Saturday, December 31, 2005

the year grows old

When the Year Grows Old
Edna St. Vincent Millay

I CANNOT but remember

When the year grows old—


How she disliked the cold!

She used to watch the swallows

Go down across the sky,

And turn from the window

With a little sharp sigh.

And often when the brown leaves

Were brittle on the ground,

And the wind in the chimney

Made a melancholy sound.

She had a look about her

That I wish I could forget—

The look of a scared thing

Sitting in a net!

Oh, beautiful at nightfall

The soft spitting snow!

And beautiful the bare boughs

Rubbing to and fro!

But the roaring of the fire,

And the warmth of fur,

And the boiling of the kettle

Were beautiful to her!

I cannot but remember

When the year grows old—


How she disliked the cold!

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

I do not dislike the cold. It teaches me to appreciate the hearth. The day is gray and the rain has been steady. I welcome the rain and the cold. It doesn't sadden, but brings renewal. My spirit. My hope. My pleasure in the comforts of home.

We have spent the holidays in a cheerful whirl of friends and dinners, wine and laughter, and I am reminded once again of all that I am grateful for. Tonight we will ring in the New Year alone, the affable Turk and I, in front of a cozy fire and a tiny tree, and toast to years gone by and those to come; old friends lost and new ones made; roads already traveled and paths yet to be chosen. We will be melancholy, yet peaceful. Grateful for our good fortune. The year grows old, and so do we. But I do not dislike the cold. It reminds me that I am warm.

Peace, love and prosperity to you all.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

gone shopping...

No time to visit
no time to blog
there's hardly time for this eggnog

It's last year's card
this happy tree, rushed as always
but then that's me

I wish you love
and joy and mirth
I wish us all some
Peace on Earth

Goodwill to all
to all sweet dharma
But if ye be Grinchey
I wish thee ~ Instant Karma.

Happy Holidays!
(and of course, to Bill O'Reilly and John Gibson, who apparently require more specific forms of greeting)

A wondrous midwinter agricultural and solar observance to you, boys!

peace, babies

xxx ooo Gigi

Saturday, December 17, 2005

blissin' in the wind

I like my gym. I really do. It’s clean, well-appointed, relatively free of meat market muscle heads and hardly ever out of toilet paper in the ladies’ room. Most importantly, it’s right around the corner from my house, which means I have to pass it as I travel to and fro from whatever self-indulgence I am to-ing and fro-ing from, and I am easily guilted into dropping in for an hour or so. Eventually. It keeps me honest and helps me maintain the illusion of moderate good health even as I maintain a steady diet of egg nog and fruit cake; at least until I look too closely in a mirror. I tend to favor equipment located far from the reflecting walls.

Not that I love all forms of exercise. I hate lifting weights, which is tedious and painful. No pain, no pain, is my motto. If the weight is too light, I lose count as my mind wanders off in search of weightier subjects (What ever happened to that trial of Kenny Boy Lay?...Does that woman think anyone believes those things are real?…) If the weights are too heavy, I find I can only count to 3.

But I love yoga and I love to run. I love the way my body feels as I push it to bend deeper, reach further and move faster. It’s probably just a chemical thing; a combination of increasing adrenaline, endorphins and serotonin levels that makes it feel so good ~ which just goes to prove that there’s nothing I won’t do to achieve an unnatural high.

Still, I had an odd free hour yesterday after a busy day of doing whatever it is that I do but didn’t feel like hitting the gym. So I did something I haven’t done in ages. I took a walk.

The air was clear and a brisk 50 degrees. The low autumn sun gleamed hard and diamond-bright, and the sky was soon ablaze in spectacular shades of red, pinks, orange and fuscia. My Mp3 Player was tuned to 93.1 Jack FM (motto: “we don’t take requests ~ we don’t encourage bad behavior”) and the ‘Boys of Summer’ was pulsing through my head. I tried to run, but could feel the cellulite jiggling and stopped at once; it was spoiling the mood. Overhead the maple leaves, ignited by the sun, flamed red, pink and saffron. Striding swiftly uphill, I paused at the top to take in the last splash of magenta as the sun exploded over the reservoir.

I tried to stop mentally describing the scene in glaringly awful purple prose and realized, not for the first time, that I am a very bad writer, even when only talking to myself. I decided I didn’t really care and, grooving to Steely Dan’s “Do it Again,” fully understood that I was just one happy little idiot. Let finer minds struggle to be good ~ I would be content to be colorful.

Trotting downhill to the strains of “Stray Cat Strut,” I tried not to grin too broadly as motorists sped past, lest they recognize me as simple. By the time Queen hit their stride with “Somebody to Love”, Christmas lights were twinkling on against the now dusky mauve sky and I didn’t bother trying not to smile, or even let slip a skip and a stray strut or two. I grinned and nodded at neighbors staring back at me from garages and behind the leashes of dogs. When I finally hit my own front porch, John Fogerty was wailin’ “Born on the Bayou,” and I was blissin’ ~ winded, happy and at one with the universe.

You know, I hardly ever get that from the treadmill. I really need to get out more.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

christmas noir

‘Tis the holiday season so, having just skimmed John Gibson’s thriller,” The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought” we were naturally in the mood for a story of greed, power and corruption in the hallowed halls of government and other such worlds of unimaginable privilege and excess.

Unfortunately, “Syriana” didn’t open until today, and since it was yesterday, we went to see “The Ice Harvest” instead, which proved to be a story of greed, power and corruption in the seedy suburb of ‘Wichita Falls, Kansas’; a world of unimaginable tawdriness and excess.

In “Ice Harvest” John Cusack plays Charlie Arglist, a mob lawyer who’s been sleepwalking his way through life, pausing only to drink and hang out in strip bars until he attempts to pull a Christmas Eve getaway after having stolen millions from his bosses. Billy Bob Thornton plays the amoral pornographer accomplice, who may or may not fade away into the night with the loot. Oliver Platt is the drunken buddy and fellow nihilist Pete Van Heuten, a man ravaged by the misery of having gotten what he wished for, and now longing only for a brand new start.

I absolutely enjoyed this movie. Recalling the best of 1940’s film noir this comedy/thriller is bleak, violent and consistently funny. In Connie Nielsen, who plays the femme fatale Renata whom Charlie is pining for, we have a Lauren Bacall for the 21st century; from her long, side-swept locks to her ruby red lips; down to the gams that seem go on forever, as Sam Spade might have said. Even bound to a chair and threatened with a pistol, she speaks in a low, husky Bacall-like whisper, when a lesser dame would have screeched and howled like a banshee. That’s style. Noir style.

This movie isn’t for everyone. My viewing partner, the unflappable Turk, did not care for it and did not at all appreciate my dragging him along.

“That’s not my idea of a Christmas movie,” he said later, glowering at me over margaritas. “Too depressing. I’ve had too many Christmases like that.”

I must have looked a little alarmed.

“Well, without all the violence and the…you know…blood and all.”

I continued to stare.

“Oh! The strippers. There were never strippers.”

Good to know.

“Christmas should be happy,” he continued. “And if it can’t be happy, it should at the very least not be that dark.”

“Oh, I don’t know. It's pretty dismal for a lot more people than anyone cares to admit. Besides, did you see the footage of the 6 AM tramplings in front of the Wal Mart and Best Buys? They were stepping on old people! Rioting for X Boxes. I think that’s pretty dark.”

“Shameful. But you don’t see them making a movie out of it.” He paused. “Yet.”

Alright. He has a point.

Still ~ if you, like me, are beginning to feel just a wee bit of an overload from all the gingerbread, tinsel and enforced merriment of the yule; if you too are, shall we say dispirited by the cloud of raging consumerism that permeates the air while the Gibsons and O’Reillys of the world attempt to make political hay of the spiritual ho-ho-ho…

Well, then just think of “The Ice Harvest” as a quickie antidote; a nice dry martini in a season of sweet, and sometimes sour rum punch.

Ho ho ho!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

it's all about the housekeeping

Okay ~ this page went a little wonky for a bit there but it seems to be better now. I am on a very steep learning curve here.

I've been trying to save the AOL Journal to my hard drive (thanks Trish)as well as print it out (yes, I know, I'm getting obsessive about the whole thing, and wish I'd never started.) But I have, and now I'm stuck with the neurotic behavior I've so foolishly triggered. I no longer trust AOL to host my graphics with any reliability, and have been trying in my spare moments to shift everything over here. And there. Pretty much everywhere. Suddenly I'm a compulsive saver. It's becoming a problem.

I've found that if you do try to print out old entries you must, in fact, print out all those terrific AOL ads we've all come to know and love. Andi, over at Unhinged, suggested I copy everything into Word and print from there, which turned out to be a great idea. The only exception is that some photos won't copy and paste (those hosted by an AOL UK site) and if said photos are no longer on your hard drive or saved to CD, then you're out of luck. Most likely, you're not as nuts as I am and won't care. Congratulations on your excellent mental health!

It's at times like that I miss my handy little spiral bound journal. No one had to host it, no one wanted to delete it, censor it, advertise in it or even, for that matter, read it. At least, not to my knowledge. Although my cousin did give me some funny looks that time I left it on the dresser when I was staying at her house... But I digress.

Right. So I've been working on that and I'm slow; in fact, until I organize myself and just quit copying things hither and yon like a rabid squirrel I can't seem to actually write anything. Or concentrate on anything else.

So if I haven't been around to read, write or answer mail, it's a time and mental health issue, not a lack of interest one, and I'm sorry about that. 'Tis the season fa-la, and although I'd rather blog than clean bathrooms, which are getting rather...hairy, I'd also rather doodle in Paint than copy blog files, which is what I feel I have to do whenever I'm online, at least until it's done.

And there are errands to run, shopping to do, lunches to be...lunched, and the gym to be gymed. Or avoided by going shopping, as the case may be. Speaking of which, I'm off to Sportsmart for running shoes (25% off today only!) as I'm pretty sure my old ones are conspiring to cripple me.

And I am so freaking late right now; I'll bet this doesn't even save by the time I

Oh, damn. Later!............

Friday, December 02, 2005

scenes from purgatory ~ part two

Outside in the hallway, Mom is instructed to propel herself as far as she can by rotating the wheels on her chair manually, as part of her upper body work.

Alongside her is a set of parallel bars where a tall, dignified woman is making her painful way down the length of the ramp. Mom turns to peer up at her before beginning her own course, and they both struggle along at a snail’s pace. Watching from behind, it is a slow motion marathon taking place between a heron and a gnome.

Suddenly, without raising her head from her progress, my mother announces to no one in particular, “She doesn’t know it, but we’re having a race, and I’m gonna WIN!” Everyone in the hallway breaks up, including her startled rival. Leaning against a wall, I’m laughing so hard it brings tears to my eyes.

Back in her room, after the nurse has put her in bed, each little shift of the sheets brings pain and moaning and she begs, again, for more medication. “You see, I do try, don’t I?” she says, peering up at me.

She tells me about how she hates to wake up in the morning; that when she opens her eyes she feels only wretched disappointment. “I pray to die,” she says. “Why am I still here?” I tell her that she’s here for me.

“Because it’s all about me, Mom. I’m not ready to let you go. None of us are.” I half believe this; that I am keeping her here against her will. That I somehow have this much power in the universe, and that I am using it unwisely. She gives me a ghost of a smile. “There is such a thing as living too long, you know.”

I stay with her until she becomes quiet, long after visiting hours are over. When I leave, I tell her I’ll see her in the morning. “Just call,” she says. “In the night, when I wake up, I feel like I don’t know who I am. Like I’m adrift. Alone….you know?”

I tell her I know. Alone in the dark, caught halfway between restless dreams and an unwelcome dawn, it’s easy to become untethered ~ adrift in the existential void. To forget who you are. I do know. But I don’t want to.

“I just feel lost” she says, “until someone calls.”

Thursday, December 01, 2005

scenes from purgatory ~ part one

Picture from HometownIt's Wednesday, about five days after my mother's fall. Mom's had bad days and worse, depending on the exact combination of pain and sleeping medications she's been given, and whether or not she's had a good night's sleep.

Anxiety is an issue, as is tedium and the dread of utter dependence. At times she seems to be giving up; there is an overwhelming sense of too much pain, too much fear, too much sadness ~ that there is simply not enough pleasure left in the world to make the agony of living worth bearing. It is the death of hope. I understand. But I don't want to.

And yet, she makes the effort. She is, as ever, cute and charming in social situations, commanding attention no less today than in the full radiance of her youth. Pushing her down the health centercorridor, she is dwarfed by her oversized wheelchair and resembles nothing more than a diminutive apple-faced doll, and hospital personnel and strangers alike will stop to smile and exclaim, "Oh my, you are so cute!"

Sometimes, she turns to me and says, "Everyone keeps telling me that! It must be true." So it is.

In a therapy session, she is instructed to raise her arms and wave. She raises her arms straight out by her sides and flutters her long, bony fingers delicately in the air, concentrating intently. "I'm making butterfly fingers" she says. Mr. Hainsley, with whom she shares her group therapy laughs. "I'll bet you were something else when you were young," he says. She widens her eyes. "Ooo...well, you don't know the half of it."

In the rehab room, where eight other physical therapists are working with their clients Maxine, her caseworker, asks her to point to a schematic face on a paper indicating her level of pain. The faces range from number 1, a beaming smiley face to number 9, which is scowling ferociously, eyebrows furrowed and teeth bared.

"Well," she says, after consideration, "this is me," indicating the sweet Happy Face. "And this is...YOU!" She points to the angry, frowny one. Her timing is impeccable. The room erupts in laughter.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

open house

I am not what you’d call an early adaptor. I fear change. I’m currently listening to an ancient semi-portable radio that I can never turn off because it has a short and takes 10 minutes of jiggling the knob to turn back on again, and I just don’t have that kind of time. My favorite camera is a 35 millimeter Minolta circa 1987, which caused a waiter at a open air bistro to stop and exclaim, “Hey ~ I remember those! I think my father had one!”

I don’t own a microwave, although that’s less of a Luddite affliction than a lack of available counter space. I have a VCR Plus which malfunctioned a few years back and now can only tape the shows that I’m currently watching, which seems, you know, pointless. It's a VCR Minus.

I don’t own a cell phone, although I almost got one recently when my 92 year old mother needed a new one and it was offered to me. I somehow managed to leave without it. I think it frightened me. And up until a couple of months ago, I used a cassette player at the gym that was so large and bulky I practically had to carry it on my back. I only jettisoned it because it ate my the last of my tapes. (I miss you Bob Seger…)

So when I got my first computer 2 years ago and only about 15 years behind the cultural curve I was thrilled to find that it came with 6 months free of AOL. After noodling around for a bit I discovered AOL’s journal pages and was hooked. Press a button and pictures appear. Click another and post, change colors, edit entries, resize graphics and post again. No coding, no hassle, no knowledge required. Just click “It’s All About Me’ and yammer away. I loved it.

AOL’s wrongheaded decision to sell advertising space in the form of those glaringly awful headline banners on their relatively pricey subscriber pages (for those who had to pay) was enough to nudge quite a few to jump ship. As much as I balked it was, for me at least, a move whose time had come. For even as I rail, rant and rebel against leaving my cozy little comfort zone, I’ve come to realize in the past week or so that what I really wanted, and probably needed, was to be challenged; pushed into learning and forced into experiencing something new. I’m fairly adventurous in other aspects of my life (as long it doesn’t involve anything too technically advanced like say… a DVD player) and it bothered me how resistant I was to leaving home and venturing out into the world, as it were.

So here I am, and welcome to my new space. I like it. It’s still a little rough around the edges ~ I haven’t got all the links in and I’m not sure yet how to do internal links or relocate pics. I’d like to design a new title logo and maybe change some colors. The thing is, I just may be able to figure out how to do that now. With a little help from my friends, of course.

And that’s another thing ~ there’s still a community here, full of people who are generous, supportive and willing to throw a rope to those in need. New friends, old friends ~ we’re all just a click away. What’s the worst thing that could happen?

Right, don’t answer that.

Now I’m going to see if I can place a little gif. here, and if it works, I’m off to figure out Bloglines...

oops ~ my animated gif. is decidedly unanimated. Babysteps...

Friday, November 25, 2005

now is the entry of my discontent

My new blog is pissing me off. Oh, I know what you're thinking. It's not the blog. It's her. She's an idiot. Always has been; why have we not noticed this before? Must have been the AOL beer goggles...

After all, how many times does one have to be told that no, silly, you cannot cut and paste from your old blog to the new one with fonts and everything intact. I tried it. Five times. And I can't get that picture out of my sidebar, even though I removed it from Profile. A hundred times.

If the definition of madness is repeating the same action over and over and expecting a different result, then I am really quite insane. Again, how long has this gone undetected? And why am I not being treated? Aren't there drugs? I'm sure there are drugs.

Please give me drugs.

I click here, I edit code there ~ which is hilarious because I have as much chance of deciphering code as I have of singing an opera in Mandarin Chinese ~ and nothing happens. I can't seem to save changes.

I'm not happy with the graphic placement thingy ~ you can't change your mind and cut and paste in another location; you have to keep uploading or something. But changing my mind is what I do. Constantly. Back and forth, back and forth ~ again, there's that whole repetition/insanity issue. And what if I want to place a graphic at the end, or within the body of the text? Because I do, you know. I really do.

I have much to learn, I know, and little patience with the process. I don't even understand bloglines, for the love of Gates. I am paralyzed by uncertainty, malcontent and abject whininess. I'm obsessive-compulsive about the way that things look. I want links; I want sidebar subtitles, I want a counter, I want more space for the toon.

Oh, and peace in the Middle East. I really want that, too. But first I want my space up and running and ready for it's close-up. How else can I pontificate about that no-doubt-just-around-the-corner peace? So call me Crazy. Or get me those drugs.

Friday, November 18, 2005



It seems that in the process of moving something dreadful has happened to my face. It has gone all sad and melty looking, and suddenly I have no nose.

Why has my nose not made the transition from there to here?

What, I ask you, has happened to my face?


I really miss my nose.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


My mother is insisting on her right to die. “I want to sign that paper!” she says, making a broad signing gesture with her arm. “I want to sign that paper and take a pill and be gone.”

“It isn’t legal, Mom,” says my brother, leaning forward from his perch on the edge of the hospital bed. “And you don’t really want to die.”

“It is legal! I saw it on TV,” she asserts emphatically. “You sign some papers and then you can die. And I do want to die. If I can’t walk, I don’t want to be here anymore!” She is angry and frightened and experiencing pain with every movement.

Mom has had a series of falls in recent times, and has been growing more frail with each. She has spondylosis, severe osteoporosis and numerous compression fractures which are the source of her current pain. Each fall has led to greater fear; fear has kept her anchored to her recliner, and the subsequent loss of muscle has made her even more vulnerable to loss of balance. A vicious cycle of fear and loss which has led us all here, to the dreary rehab center just outside of Houston, Texas to which she was transferred from the hospital. Mom wants to come home. My brother, who has been her caretaker for the last four years, needs her to be mobile enough for him to be able to leave for a few hours at a time, and to get through the night without assistance. We are putting all our hopes on a prescribed two week course of physical therapy.

“Mom, do you want me to take you out in the parking lot and shoot you right now?” asks my brother, a manic gleam in his eye. “’Cause I will. If that’s what you want.”

“I do!” says my mother defiantly.

“And then I’ll go to jail. Because it’s not legal. It’s crazy.”

“Oh. Well, I don’t want you to go to jail,” relents Mom.

“It may be legal in Oregon,” I offer. “Maybe that’s what you’re thinking of.”

“Yes! I’ll go there!” Mom is elated.

“How will you get there?” I ask. “You can’t fly by yourself anymore.”

“You’ll take me!” she says, chin lowered, looking up at me with a sly grin. My brother laughs.

“Of course” I reply. “Lovely. A mother/daughter suicide trip to Oregon. It’s beautiful this time of year. We can take in some sights. I know ~ why don’t I just organize a tour? Me and a bunch of little old ladies in wheelchairs who want to die.” I lower my voice ominously. “Sixteen of us will go in…but only one will return. How’s that sound?”

She chuckles softly as she pats my knee with a gentle caress. “Okay, okay.” She sighs and gazes sadly at the floor. “But I really do want to die.”

Monday, August 08, 2005

boo babes

*** Saturday in Malibu

Andi was blue

Trishy was pink

Robbie was driving

I needed a drink

Blue skies and salt air

fresh fish and wine

It was just a few hours

but the weather was fine

We wrote a few screenplays

a novel or two

I wanted a murder

any victim would do

A brief stop at Starbuck’s

the surf crowd eclectic

The life of a beach bum

seems curiously hectic

The sunlight turned golden

on houses peach pink and lime

Kept missing those photos

so ~ maybe next time.


Wednesday, August 03, 2005

auld lang syne

I got a call from an old friend on Wednesday. She’d sent a card in July in which she said she’d tried to call for my birthday so many times she eventually gave up and thought writing would actually be more efficient. It’s true ~ I rarely answer my own phone. These days I find the idea that someone might want to talk to me alarming for some reason. “Surely no good can come of this…” think I. And often enough, I’m right.

But not always, and this time it was good news; my friend was in Palmdale, visiting her sister and wanted to drive down and spend a few hours with us on Saturday. Would that be alright?

We met when I was working behind the candy counter in a coffee shop in a small tourist town on Long Island. I got the job because my roommate was the boss's girlfriend, and the fact that I had availed myself of this blatant cronyism to land such a coveted position was clearly offensive to the long term employees. There were three waitresses who worked the old-fashioned ice cream and lunch counter that made up the bulk of the business; an older woman named Sheila, her son’s teenage girlfriend, and a brunet named Angela who looked vaguely familiar. No one spoke to me or made eye-contact for the first week or so of my employment, although we worked facing each other not 30 feet apart. It was made very clear that I was persona non grata. But I was 20 years old, going through a particularly rough spot in my life and really needed the job. A little more hostility, I figured, was not the worst thing that could happen.

So it was that I was standing listlessly behind the counter one afternoon, contemplating all the crummy choices that had brought me there, agonizing over those yet to be made and wondering which would seal my fate as a lonely counter clerk, dishing out bonbons to bell-bottomed tourists, surrounded by too many cats and too little money, when the brunet strode purposefully over. “Hi! My name’s Angie. You doing anything after work?”

It turned out to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

She told me later that she figured it wasn’t my fault that no one liked my roommate, and it wasn’t any of their business anyway.. We became fast friends almost immediately, in a way, I suspect, that only the young can. We reveal ourselves to each other in youth in ways and at depths that become more difficult as time goes on; as experience teaches us to shield ourselves more efficiently from judgment, pain and betrayal. Before the walls of defense become impenetrable; calcified. The four years I spent living in that town I spent in large part in her company, part of a small but tight knit circle of friends. We had riotously good times and shatteringly bad ones. We witnessed one another’s dark sides and worst behaviors, and accepted each other in full knowledge of our individual shortcomings. Above all, we were always there for each other, no questions asked. Of the original four, only she and I have stayed in contact. As time went on we both married, and she had two daughters and moved to Florida. We got busy, as people do, but stayed in touch through letters and phone calls. And the occasional cross country pop-in.

She looks just the same, and I knew from the first that some things would never change. That they mustn’t be allowed to. Her husband brought me flowers, we sat down with drinks and appetizers on the patio and had so much to say and complain and laugh about that by dinnertime we knew they’d have to stay the night. Our lives are immeasurably different, but I knew too that no matter who we were or what we became, we would continue to be there for each other, no questions asked. There is a wonderful sense of comfort in knowing that you can pick up the phone at 4:00am and say, “I need a place to stay…” and someone would be there to pick you up at the airport, offer a roof over your head and a shoulder to cry on. And you’d know that this was safe haven because these bonds were forged in a place before the walls went up; before you learned how to be strong enough to keep people out, and lock yourself in.

At breakfast the next morning, as I flipped eggs on the stove, served juice and coffee and got everybody’s order wrong, we flashed back to those days at the coffee shop, when she worked the grill and I was just that girl who looked so strangely sad behind a counter heaped high with chocolate bonbons. Ah, plus ca change…...

Friday, July 29, 2005

rock n' roll never forgets

Happy Birthday,

(That’s right ~ from now on, it’s the same card every year. Soon you’ll be so old, you won’t even notice.)

Have a blast! Wish I were there ~ pop a cold one for me…



Monday, July 25, 2005

bad yoga babe

It’s been a long, hot, busy week. For one thing, we were expecting my husband’s niece, her husband and four children to be coming in from Chicago, and spent much of the week on the usual preparations ~ cleaning house, tending the garden, fixing the more obvious defects and hiding everything else under the rug or in the shed. I was vacuuming the bathroom floor I heard the burbling sound coming from the toilet. Turk came tearing around the corner.

“You hear that?”

“Yeah. The toilet is gargling.”

“Both toilets. It’s overflowing onto the carpet. The bathtub is full.” He disappeared. I opened the shower door. My shampoo went floating by.

Miraculously, we found a plumber, but not before some serious carpet damage had been done. We went ahead with plans for a family BBQ anyway. My husband hadn’t seen his niece since her mother (his sister) died about five years ago and was looking forward to her visit. He had just gotten home with several hundred pounds of meat and was about to light a fire when the phone rang. It was Mary Kate, and she wasn’t calling from the airport. Turns out she hadn’t been feeling that well and decided to stay in Chicago. She only just thought to call. Hope you didn’t go to any trouble, Uncle Turk.

We called friends and rounded up enough people with nothing else to do on a Saturday night (thank heavens our friends are no more popular than we are) and threw a mini shindig that grew lively when a heated argument broke out between Turk and Bill over the cause of the Civil War. You’d have thought they were veterans. A compromise was eventually reached and everyone parted as grateful citizens of a United America. You know it’s a good party when you can unite a divided nation and find glassware in the bushes the next morning.

All this is by way of saying I was really looking forward to yoga this morning. My chakras were off, my center akimbo and my aura needed highlights. I wanted to embrace a mellow universe. I wanted to be one with my fellow man.

Or so I told myself. The truth of the matter is that I am too cranky to be a really good yoga practitioner. I have a very pronounced ~ some might say exaggerated ~ sense of personal space. I understand that definitions of ‘personal space’ can vary greatly from culture to culture, with Americans tending to require more, Europeans and Asians less, but I certainly seem to need a lot.

This means that every time, like today, some woman comes toddling in 10 minutes late and slaps her mat down not 5 inches away from mine I get aggravated. And move delicately 4 feet away. And when a second woman comes in and repeats the action on the other side of me - in a huge room, mind you, with acres of empty space - I get really, really agitated. This is a problem.

Because yoga is really about letting go of that sense of self that becomes defensive at violations of personal space; it is the liberation of ego into an infinite universe. Namaste, the salutation repeated at the end of practice translates roughly as the divine in me recognizes the divine in you, and allows individuals to “come together energetically to a place of connection and timelessness, free from the bonds of ego-connection. If it is done with deep feeling in the heart and with the mind surrendered, a deep union of spirits can blossom.”
Aadil Palkhivala

And therein lies the problem. I am deeply bonded with my own ego, and can’t let it go. And I want to, I really do. I am nothing if not a seeker of wisdom and truth, and to that end it could be argued that I surrendered my mind years ago. But I am also a westerner, a Brooklyn–born one at that, and am thus plagued by certain cultural limitations.

So it is with deep regret that I swear by my Uncle Vinnie that the next woman who throws down next to me and blocks my chakras by waving her divine feet in my face is …well, she’s not getting a Namaste from me, is all I can say.

Yeah, yeah…I know. Fuhgeddaboudit. And go in peace.

Monday, July 18, 2005

wistful thinking

I’ve been working on a new painting on and off for the past couple of weeks. It’s an abstract/expressionist sort of thing, the idea being to expand my horizons by pushing beyond the confines of subject matter and focusing strictly on paint, texture, color, and their relationship to each other. So far it’s been going relatively well, all things considered, but now the canvas seems to have turned a corner and entered an awkward stage, poised for the moment between two extremes. At this point, it could be an extraordinary work of unprecedented genius. Or it could be a train wreck. It could go either way.

For the painting has developed a mind of it’s own, and something of a personality disorder in the process. It’s defying me at every turn. The colors, once bright and clear have turned dark and brooding; the composition, originally accessible and well proportioned, now appears tight, intense and too closed in on itself.

The canvas is talking back and challenging me ~ it’s staying up late and wearing too much pigment; taking the car, smokin' the linseed, hittin' the turpentine. It’s threatening to run with a dubious crowd ~
Baziotes, Basquiat and Schnabel ~ oh, fine paintings if you like that sort of thing, but not exactly what I had in mind for it. I had planned on it hanging with more of a Johns, Bartlett, Miro set, a more subtle and refined bunch, to my mind and frankly I’m not willing to give up on that dream. Not yet.

So I feel as I imagine the parent of any such rebellious and angst ridden adolescent must feel ~ do I continue to try and impose my will upon such a reluctant canvas, for it is mine and I maintain the right to direct the course of it’s destiny, or do I relinquish the cherished illusion of omnipotence and serve merely as guide and conduit, keeping it as much out of trouble as possible, but otherwise letting the paint chips fall where they may?

The critic in me recognizes that this is all silly, romantic nonsense, of course. Painting is pigment, brush and canvas, and any skilled technician is fully in control of the process, from conception to final execution. But I am more fanciful than skilled, and can’t help thinking that sometimes things help create themselves, often in spite of our best efforts to control them.

I like to think that. It makes me happy to imbue such objects with free will. I enjoy them more; they become my friends. Some are prettily luminous; some dark and complex. Some are thoughtful and precise; others chaotic and entertaining. All are appreciated for their internal strengths and weaknesses, whatever they may be, and are revelations in their own way whenever they appear.

Also, if objects help to manifest themselves, it’s not entirely my responsibility if a piece turns out poorly ~ like Jessica Rabbit, they’re not really bad; they’re just drawn that way. Oh wait ~ I guess I do have to take the fall for that.

Never mind.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

sibling rivalry

My brother has a red barn . I still find this fact a little amazing. Of course, I understand that barns are not unusual in many parts of the country. I've seen the pictures. I've even taken a few. It's just that, growing up as we did in New York, my brother always seemed like the last guy you'd figure to someday be the proud owner of an actual barn in rural/suburban Texas.

He's my only brother, just 13 months younger than I, and I'm afraid that growing up I treated him rather shabbily. There was the time Mom left us down in the basement to play for an hour and I painted him blue. I used to jump off the seesaw just to see him come down with a bang. And there was that day at Nunley's Amusement Park, when he came running up, excitedly calling my name, anxious for me to ride with him on the Ferris Wheel. I can still see his sweet, happy little face crumple as I, with cold-blooded calculation, summoned my cousin to ride with me instead. It pierces my heart like an arrow when I think of it now, that thoughtless cruelty of children, and its ensuing reminder of what a lousy big sister I could be. It could be that my callousness made him harder that day. It could be why he became a Republican. I have only myself to blame.

The years went by, we fought like cats and dogs, and by High School were barely on civil terms. He ran with the motor heads and guys who preferred Shop class to English Lit; I hung with the AP geeks who ran the school paper and fancied themselves intellectuals. He played in a band and had to beat the girls off with a club; I somehow managed not to have a date for the prom. When girls called for him, as they did constantly, I would answer the phone with all the charm of a surly prison guard.

"He's not here!" I would bark sullenly into the phone. "What do I look like, his secretary?" Our frequent arguments at the dinner table often ended with one of us declaring that when we were adults we would not allow our children to play with each other.

"Your kids are gonna be so messed up, I wouldn'twant my kids anywhere near them!" he'd fume.
“Fine by me. Your kids are gonna be so stupid my kids won’t want anything to do with them.”
"Your kids are gonna be dorks!"
"Yours are gonna be idiots!" Ad infinitum. Till my father shut us up, no doubt pondering a future filled with dorky, idiotic grandchildren.

Of course, that was a long time ago, and my two nephews are fine, handsome, intelligent and charming young men, of whom I am inordinately proud. Alas, the potential dorkiness of any offspring I might have had shall remain forever one of life's little mysteries. I suppose it would have depended on whether or not 'dork' is a dominant or recessive trait. I suspect the former.

Today, my brother has a beautiful, talented wife, a successful business, those two lovely boys, 3 dogs and a wide assortment of motor vehicles. He takes good care of our mom, who lives in an apartment built onto the house. He plays in a band that enjoys local popularity and regular gigs. He is kind, thoughtful and generous, with many friends and responsibilities, and when I am there we often laugh so hard we cry. Then we laugh some more. We used to do that a lot too, when we were kids.

We wish now that we lived next door to each other, and could be in each other's lives every day. But he's a Texan by choice, and I'm a Californian by nature. I crave the smell of ocean air; he needs to be surrounded by wide open spaces. The Lone Star state defines the meaning of the term 'conservative republican' and is home to it's highest leaders; I may as well have 'liberal' and 'kick me'tattooed on my forehead. Assimilation is not likely.

But then again, there is always that red barn. The Hubs and I could move in there. After all, what family wouldn't want a crazy old Auntie and a bookish Uncle Turk living in their barn? We could organize conflicting protests, and then all go out for dinner. Maybe some day, when we're older and...oh let's never say grayer. Blonder. For if life has taught me anything, it's that you never know what will happen.

Monday, April 25, 2005

texas or bust

I called my mother last week to tell her that I was coming to visit.

"Hi Mom!" I said as soon as she picked up the phone.

"Hullo?" I heard her say. Her speech sounded muffled and distant.

"Turn the phone around!" I hollered.

"Who's that?" she demanded, directly into the earpiece. She keeps picking up the phone upside down. You can't blame her, really. When she first starting using telephones you cranked it up, held a cup to your ear and shouted into a box on the wall. It was all very straight forward.

"Ma, you're holding the phone upside down. Turn it around!" I shouted, presumably into her mouth.

"Oh, wait a minute! I'm holding it upside down!" She giggled. I listened as she shuffled things around. Sometimes she says she's going to turn the TV down, and I hear her hitting the buttons on the phone. I've done the same thing, truth be told, pointing the phone at the TV in a vain attempt to change the channel. And people wonder why I don't have a cell phone.

"How you doing, Ma?"

"Yesterday I ate seven...maybe eight... chocolate Ex-Lax!" she exclaimed. She could not have sounded more delighted.

"You did what now?"

"Here, I'll let Joel tell you." My brother got on the line.

"I handed her the package," he began, "and told her to take two. I meant two squares. I don't know why I didn't snap to it ~ I should have known she'd take two whole bars ~ half the whole thing. More than half."

"How is she? Is she OK?"

He gave a low chuckle. "It was a nerve-wracking night, I can tell you. I came in and checked on her a few times. She seemed fine. Just fell asleep. She was out like a light." He laughed again. "She liked it! She's happy about it. You know how she is".

Indeed I do. My mother has been addicted to laxatives for as long as I can remember. She's refused to take medication of any kind, including aspirin, for most of her life, but laxatives are another story; she can't get through the day without them. She thinks of them as vitamins. Never having developed a taste for fresh fruits or vegetables, she has always preferred to just take a pill, then relax and enjoy a diet of fried chicken, cheese omelettes and ice cream. Need fiber? She put two desserts on the table for dinner every night when I was growing up. I developed into a rather plump teenager. She, on the other hand, weighed all of 105 pounds then; 86 pounds soaking wet now. Go figure.

She got back on the phone.
"So how you feeling, Mom?"

"Pretty good!" she chirped.

"Listen, I called to tell you I'm coming for your birthday!"

"Oh, that's nice. When?"

"On your birthday! Well, the last week in April, anyway. It's a long story. I have to fly on a Wednesday because..."

"Good, good....I have to go now."

"What...why? What's the rush?"

"I just have to go!" She laughed. "Can't wait to see you. Bye!"

She hung up.

So I'm off to Texas, to party with Mom and her Peeps, on the occasion of her 92nd birthday. I have no idea what to get her. Maybe a box of chocolates. The box will say Godiva, but the contents might be a whole 'nother story.

And poor Hubs. He'll be all alone with the Stalker.

Friday, April 08, 2005

we are the people our parents warned us about

We met our friends Bill and Marion for drinks at the local Fish House Restaurant late yesterday afternoon. We arrived to find the parking lot jammed, with people wandering about in Hawaiian shirts and belly packs. Two large tour buses loomed ominously in a tiny side lot.

“Uh oh,” said Marion. “Something’s going on. Looks like some kind of tourist convention.”

“I didn’t think tourists still dress like that,” said Bill.

“We’ll never get seats,” fretted Turk.

We elbowed our way in and nailed 4 at the bar.

“Jackpot!” sang Marion. The joint was jumping with brightly plumed revelers.

"What's going on?" asked Turk of the bartender.

"Jimmy Buffet's at the Pond, and the Angels are playing a home game!" shouted the barkeep. I looked around ~ sure enough, smartly dressed in their own colors like a very tidy rival street gang were red-shirted Angel fans mingling amongst the Parrot Heads. We ordered before a turf war could break out. From the restaurant sound system Jimmy sang:

Haul the sheet in as we ride on the wind
that our Forefathers harnessed before us.
Hear the bells ring as the tide rigging sings.
It's a son of a gun of a chorus.

"So you missin' the pope yet?" Bill, a devout Catholic asked my husband, a very lapsed one and no great fan of the church.

"Can't say as I am," he replied, drinking deeply of his frosty pint. Bill laughed.

"Wish I coulda' gone to Rome," he said.

"I wish I coulda' gone to this concert," I moaned. Jimmy sang:

Where it all ends I can't fathom, my friends.
If I knew, I might toss out my anchor.
So I'll cruise along always searchin' for songs,
Not a lawyer, a thief or a banker.

Parrot Heads and Angel fans jockeyed for seats.

"Looks like Arte Moreno is going do alright in spite of us," lamented Marion. "The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim? What kind of idiocy is that? Makes us all look like morons!" We ordered cheese quesadillas and oysters and drank to putting a curse on the team owner's head. Jimmy searched for his lost shaker of salt.

"So you think the pope is in heaven yet?" asked Bill. Bill likes to talk religion with agnostics, Jehovah's Witnesses, lapsed Catholics and others he considers lost souls.

"Hasn't he got an express elevator to the top?" grumbled Turk. "The bouncer's at the gate wavin' him in right now, like this.." and he did his best impression of a burly club doorman giving a VIP a cool nod signaling go ahead ; a signal we ourselves have never experienced directly, I might add.

Bill smiled. "You really think so?"

Jimmy sang:

I don't want to live on that kind of island

No, I don't want to swim in a roped off sea.
Too much for me, too much for me
I've got to be where the wind and the water are free.

The Angel fans left for the game and we left for Chinese. Over Sizzling Beef, Szechuan Chicken, and Moo Shoo Pork we debated Social Security reform and tried to answer the Geography Trivia questions on the back of our cocktail napkins. We started in teams and disintegrated into three against Turk, who is some kind of geography savant. We drank sweet pink wine and jasmine tea. I ate with chop sticks.

"Ignore her. She's just showing off," said my husband.

I shrugged modestly. "It's a gift."

"Yeah, just you and 8 billion Chinese people."

We opened our fortune cookies and added the phrase "in the bedroom" to the end of each. Bill's said "You will travel far..." Marion gave him a dirty look. Mine said "You have executive ability...." I thought that sounded promising, and indicated I would look into putting it on my resume'.

We headed out to the lot for the short drive home. Bill, who still has high hopes for my husband although he has quite given up on me, hollered "See you in church!" as he got into his car.

"Don't hold your breath!" replied the Hubs good-naturedly.
And in my head Jimmy sang:

And there's that one particular harbour
Sheltered from the wind
Where the children play on the shore each day
And all are safe within

Lakes below the mountains

Flow into the sea
Like oils applied to canvas
They permeate through me.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

a little patio music

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, my weekends had a certain pleasingly slacker, low-tech routine to them.

I'd get up, wash my face and have a couple of cups of strong, black coffee while reading the paper. If the news was good, the morning would be spent in relative peace; if bad the Hubs would be subjected to a well-reasoned if increasingly desperate rant, followed by sighs, more coffee, and a retreat to the comics pages.

Eventually I would rise, slap on some head phones, tune into NPR or maybe a little jazz, and go out onto the patio to paint. I have an old wooden table, left by the previous owners of the house, set up with newspapers, a bunch of old coffee cans full of various mediums and an easel I bought on sale at a craft store.

Sometimes the painting would go well, and I would lose myself for hours in gooey globs of green and rose and the heady mixture of turpentine and linseed oil. Sometimes it would go poorly, and I would lose myself in problems of perspective and scale, (the same problems, it occurrs, that plague in the real world) . Yet even these less successful days never felt wasted, for time spent playing in paint is, for me, time lived completely in the moment, absorbed and absorbing. Focused. Reaching.

Sometime around 4:00, I’d wind down, clean my brushes, take a shower, grab a glass of wine and wander back outside to sit in the Adirondack chair, contemplate the days work, and maybe write in my journal. Nothing smart, poetic or clever, full of bad grammar and awful punctuation, it was just idle musings, maybe a sketch or idea, something that made me laugh. No one came along to comment ~ imagine the shock if they had (Hi! I was just passing through, saw your journal sitting there and decided to read it ~ very nice! Stop by and read mine sometime! I leave it on my dresser at 4037 Maple.) All was peaceful and unremarkable in Patio Land.

Then I got a computer. Before I knew it, I had neither the time nor the inclination to do anything as labor intensive on weekends as to go outside and play; not when I could stay inside, plop down in a comfy chair and stare, dry-eyed and mesmerized, at the seductive white light of the monitor all day. As for writing in a quaint little, handwritten notebook,well; what's the point, really? I rarely go back and read the things; they just pile up on a shelf, or in a drawer somewhere.

(I imagine them being discovered someday by archaeologists, or detectives working the case of my mysterious disappearance ~ who was this brilliant, beautiful and obviously gifted woman who died all alone in this neglected tenement house, surrounded by old newspapers, coffee cans and cats? they'll wonder. Perhaps the lead detective will fall in love with me, like Dana Andrews fell for Gene Tierney in the movie Laura....) But I digress. Besides, if it isn't happening online in 2005, it isn't happening at all.

So last week I bit the bullet ~ went out, cleaned off the forlorn little table ~ or rather persuaded the gallant and only slightly complaining Hubs to do it for me, and a good thing too ~ I don't want to say its been a while, but there was an honest-to-god snake living amongst the debris. Talk about a bad omen.

The session went poorly but heroically I soldiered on. And as I wrote in my low-tech little notebook, I realized how much I missed this ~ sitting quietly on the patio, hearing the breeze rustling the leaves, the sound of laughter and voices drifting in from neighboring yards, the rumble of a distant train. A moment of serenity in the cool and open air. A crow squawked angry protest at an indifferent universe, and reminded me of... me. I sipped my wine and stared at the (so far very bad) painting and understood how much I needed to do this again. To sit. Listen. Be quiet. Be.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

when lefties lose it

Like all clear-thinking liberals, I am convinced that 51% of the American public voted for bush just to antagonize me. The past two elections have all of us on the left feeling bruised, bloodied and unconscionably bullied by our compatriots, and the ensuing depression and impotent rage has us popping more pills than Rush Limbaugh at a PETA protest.

Not surprisingly, many of us are similarly persuaded that all those republican bumper stickers that seem to adorn every single automobile in my quiet suburban and Bill O’ Reilly-fan-infested neighborhood …are put there solely to besmirch our most fervently held beliefs and to question the nature of our emphatic but rational patriotism. Unfortunately, it appears some of us have become quite unhinged by the strain of remaining stoic in the face of all this rampant oppression. From the Associated Press:

Man Blames his road rage on bush bumper sticker

Tampa, Fla -- A man apparently enraged by a Bush-Cheney sticker on a woman's sport utility vehicle chased her for several miles and tried to run her off the road while holding up an anti-bush sign, police said.

"He told our officers that he just got mad at her, so he went after her," said police spokesman Joe Durkin.

Nathan Alan Winkler, 31, was freed on $2000 bail early Wednesday on a charge of aggravated stalking, which carries up to five years in prison.

Winkler could not be reached for comment but his father, John Winkler, said: "I know that he's very anti-Bush. But I don't see him doing anything like that. He's the least aggressive person I know."

Winkler told police he got upset with the woman, 35-year-old Michelle Fernandez, after she made an obscene gesture, Durkin said. Police said that as he chased the woman's vehicle, heheld up a smallsign that read: "Never forget Bush's Illegal War Murdered Thousands in Iraq."

I hear you, Nathan, and I feel your pain. Or I would, if it weren't for all those antidepressants. Why, just the other day I was forced to ride for an excruciating mile or so behind a brand new Toyota Land Cruiser that not only screamed BUSH/CHENEY'04 at me from several locations, but also had a 'Clinton' sticker wherein the 'C' was replaced by the old Soviet hammer and sickle motif (mind you; this was a brand new vehicle ~ when in the name of Ronald Reagan are they going to let it go?). It also boasted a "GOT GOD??" inspirational message and, just for good measure, an admonition to "BOYCOTT THE FRENCH!!" Really? Still? Mon dieu! Talk about holding a grudge.

But Nathan, my man, did I get out of my car and proceed to beat that bozo boldly about the bumper with my fresh baked baguettes and the bottle of Beaujolais I just happened to have under my back seat? No, my fellow angry American, I did not. And do you know why?

Because they were my dinner, that's why! Honestly. What a question. But how clever of you to have a little sign handy to wave crazily at similarly misguided motorists of the opposing lunatic fringe.

My fellow lefties, the answer is clear. We need to take back our country, one bumper sticker at a time. We need to get us more signs. Or more Prozac. Probably both. This is war.