"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

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.