Please Touch My “Ta- zhear”!

For some reason I was  in the dining room taking a quick swipe around the furniture with a dust rag. I approached  my grandmother’s étagère and began to carefully  pick up each figurine in order to dust the shelf beneath.  Some of the decorative pieces belonged to me, and some had belonged to my mother, grandmother, or great aunts. I wiped off each keepsake dutifully, wondering as I always did what was eventually going to happen to this repository of memories and holder of outdated pieces of ceramic.DSC_0138

I don't care too much for the figurines, but some gladiolas do look wonderful in Mama's epergne.

I don’t care too much for the figurines, but some gladiolas do look wonderful in Mama’s epergne.

I really didn’t want to keep all these Royal Doultons and Royal Copenhagens, much less the Lladros, but what was I going to do with them? I doubted my children would be interested in them.  And I didn’t see too much point in having the étagère either, except for sentimental value. Perhaps if I decorated in a  traditional style, the piece would be more prominently displayed in my home, rather than languishing in the rarely used dining room.

When I was a child the étagère loomed large in my grandmother’s living room, but as an adult I could see that the shelves were too narrow to satisfactorily display one’s treasures. What I had done when I inherited the piece was to try to rotate all the figurines so that they were all displayed at some point. My newer things did not look right on the shelves, so I rearranged the same old pieces, feeling like the clerk at a seldom visited antique store.As I worked at my  task, an unmistakeable voice wafted through the air behind me.

Don’t  touch my ta- zhear, now!

What? Startled, I forced myself to turn around slowly, so as not to drop a ceramic shepherd boy.  And there she was, in her housedress, with her glasses hanging around her neck on a chain.

“Mama! It’s so good to see you!” Quickly I set down my dust rag to envelop my tiny grandmother in a big hug. I insisted she sit down in a chair that once belonged to my Aunt May.

What’s my ta- zhear  doing over at your house?

Mama had always gotten right to the point.

“It’s mine now, Mama”. Pointing to the large piece made of some dark wood, I reminded her. “Don’t you remember it was your Mother’s, then yours, then my mother’s? And now I have it.”

My great grandmother, Etta Blanche Miles Morarity, to my knowledge the original owner of the etagere.

My great grandmother, Etta Blanche Miles Morarity, to my knowledge the original owner of the etagere.

Mama, Marie Blanche Morarity James, the second owner of the etagere, with Grandaddy, William Martin James.

Mama, Marie Blanche Morarity James, the second owner of the etagere, with Grandaddy, William Martin James.

Well, I don’t want you grandchildren touching my ta- zhear.

“Yes, Mama, how could I forget? Those were the first words out of your mouth every time we walked in your front door. Plus I’m fifty seven years old now.”  And feeling a little snippy, I added, “Actually the piece is called an étagère”.

Here is a lady we were not allowed to touch. In the background is a painting that jus much more my style.

Here is a lady we were not allowed to touch. In the background is a painting that jus much more my style.

My Mama pronounced it ta- zhear. And where’s Bessie? 

“My mother? Well, Mama I thought you would know. She died about six years ago. That’s why I have the ta- zhear.”

 Oh, yes, I remember now. She’s usually over in the smoking section.

“She probably is, Mama, or avoiding you because you keep calling her Bessie instead of Elizabeth.” I was sure Mama must remember how vehemently my mother had always objected to being called Bessie. No one else but Mama dared to call her that.

I couldn’t  help looking over at the étagère shelf which held  the small  framed   photograph of Mama’a beloved sister in law, Bessie James, as a child. Bessie, who bears  a startling resemblance to my niece Alexis, died as a young woman after walking in front of an airplane propeller.

The original Bessie

The original Bessie. The back of the photo says, “To my grandparents in Kingston Ontario from your little granddaughter Bessie James”.

Wanting to move to a happier subject I added, “I’m a grandmother myself now, Mama. I already have one precious grandson, and in a few months I’m going to have a second grandchild to love.”

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Mama chuckled. Yes, I heard about that up where I live.

“Yep, Mama, one of these days pretty soon  MY doorbell is going to ring, and when I open it, little people are going to race through MY front door, and what do you think MY first words will be to those little folks?”

Before Mama could say anything I answered my own question.

“Here’s what I’m going to say. Please  DO touch my ta- zhear! I’ve got some things on it that are just for you!”

Well, I declare.

I turned my back to Mama for just a moment so I could envision what I had just realized was the perfect use for  this venerable piece of furniture.

When I turned around, Mama’s chair was empty once again. Probably it was best for her not to see what I had done to her showpiece.

We're safe here until we start climbing.

We’re safe here until we start climbing.

Of course I’ll have different things out when I know what each grandchild enjoys. These were just some toys I had handy.

From this...

From this…

 

To this!

To this!

It’s important to cherish  the memories of those who have gone before us. We thrive on feeling connected to others down through the centuries. But there also comes a time to embrace what is new, to start  traditions that make sense today,which will hopefully be enjoyed and passed on to others. The ta-zhear is mine  now, so let the good times begin. You’re welcome to touch!

Swaddled

Big, big exhalation. How long have I been holding my breath? About nine months and three weeks, the exact length of time it took for my grandson to grow large enough to come into the world and for me to get out there to meet him.

Amid all the fun of watching my daughter grow huge with child and seeing she and her husband prepare to be parents,  I struggled mightily on the inside  with becoming a grandparent. I held an incessant  nine month inner dialogue that went something like this:

(Read to self quickly, then repeat. For a more realistic experience, read at 4:00 A.M.)

How can I be a grandmother I don’t know how to be a grandmother all I know is what my mother did which was come over every day for weeks and weeks and wash the clothes and cook and clean  and help with the baby and sometimes she brought her sisters for reinforcement and there C. and E. are out there in California with no relatives, well they know some people but not that many why haven’t I retired what if she needs help and I’m not there it’s not like I can just get in a plane and fly over there anytime stop overwhelming yourself and what will I do when I miss the baby that is going to be intolerable it hurts my stomach right now and I don’t even know what to be called all I know is nothing countryfied, like, not Meemaw or Mawmaw or no undignified baby talk words like MooMoo or PooPoo you’ll eventually be called something  yes but  when I do go out there how can I get all the cleaning and cooking and baby stuff done so they will be all caught up by the time we leave so she won’t need me after we’ve gone and so nothing will upset or depress her the way I always was postpartum oh groan it was so awful that would be unacceptable I’ll just have to get everything done that’s all and what if I’m not good with the baby I never thought I was good with babies and what if I can’t do anything with him that would be a disaster  I haven’t taken care of a baby in twenty seven years but they’ll EXPECT me to be good with soothing  upset babies because that is what grandmothers know how to do and I am going to be declared one, but how can I be a grandmother?

Got it?

As with most unknowns, there was nothing to do but wait, and to be sure, one day before his due date Micah was born. Without me. We already had our dates planned to come out, according to  the way my daughter and son in law wanted things to be, in case anyone wonders why we didn’t charter the first plane out of Memphis.

Waiting for the unknown.

Waiting for the unknown.

Finally we met our baby. When I held him, I felt a deep, peaceful  knowing, as if reconnected to an old soul. I know you, I thought, and you are mine. I rushed headlong  into baby love.

We meet baby Micah.

We meet baby Micah.

What about my worries? About soothing the baby, the best news ever was this little invention, the swaddler,  which did not exist in my day. The blanket like garment soothes a fractious baby and makes him feel warm, safe and secure. The old fashioned…uh… grandmother in me was skeptical at first but soon I was won over when Micah, bundled, relaxed immediately in my arms.

Micah in his swaddler.

Micah in his swaddler.

What about the sleep deprived parents? It turns out that these people know how to take naps, something I was never able to do. When we arrived each morning from our nearby motel we relieved whichever parent was awake to retreat to bed. The parents would say they were tired, but they seemed pretty sane to me. They were wearing clothes, for example, and seemed to be taking showers. I saw them reading sometimes.

The new parents are holding their own.

The new parents are holding their own.

What about being helpful? Within the first few minutes of our arrival, my daughter said to me, “Thanks for holding the baby so I can have an adult conversation.” Aaaah, we were already helping! And speaking of helping, Micah’s grandfather turned out to be the most effective baby whisperer in the house. Whenever he wasn’t doing some manual labor for my daughter, such as hanging pictures, he could be found with Micah in his arms.

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But what about my daughter’s mood? SHE WAS FINE!!!!!!! Her focus was on baby’s well being, not seeming a bit overwhelmed, just taking things moment by moment.  I did have to make some changes in the eating arena. One can only choke down so many dry turkey sandwiches. Though the meals I fixed were often consumed more hurriedly than in the past, hopefully they made the new parents feel nurtured.

I wanted them to have fresh, delicious food.

I wanted them to have fresh, delicious food.

And about the cleaning, my daughter did allow me to clean her kitchen floor on my hands and knees. Pregnant ladies can’t see their own feet, let alone a floor. She was very appreciative that I had done it, but the good news was that had I not gotten around to it, it wouldn’t have bothered her a bit. Finally the memories of myself as a new mother, feeling sad and defeated because my house was so cluttered, faded in my mind. Actually, I had been the one in disarray, not the house.Thankfully, my daughter does not have those burdens.

As the days went by we settled into an easy routine of baby care. It came to me that we were all pitching in to take care of the baby, the parents, and their home. Why had I thought all the emotional responsibility was going to fall only on me? I found I could relax and just be a grandmother!

This is the tree I'm planning to climb with Micah.

This is the tree I’m planning to climb with Micah.

All too soon it was time to leave. I came to Pasadena in hypervigilant mode, ready to do whatever battles were necessary for my people. I anticipated it to be hard. Yes, I did work all day and retire each night to sleep as hard as a brick bat, but it was fun, joyous and fulfilling.

The Saga Motor Inn, where my husband and I retired each night, opened the shutters to let in the cool evening air, and read our books in complete silence before we crashed.

The Saga Motor Inn, where my husband and I returned each night, opened the shutters of our room to let in the cool evening air, and read our books in complete, delightful silence before we crashed.

We were all bound by our love for Micah, and enjoyed seeing one another enjoy him. The arrival of this precious little fellow had changed all our previous, familiar configurations. Wife to mother. Husband to father. Mother to grandmother. Father to grandfather. We all revolved, gracefully, I thought, around our new sun.

I marveled at my son in law’s transformation into a Daddy. He has won my heart over and over with his devotion and thoughtfulness.

Showing Micah Mommy's artwork.

Showing Micah Mommy’s artwork.

My sweet son in law. Now he's a Daddy.

My sweet son in law. Now he’s a Daddy.

I beamed at seeing my daughter in action as a Mother.

She's a natural!

She’s a natural!

IMG_2825I marveled at this this couple, reassured at their priorities and partnership.

The happy new family.

The happy new family.

I treasured seeing  Grandaddy gaze at the baby.DSC_0058

I drank in each moment with Micah, just as I had hoped to do. I have memorized him now.IMG_2867

Families are all more than the sum of their parts, but now we have more parts in the mix, and it’s glorious. More relationships. More ties. More moments to savor now and memories to plan for the future.IMG_2865

I was not ready to leave, but I did so with a heart that was  full and peaceful.

Swaddled, really.

My Autobiographical Garden

All gardens  are a form of autobiography.” – Robert Dash.

 

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I can’t stop thinking about my back yard. To say that events have not unfolded back there as expected this year would be a gross understatement.

I tend to take a benevolent dictator stance as a gardener. I agree to plant seeds with the understanding that in return said seeds will grow into objects of beauty and astonishment, seeking only to please me.

Of course sometimes  – ahem- often, things don’t turn out the way I hoped. And when that happens I always think I have next year to correct the situation.

And then I find out I don’t have next year to correct the situation, because the garden has taken a new path altogether, regardless of my wishes.  I realize I have counted upon an illusion.

Take this year. In late 2013 a pseudo ice storm froze several Leyland Cypresses, causing them to fall over my fence and knock it down.

The trees weren't pretty, but they did conceal a tacky shed next door.

The trees weren’t pretty, but they did conceal a tacky shed next door.

As the bitter winter weather continued with low, low temperatures I huddled inside the house unaware of  how my plants would be affected.

When spring finally arrived, I saw I had lost Grandfather, my enormous rosemary. I counted on his leaves for cooking and his lovely aroma to greet me as I swam in the deep end of the pool.

This was an enormous rosemary named Grandfather. He didn't make it.

This was an enormous rosemary named Grandfather. He didn’t make it.

This was Grandfather during healthier times.

This was Grandfather during healthier times.

And my poor fig tree. It was dormant for a long time and when it finally began to leaf out, it was from the trunk and not the branches. What will this do to my fig crop this year? I don’t know.

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Because of the Leyland Cypress tree incident, in the spring we made the decision to cut down our remaining Leylands along the back fence. They had outgrown the bed and covered the patio beside the pool to such an extent that it was impossible to walk past. Down they came, leaving another gaping hole. We planted new arborvitae there which will eventually fill in.

The new arborvitae barely clear the fence.

The new arborvitae barely clear the fence.

Despite my optimistic outlook, many of  my vegetable and flower seedlings drowned in the rainy spring. What has lived has not seemed very robust. And to add insult to injury, to quickly fill in the front of the bed with the new arborvitae,  I planted geraniums. Yes, they are hardy and colorful but they look like little old ladies.

I think they burned their hair sitting in one of those hair dryers at the beauty shop!

I think they burned their hair sitting in one of those hair dryers at the beauty shop!

My gardening sprits matched the general ennui of the flowers. I could see this would not be a summer in which to have a flower fashion show, for there were no saucy teenaged fuchsias, shapely gourds, or statuesque bee balms in red high heels.

The garden had turned a corner, and so must I. Like so many events in my actual life, the truth of the garden jarred me. Who knew that after so many years of devoted service that I could lose my giant rosemary? That I would have only one single red hot poker bloom? How could I figure out solutions for the garden situation  before me? Should I just give up this gardening game?

This backyard dilemma had a ring of familiarity to me. I realized that once again my garden had  mirrored my actual life.  To make a 32 year old story short, a long time ago I had children.

1981-01 I did not know what I was doing but I did the best I  knew how.

1984-08a1988-01a Every time the children reached  a new stage in life, I was not ready. I wanted things to stay the way they were, whether it be kindergarten, third grade, or high school, because the future was unknown, and I always thought if I had a little more time I could really get the knack of the current situation.

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But those pesky kids kept changing on me, until they finally left the house.

2003-25 Of course I didn’t know they were really gone when they left, because like all mothers, I had bargained with myself. Sure, I could be a good sport about letting them leave BECAUSE THEY WERE COMING BACK. College is temporary, right?

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In time I accepted that they had begun their own lives, and that I had mistakenly believed all these years that I had unlimited opportunities to be a hands on parent. Again, I had relied on an illusion. We had all turned corners, begun to walk new paths. There would be no going back.

I pondered all of this as I regarded the new open spaces in the yard. Where the trees had knocked over the fence, I now had room to put in a few new hydrangeas. I could see that that corner, previously difficult to reach, could now become a destination. The giant rudebeckias would have more sun.

DSC_0011I didn’t plan it, but now that it had  happened, it seemed  just right.

I decided that the geraniums were a one season aberration. In my mind they would look more at home in a red state yard. That one was as easy to fix as a bad haircut.

And my vegetable garden? I’ve decided it’s time to start over. I’m going to turn the whole area into a larger bed with room for large stands of flowers as well as vegetables. In sections I’ve been turning the last grassy part of the yard into a bed, lasagna style. Before long I will be able to move some flowers which are  cramped where they are into spots where they can have more room to breathe.The change will be a good one.

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The part where I have existing flowers and vegetables I will leave for the season. Though many things are not hardy, I do have some carrots, tomatoes, a cucumber vine, some okra and tiny eggplants.

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But at the end of the season, I’ll uproot everything and lasagna it as well, enriching the soil, which will make a more hospitable environment for next spring.  I’ll put some kind of a path leading from my sunroom door all the way to the new destination at the back of the yard.

While I’ve been contemplating what to do in the yard, thoughts of my own life have not been far away. For several years now I’ve been an empty nester, at peace with the new path and actually quite pleased with the fun it has offered. Until I experienced it I never could have dreamed of the pleasures that would come along when one part of life ended and another began.

But I have known that  more life changes  were in the making, for they always are. Just one week ago today a whole new path  opened up for me when I became a grandmother.

GRANDMOTHER????? That would mean my own daughter is a Mother. Thank goodness I did all that good work letting go, so that I am very confident she and her husband are ready for that role.

My daughter has claimed for years she was ready for motherhood!

My daughter has claimed for years she was ready for motherhood!

But what about me? The path is not clear. The only way I  know how to be a grandmother is to go over to my daughter’s house several times a week, and to have my grandchild with me at my house the other days of the week. In other words, seamless intimacy.  Immersion, even. How will I accomplish this when my grandson lives across the country?

I have worried and worried about this while dumping out bags of peat and pulling the endless weeds which proved to be my most bounteous crop of the season. And now the baby is born.  It discombobulates me even to think that he was born AND I WASNT THERE. I haven’t yet held him in my arms, but I gaze at him on FaceTime with some deep intensity every chance I get.

I’ll tell you one thing. Several, actually. Maybe I don’t know yet how I can function as a long distance grandmother, but I am going to kiss the fool out of that tiny blonde head. I’m going to trace every tiny wrinkle in his feet until I know each one  by heart. I’m going to memorize the sweet smell of the back of his neck to comfort me when I’m away from him.

As I plan flowers for my new destination spot at the back of the yard, I imagine sometime in the near future a pair of sturdy toddler  legs running past me to hide behind the burning bush. It’s just right.

IMG_2978                                                      Welcome, Baby Micah!

 

Picturing Life

As a magpie, I tend to make decisions based on what attracts me, believing that I’ll have a nice shiny time doing something regardless of my skill level. This is a practical point of view for someone who has not had much art education. One advantage of ignorance is that there is always more to learn.

However, with ignorance also comes frustration. Why doesn’t something come out the way I had hoped? Why are the directions so hard to understand? Why do these art materials want to thwart me? When the frustration mounts, I must find a class to take.

This past Saturday I finally took my first in-person photography class. I was nervous about this because a) it lasted all day and I don’t like to be confined, and b) because I knew good and well I did not know much about how to use my camera. Would the class be over my head? And what about when the teacher wanted to get into additional equipment such as zoom lenses? Because YIKES!!!! I had somehow LOST, LOST my zoom lens! What kind of a photographer does that?????

Saturday came, and once again the universe saved me. It turns out that what is behind photography is not fancy equipment, but the photographer’s trust in his own ability to see, and the patience to take many, many pictures until he gets it right. The day flew by as we looked at photo prints and photography books, learning about what makes a picture worth looking at.

I did learn some technical things which I have not yet tried out. I decided to get out my last set of pictures, those that I took last month when I went to Winston-Salem North Carolina for my nephew’s high school graduation and Eagle Scout ceremony. With what I just learned, would I find these pictures worth looking at? Look along with me now, and tell me what you think.

The three questions to ask yourself are: what do I see, what does it mean, and how do I know?

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Does the picture make you curious about the lady on the left? Here’s the story. We befriended her while waiting for our carry out order, and found that she had tried to donate her vintage LIFE magazines to Ellen’s library, and been turned down. But with Ellen to the rescue her treasures will now be accepted with thanks.

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Why photograph these guys? Because all of Ellen’s St. Francis statues have been decapitated through various means. A little too much of a coincidence, yes? Is it a curse of some kind? Sure, they’ve been repaired, but when will disaster strike again?

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My nephew’s Eagle Scout ceremony and combined grad/Scout party were on Sunday afternoon. Because of my sister’s graduate school schedule she had had to leave all the party prep to her hard working husband. What you see here are some of our efforts, before the party to turn an essentially male party into something civilized.

Imagine our horror when we saw on Sunday morning that the husband and son had lined up cloth camping chairs in a straight row across the backyard, blocking the bucolic view and reminding one of a Protestant wedding reception. The cloth chairs were banished by us, tactfully, and tablecloths added. In addition, we bought pillow cases to recover chair cushions and purchased potted herbs for natural centerpieces. Just then a Scoutmaster showed up to help. He allowed as how we should protect the tables from bird droppings, so he covered all our pretty work with hefty bags, weighted down with logs. Sigh.

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Here was the ceremony in a tiny country church.

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And here is the Scout with the beautiful soul. I would hope that his optimism and willingness to serve others comes through in the picture.

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I do not claim this as an example of a good photo, but seeing my salt of the earth brother in law moved to tears on Father’s Day was priceless to me.

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Then came the party. Above, my sister again tried to inject a little civilization with the relish tray. Note the implement being used to spear a goodie from the plate.

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In addition to simply trying to record the events of the day for the family, I also wanted to show through photos the way Ellen’s lifestyle differs from mine. She is fortunate enough to live a more rural lifestyle, while I am more of a city girl. Meaning that chickens would not be guests at my lawn party.

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But these girls made a day of it.

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As an out of town guest, I was paraded through the guests, and then allowed to mingle or simply observe as I chose. Folks came and went. Hilariously , some guests brought their OWN cloth camping chairs and lined them up in a row. Much meat was consumed my man and boy. The afternoon was unhurried and the weather glorious. DSC_0472

I was pleased to finally meet Ellen’s next door neighbor, Bonita who is an artist and photographer. She showed me a few camera tricks and took this photo of us, on manual setting, of course. When she left she invited me over to see her art studio.

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Later in the day I moseyed over to Bonita’s, opened the back gate and knocked on the door. She gave me permission to take photos of some memory books she has made, both of which have already been exhibited. Currently she is working on a photography book of vintage American movie theaters. Was I jealous? Yes.DSC_0517

When I returned from Bonita’s, most of the guests were gone. As the shadows grew long in the yard, a late staying guest built  a campfire. Don’t think this was not a thrill for a city girl.

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Those of us who were still there pulled chairs around the fire and put our feet up on logs. Fireflies swept past us as we listened to the calls of the owls and shared whatever stories came to mind. After a time fatigue and mosquitoes drove us inside.

I went to sleep to the sounds of the whirring attic fan, tired but gratified to have been a part of the day. I would have two more days to spend at my sister’s, providing moral support as she completed her end of the semester projects, folding clothes from the clothesline as needed, and taking night walks down her dark country road, wine glass in hand.

As I look through these pictures I ask myself the three questions. What do I see? I see a family celebrating a once in a lifetime event, surrounded by loving friends. I see a life made with love, humility, hard work and persistence. I see treasures in unexpected places.

What does it mean? To me it all means that life goes by swiftly, and we must tune in to get every bit of pleasure and whimsy it has to offer. It means I am fortunate to have these people in my life. How do I know? I know because I know, but does all of that come through to those who view my pictures?

I’m hoping you’ll let me know what you think.

The Book I Most Want To Read

As previously reported, I am in the process of fleshing out and editing my NaNoWriMo novel. I don’t have a consistent  schedule for when to actually sit down and work, but I think often of the miniature world I created, of the characters’  struggles and triumphs. Imagine my excitement when a couple of weeks ago L., an author and former editor, agreed to meet with me to discuss our mutual projects.

Moi?  Discussing someone’s writing project? I had a feeling L. did not specialize in fourth grade book reports or progress notes for therapy sessions, the two forms of writing with which I am most familiar. Nonetheless L. arrived at my home armed with two copies of the first chapter of  her current fictional work.  I was armed with only one copy of my first chapter, because I didn’t know any better.

Over coffee cake we shared our respective synopses. I learned that L.’s protagonist is a teenager living in a United States of the future, while L learned that my protagonist is a middle aged woman living in the present in a town which does not exist. Next we read one another’s chapters. I was immediately pulled into the life of L.’s teenaged heroine.  I had opinions on where she was going, and what she would do next. Clearly L. has the talent to write in such a way that the reader quickly develops  empathy for her characters.

The meeting made me feel so…writerly, because L was generous enough to take me seriously despite my lack of education and experience. Somewhere in there we talked about mutual challenges for our work going forward. My dilemma was that I had been advised to begin my book with more action. Should I do as I had been advised or should I do what I thought best?  And how could I think anything to be best when I had never written anything at all?DSC_0323

As we say in the South, bless little  ole Miss L.’s heart!! She absolutely validated my intention to write a book about a woman’s interior life, the world others do not see. Her advice to write the kind of book I would want to read myself was the most grounding advice I could have heard that day. I doubt I was of much help to her, but I gave it my best shot. I hope points are given for effort!

I did make the cake though!

I did make the cake though!

Two days later I arrived at the Monterey Aquarium, where some scenes in my book take place. I wanted to see the place for myself in order to write more realistically about my character’s day there. I was curious; what would have caught my character’s eye or mind at the museum? What, if anything, would stay with her, lingering in her thoughts  long after her day at the museum was over?

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Finally, an uncrowded spot!

I suppose we see what we need to see when we are ready, for though I was wondering what my protagonist would feel, I was quickly making observations of my own.

I was wearing the ones on the right.

See the photo below!

All my observations weren't deep. See how these two fish look just like my new shoes in the shot above?

All my observations weren’t deep. See how these two fish look just like my new shoes in the shot above?

As I made my way through the exhibits, folks were crowded all around the tanks, admiring the fish and taking pictures.DSC_0468

These sea creatures  inhabit  worlds we do not see, worlds that humans have been known to ignore or exploit.  Each species is  motivated by instinct to perform actions  we may may  not understand. Their ways of living and appearances are alien to us.DSC_0443

What are YOU lookin' at?

What are YOU lookin’ at?

In the tanks the creatures grow and change, each ecosystem interacting with and depending on one another.  For them it is business as usual  but the humans  are mesmerized. We cannot stop congregating, staring, watching, and eventually becoming hypnotized by the swirling colors and otherworldly life forms. DSC_0422DSC_1474It is as though we can see into their souls, if they have souls. As we stare we realize we are all interconnected parts of the same whole.DSC_1468

As I tried to sidle up to the tanks, camera at the ready,  I felt a thrill of recognition. Why, this was JUST like reading fiction. A reader opens  a book and finds an entire world, full of people and events that are strange to him.  Though the reader  may not agree with what happens to the characters, he  becomes entangled in their lives just the same.  Hopefully the author has used prose arranged so artfully that the reader, like one of those gathered by the fish tanks, finds himself compelled to read the words over and over, just to hear them or to see the mental pictures evoked one more time.DSC_0411

As we navigate the stories we read, we come face to face with ourselves. How do our inner lives correspond with those of the characters for which we have so much empathy? Would we respond as the characters have? What do their struggles have to do with our own lives?DSC_0454

It has been said that fiction exists for truth telling. Just as an endangered species takes us out of our complacencies, a work of fiction can disrupt our world. Characters can become permanent parts of our lives. While we may never meet Jean Valjean, Porfiry Petrovich or even Harry Potter in our actual lives, they live forever in our hearts. Raise your hand if you have ever pondered on characters and their predicaments long after you have completed your first reading of a favorite book!

What if we had to  live his life?

What if we had to live his life?

I left the aquarium feeling more connected to the unseen worlds of the ocean, and grateful that such quirky but gorgeous creatures are on this earth. I got a sense of what would have caught my heroine’s eye, and how she would have responded to her surroundings. But focusing on these unseen watery worlds gave me even more permission to write authentically about what interests me, namely, this particular middle aged woman in a town which does not exist.DSC_0387

One day in the future I hope to have my heroine’s story ready to share. Her world is compact,  but it is real, just as  the lovely blue tangs and angel fish inhabit a small but tangible space. In the grand scheme of things her efforts in this life may seem minor, but  her spirit touches many. Like the connections found in the world beneath the sea, like all the humans on this earth, she is a small part of that whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. That is exactly the book I want to write, because that is exactly the book I would most want to read.DSC_0416

 

 

 

 

San Francisco Sleuth

As though I were invisible I slid through the revolving door of my airport hotel and kept going  on foot. No need for the doormen to know my plans. Besides, the Millbrae Bart Station wasn’t too far to walk, even for a dame of my age. I was dressed to fit in with the population: scarf, stylish shoes, sunglasses, and dark jeans. I had an old Bart card with eleven dollars on it, so I went through the turnstile with the practiced boredom of a native. So far so good.

I was wearing the ones on the right.

I was wearing the ones on the right.

I could have sworn I used to take the Bay Point train out of Millbrae, so there was a bit of awkwardness when a Bart employee had to tell me I just needed to get on this Dublin train, but I don’t think anyone saw that. In just a few snaps of my gum I was at the 16th and Mission station, ready for some San Francisco sleuthing.

Why San Francisco? Because I was THERE, wise guy, because I was THERE. And a sleuth gets to sleuthing wherever she she may be. Haven’t you read Harriet The Spy?

Rising from the bowels of the 16th and Mission terminal I mixed in with the human flotsam milling outside the station. After a few purposeful turns around the square I found  the Fillmore 22 Bus stop just where I expected it to be, at the edge of the road.  I had just cased my fellow riders in the bus shelter when I realized I needed to be on the other side of the street.

I was just in time to board that bus, but  my intuition, borne of long experience, told me to  check with  the bus driver  who sent me back to the original spot across the street. With moves like these I  was confident no one could have followed me. At last I boarded the correct bus, blending in easily with the populace. My destination: Portrero Hill, where I was to meet a couple of operatives.

We saw each other the minute I stepped into Chez Papa Bistrot, the agreed upon  rendezvous. I’m sorry to say they were there first, but they had chosen wisely. Their table had a clear view of the entrance and exit. Mark was dressed in his customary black, while David, with his dark rimmed glasses looked the part of a hapless  professor. Well played, gentleman, I nodded to myself. These men could be at home in any large metropolis, watching, noticing, making things happen, with no one any the wiser.

There was no mystery here; the food was delicious.

There was no mystery here; the food was delicious.

When David left for the men’s room, I pulled a package out of my enormous black handbag and slid it across the table to Mark.  The package was an “Otter Pup” coloring book from the Monterey Aquarium, but inside were original childhood photos of Mark’s Dad, who also happened to be my Uncle Eddie, my mother’s little brother,  deceased now for many years.

The three of us put in some effort perusing the photos. Wondering about the people and circumstances in old photos, looking for clues to past lives – I am always on the scent of these hunts. Here was Uncle Eddie in the backyard of our grandmother’s house, cleaning a fish, while a curious cat looked on.  In a second photo young Eddie was angelic, dressed in a white  first Communion suit with short pants, accompanied by an older boy. They are standing in a church narthex. We could identify neither the  older boy nor the church. Yet a third photo showed young Eddie aboard a white sleigh, right beside Santa Claus, in some unknown department store. The last picture showed Uncle Eddie as a handsome young man in a letter sweater, posing with a pipe. A caption underneath, we think written by one of our spinster great aunts, read “The Pipe.”

Here is one I found after I got home. I believe that to be my mother on the left.

Here is one I found after I got home. I believe that to be my mother on the left.

Knowing we would not be able to answer all the questions raised by the photos, as there is no one left alive who knows the answers, we left the Chez Papa for some more contemporary surveillance. We  settled ourselves down the street on the patio of Farley’s to drink some coffee. Noir, of course. Though ostensibly we were deep in conversation about Southern mores, we all had our eye on the joint across the street.

Don't tell me there's no story here.

Don’t tell me there’s no story here.

Thankfully by now we had some reinforcement, in the form of Mark and David’s elderly black and white terrier Windsor. Windsor is blind, but he looked as best  he could, while scouting the area for edible clues.

Windsor evades having his picture taken from the front; he's security conscious.

Windsor evades having his picture taken from the front; he’s security conscious.

Maybe we saw suspicious activity across the street. Maybe we didn’t. Maybe the five year old girl and her mother sitting on the patio were plants, sent to charm us into giving up our secrets. That kind of gray area is  all in a day’s sleuthing. But one thing was certain: we three had to split up, in case we were made.

To throw watchers off the track we posed for some touristy type pictures. Meaning we were noisy and conspicuous. IMG_2884Then as if by magic, three adults and a blind dog disappeared inside a black Smart car and disappeared up the hill. David, displaying the spy craft for which he is well known, dropped me off by the Mission Street bridge, right beside the Portrero Hill Community Garden.

Source: sanfranciscodays.com

Source: sanfranciscodays.com

We’re professionals, so I didn’t ask their destination, but as an out of towner I did have to consult with them on one thing. Where could I get my nails done? Mark suggested a place in the Castro called the Hand Job, but also some other options. I took in his suggestions noncommittally, not recording them on paper.  The less Mark  and David  knew of my comings and goings, the better.DSC_0480

After crossing the Mission Street Bridge I found the streets to be curiously quiet for some blocks. But I kept my eyes open, crossing streets frequently, but not stopping except when I needed to examine native plants, which are another focus of my ongoing detective work.  Eventually I came upon what I considered to be the likely nerve center of the neighborhood- a yarn store, Imaginknit.

This photo proves I am just an old lady minding her own business...or does it?

This photo proves I am just an old lady minding her own business…or does it?

Maybe because I was hot and tired, I decided to just play it straight in there and not try any funny business. Was I ever glad of that decision when out of nowhere bounced what to my unpracticed eye seemed to be a brown and white miniature greyhound. Knowing the place was well policed, I simply chose a pattern, yarn and needle, and after purchasing same I killed a little time winding my yarn. Everything seemed on the up  and up there. The shop was chock full of  helpful salesladies, delicious yarns and knitted samples. That dog runs a tight ship.

Revitalized by my yarn purchase I ventured back onto Mission Street. Street traffic picked up around Dolores Park. I put away my camera after the passing the park so as not to arouse suspicion.

Dolores Park, under construction.

Dolores Park, under construction.

In a few short minutes I was in the Castro, looking for a nail salon. For safety’s sake, and also because I couldn’t find it, I did not go to the Hand Job Nail Salon, instead choosing the one right beside the Castro theater. The manager was kind enough to take me as a walk in, or else he was afraid to say no to me.  For a time my detecting efforts were slowed, as I could  only guess at what the nail ladies were  saying amongst  themselves. They seemed  concerned about the blisters I had worn on my toes from the up and down terrain of my reconaissance that day. Me, I was used to it. It’s the cost of business in this crazy trade.

Finally I was released from the salon, with newly bronzed nails and toes. No one who had seen me before could now recognize me as the same woman who had crawled in with overgrown cuticles just one hour before. I sat at one of the round tables at the top of Castro to ponder my next move.DSC_0481

DSC_0483Having made my thorough way from Portrero Hill to the Castro, my mind turned to plans for the evening. Truth was, there was a man interested in my company for the evening, and I was considering his offer. No, it wouldn’t be  as peaceful as grabbing a couple of cold brewskis with a meat and three at Mae’s Diner, but the plus side was I wouldn’t have to pay for my grub. I was torn, but then I looked down and found the best clue of the day. If it’d been a snake it would have bit me.IMG_2898

Well then. I decided if that man wanted my company, he would come to me. So I texted him,” Found a place at Albion and Mission. Meet me there.” I ducked in the place and sat myself at the bar. I had time for a Pilsner and a little eavesdropping before my companion arrived, if he arrived. Sure enough, before I could say “You  must have thirteen tattoos and body piercings,” to the hostess, the man in question arrived.

Fine. He could pay for the beer I’d already had. We decided the place was as good as any to eat dinner, as there was already a long line to get in where we were. We had each had a long day, his, lecturing  in a cold conference room and mine out pounding the pavement in the  golden sun, and we were each glad to sit down and relax. My companion knew better than to even ask about my classified work.

As the evening wore on I felt myself lose a little of my hard boiled edge. In the end I let the man  guide me back through the crowded street with the pupusa places and bars, back to the Bart Station. Turned out we were each going back out to the airport area, so I let him accompany me. As the Bart train pulled away from the station, I saw our reflection in the window. We looked just like an old married couple on the way back to their hotel. A perfect cover.

 

 

 

The Good Life

I’m afraid to even say this out loud, because I don’t want to jinx anything, but here goes. The last four weekends of my life have been as smooth as a bowl of fresh whipped cream. I started to call this post “Whipped cream weekends,” but realized that the title could have been misleading. My meaning of a whipped cream weekend would of course be one in  which every activity seems to be topped off with that extra sweetness, that light fluffy accompaniment that makes each dessert that much more sublime.

The situation called for whipped cream.

The situation called for whipped cream.

Why, and how has this happened, when I ought to be still worn out from traveling, allergies, and work? I cannot say for sure. But here is what I  would like to believe.

I would like to believe that because I have been nicer to my self lately, that my self is being nicer to me. I had a big reset a few weeks ago, and the time frame fits: when I decided to stop pushing myself to take care of outside matters and to allow myself to concentrate on some inside matters, my life became easier and sweeter.

Could the key  to increased energy, creativity, and peace have been this simple all along? I  can’t say because I’ve never been in this particular spot in life before, but I do strongly believe in the benefits of a developed interior life.

What I have noticed is that with more balance between the mindful and magpie parts of me I have  done many, many things while feeling relaxed and in the moment. In the past I have also done many, many things, but depending upon the circumstances there were always some unwanted feelings: dread, resentment, defeat, regret, ambivalence, because usually I had taken on too much. I would always follow through with whatever was going on, but there would be loud sighs, followed by naps and crankiness.

It was not that I had no fun. Hey. I’m a fun person. But I see now that by not organizing my own inner home team, I was using my energy struggling with myself.

Here is a  partial recap of the last few weekends, not that the actual activities matter.  Each weekend had aspects which in the past would have been triggers to angst or run-around-like a chicken – with your head- cut off- syndrome. But instead  each held felt  expansive, and unhurried.  Is this how other people have been living all along?

Weekend One: Youngest son’s graduation, oldest son in town for the occasion. Beautiful weather and beautiful times.

I had time to make a flower arrangement.

I had time to make a flower arrangement.

Mommy hugs the graduate.

Mommy hugs the graduate.

Weekend Two: Sit down dinner party for 17, decided upon on a Tuesday and executed on Saturday night. Made the main dish, salad, salad dressing and six loaves of bread.

Before the company

Before the company

Before the company

Before the company

Bread in the oven.

Bread in the oven.

Weekend Three: Memorial Day Weekend: Spent one day working on editing my little book, and another ( after the book sale)  on spreading many bags of mulch in my back yard while my husband power washed everything in sight.  Followed by a relaxing float in the pool.

I had plenty of time to commune with my flower friends.

I had plenty of time to commune with my flower friends.

And enjoy the afternoon sun on the magnolias.

And enjoy the afternoon sun on the magnolias.

DSC_1419Weekend Four: Had a great time at a rained out beer garden, and a leisurely breakfast on a patio the next morning. Then went to a farmer’s market, and spent the rest of the afternoon preparing my “booty” for dinner that night. Sunday after an early Father’s Day brunch, I went for a scrumptious foot massage.

Stir fried bok choy, green beans, with garlic scales from my own yard, seared scallops.

Stir fried bok choy, green beans, with garlic scapes from my own yard, seared scallops.

I don’t suppose there is much deep meaning to this post except that I may be on the right track to balance, at least for me. My way is not unique. It includes lots and lots of noticing, journaling, contemplation, and taking care of me first. I’m just so grateful to have stumbled upon a deep well of abundance.  I feel as rich as a bowl of whipped cream right now. Right now. Right. Now.