Friday, December 30, 2011

Ring It Out

I can't end the year without re-posting one of my favorite posts. It's a list that I still use, still stand by.

To all of you, have a happy, healthy, successful 2012!

Here's my basic Life Toolkit - also known as Ten Things to Take With You on the Ride Through 2012. I promise, you'll be equipped to deal with pretty much everything if you keep these in mind.

  • Never mind that the word kindness is a noun - it is an action, and it requires action. No one was ever accused of being kind who sat in a corner doing nothing.
  • Contrary to popular belief, Time does not heal all wounds. Nature does. Surrounding oneself with natural beauty reminds one that everything shares an interconnectedness and that sometimes the big heavy stuff (while seeming to require a mental forklift on our individual parts) is but a grain of sand in the grand schema. That doesn't mean that we or our lives are in any way insignificant - keep in mind that a single grain of sand can change everything (ever get one caught in your eye?).
  • Laughter is a requirement, particularly the ability to use it while looking in the mirror.
  • Significant events in life will happen if you're ready or not. Keep these emergency supplies handy: observation, openness, at least one good friend (with two good ears), inventiveness and/or creativity, sense of humor, water, and chocolate.
  • Love, while a useful tool, is not a possession. Give it away. The one who dies with the emptiest toolbox wins.
  • Music is as essential to survival as food is. It can change an attitude. It can fix a mood. It just plain feels good to belt out a familiar tune, or dance (even if it's alone in the living room), or close your eyes and escape to whatever desert island awaits (I hear Bob Marley and I don't care how cold it is - I'm puttin' on a Hawaiian shirt!). And so, as the man sang, "Lively up yourself. Don't be no drag."
  • Physical Fitness, Mental Fitness, and Spiritual Fitness are a triad and require strength on all three sides. Therefore on a daily "nutritional" basis:
    ~Eat Well - We all know how to do that, I don't need to expound.
    ~Think (outside the box will give you the best workout) - Learn something, feed your head.
    ~Meditate - dream, pray, whatever you want to call it, so long as you take time to nurture your spirit.
    ~Get daily exercise - Walk, get outside and get outside yourself!
    ~Experience - give your heart a very long leash, remembering the words of Rilke: no feeling is final.
  • Connect with Innocence, whether it's a child or an animal. Seeing the world through unblemished, unjaded, non-judgmental, unconditionally loving eyes is a joyful thing. If you don't have a child or a pet, visit one - generally speaking, good parents and good pet owners are happy to share.
  • Sometimes the person you need most in your life is (still) a stranger. Sometimes the person they most need is YOU. Say hello (with a smile, dammit!) to people you don't know.
  • There's no rewind, there's no fast forward, there is no pause. There is only Play or Stop. Take care to keep it on Play - you're needed more than you know. (Oh, and there are no subtitles either, so speak up!)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Not So Silent Night

Happy Solstice!

I had a post all ready and written in my head... something about how I love the darkest day of the year. How the dark speaks to the artist in me, how the shadows created stir my creativity. How that deep need to snuggle and drink warm beverages feeds my soul. It's all true.

I was going to talk about magic and how the darker days seem to make so much feel like magic, or beckon magic, or something like that. How I can understand why so many fairy tales take place in a dark forest. Or how much we need an apparition to take shape in the dark, even if only to know we're not alone in it.

It all fell apart this morning as I went searching on youtube for really amazing guitarists, doing really amazing renditions of Christmas songs. I found many, as I suspected I would... great rocking electric guitar talents like Joe Bonamassa, Steve Vai, and Silent Night as done by Joe Satriani.

Throw rotten eggs at me if you must, but I really don't like the tune a lot. For one thing, it's difficult to sing with any real success, given the octave leaps that tend to strain the average voice. Plus, I have a traumatically induced mental block against it from having to learn and sing the German version of it over and over and over and over again in my freshman German class. Nothing makes a tune sound more like you're trying to huck up a loogie than the German word for night... "nacht." All that is to say that Satriani takes one of my least favorite Christmas songs and turns it into something that leaves me breathless, and warm, and... and... alive.

This... wow... this is magic. Just close your eyes and listen.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

All I Want For Christmas

Now that I've had time to slow down, I've been a lot more reflective. Nothing new there.

This morning I was cleaning out my inbox and perusing old emails. I found an email that I'd sent Timothy four years ago - the first Christmas after John died. It reads: "The Gift of John... There are people who give presents, and then there are people who give gifts. John was a gift giver. He would agonize over what to give people that would be meaningful. Even in death, there are no exceptions to that rule. All of us loved John to our own extent, and were equally so loved by him. In leaving this earth, thoughtful as ever, he did not leave us empty-handed. John left us each other. What began as the camaraderie of shared grief has developed into deep, enduring friendships and relationships between all of us. So, this Christmas, here's to you John, to the gift of you in our lives. Here's to the beauty you brought us, the lessons you taught us, and the continuation, in us, of what was so great about your spirit."

It went right in line of something I was thinking about yesterday, which is always a clear sign that the Universe is tapping me on the shoulder and trying to get my attention.

Yesterday I met a "new" friend for coffee. We've actually been online friends for a couple of years, but earlier this year she moved from the Southwest to within about five miles of my house. We kept saying, "Let's do coffee." But, as often happens with such lines, life kept stepping usurping the actual event. Yesterday we made it happen.

Let me backtrack just a little. I should mention that this past Summer I discovered that I was a bit lonely. It's all Jessica's fault. When she came out to visit, I had so much fun with her that I realized I'd been missing that kind of friendship - someone to just hang around with and talk about everything and nothing. I mean... I'm not lonely lonely. I have Steve and he's my greatest friend (I won't say best, because all my friends are best), and I have friends all over. I just don't have friends that are close by. So, when Jessica left, there was an empty space that was tangible. Since then, I've been thinking that I really need to cultivate some new friends who live a little closer.

All that is to say that when I discovered that Tanya had moved so close by I saw it as an opportunity to turn my thoughts into action. Let me just say that it was an excellent choice. We sat and sipped coffee and talked until we realized that three hours had flown by. It didn't feel new, it felt comfortable. I felt like a five year old telling Steve when he came home, "I made a new friend today!" (I also fell down on the sidewalk, did arts and crafts, and took a nap. Perhaps this is my second childhood.)

As we were talking, we discovered a mutual tendency to keep people from getting too close, from being too important in our lives. And neither of us are good at letting other people take care of us. I told her (and reminded myself) what I discovered when John was sick, when I came to a point where I (we) couldn't make it much further on my rather stubborn brand of self-sufficiency. I had to let people help me in all sorts of ways. I had to let people in. When I did that, I realized that helping made them feel good, no matter the effect it had on me. It gave them purpose, and who was I to deny someone else from being who they needed to be in my life? Who was I to put constraints on their friendship in my life, to say "Your love can go this far, but no farther"?

It sounds silly, but the most difficult challenge I've had in my relationship with Steve is allowing him to do things for me. Slowly, I've realized that when I deny him doing those things, I'm denying him the chance to express his love for me the way he wants to... and needs to.

The people in my life are what I treasure in my life. They are the gifts that keep giving, and I need to graciously accept that... and let them give.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Major Generalization

No single thing defines who we are. We are a conglomeration of all the things in our lives. I'm an artist, a lover, a writer, a female, a 50 year old, a cook, an atheist, a daughter, a heterosexual, a musician, a sister, a reader, a nature lover... the list goes on. This is why I get peeved whenever someone tries to generalize me into a tidy little box that falls in line with their thinking.

But here's a stinky little not-so-secret. I do the same thing, and I detest that quality in me. So, I'm sitting here confessing to you in hopes that I'll kick the shit out of that nasty little beast and it won't have the balls to come back.

I caught myself doing it just yesterday. I made a generalization about Christians. In fact, I have nothing against Christians. Some of my finest friends are Christians, and I respect their right to their belief. To me, preferring one religious belief over another (or none at all), is pretty much like preferring a certain flavor of ice cream. Whatever floats your boat, put it in a cone and have at it. Just don't try to make me eat it too and we'll get along fine. We all take comfort from something.

I'm off track... where was I. Ahh, yes. I made a generalization about Christians, and a fairly derogatory one at that. In fact, the offense had nothing to do with the fact that the person claimed to be a Christian, but more with the fact that they were blatantly rude and without compassion. Rather than simply call them on their disrespect, I called them on their Christianity. Yeah. Me. The chick who constantly tells people not to judge.

Mea maxima futuo culpa.

So, I am apologizing to you, to all of you. Because that is not who I choose to be, and I will hold myself accountable. How could I not? Many are the times that I've mentioned something about myself to another person and in return I get an assumption. I tell people I'm an artist and I get the look (if not a verbal response) that tells me they think all artists are insane - which I find ironic, because art is what keeps me sane. I tell people I'm an atheist and more often than not I get one of two looks - Look One is a mournful thing akin to the response expected upon telling someone your body is riddled with inoperable cancer; Look Two is a hardened, almost angry look that says, "By Jesus, don't you even think about trying to talk me over to the dark side!" Either of those looks drive me bonkers. Not only do I have a soul, but it's usually a fairly sensitive one at that.

That's why, when I feel the need to point out the flaws of others, I realize that there's probably something about me that's holding sway over the entire gig. And that's why I'm sitting here writing this. All too often the offense we take is the offense we give.

Can we all do each other and the world a little favor? Can we pare back on the generalizing and prejudging? No matter what the subject is?

We're all people, all hanging out on the same rock. That's all the generalizing we should do.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Can't Touch This

We were driving around doing errands, which included a stop for lunch and a cup o' bean to go. It was an ordinary day, nothing special, and it was a moment that could have passed by, completely ignored.

But she said, "I'm happy. This is a perfect moment. My belly is full. I'm in good company. I'm warm, and I have a warm beverage. Nothing can touch me right now."

It took me by surprise just as much as it made me think.

How infrequently it is that we stop to pay homage to life's simple goodness. How very rare it is that we truly occupy a day rather than just wander through it. Our awareness is clouded by myriad tasks and distractions.

When Steve and I first got together, almost every night as we'd snuggle in and begin to drift off, I'd ask him, "Know what my favorite time of day is?" "Hmmm?" he'd query. And I would answer, "Right this very minute." I stopped doing that somewhere along the way, for no particular reason.

Still wrapped in my warm bathrobe, I watched a brilliant sunrise this morning, the sky turning shades of gold, salmon, fuchsia, and lavender. I took a sip of my hot coffee. I thought, "This is a perfect moment. Nothing can touch me right now." And it was true.

Maybe in a minute, a day, week, month or year... something out there in the Universe will rear its ugly head and reek havoc on my pastoral little life. But that's not now. Now is just right. Now is the dream fulfilled, and I appreciate the moment for what it is.

Why don't we do that more? We're quick to curse even the smallest offenses and claim an entire day has gone to shit by the mild nuisance of being stuck in traffic. We'll jump into the fray of an argument without even bothering to check for any valid, good points. We criticize every weakness without championing strengths.

It's all habit. It's what we've learned. We tend to go with what we know.

I've heard it said that it takes two weeks to break a habit and/or solidify a new one. So, what if we make an effort to rewire ourselves? What if we reach for the positive rather than leaping toward the negative?

Well, I'll tell you what if. We will see our worlds unfold. We will find the beauty that our lives were meant to be. We will know and foster peace. We will make dreams come true - our own, and those of others. We'll be better able to appreciate the good in our lives.

I'll tell you what else. We'll be happy and we won't even notice it until we realize how unhappy we were before. Happiness is a choice. Happiness is the ability to choose what we see in any given moment. It won't be Utopia - bad things will still happen, but we'll be better equipped to deal with them.

I know you're going to accuse me of being an overly idealistic soul. I can hear the Pollyanna remarks coming. But, you know what? I don't care. Because in this moment I'm writing and sipping some fine bean. This moment is perfect, and nothing can touch me.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Shining Through

Yesterday I decorated our Christmas tree, and found therein what I hold sacred about Christmas.

As I unpacked the boxes of baubles that I've been collecting for at least 40 of my 50 years, I had opportunity to wander down memory lane. There was the set of frosted angels that my Dad bought for me during a trip to Frankenmuth, MI back in my pre-teen days. There was a hand-crafted, red ceramic pretty with my oldest nephew's picture on it, dating back 35 years. Nestled in the tissue paper were the three country mice that my sister stitched for me. I gently unpacked the shimmering swirly hand-blown glass balls that my nanny family gave me. With gentle respect and a bit of sadness, I hung the glass heart that John gave me for our first Christmas together. There are a few ornaments dating back to before I was born that my Aunt gave me along with ornaments that friends have given me over the years. Scattered amongst all of them are frosted silver balls that Steve has added to the collection.

As I looked at the completed tree and watched all the pretties dance and sparkle in the lights, I realized that I was looking at much more than pretties dancing and sparkling in the lights. What came shining through was the love that was given with each of those ornaments, and the light that was brought to my life by the givers.

That is my Christmas. This is what I hold sacred about the holiday... the love that's been shown me.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas Presence

I guess it's time for us to have that little talk again, huh? Time to lay out the facts so you're not all confused and bumping around in the dark. Fine then. Sit down, wipe that smirk off your face, and allow yourself to be educated and enlightened.

I've bit my tongue on this one for a few weeks now, mostly because I've been incredibly busy and haven't had time to properly write it out. But I haven't gotten over being ashamed of my fellow Americans. I watched, with a profound sense of disquiet in my soul, as my compatriots left their still warm turkey carcasses on Thanksgiving, ditched their sleeping families, and camped out to shop for Christmas presents. They jostled and punched each other, spit epithets with great vitriolic hostility, and yes, even pepper sprayed other shoppers to get what they wanted. To get what they wanted to give as a gift, no less! I caught a news report wherein a prepubescent child was interviewed. He said he was at the store to buy an Xbox, had one in his hand, and some adult walked by and snatched it from him.

For shame. For everlasting fucking shame. Who are you people?! I'll tell you who you are. You are people from all walks of life, varying religious and spiritual beliefs (including the one that worships a baby that was born on... wait... what? Christmas!). You are people with children, cousins, parents - you are family people. You're nobody special. You're some Schmoe who's brain is defective enough to think that this kind of behavior is acceptable because you're doing it in the spirit of... (*shakes head*)... giving.

Congratulations. You make the Borjias look like Mouseketeers.

It astounds me that I, an atheist, seem to have more Christmas spirit than the average person. Considering that the bulk of my profit comes from Christmas card sales, I have to "get my elf on" earlier than is warranted. I really should start in July, but I find it impossible to design a Christmas card when it's 75 degrees and sunny. So, I wait until the cooler, grayer days of September when my mad dash begins in earnest. However, as Dickens so aptly proclaimed, I keep Christmas in my heart all year long.

Think about it. Do you remember the gifts you received as a kid? All of them? No. The only one I remember was the Easy-bake Oven I got when I was six. My best Christmas memories are memories of ice skating in our back yard, or going to my Aunt's house, gathering around the piano, and singing Christmas carols.

I'm not a Grinch. I'm not anti-gift. I'm just saying, put aside the ridiculous spending and frantic behaviors and give gifts that count. Turn off the TV, the computer, the cell phone. Pop some popcorn and spend time reading a book to your children, or playing Parcheesi. They'll remember that long after they've forgotten what an Xbox is. Will your geriatric parent really care about yet another pair of slippers? No. But they'll be delighted if you take them to lunch, or for a stroll through some botanical gardens or some such thing. Pour your mate some delicious beverage, turn the lights down low, and rub his or her feet. The gift of your time is what will last.

Maybe you think I'm being overly idealistic but I don't concur. I believe that what we give of ourselves is what matters most. Always in all ways.

As Train sang, "In a world of what we want is only what we want until it's ours..." It's about presence, not presents.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

As Good As It Gets

We've all heard it before and I'll wager we've all said it before. "You did your best." Or, "I did my best."

It's a shabby consolation prize when your best isn't good enough.

I have a friend who is going through troubling times in her relationship, a relationship that she treasures. Her mate is questioning the validity of their union (through nobody's fault, I might add). It's just the way he's feeling. I know that she has given everything she has to that relationship. I know that there's not a more loving person on earth. She gives her best. Suddenly, for whatever reason, her best isn't good enough.

And my best isn't good enough either, because all I can do is say feeble things like, "I'm here for you. Let me know if there is anything I can do. I love you." All good things, albeit a bit over-used and mostly useless when it comes to facing down our worst fears and deepest sorrows.

It's not like the birthday cake is a little bit lopsided. It's not like you came in second in the marathon. It's not like you fell short of a fundraising goal. Those kinds of times are when doing your best is really pretty damned good. Those are times when anyone else will tell you, "Don't be silly. You're amazing."

That doesn't apply here. That doesn't apply when our best has no effect on something that is out of our control. I'm talking about those moments when life just feels... well... fucked. And it's nobody's fault. Doing my best didn't keep John from being in pain, nor did it cure his cancer. Doing my best meant nothing (to me, at least) in the face of what he suffered. It was like trying to put out dragon's fire with a thimble of water. Did that stop me from feeling guilty and useless and angry? Not at all. My best wasn't good enough and it ripped me apart.

So, where do we go when our best isn't good enough? What can we do? And I do believe that with holidays coming up and all of the bittersweet mélange of flavors that come with family dynamics, this is a timely question. I don't know that I have much of an answer, but I'll... give it my best.

What you can do for yourself when Your Best Isn't Good Enough...
  • Be gentle with you. Berating yourself for something you have no control over will send you spiralling.
  • Take some time to meditate. Five minutes of deep breathing and a quiet place does wonders.
  • Let other people in. Tell someone how you're feeling, what you're going through. Get the shit out.
  • Cry. Allow yourself to mourn.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for a hug from someone, anyone.

What you can do for others who are experiencing My Best Isn't Good Enough...
  • Be there. Just... be.
  • Give love. This isn't a time for judgment or questioning.
  • Listen. Don't placate. They're feeling what they're feeling and it's justified. Let them feel it.
  • If possible, touch. Hold their hand. Throw an arm around their shoulders. Hug them. Anything that will help them feel less alone.
  • Refer back to point No. 1 as often as needed.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Consider It Given

I was trying to avoid doing the usual "what I'm thankful for" posts that I've been seeing everywhere. It's not that I'm ungrateful, but I hate to be trite and really, I'm thankful every stinkin' day of the year.

But, here I am. Feeling thankful. Feeling doggone grateful and all squishy in my heart. So I'm letting it fly.

I have an amazingly wonderful life and I'm privileged to share it with an amazingly wonderful man. So much of what I am right now and where I am right now is because of him, and because of his love and support.

Yeah. I'm gonna be syrup-y about this.

Two and a half years ago my life was graced with this man. I've learned more about being loved in that time than I have my entire life.

I could list his attributes - he's kind, thoughtful, caring, generous, funny, intelligent, sexy. All of that is just who he is, he's completely unpretentious about it. He provides for me in a way that is completely supportive of allowing me to do work that I love doing; not just the brick and mortar stuff, but he makes sure I have the right tools and the time I need. He asks me about my day even though he knows that more often than not, I've just been here at home, dinking with artwork of some sort. After working long hours of his own in construction, he asks if there's anything he can help me with.

He's that kind of man.

Every day I wake up with this extraordinary beauty in my heart. Beauty that's there because of him, because of who he is to me and for me. Beauty that I've learned not to question, Beauty that I've accepted as something that is simply part of my life's grace. It blows me away. Every day.

So, while I'm thankful for all of the usual suspects - friends, family, health, and home - I am profoundly grateful for Steve and to him, for allowing me to give him all this love I have.

Now, all of you... please have a Happy Thanksgiving. Be safe. And when the turkeys start to get you down, put a little nugget in your mind that says, "What if this is the last time I'll ever see them?"

You get love when you give it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

It Happened One Night...

I am 50 years old today. I'm saying that, rather I keep saying that, because I'm trying to get used to the flavor. In honor of my day, I'm rerunning one of my favorite posts. You've seen it a couple of times, but I like it. So, here it is again. Pass the cake and settle in...

************************************

And so, November comes 

Here we are in November. It's a mixed bag for me.

Weather-wise, I always feel like I'm coming into my own. Nothing fuels my creative went more than a blustery, cold day. The starkness of the newly barren trees only makes me want to fill the world with my own color. All my favorite fabrics come into play (fleece, wool, flannel...). I get to enjoy the warm ambiance of a crackling fire, the rich inner glow of a hearty soup or stew on a dark evening, the beautifully acrid scent of rotting leaves.

It is, in the Catholic tradition (and you can take the girl out of the Catholicism, but you can't take the Catholicism out of the girl) the Month of the Dead. It's also the month that ostensibly involves Giving Thanks. Cue the introspection. For me, Thanksgiving isn't about the parades, the meal, the football games, or even the family gatherings. It's about tallying up the events of my life for the past year and recognizing the beauty and treasure that's come my way, and voicing a commitment to continue a search for more - mostly by striving to be the best Who that I can be. It's the month in which I was born. I can honestly say that I've never faced the It's a Wonderful Life syndrome of having wished I'd been otherwise dispatched. Sure, there have been a few times in my younger days when I wished I was dead, but never have I wished that I hadn't been placed on this huck of dirt to begin with. So, I celebrate my day - not with presents and cake and parties - but with the acknowledgment that I was put on this earth for a reason, and with a grateful nod to the Universe that my life was allowed at all. I'm not daunted by the aging process or by the numbers, because both aspects only mean that each November, I get to be thankful for being offered the opportunity to continue this strange and amazing journey.

It's also the month in which my Father was born. This always makes me feel more sorrow for him than the month in which he died. As turbulent as our relationship could be, Dad and I share a love for the cold, crisp days and a crackling fire; we share the ever-present, often sardonic, sense of humor that others either delight in or find offensive; we share a deep appreciation for any natural beauty; we share a certain level of artistic flair. I also have the female version of his face (thanks for the great eyes, Dad!), and his bone structure. It's been nearly 26 years since he left this earth, and I find I miss him more with each passing year. I wish I could sit down with him, and tell him how beautiful my life is, tell him I love him, let him know it's okay. Therein lies the sadness of my November.

And so, November it is. I will revel in it. In fact, I'll give myself to it with wild abandon. Come the 17th, should you spy a certain (self-perceived) gypsy girl dancing around a bonfire, tears streaming past a grin, hollering, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" (and that could all happen literally or figuratively) That'd be me. Stop and say hi, give me a hug, wish me well.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

49

Dear Fifteen Year Old Self,

Today is the last day we'll spend in our forties. Tomorrow we move on to the big Five Oh. I thought I'd share with you some of the wisdom we've gained. Thought I'd let you know that it's not all as desperate and bleak as it can seem to a fifteen year old girl, as I know it seemed to you.

Right now there's a big campaign going on called "It Gets Better." It does. It also gets worse, it gets mediocre and mundane, it gets beautiful, ugly, sadder than you can imagine, happier than you dare to dream. Point is, it changes. Constantly. Remember that line from Pippin? "There's one thing to be sure of mate, there's nothing to be sure of." That's how life is. But that's a good thing, a very good thing.

You're going to go through all kinds of stuff, both the pretty and the pretty horrible. Keep in mind that the phrase "go through" implies just that... movement. Every ending has a new beginning. Every beginning has an ending.

Relationships of all kinds will come and go. Friendships will deteriorate as people grow and change within their own lives, just like you will. People will die. There will be a lot of hurt. That's all part of life too. It'll be tempting to turn your heart into a rock and not let anyone in, but you have to. It's all about balance. You don't get deep joy without also experiencing crushing sorrow. The joy is so worth it. Besides, others need you just as much as you need them.

Here's possibly the most important thing. It's your life which means it's your life to live. Don't let anyone else dictate it for you. Don't let anyone else make you feel like you're less than. You got it - it's yours to allow or disallow. When you live to please someone else - I don't care who it is or what the relationship is, you'll end up miserably repressed, and you'll end up doing a disservice to everyone. Including you.

Don't be afraid of shit. Don't let fear block you. Don't just say, "I can't. I'm scared." Find out why. Then bust it down. You'll feel foolish when you look back and say, "That wasn't so bad at all." But that's okay. You learned.

Learning. Yes. Gather it up, as much as you can. This is one of those gigs where there is no such thing as "too much." Never ever ever dumb yourself down. Teach instead.

Because, guess what? The happiness you're looking for? It's in you. It doesn't come from anywhere, anyone, or anything else. Really, it's already there. Problem is, when you waste your time tap dancing around what you perceive that others expect of you, you don't do the dance you were called to do. So, listen to that distant drummer and boogie on reggae child!

Love big. Yes, it sets you up for hurt, but when you let it all out, that space expands and you get twice as much back.

There's a lot of fun to be had. Good, harmless, crazy fun. Let your laughter be infectious, let your smile be genuine, let your imagination run along any path it wants to.

That's about it. All the other stuff is just dandelion fuzz blowing in the wind. It will shift, drift and disappear into memory.

It gets better, I'll grant that. At the very least, it changes. Oh, but every now and again....?

It gets damned good. Stick around.

Love you,
The Gypsy

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Grimm Reality

The Grimm boys were on to something. I'm not talking about the watered down version of fairy tales that your mother used to read to you. I'm talking about the real stories, the stories as they were written. The Grimms knew that you don't get to happy-ever-after without a lot of hard work, difficult times, gruesome events, people who manipulate, lie, and let you down. They also knew that happy-ever-after isn't really ever after - everything shifts eventually, everything comes to an end at some point. Their stories were bleak and dark, meant to be warnings. They were meant to say, "Hey, think about how you're living. Think about what you really want out of life. Think about how what you do impacts others, and don't expect someone else to do the work for you. Don't rely on someone else to make you happy. And for fuck's sake... be careful what you wish for."

I like that.

But I don't think they were dour, unhappy men. I think, in fact, that they did know happiness. They also had a great understanding of reality.

That's why I think I'm living a fairy tale.

If you can't stand to hear people talk about being in love, or if it bothers you to hear someone talk about how happy they are, you should probably stop reading now.

I am crazy, head-over-heals, heart and soul in love with my man, and I'm happier than I've ever been in my life, or ever even imagined was possible. However, (and this is for those of you who are rolling your eyeballs and saying, "Yeah, right... you get everything you want..."), however, this place in my life didn't just happen. I didn't just wish it and *poof.* I went through a lot of shit and I worked hard, mostly on myself. And I got lucky. Because he really is as amazing as I've always wanted a mate to be.

Here's the thing though, before I met him, I was going to be happy anyway. I was going to enjoy my life regardless. That I get to share it with him is a celebration of everything I've worked for. A celebration. Nothing more, nothing less.

I'm at the good point, the lovely point of the fairy tale right now. I'm at that place where the birds always sing and the meadows are green. I'm not so naïve as to think it's ever after. I know that eventually there will be a new page, there will be giants, curses, darkness. C'est la vie.

But for now, I get this chapter. It's mine and I won't forget it. It will stay with me, whatever comes.

I am loved. That is more than enough.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Fanning the Fire

Today my blog is four years old. Yessiree... we've passed that pesky toddler stage and run full-on into constant curiosity and wide-eyed wonder.

Reading over the past four years, I'm impressed (again) at how fast and how much life can change. Four years ago, when I typed my first word here, I was in a dark place filled with ghosts and shadows. No one could have convinced me that in four short years I'd be where I am today - in a beautiful relationship and doing work that I love doing.

It wasn't where I pictured I'd be. I thought maybe I'd just hit the road and never land. Obviously my escapism voice was talking loudly then. Plus, the walls of the house that I'd shared with my late mate John were pushing in on me. I was suffocating and needed air. Badly. This space was where I came to breathe.

I didn't know what to expect from this blog. I just knew I needed a place to ramble, a place where friends and family could check in and see that I was... coping. Or not. I never thought I'd end up with readers who didn't know me. I never thought that if I didn't write for a week or two, people would contact me and not only ask if I was okay, but ask if I was ever going to write again. Because for whatever reason, they'd come to need that (almost) daily dose as much as I.

"Life sure has a funny way of working out, huh?"
"All the time."
~Lonesome Dove

You, My Wonderful Readers, have sat with me through tears, laughter, ranting, anger, banality, threats, cajoling, preaching, mundane, sarcasm, self-pity, self-loathing, self-love... all of the rocks and bits I've sifted through on my path. You've hung with me while I discovered my artistic path, while I (finally) acknowledged my aesthetic longings. You've watched while I auto-didacted my way into my own intelligence. I'll never understand what makes me such a fascinating specimen to you, and I don't need to. These days, I simply enjoy the company. It's nice to have both familiar and unfamiliar faces around the campfire.

You comfort me. And even content people like comfort.

I hope that my world continues to make you feel welcome, and curious, and inspired. I'll keep throwing logs on the fire, and I'll keep brewing the good dark bean.

Because while we may not be able to walk the exact same path together, ain't nothin' that says we can't pull up for a spell, warm our bones by a fire and share come good company. Right?

Right.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Parallel

There was a time when the only news that came into any given home was via the 6 o'clock evening news, way back when news anchors were always men. Y'know... eons ago when Walter Cronkite ruled the airwaves. That was it - no CNN, no MSNBC, no internet and youtube and constant stream of information fed our lives. If something big happened, we found out about it at 6 pm. And that was okay. In fact, that was fine. I kind of miss those days.

For my father, the 6 o'clock evening news was gospel. It was as much a part of our daily lives as was supper.

Although I was still mostly a toddler, I clearly remember hearing about a strange, distant land called Vietnam. I remember when the combat troops were deployed, thus beginning the war that was not a war.

Right around that time my dad, who had been sober for nearly four years, began drinking again. Thus began the war that was not a war in my own home.

I'm not saying my experience was anything like that of those Vietnam vets. I'm only pointing out that there was a strange parallel in my universe. Both filled my formative years with turmoil and uncertainty.

The Vietnam war ended a few months before my fourteenth birthday. The Black war ended when my father passed away just after I turned twenty. The two are wrapped together in my mind.

Even as a kid, I fretted for the welfare of our troops. The nightly images of battle, of injured or dead men, left me with an aching heart. When "our boys" began coming home, I watched as shells of men returned, men who were scared, angry, confused, and lost. Broken men. Men who had become outsiders in their own home. I had my own experience-based understanding of those feelings. In my own limited way, I could relate.

My childhood was filled with such despair. I remember thinking... there is so much hurt everywhere. So much destruction in so many ways. Who will listen? Who will make any of it better?

As intelligent and, dare I say, even a bit fey as I was back then I was still unaware of the impact I could have on the world, or on anyone. I wasn't quite clued in that I could play a part in making life better for anybody, let alone for myself. It's forgivable now. I can recognize that I was just a kid. I was not an outspoken kid either. I feared retribution of any kind from any angle.

But that was then. This is now.

I hate fighting. I hate conflict of any kind. Still, I wouldn't change those years of my life for anything. They made me. No, they honed me. I think the reason I'm as tuned in as I am is because of those years - because at a very early age, I began absorbing the feelings of others, identifying the feelings and identifying with them.

I remember an afternoon, I was about counter top height, so I was probably about seven years old. I recall asking my mother, "Why do people have to fight? Why can't they just talk?" It was a bold question for me. Questioning The Way Things Are was not encouraged in my family. Even so, my mother sighed and paused in whatever task she was doing. She turned and looked me in the eyes for a moment. Then with a slight smile said, "My dear Barbara... you are wise beyond your years."

I don't have an easy resolution or conclusion for this post. The fact that I'm writing about this stuff is because I'm still haunted by... all of it.

But. I think this is my way of saying thank you to our veterans - especially to our Vietnam veterans. Years ago you made a huge difference in the life of a little girl growing up in Kentwood, Michigan. Years ago she worried about you and cried for you and hoped with all her heart that you'd be okay.

She still does.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bought and Sold for Free

It got away from me somehow. That's about as best as I can say it.

Lately not just a few readers have asked me if I'm ever going to post again. One dear soul even threatened self-injury (something to do with jumping out of a single-story home window) if I didn't post again soon. I thank you all for your support and your faithfulness to my blather.

I needed some time away from this space. Because it got away from me somehow. The reason for this space, I mean. When I started writing here, it was a selfish endeavor. It was my very "Horton Hears a Who" way of screaming out amidst the chaos my life had become, and a way of asserting that I didn't die along with John.

For some reason it worked, that selfish, self-indulgent slant. Those of you who read regularly seemed to identify with that voice - something that has never failed to astound me. Although I write (here in this space, at least) for others to read (I mean, duh... it's public), mostly why I write anything at all is because I need to get shit out. I need to cast off old, dusty garments. I need to sing like nobody is listening. I need to weep and laugh all at once until there's a snot-fest on my face and not care about who sees it.

And that got away from me.

I began to pay attention to stats, to who was "following" my blog. I worried if no one left a comment. I started writing with an eye toward what my readers would want to read. Ask any writer, that's the top wrong reason to write. I even went so far, on a few occasions, to go trolling amongst my readers for topic suggestions. I got greedy and I sold out.

Yeah, you can do that even when it's "for free."

Would Jackson Pollack have painted daisies in a vase just because someone told him that's what they wanted to see? Would Man Ray have contented himself with taking pictures of cute puppies just because others mentioned liking pictures of cute puppies?  Would Hemingway have turned his pen to children's stories, or would Buddy Guy have strummed hymns without ever picking out a bluesy riff?

No real artist does what they do to satisfy others. They do it because... because shit needs to get out. Good shit and bad shit. For those of us who do creative stuff, there's a certain level of intensity to what we feel. And if that sounds snobby or selfish to those who haven't experienced it, I can't make any apologies. It's just what it is. Every gift comes with a dark twist.

Back in the day when buildings were heated by huge boilers (steam heat generators), they often had to be "dumped." Dumping meant opening a valve to let out the build-up of steam so that the boiler wouldn't rupture or erupt, thereby destroying anything in its path.

Writing, for me, is my way of dumping the boiler on my burbling mash of soul gunk. It keeps me even. So, yes, in that way it is a selfish venture. Selfish, yes, but there's no room for arrogance and ostentation. Humility, with respect to being gifted enough to create anything at all, is key.

So, I apologize. I am sorry that I lost the vision.

But I think I've got it back now.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Five By

Five years will go by anyway...
~John P. Johnson

That was one of John's favorite sayings. He hauled it out whenever hard times hit, when someone wronged him, when life surprised him.

And so it has. Five years has gone by anyway. Five years ago it was obvious that he was becoming more ill by the day. Five years ago we heard two of the most vile words known to man. Cancer. Inoperable.

Five years ago, amid the deepest, darkest part of my life to date, I couldn't possibly have imagined that my life would become the shining thing that it is now. Five years ago I was certain that John's death would leave me emotionally crippled for life. Five years ago I saw a long line of boring desk jobs in my future, of coming home to an empty house, of basically riding it all out until it was my turn to die.

And five years went by anyway. Five years of self-discovery. Five years of doing what I had to in order to keep my promises to John - promises to be a woman of honor, to live well, and to find love again. Five years of not really planning anything in my life. Five years of just getting through.

Although I lived every minute of it, at this point in my life, it's almost difficult for me to relate to where I was five years ago. Remembering those days feels a bit like watching another person's home movies. I've done a lot of living since.

Five years later, I've thrived. Five years down the road, I've found love in an individual completely equal to my own love. I no longer sit in front of a desk wishing I felt good about my work. Instead I'm doing work that I feel good about, work that no longer defines who I am, but that allows me to define my world.

Five years went by anyway, as it would have no matter what I'd chosen to do with it. I've learned to not make plans, not make demands and wager expectations with my life. That sounds passive, but it's not that so much as knowing that no matter what I do, life will (regardless) surprise me, both in good ways and not so good ways. The best I can do is live it, enjoy it, appreciate it for what it is, and give myself over to each day.

Today I have love, freedom, happiness. Today I'm an artist. Today I have shelter, food, clothing, and lights. Today it's all good. It's beyond good. It's wonderful.

And I will grasp that in my hands and hold tight to it.

Because five years will go by anyway.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Color My World

The other morning I sat listening to the clatter and hum of a train going by about a half mile away. I listened to the breeze whisper as it swirled cool around my bare feet. I watched purple-grey clouds scuttle across a deep blue sky, the remnants of a slivered moon just beginning to fade. The scent of good bean wound its way from my cup and up through the steam that circled my head, reminding me that the best part of waking up is taking a moment to appreciate a new day.

Ah, Autumn. I know you well. We are like kind. I was born to you. I was brought screaming into this world just before the last withered leaf let go of the tree to skitter and dance its final ballet.

I understand your grace and knowledge. I share the awareness that somethings have to die and fade in order for new things to come to life. Your colors are my colors - the deep cerulean of your sky, the ochre and crimson of your skirts, the gun-metal gray of your clouds, the deep sienna of your rain-drenched feet, and the startling evergreen that says, "Not everything must go."

You greet me with the sharp tenderness of a mother as I sigh in relief at the nearness of you. I revel before your dark eyes.

Oh, Autumn, my Autumn. Is it any wonder that seeing you come around the corner gives me a sense of coming home? After all, it is the sense of recognition I find in you that reawakens me, that makes me feel alive again.

*************************************

Thank you, Becky (who writes here) for suggesting the prompt, "The color of your thoughts..." Also, thank you John and Phyllis, who both suggested "seasons."

Friday, September 16, 2011

Verity

It's not that I haven't been writing lately. I have. It's that I just haven't been sharing. Sometimes I have to give the stuff wings, watch it migrate, and not worry a whole lot about where it's going to end up.

It's like doing the dance in the middle of the woods when there's no one there to watch. It's like pulling over on a long, dark, deserted road and crying your eyes out without need or want of sympathy or advice. It's like raging against the empty walls when there's no one home. It's that secret smile when you first wake up because you know something wonderful.

It's like all of that, my selfish writing.

And I would encourage everyone to do it.

"Oh, but I can't write like you do!" You all like to say that.

Well. Yay. I'm glad you can't write like I do. Because then I'd cease to be unique and so would you.

So write like you do.

And then yesterday I gave myself some time to paint, and painted the scene I look at every day. Sometimes you have to take the overly familiar and give it a closer look in order to fully appreciate it. Sometimes you have to take a part of your life and dissect it to find out how it works and why it works... and what doesn't.

Sometimes you have to step back and let it all be. Only then does the verity stand out. And no matter what it looks like, no matter how it reads, you know it to be the truth.

Mt. Pilchuck

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

There Be Dragons

Today I went trolling for topics among my facebook friends. There were many wonderful suggestions, and rest assured, a lot of them will be covered here in the next couple of weeks. However, today I'm picking the topic my mate's daughter, Alicia suggested. Anxiety.

I chose that one partly because it's something that we all mostly needlessly suffer from, and because I know much of the basis of her anxiety and I'd like to help her nudge it out of existence. Nah, strike that. I'd like to see her kick the fucker off the bus and run it over.

We're an anxious bunch, we humans. We huddle in fear even while hating that fear. We talk about facing fear, but we're hesitant to step out and confront it. The thing is, so often those fears are our own invention. Those fears are unreasonable reasons we birth, feed and nurture as excuses for not achieving what we want from our lives.

Because success is scary, that's why. Success changes everything, and change is scary, that's why. Success means responsibility to and for that success, and that's scary too. If I achieve what I'm after, what then? How do I maintain it? Where do I go from there? We see success as a good thing, yes, but the more timorous part of us also sees it as a looming thing, a thing that will make our lives different from what they are now. And that can be frightening.

Success demands effort on our part, not just in achieving it, but in keeping it alive. Competitive runners try to best their best time writers crank out books in hopes of breaking their previous records; the scientific and medical communities can't rest on one answer, but use that answer to launch other questions. Think they don't have anxiety issues? Think again.

Anxiety says, "Look at that huge mountain you have to climb! Even if you make it, you could get hurt. Your friends won't believe you can do it." And worst of all, "Just how many mountains do you have to climb before you feel like you've accomplished something?" So we stay in the muck of the river valley and stare at the mountain. Sure, the view is pretty, but it doesn't give us any real perspective.

I know what I'm talking about, folks. I have been there, done that, shattered it, rebuilt it... it's an endless thing. The first time I tried any art, I was shaking the entire time. Inside my head, my voice was screaming as if I was standing on a cliff about to jump, "What the hell are you doing?! Are you nuts?! Back away from there!!!!" The first time I decided to show anyone my art, same thing all over again. The first time someone asked to buy a piece of my art... my knees might as well have been made of jello, my heart beat at the rate of a hummingbird. And that damned voice just kept screaming. It took all my resolve to ignore it and take the step anyway. I still get anxious with every piece of art, with every card order. There's a litany inside my head, "They won't like it. They'll laugh. They won't get it. Who would want to pay for that?!"

The same thing happens every time I hit the "publish post" button on this blog. Every time.

How do I get past it? I don't. I go through it. I walk up to it, look it in the eye, and then I do it. Shaking or not, I do it. Because there's this other voice in my head. It's quieter, but it's steady. It says, "What have you got to lose?" I'm about to enter a writing contest hosted by NPR. I'm scared shitless. Not because I might lose, but because I might just win. But I'm doing it anyway. I'm doing it because I'm dedicated to writing, and that dedication is really good at flipping the bird at anxiety.

If you dedicate yourself to a goal, the little steps along the way are just steps. And it's all one baby step at a time. Even a journey of 1000 miles is just walking. One step at a time.

Hundreds of years ago it was thought that the earth was flat. Maps ended at the reach of sea that had yet to be explored, with the warning, "Beyond here, there be dragons." Go no further, you'll be eaten alive. Thankfully, a handful of intrepid souls said, "Well. Let's just see about that." They rowed out to the end of the world. Then they rowed a little more. And a little more. Until the thing they feared became an adventure. Until the thing they were anxious about became a shining reward. It was either that, or stay home and make huts out of mud and peat.

I was thinking all this anyway, and then my friend Emily posted the following quote:

The reinvention of daily life means marching off the edge of our maps.
~ Bob Black (no relation to me so far as I know)

Indeed! Sometimes we have to start in the middle of the map, facing that big ol' Dragon of Unknown. So it is, as it ever shall be. But, oh, the things you'll discover along the way. And, oh, the reward. Because there is tremendous success in being able to say, "I tried."

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Black Out

There are a couple of viral-ish things going around Facebook and Twitter. One is an "event" encouraging everyone to "black out" Facebook/Twitter for two hours Sunday morning in honor of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The other is a repeated status post encouraging everyone to change their profile pictures to some 9/11 commemoration.

I refuse to do either. I'm all for commemorations. But a collective dwelling in the past will not move us toward a future that we desperately need. I'm sure I won't win any fans - in fact I may have lost a few already - but here is my reasoning.

Yes, the events of 9/11 were a great tragedy, not only for the USA, but worldwide. However, in the past decade, there have been other great tragedies. There have been earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, drug overdoses, and wars - all of which have lead to massive loss of life. In the last decade, I have lost three dear ones to various cancers.

I'm not saying it is wrong to grieve. I'd be the first to tell you that there is no time limit to grieving. I grieve daily. I grieve for the losses experienced by Native Americans. I grieve for losses experienced by Australian Aboriginals. I grieve for the father I lost nearly 30 years ago. I grieve for generations of intelligent, loving people lost to a Holocaust that happened a quarter of a century before I was put forth on this earth. I grieve for those who have been stereotyped and persecuted because of their skin color or beliefs. I have shed enough tears to replenish oceans.

However, there is a time to set mourning aside. And there are better ways to honor our dead than carrying their pictures around and remaining silent.

We honor our dead by continuing to live and by living well. We owe it to them to shout with every fiber of our being, "I'm still here and I am alive!" The very least we can do in the face of their tremendous sacrifices is to continue to make our world(s) better places to live. We do this by reaching out to others, not by staying silent. We do this by continuing to improve ourselves, not by sitting and doing nothing for two hours. We repay the debt in our laughter, in the meals we share, in a handshake or a hug, in loving, in holding open a door for someone else, in seeing beauty in the mundane.

We often hear Dylan Thomas's words that he wrote for his dying father:
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

For a long time I thought of those words as an imperative for the dying to fight death. But in the past few years, I've taken them on as a battle cry of my own. Not as a litany against my own death, but as a declaration that I still have living to do, that the deaths of those I've known are a command that I continue, that I move on, that I make my voice heard while I still have a voice. That I rage against the dying of their light.

We were born into death, every one of us. Death is no respecter of persons. We are, each of us, dying every single day and no amount of days will ever be enough. So, while we're still here, while we're still blessedly aware enough to have the beautiful burden of grieving for those who have gone on, we need to make exquisite noise.

Every moment we have is precious. Every single one.

So, if I'm awake during those hours tomorrow morning, and if I have opportunity, I will log on to facebook. My profile picture will be my face, as it always is, and I will say hello to the friends and family I love and hold so dearly.

I will also take a few minutes to look inside myself and check that I am honoring the dead in how I choose to live.

As my friend Kit so profoundly said, "It's 3 AM... time to close the door."

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Slow Hand


I'm back with a post for the IndieInk.org Writer's Challenge II. The folks at IndieInk.org are always welcome to new people joining the fun. You can sign up to do it just once, or you can keep coming back week after week - no pressure, no huge commitment. If you feel like giving it a whirl, click the link here.

This week my prompt comes from Kayla, who writes here. The prompt is, "You're a groupie for a very famous band. Tell me what it's like."

In turn, my prompt went out to Dafeenah who writes here.

And now, without further ado...

******************************

Gran's voice was barely above a rough whisper as I sat at her bedside and held her hand.

"Granddaughter, I want to talk to you about your inheritance..."
"Gran, you don't... you're not... this isn't..." The words choked on tears that I refused to shed in her presence.
"Shush. Listen to an old woman who loves you."
I managed a slight, weary smile, "Yes, Ma'am."
"I'm leaving you forty thousand dollars. Nuh!" She stopped my protest. "This is my wish. I get that much, don't I?"
"Yes... yes, you do."
"Well then. I'm leaving you forty thousand dollars, but I want you to promise me one thing."
"Anything, Gran. You know I'd do anything for you."
She waved her hand dismissively.
"It's not what I want you to do for me. It's what I want you to do for you. I want you to use the money for something wild, something irresponsible and fun. I want you to do something with it that your mother wouldn't approve of."
I laughed long and loudly. Gran nodded approval.
"Live." She said. "Go and live."

That was how I ended up buying a car and a summer's worth of front row tickets to all his concerts the year between graduating and starting my internship. See the USA and Party Like A Rock Star! I lived out of my Dad's old army duffel bag - a suitcase just seemed so wrong for this kind of adventure. I drove countless miles, slept odd hours, ate all kinds of questionable road food, and felt like I owned the whole fucking world.

I never got tired of going to his concerts. He wove absolute magic with his guitar. His ability to be simultaneously casual and energized was nothing short of brilliant. He clearly lived for what he was doing, loved it beyond the comprehension of what most of us could handle. I've always thought that it takes a special kind of strength when someone is in possession of a gift like that, a kind of courage to so completely give in to it. He made love to that guitar, right there in front of thousands, with all the naked, intimate, beautiful glory that lovemaking ought to be.

And the lyrics? Do I really need to mention it? He wove words with all the poetic genius of a noted laureate. His music, the totality of it, has always not only pulled me in, but has taken me somewhere other. It did that from the first song of his that I remember hearing when I was four years old; it hauled me around all that "go and live" summer; and it still has the ability to yank me sideways. He's that good. Really. That rocking bluesy growly sound... shit fire to save matches... he's just that fucking good.

That entire summer is an indelible etching in my mind. However, it was the night of July 10th that really stands out. It was the seventeenth concert on that tour, and I'd been to all seventeen. That night started as nothing different. I took my place in the center of the front row and watched the rest of the crowd meander in, the air slowly filling with the scents of well-alcoholed breath and cannabis. The pre-concert chatter in the room was nearly deafening, the buzz of a billion bees. Anticipation was electric and lent its own hum to the air.

It all stopped for loud applause as the band made their way on stage. Spotlights switched on and focused the band members. There was that all too pleasing cacophony of sound as they tuned their instruments. The big screen behind them lit up in a kaleidoscope of color as the house lights went dark. A local DJ walked out to the microphone in the middle of the stage, and hollered, "Ladies and Gentlemen... give it up for... Slowhand himself... Misterrrrr Errrrrrrric Clapton!"

The crowd went wild when Clapton sauntered out on stage as if he were merely crossing the street. He seemed to ignore the crowd as he threw the guitar strap over his shoulder and settled the stratocaster against his hip, his fingers already resting lightly against the fretboard. He strummed a chord, made a quick adjustment, then strummed again. Satisfied, he finally looked out at the crowd and gave a quick wave of acknowledgment. He moved closer to the microphone, gave a nod to set the beat, and with a slight hunch of his shoulders as if he was an animal readying for the pounce, he launched those visceral, whining first strains of White Room.

I was as mesmerized as ever. Just before his final encore song he changed my life forever. He looked right at me. He gave a slight nod and gestured stage left with a cock of his head. I put my hand over my chest, not only to still my madly beating heart, but as if to ask him, "Me?! You mean me?!" He nodded again. I made my way past the orchestra pit to where a redwood sized security guard was waiting. The guard took my elbow and guided me out a door next to the stage, to a waiting limo. He opened the door for me and said, "Just tell them Reginald sent you." Once the driver dropped me off at the hotel, I did as instructed and was escorted to the executive suite. The place was luxurious, complete with a separate living room filled with overstuffed furniture and a baby grand piano. I couldn't resist. I sat at the piano and played.

About an hour later the door opened and there he was. Clapton. I was in a hotel room with Eric Clapton. I couldn't help thinking, "How's this for 'go and live', Gran?" As I stood up, he quietly said hello and gestured me to sit back down, saying in that unmistakable Surrey accent, "Please, keep playing if you like. I need to take a quick shower." I gulped, offered a totally cheesy smile and trying to sound far more hip than I felt, replied, "Sure. Take your time."

It wasn't long before he walked back in, dressed in sweats and toweling his hair dry. He smelled like gingersnaps and oak. I swallowed back an embarrassing amount of saliva. I waited for him to speak, and after a moment he did.

"You've been to every single concert this summer." He said it like he was reading a police record.

"Yes, I have," I demurred, blushing furiously.

"Why?"

"Beyond the obvious, that I love your music? God, I sound like a fucking teenie-bopper."

He smiled and gestured for me to continue. So, I told him the story of that evening in the hospital with my Gran.

He laughed, "I think I like being the something that your mother wouldn't approve of."

I laughed too. "Well, don't be too flattered. There's a whole host of stuff my mother wouldn't approve of, up to and including spitting in public. But that doesn't cost a thing. I did this partly because I wanted to know that what I feel when I listen to your albums happens for real when you play. When it's live. And it does. I also did it because I know my Gran would love the idea of me doing something so utterly frivolous and hedonistic."

"I'll have you know... I'm honored."

"Are you kidding me? I'm sitting in your hotel room. I'm the one who's honored!"

He waved it away again, then as if noting that I was still sitting on the bench, pointed at the piano and said, "So, you play."

"I do. I have since I was five years old."

"Do you write?"

"I'm loathe to admit it, but I do. Sometimes I can't get the soul gunk out unless it's in the form of a song."
He smiled. "I'm familiar with the feeling."

"No doubt!" We both laughed.

"Play something you wrote," he said. He didn't ask it. He just said it, the same way he might have said, "Make me some toast." It didn't stop my protest any.

"But I can't... I mean... you wouldn't... I... you're... this is... shit! Why do I feel like an idiot school child?"

"Just play. Go where you hide your soul gunk - I love that, by the way - and play. Not for me, but because you love it."

So I did. I sat right there in Eric Clapton's hotel room and played a song I'd written. It was a simple song I'd written about a lover needing to make up his mind because I was getting to the don't-make-me-say-goodbye point. But, if I do say so, it wasn't a half-bad tune at all. It was a little bluesy and full of soul, clean without a lot of musical or lyrical clutter.

I finished the tune and sat without turning, staring at the keyboard. My mind was a blur. I'd just played a song I wrote for Eric Clapton. And I knew I wasn't dreaming.

He cleared his throat and said, "You've got a certain flare for that, you know. It stumbled out of you like a drunk looking for safe haven on a rainy night. Raw but... there. It's good that you listen to your instincts, good that you play and write."

"Thank you." I couldn't think of anything else to say.

I walked over and sat at the opposite end of the sofa from him. I was innocent enough to not know what to expect when a famous rock star asks you to his room.

He raised an eyebrow, "I'm impressed. Usually chicks throw themselves at me by now."

"Well, I didn't want to be presumptuous. Besides, as trite as it sounds, I'd really like to get to know you. Not that I wouldn't... ah, crap. I can't dig out of this one, can I?"

"Honestly? It's refreshing."

So we sat and talked until some god-forsaken early morning hour. Somewhere along the way we both stretched out at our opposite ends of the sofa and tangled our feet together. The conversation lagged and we dozed. We both woke up about mid-morning, still fully clothed. I yawned and stretched, having gotten over my giddy shyness at some point in the night.

He rubbed his eyes and said, "For fuck's sake. I've just slept with a journalist and I won't even get a byline about my amazing rock n' roll sexual prowess."

"Not to worry. If I ever take such liberty as to write about last night I will leave out explicit details, but demurely say that I wasn't a bit disappointed, and in fact, quite pleasantly surprised and utterly satisfied."

We had breakfast together. I had taken a shower and lounged about in one of the thick hotel bathrobes. We talked about everything and nothing. It was easy, relaxing. At some point in the early afternoon, I threw my clothes on. We hugged, he kissed my forehead (which endeared him to me forever), and we parted.

That's the story of how I got to sleep with Eric Clapton.

I went to the rest of his scheduled concerts that summer, just as I'd planned, always in the front row, always just as dazzled by his genius, but with one slight difference. After that night, he always gave me a nod and a smile, both perceptible, I'm sure, to no one but myself.

That was a quarter of a century ago. I figured that by now he'd long forgotten the night he spent with that girl, the night he spent not having sex with that girl. I was wrong. Just yesterday I received a package and a note from him. The note read, "Caught your piece in the post about insomnia. Thought you might like to have this. Might help you sleep... Fondly, E."

It was a bathrobe from the hotel where we'd spent that long ago night. I slept with the robe on last night. I couldn't resist the scent of ginger and oak that lingered on it.

******************************

PS: My Dear Mr. Clapton. If by some strange twist of fate you happen to read this, you have my sincerest apologies. That being said, feel free to call me any time. I don't write anything that doesn't have some intrinsic truth to it, and I do feel that way about your music.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What Not Why

The number one age old question is "Why am I here?" I don't get it. It's a question that has gone unanswered for millennia because there is no answer, yet humans persist with it. Why ask why. Wouldn't the better question be, "What do I want while I'm here?" Yes. That one has an answer, a big answer, and it's not as individual as you might think.

See, I figured out the answer last week. Actually, it took no figuring. It merely took standing still and getting hit by a tremendous jolt of Ah-Hah!

It came to me in the midst of a quiet conversation and a rather electric pause. We all want the exact same thing. From the tiniest squalling infant to the wearily sighing geriatric, we want the same thing. From the most destitute soul to the wealthiest magnate, we want the same thing.

We want to be heard.

And it has nothing to do with conversation.

We want to be heard in the way we smile and nod, in the way we cook, the way we sweep the floor, in our creative ventures, in our number-crunching, in a touch, in hauling trash... in everything. Whether the sound we make is a whisper or a shout, we want to be heard.

Because in being heard, we signify. And that is exactly, exactly what the hokey pokey is all about.

So it perplexes me that we won't stop and listen to each other, that we opt for obtuse when it comes to understanding another person's point of view, that we're so damned quick to judge and condemn, and recapitulate how we feel. It is impossible for another's thoughts, feelings, beliefs, etc. to make us and our own ideals insignificant.

We don't need someone else to make us feel insignificant. We're pretty good at doing that to ourselves all by our lonesome. So cut people some slack. Shut up and listen. Really. Just.... shut up. Especially listen when they're not saying a thing, because that's when the really good shit is revealed.

Want to know what else is cool? When we shut up and listen to other people, we find out all kinds of interesting stuff about ourselves. But when we attempt to shut other people down (successfully or not), we're pretty much denying ourselves full use of all the crayons in the box. Think about it. People get all gushy over Thomas Kinkade paintings (which I happen to think are fairly pedestrian, but that's neither here nor there) and his use of light.... but it's not what he does with the light in his paintings that's so significant. Anyone can paint a picture window glowing with light. His depth comes in what he does with the shadows, with out which, the light would be a simple boring glow.

Shut up and listen. To everything. Forget what you think, what you know, and what you think you know. Just shut up and listen.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Shame On Me

You probably thought I was never going to post again. I, too, was beginning to wonder. The thing is, I haven't wanted to write. I've been aware that I could. I've had plenty of ideas. I just haven't wanted to. I've been stubborn, as if daring The Muses to walk away in resignation. My reluctance has had me curious. Why the resistance? It's because I deplore being a slave to anything. Not that writing is slavery exactly. Still, I was beginning to feel that I was writing simply because I felt I had to and not because I wanted to. While there is some sense of innate imperative to what I do, my personality is such that I also have to want to do it.

Sadly, my artwork has been suffering much the same sort of demise. It's pretty much the same mental struggle I go through over wanting a clean house and actually doing the housework. Well, almost... but not quite.

And then I heard myself giving someone else hell for not using their abilities, for shrouding their amazing talent. Yeah, I'm a real piece of work.

Who am I to deny The Muses? Who am I to say, "Gee, thanks for the creativity and talent, but I'd rather not today." I mean, I've got all the toys I ever asked for and now I don't want to play?! Christ in a sidecar, but I can be insufferable sometimes.

I've been taking it all for granted when in fact, there is nothing that can't disappear at a moment's notice. Shame on me. I apologize.

We do ourselves and others a grave disservice when we deny whatever it is in us that sparks the fire. We rob the world of our essential selves, our own unique greatness when we refuse to do what we were born to do.

Shame. Shame, shame, shame.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Word Search

I'm back in the saddle with the IndieInk.org Writer's Challenge II. I took a month or so off for various reasons, but I decided it was time to jump back in again. Yippee!

The folks at IndieInk.org are always welcome to new people joining the fun. You can sign up to do it just once, or you can keep coming back week after week - no pressure, no huge commitment. If you feel like giving it a whirl, click the link here. Pairings are randomly generated, but you never know, you just might be responsible for giving me my next prompt!

This week my prompt comes from Jules, who writes here. The prompt is, "There just weren't any words..."

***********************************

When I first read the prompt I felt my shoulders slump forward and heard myself emit a sigh that would make Napoleon Dynamite envious. Why? Because my first thought was, "Here comes another one of my posts about death." In truth, that would be a very easy post to write. I've been through way too many of those situations where someone I love has died and I end up without words to express my feelings.

But I'm not going there again. Not this time. I'm breaking the cycle. The dead can just leave me alone today, thankyouverymuch.

Okay, so maybe that's not entirely true, because I am going to talk about death. My death. My death lasted for over two years, from the time I was 33 until I was in the middle of 35. I almost didn't make it out alive. Because when you're not really living, alive seems like a very easy thing to shut off. In fact, it almost seems like the best possible solution.

Yeah, it was that bad.

It was that bad because there just weren't any words. I had stopped writing. Well, I don't know that I stopped so much as I couldn't. It wasn't there... at all. It wasn't that I had writer's block. To me, writers block is when you have at least some small idea or inspiration, but you can't get the thing to bloom properly. This was... this was death. Emptiness. Barrenness. As hellishly cold and uninhabitable as an ice field in Antarctica.

Something inside me had died, and it was killing me.

In retrospect, it's easy to see how and why it happened. One of my dearest friends had died of breast cancer and I never properly grieved the whole experience. I was stuck in a tepid attempt at a marriage and driving myself crazy trying to make him happy because I felt like a miserable failure for not making either of us happy. I was stuck in a job that was interesting enough, but where I couldn't really relate to the people around me (I was working in the theology department at a university... enough said). I felt like I was letting everyone down.

So, somewhere along the way I stopped writing because I felt that I didn't deserve to write. Writing made me feel good and feeling good was not something I had earned. Because I wasn't writing, I pushed my emotions and feelings and thoughts so far down that they became inaccessible even to me. It wasn't just numbness, it was deadness, as if I had severed some vital creative nerve. And for me, that nerve is so very vital.

And then a friend saved me from myself.

We were having a conversation about stuff, life in general, and I worked up the courage to say to him, "I feel dead inside. Lifeless. The wind blows through me and leaves nothing but dust." He asked me when was the last time I'd felt alive. I answered, "The only time I feel alive is when I dream that I can fly." He told me to hang on to that feeling next time I dreamed it. As The Universe would have it, I had a flying dream the very next night. I woke up, feeling that same old grayness start to seep in, but with trembling, unsure fingers, grabbed on to the remnants of the dream and held tight.

It was a spark, a tiny little spark. But it was enough to light a fire. I let it burn all day. When I went home that night, I lit candles and turned off the lights, got a blank notebook and a pen, and the following came gushing out...

Need

I don’t care
about the women
you’ve taken to your bed –
don’t care to know
if they were
blond, brunette, or redhead,
if this one
came on like a whore,
and that one a shy little girl,
if their skin
felt like dandelion fluff
or leather,
used whips
or whipped cream,
left you limp,
gobbled you whole,
screamed your name,
or prayed for mercy.
Don’t want to be
compared to,
or an amalgamation of
all the names you’ve
slept with.
Won’t be your
first girlfriend,
wife,
slut,
or mother.
What I do want –
to throw you down,
go down,
take you down,
turn you inside out,
make you forget.
I don’t dare say,
want to be god to you,
hold you to my breast
until you lose
what makes you a man,
helpless in my arms,
content to be breathing.
Want to unleash
every screaming rage,
bottomless sorrow,
overwhelming joy,
and take the same from you –
walk all over you `til you beg my name,
treat you with such tenderness
you weep my name,
touch every aching part of you –
make you laugh, make you cry,
make you know.

What I want most?
(and this stops me cold)
I want you
to need all of it
from me.

***********************************

I'm happy to say that the flood of words hasn't stopped since. In fact, it's only gotten stronger. Even though the desire to write can sometimes ebb a little more than I'd like, even though ideas sometimes lie around half-baked and inedible, the words are still there. Always. They keep me alive.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Loving the Alienated

I once made the mistake of asking, "Why do you love me anyway?" He leveled me with a look and responded with a question, "Am I going to have to spank you?" And I knew he wasn't talking about any kind of fun spanking. He was irritated by the question. Annoyed that I would doubt his judgment, thereby doubting his love altogether. "Well..." I said, trying to buy time and possibly a way out of the hole I'd dug myself. "I'm just curious. I mean... I..." He rolled his eyes and said, "I love you because you like to hug me. There. Happy?" I dropped it.

But I was serious when I asked the question - not in a whiny, clingy, needy-woman way. I simply couldn't understand what it was about me that made him feel about me the way I feel about him. Because I'm a dork, that's why.

The thing is, I'm a dork like everyone else in the universe. This is not one of those Subject to Barb Only novelty ideas. We all harbor this... this ridiculous notion that we are, for so many reasons, unlovable by anyone who has a choice in the matter.

Yesterday Jessica and I got into a conversation (which I hope she won't mind me sharing some of here). We were talking about how we so clearly see our own faults. I said, "I wish I could hold up a mirror for you that shows you what a fantastic human being you are. Seriously... would I love you like I do if you weren't such an amazing person? Not bloody likely." The conversation went on and she revealed what I've heard from so many people, myself included, "I've just lived most of my life seeing everything that's wrong with myself, and thinking it far outweighs any good in me." At this point I assured her that part of why I love her is for her dark, twisty bits. I said, "Those of us who love you, love all of you."

Then I struck myself with a bit of profound wisdom that came shooting out my fingertips as I added, "Isn't it interesting that we love others unconditionally, yet we put so many conditions on ourselves."

Yes. Isn't that interesting.

A few years ago I heard lyrics to a song that struck me so hard it was as if someone had nailed me with a rock right between the eyes. The song is called Open Hearts and Doors by a (regrettably little known) group that goes by the name of Antigone Rising:

Once I was the big mistake
That one was hard to take
Forgiveness
Draws its first breath with hesitation

Such truth. You know the unfailingly astute, ubiquitous They will tell you that the most difficult person to love is the one who needs it most. Wouldn't that be our selves? Imagine the peace we'd have within if we'd cut ourselves the same slack that we give others, if we'd shrug off our mistakes and say, "Hey. So you're human, so what. I love you."

We see evidence of others blooming when they're well loved. Why are we so illogical to think that doesn't apply to how we feel about ourselves?

If we could learn to like ourselves, even a little, maybe our cruelties and angers might melt away.
~John Steinbeck

I'll take you one step further, Mr. Steinbeck, and wager that we'd also find ourselves in damned good company.

******************************

Unfortunately, I can't find Open Hearts and Doors anywhere, but this is a lovely new tune off of Antigone Rising's new album, 23 Red. Give it a listen - this group needs a lot more airplay and attention than they get!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Lost and Found

You know how they, the annoyingly ubiquitous they, are always saying, "If you're trying to find something that's lost, stop looking."

Lately I've been searching desperately for my inspiration, particularly when it comes to writing. I had misplaced it somewhere and couldn't figure out where I'd left it. So, I've been digging everywhere. And coming up short. I know, you're going to say that you can't tell from my recent posts (except that maybe there's a waning in productivity). Trust me. It's been a bit of a trial for someone who is usually so overwhelmed with ideas that I have to tell my Muses to just shut up for a minute so I can concentrate.

The trouble is that sometimes I'm a lot like Dorothy when it comes to creative inspiration. I go looking for that other shiny dimension, the one fraught with oddities and interesting inhabitants. I forget the simplicity of sitting still on a bale of hay and appreciating my own back yard for the beauty that it possesses. More's the pity, because once I'm in that frame of mind, it all opens up. I can't look at a single dewy spider web without appreciating the movement and diligence of the spider or its colorful markings, or marvel at the frustrated boogie of the fly as it tries to escape.

When I stopped paying attention to my own back yard, I lost my inspiration. I lost my ability to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.

So, I gave up. I quit looking, quit trying. I decided that I wasn't going to search for inspiration any more.

Of course, that's when I found it. They are nearly always right, are they not? Rat Bastards.

I woke at 4:30 this morning (why is irrelevant, waking is good). I was just in time to see the sky begin to lighten behind the mountain. The stars were still out against a deep blue velvet sky. Slowly the sun pushed its way into the morning, first rimming the mountain in golden fire, then casting a brilliant pink glow on the feathery clouds as it outshone the stars and turned the sky the color of faded denim. The trees, wearing the low fog like swirling skirts, stood out as black silhouettes against that backdrop.

I could say it was gorgeous, but the word would fail to capture the entirety of the view. I could say it was a knock out, but that would make it sound like a cheap show. But I will say that it was breathtaking, and this is true.

Fully awake after that show and a couple cups of coffee, I had to make a run to the store. A couple of blocks from my house, I had to stop so a doe and her fawn could cross the road. They slowly made their way across, right in front of me. I spoke quietly and said, "Take your time. You're beautiful." Once to the grass on the other side, the doe turned to look at me. Through tears, I smiled and said, "Thank you."

Then I realized what was happening. I'd quit looking and found what I was looking for.

The same thing happened when I met Steve. I'd quit looking and found who I was looking for. Or he found me. Or we found each other. Regardless, the rightness of it came as naturally as watching a sunrise.

People often ask me how I found my seeming inner contentment. And I am fairly content. I found it when I stopped looking at everything that I felt was wrong with me, and everything that I felt I needed to fix (and fix now, because there's no such thing as patience when it comes to self-improvement, is there?!). I found it when I stopped looking at myself so harshly, when I stopped searching for perfection that wasn't ever going to be there. I found it when I noticed the good in me, when I got excited about the things I was doing right. I found it as naturally and suddenly and as surprisingly simple as coming upon a doe and her fawn crossing the road in front of me.

I only needed to slow down on the path and pay attention.

'Cause it's the journey, right? The journey and not the getting there.

Of course, right.