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Categorically Wrong Again.

fun one

Just a few words.

Whenever someone finds out I’m a writer, (because I tell them) their first question is always, “What do you write?” by which they mean, ‘what genre?’

How do I sum up my work in a word? I wish someone would tell me. If you’ve read “Invisible Ellen” you’ll know why. It’s comedy, it’s drama, it’s fable, it’s reality, it’s socially conscious, it has story and it’s character driven, and while it’s primarily about two women, it’s not ‘women’s fiction’ perish the narrow-minded dismissal! I understand why people ask, they may prefer cozy mysteries or violent thrillers and are jonesing for their next hit, but I can’ t help them there.

Well, I could. it might be much easier for me to stick to a genre, write the same kind of book again and again. For publishers, it’s easier for them to button hole a writer into a small, easily promotable group. But the entire idea that anyone’s entire body of work can be filed under one word is lamentable. Not to say that writers like Rex Stout aren’t masters of their genre, practically creators of their own library sections, but that is because their work is so complex and compelling to start with, they are anything but simple.

Full disclosure, I have written books based on a label by contractual agreement. In fact after my first book “Loaded” was purchased, the publisher ordered two more books described thus: “Mystery thriller with a romantic entanglement.” So…at least that was two labels in one. I always bucked the identity of ‘romance writer’ not because I don’t love a good romance as much as the next red-blooded, sex-crazed female with a penchant for tactile mental imagery and the well-described monkey noises that accompany them, but because I know so many writers who write romance so much more deliberately and, frankly, so much better than I do. Romance is just not my passion, if you’ll forgive the awkward juxtaposition of nouns.

Which sends me spinning off on one of my tangents; I do this a lot. I’m just cruising along on a big merry-go-round of topical reasoning when something suddenly snags my mind’s eye, I lose my grip on the painted pony of focus, and the centrifugal force slings my thought process into free flight, tumbling my head over my ass off into another part of the zoo. I might return to my original point but I might also spend the rest of the essay admiring the zebras, sorry.

Anywho…speaking of herd animals, isn’t it a relief to sometimes be one? I mean, to just say, “Yeah, I’m not even going to try to lead the pack in this field, So-and-so is so brilliant at it that I might as well not bother.” Giving up on the aspiration to do something or be something you respect and admire is sort of life’s version of screaming “Uncle!” while simultaneously enjoying the experience of having your arm folded up your back like a dislocated chicken wing. There are so many amazing vocations that I would love to conquer, like painting, or astrophysics, but—even making the wild assumption that I had the talent and propensity—without at least one more lifetime of devotion to the cause, I’m not likely to give Monet or Neil deGrasse Tyson a run for their money. Therefore, I content myself with gazing covetously at the transformation of pigment into emotional impact, and listen with rapt reverence to the simplified explanations of a superior intellect.

Not everything. Never give up on everything. Keep something, I say. Find a couple of things you love and even if you stink, you will find fulfillment in the doing if not the adulation that may never come. There’s a lesson in that, is it the proficiency or the laurels you crave? Do you want to act or do you want to be famous? Those are two very different goals, and it is the latter inclination that makes an artist. But then, you never know, maybe your first novel will be ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.’ I mean, hey, you never know until you try.

Meanwhile, let me climb back onto the carousel of my original thought process here. Why do we feel the need to pigeon-hole everyone and every thing? Okay, maybe it works for some things, like B movies and restaurant types, if I feel like pasta I won’t go to a BBQ pit, but people and creativity? That’s just nuts.

Because I don’t want to be chained to any one thing. If I do something for a while and it works for me but I weary of it, I’ll move on. I’ll write books on topics and characters that interest me, I just don’t have the time and energy for a project that isn’t worth six months to a year of my life.

And here’s something I’ve found out not from writing, but from reading. The books I love the most, the ‘break-out’ books, are almost always true originals, impossible to stuff into a cubby-hole with a computer-printed genre-label gorilla glued on the cover.

Screw that. There are true examples that fit any given description, but there is no description that is true about every example. White people aren’t all racist. Politicians aren’t all crooked, (well, a few aren’t!) Blonde women aren’t all vapid. Not every athlete is a bad student. Some mysteries are magical. Some dancers are clumsy. Good people die. Bad people do kind things sometimes.

Life, like literature, is a whirlwind of variety, constructs that grow or crumble, even things we build on foundations that can be washed away in the worst of a storm. If you look at the sum of someone’s work like a house they are putting on the market, before you buy, you need to see more than the real estate agent’s brochure. And while it takes extra time and energy to walk all the way around and through a house, judging the structure by the curb appeal alone leaves you ignorant of the floor plan and no understanding at all of the possible lives and loves that would be constantly changing inside. And don’t forget that everyone has the potential, at any time, to redecorate and redefine.

So…if anyone can help me with a quick phrase to sum up ‘what I write’ please, I’m begging you, I’m down on my scrubby knees chanting for clarity. Share it! As far as summing up my life and divergent personality in a simple adjective, give it up. It can’t be done. Not by me, or you, or anyone. Not about me, and not about anyone else. There is always more, layers on layers, basements and attics and add-ons, carpeting over hardwood floors, recessed lighting with a couple of bulbs burned out, a backyard filled with weeds on one side and a garden on the other. You can choose to live in a mid-century modern, mission style, or Victorian. You can occupy living rooms, bedrooms, tiled kitchens, and even spend time completely away from that home, possibly in the occasional muddy camp-site. Hey, I’ve done a bit of wallowing, every one occasionally makes a lateral move to our lower selves, so wipe that gunk out of your eyes and follow me to the showers.

But for heaven’s sake, stop limiting your vision, there is so much more to see.

If you want to change, do it! But be ready for resistance.

Because people don’t like it when you change.

It’s easier for them if you stay the same.

And nobody does.

So grow.

Dare.

Be all that you are.

Some one will read it.

 

Shari, November 7th, 2017

 

 

 

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Please Forget Me When I’m Gone.

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Where the sidewalk ends

 

I watch a man, a father I think, pushing a baby in a stroller who is maybe a year old.The father rolls his son right to the edge of the sidewalk overlooking the crashing surf below so that there is nothing but salty air between the child and the sea. He crouches next to the child and points out over the shimmering water. There are no words, nothing but the gesture, yet that simple wave of an arm is a lecture on eternity, a tutorial on infinity, of all things. It is a master class in perspective.

Later this day, I stand in line at the grocery store. There are several people ahead of me and only two checkers open in the village-sized store. The older woman ahead of me who is blocking everyone from passing because she seems unaware that anyone else exists, begins to complain loudly. This is an outrage, she complains, she has valuable things to do with her time. Her cart is filled with wine and expensive specialty items. And still she complains. When she looks to me to bitch along, I say, “I have been too many places where parents cannot feed their children for me to complain that I have to wait a few minutes for all of this.” I wave my arm in direction of the unbelievable bounty and choice available to us. “Whenever I have to wait,” I tell her, “I remind myself how fortunate I am to have so much abundance.”

Her face twists in sour indignation, but before she can wind up to vent off more entitled outrage, I shrug comically and say, “Hey, how else you gonna’ keep your sense of humor?”

What I really want to do is scream at her, “There are hungry children on the street outside! They will go to bed hungry!” But it will do no good, this woman has no experience in her ken that allows her to shrug off even this slight inconvenience because she has no gratitude for what she has, who she is, where she lives, the privilege she was born into, nothing. She has a grossly limited perspective. She knows only that the world is ‘supposed’ to be the way she wants it to be, the way it has always been for her.

It’s really such a very small way to think.

How do you change that in a ‘me first!’ society? Can you teach empathy? The issue, of course, is that it’s a matter of standards and awareness. To what do you compare any given thing? Do you see yourself as a member of a vast universe or as the center of the only story you know. The creator or the victim?

Let’s take my writing career as a sample. I have published eight books, I’ve had many people enjoy them very much, (which is the best metric for me), I’ve had glowing reviews, and I adore creating other worlds and lives. I am lucky. Compared to someone who has always wanted to write but who has never had the time, the agent, or the publisher to do so, I’m a success! Whoo hoo, go Shari!

But, if I look at the fact that I’ve never had a best-seller, I’ve never had a movie made from one of my books, and I’ve never been featured in Oprah’s book club, then I’m a resounding failure. Boo Shari.

So what do you think? I think it’s writer’s choice whether to call myself a winner or a loser.

Okay, I know some of you are choosing the latter description with a little too much enthusiasm, fair enough. That propels us into the realm of judging our worth based on what other people think about us, but that factor is so unknowable and immeasurable that the science to gauge it hasn’t been discovered yet.

So let that go, for now, focus on the question of whether you think yourself a success or a failure. Should you be happy with your lot in life or distressed?

Each person’s answer depends on what test they use to arrive at an answer. And what’s your time frame for this assessment? Is it what you are experiencing in this minute that counts? The last year? The bottom line of a balance sheet of your total life? And what goes into that accounting? Money made? Happiness felt? Relationships failed? Tears wiped from another’s face by your compassion? Will there be a statue of you or your name on a bridge when you’re gone? What standards apply?

Watching that man with his son on the edge of the ocean was such an amazing reminder to me to look up, to see and imagine the possibilities beyond my limited vision, to remember that there is so much more out there.

I don’t believe in bumper stickers or tattoos, because I have changed my mind so very many times, and I hope I always will, because the option to that is to stop learning and stagnate, fester, and rot. But if I were to have any kind of constant message or symbol to remind me who I am and what is important, it would be one simple word.

Mortal.

This too shall pass.

Ironic, I know, the idea that once I’ve rotted, or hopefully been scattered as ashes in some magnificent redwood glade, I will be far more enlightened and connected than in life. I don’t necessarily believe in life after death, but I do believe that energy and love never die, just morph into something new that is absorbed into a universe hungry for the infusion. I for one will be grateful to return when the time comes, I hope. It does not frighten me that I will be forgotten. It makes no difference to me at all. But making the world a better place while I am a part of it— that is everything.

Try it, for one day, instead of constantly needing to tell yourself how important you are, how fabulous, how great, and especially instead of having to think yourself more important than others, think this…

You will die. All this will be forgotten. It’s just a matter of how long. Even those who are desperate to believe they will be remembered (be immortal) throughout history must face the fact that all human history will eventually end. Even this planet. Only the echoes of our energy and our love will remain, reborn and blended into something new, something even more wonderful.

So, for today, be mortal. Run to the edge of the ocean, or the top of a tall building, or stand in the rain, or listen to Mozart and weep, and know that this moment is magnificent. Say hello, offer a kind word, slip a twenty in a sleeping homeless person’s shoe, laugh like a child.

It isn’t what you absorb, but what you project that matters.

It isn’t how you are remembered, but how you are that counts.

So count yourself lucky.

Stop complaining.

Know that your breath is shared by seven billion other people.

Seven billion.

We’ll all be gone before too long.

Leave something of worth, something more than a memory.

And when I’m gone, if you do think of me, I hope you smile.

And then forget me.

I’m okay with that.

I’m already part of you.

 

 

Shari. October 12th, 2017

 

 

 

 

Same Ol’ Song, Different Fools

 

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Nuts keep falling on my head.

 

Stressed? Furious that so many idiots dare to express their absolute stupidity on your Facebook? Shaken to your core by the ignorance and dishonesty of fake news? Rendered hopeless by the gullibility of fools? Lost all faith in (fill in the blank) our country, government, humanity, your family and friends, life itself?

You just got played. And it seems there’s no escaping the debilitating symptoms.

It’s a bit like getting a song stuck in your head that you can’t immediately name, and you keep on repeating a few bars of the melody, but you can’t quite remember the words or song title. That happened to me yesterday, over and over I kept on singing the same seven notes. A catchy bridge from some maybe seventies soul R and B hit. dah dah dah dah dah dah dah. Over and over it circled through my brain, leaking out of my mouth in a few simple notes, dah dah dah dah dah dah dah. Seven notes, again and again, but I could not for the life of me identify it further, or let it go.

Perhaps that’s because I’m distracted. Like most of this country, I find myself getting embroiled in generic arguments, and sucked into the vortex of misinterpretation, redirection, and downright lying that seems to have become ‘normal’ in this world.

And it’s stealing my life, my love and my energy. I have told myself, with the same frequency of the repeating song hook in my brain, that I will not get sucked in, I will rise above this, I will have compassion and patience and tolerance for others, no matter how inane or evil.

And then I see yet another example of veiled, or even outright, racism and hypocrisy and I’m off!! Typing furious accusations, ending friendships, accusing people of judgment without knowledge, (while I’m judging them, yes I see it) and worst of all, letting this shit get to me until I’m eyeing the gin bottle at lunch time.

Another day ruined by idiots.

Oh wait, who let that happen?

So then, of course, I judge myself. Here’s how it goes in the high court of self-incrimination.

My conscious: “You have been accused of letting bullshit distract you from your very joy and energy. How do you plead?”

 Me: “Human!”

 Conscious: “Your punishment is to accept others as having their own journey that does not concern you.”

 At this unlikely moment, I remember one word in that song brain loop. “Everybody.” The phrase keeps flitting closer but I can’t quite grab it yet. I try humming it through again…”Everybody…something, something, something.”

The judge of my conscious let me walk with a sentence of community service and practicing forgiveness. Unfortunately that involves interacting with others. Overhearing two right-wingers at the next table at breakfast, I get sucked right back in, dragged screaming and vibrating with righteous incrimination into the vortex of outrage, and there is no eye in this storm, it just keeps on swirling and tossing up increasingly innocent loose objects, hurling them into the maelstrom.

You are back before this court because you have violated the terms of your release. You engaged again in useless anxiety, bought into others’ disinformation and redirection. How do you plead?

 Head hanging, “Guilty as charged.”

I hereby sentence you to another full day of feeling awful.

As I accept my sentence as completely just, the tune in my brain expands to include another phrase or two of melody, I can sing a few more of the notes now, and I think there is a ‘rule’ and a ‘cruel’ in the next couple lines, but I still can’t recall the song as a whole, or even name it.

So I return to belittling and badgering myself for failing to rise above the steaming piles of political ‘discourse’ and be of some use to the world. I hate myself for not having the amazing strength of Ms. Maxine Waters. I want to reclaim my time! I want my sanity back. I want to be glad to be part of the human race instead of ready to get the fuck off this immature planet.

How easily we are all manipulated, how guilty we all are of jumping to conclusions, watching the world with blinders on, taking sides, listening only to ‘yes’ news, (meaning only sources that agree with our pre-decided opinions) ignoring the source. We muster our teams, our allies, to cluster around us and make us feel safe again.

How stupid are we to  to buy into being controlled, being unwitting victims of someone else’s narrow political agenda?

How self-flagellating to continue to eat the garbage we are being fed, to eat even as we know we are only being fattened for slaughter.

And while I’m whipping myself for slipping again and again, I remember another word in that nameless tune. “Fool.” I’m sure that’s in there somewhere. Prominently.

And, being the mortal fool that I am, I continue to rage and vent at people who are spewing their brainwashed lies. I try to remember to be compassionate, if only for my own peace of mind. Asking, is it their fault that they were taught to be so ignorant? I should accept their limitations as well as my own, embrace the world as it is, not as I want it to be. Then my fallibility flares again, and I’m out of the gates like a hound on a dog track in Hades. Oh hell no! I will not excuse deliberate ignorance, at this stage of the game when you choose to ignore everything from science to your own eyes and ears, when you opt to accept what some unnamed web site has to say about a topic instead of the actual facts, I have no patience for you.

I may struggle with my own ignorance but denying gravity is not a worthy fight.

Doubt me? Try it. Go ahead and jump.

And…the acid reflux gushes with renewed vigor. I’m all twisted up and on fire inside again.

So why do I keep getting emotionally invested in these non-arguments? I want to care, I want to be informed, but I am the one who is responsible for the churning emotional bile rising in my chest. I, once again, bought into the anger and the dissension.

Say it. Hello, I’m Shari and I’m a Recidivist. Repeat offender.

And then, finally, the words and the melody to that persistent memory worm of a song come gushing back.

“Everybody plays the fool…sometimes.

There’s no exception to the rule.

Listen baby, May be factual, may be cruel.

I ain’t lying, everybody plays the fool.

Sometimes.”

And I realize, at last, that it’s my sometimes. We all get played. We all wish we could reclaim our time and our love and our sanity. And we all fail, we get caught up, we slam out fists into walls, we watch our love, our logic, and our very well-being eek away.

Everybody plays the fool. That doesn’t mean that you can’t fight it.

But stop fighting yourself.

Let go a little.

Forgive.

Because there’s more to the song.

Sing it with me now.

“Love runs deeper than any ocean

You can cloud your mind with emotion.

Everybody plays the fool, sometime.

There’s no exception to the rule.

Listen baby, it may be factual, may be cruel.

I want to tell ya’ that

Everybody plays the fool.”

 

I’m thinking of getting a funny hat with jingle bells on it, just to remind myself that we are all fools, sometimes.

Even me.

No, wait.

Especially me.

A million thanks to the wisest of fools, J.R. Bailey, Rudy Clark, and Ken Williams for their brilliant lyrics.

Be happy you fools.

 

Shari, Sept 30th, 2017

 

Sexier than Thou. An Effed-up Value.

Mein Herr, chair

Tired of being compared to a barnyard animal for those extra pounds? Sick to death of being ranked against every other woman at your office, school, or neighborhood? Infuriated by the fact that men routinely troll strong women of amazing quality, intelligence, and skill with hateful rhetoric based on physical appearance? Then why, when women are more than half the population, do we put up with it?

Beyond that seemingly simple concept, there’s more. Somebody please explain to me why, as sisters who can only benefit from raising our sex as whole, do women perpetrate this crap? Why are we encouraging our country to stay this adolescent?

I don’t want to sound too harsh, but…a nation where the value of half its population is commonly and frequently ranked according to our ‘fuckability’ by the less enlightened of the other half is clearly a country that should be sent packing from pre-school with a note. “Until Sam can treat his classmates with respect, he needs to stay home.” The things we teach our children should make us hang our sexist heads in shame. It’s like our entire adult population never got out of junior high. Sorry to reduce it so far down, I know that there are many terrific men out there, I know that tens of thousands of women and men are working hard to change this mentality, but this is an essay, not a novel or a dissertation, so I only have so many words to make a point.

I’m not saying that admiring someone’s appearance or appreciating sensuality is bad. It is not bad. It’s human, and feeling lust is in our DNA. Procreation is a powerful engine. I am a big fan of all things sensual, from fun flirtation to up against the wall, sweaty, growling like a bobcat passion. I can look at a gorgeous woman or man and think, “Damn, she/he/she-he/whatever, is hot!” and appreciate the moment. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I am talking about here is being reduced (read that as—demeaned, lessened, lowered, relegated, otherwise ignored, or any other version of being put in a lower place) to existing solely for someone else’s gratification. I’m talking about perpetrating the myth that the most important thing a woman can be, the thing that women envy her for the most, is attractive to men.

Frankly, it pisses me off.

And this isn’t new. From the time I was a very young child, I was taught that being pretty was special, it was valuable. Television, magazines and the people in my life backed this up again and again until I was sure I had absolutely no right to ever be unhappy or feel lonely, even as conventional thought isolated me more and more from what I knew in my heart and soul was the truth. So, I’ve been pissed off for a few decades now.

The truth is that while looks are fun, they are not important. Being handsome doesn’t uplift or sustain you in any way. Being considered attractive can have its place, like making people smile, or showing off this year’s fashions on the runway but as a value it isn’t real and it certainly doesn’t form a foundation for anything worthwhile.

I’m older now but I think I have a reasonable grasp on this subject. Yes, I was on the cover of Playboy several times, yes I made a lot of money modeling lingerie, and then being the actress with the ‘good body’ in many films and TV appearances, but it wasn’t always comfortable for me, I was more than tits and ass and I knew it. A glance at my resume will not tell you how many jobs I refused because I thought they would be degrading, not to me, but to women in general.

We’re guilty too, we girls. Come on ladies, buck up and admit it. We perpetrate this ridiculous shallowness. Not by choosing to dress or act ‘sexy’, that’s our right damn it!, but because we allow men to make us compete with other woman in this very limited arena. And, more insidiously, because we actually buy into it, convincing ourselves that we are better than someone else for something so shallow. Men have been using that weakness to make us fight against each other since the days when man caves were a primary residence—their bad. But when women willingly climb into the ring—our stupidity.

Talk about setting ourselves up for a fall. There is always someone hotter and younger coming along behind you dummy. And no matter what, you will age and no amount of money or plastic surgery will keep you 22 and your butt high. I mean, what the hell ladies? Talk about setting yourselves up for a fall. Not much job security in putting your eggs in that basket.

I don’t even want to go into the political aspect of this right now. The fact that women vote for men who would dismiss them as worthless and disgusting based on their faces and bodies is a whole other subject that leaves me wanting to bounce from one side of my living to the other smashing my fists through the dry wall, and since I’m living in a rental right now, I’ll reserve that rant for later.

Just because a woman is ‘attractive’ or ‘sexy’ in your opinion does not mean that she does not have other worth, or even that she appreciates or invites your assessment. If you want to feel smug because a woman your boyfriend once leered at has gained weight, go for it. Just remember that it’s a tiny fraction of who she is, but your need to put her down there is a huge part of who you are.

Oh sure, who am I to talk? I did plenty of nudity in films, but I never took a part that was just me taking my shirt off for the titty count. The ‘titty count’ is how I would refer to the fact that, when I was a working actress, a movie had to show tits three times to get a foreign distribution deal. Often with smaller movies that’s where filmmakers made their money, and I didn’t begrudge them that, but I wouldn’t be only that. The role had to be worth it in some way, an acting challenge.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s awesome fun when you keep the power of your sexuality, but it’s soul crushing when you are expected to give it away.

In my first starring role there was a huge, fight-slash-attempted-rape scene that was written to be played completely naked. I felt helpless and dirty about it. Not because of the nudity per se, but because of the insinuation and context. I had it out with the producer and director and told them that I would not do that scene naked, they screamed and hollered and threatened to sue me, but I held my ground. A week later, when the mandatory prison shower scene was being filmed, I stripped down to skin, climbed in under that luke-warm water and dutifully lathered up. The producers had been expecting me to refuse to do the scene, they even had a lawyer on the set. I remember the confused, but happy, look on the director’s face when we finished shooting the scene and wardrobe brought me my robe. I said to him, “Do you understand now? I have no problem with nudity or sexuality, but I have a serious problem with using rape as an excuse for nudity and arousal.”

And you should too.

Conversely, there was a moment in ‘Caberet’ when, dressed in very skimpy black lace and thigh high boots, in the middle of the outrageously sexual song ‘Mein Heir’ I would pause, nail the audience with a sly smile, then rise onto my six inch heels leading with my pelvis while raking, no, daring the audience with my eyes. I didn’t even think about it until the choreographer came backstage and said, “Do you have any idea how powerful you are in that moment?” It hadn’t occurred to me to look at it like that, but after that night, it got better. Yes, it was fun to own my character’s sexual prowess, but it was way more fun to belt the songs, to dance with talented dancers, to act the scenes with emotion that wrenched and exhausted me until the show finished with me a depleted heroin addict close to death.

But enough of me justifying and rationalizing, back to the point. Women are wonderful, soft and sexy and strong and ruthless. We are smart and kind and cruel. We are doctors and authors and teachers and politicians and even murderers. But still, any time someone feels the need to be negative about a woman, deserved or not, the default insult is almost unfailingly about her appearance.

Time to rise my darlings. Enough of this BS. I appreciate a gorgeous woman in a sexy setting as much as anyone, because I’m not homophobic and women, all kinds, shapes and sizes of women, are sexy. And while I appreciate a gorgeous man as well, I don’t have the need to reduce them to sex toys either. I get it, my darling romance writer friends, it’s our turn to objectify men the way they have us, but do we need to? Hopefully the answer is no.

If you won’t put your foot down and refuse to enter that bogus arena for yourself, do it for your daughters. If you don’t have any daughters of your own, do it for everyone else’s.

Stand up for us all by refusing to put a woman down for her appearance. If you need to criticize someone’s appearance, check to be sure why you feel compelled to do so, and maybe find a more intelligent thing to say.

Maybe the world deigns that you are ‘attractive’ and maybe it doesn’t. Who gives a shit?

Not me. Not any more. I gave up that competition and started to look for what was worthy inside of people long ago. I not only saved my sanity, my life went from a mirror to a kaleidoscope of light and color and heartfelt connections.

I’m not buying into that bullshit I was fed for one more minute.

Because people are remarkable.

Even the good-looking ones.

But not just them.

Look deeper.

Love more.

Because you’re worth it.

Shari, September 13th, 2017

 

Tapestry of Lives

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Wrapped in on of my Treasures

 

There’s a thrift store I frequent in the little town of Felton CA. In this one stoplight town, in a barn-sized store, at a square counter, works a woman. At first glance she is unremarkable. She is pleasant looking, but not beautiful. She is older, but not old. She is smart, but not genius. Unremarkable.

Except by me, who is about to remark on how very remarkable she is.

Everyday she stands at her post helping people, checking them out with their purchases, showing them the discarded treasures in the glass countered case, directing them to the location of a desired or hoped for item. It’s all second hand stuff, and most of the people who come here do so because they can’t afford to go anywhere else. Some of us could, but prefer reusing and recycling the endless hoards of things that flow through our lives, or we prefer hunting for treasures to the instant but empty gratification of ordering on line. We like the personality of things that have been gently used and loved by others. There’s something special about reading a book and finding a notation in the margin calling attention to a particularly poignant phrase or startling fact. I especially love when people look up a word they don’t know and scribble the definition to one side. Vocabulary speaks volumes. I guess that what it’s for.

I remember my great grandmother, Edith, crocheting and knitting and quilting even at 100, binding together thread and fabric to make beautiful, useful objects that comfort and embrace her family to this day. I have two of her beautiful crocheted blankets and they are family treasures.

But some people stitch things together in a different way. They use words instead of a crochet hook. They let their actions and their empathy create their art. The woman at the thrift store spends the majority of her work time chatting with people. She speaks to each and every customer, even if it’s only briefly. Some, mostly those who seem alone, she goes out of her way to notice, especially the elderly. Calling to them by name if she knows them or asking questions and drawing them out if she doesn’t. “Did you get the water heater fixed?” or “How are you today? Are you staying cool in this heat? You be careful out there.”

The questions matter, of course. But far more important is that she listens to the answers. She ‘oohs’ over phone pictures of dogs and grandkids, she delights in people’s little joys and offers small, but sincere, sympathies, she encourages, hopes, and includes.

So today, when I was leaving I noticed a trinket in the case that was pretty, and I asked about it. She said, “It’s nothing very special, I’ll let you have it for two dollars.”

I said, “Thank you,” and then, feeling that was inadequate, I added, “and thank you for being so kind to everyone who comes in, it really makes a difference to us all.”

She pulled off her glasses, looked me in the eye and said, “I think that’s why I was put on this planet, to be kind to people from a humble place. To…let them know that they are…” she lost the thread, and I picked it up, knit one, pearl two.

“It is something to be ‘seen.’” I told her. “It means a lot.”

She nodded, feeling our smiles link together into lace, the simple words used as stiches that bind random lonely moments into shared experiences. I think she was grateful for the words, but I couldn’t really see clearly as my eyes were tearing up. Such awareness moves me, and I left grateful.

Because, you see, without people like her, those who see everyone as part of the pattern, we would all be tattered scraps fraying in the wind. All of the threads that knit together to make a community, or a family, or a friendship, would lay discarded, tangled, and useless.

But when we care, when we see others, our empathy grows. We begin to bind together, to strengthen from single human strand to twine, and on to sturdier and stronger rope, until we have a bond so strong that we can build with it, sometimes we can make an intricate work of art, and sometimes we can make a tow rope to pull a truck out a ditch, but either way, it takes more than one thin strand.

You are not alone. Why pretend there is strength in that?

Every refusal of someone else’s worth weakens your fabric, leaves you unfulfilled, another project undone, another possibility lost.

I may not have the patience or the skill to make an actual quilt, but I see my life and my exchanges with friends and strangers as a virtual quilt. Every time I stop and speak with someone whose appearance frightened me and find they are kind, I add a panel. Every interaction I notice between others embroiders another flower onto the blanket that lies lightly over my shoulders.

And when I die, I will be wrapped in that gorgeous shroud of moments, knitted together into a tapestry that was my life.

It will not unwind, it will not fade, and it will shimmer even as my memories die away with me. Only I will see this actual blanket, only I will be wrapped in it, but many of the panels or woven scenes will be shared, they will be part of others’ stories as well.

Thank you for seeing me.

Thank you for sharing your silk, your wool, the very fabric that is you.

I see you.

 

Shari, August 27th 2017

Shouting Out of Cars

 

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I’ve been in Santa Cruz for several months now (you can tell by the shoes) and I can’t help noticing that people are nicer here. They make eye contact and smile, they chat with ‘strangers’ in groups, they offer quiet compliments in passing, they have amazing style, but each to their own, there’s none of that insecure fashion sheep bs, when a traffic light changes, no one even honks!

It baffled me. Where’s all the anger? Why aren’t people being shitty to each other? How can it be that the people with money don’t seem to think they are more important than everyone else? Why, I thought, do people seem to get along so much better here? For a while it all seemed utterly mysterious until it clicked.

People here are happier. They are accepting of others, their lives are richer, fuller, more magnificent because of the others passing through life with them. I’m as likely to see a in a generic business suit having coffee with a friend sporting multiple piercings and dreadlocks as a cop sharing a laugh with college kids celebrating 420 with a joint so huge seven people had to claim shared ownership as only one ounce is allowed to a person in public at a time. It was a defence the men and women in blue were happy to accept. With a shrug and a smile of relief that they didn’t have to crucify anyone for having fun, they high-fived the group and moved on.

I have days when I can’t stop smiling.

And every time I see multi racial children with their ultra-white granddad or some ‘scary’ black dude offering help with such gentleness to a Korean exchange student who can’t figure out the bus system, I’m awed. This is how it’s supposed to be. There’s very little fear of others because they don’t look like you.

It’s not that I didn’t see these things in other places, I did, but not to the same degree, or any where near as frequently as I do here.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a horrible homeless problem, there is crime, there are racists, though I haven’t personally witnessed any blatant discrimination here yet— not something I can say about Los Angeles or Atlanta or even New York. But I’m not that naïve, It’s here. There are dangerous drugs and mental illness, there is domestic abuse, of course there is. Santa Cruz isn’t some Shangri La, just a pocket of humanity brave enough to dream we could live in a place that is at least Shangri La adjacent. You know, not Eden, but one of it’s suburbs.

Living in a community where you actively seek to interact with many others, each quite different, on a daily basis as opposed to avoiding human contact unless they are the exact same as you, is enriching. Differences are embraced, celebrated, and above all respected. It’s like living in a museum that displays multiple artists and art forms, holds concerts for all types of music and dance performances from every culture, instead of just one bland canvas done in weak pastels that everyone allowed to enter can agree is ‘very nice.’

One reason people seem so happy here is that this city is a blending of business, art, university, nature and community. One reason is the ocean, so close and so calming. One reason is the forests, filled with ancient trees and budding life. One reason is that it’s hard to start an argument with people who are generous, sharing, and accepting of the fact that maybe that mean guy just had a really hard day.

I’ve watched many people, including my daughter, share their food with the homeless, seen construction workers offer a tarp to a couple without shelter, witnessed an entire group of young people at a farmer’s market care about a stranger who had just been ditched by her boyfriend. Nothing obvious, they just sat down near her and spoke softly and kindly until the tears subsided, then they invited her to join them for lunch. Many of you who are reading this would have rejected this group out of hand, they were tattooed, some barefoot, they wore beads and symbols of coexistence, they probably did yoga in the park for god’s sake, but their empathy made them worth more than any movie star or millionaire in that moment. Would you have made an effort to comfort a complete stranger in a fragile state?

And every day I go out three times to walk my dog. Sometimes I don’t feel like it, I’m tired, or working, or just lazy, and every time, I’m glad I went out.

Every time.

Every time I meet someone great, like Elissa, my downstairs neighbor who happens to have a degenerative muscle disease, a love of writing, and a wicked sense of humor, or Stuart who sits on the corner during the frequent bike or foot races along the ocean route and applauds every single one of the participants. Every. Single. One. It takes hours, and the grateful reactions he gets makes me think that he has chosen his occupation well.

It’s been hard lately to stay positive about my race—and I’m referring to the human race. With the many dicks in the white house and the constant barrage of empowered hatred, ignorance, and dark-ages religious dogma causing so much pain in the world, so senselessly, it’s enough to make me want to give up and live in a cave.

Or not at all. If we can’t live together with dignity, what’s the point?

So last night, after yet another day of being horrified by images of substandard human behavior, I went out at the smoky coal end of dusk. My eyes were cast down and I felt as though enthusiasm and hope had been vacuumed from my body leaving me spent and disgusted. People suck, I thought. Even people I once respected have fallen so far from grace in my eyes and my heart that I can’t even look at them. As I walked the half block toward the shining silver sea, a car slowed for the intersection on the street over looking the ocean. It was too dark and far away for me to see who was in it, but as the car came to a stop, I heard the voice of young girl, maybe six, shouting out the window, “Hello! Hello!” she called to the world outside, to everyone. Not to me in particular, there were many people out walking much closer to her than I was. She was angling for an answer, trolling for a connection, fishing for a friend, and I understood that.

Because I’m me, and I don’t give a crap how stupid I look, or care if anyone knows what I’m doing or why, I answered. That innocent voice in the twilight deserved a response.

“Hello!” I shouted, waving madly from thirty yards away. I had no idea if the kid could even see me. I just wanted her to know she’d been heard, that we were out here, that her joy and her friendliness would be reciprocated by other, like-minded souls. The car began to pull away from the stop sign and just before it was out of earshot, the little voice called out four more words.

“I like your jacket!” it rang out, filling the coming night with presence.

I threw my head back and laughed then shouted back, “Thank you!”

I don’t know if she heard me, but that’s okay, because the ‘thank you’ wasn’t just for her, it was for her spirit, the effect she had had on the air, the universe, the love of sharing a moment.

Four words, and my faith in humanity was not just restored but recharged. I felt as though I had received a benediction. A blessedly religion-free benediction of possibility.

What will you shout today? Will it be in anger or joy?

If it’s joy, share it. Shout it.

And I will answer.

 

Shari, August 15, 2017

 

Why I Need to Get My Head Examined

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the cliffs of insanity, or just a bad headache

You might think it’s because I hang off the edge of cliffs, and that’s probably a good enough reason. But then there’s this. Three days ago, I get a call from my sister that my mom has fallen, smashed her head and has no memory of how it happened or what’s going on. Because she’s a Shattuck woman, she insists to her friend who found her wandering around outside that she doesn’t need to go to the hospital. Her friend texts a picture of the open gash in mom’s head to my brother, an ex-paramedic, and he texts back, “CALL 911”

I feel horrible that I’m not there. Normally, I’m the go-to choice for trips to the ER. Next thing I know, I’m getting calls left and right, she’s in the trauma unit, she doesn’t recognize my brother or sister, who are there with her by now. She’s disoriented, can’t remember her birthday and has no recall of the last few days. They’ve done a brain scan (meaning she had her head examined!) and it looks okay, no internal bleeding. It’s late in the afternoon and I’m up in Santa Cruz, so since she has family with her, I tell them all I’ll head down to LA the next morning early. I feel so guilty that I’m not there I go ahead and pack a bag so I can leave super early. I’m not feeling great myself, so I go to bed early.

Within a few hours I wake up with a fully loaded Ram pickup truck parked on my head. I mean I have a headache like I didn’t know you could survive, like I’m not sure I can stay conscious if it’s going to hurt this badly. Like second only to childbirth but with no breaks between contractions painful. I can’t take light or sound, any movement makes me want to scream but at the same time I wouldn’t dream of making a sound, it hurts even to breathe. All I can do through the night is cradle my head in the dark. I take as many ibuprofen as is legal, maybe more, and try to meditate the crushing pain away. That requires focusing on my breathing, which hurts, so…that’s not helping.

By morning the headache has lessened a half a degree, but I cannot get out of bed. I’m the worst daughter in the world. I should be in LA taking over my mother’s care. My cell phone is buzzing and ringing with news about my mom, questions about when I’m coming, etc, and every time I look at it the light pierces my brain. Still, I force myself to find out what’s happening from my siblings and let them know I’ll leave in a few hours if I feel better. Doctors call, and squinting and grimacing, I answer their barked questions about my mom’s medical history. Why are they all so loud?

Then the phone keeps ringing and the screen says it’s my mom, but when I pick up and whisper hello (all I can endure) there is no answer. After four or five times, we have this exchange.

“Mom? Mom? Are you there?”

“Oh, hello.” She speaks as though she’s surprised I called.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Well,” she say indignantly, “I’m in the hospital and I have no idea how I got here. No one has even called me except my friend Sharon.”

“Mom, Shawna and Dwayne were with you all day yesterday.” (my siblings)

“Oh.”

“Shawna is on her way there now.”

“Oh.”

“And I’m going to try to drive down later today.”

“Oh. Well all I know is I woke up and nobody is here.”

“Shawna will be there soon.”

And I knocked out a tooth,” she says accusingly, as though I snuck up behind her and yanked it out with a rusty nutcracker.

This simple exchange feels like grenades going off in my head. My whole body feels like it’s been hit by a truck, but I still kind of want to slap her. How many years have I spent taking her to hospitals and doctors appointments, making sure she’s okay, but the one time I missed a turn…

“I love you mom, I’ll talk to you later.”

Her response was a tortured sigh and her saying she had to go now. A nurse or doctor came in I’m assuming.

But my own little parcel of hell doesn’t lessen, it gets worse. I spend the whole day in bed, and then spend yet another night begging for sleep and relief. My body is exhausted, I’m nauseous and sweating. My brother, the ex-paramedic, is texting me that I might have a blood clot and I need to go to the hospital, which isn’t alarming in any way. Just what a gal wants to hear when her forehead is being used as a dance floor for a thousand super-sized river dancers wearing golf cleats. I don’t want to go anywhere, do anything, speak, think, or move thank you very much.

But hubby sets up an appointment at Urgent care and off we go, me carting my pillow to block out the horrific lights and sounds of sleepy Scotts Valley. The doctor decrees that I probably don’t have a blood clot, which is somewhat comforting, though a more definitive choice of words would have been welcome, ‘probably‘ leaves the door open that maybe, I just might, possibly have one. That’s how I hear it in the five alarm fire that is my head anyway. He thinks I have a migraine type headache, but not a migraine because I’ve never had one, and he prescribes super mojo painkillers to ‘break’ the pain and sends me home.

I’m never leaving home without those pills again. You can have all the credit cards and fancy cars you want to show off with, I’ll take the pills, thank you. Within a few hours I was mostly headache free. Still limp and barely animated, but sweet relief is in sight.

So, I’m recuperating today. Keep thinking I can do my usual stuff only to wilt like arugula on a bbq within a minute or two. I’ll try to get to LA and mom tomorrow. I still feel badly I didn’t rush to her bedside, but driving requires the use of light and sight, two things I couldn’t pretend to face.

And my mom? She’s home at my sisters house, complaining that she’s bored. She’s back to normal,(translate as level-three hurricane force activity) and insists that we’re being ridiculous for wanting her to take it easy.

Yep, that’s me, the jokester with a first time migraine-slash-maybe, possible bloodclot who needs to get to LA to make sure that her 80 year old mother doesn’t slide down my sister’s stairway railing or drive to Santa Anita to wander around the cherry blossom festival.

She would do it too.

I might still have to get my head examined for clots or even just for hanging off of cliffs, but so far, I’m happy to be able to sit up and eat.

But I still feel guilty.

Lesson learned? Try not to pile shame on top of physical pain and keep your prescriptions within arm’s length.

But first, get a prescription.

Stay healthy.

Shari, March 15th, 2017