Unity–December 26th

UNITY—December 26th

Unity is a principal taught to us the purpose of which is to get something done, make something happen, achieve a common goal. When something important needs to get done, the way to do it is through unity.
Pieces of wood are glued and bent to make a truss and voila, you have the seat of a rocking chair, a roof or a boat frame.
There’s an order for 100 chickens that has to go out tonight. This morning they are running about their pen, picking and clucking. Tonight they are in their plastic bags, frozen, and ready for delivery.
As my mother used to say, “Many hands make work light.”
The focus in that statement is on the end result and the efficacy in joining together to reach that end.
Something more comes from unity, to my mind.
Appreciation of other people and an understanding of how we are all truly connected begins to dawn upon those who join hands to accomplish a common goal. We become something more than just ourselves, our one tiny, ragged ego. We begin to realize that all of us have certain priorities in our life, despite our personal politics—a warm home in which to live, education for ourselves and our children, health care for all of us, enough to eat, and satisfying employment.
The outcome of the recent election is an example of the power of unification because we all wanted the same outcome. Here we were, all tiny, non-essential folk in the grand political scheme but because of the unity of the internet, together we could make a positive change happen.
Unity makes us a force to be reckoned with, the glue factor that shores up our nation. When it’s used for the common good, it’s a beautiful thing.

Treasures of the Heart

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” –Thornton Wilder
When I work out in our home gym, I listen to John Fogerty’s Long Road Home album, singing loud as I can to every song I remember from the 60’s and 70’s—Who’ll Stop the Rain, Down on the Corner, Have You Ever Seen the Rain, Lodi. I finish feeling re-energized and young again thanks to the music. I loved those songs back then and I love them now, especially since now I know all the words. Nothing like a little Creedence Clearwater Revival to feel young, young, young.
I watched a movie the other day in which two of the characters made love to a CCR song. I could understand how the song I admired could move them to such action. Then, my bubble burst. I realized the producer of the film chose this song to show that this segment of the movie took place in the PAST. If you were a viewer who knew the words to this song, it meant you were OLD, OLD, OLD.
I’m not alone in my delusions of youth. Otherwise, why the ongoing popularity and financial success of the Rolling Stones, Tom Jones, The Beatles (in number of albums still sold), and Neil Diamond? Cher, Bette Midler, and Tina Turner sold-out concerts? Most of us boomers still have our heads in the clouds thinking we’re the young ones who are going to change the world. Sometimes looking in the mirror shocks us into reality but not even that hurts like listening to the music we love and coming to the aching conclusion that we loved it 45 YEARS AGO as well!!!!
Actually, there is a bigger hurt than realizing our age. I’ll be listening to one of my favorite old songs, maybe playing it on my guitar and singing, and tears spring unbidden into my eyes. That old song isn’t just an old song anymore but a repository of memories, a jumble of friends, places, and potential left fallow. How I long to go back and be there in that time once again just to soak up the love and the longing and the import of each small and ordinary measure of time, to see up close again the faces of those I loved.
I tried, oh how I tried, to hold on to each wonderful moment of life as long as I could. I tried to heed what Thoreau said, to be alive, really alive and see how wonderful even the most routine of moments really are. Sometimes, though, life got heavy and I made haste, forgetting to savor. Thornton Wilder’s Emily was right when in Act III of Our Town she asks Mrs. Gibbs, “They don’t understand, do they?”
Maybe, Emily, the problem is not that we don’t, it’s that we can’t. Only at this end of our story do we understand the significance of those everyday occurrences that got us to where we are now. Awareness of what was precious comes to us now when there’s no way to rewrite that old chapter. Time requires that we let go and move on. When we hear an old song or see an old photo we suffer a moment of comprehension that is painful in its clarity. Suddenly, our hearts are conscious of our treasures. This is what it means to be alive.

Christmas Slippers

A decade ago I helped a friend sort clothing for her mother who was moving to assisted living. You know the triage—save, toss, or donate. It was beyond her mother physically, so we’d make choices and then run them by her for approval. For me, it was a lesson in letting go and an understanding that my mode of operation for my own shedding of stuff should be the sooner, the better.
My friend and I were astounded to see a vast amount of her mother’s riches lay in slippers. Drawers and drawers of slippers, some used and threadbare and others brand new, all mixed up together. We wondered how on earth she got so many slippers and why on earth she hadn’t thrown the old ones away. I think I know the answer now.
For the past two Christmases, I have received almost my weight in warm, toasty, colorful slippers. OK, that’s hyperbole. Not my weight’s worth but a considerable number, like my weight. Not hyperbole, unfortunately. More than I have feet, even if I run as they do in the comics and end up having ten feet in a big semi-circle.
Now I have some shiny purple slippers out of material curly as unshorn poodle hair with bumpy bottoms safe for walking on slick wooden floors.
I have some red and green and black and white Christmasy stocking slippers that come halfway up my leg, the tops tied with green fluff balls at the ends of the strings so that my cats think I’m a walking toy. These slippers have no bottom bumps so I can pretend to snowboard across my living room if I want to. Sometimes this happens even without my prior intention.
I have some plain red slipper socks with chevroned white sticky stuff on the bottom, the kind that we are now given in hospitals in the neutral color of gray. These are really used and I often wear them as socks because they’re thick, good for wearing with my hiking boots, and they match a lot of my clothes.
Still in a drawer I have slipper socks from three years ago. These came with buttons and green trees sewn on the sides, the background black with embroidered snowflakes falling. A tree has fallen off one of the socks and when I try to wear them with my hiking boots, the buttons push into my ankles. I haven’t given up on them, however, because they’re still very thick and warm.
This year my step-daughter and family gave me some black fleece slippers for toasty TV viewing, along with an accompanying scarf that holds a TV remote. I will use these in the 5:30 a.m. mornings as I’m reading the paper and waiting for coffee to make its rounds stimulating my circulation to full awakeittude. I wore the slippers to bed last night and waited until my feet warmed up before slipping them off.
Tonight I’ll try another pair of slipper socks I was given in striped cream, gray, and maroon, ones that match my bedspread and rugs. I’ll hang my feet alluringly out of bed and have my husband take my photo for Sleep and Snore Magazine. I can do all those things with proficiency—sleep, snore, and model footwear to match bed ensembles.
I know how my friend’s mother got so many slippers. Each Christmas brought another pair or two from friends and family who cared about her comfort, who wanted her to be cozy like their memories of her.
I also know why she kept them all. Each pair of slippers reminded her and now, me, of those who were the givers, the ones who wished the best for me with their gifts. When I look at my slippers I’m filled with joy that so many beautiful people comprise my circle of friends and family. Thoughts of them ride on my feet across my drafty wood floors and that’s what keeps me warm. How could I throw any of them out? They are my riches.

Misty’s Woman Cave

Everyone knows what a man cave should look like (stereotypically speaking)—a giant flat screen TV with huge speakers; a blackout curtain so all the better to see the giant TV; an ear-shattering stereo system; an assortment of posters, usually football or basketball; a plush, enveloping recliner with holes in the arms for beverages; a small frig to keep the beverages ice-cold and maybe a neon sign, either for a certain university or that certain beverage, a can of which fits in the aforementioned chair arm holes.
How many of us, though, know what a woman cave looks like? Are there woman caves? Early feminists like Kate Chopin or Virginia Wolff told us to get one, this room or small apartment of one’s own but how many of us have one? And what goes in it once we have one?
I recently visited my friend Misty in her own apartment blocks from where her ex-husband and sons live. One room hold bunk beds for the boys’ visits, a dresser, a table for this-and-that’s, and a box half the size of a refrigerator filled with books lying as they landed when they were tossed.
One room was Misty’s bedroom where I never ventured as it was a private space.
The living space was enough to give me an idea, however, of what a woman cave, a space designated for one woman and her honored friends, looks like.
In front of the bay window were two lime-green fainting couches adorned with floral pillows and warm rust and rose throws. Between them was a small stand upon which resided a potted palm reaching almost to the top of the windows. Books on the stand invited reading should the reclining person wish. A fern hung in the window to the left.
Further in the room was another seating area, two sleek, modern-style armchairs facing an orangy-brown love seat with an antique coffee table in between. The table intrigued me because on either end at the top was a small repository topped by a door with a black knob. These spaces were big enough for a small book or innumerable small treasures which, indeed, were inside when I looked. Between the two covered receptacles lay the glass top upon which were written words and phrases in wax of some kind, maybe crayon; words of hope for women looking for new jobs in our jobless economy. Also on this glass shelf sat the book, Are Men Necessary? by Maureen Dowd. Under the glass top lay another shelf full of women’s magazines, flowers adorning every cover.
The loveseat was covered in more throws and pillows, as were the two armchairs. On the wall to the left hung two pieces of wall art made by Misty out of handmade paper, painted bamboo from her garden, and buttons. A dark wood mask hung between them. Under them sat the stereo and two small speakers. There is no TV in this home. The stereo was covered by a hand-embroidered table scarf and three candles.
Further down the room lay the creative areas. The kitchen table was full of jewelry making supplies—old and new beads of all sizes, shapes, and colors, chains, clasps, earring hooks, feathers, rocks, buttons, old jewelry pieces yet to be broken down, wires and implements to break apart old pieces and to join her creative pieces. All along the kitchen counter lay these interesting and intriguing items and bits that had caught her artist’s eye.
On the back wall above a bookcase hung a small mirror bordered by mosaic work. Surrounding that frame were a series of small paintings of people and women in mostly neon-vivid colors. On top of the bookcase were receptacles holding Misty’s natural finds: rocks, shells, feathers. These little “nests” so fun to peek in were to be found all over her home, in fact.
Her writer’s desk sat next to a sunny window where natural light can beam down on her musings. Scattered papers lined the top of this desk, along with various books, such as Writing Your Screenplay and an advertisement announcing, “ Winter 2009 Screenwriting Class.” This is where Misty does her writer’s work—the articles she writes for money and the fiction she writes for her soul.
This, then, is a woman’s cave: intriguing, pretty, wood and earth and things from nature. A place where things are created from the old to make the new. A place where thought becomes word. A place that invites other women to repose, revive, and collect themselves, to sink into comfort, wonder, and beauty before venturing back into the fast-paced, complex world. A place of peace.

A Dream to Remember

I usually don’t remember my dreams or if I do they are not ones I wish to remember but this morning’s dream before awakening is still with me–as much as dreams ever can be.

We lived in some kind of attached housing on the second floor with a long balcony running the entire length of the housing. Down below I could see heads of people and horses and bands–a parade was forming and passing. I had an errand to do and was in a hurry to get back in order to see the parade, so I had not combed my hair, brushed my teeth or showered. I did see my husband’s butt as he backed out of the shower. I see that cute little thing all the time, though, so that wasn’t the memorable part.

Whatever the errand–that part is fuzzy now–I was on the way back across a food court when I spotted out of the corner of my eye Ben Affleck and Matt Damon chatting at a table. I’d heard they were around but I didn’t stop to oogle in order to give them the space I know they rarely get. I ascended several of the steps out of the court leading to the long balcony when I felt an arm around my shoulder. I stopped and looked over to see Ben Affleck.

“Oh, hi,” I said, as if he were an old friend. “How are you doing?”
“Shoot,” he said. “You’re a schoolteacher.”
Why that would be disappointing I didn’t know.
“I’m retired,” I said. “How did you know?”
“You handled my hug with aplomb. Regular people go nuts.”
“I’m a writer, too,” I informed him.
“Come sit down with us a minute,” he said.
I did.
I told them about all the everyday people I knew whom I considered to be heroes, like the women in my water aerobics class. I talked about my poetry, my essays, my feature articles. Matt talked about a will. (I think my brain was doing the “Good Will Hunting” association.) Ben just goofed around saying goofy things in his charming fashion. I told them about being in Jerry’s short demo film sitting in a bathtub full of cool water in my bathing suit in an unheated house in December and how I now understood what long hours actors have to work sometimes.
When I thought they were getting bored, I excused myself. I could tell they liked talking to normal people about everyday things.
I never told them I was a screenwriter or that my sister and I have two spectacular scripts ready for production.
“I don’t do that,” I told friends later. I go through the proper channels.

When I awoke, I was so upset with myself for neglecting to ask how their respective wives and children were. Whatever will they think of me, one of the great unwashed?

In the photo of my father in his 87th year
he blows out the six balloon candles
on his beribboned German chocolate cake.
He sucks in air
as much as his liquid-filled lungs allow,
sucks twice more
to fill his arsenal.
His cheeks bulge
and he lets fly
his life force expelled
in celebration
of his birth,
a defiant exchange
to say he is still here
with something to trade
in search of joy.
He throws caution to the wind
that may not be here

When I was small my father used to sing a song he learned in the oral tradition, “Oh the Duke John was a mighty fine man, he had ten thousand men, he marched them all up the hill, then he marched them down again.” He also used to sing, “The bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain to see what he could see. And all that he could see, and all that he could see, was the other side of the mountain, the other side of the mountain, the other side of the mountain, was all that he could see.”
As kids, we just learn the songs and sing them because someone taught us. It’s only later that we start to think about what those songs could really mean. I think the first song was really about King George and how he was a nutcase who was sure he could see Italy out his bedroom window. He (and most monarchs and even some presidents, sadly) made his armies do things simply because he could and no one could complain, at least to his face. How the name got changed to “Duke John” I don’t know; words often change in the oral tradition and maybe my assumption this is about King George originally is incorrect, after all. Be that as it may, the point is that we all are involved in activities that occur over and over and are just as nutty and non-productive as marching up and down the same damn hills. The story of Sisyphus is a myth for a reason.
In the second song, we learn that no matter where we go, there we are. Our nature is the same no matter our place. Traveling doesn’t change that. Perhaps Emerson was right when he said we need to develop who we are where we are.
Although the birds in my backyard sing interesting and often lovely songs, it’s too bad they don’t have the benefit of reflecting upon my father’s songs. Week after week, all summer and long into the winter, they end up taking a joyride down my chimney and end up in the fireplace batting about, not enjoying, as none of us do, coming to a bad end. If I don’t hear them, they spent hours there in the dark, learning despair. What do they think when they find the bones of those I didn’t hear; the ones who came when I wasn’t home to hear? The cats, intrigued at first by the new sound of flapping wings in the stovepipe, become bored, stretch, and pad away. If they can’t pounce, don’t bother them. The birds are on their own, shortening their lives by all the frantic flapping.
I wonder, just as I do with humans, what makes them choose this downward slide? Do they fall in by mistake, a product of clumsy bumbling? “Oops! AIEEEE!”
Is it curiosity? “Hmm. What have we here? A black hole? Let’s investigate!”
Fatalism? “The hole is here, I’m here. My plunge is meant to be. I’m not going to live that long anyway.”
I see parallels here, don’t you?
Once or twice a week, I’m called upon to be compassionate, to rescue these misguided, winged wonders from the gloomy tomb in which they find themselves. I cover the pipe opening with a long plastic bag in which I once brought home seafood on ice. (It’s not easy getting a bird out of a home with multitudinous windows and vaulted ceilings, not to mention the superstition that a bird flying in the home signals death—hence the bag.) Finally, I open the flue and wait for them to come into the light, like some proselytizing prophet. Sometimes, it’s a long wait, as any prophet knows. Once they are safely inside the bag, I walk to the door and release them. They chatter a bit as they fly off. Maybe they are saying thank you. Maybe they are shouting relief.
I wonder how many times I rescue the same bird.
I wonder why I’m the one chosen to rescue them. Is it my destiny to be an avian avatar, the chosen one to show them the way?
Or am I just being who I am where I am, climbing up and down that mountain, trying to make some sense out of the journey?

Playing “Homework”

In yesterday’s “Blondie” comic strip, Dagwood asks Elmo if he ever plays “homework,” with the assumption his answer is no. The present creator of “Blondie” must be younger than I to have presumed that no child would do such a thing. The truth is, I played “homework” for several of my elementary school years and I loved it, longed for it, looked forward to it. There was no television in our home to distract me and that was wonderful.
My Aunt Benny was an elementary teacher and she brought me old teacher’s editions of textbooks her school was throwing out. I was ecstatic. Here was information on every topic imaginable. I loved learning and now I could indulge myself. I could take the tests after each chapter and then I could check to see how much I‘d retained.
These books took me out of my everyday world of home–where there were difficult and dirty chores to be done in all kinds of weather– and school—where there were boys with beastly behavior. The world of textbooks thrust me into a space where all the wonders of the world were divulged and explained. In the world of textbooks, there were correct answers. Sure things.
I remember the science textbook especially because of the chapter on constellations. How the ancients saw those drawings in the arrangements of the stars was beyond me. While I admired their imaginations, I found their artistic skills lacking. No way did the stars look like that to me. Still, I memorized the names of the star groupings and tested myself nightly to see which ones I could find. That ships can sail guided by stars alone still amazes me. Cassiopeia, Orion, The Big and Little Dippers (or Big and Little Bears if you live in France)—all led me to the stories of the characters upon whom the names were based and I began to learn ancient mythologies. The mythologies took me into other short stories, novels, poetry. They took me into the history of western civilization and geography.
I read and read, answered the questions and soaked up knowledge like a sponge. I entertained myself for hours and I realized the world was bigger than my sphere alone. I concluded that life might not be so dismal, so painful, so mean in another spot under those same stars. I understood that knowledge could get me to that better place and it was the only hope a poor girl such as I had for such transport.
Looking back now, I thank that stellar grouping “Lucky Stars” that Aunt Benny brought me books when she did. Hitching my ride on that constellation has brought me to where I am today.

If Wishes Were Horses

“If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.”

Listening to my mother’s cautionary proclamations was like being on a verbal treasure hunt. For every situation, she had a warning to impart, thereby ensuring her children would grow up socially correct, at least in her world view of what was acceptable. The only trouble was, much of the time we children found it difficult to discern exactly what these tidbits of social dictum actually meant.
Let me give you an example: When her intention was to deride us for behavior that was childish, she said, “Too sweet and fat to pity all day for muzher.”
If we stopped our pouting, it was only to consider what the hell she meant by that statement. What about that sentence makes sense? I’ve been decoding that pronouncement all my life. Now, I sensed the emotional intent of the phrase was to convey, “You poor thing,” and mean the exact opposite. I understood the tone. But what about the words?
Later, as I studied French, I deduced that “too sweet” could possibly mean “tout suite” and “pity” could mean “petit” but what about “fat”? “Muzher” I’m reasonably sure meant “mother.” Still, that sentence means nothing to me and I may go to my grave pondering its derivation.
Another of her momisms was “Like it or lump it.” Again, the intent we children could understand. “That’s the way it is whether you like it or not.” Why not just say it clearly? What does “lump it” refer to? Where did that come from and whoever uses “lump” as a verb?
Her clearest decrees were known proverbs such as, “If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.” All of us knew the message was that we could wish all we want but our wishes were fruitless expenditures of energy. That was harsh enough but it took years to piece together what wishes and horses and beggars all had to do with each other. We lived in the world of cars where beggars usually walked or bummed a ride—in a car, not on a horse.
I remember my sister challenging my mother who had told her, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” No one we knew lived in a glass house and why would they throw stones at it my sister wondered. “Just think about it,” my mother said. Obviously, she didn’t know either.
I suppose deciphering Mother’s dictums helped somewhat when we got to the analogy section of standardized tests. My scores were always high in that section since I’d been forced to figure out abstract meanings all my life.
As a mother, however, I chose to be as succinct and clear as possible in delivering my edicts. Having suffered from thinking so hard I walked into door jambs and walls while pondering various meanings, I came to a realization. A good parent needs to think before speaking and acting rather than relying on that parental tape in the head based on old and sometimes flawed information.
In all forms of communication, it is crucial to be as clear as possible so that misunderstandings and confusion do not arise. Pondering takes up valuable time and brain space. To that end, as far as I’m concerned, “Because I said so,” is as good as it gets.

Angry White Boys

Today I followed a black sedan with the words “White Boy” printed in large black letter on the back window. I wondered why, though the racial designation may be true, any sane person would want to proclaim this for the world to see and respond to. The sign wasn’t made to define, but to provoke. In some places the driver could get shot for his sign.

In a recent newsarticle a psychologist stated that people with bumper stickers and window signs are dealing with unresolved anger; that these are drivers of which one should steer clear. While I fail to see how “Baby on Board” is indicative of flaming rage, I do understand the gist of the expert’s statement and agree with it in general.

I have seen a van about town, its windows sporting unkind statements about our current president and his administration. Since the statements change almost daily, to witness them is like scanning the headlines of one’s newspaper. While most citizens agree with the sentiments expressed, some do not and therein lies the rub—or the angry phone calls. I know this driver and I know he has received threatening phone calls suggesting that he keep his windows bare or else. We live in a rural town, but if he lived in a larger city, he might well be deceased by now.

He’s angry and is wearing his heart, not on his sleeve, but on his van. If you drive anywhere, you see his fellow signmongers. We live in a world that has not taught us how to deal with conflict by compromise or in a peaceful manner. We carry that anger around with us, our own personal powder keg ready to explode. Playing nice most of the time, we don’t realize the powder is tamped down nicely, all the better to ignite. Why someone wants to add fuel to the fire, especially in a vehicle full of gasoline, is beyond me. I’m told that some people just love drama but isn’t getting through daily life drama enough?

Everywhere we have images flashed before us that shows us the way to deal with conflict, with people who don’t think like we do, is with violence–to hit, maim or kill the offender. When your kid talks back or doesn’t do the dishes, you smack him one. And you keep smacking him because, by God, that’s what your parents did and look how well you turned out. When your neighbor builds a fence you hate, instead of negotiating, you sneak over in the dead of night and demolish it. When a country won’t let you steal its natural resources and its port situated for prime trade, you start a war there under false pretenses.

It’s not hard to see then why some people respond to the anger on bumper stickers—road rage of the printed sort–with anger.

We don’t always get our own way. People don’t act or believe the way we want them to. We need to vent in a way that leads to right action. We need to learn conflict resolution. We need to put on our big boy and girl panties and learn how to deal with anger in a way that’s positive and healthy, a way that doesn’t damage a child’s spirit, a way that doesn’t lead to more conflict or death. Just a warning: Bumper stickers and car window signs may not be that way.