Writing Prompt: You Remember

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not this bus but one just like it

You remember the time in Ferrara, a town you only know because it’s the last stop in Veneto and because it has a theatre but no ballet company. If it did, you’d have auditioned here on your way to look for more stable work. Now it’s just a stop on the tour. The bus to Reggio Emilia is parked right outside the piazza and you know that in the daytime, it’s a pretty average piazza. If this were a smaller company, the poorly-managed kind without a lot of money, you’d mingle outside the stage doors waiting for the rest of the cast, smoking a cigarette under the “No Fumare” sign and then the group would wobble into town and eat at some local trattoria.

But this time you are with a more prestigious company and so there is no time to explore the town you’ve just performed in. The bus leaves 30 minutes after the last curtain call, the only vehicle in the whole boot of Italy that is punctual. You won’t eat until you get back to Reggio Emilia, and then not you make the final trek back to your tiny apartment. Not only will all the restaurants and trattorias be closed when the bus arrives, but you don’t earn enough to eat out after every performance. (Part of the reason that poorly-managed company never has any money is because they always treat the dancers to dinner.) But here at your new job, you’ll have to eat something at home, and with all the touring this week, there’s scarcely been time to go to the grocery store. There’s probably a bit of proscuitto and there’s always pasta and olive oil, if nothing else.

In a way, it’s no different than the bus that waited to take you from Uvalde, Texas back to El Paso when you were in 8th grade. Except perhaps, that you weren’t smoking then.

My Eulogy (rough draft)

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I’m getting on a plane tomorrow. In the past, before I had children, and if that plane were flying over the ocean, I would send my brother a list of the bills I still needed to pay that month and their account numbers. In retrospect, I suppose I could have just paid the bills before I left but somehow that never occurred to me.

 

These days I figure that if someone needs to find out what I owe and to whom, they could just google it (I think adsense has a cookie for that). But I’m still worried about what my loved ones will do if I die tomorrow. Do the kids know where their Social Security cards are? (Probably not. I don’t even think they know what they are) Do they know we still have one outstanding library book?

 

And most importantly, do they know what they’d say at my funeral? I mean, if I go down tomorrow, they’ll have to come up with something by Sunday and who can write under that kind of pressure? I know I can’t.

 

So I thought I’d write a draft my eulogy here that my husband can use as a template.

this came up when I googled “Death Bouquet”

(Note to my husband: just think of it as a working draft and please feel free to add your own thoughts and comments)

(Oh, and note to my mom: I don’t think Matt knows I have a blog, so if you read this and the plane goes down, could you let him know this is here? Thanks.)

Janine Noelle Kovac, known to friends and family as “Zippy” (I wasn’t, but who’s gonna know? And besides, this is my last chance to embellish the truth) was a loving wife and doting mother nearly all of the time.

Oh, man. This is harder than I thought.

Janine would have celebrated her 30th birthday this month (technically true. Not technically true: that I would have celebrated my 30th birthday this year.)

I could give a list of things I liked: classical music, raw almonds, my kids. And a list of things I didn’t like: cockroaches. FOX News. Dexy’s Midnight Runners.

Maybe I could list some of my favorite quotes. I can’t remember what they are, but I know they’re in my goodreads feed.

(Note to Matt: to make everything easier for you I have changed all our passwords to “pencil.” Except for my goodreads password, which is “snowbird1882”)

I’m sorry Matt. I just can’t think of anything interesting to say about myself. But I do have the latest bio I submitted my last Write On Mamas post:

Janine Kovac works for Litquake, San Francisco’s literary festival. She lives in Oakland with her husband and three small children. She spends her free time wondering if it’s really free time or if she’s just forgotten to do something.

Mom, will you tell Matt it’s the best I could come up with?

God–What’s There To Say?

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firstcommunionA week from today my daughter will make her first communion. It’s a big deal. I know it’s a big deal. But I’ve only been Catholic for a year. I feel a little awkward attending classes with my daughter, trying to guide her through something that I myself don’t quite understand.

There’s so much I still don’t know. For example, am I supposed to genuflect every time I go into the pew at Mass or just the first time? Can I still use my rosary even though the cat ate one of the Our Father beads? I don’t know.

And for her—do we need to get a veil or something for next week? Or white gloves? We haven’t covered that yet.

I have no nostalgic anecdotes to share with my daughter. I don’t have that story that begins, “When I was your age” or “At my first communion” because our experiences are so different.

In my RCIA prep classes no topic was off the table. We talked openly about our feelings toward the church’s stance on marriage. We talked about the implications of having a Pope Benedict versus a Pope Francis and how it made us feel as parents to join a church that we felt still had to answer for the scandals brought to light in recent years.

I came to the church from a place that needed to take the doubt and cynicism that I had harbored for many years and reconcile it with the good feeling I had when I came to Mass. My daughter comes to church because we bring her there every Sunday.

So what I am going to tell my eight-year-old about what it’s like to be Catholic?

Two weeks ago we sat a table in the cafeteria across the parking lot, where we have the Faith Formation classes, filling out worksheets, sounding out words such as “chalice” and “Eucharist.” She was doing the little dance she does when she’s excited about something, wiggling a little from side to side. This was different from when we did homework together, something had shifted. We weren’t working in tandem anymore. A part of her mind was someplace else, a place I don’t have access to.

We were sitting in the green-tiled room that is so familiar to her. She had her first Easter egg hunt there at St. Augustine’s in that room. At Halloween, she paraded around the tables with her brothers. Last year during one of my RCIA classes, the family decorated Christmas cookies there, baked in the ovens in the cafeteria’s kitchen. This is her home. A place that keeps the figurines for the Nativity scene in the basement and has an organ in the balcony, and she knows this because we come to decorate the church several times a year. In November there’s an altarcito where we put out a picture of Grandpa. In October there’s Bless the Pets day when we bring the cat (to be forgiven for chewing on the rosary).

For her the church is very simple. The Pope is a nice man in a white hat. The God she knows is Social-Justice Jesus, who hugs lepers and reminds us to be nice to people. This is the community that she knows—this is the community she is going to join.

I watch my daughter. She’s glowing from the inside out, chewing on her lip. Her eyes are shining. And as she hums to herself and spells “communion” with three m’s, I realize that I don’t always have to be the one who teaches. She doesn’t always have to learn from me. That maybe this time I am learning from her and her idea of the church.

The Rodney Dangerfield of Junior High

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Billy Crystal in This is Spinal Tap

It’s 7th grade. I’m twelve years old. Our drama class is going to compete in a citywide speech tournament; all the middle schools are participating. And competing in the tournament will be part of our final grade. The individual categories range from oratorical recitations to prose and poetry readings. I would have recited a poem, (all the girls are reciting poems) but I also want to win. I’ll never stand out in the poetry category. Besides, I know my mom will try to pick out my poem, the way other mothers pick out their daughters clothes. And I know that as a former speech and debate coach, she’ll give me some geeked-out poem to read, like Vachel Lindsey’s “The Congo” when everybody else will be reading Shel Silverstein and Lewis Carroll’s “Jabbywocky.”

So instead I sign up for the pantomime category. It’s not the sexiest of categories at a school district speech tournament; it’s more like an afterthought. But no one else in my school signs up for pantomime; so at least I’ll stand out. I like that. And if few enough kids sign up across the district, maybe I even have a chance at winning.

My prescience pays off. It’s just me and five other junior mimes in the whole tournament. We have two rounds of competition before the final round, but it’s just a formality. We all advance to finals.

The first rounds test our fundamentals. We pick a scene out of a hat and have three minutes to prepare our gestures: pouring a glass of something to drink, raking leaves, walking a dog. Always looking for an edge, my beverage is something hot and on my mimed sips, I burn my tongue. It impresses the judges. I get a perfect score. But what I’m really trying to do with my pretend coffee cup that’s too hot to touch is hide the fact that I’m a terrible mime. I look nothing like the Shields and Yarnell shows I watched on T.V. as a little kid. When I lift the cup to my mouth I’m not sure how tall the cup is supposed to be or if I’m dipping my head right into the lip of the mug. So I pretend that the cup is too hot to pick up in the first place. I lean down and blow. It’s funny. I know I’m good at funny. And I know I’m good in front of an audience. This much I’m confident of after years of daily ballet classes and rehearsals.

My act is so funny and so original to the judges they don’t even notice that I haven’t actually mimed anything.

The final round is an act choreographed to a five-minute piece of music. During the weeks before the competition, I shut myself upstairs in my bedroom, choreographing to 70’s instrumentals (elevator music hadn’t been invented yet, but that’s what these albums would become). I was painfully aware of how little I could pantomime anything. So I choreographed a magic act. My hat turned into a bird. I rolled a ball that suddenly started bouncing off the ceiling. I perfected my facial reactions to reflect something mysterious or unexpected, but again, there was very little pantomime.

The judges loved it. My whole class came to watch my round, since I was the only person who made it to the final round of anything.

I won first place and snagged a big trophy, back in the days when they were just for winners. I was the best tween mime in all of El Paso—maybe even all of West Texas—an early brush with fame.

The trophy went straight to the trash.

Maybe because I didn’t think I’d earned it. Maybe because I was twelve and mortified easily. Or maybe because—hello? A mime. Ain’t no respect to be had for mimes. They are the lowest of the silent stage performers.

I wish I could say that I never performed as a mime again. But alas, the taste of success was sweet, even if its fruits made me want to hide under a rock. It’s hard to say “no” to the easy win. Especially when your grade is riding on it.

Too bad I didn’t stick with it. I coulda had a career.

Post Script: I’m not sure what I danced to, but it was something like this:

They Said It Couldn’t Be Done

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The Goal: Wear the quinceñeary-est quinceñeara dress to Litquake’s opening night party next Friday without spending any money to acquire said dress.

The Solution: Find someone who happens to have an old wedding dress which she uses to play dress up with kids and sit around until she gives it to you.

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¡Yay!

But get your frowny face emoticons ready.

All the directions that describe how to dye great big dresses claim that you cannot dye it if it’s 100% polyester. Cannot dye because it does not work or cannot dye because it does not work well? That’s what I had to find out.

It took approximately 16 hours of scouring the Internet (or 20 minutes if you take out interruptions) and skimming through DIY dye blogs where industrious young people sent their cute, 100% polyester off-white formals to Florida to be professionally dyed for undisclosed amounts of time and money, before I found what I was after. Back in 2003 on some costume forum, GitaGurl23 asked: “I want to dye my wedding dress for Halloween. It doesn’t have to look great. Can I do it?”

And the answer posted six years later in 2009: “Yes. And here’s how.”

The solution involved using isopropyl alcohol with water at a ratio of 7:1 (something about it evaporating faster), an iron to bind the color with heat (polyester is essentially plastic fibers, that’s why the color doesn’t hold), and a third thing that I read but subsequently ignored.

“I don’t have time to do this,” I thought. And immediately drove to Target and bought a 34-gallon bin, 3 bottles of RIT fuchsia dye, 2.5 gallons of isopropyl alcohol, and—because I fell under the spell that is Target—a jacket (so cute! and cheap! and the right size!), a pair of shoes (wrong size, oops) and ant traps. (We don’t have ants but I always like to be prepared).

The prospect of making white things pink was an exciting one, inspiring Michael to throw in a pair of underwear along with the dress.

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before (dress and underpants)

 

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materials to dye dress according to some random Internet forum

“I hope we don’t get some kind of chemical burn from these fumes,” I thought, as the children emptied bottles of rubbing alcohol into the bin.

Now, I’m not much for following directions, but here’s what I did and didn’t do.

1) 7:1 ratio of alcohol to water.

Nope. I added the 2.5 gallons as pictured above and perhaps another ten gallons of hot water.

2) Hot water (140 degrees).

Nope. I added some boiling water and a bunch of water from the hose outside. It was warm but not super hot.

3) Clean garment first.

Nah. I washed the bottom of the dress and the train in the tub because that was the dirtiest part of the dress. But I’m too impatient to wait for a dress that weighs more than my firstborn child to drip dry in my shower. And I’m way too cheap to dry clean it.

4) One bottle of dye for every two pounds of fabric.

I just grabbed three bottles and decided that should be enough.

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pink things in a bucket

This photo was supposed to be informative. You know, the way they do in the DIY blogs. But really it just looks like pink tulle in a bucket. Or maybe it looks like flamingo carcasses. I don’t know. This is my first DIY blog post.

 

5) Use rubber gloves. 

This is the one thing I should have done. Because the vinyl gloves I used were very thin. My left hand was bright pink for about 10 hours after dyeing.

6) Leave in dye for 30 – 60 minutes stirring constantly.

Seriously? I have things to do! I think I did about 25 minutes and then we hung the behemoth to drip dry in the backyard over an old shower curtain. (Which meant I didn’t iron it dry, either.)

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In short, I didn’t follow any of the special directions and it still looks fantastic, right?

A couple of caveats: turns out I can’t rinse the dress because most of the dye will rinse out. Also, the color isn’t totally even. The bottom is a little darker than the rest of the dress. And maybe I should have spent more time cleaning it because there are parts near the neckline that are dark pink (presumably something oil-based–makeup?) that absorbed a lot of dye. OH–and for several hours after dyeing, the whole thing reeked of alcohol. And not the good-party kind. The hospital kind. (It eventually wore off.)

In short, the professionals are right. You shouldn’t dye a polyester dress if you want the color to be uniform and permanent. But if you don’t mind the funky, dye away!

P.S. The tightie-whitey Hanes underwear is a beautiful bright fuchsia, much to Michael’s delight.

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(Michael, if, like GitaGurl23’s forum question, this post survives on the Internet for another ten years, I want you to know that you really loved this underwear.)

This Week’s Fun Facts

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yuck

One of the things I hate about adulthood is becoming an expert in something that you really couldn’t care less about.

For example, I couldn’t care less about fleas or flea eggs or how long flea larvae can lie dormant in your hamper. I don’t care to know that if, for example, your cat’s fleas lay eggs on your husband’s Verona tam from his recent graduation ceremony and the eggs hatch, that the larvae will still wave to you from under the magnifying glass even after you’ve put said tam in the microwave for 45 seconds.

I don’t care to figure out how long it takes the fleas to die after you’ve applied the toxic gel to the scruff of your cats’ necks. I didn’t really want to know that the gel is filled with hormones that stop the fleas’ reproductive cycles and that it makes the cats a little wonky, too.

I didn’t need to know that flea bites itch because we are allergic to flea saliva.

Of course, I’m not exactly an expert. Only time will tell if there are eggs hidden in couch cushions or if one really does need to wash everything in hot water rather than cold. If the toxic hormonal gel really does work for a month. If Dawn dish washing liquid really does keep fleas off the cats.

There are other unanswered questions. Just how long did the cats have fleas before we noticed, anyway? Is this something that’s slowly been escalating for months but we’d done just enough cleaning (until recently) to prevent an outbreak? Or is it like fruit flies—one brownish banana and the two flies you saw at breakfast have become legion by evening?

I don’t think I need to know. But if I find out, I’ll pass the info along.

Z is for Zizou

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ZI’m not a jealous person by nature but sometimes at night when it’s time to go to bed, instead of following me into the boudoir, my husband, hypnotized by the glow of his laptop will murmur, “I’ll be there in a minute.”

And then I start to seethe.

He’s not coming to snuggle with me under the sheets because he’d rather watch videos on Youtube. Specifically, clips of French Algerian soccer star Zinedane Zidane. Most likely, my husband is watching the “best of” video of “Zizou” (as the superstar is known to his fans), a montage of the best career shots edited down to seven minutes against the backdrop of Coldplay’s “I Will Fix You.”

“Honey, watch this! It’s the game against Brazil in 1998. Look! He totally deeks Ronaldo right…there! There’s nobody like him. Nobody even close.”

He was drooling when he said that.

Then he tells me how “Zizou” was so sinewy and fast! in the early years. How he’d smoked cigarettes at halftime. How he apologized to the children after he head-butted Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup Finals. How unbecoming “Zizou’s” haircut was when he played for Real Madrid and how much better he looks with a shaved head. There’s so much reverence and awe in my husband’s voice, I’m surprised that we didn’t name our twins “Zinedane” and “Zidane.”

Zizou

I remember when I used to have that “Zizou effect” on my husband. But we’ve been together now fifteen years. Has our sizzle fizzled? Have I been replaced by a bald Frenchman?

The other day I tested him: I had run a Google search on the words, “Zinedane Zidane Coldplay” and when I found a link to the video, I played the audio.

“Do you know what this is?” I asked.

I wanted to drive home the point that he was spending a little too much time ooh-ing and aah-ing over Mr. Happy Feet and not enough time ooh-ing and aah-ing over me.

My husband one-upped me. He listened to the soundtrack for a moment and said, “That’s not the right one.” (Apparently there’s a rival Coldplay mashup of Zizou shots on goal and my husband can hear the difference). “Here, I’ll get the right link for you. We’ll watch it together. Ohhhh-hoh-hoh! I haven’t seen it in four days.”

And then he let out a little moan.

I was writing at the time (a rough draft of this blog post, as a matter of fact), and I just glared at him, shaking my head. Then I went back to work.

A few minutes later my husband said sadly, “We’re not going to watch it, are we?”

“I’m going to bed,” I huffed.

“I’ll be there in a minute,” he said, putting on his headphones and starting to hum.

Y is for You

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YThis is what kills me. “You” are “you plural.” And no one knows how that happened. You were a cell. You divided. And now you have two noses and four arms and twenty toes.

One of you wakes at the slightest touch. The other of you can fall off the bed and stay asleep.

One of you likes baseball. The other of you likes to figure out what markings make which word.

One of you was born at a pound and a half.

One of you has lots of pictures from when you plural were in the hospital because you’d always open your eyes.

One of you just got your first bee sting.

One of you wants Italy to win the World Cup.

One of you is speedy quick. Unless we’re talking about baseball reflexes.

One of you is rolly and slow. Unless we’re talking about baseball reflexes.

Both of you can tell time better than your sister. Who is three years older.

One of you could live on plain pasta.

One of you likes radishes, guacamole, and prefers Sevillano olives to Niçoise.

And yet, you share the same DNA.

X is for eXposure

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XWhen I first started blogging, I had a purpose, a reason to disseminate information through a blog. I was pregnant with twins. Our odds were terrible (50/50 they’d survive the pregnancy without complications) and we wanted to keep our family informed without having to make 19 different phone calls to give the same information.

The blog was private. I blogged about the pregnancy, the birth, and the early NICU days. Then the idea to write a memoir about the experience was inserted into my head, probably during a middle-of-the-night alien abduction that involved some kind of nasal probe (to insert the idea, of course) and memory erasure (to protect the identity of the aliens, of course). Which meant that I needed to take the blog public and build a platform. I needed to get my name out there and get some exposure.

There is an ugly side to getting exposure. For example, one way to get a lot of views and shares is to write a post that goes viral. And one way to go viral is to piss people off so much that they want to share your affronts so that other people get pissed off. People like to share things that piss them off. (I suppose you could also write a particularly witty post, like this one here, but only if you are particularly witty.)

However, when total strangers are pissed off at you, they write really mean things. They stalk you on the Internet and post links to your Facebook profile that you thought was private. Suddenly something you thought was particularly witty (“Janine works at Keeping Her Toenails Shiny!”) is suddenly turned on its head and now strangers are congratulating each other on the cleverness of their insults.

So then the blog become private again.

But you still need a platform, because the aliens’ nasal probes have altered the neural connections in your frontal lobes (not to mention your hippocampus) and their plan for galactic domination by making people want to write memoirs is not deterred by Internet trolls.

So here we are. Blogging here and there, like trying to change the color of the ocean one drop of food coloring at a time but not wanting to make the sort of splash that wakes up the trolls.