Tuesday, January 28, 2014

we still burn

heart beat
blood rush
visions of love

these things you cannot see in me
and so you smile and talk
never knowing, until I tell you,
what you're doing to me

you freeze
you stutter
you forget your own name
and I see your response

we are still teenagers in love
decades later, we still burn

vanilla world

My life has been filled with experiences that would cause many people to faint from the shock of what they were seeing. My worldview is painted by interaction with alcoholics, drug addicts, homeless people, mentally ill people, immigrants, sexual deviants, criminals of every description and people who have secret lives. To say that I have been changed by exposure to the wide variety of people and environments is an understatement.

In 1991, I started interviewing people who lived on the margins of society. At the beginning, I asked all the wrong questions. My questions were driven by my own personal sense of horror that I, too, might be vulnerable enough to end up on the streets or drawn into behavior that was "bad". My fear guaranteed that people would hold their darkest secrets away from me and give me just a glimpse into their world. At the end of a day of interviewing, I would return to the safety of my vanilla world and collapse into my comfy chair, secure behind my deadbolts and my location in a "safe" neighborhood.

Over the years, I lost some of my horror, though I maintained a healthy dose of fear - just enough to ensure that I made smart decisions when it came to my own personal safety. The obvious criminals are easy to avoid. It's the sociopaths that are hard to spot. (They look and act so normal!) Instead of asking the question, "how did you end up here?", which was a question motivated by my own fear, I learned to ask, "what is your fondest dream?" And people tell me their stories and secrets. Occasionally, someone shares something with me that shocks them more than it does me. Getting a glimpse into the deepest recesses of a person is to be altered forever. You can't touch someone - soul to soul - and walk away the same person you were before it happened. So, I bear the imprint of hundreds of people. And I am richer for it.

But I write this not to discuss the more shocking bits of my years of interviews. Instead, I share my absolute dismay that there are so many people who are clueless about the wider world. They live their entire lives in vanilla world, with their only exposure to darkness being occasional glimpses on national news broadcasts or magazine articles. But I've even watched them turn away from those. "I don't want to see that." Instead, they turn their attention back to their own vanilla world, where things are boring and safe. I watch them in amazement, realizing that unless they have something very shocking happen in their lives, that they will die without ever seeing color. Their lives are beige and always will be.

The most shocking aspect of vanilla world is the conviction its residents have that every person is the master of his or her own fate. They truly believe that anyone experiencing difficulty can rise above it if only they strengthen their determination. They, mostly born into comfort, refuse to consider that they may be a direct cause of the discomfort of many others. And if they can mix religion into the recipe, they can convince themselves that God means for them to live a life apart from the disturbing realities of life outside vanilla world.

Lest anyone think I'm discussing only rich white people, let me state for the record that I see people of all races, religions and socio-economic levels living in vanilla world. I use the word 'living', but I really mean 'existing'. Because I honestly now believe that unless you have some color - some experiences that shock you and pull you out of your vanilla world - you aren't living.

Allowing color in doesn't mean you have to go to the extremes that I have gone. No. In fact, you can add color simply by admitting that you live in vanilla world. Do you? If you're not sure, then you probably do.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

luke 1 haiku

Doubt – questioning – faith
                Each is a part of the whole
                                All is possible

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

song of myself: one

My fingers are long and slender.
They were made to play the piano, the guitar, your heart strings.
I pluck you. You pluck me.
There has always been much plucking.
And forever shall there be.

Sunday, January 19, 2014


I've applied for a job. For the first time in a really long time, it is actually something I want to do, rather than something that will earn excellent income or will allow me to contribute. I've felt like I've been sacrificing myself since I left my best-job-ever in 1993.

But things are never quite so black & white. There are very few perfect jobs. Every job requires some sacrificing of yourself, I suppose. But for now, I am allowing myself to feel some excitement about this opportunity. If it pans out, I will only be working part time and I will earn very little money compared to the executive salaries I have been fortunate to collect in previous years. But I believe I will be far happier. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

i think we should do it

Part of getting older is accepting your memory limitations. So, admitting that you can't remember the name of the person you're talking to is important. Learning how to write reminder notes to yourself is another important skill.

When I first started writing reminder notes to myself, I could write one or two words - or even initials - and it would be enough to help me remember. But a few years ago, I found myself looking at my reminder notes and asking myself what the heck I was talking about. A reminder note would say "remember boxes". What boxes? For what purpose? Was this for work? Was I taking boxes somewhere or picking boxes up and bringing them home? This went on for a while until I finally started writing myself detailed notes that anyone in the entire world could figure out, even if they spoke English as a 2nd language.

But my latest dilemma is one that I have no solution for that does not involve ritual humiliation. But maybe ritual humiliation is just the next step in this memory loss process? I don't know. A friend of mine called and said the following, "I've thought about your suggestion and I think we should do it. In fact, I think we should start immediately, so I thought I would call and schedule a time with you to get started. How about Saturday morning at your place? I can be there by 10 a.m. Is that too early?" I said it wasn't too early and we hung up the phone.

I have no idea what I suggested, so I have no idea what she is coming over on Saturday to do. I don't know whether to provide snacks or buy swimming goggles or organize some crafting supplies. I don't know why I didn't just tell her that I couldn't remember what she was talking about. I should have. But now I find that I am enjoying not knowing. There was a time when I would have really stressed about not knowing. But right now, I kind of like imagining all of the possibilities. And I keep thinking that it will suddenly pop into my head. That's possible, right? Of course it is.

All I know is that when my friend arrives on Saturday morning and finds me standing there with crafting supplies, wearing swimming goggles and offering a snack, she is either going to be very pleased or very annoyed. And I think I can get us through either of those reactions.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


  My body inexplicably decided to be awake before 5 a.m. today, so it's not surprising that I needed a nap. The need for that nap hit me while I was watching Anthony Bourdain sitting out on a frigid lake in China. At least I think it was China. He was drinking vodka and people were speaking Russian, so I guess it was in one of those border areas. I find his shows fascinating, so the fact that I felt sleepy while watching meant I really needed a nap!

  The beginning of my dream found me freezing, bundled up in a bed with Anthony Bourdain, on our honeymoon, on location in China/Russia. I have a huge celebrity crush on him, so it's not surprising that I would dream about being in bed with him. But I find it rather comical that my prudish brain had to marry him in order to do it with him, which we certainly did in the dream. Interestingly enough, I started out by telling him it was too cold for us to do it. Then, while we were doing it, my not-in-the-dream self, who was apparently observing the people in my dreams, had thoughts about the importance of enthusiastic consent. Really? The activist feminist in me has to come with me into dreamland? The details surrounding this freezing cold place amaze me. The heat was only turned on at certain times. There was a tea time, as if this Russian winter-scape was suddenly in the UK. There was a roaring fireplace in the shared living space, but I couldn't quite bring myself to get out of bed and go in there.

  I kept asking Tony why he had brought me there. I was miserable and FREEZING. Why did our honeymoon have to coincide with the filming of this episode? Finally, he told me he would call Bob and have him come get me and fly me to Paris where I could wait for him to finish filming. I told him that I wanted to go somewhere where they spoke ENGLISH. My not-in-the-dream self was shocked to hear this type of typical American snobbery come out of my mouth. I was lectured, but I didn't hear because I was dreaming. Tony told me he would have me taken to the Savoy in London. He said he would have friends take care of me there until he could finish on set and get there, but that he had to finish. In the dream, I was perfectly fine with this and immediately began to think about hot baths, full body massages, afternoon tea and shopping.

  Then my dream shifted and I was visiting Dr. & Mrs. Campbell, two precious people I have known for decades. My Mother was there, and everyone was dressed for dinner after having had an afternoon nap. Except me. I had slept longer than anyone and hadn't changed yet. I opened my suitcase and found that my clothes had been dampened somehow. I asked Mrs. Campbell if I could throw my blouse into the dryer and she said to go ahead. When I asked the question, we were all sitting on a little porch attached to their home. But when I got up to walk to the dryer, I found we were sitting a ways away from their home and I had to walk there. As I walked, the distance became further and further and I soon found that I was hopelessly lost. My sister, Lenore, suddenly appeared at my side and I felt more confident about finding the house. The retirement community bloomed into a gigantic place filled with high rise buildings and smaller cottages. We walked and walked, sure that the house was just around this corner, but NOPE, it wasn't. Then my sister disappeared.

I wish I could tell you that I found the place and the dream had a happy ending. The last I remember, I went into one of the larger buildings and found a laundry room. But I needed quarters and I didn't have any. It was then that I realized that I had no cell phone, so I couldn't call anyone to come find me. The last thing I remembered is that I resolved to find the management office to ask for help and had set off in that direction.

When I woke up, I thought about tea being served, both in China/Russia and at the Savoy in London. So I went straight to the kitchen and put a tea together for myself.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

the water is waiting for you

Hey now, in the mornin time. Heads up, hear the sounds of the birds. Walk down the road towards the smell of smoke. Hear the crying of the angels above.

Take a left and you'll see it there. No joke, that's the real deal now. Why are you so surprised to see ... that the end of the road brings a spring to your step.

Walk .. down. Walk .. down. The water is waiting for you. Walk .. down.

Put your toe in the water there. Go ahead, if you dare. Salvation's waiting for you to be brave. Cry out your misery, let go your shame.

Fold your arms and lean on back. Tell the preacher man you want to go in. Close your eyes and trust in his lead. You're about to be born again.

Wash .. out. Wash .. out. The water is waiting for you. Wash .. out.

Hold your breath as you go below. Feel your hair floating all around. Through a tunnel you hear the preacher's voice. Then you're up and you breathe it in.

Sister's hand pulls you up and out. Stand by the fire with a blanket around. Glance up and see the boy that you once kissed. He's wet too and he shares your grin.

Steam .. rise. Steam .. rise. The water is waiting for you. Steam .. rise.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


When I was growing up, my Mother used to bake cranberry bread for people during the holidays. She wasn't a great baker. In fact, she used boxed bread mix. But the fact that she took the time to mix it up, bake it, package it and deliver it was a signal that the recipient was someone she treasured.

Today, I bake different types of bread during the holiday season, package it and deliver it to people I care about. It makes me feel good. Not surprisingly, my packages look almost exactly like Mother's used to.

So, let's talk about bread. Some form of bread is produced and consumed in every country and every culture throughout the world. Bread also figures prominently in many religions, often in ways that would mystify anyone outside that particular religion.

One example would be the shewbread that was prepared by Jewish priests according to very strict instructions. Then a specific number of loaves were arranged in a specific manner and displayed on a table that was placed opposite the Menorah. The bread was replaced each Sabbath. The priests could then consume the old bread, but even that had to be done in specific places and in a specific way. Much of the Christian Bible is actually ancient Jewish text, so it's no surprise that shewbread is mentioned in several books of the Bible. But for the very specific requirements, down to the measurements and design of the table on which the shewbread is displayed, one must turn to the Torah.

I read a lot of different information about religion and bread. Most of it, including Christian customs I grew up with, seem silly and often designed to frighten or awe people into religious belief. This always causes me to feel suspicious. Any time somebody is trying to scare me or trying to make me emotional, I always assume the information attached to it is probably bogus. I'm a natural cynic. But Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” Now that rings true for me. What do you think?

It's amazing to me that pre-sliced bread has only been around since the late 1920's. Otto Frederick Rohwedder spent 8 years perfecting his design for a machine that would divide a loaf of bread into evenly sized slices. In 1928, he introduced his machine to the world. In 1930, Wonder Bread baking company became the first to package and market pre-sliced bread. There was quite a bit of doubt as to whether the concept would catch on. Doubters claimed the bread would go stale more quickly. At that time, loaves of bread were wrapped in wax paper.

Even more amazing to think about, January 18, 1943 marks the day that pre-sliced bread was banned in America. Yes! Claude Wickard, who was then Secretary of Agriculture and Secretary of the War Foods Adminstration (the what?) decided that pre-sliced bread would be banned. Nobody can explain exactly why he did this, but it created a firestorm of controversy and his decision was reversed on March 8, 1943. When I first read about this, I imagined a million housewife march on Washington, but my guess is that the Wonder Bread company, along with whatever other bread makers were by then selling sliced bread, did some political arm-twisting. But honestly, I'm making that last part up. I couldn't find more information on this bizarre twist in the history of American bread-making.

Going a little further back in history, I found an amazing story about how pumpernickel bread got its name. It seems that Napolean Bonaparte asked for bread during his invasion of Germany and was served a dark rye bread that he found unfit to eat. He remarked that it was only good (bon) for his horse, Nickel. "C'est bon pour Nickel" was heard by the locals and hence the bread was named. I saw this story in multiple places, but I noticed a number of variations. Sometimes the horse was called Nicole. Sometimes the French phrase was a little different. My brain is now wired to check Snopes for everything, especially if a famous name is used. Sure enough, the story is false. So when someone tells you this story, you can give a little sneer and say "Tres ridicule". So how DID pumpernickel get its name? "Pumpern" was German for being flatulent and "nickel" was from Nicholas, another name for the Devil, so pumpernickel actually means "devil's fart", because it was hard to digest. Now don't say you never learned anything from me!

Had enough? Of course you haven't. You could go on reading these amazing facts for days! Here's something interesting for you. The little tabs or twist ties used to close the plastic bags that bread is sold in are color coded. Yes! This really isn't designed for you. It's for the person stocking the shelves. The guy delivering the bread can look at the shelf and know he needs to remove all of the bags with white tags today. But, I suppose you want to know which color goes with each day so you can make critical shopping decisions? Sorry. Each manufacturer could have their own code. Besides, bread doesn't stay on the shelf long enough for it to get stale, really. Why? Because the guy looking for the white tags is removing bread that is older than, say, two days. But here is a consumer tip that you WILL want to follow. Buy Sister Shubert's frozen dinner rolls. Trust me on this.

Let's finish with pretty words. I like pretty words.

“A crust of bread and a corner to sleep in. A minute to smile and an hour to weep in. A pint of joy to a peck of trouble, And never a laugh but the moans come double. And that is life. A crust and a corner that makes love precious, With a smile to warm and tears to refresh us, And joy seems sweeter when cares come after, And a moan is the finest of foils for laughter. And that is life.”
(Paul Lawrence Dunbar)