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


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 Writer's Challenge II. The folks at 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.


"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.