A 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.