Right For The Job

Mom, what did you used to do?

Used to do about what, I asked.

What did you used to do all day when we were little?

I was in Pasadena to spend a few days with my daughter, son in law and 15 month old grandson. It was a spur of the moment trip, planned after I just had that feeling that I needed to be out there. We talk daily, and my daughter never  complains about her lot as a stay at home Mom, but lately she had seemed a little burdened. I decided that Mimi needed to come to town and assess the situation.

We didn’t have  many plans. I knew I wanted to be of help but didn’t exactly know what kind of help she might need. Not long after I arrived she asked what I used to do all day back when I used to stay at home all day with small children. Good question.

What DID I used to do all day? I didn’t remember, and privately, I figured it was probably irrelevant. That was so long ago, and I was a completely different person then. Besides, our situations were different. My daughter and her husband are in their thirties and completed their respective educations before Micah was born. On the other hand, by the time I had been married for three years, I had two babies under the age of two, a husband who drove our only car to work all day and attended graduate school at night. While my daughter and son in law are two of the most capable people I know, when I had small children I was scared to death.

1981-07

What did I know about raising children? Nothing!

The question receded to the back of my mind as I focused myself on the issues at hand. This visit was about what my daughter, not I,  was doing all day. What could I do to help?

untitled-375

I got the impression that the days were long for my daughter, especially as they have no family where they live.

Well, my daughter DID ask me to share any ideas I might have about how her home could run more efficiently and more smoothly. Since I would be there all day maybe I would come up with some suggestions. I already knew one reason her days were long; my grandson is a wave of pure delightful genius and therefore hard to contain in an apartment. (Spoiler: My daughter just needed me to come out and help her, which I would have been doing on a daily basis if we lived in the same town.)

The first day there went very quickly. Micah was at his little preschool when I arrived, so we took that opportunity to hit her local thrift stores. After we picked the baby up from school I stayed at their house until Micah’s bed time, when I retired to my hotel room.

It wasn’t until the next day that I started to feel helpful. My daughter picked me up in the morning and brought me to her house. Apparently one need have no memory of what one used to do all day in order to fall right back into….what one used to do all day. The baby and I went into my daughter’s bedroom where while I made the bed, he investigated the shiny coasters on the night stand. When my task was finished, I grabbed him and made a hasty retreat from the room.

Next, Micah and I moved to the kitchen to unload the dishwasher.  With one swift move I removed the butter knives he had taken into the living room and thrust into his hand a  plastic spatula. Every fifteen seconds I had to make another swap in the name of safety. But the clean dishes were put away and the dirty ones loaded.Yes, this is what I used to do, to somehow run the house despite the children.

In the middle of the job my daughter walked in, surprised that I would be doing this while Micah was awake. Watching me intercept Micah’s grab for a dinner plate she remarked that having the baby interrupt would just drive her crazy. Hmm, I replied, it doesn’t bother me at all. Many years of practice had made it so.

That morning we paid a visit to the Mission Gabriel area of Pasadena, where we admired everything we could, given that we could not turn Micah loose in the cactus garden or in the streets, both places of vital interest to our little fellow. And because of his obsession penchant for being the one to push the stroller, he spent lots of his time in his Ergo, cuddled up to his Mama in the warm sunshine. When he began to sing softly to lull himself to sleep, we rushed him home to let him take his nap.

november december 2015-6

Micah leaves no door unopened.

While he was asleep I organized his toys in the living room. Puzzles now rested beside puzzles, cars beside cars, wooden toys with other toys. Though Micah would soon make the arrangement of toys much more diverse, there was order in the room for now.

As I arranged the toys I felt the most insistent physical deja vu sensation. It was as though I were meeting myself again after 34 years of not seeing me. My body remembered. In my mind’s eye I saw myself at twenty five, with big hair and big glasses, moving like a whirlwind through the little house where we lived. Yes. I knew this person who used to run behind children all day, putting things back several times a day, only to repeat the process in a few hours.

1982-13

I recognized this person, and I liked her. During those years I never had the time or the luxury to think about whether my job was hard. After my daughter, my second child,  was born I was thrilled to be able to resign from teaching to be able to stay home with my children. I couldn’t tolerate the idea of someone else spending the day with my babies. I’m sure I wouldn’t have complained about the long hours, frustrations or tedium of being a stay at home Mom.

1985.08

I can’t say every day was a picnic.

It’s a little embarrassing to admit but I think I always assumed that because I was so young and inexperienced, that someone else could have done a better job than I did. That some other unknown person could have walked in and known exactly what to do, which would cause our household to run like an expensive Swiss watch. I would never make such an assumption about someone else. Now I realize that I never have given myself credit (though others have) for mustering up the courage and the creativity and the continuity it took to stay home with my three children.

1983-01

You just do what you have to do.

1989-05

And go with the flow.

In Pasadena with Micah, my old routine came right back to me. Whatever room I was in, I straightened or organized. Toys were put away before naps. I alternated playing and reading stories with doing chores or starting dinner, just as I had done all those years ago when  was alone with children all day and couldn’t go anywhere. Running along behind the children, trying to create some kind of order in the chaos was the only way I could figure out to cope, to give me some concrete sense of accomplishment, and to keep my mind off the fact that these children had been entrusted to me, who had no idea how to do this job.

1992-08

Parenting instructions were not very clear!

Somehow the children were raised, and I moved onto other things, without realizing I still harbored this negative judgement of myself. I forgot the way my day used to hinge on small but important  events, such as how long a nap lasted or whether we were out of applesauce, and how hard I worked to try to influence the outcome of those very events.  If I had not entered my daughter’s world to give moral and hands on support, I don’t know if I ever would have reexamined those years. But I had plenty of time to think when my daughter and son in law went away for the night together, their first night alone since Micah was born.

untitled-381

Mommy and Daddy get ready to leave!

When the door closed behind them, the two of us got to work. We strolled, we went to the park, and we roughhoused so loudly that the downstairs neighbor called my daughter to complain about the noise. (Oops. Never raised a child in an apartment before.)

untitled-384I got to relive familiar scenes, including  being awakened by a chatting baby at 5:30 A.M., manhandling a screaming child into the car,  and strolling at the speed of light before a short attention span expires. But mostly I remembered how it feels to be the only adult alone with a whirling dervish. Is there a word for that feeling?

untitled-387

Who, me? I never even THOUGHT about crashing this vase to the floor!

The trip was a success in every way.  I had sweet times with all my people out there, and felt gratified to have helped. In fact, my daughter wrote a post  about the visit if you care to see it. But the gift of revisiting my young mother self was an unexpected pleasure. It feels good  to look back on my younger self with admiration and appreciation. That new mother helped me become the confident grandmother I am today. And let tell you, as a grandmother I am quite confident. Who put a short sleeved shirt on that baby? And just where are his socks?

Since I can’t  reach back in time, I’m thanking that younger me right now, in print. Thanks dear, for all your hard work. You didn’t know what you could do until you needed to do it. It is important to acknowledge that what can seem like the most thankless of jobs is of immeasurable importance. The benefits of your efforts are reaching down through the generations. No one could have done better than you did. You were just right for the job!

1983-10

 

Excused Absences, Part One

Last time I wrote I alluded to big changes happening in my life. I mentioned that I was downsizing my practice in order to devote more time to my own creativity, and to being  a more hands on  grandmother. I know what you asked yourself: Why does she have to do this NOW???lillian-8

Because LILLIAN!!!! That’s why!!!

In the midst of preparing to be an out of town grandmother, I received the  unexpected but thrilling news  from my “baby”, Nick, and his girlfriend Heather, that early in 2015 I was also to become an in-town  grandmother.! As soon as my head began to spin more slowly atop my neck, I began to ask myself the questions that have no answers. They were deep questions indeed. For example, “WHAT??? This son of mine, this man/boy who still has his mail sent to our house is going to be a father? What’s to become of us all? ” And “What if he insists on naming the child after an NFL football player, how will I cope?”  You know, the types of questions one asks one’s self thirty thousand times in the middle of the night.

Him? A Dad?

Him? A Dad?

Thirty thousand  unanswered questions later, my mind was able to focus on more practical matters. Maybe I would have no say in what the child would be named, but I could certainly make myself available to be helpful. And if I played my cards right, maybe I would get to do some of the things for THIS new Mama that my Mother, an in town grandmother, got to do for me.( And which I promptly took for granted.) Of course my own Mother felt she had license to just barge right in and do things, but since I would be a paternal grandmother, I knew I would have to earn my spot at the table. I knew I would have to use all my considerable subtleness, lest I be declared a nuisance.

What were my parents having for dinner after my Mother helped me all day long? I must admit it never crossed my mind.

What were my parents having for dinner after my Mother helped me all day long? I must admit it never crossed my mind.

Meanwhile, as I mentally ran in circles, Heather, the new Mama, ran circles around me, taking care of herself, preparing for the baby, working and going to school. I cannot say enough good about Heather. Her strength and integrity remind me of why it is that women run this world. We’re just better at it. I am  grateful that Heather  will be the model for Lillian in so many important ways.

My sweet Heather, on the right, with her sister, five days before the baby was born.

My sweet Heather, on the right, with her sister, five days before the baby was born.

And what fun Heather has let me have! As her pregnancy neared the end, she let me take her to some of her Doctor’s appointments and then out to lunch, just as my Mother used to do for me, and just as I would have loved to be able to do for my own daughter. The day before she went in labor we went to about 5 stores getting whatever baby items they still needed, and then to eat authentic Mexican food. Sure enough, she went in labor the next morning, and guess who they called? ME ME ME ME ME!!!!!! And guess who ran a red light with impunity on the way to hospital? ME ME ME ME!!!!!!

I got to be there for most of the labor!

I got to be there for most of the labor!

And I was out in the peanut gallery when she was born! Heather’s family arrived from out of town later that day to join in the celebration.

Yep. My baby's a Daddy!

Yep. My baby’s a Daddy!

Grandaddy with his new sweetheart.

Grandaddy with his new sweetheart.

Since the baby has been born I have been off of work so that I can go to my son’s house almost every day to help. I envisioned  many after- baby scenarios, mostly involving sleep deprived parents and screaming babies,  but none with an easy baby who sleeps all the time, because I never had one of those. Miss Lillian, however, is thus far an easy and happily breast fed baby, so I haven’t been needed as much as I thought.

Lillian in the blanket I barely finished before she was born.

Lillian in the blanket I barely finished before she was born.

But nursing Mamas need to eat, don’t they? And Heather has allowed me free reign in the kitchen. I love to shoo her off for a nap, and then because the baby is so easy, I can whip the parents up something nourishing for dinner. Part of the fun is the challenge of working in someone else’s kitchen, especially your son’s former bachelor kitchen, where there is nary a pot holder to be found. I scurry around their kitchen, making a big mess and muttering delightedly , a la Sally Field at the Oscars, “They need me! They NEED ME!”

Soon Heather’s family will be back to marvel over how big Lillian has grown. Naturally I plan to (cough) gracefully step aside and let them have their share of Grandparent Crack. I’m a reasonable person.

Bread rising on a cloth diaper.

Bread rising on a cloth diaper.

Using the kitchen sink as a countertop to mash potatoes for shepherd's pie

Using the kitchen sink as a countertop to mash potatoes for shepherd’s pie Also I noticed that day that my camera smelled like an onion. It was worth it.

That’s about it for today. If you’ve wondered where I have been, now you know. And if you need me, you know where I’ll be. Hopefully I can get around to catching up on all of YOUR blog posts that I’ve missed this past month. Meanwhile, tonight’s menu is chicken parmesan with orzo and sautéed zucchini and tomatoes. I’d better get on it!

A Tale Of More Than Two Slippers

Before you read this I just want to whisper that though this post does mention France, that it is in no way a commentary on the recent tragedies there. Je suis Charlie.

Recently my life has reminded me a lot of the French Revolution, and more specifically of A  Tale Of Two Cities. It’s been the best of times. I am healthy, loved, housed, and employed, claims the most fortunate  of French peasants probably couldn’t have made. Yet the wagon wheels of Change have clattered their way to my gate, loudly demanding entrance. I have quaked inside my little fictional French hut, but in the end have had to open the door. I can’t say it has been the worst of times, but it hasn’t been pleasant. If you recall from your history studies, the French Revolution was a time of great upheaval. It took the storming of the Bastille, the Reign of Terror and I don’t know what all else, but in the end the monarchy and feudalism no longer existed.  Like the crusaders for change in France, I too have hoped to achieve lofty goals, except I have tried unsuccessfully to avoid the painful parts.

Here is what has happened. I have had to accept that in order to follow my creative pursuits AND be the grandmother I want to be that I must reduce my clinical social work practice considerably. And like the French Revolution, this has caused great chaos  in my psyche. I think it is all going to turn out fine, but the inner suffering has not been fun. And I’ve had to go about my daily business just as if there were not a shiny guillotine inside my head preparing to lop off  long standing therapeutic relationships and possibly my professional reputation.

In the midst of change we all seek inspiration from people who have traveled similar roads. At first, my situation seemed so unique to me that I just stumbled on alone. But after a time I found solidarity with the characters from  A Tale Of Two Cities.

First, I sent my inner doppelgänger to do my dirty work. Just as Sydney Carton took the rap for Charles Darnay, some part of me managed to tell clients that my schedule will be changing, that I will no longer take their insurance, and that they may choose to continue their therapy with someone else. The changes in my life don’t make me guilty any more than Charles Darnay was, but it felt pretty dangerous anyway. I also sent the doppelgänger out to social events over the holidays because I was so preoccupied. Sadly, the doppelgänger refused to write any blog posts for me, but no one gets everything they want.

Second, I have kept careful notice of the whole process, not to keep score as did Madame  Du Farge, but in order to be as present as possible. When I was building my practice I never thought about what it would be like to dismantle it. Like a faithful servant I supposed all of that would be taken care of by my Master when the time came. And then I realized that I am the Master, so I had better pay attention and remember. I want to honor the hard work done through the years by many courageous clients.

Third, like Dr. Mornay when he was finally released from prison, I have isolated and tried to make shoes. Really and truly. I have tried for months to make one lousy pair of slippers.  When one is under stress even the most simple task can seem monumental. All through the fall I tried to make these VERY SIMPLE felted slippers, and time after time I failed. Want to see  the lineup?

My first effort can’t be shown because  THEY FELL APART while felting. Sigh. Bought more yarn. Tried again.slippers (1 of 1)-13Wondered why they wouldn’t felt. Because I used the WRONG YARN. That’s why. Bought the correct yarn. Tried again.slippers (1 of 1)-15Finished the first slipper. Why did it look so different from the previous ones? Because I forgot to double the yarn, that’s why. Started over with doubled yarn.slippers (1 of 1)-14Finished this slipper. Washed and washed until I realized that my brand new washing machine was just not going to felt. I would have to buy a felting machine. Felt like storming the Bastille. Bought felting machine. Started over.slippers (1 of 1)-16Ripped the back of these trying to cram them on my feet. Why were they so little? Checked needle size. Wrong sized needle. Why, oh why, didn’t my doppelgänger know how to follow a simple pattern? Such are the trials of revolution. Started over.slippers (1 of 1)-9Finally a pair of slippers that seemed  like reasonable candidates for felting. Now to felt, decorate in a low key manner, because one could not tempt fate with conspicuous frippery nor appear to be a member of the aristocracy, and apply fabric paint to the soles for traction.slippers (1 of 1)-17How about these understated beauties?slippers (1 of 1)-18And here are the soles after a few celebratory wearings.

I admired  my feet in my darling little slippers. I had struggled to make these all through the time I was wrestling with the changes I needed to make in my life. I could see the parallels. The past few months have  been the best in some ways, and the worst in others. Revolution has definitely been in the air. But today, my toes are  wriggling appreciatively in their new warm slippers. Everything is going to be fine.

What It’s All About

Sometimes I just don’t pay attention to what is really important. Instead I   allow myself to be carried along by what strikes me at the moment. I suppose that is what happened when several months ago I agreed to attend a retreat called The Chemistry Of Connection at Garrison Institute in upstate New York. My colleague and I were familiar with two of the presenters, authors of books on mindfulness, so that meant it would probably be worthwhile. Also we were entranced by the description of the Institute – a former Capuchin monastery, overlooking the Hudson River. We skipped right over the part where the weekend was open to the general public, as well as the part where the other two speakers did not seem connected to mental health. After all, we could just skip their parts if we wanted to.

Once we realized we would need to fly into New York City we decided to stay there for a day and a half before taking the train to the Institute. Planning those days involved furiously comparing hotels and airline flights and scoping out museums. We were sure  we needed to have a quality experience before we went on to whatever that thing was we had signed up for.

The next thing I knew I was in New York City, surrounded by the sensory overload of the crowds, the traffic and the trappings of the holidays. I quickly adapted to city mode; staring straight ahead, paying attention only to what I was doing. Our advance planning paid off, for we enjoyed the Met and a food tour at the Tenement Museum without mishap.new york (35 of 99)-2  True, out hotel was overbooked for the first night, causing us to have to go “up the block” to another hotel for the night, but we were handsomely upgraded on the second night. We left New York City feeling like royalty.

We disembarked from the train at the hamlet of Garrison, which seemed to consist of four buildings and a fierce wind blowing off the Hudson River. A fast phone call to the Institute informed us that it was lunch hour, so we would have to wait in the cold for twenty minutes…unless we could find some humans to let us into one of those buildings. We crossed over the heated railroad overpass, bent on survival, past a lone man with a backpack, to said buildings, where we were  able to wheedle our way into an art gallery holiday sale. In due time, we crossed back across the tracks, past the backpack man, to wait for the shuttle.new york (92 of 99)-2

To our surprise when the shuttle arrived, that same man climbed on the shuttle with us. The shuttle driver asked us what we were here for and we told her. She mentioned that our retreat would be featuring horses. HORSES?? I heard my colleague say “I didn’t know this was a horsey weekend!” What was this retreat about, anyway?

We drove up a winding driveway to the imposing brick monastery. new york (76 of 99)-2new york (78 of 99)-2Inside we checked in and were  assigned rooms. I heard the backpack man say his name was Aaron Wolf. Wait a minute! Wasn’t that the name of one of the presenters? Quick – what had we said in the shuttle, and did it sound reasonably intelligent? In order to avoid further embarrassment we fled the reception area, barely registering the directive to report to the refectory at 5:00P.M. to be trained for the house jobs we had apparently signed up for.

We climbed the stairs to behold a long empty hallway of former monk cells. The clatter of our heels on the wide plank floor was the only sound. My cell was bathed in the weakening winter sunlight. new york (73 of 99)I turned on the radiator and made the bed with crisp white sheets. new york (41 of 99)-2This was to be my sanctuary for the next two nights. I longed to spend the whole weekend in this simple room, absorbing the peace and quiet and savoring each passing moment of the days.

But that was not to be, for I was at a retreat planned by someone else. Meaning I had not made the plan, and this made me uneasy, for I have not been able to entirely rid myself of the idea that I have control over things.new york (38 of 99)

After some time on our own my colleague and I reported to the refectory for training. There we were treated to  a thorough tour of the industrial kitchen, where it turned out that we would be doing the dishes for eighty people. And not only that, we were to eat quickly so as to report to kitchen in a timely manner. WHAT????!!! Wasn’t it bad enough that food was only available at certain times, but now when I did eat I would have to hurry? My neck muscles were clenched so tightly I’m surprised no one heard them squealing.

What to do? Embrace my control issues or move forward with as open a heart as possible? I decided upon the latter and found that the delicious and plentiful food left no room for a sense of deprivation. Many plates, cups, and glasses later I joined my co-retreatants in the meditation hall to hear Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence    and Tara Goleman, author of Emotional Alchemy   and Mind Whisperer.   Their reviews of neurobiology and the travails of the amygdala were good to hear.  I could have used some help with my own amygdala that very day.new york (75 of 99)-2

As I listened to the discussion it dawned on me that this was not a roomful of burned out therapists sitting silently diagnosing one another. In fact there were very few mental health people. Instead there were lawyers, teachers, pastors and non profit gurus, all interested in how to make better connections with others. It was heart warming to see such enthusiasm.

The next morning we met for some basic meditation and practice. Despite my having spent a lovely night in my austere cell, I was restless. I had had it in my mind that we would be given long periods of time for personal reflection, but instead we were to interact with one another. I have a hard time sitting still and had neglected to bring my knitting. I longed to take to the hiking paths on my own. But I stayed, either because of some inner strength or the desire not to call attention to myself by getting up and leaving. I’ll say it was a well of inner resolve.new york (87 of 99)-2

That  resolve was put to the test that afternoon when we met outside in the wind for a demonstration by a horse whisperer. His goal I believe was to reinforce the point that in order to have a true connection, both parties must feel safe and respected. I found I was mesmerized by R.J. the horse whisperer, whose gentle way of the horses conveyed such love and caring. He reminded us that it is better to lead by suggestion than to rely on intimidation.new york (51 of 99)

Sitting on that cold bench, I had to be honest with myself. How many times did I enter a new situation fully convinced that I know the right thing to do and that others should just do as I say? Had I not come to this very retreat all tied up in my own agenda? This was certainly food for thought.

Our evening session was led by Dr. Aaron Wolf, the man I had been too self important to notice at the train station. Who knew that Dr. Wolf was a well known hydrologist and known internationally for helping mediate disputes over water rights? He was so kind that I cannot believe he held my snub against him; after all I had just come from the big city where we don’t approach strange men. Still… Anyway, in his dynamic way he showed his approach to conflict resolution: know your own process, and stop, breathe, and listen.new york (83 of 99)-2

Suddenly it was Sunday morning, and time for the wrap up session. The chairs were arranged in a circle, to reinforce the equality among the participants. Every person was allowed to comment briefly or ask a question. I chose not to speak,because I tend to be long winded, but if I had I would have said how fortunate I felt to have stumbled upon this diverse group in such peaceful surroundings, and from such an apparently unlikely team of a husband and wife, a horse whisperer and a hydrologist to have learned such valuable lessons about how to respect myself and others. That I need to approach situations without my own agenda if I hope to make a true connection. That washing the dishes wan’t so bad. That though I had no idea what this weekend was supposed to be about, I had learned just what I was supposed to. Guess that’s what it was all about!new york (98 of 99)-2

Memphis Is More

To hear some Memphians talk, our city has already arrived via hand basket at a very hot place. Whenever  a violent  or undesirable event takes place, the hand basket crowd sees nothing good about our  community. It’s THOSE  people, they say. Those all- bad people who  make Memphis a hopelessly inferior all- crime- all -the -time- place where no citizen can ever be safe.  Make sweeping generalizations much?

Recently there was another deplorable incident  in Memphis. A large group of teens attacked some people at random in a grocery store parking lot. Of course this is bad news. The behavior of the teens was unacceptable. Eleven persons were arrested, and will hopefully make appropriate amends for their crimes.

In the wake of such an occurrence, what is a person to do? A  first impulse may be to harden one’s heart, and to add to the suffering with pejorative remarks about our citizens and city administration. But  negative talk does not solve problems. The social ills which contribute to violent crimes are way too complex for simple solutions. I do not claim to have the answers, but I know  Memphis is more than crime,  hatred, and judgement. I know that Memphis is also friendly, kind, and quirky, just like that relative you all have that everyone agrees is a “character”.

As an individual I try not to harden my heart against the perpetrators, their families, and the trash talkers, and ponder what more I  can do to make Memphis a better place. I am not the only one to take this stance, as evidenced by the “Love Mob” that gathered a few days after the incident in the grocery parking lot. The “Mob’s” purpose was to express their support for the victims but also to display their love for Memphis, most of whose citizens are hard working law abiding people.

I had all this in my mind last weekend when I set out for the annual Cooper Young Festival. After all the negative press and hateful talk around the city, how would Memphis rebound? Would this last round of senseless violence render us unable to come together, unable to mourn our losses and heal our wounds?

I set out early Saturday morning for the one day neighborhood festival. The weather had become cool, causing me to walk briskly from my condo to the festival to warm up, as I had worn a thin shirt with no jacket.DSC_0037

And there was the festival, my old friend, with its music, food, and family activities, just getting underway. I was glad to know Memphis had such a welcoming event planned.

DSC_0039

Here was my favorite junk shopping booth. I  bought two items here which I cannot show because they are gifts. May I leave my items here and pick them up on my way out, I asked the saleslady. In typical Memphis fashion, the answer was of course you may. We’ll remember you.

DSC_0038

Next was the vintage clothing booth. I needed to stop  in there to buy something to wear because I was cold! After I picked out this highly appropriate sweater, I stayed to help two young African American ladies pick out a jacket.

DSC_1731I think they appreciated my taste.

DSC_1722

And speaking of cold, these two young men were freezing over their water bottle concession stand.  For the price of a bottle of water, they agreed to pose. And since there has been a lot of talk about poorly behaved youth, let me say that giving them the price of a bottle of water was my idea. I am sure they would have posed without it, but they were here to make money.

DSC_0044

In just a few minutes I fell into a comfortable stride at the festival. With my companion I wandered in and out of booths, shopping, listening, and feeling the vibe of my fellow festival goers.  I didn’t always buy, but maybe I should have.

Why did I pass you up?

Why did I pass you up?

 

Do you need your own original poem?

Do you need your own original poem?

And here was The House of Mews, Cat rescue organization, where a volunteer induced Spice to pose for me.DSC_0051

Then the Choose 901 booth, full of Memphis-proud items.

DSC_0052I paused at one booth and renewed my membership to the Memphis Heritage  Society, where the director took the time to speak with me about some ongoing projects. After all this meandering, I found I needed to stop for refreshment at Growler’s, a beer tasting garden that was not open this time last year.

DSC_1727

From our spot at the window we could watch the crowds which were now streaming in – folks in costumes, families, couples, all mingling and having fun. Yes, this is Memphis.

DSC_0064

DSC_0072Next we stopped into Celtic Crossing for some lunch. The hostess showed us to a table beside a loud beer truck, but cheerfully moved us when we objected. We sat on a back patio, enjoying a sandwich while people watching. Across from me several young woman were lunching. I approached their table. “Excuse me dear, but your purse is on the ground behind you; I didn’t think you would want it there.” Grateful, she scooped her purse up. It felt good to be helpful to someone.

I must share that if I drink beer it is best for me to have food with it. Since Growler has no food, I was in just the right shape to accidentally call our male server “ma’am.” But he let it roll off his back, even as he was run right off his feet serving the patio crowd.

Back on the street, I  was able to resist the enticing aromas of the food trucks, as I had already had a sandwich.

DSC_0055 The crowds were gathering to listen to the music on several stages. I heard the Memphis Brass Band playing, but couldn’t get very close through the dense thicket of people. Taking pictures was becoming more  difficult, so for some time I gave that up and simply flowed on with everyone else.

DSC_0059Spying Goner Records, I made a beeline to their one dollar album display. Guess what I found? YEEEES!  Jeanne C. Riley’s Harper Valley P.T.A. !  I was thrilled because one of my biggest problems when I was taking care of my new grandson was that I couldn’t remember the words to this priceless tune. What kind of grandmother can’t sing “Harper Valley P.T.A.? But… oh no, there was no record inside the sleeve. I  marched right  inside the store and explained my whole sad predicament to a very nice clerk who came out from around the counter and found me a copy of Jeanne C. Reilly’s Greatest Hits. Crisis averted. And he threw in the empty album cover for free.IMG_3017

Having come early, we were ready to make our exit. We would have stayed longer but we had a commitment for later in the day. We won’t make that mistake next year. On the way out we stopped for my two gifts, still safely held by the ladies at the booth. They were a little thrown off by my new sweater, but they remembered my  red hair.

DSC_0073

Turning off Central onto Cox, I heard someone call my name. Oh, what delight for my feet! It was a neighbor from a zero lot line close to our condo, offering us a ride home. We squooshed ourselves straight into her back seat. Could she come in and see our condo? Well, not today because her husband was waiting on her, but on another day, certainly.

We got upstairs and I put up my poor little feet. I mused upon how almost every single person I had come across had been welcoming and willing to go beyond just the basics in service or compassion. Memphis has social problems, no doubt. I would never be so naive as to try to sweep poverty, crime, and an uneducated populace under the rug. But I felt encouraged by what I had seen and felt at the Cooper Young. Just as I thought, Memphis is more. More friendliness, more diversity, more hospitality, more hope.

DSC_0356

Optimistic much?

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.”

DSC_0064

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!

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?

DSC_1489

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