Thursday, December 24, 2009

I go home for Christmas

(for my sister Laurie and all the Christmases we've shared)

On Christmas Eve I revisit other years, other places. Tonight was an authentic Kelly marathon of Charlie Brown, the Grinch and a Los Angeles interpretation of the holiday season, written and directed by Shane Black, called KISS, KISS, BANG, BANG. Robert Downey, Jr. I rest my case. You might call us semi-traditionalists.

Most often I replay scenes from my childhood, though the reveries may veer into last-minute wrapping marathons his father and I shared when our son was wearing footed pajamas.

Tonight I see my younger sister and me; we have gotten into our bunk beds, too excited to sleep even for a minute - or so we believe - and our bedroom door is closed since it opens right onto the living room, site of the tree, the fireplace, Santa and the presents. Five years separate us, which can be a vast gulf when one is 10 and the other 5, but on Christmas Eve we are just girls, filled with wonder and anticipation. Our brother's room is in another part of the house...too far for whispering. I wonder if it was a bit lonely for him, especially on those nights. I will remember to ask him.

Eventually we gave in to a light, reluctant sleep and awoke to find that our stockings had been left at the feet of our beds. Whichever of us woke first let the other one know that Santa HAD been there and in the dark, being as quiet as we could while describing every surprise we pulled out, we explored toys and sampled candy.

I think of her tonight, several thousand miles away. We have only shared one Christmas - and no Christmas Eves - in the past 20-plus years, yet under our tree sits, as her gift tag describes it, "the most beautiful purse I ever saw" and hints of the creams and potions for our aging skins which it contains. Over the decades she has unearthed objects of amazement; the jointed, handcrafted rat with the sweet potato-shaped nose and articulated tail, the flea market photo album and post card collection. This year's flowered purse reminds me of a stocking already laid at my feet and I feel how much I miss her, I miss our girl selves and even our grown sisterly exchanges in the days when Joseph Magnin existed and had its annual collection of figural gift boxes. There is a mixed sense of curiosity, longing, gratitude and loss as I look at the lovely presents she has sent, yet know that, given the chance, I might trade them all to be those young dream believers again.

May all your Christmas wishes come true while absent loved ones nestle in your hearts. And do not doubt this: the magic endures and we are part of it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

You are so beautiful

Have I told you lately that I love you? Have you told anyone lately that you love them? We are the instruments of blessings for one another or as my Sunday morning television companion, one-man pep rally, Pastor Joel Osteen, says, we need to speak favor over each other. To which I add we also would do well to speak favor over ourselves. Those critical, fault-finding voices which hatch inside our minds are not our friends; the words they parrot (for they had to come from somewhere) were not spoken by friends or those who could see and cherish our good, the occasional poor choice and human frailties notwithstanding.

It is from Pastor Osteen that I learned the notion of speaking favor over someone as a way to catch God's ear and enlist Divine support for all of us with aspirations - for success, for the willingness to try, for a way of seeing our lives as works-in-progress rather than failures. Which is to say everyone, each being a worthy candidate for blessing and the future promise we came here to fulfill.

In his telling of the process, Pastor Osteen extends our power to bless to all whom we encounter. The kind word, the compliment, the appreciation, taking the time to find what is splendid, pleasing, noble and magnificent - on a grand or more modest scale - lets it be known that this person IS blessed, is treasured and seen not only for who they are but who they may become.

To think that each of us has the power to shape or direct the life, or lives, of those around us is humbling and daunting. It calls for mindfulness, attention to our words and intentions; it is responsibility and gift. Will we accept this assignment, gravitas on a daily schedule, or will we disbelieve, disregard the fact that we have been called to be a messenger of empowerment and love?

Revisiting my past, there were voices that spoke only favor over me, grandparents who attended every dance recital, hired me to paint Christmas scenes on their picture windows every December, who took my child self with them most everywhere, from Veterans' picnics to beach vacations. There were other voices as well which spoke faint praise only conditionally, which raged and found fault, spoke sarcasm or no words at all. The difference between them may not actually haunt, but each cell still holds the memory of the effect.

Whose praises will you sing today, whose beaming face will fill your eyes and heart as you speak your delight at their simple existence? In addition to lessons from Pastor Osteen, I have also learned from other sources that the over-spending of time in regret and recrimination is to fall into the past, sink beneath the shame of critical voices, self-applied. Whatever we may have neglected up to this minute, whatever words we long to undo, our only real choice is to let that all go and start anew here, where we stand.

As I accept this mantle, for I know it to be true, I silently, for the moment, compose a list of names and attributes, bringers of gifts and grace, illumination and encouragement, love without requirements, humor and generosity and knowing, that have placed me here. My wish is to acknowledge that nourishment with gratitude and reciprocation while being alert for the openings where my words may make the difference. For today, may favor be our only language and love our only song.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

To teach imagination is to teach everything

(for my brother Mike on his birthday)

From the blog of Carolina Georgatou.
Even Einstein told us that imagination is more important than knowledge. How do we know where one begins, leaving the other to follow? I know as well as I know anything that without imagination we might still be cave-dwellers or fishermen terrified of the Earth's flatness. In a not very original comparison, imagination feels like flinging open the school doors and letting everyone run free, trusting they will find their place, acquire the information they need to reach their destination, realize there are no walls and no limits.

To dream BIG is an adventure. If the lands we seek are only in our minds, what of it? The realms of Tolkien or Baum or Bradbury may not exist on any maps, still they are as real to us as the corner drugstore in our hometown, much more real than what we may have had presented to us as the system's version of history - pick an era. If our brains were skyscrapers, imagination would be housed on the top floor. Not difficult to reach - there are express elevators - but easily missed because gravity or the status quo or someone's expectations or fears kept us from venturing that far from what we thought we knew. Mary Chapin Carpenter has a song called "Heroes and Heroines," in which she tells of risk-takers, people who are unfamiliar with the word impossible, and speaks of our American pioneers, choosing "...a life that's never safe and dry..." and I found those words resonated for me as epitomizing reasons why we may wish to stay uninformed, unenlightened. Imagination carries the possibility of risk and reward. Yet staying put has never been a guarantee of that safe, dry life, for I don't believe it exists. Fiction has given us examples that appear in everyday language, like falling down the rabbit hole, finding the entrance to Narnia or the road to Oz. Rod Serling's introduction to "Twilight Zone" episodes mentions imagination, in almost the same breath as he speaks of worlds " vast as space and as timeless as infinity."

Two of the three children in our family had imaginary friends and the third sibling lived a vicarious life through a sizable stuffed bear who had a flourishing literary career. I spent years writing dialogue in my head and wondering why, when the people around me spoke, they never used the words I'd prepared for them. Our parents followed creative paths, yet were not wildly outside any norms for their time. I no longer believe in ordinary as an inevitable state; I believe we each possess the capacity for the exceptional. One may choose ordinary but I don't think anyone who wishes to escape can really be stopped. In our minds we discover there are no limits, no walls too high, no thorn hedges too impenetrable, no world which could not exist if we gave it breath and light.

Dream huge. Stare out the window and let your thoughts run everywhere. Let the dam burst, the gargoyles take flight and twin suns rise in the morning. We are so much more than we know, unfettered, unhampered by time. We are the stories and the tellers, we are enormous, we are endless, heart-breakingly beautiful, fierce and wise. We will never be small again.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I'll take a corner piece, please

My son believes that birthday cake could be the doorway to world peace. I say it is worth a try. We shared our refrigerator for several days with a chocolate cake-chocolate mousse filling (two layers)-fudge icing-buttercream frosting trimmed confection that really would rehabilitate a mean heart.

A friend once remarked that she enjoyed being anyplace that the Goodyear blimp appeared. In Los Angeles that can be at a parade, a football game, flying over your house...limitless choices. From my south-facing second-floor windows I have seen the blimp on illuminated night runs as well as droning northward to the Rose Bowl, readying for New Year's day. Occasionally we will see the blimp of another sponsor but the Goodyear ship, all silver and happily benevolent, one assumes, says the fun has started.

Wisely or foolishly, I notice things which I interpret as signs. As I heard the recent updates of a young friend's definitive diagnosis of a rare, troubling, ultimately curable but no day at the beach in the meantime neurological disorder, I empathized for the full roster of doctors and tests that led her to a good yet unsettling solution. In solving the mystery she had the best of care at a truly premier hospital, yet it was the sight of a party in the courtyard, cake and ice cream for all - and she said the in-patients were showing up as well, wheeling their I.V. stands - that took some of the dread out of the days and treatments to come. I recognized it as an indication that all would truly be well, that she was sent for her test and consultation - and their results - on the day when what was just birthday cake by another name was being served, joyously, generously, to the multitudes. Seconds? Don't mind if I do. The universe of my understanding has its cunning ways of giving us the nod and the wink, sometimes after the dope-slap, just to say there are better times ahead. If she had looked up, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the blimp sailed over with its own unique blessing. In spite of itself, life can be sweet.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


This seems to be a day for counting blessings. Why wait for the government-sanctioned observance coming in November? Kate Wolf had what I imagine was a signature song, called "Give Yourself to Love" which I like to sing in the kitchen (as I also like to sing "Pancho and Lefty" and disparate tunes from a long, eclectic musical history). My truest blessing today is that this is my son's birthday. He is the teacher I never knew I needed, bringing with him thoughts and devices that expand my world...these are not non-sequiturs but merely poorly arranged sentences...and he connects, especially, to the final verse of Kate Wolf's song, "Love is born in fire, it's planted like a seed. Love can't give you everything but it gives you what you need. Love comes when you are ready, love comes when you're afraid. It'll be your greatest teacher, the best friend you have made."

The anticipation and joy over his arrival has not diminished in the years since his birth. Fresh aspects and awareness emerge anew as he, as we all do, continues to evolve. I had never imagined myself capable of being someone's mother but the knowledge of his pending arrival (miraculous, in my mind) told me that a greater wisdom than I possessed felt I was equal to the task. That I was given the chance continues to humble me. Happy Birthday. Live long and prosper.

( - Kate Wolf singing her own song, with the added bonus, for BATTLESTAR GALACTICA fans, of Helo and Sharon scenes)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Not quite a rant, but maybe a ramble

The kitchen clock stopped working at least 2 years ago. Both of my old, but not vintage, wristwatches need batteries. Time and I have reached a different plateau in our relationship.

We do have a few clocks, our cell phones and, if I pay attention, the angle of sunlight to help me know when a call needs to be made or dinner started or if I can get those last dishes washed before FRINGE comes on. But time is not the companion I once thought. For many years I truly saw my life as endless, impossible-to-win rounds of BEAT THE CLOCK. So many tasks and deadlines in any given day, no lazing, no lolling. Family members who balked at restaurant Thanksgiving dinners (before the supermarkets started selling whole meals, pre-cooked), Christmas eve, Christmas morning, Christmas day cooking and entertaining. Self-assigned hour thieves like writing class or public access tv training, 12-step programs, volunteer newsletter editing, rubber stamp art and early-morning walking. I had to be stopped and I was. (Reminder: thank body for wisdom which far exceeded that of brain.)

For me, time is a thing that know it was there yet when it has gone, no trace, not even a water line, remains. My perspective is greatly skewed - whether that is good or not, I can't say - and what I think has been a few weeks is actually six or seven months. And then I started listening to talks by people who understand things like energy and physics, who say things such as, "Everything is now." And for a flickering I have a glimpse of what they may be telling us. Concepts appear to me either as visuals or metaphors, or a combination, and I saw time as a bowl of water, out of which I believed I'd been asked to construct something solid and dimensional, as I might have done with a bowl of clay. But it resisted all my efforts to shape it into something that could be called tangible. It was still there, it just wouldn't behave.

My studio bulletin board once held a quote clipped from somewhere that said, "Life should feel like floating." It is more than that, it IS floating, allowing us and all our hours to be here AND there simultaneously. We are at once walking histories of all we've done or seen or heard and also repositories of ages, eons, wisdom and dreams from every direction and distance. This is information that I process slowly, incrementally, noticing without much surprise that there might be a reason why I've always been drawn to stories of time travel. I don't think (speaking of time) that it is too late to learn what physics can teach or perhaps it is a variation on that discipline which holds the answers. My advice? Avoid all who would have you believe that life is not a mind-expanding experience, that all walls are solid and time is just numbers on a clock.

I grew up among people who believed passionately that THIS was not the whole of anything. One of the few teachings I retain from a junior college geology class comes from Edward Teller. We listened to a tape of one of his lectures in which he described everything we could possibly imagine or guess at in the universe - picture great minds really stretching - as being (I quote as accurately as possible) "...a goldfish in a fishbowl on the back of a great white elephant." Will we grasp the lessons that don't match anything we thought we knew? Time will tell.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

May We Always Expand

Even as time’s moving sidewalk pushes me within months of THAT date, the moment when we Americans become truly senior, there are still so many things I want to be and do when I grow up. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say “with the rest of my life” but really growing up, in spite of chronological age, milestones observed, challenges faced - with grace and courage or without - is, for me, an ongoing process. I learn every day; my hope is that I grow every day or evolve or morph or refine or draw closer to enlightenment so I choose not to declare myself a complete grown-up. Which leaves so many doors to peer behind, endless lives still waiting to be tried on. Sometimes it is the mental process of considering, envisioning; other times, actual steps are taken toward enlarging my bag of tricks.

This week I would wish to be Neil Gaiman, for his fluid and vividly humorous (or frightening) writing but mostly for his mind and how it appears to his readers to travel without footprints from ordinary to most decidedly non-ordinary reality with stories we can move right into without renovation - or any intentional suspension of disbelief.

To see the world with his imagination, to paint the - or so we should believe - impossible so that we not only nod in recognition but wonder precisely where we can buy a ticket is a gift for which no measuring instruments exist. It may be that as he writes he feels constrictions, limitation, but I find no sense of that in his work. It flows without boundaries like water across the Earth and reminds me that anything described as infinite is really, really vast.

What a wonder it would be if, with the rest of my life, I possessed the ability to conjure worlds upon worlds with the letters of the alphabet as my tools, that and a mind which stretches in either knowledge or speculation on our institutions, our very gods, ourselves in alternate realities; who we are, from where have we come and who knows and can tell us the rules.

Contemplating my Gaimanesque existence, I wonder if there was some switch that was thrown, either by divine forces, chance or something unnamed, that carried a young Neil to the borderlands where, as I picture it, he was given a hat that didn’t fit quite so tightly, his brain/mind had more room to expand. It was allowed to breathe deeply of the what-ifs; I do not know his biography so I can merely speculate. I only know that I long to learn the secret of dreaming such dreams and then being able not only to recount but interpret them, for myself and all seekers.

While it may not be the answer, I follow the work of teachers who believe we can learn to get out of our own way. Where we may be blocked, we can open; where we resist, we can practice surrender. In the best possible sense, I believe our limitless child remains the larger portion of who we are and the notion of, at 65, anticipating a life that will burst into flower given the right circumstances may denote an understanding of perhaps the way things really work.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tricksters Among Us

The trickster gods, for surely there must be more than one, picked my name today or, more likely, had me in their sights days ago when the high jinks were kicked off.

It is in my nature - and heritage - to have what we shall call an indifference to housework that can run longer than "The Fantastiks." Factor in fatigue, mobility issues, pointless angst over most uncontrollable human variables and a lifelong kinship with Ferdinand the Bull - just lead me to the field of flowers - and ordinary, probably normal, tasks go undone for lengths of time that make me want to leave home. At one time I considered that my life was pocked like a glacier with chasms not of ice but of apathy and I would drop into them, leaving matters of some consequence unattended. Then I became disturbingly tired and disconnected, still disinclined to just take up the dust cloths and have at it, possibly overcoming a great weariness and making my surroundings more hospitable in the process.

In this home those, um, tendencies were once overcome by having a twice monthly meeting of fellow artists here. Those glad occasions went on for a few years and kept tidiness at a level which didn't induce shame but a very hot summer and the option of central air moved our group to a new location. My motivation moved with it.

The recent visit of a dear and lifelong friend gave me the desire to have all in some sort of order, not perfection but something livable. What it did not give me was the enduring energy to keep getting up every day and whittling, whittling until it was done. She among all my friends truly knows of the chasms, the history that created them and the challenge of, yet again, climbing back out and pressing on. At least for her visit we had habitable spots where we could visit and eat and spend time together. I have come to believe that she loves me for myself and not for my exhausting attempts to be thought, well, normal.

Then came the notice of Edison crews due to replace ancient light fixtures, overseen by our building manager, a woman of order and efficiency and my shrieking mind took over, horrified by the state of some corners of our small kingdom. And the gods were with me, bringing strength, some stamina, willingness, humor and pleasure at the segments which became the cleanest. The upgrading process was set to begin at 9 a.m. today, after a day of moderate, steady rain with more to follow this morning. I was far from what I would consider a comfort zone and started in at 3:30 going room by room - some of them pretty acceptable, others better seen in dim light. As I started the last self-assigned chore of the morning, changing the bed, the phone rang and our resident manager's wife, with whom I had shared my stress level, told me they weren't coming and might not be rescheduled. Other residents had stayed home to watch over pets or just to see that all went least I was going to be here anyway. But after the call I sat and laughed, somewhat shaky and aching and looking forward to a peaceful afternoon napping or watching the clouds, smelling not the flowers but furniture polish and Lime-A-Way, having been prodded into discovering unknown energy, rediscovering the pleasure of our comfortable apartment and feeling that some border of resistance had been crossed while protective forces looked on. Benevolent, protective affirming and with a true, yet almost disturbingly true sense of knowing me for exactly what I am and exactly what I needed. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Rocket Girl

I am very fond of the moon. Many situations cause me to think of the serves ably as symbol, metaphor, object, force. With regard to my "between stations" circumstance, I think of rockets and the fuel they require to lift them beyond Earth's gravitational pull and have a sense that it takes at least as much power to free us of old ways of being and doing. This seemingly long ante-chamber wait on fidget-producing chairs is the voyage away - we couldn't have slept through this part, could we? - and our own semi-willingness to return to the familiar, however inappropriate or destructive or simply over it may be, has moments when it seems preferable to having been launched toward...who knows what.

So I imagine the booster engines falling away, the final burst carrying us out beyond the reach of any hands that would pull us back - too late now - followed by the drift which trust alone tells us will place us into a wholly new orbit. Too bad no one asked - or mentioned - just how long the drift would last.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Not exile, simply absence

There are stretches of time when the words...well, they do arrive but not, apparently, for the printed page. If I could say where I've been for the past two months I would tell you. Perhaps the best word would be...processing. Should any of you be experiencing a period of being between stations, I would like to hear of it.

Within a few days - after some art deadlines have been met - I will do my best to return to this space with, one can but hope, phrases that are precise enough to please me and clear enough so that anyone who doesn't live in my head will understand.

If any readers remain after so much time, thank you. I am just happy that I haven't used the lack of postings as one of those Big Sticks which have left bruises for much of my life. Goodbye Big Stick, good riddance. Writing will happen when it does.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Welcome to L.A.

The blooming season for a Southern California jacaranda is reported to be the months of May and June. Today, August 5, outside my front door in the courtyard of our apartment building is a jacaranda tree. Clinging to it is one spray of blossoms, still rich in color and obviously stubborn in spirit. Maybe today our teacher is the jacaranda.
* * *
In its Sunday book section, the Los Angeles Times frequently achieves resonance with either current thoughts or an item from my internal list of major obsessions. This week it was two for one. The lead review was of Thomas Pynchon's new novel, which reviewer Carolyn Kellogg said had not only a main character but also a plot. I've not read Pynchon but I could relate somewhat as I try to muscle my way through "Infinite Jest" by David Foster Wallace while struggling not to feel cornered by what I glumly suspect may be a mediocre IQ. The Pynchon novel is called "Inherent Vice" and is referred to a 60s noir. Does it get any better than that?

It coincides with recent thoughts as I had just reread Francesca Lia Block's "Dangerous Angels," the collection of her Weetzie Bat books, all with Los Angeles and certain of its denizens, glimpses of its past, at their hearts. The collection has a copyright date of 1998 but the first story's release is dated 1989. Ms. Block is especially gifted at expressing the sensory experiences of L.A., from anything that blooms to burrito stands and the heat itself.

"Witch Baby had seen sugar skulls and candelabras in the shapes of doves, angels and trees. She had seen white dresses embroidered with gardens, and she had seen paintings of a dark woman with parrots and flowers and blood and one eyebrow. She liked tortillas with butter melting in the fold almost as much as candy, and she liked hot days and hibiscus flowers, mariachi bands and especially, now, Angel Juan." from "Witch Baby" by Francesca Lia Block

Reading her helped me remember why I chose sunset as my palette for the True Colors exchange, which eventually became the book, the workshops, the movie, Broadway play and line of motor bikes. Well, not those last three but from an unassuming origin, the project grew up to be what it is.

We began with invitations from Lynne Perrella to take part in a journal exchange based on the theme of color. This was my first experience of such an undertaking and the first assignment, select your color, took time and thought. I no longer remember what time of year we began but inspiration can be daringly out of season and I remembered Los Angeles teenaged summer evenings, a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, espresso on the Sunset Strip, driving anywhere in a sports car, the beach and wine, Miles Davis and Bob Dylan and it felt more like its own universe than a color or time or place and so I became sunset for the purpose of both our project and a sense of self and home, forever seeking the precise combination of words that tells it as it is.

The Pynchon review had a sidebar excerpt of his interpretation of the Santa Ana winds, the headline telling, "Santa Ana winds stir dusty premonitions." In the review, Kellogg suggests that the page-long description demands a place next to classic passages by Chandler and Joan Didion. For me what happens during, or just after, the Santa Anas is that the light changes. Landmarks that had been blurred and distant become close and crisp. Sun glints off car surfaces in a way that is painful; there is too much piercing light. Distances shrink as the mountains draw near, the scrim of smog erased. Trees on a ridge can be counted rather than appearing as a grove, a clump. And something happens, or has happened to me, in this simple act of a shifted wind pattern. For moments or longer, the veil seems to lift and what felt impossible only hours before becomes almost real and certainly within grasp. It could be from this occasional meteorological event that all the dreams which Los Angeles represents were born

Sometime it feels like the affection/tolerance/rejection one knows from living with an alcoholic, when taking on simple tasks during a smoggy, summer heat wave seems overwhelming. Then the air currents begin to cavort in a different direction and while the temperature may go even higher, the sense of futility and oppression are swept away. This phenomenon in miniature is what I sense on an L.A. summer evening. Yes, you'll be sweating as you dress for whatever the night holds (unless you have killer, central air and the money to pay for it which, at 18, I certainly did not) but that won't last, nor will the memory of any part but the magic.

And once out in the world that is a Los Angeles summer night, there is night-blooming jasmine; there are all the songs you ever connected to driving freeways, there is anticipation - and its best friend, hope - there is being in the moment while sliding a toe into what-if?

I freely own the spell under which an August L.A. twilight holds me, knowing it may not be an experience shared by very many. But it has been with me more than 55 years now, from the night my Aunt Nancy came by with her red convertible, taking my mom, sister, brother and me for a top-down drive. We stopped for ice cream (mine was fresh peach) which she let us eat in the car, then I leaned back, staring at the tops of Pasadena's tallest deodars and beyond them the stars, knowing it was a night by which others would be measured.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A denomination of one

A friend recently told me that she has, once again, official status enabling her to perform marriage ceremonies. She had been ordained in a particular denomination which, over time, became less and less a good match for her liberal, inclusive beliefs and she left that church for equally hands-on work in aspects of social service. She is my model as the first person I ever heard speak of being called to her training and eventual ministry. Since those days a few decades ago, I have come to believe that, if we pay attention, each of us is also called to whatever assignment requires our unique combination of gifts; I believe we each have a ministry.

In no way do I wish by the use of those words to diminish what has been known traditionally among our people as ministry, an over-simplified definition of which might be bringing the citizenry and a specific notion of God together, using biblical text and learned interpretation of God to give comfort in rocky times, steering us all the while along a path of discovering the best versions of our human selves. This is the ideal.

But take the premise that each of us is here, now, in this form to bring comfort or light or a sort of awakening to those we encounter through whatever it is that we do - how is that not a calling? Could a ministry not be art, music, kindness, the ability to listen, empathy, writing, acting, patience...anything which would fall into a category of gift or virtue? To reach others and ease their sadness, suffering, fear and alienation by whatever means sounds like a ministry to me. Do we have to speak OF God to speak God (or what my notion of godliness is) over one another? Isn't Love a fair substitution for a concept that many find unworkable? I have, after serious attempts when I was younger, to acknowledge that organized religion and I are not soul mates. Whatever ways I choose to commune with all that is Divine are my own; they work for me and include vast amounts of laughter, a delight in the absurd, an uncomplicated and unconfused identification of what is magic and miraculous, faith in beauty, goodness and things which somehow turn out for the best, even including bumpy, uncertain middle parts.

It is my unshakable belief that we are here for a reason. If that reason is not to make better the lives of people around us, what other possible reason could there be? I am no theologian; I don't know that there is a name for the handful of truths I cling to but my trust in those truths is sufficient to carry me through today and into tomorrow, endowed with grace that I hope has enlarged since yesterday.

Unless you object openly, I'd like to continue this exploration in the future. For those of us who have reached a certain number of years, we grow more conscious of our days being finite. The greater purpose to be found in them, the greater the joy.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

To the daredevil surgeons

A good life and a pain-free life are two different things. It may be that this information is widely available but somehow I have come to it late in the day. In the first place, I cannot imagine how one is actually alive and without pain. Ever. Of any description. Now I think how robotic that would feel; what a bland feast.

Fictional or actual models of giddy delight seem to be the norm, at least to one for whom an authentic, unforced lightheartedness was unimaginable and unattainable for so long. Many of us - and there are days when I am certain the numbers are much higher than that - come from places we recognize most easily when reading Joseph Campbell as he tells of mythic struggles, trial by ordeal, shamans as wounded healers. Abuse, neglect, exploitation, violence, indifference, damage and despair were not explored in Nancy Drew books. In the 1950s or 60s, even Charles Dickens didn't give us literature (yes, Nancy gets to be called literature in this instance) that shone any sort of light on all the ways in which children had their souls stolen by predators in business suits, clerical garb or masks that could pass for ordinary.

These children grow with the sense that they have no control over their actions, choices or lives. A malevolent force resides in the space that should belong to heart and spirit, as though even those stout allies have fled in helplessness once they assessed the gravity of the wounds. Sometimes the demons win. Sometimes the pain has overshadowed the ability to believe in anything but the pain. The child-mind is not looking for nuance; it sees black and while, pain or no pain. For more years than I can say I thought healing meant that all the hurt would be taken; that what was lost would be restored, like for like; that clarity, good and sensibile decisions, sobriety and consistency would result and only grow stronger. I believed the past could be rewritten, or more accurately erased; it never happened. This is what I longed for.

But a piece at a time, over 24 (and counting) years of relentless recovery, I discovered that to exclude certain moments, to somehow have the warping, unbearable parts of my life dissolved, would leave me a different creature. I realized there were aspects of me which I actually treasured. I didn't possess the wisdom to know what would stay, what would go, IF it had been possible to undo what already was, kind of a one-woman time travel conundrum. Which left only one choice: repair what was still fixable, modify or alter the seriously wrecked bits into something that will work, keep moving forward.

(An aside: In the Los Angeles Times of Tuesday, June 16 there was a front page story headlined "Cars in Ghana can't be totaled," which tells of the Odawana neighborhood of Accra in which no car has ever been seen as too broken to be fixed. The writer describes the area, saying "(it) teems with industry and purpose." Writer Robyn Dixon adds, "nothing is ever useless junk.")

Reclamation, restoration, redemption - favored themes in pictures and stories, the pick-and-shovel work of earthly incarnations and Divine intervention. The words mark the difference between a good life and something which doesn't exist. Pain in all its costumes is a constant guest in our spare rooms; in small quarters it sleeps on the couch and leaves its stuff everywhere. And still life is good. In lieu of literal restoration, meaning all those whom we lost to the darkness are among us again with buoyant spirits and anxieties forgotten, our best plan is to celebrate resilience, grace and a grand benevolence that has never given up on any of us. One day, like the cars in Odawana, we will realize that "daredevil surgeons" have found a way to bring our crumpled pieces back to function and purpose. We will grieve, but not every moment, and less for ourselves than those for whom the journey was simply too long.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Among journalists, at least those of a certain era, there is a classic movie or television line that induces weeping. At the last moment, the reporter has tracked down the miscreant politician, the escaped lunatic, the missing mob witness or the kingpin himself. He races to a pay phone, gets hold of someone on the rewrite desk and bellows, "Hold page one. I've got a story that'll bust this town wide open."

In the 1950s my newsman father wrote an episode for a tv detective show with, of course, a newsman as the guest lead. He wrote it true to the daily life of a journalist, he sidestepped cliches and felt he left the audience with both a sense of justice fulfilled and a glimpse into a world usually shown only in charicature. We wait for the reporter's final scene, only to see him grab the phone and begin to demand, "Kill page one..." Rewrite in the wrong hands is perilous business.

Which is a very long way around to say my page one for today reads: Guess what? You're human; you backslide. We also simply have days when the cosmos or magnetism, brain chemistry or bad dreams push us back to a starting square in the eternal match of Chutes and Ladders. For moments, if we're lucky, or hours if we are less so, we are captives in the one-person multiplex auditorium where the only feature is Your Shortcomings: the Slide Show.

Fortune brought me an early morning phone call from a woman I must call a sista for all the parallels in our lives, and she managed to make dreams of escape and spiritual ascension, with everything moving like a Max Fleischer cartoon, seem less peculiar. She also spoke of a subject we've covered many times (which I've probably covered many times here, too, but it keeps coming up) - that we are here to be witnesses to each others' stories, to each others' losses and grief, trauma and through that witnessing possibly allow some clarity of vision, some acceptance, the simple relief of being heard and believed.

Once I could acknowledge and embrace (sometimes tentatively, little fingertips on shoulder blades) that intuition was a basic part of who I am, I began to act and speak from experiences of that intuition. Not always, but sometimes. It isn't psychic...I have no idea how that works and am very glad that it wasn't dropped in my bag of tricks. Often there are intuitive components to dreams and if there is a name, I have called the person in the morning and almost every time have found there was a reason for us to speak, even though neither one of us could imagine what it was as the conversation began. Words will jump like PopTarts in the middle of a phone call or some non-sequitur question will draw forth thoughts previously unexplored. As an assignment, which it seems to be, it is not awful and the feeling of assisting in someone's process makes the unscheduled slide shows feel less shaming.

One of the basic requirements of the job is letting go of the outcome, not being attached to whether or not any action is taken or insight claimed as a result of shared information. And this can lead to feeling like a nitwit, a sorry and seldom-mentioned by-product of listening to intuition. The filters which come with particular kinds of knowing are not always operational or their caution is just shouted down. If you watched the sadly cancelled show REAPER, as Sam tried to meet his quota of demons to be returned to hell, there were miscalculations. So it is with any assignment.

But don't gifts come with risks? Painters, directors, musicians, any who are guided to move in a new direction take the chance of rejection. I am connected to a world of artists, writers, creators, many of whom I believe operate on intuition only. None of the people with whom I exchange words is able to guess what will sell, what will be the next thing; we follow, to the best of our ability, the carnival music which reaches us with promises of sights unseen, the lure of a big prize at the ring toss, for me the celluloid kewpie on a bamboo stick, feather and glitter headdress, koochie costume, jointed fragile arms. We get the call and we feel we must go. To felting, baking, painting, collage, ceramics, blogging, street performance, singing or passing along the information from dreams. If the wires have frayed and the message is misconstrued, has so very much been lost? Somewhere there must be a list of great discoveries that happened by mistake. I learned some time ago that I will survive being wrong, appearing foolish, experiencing rejection. So there are moments of backsliding, self-criticism, "this can't be my life" thoughts as the roller coaster takes a particularly jolting turn. Put page one to bed; there are no seismic headlines tonight.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

For gifts received, thank you

Things I forget or take for granted: the fact that I spend considerable time at home is no reason not to wear my favorite fragrance (but it's just me, in my t-shirt, doing things of no great consequence...hmmm, not a particularly convincing excuse). Very likely I push away thoughts about life being short, or certainly of unknowable duration, and whatever the line of demarcation, I have long since graduated to the region where time has speeded up and seems to evaporate rather than pass.

Yesterday was a day of joys and blessings that came so easily and seemed so simple that it made me wonder if each day contained similar gifts which, through stress or distraction or lack of focus, I'd managed to overlook on too many occasions. The pleasures included an early (West Coast time) call to a New York friend which bore fruit in the form of a wake-up call about not keeping ideas on ice while I wait for someone to give me some universal signal for GO; it also got us rhapsodizing about Robert Mitchum, a conversational thread that was picked up at the other end of the day with a friend in a completely differet time zone. There was a generous teleconference by Patti Digh and David Robinson (e-mail which they referred to as Playing With Blocks about ways we keep ourselves from our intention and a preview of a course they will be offering which, based on the free call, will present fresh ways of looking at and not being (my word) paralyzed by things that block us.

Additional joys and blessings: I did wear Chinatown, the Bond #9 fragrance which celebrates that neighborhood of New York (story on my website: Go to the Links category, click there, go to Street Team Crusade Entries...keep scrolling, the topic is fragrance and there are two parts, Chinatown being the second, if you're interested) and it made me happy and reminded me of all the things I love about it, including wearing it a few years ago during a friend's visit and the glad surprise of discovering the scent in my car when I drove it after she'd returned home. I told you these were simple pleasures. There was e-mail from my brother who is preparing his Australian primary school students for a concert of their recorder ensemble, with drums and voice and guitar, and his tales of the magic that has infused this project. There was the chance to explore, as I get to do most days, both with him and another friend or two, the challenges of holding true to a spiritual existence while in human form, sharing our interpretations of what passes for reality as opposed to what we experience as real and true.

Then my son discovered that his X-Box game console and our Netflix membership made possible the free and instant streaming of movies and tv series of every description to our tv set, which felt like finding that $50 you'd somehow left in the Christmas card, only to have it come to mind or to hand at just the right moment. All of this underscored by the recently unfamiliar presence of Chinatown's exotically spicy notes.

As I thought to offer this as the essay of the day (or week), the critical voice had about the same amount to say as my mother did the day I tried to leave the house with the short sleeves of my blouse rolled up even shorter, like a cast member from the darker side of GREASE. My 6th grade friend Linda had dressed like that or wore her cardigan sweater backwards, another style yearning I never got to realize. You are looking at the result of my rebellion. Sometimes the story of the day is one of seeming simplicity, the overlooked cloudbursts of abundance that grace our moments. An on-line newsletter which I receive reminded us subscribers that we are to say YES to opportunities and experiences. I have also been reminded in the last 24 hours that happiness is something we prepare for in advance. Shall we agree to wear our best perfume for no reason, to remember how madly favored we are to have ever been in love - whether it went, as one might say, anyplace, or it didn't - and to practice the probably long-forgotten habit of picking up pennies, real or metaphoric, and choosing to see them as signs of universal goodness and plenty, no matter what time remains.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Lost and found

Preface: Since I wrote this and saved it as a draft, there has been some resolution to the appeals process regarding benefits for my son's illness. Yet the circumstances under which these sentiments were expressed are as stated and the need to remember what we know to be true, when so much seems lost or unreachable, remains valid. So I decided to post it, even if just for my collected musings. From a day nearly two months ago...

Without leaving my apartment, I became lost. I let go of what my friend Lisa calls True North and was unable to listen to my intuition.

I am convinced it comes from not allowing one's self to believe actively in what one truly believes, of letting fear, fatigue, the duration of the battle and just temporary distraction by unreasonable people making unreasonable demands drown out our truth. It speaks of their wisdom that our minds and bodies never make peace with overload. That in this case it involves my son, my only child, his on-going health challenge that resulted from a sudden and nearly fatal illness more than two years ago and a system that continues to refuse some support for what may be life-long medical needs, all of that makes taking a wrong turn easy, even inescapable. When a mother is in what another friend calls Badger Woman mode, we are not reasonable people, we are not sane in any traditional sense and any monophasic tendencies are exaggerated to the point of obsession. While waiting for results of his tests, assessment by the cardiologist, a report from his doctor at the hospital, being ordered to see yet another doctor for evaluation, and waiting for the lawyer to tell us what to do next, I stopped caring about art, about writing, about finding moments of joy (well, not entirely), about believing in a good outcome. All I could do was stress and sleep. Once the stress was reduced, that left sleep and I couldn't get enough. This morning, finally, I woke up with something on my mind other than going back to sleep. I stamped and decorated an envelope, made (what I believe is, especially as it was created in very bad light) an especially funky and nonsensical card, allowed the sum of it be sufficient when added to the sincerity of its message and got it in the mail. Art was back, I hesitantly say that I may be back and I wish I could be certain that I will never be lost again. But I probably will and would like some ways to remind myself that it is not a permanent condition.

What caused the greatest distress was knowing there was something I could, I should be holiding onto and I simply couldn't reach. I've never been lost in an actual snowstorm but can imagine this came close. Set yourself down into days, multiple days, of not being able to raise the enthusiasm to pick up a pen or pencil. I managed to post other people's words just to have some communication with the wider world. Perhaps all this is way too much information, too revealing of a few weeks that seemed to have swallowed my life, or all the best parts of it, and left me crumpled but still with the smallest hope that it would eventually get better.

To the best of our ability, we need to keep our compasses in working order. We need to write reminders and directional arrows on poster board and tape them up around our homes. And we need to compose that essential note, folded small and tucked into whatever book we turn to when we have lost our way. In strong yet gentle words, remind yourself that you will pull your way out of this, even the crappiest day has glowing moments and you've survived this before. So you will again. Be patient and sleep when that is all that's indicated. Feel weary and wear the same flannel shirt for too many days. Reject feeling guilty about soft deadlines that may not be met. Then stir up the gesso and get to work.

Breadcrumbs, among other things, continued...

Small talk of the cocktail party variety has always made me squirm. There were years when spousal obligations required showing up at events and being pleasant - if it's not too much to ask, possibly making sense - among people with whom I had nothing in common, other than that we were human and we were somehow connected to a certain line of work. Whether shipping or journalism, it was all the same. What saved me, if anything did, was being a good listener.

For example, if today I was catapulted to one of those painful-even-in-memory gatherings, I'd be thinking about suspended animation. Today I feel as though I have slowed down to an almost purely observational state in which everything around me moves and I remain still. Right now I can see the trees waving, the clouds changing shape, pattern and color while I feel like the fixed object. So should I be called upon to chat with strangers, I might blurt our something akin to, "Do you ever feel as though everything else in the world is swirling madly and you are not connected to it at all?" This is not what one would call a socially successful opening gambit.

With regard to the earlier "Breadcrumbs" posting and the subject of our scars, it isn't exactly scar tissue that made me dread those company dinners or benign cookouts, but the knowledge, which has only grown, that my brain doesn't seem to work in quite the same way as those of most people. It makes, at times, wild, gold-medal stride synaptical leaps from one topic to another, their similarities clear to me, baffling and probably annoying to others. It isn't something that can be stopped by any other means than not speaking. So while not a scar in the traditional sense, perhaps more of an idiosyncracy, it is one of the characteristics that I see as an essential part of who I am. And for good or ill, we are all who we are, it is just that some of us require a longer period of earthly adjustment to be okay with that. I suspect I have always seen things as connected, something is like something else, and on it goes. It is not a habit which can be broken; perhaps even friends find it trying and I know too well those attempts at social exchanges when the glazed look first appears. Oh well. We all can only bring what we have.

But identifying the quirks that define us is another integral part of self-discovery and, ultimate goal, self-acceptance. I can't say that knowledge has banished feelings of robust oddness...those puzzles we would have as part of tests (SATs? who remembers?) asking which object doesn't match...I will forever be the girl wearing purple socks when the dress requirement called for brown. The question always has been, always will be, do I let some potential opportunity slip past me or elbow my purple-socked way to the front of the line. One thing scars can add to our repertoire - toughness.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Awaiting Further Instructions (P.S. It isn't just you, we're all on Stand-By)

Here we are, waiting for our cue, our call, something that will reveal the next indicated thing. Talk about a uniting force...I do business with companies who create products using my designs. For the past 4-5 months, I have been, at intervals that come nowhere close to hounding, asking for information about sales performance, potential new lines, things that are useful to one who earns some of their income and professional reputation from licensing artwork. There has been no response to my questions. In the smaller picture, this can bring on feelings of ill treatment, the grump response, a tiny huff. In the larger picture, and I only, truly believe in the larger picture, it has no significance at all. I am content with the present state of affairs and if I want to get things moving, I can - and do - just go ahead and work on what comes to me without requiring an answer.

The recent illness of someone I love and treasure is helping me remember that, like it or not, there are no guarantees. As the newscasters choose to call it, the recent economic downturn has certainly been a deeply painful object lesson on that subject. But, you say, promises were made, contracts were written. And for that there are courts of law, ways to seek a version of justice. However, life will continue to be life and we have two choices - take it on its own terms or keep fighting the endless, futile round of battles, only to end up in line together, on Stand-By in a really big, overcrowded waiting room.

I have begun to see life as a process, or series of processes, each of which takes its own time to reach a form of blooming. It has always struck me that forcing plants (bulbs, in particular) to grow on demand is creepily unnatural. If it's not time for paperwhites, maybe we could move on to something else. A story I was told over the years concerned the family deciding to induce my mother's early labor, allowing my father who was being returned to the Pacific battle arena to see whoever his baby might be prior to shipping out (and the unstated but always lurking possibility of not returning). I'm told they did things like that in those days. She was in labor for 72 hours; I've had asthma and respiratory illness most of my life. Surely they knew about fetal distress in 1945...or maybe not. Yes, it was a situation with mitigating circumstances but...Just that, but.

It appears to me that we are all here in what could be called the dark, waiting, either patiently or not, for our orders, for clarity, for a decision that rests in the hands of someone else. How about this? Think of something else to do in the meantime, for no answer will come because you wish it would. Come up with a Plan B, learn to knit, read something really good in that devouring way we used to allow ourselves before we became so mature and felt we needed to give an accounting of all our moments. Become still, discover joy in waiting (isn't anticipation part of the fun?), do crossword puzzles, be willing to let it go. There may never be an answer, which, of course, is an answer in itself. Even going Stand-By, we will somehow, miraculously, wondrously, eventually arrive at the intended destination. Maybe not the one we intended, but the right one all the same.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Like Seeks Like: Daydream Believers

Those of us of a certain age may remember a Monkees hit called, "Daydream Believer." Backstory trivia - it was written by John Stewart who became part of The Kingston Trio (talk about showing one's age) when Dave Guard left... I swear I won't go any further into the backstory. What the mind retains and what it leaves behind like a game of Drop the Hankie is one of the great mysteries, at least to someone who has never been a neuroscientist.

Having written repeatedly about the way music resonates in my life, this reference is really just to open the door. Daydreams. I think, nationally, Americans are afflicted by the Puritan Ethic. In my family, at least on one side, there is direct linkage to hardy settlers and fighters for the revolution, combined with, from both sides, a nearly paralyzing dedication to plain, hard work. As far as I can tell, the drifting, mooning about and imagining started with my parents who most certainly did not have it modeled for them. The poetry-writing, science fiction magazine producing farm boy meets the movie-dazed young beauty who had a portfolio filled with ideas for Rose Parade floats and a children's book about giraffes. I know my father's parents were neither impressed nor understanding about writing as a life goal. At least my mother's family approached their children's futures with more open minds; they just wanted them to be happy.

So we have what is likely a predisposition to the wandering mind - a head more connected to the clouds than to concrete. Added to this as a genetic trait is the fact that mine was not a harmonious home and retreat into fantasy was also a survival tool. It became a place where I spent so much time that I would sometimes be shocked that what I had experienced in my imagination, the scripts I'd written for everyone so they would say what I wanted to hear, matched nothing I encountered when pulled back from my reverie.

Over the span of many years I could see that this escape still provided a refuge but allowed me to set myself up with unmeetable expectations...there is no wayI have found to force anyone to repeat the dialogue you have just written for them in your mind. As a coping skill, I can't say whether the balance leaned more toward helping or hurting. Based solely on the fact that I'm still here, I'd say let's go with helping. But unlearning the habit of expectations - based on nothing other than wanting - is a slow business. Determining to be present and not swooning along in another time and place is a version of getting sober, Be Here Now. And discover eventually that much of what was unbearable no longer exists, that Now has joy and substantially less disappointment, that imagination and perhaps life-saving escape are different fish.

A pivotal moment for me was having a friend describe training she had completed with a spiritual master on the subject of our unhappiness and how it comes from wanting. She took me through a simple exercise using something from my eternal list of wishes and instructed me to let go of wanting it but rather feeling it as already existing in my life. It gave me the sense that by wanting we drive our dreams from us; in becoming willing to let go of those desperate needs or what we percieve as needs we can find peace. It also restored to me my daydreaming, not as some enchanted cave to which I could retire to hide from what was happening in the moment, but as a movie, a diversion or entertainment of which I could watch as much or as little as I chose, clear in the knowing it was just that - entertainment, but one from which I might extract ideas for future projects, revisit mellow times, imagine situations and then release them.

I feel challenged to find the exact words to explain the differences between the dreamy states. The closest I can come is that one is mind candy and the other is a place we enter in desperation and exit to find disappointment and pain. Could we ever know how many great ideas have come from daydreaming? Over time, will it be possible to sustain the purely enjoyable state and not accidentally slip back into futile wanting? Yes, I think it is not only possible, it is a natural progression. It is still a long way from what we've been led to believe about our no-nonsense ancestors, yet I can - by imagining - picture the farmers, the miners, the New England tradesmen staring unseeing toward the horizon or the wild Atlantic and conjuring for a moment the heat of a long-ago kiss, a vision of what waits beyond the mountains, adventure for its own, pure sake.

Kermit The Frog (he accents "The") has been a kindred spirit for a long, long time. As he sings "The Rainbow Connection," the here and now remain, stationary and fine, while we glide off toward the sound of a waltz, a siren song not meant to doom but rather to empower us, the lovers, the dreamers and me.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

We are still golden

Recently I read that during the anti-war activities of the late 60s, or thereabouts, a group gathered and attempted to levitate the Pentagon. This may or may not be true, but I love that even as a rumor it has been carried forward so that teenagers 40 years later can understand the sense of wonder, of power, that we once felt was in our grasp. In my mind I hear the words to Joni Mitchell's song about Woodstock, telling us that we are "...stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden."

A book which has great resonance for me is Thomas Moore's "The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life," for in it he (I greatly oversimplify) reminds us that we lose what is most valuable in ourselves when we lose touch with magic, or enchantment. The fact that the Pentagon, in all likelihood, did not levitate is not the important part; what is important is that people came together and shared their belief in what was deemed impossible to see if it might happen. What if it actually lifted an immeasurably small distance for the shortest recordable amount of time? We can't know that it didn't.

What becomes of a society that abdicates its sense of wonder? We are in what are being called hard times; for some among us they are intolerably hard with no respite in sight. But without wonder, how do we find hope? In 1968, to name a year that holds enormous significance for me, I really believed we were in the midst of revolution. I see us wearing our peace symbols, a universal talisman, dancing by candlelight to The Doors and Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix in a way that could have been called tribal (which I guess was what the musical HAIR attempted to tell us). We knew the world could be different.

We need to resume our practices of simple magic. We need to accept that much of what is truly real remains mostly unseen and it will take intention and energy for us to regain that sight. We need to perform or witness impossible things every day. Our greatest challenge is to live not from our heads but from our hearts; to listen to the voices that urge us toward love and creating and healing, unfamiliar though they may be. In doing so, we will receive assignments that make no sense, that our so-called logical minds will hurry to argue away. With attention, it is not difficult to recognize the intense suggestions that come from hearts connected to other hearts, connected to source, to our divinity. For today, I say the larger, immovable objects can wait. For today, shall we see if we can levitate our spirits, find joy and peace and mystery in what appears to be the ordinary world?

I think of Dr. Lizardo from BUCKAROO BONZAI, a poster child for those seeking the miraculous outside themselves, and want to be sure that I end up with my head and my ass in the same realm, this one, magic enough for any of us once we know where to look.

Monday, May 11, 2009


The Sept/Oct issue of SOMERSET STUDIO ran a collaborative feature called "Black Cat Moon," in which the following was included in greatly abbreviated form as part of a story about childhood Halloweens and one particular year. My intention was to post it before Mother's Day as a way of acknowledging my artist mother and how many of her obsessions became mine. Some things don't change. There is no longer a garage with a magical dresser but there are stashes of fabrics, ribbons and trims, new and used, waiting to be called to active duty. Thank you, Barbara. All holidays will always belong to you.


At Valentine's Day it was, of course, about the cards we took to school and maybe pieces from her artist's stash of doilies, papers and ribbon that would add to the splendidness of our class Valentine mailbox. We wheedled for construction and crepe papers and glue to make our pretend fireworks at the Fourth of July. The Christmas whining escalated as we became more and more dizzy with dreams of our presents and started to argue over who got to lick the frosting bowl, who got to put the sprinkles on the decorated cookies, that kind of thing. But Halloween brought out our most demanding and bossy character flaws as we each told Mom, down to the tiniest stitch, just exactly how our costumes HAD to be.

There were three of us. I was the oldest, 12 for that Halloween of 1957. Mike was three years younger and Laurie two years younger than Mike. The fact that our mom was an artist, with a college degree and everything ( the shelves next to her favorite reading chair were filled with her art books on any topic from tole painting to Goya) was not a gift we took for granted, exactly, but one we did try to exploit for our own purposes. I can't remember Mom ever saying, "No, that's too complicated," or "I'm too busy." In fact, the years in which any of us picked a simple costume, she'd try and talk us into a more complicated, more challenging interpretation. Once she even tried to sew me a pair of tights for a dance recital and I knew she was disappointed when the available materials let her down. She imaginatively put in zippers at the ankles for a more snug fit. They were a disaster, the only costume I knew that got the best of her.

If I had known 1957 would be my last year of trick or treating, that by the next October I'd be more interested in a boy-girl party with a scavenger hunt and the possibility of making out, would I have picked a different costume, something more glorious, showy, something more take-a-final-bow? No, probably not. I was very clear that I wanted to be a black cat and, because I too liked a creative challenge, I had figured out that I had almost everything I needed to do it myself - black ballet slippers, tights, leotard, an eyebrow pencil to draw whiskers on my face and a plastic headband onto which I could glue ears. I really didn't give much thought to a tail, it didn't seem that important. In fact, I figured I was doing Mom a favor. She still had to make a turtle costume for Mike and a one-of-a-kind princess gown for Laurie.

As background, let me tell you our house was small. My sister and I shared a bedroom which was remodeled - carpentry only - a couple times, which made more space for bookshelves and a closet with storage drawers underneath, but left even less floor space so we had bunk beds until I moved away when I was 18. The same carpenter who was kept busy adding bookcases to every possible part of the living room and my parents' room also built a storage island/eating space in our tiny kitchen. It was one of the areas that was just Mom's, home for art and craft supplies. Her only other storage was an old dresser in the garage. That is where she kept patterns and fabric - deconstructed formals from Eastern Star rummage sales, buttons and bits saved from other cut-down clothes, yardage from sales, things that were given. She kept a wooden box of sewing supplies, needles, threads, snaps, hooks-and-eyes and a ceramic doll figure, smooth and shaped like a bowling pin, which she called a "Darn It" for it was used to give form to a sock while it was being mended. My sister and I loved the Darn It, a piece our mom had painted and glazed when she worked for a ceramics manufacturer after I was born. It was from this chest of drawers that sequined gossamer would appear, unfaded black cotton for Zorro or a cat costume, a length of lace for a Spanish mantilla, fringe by the yard, felt, millinery flowers, vivid Hawaiian prints. The reality was that the chest had just the four drawers but they seemed to hold so much more than could rationally have fit into such a space. As I think of my mother in this light, I wish that words like rational, ordinary, sensible and linear could have left my life and vocabulary sooner. That they have left at all, no matter the years, is a miracle, I have no doubt.

And so the designing began. Mike's turtle outfit took considerable engineering, research and a few prototypes. He had chosen that costume for he loved turtles and tortoises, being allergic to furry pets yet having such a tender heart for other creatures that we did have three desert tortoises as pets. They lived in our patio: we packed them in a large box of dry leaves so they could hibernate during the winter. They ate strawberry ice cream at birthday parties and would run, the tortoise version of run, when Mike called them. Laurie's princess gown, with tiara and scepter, was more a matter of fitting. Mom loved finding acres of old formals which she could take apart, cut down, and put back together in completely new ways. She didn't ever remake them into formals, but oh, the mileage they provided as costumes. There were gowns in three different shades of blue that became a satin bodice, layered net skirt with taffeta underskirt and puffed lace sleeves. I believe we had a real rhinestone tiara, another treasure pulled from a Masonic jumble sale. Instead of a mask, Laurie wanted to wear makeup, which Mom applied while I arranged her princess hairstye. Mike and I had turtle and cat headgear from the same patern, a sort of bathing cap shape that tied under the chin, his was green and earless, mine black with ears lined in pale pink felt. A full-body cat suit with a stuffed and wired tail replaced my simple leotard vision. As Mom sewed it, my cat even had a bit of white tuxedo shirt on her chest like Poe, my grandmother's cat and likely inspiration for my disguise. White gloves worked for Poe's white front paws. The only thing we kept from my version were the ballet slippers. I became a not furry but definitely cat-shaped being, whiskers and all. And when all the parts of the holiday were over, components and remnants of what we wore were returned to the dresser to await future transformation.

As Mike's turtle shell took form it became clear that, beloved as it was, it would not be especially comfortable, sitting down would be a challenge and he'd need help at school to put it on, but that was true for most of the elementary kids. Discomfort didn't matter. His cardboard and paint shell was transforming him into his favorite animal. Thinking back on it, I wonder that we never wanted to be anything or anyone scary. I can imagine the fun Mom would have found in creating the Creature From the Black Lagoon or the Mummy or the green-skinned witch from THE WIZARD OF OZ. She told us the story of attending a high school costume party as a pack of cigarettes, which had been her own creation. I imagine her hoping we'd come running up, shrieking things like, "the Empire State Building," "Mount Rushmore," "a submarine!" Serious challenges. My brother recently shared a story of the year he wanted to be Zorro and how, in his memory, he had been so demanding about the mask and how it needed to be perfect. I remember such moments on other occasions, wanting to go back and do it over, being more thankful and having, somehow, a more mature appreciation of our mother's remarkable creativity and the happiness it brought her. I have to trust that she knew our gratitude, that she had some sense of the power of those experiences to stay with us and that as we aged, we would come to value even further the gift she was.

Monday, April 20, 2009


"Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real."
-Cormac McCarthy

A linear life is something that feels mythic to me, an existence in which the trajectory is true as a compass without switchbacks, doglegs, detours, alluring byways or sinkholes. The liver of such a life has a plan. Their focus is not diverted by the giant tinfoil ball which, the billboards assure, will astound all who see it. Their canteens and gas tanks are full, nobody in the car has a sudden need for a restroom. They have a destination and estimated arrival time and, by God, nothing pulls them off course. They meet all goals and deadlines, each step builds upon the one before and, without doubt, their hair always turns out in the back. No badly-tossed Frisbee or untied shoelace has ever caused them to stumble; they've never accidentally wandered off course due to some amnesiac condition, fallen asleep with something in the oven or been inclined to take up with someone who, as was said in my family, was no better than they ought to be.

The absence of that linear inclination (or is it DNA?) has for years led to endlessly unproductive comparisons and an abundance of mental scolding. For the record: there is perhaps nothing that I find less agreeable than a scold; a tuna-and-turpentine sandwich sounds a whole lot tastier than anyone's voice (why do we do this to ourselves?) pointing out bad calls like a panel of sportscasters dissecting the Lakers game I just watched. At a certain age, I had to own that, like Jack, I would be likely to trade whatever animal I was leading for the magic beans, not because I'm a fool but because I believe that sure things are an illusion and Divine opportunity finds the least predictable ways of drawing us in. Added to these less-than-top drawer inclinations is a lifetime of depression, never adequately identified or treated until middle age. Here is a piece of advice: if you have the feeling that something is wrong, even if you think what's wrong is you, pay attention. Sooner or later you will find that it isn't you in the sense of your core being, your soul, but rather your chemistry and, maybe, your scars.

In elementary school we learned to square dance. There was the hand-over-hand promenade around the circle, some steps that took us backward, the changing of partners, a substantial number of fifth-grade boys who would stare at your eighth-grade chest and one guy who must have prayed to be delivered by that nuclear flash we were always preparing for rather than have to extend his moist and waxy hands to girls who would - how could we help it? - talk about him later. But it had a free-wheeling cheeriness and no sense that the world would actually end - no flash involved - if we made a mistake. In seventh grade I learned ballroom dancing (called with droll amplification, Cotillion) and clearly saw the difference between the ordered disarray of the hoedown and the, at least as we practiced it, stilted and land mine-strewn world of boy-girl dancing. The rules were much clearer, the chances of getting it wrong much greater.

If we have been, for the most part, reasonably sober, reasonably present and not serially stupid by intention, yet still found ourselves in lives that seemed to fold back on themselves like mixing cake batter AND have glanced around and seen that People Who Looked Like They Were Doing It Right didn't have their hems held up with safety pins or seem conflicted about what they might be when they grew up, self-criticism is tough to dodge without other models or new definitions of success. Our past is real, as is our present. The scars deserve examination for they may be the breadcrumbs that help us toward home.

To be continued...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Words on a less-than-perfect day

This may be a day of straight talk, borrowed from the pages of EVERYTHING REVERBERATES: THOUGHTS ON DESIGN from Chronicle Books.

My day has been spent waiting to hear legal advice on a medical question and at the moment, as well as most of yesterday, it has that life-and-death, feel your pulse in your throat, I-could-be-wrong-but-the-system-sucks aftertaste. Before I fall asleep I wanted to read what smart people had to say about other things. So as an antidote to the day, here are a few quotes:

Discomfort is almost a prerequisite for a great idea.
- Craig Frazier

Most people
ignorantly suppose that artists
are the decorators of our human existence,
the esthetes
to whom the cultivated may turn
when the real
business of the day is done....
Far from being merely decorative,
the artist's
is one of the few guardians
of the inherent sanity and equilibrium
of the human spirit
that we see.
-Robert Motherwell

there is simply no need
to be either
clever or original.
-Ivan Chermayeff

(and, finally, from one of my icons)

I do think there is something to
be said for art which is just sort of
lukewarm...the kinds of things
that I'm attracted to are nonchalant.
-Edward Gorey

From me: we are not always going to get it right, either in the doing or the responding or the interpreting. The most we can hope for is that to any moment we bring our best, suspend criticism and comparison, and remember that civilized behavior is contagious.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A mutant destiny

A week ago I began a post to mark the 40 years since Al-Anon saved my life. I wrote about the friend who finally got me to the first meeting and how she, her name was Jean Patterson and she has been gone for most of those 40 years and anonimity would not be an issue, convinced me to leave a poisonous marriage by simply getting in the car and driving away. I deleted the essay, it was just too real.

By beginning that story, I managed to call up all the feelings that nearly defeated me so many years ago; one of the ways my body had been shrieking at me then, which I misunderstood, as did the family doctor who should have known better, was with a chronic and disabling intestinal ailment, now I believe it is called IBS and I have been free of it for almost four decades. As I wrote and relived the details of my escape, my stomach began to hurt and, for a brief time, all the symptoms were back, as though they had never left. Let's call that revelation unnerving. And the lesson I took from it was this: we never know what alien vestige is still feeding off some part of our soul until we drag it all out into the light. While exerting what I believe was its final, punishing attempt, it was forced to let go. In its aftermath, I have felt tired yet peaceful and very much surprised at the ability of our life experiences to retain a great power, for good or ill, regardless of how long and deeply we've worked to exorcise them. We are the amalgam of all our moments.

Which makes me wonder if the most potent (again whether seemingly beneficial or harmful) of these events, when borne over a long period of time, transforms us on a cellular level; I believe so. In a way, we are mutants, life forms which differ from our original states. That in turn makes me consider that mutant is simply one of the names for our individual evolution. Is there, for each of us, a specific destiny, one which can only be reached through what I could call trial by ordeal, the bearing and surviving of the various dark nights that mark human existence? I think that is somewhere close to the truth, or at least what feels like truth to me.

Perhaps my gratitude is owed not only to those who led me away from peril but to the fact that my life has not been, shall we say, smooth and consistently lovely. My mother used to speak of trying times building character and I'd ask myself, under my breath, just how much character could one person need. For today I can accept the blessing of illumination, continue to find willingness to acknowledge that life is just life, be truly relieved for situations in which I no longer have to live and ask for the courage to keep looking back, to be sure no one was left behind.

Saturday, February 28, 2009


From other postings, you may have seen that songs - mostly from other times - thread their way through my life and mind. I suspect they take me places I would not have found without their help. Consider this another in a succession of non-linear stories.

A phrase can be enough to dislodge a memory or coax an idea to draw breath. It has been said that singer/songwriter John Prine began his classic "Sam Stone" with two words: broken radio, as in, "...sweet songs never last too long on broken radios." Last Sunday I saw a listing by Ann Powers in the Los Angeles Times entertainment guide. It read, in part, "Martha Wainwright with 'I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too'...made a gorgeous, hungry, sad, sweet album that anyone who's ever been recklessly in love should hear."

Recklessly in love. Oh no.

This morning on NPR's Weekend Edition there was a discussion about Van Morrison's 1968 album ASTRAL WEEKS which he performed live and in its entirity not long ago. Another such performance is scheduled. There was talk of it being considered one of the great, all-time albums by ROLLING STONE; a teacher at a New York university found that of 16 students in his class, 4 called it their favorite album; all 4 had been born long after its release.

Morrison was interviewed about its meaning, the personal experiences it illuminated. His response was that it was fiction, bits and pieces he'd collected from everywhere, "These are short stories in musical form." Others interviewed on the program said of ASTRAL WEEKS, " much of what makes music great is courage." (We are shown by the music that) " can be lived more deeply." I found my way to the album in 1970 and from the first listening, it was like sliding into a pool, sinking to the bottom, yet still being able to breathe. It made sense to me, I was unaware that it didn't match other music of that time and I found in it images that illustrated the inexpressable state of being, as I then was, recklessly in love.

Even after nearly 40 years, I understand, though I have learned to let go of such expectation, the madwoman wish to dip in bronze, to preserve, such rare merging of the human and the unquantifiable. At the time I didn't even have words for it, I just knew that I wanted to hold onto it in a way that was, at best, unwise and, at worst, extremely unwell, awarenesses that came to me much later. In THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, the thought, let alone the fact, of the gold is the source of insanity. I admit that some of us bring more than a little bit of crazy with us and under such conditions can reach states where instincts for self-preservation evaporate. And if those instincts were not too fully developed before recklessness took over, well, one might as well sit on the railroad tracks and stare at the sun.

I've not yet heard Martha Wainwright's album. I don't know if I expect to find consolation there or the uncomfortable reminder of what it feels like to be entirely in your body, yet out of your mind. I think of it as an obsessive state in which we imagine finding our way into a space of absolute knowing, a place from which we, or so we believe, cannot not be dislodged from our object, where there is, we hope, something substantial enough to grasp and trust, a place where we would be allowed to exchange reckless for real.

Surviving being recklessly in love elicits an ambiguous response in me; yes, I was there and managed to find my way back, but, like the last of our astronauts to leave the moon, will there forever be that longing for one final, impossible flight?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dreams, again? and good news

First, a question. It may just be curiosity or it may be a wish to confirm that something is afoot in the universe. Has anyone else been having intricate, vivid dreams that seem to go on and on; something out-of-the-ordinary, especially something that address a significant issue in an illuminating way? Just wondering.

Next, it has been a time when reports of good news are coming to me from disparate correspondents, each of them loved dearly, each on a distinct and separate path. In no particular order, I celebrate the finding of a job, in a city and economy where that is beyond challenging, and it is a job that fits the intention and qualification of the applicant. Good news, big good news. To learn that a play, grown and polished over labor-filled time, has moved further along the judging process in a prestigious competition brings appreciation, still with my wish for even greater acknowledgement. An artist whose energies, despite health-borne roadblocks, make many of us look like Han Solo frozen in the carbon block, prepares to open her Etsy shop and take her work global. A perilously delayed diagnosis of pneumonia now has a treatment that seems to be bringing it under control. A promotion and raise, unexpected, came to help heal nearly unbearable grief following a mother's death. Robins and roses are evident in a garden to which it seemed spring might never come; even if winter decides to hang around a bit longer, the promise has been made. Each day holds blessings, especially if we expand our definition and find that the box holds one last cookie, unbroken, with lots of chips, and here we thought they were all gone.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Alternate lives

Cafe Hafa, Tangier.
When AOL stopped auto-deleting all the new mail, or mail kept as new, that had been hanging around for 30 days or so, it lured a shadowy part of my nature into a state of hoarding correspondence. The fact that there was no well-functioning printer at the time needs to bear some of the blame, but that weak and procrastinating part simply let things pile up. No need to mention just how many things but as the computer began to slow down and give me the electronic equivalent of the stink eye, I started sorting - printing, saving in files, deleting or releasing.

There was gold there, as I expected; there were also serendipitous mailings, one of which connects to something I've been thinking about for a few days. It was a call, forwarded by a writer friend, for "innovative film writing," which was described, in part, as "...attempt to implant your cinematic experience in others." Dangerous doors to open for one who can take (as may be witnessed in previous postings) a phrase or interpretation from any book, song, movie or word-centered presentation and go riding off like Jeremiah Johnson, alone in the high country, to track whatever realization has left its prints in the snow.

After several evenings of watching for a second time the Jason Bourne trilogy, what stayed in my mind was the name of a city, a Bob Dylan song and the fact that I am actually 64 years old, though my mind works like hell to sidestep that reality. "If you see her, say hello. She might be in Tangier," never has been and now, likely, never will be about me. The location filming in the Bourne movies, seen closer and on a larger tv screen this time around, was something of a wonder. It was not Toronto or Prague posing as Moscow; it was Moscow. But much as the visuals - and the plentiful chases, studies in deep black ops endurance - helped me escape along with Jason, it was just the simple mention that he had traveled (from India, we knew) through Tangier, before the third picture took us there, that had me twirling through my past.

I can't say that I really, actively chose the path my life took; it was more like an unmarked car which pulled up to the curb and I got in. There were never moments in which I thought, "Instead of sitting at this typewriter, I could be renting motor scooters on Corfu," or any Mediterranean coastal island or town. Life was just life, with goals and dreams that didn't involve world travel. I never saw myself, and don't imagine anyone else did, as exotic, adventurous, daring, mysterious or likely to be found in Tangier, but I suppose the possibility existed, for I didn't actually admit until a few days ago that my evolution into such a creature was unlikely to happen.

Nearly 30 years ago I worked with a woman, who might have been found anywhere. She and Bob Dylan were friends - he dedicated a song to her at a local concert. She could walk a tightrope and didn't believe in car insurance and in looking at the two of us through the same lens, I felt pretty much like someone who would be instantly recognized as some version of regular, while she would be compared to the fragrant smoke from a joss stick...sandalwood, patchouli or something unidentifiable, something other.

Allowing myself to accept the fact that her sort of otherness had ceased to be an option was not painful so much as surprising. I don't expect that at this point I will learn to water ski either. Perhaps it is just my mind that processess the passing of time in increments that have pretty much nothing to do with how rapidly the years go by. Tangier or Corfu or faraway places in general are not likely spots for women of a certain age to have new beginnings. But grabbing hold of other words, a Marianne Fathful song called "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan," in which she sings, "At the age of thirty-seven she realized she'd never ride through Paris in a sport car with the warm wind in her hair," it is clear that there are some alternate lives which I choose to hold onto a bit longer.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


All my life I’ve read mysteries. My mother read mysteries - she also read westerns and stories about the cavalry and the Battle at Little Big Horn. It was the mystery gene that was transmitted.

Beginning with Nancy Drew in the third grade, I spent decades reading my way through series by writers British, Australian, Swedish, Japanese, American and I can’t recall how many others. Nancy Drew is tied to very specific memories, such as my Aunt Dot walking up the driveway on my birthday with a gift stack, each present wrapped separately in an identifiable shape that could only be one thing. The public library, across the street from my elementary school, did not carry Nancy Drew, nor the Hardy Boys, the Dana Girls or any of the other somewhat pulpy favorites as they were deemed to lack literary merit. It seemed to me then and now to be a version of de facto censorship. Someone had read something - maybe that Nancy had a boyfriend! - they didn’t like and all the works in the genre were considered trashy, unworthy of shelf space at the Santa Catalina or any other branch. So one had to purchase the books, trade with friends or receive them as gifts in order to read them. And even though there wasn’t, at least in the N.D. books, a thread that spun out from one book to the next, it seemed essential to read them in order. No need for a paragraph before the opening page which said, “Previously in Nancy Drew...”

Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett were early grown-up mysteries, along with Cornell Woolrich and James M. Cain. Reading, particularly of mysteries, sustained me through uneven times; during a early and trauma-ridden first marriage, I easily consumed nearly a book a day. But I was not, am not, a mystery fan who likes to solve the puzzle. If I can figure out who-did-what, I think the writer hasn’t done his or her job. Of course there are the stories where the villain is known early on, but that’s not the same thing. One day it occurred to me to wonder just what was it that drew me to mysteries, not quite to the exclusion of other fiction.

There is the puzzle aspect, but since I don’t set out to solve it, what does that mean? The closest I can come to explain this passion to myself - and I don’t believe that we are ever required to explain ourselves to ourselves or anyone else - was probably rooted in the sense I have that it is all a mystery. There was a time in my life when I visited psychics, wanting to know what was ahead; I wanted a periscope with which to peer around corners and try and learn if there was a good outcome waiting for me. And the definition of “a good outcome” was very specific, filled with expectation based on wanting and a limited, naive grasp of the way in which the Universe operates. Lengthy, bruising lessons have helped me admit that the way ahead is uncharted, unchartable, and the energy spent in trying to see in such dim light embezzles the energy we could invest in finding the joy or the peace of right now. A well-constructed mystery novel frequently gives us the answer that daily life denies us - how does it all turn out? I find something comfortable in such stories, yet I am never disappointed when the ending is ambiguous, a more familiar situation in which the mystery continues to unfold as time is allowed to reveal next page.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Gray Areas

Before we held the election, before the potential opposing candidates had been named, I finally read THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy, the first of his books I’d come to. I didn’t know what it was about nor even that it had won the 2007 Pulitzer for fiction, not until it was in my hands.

In the recent past I’d seen post-apocalyptic movies but the two that come immediately to mind had humans turning into zombies - a situation that could not be called good or hopeful - but which managed to make the enemies no longer accountable for their actions. Hey, I’m a zombie, I can’t help myself.

In McCarthy’s book there are no zombies. There are very few life forms of any description. The world has turned to ash; no food grows, waters are fouled, the sun is always dimmed. The main characters, a man and his son, are trying to make their way south across an unrecognizable America. There was a point in the story when I felt I had to stop, that I couldn’t bear to fill my mind with additional images of cannibals and all that had been lost.

But the story had me and I finished it in a morning’s sitting. It is not a novel one completes, then goes off to do something pointless. Of me it demanded interpretation, not to find what it might mean to everyone, but simply what it meant to me.

The dominant word that played over and over in my head was - savage. And with that word came a realization that the sides had already been chosen. We will not become either savages or carriers of fire, bringers of light after the fall. We are now who we will be.

Savage came to define itself in many of its forms, often cloaked in pleasing or at least acceptable exteriors. If you are on the lookout for drooling monsters you will miss some of the more ferocious beasts. I began to sense that we had reached the crossroads a long time ago, I can’t say just when, but I could easily equate cannibals with war profiteers, lying politicians, deniers of freedoms, any sort of predator, bully or aggressor, and saw the enormity of their numbers. That any one of us (or maybe just most of us) could possibly turn from civilized to savage under certain conditions was not reassuring. I began to believe than in each moment we have a choice, each decision we make in an ordinary day really does align us with one side or the other. And how important each moment becomes when we realize what rests on those choices. THE ROAD warned me to be mindful, told me where the lines were and made it clear there was not, there never will be, a gray area. We have either signed up to carry the fire and the light or to extinguish them. What I took from McCarthy’s words was that we needn’t wait for the apocalypse to find out what we’re made of. If we look honestly, we already know.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Cautionary Tales

Throughout elementary school years, we were shown a film about how not to be a jerk, thereby keeping yourself and the other kids safe. I remember two of the characters - Giddy Goose and Foolish Fish. Goose walked in front of a child on the swings, her head turned away, never seeing those outstretched legs coming right at her. Fish was a smart-aleck who took pleasure in putting his thumb over the drinking fountain, creating a puddle on the polished linoleum hall floor, resulting in a classic case of slip-and-fall. We saw the film at least once at each grade level, probably more often. Combined with the earthquake drills, fire drills, air raid drills was another film on how to save your buddy from a rattlesnake bite by cutting an "x" directly over the fang marks with the knife you always carried, then sucking out and spitting out the poison. I believe popular thinking has changed on that technique. We did not lack for models of sensible, even courageous behavior.

Yet somehow I became my own cautionary tale. One clear example came on a day I walked home from school to find a shoe box sitting on top of one of the trash cans awaiting pick-up at the curb next to our driveway. The box’s lid was on and I didn’t recognize it as anything we had discarded so I walked over and lifted the top. As I remember it, a lizard lept out, scrambling across my hand, and I’m sure I must have screamed. Our house was set at the very back of the lot and I don’t recall anyone coming to see what was the matter. I assume that I reached the front door in hysterics for my dad was summoned from work and I was driven to the doctor, throwing up all the way. There is no memory of what the doctor said or thought, I just know that on the drive home, my father tried to tell me the story of Pandora’s Box and about never taking the lids off things and letting horror loose in the world. Say goodbye to curiosity and those dwindling threads of daring DNA.