About Me

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Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
"No, really!"

My Favorite Bit of Paper Cup Philosophy

The Way I See It #76

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Lovely Lady?

"Hey, Les, what's that? Miniature pizza cutter?" I chortled. "Pretty close guess. It works in the same way, but it's meant to cut fabric in a neat, clean line." To prove my point, I promptly rolled that cutter through the small pepperoni that once was my thumb, to some pretty startled looks and much scrambling for paper towels. "You OK? Gonna faint?" No, I wasn't going to faint. Though a lifetime floor-diver at the hint of blood, guts, pain or mayhem, my pregnancy 22 years ago cured me of the fainting deal. There are only so many times one can go down. I don't do it any more. "Hey, Les, you got a package from England!" Oh. I imagined I could guess a little something about that! I've been manually challenged for awhile now, big white bandage on the thumb and got a good old timey infection in it. I'd be willing to bet that she doesn't get all show-offy and run the cutter through her thumb, either.

Her blog is Artymess, though her name is Lorna, and I feel certain I'm not breaking a confidence by sharing that. I've followed her for quite awhile and I visit that blog because it never fails to give me purest joy. The place is a riot of color and one imagines music and happy, loud conversation. Invariably there are smiling faces, and when she posted photos of her house, the rooms screamed color, too. There are trips to the seashore and to Wales - have I ever mentioned I am a confirmed, lifelong Anglophile? But, best of all, Lorna is making the things I want to make. I began e-mailing with her early on, telling her of my extreme frustration at finding myself in a state of acute creative constipation I cannot seem to shake. She teaches textiles at the secondary school level, crafts beautiful items for pure pleasure, exchanges her creations with other artists, and runs contests on her blog so she can share the productions she makes from her head with others. I visit her for that injection of positive energy.

It happened that Lorna was running another contest, and I always join in ~ hey, I want beautiful things! By a finger fumble on the keyboard, I actually sent my comment twice which may have looked as if I were trying to double dip. I wasn't. I swear. My picture looks too much like my other picture. I can't fly beneath the radar. When Lorna announced the winner, I sent a comment to say I felt like I'd won a prize just from being able to see the photos. I meant it, too. I didn't have to actually own the pieces awarded. I just wanted to see them.

It happened that I had posted to my blog - a piece that took a lot out of me. It doesn't matter which one. Lorna e-mailed me to say how much my post touched her, and then my comment to her comment touched her even more deeply. The e-mails began to fly between the U.K. and Las Vegas - experiences shared and how those experiences formed us as people. Pretty soon, Lorna said, "We're making quite a connection here." I agreed and said so. A little later, Lorna said, "There is magic in the air this afternoon." I agreed and said so. At some length. And finally, Lorna said, "Leslie, you are a lovely lady. Send me your address, please." I didn't agree. I have rarely felt like a lovely lady. I did ask her not to tease her elders, but I was a sport and sent my address.

Now I am the happy owner of beautiful Lorna articles! For in my parcel from England is a shining, iridescent zipper bag with "Love" and a turquoise heart on the front, Buddha, lace and ribbon embellishments on the back, and a reminder to "Do all things with love." Yes, I do try to keep that in mind. The bag is fully lined, beautifully sewn, lovely sturdy zipper . . . ah! But there is more. There is a wonderful, shining, vividly constructed bookmark. And written on the back of the bookmark is "To Lovely Leslie, Stitched with love for you. Lorna X"

Mostly, one doesn't want to assume that I am stupid. I know what a bookmark is for, certainly. I'm a reader! I also know the zipper bag was likely designed to be a toiletries kit or a sewing kit or for carrying an eyeglasses repair kit or just any of the stuff we stuff into our purses. But that's not what I'm doing with my bright, shiny boosts of colorful energy. You see, I got sick last year. Seriously ill, terrified. I had to find some way I'd never found before to deal with illness. Being scared nearly catatonic, I have investigated eastern and western medicine, medication, meditation, spiritual theories, new age latest hits, reading until my eyes nearly bleed, visiting gatherings of other afflicted, and much gnashing of teeth. This has taken me awhile, as I have sought the answers while in very low condition.

So, I've landed gently, though I still seek. Some days it feels like I'm walking on eggshells, but at least I no longer taken one step and splat. It's been awhile since I spent one full month sitting in a recliner sobbing and sleeping 24/7. I've landed on a few tools that help me make it through my days and nights. I consult a couple of books of daily reflections, I specifically set aside time to meditate, I take all the medications prescribed in the way prescribed, I remind myself to eat and exercise. Sometimes I visit support groups for "others like me", take classes and offer my support to someone who is suffering. Once I simply cooked a meal for someone because I didn't know what else I could do.

Though I do not fancy myself either proselytizer nor revelator roaming the plain, I do carry books I refer to frequently, for my own edification. One of these books is quite recognizable to many adults, even though cloaked in a plain, dark cover. While not as well-known as, say, the Bible, it is not uncommon. I am not ashamed of my book or ashamed that I am required to read from it. But maybe I just don't want to talk about it with my barista at Starbucks or with the pharmacists as I wait for my meds. I'm not the paid spokeschild. I don't wear a size XXL T-shirt with an announcement in huge lettering. It struck me: the size of the most frequently consulted book vs. the size of Lorna's zipper bag. I placed the bookmark between the two pages that have aided me most. I slid the book into the zipper bag ~ perfect! Secure, not bulging. Encircling, not hiding, the peace I've found, in the brilliant hues that speak to me of peace, joy and harmony. I do not want to be a secret keeper any more. But the glorious bag protects my privacy as I make my way along.

I walked into a gathering of others who suffer the same disease as I. I did all the usual distracting (to others) things we do when we arrival somewhere for a purpose. Jacket off, purse under chair, get coffee. Then I pulled out my zipper bag. Stares. A few murmurs from appreciative females. "What do you suppose . . .?" Oh, this was good. Like being on stage! I purposely drew the zipper slowly and placed my hand inside the bag. I slowly withdrew my book - the one that all of the afflicted would so immediately recognize. "Whoa," I heard. Not yet in full control of that annoying show-offy tendency, I removed my bookmark with a flourish and looked up expectantly, ready to begin. "Hey, Les, want to share anything today?" [Grin.]

Lorna (lovely lady in red, above, right), truly from my heart, I thank you for your spontaneous act of kindness. Once again, I feel like the messages between us went deeper than our surface actions. True story, from not very long ago: "Do you hear sounds that probably aren't real?" asked the doctor. I replied that I hear only the usual ones, not anything like voices telling me to take over the Pentagon. He looked a little startled and I explained. I have always heard tiny, almost imperceptible tinklings from time to time, rather like a small, glass Chinese windchime. It is a signal to me from a place I don't know. It says,"Pay attention. All is not concrete." I heard tinkling, Lorna!

In my ears right now: An old, much loved favorite.

Something that charmed me: Well, everything about this story charmed me. I think I can sum it up very concisely. "Though cold today, spring approaches. Things are better than they were. Pay attention. All is not concrete."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Booby Prize?

Kass did it to me. That's just the kind of chiquita she is. She awarded me (With others, of course. I am not singularly special!) and now I'm on the hook, which makes me grin. I like information-sharing, round-robin posts. Truly, I thank her. She wouldn't give it to me for any other than truly honest reasons. Love you, too, Kassie. I can't name you as one of my choices, or I would.

Here's how it goes:
  • Thank and link back to the blogger who awarded you.
  • Share 7 things about yourself.
  • Award up to 15 deserving blogs.
  • Contact those bloggers and let them know about the award.
So, my 7 things:
  • I have type A- blood. I like to give small amounts of it (and/or my plasma) for the use of others who need it whenever I am allowed, which is not very frequently. Join me in this? Your community likely has a blood bank, too! Ditto organ donations. The gift of life is not only given through the childbirth process.
  • I am mulishly stubborn about the way I think some things should be. I own a 19" TV which sits atop my VCR. Yes, it's color, no rabbit ears. People who see these items look at me pityingly. What? I own a larger TV and a DVD player, as well. But I keep the dinosaurs upon which to watch old VHS movies I'll be unlikely to ever replace. When the VCR or the TV dies, it all goes out the door. Until then, why should it make others snicker at me if I like these things? I'm not required to buy new inventions because the manufacturers create them when I've taken good care of my old stuff. Shut up! I was also tetchy after my kid took good care of her PlayStation and Sony conspired to render her outmoded so we'd spend more money.
  • I detest the words "I can't". I try to always say either "So far I haven't been able to ___"or "I can't without some help."
  • I can and have piloted a 125' ocean-going sport-fishing vessel for hundreds of nautical miles in pitch dark with no crew. (They were all asleep, we were on semi-autopilot and there wasn't anything I could do to harm us unless a spaceship landed in the water directly in front of us. I did wear a skipper's cap and practice pirate talk. Arrrrgh!) Do not look for me to begin chartering day trips.
  • I am a bargain hunter extraordinaire. Oh,yes, I want the good goods and I don't intend to pay full retail. I wear a pair of red Coach loafers I got on eBay for $3 and they're now a little worn, but I love to walk around in them and tell the story when someone comments, "Nice kicks!"
  • I am beginning to sprout a few gray hairs in my sideburns. I do not care for this and I managed to avoid it for a good long time. This has begun over the past few difficult months. Oh, I do have that spot on the top of my head (about the circumference of a pencil eraser) that is completely white. I whacked my head on a cabinet door in my 20s and the hairs lost all color. But these new ones are old-age gray. And my personal version of "gray" is shocking, silvery, shining white. They reflect light. They could blind a person who looked at me in sunshine. I have been plying the tweezers liberally, but that seems a short-term solution.
  • Everyone has some shorthand references to life phases or events that they share with people they know well. A chapter in my life has been referred to as the period when the trolls waited under the bridge to snatch me. I'm feeling pretty frisky today (generally today, not just the next 24 hours). I'm thinking maybe the trolls might want to beware of me waiting to nab them from under the bridge. That could happen! I'm just sayin'.

And now, having considered what I've heard from all the bloggers most recently, from a funeral to attend, press of work, writer's block, invasion of the Vikings, etc., I shall bestow the award upon the following for no other reason than "I just decided to do so."

One of my longest blogger friends looked me up when I commented to his comment on a blog, "Kirk Jusko is dead-on!" It was politics. He has a fabulous grasp on politics and world affairs. He's the most generous of correspondents. And f-u-n-n-y. Quick as a snake. I want to see what his face looks like. Come on, Cowboy, show yourself!

I don't know why a woman displaced from the northern U.K. to Auckland, N.Z., younger than I, talented in all the ways I am not, highly busy - as in still chasing after two young children, published, resonates with me and I with her, but that's how it it. Rachel Fenton is a blogger one wants to know more about. Tag, Girl - you're up!

Something that charmed me in a twisted way: I made a trip to the library. I'm sorry to say it has been a long time since I visited the public library and I admit to being a little rusty. The two shreds of information I have retained about the Dewey Decimal System are no longer of use to me, particularly. All was not lost upon me, however. I cannot be dropped in among thousands of books and fail to come up with something. I hadn't gone after anything in particular, so anything I found of interest would be OK. And I came away with four good finds. It came time to check out with my new library card on the automated system. Now look,folks. I'm self-deprecating, but I'm not stupid. And if there are pictures posted, I'm pretty remarkable. There were pictures posted. I followed the process as shown. On several different work stations. Nothing.

A young woman about 17 (not an employee) walked over to me. "Are you following the pictures?" I said I was. "You can't follow the pictures, they're all messed up. Here, I'll show you how." She did. It's easy. It doesn't match the pictured process at all. I thanked her and she went off with (probably) her mother. Walking out of the library, I started to grin and then blush. Have I become so un-hip, slick and cool that I broadcast my distress even in a large, crowded public building? Maybe. And I imagine, if she spoke of her kind act later, she stated she'd helped out an old lady at the library.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Technical Difficulties and Yet One More Thing I Didn't Know How to Do

An esteemed sister blogger inspired me to write a post on a topic that pleases me. Oh, I had no difficulty finding the words and sharing the experiences. It was the illustrations that kicked up some trouble. I'm having an extremely difficult time capturing a decent replication of certain images, sort of like when I tried to take pictures of the extremely black cat, Virginia Woolf, and got only silvery glare with each exposure. No, there is no earthly substitute for what I am trying to photograph. Yes, I've tweaked lighting, exposure, distance from subject and more. So am I angry? I worked awhile at writing my piece, to no immediate avail. No, probably not angry this time. A little short-term disappointment. I can seek out advice. It will happen. Probably not worth derailing today over this. Sister Blogger, you will see that post, and soon!

Among the very long list of things I didn't know how to deal with was anger. Oh, the reader may believe that by the age of 3 or 4, I was utterly filled with it, but I'd witnessed few expressions of such an emotion, likely none of them very healthy. My parents finally separated for the final time when I was 13 years old. They divorced when I was 15. Theirs was a tragicomic pairing that included some of the deepest lows a married couple might suffer. I don't think either of them had any tools in their personal makeup to handle their troubles effectively. I don't know if either of them would admit to any highs in their relationship. It probably depends on when we asked them that.

For decades, we have referred to my father as Donald Duck because he sputters and spits, snarls and snaps about anything that pisses him off right now. Inconsiderate drivers, basketball games that seem to be favorably tipped toward the Celtics instead of the Lakers, people who laugh at other people who slip on the ice, mean people who take advantage of others ~ oh, my dad can go off. He spews for a short time, takes steps to remedy what made him angry if that's in his power, and moves on. He'd verbally spar with a much-larger neighbor - hey, he'd been a boxer, he'd be OK in a dust-up if one ensued. He had no trouble picking off the nun who whacked my hand with a ruler because I couldn't manage that pesky Palmer Method of handwriting. "If the Morgan kid needs to be whacked, you call us and we'll whack her, but don't you ever think of whacking her again!" I don't think he is a person with a huge well of anger left unapproached.

About my mother's anger, I'll have to use a bandolier full of educated guesses. I don't think I'll be far off the target. Otherwise, we'd have to ask her, and we're not going to do that. She was really bright and was not only her family's first high school graduate, she managed a scholarship to a good Catholic womens college. Before she could start there, she became pregnant. With me. Much high drama ensued - this was in 1951, for crying out loud - and it seems every member of that huge extended family had something to say. Granny wanted to adopt the baby (me) and raise it. Grandpa felt they were too old (aged 50 and 52). Grandpa thought one of his other daughters might know how to pursue a Mexican abortion and said so, thereby infuriating both daughters. Ruth didn't know how to obtain an abortion anywhere and my mother hadn't asked for one. My father's parents screamed from the midwest, "It couldn't be him. He had a terrible fall on a tricycle when he was 3 and can't father children." My parents wanted to marry and have their child. They did so. Later, my mother would suffer terribly after the birth of my profoundly retarded brother, and other assaults she wasn't prepared to endure. I believe my mother's fall from grace at age 17 broke her. I don't believe she has ever looked at my face without seeing missed opportunity, though she is well-evolved enough to now feel some guilt for that. I don't think she was ever fully whole again, and I know life continued to chip away small pieces from her. She morphed as addicts do. Anger, self-pity, codependency, resentments. The tiny lioness did not audibly roar for many, many years, but when she did, it was remarkable and terrifying. She is, today, an admirable recovering alcoholic of more than 25 years. I am not violating her anonymity with that statement. She announces it to anyone who will listen to her.

Through all of their tribulations, I never saw or heard my parents express anger at one another verbally. Never a shout, a curse, even a mildly angry statement. Neither of them nightowls, I imagine they only stayed up a few hours after I retired each night. Never once was my slumber disturbed by sounds of a wrangle. I have rarely heard either of them express a negative statement about the other. In 58 years. I know and understand both personalities - I possess some qualities taken from each of those personalities - and I just don't understand it. They had to have made one another insane! Not annoying. Crazy! Batshit. What did they do with it?

In the group of 40 cousins, and now their offspring so much time later, are wrapped up some of the angriest children I've ever known about. I can't say the aunts and uncles ever impressed me as angry. Granny henpecked (it's the perfect word) Grandpa, her voiced raised and her statements punctuated by a plume of Pall Mall smoke tossed over her shoulder. Gramps always, but always responded with a "Yes, Mary," and did whatever it was that she wanted. Fight over. No real anger exhibited. But then there were Uncle John's kids who tore into each other daily, drawing blood and not actually seeming to make up once the altercation was over. If we happened to be visiting when a fight began, I'd fade to wherever my father was located. I understand about young Sean who had multiple surgeries as an infant and was required to have his elbows splinted so he couldn't use his hands to disturb the surgical site. Yes, that would make someone angry, even a baby. But there was no one like Bill.

My cousin Bill's photo could have been used in a dictionary to depict "average, adorable, 1950s American boy". Blue eyes, red-blond hair, freckles by the bushel, and attitude. He was born scowling, I am sure. At the age of about 18 months, he was given a tiny pair of red leather cowboy boots by Granny and Grandpa. They were a struggle to put on him, but once he was placed upright, faster than a rattlesnake, he proceeded to kick Grandpa up and down the shins until Gramps bled. He once bit a (reasonable) dog and the dog bit Bill back before running off. The entire family collected to scour the neighborhood for this dog so it could be tested for rabies. Bill was so young that he gave positive identification to every dog encountered, from Chihuahua to German Shepherd. He had to be given the series of rabies shots which were apparently extremely unpleasant. But my favorite Bill story co-stars me. Their family was visiting at my home and Bill had been told repeatedly to leave the piano alone. He'd finally had enough and decided to take action, apparently. He flung himself to the floor where I was sitting, bit me on the rear end, and - my father swears this is literally true - came up spitting corduroy from my trousers. So you see, I saw plenty of anger from a short distance. I just wasn't sure how it applied to me. I didn't know to acknowledge I felt any of it, though I did. I had no siblings with whom to wrestle and fight. I surely wasn't about to bite dogs or humans. I kept stuffing my anger (which I hadn't yet named "anger") into my secret keeper compartment - rather emotional Tupperware. It was building up quite a head of steam by the time I was 8.

I was well attuned to sensing the emotional climate as soon as I awoke each morning so I could put on whichever self I was going to be for the day. By 8, I was figuring out anger between the parents, despite their quiet presentation. Or maybe because of it. Deadly quiet and no conversation was a pretty good indicator that I'd leave my bedroom and walk into rooms thick with palpable tension. I knew to lay low, not attract any negative attention, plan to play quietly. If the stereo played Ella Fitzgerald or Harry Belafonte and I could hear them speaking to one another, or hear Dad singing, I could let down my guard just a little. The first time it happened, I was 8. I woke up one morning. No Ella. No Harry. My mother seemed a little sniffly and red-eyed. My father was gone. Had the Merry Maids come in, they couldn't have eradicated his presence any more thoroughly. Not a sign of him, his possessions or that he'd ever existed. Between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. Damned quietly, too!

My mother said that Dad had gone to stay somewhere else. That's it. I must have been some embryonic form of interviewer, because all manner of questions popped into my head: "Where did he go?" "With whom?" "For how long?" "When will I see him?" "Can I call him?" "Why didn't he take me?" "How long will I have to stay here with you at the wheel alone?" I asked not one question. Her face let me know I shouldn't ask. It would be many, many years before I'd learn to ask questions in the face of any terror, thereby gaining some secure footing for myself. It is the first time I remember feeling abject trepidation, as in "What's going to happen now?" Very soon that was refined to "What's going to happen to me now?" It is the first incident I can recall wherein the fear overruled the delusion that things were OK. Things weren't OK. And I knew forever after I wasn't crazy to fear terrible, terrible events. After all, I'd lived through one. It happened.

He wasn't gone very long the first time. He called daily. He visited and took me out on weekends. A month later, he was suddenly home, just as quietly in the night as when he left. When I woke up for school, I heard Harry on the stereo. "Day-o, da-a-ay-o." No word of explanation about what had just happened here. Never. Future separations became longer and sometimes more difficult. There were many of them. Once he took me out of school for 2 weeks and we traveled together to visit his family in the midwest. It was a good, healthy, fun outing for us. During one of the last separations, I'd become a little shopworn. My hair was falling out at an alarming rate from the front of my head. To the extent my mother had to drag bangs from the crown of my head to cover my baldness. "Stress; nervousness," said the doctor who cared for all of our extended family. "You two need to start doing something differently," screamed the relatives. They would, but not for awhile, and not to an immediate positive result.

Guess what? I'm still not all that adept at navigating the world. Sometimes I feel the need to apologize for myself and sometimes I don't. Today I do. I do not expect or wish for sympathy of any color for anything that has ever happened in my life. I have enjoyed many of the good things offered to the good, when I wasn't even particularly good. I haven't written as much about my heady, high spots, though there are many. But I feel compelled to tell the other stories first. When I write about what happened, it forms a clearer picture for me. I can see the seeds, germination and growth of all the maladaption and misery. If I can see the sprouts, I can pull them like weeds, or skirt them or spray them with some positive herbicide-like stuff. So I ask the reader's indulgence today. I'm not wallowing. I'm looking back upon the road to here.

If you smell something really malodorous and hear its grunting and roaring, it's that bear I've been wrestling. It has grown larger and stinkier as I've tried to ignore it, and it won't go away, so I'm going to have to look under the bed and in all the corners to stare it down, tame it, get engaged or feed it. I rather fibbed on e-mail to Girlfriend when I told her I was wrestling something I hadn't named yet. Well, almost fibbed. I was close to naming it. And now I can. It's anger. Again. Still making me feel lost and uncomfortable. No longer scaring me nearly catatonic.

Something that charmed me: It's chilly and rainy and I need to go out for awhile. I tend to be a shivery little old lady, so I'll bundle up. Spotted in my closet, and to be worn with a tip o' the hat to Cousin Bill ~ my red, leather Mae West cowgirl boots. And I intend to kick no one.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

OFFICIAL: Woman Impercolated by iPhone


Las Vegas police report taking a 911 call from a barely coherent local woman in fear for her virtue. She asserts a male acquaintance half way across the U.S. plied her with champagne administered through his iPhone. Police contacted Tree to obtain his version of events. "She's not inebriated, she's percolated and she asked me to do it!" When officers approached the woman in her home, she squealed, "Ooooh, I'm feeling so bubbly!"


Of course, I'm playing! Come on, that last post about old-time religion was hard going. I needed a little light relief and Tree was good enough to oblige me this morning. If you haven't visited Tree at Decadent Tranquility, then you've missed out. His prose and poetry, his computer generated artwork are remarkable in every way. The visual candy is exquisite. And guess what? I don't know how he does fractals and percolations and I don't want to know how. I'm not going to do it. I just want to look at it. And have a little fun with it through his good graces this once. Be warned: you need to spend some time on his website. Don't miss the archives filled with three different ongoing fictional sagas. Women readers, he flirts, too!

But I'm not only going to be playful. I'd like to share something I've found. It's poetry. I'm quite poetry challenged, which has made me feel a little backward in the blogosphere, but I can learn. I'm a really good learner. I'm reading (for the 3rd time or so) a book called Desert Queen by Janet Wallach. It's a biography of Gertrude Bell, a British very Victorian woman, whose life was remarkable for all the things she did that Victorian women didn't do. Deadly serious Swiss Alp mountain-climbing for 15 hours in snow and avalanche comes to mind, attending Oxford when female students numbered 2 or 3, and speaking 7 languages. She was fascinated by all things Middle East and made many expeditions on horse and camel, attended by various Middle Eastern guides and no one else. Through mountains and deserts in brutal conditions packing canvas bathtub and full sets of china and crystal for dining, 1000s of miles. She is acknowledged to be a major figure in the creation of modern-day Iraq. (Not sure she'd brag that up today, but that's what she was.) So, it's a real Leslie kind of book: British, bio, female, desert. But what I discovered in the book this time was something else.

Gertrude's translations of the medieval Persian poet Hafiz (Hafez)'s works are still regarded as the best translations that exist. Apparently archaic Persian is a brutal language to master, some words and phrases having multiple meanings. Well, I like this poetry! Now, had you recommended to me the works of a medieval Persian poet, I'd have thought "Uh-uh" and run screaming. But this speaks to me in volumes!

Maybe you already know about Hafiz (Hafez) if you're not new to poetry. And if you do, shame on you for never sharing! But it was a very new and pleasant experience for me. I recommended it to a poetry-loving woman friend who immediately went web-crawling and declared my find an excellent one. Hey! Smell me! I highly recommend the Gertrude Bell book, as well. TRW, your copy has been ordered and is coming by slow boat.

And so, reader, a little Turkish coffee and dessert?

From The Subject Tonight is Love
A Potted Plant

. . . And at night I let my pet, the moon,
Run freely into the sky meadow.

If I whistled,
She would turn her head and look at me.

If I then waved my arms,
She would come back wagging a marvelous tail of stars . . .

Something that charmed me: My woman friend needed to work. She had a deadline to meet, a busy morning, a dental appointment."I can't e-mail you at length until later this evening." OK, understood. I've been there. I support healthy detachment. I sent off an e-mail with the information about the Gertrude Bell book and the poetry of Hafiz/Hafez. It would be waiting in her inbox whenever she decided she was ready to glance at e-mails. About 14 nanoseconds later, I was surprised to hear e-mail incoming announced. It was her. What the heezy? She'd opened my e-mail and she was off on a poetry-filled couple of hours. Have I mentioned she's a poetry-loving woman?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

And That's What Made Me Run

I'm an adult now (at least if you count my years) and I hope I react to things from a plane of some slight balance vs. torturous highs and lows. But it wasn't always so. Once I was 8 years old and I didn't have the same powers of reasoning, the same collection of life experience, the willingness to speak out, the suspicion of authority that I do now. I didn't have many coping skills. I wouldn't have challenged something an adult stated for anything. I'd learned not to bother anyone with anything that was bothering me. Life's little kicks in the ass sometimes crushed me, and I simply accepted them, soldiering on. I know that my own childhood traumas likely weren't any more difficult than anyone else's, and in many ways I was a fortunate little girl. But everyone has struggled with something.

My mother's large Irish family were Catholics through and through. Active in the parish. My father's family were decidedly not. The Morgan family, my grandfather in particular, could get going about Catholics and the Pope. I was not baptized as an infant, as my father objected. Mom finally convinced him to allow the baptism when I was 2 - just old enough to raise the roof when the priest applied those few drops of holy water to my forehead. By the time Gary came along, my dad had already given in once, so Gary was baptized as an infant, more typically Catholic. In very young childhood, I was not served up a lot of religion. Weddings and funerals, Mass at Easter. We were rather casual Catholics, my mother and I. Sometimes when very young, I was allowed to go to other churches of other faiths with friends. Casual. It may have been restful, convenient, to have me away from home in a wholesome environment, someone else's temporary responsibility. I don't know.By second grade, it appeared that I had a decent brain. There had been some discussion of my skipping a grade, but it had been determined my intellect could easily do that while my soul probably could not. I was delicate and sensitive. It could harm me. I now know myself better than anyone else knows me. It would have harmed me. My mother and her family began to work my dad. Putting me in Catholic school would not only offer me more challenging lessons and a good foundation for my lifetime education, there were all the wonderful extra-curricular activities and, and . . . he finally agreed, reluctantly. We'd try it for my 3rd grade year.

During the summer, my mother, a person who is not of the same species as I, had to teach me to write perfect Palmer Method cursive writing with a cartridge pen as the Catholic kids had all learned that in 2nd grade. They hadn't taught us that at public school. I was not grand at catching on to perfect Palmer Method. My mother and I should never have been allowed to occupy a room alone together. Certainly no one should have thought it was a good idea to have her try to teach me anything. Not good for her, not good for me. And I was a messy child, for the first time ever. That cartridge pen was a challenge to me. I remember it as the summer of permanently blue-stained fingertips and incredible stress. Ah ~ and in the fall, when I went to Catholic school, my uniform blouse would be white and there had better not be any blue ink on it. A stray lazy thought in my head today: Grandpa lived about 2 miles away, wrote in perfect Palmer Method, was soft and gentle with me, had even taught me how to handle a pocket knife . . . . . hmmm.

In 1960 America, there were good girls and boys and bad girls and boys. I had some cousins who were bad, and very fun. They were free enough to be bad, take their lumps and move on. I was a good child. Adults liked me. I was quiet and helpful, clean and tidy except for cartridge pens, industrious and bright. I think I would have liked the child who was me. The exterior was a cute little package, smiling, always reading, always trying to please. Trying so hard to please. And when I failed to please, I suffered agonies. I will write from time to time about ways I've punished myself in life for failing to please. But at 8, the punishment was just silent self-excoriation. My family's poisons had made me, by age 8, a very grand secret-keeper. I had seen, heard and experienced things to which no child should ever be exposed. I never spilled about the worst of it until I was 50 years old. I'd learned to get up every morning, study my mother and determine what she needed me to be on this day and that's the girl I'd be. And quiet! No, it didn't make for good mother-daughter relations. Does it surprise anyone that I sought out adult females? Granny and my aunts, friends of my mother, neighbor women. Because I was pretty smart, it didn't take long for me to figure out that all of them were pretty regular, pretty normal, pretty right.

In southern California, the Santa Ana winds blow in early September. The conditions become hot and dry. Major wildfires typically occur at this time of year. The Catholic school was a good deal farther from home than the public. That was OK. I was on a new adventure. In September, my new saddle shoes blistered my feet and the gray wool skirt was hot and itchy, but I tried not to complain. The white uniform blouse was adorned at the collar with a maroon clip-on bowtie that pinched the sweating neck, but that was all right, too. At Catholic school, we were assigned far more homework and used many more books than in public school. I lugged the books without griping and always did extra credit. My dad oversaw my homework every night of life and he could see how much I was learning. By first report card, we already knew this "trial" was going very well for all concerned. I was also learning about the Catholic religion in a way I'd never understood it before. We attended Mass, walked the Stations of the Cross, made our first confessions and studied for our First Communions, studied catechism each afternoon, were given rosaries and holy cards as prizes for spelling bees, and were immersed even more than that. Oh, I was a wonderful, true believer. Age 8, tender, gentle.

At least some of the reason for my success at school was the influence of Sister Maren Therese. She was young(ish) and quite tall. Her hands were long and beautiful and I stared at her gorgeous, very fair skin. She had a lovely voice and she was very caring while still remaining firm. Our school lay right in the flight path of the Los Angeles International Airport, already a very busy portal in 1960. When the huge classroom windows were opened because we were not air conditioned, Sister could present a lesson pausing every few moments as a jet passed over and then pick up right where she'd left off, without missing a beat. I remember I loved those windows that latched very close to the ceiling. They were latched by use of a device that was a sort of a hook on a very long broomstick. Only Sister, the janitor and the boys were allowed to use this device. That was OK with me. I am not graced with much grace. I could have put the device right through the window pane. That would not have pleased Sister. Have I mentioned that I absolutely loved her? And I knew she thought I was a very special girl. Yes, the adult me understands that Sister thought all the children were special. But the 8-year-old didn't know that.

It was in the spring, and for some reason, I believe it was April, not that it matters in the least. The windows were open because it was gloriously warm, Sister speaking in her stop-start mode because of the jets. It was Friday and Catholics did not eat meat on Fridays. I'd had peanut butter, cheese and crackers in my lunchbox, in place of - say - a bologna sandwich. We were in the catechism part of our daily lessons. It is interesting to me that I can still recite entire tracts of Catholic ideology and the Mass in Latin. I paid attention, you see. I was a young, budding critical thinker. I weighed facts that were tossed my way. Nearly 4th graders by now, we needed to be learning about the afterlife. Oh, we knew about heaven and all aspired to go there. We knew we'd meet others in heaven who came from different faiths and that was all right. Anyone could go there as long as they'd made a conscious decision to embrace God's ways. And we knew about hellfire. Some Catholic art shown freely and openly to children, at least at that time, was lurid and frightening. We certainly didn't plan to go there. But Catholics had a much wider menu than souls of other faiths. Catholics had a few different forms of afterlife, and one's behavior on earth would dictate where one ended up.

It's been said of me that I experience events with all of my senses and then relate them descriptively in a way that others can almost feel the way I felt at the time. Sitting in the warm classroom, I felt safe and well-fed. I listened attentively. Always. Sister explained the afterlife reward system. When the light came on for me, I shot my hand into the air. When she called on me, I stood up to ask my questions. It couldn't possibly be the way I'd heard it. Could it? My mother and I, card-carrying Catholics, could enter the kingdom of heaven if we remained in a state of grace. My brother was headed for limbo of the infants - not heaven, but a state of maximum happiness reserved for those who hadn't been able to make choices in life. My father's best hope was purgatory - a sort of temporary hell from which he might emerge if he'd been a very fine person. Dad's downfall? He wouldn't be baptized and live a holy (read: Catholic) life. What?? I know I flushed. My ears roared. I smelled something like burning leaves. I don't believe I heard another word spoken to me that day. I ran most of the long way home.I was done with Catholicism, religion and Sister. Finished. Maybe another child would have run home and said,"Hey, Dad, we've got to get you converted while there's still time. And what are we going to do about Gary?" But not I. No. I went into my room for the weekend and soaked in it. Silently. New secrets to keep. The people I loved best weren't going to get into heaven. I began this post saying I'm now an adult. I know that God didn't come down into my classroom and traumatize me. Perhaps it would have been better if he had. Better than Sister doing it. I had lay teachers for the next several years and then we moved to Salt Lake City where there was no Catholic school conveniently located. My mother did not react at all when I said I didn't want to go to church any more. I'd been faking it for a few years and wanted relief from that. A person in better balance than I might have found some other spiritual comfort or joined a different church. I am of the generation that freely explored eastern mysticism. I could have done that, too. I was so shattered, I spent decades running from the entire topic. And keeping those secrets.

When I was pregnant, Ex and I talked almost daily about our life plan for our child. Everything from her education to the color of her nursery walls was discussed in great depth. What would we do about the God/religion thing? Ex was a lapsed Catholic, although not particularly traumatized. But he had no strong need to include religious practice in our child's life. We landed on a plan. When Amber asked, and not before, we would begin the traveling church tour, visiting every kind of congregation we could find, for a few weeks each. We'd spend time in the car on the way home talking about what we thought and felt. She was about 10 when she posed the questions. We executed our plan. We did Protestantism, Mormonism, Buddhism, and - yes - Catholicism. We did it for a long time. After about 2 years, over dinner one evening, Amber said, "OK, thanks. I'm done." Oh. As easy as that.

In my ears right now: The sound of my own voice. I'm repeating phrases in Latin. I could likely conduct a retro Mass.

Something that charmed me: I was attending a 12-step meeting in support of a friend who was to be presented with a cake and a chip for a significant period of sobriety. One AA member wished to share, and that's always preceded by an introduction of oneself. "I'm X. I'm an alcoholic and a recovering Catholic." I laughed out loud. It was probably inappropriate.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Gift

It took me a very long time to realize how ill I had become although the signs were many. I'm not a doctor. I was a little close to the situation. I screamed out "Save me. Rescue me." My crash-and-burn were pretty dramatic, although maybe it only seems that way to me because I had a starring role in it. And if you think this Christmas-y post is a little untimely at Valentine's Day, you've missed the point.

Look, lots of people struggle at the holidays, for an infinite variety of reasons. And me, too. During my Christmas Nazi decades, I feared I wouldn't show as something enough. What? Generous enough? Creative enough? Cheery enough? Poor fudge maker? I'm not sure. Just not enough of something. Less than. Just about the year I began to think I might be OK enough, came the Christmas Eve dinner for 40 in my home when the upstairs water heater blew about the time I served the prime rib. I was unprepared to deal with ankle-deep water on my tile floors in front of guests. That house had miles of tiles.

The 2010 holidays were on target to be the worst ever. I've written elsewhere of dark December. My journey toward "better" had barely begun. To state that most everything I'd once been was now stripped away and I presented as bare bones, a skeleton, an empty shell is not an exaggeration. Some people who love me on a personal level and others who are paid to take very good care of me conspired to help me get through. And I did. Just. When the sun rose on December 26th, I grinned, very ready to pull down the Christmas tree, swing like a monkey beneath the eaves taking down lights, and move on.

I am no whiz at properly cleaning and shining hardwood floors and I spend too much time at it, never learning to perfect my methods, but simply slogging more, not better. All the Christmas decor having been placed in the garage for next year, I turned my attention to the miles of hardwood floor. I wasn't enjoying it, but the busy-ness of it was steadying. If I'd only had my hair in pincurls and a bandana tied around it, I'd have resembled my Granny on cleaning day some 50 years previously. I decided to get another cup of coffee and test the theory that one can consume enough coffee in one morning to jitter right out of one's skin. Although I am not hard of hearing at all, I hadn't heard my phone, and - with it lying next to the coffee maker - I saw there was a voicemail waiting.

"Leslie, it's Kass. I'm in Las Vegas. Call me!" Huh? Kass is here? I took that cup of coffee to my chair and sunk very low. I was depleted and dull and weak and confused - generally. All day, every day. I hadn't shaved my legs in . . . . too long. The floor still needed attention and the cat needed a good brushing and I didn't know how to do anything as simple and joyous as go meet a friend any longer. I didn't know what to wear or what to say. On the other hand, how could I not go? We'd met in the blogosphere when I sent her an official fan letter and she declared a "girl crush" on me. I've been more excited about very few dates than I was about meeting Kass. She makes my head spark and alternately soothes me and kicks me in the ass. She makes me laugh and want to misbehave. No, we're not outlaws. Just fun-loving. Quirky girls. I had to pull it together and go do this.

We connected while she was in the buffet line at the newest, latest and greatest casino. I had to ask her where it was. A little out of touch with my surroundings, I was. I could hear my own voice - cheerful, upbeat. But I still needed to borrow some time, arranging to meet her the next day, not 5 minutes after the phone call. I stewed. I bubbled. I took something for sleep. All those bloggerly associations danced through my head - those I'd dashed 6 months previously for my own sanity. And on the next morning, I got up, bathed, dressed and squared my shoulders. I had to MapQuest the location of her hotel. Oh, yes, I can see it towering above the cityscape, I just didn't know onto which major boulevard its driveway emptied. I drove there in sunny cold, parked the car, and recognized that the really cute shoes I'd worn were poor for running. Later, however, they'd make me appear a little taller than Kass, so all was not wasted! Dashing through the glass revolving door, I could see her peering out the windows, watching for me. She looked just like herself (from her pictures)!

As I charged across the lobby, she spotted me. Out went four arms, close and warm hugging to ensue. She blurted the first gift she was to present to me that day. "You're so cute!" Yes, I had the grace to blush. I told her I didn't feel that way, whatsoever. We agreed coffee, not a meal, was in order - mine was pumpkin pie latte which wouldn't be available for much longer after the holiday season. "Want some of my parfait, Les?" I didn't. And then unfolded more than 2 hours of the loveliest girlfriending I've ever experienced. We spoke of bloggers and blogging, about our children, about her mother who had recently died, about my recent fall from grace. She told me that certain things were not my fault, nor my responsibility to "fix". Nor could I fix them if it were my responsibility. When I declared I'd really like to like a particular person but it was complicated, she told me I was inherently good. She urged me to write again and to look back on other struggles and successes in my life for inspiration . . . . and to find my way. I cried a little. I'm like that. I told her my deepest secret - the one I hope to write about someday, but which is still just a little tender around the edges. She has not betrayed my confidence. We ranted about narcissists - persons we know enough about to be a little dangerous - and then it was time to part.When the camera came out of her bag, I began to snarfle. How could I have forgotten she carries the digital everywhere and aims it at everything? There were a couple of abortive self-portraits snapped ~ mostly shots up the nostrils of lovely middle aged ladies. This did not deter her, however. She shanghaied a willing accomplice from the coffee bar who did an OK-enough job of taking pictures of girlfriends united in a place in time. One needed to be filled up again. The other filled her up, despite the recent loss of her own mother. "Come to Utah, to my cabin?" "Yes, I will!"

When I left the casino, the shoes weren't so miserable. I didn't need to wear my coat any longer. I drove home rather more slowly than my usual, and I craned my neck out the window of the car, as goony as the family dog hanging her head out from the back seat. The sun was bright. Her plane would leave in a few hours. "How was; your visit with Kass?" It was lovely. It took her only 2 hours to show me her special grace and loving care. Oh, many have read it in her writings and commented on it. But I got the gift of friendship in a short-acting, in-person capsule. It was a turning point for me. Things really did begin to get better. If that wonderful woman thought I was kind of OK-enough, then obviously, it must be true.

In my head (and figuratively my ears) right now:

Do not make a reservation in my name
For I will not go. I will not attend.
And the elephant graveyard will charge your credit card.
Unfair to both of us.

Something that charmed me: I took a little road trip and snoozed in the car on the way home. After lunch, it would be my turn to drive for a couple of hours. "Want coffee and a meal, Les?" "Yeah, yeah," as I stumbled out of the car in Washington, Utah before Dorthalee's Cafe on State Street. I could see by the hand-lettered poster in the window I could have breakfast, lunch or dinner 24/7 for $2.99, $3.99 or $4.99 respectively. The hostess and waitress made me smile, some dim bulb of recognition coming on. The lovely old paw-paw in a booth with his 20-gallon hat and every hat pin ever made . . . where had I seen him before? The coffee was great, the food kind of nondescript, but hot, and everything was squeaky clean. "He's A Rebel" playing really loud on the oldies station. Finally, a bathroom break before going back out onto I-15 south. I came out of the restroom, passing a large party tucking into burgers, looked at the eclectic decor in Dorthalee's, and that's when it hit me! Kass hosts a number of blogs, including the aptly named Shooting Strangers In Restaurants. The reader must trust me about this and find the blog on my sidebar, as Blogger is being a booger at the time of this writing. This blog is where Kass keeps photos she snaps of unsuspecting patrons dining in restaurants, to the mortification of her daughter and sometimes dining companion, Mary Ann.

I dashed to my table and began to babble to my companions: "Kass", "blogger friend", "Shooting Strangers", "camera's in the car". They looked at me like I'd lost my mind. Perhaps I had. Throats were cleared. "Ummm, we probably should go." I am sorry to say I got no photos. I failed the test of big brass ones in a restaurant - just step up, grin graciously and snap. Kass taught me better. I won't miss the next opportunity. And I know the hostess, the waitress, the paw-paw and the large burger party have all been featured before on "Shooting Strangers".

Some photo credits: To Kathryn S. Feigal, with friendship and gratitude

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

My younger brother and only sibling turned 55 in January, which occasion caused me to travel many of those paths I don't like to revisit. A brother's birthday may not seem unusual to anyone else, but my brother's 55th is remarkable in that people like him do not typically live beyond preteen age. My brother who has never walked, never talked, may or may not be able to see in the way that others of us are served by our eyes. He did not have the human suckling instinct at birth and had to be fed in an unusual way before tube feedings became his norm. He does not recognize us or anyone else. He is physically pristine and beautiful in a way that I am not ~ long, graceful fingers and hands with no sunspots, scars or burn marks. You see, his features, limbs, organs, skin, brain have not been used in the way most of us are called upon to use our attributes. He can hear, I am certain. When one stands beside his bed and speaks, his head turns in the appropriate direction.

My very young parents had about a 90-day "honeymoon" after Gary was born, seemingly normal. My troubled mother was excited that now she would "have one" because by age 3, I was already firmly my father's child. I desperately needed a sibling, too, although that would not become so obvious for awhile. A lot of family energy seemed to hang on his arrival. Gary gained weight, grew longer ("taller"), and there are photos of him propped up on his elbows, holding his heavy head up on his neck under his own power . . . like all babies do, right? The only warning bell tolling was that sucking thing.

The condition revealed itself on Easter morning when my mother went to Gary's crib to put a bonnet on his head before we left for Mass. He was having a seizure. There began about 5 years of doctors, surgeons, travels to more doctors and surgeons. Neurosurgery in the day was tantamount to opening up the cranium and having a little look/poke inside. Never were my parents to hear a decisive diagnosis, hanging their hats on the various tentative causes of "a virus" and other shots in the dark for nearly 20 years. Finally, Gary became quite large compared to my tiny mother. He had to be lifted - dead weight, from a crib set at a low position - for all forms of care. He developed additional physical illnesses. When hopes for a miracle ended, it was decided that placement in the state hospital system would be the best for everyone. It was, for Gary, likely. I am less certain about the other three of us. But we'll never know.

I have seen my brother in person fewer than a handful of times since that day in 1960. I was not allowed (by the hospital) to visit until I was 18. No, they were not allowed to bring him out to the car so I could see him. I might have an illness he could carry back in. At Christmas and other holidays, came handmade "art projects" containing Gary's picture. He resided with many other people who were not as damaged as he is. They made cards and gifts for their families. Some kind person always made sure there was a Santa birdhouse with Gary's picture in the doorway to send to the Morgan home. My mother and Granny never missed one of Gary's annual reviews with the doctors and nurses. Whereas some of the patients had progressed to "walking independently about 15% of the time", Gary's reviews were more of the "full bath every other day, sponge bath every other day, hair cut once per month, tube feeding site unremarkable" variety. My mother actually enjoyed going to these events. Granny made hundreds of lap-sized quilts for "Gary's friends" over the years.

My very young parents missed the mark with my upbringing in many ways, but they managed to instill in me compassion, love and pride in Gary. While almost anything out of the ordinary can mortify me (still today), I have never paled over a loud seizure in public or the noises he sometimes makes that defy description or definition. How can one love someone/something that gives no apparent love in return? I don't know the answer. I just know it can be. When I turned 18, I was taken to the hospital for Gary's next review. He was 15. It had been 10 years since I had seen him. Granny and my mother watched me closely. I'd been known to faint or collapse over certain things in life. But no. I was a hard-boiled little hippie chick. I looked at him. I held his hand awhile. I marveled at his complexion. I envied his deep brown eyes. I got the blue ones. While waiting for Gary to become "available" for our visit, I'd enjoyed (with only a slight amount of fear, sadness and a little revulsion) watching armies of other damaged, broken human beings industriously doing their work. Patients, ambulatory and not, were assigned to do whatever they could manage. I saw clean diapers being taken from a bin as large as a room and painstakingly folded - in some cases, it took 10 minutes per diaper - the same floor tiles being swept over and over and over again. Decades later, as a union representative, I never achieved anything that made workers as happy and productive as those sweet innocents folding and sweeping.

In the mid-1970s, my mother got a telegram from the hospital. "Please call immediately." A group of residents, interns and medical students had been touring Gary's ward. A young resident, knowledgeable about the most recent findings, thought he recognized some symptoms and asked to examine Gary more thoroughly. The tests were run and the conclusion indisputable. A genetic disease, only recently scientifically identified. "Is Gary's sister still living?" Boy, howdy! I was living with Ex, hoping to have 6 children, all born at home without pain medication in the good hippie way. Testing my mother and me took about a year. It was unpleasant in every respect. My father danced. We didn't understand the dancing. Ultimately, he refused to be tested. I imagine he did not want to risk being labeled "the culprit". He has not survived that refusal unscathed, I must say. And although only 75% of our family had been tested, I was told that I could not pass on the disease. I didn't have it, and therefore, I couldn't give it to my own children. However, erring on the side of conservatism, my genetic counselor suggested I have one normal child and call it a day. OK.We didn't know and wouldn't surmise for awhile that I was infertile. Conceiving the child I finally delivered took many more years. Early in the pregnancy, we went through another round of genetic counseling. Many years had passed. My newer counselor was even more solid with "you don't have it, you can't pass it on" than the counselors of two decades earlier. I wondered if the condition was detectable through the amniocentesis I intended to have. No, it wasn't and still isn't today. When Amber was born, as perfect a specimen as anyone could hope for, I called the genetic counselor. "Do you want to examine and test her?" She didn't want to check Amber. You see, I didn't have the disease and, therefore, I couldn't pass it on.

On later visits with Gary, I was not the stoic I had pretended to be at age 18. I engaged in an impulsive act that startled my mother, every single time. You see, I'd tear off Gary's socks and spread his fingers like I was trying to break a wishbone. "What the heezy?" "Checking between his fingers and toes, Ma!" I wanted to inspect the effectiveness of the alternating full baths and sponge baths. He was always, but always, spotlessly clean. I never entered his room, or left it, without sobbing about what could have been. Not only for my brother and me, but for all of the earth angels in that place.

So Saturday evening, a group of us were laughing and talking and screaming at the TV. I'd been pulled in to some pre-Super Bowl atrocity featuring Chrissie Hynde and Faith Hill as a duet, singing one another's songs. To use my daughter's favorite comment, it was just wrong, but I couldn't leave it alone. Oh, my, the kicks on Faith's feet. Oh, my, her red leggings."Jeez, change that, Les!" No. I couldn't. So a commercial comes on. It's advertising a TV special dedicated to the 100th birthday of St. Ronald Reagan. In the background, strains of the Stones' Brown Sugar was playing and that pissed me off just a little. I'm sure Big Band music would be more appropriate to St. Ronald. I doubt he would recognize Brown Sugar. On a number of blogs as the Reagan canonization approached, harsh debate ensued. The hard question: on what should we spend our (too little) money? "Military might!" "Social programs!" "Education!" "Health and welfare!"

All right, everyone has his or her opinion. Military might doesn't tantalize me. In fact . . . well. Nor do I want marauding enemies to breach the shores of our homeland. I do believe we have a responsibility to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. There's my stance, as bland as I can make it. Seeing some of the film footage for Reagan's special made me think of "his" California where I lived most of my life and once loved. It has been so decimated in every way. This was brought home to me as I thought about my brother. The vast hospital campus once provided health care and purpose for thousands of patients (peaking at 2,700 residents in 1967). Today, "Gary's friends" number 20. They've been moved to a small building. These are the most damaged of the damaged. The others are treated on an outpatient basis or they were simply turned loose when it was determined the money should be used for other things. Where did they go? Unfortunately, I think I know. I've done enough volunteer work to recognize that some street people are not "just" homeless. They're ill. They can't take care of themselves. There are too many of them. My brother is one of the lucky ones.

In my ears right now: You already knew it was a favorite song, but I've never had any Willie in it!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Change of Address and More

The lovely black cat, Virginia Woolf, and I do not live in the same place where we resided when I started the blog. We do, however, live in an area of the city with which we are both familiar. VW may like this community. I haven't asked her specifically. She does like to pussyfoot around outside my French doors along the tiled areas of the pool and hot tub. The wall surrounding the yard is so high that even a jungle cat could not escape, and VW now enjoys her first-ever forays into the outdoors. She likes the sun shining on her black fur. She does not like the little spray of water that disturbs her sense of all that's right as my head emerges from the water.

To my last post, esteemed blogger Erin O'Brien encouraged me to "do the 4-miler", meaning a fairly long walk, to snap a photo op. I'd spent years clocking miles and miles of walking each day of life. But I'd fallen away from it and felt very sad about that. I'm walking again. Not 10 miles, yet, on any given day, but I'm moving myself a little. There's a woman I see frequently who seems generally my age and about the same degree of fitness. I've toyed with the idea of asking her to meet up for a walk, but I haven't done so yet. I have befriended the man who passes my home every morning with two white dogs the size of lions. He is very pleasant. The dogs still make me retreat, pressing my backside into the nearest chainlink fence, which I could scale better than a block wall, should they decide to eat me. I passed a remotely familiar community one morning, its posted name ringing a bell from 33 years ago. Yes, it was the one and only section Stepfather built on the eastside all those years ago - homes a little larger and grander that ours in the far west of the city. I strode on streets named for Mom and myself, intersected with that Terrace named for Ex. A contractor could do that in those days. No streets had existed there before. It was just open desert.

I am surprised, intrigued and a little anxious about regaining my fitness. I'd been ill awhile. I'd stopped all fitness routines and my previously inspiring muscles left me so quickly and completely. I wear 2007 (smallest ever) clothes now, or - rather - they wear me, waistbands cinched up like the top of the paper bag around the neck of a wino's bottle. Last week, I went to a medical appointment where I had to be weighed and have my waist measured. I take a medication that can cause unwanted, very quick weight-gain. "Hmmm," said the nurse. "You've lost X pounds." I allowed as how that wasn't such a lot of weight, but he said, "It's about 10% of your body weight in 90 days."Oh.OK, I know what to do. I know to set a timer to remind me to eat, and I know what to eat. I am a fairly decent problem solver.

I mentioned in the last post that I might need a step ladder to do justice to any pictures I might take to show something I found remarkable and funny in my travels. On my first on-foot outing, I determined I was going to need a really big ladder. On my second visit, I realized I was going to need a cherry-picker and far more refined camera equipment than any I can access. But I am resourceful. Circling this curiosity, I spotted some words and thought maybe I could Google something. I also developed a prickly feeling that maybe some copyrights and trademarks might be at work. There were posted some signs and notices relating anger and dissent. At home, in front of the computer, I learned that this jaw-dropper place has already attracted much attention, many photographs, was once an attraction to which one paid admission, and now was the subject of numerous lawsuits and protests. What in the world made me think I was going to be the first to photograph and point to an unusual item? This is Las Vegas, for crying out loud! I'd asked a couple of photographers to make the 7-mile journey with me for years. All I wanted was a snap of the perfectly normal house on a perfectly normal street that had a full-scale roller coaster (with cars) protruding from an upstairs wall, presumably someone's bedroom. There were a few other interesting items, but the owner had not yet gone full amusement park. Should I have been more persuasive, or should the photographers have been more attentive to what I wanted to do those days when I asked for a little field trip? Not sure about that.

I have a decades-long routine for visiting the book store, carefully choreographed by me and explained to with whomever I am going into the store. This dance has been performed with Ex and Amber as my companions, girlfriends, colleagues with whom I am doing research for some presentation. We spill into the entrance of the store, scrambling like roaches spilled out of a jar. I furtively make my way to the section where are sold those kind of unsavory, unseemly, rather lowbrow books I love (I watch the same genre on TV) and fill my arms with as many as I can carry without attracting too much attention. After an agreed-upon amount of time, we meet at some common area of the store and proceed with our day. I'd just loaded up, finding a fresh pile of new offerings by two of my favorite authors. I backed up a little to make a final scan of the shelves and found I'd reversed a step too far - my rear end had pressed onto the shelves of poetry. Ha! Poetry placed cheek-by-jowl with my sneaky pleasure. I had some time before meeting up with my companion. I set down my books and my Starbucks and began to flip through some volumes. Yeah. Just as I thought: I don't care for poetry. Now, the reader should know I've suffered a little due to my lack of poetry prowess and appreciation. A woman friend asked me to tell her about my best loved poetry. Many, many favored bloggers both read and write poetry. And I'm a dud. It was not forced upon me at school and I never sought it out. This does not make me soulless or stupid, unromantic or unimaginative. Poetry is simply not what I do. So I told the girlfriend I have no best loved poems, as I also have no big cleavage or gray hairs. And I've sneaked around peeking at poetry ever since.

Who knows why the title nabbed me? It just did, and I took the volume from the shelf, flipping through the pages. Oooh. No Emily Dickinson here (although I can tolerate Emily). No. Grit here, sometimes, and deep emotion, and hard truths, accepted by the poet. This is not like me - I paid full retail for the slim volume. I have read from it and spilled coffee on it daily for awhile now. While it has not led me yet to other poets and their works, it has led me to another plane of my inner self. It reminded me, after many days, of a poem that did erupt from me once - oh, it's been a few years - that was actually good. I knew it was good. It was painful and bloody, wounded, nearly dying. But it was good and it perfectly reflected the way I felt about things at a place in time. I have begun a new poem of my own writing. It is not ready for presentation yet. I think it may be good. It may be sprung upon unsuspecting readers as it shakes out. We shall see. I'll need more muscles. I'll need more nutrition. I highly recommend "The Cinnamon Peeler" by Michael Ondaatje, probably best known as the author of "The English Patient". There, old girlfriend. I have some best-loved poems.

This afternoon, I am moderating a discussion group during some good talk to take place while the Super Bowl drones in other places. If you think me unAmerican because I detest everything about football, OK. I'll bear the shame. If you choose to participate in my tar-and-feathering, OK, but the line is long and they're getting unruly in the back there. The point is, I'm moderating this discussion and I'm a little dicey about it. For you see, I am new to the group and I don't really know all that much about the topic of discussion. I haven't made my bones there. I was selected to moderate because I speak well and I manage groups of people well. That's all. Things that both come naturally to me and which I was trained to do - kind of a no-brainer. I feel a bit fraudulent. Talking the talk before I've walked the walk. I don't want to be "Still Skating After All These Years". And I intend to say as much once I've completed my assignment.

In my ears right now: Well, not my ears, but my head, I guess. Michael Ondaatje ~

Having to put forward candidates for God,
I nominate Henri Rousseau and . . . . .