Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Is Age Just A Number?


The impervious feeling of youth is a delicious drunk of newness and firsts: first apartment, first true love, first heartbreak; the delight of garage sales and thrift shops, that furnish the backdrop upon which one begins to build a life, blissfully unaware of the baggage of childhood that follows them into independence and self-sufficiency. In my twenties, I surfed in the mornings with Bernie, napped in the afternoons and then waited cocktails at night to pay for a life style that was both joyous and fraught with uncertainty as well as longing and idealism. All that created its own kind of pain and regret. No one escapes the wrong turns, but instead we seem to spend our lifetime burrowing into the core of what ails us before we find the gifts within the inevitable ruin.

At twenty something, I swung my long, gangly legs over the precipice of the 1970’s, watching Viet Nam unwind. The grainy television images of so much human destruction were soon to be replaced by Nixon and the exposure of con and corruption that would define the word “sensational” for decades to come. And as twenty marched ahead into thirty, I realized one day how difficult it was to pay the rent, and repair the car and I had new empathy and understanding for my mother, who worked at a time when the cartoon character of a wolf chasing a nubile secretary around the desk wasn’t that far off the mark.

While the twenties, for many of us underscored a time of adventure and ideals, the thirties was of time of finding a comfortable position within the grip of unrelenting responsibility. Overtime at my work place became a way of life, a badge of proof that I was committed and in the game for the long haul. I bought my first “new” couch and read T.S. Eliot, Yeats and May Sarton for leisure. I wrote in dozens of spiral bound notebooks– an attempt to discover who I was and who I was becoming, and whether or not I had just put on the costume of adulthood without really checking out what I was wearing. Thirty gnawed the bones of idealism and free-spiritedness, replacing the hunger for those things with “want.” Want is a thorn in the foot of human condition, a lusting and longing for those things or people just out of our reach; a strange coming to grips with a shadow of greed, that if we are honest, dogs us until we wrestle it to the ground and learn to balance it with a generous heart.

When I turned 40, I had a realization that life was just a series of stories and somehow we were all connected by those stories. By then I was married, with a choice to remain childless, but with a passion for creating business and a raw and reckless spirit, still wild from my surfing days that allowed me to take the risks necessary to be an entrepreneur. And having a partner with which to play that out remains one of the great satisfactions of my journey. The time of work and creation was marked by this decade and the joke of “over the hill” was really more about the pinnacle of the hill and the overview provided from the vantage point of focus and determination.

Fifty saw the departure of my mother and though I felt beyond independent and accomplished when she left, her absence was piercing in a way I could not have anticipated. She lingers still, her hands seeming like they are mine, veined with age. I catch glimpses of her in the mirror, a face layered over my own as I brush my hair. Life is shorter than you think.

So in my sixties now, the question of age as a number and whether that means anything or not? It means everything. Age is a marker, the signs that dot the highway that tell you how far you have come. Age is a container for the experiences that push us forward and challenge us to unfold. Age is a reminder that physical strength lessens with the years and beauty fades. Whether or not we like it or want it, age is what pulls us to our knees while it knights us with the sword of humility and hard-won wisdom. What lies beyond? In my twenties, I could not sit still in the morning hours, knowing that the surf was up. Forty years later finds me on my deck, holding a cup of tea and easing into the day as I marvel at how the apples on the tree in my yard have gone from green to red and are becoming larger in the summer sun. The cycle of beginnings and endings are everywhere around me in nature. In my heart I let go of memories that are stitched with pain and discomfort. They drop like apples from the tree. I like to recall instead the touchstones of surfing and careers and a life education that was beyond divine. I revel in the partnership of a marriage, now tender and softened with grey.

I embrace the years, each decade a lamp unto the soul, lighting the way into becoming human. The striving for some sense of self-honesty and awareness, for a sensuous breeze in which to throw back my head and close my eyes as life takes me; this has made the journey purposeful. To paraphrase Mr. Yeats: “I am an old woman with a dry mouth, waiting for the rain.”

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Waiting for the Snow

iStock_000004021694XSmallGrey clouds graze the mountaintops as they slowly creep into the valley, fingers extended toward the east with dark and ominous reach, the promise of a storm. There is stillness to the air, a smell of snow, marked by gusts of stinging wind that redden the cheeks. Hands tucked into my warm gloves tell me with an ache in my finger joints, that snow and freeze are coming. I wanted to get out early today, before the cold wrapped its icy cloak around my world.

A special kind of foolishness has compelled me in the past to make the drive to my favorite trail when the roads are slick from a freezing snow–New snow, beautiful snow, beckoning like a siren’s song and speaking to the wild of my heart that feels the need to pay homage to the pristine blanket of white.

This morning I am alone on the trail, with a faithful Labrador that runs circles around me and searches with unrelenting fervor for the great treasure of abandon tennis balls. My boots beat against a trail still recovering from the floods in the fall. It is scarred by deep rivulets in places where the water is not supposed to go. Weeks of constant hiking boots and dogs have hardened the ground and worn away some of the more damaged places. I wonder if the large cracks will fill with snow and harden with ice, somehow healing the trail for spring.

I am a hardy woman, giving myself to winter’s descent, in a walking dance to Persephone. Anticipating the ice of winter with its lacy beauty that will web and string its way through the now dried grasses, and adorn the sage with Snow Queen crowns. I try to commit to memory the trees that stand in silhouette, their gnarled hands against infinity and palms toward the heavens, waiting for the snow. All the seasons in this place are my church, allowing for long conversations of the heart, adoring and worshiping the mountains and the stillness of a lake that reflects the rocky giants in its mirror.

Strong legs carry me around the lake and back to the farmer’s ditch, which is mostly empty now, save for the small pools of water that provide a moment’s reprieve for a couple of  geese. As I age, I find myself rushing toward these images; drinking in their splendor  with an unquenchable thirst, while simultaneously feeling myself receded from the vitality of such moments. I am an older woman now, standing at the edge of my winter, punctuated by morning reverie in this temple of impending snow.


Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Hear No Evil and Not Much Else Either

iStock_000015756375XSmallDaily Prompt: Hear No Evil – a WordPress “daily prompt”
Tell us about a conversation you couldn’t help but overhear and wish you hadn’t.

My prose teacher at college lived an artist’s life. I am not going to name her or my college, because I adored her. But…she was part of what I called the “angry poets and suffering artists” group– politically correct and wildly self-righteous about it. A socially liberal and fiscally conservative misanthrope like myself didn’t stand a chance in that environment. They, meaning most of my instructors at the time, would probably cringe to think that a former student saw them in such a way, but it is liberating to state it now, and I doubt that any of them read this blog.

Anyway, back to my prose teacher, a woman who taught me to appreciate the basics of reading and writing in a whole new wonderful way. She demanded a constant stream of short stories and journal entries that all seemed like they were due within hours of the assignment. She also had an ongoing exercise that all of her students were required to do, regardless of the class.  Every one of her students carried a small notebook–the kind that fits into a purse or your back pocket. The instructions were to write down snippets of conversations that you heard in the coffee shop or at the grocery store or wherever. Obviously you did this covertly and without intrusion.

Each week we all sat around and shared what we had recorded in our notebooks. The idea was to develop an ear for real dialogue. People speak much more inanely than what writer’s tend to conjure. Most of the conversations that I strained to hear, went something like this:

“Mama, can I have this?”

“Put that back.”

“Nooooo, mama!”

“Put that back right now”

“Arrggggh mama” — As the mother steps over the child screaming on the floor in the grocery store aisle, pretending that it is not hers.

I hoped for meatier conversations, but they just never came my way. Restaurants were always the best, because you could sit in a booth behind someone and have a tabletop to put your notebook on and write down what you heard. Once I heard a very upset man telling a woman that his hedgehog had died. I didn’t know if he was talking about a car or an animal and unfortunately he spoke so softly, I couldn’t hear all that much to of the conversation.

The other day I was getting my hair cut and I heard this from a woman with a dog:

“Don’t take it personally, he is much more interested in the food than he is in you. Can you sit Rosco? Can you sit?”

I waited for the dog to answer, but it never did.

The exercise of listening to how people speak is more difficult now than it was when I was in college. Everyone is texting or tweeting and I sometimes wonder what would happen if all of our cell phones just died one day and we had to look up, look into someone’s eyes and try to communicate. It would certainly make eavesdropping easier.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

A La Natalie Goldberg

Natalie Goldberg
Natalie Goldberg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember—my first class with Bobbie Louise Hawkins, how she did timed writing and sang Natalie Goldberg’s praises. We wrote for 10 minutes in notebooks in a day before laptops were part of the college scene in a day before the inanity of Facebook and Tweeting. We were a small rag-tag bunch of wanna-be writers who huddled in cold classrooms, four or six of us at a time, accountable to one another for our participation in classes so small that if someone dropped out of the dialogue, there was a lull and we all jumped down their throat for it later.

We spent Friday evenings at Penny Lane, chain smoking and drinking coffee, notebooks in front of us. We applauded for the people that got up and read their poetry, offering support while scrutinizing the words and how they were strung together.

When I was graduated, Bobbie Louise gave me a copy of “Writing Down the Bones,” with the inscription, “I expect great things from you.” I lost contact with her when life intervened. I interviewed Allen Ginsberg before he died for a small paper in Aspen. I wrote a couple of short stories for the Aspen Writer’s conference and then I went about the business of being a wife and nesting, coming eventually to partner my husband in business. I felt like I had let Bobbie Louise down. There were no great things coming from me.

I continued to keep spiral notebooks of writing but after awhile the writing became less and less.

Somewhere near the intersection of 60 and holy crap, I rediscovered the me that sat at Penny Lane listening to poetry; the me that went to student films at the art center and I pulled out those spiral notebooks only to discover that I had actually written a lot more than I thought in the years when I wasn’t writing. I began again in earnest. Timed Writing, new Natalie Goldberg books because now she had been writing about and teaching writing for 20 years. And I started giving away what was in my heart. That was a big part of my education at Naropa: community service with whatever you talent skill or ability was. So I started teaching creative writing in the jail at Jefferson County where I discovered that you couldn’t help anyone.

I remember learning that you can inspire and cajole. You can suggest and teach, but ultimately whether or not someone takes your help is on them and you are not part of that story. There was a young woman—Jessica. She had spent a year at Jeffco jail for meth use. She had energy and enthusiasm and I thought I could help her. I wanted to help her. I set up contacts at Naropa for her to call when she got out. I emailed Natalie Goldberg and told her about my student and Natalie arranged for a scholarship to a writer’s workshop. When I knew Jessica was getting out, I gave her a copy of “Writing Down the Bones,” with the inscription similar to Bobbie’s.

She never called anyone and three months later she was back at Jeffco. Naropa had become a place for trust fund babies and gone were the days of starving student writers who wore their angst like proud badges of courage. Jessica may never have found any comfort there.

I remember that I write because I love it. Sometimes I remember that it’s a discipline and other times I remember that it is a compelling inspiration. Still other times I remember that it is the doorway into my examined life, a painting with words that portrays who I have been, who I am and who I am still becoming.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Memoirs Of A Telephone Wire

English: Mobile phone evolution Русский: Эволю...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

A Hallway Full of Doors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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