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!
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.
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.
Then share it.
And just maybe,
It’ll get a smile.
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.
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.
When’s the last time you took off for the airport after paying full price for a last minute plane ticket to nurse someone who fell and broke three ribs and then got accused of being a fraud for doing it? Anyone? Anyone? This just after spending two days at a hospital in Seattle to support a friend having cancer surgery.
I’m sure it’s not just me. Helping out when I can is just what I do, what I’ve always done. If someone in my family or close circle needs help, I will do what I can. What was unusual was being back in LA, (yuck!) and having to deal with stressed and judgemental siblings. Just me still? Read on, I’m willing to bet there’s not one person out there with a family who says they’ve never had at the least a quick run in with siblings if not decades long resentments.
If it’s only me, then I’m just lucky I guess. I don’t mean this to be family bashing, all of my family, like everyone’s, has their good and bad moments, but as we age we become who we really are. In the case of siblings, this means challenging the roles we were assigned by our parents and others early in life.
My brother was the artistic, sensitive, self-contained one. My next sister was the reliable, underachiever, my youngest sister was the pampered one, and I was the fuck up. I’m the crazy the one, the drug addict, the wild child, the two time divorcee, so when my sister screamed at me that I never take responsibility for my actions I had to ask her to be a little more specific.
“You mean my drug abuse? My divorces? My flying off with an Arab prince on his 747 while he went to dinner with President Bush and I bought cocaine from the secret service agent posing as our driver while Princey was at the white house? Your gonna’ need to narrow that shit down.”
Crazy adventures and my zig-zag quest for happiness aside, my point is that other people’s behavior and anger really isn’t about me. If you are bringing up stuff that is 3 decades old to condemn me forever while claiming that the only reason I ever do anything is to be a martyr, you’d better be ready to back that shit up, or better yet, face up to why you’re hanging on to yesterday’s emotional garbage. It’s easier if I’m responsible for your discontent than if you have to deal with your own anger and rage. I know, because I’ve been there. But news flash, it does not exonerate you, only buries it deeper.
The problem was that I had to be in my sister’s house to care for my mom. This sister has major issues with my mom, (not as major as mine but it’s not a competition!) She didn’t want my mom with her in the first place, and only consented to have her there when first my daughter offered to drive down from Santa Cruz, pick Teddie up at the hospital and then nurse her 24 hours a day until I could get there from WA. So when she started screaming that ol’ chestnut at me, “You come in MY house and…” I quietly said, “I’m leaving your house,” but did not say it was not a pleasure to be there and I had done everything I could to take care of my mom somewhere else. By then, two weeks after the fall, Teddi was able to stand and move well by herself, so it was safe for me to go.
There’s a lot more to this, but the point of this blog to is talk about what we sometimes don’t say. The quieter route of letting the explosion go off and merely ducking from the shrapnel, maybe taking a few minor hits, and then retreating while the drop zone area burns itself off. First you face the hits, feel the pain, work on healing, then you watch while the bullets aimed at you fester elsewhere.
Reminds me of when my ex sued to stop paying child support for the last year after he quit his job. This while I’m the only one of use paying for college. I still have one daughter with two years left at University and he still hasn’t contributed a dime. His wife followed me into the bathroom at the courthouse to mock me in baby talk, what was there to do but laugh? The way some people behave is so crazy, no one would believe it if I put it in a movie. She followed that kindergarten act up with shouting out things from the gallery during the hearing until the bailiff had to order her to be quiet. I kept my tongue then too, but it was hard not to laugh. I mean, it was hysterical!!
(Side note: only lawyers win in custody/support battles, and if you have aging parents, get that shit together now!)
Meanwhile, back in Northridge, it was hot and hazy and dusty, all artificially watered to look like it’s not actually the desert it is. It was exactly the kind of winter weather I ran from when I was finally able to move north. The moisture feeds me, it rains between glorious bouts of sunshine here and I can not stop smiling. In LA I felt withered and stretched beyond my elasticity, here, in my home on Puget Sound, I am nurtured, drenched, plumped and vitalized by every drop from the sky.
I suppose my point here, aside from a bit of healthy venting, is simply this—I have been through so much shit in my life, I have faced so much resentment, meanness, judgement, condemnation, and downright vicious envy that I have leaned to let it slough away. It will always be something, bring it. What can I do but stand tall, do the best I can for everyone involved, and go right on being happy?
Because I will not stop trying to help. I won’t live a life without standing up to people and brazening through bullshit. The option is to avoid confrontation, run from emotion, and live a fizzled out life in mid-nothingness. A little less pain would be great, but I wouldn’t give up the experiences I’ve had and the person I’ve become just to keep my head down and feel less. Not this crazy bitch.
Except for brief visits with friends, I hated being in LA. I hated the ruthless sunshine that bakes the life out of everything. I couldn’t wait to get back to moisture and seasons and quiet, to a place where I’m loved beyond all others.
My husband met me at baggage claim on my return with roses, he lifted me into a hug and held me tightly for a long moment, the feel and scent of him filled me with all the reassurance a good relationship can give. I came home to clean house, champagne, my laundry done and put away, and cats to warm my lap and purr my tension away.
It comes down to this. I will stand up to bullies, I will try to take some of others’ burdens onto myself, I will take the rain, both as pain and weather, and revel in it. It will make me richer, fuller, slipperier, and far more fertile, both in imagination and experience. Life isn’t only happy holidays and everyone droning the correct platitudes.
Life is messy, ironic, shocking, exhilarating, and painful.
You can try to live only in sunshine, but you can’t stop the rain.
I’m a big fan of ‘Good Omens.’ Some of my favorite funny moments come when the Witchfinder Major constantly demands of his new recruit, “How many nipples?” if the young man tells him he came across anyone new, as more than two would be proof positive of evil sorcery. The confused recruit, keeps stuttering confusedly, “Wha-what?” Making his superior bark even more loudly, “How many nipples, man?!”
It’s funny, but it didn’t used to be. Women could be burned at the stake for less than an extra nipple, just having any knowledge of herbs or midwifing could get you beaten, drowned, tortured, hung up with hooks, burned alive, and other delightful, religious interventions, and all in the name of god. It’s hard to say how many women died for this noble cause, because women were considered lesser beings back then to the ‘righteous,’—frankly, and sadly, we still are—so no records were kept on how many were killed, but the estimate comes in at about four million. I say, ‘still are’ because there are still religious zealots out there trying to control women because, let’s face it, they are idiots who are both mentally inferior and terrified of losing control. Think I’m wrong? Okay then. What intelligent, secure man would need to control a person who could be his greatest asset? That’s like hobbling your own horse because you’re jealous it can carry more than you can. It’s like killing your older brother at 16 because he’s taller than you are at 13. It’s like pouring vinegar on a pie you are eating because it’s delicious and you didn’t bake it. I said they were idiots.
At least I’m safe for the moment, but if the Christian base in this country goes much farther back, who knows? (Before you go off, I am an atheist but I support and will fight for your right to believe and worship any superstition mixed with mythology you want, until and unless you force your belief system on others, then I turn my sword to fight for their right to disagree.) Apparently some of these giants of tele-evangelism long for the good old days of hair shirts, consequence-free adultery for the males, and thumb screws. I keep hearing fanatics talking about ‘returning’ to morality, and I wonder how much of the Spanish Inquisition do they want enacted into modern law? I know it sounds extreme, but a lot has happened in the last three years that I never thought would, so I’m not discounting even the most bizarre possibilities.
Not that I’m worried, even if the witch-burners do come back, “How many nipples, man?” because according to them, I am a witch. I have three nipples. It’s far more common than people know, if you’ve seen me in a bikini or naked, (i.e., if you’ve seen just about any film or TV show I’ve done) you wouldn’t know it. It just looks like a pale, flat light brown mark maybe a quarter inch. The only reason I knew about it is because I had a very good doctor when I was young and he told my mom. He said that some kids have four, mostly boys apparently, which is funny because I never heard of any men being burned for having extra nipples.
It’s just a mark, not a breast. There’s no tissue to speak of, so when puberty hit, I just grew two nice, little, normal breasts and thought no more about it.
Until I had a baby and my milk came in. Okay, first let me digress, this is a really painful process that nobody warns you about it, so get ready. The little brown mark below my left breast felt tender to the touch, not on fire and about to burst like my temporarily swollen to Valkyrie-singing-the-big-opera-finish size, but a bit tender. After dealing with my impacted double udders, (can you say ‘moooooo?”) I checked it out. By pinching gently on both sides, I could get a small drop of milk from that third wheel.
Weird, right? Yeah, not as weird as birthing a nine-pound human and then the food leaks from your chest when you even hear a baby gurgle weird, but weird.
So, I go to my doctor for my checkup and we finish up and he’s washing his hands, when I say, “I have this third nipple.” He glances at me, bored, and says, “That’s very common.”
I mean, the nerve! Common? Moi? This same man once said on completing an exam that everything felt normal, and I shot back, “Well, I prefer exceptional, but I’ll take normal from a doctor.” He turned very red.
So this time, as he’s starting for the door after reducing my magical nipple to ‘common’, I say, “Yeah, but mine is lactating.”
He stopped short as though he’d reached the bottom of the bungee cord, spun on his heel, shot back to the table, and prodded at this fascinating anomaly. I was validated. My mysterious nipple cast a spell and produced a potion. I grabbed my broom and headed to the roof.
So all I have to say is…don’t mess with me, because I will hex you into last week and you will never catch back up. All your bills will be late and you’ll miss your own birthday party.
I can’t resist engaging with kids. They seem to be the people I most want to meet. My girls call me the baby whisperer, okay, sometimes they use the term ‘baby stalker’ based on some of the looks I get from wary care givers when I address a four year old in the check out line at Dollar Tree. I won’t be deterred though, because if a kid makes eyes contact with me, I want to turn it into a smile. I usually get one too. I’ll play the fool in a long line to pass the time, I’ll put myself out there to entertain, I’ll step in to distract a child on the verge of a tantrum, or make a silly face to get a laugh, or start a conversation with the older child who is standing, bored and neglected, as a younger sib’s whining skims off all the attention fat. Sure I’m risking embarrassment, rejection, and citizen’s arrest, but aren’t I always? At least an honest kid-interaction holds some reward for me that’s worth having, unlike say, acting or writing or fashion choices. Not that I don’t love acting and writing, but they seldom offer the immediate elation of connecting with an unblemished soul free from pre-fab social roles. So I guess you could say that I’m impulse inspired. Or just crazy. Either way.
Increasingly, other parents think I’m nuts. When I was younger and prettier—which sadly makes a difference in our appearances-first world—people didn’t seem to mind so much. In fact, if they recognized me from film or TV, they encouraged it. I once had a family thrust their baby in my lap while I was eating at a restaurant and start filming me. The baby was cute, but I was eating spinach at the time. Spinach. But now that I’m older, out of the public eye, wear no makeup, dress like I’m always on a hike or just back from falling down a muddy hill, and don’t give two flipping fucks what grown ups think of me, I’m viewed with increasing suspicion.
But that won’t stop me from trying to get that smile.
I just have an affinity for kids and the open, unclouded psyche of their as yet unspoiled minds. They just got off the boat onto this strange, magnificent shore of life, especially the little ones. Kids are still closer to the other side, to what’s important, and they showed up in this world ready to run screaming with delight along the shore, leaping with both feet into puddle of sea water just for the delicious squishy sound of the sloshing and the spray of wet mud. They care nothing yet for the sand that gets tracked into the house. Screw it, they’re alive and ready to shout it at the sky.
They remind me of me.
When my older daughter was in college, she had a job working for a family as child care, cook, and general dogsbody, she had three highly intelligent, personable, independent little charges. They were these amazing kids, and I wanted to get to know them. Even though I was just another adult, I was also ‘Creason’s mom’ which lent me some prestige and mystique. Oh, they’d heard stories! When I first met them, on the beach in front of their house, they were polite but somewhat reserved, until I offered to flip them upside down.
My daughter remembers me doing this to her with her father, or one of my sisters, or my best friend, we did it a lot. So she looked down at their questioning faces, which eloquently and intelligently asked, ‘do we trust this crazy lady?’ and nodded with a smile. “You’re gonna’ love it,” she told them.
Here’s what you do. There are three rules for this ‘trick.’ One. It must be performed over sand or grass, something softish. Two. Both adults must be physically able with a good grip. Three. Sobriety is a must. Do not attempt this with a beer in one hand or your system, and definitely no psychedelic drugs that might make you think the kid could actually fly. I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but some folks are highly impressionable, lawyers are real, and…well, it’s funny.
To begin, stand facing the other grown up with the kid seated on their bottom in between you. Each of you take the kid’s wrist nearest you, linking tightly to get a solid hold like trapeze artists do. Use the same hand as the kid’s as though you are shaking hands, child’s right hand to adult’s right hand adult, child’s left to adult’s left on that corresponding side. Adults cross their free hand over their already occupied wrist and take a hold of the child’s same side ankle firmly, thumb toward the knee on the inside of the calf with palm facing down. It’s a bit of a twist. If your palm is facing up, you will wrench your shoulder out when the fun begins.
Lift on the count of three and gently rock the kid back and forth, gaining momentum and height, much like the kid is the swing on a swing set or you’re working up to launch them onto the top bunk from across the bedroom. See? We’re already having fun.
But remember that kid-wish to pump the swing so high that it would just wrap right around the supporting pole like Olga Korbut back flipping off the high bar in the ’72 Olympics? Come on, it can’t just be me. Anyway, that’s the goal. When you get to shoulder level, aim the butt end of the kid into the air above you, go ahead and sling them all the way up and over, this will uncross your arms. Keep the wrist hold at all times. At the apex, release the ankle hold, switching that hand to support the kid under the arm on the way down so the kid lands on their feet.
The kids rocks like a pendulum, the sky and clouds above invite them on over as they lurch back and forth, ever upward, and then with one great hurl, centrifugal force meets gravity and they are propelled into the blue, for a split second they float, free and unfettered by physics’ forces, before the thrilling fall.
Wheee! And…she sticks the landing!!
So…after that stunt, I’m in the cool-grownup club. Throwing six and eight years olds butt-over-bangs didn’t exactly cement a lifelong relationship, but it sure did make me a more welcome visitor the next time. And when that next time came, and the one after that, we searched for sea glass, roasted hot dogs over a beach bonfire, played tag until my ageing joints required epsom salts soaks and various CBD salves, and baked bread in the shape of snake until one glorious far away day, (about a week later) they told my daughter they missed me and asked if I could come and play. I went to meet them when she was picking them up after Karate. I arrived to see that my daughter was a couple minutes late, and the kids were the last ones waiting for their ride, watching out the big plate glass window like puppies at the pound. I pulled up and got out of the car and gestured subtly, like a rodeo clown trying to distract a bronco. The second they spotted me, they bolted outside and wrapped their arms around my waist and climbed me like the jungle gym I was born to be.
Make no mistake, I’ve got rules and boundaries, safety and learning how to navigate an uncertain world count, but kids see things more simply, their world is still filled with wonder and magic, and I see that too. When I hike, I notice sunlight on drops of dew like fragments of rainbow that broke off and ran away to have adventures, bright yellow banana slugs feasting on red mushrooms refresh my faith in faeries, and the calls of birds and the skittle of unseen, small, warm things all around me reminds me that I am only one in a fantastically diverse family of fabulous creatures who share the big world, or just my own backyard. Same same.
In other words, I often see things just like a kid. I don’t know why, but I always want to take the time to get down on my belly, or crouch on my haunches to stick my fingers in mud so fine and smooth it runs over your nerve endings like a kitten’s fur. This isn’t dirt to a kid, this isn’t mud or yuck, it’s liquid velvet. A crescent moon in the thick blueberry syrup of an afternoon sky, a green-black crow feather, a shiny rock smoothed by it’s time in a stream, these are treasures to be thrilled over, collected, admired and shared.
But it was easier for me when I had my own kids and they had friends. Now, if I share with other people’s kids who don’t know me, say on a hike, or at a national park, I try to do it in a non-chalant, ‘hey, did you kids see the giant frogs in the pond?’ kind of way, aware that their guardians are eyeing me with suspicion and positioning themselves protectively. It’s funny, the kids want to see the frogs, (who wouldn’t? these things were huge and loud, I mean they were awesome!) but their parents are often more focused on filming them for next year’s ‘Christmas from the Crookshanks’ video newsletter that, let’s be honest, nobody outside the immediate family really watches. Unlike their children, these grownups no longer hear the rustle of pixie wings in the flowers under the oaks, or see the glint of ivory scales on the friendly dragon that lives in the trees. Parents are all too often stretched dental-floss thin by the constant barrage of incoming reality and overwhelmed by the pressure of filling needs and expectations to let go of being the parent and join them in that place just on the other side of that sunbeam dancing with dandelion parachutes.
I get it. That was all too often me. I was guilty too. These days, hell probably always, parents are busy, frazzled, on constant lookout for danger. They don’t know this crazy, frizzy-haired lady who obviously lacks conventional social filters. I mean, why is she speaking to their child? Is a toadstool really worth getting excited about? I get it. Often, if the parents are reserved or untrusting, the kids take their cue from them and don’t respond to me. Those times, I smile, wish them all a good day, and go on my way, trying not to feel overly disappointed, but I still point out the path to the pond, just in case.
Yet more often than not kids do seem to instinctively know that I’m not only harmless, I might be fun. They recognize the impulse in me to do a cartwheel or climb a tree, or lay down and look through two blades of grass at a beetle and pretend I’m watching a performance on a stage with green curtains just because it’s awesome to visit another world. I am a kindred spirit to a five year old if you will. Or possibly just easily amused. Same same.
In fact, the older I get, the more I seek out imagination. I can’t tell you how often I’ve gone to a grown up party and instead of drinking and chatting about shopping and interest rates, I’ve spent the whole time devising games for the bored kids in the back yard. (and had a blast doing it) I recently went to a birthday for a friend who was turning 70. His grandchild has Asperger’s and was reluctant to relate in any way with any one, but he was fascinated with some leaves that had fallen on the deck and I found that much more worthy a subject than what interested the grown ups. So I sat down near him and started dropping the leaves through the cracks in the deck, then I would put my eye right to the space and try to spot where they landed. After a few, the kid was down on the deck with me. So I found some colored paper, tore it up and dropped that through. Within a few minutes the child was pointing with excitement when he spotted one of the bright scraps nestled into the brown leaf litter far below.
If I think about how that must have looked, like say, if I cared, I would probably cringe and I would definitely not have done it. This 58 year old woman, who no one at the party other than the hosts had ever met, on her knees with her butt up in the air and her face pressed to the redwood decking, proclaiming, “There it is! I see it!” But I didn’t give it a thought, and so by the end of the party, me and this terrific boy were building a ‘bridge’ over a foot wide waterway and playing at sword fighting with sticks, though he never spoke a word. I don’t know about the kid, but I had a wonderful afternoon. Still don’t know who else was at the party. I’m sure they were great, but compared to defending a bridge by fighting off highway bandits, discussing job benefits is a snore.
As I get older, and more prone to muscular injury, I’ll have to adjust my tactics. I’ll rely increasingly on stories and invention. I will always feel awed by nature and feel compelled to encourage kids to love her, as much for the sake of the little humans as for nature herself. After all, if they have fertile imaginations they can create anything they can dream of. If they love nature, they will protect her, and they will find solace in her arms whenever they truly need it.
And we all need solace sometimes.
And a giggle.
We all need to do a cartwheel just for the joy of it.
Even if it’s only imaginary, in which case, add some applause.
But today, I’ll need to flip some kid upside down.
Happy New Year! So whoo hoo, it’s a click of the clock, a difference of dates on an arbitrary calendar, a ‘new’ beginning. Such anticipation, so much celebration, so many champagne corks popped, advertising sold, intentions stated, and pressure applied to have fun. When? Well, not yet, not yet, okay, go, go, go! Right now! Oh bummer, you fell asleep and missed it!! We work ourselves up into a frothy lather, and deservedly so, after all the most amazing thing is going to happen. That’s right—It was one assigned number and now…wait for it…it’s another! Miracle of miracles! Light the fireworks and wake up with a hangover!
Ah, that one specific switch of digital numbers clicking over is unprecedented, amazing, and miraculous, it’s a unique opportunity to alter everything about ourselves, to plan for the future, to take it all back, to erase our errors or promise perfection, to set ourselves up for spectacular failure, it’s the one time of year, (or the change over between them anyway) that we can truly affect real changes in our lives, make a fresh start, really start living—or, no, uh…wait…
Maybe, just maybe—stay with me now—it’s just another random moment in the unrelenting passage of time in our dimension? Maybe celebrating ‘new year’ is another case of humans buying into a fake concept to amuse themselves, to invent some cause for community, to stick a marker in our chaotic and brief existence?
Not that that’s bad.
I mean, it occurs to me that just because somebody assigned random numbers to define our days and moments, which, fair enough, many of us agreed to, doesn’t make one ‘official time’ any more powerful or transformative than every other second, minute, day, year, decade or millennium. I mean, unless you aren’t Christian-European descended (What? There is more than one calendar in use on the planet? Yes, over forty in fact. Doesn’t that just rock our Christian-centric world!) you’ve collectively agreed to mark the change on a midnight in mid-winter, (ironically a pagan holiday which actually made sense for a celebration of the earth’s position in the solar system) but we could just as easily have chosen a late afternoon in mid-summer, or twilight in early fall, or dawn on any given Tuesday.
And by the way, where and when is the official, actual, really, really, honestly true new year? Shouldn’t we all agree on a single moment? It is the whole world we are talking about. Is the ‘true’ new year in Bangkok, or Paris, or Bimidji, Minnesota? How can there be an actual ‘change over’ when the moment comes at different ‘times’ in different places? We can’t even narrow it down to one in our own country, much less the whole world. Technically, there should be 24 different time zones, and therefore two dozen non-simultaneous new years, but thanks to the International date line, and the fact that some time zones change in 30 or 40 minutes rather than an hour, there are actually 38 time zones. (And that’s for our calendar, there are over forty different calendars worldwide, see above.)
38 time zones. 38 chances to celebrate a completely made up marker.
There is some method to the madness, some reason and explanation, some phenomenon to mark, of course, and that is the earth’s rotation around the sun, the fact that another solar year has been completed, another circumnavigation round the big ol’ ball of fire we call ‘the’ sun on our tiny, insignificant planet.
Insignificant, that is, in the scope of the universe. So if you are looking at the big picture, planet earth in a infinite, ever-changing universe is temporary at best. From down here, seeing how it’s the only planet we’ve got, it’s a pretty big deal—and the reason we measure time. Unfortunately, we stopped acknowledging nature and science as the supreme wonder when all us pesky humans invented religions. Marking mid-winter, an important date to be sure, was hijacked and renamed Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Mawlid, and many others, None-the-less, the world keeps turning, the sun keeps getting lapped, and time goes ever on even as civilizations, continents, religions, humans and yes, even planets, come and go.
Yet it’s a big moment, this passing of another year. A truly remarkable thing. This ‘holiday’ celebrates the almost unfathomably complex journey of a big hunk of rock, (or tiny speck of debris, depending on your perspective, see above) hurling through open space subjected to both centrifugal force (being pulled outward by spin and motion) and gravity (being pulled toward a far more dense mass, the sun) finding a balance on a scale that dwarfs any comparison to like-phenomenon taking place on the planet itself.
Which is pretty awesome.
But you have to admit that you could say that about every single second of every day. I mean, maybe we finished a lap back to this starting point, but what about the one just before, or after, that one? If you lined up 365, okay, 365 and ¼ days, (okay, 365.2422, but who’s counting?) and made any given second in any day a starting point, you would reach every single one of those ‘starting points’ again once a year.
It’s a circle dummies.
So here’s my point, as insignificant and cynical as you may find it. You get to decide when to start over. You say when to celebrate. You can change your life, make a resolution, forgive, love, start over, go back, end it all, or just plain quit worrying about it all any time you choose. In any second, of any day, in any season, you can start a diet, join a gym, raise your fist and swear at the moon, give up alcohol, find joy, thrill at life, drink champagne, kiss a loved one, or go walk about without permission or prompting from anybody.
Many years ago my father divorced my mom after thirty years of marriage effectively shattering our family’s holiday traditions. Hey, it happens, and instead of trying to force a pale imitation of Christmas pasts, my mom read somewhere that it would help to make some new traditions.
And we, her innocent offspring, were unwillingly recruited to add enthusiasm. This was wishful thinking elevated to new heights. First of all, we liked the old traditions where we did nothing but got great stuff, and second, we were teenagers who couldn’t be bothered.
Her first idea was to go and cut a tree at a tree farm instead of buying one from a convenient lot where expert helpers would cut the trunk evenly so the tree would stand straight, trim the branches, and lift the inevitably soaking wet tree (Atlanta in winter, trust me, it was raining) on to the roof of your car and tie it on the way privileged people like ourselves were supposed to do. For some reason, forsaking this ease and comfort did not appeal to my siblings and I, and we bitched and moaned the entire drive out of our cozy suburb to the tree farm, located somewhere out in nowhere Georgia, a state which, believe me, has a whole lot of nowhere and we were right in the middle of it.
Eventually, though, we arrive in smack-dab, park, and slog through ankle deep Georgia red clay mud to the shack that serves as office and cashier stand. The farmer, with a cheek full of chaw held loosely in place by his two remaining tobacco stained teeth, gives us a small, rusty hacksaw with a loose blade, and we go trudging off into the uncharted acreage. Conscious of energy conservation, namely his own, every four feet my brother would stop, sigh torturously, and say, ‘That’s a good one, how about that one?” but my mom was on a mission to make this an experience, which meant nothing less than committing a substantial amount of time to it, and for this purpose none of the absolutely perfect trees convenient to the unpaved parking area would do. So on we trudged, getting damper and more cynical with every step. My brother and I, the oldest ones, were especially good at delivering pithy, scathing ridicule to express our displeasure, and we were in rare form that day. After circumnavigating the hundred acre wood, Mom finally picked out a tree that looked almost exactly identical to the other six thousand trees we had rejected, with one outstanding feature—an especially thick and gnarled trunk.
For some reason, my sister Steffi, the third born, has always been the one who was relegated the shitty jobs. Okay, the reason is that she bitched the least, was not as lazy and arrogant, and is frankly physically superior to the rest of us. My brother Dwayne, who is now a top television producer, was, and obviously still is, a genius at designating tough manual labor to other people. He was a real Tom Sawyer-painting-the-fence kind of kid, and he’s grown up into a real Tom Sawyer-producing-hit-TV-shows kind of adult. I’ll never forget when he wanted to dig a pond in our backyard, so he told the other kids that no one could do it but him. By lunchtime he was drinking lemonade and supervising a chain gang of underage workers as they dug for their lives while he enjoyed uninterrupted leisure and an egg salad sandwich. Our youngest sister, and fourth in line to the throne, Shawna, was exactly that—the youngest, meaning she was far too pampered to be expected to exert herself, and anyway her arms were the thickness of twizzle sticks. I was probably wearing something covered in sequins, (it was the seventies) so I wasn’t going to do it. Out of habit, we all looked at Steffi. She cursed once, grabbed the shitty saw, dropped, and belly crawled up under that tree across slugs and wet pine straw to start felling.
Dwayne and I provided a constant barrage of criticism that no one but ourselves found humorous, so we fulfilled every expectation, Shawna complained that she was hungry and this was stupid, which was helpful, and Mom told us all to be quiet and enjoy it, we’d thank her later. After about thirty minutes of Steffi’s concentrated attack with a blunt, bending tool that barely qualified as a cutting utensil, the tree toppled and she rolled onto her back panting before coming to her feet, brushing mud off her jacket, sweaty and victorious. She’d shown that tree, and all of us, who was boss.
Now all she had to do was drag it a mile back to the car.
Which, under threat of severe famine from our mother, we begrudgingly helped her do, bitching a moaning all the way. While my mom kept reminding us that we were making memories and forging new traditions, I kept reminding her that pine sap was ruining my satin jacket.
Can’t you just feel the adolescent gratitude?
The tree was beautiful, smelled better than a lot tree, dripped more sap on the floor, and listed dangerously to one side, but it was our tree, there by the fruits of our first hand labor. Well, second hand in my case, but my sister cut it down, so I felt justified in taking full credit, proudly proclaiming, “We cut that tree ourselves,” to visitors. And a tradition was born. Steffi still cuts the tree.
A couple years later, after my own first divorce, (just warming up) my youngest sister and I went with my mom to spend Christmas in Washington D.C. with one of my aunts, her husband, and their daughter Amanda. Amanda is an only child and her parents are two of the brightest people on the planet, so to say she was a precocious five-year old is perhaps a sliver of an understatement. Because she had no siblings, she was excited to the point of hysteria at the idea of a visit with her cousins who she considered her contemporaries, never mind that she was not yet six and Shawna and I were 13 and 22, bit of a gap there socially, but who doesn’t adore being worshipped? And she was a fun, sharp as a whip little kid, so we did have a blast with her. My foremost memory of that trip was playing Trivial Pursuit with Aunt Toni, a PHD in library sciences, and Uncle David the man in charge of the computer archives of the Smithsonian institution. Talk about a rigged contest. My advice if you ever find yourself asked to participate in a game of knowledge with people who essentially have doctorates in information—Don’t do it!! The only category in which they displayed the smallest margin of error was arts and entertainment, and that only because they didn’t waste a lot of precious brain cells on ‘facts’ like ‘What was the Brady Family’s dog’s name?” All other, less important topics, literature, history, geography, you know the boring ones, were locked and loaded for these supreme intellectuals. It was like playing Jeopardy against Wikipedia.
But overall the trip was magical, visiting the museums on the mall, taking my sister to the natural history museum for the first time, cocoa by the fire, discussing books and arts, behind the scenes tours at the Smithsonian, it was all remarkable. And then came Xmas morning. Early Christmas morning.
Now, I know all kids get ramped up by the societal induced hysteria of Santa’s impending arrival, but I don’t think I’d ever seen such enthusiasm as that little blonde fanatic. She’d been promised Barbi’s dream house and she was jonesing for Christmas morning like a junkie waiting for his pusher outside the 7/11 when the methadone clinics are closed.
I remember it snowed on Christmas Eve, we stayed up late sipping wine, laughing, and watching the fat white flakes coat the sidewalks with crystalline beauty. When we finally retired to hunker down under cozy wool blankets, I thought how lovely it would be to sleep in.
But cousin Amanda had other plans.
Shawna and I were sleeping together in a bedroom off the stairwell that wound up the four floors of the brownstone townhouse and the open space channeled voices from the lower floors upwards as efficiently as a P.A system.
It was about four-thirty a.m. when the first transmission came through. “Mommy! Daddy! Get up, it’s Christmas!!””
This was answered with sleepy grumbles, and then, “Amanda, go back to bed or Santa won’t come.”
She must have heeded that dire warning because we were able to drop back off to sleep, but about twenty minutes later we heard, clear as a Christmas bell ringing directly over our heads in a bell tower in which we were sleeping, “Mommy! Daddy! Get up!! It’s Chrissssssmasssss!!!”
Shawna groaned and rolled over, pulling a pillow over her ears.
But there was no stopping the frenzy now. After only a few additional minutes of blissful unconsciousness I was snatched awake once more, this time by the shrill victory cry of, “It’s the BARBI DREAMHOUSE!!” that echoed through the townhouse, which was not made of pink plastic but stone that reverberated every sound from downstairs upwards, effectively funneling the delight directly to our sleepy heads.
Did I mention that sound really carried in this house? Okay, just so you didn’t miss it.
Mind you, it’s pitch black outside and nowhere close to dawn, so Shawna and I wait out the initial sonic blast of joy then cautiously resume our fitful slumber.
Then the cats began to fall.
Forbidden by her thoughtful parents from waking us, our young kin decided she would let her cats do it, so she would take one, and then the other, sneak into the dark bedroom, and toss one on the bed. We’d wake with an ‘oooff’ as one landed on our stomachs then scrabbled for traction on the soft skin of our tummies with their claws, hell bent on streaking to temporary safety until the hopped up six-year old could locate them and resume tossing. Confused and befuddled as the cats, we raised our heads to peer into the gloom after each onslaught, in the doorway we could make out a small silhouette, watching hopefully to see the fruits of her efforts, if we might, possibly, be just about up or if she needed to muster the felines for another push toward the front. The clever little darling. I told you that family was smart.
After the fourth such assault, I was treated to what I will always remember as the defining moment of that Christmas visit.
My little sister, all of thirteen and not prone to composing literature of any kind, especially in her sleep, was suddenly motivated to memorialize the situation in verse.
It was still a couple of hours until dawn, and the streetlights outside sent only the slightest glimmer seeping through the curtain covered windows. Still mostly asleep, I became aware that my sister was climbing out from under the covers, she moved to the foot of the bed, and as I watched this vague gray blur in the dark room, outlined against the pale glow of the window behind her, she assumed a presentational stance and proceeded to recite the following words in a strong monotone:
“A poem, By Shawna Shattuck.
Get up, get up, before it is light.
Open all your presents in the middle of the night.”
Then, without another word or explanation, she climbed back in bed and passed out.
I was laughing too hard to go back to sleep.
It’s my favorite Holiday poem of all time.
And it, and my extended family, made that one of the best Christmases ever.
You never know what will become a new tradition. It might be a recipe, a song, a game, a poem in the darkness, or even an annoying trip with a bunch of ungrateful adolescent cynics to a tree farm in the Georgia countryside, but when you find one, treasure it, repeat it, or hell, let it go and make a new one.
Can’t wait to see what the holiday will bring this year.
Even if, like myself, you don’t celebrate any religion except the magic of mid-winter, you might find yourself enjoying or even laughing at some ridiculous aspect of the shared, vast, human experience, exaggerated by the ridiculously high holiday expectations we unrealistically demand of ourselves. Those laborious feasts and decorations will most likely end in indigestion and a rush to Big Lots for more plastic bins to store this useless crap in. But if we’re lucky, holidays and family time can offer us more than their original intention, they can make us laugh together.
Is there anything more worthy of celebration?
And now that Amanda is grown with kids of her own, I can finally pass along a little secret for getting mom up early on Christmas morning to her kids.
I was a tomboy, still am, kind of. Climbing trees, building forts, turning boxes into foil wrapped spaceships, pine cone fights with the neighborhood kids, (yes, it always ended in tears) these were all the activities of an average Saturday. But the best days were the treasure hunts. Oh how I dreamed of unearthing that iron bound wooden chest and prying open the lid to dig my hands into gold coins and brilliantly colored gems the size of my fist.
Perhaps that why, out of all the wonderful Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, my favorite one goes like this.
Hobbs finds Calvin digging in the yard and asks, “What are you doing?”
Calvin answers, “Digging for treasure!”
“Did you find anything?”
“A few grubs, some dirty rocks, and a weird root.”
Impressed, Hobbs asks, “On your first try?”
Looking up at Hobbs, his face alight with excitement, Calvin exclaims, “There’s treasure everywhere!!”
I love this philosophy and I lived it as a kid. Because when you are young you know it’s out there. All of the cynicism of grownups cannot and will not stop you from your belief in the existence of magic, of mystery, and hidden treasure. Those muddy rocks by the stream can be stacked to form the foundation of a castle, the fall leaves placed just so make a flying carpet, the rope swing off the hillside is a launch into the sky if only you tilt your head back and punp high enough to feel that thrilling momentary loss of gravity between rising and falling, that magnificent second of weightlessness in a perfect blue sky.
As I grew older, my idea of treasure changed, shaped and/or warped by the expectations and values of parents and peers. I went from craving a pirate ship’s booty to coveting adulation. Winning was my pot of gold, being the ‘best’, earning the envy of others, succeeding, being known, recognized, and lauded were the treasured prizes.
And we all know how well that works out. We all have some experience with banking on the fleeting nature of approval and popularity. There’s never someone right behind you who is faster, prettier, younger, smarter, or better connected, of course not. Not that being the silver medalist in the local skating competition or Atlanta’s top model aren’t amazing lifetime achievements, laurels you can rest your sorry ass on, confident that humanity is eternally improved by your accomplishments, or maybe, just possibly, a tiny sliver of doubt creeps in, a thought that asks, ‘Is this treasure tarnished? Am I mistaking tin for silver? Can I trust it? Does it feed my imagination or my soul? Does it make me a better person or help anyone else?’
So you turn your goals to developing talent and being active in community, true treasures both, and both full time occupations. That shift from result to process is a gift that colors every day of your life, shifting the filter from that wash of envious green to a rosy glow of inclusiveness.
I like that kind of treasure.
But I’m still a kid at heart. I still believe in magic, I still want the heavy, battered chest, the magic, the shiny prize. Even if only for the fun of it.
And that’s why I love thrifting. I know, I’m using a noun as a verb and that’s annoying, but ever since my girls were little and we moved to a neighborhood with the most amazing second-hand store I’d ever seen, we’ve been hooked.
This place rocks. Clothes, knick-knacks, dishware, furniture, art, jewelry, sports gear, it has it all, clean, organized and cheap! None of that Goodwill pricing crap where every T-shirt is priced at a uniform 5.95 whether it’s worth it or not. If it was a worn tank top, it was 99 cents. If it was a button down Dolce Gabbana with the tags still on it, it might be 13.99. (yes, I did find that!) And there were different color tags, every week two of those colors would be half off and a third would be 75% off.
The thrill of the search and the results kept us going back several times a week to that run down shopping center in our neighborhood’s back yard, not the usual place one would search for fabulous objects.
That shop, Sun Thrift in Sunland, is one of the things I miss the most about Los Angeles. That and the amazing mix of ethnicities, food, and art that a multicultural city affords. Now I have San Francisco nearby, which rivals the cultural aspect, but alas, no Sun Thrift.
Here in Santa Cruz there is a distinct absence of diversity, and that pains me daily, not just because of the lack of good Asian food or polish delis either, but because I prefer a community where the people are as colorful as the scenery. People of diverse backgrounds, belief systems, physical appearances and languages are one of the greatest treats—dare I say treasures?—in life. My life is infinitely richer from the opportunity to have befriended so many different humans from so many cultures, they have expanded my mind and my existence. A golden heart is a precious pearl in any shape, color, or size, no matter where you find it.
Maybe that’s why I still love digging for treasure.
When I found this store I had just divorced husband number two, it was a dark time for me. My family pretty much chose him over me. My mother, who I had brought out from Atlanta to live with us, decided to shun me and live with him and my siblings decided that his big fancy house would be the best place to spend holidays with their kids, especially since our mother lived there, friends I had cared for and hosted for years disappeared like a drop of ink in the ocean, a lawyer on a motorcycle hit my car and decided to sue me for two million dollars, (if I’d known he was that kind of a lawyer at the time I would have backed up and run over him for the good of society). Suffice to say it was a furiously tense time. I could easily have shattered. Instead I took that Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, blew those three panels up to poster size, framed them, and hung them over the dining room table in my rental house. In spite of it all, it was how I chose to feel about life. Even in that horrible time, there was treasure, there was goodness, there was beauty. It might be the two friends who stood by me out of dozens, it might be the shadows the oak tree made on my newly bought curtains, (he got the house and pretty much everything in it we’d built together, but that’s another blog), it might be the greeting I received from my theater friends when I showed up for rehearsal, it might be having a place I could call my own that wasn’t entirely controlled by someone else who should have been my partner, it might have been my girls laughing in the pool out back, something they’d always wanted but been denied by their father’s miserly outlook toward anyone but himself. Whatever it was, no matter how small or huge, there was treasure. Not the least of which was my independence. After sixteen years of giving eighty percent of my love, time and energy to someone else, I was finally going to claim it back for myself. When I wasn’t weeping, exhausted from the ugliness of it all, I was dancing with joy and possibility. Yes, even wallowing in all that mud, slogging through the dirty custody fights, the disgusting lies told about me to my own children, the loneliness and betrayal of losing all but the most loyal of friends, yes even among all the grubs and the mud there was joy and possibility.
I made it through. Now I have all the treasure. My girls are happy and thriving, I write for a living, I travel when I like, I hike in redwoods or by the ocean everyday, and I have a husband who considers me the treasure, and tells me so everyday, a husband who works hard, cares about community and puts me and girls first every time.
I do still like to go treasure hunting, also known as thrifting. So yesterday after a doctor’s appointment, I went to the Goodwill near her office. The seasons are changing, which I adore and most of my real clothes are still in storage back in LA so I just buy stuff as I go, mostly from thrift stores. Currently I’m on a quest for comfortable corduroys, I love men’s pants because they are better made and have an excess of pockets. So I picked out a few things to try on. In the dressing room, I slipped my hand in a pocket and came out with a wrapped piece of paper, at first I thought, “Yuck, someone left their gum in here,” but there was something about the way it was folded, so I opened it and found a huge nugget of sticky weed. Bonus score! (Since I was buying the pants, I figured the weed was a perk, like a key chain with a purse.) Then I went back out into the store.
I had noticed one of the employees was one of those effervescent people who smiles and is helpful to everyone he meets, I always watch people like that because it gives my day a lift. This guy saw me looking through the appliance section and asked if he could help me. I told him I was keeping an eye out for a juicer for my daughter. He went out of his way to help me search, even going into the back where he produced a brand new one, (probably an unwanted wedding gift) that he had the pricer mark at seven dollars for me. That job done, he proceeded to procure a lamp finial I’ve been looking for for over a month. Actually he took it off an ugly lamp, got it priced separately, (89 cents) and handed it over with a wink. His cheerfulness was contagious so we shared a few laughs and then I thanked him and went to check out.
They were Saturday-slammed and had chosen this unfortunate time to train new people at the register, so this guy, being on the ball, hustles up and takes over a register, connecting with each person he helped and just generally brightening the entire ambiance of this second hand, second chance storefront in Capitola, California.
At the last second in line before my turn I spotted some new extension cords and remembered that I needed one. But when I checked the price they were no less expensive than the hardware store so I said I’d pass. There was one, however that was out of the packaging and just bound with clear tape. This guy grabbed it and said he’d ask how much it would be. I told him not to bother as I didn’t want it if it wasn’t around five bucks and the others, exactly the same but still in the packaging, were almost twenty.
He bolted for the back and returned with a sticker, $4.98. Score!
As I paid up, he asked if I wanted to round my change up forty cents to benefit their job-training program, from which he had graduated. I said, as I always do, that of course I did and we both commented on the brilliance and simplicity of helping people to live better lives by empowering them with knowledge and skills. We smiled at each other as he handed me my receipt and thanked me for coming in.
As I gathered my trophies, I extended a hand and said, “I’m Shari by the way.” He beamed, shook my hand firmly and warmly and said, “I’m Tosh.”
And out I went, blessed by another brush with good luck, pleased with my purchases, and reflecting that you never know what you’ll find if you only look with new eyes.
Because really, I was just digging in my backyard, among stuff someone else thought was junk, stuff they’d in effect thrown away, and I found so many gems.
A pair of perfect fit corduroys complete with bonus prize, a fall colored pashmina scarf, a brand new juicer and an eagle finial, all for under twenty bucks.
But most rewarding of all was an exchange with a man who exuded kindness and lifted my heart.
Who works a minimum wage job in a second hand store selling stuff somebody didn’t want any more.
A previously discarded human with a purpose, a job, and a helpful spirit.
A guy named Tosh who restored my faith in the worth of good people.