Saturday, October 31, 2009

Whistling in the Dark

I went to the dance--not hoping to meet someone but hoping to get myself past the endless comparisons, past seeing myself as "less than."

I love to dance. I love parties. I love costumes. The only reason I didn't want to go is that constant feeling of not being enough. It doesn't really matter much whether I go to one dance, but it matters a lot whether I give in to that feeling and give up on myself.

I believe in Magic, but I know Magic is not going to come knock on my door. It will find me when I am ready. The only way I know to get ready is to face my fears and insecurities.

Last night, I did that dressed as a Sand Witch, complete with sand-colored glitter covering my face, patches of sand and seashells glued to my witch's cape, and black-and-white striped socks disappearing into my pointy-toed shoes. This morning I'm going to do it at a Lift class at the gym. Who knows what I'll try tomorrow.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Scary Stuff

I've got my costume.

I've got my ticket.

I've got a map.

The dance is tonight and I don't want to go. Do. Not. Want. To. Go.

Everyone else in the group has a date or a mate. Everyone else is younger, thinner, cuter. Their hair still has a color. (This is the stuff I obsess about that does not matter.

And yet, if I stay home, there is zero chance I will meet anyone. It's too early for Santa, and even he isn't going to drop a man down my chimney. If I want to meet someone, I've got to leave the house. I go and feel ridiculous? Or stay home and feel lonely?

Not exactly Sophie's Choice here. Go or go not. There is no whine.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


I am here and I am fine. Struggling with sadness. Working too much. But hanging on.

Back soon.

Monday, October 26, 2009


"Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy." Albert Einstein

So much of my attention goes to things that simply do not matter. Moving beyond that would be a quantum change.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Last week Liz's aunt invited me to go wig shopping with her. A brunette, S. wanted a long blonde wig for her Halloween costume. After we found the perfect synthetic hair to complete the illusion, we went to dinner.

S has been a puzzle to me since I met her at the Wednesday bike rides this summer. She's very attractive: size 4, beautiful, great smile. Smart. Funny. Charming. And yet, she's single.

At dinner, I figured out why: More than a decade after an ugly divorce, her defenses are three miles wide and twice as thick. As she told me the details, I heard more than her story. I heard my own.

S has a hair trigger on the reject button. She drops men who raise even one red flag.

I bypass the messy parts and reject myself before a guy gets that chance. It's been three years since I've even gone on a date. I tell myself I'll try again when I lose some weight. This internal conversation usually occurs over margaritas and nachos. This summer, I rode at least 10 miles a day, 6 days a week. I must have seriously stepped up my eating, because I lost 10 lousy pounds.

The morning after S and I had dinner, I downloaded a free 7-day pass to 24-hour Fitness. Friday I did a water aerobics class; Saturday it was lifting weights to music; today I'm trying something called Zumba. We'll see if I make myself join. I hate exercise classes. I feel like an elephant in a herd of gazelle. When an instructor tries to help me, the glare of attention feels like a spotlight of shame.

But something has to change. I need to get healthy, inside and out. When I drop my defenses, my weight will drop, too. Meantime, I'm trying to tough out those classes.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Cat in the Hat

The sun did not shine.

It was too wet to play.

So we sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day.

Or something like that. My youngest child is 22—it's been a long time since I read Cat in the Hat.

I heard the rain before opening my eyes. Again. Raining again.

I need some sun. Inside. Outside. Whatever. I just need some sunshine.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cool, Daddy-O

Deb, Liz, her mother Kathy, and I went to historic/shopping district of St. Charles, MO for the weekend. We shopped all day Saturday. In each store, I looked for a peacock blue pashmina. (I did not mention my mission or the reason for it.)

Eventually, we went back to our hotel to change for dinner. When everyone was ready, Liz and Kathy came to the room Deb and I were sharing and mysteriously spread six scarves on the bed.

"Everyone needs to pick a scarf," Kathy said. "At dinner, you can demonstrate a new way to wear the scarf or make up a story about where the scarf has been. The scarf is yours to keep."

You already know, don't you?

The sixth scarf was the PRECISE peacock blue pashmina I'd been looking for all day.

Ordinarily, I would wait until others made their choices. Ordinarily, I would say I liked all scarves. Ordinarily, I would choose what others didn't seem to want.

These circumstances were not ordinary. I snatched the peacock blue pashmina before anyone had a chance to say a word.

"This one has to be mine," I said. "I'll share the scarf, but I have to tell its story."

The others seemed a little taken back but graciously picked from the other scarves, and we went off to dinner.

After the server had taken our wine orders, Kathy asked why I had to tell the story of that particular scarf. I started by explaining that I'd been looking for a peacock blue pashmina all day.

Three years ago, Barbara's doctors discovered a recurrence of illness that eventually took her life, and they were blunt about the grim prognosis. Not surprisingly, Barb swung from peaceful to frightened and back for weeks. One fall day, she called me, sobbing. We hadn't seen the sun for days, she missed her friends and her life in Iowa, she was struggling with the book she was writing. I told her to hang on, I'd be right there.

On the way over, I stopped and bought a peacock blue pashmina and peacock blue velvet gloves and the same scarf and gloves in green. Then I called and told Barb to put on a black turtleneck, black pants, and short black boots. When she came to the door, I handed her the scarves and gloves and told her to bring her biggest, darkest sunglasses. Without a word, she followed me to my car.

Barb recognized where we were going long before we arrived. She loved the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and we often went there to lift her spirits. We draped our scarves around our necks, pulled on our gloves, donned our sunglasses, and did our best beatnik imitations throughout the museum.

"That Thomas Hart Benton was a real cool cat," Barb said. I raised both hands and snapped my fingers as much as possible wearing velvet gloves. We laughed so hard we had to sit down on nearby benches.

By the time we left an hour or so later, the color had returned to Barb's world. Over the years, we often wore our scarves and gloves on outings.

When it turned cold a couple weeks ago, I looked for my green scarf and gloves. The gloves were right where they belonged but the scarf has not turned up. I wanted to replace it with a peacock blue scarf in Barb's honor and have looked several times with no luck until Kathy laid the exact duplicate on my bed in the Boone's Lick Inn.

When I finished telling the story, Liz looked puzzled—she did not know the term "beatnik." Deb started trying to explain, and Kathy took up the tale.

"Beatniks write poetry," Kathy said. She composed her face and threw her hands into the air. "Fire," she whispered in a tone heavy with portent.

"Burn." Her hands went to her shoulders.

"Death." She put her hands to her forehead and dropped her head to the table.

Debbie and I clicked our fingers madly.

We laughed so hard and so long we offered to buy wine or dessert for the tables around us to make up for disturbing their dinners. We laughed so hard we cried off all our mascara and eye liner. We laughed so hard Debbie had an asthma attack.

We laughed so hard I felt Barb's spirit beside me.

Cool, Daddy-O.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Full Circles

I met Barbara Robinette Moss at a reading by Jeannette Walls, the author of The Glass Castle. During the Q&A after the reading, Jeannette introduced Barb, who was sitting three rows ahead of me, also on the aisle. I loved Change Me into Zeus' Daughter and had gone to see Barb read in Minneapolis. After Jeannette's reading, I stepped up and spoke to Barb. We chatted for a moment, and I turned to go. "Wait," she called. "I'm moving to Kansas City in a couple months. Do you want to be my friend?"

That surprised me, but it surprised me even more two months later when she called and invited me to lunch. Fifteen minutes into our lunch, she was no longer a famous author, she was simply Barb, a funny, charming, brilliant woman who brought sunshine into every room she entered.

About three months before we met, Barb learned an illness for which she'd already had two major surgeries had returned. She faced the grim prognosis with quintessential Barb-ness. She simply didn't believe it. Instead, she pursued healing through Eastern medicine, nutritional healing, and spiritualism. She lived far beyond the doctor's expectations, a life filled with grace and courage and love and laughter.

Barbara danced. Lord, how that woman loved to scoot her boots. Very little made her happier than a dance floor and a cowboy who really knew how to two-step.

Poetry filled Barb. She had books of poetry in every room and thought no day was complete without reading from at least one.

Music followed her wherever she went. She played guitar and banjo and the iPod. (Technologically challenged, she needed help with the iPod at first. We picked one out together and I taught her to load music. She called the next day, crying, "I'll never be able to work this thing!" But she did.)

Jeannette Walls' new book, Half Broke Horses, was released two days before Barb's death. I stopped at B&N on the way home from the hospital and stayed up into the night to read the book before returning.

"PULL UP A CHAIR AND TELL ME EVERYTHING!" she scrawled in all caps. (She couldn't speak because she was on a ventilator then.)

I told her what I thought of the book. We talked about the story and about the cover, which refers to the book as a "true life novel." We talked about how to write true stories and how to make words sing and dance. Her last note to me was, "BRING IT TOMORROW. READ TO ME!"

We never talked again. By the time I got back the next day, Barb was unconscious, her life slipping away. Our friendship started and ended with Jeannette Walls. It was, in all ways, a very full circle.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Saturday night Craig proposed to Katie, complete with candles and flowers and exactly the ring she wanted. They haven't set a date yet, but the wedding won't be for at least a year, possibly longer.

When Craig called Friday to ask permission to propose, we talked about the challenges they face. He seems prepared to face those challenges, and he loves Katie. They're young, but they're both smart and incredibly practical. I said yes with love and hope in my heart.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Today was filled with phone calls and google searches, making arrangements for a party to celebrate Barb's life. I called venues like historic theaters and art galleries and the Kansas City Library. I talked to caterers and musicians and linen suppliers.

Evaluating the options, I'd think, "Barb loves that gallery!" or "She'd love to see her name on that theatre marquee!" And then I'd remember.

In one way, I want to make this the best possible party. In another, the details simply don't matter.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Wishing on a Star

My dear friend Barbara Robinette Moss died about 10:15 last night, surrounded by her loving and faithful husband, her son, a brother and several friends. Each of us held an arm or a foot and prayed as she slipped away.

I've never known anyone with a stronger life force or more curiosity about the world. When she was still in a regular room, Barb could see a little house hugging the top of the hill outside her window. Going to see that little house up close was near the top of the list of things she wanted to when she got out of the hospital.

I pretty much collapsed on the sofa when I got home and woke this morning, still in my clothes. 6:26 am, dark. One enormous star shined, perfectly centered in the big windows at the end of the living room. I've never seen a star so big or so bright. It rose in the sky, moving higher and higher in the windows.

The darkness seemed to flash and I could see into its depths—millions of pinpricks of light stretching into infinity. Barb's voice filled the room, her Alabama drawl like poured silk. "Don't worry. I've gone on ahead. You can't imagine how beautiful it is here."

I blinked hard. The pinpricks disappeared, but the single star remained, dimming as the sky brightened.

When the star faded completely, I drove to the hill beyond the hospital. Turns out that tiny house is really a mansion: What we could see was the smallest part.

Vaya Con Dios

Go with God, dear friend.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Prayer Request

My dearest KC friend is in Intensive Care, on a ventilator. Her condition has been deteriorating rapidly over the few months. Last week her potassium and sodium levels were so out of control that she nearly had a heart attack. She's been on oxygen and major IV meds for more than a week now.

Yesterday, the docs placed in stint in one of her airways, strengthening it to resist the pressure of the tumors pressing on it. During the procedure, they put her on a ventilator to help get through it. They say she'll get off. They say she may recover enough to go home on portable oxygen. She wants to go home. She wants to see her cat and sit at her meditation altar. She wants to have a cup of tea on her beautiful deck.

I ask God to be gentle with her, to bring her peace. Please join me in that prayer.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Carrying On

Yesterday Mom and Dad and I went to the funeral of a woman we'd never met. Her son is one of the Meatloaf Monday crew, a truly wonderful man with an equally wonderful wife.

Mrs. Wallace had outlived her husband, all her brothers and sisters, and all but one of her friends. Alzheimer's robbed her of the ability to make new friends. And yet, the church was nearly full.

Some people in the congregation came to honor her history in the church. Some of us came out of respect for her son; some to support her daughter.

Although almost no one there beyond the family actually knew Mrs. Wallace, the gathering was a testament to her life. It's quite an accomplishment to raise children who earn such love and loyalty, a fine legacy.

Later, the meatloaf crew changed into our standard t-shirts and jeans and hurried to the church where we serve. We missed Jim, but we got the job done. I guess that's the way of it. Some people die. Some are born. The human family carries on.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Thing With Feathers

War broke out inside me as we rode out of the parking lot in St. Charles. "You can't give Molly up," whispered the gray side.

"You can't look a gift bike in the mouth," hissed the blue side. "They gave you a bike."

I hardly felt the bumps.

The pedals felt wrong.

The gears glided from one to the next.

The seat pinched every portion of my lower anatomy.

They gave me a bike.

The trail wound past a gravel pit, a concrete plant, a riverside park, a small lake. Liz rode up, panting. "Can you believe this hill?" she asked. I hadn't noticed we were going uphill. I was busy arguing with myself about being disloyal to an inanimate object and hating that damn seat.

HATING that seat. It hit me ten kinds of wrong: too hard, too wide, too close to the pedals.


At the beginning of the summer, Deb and I rarely spoke and had very little in common. Despite being family for more than 35 years, Jim and I had never had any real relationship. Rolled eyeballs were Brendan's default setting when I talked. On the trail, we laughed. We helped each other. We shared.

I had to keep the bike.

"The bike." Without a name, it was just a bike. It needed a name.

Daisy for the Gerbera daisy on the handlebars?

Rusty because the daisy was red?

Charlie because they gave it to me in St. Charles?

Nothing fit. It didn't feel like a bike with a name. It felt like a bike with a damn hard seat. It also felt like love. I spun back and forth as the pedals spun round and round.

After we got home Sunday night, I put Molly's seat on the new bike and rode through my neighborhood. Suddenly, the bike fit. It wasn't just good, it was fabulous. Forcing myself into the house to unpack and start the laundry wasn't easy. I cruised the neighborhood several more times before dark, loving every minute of it.

Monday morning, I rode the new bike to Mom and Dad's for coffee. It was a wonderful morning—chilly and blustery but beautiful. I shared the trail with eight wild turkeys, one doe and a handful of cyclists. Steam rose from the river in ribbons twisting toward the sky like prayers rising to God.

Riding nine miles into the wind, I had plenty of time to contemplate a name for the bike. Something connected to how I got her, to what she means to me. Something with a literary hook. Like the original seat, nothing fit. They gave her to me to ride the Katy Trail, but I could hardly give my bike my daughter's name.

The trail is named for the MKT Railroad. Maybe Emma.

Heading down the hill toward the dreaded barricade, something caught my eye. As it got closer, I recognized a feather swirling in the breeze like the opening of Forest Gump come to life. It fluttered and flitted, closer and closer. Just as I entered the trees, the feather skidded sideways, right at me, and tangled itself in the bike's brake cables.

Amazed, I screeched to a dead stop and plucked the feather from the bike. I ruffled and picked at it, then tucked it into one of the holes of my helmet. As I settled back onto the seat, the name struck me.

Emily. My new bike is Emily, named for the MKT and for Miss Emily Dickinson, who wrote:

"Hope" is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—"

I rolled down the hill, for once picking up speed rather than braking as I approached the barrier. I patted the feather to make sure it was secure and stood to cruise between the ugly hunks of concrete, my weight balanced equally on the pedals and hope perched firmly in my soul.

Absorbing Shock

Back in July when we started riding, my sister's only bike was about 35 years old. It was pretty much unworkable, so she rode the mountain bike Meghan (her daughter) took to college seven years ago. It's a fine bike, but the tires are small and wide and the frame didn't fit Deb well. She struggled. She was always a pretty good distance behind the group, which she absolutely hated.

Liz and Brendan bought new bikes pretty early on, and Deb and I fell for Liz's new bike, with its shock absorbers and smooooth operation. The night we test-rode it, we each went home calculating how and when we could buy one. Deb rarely buys anything for herself and things are a bit tight for her right now. It wasn't going to happen.

Although I love Molly, she's about 20 years old. She squeaks and creaks. She has no shocks. She's heavy. I lusted after a new bike for several days, imagining it would make riding much easier. But I sailed across the trail while Deb struggled behind me. In the early days, I had to bribe her with fruit smoothies, and Deb literally stumbled into the juice bar, red faced and gasping for air.

For me, a new bike would be nice. For Deb, it could make the difference between riding or giving up. My folks agreed to help, and together we bought Deb a shiny new bike. She caught me putting it into her car and protested. I told her the bike fairies had left it. She sobbed. In fact, she cried every time she told someone about her new bike. On the bike's maiden voyage, Deb was first to the juice bar. She never looked back.

Deb's husband Jim started joining us, riding a bike Dad used to take when he and Mom traveled in the motor home. It's a good bike, but it's about 15 years old and has thumb shifters. None of us ever figured out how the gears worked, but Jim pedaled on, my most faithful riding companion. As his birthday approached in August, I started a movement and, together, the group played bike fairy for him. He was beyond thrilled.

Molly worked her magic on me, and I came to appreciate her vintage nature. Like me, she was old but still going strong, and her slight vagaries seemed eccentric and charming. I no longer lusted after a new bike, but I have to admit that once or twice I imagined the feeling of everyone ganging up to do something special for me. I put the thought away quite firmly and continued to appreciate Molly. In fact, I came to love her fiercely.

Last Friday morning, we arrived at the first trail head. As Brendan unloaded the bikes, I stopped into the restroom. When I walked back to the truck, Meghan called to me, "Aunt Jerri. Can I ride Molly today?"

"Sure, Sweetie. What do you want me to ride?" I genuinely had no idea.

"Well. How about this new bike the bike fairies left here for you?" Meghan stepped out from behind the truck, rolling a shiny new bike with a red Gerbera daisy attached to the handle bars.

I looked from the bike to Meg and then to each of the faces suddenly surrounding me. Deb. Jim. Liz. Brendan. The love in their shining eyes, their joy at surprising me so completely, overwhelmed me. I cried. They laughed in delight. I sobbed.

Shock absorbers are fine, fine things.