Category: Uncategorized

I Am Atlas

My eyelids weigh 1000 pounds.
Akin to Atlas, the world is my eyelids.

I went to bed last night hoping they would be lighter this morning, but it isn’t so.

Caffeine, the alcohol of fatigue, has failed to artificially convince them they are light and beautiful.

Lumps of clay, unable to be spun into any sort of vase or vessel or anything useful. Just big, gray, heavy blobs of clay.

It takes all my strength to hold them up. If all my efforts are keeping my eyes open, how do I get my tasks done? My life done? I am afraid to rest even one weary arm, sure that if I do, the lid will fall and stay closed forever.

That will not do.

It rains around me, and still I cannot let go. I hope the rain stops before I drown like this, holding my eyes open instead of treading water and staying afloat.

What a choice to have to make.

Drown or let the sun go down.
It’s true, the lifeguard may save me. It’s true, the sun may rise again tomorrow. On which shall I lay my hopes? Would that the gods Who have me holding this weight would tell me which cure will lighten the burden. I am without a clue.

For now, I keep my hands up, supporting the heavy gray masses. I watch the water rise and keep my chin up to breathe.

I believe I can hold it for

One more day.
One more hour.
One more minute.
I can do this.
I can do this.
I can do this.

Where is Willy Wonka When You Need Him?

Every woman knows that when she is feeling depressed, sad, hormonal, lonely, angsty, or just blah, there is one thing that will perk her up instantly. Lots of men know this secret too. And there is science to back it up. Bars, drops, kisses, chips, or even melted in hot milk, chocolate can make you feel better when nothing else will. Your body responds to it with endorphins and good memories and sugar rush. Mr Hershey knew what he was doing when he got into the chocolate biz. It’s not just a commodity, it’s a flat-out need. And there will always be a need.

Chocolate soothes and balms the mind body connection when there is too much hurt or sadness or stress running thru. It is the quintessential happy pill, and used as directed, its only side effect is a few moments of guilt (Maybe a little extra if it happens to be Lent,) when you remember you’re only supposed to consume 1200 calories today. It is perfection. Especially if you skip over the cheap stuff and go straight for the Ghirardelli. Sad no more, your belly and brain share a contented smile as the rich, brown valium-ish diffuses in your cells.

Lately, tho, I’ve been feeling something a bit beyond the usual stress and loneliness. A bit more than the usual undercurrent of my depression water table. Just like the geological water table, the levels rise and fall depending on the length and frequency of the rainstorms passing thru. It’s been raining like hell for a while now, and the well is overwhelmed. Like a good Earth Scientist, I realize these things happen in waves and that eventually the rain will subside and the flowers will be brighter in the spring for it. But one still has to survive the storm.

If the rain were, in fact, a literal thing, i’d be putting up sand-sack barriers, setting out cisterns (to store for later), getting the important things to higher ground. And, if it were reality, true to my own self, i’d be doing it unemotionally and efficiently, making the best of it by making up songs and stories like some comical village shanachie. And when I was ready to sit for a spell, i’d find myself some Reisen or a fudgy brownie with walnuts. And i’d know it was going to be ok.

But in this figurative state, Cadbury won’t cut it.

I need existential chocolate.

I have found things that come close: An outdoor nap, a walk on the beach, puppy and kitty cuddles, pretty much any song by Paul Williams. These come close. Existential Russell Stover, maybe. They soothe a bit, but they don’t quite take the pain away. There is really only one thing that does, and it is rarer than any gemstone.

Real and true love.

The certainty, deep down inside, that another human cares for you, all of you, as much as they do for themselves. That they wish and pray for your happiness as if it is their own. The one whose contact remains electric even when the battery is old and dusty and depleted. The one whose lips, like a metaphoric Hershey’s kiss, take the bucket of the well and reel it back up to the top. The one whose hugs bail bucket after bucket until the water is below your chin. Emblematic M&Ms. Existential chocolate.

If you are lucky enough to have found that one being who can coat all your shorted wires like the best Godiva ganache, then you have found the answer to life, the universe and everything (42 truffles, anyone?). It will protect you from rushing water, elevate you over the floodplain, and fill your tanks for the next drought. And you will know without a doubt that everything will be ok. True Love is existential chocolate. The substance that makes it all better.

That is what I need.

Unfortunately, Target doesn’t sell it. Not even in the candy aisle. No amount of Facebook chain prayers will make it appear. No Amazon sweat shop can fabricate it. I can’t borrow one from Sallie Mae. And it’s not like you can find a used one on eBay. So, no denotative Dove bar for me.

At least not today. Who know what tomorrow holds? For now tho, I must make do with actual chocolate. Not a cure-all, but at least a Band-Aid. And if that isn’t enough to keep my head above water, perhaps I will take the advice of Miracle Max: A nice MLT, when the mutton is nice and lean and the tomatoes are ripe…

I Do Declare!

I, the Mab. In order to form a more perfect soul, establish self-justice, ensure sane tranquility, provide for self-defense, promote my family’s welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for myself and my weedlings, do ordain and establish this constitution of, for, and by myself.

So I was given a writing prompt to try. I’m supposed to write a declaration of independence. Yes, I realize that I stole from the preamble to The Constitution, but lets just excuse the mixed metaphor for now, ok?

My last year before 50. I’ve done a lot in my life, but before I turn my personal clock past half a century, there are things I want to change. I’m not much of one for miracle cures. Rather, I would just try and fail and accept it as fate, or proof that I was incapable. Screw that. Other people do it. Why can’t I? And this year, I will. I will plan and undertake and adjust. I will make my life closer to what I want.

I will adjust my career to get me on the right path towards my eventual goal. I have passed by many opportunities, afraid of being turned down, or believing that I wasn’t worthy. There were some that I passed by because I knew they would require a lot of work. And there were some that I passed on because the logistics seemed impossible. I have opportunities coming my way soon, and I will seize them with both hands and make the move toward a better future. (But I really do wish schools would just accept my 25 year old GRE scores.)

I will take better care of my health. I will eat regularly and healthy. I will walk daily. I will drink water. I will listen to my body and do as it requires: Sleep, Meditation, Exercise, Brainwork. By doing this, I will keep my body and my brain in better condition. Laziness for me becomes an instigator of depression, and I’ve had too much of that already. I may not be able to slay the beast, but I’ll keep him in his cage. And if I’m lucky, he won’t howl too loudly.

I will indulge my spirituality. I will stoke the embers of my faith with books and conversations. I will listen with open mind and open heart. I will accept the wisdom of others. I will let it fill me to the brim so that my self-defeating nonsense has nowhere to reside.

I will cut myself loose of unsolvable worries and excess “stuff”. I will use less and buy less and invest more in time and people. Or time with people. Relationships. Experiences. I have plenty of clothes, movies, coffee cups, gewgaws. (Note: Yarn and books are excluded from the list on purpose. I may be resolved, but I am also realistic.) This is the year to bring out the Buddhist in myself, and I’m not talking about the belly.

I will write more. I will listen more. I will learn more. I will read more.

I will talk less. I will waste less. I will complain less. I will yell less.

I will stop worrying about my possible pending crazy-cat-lady-dom. Lets face it, I’ve already been there and done that, so why fear it? I know I can rock it if I need to. Besides, it will lend some marketing legitimacy to my tarot reading skills.

I will find my long-lost belief in love. I had it once, but it was so long ago that it is probably lying mildewed and moth-eaten in some figurative trunk in the part of my brain that houses the Periodic Table and the rules of backgammon. I just need to find it. And air it out. Darn a hole or two. Repair a seam or three. And bleach the shit out of it. Lots and lots of bleach.

There you have it. I’ve spent too much time as of late playing defense. Time to get offensive! (No, in the other way… I’ve already got that way covered.) Blaze a path toward my quinquagenarian years. (Yes, that is a real word. But I had to look it up.) I cannot guarantee success for myself. All I can do is promise that I will make the effort. God/Goddess/Universe willing, there will be payoff. Regardless, it’s hard to go backward when walking forward. Unless you’re moonwalking. But I can’t think of another pithy phrase to use, so forget about moonwalking. Just believe me when I say that I will put one foot in front of the other and make my way down the path. And I hope you will join me. After all, journeys are much more fun with companions.

The Thirteenth Side

Sometimes there’s a big difference between perception and reality. When you get a text from a friend saying, “Where are you?” and you instantly panic because you think you’ve forgotten something important…. But the reality is, they are hoping you’re at Walmart because they are out of toothpaste and have a hot date in an hour. Or when, at dinner in Naples, you think you are impressing everyone with your foreign language skills by asking for the check in Italian, only to be quietly and politely told by the server that you actually asked for freight charges. (To be fair, we did eat a lot .) We’ve all had moments like this. I personally find them amusing. In fact, I often entertain myself by considering reality versus perception. Since I am both relaxed and chatty this evening, let me show you what I mean…

I’m on my patio sipping a glass of wine while I type. I’m frequently out here this time of day. Usually with a glass of wine (or a toddy in the cooler months). Last night I was crocheting. The time before, I was reading a book. I like to think the passersby are musing to themselves, “Oh look! That lovely cosmopolitan woman is at her café table again. What is she up to this evening? Typing. I wonder what she types? Maybe she is a writer of mysteries or fantasies. Maybe she has a pen name! She looks so chic with her wine glass, sitting in the middle of her little herb garden. One of these days, i’m go to introduce myself to her and her cute little dog.”

But I think there’s a good chance the reality is more like this: “Oh Lord. The wino is outside again. Why does she keep her planters full of weeds? Maybe it is weed. Good grief! And what is it with all the typing??? I’ll bet she’s tattling on all the neighbors. Last night she was out there with her yappy dog and this hideous blanket she is making for some poor bastard. Maybe it’s for the yappy dog. Oh my God, she’s looking this way… Just keep your head down and keep walking.”

Or maybe they are thinking something more like, “There’s the gypsy woman again. Patio covered in herbs and fairy lights. I sometimes see her out there later at night in long, flowy nightgowns. I’ll bet her apartment smells like incense. I wonder what she’s typing? Magic spells? Notes for her next Wiccan gathering? A thesis on Stonehenge? She seems harmless enough. I mean, she caters to that little dog like it’s a child. It’s not like she’s harboring black cats or anything. She could be kind of cool. Maybe we should go say hi.”

Maybe they find me patient and zen. “There’s the woman who lives next to the Moroccans. You know, the noisy ones that hate everybody and stay up all night fighting with each other. I don’t know how she can deal with the caterwauling. She and her dog sit out on the porch in the evening. She sips wine and listens to modern classical music while typing or knitting or whatever. She just seems to ignore the chaos caused by the neighbors. Her dog hates it tho… Always yapping at the kids when they come close to the fence. I see she has a pretty little herb garden. And fairy lights. I love it when she turns the fairy lights on. Makes her patio look so pretty. If it weren’t for her blasted neighbors, i’d go have a glass of wine with her.”

Maybe they enjoy a good story like myself. “There is that crazy dog lady again. Out with her wine and her laptop. I wonder what she’s doing? Probably just cruising Facebook, but wouldn’t it be funny if she were writing porn or something? Like maybe she writes those salacious vampire romance novels. Or gory horror stories. Or violent comic books. She has that great smelling little herb garden and those Christmas lights up, listening to film scores… Kind of reminds me of those eccentric women from Oprah novels. I wonder what she’s doing here? I mean, how did she get here? Do you think she moved here for work? Or maybe she’s on the run from the law. One of these days, we should ask her.”

Or maybe they are caught up in their own lives and the thoughts are far more simple: “There is a woman drinking wine with her dog. I wonder if I have any wine at home?”

They say there are three sides to every story: His side, her side, and the truth. But with enough imagination, there are infinite sides. Some more true than others. Some more entertaining than others. The best stories are the ones that are both true and entertaining. You know what I mean… The kind of story where you have to preface it with, “You can’t make this stuff up…” Except you can. You can make it up. In this stressed out world, very often we need entertainment more than truth. We need imagination more than fact.

So if you pass by my apartment and see me on the patio, wine glass in hand, dog on my lap, the scent of herbs and the sound of The Lord of the Rings surrounding, make up any story you’d like. Make me a spy. Make me a cult fiction writer. Make me a fashion model. (OK, the last one’s a biiiiiiiiiigg stretch.) Make me anything you’d like. Then hop over the fence, grab a chair, and tell me the story. If I like your story better than my reality, maybe I will keep it 😉

He Ain’t Ratty, He’s My Brother…

My daughter’s pet rat, a few times a week, gets an hour or two out of the cage to wander around the apartment. Jeremy Mc RatRat, the rat in question, enjoys this recess and usually spends a lot of it playing with our Chihuahua mix, Siri Eleison. I find this comic, since Chihuahuas are supposed to be ratters, but Siri loves playing with her ratty brother. As i type and watch them play today, i can’t help but smile at their antics.

At first they were playing tag. Siri would chase Jeremy. He’s pretty good at hiding in tiny spaces before she can get to him, but she always eventually does. And then she licks him. He turns around and starts to chase her. They run like frenzied squirrels until Jeremy finally catches up and climbs up on her. Back and forth they go. Over and over. No biting. Just play.

Then they move on to another of their favorite games: Siamese twins. Jeremy gets under Siri and copies her steps as they trek around the apartment. Siri will try to trip him up, changing directions at the last minute or climbing up on things, but Jeremy is a crack player and barely misses a beat. They do this for a while and then take a water break. Siri first, since it’s her bowl. Then Jeremy hikes himself up on hind legs and dips his tiny snout in just like his sister does. It makes me smile, to see him imitate her like this. Like best toddler buddies.

Chronologically, they are toddlers. Siri is maybe 3 years old (We estimate her age because she’s a rescue), and Jeremy is probably a year old. But biologically, their roles are different. In dog years, Siri is in her early 20s. Young and vital and full of energy. In rat years, Jeremy is middle aged. It makes the oomph and vigor he has when playing with Siri even more impressive. He is like a kid when he plays with her, not at all like the sedate snuggler he is when i cuddle him and give him scritchins. At those moments, he appears like a kindly and dotty old granddad. But at playtime, he gives Siri a run for her money and usually tuckers her out.

When one of them, usually Siri, starts to show signs of being tired, i hand out treats. Today, it’s cheeze-its. Jeremy holds his like a giant Wonka bar, nibbling quickly before it gets doggie-snatched. Siri barely chews hers before she swallows like a greedy sow, and then looks to see if she can steal Jeremy’s. And she has. More than once. Just like siblings.

On a rare occasion, they will snuggle together. More often, they will kiss each other while they play. Jeremy is a half pound rat, and Siri weighs 10 pounds, so the sight is like Mutt and Jeff. Once in a blue moon, they get a little overeager and i’ll hear Jeremy squeak. And once, Siri had a suspicious double toothmark on her ear. But considering how long we’ve had them, that’s pretty darned amicable for a rat and a dog.

Ok, i admit that most people wouldn’t let a rat run around their house. I will also admit that when i talk about it, my coworkers start to sing the theme song from the Addams Family. I will even admit that i laugh when they do. But i have to say that it’s pretty cool to see two creatures, enemies by nature, playing like only siblings can. Would that humanity could take a cue from these two and learn to be brothers and sisters instead of rats and Chihuahuas.

Forever Searching For The Queen. 

Have you ever glanced in the mirror and wondered who the person in the reflection was? And how the hell did they get in your mirror?
Every woman has her imaginary persona. Wonder Woman, Gangster Moll, Angie Dickenson. In my fantasy eye, i fancy myself walking the line between elfish sprite and wise crone. I am a woman of mystery, indeterminate age, aura of magic. Sparkle in my eye, scent of allure, element of mischief. Queen Mab. The subject of epic poems and masterful legend. When i close my eyes and drift to sleep, this is who i become.
In the morning, when i awake, some of the act lingers. (Maybe this is why i love mornings so much?) I am confident. I am taller, prettier, stronger. I am masterful.
And then i glance in the mirror.
The best of mornings, i can see some of the Queen behind the facade of reality. I can see that spark. That fairy. The worst of mornings, only the crone stares back at me. And her wisdom is lacking. I look and her and ask, “Where is Queen Mab?” And she responds, “Hell if i know, ” as if the question is both unreasonable and daft. Those mornings plague me. But most mornings, it is a barely fruitful search for the faintest sign of the Queen.
Behind the waning skin that is starting to fold, sometimes Mab, or at least Puck, shines thru. The eyes, tho squinting and soft, still remain clear like a pond in early morning. The smile, tho lined and pale, is still full and warm. The hair… Well, that’s just an exercise in frustration on any day, so lets just ignore the hair. The point is that most mornings, i can at least pick out a peek of the Queen in the way one finds their child in a group graduation picture. “There she is! See that bit of red hair? And the corner of the eye glasses? That’s my daughter! I can tell!”
That is all it takes. Just that little glimpse, and i feel better. Like i haven’t lost it. I haven’t lost that fire. That spark. That Queen. She still resides in me, buried underneath this foreign body that is like an undesirable Halloween costume with a broken zipper. The mask, stuck on my face. Jim Carey, where are you? Take it off! Somebody take it off!
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be 20 again. I was stupid then. Clueless about life and love and everything important. No amount of beauty is worth that kind of impairment. But i would take 40. When the lines were still fine and the sags could be disguised with a tilt of the head. I had some wisdom then, so life was far less frustrating. That would be nice. (Never in my youth did i ever imagine that i’d be wishing to be 40. Never.) But short of a Tardis or Bill and Ted’s phone booth, i don’t think it’s possible.
Yes, i can get a facelift. The doctors can nip and tuck and give me the outward appearance of a woman 10 years younger. They can stretch and staple my appearance to the past. But will it bring back the Queen? Or will it be just another mask? Will i be staring at another group picture, unable to find who i’m looking for because she doesn’t look like i expect? Will the new appearance be more of a real me? Can i fake the Queen like a spray-on tan? Does a picture of a fire still make one feel warm?
Who knows? Like everyone else in this chaotic world, i have more questions than answers. Thank God for the Maya Angelous, Eleanor Roosevelts, and Emmersons of the world or i’d have no wisdom to steal and impart to others. There isn’t much that i can honestly say i’ve figured out on my own. Those insights are about as rare as a “good face day” before the spackle and Bond-O application at my dressing table. But that, THAT, is the mask that i REALLY need. The one of me on my best day. Where do i buy THAT mask? If i could keep that mask in a jar on my dressing table, that would be just perfect. Then, on the days when i can’t find the Queen, i could slap it on and pretend. I’d spend my day on life’s stage playing the part i was born to play. No surgery. No recovery. No costume.  Just me at my best, stolen from another time.
Yah, it’s still fakery. But i’m stealing from myself, and i’m ok with that.
Looking at my reflection right now, i can see the Queen. I usually can when i’m writing. She is the keeper of that part of me and comes with the flow of words. Her wisdom shines thru my crystal eyes, and her lines are both artisticly painted and beautiful. Her fire shows thru my cheeks, and my freckles are making happy constellations. I like it. I hope she stays a while.
I don’t know if there really is a fountain of youth. Neither literal nor figurative. But i suspect that if there is one, it hides somewhere along the river of happiness. Do what we love with ones that we love, the river starts to flow, and the fountain sprays forth. Good breeds more good. Beauty begets beauty. That’s what i think, anyway. All i know for sure is that Mother Nature makes nothing simple, and Father Time is kind of a jerk.

Food, Glorious Food!

I was reading a friend’s blog this morning (http://www.1morespoon.com . Fantastic!) While perusing his recipes, including some of his native Nigerian foods, it struck me how many of the recipes were similar to my own down-home vittles. Opposite corners of the Earth, our roots, and yet so much is the same. The spices change, some of the ingredients, but home recipes are all so much more than just nutrients for our body. All of us crave the emotions of food. The memories of food. The satisfaction of food. Food is familiar. It is necessary. It is story. It is family. It is love. It is comfort.

Comfort foods. We all have them… Those recipes that immediately bring back the warmth and love of home. The ones that make your throat emit those undefinable sounds of gastronomic ecstasy and happiness. Usually, it is some sort of peasant food, since most of us weren’t raised as millionaires. And peasant food usually means cheap ingredients: rice, beans, vegetable ends, pasta. If there is meat, it is the skids: the tail, the toes, the ears, the shins. We take these bits and pieces and we turn them into belly love.

I think food is an underrated educational tool. If you want to teach someone about your culture, make them your comfort food and explain to them why it is what it is. Like a Jewish Passover Seder, each ritual meal tells a story. Our story. And the flavors of that story will stick with our guests long after the meal is over. They will remember the flavor of that unusual spice… What was it again? They will recall the family argument over whether cannellini beans or red beans were more authentic. They will remark to their own family how your people prefer fluffy rice instead of sticky like they do. The similarities and differences between your meal and theirs will make a connection that no Geography book can duplicate.

My cousin and her husband just adopted two beautiful girls from Poland. One of the highlights of the adventure for us observers was the pictures of the art her youngest daughter would make with the contents of her breakfast. As Americans, we are used to breakfasts of cereals, eggs, bacon, etc. The Polish breakfast plate consisted of meats and cheeses and fruits (On a side note, this is also my usual Saturday evening repast… How humorous and heartwarming that i was copying my new cousins’ breakfast!). The smiling faces composed of hams and berries are sweet and intriguing. And yummy. By posting the pictures, we got to see into the world of a girl we have never met. Like all other children her age, the food is a source of amusement as much as sustenance, even if the paint is gouda as opposed to french toast. And i would assume, also like other children her age, there were things that never made it from plate to mouth. A preteen girl is still a preteen girl, regardless of her birthplace, after all.

I have been blessed in my gastronomic life. I have no food allergies, and all of my family are great cooks. And i have had the opportunity to dine in more places and ethnicities than most. I have had all-night meals in beautiful surroundings on the coast of Italy, and i have shared a pot of lentils with other moms and a slew of their weedlings in a dirt lot in Bahrain. I have sipped fine French wines and homemade moonshine. I have tasted expensive caviar and pickled pigs’ feet. I have enjoyed decadent picnics and dubious paper bags of deep fried sea life. And i have savored every experience.

That is not to say that all those things tasted good to me, or even that i would try them again. I would not be the least disheartened if i were told i could never again have cow tongue. Or locust. Or sweetbreads. Or oysters. But the fact that i tried them… That for a moment, i was sharing a a visceral experience with a fellow being… THAT i would not give up for anything. The intimacy of a shared meal is a sacred thing, and it brings us closer to each other in a singular way.

I wonder what the world would be like if we all were made to sit around a family supper table with our enemies before we were allowed to war with them. Even if the experience didn’t convert the hatred, it certainly would be harder to annihilate them. It’s emotionally difficult to shoot someone who just gave you some of their dessert. – Tho one could argue it is easy to want to shoot someone who reached over and took your dessert. Especially if it was your favorite cheesecake. – But assuming we each gave freely, how could we then kill each other? How could i reach across the table with a forkful of my Aunt’s broccoli salad, saying, “Oh my Lord, you MUST try this! It is amazing!”, and then set your home on fire? How could i take my spoon, laden with fresh blackberry-basil sorbet, and raise it to your lips so you could taste heaven, too, and then steal your children? It would require a complete disconnect with humanity. Perhaps that disconnect exists, but i truly hope not.

I wonder if the U.N. has potluck suppers. And if they do, how could i snag an invite? That would be a solid component in my idea of heaven. People of all walks bringing their belly love to each other. Hundreds of versions of beans and rice. Bowls upon bowls of custards and stews. Meat pies galore. And cakes! Just the thought of it makes my heart and soul smile.

As one of my favorite parables goes… In hell, we are all around a supper table resplendent with magnificent food, and 6 foot forks too long to reach our mouths. In heaven, we are under those same conditions, but use those forks to feed each other.

We are the same, MacLeod. We are brothers!

In the movie The Highlander, Ramirez tells MacLeod, ” You are safe only on Holy Ground. None of us will violate that law.” And law it has been, since the beginning of time. This is why you see those heartwarming news photos of Christians forming prayer circles around Muslim meetings, etc. Men and women from all over the globe, especially here in the U.S., have fought with their hearts and lives so that we as human beings can worship/meditate/truth as we are called to. As we need to. Yes, there are laws on the books reflecting this, but it has traditionally been a law of the heart. Of conscience. Of humanity. From what i know of such things, the law remains. It’s our heart, conscience, and humanity that have disappeared.

Nine people murdered. A staggering tragedy in just those three words. Add in the fact that those people were all members of a single race, and the perpetrator a member of a different race. It has become a “Hate Crime”. (By the way, i despise that term, “Hate Crime”. Murder of any kind is a hate crime, isn’t it? It’s not like we murder people for other reasons.)

Next, add in the perpetrator’s age. 21 years old. Barely an adult. And in the footage of him being escorted to a police vehicle, he is smiling. SMILING. He had made the comment in the church that he was doing what he had to do… But his smile seems more apropos to someone who wanted to make himself bigger britches. There are people who will blame this on gun laws and the fact that he owned one. Nonsense. There are thousands of gun owners in Charleston, many just as young as he, and none of them are orchestrating such horror. The violence wasn’t in the gun. It is in his head. The man is sick. And no, that is not an excuse. Just an observation of an adult male, raised and educated in the Land of Opportunity, who takes actions without heart or moral compass.

Now add in the setting. The man, and i use that term loosely, sat with these people, prayed with these people, in a church. Holy ground. The place where we are all supposed to be safe. All throughout history of mankind, churches (and synagogues, and mosques, and temples) have been places of peace. It is where the hungry go to be fed, the homeless go to be sheltered, the broken-hearted go to be healed. Communing with God/Goddess/Universe should be a time when there is no need to watch the door for crazed gunmen. Or, as i read in an article today, “There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture,” (Cornell William Brooks) No greater coward, and no greater violation.

The icing on this accursed cake is the fact that this isn’t the first time a black church has been violated. During the dark periods of our nation’s history, it was “logical” for white supremacists to burn down a black church. If you want to kill black people, go to where they gather without weapons. Machiavelli and Hitler would be proud. The rest of us? We are stabbed straight thru the heart.

Because the rest of us, the bulk of us, anyway, still have a soul. I’m not black. I’m not a Christian. And i’m not from Charleston. But my soul aches for those families. To be honest, i ache for our nation as a whole. Each era has the weak masses, following the indictable leaders like imprinted offspring, abusing the undesirables of the day. Over time, it has gotten easier to stand against the tide of mistreatment and speak up for our assorted neighbors. But one would have hoped that, after all this time, there wouldn’t be a need.

I believe in existential evolution. That, in theory, as our physical selves evolve, so do our minds and spirits. In the face of the Charleston massacre, and the litany of other heartless rampages that have plagued us as a nation, it is difficult to maintain this belief. The overwhelmingly vast majority of people in my life, whether i share their general code of ethics or not, are good people. Honorably intentioned. Truly human. Truly humane. But the regular barrage of bloodthirsty savagery that appears in the news makes me wonder if my friends and acquaintances are representative of the general population, or if i have simply surrounded myself with people whose hearts swell like mine. I know of no one who could walk into a church, sit for prayer, and then slaughter the congregation. It’s as if there are Kurgans among us.

Maybe it’s the media, with it’s greedy eye, that alters my growing dark perception. The joyful stories rarely make it to the headlines. It takes evil and gore to own a time slot. Maybe if journalist gurus gave the angels as much due as the devil, our country wouldn’t seem to be on the fast track to hell without even the benefit of a handbasket. The good in our country surely outweighs the bad. The benefactors outnumber the murderers. The smiles outpower the tears. Humanity usually outshines the merciless. Most of the time, the scale tips to the side of love.

If only it didn’t regularly tip the other way.

Bill Cosby meets The Rifleman

So, today i’m thinking about my Dad. Father’s Day is coming up. And i’m too old to make him a macaroni covered shoebox full of painted pebbles.

Dad has always reminded me more than a little bit of Bill Cosby (Before all the sex allegation stuff). He has the same sense of humor, same fashion sense, same dance moves. But he also reminds me a bit of The Rifleman. He was a cop and then a detective while i was growing up, and i always pictured him as the star of a crime show that only played in my head. And even tho no one else got to watch the crime show, i liked to brag on his stardom. Especially during the times of my life when i didn’t see him much.

Divorce is a rotten thing. Necessary or not, it leaves flotsom and burning oil slicks in its wake. Eventually, the beach may get cleaned, but it is forever altered. I was young when my parents divorced, so i have few memories of my parents as a couple. I don’t remember the beach when it was pristine, or at least unpolluted. And time spent with my dad which was awkward at times, as history has composted the jetsam, has become easier, and the circumstances, more grounded. As we age, hard for both of us to watch and accept, there are things about him that have become sureties for me and my approach to life:

Some things never go out of style. A classic trench coat, leather loafers, pressed shirts, a good haircut. They never fall out of fashion. Men and women both can use this to their advantage. So i always have a few classic pieces. And no man doesn’t look handsome in a shirt and tie… Even if he isn’t a cop, or in uniform, or carrying a service revolver, or wearing a Trooper’s Stetson. Tho those things definitely add a certain je ne sais quoi.

It’s all about the seasoning. My father is a fabulous cook. Especially with food he has caught hunting or fishing. And he rarely uses anything that isn’t found in the common larder. I presume this is from years of taking his turn cooking in the hunting lodge. That being said, because of my dad, my larder always is fully stocked with, for some others, lesser known “necessities” like bay leaves, juniper berries, and Coleman’s dry mustard. Channeling my dad, i can make a roof tile taste like fresh venison.

On a similar note… When in doubt, talk about the food. If you are ever stuck in a social situation with people you know nothing about, it is always a safe ice breaker to engage the others around you into exploring how the meal was prepared. It carries no controversy and can include all ages without special accommodation. It gets the conversation moving in a pleasant and easy way, unless you happen to be seated at a table with the cast of “Chopped”.

Do your research before spending your money. My father was a Consumer Reports advocate before they were well known. Because of him, before i make a purchase, especially a bigger one, i make a list of what i want and don’t want and then check it on as many “unbiased” reviews as i can. And i actually read the narratives, because their caveat may be my making or breaking point. It has saved me from many an expensive mistake. And it has kept me, more than once, from regrettable impulse purchases.

If you don’t know how to dance to it, go for the soft shuffle. In my mind’s eye, i can see my dad dancing. His lips nearly mouthing his dance mantra, “Disco here, dis go there.” It may not be the right dance. You may be outdated. You may feel silly. You will definitely look goofy. But you’ll be cute and you’ll have fun.

Learn to be comfortable in formal situations. My dad has always been a member of organizations that had requisite formal occasions. It helped inspire me to do the same. In my time in the IORG, i learned how to comport myself in a long gown, speak in front of crowds, address any station. Because of all this, as i got older and got into music, i had an easier time than most singing and performing on stage. When i have met Heads of State and Sheiks, i was not a ball of nerves. I can, with very little sweat, speak off the cuff in front of large groups. And, in probably more of an adaptation than he would have liked, i bought a tux and found it to be the perfect formalwear, enabling me to relax and enjoy something that many people dread. I suppose it’s a strange thing to take pride in, but i’ve always patted myself a bit for that inherited ability to do “Uptown” without fret. Just like my dad.

On road trips, be prepared. Gather your repair kit, your snacks, your maps. Know your route, plan your stops, and take frequent breaks. Yes, i suppose this is a typical “Dad” lesson, but that doesn’t make it any less important. I have taken three day long road trips on my own, and carried with me the knowledge that i was well prepared. It makes a difference. Without the fear and stress of the unknown, the trip becomes much more enjoyable.

Never refuse a cookie that someone has made. It doesn’t matter if it looks like an old buffalo pattie, if you stuffed yourself to the gills at supper, or if you need to be out the door in 5 minutes… Handmade cookies are small tokens of love. Someone took the time to make them. Even if they taste like turpentine-cured hockey pucks, you can stomach just one to let them know you appreciate it. That little smile and “thank you” may be the highlight of their day. And if it is my dad offering you one of his chocolate chip cookies, take a few. They are the best.

Three things require careful cleaning with use: Your kitchen knives, your leather shoes, and your gun. My earliest memories are of my dad cleaning his gun and shining his shoes. The attention he gave to those chores was special, somewhat because of theory behind it, but also because it was a kind of zen thing. Yes, the care of those things is required to keep them in good working order and to make them last. But the repetitive actions of a true shoe shine, the scents and tactile sensations of cleaning a handgun, the sounds of a knife being slid perfectly against a honing steel… They are almost meditative. And they force one to slow down for a moment. Take a break. And still have something to show for it.

“Real men” are still men, even in a pink shirt. My dad looks great in a pink dress shirt. He and i have enjoyed visits to a formal tea room. He has let the other player win. I have seen tears in his eyes. He plays with his fluffy little foo-foo dog. And he has done these things with ownership, unworried about what other men thought or if society frowned on them. Or at least, that is how he carries himself. And that carriage, that posture of doing the softer things with assurance, THAT is what makes a “real man”. Not the color of his shirt. Not the force of his blow. Not the bulk of his bank account. Not the size of his sidearm. It’s the demeanor, the bearing, the manners. A “real man” is a gentleman. Every time i forget this, i regret it. I end up on a date with a caveman.

Some of the best American inventions came from New Haven. My dad has Connecticut pride. A true Nutmegger thru and thru. And he can give you good reasons why his area of The Constitution State is the best. The cotton gin, the first American submarine, the automatic revolver, the phone book and public pay phone, the corkscrew, the lollipop, the hamburger, the erector set, the Frisbee, and the wiffle ball were all invented there. Paul Giamatti, Ernest Borgnine, Norman Lear, Al Capp, Eli Whitney, Charles Goodyear, The Carpenters, Liz Phair, Michael Bolton (Ok, we might want to forget that one)… They are all from the New Haven area. And contrary to what New Yorkers will tell you, American-style pizza was invented there. At Pepe’s. No matter what else you have heard. Really.

When in town, say hello. Even if you don’t have time for a visit, make a quick phone call to let your local ones know that you’re thinking of them. I never used to understand this as a child, but as an adult, there was an older woman, a family friend, who would stop at the house twice a year as she passed thru. Literally for less than an hour. But those quick visits, little more than a cup of tea and a hug, were something i always looked forward to. They made me feel special. And Dad’s advice was finally understood.

Take the time to pick out the perfect card. It is easy to stop by the drugstore and pick out a generic birthday greeting. But i don’t do it. One of my favorite things about my dad is that his cards are always special. They always say just the right thing. They aren’t the kind of card you glance over and toss. You want those sentiments to linger, so sweet and magnanimous are they, that you keep it propped on your bureau til the next one arrives. Yes, it’s a little thing. But also a big thing. Time is a precious commodity, sometimes even more so than money; so knowing he took that time to find something that makes me feel good means a lot. I try to give that same attention to others.

Different people teach us different things. Some are full of emotional wisdom, others are more practical. Like many Dads, mine leans more towards the practical. There are, of course, other things i have learned from him, but these are a few of the more pronounced in my memory. Father’s Day seems like a good reason to write them. It’s not as sweet as a macaroni covered shoebox, but maybe it’s a decent substitute. Now, if you’ll pardon me, i have to go card hunting….

 

It’s All In Your Very Real Head

So many times we say it. Even more often, we think it. But like the old adage, “Just because i’m paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get me, ” just because something is all in your head doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

When we say, “It’s all in your head, ” what we really mean is that is where the problem begins. Medicine has proven that brain disorders can cause true health problems. Frustration can cause ulcers. Anger can cause strokes. Fear and anxiety can cause tachycardia. Depression can cause insomnia and anorexia. And pretty much everything can cause digestive problems. And the reverse is true as well. Vitamin D deficiency and lack of exercise can cause depression. Insomnia can cause memory loss. Hypoglycemia can cause attention deficit. Hormonal imbalance can cause psychosis. Body and brain are inexorably linked. So why do we consider brain causes to be inferior to body causes? If your heart races from fear instead of an intrinsic dysrhythmia, is it any less of a problem? After all, 180 beats per minute is 180 beats per minute. If you have irritable bowel from anxiety instead of irritable bowel from low serum ferritin, is your poo any less stinky? After all, shit is still shit.

The only real issue i see is in the treatment. If your high blood pressure is caused by genetics, and we treat it with anti-hypertensives, then you stand a chance of getting a good result. You can’t change your DNA (at least not yet), so you change the conditions it operates under: Specifically, you change the chemical cascade. But if your hypertension is due to the fact that you are forced to live in the basement of your chain-smoking, verbally abusive, peri-menopausal great aunt… Well, then, Metoprolol is really only masking the problem, now isn’t it? Even tho your blood pressure problems are caused from your stress and not your parentage, it can give you a heart attack or stroke just the same, so you have to deal with it. But the mechanism that causes the mercury to rise, when the mercury is taken away, is sure to find another outlet. In other words, if all you do is fix your blood pressure, the Aunt Gladys still remains, and who knows what that stress will cause next? You have to move out of the basement to really solve the problem.

Yet, we would never accept our physician telling us that the answer to our health issue is to move out of the basement. We want a prescription. A treatment. Something simple and easy, like twice daily shots in the bum with a magic serum. Somehow that seems better and more important than doing something about our sanity. A medicine chest full of pills is far more glamorous than taking charge of our lives. A prescription is far more socially acceptable than a Tai Chi class and an appointment with a therapist. An outpatient hospital procedure is far less problematic than standing up to Gladys. Give us the easy route, doc. We have enough complications in our lives already.

That is not to say that pharmaceutical mediation isn’t necessary for emotional conditions. Nothing mental is cured overnight. Gotta keep the stroke at bay while we learn to deal with the basement thing. The best long-term solution is to attack it from both sides: the mental and the physical. Take your Nexium AND your meditation. Take your Prozac AND get sunlight and exercise. Take your Beta Blocker AND move out of the basement. And don’t feel squirrelly about doing the “non-medical” things. I promise, using thunderstorm sounds to help you with your insomnia won’t cause you to wear bellbottoms and patchouli. Talking things out with a therapist or minister won’t make you social outcast, and it will probably lessen your need for the antacids. But remember, just like no magic pill cures depression, no magic herbal tea cures heart disease either. Both fronts, physical and mental, must be fought to win the battle.

I have made no secret of the fact that i hate society’s expectations and subjugation of the human brain. We concentrate so much on other parts of the body and their overall health, and yet neglect the most important organ of all, the one that makes us human. The issues in our heads that cause our bodies to be “off”, and the issues in our bodies that cause our minds to be “off” – these things should be one and the same. Part and parcel of this discipline we call medicine. Rather than a hierarchy of treatments, there should be an evolving cloud of health: Take your medicine, get your testing, sleep, eat, exercise, play, read, talk, think, laugh… All these things contributing equally to the overall well-being of the patient. Whether the problem starts or finishes in your head, the head requires treatment. For some, that treatment requires medication. For others, it requires peace.

I look forward to the day when a doctor can look at his patient and say without reserve, “Take your pill, get some exercise, and do a little fishing, ” and have each part of that statement be equally important. Indeed, it is already true, but we are just afraid to admit it.