce because it looks too much like blood
One thing you love about yourself. i roll well with punches

Three things you love about your child(ren). they are wise in ways i am not; they understand things i cannot, and they are many things i will never be.

What, if anything, do you read religiously? everything
One thing you usually don't share with everyone. i see dead people

An embarrassing moment. too many to list

A crowning achievement. too few to matter

Biggest dream you hope to achieve. to die peacefully and painlessly surrounded by my loving family and friends
Thoughts on God / the Cosmos. read my blog

Favorite song. thunder road

Least favorite song. anything by fleetwood mac
How much TV do you watch? not much

Do you write poetry? once in a while

Are there other "humanities" that interest you? Art? Music? Dance? i paint, sing irish and celtic folk songs, and dance.

What colors are in your house? all of them Do you decorate? incessantlyWhat meal do you prepare best? dinner

What is your best memory BBM (Before Becoming Mama)? i dont remember a time before i was a mother - ive been a mother longer than i wasn't.

what was your best mama-memory? their births

Name three things you are teaching your kids. how to take care of themselves, how to take care of each other, and how to take care of their kids.

Why do you write? to shut up the voices in my head

What do you write about most? myself
If there is a heaven, what do you hope to hear when you die? "well done" and "welcome home"
What is your favorite "bad" word? jesus christ
Favorite sound? Least? didn't i answer this already, too?
Is there someone you'd like to sit down and talk to? The President? Martha Stewart? Alice Walker? i'd love to sit down with all of the above... im pretty sure the secret service wouldn't let me anywhere near our president though.

When do you write the most? Day? Night? i can write any time im happy

Did you DIARY as a child? no

Do you JOURNAL more during difficult times in your life? no i dont write well when things arent copacetic in the annie-sphere.
Did you know your grandmother? yes i knew my grandmother who's crossed....she comes to me frequently, in fact. and my other grandmother is still alive at the ripe old age of 95.

Did you host a holiday this year? thanksgiving for a dozen, and christmas for 13, then 6
Is there someone in your life/past that you have NOT forgiven? yes

Is there someone in your life/past that you'd like to apologize to? yes

Do you worry about violence in public schools? sometimes

Do you have a dedicated family day each week or month? no

Do you have a best friend? yes - all my friends are the best
What about you would surprise/shock your parents? i think if i told them i was bi they'd be blown away. but that's about all i can think of - now that they're past the fact i'm a witch and a registered democrat.

Have you ever lost a loved one? yes

Did you have a big wedding? no and no
Does your husband 'understand' why you write? Respect it? Does it irritate him in someway? my husband ADORES that i write - my exhusband hated it. this is the main reason he is my ex, and one of the reasons Beloved is Beloved.
Have you written anything for kids/childrens' books? no

Do you chronicle or journal for your child(ren)? i blog with them in mind
Pick one: Bohemian Eclectic or Conservative Mini-van? bohemian preppie
Favorite quote? kindness costs nothing

Do you compost? to a degree

Do you eat meat? yes
Do you call your mother-in-law "Mom"? or by her first name? first name

Does your mom "get to you?" on occasion? only when i let her

Do you have insomnia? not usually

What side of the bed do you sleep on? the left

Do you have a reoccurring dream? no
Do you believe that some people are sensitive (or psychic)? yes and i believe i am one of them
Do you do well speaking in public? yes

What could you start doing today that would improve your life? exercise more religiously
Are you writing a novel? i have three jostling for position... and casts of thousands screaming... pick me pick me!!!

How often do you lose your temper? hardly ever - im too busy listening to the voices in my head
How often do you day-dream? i dont think i ever stop

What is your idea of a dream vacation? a month in a castle in ireland big enough so all my friends and family could visit and stay as long as htey pleased.

When was the last time you took a vacation? last march

How often do you wear make-up? seldom

When was the last time you went all day without leaving the house? monday.... i spend lots of days at home and never leave the house.
Why do you write? i think i answered this question above.

What makes you feel guilty? nothing

Do you meditate? frequently

Do you pray? constantly

What is your political affiliation? radical feminist anarchist

What is your favorite academic subject? history

What do you love the most about life? the fact it never really ends, even though we get to change clothes.

and furthermore, the war - like this list - must end. eventually. sooner rather than later. blessed be.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

while baby jake sleeps

as i write this, baby jake is down for his first nap of the day. he arrived bright and early, button-brown eyes wide with recognition he wasn't in his version of kansas. he fussed a bit about his bottle but sat agreeably in his baby seat, and threw a few toys around before he started rubbing his eyes. he's in his port-a-crib now, his noise machine alternately whooshing and chirping. he has the washer and dryer keeping him company too.

when he wakes up, im taking him to see my grandmother. debby sent the chapter back -im printing it out as soon as i splice it all together. we're over 7,000 words. i have some chores to do, dinner to start, boxes to unpack. chapter seven is unspooling itself across the screen two and three sentences at a time. i'm sore today, and the shoes i wore on the treadmill didn't fit my left foot properly. when Beloved asked me what i wanted for my birthday this morning, i told him proper walking shoes - or at least a gift card to dick's so i can go find my own. instead of the treadmill, i have a set of yoga cards i haven't shuffled in a while.

so far the nicest part of being so productive is wanting to be.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.

Monday, March 24, 2008

finding inspiration

the robins' egg blue walls are soothing yet stimulating, calming, yet energizing. today, inspired by friends both in real-life and in cyberspace, i decided i'd had enough of moping, enough of being sick and feeling sluggish.

to that end, i followed - religiously, if i may say so - my daily regimen. i accomplished so much i thought i would share. so bear with me, gentle reader, while i indulge myself with a bit of organic chocolate and a pot of french lavender tea.

i made a delicious split pea soup for dinner tonight, in the crockpot with the hambone from easter dinner. good crone that i'm becoming, im not too proud to seek a place at another's table, to celebrate a holiday no longer my own, nor to scarf the remnants of the meal and turn it into something new.

i decided on slipcovers for my writing room. now instead of sage and sage and sage, the chairs are cream and cream and floral. i'm still not sure if im finished tweaking or not. tomorrow brad (the father of baby jake) is coming to hang my new curtain rods. i will have a better sense of how it will look when i see the drapes hung. Beloved has mended the marble top table i broke in a fit of pique once. it looks nice and, like the two of us, hardly scarred.

i got all the boxes hauled out of the living room. it's still a bit dusty and it could use another good vacuuming, but at least it doesn't feel like we're living like refugees. i have to save all the boxes, though, because if the kitchen renovation goes forward, i have an even more massive packing up to do.

i completed all my daily and weekly chores on my household spread sheet. libby cleaned zone one, but i managed all the rest AND i got a jump on tomorrow's laundry, because tomorrow, baby jake is coming for an unexpected day.

i finished chapter six of the political thriller - working title RIGGED - and sent it off to my friend debby for her to work her magic. we have nearly seven thousand words already. now that my printer is hooked up again, im planning to print the entire manuscript out when she sends me back six and read it from start to finish. we both know it needs some shading, but the bare bones so far feel good.

i spoke to my daddy today. we spend a part of every conversation talking about what it's like to die. he tells me what his doctors and friends tell him. most of his good friends have already made the crossing. i think my daddy knows that his teetime could be called any day. i think this is his way of finding out if i understand he has to go first. i do my best to reassure him that i do.

i did four readings online as a test of the ted andrew's animal-wise tarot. i got some really wonderful results. the cards themselves are wonderful to work with - i wish the publisher had invested in higher quality cardstock and clearer, less muddy photographs.

i spent an hour and a half on the treadmill, just walking, and meditating. i broke the time up into three twenty minute blocks during the busy part of the day, and then i did half an hour while the news was on, and the split pea soup finished cooking. i barely broke a sweat each time, but my thighs are sore. i even managed to stick to my "diet" - my intuitive eating plan that pretty much lets me eat what i want to eat when i want to eat it. i did pay attention to the foods i craved today, and i realized i have to add pineapple and more yellow fruits and veggies. i missed my banana today. i wonder if i remember how to foodshop with a baby.

my goal for tomorrow is to take baby jake to see my grandmother, and to complete as many of the daily tasks on my spreadsheet as i can. i'd like to fit in three twenty minute blocks on the treadmill, and of course i'd love for debby to send me chapter six so i can print the whole thing out and start thinking about the synopsis. these first seven thousand words have flowed so effortlessly, though, i think this book may be easier to write than poor hapless jack.

i'm still churning over my cosi girls letter. i can feel the words bubbling in my brain. i think they'll have ripened by tomorrow, maybe wednesday.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

easter morning six am

according to the story, it was right around now nearly two thousand years when the women who went to the tomb to anoint jesus discovered the rock rolled away and the body missing. they were met instead by an young man dressed in white who told them jesus was no longer in the tomb - he is risen, said the angel.

with those three little words, the shape of recorded history changed forever. this morning, those three little words will be trumpeted from pulpit and altar across the world. funny how it sounds like a battle cry.

leaving aside the miracle - which i was always perfectly willing to believe - after all, for a man who can walk on water, feed the multitudes and bring back the dead, rising from the dead himself doesn't seem like much of a stretch. but leaving aside the miracle, there was always one little detail that bothered me about the easter story.

if the stone was already rolled in front of the tomb, how did the women expect to get in? especially at dawn, when it was still relatively dark?

i remember asking this question of various priests, nuns and other adults. i remember my mother giving me one of her long convoluted answers, of the sort thomas acquineas would be impressed with, invoking the gods of archaeology, history and the sheer weight of the story itself.

i remember imagining myself THERE, as one of the women (come on, annie, up and at 'em - we got to get the Master anointed before he starts to smell bad), rising from my straw pallet, stumbling around for my sandals in the dark. and every single time the logical question that rose automatically in my mind seemed too self-evident for words.... how are we going to get in? and secondly - what did it matter, if jesus was already dead? as a five, six and seven year i couldn't imagine loving anyone enough to want to go stumbling around in the dark in a cemetery to pour a little oil on a dead body. anyone who loved me, i reasoned, wouldn't expect me to, especially if they were already dead and my life was potentially in jeopardy.

the logical inconsistency of this fundamental detail meant that for me, from a very early age, the entire easter story had an artificality to it that other holidays - like christmas - didn't. but easter is, as my mother always reminded me, the very core of the christian faith and my mother's understanding of catholic doctrine is ferociously complex. almost anything else in the bible could be understood as a metaphor, an allegory. but everything about jesus is rock-solid-true. to reject the belief in a literal resurrection is to reject the truth of all jesus was.

eventually, it was my inability to wrap my mind - puny as it may be - around the concept of a literal resurrection that led me to ultimately reject christianity as it is largely practiced today. unshackling myself from the burden of the irrational has allowed me to examine in the context of jesus's humanity what i believe to be true, to develop, dare i say - a personal Understanding of the man who millions believe walked the earth as Lord and Savior.

a few years ago, right around this time of year, my family and i were reeling under the news that my mother had breast cancer. she had found a lump in her breast right after new year's. one sunday afternoon i was meditating, when i saw jesus step out of my body. a woman entered, who looked like mary, but he turned to me, and said, this is your mother. they embraced, and where her breast touched his chest, i saw two flares of light, and in that moment, i understood that my mother would be fine. he smiled at me as he faded away, and i remember i asked, why is it given to me to know this?

and the little Voice answered, so that you may be absolutely sure of the presence of the Divine in your life.

a few days later, my mother called to tell me there were two lumps, not one. i remembered my vision, and i knew she'd be okay. and she is... to this day.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

making peace

i made up with my mother last night. after an hour's conversation where we delicately skirted around Issues, we parted friends, harmony once more restored. i'll go to see her next weekend to celebrate my birthday...she found someone else to wait on her.

i also slogged over to see my grandmother, who looked remarkably well as usual despite her best efforts to the contrary. i found her in pretty much the same position she was in when i saw her last. she was wearing different clothes and there were different sheets on the bed. all the complaints, however, were the same. i was feeling bad about not seeing her for a month but after a few minutes i realized it's like showing up in the middle of a nothing-nothing game - whatever you've missed may have been momentarily entertaining, but it hasn't made much of an overall difference.

i got all the books put back in my writing room. i like the robins' egg blue walls, the creamy woodwork. it's soothing to look at. now the trick is to stop Beloved from throwing things back in the room helter-skelter with nothing at all resembling order aforethought. my job today is to clean the rugs, and decide which of several slipcovers to use on the sofa and chairs. i need to find pretty curtain rods too,for the new blue curtains, because im not going to have the valances made for another few weeks. it's time to freshen up the living room, too.

and have i mentioned anywhere we are planning a major renovation to the back of the house.... assuming, of course, we can get a builder to call us back?

in the mornings when i walk the puppies, the skies are bluer, the horizon limned with a blazing edge of light. a growing chorus of birds cheep and call more insistently every day. today i saw the moon, fat and full, in the west above the trees, the red crescent of an aries sun just visible over the empty flower fields next door.

i'm having a massage today, then lunching with a friend at my favorite little tea room. Beloved continues to forage for the soup kitchen tomorrow. i have a press release to write, a chapter to finish. despite the lingering moments of exhaustion, i feel the unmistakable stirring of spring-time in my blood.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

fitting in, or thoughts from another blog

a few days ago i happened to read a post that struck a deep chord in me. what's wrong with me, wondered a fellow pixel-in-cyberspace. people don't like me...i'm not fitting in... what's wrong with ME?

it's a question i've struggled with all my life, and, in light of the events of recent weeks, it's a question i'm struggling with again.

so i read this sweet blogger's post and my heart just ached. what's wrong with me, she wondered, her agony palpable. she recounted her struggle with her shadow side, even envied the three faces of eve lady - the one who suffered such horrible abuse as a young child that her ego shattered into multiple personalities.

what's wrong with me, i wondered... the same thing that's wrong with her... not one blessed thing.

in the last year, i have dealt with the repercussions of not fitting in to a very large group among the new age community - and in the process made a real enemy who has done everything she can to actively discredit me. she has destroyed friendships, severed relationships and poisoned quite a few of the people i thought were my friends against me.

the reason she's done this is because i make a choice to do something this person feels is tantamount to the beating of baby whales with bodies of baby seals. for quite a while i felt rejected and upset and wondered what was wrong with me. then i came to realize that this person needs a demon in her life in order to define her own light. before i came along she could demonize the choice. now she has a much more tangible demon on which to project her Shadow. those who are really my friends are able to see through the projection. those who aren't, can't.

what we call our shadow is only our own pain, our own fear - the pieces of ourselves that need the most love. it doesn't need to be improved. it just needs to be loved and accepted. that is the beginning of wholeness, of bliss. that's what sybil couldn't do. that's why she had to sever. what happened to her was so horrific, she couldn't wrap her mind around the idea she could be treated like that. her reaction - like all of us - was what's wrong with ME? and of course there ws nothing wrong with HER - it was the horrific abuse she suffered.

unconditional love for all beings begins when we feed our inner demons with everything they want - when we look at the broken, rejected pieces of ourSelf, not with anger, exasperation or shame, but with love and acceptance.

there's nothing wrong with me, with you, with any of us, really. we are already the perfect manifestation of ourselves. if others can't see that, consider them the ones who are blind.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

back from the battle

the last day of winter found me flying through sluicing rain down to easton, pennsylvania, and a child support hearing. for the upteenth time in the last 12 years, my ex is once again claiming he's making less money than ever before.

even the judge noted the frequency with which ray has approached His Honorable Court. he peered over his bi-focals and said: i see you've been making this argument for quite a few years. then he let ray and his lawyer go on and on.

was it worth the trip, asked Beloved, to whom the machinations of the Halls of Justice mean as much as the stock market means to most people.

there is nothing fair about the legal system, nothing just. the cost of extracting what we call justice is scarcely worth the effort, it seems to me, when all is said and done. there is a piece of me that would so rather not engage with it or my ex on any level.

but there is also a piece of me that knows that this is not about me, as much as ray would like to make it. this is about libby. if i don't assert her interests, who will? if i don't speak up on her behalf, who does? and why should she believe her father was not much more than a sperm donor, unless she sees it for herself?

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

putting it all back together

on friday, the painters wiped, swept and packed up, leaving the writing room much more blue and far more clean than when they arrived. my focus for the last few days has been to put my writing room back together. i've painted all the mismatched bookcases to match the woodwork. i've ordered new slipcovers, but to hang the curtains i need new rods. but shopping will have to wait - tomorrow i have to drive down to child support court in pennsylvania, where mister ray is once more claiming poverty. at least all the plants are repotted.

the tempests that seemed to overwhelm me of the last few weeks have subsided - i've yet to decide what to do about my mother, but at least elissa's situation has settled itself and she has removed herself and her chaotic energies. i have a letter to write to the cosi girls, a visit to make to my grandmother. i have books to sort, my altar to re-assemble. Beloved and i are back on kissing terms. i have learned a lot of things about myself i didn't know. even bruised and battered as i feel, this latest walk into the valley of the shadow appears to have been worth it.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.

Monday, March 17, 2008

slainte...or why i celebrate st patrick's day

quite a few pagans i know - especially those of the celtic variety - refuse to celebrate st patrick's day. they do this because, as everyone knows, patrick converted ireland from paganism to christianity. celebrating his day, they reason, is tantamount to expecting the survivors of custer's last stand to celebrate sitting bull's birthday.

but i celebrate st patrick's day - always have, always will. for one reason, it's the only time of year when i can be sure i will know all the words to all the songs. i was raised on the clancy brothers, and my repertoire of irish songs is unabashedly impressive. i remember my ex once asked me if i knew any songs other than irish rebel songs or irish love songs. well, i replied after some consideration, i know a lot of irish drinking songs.

it is the one time of year i can be unashamedly, unbashedly, not so much irish... as celtic.

and that's another reason i celebrate st patrick's day... always have, always will. patrick hated the irish - hated the wild celts over whom he was to have such influence. wherever he was from, it wasn't ireland, and he was sent there mostly because he knew the language - having learned it there as a slave.

if patrick changed ireland, the christianity he preached changed as well. celtic christianity was a horse of an entirely other color from that preached out of the pulpits of rome - so much so a special synod had to be held in the 11th century to stamp it out. it was a christianity laden with mysticism, speckled with humor and founded on the certainty that the OtherWorld was just around the corner.

because to a celt, it always is.

the celts are a unique people with a curious perspective frequently labelled by those who considered themselves more civilized as nasty, arrogant and uncivilized. for example, the reason they didn't write anything down was because the druids believed that writing made the mind lazy. they didn't fear death, because they knew the Next Life was waiting. the women of the western world, in fact, have yet to recoup the rights the women of ancient ireland enjoyed.

one in four people in the united states today has at least some irish or celtic blood.

and that's the third reason i celebrate st patrick's day, always have and always will. it is the day i recognize my connection and my kinship to the great Web that stretches from a green dot on the westernmost edge of europe, across asia, to the other side of the globe. it is the day i participate in the conjuring of the Dream, the ireland of legend, song, and story, and the myths that reach back into the deepest vestiges of our primal past.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

day of infamy

twenty-eight years ago this evening, just as the sun began to set, i walked down the aisle in a little lutheran church in a place called secane, pennsylvania and pledged myself in marriage to my first husband.

when i look back, and remember the child that i was, i'm not sure if i want to smack me or hug me. what i would really like to do is throw myself in front of me and plead: no, no, a thousand times no.

but i dont think i would've listened. i didn't know that i should've listened to the little Voice that said, don't go - when my ex asked me out. i didn't know that there are people in the world who can only express their deepest emotions with their fists. i didn't know there are sons who hit their mothers. i didn't know there are mothers who violate their sons. i didn't understand the depths of primal rage, primal pain.

i do now.

my own personal hades was mostly defined by what is not there. my walk down the aisle was just the first step into the first tier of a hell i had no ability to imagine. i once was blind, but now i see.

i see so well in fact, that i understand how necessary those experiences are to the person i am now. i understand that if i suffered, ray is still suffering. i walked through the fire of his hell and escaped. he's still there. i don't believe he will leave it in this lifetime.

and so this evening, as the sun sets, i raise my coffee cup and put down my paint brush and i will whisper a prayer ..both for the lesson and the teacher.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

getting kicked out

many years ago, when i was 9 years old, i wanted to be a girl scout. i hounded my mother, insisted on joining a troop, and in general, made it clear i wanted nothing more than to Belong - to something, to anything. that experiment in social communion ended badly when the leader asked my mother to remove me three weeks after i joined. i was, in her opinion, an insurrectionist. to this day, i don't remember what it was i did or said, but i do remember we spent a lot of time at the meetings making turkeys out of magazines. and i do remember being bored.

fast forward to nearly forty years later, and last summer i found myself compelled to join a coffee group. i liked all the ladies, except perhaps the Organizer of the group - an evangelical christian lady named of all things - lili. as in lilith, as in lily-white, as in mrs munster. when she casually let it slip at one meeting that there were ladies she'd not approved for membership, my antenna went up, but all the ladies were nice ladies and so i set my feelings aside.

just yesterday all the cosi girls received an email from lili. i am generally offended by political emails. this one i found particularly offensive because she uses it to invoke fear. fear has no place in the political arena. at least, not in the one i insist on.

in the interests of full disclosure, i have copied and pasted the emails here. the bold ones are hers; the italicised are mine.

LAdies,
I don't usually get this involved, but in this case some things need to be explored very seriously. This is one of those "things". Quite Scary.


Obama's Pastor - Political Machine

Lili

Center for Cog Therapy
xxx West Main Street
xxxx, CT xxxxx
Email: TeenPsycho@xxx.com


dear lili - i have to say i am very disappointed that a person of your education would stoop to passing along such internet tripe. i dont care what obama's religion is - or anyone else's - for that matter. i am quite capable of making up my own mind and i have already read and judged this to be the worst kind of politically motivated fear-mongering. i refuse to be scared into - or out of - voting for anyone. please let's leave politics out of the cosi girls group. sincerely, annie kelleher

Annie,
you were not at the Cosi girls meeting where I was, but in fact,politics was openly discussednot by me in fact. That opened the door for me to feel comfortable doing same.Thank you for your honesty. I also recall another Cosi girl sending me an article about ilegal immigrants and I was not at all offended.
Lili

Center for Cog Therapy
xxx West Main Street
xxxx, CT xxxxx
Email: TeenPsycho@xxx.com


then she realized i sent my response to the group.

Dear Annie,
To insult my education is really offensive. Particularly as you felt the need to do this in front of others. You have pulled the group into a personal issue with me and I would like an apology... a public apology...
Lili

Center for Cog Therapy
xxx West Main Street
xxxx, CT xxxxx
Email: TeenPsycho@xxx.com


dear lili - this isn't a personal issue at all. you sent this to the group, and i sent the group my response. i dind't insult your education. i do expect well-educated and professional people to exercise a bit more discernment when it comes to spreading political propaganda via the internet. (it's why i don't send any.)

i don't see that i have anything to apologize for. if you didn't like my response - i didn't like what you sent in the first place. i don't see why, if you sent this to the group, i shouldn't make my response known to the group. silence implies consent. if the group didn't hear from me, they might think - heaven forfend - i agreed with it, or, even more to the point - the spreading of it, which is what i really object to....sincerely, annie


Annie,
I will not let anyone talk to me in the manner that you have. Its nasty, arrogant and uncivlized and totally misinterpreted Therefore consider yourself removed from the Cosi group.
Lili


Center for Cog Therapy
xxx West Main Street
xxxx, CT xxxxx
Email: TeenPsycho@xxx.com


political spam - no matter how well-intentioned - does nothing, in my opinion, but muddy up an already poisoned process. if speaking out against behavior i consider despicable and rude, is nasty, arrogant, and uncivilized, then long may my inner insurrectionist reign.

and furthermore the war must end. blessed be.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

finding my voice

the weight of the last new moon clings to my consciousness like an unwelcome film, like the scum on overheated milk, like the sac surrounding the embroyo. pisces is the sign of absolute transcendence, the sign that signals the turning of the old thing into the new. it is the impetus that forces the seedling from the seed.

and oh, it clings, and clings, challenging me to enter into a new presence of mySelf, to find a new voice and speak in a new way... where i would so much rather sink gracefully into silence.

because to own this Truth, to speak these words, means i must accept and acknowledege the pain of my own wounding. to share means i must show this pain - not through the screen of fiction, not through distance, not through written words.

my cold's moved from my voice into my ears, corking up my hearing so that all i hear is the pounding of the blood in brain, beating against my skull like the push of a rootling against a hull.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

something silly...just for spring...

today i saw quite a wonderful thing,

there, on my window, the first bug of spring.

as i opened the door to shoo it away,

it flew off with a wink, and i heard it say:

oh, red are the roots of the cormorant tree,

and orange the sap that flows all through me,

yellow's the color of all that is fair,

and green is a ribbon to wear in your hair.

blue are the clouds when the moonlight is bright,

and indigo sings like a nightingale's flight;

violet's the color of all that you are,

and white is the love that shines through the stars...

an open letter to mrs spitzer

i don't like politics. i grew up around the edges of it and my sense is that it's a game tinged with cigar smoke and whispered deals done in little back rooms, regarding subjects not discussed in front of children. it smacks of that part of playing well with others that i don't understand, and so generally, i avoid politics and those who play them.

i also don't think prostitution is a crime. i think prostitution should be legalized, i think prostitutes should enjoy the same protections and rights as any other kind of worker. i also think men who seek out prostitutes are obviously - with few exceptions, perhaps - losers who can't get laid. in mister spitzer's case, he has a beautiful wife. maybe she's mean, maybe she's cold, maybe she's bitchy. maybe she doesn't like to play the kinds of games he likes to play, so he has to pay to play them. but whatever she is or isn't, she certainly didn't deserve the public humiliation visited on her by that hypocritical creep of a husband.

i watched her over and over, standing so silently by his side, and i thought about what i would say to her - if i could....if i were her mother, her sister, her friend. i put myself in her shoes, and this is what i'd say:

dear mrs spitzer -

just leave. he doesn't deserve you. it's not that he slept with anyone else - it's that he broke all his own rules. please don't stand for it. tell the world and your daughters that you aren't putting up with a man who is anything less than what he pretends to be in public. don't take him back, don't listen to his whining. he's a creep, and you deserve better. so do your daughters, so do mine. so do all of us.

sincerely, a concerned Syster.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.

Friday, March 7, 2008

losing my voice

the cold that elissa brought into the house has lodged itself in my vocal cords, and for the past two days, i haven't been able to manage much above a labored whisper.

consequently, i can't talk to my mother to explain to her that i really AM sick, and thus can't come see her while she continues to recuperate from her hip surgery. when katie called to explain things to her, my own mother called me a - and this is a quote - "fucking bitch."

i can't answer the children's thousand and one questions, or help libby write a compelling thesis because i can't sufficiently explain what makes one statement compelling and another not.

i can't explain to Beloved that the reason elissa had a hissy fit yesterday was because i asked for a touch of consideration when it came to scarfing down and giving out to assorted friends the snacks meg and libby buy to take to school, and that i offered her, as a reasonable alternative, an apple, a banana or a yogurt.... all far more appropriate choices than rice krispie treats and fritos for someone nearly 22 years old. i also asked her to call ME ahead if she intended to show up around dinner time as she had the night before, and that calling her father isn't giving sufficient notice to the one who cooks and plans the meals. elissa can't deal with any kind of structure, and interprets all requests for consideration for someone other than herself as an affront against her soul. in short, she behaved like the 2 year old she is emotionally. she got stuck at two because her parents dont know how to say no to her, and the reason she doesn't like me is because NO is one word i've always been able to say to a bratty kid. and mean it.

needing to choose what words i do speak has made me even more hypersensitive to the uses of language than i normally am - which, even on my duller days, is pretty keen. hence, when a friend gave me a sample of a spray to "get me off her back" but was "honored" to do something else for another friend... it stung. but i was forced to resort to email to say anything at all.

it is times like these when i wonder why anyone would want to willingly prolong the agony of living one moment longer than absolutely necessary. the end...in hamlet's words... is indeed a consummation devoutly to be wished. but i apparently have made a bargain and it appears there's no escape. yet.

but there is respite. and this time, i get to flee... for a few days and maybe the last time...into the arms of the only person whoever had an iota of a clue.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

rain, relapse and rejection

a few years ago when i was speaking at a writers' conference, someone asked me how i deal with rejection. i drink heavily, i replied deadpan. for the space of about a heartbeat, i think the room believed me.

the reality is that rejection hurts. yesterday, true to the writers' adage that says good news comes by phone, bad news by mail, i heard from jenn that the house she'd sent Seventh Son to back in january declined the book. i can't say i was surprised - i didn't think a major sf house would be interested in a work that i characterize as literary fantasy, but what do i know? im only the writer.

when i was first starting out in writing, i happened to be a writers' conference where the keynote speaker was an agent who had worked for many years in publishing. i've been an editor, an editorial assistant, a first reader, a proofreader and now im an agent, she said. i guess i can't go much lower. you could be a writer, i quipped, just loud enough for her microphone to pick it up. that remark brought down the house.

but in the interface between the writer and the publisher, in between the writing and the world, is a cold brutal abyss where the name of the game is money. the truth is that publishers would far rather publish what they know will sell than take a chance on a book that might not.

just yesterday the story broke about how a reputed memoir written by a 33 year old woman who claimed to be the survivor of horrific gang violence and other abuse, has turned out to be - haha - fiction. why didn't she just publish the book as fiction, someone asked me.

probably because she couldn't sell it as fiction, i answered. desperate people do desperate things. i know how that desperation feels. i know that thing that gnaws at the center of one's soul, that drives one to carve out a little piece, put it on a page, and hang it up for sale.

my manuscript is now on the desk of another editor. i am among the fortunate, who have a reputable literary agency to do my legwork, my selling and my negotiating - who stands in the first line of fire, takes the first hit and then listens to me weep. to any writer who wants to know if i think they need an agent, my answer is an unequivocal yes - at least if you want to publish.

it poured yesterday, last night, and this morning, a flood of spring rain that calms and soothes and works its way into the fractured crevices of my soul. in the words of my poor rejected hero - there is a balm in gilead, there is, there is, there is.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

what happened after that... or how i quit writing, etc...

in retrospect, it all seems easy. it all seems... preordained. but it didn't feel that way then.

i had my Sign, i got my severance, AND unemployment. for the first time in months, i was able to put money away. and yet, it was still an enormous leap of blind faith to first of all, acknowledge the Sign, and then - to turn my attention utterly away from everything everyone had ever told me about what you are SUPPOSED to do to succeed in the world. it was the scariest thing i ever did.

but i had no idea as i walked away from corporate america and into the dark that anything was going to work out. i had promised jenn to turn a new proposal in to her at the beginning of january. i had thirty days to create something out of what felt like not much. it took an enormous amount of Something - courage, faith, and a kind of dogged understanding that i couldn't fail any worse than i'd already failed before - to not only believe that i'd received a Sign (which was why i asked for an obvious one) and then, to follow through on it, in the kind of wholehearted, make-it-or-break-it passion that i had not ever given my writing, because it didn't seem like i should.

the week my severance ran out, i got an offer for a three-book deal from harlequin. the last book in that series came out in december 2006, but that's another story. currently i have another manuscript under consideration at another major house. just yesterday, a friend of mine and i decided to collaborate on a political thriller. (she's into politics, im into thrills.)

but what took me a long time to see, was that the Sign wasn't just permission to open to my creativity, or to embrace my writing in a whole new way. the Sign also opened me to my intuitve gifts and abilities, and it was from that time on that i began to allow myself since childhood to acknowledge my Gifts, to claim the Awareness that i have always on some level had.

for me, writing is the doorway - my Sign was the welcome mat. i believe there's a similar place for all of us, and it's a question of finding it, and being brave enough to claim it when it appears.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.

Monday, March 3, 2008

happy birthday, jamie jim

monday's child is fair of face, tuesday's child is full of grace, wednesday's child is full of woe, thursday's child has far to go, friday's child is loving and giving, saturday's child works hard for a living. but the child that's born on the sabbath day is blithe and winsome and bonny and gay...

my son's birthday dawns as clear and as bright as the day he was born, 23 years ago. he was my sunday baby and he came kicking and screaming into the world two weeks late. he emerged red, wizened and wet, and he literally howled for hours afterward. at least we were sure there was nothing wrong with his lungs.

like a lot of kids, jamie was full of questions. unlike most kids, "i don't know" or "we'll have to ask so-&-so that" wasn't an acceptable answer. if i tried to explain to him that mommy didn't know the answer to a question that required an understanding of algebra, chemistry, or physics, for example, he would narrow his eyes and scream: OH YES YOU DO, as if i were deliberately witholding a Secret of the Universe.

jamie also didn't believe that no meant no. if i tried taking a toy out of his reach, jamie didn't believe the game was over - he thought i'd just added a new dimension. he loved to climb. once i found him on top of the refrigerator. another time i found him running up and down the dining room table holding on to the brass ring at the bottom of the chandalier.

when he got older, he'd disappear for hours, despite my explanations that not telling mommy where one can be found constitutes a violation of the rule against hurting oneself AND the rule against hurting someone else, since it was mommy who experienced heart palpitations every time jamie got himself lost.

what kept him alive, i think, beyond his unshakeable belief in his own immortality, is his undeniable, indisputable charm. tall, with my father's eyes and my mother's smile, jamie is as winsome, bonny and blithe as they come. (i wish he'd tell my ex he's gay. he's not, but it would really bother my ex.)

i read somewhere that for every boy a woman raises, she loses five years off her life.

happy birthday, jamie-jim... from the mommy who never wanted to live forever, anyway.

how i quit writing... then started up again (part three)

on halloween, 2002, i asked for a Sign about what to do with my life, because i was about to be laid-off for the third time in five years. all through november, i hunkered down, and watched and waited, as the handwriting on the wall grew easier and easier to read.

the vestigal work ethic i have arduously cultivated over the years prevented me from doing extracurrricular writing on company time. i read a lot of online papers, read a lot of interesting stuff. the story - the one i hadn't been able to interest my agents in for love or money - had begun to percolate in that maddening kind of way stories and characters do, but i was steadfastly ignoring it all. my work projects had evaporated. the only time my phone rang was at lunch and coffee-break time.

i had no idea what i was going to do. my oldest daughter was at uconn. my son was in his senior year of high school. my two younger girls were in ninth and fourth grades. christmas was coming - my ex owed me over thirty five thousand dollars in child support. i couldn't justify starting to work on a new book when i was facing certain lay-off. i knew what i SHOULD be doing, but everytime i'd turn to my resume, or think about looking for a job, i'd hear the little Voice say, you don't have to do that.

i want my Sign, i'd say back. i want my Sign NOW.

just trust, said the Voice.

finally, on december 3, 2002, i went to work as usual. by 9 AM, i had read the online editions of the wall street journal, the new york times and the washington post. i checked the drudge report, the huffington post and maureen dowd. a long empty day stretched before me. i had nothing to do.

in sheer desperation, i decided to work on the story. i opened a new Word file, typed out "p-r-o-l-o-g-u-e." i typed out the first sentence.

in the bottom right corner of my screen, the email cursor began to blink. ignore that, said my internal editor. i could hear the whip crack in the background.

but i was so, so terribly curious. for the last month, my email consisted mainly of my horoscope and mass-mailings. i just have to know, i told my inner editor. maybe it is just my horoscope. but i have to go look. i wont answer it and i will come right back. i promise.

so i clicked on the cursor. when i saw the title, my mouth dropped open and i know i started to cry.

it was from my agent, who i hadn't heard from in nearly a year. the title of the email was FANTASY NOVEL. she wrote that harlequin had started a new fantasy line, for which my last idea would be perfect, and she was inquiring as to the status.

and i knew i had my Sign.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

how i quit writing...and started up again (part two)

i see what your trouble is, said the career counselor. you're not good at low-evel tasks.

i make a nice pot roast, i replied. that's not exactly rocket science.

but i bet you like to eat pot roast, he answered.

we made an appointment for another session, to discuss possible options. don't bother, whispered the little Voice in the back of my head when i stopped to make the appointment.

why not, i whispered back, as i drove away.

just trust, said the little Voice.

it was hard though. by october, my work began to dry up, projects began to cancel and to be put on hold. a round of layoffs rippled through the company. i spent my days surfing the net, reading online newspapers and resisting the urge to write the story that was beginning to bubble in my brain with increasing frequency.

i don't do that any more, i'd tell myself. i don't have to do this any more, i'd think. i made some half-hearted efforts at polishing up my resume. don't bother, said the little Voice. easy for You to say, i answered. You don't seem to have any bills.

finally, on halloween - samhain - i asked for a Sign. i'd experienced a series of what i could only characterize as paranormal/mystical experiences, the last being in april of 2002, when i had a vision in which i saw my mother being healed of the breast cancer with which she had just been diagnosed. why is it given to me to know this, i remember i asked.

so that you may be absolutely assured of the presence of the Divine in your life, replied the Voice. i remember even now how those Words, how that knowing resonated in the core of my soul. i remember how calm i was through my mother's surgeries and treatments, how unsurprised i was when my mother did indeed make a full recovery.

i decided to put that to the test. i remember i took a ritual bath with great care, cast a salt circle, lit a black candle, and got to work. i need a Sign, i said. i don't know where i'm going, i don't know what i'm supposed to do. i used to think i was supposed to write stories, but that didn't seem to work out. everyone else thinks this corporate stuff is the right thing to do, but it doesn't fit right with me. over the years, i've heard You and You always give me good advice, and You always tell me things that are true, so... could i please have a Sign?

and, oh yeah, i remember i added, almost as an afterthought... would You please make it Obvious?

and furthermore, i'd really like this freaking war to end. blessed be.

how i quit writing...then started up again (part one)

at the end of last month, i explained how, on february 28, 2002, i officially quit writing. driven by bills, rejection and inability to produce a marketable story, i decided i'd had enough. eight published novels had to be enough. i was determined to stop torturing myself, my family and my agent, and focus on my "real" career - which was in corporate communications.

after all, i reasoned, if writing the story i'd been struggling with was something i was meant to do, let it come back.... all on its own. i was finished chasing after it.

so i quit. just like that. the funny thing was that come september, october of that year, the story did come back... in bits and snippets and snatches of half-heard dialogue. but i had bigger problems to face.

the events of sept 11, 2001 had a massive effect on the insurance industry, and the company i worked for - a british company in business since 1710 - had taken a particularly hard hit. the handwriting on the wall spelled lay-off, and for me, the third one in five years.

when Heaven wants you to know you're walking down the wrong path, She always sends you Signs. i'd begun my study into indigenous mythologies and practices, i'd delved into wicca and other forms of neo-paganism. but a very large part of my head was still locked into the place where i believed i needed a "career" to support my family and be acknowledged as a contributing valued member of society.

so instead of consulting the stars or the sky or the trees, as i might do now, at that point, i decided to consult a career counselor.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

in like a lion

the old saying about march's weather has always held a special meaning in our family. my father's birthday is the first of march... mine is the 31st. i remember how predictably my father would chase me and my brother through the house on his birthday roaring "in like a lion!" - no matter what the weather.

the lion's slowing down, his heart - interestingly enough - beginning to fail. he took a hard blow in his heart chakra when i was young, and while that wound may have healed, i can feel the scar tissue lying thick around the muscle. he is complex, quiet and creative, brilliant and inventive, and my mind is cast in his image.

if my mother encouraged me to write my stories down, it was my father who taught me to tell them. every saturday, when my mother headed off to the hairdresser's, my father cooked us pancakes and told us stories - stories that hold the rapt attention of another generation of little girls.

this time next week i will be on a plane, on what has become an annual birthday trip to see my father and the rest of my family on the west coast.

happy birthday, daddy - you'll always roar in my heart.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.