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America, authors, beauty, creating character, creative inspiration, depression, Entertainment, humor., Life in General, therapy, writers, writing

I Didn’t Order This

I find myself stuck in a kind of limbo, and I know I’m not alone.  I want to write, to be creative, to offer love and support to others in greater need than myself during these tough times, but it seems there is little I can do to escape the sodden feeling of helplessness, the ‘what’s the use?” worm in my brain, the anxiety of watching my country torn apart, the constant worry for friends and family in danger.

Like a compulsive shopper, I’ve been inundated with deliveries, yet only a few of them were signed for by me. Some of them were dumped on my doorstep as surely as a stained couch on the side of the road, but some of them I must admit I sort of rooted around in a dumpster to find, I didn’t ask for the garbage to be there, but let’s be honest, I’ve pulled some crap out of there that I do not need.

So I see no alternative. I’m returning these items I didn’t order. Check any box you like on ‘reason for return’; delivered to wrong address, doesn’t fit, item not as advertised, quality not as expected, pick any one you like, they all work.

Because while we can’t fix any of these major things on our own, namely-worldwide health problems, or global warming, or a crooked con-man getting elected and abusing our government in a sad quest for power at any human cost, we can work hard to lighten the load a bit for ourselves and others. I didn’t order any of those evil things, and while it can be argued that many people did, I don’t have to keep the negativity they heaped on the rest of us because of their ignorance and fear.

Still, it’s depressing. So I’m sending it back. Call UPS, drop it off at the post office, send those FB idiots on their way, it’s a struggle, no lie, but I’m about at the stage where if I don’t deliberately dig out of this hole of depression and helplessness, I’ll be buried alive.

That’s why I go out and take these silly pictures of myself. Wish I had a whole bunch of models, but I only have me, so I bought a cheap tripod that I can carry around hiking, a remote shutter, and threw some thrift store prom dresses in a back pack and headed out into nature with my cell phone. I have to do something, anything, to keep my spirits up, and if it makes other people happy to see me being ridiculous, (and having fun), that’s just bonus points!!

I’m returning the moping at home days, don’t need ‘em. I’m shelving the excuses for drinking too much every evening and replacing it with finding something positive to focus on. I’m rewrapping the lonely despair in its original packaging and stamping, ‘RETURN TO SENDER’ in big red letters on the outside. I’m sending the laconic lack of writing inspiration on a one way return and demanding the manufacturer replace it with what I ordered, some old-fashioned sit-your-ass-down hard work.

Because of course, except for the uncontrollable, I am the manufacturer. I created all these responses, maybe I didn’t order the cause of them, I didn’t ask to be stuck away from my family and incapable of so much as donating blood to help others, but instead of being frustrated that I can’t do more, I can try harder to do less for as many people as possible. It might be a letter, a silly note of hope and a free book. It might be a phone call to tell a joke in person, or a pie dropped off on a front porch, truth is, I don’t know all the things I can do yet because I haven’t used my brain to work on that. And that’s my fault. I was blessed with energy and some intelligence, and who’s wasting that? Me. I am.

I’ve been waiting, I guess. Now it’s time to wake up and start refusing those daily missives from myself that say, “Mope, hang out, there’s nothing you can do, this is a horrible day, month, year.” I had a stern talk with myself then offered some loving advice. I’m including here so you can use the same pep talk for yourself, and it went something like this: “Buck up shithead!! Get over yourself and be of use to someone else!!”

So I won’t talk about the death and the illness and the hungry and the financially fucked. I will step in and do what I can to make each of those things a little lighter, a little less long, and hopefully a little less scary. I know that I’ve been afraid, I think maybe we all have.

But life, such as it is right now, goes on, and I’ve decided it’s time to get back to it. Not by rushing around spreading germs and anger, but by doing what I can from where I am. And surprisingly, it’s been quite a lot.

And that makes me feel better. It leaves me with a flicker of hope that this shade won’t last forever, that most humans care more than they don’t. That the ones who promote cruelty can be drowned out by those of us raising our voices in song and encouragement, that we, in the amazing words of Amanda Gorman, can be the light.

Cast your own shadow by shining in the darkness. It ain’t easy, but it’s our choice.

Pack up all that misdirected bullshit and send it away.

Then pack some love and hope and send it out.

Be sure to take some for yourself.

Good luck to us all.

Shari. February 21st, 2021

cancer, Life in General

An Elk Ate My Brussels Sprouts.

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No, really. I was just bragging to hubby about how smart I was to leave the last few stalks in the garden as it would provide yummy fresh-from-the-earth vegies, when I went to pick some.

Pride comes before the fall. I stood looking at the mess made of all my efforts in confusion. The tops were off every kale plant, the parsley was sheered off at ground level, and the plump little brussels sprout globes were gone from the stalk or badly mangled. ‘What the…?’ I thought. Then I saw the hoofprints. The mesh fencing was still mostly up, but a section had been sort of smushed down to about four feet. Just high enough for an elk or a member of the elephant family of mammals to step over.  That’s when I realized that I probably wouldn’t want to eat the few remaining vegies because they have elk spit all over them.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen an elk close up, but they are big, really big. Trying to keep them out of any food source is a bit like trying to scare off a mastodon with a broom. Both the extinct mastodons and very much alive elk are both herbivores and neither have particularly vicious reputations, but it’s probably smarter to just let them stomp quietly along their merry way and clean up the wreckage afterwards.

Sounds like a few relationships I’ve had, and, to be fair, the results of a smattering of my own actions. I admit it. But it’s also a lot like what happens in life.

Last week the best friend my husband and I have made up here, died of cancer. To respect the family’s privacy, I’ll call him Bob and his partner Jodi. We were with Bob through the diagnosis and his first treatments, including spending time in Seattle where he had his bladder removed. Then chemo, and when that failed, they turned to experimental immunotherapy.

It worked, the tumors shrank and he was told that though the cancer wouldn’t leave him, he could expect a good five years of reasonable health by continuing that treatment.

Having been on the board of a cancer charity where I worked closely with City of Hope for many years, I know a little something about what people and their families go through with diagnosis and treatment, and the many uncertainties. So, during conversations at that time, we promised our friend that we would be there for his girlfriend, Jodi,  who had only been with him for a single year before she found herself a full time caregiver, a role for which she was not prepared but stepped up to with grace and courage. Though in many conversations she privately confessed to me that she ‘had not signed on for this.’ I understood, it is a huge thing to give up your life to care for someone, especially someone you have only known a year.

Then the unstoppable pain started in one leg, nothing contained it, not codeine, not morphine, nothing. Bob resisted our suggestions to go back to the doctor and I knew that he was afraid of what they would tell him.

And it’s what they did tell him. Two tumors in his abdomen had grown together, and when that happens, the cancer speeds up. He now had a four by six inch tumor pressing on nerves and they gave him three weeks.

I went into neighbor mode. I cooked meals and delivered them, offered to run errands, sit up with him if necessary, anything I could think of to ease their pain. But in this time of covid, there were limited things I could do, and my husband was still recovering from pneumonia, so I had to keep a certain distance. Sometimes when I came to drop something off, I would wave through the window, and on one memorable afternoon, Jodi came flying out of the house putting on her coat and begged me to just take her for a drive for a few minutes.

I took her to one of my favorite spots and parked under the trees in the rain. She talked, and I let her, joined her, and tried to prepare her for what was to come. She’s been through deathbed scenes before, but it’s different when it’s your one and only, I know that, but not from personal experience. I have done home hospice for relatives and friends, but not a partner, so I could only express sympathy and rub her back as she wept. I hope it helped.

I’ll never forget the sound of soft rain on the roof of the car as the windows steamed and grew foggy from the exhales of my weak words of comfort and her gasps of sorrow. It is hard to die, but it might be harder to watch someone you love die. I don’t know yet. I’ve only done the latter, after I’ve been through the former, I’ll let you know.

My husband and I never did get a chance to say goodbye to our friend. Thankfully, though it’s strange to say, he died fairly quickly, slipping into a coma and then his labored breathing stopping at 12:45 on a Wednesday night. I happened to be  awake when Jodi texted me at 5:45 a.m. asking if I could take his daughter, who had come for the end, to the flyaway bus about an hour away so she could get to Seattle and the airport. After a quick discussion, hubby got dressed and left to drive the daughter all the way to the airport, (about two and a half hours one-way but we couldn’t bear the thought of her having to take a bus just hours after her father’s death) and I went to be with Jodi.

I stayed all that day, helping her clean up, crying, listening, encouraging her to sleep. She tried several times to lie down, but would pop back up again when her brain screamed reality at her. Twice she called for me and when I went in, she asked me with pathetic desperation that tore my heart, “He’s not coming back, is he?” I told her no, he wasn’t, but that he would always be with her.

So I took a chair and sat by the end of her bed, propping my feet up close to hers, and we cried more, and laughed in that sad gurgling way one does when one more onslaught of grief will snap you in half. At one point she looked up at me with alarm in her eyes and asked what was wrong with her. She said she felt like someone was tugging at her right sleeve. I explained that lack of sleep will do strange things to your body’s physical sensations, but I also suggested that it might be him, just patting her arm, letting her know it would be all right, and I told her to watch for signs from him, ways that he might try to contact or comfort her. We discussed things that they shared a love of, eagles and the sea both figured strongly in her heart.

At about five o’clock in the afternoon, she finally fell asleep. I stayed an hour, then decided to head home, leaving a note.

You are loved,

You are supported,

I am a phone call away.

She slept for several hours, but woke before dawn. I joined her a bit later and we spent another day just trying to sort reality and absorb the blow. It’s a feeling of total helplessness and the only remedy is to get through it. By the third day I took her out for a drive  just to get her out of the house. As we drove through a dense part of the national forest, an eagle swooped from a tree and paralleled my car for a hundred yards or so before veering off into the canopy, and we held hands and smiled through the tightness of tears in our throats. Now, a week and a half later, she’s doing much better and I’m helping her look for a new place to live. She does not want to stay in his house without him.

Death is like elk or even mastodons in the garden. One long swoop of a tusk churns up everything we’ve planted, every well plotted future meal and harvest. We don’t expect it, we can’t stop it, but we can listen with awe and gratitude to the bellowing in the distance as the herd retreats, leaving us to clean up, to replant, to reflect on the fragility of our human endeavors. All of us are temporary, they seem to say, that’s okay, it all comes back together in the end.

And yesterday, when I went to see my friend, she told me with a smile that she had woken in the night and heard him calling her name, not sadly, not desperately, just to let her know he was there.

I thought about that moment. His strong, loving voice echoing from the distance far ahead, letting her know the way, so that we she can follow and not get lost, and that there is nothing to fear.

Like a herd of mastodon calling across the Pleistocene marshes, ‘We were here, we too passed this way. Do not be afraid.’

So I will replant my garden, I will love and lose and learn until it is my time to pass through those marshes.

And I will not be afraid.

I miss you, “Bob”.

Shari, January 17th 2021

America, art, children, holidays, humor., kids, Life in General, parenting, racism, religion, writers

Rain and Ashes

One thing I do not miss about raising my daughters is the homework. Relearning math in a whole new, convoluted way, dealing with tears and bad internet, early mornings at the Coco’s so they could submit their work, the constant nagging to get it done. Though they have very different learning styles, both of them worked hard, got the job done, and were accepted into the college of their choice.

Whew. 

I still keep a few of their assignments. Because they attended Waldorf schools, there is a myriad of gorgeous art, hand written and illustrated histories of the world or cultures. One day I grabbed for a piece of paper to write a note on, and realized it was my younger daughter’s portrait of her sister for a report on her family. I was horrified that I almost defaced it. So I wrote on a box of cereal instead. Their efforts are precious to me, but they belong to them. It’s their work, their life, their efforts. Sure, I take pride in my girls, but they are both strong individuals, who were allowed to decide who they wanted to become, it wasn’t my job to make them be anything, it was my job to make sure they had a vast array of choices and information.

So I chose schools with diversity, art, and no religious affiliation. When one turned out to favor the rich and famous, (the kids were deciding on friends based on the square footage of their homes) I moved them. Though I’m an atheist, I made sure they had experiences in mosques, churches, nature, and temples, not difficult since both of them had best friends from varied religious backgrounds. They chose nature, enjoyed the Jewish celebrations, were fascinated by mosque, and the only comment they ever made on a christian church was after attending a particularly exteme one with two of their best friend/neighbors. We were driving in the car and I asked them what they thought of it. There was a quiet until the older one said, “Mama, it’s brainwashing!” Frankly, I was impressed she got it in one.

Nothing against honest grace, and I personally know many religious people who have dedicated their lives to helping other, all others, they do not exclude based on differences of race, sexuality, or faith, that is true grace. I salute everyone who lives with love and kindness in their hearts, but I do not believe for one second that attaching oneself exclusively to a particular ‘religion’ makes you one iota more worthy. That speaks to me of exclusivity, separation, presumed superiority. After all, if your belief is the ‘true’ one, then you are calling all other faiths a lie. Not a very nice way to build bridges.

The religion I taught my daughters is kindness and courage. Always err on the side of compassion, stand up against injustice, see through the trimmings and look down at the heart of the message. Do you need a church to participate in charity? No. Do you need a man to tell you what ‘god’ meant? No, that’s absurd. If you try to be patient and helpful, if you don’t tell lies and don’t do what you hate, the world will be an increasingly better place. 

It’s brutal not to be with my magnificent daughters for the holidays. We had planned to spend it together in Venice, but that was cancelled, of course. Then we had plans to gather at my bestie’s house in LA, but I cannot be ‘that person’ who thinks this virus won’t happen to them and might hurt others, so hubby and I will spend the season at home with our cats, who are super excited about it I’m sure. So off I went to the post office with packages to try to alleviate my sadness at cancelling our trip to be with them, just to laugh and make cookies and watch the sea hurl itself at the shore with unfaltering persistence and cheer, when I spotted a tall, handsome person  standing over some folded sheets of paper on the wet asphalt of the parking space next to the one I was taking. My first thought was wounded animal they might be trying to pick up or help?

But you don’t want to assume or intrude so I merely asked, “What’s the fascination?” as I got out of the car.

After an enigmatic glance at me, their regal, calm face turned its lofty focus back to the papers at their feet, “I’m just burning some racist shit someone put on the bulletin board.”

My reply leapt out of my mouth so fast I might have come off as overly eager. “Can I help?” I blurted. 

They said, “Sure, if you’ve got a lighter.”

I did, so I dug it out of the glove box and the two of us went to work trying to get the moist paper to light. Like all racism and phobias, it smoked and resisted, hunkered down trying to deny change, even the most fundamental kind. 

I didn’t try to read what was on it, though I caught a few of the expected words, Trump, conspiracy, (the latter spelled  semi-phonetically) what surprised me was not that hatred and fear would rear their ugly heads at my local post office like Medusa at a tent meeting of snake handlers, after all our country has been fed a steady diet of lies delivered with con man, holy roller perfection for the last four years, that I sadly understand. What surprised me was what the note was written on. The ignorance was scrawled–misspelled, the letters  retraced over and over again with a blue pen to make them bolder, which somehow only served to drive home the frantic confusion of the author, and make them that much more pathetic–across the back of child’s homework.

 

A few years ago printing a racist rant on the back of a second grader’s honest school efforts would have been a strange thing for me to reconcile, but it’s become so obvious that a large part of the darkness in which we find ourselves immersed is being systematically brainwashed into a new generation, and I wonder how these new humans will survive it. How do you make a better world when you insist on repeating the same hateful rhetoric? Repeated and retraced like those wobbly letters. But the fact remains that no matter how many times you try to make your words bolder, or your ravings seem reasonable, they are still feeble, misspelled, and written on very shaky ground.

And I wonder about the kid who had to answer to the teacher for not having the assignment. “The dog ate it,” pales as excuses go compared to, “My white daddy felt threatened.”  It conjured up an image of a parent using their child’s school play costume to clean a shotgun, or the corn from their cafeteria lunch to make moonshine. “Sorry baby, Daddy’s gotta’ meetin’ tonight, now fetch me them sheets and git me another beer before you leave for kindergarten.” 

Perhaps ironically, the homework used as a base for the rantings of a true ‘merican, appeared to be  an elementary civics lesson, with questions like, “What makes a civilization?” Civilization is word that instantly conjures images of humans of all races building a better life through cooperation. So maybe it wasn’t ironic. Maybe the whole idea of humans getting along and possessing even vague similarities sent their caveman daddy off the deep end. Maybe it was the answers the child had written in an uneven juvenile hand, only slightly less proficient than the scrawl on the back, an answer like, “When they use cows and stuff.”

No! I imagine him thinking, what makes a civilization is white people, guns, and Jesus! Or that may be giving them too much credit, after all, the idea of civilization is a fairly advanced one, and this person is unlikely to believe that there was any such thing before nice white Europeans got here and wiped out the indigenous peoples. Of course to someone like this, even Europeans are alien. The concept that there were advanced civilizations ten thousand years before anyone even was ‘white’ would explode their tiny heads. And the reality that Jesus was not a white American has never even knocked at the door of their church. Through that door lies a fantasy land in which a blond, green-eyed ‘savior’ is depicted welcoming the tow-headed children, with nary a dark skinned human in sight. Because everyone who listened to the man on the mount would be heartily welcomed today at a South Georgia country club.  Yeah. Right. I can just envision it, that khaki and plaid swathed crowd, quietly slurping bloody marys and eying each others’ camels to make sure their neighbor didn’t have the newer model as some guy told them it was easier for that camel to go through the eye of a needle than it was for a rich man to get into heaven. 

I know what I’m talking about because that was my church, that’s the mentality I grew up with in the sixties. Oh sure, in a hail mary act of charity, the church sponsored some boat people, remember them? And every  Sunday, there the two Laotian families were at service, giving all the nice white people something to point at and say, “That’s my purse, I gave them that, aren’t we wonderful? Look how magnanimous we are! How generous and kind!” Do you think any member of that congregation ever made friends with those people? Were they invited into their suburban homes? Were playdates scheduled with the children? Fuck no. Charity, for far too many church-goers and community do-gooders, that I’ve come across anyway, is naught but a claim to bragging rights. “We paid for the big house on the hill, four show horses, seven cars and that family of immigrants.”

That self-aggrandizing I’m familiar with. I suppose what still surprises me that people are so eager to display their profound sense of disconnection and stupidity so publicly. Writing a hate and conspiracy-filled rant and actually posting it on a community bulletin board for the world to see, I mean really. It’s like standing on a rooftop, or swinging from the big F on facebook, shouting at the top of your lungs, “I will not evolve!! I love my ignorance and I will clutch it to my chest with my pearls. If you try to make my life better, I will hit you with this stick.” Of course they don’t know that they don’t know what they don’t know, if you know what I mean.

Because in this country, teachers and politicians and ‘faith’ leaders have lied and misled based on their own fears or need for control since our inception. I was a grown up before I learned that Africa had the richest kings in history, no one taught me anything about Africa, my teachers knew nothing about it. So when I traveled there I took some trouble to learn some history, and it was thrilling! Like discovering a new world that was right next door all the time. Ditto for the the Middle East, Asia, Australia, and anywhere else that wasn’t Christian and white. 

I was that strange child who didn’t believe adults. The veiled racist jokes from even my parents, felt cruel, just…wrong. When, at eight years old, I noticed that all the quarterbacks in my dad’s beloved football games were all white and asked why, I was told it was because, while black athletes were all very well, they just weren’t smart enough to be quarterbacks and coaches.

Wow. Smart, honest children do not believe these lies, they just learn not to trust their parents. If kids simply get a chance to get to know people who look differently from them, there is no other conclusion at which to arrive except that we are all different, all the same, all flawed, fucked up, damaged, capable of different things, talented in different ways, and filled with the propensity to love, hate, hurt and heal.

But some people are freer to do those things than others. Some have to fight for even those simple human rights.

 Don’t panic, don’t hate me, I’m not saying that straight white people don’t have to overcome shit, work hard, get up after being knocked down, they do. I’m just pointing out that they don’t have to overcome racism and or homophobia in particular. They won’t face that obstacle. What’s weird is that they won’t even admit there is an obstacle. They can’t, because they equate it to having their accomplishments, or the lie of their natural superiority, challenged. If you think you are innately worth more, or better than, someone else, being told you had an advantage to get that way will rock your high-walled, well constructed dream world. You will feel, in effect, cancelled, dismissed, your very life and so-called accomplishments will lose value. In other words, it will make you face feeling exactly the way you treat others. Separate, lonely, and discounted. The truth is, you don’t mind dishing it out even unconsciously, but it incenses you to be called on it because it shatters the fiction you created about yourself. 

It’s as though life on our planet is a massive music festival, and some people have chosen to stay, not just in one tent, listening to one artist, but in one tiny few square inches and a brief second of time, their feet nailed to the ground, listening to a single note or drum beat over and over and over again. Of course that would drive anyone insane, it’s no wonder really that these people are so pissed off and unstable. What a bland, restrictive life, if you didn’t pretend with all your might that you remain in that single place and narrow thought pattern because it is ‘the right one’ you would have to shout at the top of your lungs just to drown out the screaming in your head. Only to find, when you collapsed, hoarse and exhausted, that the horror was always with you, it was you. In your ravaged state you might notice that the festival is going on without you in the distance. Too far away for you to join in. The music is still playing, people are still dancing, it is only you who are left out. The laughter and happiness of those who embraced change and diversity taunts you where you lie, plotting and seething in the darkness beyond the edge of the light. Probably, you’ll eventually be eaten by racoons. 

Naturally you’re angry, what did you really expect trying to force the world to your microscopic view? But here’s the deal. It was your choice. The smorgasbord is there for us all, you decided to select your entrée from the cat box.

So this magnificent person and I made a different choice, not just to block out that hateful noise, but to obliterate it. In gesture at least. And gestures can mean so much, but only if they are followed by action. 

Today we found a use for that dichotomy of homework assignments, one side written by a child learning and one side written by a mental child refusing to learn. We lit it on fire and warmed our hands.

Then we smeared the ashes into a gray muddy mush, mixing it with the rotting leaves and the elk poop droppings, (Yes, the elk wander through the post office parking lot every month or so, eating the apples off the neighbors trees.) It wasn’t even worthy of sticking to the soles of our shoes, but the rain would wash even the remnants away before we got back to our cars.

I exchanged cards with the noble-faced note-burner, an artist! So excited to find a kindred spirit in this rural but sometimes small-minded beauty, and we said goodbye, got in our cars, and went back to the festivals of our varied and embracing lives. Leaving that missive of lonely hatred irreparably  altered behind us.

As it should be.

Reduced to ashes.

 

Shari, December 19th, 2020

 

Life in General

So this is Sixty.

 

Funny, I don’t feel any different than yesterday. I’m a decade baby. I was born in 60 and now I’m 60, which is numerically cool. Everyone is acting like this is big deal, but you have to understand that without everyone reminding me that this is a ‘big’ birthday, I wouldn’t have noticed. I normally have to ask my husband how old I am. I just don’t pay much attention to dates, or even the date for that matter.

It’s just not one of those life changers, you know, like getting your driver’s license, or being old enough to drink or vote. At 25 you can rent a car, then it’s pretty much no major milestones until 55 when you can get the senior specials at Coco’s. I was oddly excited about that!  I guess the only big milestone left is 100, and so many women in my family live longer than that I suppose I can expect it, though it seems a long time to wait. The very thought makes me feel tired.

For now, I’d still rather run up stairs than walk, I’d rather hike 4 miles than 1, I love contributing to my friends’ happiness and my community’s health, and most of all, I still learn something new everyday.

I learn about love and how to make people laugh. I discover new writers and artists and more about the old ones, I learn history and new science, I teach myself to cook new recipes, (right now it’s charcuterie, I have 24 duck proscutto breasts drying in the back bedroom) I seek out new beauty in this gorgeous land where I have the honor of living, and am always searching for kind hearts, and a way to lift sadness and fear.

It’s a busy life. One of the things I’ve had to work hard at is relaxing. All my life I’ve done and done and done some more, any day I didn’t take a long hike, make an amazing meal, write a chapter of a new book and spend time with my kids was as day I felt I hadn’t done enough. I’m better now at waking up and staying still, listening to the weather serenade me, the steady tattoo of rain’s fingers tapping at my window sill and my heart. Now I can treasure those moments without feeling I should be doing something else. Now I can feel the strum of nature as enough, not as a single instrument, but as the whole orchestra, rising and falling in harmonies and discord, crescendos  and quiet conclusions. Sometimes the world around me hums and sometimes it sings. I have learned to listen.

I like being older. The number doesn’t count, but the experience does. What was once so important to me that it was printed in bold type on my every waking moment has now faded to fuzzy charcoal sketches, mere overlays on days that were truly so much more than what I chose to see. I have realized that we limit ourselves to what was expected of us. We struggled to fill the pre-cut shapes that defined us, our families decided our role and shoved and mocked and cajoled until we forced ourselves into their idea of us because they had enough trouble understanding their own lives. Friends with goals influenced us to keep up, or exceed them. Husbands and lovers compared us to others and often found us wanting, we felt less, unseen, untrue to ourselves. The more we tried, the further away from our center we wandered, aimless and lost. Until one day, I found myself wanting everything everyone else thought was great and not having any idea what I really wanted. Honestly, I spent so much of my life pursuing other people’s dreams that I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I found joy in it, art and creativity, I am so grateful for those times, I have no regrets, but it seemed I was always reaching for something I didn’t control and didn’t even know what it would be like when and if I found it. I wanted other, more, different, I wanted an ideal, a fantasy. I got lots of those, more than many, and boy. nothing will open your eyes more abruptly than getting what you think you want.

I no longer want the don’t have. Now I want the have. I want exactly the life I’ve made. I want the same leg thrown over mine in the morning, I want to disregard the envy and criticisms, the ‘you aren’t enoughs’ the ‘you faileds’ I want what I have.

And so…I am happy. And I guess I’m sixty. It’s a nice fat, round number, plump and curvy, the way I like my cats, contented and lazy. You could take the digits in sixty and role them across the living room, or down an easy slope. You could sling that six into the air and it would fly, only to return like a boomerang. You can make a  swing out of that zero, on a long silken rope over a beautiful river and swing so high you will launch into the fluffy sky. You can put the two digits together and make them into a comfy sofa, something to loll on while laughing with friends who have earned their place in your life, as you have in theirs.

And how I feel? Sexy, vibrant, full of love and compassion and empathy, some might say too much empathy but that’s only because they cannot bear the weight of caring that I have never been able to shrug away. I had to realize that I never wanted not to care, and that’s okay. Caring doesn’t make me weak, tears do not drain my strength, it is quite the opposite. I am stronger than I have ever been, because I can care, I can  hurt and bleed for others, and I will most likely live to see another perfect dawn.

I suppose sixty is a good time to look back and think about what’s ahead, but I prefer to spend today being me, unvarnished, unabashed, and unafraid.

I love this life, and all it’s challenges.

I have been so lucky.

Even in my sorrows.

Happy sixty to me.

To you,

to us all.

I think you’re gonna’ love it.

 

Shari November 18th, 2020

 

Life in General

Searching the Blue

This blue is the color of hope.

For such a long time I’ve been asleep. Not the easy, restful sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care, but an exhausted slumber, half aware and half nightmare.

I’m not the only one, of course. I thought I was almost through it, that dawn had come, but a dirty haze still hovers over my conscious now. Almost, I keep saying, almost over.

It isn’t just the political insanity, it’s more the realization that humans are so gullible, content to never question, and filled with fear and hatred. How did we come to this? It’s not hard to see, decades of disinformation and downright lies used to control the less aware of the population. Men using politics, force, and religion as a means to keep others down, convince others that they know best, to make themselves more powerful, to profit from superstition and ignorance. Especially power over women, always women.

And why, even now, do we women continue to buy into it? Are we so brainwashed that we can no longer think for ourselves? Are we so weak that we must have men tell us what to do? Are we ashamed that we bought into and led a life where the man is always the final say, because we succumbed and submitted, that now we are so ashamed that we have to justify that life? A life surely unfulfilled? Or does the lie of being the ‘good’ wife and mother by never putting her own needs first justify the waste of intelligence, ability, art, science, peace, and all other lost opportunities that would benefit not only ourselves, but the world, really justifiable?

No. Of course not. Just as it absurdly sad that the person who may one day find a cure for the cancer that may kill your mother or your child will never have the opportunity to become that doctor or scientist because they live in poverty, or were uprooted from the home and country they thought was safe. How many good and loving people will become so angry by the bombing of their homes, the slaughter of their family caused by men creating war for money and power, that they feel the need to strike back and draw blood to leech out some of their own unbearable pain?

It’s not that hard to understand really. With no education, no access to empathy, misinformation, fear and violence are soon to follow.

And how is it, that after millennia on this planet together, we still do not understand that we are all basically the same. How long will we allow others to use us for their own personal gain?

As long as we allow it. As long as we keep buying these lies of difference, as long fear of anything ‘other’ rules your life. Other religions, other skin colors, other sexualities, other countries, states, cities, families, they are all lies.

If you want society to go backwards, you will fail. You might cause great pain to others in your ignorance and denial, but eventually you will fail. Time doesn’t work that way. Think I’m wrong? Are you getting younger?

If you choose to try to go forward only by viewing life through the arrow slot of the lie of separation, of superiority, or of difference, you will fail. You will cause great suffering to many, you may even be able to convince yourself of those falsehoods throughout your life, you may even teach your children or your students to echo your fear, but ultimately, you will fail.

The world is changing, we are all connected, you are not alone, you are not different, you are not special.

You belong.

So do I.

And none of us are getting out of this alive.

So you might as well love and laugh, and give.

It’s all out there, inside you. It’s in all of us.

We all fear, we all have the capacity to love, to choose something better.

It isn’t easy, but once you try, it’s so obvious. You are part of a whole. Part of us, just as we are a part of you.

You’re not special, less, or more. You just are.

Just like everyone else.

Isn’t that refreshing?

Shari, November 15, 2020

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