The Only Critic
At some point, hopefully sooner than later, any endeavor requires serious and sincere scrutiny. Questioning what we do and why we do it, is the first step in building the why not wall, and once you open that door, the "helpful" critics will arrive with their wheelbarrows of bricks and mortar. Can't. Won't. Shouldn't. This way. That way. Less of this. More of that. Suddenly, your creative view of the horizon is blocked.
You gave yourself away, brick by brick. Piece by piece. Inch by inch. You were your welcoming self, but instead of being the life at your party, you relinquished your seat at the table.
Is in the house.
So from behind the brick wall of why not, you wave and holler and stomp your feet for attention.
That doesn't work.
So you try standing very still, listening to all the voices with a perpetual grin on your face.
Everyone else knows you better.
You should know better.
And you do.
There is another voice.
There is another choice.
Climb over the wall.
Don't worry about how you got there. You were just being friendly. You forgot to invite your best friend, that's all.
Inside your head and your heart is a voice. Put one hand over your heart. Make yourself a promise. Promise to love, honor and cherish this life. Promise to protect, defend and be tender with this soul.
If you tend your own garden, nourish its needs, show up whether there is drought or flood, you will grow.
This is your house. Your home. You own the paintbrush. You control the pen. You write the story. You are responsible to yourself first. This is not selfishness. This is all you truly control and because you are the editor of your story, you can cut, edit, amend and embellish without giving yourself away.
There is a still small voice.
Listen to it. Trust it.
What you will have left is a pile of bricks.
Pick them up. With your own hands. And build....
A Believing Space
Happiness cannot get in when you fill up all the spaces with what ifs and what thens.
Build a "Believing Space" around you. Close your eyes. Picture in your mind your dreams and hopes.
Add lots of detail.
Move center stage.
Listen for the applause.
Now open your eyes. If you lack courage, fake it.
If you must, pretend at first.
Rehearse. Stretch. Move it. Do it. Live it.
Not ifs and thens...
not in this space...
Thursday, June 23, 2011
I have a frozen shoulder. An iced up appendage. Extremity malfunction.
I reached for the alarm clock. Snap. Click. Ouch. What was that? What WAS that? What is THIS? Zinging fired up neurons instant messaging from my shoulder to my elbow to my wrist. Sirens. I thought I heard sirens. No, wailing. Yes. Yes I did. Sure enough. That would be me. Hollering.
Okay. Deep yoga breath here. In - accept. Out - relax. I glance at the trees outside my window and affirm that I am like the trees, firmly rooted in the ground. I commit myself to the belief that like the trees...I can stand it. I will bow and not bend. Flex and not break. And like everything in this life, what is today will surely change tomorrow. The sky will change, the wind will blow and I control nothing, except how I react to the moment. One moment at a time.
One minute of deep breathing and meditative exercises later, I try to pull my T-shirt over my head.
I am so full of crap.
This hurts. I say, for emphasis, it hurts, it hurts, it HURTS!
I try relaxed breaths, for three breaths...aaaaaghhhhhhh.
I am not brave.
I am not strong.
I am a two year old who needs help getting dressed.
I am not a tree.
I need help.
I need to drive to the doctor. A two year old fodderwing with a learner's permit. I back down the driveway. This will be a snap. Yup. Backing is great, turning...snap. Freeze frame. I am a one armed bandit wrestling with a steering wheel. Slow. Go slowly i say. And I do. About 15mph. The other drivers pass me by and signal their encouragement with a digital salute.
I swerve into the medical center parking lot. Now I only need to open the door and get out. As I open the door with my right hand and push down on my left icicle, I remember the teachings of the Buddha, I am ascending to Nepal. The air is thin and I can almost see the mountaintop and pain meds ahead. I sense the cold of the snow. I think I have altitude sickness.
Two hours later.
Diagnosis: Frozen shoulder.
Cause: Unknown...but VERY common in women my AGE.
Treatment: Daily exercises with light weights.
Prognosis: Will eventually heal on its own in about one or two YEARS.
Meds: Tylenol. No hallucinogens necessary, especially here at the foot of Everest where relaxed breathing is advised.
EXACT MEDICAL TERMINOLOGY:
Stage One: Frozen
Stage Two: Slightly less frozen.
Stage Three: Gradual thawing
Stage Four: Increased Range of Motion
Stage Five: Can fasten one's underwear without assistance.
I share my medical musings with you, because we have become friends, you and I, and because I have been suffering from a mild form of Writer's Rut. I needed to do what the doctor ordered. Let go. Let life loosen up. Give myself a chance to heal. Pick a different mountain to climb on a different day.
If you should find yourself frozen, stuck, or with fists clenched and sore from controlling the universe...
GIve yourself a break.
I know you'd wait for me.
I am positive I would wait for you.
So remember...frozen, slightly frozen, gradual thawing, increased range of motion...and snap.
All dressed up and ready to go.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
A Four Leaf Clover
The Farmer's Market...2002
The delightful man at the vegetable stand, reached into his pocket and pulled out a four leaf clover. He asked if I was Irish. I replied, "No, I am Welsh." He said, "No matter. I was out in the field last week, spotted this and thought of you." Then he gently placed the clover in the palm of my hand. A tiny gift, simply given, can fill a soul. Mine. And judging from the look on his face, he, the gift giver, was filled equally by the innocent joy of my acceptance. Little did we both know then, how our lives would cross, and how this bottle green shamrock could and would change lives.
The Farmer's Market...2005
My first solo performance. My first outdoor gallery. The Farmer's Market Christmas Festival. Four Saturdays in November. $75 for a parking space. That's it. A parking space. My space. Only one requirement. Show up ALL four Saturdays. No excuses. No rain dates. I signed up. I showed up. I tucked my four leaf clover into the pocket of my jeans, set up eleven easels and sat patiently on the curb. The first Saturday was an Indian Summer spectacle. Warm winds. Stalls of fresh veggies on either side of me. A photographer two spaces down. A wreath designer two spaces over. A honey vendor nearby.
The final Saturday in November. Winds howling in from the North, wreaking havoc. The scream of shattered glass as the photographer's steel grids bounced off the pavement and his framed work shuddered to the ground. It is snowing. Sideways. I am wrapped in so many layers, I should be weather proof, but I have lost all feeling in my fingers and toes. I pull my car into my space, lift the back gate and set up my easels around me like a blanket. I should be miserable. I am not. There is a fire burning in a trash can and all of us, the farmers and the artists, gather together, hands cradling cups of cocoa. The seasoned gardeners, the farmers, welcome us here. Here we all share the same optimism and shiver in the same reality. In the course of one month, a taste of the four seasons, and in the course of one month, we sold our wares. Hand crafted, lovingly and painstakingly tended, still subject to the will of the wind, the coming of rain, the possibility of drought and the hope for plenty.
There are more stories to tell here than time or space permits, but if there is one story for the here and now, it is Bill's. Bill, the vegetable vendor, who greeted me and each new season with clover. I taped each one inside my journal. I promised myself that one day I would remember him, in my way, in prose. I did. "The Farmer's Market", dedicated to Bill, now hangs in the city administration building. The original, hangs, as it should, in Bill's home. His is special, because tucked into the corner of the frame, is the first four leaf clover he gave me.
We were friends then. We are friends now. He didn't bring me luck.
He taught me how to grow.
The Farmer's Market
In the middle of a field, on a spring morning, a farmer, protector of nature, guardian of earth's bounty, reaches out a calloused hand and gently pulls a four leaf clover from the soil.
Luck? Four tiny leaves, four fickle seasons that may or may not bring the promise of rain, or deluge, abundant sunshine or searing dry winds.
Luck? Four tiny leaves lie verdant in the hand of the optimist...Mother Nature's shepherd of the harvest.
Plow, plant, sow and reap. Surrounded by the wondrous colors of the crop, blue plump berries, golden corn kernels, pearly white scallions, purple beets and orange pumpkins. Blossoms of tender annuals and their tougher cousins, the perennials.
From the yielding soil to the market, up at dawn, produce sorted, packed and preened. Trucks and vans caravan to the city.
Stalls set up. Open for business.
I am a gardener. An optimist.
The Farmer's Market. A destination vacation for optimists.
What you sow, you reap.
Joy. No question.
*A bit of trivial trivia. I am Welsh. My father insisted I tell each and every teacher each and every Fall, after I introduced myself. He told me it would make a difference in my education.
*I stopped after the third grade.
*Fourth grade was a disaster.
*Did I mention that I am Welsh?
Friday, June 10, 2011
I have loved words.
From the beginning.
As far back as my memory will take me. Aging diminishes recent moments, but enhances long ago in vivid sensory detail. Our library, back in the '50s, stood stoic and still. A formidable fortress of limestone chunks, stacked one atop the other, precursor to the Lego Land School Of Architecture. Perhaps, in another lifetime, it was a church. I say that because even on approach, voices hushed, paces slowed. A very long sidewalk led to the steep stairways, topped with wide slabs protruding like armrests on a not-so-easy chair. There, folks sat, bathed in sunlight, too eager to wait to get home to check out their checked out tomes. Nose to print, eyes to page, itching and inching into the wilderness of words.
Inside, a surprisingly cramped space. No whir of air conditioning. Silence. Even hard soled shoes dared only to whisper, to tiptoe. We were in the presence of greatness. The heavy wooden doors no child could huff and puff and blow down. Adults manned the fort. Young children did not enter without an adult escort. The tall metal shelving just a few steps from the entrance, rose floor to ceiling, a sliding ladder hung at each end.
Books. Lined in perfect order shoulder to shoulder and spine to spine. The adult section. No children allowed unless accompanied by an adult. Nothing salacious to see here, just nothing young eyes could readily absorb. On the bottommost shelves, coffee table books stuck out their tongues at passersby. Picture books of world wars, architectural magnificence, art reproductions, photography collections. Higher up, works of fiction and non-fiction. The key to the kingdom, a library card. The secret code to the table of contents, the card catalog.
A few steps to the left, the children's reading room. Carpeted. Tall wooden shelves lining every inch of every wall. A wooden cubical. The librarian's desk tucked into one corner. She never sat there, instead always afoot suggesting, defining a word, offering a dictionary amid shushed whispers and soft giggles.
No limit. No limit to the number of books I could take. Cash and carry. Whatever you could carry in your arms, you could borrow.
Words. Never enough. The shelves with the big books near the floor, the ones I needed. I needed one of those books. A tug on Mom's skirt and she would lean down, pull out one book at random, sight unseen, just for me. She would announce upon check out that the topic was of special interest to her, then gaze down at me, her true special interest.
We had no car. It was a long walk home. So we'd stop, for one page, one taste to savor on the journey.
The word that comes to mind when I recall that library,
and all of her relatives I came to know.
A candy store. Penny candy. One thin dime. One small bag. Hundreds of choices. Different tastes. Sweet. Salty. Sour. Bitter. Each a comfort in their own time, yet, a lingering worry over what I'd left behind.
Writers love words, but they love stories more. Great writers never run out of stories, they simply run out of time. Great writers never run out of steam. You know what I mean. Some books, by the end of the first chapter, merely cruise to the finish. Some may even hold up long enough for you to finish the laundry or make a sandwich.
The great books are savored. You cannot put them down, but you don't want the story to end. You try, you truly try, but you lose yourself. Get carried away. Somewhere out there. Somewhere in here. Somewhere you've never been, or maybe you have, the prose familiar and comfortable as old sneakers, edgy and frightening as a darkened tunnel, or so tender you weep, so personal you cringe, so like your own life, you laugh. No matter, you and the story are one, breathless, hopeful, nervous, wary, let down, anxious, hungry until the last chapter, the final sentence, the closing word. The period. The end.
Read. With someone. To someone. For someone.
You only need a library card...
and an open mind.
Friday, June 3, 2011
When friends and/or family are locked in a serious arm wrestle with debilitating illness, I find myself thinking about those infamous bucket lists my friends stow in the back pocket of their wallets. Bungee jumping. Solo flights. Hiking perilous peaks. Exotic destinations. Seeking Nirvana. Throwing caution and common sense aside, they move from one bullet point to the next. Place a smug checkmark adjacent each achieved aspiration.
My bucket list pales in comparison, but the important footnote is that it is MY bucket list.
One glorious benefit of successful aging, is the ability to care less about some things and to care more about others without guilt.
My bucket list is entitled "Food For the Soul". It is curt and concise. Very unlike me. Before I share it with you, however, walk back with me in time. I grew up on chicken casseroles made with cream of chicken soup, topped with crushed potato chips. Bread slathered in real butter. Thin slices of bologna, hand sliced, with the red rind still attached, slowly peeled and rolled into a consumable cigar. Fried chicken so tender and juicy it could make you weep. Turkey basted in butter, baked to a crisp high sheen with fist stomped potatoes cratered and awaiting golden gravy drippings. We rubbed the butter into the skin of the turkey with our bare hands, then used the same table top to roll out the pie dough. Salmonella. Phooey. We licked the bowls and beaters clean, cake batter and cookie dough, oblivious to the microscopic nasties. Butter on a china plate in the cupboard soft enough to spread.
Freestone peaches with blood red pits, juice gurgling down my chin.
Handfuls of dark purple cherries, staining lips, tongue and teeth.
Real whipped cream beaten into a frenzied foam. Icing from scratch.
Pie crust laced with lard, so tender, it flaked in your mouth and melted like a snowflake.
Ripe bananas floating atop cherry Jello.
Check out the footage of Woodstock. Look at the lithe young bodies on display. Average Joes and Janes. Normally abnormal or abnormally normal ? Simply sated appetites.
Now, my world consists of fat free, lite, non-dairy, cholesterol reducing, low sodium cardboard cut outs. Impostors. I put Vitamin D in my OJ because my dermatologist slathers me in SPF 40 while my regular doc says I can only get the D if I sit in the sun without it. Screwed. Up. Somewhere along the line this all got very screwed up.
Downsizing. Roll the clock back. Give me a regular sized candy bar. One. An original Toll House chocolate chip cookie. NOT a bag of fifty 100 calorie look a likes. Really? Really? You can eat just one of these little fakers and get a warm sugar buzz? Honestly?
So here it is.
My Bucket List.
Food for thought.
Food for the ages
- Good Humor Pink Lemonade bar.
- Hostess Cream Filled Cupcakes...the original recipe made with lard...break one open, scoop out the filling first, peel off the icing. Cake comes last as a chaser. Yes.
- Carm's Roosevelt Road Italian Beef Sandwich...dipped in simmering juices and rolled in white waxed paper, peppers an option.
- Vienna Hot Dog hysterically red, squeezed inside cow casings, boiled or steamed, wrapped in a poppy seed bun. One bite. It explodes in your face. Hah!
- Sara Lee Anything. The original Sara. No avatars please. Pound Cake...one slice sans toppings followed by the inevitable scraping of the bottom of the foil pan for the butter soaked crumbs.
- Finally. Fannie Mae Candies. Dark chocolate vanilla butter creams. 4 or 5 in a pristine white bag. Just enough to last during the lakefront stroll from Buckingham Fountain to the Shedd Aquarium.
So, all I ask, is, in the end, one or two days of advanced warning. Just long enough to book a flight home. My long ago home. A conscientious cabbie. Lights on the Fountain as the sun dips down over the lake. Fannie Mae in hand, I step off the end of Navy Pier. Once, I thought it might be hands up, atop the Comet in Riverview Park, but if I fulfill my list, the Lake can have me. Bucket and all.
...and for the uninformed, chocolate IS a food group!
...and life was pretty good before the world gave mothers a bad name and launched the food police