Monday, June 24, 2013

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun.  Angelinos do not. At least, not unprotected.

Women carry wide, colorful umbrellas for morning strolls. Hats are designed to shade eyes and necks. Families mark their territories at the beach with tents and tarps and shelters.

Few restaurants offer outdoor seating and those that do fill a dozen indoor seats for every outdoor seat that's claimed--and those mostly by tourists.

Windows are shaded by awnings or bushes and trees. Patios have arbors. Balconies have sun shades.

Minnesotans spend fortunes for a few days of the sunshine Californians hide from all year long.

Abundance is a funny thing.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

This Time

The impending visit of a dear friend touched off a frenzy of cleaning and organizing the likes of which hasn't happened since the great pack-a-thons of 2005 and 2011.

When I moved out of the large house where I raised my kids to a smaller house where I thought I'd retire, I purged. And purged. And purged.  I donated to Goodwill and the Salvation Army, recycled, free-cycled, and filled two enormous Dumpsters with the accumulated detritus of 15 years.

When the ordeal was over, I promised myself to be mindful of every purchase; to find new homes for things I didn't need at the time I realized I didn't need them; to make a place for everything and keep it there.

And then, surprise! In January of 2012 I moved to California to a small apartment. Packing for the move, I was reminded again and again of my failure to keep the promises to myself.  So. Much. Stuff.

Sorting through my 2nd bedroom today, every skirt that no longer fits, every orphan sock, every unfiled piece of paper shrieks of yet another failure.

I shove things aside. Pile them out of sight. Focus on my work to the exclusion of my home life, mostly so I don't have to face how empty my home life here really is.

This time. This time I will do better.

If I say it often enough, will it come true?

Sunday, June 16, 2013


Heading off to Marina del Rey at 7:15 am, I wondered what the heck I was doing.  Killing time before class, I wandered around contemplating the water--shiny with oil and murky with its-better-not-to-know what.

A manta ray swam by, and I fought off the impulse to retreat all the way to Brentwood.

Once again, I was not only preparing to do something very close to stupid, I was paying someone for the privilege. Will I ever learn? (Let's face it.  Probably not.)

The eight other people in the class dribbled in by twos and threes.  None of them over 35.  None of them even half a percent over ideal BMI.

I turned 59 in May.  Best not to think about my BMI.

And yet, I scooted down onto my Stand Up Paddleboard, then knelt as requested. When the time came, I clambered to my feet. Not gracefully. Not quickly. But fully upright.

For 90 minutes I paddled, turning when asked, stopping on command, and flexing my knees. I paddled past sea lions and into the wake of biiiiiig boats. I even pin-turned into a slip when we got into a tight jam with a sea lion swimming on one side and a sailboat passing on the other.

The first 70 minutes were pretty good. By the last 20, even my eyeballs were sweating. But I didn't freak and I didn't fall.

Driving home with Paula's top down, I began to feel a tiny bit proud of being out there despite everything that makes it unlikely. I'm fat and I'm old. But I'm still paddling.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


A man nods off on a bench on the Promenade. Hair so dirty its color is undeterminable. Fingers almost black except for the index and middle fingers of his right hand, which are nearly orange with nicotine. Jeans so dirty the grime melts into the warp and woof of the denim.

Yet the man is wearing blue hand-tooled cowboy boots and a baseball cap to match.  Not baby blue. Azure. The color of the sky on a cloudless day with butterflies dancing in a warm breeze and Grandma waiting on the front porch with cherry snow cones. The sky above picnics and kites and dogs catching Frisbees. The sky in a world where no one drugs himself to escape the pain of living.

Just yesterday I stood beneath a tree while thousands of blossoms rained down. Stood like a statue, hearing and seeing and feeling them fall.

It's a long way down when you're blue.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Three Prayer Morning

In the middle of an enormous project at work and cannot figure out how to turn it off.  Three days this week my day started at 3:30 am and ended about midnight. No one expects this of me, but I cannot turn off the drumbeat in my head. Every minute brings me closer to the deadline, and I can't seem to tolerate letting it pass without progress toward the goal.

For 20 minutes right after I woke up, I twisted in the sheets, trying to decide whether go to the store for project supplies or simply work on one of many projects in progress.  I imagined the outcome of each option, thought X would be a better use of time, considered X and decided that Y was surely more pressing. But after more thought, Y was too complex for a Saturday morning after the week I've had.

Finally went with Z:  an hour at the beach.  Clear my head. Search the sand for heart-shaped rocks. Breathe.

Everything is better after 60 minutes on the sand.

This plays out as Anne Lamott's three great prayers.  Help.  I don't know what to do. Thanks. Yes, the beach is a good idea.  Wow.  Immense. Constant. Power.

Who would ever have thought I'd live where an hour at the beach is a standard Saturday morning option?  Let's give THAT another Wow.  And a heart-felt Thanks.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Sunday Evening Sing Alongs

We live so close to one another here in LaLa Land.  My apartment sits at the back of the building; the buildings behind sit 15 feet away. On beautiful days, we open our doors, windows and lives to one another.

This is LA, so it follows that a woman in the next building is an aspiring singer. She practices daily, and friends join her on Sunday evenings. Someone always plays piano, and occasionally someone brings a guitar. Six or eight voices join in. This afternoon someone is whistling. The sound is bright and clear and beautiful in a way so much music is not these days.

This time in LA is filled with strange graces. None of them equal my granddaughter's presence, but they keep me focused on the present, remind me that things don't have to be perfect to be good.

Ohhhh-Uuuuhhh-Ohhhh, she sings. Her voice and the piano and the whistle echo down the stucco canyon, bouncing from balcony to balcony before fading into the bougainvillea.

Changing Shape

Once I was a writer.

Then I was an editor.

Then I became a manager.

The words went silent.

They will come back.  I'm laying traps.  One of my traps is a paper mache tea cup made from the pages of a ruined copy of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.  BxB was the first book on writing I ever bought, my first taste of Anne Lamott's writing, my first glimpse that I truly could write something other than how-to books.

Over the years I've bought untold copies. I've shared it with friends, assigned direct reports to read it, and replaced my own dog-eared copy several times. One of my many copies got wet and badly warped years ago, but I kept it, just in case my supply ever ran dry. It's the kind of book whose inspiration you need RIGHT NOW when you need it.

Then I came across Ann Wood's amazing paper mache teacup tutorial, and the water-damaged book transformed into art supplies.

Shitty First Drafts.  Short Assignments.  Perfectionism is the voice of oppressor.  

Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. 

...we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.

Anne's art reshaped in mine.

The words have not gone anywhere. It's me who went walk about, but I'm finding my way home.

More pics as the project progresses.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

So Creative

My brother, my sister and I spent much of last Friday taking photographs of Deb's crafts projects for a freelance assignment. For each, we consulted about props and angles and lighting. Jeff handled the camera, I managed bounce cards and lighting, and Deb wrangled props.

At one point, Jeff was prone on the cement pool deck while Deb stood to the side, guiding a prop into place with a long handled pool brush.

In an email afterward, Jeff's wife said that the three of us are "so creative."

She meant it kindly, but I seriously could not count the number of times we've been described with those words, usually in a way that implies some sort of magic.

The truth is, creativity is one part inspiration and nine parts hard work. One part fun and nine parts monotony. The outside world sometimes sees the inspiration and often the end result, but few are present for the tedious hours between.

Debbie created a series of whimsical creatures made from plastic bottles--hand soap and dish soap and orange juice. For each, she conceived an idea, tried and failed, tried again until she succeeded. For each, she painted and putzed, cut and folded, glued and stuck. She burned herself with hot glue, cut herself with x-acto knives, and got paint all over.

The finished projects look both inspired and so simple anyone with a plastic bottle, a pair of scissors and a glue gun could make them. Her creativity is on full display, but few people will recognize the sheer effort required to put it there.

Maybe that's the point. Maybe THAT's the magic.