America, art, authors, beauty, depression, humor., makeup, Nature: Hiking, Wildlife & More, therapy, writers, writing

Smiling in Solitude


Since we’ve been in what I like to call, Consideration-for-others-because-I’m-not-an-asshole Lockdown, few of us have bothered much to get out of pajamas, much less dress up. That’s fine by me! I’m a writer so comfy jeans and a sweater are my go-to grabs in the morning. Even when we go out in this casual part of the world, slacks and a little bit nicer sweater are all that’s required. Couture? I might as well dress up and put on a fashion show for the local cows.

It’s been a while since I’ve been somewhere like Venice, Italy, where I generally make an effort to dress well out of respect for the locals there who always look fabulous. I also have a horror of being one of those Americans in their Disneyland T-shirts, runners, and yoga pants or shorts that really set off their cellulite. Nothing against having a little mottled fat, we all do, but do we really need to parade that stuff around 16th century palazzos and cathedrals? It’s just a bit…uh…tacky, but mostly it’s disrespectful. If you threw a elegant cocktail party and people showed up in flip-flops and tank tops would you be happy? With any luck, I’ll be back in Italy in December, but luck is wavering like a heat haze in the distance right now and what looks like my jewelled city waiting for me could be a sloppy mud hut of a mirage.

It’s also been a while since I’ve had to dress up all the time, for a living. Personally, I’ll be happy if I never have to wear makeup or get my hair done again. Honestly. Once you’ve spent two to four hours everyday in a makeup chair listening to not always so benign gossip you get realllllly tired of it. Especially when special effects are involved. I don’t even want to go into spending hours waiting for a plaster mold to dry on your face with straws stuck in your nostrils so you can breathe.

Then there are the clothes. The ones you have to get into every day in your dressing room after hours of fittings. Sometimes, like in “On Deadly Ground” I wore the same suit for at least two months. On the soap it was a constant fashion show. Once they left a price tag on a white turtle neck for me to put on under a sweater, and it was Armani, $900. Then of course, there are appearances, openings, galas, award shows and charity benefits where you cannot wear the same thing twice. I spent so many of those events just wanting to get home, throw on my cozies, and wash my face.

When I moved from my home in LA, I left almost all the glam there. I sold tons of jewelry, most of my designer formal wear went to resale shops, and tons of it went to local thrift stores. I was moving into a simpler life as a writer in rural beauty.

Everything I’d ever wanted.

But then Covid-19 happened and we were stuck at home without the option. I, as well as 83.9 percent of the world, got depressed. I was sad and lacking in energy, which, for someone nicknamed Action, is not acceptable.
I needed to buck up and to make other people smile. The grumpy ol’ man inside my head shook his gnarled fist at me and said, “Get off your ass and quit your damn moping, loser. And keep your bad attitude off my lawn!!”

Long ago my voice coach told me that when you feel lost and defeated you just have to do something, anything, just get started. So I decided to dress up and go take pics doing normal stuff. The photos were silly and fun, and harder than it looked. But it worked. I got a great reaction, and the responses were filled with smiles.So I did it a few more times and I will again.

My coach was right. Every time I get off my butt and do something; hike, cook, write, take pictures of nature, whatever, it revs me up, and I can do more.

So do something creative.
Something thoughtful.
Something silly.
Then share it.
And just maybe,
It’ll get a smile.

Shari, May 20th, 2020

art, children, creative inspiration, family, humor., Life in General, New Novels

Nothing Left to Do but Beg.

Whoo hoo! New book coming out, rejoice, it’s written, edited, copy-edited, formatted, ready to release April fourth. My work is done!

Oh…wait. Incoming insecurity and realization of my utter and complete lack of promotional savvy buffet the flimsy walls of my self-confident veneer. No problem, I lie to myself. Thousands of authors do this stuff, everyday. I can figure this out. Wait, what’s that coming up fast on the horizon? It’s…it’s…reality!! Take cover!

So I dive under a throw blanket, curl into a ball, and spend days on the sofa watching you-tube how-to videos and perusing fiverr for someone else to dump this mess on. I do figure a few things out, only to find out that that step you’re telling me to take at this point requires several steps I missed out on somewhere between typing class in high school (yes on a typewriter, smart ass) and the current world of metadata and key words hidden in the hail-pocked, stormy weather of the ‘cloud’. It’s like having a spare tire, but no jack.

What the fuck? All this talk of banners and animated logos and virtual advertising leaves me feeling like I’m lost in thick fog where no one can hear me scream.

Visibility is zero and I’m speeding straight into a brick wall named Amazon.

This reminds me of making spaghetti.

I know you were thinking the same thing, but in case your brain didn’t made the jump, let me try to connect pasta and self-publishing for you.

When I was little and my parents wanted to see if the pasta was ready, they would pull a long strand carefully from the boiling pot, blow on it gingerly, and then fling it against the wall, or up onto the ceiling.

If it sticks, it’s ready.

Get it now?

Even with a major publisher behind me, releasing a book in a world where millions of people every day can publish a book, means there’s a lot of pasta in that pot, and ready or not, most of it won’t stick.

That analogy makes me sad, but it also makes me smile, because it reminds me of one particular incident when I decided to try screwing the pasta to the sticking point, to Shakespeare out on you. My mom had made brownies that afternoon and the nine-by-thirteen pan of glorious fudge scent sat on the counter across from the stovetop. My seven-year-old sister kept trying to snatch a bit, which we’d been warned not to touch until after dinner. Since I was the boss of her, I was watching her out of one eye and being you know, bossy, telling her to keep her snotty fingers out of it. Then, even though she was violating the trade agreement, (salad, main course, then desert) I’m the one who got in trouble for being ‘mean.’ Mom sentenced me to taking over my sister’s chore of setting the table. My sister snickered ‘ha ha’ and stuck out her tongue as she wiped away her fake tears behind our mother’s back, leaving me bitter and vowing never to play with either of them again.

Distracted, I grabbed, not a strand of spaghetti, but a good-sized handful, and as it burned my little fingies, I instinctively flung it away from me. It hurtled toward the ceiling and stuck. I dumped the boiling pasta into the strainer and rinsed it.

Then I said something affectionate to my little sister, like, “Look out, stupid,” because she was still bratting it up the kitchen. A few minutes later, while I was resentfully setting the table, muttering the sad story to myself about how I was the most persecuted child in history and they’d be sorry one day, when suddenly the sound of screams rattled the glassware in the kitchen cabinets. I raced back in to see my sister squirming and writhing, emitting a high-pitched, sustained, eardrum-puncturing wail as her hands flailed wildly behind her head. My mother barked at her to use her words and tell her what was wrong. “Worms!” she shrieked in horror. “The worms are falling on me!” She collapsed to the ground in quivering heap, leaving my mom to question my father, who, having four very active kids, had not bothered to stop reading the paper.

I did the honest thing and quickly left the room before I could be interrogated, arranging my face into a mask of confused concern for when my mother asked me how an entire serving of pasta had managed to land in the tray of brownies on the counter, oh, and on my sister.

I know, my little sister was in hysterics and the brownies were ruined, but my face was innocence itself and the dog ate well that night. Lucky loved brownies.

My dad thought the whole incident was funny, so I got away with it that time.

He did not think it was funny when I made my own parachute, a four foot square of lightweight cotton with ‘ropes’ of regular thread. When he asked me what I was making and I told him I was going to jump off the roof, he said gently, “I don’t think that’s gonna’ hold you.” Sure, he might have saved my life, or at least my femurs, but he crushed my aeronautic dreams. Parents can be so thoughtless.

Just like when he stopped my brother and I from using the ‘submarine’ we had made in the garage out of a plastic 500 gallon plastic container in our local lake, or dismantled the bike jump we had set up in the street out of rotten boards and cardboard boxes, but only after one of the neighborhood kids had lost all the skin off his knees Or maybe it was consciousness, who can remember?

But those are other stories for other days.

Maybe figuring out how to self-promote a book and elevate it above the eight-hundred thousand other new releases that hour is like having parents remind you that you are mortal. You might figure out how to make it into adulthood, or you might fall down the laundry shoot while trying to climb up in it. Then, knowing you’ve been forbidden to do that, you try to stay silent in what olympic gymnasts call the iron cross position, your strength gives out, and you fall two floors, snap the fake landing at the bottom, scraping your thigh of skin in such a big area that your mother sends you to seventh grade with a Kotex taped to your leg and your teachers laugh at you.

Your teachers.

Yep, did that too.

The lesson here is that…is there one? I suppose it’s that you don’t know if your book will stick unless you throw it out there. You have to take that chance or your project, or your film, or even your pasta, will just go to mush in the pot. All you can do is write the best story you can, ask some friends to help spread the news, and live to write another day.

I will not be defeated!!

Or sent to my room.

I don’t want to have to grovel.

But buy my damn book.

 

 

Shari, March 11th, 2020

 

 

family, Life in General, mental illness, parenting, therapy

Perfect Lives

Isn’t it interesting how many people have perfect lives? To judge from my relatives’ posts on social media, nothing happens but bringing home trophies, straight A’s and loving family gatherings.

They like smiling and church and friends and their fabulous houses and cars and perfectly behaved children on their perfect, Round Up-poisoned lawns.

I’ll tell you what they don’t like.

Anybody knowing anything real about them. I suppose I don’t mind so much anymore because trying to be ‘perfect’ all but killed me before I figured out what bullshit it was.

I’m usually against bleeding all over social media, but sometimes I cut myself, and something ugly spatters across my computer screen. You might want to fetch a lobster bib to read this.

I recently wrote, very briefly, about having to bite my tongue when my sister went on a rage rampage with her middle finger in my face screaming F U, (but not abbreviated) in front of her nine year old with her 14 year old in the bedroom within hearing. Hell, the whole Northridge mall was within hearing, but I kept my wits with me and my voice down. I didn’t slaughter her with truths that she could not even understand much less hear.

Because what’s the point? She had no idea that she was talking about her own pain. I’ve always known she considers herself morally superior to me, and most everyone else, but I was genuinely shocked at the unhealthy level of suppressed, transferred blame. I don’t know why I should be, I remember the sensation well. She’s not mad at me for leaving my husband, she’s mad at her husband for leaving her, but she doesn’t know that. I wouldn’t have either at the same stage of life. I spent much of my twenties and thirties so unconscious that I was playing drunken bumper cars in the dark, and often I couldn’t even find the ride, but I was definitely in a carnival.

When my mom, who also heard the caterwauling because she was recovering from broken ribs, which was the only reason I was in my sister’s house to start out with, found out that I had mentioned the unflattering event in a blog, she was concerned.

But not about the behavior, about the fact that I had said it out loud, I had brought the ‘perfect’ family image down a notch.

Nobody is supposed to know that our family would actually descend to screaming obscenities at each other, (or one at another in this case) and I’m definitely not supposed to say that the reason for that is buried personal failures that should have been dealt with years earlier.

Because it’s hard to deal with things that you swallowed long ago that are now twisted stuck in your gut.

I imagine what it would be like if it were possible for a surgeon to cut into someone’s repressed pain.

“Scalpel, suction. Bucket!”

Imagine the hissing sound of puncturing that mass, the nasty, festering puss, and the smell!! All that tear and bile-soaked, gangrened, rot. I know, pretty right?

If you think of  it as cleansing out the infection, digging down to the root of the problem makes more sense, like squeezing a huge zit or removing a tumor. Perhaps a strong dose of self-awareness antibiotics could clear that bs right up.

I’d take ‘em.

I suppose, to a certain degree, that’s what I did. I’ve had several therapists in my life, different people who worked for me at different times. Or didn’t. The first, before I knew what therapy was for, was Freudian. He basically sat there with his eyelids closing as though fighting sleep.

The next one was better, she was a woman in her sixties who had lived a great deal of life and believed in sharing it. I remember telling her about a birthday party I had in seventh grade that no one came to and it made her cry. You may have your own list of sad stories but I made my therapist cry. We have a winner!

She got me going on the right path. Taught me to pay attention to what was bringing up my feelings, what was beneath them, and take responsibility for my responses. I saw her for a couple of years, felt good and stopped, then years later when I was ‘happily’ married, I thought, ‘I’ll just go check in on myself.” So I made an appointment, walked in with a smile on my face, sat down and beamed at her.

“How are you?” she asked.

I always come off so strong and in control that it was the first time in years someone had asked me sincerely, “How are you?” and even as I choked out the words, “I’m fine.” I busted out crying.

She gave me that sympathetic, understanding look I remembered so well, handed over the box of Kleenex, and shook her head as she said, “I don’t think you’re fine.”

Clearly I wasn’t, but I had no idea how un-fine I was until I went back. In retrospect, though everything seemed terrific on the surface, frankly, I was unhappy. I was living a life filled with dinner parties, gala events, a handsome, semi-famous husband who appeared to adore me, (mostly when we were out) and working with that therapist again made me realize that 85 percent of my energy went to other people, leaving very little for me. I was holding everyone else up and sinking from the weight.

Denial is a weird and malignant thing. Pretending you’re happy, striving to have all the ‘things’ you should have instead of the peace you truly need, being convinced that if other people admire your life, it must be great and you have no right to feel unhappy, all of these things lead to dangerous self-deception.

And man was I lying to myself.

Then I got the really great therapist. This one made me work, I mean hard. Instead of letting me ‘talk it out’ she would shake her head and call bullshit. She would force me to look backward and inward, she broke my ass down.

There were times I would leave her office and stumble to a nearby park to sink down at the base of a tree and wonder about how horrible a person I was, how ignorant of even my own basic triggers. It was ugly and staggering to look at myself without the kaleidoscope of distraction techniques my sub-conscious had employed to shut my own darkness out. It was friggen’ cold out there.

Then this ruthless, wonderful therapist told me, “Take a trip by yourself, go somewhere that people are more awake where you can take an honest look at yourself.

So I did. I went to Jemez Springs, New Mexico to a remote hotel that was connected to a number of healers and shamans. Over several days I worked with different people. Some traditional therapy sessions, some art therapy, some spirit journeys, and tons of hiking or sitting in a solitude so absolute that sometimes there was not even sound. The desert is very soul cleansing. It was stunning how many of these people told me similar things about myself.

But the biggest break-though came from a woman who was supposed to be just giving me a massage. Turned out she was a very connected spiritual healer, and as she was working on my back, she said, “Wow, you’ve got a lot of city smudge on you, do you want me to cut some of that off? I said of course, that that was why I had come. During this time I was trying to decide if I should leave my husband or keep trying to make it work, something he didn’t understand because for him, everything was fine.

So this woman is still massaging me, but now she’s talking gently too, I occasionally sense her making sweeping movements over my body and occasionally she clapped her hands loudly. As she’s doing this, I’m getting more and more limp. I feel exposed and vulnerable, but not afraid.

Then she asks me about abuse and I start to cry. All my life men have said inappropriate things to me, even as a child, I’ve been touched and taken advantage of, I’ve been groped and pushed into doing things I didn’t want to do, but I’ve never thought of it as anything other than ‘normal’. That’s just how men are, right? As I got older and wiser, I learned to stamp on that boundary, but let me tell you, in the acting world, the boundary line is deeply zig-zagged. I lost roles because I wouldn’t sleep with producers, I was able to flirt my way out of a great many situations with something like, “Wow, if only I wasn’t married…” but let me tell you, successful men have very fragile egos and they take a great deal of handling. Once I had to report a director to a producer, but I already had the job and the producer was a woman so he couldn’t fire me, but needless to say, it was a bit tense on that set! I thought it was no big deal, but as I lay there, all of these dismissed and repressed thoughts surfaced with a chill that turned to shudders as this woman massaged me. Then she began to talk, gently still, ever so gently, all the while she worked the knots in my shoulders and kneaded my hands with a reassuring touch. Finally she asks, “What do you really want?”

I am on my back now and I put my hands over my face and sob. “I don’t want to feel alone,” I weep.

“Give me your hands,” she says. I hold them out and she places her palms against mine. “Tell me again,” she says.

“I don’t want to feel alone anymore.”

“Say it again.” I do, and as I do, she pushes against my palms, I instinctively push back.

“Keep saying it,” she says. I push harder and repeat, “I don’t want to feel alone, I don’t want to feel alone,” until I am straining against her, the hurt and loneliness in my body raking me with waves of pain. One more time, I shout now, “I don’t want to feel alone!!”

She released the pressure, leaned down over me and whispered, “I’m going to do something that might startle you.”

She put her arms around me, held me gently and whispered in my ear. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for all you’ve been through.”

And I disintegrated. Weeping until I had no energy or tears left.

She finished the massage in silence and I stumbled up, got dressed and went back to my room. I barely made it to the bathroom before I began vomiting. Up it came, everything in stomach, all the forgotten bile and hurt hurtling from my body with projectile force.

For four hours I lay on the floor of that bathroom, unable to so much as lift my head. I was so physically weak I did not have the strength or the will to move. Somewhere in those hazy hours it came to me that I had hit the bottom, I had become aware of who I really was, and I realized how unaware and manipulated I was by forces unseen and it crushed me that I had been so blind. I felt like a total failure, a baby soul, a blob of emotional goo.

Eventually though, I roused myself enough to move to the bed, then a chair and by early evening, I felt not only felt better, but pretty damn good. I won’t say I was ready for a hike, but I felt…lighter, cleaner.

I returned to LA and went to see the therapist, I told her about the whole trip and all I had learned, and I finished by telling her that I was devastated to discover how damaged my core self was, that I felt broken.

She smiled at me, a little lazily and said something I will never forget.

“Congratulations,” she grinned. “Now let’s get started.”

In the work that ensued, I admitted the pain of being the odd-one out in a close family, I confronted my disappointment in my mother and father, in the tactics used by my siblings to make themselves feel better, which was primarily mocking others, namely me. I recognized my perfection complex, and my self-destructive spiraling when I ‘wasn’t good enough,’ my competitive nature fueled by the desperate need for my mother’s attention while surrounded by talented siblings. Beauty and winning had always been rewarded, I had been compared to other girls all my life, and it had shaped me.

It took a long, long time, to be free of much of that.

I know that everyone faces troubles and unkindness and ignorance, we all react differently to these things. How you got there isn’t all your fault, but fixing it is all your responsibility. Pretending that you or your family is perfect won’t let the infection out. Denial will just keep growing in darkness until it kills your joy.

Understanding what makes you tick doesn’t make the self-doubt and blame vanish, but it eases it a bit each time I face up to it. I still work on it, all the time, everyday in fact. But at least now I know I’m not alone.

I’m worth working on, and so are you.

It isn’t easy, but man is it worth it.

Wanna’ feel better about yourself?

Look at the worst of you first.

Then whisper to yourself, “I’m so sorry.”

And give you a hug.

Take one from me too.

Shari, March 1st, 2020

America, art, beauty, children, Life in General

The Brilliance of Light on Snow.

Snow falls and swirls in puffs or icy shards, it smooths the surface of the world in a way that would seem to dim shapes and steal color. It makes everything look the same, dull and uniform.

But look again, each flake has the opalescent quality made of icicles, of water, of brilliant reflective facets that catch whatever light it meets. So when the sun, or the moon, or the streetlights strike the surface the glow of innumerable diamonds explodes in tiny bursts that combine and dance together, creating infinite patterns and motion. Blink and you will miss a unique fraction of a second.

That’s why Monet painted so many versions of Haystacks, effect of snow and sun. It’s probably my favorite painting in the Getty’s magnificent collection, and my daughters have always made fun of me for crying when I see it. But for me, it’s not just a haunting painting, it’s a miracle of light that this uniquely talented soul captured.

Ironically my girls get it now. They can spend more time studying art in a museum than I do. That didn’t happen accidentally, appreciation of all of forms of art, of true beauty, isn’t genetic, it doesn’t strike you out of the blue, you have to develop it.

That’s not to say you can tell someone what to love, once they are tuned into looking for what will fill their soul, it’s up to them to discover what that something is.

Joseph and I made it habit to routinely take the girls to visit museums, go to opera, plays, whatever opened them up. Owning and operating a Theatre, they obviously had to sit through a lot of Shakespeare, which they might not have loved as kids, but man did it help when they got to the part where they were studying or performing it at school. Just like taking them to visit Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam made the Holocoust real to them. Experience moves and educates. The more you know about history, the more fascinating it is. The same is true for art.

They always enjoyed a day out at the museum in LA, and LA is blessed with several top notch examples. We did not have so much luck on long trips where we dragged them to church after museum after historic location. One trip we took to Washington DC when they were about 7 and 12 ended with them wrapping their sweatshirts around their eyes and sitting in a corner, refusing to look at one more painting or object.

I didn’t blame them, really. They’d been great sports about the rest of it. Trips to Italy, Holland, France, and other art havens were better received. My older daughter actually carried her little sister on her back around the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam to get her to pay attention.

These days either one of them might spend far longer than I do perusing a favorite or a new museum. They found their own loves and interests, but would they if we hadn’t encouraged and supported it so much? Probably not, and the joy they would have missed frightens me.

I was chaperoning my younger daughter’s school trip to the Getty and having a hell of time getting the kids interested in much—and these are art-trained Waldorff kids! Finally I spotted something I thought they would find interesting. When I had been in Venice, I had seen a painting of the lagoon that I knew had been done in segments, as a door decoration I think. I remembered it specifically because of a flower stem that disappeared at the top of the frame. Years later, I saw a flower in the bottom of a frame of a painting of Venice’s lagoon at the Getty. So I asked.

Sure enough, this was the top panel of that same group of paintings, and they had a handout that showed them put together. So I grabbed the loudest boy, (if you can get them interested, you can usually wrangle the rest) and I pointed it out to him. My daughter was instantly able to say excitedly that she had seen the other painting in Venice. Next thing you know, they are calling their friends over and pointing it out. After that, they paid more attention to the little stories I told them about paintings and artists that added to the experience of just looking at pigment on canvas.

Mission accomplished.

The same, I think, is true in life’s behaviors. I have worked with or crossed paths with so many people that changed my life, perhaps not because of anything profound or earth-shattering, but simply because when I knew more about them, they opened my mind to beauty that I would never have seen.

We have been working with a 20 year old young man since we moved to Washington. He has come to help Joseph with building work, we pay him well, and feed him mightily. (Joseph and I call him ‘our big boy’ because I have to cook so much food for lunch and I always send him home with dinner.) He is always cheerful, grateful, and eager to learn all that Joseph teaches him. So far, he has developed a number of new skills and been able to get a better job as he’s working toward college.

Let’s get to know him better. He has two younger siblings, he lives in a trailer with no kitchen and two deserted kittens he found. When he was eight years old, his father went to prison. When he was 13 his mother went to prison. This remarkable thirteen year-old boy raised his siblings on his own with help from a few neighbors who would come over with meals when they could. His grandmother was technically their guardian, but she was seldom there.

Yet, this constantly smiling young man did well in school, had coaches in wrestling that got him to state competitions, and now he really wants to go to college and possibly join the reserves. And he still looks after his sibs. He recently thanked us for the days’ work because it would allow him to pick his 17 year old sister up from school and take her to do something for her birthday.

What do you think of him now? The colors are brighter, aren’t they?

Here’s what we think of him. He is deserving, he is cheerful and positive in the face of challenges most of us have never known. We will help him because we can. We are looking into paying for community college for him for a couple of years until he can hopefully transfer to the university he has always wanted to attend. Shhhh, it’s a secret, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know much about blogging, since he doesn’t have a computer.

Snow is heavy, and cold, and wet, and it blankets all the sharp edges beneath, sometimes making them even more dangerous. It hides mud and blood alike, it’s harder to move through and easier to resent.

But look again. Look at the light off that snow when the clouds break and you see it more clearly, even if only for a glimpse. Isn’t it beautiful?

Take a moment and learn something about someone else.

Their story is not yours, so don’t judge it as such.

Everyone knows something you don’t know.

Each person sees a different picture.

From a different angle.

What do you see?

 

Shari, February 10th, 2020

children, divorce, family, Life in General

I’ll Take the Rain

When’s the last time you took off for the airport after paying full price for a last minute plane ticket to nurse someone who fell and broke three ribs and then got accused of being a fraud for doing it? Anyone? Anyone? This just after spending two days at a hospital in Seattle to support a friend having cancer surgery.

I’m sure it’s not just me. Helping out when I can is just what I do, what I’ve always done. If someone in my family or close circle needs help, I will do what I can. What was unusual was being back in LA, (yuck!) and having to deal with stressed and judgemental siblings. Just me still? Read on, I’m willing to bet there’s not one person out there with a family who says they’ve never had at the least a quick run in with siblings if not decades long resentments.

If it’s only me, then I’m just lucky I guess. I don’t mean this to be family bashing, all of my family, like everyone’s, has their good and bad moments, but as we age we become who we really are. In the case of siblings, this means challenging the roles we were assigned by our parents and others early in life.

My brother was the artistic, sensitive, self-contained one. My next sister was the reliable, underachiever, my youngest sister was the pampered one, and I was the fuck up. I’m the crazy the one, the drug addict, the wild child, the two time divorcee, so when my sister screamed at me that I never take responsibility for my actions I had to ask her to be a little more specific.

“You mean my drug abuse? My divorces? My flying off with an Arab prince on his 747 while he went to dinner with President Bush and I bought cocaine from the secret service agent posing as our driver while Princey was at the white house?  Your gonna’ need to narrow that shit down.”

Crazy adventures and my zig-zag quest for happiness aside, my point is that other people’s behavior and anger really isn’t about me. If you are bringing up stuff that is 3 decades old to condemn me forever while claiming that the only reason I ever do anything is to be a martyr, you’d better be ready to back that shit up, or better yet, face up to why you’re hanging on to yesterday’s emotional garbage. It’s easier if I’m responsible for your discontent than if you have to deal with your own anger and rage. I know, because I’ve been there. But news flash, it does not exonerate you, only buries it deeper.

The problem was that I had to be in my sister’s house to care for my mom. This sister has major issues with my mom, (not as major as mine but it’s not a competition!) She  didn’t want my mom with her in the first place, and only consented to have her there when first my daughter offered to drive down from Santa Cruz, pick Teddie up at the hospital and then nurse her 24 hours a day until I could get there from WA. So when she started screaming that ol’ chestnut at me, “You come in MY house and…” I quietly said, “I’m leaving your house,” but did not say it was not a pleasure to be there and I had done everything I could to take care of my mom somewhere else. By then, two weeks after the fall, Teddi was able to stand and move well by herself, so it was safe for me to go.

There’s a lot more to this, but the point of this blog to is talk about what we sometimes don’t say. The quieter route of letting the explosion go off and merely ducking from the shrapnel, maybe taking a few minor hits, and then retreating while the drop zone area burns itself off. First you face the hits, feel the pain, work on healing, then you watch while the bullets aimed at you fester elsewhere.

Reminds me of when my ex sued to stop paying child support for the last year after he quit his job. This while I’m the only one of use paying for college. I still have one daughter with two years left at University and he still hasn’t contributed a dime. His wife followed me into the bathroom at the courthouse to mock me in baby talk, what was there to do but laugh? The way some people behave is so crazy, no one would believe it if I put it in a movie. She followed that kindergarten act up with shouting out things from the gallery during the hearing until the bailiff had to order her to be quiet. I kept my tongue then too, but it was hard not to laugh. I mean, it was hysterical!!

(Side note: only lawyers win in custody/support battles, and if you have aging parents, get that shit together now!)

Meanwhile, back in Northridge, it was hot and hazy and dusty, all artificially watered to look like it’s not actually the desert it is. It was exactly the kind of winter weather I ran from when I was finally able to move north. The moisture feeds me, it rains between glorious bouts of sunshine here and I can not stop smiling. In LA I felt withered and stretched beyond my elasticity, here, in my home on Puget Sound, I am nurtured, drenched, plumped and vitalized by every drop from the sky.

I suppose my point here, aside from a bit of healthy venting, is simply this—I have been through so much shit in my life, I have faced so much resentment, meanness, judgement, condemnation, and downright vicious envy that I have leaned to let it slough away. It will always be something, bring it. What can I do but stand tall, do the best I can for everyone involved, and go right on being happy?

Because I will not stop trying to help. I won’t live a life without standing up to people and brazening through bullshit. The option is to avoid confrontation, run from emotion, and live a fizzled out life in mid-nothingness. A little less pain would be great, but I wouldn’t give up the experiences I’ve had and the person I’ve become just to keep my head down and feel less. Not this crazy bitch.

Except for brief visits with friends, I hated being in LA. I hated the ruthless sunshine that bakes the life out of everything. I couldn’t wait to get back to moisture and seasons and quiet, to a place where I’m loved beyond all others.

My husband met me at baggage claim on my return with roses, he lifted me into a hug and held me tightly for a long moment, the feel and scent of him filled me with all the reassurance a good relationship can give. I came home to clean house, champagne, my laundry done and put away, and cats to warm my lap and purr my tension away.

It comes down to this. I will stand up to bullies, I will try to take some of others’ burdens onto myself, I will take the rain, both as pain and weather, and revel in it. It will make me richer, fuller, slipperier, and far more fertile, both in imagination and experience. Life isn’t only happy holidays and everyone droning the correct platitudes.

Life is messy, ironic, shocking, exhilarating, and painful.

You can try to live only in sunshine, but you can’t stop the rain.

So close your umbrella and get soaking wet.

Embrace the pain a little.

Live a lot.

 

Shari, February 7th, 2020

 

 

acting, Acting & Experiences, art, authors, beauty, creative inspiration, depression, Entertainment, Life in General, movies, Nature: Hiking, Wildlife & More, writers, writing

River of Gold

I know some people don’t like rain, but after living 35 years in Los Angeles, every time it rains at our new home in Washington State I cannot stop smiling.

The energetic atmosphere, the wind, the moisture, and most of all the sky itself thrill and amaze me. Every moment presents a different quality of light on the water, every evening introduces new colors to my visual vocabulary.

The days are shorter here, which works just fine for me. It’s twilight by 4ish, and night by 4:30. Since I prefer to do most of my work in the earlier hours, that just means I get to get up earlier and knock off earlier, leaving long luxurious evenings in front of the fire.

Recently our daughters and their boyfriends visited. I had warned them that they would have to make the most of the daylight, so on the first morning, the surfer among them came bounding down the hall at 7 a.m. in his pj bottoms, arms in the air, calling excitedly, “We have to get everybody up. It’s gonna’ be dark soon!”

It was funny, because it’s true. We repeated the line often during their visit and it became the vacation mantra, one or the other of us would attempt to rally the others to get going to lunch or a hike or a trip to the beach to gather oysters because…“It’s gonna’ be dark soon!”

It wasn’t until after they left and Christmas flew by that I realized what an apt motto it was. I mean, it’s true in so many ways. The twinkling holiday lights will shine for few weeks only to be packed away, summer’s brilliance dims, youthful relationships that kindled warmth fall away as lives get complicated, and eventually we all wander into death’s shade.

It’s gonna’ be dark sooner or later. Well, soon enough. And while that can be sad, depressing even, it doesn’t have to be. It can actually be comforting in its offer of perspective. We know the sun will set, winter will come, we know intellectually that everything, even the planet, even the universe, will eventually come to an end. All the better to remind ourselves to run down hallways, along beaches, up hillsides, through meadows, shouting, “It’s gonna’ be dark soon!” to celebrate the light that we have now.

One of my dearest friends and mentors was a lifelong sufferer of Crone’s disease. I remember, back when he was in his forties, going for a test that would tell him if the disease had flared to an uncontrollable point, one that would mean his untimely demise. He had to wait 24 hours to get the results.

“You would think—hell, I thought,” he told me, “that would be one of the worst days of my life, that pressure, that unknowing.” He smiled and shook his head. “Turns out, it was one of the best because nothing, and I mean nothing, bothered me. Nothing was important. Someone cut me off in traffic? Not worth getting angry about. My soup was served cold? No big deal. My family is fighting? It pales in significance compared to the pronouncement of a death sentence.”

In short, he said, it was amazing. Everyone shone brighter, and he appreciated every small thing. After the news came that he would likely live a few more years, the elation faded, and things went back to being annoying and frustrating, but he could still laugh things off better than anyone else I’ve ever known. Once, when I was bitching about graffiti in my neighborhood, he asked, “Can’t you just see it as urban art?” I couldn’t, so I stressed and fumed ineffectually. But he could. Where I saw a problem, he chose to see beauty.

That was the amazing David Beaird. He was a man from whom I learned so much. One of the best writers I’ve ever met, though he wrote plays and movies instead of books like I do. My favorite of his movies, ‘Scorchers,’ opens with a very brave three-minute monologue given by one of the finest actors I know. The monologue talks about growing up and swimming in a river lit golden by sunlight, yet when he tried to tell grownups in a position of authority that he found this legendary place, they told him there is no such thing as golden river. He was crushed and hurt, but, he goes on to say, they could never make me believe it didn’t exist because, “I swum in it.”

It’s a glorious piece of writing, and one of my favorite acting performances. You should look it up.

This last year, my friend David passed away, the lifetime of pain and disease finally caught up in spite of his amazing spirit. His widow, who is a remarkable human in her own right, came up to visit me a few months afterward. She told me about the long wait in the hospital once he’d lost consciousness, and the vigil of family of friends. The best of those friends was the actor who performed that golden river monologue a thousand times on stage and once for the movie, Leland Crooke.

We talked about the fact that Leland had always been David’s muse as well as his best friend. Then she showed me something wonderful. While she and Leland had sat bedside, unsure if David was aware of anything around him, Leland began to speak those beautiful words in the golden river monologue to the man who wrote them, for only him. My friend very quietly recorded the moment.

The image is something I will not forget. Two men, lifelong friends, one on life support, the other sitting in a chair beside the bed, delivering a private performance. He recited from his heart those words about believing in things that you know to be true no matter what anyone in a position of ‘authority’ tells you. No one can deny the existence of that golden river because, once you’ve swum in it, it belongs to you. It is beautiful, it is magical, and it is real.

I have been honored to love so much, to live so fully, and to have experiences of my own like that golden river. Places and moments have happened for me that I alone remember, that only I know to be true.

So, I think, it’s important to see that night will inevitably fall, bringing an unknown eternity or the sweet relief of nothingness. Life is fleeting, slippery, and finite.

And if you remember that, then you will wonder at all the beauty around you. You can go and search for your golden river every day. Maybe for you it will be a silver mist that swirls around  in a forest, or a glint of rainbow prisms through a dew drop. Your moments may be huge, or they may flash past, but if you absorb them into your heart, they will live with you, and no one can ever take that away.

So today, I shall run in the rain, and splash in puddles, and slip into the forest to sit still and listen to the drip of moisture onto moss and leaf, the subtle, soft thump-thump of life.

And tomorrow I will get out bed and my spirit will shout to get up and play, because, “It’s gonna’ be dark soon!”

Because of that perspective, the river will shine a more brilliant gold.

The birdsong will pierce my heart with beauty.

I will notice the magic everywhere.

Thank you, David.

I love you.

Shari, January 3rd, 2020

children, family, humor., kids, Life in General, parenting

Laughter in the Dark

If you were to ask me what the best sound in the word is, I would answer without hesitation, “My children laughing together.”

Some of the best moments of being a mom were simply this. I’m in bed, reading. and I hear the sound of matched giggles or outright belly laughs from the darkness of one or the other of the girls’ rooms. Instead of telling whichever one snuck out into her sister’s room to go back to bed, I just listen, reveling in the strength of their connection.

Of course, the laughter of children has a power all its own, think of the videos of a baby laughing on social media. That gurgling, unfettered sound of pure delight that produces fine bubbles in your stomach that rise up through your chest, tickling as they swirl, hooking the corners of your lips and lifting your mouth into a smile before they pop with a sparkle that shines in your eyes.

And that’s just some random toddler. I believe the happiness of our children gives us such a deep sense of joy for several reasons.

One, it means we have done our job and the kids are happy, safe, and most likely healthy.

Two, it reminds us of our own more innocent times. I hear that amusement and am catapulted back, maybe I’m lying on a trampoline with my sister staring at an infinity of stars and giggling at nothing and everything until exhaustion sets in. Maybe I’m listening to my dad’s stomach growl while he lies on the floor watching TV while my sibs and I press our ears to his tummy. Funniest thing ever. No worries, no tomorrow, no sorrow. Just that hysterical moment of swooping, free-falling ecstasy.

Three, laughter releases chemicals that make us feel good. Especially our own. I’ve actually been able to combat depression by just plain faking laughter until I actually started laughing at the whole ridiculous process. Try it, it works.

But whatever the reason, much like the Grinch, my heart grows two sizes whenever I even think of those moments, which I do quite often.

Last weeks, the girls came to visit for Thanksgiving. We hiked, and set off fireworks on the beach, and ate truffles with everything from eggs to soufflés. The boyfriends came with, so Joseph and I were more like a backdrop than the main attraction. That’s what happens when they grow up, they branch out from family, on whom their very survival used to depend, to the peers who will keep them surviving and thriving in life beyond their parents. My girls are loving and attentive and grateful, but the parent-child dynamic changes, as it should, when they head off into the great blue horizon that is their life without me.

I suppose I’m a bit different from many moms, certainly different from my sisters, who feel that their kids are an extension of themselves that they can shape into a certain type of person like human Playdough. I don’t mean to be derogatory, they are both amazing mothers, it’s just a different perspective. I knew from the first moment I looked into my older daughter’s eyes when they handed her to me on the delivery table that she was her own person with her own journey ahead. I knew she was already thinking and feeling things vastly different from my own soaring emotions. I’ve always been honored to be a part of it. I’m here to help row, blow wind in their sails, or even bail out the high water when it’s needed, but ultimately the journey and the experiences belong to them.

It makes me happy just to think it. What remarkable humans they are, compassionate, open, intelligent, funny, caring, everything I could have wanted. Sure they make fun of me, you should see them both doing an impression of my face when I got really mad, it’s hysterical. My views on life are questioned and often argued, which is all for the good. I never wanted carbon copies of me, I wanted originals, and that is what they are. That’s what all children are really, it’s just that some parents don’t get that for a long time, sadly some never do. Perhaps it’s painful for a parent to realize that these individuals to whom you gave everything go on without you, but I bet it’s a lot harder to have to hide who you really are from your own parents.

So when my girls sigh when I make a statement they don’t agree with, or demand that I stop talking about something because it makes them uncomfortable, I acknowledge that truth and shift. Joseph and I spend more time watching them interact with the world than we do interacting with them. We wrap an arm around each other and smile at these young adults, so sure of their knowledge and their place, and we feel good. We’ve done well to teach them to be themselves and to be confident in that. We exchange knowing glances when they question themselves and the world around them, nodding encouragement. Never stop questioning, my darlings, always ask for more.

The holiday was wonderful, we shared so much, including time just spent together without any motive or purpose, only comfortable co-habitation.

And when they sat on the deck after sunset overlooking the moon on Puget Sound we stayed inside, listening to the animated conversation, and when the laughter broke out in rolls and waves, we looked into each other’s eyes and smiled.

There’s nothing better than hearing the laughter of your children in the dark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life in General

Three Nipples and Me.

I’m a big fan of ‘Good Omens.’ Some of my favorite funny moments come when the Witchfinder Major constantly demands of his new recruit, “How many nipples?” if the young man tells him he came across anyone new, as more than two would be proof positive of evil sorcery. The confused recruit, keeps stuttering confusedly, “Wha-what?” Making his superior bark even more loudly, “How many nipples, man?!”

It’s funny, but it didn’t used to be. Women could be burned at the stake for less than an extra nipple, just having any knowledge of herbs or midwifing could get you beaten, drowned, tortured, hung up with hooks, burned alive, and other delightful, religious interventions, and all in the name of god. It’s hard to say how many women died for this noble cause, because women were considered lesser beings back then to the ‘righteous,’—frankly, and sadly, we still are—so no records were kept on how many were killed, but the estimate comes in at about four million. I say, ‘still are’ because there are still religious zealots out there trying to control women because, let’s face it, they are idiots who are both mentally inferior and terrified of losing control. Think I’m wrong? Okay then. What intelligent, secure man would need to control a person who could be his greatest asset? That’s like hobbling your own horse because you’re jealous it can carry more than you can. It’s like killing your older brother at 16 because he’s taller than you are at 13. It’s like pouring vinegar on a pie you are eating because it’s delicious and you didn’t bake it. I said they were idiots.

At least I’m safe for the moment,  but if the Christian base in this country goes much farther back, who knows? (Before you go off, I am an atheist but I support and will fight for your right to believe and worship any superstition mixed with mythology you want, until and unless you force your belief system on others, then I turn my sword to fight for their right to disagree.) Apparently some of these giants of tele-evangelism long for the good old days of hair shirts, consequence-free adultery for the males, and thumb screws. I keep hearing fanatics talking about ‘returning’ to morality, and I wonder how much of the Spanish Inquisition do they want enacted into modern law? I  know it sounds extreme, but a lot has happened in the last three years that I never thought would, so I’m not discounting even the most bizarre possibilities.

Not that I’m worried, even if the witch-burners do come back, “How many nipples, man?” because according to them, I am a witch. I have three nipples. It’s far more common than people know, if you’ve seen me in a bikini or naked, (i.e., if you’ve seen just about any film or TV show I’ve done) you wouldn’t know it. It just looks like a pale, flat light brown mark maybe a quarter inch. The only reason I knew about it is because I had a very good doctor when I was young and he told my mom. He said that some kids have four, mostly boys apparently, which is funny because I never heard of any men being burned for having extra nipples.

It’s just a mark, not a breast. There’s no tissue to speak of, so when puberty hit, I just grew two nice, little, normal breasts and thought no more about it.

Until I had a baby and my milk came in. Okay, first let me digress, this is a really painful process that nobody warns you about it, so get ready. The little brown mark below my left breast felt tender to the touch, not on fire and about to burst like my temporarily swollen to Valkyrie-singing-the-big-opera-finish size, but a bit tender. After dealing with my impacted double udders, (can you say ‘moooooo?”) I checked it out. By pinching gently on both sides, I could get a small drop of milk from that third wheel.

Weird, right? Yeah, not as weird as birthing a nine-pound human and then the food leaks from your chest when you even hear a baby gurgle weird, but weird.

So, I go to my doctor for my checkup and we finish up and he’s washing his hands, when I say, “I have this third nipple.” He glances at me, bored, and says, “That’s very common.”

I mean, the nerve! Common? Moi? This same man once said on completing an exam that everything felt normal, and I shot back, “Well, I prefer exceptional, but I’ll take normal from a doctor.” He turned very red.

So this time, as he’s starting for the door after reducing my magical nipple to ‘common’, I say, “Yeah, but mine is lactating.”

He stopped short as though he’d reached the bottom of the bungee cord, spun on his heel, shot back to the table, and prodded at this fascinating anomaly. I was validated. My mysterious nipple cast a spell and produced a potion. I grabbed my broom and headed to the roof.

So all I have to say is…don’t mess with me, because I will hex you into last week and you will never catch back up. All your bills will be late and you’ll miss your own birthday party.

Serves you right for counting nipples.

Shari, October 19th, 2019

acting, Acting & Experiences, authors, beauty, creating character, Entertainment, humor., writers

Fickle Fame Flavor

 

 

I haven’t been active in acting or public life for over ten years now, so suffice to say that I was very surprised to get an offer for a ‘celebrity’ appearance for a charity even in Abu Dabi.

The offer came through the correct channels, the charity name checked out, the founder is clearly a zillionaire doing lots of good in the world, and I’m a sucker for women’s and children’s charities, so I had my attorney, who brought me the offer, respond and put out some feelers.

The offer got better and better and until it was a little too good to be true.

Turns out, it was. I don’t have any concrete proof, but the possible risk of someone using a charity to scam people made me decide to back out. If it’s real, all the luck to them, but more likely someone was using real people and their philanthropic efforts to scam someone, though I can’t figure out what they would get out of it.

But here’s the thing—the minute the offer came in, I got tense. The thought of being paraded around as ‘somebody’ and having to pay attention to what I’m wearing, how my hair looks, how successful I am next to the next guest, etc sent shivers of distaste through my body until I found I was physically tied into knots and having to remind myself to take deep breaths.

I realized that as an actress I have to put on a mask to be even nominally accepted. As a writer, frankly, nobody cares. Damn I love it. I could show up at an author gathering wearing a shower cap and my pajamas and it would just be more fun for everybody. Sleep over party at Barnes and Noble, go!!!

When you act, promotion is a huge part of the game and I never cared for it. It looks glamorous from the outside, the red carpet, the attention, your face on or in magazines, but the reality of being constantly judged and criticised is quite exhausting. I always loved the work itself, the acting, creating a character and filling in all the emotional space until the words and actions come alive, which is why I continued to do theater even when I stopped pursuing film and television roles.

I used to get a sense of loss when people would recognise me and behave differently than they would have if they hadn’t. Press junkets and interviews left me feeling distanced from others, because inevitably you are promoting a false narrative. “Everyone got along great on the set! This movie is fantastic, the director was a dream, I always wanted to shoot in a castle, in Spain, in Italy, in Davidson, NC, in a deserted, rat-infested prison.” Best you can do is find whatever works with a particular crowd or journalist or talk show host, and keep repeating it. The actual life of shooting a movie or a show is vastly different from the snippets that come out of it months later when the project is finished and presented.

Of all the insane promotional events I attended, the one that stands out as attitude-changing was a huge television soiree-slash-bash-slash-festival in Monte Carlo hosted by Prince Albert. International celebrities, including my ex and I are were guests of the prince, now the king, and Monaco is always fun, though I prefer a run up into the French countryside. Now, my ex and I went through some insane experiences when the surprise popularity of his show made him a huge heartthrob, the attention was for him on these junkets, but I was dragged into it by default. We had been through experiences that seemed surreal, a promotional tour where it took 20 body guards to get us through masses of screaming people, having women scream and pass out cold when they saw him, not being able to leave the hotel room, fun stuff like that. At one appearance in Athens, Greece, sixty thousand people showed up for a supposed autograph session at a department store and they had to call the army to get us out. No. I am not exaggerating, 60,000. Tom Brokaw had it on the evening news, a comedy segment basically about that many people showing up for an actor who in the states was one of a thousand relatively unnoticed soap stars.

But the event in Monte Carlo that I’m describing here came a few years later when his popularity had dropped considerably, as it always does. We arrived at the airport in Monte Carlo and were met by Paparazzi, as usual, but only a three or four. Hunter Tylo and her husband were traveling with us, and we each had a car with a driver, my ex and I had climbed into our car but Hunter was still standing outside of hers. This was when she was a tabloid star for a minute over suing Aaron Spelling and the press was favoring her. My ex saw this, and I watched the unpleasant realisation of his demotion register on his face. They weren’t interested in him, she was the hot commodity of the moment. He didn’t like it. He fussed for a minute, then made an excuse to get out of the car and go get in her pictures.

That was the first time I saw him pander to the press, and as I watched what was obviously a desperate plea for more attention, my heart fell. This was not the man I had married, the man who understood that fame is false and fleeting. That kind of attention can be very addicting, it can become part of the story you tell yourself about yourself, and that’s not a healthy thing.

He handled most of it very well, I will say, but he fed off it, I did not. I suppose the fact that I often stood to one side and watched the effect of fame gave me a different perspective. There was no crash from the heights for me, only enough of a taste of celebrity to develop the knowledge that people are either worth knowing, or they are not, and no amount of fame or money changes that.

There are plenty of good people who handle fame very well, and I admire them for it, but I truly believe that if you get overly attached to it, it owns you more than you own it.

Overall, that festival in Monte Carlo was a fairly uneventful weekend. My favorite moment was when we entered the castle for a cocktail party with the prince and he was in the stairway taking pictures with each guest. There were at least fifty photographers and the constant flashes were blinding. As he slipped his arm around me and we turned to smile at the wall of lenses I said without moving my mouth, (a lesson I learned early on) “Do your pupils ever dilate?” and he burst out in genuine laughter. So that was fun. I met some other wonderful people, which is all you really ever get out of those things if you’re open to it, and marked it down as a life experience, but mostly I learned a valuable lesson.

“Look at me!” is not a healthy mantra.

I don’t miss that shit at all.

I love connecting with people on a real level, and that will always be my choice.

I have always loved the rain more than the praise of strangers.

I treasure anonymity.

I don’t care if you are famous, rich, handsome, or charismatic.

I care if you are kind, humble and real.

The rest is all smoke and mirrors.

 

Shari, September 21st, 2019

children, creative inspiration, family, ice skating, kids, parenting

A Bright Orange Day

Often, when I was in second grade arithmetic, I would look up from my endless worksheets designed to discourage and disinterest would-otherwise-have-become astrophysicists, to wonder at my teacher’s hair. These were the sixties, and the ultimate goal of hair styling was ‘big as you could get it.’ My teacher sported a swept up bun which increased her head size to a degree that I would have recognized as volume times mass squared if that simple math formula had been known to me yet. I often watched her droning on and thought how much it appeared that she was wearing the wasps’ nest my Dad had smoked out and then detached from under the eaves of our house.

The nest, a bulbous, silver grey creation that swarmed dangerously with insects, was a deceivingly stable structure, as big as cotton candy at a state fair, formed by the spit and labor of the insects and built to survive the elements for multiple seasons. Considering that the aptly named beehive hairstyles were achieved at beauty salons once in a blue moon and meant to last out the month, the construction goals were remarkably similar. Both were painstakingly built to last. The nest survived because of a network of hexagon paper shells, formed from spit and wood mulch, the hairstyle resisted gravitational pull with the clever use of ruthless teasing and enough aerosol shellac to make a bed sheet stand up in a heavy wind. And while only one was designed to house insects, the likely hood of entomological habitation in the hairstyle was not so farfetched. It might not have been wasps, but odds were good that something was living in there. I would watch Ms. Whatever-her-name-was take a pencil and carefully insert it deep into the foamy depths of her bouffant and then scratch furiously. I never saw anything crawl out of it, but my desk was near the back, so I might have missed it.

But times were changing and hairstyles were being dragged along. Women began to opt for the down-with-a-scooping-flip-at-the-bottom style. This involved setting the hair on huge, hollow rollers, and then sleeping in a sitting position or baking under a dryer until the polymer set. It required hours of self-imposed torture, all endured for the sake of appearing in public perfectly groomed. To allow anyone other than family or beauty shop operatives to see oneself mid-process was unthinkable.

So imagine the shrinking of my soul when my mom appeared in the doorway of my classroom wearing rollers the size of coffee cans held in place by aluminum clips in a neat row over and around her head, leaving her looking like a load of sewer pipes strapped down by what appeared to be a shrimping net.

As I slumped low, desperate to appear as incredulous as any of my classmates that some loser’s mother was shameless enough to show up in public worse than naked, she crossed to the teacher and whispered an apology. A quick exchange ensued and then, to my horror, I was identified as the unfortunate offspring of this brazen crazy lady and told to gather my things.

My face burning with red-hot shame and unable to meet the eyes of my brutally judgemental classmates, I got my books and coat and joined my mom at the door.

As we walked down the hall, I kept my eyes on the floor. We passed other teachers and even the principle on the way out and I knew that I would be forever branded as the girl with the indecent mother.

My mom said very little but she seemed pleased. I, on the other hand, could not have been more distressed if she had been walking me toward a firing squad.

Now that I’m a mom who has had the opportunity to embarrass my girls on numerous occasions, I have a different take. Over the years I have had to find varied and creative ways to strike fear into their innocent hearts in order to back up a, shall we call it a…behavioral adjustment.

And the worst thing I could ever threaten them with was public embarrassment. Not theirs, mine. I could threaten, yell, give time outs, devise punishments, but nothing ever worked as well as warning them I would do one of two things; sing or dance in public.

So the other day, when my oldest daughter and I were out having lunch and she showed me a little video she had taken of her boyfriend that morning, I had to smile. The two of them share a small house by the beach with three other guys, all of them surfers. Every morning the first one up quickly bikes or skateboards to one of the nearby beaches and gets a take on the wave conditions. Most days are what they call ‘yellow’, smooth, easy waves, but some days, some very special days, it’s orange.

Orange means waves, it means excitement, it means unexpected and unusual fun.

So when he came on my daughter’s little screen, the boyfriend was singing and dancing, “It’ an orange day! It’s an orange day!” as he went from room to room in the hall, knocking on doors. “Get up! It’s orrrraaaange!” and he did a little dance step on his way to reverse peel himself into gortex, or whatever it is they make those suits out of now.

And I thought, ‘How wonderful, an orange day.’ We all get them sometimes, though not often enough. An orange day could be one that brings an unexpected turn of events, weather that sings for a special event, or opportunities knocking on your bedroom door that weren’t even in the neighborhood the night before.

I’m not a surfer, I’ve done it a few times and liked it very much, but I grew up in Atlanta, far from the surging shore. It was unlikely enough that I became a competitive ice-skater. There was only one undersized rink in town until I was around 12, so everyday, up I would get up at four-thirty and go to the rink for a couple of hours before school to train, and every afternoon I was back, practicing falling, and sometimes learning to defy gravity myself for a few seconds. I loved it.

But since skating was not exactly a regular pastime in the heat and humidity of the deep south, we had only one teacher, and no champions to look up to. No Dorothy Hamils trained at my tiny patch of ice and no Nancy Kerrigans ate Milk Duds with me while the Zamboni smoothed the surface.

My childhood hero was Peggy Fleming, Not only was she the former Olympic champion, but she had these awesome TV specials that I watched with rapture, studying both her style and technique. A Peggy Fleming special was every holiday wrapped up in one for me.

So just imagine my amazement when my mom, saying very little, drove me to the rink in the middle of a school day where some of my fellow skate-o-philes were waiting, and then shocked me to my core when the door opened and in walked Peggy Fleming, in the Fleming flesh.

Turns out, she was in town with Ice Capades. She practiced everyday, never missed one, and since the show was at the stadium and the ice wasn’t in yet, she had gotten in touch with my little Igloo to arrange some private practice time. The owner had told my coach and my coach had chosen a small handful of her students to be there.

When she came in, we all burst into applause. Basically a shy woman, she looked completely taken aback, but she said hello politely and then went to change into her outfit and skates.

Needing to use the restroom, I went to the back and pushed open the door. There, seated on a bench, lacing up her skates, was Peggy Fleming, but not just an Olympic gold medalist I idolized, but an Olympic gold medalist who I idolized in her bra.

Her bra. I saw Peggy Fleming in her underwear.

Why she put on her skates before her top was a mystery to me, but I remember walking toward the mirror and smirking to myself, embarrassed but oddly thrilled to have seen the great woman in her skivvies. Later what I mostly remembered was how tiny she was, I didn’t find out until later that I was far too tall to be a skater, at nine, I wasn’t yet oversized.

But even though I was shorter, that was one of my most orange days. I went back to school and faced the taunts of my classmates about my mother’s steamroller hair curlers with Peggy Fleming’s autograph in my hand. When I displayed my golden prize, they were awed, cowed, and envious. Oh how I loved that feeling. A most orange feeling.

Not everyday will come in a strong hue, some of them will be murky and dull. There will be days of blue or rusty brown. I’ve even had more than my share of black ones, but that day still glows with the brilliance of a sunlit field of California poppies.

My mother embarrassed and thrilled me to such extremes in a single day that I leaned a life lesson.

Things aren’t always what they seem. Sometimes you have to stop everything and embrace the risk, and sometimes, wonderful things happen when you least expect it, and even when wearing curlers the size of redwood tree trunks in front of a prissy private school classroom, moms can be the coolest ever.

Maybe that’s the reason I still haven’t stopped trying to devise ways to embarrass my girls into living a fuller life.

I probably never will.

I will get up early some days, check the metaphoric surf conditions, find them exceptional, and run dancing from room to room singing, “It’s an orange day!”

And they will cringe first, and smile later.

Just like I did.

Shari, April 11, 2019