Friday, December 30, 2016

It's About Time

We humans are a curious bunch. We want everything neat and orderly. We want a clear endings and clear beginnings. We are pretty doggone silly in that respect. We can blame that on our training - as children we learn that stories (should) have a certain pattern to follow and we come to expect that in our own stories. But, our own stories involve life and although our stories kind of follow the pattern (birth - stuff in the middle - death), they aren’t much for formulaic scripting.

This year, 2016, has earned itself a bad rap. Completely understandable. Although, rationally, we know how implausible it is to anthropomorphize a calendar year, it does seem like this particular year had a vendetta to settle. I’ve been right there with everyone else saying, “Dear gods, I’ll be glad when 2016 is done!” Or, “I can’t wait for 2017, it’s going to be a better year! I swear, it has to be better than this one.” Um. No, no it doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for optimism, but I’m also savvy enough to recognize life as a super-magnet for crazy, sad, turbulent, unexpected, life-changing shit happening. I’ve also been around long enough to know that all those "Shit Happening" things can be the best possible things to happen even though they happen in the worst possible ways. So, yes, we’re silly. Because putting any kind of requirement and expectation on an entire year puts a ridiculous amount of pressure on us.

All the same, am I anxious for 2016 to be done? Yeah. I am. I’m ready for a new number (partly because my inner nerd has a thing for prime numbers). I’m not entirely sure why. For all my protestations, I see the beginning of a year as a fresh start, even though I have no intention of doing much of anything differently than I have been all along. Among other things, 2016 is forever going to be the year my brother died and I’m ready to be done living in that same year. That aside though, it’s been a kind of decent year for me. I’ve had adventures; hugged some good friends; I’ve known love; I’ve had very comfortable shelter; I’ve done work that makes me feel good. And, holy shit, but the fucking Chicago Cubs won the World Series!

More than anything, because of world events, deaths, and other harsh stuff, it’s been a year of deep introspection for me. For me, that chalks it up to having been a fucking uncomfortable year. Too often, it felt like there wasn’t room to breathe. Joy felt like a gauzy, ephemeral thing that wanted to disappear entirely.  Do I expect less or more of 2017? Neither, really. I have a couple of things planned, a few ideas in mind for stuff I'd like to do and the direction I’d like to see my creative world move in. But, really, life is going to do what life is going to do. I don’t say that with apathy, I simply refuse to fall prey to the folly of trying to structure the future. If I make each day count, whatever happens, then each next day is going to be more about making that day count.

Making resolutions is just asking for the Universe to throw a wrench into the works. Planning to work out five days a week is great until you get the flu on January 4th. Then, because you haven’t lived up to your resolution, you give up entirely. I’ve been there many times. I've made resolutions to write X amount of words or pages every day, post to my blog once a week, and finish my novel. I've made resolutions to do this or that with my artwork. And then I don't live up to those resolutions for whatever reason. Sometimes they are good reasons and not simply excuses. However, most of the time they relate to unrealistic expectations, like thinking I'm going to magically transform into someone with a mentality other than my own. Sometimes it’s just the Universe letting me know that for all my swagger, it’s got other plans. For all my proclamations, resolutions, and stubborn determination, I’ll never be any more than me, much less be anyone other than me. Ah, but, I’m also never going to be any less than me, and nobody else is ever going to be me. See how great that works?

So, I’m not all worked up about a year ending or another beginning. Each day is another day and will come with whatever side dish the Universe chooses to serve. Doors close and doors open, some even revolve, and all I can do is give the best of me to whatever and whomever comes my way, no matter what year or time of year it is.

I do know this much. When I wake up on January 1, 2017, it will likely feel much the same as having awakened on December 31, 2016. All other things being equal, only the numbers will have changed. Those neat, orderly, implacable numbers that, a very long time ago, some dry dusty old farts decided to label our days, months and years with. And I’ll still be exactly me. I can promise that.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Eulogy for One of the Good Guys

When my sister asked me to write this, my first thought was, boy… sometimes I hate being a writer. At the same time, it is such an honor to be able to tell people about my amazing little brother. So many of the words that I can come up with sound like empty superlatives, yet they are all true. Words like decent, sincere, caring, kind, generous - a friend of his summed it up perfectly in a note he wrote to me, “John is one of the good guys.” John not only saw the best in people, but he believed in it too.

Fun. There’s another word. Growing up with John was a blast. Whether we were running around the neighborhood playing hide-and-go-seek, swimming at the pool, skating in the back yard, sledding down a neighbor’s hill, or sitting and watching cartoons… he made everything more fun. Most of the time he made everything more fun just by being there. His enthusiasm and ever-present sense of humor, along with that quiet chuckle of his, elevated the fun level every time.

Gusto. There’s another word. John tackled everything with great gusto. And no apologies. His motto, “failure is just another opportunity” was tossed in my direction a few times. The first time we went skiing together is a classic example of his tenacity. I timidly made my way down the bunny slope - a trip that would take any decent skier about 30 seconds, but with my awesome snow-plow technique, took me about 3 minutes. I got to the bottom and fumbled my way over to where our mom was waiting, just in time to see John gracefully zig-zagging down the black diamond slope with all the trees. When he arrived where we stood, I gave him the you-gotta-be-kidding-me look, to which he answered innocently, “What? I thought the trees were cool.”

Love. There’s a big word and it’s at the top of the list. I’ll start with John’s unwavering love for his wife, Linda. They’re one of those high school sweetheart stories that actually played out in profoundly beautiful ways. I was working as a florist when John came to me one day and said, “I need some perfect flowers. I mean, really perfect. I’m going to convince that girl to marry me.” Whether the flowers helped or not, I don’t know, but convince her? He did. I never heard him talk about Linda with anything but absolute love and respect. The same is true of their sons, Garrett and Adam. A few years ago, John was out visiting me. As one does, I asked, “How are the kids?” John teared up before he could even answer me. Finally, he said, “Man, I’m so proud of them both. I don’t know what I ever did to deserve them.” With a rather wobbly smile, I told him, “You get what you give.” And John was definitely a giver.

On my cell phone, I still have a text I received from John a little over a year ago. I had sent him a message and asked how he was doing. His response was, “Doing great. I’m making this tumor my bitch!” Considering the reason we’re here today, some might think that it was the other way around. I don’t. John never once let his illness change who he was - he still spent more time being concerned for everyone else than for himself. “One of the good guys…” it warms my heart to know that so many others saw the same things in him that I always saw. And I’ll tell you this, he was the best little brother a girl could ever ask for.

I love you, John.

John F. Black
March 3, 1964 - November 15, 2016

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Dance

I'm staring down the double barrels of senior citizenship as my 55th birthday is just around the corner. My standard thought lately has been a rather dazed, somewhat bedazzled, "How the fuck did I get here?" My next thought, especially this past week or so, is the first paragraph of the Dickens classic, A Tale of Two Cities (if you've never read it, now is the time!):

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

I can't recall any other time in my life when I've felt this overwhelmed and this much at peace. Simultaneously. I have lived a great big beautiful life. I intend to go on living a great big beautiful life. However, at this point, mortality is a nearer neighbor than my youth. No, now, I am not being morbid, just realistic. I don't live in fear, not by any stretch, but with a bit of sorrow, a rueful realization that, no matter what, there never was going to be enough time.

You don't need to say, "Oh, but there's still plenty of time! It's never too late!" And please don't spackle on that horrifically tacky, obnoxious platitude, "You only live once!" There isn't plenty of time. I will never have all the time I need to read all the books I want to read, make all the art I want to make, hug and love and have dinner and laughter with all the people on my Folks I've Just Gotta Meet list. Given all the life shit (good and bad) that gets in the way, living once is not nearly enough. There will never be enough time to hug my beloved as much as I want to, to feel his lips kiss my temple with exquisite sweetness the way he sometimes does, to be deep in the security of his love just having his big warm hand on my leg as we watch a show together. Whether we get another year or thirty, it won't be enough.

But, I'm one of those I'll-Take-What-I-Can-Get girls. For me, right now is enough. It almost always has been - one of those assets where the needle is always just a hair's breadth away from it being a downfall. Yeah. So I'm not feeling maudlin about it, just a little like the old drunk-singing standard...
Is that all there is?
If that's all there is, my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is

I mean that in a good way. When I was younger, I thought life would have a lot more weight, more seriousness at this age. Instead, it has become more ridiculous, irreverent, sweet, and, well, downright hilarious sometimes. Sure, there's sorrow, but it has feathers and it gets caught up on each breath until it only flutters nearby. I can't take anything too seriously. Right now is enough, rain or shine.

I only live once? Nah, I only live right now, and I've had a treasure trove of Right Now. I have plenty of time? Nah, I only have right now. I've always had right now. I will always have right now. And Right Now is plenty for me.

But. Fifty five? Senior Citizen? How the fuck did I get here? Guess it happened while I was busy dancing.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

More Than 1000 Words

Upon seeing this picture, my first thought (after I'd wiped away the tears that immediately sprang forth and blurred my vision) was, I want to post that picture.

My second thought was, I can't do that. It's too personal and there's too much sorrow wrapped up in it and it's not a pretty picture really.

My third thought was, screw that. Why are we so quick to brush away sadness? Why are we so quick to cover up what might not be beautiful? We do it all the time, especially on social media. We post pictures of delicious food, cute animals, adorable children, ourselves - all made up and ready to party, and gorgeous nature scenes. We post pictures that make reality seem miles better than it often is. Even in speech, it's "Doing well. Life is good. Here's a joke; now laugh."

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that. I'm all about positive thought and affirmation. I do it all the time, partly because it feels better to be upbeat than to dwell on harsh stuff I can't change, but mostly because I love to make people smile. If I can make 'em laugh... so much the better. But, there are times when reality is right there, front and center, and there's no way to tap dance around it - which brings me back to the picture.

To me, this picture, as difficult as it is for me to look at, is beautiful. The man in the middle is my baby brother, John. He is two and a half years my junior. He's the guy who is responsible for about 80% of the fun in my childhood. He's always been there for me, always loved me, always had a way to pull me up out of a mood. He is a man who has been battling a brain tumor for over two years and is now in hospice care, nearly at the end of that fight. Hence, the sorrow. Hence the unfathomable reason for what feels like a load of bricks sitting on my heart.

Oh, but the beauty in this picture - the sheer love of his wife, Linda, seated at his side, the devotion in the eyes of our big sister, Nancy, peering up from the top, the spirited youth of his eldest son, Garrett. I see so much strength in this picture. I see great love. I see the tremendous spirit of my family, generations of my family, a family that has never backed down when things were tough or taken no for an answer. I see a man who, all his life, gave everything to make sure everyone around him was comfortable and happy, being given back those things in return. Where some might see weakness and (let's just say it) death, I see power.

You see, this is what happens when we're not so quick to brush aside what first appears... oh... less than. If we take time to look, we see beauty. If we bother to listen, we hear the music in the discordant thrum. If we sit for a moment and let all of it wash over us, we find that we are soaked with the whole truth of it.

I cherish this picture because it reminds me how much I love the moments, each of the moments. All of them. All of the moments together, that's who I am. I hope - some very distant day, may it please the gods - when loved ones are sitting at my side as I wander off to some loftier plane... I hope they will see the beauty in that moment and in all the rest of the moments that brought me there.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Suicide Is Not Painless

Please note: I am posting the following as a favor to a friend. I am at once heart-sore for her and proud of her for fighting and writing her way through her reality. She wishes to remain anonymous, but would love feedback and input, so please, feel free to leave a kind word or two. Thank you.


If there is one thing you should know about me, it is that I am a fighter who was raised by fighters. With a birthright like that, I've faced each round that came my way in 59 years with drive, determination, and spunk. Until yesterday.

Once again, sleep was eluding me for the umpteenth night in a row. Remembering that there was a brand new bottle of OxyContin in the drawer in the bathroom, I sat up in bed and began to count my steps to the drawer. Those little gems were a gift from my sister, the hypochondriac and attention whore who claimed that she didn’t need them, but perhaps I could use them for my chronic pain. The day she gave them to me I remember thinking, the real pain in my body or the pain in my heart and in my head?

My fight, remember I'm a fighter, was gone. Vanished. Vamoose. Fin. And with it, my desire to allow the gravity in the universe, to keep me sitting on the edge of my once comfortable bed. Sadly, thoughts of taking myself out were not foreign to me. Been there...3 times...done that. So, the bottle of pills, now sitting on the table in front of me, only made sense.

Opening the bottle, I laid them out on the table and attempted to arrange them the same way I do M&M’s. Orange here. Red here. They were all blue. Just one more thing that I couldn’t control or coordinate. I put them into groups of 4. Easier to consume that way and swallowed with a big gulp of vodka - my numbing, "I love you, man" drug of choice.

Everything set and four little life changers in my hand, I heard Joe get up and it broke my concentration. Listening to his travel path across the bedroom carpet, I knew those steps like they were my own. In that split second, I could only think of Joe. What would happen to my husband? Where would he go? How would he survive this? He’d come home after a long day of playing ‘fetch and go’ to find me like Madame Bovary. Would his heart be broken? Where would he live? $11.00 an hour wouldn’t allow him the luxury of keeping the house. And the life insurance that I’ve been paying on for years wouldn’t generate the cash he’d need to get by for at least 2 years. Fucking suicide clause!

I put the pills back in the bottle, poured out the vodka, and walked back into the bedroom. The pills went into the nightstand drawer and I climbed into our bed. Right next to me was the man who drives me crazier than I already am and yet, has loved me in spite of myself. Shit! How could I do this to him even though I want so desperately to do this to myself?

In the middle of this dark night, the voices in my head were telling me no one would be willing to listen to what just happened. “You’re crying wolf and they’ll be angry that you woke them up.” Since the chatter never, ever stops in my head unless I write, and sometimes not even then, I reached in the drawer for a piece of paper and a pen and tried to focus on the 5 words battling to be heard underneath all the other declarations, “You have to find help”. There had to be someone outside my mess who doesn’t know any part of this horror story, this volatile place I’m in. It was time to tell it to someone outside the circle who would hear it with fresh ears and a current course of treatment. Someone who hasn’t been through my suicidal episodes, the mania, the rage, and the depression. Someone who will listen and who will care about me, because I can’t.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Listen. Look. Feel.

Part I

The sound of hearts breaking -
not just surface cracks,
like ice at the first breath of Spring,
but the shudder and boom
of a fault line
reaching its limits.

The raised fists,
the open palms.
the middle finger -
even our hands are unsure.
Fight, question, or give up?

When you kill them,
you kill us all -
black, white, kaleidoscope.
Create a world of distrust
and blame,
hatred and arrogance,
nobody wins
and we are all your victims.

If I was a wizard -
had a magic wand to wave,
or a word to make it all
go away, but no.
I don't understand my role
or know my lines,
so I say,
Listen. Look. Feel.

Part II

I'm sorry -
such feeble words
are barely a spark
against the
great dark injustice
that thickens the air you live in.
But I am.

I know
you know
we are not all
like that -
fearfully hateful.
We have love.
We want to help.
We are trying.

I am crying -
my heart split from another
My hands are unsure -
wanting to keep
friends and their children
safe, but who am I
and how do I?
So, I write,
I beg,
I plead.

Listen. Look. Feel.

by Barb Black
September 21, 2016

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Holding Out for a Hero

Something has been bugging me for a few years. Nah, let's make that decades.  Every now and then I start to speak up about it, raise my index finger as if to stop the noise and make a point, and then I shrug it off. Choose your battles wisely, the man once said. But, I've come to realize that it really meant, "Only choose battles you can win." There's been enough of that brand of bullshit in my life - probably why I fell for it so easily.

Anyway. Back to the thing that's chronically, nay, serially bugged me.

Here's the thing. I have had it up to here (*points at eyebrows*) with people referring to athletes as heroes. Today was the last straw. I heard someone referred to as an Olympic hero and another referred to as a football hero. They are not  heroes; they are athletes, or if you want to be specific, gymnasts, runners, quarterbacks, etc. So, let's begin by breaking it down by definitions.

A hero is defined as someone who is admired for extraordinary acts of courage or nobility.

An athlete is defined as someone who is proficient in sports.

In no way does that proficiency make an athlete a hero. It doesn't matter how many trophies, how many medals, how many broken world records, or which team(s) signed the athlete... still not a hero. Now, I will acquiesce that an athlete can be a hero, but only if said athlete actually performs an act of heroism beyond the scope of their athletic job. Yes, it is just a job. They train to be proficient at what they're doing the way a doctor trains to be proficient at surgery, the way a chef trains to be proficient at cooking, the way a forklift operator trains to be proficient at forklifting stuff.

A hero doesn't think about personal gain. A hero doesn't look at a situation as a photo opp or viral story. A hero does what needs to be done in the moment for the greater good of someone other than himself or herself, with no thought to any glory that lies ahead. In fact, heroes are, more often than not, humble to the point of not wanting to be called heroes. I know, because I have many heroes in my life and none of them want the credit.

This is not a slam on athletes, not in any way. I admire athletes for what they are able to do, for their passion and dedication and spirit. I wish I could find some of that fierce determination in areas of my own life. No, I'm not slamming athletes.

What I am suggesting is a call to awareness. Let's stop glorifying people who run fast, or throw a ball, or do an impossible looking flip. Let's stop putting them on pedestals as icons of moral virtue (because they are flawed humans like the rest of us, and moral virtue has about as much to do with sports proficiency as it does with artistic talent). Instead, let's place them on a pedestal as someone who is really great at the sport that they do, which still leaves us plenty of room to admire them.

But. Let's stop calling athletes heroes by virtue of the fact that they are athletes. Perhaps if we do, we can allow them the space to take human form again. Maybe then we won't be so disappointed when they do turn out to be mere humans after all. Maybe then we'll see the human who lives within the athlete - the one with dark thoughts, the one with emotional issues, the one who loves his wife and children, the one who makes the wrong choices, the mother who feels guilty for training instead of being there for the kids, the one who doesn't treat his animals well, the one who thinks signing autographs is beneath her, the one who gets drunk, the one who doesn't ever feel like he's enough, the one who gets caught with drugs, the one who has his or her own ideas of who and what to stand for and when.

Humans, that they most certainly are, but not heroes.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

In A Stew

It's a coolish, cloudy day here in the NW. I'm jumping one ahead of Mother Nature and am cooking up some beef stew. It would be better if the weather was about 10 degrees cooler, but I'm tired of variations on hot weather food - sandwiches, salads, and oh-hell-let's-just-have-cereal-I'm-too-hot-to-give-a-shit. We've even had ice cream for dinner in pursuit of eating anything not hot. And ice cream for dinner is great until you wake up the next morning, starving, and with your self-respect having taken refuge in some far away protective custody.

So, this evening it's stew - real food, real cooking. As I was assembling and cooking various ingredients, I played one of my favorite words in my head - my stew-cooking mantra, if you will. That word is gallimaufry.

gallimaufry: (gal-uh-maw-free) -noun
1. a hodgepodge; jumble; confused medley
2. a ragout or stew
[Fr] A combination of galer - to amuse oneself, and mafrer - to gorge oneself.

Now, I don't know if you've ever had any real, curl your toes stew. I promise, it doesn't come out of a can or a microwave box. I'm talking about the kind of stew your grandma's grandma made. I'm talking about the kind where the cook has taken the time to dredge some sinewy, tough meat in flour, salt and pepper, and slowly browned it, leaving bits of luscious, meat-flavored flour in the bottom of the pan, only to be lifted and infused by the addition of chopped onion, garlic and celery, a hearty splash of good wine and water. The stew then simmers on very low heat for a good couple of hours, graced by a floating bouquet garni of fresh rosemary, thyme and bay leaf. The sinew renders down, and the meat becomes as tender as a first kiss. But, it's not ready yet. It requires the addition of carrots and potatoes and another good 45 minutes of slow cooking.

It's served up to you in a big bowl with some good crusty bread. The fragrant steam caresses your olfactory senses like a lover's perfume. You dip a spoon in - and it's a big table spoon, because a little spoon would never do - trying to get a bit of meat, carrot and potato all at once. Lift to the mouth, and then, and then, oh... and then. It's like coming home. Your tongue and mouth are hit by the feel of it. Your palate explodes with overwhelming sensation. You can taste each distinct flavor, that piquant hint of wine, the deep dark meat and broth, the savory onion and garlic and spices, the sweet carrot and earthy potato - all of it coming together in one huge sigh-inducing melange of wonderful.

Heady stuff, that.

It's got me thinking about friendships. And how like a stew are my various friendships - each friendship as unique and different as the individuals themselves, yet each adding a necessary flavor to the overall deliciousness. I know at least one friend who is going to read this and message me something like, "Oh, so you think I'm just a lumpy old potato, huh?" And we'll laugh about that. However, we both know that the truth is, she's one of the rich, meaty bits. (She's going to give me hell about that too.)

Yesterday I had a conversation with another of those "meaty bits" friends. He asked me what's been rising to the surface in my life lately, what salient point of where and who I am right now has broken through. I had a hard time answering - he's good at tripping me up like that, the bastard. Now that I've had 24 hours to think about it, I'd have to say it's love. So much else has been stripped away, or maybe rendered down like the sinewy bits of meat. What remains is what I was born with: love. In particular, love of friends. There are friends, some unaware, some still close, some long gone, who have made such a tremendous difference in my life. They have, by turns, amused me, frustrated me, saddened me, humored me, inspired me, challenged me, and loved me just as I love them.

We are that gallimaufry - the hodgepodge, the jumble, the (perhaps to others, if not to each other) confused medley. Each of us are different, each of us brings our own flavor and contribution to something blow-your-hair-back beautiful. Not a day goes by that I don't crave that friendship. I hunger for it, just as I hunger for that stew burbling away on the stove.

Thursday, August 25, 2016


My habit most mornings, as I'm letting the first cup of coffee work its magic and turn me into something resembling a human being, is to turn on The Weather Channel. I do this in the Summer in hopes of some freak cold front invading and magically turning the temperature to 60 degrees. I do it in the Winter in hopes of seeing snow in the forecast - hence, knowing when to do the Gimme Snow Crazy Ass Dance. The rest of the time, I tune in just to see that regular old 50-60 degree, damp NW weather on board. Because that's the stuff I like. Watching that forecast is like tuning in to a news station (if only it could be thus), that offers nothing but good news.

The past few mornings that I've tuned in, as The Weather Channel breaks to go to local weather, a little slogan has appeared on the screen. "It doesn't end with the storm." That's been sticking with me; tapping on windows; sitting in the corner and clearing its throat when things get quiet. It doesn't end with the storm.

And it doesn't.

I think of that campy movie, Twister - mostly ridiculous, but worth the price of admission just to see the cow fly by. Twister ended just after the storm. The two main characters came out of the pile of rubble with a couple of scrapes and bruises. The sun was shining. They kissed. The implication was that the storm had passed and everything was glorious. And it probably was, until it wasn't again. Maybe that kiss was the one that said, "This is it. We've found the long sought after Us." Or maybe it was a holy-fucking-cranberries-we're-still-alive kiss. Maybe they went on loving each other for years. Maybe they decided the kiss was kind of the big moment and it was best left at that. Maybe one of them got hit by a truck and died an hour later. Maybe they lived together long into their eighties and that moment was simply a snapshot in a box packed with hundreds of other snapshots.

It doesn't end with the storm.

My mother used to coin one of my most loathed phrases. "This, too, shall pass." Meaning, the bad time you're having won't last. Well, duh. But even knowing that doesn't help at all in the moment. Hearing it helps even less. And, you notice? Nobody ever says that when good things are happening. "Hey! Congratulations on winning the lottery. You know, this, too, shall pass." Nobody says that on an average Tuesday as you're eating a bowl of chicken noodle soup for lunch and mindlessly flipping through a catalog. "You know, this tiny moment of ordinary? This, too, shall pass." So, do the world a favor and don't say it when someone is going through a tough time. Because it's bullshit and it doesn't help and we all know that all the moments pass. M'kay?

I digress. Where were we? Ah.

It doesn't end with the storm.

Life is a series of storms and good weather, and seasons, and stuff dying, and other stuff coming to life, and dark and light, and things being ripped apart and things being rebuilt, and average ordinary days of bringing a light jacket "just in case". It has always been so.

It's hopeful to think that it doesn't end with the storm. In fact, it's a sign of the ever resilient human spirit. Even if we also know that it doesn't end with the perfect 75 degree, sunny day either. The truth is, it ends wherever and whenever the fuck it feels like ending. It's up to us to prepare and adjust accordingly. Don't wear a raincoat to a pool party; don't bring golf clubs to a lightning storm; take extra care with cows when you see funnel clouds.

It doesn't end with the storm. Sure. Notice that nobody ever said it would end without the storm.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Believe Me When I Tell You

The other day, as someone was (uninvited) spouting her version of God at me, I stopped her, saying, "Hold on a minute. You're assuming that I not only share your vision of who or what God is, but that I believe at all. While I enjoy some Judeo-Christian traditions, I do not believe in the Judeo-Christian version of God."

Her response was snide, and one I've experienced often - the eye rolling scoff followed by, "Well, then what do you believe?"

My response is one that I've honed over the years. "Why is it so important for you to know what I believe? What I believe is very personal to me and has no impact on what you believe."

Right on cue, she became defensive. "Well. Like. What if I wanted to pray for you or something?"

"Then pray for me."

"Yeah, but you don't believe it. So why even bother?"

"But you do. Isn't that what's important? As it so  happens, I think any positive energy is a good thing, and prayer is positive energy."

"No, it's talking to God."

"Um. Talking to God isn't positive energy?"

Out came The Incredulous Look. "How can you say that when you don't even believe in...aggh!"

But this isn't a post about spirituality, or we'd all be here for the next five years. I like typing, but not that much.

Here's what I believe:

I believe we all have the right to believe whatever we want to believe, so long as it isn't causing harm to anyone else. This isn't an American right (our forefathers mostly just wanted the King off their backs - they never thought in terms of Buddhism, or Islam, or The Flying Spaghetti Monster), it's a human right. We also have the right to keep those beliefs to ourselves, if we so choose, discretion being the better part of valor and all that. That's why we won't be discussing my version of God - which is really just a big universal conglomerate of stuff that feels right to me. I don't even like using that name because it confuses the shit out of people who think only their version of God exists.

I believe that beliefs have the capacity to change and evolve as we change and evolve. They don't have to be the static stuff that was crammed down our throats just in case we'd reach the age of reason without having a proper brain to figure it out for ourselves. When I was 8 years old, I had a huge stuffed doggy that brought me comfort: at 54 years old, artwork brings me comfort. Things change. Why cannot beliefs be one of those things?

Why do I celebrate Christmas? I celebrate because although I can't believe in the virgin birth of a savior king, I can believe that the spirit of Santa Claus lives in some people. I believe in peace and goodwill.

I believe that patriotism is not about chanting the name of your country and boasting about how great it is. I believe that patriotism is in how you conduct yourself. Every day. It's in the respect you show others and the kindnesses you do. It's in the way you support your fellow countrymen, even if all that means is that you brought an elderly neighbor a fresh batch of muffins. That's patriotism. That's saying, "Let's do this together. We've got this." A great country isn't about sports superiority, or actors, or food, or music or, egads, religious beliefs... it's about its people, people who are willing to stand up and be authentic.

So, be authentic. I believe that every person has a right to be exactly who they need to be and to surround themselves with whatever makes that person. Get a full-body tattoo, pierce your hoo-hoo, dance to music only you hear, eat the hotdogs, sip the kale smoothie, color your hair or don't color your hair, wear a tiara or a baseball cap, be fat, be fit, be glamorous, be plain, dig rock-n-roll or rap or classical or jazz, drink coffee or tea, wine or beer, sing, oh please do sing.... You get the idea. Make your life your life. I believe we get to do that. No, wait. I believe it is our responsibility and an imperative that we do that. The happier you are, the better off the world around you will be.

I believe that we have absolutely no right to judge any other person. I also believe that all of us do judge others all the time. It's in our nature - we constantly compare stuff and we have a mental bar to which we hold our fellow humans. Like it or not. So, stop saying, "I'm not judging." Because you are. Just be aware of it and counter it. Quietly. Within yourself.

Under the auspices of judging others comes shaming. I believe this is one of the single worst things we can do to another human. If you're fortunate enough to never have been on the receiving end of shaming, trust me on this one. It sucks and it hurts and it sticks. Long after the "fuck them, what do they fucking know" attitude kicks in, it's still there, like a cancer. Oh, and shaming rarely ever comes out as, "Shame on you." Most of the time it's as subtle as a look, but it's spoken in all kinds of passive-agressive ways. It's the overheard whisper of, "Oh my god... did you see how short her skirt is?" It's the parent saying, "Do you really need that second scoop of potatoes?" It's the coach saying, "Stop acting like a girl. Man up." It's even the friend saying, "There you go again with your big words." Shaming runs a whole range of flavors and sizes, but it's wrong every time.

When you start a sentence with, "I'm sorry, but..." I believe you've misunderstood the meaning of "I'm sorry." You can't quantify an apology. And you can't put conditions on love. The most difficult people to love are those who have the most to teach us about ourselves. Yeah, it's not fun. In those instances, I'd rather be getting a root canal while cleaning a toilet, but not everyone on this earth is here to give us warm fuzzies and blow hot air up our skirts. Doesn't mean they're any less deserving of our love. You don't have to respect them. You don't have to hang with them, watch a movie and have pizza. But you've got to love them. I believe that. I believe that, but I suffer from no illusion that it's easy.

I believe that time does not heal all wounds. Some stuff just hurts forfuckingever and all you can do is try to distance yourself from it a little bit. That doesn't mean you don't confront the hurt; it just means that "getting over it" isn't always an option. Living around it, and maybe even in spite of it, is.

I believe we are here to love and to be loved. And until someone proves our reason for existence otherwise, that is what I will continue to believe. I believe we're here to do good things for the humans in our lives, be it those we love and hold dearest or those we barely know. Yes, cook your beloved his or her favorite dinner, but while you're out shopping for it, smile at the cashier, ask how her day is, and maybe slip her a gift card for a latté. Do little kindnesses until they become a habit.

I believe we should live as though we're constantly writing our own eulogies. What's going to be said of us when we're gone? I know what I'd want to hear, and I try to live my life in a way that will make that happen. Do I fail? Sure. All the time. I'm just one of your fellow humans, you know - full of love and my own brand of bullshit. I'm reminded here of the old paradigm: All I can do is all I can do.

And I will. I believe that.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Bat Girl Chardonnay

Many great eons ago, my friend Fred posted this picture as his Facebook status and challenged people to make up a caption. I told him I'd take it one further and write a story. Fred probably thinks I've since forgotten, and maybe so has he, but I haven't. I look at this photo every now and then and ask her what her story is. This past week, she's finally gotten comfortable enough with me to tell the tale. So, here you go, Fred, especially.


He walks past me and I can tell he's trying hard not to look. About ten feet later, his curiosity gets the best of him and he turns. "You do realize that we're nowhere near Halloween, right?" I level him with a look that people typically interpret as "go the fuck away", which they also typically comply with. But maybe he isn't getting the proper translation due to the interference of my mask, because he just stands there. So, I make him wait as I take a slow drag off my cigarette, follow it up with a sip of wine and say, "I'm a prostitute. My john, who is late, gets excited when I wear Daisy Dukes and a Bat Girl mask."

I'm rewarded with an actual jaw drop.

"For real? You are?" He has that nerdy, stammering, William H. Macy adorable thing going for him. "I mean, it's okay if you are. I didn't realize I'd booked into that kind of a motel. Shit. Not that it's a specific kind of... um... seriously?"

"Nah. I'm fucking with you. I'm what's known in current vernacular as a soccer mom. Once a month my husband, Jack, and I like to keep the pot stirred, so to speak. We hire a sitter and check into a motel and get up to a bit more wickedness than we normally allow for, what with the constant threat of children walking in on us. Yesterday I was going through old boxes of crap, looking for stuff to give to the shelter and came across this mask. Our daughter wore it to a party a couple of years ago. I figured, what the hell, I'll change things up a little on date night. That, sir, is the true, boring story."

"It's kind of sweet, I think." He says. "And more impressive than the hooker story. How many kids?"

"Three. One girl, two boys. Eleven, eight and six. They are the joys of my life but for the many times a day when I want to auction them off to the highest bidder."

"You could just give them away...?"

"Never! I require recompense for the hard work I've put in, the least of which was a cumulative thirty seven and a half hours of labor. For free? No way in hell. And why am I telling you all this?"

He cocks his head and points at my now empty wine glass. "Could be...?"

"Oh, no. Momma can hold her liquor quite well, thanks ever so. It's probably more because I haven't talked to a grown up in over three days. My husband has been out of town - and where is he? He was supposed to be here over an hour ago. The only person I've talked to is the grocery store check out girl. She's hardly a grown up. I'm certain that if I named an early 90s band, she'd tell me how much her mom 'totes loves' them." I suddenly remember that I'm still sporting a Bat Girl mask. "You don't find the mask disconcerting?"

He gives me a shrewd once over. "No. I kind of like the anonymity of it. Plus, without it, I wouldn't have stopped to talk and I'm enjoying this. Nice evening, mysterious stranger... beats whatever's on TV."

I smile, but it's not a great smile. I'm really beginning to worry about Jack. I pull my cellphone out of my pocket and say, "Hang on a sec. I need to find out what's keeping the man." It goes to his voicemail. "Hey. Last I heard you were on the ground and about to head over here. Kind of worried that you're not here yet. Call or text me? 'K. Love you, babe. Bye." I shove the phone back in my pocket and turn my attention back to the William H. Macy Wannabe. "Sorry. I'm kind of concerned. It's not like him to be this late."

"You want me to take off? Probably wouldn't look good anyway if I was standing here when he drives up."

"No, it's okay. He knows me well enough to know better than to make stupid assumptions. And, you're helping pass the time which is helping to keep me from freaking out. I think I was a border collie in another life.  I'm not happy unless I know where my flock is. So, now that you know everything there is to know about Bat Girl, tell me about you."

"I'm a serial killer."

My turn for the jaw drop, which makes my laugh sound strangled and rough. I raise my hands in surrender, "Whoa. Okay then, Mister Serial Killer. Woo woo... seriously."

"Seriously. I am. See the van over there?" He points across the parking lot. I nod, feeling chilled. "I have your husband. And if you want to see him one last time before you both die, you'll come with me. Quietly. Or, I can walk away. But you'll never see him again and I know where you live. Maybe I'll stop by sometime when your children are home."

I stand up, letting the cape drape over my arms. I'm hoping he'll forget I have the wine glass. And the cellphone. And... fuck. "This isn't happening." I whisper.

"Oh, but it is." He pushes my shoulder a little to get me moving. My legs feel weighted and the parking lot feels like it's miles wide. He nudges my shoulder a couple times to keep me going. We finally get to the van. He fishes through his keys and puts one in the lock.

I clear my throat. "Um. Is... Are you..." As he turns to look at me I grip the stem of the wine glass as tightly as I can, bring it up and ram it into him just below the jaw line. It shatters against his windpipe. Blood spatters my face as I bring my knee up hard into his crotch. He howls - I'm happy to say it is a gurgling sounding howl - as he stumbles away and falls to the ground. Before he can recover, I whip out my cellphone and dial 911. Before the operator can spit out, "Nine one one, what's your emergency." I interrupt with, "A man just tried to kidnap me, I hurt him, but he's still conscious. He says he has my husband. I'm in the parking lot of the Waterside Motel. His van is in the parking lot, a powder-blue Ford, license number three beta seven roger nine beta." I'm surprised by how calm and clear my voice is. The operator comes back with, "Stay on the line, Ma'am. Help is on the way. Are you safe right now? Or can you get to a safe place?"

I tell her to hang on a second. I walk over to where Mister Serial Killer is moaning and writhing. I kick him in the back of the head, right at the base of his skull. The gurgling moan stops. I put the phone back up to my ear. "I think I'm okay right here. My husband - he said he had him. The guy is unconscious right now. Or maybe dead. I don't know. I just kicked him... I'm... I..." It might be raining, because the flashing lights that are speeding toward the motel waver, but it isn't raining - I'm crying. "They're here. I mean, they're still coming down the street, but they're almost here...."

"Stay on the line, Ma'am. Don't hang up until they're right there with you."


Three police cars pull into the parking lot. I begin sobbing. Two cops run to where the killer is, one trains a weapon on him while the other cuffs him. Two others jog over to me, while another two hang back at a distance. "Ma'am? Ma'am? Are you injured? Is that your blood? Let me take your phone. It's okay, it's gonna be okay."

"No, not my blood, I don't think, I don't know... I'm.... I think I'm..." My knees suddenly refuse to work and I wobble. One of the cops grabs my elbow with one hand, wraps an arm around my waist and helps me sit down on the ground.

"Do you mind if I take this mask off of you, Ma'am?"

"Oh my god. I didn't even realize. Yes. Take it. Take the fucking thing and throw it as far away as it'll go. I never want to see it or touch it again... I..." I'm making big chuffing, sobbing noises between every other word. They're in rhythm with a loud banging noise. My head is swimming - noises sound like they're under water, lights look alien and surreal. One of the cops whirls about in slow motion and turns the key that was left in the van's back door. The back door yawns open and there is Jack, pale, wild-eyed, wrists and ankles bound with rope. What little grasp I have left on my emotion slips completely. "Ohhh. Oh... J-J-J-Jaaaack! Ohhh..."

Medics arrive and one of them gives me "a little help calming down" is what he called the shot. My husband has been released from his bonds and checked over and now has his arms wrapped around me. I'm mostly back in the real world. One of the cops squats so that we're eye to eye. "Ma'am, we'll take a longer statement later, but we'd like to get something from you while it's all fresh. Can you give me a brief description of what happened?"

I turn my head and give Jack a watery smile. "Yeah." I nod. "Yeah, I can tell you. I can tell you that bastard picked the wrong day to fuck with Bat Girl."

Friday, July 22, 2016

Policing the Laundry

Earlier today my friend Jacob posted a line on Facebook that made me remember this poem. I wrote it back in 1998, when my relationship with my late mate, John was brand new. It was a tenuous, weighty time in my life - one that I was willing to wade through because I sensed great reward in staying the course. I wasn't wrong.

This piece resurfaces every now and then, reminding me that even in the everyday, there is a clear message and a path that needs following.

Without further ado...

Saturday Night at the Laundromat

Policing the laundry,
machines spinning
an endless cycle of dirt
that measures the days -
you with your things,
me with my things,
our stuff mingling
like so many mismatched socks,
and we just wait to fold.

The dryers hum a litany.
You roll your eyes heavenward
to say if there was really
a real god
there'd be no laundry.
This is why
I am thinking of atheism
(that spiritual fig leaf)
as I fold underwear.

It's all too real,
this business of our lives,
the place between
pleasure and progress,
where we are stuck
in a minefield of the mundane -
we worry about the steps, but
nothing ever does explode.
Hey, the towels are fluffy,
the sheets are warm.
It's absurdly important.
Yeah. I, too, wonder
what the whales must think of us.

It's done again, and
we face another week
of things gradually
filling a basket.
I slip my hand
into yours,
and ponder
how complicated it can be
to simply live.

BAB 1998

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Maybe She's Born With It

I was born into privilege without having a clue what it was, much less what it meant. My parents were, by appearances, middle class. Although, I think they were, more often than not, living half a step ahead of their means in trying to shelter, feed and clothe five children. Still, I never wanted for anything that might have left my health or life in danger.

I was born into prejudice and even outright bigotry.

To this day, I feel certain that the creators of Archie Bunker patterned that character after my father. He never failed to slight another person based on ethnic background or religion. Most of the time he wasn't trying to be mean. Sometimes he was, but by and large he was simply ignorant when it came to relating to the differences in his fellow man. Even as a small child I would wince when I heard him referring to a neighbor as "that dumb Hollander", or any Native American he happened to meet as "Cochise", or (and it hurt my heart as much to hear it then as it does now) referring to blacks using that horrible "n" word. The list could go on - he had a pejorative for every group.

I always wanted to ask him, "What did they ever do to you?" Wanted to, but never did. Those were different times half a century ago.

My mother was more passive and went the route of quiet prejudice. She was the kind, respectful woman who would simply go out of her way - crossing the street, ducking into a shop, etc. - to avoid (in her mind) questionable people. I saw this happen a number of times with black people, but I also saw it happen with gypsies when we were in Hungary together, and with homeless people in Washington, DC. Once, when we were lost in Baltimore, I pulled to the side of the road to ask a man for directions. He was black. As I rolled down the window she whispered, "Shouldn't we just go to a gas station?" I shot her the don't-be-absurd look and hollered, "Hello... excuse me, sir!" The man ambled over to the car, I explained where we were trying to go. He gave me great directions. I smiled and said thank you, and he replied with, "Have a fun time in Baltimore!" We went on or way. Like humans do.

I wanted to ask her, "Don't you understand what your fear is doing to you?" Wanted to, but never did. She was my mom and she was a nice lady.

I'm as white as white can be. My heritage is Irish Hungarian. I get a sunburn if I stand next to a nightlight. I grew up in a predominately Dutch community filled with fair-haired, blue-eyed children, where the rally cry of the day was, "If you ain't Dutch, you ain't much." As a good Irish Catholic in a Calvinist neighborhood, I always felt a little ashamed of my lack of Dutch and grateful that at least my looks blended in. Because I didn't understand what the big deal was, even when a friend told me I was going to Hell for playing outdoors and going to movies on Sundays.

I wanted to ask her, "How can your religion decide my fate?"

I remember watching coverage of the race riots back in the '60s. Anger erupted on the streets in Detroit, and Detroit was in Michigan, and so was I (albeit on the other side of the state). Suddenly, all that danger and irrational hatred, and fear and destruction, and unbridled vitriol was much too close to home. Mixed in with that were nightly images of the Viet Nam war. Mixed in with that were images of the Kent State massacre. Mixed in with that were a president being shot, his brother being shot, and a visionary leader who was trying to bring an end to the hatred and violence... shot. I remember asking my mother, "Why can't people just be nice to each other and get along?"  She told me I was wise beyond my years, but that it just wasn't the way of the world.

I didn't understand then. I don't understand now.

I saw a post on Facebook today, something about how it's time to bring back the Hippies. No it's not. Hell no, it's not. The Hippies never changed anything. They did drugs and swapped STDs and left garbage in their trail. Then they realized that it's cold when you can't pay the electricity, being hungry sucks, not showering for days isn't very sexy, and sleeping in a musty van with four other people isn't all that fun really. So, they grew up, got jobs and are now running the country that everyone is bitching about.

Bring back the Hippies... I think not.

I won't proclaim that I don't see the differences in people. That's like saying you don't notice if an animal is a cat or a dog or a wombat. Of course I see differences. I see color. But I love it. I love seeing those differences. After growing up in a city where every kid looked like a cast member of Village of the Damned, I fucking love differences. I want to know about other cultures and traditions and join in the celebration. I want to know what makes people tick. All of them.

For nine years I was privileged (it doesn't have to be a bad word, does it?) to live with a man who was paralyzed and confined to using a wheelchair for mobility. I know a little about being on the sharp end of prejudice. It was there when idiot servers would look to me to place his order at restaurants, even though he was clearly all there mentally and could do it himself. It was there when people would look at him, then look at the able-bodied girl with him and you could almost hear them thinking, "I wonder what she's doing with him...?" If I was feeling particularly feisty and righteous, I'd size them up with my own look and whisper loudly, "I'm in it for the awesome oral sex." I'd see it when people would hug the wall as they walked by him, as if whatever put him in a chair was communicable. When he'd come up against barriers, especially in the form of attitude from others, he'd sigh and say, "I feel like a black man in the 1950s."

I never understood what the big deal was. I never understood why anyone couldn't see what I saw - a man with gorgeous eyes and killer wit.

A few years back I worked closely with a realtor who was from Iran. She would bring her Iranian customers to me. One day we went to lunch and I thanked her for her business. With tears in her eyes she said, "Oh no. The thank you is all mine. You are always so kind and respectful. You have no idea what we go through and how mean people can be." I looked at her, perplexed. "You mean, because you're from Iran?" She nodded. "People see our skin and hear our voices, and presume we are terrorists." I hugged her and told her I was sorry, and that I was sorry for the idiots who would never have the pleasure of knowing such beautiful people.

They were beautiful. I was honored to serve them.

I will confess, and this is a big one... I will confess that there was a time when I claimed to love gay people even though I was certain they were all going to Hell and that AIDS was probably their punishment for "deciding to be gay". Yes. I did. I was that person. Because I listened to an expert who told me that was how God felt about it. I was an idiot. I didn't do my own research and make my own decisions. It was a pretty significant lapse in judgment, and I swear it won't ever happen again, because I was wrong. I was so very fucking wrong. I didn't bother to do what I usually do when I encounter "different". I didn't bother questioning and learning. I forgot to celebrate the difference. That was thirty some odd years ago, and self-forgiveness has been slow on that particular score.

A quarter of a century ago (give or take a couple of years) two dear friends of mine decided to marry. Amy is white, Ricky is black. All I've ever seen were a couple of good looking people whose love for each other was something beautiful to behold. When I told a mutual friend that they were marrying, she clapped her hands and exclaimed, "I can't wait to see their babies! I can't wait until the whole world is the color of a latté." Sadly, that particular friend is no longer on this earth. If she was, she'd delight in the photo that Ricky posted today...
The picture made me cry - the strength, the love, the awful recent events that made Ricky feel compelled to post it. It came on the heels of Amy posting that they'd had a talk with their grown sons about how to stay safe. I know the kind of parents they are and I'm fairly certain such a talk wasn't necessary, but they needed to do it anyway. That my dear friends are afraid for their sons to do something as simple as going to the grocery store... I'm not shocked. I'm not outraged. I'm heartsick.

Because 50 years later, with everything I've learned, I still don't understand why we can't just be nice and get along. I'm not perfect - there are days when I wish everyone on the planet would go away. I don't leave my house because I don't feel like dealing with people. I've pretty much lost any naïveté I had when I started this journey, so it isn't that I'm deluded about the way things are. Not even close. I think I was born lacking the gene that makes my fears turn into hatred. Heck, I can't even really claim to hate spiders. They're really kind of cool - I just don't like having them near me.

What you want
Baby, I got
What you need
Do you know I got it?
R-E-S-P-E-C-T... sock it to me. Nah, sock it to the world.