Memoirs Of A Telephone Wire

English: Mobile phone evolution Русский: Эволю...

Julia’s family was not the first in Elbert to get a telephone, but when they did she was amazed and even proud. It was, for her, a utility– a functional thing that connected her to important news about the family or community. You used it in an emergency. It would have been foolish and wasteful to see the device as something to enhance her social life. There was little time on a farm for such frivolity, and communities were built around the help they gave to one another and not around free time filled with mutual entertainment. Until the day that she died, an old black phone sat on its own table in the living area. Her daughters called her frequently, but she didn’t like to talk on the phone. It was still, in her mind, a device with a purpose and if her daughters wanted to talk, they should come to visit. Julia was born before there were cars, before people had phones. Her life traveled from that to watching a grainy picture of a man walking on the moon on a flickering television screen that underscored the breadth of her experience.

Cleopha was my mother. She used to ride her horse for miles out onto the eastern plains, find a tree and sit in its shade with the horse grazing nearby–surrounded by endless space, the sky stretched tight across the horizon. Once she found a magazine that had blown onto the land and she sat for hours looking at the pages of a modern life that eluded her small Colorado ways. Dreams of cities and dancing with handsome young men clung to the sound of train whistles and the almost imperceptible rumble of the rails in the distance, coaxing the edges of youthful dreams forward. Years later, when I knew her as my mother, someone snapped a photograph: a thin and stylish woman in a cocktail dress, holding a martini glass, smiling at the camera.

She bought me stationary when I was little and taught me to write thank you notes; encouraged me to write her letters when we were apart. When I moved away from home, I would sit on the floor in the hallway of my little apartment and talk to her on a phone that was connected to the wall and would not reach anywhere else. I listened patiently to her scratchy voice from a thousand miles away, as the edges of the life that I dreamed pushed me forward and the tide of her life pulled her back into the sea.

My first love and I called each other and talked on the phone for hours while I walked around the apartment with my extra long phone cord, pouring soda into a glass with the headset cradled between my head and shoulder. It was a princess phone. A phone that rang like a doorbell. I wrote him poetry in silver ink on blue paper and he told me that he had to hold it to the light in just the right way to read the words of my heart.

I was tethered to my world by phones that plugged into the wall; by stationary and stamps; by stacking stereo units proudly displayed on bookshelves made of boards and cinder blocks. I did not long for the open space of my mother’s youth and instead lusted for trips down Pacific Coast highway in the Keith’s Mercedes convertible talking to each other all the way to Santa Barbara.

When I was in my thirties the man who I worked for had a phone installed in his car and it meant that he called the office incessantly, expecting to find me at my desk doing his bidding. It was the end of extended lunches when he was away, or slipping out the door 15 minutes early all because of the damn phone in his car. It was the beginning of the unraveling. No more telephone wires tethering us to desks and walls. In the next few decades I would own computers and lap tops, begin a relationship with the internet, get an email address, purchase cell phones , dip my toes into social media and witness a progression that moved through us  as we all became connected by electronic communication.

On 9/11, final calls were made, last messages spoken into voice mails, the preservation and markers of love, because of technology.  The human story is all about connection and our relationship to one another. You think that a text, a tweet or a voice mail will never take the place of gazing into each other’s eyes or smiling at each others words, that touch is the balance to all of the technology. . .but those messages, those precious messages made with gadgets that had unplugged us from the wall…

Much of my life is about wanting connection, trying to tell the stories with words on a page, with whispers in the night. Thanks to Cleopha, I still love pretty stationary and hand written notes. Thanks to Julia, I’d rather visit in person than talk on the phone. And thanks to Steve Jobs I sit in the early morning hours tapping keys on a laptop that will magically send my stories into an ether meadow, waiting to be picked by someone who is also looking to connect. Oh, brave new world…

With Wild Abandon

iStock_000010690028XSmallEdges of the early morning hugged the grey sky as I drove home from the grocery store, Saturday rituals igniting the day—a gathering of food for the week and a mountain of laundry waiting for me at home. I will ascend the height of its earthy socks and ledges of shorts. It is mine to conquer!

The chores of Saturday somehow soothe me. The act of putting things in their place marks the ending and the beginning of the cycle. I love to have my life ordered. It makes me feel secure. So it was in this frame of mind that I stopped at the light on McCasslin Boulevard and saw to my right two young women of 15 or 16 on their bikes, waiting for the walking sign. They were wearing plaid cotton pajama bottoms and matching striped t-shirts, green and white. And even though the rain was staring to spot the street and my windshield, even though a small rumble of thunder warned of more, these two young women wore no shoes, and only some stretchy slippers on their feet. When the light changed, they pedaled off toward the coffee place across the busy boulevard, hair flying, laughter on their faces and I thought: how wonderful to be young and outrageous. What happens to that “wild” as we grow older?

Note to self: after the orderliness of things are embraced; after the food is put in the fridge and the recycling bins have been placed on the curb; after the laundry is washed and folded, placed gently into drawers, is there any wild left for me, or have I snuffed it out with this grown up sense of responsibility? I want to ride a bike in my pajamas in the early morning rain!

A friend told me that my dog, Jeter, was a great gift to me because I could not control his chronic shedding; could not keep him clean and smelling nice. Jeter is the wild, outrageous that lopes through my house leaving muddy paw prints and blond Labrador hair everywhere. My friend is right, he is my gift—a slobbery oaf of a dog who underscores the lack of control and the joy of abandon in living a life.

My husband and I fell in love dancing. That was our wild. We still dance to old Motown—in stocking feet next on the living room floor, a reprieve from the more serious life that urges us toward the expiration date on the to-do list. The dog’s wagging tail keeps time to a never hidden joy that seeps into our hearts when music plays and the rain taps against the windows and doors. Screw the to-do list!

Monday morning finds me writing these words, finishing the story of young women who inspired a wonderment of the wilds. I know that in a few minutes, I will push the “publish” button on this blog post and find my way into a day that will be orderly, but tinged with dog hair, reminding myself to keep my wild close by. Perhaps I should go to my office in pajamas today!

Simple Beauty

iStock_000001658830XSmallWe named her Isabelle. My husband said that she looks like an Isabelle. She started the building project a few weeks ago leaving our front porch covered in straw and twigs—the kind of stuff that goes into making a good nest. On a ledge under the portico, she found a place that was protected from the wind and the rain.

At first it seemed that there was just a pile of stuff on the ledge, nothing particularly orderly and then one day, it was finished. She carried the materials piece by piece in her beak, adding to what became a sturdy little basket of a nest on which she now sits most of the day.  She is the faithful mother.

It’s an honor to have her there. We peer out the windows on either side of the door and check in. This morning she appeared to be sleeping. I cannot see the little blue eggs, or how many, only the handiwork of her instincts that rival the best of architects and contractors.

With all the complexities and demands of life swirling around us, a small robin we have named Isabelle has chosen to nest under the portico at the front of the house, reminding us that beauty costs nothing, and gentle grace comforts the weary soul.

Sufficiency, Sustainability and the Dreaded Common Good

My Closet
My Closet (Photo credit: kian esquire)

Sufficiency: What is enough? A small closet of clothes that can be worn to the office, and a few things for the weekend—or a walk-in closet filled with fifty pairs of shoes and sweaters that still have the price tag dangling from the sleeve? I happen to love clothes. I like to dress up for work. I like to dress up to have lunch with a friend. In the past I have been known to tell my husband that a woman cannot have too many pairs of black shoes. Now I am asking, at what cost?

As my income increases, so do the contents of my closet. Some new summer clothes, even though the old ones are fine. Bags taken to Sister Carmen’s filled with fashion from a couple of years ago make me feel that I am doing my part. What is enough? Following the story about the collapse of the factory in Bangladesh with one eye open and the other closed, I began to wonder about the true price of my fashion jones. Nothing in my closet is made in America. Have you ever tried to buy clothes that are made in America? They are very difficult to find. Everything is made in China, India, Mexico and I, along with my fellow Americans have come to expect and demand quality clothing at a more than reasonable price, made by human beings who work 14 to 16 hour shifts, or more for .48 cents per hour in conditions that are neither safe or pleasant in any way. I don’t like to think about it, do you? There is someone literally slaving so that I can have more—someone with a mother and a father, maybe children; someone who goes to sleep at night worrying about taking care of their family. A human being.

I’d like to see jobs come back to America. We can make our own clothes, but they will cost more so maybe we won’t or can’t have as many things. Would that be okay? In this country, buildings have to be inspected to be safe and well ventilated. Workers need to take breaks for lunch. By law they can only work eight hours and some amount of over-time with extra pay. In other words, American workers, in most instances are treated like human beings and not slaves. I would feel better about wearing a skirt made by someone in this country who has a job in a safe environment for a decent wage. The question all of us should be asking is what is sufficient? Is it a small closet of clothes or a walk-in? Where do you really sit with giving up a little bit so that someone else can have a little bit too?

Sustainability: Aging teaches you a lot of things and one of those things is this stark recognition that no matter how much you have acquired in your life, you cannot take any of it with you. Right now my husband and I live in a big house that is both beautiful and comfortable and we are talking about purchasing a different house that is smaller and on one level, because taking care of a house this size and running up and down the stairs is not going to be sustainable as we continue to get older.

I open my cupboards and I see the dishes that we bought two decades ago and I remember how it was snowing and we were so excited about finding the right pattern to go with our newly remodeled kitchen. When I die, those dishes will be so much junk. Knowing my nieces, they will probably box them up and take them to Sister Carmen’s. My mother’s china, that I have never used, delicate and filled with roses will go as well and that milk glass olive dish that I remember at every single Thanksgiving dinner of my childhood may find its way to the dumpster. I can only hope that it is with a parade, a little bit of pomp and circumstance that honors its noble role of holding olives for so many decades. None of this is sustainable though—landfills are bursting with once treasured items. But how many of us would be willing to eat off of mismatched dishes that tell a story? Eventually wouldn’t we want to make a trip to Pottery Barn? That has become the American way.

Sustainability threads its way through our culture just asking to be felt. What we are seeing is what is unsustainable: oil, our current health care system, the banking system, the true cost of goods that involves the cost of human life, and waste. We are not asking ourselves what is enough or what is sustainable. Or if we are, more of us need to be asking more often.

The Common Good: Somehow Ayn Rand’s words of fiction have been twisted to represent a real life world of “winners” and “losers” that makes it oh so easy to turn a blind eye to factories collapsing in Bangladesh while we eat our salad for lunch and go for a mani-pedi. If you are a winner, good for you. You are therefore a superior person and it is not your job to worry about poor people or sick people or old people, because they are all losers and takers. And it you are a loser, then screw you. You did your life wrong. Go get a job and take that little brat with you. It’s an ugly, ugly consciousness that permeates a small but powerful segment of our society and its leadership. It says there is never enough for me, and you do not deserve any. It turns a blind eye to anything that smacks of compassion.

The common good is an inclusive term that makes all of us responsible for one another. Who am I and what have I become if I do not acknowledge and want to alleviate the suffering in the world?  Who am I if I need so much stuff in my closet to feel good about myself that I don’t stop to ponder who made the stuff and under what conditions?

I don’t have any easy answers. I just have the beginnings of a dialogue that I want to have with myself, with my friends and with those twerps in Washington who I occasionally email. What is enough? What is sustainable? What is best for the common good? What will give my soul peace so that I leave this world a better than I found it? No easy answers, but it is certainly time to start with the questions, don’t you think?

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A Hallway Full of Doors

iStock_000023278171XSmallA shrill whistle from the teakettle pierces the morning fog. Boiling water into a cup, measured teaspoons of honey and Earl Grey, a jolt of caffeine providing passage into the day. A laptop and resolve to practice writing complete the ritual that plays out for its own sake, sunrise after sunrise. I have grown comfortable with the unrelenting boundaries that I construct around my life to give some semblance of making it work.

Aldous Huxley, “The Doors of Perception”—I read it when I was seventeen– stories of a consciousness expanded with a psychedelic –the possibilities of a higher self that spoke to the longing of a generation. Those ideal years seem far away now, an experience of becoming great that slipped through our fingers as our generation, like every generation is worn down by life. Still, passage through that doorway defined me. It stripped away something polite and exposed edges that were painful, but interesting. The desire to conform became disdainful and my life would forever be passionate and overly emotional. I am a pair of animated hands diving deeply into the rich red and black earth of creativity hoping for gold.

Riding in a car on Santa Monica Boulevard in 1969, I was always headed toward the beach. That was when I heard “Riders on the Storm,” a sing-song kind of chant that allowed the listener to get lost in a trance of the rock n’ roll experience. It wasn’t just about the music. It was about the attitude, the recklessness and abandon that gave the finger to conformity with its ache to explode the norms.

We were so young and so arrogant as not to see how our parents had sacrificed pieces of their bodies and their heart to fight in a World War that was the battle for the soul of man. It left fathers sitting alone in over stuffed chairs, relegated to corners of dark garages, lit only by the tip of a glowing cigarette; and housewives who knew better than to ask “what” or “why” and instead honored the space needed by warriors to lick wounds that constantly broke open. Conformity for them was the band-aide and my generation could not possibly understand. Our fathers passed through the doors of hell at Normandy and Iomega, a wretched memory now past, but constantly present, while The Doors blared from small radios in their children’s rooms and copies of Aldous Huxley were read late into the night, all a kind of Holden Caulfield story unfolding in millions of homes across America.

When my mother died, I began to struggle with a sense of relevance. Sixty is the threshold of old age. You can dress it up. Tighten your face with surgery, but eventually everything sags and puddles at your feet as life slips from your grasp and the music of your youth has no meaning for twenty-something’s who look at you with the same imperviousness with which you once viewed your elders. I eye the door cautiously, heartened by nieces and nephews who discover Aldous Huxley and Alan Watts and want to discuss them late into the night. The desire to get bigger in your heart and mind may be eternal, whereas the music of your youth is just a temporary soundtrack for the experience.

My mother sat at the doorway of death and waited, numbed by drugs that pulled her toward the entrance. The good daughter said the rosary and I just watched. You always knew that it would happen, but somehow you are never prepared. “Riders on the Storm.” Something sing-song to rock back and forth to. Close my eyes and understand that the doorways and the passages are what make it exciting. What’s on the other side? I don’t want anyone to say a rosary for me. It’s too conforming. Instead scatter my ashes on the beach and dance on them, pounding them into the sand, then pour a cup of Earl Grey over the whole mess and read from the last passages of Prufrock—“I grow old. I grow old. I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.”

It’s all just a long hallway of doors. I grow old, I grow old. . .a non-conforming wordsmith who writes her way into  each day with a cup of black tea and hopes to write her way out, telling as many stories as possible until the last breath when the last door slams shut.

Spring Hopes Eternal

iStock_000008098203XSmallI felt especially bad for Mr. Partee. He stood in the back yard with his face tilted toward the sun, cup of coffee cradled in his hands, eyes shut in absolute bliss as his face drank in the warm sunshine.

“Great morning, isn’t it?” I called out. He smiled without turning. “I believe I can finally put the snow boots away,” he said. We were both in t-shirts and pajama bottoms. My neighbors have gotten used to seeing me that way. My yard backs to a strip of open space that has no fence as do the other yards. It’s not allowed a fence because of some odd HOA rule, so when I am outside, I am outside for all to see–those who are walking their dogs or jogging by, and Mr. Partee, who doesn’t seem to care because he wears a similar uniform– plaid pajama bottoms and a t-shirt. While Mr. Partee reveled in the sunshine, I went about my backyard business of exercising the “super duper pooper scooper” whose immense jaws save me from bending down with plastic bags in hand to pick up the dog poo.

My husband and I had just returned from a vacation where we worked on our tans while Colorado got hit with one of the snowiest April’s ever. We came home to 72 degrees on a Saturday and all of our neighbors raking mulch, planting pots and like Mr. Partee, lifting their faces in worship of the sun.

As hubby and I ran our errands and came and went, we noticed that Mr. Partee had set up camp in his back yard. He had taken all of the patio furniture off of the deck and hosed it down. His wife and children were wiping down the chairs and rearranging them on the deck in anticipation of spring’s warmth. The day wore on and the sun lingered into the evening light of 7:00pm, and still Mr. Partee sat on his deck, talking on his phone, feet propped up on chair and a Corona now in hand.

Sunday was even better, warmer, lighter, tulips opening and welcoming and I couldn’t wait to go to work on Monday in a cotton skirt,  sandals on my feet. Oh this is going to be a wonderful spring. And then it happened. As I said at the beginning of the story, I felt especially bad for Mr. Partee. It is the Rocky Mountains, but who would have imagined, or dreamed of a foot a wet snow on May 1st?  The snow did not stop to take a breath all day while it blanketed the town with its low, grey skies and stinging white flakes, that although beautiful, buzz killed the mulching, the deck cleaning and the tulip blooming that had happened two days earlier.

Today the skies have turned blue again. In spite of nature making a mockery of our spring dance, there is a hopeful excitement that the warm weather is coming. And though there is too much snow for either Mr. Partee or I to stand in our back yards in our pajamas and tilt our faces toward the sun, I am guessing that he was putting his snow boots in the very back of the closet this morning believing this time, it’s for real.