Cullen Curtiss




Sunday, May 29, 2005

letting nature be

Admittedly, I am distracted by the slightest thing when I am weeding. As I have mentioned in previous posts, our lawn has not seen this amount of weeds in 8 years. So, every Saturday and other days when I can, I toil, pulling, digging, and cursing.

This particular Saturday, the neighborhood was rather quiet -- it's Memorial Day weekend and so folks are out in traffic or on the trails, but I did hear commotion in the house across the street and to the left. As is their right, they have five vehicles. Two in the driveway, one on the lawn, and two on the street. The two on the street have weeds growing up around them. Anyway, I heard a man yelling and a woman screaming in retort. He sounded extremely heated and she sounded as if she was trying to explain or calm him. I'd only ever seen two men in work-clothes going in and out of the place, so I was surprised to hear a female voice. I put down the pitchfork and listened harder for something that would indicate she was being struck. They continued to scream at one another, the volume increasing. I considered calling the police, and then stopped -- what if this was just a big fight? My husband and I have had big fights. What if this is their way of communicating? What if my meddling serves no purpose? Not entirely comfortable, I let it go and within about 5 minutes the noise stopped.

That same day I chose not to intervene when my 15-year-old cat cornered a bird on our porch. I felt horrible for the bird as I watched it for a few moments awaiting its fate. I walked away and went back to the pitchfork. About 1/2 an hour later, my cat walked by me licking her chops. I went to the porch and saw the remains on the doormat -- the gizzard, wings, and the feet. I had let nature take its course. Moments later, the woman from across the street came out onto her front stoop and spoke lovingly to her cat. After that, the man came out, cell phone in his ear, laughing. He got into one of the trucks on the street and drove away.

Friday, May 27, 2005

stormy weather ... been raining all the time

I live in the Rocky Mountain desert, where recent precipitation has been a glorious godsend. There are plants (and weeds!) blooming all over my yard that most likely have not seen the light for years. Depending on whom you ask, you'll get a varying answer to the question, "How long was the drought?" Sources tell me that it's been 7-8 years. In that time, this area (northern New Mexico) has seen prodigious development. A troubling intersection, wouldn't you say?

No, most wouldn't say. In early May when it was still very cold and snowing/raining every few days, the sky a fit of lightning and thunder and the color of a bruise, I often got into conversations with people who had had just about enough of this wet weather. "Where's the sun?" They cried. "It's too cold. I'm tired of these boots!" "I feel for the gardeners."

I was much more polite than I should have been: "It will be dry and hot soon enough, " I said. Most of these people have lived here forever and know what trouble a lack of water brings for a thirsty desert land that's facing rapid growth. Yet, they can't see past their own desires for sun and warmth and sandals. It's shocking.

I overheard two people talking about Memorial Day weekend and its forecast and how wasn't it just like Mother Nature to throw a wrench in it and deliver rain. I, for one, would be grateful if it rained on any picnic or parade I might be attending this weekend.

Monday, May 23, 2005

cult of personality

I've decided that I am not so sure I want any cult of personality to be my yoga instructor anymore. Have you noticed that it becomes about them? I've willingly enjoyed the glow that these instructors feel for themselves and shined it back at them just to add a little more to the pool of light they walk in, but it just doesn't seem right.

Tonight, we had a woman subbing for the cult of personality and I noticed how serious, pleasant, and even the class was. I went inward and was able to breathe and feel the true dance of Vinyasa. This was lovely. She was directing us and I felt that, while she was in complete control, she was drawing off something higher or more powerful than she or any of us. This is not how it feels with cult of personality. We hear about his day, his practice, his life, his kids. I have laughed before and thoroughly enjoyed his classes, but tonight was more about PRACTICE in general, the thing we all work hard to do every day, on the mat or off. It felt graceful and full of grace.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

baby talk

We had our friends and their toddler boy to the house for dinner last night. Since my husband is the child's godfather, A.J. has learned to call him Capo (to the question posed by Capo, "Do you want a piece of me?" A.J. says, "Okay!"). He squeals the name with delight. My name is not so easy -- he spat out several consonants and syllables in a row when his mom went around the room asking who was who. Perhaps this is why my baby sister (at that age) called me Dodie. We do not know to this day where that came from and of course she doesn't remember.

I could have talked to lil' A.J. all night long. His vocabulary is quite vast. He may even have 50 words -- his parents are his translators, but after some time with him I began to understand him. He's fascinated by machinery, so the garbage truck (remarkably his pronunciation of this word sounds like the one we use) they saw that day lifting dumpsters over its head and into its mouth dominated the conversation. There was also a forklift, and oddly, this comes out as "f***-ed up"! We introduced him to the moon, which became "mamoo." Then there's "numy" for food and "oooie" for water. When he became a wash of red-faced tears and wanted "uppie" but then could not be consoled, we were all left to wonder what he wanted. Perhaps he didn't know or perhaps he was frustrated that we didn't understand what he was so clearly communicating.

I think this is a fantastic stage in a child's life, and I love being around him as he stumbles on new things to do with his tongue that the people who tower above him slowly begin to understand.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


I just finished Birds Without Feathers, Louis de Bernieres' latest (Ottoman Empire). I'm now reading The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard (WW2). My husband dips into Vietnam by Stanley Karnow from time to time. Because his book subscription profile through Three Lives & Company bookstore in Greenwich Village identifies him as interested in WW2, books like Philip Roth's The Plot Against America and Max Hasting's Armageddon come once a month.

In discussing what to get my father for his birthday, my mother reminded me of his WW2 obsession and then said, "That war is still with us." (I'll write about the book I got him after his birthday.)

She's right, with a small clarification -- every war is still with us. When army military commanders were quoted yesterday as saying that the time for US troops to leave Iraq looked like no time soon, I thought even when the troops do leave it will not be the end of that war.

When I was younger I always thought love was hard to understand; now I understand love -- it's hate that confounds me.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

everything is beautiful

We own a television, but do not get any channels. The big black box in our rumpus room is a vehicle for VHS tapes only. This isn't because we hate television; on the contrary, it's because we love it ... we think it's beautiful: it's compelling even when it's really bad. When we end up a hotel between long drives, we'll turn the thing on immediately and talk at it, curse at it, stare at it while getting dressed, brushing our teeth, talking on the phone. We don't turn it off and we'll watch most anything, and most anything is there for the watching. The story of one woman's head-to-toe makeover had me rapt ... we had to postpone dinner.

But what does Sprint mean when it claims wireless is beautiful, business is beautiful? They made this claim on a television commercial I saw today. (I do watch some TV while on the treadmill at the gym, but it's limited to how many workout minutes I can endure.) At first I thought it was odd, but then I thought it was ... well, beautiful. Why not? Their technology allows people to connect efficiently and effectively, and ultimately put food on the table. That's beautiful, isn't it?

Monday, May 16, 2005

other people's food/writing

I spent the day in front of a computer screen in a small room at a local magazine editing other people's writing. It's fine, except that I like better access to sunshine and being in the room where the microwave, fridge, and toaster oven all live can mean I'm at the mercy of other people's food. Being a vegetarian doesn't help the sitch. As the prideful calendar guy's homemade fried chicken warmed in the oven, I felt the aroma penetrating my skin. The girl in art had spaghetti, someone else a pot pie.

Anyhoo, it was a productive day. It always is. I just edit story after story for 8 hours. I think I edited five today. I've never formally met most of the writers, but I really enjoy their voices and can feel that I have met them. Some are such a joy to edit, the turn of phrase they use seems so natural to them that they might have dictated the article whole. I think about how I feel when I know that a piece of mine is being edited and try to be as diplomatic, careful, and thorough as possible. The reaction I get when I have a question has always been one of, "Well, I hadn't thought about doing it that way," or "That makes it better," or "I was having trouble there." Or, "thanks, but I think we should keep it 'cause I meant ... " Raymond Carver's editor says he made Raymond the writer he was, that he could lay claim to much of the content of his stories. I wouldn't bet one way or the other without knowing more, but I do know that writers and editors build a piece together and nothing would be worth reading without the relationship.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

weeding and writing

Aside from a wee bit of lacrosse, I wrote and weeded today. I got farther with the weeding, tho' with all of the rain we've had, there's so much more to do. My observation, however, is that the two endeavors are similar. I've been writing this essay for weeks now and still have not found its essence -- the voice is there, but the real thought I am trying to convey remains tied up in my tongue.

But this isn't how weeding and writing are similar.

Weeding is not complex -- it's about progress and I made some today. I had to sit on the porch and admire it; might have even pulled a stranger off the street so she could have a gander if one had been walking by.

And with the essay I made some progress. My husband, my editor, said last night, "I still don't know what it's about. Great writing, but what's it about?" This was all I needed to see the path, to see what needed to be cleared away to reveal the one true original thought. I'm still working on the essay, but can see the gloryway. The weeding around all of the flagstone and laying more to make paths where there were none reminded me that all you need to do is stay on task and what you intended will emerge.

Saturday, May 14, 2005


Our seeds are in the ground. They are probably just going to rest tonight and begin thinking about poking around in their new cool, wet home tomorrow. But what do I know? This is my first time planting a vegetable garden and I feel incredibly optimistic. It was a satisfying day, remarkably so. I'm sorry to all of you I thought were secretly ridiculous for believing that gardening is exercise - it is. I am weary. My fingers are sore; I've re-identified where my sacrum is; the sun has made my eyes a little bloodshot.

I think that my husband and I have been nervous over the years to build our own garden, so we haven't. For some reason it seems intimidating, but shouldn't it be instinctual? As we got into it, preparing the soil with compost we had created over the last year (beautiful stuff!), I think we did feel as if we knew what we were doing and we talked about how it would be to watch all of the seedlings become adolescents and then adults. In such a short time we would be caretakers of a wealth of food -- it was hard to believe. Of course, we could fail, but today I am hopeful and I wish my little seeds a goodnight's sleep.

Friday, May 13, 2005


"We should really try to be more spontaneous." I heard this twice yesterday. Once from a guy with whom planning an after-work glass of wine had gotten boring with its cancellations, excuses, mishaps. Once from my husband who wants to feel more a part of our community. He wants people to feel free to stop by whenever, and he wants to feel comfortable showing up on a friend's doorstep unannounced.

I really like the whole notion of spontaneity ... in theory. It seems more fun and bohemian to just carpe diem, but I'm a planner at heart. Does this make me staid, rigid? Does this make me more organized? Does this really make me less fun? Possibly. The way it was introduced to me, spontaneity has so much more value and realness than planning, which reeks of control and artifice.

I dunno. I've often been frustrated with people who say they can't accept my dinner invitation for a week from now because they can't plan that far out. What? Are you not an adult who's aware that life can be out of control? Isn't it nice to have some experiences fixed in the dirt ahead of you? The recipe cannot be as boring as, "a little bit of both," but what if it is? | 510.847.0570