Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Not That Kind of Girl, Part 5

Nicki sits next to me in study hall. We usually whisper across the aisle every time Miss Homsey steps out of the room. But not today. Today I'm silent. I can't think of a thing to say.

Nicki just told me she's planning to get pregnant. "It's the only way my parents will let me be with Ron," she says.

I swallow hard and look straight into her eyes. Lord God, I think she's serious.

"It's the only way," she says again.

She's probably right—no parents in their right minds would let an 8th grader date a high-school senior. Still, how can she even think about having a baby? We're 13 years old for God's sake.

* * *

Lunch time, freshman year. Brenda Kay and I sit at the soda fountain at the drugstore. Nicki puts our vanilla Cokes on the counter and turns to get our grilled-cheese sandwiches. She balances the plates on her belly and turns sideways to get closer to the counter. I lean back a little as though to give her more room. Nicki's green eyes shine bright as ever beneath her thick eyebrows, but she moves slowly and with a kind of effort I can't understand or imagine.

We smile at her and leave a tip. We walk back to school slowly, wondering how it feels to have a person growing inside you. Nicki seems really happy. I'd be scared out of my mind.

* * *

I stand on the third step at the back entrance to the funeral home, shaking. I know I should go inside and find Brenda Kay, but I can't make myself go in there. I simply can't walk through the hallway, knowing Nicki's body lies down in the dark basement. Has she been embalmed? Is she in a casket? Does she look like herself? (Maybe we should tell Mrs. C. that Nicki always wears thick black eyeliner and bright green eye shadow all the way up to her eyebrows.)

Later, the entire sophomore class—and most of the town—comes to the funeral. We oooh and aaah over the baby in Nicki's mother's arms. We hug Ron and tell him how sorry we are. We wonder how the truck driver is doing, the man whose tanker came loose in a turn and crushed Nicki's small car.

After the service, Brenda and I hear two women whispering. They say Nicki must have had some sense of her future. They say that's why she packed so much living into her short life. They say she was lucky to have married and had a child so young.

Not That Kind of Girl, Part 4

She rarely washes her hair and never cuts it. Her dresses are long and shapeless. Her voice is meek. Norah moves through the hallways like an apparition—a presence you sense more than you see or hear it.

Norah's rare contributions in class are filled with references to the Bible, especially Revelations. Her snake-handling, Bible-thumping, fire-breathing preacher father taught her it will be her responsibility to cut off the heads of evil-doers with the sword of righteousness at Armegeddon.

I think she's looking forward to it.

Like two of her sisters before her, Norah will drop out of school when the baby shows too much. So far, Mr. Decker and Mrs. Robertson have been able to ignore the swelling under the gathered cotton, but it won't be long before they're forced to acknowledge what we all know.

If Norah's father is right, if the Day of Reckoning is coming soon, he better duck and god-damn cover. A lot of swords are going to be aimed at his neck. First.

I am not that kind of girl.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Not That Kind of Girl, Part 3

December 26, 1970. I stand at the front of the Ava Methodist Church wearing a crimson velvet gown. Its sheer white sleeves and white velvet collar match the white netting shooting out the top of the awkward headpiece bobby-pinned to my hair. My mother made the entire get-up. Sue and JoEtta’s, too. They both look bridesmaid-perfect, but I feel ridiculous and out of place. An overgrown Christmas elf or something.

In moments my older sister will float down the aisle wearing yards and yards of silk and satin. Her train is 12 feet long and trimmed in hand-beaded lace. . .plus two or three teeny, tiny drops of Mom’s blood. Only 15 days into 19 years old, she followed her dreams to this candlelit church and the altar where Jim stands, waiting.

Jim and Deb were each other’s first dates five years ago. Neither of them has ever gone out with anyone else. Neither of them has—or ever will, I guess—kissed anyone else. Neither of them has any idea what they’re getting into.

Jim’s been in college for the last three and a half years. Every weekend he comes home to see Debbie, who is three years younger. On Saturday nights they sit in the center of town with Jim’s mom and dad to “watch the kids go round the square.”

That's a major bummer for me. Our mom’s rule is that we can only drive around the square one time. One time, she says, will get us where we want to go, and that’s all the square is good for, if you ask Mom. I don't ask Mom and I break this rule a lot, but not when Deb and Jim are sitting there. Deb would squeal for sure.

When she graduated from high school last June, Debbie turned down scholarships to music school and an art conservatory. She says all she wants to do is stay home like Mom.

I am not that kind of girl.

Not That Kind of Girl, Part 2

Brenda Kay’s clothes have their own room. It’s not exactly a room, I guess. More like a closet you can walk inside. There’s a light in there and everything. Her shoes are arranged in rows on the floor beneath her clothes. Her skirts all hang together, then her dresses. She even has some slacks. Her sweaters are folded on shelves at the end of the closet. On top of every sweater is a matching pair of knee socks. Her mother buys most of Brenda’s clothes at Harley’s on the square, but some of them come from Dillards, 60 miles away in Springfield.

Brenda’s mother dresses up every day and she always, always wears make-up. Even at breakfast on Saturdays. She must not put her head down to sleep because her hair is always a perfect brown bubble on top of her head. Even here in tornado alley there’s never been a wind strong enough to defeat the hairspray that holds her bubble in place.

MaMaw and PaPaw live above the funeral home, across the driveway from Brenda Kay’s house. They’re her father’s parents. Like Mrs. C., MaMaw’s shoes always match her dress and her ear rings match her necklaces. MaMaw’s hair is gray, though, and her bubble doesn’t stand up as far as Mrs. C’s.

MaMaw and PaPaw take Brenda’s mother and father and the kids to dinner at Hutch’s CafĂ© almost every night. Sometimes they drive the hearse, but mostly they drive the “family car,” a shiny black Cadillac that Brenda’s father washes every night before they go out to dinner.

Brenda Kay’s other grandmother, her mother’s mother, comes to visit once in a while. Her hair looks like a Brillo pad after it’s been used too many times. Her face kind of collapses at the bottom because she doesn’t have any teeth. If that’s not strange enough, sometimes she smokes a pipe. But never when Brenda Kay’s mom is around.

When the family goes out to dinner, Gramma stays home in the little room at the back of the house where she spends most of her visit rocking and watching TV. Brenda Kay usually brings back a plate from Hutch’s for her—mashed potatoes and green beans and cornbread and stuff like that.

I am not that kind of girl.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Not That Kind of Girl, Part 1

Patty Bailey bounces on the trampoline in gym class. Her bleached blond hair flies in wild opposition to her skinny white legs—straight up as she falls to the surface and down to her shoulders as she bounces back up. The remaining sophomore girls and Mary Lou Sallee, the gym teacher, circle the tramp.

Brenda Kay and I hold our breath as Patty flies higher and higher. Her stomach and her breasts strain at the buttons of her royal blue, one-piece gymsuit. Mrs. Sallee tells Patty to do a swivel hip to a front drop. Patty pulls off several of the spectacular maneuvers as we watch silently. Even those of us who don’t really pray are praying now. We just don’t know for what.

Alone in her room later that afternoon, Brenda Kay and I exchange whispers. We’re sure Patty’s booming bounces had nothing to do with getting a good grade. We think she was trying to solve her problem in the only legal way available to her. We might be brave enough to ask the boy involved to help her if only we knew which of the many that might be.

I am not that kind of girl.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Lightning Striking

Listen to me baby, you got to understand
You’re old enough to know the makings of a man.

Lou Christy sang to me from the radio. I pulled the blue plaid blanket closer then pushed it away again. Like everything else in David’s car, it smelled like fish and fertilizer. David and his family never seemed to notice that the smell of the their trout hatchery lingered around them, but the rest of us did.

My breath froze on the window, silver crystals blooming in the night. I wrapped my arms around myself and tucked my chin into the softness of the chinchilla collar on my new coat. That coat had magical powers. It really did. Wearing it, cold couldn’t touch me. Bad hair days didn’t exist. Even pimples disappeared when I slipped my arms into its fur-trimmed sleeves. I wasn’t crazy about letting the fishy blanket touch it, but surely the smell wouldn’t rub off before David got changed.

“Wait for me after the game,” were words every high school girl in Ava, Missouri, longed to hear. In the world beyond our hills, the Viet Nam War raged, long-haired hippies gathered in muddy farm fields to play crazy music and smoke “them funny cigarettes,” and something called “The Summer of Love,” was supposed to be happening. But here in the heart of the Ozark Mountains, we didn’t burn the flag we saluted it, roll-your-own cigarettes were made with Velvet or Prince-Albert-in-a-can, and a girl lucky enough to have the keys to a football player’s car was envied and admired.

And so I waited. Proudly.

Players started to drift out of the locker room in twos and threes. Finally, the metal door screeched opened again and David stepped into the pool of light cast by the one bare bulb above the door. Throwing his helmet and his bag of gear over a shoulder, he shifted its weight and headed to the car. David moved with a fascinating, boneless kind of grace. His long legs sort of revolved instead of alternating, more like bicycle wheels than human limbs. His wet hair flopped over the wire rims of his granny glasses and his shirttails flopped under his blue-and-gold letter jacket. In a town filled with crew cuts and tight white t-shirts, David was a fish out of water, a rainbow trout in a stream of browns.

My heart fluttered. I pulled one arm from beneath the blanket and reached across the seat to unlock both doors on the driver’s side. When he threw his gear in the back, its sweaty boy smells added to the general stink. He folded his long body into the front seat and slid beyond the steering wheel, straight over to my side. Shampoo and Right Guard drowned out all the other smells, even the fish. He wrapped his arms around me and the smooth leather sleeves of his letter jacket cooled my cheeks as I blushed and burned. I could have stayed right there forever.

“Girl, why didn’t you run the heater? It’s freezing in here.”

At $.23 cents a gallon, who’s going to burn gas just to keep warm?

“I’m fine,” I said.

“You just wanted me to warm you up,” David whispered, his voice low and full of something dangerous. His warm breath almost burned my neck. He rubbed his hands up and down my arms and then around to my back. Even through the thick wool of my coat, I could feel the surprising strength of his long, thin fingers. Tiny bubbles popped up on my skin, tingles everywhere he touched me. He leaned back, moved his hands to the air in front of my chest and waggled his fingers in a pantomime of massaging my breasts.

With a big whoosh, all the bubbles went flat. I turned toward the door, away from his hands. Away from his eyes.

David and I had known each other forever—since I was eight and he was nine or ten. A kickball got away from me and my best friend, Brenda Kay, at recess and he brought it back. His brown eyes were the first thing I noticed. They reminded me of the puppy I wanted but could never have.

Through elementary school we grinned at one another across playgrounds, choir risers, and auditorium seats. In junior high, the puppy-dog look was replaced with a wolfish gleam that made me look away when our eyes met. By high school, we occasionally glanced at each other across the great divide of his reputation as a bad boy and mine as the kind of girl you took home to mother.

Brenda Kay and I assumed 16-year-old boys thought about sex a lot. But David was the only one we knew who talked about it. Out loud and all the time. Everyone said he’d proposition anything in a skirt, and—to hear him tell it—he got taken up on his offer more times than not. I wasn’t so sure about that. But back stage at play practice, in the school newspaper room, in the halls between classes, in the bleachers where the cool kids sat before school and after lunch—David’s internal dials were turned to sex-talk radio long before Dr. Ruth was anything but a funny little Jewish grandmother. He was all sex talk, all the time.

Brenda Kay and I thought it was because his dad had been a military man and his family had lived all over the world. Or because he had two older brothers and an older sister. Or because his mother was so flat-out strange. Every September, like clockwork, Mary Lou Sallee stepped back while Mrs. Emerson took over gym class for a week. Wearing a series of bizarre costumes, she’d tell us about the time her husband was stationed in the Phillipines. Then she’d lead us in a strange Phillipino game that involved banging long, fat bamboo sticks together in complicated, staccato rhythms while others jumped through them. All through elementary school, I associated David’s mother with severely bruised shins.

After puberty I managed to keep safe distances between us, but eventually David’s mother got my mother to talk me into going out with him. And now, here we were on the bench seat of his ‘63 Rambler Classic with nothing between us but a few layers of wool and denim.

“These seats lay down flat, you know. Just like a bed. Let me put ‘em down and I’ll get you warmed right up.” David raised his left arm above his head and swept it down the side of the seat as though to pull the infamous handle that turned the Rambler into a bed on wheels.

“Da. . .vid.” We both knew what the tone in my voice meant. Get off it before I make you take me home. No way was I going to find myself flat on my back in that car or any other. Four girls in my sophomore class were pregnant already. I was not going to spend the rest of my life trapped on a farm in the back of beyond. Cows. . .horses. . .rainbow trout. Didn’t matter what was being raised or what kind of shit was being shoveled. I was not going to be—or be married to—the one behind the shovel.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Feeling Groovy

Sitting here in the Denver airport, on my way to Portland and a reunion with the CAW. Feel like a child under a Christmas tree—all eager anticipation and happy thoughts.

Still doing laundry for the trip at midnight last night, I suddenly noticed the dryer was silent. With two loads left to finish, it had conked out. Totally. The breaker was fine, the light went on and off when I pushed the door switch so clearly it was getting juice, but the silly thing could not be prompted or babied into drying action of any sort on any cycle.

No worries, I thought. I'll finish the wash, hang it, and throw it in the dryer in the morning. Surely it will work in the morning.

This morning I threw the most necessary pieces into the dryer and pushed the button with every expectation it would leap into action, and it did. My clothes dried in plenty of time and I threw them in the suitcase on the way out the door.

A series of small delays put me into the KC airport a few minutes behind schedule, then I mindlessly parked in my usual area, completely forgetting that Frontier is on the complete opposite side of the airport. Dragged both suitcases, my briefcase and my purse through the concourse, laughing all the way, even when my duffel fell off my rolling bag for the nth time or my belt fell onto the floor. Made it to the gate with a minute to spare before they closed baggage check-in, went through the silliness of the security screening hopping along after pulling off my most awkward pair of boots, and losing my boarding pass and driver's license in the process. (They turned up in their assigned pocket in my purse. Who'd have thought to look where they actually belong?)

Now I'm in Denver waiting for the plane to PDX. While walking down the concourse a few minutes ago on a coffee search, an enormous wave of abundance flooded my whole body. None of the tiny irritations of the morning troubled me one bit, even when they were happening. I'm on my way to one of my absolute favorite towns to spend time with some of my absolute favorite humans. What could be better?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Pin Duck Goes It Alone

Whole lot of quiet going on here lately, I know. Everything's fine, I've just been deep into work and lost in reflection a lot.

Pink Boots Guy came to visit. I called him Sunday and was stunned to hear he was in Iowa, on his way to me. He stayed less than 24 hours. We had the talk I've been dreading for so long, the one where I tell him I don't love him the way I should (and I really, really should). The one where I tell him we both need to move on with our lives, where I truly wish him every happiness.

He was his usual gracious self.

Sometime Monday afternoon I noticed that Marvin has gone MIA. When the flock leaves the pond, the pin duck floats alone in the small space of open water, right next to the edge of the ice, or on the bank, but Marvin is nowhere in sight. Now, Thursday am, there's still no sign of him.

I hope he's all right. He can't fly, you know, so where could he have gone? It's a mystery.

As for me, I'm right here, living mostly in my head. Thinking and writing and getting ready to go to Portland for the Grand Adventure of a writing workshop with Jennifer Lauck and the Circle of Amazing Women. First thing tomorrow, I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane and I can't wait.

Updates as available.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Peace of Wild Things

Not long ago my friend Barb and I attempted to define poetry. We talked it through until we decided that a poem is writing distilled to its purest essence.

Just came across this poem by Wendell Berry. It is the absolute essence of life here on the pond (including the wood drake and heron).

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

All Amped Up

As you'll see if you read my post from earlier this afternoon, I have questions and concerns about the way my kids grew up. Katie just called and at this moment—despite everything—it seems they learned some very good things from the way we were.

My darling almost-20-year-old daughter fixed the heater in her car this afternoon. By herself. The heater suddenly stopped working (a critical issue in Minnesota in February) on Sunday. She checked with our old next-door-neighbor, who's a mechanic. He told her the problem was likely to be a fuse.

Then that dynamic little thing checked her owner's manual, drove to an auto parts store, got the right fuse, and installed the damn thing. Now she's got heat. And a happy, grateful mother.

Who just got a big reminder that life's always unfolding as it should? Who couldn't be prouder of her little DIY girl? Who's proud as hell of the example she set?

Yep. You bet your pretty little tool bucket. That would be me.

Big Questions

The Wasbund will be checking into The Mayo Clinic again in the next few days, according to the kids. He's been there several times lately, including a month or so ago when he had some sort of skin cancer removed. The surgery requried 60 stitches and a two-day stay at the Mayo. That's all I know, but obviously it wasn't innocuous, whatever it was.

I wish him well. Truly wish him well. There are moments when it's easy and. . . well. . .satisfying to imagine that God hates the people you hate, but the thing is, I'm just not that into hate. Got clear a long time ago that hate's like a hot poker and holding onto it doesn't do a damn thing except burn my hands.

I really am good with the whole he-walked-out-on-me-at-a-very-bad-time thing. I can say in all honesty that I'm grateful for the divorce. Without his blatent infidelity and all, I might still be married to him, still fetching my panties from baskets on the floor, and—worst of all—still thinking that was acceptable.

What I still have trouble with are the things he did (and still does) to my children. Just last week, The Girl told me a story about a time he drew back is arm to hit her. She was 13 and God bless her little old soul, she stepped toward him, stared him right in the eye, and told him she'd call Social Services if he hit her. Without knowing him and the truly fearsome attitude he presents to the world, you can't know how much courage that took.

Katie will be 20 next month, and last week was the first time I'd heard this story. Both kids took great care not to let me know when The Wasbund did wretched things. Even more than his usual outbursts and temper fits, they feared the storms that resulted when I confronted him. His number one rule, stated over and over, was that they were not to tell me anything that went on at his house. If I spoke up about something, he knew they'd told me and that was the worst thing that could happen as far as they were concerned.

So, I'm still learning details of their childhoods, and many of the stories are painful to hear. For both the things he did and the fact that he frightened them so much they couldn't turn to me for comfort or safety, I have trouble not hoping he feels great pain somehow, some time. If not in this life, then in the next. At Christmas when he invited all his stepchildren and Katie to Germany and didn't breathe a word about it to Evan, I wanted to hurt him in the same way. Okay, enough. I'm not going to get cranked up on stories of what a jerk he is. Trust me, he's a grade A, USDA prime jerk.

So now that he's sick, what's a peaceful, spiritual woman to do? I pray for him when I know he's in the hospital, and believe those prayers are heartfelt. Is that somehow disloyal to my children? On the one hand, he's their dad and they love him despite everything, so it feels right to pray for his highest good. On the other, are those prayers anything more than words I wish I meant?

In an effort to be faithful to the "Thy will be done" spirit of my faith, I don't pray for him to be healed or to survive. Instead, I pray for the same thing I pray for when it comes to anyone's health—for his highest good. I also pray that the kids can be at peace with whatever happens.

Am I wimping out? I don't know. There are moments when taking the higher ground feels false and saccharine. There are others when it feels like the only way. The times when I want to set fire to his shoes are few and far between these days, but they still happen and denying that seems wrong. So does wishing harm to any living being, even him.

It's a puzzle and I'd like to hear what you guys think.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Truth Wins in the End

Missed the Grammys in my work-induced haze over here. But heard the good news and cheered my girls, The Dixie Chicks.

Katie's first concert was the Dixie Chicks (I took her and several friends as her 15th birthday gift) and their music played in our car as we traveled to endless soccer tournaments. They were first among the few groups whose music we both wanted to hear. We shouted out the sunroof to Cowboy Take Me Away more times than I'd like to remember, given what other motorists must have thought.

WooooHooo. Truth wins in the end. So does standing by what you believe.

Gotta LOVE the Chicks!

The Power of Fear

I had my first orgasm at 16.

My boyfriend and I were making out in the front seat of his car after Homecoming. After 15 or 20 minutes of serious kissing, he unbuttoned my shirt, moved my bra aside and kissed my naked breast. POW! What a feeling! Afterward, sitting alone in my dark bedroom, I figured out what had happened. I distinctly remember thinking about a magazine article I'd read about how hard it is to achieve orgasm. I can still hear the voice in my head and feel the fear it created. "That's supposed to be hard to do. What if I never get to do it again? What if I'm punished for doing it so easily now, when I'm not supposed to. What if the punishment is not getting to feel it later, when the time is right?"

I didn't have another orgasm for almost three decades.

I worked for the newspaper in Lynchburg, Virginia in the mid 70s, along with an unhappy, obese woman named Judy. One day Judy looked at my forearms and pronounced that I'd never be able to have children because, like her, I had too much hair on my arms and that hair was a sign that I had too many male hormones.

A decade later, Judy's words echoed in my head during every infertility treatment I endured.

So many, many times I've wondered whether my thoughts and Judy's words were self-fulfilling prophesies. This morning some big dots connected themselves in my head.

It wasn't the thoughts or the words that drew these things into my life, it was the feelings they created. Fear, guilt, shame, and remorse are magnets for lack, for loss, for pain.

Mystic Wing and I have spent long hours playing with and studying magnets. Their laws are immutable: whatever you run from chases you. Stop running, step toward it, and the very thing that has been chasing you retreats. Every. Single. Time.

The Law of Attraction is so damned simple. And so damned irrefutable.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Framed and Hanging

After seeing The Secret Friday night, I decided to frame this drawing and hang it. Since I want to invite more beauty, more artistic endeavors into my life, it seems I should treat my work with more respect than to leave it lying in the floorboards of Paula's back seat.

So, I got me to my favorite art supply store to buy a mat and simple frame. Of course, I had to take the drawing. Why, or why do I always, always tell the guy I'm not really an artist before I show him a piece? He doesn't care. I'm not going to do that anymore. Not ever again. From now on, if it's absolutely necessary to say anything at all, I'm going to say I'm in the process of learning to make art.

Must be true. After all, here's a piece of art I made, hanging on a wall.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Both Sides Now

I did not get the commercial.

Got the disappointing news yesterday afternoon. Called B and made arrangements to meet at our favorite coffee shop to work together. We sat at separate tables, each writing our own book, each comforted by the other's presence. When the time came, we retreated to her house to watch Oprah talk about The Secret. (Thanks for alerting us, Michelle)

Ziji sent me an e-mail last night. She tried to change a light bulb and the darn thing broke in her hands, leaving her with the metal part stuck in the socket. I shot off a note about how to get it off and got a sweet note in return.

Today I'm starting a Fat Flush with the advice and guidance of the amazing Prema.

Reread one of Amber's posts and called my daughter to talk about what home means and exactly what her experience of home had been, given the back-and-forth nature of her growing up in two households. We had a wonderful, important conversation and I'm grateful that Amber inspired it.

Once again, I'm overwhelmed by the power of a circle of loving people. (Almost wrote women but can't leave out my dear friend Mystic Wing)

So, here I sit, alone in my house right now but connected to the larger world in Spirit, in cyberspace, in the genuine love of friends. Now that's a piece of Grace.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Inward Music

Been reading The Essential Rumi again lately, just bits and pieces in spare moments. His poetry simply lights me up. Next art I make will be to illustrate this somehow:

Watch the dust grains moving
In the light near the window.

Their dance is our dance.

We rarely hear the inward music,
But we’re all dancing to it nevertheless.

Yesterday my phone rang about lunchtime. Caller ID told me it was my friend B, so I picked it up despite the deadline I'm pushing.

"Ya want to go to a movie?" she asked. No greeting. Not a hint of her usual "Hey, hey," chirped like some lovely Southern bird. Just a flat, numb voice asking about a movie in the middle of a work day.

"Absolutely," I replied. "On my way soon as I get my shoes."

I grabbed my shoes and a jacket and jumped into Paula for the 30 minute drive to B's house. On the way over, I could literally feel Rumi's blossoms of blessings dropping all around me, brushing my cheeks with their velvety petals and filling Paula's interior with their sweet perfume.

I met B quite synchronistically just before she moved to KC, mere months after I moved here myself. Now we're friends. Real friends. The kind of friends who can ask for help, even obliquely, and know the other will respond without question—one of the greatest blessings life can offer.

B's cat greeted me in the driveway and her husband, home for lunch, greeted me at the door. I breezed in, threw my purse in its usual corner, and sat down on the floor in front of the fireplace. B drifted in and we talked of inconsequential things—which movie we'd see, whether to get tea on the way and so forth. She demonstrated a new picking style learned at a recent guitar lesson and picked around on her new banjo for me. The conversation continued in the same vein as we drove to the movie and as we sat in huge upholstered chairs waiting for Volver to start. Afterward, we talked of nothing but the movie, all the way home and sitting in her living room again—B on the taupe velvet sofa and me on the hearth as usual.

It was a lovely afternoon, filled with laughter and music and stories. The light was leaking from the sky when she finally got to the heart of the matter. Moments before she called me, she'd noticed possible evidence of yet another health challenge. B is very, very ill. She faces her illness with the same grit and dignity and Spirit with which she's faced life since she was a child being raised in poverty by a loving mother and an abusive, alcoholic father. Her current challenges, however, will not be overcome by sheer determination. If they're overcome at all, it will be by miracles.

Details came slowly between long pauses for deep breaths. After only a few sentences, the jingle of keys at the door signaled her husband's return. B called to him and he joined us in the dark living room. As he sat down, B flicked her eyes and I knew we'd talk about the rest later. We told him about the movie and made plans to see another together.

Amid much more laughter and hugs all around, I headed home.

B knows, as I know, that we're all dancing to the same inward music and that the music will not stop when we're no longer physically present for the dance. People are born. They die. And the music plays on.

Sometimes it hurts like holy hell, but the music plays on.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Bright Idea

Top three reasons I haven't written a word on the novel since the last day of NaNoWriMo:

3. Christmas derailed me.
2. I've got to paying books to write before the end of March.
1. Lost the thread.

Okay, okay. You're right. None of these are reasons. They're excuses. But losing the thread did present a big problem. I've spent hours, HOURS, people, thinking about Fred and trying to figure out why he slid into alcoholism, the very thing he meant to rescue Ruth from.

This morning, lying in bed mulling over my day and its various challenges, the answer popped into my head. It's a bit of my own story I've meant to post but never quite gotten the nerve to write. That part would be Ruth's of course, but Fred's emotional response could be the needle that untangles the knot.


I hereby promise myself to work on the novel for at least one hour today. No matter who or what needs me. Without fail. Can't wait.

Move over ceramic-tile-book—I've got me a novel to write!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

How Many Souls Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb?

Yesterday, the brilliant and talented Ziji Wangmo commented that we'd started our friendship talking about changing lightbulbs and have now moved on to finding ourselves, which she finds much more interesting.

With all due respect to Ziji, whose work I adore, I disagree that the conversation has changed. It's all pretty much the same to me.

Even back in the day, I had the physical and mental skills to change a lightbulb. I also had an attachment to seeing myself as a woman who asked for such things to be done for her and a serious aversion to doing them myself. I had an attachment to my fear of ladders, another to my fear of electricity, another to my fear of a bulb breaking in my hands.

The first time I climbed a ladder, unscrewed one lightbulb and screwed in another, I turned loose of those attachments and found a little piece of myself. It wasn't much different from the first time I turned loose of feeling uncoordinated and attempted a headstand in yoga class or the first time I turned loose of my aversion to sitting still and meditated for a full 20 minutes instead of giving up after 4 minutes of monkey mind.

If you avoid changing lightbulbs, changing one is practice. If you've spent years finding reasons not to use power tools, picking up a circular saw is practice. And, let me tell you, if you've spent a lifetime avoiding gardening, pulling weeds and spreading compost is practice, one that becomes joyful if you let it.

It's all "Chop wood. Carry Water," and it's all part of finding ourselves.

BTW—if you haven't checked out Ziji's gorgeous artwork and photographs, go here to see some examples of her artful practice.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Bits O Nothing

They say God looks after fools and little children. I must be both.

See that candle burning brightly on my meditation altar? It was the first thing that greeted me when I walked into the living room this morning. Yep. You read that right. This morning. Worked until 2:00am this morning, last night, whatever. About 10:00 pm I lit a candle and took a break to meditate in the full moonlight. Completely forgot about the candle until I saw it warming the darkness when I opened my bedroom door this morning. YIKES! Am I lucky or what?

Been meaning to show you all the magnetic blackboard my dad and I collaborated on recently. Mom and Dad had an unused side panel for their stove (this stove is surrounded by cabinets so the panels are pointless), and they generously offered it for this project. I painted the panel with blackboard paint and when it was dry, Dad framed it with brick molding. TaDA! The perfect magnetic blackboard for my writing studio.

And this final bit: see that little drawing on the blackboard? The red door with words? Sketched it yesterday and then wrote the last words of that Rumi poem I posted yesterday beside it. Misjudged the folds and tore the paper unevenly. Later realized that my hand had gotten so far ahead of my brain I flubbed the words. And I still stuck it on the bulletin board. Leaving it there will be practice in getting past my perfectionistic paralysis.

And hey—check out my Freudian slip, if you will. "...see who's inside." Damn, don't I wish I could do that!

Finally, YES I did take time yesterday, in the midst of the craziness that way my workday, to make that strange little sketch. And YES I am aware this is the kind of procrastination that keeps me up until 2:00am and puts me into giant black holes come deadline time. Want to make something of it?

I thought not.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Sunrise Ruby

These words, taken from Rumi's "The Sunrise Ruby", are keeping me going today. Without them, I might fall into a victim mentality, resenting the huge amount of work in front of me. Rereading them, I keep reminding myself to simply put one foot in front of the other. Well. . .more like put one finger onto the keyboard after the other. Maybe the poem will help some of you, too.

Work. Keep digging your well.
Don't think about getting off from work.
Water is there somewhere.

Submit to a daily practice.
Your loyalty to that is a ring on the door.

Keep knocking, and the joy inside
will eventually open a window
and look out to see who's there.