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Monday, September 11, 2017

The Moment


Did I think about it? Of course I did. Unless one lives under a rock and/or is brain dead, it's impossible not to. Since neither of those scenarios apply to me, yes, it was on my mind. Like millions of others, I can tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing when it happened. I can do that with all of the more defining moments in my life.

Those kinds of memories don't have the grainy, aged film look that many other memorable moments do. They are high definition and they are larger than life. They are so big and so well defined that not only can I see the peach fuzz on a face, but each individual hair that makes up the peach fuzz.

I know each line on the back of my father's massive hands as the tremors of end stage lung cancer shook them. Shook them so much that he couldn't unzip and re-zip his pants when he had to use the bathroom. So he asked me, his then teenage daughter to help. I did so willingly, but with a tremendous, painful lump in my throat. I understood all at once what it must have taken for him to ask for my help. No man should ever have to ask his daughter for help zipping his pants. In the few short seconds it took me to help him, his hands trembled at his sides. And I remember every line on the back of his hands.

I remember the way the sunlight hit the dust on the monitor the day I clicked open an email from a friend only to read that a beloved mutual friend of ours had died very suddenly. Six words stole the air from the room, "I'm afraid our girl is gone." As the world spun away, the dust and the sunlight and the monitor remained, and only those three things. Jesse was gone, dust, sunlight, monitor, Jesse gone, sunlight, dust, monitor, how can that be, monitor, dust, sunlight. I watched as the first chuff of a sob broke free from me and made the dust dance in the sunlight.

I can see the reflection of my office building in his black truck. The building number above the door is backwards. I approach the driver side window with a smile. He's early. I'm happy to see him. Then I see his face, the streaks of gray in his mustache, the way his lower jaw is working - he always did that when something troubled him deeply. I stop short at the look on his face. "What." I say it not as a question but more as a definition of some great heavy beast standing between us. His look is one of mixed shame, fear, and almost anger. He knows he's going to break something in me as he answers with one word, "Cancer." I sigh, and then I can move forward to grasp his shoulder. "Oh, my love." It's all I can say. It's enough. I look down and notice that the backwards number is wavering. I don't want him to see my tears. Not yet. He has enough to deal with.

September 11, 2001. I was finishing an early morning workout on one of the treadmills in the small gym that was part of the apartment complex where my late mate and I lived. There was a woman on the other treadmill. I think she had blond hair. We had TV turned on to the news chatter of local weather, traffic, blahblahblah... "We interrupt your regular broadcast... breaking news..." We both watched as the first plane hit the tower. "Oh, my god..." the woman next to me said softly. "That didn't look accidental," was my response. I finished up and went home to shower and get ready for work. I walked in the door and told John to turn on the news. "A plane just ran into one of the World Trade Center towers," I said. I went into the kitchen and poured myself a cup of coffee. I heard the tell-tale click of the TV as John pushed the on button of the remote. The image of the tower, smoldering in the middle, filled the screen. "Holy shit!" he exclaimed. "I don't think it was an accident," I repeated. I couldn't shake the heavy feeling in my chest. I was taking a sip of coffee when the second plane hit. I quickly set down the cup and propped myself on the edge of the sofa. I remember thinking, "Smoke and ashes... oh the people... smokeandashesohthepeople..." as if I was about to write a poem. There was nothing poetic about it.

Yes. I thought about it this morning, the same way I often think about those clear, hard-edged moments of my life. The moments that show me how easy it is to feel wounded and how tough I can be despite that. I thought about it and proceeded with my day in the only way I know how give credence to those unthinkable times and to honor those people who have suffered agony that I can't completely understand - the people I've loved and the people I'll never know who have been taken in death.

I thought about it. I thought about it and then and set about living deliberately. Bringing honor isn't so much in a totem or a memorial or a moment of silence. Honor is in living anyway. Honor is in living well and fully.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Inundated

What the Night
by Barb Black

It’s not often that I feel completely overwhelmed. I feel things deeply and forcefully, but it rarely leaves me at a loss for words, at least not for long. Even so, this is where I find myself now, and as I’ve learned, writing it out helps. In my life, writing is where the hidden words come to light.

Unless you’ve been unconscious this past week, you know that Texas got the shit beat out of it in a fight with a guy named Harvey. Yeah, that’s my glib way of saying those guys got walloped by a hurricane - huge loss of property and property damage, lost lives, lost jobs, lost pets. But you already know all that.

I barely watch the news. I can’t take it on an ordinary day, and when tragedy strikes, I find it even more difficult to endure. When tragedy strikes, I also pare my social media glances to a minimum. I become so emotionally pained and weary when people are hurting that I just don't need to see constant reminders. Most of the time I feel that way because I’m a helper; I like to help people feel better. If I can't do that, it has a profound effect on my general outlook.

So, there I was last Wednesday, checking out the weather forecast for my area on The Weather Channel on TV. Naturally, as my forecast scrolled across the bottom of the screen (more stupid sun and hot weather in store for the NW), the anchors were covering the devastation Harvey continued to wreak in Houston and surrounding areas. I felt the energy drain right out of me despite the 83 or so cups of coffee I’d had. How could I go about my day when so many were hurting? I had no “extra” money to give and I’m not physically able to do much of anything, and yet I ached to do… something.

So, I did nothing. I moped, which means I watched episodes of something and had snacks and traded banter with Facebook friends. I finally went upstairs to my studio. I marveled again at how nice it looks since I gutted it and rearranged and organized things last month. I looked at the group of paintings I had leaning against a wall, half wondering if they’d ever find a loving home, half wondering why I was keeping them at all.

It hit me. “You silly woman. You have a tremendous resource - quite literally at your fingertips. Why don’t you sell these things and give that money to help with Harvey relief?” My other voice, the voice of my petulant, unsure 14-year-old self spoke up, “Pffft… who’d want that stuff? You think an awful lot of yourself. And how would you market it? Bigwigs are donating huge sums of money, and it’s not like you’d make much and….” That was when I duct taped her mouth shut. Sometimes that chick needs to shut the hell up.

I thought about it. I wrestled with ideas, even as I slept and dreamed that night. And then, during my 47th cup of coffee Thursday morning, the Aha! burst into view. I’d auction it off online with a simple Facebook album post and a "have at it". I floated the idea by my Facebook tribe and it was met with good reception. So, I went right to work, set up the album of artwork, complete with instructions and minimum prices and such.

You know what? I built it and they came! Within seconds of posting it, people were bidding. Honestly, I sat here in tears watching the notifications come in. So much generosity. So much love. The bidding ended at noon today, and I’m beyond thrilled to tell you that my humble little art auction raised $1000 that will go toward helping folks in Texas.

(*Cue Ron Popeil voice*) But wait! That’s not all. It didn’t just raise $1000. Here’s what else it did. Least of all, but so needed, it validated what I do. As an artist, that validation is gold. We sit and pour our hearts out into whatever we do, and when someone comes along and says, “I’ll buy that.” Well, we just about can’t handle it. (I say “we”, but it might only be me - I don’t think so, though.) It also made my heart swell to see how generous my friends were with their donations and their encouragement and their good-natured banter as they “fought” over pieces. I feel proud of my fellow humans (as a collective) for the first time in a long time. It has also sparked my creative energy to jump back into the pretty colors and make things magically appear. Finally, the overall action of it has had me grinning non-stop - I was doing something and they were doing something. Together, we were doing something! Action always defeats despair. Always. Always.

So, yes. I am overwhelmed. Once again, I have found beauty that is anchored in something horrible. I’ve come to learn that it’s where true beauty lives. It’s how Life balances her little ballerina toes on the head of a pin. “Look at me! Precarious and scary, but so pretty!”

I won’t hesitate to do this again. Art counts for something and as artists, we must stand and be counted. For now, my heart is full. I thank all of you who participated, whether all you could do was lend encouragement, whether you won your bids or not, you made it better. You changed my life… and I never even saw that coming.



Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Gone Dark


There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who get and appreciate dark humor (gallows humor, if you prefer), and people who can't breathe without proper instruction. I'm kidding. Maybe. Not really. (They're certainly stifled.) I am most definitely of the Dark Humor Peoples, and proudly so. Humor has been the one constant in my life. It has taken me through everything and has been my friend when all else is lost. Dark humor is my way of whistling past the graveyard. It isn't that I don't take things seriously. I take too much too seriously. Dark humor is the mechanism that allows me to cope with it in a way that keeps me getting out of bed every morning.

I've always known that I tend toward the shadow side of humor. As a kid, friends would give me the sideways glance when I'd joke about certain things. Growing into adulthood, my attempts at humor were often met with a polite, "Heh..." and a face that looked as though someone farted in the elevator. All of which convinced me that there was something wrong with me, that I was too off-center for anyone to understand me. I was a stranger in my own world, making my smart ass comments and laughing to myself. For a long time I kept my mouth shut. The only problem with that was trying to explain to others why I was laughing at inappropriate moments. "Oh, nothing... just had a thought..."

Then, in the Autumn of 1994, I learned that I possessed a great gift - one that kept me from completely losing my shit and wallowing in it.

I was a nanny back then. I had started with the family in 1987 when the youngest boy was barely 2 years old and the eldest nearly 7 years old. A few years later when the youngest began kindergarten, I started the search for employment elsewhere, as they really didn't need a full time nanny. But, just as I was sending out resumes, their mother, Cindy (who had become a dear friend by then), was diagnosed with breast cancer. The cancer almost immediately metastasized to her spine, causing mobility issues. So, I ended up staying on to help with her care.

During what was to be the last summer of her life, the older of the two boys (Jon) went to a party and returned home with a bag full of party favors. Among the various tchotchkes in the bag was a battery operated pen that squiggled when switched on. We all had great fun with it, trying to write legible notes and draw faces. If you're having trouble picturing it, let me put it bluntly. It was, for all intents and purposes, a vibrator with a pen on one end. I don't know what innocent soul thought this was good swag for a child's party, but I imagine Cindy and I weren't the only adults to bite down on our lips to smother a giggle after giving the apparatus and each other knowing looks.

A couple of months later, the ravages of the disease and chemo treatments left Cindy completely bedridden and unable to perform even the most basic human functions. The first time I had to change her diaper, I fought hard against the tears that threatened to blind me. All I could think was that as much as I was feeling, how much more could she be feeling? I imagined her humiliation, this proud beautiful warrior, at having me, the woman who'd been hired to change her baby's diapers now changing hers. I rolled her on her side and held the warm washcloth in my hand, hesitating. Finally, I gulped back the tremendous lump in my throat and said gently, "Please pardon my familiarity..." Without hesitation, she replied, "That's okay... as long as you're not holding Jonathan's pen." I snorted out laughter through my tears so hard that snot flew onto her hip. I wheezed out, "Oh, grossss... I'm so sorry!" But she was laughing too hard to care. I finished cleaning her up and getting her settled again, both of us laughing hysterically the entire time.

It's one of the best laughs I've ever had at one of the darkest times in my life. It was a moment that defined me. I realized in that moment that what I carried within me was a gift and one of life's finest. If there was humor in that dark moment, there was humor everywhere. And, let me qualify this here, humor isn't always funny - sometimes its sole purpose serves to be a momentary breath, a pause to face what is. After all, how many times do we hear or see something "funny", yet we don't laugh. Instead, we nod in recognition - the ol' "ah, somebody out there gets it."

Humor, dark humor especially, opens up a conduit that allows us to acknowledge the most horrific stuff in our lives. More importantly, it's a gigantic "fuck you" to that horrific stuff. It says, "You have not beaten me. I am still here. I may be wiping my own snot and tears off a dying woman's ass, but I'll be able to walk away from this and I'll keep going. And I'll be stronger for it."

It's no surprise that the people closest to me are those who also willingly go the depths. I admire fellow humans who are willing to walk through the dark and see it for what it is - a place where any light thrown becomes a spotlight that reveals the true nature of a thing.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Suddenly


We tend to think of sudden things as bad things. Sudden tragedy. Sudden death. Sudden illness. But we rarely talk about good things in sudden terms. You don't hear people say, "I was suddenly happy." Or, "I suddenly felt great." Or, "Then sudden fortune found me." I think it's often the case that we don't see those sudden good moments for what they are. It can take a while for the good stuff to sink in. As a species, we're much more prepared for bad things to happen, which probably pulls from some ancient instinct regarding the avoidance of being eaten by a smilodon. "I told Glorg not to go out there today. I had a feeling something bad would happen." We don't anticipate good (random) things. Most of us don't set out in the morning thinking, "I'm ready for great stuff today!" And if we do, we're just asking for something to go awry, right? Right.

But the good stuff happens anyway. And it almost always happens with the same suddenness as the bad stuff. So, we ought to just go ahead and expect it.

I didn't recognize my own moment when it happened, but it happened anyway. I never saw it coming, even though I was the one who placed the ad in the singles section of craigslist, "Sure is a pretty day! Wish I had someone to share it with." I wasn't looking for eternal love. I'd given up on that. I was looking for some companionship. Someone to turn to and say, "Look how pretty the clouds are against all that blue!"

Within minutes, I had two responses to my little ad. One was the standard dick pic (Do those ever work? Seriously, if you're a guy and you've had success with that as an initial approach, let me know.) The second response was a picture of the mountain I was living on, Mt. Pilchuck, with the reply, "It sure is!" I responded to the second one, having been completely unimpressed with the dick pic. (It just wasn't that special, y'know?) But the picture of "my" mountain did impress me. So, I wrote back, "Where in the Pilchuck are you?! Oh, dear. That makes it sound like I'm swearing at you and we haven't even met yet." What ensued were several  hilarious, sarcasm-filled messages and a few evenings spent on the phone.

Then it was time to meet. We were having a ridiculous heat wave here in the NW. By ridiculous, I mean that temps threatened to go triple digit - not something that  happens much here. He called and said, "I'd love to get together, but it's so hot, I don't know that anything would be fun." It so happened I was living next to a river. Being the bold, brazen (read: sometimes foolish and too trusting) wench that I am, I told him to come on over. We could sit in the river and be cool and comfy, and maybe throw some burgers on the grill.

He showed up a couple of hours later. He brought bags of groceries - stuff for salad, a couple of steaks, fresh corn, and some snacks. I was impressed. I'm a cheap date, so I was really impressed. He set the stuff down and then we hugged. That hug was so familiar. It was like slipping into a new jacket that's so comfortable you know you're going to keep wearing until it's a pile of thread.

It was late afternoon, and the crazy hot weather was stifling. So, we walked down to the river and spent a couple of hours floating in the water and lounging on the rocks. If I close my eyes, I can still feel the cool river juxtaposed against the heat of the day, and smell that delicious NW mossy green smell mingling with the scent of fir trees and water. Talking came easily for us. He had stories; I had stories. There weren't any long, awkward gaps.

As dusk moved in, we went back up the path to my house and he cooked. He did it all. When I expressed my surprise and delight, he said, "I'm not a complete ass. I wasn't just going to come over and eat all your food." We ate and watched a movie. When I kissed him goodbye, I thought, "Well, that was pleasant." And fully expected that I'd never see him again. Because, that's usually the way of things. I'm a practical romantic.

But he did come back. Two months later I moved in with him. You see, the day I received the response to my ad was my suddenly. One minuted I didn't know he existed; the next minute he was in my life for good. All of the sudden I was happy, I was loved, I was cared for, I was cherished - and it happened out of the blue. Yeah, I suppose you could say that I put the message out to the Universe, but I don't really think the Universe was so overly concerned with my love life. Like bad stuff, sometimes good stuff just happens, which it did for me, nine years ago. In July 2009, I won the good human lottery and not a day goes by that I don't live in gratitude for that.

You can tell me I'm smarmy or mushy or whatever. I don't care. I'm proud of this relationship. I'm proud of chances taken. Mostly I'm proud of the guy who reminds me every day that I bring as much value to his life as he does to mine. And if a sudden moment should change it all (may it please the gods that it not be any time soon), I will know the treasure I've had and I will carry it with me.

Oh, and Dear Dick Pic Guy - way to ruin an opportunity. I hope you and your mediocre penis are having a nice life.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The (un)Grief


This is difficult for me to write. I've been sad and I'm not good at owning sadness. I have no patience for it within myself. To me, it's like a nasty cold, or a minor injury. I just want it to go away so I can get back to normal. In truth though, this feels like more than sadness. It feels a lot like grief (and that never does retreat completely). My reactions to everything and everyone around me feel like they do when grief is fresh. I feel edgy (and not cool edgy), raw, unfocused, and fairly pissed off all the time. That's me during grief. So charming.

You see, I've lost a friend. Not to death - at least I think she's still alive. It's not because of some falling out. It is, as far as I can understand, because her life changed drastically due to mental health and financial issues and she's either unable or unwilling to communicate with me. I've read up on everything I could to learn and understand. I let her know I was there without, I hope, pushing. I listened. I offered whatever support I could, which really isn't a lot more than a hand to hold and lunch. I've tried to not make this about me, but she's gone completely silent, and I hurt. I hurt a lot.

I've lost lots of friends over the decades. Losing a friend is nothing new - people change, people grow in different directions, life gets in the way. I'm not being a whiny pre-teen whose bestie doesn't want to hang out at the mall with her any more. This isn't a simple case of, "Well, I guess I'll go have coffee with someone else then."

The thing is, it was one of the best friendships I've ever had. We had a blast together. We enjoyed the same movies, music, books, food, artsy stuff. We shared a very similar sarcastic, dark sense of humor. We shared heartbreak and tears. We had great conversations about a great many things. In short, we really enjoyed our time together. I haven't had a friendship like that in many years.

Now she's phased herself from my life. She's disconnected herself. And I hurt, even knowing full well that it's not about me. I know she needs time to heal and to mend the things in her life that need mending. I'd be okay, and I told her this early on, just getting a text that reads, "Still breathing."

In the movie L.A Story, Steve Martin asks the question, "When friendship dies, where do you go to say goodbye?" Maybe that best sums up what I'm feeling. I love her and I never got the chance to say goodbye. The wretched irony is that the one person who would know how to comfort me in this is she.

I'll dry the tears that fall as I write this. I'll carry on. It's what I do. But I will hope with all my heart that a day comes soon when I can say hello again.

Because this feeling right now? It sucks.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Of a Decade

J.P.J: September 24, 1960 - May 7, 2007

Dear John,

Ten years. A decade. You used to say, "Five years will go by anyway." Let me tell you, ten years will sneak up, lasso you, and have you over a barrel and wondering how you got there before you can say, "What the fuck?" I'm in awe, because I can't think of a better word, that it's been ten years since I last held your hand and kissed your brow.  It seems like yesterday, but it also seems like (another phrase you were given to say) somebody else's home movie.

Where has a decade gone? A decade that I haven't shared with you, not in the conventional sense. I know, people will tell me that you're always there, and you are. But I miss your voice, your laughter, the light in your smile. You could be damned difficult to be around; still, I miss the youness of you.

A decade has taught me that I love where I am now and that pain is a part of loving where I am now. I wouldn't be here, in this life, in this space, if you were. I get a slightly metallic taste in my mouth when I think of things in those terms. I tell myself not to, but, you know... "what if" is a blood-hungry bitch from Hell. Anyway, I'm loved and I'm happy, and if it comes with a smattering of guilt, c'est la vie, huh?

Ten years. A couple of months ago, the last time I had a dream that you came back, I was upset by it. In the dream, I was crying and confused. I was glad to see you again, but my words were, "Why are you here? Why now? You're going to change everything and I really like where I am now!" I don't remember  your response. I do remember waking up and chalking it up to growth that I can acknowledge hard feelings like that. That I can look them in the eye and stay sane. Even so, I kissed Steve and said, "Please don't die. Ever." He didn't question it. He's smart ass enough to know that his answer would suffice, "Not plannin' on it today."

When I look at old pictures, I can't help but wonder what a decade would have done to you. I wonder if you would have made peace with yourself without having gotten sick. I wonder if you would have finally understood your greatness. I wonder if you would have realized that you had nothing to prove to anyone, not even yourself.

You always said you wanted to go out in a blaze of glory, saving someone else's life. Well, that's what you did ten years ago. You threw yourself in front of that screaming engine we call life. For me. You probably didn't know it at the time, that you were doing that. I didn't. But, in looking back, I realize the gift you gave me by ditching the party early. "Here, woman. Stand. On your own. Take a look around and see beauty in all of it. Be resolute. Be honorable. Kick ass and take names. Dig the shit out of the journey. Find amazing love, huge love, love you won't expect and then wade on in and claim it and belong there. Find you. She's waiting to take your hand as soon as I let go. I love you, Trippy Chick, but I've gotta fly." And it was in the void of you not being there any more that I found who I was meant to be. It was who I'd been all along, but... shinier.

A decade. Ten years. I'm pleased they went the way they did - bittersweet pleasure though it is. I still think of you so often, but it's without the sharp biting pain that once had its teeth in all my memories of you. There's a TV show I like to watch, The Walking Dead, and you'd hate it. One of the characters said something that stuck and made sense out of everything. He said, "We go on because they can't."

And so, I have,
With much love,
Barb

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Everything Police


They're out there, everywhere you go, watching what you do, listening to what you say. It doesn't matter if it's directed at them or not. They know best and they will tell you where you're going wrong. They are the Everything Police. Beware. They are of the firm belief that most of us don't know our own mind, and they are insidiously separatist fuckers. Rather than rally people to come together or cheer for some wonderful happening, they like to point out why it's all wrong.

They say things like:
"You can't do that, because you didn't grow up where I grew up, so you have no claim to it."
"You look stupid doing that because it's not part of your ethnicity."
"Our group has dibs on that word. We said so, that's why. Don't even think of saying it."
"Don't you dare believe that, because... reasons. Here, we've done all the research for you. Trust us."
"You only think you don't like <insert food here>. You just never had it prepared the right way."

There are many and various such phrases, but perhaps the most vile is, "You shouldn't feel that way." Everything Police love to shame people for feeling what they feel.

I started out calling this faction of people the Yeah, Buts. Because they're also the type who will, if you mention what a lovely, sunny day it is, say, "Yeah, but... allergies." Nothing is ever good enough for them. Nothing is ever just right. However, I noticed that it went beyond "yeah, but" and that it was far more invasive. A lot of them weren't even waiting for the opportunity to throw in a "yeah, but" - they were coming right out, full force, and telling people how to be. Best example of this is an article George Takei shared last week in which a woman asked straight females to stop referring to female friends as girlfriends because it was confusing to lesbians (how ever are they to know who they can and can't hook up with?!). My response to which was, "Oh, give me a fucking break. Truly tired of this kind of separatist bullshit. Nobody owns the rights to words. If I want to call a female my girlfriend rather than just friend, I will. If that makes the Everything Police twitchy, fuck 'em. Let them wonder, they who do not truly know me. I know who the hell I am."

So, I started calling them the Everything Police. Because Ev-pos will just presume you're doing the wrong thing, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. (I say this with all due respect to good men and women in law enforcement. So, don't police me for saying that.)

The Everything Police will create a victim if they need to. The Everything Police have no sense of humor, no tolerance for a learning curve, and don't give a good goddamn about what a jury of your peers thinks. They will make no attempt to understand why you find humor in a given situation. And, because they're so educated and enlightened, they presume everyone should be - ignorance is no excuse for the Everything Police.

Try it, I dare you. Make a joke about your waffle iron having cancer and Everything Police will tell you how horrid you are. They won't stop to understand that you've known way too many people who have had cancer, half of whom died from it, and you need to joke because it takes the terrible scariness and sadness out of it for you. What matters is their own sensibilities, and only their own, because they're always right. I mean, I would say that they easily get their panties in a bunch, but one of them will surely tell me that I just set back women's rights by 100 years.

I'm pretty sure the Everything Police have lightning fast Google implants. They know everything (presumably, that's why they've earned the right to police it). Their pedantic, didactic ways aren't an attempt to educate people, but to correct them (thereby making the Everything Police appear to be a necessity and ensuring job longevity). One of their favorite words is actually. "Look! I found this picture of an adorable bat that has feathers and a nose like an elephant... so cute!" And the Everything Police respond, "Actually, that isn't a bat. It's of the genus avialephus flaposaurus and is most closely related to the red lemur. Little known fact: Rumi wrote a poem about it that Robert E. Lee read to the troupes right before the Battle of Little Bighorn."

So, anyway. Now that you know what to look for, you can either avoid the Everything Police or rally against them (and if you identify as one, stop that shit). As for me, I'm choosing the latter. I'm exhausted from trying to protect everyone's feelings, which pretty much involves biting back and swallowing my own. I don't set out to be unkind or insensitive, and anyone who knows me knows that much. If I speak my mind, share my thoughts, laugh at the inappropriate, cry at the mundane, swear at inanimate objects, and dance like everyone is watching and I'm naked and I just don't give a flying fuck, it's because I'm trying to communicate with you. I'm trying to be heard above the din. I'm trying to be the best, most genuine me I can in a world that wants to heap us together in a box and call it an even dozen. If that's offensive, if that makes me guilty of something, I've got two sets of four words for you.

Look the other way. I'm not hurting anyone.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Kicking the Bucket List


A few of weekends ago I was hanging with a couple of friends. As is typical, our (only sometimes drunken) discussion topics wandered and morphed with all the randomness in the Universe. At one point, we rolled around to bucket lists. In case you've been living under a rock, in a cave, with no internet, DVD player, or running water, a bucket list is comprised of the things you want to do before you die - usually stuff like bungee jumping, climbing Kilimanjaro, drinking a good French wine at a cafĂ© in the region it was made in, making love in a submarine. You make the list and check off the items you manage to accomplish.

As my friends were listing things, I felt that familiar uh-oh-they're-not-going-to-like-what-I-say thing scratching at my brain. Here it is. While it might be fine and dandy for everyone else, I don't have a bucket list. I don't want to have a bucket list. In fact, I will vehemently oppose having a bucket list. I threw mine away long ago. I did that because while I was working 50+ hours a week to accumulate a little bit of money and time to do some of the stuff on the bucket list, I was miserable. Then I'd go do the thing, which never managed to be as exciting as I thought it was going to be (you can begin humming "Is That All There Is" now). I'd come back, exhausted and depressed that I had to go back to work to start all over again so I could tick off another item on the list that I was supposed to have because Death is on the march and dear gods, I need to cram as much stuff in before I'm trampled into the ground.

I was so focused on big pictures that I missed out on a lot of glorious minutiae. I was so busy that I didn't have time for spontaneous fun. My bucket list turned into a millstone. "Hey, Barb. Want to go away this weekend? It's supposed to be sunny and the wildflowers are going crazy in the mountains." "I can't. I'm saving for..." Wait. Please don't misunderstand. I'm all for saving for big ticket fun. New experiences are necessary for our brains and souls. I am of the belief that everyone should experience at least one other country where they don't know the language and aren't completely familiar with the food - subject for a whole 'nother blog post.

What happened? People started dying, people with whom I was intimate enough that I sat at their bedside while they transitioned into whatever is beyond. I noticed that, especially at the end, all they wanted was a hand to hold - to love and be loved. None spoke of regret, or missing out on experiences, or wishing they'd seen the Great Wall of China. They talked of how fast it all goes by and how they wished they'd had more time with those they loved. In fact, my late mate John said it so eloquently before he passed away, "Cherish the moments. It's all about those precious little moments. Just live and love."

I began looking back at moments rather than at events, trips, and grand experiences. I realized those were my bucket moments, the things that were forever etched in my heart. I realized something else, too. None of those moments were planned. Not a single one. None of them were part of some great Gotta Do This Before I Die scheme. More importantly, none of them could ever be striven for or repeated. And I have thousands of those moments collected. Hundreds of thousands.

Here are a few, a very small sampling indeed, in no particular order:

  • Sitting with my uncle in his attic on a rainy afternoon, listening to old American blues music recorded on 78 LPs on an old hand-crank phonograph. Pure magic.
  • The tears in my brother's eyes as he talked about how proud he was of his sons.
  • A long ago, sultry summer evening - my hair and bathing suit still damp from the pool. I sat at the picnic table eating watermelon while my Dad sat across from me smoking a cigarette. When I close my eyes, I can still smell the watermelon, the chlorine from the pool, the cigarette smoke, and the scent of turpentine on Dad's shirt, all mingled on that ineffable thing that makes summertime smell like summer. 
  • An evening spent sitting at a poolside bar at Disney World, laughing hysterically over family shenanigans with my sister, her husband and two of my nephews. Nine thousand things to do, see, and enjoy at Disney World, and that was the most fun we had the whole time.
  • Coming around the bend at the top of Hurricane Ridge last Summer and watching my dear friend's tearfully emotional reaction upon seeing the glittering teeth of the Olympic mountain range sprawled out in front of us. 
  • My mother's eyes when I finished playing the Rachmaninoff concerto for my senior piano recital - a mix of pride and wonder at the human being I was becoming.
  • Sitting on my Grandma's porch, playing John Denver songs on my guitar while she crocheted. "Play da von about da fedder bed," she said in her Hungarian accent.
  • The self-pleased look in my Beloved's eyes the other day - the look that said, "I love seeing you happy and I love that it's because of me."
There are so many more, and I count myself blessed that there are. For all the sorrows, and even within the sorrows, the moments I recall most are made of tremendously rich stuff. I don't need to plan big things to feel that. I need only be open to what's right in front of me. I don't need no stinking buckets.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

All the Things


One of the reasons I dislike social gatherings, especially when they involve people I don't know, is that inevitably someone will ask, "So, what do you do?" Even if they don't ask it of me, if I hear it being asked of someone else, my hackles go up. While I've always been proud of what I do, no matter what the line of work, I abhor the idea that what somebody does becomes what somebody is

We are much more than our work, even if we are lucky enough (like I currently am) to be doing what we love. Why don't we ever approach someone and ask, "So, what's your passion?" I realize, in some scenarios, that question is a Fast Pass ticket to a sleazy boudoir, but really, it is such a valid question. How better to get to know someone than to ask what their passion in life is? And if it does result in a Fast Pass ticket to a sleazy boudoir, then you probably know everything about that person that is worth knowing and you can move along to someone else. Unless sleazy boudoirs are your thing, in which case, well met!

Can we get back on point now? Thank you.

Ask a friend of mine what she does, and she will likely tell you that she's a loan processor. I know. The title alone is enough to induce coma in a ferret on three espressos. Ask her what her passion is, and she will likely regale you with hilarious stories of her three precocious and adorable children that will have you laughing until you can't breathe any more.

As much as I love what I do, I dread people asking me. When I say, "artist" I either get that mad-cow look that tells me the person thinks all artists are nut jobs (we're not, not all of us... at least not all the time), or I get something rude and stupid like, "and you actually make money off of that?!" (Translation: aren't you looking for a real job?) Or, worse yet, I'm silenced with stories of their second cousin who "does his art thing and has exhibits at a gallery... blahblahblah... and do you ever show your work?" Trust me, buddy, there's more to art than where it gets you.

The thing is, although my art is all me, I am more than my art. Much more. We are all much more than the thing we do. How would your resume read if your employment didn't enter into it at all? I'd much rather know what sets people on fire. Yesterday a friend asked me, "Where do you get your inspiration?" I thought, "Oh, bless his heart... he has no idea what a perfect question I consider that to be."

I always think of it in terms of deciphering what someone's epitaph would be. Does anyone really want it to read: Here lies Bob Forapples - he was an excellent post hole digger? No. That doesn't tell you what made the guy tick. I'd rather know that ol' Bob loved the rush of skydiving, or that his greatest joy was his daughter's laughter, or that a richly colored sunrise made him want to cry. I don't care about what he did for a living, I want to know who he was. I want to know what he did to live.

Let's make a pact, shall we? From now on, instead of asking people "what do you do?" and treating them as though they're merely some bio-fueled machine, how about asking "what do you do to live?"

"What do you do?"
"I'm an office manager."
"Oh. So is my sister. And I think my cousin's nephew's girlfriend." *stares longingly at exit sign*

-OR-

"What do you love?"
"Bacon! I'm so damned crazy about bacon that I once walked across the Australian Outback on my knees just for a BLT sandwich. Most amazing experience of my life. You should have seen the sunrises... and the sand is the color of..."
*rapt silence*

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Fault

I've been sitting on the sidelines watching people throw blame around for things happening in their personal lives as well as in the world at large. That, more than anything, is what distresses me. If each of us strives to live honestly, the little things fall into place, and most often, the greater things follow. So, before you point a finger, and grab a banner, and shun your neighbor, and especially before you say, "But..." Please know.

We are all at fault.

We are all at fault for completely ignoring our wants and needs while catering to the wants and needs of others; for ignoring our dreams in an attempt to dance to what others deem as “right.”

We are all at fault for being everything to someone else and nothing to ourselves.

We are at fault for denying our feelings; for obfuscating the internal voice that says, “I am here. Please hear.”

We are all at fault for forgiving every wrong done to us, every wrong but the wrong we self-inflict; for seeing the best in others and only the worst in ourselves.

We are at fault for saying, "I love..." and following it with a list that includes everything but ourselves.

We are all at fault for pushing others to exceed limits, yet placing boundaries on ourselves.

We are at fault - within ourselves as well as with others - for not being gentle; for not understanding; for being judgmental and intolerant and impatient.

We are at fault for lying to ourselves; for telling ourselves we don’t matter as much as others; for giving our love away before we figure out how to apply it to the person in the mirror.

We are at fault for seeing beauty in everyone but ourselves; for finding ugly the bodies we've been given to use; for hating our own voices.

We are at fault for using all our energy to fix everybody else without first fixing ourselves; for thinking it is selfish to give ourselves any attention; for disallowing the latitude we need to heal, mourn, rage, fight… change.

We are at fault for not following our passions because they might not be what someone else wants for us, or because they might not fit in with "normal," or because, especially this, they frighten us.

We are at fault for being afraid of what we have no control over anyway; for letting our fear hold sway; for thinking that more often than not, courage is anything more than waking up and breathing and doing the next indicated thing.

We are at fault for not valuing our lives; for not realizing the importance of our being here; for disrespecting the impact our very existence has on other lives.

We are at fault for hiding our light; for not shining like the blazing fires we are; for thinking that others won't want to see our light, or will be bothered by it.

We are at fault for hiding our darkness; for not allowing others to see our pain and our tears; for ignoring the other half of our wholeness.

We are at fault for using words like blame, guilt, and, yes, fault, instead of words like responsibility, sensibility, self-accountability. There is a difference. A vast difference.

The fault belongs to all of us.

But, it doesn’t have to stay that way.