Friday, July 22, 2016

hardly

Watching from afar,
You marvel at her courage.
Her answer? "Hardly."

Monday, July 4, 2016

skedaddle


Jump, skip, tumble together across the cool, green, summer grass.
Drink cool water from the hose pipe, then hook it to the Slip'n'Slide.
Ruuuuuun across the yard and belly flop down the yellow plastic.
Giggle crazily in your huddle of girls as the boys watch from the basketball hoop.
Drink cherry red Kool-Aid with ice that melts too fast and gives you a red mustache.
Dance a first slow dance with Corky Bolenz to Otis Redding's "Sittin on the Dock of the Bay."
Hunker down in sleeping bags and play a scratchy "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" on the record player.
Scare yourselves silly with every unidentified sound until Mom yells "Hush up!"
Skedaddle to the store in the morning to buy blow-pops and Cokes.
Ride out to Lake Lanier to swim, water ski and picnic on cheeseburgers, potato salad & fried okra.
Summers in Gainesville, Georgia, with the Conner Family.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

bunch of

When I got home from the hospital, the usual church ladies were there.

Mrs. Sampson from the choir, who believed in the miraculous healing properties of a good broth, had ownership of my kitchen. She stayed for three days, going home at 9 p.m., and returning at 6 a.m. She made tea and coffee throughout the day, heated up portions of casseroles on demand, and she cleaned. The only time I saw her was when she peeked in to see if I was drinking the broth she had sent in for me.

Widow Adams took charge of the front door and the telephone. She was sweet and gracious but she allowed no visitors for the first 36 hours. Bud joked that he barely gained admission to his own house when he got home from the auto dealership and only after he was sent back to the Kroger for some flowers. "No self-respecting gentleman greets his wife home from the hospital without flowers," Widow Adams had said to him. He brought me a beautiful bunch of tulips, which one of the ladies whisked away. Later, the tulips returned, arranged in a lovely vase.

I hardly saw the children. There was a whole plan involving several families to keep them busy and happy. I asked Bud if anyone had explained the baby to them. He shook his head no, so there was that still to do. They were brought in each night to kiss me good night. Benji, at age seven, looked solemn and worried. I had to reassure him that I would be up in another day or two. Cilla was only three, so she was just glad to see me. "I miss you, Mommy." I held her body close and kissed her face and head a thousand times.

Preacher Darning stopped by every day and sat in the easy chair next to the bed. He was not at his best on home visits. He always had an air of wishing he was anywhere else but there. But he spoke the appropriate words of support, which infuriated me. "All part of God's plan" and "another angel in heaven" and "with the Lord's help, the pain will eventually dull," all combined to make God sound like a selfish asshole. I didn't say that to Preacher.

Mama always said that preachers had to be able to do three things: preach, minister to their community, and handle the business of the church. She said a preacher might be real strong in one area, but the other two would suffer a bit. And sometimes you'd find a preacher that was strong in two of the three areas. That was a day to rejoice. But you almost never found one strong in all three areas. Preacher Darning could preach, let me tell you, but he sucked at the ministering to your flock part. He was too focused on himself and trying too hard to say and do the right things. It was obvious he hated it.

No, it was Ms. Price, our assistant pastor, who excelled at the bedside visit. Why? She listened. She knew that I was heartbroken and angry and she opened the door to let me express it. And she somehow helped me make room for those awful thoughts and feelings instead of trying to pray them away. She understood that to be human was to be exquisitely complex and she celebrated that in each of us.

We survived those first few days and went back to our lives. But when you lose a child, in our case a newborn, you don't ever really get over it. Every baby I've seen for the last sixteen years, including Benji's first child, brings the memories back. I can see baby Michael's tiny fist, which would never move or clutch my finger. I could picture the soft down on his head. And I still cry.

But I rejoice in the life I have and in the triumphs of my living children. Not long after we lost Michael, somebody exclaimed to us that we had two beautiful children. "Thank you," I replied with a big smile. Beside me, I heard Bud say in a voice just loud enough for me to hear, "Three." I looked at him and saw his eyes were moist. I immediately thought back to that bunch of tulips for some reason. I took his hand and we stood together watching Benji and Cilla, both of us thinking of the precious one who left us too soon. "Three," I said.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

cozen

Behind her back he
laughed at her. But to her face,
he was all cozen.

It worked. His profit
made her proud, this sad little
woman. Cozened frump.

hook

In Vaudeville days, if the audience wasn't responding well to a performer, a large hook would appear from the wings and pull the performer off the stage. Every performer knew it could happen and prayed that it wouldn't. Or did they? Maybe this is just a trope in comedy and cartoons. Plenty of people have yelled the phrase, "Get the hook!" But did anyone, other than a muppet on The Muppet Show actually get the hook? I honestly don't know.

Most of us can speak of an experience in which we were hooked off our stage. One minute you're singing or dancing and the next you're sitting on your ass off stage wondering what happened. The hook is the death of someone you thought would always be there. The hook is someone betraying your trust. The hook is a cancer diagnosis. The hook is an expense you can't cover. Either way, you're derailed with absolutely no idea how to recover.

But you do. You recover.

There are times when you hook yourself out of a situation. The relationship is never going to be healthy. The friendship will always be one-sided. The family member can only see you as a caricature. The workplace has no sense of your value. The lover never laughs with you. You have to go. You have to hook yourself on out of there. 

So, you do. You go.

I believe people become more interesting after they've gotten hooked. They have more depth. People who have experienced the feeling of being off balance or left out in the cold develop character and nuance. If they're fortunate, they become softer and more willing to help others. But even those who don't can be fascinating to know. 

Have you felt the hook? Who was on the other end?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

babble

Don't you worry 'bout a thing 'cause I'm in your corner of the world keeps turning and turning until you're dizzy, my head is spinning wheels were once very common but are rarely seen these days of wine and roses are beautiful but what about those thorns will poke your fingers and make you bleed.

Wut?

paisley

A desert sunrise
throws soft-washed colors across
a new paisley sky.

tripped

An illumination point is a moment in your life when you are suddenly absolutely certain about what the next step in your life will be. I collected a few from friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Hearing these stories helped me recognize those moments when they occurred in my own life.

Debbie was working as the director of a social services agency in Georgia when she happened to see a television show filmed in Telluride, Colorado. She sat straight up in her chair, knowing immediately that she would go there. She picked up the phone and called a few agencies and yes, there was a vacancy. She flew out, interviewed and was gone within four weeks. She said she just knew it was time.

Leonte was pursuing a graduate degree in higher education administration when she met Tim, another graduate student who was pursuing a degree in fine arts. A few visits to his studio later, she was painting next to him, marveling at the mixing of colors and the textures she was creating. Within the year, she was giving up her once solid career path and setting out to explore her creative side. She was terrified, but absolutely thrilled.

Monica calls it divine inspiration, that leads to bold and unexpected change. She says not everyone will get behind life changes of this magnitude. Her bold moves were more quietly done so she didn't prompt any nay-saying. In my case, the most vocal concern trolling came from friends or family who had made very traditional life and career choices. They chose to stay in safe zones and they wanted me to do the same. I couldn't! My illumination points demanded that I step out on faith.

Polly was another artist friend who made multiple choices that boggled people's minds. While in South America, she kept seeing brightly colored woven hammocks, but she couldn't quite figure out how they were made. When she asked, she was told that only certain families made them and the method was a family secret. She kept asking though. Finally, in a local shop, she saw a painting of people weaving a hammock on a loom. She asked the shopkeeper and several other locals about the painting and about the loom. Nobody would talk.

But as she left the shop, a man approached and offered to take her to see where his family produced the hammocks. Polly got into a taxi with him. They drove away from the city. Miles and miles later, the pavement ran out and they traveled even farther on packed dirt roads. Then even that road ended. "This is as far as the taxi goes," the man said, "so we'll go the rest of the way on foot." I wouldn't have gone. You probably wouldn't have gone. Polly went. They walked into the jungle and eventually reached a small village. Inside the largest building Polly was introduced to the man's family - wife, mother, children, and siblings.

And there was the loom. The family taught Polly how to weave the hammocks. With the family's permission, she then used paper and pen to make measurements and draw pictures of the loom. When she got home, she and her husband built a loom. I have one of her hammocks. Any time I look at it, I think of her walking into that jungle. Polly is gone now, but she serves as inspiration to me to walk into metaphorical jungles, even if I'm scared.

One more. Cindy was a nurse. She liked being a nurse. But what really excited her was beautifully packaged goods at the grocery store and other markets. One Friday night she attended a happy hour schmoozing event sponsored by a staffing agency. At the event, she tripped over someone's carelessly placed bag and literally fell into the arms of a complete stranger. Awkward! But they got to talking. Cindy found out that he worked for a marketing firm designing marketing materials which included, you guessed it, packaging. What kind of training do you need to do something like that, Cindy wanted to know. At home that night, she researched graphic design programs. Two years later, she was taking just enough shifts as a fill-in nurse to be able to do freelance design work.

Cindy's illumination point involved an actual fall. Most of us get tripped by an unexpected idea of how things could be. A vivid image of a possible future is illuminated for us. Then we choose whether to follow the path into the unknown jungle. And for some of us, the thought of NOT following the trail is just not doable. We have to know what's around that mysterious bend in the jungle road. We have to go see.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

faded

There was some fade to him, as if he'd once been brightly colored, but had mellowed over time. Chas would tell a story from his teen years or his early twenties and we'd all be slackjawed in response. Lucky thought he was making the stories up as he went along, but I don't think so.

I grew up in a family of liars. Dad hustled in every way to acquire goods for the household and his con jobs often required creative lies. Mama bought crap from yard sales, fixed it up and sold it again, often with inventive tales about an item's origin. We lived about an hour from Hollywood, so her origin myths often hinted at various celebrities and the latest gossip involving divorces, scandals, and windfalls. They were both good liars.

The trick to being a really good liar is to keep it simple and to keep your head and NEVER admit you're not being truthful. Bad liars, which is most of us, get nervous and add way too much detail. Practised liars know they need to remember the lie and retell it the same way, so they'll try to bend truth rather than make up an entire fiction. That way they can more easily recall the core of the embellishment.

So no, I didn't think Chas made up his stories. They were too low-key and unembellished to be lies. Besides, the stories were clearly not intended to alter our perceptions about this rumpled looking, 60-something-year-old man. He usually interjected stories when he thought there was a lesson to be learned.

He had apparently been a high-energy go-getter in 1968 and lucked into an assignment as an assistant to a Rolling Stone reporter. He carried equipment and suitcases, went out for food, made phone calls, and any other task the dude demanded as they attended a series of concerts across the western half of the country. He showed us photos of himself and the reporter at gatherings with famous people.

Chas met Linda Ronstadt during the latter part of her Stone Poneys years. She was 22. He was barely 18 and he fell hard. He left the Rolling Stones gig and followed Linda around for eight months. Then she dumped him, just left him in Albuquerque - held her hand up as he was getting in the car. "You're not going," she said, and the convoy of cars drove off without him. He saw that his duffle bag was on the ground and he realized someone had been pulling it out of the trunk while she had her hand in his face. So it was orchestrated. He was heartbroken, not just to be dumped by the beautiful girl he loved, but also that the people he thought were his friends all knew his fate before he did. But he survived.

He told that story to demonstrate to the younger co-workers that anyone can survive heartbreak. Another time he told us about getting arrested with less than an ounce of weed. It was Texas, so he expected to end up on a chain gang or something. But after nine days, they let him go. He never did find out why. Every story had a lesson in it. The moral of this story was to be prepared to do the time if you're going to do the crime.

The only unintentional glimpse into his past was revealed after he gently intervened as a customer was repeatedly swatting the legs of a screaming child. He was visibly upset after the encounter. I put my hand on his shoulder as he slumped on a bar stool. "My father used to beat me," he said, almost in a whisper. "I hated that rat bastard."

So yes, he was faded. But even his fade had texture and richness. He was a tapestry, but the glory of the design was only revealed over time. I'm just lucky I got to see some of it.


slow

"Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow grow, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation." (George Washington 1732-1799)

By this measure, I have only a few true friends. And perhaps that's accurate. I count many friends with whom I share a warm affection. But friends who would drop everything and rush to my side? Who have been in my life for decades? There are only five or ten. And I'm okay with that.

Slow.

Falling in love is often fast and furious. It should be slow. Sometimes people are so eager to become half of a couple that they overlook what should be obvious red flags. Attaching yourself to the wrong person can leave you broken. It's better to be a whole person standing alone than it is to be a broken person who is part of a couple. Take your time. And as Creflo Dollar suggests, ask questions.

Sometimes you find yourself loving someone you don't know. You thought you knew! But now you've uncovered new information. And it might take a while to incorporate these new facts into your understanding of this human with whom you share your life. Or maybe you just can't. Maybe the new stuff requires you to unravel yourself and rebuild the who of both of you and it's just too much. But if you can broaden yourself, maybe you actually like this new them and this new you. Maybe metamorphisis looks good on you.

Slow.

There is nothing like a great pot roast. New cooks often complain that their pot roast is too tough. Learning that speed is the enemy is part of the path from cook to chef. It takes time, either on stove top or in the slow cooker, to melt the connective tissues and produce that wonderful fork-tender quality. But the end result is so worth the wait, isn't it?

Slow.

When you first read about the tortoise and the hare, you're rooting for the tortoise, but you put your money on the hare. This is true for love, justice, career growth, family or relationship issues, and even appropriate outcomes for nasty behavior. You want quick results. You want to race to the finish line so you can WIN. But these things take time. Slow and steady wins the race.

I had a self-appointed enemy once. His true enemy was his own insecurities which he thought he masked with a tough exterior. Instead he was perceived as arrogant and lacking in self-awareness. He could never quite articulate why he had pinpointed me as his opponent. It seemed that the more I tried to help him, the angrier he became. In the end, he slowly self-destructed. His pitiable attempts to do me harm were transparent and laughable. When someone is like this, you need do nothing. They will always shoot themselves in the foot eventually. You only need to wait.

Slow.

Lovers know the value of taking their time. Well, good lovers do. From opposite sides of a room, the dance can begin. A few well-chosen words. A tone in the voice. A recognizable facial expression. Experienced lovers slow dance towards their lovemaking. Anticipation. Delayed gratification. Sweeter is the end game when lovers take their time.

Slow.

There is beauty in the passage of time. Fruit ripens. Wine ages. Books reveal secrets that the reader couldn't have seen without the benefit of experience and time. Bruises fade. Heartbreaks don't heal, but they lose weight. Wisdom creates recognition and the heart makes room for a kinder love. The soul expands, softens at the edges. Aren't you a better person than you were ten years ago? 

Slow.