"If writers possess a common temperament, it's that they tend to be shy egomaniacs; publicity is the spotlight they suffer for the recognition they crave." Gail Caldwell, from her book "Let's Take The Long Way Around"

"To look life in the face, always to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it, to love it for what it is, and then, to put it away. . .always the years. Always the love. Always the hours." From the movie "The Hours", based on the book of the same name by Michael Cunningham

"Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly." Baz Luhrman, "Everybody's Free (to wear sunscreen)"

"A writer can do nothing for men more necessary, satisfying, than just simply to reveal to them the infinite possibility of their own souls." Walt Whitman

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant or talented?’ Actually, who are you not to be?” Marianne Williamson

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lavandula For What Ails You

I was driving to work last week, a little absent-mindedly (my car knows the way) because I was thinking about my next homework assignment and how in the world was I going to bring science into my writing and craft it as expertly as Elizabeth, my writing teacher, does, when I found myself behind a car whose personalized license plate read JSTRLX – just relax.  Hm, that’s nice, I thought, and relevant to my life at this point.  Thanks, buddy, I silently replied, for the reminder.

I continued my drive and about 10 miles later as I was exiting the freeway, I came to a stop behind the same car!  JSTRLX.  Is someone sending me a message?  Is this divine intervention helping me with my writing assignment, because after seeing it the first time, I remembered the bit about the lavender fields in Victoria.

I have trouble sleeping.  I can’t seem to turn my brain off.  When I was at my doctor’s office last week, she suggested lavender oil to help calm down before bedtime.  I’m open to that, but at $50 a pop, it’s a little out of my price range (although if I added up my prescription co-pays, it would probably come out the same, now that I think about it.)

Aside from just smelling good, lavender, or lavandula if we’re going to use scientific names, has many uses.  It is an herb whose flowers and oils are used to calm restlessness, help with insomnia, nervousness and depression, and can generally improve mental well being.  Its other medicinal uses are for easing digestive complaints, migraine headaches, toothaches, sprains, nerve pain, sores, joint pain and can be used to ease agitation due to dementia.  It can also help with hair loss when applied to the skin and will repel mosquitos and other insects.  Of course, as an herbal remedy, it gets no support from the FDA.

Sign me up!  For the nervousness and depression alone, I’ll take it.  Perhaps that is why I felt so happy when I was riding in that upper deck of the bus through the lavender fields in Victoria.  Or maybe it was a sense of general peace and calm, like everything is going to be okay.  I should have fields of it in my yard, row upon row of lavender, so that when I eventually am able to open my bedroom window, the sleep-inducing aroma will lull me into pleasant dreams, like the characters in The Wizard of Oz who fall asleep in the poppy fields, but without the opiate affect and all the mess that comes with delving into the drug underworld.

I’m realizing that my doctor was really onto something with her $50 essential oil tincture (my mom, the herbalist will appreciate all this, especially when I use the word “tincture.”  She has a tincture for everything).  The next time I have a migraine, I will apply lavender oil to my upper lip – yes, upper, not lower, don’t know what happens if you put it on your lower lip – and voila!  I can save money by stopping my Imitrex prescription.  And my foot, where I think I may have tendinitis – certainly if lavender works for sprains, it must help tendinitis?  I can cancel my appointment to the podiatrist. 

I will rub my husband down with lavender oil to ease all his joint pain, his inflammation – how he will look forward to that, I think, knowing how much he despises lotions and anything greasy touching his skin.  And as for that bald spot on his head, surely he wouldn’t mind a scalp massage?

Ah, the time and money I can save just because there is lavandula.  However, it does also presumably cure loss of appetite, and that is one thing I prefer not to lose; or rather, I would like to gain a loss of appetite, as it would help with my current weight loss goals.  There’s always a trade-off, I suppose.

Oh, and if you are interested, lavender taken in pill form will also ease constipation.  Just sayin’.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


It's dusk as I sit outside on this late September Arizona evening, and I am peaceful because I have realized just now that I don't have to be perfect.

I woke up from a lovely late afternoon catnap - the kind that makes you want to stretch, literally, like a cat.  It was a nice nap, except I started to have some very anxiety ridden dreams:  I was spending money I didn't have, I was late to work, I was even being hunted by some killer robot or something.  What it was escapes me now.  I awoke in a panic until I realized that everything was okay, even though I have been prone to spending money I don't have and being late to work, just not quite in the extremes represented in my dream.

Outside, my kitty Maya joins me, and she is being good.  Unlike last night when she was gallivanting around the back yard, chasing gnats, testing her boundaries (literally), and then stopping to eat grass or sniff a tree as if to say, "What?  I'm just sitting here, checking out this tree," tonight, she is sitting calmly on the pavement, even as birds - sparrows probably - take roost on the rooftop of our next door neighbor's house, squawking back and forth to one another.  She, who would be the one of our cats to jump the wall, just watches.

I don't know why I had the overwhelming sense come over me that I don't have to be perfect, but it felt cathartic, as though my nap was truly rejuvenating, my bed a cocoon to help me reinvent myself.  Maybe I finally relaxed, it being my second day off in my series of two.  I came home from an outing, utterly exhausted (I must be rundown, I thought, contemplating B vitamins on my way home), nearly collapsed onto the bed and fell asleep.  And, well, now, here I am, and all is right (I almost wrote "write" - what a slip) with the world.

The birds have moved on to some other rooftop.  Maya is now testing her boundaries, as is her nature.  Even as I say her name in that warning way, she is leaning over, sniffing the ground (what?  I'm just checking out the pavement here).  The sun is setting more now, and finally, FINALLY, it is cool outside, and by that I mean only 82 degrees.  

This kind of evening reminds me of a period of time when I lived in Sacramento with Deril on Sweet Way.  On days I didn't go to ballet class, I would leave work and head home.  It was Spring, the days were starting to get longer.  I'd go to Long's Drugstore and pick up a few things, including an ice cream bar, and I'd come home, sit on the steps of the front porch and eat it, enjoying the weather, the peacefulness of the hour before nightfall.  It's a special time of day, dusk, when you can do almost anything you want, but once the darkness falls and it truly becomes nighttime, chores beckon.  Lights must be turned on, dinner made, perhaps laundry.  Back in those days, I might watch the nightly news (I was a fan of Peter Jennings).  Real life tasks had to be accomplished, but in that time when the sun sat low in the sky and the day cooled, time could stand still.  I could eat a Popsicle, sit on the porch, think without being distracted or interrupted.

I could just be me.

It's almost dark now.  I'm still outside, but I'll have to turn the porch light on.  Tonight, dinner doesn't have to be made and there is no laundry to wash, but there are things to be done to prepare for my workweek ahead.  It's only 6:42pm but I have to work early tomorrow so there is only so much time between now and the time I have to go to bed to ensure I have a full night's sleep.  Maya has gone back to being good, just sitting, waiting for me to say, come on, let's go inside.  As I sit here, contemplating that and dusk and the cool night, I realize that maybe I am so content because I am finally free from Arizona's summer confinement period - the time when it is so hot outside, the best thing to do is stay inside.

Dusk will come again tomorrow, and the next day.  It makes me happy to know that.  I just have to remind myself to stop for an hour and appreciate it, to be me.

Finally, my latecomer, Maisy-cat, joins us outside, so even while it is dark and I have to turn the porch light on, I think I'll stay just a little while longer.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Where I'm Writing From

It was bound to happen.  I saw it coming.  After all, one can't just go to Starbucks everyday and pay full price for espresso and a water when both can be had for free at home.  At least, I can't.  Application fees are fast approaching; I could easily pay for one with a week's worth of studying at Starbucks.

So here I am, at home, at my kitchen table, not really minding it as much as I thought I might.  Deril has been very supportive of my time spent writing, and besides, he's all caught up in watching "Dark Knight Rises" so I may as well not even be here.  Even the kitties are leaving me alone.

I am procrastinating, though.  I don't really have a topic for this post beyond the first paragraph, and I thought of that on my way home.

I'm currently reading "A Permanent Member of the Family" by Russell Banks.  It's a collection of short stories, an Advanced Reader's Copy I got through work.  I've never read Russell Banks before, but I thought it might be a good idea to get myself back in the groove of short story writing by reading some.  You see, part of my reason for starting this blog in the first place was to get my writer's brain flowing.  While I would ultimately like to be a novelist, I am fascinated by the short story ever since I took my last class as an undergraduate in college.  It was called "Creative Writing for Non-Majors" and book-ended my college career very nicely since the first class I took in college was "Introduction to Creative Writing" or something like that because that was why I went to UC Santa Cruz - to be a Creative Writing major.

Bless my 18-year old heart, I thought I knew everything about writing.  I had, after all, already written a manuscript, just waiting for some editor or publishing house to look at it and call it the best thing ever written by a 16 year old.  The most exciting point in my life at that time had been when I'd submitted it to Avon/Flare's young adult novel competition.  What, you say?  No, I didn't win.

I couldn't hack the Intro class.  Truthfully, I was intimidated, but I told myself I just didn't like other writers.  They were too boastful, always wanting to talk about their writing and give out advice.  I was a quiet writer, kept it to myself, and I overestimated myself.  I barely remember that class, finishing it out, but once done, I began to pour through the UCSC catalog to find another major.

Four years later, I had lost my false confidence and gained some humility, so while looking for a final class to take to complete my undergraduate career, I stumbled upon this "Creative Writing for Non-Majors."  Cool.  No intimidation factor at all (I still wasn't sure I liked other writers).

I wrote a good short story for that class, and then I wrote another.  I read even more, all written by the other students.  I had already fallen in love with Raymond Carver and his short story collection, "Where I'm Calling From."  What I love about the short story is how much you have to pack into a short amount of space, how far you decide to go with it, when to end it.  Every short story I read leaves me asking the question "what did the author mean by this?"  I love that.  A long time ago, at the beginning of this blog, I wrote a piece about interpretation.  Interpretation is the number one thing I loved about studying literature.  Reading is a personal experience; no matter what the author might have meant while writing it, the reader is allowed to take whatever she wants from it.  It screams, "what do YOU think?"  Independent thought is gospel at UC Santa Cruz and probably one of the things I value most about my time there.

Anyway, "Splitting Poles" is supposed to be a short story collection interspersed with poetry, which I used to think I was good at.  I haven't written any in a long time so I'm not sure anymore.  About poetry, that is.  I think I might be still okay at the short story, but I need to write one. . .any suggestions?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Don't Kill Jesus

I can't help it.  I'm going to start with this in spite of how I tried to argue myself out of it on the way to Starbucks tonight.  I saw a dog crossing the other side of the busy street I was on, and someone hit him.  Hit him and continued driving on.  The poor dog.  I had already slowed before it got hit in case it made its way to my side of the street, but after seeing it lying in the road, I had to slow even more, make a U-turn and stop with a couple of other cars who had stopped when they saw what happened.  I wasn't much help.  Two other cars had stopped and three women were stopping traffic and trying to carefully put the dog in the car to take it to the animal hospital.  It was awful.

And then I made it to Starbucks and sat down, ready to work.  I connected to wi-fi and saw a link to "The Economist" and an article discussing Syria.  Because I have become a rebel to local news stations and rarely see the national news, I am very out of the loop when it comes to world events, so I decided I should probably read a little to inform myself because it sounds like more military action.  You know what got me in the article?  It wasn't the political debate, the should we or shouldn't we.  It was the fact that anyone would use chemical weapons - no, not even that.  I was just overcome as I have been in the past with why people have to inflict pain and harm on others?  I had to keep myself from crying.  I don't understand it.

I talked about this before in my post "Latchkey At Last", about being devastated to learn about slavery, and how I would cry every time I watched or listened to Jesus Christ Superstar.  I guess I'm just sensitive at the core, in spite of how hard I try to present myself.  I've been told by some peers at work that I am too personal or share too much with some of the people I supervise; that as a boss, I should maintain a certain distance.  I have learned the hard way that this is sometimes true, but I wouldn't be me if I couldn't be someone they could talk to, if I couldn't allow my empathy to enter into my professional life (and Empathy is one of my strengths, according the Strengthsfinders).  I put on a good front, the persona of someone who has it all together, but we all know that's not the real me.  I've been through a lot, and I've made it through.  I learned to survive it, that's all, but I'm not unscathed.

I did something nice this morning for someone who needed something nice to be done for her.  Later, she told me that my small act of kindness somehow snowballed several other acts of kindness toward her.  I was glad, happy that I'd done something good, but as I told her, she makes it easy to be nice to her.  That's what I tell Deril whenever he says I am being nice to him.  It's easy to be nice to him.  It's easy to love him.  Some people are just like that.

So do an act of kindness today, or tomorrow, or the next day.  Stop if you see a dog lying in the road, hurt, even if you have somewhere to be.  Don't harm people with chemical weapons.  Don't perform dehumanizing acts on other people because they are different from you.  And don't kill Jesus; that is, don't persecute someone out of fear and for political gain.  You get the idea.

I'm going home now.  It's time to spend some Q. T. with Deril and Maisy and Maya.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Thelonious Monster

First, forgive me, if this post comes out all muddled.  I need to write today, and these ideas just started forming in my head so I wanted to get them out.  I'll try to put something coherent on the page.

I just finished reading the advanced readers' copy of "Running With Monsters" by Bob Forrest.  Reality TV fans will know him from "Celebrity Rehab", the self-named "guy with the hat."  He's Dr. Drew's sidekick, one of the counselors.  Music connoisseurs will know him from punk rock days in the late 80's and 90's.  His band was "Thelonious Monster," and I'll admit, I'd never heard of them before this I read Forrest's book.  I looked them up on YouTube and listened to some of their music, and I actually kind of liked it.  Not really my style but anyway, that's not the point.  The point of reading the book was that it is his chronicle of his life as an alcoholic and drug addict, all the while trying to be a successful musician which was pretty much impossible given that he was drunk or high all the time.  And then his sobriety, which he actually doesn't talk much about.  He just decided, finally, to get sober and stay sober.  There are much better books out there that are much more thoughtful and searching than Bob Forrest's.

I have this thing for reading about real-life alcoholics and drug addicts, and if they happen to be celebrities, so be it.  This mini-obsession comes, I'm sure, from my experience with my dad's addictions and Direll's drug abuse.  So I was reading the book and trying to like it and get lost in the craziness of his downward spiral, trying to learn about how he got where he was and where he is today.  It was okay.  I think I had a nightmare one night about drugs while I was in the middle of reading it, so I thought about stopping but I wanted to know how it turned out.

And it made me kind of mad.  I mean, he's very nonchalant about his drug use and the people he hung out with.  While he doesn't play down how bad off he was, there was nothing that made me want to root for him to get clean.  It's a book about musicians, I suppose, and celebrity lifestyles.  He's a big wannabe, if you ask me, but I keep trying to stop myself from making judgments.  The most honest part of the book was when he describes River Phoenix's death, which he witnessed.

I don't know.  I guess what this book did was inspire feelings in me about my dad.  I can't pretend to know what was going on with my dad when he wanted to use and drink.  I can make suppositions.  I can make up stories in my head to make him seem more sympathetic to me, like he was clinically depressed and undiagnosed.  He probably had generalized anxiety disorder, too.  Beyond that, I don't know.  Maybe what bugs me and makes me think about my dad while I think about Bob Forrest is that Bob Forrest is not exactly a sympathetic character in his own story.  He just used and used and didn't give any thought to the people in his life, like his wives or his accidental son.  Even his supposed "real" friendships seem superficial, and I guess that's what I don't like to think about my dad.  I've defended my dad my entire life, made him into some fallen hero.  I know he loved me, but at times, he loved drugs and alcohol more.  That's just the truth, otherwise, he wouldn't have done a lot of the things he did at the expense of his relationships with his children.

Deril and I were watching some reality crime show on TV the other day, and part of the story involved a mother who was so fucked up she missed her daughter's birthday party.  "Can you believe a mother would miss her own daughter's birthday party?" Deril asked me, honestly bewildered.  And how did I respond?  Without even trying, I answered, completely emotionally detached, "Well, my dad missed my high school graduation."  I suppose I wasn't so detached that there wasn't a hint of bitterness, but the answer came out so fast and easy that Deril felt like the most insensitive jerk on the planet.  He didn't know.  It  wasn't his fault.  After all, there are so many stories I could tell, I forget what I've told Deril and what I haven't.

I'm glad for Bob Forrest that he got sober and is straight and doing what he can to help other people.  The other thing that reminded me of my dad was that Forrest went to Las Encinas Hospital in Pasadena, CA, and that's the hospital my dad went to for detox and rehab.  Matt and Julie and I visited him once while he was there.  It's very pretty, very green.  It looks like the complete opposite of what the patients are probably going through.

Anyway, I guess that's all I have to say about that.  Family, friends, don't feel like you have to make me feel better about my dad.  I know who he was at heart; I don't have to be reminded.  It's just that sometimes, the shitty stuff comes out and there's nothing to be done but look at it for what it was.  My dad loved me, and he still relapsed.  He loved me, and I watched him get drunk and high right in front of me more times than I'd like to count.  He loved me, and he tied a noose and hung himself off his balcony.  I have to live with that.

It's because of that that I have this sometimes annoying habit of finding the bright side of everything.  Oh, I take antidepressants and have had some serious bouts of depression and anxiety, but I'd never consider suicide, and it's because of what he did.  I'm going to be morose for a moment - don't panic!  Because he took his life, he forces me to live mine, and sometimes I don't want to.  But I'll never to do my family what he did to me, and I resent him for it.

Anyway - well, I was going to apologize for my honesty here, but I changed my mind.  I had to get this out of my head, and I had to write something down - you know, get the garbage out so I can write something good.  Will I ever?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Kiki and the Mann

When we were children, living in Southern California, my mother used to drive us at least once a year to visit my grandparents - her parents, Irwin and Florenia Robinson - in Phoenix, Arizona.  Back then, in the late 70's and 80's, it was not a straight shot on the I-10 between L. A. and Phoenix.  That is, the freeway only went so far and then you had to drive surface streets to get to the outskirts - what is now the central part - of Phoenix.

There was no tape deck - not even an 8-track - in our car back then.  Mom drove a brown Toyota Corolla, probably 2-door, that seemed like it was constantly breaking down.  We had no air conditioning, which was unfortunate because most trips were made in the summertime.  Of course, we didn't really know what we were missing.

Mom usually woke us up sometime around 3 or 4 in the morning to get a start.  Sometimes, once the sun was up, we would stop at a rest stop and she would use the barbecues available to make breakfast.  Using aluminum foil - or maybe she brought a skillet? - she made scrambled eggs and bacon or sausage.  Quite resourceful, my mom was - still is actually.  Maybe it was growing up poor or Mormon or the child of a once farm girl, but my mom could really make the best of any situation.  Logistically, that is.

We always stopped at some farmer's market or fruit stand along the way and bought cherries with the pits in them and ate them the rest of the way to Grandma and Grandpa's house.  Sometimes, if we begged she would pull over and find a piece of cotton from the cotton plants that lined the highway.  That's how I learned that cotton grew from plants.  "What are these things in the cotton?" I asked.  "They're cotton seeds," she explained.  My child's brain was fascinated.

Because eventually the radio wouldn't pick up any stations, we spent a lot of time entertaining ourselves by talking.  Remember that?  When families would actually talk to each other?  Nowadays, I imagine everyone in the car (except hopefully the driver) engrossed in whatever electronic device they have, playing games, texting, watching videos.

My mom was fun back then.  I liked it best when it was just the four of us - Mom, me, Matt and Julie.  No boyfriends or evil stepfathers to come between us.  We could bask in her love and attention.  And she did - still does - love us very much, as much as a mother could love her children.

One trip home from our visit in Phoenix, my sister realized that her little stuffed monkey, Kiki, was suddenly missing from the car.  Julie adored Kiki, who was partner to my stuffed pink elephant, Effie.  One day, maybe I'll write a children's book all about our young lives and the imaginary world we made up with our blankets (Akies, we called them) and Kiki and Effie.  I think, being able to retreat into that world, helped keep us sane during the difficult times.  Our Akies weren't just security blankets; they were survival blankets.  Anyway, we determined that a few miles back when we pulled over to pee, Kiki must have fallen out of the Toyota.  She got off at the next exit and went back to where we thought we had stopped, got out of the car and searched up and down the side of the highway to try to find Kiki.  She couldn't find him, and even I could tell how distressed she was for Julie.  We all tried to make Julie feel better, and eventually were able to talk about Kiki living out in the desert somewhere between L. A. and Phoenix.

I'm sure most parents would have done the same thing.  Or maybe not.  But that's a memory that has stuck with me all these 30 plus years later; and it's not the losing of Kiki that captures my heart.  It's what my mom did to try to fix it for my sister.

There are other examples between that time and now that I remember my mom doing similar things, just to make us happy, but the other memory I have that touches me and even chokes me up a little happened when I was 17.  We were living in a crappy apartment on Clark Street in Tarzana, during a particularly bad drug time for Direll.  This was 1988, the year that Matt called the police, the neighbors started calling the police, Direll wasn't trying to hide his violent temper anymore, the year he gave my mom a black eye.

It was a weekend, probably a Saturday night.  Direll was gone with the car.  That was his routine.  He slept all day and then went out to conduct his business at nighttime, usually all night.  Clark street is conveniently located just east of Reseda Boulevard and a block north of Ventura Boulevard, putting us almost across the street from the popular Mann Theater.  Next door to the Mann was a record store that also rented videos, so we would walk there occasionally and rent a movie.  That night it was just me and my mom, so we walked over to rent a movie.  I don't remember what it was.  What I remember was that, on this bustling Saturday evening, as we walked past the Mann, the intoxicating aroma of movie popcorn was impossible to ignore on the sidewalk outside.  I told my mom how I wished we could buy popcorn from the theater to take home with our movie.  I didn't really mean anything by it.  Surely it was an impossible wish, but the next thing I knew, Mom was approaching the ticket taker at the door, a manager likely, and he let her in just to buy popcorn.  I was shocked.  Not embarrassed, just amazed that she would go to that kind of trouble just because it sounded good, because I wished it.  My heart melts at this memory; it bonded me to her in a way that nothing had before.  It sounds trite, trivial, stupid.  But in my world where everything was about Direll and our lives were run by chaos and fear, she chose love.  I would have been too shy to ask the man at the door, but she wasn't.  She still had spirit, after all the years of being beaten and worn down.  Maybe it was her resourcefulness coming to surface again, but she came out triumphant, and we went home and watched our movie with our special popcorn.  It was a great night.

Monday, August 26, 2013

All Is Vanity

As I sit in the Starbucks across the parking lot from my place of work where I have spent the last 10 hours playing what feels like babysitter and referee at various times, I sit here trying to write something, anything.  My computer is on, I'm ready to go, but nothing can compel me to open my Word program, so I decide it's time for old school writing.  I reach into my bag (my beautiful if not rather large Betsey Johnson bag I bought on sale) for my notebook and pen, I can't help but spy my NOOK and think about reading instead of doing any work tonight.  And then I think about Margaret, one of the characters in one of my favorite books ever, "All Is Vanity" by Christina Schwarz.  Margaret wants to write a book; in fact, she has quit her job teaching English to take a year to become a published author.  After all, how hard can it be?  She was a precocious child, it goes on, etc., etc.  What makes me think of Margaret is that more often than not, she finds herself doing anything else during her days but write.  She paints the apartment, talks on the phone, twirls the special pen she's purchased just for writing this book.

I don't want to be Margaret.

I've managed to fill a blog with quite a few entries.  I can be quite eloquent on Facebook at times - in fact, used to spend several minutes composing in my head something witty and intelligent to post.  And when I was 15 I could spend hours at a time, in front of the TV no less, writing out longhand my manuscript that I finished by age 17.  It's not quite the masterpiece I once imagined it to be, but still, it's something.

I tried yesterday to write the story that was ruminating in my head only a few months ago while I was still taking ballet classes at Ballet Arizona.  It was rather a good idea, I think, but after being out of the studio for a few months, it seems not quite as compelling as it once did.  I'm not killing the idea but not sure about following that route right now.

This morning, on the way to work, listening to my iPod, I heard "Better Man" by Pearl Jam.  Now here's a story I have to tell.  I was 24 years old (this would be 1994), living in Sacramento in my first very own apartment on the corner of I and 25th Streets.  I had the third floor studio with a big picture window that looked out onto the street below.  If you've ever been to downtown Sacramento, you'll know it is filled with old Victorian-style buildings converted into apartments with short blocks and lots of trees.  Sacramento has the most number of trees in the world next to Paris.  It's probably the one really good thing it has going for it, being compared to Paris.  When I would lie on my big IKEA bed with the bramble sheet set, I would look out my window and only see leafy tree tops, and I could imagine I was anywhere.

It was generally a quiet building.  I hardly ever saw any of my neighbors, except when I heard them.  The ones who lived below me, that is.  I'm not sure if the apartment below me was inhabited by just the young woman or the young woman and her boyfriend, but I often heard them fighting - arguing.  At times when they would argue, I couldn't help myself, I would get on my hands and knees and put my ear to the wood floor to make out what they were saying.  I guess it goes back to my instinct to eavesdrop on my mom and Direll when they were fighting.

One Saturday or Sunday afternoon, they were going at it, more loudly than usual, and I thought I heard scuffling or maybe it was screaming.  I don't remember what I was doing - maybe listening to music and cleaning or something, but the next thing that happened was I heard a loud crash that could only be the window below me, the one just like mine.  My heartbeat quickened and I froze at the same time, not sure what to do.  I was compelled to run downstairs to check on them and at the same time, my feet wouldn't move.  I know I thought about calling 911.  I think I might have, but I chewed my lip for several minutes at least trying to decide if I should or not.

That's the thing when you grow up surrounded by chaos and violence.  It becomes normal, part of everyday life.  All the times Direll and my mom argued and the times he hit her, only once did I get in his face and challenge him, but never did it occur to me to call the police.  It was my brother, Matt, the one who seemed to disappear whenever these confrontations happened, who snuck the telephone out to the balcony and called 911.  It was only after that that I felt like I could use the police to break up whatever was happening.

If the police came, the boyfriend left before they got there.  Or he left when they got there, but no charges were pressed.  After he was gone, the girlfriend turned on her music and played on a loop "Better Man" over and over again.  I felt so bad for her, and at the same time, I thought she was pathetic.  Yes, she needed a better man and obviously thought so herself, so why didn't she get one?  Maybe by listening to the song over and over again, she was trying to convince herself to break it off.

Come to think of it, I didn't call 911 that day.  I let it go when I heard him leave.  I wish I had.  It seems so apathetic that I didn't.  I remember that I didn't because the next day or so, the apartment manager came to my door to ask if I'd heard what had been going on.  And just like that it was over.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

I've been drinking too much coffee lately.  I know, some of you may say there is no such thing!  But really I have.  I have learned over the years that I much prefer the ritual of drinking coffee over the actual beverage.  In general, that is.  I mean, I do need the caffeine jolt for caffeine's sake at least once a day.

Anyway, I'm struggling right now with writing.  I haven't been blogging because I am working on another project, a long-term project we'll call it, and it is requiring that I write something a little more formal than a blog entry.  This something requires that I define myself, my life, my writing in the space of 2 double-spaced pages.  Where to start?  I am 43 years old now, one would think that with age and life experience, this would come easy, certainly much easier than it might have 25 years ago; and yet I am finding that all this life experience and knowledge is convoluting my thought process and the words are not flowing.  There is something about being young and innocent and on the verge of real life that either makes this kind of project easier; or perhaps the audience is more forgiving.

So I'm using my blog to clear my thoughts right now, to get the cobwebs out.  I'm tired.  Work puts a strain on my brain when my brain could be put to better use, I think.  I'm still reading voraciously.  I feel like lately I can't get enough.  I registered for an online writing class that I've done before (not the same class, same leader though).  So. . .that's good, I think.

Is it my perfectionism that is interfering with my thought process?  Am I trying to hard, or are my expectations too high?  My sister talked to me last night and reminded me that the best thing I could do is just be myself.  That and to not let fear hold me back from doing something I really want to do.  She is so wise, my little sis, with such good advice, that I had to smile while talking to her.  She has such a pure heart, my best friend since I was 5 years old.  When I think about all we've been through together. . .no one could know me as well as she does.  So she is right.  Don't let the fear hold you back.  That, and nothing worth doing was ever easy.  Somebody said that once.

So here I go.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Justify Nothing

It was thirteen years ago when a writer, a poet, entered my life and changed it in some way I did not realize until now.

At the time, I was lost.  I was deep inside myself, determined, I thought, to change my life's course since change had already been forced upon me.  I was going to make the best of it and take advantage of "starting over."  I was going to pursue, finally, the dream of writing, of becoming a writer, meaning that I would produce work worth sharing with the world.

I've always been shy about sharing my work.  Strange, I know, since I am writing a blog.  I have always been hesitant to call myself a "writer".  "Writers" were published authors in my mind.  Since I had nothing that I truly considered remarkable, since I hadn't pursued that intimidating Creative Writing major in college, I didn't think I had a right to be called a "writer."  Writing, although part of my soul, was something I listed on applications and questionnaires as a hobby.  I was so afraid, perfectionist that I am, of failing.

I thought, when I met this poet, that I was headed in the right direction of becoming a "writer", yet as I look back, I see I was nothing more than the love-struck girl I'd always been, even at 30 years old.  Romance first (love me, please, someone love me), everything else later.  For him, it was the opposite.  Younger than me, he was wise beyond my years.

It was a temporary friendship, and upon his leaving, he gifted me with a lovely worn leather Modern Library edition of Walt Whitman's poems.  He left an inscription, and yet I was too disappointed in his leaving to appreciate it - to understand it - for what it was.

Recently I happened upon it while sorting through my library for potential garage sale items.  I held it carefully, reverently, and re-read his thoughtfully chosen inscription:

"From 'Poets To Come'
'Poets to come!  orators, singers, musicians to come!
Not to-day is to justify me and answer what I am for
. . .Arouse! for you must justify me.
. . .I am a man who, sauntering along without fully stopping, turns a casual look upon you and turns and averts his face,
Leaving it to you to prove and define it, 
Expecting the main things from you.'"

I get it.  All this time.  The main things must come from me.  I must choose my future, choose my life and justify nothing as he said in his post-script.

I've been reading a lot lately.  I became somewhat obsessed with Fitzgerald when I read "Z:  A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald" by Therese Anne Fowler and then had to follow it up with a re-reading of "The Great Gatsby."  (Since I haven't read it in 30 years, I wanted to be prepared for the movie.)  I suddenly wanted to go back to school and become a specialist on Jazz Age writers.  I read "The Paris Wife" by Paula McLain which is about Hadley, Hemingway's first wife.  I fell in love with Hemingway, in spite of the sad way his marriage ended.  So I then read "A Moveable Feast."  I don't think I'm done yet - I've downloaded "The Sun Also Rises" on my NOOK.  I was never required in school to read anything of Hemingway, other than "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place", and I am surprised.  I am inspired because of the way he attacked his writing and attended to it with such discipline.  I can only aspire to do the same.  He wrote this:

"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you:  the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.  If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer."

Oh, and this too:

"All you have to do is write one true sentence.  Write the truest sentence that you know."

I will do my best.

I'm Not Done

Wow, and here I thought I was done.  I don't remember what it was that inspired me to stop writing the blog.  It seems that such a big and relevant decision should be accompanied by some memory of what made me stop.  Maybe I decided it was time to stop rehashing the past and move forward.  For a long time, I had this idea that before I could write anything substantial I had to get out of the way this business of telling my life story.  Apparently there was a lot of garbage mucking up my creativity.

Maybe I'm not done.  Telling the life story, that is.  But maybe it is time to tell it in a different way.  I thought of going backwards in time, structuring my story that way, but what I have decided is this:  it is simply time to write about whatever it is that comes to mind.  Hopefully you will be interested in what I have to say; if not, this is a purely self-indulgent project (but isn't that what all writers start out with?).  I just know this:  I have things to say.

I have things to say.