Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: Destiny

My kids were here for Christmas. The Boy went home Thursday. The Girl went home yesterday. How is it that my home is no longer theirs?

I used to think my son's dark days would go on forever. They didn't of course, but having survived them, why do I not get more of his sunshine?

He and his cousin were locked in a laughing "I've done grosser stuff than you" verbal sparring match the other day. I pulled my son into the laundry room and whispered that I'd done grosser stuff than either of them—cleaning months-old used condoms out from under his bed after he left home, for example. We laughed together as though at a shared secret, and a pleasant afternoon went right on without incident or ugliness.

There was a time—more than a decade, in fact—when that exchange would have been unimaginable. Today it's just part of the flow of love and laughter when we're together.

The Boy's adolescence was stormy, to say the least. The Girl's had hardly a visible ripple. I used to think The Boy came to be my son because he would need me and The Girl came to be my daughter because I would need her. Now I see that we all simply need each other.

The Boy was born on my birthday; The Girl was born on her namesake grandmother's birthday. These children were mine and I was theirs from the moment they came into existence, even though each grew within another woman's womb. We are all part of one another's destinies, our lives fulfilling promises our souls have made together.

The Boy's third grade teacher once told me she felt as though he had an Einstein quality locked inside of him if only we could find and release it. Our extended family played Scattergories on Christmas evening and The Boy shocked, totally shocked, me with his quick wit and range and sheer intelligence. This from a boy who flunked every class in every grade from 5th grade through his sophomore year. Only a year in a hideously expensive private boarding school specializing in kids with emotional difficulties got him back on track and through high school. He has not been willing to even attempt college. He's 24 and working in a factory owned by his father, limping from one paycheck to the next.

What now? How do we fulfill those soul promises to one another? How do I help my son find his light? How do I support my daughter, who has followed a more traditional route—good grades, sports, college—but has no idea where she's headed? I do not know. Absolutely have no clue.

Years ago, in western states like Montana and Wyoming, driving speed was regulated only at night, when you could not "exceed the headlights." I never quite understood the concept before, but now that the kids are young adults it feels as though life is moving faster than our ability to recognize the terrain around us. Their choices are entirely their own and I'm a voice in the phone or a loving presence in their heads and hearts, encouraging them to (as I was horrified to hear echoed in the new Freaky Friday movie a few years ago) "make good choices."

In reality, I have my destiny to fulfill, and my children have theirs. We are interconnected, but they drive their own trains, as I drive mine. And so I pray.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Turf Wars

The kids and I are having a wonderful time together, but I had to put a moratorium on ugly-stepmother stories. They both dislike her with such intensity that nearly every story about time with their father begins and ends with their anger at his wife. It's not that I don't understand their feelings, I just don't want that stuff to color our time together.

Gang war broke out between flocks of geese visitng the pond this morning. Opposing groups line up and swim at each other menancingly, their necks stretched out as they hiss and spit at each other. Sometimes they flap with such fury they skid across the water in their attempts to drive each other off the pond. My sons says he can hear the music from West Side Story as he watches.

It occurs to me that the kids and the geese are playing out pretty much the same drama. Two groups are trying to claim the same territory, Neither can see there's plenty of room for both, so each fights with all its might to reign supreme. The end result is that no one enjoys the thing they're fighting over. I'm pretty darn sure I've done the same thing myself many, many times.

Funny how it's so easy to see the patterns on the pond.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Gifts of Love

The kids arrive in a couple of hours and I am dancing down the minutes.

If you have a few minutes, read this story of the power of the love between a mother and her child. Darlene's son, Mark, was in a horrific accident last week and still hovers on the brink though—fighter that he is— he's showing signs of improvement. Please join me in praying for them.

My prayers today are for peace; peace in the world, peace in our hearts, peace in our souls.

love.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas to All

There's a party at my house tonight.

The mantle is dressed.




The candles wait for flame.

My children will be here in two days. We're hosting Christmas dinner, and fun will be had by all. As I type, I should be scurrying to clean and prepare. Instead, I'm sitting in wonder, in awe of (as a friend called it the other day) the game of ovarian roulette that made this my lot rather than a mud hut or a cardboard box under an overpass.

That's beyond my understanding, beyond my ability to know. But having been given the gifts of this life, I must use them well, enjoy them thoroughly, and share both my gifts and my love.

So MUCH love to you, my bloggy tribe. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be part of this miraculous circle of creative, loving people. Merry, Merry Christmas to you and yours.

May only good come TO you.

May only good come FROM you.

May you live in the Light of Love.

Friday, December 22, 2006

It Came Upon a Morning Clear


The air is so clear this morning it's as though yesterday's mist never existed, as though it could not exist in a world so sharply defined by morning's emerging light.

Maybe that's how it is with living consciously: the true nature of things is perfectly clear, then obscured by the mists of ego, then clear again for a short time. Maybe the openings and closings of the curtain between me and the understanding I seek is the way of the world rather than my particular failings. Gotta give that some thought as life reveals itself to me here on the pond.

Last night, in my winter solstice tradition, I wrote my worst fear on a piece of paper. At precisely 7:22pm, I stepped out onto my little deck, held a match to the paper and watched it burn. When my fears had become nothing but ashes, I blew those ashes into the air, letting the wind scatter them on my beloved pond.

When I started this tradition years ago, it was much easier to choose my worst fear. Once it was dying alone; I now realize we all die alone. Once it was being old, alone, and poor; in recent years I've come to recognize what poor really means and it's far beyond the version of my old fears. I once feared something happening to my kids; it has come to me that such things could happen and my living in fear will not change their life's path one iota.

After much reflection, the fear I released to the Universe last night was simple and related to the Rumi quote I referenced in a recent post. As the Earth once again turns toward the light, I am renewing my intention to live with an open mind and an open heart. I am reminding myself to recognize the blossoms of blessings falling all around me.

Light and Love to all.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Angel Hair Morning

The world is wrapped in mist this morning, a mist so thick it feels like doubt. Serious, existential doubt, the kind that keeps you from seeing things your heart tells you are right in front of you. Unless the world reconfigured itself last night, the pond is still 15 feet beyond my windows, yet it has ceased to exist to those who accept only what they can see. That group, I fear, has too often included me and my doubts about myself and my inability to trust in what I know without knowing how I know.

Does anyone else remembet angel hair? It was soft, white, slightly irridescent strands of fluff that we used as a Christmas decoration when I was a child. I no longer remember exactly how we used it, only that it was wondrous stuff and I loved to pull it apart to watch the strands separate themselves.

I'm having trouble seeing the strands separate themselves this morning. It's not the mist outside, though. It's the mists inside--the clouds of unknowing despite "getting it" for a few seconds every great once in a while.

In a comment yesterday, my wise friend Reiman wrote: Getting it is easy. Doing it takes diligent practice and reflective meditation.... to remind us.

Geesh. Truer words have rarely been spoken. Not two hours after I typed that post, I found myself shouting at a young man in a Sprint store. My phone, which was weeks past its warranty period, had up and quit on me, and I stopped by the unfortunate young man's store for help. It was his sad duty to inform me I had to buy a new phone because the one they sold me last time was BUILT TO BREAK just past its warranty period because the old one was beyond repair. To add insult to injury, he also informed me I had to pay an "upgrade" fee of $36. Yes indeedy, I'd have to shell out slightly more than $150 dollars to continue having exactly the same thing I'd had the day before—the privilege of pouring money into Sprint's coffers every month.

I politely declined the opportunity to pay the extra $36 for absolutely nothing, explaining that I didn't want to "upgrade" anything, I just wanted to continue to make and receive calls. He broke into his company spiel; I objected; he retorted. Feeling totally unheard, I smacked my hand on the counter and shouted—truly shouted, "Do NOT fight with me until you've listened to what I'm trying to say!!!!"

Before the breath propelling the shout had whistled past my teeth, I was horrified. It felt like my real self was up in a corner somewhere, watching a much more mentally ill version berate a young man doing nothing but his job. I've yelled at someone in public no more than two or three other times in my 52 years on the planet, so it was as though an alien had taken possession of my larynx. Well, more like my brain. After all, this was happening not two hours after I "recognized" what's worth fighting for.

I apologized (immediately, profusely, and often), bought the stinkin phone, paid the stinkin $36 dollar fee, and fled, leaving an invisible trail of guilt and shame behind me. For some peculiar reason, I've confessed this bit of ugliness to almost everyone I've talked to since it happened and now I'm confessing it to cyberspace. As I type here, it occurs to me that maybe I've been looking for absolution, unconsciously wanting others to tell me it's okay to yell at someone every decade or two, that cell phone company employees are used to being abused, that my guilt is groundless. The thing is, I know it's not okay.

The world is wrapped in thick mist this morning. Impenetrable, insubstantial, impossible mist.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Fight FOR

Fell asleep on the sofa last night, TV blaring, fireplace roaring, Christmas tree glowing. Woke this morning to a television evangelist preaching, and some things she said took root in my heart

Have to admit that my first response to ANY TV preacher is to turn them off. Can't say exactly why, but this morning I listened a moment before grabbing the remote. What I heard invited me to listen longer.

This woman's point was that any fight worth having is a fight FOR something, not a fight WITH someone or something. She pointed out that anytime you're fighting for your pride, you've already lost. How many times have I fought til I was exhausted just so the person I believed was wrong wouldn't be allowed to believe he or she was right? Couldn't begin to count. One of the preacher's points was that if you approach a situation with humility, the other person (the one in the wrong, you believe) thinks they've won. Her question was: So What?

In recent years as I've learned more about Buddhism and more about living in true peace, there have been so many, many situations where I've asked myself whether I'm practicing peace or being a doormat, so many situations where I've wondered if by refusing to fight over things that don't matter I'm simply giving in to people with louder voices and stronger opinions. After hearing this woman, my question to myself is: So What?

What a step forward it would be in my life if I could fight FOR others who can't fight for themselves: the homeless, the hungry, battered women, people living with disease of all sorts. Those are fights worth having. Fighting with my sister (and business partner) over how much more orange (her favorite color and my least) into the decor of the salon isn't just a waste of energy, it's stupid. I can't get past my emotional response to orange as representing anger. It makes me uncomfortable and I want her to respect my feelings as I try to respect hers. She wants me to finally "get" that orange is beautiful. So what?

She can fill the place with orange poinsettias next Christmas, too. Only next year, rather than seeing them as an act of agression on her part, I hope to notice their presence and ask myself, So What? I'm beginning to see that living in peace is much better than being right, and when that means letting another person believe they're right, it's a price worth paying.

Gotta go get ready. Running payroll today, always a good time. Not really. At least not for this non-numbers person, but it has to be done so I'd better get to it.

Blessings Be.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: Anticipation

The first album I ever owned was Anticipation by Carly Simon. I wore out the cardboard of the aqua cover, drawing the album in and out of its protective sheath. I listened to its songs nearly every day of my freshman year in college, dancing in place in my tiny dorm room, singing along to "You're So Vain," and speculating with friends about whether Carly truly had written that song about Warren Beatty. I treasured that album and its music. Even today, I need to hear only a few notes to recognize any of its songs.

The second album I ever owned was Tap Root Manuscript by Neil Diamond. I got it for Christmas midway through my freshman year, brining my music collection to a total of TWO albums. That summer, Tea for the Tillerman joined the party. I still know every word of every song on all three of those albums.

Now I own an iPod that holds songs I've never even played. Don't get me wrong—I love my iPod and listen to it all the time, but it's unlikely I'll ever again appreciate any music the way I did back in the days when getting a new album was a major life event I'd remember for 35 years.

Today, life's about instant gratification. If I want to hear new music, I can buy it, download it, and have it playing in less than two minutes. An audio book takes 20. No more slowly acquiring a set of encyclopedias once a week at the grocery store and staying up late into five nights to read the good bits of A by flashlight under the covers so I'd be ready for B by the following Saturday. These days, if I want to know some strange detail, I push a few buttons and the information is on my computer screen in seconds.

There are lots of advantages to this "instant on" world of ours, but we lose the prickly, tingly, edge-of-our seats feeling known as Anticipation that used to keep us wa-a-a-a-a-ai-tin.

Who knew? Carly was right so long ago. . .those were the good old days.

So are these.

The Power of Our Bank Books

In comments on yesterday's post, Amber mentioned that we must embrace the fact that we're part of God and awaken to the power that holds; Anon. noted the awesome responsibility that lies within knowing that we each contain both good and evil; Holly referred to the power of our bank books. Their responses (and others who e-mailed because blogger's acting like a toddler in the middle of a tantrum these days) got me thinking even more deeply.

Before he left yesterday, Pink Boots Guy and I had a long, loud argru. . .er, discussion about the power of our choices to effect genuine change.

I maintain that we CAN make a difference. If we're going to buy an iPod, we can buy the red one that generates money to fight AIDS in Africa. We can choose cleaning products that are safer for the environment. (I'm going to blog about this at JerriFarris.com today, if you want more information on how to clean green.) We can PREcycle when possible—it's just not that difficult to use larger containers rather than those oh-so-convenient little single-serving dohickeys, and we can all say NO to buying overpackaged stuff in the first place. We can REcycle. (Do you hear me, Jackson County? We CAN recycle) We can drive small cars (love you, Paula!), or better yet, hybrids. We can, in effect, vote with our wallets. And our vote can be to purchase consumer goods manufactured, distributed, and sold in ways that support the health of the earth and causes we believe in. One person can't change the world, but I believe we HAVE to be ONE of MILLIONS.

PBG says the planet's too far gone for any of those things to make a difference. He says little changes, even by millions, do nothing more than appease our liberal guilt, soothe us into believing we're making a difference. He dismisses the RED campaign as mere marketing, designed to create more of a demand for iPods (and other RED products) rather than an genuine fund-raising campaign.

I'm with Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Let's be part of that small group. We'll change the world.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

More on Blood Diamond

After speaking highly of the movie, it's only fair to warn you that "Blood Diamond" is filled with intense violence. Filled. Intense.

Normally, I scrupulously avoid violence, even the filmed version. Reviews of the movie and interviews with Leonardo DiC warned me about what I'd encounter, but the subject matter drew me despite fair warning. When the volume increased and the bass thumped faster, I closed my eyes to meditate.

I AM the safe, warm darkness of this theatre.

I AM a consumer whose demand fuels this conflict.

I AM a land being raped for its treasures.

I AM THAT.


I AM the beauty of the pond.

I AM a murderer.

I AM one of the slaughtered.

I AM THAT.


I AM the warm glow of Christmas lights.

I AM a child soldier.

I AM the parent of a child slaughtered for baubles.

I AM that.



We ALL are That. Please God, let us feel our interconnectedness and do whatever we personally can to stop this tragedy. Let's educate ourselves on the situation, insist on conflict-free diamonds if we must buy diamonds. Let's tell others what we've learned..

There is a solution to grinding poverty and hopelessness.

We ARE That.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

All That Glitters

Saw the movie "Blood Diamond" this evening, and holy smokes, was it a mind-expanding eyeful. Violent? Absolutely. Horrific? You bet. Worth seeing? Totally.

My darling Girl called last night, thrilled because her boyfriend had given her a diamond necklace for Christmas. (They had exchanged gifts early because she'll be visiting me for Christmas. YAAAAAAAY!!) As she described the diamonds and their size and weight, an odd kind of pride was evident in her voice. See, I'm must be a worthwhile person if this guy loves me. And he must truly love me—after all, he bought me these sparkly diamonds.

Hearing these unspoken emotions set off my mom-radar, but who am I to judge? I've thought—consciously AND unconscioiusly—the same things. Many times. After 52 years on this planet and, one would hope, at least a modicum of accumulated wisdom, I never wear a ring on my left hand because it doesn't feel right.
Somehow it seems I'd have to earn the right by finding a man who "loves me enough" to gift me with a diamonds. I've even caught myself noticing another woman's rings and thinking how lucky she is that some man loves her enough to buy her such beautiful diamonds. (AAAACKKKK! I really am a nutcase sometimes!)

After seeing "Blood Diamond," I can not understand how diamonds became symbols of love. I've done a little wandering on the internet since getting back, and it seems diamonds are routinely sold to finance civil war and genocide throughout Africa. They are mined through torturous, inhumane labor practices and smuggled at the cost of many lives. In Angola, a 20-year struggle for control of the country's diamond mines has led to the seeding of 10 to 20 million landmines.

As the cinematography shows, Africa is a land of almost impossible beauty. Its beauty and its riches stand in sharp contrast to the poverty and the danger of the people's lives. Its lavish resources are controlled by the uber-rich few who exploit the many for their own gain. Tragic.

Americans buy two thirds of the world's diamonds. That gives us a unique ability to effect change. If you're shopping for diamonds, make sure they're not "conflict diamonds." (According to Amnesty International, conflict diamonds are those sold in order to fund armed conflict and civil war.) As of 2003, the Kimberly Proccess requires participants to certify that shipments of rough diamonds are "conflict free." This is a start, but more work needs to be done. If you're interested in further initiatives, check out Amnesty International's information page. Or, try The Blood Diamond Action site, where you'll find a guide to buying conflict-free diamonds and calls to action from our government as well as the diamond industry.

At this moment, I'm not sure I could wear a real diamond, conflict free or not. The question would hang so heavily with me: How many people lived in misery or died in pain so I could feel good about myself and my relationship with the man who bought the diamonds? Lord, let me not be that shallow.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

True Intimacy

He of the pink boots and snake repellant is visiting again, this time at my invitation. I know, I know, you're wondering why I invited him. Been wondering that myself.

The thing is, I've always understood that Pink Boot Guy is an incredibly generous, loving man. I've also believed that, deep down, he's very angry, and he admits that for much of the time of our relationship, he was angry with me because he didn't understand my priorities (kids before Everything) and was hurt by my choices. He says he's come to understand the reasons for those priorities and believes he can accept them.

Okay, that sort of explains why he wanted to come here to see me, but not why I agreed. At a friend's suggestion, I recently read Women Who Love Too Much. Boy, was that a whap upside the head with a big piece of heavy, wet lumber. All my life, I've gone after unavailable men. Emotionally unavailable, I mean. Men whose mothers rejected them, men whose parents were alcoholic, men whose families were deeply, deeply disfunctional—broken men who coped by maintaining safe distances from everything and everyone. Over and over and over, I believed my love could save the man I loved, could change him from an angry, distant, cold, impatient, agressive human into a koala bear without the fur and long toenails.

Didn't work. Never worked. Made me miserable and got me divorced. Twice.

After reading WWLTM, I realize I've been playing out childhood patterns all my adult life. I also realize that choosing unavailable men allowed ME to remain at a safe distance. It's no accident that I've picked men who can't tolerate intimacy—it's pretty tough for me to handle, too.

Pink Boot Guy arrived the day after The Great Mouse Incident and set about making sure there were no more mice in the house. Then, while I was at the salon and working on the DIY book in progress, he began cleaning and disinfecting every single inch of the pantry and laundry room. Even moved the washer and dryer to clean behind them.

What was my reaction to this act of generosity and kindness?

Total meltdown. When I came home and found him sorting the stuff in my throw-it-here-and-deal-with-it-later area, it felt as though I'd come across a burglar pawing through my underwear drawer. My tendency to put off dealing with paperwork and other annoying facts of life is my worst characteristic, and there he was, looking at and touching evidence of my massive failings. Might be easier to walk naked through Times Square at midnight on New Year's Eve than to let someone see my shortcomings. Wearing glasses no less.

Might be.

Anyway, when I stopped crying and shaking, I tried to explain my craziness, tried to tell him I knew it made no sense and that he was doing nothing wrong. Doing a lot right, in fact. Still, I asked him to stop going through the closets and drawers and refrain from messing with stuff not normally in view of visitors.

Why, I ask you, would I object to this kind of help? My average work day, which starts between 5:00 and 5:30am and ends sometime around 10:00pm, includes several hours at the salon and spa that I own, no less than an hour or two helping my parents with odds and ends, more hours writing the DIY books that pay the bills, more working on the novel that feeds my dreams, and more taking care of my beloved home with little or no outside help. Why am I not kissing this man's feet rather than watering his socks with my tears?

I can't imagine why he'd do these things; can't fathom what would make him care that much. I've spent decades doing similar things for the men I've loved, but never, ever has anyone done this sort of thing for me.

The question is why, and I'm pretty sure the answer is that I've chosen men who wouldn't test my intimacy boundaries, and then bemoaned the fact that they were distant or uncaring, trying every way I could to get them to love me enough to change into what I said I wanted. Who knows, if any of them had actually changed, I may have melted into puddles of icy water on their socks rather than on his.

Damn, this living consciously thing is tough. Self-awareness sucks when you don't like what you find in your own deep, dark corners.

From where I sit, intimacy seems to be the hardest word.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

More on the Idea of Punishment

Long ago, when I was struggling with the end of my marriage, I read these words from, of all people, Richard Nixon. Tricky Dicky was never one of my favorite people, but I found such truth in this quote that I wrote it on my bathroom wall, where I would see and remember it every morning.

"The people who hate you don't destroy you. When you hate them back, you destroy yourself."

Nothing anyone can do to us is as powerful as what we can (and will) do to ourselves.

Sunday Scribbling: Punishment/Reward

As we found out Thursday morning, my "debt to society" came to $200 in American money. Can't figure out how to calculate my karmic debt to the Universe after what happened later that evening.

A mouse has been living in my house. In my pantry. to be more specific. After rejecting the idea of poison and spring traps, live traps were set in the pantry, laundry room, and kitchen. (I'm using the passive voice purposely here. I was not the one who set the traps and THAT is another story, entirely.)

So, when I got back from my day in court, I checked the traps. The doors on two of the traps were down, indicating the presence of mice. I picked those traps up and started outside with them, thinking mice didn't weigh anything at all. I opened the first little door, found NOTHING, and thought that meant there was nothing in the other trap, either, as they seemed to weigh exactly the same thing. Back inside, I opened the little door to reset the trap and OUT SPRANG A MOUSE!!!!

Little Mickey darted across the floor and took refuge behind a stack of old suitcases under a table in the front hall. When I stopped screaming enough to move the suitcases, he darted out into the foyer and to the basement stairs. My little dog, Cassie, got into the act, pouncing on the mouse and snapping at its head. I grabbed her, pulled her off the mouse, and set her behind me on the stairs. The mouse scurried down a few more stairs, Cassie escaped me and pounced on her again, and I screamed some more. We repeated this little act several more times before Mickey made it to the floor at the bottom of the steps. By this point, he was dazed but not dead. In fact, every minute or so, he tried to stand and collapsed in tremors.

To put it lightly, I was near hysteria and at a total loss about what to do. My original goal had been to release him unharmed, but boy howdy, that didn't happen. Now that he was hurt, my only choice seemed to be to put him out of his misery quickly; the question was HOW? Some of you have seen the stone Buddha head on my altar. I seriously thought about putting him in a ziplock bag and dropping the head on him. Surely a mouse killed by a stone Buddha would go straight to being a cow in India, don't you think? In my hysteria, I thought so, but didn't want to be disrespectful to Buddha or the stone, and so rejected the idea. I also considered flushing him, but that seemed really awful, too.

To make matters slightly more complicated, I remembered one of the most chaotic evenings of my newly-divorced life when our dog, Biscuit, managed to get our hamster, Snickers, out of the rolly-ball the kids had put him into. After lots of shrieking by the four 6-year-old girls spending the night with my daughter, we found Snickers behind the dining room drapes, stiff as a board. The whole story is hilarious—filled with flying grape juice, a scampering dog, and stampeding children—but the upshot is that we put Snickers in a shoebox for burial at a later date. (Can't break ground in Minnesota in January, not even for a hamster-sized grave.) The next morning, we found Snickers sitting up, ready to take nourishment.

Remembering that, hope for Mickey set in. Maybe he's just catatonic from fear like Snickers. Holding firmly to that hope and a broom, I brushed him into a bucket and gently set him out in the lawn, crying so hard I couldn't breathe. When light broke in the morning, I checked on him.

Dead as a little mousey doornail.

So now, I've not only killed a sentient creature, I may have let it die in agony. By the time I put him outside, he hadn't even twitched for more than 10 minutes, and I hope he was already dead but don't know for sure. Now THERE's a karmic debt for you.

Don't know what the bill for that will be, but I'm quite sure paying it won't involve my check book or my bank balance.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

My Debt to Society

Just paid my debt to society. Turns out my debt came to $200 even, including court costs.

Got my first ever traffic ticket in September. Actually, got ticket(s). After 36 years of driving with no tickets to besmirch my record, I racked up two in one day: One for speeding and another for not having a valid MO driver's license in my possession. Okay, okay. Not only didn't I have a MO license in my possession, I didn't have a MO license period. Here's the deal:

Got up at the very butt-crack of dawn to take my mother's dog to the groomer. Jumped out of bed a few minutes late, threw on some sweatpants and a sweatshirt and dashed off to pick up the dog and take her across town. After accomplishing that mission, I stopped at the salon (didn't intend to stay more than a minute, given how I looked and all) and, as usual, ended up trapped there for hours. Finally, about 1:00pm, I headed for home along the back roads.

A couple of miles from my house and about a quarter of a mile out of the 45 mph zone, I got stopped for doing 43 in a 30. There were 4 motorcycle cops hidden in a corner, and they were stopping about every other car, all containing motorists who had not yet recognized the shift in the posted limit.

As soon as I saw the lights, I knew my goose was cooked. There were so many cars pulled over I knew there was no way my patented "get out of tickets" schtick was going to work this time. Reached for my purse to pull out my license--a MN license, mind you--and panicked. No purse. I'd left it home on the kitchen counter. Very bad news.

Rolled down my window and prepared to explain myself, when I was confronted my the toughest, rudest, most aggressive police officer I've ever encountered. My respect for peace officers usually knows no bounds. My contact with these folks has been limited to situations where they were helping me or my family--the officer who responded when The Boy fell from his back yard fort, the fleet of officers who responded to the 911 call when the kids were in the wreck, the nice officer who stopped me for going the wrong way on a one way street and not only did not give me a ticket but walked in front of me, stopping traffic until I got out of there and then led me to my destination (I was lost). You get the drift, I'm sure.

This guy was not a member of that team. He didn't care to hear my explanations or my concerns. All he wanted was to see a valid license, and I did not have one in the car. I had to sit on the side of the road until a family member broke into my house, fetched my license, and drove it to the scene. As soon as I produced the magic plastic, he wrote me a second ticket, this one for still having a MN license, and he set a court date for my trangressions.

The bill came due this morning at 9:30 am in the Municipal Court of Jackson County, Missouri at 111 E. Maple Street in Independence, MO.

Wowsers, was that an eye opener. More than a different world, this place was another galaxy all together. The distance from my world to this has to be measured in light years.

To get to an open seat, I had to walk through a wall of smells: cigarettes, old sweat, an indefinable, sweet smell that might be fear, might be something else entirely, something more organic and less legal.

The prosecuting attorney sat at a table at the front of the room, wearing a pink gingham shirt and pink-and-blue paisley tie paired with navy suspenders. His thining strawberry blonde hair had been carefully arranged to cover his high forehead and then sprayed into immobility. He had a body builder's physique and a walk that broadcast how much he longed to be taller than than the 5’6” he probably claims or the 5’5” he actually is. Honestly, he all but carried a neon sign reading "Compensating."

A defense attorney sat at an opposing table, wearing a black skirt and sweater, a large gold watch and an expensive haircut. The designer handbag displayed prominently on table in front of her and her artful makeup looked like attempts to divert attention from the extra 75 pounds she carried on her mid-sized frame. She passed the time waiting for court to convene by reading a book, Violent No More.

Behind the tall counter, at the side of what I presume you'd call "The Bench," sat a tiny 60ish woman with teased hair in a style that was current back when lightened hair was called “frosted." She chewed her gum with the ferocity with which I attack spiders invading my house.

I took a seat in the middle of the room, behind a guy wearing t-shirt that read “I came to drink beer and kick ass.”

As people poured in for the 9:30 time slot, the room gathered a nervous energy quite independent of the change in the sound level or the potpourri of smells and that accompanied the crowd. People whispered together and the tinny sounds of phones being turned off echoed through the air. Some people squirmed in their seats; many tapped a foot on the floor or a hand on the bench beside them. Everyone seemed anxious in a weary sort of way.

The most shocking thing about the whole experience was the obvious poverty of the people involved. I was the only person in the room dressed in a way intended to show respect for authority. Unless, of course, you count several guys wearing tan trenchcoats buttoned over clothes far less presentable. One young man wore black dress shoes with white socks. His dark jeans with a few paint splotches on the left leg disappeared into an expensive tan trenchcoat. Not khacki, but a British racing tan kind of color. Very "found this on a Salvation Army rack-ish." He was holding a business card of some sort as though it held the key to getting out of whatever mess he’d created. Other young men wore screaming white tennis shoes, oversized sweatshirts and jeans carefully held in their left hands, even while sitting.

How is it that, except for me, only poor people are being called to court this morning? Don't the cops stop the more affluent? Or can it be that the more affluent just pay the tickets and go on? I'd have done that if only I had the option, but it would have been a pity. I'd have missed this spectacle, this revelation of how blessed I am. Driving away from the courthouse later, I passed a bar wrapped in a banner that proclaimed, "Welcome Bikers" and a little restaurant with a sign that declared "Gizzards are Here!!" Those are sights we don't find much in my corner of the world, where the general run of people is far more well-scrubbed, far less redolent, and oh-so-much more filled with the presumed safety of the world.

Come to think of it, $200 doesn't begin to touch my debt to society. How am I going to address the rest of it? Gotta give that lots more thought.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Pond-a-Palooza and Other Things

Crazy busy here on the pond. Doggie has to get to the groomer before 7:30 and I have get a MO driver's license this morning then do a live radio show this afternoon.

Before I jet off, wanted to work on making manifest our Pond-a-Palooza. Please look at your calendars for possible dates in March/April. Expenses should be negligible. You can all stay here and there will be at least two cars at our disposal (Paula and my Mom's van). We'll do simple meals here at the house for the most part--I do loves me a chance to cook for a crowd. Don't have an '07 calendar yet, but the weekend closest to March 25 is out--I'll be in Mpls for Katie's birthday. Other than that, I'm pretty open. Going to Omaha to read at some big event one weekend in there--will track it down and get the info to you soonest.

Much love to all,
j

Friday, December 01, 2006

No Place Like Home

Holly and Jess mentioned visiting, and it launched an idea. What if we set up a writer's retreat here? Would any of you come? I'd love to host a long weekend writing/laughing/food and drink-a-thon among those of us who regularly read and support one another's work. Spring sounds good to me. Any takers? I'm totally serious here, guys. Plus, I own a salon and spa where we could take breaks for facials, massages, pedicures, manicures and so forth, which I'd happily offer for whatever the services actually cost me.

Next, more images of my home. Inside, this time.

This is Angelica, who greets you as you walk in the door. At night, she has her own spotlight and can be seen through the windows that surround the front door. She's an old wood mold for paper mache. She stands on a piece from an old church that was damaged by fire long ago. I drilled a hole in the angel's belly button and one in the top of the stand and voila! Together they're a strange kind of art.


This is the sunroom area from which I watch the pond over tea most mornings. Right against the window is the altar where I meditate.

This is the stuff on my altar: several small stones (including one that "fell" from an antiquity in Rome, which I won't mention lest Mystic Wing end up in the pokey for pocketing it), the big Buddha stone, a 27-bead, sandalwood Mala, the feather Jennifer gave me at the end of the workshop, a little pencil, and some candles. The thing that looks like a bunch of sticks is my "thinking cap," and yes, I do put it on my head when I'm writing sometimes. It's some sort of vine that I wrapped in a circle and has some ribbons tied to it. Kind of like an antenna, I guess. All I know is that it makes me laugh, and laughter puts me in touch with God and the writing gods. Always a good thing.

This is a buffet that sits in front of the basement stairs at the end of the kitchen area.

This is the living room area. You can see the inflatable bed I slept on last night to watch the storm outside. It's between the sofa and fireplace, about 10 or 12 feet from the windows. Perfect placement for romance, if only there were romance in my life. (more on that later. There are developments in the works. We'll see.)

This is optimisticaly referred to as the "dining room." As you can see, it's not really a room. None of these spaces are actually rooms, really. Other than the two bedrooms and bathrooms, the entire first floor is one big room. I've created the illusion of "rooms" with rugs and lighting and the arrangement of furniture, and it makes me happy.

The kitchen is too much of a mess to photograph tonight, but I'll try to post another photo or two later this weekend.

Think seriously about Pond-a-Palooza 2007. It's a happening thing if you guys will venture to the midwest. I've got three beds, two sofas, and an inflatable mattress, all just waiting for writers.
It snowed here in KC last night, a rare and wonderful occurence to be treasured. In MN, where I spent 28 loooooong winters, snow falls in late autumn or early winter and stays until laaaate spring, far outstaying its welcome. Here, snow comes and goes in a matter of days, always leaving me hungry for more. Not months more, mind you. Days or weeks more.

Anyway, we have about 6 inches of snow on the ground and Marvin and the pinduck have company on the pond this morning. A skim of ice is forming at the edges and everything looks perfect, perfectly Christmasy and magical and right.

From the vantage point of my inflatable bed (strategically located between the fireplace and the windows facing the pond) my little doggie and I luxuriated in the coziness of watching a storm while snug and warm and full. (Okay, so she wasn't thrilled with our dinner--vegetarian tacos are not her favorite. Doesn't like the "mystery meat" element of the things. I think they're great.) I had a glass of wine (she's trying to stay off the sauce these days and so lapped water from her bowl) and thought about but did not stir myself to make chocolate cookies.

This is what the pond looked like this morning.


Did I mention how much I love my home?

Oh, and when we got up, we discovered that tiny, silent elves had shoveled the walk and drive while we slept.

Who lives in the absolutely PERFECT place for her? Who?

ME!!!!! Lucky, Lucky me.

May you all be every bit as blessed as I feel this morning.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Redefining the Goal

This is it, guys. November 30, the last day of NaNoWriMo.

Drumroll, please: 38,452 words and counting.

I will not get to 50,000 words before midnight. In very un-Jerri fashion, not even going to try. It is so very difficult for me to allow myself to fall short of a goal, to fail at something I set out to do. Yet, I did not write 50,000 words during the month of November and that is a kind of failure. Remembering as I do, that all is within all, it is also a kind of success.

I allowed other things and other people to distract me from my writing on more than one occasion. Today, from the vantage point of knowing I will miss the goal, I would do the same. Sick friends, holidays with my children, my mother's recovery from surgery--these things matter more to me than hitting an arbitrary number. And while I may be justifying my choices to myself, after a time the number did become arbitrary because the last day of November is by no means the last day of this writing experience. Someday soon, 50,000 words will be a distant point in the rear view mirror and the story will still be evolving.

Participating in NaNoWriMo has been one of the great experiences of my life. Some days when I couldn't figure out what to write, I could literally feel the love and support in the air, feel those of you on this journey routing me on and reminding me that the most important thing was to keep going, to keep touching keys until the story found me again. And it works. Putting words on paper every day has become as much a part of my routine as brushing my teeth or taking a shower. No, it's more than that, really. It's almost like breathing. It's what I do to stay alive, it's what I do to remember who I was before I had a face.

My characters have become so real to me, so human. I sit in my favorite chair, looking out at the pond, wondering what stories Ruth would never want me to tell, pondering the catalyst for Fred's decline into alcoholism, trying to sit with Phoebe's hurt and fear. And guess what? I am That. That is me. The more I come to know them, the more I know myself and my loved ones. Damn, this fiction thing is FUN!

Reading has become a different thing, too. The more I write, the more amazed I am by the writing of others. I read books now for the stories and for the structure and for complexities of being that never before showed themselves to me.

From the deepest part of my heart, I thank you for your support. I'll probably post snippets from time to time as the stories continue to evolve. I am going to finish LOTO. That's the redefined goal, and it's one I will achieve. Well, Good Lord willing and the creek don't rise, as we say down home. Ah hell, the creek can rise all it wants. I'll still be writing, Good Lord willing.

Light and Love and SO much gratitude.
j

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I"m Being Followed by a Moon Shadow

Cat Stevens anyone?

World Market sent me an e-mail this morning, offering a special price on Moon Shadow wine. The label is a crescent moon on a dark sky with a graphic yellow shadow below. Simple. Effective. Lovely.

Whoever designed the label may or may not have been able to draw or paint in a way that reproduces an image realistically, but they sure as hell created something that spoke to me. I love the label enough to buy the wine just to have it in the pantry.

I am capable of drawing such a thing. What I'm not capable of--or not yet capable of--is letting go of the perfect images I want to produce long enough to embrace the simple ones I CAN create. I've longed to be an artist my whole life, longed to draw and paint and generate beautiful ithings.

That's not the kind of skill God gave me.

Still, if I could just quit lusting after what I don't have, I could use and enjoy what I do. It isn't just art I do this with. Add these to the list: men, writing, my body. Oh, hell. Just about everything, when you get down to it. This morning I long to break out of the cage I've built for myself. It's a physical ache that makes me want to claw and scratch and kick at things until I no longer have to present only my best self, no longer care what others think of my work or my house or my hips. Trouble is, it's like clawing at cobwebs.

This cage isn't made of steel or wood or resin--nothing that definite, nothing that easy to shape or change. It's spun from a thousand dreams and expectations and warnings and the stories I've seen play outover my lifetime. And like a spider's web, it changes shape when I bat at it, flexes in the wind behind my flailing, stretches to fit my fist, and then springs back into place when I turn my back, unimpressed by my struggles.

Like most problems, fighting it simply does not work. My dear friend and brother, Mystic Wing, would tell me (HAS told me, many times) that surrender is the only answer.

How do you surrender to a cobweb?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Blossoms Dropping All Around Us

My friend Jess, from the blog JessPDX posted this quote the other day: “But listen to me; for one moment, quit being sad. Hear blessings dropping their blossoms around you.” - Rumi

Rumi's words really got to me because I've been thinking a lot lately about our human need to be right and how much trouble it causes. If only we could stop imagining that "right" or "good" or "happy" is a finite pie that leaves less for us if others get more.

Life is SO not a zero-sum game, as they game theorists call that scenario. Joy begets joy. Sharing creates more. Always has, always will.

Here are two stories that illustrate what I've been thinking about today.

First: my current sister-in-law took on some of the priviledges of that job before my former sister-in-law had relinquished them, if you follow the way I'm drifting. 12 years or so later, some members of my family still find the need to punish her. (Now, having been down the opposite side of that back country road, don't for a moment think I approve or like the idea at all. Not one bit, in fact. But, that's someone else's Karma, not mine. Plus, there's that whole "judge not that ye be not judged" thing.)

Anyway, my former sister-in-law had one cooking specialty--a wonderful chocolate pie. SIL #2 does not bake that pie and does not like for it to be served in her presence. Will not allow it to be served to my brother, in fact. My brother and SIL hosted Thanksgiving for the family last week (other than me and the kids, who celebrated in Mpls, as you know). Guess what pie my sister baked and carried down there?

My sister is not known to be deliberately be unkind, but she can do unconscious along with the best of us. I really think that even after all these years, she still needs to be right about this woman and this situation. She's still so stuck in it that she can't see the blossoms falling all around her.

Second: right now I'm in a coffee shop that offers free wifi. There's a Lexus parked outside, in the prime parking spot by the front door. A woman inside the Lexus is working on her laptop, pirating the wifi without buying coffee, in other words. Several patrons have reported her, have suggested to the management that she be asked to remove her offending car and her offensive person. They are particularly outraged that she's taking up the best parking spot and they had to walk across the lot to come in and buy their coffee or bakery goods.

Other than the extra 29 steps they had to walk, this woman's presence isn't creating any problem for anyone as far as I can tell. Who knows what her reasons for staying in the car may be? Why are people so angry about it? Is it because she drives a car more expensive than theirs? Is it because they are paying outrageous sums for coffee and damn it, so should she? My response to them is the same as my response to my sister: compassion. Peaceful hearts don't harbor such anger over such things, especially when they're not directly related to their own lives.

It's always so easy to see the flaws of others. After recognizing this trait in others, I've been trying to see how it operates in my own life. I don't want to miss the blessings or the blossoms. I want to hear and see and smell and touch them as they drop all around me. In fact, I want to gather them in drifts and bring others to luxuriate in their presence. I want to put them in bottles of good vodka and distill their essence (as I do vanilla beans) to flavor Christmas cookies and morning lattes. I want to put a dab of this essence behind each ear, leaving a trail of joyful fragrance behind me as I travel through my days. I want to put it in little bottles to share with people I love and with others I've not yet met.

More later. Right now I'm headed off to meditate. Maybe stop and buy some little bottles on the way home.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

10 Things

I cultivate an attitude of gratitude every day, but along with the much of America, I'm giving special thanks today. Here are 10 things that deserve notice among the many, many blessings of my life.

1. My children, the members of my immediate family and I are healthy and relatively well in all ways. We are, to quote a psychologist from back in the day, "neurotic but not psychotic."

2. We--my tribe and I--live with plenty and in relative safety. None of us have serious worries about feeding our children or ourselves, and no one shoots at us or plants bombs or land mines near where we live. Some of us worry about whether or not we're truly happy, but even that is a luxury. Folks dodging bullets and bombs rarely stop to consider happiness or the lack thereof.

3. New friends have come into my life this year--friends of my heart; friends of my soul. They have arrived through cyberspace, through phone calls and in person. They have enriched my life, taught me valuable lessons, listened when I desperately needed an ear, and supported me in ways big and small. They have also accepted my support, allowed me to help when aned where possible, and shared laughter and joy as well as troubles.

4. Old friends and I have maintained our friendships despite physical distance. Through e-mail and blogs and cell phones, we reach out and touch one another's hearts now as ever.

5. The pond and its denizens continue to enterain and teach me. The sun rise colors the sky every morning and I wake to a new day along with the squawks and squeaks of the critters. Peace and serenity and the ability to maintain calm despite challenging circumstances are demonstrated every day, and I have a front row seat for the show. I am SO grateful for my home and its surroundings. After owning it for more than 2 years, the miracle of living there still brings me to tears from time to time.

6. Through meditation, yoga, and the lessons of the pond, I've learned to be aware of discomfort without dwelling in it. I can choose happiness over being right on quite a few occasions and find that my ego drives fewer struggles now than ever before. Not "none" mind you, but fewer. Definitely fewer.

7. The work I love continues to support and sustain me.

8. The business I own is finding balance within itself and within my life.

9. The political ciimate of the country is changing, as evidenced by the recent election. People are waking up and taking stock of the mess we're in. Surely, change will not be far behind this awakening.

10. I have the great good fortune of sharing all this with my children today. I am in Minneapolis, staying at my son's apartment, hanging out with him and my daughter. We're putting together a non-traditional but interesting meal later today--steak and cheese fondue with cranberries and broccoli and cauliflower and bread pudding. We'll go to a movie later and play board games this evening. Every stage of their being has had its own joys and sorrows, but I'm finding unexpected joy in this young adult stage. Nothing I've ever experienced as a parent is quite as surprising or wonderful as seeing my children become adults I want to know and hang out with.

Happy, happy. Joy, joy to each of you.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Going Big

Since I stopped posting the stories, I've been playing with leaving cliches in on the first pass and then going deeper, going big with them when I have time to play with them later. Really, really like doing this and I think it makes the writing stronger. Here are a couple of examples. Sure would like to know what you all think.

Light and Love,
j

On the first pass, this said Ruth would have cross the desert or raging rivers to get to Phoebe. Who knew the hottest place on earth is a spot in the Saharan desert in Libya where the temp. reached 158 in 1922? Or that the Johnstown area of Pa has experienced a number of truly devasting floods, the most recent in 1977? So much to learn, so little time....

Oh, my poor baby. Ruth would have run to Phoebe across the Libyan desert or through the Johnstown floods—Joe Harper and his ridiculous Assault and Battery nonsense be damned—but the fear she would make a bad situation worse, might even endanger Phoebe or the baby, pinned Ruth to the ground beneath the branches of a scraggly lilac bush beside an empty Pizza Hut on the deserted midnight streets of Rosemount, Minnesota on the 22nd day of May, 1998.


First pass referred to this feeling as an addiction:

Ruth watched the Grand Am's taillights disappear again, this time toward Dell's house. The urge to follow them swept Ruth like the ache a recovering meth addict must feel when he sees a pipe floating through his dreams. She fought it off in much the same way, one scorching inhalation, one tortured exhalation at a time.


This one came to me right away, courtesy of GoMama's suggestion that I employ home improvement metaphors in my writing. (Thanks again, T.)

Gwen’s voice, soaring above the choir, joined the refrain and the tongues of the boards in the wood ceiling swelled within their corresponding groves and even the steel beams flexed to accommodate the flow of sound. After a couple of refrains like that, the other instruments dropped out, but the kick drum continued, its deep bass vibrations sending out an irresistible invitation.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Long Time No See

Hey, Everybody. I'm not dead or even dying slowly due to a painful condition that makes me allergic to keyboards or cyberspace.

Nope. I'm writing like crazy, keeping pace to finish 50,000 words of the novel by Nov. 30. Hard to believe, but true.

Stopped posting the stories because I began to feel the pressure of making them readable beyond what allowed me to take risks and delve into my imagination, tossing out crap to find the stuff worth keeping. I've found that if I write enough crap, there'll be some surprising treasures buried within in. Trouble was, my ego has trouble letting me post crap (as least what I recognize as crap), so I found myself writing too close to my vest, with too little risk.

You guys are great--have been great. This is no problem but my own, and deciding not to post the snippets let me give myself permission to wildly overwrite, leave cliches in to be mined later, and so on. Most of all, it turned me loose to take risks.

I've been rereading Anne LaMott's Bird by Bird as I do every few months. Here's a graph that gets me every time.

You simply keep putting down one damn word after the other, as you hear them, as they come to you. You can make the work a chore, or you can have a tood time. You can do it the way you used to clear the dinner dishes when you were thirteen, or you can do it as a Japanese person would perform a tea ceremony, with a level of concentration and care in which you can lose yourself, and so in which you can find yourself.

In this crazy NaNoWriMo thing I've undertaken, I've discovered surprising things about myself and found myself in my own heart. All of you who read and comment and support me have midwifed these things into being, and I thank you. So Much.

I'll probably post a few passages from time to time, and I'll try to find time to post normal stuff, too. My connection to all of you is SO important to me. I've missed you.

Much more soon.
j

Friday, November 10, 2006

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Okay, folks. Here it is. It's a long one--you might want a cup of coffee. Or two. At the outset of this snippet, we're at Fred's funeral. Things should be clear from there. If not, please let me know.

Again, I welcome all comments, especially constructive criticism I can put to use in rewrite.

As the great Carrie Wilson Link says, Love (period).


-----
Half the school and every student I ever taught must be here. Ruth fidgeted in her seat and resettled her purse in the chair next to her. Marsha Evans, her morning walking partner and comrade in the battle against shrinking fine arts budgets, stepped into view and Ruth rose to greet her.

“Thank you for coming, Marsha. I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Of course. Want me to sit with you?”

“No,” Ruth blurted. “No. . .thanks. This seat is for. . .I’m saving this seat. . .Phoebe’ll probably be here any minute,” Ruth answered.

Marsha smiled, and pulled out a tissue to wipe her eyes. “Of course,” she said again and walked to the back of the room where she joined the dozen or so others standing against the wall.

During the service, Ruth felt Phoebe’s absence more keenly even than Fred’s. Fred’s death filled her with sadness, but the fullness of it had not yet hit her. Her daughter, her only child, who should be beside her at this moment and was not—it was she who drew the blood from her mother’s heart. Lying in bed the night before, her stomach a Celtic knot and her skin a raw rope burn, Ruth pleaded with God to let Phoebe come to the funeral.

You won’t listen to me now any more than You ever did, but please, please, please. I don’t know if You’re even there, but please let her come home. Please, please bring her home. I’ll do anything you ask— anything she asks. Please. Please. Please.


---
Ruth was arranging lilacs in a clear glass pitcher when Phoebe and Dell walked into the kitchen together, holding hands and whispering. Phoebe dropped Dell’s hand, stepped forward, and said, “I’ve got good news and bad news, Mom.”

“Let’s start with the good,” Ruth said as she danced over to the radio. Her bare feet slapped the linoleum in time to the Dixie Chicks' "Ready to Run." Natalie Main's soaring voice disappeared, mid-Run, but Ruth finished her trill before she turned back to the kids.

Phoebe pushed her hair out of her eyes and took a deep breath. “Dell and I are getting married.”

Ruth sighed and tried to catch Phoebe’s eye. “Okay, honey, that’s not exactly a surprise. You’ve been wearing the ring since Christmas.”

Phoebe’s eyes rested on the floor in front of her. “The 9th of June.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. That’s two weeks away.”

“We know.”

Ruth gasped. “You’re pregnant?” She thought Phoebe nodded but couldn’t tell for sure. Her hair was draped down over her face, hiding her eyes and her expression. Ruth glanced at Dell, who was absorbed in tracing a hole in his jeans with his fingers.

“You’re can’t get married. You’re barely 18.?”

“I’m 8 months older than you were when you and Dad got married.”

“That was a different time. We had jobs and we’d been saving money forever. How do you two think you’re going to get by?” Ruth demanded. “You better have a plan, cause we’re not paying your bills.”

“Never thought you would.” Dell looked straight into Ruth’s eyes. “We never thought you would.”

“What does that mean?”

Dell started to answer, but Phoebe talked over him. “It means you’ve never cared enough about me to give me what I need.”

“Never cared about you? Never given you what you needed? Who worked every weekend of her life to put braces on your teeth? Who made sure you had decent clothes and went to every damned game you cheered for? Tell me that, will you?” Ruth wiped the sweat off her forehead and pulled her t-shirt away from her neck, fanning herself with it.

“You did, Mom. But that wasn’t what I needed.”

“What did you ever need that I didn’t break my neck to give you?”

Phoebe looked down again, concentrating on her hands as she twisted the ring, a three-quarter carat, marquis-cut diamond. Not just a diamond, an emblem. A talisman. Concrete evidence that she was loved. I needed you to save me, to stand up to him, to take my side, not just try to keep peace when he went nuts. I needed you to love me best.

“To get away from Dad. But you. . . .” Phoebe’s voice trailed off as Ruth shouted over her.

“And getting pregnant at 18, ruining your life, is the way to do it?”

“Maybe not, but you let him get away with whatever he wanted and we’re all paying the price.” Dell again, serving up his opinion.

“So this is my fault? I didn’t leave her father so you had no choice but to get her pregnant and trash all her dreams? How. . .”

This time Phoebe shouted Ruth down. “Choices? You’re talking about choices? You let him gamble away all your money, drink til he couldn’t stand up, embarrass me in front of my friends. He puked in the car, and you cleaned it up. He passed out on the porch, and you dragged him in the house. He pretended to shoot himself, and you patched the fucking roof.

“You should have left him a long time ago, before I was even born.”

“Has your life been so bad you wish you’d never been born?” Ruth wrapped her arms around her waist, arms crossed in the middle, and leaned forward to catch her breath.

“You’ll never know how many times I wish that, Mom." Phoebe paused, meaning to stop there, but the words, the truth she thought so often but had never dared speak, somehow poured out of her. " Some people aren’t cut out to be parents, and maybe Dad’s one of them.”

Ruth jerked up straight. Her right arm uncurled itself from around her waist and flew up behind her head. In one swift motion, her hand whistled down, and the smack of her palm against Phoebe’s cheek echoed through the kitchen. The force of the blow knocked Phoebe sideways and into the corner of the cabinets. She shrieked involuntarily when her face hit the hinges, the squeal of a puppy whose tail has been stepped on or a mouse caught but not killed by a trap.

When she turned to face Ruth again, Phoebe’s eyes were dark with disbelief. Her left eye was also darkened by a small bruise that promised a splendid black eye. “Good answer, Mom. Good goddamn answer. He ruins everything and you hit me."

Dell stepped between the women and said, “Get your stuff, Phee. We're outta here.”

“She’s not going anywhere except her room,” Ruth shouted. “And no music in there, either, young lady.”

“Seriously? You think you’re going to ground me from my stereo? I’m 18 years old. I’m gonna have a baby, for Christ’s sake.” Phoebe stomped off to her room, dragging Dell by the hand.

While Ruth paced back and forth in the kitchen, Phoebe yanked open the hall closet and pulled two suitcases from the top shelf. She stuffed a few pairs of sandals, tennis shoes, and all her party shoes—except the silvery sandals from Homecoming—into the big black one. Next, she upended her underwear drawer over the suitcase, showering the shoes with bras and panties. Her sock and t-shirt drawers got the same treatment before being tossed in the corner. Phoebe paused to wipe her eyes and her nose on her sleeve, then unzipped the smaller suitcase and dumped whole piles of jeans and sweatshirts into it. She pulled her cheerleading uniform off its padded hanger and stuffed it on top. Finally, she tried to close the suitcase.

Dell, who had been staring out the window, suddenly focused on the scene in front of him. Taking in Phoebe’s struggle with the overstuffed suitcase, he said, “No frickin’ way, Phee.”

“Help me.”

Phoebe sat on top of the suitcase while Dell pulled on the zipper, but no matter how many times she stuffed sweatshirt arms and jeans legs back inside, another popped out as soon as she pulled her hand out.

“Lose something. Let’s go.” Dell, who desperately wanted to be gone before Fred showed up, was getting antsy.

Phoebe slid down to her knees in front of the suitcase, opened the lid, and pulled out the first thing she came to: her Rosemont High School cheerleading uniform. Dropping onto her heels, she ran her hands over the shamrock on the sweater, fingered all her pins, then sank her face into its folds. She could smell bonfires and sweat and autumn winds mingled with Clinique Happy and Abercrombie cologne. Cradling the sweater against her face, she slowly rocked back and forth a few times. Suddenly, she threw the sweater aside and stood up decisively. “Zip it.”

Phoebe dragged the small suitcase toward the door. Pausing beside her bed, she picked up the blue-and-white quilt her mom had hand made for her 16th birthday and wrapped herself in it. From behind her, Dell muscled the big black suitcase forward. Nodding toward her and the quilt, he asked, “Taking that?”

“Nah.” Phoebe replied. She shrugged and let the quilt slide off her shoulders and fall to the floor. Dell stepped over it on his way out of the room. When Ruth found the quilt in the floor later, she would tell Marsha that Phoebe had cast it aside like a wet towel from one of her friends’ pool parties.

Phoebe and Dell made their way, one after the other, down the hall. The suitcases bumped along awkwardly beside them, leaving dirty marks on the baby blue walls. When they finally reached the kitchen, Ruth was still pacing. She whirled to face Phoebe and said, “If you leave, don’t ever come back. You won’t be welcome.”

Phoebe’s face tightened like an “after” photo in a plastic surgeon's office. She spit out two words as she and Dell brushed past her mother: “No problem.”

The storm door banged closed behind them. Ruth felt the vibrations all the way to the collagen rods inside the bones of her feet. She pushed the door open again. “Don’t do this,” she called into the darkness. “Trust me, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”

Through the quiet night, Ruth could hear footsteps moving quickly down the gravel drive, then two car doors opening and slamming closed. From behind the house, the wind whistled through the trees and an owl hooted. Ruth ran outside and, with no particular goal in mind, paused at the edge of the rose garden. Dell’s car started and the red taillights flashed against the blue trunk; something inside Ruth broke wide open. She bent down, snatched two good-sized rocks from the garden border, and heaved them, one after the other, toward the souped-up Grand Am.

Ruth hurled those rocks with the force of her pain and frustration, disillusionment and loss. Go on. Get out of here. Just go. Later, when she replayed the scene her head over and over like a tape loop run amok, she was never sure whether she had spoken those words aloud or thought them so loudly they echoed through the night.

The sound of the rocks bouncing off Dell’s trunk made Ruth smile savagely. Take that, you little snot. Acting on pure adrenalin, she bent down and grabbed another rock. This one was lodged in the dirt, and its sharp edges cut her hands as she wiggled it loose. When the rock was finally free, Ruth straightened and threw it toward the car with all her might. She didn’t hear anything and was disappointed that it missed.

The owl hooted again, sending shivers down Ruth’s spine. She wrapped her arms around her waist and tried to calm down.

Phoebe wiped blood out of her eyes and stared at her hands above her face. She couldn't see the blood in the dark, but she could feel it coursing down her face and into her hair, her heartbeat pushing the river downstream. The warmth, the smell, the taste of it frightened and confused her. I'm bleeding. What the hell happened? So much blood. So much blood. Phoebe tried to sit up but darkness closed in on her again. She fought it off, certain she would die if she didn't get help soon. Jesus, I'm going to bleed to death if someone doesn't see me.She tried to yell, but it came out as more of a squeak. Clearing her throat, she tried again, this time yelling for her very life.

“Help me.” Silence. “I’m bleeding.” Phoebe's voice floated across the driveway, weak and thready.

Ruth dropped her arms and stood paralyzed, straight and tall as a debutante practicing with a book on her head, trying to comprehend what had happened. That's Phoebe. But she's in the car. Isn't she? She has to be in the car. . . .

The yard light blinked on. “What’sh goin on ou’ there?” Fred yelled from the kitchen door. He had come in through the basement to shower before coming up into the house, his way of defending himself from complaints about the stale, smoky smell he brought home from a long afternoon at the Pale Moon.

Ruth looked toward the Grand Am. The glare of the yard light revealed Phoebe lying on the ground in front of the car, blood gushing from her forehead and dripping down her face. She tried to sit up, but collapsed again. Ruth saw the driver’s door fly open and, a moment later, saw Dell gather Phoebe in his arms. “We gotta get outta here. She’s gone fuckin’ crazy.”

Dell dumped Phoebe onto the passenger’s seat, then flew around to the driver’s side and jumped in. The slam of his door jarred Ruth loose, and she ran toward the car. By the time she got there, Dell was pulling away. Ruth ran along beside the Grand Am for a few steps, trying to grab the door handle to wrench it open. Without shoes, she couldn’t keep up on the gravel drive. When she finally stopped running, she slumped to the ground, screaming, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I'm so sorry,” over and over and over.

Fred, born 13 days late and always much more than a dollar short, came to stand beside Ruth. “Wha’ the hell’sh goin on?” he asked. “Where’sh Phoeb goin’?”

“Get out of the way.” Ruth pushed past him and hurried into the house for her shoes and keys.

“A man’sh got a right to know what’sh goin on in hish own home. Don’ he?”

Ruth ignored him and reached for her keys, which usually hung from a hook beside the door. They weren’t there. She searched her purse and the kitchen countertops, but the keys were nowhere to be found. Precious minutes later, she recognized their weight in the pocket of her jeans, and slapped her forehead.

She clambered into the Honda and streaked down the road toward town, sobbing and shuddering and pounding the steering wheel. Phoebe’s name rang in her head with each sob. As she approached the stoplight just before the turn to the Urgent Care clinic, Ruth’s eyes caught the flash of red lights in her review mirror. Cursing under her breath, she jerked the Honda to the curb and braked, hard.

Joe Harper, Dell’s cousin who’d been a county deputy since Phoebe and Dell were in diapers, sauntered up to the door. He stood there patting his belly and rocking on his heels while Ruth put the window down. She thrust her license through the opening, but Joe waved her off.

“No need for that, Ruth. We’re not going to get official here. I just wanted to tell you that if you show up at the hospital or Dell’s house, I'm going to have to arrest you.”

“Arrest me? What the hell are you talking about?”

“About Assault and Battery. About serious jail time.”

“Are you kidding? I didn’t mean to hurt her.”

“You might not ‘a meant to, but you did. She’s got a gash that’s going to take a hell of a lot of stitches to close and maybe even a concussion. The only thing she wants is for you to leave her alone, and right now, I’d say that’s a damn good idea.”

Reluctantly, Ruth swung the Honda around and slowly drove toward her house. Joe followed for several miles. When he finally turned off, Ruth doubled back to town along side roads. When she got within half a mile of the clinic, she parked the Honda and walked furtively along the empty sidewalks, staying out of the streetlights and away from lighted storefronts. In front of the Pizza Hut, she plopped herself on the ground under a lilac bush. From there, she could see the entrance to Urgent Care as well as Dell’s Grand Am in the parking lot.

Ruth pulled down a branch laden with blossoms and twisted one back and forth until it broke off in her hands. When she’d plucked all the buds from one bunch, she broke off another and slowly shredded it as well. By the time Dell led Phoebe out the clinic’s doors, her forehead heavily bandaged and her eyes blacked, Ruth’s lap was filled with twigs and the dirt beneath her legs littered with tiny purple flowers.

Ruth watched the Grand Am's taillights disappear again, this time toward Dell's house. She wanted to scream and cry and smash things but was afraid she'd someone would hear or see her. Instead, she sat there, numb and silent, wondering what to do, where to go.

At sunrise the next morning, Ruth took the ax to the lilac bush outside her bedroom window. She hacked its carcass into manageable hunks and drug them back behind the shed, leaving the old path covered with shredded leaves and tiny, withering blossoms. No matter how many times Ruth blew her nose, their fragrance lingered in her nostrils, long after the cold spring winds scattered their petals across the countryside.

Not Prograstinating, Honestly

I'm keeping up with my word count goals each day, but the piece I'm working on isn't ready to be posted. Still too raw.

Keep trying to remember that this is only a shitty first draft (a la Anne Lamott), but this story wants detail, it wants raw emotion and demands to be told as Truth of the highest order, and I'm not quite there yet.

Will post it soon.

Meantime, thanks for reading.

On another front entirely, I had to be at the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast at 6:00am this morning. Massive bummer. My spa was sponsoring a table, so I had to go greet my guests, etc.

The breakfast was a bigger bummer than having to be dressed to the nines and in a place 15 miles from my house by 6:00am. It was held to honor veterans, and the guests of honor were the father and brother of a young man from our town who was killed in Iraq recently.


The speakers were four devout Christians: veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and their wives. They spoke fervently about their experiences and their missions and how fundamental prayer and Jesus were to their survival. They showed slides of the prayer schedule arranged by their Sunday Schools so that someone was praying for them every hour of the day and night. They declared that their relationship with Jesus was fundamental to their survival.

I have no problem with the fact that they believe these things. My problem comes with the idea that this is the ONLY way. What of the Muslim woman sitting in the crowd, her head covered with a beautiful scarf? What of the father and brother of the young man who was killed? Did they not pray enough? If they had arranged round-the-clock prayers, would their boy be sitting beside them, eating rubbery scrambled eggs and standing when the veterans were honored? Should they feel responsible for his death?

None of us knows the answer to those questions. Not really. And I think it's arrogant beyond belief to imagine there's only one answer and one, relatively small group owns it completely.

Many paths, one God works for me. The recognition that some live and some die and we have no control over which group we fall into on a given day--that works for me. The Buddhist notion of living so that every day would be a good day to die--one in which you'd been kind to all, been loving to those you love, accepted your responsibilities and embraced the joy available to you--that works for me. Jesus and God play a big part in my spirituality, but in my world, they accept all of us, all colors, all faiths, all words and ways of praying. Intention is all.

Being omnicient and all, my God recognizes all sincere prayer and all loving kindness. I just can't believe God is narrow-minded. Can you?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Fiery Waters

Meditated with my eyes open this morning. Just sat in the windows of the sunroom and watched the morning deliver itself to the world. Glorious. Just me, sacred music playing quietly in the background, a few candles, and the stark beauty of the morning. Intentionally breathed in beauty and glory and breathed out doubt and fear and worry. Feel more energized and more ready to write at this moment than ever before in my life. Am going to tackle a very tough story today. It will be included as part of Ruth's life, but it is my own, and it is one of the things Ruth would never want to tell anyone on earth, just as it is one of the things I have told only once or twice, and only to people of my true tribe, of my heart.

Reading yesterday's comments, I feel safe to tell this story, safe to share my heart with this remarkable tribe of folks following the story and helping it be born.

First, a couple of pics from the pond this morning. The one of Marvin and the Pin Duck is out of focus and too dark, but it was the best of the lot, so I'm posting it, too.

Today's story is more of Fred's death, which demanded to be unpacked after yesterday's snippet.

Love, love, and more love to you all.




Wedneday's LOTO

Ruth was peeling potatoes when Fred decided to walk to the end of the driveway to get the mail. He didn’t get out much in those days, and Ruth thought the fresh air and sunshine would do him good. She toyed with the idea of going with him but wanted the potato salad to chill before she started frying the walleye later.

A few minutes after the storm door slammed behind Fred, Ruth heard a small metallic crunch and then a large boom. What she could see out the big window didn’t explain much: a shiny red Dodge Ram pickup at the end of the driveway and hundreds of burning bits of paper floating toward the road, like a tickertape parade in hell. She wiped her wet hands on a flour sack dishtowel and hurried out the door and down the drive.

Before she was halfway there, Ruth could smell stale beer and cigarettes along with burning paper. A couple steps later, those odors were joined by the stench of vomit. She could hear someone retching but couldn’t see anything through the cloud of smoke and dust that had gathered near the mailbox. . .rather, where the mailbox had been. When she got closer, she could see that the truck’s right headlight was broken and its right side mirror torn off. The mailbox squatted on the truck’s hood, right on top of the Dodge medallion.

“Fred? Fred, where are you?” Ruth called, then peered into the truck. It was still running and looked drivable, so she climbed in, jammed the stick into reverse, and backed the thing away from the fire she could only assume was coming from Fred’s portable oxygen. A potent combination of fear and anger surged through her like a hot flash, leaving her forehead damp and her chest bright red. She leaped from the cab and yelled again.

“Damn it, Fred. Answer me.”

“Na way, lady. ‘E can’,” yelled an unfamiliar voice. Rage boiled up inside Ruth as she stomped across the road toward the voice. It was no longer raining paper, but the ground was covered with it. With every step she took, smoking bits of junk mail swirled up from beneath her feet.

When she reached the ditch, Ruth saw a teenaged boy on his hands and knees, clearly in position to throw up again. Fred was lying beside him, nestled in a bed of wild daisies, peaceful as could be. His clothes and hair were a bit singed and his head lay at a funny angle, but other than that, he might have been napping in a wildflower field.

“Oh my God. Fred?” Ruth dropped to her knees and laid her head on his chest. She couldn’t hear his heart beat and couldn’t see or feel him breathing. Thank God I brought my phone.

Ruth rolled onto her back, her head still on Fred’s chest, and fished her phone out of her pocket. She quickly dialed 911 and relayed the necessary information. After the dispatcher assured her that help was on the way, Ruth scrambled back to her knees and began pumping on his chest. Her CPR training from long ago had prepared her for emergencies, but not for emergencies involving her husband of 27 years. She pumped and breathed, pumped and breathed, but had no idea if she was doing it correctly. Not yet, Fred. Not now.

When the paramedics arrived, they immediately recognized Fred as a corpse. Two kind young men relieved Ruth of her futile task and a gentle young woman led her to the ambulance, where she offered her a drink of water and a clean cloth to wipe her streaming eyes. Ruth collapsed onto the back bumper of the ambulance, resting her head against its back door. She watched the proceedings as though from a great distance, both there and not there.

As the paramedics loaded Fred onto a stretcher, one exclaimed, “Jeesh, his clothes are burned, but he’s not. How’d that happen?”

Jared, the kid who hit Fred, replied, “Guess someone taught him Stop, Drop and Roll!”

No one wanted to laugh, but the truth of it was just so ridiculous. Clearly, Fred had been blown across the road, free of the oxygen canister. Judging by the swath of broken weeds, he rolled several feet after he hit the ground. The tall weeds, still wet from a morning rain, must have smothered the flames as he rolled. If the impact hadn’t broken his neck, he’d have walked away with a fine story to tell.

The paramedics turned away from Ruth and covered their mouths with their hands. At first, Ruth was outraged, but within a beat or two, she realized the absurdity of the situation and joined the others in guilty laughter. Jared laughed, full tilt, along with them. When the Rosemont police arrived to take charge, Jared was still laughing. The last Ruth heard from him was a muttered “Stop, Drop, and Roll” as one of the officers eased him into the back of the squad car. Ruth would forever wonder how long it took Jared to stop laughing.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

LOTO Tuesday

First and Foremost: Get out and VOTE!

Next, the most amazing thing happened last night while I was writing. A character--Fred--just flat refused to die the way I had in mind for him. Just refused. I tried to let him go with cirhoccis (sp??), but he just wouldn't have it. No matter how I approached it, the whole thing sounded wooded and false. Set the laptop aside and made a pot of tea. By the time the tea cooled, Fred was dead. In his very own, thoroughly interesting way, which only came through when I stopped trying to kill him my way. Now it's time to see if his death is interesting to anyone but me. Please let me know what you think:

In this snippet we're in the bathroom with Ruth. It's Advent and she's getting ready to go to church for a Reconcilation service. A lapsed Catholic, she hasn't ben to church in many, many years but someone told her about a church called St. Joan's where she might feel comfortable. Obviously, there will be lots more to this story since she hasn't even gotten to church yet, but Fred just insisted on dying last night. What's a girl to do?

PS: Thanks for the sharp eyes, Nancy. You were right about the name SNAFU. Gonna make a geneology chart for the characters soon as I get my huge new blackboard finished and hung. Projects, projects!!

Here goes:


Ruth took a long look in the mirror, a final check of her hair and make-up. Her hair, once gloriously, glossily auburn, had faded to salt-and-pepper gray, neither the shiny silver of her mother’s mid-life tresses nor the stubborn darkness her dad took to his grave. Instead, it was dull gray mixed with an almost-black brown that no longer held even a hint of red. Kept the temper, though! Unlike many other women her age, Ruth’s hair had remained thick and full. She kept it in a simple, easy-to-keep bob. Thank God she didn’t need a pouffy, mushroom-head style to camouflage thinning hair or to cover up her scalp. Nodding at herself, Ruth tucked a stray strand behind her left ear and leaned closer to the mirror to examine her skin. Pretty good.

Some of her friends struggled with age spots—hyper-pigmentation their dermatologists called it—but Ruth had been lucky. Same with wrinkles: She hardly had any other than a handful of tiny crinkles beside her eyes. Never thought I’d be happy I got stuck inside all those years. When her friends were watching their kids splash in the city pool, Ruth was helping students struggle through Thompson’s Piano for Beginners. When they were camping along the St. Croix or hiking up on the North Shore, she was accompanying choir practice or private voice lessons. Too busy making a living to sit in the sun.

Ruth turned sideways to look at her profile, and sighed. All those years on a piano bench didn’t do my hind end any good.!

Right after Fred’s funeral, Ruth couldn’t eat a thing; lost 25 pounds before she could turn around. Every night she warmed and then threw away another of the casseroles brought by loving neighbors, getting thinner and thinner every day. With no one expecting meals or nosing around the cabinets for a snack, she forgot to go to the grocery story for days—even weeks. When her stomach growled or her heart ached, she soothed herself with cup after cup of hot water with lemon. Every day or two, she’d drink a Coke just for the calories and promise herself to get to the store soon. Friends and the other teachers at school commented on the way clothes hung on her, but she ignored them all, just the way she tried to ignore the hole in her heart left by Phoebe’s absence at the funeral.

When the grief and guilt started to fade, Ruth’s appetite returned with a vengeance, and she took to eating her favorite comfort foods at every meal: macaroni and cheese, tortilla chips with black beans and melted cheese, toasted French bread and Nutella. Carbohydrates: the widow’s friend. Now she was back to her former weight, a number she’d fought against for two decades. You’d think I’d a stopped eating before it got this bad, damn it. She sucked in her stomach and looked at herself sideways again. No better’n Fred. Can’t quit chocolate any more’n he could quit beer. Wonder if they make Antaabuse for Mars Bars?

By the time Fred died, neither he nor Ruth could keep track of the times he’d quit drinking. Seriously quit. Totally quit. Sort-a quit. He’d done it all. Tried it all. Picked up a nicotine habit and a preference for strong, bitter coffee at AA meetings, learned the lingo of recovery at group counseling, took Antabuse when a district court judge said it was that or jail. Ended up puking his guts out on the floor of the Dakota County jail, begging to die.

In the end, Fred was killed by a drunk driver. In one of life’s richest ironies, the drunk driver was not Fred himself. Instead, a young kid in a bright red pick-up, high on testosterone and cheap beer, hit him one bright summer afternoon about 18 months after Fred's last drink. The impact knocked down both the man and the mailbox, then the explosion from his portable oxygen tank threw him all the way into the ditch on the far side of the road. He came to rest among the daisies, a surprisingly peaceful sight and a much less painful end than the slow suffocation his pulmonologist had predicted.

Monday, November 06, 2006

LOTO--Monday

My dear friend, Mystic Wing, recommended that I try to explain the structure I'm envisioning for my NaNoWriMo novel, Layers of the Onion. The stories I've been posting have been from that novel, as most of you know. It's kind of complicated to explain, but I'm pretty sure it will work when I get all the stories together. Here goes with an attempted explanation:

The front story is that the narrator, Meredith (who has much of my own story) and four women (Ruth, Carolina--Ro, Sarah, and Lynne) meet while waiting for airplanes. To Meredith, whose world is in shambles at the moment, they all seem perfect as they exchange very polite conversation and the surface, simple stories of their lives. As the wait drags on, bit-by-bit, each woman reveals more of herself and more of her true, deep stories. Each is struggling with something big, and in the end, although we won't know what anyone decides or how things turn out, we will see that each is strengthened by the sharing they experience, each heads off to her destination with the realization that everyone has challenges and that hers are manageable if she keeps faith with herself.

Each chapter will be anchored by the airport conversation and then spin off into a third person story of one of the women that's somehow sparked by the stories being shared in the airport. The third person stories will rotate from one woman to another until everyone's stories have played out. The ending I have in mind is pretty close to what happened to me in an airport one morning. It makes me cry just thinking about it. Very powerful.

Anyway, with all that in mind, here's today's story. It will fit into the center of Ruth's story from yesterday. After posting that snippet, I realized we needed to see why Ruth loves Fred so much she can't or won't take Phoebe and run for their lives. LIke so many women who stay in relationships with alcoholics, that's what she grew up with, what she knows. That's her backstory.

One last thing--I'm fascinated with the way the story is unfolding itself in my mind, with the process of it all. I've heard so many, many writers talk about how the characters surprised them, how they take over the story at some point. Oddly enough, that's beginning to happen to this non-fiction writer finding herself through fiction. Yesterday Ruth "told" me she's a music teacher. I hadn't known what her profession would be. Just sort of accidently (I know, I know--there are no accidents), I had used the words "You take my breath away," in dialogue between Ruth and Phoebe. When on a walk along a river near my house yesterday, the idea jumped into my head that Ruth and Phoebe would have a kind of game between themselves of using song titles in conversation and then the other one coming back with another . The songs have to be germain to the conversation and the game is to fit them in context. They'll use songs from the 40's and forward, they'll use country, jazz, pop--the whole gamut. Of course, that led to realizing that Ruth is a music teacher. These are not ideas that I had. They're realizations I came to, as though Ruth and Phoebe always were these people and have been waiting patiently for me to figure it out.

As Ro would say, Lawd mi Gawd, what a miracle!

I'm starting here a bit before Ruth's backstory, so you can see how the game works. Sure would appreciate any comments or suggestions about this. Think it works? No? Better way to go at it? Fill up that comment box, friends. I feel like you're the village and LOTO is the child we're raising together. God bless each of you and fill your lives with the same sort of grace you're sharing with me.

----------

“Oh, Sweetheart. ‘You Take My Breath Away,’” Ruth said.

“Good one, Mom.” Humming Queen’s new song under her breath, Phoebe pulled a rickety chair to the center of the room and stepped onto the seat. The chair wobbled, nearly throwing her to the floor. One of the plastic slides was missing, which made one leg shorter than the others. “Dad said he'd fix this!”

“He’s been real busy, Honey. Hold still." Ruth reached into the old fishbowl on the counter and pulled out a matchbook from the Pale Moon to put under the short leg.

“Yeah, real busy. Busy “Throwing It All Away.” Phoebe snorted, then began dancing and singing, channeling Phil Collins.

Just throwing it all away.
Yes, throwing it all away.
There’s nothing I can say.
We’re throwing it all away.


“Not funny.” Phoebe's singing fell off to humming. “Do you want me to do this or not? If you do, stand still.” Ruth had so hoped they could have a peaceful evening. She had a pot of chili on the stove and a plate of cheese and crackers waiting on the counter. Now they’d spent so much time arguing that Phoebe probably wouldn’t have time to do anything more than shimmy into her cheerleading uniform before she left for the bonfire. Ruth planned to hem the dress while Phoebe was at the ballgame and have it pressed and ready by the time Phoebe and her boyfriend, Dell, came home to change for the dance.

Ruth knelt in the floor, pushed the matchbook under the short leg, and stationed the pincushion beneath her right hand. She folded up a sizable hem before she noticed Phoebe’s feet were bare. “Nice toenail polish, Pheebs, but you’ve got to wear shoes or the hem won't be right.”

Phoebe slapped her forehead with the heel of her right hand in a pretty good imitation of Bart Simpson. “Duh!"

Ruth hated The Simpsons, hated the “Duh” thing, but decided to let it slide for once. They were so close to getting through the evening in one piece.

“Hang on,I’ll grab ‘em.” Phoebe leaped gracefully from the chair and dashed down the hall toward her room, still holding the dress in both hands.

While she was gone, Ruth traced the lines in the old, faded linoleum with a straight pin, thinking back to her senior year and the way Fred had been. Things were so different back then.

--

Eleanor Petrovski was better than a telegraph, better than a party line. Once she got hold of a story or a piece of information, she wore it like a fancy new hat designed to draw attention to herself. Well, I never! Walter Campbell stumbling out of the Pale Moon. Thought he was on the wagon. Fell off, I reckon. Suppose Nellie Peterson knows? Better stop by on my way home.

Eleanor turned the car toward Nellie’s house, where she was sure to get a warm welcome and maybe a piece of peach pie, if she was lucky.

Nellie had hardly gotten the tea on before Eleanor broke the news. “You’ll never believe what I seen, not half an hour ago,” she began.

“Try me.” Nellie was hungry for gossip, anxious for something juicy to break up the long dreary days of cooking and cleaning up after her husband and three boys.

“Well. . .”

The slam of the front door interrupted Eleanor. Glancing up, she recognized Fred, Nellie’s oldest boy, coming in from the hay field. It’s just Fred. Eleanor went right back to her story. “Walter Campbell just left the Pale Moon. Practically fell down the steps on his way out, and screeched out of the parking lot like a cat with his tail on fire.”

“Can’t be! Walter’s on the wagon. Ain’t he?” Nellie exclaimed.

“Not anymore, he ain’t. Smelled like a brewery when he stumbled past my car.”

The front door slammed again, and when Eleanor glanced up, she saw Fred’s back disappearing down the porch steps.

“What got into him?” she asked.

Nellie watched the dust cloud recede down the dirt road "He's sweet on the Peterson girl. No one in that family gets on very good when Walter’s in his cups. You sure he was drunk? “

“Sure's I can be. . . .”

Fred accelerated into the curves, holding the Olds on as straight a line as possible with its wonky steering. Ruth’s gonna need me.

When he reached the Peterson house, Walter’s car was parked out front, and Fred knew better than to go in. Instead, he drove straight to the old schoolhouse and plopped himself on the old merry-go-round to wait. There were two wooden merry-go-rounds in the schoolyard, and Fred liked the red one better than the white. It was smaller, turned faster, and didn’t have the safety rails of the white one. Made it easier to ease Ruth onto her back, where he could lie beside her. He knew she’d be here as soon as she could get out of the house. If she didn’t show up soon, he’d sneak into her yard as soon as it got dark. He felt better when he stayed where he could hear what was going on and could help if her father started hitting on her. He often imagined breaking down the door and carrying her out of that place, away from the drinking and the screaming and the pain, but so far Ruth had convinced him it would only make things worse in the long run.

Fred was thinking about all this when Ruth slipped onto the merry-go-round and settled herself under his right arm.

“Thought you’d be here. How’d you know?” she asked.

“Two guesses and the first three don’t count.”

“Eleanor Petrovski,” they whispered in unison.

Fred wrapped his arms around Ruth and drew her head onto his chest. “How bad was it?” He hated hearing about her father’s meanness but understood Ruth’s need to talk.

“He's gonna kill us someday. I just know it,” Ruth whispered.

“I’ll never let that happen. You turn 18 in few weeks. After we're married, no one will ever lay a hand on you again." Fred leaned back and back and back until he was lying flat on the dirty red boards with Ruth on top of him. She curled into him and rested her chin on the top of his shoulder.

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

“This" Ruth said, patting Fred's chest. "is the safest place in the world."