Tuesday, March 31, 2009

On the Shelf (WAG #5)

This week’s adventure instructions: “WAG #5: Life In Motion” Sometimes it’s good to approach writing like taking a photograph with words. On the other hand, it’s important to remember that a scene is always in transition. For this week’s adventure, sit in a good observation spot and notice how the scene in front of you changes from one minute to the next. Has the light changed? The sounds? The people? What’s different now compared to when you first arrived? Is there anything you can see (or hear, smell, etc) that is changing right in front of you? Be creative and break the rules! This week is all about change! More about the Writing Adventure Group

I avoid nursing homes if I can. Whenever I'm forced to spend time in them I wonder about the billions of dollars spent every year to extend the average age of mortality one more year. I don't understand the drive to continually push upward the life span of a human if all we are going to do is warehouse him during those extended years.

Unfortunately my family recently accepted we had no option but to move my father into a care center. Which means I will regularly drive several hours to spend a weekend with my Dad, so he knows I have not forgotten him.

I spent last weekend in his new home, which as nursing facilities go, isn't bad. It is clean, comfortable and accessible. The staff seems caring and compassionate and my Dad, the world's biggest flirt, has charmed all the nurses to the degree that every time I show up there are at least one or two in his room, sitting, chatting and laughing with him.

I previously noticed that a particular female resident always sat on a love seat across from the nurses' station. Few details about her appearance registered, beyond her constancy to her post. When I showed up this weekend she was on duty, sitting, looking down at her hands and oblivious to everything going on around her. Busy with my Dad and the to-do list he had waiting for me, I didn't pay her much attention.

On Saturday afternoon I deposited my dad in his room for a nap. He was exhausted but content after a morning shopping for boxer shorts at J.C. Penney and lunch at his favorite BBQ joint. While he napped I went to talk with the nurse about his medication. She was on the phone when I got to the nurses' station. As I waited for her call to end, I observed the elderly female sentry still on duty.

Looking closely, I noted she sat almost perfectly still. Her head was bowed, and she stared intently at her hands in her lap, as though she was confused about where the hands had come from and who they belonged to. The only movement was her feet which shuffled rhythmically back and forth, the soles of her brown, sensible pumps shooshing across the linoleum floor. I noticed her bright pant suit, which looked expensive and the height of fashion for the over 80 set. She wore several rings, a pearl necklace and large pearl earrings. Someone still cared terribly about her appearance. Cared enough to insist she be dressed and fully accessorized each day.

My mind began to wander, thinking of the long drive home and how I was going to fit everything my step-mother insisted I take home in my car. I glanced up just as the woman's head was nodding back down to stare at her hands in her lap. I'd not seen her raise her head so didn't know what triggered the movement.

This slight movement captured my attention so I focused fully on her. Nothing happened for several minutes. A steady stream of staff, other residents and visitors walked by and she made no indication she was aware of them as they disturbed the air surrounding her. Her eyes continued to stare at her hands and her feet continued to shoosh. Nothing caught her attention until a large man came around the corner and walked past her. As he began to pass, her face shot up and she looked at him expectantly, with a slight smile on her face. He was oblivious to her attention and kept walking towards the exit. She watched his back for a few seconds, visibly sighed, then lowered her head back down to continue studying the mysterious hands she'd found resting on her lap.

Later that day, as I waited for Dad to finish his dinner, I had the chance to observe the woman again. I watched as she went through what seemed to be a random routine to me, but to her was evidently predictable and comforting. Staring at her lap, shooshing her shoes and occasionally looking up as certain people passed her by.

In about fifteen minutes I watched her acknowledge two passers-by. She continued to ignore everyone who walked past, except for two different men with nothing in common except their large frames. I couldn't tell how she differentiated between these two men and everyone else. Was it the size of the shadow they cast, the weight of their footsteps, the cadence of their step? Both times, her head raised, her lips curved up slightly and she followed the man with her eyes, until she realized he wasn't approaching her. As soon as she understood he wasn't headed towards her, she lowered her head and went back to her meditation.

Like my Dad, most of the care center residents previously lived in the surrounding retirement community, so many residents knew each other before they moved into the care center. Wanting to know her story, I asked Dad about her. He didn't know her, had never met her. Sadly though, he told me there were several women who sat throughout the complex, seemingly unaware of their surroundings.

I will never know what it was about those 3 men that brought this woman out of her reverie and back among the living, at least for a moment. Perhaps she had grown sons and hoped they were visiting. Perhaps her mind wasn't in this time or this year. She may have expected to raise her head and see her dead husband, an ex-lover, an ex-employer or just an old friend.

The next time I go see Dad, I think I will try and engage her, even though he tells me he doesn't think she can be engaged. I would like to know what periodically pulls her out of storage and back into the life she once lived.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Time Flying While Standing Still - The Longer Now

I can rarely say I am embarrassed about anything I ever read. From bodice-ripping romance novels to Mad magazine, from lurid real life crime stories to pretty raunchy erotica, I am an equal opportunity reader. And if I read it, I am usually willing to talk about it.

There have been two books I have read in the last 20 years that I tend to not own up to.

The first was
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. The second was The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield. My embarrassment regarding both of them stems from very different reasons. I thought the story of American Psycho was beyond disturbing and offensive. And it takes a whole lot to disturb or offend me. However, the book was so well crafted and I was already a fan of Mr. Ellis, so as much as I was disgusted by the words spilling off of the pages, he hooked me. I finished it, threw away the paperback and avoided discussing it until now. (In an effort to partially redeem myself, I did not go to the movie and have intensely disliked Christian Bale ever since the film came out.)

On the other hand, I thought The Celestine Prophecy was one of the most poorly written books I have ever struggled through. But I was going through my brief “new-agey” phase at the time and the pull of the plot was stronger than my resistance to Mr. Redfield’s weak story telling. In the intervening years, my interest in the topics discussed in the book largely deserted me. Except for one phrase that has stuck with me since the first time I read them on a page.

The Longer Now …

If I think back, I have a vague memory of what Mr. Redfield meant when he used the phrase. And I have seen it used several times since then. I believe that my personal interpretation of the phrase is based on the description provided in the book. But as the words rolled themselves around in my brain for almost 20 years, I think my concept veered from what he intended.

When I envision the longer now I see it as a call to expand our view of history and our place in it. I see our place in the world as existing before we were here and continuing after we are gone. The old Chinese proverb about a silken red thread that ties people together comes closest to describing my view.

I am not attempting philosophical, theological or metaphysical discourse here. I leave that to the experts. Nor am I channeling my new-age persona of twenty years ago. She is long dead. I am talking about fact.

Several people lived 400 years ago (or 800 or 200) that made decisions or took actions that resulted in me being here today. They decided to migrate to the new world or they didn’t. They decided to marry and have children rather than enter the priesthood. They decided to marry one boy from their village versus another. They gave up their agrarian existence and learned a trade. And those actions, just like the millions of actions that occurred before and the millions that have occurred since make it possible for me to sit here today with my specific DNA.

At that same time several people or groups of people made decisions or took a course of action that had a direct impact on the world I live in today. Wars were fought, ships were launched, trade was created, empires were built, science advanced. The world I exist in, move through and experience my life within could have been dramatically different if a single battle was not won, if a ship was lost at sea, if an empire was not launched.

Of course this applies to the generations and the world order that will continue after my death. Who I married, the choice to have children, the work I do, the decisions I’ve made and causes I’ve supported will all have an impact on those coming after me, no matter how mundane or trivial they seem to me now.

This is, to me, the true measure of immortality.

Considering time from this perspective - that “now” is not just this minute, just this day, just this year, but a steady progression of lives and events occurring before, during and after the few moments of my lifetime and are all essential to my very existence, gives me a broadened sense of immediacy … the longer now.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I, Michael Steele

This post on Bob Cesca's Goddamn Awesome Blog! got me thinking about the total absurdity of Michael Steele. I realized that someone this bizarre cannot be real. They must be some one's (and in this instance I believe the culprits are space aliens) idea of a joke. So I did some digging and sure enough I found a picture of the real Michael Steele before the space aliens gave him an almost humanoid appearance and sat him in our midst to mystify, entertain and distract us while they implemented their plan to take over the earth.

Mr. Steele before his transformation:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Humor - Moving at the Speed of Light or: The Teleprompter Speaks

I've been reading the brouhaha regariding Obama's use of a teleprompter last night for his prepared statement before the press conference. And this is an issue, why? Think of how much more intelligent George Bush might have sounded if he had used one occassionally. Of course this is based on the assumption he could have read the damn thing.

Anyway - the teleprompter in an attempt to defray the controversy has decided to take its case directly to the people - and has launched its own blog, that actually looks like it has been around for several years.

Go see it - it is hysterical: Barack Obama's Teleprompter's Blog

Writing Adventure Group News

Here are the links for the participants in this weeks Writing Adventure Group. Please visit each and let them know how great (and brave) they all are. If you would like to join the WAG the instructions are at the top of the list. Details on next weeks adventure follow at the end. Thanks so much for Nixy Valentine for organizing and planning everything!

How to Join the Writing Adventure Group

Cora Zane

Christine Kirchoff

Sharon Donovan

Iain Martin

Mickey Hoffman


Marsha Writes

Jesse Blair


Aunt Sally

Nancy Parra

Jon Strother

Next week’s Writing Adventure:

“WAG #5: Life In Motion” Sometimes it’s good to approach writing like taking a photograph with words. On the other hand, it’s important to remember that a scene is always in transition. For this week’s adventure, sit in a good observation spot and notice how the scene in front of you changes from one minute to the next. Has the light changed? The sounds? The people? What’s different now compared to when you first arrived? Is there anything you can see (or hear, smell, etc) that is changing right in front of you? Be creative and break the rules! This week is all about change!

Post the results on your blog, and read this post about the group for information on how to notify me so your post will be properly included in next week’s list. (Note, please include WAG #5 in the subject heading and tell me how you want your name to appear please!) Deadline: next Tuesday, March 31st.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I'm Pretty Sure Adam Smith Is Rolling Over In His Grave

I am not an economist. I do not even have an amateur's understanding of the subject. Nor has it ever been a subject of great interest to me, even though I work in an offshoot of the financial sector. (Evidently there are quite a few people who know very little about economics but have been running the financial sector for several years now.) I have spent months trying to understand what has happened to the economy of this country and now the entire world. To date, here is what I have learned:

1. When a global problem occurs the natural instinct is to blame the superpower. And in this situation, I believe the blame does fall largely on US shoulders.

2. Deregulation of banks was a really, really bad idea, something that a few people seemed to understand at the time. I knew there was a reason besides his immensely irritating voice that I always cringed whenever Phil Gramm popped up on my TV. But evidently some otherwise intelligent people also went along with the idea. Thank god Bush's plan to privatize social security and hand it over to these same deregulated banks died.

3. Somehow a whole new class of people was created in the last 15 years - the investor class. While some people in the middle class seem to naively believe they are part of this class, because their 401Ks are invested in the market, that's chump change baby. The real scions of Wall Street know that the true investor class is made up of a very few, very wealthy people. This is totally obvious to me. There is no single "class" that could ever be broad enough to encompass both me and Warren Buffet.

4. Evidently no one has any oversight over the Federal Reserve and it's leadership. Why?
The SEC is largely ineffectual and yet it continues to exist. Why? And what the hell is the Office of Thrift Supervision?

5. Having people who were totally immersed in the culture that lead to this mess - Hank Paulson, Neel Kashkari, Tim Geithner, to name a few - be responsible for cleaning it up is a really bad idea.

6. Paul Krugman, who I initially liked and probably has some very good ideas, sounds increasingly whiny and petulant that he hasn't been brought into the inner circle, because, after all, he has a Nobel Prize. I don't care how smart he is, no one likes sour grapes and he needs to ratchet it down a notch or two or no one will listen to him.

7. I still like President Obama, but there is an end to my patience. On the economy anyway, I believe he is headed in the wrong direction and is listening to very bad advice. Evidently there was heated debate over Geithner's new plan between Geithner and David Axelrod and Geithner won. President Obama, dance with who brought you. Trust David Axelrod who is, in part, largely responsible for putting you in the White House. Geithner is looking out for his buddies and assuring he has an office and desk to go back to on Wall Street, once he is out of a job in DC.

8. I can't get too worked up about the jack-asses at CNBC, because I have it on very good authority that no one actually watches the network. People working in investments keep it on all day as background noise, so when a client calls, it sounds like they are on the floor of the exchange. However I do think it is a sad statement on journalism in this country that the host of a comedy news show on basic cable is the Edward R. Murrow of the 21st century. Evidently Jon Stewart agrees with me on this.

Finally, I have read a couple of excellent articles in the last few days that have gone a long way towards explaining to me, the economically - challenged little guy, what the hell is going on. I encourage everyone to read both. (And if the two views expressed actually disagree with each other in parts, please don't tell me. I feel pretty good about just getting through both of them.) Read these now:

No Return to Normal - James K. Galbraith

The Big Takeover - Matt Taibbi

Shhhhhh (WAG #4)

This is my post for the Writing Adventure Group. The topic is: “WAG #4: Do You Hear What I Hear?” Detailed instructions for this assignment are here.

Early Friday morning. Strolling up the steps to my front door. It’s 6:15, I’m back from my walk and have about 30 minutes to spare before I need to jump in the shower and dress for work.

Thinking about the weekend ahead I realize I might not have another chance to do my WAG #4 exercise, so I plop down on my front stoop, take off my ear buds and turn off my ipod, silencing Ben Folds. I am ready to listen.

Home is in an older neighborhood in my city. Good sized houses on very small lots, so close together that what happens in your neighbor’s home or yard is heard in yours. My block is a mix of elderly women and their yappy little dogs, young families and their colicky little babies and every kind of family and accompanying noise in between. I love

Day and night, we are surrounded by sound. Neighbors, kids, animals, security alarms, repairmen, delivery trucks, trash trucks, lawn mowers, you name it, there is never a time when my block is devoid of someone or something making noise. And if the melody isn’t enough, we are short blocks from a major thoroughfare, and not too far beyond that, railroad tracks, allowing the intermittent sounds of police sirens, motorcycles and trains to provide the underlying harmony.

So I sit, prepared to be assailed by noise. Prepared to sort it all out, and focus.

And … nothing. Not a sound. No birds singing, no dishes clattering through the open kitchen window of the house next door, no dogs barking, no garage doors opening expressing their lurching, creaking complaints, no carpool drivers honking in the neighbor’s driveway, no nothing. As my mind clears I realize I can hear the low but persistent buzz of the mercury vapor street lights. But even the buzz is subdued, barely registering in my brain.

I sit for five minutes in almost total silence. Listening intently to the sound of nothing.

Then it begins. I hear my husband, with his early morning heavy-footed, half asleep zombie walk, stomp into our bathroom directly over my stoop. Next door, the Boston terrier and two golden labs shoot into their backyard yip-yipping and barking to let everyone know they are on duty for the day. A neighbor’s cat saunters up to her front stoop, exhausted from her long night of patrolling her turf and howling impatiently to be let in. The newspaper truck with its questionable muffler turns onto my street and my ears are filled with the steady thwack as the paper hits each driveway and the deep belch of the truck backfiring every 50 feet.

At that moment the huge SUV across the street comes growling and rumbling to ignition.
SUVs always sound terribly disappointed at their lot in life. In that growl I hear the grumbling complaint that they were meant for bigger, more important journeys. Instead, they groused, they are wasted on trivialities like going to the grocery store and dropping the kids off at school.

I get up and head inside. I have heard what I needed to hear. The silence.


As I started this assignment, it propelled me towards finalizing another piece I have been meaning to post. It is here (the previous post) and my assignment might make more sense if the other post is read as well.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Quiet Please

My grown son is profoundly deaf. Meaning, if he was standing next to a jet engine just as it began accelerating to takeoff, he would feel the vibration, but he wouldn’t hear a sound. Nothing. His hearing loss is absolute.

Through the years he and I have often discussed the state of my hearing and his deafness and the difference each has made in our lives. As he has grown, I have stopped focusing on everything he has missed and started paying more attention to all that he has not. And he has gained the maturity necessary to eloquently express the experience of being deaf. I think I have given him a general understanding of the concept of hearing. More importantly, he has given me a glimpse of what it means to hear nothing at all.

This peek into the exclusive, absolutely silent world that so few humans inhabit, has allowed me to understand at least a little, not only the downsides of being deaf, but the upsides as well. The ability to focus, the lack of distraction and the heightened awareness of your other senses. The benefits of thinking visually and processing information in pictures rather than verbally and in words. The ability to express yourself in a far more eloquent language that utilizes your whole body, not just your mouth. And the utter lack of self consciousness when it comes to the noises your body and your emotions make, because you never hear them.

Most importantly I have learned through him the sense of ease and comfort in silence, something that does not come easily to hearing people. We are so accustomed to the noisy accompaniment to our lives that we can’t function without the TV or radio blaring while we are on the phone, running the vacuum cleaner and standing next to the washing machine as it spins.

I have also learned that my silence, at its most silent, is considerably noisier than his. As a person who’s hearing functions properly, I will never be able to hear the silence he experiences. If I was in a sound proof booth, I would still hear my breathing, my pulse, the creak of my knee, the sound of my upper and lower teeth connecting. My son has never heard music, or sirens or bells … or his own breath.

But even though the silence I experience is louder than his, he has taught me the comfort that can be found in quiet. So now, when I get a few moments to spend listening to absolutely nothing, I try and take the time to enjoy it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Wacca Wacca!

I think I have a pretty good sense of humor. I know what's funny and what's not. I frequently say stuff that makes people laugh loudly. Unfortunately, when this happens I'm not usually trying to be funny.

I also have a very good memory. Maybe not quite as good as it was 10 years ago, but by most standards, still above average ... where was I? ... oh yeah.

These two facts should lead you to believe I have a good memory for humor. For jokes.

I don't. In the +/- half century I have been around, my calculations have determined that I have likely heard at least 2,000 jokes. Several of them multiple times. Some as recent as last week. And yet I could not tell you a single joke right now, if my life depended on it.

Well, that's not exactly true. I remember one knock knock jokes from grade school. It dealt with bananas and oranges. I also remember the first dirty joke I ever heard. I thought it was hysterical and weeks after first hearing it I would still crack up every time it flashed in head. Are you ready? Here is the first dirty joke I ever heard and the only one I remember:

A little boy fell in a mud puddle.

Pause. I have no idea ...

Moving on. While I do not have a single joke stored in my brain, except for the two aforementioned doozies, my memory chips do have access to exactly four punchlines. I have long since forgotten the point of each. But like my first dirty joke, each of these four punch lines periodically bubble up to the top of my frontal lobe, or whatever part of your brain stores your sense of humor, and when they do, I find them as hysterically funny now as I did the first time I heard them. That is, the time when I actually heard the joke that made the punchline funny.

It is probably a good thing that I don't actually remember the jokes. I know one of them was truly 'off color', as my mother would say. And one of them would be terribly politically incorrect in today's climate. In fact I remember just enough about that joke to realize that if I knew it, I would never tell it. But without the joke, the punchline is inoffensive.

Anyway, these four punchlines tickle my funny bone every time I hear them. In these tough times I thought the world might appreciate a little levity. So I decided to share these with the world and hope the bring the same smile to your face and same spring in your step as they do for me. Here they are, in no particular order.

1. That's a long way to tip a rarey.
2. For a nickle I will, I will, I will.
3. You can't fuck so you might as well mow the lawn.
4. Frayed Knot.

Are you laughing hysterically yet? I am. I actually had to stop typing for a few minutes to compose myself. These are real comedy gems!

By the way, if any of these sound familiar and you would like to apprise me of the jokes themselves, I would be eternally grateful. I won't remember them ten minutes after you tell me. But I will still be grateful.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Please Read This

Taking Steps: fair

This is the most powerful statement I have read in many, many years. The more people that read this, the more hope I have.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Writing Adventure Group News

Here is a link to the writers and their entries for the this weeks Writing Adventure Group. I am also attaching the instructions for next week. If anyone else is interested in joining, please do. It has been a lot of fun.

How to Join the Writing Adventure Group
Iain Martin
Nancy J Parra
Jesse Blair
Nixy Valentine

Next week’s Writing Adventure:
“WAG #4: Do You Hear What I Hear?” So often, our brain filters out the sounds we hear every day, but sounds can make a story so much more concrete and help your readers feel like they’re really there in a story. This week, go out, sit and listen. (Close your eyes if that helps!) Let your attention move from the obvious sounds to the subtle ones. Try to take in the sounds you usually filter out, whether it’s voices, traffic, children, the hum of overhead lights, or whatever. Write a short description of the sounds and your experience, especially anything unexpected.

Post the results on your blog, and read this post about the group for information on how to notify me so your post will be properly included in next week’s list. (Note, please include WAG #4 in the subject heading and tell me how you want your name to appear please!) Deadline: next Tuesday, March 24th.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

People Watching & Saving Lives - One Bar at a Time ( WAG #3)

Here is the 3rd installment of the Writing Adventure Group. Instructions: Sit somewhere that you can watch strangers passing by. Choose someone that you don’t know, but you can imagine being friends with. Describe them in concrete terms, particularly whatever it is about them you find appealing (or unappealing!) Feel free to also write what you imagine that makes you warm to them, but don’t forget to describe reality as well!

Sitting in a bar alone is never comfortable. Even if it’s a nice bar inside a nice restaurant. Even when I know I am not destined to be alone for long. Waiting for a perpetually late coworker and out of town clients caught on a delayed flight, doesn’t make my current situation palatable.

Though, the martini I am nursing might help just a little. Now that I think about it, if I have a second drink I won’t be nearly as uncomfortable as I am now. If I drink a third, I might not even notice when my dinner companions show up. But that won’t happen. Sometimes being practical and conscientious is such a pain in the ass.

I am surreptitiously indulging in my favorite pastime - people watching. This is somewhat more dangerous when done in a bar than say, outside in the park or at the grocery store. Alcohol emboldens people, including me. I’ve caught myself studying someone a little too long, forgetting the unspoken etiquette of people watching - eyes can drift slowly past, but can never appear to settle on a specific person for any period of time. And in bars, the watchee, emboldened by their own alcoholic fortification, is far more likely to stare back. Almost always unpleasant.

Taking a sip of my drink, I lower my head and place the glass back on my table. Looking up, grumbling again about the coworker who will be late for his own funeral, I stare at the door, willing it to open. It does.

My mind immediately registers that this is not my coworker or my clients. It is just a youngish, nondescript boy-man.

I should now explain that I suffer from a condition caused by being the mother of a grown son. The calendar says my grown son is a man. To me, he is still my little boy. This affliction unfortunately, extends to any young man I see that appears to be roughly the same age as my son. The world sees a man. I see a boy. It is as though a whole generation of boys will never grow to manhood in my eyes. Perpetual Peter Pans.

As I contemplate this somewhat creepy mindset, I realize my eyes are still fixed on the young man walking into the bar. Lost in thought, I haven’t really been seeing him. But if he catches me, he will think I am staring at him. About then, my eyes refocus, I take in the expression on his face and realize he has arrived at exactly that conclusion.

Feeling foolish, I quickly drop my eyes back to my drink, and lift the glass towards my mouth, willing myself to not look rattled. As I tip the glass, my eyes look up and look straight into his. We are 20 feet apart and the room is dark enough I can’t tell what color those eyes are. But from underneath their lazy lids they catch the ambient lighting perfectly and reflect all the stars in the sky. He is grinning at me. As if he knows exactly how much that will increase my discomfort.

Actually, it pisses me off. He sees this and just grins a little larger, then turns to his friends at the table and easily enters their conversation, as if the little battle of wills never occurred.
I am not that gracious. I continue to stare.

As I look, I realize my initial impression is correct, he is young, no more than five or six years older than my son. But I see nothing boyish about him. Average height and slightly built, he still exudes something inherently masculine. Short brown hair, combed back, with a hairline that has decided it would be more comfortable if it sat back just a little further on his head, a nose almost too large for his other facial features, and a mouth that looks small, but can’t be, not to grin the way it does, are the facts readily available to my perusal.

Then the waitress sets his drink down on the table and he reaches for it. That is when I notice his hands. They aren’t out of proportion with his body, but seem to be primarily composed of fingers. I am sure there are palms somewhere, but his long, thin fingers draw all attention. They are mesmerizing, especially when they move. Those hands should be insured. They must belong to a concert pianist, a surgeon or the reincarnation of Casanova. Surely he puts those fingers to good use.

Something jerks my attention away from his hands and I search for the distraction. His eyes have landed on me again. I feel emboldened. I raise my glass, tipping it in his direction. Giving me a genuinely warm smile, he does the same.

Suddenly, my clients appear by my side. I'm so distracted I didn’t see them arrive, even with the door directly in my sight. Europeans, so no handshakes, instead the prerequisite three cheek kisses that always seems so familiar to me. But I like these two men, we are old friends. I am quickly caught up in their apologies for being late and the story of their flight from hell.

As I slide back into work mode, my mind releases the mental rope connecting me to the young man across the bar. Over the course of the next twenty minutes, I occasionally feel my senses being tweaked and realize he is glancing my way.

When I can sneak a peek without looking obvious or rude to my companions, I do the same. In one of these peeks, my mind, which has been rapidly thumbing through my internal thesaurus since the moment he walked in the door, comes up with the word that captures his essence. Sensual. Not sexual, not hot, not handsome. Sensual. An adjective I rarely apply to a man.

Finally, my late coworker arrives. As usual, he is so energetic and so good humored, despite my best effort, I feel my frustration towards him ebb.

I barely notice the young woman he is holding the door for, allowing her to enter before him. She doesn’t register in my mind until I realize she is heading towards the table of my young sensualist. As soon as I am aware of her destination she demands my full attention. Petite, very thin, you can tell she is a woman but has the body of a barely teenage girl. Pretty auburn hair, pleasant but somewhat bland features. She’s well dressed but stood rigidly uncomfortable, uptight.

Somehow, just looking at her I realize she has no imagination or joy inside of her. What comes next is inevitable, but I am still loathe to accept it. Young Mr. Sensuality puts his arm around her waist, pulls her close and kisses her. It looks like he intended to get her mouth, but settled for her cheek. She stood, unbending and distant.

“What a waste” I said to myself. He deserves a pretty young thing, Gatsby’s Daisy, a lithe ballerina dancing attendance and basking in his sensual glow.

And then I am caught up in my coworker’s completely outlandish and always hysterical reason for his delay in arriving. The conversation swerves towards industry gossip, our European friends’ itinerary and an upcoming conference. My mind is engaged and the young man who occupied my thoughts so fully is now pushed completely out.

Finally we begin to gather our belongings to head into the restaurant for dinner. I look up just as he passes by. His arm still around her waist, as they pass he turns back and catches my eye. I raise my eyebrow skeptically in the direction of his companion. He grins broadly, shrugs his shoulders and slightly shakes his head.

Good, I think. He realizes his mistake. I have saved another total stranger from a partnership fate worse than death. My work here is done and suddenly I am starving.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sex In the Library - An Anthology

If you love books and you love sex, Remittance Girl has done you a great service. After a couple of conversations with friends about the sexual allure of bookstores and libraries, she posted a challenge on her website inviting fellow readers and writers to pen a piece about just that - sex and books - or more specifically the places that house books. You can read the rules for the challenge on Remittance Girl's website here.

I took up the challenge and had a lot of fun. More importantly though, there were 10 other amazing entries. I encourage you, if you are a fan of erotica or romantic erotica, to take a peek.

Just a reminder - this would be considered Adult Content. If you aren't 18 or older please don't check it out.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Time Flying, While Standing Still - Eternally Eighteen

In today’s world, I realize my marriage is the exception, rather than the rule. You see, I married a man I have known since the third grade. Not exactly childhood sweethearts, we didn’t start dating until we were 18, but he shares most of my earliest memories. Even though we rarely interacted before we started dating, we can reminisce about our fifth grade train trip to Chicago, a specific teacher we both hated, and the fact that we were in the same place and probably no more than a few yards apart when we learned that Bobby Kennedy died.

We experienced the same fads, lived through the same controversies, mourned the same losses, and shared numerous family friends, as we grew up. Because our memories run parallel, we rarely have to explain ourselves, never question if the other one “knows what we mean?” and easily fill in gaps in each others memories.

We talk about how strange it would be to marry someone you first meet as an adult. We know this is common, but to us it is inconceivable that we could be married to anyone that didn’t remember a certain classmate’s pet iguana, buying candy at the ancient corner market, how frightening the old shoe repair shop owner and his even older mother were and spending recess playing run-across, a game that seems to have been invented and played exclusively at our grade school.

We didn’t begin our romantic relationship as innocents by any means. Growing up when we did (free clinics dispensing free birth control pills, easy access to abortions, no threat of AIDS, no other STDs that a couple of shots of penicillin couldn’t take care of, liberal usage of illegal substances, the height of the sexual revolution and the tail end of the 1960’s counterculture) no one had any excuse to be innocent. If you have seen the movie Dazed and Confused, you’ve seen our youth. Indulging was easy, so why not?

In many ways I believe that knowing someone as long and as intimately as we have known each other makes the passage of time more pronounced. After all, I not only compare my husband’s looks today to the day we were married, or the day our first child was born, I compare them to how he looked playing tether ball in the third grade.

There is one place though, that time seems to stop for us, when the boy and girl and the man and woman hang in suspended animation.

We’ve had frequent, pleasurable and satisfying sex for 30+ years now. There have been ebbs and flows, brought on by factors usually beyond our control. But in this area, we have been surprisingly consistent. Sex is critical to the success of our marriage and we would argue, to any marriage. The physicality of our relationship is, after our kids and certain shared, personally-historic moments, the strongest tie that binds us.

Of course we’ve physically changed a great deal since those early days. While we see each other clearly most of the time, can identify every wrinkle or blemish, every gray hair (or would be gray hair without a dye job) or the lack of hair entirely - when we are in bed, we are 18 again.

In the heat of the all-consuming moment, if you could get my attention long enough to ask me what my partner looks like, I would tell you this: about 6’1” tall and 180 pounds; brown wavy hair with a cowlick that flips the left side of his bangs into a curl and long sideburns that are wider at the bottom than the top, (not mutton chops but not too far removed); probably in need of a good shave, but I love the stubble; full lips that look slightly swollen when they break into a shy smile; hazel, deep set eyes that make it appear as if he just woke up, just got high or both; a light sprinkling of brown chest hair on a long olive-skinned torso; muscular fore and upper arms; a beautiful body without a blemish or a wrinkle to be found, except for one lengthy scar that makes him look a little dangerous; and a Johnson (his favorite name for it) that springs to firm life the second he sees, hears, smells or senses my proximity, no matter how many times it sprang to life and was satiated in the last 24 hours.

If you could get his attention at this delicate moment and pose the same question, here is my husband’s description of me (I know, because I asked this before): about 5’5” and maybe 130 pounds; medium brown, shoulder length hair; large hazel eyes, that get even larger just before, well, you know …; small mouth with thin lips, unless they’d been kissed for a very long time; pale, pale skin that looks so delicate, as if even a feather-like touch would bruise; breasts, man those breasts, more than a handful, always there, looking perky - big enough she should wear a bra, but so glad she doesn’t; small waist, but a soft, rounded tummy-pillow that curves down into hips that echo that roundness on the backside; a perfect, hmmm ... for this he prefers the feline name ... that is always in a state of optimal readiness for him; a beautiful body without a blemish or a wrinkle to be found.

Sadly, in the cold, hard light of day we both admit we have not had sex with the person we are describing in probably 28 or 29 years. Obviously he has changed and I have changed. Even though I'm unwilling to provide a list of the most dramatic changes (some desirable, but many regrettable), I will at least admit the obvious. Our bodies have not been blemish or wrinkle free in many, many years.
But when we are most intimate, when the tie between us is strongest, we are both still 18.

So, as I reflect back on my original understanding of the passage of time, the linear march I’ve described, I begin to see our most intimate visions of each other in a different light. I have moved them from the “Memory” column to the “Reality” column on the spreadsheet in my brain. I firmly believe that the closest any of us comes to perfection is that single moment when our minds and our bodies cross that line. That moment of release makes us our most real, our most genuine, our most authentic. If in that moment my husband is the 18 year old lover of my youth, isn’t that real, genuine and authentic as well?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Time Flying, While Standing Still - The Child Eternal

In my dad’s wallet is my picture. His baby girl, his princess. I was a daddy’s girl, I freely admit. Spoiled rotten. I thought my dad was the strongest, smartest man on earth. And like any man, if a female no matter what her age, is willing to think that about them, who are they to argue?

I know he admires the woman I’ve become. He is proud of all of my accomplishments, both personal and professional. He gives me a great deal of credit for how well adjusted and level headed my kids have turned out. And as a man with 3 less than stellar marriages under his belt, he is especially pleased that I seem to be able to make marriage work for me, when it never did for him. I frequently have to remind him that my husband was a key participant in both the child rearing and the marriage (and deserves an overwhelming majority of the credit for both.) But, as a doting father, he still gives me all the glory.

I find it both sweet, touching and embarrassing that at his age (80+) and mine, he still brags about my career and professional accomplishments to anyone who will listen. Just like he used to brag about my grades and every childhood accomplishment.

I'm not saying my relationship with my dad has always been idyllic. We've had some very rough passages, long stretches of time when I would have nothing to do with him. My childhood hero worship died a long time ago. I think I see him fairly clearly now. Like everyone, he has carried an overflowing bagful of faults as he lived his life. But he also has qualities and much to admire. When you are worshiping a hero, you may be blind to the faults, but you are also blind to the real gifts contained. Now I think I see both.

But the point I want to make is, even though I know he recognizes and is proud of the adult I’ve become, the picture in my dad’s wallet, is my second grade class picture.

Looking at it now it is obvious I had recently taken scissors to my bangs, yet again. According to my mother, this was a common theme of my childhood. I was missing a couple of my front teeth so I am sporting an extremely unattractive grin. My ears are sticking out from my fine, absolutely straight hair and my facial expression makes me look some what troll-like. It might be the worst picture I have ever taken in my life.

I know though, that when my dad closes his eyes and conjures up my image, he is conjuring up Lulu at seven. The little girl in that picture that was absolutely certain her dad was the greatest man on earth.

For a long time I never understood why he kept this particular photo. I’ve taken so many pictures through the years and in most of them I look very attractive. But, it has gradually dawned on me that how cute or how homely I was in that picture didn’t matter to him at all. What mattered to my dad was the memory of me, when I loved him the most.

It has taken an even longer time to understand that his memory of me is also his reality. Even though he rationally knows I am a grown woman, I am also still his little girl. To him, the grown woman and the little girl aren’t separated by forty years. They both exist in his reality at the very same time. There is no succession of Lulus in his mind. Lulu at one, Lulu at twelve, Lulu at thirty. There is just me. One, twelve, thirty and this very moment, all at the very same time.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Time Flying, While Standing Still - Introduction

I’ve never been one to ruminate over the passage of time. While I hate many of the inconveniences brought on by supposed maturity, I can’t say I mind the passing of one decade more than the one before. I’ve always bought into the notion that time marches inexorably onward, laid out along a linear path, never swerving from it’s quest for the next great milestone of my insignificant life.

However, several recent instances and and re-awakened memories have caused me to question this unerring belief. These questions regarding my lifelong vision of the passage of time stem from … well … the passage of time.

One of the advantages of aging is that the longer you live the more personal history you create and the more personal history you create the easier it is to detect patterns in that history. As I’ve perused memories over the last few months, I’ve been reminded of several instances that seem to repudiate the pattern of my belief in the linear passage of time. Each instance, on its own is not enough to make me question that belief. But as I consider the whole, I’ve reached the conclusion that I have been wrong, yet again.

Since I find I’m wrong about so many things on a maddeningly regular basis, I tend to accept my wrongheadedness with much more grace than I used to. Most of the time when I realize my error, if it isn’t causing a problem for anyone else, I acknowledge it and move on, There aren’t enough hours in the day to properly atone for every error of my ways.

But this issue of time and its passage is something that requires additional thought and attention. And so like Rod Serling, I invite you to enter the Twilight Zone of my mind. However, while I always hate to see the “To be continued” scroll at the end of an episode of a favorite TV show, I think I would bore both any reader and myself, if I attempt to describe and dissect all of the incidences that have led me to question my concept of time. So, I will pick up this thread from time to time, examine another incident and hopefully reveal my changing beliefs as I pick my way through these posts. I will identify each as belonging to this thread in the title.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Writing Adventure Group

Nixy Valentine has started a writing group for anyone who would like to join. She hopes to build a community of writers intent on improving their observational and writing skills. This is actually the 2nd week and the 2nd challenge. I was too immersed in family dramas last week to meet the deadline. But this week, I am offering up my contribution

To get full details regarding the Writing Adventure Group and see last weeks efforts, just click on the title of this post. I will also provide links to the participants on the Liar.

In the meantime, here are the instructions to this week's challenge: ... go outside, and sit for a minute. (This can be in your yard or garden, on a city street, in a park, in a shopping centre, where ever you choose!) Soak in everything you see, hear, smell, etc, for a moment, and then describe something that you did not notice at first. This can be anything! Just make it something that you overlooked when you first arrived. Keep your descriptions as concrete as possible!

And here is my entry:

I’ve promised myself that next weekend, rain or shine, I dig in dirt. I can hardly wait.

This weekend, I was content to appreciate the results of dirt-digging done last fall. Hundreds of daffodils, planted in mass, cutting wide swaths of yellow, pink and cream across my still winter-brown yard. Dependable, consistent, harbingers of spring.

Sitting on a retaining wall, admiring the fruits of my autumnal labor, I felt the immense satisfaction that comes to those who make things grow.

As I surveyed the proof that spring was settling in, my eye was caught by a flutter of pale peach and creamy white, waving eagerly to catch my attention. A single, Salomé Daffodil in the middle of the new herb bed I laid out and tilled last fall. Twenty feet from the nearest grouping of it’s relatives. Certainly not where I planted it. Definitely not where it was supposed to be.

Whether I accidentally moved the bulb as I was transferring dirt and compost or dropped it as I was planting bulbs last fall, I’ll never know. It might have been the handiwork of an industrious squirrel or the dig-happy dog next door.

I stared at the lone daffodil that mocked my attempt at organized landscape design. I was so put out by the bloom’s temerity I walked over to my herb bed, fully intending to pull it up, bulb and all. By the time the bloom was in reach I realized the silliness of my reaction. I decided to cut the flower and appreciate it indoors and in a vase.

Bending to snip the stem of the flower, I paused to admire its charm. Looking at my massed plantings, I had not realized the depth of the color of the cup, an almost rose-pink where the cup attaches to the petals, gradually fading out to a soft, translucent peach. I also noticed that each cream colored petal bulged in the middle, so the widest part of the petal was not at its base, but midpoint between the base and tip. Another detail lost to the eye when it wasn’t focusing on a single flower. Stepping away from the lone bloom, I granted it a reprieve.

At that point I came to two, specific conclusions. First, beauty often gets lost in a crowd. Sometimes you need to see it standing separately, on its own, in order to appreciate the sight. And second, I was spending way too much time thinking about one damn flower.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

To Cute for Our Own Good

My husband and I will soon celebrate our one-third of a century anniversary. (Do the math.) We've known each other considerably longer. We are a dying breed in this age where people move on average every two years. We grew up together. Childhood sweethearts.

Technically, even though we have known each other since childhood, we didn't start dating until we were both eighteen.
People tend to go "awwwww" when they hear our journey to couple-dom and discover how long we've been together. It makes me feel cute. And I hate to feel cute. I've threatened divorce several times for that very reason.

But what makes feeling cute almost worth it is when they ask what finally brought the two of us together. If my spouse opens his mouth first he says something appropriate about falling in love with me on the playground in grade school. If I answer first, I tell the truth. A shared passion for illegal, recreational drugs accompanied by lots of hot sex. (But not on the playground in grade school.) Their reaction tells me a lot about the person.

My better half claims he really did have a crush on me in elementary school. He freely admits he frequented the underside of the old fashioned Monkey Bars, staring upward towards heaven, whenever I was perched on top. Since we were in grade school during the neolithic age, strict dress codes still required that girls wear dresses. Pants or shorts were forbidden. The unintended result of this dress code was that my husband swears he can describe in detail every pair of underpants I wore in the fourth grade.

Ever since he made this slightly off-putting confession, prudently waiting until the ring was on my finger and the marriage license duly witnessed and signed, I've been alternately repelled and intrigued by the visual his confession creates in my mind. I am touched though, that he equated my underpanted ass to heaven.

Lately I have been toying with the idea of switching my normal response to the queries about what finally got us together. I'm thinking about attributing it to my better half's, fascination with little girl's underpants, conveniently leaving off the detail that he was 10 years old at the time, and had no interest in actually wearing them himself. He already cringes every time I mention the sex and drugs thing. This might send him over the top.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Grimmly Perverse?

Hmmmmmm. Nothing further I need to say about this. It's the title to an old fairy tale. I assume it was written for children, but maybe the Brothers Grimm wrote 'adult' stories as well? I'd better check it out.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right

The lyrics of the 1970s Stealer's Wheel song Stuck In the Middle With You has been on continuous repeat mode in my head since yesterday. I literally am stuck in the middle, facing stressful situations on both sides of the generational divide. I know from talking to others that this is a common predicament faced by many of my contemporaries, sandwiched between two adult generations.

I have a highly intelligent and well educated grown daughter (trust me, I have the college loans to prove it) who has been looking for a job in her chosen field with absolutely no luck, since she graduated with her Masters. She held a temporary position for several months, but since that ended she has been unemployed. And her field is not that narrow. She's increasingly frustrated and scared because not only is she not hearing back on the hundreds of resumes sent and calls made so far, the job postings themselves are drying up as the economy worsens.

Yesterday she received one more rejection and it was the proverbial straw that broke her back. Suddenly I found myself playing a part I haven't played in a few years. Suddenly, she needed her mommy. And for me, being a mommy means you absorb and take on the stress of your child. You feel their pain.

We know she will get a job and will eventually even get the type of job she actually wants. But the job market she faces is enough to shock anyone, especially someone who is just now entering the workplace.

As I was absorbed in this crisis I got my second distress signal. One I knew was headed my way, but was hoping would hold off for a few more weeks. My elderly parents called to tell me that my dad fell nine times last weekend. He broke a couple of ribs and bruised and bloodied a large portion of his body. He has suffered from a debilitating and progressive disease for over 20 years. The care he needs is more than my step-mother, with health issues of her own, can provide. His kids all live several hundred miles away.

He needs to move into a nursing facility. Sooner, rather than later. I know that no matter how much I wish we had other options, we don't. My dad knows it too. While I was hoping that there would be some last minute reprieve - a new drug, a new treatment or something, I knew he was hoping his reprieve would be final. He is tired of living his life, and I can't really blame him. He wanted to be done with it, before this came to pass.

I remember the conversations my dad and I had when he was making decisions about his elderly parents, and facing the inevitability of their deaths. I realized at the time that one day I would be in his shoes. But I didn't have a sense of how overwhelming it would feel.

I remember telling my much younger daughter that if she worked hard, excelled in school and focused on her dreams she could do and accomplish anything she wanted. I hadn't banked on the stumbling block of the biggest economic recession in 75 years. And my frustrated inability to fix this for her is overwhelming too.

So yesterday was tough. Today a little better. From the day I was born I was a daughter. From the day my first child was born, I was a mother. I love my children and I love my parents more than words can express. And I realize that along with the innumerable benefits these relationships offer, there are also downsides.

But do the downsides have to happen on the same day?

Sledge Hammer Part 2

Part 2 of a fictional conversation I am struggling with. I need perspective. The total conversation is part of a bigger piece but doesn't fit well. Part 1 is below.


She looked up at him, shook her head slightly trying to focus on his question. When she said nothing, he encouraged her.

“You prefaced that point as your first reason. Which indicates to me there is probably a second. Perhaps even a third or a fourth? What is it?”

“Just one more” she admitted reluctantly. “But it’s more difficult to explain than the first.”

“Try me.”

God, that smile was wicked. Wicked, unnerving, demanding.

“The second reason.” She snorted at the complex simplicity of the words about to be said. “The second reason is, regardless of what John Donne says, I am an island. I need very little attention or interaction with others. I don’t seek approval or disapproval. I am most comfortable in my own company. I care for my family and closest friends, but can go for long stretches of time without connecting, and never feel the lack.”

She paused, knowing she needed to add a clarifying explanation. “I know this sounds contradictory to my control issues, but it isn't. One does not have to be an extroverted motor mouth to manage the world. Exerting control over a situation can often be done with very little conversation or direct interaction. Sometimes, the most effective way I control a situation is to remove myself physically from it.”

She looked at him and smiled conspiratorially. He knew exactly what she was talking about.

“I’ve no idea why I am like this. I’ve never really tried to figure it out. It suits me, so why question it? I’m aware, at least conceptually, that I miss out on the depth of feelings others experience -- that my inability to depend on others or seek their counsel has made my life, at times, more difficult than it had to be. But I’ve found benefits through the years as well.”

A pause to regroup, gather strength. A strength she desperately needed because she did not want to confess this to anyone, ever. This was her secret, a secret that sharing, even with one other person, a person she knew would understand, meant giving up total control of certain aspects of herself. Made her vulnerable.

“It is more than mental self-containment. It's physical self-containment as well. I’ve built a wall around me that is invisible to the eye, but next to impossible to breach. I’ve tried to explain the physical aspect before, with little success.” Knowing she would likely be unsuccessful again, her frustration surfaced.

“The best explanation … look … it’s like you live in a brick house. Between you and the outside world are layers of brick, insulation, wooden joists and iron support beams, sheet rock , plaster, paint and wallpaper. If someone wants your attention and they tap on a brick on the outside of your home, you aren’t going to even notice. To get your attention, they either have to come in through a door or window, or they have to take a sledge hammer to the walls to break through all the layers.

The walls around me are the same as the walls of that house. And my physical contact with most people is limited to a light tap on the brick. So light, it usually never registers with me. It is as if it never happened.

My unapproachability, my introversion, rarely allows anyone to approach me through an unlocked door or cracked window.

What this leaves me then, is the sledge hammer. The intensity of the contact is what matters. It takes this to get my attention, to drag a response out of me. The feeling of someone patting me on the back is like tapping on a brick, it is never going register. I am oblivious to it. So sometimes, just to make sure I still feel at all, I need that sledge hammer."

Sunday, March 1, 2009

My Supposition of mr. cummings Take on CPAC

I've been reading wrap ups of the CPAC conference, listening to clips of presentations from Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Jon Bolton, Michael Steele and my favorite space-cadet, Michele Bachmann. Yes, it's true, I've felt particularly masochistic all weekend. Fortunately my review of the conference provided more than enough pain to meet my needs.

I am not sure putting this many people with this level of imbecilic genius in the same room is safe. It's certainly not sane.

For some reason, as I read and viewed the lowlights of the event, an e.e. cummings poem kept popping into my head. I wouldn't say I love this poem. But I've always been drawn to some of the imagery, especially the last line. I've just never really known what to do with it, a fact that if mr. cummings were still alive, would surely keep him up nights. It spoke to me the first time I read it. I just never knew what it was saying until now. I think he has perfectly described the lunacy of this gathering in a few short lines. (I am apologizing in advance, not to the participants at CPAC, but to any serious student of mr. cummings who my amateurish interpretation of his work offends.)

the boys i mean are not refined

the boys i mean are not refined
they go with girls who buck and bite
they do not give a fuck for luck
they hump them thirteen times a night

one hangs a hat upon her tit
one carves a cross on her behind
they do not give a shit for wit
the boys i mean are not refined

they come with girls who bite and buck
who cannot read and cannot write
who laugh like they would fall apart
and masturbate with dynamite

the boys i mean are not refined
they cannot chat of that and this
they do not give a fart for art
they kill like you would take a piss

they speak whatever's on their mind
they do whatever's in their pants
the boys i mean are not refined
they shake the mountains when they dance

e.e. cummings