Posted in A Day In the Life

Politics, Pandemics and Freedom

I’m on a rant this morning. I just spent several hours on line, playing the lottery. Praying to hit the right button at the right time in order to get a vaccine for COVID 19, I gave up after three hours of refreshing the page. I’m hopeful that as production ramps up, it will become easier for me to get an inoculation against COVID.

Getting a vaccine is even more important to me today than it was yesterday. Yesterday Governor Abbot of Texas told the state that he was dropping the mask mandate and that businesses were free to open 100%. What he didn’t say is that there is a slight uptick in cases of COVID in Texas, and that only about 6% of the population have received the vaccine. Many of us continue to play The Hunger Games, spending hours on line, hoping to be one of the lucky ones that can get an appointment for the shot. Governor Abbot’s move was not in the interest of the people of this great state, though he did dress it up, put lipstick on it and try to pass it off as protecting my freedom. Freedom for what? For going to the grocery store and shopping next to a couple who spent the past two nights at a bar, mask-less, elbow to elbow in a potentially contaminating soup ripe for the contraction of COVID?

What Abbot did, was not leadership. The move was a self-serving calculation that he thought would bring him some much needed popularity. It’s like telling the kid who is failing one of her classes in school, not to worry about studying, just go out and have a good time. Abbott essentially told us to go out and have a good time. Then he wrapped up his statements in the flag, punctuating the whole thing with words like freedom and choice.

What I’m missing in our government is statesmanship. Statesmanship has all but disappeared from the political landscape in Texas. Last week my mouth dropped open when I saw Senator Ted Cruz stomping the stage at CPAC like an blubbering baby whale screaming “freedom” at the top of his lungs. He’s was a shining example of a leader devoid of statesmanship, let alone any shred of dignity.

Does freedom mean being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want to do it? While I’d argue that freedom does mean choosing how you want to live your life, there are instances that require us to come together to fight a common enemy, or strive for a singular good – like freedom from a pandemic — we are, after all the UNITED States of America. When the objective of our elected officials is to retain power and popularity at any cost, then leadership is impossible, let alone mindful of what is best for the common good. When I was growing up, this was called selfishness and it was not thought of as a desirable or admirable quality.

As many Texans celebrate Abbott’s lifting of the mask mandate and the opening of all businesses, social media sites are flooded with praise and “you do you/ I’ll do me” kind of rhetoric. It’s interesting to note that once again, choice and freedom don’t extend to women’s personal reproductive health care choices. . . a digression in my rant I realize, but it helps to make my point that that a good portion of politics is rife with hypocrisy.

It used to be that power meant the ability to influence action, change and behavior. It was a component of leadership, often leadership by way of example. In recent years, power has come to mean bullying and blustering. It’s in this knee deep sludge of misconception surrounding power, strength and the cry for freedom, that I continue to worry, and worry is not freedom at all. I worry about the spread of infection. I worry about whether or not I’ll get a vaccine in time. I worry about what will happen to our economy if we don’t get a handle on the virus. Most of all, I worry that we have lost a sense of nobility in governance that is supposed to be a service job with the goal of caring for the wellbeing of people.

Tomorrow morning I’ll get online again at 5:00, hoping to find a vaccine. I’m pretty sure that Governor Abbot and Senator Cruz have already had theirs.

Posted in A Day In the Life

Contemplating The Lessons of the Great Texas Freeze

Explaining that we are experiencing climate change seems like stating the obvious. Yet, there are people who still don’t believe in climate change, even though the earth is reacting to rising temperatures and melting polar caps in the ways in which science said that it would. The polar caps melt into the ocean. The ice changes the temperature of the water, which in turn changes things like the jet stream and pressure systems. The result is extreme weather events, like the one we just had in Texas. As far south as Texas is, six inches of winter snow and ice is not what anyone here would call normal.

Extreme weather events effects the ecosystems and infrastructure where we live. In Texas, the power grid, which is privately owned, chose not to winterize, even though there had been a severe winter event just a decade ago and insistence that the power plants should winterize. But, why do anything preventative when it could cut into your profits? So, when the temperatures plunged into single digits recently and stayed there for over a week, the power plants were not equipped to keep the heat on for its customers. Now there are a lot of board resigning’s, finger pointing, outrageous bills (I’m talking $16,000.00 for customers who lost and then regained power) and it’s a giant cluster- you-know-what. What hasn’t happened yet, is a solution that contains prevention and safety for the people of this state. The big question is whether or not we have the courage to sacrifice to make the changes that will keep us safe. And whether or not we have the will to insist that our government, which is supposed to be by, for and of the people, will do the right thing.

The roads here in Austin were impassable during the freeze, because there are no snow plows in Texas, at least not that I could see. Trucks couldn’t get to grocery stores to replenish stock. People couldn’t get to the stores for food. Water pipes broke. Districts turned off water to conserve, since water was leaking all over the place anyway. Then came the boil order for water which was rendered contaminated. The irony being, what water were you supposed to boil if your water had been turned off? You saw people scraping snow into pots and trying to boil that – but you could only boil it if you had power or propane to do so, another technicality that was over looked with the boil order. Worst of all, some people literally froze to death in their homes because they had no heat.

I’ve lived a lot of winters in weeks and weeks of hard freeze, but the infrastructure in which I lived those winters was built for that kind of weather. Here in Texas, it’s not that we were caught off guard, it’s that the privately owned power grid decided to hedge its bets that nothing like this could ever happen. As the temperatures have warmed in the past few days and power has been restored, there are few people here who are not dealing with repairs due to the freeze, whether it’s pipes, plants, or water damage. Some schools had to shut down because of damage from broken pipes.

These are just some of the far reaching tentacles of climate change that the country has been dealing with. And it’s not just Texas. The fires that burned up and down the west coast last year, were for the most part, not wild fires, but climate fires. The ecosystems on the west coast do not naturally thrive in triple digit temperatures for weeks at a time. So when hot summer temperatures hovered in the hundreds, the area became a tinder box. In Colorado, the I-70 corridor that I used to drive from Denver to Aspen, is no longer miles and miles of green pine. Instead, those trees have been eaten by Pine Beetle, an insect that can only live and do damage if the area doesn’t drop below freezing for at least ten days at a time throughout the winter. Now, along that stretch of highway are miles and miles of decimated trees, that have turned mountain greenery into acres of brittle kindling.

We are in climate change. It’s not something that might happen up the road. Anyone who cannot see that the climate is changing, that weather in no longer predictable or following historic patterns; anyone who thinks it is all a hoax is either a political or corporate opportunist or ignorant.

And what will it take to clean up this mess? It mostly comes down to how we clean up pollution. What gases we put in the air, what chemicals we put in the water. We have the technology that we need to clean up our mess. A cleaner world would be better for everyone. It can only help humans and the planet stay healthier. Both the planet and its people are sick right now. And the politics of profit at any cost are the sickest of all. That’s what will kill us if we don’t change our attitudes about taking care of our earth home and each other.

Posted in A Day In the Life

The Great Texas Freeze of 2021

Snowed in. Now there’s a phrase I never expected to use again. Not when hubby said to me, just prior to our move here, “we’re going to love those warm and mild Texas winters.” It’s true that we’ve had more than several days these past few months where I could walk in shorts, or in leggings and a light jacket. Sometimes it was kind of a fashion thrill to wear a knit cap on a chilly day. But I never expected THIS!

What THIS is, is a deep, prolonged freeze, the kind you might expect in a northern state or somewhere on the east coast. And I’ve lived in this kind of weather before, but I was also equipped for it – as was the infrastructure around me. In my Sunshine Canyon days in Boulder, Colorado, if we got a foot of snow, the roads were plowed and sanded by 5:30 the next morning. I don’t think we have many snowplows in central Texas.

There was a time when my husband and I were thrilled for a snow day, the kind of day when the 9th street park became a cross-country ski track; when driving down the mountain at 8:00 AM to the park was filled with exhilarating anticipation. Since arriving in Austin a couple of years ago, my blood has thinned. In the “I used to” category is a sense of hardiness brought about by early morning winter hikes, where the only other being on the trail was the otherworldly silver crane meditating in the creek bed. But then, I had the luxury of playing in snow. In the area where I live now, snow and ice for a long period of time is uncommon, and without good infrastructure creates misery, not joy.

We’ve kept our outside faucets trickling for the past few days in an attempt to stave off broken pipes. Now we’re hearing that this is contributing to a water shortage. Hubby and

I have bundled up and cuddled up feeling like hibernation would be the best recourse. Someone just wake us up when this is over.

And we’ve been incredibly lucky. All around us are millions of people who lost power and therefore heat, people who lost water and had to deal with broken pipes. Ice has forced road closures, and worse, grocery store closures because they lack power.

Everyone is a little on edge. People worry about their families, worry about a lack of heat or broken pipes. And we all hope and cling to the promise of the coming thaw. Dark and harsh events tend to shine a light. This light is an interrogating one, illuminating what cannot be escaped when circumstances are not of your own doing. I’ve gotten a real education the past few days, reading about how the unique, private, electrical power grid was created to enrich its owners, but not to function for its citizens. The grid has never been winterized—even when Texas had a bad winter event similar to this one in 2011 and winterization was recommended. That winterization of power plants would have kept the heat on for millions of people.

Sunday is the turn around day. We’ll finally get out of freezing temps. It will be 45 degrees here. The ice and snow will melt and the roads will be drivable. Then we’ll settle back into dealing with things like when and where to get a COVID vaccine. We’ll dream about meeting up with family someplace other than on Zoom. And maybe we’ll get inspired to replace the greedy politicians in our state with those who understand the notion that governing is made up of the wise logistical choices of keeping its citizens safe.

The world continues to change at a rate that leaves me breathless. In viewing the damage, I try to hold onto to possibility that will push its way up like a young, green shoot. So much hope, hung upon a small green shoot, reaching upward from the cold ground.

Posted in A Day In the Life

Swimming with the Dolphins

The road is straight, marsh water on either side. A lot of the Keys are like this; a solid piece of highway, that banks down to the shallow waters leading out to the sea. Dean and I have been quiet for the last half hour of our drive. We’re lost in our own thoughts, taking in the foreign land of Florida, a place that when we see it on a map, always makes us giggle. “It looks like the penis of the America,” I tell him.

“It looks like it needs Viagra,” he replies. It’s a silly joke that never gets old.

We’ve come to Florida to visit Dean’s mother, but we’ve filled the time with so many other things, because my husband feels like he needs more time and a larger buffer between himself and the complicated woman who we’re never sure will be mean or welcoming. She’s tiring. I’m relieved that our visit to her house has been shortened by the creative itinerary that Dean has made up for us.

We’re headed to someplace called The Dolphin Research Center. We’re going to swim with the dolphins, but I am told that the dolphins get to choose whether or not they want to swim with us. I like the fairness of how that arrangement sounds, and I’m hoping that they will want to swim with me.

Tall reeds and skeletons of old trees flash by the window as we drive. My memory is caught by the lines from a T.S. Eliot poem: “I have heard the mermaids singing each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me.” The strip of asphalt grows wider, the ocean receding further out from the reaches of the soft banks that flank it. Two lanes become four and soon we’re in the town that houses The Dolphin Research Center.

We’ve packed swimsuits, towels and a bag of snacks. There’s a hotel nearby where we’ll spend the night. Standing in the warm and humid air, I get a rush of excitement about swimming with the dolphins. I’ve never swum with anything other than a person. The family story is that I learned to swim before I could walk. My older brother would tell me to crawl to my sister, and then put me in the water. I always found my way to her and back again to him. Learning to swim at such an early age made me fearless in the water. How the sun and water feel on my body is always a sensuous experience for me. I am a perpetual child of summer who loves the water.

I spent youthful years on the California coast, body surfing and swimming every day. Beginning at ten o’clock and exhausting myself by noon, these were dreamy days. I had few responsibilities or obligations and my rookie life as a legal adult was simple. Body surfing with my friend Bernie on Topanga Beach, drinking Welches grape juice in the hot sun and working nights slinging drinks to businessmen in the Marina who tipped well. No ambition was dogging my heels, just the joy of sun and water.

Dean and I have gone to Maui for vacations, where we spend hours a day in the ocean, getting salty and tan, relaxed beyond what normal life can imagine. Returning to the water is always a rebirth experience for me. Now I’m going swim in a different part of the world and maybe the dolphins will sing to me. The water affirms a life in me that is free from sorrow. Swimming with the dolphins, I think, will be a pure kind of pleasure, with no agenda attached.

We check in at our appointed time, sign the waivers and change into our bathing suits. We’re introduced to the people who will be swimming with us today, a nice couple from somewhere, USA. Maybe they’re on vacation. Maybe they have their own family avoidance going on, but my interest in them is passing. I wish it were just Dean and I swimming with the dolphins. I’m selfish in moments like these. There’s magic afoot and I don’t want to share.

We’re given a tour of the facility and told that our fees will go toward research. Here, they study the psychology of dolphins, their ability to communicate and commune with humans and each other. We hear the stories of how dolphins have rescued swimmers and led lost boats back to port. Maybe by studying how dolphins communicate, it will help us humans to communicate better.

I feel a rush of anticipation when we are finally given instructions about the swim: “Don’t grab at the dolphins. Your arms are where their dorsal fins would be, and your arms are so much longer than their fins that it must look intrusive, even threatening. Let them come to you,” the facilitator tells us. “Dolphins are playful and they are sometimes amorous with humans. They have a great deal in common with 16-year-old boys.” We all laugh.

I really hope that a dolphin doesn’t try to hump my leg like some horny little dog. Surely the facilitator intervenes if that happens. I push the thought away. Instead I think about what I’ve heard: don’t grab at the dolphins and they like to play. I’ve been close enough to animals that I know interactive play with them is like being in another realm. It’s a way of communicating joy and delight. I want to play with the dolphins.

Our group is led to a large swimming area with a deep pool that backs up to a series of other pools and swimming areas. A floating platform juts out into the water. An underwater gate is opened for the dolphins and we stand on the platform and watch three of them come in. They break the surface of the water with their snouts, curiously checking us out. And they wear what looks like a permanent smile. They don’t have to be with you if they don’t want to, I remind myself.

I will probably never have this opportunity again, so I’m going to go for it. Before any of the other swimmers move, I ease myself from the platform into the water. The dolphins are circling the bottom of the pool now. They’re a lot bigger than I’d imagined. I already know what I what to do. Once in the water, I dive to the bottom where the dolphins are circling. I turn somersaults. First forward, and then back ward, before I swim back to the top for air. I dive again. More somersaults, but this time when I swim to the top for air, I have company. As I take a big breath, I feel the dolphin’s sharp little teeth on my thighs. She’s holding me by my thighs and pushing me around the pool and I feel another dolphin push her snout into my breastbone, and that holds me straight, like I’m floating on my belly, but able to hold my head out of the water as they push me around. They are playing with me. I’m making involuntary squeaking sounds, joyful sounds of play. I grin at my husband who is applauding from the platform.

The facilitator shouts out to me: “They like you. Just relax and go with it.” My reaction is part excitement and part terror. This huge sea-beast has my thighs in her jaws, while another dolphin pushes on my sternum. A third dolphin is now swimming next to me. I have usurped the dolphins in the pool.

After a few minutes, I feel excited and exhausted, a little overwhelmed to be playing with such large animals, so I take a stroke toward the platform. The dolphin releases me from her mouth and I get out of the water. But the dolphins don’t go away. They wait for me at the surface, bobbing their dolphin heads and watching me intently. My husband is on the platform with me. He hasn’t even been into the water yet. Go back and play with them,” he says.

Back into the water, I go. Back into the mouth of the dolphin. Back to being pushed around the pool by two dolphins just as before. Their bodies are smooth and sleek. I let my hand reach back and touch the one that has me in her mouth. She feels warm. I take a deep breath and try to relax into the experience, though there’s no relaxing to be had. It’s too exciting to be interacting with them in this way. I’m not just swimming with the dolphins; I’m playing with them.

We’ve done a few circles in the pool, when the facilitator asks me if I will get out of the water and allow for some of the other “guests” to swim. I know that I got the best of what we came to experience, so I say goodbye to each of dolphins. “We had a good time, didn’t we?” I say to them. Then I get out of the water. My husband and the other couple are swimming now. And the dolphins swim close beside them. They don’t try to take anyone else into their mouth like they did with me, but they are swimming and circling in a way that’s welcoming. I see my husbands face and it’s filled with a sense of wonder.

When the session ends, the dolphins swim back through the gate to a larger area. I’m standing on the platform shaking from the cool breeze. I wrap myself into a towel and sit down staring at the pool, trying to remember each detail about this time. My heart is beating fast. Dean pulls up a chair next to me and places his arm around my shoulders, pulling me toward him. “That was really a magic moment,” he said.

I nod my head. Some part of my heart quivers at the recognition of being connected to all beings and it fills me with appreciation. Dean’s strong arm pulls me closer and he kisses the top of my head. There are pink marks on my thighs from the dolphin’s teeth. I touch them, savoring the images and feelings of the day.

For a brief moment I can see the truth that we all hide from ourselves: the universe is only love.

Posted in A Day In the Life

A Brief History of a Screen Filled Life

I remember my first business website. So new was the idea, that the local newspaper called and asked if they could do a story on my husband and I, posing the questions of whether or not this online advertising and promotion of our business was really going to work. The website was small and clunky and at the moment I had no idea what it could do. We declined the interview. Within a year or two every small business, every large business had their own website. And shortly after that, lots of people who weren’t in business, but who had an axe to grind or a message to impart built websites too.

An episode of the television show Californication addressed blogging, the new venue for published works, albeit smaller, easier to read works than what you would find in print. And thanks to Word Press, blogging began to nibble away at magazines and newspapers who now turned their efforts online, as advertisers fled to what was becoming a larger audience. The greatest loss for me during that time was that my Sundays, which had once been all about lying around with The New York Times and Then Denver Post for hours while I drank tea, began to dwindle. Without realizing that it was happening, I began to read less and less. Eventually I cancelled the newspapers.

Then social media, the double edged sword that swung wildly unabated by any sort of regulation, making me giddy that I could keep up with so many people online. At the same time, Facebook was giving a platform to dark and anonymous voices that had once been relegated to the shadows. What now came to light was foreboding, but I told myself it was just a fringe element. No one is really that mean, ugly-hearted or misinformed.

Like everyone else, my brain chemicals lit up with likes and comments,.so I barely noticed that social media, just like websites and blogging became one more place to advertise, one more place to promote. It wasn’t just businesses advertising, it was individuals advertising themselves. In the business of writing, every agent, publisher and editor wanted to make sure that you had a website and that you were promoting yourself on social media. In the beginning, it wasn’t that hard, but after a short time, I realized that I was competing with virtual assistants or companies that were posting for individuals. No longer a matter of likes and comments, social media was now a matter of whether or not you were an influencer, whether or not you were a brand.

I think about my Catholic upbringing in which the nuns instructed me not to call attention to myself; told me that it was better to give to others selflessly. Is selflessly a word we even use anymore? The whole self-promotion thing has gotten out of hand. I keep track of my social media accounts, a website, a blog, a newsletter, email lists and up until recently, a podcast. I am a full-blown self-promoting business and with that, I have a love/hate relationship with the Internet.

The digital world has overtaken us. Recent reporting tells me that my social media accounts are valuable for the data they collect, plugging me into an algorithm that will assure I see posts and advertising in my feeds that will validate my perception of the world. What could go wrong?

An yet . . . I still enjoy my Facebook interactions with friends and family. Truth is, I like people and I enjoy meeting new friends online. I smile when people I don’t even know proudly post pictures of their grandchildren. It makes me feel like I am part of one big family. Worlds within worlds spin round the day-to-day lives of human beings and that picture of a grand baby connects us to a sweet place that loves babies and the promise of new beginnings. The other side of that double edged sword, however, is the incessant noise about branding and messaging, about influencing and trending.

If I left all of social media behind, I would wonder about those other writers I’ve come to know. I’d wonder if they’d finished writing the novel that they were so passionate about. I’d wonder about friend’s kids and dogs and cats and whether or not Esther’s garden would be bigger this year. I’d miss writing something for my blog or newsletter, and miss seeing pictures of Donna’s dog, Bella, or my great, great niece playing with a doll that I’d sent her. I’d miss sharing my own successes and wins, the sorrow of large and little losses. Still, and I know that it’s somewhat a function of this pandemic, I long for face to face meetings. To look into someone’s eyes and feel the energy of their being is different than seeing a picture on a screen. I miss talking walks with my husband and my friends where one’s attention isn’t pulled away by an email that you can now read on your wristwatch.

So, I do the self-promotion dance, like every other writer I know. I try to put out a message that I hope will inspire, uplift or help in some way. I try to keep it emotionally honest. I write blogs like these and marvel that in certain ways we connect more with the written word than ever before. This is probably the greatest time of literacy that the world has ever experienced and a lot of it is due to technology. That is an amazing thing and one that has the potential for great goodness. But there are those days when I wish there weren’t any screens. In what is now known as “the old days,” friends would stop by unexpectedly just to say hello and visit, to hang out, to figure out what it meant to be human, and the only interruption was the possibility of a solitary, ringing phone somewhere down the hall.

The pictures of life beginning to rise up from the burnt out shell of survival were not the only things that the young soldier brought back from the war. Among his belongings, he had wrapped in blankets and carefully tucked away a cocoon of memory, sliding it under the bed to collect dust until his death. Within that walled off slice of his life, were a series of drawings done in pencil and charcoal — beautiful, serene scenes of deer grazing in the shelter of the forest. I had seen the drawings when I was a little girl and I knew that they were my father’s treasures. He told me how they represented a brief relationship with an artist that led to the purchase of the drawings, which he paid for with packs of cigarettes and chocolate bars.

He loved them so much, he told me, that he carried them back over an ocean and into his life. But they were never framed or displayed. He hid them under the bed, along with other things from the war that I would never see, or understand. When he died in 1980 I pulled the wrapped drawings from their unclean tomb and brought them home with me, framing them and finally giving them the display that they deserved. I know that in spite of the art being hidden, he looked at the drawings from time to time, remembering a friend whose fate was unknown.

Each time I walk by the framed drawings now, I wonder how it is that an artist living in the face of such horror could create such beauty? In these unrelenting days of pandemic and blood sport politics, the drawings reach out to me from another terrible time, whispering that I should not forget that there is always something left in the ashes of loss.

That’s what art does. It keeps good alive in the worst of times. That’s what Amanda Gorman did when she stood on the steps of the Capitol building and recited her poem – she was a light, enlivening inspiration in the human heart, broken by so much ugliness, pain and death. What she gave to us was one long, deep breath that exhaled the healing imagining of new possibility.

The works of an unknown German artist who preserved the beauty of his heart, and the well-praised poet who will surely experience fame for her work, did the exact same thing. They did what artists are called to do in atrocious times. They affirmed life with their creations. They provided nourishment for the dried up well of deep goodness for which we are now longing.

Divisiveness and lies, death and destruction can threaten to strangle our efforts to keep creating. How can creativity be meaningful or significant in these challenging times? How could that German artist even think of drawing when he took in the magnitude of horror around him? How could Amanda Gorman create such a profound moment from the steps of the capital where darkness had been unleashed only days before? These artists created boldly out of grief and the mud of chaos, the cramping labor of what it means to birth love.

The emerging archetype of midlife women is the Creatrix, a word that means a woman who makes things. There has never been a greater calling in our lifetime, to make things as a life affirming action, because that’s what lets in the light. The great poet Jonas Mekas said, “In the very end, civilizations perish because they listen to their politicians and not to their poets.” I take his words as a warning to not be daunted by the power hungry, to find a way to share what is both painful and beautiful in the human condition.

There are piles of rubble everywhere in our collective heartbreak. To write, to sing, to dance, to be playful and silly, to make things, to gather things and arrange them, to praise, to pay homage to grief upon an alter in the corner of our garden, to plant the seeds of gratitude — this is the beginning of how we contribute to the clean up and the rebuilding of our nation’s soul. This is our time to make things.

Posted in A Day In the Life

Making Art While the World Appears to Fall Apart

As World War II came to an end, a young soldier stationed in Germany, took photos of what was left of the city streets he patrolled in Berlin. Small black and white images, framed in white borders with scalloped edges show piles of rubble and people wandering. In one picture, a man carries a chair, a single stick of furniture with which to begin anew. Another shows a woman digging in the debris for something that used to be, but no longer is. An entire country, the one time great destroyer, now destroyed, was the subject of the young man’s photographs. The aftermath of that war and all its horrific suffering must have been grief and bewilderment as to how the world would ever again know good. The soldier documenting the story with his camera was my father and the year was 1945.

The pictures of life beginning to rise up from the burnt out shell of survival were not the only things that the young soldier brought back from the war. Among his belongings, he had wrapped in blankets and carefully tucked away a cocoon of memory, sliding it under the bed to collect dust until his death. Within that walled off slice of his life, were a series of drawings done in pencil and charcoal — beautiful, serene scenes of deer grazing in the shelter of the forest. I had seen the drawings when I was a little girl and I knew that they were my father’s treasures. He told me how they represented a brief relationship with an artist that led to the purchase of the drawings, which he paid for with packs of cigarettes and chocolate bars.

He loved them so much, he told me, that he carried them back over an ocean and into his life. But they were never framed or displayed. He hid them under the bed, along with other things from the war that I would never see, or understand. When he died in 1980 I pulled the wrapped drawings from their unclean tomb and brought them home with me, framing them and finally giving them the display that they deserved. I know that in spite of the art being hidden, he looked at the drawings from time to time, remembering a friend whose fate was unknown.

Each time I walk by the framed drawings now, I wonder how it is that an artist living in the face of such horror could create such beauty? In these unrelenting days of pandemic and blood sport politics, the drawings reach out to me from another terrible time, whispering that I should not forget that there is always something left in the ashes of loss.

That’s what art does. It keeps good alive in the worst of times. That’s what Amanda Gorman did when she stood on the steps of the Capitol building and recited her poem – she was a light, enlivening inspiration in the human heart, broken by so much ugliness, pain and death. What she gave to us was one long, deep breath that exhaled the healing imagining of new possibility.

The works of an unknown German artist who preserved the beauty of his heart, and the well-praised poet who will surely experience fame for her work, did the exact same thing. They did what artists are called to do in atrocious times. They affirmed life with their creations. They provided nourishment for the dried up well of deep goodness for which we are now longing.

Divisiveness and lies, death and destruction can threaten to strangle our efforts to keep creating. How can creativity be meaningful or significant in these challenging times? How could that German artist even think of drawing when he took in the magnitude of horror around him? How could Amanda Gorman create such a profound moment from the steps of the capital where darkness had been unleashed only days before? These artists created boldly out of grief and the mud of chaos, the cramping labor of what it means to birth love.

The emerging archetype of midlife women is the Creatrix, a word that means a woman who makes things. There has never been a greater calling in our lifetime, to make things as a life affirming action, because that’s what lets in the light. The great poet Jonas Mekas said, “In the very end, civilizations perish because they listen to their politicians and not to their poets.” I take his words as a warning to not be daunted by the power hungry, to find a way to share what is both painful and beautiful in the human condition.

There are piles of rubble everywhere in our collective heartbreak. To write, to sing, to dance, to be playful and silly, to make things, to gather things and arrange them, to praise, to pay homage to grief upon an alter in the corner of our garden, to plant the seeds of gratitude — this is the beginning of how we contribute to the clean up and the rebuilding of our nation’s soul. This is our time to make things.

Posted in A Day In the Life

Wrapping Up The Year

I’d promised myself that I’d relax the last couple weeks of the year, that I’d reflect upon, and immerse myself in, the quiet and the beauty around me.  I did not disappoint.  For the past few mornings, I’ve managed to sleep in to 7:00 or 7:30, a time that seems early to some, but for this 5:00AM riser, is a delicious reprieve from the norm.  From Christmas day onward, I’ve managed to ease into the day with no demands or obligations, save for the weekly grocery store outing. I’ve gotten to books in my stack that have waited patiently for me, binge watched Netflix shows with my husband in the evening and pretty much mastered the art of doing nothing and doing it well.

This morning I took my cup of tea to the back porch and sat, watching the rain recede into a changing sky. Grey clouds, white clouds, moments of teasing blue, then back to dark grey again.  This year the Texas winter is warm enough to be outside on many mornings, and I find a great soothing of my soul in watching the sky and tuning into the life that resides in the back drop of woods that edges up to the parameters of my yard.  Small yellow birds flit from tree to tree chirping, while the sound of other winged creatures respond in different calls.  This is the stage of life’s play, entertaining a heart open to learn from what the cycles, symbols and seasons have to show me. While self-knowledge is revealing, the knowledge of nature is even more so.

Tomorrow I’ll close out the 2020 ledgers for the bookkeeper and make new files for 2021. Then I’ll take a look around my office and feel appreciation for the shelves of books, the baskets of spiral notebooks, the cups of pens and my computer – all of the tools that serve me daily.  I’ll say a prayer of thanks for all that was given this year, and a prayer of grief and blessing for all that was taken away. My spirt is lifted by the symbol of this new year more than ever before, and in that I know that I am not alone.

Happy New Year everyone.  Onward.

Posted in A Day In the Life

Love and Nourishment

I’ve been hungry for a lot of things in my life that had nothing to do with food and everything to do with the way I fed myself. It’s been a lifelong journey to figure out what nourishes and what simply sustains me. Nourishment, at its heart, is really about love.

My dad and I were the only two people in the kitchen. I remember it being a time and place where people had left or were leaving and life seemed frighteningly different. Was I visiting him? Was it after the divorce? I must have been four or five years old. He put a plate of raviolis down in front of me. I’d watched him open the can, dump them into a pot, and heat them up. He smiled at me. Maybe he winked.

            The way the memory has embedded itself in my brain is that we were side by side, and I was acutely aware of the motion of raising the fork from the plate to my mouth, almost as if I were doing it slow motion in tandem with him. Oh my God, those raviolis. They were absolute ambrosia, the best thing I’d ever tasted.

            Fast forward twenty years, and I’m living on my own. I’m thinking about my dad, as we’ve recently reconnected, and we’re going to see each other at Christmas. It’s been twelve years. In the emotional soup of being angry at him for being absent in my life, feeling excited to see him again, and feeling a love in my heart that seems a little out of place, the memory of that meal nibbled at the edges of my hunger. I became inspired to hunt down those raviolis.

            I’m not sure I knew what I was after on my quest. I think it may have been a deep longing to connect with my dad in that primal way where we were so close that we moved our forks in tandem. I wanted to repeat that taste, that time, when I was four or five years old, alone in the kitchen with my dad, safe and loved.

            Taste is a complicated thing. The textbooks will tell you how important smell is to taste, but they rarely mention how important emotion is to taste. I believe it was the tone that was set between us, a small slice of remembered intimacy, that put me on a quest to capture the childhood delight of canned raviolis.

            They weren’t hard to find. The can looked like the same one I remembered from twenty years earlier; maybe the illustrated chef on the front was a little more modern. The grocery store had the cans placed at eye level, three aisles over from the crackers and chips on the right.

            I rushed back to my apartment, my mouth watering. I opened the can, heated the raviolis, and put them in a bowl. They smelled just the way I remembered them. I sat down, picked up my fork, expecting the same kind of ambrosia rush—and … Oh no! They were horrible. The texture was pasty, and the sauce had a sickeningly sweet aftertaste to it. The stuffing didn’t resemble cheese at all, and I questioned whether or not it had even come from a cow. The whole bowl was kind of mushy. How could I ever have loved these so much?

Was it my undeveloped childhood palate, which responded indiscriminately  to salt and sugar and mush? I tried to make it funny, but the truth was I was disappointed and sad. I couldn’t explain the sorrow at the time. Now I see that it was my longing to reconnect with the dad I hadn’t seen in twelve years, the dad I remembered from our canned raviolis meal so long ago.

            I threw the rest of the raviolis unceremoniously into the trash‚ the lingering odor of them no longer pleasant. My kitchen smelled of disappointment and the fake flavor of fast food, of junk food. I realized that I could never go back and that the past would never let go of certain places in me.

            Years later, I was telling someone the story about how great the raviolis had seemed when I was a kid and how horrible they were when I got older. In the retelling, I spoke about being in the kitchen with my dad and the combustion of love, security, and canned raviolis. That experience resulted in a sense of being nourished in mind and body—and I realized in a rush that it was never the raviolis that were so wonderful; it was rather sitting with my dad, doing the small, simple thing of sharing a meal. It was the spirit of that moment that stays with me to this day. So often, comfort food isn’t about the food at all, and so often, it’s the smallest things in life that truly nourish us.

        

*********

The biblical adage that man does not live by bread alone is not a treatise on carbohydrates but a directive on nourishment. Intent. Connection. Love. Nourishment is about the moments in our too busy lives that give us pause to stop and appreciate the things that fill us. Sometimes it’s a meal. Sometimes it’s the company, and sometimes it’s the way the light hits the front porch in the morning. How we nourish ourselves and with what is a richly complex process that evolves as we age. I ask myself this question:  Does it nourish me. I ask this question about food, about people, about things I want to purchase, and also about situations.

            Asking the nourishment question is another way of asking how I love myself. But somehow the question of how to nourish—and with what—seems more specific than the question of how to love—or whom. I trust that love is something that arises as a result of who, what, and how we nourish others and ourselves.

            I think that most of the world’s problems can be solved by people sitting around a kitchen table. The nourishment of family and friends can assuage sorrow. The nourishment of food can help us celebrate life and heal. How we nourish ourselves—with what and with whom—is a huge, complicated process that informs our life every single day.

            May your life be nourished by calm, love, goodwill and joy.  And, may you enjoy the sweet, the savory and salty of life in nourishing gratitude. 

Posted in A Day In the Life, Thoughts on Writing

The Summer of Belonging: Strippers, Poets and Omar’s Restaurant

My writing journey has been both long and short. By long, I mean I wrote here and there while marriage and a mortgage interrupted my dreams. I wrote stories from time to time that no one read, and on three different occasions, I surprised myself by getting published—once in a magazine about quilting and twice in newspapers. I started a blog and experimented with style and voice, eventually accumulating a hundred or so followers. But rarely during that time, did I consider myself a writer—even though I wanted to.

Coming into my sixties awakened me with an urgent fear. The years had caught up. If I didn’t dedicate myself to writing now, I never would, and it would become the great, sorrowful regret of my life. So I proclaimed to a small and select group of friends that I was going to write novels. I was sixty-three.

 In a year and a half, I wrote and finished three novels, and they were all rambling narratives with pretty prose and some exquisite descriptions that never got near a real story. In that same year and a half, I studied my ass off, apologizing for myself all the way. I didn’t know where to place a comma or how I was supposed to use a semicolon. I’d been a horrible student in school, a dropout in fact, who managed to pick up the pieces in midlife and finally earn a high school diploma as well as a college degree in my late thirties. Real writers, I thought, were good students, nerds who’d attended good colleges and loved the English language.

In the summer of my sixty-fifth year, all the pieces came together. I finished my fourth novel, and it was good, a real story that hung together. My blog accumulated three thousand followers that year, and I achieved the rookie writer’s holy grail: a contract with a New York City literary agent. In that same heady summer, I got my first paid job as a writer.

The Rogue Valley Messenger is a small newspaper, a freebie found on street corners and in grocery stores in and around Ashland, Oregon. Like so many times in my scrappy life, I faked knowing what I was doing. And it was the best fake-out ever. Interviewing folks for the lifestyle section of the paper, I quickly learned from my beyond-patient editor what was expected of me. And each month, I banged out a thousand or so words, receiving a check for twenty to thirty-five dollars for each article.

In the middle of the experience, I learned about the writing craft, yes, but more importantly, I began to see my own condition mirrored back to me in the people I interviewed and whose stories I then told. They would touch upon the my long-held beliefs of fears and self-doubt, and hearing their stories helped me reclaim a wild, completely imperfect part of myself. Writing for The Messenger was an act of realizing all the possibility and potential that I’d pushed aside in the name of unworthiness.

There were lots of articles, some of them better than others, but three stand out. The first was an interview with a burlesque performer who’d named herself Kat Wondergloom. She said she wanted a name that was part whimsy and part darkness.

I loved her story. I loved learning that burlesque is more than just a tassel-twirling bump and grind where women shed their clothing. During the interview, Kat told me the thing that helped her the most on her quest to become a burlesque artist was being adopted by a group of drag queens who schooled her in everything from makeup to just where to place those rhinestones.

And when I asked her how burlesque dancing was different from being a stripper, she laughed. “A lot more glitter and a lot less money,” she said. I understood that. So much of what I experienced in the world was just glitter.

Kat Wondergloom and I weren’t that very different from each other. She was a proud, independent woman, making her way in a world that wasn’t always kind, but she was doing it without apology. Kat would never get a formal invite to the #metoo movement, but in many ways, her proud sense of sexuality and her determination, I found, was every bit as liberating.

When I finished writing the article, I decided that maybe it was time for me to stop apologizing for my past and begin to fiercely embrace my present. Workshops and writing books brought me a long way toward becoming a writer, but Kat Wondergloom gave me the missing piece—you gotta believe in yourself and own what you do.

The second article that stands out was an interview with a poet who would soon be visiting the small university in my town. Richard Blanco had been Barak Obama’s second inaugural poet—the first Latino and the first gay man to hold such a prestigious honor. I was intimidated by his writing credentials and thrilled that I got to interview him.

I worked very hard on the questions I was going to ask him. I read two of his books before the phone interview and prepared for days. We had a good, lively conversation about the ordinary within the extraordinary, and I wrote it up. After my article was published, and Richard was in Ashland teaching, he surprised me by inviting me to coffee. We spent an hour talking about writers and writing in a local coffee shop. I learned that his work had always been influenced by the themes of belonging and asking the question of what and where home is.

I’ve lived most of my adult life with the sense that I must have gotten off the bus at the wrong stop. What I learned from Richard is that it’s human nature to want to explore the question of home and belonging. It’s not a flaw or a failure.

I only wrote for The Messenger for a year, and then my husband and I left our home in Ashland, moving to Austin, Texas. One of the last pieces I wrote for the publication wasn’t about a person, but about a place: Omar’s.

Omar’s was an old steakhouse built in the 1940s that hadn’t changed much since. It was the only piece I’ve ever written where I hated how the editors chopped it up. Honestly, I didn’t really write a solid newspaper piece about a restaurant—about the steak and the fish that they served, about the wait and bar staff, some of whom had been there a couple of decades or more. I couldn’t get out of my own way and be a professional, objective journalist.

Instead I let Omar’s inspire me as a storyteller. Across the street from Southern Oregon University, the place was frequented by writers, professors, and diehard locals who could recite the history of the restaurant which hadn’t changed its menu since the 1940s. When I sat down in the bar, I halfway expected Raymond Chandler to sit down next to me and buy me a drink. I got lost in the red, cracked, leather booths and the dark haze of the cocktail lounge with its bar carved with initials from patrons who didn’t want to be forgotten.

The steakhouse invaded my imagination, pinning me up against the wall by my throat. Because of that, I knew that a dolled-up dame had written the name “Omar’s” on the sky with one red fingernail. That became the neon sign illuminating the darkness under a blue moon, just above a post that says “To Klamath Falls.” I loved the dark, seedy feeling of it all, and instead of writing the newspaper article on steak, I wrote about how the grittiness of the place reminded me of a Raymond Chandler novel with hard-boiled detectives and blonde bombshells. And I have to wonder how many writers had sat in those booths and construed stories that fit perfectly against the backdrop of its lit noir images.

To say that the article about Omar’s received a major editing and a requested set of revisions by my managing editor is not the half of it. I had written, or rather pieced together, something that was part noir wannabe and part restaurant review. Still, it’s worth noting that I could see how everybody needs an Omar’s, a place that knows you and welcomes you when you need to eat or rest, a place where the filters are off. Omar’s underscored a truth about me: I love a good story.

As my husband and I got on the road for our move to Texas, I looked for the ghostly outline of the dolled-up dame who had drawn the sign with her fingernail against the sky. I hoped she’d be standing by the doorway of Omar’s as we drove by for the last time. I didn’t see her, but I heard her whisper this to me, Own it!

That steakhouse was the place that put the exclamation point on the best summer ever—strippers, poets, and Omar’s. And damn, if I hadn’t become a real writer, traipsing around in search of my material. Real stories. Imagined stories.  And the comfortable familiarity of being lost and looking for where I belonged.

Posted in A Day In the Life, Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?, Storytelling

The Tale of How the Governor Came to Be

In the mid-1960’s in South Denver, a short distance from the apartment where my mother and I lived, was a hotel on Colorado Boulevard. I think it was called Writer’s Manor. Or maybe it was Riter’s Manor. “A fancy place,” my mom called it. They had a large dining room in which all the tables were covered in white tablecloths, each graced by a small vase of fresh flowers. At one end of the room, a wall of windows overlooked an inviting swimming pool. The first time that I went there, I couldn’t stop looking at the pool. I longed to be in that water in the hot afternoon sun. The pool was, disappointingly, only for hotel guests.

Two glasses with iced tea with lemon and ice on the wooden table

On this day, my mom created an outing for us: we got dressed up and went to the hotel dining room where we were going to order banana splits. My mom was creative in the ways in which she entertained me. She worked during the week, and weekends were the times I got to see her the most. We didn’t have a car to go places, just the bus. There were no trips to the mountains or lakes like my other friends, but she tried hard to come up with things that were not just fun, but affordable. This is one of the reasons I still love summer so much: it feels like time for fun.

            Mom had insisted that I wear gloves. She was a woman who had watched one too many Joan Crawford movies. I didn’t think that gloves were cool, but I put them on anyway, and we walked to the hotel on that hot summer day. I can’t remember the dress I wore, but during those times, almost everything I owned was an A-line cut, and I was partial to little flowers, so I imagine myself in a sleeveless flowered dress, wearing uncomfortable patent leather flats, inappropriate for walking, but perfect for a formal dining room, and those stupid little white gloves.

            I was sweating by the time we got to the hotel. Still, I remember being excited about getting to see the swimming pool again, and I was excited about ordering a banana split in the hotel dining room. Years later, I realized my mother probably couldn’t afford to buy us lunch there, but at twelve, I was very enthusiastic about banana splits — not having lunch made no difference to me. We were led to one of the tables, and I told her I was thirsty.

            A waiter came by and poured water into what I observed to be grown-up glasses. The glasses had stems, not like the glasses at home that were short and squat.

            “May I bring you ladies an Arnold Palmer?” the waiter asked.

My mother nodded. “Would you like one?” she asked me.

Yes, please,” I answered. And then as soon as the waiter was gone, I asked, “What’s an Arnold Palmer?”

            “Half iced tea and half lemonade,” she said, and smiled.

            I felt grown-up and proud to be with my mom. I felt special sitting in the beautiful dining room all dressed up with her. And I loved her for her making me feel that way.

            Disappointingly, the Arnold Palmers didn’t come in the kind of grown-up glasses I’d hoped for. There was no stem. Still, I felt very grown up drinking one. As with all things I remember, it’s not so much the thing itself, as it is the feeling tone that lingers in the heart and mind. Sitting in that fancy dining room with my mom, wearing those stupid white gloves—it was all just kind of perfect.

            After the Arnold Palmer came the banana splits, and I ate mine slowly and carefully, as a grown-up would, careful not to let any ice cream or topping spill on my A-line dress or the white linen tablecloth.

            Years go by, and I’m middle-aged, married, and sitting in a lounge chair on my deck next to a girlfriend. We’re recalling summer stories from childhood, and I tell her about the hotel, the Arnold Palmers, and the banana splits.

            “Arnold Palmers,” she says. “Those sound so good right now. We could make some.”

            “I have lemonade, but I only have green tea.”

            We look at each other.

            “What the hell . . .” I say. I get up and mix them—half green tea and half Knudsen’s lemonade. I pour the mixture over ice and stick in a couple of paper straws.

            “Ta-da, Arnold Palmers,” I say, holding out the glasses to my friend.

            She takes a sip. “They’re good,” she says. “What’d you make these with, again?”

            “Lemonade and green tea.”

            “I guess they’re not really Arnold Palmers,” she says.

            “No, but close enough.”

            “Who else do we know named Arnold,” she asks.

            “Schwartzenager?”

            “The governor of California?”

“That’s it. I dub this drink ‘The Governor,’” I say.

And that’s how The Governor, made with green tea, came to be. Gone are my banana spilt days, but I often enjoy like a grown-up glass into which I can pour The Governor on a hot afternoon.

The Governor:

Steep 3 Tzao Zen Green Tea bags in a 2-quart pitcher. This is best if you steep this in the sun all day, instead of boiling water and pouring it over the tea bags. The tea will turn a light greenish-gold color after about 6 hours. Refrigerate it overnight. The next day pour ½ glass of green tea over ice. Fill the rest of the glass with Knudsen’s lemonade, which is sweetened with fruit juice rather than white sugar. You won’t need any additional sweetener. This is the perfect tea for any summer afternoon.

Posted in A Day In the Life

We Put Our Dog Down Today

Jeter 2008 – 2020

We put our dog Jeter down today.  A cancer had snuck into his life and Dean and I vowed that we wouldn’t let him suffer.  So, we kept track of meds, missed meals, and limps that developed, reaching a point where we knew it was time.  I hate that point.  Like everyone who loves their dog, I wanted ours to live forever.

A compassionate young vet who does nothing but at-home euthanasia, came to our house. As a result, we got to hold Jeter and stroke him while he fell asleep.  She administered the first of two shots, and in a few minutes he had fallen into a twilight kind of sleep. As we talked to him, he wagged his tail, still able to hear our voices. Then came the second dose, the one that would mark the end. My husband continued telling him how much we loved him and what a good boy he was. At the very end, when I could feel the life force leaving him, I thanked him for being our dog. And then Jeter sighed. . . a long deep sigh with a bass tone sound to it, like the one he’d make at night when he was letting go of the day and surrendering to sleep. Except this time, he wasn’t surrendering to sleep, he was letting go of life.

I watched Dean and the vet put him on a stretcher and carry him to the van that she’d parked in the driveway. We had a couple more minutes with him. The body that wasn’t him anymore lay tucked in by blankets on the stretcher and I reached out and petted his head one last time before turning away and walking back inside.

Now the house is too damn quiet and it feels like a betrayal to vacuum up the dog hair on the carpet and the floors. I think I’ll wait a few days.  An absence fills the space where our dog once lived and we miss him beyond what either of us ever thought missing could be.

Dean and I have cried and wailed.  Wept and hung on to each other tight.  We’ve gone through the pictures on our phones and talked about him, remembered days on the trail or at a lake. Each photograph reminds me of what good attitude, joy, playfulness, and loyalty looks like. 

The bottom line is that our dog, the world’s best dog, loved us unconditionally, without judgement There’s not a dog lover out there who hasn’t entertained the idea for just a moment that in the overall scheme of things, dogs know more about how to be good people than we do.

My heart is broken, but time and the sweetness of memories will mend it. I will always carry Jeter in the perfect little place into which he burrowed when we met. You’re still with me, buddy. And the goofy yellow lab that Dean and I adopted so many years ago turned out to be such a smart choice, one of the best that we ever made. Rest in peace dear Jeter, most faithful of companions, most loyal of friends.  You will forever be in our hearts.

Posted in A Day In the Life

Spring Hopes Eternal

My neighbors’ friendliness is a soothing welcome. It staves off the loneliness of living in a world that is too fast and too overwhelming.

Shedding the winter wool and sweaters reveals that I grew a little softer in the darker, colder months. Afternoons when rain prevented me from walking, created a couple extra pounds. Well, that and getting lost in a new book and a batch of fresh-baked muffins.

Now the onset of spring changes everything. I can wear my baseball hats and tees, definitely not dressing my age. And the lengthening of my stride, the quickening of my step, adds miles to the walks in the warm spring temperatures.

It’s an adventure to walk my neighborhood. When hubby and I set out for this afternoon’s walk, we see the eight-year-old who lives near us. He has a Labrador retriever that looks a lot like my dog, Jeter. It’s not fair to say that the kid walks his dog. He runs the dog. It’s an image we’ve come to anticipate: the dog running next to the boy, who is pumping his arms and legs as hard and fast as he can, as they fly down the sidewalk, both of them with big smiles on their faces in pure joy.

Further up the street, Penny, the neighborhood queen, has pulled her chair out onto the lawn to hold court. Lucky, her old black dog, sits by her side, holding court too. Everyone stops by, a respectable six feet apart, of course. When Penny is sitting outside in her lawn chair, and she waves, it’s like there’s a magnetic pull. We cross the street, and she gets up to greet us. “Lucky is so glad that you came to visit,” she says in her sweet Texas way. A conversation about the dogs or the weather ensues, often with Penny telling us what Lucky thinks or feels about a certain situation.

When we first met her, she was a little scary. Knowing that we’d just moved here, she wanted to tell us all about the rattlesnakes and how to “kill ’em with a garden hoe.” She told us about the fire ants that can make your horribly sick with their painful sting. Hubby and I walked away from those visit with our hearts beating rapidly and a question on our lips: “Where the hell have we moved to?”

After we got the snakes and the deadly fire ants out of the way though, most of our talks with Penny have been about the dogs or some bit of news about the work being done on Highway 620. “Lucky is just so happy that you’re here,” she tells us with a smile. “You take care now, you hear,” she adds as she waves good-bye. Out of the corner of my eye, I see someone else crossing the street to pay homage.

We pass a house where a large brown-and-black something of a dog lives. Mastiff? Labrador on steroids? It’s hard to tell. He just looks like a dog that shouldn’t be messed with. We don’t stop at that house, even though the owner is in the front yard, planting impatiens around the oaks. The dog’s name is Rock Star. Devil Dog would have been more appropriate. He raises his head and watches us go by. Each time I pass him, I swear I hear a low, rumbling growl. “That’s a serious effin’ dog,” hubby says as we pick up our step.

Jeter, hubby, and I make it past the park and up to River Bend Elementary, and I say that I want to go a little bit further. I’m going for perky bootie, which means another mile, at least. In my younger days, my bootie used to sit higher up; now it takes a lot more work. Why should I care at my age? I’m embarrassed to say that I’m shallow enough to cling to a little bit of physical vanity to motivate myself. At a certain point, it will all get pulled down to my knees by gravity. One day everything will sag. It will all be loose. Bones in loose skin, face turned toward the sun, eyes closed and smiling in the light while it lasts. But I’m not ready for sunsets yet, so on to one more mile.

Later, as we’re coming back, we’re happy to note that Rock Star has been taken inside. Penny is still on the lawn, but she is talking with another neighbor. And the little boy with the yellow Lab like ours has now started up a ball game in the cul-de-sac. I love seeing the characters in my neighborhood, but most especially Penny.

She is the best part of the adventure. I depend upon her for the news of our community. In the last neighborhood where I lived, there was someone who knew everything that was going on too, but she sounded gossipy. Penny, on the other hand is regal, the grande dame of our neighborhood. She never shares people’s private business, but more of what amounts to public service announcements, like the bit about killing snakes or how the water on Quinlan Park Road, near the Randall’s supermarket, still isn’t draining well.

This is all part of the spring ritual. Losing those winter pounds, hanging out with Penny for a few minutes and listening to the neighborhood news, spoken in that soft southern drawl of hers. I’m waking up from the gray, and feeling the joy and excitement of nature reinventing herself, and plotting the reinvention of my own self through more activity in these strange new times.

Posted in A Day In the Life, memories

Suitable for Re-framing

My mom: Cleopha Marie Tylenda

There aren’t a lot of photos of my mother as a little girl. Personal photography was not a common thing when she was growing up. Rather, it was the work of a hired professional. For an ordinary family, it was a big deal to memorialize a moment of life in a photograph. Yet a handful of images from my mother’s young life exist.

A framed photograph on my living room bookshelf shows mom when she was about two years old. Holding onto her small toddler frame is her father, my grandpa, Paul. They’re sitting on the floor of the back porch, his arms around her, holding up a holster that he’s wrapped around her simple cotton dress. While her face is serious, my grandpa’s face reflects a mischievous grin.

The year would have been 1921.  My grandparents were farmers with a few cows. They lived in Elbert, Colorado and were raising three daughters. So, who took the picture, the casual pose, with mom, grandpa and holster?  My grandparents wouldn’t have owned a camera. Did they have a friend that was a photographer?

It’s an imaginative musing to see my grandparents as young people.  To think that they may have sat in their living room when the kids had gone to bed and talked with a friend who had a camera — that the friend would have offered to take some pictures of them. 

Later in life when I knew them, mom had a Brownie Camera. She took pictures of my brother, sister and I standing in front of the giant lilac bushes in our grandmother’s yard; and pictures of my grandparents standing in the dirt driveway of their home, a grandchild balanced on my grandma’s hip as she smiles for the camera, the look of pride on her face.

Recently, my nephew Dan found a picture of my mom in a moving box as he was getting settled into his new home in Oregon. He emailed it to me.  Eventually I will print it, frame it and place it next to the other photo on the bookshelf. 

It’s not the framing of the photo that feels important; it’s the reframing of what those photos mean to me:  a way to see my mother as an innocent; an appreciation of my grandpa’s quirky sense of humor divorced in memory from the man who drank too much.  It’s the act of reframing that helps me to see that we all do the very best we can do to love each other and ourselves and yet fall terribly short.  To put it in perspective, these photographs of my mom are from 100 years ago.  They represent the passage of time, mortality, innocence, ancestry and the most basic of human longings, that of love. 

In the photo sent by my nephew, mom is seven years. She’s wearing a white dress meant as a First Communion dress. It had probably been worn by her sister Anne and would be worn again by her younger sister, Mary.  The photograph is staged.  In one hand she holds a missal and a rosary. In the other she holds a candle. Again I wonder who the photographer is.  Did each child at my mother’s Catholic School get a picture like this at the occasion of their First Communion? 

I imagine the picture being taken at the church her family attended. I saw that church once.  My brother and I visited it when she died, but it had been turned into an antique store.  The day that we were there, it was closed and I was sorry about that. I had wanted to go inside, to walk around in a place where she had walked, where my grandmother and my great grandmother had gone to worship.

It’s easy to forget that my parents and my grandparents lived long, full lives before I was born. That they were filled with dreams and ideals like all young people, dreams that took a beating when life intervened. It’s the story that we all live out.

When I look at my mother’s little face in the picture of her First Communion, I don’t see the woman I fought with as a teenager. I see a child that I didn’t know, but eked out in our relationship nonetheless with stories that she made up and shared with me at bedtime about the little town of Elbert Colorado, her horse Duke, and a Catholic family with three girls living in a cabin on the hill

Paul Simon sang in the song, Old Friends: Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph. Preserve your memories; they’re all that’s left you. Now living closer to the edge of my life, I’m grateful for the memory, for the image of a little girl whose life I can only imagine, but imagine in sweetness and love’s longing, nonetheless.

Posted in A Day In the Life, Storytelling

Welcome to Podcasting

A little coffee to go with Coffee Table Wisdom

Launching my podcast, Coffee Table Wisdom, reminds me of when I first launched a blog.  Although my first blog wasn’t really launched; it was more like a shy tiptoe into a world where stories and essays became public and could be read by anyone. I have to admit, it’s still thrilling to click on “publish” and see my work come up on a colorful page that has pictures and headings. 

Podcasting is just another way to tell a story. It’s a new take on what radio used to be when we’d gather round and listen to programs and public figures.  In today’s world though, people can put in their ear buds, and listen to a podcast just about anywhere.

My podcast is about positive aging.  I advocate for embracing the years as a noble passage.  All of us fear getting older to some degree. That fear is un-necessarily exacerbated by toxic myths in the culture that have all of us sitting around in Depends after the age of 60, just waiting to get sick or die.  And that’s why it’s time for a revolution in positive aging!

My experience of the accumulating years is that there is a tremendous potential for aging well and finding joy in the process, stereotypes be damned.  I’ve invited guests from the worlds of health, psychology, spirituality and the arts to be on my podcast and share their perspective on the grace and gratitude of growing older in spite of any challenges that we may face.

Podcasting has given me an opportunity to fall in love with the ordinary people that I interview, all of who reveal the extraordinary in their lives.  Every time I meet a new guest and record a new show, I marvel at how much magic there is in each of us.  Podcasting has truly become my labor of love and learning.

So, I’m inviting you to take a listen and enjoy the power of story in this format. You can find Coffee Table Wisdom wherever you get your podcasts.  On my web site you can click on the Podcast Tab to discover Season One.

We live in the most literate time in human history. We have so many writers and so many stories that can be told in virtually unlimited ways and formats.  My great hope is that all of this will help to remind us of how we are connected by our stories; and that it will demonstrate how none of us is ever as alone as we think we are.  Isn’t our human family just amazing?  Happy listening from this grateful granny!

Posted in A Day In the Life

Living Out This Idea of Love

It seems to me that the universe is bound together by dancing molecules of love.

I’ve had a couple of rough weeks.  Free floating anxiety. Restless sleep. Self doubt.  It was as if my psyche developed little cracks and all of that seeped in. I didn’t immediately recognize that I was in distress.  Then, this morning, I was awake at 4:00am, swimming in worry and anxiety that wasn’t attached to anything real: would I lose my wallet in the airport when I travel next week?  Is my book any good? Am I any good? Such moments of suffering are wake up calls. There’s no outside solace to heal one’s heart; I have to begin at the core. What do I need?  What do I want? How can I help myself?

From time to time, we all feel like imposters in the world.  We stumble and fall into a hole of despair and then wonder how we got there.  Visiting the wounds of childhood past doesn’t seem to provide anything but an excuse. Finding ways to psychologically and spiritually hug myself, does.  A lifetime of dealing with depression and anxiety has taught me that if I get too angry or too afraid of too many things, I’m bound to fall.

All love must begin with the act of self-love. That’s easy to state and more difficult to do.  What does it mean to love your self? I know that I’m not alone in wondering this. Here are some steps toward self-love that I used this morning. May they be helpful to others. Self-love is like going to the gym.  The best results come from continued and consistent practice. 

Step One: Meditation is a practice that can relax, comfort and soothe the beast of anxiety.  It seems surprising that such a practice can be so easily forgotten in the face of emails, texts, social media, deadlines, and the seduction of creating self-importance through our digital life.  Liberation lies in deliberate breath, deliberate mindfulness, deliberate letting go and surrendering into the vastness and awe of the miracle that we are.

Step Two:  Tears. Holding back the tears of life creates anxiety and strife.  Right now, our world seems likes its come off the rails.  In witnessing the fallout from gun violence, the suffering of children, the divisions that have turned into an “us and them” mentality, then surely there are tears waiting to be set free.  I cried this morning.  I cried for our country. I cried for myself.  I cried for the people I know who are facing struggles.  The act of tears, softened my heart and brought me home to myself a little bit.  The list of too angry and too afraid began to dissolve.

Step Three: I’m a sixty-seven year old woman and one might think that all things from childhood have certainly been worked out and healed forever by now. But the wisdom of age has taught me that the wounds of childhood inform throughout one’s life.  They are part of our spiritual and psychological work.  This morning, I closed my eyes and remembered the child I’d been.  In my imagination, I got down on one knee so that I could meet her face to face, and then I wrapped my arms around her and said, “You are so precious to me. I love you so much.”  More tears and a sweet feeling of release begins to set me free.

Step Four:  Listing the things I’m grateful for. I take a walk every day.  My dog and I went up to the park and along the way, I counted the things that I’m grateful for: legs strong enough to carry me a couple of miles, neighbors that wave hello and call out greetings, a belly that’s full, and cooling temperatures that made today’s walk in the middle of Texas very pleasant.  Practicing gratitude helps me to shift my mind-set and ease the torments of self-doubt.

Step Five:  Give this reclaimed love away.  Wave back at the neighbors.  Call out my own greetings of good morning.  Silently bless the gaggle of teenagers waiting for the school bus — they’re our future. They deserve my goodwill.  Plan to cook a special breakfast for my husband.

Step Six:  Bow my head and say thank you. Thank you for my life. Thank you for this day.  Thank you for jogging my memory and helping me make it to the toolbox, thus bringing relief and a way home. Thank you.

In a perfect world, I would wake up every day and practice all of this. However, I’ve come to see that the imperfection of slipping into the darkness is the invitation and the opportunity to re-engage with my heart. The imperfection and errors that come with being human is the path to humility, appreciation and thankfulness. Today was a reminder to stay the course even though I know that I will stumble and fall again. My heart is all about practice and imperfection. This is the work of living out this idea of love.

Posted in A Day In the Life

The Body Beautiful

While older women counsel young women to love their bodies, we often fail to have that conversation with ourselves.

As a young woman I starved myself to stay thin.  My relationship with food was not a healthy one. My relationship with my body was worse.  The angst about body image came from two places.  One was cultural. In my generation, men often commented on women’s bodies in disparaging ways, leaving us to question if our worth was somehow related to the size of our thighs.  The message about thinness also came from my dance studio where I spent most of my teenaged years.  We were constantly told by our instructors that no extra weight was allowed.  By fourteen-years-old, I knew to order the burger without the bun, no fries and a side salad without dressing.  I was always hungry.

As the 1970’s dawned, the feminist movement was taking on the cultural narrative about body image.  Women were encouraged to love their bodies as they were. The new message was a needed one, because trying to sculpt your body to fit a man’s idea of what he thought you were supposed to be, was right up there with sculpting your mind to fit his image of you, too.

The decade of the 70’s and 80’s pushed women to know themselves. Changes came about as more women entered the work force, aspiring to be the CEO and not the secretary. Women demanded equal access to higher education.  The patriarchy was met with a rising matriarchy that would usher us into a new cultural paradigm.

By the time I was middle-aged, I was eating again and I did gain some weight, healthy weight that made me look like a woman instead of a starving waif. All around me the world was changing and now women have become much more comfortable with their bodies than they were in my generation. Plus, they’re much more comfortable with their smarts and their ambition.  

Yesterday, I walked into the salon where I get my hair trimmed, and my stylist came to greet me in a form fitting, rose-colored dress.  She’s seven months pregnant. She looked beautiful. It’s such a pleasure to see women showing off their baby bellies.  Not that long ago pregnant women were expected to hide their bellies.  I celebrate the change. I celebrate that a woman’s body takes on so many different forms in the course of a lifetime.

Even though women are feeling good about who they are and we’re mentoring younger women to do the same, there is one group that still suffers a poor body image. Too often I hear women my age talk about their bodies in mean and unloving ways. They lament the loss of muscle tone, curse sagging skin, and try to cover arms and legs that used to turn golden in the summer months — an attempt to hide what they think has grown unattractive. They criticize a natural process that is part of the cycle of life.  

I’m the first to admit that I too mourned the loss of my younger years. That’s just part of the process. I understand the grief of losing one’s youth. And I understand not wanting to succumb to the inevitable. Part of that is a fear of mortality and part of it is that we lose our way in loving ourselves, because there still exists a false standard of what beauty is.

Beauty for an older woman is a truly natural state.  It is health. It’s joy. It’s the happiness of living long enough to tell the tale. Wisdom is beautiful and earning the title of elder is beautiful.  Those definitions must be what we strive for in these silver years. 

I recently joined a Facebook page made up of a couple of thousand women who are letting their hair go grey.  I’ve tried, but I keep adding streaks.  But after scrolling through the posts on that page, I was inspired by the self-acceptance and self-love that these women possessed.  I made another appointment with my stylist in a couple of weeks and I’m going to ask her to help me transition to grey.

I want young women to understand that their value in life has nothing to do with the size or shape of their body.  “Ignore the advertising industry standards,” I tell them. They’re toxic and unrealistic.  This morning though, I realized that the conversation I’m having with the younger generation is a conversation that I need to be having with myself.  My value and my significance does not rest in how toned my muscles are, or whether or not I sag in places that I didn’t used to. Or my weight.  And regardless of softer arms that have lost most of their definition, I want to wear sleeveless tops and shorts in the summer months.

I believe in health and in supporting each other to be healthy. I believe in the power of self-love.  And I know that self-love not only heals our own selves, it shines as a light to others.

How do you feel about your body as you grow older? Please share your precious thoughts with me in the comment section.

Posted in A Day In the Life

Does Aging Really Suck?

I was talking to a woman the other day who told me that she and all of her friends think that getting older sucks. Her mind set was the opposite of my own. We all deal with this phase of life differently.  Some people go into it with a smile on their face and a heart full of gratitude and others dig in their heels, incensed that they are losing their physical beauty as well as flexibility and strength in their bodies.  They may be taking care of an older parent, whose physical and mental changes seem daunting and frightening to them, and that can certainly color the way that we view getting older.

My close friends and I are all still planning hikes and trips, bike rides and book groups.  But I don’t want to sugar coat it.  Even though we are living full and robust lives, aging is set against a backdrop of loss. Connective tissue grows brittle. Physical beauty wanes.  Friends, siblings and parents pass away. People we know and love get sick and succumb to a greater vulnerability.  Loss takes up a home, right next to the love in our hearts.

Still, this is the best time in history to grow old:  In our parent’s generation, if you broke your hip, you were consigned to a wheel chair.  Today we can replace body parts like car parts.  Seniors are living active, vibrant lives due to new knees or new hips.  My neighbor across the street had a stroke a couple of months ago.  Within 40 minutes of that stroke, the emergency room gave her a drug that reversed most of the stroke’s effects and prevented worse damage.  The outcome?  She had six weeks of physical therapy and some exhaustion to deal with from the trauma. Now, it’s like she never had a stroke.  Medical advancements contribute greatly to the quality of an older life.

What you think and how you talk to yourself determines how you feel:  We know that what we eat determines how our body feels.  Food creates certain chemicals in our body.  You won’t feel very good if you’re drinking sodas all day and eating sugar and carbs with nary a vegetable in site. 

Similarly, what we feed our minds also creates chemicals in our body. Self-talk that berates age and the aging process, will not help us to feel good about life.  Attitude counts.

Physical Activity:  My husband’s favorite advice about aging is to “keep moving.”  Walking everyday, yoga, Pilates, biking, dancing, anything that gets us out into our community to move helps us to feel good.  Exercise increases blood flow, gets our heart rate up and strengthens our lungs.  We benefit from the endorphins released during exercise that helps to stave off depression.

Meditation and Prayer:  As I grow older, I notice that my prayers tend to be more about “thank you,” than asking for things. Maybe I’ve finally learned that God is not a cosmic bellhop. Whether it’s prayer, meditation or conscious breathing practices, some form of deep stillness everyday contributes to an overall sense of well-being.

Letting go: Letting go is the antidote to the sense of loss that youth has abandon us. And, letting go is the encouragement we give to a younger generation with whom the hope of the future rests. The shedding of thoughts and attitudes that don’t nourish our heads and hearts can unburden our creativity and our sense of wonder.

Curiosity and Engagement:  The world is an interesting place, but we need to be involved. Women’s and men’s groups, book groups, film groups, church groups and classes are readily available. We can learn a foreign language if we want to.  The library provides any book on any topic and also has an array of free classes.  We can knit or garden or walk the dog. Aging with a positive outlook depends upon the lens through which we see the world, and curiosity offers a beautiful overview.

We cannot change the events in our life.  Things happen. We might get sick or injured in older age. But sickness and injury can happen when you’re younger too.  Regardless of how we face the years, we have control over our attitudes.  We can make gratitude and kindness a daily practice. We can engage with our real and digital communities and our families in ways that inspire us to keep trying to be better people.

Life is so precious in this third chapter precisely because we are vulnerable; because of the expiration date stamped upon our souls.  But I find comfort in the fact that I can can change and grow spiritually and psychologically until the day I die.

Knowing that we are in the last chapter, shouldn’t we come to peace with our selves and the world by nourishing gratitude, kindness and love in our lives? Shouldn’t we go out like shooting stars, having lived as fully as we could, until we’ve wrung every last bit of joy from our lives? That’s one choice. The other is, that getting older sucks.

Posted in A Day In the Life

In Praise of the Healthy Kitchen

Cooking is a sacred art to me.  It’s an act of love.  It’s a gratitude and awareness practice, that requires thoughtfulness and care in order to be done well.  I’m not looking for convenience in my kitchen as much as I’m looking for ways to celebrate the earth’s bounty and the gift of health.  That requires a little bit of slowing down so that I can enjoy the experience and process of creating a good meal.

Eating food is the single biggest chemical reaction that happens in your body in the course of the day.  If you want to demonstrate cause and effect to your self, nothing is more profound than the correlation between what you eat and how you feel.  Eat carbs smothered in cheese with nary a vegetable in sight and chances are you are going to feel sluggish and achy.  Eat fresh food, prepared sanely (i.e. no deep fat frying or over cooking innocent vegetables), and you’re probably going to feel more alert and healthy.

The other day I was shopping at Central Market in Austin, and there was a table of fresh, local, organic tomatoes that made me realize that I don’t eat many raw veggies in the winter months.  I always feel more energized and focused when I’m eating a wide variety of veggies, especially raw ones.  So, I was inspired to buy ingredients for gazpacho. Gazpacho is a cold soup, usually eaten in the summer months.

Even though it’s February, I decided that the gazpacho would be a super-healthy breakfast for the coming week.  If you serve it with a half of an avocado and a hard-boiled egg, it’s the ultimate way to start a healthy day.  And here’s the magic of this soup with Spanish origins:  It’s a low-calorie, nutrition dense food, filled with fiber, minerals and anti-oxidants. No wonder I feel so great when I eat it.

Here’s how to make it:

Wash the following veggies and cut them into chunks:

2 sweet tomatoes                              2 carrots (don’t peel em)

1-2 green scallion                             3-4 stalks of celery

a cup or so of jicama                       7-8 mini-peppers in assorted colors

a handful of fresh parsley               1 unpeeled cucumber

In batches, pulverize everything in a food processor and transfer the pulverized veggies to a bowl. I use a Tupperware bowl with a lid because I’ll store it this way in the fridge.

When you have pulverized all the veggies, squeeze in ½ lime. The lime adds some flavor, but will also keep the gazpacho fresh tasting.

The final step is to pour a quart bottle of Knudsen’s Very Veggie over the pulverized vegetable mix and stir. I like the low sodium Very Veggie because vegetables naturally contain sodium, and you get a cleaner and more distinct flavor if you don’t over-salt.

Chunk up a half of an avocado and put it in a bowl. Ladle the soup over the avocado.  I have friends that like to add a dash of Tabasco.

For breakfast, I love to eat a bowl of this along with a hard-boiled egg on the side. It’s the complete meal – veggies, protein and a good fat.

The soup is best served chilled, but when I make a fresh batch, I just eat it at room temperature and it’s great.

Refrigerate the leftover gazpacho in a covered container.

When you cook for yourself, it’s an act of self-love.  When you cook for others it’s a celebration of life. 

Posted in A Day In the Life

2019!

            Happy 2019!

New Year’s Day: Even if you don’t make resolutions, which I don’t, there’s a feeling of freshness and excitement about starting a new year that makes us want to be better people.  I like having New Year’s Day as a holiday. It’s a good day to prioritize and set up a pattern for the coming year.

Priorities: Recently I read a post by my favorite psychologist, Benjamin Hardy (if you don’t know who he is, look him up). He wrote about the concept of prioritizing. I’m paraphrasing him when I share: “If you have more than three priorities, you’re not really prioritizing.”  That keeps it simple, doesn’t it? For me, priorities really have to do with lifestyle.  My three priorities for this year are the same as they were for last year:  I write every morning. I walk or do Pilates every afternoon. And I prepare one great, healthy meal a day for my husband and I.  That’s it and it won’t trip me up by being out of reach.

 Goals and the Magic of Consistency:  Goals are a different animal. They’re like New Year’s resolutions in that they can become unmanageable. If they get too big, too many, too fast, after a couple of days I can’t meet any of them, so I abandon them. I learned a long time ago that goals are best done in bite size chunks, because it’s easier to experience success with a small goal that takes just a day or a few weeks to accomplish.

For example, I work on a novel length manuscript every year, but I only set monthly goals for it.  This January, one of my goals is to complete research and preparation on the next novel so that I can start writing prose in February.  The goal of pounding out a novel in a month or writing an article every day aren’t in my program, because too often I’ve experienced failure with goals like that.  The consistency of one step at a time, one page, one good article will get me to where I’m going. When I attain priorities and meet little goals, it builds confidence, and confidence has far-reaching, positive effects on everything.

Dreams:  I like to dream big. I dream about publishing houses that want my work and an agent who gets me and wants to help me. I dream about having all the energy I need to complete novels and articles for the time ahead. I dream about writing for Texas Monthly. I dream about long and healthy years with my husband. And I dream about the success of my 2020 release of A Delightful Little Book On Aging.  Dreams are not goals, but surrender to their largesse and vision is crucial to prioritizing and setting attainable milestones.

Balance: I’m at a time of life where I want to focus less on accomplishment and more on the gratitude of experience, but that doesn’t mean that accomplishment isn’t important to me.  In addition to priorities, goals and dreams, I take note of what feels nourishing and creates balance in my life. 

As a writer, I spend a lot of time in my head. So balance means being in life.  Again, it’s real simple: I take walks with my husband. We enjoy sitting on the front porch with our dog and watching our neighborhood.  Side by side, with our hands wrapped around cups of tea, we take in our world. Just being in the experience of sunshine or gray, kids who are throwing a ball and laughing in the cul-de-sac, making note of who is pruning roses or cleaning a garage. . . I relish “being” in this world, on this little block, in this community, watching life happen. This is my balance and it fills me with appreciation.

I always start the New Year by affirming that this is going to be a great year. This is going to be a healing year. In spite of the infection that nibbles away at Washington and the world, there are good things happening too. I can’t forget that. None of us should. There are things and people to get enthusiastic about. Humanity has not lost its way. I know, because I’ve seen the best of humanity from my front porch.

I’m excited about living another year. I’m excited about being in life. I’m grateful. I’m excited about witnessing the neighborhood kids grow another inch. And I’m excited about priorities and goals that I’ve set forth, balanced by a nourished and loving heart. Life is good.

            May 2019 be a great year for us all.  HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone!

Posted in A Day In the Life

Looking for Kinky Friedman

top of wood table and party light of bokeh in bar at night backgroundMy decision was really a whim. I didn’t think it through — I just knew that I wanted it. “I’m on a quest,” I told my husband and my friends, “to meet Kinky Friedman.”

It seemed like a good goal, given that we were moving to Austin, Texas. This was the place where Kinky had once made his stand. As I started to put things into boxes, Kinky bumped against something in my brain and I became obsessed with him. This was more than just a quest, it was an invitation from my psyche.

When we decided to make the move, it was because of the smoke that clogged our little valley in the summer months. For the past weeks, I couldn’t see, couldn’t breath for all that smoke. I became sick and sluggish. I felt trapped and stuck, but not just physically. I felt that way about my writing. And I felt that way about the unrelenting scandal, corruption and wreckage that filled the national news. I think the whole country was experiencing idiot fatigue, the kind of weariness that comes from so many grown-up men giving away their nuts. The result was a sickening lack of courage to stand up for anything, let alone the “right thing.” The move to Austin was a yet unformed promise of liberation from all thing blocking my view. It gave me hope, and a reason to unplug from the news. I’d pack up the television and lose myself in the whimsy of finding Kinky Friedman.

People asked me over and over again, “Why Austin?” I didn’t have much of an answer. I said things like, “They have a great music scene. I like the rolling hills. Warm weather is appealing to these old bones.” But I didn’t really know why Austin. Was it because I might possibly find Kinky Friedman? Could I be drawn to Austin because of a greater rising that was beginning to happen in the Lone Star state — a new nation being birthed, while I again, was experiencing a rebirth, too?

Once, a long time ago, when I was a 20-something, I’d met Kinky. He brushed by me in the hallway at NBC studios. I worked for a television show called The Midnight Special. It was on at 11:30 on Friday nights, hosted by Wolfman Jack, who started out each show with a deep, booming declaration: “Let the midnight special shine its ever lovin’ light on you.”

Armed with a hit record, Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jew Boys were guests on The Midnight Special. They sang irreverent songs with political overtones. All messages are made more palatable through the activism of laughter. His popular anthem, They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore, was a memorable sing-along ode to anti-racism. That was long before any of us could imagine MTV, cable television or the likes of a Stephen Colbert. I’d thought that Kinky was hysterically funny. But he was also brilliant, a Mark Twain of the times, dressed up in the 1970’s. He said and sang what was on his mind, without worry about what others thought. He was genuine. And I wanted to possess that same kind of smart, funny, edge that made him so interesting. There was a time when I had it, when I felt it.

In that part of my life, I drank hard and stayed up all night listening to music. I wrote poetry and lyrics. I wrote my first short stories with a sharp wit that wasn’t afraid to make fun of things in the word that seemed hypocritical or otherwise disingenuous. There was in me a sense of wild mischief and quirk. But as the years went by, I started to care too much about what other people thought of me, how I was seen. I tried harder than anyone I’d ever met to “get my act together.” The result was that I broke off that wild and quirky piece of myself and buried along the road somewhere. I developed a sense of pride that I’d worked my ass off to become a responsible, upstanding citizen and contributing member of the community. So I forgot about Kinky, except to note he was still making music, and had also became a novelist who cranked out a lot of murder mysteries.

Life happens on more than one level at a time. Moving to Austin was now part of a search for the edgy kid of my 20’s. It was also a bold statement of my 60’s. Hubby and I saw this as a great adventure — doing a huge interstate move at a time when most people are downsizing, simplifying and slowing. I’ve taken risks before and the risks were always worth it, even when I seemingly failed. It wasn’t that I wanted to relive that earlier time, but I knew it was crucial for me to pull it forward to where I was now. Kinky Friedman became my symbol for that, a light that would help me rediscover that sense of wild again.

So where to look for this 74-year-old Texas icon? A bar in Austin? His animal preserve in San Antonio? To start, I bought his book, Armadillos and Old Lace. That might give me a clue. Then, I started to think about what I would say to him if I actually found him.

I pictured myself sitting in a bar in Austin, ordering a soda water and lime, and pretending that it was vodka on the rocks. I imagined leaning forward and asking the bartender if he knew who Kinky Friedman was. I’d tell him that I was on a quest to meet the musician, writer, and political activist. The bartender would nod toward a stage, where outlined in the smoky haze would be a guy tuning a guitar with a cigar in one hand.

I’d walk up to the stage. “Do you remember being on The Midnight Special in the 1970’s?” I’d ask. “Do you remember the young secretary on the show back then, the kind of funny one?”

He’d shake his head no and look perplexed.

“I guess it doesn’t matter if you remember her or not, I’m just looking for her, is all . . .”

“You might check somewhere down that road between happiness and despair,” he’d say, quoting one of his novels.

Then again, the bartender might just shrug at my question and say, “Everyone knows who Kinky Friedman is.” When pressed, he’d answer that he’d “never met the guy personally.” And I’d walk away remembering that I had met him personally, once when I was of a quicker wit, a faster step, and sharper edge. It was back in the days when the vodka in my glass would have been real and irreverent poetry was the prayer on my lips.