Goldfish

November 28, 2016

As a new/older graduate student, I have recently found myself spending a lot of time at the library of my undergrad university. It is nearby and I am entitled to use it as a paying member of the alumni association, so don’t go reporting me for squatting or anything. This place is the best kept secret in town if you are studying or writing. Today, I arrived at the door before it was even open. Sitting outside on the bench I was soon joined by a young man who appeared to be no older than 18 or 19. He carried a backpack full of notebooks and books on one hip and a very young girl child on the other. It was chilly outside and he wore a black hoody pulled over his head. Realizing that we had another five or ten minutes to wait, he gently placed the child on the bench, then sat next to her making sure that her jacket was zipped all the way up. He placed her fingers inside his own hands and told her he was keeping them warm for her. She giggled and kept her eyes on his backpack. As she struggled to pull her hands out of his to reach for the backpack, he realized what she wanted and laughed at his own stupidity, shaking his head and reassuring her that what she wanted was inside. He reached into his pack and pulled out a little zip lock bag of goldfish crackers and handed them over to her as she squealed and wiggled in delight of her victory. Finally, I asked.

“Is this your little girl?”

“Yes, she’s mine” he replied, matter of factly.

“She’s so cute. How old is she?” He referred to the child.

“She can tell you. Tell the lady how old you are.” No response, maybe because she didn’t know how old she was or maybe because she had a mouth full of goldfish. I looked at the little girl.

“How old are you?” Then more gently, again. “How old are you?”

The little girl tentatively held up two fingers as she looked at her father for approval.

“That’s right. You are two.”

We both heard the lock of the doors being opened up and we stood up. He held the door for me, even though I offered to do so for him, for his hands were full of books, babies, and bags. I thanked him and breezed past him heading for the elevator to my fourth floor secret hiding place. As I rode the elevator I thought about what it must be like to be a very young man, with a very young child and a load of college books in my hands as the end of the semester stalked me. I suspect that at least part of this formula was not in his original plan, and my heart went out to him as I tipped my metaphorical hat. I am glad I noticed him because it makes me ponder how very much determined humans can accomplish when they choose to do so. It made me reflect on how fortunate I am to be back in school at my age, and not have to worry about supporting babies or aging parents or shriveling bank accounts or growing debts. I am glad I noticed him and the child because as a writer it is good for me to notice people and their circumstances, but I am even more glad I noticed him and the child because, as human beings, we should notice each other more. We should pay more attention to the good that each of us is doing and offer a hand to help with the things that are not a part of the original formula. And let’s face it, the original formula repeatedly has to be reformulated as life places in our paths little unexpected detours. I’ll bet those two they come here a lot, because both father and child seems completely comfortable amongst the books and the silence. I hope they come here often, because I want to see Little Miss Two Fingers again at some point. She is a sweetie. Maybe I’ll run into them again. I come here almost every day now, so when I come back here tomorrow, I am going to bring some goldfish crackers, just in case.

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  1.  Developed a formula for grocery shopping in a big city. This is it: The exact same number of people who are currently residing in a residence are also required to carry enough groceries back to feed, water and wash them all…unless you have everything delivered, which is also something I discovered.
  2. Learned my way around a new neighborhood, sort of.
  3. Ate stuffed pizza for the first (and last) time. My tummy thanks me.
  4. Made friends with lots of dogs. I will miss you Brad, Elvis, Mila, George, Max, Lexie, Corndog, Henry, Lovey and Dovey. Be good.  You know how to do that.
  5. Made friends with a homeless woman, Marie. Yes, Marie, I will look for you next time I am in town. And yes, you can take me out to lunch.
  6. Watched fourteen brides and grooms exit their wedding ceremonies at Church of the Holy Name, from 27 floors up.
  7. Took a wonderful class in writing The Solo Show. Maybe I will someday. Maybe. Thank you, Arlene Malinkowski. You are a good teacher, and funny too.
  8. Saw War Paint while it was in previews at The Goodman and introduced my friends to the playwright, Doug Wright. Lah-tee-dah.
  9. Had dinner and saw a show with an old friend. James Dumont, you are the best and I admire the way you live your life.
  10. Had the wonderful experience of discovering new friendships and deepening existing ones. Scarlet and Tommy, you are the best. Dolores and Keith, Joe, Mary, Liz, Marsha and Turnstull, Kathryn and Randy, I am so glad I met you. Annie and Anthony, dinner next time, ok? Ivy and Juliet, thanks for showing me the Miniature Room. Matt, Melissa, Marie, Richard, Rachel, Cindy, Molly, Rob, you are pinnacles of hospitality. So many new friends! You all made the city feel like home.
  11. Spent time with friends from home and elsewhere who were visiting the city for a variety of reasons. Love you lots, Amy and the other Amy, Chris, Mary Jo, Linda, Colleen, James, Ruby, Heather and Carley.
  12. Went to a picnic at Melrose Beach at the end of August and never broke a sweat. Not even a sparkle. Thank you Chicago Dramatists.
  13. Worshipped, studied and found friends at a church down the street. Thanks Fourth Presbyterian. You are mine now.
  14. Heard my husband whistle the Anderson Whistle at the DNC, over and over and over. It made me want to run towards the TV like a dog.
  15. Enjoyed binoculars. That is all I am saying about that.
  16. Ate lots of fabulous, old fashioned hamburgers. Thank you Gibson’s, and also McCormick and Schmick’s. Just.. yum.
  17. Wrote very little.  Sorry.
  18. Went to readings for four new plays, none of which were mine.
  19. Ate black spaghetti for the first time.
  20. Probably really screwed up my ears for good. The damn elevators, you know????
  21. Missed my friends and family from Louisiana, some more than others. You know who you are. If you are reading this blog, chances are I missed you.
  22. Practiced yoga in Millennium Park with almost 1000 people at one time. A big Om to that.
  23. Got to experience the city through the eyes of a nine year old whose favorite thing about Chicago was a one pound chocolate Hershey kiss. Thanks Mac. Right back at you!
  24. Developed a relationship with architecture.
  25. Visited the campus of Northwestern University and got to see my mother’s grad school file, which was still in the archives. Thank you Northwestern. Sniff, sniff.

Mostly, I loved every minute of my life, even the few days I was sick. You know why? Because the good, the bad, the old, the new, the exciting, the dull, the festive, the lonely, the spiritual, the intellectual, the scary, the familiar, the high and the low…it all makes for this rich, wonderful gumbo we all swim around in. So today I am feeling grateful, willing and excited to see what is next, and that is probably the best thing I did this summer.

Chicagift

July 20, 2016

A friend of mine once suggested to me that if you live your entire life in the same place where you were born, then you have only read the first page of the book. What a brilliant metaphor, and I agree. I also recognize that others who agree with this statement will be people who probably read books…for fun. Others may simply love the first chapter so much that they are content to read it over and over again, never even contemplating what lay ahead in the other 24 chapters, and good for them. I, however, grew into the opposite prototype, forever looking at maps and marking the places I wanted to visit. I was the one flipping through magazines and ignoring the actual products in the ad, but desperately wanting to experience the locations in which the ads were shot. I blame my parents for my wanderlust, for they raised me with an appetite for the world out of my sight, the adventures that were not yet imagined and the people who were yet to arrive in my life. My mother used to say that I had friends all over the world, but I simply had not yet met them.

In that spirit, my husband and I, who have been married almost 18 years, decided to venture out of our comfort zone for a couple of months to experience living in a brand new place; a place with a different climate thankyouverymuch, a different demographic and a different culture. We wanted to see what it would be like to strike out in a place where we couldn’t play whoseyourmama and wheredyagotohighschool. We wanted to discover a corner of our relationship that had, so far, gone untapped. Like it or not, when you set up shop in a new location, and your daily default mechanisms for living no longer apply, you figure things out in a new way. We wanted to experience this together, with no one watching. Although prior to marriage, I did reside for 10 years in a land far, far away, my husband had not ventured to live more than 50 miles or so from his childhood home. That was for law school, so primarily his head was buried in books, classes and study groups. We pondered where we could go and began to set some criteria for a location.

1.  It had to be a place with a climate that was at least slightly cooler than the one in south Louisiana. Easy. That was pretty much anywhere.
2.  It had to be a metropolitan area, because that is totally different from our home   environment.
3.  It had to have an easy, direct flight from New Orleans.
4.  It had to be a place that we could easily maneuver without a car.
5.  It could’t be a city in which either of us had previously lived. That meant that New York was disqualified. Boo! Hiss!
6.  It had to be a place that had a vibrant cultural scene. Otherwise we would end up reading all day, and that could be done at home.

So, after a bit of discussion and discernment, which was where the adventure really began, we settled on Chicago. Although we had visited that city for a few nights, it was essentially foreign soil to both of us. So we began to plan; to search online for information about different areas of the city and different options for short term apartment rentals. The search alone felt like a journey through a different land. I was loving every minute of the search process, although deep in my heart I never really believed the plan would come to fruition, for I can be futile that way. My husband, however, kept revisiting the plan.

“Have you heard back from the realtor lady?”

“Have you reached out to ____________ yet, because they used to live in Chicago.”

“We need to figure out how to handle our __________, ____________ and _________ while we are gone.”
With each little gentle nudge, my optimism grew, so I moved forward with logistical planning for our Chicago summer adventure. And here we are, late July…in Chicago. I cannot believe it really happened. My husband and I have both discovered new little piece of our selves that had previously been in hibernation. I think we would both agree that we have fallen in love with those new pieces of each other, just as we earlier did with the other pieces. I guess I will find out after he reads this blog post. Anyway, thank you Chicago, for we have both fallen in love with you. You are a new chapter, a new perspective, a new page. What a wonder! What an adventure. What a gift.

Class

April 14, 2016

Recently, my husband and I visited Austin, just to keep things a little weird. It really is the coolest city in Texas, complete with great food, excellent academic institutions, clean, smooth streets, fabulous bike paths, stellar performing arts, great museums and a rich history. To top it off, the weather was perfect for my hair. The only challenge we faced was prioritizing our exploration of the city. We decided to start with the heavier, headier endeavors, then finish with the physical, outdoorsy stuff. So on day one, we walked from our hotel, through the campus of UT, and on to the state capitol. We would spend the morning there, then head over to the LBJ Presidential Library.

The state capitol is grand, with a huge cupola, dome thingy crowning the building. It is actually very European but……shhhhh……don’t tell that to the rest of Texas. We roamed the hallways, which were deserted because the legislature was not in session. We did find one somewhat surly guard on duty at one of the most obscure entrances. We couldn’t decide if he was surly because that was part of his job, because he was banished to this unused entrance (like being put in time out), or because we had the audacity to speak to him in a friendly, familiar manner. Regardless, it took my husband all of thirty seconds of whose your mama chat to warm the guy up. I remained quiet, all the while thinking that if I were a spy, he would end up as my asset. This guy really was pretty easy, and clearly lonely. By the end of our conversation, he wanted to take us fishing.

We wandered upstairs to the gallery to view the paintings of all the former governors and, whaduyaknow, we found a female governor from the 1920’s. Apparently, her hubby was the previous gov, but he did a bad and had to leave office so she took over. Whatever. It was all becoming a little overwhelming, having to read all the little placards about the paintings and the history yada yada yada. My feet hurt a little. That is when Miss Gina’s Third Grade Class entered the room festooned with a private tour guide. The guide was young, energetic and couched Texas history in a manner that was simple, fun and easy to follow. Plus, if you listened to her, you didn’t have to read anything. I found myself drifting away from the written word and being drawn towards the little children. Miss Tour Guide Intern Who Wants to Be Governor One Day was downright entertaining. And, really, just sitting on the floor with the little ones made me nostalgic for a little taste of paste.

“Can anyone guess which praiseuhdent was the only one ever bowern and raised up in Takesus?!!!” I knew the answer but kept my mouth shut. It was killing me, plus I really wanted to correct her grammer. Little hands shot up in the air like jumping beans.

“LJB!”
“THE ONE WHO HAS LETTERS FOR A NAME!!!!!”
“ABC!”
“LBJ!” Finally. From a little blond haired girl, of course. I felt myself exhale. Miss Tour Guide commended the little girl.

“YES! YOU ARE CORRECT! IT WAS LBJ!” Her enthusiasm was a little over the top if you ask me. Like those bumper stickers that give accolades to children for simply staying out of jail. My kid stands up straight! But nobody asked me, so I kept quiet, but I did start following them around, as nonchalantly as possible for someone who was significantly taller than the rest of the class. At one point, in the senate chamber, Miss Tour Guide instructed us to have a seat on the floor, thank God. My feet were talking to me, so I happily sat cross legged on the floor right behind the little blonde girl who knew her stuff. MTG was asking all sorts of questions; some rhetorical, some just stupid.

“What do you see all around this room?” Hands up and waving.

“Chairs!”

“Desks!”

“Windows!” No kidding. This was lame.

“Cameras! The kind to keep it safe!”

Miss TG spoke up. “Yes, there are cameras. But those are so that we have a record of everything that happens here. And sometimes we show that on the news! It is very important that the people who vote have the opportunity to see what happens here, because the people who work here work for them!” Tah-dah!

Blondie spoke up. “Yes, but it is good to have them for safety too. Sometimes a stranger might follow you and if you have their picture on TV, you are safer.” A little boy seated next to me on the floor cut his eyes over at me, locking them on my face as though to memorize my features. He must have thought I was pretty. Sweet boy. The little girl went on.

“You have to be careful…always. Stranger danger.” A few of the other children parroted her words under their breath. I nodded in full agreement because, really, you just can’t be too careful these days. The class must have noticed that an adult was agreeing with them, because I noticed a few others eyeing me as well.

Soon, our little tour was over and my class started lining up to exit the building. I noticed my husband patiently waiting for me by a door opposite the one the children were using. He was shaking his head discreetly. I guess I had lost track of him for a few minutes. I knew that look though. He was ready to leave…or he wanted to find a bathroom. One or the other, for sure. Miss Gina was counting heads and sending the children outside as she muttered something about lunch. I head the word “picnic.” Damn! I wish I had thought about bringing a sandwich or something. I could have joined them, but Tom didn’t seem to be into it, so I just watched them leave, single file. We headed out a different door, the one in the middle of nowhere with the fishing guard. Tom wanted to tell him goodbye, so we did. As they say in Texas, daylight was a-burning. We still had to grab a bite and go to the ABC Presidential Library. Oh well, maybe Miss Gina and my class would be there too. Maybe.

Beverly Hillbilly

March 16, 2016

The beauty of getting older is that you don’t have to deal with men hitting on you anymore. The sad thing about getting older is that you don’t have to deal with men hitting on you anymore. Don’t get me wrong. Although I had my share of “life of the party” moments in my youth, I was never, ever the long legged filly that all the colts were eyeing for a date. Still, when and if a gent ever did throw a pass my way, it was received as a compliment, whether or not there was any intrigue on my part. That all came to a screeching halt years ago when young men regularly started calling me “Ma’am,” just as well mannered bucks are known to do here in the south. The last man who insinuated that I was a hot tamale was about eighty five years old and suffered from early Alzheimer’s Disease. He was sweet though, and he thought I was fabulous, God rest his soul. Much worse than the “ma’am” thing, is a misconception that someone is hitting on you, when in reality, they are just dealing with you. A girl never forgets her initial encounter with this unfortunate truth.

When I was in my late twenties, I had the pleasure of traveling to Beverly Hills on a business trip. It was the first time I had ever traveled for any purpose other than moving, visiting family or going on vacation, so I felt oh-so-grown-up and relevant about it all. My travel expenses were all covered and I was booked to stay at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, don’tcha know! Well, lah-tee-dah for me. I was working for a talent agency in New York at the time, and the agent whom I assisted was very old school. His California clients were people like Troy Donahue and Soupy Sales (look them up). The trip was fairly easy for me. Mostly, I schmoozed at a pool party. Just a little bit, I set up meetings and interviewed actors seeking representation. Troy took me for a ride on his motorcycle down Sunset Boulevard and pointed out where he and Suzanne (look it up) lived when they were first married. It was all a bit surreal and overwhelming. I was actually glad when, on my last day there, my afternoon was free. Since I had no car, but still had a twenty something figure, I decided to take a dip in the pool at the Beverly Wilshire. Surely, there would be oodles of movie stars lying around sipping rum drinks and shifting their gold chains so that their tans would remain even. So I put on my new swimsuit-yes, a bikini-and headed downstairs with my towel and book in hand. I had forgotten to bring sunscreen, but so what! I passed it right up in the gift shop and opted to pick up a drink from the bar instead. I was in Hollywood! Because I have such a pathetic sense of direction, it took me quite a few twists and turns in hallways to finally spot the pool. It was gorgeous and actually had a little fan of water shooting up from the center. Very old Hollywood. Strangely, the pool deck was empty of people. And although I expected to find puffy lounge chairs upholstered with fresh terrycloth, there were only a few regular chairs and umbrellas flanking the perimeter. That was ok by me, though. After all, the entire place was pretty exclusive, and it was only 2:00 in the afternoon. People were still closing deals on movie lots and in the bar of the hotel. Fine, I would take a little solitary dip, then seal the rest of my trip with my drink (Pina Colada) and a good book. Better that way anyway. New York was so crowded and noisy! I would soak up the luxury of solitude for a few hours before going upstairs to pack.

I set up my towel and my book on one of the chairs and inched my way over to the pool, where I tested the water with my big toe. Nice and warm, so in I went, very gently. I didn’t want to ruin my hair-do since the arid climate of Cali was treating it so nicely. My plan was to cool myself down with a little water treading before planting myself in the chair for the rest of the afternoon. The pool was dreamy, and quite shallow through out. That made sense to me. The shallowness of it made it easier for movie moguls and me to hold our drinks and carry on with other moguls without sliding under the surface. Still, it was barely two feet deep. Then it struck me. Oh! You are supposed to SIT, not swim! Of course. This wasn’t an olympic lap pool, after all. It was for schmoozing (look it up). Perfect. So I sat. Just me and my Pina Colada.

I had been soaking for about twenty minutes when I noticed an attractive man slowly walking across the pavement, directly toward me. He had that sort of smile, a smirk really, that I had come to recognize in my adulthood. He had spotted me from afar and had targeted me through his scope. Can’t a girl get a break? He wasn’t even in a swim suit. Clearly, then man was at the hotel on business, but even that didn’t stop him. He just kept smiling and strolling….strutting…towards me. That was OK, though. I knew how to handle these types. And this guy looked good, so he probably wasn’t used to rejection. I almost felt sorry for him, knowing what was coming and all. Confidently, he walked straight over to me, with my elbows draped over the ledge of the pool and my head tipped upwards in hopes of capturing as much California vitamin D as I could. I had on dark sunglasses, so he couldn’t see my eyes. He had no idea that I was watching his every move, like you watch a snake. He stooped down in his Euro-California custom tailored suit.

“Hello.” Smiling, he spoke the word almost as an apology for what was to come as he pulled his sunglasses down onto the tip of his nose and peeped over the top. The Blue Grotto coming right at me.

“Well, hello.” I cooed back, preparing to give him the bad news. I was not looking for fun. I wanted to quietly enjoy my drink and read my book. Poor guy.

“Uh, I am going to have to ask you to get out of the fountain.” All the words that followed were in slow motion, as in a nightmare.

“What?’’

“I am from security. Sorry, but you are going to have to get out of the fountain.”

“The….fountain???? Uh. This is THE FOUNTAIN? Oh, no.”

“Are you a guest here?”

“Yes. Yes, I am!”

“May I please see your key, ma’am?” Ma’am. That was my first time. It stung. This whole thing felt like a punch to my flat little tummy.

“Oh, uh, sure.” I crawled out of the…fountain (I had to sort of climb out like a baby crawling over the rail of a crib because there were no steps), and reached for my key. It was an actual key, as was common at the time. It had the room number engraved on it, so it was proof that I was a real guest and not a hooker.

“Ok, thanks. Sorry. The pool is over there if you want to go for a real swim.”

“Uh, no. I think I better just go upstairs and (suck my thumb) start packing. I have an early flight tomorrow. But thanks. Sorry….about the fountain thing. I thought…..”

“It’s ok, no harm done.” I wrapped myself tightly in the towel, then gathered my book and the drink. I avoided all eye contact as I bolted away from the p…fountain.

“Ma’am!”

What now? Couldn’t I just leave? Please? My shoulders felt a little pink.

“The building is the other way.” He pointed in a direction that meant nothing to me, but I turned and followed his point anyway.

“Right! I know! I was just going to…right. Right. Sorry!”

I went straight to my room, minus a couple of wrong turns, and packed my bags while I finished my drink. By six o’clock I was ready for bed. The time change thing, you know? I took the last sip of my PC, which had taken the edge off my humiliation. At the bottom of the glass, I found the realization that if Mr. Security had not been on duty, he would have definitely made a pass. Definitely. Poor guy.

The Circle

March 3, 2016

San Angelo is little university town deep (very deep) in the heart of the heart of Texas. Until last week, I had never even heard of it, but since I was invited to go there, I went. Why? The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival held its regional gathering and I was invited to attend along with a group of Southeastern Louisiana University students who would be performing pieces from my first musical play, High and Mighty. How could I decline an invitation that included the words Kennedy Center in the verbiage? I couldn’t, so off I went prepared to watch, learn, listen and teach. Also included in the week of plays, seminars and contests were opportunities to meet and greet other theatre lifers, such as li’l ole me. Some of these thespians were young enough to be my children, some were old enough to be my parents, but somehow, we were all the same, sitting in darkened theaters or poorly lit rehearsal rooms, loving/hating/questioning a performance, script or process. Truth be told, most of the attendees were students, so my actual peers were the minority, which was somewhat liberating. I could move inconspicuously, incognito. I could come and go without being noticed. If I wanted to go back to my hotel room to eat Skittles and read my favorite new book, Hamilton (of course), I could…and did, actually. I would not lose points or be reprimanded. People just seemed to be happy to see me when and if they did.

After spending three and a half exhausting days together, the Southeastern group of young actors gathered together to, one last time, perform the two opening musical numbers from my script. Members of the original production and design team were all there as well. In rehearsal, we watched and listened as the students marked the numbers in a pseudo cue to cue rehearsal prior to opening the house to the audience. About fifteen minutes before the students were called to their places, we all gathered outside the building, standing in a circle, holding hands. Each cast member was given the opportunity to say a few words about the show and what it meant to them. We had all grown to know and love each other in the way that only performers and, perhaps, team athletes can. During the run of the show, these actors had come to fully trust each other and push each other to their maximum potentials, with respect. Actors who had never dared to sing in a musical had to belt out notes and lyrics knowing that the person across the stage from them had been formally training, vocally, for years. Singers who had never been taught to fully develop a character were standing next to actors who had been studying characterization and physicality since high school. These dynamics are fertile ground for insecurity and jealously, but those demons were not invited into this circle. Instead, I witnessed nothing but spunky, gentle, loving support firing in every direction. As this cast shared their final thoughts with each other -“best thing that has happened to me at Southeastern…..this show has changed my life…..I have learned so much…..let’s make this time the best one ever….. one last time!”

Michelle was the first one who started taking light-footed jumps as she chanted. “One more time! One more time! One more time!” Then Jamie joined her, followed by Olivia. Soon the others dove in until our little circle was a single unit of rhythm, a united front, a single purposed organism, jumping together to the words, hands still held tightly.

“One more time! One more time! One more time!”

When the volume and energy reached it’s pinnacle, they broke with hoots and yahoos, as though preparing to sprint onto the field for the Super Bowl. They were bulls in a pen, scraping the dirt with anticipation. It was one of the most fascinating and inspiring things I have ever been a part of and I knew that this circle would never leave me. Their performance was riveting, even for me, and I have seen it countless times.

The next day, we all began to drift in different directions as the festival wound down. Some people departed for home a day early and I could feel the air quietly escaping our collective balloon. That evening, the production received exactly three awards of recognition from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, Region 6. Early the following day, we all hit the road or the air, heading back to our real lives and routines. That was almost a week ago, and I am now back into my daily familiars; not a bad thing. Still, I will never forget these performers who are now my friends. Even after they are long removed from my presence, I will hold them close to my heart. They gave me a gift that I can never adequately described, and unquestionably, it is one that will stay with me forever. I cannot wait to see what they each do next, for every positive experience is a mere stepping stone to something else, isn’t it? Maybe my play will get another production. Another place, another time. I hope so. One more time. Still, nothing will ever top High and Mighty, 2015 production. She was one of a kind.

Songbird

February 10, 2016

When I was a little girl, my mother taught me a song that went like this:

“If you can’t say something nice, then, shhhhh! Say nothing.
Think it over once or twice, then, shhhh! Say nothing.
Think of happy things to say. That’s the rule to follow.
If you can’t say something nice, close your lips and swallow.”

Little did I know that this was a song I would grow to love more and more as I age. These days, I even take it a step further. If I find myself even thinking ugly thoughts, I push them out of my head, setting them free from my mind and lightening the load in my brain. Like most people, I am far, far from perfect but, like some, I am a continually reaching for a better me. That means no gossip, no criticism, no catty remarks (no matter how funny, and sometimes I am really, really funny) at the expense of other people. Although this endeavor is a never ending battle, like flossing one’s teeth, I am getting used to the routine, and actually feeling pretty peaceful when I find myself instinctively walking this road. I have heard that vegetarians, once cleansed of animal proteins, can become physically ill if they eat a piece of meat. Well, I won’t go so far as to say that gossip makes me ill, but my stomach does immediately respond to cruel remarks about others. It turns gently as if to warn me. These days, if someone serves me a fast ball of juicy gossip, I just let it drop at my feet and stay there. No return. Soon enough, the balls stop coming.

I don’t know exactly when being kind, diplomatic, mannerly and humble became unfashionable. As I was growing up, that sort of behavior was what my parents and teachers expected of me and everyone else. A smart mouth would earn me a reprimand, not applause. Unkind words about others earned me a lesson in self awareness, for those unkind words were gently pointed right back at me like a mirror. That is why I am so baffled at the fairly recent acceptance and endorsement of mean spirited rudeness, marketed as toughness. The first time I noticed this trend was on TV in the persona of a judge who took pleasure in publicly berating and humiliating citizens in her courtroom, in addition to sentencing or fining them. Then it was in the smart alec mouth of a TV mom, then a shock jock on the radio. As the temperature for civility began to covertly rise all around me, like everyone else, I began to not notice so much.

Considering this, it is no surprise that the presidential election circus affects me in such a negative way. Candidates feed on each other’s weaknesses and missteps like hungry hyenas. They seek out the worst in each other and magnify it to the best of their advantage. We Americans, who already feel badly about something in our own lives (and frankly, who doesn’t?), follow the blood in the water to find somebody, something that we can point our finger towards; something uglier than our own picture, something at least as smelly as our own mess. Leaving our TVs on all day, we drink the Kool Aid of fear, insecurity and angst. We let the media hose gasoline on the spark of our own Tasmanian Devil until we spin ourselves into a frenzy of negativity. I am so sick of it. So, until this election is over, I vow not to say a single word about any candidate, even you know who. I will only say nice things about them, and if I cannot say anything nice, then I shall simply remain silent. The irony is that, like most Americans, I really, really want to respect all the candidates. I want to look up to each one of them, because they have already reached a level of accomplishment that most never touch. I am an easy target. Say just a few respectful things, be diplomatic about the rest, and I am yours! Easy. A pipe dream, you say? Probably, but a girl’s gotta dream, right? Oh well. On November 8, 2016 I shall vote and hope for the best. And if my candidate does not win, so be it. I will take a deep breath and find something nice to say, even if it is just about the weather. Complaining doesn’t elevate me or the person subjected to it, so I will just try to rise above my disappointment. Or maybe I will just sing a little song.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost and Found

January 27, 2016

IMG_0652My heart is heavy today, yet full of gratitude for my friend, Marjorie who died earlier this week at the age of 99. I have written about her before, for she was always worthy of a story. By far, she was the most inspiring, fascinating person I have ever known. Apologies to my fascinating family and friends, but Marjorie was one of a kind. She was consistently kind, generous, gracious, energetic, enthusiastic, intellectual and humble. She was baffled that the rest of the world had their televisions on throughout the day. She rarely dined in restaurants, for the gentle meals she prepared for herself and her flock were quite perfect. She would embrace anyone whom she found interesting regardless of background, appearance or station in life. If they offered conversation that was considerate and engaging, they were sure to be invited into her presence. She wore a sparkly sense of humor about the world and herself. Thank goodness, because…

Late one night in 2014, Marjorie and I attended a formal gathering at the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge. As usual, she chatted her way through the evening, champagne in hand, and unashamedly expressed disappointment that the party was soon closing shop. In fact, we were two of the last guests to leave this party of hundreds. But off we went, down the grand steps and out onto the sidewalk in search of our (my) car. We quickly realized that, wrapped in the excitement of the approaching affair, neither of us had paid much attention to where we had parked the car. After all, the lots were all jammed and we did have to search a bit before we found a spot. Details, details. So we walked…and walked…and walked. Me and my 96 year old buddy. It was late at night and at first, we found it amusing that we could misplace a car. But then, as our steps grew in number and the clock ticked away, even she became concerned. It was dark, there were no people around, and the area was fairly abandoned. Frankly, it was scary. As we attempted to devise a plan, a car approached us. Inside was a couple in formal attire who had also attended the event.

“You ladies shouldn’t be walking around this place like this. Can we give you a ride to your car?” We looked at each other and laughed, admitting that we had no idea where that car was. So, this chivalrous couple drove us back to the Old State Capitol so that, at least, we could solicit assistance there. We waved as they drove off, and we headed back up the steps to the door…which was locked. We heard not a sound from the inside. It was 11:00pm. I suggested that we make a call to my husband or her son, and just fess up.

“Oh no, Dawlin! It has GOT to be right around here somewhere! I think it was this way!” And off she went, me trailing behind her in angry shoes. She turned corners and turned in circles. She was baffled. I was tired. Just when I was about to make the call, a police car rounded the corner. I flagged him down as though he were a life raft in an ocean of nothingness. We explained our predicament and he offered to drive us around the surrounding area to search for our car. Marjorie was giddy.

“Oh, boy! I have never ridden in a police vehicle. May I sit in the back?” The officer cut his eyes over at me.

“Well, it isn’t very comfortable back there. There is no real seat. It is more like a hard bench…”

But before he could finish his sentence she was in. I got in the front passenger seat and off we went, Marjorie firing questions at the officer about the vehicle, criminals, the lost car, seat belts, her life, the party we had attended, his family. You get the picture. What made this awkward, other than everything, was that there was a barrier between the back seat and the front seat, so she had to position her face as close to the plexiglass divider as possible, and raise her voice. Got it? It was dark, but I could see the multiple strands of pearls around her neck shifting as she moved around. Surreal. Finally, she spotted my car.

“Oh, thay-uh it is! Thay-uh it is! See?? Right thay-uh!” And thay-uh it was indeed, in the middle of a huge lot which had finally emptied of other vehicles. She chatted with the officer as I unlocked the car and shook his hand. Before we drove away, I insisted on taking a photo of her in the back seat of the squad car; not an everyday sighting. It was almost midnight, and we headed home as she waved a little piece of paper under my nose.

“I got that nice man’s address. Now, which one of us is going to write the note?” I took her cue.

“I will do that, Marjorie. I will be happy to do that.”

“Wun-duh-ful. Wun-duh-ful! Oh! I forgot, I brought brownies for the ride home!” She reached into the back seat and retrieved a little basket full of goodies. She handed one to me with a little napkin, then took one for herself. She nibbled on her brownie and giggled in between bites.

“Wasn’t this just a delightful adventure? Ha! Unbelieeee-vable, but delightful!” And that pretty much summed it all up. Unbelievable, but delightful. Yes, Marjorie, it was indeed.

 

Dirty Minds

January 17, 2016

So, this is the deal. None of us ever really knows what goes on in the hearts and minds of others. We can proclaim this or that, loudly or softly, but the world really never knows what we are thinking, believing, supporting or disparaging internally. What we do know for sure, is how those around us behave. Other people’s behavior affects the world around them but, thoughts alone? Not so much. That is why, for me, 2016 is going to be the year of

I Don’t Care What You Believe

If you treat other people with respect, if you consider others over your self, if you speak to others more gently than they way they speak to you, if you live authentically, if you treat everyone with dignity-from the banker who has control over your mortgage to the bar tender whose tip you control- if you offer others opportunities to cultivate their own character…then you win an I Don’t Care What You Believe gold star.

If you loudly and self righteously proclaim Christian this and Christian that, yet belittle another person’s honest faith journey, if you only fully approve of those who fall into your own demographic and gene pool, yet berate faith traditions, cultures, languages, ethnicities, lifestyles, habits, and struggles about which you are ignorant, if you judge before you pray, then congratulations, you win the Daily Double! in the I Don’t Care What You Believe category.

There. I said it. So, Happy New Year. I give you my blessing in thinking bad thoughts all you want. After all, they gotta live somewhere. Better that they stay in your head than emerge through your hands, feet and mouth.

“Onward!”, said Good Behavior.
“Forge ahead!”, said Good Deeds!
“Allow me!”, said Helping Hands.

There! Done. Keep on trucking, Naughty Minds. Knock yourself out.

Chris Mess

December 18, 2015

Ho ho ho, Silent Night, Falalalala-la-lah-tee-dah, and all that jazz. Hello, my name is Chris… Chris Mess. I am what used to be a gentle, simple holiday which celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ. He is the Lord of those who practice Christianity. At first I was all about the faith, then about family, then Queen Victoria decided that personal Christmas cards would be a dandy idea. Then merchants figured out how to market them and now my list is up to 150, so…well…you know. Now, in 2015, the holiday season has more to do with commerce, parties and outfits than with the birth of Jesus. I am not judging here, just observing, for if people choose to jump on this train of festivity with little or no spiritual interjection, that is their business. Have fun. We live in a free country, so we have the freedom to observe religion and holidays in any way we choose. Good for us. Still, I have to admit that once Halloween passes, my stomach starts to knot up a bit thinking of what is to come. The competitive gift giving is a lost cause for me. I become so overwhelmed when I see red and green lights on display in September that a piece of me goes on lock down. Visions of Chris Mess past-watching children open gifts, squeal with delight, then toss them aside in anticipation of opening another better one-sort of hose my enthusiasm with cold water, ya know? Memories of holiday weight gain, family gatherings gone bad and credit card overloads float a gentle heaviness over my head during the season. Not to mention the hangovers. As I write this, I have a party cake in the oven, wrapping paper littering my bedroom, and boxes of decorations scattered around my porch and home. I cannot decide what to do next. Christmas cards? Maybe? Maybe not. Who will notice? Egg Nog? Maybe. Cholesterol city.Wrap a gift or two? Review my calendar for the weekend to make sure that parties don’t overlap? OK. In a way, I love all the bustle of December, but on the other hand, I feel a bit overfed and watered, if you get my drift. I wonder what would happen if everyone celebrating Chris Mess would take a vow to turn down the volume on the parties and the purchases for just one year, you know, to see what would happen. What if we all vowed to only shop small local businesses that gave back to the community and to listen more while we talked less. What if everyone out there sacrificed one mocha half caff peppermint froo froo in exchange for giving that $5 to a local school or church instead? What if we each sacrificed one party for that same amount of time volunteering in the community? What if, instead of exchanging the obligatory Christmas gifts with our family, we chose to feed a family who has no money for a meal? What would happen? Would the global economy collapse? Probably not. I should figure this out and spread the word but, hey, I gotta go. I have two parties tomorrow and need to go buy a couple of gifts to trade. Oh, hell, I forgot about the cake! Gotta run. But Merry Chris Mess. Really, have a merry one. Cheers.

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