Thursday, December 4, 2014

Can We At Least

I always find myself sadly amused when people claim they are not prejudiced. I find myself doing the wry, one corner of the mouth smirk, eyes rolled up at the ceiling thing when people are shocked to see acts of prejudice.

I don't care who you are, what road you've gone down on the walk of life, how compassionate and loving you are. Somewhere in your life prejudice holds sway. Even if you despise it and do everything you can to counter it, it's there.

We're humans. That's why. We're humans and we are full of all kinds of fears. Some fears have a certain rationale, some are completely irrational. Most of what we fear is born of ignorance and becomes the bedrock where hate, intolerance and that insidious little bastard prejudice make a stand.

Even when we educate ourselves and get past the ignorance, we still fear. Think about it like this... you've lived in the same house for ten years. Your furniture is in the same position it was this morning, and probably where it's been for the past few months, at least. Nothing has changed. Same old place you come to and get cozy in every evening. Suddenly, the lights go out. It's not so cozy now. Every noise seems amplified. What if someone is sneaking in? What if you trip? Yet, they're the same noises you've been not-hearing with the lights on. Someone could sneak in with all the lights on. You could just as easily trip with daylight streaming through the windows.

For a few minutes, you were taken out of what is normal. And you felt fear. Being human... oy... it's the way of it.

It hit me last week... the idea that we don't always get past our fears. I gave up mulling over all the current anger and hatred in the world and decided to watch Mockingjay, the third in The Hunger Games series. Katniss and her comrades were hiding out in a bunker as bombs were going off outside. The room was shaking and plaster was crumbling and sifting down onto their heads. People were screaming and crying and cowering. Then the power went out and people screamed and cried louder. But. As soon as a few of them turned on flashlights and they could see again, they seemed to decide that the noise and crumbling plaster wasn't so bad, at least as long as they could see it happening. One fear outweighed the other.

One fear outweighed the other and I think that's how we get past our own crap. I fear that I won't have loved enough, or loved right at the moment someone needed it most. I fear that I won't be showing compassion at the exact second somebody requires it. I'm human. I'm not always right on point, y'know? I get self-absorbed and crabby just like everyone else. However, by and large, the fear of not having my arms wrapped around the right person at the right time? That makes me push past any fears and prejudices I may feel.

I also try hard to rise above it, because I've been on the receiving end. And it's not nice, so I don't want to perpetuate it. As a woman, as a serially overweight person, even as someone of above-average intelligence, I've been the target of some real nastiness. I've even confronted it on occasion with a, "Look. You don't even know me. What makes you hate me so much?" That's when the conversation starts. That's when the understanding kicks in. That's when the fear and prejudice gets put to rest.

We don't have to love everybody - hell, we don't even love everything about the people we really love! We're probably not ever going to be completely without fear. We're always going to be ignorant about something.

We are human. All of us. So...

Can we at least agree to approach each other with a deep breath and an eye toward what we can learn from each other? If we're going to prejudge (and we are), might we at least begin with, "Now, there's a human being..."

Friday, September 12, 2014

In A Moment

Did I think about it? Of course I did. Unless one lives under a rock and/or is brain dead, it's impossible not to. Since neither of those scenarios apply to me, yes, it was on  my mind. Like millions of others, I can tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing when it happened. I can do that with all of the more defining moments in my life.

Those kinds of memories don't have the grainy, aged film look that many other memorable moments do. They are high definition and they are larger than life. They are so big and so well defined that not only can I see the peach fuzz on a face, but each individual hair that makes up the peach fuzz.

I know each line on the back of my father's massive hands as the tremors of end stage lung cancer shook them. Shook them so much that he couldn't unzip and re-zip his pants when he had to use the bathroom. So he asked me, his then teenage daughter to help. I did so willingly, but with a tremendous, painful lump in my throat. I understood all at once what it must have taken for him to ask for my help. No man should ever have to ask his daughter for help zipping his pants. In the few short seconds it took me to help him, his hands trembled at his sides. And I remember every line on the back of his hands.

I remember the way the sunlight hit the dust on the monitor the day I clicked open an email from a friend only to read that a beloved mutual friend of ours had died very suddenly. Six words stole the air from the room, "I'm afraid our girl is gone." As the world spun away, the dust and the sunlight and the monitor remained, and only those three things. Jesse was gone, dust, sunlight, monitor, Jesse gone, sunlight, dust, monitor, how can that be, monitor, dust, sunlight. I watched as the first chuff of a sob broke free from me and made the dust dance in the sunlight.

I can see the reflection of my office building in his black truck. The building number above the door is backwards. I approach the driver side window with a smile. He's early. I'm happy to see him. Then I see his face, the streaks of gray in his mustache, the way his lower jaw is working - he always did that when something troubled him deeply. I stop short at the look on his face. "What." I say it not as a question but more as a definition of some great heavy beast standing between us. His look is one of mixed shame, fear, and almost anger. He knows he's going to break something in me as he answers with one word, "Cancer." I sigh, and then I can move forward to grasp his shoulder. "Oh, my love." It's all I can say. It's enough. I look down and notice that the backwards number is wavering. I don't want him to see my tears. Not yet. He has enough to deal with.

September 11, 2001. I was finishing an early morning workout on one of the treadmills in the small gym that was part of the apartment complex where my late mate and I lived. There was a woman on the other treadmill. I think she had blond hair. We had TV turned on to the news chatter of local weather, traffic, blahblahblah... "We interrupt your regular broadcast... breaking news..." We both watched as the first plane hit the tower. "Oh, my god..." the woman next to me said softly. "That didn't look accidental," was my response. I finished up and went home to shower and get ready for work. I walked in the door and told John to turn on the news. "A plane just ran into one of the World Trade Center towers," I said. I went into the kitchen and poured myself a cup of coffee. I heard the tell-tale click of the TV as John pushed the on button of the remote. The image of the tower, smoldering in the middle, filled the screen. "Holy shit!" he exclaimed. "I don't think it was an accident," I repeated. I couldn't shake the heavy feeling in my chest. I was taking a sip of coffee when the second plane hit. I quickly set down the cup and propped myself on the edge of the sofa. I remember thinking, "Smoke and ashes... oh the people... smokeandashesohthepeople..." as if I was about to write a poem. There was nothing poetic about it.

Yes. I thought about it yesterday, the same way I often think about those clear, hard-edged moments of my life. The moments that show me how easy it is to feel wounded and how tough I can be despite that. I thought about it and proceeded with my day in the only way I know how to honor those unthinkable times, those people who have suffered agony that I can't completely understand, the people I've loved and the people I'll never know who have been taken in death.

I thought about it. I thought about it and then and set about living deliberately. Bringing honor isn't so much in a totem or a memorial or a moment of silence. Honor is in living anyway. Honor is in living well and fully.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

When They Were Humans

It began a couple of months ago when I came across an old wedding photo of my parents. It's one I've seen many times before - two fresh faced "kids" to whom I bear a vague resemblance, dressed in wedding garb, smiling as they look out of the back window of the get-away vehicle. A thought I'd never had before while looking at that picture came barreling through, "They're looking out the back window at all their friends and family waiving them on and wishing them well. Meanwhile, the car is speeding forward to an unknown future. A future that is as wide open as any can be." I can imagine them as newlyweds, nervous about their first night together, excited about building a home together, maybe even wondering if they'd just made a tremendous mistake (c'mon... they wouldn't be the first couple in history!).

I stared at those two in the picture, familiar yet so completely foreign to me. I couldn't help but wonder, not for the first time in my life, "Am I at all what they had in mind?" I mean, my parents were Catholic. Barring any medical issues, they were going to have children. They ended up having five. I was the fourth. It's not a matter of self-doubt or self-loathing or anything like that when I ponder this question. It's more of a..... *sigh*... I wonder if they pictured a family beyond babies or school aged children. I wonder if they ever pondered an adult child, female, headstrong, creative, emotional, funny, intelligent and nowhere near perfect and entirely okay with that.

I could ponder this very question with regard to any of my siblings, again, in no way implying anything derogatory. "Is he what they had in mind? Is she? Were we?"

Because it isn't in their eyes in that picture. The look in that picture is the perfect mash-up of  here-we-go and dear-god-now-what-do-we-do. That was back when they were humans. Before they became parents. Before the world stuck its big nose and its meaty fist and its grimy foot in the door. They had dreams. She had dreams of being a teacher; he had dreams of being an artist. In a way, both of those dreams came true. She ended up with a captive classroom of five; he became a commercial artist - a sign painter.

How many times over the years have I forgotten that they were humans? Countless. They were my parents. As far as I was concerned, that was their identity and their only identity. Put a seal on it, and call it done. I wonder how many times they sighed heavily and thought, "I wish I was something besides a mother doing something besides housework and raising children. I wish I was still a human." Or. "I wish I was a guy going off to the woods to fish and do artwork and that I didn't have to worry about protecting and feeding these people. I wish I was still a human."

Am I what they expected? After all that.

I know my aged mother is proud of her children, of that there is no doubt. I know my father was too. That's not in question. Was this person, the one sitting here typing at you, was she in any of the imagery of some distant future? I just wonder about that. That's all.

I found myself delving further back. There's an old adage that says you can't know where you're going if you don't know where you come from. I traced a line back to my father's great great great grandparents - the Blacks in my lineage who first came to this country from Ireland, Archibald and Sarah. They would have been young, early 20s at best. Yes, back when they were humans. They came on a promise of land that they could own and work themselves and upon which they could build a family.

Am I what they expected?

Are any of us ever?

Yet we, as Lionel Ritchie once said of his own heritage, "stand on the shoulders of greatness."  Never mind the personalities that didn't always see eye to eye, never mind the occasional clash in ideals. Generations sacrificed without once thinking, "There will be a woman named Barb. We're doing this for her." No. They just did it. They persevered through adversity and never wasted time in complacency. They did what had to be done and now, here am I.

I owe a tremendous debt to those who cleared a path. I owe them my own dedication to the work I do. I owe them my own tenacity when faced with impossibilities or inevitabilities. I owe them an authentic life.

I may not be what they expected, those people, back when they were still humans. But I'm determined to make sure they're at least pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Inevitable

Change. It happens every millisecond of every second, of every minute, of every hour, of every day. Nobody is immune. In the words of that inherently brave Cowardly Lion, "Not nobody, not no how."

You'd think we'd get used to it, or at least get used to expecting it. We never do. I don't care how Zen you pretend to be. We ignore subtle changes, the slowly creeping lines across our own faces, grass straining to grow tall enough to reach the sun - things like that - until one day we take time to notice and, "Holy shit! Where did those wrinkles come from?! And when?!" Or, "I swear I just mowed that lawn. I guess it has been a couple of weeks..."

What I'm really talking about is bigger, more sudden change. The stuff that comes with no warning, flying straight at our foreheads from a clear blue sky. There is not enough Zen in the Universe to hold that shit at bay. All we can do is acknowledge whatever it is and try to live our own truth in the midst of it.

This is why I am writing about the death of Robin Williams when I swore to myself I wouldn't. The fact is, I feel like I've lost a nearly life-long friend, a friendship that began in 1978 when that crazy alien burst into view on the TV Series Happy Days (Mork & Mindy was a spin-off).

Here's the thing. I understand suicide. I understand it, but I don't like it - understanding doesn't necessarily make me a proponent, y'know? I know what huge physical hurt feels like and I understand completely why some people would do anything and everything, even that ultimate thing, to end that pain. I've endured some pretty hefty emotional pain too, so I can only imagine what a tremendous weight of that kind of pain it takes for someone to want that pain to end at any cost. I can only imagine. Thankfully, that's all I can do, but I do understand wanting it to stop, just once and for all... fucking stop.

This isn't a post about addictions and mental illnesses and suicide prevention. This is, simply, about change. Some of us have the ability to change, some of us don't. Some things we can change about ourselves very easily, some things, oh boy... no so much. Sometimes we fight hard to make changes within ourselves and sometimes that change even takes hold... until some inner truth or some old wound or some ancient desire trips us up and sends us headlong into the pavement. And sometimes some stuff just stays stuck no matter what we try. Sometimes that fight for change becomes exhausting.

So. Change. Or don't change. You are human, and in that humanity you are allowed to be all the you that there is.

That brings me to my favorite Robin Williams movie. Sure, I like a lot of them. Scratch that, pretty much all of them. Who can deny the power of Dead Poet's Society, or Good Morning Vietnam, or (this one always gives me goosebumps), The Fisher King? But the one that really struck me is a little known movie called House of D. I stumbled upon it a few years back in video form (yes, video... remember those?) and my interest was piqued not so much because of Williams, but because it was written and directed by David Duchovny. My curiosity drove me to see just what kind of chops Mr. X-Files possessed. Turns out his chops are pretty damned tasty.

I was more than pleasantly surprised by a lovely film about a teenage boy, Tom Warshaw (played to perfection by a young Anton Yelchin) who comes of age surrounded by a rather peculiar group of dysfunctional friends. One of those friends is a woman who yells dating advice to him from the window of the Women's House of Detention. Another friend is sweet, loving, mentally challenged Pappass, played with beautiful understatement by Robin Williams.

This is where I leave you with the quote that, for me, sums up not just this post, but how we approach change... and how I'll approach the change of a world bereft of my on-stage friend, Mr. Williams.

Pappass: I'm not retarded anymore.
Tom Warshaw: Oh really?
Pappass: Really.
Tom Warshaw: When did that happen?
Pappass: 1984. Sometime in the spring. I went from retard to mentally handicapped. And then in 1987-88, I went from handicapped to challenged. I changed again. I'm probably changing right now. Who knows what I'll be next?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Your Good Went Bad

Ever have one of those moments when your first thought is, "Yeah, right on!" And then that thought is immediately followed by, "Oh, hell no!" Kind of like cheering for the guy on your team who just knocked the bejeebers out of the baseball, only to realize that the guy on the other team, at the far edge of the outfield, has magic in his jump and a glove that seems to stretch an extra foot into the air, and by golly, he's gonna catch that fly for the out, damn it!

It's like that. Only worse. Because this has effects that reach much further than the outcome of a baseball game. I was just cruising around on Facebook when I saw the meme below and had that very reaction. I know, it's just a meme - one of several gazillion - and I could have ignored it and gone on my merry, internet-surfing way. But the damned thing pushed my buttons.

My first reaction was that Dr.Gail Dines had a profound point. (I still think that.) But then I took a good look at the picture. Hence my "Oh, hell no!" reaction. Following Dines' sentence, which basically encourages women to like their bodies, is a naked woman. A flawless, naked woman. A thin, flawless, naked woman with perfect hair, perfectly lit perfect skin, well manicured fingernails and toenails, perched in a position that suggests that when she's not on a photo shoot, she's on a yoga mat.

I've got nothing against flawless. I'm an artist, aesthetics are never lost on me.

I've got nothing against thin people. They're just people, and I tend to like people.

I've got nothing against nudity. In my mind, clothing should always be a function-first, optional thing.

I've got nothing against perfect hair. Hair is pretty. I love looking at hair.

I've got nothing against perfect skin. Some people are just blessed with good DNA.

I've got nothing against photography, photographers, or the photographing of beautiful people.

I've got nothing against yoga. Not my first choice of an exercise regime, but I know a lot of people who benefit from it and enjoy it.

What I am against and my big problem with this is that whoever created this meme didn't think it through enough to realize that they are, in essence, contributing to the very problem they were trying to solve. Unless I'm seeing the whole thing all wrong, the issue at hand is that women need to accept their bodies as they are, and not just accept, but celebrate and love. And that is wonderful. I long for that day for myself and for others.

However, you can't tell women to feel good about their bodies and then hold up a picture of what every woman thinks their body should look like. Especially when... what... maybe only the top 2% (and I'm guessing high, I think) do look like that. And even then, only in really good lighting and perhaps with Photoshop skills thrown in.

What the above meme says to me is, "Feel good about your body! As long as it looks like this. However, don't feel good about your body if your hair is a little frizzy; if you have blemishes; if you're fat; if your thighs or ankles aren't shaped like those of a 15 year old supermodel; if your breasts are too small, too large, asymmetrical; if you're in any way disproportionately shaped." That's what that meme says, and that is a shame because Dr. Dines's message is spectacularly good and so needed in today's society.

So, in a world of feel-good, inspirational memes, I've created my own. Here's hoping the sucker goes viral.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Elephant Has Left the Building

Yesterday left me gasping for air.

It's ironic that it felt that way, because seven years ago yesterday had me feeling that there was no air to breathe.

You see, yesterday, I completely forgot about seven years ago yesterday. The significance of the day didn't even occur to me until late in the afternoon, at which point I took in a deep breath and thought, "Well, I'll be damned!" I did that with a smile on my face.

Now you're giving me that look like I forgot to wear my pants again. I'm sorry. I didn't realize this was a nice restaurant.

Okay, really. Yesterday, I got up, had copious cups of coffee, did a little online shopping, joked around with friends on Facebook, laughed a bunch, checked my email, did some writing, did some chores, put on some chili to simmer for dinner, and worked on a project. During all those things, over the course of about 8 hours, not once did it occur to me that the day was significant. And it was. It is.

It was seven years ago that my much loved mate, John, passed away after a very short battle with cancer. In each year since, when May 7th rolls around, I'm always acutely aware of the day and the resounding clang of sorrow that always tolls. Except for yesterday. I was aware that it was May 7th, but the number didn't trigger anything. I didn't at all stop to consider.

When it did finally dawn on me, I had a moment of, "Geez, woman... how could you forget? Have you gone cold?" No. No, I haven't. Not in the least. What's happened is that I've undergone some tremendous healing in the past few months. I attribute that healing to writing.

Funny thing is, I haven't been writing about John, or my experience with him, or my experience after him. I've been writing fiction (you know I'm writing a book, yeah?). However, I've been writing fiction that comes from a well that is deeper than I initially suspected. Way deeper. So deep. Fathoms. In doing all that writing, in giving my characters voice, I've been able to give voice to so many things that I'd kept hidden. Hidden is probably the wrong word, because are you really hiding something if you're not aware of its existence? Or, at least, the level on which it exists?

Writing, even writing about unrelated stuff, has freed me - not from memories, but from my own unwillingness and fear to confront those memories, as well as from the need to repress them. These fictitious people that I'm getting to know have taught me a lot about forgiveness, letting go, facing the mirror, loving. Sure, they're all things I've been learning anyway, but somehow creating them in a different scope of existence (in fiction) gives them clarity and credence.

I haven't forgotten about John. I couldn't ever love him any less. But the pain is a soft pain... a dull, barely perceptible ache somewhere in the vicinity of my left rib cage. I've come to a point where I would much rather celebrate and write the 46 years of his life into something tangible than to be grieving for the day he died.

I think he understands that.

I think he's pleased.

"Live and love," he always said. "Just live and love."

Thursday, April 24, 2014

At the Beginning

First things first and then we'll get to the meaty stuff. Yes, I ditched doing the A to Z challenge early on. I found that it was too much of a distraction from doing what I really needed to be doing, part of which was working on my novel.

So, as a sort of apology for leaving you stranded and as an enticement to come back for more, (and, let's face it, because I like to tease) I'm offering you the opening couple of pages from my novel. The working title of my book is I've Seen Rain.

And now....
“I’m Luke. Luke Horvath.” I held out my hand to her and at the same time I realized that it still had blood all over it. I withdrew it, giving her a sheepish shrug. “Sorry, I…”

She gave me an understanding smile and a slight wave in return. “It’s okay. My name is Annie. Masters.”

We were standing by the back of my truck. I picked an old rag from the bed of it and tried unsuccessfully to wipe the blood from my hand. I breathed a heavy sigh. “Well, Annie Masters. All things considered, it is nice to meet you. I really appreciate you stopping to help.” I paused. I knew what I was about to ask, so I had to steel myself for rejection. “Annie Masters, would you consider having dinner with me tonight?”

She laughed, and I can tell you, it was everything I’d hoped her laughter would be. It was clear, and loud, and it sang through the air like angels doing opera. “Is this how you pick up all your women?” she asked. “You find somebody’s poor, wounded dog by the side of the road, wait for a fair damsel to come along and offer help, and then whisk her off her feet with your strong, sensitive male…” She waved her hand up and down at me, searching for the right word. “Uh… thing?”

That got me laughing. “My male thing? We just saved Ol’ Pooch from certain death, returned him to his grateful human companion, and you want to discuss my…“ I cleared my throat. “My male thing? Oh, this is off to such an auspicious start. You could at least agree to have dinner with me before we go there.”

I loved her smile already, the way it lit up her eyes, the way one corner of her mouth curled up slightly more than the other. If she wasn't careful, I was going to be thoroughly in love with her in the space of ten minutes. “Well,” Annie said. “How can I say no to a flannel wearing, blood-soaked guy with a strong, sensitive male thing. My dreams have been answered!” She feigned swooning, raising the back of her right hand to her forehead.

I looked down at my boots as though they were the center of the universe and muttered, “A smart ass. She would have to be a smart ass, wouldn't she. She’s probably more trouble than she’s worth.” The boots said nothing. Annie, however, coughed politely and whispered, “I can hear you, you know.” I looked back up at her, grinning. “How ‘bout I pick you up at 7? Play it casual, nothing fancy. That gives me plenty of time to clean up and stow the gear I was hauling back before I came upon Ol’ Pooch.”

Annie was still smiling. She tilted her head to the left, making no attempt to hide the fact that she was studying me. That kind of boldness in a woman gives me goose bumps. The right kind of goose bumps. Finally she nodded, as if answering some question to which I hadn't been privy. “Seven works for me. You know the old red caboose up on Mountain Loop?” When I nodded, she continued. “That’s my place.”

“Are you kidding? I drive by there all the time. I've always been intrigued by it, wondering who lives there, what it looks like on the inside, how they managed to tote a caboose onto that land. Wow. You live there.”

“That I do,” she answered. “Play your cards right and not only will I tell you all about it, but I’ll give you the $1.67 tour.”

“A buck 67? Boy, that’s pretty steep.” I gave her my best aw-shucks-I’m-just-a-poor-boy face.

“Yep.” She winked. “A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, what with the scarcity of eligible guys waiting by the side of the road.” With the flat of her hand, she smacked the side of my truck twice, then walked back toward her own truck. “See you at 7, Luke.”

“See you then, Annie.” That smile.

© Barb Black

Friday, April 4, 2014

D is for Dowsing


I want to live
where the sweet water flows
     and taste
         the clear,
             running dream.

I want to burrow into, and
dig down through the layers,
dig through all the layers


a whisper
    and a trickle
      begins the flood

Oh, quench my dowsing soul.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

C is for Cages

The small man
Builds cages for everyone
While the sage,
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the

A few years back I wrote a post based on this, my favorite of all things Hafiz. I love its whimsical gravitas.

In my post back then I admonished everyone to become a key dropper. I offer humble apology here, as I was wrong.

A couple of weeks ago, while searching for something other unrelated thing, I once again stumbled across this poem in a book of quote-y stuff that I've written down. I read it. Then I read it again. And once more. That was when I heard the ice floe begin to crack and the real stream of What Is at first trickled, and then tripped and burbled through. Okay. Okay. It was an epiphany. But I swear I heard ice cracking.

We can't all be key droppers all the time and it was silly of me to expect people to be so. It was silly of me to expect myself to be so. Because, guess what? That's not what Hafiz's poem is about. Not at all.

Hafiz was referring to us, as ourselves. As our complete selves. We are all of those characters, all the time. What's more is that we need to be. It is part of our process, part of our psychological make up. It is how we recognize and define where we are on our journey and what needs to happen next.

We are The Small Man. We build cages for others and for ourselves. We want everything boxed and organized in tidy lines. We might say we don't, but we do. Gone are our wild instincts; gone is the feral need to be awake and alive in every single moment. We fool ourselves into thinking that if we have order, we are safe. We think, "If I stay in this job, with this income, everything is fine." We think, "If he would just pick his socks up off the floor, I'd be happy." We think, "If I wear this style, they will accept me." We cage everything. We cage everyone. We don't just build the cage; we are the cage.

It's good for a while. We have structure, and safety, and there aren't a lot of startling surprises. But that gets really old after a while, doesn't it? We realize that our shoulders are cramped from trying to fit into a confined space. We find that the air is a stale and stifling. We aren't seeing the things and places we want to see, because they are Out There; we aren't interacting with the people we want to be with because they are Over There. We're here, stuck in a cage of our own making, and it dawns on us that we hate it.

So, we get rebellious. We see the moon through the slats in the cage and our ancient instincts stir. We chuff, and pace, and our agitation with being stuck builds to the howling point. We let it out, softly at first. It comes as a low moan. But we hear ourselves and the noise we make, and in it we recall who we were when the Universe was new. It is our true voice. It incites us until finally, we let loose with a long, loud, unrestrained keening. We don't let up. Because this is who we are. And we have had e-fucking-nough.

We become The Beautiful, Rowdy Prisoner. We don't care what the Small Man is up to. We're gonna make some noise. We're gonna party like it's year one. We're gonna get visceral, and real, and be authentic, and to hell with the cage. And we even say that every single time we bump into the walls of the cage. We say, "I'm gonna be visceral and real and authentic and to hell with the cage!"

In stoops The Sage, roused and amused by our boisterous behavior. He can't wait to see us run free in the moonlight. He thrills at the thought of us gulping the fresh night air. I imagine him humming a quiet, tuneless melody, a slight smile on his lips, as he begins to drop keys - magic keys that fall right into the locks and unhinge the doors.

Finally, finally, finally... we are free. Free to run wild in all the ecstatic, unfettered, fierce grace that was ours for the claiming since the beginning of time.

We are these things. We need to accept that we are The Small Man, that we are The Cage, that we are The Beautiful, Rowdy Prisoners just as much as we are The Sage.

We are those things. Yes. And... We are so much more.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

B is for Barbarian

Burning Through

barbarian: -noun; a person in a savage, primitive state; uncivilized person

Various people, myself included, have often referred to me as Barbarian. I like it. It's a great amalgamation of my first and middle (Ann) names. There was a time when I used it as part of my email address. Once, when I called myself that, someone asked me why I would refer to myself in such pejorative terms. 

I can understand why some would think I was being unkind to myself or self-deprecating, but I really don't feel that's the case. I like the moniker. It works.

My own mother would agree on certain principles. Hard as she tried, and much to her chagrin, she never could turn my sister and me into proper little ladies. I will never be at home and comfortable in a dress and heels. Ever. Jeans, sweats, and t-shirts are my standard garb. Anything else on me, although I do clean up well when I have to, just makes me feel false, and fidgety, and grumpy.

But let's forget about appearances for a minute or three.

The Greeks originated the term barbarian. It was meant to refer to anyone who wasn't Greek - people who were considered to be outsiders, social outcasts. Again, it works. I've felt like an outsider all my life. I've never adhered to any definition of "normal." Proudly. I've never understood societal boundaries. Good job, Mom... I was well named. Barbara means "stranger."

I'm in touch with my inner savage, my primitive wild woman. I think that must be part of any creative soul, part of anyone who has the ability to look at the clouds and see elephants cavorting with goldfish. Most definitely there is a sense of savageness in making art and in writing. There is a need to go to a darker instinct in order to translate the soul gunk into something tangible. Well, for me there is.

I joke with people that I'm a direct descendant of Attila the Hun. Given my Hungarian heritage, that may or may not be true. I say it anyway, adding that I tend to storm the castle now and apologize later... if at all.

Uncivilized? Yes. While it isn't obvious to everyone upon meeting me, I tend to go against the grain of standard civility and social norms: 

-I'm blunt in my opinions and I don't hold back when I need to express them. I'm pragmatic and unfluffy. I tend to not like what everyone else likes.

-I've never been a fan of Elvis Presley. I think his music has a ring of insincerity to it. Right around the same time that Elvis was being lauded, there was a humble black man playing guitar (Playing?! He made that thing talk!), hopping across the stage, and singing his heart out. His musical influence upon rockers for the past 60+ years is tremendous and largely untold. That man was Chuck Berry - he should have been the one that the music world crowned and hailed as The King

-While I'm very well read, I think little of the works of Shakespeare. Sure, he came up with some great lines, and sure, you have to read his work with a nod toward the age in which it was written, but even so, it's all a bit overblown and fanciful. 

-I'm not girly-girl. I don't do manicures or pedicures or hairstyles or make-up or endless clothes shopping. I'm the one picking steak out of my teeth while others nibble on salad and talk of fashion.

-I'd rather sit by the river eating a cold take-out hamburger than sit in a restaurant amid 50 other patrons and have waitstaff stop by every five minutes to interrupt my contemplation or conversation just to ask if everything is okay and do I need anything else.

-Unlike most of my peers, I have absolutely no adoration or nostalgic yearning for the 80's - I don't like 80's music, 80's TV shows, 80's attitudes, and 80's hair and clothing styles make me want to regurgitate everything I've eaten since 1967. 

-I'm an atheist. Never mind that I do have a solid code of ethics and a ridiculously spiritual life, non-atheists tend to see a declaration of atheism as spewed sewage from the mindset of someone who is savage and uncivilized. Atheism is often seen as something that must be cleaned up, swept into a bin, and incinerated.

You see? I am a Barbarian. And that's just fine with me. Keep your clean white togas and well-ordered society. I'll be over here in my sweats, getting hopped up on caffeine, painting, writing, cussing in true, rowdy, barbarian form, unapologetically attacking castles, and running wild through the woods.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A is for Adore

This month I am participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Today, April 1, we begin with the letter "A".

verb: to regard with the utmost esteem, love, and respect; to honor

In the book Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Anne Tyler writes, "There ought to be a whole separate language, she thought, for words that are truer than other words - for perfect absolute truth."

As a writer, and as a reader, I often find my thoughts drifting toward that quote. So many times I write, thinking, I'm not saying exactly what I mean to say. It isn't, as Tyler wishes, perfect absolute truth. That feeling is never more prevalent when I refer to love, and especially the love that I feel for my mate.

I can fling clichés all over the place that nail my feelings for him, but also somehow fall short and... well... sound cliché. I'm crazy for him. I'm head over heels for him. He makes the sun rise. Every day with him is like Christmas. I love him. All are true statements, but none of them the perfect absolute truth.

Let's face it, there are lots and lots of people that I love. By love I don't mean a generic, I love everybody (which, I nearly do were it not for a handful who just make it so damned difficult). I mean, there are people I love - people I identify as being part of my tribe; people I'd drop my cup of coffee and chocolate for in order to be there for them; people who affect my life in such a way that I can't imagine it without them. That kind of love. I feel it all the time. But, the love I feel for my mate? There's something esoteric there (as there should be), that I haven't been able, wordsmith that I am, to put into words. To say with perfect absolute truth.

The other day I was thumbing through the dictionary. If you know me at all, you know that's just who I am and you'll love me anyway. So, then. I was thumbing through the dictionary and came across the word adore. I'm not sure I've ever looked at the definition of it. This time I did, and nearly burst into tears as I proclaimed to my art supplies and bookshelves, "That's IT! That's perfect absolute truth for how I feel about him!"

Adore fits. It's right. It's right in terms of how I feel and it's right in terms of how I want to be perceived and understood whenever I talk about him. He is an impressive human being, but in my life, which I'm blessed enough to say is full of impressive human beings, he is the one I hold in utmost esteem, because I know he holds my heart with more reverence than anyone else in this world. He is the one I love beyond all others. He is the one I respect, not so much because of who he is to me, but because of who he is to others. His kindness isn't just for me; his willingness is unflagging; he shares his intelligence; his sense of humor knows no bounds; his humanity stretches to everyone he meets. I told you, he is an impressive human being. It is my honor, not just to choose him, but to be chosen by him.

I adore him, in all the vast depth of that word. I adore him.

That is the perfect absolute truth.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Surrender, Dorothy!

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the release of the movie, The Wizard of Oz. The movie has been among my top five favorites since before I could even talk. Not only do I know all the songs, but if pressed, I could probably recite all the lines along with the film. I read through all of L. Frank Baum’s books at an early age. All this is to say that I can’t remember a time when I didn't identify with Dorothy Gale. I can’t remember a time when she wasn't at the top of my list of literary and film heroines.

For all the times I've watched it, there’s something I did not notice until I watched the movie (for the 837th or so time) just a couple of weeks ago. The Wicked Witch was right. You heard me. The Wicked Witch was right when, in a fit of pique, she wrote across the sky, “Surrender, Dorothy!” Sure, she had the wrong idea about the terms of Dorothy's surrender, but she was on point with the surrendering part. And, given all of Dorothy’s co-dependence on others, a good-sized surrender was imminent.

Think about it. Back on the farm, Dorothy relied on Uncle Henry and Aunt Em to deal with the ever dyspeptic Miss Gulch. She relied on farmhands Hunk, Hickory, and Zeke not just for entertainment, but to rescue her from the pigs - a predicament she got herself into. When she ran away from home, she looked to Professor Marvel for a solution. Then, when she was whisked far away and over the rainbow, just as she dreamed and wished, she still wasn't happy. All she could think about was getting back home, and she was willing to rely on any number of characters to help her. (“Helping the little lady along, are we, my fine gentlemen?”)

Dorothy ran headlong into that age-old classic truism: wherever you go, there you are.

Of course, wanting to get back home was an altruistic, albeit rather guilt-laden decision. Dorothy felt badly for how she’d treated Aunt Em by running off. She wanted to go back and make amends, be more helpful, take less for granted, in short, be a better niece. She was tenacious in her quest and undaunted by setbacks. The only time she showed any real fear was when she thought she might not be able to get back to Kansas so that she could set things right with her aunt. Also to her credit, and one of the things I love most about Dorothy, was that she wasn't put off by differences in those she knew or met. Looks or abilities or disabilities meant little to her; she accepted everyone as they were.

Even with all her good attributes, Dorothy was due a reckoning. She put all her hopes in others, left her expectations in their hands. Doing that rarely ends well - at the very least it doesn't end the way we’d like it to. Her friends helped her get to the wizard. The wizard did nothing for them but point out that they were not as flawed as they thought themselves to be. (Nothing like a little external validation to give you confidence in your abilities, huh?) He had no solid way to tell Dorothy that, and being flawed and not just a little co-dependent himself, he catered to her co-dependency by offering her a ride.  Dorothy would have learned little in the end if Toto hadn't leaped from her arms, causing a Rube Goldberg effect that sent the wizard floating off without her.

That was when Dorothy gave up, completely and without any exception. She surrendered. Glinda saw that moment and seized it as an opportunity to enlighten Dorothy. “You've always had the power.” Dorothy's eyes widen in recognition of the truth (it’s subtle, but such a brilliant acting moment by Judy Garland). When pushed to reveal what she had learned, Dorothy says, “… if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire, I won't look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with.”

We like to talk a good game about finding our desires, our passions, our joie de vivre. Yay! We found them - as if they're Easter eggs hidden from us by some Universal bunny. The truth is, they were never lost. They were never not there. We need only surrender. We need to stop looking so hard in every direction, expecting them to magically appear. We need to stop relying on every person who crosses our path to supply them. We need only surrender.

Surrender. You've had the power within you all along.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Wild Woman and a Really Big Circle

Some of the circles and loops in our lives are tiny, so tiny they'd barely make it as pinkie rings. Other circles and loops are vast, spanning years, decades even, and the myriad people encompassed therein. In the past couple of weeks, I've found myself wandering rather gleefully in one of those great big circles. And friends, this particular circle comes with a campfire that is redolent with the sweetest wood smoke, and it is warm, and everything I expected. There is singing around that fire. Oh, baby, is there ever singing. It's loud. And there's dancing. It's wild. It's freakin' ineffable.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me take you back to May 3, 1998, Rockville, MD. I was having one of my monthly Sunday breakfasts with my dear friend Jessie. It was actually our second one in less than two weeks, but we knew it was probably our last. Two weeks prior, I had blurted out to Jesse that I was leaving my husband and moving to the west coast at the end of May. She was the first person I told. In fact, she was really the only person I told. To everyone else I simply said that I was moving and let them figure out the logistics for themselves. It wasn't that she was my only friend, but at the time, Jessie was my only friend who, I felt, I could tell anything to and still be loved in return.

So, she knew. And there we were two weeks later, having breakfast, when she reached into her bag and said, "I have something for you. This book changed my life. I bought you a copy, because I think you're headed toward something big and you need to read it." With that, she handed me a brand new copy of Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, PhD. Jessie had written on the dedication page, "Dear Barb, This book comes with lots and lots of love and the hope and assurance that you'll soar to your dreams each and every moment of each and every day. I love you - Jess." Stuck between that page and the following were two crisp one hundred dollar bills.

Tears sprang to my eyes. I said, "Oh, Jess... you didn't have to... this is... I... " Jessie just looked at me and said, "Go find your life and don't look back." I did just that. Two weeks later, with a couple of suitcases and my sewing machine in tow, I boarded a Greyhound. As I very slowly made my way West, I devoured Estés's book. Everything I'd ever felt and known deep down, all my crazy ideas and unknown longings for... what? All of it was in her book and her explanations and suggestions made so much sense. Besides all that, it was a ridiculously good read. Just to give you a small forkful to taste, here is the Foreword: We are all filled with a longing for the wild. There are few culturally sanctioned antidotes for this yearning. We were taught to feel shame for such a desire. We grew our hair long and used it to hide our feelings. But the shadow of Wild Woman still lurks behind us during our days and in our nights. No matter where we are, the shadow that trots behind us is definitely four-footed.

Here I am, nearly 16 years later, living my dreams, now able to hear the sound of feet and the chuff of breath and smell the musky sex of the Wild Woman within. I pick up the book and read from it now and then. As you can see from the picture, it is well loved - it has done some wandering with me, the pages are dog-eared and yellowing and the binding is beginning to crack. There's a word for how I feel about this book, and that word is reverence.

Now then, about those circles and loops I mentioned earlier. I've been part of a writing group for a few months and a couple of weeks ago, one of my fellow writers turned me on to The Wild Woman Community, saying that they were looking for writers. I sent them an email, they were interested, I jumped through hoops, they liked me, I liked them, they said please join us, I said yes, and the bonfire was set ablaze. So it is that I am to be a Wild Woman Writer and, as well, I will be collaborating with them on some artsy stuff to sell in the marketplace. I hold this in great honor.

Like all things in life, because circles, especially big ones, like to gather in all manner of stuff, it is an honor with a bittersweet edge to it.

Just two weeks after I made my way West, my beautiful friend Jessie died very suddenly. It was one of those things in life that made everything in me feel like it was made of glass. Jessie's death left me fragile and weeping for the loss of my friend as I clutched my treasured book with her handwriting in it. To this day, I can't touch the book without feeling Jessie's hands. I can't read the chapters without seeing her eyes. And I know, in all my creative undertakings, she's keeping watch and nudging me on as one of my Muses. But, with the advent of this new endeavor? Why, can't you see her? She's dancing around the fire, hair flying as she whirls, smiling that big smile of hers and laughing just for the joy in it.

That is why, nearly sixteen years later, I once again raise my mug full of coffee, smile through tears, and say, "Here's to you, Jessie Herman. I love you, my friend."

Loop... chuff... circle... sound of footsteps... whirl... scent of musk... pop of a bonfire log... and a new circle begins.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Let's Hear It For the Girl

I am writing this off of the prompt, "Dear Younger Self" given by Ariana Browning at The Blogging Lounge. I almost didn't accept the challenge because... well... it's kind of been done before. Plus, do I really want to revisit that sad little urchin again? Then I chastised myself. She wasn't always a sad little urchin. Maybe I should go back and point out the things she should celebrate about her life. And, so...


Dear Younger Self,

You were always a curious child. I mean that in a couple of ways. You were curious, as in perplexing, because you didn't think like every other kid on the block or in the classroom. That's because you were curious, as in auto-didactic. Although you weren't very vocal about it, you were the why kid, the how kid. You were the kid who couldn't stand not knowing a thing, and in knowing a thing, you found 27 other things you had to know. You were bright and eager for knowledge. That's why you were allowed to start school when you were four, and that's why you graduated a year younger than most of your classmates.

You were accused of being silly. It was exactly that, too, an accusation. "Oh, you're being silly again." "Stop being so silly." Those who said things like that were idiots and maybe even jealous, or perhaps they were blind and couldn't see what fantastic worlds you were trying to reveal. You weren't silly. Goofy, maybe, but not silly. You were imaginative. Pretending allowed you to dive into places where you couldn't (or wouldn't) otherwise go. You took tiny sparks and built huge fires that lit the night and saved you from darkness. You wrangled thoughts that were too big for your tiny self and put them in an order that made sense to you. How is that silly? Dear girl, that is profound, and mature, and fucking impressive.

You had the ability to feel people's moods before they spoke. Sometimes before they even walked in the room. You had a way of... just knowing. That's not weird and it's nothing to run from. It's a pretty cool gift to have, kiddo. It's called intuition and empathy - not rare gifts, but not all together common either. Hone those and use them. Even though it sometimes feels a little freaky to know what's coming, and sometimes it'll hurt because the weight of what you feel is overwhelming, it'll still help you more than you know. You'll be able to "be there" for people in ways that nobody else can.

You loved to laugh (still do), and you loved to make other people laugh. You liked to entertain, not so much because you wanted the accolades, but because you loved to see people smiling. It's a shame you were told to tone it down, to keep it quiet, to not break out from the rest of the group and let it ring. You had a voice that was true even then. You should have been allowed to stand tall and look 'em all in the eye and sing out.

I remember one beautiful summer day, you were walking home from the neighborhood swimming pool, towel wrapped around your waist, hair dripping water down your back. The sun was shining, the trees were green, and that ubiquitous scent of full-on summer was intoxicating. You were happy and you acknowledged it by singing, "If you're happy and you know it..." All the way home, you sang and clapped and stomped and twirled and whatever else was required to acknowledge your happiness. I'm certain that anybody looking out their windows at the kid dancing and singing her merry way down the street was infected by it. You opened the front door and there was your sister, shaking her head, disapproving, "Oh my god, you're such a dork!" How sad it is that you took seriously the one person whose words you should have brushed off like a pesky mosquito. The world could have used a lot more of your happy singing and clumsy, but sincere dancing.

Back to that unbridled imagination of yours. You don't know it yet, but it's possibly your greatest asset. It will take you everywhere and anywhere. You were making up scenes and stories in your head before you even fully understood that that's what you were doing. You called it, because that's what you were told to call it, "pretending." In truth, it was inventing and creating, and in those things, discovering. Each time you "pretended" you were showing yourself how to understand and cope. You were taking what you had within you and making your world better. Ridiculous? Folly? Impractical? No, child. Intelligence. Gumption. Sophistication.

Remember the time you had the nightmare at Grandma's house? Daddy came to get you and you pressed your chubby little cheek to his rough, whiskery neck, breathing in the scent of cigarettes and coffee and turpentine. Daddy patted your hair, saying, "Shhh... s'okay... Daddy's got you, Punkin...shhh." You've never felt safer than you did in that moment. Nearly 50 years later that moment still shines, because I know now as well as you did back then, that was the real Daddy. That's the Daddy who loved every atom of you and who saw you for the precious girl you were. It's not so surprising that scents of coffee and cigarettes and paint are, to this day, comforting smells.

Here's what's so wonderful, bright, beautiful girl. You're still here. You're still alive and well inside of all this wild imagination and these crazy dreams. You're still the one who delights in the extraordinary of the ordinary day. You still sing. You write. You paint. You play. You laugh. There are probably some people who still don't understand, who still might find you foolish, but this woman you've become has decided that those kind can just go pound sand. You're the one who, every morning, kicks off the covers and belts out (if only inside my mind) the words of Maria von Trapp, "What will this day be like? I wonder..."

I delight in you, little girl. You're my best friend and I love you down to the last atom,

PS Somewhere Over the Rainbow is still our favorite song to sing, but we try not to belt it out while we're on the toilet and our voice is cracking from laryngitis. Well, that's not entirely true. We might just do it, if we're the only one home.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Just When You Thought You Were Safe

It has taken me nearly three days and a couple of nights of scattered sleep to be able to write this.

For those who don't know me or who haven't read anything else on my blog, let me give you a little back story. My father was a raging alcoholic. Emphasis on the raging. Fuck it. Emphasis on the alcoholic too. Let's not mince words at this point in the game. I spent a lot of my childhood feeling scared, cowering, afraid to speak up or out, and ultimately, feeling that I was responsible for everything wrong in the world. If I would be good, if I would be helpful, if I would play piano better, if I would... even though the drunken monster liked to tell us that we were no good.

That was then. I grew up. I spent a lot of time sorting out my feelings and dealing with them, after first deciding that it was okay to have any and all of those feelings. I worked hard at not allowing myself to be a victim. I even got to the point where I could separate the monster from the loving father. I forgave. I forgave both him and myself. I learned to love myself. I learned to be loved by others. I found peace.

*screeching discordant halt*

Fast forward to this past Sunday night at around 11:30. Steve and I were snuggled up in bed, feeding our House of Cards addiction. We heard the front screen door rattle and shut. At first we shrugged it off. It had been a windy day. Then we heard it again, followed by someone fumbling with the dead bolt. Steve launched from the bed and, in what can only be described as ninja panther style, was down the stairs.

I heard him hesitate, listening for a moment. Then, using his foot as a brace to keep the door from opening all the way, he flipped the deadbolt and yanked the door open. The surprised person on the other side thumped against the door, and managed to get an arm inside along with a slurred, "Thfuck?" Steve, baritone voice set on no-nonsense, barked, "What the fuck do you want?! Leave now, I'm calling 911!" The drunk voice answer, "Z'my fuggin' aparmin..." At this point, Steve realized it was our neighbor, Lad. He yelled, "You live two doors down. Get the fuck out of here!" Lad persisted, "Nuhnuhnuh... z'my aparmin... I live ear..." Steve flipped on the light, opened the door and said, "Does this look like your apartment?! It's my apartment. I live here. Now get out and go home." At this point, Lad spied the sofa and decided it was going to be a worthy receptacle for his inebriated ass, "I'm juz gn laydown..." At this point, Steve turned him around and shoved him out the door, slammed the door shut, and shot the lock back into place. It should be noted that Steve has lived here going on 10 years, and Lad has lived in his place for over 5 years. Lad lives in the end unit, we're the third unit in. What I'm trying to say here is that it wasn't a mistake on his part, it was pure, way down deep in the bottle(s) drunkenness.

Steve came back to bed. There was no further incident. We snuggled up and finished the show we were watching.


I've been feeling off the past couple of days. The frightened little girl raised all her concerns again. All it took was a drunk voice and an angry voice, even though neither were directed at me. I wasn't even in the room (but then, I often wasn't even way back when). I've felt unsure of myself. I've been questioning my judgment and ideas. That's not like me, not in this decade. So, I've spent several hours dissecting stuff I thought was long gone, re-suturing and bandaging and murmuring, "It'll be okay. It'll be okay. Shhh... it'll be okay."

What changed it for me was recalling two words that Steve spoke when he came back upstairs. He said, "Poor Lad." As angry as he was, he felt sorry for someone who was that far gone, someone who clearly has no control over his life, no tools to help himself, no joy, no love. Poor Lad. Indeed.

That was when I realized, this isn't mine to claim. I am loved. I am loved and I have someone who will be my advocate. I am loved and the person who loves me will do everything in his power to protect me. I love, and it isn't just a warm-hearted thing. I love - myself, that scared little girl, Steve, poor drunken Lad, my father, my mother, my friends, my enemies - I love all the way out on the limb down to the tiniest, tender branches.

And that is one safe place to be.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Could You Be Loved and Be Loved?

You should be loved.

This isn’t some Valentine’s push to get all the lonely hearts hooked up. I happen to be one of those freaks who really enjoyed being single. Of course, I really enjoy being in a relationship too. Regardless, I’m just saying, you should be loved.

I don’t care if you’re single, married, in a relationship, wondering what if, out on your first date, have lots of friends, are happy that you have lots of cats, or just lookin’. You should be loved.

We don’t deserve to be loved, and I‘m tired of people saying that. No, now. Settle down and hang on a minute. I’ve never liked hearing someone say, “You’re such a good person. You deserve to be loved!” As if love is a reward. As if love is on the same level as, “Thanks for mowing the lawn and pruning the trees. You deserve an extra beer or two!” Love isn’t on the same level as, “I’ve worked out every day this week. I deserve to indulge in a little dessert.” We don’t deserve love.

We should be loved. Simple as that.

I was folding laundry and I felt his eyes on me. I looked up. “I love you,” he said. I was ready to reply with our usual style of banter and say something like, “Yeah, only because I washed the skid marks out of your undies.” But the look in his eyes stopped me, and I only smiled. Well, I gave him the smile.

We should be adored.

We should be adored not because our bodies are in perfect condition, or because we have great hair, skin and teeth, or because we’re smart, or funny, or because we did something nice. We should be adored because something about us sitting there in our old sweats, hair knotted up in an ancient scrunchy, doing some every day, mundane task… something says, “I’m so alive.”

He gets up ridiculously early every morning. He insists that I continue to sleep a little longer. To help with that, he puts his pillows lengthwise on the bed next to me. That way I’ll think he’s still there, stay in my snuggle spot, and snooze on. The first time he did that, I gave the pillows a wry, sleepy smile and muttered, “Tricky bastard.” But then tears sprang to my eyes as a huge wave of love washed over me. In that moment, I knew I was loved, so very loved.

We should be treasured.

We should be treasured not for the car we drive, or the way we dress, or the house we own, or the furniture we have, or for the material things we bring to the table. We should be treasured for the kindnesses we do without even thinking about them. We should be treasured because we have a way of being “there” even when we’re not right there.

I know, you’re rolling your eyes right now. You’re giving me that look that says, “See? Yeah. You’ve got Mr. Perfect. It’s easy for you.” It’s not. Mr. Perfect is human and so am I, and we‘re prone to all kinds of human-type flaws. Besides, it’s not the relationship that is significant here. I could just as easily have written about friendships that touch my life in that same way. I could write about family that touches my life that same way. And… wait for it… I can tell you that I try to treat myself the same way.


Nobody knows as well as I do how difficult it can be to look in the mirror and say, “You are loved. You are adored. You are treasured. You are loved by me. You are adored by me. You are treasured by me.” It took me a long time to even say it. It took me a year before I started to believe it. But once I did believe it? Oh, the amazing, surprising, humbling, profound stuff that started rolling my way… my beloved was part of that. I wouldn’t be able to appreciate the things he does for me and the beautiful person he is in my life if I didn’t also believe that I should be loved, that I should be adored, that I should be treasured.

You should be loved.

By you.

Friday, January 24, 2014

It's Always the Quiet Ones

The other day a friend asked me to take a look at a writing project she's been working on. She said those five words that always put dread into my soul, "I want your honest opinion." It was with double dread that I agreed, because she really is a dear friend and I love her bigger than the universe. So, I was already making up my mind as to how I was going to say in a very diplomatic way, "It's nice, but...." or even worse, "I love you. Don't quit your day job."

Fifteen minutes into reading her work I completely forgot that I was reading her work. In a good way. I thought, "Wow. This author really has her shit together!" Then I remembered that it was my beautiful friend whose words I was reading. I dropped the pages, grabbed my phone, and texted her, "You have no idea how great you are, do you?" I also let her know that it was a serious question. I wasn't just looking for her to say, "Aw, you liked it? You're so sweet." Because that kind of shit makes me gag - you know, when someone asks for your opinion, good or bad, and dismisses it - that pat on the head for catering to someone's need for external validation.

She didn't do that. Her reply was kind, mentioning that I had inspired her, but it was obvious that her real answer was, "No. I have no real idea how brilliant I am." Then I jumped on Facebook and three other friends had almost apologetically posted their writing or artwork. They presented their precious - yes, precious, because I know first-hand that it feels like handing your infant baby over to a complete stranger - they presented their precious crafted bits with words like, "Here's what I was messing with... LOL..." The nervous "laugh" at the end made it clear that they felt like they were presenting a dirty diaper rather than a beloved child for everyone to look at.

It pissed me off.

It pissed me off so much that my next move was to post the following as my status update:
I am absolutely flabbergasted by the number of very talented people I know who are afraid of their own talent. Yes, I'm also looking in the mirror when I say that. What kind of horrible shit have we all been listening to that tells us that what we love doing, that what we're really good at, what makes us feel alive is a pathetic waste of time? Well, friends n' neighbors, it's time to listen to that other voice - the one that says, "This is you loving and alive."

Comments that followed seemed like somewhat nervous applause. You know the kind. It says, "I like what you put out there, but please don't look too closely in my direction." There was also a lot of talk from people about the negative voices they've heard, and are still hearing, that keep them from running wild with their own power. Trust me, I know those voices. I've got a freakin' stadium full of them. But I've learned, almost mostly, to listen to the smaller voice. It's the voice of a young girl with a slightly wobbly smile saying, "We are meant for this. This is our gift."

We've been taught by society and our families that fully embracing our gifts is arrogant, that it's conceited to say, "I'm good at this and I want to take it further." That's just so many flavors of bullshit! There is absolutely no hubris in acknowledging your gifts! Let me say that again, there is absolutely no hubris in acknowledging your gifts! They're gifts, after all, given to you by God, The Universe, The Flying Spaghetti Monster... wherever you want to believe they come from. The real crime is when you don't acknowledge them. The real evil is when they are disused, misused, and worst of all, unused.

So, what's the big deal about your little gift, your teeny tiny talent in a vast universe of talented people? Why take note of it, much less put effort into it? Because, guess what really happens when you completely embrace, love, hug, kiss, have raw, naked jungle sex with your gifts? You become selfless, quite the opposite of the arrogance everyone warned you about. You inspire others to use their gifts and you champion them using their gifts.

Things I've written inspired my friend to write, and that she writes so beautifully, that whatever I did made her let loose with her glorious voice... well, I'm humbled. That's a tremendous responsibility to shoulder. I meant what I told her in response, "If the things I've written inspired you to write, to let that beautiful light shine. If that and nothing else comes of my writing, then it's all worth it. I don't need anything else."

That is why I do anything and that why it is worth doing.

So, this year I'm writing a book. Because there are amazing people in my life who inspire me. Because it needs to be written. Because the voice of that young girl with the slightly wobbly smile rings with truth and I've decided to listen to her.

Do you see how this works? Good. Do something about it.

Class dismissed.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Who Am I?

A while back I wrote a tiny piece of fiction titled Have You Ever Seen The Rain? It remains one of my favorite pieces because of the way I wrote it. I've since confessed to others that I didn't so much write it, but that I took dictation from the main character, Luke. Luke was deep in my head and has remained there. I often think about him, knowing that there is far more to his story than what I allowed at the time. Sometimes I go back and look at Have You Ever Seen The Rain? and say to my internal Luke, "Who are you?"

This week I received a prompt from Ariana at The Blogging Lounge. The prompt is, "Who am I?" From the moment I saw the prompt, I heard Luke responding to my question. So, I'm going to see what else he has to say. Join me...


"Who am I?" asked the woman in the tie-dyed peasant blouse. She was just inches from my face and smelled like Juicy Fruit gum.
"That's right! Star! And what's your name?"
"Woog?!" Star laughed. "Now what kind of a silly name is that?" I doubt that Star knew that my name was Luke. It's my understanding that the whole kidnapping was a spur of the moment type of thing. "No, Honey. Your name is James. You're my Sweet Baby James."
"Zaimz! Sea beebeep Zaimz!"
Star swept me into a hug and kissed the top of my head.

I remember that. A psychologist once told me that there was no way I could remember it, that two and a half years old is too young for such a defined memory. Here's where I give you a diatribe about shrinks being bullshit factories and panaceas for the masses. I'm sure there are good and worthy shrinks out there, but by and large? In the humble opinion of yours truly, they just like to have someone pay them to spout their own feeble theories. In my book, "Here's a good coping skill to learn" really means, "You're doing it wrong. Try it my way."  Sure, it's under the guise of helpfulness, but asking someone how they feel and then telling them how not to feel it? That just turns me into a whole different color of stubborn donkey.

All that is to say, I remember that conversation with Star. I'm certain of it. I don't remember them taking me and I don't remember the drive down to California, and a lot of those years of my childhood are just a blur of books that I read. But I remember that. Maybe something in my young brain blew a whistle and said, "Hey. Remember this. Someone is telling you you're not who you think you are. Someone is telling you who to be." Sure, those are thoughts too big for a toddler, but you want to know what I think? I think, no matter how old, when your innocence is robbed, or in this case kidnapped, it leaves a marker. It leaves some sort of Here's-Where-It-Happened Notice.

She never asked me to call her Mommy or Mom. She insisted I call her Star. I think it was her way of skirting the kidnapping issue, her way of ignoring the illegality of it all. She wasn't trying to be my mother, she was just taking care of me for a while. For a nine-fucking-years while. Let's face it, she didn't keep me in that basement for any other reason than to protect herself and Dwight.

Dwight was Star's husband. He's the one who pulled me from the playground when my mother looked away for a moment. He did it for no other reason than one would buy a bouquet of flowers. I was a gift for the lady - such pity that she wasn't simply hungry for an ice cream cone that day. I can almost hear the conversation between them. "Dwight? Dwight, Honey? I want a baby. I'd love to have a baby boy to hold and sing to and read to. Oh, Dwight. Wouldn't a baby just be sweet to have?" Dwight, never big on discussions or long answers, and a firm believer in the misogynistic Keep-Her-Happy-and-She'll-Shut-Up Theory, would have answered, "I'll gitchya one."

For a long time, I thought maybe Dwight was the one who insisted I never leave the basement, but I've since come to terms with the fact that it was just as much Star's idea. I was her secret treasure. She wanted me to herself, didn't want anyone else giving me time and attention. It was probably a boon that I didn't know any better. I had no real memory of any world beyond those walls. My world was made of books. It is to Star's credit that she taught me to read. I was a voracious reader. I didn't question that there were people out there in the world writing them, much less that there were people living those experiences. Star made it clear that they were all fiction, which meant pretend. "They're just for fun, James. They're like your dreams. You can imagine all you want, but they're not real."

When I was 11 years old and was found and brought back to my parents, I had a difficult time thinking of it as real. It felt like one of those pretend stories. It felt so pretend that I couldn't talk for about a week. I mean, who talks out loud to books? It took a little while before I felt safe enough, no, connected enough to my surroundings before I would speak. I'd like to tell you that it was my parents and their love and attention that pulled me into this particular reality. I'd like to tell you that, but I can't. What connected me was the thumping rhythm of my Dad's rock n' roll songs and the first time I felt the rain. That low bass thump spread up through my toes and tied around my ankles and tethered me to the ground in such a comforting way. The rain? That was nature's way of baptizing me, of claiming me as her own. That was when I began to realize that I was no longer James. I was Luke. I had returned to the land where Luke existed.

Not long ago I started dating this terrific woman. We met on the side of the road, both of us trying to rescue a stray dog before it came to harm. At the time I was wearing an old shabby flannel shirt over a threadbare t-shirt, and a pair of jeans that had seen better days. So when I showed up at her place a couple of days later, clean shaven, wearing a sport coat and carrying flowers, her eyes lit up with amusement and she sort of laughed as she asked, "Who are you?!" "Who am I? Why, purdy lady, folks in these here parts call me Luke. But once upon a time I was Sea Beebeep Zaimz. Come to dinner with me and I'll tell you all about it."

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Cave: An Obvious Allegory

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was a woman who lived in a cave. She loved her cave. It was dark and nobody came near. No one could see her ugliness. Of the ugliness she was certain. She knew that her appearance was hideous and that the scars she bore would surely frighten even the most stalwart soul. So, she hid in the cave, emerging only in the deepest night just to feel the breeze on her skin.

One day an old man happened upon the cave. She heard him stumbling around in the dark and pressed herself into the cold stone, praying that he wouldn't notice her, but of course he did. Campfires don't start themselves. "Is someone there?" he asked quietly in the dark. "Please, don't be afraid. I'm only seeking shelter from the cold wind that's blowing." She said nothing in return, hoping that he would leave. But he persisted, "Please. I'm sorry to disturb you. All I ask is a warm spot to rest. I am getting along in years and the chill outside is so painful to these old bones." Finally she replied in a voice so soft that it was nearly a whisper, "You may stay and rest; come get warm by the fire. Only please don't look at me." "You've no fear of that. I am nearly blind. I can only see lights and large images with these ancient eyes." The woman relaxed at that confession, "Please. Come sit by the fire. We can share a cup of tea."

For a long while they said nothing to each other but for a few pleasantries. They sat on opposite sides of the fire, both sipping tea and listening to the song of the wind as it whistled across the mouth of the cave. Finally the old man broke the silence, "May I ask your name?" "Of course," she replied, "It's Anika." "Hmmm. Anika, what an unusual name." He said. "Ann was my grandmother's name," Anika explained. "When I was named after her, everyone wanted to differentiate between the two of us in some way, so I was called Anika - meaning Little Ann. And now I ask for your name." The old man smiled, "You may call me Tucson. Not my real name o'course, but it's been so long since anyone called me Jeremiah that I'm not sure I'd answer to it if you did." "Tucson it is then," Anika said.

Anika took a good long look at Tucson. He was very old indeed, his face so furrowed with lines and wrinkles that his features had all but disappeared into them. If she had to guess, she would put him at close to 100 years old. Surely he wasn't that old though. Nobody that old would be hiking around in this weather, she thought, in any weather, really. She was lost in thought when again Tucson broke the silence. "May I ask another question?" Then he continued before she could answer one way or another. "What are you doing way out here, hiding in a cave?" "It's kind of a long story," Anika replied. Tucson grinned widely and spread his hands in an all-encompassing gesture, "It appears we have some spare time here. Tell on!"

Anika was surprised at her lack of reserve. Perhaps it was because Tucson couldn't see her. Perhaps it was because he was a stranger, or that he seemed so kind. She began, "I... I ran away from home when I was a girl. My parents couldn't bear to look at me. You see, I have scars, deep, ugly scars. My mother always told me that my scars were horrible and she couldn't stand to see something so unpleasant. My father said that my scars made him sad and he didn't want a daughter who could never experience life - who could never be of use to anyone, that's what he said. So, not wanting to cause them any pain or concern, I ran. For a long time I wandered the woods, but every now and then someone would come along and see me. I didn't want anyone to have to look at me, so after some searching I found this cave. This is where I've lived ever since."

Tucson didn't say anything for a time, although he nodded a few times as if he was having a discussion inside his head. He took a big swallow of his tea and rubbed at the rough, gray stubble on his cheek. "These scars," he began. "The scars. Uh. Are they your own doing?" "No! Of course not!" replied Anika, feeling a bit put out that he would ask such a thing. "These scars were the doing of... others. O-o-others who claimed they loved me and said they needed to prepare me for the cruelty of the real world. Others who said I was weak and didn't know what was good for me, and that it was their mission to show me." At this last part, Anika's voice broke and she wiped a tear from her cheek. Tucson looked as if the tea he had swallowed must have been terribly bitter. "So," he said, "You are not responsible for your scars. They are the fault of these... others. If that's so, why are you the one hiding? It is they who should be ashamed and hiding! Those others, along with your oblivious parents, not you." "Even so," Anika said. "I must shield everyone from having to look at me. I don't want to make people feel uncomfortable or frightened." Tucson said nothing to this. Setting his cup aside, he only said, "Well, it has been a long day and I am weary. If you don't mind, I'd like to rest now." Anika agreed and, on opposite sides of the fire, they both fell into sleep.

The next morning Anika woke to find that the old man was gone. Then she heard his voice coming from outside the cave. He was singing a song, his voice gentle and low and sweet. She crept toward the entrance to the cave to listen better. She saw that his arms were outstretched as if he was gathering the whole world into an embrace. When his song ended, he turned toward her, "Anika, Good Morning to you. You should come out here! The cold wind has left us and this blessedly warm sunshine has taken its place." "I can't," she told him. "I never go out in daylight." "Never? Ah, but to feel this light on your skin! Like being brushed by all the feathers of all the angels that ever flew. You must try it!" "I... I can't." "You can! Who's to see? Please, come out of hiding, even if but for a moment of this bliss."

Anika took a step and then hesitated. I can't, she thought. This is wrong. This is against everything I've been told. She looked at Tucson, standing in the sun, embracing the wind, seemingly oblivious of his age and the aches and pains that must come with having lived so long. Anika took another step. Tucson heard her moving, but stood with is back to her and said nothing. He knew that all the cajoling in the world would be for naught if she didn't decide to take the steps on her own, and if his years had taught him nothing else, they had taught him patience. It wasn't long before Anika was standing beside him. He could tell that she was trembling. "What is it?" he asked. Her voice choked with tears she replied, "It's just. I didn't know that... I... I've never seen anything so beautiful as this day! I should have snuck out here years ago." Tucson only nodded. He put a hand on her shoulder, making it seem as though he was simply and old man in need of a little support. She allowed it and they stood that way in the sun for some time, neither one making a sound.

Tucson knew it was a make or break question, but it needed to be asked. "Anika... may I touch your face? Please, let an old man share your pain and sorrow." Anika was startled, but surprised herself by saying, "Yes. Yes, you may." She turned toward him and he raised a big, gnarled, weathered hand toward her cheek. With more gentleness than she thought possible, he touched her jaw. As he worked his way up her face toward her brow, she was certain that any second he would draw back, repulsed. He didn't. Instead he leaned forward and planted a soft kiss on her forehead. "Child. You've been lied to. I feel no scars. Your face is as smooth as a June rose petal." "That can't be!" Anika exclaimed. "I was always told that my scars were ugly and that I should keep them hidden from people!" "Anika, if you are scarred, it is on the inside only. It is the wounds inflicted upon your spirit that have made you feel ugly and unlovable. But I assure you, neither of those is true. You are beautiful, you are lovable. You deserve to be seen. What's more, you're depriving other people of the great pleasure of knowing you, of seeing the light in you, and hearing the sweet clear voice of you."

Anika was floored. The sky spun overhead as she tried to soak up Tucson's words. It couldn't be true, but the old man had no reason to lie to her. It could be a trick, but what would he gain with such cruel trickery. No, it was no trick. She saw the sincerity in his clouded eyes, heard the truth in his rumbling voice. Still, she said, "It just can't be. I belong in the cave." Tucson's only response was, "I'd like to show you something. May I?" He held out his hand. Although afraid to leave the security of the cave that was just a few steps behind them, Anika put her shaking hand in his. They began to walk.

The further they were from the cave, the less insecure Anika felt. Finally they came to a small pond in the woods. Tucson said, "I need to rest a bit. This seems like a pleasant spot." Anika agreed that it was very pretty. She knelt by the pond and doing so, caught her own reflection. She saw a woman with long dark hair, green eyes, flushed cheeks, and rose-colored lips. The image blurred as her tears fell and hit the water. She turned to Tucson, "You were right. I didn't belong in that cave. I never did. How can I ever thank you for making me leave?" Tucson smiled, "You don't need to thank me. I didn't make you leave, Anika. You left on your own accord. No, you didn't belong there, but you had to want something more than that cave. You had to know that there was something greater for you to be a part of. Only you could hear the call of the Universe and respond to it. Only you could step away from your hiding place. You have so much to share with the world."

Anika looked at her reflection in the water again. She reached to touch the face looking back at her and felt the cool, velvety water on her fingers. "But what of the scars? What of the horrible things that happened to me? What of all the pain I've felt over the years?" she asked. Tucson took a moment before answering. "Let me ask you this," he said. "Do you consider me ugly? With all my wrinkles and my gray hair and my milky, nearly blind eyes?" "No!" Anika exclaimed. "You're... you're lovely. Handsome even. You have such gentleness and kindness and love... that's all I see when I look at you." "Ahhhh..." Tucson smiled. "But I gained those qualities from my own scars, from my own pain, from my own horrible experiences, just as much as I did from the beauty I've seen and the love I've felt. Your scars... all of your experiences... everything in your life, even that cave. All of that makes you beautiful. All of it. So, walk in light with your head held high. No more cave."

Anika smiled again. "No more cave," she murmured. "No more hiding." This time it was she who held out her hand. Tucson took it and stood. "Where are we going?" he asked. Anika lifted her face to the shaft of light coming through the leaves. "My friend," she said. "We are going as far from that cave as we can. I intend to show the world who I am."