Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Little Pencil in the Hand of God

Searching for something else, I came across these words attributed to Mother Theresa:

I'm a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.

No coincidences, you know. These were the perfect words to introduce the work of a new friend, Prema, whom I met at the writer's workshop in Portland. Prema's blog River's Grace truly is a love letter to the world, particularly to the world of her young daughter, River.

Prema's work is poetic, inspirational, grace-filled, and wise. Please savor it and enJOY.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Really Slow Learner

My teacher, Jennifer Lauck, called me a good student on Sunday. Maybe. Maybe not. But I can tell you I am a slow learner. A very slow learner.

I've spent my life trying to please my mom, to make her proud of me, to be good enough for her. I'm 52 years old, and it hasn't happened yet. Why can't I figure out that it probably never will?

When I talked to her from Portland on Saturday, I told her it felt like Jennifer and Carrie and the women in the circle had handed me the keys to the Writing Universe. Typical me--so excited I could barely speak straight.

Then this morning I broke a cardinal rule of writing: I shared my work with my family. In his wonderful book On Writing, Stephen King says you write the first draft with the door shut (without showing it to anyone) and the second with the door open (showing it to a trusted circle when it's ready). My first draft of the piece I posted yesterday is long done. The second draft is the piece I workshopped on Sunday. The posted piece had been revised yet again, so I thought it was ready.

Again, maybe so, maybe not. Posting was fine—the blog world is full of trusted readers and I can delete comments if necessary. But by now, I should know better—far better—than to expect any validation from my mother. She's a wonderful woman in many, many ways, but praise does not rise naturally to her lips. Nor does objectivity. Criticism? Oh yeah, she can do criticism all day and into the night if you've got the stamina.

Over a cup of coffee at their house this morning, I read "Threadbare" to my mom and dad. When I finished, Dad asked if this was going to be part of a book, then assured it me it had the makings of a best seller. (Dad supplied the DNA for my natural optimism.)

Mom looked me straight in the eyes and asked, "Did you write this before or after you got the keys to the Universe?"

Still got that bullseye above my heart, I see.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Before and After

These few hours in Portland this weekend have changed my life.

Part of my post-divorce, cliche-ridden search for myself included a drawing class at a local college. There I learned that my life-long inability to draw was not the failure of eye-hand coordination I'd imagined it to be. No, it was a failure to observe, deeply observe, that led to my inability to recreate.

My teacher, Jennifer Lauck showed me the same holds true for writing. God truly is in the details. So is the story.

We workshopped a story from the blog. The before is here. This is the after. (Most of it, anyway. I didn't get all the way through the story for the workshop. Still, the part that's finished certainly demonstrates the power of Jennifer's teaching.)


I know he‘s there. I can’t see him, but I can feel him lurking in the shadows on the far side of the staircase. A sour pickle feeling ripples across my shoulders and down my arms. Every hair stands at attention, and I know.

The clock permanently ticking in my head tells me it’s about three in the morning. Maybe if I breathe slowly and keep rolling paint onto the dining room ceiling, he’ll go back to his room.

Szzzzz—Urrrrr. Szzzzzz—Urrrr. Back and forth, back and forth goes the roller, spreading bright paint and dim hope.

The roller’s trail gets sketchy, and I return it to the paint tray on the top step, the fuzzy part in the paint well and the handle carefully balanced on the edge. I shift my weight to my left leg and lean into the rickety top step. My unrestrained left boob bobbles into the tray, creating a white bullseye just above my heart.

That’s me, I think, a walking, talking target.

Outside, the world is insulated by a thick comforter of snow that softens the edges of the Kentucky limestone hemming the borders of my new gardens. That stone is a picture of my life with Bill. We live in Minnesota, where native stone is both abundant and lovely—the soft grays and mottled purples of river rock from the North Shore, for example. Still, nothing would do but that we import this stone. We paid not only for its sharp, hand-cut edges, but for the horse it rode in on. Well, the huge red semi-trailer truck and its slow talking, slow moving driver who charged by the hour as he spun tall tales and dumped tons of rock onto the front yard.

The bearnings of the roller frame squeal in protest. Maybe they’re tired, too.

Here in the dining room there’s nothing but me, my painting tools and supplies, and an urgent need for change. Tonight, I'm painting the ceiling. Soon I'll cover the blue walls with glossy black, obliterating his favorite color, erasing the traces of his presence.

In front of me, the darkened bay windows reflect Evan crouched on the stairs, just beyond the bleary circle of light cast by the shrouded chandelier. His newly thick gut strains at the front of a black Guns and Roses t-shirt, his fish-belly white legs stick out of sky-blue flannel boxers. I bought those boxers for him at The Gap a million years ago, back when we could still laugh together at cartoon penguins decked out in red-and-white hats and scarves.

Little Evan floats up behind my eyes. Three years old, he's wearing a gray sweatshirt with a turquoise Care Bear appliquéd on the front. Wish Bear, I think it is—the one with a cloud and a rainbow on its tummy.

He usually hated new clothes, but he pulled that shirt over his head the minute I finished the last stitch, before I’d even had a chance to clip any hanging threads or press the appliqué one last time. For as long as he could get it over his head, he wore that shirt nearly every day, relinquishing it only when the Bear needed a bath.

There, in my memory, he wears the Wish Bear sweatshirt and a smile that reaches beyond his lips, beyond his cheeks, all the way to the center of his being. His blue eyes, the sparkliest eyes I’ve ever seen, dance with delight and his feet do the same. His little body can scarcely contain the joy of the slightest thing—a leaf falling into the wagon as I pull him along the driveway, the wind in his face as I roller skate behind the stroller, playing hide-and-seek with a sock or a washcloth. He squirms and wriggles as his giggles launch themselves into the air, shimmering crystalline motes keeping time to a melody he alone can sing.

From the stairs, the whisper of cotton on flannel on skin tells me he’s moving. Standing, now.

Just keep painting, I tell myself. Just keep painting.

I can’t see them, but I know the look in his eyes: tiny, venom-filled pupils surrounded by flat, expressionless blue. No more dancing. No more joy. Only anger. Only hate.

As my arms move forward and back, forward and back, a familiar burn courses across my shoulders. Every muscle and sinew thrums with tension, vibrates with the effort of holding my fear in place. Every moment of every day, a cold flood of panic threatens to force its way up from my gut and out of my mouth in screams that will never stop if they find an opening in the ties that bind me together by a thread. By one thread.

A deep breath whistles through the gap at the front of his mouth where his front teeth once sat. The hiss tells me he’s taken out the flipper again. Damn it. How long will we look for it this time? He hates wearing it and won’t go to school without out it. Rock? Meet Hard Place. You guys are going to know each another well.

“Arf, arf, Mom. You really are a dog,” Evan’s low voice whips out of the shadows, hitting his target, dead center.

I drop the roller and grab the step to steady myself. The metal roller clatters on the hardwood, the plastic handle skids across the floor. Another mess to clean up.

“No wonder my dad left you.”

My hands. Just look at my hands. My fingernails are ragged, bitten off wherever they break or tear. Nearly every finger sports a hangnail, some bitten off so far back they bled, which explains the crusts of dried blood here and there. My cuticles haven’t been tended since Jesus was a baby and my skin is so dry it’s drawn up into maps of the strange land in which I now find myself.

I loosen my grip on the step and deliberately construct a neutral expression before turning to face him. (First survival rule: Never let an angry 11 year old see you sweat.)

“Evan, if you ever turn the force of your imagination to good, there’ll be no stopping you.” I’m proud of how even—almost cheerful—my voice sounds. “That may be the most inspired bit of meanness I’ve ever heard!”

Off the steps now, Evan slouches into the room. His bare feet slap the hardwood as he walks. Stomps, really: anger on the hoof. His light brown hair is standing up every which direction, a collection of cowlicks, a concert of chaos. The skull on his shirt gleams white, the roses bleed red. How I wish for a rainbow.

“Well, it’th true. You’re fat and you’re ugly and your hair ith awful.” The cavernous hole between his teeth swallows his s’s.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Spreading Hope

Arrived in Portland and checked into the hotel. With a couple of hours to kill, thought I'd catch up on a few of my favorite blogs. Found the most amazing, inspiring post I've read in a long time on The Believing Soul. Here's a link to the post.

Do yourself a favor: go read it. Forward the link to anyone you know who's struggling or dancing with their shadows. Send it to teenagers you love. Wherever and for whomever hope is necessary, this post will shine a Light.



Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Headed to a writer's workshop at the end of the week, and it feels as though words have desserted me. Instead of the stories and ideas that have been running through my head since the novel idea was born, all I hear are doubts about my abilities and questions about what in the hell I think I'm doing trying to write fiction. Hell,, trying to write anything beyond the boundaries of the niche I've carved for myself.

I need to select three pieces and copy them for the workshop and nothing seems right. Nothing seems good enough.

Not good enough. It's the story of my life. There is no end to the grief I've caused myself by feeling not good enough. On the other hand, I've accomplished quite a bit while desperately trying to become good enough.

The yin and yang of it.

I'm wallowing in the panic a bit, I fear. (HaHa. I fear. Oh yes, I do. Funny how that word just danced off my fingers before my head realized what I was saying.)

I'll right myself soon and write something to post here.

Meantime, namaste to you all.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: Stopping Time

This prompt really got under my skin. I've been pondering it since early Saturday morning, considering what I would do if I could freeze time. After lots of thought, I simply have to admit that I wouldn't stop time, even if I could.

The opportunity to think this through comes after a week of no sleep, too much to do, and not enough time to do it. At some point while mentally bemoaning all I needed and wanted to do, it struck me how tremendously lucky I am to live such an interesting and varied life. In response to all that calls me, I bounce out of bed each morning, eager to take on the day's challenges and wrap myself in its comforts. I find myself wordlessly pleased by a soothing cup of tea mid-morning, charmed by life on the pond, and generally content despite the low-level chaos that surrounds me.

When I consider my relationship to time in contrast to many people—some of whom I know personally—for whom time hangs heavily each day, my main feeling is one of immense gratitude. The hours and days DO move too swiftly, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Although time doesn't stop, my personal hard drive holds hundreds of freeze frame memories that I take out and look at from time to time, like treasures from a box. Here are a couple of them.

• My son's appearance at Grand March before prom in his junior year of high school. Prom was on our birthday that year, and seeing him participate in such a normal rite of passge was one of the greatest gifts I ever received. From my seat in the bleachers, surrounded by parents for whom this was an important but not unexpected event, I watched The Boy escort his lovely date, Emily, to the flower covered arch in the center of the school gym. They paused for photos, then turned and walked away as all the other couples had done. But after all The Boy had been through, this was a most unexpected and treasured turn of events, and I sobbed silently as I tried not to miss a moment of his glory. I can still see the royal blue curtain fluttering softly behind the arch, the lights reflecting off the bald head and glasses of the teacher annoucing the couples, the red carpet leading to the white arch, the glint of sequins from Emily's fairy-tale gown, the dull glow from The Boy's perfectly polished shoes. Most of all, I see the light of pride in his eyes as he smiled for the cameras. That light never dims, never dies, and never will as long as I live to remember it.

• A lunch The Girl and I shared one spring day when she was 16 or so. We sat on the patio of a local eatery, soaking up the sun and warmth as sun-starved Minnesotans tend to do come spring. We were talking about the possibility of contacting her birth mother, who has always made it clear that she welcomes and hopes for such a thing. In response to my question, The Girl said, "Not yet. I don't think I'm ready yet, not mature enough yet. But someday I'll be ready and when I am, you'll help me."

When I think of this moment, I can call back the smell of hamburgers on the grill mixed with the fragrance of lilacs and car exhaust. I can feel the weak spring sunshine and the slight warmth provided by the navy-blue cotton napkin on my lap. I can see The Girl's blonde curls falling over her shoulders and the fuzzy green turtleneck she wore. I also see the maturity and wisdom and trust reflected in her green/gray eyes. I was so proud that my daughter knew herself well enough to say "Not yet," and knew me well enough to know I would do whatever was best for her, whenever she wanted.

• A night The Wasbund and I spent at a friend's cabin, many years ago. We gathered around a fire in the yard and a couple of the guys played guitars and sang. As we sat under the stars, listening to the soft lap of the lake on the shore 20 feet away, we were warmed by the fire and by the glow of true friendship and comraderie. The good fortune of being part of that charmed circle never ceases to amaze me, and I can still feel the dew gathering in the cool of the evening, can still hear the crackle of the fire, the distant whine of mosquitos and chirp of crickets. If I concentrate, I can still see friends' faces in the flickering light and hear their voices as they sang or hummed along. Magic.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

City Market

I have longed to photograph fruits and vegetables at the City Market for SO long. This morning I got my wish. LOVE the new camera. LOVE playing with color and light. More to come. Lots to learn but I'm on my way!!!!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Mudgy* Morning

Nothing is clear this morning because so much is running through my head. Here's a small sampling.

• ALS is an insidious, frightening disease. Researching it, I am inspired to contribute to the fight somehow.

• The working title of my NaNoWriMo novel is Layers of the Onion, which I've come to call and think of as LOTO. This work I'm doing, this writing I'm contemplating makes me as happy as though I've won the Lotto. Should I be so lucky as to win the publishing lotto (find a publisher for it), a portion of the proceeds will go to ALS research.

• Claiming what I want (a la Mr. Frasier), perhaps I should say WHEN I find a publisher but fear that might fall into the category of hubris. That damn balance thing again. Enough and not too much: Never can figure that out.

• I spent a remarkable afternoon with my mother yesterday. We laid on her bed, almost without talking, listening to the music of her teenage years. It was one of the most peace-full, joy-full experiences of my life, a demonstration of the enormous power of forgiveness.

• When I was a teen-ager, my mom cursed me with the words, "I hope someday you have a daughter, and I hope she's exactly like you."

• I often bless my daughter with the exact same words. Ahhhh, the power of Intention.

• Said good-bye to the annuals on my deck yesterday, before the expected freeze of last night. Here's a photo of the gorgeous mandevilla that has graced me with abudant blossoms and lush foliage all summer long.

• The space you see left of the blossom, the thing that looks like a window? That's a reflection from the pond. Which is a window, in its own way. I've learned so much watching life reflect on my little pond.

More, hopefully clearer, thoughts later. Almost ready to sketch out the fourth character, but haven't quite gotten a handle on her yet.

* Thanks to Joan Didion for this excellent word from her excellent book The Year of Magical Thinking,

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Thirteen Moons

Bought Charles Frazier's (of Cold Mountain fame) new book Thirteen Moons for my father to read during Mom's surgery last week. (Yeah, like that worked! He couldn't read. He couldn't even figure out which way to hold the book.)

Anyway, late at night, after I've had all the fun I can manage for the day, I'm reading it a bit at a time. Last night's installment brought this sentence:

In that new country, it began to be my understanding that getting what you wanted was largely a matter of claiming what you wanted.

In that one, lucious sentence Mr. Frazier captured what all my rambling about Paula failed to really get a hold on yesterday.

If you love the skillful use of lanuage, don't let The Washington Post's review put you off this book. If I could, I'd eat his words with a spoon—a demi-tasse spoon, so they would last longer.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Soup that Launched a Novel

Some of you know I participate in Sunday Scribblings. Last week the prompt was an assignment to observe someone out in public, then describe the person and imagine what kind of fictional character they might be and how you might use them.

Those of you who have been following along also know how much I admire fellow blogger, Corey Amaro. Several weeks ago I discovered Corey's recipe for tomato soup and went crazy for it. Seriously. Crazy. I make it two or three times a week, and it was the demand for fresh vegetables for Corey's soup that sent me to the City Market, where I discovered the girl who became the character named Sarah.

The response to my Sunday Scribbling changed my life.

I know, I know. I tend to exaggerate at times. This is NOT one of those times.

As blogger after blogger took the time say they liked the story and to ask what happened to Sarah, as my tracking software showed me how many times people came back to see if I had continued the story, an idea formed itself in my head (thanks again, Suzy) and the determination to write a novel for NaNoWriMo was born.

Now I'm posting the first picture from my new digital camera. Fittingly, it's of the The Soup simmering on the stove.

How much do I love blogging and bloggers?

More than this soup!!!!


Here's Corey's recipe with a few modifications. Here's a link to the original.

Tomato Soup

Saute two yellow onions in olive oil, until their yellow turns to gold. Add some chopped celery. Let their leaves join the party. A dash of salt, and a couple of carrots, washed but not naked. (I toss in some chopped red pepper, too.)

Take the tomatoes in their tender red skin, slice them in half and add them to the soup pot. (I use 6 or 8. More if they're Romas, which tend to be small.) Cover with water (I use chicken stock) and a lid.

When you hear the soup talking, turn the volume down. Let the ingredients share their story, let them slowly simmer.

Blend smooth and serve with a dollop of cream fraiche. (Be careful when you blend the soup. Don't fill the blender more than half full or hot soup will blow all over you and the kitchen. [Yeah, I did. Three times!] And if I put anything at all on this delicious stuff, it's sour cream. Cream Fraiche is tough to come by here in the US.)

Take a bowl, a spoon, a glass of white wine, (the whole bottle if you are so inclined,) a baguette, and go outside, to sit and eat on the garden step!

Paula and Me

I drive a little butter-colored VW Bug convertible named in honor of Paula Deen, the formerly agoraphobic Food Network star who overcame her fears to trot the globe, leaving a trail of Southern-fried charm in her wake.

Paula (the car, not the person) is pretty close to perfect, but I can't close her top by myself. Don't know whether it's because she's so new and stiff (as opposed to me, who's old and stiff) or because something's wrong, but it's impossible to get the top closed without someone else pulling down on it.

I leave the top down all the time unless it's raining. Driving through the countryside, especially at night, is one of the great joys of my life. Only trouble is, since I live alone I have to keep one eye on the weather forecast and plan ahead to make sure I get Paula's top closed before it rains.

Monday afternoon I blew it. I was so preoccupied with the novel that I didn't pay any attention. Tuesday morning I ended up driving over to Mom and Dad's in the rain with the top down. This isn't as disastrous as it sounds. Due to some strange law of physics, you don't get wet as long as you're going at least 25 miles an hour, assuming the rain's just rain and not a downpour. Stoplights are a pain, though.

You should have seen the looks I got, tooling along in a steady rain with the top down and my little doggie watching out the windows. Can't you just hear the stories those people told later. "You should have seen the nutcase I passed this morning. . . ."

Anyway, I actually had a point when I started this ramble. You see, I almost missed the opportunity for all this fun. For 25 years, I drove Mom cars--mini-vans and SUVs. For several years I'd been looking forward to driving something smaller, but with the expenses of moving and getting my daughter into college, it wasn't in the cards.

Gasoline got ridiculously expensive and seeing the numbers rise as I filled up the tank on my SUV practically set off panic attacks. Then my brother traded his SUV for a VW Bug convertible. I was sold the moment he let me slip behind the wheel. I've never been a car person: As long as it's safe, reliable, and available 24/7, I'm good. But I LOVED that Bug convertible. When I lamented over not being able to buy one, my brother suggested I do the math. The difference in gas for the Bug vs. the SUV would pay for the thing, he said. Turned out he was right. Three days later I brought Paula home.

Finally, finally, we've come to the heart of the matter. For a very long time, I wanted something I didn't think was possible. My mind was simply closed to the idea and so I didn't properly assess or evaluate it. I believed I couldn't buy a different car and so I couldn't. It was only when I opened my mind that I could figure out it was not only possible, but a good idea.

Now I drive around town in the rain, entertaining the neighborhood and myself. I smile every single time I get into the car and strangers smile and wave at me all the time. People comment on Paula everywhere I go. And all this costs me less each month than driving a nondescript, gas guzzling behemoth I didn't enjoy in any way.

Good things show up when you believe in them, when you make yourself available to them. A closed mind or a closed heart presents a barrier that nothing can penetrate, not even something as small (in the grand scheme of things) as a darling little Bug convertible. Or, in Paula's case (the person, not the car) as big as a restaurant, several national tv shows, and a magazine with her name and face on it.

It's a lesson I have to be taught over and over, but I know this to be true: Opening your heart and mind changes everything.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

It's a Wonderful Life

It's raining here on the pond this morning, but it's a welcome rain.

Once again, I feel enchanted. AT 52, I am living the life I've always imagined. OK, there is no handsome prince and I would welcome that addition even more than rain, AND I still worry about money, but there are SO many other good things. Really Good Things.

After decades of avoidance, I am writing fiction and finding that ideas spool out of me. That thing I thought I didn't have--the ability to create characters out of whole cloth--it's not necessary. Maybe no one has it. Maybe every writer takes a snippet from one person they know or have seen and stitches it to a snippet from someone else. Maybe everyone's characters are patchwork quilts sewn from scraps of their life's experiences. I don't know that, but I DO that I can do it that way. AND I know that this is the most motivated, the most energized I've been in many, many years.

Blogging has enriched my life beyond imagining. I've met so many brilliant, loving people (some only in cyberspace, others in actual space as well). The sum total of talent on any given blog roll could power the turning of the Earth if necessary. (Yesterday I didn't know what hyperbole was and now I ARE one, as they say down home). Seriously, I am in awe of the talent out there. And seeing the risks others are taking encourages me to move out from behind my protective shields and TRY. I may make a fool of myself, but it won't be the end of the world. People will help me figure out where I went wrong and I'll try again.

So simple. So freeing. So new to me.

Unfortunately, I still have to do the work that pays the bills. And Mom needs more care than we anticipated after her surgery. And friends are going through bad times.

Last week I took a load of staples to a friend whose husband had just come home to hospice care—things like paper towels and coffee and trash bags. Everyone there was holding up well, carrying themselves bravely and lovingly. But when I walked in with a Costco bale of toilet paper, my friend's sister fell apart, sobbing and snorting and struggling to breathe. When she finally got hold of herself, she said, "I can't stand it. RH is dying, but we still need toilet paper."

Later I came to understand what she meant. No matter what happens, no matter how starkly awful or how great the loss, the world goes right on turning. People keep shitting. They keep needing toilet paper. The pain we feel doesn't stop the world.

That's tough. It's also wonderful. No matter how bad things get, Life keeps going. The sun rises and the sun sets. We get another chance at life, at love, at screwing up or doing well or something in between. Some day our personal chances will end, but the rest of the world will still need toilet paper.

Gotta take yourself a little lighter when you realize that, don't ya think? Gotta steep yourself in gratitude for the NOW. I do, anyway.


Been thinking about Carolina, the gorgeous Jamaican woman. I think most of her friends call her Ro. She's smart and sweet on the surface but fierce when crossed. Her looks may be the first thing people notice about her, but they're the last thing she thinks about. Her perfect posture and lithe body make whatever she puts on look as though it were made for her, but she doesn't care much about clothes. She is, though, mad for shoes now that she can walk again. The higher the heel, the more outrageous the color and style, the more she likes them. Although she wears mostly black in these days of her mourning, she can't help slipping into her brightest, most outrageous shoes.

Two or three years before the airport morning, Ro was in a car accident. Between the two cars, 8 people were involved. All 7 of the others were killed, including Ro's fiance (whose name I'm not sure of yet, but it may be Wade). Ro herself was badly injured—in a coma for many months and hospitalized for almost a year before moving to a rehabilitation facility where she was taught to walk again. For the first months after she awoke from the coma, she couldn't even stand on her rebuilt legs. She has so many pins and plates holding those legs together that, stark naked, she sets off the airport security sensors and theft-detection systems in stores. After a humiliating experience trying to fly home to Jamaica the first time, she now carries notarized letters from her doctor explaining the situation.

She can maintain her perfect figure despite the crap she eats because she now runs 7 miles every morning. One mile for each one who can no longer run for themselves. She runs as a meditation. She runs as a prayer. She runs in thanks for the simple ability to put one foot in front of the other.

Although it's been several years, she's only now beginning to mourn the loss of her fiance. For a long time, she continued to believe there had been some horrible mistake and any minute now he would appear at the door of her hospital room and gather her into his arms. You see, to her eye he had been sitting beside her laughing at some piece of her silliness one minute and disappear-o-ed the next. Vanished. Forever, they kept telling her.

The funeral had taken place while she was lost in that dark place she remembers but can't quite define or describe (the coma). There was no chance to see his body, no time to say good-bye. There was only here and not here. Ever. Again.

Ro is from Chicago and is returning home after meeting the man who received her fiance's heart after the accident. They've been corresponding over the internet for almost a year, and she's at least half in love with him. Or, she was until she met him. When she laid her head on his chest and heard Wade's heart beating inside, she wanted to run screaming from the room. He is so kind and so loving. But he's also Wade and not Wade, all wrapped in the body of a stranger.


So, guys, that's her dilemma. Mine is learning a bit of the patois of the Jamaican language. Anyone out there from Jamaica? Know anyone from Jamaica who would talk with me on the phone or internet? More than anything, I want to get the rhythm of the language down before I start trying to write dialogue.

The bits I've done here on the blog are the only dialogue I've ever written, so that should be interesting. Even without the whole hey-Jerri-let's make-this-harder-by-choosing-characters-with-major-accents thing I've got going on.

But this is the story I feel unfolding. What's a girl to do?

Monday, October 09, 2006


I was wrong about the name for the grandmother's character. She's not Monica, she's Ruth. And she will be a fallen away Catholic who blames her faith for her decisions to stay with a hurtful man. DecisionS because she decided over and over to forgive, to try to forget, to let his people be her people and his God be her God.

She was hurt when her when her daughter walked out of her life, but anger and remorse swamped her after the husband's death from cirrhosis. She no longer believes she was following God's will but was instead taking the easy road. It will be after a visit to St. Joan of Arc, the first time she's stepped foot inside a church in 9 years, that she finds the courage to call her daughter and apologize. She will have had the tremendous luck to be there on a Sunday when a wonderful Gospel singer was performing, backed by the choir. They will have done a sort of medley of peace songs. The Gospel singer will shake the rafters with "Let there be peace on earth, let this be the moment now. With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow. . . ." Behind her, the choir will whisper, "All we are saying, is give peace a chance."

When the chorus swells, the congregation will break into wild applause and join the choir. Ruth will stand along with the others around her, but she won't be able to sing through her sobs. After a few minutes, the strangers on either side of her will take her hands and she will feel their strength and love entering her. Together, the three of them will raise their arms above their heads, swaying back and forth together and triumphantly shouting, "All we are saying, is give peace a chance."

Ruth will call her daughter from the parking lot. She will be shocked when she finds out that despite all the angry words that have passed between them, her daughter wants reconciliation as much as she does.

Writers are so often told to write what they know. I know this church. I know the power of its people and its music. I know the pain of estrangement. I have felt the healing power of a stranger's touch.

I promise not to keep posting this stuff, but right now it's just bursting out of me, begging to be written down somewhere. It was after hearing a news report about North Korea's testing that I began to hear "Give peace a Chance" in my head and knew the song was asking to be part of my story.

Om. Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.
(Peace. Peace. Peace.)

The Plot Thickens

Now that's I've committed myself to NaNoWriMo (and probably should be committed elsewhere), the plot for the novel is unwinding itself in front of me. This is the most fun I've had in YEARS. (Well. . .with my clothes on, anyway.)

With sincere gratitude to Suzy Pafka who first encouraged me to write this story, the novel will be based on something that happened to me about 10 years ago. Sitting in the Minneapolis airport after missing a plane to KC, I was surrounded by several lovely, perfect looking women whose flight to Chicago was seriously delayed. We got to talking and, one at a time, the women shared the remarkable stories of their lives. At first, it was just airport chit-chat. Then, one secret was revealed which emboldened another woman to share, and then another.

It turned out that each of these gorgeous, seemingly perfect women were facing major, major challenges in their lives. The reasons they were visiting Chicago were as varied and fascinating as could be. With Sarah (the Amish girl from my Sunday Scribbling) thrown in for good measure, the stories they told that morning will form the skeleton of the novel.

Just at this very second, I came up with a working title: Layers of the Onion.

That morning in the airport taught me, once again, that everyone has a story. It reminded me that the only "normal" people are the ones you don't know well, that "perfect" is an unfair, unknowable label to put on a person. We come to know others as they're peeled bare to us, one layer at a time.

Here are the characters:

Narrator: Basically, me. 40ish woman traveling to visit her parents to be cared for. A little respite in the midst of an ugly divorce and an enormous battle for the health and safety of her son who was seriously injured in a car accident not long ago.

Lynn: A partner with her husband in a small construction company, she's traveling to Chicago to tape a segment of the home improvement show for which she's a host. When we discover her motivation for auditioning for the show and the dilemma she's facing at the moment, we no longer envy her pert blonde perfection.

Carolina: A gorgeous Jamaican woman in her late 20's who eats junk food throughout the wait. Her perfect figure despite her eating habits is one of the sparks for the conversation. She's traveling to meet a man with whom she's been corresponding on the internet. As the reasons for their amazing connection are revealed, our hearts ache for her.

Sarah: Our Amish friend from the Sunday Scribbling is now near the end of her Rumspringer. While living in Minneapolis she's become good friends with the owner of the coffee house where she works. She's on her way to Chicago where her friend's father, an opthamologist, will do lasic surgery on her eyes. After the surgery,she's hoping to see clearly enough to know which way to turn.

Monica: A pleasant, middle-aged woman on her way to meet her grandchildren for the first time. She's recently begun to reconcile her relationship with their mother, her only child, and with herself. Married for years to an abusive alcoholic, neither she nor her daughter can forgive her for not walking away before damage was done to their hearts and lives.

Each woman will tell her own story in her own voice. Those stories will be based on stories the real women told that morning, but they'll be embroidered beyond recognition. And Sarah, of course, is mostly a figment of my overactive (!!) imagination.

I'm anxious to know what you guys think of this idea, so comment away. Especially if you DON'T like or DON'T understand something here. I won't start writing until November 1, but it's not cheating to work out the plotline and details now. At least, I don't think so. If anyone disagrees, I'd like to hear that, too.


Feeding the Machine

I was totally serious when I said fiction has chased me through my dreams for decades. Since 11, when I read Little Women and fell in love with Jo and with the idea of writing, I've longed to make up stories and felt inadequate to the task. The Dream probably started not long afterward that desire was born.

In The Dream, something interesting is happening. That is, a story of some sort is unfolding and I am watching, aware that I am dreaming. At some point in the story, a voice—always the same voice—suggests that I write stories. My reply is always the same, too. That I can't write fiction, am not capable of making up stories.

The voice then asks, "Why not? You're making this up and it's pretty damned interesting!"

The Dream visits me at least once a month and has since I was 11 freakin' years old! Somtimes it shows up night after night, until I'm so tired I can't function during the day. When I hit the wall, it leaves me in peace just long enough to regain my strength.

Having decided to try my hand at fiction, I did not have The Dream last night. Instead, I dreamed about how much I need more sleep. I swear my psyche is trying to gear up for the task ahead. I've been running on 3 to 4 hours a night lately. Not near enough for anyone, let alone a 52-year-old woman with a fair amount of stress in her life and a lot of people depending on her.

In addition to commiting myself to the NaNoWriMo project, I've committed myself to sheparding my strength. From now on, I will allow myself to write only on days when I have walked at least three miles. As I want to write almost as much as I want to breathe, this commitment will get me out the door.

My yoga kula has embarked on an autumn cleanse and yoga immersion. I'm off white flour, sugar, caffeine, and processed foods for the next three weeks but will try to extend that as long as possible.

Got to feed the machine. Plenty of rest + Exercise + Nutritious food = The Ability to DO THIS CRAZY THING.

Wish me luck, as I do all who participate.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Sarah, Part II

My deepest thanks to all who asked what happens to Sarah. I'm not yet sure except for this: she's currently packing to move into the novel I'm going to write for NaNoWriMo. Yep, that's right. With one small snippet of fiction under my belt, I'm going to try this.

Who's a black and white person?

Not me! I'm a yoga-loving, meditation-sitting, Buddhist-leaning kind of girl who seeks the middle way in all things. ( I said SEEKing, not FINDing. They're not the same things, people!)

Seriously, your encouragement has pushed me to make a commitment to a task that has been chasing me for decades, even through my dreams: writing fiction. Resistance is futile. But that's not a white flag I'm waving, it's a blank sheet of paper.

Can't wait to see what happens next.

Sunday Scribbings: Character Sketch

The City Market in Kansas City, MO is filled with fascinating people. None more so than a tightly wound Amish girl of about 12 to 13 who intently observes the world from behind her table of homegrown flowers and slow cooked foods.

Although the majority of the Amish folks at the market seem to have dark hair, this young woman's hair is the sort of ash brown that trendy girls highlight into blonde. It is drawn in a simple bun, which is protected from view by a prayer cover, a half-bonnet of translucent white fabric shaped by tiny pleats and held in place by pins. Its short, narrow strings fly free in the breeze.

She is slight, almost frail, and her enormous blue eyes are all but hidden by thick lenses encased in close-to-clear plastic frames. Those coke-bottle-bottom lenses magnify the differences between her world and the one walking past her table. Her fleeting smiles reveal a surprise—braces on her teeth—but it takes several minutes to be sure because the smiles are so brief and the flashes of metal so small.

Her simple pale blue dress stops just below her calves, so we are afforded a view of her black stockings and sturdy black shoes. The dress is covered by a white apron and, because it is a chilly morning, by a dark blue jacket with pockets at the side seams. Her jacket fits her form closely rather than hanging from her shoulders like a sack in the way of most of the other Amish women at the market.

The pockets of her jacket reveal the girl's secret dreams. So does her right foot.

When not conducting business, her hands—hidden in the depths of her pockets—keep time to the music drifting across the market from a nearby jazz combo. Not tapping or clapping, mind you. No, her hands tremble to the beat; movements so slight they're no more than a fervent wish. Her right foot is braver than her hands. It taps out the Morse code of her desire to dance, to twirl on her own or in the arms of a man.

If she were a character, her name would be Sarah. One of her personality quirks would be that she refuses to touch celery in any way. (Planting celery is an important part preparing for an Amish wedding.) November, the month of weddings, would be the cruelest month for her, a harbinger of things to come. She would keep a secret countdown toward her Rumspringer, the year in which she will be allowed to explore the world of the English before choosing (or not) to be baptized and join the community. She would be torn between wanting time to fly toward those months of "freedom" and wanting it to crawl toward the end of her days at school.

Sometime after she turned 16, Sarah would make that sojourn into the outside world. Shortly after arriving, she would find herself unaccountably craving celery. She would eat it with peanut butter for breakfast, sauteed with onions and peppers for lunch, and braised with roast beef for dinner. She would be embarassed to remember herself once shoveling Campbell's cream of celery soup into her mouth straight from the can.

She would find the music for which she once longed painfully electrifying and eventually retreat into silence. Dancing would mystify her and the exploring hands of boys annoy her. The library, though, would be heaven on earth. She would collect reading lamps in all sizes and shapes and revel in staying up late to read through the night.

When her year drew to an end, Sarah would be paralyzed with indecision. The choice she once thought so simple would turn out not to be simple at all. She would ask herself whether the pull toward joining the community was simply the lure of the known over the unknown or a calling toward her true home. She would question the value of buttons and zippers. She would, in the way of all women, dislike her body in "fashionable" clothes, and the jeans she once yearned for would rub the tender insides of her thighs raw.

Sarah would, however, adore driving a car. She would be fascinated with dishwashers and clothes washers and microwave ovens. She would be surprised by how much time can be eaten up by things she hadn't known to want, like electronic Yahtzee and text messaging. Her favorite spot, other than the library, would be a corner table at a Chinese restaurant, from which she could watch people picking up their take-out orders while talking impatiently into their cell phones and consulting their DayTimers.

The need to hurry would sit on her soul like a canker sore.

To find more Sunday Scribblings, go here.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Opera Pink and Azure

The sky is impossibly beautiful today: opera pink cloud wisps floating on azure blue.

Unfortunately, the only way I have to capture it is with words and memory. I do not own a camera. I've bought them for my mother and both my children, but not myself. Seems too indulgent somehow.

The City Market in Kansas City is the most glorious Farmer's Market I've ever seen. Every week I long to photograph the produce and the flowers. Even the chickens and bunnies in season. But I can't. Or don't, because I do not buy myself a camera.

The first thing I'm going to do in keeping with my vow to live as fully as possible is to rectify this situation. Translation: gonna go buy me a digital camera, folks. Off to do some internet research right now. Will hit the store soon as the doors open. Then, it's Look Out World. I'm gonna snap some shutters and take me some PICTURES.

Being good to oneself is so rarely about buying things. Come to think of it, this isn't either, really. It's about encouraging self-expression. It's about playing with light and color. Now that, that's worth the price of one digital camera. At least I'm pretty sure it is.

Again, my heartfelt thanks for your prayers and notes. My friend is holding herself with the grace and dignity that comes from true inner peace. Mom continues to do well. I continue to be amazed by the loving kindness of the blogospHERe.

All We Need Is Love.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Richness of Life

My deepest gratitude to all who have been praying for my friends and for my mother. My mother continues to do well. My friend's husband just left this world and entered his journey to the next.

I ask that you join me in sending prayers and deep wishes for inner peace and strength for his wife and family and in a vow to not squander a single moment of our precious existence.

Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

The Power of Love

We've already had some interesting experiences with Mom's surgery and recovery.

Before you can understand what I'm about to describe, you have to know that in my family, I'm the strange one. The flake. I think too deeply, care too much, try too hard and cry too easily. The rest of my family consists of straight forward, get it done types whose lives are filled with literal tasks and liberal politics. Here's the snapshot: I passed the time during Mom's surgery writing stories; the others did Sudoku.

Okay, with that out of the way, I'll tell you a story.

Mom and Dad have been married for more than 54 years. They started dating when Mom was 14 and Dad was 17 and have never really been apart except for the years my dad was in the Marine Corps. Although they fuss and spat from time to time, they are the most devoted couple I've ever known. Almost pathologically connected.

Dad and I took Mom to the surgery center yesterday and waited while she was dressed and prepped for surgery. When given approval, Dad sat with her until the moment they wheeled her off to the operating room. I met him at the double doors in front the the operating suite and walked him back to the waiting area. My dad, normally a ramrod straight, 6'4" Marine, leaned on me as though I were a cane just to make it 50 feet down the hall, literally staggering under the burden of his fear.

My sister, her husband, her son joined us for the vigil. At some point I got Dad to eat something, but mostly he sat, starring into space and fretting.

Hours passed. The waiting room had been filled at the beginning of Mom's surgery. We were the only ones still there by 4:30 or so.

We all wondered why it was taking soooo long, but none of us voiced our fears. Finally, the nurse in the office beyond the waiting area called out Mom's name. Five heads jerked toward her in unison. She told us the phone on the wall around the corner was going to ring and that the call was for us.

Dad looked pinned to his chair. I don't think he could have moved if the building had burst into flames. My sister looked at her son. Her son looked at her. My brother-in-law looked at the ceiling.

So I, the strange one, the least capable one, the one who always steps aside as the strong ones rush forward, I stood and walked toward the alcove where a black phone was suspended on a gray blue wall. It took forever to cross those 10 or 12 feet. Moving like an automaton, I braced myself and picked up the receiver. A thought about how unlikely it was for me to be the one flitted through my mind before I spoke my name into its depths.

A cheery voice identified itself as belonging to the OR nurse we'd met earlier. Melanie explained that the surgeon had asked her to call and let us know that Mom was doing fine but that the surgery was taking longer than anticipated because her problems were more extensive than he had realized. She assured me that everything was going well despite the time-consuming nature of the repairs.

As I listened, I mouthed "She's ok" toward my nephew, who had a clear view from his seat. He, in turn, tried to reassure my dad, but Dad could not even open his eyes while he awaited the news. After thanking the nurse and asking her to thank the doctor for us, I returned to the waiting area to spread the word.

Dad was slumped in a chair, his elbows resting on his knees and his head buried in his palms. My sister, the eldest, the one who can find a way to do anything, watched me cross the room. When I repeated the nurse's words, everyone burst into tears.

When Mom awoke later, Dad returned to her bedside to hold her hand until she could be released. When the time came, he folded her gently into their car and took a seat beside her. The nurse had judged him too shook up to drive safely, so my sister chauffered them home.

The thing is, they truly are home whenever and wherever they're together. It's not always good. It's not always easy. But it's always home.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Feeding the Wolf

The sky is filled with low, undulating clouds that look like hammered silver. It reminds me of the beauty of things that go through incredible stresses and pressures. Diamonds. Molten metals. People.

The beloved husband of a friend is dying. Ten years ago, RH fell from a billboard he was putting up. One of his vertebrae was crushed in the fall, and he became paralyzed from just below his armpits to his toes. He did not become bitter. Neither did DH, his wife. Instead RH became an artist, and they both became yogis.

Until recently, when pressure sores made it impossible for him to sit in a chair, RH was an enthusiastic yogi, according to our mutual teacher. What an amazing thing that is. This courageous man allowed others to help him in such a way that his mind and heart could expand through the practice of yoga. His must have been a very large heart from the start.

Yesterday DH sent word to our yoga kula (community) that Rich has come from the hospital to the care of hospice. When I stopped by later that morning to bring some necessities, she told me about a story from The Tao of Willie Nelson that she and RH had read during his hospitalization.

According to Native American legend, each of us carries two wolves inside us. One is filled with anger and hate and bitterness; the other with peace and love and grace.
As a grandfather explained this to his grandson, the grandson was filled with awe. The boy asked which wolf was stronger.

"The one you feed," the grandfather replied.

Despite everything, DH is determined to feed only the wolf with which she wants to live.

Let's all join her. And please, please, if you pray, pray for these wonderful people. If you meditate, please hold them in the Light today. If nothing else, send loving, kind intentions their way.

And your own.


Two quick notes: First, from my days as a hospice volunteer, I know how many people call and say, "If there's anything I can do. . . ." Their phones rarely ring. Shocked, stressed, sad people rarely have the presence of mind or the time to figure out what they need. If you genuinely want to help, formulate a plan and call for permission to carry it out.

*Food is almost always welcome, but real, healthy meals are better than sweets. Homemade foods that are or can be frozen are best of all—they can be used as the need arises.

*Use disposable containers whenever possible. Bake a casserole in a foil-lined dish and freeze it. Remove the frozen casserole from the dish and wrap thoroughly. If you can't avoid using things that must be returned, mark them clearly. A piece of masking tape with your name and phone number written in Sharpie works great. For that matter, mark anything you bring. Many people want to send thank you notes later, and it's too much to expect them to remember who brought or did what.

*Staples are always necessary when crowds gather. Paper towels, toilet paper, napkins, paper plates, cups, plastic forks, are very useful. They create the need for trash bags. Bottled water is always welcome. Kleenex is critical. Coffee can be a comfort for some. Milk is especially helpful to families with children. Do what you can.

*Crowds gather in the early going and at the time of the funeral. Surprisingly, this is the easiest time for most loved ones. It's later, when the crowds go home and the mess remains that most people fall apart. It's very kind to show up for the aftermath: clean up, address envelopes for thank you notes, be simply, silently present when appropriate.

*If you help clean up, be very sensitive to touching things that belonged to or were used by the late loved one. Those things are totems for many, and really should be touched by invitation only.

*Above all, LISTEN. Let the bereaved grieve. Be present while they tell stories, cry, laugh, whatever. A good trick I learned in hospice training is to place your hand near (or under) the other's hand. They then feel welcome to take your hand without feeling they HAVE to if it's not comfortable for them.

Finally, my mother is having surgery on her shoulder this afternoon. The surgery itself should be fairly simple (repairing a snapped tendon and removing bone spurs, etc), but she's a 72-year-old Type II diabetic. And nothing's ever simple for her. Please remember her today as well.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Dangers of Strangers

Some of you may wonder why the DNA-encrusted linens described in yesterday's post grossed me out so much. I wondered myself. For part of a second at least. The danger of semen from strangers was once brought to my attention in a vivid and terrifying way.

Long ago and far away, there lived an unbelievably naive woman. . . .

Oops. Wrong story. This one is definitely not a fairy tale.

Haven't written much about this yet, but The Wasband had cancer when we were first married. In fact, he was released from the hospital after surgery on our first wedding anniversary, another horrible and funny story I promise to tell soon. One of the first things the doctors told us (right after they told us he had cancer) was that radiation was necessary and it would leave The Wasband sterile.

We had been trying to have children since the day we were married. The idea of not having children was. . .inconceivable. Once we had wits about us again, we resolved to do everything in our power to find a way. And let me tell you, we did.

During the long and difficult sojourn, I endured several rounds of artificial insemination. I say endured because my own reproductive issues made it necessary to have shots, swallow crazy-making drugs, and take my temperature every morning before even raising my head off the pillow. And those were just the preliminaries. The actual process of insemination was clinical and embarassing and sad. Oh, so sad. (Not to mention horrifyingly expensive.)

I did manage to get pregnant once, but miscarried at about 3 1/2 months. Again, a story but not this story.

No, in this story, I begrudingly give up on AI and settle down to simply waiting for our name to rise to the top of the list at an adoption agency. And, happy, happy; joy, joy, it eventually did.

On the 29th day of May in the year 1982, The Boy arrived to grace our home and our lives. No baby in the history of the Universe was more wanted or more loved.

We put our names on the list for another child and settled down to raise our son. Life went on in a semi-normal fashion for almost four years before The Phone Call.

Compassionate Nurse from Infertility Clinic: Hello, Jerri. It's been a long time. I'm glad to talk with you, even though I wish it weren't about this.

Me: Glad to talk to you, too. How are you and Dr. Wonderful?

Compassionate Nurse: We've been better.

Me: Sorry to hear that. What's wrong?

Compassionate Nurse: I'm calling because you need to come in for an AIDS test. Right away. WAAAH WA WAAAAH WAH WAAAAH Wa WAAAH.

Whatever CN was now saying sounded like the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon. Indecipherable noise. Remember, in 1985, AIDS was raging throughout the gay communities and little was known about it. Also, it was a death sentence. Open and closed. When the horn of her voice stopped wailing, I managed to formulate a question.

Me: Why on earth would I need an AIDS test? That's for people who have sex with strangers. I have NOT had sex with strangers. (Please excuse my ignorance. This is what we thought in the early 80s.)

Compassionate Nurse: I hate to say this, but that's exactly what you've done. Many times. You see, sex with a stranger is almost the definition of artificial insemination. And when you were going through the program, we didn't know about AIDS yet. We didn't test the donors. Didn't even screen them. I'm so sorry, but you have to come in for tests. Immediately.

Me: Oh my God.

We agreed on a time for the test and said good-bye. I hung up the phone and slumped to the floor, too shocked to move or think.

When my brain finally kicked into gear, all I could think of was not exposing The Wasband or The Boy if I did have the disease. Not wanting anyone else to worry, I decided not to say a word about the call or the test and set a strategy for not touching anyone I loved until the nightmare was over. Or had begun in earnest.

The test was nothing. A simple blood draw.

Waiting for the results was excruciating.

By the time Compassionate Nurse called with the all clear 7 days later, I was as close to true insanity as I ever care to get.

I had spent nearly every minute of every hour figuring out where I would go and how I would live if the test was positive. Again, remember that no one knew exactly how AIDS was transmitted (beyond the obvious). What they did know was that it was 100% fatal. My constant and overriding thought was that if I had it, I would have to leave my son, would never kiss or even touch him again. The darkness and despair of the 157 hours between the nurse's calls can not be adequately described. At least, I can not adequately describe them.

I can tell you about the joy I felt after, though. I can tell you about the thousand and one kisses I rained on The Boy. On his belly, his sweet little toes, his cheeks. I can tell you that I bathed him and rocked him and fixed his favorite foods from a place of pure love distilled through miles of cold, coiled fear.

I can also tell you that nothing in my life was ever sweeter than those first few hours after I stepped out from under that sword of Damacles.

21 years later, we know AIDS isn't transmitted by casual touch or even by touching DNA-encrusted linens. Yesterday, that knowledge didn't stop me being determined not to expose anyone else to them. It didn't stop me from being very careful as I disposed of the danger of strangers, either.

Looking back, I sometimes realize my life has been like a bad movie. Filled with twists and turns. Punctuated by fear. But, mercifully, it has been directed by God and framed with love and laughter. And joy.

So much joy.

(photo: The precious Boy and me, moments after we met for the first time. In this life, at least.)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Down on Bended Knee

Warning: Some readers may find today's post offensive. If you're easily offended, stop reading NOW.

The world is filled with strange folks, and yesterday I met one.

Manning the reception desk at the salon yesterday, I fielded a call from a guy wanting to know if we would do a "Brazilian" wax on a man. (For the uninitiated, this means the complete removal of pubic hair.) After consulting one of our estheticians, I replied that we would. He sounded a little embarassed as he explained that his girlfriend wanted him to do this.


Although she had appeared to be completely unconcerned about the prospect when the guy was on the phone, the esthetician was totally unnerved when the man turned out to be. . .shall we say. . .mature. After she settled him in a room to undress, she stepped into the room where I was getting a massage. (This is very poor salon etiquette and told me she was seriously troubled by the situation.)

"This one's weird," she breathed, in shocked tones. "Has to be. He must be fifty. At least fifty."

Now, I don't know if she thought he was too old to be concerned with how he looked down there or what, but his age undid her. Somehow, it didn't seem the time to point out that I'm 52.

The 20-something massage therapist working on my back smiled at her encouragingly. "Don't worry. It's the same equipment," he murmured. "Only wrinklier."

From my face-down, prone position on the massage table, I squirmed to look up at her. SRY is a 6-ft tall woman who works out. The guy was 5 ft 4 at best. The fact is, if he got fresh, she could put some serious hurt on him, but I wasn't about to suggest that. Instead I assured her that if the situation became even slightly uncomfortable, all she had to do was step out of the room and get me. I would take it from there.

After SRY and the massage therapist left the room, I scrambled up from the table and got ready to take charge if necessary.

We listened discreetly from the hallway a couple of times, but all we heard was silence. For 45 minutes. Silence.

After she was finished, we got the details. He had not said a word, never even gasped as she ripped out every single hair from his genital area.

"He had a hard-on the whole time," she whispered before he emerged from the room.

I found this surprising—waxing is, after all, painful—but not shocking. SRY is a gorgeous, exotic-looking African American woman who carries herself like a queen. He was naked in front of her. Not easy, I'm guessing.

It was only later, after he was out of the building, that she confided The Guy had experienced more than a hard-on. In fact, let's just say his cup runneth over. Twice.


Thank God the salon was empty except for employees when we heard this. The news of his response elicited squeals and squeaks and loud gasps of "Gross!" from everyone who heard it. For a few minutes there was general hilarity wrapped in shock. Then someone asked SRY what she did.

"Just wiped it up with a towel and went on," she replied.

SRY's grace under fire stunned me.

Then another thought popped up. I was now faced with DNA-encrusted linens and no idea what to do. No idea, except that I wasn't about to ask an employee to touch the stuff.

After a couple unpleasant moments considering my options, I marched resolutely to the back of the spa, armed with trash bags and extra-strength disinfectant. Turning a trash bag inside out as though I were about to remove doggie poo, I trapped the dirty towels and so forth, tied them up, and took them to the dumpster outside. If I'd had a biohazard container, I would have used it. There was no way I was putting that stuff into our washing machine.

Next, I disinfected every surface those linens had touched. Finally, I turned to the trash containers in the room. A small, open can held the gloves SRY had been wearing, which she described as being "covered in nasty white-boy cum." It also held dozens of strips of muslin coated in wax and the pubic hair of a stranger. I knelt in front of the can, trying to get the liner out without touching anything more than necessary.

There are many, many things I've imagined doing with my life. This was definitely NOT among them. Pondering this, my mind leaped to a much-treasured family story, and my sense of humor carried me away. For several minutes, all I could do was laugh helplessly.

During the Depression, my grandfather and grandmother and several of their siblings traveled to Sarcoxie, Missouri to pick strawberries. It was hot, hard work and far from home, but it was paid work, and most of them were glad to have it. One day, my grandmother (who was about 7 months pregnant) stood up to stretch and try to straighten her back. From the row beside her, she heard her brother, George, muttering to himself.

George was what was then known as a "dandy." Today he'd probably be called a metrosexual: heterosexual but very vain and careful with his appearance. Even picking strawberries, he was dressed in his finest and his hair was oiled and carefully arranged. The words Grandma overheard became a family legend.

"Here I am, a man of my abilities, down on my bended knee. Picking these goddamned little red sons a bitches."

Like George, I didn't love the task before me. After all, only last week I was in NY being carted around in limos and treated like a princess at the taping of a national tv show.

And now, here I was, a published author, down on my bended knee. Picking up these little hairy white sons a bitches.

Laughed til I cried. The staff thought I finally absolutely lost my mind, but I didn't explain. Just cleaned up the mess and went on, taking myself more lightly than before I remembered Uncle George.

Slipping into Peace

I took a bath last night.

For many, this would not be front page news. For me, it is.

I love warm, scented baths. Love them. But I've taken exactly two since I bought my perfect little house here on the banks of the pond two years ago. Two years. Two baths.

If you've been reading along, you know this has been a stressful time for me. My back and neck and shoulders are so knotted it feels as if flames are flickering across my shoulder blades, as if tiny jolts of electricity are leaping from one synapse to another. across my neck.

So, yesterday I asked one of the massage therapists to work on my neck and back for half an hour. It was the second time I'd availed myself of this talented man's services in the two years I've owned the place (a salon and day spa).

Can you smell the pattern?

Anyway, when I finally got home last night, the toxins released from the knots in my neck and back were surging through my muscles, making them feel as though I'd been beaten by the shillelaghs of a gang of angry leprechauns. When I could stand it no longer, I drew a bath, lit a candle, turned on my iPod, and slipped into the water's embrace. I emerged half an hour later feeling reborn.

The bath salts I used had been on my bathroom counter for about 8 months. The candle, too. Warm water is always available and (since this is the guest bath) clean towels perpetually stand ready. So why don't I use them?

It's a serious question, one I haven't yet puzzled out. I have, however, realized that slipping into a bath is something like slipping into the deep well of peace that lies within each of us. It, too, is always there, always ready. True peace, true joy do not depend on the circumstances of our lives. They depend only on our ability to submerge ourselves in their depths. We need only to take the time, clear our minds, and slip into their waiting arms.

No more writing right now. I'm off to meditate. Maybe I'll take a bath when I'm done.

After yesterday's Sunday Scribblings on skin, I've been working on the tale of a scar that bisects my forehead. It's a tough one to write but that's the reason for writing it, isn't it? Will try to finish later today.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: Skin

My skin chronicles the journey of my life, telling my stories and my secrets.

*A half-moon shaped nick in my right knee tells of the kindergarten recess when I jumped off the monkey bars because a boy taunted me with the idea that only boys were brave enough to try it. If you look into that scar deep enough, you’ll see the years I’ve spent trying to prove I can do anything a boy (or a man) can do. Look long enough and you might also see how often I’ve wondered whether my parents would have had a third child if I had been the boy they must have wanted. My name alone—one typically given to boys—begs the question.

*Stretch marks on my thighs reveal the cycles of weight gained, lost, and regained. The number and shape of these imperfections tell the stories of how difficult it is for me to face the world without being cloaked in the invisibility of excess weight.

*Hundreds of tiny discolorations on my upper arms whisper about the years when I neglected myself so assiduously that my skin erupted in flocks of miniscule pimples. When I reclaimed the right to care for myself, simple exfoliation and the regular application of moisturizer solved an ugly problem that had persisted for decades.

*Dry, torn cuticles, rough heels, and scaly shins display the sad truth that I rarely partake of the services offered by the salon and day spa I own in partnership with my sister. Deb, a martyr of epic proportions, practically has to be forced to do anything for herself. I feel guilty having my fingers or toes buffed and polished when all she ever does is work. The dryness on my fingers and toes exists in direct proportion to that guilt and to my inability to stand in my own truth in the face of hers.

*The smooth expanse inside my right elbow is entirely unremarkable. That is, it bears no mark of the lips that kissed that tender skin, sending ripples of pleasure up and down my spine. And yet, my fingers can trace the shape of those long-ago kisses and revisit their magic even now.

*Through the variations of its colors, my skin characterizes what I show to others as well as what I hide. The fish-belly-white of my rear end reveals how hard I try to cover my imperfections. The bronze of my face reflects the way I turn toward the Light, following its path like a sunflower in a field. The tan line along my breasts delineates exactly how much of myself I expose to the world.

*Tiny crinkles at the corners of my eyes and deep groves that bracket my mouth speak of my reactions to the wonderful, absurd comedy of Life. I don’t use eye creams or expensive elixirs to try to erase these lines. Instead, I appreciate them for what they are: evidence of the laughter and joy that has shaped my life and my face.

My skin is more than the largest organ of my body, more than the container of my self and my soul. It's even more than the sum of its shapes and sizes and textures. It is an historian, a wise teacher, and a miraculous gift.

I'm grateful for this skin that I'm in and all it has seen me through.

To read more Sunday Scribblings, go here. I especially recommend this one.