Sunday, October 9, 2016

my mother loved blue

She grew up next to the ocean in Norfolk, VA. It seems as if every conversation I had with her during her last few years included some reference to the beach or the ocean. Her favorite painting that hung in her office throughout her career featured beautiful sand dunes with a hint of blue ocean and blue sky beyond the dunes. When she was 82, I took her on a cruise and we were able to rent a little beach cabana on the cruise line’s private beach day. She wanted to go in the water and I watched as she slowly made her way down to the shoreline. I had offered to walk with her, but she wanted to do it by herself. As soon as the water was up to her ankles though, the sand became too mushy and she lost her balance and plopped down on her bottom. I raced down to the water to help her up. I asked her what she wanted to do, prepared to do anything for her in that moment, even swim into the ocean with her, which is not my favorite thing. But Mother, embarrassed by her public tumble, wanted to go back to the beach chairs. After a few moments, she turned to me with tears in her eyes and confided that her fantasy had been to run into the ocean as she had done so many times as a young girl. In her mind, she was still that young girl, running free, unencumbered by age or physical restraints.

My Mother loved blue.

Her favorite ring was a turquoise and sterling silver ring that she bought while visiting her Aunt Ruth in New Mexico back in the 1960’s. If you know her well, you know that she always had that ring on. She had many rings, but wore that one the most. It's a huge ring and her hand was small, but it looked like it belonged there. She also had another ring which featured a small aquamarine surrounded by diamonds. She bought it with a portion of the money that she inherited from her mother when she died in the 1970’s. By today’s standards, that ring isn’t all that fancy, but Mother kept it in the safety deposit box at the bank for the longest time, only bringing it out to wear on very special occasions. Then, she simply kept it in her jewelry box. At some point I told her that she ought to wear that ring every day. Why not enjoy it all the time? But taking the ring out of her jewelry box and putting it on meant the occasion was very special and she liked doing it that way.

My Mother loved blue.

Unfortunately, Mother also frequently got the blues. She suffered from major depression and did throughout her entire life. She took anti-depressants but did not want to. So every now and then she stopped taking them. Eventually another low point would come and she'd go back to the medication. But perhaps because she was trained as a counselor, Mother was not the type to be ashamed of being depressed. She served as a kind of poster child for the Mental Health Association of Georgia, the year that the organization focused on depression. She was interviewed and appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution discussing her struggles and even toured around the state doing public speaking engagements. After each trip, she would come back and tell me about whatever group she had spoken to and the interactions that she had after each speech. The stories were very colorful and sometimes quite poignant. I like to imagine that she touched a lot of lives through her frank and unashamed discussions about her own experiences, not just that year, but always.

My Mother loved blue.

When I moved into a new house in 2008, Mother sent me a check to buy some new towels. She always said one should buy new towels at least every other year or so. I looked at a lot of towels. My master bathroom was devoid of color. The huge walk-in shower was surrounded by glass, so there was no need for a shower curtain. The large picture window had the look of stained glass, but was all just pattern, no color. The towels I kept going back to were a beautiful marine blue. I finally bought them, two bath towels, two hand towels and four wash cloths. Mother always said to buy more wash cloths because they don’t last as long. When she came to visit for two months that winter, she exclaimed about how beautiful the color was. I didn’t realize until that moment that I'd bought the towels for her.

My Mother loved blue.

But when I think of her, she's a kaleidoscope of colors with her rich life experiences and her broad knowledge of so many subjects. She joked that she was a jack of all trades, master of none. But that's not really true. She was a well-read and smart woman. She could have done or been anything during the course of her life. She chose to be educator, counselor, missionary, mother, musician, music lover, minister, world traveler, speaker and avid reader. She was many things to many people. She was my worst critic, but also my sometime champion. She rescued me when I needed rescuing. She laughed deeply at my stories and antics.

Sometimes I like to think about her as that little girl, on a beach somewhere, running in the surf, arms outstretched, hair flying, legs covered with sand, the smell of sea salt in her nostrils. For the rest of my life, I'll look for her in the blue ocean, in the blue sky and in every young girl I see running on the beach. Maybe you will too.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

chained (and a note to john mccain)

It's raining in Phoenix again. This morning when I took the dogs out, I studied the gray clouds and thought it might rain, but it didn't look like a thunderstorm sky. But we've had lightning and thunder so loud that both dogs are glued to my side.

I can't help but think of my friends who have evacuated the Florida, Georgia and South Carolina coasts ahead of Hurricane Matthew. They're tired, depressed, and worried about what they'll find when they return. Sitting here, enjoying the sounds of the rain on my patio, I almost feel like I'm being disloyal.

My thoughts also wander to the people of Haiti. The devastation and misery is overwhelming. The people must feel chained to their circumstances, with no choice but to fight for survival. A lot of really smart people have tried and failed to "fix" Haiti. I see so many "pray for Haiti" memes on Facebook. The cynic in me thinks a check to disaster relief would be a wiser choice.

This is also the morning that American voters are reeling from the newly released audio/video of Donald Trump bragging about getting away with sexual assault because he's a "star." He obviously thinks that sexually assaulting women is funny and he looks forward to doing it with great anticipation. It's not shocking to me because I've believed Trump to be a dangerous, disgusting pig for many years. But I am still amazed that so many people still support and defend him. I believe they're chained to him, unable to admit they were wrong all along. And rather than free themselves from his dead weight, they'll drown with him, their last words being, "He's not THAT heavy," before their chains drag them into the abyss.

John McCain, I'm talking to YOU. Jeff Flake is obviously an idiot who will never let go of the Trump chain, but there's still hope for you, John. Prior to unleashing the moronic Sarah Palin, your legacy was solid. I disagreed with you on almost everything, but I admired and respected you. You had honor and integrity and you courageously spoke out if your party made a drastic wrong turn. Even after Sarah nearly destroyed your reputation, you quietly soldiered on. The day you stood on the Senate floor and denounced the attacks on Huma Abedin, I thought, "He's back. The decent, strong, courageous Maverick is back." But your silence on Trump will prove to bury your good name permanently. Yes, you've said a few things here and there. But where is the Maverick? It might cost you this election, but here's what you need to say RIGHT NOW:

"I made an error in judgement endorsing Donald Trump. The man is unqualified to serve as President of the United States. He has said horrible things and I have mostly stayed silent, for which I will forever feel ashamed. But I'm speaking up now. I can no longer endorse Donald Trump. I will NOT vote for him. I strongly urge you to vote for anyone BUT him. He is NOT QUALIFIED to serve as President of the United States."

Yeah, I know. John McCain will never read those words, much less say them. But he should throw off that heavy, fetid chain and try to rescue what little is left of his legacy.

So here I sit in my temporary paradise, listening to the dripping of water off the eaves of my house. The sun is shining again. Rain never lasts for long in the desert. I savor it when it comes. I just wish it could be a source of joy for everyone today.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

zut alors

Dappled shade decorates the retaining wall at the back of the yard. Tall oleanders rise in front and above the wall. And somewhere beyond the wall, voices are rising in arguing tones. And even though I can't make out every word, it sounds like the practiced fuss of a couple who has disagreed about something on many occasions. I know that sound.

Today brings contemplation of my own love and life. What felt forever may, by my choice, become quite ephemeral in the grand scheme of things. Looking back in time, forty years seems a very long time to be in relationship. But if I live forty more years, it could seem like a blip on the radar. The thing is, I think I might like myself better in a life without him in it. What a strange precipice I find myself on.

"Zut alors!" I heard that clearly enough! And now I understand why I couldn't make out what they were fighting about. They're speaking French. In Phoenix? I guess people come here from everywhere. And as I'm learning, even if two people do speak the same language, they may still find each other incomprehensible. Common language never guarantees common understanding.

And so it goes. In these quiet days, I gather the strength I'll need to make this change. I'll throw out canceled plans, too much texting, and his inability to focus on my needs. But with them will go hilarious laughter, passion, and history. What a mixed bag. But self-respect really does trump romance.

Mohsin Hamid said it best:

“If you have ever, sir, been through a breakup of a romantic relationship that involved great love, you will perhaps understand what I experienced. There is in such situations usually a moment of passion during which the unthinkable is said; this is followed by a sense of euphoria at finally being liberated; the world seems fresh as if seen for the first time then comes the inevitable period of doubt, the desperate and doomed backpedaling of regret; and only later, once emotions have receded, is one able to view with equanimity the journey through which one has passed.”

Something to look forward to, no? My goal is a simple one. I want to feel authentic. I've done a bit too much bending, reshaping, and stifling. I'm in a stuffy little room of my own making. I simply must get out of here! So, hand on doorknob, I pause. Zut alors, indeed. Just a sec - almost ready.

Sunday, October 2, 2016


A sweet Arizona morning.
Rare, magical rain creates a mosaic,
dancing circles on the surface of the pool.
My coffee is cold,
my heart is sore,
and my dogs just peed on the floor.
But isn't that cool breeze lovely?

The oleanders sway,
scattering red, pink, and white blossoms,
a carpet on which to dance.
My mother is dead,
I miss her peal of laughter,
when a shared memory moved us.
But those colors are beautiful, aren't they?

Mosaic of life,
each moment a potential mix,
of precious joy and life-changing sorrow.
My philodendron is fading,
I really should vacuum this dog hair,
and I ought to fix some lunch.
But doesn't that rain sound amazing?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

on different hollow

For decades, I knew the shape of my life,
and could predict a general future course.
Familiarity of purpose and outcomes,
and you a constant compatriot.

Now on different hollow, I listen
for the sound of whatever my future may be
without you, or the rumble of your voice,
without the comfort of habitual love.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

green stuffing

Old dog bed,
worn and tattered,
(beloved by a canine,
who looks so relaxed,
laying sideways,
with her head over the edge,)
green stuffing emerging,
decorating the tile floor,
like tufts of cotton candy.
Festive chaos.

Monday, September 19, 2016

through the bubble

In the depths of the oasis,
exists a way point.
You run out of breath,
just as you reach it.

You suck in the air
that bubbles from the fissure,
and you're faced with the dilemma,
multiple souls have confronted.

Do you rest for a moment,
and breathe in that sweet air,
then swim back to surface
and its relative safety?

Or do you suck in as much air
as your human lungs can cradle,
then swim even deeper
in search of lost treasure?

Through the bubble?
Or back up to surrender?
The current buffets you,
testing your resolve.

Azure fish skitter
this way and that,
drawn to the bubble,
and your curious presence.

None can advise you.
Only you can decide,
if your fate is behind you,
or a blind road ahead.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

fish out of water

Tribe. Pack. Crew. Squad. Team. Belonging feels good. Warm acceptance and feelings of allegiance boost self-esteem and confidence. But I'm a perennial outsider, springing to life as an outlier no matter where I go.

It starts in Japan. I'm a Caucasian child with curly, white-blonde hair. For homogeny-valuing Japanese, my appearance is a wonder. I stand out against the background of my dark-haired siblings and parents. Random people exclaim over my looks, touching my hair while staring with wide eyes. I grow accustomed to the petting. At the school for expats, I start kindergarten with 5 year-old boys and girls from dozens of countries. My best buddy is David Wang, a chubby Chinese boy the other kids make fun of.

Later, I'm starting the first grade in Massachusetts. Nobody cares what I look like. But I'm on the outside looking in again because I don't speak English well. "Speak some Japan!" the other kids demand. I learn to lie and say "I can't remember any." I'm tired of their laughter and crude mimicry of what is, for me at that moment, my native language. I find a friend, Joanne, a Catholic girl who lives in my neighborhood. With flaming red hair and a mass of freckles, she's been the victim of teasing as well. We understand each other.

My parents divorce when I'm eight. Now, even to my extended family, I'm an outsider. They're well-bred Southern Christians and they don't "do" divorce. My parents are the first in the family to divorce -ever. I'm not Southern and there is pity towards us as the children of divorce. In their eyes, we are now crippled. Any achievement will be seen as an amazing feat of courage.

Fifth grade finally finds me in the South. But moving to Georgia from Massachusetts means I'm a "damn Yankee", a fate worse than death. I am shunned. Only one girl befriends me, the class oddball, Lisa. And I hesitantly follow Lisa down a dangerous path to all sorts of exploits. I'm terrified at first, but she's my only friend. By 7th grade, we're smoking pot, hanging out with grown people - amateur pot dealers, musicians, and opportunistic 19 and 20 year-old men who recognize vulnerable girls when they see them.

Tenth grade and we've moved to rural North Carolina. Given some of the crazy shit I've done, it's a small miracle that I'm still alive. But now I'm a quadruple threat outsider. First, I'm not from there, a grievous sin. Second, I'm a "hippy", or so I'm told. Third, my vocabulary is WAY too big. I'm constantly being asked "what does xxxxx mean?" I'm too stubborn to change by this point.

The fourth and final threat I bring to this new environment is that I'm not a racist. My parents were members of the SCLC and have raised us to see people as people. My high school is highly segregated socially. I neither understand nor conform to that way of seeing the world. I'm soon labeled a "nigger-lover." After that, I'm bombarded with taunts and threats almost every day. A few people are kind to me - not nearly enough. By this point, I've perfected my tough exterior. Nobody knows how much I'm hurting. My circle of friends are all older people. I feel safe with them. I play guitar and sing in a band. I go to school. I graduate - barely. (Forty years later, a high school reunion photo on Facebook features a sea of white faces. Some things, it seems, never change.)

College is a huge breath of fresh air. There's a live and let live feeling that allows me to relax. And there's plenty of other weirdos with whom to bond. It's okay to be an oddball. In fact, we celebrate each other's wacky free spirits.

I've never stopped being an oddball. I no longer expect to fit in. I anticipate wariness from others. Other unique people recognize and embrace me. And I've become adept at spotting those who will be most likely to reject me. They're the conformers and the insecure. The conformers have strict rules in their head about what people SHOULD and should NOT think, say, do, or be. The insecure are those who are so fearful of rejection that they choose small, safe spaces to occupy. A few people are both.

I'm very blessed to have found good friends over the years. Not surprisingly, they're all very unique people. They're bold and colorful. They take up space. Generosity of spirit is a common trait. They're all really smart. And they are fearless.

I'm forever grateful that I never developed that skill of making myself smaller in order to fit in. I'm a kaleidoscope. And I really love all of my colors.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Scene at a public pool in Phoenix:

"What is that?"
"Right by the drain."
"See where the ducky is? Right under there."
"What is that?"
"That's what I'm asking you"
"Well swim down there and see."
"I don't want to get my hair wet."
"I think it's a Cheeto."
"It can't be."
"Cheetos float."
"Oh. Well, what is it then?"
"I don't know any more than I did two minutes ago."

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


She mourns.
Her second marriage is over,
and she's no Spring chicken.
But he wasn't in it,
so how could she be?

Soldiering on,
putting on a happy face,
caring for others,
as is her way.

But hope is an elusive thing,
and she struggles to accept
that this may be, after all,
as good as it gets.