Monday, July 25, 2011
So, I’m heading out for Seattle on Wednesday. I’ve never been to Seattle, although I’ve heard a lot about it…rainy weather, sleeplessness, good coffee, vampire wars, tossed salad and scrambled eggs…and a very special friend of mine just happens to be waiting for me there.
It’s been nearly forty years since I last saw him and I still can’t believe that we’re going to be in the same room very shortly! I’m a little shy about this meeting because the last time we saw each other we were both sporting youthful faces. I keep looking in the mirror and pulling at my face, trying to see if I can find myself beneath all the changes.
Silly isn’t it? I mean, really. We’re all spirits living in a body. It’s our spirits that define who we are…not these ever-aging cages that we’re forced to live in while we’re here. So, I’ll do as I always do…pull on a pair of jeans and a tee-shirt, apply light make-up, spike out my hair, and hope that he still sees me ;)
Actually there is an amazing story behind our reunion; one that makes my heart trip over itself and beat triple-time. We were the closest of friends for years and then our lives took us in different directions…literally. We lost contact quickly, so all of these years we’ve been missing each other and wondering…where are you?
It’s a complex and inspiring story, but I’m going to hold off for now because I’m too excited to think straight and my words will never come close to showcasing how meaningful this reunion really is.
So, I’m off to discover Seattle with my supportive husband, and my oldest daughter (who somehow managed to wiggle her way in on the action). I don’t care if the Seattle rains fall the entire week, leaving us house-bound and soggy…I just want to be with my friend again. Pinch me!
Saturday, July 23, 2011
And I thought you loved me.
Struggling is suffocating.
If lightning’s going to strike
running won’t save me.
Words, kissing my forehead
are not enough.
I must see for myself.
This is enough.
Therein is peace.
Monday, July 18, 2011
I had an unexpected visit from my neighbor, Addie, yesterday morning. Addie is a spry ninety one year old, who’s as thin as Olive Oyl, and can still move like a warmed up yoga instructor. Her tanned face has been stamped by time, like a well traveled passport, and when she speaks she’s a study in animation, using all available facial expressions to make her point. Addie laughs easily, with her mouth wide open, oblivious to onlookers and divinely confident. I always feel honored when Addie fits me into her day, and yesterday morning was no exception.
We sat, face to face, chatting about how she planned on using up her day. The hours seem to be more of an endurance test to Addie since her husband John died a few short weeks ago. She used to spend her days getting John his meals, driving him to appointments, and chatting with him about what ever seemed important at the time. You know how couples who have shared a long road of years together are; one starts a sentence and the other one finishes it, one has an idea, and the other was just thinking the same thing.
Now Addie answers each morning as though there were an unexpected stranger standing at her door. Foggy with sleep, she searches for John’s familiar features, and then she remembers…
Yesterday morning she was explaining how she needed to keep the same routine, do the same things that she and John had done together. She spoke, emphatically, as though she were lecturing herself on being tough, and sticking with the program. Finished with her spontaneous soliloquy, she settled back down into the loveseat, looking deflated and fragile, like a home-sewn rag doll.
I stayed silent, figuring that Addie would notice that she was visiting me, which was unusual, something she had never done when John was alive. My husband and I had always made the short trek to their house for visits because John, being 95, and sick, was too weak to visit us. I wanted to tell her to be easy on herself and that she was already finding her new path. But I remained silent.
Addie, adjusted herself in her seat, straightened her cotton blouse and then she looked over at me as if just remembering my presence. “We all have to die.” She said, in her rich Norwegian accent, “But nobody has ever come back and said, “This is how it is!” She then stood, collected her oversized pocketbook, and announced that she had to go buy some chlorine for her pool.
I love Addie. I love her stubborn strength and her little girl vulnerability. I love how she says deep things in a plain way, cutting through the pretenses and niceties. I walked her to the door, and my heart sagged a bit, as I watched Addie disappear behind the wheel of her large American car and drive bravely away into her day…without John.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
So, last week I started writing in my head. Well, actually it was longer ago than that, but last week my mental writing became so distracting that I was having a difficult time concentrating on anything else. It was like having a little movie screen in my head. At first it was easy to shut it off, but as the story deepened the more distracted I became, until finally I couldn’t concentrate on much of anything else. My brain was being commandeered by a group of fictitious characters seeking a platform on which to raise their lives.
People would ask me questions, but what I was hearing sounded more like Charlie Brown’s teacher, Miss Offmore, saying…”Waw-waw-waaw-waw-waaw-waw.” I’d have no idea what sort of answer to give…because I wasn’t listening. I was writing in my head. My oldest daughter picked up on my auto-muting first, insisting that I never listened to what she said anymore. Of course I vehemently defended myself against her charges, to which she replied, “Then you either need to get your hearing checked or your head examined.”
I finally confessed my cranial composing to a friend who casually dismissed my admission, stating that that type of writing didn’t count. At first I was a little annoyed with his comment…but deep down I knew that he was right. How arrogant of me to ignore my muse.
The next morning I opened my laptop and began typing. It was as though the words were waiting back stage for their cue, and began tap dancing across the page. I was half audience half reporter as I surrendered to the creative process and allowed writing to write, while I simply transcribed the words. My writing isn’t always this fluid, but like a crowd waiting in line for a great concert, there is always a crush of people pushing through the doors when they first open, and then the flow eventually evens out.
I’d been so busy working full-time, blogging, networking, planning, editing, and querying agents that the thought of starting a new project seemed impossible. Like a mother chasing a hyper-active toddler through the grocery store, the thought of having another one seemed totally insane. I didn’t want to give in to it…accept the responsibility. But the words wouldn’t leave me alone; they demanded to be conceived, as though they were claiming their right to life.
So please excuse my huhing, and my glazed looks. I’m not being rude. I’m watching my characters as they rehearse their performances in my mind, and then act them out on paper. I’m doing what I love, and loving what I do…and life doesn’t get much better than this.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Much of the east coast is experiencing temperatures upwards of a hundred degrees this week…except Florida, which bottomed out at a nippy ninety three degrees this afternoon. It’s hot, but Florida hot and Northern hot are two different hots. In Florida we’re used to the heat and humidity. We time everything just right in order to avoid getting sweaty. We go from our air conditioned houses to our air conditioned cars and then drive said cars to our air conditioned offices and stores. We exercise early in the morning (or early in the evening) when the angry sun has lost some of its fury. Basically we’re equipped for heat waves in the same manner Northerners are equipped for blizzards.
Up north most people don’t have a/c because it costs a fortune to install and run. They reason, “Why buy it if you’re only going to use it a few times a year?” Northerners have other things to spend their hard earned cash on, like, heating fuel, snow removal, winter clothing, and frozen pipes. So, they suck it up, and sweat it out, the old skool way…
Yankees are tough, scraping tender knuckles and cursing, as they pry stubborn windows open that have been puttied shut against the cold for months. Then installing screens… with slits and holes in them, creating easy access for opportunist mosquitoes on the hunt for tender sun-burnt flesh. They then place large boxy fans in screened windows, and re-scrape their already scraped knuckles.
Bedtime is a treat on a muggy northern night, especially if you have young children. First you get to wrestle with tormented toddlers, flushed red with heat and cherry Popsicles, finally getting them down three hours past their bed time. Then, snagging a Popsicle for yourself; you collapse from fatigue in the Dora the Explorer kiddy pool in the back yard, too weak to keep the dog from joining you…or sharing your Popsicle.
You finally make your way upstairs, where the heat rises, and the mosquitoes congregate. Tossing and turning, you lie naked and vulnerable, slapping yourself in the face as you attempt to kill the mosquito that keeps buzzzzzing in your ears. You bring the sheets over your head, but your breath is like a high voltage space heater, so you come up for air…and there’s that mosquito again. Finally you kick off the sheets, hoping that the mosquito fills up quickly, turn your sweaty pillow to the “cool” side for the fiftieth time, and drop off into a dead sleep.
The morning sun blazes a sizzling hello as you leave for work. You feel ready for your day. Your coffee is hot and your favorite song is playing. The torments of summer have been temporarily forgiven. You power your windows down and sing along as you ride. Hitting the interstate you notice papers blowing around in the back seat like one of those windy money booths. You try to drive as McDonald's napkins, empty Wal-Mart bags, and old newspapers dive bomb your head. Swatting the trash away, it accidentally gets sucked out of the car window. You watch, slack jawed, from your rear-view mirror, as it hits the vehicle behind you…which just happens to be a state trooper.
These crazy days of summer memories have been brought to you by the Old Skool Air Conditioning Company. For a free estimate dial 1-800-IAM-DONE
(All quotes from [Company] are never valid as this company doesn’t exist. Our fictitious company accepts no liability for the content of this post, or for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of the information provided, unless that information is subsequently confirmed in writing on the 6th Tuesday of July. Any views or opinions presented in this post are solely those of the ex-northerners and do not necessarily represent those of the non-company. Finally, the recipient should check this post and any attachments for the presence of mosquitoes. We accept no liability for any damage caused by any mosquitoes transmitted by this post.)
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Eating Life Raw (ELR) was conceived from a genuine desire to speak with undaunted honesty about life, resulting in a cathartic release for me and hopefully an inspiring and stimulating experience for you, the reader. Lately I’ve been feeling a bit “goody-two-shoes” editing myself in order to please the agents of the world who may, or may not, be visiting ELR. I’m seeking to get my novel, Cosette’s Tribe, published, and in doing so I think I’ve omitted some of the blood and guts involved in eating life raw.
We all live on the same planet and we know that life is capable of dishing out moldy mystery meat, leaving us gagging into our napkins, while optimistically eyeing the dessert table. We’ve experienced the excitement of the hunt and the profusion of blood, the heart thumping danger and the breathtaking delight of everyday living.
Life is a messy tangled head of hair, and we’re constantly trying to comb it out so that we might look good, attract the right mate, find meaningful friendships, and secure our rightful places in the world. We whisper our desperate prayers into the darkness, waiting for a feeling, a subtle clue, that our prayers have been heard. We drag our tired asses out of bed and clock in at work, exchanging heartbeats for wages. As we work, we often dream of being elsewhere, keeping our precious heartbeats for ourselves, and spending them on the things that matter the most to us.
Of course nobody knows when their heart will stop beating so we gamble that someday, when we’ve saved up enough money, we will still have enough heartbeats remaining to live our real lives. It’s a crap shoot with major consequences. So, given the situation, why should I pussy-foot around with my words? Words are my soul’s expression. Words are the wings of my dreams. They take me on trips that I could never afford otherwise. They lift me up out of the doldrums so that I can skulk about the belfry with Quasimodo, take a magic carpet ride with Aladdin, or morph, like a shapeshifter, and “be” the chair.
Don’t worry; I’m not going off the deep end. Actually, that sounds like a lot of fun. Okay, don’t worry; I’m not going to be sharing embarrassing and personal things. Oh wait…I’ve already done that. Okay, how about this…don’t worry, this isn’t a Shock and Gawk campaign, it’s just me living my life…which, by the way, is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Saturday, July 9, 2011
If I say it on paper, holding onto myself with naked arms, and I tremble at the truth, will it kill me?
If I hold back the words, bury them like a money box, forgetting the hiding place, the shallow grave; will I ever find them again?
Do I need to?
To empty oneself of the words that gather, like a mumbling crowd at the scene of a wreck, is more frightening than the blood of disaster, and more thrilling than a naked dive off a waterfall.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
I remember carrying the tiny gray bird home, his frantic heart beating wildly against my careful hands. I’d found him in a field tucked between two tenements when I was playing army with the neighborhood boys. I was designated as the nurse even though I could handle a stick gun as good as the next guy.
I’m not sure what type of bird it was but I knew it was a baby because of its scrawny neck, too thin to support his wobbling head, and his scant feathering. His squawks were watery, as though he were complaining through a gargle, and his beak, outlined in emergency-yellow lip liner, opened in hopeful anticipation each time I tried to pet his head. It may have been a girl bird but in my mind he was a bland gray boy.
I tried to hide my new pet from my mother, but as the evening wore on, and the chick’s protests grew louder, I knew that I needed some advice on what to feed him. I had placed him in a shoebox on a bed of toilet paper. My cat, Fluffy, stayed close by, showing a great deal of interest in the unfolding drama.
Ma instructed me to get some worms. “They eat thrown-up worms.” She said, like it was a well known fact. Ma was a treasure trove of facts, but to my little girl mind thrown-up worms had to be the most disgusting thing in the world to eat. Yuck! Ma equipped me with an empty coffee can and a flash light and sent me, and my little brother Michael, out into the dark yard to catch some night crawlers.
Michael was an ace worm catcher …and squisher. I, on the other hand, couldn’t bear to watch him grind the wiggling worms between two stones, and felt he was cruel for doing it. Looking back now I can see that he wasn’t cruel at all but willing to do my dirty work for me.
I faithfully administered the putrid pabulum with an eyedropper, coming home when the springtime sun was still high in the sky, and the streets were abuzz with the excited shouts of school pals. I named the bird, Buddy, on account of him being my new best friend.
I awoke Monday morning to a startling silence. Pulling the shoebox from beneath my bed I found Buddy lying within a shroud of toilet tissue, his demanding beak still, his somber eyes closed. He had lasted five days away from his nest.
Years later my mother admitted that she knew all along that Buddy was going to die, but she wanted to teach me about compassion and responsibility toward the helpless. Buddy was one of many strays sheltered over the years at our apartment. My mother welcomed anybody in need, and whenever I got judgmental about someone’s situation she would say, “Be careful Leah, there are lots of ways for babies to get separated from their nests.”
I never forgot her words.
Saturday, July 2, 2011
I sat at John’s bedside; his face was graveyard gray, and sagging like the worn planks of a condemned house. In his youth John was a capable navigator for the Royal Dutch Navy. It was 1940, and John was home for a short furlough with his parents when the German army tore the front doors from the hinges of his sleepy village. It was a home invasion of massive proportions, disrupting checker games, and Sunday suppers, trampling well-tended lives underfoot, and stripping away the healthy flesh from a civilized society.
John was driven underground by Hitler’s minions, living in a hand-dug cave beneath his parents’ home. He hid like a fox from hunters, coming out only by the moon’s dubious light, transforming him into a hungry shadow searching for food like an animal. He begged crusts and crumbs from terrified neighbors, also sequestered to their homes.
The German soldiers rolled through his picturesque village like an army of masticating ants, killing and carrying off twenty times their weight in carcasses and loot, devouring everything in their paths; ants with thick helmets shielding their consciences from the ricocheting screams of the innocents, overpowering the powerless and meeting no resistance, proclaiming a ruthless victory that went as smoothly as a bayonet through a baby.
John waited, starving and powerless in his bleak grotto, until allied troops liberated the Netherlands nearly five years later.
John turned ninety five on his last birthday and had managed to maintain a sharp mind, generous humor, and a sincere love for his fellow man. I marveled at his resilience, and I sensed that when I visited him that I was in the company of a great man. I also knew that this visit in particular would probably be our last. John was in the final stages of his battle with cancer.
I held John’s emaciated hand and envisioned him as a twenty four year old man hiding from the Nazis. I tried to imagine the mental and physical strength he had to conjure in order to get through such a horrific ordeal, and the unspeakable relief he must have felt at his deliverance. He knew the meaning of freedom in a way that most people in our country couldn’t fathom…including me.
Last Monday, our dear John passed away peacefully with his lovely wife by his side. It was the ultimate liberation, freeing him from a sick body that had become more of a prison than a home. Although I’m going to miss John, I know that things are as they should be.
Why am I telling you this story? Because it’s almost Independence Day and John is gone, but I am still filled up with him. And, I wanted to say something important about the day….and how John’s life was important too. I needed to put these thoughts on paper so the meaning of John’s suffering would never be forgotten.
I’m sad…but mostly grateful. Grateful that I knew John and that I live in a country where there is peace and plenty. I want to thank John and the other brave souls who have suffered and perished for freedom’s sake, for giving me the carefree pleasure of lighting a sparkler, eating a hot dog, and waving the American flag this holiday weekend.
One need only look back a short distance to imagine what life would be like without freedom…