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beauty, cancer, depression, family, Life in General, Marriage, men, writers, writing

Lost Seasons, Perfect Days.

Today it is raining in slivers of silver and the sky, white and pearly, seems more a tantalizing veil of depth than an opaque discouragement. My husband feels well enough to work a bit in the garage and so, while I have this time and energy, I will tell you the story of this last year, and I will not be afraid.

Not all of what we’ve gone through, just the part that has kept me from writing, from sharing too much, from turning my focus away from life outside our swirling world of doctor’s meetings, medical testing, inconclusive results, surgeries, biopsies, and uncertainly.

I’ll explain that in a moment, but it comes to this; life changes, nothing is certain, and we have had a face-slapping, butt-kicking reminder that all we have is this moment, so we might as well make the best of it.

My husband, Joseph, has congenital heart disease. It’s not his fault, it’s not a result of diet or lack of exercise, he inherited it from his mother’s father. He was told at forty that this is a condition that worsens with every generation. After three different angioplasties, where they go through the main artery in his thigh to place a stent in the blockages in his heart, we were informed that a double-bypass, open-heart surgery was his ‘best option.’ It should buy him anywhere from seven to twelve years.

So we waited, we prepared ourselves, we promised each other that life would be better when he could hike again, work without being winded, build up his strength, lose the weight that was impossible to shed when your metabolism isn’t working well because your heart is only pumping less than 60 percent of what it should be.

For six months we waited, for him to be vaccinated, to be able to get a place in a hospital during a major pandemic, to have all the pre-surgery tests done, and all the while he worsened, until just walking a few yards left him winded and holding his chest.

I won’t go into all the psychological side-effects of going from being a bodily strong man to a person who feels physically vulnerable for the first time in his life.  That’s too big a gaping break in the bridge of emotional damage to cover here, perhaps I will share it another time.

The day of surgery comes, because of covid, I am not allowed in the hospital, so I drop him off at five a.m. at the main door of the hospital in the dark, it is snowing. He hugs me and tells me not to worry, to never be mad at the girls, and then I watch him walk away. I smile and stay brave, but as he disappears into the lobby, I break. Not a hard snap, but a crinkling of everything holding me up, as though a beautiful, smooth piece of parchment paper is rudely crumpled into a small wad and then discarded. That’s all it was holding me up, paper. I weep all the way back to the hotel.

I try to lie down but every time I close my eyes all I can see is the scalpel slicing through the skin and thick, powerful muscle of his chest, the image and sound of his breast bone sawed through and ‘cracked’, as the surgeons so airily explain it, the clamps that pry open his rib cage and hold it up, his heart out of his body lain on his chest.

Several hours later, the surgeon calls to tell me it went well, he’s in recovery and should be coming around in about four hours. I breathe for the first time in what I realize is weeks.

Yet, in less than two hours later I get another call. The conversation goes like this.

“Mrs. Stachura? This is (name withheld) I’m the respiratory technician and I’m looking after your husband today.”

“Thank you so much, how’s he doing?”

“Pretty well, I actually think I’m going to go ahead and take him off the respirator.”

“Okay, great. When do you think he will wake up?”

“Oh,” I hear uncertainty in his voice, “he’s awake now. He’s looking at me gesturing for me to take the tubes out.”

“Then get off the phone and take them out!”

Here’s what I find out later. Not only did Joseph wake up far too soon after the surgery with breathing tubes down his throat, he was tied down to the bed, his hands were Velcro-ed to the bars, it was a nightmare scenario. They had not given him enough anesthesia, and he possibly even woke up during surgery.

Then he spends a week in the hospital alone. The nurses change every twelve hours and they are never the same so he has no real advocate. On the seventh day I am asked to come to the hospital for physical therapy training, to learn how to help him in and out a car, shower, up stairs, etc. When I finally find his room and he sees me, he is so relieved he just starts to weep. All I can do is hold him, ever so cautiously, the way you would cradle a fragile porcelain vase you just glued back together, afraid it will fall apart again, or that you will do it more damage. My husband is a shattered vessel, stitched back together, but not yet solid, not yet whole.

Our good friend Ben, a retired firefighter with the soul of a shaman, insists on meeting us at home to get him settled. Though I had said we’d be fine, of course he knew better. Things were much more difficult that we had imagined. The surgeon’s assistant had told us to buy a recliner because Joseph wouldn’t be able to sleep in a bed, and she was right as well. For two months he slept an hour or two at a time in that chair while I stayed on the sofa next to him. Eventually he convinced me to go sleep in the bedroom, but I kept the door open and woke up whenever I heard him stirring. Even walking to the bathroom was a challenge. Taking a shower was downright scary. I learned about blood pressure, sorted a confusing array of medications, changed wound dressings, and played cheerleader. (Minus the short skirt and kneesocks) It was a full-time, constant-focus occupation. All else fell away, and I didn’t even notice. Spring passed with no visits to see the flowers in meadows, no celebrations.

Other than a trip to console the mother of my daughter’s first love, who was murdered, and get her through everything from cremation to what would have been his twenty-fifth birthday, a trip that came over my husband’s own birthday, but which he would not hear of me not taking, because that’s who he is, more weeks passed with us not really noticing. Pretty soon it was summer, hot, but there were no visits to glorious swimming holes, and I had to hang heavier curtains over the windows so we could watch TV in the daytime, something we never usually do.

Eventually, he could venture out, just a bit, with a pillow strapped to his chest with one of my long scarves. I would say, “Open heart surgery,” to explain quickly when people stared, though my best friend told me I should tell them “I tried to get him to give up the blankie, but he just won’t do it.” I think I’ll try that.

But he wasn’t getting much better, we kept telling ourselves that the doctors only say that he’d feel better in a few weeks because they don’t want to scare you with the truth of how long it really takes to heal and get back to ‘normal.’ But surely, we kept repeating, this was all part of the regular healing process.

Then, six weeks after surgery, at one o’clock in the morning, Joseph woke me up from a dead sleep, and I could see the consternation and confusion on his face. “What the hell is this?” he asked, pointing to two lumps on his collarbones, both the size of my fist.

My first thought was lymph nodes, but they were too low on his chest. They were goose eggs on his collar bones, exactly symmetrical. We called the amazing Ben, who, being used to long shifts with broken sleep, listened to my report of his blood pressure and looked at texted pictures of the area, then told us to go to the ER.

The faces of the doctors were blank. They had no idea. They ran him through every test they could think of−CT scans, ultrasound, blood, urine, they brought in other doctors to look at him, but nothing. No one had ever seen a presentation like this.

So, we went home with no diagnosis and an appointment with his cardiologist. And at the cardiologist’s office we were met with the same confused expressions, more doctors came in from other rooms to say no one had seen this. Shoulders were shrugged, palms were turned upward in expressions of ignorance, No help there, but more tests were scheduled.

Since then it’s been a halting, clumsy dance of tests and fighting for more tests and clearer results, and being told nobody knows, maybe the Mayo clinic?, maybe special doctors in Philadelphia?, maybe this specialist, maybe that hospital. He went through several days of having radioactive substances injected between his fingers and toes then hours in an MRI machine. Joseph is claustrophobic, so though I wasn’t supposed to be allowed in with him, they brought me in to talk him through it.

Joseph would start to panic as a huge flat panel was lowered to within a half inch of his face and he had to hold still for twenty minutes. “Tell me about Venice,” he would plead.

So I would walk him through the streets of Venice from a chair a few feet away, speaking loudly over the machine so that he could hear me, we walked together over rain-glistening cobbles, along familiar canals, I described the costumes of Carnivale in great detail, the Murano chandeliers in the shop windows and hotel lobbies. We wandered the narrow back streets at night, and saw the torches lit and placed in iron holders as we walked backward in time while I showed him the story as it showed itself to me.

We were so filled with hope that this would give us answers, that we would have a plan, something to fight, to deal with, to accept even. But on the morning after those tests in yet another hotel room we got the news.

“No results, everything looks normal with the lymph system.” Joseph was angry, almost desperate, shouting, “Then what is wrong with me?”  I absorbed all I could but even trying to justify the results as something positive I was met with his frustration. I was helpless.

While he called doctors, I went into the kitchenette to hide while I lost it, sitting at a little built-in table in a Victorian hotel, I gave in to disappointment and frustration for the first time. My head down on the table I struggled to sob silently, sucking back the sound, until Joseph came in and told me to go ahead and cry, because I deserved it.

Since then, we’ve been through a myriad of other tests, including repeating that first lymphoscintigraphy twice more. A biopsy of the swellings, a colonoscopy with biopsies to rule out infection, and I can’t even remember what all else. Now we are more cautious with our hope, we’re stingier with expectation. That way the disappointment doesn’t overwhelm us, knocking us on our asses every time, it just laps around our legs, leaving us damp and chilled.

And still , we know nothing, as fall leaves in the wind begin paint the sky.

It’s been six months since the surgery, and he is worse than before the surgery. He’s still wearing a small pillow strapped to his chest to try to relieve the constant pressure that makes him gasp, sometimes cry out in his sleep, and often clutch his chest until the stabbing pain subsides enough to endure again. And now we get new information. If it is Lymphodema, it is not fixable, and it will get worse. When Joseph went to see the wound specialist−after six months he still has a hole in his ankle where they removed twelve inches of artery to use in his chest that hasn’t healed−the doctor noticed swelling in his leg that is dimpling. She told him that it can worsen and the skin can become ‘like bark.’

And now my husband, the man I love and adore, the sexiest man in the universe to me, confesses with a tear on his cheek that he may become a ‘monster.’ That I might be with a man physically disfigured.

I kissed him and told him not to worry about me, my secret fantasy has always been the leaf man, the half-beast of the forest, but I know it’s not just me. How does anyone adjust to such a thing?

With courage of course, with love, with time.

And speaking of time, spring has passed, summer is gone, fall is showing the last of its glory, and still we wait, but I have learned something. I have learned so much, but especially this−how to make even illness and uncertainty fun.

It’s a strange thing to say, to long for, to work at, but having fun and enjoying life is the best way to honor it all. So, we play scrabble for as long as he can sit up. We take very short walks in this place we chose for the breadth of its natural beauty. We drive to see waterfalls. We put on music and sway together. We find the moments to celebrate, to laugh at it all, and to love each other with a new ferocity.

At the end of the day, I am happy. I understand that we are not waiting for some result or even a new plan, we are living now, we can laugh now, we can share secrets and giggle, and make amazing food, and watch the light on the water from our porch.

There isn’t anything better than this anyway. Venice will wait.

Seasons have passed, but in those months, in those weeks, there have been perfect days, better than we have ever shared. We are together, and we will find a way to make even this fun.

Take care of yourselves.

Take care of each other.

Find those precious days.

And write them on your heart.

Shari, November 11th, 2021

art, authors, beauty, humor., Life in General, makeup, Nature: Hiking, Wildlife & More, writers, writing

Modeling for Myself

If you are a regular member of my super exclusive club, (uh, social media friend) you might have noticed that over the last year or so I’ve done a series of photos of me wearing fancy dresses in unlikely locations. Or maybe, like the shot above, I’m just being silly in a pretty place.

It started out because I was bored and frustrated during covid and I just wanted to make people laugh and feel better, and I needed something to do. I love taking shots of nature almost as much as just being out in it, but sometimes you need a body for perspective and reference. So, like the grinch when he needed reindeer, I looked around. But since models are scarce, there were none to be found. (I didn’t find any willing reindeer either. Elk, yes. Reindeer, no.)  Since I saw only me, I got nominated. After being offered the job and waffling a bit, I reluctantly agreed to pose for myself. Congratulations me!!

Okay fine. There were a grand total of zero other applicants. Sure, I would love to have my gorgeous ex-model friends here to jump in and play, but they don’t live on this side of the country and I’m not sure slogging around mudflats in rubber boots wearing Versace, or running through the snow in a backless evening gown is something they care to do anymore, but they did it once!

Because modeling is uncomfortable, to say the least. I have stood in water up to my thighs for a bikini ad in January when they had to break the ice off the top of the pool to get the shot. I have stood in the middle of an Astro-turf covered stadium wearing a heavy fur in 107 degree heat and 100 percent humidity for a winter coat ad in mid-July. I’ve been dangled from balconies, buried in fruit, and had ten-foot boa constrictors draped around my mostly naked body. I’ve had perfume squirted directly in my eyes, been posed on a metal train car that could have sauteed a lovely omlette du fromage, poked, stuck with pins, been bruised by clamps used to tighten an ill-fitting suit, and asked to lie down in Fifth Avenue traffic.

And my gorgeous daughters won’t model for me either, even when they are here, because, a. all of the above, and b. my shots are too ‘dramatic.’

So I’m it. And while plunging through icy streams or balancing precariously to get a silly shot might be its own kind of fun, it isn’t about me looking fabulous anymore. It’s about a fun shot.

I can’t be bothered with any but the most minimal makeup, if any, and I haven’t ‘done my hair’ for years for a variety of reason. First, I’m fine looking how I do now, and second, it’s just too much trouble.  Stop laughing! Fair enough. I’m lazy.

The great thing is, I get to shoot what I want to. I’ve worked with literally hundreds of photographers and directors and directors of photography over the years and I can honestly say that only about 2% of them have any idea what they are doing. While I was known for being an asset on a set because I was a ‘thinking’ model or actress, there was only so much I could do without taking over and directors and editors tend to be sensitive about that, I don’t know why. So now, with an I phone, a cheap tripod, and a remote shutter, I can give it a go. What I would love to do is find a bunch of women, all over fifty, and take them out and do a series of these ‘plein air’ shots. They will have to be good sports, but it would be a tribute to what we really want. Not to look like Christy Brinkley at the height of her career, but like the gorgeously-aging goddesses that we are, captured in the wild, nesting in our native habitat. Or maybe we’ll just be an unrecognizable speck of color on a stormy gray beach in the misty distance, anonymous and elusive, but at least we’ll have had a day at the beach!

But since I live in a fairly remote place, though one of great beauty, my victims, uh…subjects, are somewhat limited. I fantasize about taking a road trip and doing this with so many remarkable women I know, both personally and on line. Little snapshots of their glorious personalities draped in the finest thrift store fashion available. Or the latest fashion, or wrapped in lace, but like the photographer who once proclaimed he did not shoot Sears, I will raise my snobby nose at yoga pants!

For now though, I’ll just keep trapsing out into the underbrush, or mountain ledge, or rocky shore, with my satin skirt hiked up above my knees to avoid the blackberry thorns and shoot blind. Kind of the opposite of going into a blind to shoot, ha!

Blind photographer. Makeup-less model.

Next I’ll be writing without verbs.

Or cooking without heat.

But I’ll be amused.

Hope you are too.

 

Shari July 21st, 2021

 

beauty, Life in General, men, Nature: Hiking, Wildlife & More

How You Like Me Na-ow?!

 

 

I suppose I must be mellowing in my old age. The other day some woman went off at me for letting a door close on her, though she was ten feet from it and I had no idea she was even going into the same store, and instead of going full bitch back, like I would have a few years ago, by telling her I didn’t need a lesson in manners from a crack addict Cretan like herself, I apologized. She kept it up, mumbling and cursing and glaring through beady, narrowed eyes, until I said, “You are not listening. I sincerely apologize for not noticing you there. I hate it when people do that to me, and I truly did not mean to slight you.”

The muttering dropped an octave and faltered somewhat, then, though she struggled to maintain maximum nastiness, her eyes widened and she backed away. This unpleasant person, intent on drama and nasty confrontation was befuddled, shocked even, and left completely at a loss as to what to do next. “What is happening?” You could almost see her reptilian brain trying to access some reference to this alien behavior. “How will I scratch and claw and maintain feeling terrible all day if someone is going to be nice about it?” She was foiled.

When I got up to the counter, the salesgirl apologized for the woman, telling me that that particular customer was always very unpleasant. I nodded, it was obvious that she lived in the not so far away land of toxicity and, whether because she had been innocently hurled into that particular pit or leapt in herself and piled sewage on her own head, it was always unpleasant there.  She never expected anything else. For her, that was it.

I winked, “Yep, it freaks people out if they are looking for a fight and you are sincere and pleasant. They have no information on how to behave in that situation.”

Because, it’s easier to demand an apology that to accept one. It’s easier to be brash than graceful. It’s simpler to raise our voice than to speak softly enough that we can be heard. And oh, isn’t it so much more like us to complain that to be grateful.

So let’s get to complaining because that brings me to my latest gripe and I am in no mood to be polite about this crap. I call it, ‘The qualifier.’ You know what I’m talking about. The compliment that is given with an immediate take away. “You’re very smart,” sounds nice, until the sentence is completed with, “for a girl.” Suggesting, not just a lessening of your worth or talent, but an overall insult to all women, the suggestion that because I have a vagina, I cannot ever equal the IQ of a penis holder.

I heard that all my life. There was also, “You’re funny,” said with surprise because… wait for it… “pretty people aren’t funny.”  So only pimple-faced, fat kids can develop a sense of humor as a defense mechanism? No one ‘pretty’ could ever have had a painful childhood, or any trauma or loss, or even just have been born quick-witted. And is there some kind of limit on how many qualities a person can have? We’ve all been force-fed these stupid stereotypes. If you’re a good athlete you can’t be smart. If you have a mathematical brain you can’t be artistic. And on and on. Nothing fucked up to see here, folks! Move along!

I was taught to drive by a professional race car driver named Jack. One day after we’d been out practicing emergency techniques, i.e. correcting slides, using acceleration to avoid impacts, that kind of thing, we met my then husband at a friends house. My ex asked him, “How did it go?” Jack answered, “She drives good.” Ex smirked and added, “You mean for a girl.” Jack’s eyes glinted and without blinking he said, “No. She drives good.”

I still like that guy.

But now I have a new despised qualifier. And I doubt there is a woman over forty who won’t relate to it. If you are an aging woman, you probably already know what I’m going to say. Brace yourself, here it is.

“You look great!” beat beat beat, “…for your age.”

Oh, fuck you! Either you like the way I look, or you don’t. Frankly, I don’t really care. I’m a sixty-year-old woman who has lived my life in rain and wind and on adventures, I look like a sixty-year-old woman, because I am. Why the fuck would I want to look like a twenty-year-old woman and why would you think I would want to? Telling me that you think I would look better if I was younger tells me all about you, but it says very little about me.

I like how I look now, love the glow on my face that comes of contentment. I bask in the love in my husband’s eyes when I haven’t even looked in a mirror for days. I am freaking awesome!! Awesome with my frizzy hair and my descending jowls. I have no interest in applying coverup with a spackle knife or styling my hair with products bought by the barrel. I am aging and I am delighted with how it’s going. So are the thousands of women in my age group and older who have made themselves into what they want to be, not what you think they should be. Screw that, oh, and by the way, for you guys who think you can go on social media and criticize any woman who posts a picture of herself- let’s see you naked. How flat is your stomach? How much hair is left on your head? You want to criticize a woman for not being a size six or for aging naturally? Bite me.

Guess what happens when you ask a guy to post a picture of themselves in that same pose so that we can all get a chance to critique his ass? They disappear like vapor over Texas asphalt.

And if you are woman criticizing other women, well, I don’t even know what to do with you. Though that sewage pit might be a good place to put you. On second thought, if you are woman who has to criticize other women for their looks, you’re already there. That’s it for you.

So stop checking yourself in the mirror and start using those fabulous eyes to look out at the world with the wonder and joy it deserves. You are enough.

No.

You are everything.

You’ve got it all

You’re stunning.

From the inside out.

 

Shari, July 16th, 2021

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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_E0457-1-776x1024.jpg

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