Friday, December 30, 2011

Early morning and what is and isn't in my head

Yesterday and it is  2:38 in the morning. Sounds like a line from a country song, who knows if it's  a good one. Two days in a row, I'm awake and thoughts are running  like a clear, mountain stream. Thank God.

I am grateful when the lunar lunacies spend the night away from home and when the things that talk to me in the middle of the night do so quietly and calmly. Quiet and calm beats the hell out of unruly talking children thoughts who get up in my head, shout, laugh and poke at me, who get scared and scream at me. Spending  early morning with thoughts that run on quiet power and speak to me like I have good sense,  are easy. Early morning with screaming unruly children thoughts is when a five minute conversation lasts 10,000 years and  being run over by a Mack truck would be a kinder thing.

I get up and write my emos. For whatever reason, the last two weeks all the memos have been emos. That is what keeps popping out of my mouth, "I'll write you an emo." I need to remember to look emo up---maybe there is a deeper meaning to writing emos than writing memos, the thought at least entertains me, more than the actual emos do. I write the emos and send a pile of them off and climb back into bed. It is 3:38.

I can't find a place for my legs because Gratefulest Dog has decided my absence means he can stretch out horizontally and he has left me an inch. I move my legs. He ends up off the bed and on the floor. Immediately his Dad wakes up.

"Why are you shoving the dog off the bed?"
"I didn't. I moved my legs and off he went."

"WHY are you shoving the dog off the bed?"
I didn't, I swear I moved my legs and he went off."

Gratefulest is back on the bed by this time, half-horizontal and half-vertical. We are awake.

He tells me it is all my doing that the dog is on the bed to begin with. I refuse to own that one. I remember when he came and he slept on the sunroom floor and stared in the windows at us, and we stared back. He had his bed and we had ours. We were not so unified at 3:38 in the morning.

"Every time I went out of town, he slept with you. You started it."
"That's different."

It doesn't seem to be a productive conversation but it makes us both laugh. We start talking about an art project in Georgia, Perceptual Control Theory, the emos, the printer, the offices, the studio, retrofitting plumbing. We start talking about something else, he says, "You remember?" As usual, I don't. I used to always remember.

 I tell him, "You know I don't know what is in my head anymore but I sure as hell know what isn't." Country song 2.

 It is a long conversation ---probably the longest one we've had in weeks. It is real and it is us and it is funny. Thank God. The gifts 3:38 and a dog flying in the morning can bring.

There is a loud, low noise that hums above us and hangs out. "What the hell is that?" It lasts about a minute. Both of us are too quiet and run through our heads anything it could have been. It comes back and hangs and lingers again. It shakes us up and we can't come up with a single, "good" explanation.

Sweetheart gets up. Time for early coffee and pondering the fact that he wishes a UFO would come and visit. He has wished it for a long, long time. I lie in bed and think how it would be to run downstairs and tell Mama. To tell her that the world she believes has gone crazy now has  a UFO and real ETs in it. When I tell her later in the day, she laughs. And then she ponders what that means.

It is almost the New Year, and tomorrow night I will probably be wide awake again in the middle of the night, listening for Sweetheart's UFO. I will be grateful if the thoughts are quietly conversing and not the unruly children screaming, it would be a good way to have a new beginning. I will lie there and  feel Gratefulest up against my legs and maybe if I'm lucky, hear Sweetheart laugh in his sleep and I will not so much care what is or isn't in my head.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

We Take Blessings Too

He is standing a bit away from the front doors and ringing a bell.  Each person he sees, near or far, he shouts to,  "Merry Christmas". Like everyone I see, I avert my eyes and scurry past.

I leave the store having forgotten to get the cash back I'd planned to get because once in line I couldn't remember why I needed any. I knew there wasn't any point in just "having" some. Sweetheart would find it and he would need it more, not in the wishful thinking way, or the made-up kind of way but the real kind of way. So here I was back outside the door, without so much as a nickel, looking at the man and his bucket, and as usual remembering later what I'd wished I'd remembered sooner.

This time I looked at him.

"I'm so sorry. I meant to get some cash. I don't even have a dime or a quarter in my purse." But to be sure, I looked, I stood there moving everything around hoping that something would materialize. He kept ringing his bell and looked at me and smiled.

"We take blessings too. Most people don't know we take blessings too, most people just walk past and don't say 'nuthin so I can't tell 'em."

 I think how I'd just walked past and said  'nuthin. I think how I'd looked at him and immediately gotten  caught up in the thinking of everything I couldn't give, didn't have or what was expected of me. When  all I needed to do was say Merry Christmas  and let him give me his gift. 

"Thank you for telling me, thank you for reminding me. Bless you, bless you for what you are doing and bless you in the days to come. Merry Christmas."

I touch his shoulder, look him in the eye and smile.

As I drive out of the parking lot I watch the people flooding in and out of  the store doors and I listen for someone to return his Merry Christmas. I don't hear a single one.

Sweetheart said yesterday everywhere he drove people were in a hurry and just plain mad, they were in a hurry so that later when they weren't, they could stop and say, "Merry Christmas" and by then maybe mean it.

Today I have been reminded of the simple, the important, the moment, of the need to slow it down, look and listen for the stranger bearing merry and bearing blessings.

Today I have been reminded that

"We all take blessings too."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Stories That Come and Go Like Water

I am held in the stories that come and go like water. Standing still, watching and feeling.

Challenge. Suffering. Challenge. Suffering. Weakness. Strength. Humor. Hope. Grace.
Coming and going.

I stand still within the stories that are layered and nuanced, subtle and unsubtle, that scream and cry, that whimper and whisper, that beg and demand, that rip out the heart and then slap on the laughter.

Mama's face looks paler every day. There is the pain that is her constant companion, but mostly there is her heart that feels it all.

"I have lived through wars, and a Great Depression, I have lived through ugly politics and soldiers coming home to have no jobs. But this, this is crazy. It has never been quite so bad and quite so crazy and I don't understand this crazy."

Mama's story this day will be followed by five or six, or ten more that all are held in suffering, in seeking, in not so often, understanding.

I only know how to reach out my hand. I only know how to reach out my heart. I can steady with my hand and wrap them all up in my heart.

I can listen.

I can honor each one and its storybringer. I can one day, write them.

I look for a flash of the  iridescent, the glimmer that signals the wings where the quiet quiet quiet giggle rides piggyback with the quiet quiet quiet hope, where for a moment the suffering will ease, the story will change  and where the page will turn.

I stand still
I am held
in the stories that come and go like water.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dreaming Abundance, Dreaming Grateful

I woke up this morning and for once remembered the dream, vividly, all of the images and all of the conversation. Usually I only remember pieces, morning blurs the pieces and quickly quiets the real and scary,  real and joyful,  the colorful that is filled with live people and dead people.  Morning usually sends the gifts and journey of Mother Moon away.

Today, I remember.

We walk across a breezeway into a different room---away from what I think is  familiar to what I think is  unknown. As we walk towards one from the other I realize that we are going from what belongs to us to another part of what belongs to us.

"I don't remember we had this room."

I spot the bathroom.

"Look at that bathtub. It is huge. It has JETS. I can soak in lavender. How could we have a bathroom with this tub and I didn't know it?"

I walk out of the bathroom and into a great room that has a kitchen, room for a bed, room for a living area, floor to ceiling windows except for the places that hold the bookcases and the fireplaces. Beautifully small in the way-big-enough-kind-of-way, minimalist but having everything we need, want and have wished for in the place we have wanted to live these last umpteen years. I look out the windows, see the big green, the Grandaddy Spirit trees and stand in awe. I spin around and count the fireplaces, not one but three, each beautiful, each different, each big and lit and pulling me into their warm, into their light.

"We have fireplaces? How did I not know we had fireplaces? I just told someone we didn't have a fireplace? And we have THREE."

"We could live here---in our place. In the place we've always wanted, in the place that holds our dreams, in the place that already belongs to us."

Everything we wanted, dreamed about, was already ours.

I am astounded. I am thrown. I am thankful.




Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Crackle, Rustle, Happy Birthday

Crackle, crackle, crackle, crackle.

I moved.

Crackle, crackle, crackle, crackle.

I lifted my arm.

Rustle, rustle, rustle, rustle.

I shifted.

Crackle, rustle, rustle, crackle, crackle.

I opened my eyes.

I was covered in a few hundred little pieces of paper.
I lifted one up and looked at it. I squinted and read the tiny writing.

I love you.

I turned my head. He smiled and said, "I love you."

It was the spring of 1974 and the man I was living with but not living with not according to if you'd asked my parents, the man I would later marry and later divorce had covered me in hundreds of I love you's. It was one of the reasons I  loved him and one of the reasons he claimed a piece of my heart and one of the reasons he still has the key to that piece of my heart. It was one of the reasons that it is always worth loving, even when we change, even when we walk apart and away. It is one of the reasons that as we continue to become who we are, the people who have loved us or shared with us become even more important.

It is your birthday today Wingfield.
Close your eyes and imagine that I have sent a shower of hundreds of little pieces of paper floating down on you, some of them say, I love you and some of them say Thank you and some of them say, Happy Birthday and some of them simply crackle and rustle for the remembering and for the fun of the sound of it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Brian's Masked Sunrise

I stare at the painting. Its reds, oranges, yellows and flight move me as they have for 27 years. All things being equal, odds are, based on everything else I no longer have, that I would not have this either. For a good while it was 90% of everything I owned. It traveled with me from Seattle to Santa Fe, from Santa Fe to Dallas, back to Seattle, in the cargo of the plane to New York, and in the back of the mini-teeny truck home to NC. It traveled to Las Vegas, to a small apartment in Hilton Head and on to Atlanta, then to the NC tobacco barn, the log cabin and finally, this home where many lives and stories, merged.  I  have left clothes, furniture, books and most other things behind, but Brian and his Masked Sunrise have remained a constant, the first thing in place no matter where I landed, like my own sacred cornerstone, a sacred cornerstone and a sacred knowing, as long as Brian was with me, I could rise free as his birds into the sunrise.

Masked sunrise, maybe it was a metaphor for his life, the potential, the glory, and the mask. For me it was and is always about the sunrise as metaphor for possibility, goodness, love, sustenance, awe, for the true in nature and the true in us, for the palpably beautiful and the palpably real.

I see the blackbird winging towards the heart of sunrise and I think how much it is like Brian. Always in motion, always striving, determined to make it even when the depression, the suffering, the callousness, the disrespect and inhumanity tried to crush his beautiful soul, he was always seeking to fly, he was always seeking glory in the morning.

He has been sitting company a lot with me these last days. It has just been his birthday and mine.

I see him as I first saw him, leaping across the stage in the hot pink stretch pants that he later  gave  to me, the ones that defined him and later defined me, the ones I wore with hot pink stillettos, funk, bad taste and full-on "this is who I am." They were "who we were," shared.

I remember the first Thanksgiving where he invited all his alone friends and he cooked for us from his heart in his gourmet way.  I had not yet cultivated the taste for chestnuts, and brussel sprouts, or seaweed, I was longing for  thick gravy, stuffing made with butter and a pile of mashed potatoes. In memory it became two things, the Thanksgiving of trying to swallow what I'd rather have spit in the napkin and the Thanksgiving where alone hearts were embraced in a day of giving thanks for all the hearts. It is why each year, the tables and borrowed chairs grow and Mama's and my plates merge and each year it is more challenging to feed the growing Thanksgiving numbers, but it is why the Blessing Bowl overflows. It is Thanksgiving as ritual and heart, and as Brian defined it in 1977.

Brian was deep and deeply committed, a deep thinker, a deep feeler, a deep everythinger. He was deeply healthy and deeply working on staying that way, in either a slim and lithe dancer's body or the body builder, muscled and strong one. When he was training he'd think nothing of working out for 3 hours and ending the work-out with a visit to see me, running up the 46 flights of high-rise steps to get to my office. Most often, he'd walk in barely breathless and giving me "the look." The one that came when he saw my croissants and bacon and butter that he knew I'd either taken the elevator to get or sent Tina to get while my own butt stayed parked happily in my chair.  I would meet his look, reach for my bacon and we would talk. One day he waved his arm at me when he walked in, his hands held a rolled up  sheet of paper. An almost perfect likeness of me drawn from memory. The frame has long-since disappeared, the offwhite paper is smudged and dirty, but it hangs between my office and bedroom.  It is signed by 4 fingerprints turned into hearts that I remember he said he had blown kisses into.

He called me early one Saturday, he had a borrowed car, and took me to a  beach on the peninsula, a picnic basket of feast treats and a bottle of champagne and we sat and stared at the wild ocean and huddled together in appreciation of magic.  It was one of many Brian surprises, he delighted in giving and he delighted in surprises and he was master at combining both.  I was often the recipient of full-out serendipitous goodness.  The first gift ever I found on my pillow. He'd taken a bus from Seattle to Kirkland, broken into my house and placed an inscribed copy of The Red Balloon on my pillow. He'd locked the house back up and quietly left.  Years later when he came to visit he would leave behind more gifts or mail them after he left. The green bowl, the weaving he'd done on his grandmother's loom, "Things Not Seen" a painting I"d fallen in love with from the slides,  As I finally quit traveling and most of what I owned was not just my sunrise, as my possessions began to grow again, so did the gifts from Brian. He delighted my heart and my home.

The last thing that came a handmade book, each page a page of his last vision quest, each page a short poem of his soul that day, each page one day closer to when he decided that he wanted to live and not die. It is a beautiful book, fragile, delicate and unmeasurably strong, it is him. His grandmother's teachings about life and art had mostly sustained him, he had made peace with the love of his family and the love of his family removed. He had found partners and left partners, had had successes and the many lean times when having been the first Barista for Starbucks he would always return to that for making the money to pay the rent when the stretches between one man shows were too long. And he had doubted himself, his life and his gifts more times than a human being should, but finally, had found some peace.

Sometimes we would lose each other for a year or 2 or 3 but always we would find each other again. His last trip here he stood over the pool in the woods imagining his next one man show and beginning to draw figure after figure swimming, diving, flying, leaping, all of the figures in a place of movement but also all in a place of surrender  (just like him). He would cook our dinner, and draw, he would laugh at Jeff not smoking smoking and the curiously funny way that Papa broke his leg, he would talk of his Borzois and how he missed them. He would come upstairs to tell me he would be sleeping on the couch in the den because the spirits in the basement were way too active.

He would leave. For the last time.

I knew he had moved to a small town north of Seattle, had finally found a partner he was happy with, that he was teaching and working on several new shows I knew he was finally almost as close as genius can ever get to being happy.

I lost him for 2 years, I googled him. I couldn't find him and then one day a review appeared, of a one-man show of figures leaping and moving, dancing and flying off into surrender. I finally reached the gallery to ask  them to have him call me.

"Oh." She said.

"I don't know how to tell you this...
 That show was 2 years ago...
 and well, Brian died."

I hung up.

Over the course of the next few days I would learn about an opening night, a mosquito bite, a headache that started and wouldn't quit, a hospital that said nothing was wrong, a return trip back a few days later too late, a coma and then his death. I would learn of a family who did not want his paintings but finally took them anyway, unhappy with what they perceived as a burden.
I would never learn about his partner, the end of his life, his final almost happiness.

I would learn about fleeting, and about too sudden. I would remember big generous and big love.

These days he has been with me. His birthday August 28.
Telling people I love them is something I do, every day, and as often as possible. For whatever reason, I never told Brian enough.

I place the Red Balloon, the green bowl, the poster, the card, his handmade book on the woven throw, the throw that is  on the guest bedroom bed,  the one he wove with love, the one that adds his love to mine and reaches out in welcome to the one who comes to stay. I look at what is symbolic of the person who so enriched and continues to enrich my life. The soul I believe still paints the sunrise, while sitting in the middle of it.

I wonder if he knows how big he was, how gifted, how loving, how powerful, how beautiful. I wonder if he knows how much I loved him, how much he gave me, how much because of him, that glorious sunrises and flight free as a bird have always been and always will be, my possibility.

Things Not Seen
A note to me, a poem sealed with a kiss.
 "We fall & climb again into arcs of radiance fill the sky with vibration
 impelled like summer birds."

33 years of gifts that traveled in one small box across the country and back again.  The Red Balloon inscribed in 1977, the last handmade book from his 2004 vision quest, the weaving made on his grandmother's loom.
The article on Brian in 1996 New American Paintings: A Quarterly Exhibition, Open Studios Competition Number VI

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Finding Beautiful

I think everyone should be told they’re beautiful until they believe it. 
- Unknown

Mama taught me more than a few things that stuck. One of them has to do with taking that extra moment on any given day, no matter where my head is, (and most especially when it is out of the world or up my ass) to say a few kind words to a stranger. It used to embarrass my ex, she would stop at a stranger's table to say,  "What a beautiful family you are," or, "the parts of your conversation that carried over to me that I should not have been listening to, were perfectly delightful." (The latter we all felt a little embarrassed about.) On the hot days of summer at her old apartment when the Hispanic crew were worn slap out, Mama would fix trays of ice tea and cookies and walk outside and motion to them to come and she would serve them a little respite. I have seen her stop a stranger on the street to tell them what a beautiful smile they have, a beautiful blouse they are wearing, how pretty their hair looks that day, something, always finding something she could compliment them on... sometimes reaching out her hand to touch them softly on their shoulder as if she knew they needed reassurance. This was and is Mama's way of telling the people she knows and doesn't, they are beautiful.

I try to remember. 

I might have been the other pea in my Father's pod, but in many ways, I am my Mother's daughter.

I try to combine Mama with me.  I try to find my own way to voicing kind and beautiful. 

There is no end to the ways of telling each other we're beautiful, if we trust ourselves to do it, step outside the comfort zone, reach out and down and say loudly in the quietest of ways, "You are beautiful." That one moment of our spontaneity births another moment of serendipity and maybe a little mirabilia. That one moment is an extra, the kind of extra that deep inside we all need and sometimes hope for, the kind that could change a life and the kind that in the end, will be what changes a world. 

The water, the breath, the food, they sustain us, being told we are beautiful gives us back our hope. The think tanks, the physicists, the philanthropists, the groups doing all the big and small of changing the world, somehow or way they began when kind met beautiful out loud and then they grew together.

Or,  maybe they met Mama. 

It is time for me to start the "You are beautiful" list, telling at least one person or one more person a day they are beautiful, and trying to see the beauty in at least one person I don't find beautiful at all. It needs to be a footnoted list, where every time I don't notice and should, I think about it and don't, and where every judgment that stops me seeing, will write itself. It needs to be a miles long and world traveling list, where its numbers grow and the footnotes shrink. 

Banjoel says it will take a long time, the telling everyone they are beautiful until they get it. It isn't just that enough of us might not be saying it but it is also that most people might not be hearing it. Beyond that he says it is doable. 

So I don't know who you are and when you read this, but when you do, I have this to say. 

"You are beautiful."

 I mean it. 

And if you don't think so, sit down and stay there until you figure it out, all the ways or any of the ways, you are beautiful.

Then sit with your own beauty or any part of it you can own.

And when you are done, go tell somebody else.
And mean it.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Blue Green Venus and the Stuff They Say

Ninety degrees. He has to mix and pour in daylight. Mixing by hand, buckets of tint, sakrete, stone, he starts the process he cannot stop, he lays the base of who she is.  He tints, he mixes, he fills the 50 pound buckets, he pours, he makes her real. 

He has taken her apart, and put her back together on paper and in steel. He has changed her butt, her legs and twat, three times,  Like the nails, the water bringer, the thought, she is talking to him and  she has stuff to say. He is listening like he always does. The wood, the metal, the steel, the bronze, they tell him stuff, he tells them stuff,  most times they work it out, together. 

Sometimes they tell him stuff before, sometimes after, it is easier before.

Blue Venus. She is, he thinks, blue and modest, it is what he saw in that place where he sees.

He mixes and blue-tints, carries and pours, then leaves her to become what she is.

Turns out she had stuff to say, after. 

He laughs.

She is not blue, she is not modest, she is green and full of attitude.
He knows that when he grinds, polishes and lacquers she will have the final say.

He tells me his story, he tells me her story, as he sees art.

I tell him his story, I tell him her story, as I see life.

Sculpting life and sculpting Venus are close to the same. The getting born-poured-shaped-put together-taken apart-put together-taken apart-hammered out-ground on-chiseled at--buffed up-polished smooth-textures-colors-attitudes-befores-afters, the saying stuff, the not saying stuff and the sometimes working it out together.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Gratefulest Dog and Perfect

It was about four weeks before Papa died. The house and those of us in it, were held together by a fragile thread. Every day I was juggling hearts and trying to keep them from slamming to the ground. Every day  I was trying to hold center when center had gone.

I had stopped to stare out the window and just breathe. The phone rang.
"Honey, I think we have a dog."
I stopped breathing.
"Did you hear me? I think we have a dog. The people behind the studio are gone and abandoned their dog, left him tied up, left him. I'm bringing him home. We have a dog!"
I still had not breathed.
"Honey? Are you listening?"

Sweet Lord. Three years since we'd lost Belle and Zeus, followed by two years near hell. My sweetheart's heart had a big hole that needed filling, and the only thing that would repair it was a  dog. I knew it was absolutely what he needed and absolutely what I did not.  It was as timing goes, perfectly imperfect. I could see the need and feel the impossibility. Now?  No.

The sliding door opened and in he came, a black and white border collie almost stuck to his side.  I looked at him, I looked at "the" dog and I waited. He looked at me and he waited. "The" dog looked at both of us and waited.

I got it out in a whisper.

"No.  We aren't keeping him. Not now.  No. Sorry. So sorry, but no, not now."

He looked absolutely stricken and he had just looked happy.

"But he came to us, he was left for us, right by the studio. Right at my back door. He was left for me... All you have to do is look, and you'll see he's wonderful. Can't you see?"

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. But No. "

I started to cry.

"I know you need a dog, I know you really need a dog. I know he came to you, I understand. But you, you have to understand. I can't love any more right now. I can't ask my heart to take on loving any more right now. I can't bring another being, another spirit into my heart. I can't take care of another living thing, I can't love another living thing. My heart is as wide open as it can be and all of it hurts. I wish I could, I would if I could, but I can't. I.....Just....Can't."

He got up, walked over to the sliding door and out. With the dog. He was angry, he was sad, he hurt.

An hour passed, it is a long drive to the studio and I was sure he was explaining to the dog as best he could, what he really couldn't explain to himself.  He called me. "I let him go."


I felt bad, but I could't feel any worse than I already felt. Bad was bad and sad was sad. End of story.

Three hours passed, the phone rang. "He came back. I let him go. I told him not to come back.  He came back. I took him away again  and he came back. We're keeping him. That's all there is to it. He's ours. His name is Presley, they named him Presley. And Presley and I are coming home."

I walked back over to Mama and Papa's.

It would be awhile, more than a month before I got to know Presley. A month where I was steeped in how the living, die, and we die with them. In sitting vigil,  picking nosegays to place by the bed, in singing and softly holding hands and hearts, in the very gentle, sad, quiet.  Presley did not intrude, but quietly wrapped his heart in grateful and his Dad's heart in his own while my heart was wrapped up in the rest of it.

A few months later I was watching him, wondering about how he lay with his head upside down devotedly staring at  his Dad and me. He had mastered that, just as he had mastered complete devotion to his father, and earnest, grateful and adoring to the rest of us. It was about that time when the hugging started. If I reached for him, he would sit on his haunches and wrap both his paws around my arm and hug me. I couldn't touch him that he didn't hug me. He was hugging me all of the time and hugging everyone else, most of the time, he still is. Except for Mama. He knew instinctively about her paper thin skin, he knew that she required, gentle. Instead he would put his paws delicately on the edge of her chair, lean in towards her face and look at her as if to say, "I love you."  In the last few days he has become her nighttime guardian. She says, "I am going to bed" and he will stand by her side and wait as she puts on her pajamas, he will walk beside the walker as she goes into the bedroom and wait patiently while she climbs into bed and turns off her light. And then he will stick his nose on her hand, say Good Night and leave her safe and sound.

He has befriended the world, the people, the cats, the squirrels, the deer, the other dogs, every creature, every size, every age and every number of legs. He has made willing and earnest a part of his grateful, asking permission to venture to places unknown and high-tailing it back the moment he hears his Dad's whistle. He is kind. When friends come to play he greets them with his favorite toy and drops it at their feet, if they both are catching whatever is thrown, he will catch his, bring it back to them and add his bounty to their own, and if the all-out-one-to-one- chase is on--- he'll pull up and let them have the glory.

He is the consummate Wal-Mart greeter at home, the beach, the sculpture shows, the studio, everywhere he goes. And he lives the way of  kind, earnest, friendly, grateful and perfect.

ABH says to me,  "He is perfect you know, he is the most perfect dog I have ever known."
I said, "I know."

I tell her I've been having regular and frequent little talks with him.
Eye to eye, face to face, nose to nose, I stroke his head and tell him how much he has saved his Daddy's heart and built up the rest of our own. I tell him how we love him and how he has made us grateful.  I tell him life is a  sweet-hard story especially the part about the road up ahead. I tell him that he is perfect and that probably next time he will be a street urchin child. That when that happens he will feel differently, he will think differently, he will be lost differently and he will be found differently, but no matter it will be OK. I tell him that if he forgets the good, kind, sweet, grateful and earnest, that sometime he will remember them again. I tell him that next time he should look for his friends because they will be there and he will know them. And I tell him to keep his eyes peeled for angels because they will always show up when needed, although he may not recognize them by their look. I tell him they may be standing tall or upside down hugging but one thing is for sure they will arrive when the timing is perfectly imperfect, but imperfectly perfect.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Laughing With Mama

My phone rang and I was up the road. I answered because it was Mama.
"I'm not sure who jumped higher, me or it."
"Who is "it" Mama and jumped higher "how" Mama? "
"I went out the back door (Mama's, Papa's and my stories always have/had to start with early history and move through elaboration, sometimes getting stuck in the elaboration) and thought I'd stick some dirt in a pot and pot one of those plants your sister brought me, so I leaned over to get some dirt out of that bag you know the one that was sitting by my back door in the big pot and while I was at it I thought I'd move that bag too and so I started moving the bag and up it came, high as it could, like right towards my face, it jumped right up at me, and I jumped way up too (now you have to realize that Mama moves very slowly these days and jumping, well...) right in my face, high as it could be, all coiled up and right there at me... and I jumped, I MEAN I JUMPED, CLEAN UP and THEN I GOT OUT OF THERE, not the back door, not by it, NO, I went in the front door. (The back door a foot away, the front door 15 yards.) IT WAS A COPPERHEAD. I KNOW IT WAS A COPPERHEAD BECAUSE I ASKED JEFF AND HE SAID SO, a copperhead IN my face. Right up in my face. I got out of there as fast as I could and I'm still shaking, I'm telling you right up in my face!"

"I'm so....sorry..."

and that was as far as I got because the laughter just took me over and wrapped me up in the hooting, tears, and a little snot, it was the kind of laughing when you are sure, absolutely sure you can also hear the angels snorting behind you.
I could tell she was flustered and maybe offended, but I couldn't say a word, I just kept laughing. I could see it. Mama, the snake, and then Mama moving fast, hellbent on breaking a new speed record, moving at a walker speed of light to the front door and safety.

God, it was funny.

"What's so funny?"

"You, Mama, you, the idea of you moving faster than you'd moved in a decade. I can see it now, I can see you jumping clean up in the air and I can see that walker never touching the ground."

She giggled. In her own mind she saw it too, she's pretty good at "seeing."

I kept laughing. She giggled some more. And then it was the all out kind of laughing that would take us both over for the next 15 minutes and the angels would be snorting in waves around us. We have had a lot of times like that, Mama and I, and many have been "inappropriate." At funerals, at concerts, of the like and worse. These last few years, we haven't had enough of "those" times, not enough of hearing the angels snort either, so it made me happy and it made me glad about a copperhead in the flower pot. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Would You Smile a Perfect for Me?

My empathy meter needs a new battery, my heart needs to be recharged and I definitely need something good  in my tea, or maybe peyote in my Special K. A new rule wouldn't hurt either--- no more disturbing anythings at midnight for them to seep in, get toxic and wake me up wrong.
Taking Mama to get her car and wondering if they will have done as promised, and driven it to reset the battery so we won't  fail emissions, again. Thinking I won't be happy if these people who have had our loyalty for 20 years do one more thing to piss me off. Mama is telling me a story about some friends, whose lives are a bit shaken up and so this year they won't be going on vacation. My empathy meter is still set at minus 100. "Well Mama, they have had three fabulous vacations a year for the last 8 years so I think that will be OK, this year without."  Then she regales me with a few more of their problems, and I am thinking about the friends around and close to me, all  in deep and harrowing places of suffering, except the two this week who'd found a seven year cycle ended and a full circle turned upward spiral, the big Grace on the other side of their long challenge. Maybe all the suffering has shut my meter down, sometimes our own hearts draw a line about how much they can soak up and soak in. And missing a year's worth of vacations (who the hell puts s's on vacations anyway) is just not right up there with the rest of it. We get there, and Mama in her Southern grace and beauty and dignity and strength, rolls her little push walker straight in the door me behind her, hoping...
"Oh, we didn't expect you yet, we still haven't driven the car."  (The exact words I didn't want to hear because yesterday I'd planned on doing just that and they'd usurped the privilege.)  My mother's hand reached back to apply a little pressure on my arm. I kept my mouth shut for a minute. They talked, the behind the counter person walked away and Mama knew I was pissed. "Don't get mad, OK? Just give me a smile---could you smile for me?"
"NO." I stomped off. I never stomp off.
I was not going to respond to a request for  a fake smile, the one Mama had expected for almost 60 years, the kind that is the smile you "put on" in public even when you are thinking mean things in your head and saying a "Bless Your Heart" to the person who has pissed you off.  This time I'd revolted, in public and stomped off--- well really just turned on my heel and walked out, counted to 10 and walked back in (the counting to 10 part pretty easy because it was 100 outside and made me count faster.) Some things are not going to change, including a mother who wants you to always be perfect and especially so, in public.  I stood there, I waited, I contributed a few words to the conversation, we left. On my way out, I turned and said, "Thank you Mary, Thank you Sam." Nicely, sincerely nicely. Mama waited til we had made our gracious exit and said, "Thank you for being nice when we left."
Crap, well, and there it went.
"Mama, when have you known me  to NOT be nice when I left and when have you known me to actually MAKE a scene? " I put the pusher thing in the back of her car, put the pillows in her seat and said, "Have a good time."
On the way home I'm thinking about the real versus fake real and how for me it has always pretty much been about the expression of real, being it, trusting it and whenever possible making real, better. I can count on one hand the number of scenes I'd actually created in public, but I couldn't begin to count the "good" real times.
A few miles later I started to pray, don't let anything happen to Mama today, because how awful would it be if she had asked me for a smile (fake or not) and I hadn't given her one.


I need to get my empathy meter adjusted, my heart charged up and quit reading and listening to crap at midnight. Today is going to be another day where I am going to be starting the "I am grateful for..." list any minute, and it will start with Mama,  perfect smiles or no, and then it will move to real.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What the Last Nerve's Grateful Looks Like

There is that saying about people who get on your last nerve, for me, more than not, it is usually about me getting on my own last nerve. Yesterday was about feeling jangly, irritable, pissed off, looking like crap, feeling like crap and deciding everything was crap. I'd left the playground, the giggles and the laughter buried in the nighttime pillow and although my hair was not on fire, I could feel the heat of the slow burn that was trying to erupt at my hairline (the one that was receding or had recessed where the grey had taken over and then washed over the whole of me beyond that.)  I was stuck in start-stop motion, and at least half of the seven dwarves who'd not been invited elsewhere had taken up residence at my house.  Driving down Franklin Street, (and thankfully the students weren't back to campus yet ) I got the nudge to try and shift it, at least make myself bearable to myself and the only thing I could think to do was trudge my way to grateful and throw myself in. So, I stop-started.
I am grateful for... sigh.
sigh. I am grateful for...
All the people I love even when they drive me crazy.
Windows that work on the car since the a/c does not.
Ok. Just windows that work on the car.
That mama's car died with me in it and not her.
That when it happened I was at the gas station that had a/c.
That there are no students on Franklin Street.
(Half full-half empty, stop-start, start stop---Arlo Guthrie, "you can't have a light without a dark to stick in it." )
That I had sashimi for the first time in a year.
That my stomach is only hanging an inch over the top of my cut-offs.
That I can still wear cut-offs.
That my hair is clean and there wasn't as much as usual in the drain.
That D is a Meme.
That Banjoel has always loved me.
That my sweetheart called me beautiful today.
That Etnom will soon be holding out her hand to walk others into new life.
That C has come full circle and that the drop in the ocean she asked for had become the ocean itself.
That sometimes when others mother's-in-law move to town the dark side holds for a day or two.
That Mama wasn't fretting over not getting a social security check.
That K can walk.
That LL is there to support us all.
That I had been born here instead of a country where women were subservient.
That the men of my household had never believed in submissive women.
That the radio in my car is working today.
That I  know who Blue Merle is.
That dmm will climb this mountain of challenge as gracefully as he has climbed the others.
That there is a goddess woman of steel standing outside my front door.
That I could afford J's beer and my mangoes and papaya at TJ's today.
That Gaby Giffords made it to Washington against the odds, again.
That tomorrow will be the hottest day this week but then the nights will be cooler.
That I have a blog.
That I am writing my blog.
That I hear stories.
That I have eyes that can see.
That I have a heart that loves.
That I am surrounded by Earth Angels,  who laugh and snort.
That my being can accept that the awfully beautiful and the beautifully awful are one and the same.
That I can turn some bad-ass grumpy into some big-ass grateful.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Mr. Green and the Layered On Purple Serendipity Morning

It was 9:45 and the stores weren't open yet, 3 cars were in the parking lot in an otherwise vast field of asphalt space. I was making my way to the ledge of the fountain to sit and wait for the doors to open, thinking that a little water mist might wake my morning up.
I kept walking. I'd been pretty sure that I was the only person around but clearly one of those other cars  had a passenger.
"HEY. HEY. YOU---!!!"
A WTF bounced off my not quite awake and not yet water misted brain, but my head in spite of myself began to slowly turn around.
She was standing beside her car, flapping her arms wildly at me.
No please, or would you, or could you, just a simple, loud command. I hesitated or at least I thought I did but my feet like my head were moving in spite of myself. At least I managed to point my feet in the direction of the other side of her car.
"SEE THAT?" I wondered if she had any idea she was yelling.
"See what?"
She pointed, to a  long, green insect sitting near the top of her windshield.
I was pretty sure I was in the wrong place, pretty sure that she needed either my sister, or Chiti or the sweetheart to be talking to her, science and I were generally not on well-acquainted speaking terms.
"Well. I don't know. Could it be a praying mantis?'
NO. It is NOT a praying mantis."
"Well. That's all I've got."
The WTF in my head got louder and I hadn't a clue what to say next except for, "I'm sorry. I don't know."
She sighed. She looked at me and looked at Mr. Green, and back to me and then started to explain.
I was thinking I was pretty happy there was something to explain...
"This morning when I pulled out of my driveway I noticed this sitting on my windshield. I just kept driving. I drove 35 miles mostly between 65 and 75 miles an hour on the freeway and pulled up here and it is still here, it made it,  it survived the whole way. So, I wondered what it was."
And then I got it, clear as could be.
"Oh. Well, I don't know what it is by name but I can tell you what it might be as symbol--- the Universe wanted to give you a sign today about life, about survival and about strength, probably your own."
She looked at me and looked at me and looked at me and then a big tear rolled down her cheek.
She sighed. "It has been so hard lately and this morning, it was really hard and now you tell me that this is a sign that I am strong enough."
"You are."
I walked towards her and she started walking towards wherever it was she needed to be and then we walked together. I looked at her closely and noticed that the sun was lighting up her shirt and it was purple upon purple upon purple, just layered plain-out purple. Wow, I had to tell her.
"This morning when things were hard your insides knew not only that you were strong enough but deep inside you, you  could find the happiness again, so you put on purple, a brilliant and beautiful purple which is the color of Divine happiness so somewhere in you, that happiness already resides and you know it and you embraced it like a shield of  strong soft---enough to hold back the hard. You my friend, will be OK."
I stopped. She stopped.
She said, "I knew I was supposed to call you over today, I knew you had to come my way. Thank you."
"No.  Thank you. Thank you for calling me home to your heart and calling me home to mine."
I reached over and hugged this stranger who was not so much a stranger after all, she was just like all of us, digging deep, trying to push back the hard and find a little bit of  happy deep in the sadness, deep in the heart of our softs, protected by the strength we can't and don't always remember we have, but are reminded of in the moments when serendipity  and Mr. Green claim us as their own.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Birthday Dinner, the Bassist and the Loud Quiet

Walking through a sprinkle to celebrate one of the sweetest of my heart, met at the door by the bear hug and laugh of the son, the bassist who'd prepared her birthday dinner. The plate of simple-best, long, grilled okra pods, perfect steak slices, field peas stolen in the middle of the night from his sister's garden and flavored with the Saxapahaw pickled green beans, toasted poundcake, and sauced up peaches cooked in the very best moonshine. It was more than less a brilliant Southern summer supper, and it bound us to those all over the world, celebrating ritual through food cooked simply, and shared from the heart. The conversation wound in and around the oddest of subjects, from flea infestations, credit derivatives, music, marijuana brownies, weddings, family trials and triumphs, a woman as they put it who was bad to the core, and finally, to politics. Inside me a tiny smile began to grow, it is that way when we see the Divine Jester testing our peace for the hold it has on us. For two weeks I had been caught and churned up in a turmoil that was political, the small town microcosm and the big country macrocosm, I had gone to bed angry, woken up sad and made the trip back to angry again.  I had been lathered up in my own sweat  that was wrapped up in  thoughts of coercion, misuse of power, ignorance, self-righteousness (I am sure mine included,) ideologies. Any sense of balance had eluded me until just that morning when finally it all began to settle in. My good friend and I hammering it out, moving from a place of moral indignation and outrage to attempted understanding and forgiveness, from our own fear to a more balanced fearlessness and finally finding the place  where Grace resides and sweeps the challenges into a place of center and home and free. Last night when the conversation turned to politics, the peace held, the jackass stayed quiet and the secret inside smile, erupted.  
The conversation bounced off the bottles of red wine, the last okra pod, and the remaining moonshine sauce. He said to me,  "What do you think?" "How do you feel" "You know we can't possibly take care of any but our own" "Look at the trillions we spend on the military, look at the wars, and what has happened here."
I answered him quietly. 
We talked about the many costs of war and then he dove off into a place where communities need each to be separate, as do countries.
I explained why isololationism is no longer an option, because technology has brought us all within a breath of goodness, suffering, economic success or failure of each other, because the software algorithms have taken us to the place where we all blend into one.
His voice grew louder as he talked again about the wars and the military and our arrogance as a nation. I agreed with most of what he said except to say don't call it dollars for the military, call it dollars for the defense non-budget. The boots on the ground don't see the money and the defense budget can't account for it. No, don't call it dollars for the military when vets are homeless.
He kept talking and as he talked, he became angrier his words flying in different directions and zinging off each other, slamming out a discord stew of mixed metaphors about the us and them, the theirs and ours, and then the "I don't care about that little kid in Afghanistan."
 "I do. I care about that kid, I care about them all, everywhere, all of them,  here or there. Period. Simple. Period. And if you think there's  not enough, there is, as long as we use our brains to work it out along with our hearts. Caring for the whole doesn't diminish us, it grows us, we just have to be smart about it."
 "I HATE LIBERALS, I HATE LIBERALS, I HATE LIBERALS!"  and then a few more lines before he came back to that chorus a few more times. The I HATE LIBERALS followed by a round of accusations about me wanting to fix everything and everyone but not caring about our old and our children. Of me being an idealist, a liberal yet also and somehow pro-every miitary operation and every-war.
"Wow. That's a first. I'm pretty sure I've demonstrated against them all."
 "I'm not. I'm saying the same thing, every time in the same way, you just can't hear me."
 I smiled. (I was still  trying to get my head around a pro-war idealist who doesn't care but cares too much.)
"Actually, you are, you are the idealist, you just don't realize it. I've come to understand than when my sweetheart comes home after listening to left-wing talk radio all day and starts yelling about everything he hates, that it is for two reasons. 1) You can't listen to other people yelling, and not start to yell yourself and 2) He is an idealist. He sees how the world can be better, he knows that the world should be better and above all he wants the world to be better and he is frustrated about how or if he can fix any part of it. And that my friend, is you, too. You are both idealists, You just can't know it for the shouting."
He pulled back and looked at me. He stopped yelling.
"What would you do?"  
"Give everyone a wide, wide berth, find a tiny little piece of common ground and have a quiet conversation."
"A wide berth?"
"And a quiet conversation because in the yelling none of us can hear and in the yelling none of us can think and in the yelling none of us can get anything done."
"A wide berth?"
"Yes and a quiet conversation."
"I am 32 and I don't know what to do, I don't know how to help fix things, it is hard for my generation."
"It is hard for mine too, it is hard for all of us but mostly I think it is hardest for my Mama who every day grows her heart and her mind more open, she listens, she reads and she compares what is happening to the experiences of her almost 90 years of living. She picks up the world map she keeps beside her chair and looks for the places that are on the news, she wants to know where everyone, is. She thinks, she wonders, and most every day she says to me, it has never been this bad, where people cannot even talk." She despairs.
The room grew quiet, he walked away and came back. He wrapped me in a bear hug and said, "What can I do besides the wide berth part and trying to get to the conversation part. What can I do to make a difference?"
"Do what you do best, write your songs and play your music, people will hear, people will heal and people will fight the good fight, from your spark the other sparks will ripple out."
"Does that mean Reagan's trickle-down theories really work?"
"No. But if we call them trickle up..." 
Midnight and we laughed.

The bassist walked over to his stand-up bass in the corner and began to pluck and play, his rich, deep voice singing the words to, "Somebody to Love." One of my favorite songs. As I walked to the car I thought of the loud conversation turned quiet, wide berths, a celebration and I felt the music thumping my heart in the night quiet of  a very good night.