Tuesday, June 28, 2016

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.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

tile

The Toynbee tiles litter the Earth, but are unknown to most. Trivia buffs are almost certain to know of them. You're deciding right now whether to look that up. If you can't resist, you're smarter than most. But now, if you do look it up, you'll never know whether you looked it up because you would have looked it up anyway, or because you wanted to feel smart. Unless you would have looked it up anyway, because you know who you are. Or do you?


Friday, June 17, 2016

bottle

That bottle of Benadryl has been my companion for years. When I'm stuffed up, two pills clears me up and helps me sleep. Now comes the news that frequent use of Benadryl is linked to dementia. Great. Is the damage done? Am I doomed? How young will I be when it hits? How many good years do I have left?

"If I could save time in a bottle, the first thing that I'd like to do is to save every day 'til eternity passes away, just to spend them with you." Those Jim Croce lyrics take on new meaning as you get older. There is no one person I want to spend every day with. When my sister and her husband took off in their RV, I could not think of anyone I would want to be stuck in an RV with. Certainly not my lover, although I would miss him terribly if I was galavanting around the continent. Maybe I could make it work with my son. He's kind of bossy, though. I can't imagine where he got that from.

Why do I have bottle songs in my head now? "Bottle of red, bottle of white, it all depends on your appetite ..." I love Billy Joel lyrics. He paints pictures with words. "They got an apartment with deep pile carpet and a couple of paintings from Sears; a big waterbed that they bought with bread they had saved for a couple of years." I can see that apartment, can't you? And they're sticking candles in Chianti bottles. I see lots of different colored wax dripping down onto the basket around each bottle.

Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall ... sorry, couldn't resist.

Have you read the novel Ten Green Bottles? Here's the description from the publisher:

"To Nini Karpel, growing up in Vienna during the 1920s was a romantic confection. Whether schussing down ski slopes or speaking of politics in coffee houses, she cherished the city of her birth. But in the 1930s, an undercurrent of conflict and hate began to seize the former imperial capital. This struggle came to a head when Hitler took possession of neighboring Germany. Anti-Semitism, which Nini and her idealistic friends believed was impossible in the socially advanced world of Vienna, became widespread and virulent.
"The Karpel's Jewish identity suddenly made them foreigners in their own homeland. Tormented, disenfranchised, and with a broken heart, Nini and her family sought refuge in a land seven thousand miles across the world.
"Shanghai, China, one of the few countries accepting Jewish immigrants, became their new home and refuge. Stepping off the boat, the Karpel family found themselves in a land they could never have imagined. Shanghai presented an incongruent world of immense wealth and privilege for some and poverty for the masses, with opium dens and decadent clubs as well as rampant disease and a raging war between nations.
"Ten Green Bottles is the story of Nini Karpel's struggles as she told it to her daughter Vivian so many years ago. This true story depicts the fierce perseverance of one family, victims of the forces of evil, who overcame suffering of biblical proportion to survive. It was a time when ordinary people became heroes."

Doesn't that sound like something you want to read? I thought so. I won't give away the significance of the title. Bottles!

The Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors is an organization of people who collect unusual bottles. I'd love to see some of those collections. I'll close with a photo of my favorite new bottle. If I decided to start collecting bottles, I'd start with this one. I have no clue whether the vodka in it is any good. But that bottle!




Monday, June 13, 2016

orlando

Cell phones rang,
haunting the room with terrified loved ones,
breaking the hearts of first responders,
as they moved among the dead.

Name them: Stanley; Eric; Kimberly.

Beautiful faces,
previously lit up with joy and laughter,
now remained still,
forever silenced by hate.

Name them: Luis, Amanda, Gilberto.

My rage and fear,
for those I love,
courses through my being,
threatening to freeze my heart and soul.

Name them: Shane, Jason, Joel.

But I will love instead,
and defeat hatred and ignorance,
by forgetting the killer,
and remembering the lives that were.

Name them: Simon, Enrique, Mercedez.

I will remember.




Wednesday, June 8, 2016

mr. jenkins

Mr. Jenkins teaches Earth Science to 6th and 7th graders at Lily Vandenburg Middle School in East Sedwick, North Carolina. He loves his subject but hates his students. The latter feeling has grown over his twenty-seven-year career, primarily due to the growing disrespect he faces from his students and their parents. His students openly ridicule his wardrobe choices, especially his footwear. He's considered early retirement, but can't afford a reduction in his already meager projected pension.

Roberta Jenkins is having her 25th birthday in Rubicon, New Mexico. She's working her shift as a municipal security guard at the Surrey Park Public Library, where she is regularly called "Mr. Jenkins" due to her very short haircut, boxy build, and tough demeanor. She never corrects anyone because being seen as masculine enhances her ability to do her job. After work, she's meeting friends at Tink's, for what will probably be a rowdy night of drinking and debauchery. She'll play along, but what she's really hoping is that Cynthia has had a change of heart and will show up tonight.

"Congratulations, Mrs. Hodge, it's a boy!" They plop the bloody, crying baby on her belly. She reaches for him and carefully holds him against her skin. She is crying too. This is not the first birth of the year at Pennsville Memorial Hospital in Pennsville, Montana. It's early April, so first births were a long time ago. And it's not the most famous birth they've had. The Grisham Quadruplets were born here just last year. But the staff has still gathered around to witness this miracle. Just three hours ago, this baby's parents were driving to the grocery store, hit a patch of black ice and spun off into a swollen creek. And there they would have perished had John Jenkins not been coming home from the same grocery store and witnessed the accident. He leaped out of his truck and three times dove into the frigid water to get them out. He then drove all three of them to the hospital, the cab's heater on full blast. In a show of gratitude, that baby will be named Jenkins three days from now.

Carl Owen Jenkins is crying in his living room in East Grinding. Alabama. He had his cat, Snowball, put down after work today. Snowball was fifteen years old and predated his wife's appearance in his life by twelve years. "You love that cat more than you love me." Carl Owen stopped denying it about the tenth time she said it. His wife is in the kitchen right now, banging cabinet doors and loudly returning items to their assigned space. She is disgusted by his tears. Carl Owen doesn't love his wife anymore. He decides then and there to file for a divorce.

Leeroy Jenkins at least has chicken.

"My music is so often a lullaby I write to myself to make sense of things I can't tie together, or things I've lost, or things I'll never have." Stephan Jenkins, Third Eye Blind

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

at the market

In the fruits and vegetables section, a man is lecturing a woman on how she should prepare green beans. His tone is parental and unforgiving. He sounds like a man who has tasted far too many green beans he didn't care for. The woman looks like she'd like to disappear through the floor. Her humiliation is obvious. I walk over and hand her a cucumber. We exchange a look. I turn to walk away. Behind me, I hear him ask, "Do you know her?" I turn back. "She doesn't know me," I say, "but I know you."

An elderly woman is reaching for baked goods on the next aisle. I hand them down to her. She thanks me and we move in opposite directions. I'm old enough now to imagine myself at her age. What challenges will I face, if I'm still alive?

I skip the candy section and head into dairy. I'm a sucker for cheese. And right on cue, there's the samples lady. Cranberry Stilton? Yes, please. Goat's Milk? Oh my, yes. Aged Cheddar? You betcha. And we'll need some of those crackers. And wine. Grapes. Maybe pears. And prosciutto.

Should I get some chicken breasts? I'll make Chicken Divan. Broccoli too, then. Let me zip back to produce ... whoa! What's this? Yellow crime tape! And there's a body on the floor ... oh my gosh, it's him! What is that sticking out of his ... Shit! Is that a CUCUMBER???

Yeah, maybe I don't need broccoli. You know what? I don't need any of this. I can shop later in the week. I have leftover spaghetti in the freezer.

Well, maybe just the wine. And the Stilton.

And these crackers.


Sunday, June 5, 2016

brass

"... just as bold as brass."

I've always admired women described this way. There's a shaming aspect to the phrase that the recipient sloughs off like a coat on a warm day. That woman doesn't really care what others think. She's got her eye on a prize and she's not slowing down.

Determination goes well with brass. When we get down to brass tacks, we're FINALLY dealing with the most important stuff. And it's about time!

Grabbing for the brass ring, on a carousel or in life, is also about going for a prize. And the top brass is a phrase used to describe senior military (or corporate) leaders.

We bring out the brass band when we have something wonderful to celebrate. But brass is not always wonderful nor welcome. "Brass bands are all very well in their place," Sir Thomas Beechum said, " - outdoors and several miles away."

And 1 Corinthians 13:1 tells us, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal." That doesn't sound flattering.

Even Shakespeare isn't too impressed with brass.

"Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o'er-sways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?"

In other words, if time can destroy even brass, how can love survive the passage of years?

Good question.

The Pretenders already answered it, didn't they? It gets back to determination, to having brass in your pocket. Have a listen to Brass in Pocket.

So that's it then. The Pretenders took us all the way back to that bold as brass woman. I still like her. On my best days, I am her.