I’m Cool Like That

There are some things in life that are inherently uncool: Taking advantage of people who trust you. Farting at the dinner table. Bad tipping. Posting pics of people on facebook without asking them first. But there are other things in life that are only uncool for some people. For those who can work it, well, they MAKE it cool. Think Debbie Harry and her dark roots, Andre 3000 in a bowtie, Steve Martin playing the banjo. They work it like Hilary at a fund raising rally. It takes real chutzpah to make the uncool cool. And i LOVE it when i see someone do it!

But today… Today i am thinking about those things that i either wish were cool or wish i could rock hard enough to make cool. Things i do without thinking, they are so much a part of me, that embarrass my children and become the subject of funny family stories. So here they are: Momma Hol’s list of Stuff That Should Be Cool…

1. Dancing in the supermarket. I can’t help it. The background music gets inside me and my legs start to bounce. Before i know it, i’m standing in the pasta aisle practicing the electric slide as i push my cart. Sometimes i just channel Bert and do the Pigeon. I have seen and heard people giggle. Rather than feeling stupid, i choose to view my contribution to their laughter as adding sunshine to their day. And that is cool. FLASH MOB AT THE PIGGLY WIGGLY! EVERYONE DO THE HUSTLE!

2. Moderate hoarding. I wish people came to my house, saw the obscene number of books, yarns and tea (my top weaknesses) and said, “Man, she is AWESOME! It’s like Granny’s attic in here! How cool is that?!” I realize that is unlikely to happen, but a girl can hope.

3. Penny loafers. They were cool once. How hard can it be to bring them back? I love my Bass loafers. They are comfy. They look very New England prep (which my weedlings seem to think is synonymous with “dorky”). I won’t give up wearing them. Even if they never come back. Blame it on New England of the 70s and 80s. Or blame it on my dubious fashion sense. But i still wish they were cool.

4. Wrinkles. Even if i had Madonna’s plastic surgeon, i’d still have lines. I have spent more money than i care to admit trying to erase them, but like rumors of Tom Cruise’s sanity, they refuse to go away. Now, i admit, there are wrinkled people who are cool: Sean Connery, Judi Dench, Morgan Freeman… But they are cool in spite of their wrinkles, not because of them. (Ok, i admit, i’d settle for in spite of too). But wouldn’t it be fantastic if aging was just, well, cool? Something to strive for…

5. Random singing. Especially Christmas songs. Yes, i do this. My “go-to” song is, Let It Snow, but i have also been known to break into Born Free or the theme from The Love Boat. Song taste aside, singing makes me happy. I’m not Streisand, but i’m not tone deaf either, so it’s not like i’m gonna hurt anyone’s ears doing it. Usually, people laugh and roll their eyes. Unless they know me, and then they ignore it. Or they are my weedlings, and then they join in. It would be so cool if everyone joined in. Like that old coke commercial at Christmas (You know the one i mean…. And now it is stuck in your head. Ha!)

6. Bum-less-ness. I have tried working out: squats and lunges and bikes. I’ve danced my whole life. I walk. I flex. All to no avail. I’ve got a tiny butt. Ugh. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find jeans that look good if you have no bum? Might as well try to find a self-frying chicken. Pants are made to make butts look smaller or perkier. Make mine look smaller, and from the back, i look like i need a penny collection box on Halloween. But that is only because the world reveres a Beyoncé bum. What if the desirable thing were a rag doll bum? Wouldn’t that be a great change for those of us gluteally bereft? TOOKIS DEPRIVED WOMEN UNITE! Let’s make scrawny butts cool! (And once we accomplish that, lets go for saggy boobs and bunions!)

7. Snoring. I’ve been sitting here for ages and i can’t think of anything that makes snoring sound remotely cool. Maybe i should just beg my kids not to make fun of me for it and hope they take pity.

8. Being a morning person. Some people live for the nightlife, but as i read on an e-card the other day, “I am the life of party… As long as the party ends before 9 O’clock.” I prefer mornings, all fresh and crisp and full of promise. I am one of those who generally wakes up in the morning with a smile on my face. And yes, i usually do it before sun-up. That’s when i’m at my creative and energetic best. Once the sun goes over the yardarm, however, i’m about as peppy as a roadkill possum. It’s unfortunate, since all the good parties and movies start after dark. The morning people of the world, all 23 of us, are unable to give our full enthusiasm. It would be nice, for a change, if all the cool stuff happened in the morning. Liam Neeson is throwing a Charity bash at 9 am on Saturday! And you’re invited! Man, i’d be at all the cool events. Might even get my picture in the social column of the paper. Give the city a chance to see my cool wrinkles in print.

None of these things is ever likely to be cool. But i am. Kinda. Well, a little, anyway. To someone. Somewhere. I mean, everyone is cool to someone, right? But it’s not like it matters. All these uncool things are a part of me. And just like that nasty fish sauce they use in Thai cuisine, the final dish isn’t quite as flavorful without it. A spoonful of sugar may make the medicine go down, but a sprinkling of sea salt makes the caramel more sublime. If i were a wiser person, i’d say that i wouldn’t change any of the things on this list… They help make me who i am. But i’d also have to be a more deceitful person, since i honestly would love to wake up one morning and have a spectacular ass. I can live without it, tho. I have other traits that make up for it. I can’t make the rest of the world suddenly love mornings, but i can pull up next to you at the stoplight and start belting out the songs from Rent, and that might make you smile. Or laugh. At me. But go right ahead. Laugh at me. I can take it. I’m cool like that.

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.

It’s Mine, And You Can’t Have It

I was talking to a friend about my new tattoo this morning. And he asked me a question that i really had to think about:

“Why?”

I’ve heard other people answer that question. “It’s artistic expression.” “I wanted to honor an event/person important to me.” “I like them.” “Why not?” … But none of these things is my reason. And i think there is a good chance it isn’t their real reason either. After all, tattoos are expensive, painful, and not always socially acceptable. Seems to me that it would take more than “But i really like Dumbledore. He inspires me!” to get his portrait tattooed on your boob (The one on your body, not the one you dated for 3 years.)

Given that i am about to dedicate most of a day to being needled, i started giving the answer to this question some hard thought. Why AM i doing it? For the fourth time, no less.

The answer, when i dig deep, is both selfish and therapeutic. I get tattoos because it is essentially inscribing my body with a serial number, marking this body as MINE. Just MINE. Not yours. Not his. Or his. Or his. MINE. I have claimed it, decorated it to suit me, placed my mark upon it so no one can ever again take it from me. I OWN IT. ME. GET IT????? ME!!! MEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sorry. I got carried away.

But this is important stuff. From the literal perspective of being molested or abused, to the more foggy vision of a society that dichotomously imposes both chastity and sexualization; as a woman, it takes bravery to take a stand, make a choice, reclaim what is ours. Whether flappers showing their knees or Kate Hepburn wearing pants, history is resplendant with women making choices about their appearance that disquiet others. I suppose you could argue that, in a sense, you are marking it so no one else will want it. And i do believe there are some who are so injured and broken that they do. But most of us still have vanity and pride. We don’t want to be ugly. We want to be special. Unique. OURS. And when someone comes along that is worthy, they will think it as beautiful as we do. But they will always know that our body is OUR home, OUR posession, OUR self. And if they get a piece of it, it is by OUR choice. And the ink is proof.

I will never be a woman totally covered in ink. I’ve spent a lifetime learning to love my body as it is, and that would defeat the purpose. And it’s not my style. Even when i paint pictures, i like to leave a lot of white space. That being said, each tattoo does change the way i look at my body. It becomes more MINE. My thoughts are broadcast outwards so anyone astute enough to my wavelength can see how my mind works. But even if they “get it”, my body doesn’t become any more “theirs” than any other work of art. They are just able to appreciate it on a deeper level.

Each of my tats has special meaning to me. My first one was designed by my daughter as a gift. One is a rendering by a girl who was working hard to draw instead of cut. One is a sweet reminder of the softer parts of my childhood. Today? Today is a reminder of my force within. Strength, beauty, magic. My artist “gets it”. She has brought it to life. Now there can be no dispute as to who i am and what i am worth. It is displayed in a mural on my back. A blood and flesh and ink declaration of content and ownership. The manifest of my bodily ship. A delineation of the soul inside the skin. My soul.

Maybe to some, a tattoo is just a tattoo, and a cigar is just a cigar. But i like to think that i am not alone in my “why”. I like the idea of a sister- and brotherhood using the art form as a way to break a chain. To stake a claim. To draw our line in the sand. This body is no longer a generic Honda Civic. It is a custom car, built of God/Goddess/Universe’s love and painted with flair and personal style. It isn’t for sale or rent. I have the only key. And you have no say in which roads it travels. This body, this unique and wonderful work of art, this is mine. All mine. And now the world knows.

Sold, Sight Unseen

Having lunch with a good friend today, we got to talking about pen pal relationships. We had them when we were kids. Letters written and sent to friends around the world that we were likely to never meet. Now, as adults, the wonders of the internet bring us a new kind of pen pal. The same sharing of secrets, growing attachment, anticipation of response. And still unlikely to meet. And while it is true that these social media pals can be lying through their teeth and not telling us who they really are, the same could be said of the pen pals of old. Just as we present the self we want so much to be, so do they. Excluding, of course, the criminally insane that we know are out there, but doubt-hope-pray we will never encounter.

In any case, we got to talking about the difference in depth of feeling for someone you have never seen.

There are popular theories about people who, lacking one of their senses, use the others to compensate. Never having been in that position, i don’t know if that is true. But i do believe that the theory applies in sightless relationships.

We can describe how we look to someone, but accuracy is in the eye of the beholder. When i say i have freckles, do you picture a few scattered on my nose and cheeks? Do you see a constellation appearing, or a galaxy present on my back? Or do i have so many that i appear like a Monet painting of a woman? If i tell you i am curvy, do you picture Sophia Loren, Mae West, Queen Latifah, Kathy Najimy? Or do you picture Dame Edna or Ursula the Sea Witch? If i were to describe my voice as “k.d. lang, if she were born in New England but adopted a slight twang from Tennessee”, would you have the slightest idea how i sounded? And heaven only knows if anyone who knows me would find my description accurate.

Having only words to go on forces one to dig deeper. To get to know them more in other ways. Their fears and worries, their joys and delights… These things leave their marks on the face and body and stance. Health habits leave marks on face, body and voice. Their expressions, their choice of words, their accuracy of grammar… All these things add to a visual impression in our mind. Possibly even more so than their actual description of themselves. Somehow, these things seem more concrete than a subjective description.

Perhaps this is why “Blind Dates” are usually such a disappointment: We have no chance to learn these concrete things before we are forced into closeness. We have a subjective description from one who is essentially a salesman. Hardly a source known for its honesty. Combine that with the fact that our first impression is a visual one, nothing of depth or meaning. But humans are animals, after all, and if the pheromones aren’t there, well then, why waste your time, right? But what if those attraction hormones could be synthesized from within? What if we could create physical attraction from deeper connection? Would it be as strong? Would it last as long? Would it be as real?

Assuming that all parties are as honest as they can be, within human psyche limitation, perhaps this is a better way to meet people. To start deep within and work your way out to the skin, the opposite of what usually happens. Without a tainted view based on appearance, we could learn to love the soul of the other, the part of them that continues long after the looks fade. And they could do the same with us. It could be a true, deep, lasting bond that no scar or wrinkle would impact. Stronger than any mastectomy, weight gain, or sexual dysfunction. That very rare partnership that lasts forever, thru everything. The marriage that fairy tales are based on.

Or they could look like Sloth, the monster in The Goonies, and all bets are off.

Humor Me, My Child

Walking in Target today, my eldest weedling turns to me and says, “My teabag has burst.” In the context of can opener shopping, this didn’t make any sense, so i asked her to repeat it. “I’m pretty sure my teabag has burst.” Now i have to assume that this is slang, probably for something disgusting. I start to respond, “I……”, but i am at a loss for words as the possibilities of what this could mean zip thru my head like a squirrel on diet pills. Seeing my confusion, she proceeds to tell me that to keep her combat boots – her daily foot attire- from stinking, she placed an herbal teabag in each one that morning. Then proceeded to wear them.

I have no non-flippant response to this, so i move on.

Later, when we are at the car, she removes her boot, and sure enough, a flurry of twigs and leaves flies out into the wind like an elvish  treasure. Then she plucks a pathetic looking bit of sticky paper, the teabag itself, from her sole and resets her boot. I am thinking that if i tried to explain this situation to one of my international friends, they would think it a mis-translation. I can’t help myself. I chuckle til i snort.

My weedlings make me laugh. Sometimes unintentionally, but most often not. They each have a wonderful sense of the absurd. The oldest has a talent for off-the-cuff song lyrics that can pull a giggle out of thin air. The middle is the master of the sarcastic response. The youngest is truly gifted with a pun. And when i say that our home is often filled with us singing, i mean it literally. My son and i do a fantastic version of the Underdog theme, complete with harmony. And under the tutelage of my oldest, we have a song and dance routine that mimics the insanity of navigating a crowded airplane aisle. We frequently go about our household chores quoting movie lines back and forth. And all the while, we are laughing.

Humor is an underrated virtue. In the face of sadness, of stress, of tragedy, and sickness; humor can bring relief, even if it isn’t socially acceptable. After tough days, sometimes all i need is to hear my son sing. On especially disastrous days, it may take watching Llamas With Hats with my daughters to get my breathing back to normal. But they never fail to bring about that improvement. Not just for me, but for everyone around them. After all, the best humor is universal.

Italians tell stories of passion. the Irish tell stories of laughter. Since we are both, my children and i can make you laugh with a passion. And we relish in it. We love to give that gift. To relieve the pressure. To render the darkness insignificant. We have that power. No, we are not alone in our ability… There are so many who possess the same superpower. But i’d put my weedlings up against any of them to run neck and neck. They have it. And they know how to use it.

My weedlings do a funny schtick that is an imitation of me trying to balance, unsuccessfully, a pitcher of water from a dinner half a year back. The next time you are feeling down, ask them to recount it. Or ask my middle daughter to do “The Evil Giraffe”. Or ask my oldest to tell you what lights up and blinks. Or, if it’s been the worst day ever, my son and i will sing “Underdog” for you. I promise it will make you feel better. And in the process of helping you, we will feel better, too. Because, really, what improves your day more than making someone else smile?

Misty

Johnny Mathis is playing in the background. I set it to play. On purpose. Because it’s Mother’s Day weekend. And my Ma is Johnny Mathis’ music. So on this weekend every year, i take some time to listen to him croon and think back to the better memories i have of her. Aaaaahhhhhhh… “Chances are, ‘cuz i wear a silly grin….” There are other things that remind me of Ma: The unmistakable scent of Aliage, Easter peeps, antique shops… But nothing draws me straight to memories of her like Johnny Mathis. He was her favorite, so to me, he reeks of nostalgia.

My Ma wasn’t perfect. In fact, at times she was a train wreck. When i was younger and less understanding, i harbored secret stashes of poisoned anger. But as i’ve aged and become aware of my own frailties and failures, it is easier to step around the black tar and concentrate on the patches of green grass that grew, if sporadically, theatrically fabulous. Both the oily sludge and the fragrant lawn offer lessons, but given that it’s Mother’s Day, i’ll let the cool blades tickle my toes and leave the sticky, smelly gunk to my therapist. Contained within the emerald sod are lessons that i have taken to heart. These things are as pure Ma as “The Twelfth of Never”.

Even if you are on your last dime and have little to your name, share with others. Ma would literally give the coat off her back or her last slice of bread to any soul who needed it. Didn’t matter if they were King Arthur or a fallen addict. Ma would invite them to the table. She’d make them a pallet or offer them the couch. They became family and were treated as such. This proved, more than once, not to be the smartest move for safety or security; but it was indisputably the truest move for her heart. I can’t come close to her example, i’m far too cautious with who i open to. But i do try to take the idea to heart.

Don’t be afraid to try new things. If some new ethnic food set up shop in town, Ma was one of the first customers. It could be rumored that they were slaughtering raccoons for the meat in the stew, the Health Department could have given them a stack of warnings, and Ma would give it a shot anyway. New, exotic fruit in the produce section? She might not know what to do with it, but she’d buy one and figure it out. If a Martian landed in the back yard and offered a pulsating, radioactive sandwich, Ma would take a bite. She loved new taste sensations. The adventure of it was thrilling to her. That thrill lives on in me the same way. The simple act of a new food experience brings such joy, if you let it.

When confronted with a person of difference, help them accentuate their own personal positive. I remember one evening long ago, i was dressed in a black plastic jumpsuit, ass-kicking boots, slicked hair, with a spider web painted on my face, ready to go dancing at the club. Ma took one look at me and frowned. But instead of telling me i looked like an idiot or that plastic didn’t constitute “clothing”, she told me that my spider wasn’t glittery enough. We washed my face, and she spent half an hour painting me a new web… complete with a stunning, sparkly spider making its way down my cheek. And as she did so, in her own version of “Anything worth doing is worth doing well”, she told me that there was no shame in being a freak, as long as i was the best freak i could be. I need to OWN my freakiness. Make that spider so damned beautiful that no one could dare tell me it didn’t belong there. That philosophy has worked for me and my weedlings. When we make choices outside the norm, we make them decisively. We own them. And we dare anyone to tell us we’re wrong.

The other side of that token: Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong. Or rather, when you feel you are wrong. My idea of wrong and yours may not be the same. But if i feel i have screwed up, i try to say so and fix what i can. It isn’t easy. In fact, it sucks. I do a lot of stuff wrong. That makes for an awful lot of apologies. But a clear conscience is a valuable reward. Only differing opinions on whether i am wrong make it difficult. Well, that and expecting other people to do the same.

No one is beyond hope. No drug addict, no alcoholic, no -ic of any kind is so far gone that they don’t have a chance at being a free soul. Everyone has a monkey or two on their back. Don’t judge the monkey and don’t assume it is chained there permanently. Have faith. I watched my Ma shed King Kong himself, so i know that it is possible. You don’t have to be the zookeeper, but don’t be afraid to offer an encouraging word. Words can build foundations of determination, and that determination helps in sedating the primates long enough to pull them off.

God moves mountains, but he expects you to bring a shovel and help dig. Faith gives you strength, but action gives you results. No amount of prayer will get the war won, but fighting without a higher purpose will gain you nothing. It is no simple task sometimes to combine these two things, but it’s the only way to reach the goal. It is made easier when you surround yourself with people who do the same. Then you can help each other dig and the mountain gets moved all the faster.

Be yourself. Even during the darkest of times, Ma was always Ma. Authentic. True. There was no Diva Ma, no Bitchy Ma, no Charming Ma. There was just Ma. One could argue that there was Drunken Ma and Sober Ma, but even between those two masks, she was still Ma. Still herself. I never had the foresight to ask her if she really was that comfortable being herself, or if it was a “fake it ’til you make it” kind of thing. But whatever the reason, it showed me that there is a certain comfort in predictable authenticity. Both for oneself and for others. The masses may not adore you, but they know and can bank on what to expect from you
at any moment. Life becomes much easier for everyone.

Are these lessons the ones i should have taken from her? Are these the types of things that make Mother’s Day worthwhile? “It’s Not For Me to Say”. But so much of me is derived from Ma. A lot good. Some, not so much. And that’s ok. It makes me, well, me. And that, my friends, is “Wonderful! Wonderful! Oh, so wonderful my loves!”