Tuesday, January 27, 2009


In all her 74 years, my mother has never paid bills, managed a checking account, or even renewed a license plate. Dad has always taken care of details like that.

Sunday night, Dad asked me to take him to the DMV to renew the plates on Mom's Jeep. He thought he'd sit in a chair while I waited in line and then come to the window when it was his turn.

Monday morning, I took the Jeep to be inspected and came back to get Dad. He couldn't get out of bed. I was more than willing to go, but Mom insisted on doing it herself.

Daddy cried for 45 minutes. "I can't control anything anymore," he said.

"We never can really control anything, Dad."

"But it was better when I believed I could."

I've always liked the image described by the Chinese—the one about living on a dragon's back. If you're aware you're riding a fire-breathing, reckless and powerful beast, you're not surprised when it bucks. If you understand you're at the mercy of forces beyond reckon, you give yourself over to fate. If you never imagine you have it, the loss of control is not devastating.

Maybe I better tell Dad about the dragon.

*The picture is the side of a cut through the Ozark Mountains down near my home town. Looking at the rocks/scales of the dragon, it's easy to believe we're on the back of a beast.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

My Father's Shoes

After spending the night at Mom and Dad's, I got up early to take the dogs out. Stepped into a pair of Dad's slip-ons near the door and clomped out into a dark, cold morning.

No one will ever fill my father's shoes.

Friday, January 23, 2009

My father is dying.

My beloved dad, who holds up the sky, who can fix anything with spit and baling wire, who loves me always and all ways, is dying. His COPD has turned severe and he's turning Home.

On Wednesday, his pulmonologist said he will never fully recover from the pneumonia that's held him in its grip since before Christmas. The road will only get rockier from here. No one knows how fast it's moving, but something wicked this way comes.

One of Dad's brothers died last year. His sister has Parkinson's. One sister-in-law is lost in dementia, a brother-in-law is close behind.

Mom spent all day yesterday and today cleaning out the basement. She says she can't change what's going to happen, but she can make it easier on us when it does.

That, my friends, is love in action. Dad always teases that the three of us kids did a darn good job of picking parents. That doesn't begin to describe the grace and gift of being their child.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


"Takes backbone to live the llfe you want."

Haven't seen the movie yet, but that line gets me every time I hear the trailer for Revolutionary Road. It reminds me of my favorite line from Eat, Pray, Love, the one where Richard from Texas tells Liz she's got to stop keeping her wishbone where her backbone ought to be.

Been working on my backbone lately. The-project-for-which-I-have-such-hope got a polite brush off from someone on Tuesday. Discouraged me for about 5 minutes, then I realized I had absolutely nothing to lose and shot back an equally polite question. Surprised the heck out of me to get an answer that opened an actual conversation with someone who had no reason to spend a minute talking with me.

Wishing and hoping hasn't done much for me lately. Taking the lumps that go with taking action may work out better. If not, at least I've entertained myself.

Cause.... Guys--I've been having fun with this and can't wait to tell you all about it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Noises in the Dark

Twice in the last week I've awakened to small, unidentifiable noises. Both times I strained to hear and understand. Both times I wanted to roll over and forget it. Both times getting up and checking it out avoided big problems.

Last week the temperature dropped below 0, a rare thing here in Missouri. A strange clicking sound outside my room woke me up early in the morning. I already had my grump on, so I added a coat and some boots and went outside to figure out what was going on. Turned out a switch in my heat pump had developed some kind of glitch. Switching the system to all gas solved the problem until a service person could check it out. More importantly, it avoided burning out the compressor, which could have been quite expensive.

Last night the sound of a small rush of water woke me. Following the strange little noise, I found that my icemaker was stuck on refill for some reason, and water was pouring down the front of the frig and all over the hardwood floor. Switching off the icemaker stopped the flow. I mopped up the water and went back to bed.

Can't tell you the times I've ignored warning signals in my life. Giant red flag waving inches from my face? No problem. I just closed my eyes and my mind. This never, ever resulted in anything good.

So, it's only a heat pump and a frig, but maybe this means I'm making progress. It's about time.

Monday, January 19, 2009

So Our Children Can Fly

CNN is broadcasting Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech today, the entire thing. It will be good to see more than the few clips they usually play. I remember the original speech on the evening news, back when the world was black and white. Television, drinking fountains, classrooms. Take your pick: It was all black and white.

From our tiny, totally white town tucked into the Ozark Mountains, it was hard to understand what was going on in the cities—the protests and marches and such. But when Chet Huntley and David Brinkley showed us footage of a fire hose being turned on a black man to keep him from registering to vote, we got the picture.

I tear up every time I see the t shirt: Rosa sat so Martin could walk. Martin walked so Barack could run. Barack ran so our children can fly.

"Our children" is all children, of all ages. We fly forward from this moment when hope triumphed and Martin's dream prevailed. History will judge Obama by the content of his character and the results of his actions. He may be starting in a deep hole, but tomorrow marks the starting of a brand-new day.

God bless us, everyone.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

You Never Know What's Coming for You

Work on the-project-for-which-I-have-such-hope continues.

Gathering materials for the proposal, yesterday I invited someone to participate, a woman who taught a class on herbs that my brother attended in a park last summer. He came home absolutely lit up about this woman and her knowledge and her ideas. Now I need someone with that type of knowledge, and (through the magic of the Internet) tracked her down.

If this all works out the way I hope, it will be a splendid example of someone putting their passion into the world and letting it find its way. She did one job (teach that class) extremely well and it opened the door to other opportunities.

Don't you just love it when that happens?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Man on the Street

Went to see Last Chance Harvey last night. Pretty good escapism: tender, sad, funny by turn. Whoever did Dustin Hoffman's makeup should get 50 lashes with a wet noodle, though. His eyebrows were so heavily penciled or dyed they were all I could see in the early going.

Shortly after Harvey and Kate connect, he walks her to writing class. Coming out of the train station onto the street, he puts his hand on her back to guide her as he steps to the side nearest the street.

Thought and thought about how to describe my reaction to that tiny detail. Considered saying my stomach clenched, but the movement was more in my chest. Could say my heart skipped a beat, but it was more than that—kind of like a giant hand gripped my insides for a split second and let go. It physically hurt for that moment.

Can't tell you how hard I've fought letting a man take care of me in any meaningful way since the divorce, but I'm still charmed by one who gracefully puts himself between me and the cars on the street. Done right, it's an intimate dance step that tells me far more than words ever could.

I've had my share of romance (actually, my share and someone else's), but it's been 2 years since I've been on a date. When Harvey touched Kate's back, I felt it like pain in a phantom limb.

I don't know who or when or how in the world it will happen, but listen up, Universe: I want a man to protect me from puddles again before I die. Or get too old to walk down the street.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Lit up

For the last three days, I have been obsessed with reading screenplays. Obsessed. (Thursday I was shocked to realize I hadn't brushed my teeth or changed my clothes since Monday. Yes, I have been a bit down. Thanks for noticing.)

A friend and I have argued story by email and phone until he's probably ready to block my number and email. This has caught my imagination like nothing has in a long time, and (no surprise), it showed up at precisely the right time.

I've got a project cooking, a possibility that makes my heart soar. Can't say much right now, but if you've got a spare candle, fire it up for me, would you? I could use the Light in all ways.

Do I smell Meaty Bone?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Flying Cars

Not quite what my third-grade Weekly Reader predicted, but it's getting closer.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Buttoned Up

Books saved my life as a child. They showed me a world of possibility and made me believe I could find it. To me, a Writer is a magical being, one who spins worlds from her imagination, sees beyond facts to meaning, grasps essence and translates.

A current editing project tarnishes that image. I see folks claiming degrees in Creative Writing or MFAs who cannot construct a decent sentence, let alone write an article that instructs or informs. Instead of the great calling I've always imagined it to be, writing starts to look like something anyone with access to a piece of paper and a pencil could claim. A "poet" who read aloud definitions from a dictionary sort of sealed the deal for me. These words called to her, you see. The beauty of her attention elevated their definitions to poetry.


So I've been wondering why I spend my life pursuing an ideal that may not exist outside my imagination. The waste book that so captivated me also haunted me. Why am I digging for stories? Shouldn't I be digging latrines?

Then I went to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

In less than three hours, that movie restored my faith. It is the work of many people doing many tasks (computer programming and makeup and photography), but they were all engaged in telling a story that illustrates what it means to live with intention. The writer wove a bizarre premise into a tale of human needs and emotions that refocused things for me.

(And can I just say that when Queenie reacts to the news that Benjamin met his father with an outraged, "The hell he is!" I laughed. When she yells, "Not after all this time," she is speaking for me, saying what I cannot.)

Everyone experiences events. Some describe them well. A precious few spin stories that illuminate. There is magic in that.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Quick Hello

Big day here. Working on a video script. Trying to jam everything in before I go spend the night with a friend. Her husband's out of town and we're having a pajama party. First a movie and then games in front of the fire. If she's up for it, we're talking Twister. If not, I'm going to beat her skinny butt at Scrabble. (She'd wipe the floor with me, but I'm catching her at a weak moment.)

More soon. Hope all is well in all your worlds.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Mobilizing Positive Energy

After my early morning worry-fest (see previous post), I drew Motherpeace tarot cards and checked their meaning. Each related in some way to worry and fear. The Five of Discs knocked me over:

The Five of Discs is a picture of tension held in the body, the kind of tightness that comes with worry. Probably the mind is focused on survival issues of some kind—money, housing, jobs.... It helps to keep the energy moving—maybe do something physical to keep from sinking into a dark state of consciousness (or unconsciousness).

...Better to mobilize energy toward positive goals. While the hands are busy, perhaps the mind can use the Discs in the background as centering devices for focusing calm, magical intentions toward the future.

Mom called to ask if I had any blankets or coats I could spare. The young people of a local church are camping out in the church parking lot until they receive a certain number of blankets and coats to share with local homeless shelters. Together, we filled my sister's Escape with blankets and coats and toilet paper and soap (always useful at shelters) and drove to the church. The people we met there are walking the talk.

Burly men in insulated coveralls met us at the curb to help unload the car. Half a dozen teenagers stood watch over a bonfire in the center of the encampment. More were stacking and storing the coats and blankets in the back of a panel truck.

One of the men noticed a baby blanket Mom was donating, one she quilted on her new machine. He suggested we go see what was going on inside and guided us into the church and into an enormous room where a dozen older women sat at long tables sewing together lengths of fabric and batting. One lovely silver haired lady was using scraps of newspaper to protect her sewing machine needle as she stitched together 10-foot strips of heavy batting. "I'm 80 years old," she told me, "but I can still help." All around the room, teenagers were sorting and counting and stacking blankets and fabric and batting.

Somehow our conversation uncovered the fact that the church provides dinner once a month at a homeless shelter. The women of the church bake desserts and a committee goes to the shelter to cook meatloaf and mashed potatoes and green beans and salad. They serve over 800 meals each time and can always use extra hands. Apparently, they got the message about mobilizing energy toward positive goals.

So did I. Peeling potatoes for 800 should keep my hands plenty busy, don't you think?

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

Editing an article early this morning, I learned that the "value" of antiques dropped in 2007 for the first time in decades. The market is flooded by people downsizing and selling to generate cash flow. Some guy at Christie's says prices are down 70%.

The stock prices of only two companies on the Dow increased over 2008: McDonalds and Wal-Mart.

In November 2008, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced a temporary freeze on acquisition of new trade division titles. They've been publishing since 1832.

For two months now, every Saturday morning a woman sits on the grass in front of the local Chili's with puppies in her lap and a cardboard sign offering them for sale. She looks like an apple seller from the 1930s.

Economists may call this a recession, but it's pretty darn depressing.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Waiting for my Meaty Bone

When my kids were little, I read an article about creating a ritual for little hurts, specific comforts not related to food. The writer suggested anything would do, even a drink of water, that the undivided attention is what actually comforts the child. So I held and rocked the kids...sang to them...counted to three and yelled OWIEEE! with them. And always, when they got past the worst of the crying, I offered them a drink of water. Eventually, they equated a drink of water with love and concern. Katie once got hurt at her dad's house and came home indignant at her step mother. "She didn't care at all, Mom. I even had to get my own drink of water!"

My little doggie was very easy to house train. When she went outside as a puppy, I praised her and petted her and made a fuss when she did her business. As soon as we got back in the house, I gave her a small treat. She's 7 years old now, but that's still our routine. Once in a while I forget, and she sits in front of the treat jar, waiting patiently for her Meaty Bone.

A couple weeks ago, I landed a big writing assignment, one that meant I wouldn't have to worry about money for the rest of the year. I danced and sang when I got the email; had two glasses of pinot grigio that night. The first official document arrived: a non-disclosure agreement. Several more documents arrived, each from a different location and with a different corporate name. Some of those names were registered outside the country. The company did not have a corporate web site. Google turned up some pretty unsavory accusations.

I decided to take a wait-and-see approach. I need the money. All marketing is a shading of the truth. Who made me the arbiter of truth and goodness? I told myself lots of things as I waited for the actual assignments to arrive.

When the details showed up, it was as bad as I feared: possibly illegal, certainly unethical. I dithered. I argued with myself. I imagined being called to give a deposition. I imagined the people who might be misled by what I wrote. I imagined living with my conscience.

Bright and early the next morning, I emailed the managing editor to explain that I could not accept the assignment. Judging from his terse but polite response, I'm not the first writer to walk away after the details were revealed.

Throughout that morning and afternoon, I obsessively checked my email as I worked on a series of short projects. Write a paragraph, check email. Write another paragraph, back to email.

After a couple hours, it hit me that I was waiting for my Meaty Bone. I was a very good girl. I did the right thing and now expected wonderful news to arrive or a great assignment to turn up in my treat jar/inbox. When I realized what was going on, I laughed myself silly.

The Universe did not deliver a treat for my trick. Hell, I even had to get my own damn drink of water.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Dying for a Bathroom

Yesterday I interviewed a CA architect for a magazine article. In 1972, Coop taught a class on Environmental Awareness as his senior project, and it's been his passion throughout his career. We talked about his philosophy and the innovations he uses. It was all fascinating, but his final words may be the most interesting. I asked how his career has compared to what he imagined back when he was convincing the dean that environmental awareness did indeed impact architecture, back when he was first exploring the interrelatedness of building construction and the supply and demand of energy. It hasn't been what he thought. Still so little has changed and so few people care. "I thought more would happen," he said. "I thought more people would wake up."

Coop told me of M. King Hubbert, who, in 1956, calculated that the U.S. would pass peak oil production in the early 1970s. Hubbert later calculated that the world would pass peak production in 2004. According to the Coop, world production declined for the first time ever in 2006. Like the easy credit that got us in so much trouble, we're spending energy capital as though the supply will last forever, as though tomorrow will never come and we will never, finally, be forced to pay for the hamburger of today.

I mentioned my fascination with The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters, and told him a little about the book. We talked about biogas digesters, which use feces to produce gas for household use. He raved over how such a thing could be used and then sighed. "If I tried to get a building permit for something like that, I don't know who the county would call first: the mental hospital or the sheriff."

Having never lived without access to a clean, working bathroom, I consider it a basic necessity. I had no idea that 2.6 BILLION people live without access to even a bucket for a toilet. I had no sense—not an inkling—that sanitation is an enormous political issue or that human waste is being used as fertilizer in the U.S. and there's good reason to believe people are being poisoned by it.

One of today's tasks is to write the article for which I interviewed Coop. It's going to be quite a challenge to fit all the important things he said into the space available. We've got to wake up. We've got to pay for the hamburger.

People are dying for bathrooms.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Playing for Time

My friend is quite possibly the best maker of New Year's resolutions on the planet. She is serious, y'all. She writes down her resolutions and she makes them happen. In previous years she has resolved to learn screenwriting then gotten herself accepted to the New School at the Actor's Studio; resolved to concentrate on her art and gotten gallery showings across the U.S., including NY; resolved to be healthy and survived several years beyond the predictions of even her most optimistic doctors.

22 resolutions and counting this year. One of them is to play more, so yesterday we played pick-up sticks.

No need to check the archives. Yes, she was sent home from the hospital to hospice care earlier this week. Yes, she is terribly ill. (She's 6 ft. tall and barely weighs 100 pounds, even in several layers of sweat clothes and sweaters.) Hugging her still feels like embracing a bag of dry leaves.

None of that will change if she lies around crying. Instead, we played and laughed and cheered one another's daring moves...with pick-up sticks. Her set is a gorgeous collection of birch and cherry and mahogany and walnut sticks. The darker the wood, the more points you get for collecting the stick. I love that detail. Reaching for the dark, we found the Light, all afternoon.

Next week when she's stronger, we're going to thrown down with Twister. For today, it's more Earl Grey with honey, more macaroons with chocolate, and Scrabble. Playing games in the middle of all this may seem like fiddling while Rome burns, but she believes joy multiplies her moments and she needs every one. She's got 21 more resolutions to keep this year.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


Something rough appeared on the edge of one of my lower front teeth yesterday. Wearing my 200x reading glasses and using a 5x magnifying mirror, I can see what appears to be roughly half the size of a grain of salt—Morton's finest, not good Kosher. There is no pain. I was at the dentist only a month or so ago and had full x-rays. There's nothing wrong with my tooth. The end of my tongue is raw from worrying this tiny imperfection.

According to The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters, 2.6 billion people lack sanitation in the world today, including 1.7 million in the U.S. (Lacking sanitation is defined as no outhouse, bucket, or box.) The number of children killed by diarrhea exceeds that number killed in armed conflict since WWII, 90% of them by fecal contamination of food or water. Cholera and typhoid (diseases caused by contaminated water) kill enough children every four hours to fill two jumbo jets.

My closest friend here in MO went to the hospital in terrible pain late Sunday. After a thorough exam including CT scans, the doctors gave her morphine and sent her home to hospice care. She turned 54 in December.

Perhaps I should get my tongue off my tooth and my head out of my ass about using the "right" pictures in Katie's cookbook. Maybe, just maybe, I could get a freakin' grip.

Holistic healers have had my friend on an extremely restrictive diet for several years—no caffeine, no sugar, no white flour, no chocolate. I'm on my way over there this morning, taking the Earl Grey tea and chocolate dipped macaroons she requested. We're going to read poetry aloud and watch movies on DVD, including her beloved Enchanted April.

Oh, shit.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Recipe for Love

Blend equal parts joy and pain; fold in a pinch of courage. Pour into an open heart. Store at room temperature.

We had a new salad several times when the kids were here for Christmas. It has a garlicy, lemony, peppery dressing that Katie especially likes, and she can make it in her new Magic Bullet. Total bonus, because she loves that Magic Bullet. The day after she got home, she asked me to email the recipe. Even bought red wine vinegar for it, which means my little Food Network junkie now has five kinds of vinegar in her pantry.

The salad was such a hit that I decided to add it to Katie's cookbook/scrapbook. Picking a picture for the page cracked my heart open another smidgeon.

My first thought was to use a picture of Katie and Craig wearing hideous Christmas sweaters and horrible hats they bought at Goodwill as a joke. So far, I haven't included any pictures of Craig, but he's seeming more and more like part of the family. As I considered the pros and cons—the only real con being how hard it would be for her to throw away the page if they break up—I realized the question was moot.

We first made the salad for our dinner with N, the night Katie met her birth grandparents. The loving thing to do is use a picture from that night. The cookbook is meant to be a record of her life. N and her family are now part of that life, and they belong in its pages.

Some tiny, ugly part of me says no, shrieks orders to build a barb-wire fence around what's precious, stack bricks and stones to defend "my" territory. The cookbook is ours, mine and Katie's. I don't have to let anyone else in.

Except I do. Wanting the best for my daughter means opening the doors of my heart to all who love her, all she loves. Including pictures of her dad's family in the original pages wasn't easy, either, but it was right. So is this.


Most things get easier with practice. I sure hope this open-hearted thing is one of them.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

You're a Poet BECAUSE You Know It

When the reading started, I was pinned to my seat by the ordinariness of most of the poetry. One after the other, readers introduced themselves by saying something like, "I've been a poet for 12 years" or "Poetry has always been with me." Many had never read in public before, but they all had sheaves—filing cabinets, in one case—of poetry.

The best of the lot was the elderly gentleman who had been reading and rereading his own poetry to himself. At the lectern, he peered over his reading glasses and apologized in advance for any mistakes. He is dyslexic and struggles with every word. Struggles to write it. Struggles to read it. "Words were never my friends," he said, "until I met poetry."

When the dyslexic poet returned to his seat, his wife stood to embrace him. For a few seconds, nothing existed in that room but a silver haired man and woman sharing victory over an old obstacle. Her eyes filled with tears. He brushed them away, touching her face with a tenderness you rarely see in real life. Even after they sat down, they held hands in a firm, I-am-connected-to-you way. He rested his left arm on the back of the seat next to him and revealed the brown buttons on the sleeve of his gray tweed sport coat. The leather was almost worn away on one button.

None of these people will ever be published. Few of them will make even one dollar from their writing. They write for the joy of it. They read because they can. They listen because they understand what it means to have an audience.

They have met poetry and made words their friends.

Friday, January 02, 2009

On New Year's Day, I went with friends to an open mike poetry event at a local writer's place.

An old mansion's living and dining rooms are the main salon for these events. On the living room side, nearest the lectern, the seating is gray folding chairs with silver and maroon upholstered seats. Further back, the metal chairs have no padding. In the last two rows, the chairs are while plastic lawn chairs. On the dining room side, odd bits of furniture—mismatched chairs and sofas and ottomans—host odd groupings of the faithful. At the back of the room, two small tables hold crackers and cheese, bagels, plastic trays of veggies and dip, olives, soda, water, gallon jugs of red and white wine.

A toddler runs loose among the crowd, scrambling up the wooden steps to the second floor, playing with the guitar case of the folk singer who wrapped up the afternoon program, squealing when he finds stray pretzels on the floor.

A petite red haired woman flits about, apparently unaware that three full inches of her ample midriff are spilling over the waistband of her gauzy black broomstick skirt, clearly visible beneath the edge of her too-small black velvet blouse. Her 14-year-old son tunes a guitar in the corner. An elderly gentleman sits in the middle of the room, reading a short poem aloud to himself, over and over. He stumbles over every line, different words tripping him each time through.

A middle-aged black woman holds the hand of a beautiful pre-teen girl. It's hard to tell who is supporting whom. They sit next to a tough looking young man with the most delicate hands and beautiful nails I've ever seen on a man.

The moderator calls the group to order and everyone except the toddler turns their attention to the readers, willing each to make it through.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Odyssey of Time and Space

2009 sounds so strange.

In 1962, our third-grade Weekly Readers described life in the year 2000: flying cars and wrist radios and food capsules, the Jetsons come to life. We calculated how old we'd be on that far off New Year and laughed at the ridiculous idea we'd ever be that old. The year 2000 stretched our imaginations to the limit.

I am now nine years older than I would never be. My son graduated from high school in 2000. My daughter will graduate from college in 2010, a second space odyssey.

Meal replacement bars, food supplements, processed meals now crowd store shelves. iPhones left wrist radios in the dust. Alas, cars still roll down highways but "experts" still report flying vehicles hovering around the corner.

It would be hard to get used to writing 2009, but I almost never write checks any more and autofill takes care of dates on letters and such. The 24-hour news cycle replaced weekly any thing, including Readers. We have ventured off the edge of the map. "Beyond here, there be dragons."

The Great Beyond lacks guideposts but it's got plenty of possibility. And who knows, maybe even flying cars.