art, beauty, children, divorce, family, Life in General

Losing Diamonds, Finding Love

 

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getting it right

 

We were in Hawaii when my sister’s first husband proposed to her. She didn’t know it was coming, but I did, so I took my four year daughter and followed them out to the beach where we could watch from a discrete distance. Creason was so amped up with keeping a secret that once he dropped to one knee she took off running toward them before I could stop her. After a quick glance at her aunt’s hand she turned and came running back. As soon as she was within shouting distance, she yelled, “He gave her a ring with three sparkles!!”

Sparkles. Call it like it is kid, three sparkles.

My first two husbands didn’t bother to get me a ring. The first marriage was over in a year or so, and I was glad to be clear of it. An expensive ring wasn’t that important to me as a ‘thing’ to own, but as time went on with husband number two and I gave up career opportunities to grow, deliver, and raise two beautiful girls, I realized that it would have been nice for their father to have taken the trouble to maybe make me feel like he noticed the imbalance of that equation with an effort at making me feel appreciated. It didn’t have to be anything expensive, even though he could easily have afforded it, just having him put the thought into trying to make me happy would have been nice.

So for twenty something years I bought my own diamonds while I was working and attending events where I could justify wearing such a thing, even if that justification is as weak, lopsided and pathetic as a two-legged table. Come on, nobody needs a diamond, the money would be far better spent feeding hungry children or a college education. (He didn’t pay for the college either it turned out, if only there had been some clue!)

Yet most women—well, privileged American women—expect a diamond as an engagement present. Out of three marriages, only my third, current, and final husband bothered to observe the tradition, and he, in classic Joseph style, did it right. Popped that little black velvet box open in front of my eyes while we were making love, thank you very much. My ring is a very special piece, and it only matters that I know that. I do not wear it to impress anyone else. He could not have found anything to make me feel more like his treasure.

See, there are big-but-flawed diamonds, there are the ‘we got money very recently so I have this impressive looking but lower quality yellow’ diamonds, mostly favored by women who bling their cell phones and carry tiny trembling canines, and then there are the only thing I wanted. A pre-blood-diamond, brilliant color, flawless quality, uniquely framed by a magnificent filigree nineteen-twenties Cartier setting. It brings me joy every time I look down at my hand, because of what it represents, love, romance, commitment, and most importantly, that I am a precious to a gem among men.

So, when I recently left a rope of diamonds necklace in a hotel in San Francisco and realized it wasn’t coming back, it was a twinge, but not worth hysterics. It’s just a sparkly thing after all. Okay, about fifty sparkly things, but nobody’s ill or dying, I won’t go homeless or not eat, and the looser my neck skin becomes the more I wonder about the wisdom of accenting it anyway.

Then, in the same week, I went to pick up a prescription and was told that my health insurance had been cancelled. Surprise! The promise of medical care is a much scarier thing to lose than diamonds, trust me, just ask the millions of Americans who will be joining that group soon. Phone calls to find out what had gone wrong and why I hadn’t been notified were fruitless, or went unanswered after holds exceeding an hour, so I set out to find the physical office and people whom I hoped could explain.

Three locations, two building complexes and several waiting rooms later, I was told that my insurance should actually be valid, the only problem was that no one had finished the paperwork transferring it from southern California to Central California, though it had been ordered over a month before and was ‘on someone’s desk.’ So, I was currently uninsured due to a clerical error. If I had come down with a staff infection, been shot by some NRA sponsored mental patient, or been hit by a drunk driver, I would have been shit out of luck and financially ruined. Ah, America is number one, I do NOT think. ‘Oh well,’ seemed to be the general attitude of those allowed to screw us for profit. I was informed that I could call tomorrow and try to get someone to fix the situation, (remember I was already on hold for over an hour more than once with that very same number before finally giving up) or I could wait among the several dozen people in the waiting room for someone who could finalize it today.

Feeling strangely untrusting, call me crazy, I opted to wait so I could vent at someone’s face. The building also housed a clinic and the large waiting room in which everyone had been given a number that came up on a screen when the powers that be deigned to see you—much like the DMV, was filled with melting down children, parents clinging to their last nerve, hacking coughs, angry and frightened citizens with issues like mine, and a sprinkling of the homeless who were there for some agency of some sort.

It was this last category that fascinated me. I watched as one man, probably in his early seventies, carrying a huge, dirty backpack, greeted several other of this forgotten tribe. Without exception hugs were given, concern was expressed, help was offered if possible, but more often it was condolence or sympathy. Things are tough out there on the street and, no matter how much people like us pretend not to see the suffering, it doesn’t make it any less brutal for them.

The elderly homeless man started a conversation with a nice family sitting near him. They looked a little uncomfortable but were very polite to this cheerful, well-spoken elder who primarily addressed the son, a young man of maybe 14. I truly wished I could remember all that was said. He talked about how lucky the boy was to have a family who loved him. I started to listen when I heard him ask the kid if he knew he was loved. When the boy said yes, the older gentleman said, “That makes me so happy. That makes me all waggily in the tail.”

The phrase caught my attention and I started to pay closer attention. Here was this man with nothing, literally, but the clothes and the pack on his back but I’ve seldom seen a more positive person. I wish I had written down all he said, but it went something like this.

“I know I’ll find love today and everyday, and when you know that, it gets easier and easier. When I get something to eat, you know what I do? I go out and find someone to share it with. It might be cold by the time I find someone but that’s what makes my day, I know I will find love.”

After a few minutes he was called in and stood up, bracing himself to shoulder that heavy pack. I stood up as well.

“Sir?” I called. He stopped and turned. I opened my wallet, pulled out a twenty and said, “Please get yourself something to eat and find someone to share it with.”

I was so moved by his grace and plight, that I had to turn away quickly to hide my tears. But he followed me and when I sat down, he bowed graciously. “Thank you, thank you,” he said, with a huge grin. He turned to the family and bowed slightly to them as well. “Wonderful to speak with you,” he told them, “You are a beautiful family.” Then he turned back to me. “Bless you,” he said, but before he could say anything else, my number was called and I escaped before openly weeping with shame that in this country of obscene wealth, so many people sleep on the concrete in the rain.

The administrator who helped me was wonderful, kind, patient and we shared some amazing stories while she completed the paperwork, I thanked her for the help and the conversation and went on my way.

As I climbed into my car I thought again about the diamonds that I lost, and felt nothing. Yes, they cost money, yes they are gone, but I would not waste life looking for them or regretting their loss.

So this week I lost some diamonds permanently, my health insurance temporarily, and I found someone who lives with the conviction that he will find love if he looks for it. I found someone who believes that love is ever-present, even in the darkest of situations.

A man who will never have diamonds or gold.

Or even a warm, safe place to call his own.

His smile and his clear-eyed kindness woke something in me.

It gave me a gift, a treasure, a memory.

Of this amazing human who spends everyday looking for love.

And today, like everyday,

He found it.

 

Shari, January 3rd, 2018

 

America, authors, creative inspiration, Life in General

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

 

art, authors, divorce, Life in General

The Infinity of Opinion.

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The narrow path.

You are absolutely alone. No one will ever understand you completely. Muhahahahaha. (that’s my evil laugh.)

And that’s just fine.

Because…you are also a part of everything, every molecule in the universe, every other living and non-living thing is made of the same stuff. The next time you feel superior for being human, bear in mind that you and dog poop are, in their basic makeup, the same thing. You have the same ingredients as a magnificent sunset, a nova, a star, a virus, and a slug. All of it is energy, moving spinning atoms, that constantly flow and change. Every time you take a breath, you inhale air that has been produced by trees and circulated through the lungs of the rest of humanity. I once read that the average glass of water has already passed through a human body seven times. Unappetising as that may be, it should remind you that we are all giving and taking every second of our lives, and even in our deaths. Nothing comes from nothing, and no energy ever dies, it’s just redistributed. Sorry royalty, elitists and republicans, life and energy are socialists, it’s our natural state.

Usually I write about how we are all connected, but today I want to talk about being different, unique, and separate, because well, I’m funny that way.

Just as no one person in the world is an entity unto themselves, no two people on earth agree on everything. In fact, we don’t even perceive concepts and ideas in the same way.

Perception of a concept as you absorb it into your brain is like light through a kaleidoscope, color and thought bouncing off of thousands of angles, each of those prisms created by every experience we’ve ever had. Every single person interprets a movie, book, issue, even people,  differently. Every time two people read the same book, they write their own, unique version of it. Reading a book is as creative an endeavour as writing it. And no! I am not sharing my royalties! Love you.

Basically, we’re drawing our own cartoon and some are wackier than others. Mine has lots of little blue birds and singing flowers, faeries too, but it hasn’t always been that way. I used to also hear scary music and see danger in the wooly woods. Then I decided I didn’t want to watch that cartoon any more. I wanted to live my life to the happy flute music.

The science behind making that change is miraculous.

Think of it like this. Look at a tree, now close your eyes. Can you see the tree? The answer is yes, but the fact is no. What’s happening is a series of electro-chemical reactions in your brain that aren’t visual at all, but they are recalling that image. The best example I can think of for this is when you and a partner both vehemently remember the same conversation, would swear on your life that you said one thing and he or she said another, and they are equally prepared to die for the cause. It’s a duel to the death, ten paces, turn and fire! Oops, now you’re both dead. That was fun! Maybe we should have decided to go for a coffee and a laugh instead. Just a thought.

Because the irony is that both perceptions are right. Because each person understood the situation, heard the words, and experienced the emotions about it from different point of views.

Now, when an author describes a tree in a book you are reading. Guess what? You see that tree as best you can, based on your personal, individual, and completely unique idea of what any given tree might look like. A kid who lives in a concrete bound urban area might think trees look like something from Dr. Seuss, a logger might immediately think of a pine or a redwood, an islander would immediately picture a palm tree. Is it becoming clear? That’s okay, it never really is.

So why do we get so upset when someone else doesn’t understand us, or sees any issue differently than we do?

A rancorous political campaign truly brings this uniquely human trait to the forefront. Your ‘opinion’ on any candidate or topic is based your filters created by through your specific mindset. Here are a few of those filters.

1, Every piece of information and explanation that’s been rammed into your head since birth. Parents, teachers, books, movies, etc. Some influences will be subtle, say, Mom making a face when someone uses food stamps. And some will be as harsh as a jackhammer breaking concrete, i.e. everyone you know believing in a church and the men who run it telling you there is only one God and one truth and if you don’t embrace that truth you will burn in hell, and funny—these men always know exactly what the truth is! What an amazing coincidence that their ‘truth’ is what someone hammered into their head when they were young. No wonder Jesus called people his ‘flock.’ When it comes to opinions and judging right and wrong, we are sheep, following that lead ram with the bell straight home to the barn, or to the slaughter house.

2, Every criticism or disapproval you have received for voicing any given opinion in any impressionable point of your life, (i.e. all of it) Peer pressure and the people you find yourself surrounded by in school, work, and relationships, basically, anyone whose approval you need or rely on for your self-image. Try telling your fifth grade teacher that it’s rude to do the limp wrist gesture when showing your class a picture of a famous male dancer. The kids threw crabapples at me all day. And, by the way, I met that dancer later, he was anything but gay, with a bevy of legendary, beautiful women lined up in his romantic past. Take that you beehive-headed bitch!

3, Whatever news outlet or information you take in, every conversation you hear. What sources of information do you pursue? Comic books or Time magazine? Fake news shows or the internet? These things shape you, they imprint in your brain and affect you physically as well as emotionally. You probably notice now that if you listen to someone giving an opinion different from yours, your heart speeds up, and you get hot, you don’t want to listen to them! Idiots! Fools! Stupid! It is very difficult to say, ‘Oh, that’s a different way of looking at it,” and not take it in emotionally.

4, How strongly you attach yourself to the emotional need to be ‘right.’ This is ego, and ego is not who you are, it’s what your brain tells you is important and is always external. It is entirely based on how you think others will view you, and as we’re discussing here, you will never know exactly how or what others think. So why do we waste our precious love and time trying to make others see it through our very narrow binoculars?

Ego is the one problem I’ve found we pretty much all need to work on these days. I grew up in the south with republican parents, went to all white schools, and lived in a rarefied world of steadily increasing wealth and privilege, so it was not to surprising that, even though it felt fundamentally wrong to me,  I was trained to be anti-immigrent, conditioned to feel deeply wronged that the government took taxes out of my hard earned money and handed it over to those lazy bastards.

Then I moved to LA. There’s a lot in between there, but let’s jump forward. I came to LA with no preconceived prejudices against hispanics for the simple reason that when I was growing up, there wasn’t any hispanic community of note in my suburban Atlanta world. Very quickly, the establishment and general news sources in Southern California had me believing that Mexicans were all violent gang members or welfare users who had dozens of children and fed off ‘the system.’ As a result, I watched youths in white t-shirts with suspicion, resented children going to ‘our’ schools, (how insane is that?) and judged people I knew nothing about.

I didn’t know any Mexican-Americans.

And then I met some and began to see that I was missing as much as a blind person wearing mittens and ear plugs. I remember one day specifically that I found myself standing in the deep end of my own ignorance and sad limitations and realising that I would drown in the bullshit that had been heaped on me. I knew in an instant that I had been paralysed, robbed of my ability to think for myself, to listen to my heart. I was shooting a commercial in a rented house. Verizon, I think it was. And the owners were a lovely young hispanic couple with two beautiful children 5 and 7. I was talking with them, not even thinking about my prejudices, (because when we are prejudice, we don’t know it and certainly won’t admit it) and I asked if they had other kids. The dad said, “Well, you know us Mexicans!” then he laughed, and said, “No, two is all we are having, we’re done.”

My face went hot and red. I was so ashamed to realise that I had this preconceived notion of an entire race of people based on propaganda from my political party and, let’s be honest, rich white people who had made up most of my world.

So I made a concerted effort to make friends with people who were ‘different’ than me. People who were different colors, nationalities, religions, and especially those with different incomes. I believe that money divides us more than anything. I invited hispanics and asians, and minimum wage workers, and every kind of American to my house, my kids played with their kids. This caused my ex a good deal of stress, as he prefered to invest his time in people who had fame or money, or could do something for him, which was one of many red flags. Eventually I left him, because as I eagerly moved to embrace people of quality, he pursued people who had things. Hanging with only the ‘haves’ is just too small a world for me. And so, I left his influence behind as well.

Becoming friends with people who were ‘different’ changed my life. The next leap was working with a charity that helped people who had lost limbs and vision, or might be  emaciated by devastating treatments and illnesses. That brought me to another light speed jump in basic comprehension. I stopped feeling sorry for people, because nobody wants your pity!! Every single person is getting through life the best they can, we all have pain, we all have suffering, it just comes in different forms. I used to feel pangs of pain for someone with a limp or a speech impediment, now I admire the hell out of them. I love that their walk is unique, that their voice is the sound of a new instrument. It makes me proud that we humans are so varied.

And last, (last so far, there’s always more,) I gave up organised religion. I believe in an awesome, unifying creative energy, I believe that we are all connected, I believe that if I do bad to someone or something, I do it to myself, because we are all one. How hard is that? What, in God’s name, (snort, get it?) makes me think that I know the truth and everyone else is wrong. Why do I even need to feel that way? The answer, of course, is that we’ve lost our way and we need  our group of bullies around us to confirm our anger and our fear and make us feel artificially safe in numbers. It’s great to get with other people for the sake of community and helping improve our world, but it sucks when it’s all about separating us into us and them. That is a lie.

Stop being one of the numbers. You are unique, alone, and part of everything.

I mean, I’m probably wrong about most of this, I look forward to changing my mind…again. Cause baby, I’ve done it many times, and I get happier with every step forward.

 

Get out there and love. Happiness is who you really are.

Shari, June 25th, 2016

 

 

family, Life in General, men

Rules of Engagement.

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My husband was a bit grumpy when I got home from a recent trip to Northern California. Perhaps it’s because he’d been working 12 to 14 hour days, perhaps it’s because some of the jobs he’s doing on our house right now are, well, disgusting. Okay, when you rip the siding off of a tool room that hasn’t been attended to in fifty some odd years, and find several generations of woodland creatures, adults, juveniles and babies, living behind it,that’s kind of cute, granted. But the fact that their nests are built on the carcasses of their ancestors and decades of excrement bulging through the insulation, it is definitely un-cute. Pulling out the nests of hair and urine-stained, shredded trash doesn’t leave you with a particularly ecstatic feeling. Maybe the fact that I was off hiking in woodland bliss and searching for new homes instead of helping him could have contributed to his vague emotional distance from me, as unreasonable as that sounds. It’s unlikely that I’m ever at fault of course, but hey, anything is possible.

For my part, after a few fun days with our daughter up north, taking in the air and the redwoods and the wonderful food, I spent my five hour drive back thinking about how much I missed him, and how incredibly lucky I am to have him and our life together. I arrived excited to see him, surging with all the passion that I started with for him, plus the years of love and fun squared on top of that, so I’m in a great mood, eager and loving.

Then I drive up to find him standing in the garage, sweaty, bleeding, and filthy, breathing with difficulty, having done as much work as an assembly team in a factory. I didn’t quite get the greeting I had anticipated. Our normal ‘mesh’ is a bit off.

Okay, we’re miles apart, and by the time I get through touring all the work he’s done and telling him all the things he worked so hard on that I’m not crazy about, (hey, I told him about all the things I loved too!) he’s a sliver snappy. I’ve learned over the years not to engage when one of us is in a mood, but that’s not always easy when one of us is feeling vulnerable or pissy.

Because when we try to talk from that frazzled, electrified place, the chances of going off on bizarre tangents ranges from excellent to certain. I will, for example, accuse him of playing the martyr role, he will insist that I have never, ever, ever, ever, ever been happy with anything he has ever done. We both are dead sure that everyone in the world will agree with our personal, and diametrically opposed, points of view. We fall into accusing each other of evil plots against our marriage, of seeing the worst in each other, of never being loved or appreciated.

Too dramatic? You should try running a theatre for 25 years, I’ll show you diva. So, when one of us gets ramped up, the other one takes a turn at playing police psychiatrist on an active shooter site. He will stand at a safe distance from behind the open door of his truck and shout into a bullhorn, “I understand you are upset, but put the rifle down and we can talk.”

When I’m pissed, he withdraws into his den or his work and lets me rage freely, swearing and sighing for all the world at this miserable lot I’ve pulled, but he never misses giving me a goodnight kiss, or offering to share a funny movie once the high octane burns itself out like a nasty oil spill on seawater. When it’s him who is wound up beyond the ticking point, I make sure he has snacks, water, first aid when the time comes, and I stay busy, lurking until his defences are down. This is quite a bit like a siege, but instead of firing flaming rocks into his castle, I’m lobbing sandwiches and beer.

So we went through our evening working our wounded egos out on our own, avoiding flare ups that might lead into something we both know isn’t even about whatever projectile we’re launching, and we commit to talking tomorrow. (That part is important, and the appointment must be kept!) We’re both exhausted and strained, and there’s that touch of unfamiliarity that comes when you’ve been away from each other a few days and haven’t had a chance to smooth it over with a cocktail or three and an episode of VEEP.

In the morning we sat down to talk, and instead of starting with communication, which would be bright, we’re both wasting time and energy justifying our ‘reasons’ for not being particularly generous of spirit or spilling over with kindness, it’s all round about, egos, and excuses, but one theme inevitably emerges, we both feel misunderstood. I thought he thought this and he thought I thought that, and we were both dead wrong.

So we smile sheepishly and I kiss him. “I’ve got an idea, let’s just go back to being madly in love.”

His face crumples into a handsome smile and he says teasingly, “Then you have to be nice to me.”

And I stabbed him with my pruning sheers.

No, not really. We just both laughed at ourselves and each other, and kissed, and got back to the business of loving and being grateful.

Sometimes you just have to get over yourself, and remind yourself how fucking happy you are.

I know I do.

Shari, April 30th, 2016

art, beauty, creative inspiration, Life in General

Overflowing.

There are times in your life when beauty shines undeniably around you, and there are times when you find it in something as simple as moss between stones. And then there are the times it flows up, spilling out of your very self, as though you become one with the magnificence of the world and humanity all around you. For me, that happens most often in Venice. I cannot tell you how many times a spongy joy has saturated my heart, rising up until tears have filled my eyes in the last three weeks. Everyday I have been inspired to work with a fervor that seldom comes this many sunrises in a row. And I have three more weeks to go.

The bounty of creativity and art here are impossible to deny, and why would you want to? I gaze at art in a museum or a church and feel ecstasy. I stand on the edge of the fondemente and from the soles of my feet, the silver blue of the Adriatic ebbs into me. I take a spill in a square, and the kind people rush to help me. I do not know the Italian word for ice skating, so I cannot explain to them that after years of training 8 hours a day, falling is a familiar feeling for me, but I smile and wipe my hands and tell them how kind they are,and how grateful I am for their concern, but it is nothing. I am laughing, “Niente, niente.” My tripping has given me their kindness as a gift.

Joy pervades everything here for me. A simple stroll through the ancient streets, the singing greetings of ‘Buon Giorno!’ from the shop keepers we’ve come to know, or even strangers, ring like the bells of the Cathedrals that are all around us. Time after time the simple awareness of where I am now mists the world around me as my chest is saturated with  love of the moment. A Madonna painted by Giacomo Bellini is so drenched in color and beauty I cannot speak for the brilliance of how much it moves me.

And here is what I have to say about that. When beauty brings you to tears—weep, sob, let the tears flow with all the love and connection of which we are capable, and that is infinite. It is not only here that I feel this, it is more a state of mind, it’s just that here, in this ancient place still so full of life and passion, those exposures are closer to the surface, more available, and more constant.

We choose what to see and do in life. Often, we choose what to feel about it. With every word you put out, every smile or scowl you give to another, you plant a seed.

Will you grow a flower? A vine? A magnificent oak? Or something dark and poisonous.

There is beauty in darkness too, I do not deny that. But it’s up to you to nurture your own soul, to know that the stars are still there even on the cloudiest midnight. It’s all there for you, embrace it, let it go, weep for the perfect bliss that is in it.

Take it in, and give it back.

Shari, February 3, 2016. Venice Italy.

 

 

 

 

Acting & Experiences, creative inspiration, family, Life in General

Thirteen going on Thirty-eightish.

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Not me of course. This is a blog about one of the very special people I’ve met in my travels, and accidentally, through being an actress. I guess she started out a fan, I call her friend. It won’t be long now until I’m back in my favorite city, this time for five weeks. My daughter has gone to Florence, Italy for a study abroad quarter, and next week my husband and I will settle into a friend’s apartment in Venice a few hours north. We have several projects to work on while we are there. My youngest will come over with a friend during a school break, we’ll all visit, so everybody gets to eat great pasta and feast our eyes on art, dwell in living history, and wallow in the brilliant colors of Italy.

Okay so, can I tell you how great it is to have friends with an apartment in a 16th century Palazzo on the grand canal who are spending winter in Southern France and are like, ‘Take the apartment, we won’t be there!” Sweet. Cause there’s no way we could have afforded this trip right now on top of college and private school fees. My husband and I are excellent producers, so we know how to get the most from the smallest budget, (Can you say air-miles?) but this is special, because of the people who made it possible and how we met.

Back in the old days, when I was still on TV and my ex was on the number one rated show in Italy, (a soap opera, weird, I know)  I received a fan letter from a young lady who was 13. It wasn’t your typical letter. I could tell immediately that this was a very intelligent, aware person. The letter was smart, sensitive and engaging. So, instead of responding with the standard signed photo, I wrote back.

And we kept writing, this was pre-social media days. A few years later, when my ex was shooting Bold and Beautiful on location in the Lake district of Italy, both the young lady and her sister came to meet me. They were about 19 and twenty at the time. And they showed as much class as I had expected from them, which, let me tell you, is a relief when you’ve been dealing with tens of thousands of fans screaming, “But you must!!” about their every request for photos and autographs. (Really weird, and not fun at all, by the way.)

My friend and her sister are both lawyers now, the one who wrote me the letter at 13 is an international human rights attorney who is currently working in Brussels.  We’ve stayed in touch all these years. Then, when I was able to travel to Italy sanely with my husband Joseph, we met again, and again, and again. We stayed with them in Vincenza at their family farmhouse on one of those visits. My friends have grown into beautiful women who work tirelessly to help make the world a better place for everyone, not just clients who can afford it. 

I knew from that first letter that that young lady would amount to something, something special. And believe me, becoming a successful female lawyer in a country that is still very much a man’s club is extra exceptional. She once told me that when applying for a job, the first question from the Italian men was always, “What about if you want to have a baby? How are you going to work then?” That question would basically be illegal here. So I salute both sisters doubly for striving forward through it. (Not surprisingly, they’ve both stayed single.)

All over the world, countless people work hard for the good of us all. You may not see them, they may not have a reality show or a webpage, but they are out there, quietly and determinedly changing the world for the better. Fighting those stereotypes and antiquated doctrines. As an american woman, it’s good to be reminded that other women suffered and paved the way toward the relative ‘equality’ we have today. And every day I try to remember that the vast majority of humans really are good, even if they don’t get the same attention as the shitty ones.

So next time you talk to a teenager, really listen, maybe offer up a bit of information about the possibilities that lie ahead of them. If it’s a girl, and they say they want to be an astronaut, or a physicist, or president, applaud them. (Cheer for the boys too actually.) It’s important to realize that they can choose a tiny life where they learn no more than and never move forward from the life their parents knew, (which admittedly might be amazing) or they can do…

…well, anything.

Why are we going on this trip when funds are low? My cousin Laurence and his lover Michael had to make a decision. They were both HIV positive, but my cousin has beat it since the eighties, one of the few. So, when it came to choice between re-roofing the house or taking a trip to Paris, they decided to take a trip to Paris.

When they returned from that trip and it would rain, they would put out the pots to catch the dripping water, make some tea, get cozy, and look at their photo album of their French trip.

Two short years later, Michael passed away. Laurence sold the house and moved on with his life, but they will always have Paris. That is why we are going now, living our life, meeting up with lifelong friends and celebrating every day with our girls. When rain comes, we will have Venice.

Even as I wrote this blog, I was sent news that another lifelong friend of mine in Amsterdam just passed away in the arms of her son. Through my tears I tell you I will not wait for life to take me, I will go there.

Bouno viaggio, I’ll write you from the city where I can walk on water.

 

Shari, January 6th, 2016

Life in General

Mom, Daughter, Aunt, Sister, Friend, Caregiver.

 

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A moment I treasure more than all the riches in the world.

These are the words that best define me, and I feel honored to use all of them not only as nouns, but as adjectives. But those labels come with a responsibility, a joyful one, as far as I am concerned. 

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve done a good bit of caregiving. It happens. My mom in the hospital, my sister and her family staying with me while their new house was being readied, watching over my nephew who was sick, it took up quite a bit of my energy and time. I know we don’t always, but right now, I’m doing well and have extra strength to give.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I feel like I’ve been given a gift. Time with my loved ones. 

I know of a woman from school, we’ll call her an acquaintance because I have utterly no respect for her and therefore do not consider her worthy of friendship, who married a man with two kids. She constantly feels robbed if any attention or money goes to his children. She doesn’t consciously understand this of course, but it is obvious to anyone who loves and cares for children, their own, or someone else’s. I remember having a conversation with her before her wedding where she was complaining about having to drive the kids to school, or anywhere. 

I said, “Well, get ready, because as their step mother you will be taking on that responsibility.” And she literally shouted at me, “It’s not my responsibility to drive them, it’s his!!” Since then, I’ve heard from those kids that when she does have to take them somewhere, she always tells them, “You owe me.” 

Wow. 

This is the same woman who constantly touts herself as a stellar stepmother on twitter or FB, which defines what she values. Not the kids, but being admired for all her ‘efforts.’ (she also makes a big deal about ‘cooking them nutritious meals’ which the kids define as ‘the same 3 tasteless dinners’) There’s a lot else I don’t care for in this woman, or people like her, but that sums it up for me. I have to wonder not only why she would marry a man with children if she’s going to resent even the most basic of family responsibilities.

The answer of course, is that he’s rich and famous and the kids are an unfortunate inconvenience.  But that’s another blog. 

I have another friend whose stepmother documents every penny spent on him. Keeps a ledger. I have to wonder what possible purpose this could serve. Does she expect him to pay her back for every fast food meal? What does the woman gain from this practice other than feeding her own resentment? 

The answer is, of course, ‘proof.’ Which means, she would rather be right than happy and loving. 

 

I also know plenty of wonderful step-parents. One in particular who powered through the hate and resentment toward her because, as usual, the girls saw their father’s remarrying as an assault on their mom. (Though they had broken up years earlier.)  This stepmom drove them everywhere, signed them up for classes, picked out their clothes, planned fabulous vacations and waited for them to eventually respond to her. And they did, because she didn’t do any of it to look good, she did it because she loved them, cared about them, and took them on as family when she married their father. I have nothing but respect for this beautiful, brilliant, woman. She, and other’s like her, are there, heart and soul, for their new family, and it can sometimes be a thankless job. Just like parenting of any kind.  For me, family and love are paramount. My husband would give his life for my children, they know it, he knows it, and if I wasn’t sure of it, I would never have chosen him to be my mate. Not even an option. In fact, in our wedding, he not only made a vow of commitment to my girls, giving them acorn necklaces to echo our acorn and oak leaf rings, but he also made a vow to my mom, giving her a necklace with an oak tree, promising to always take care of her. I did the same for his mother, and if he had had children, they would be my own now. I know this with absolute clarity. He could never have married a woman who wouldn’t.

I’m betting the two resentful women listed above made no mention of their step children in their vows, it wouldn’t have occurred to them. 

I know I shouldn’t judge because most people believe they are doing the right thing, though the truth is, they are doing what they are capable of, and for far too many individuals in this world of surfaces and appearances, their capacity for love is sadly overwhelmed by their need to feed their own egos or justify their shortcomings. It costs them, in love, in connection, and in respect, though I don’t suppose those are things they’ve learned to value. I understand that there are people who have different values in the world and people’s behavior usually comes down to how they define themselves. Is it their material things? Is it accomplishments, money, or talent? Is it through the shallow validation of being admired or lauded?

For me, my favorite people are the ones who think of none of those things, they define themselves by the moments of loving and caring and living that create a real connection, and consequently, these people are generally extremely successful in all areas of their lives. Like the ‘good’ stepmom I mentioned above. On top of being an accomplished pianist,  speaking several languages, and helping out with several charities, she’s a brilliant, and successful economist. Brilliant. 

Happy people are successful. That is the only true measure of success. 

So here I sit, with a bad cold that I picked up, no doubt, from my darling 3 year old nephew, and days behind on my new manuscript, but I couldn’t be more delighted, I couldn’t feel richer or more satisfied. Every time I think of playing with trains with my nephew, or the funny things he said, as 3 year olds will do, I smile. My face is sore from smiling. It made me happy to get up at 4:30 a.m. every morning to make tea for my own daughter and see her off to her first real job as a production assistant on a film, and then get up again at 6:30 a.m. to make breakfast and pack a lunch for my 8 year old niece. I was fine with skipping my hike to stay home with my nephew so that my sister could drive her daughter to school and then rush to her old home to finish packing. Then, when my mom went to hospital with chest pains, I packed up the computer, a couple of good books and a scrabble board and headed out again. 

And I have to say, I’m so lucky to be able to do these things. They are an honor. The love and trust of anyone else means more than anything else to me. 

I suppose I’m writing about this now because of my new book. “Invisible Ellen” is done and in production. It’s the story of a woman, unattractive, orphaned, forgotten and unseen by society or others who makes a couple of friends and takes her first tentative steps into participation in life. That novel is done. But the sequel, which I’m working on now, goes a step further, and in “Emerging Ellen” she must learn to be needed. Perhaps, even to overcome her own horrible upbringing, and make a better life for another unwanted child. 

It’s the most frightening thing she can imagine. But I have a sneaky suspicion that she’ll find a way to overcome that fear and her life will open up to embrace it. 

Because I believe that’s why we’re here. To connect and care. 

What else is there? 

So don’t be afraid, take care of someone else, and take care of yourself.

Shari, August 20th, 2013. 

Life in General

Laughter in Hallowed Places.

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Walking through the sea in St. Marks Square.

 

A special month is engraved now in my heart and mind. Every month is special, of course, but the blessings of time in this city have once again charmed and enthralled me.

I leave with so many wonderful memories of time with my daughter and husband, too many to try to share or write down, I wish I could, but those are mine, and you shall make your own.

Venice itself is a priceless museum, a moment in time, evolving and frozen, the people here have exuded their class and enthusiasm like some invisible atmosphere, their love of life and sense of wonder are contagious, and Joseph and I are, as always, infected, saturated with the germs of life and laughter.

I have fabulous pictures, of course, but one thing I will always remember, and the suggestion of which will produce waves of sense memory, are the smells. Yes, sometimes Venice smells of the sea, of tides, of moisture, of mossy damp, but as you walk, ah, as you walk.

We exit our apartment and the warmth of radiated heat interspersed in the moist air of the marble stairwell greets us. We open the huge wooden doors onto the street and the canal and the bakeries with their yeasty love assault us. The wind brings us hints of the sea and the marsh, inviting, secret scents. We cross a stone bridge, listening to the chatter of joy and the calls of greeting and pass a tiny shop in a narrow brick alleyway, where everyday, all day, they bake fresh pizza rustico. This is not the delicious thin version so often served here, but thick, bread-like slabs smeared in sauce and cheeses and every delicious accompaniment you can imagine.

As we pass it we move on to the square, hitting the open avenue where each evening the locals ‘promenade.’ Many a twilight found us seated at a café table with an aperitif in hand, a bowl of salty, crisp and thin, homemade potato chips at our fingertips, watching the ebbing tapestry of life. Children on scooters and rollerblades, friends calling out enthusiastic “Ciao!”s and every version of intense conversation moving or still in the constant flow of people, conversations that take more than just words to participate in, they take punctuation of hands, rolls of eyes, symphonies of syllables and intonation.

And nearby, they serve hot chocolate, not hot chocolate like we do, thin as water, but thick, melted chocolate with fresh cream, dense as snow, laid over the top with a spoon. This is a treat so rich it must be served not on a plate, but in a mug.

And on it goes. The smell of rich sauces cooking on every other corner as the locals prepare their dinners of the richest ingredients bought daily from stalls on the street. Ripe tomatoes, basil grown in pots, never dried, sweet peppers, onions pulled from the earth yesterday, meats from a tiny butcher, who sells only what is best, from cows contentedly grazing only days before.  Preservatives are scoffed at, as is pasteurization or freezing, and the result is not only taste, but health. It was hard, when we visited the cemetery, to find a grave of someone less than 80. I think that should tell us something.

As for the treasures of Venice, the art, the architecture, the city itself, these things are remarkable, irreplaceable, and indelibly printed in our hearts.

But it’s the simple things that I remember the most. So I will leave this city with this story.

We were visiting the Scuola de Rocco. One of the most famous and magnificent buildings here, the entire interior is decorated by gigantic painting by Tintoretto, carved wood walls and seating for the great members of that great Union that are works of art in themselves. On the top floor is a room filled with their religious relicts, goblets, crosses, grails, each of them wrought of gold and silver and priceless jewels. Many of them are so ornate that they required years of an artisans’ life to complete. A guard sits sentry at all times. One of these objects could feed a village for a year, and that doesn’t take into account the artistry and skill of their beauty. 

We were not alone as we walked through this room. A young father was holding his daughter, she was probably between 2 and 3. As they went from stunning treasure to priceless work of art, I heard her childish voice ask, “What’s that Daddy?”

The father was English, and with typical patience and grace, he answered, “That’s the fire extinguisher, darling.”

And the sound of my laughter in the hallowed, hushed room rang out so that the long dead craftsmen must have stirred in their heaven and smiled down at us.

Sometimes, it’s the treasures, and sometimes, it’s the thing you wouldn’t usually notice that you carry with you.

I take home the scents and the weather and the laughter of Venice. If you ask me why I chose to turn down that narrow passageway, with no idea where it would lead me, I will answer you, “Because the wind invited me.”

 

Ciao, Venezia, a la prossima volta.

 

Shari March 18th, 2013. 

Life in General

The Incredible Beauty of Age.

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My husband Joseph and I were on the Grand Canal in Venice watching the palazzos slide by and I commented that it would have been remarkable to have seen it in it’s youth, when the buildings were covered in frescos and mosaics of gold and brilliant color glinted in the sunlight.

And he smiled gently and said, “It’s remarkably beautiful now.”

He’s right of course. Spending time in a different culture is beneficial in so many ways, the food, the history, the art, the language, all of these fill me with a sense of hugeness, and of the rapid passage of time. The diversity and unfamiliarity offer a sense of perspective that what we value in one small part of the world can often be incidental, or even distasteful, in another. This is important to realize and crucial to remember.

Even the faces here are different. One thing I noticed right away was the handsomeness of the elderly, especially the couples. There is a distinct difference in what is considered valuable here, and as a result, I have not once seen a woman who has destroyed her identity with plastic surgery.

People age here, and they do it gracefully. It would appear that they spend their lives living, experiencing what life has to offer with relish. What a wonderful reminder for me at 52, I have always preferred looking my age to looking desperate to be younger, it has always made me sad to see the artificiality that our society so often deems attractive. Of course, I live in Los Angeles, the city of surfaces. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t take care of yourself, for goodness sake, wax that hair or have that mole removed, or maybe get a small tuck if something bothers you. Many of the older women here in Venice wear subtle makeup and dress exquisitely.  They look their age, and their best. I have several friends back in the states who have had ‘work’ done that makes them looks as though they just had a restful vacation. That’s not what I’m talking about, I’m referring to abusing the knife until the individuality is lost. In my humble opinion, it does not improve their appearance, only neuters it.

I’m not judging other’s choices or actions, to each their own. I color the gray out of my hair, because it isn’t flattering to my skin, but I’m looking forward to it arriving at a tone I can leave. I use creams and lotions and in a few years I may have my loosening jaw tightened, not because I want to look younger, but because I think being jowly makes me look mean, and if there is a way I want to look, it is kind.

The wrinkles can stay, I don’t mind them. In fact, I not only like them, I earned them. And for anyone to tell me that the results of the laughter and suffering in my life, the wind on my face as I walked in nature’s beauty or the storms I have braved for adventure, have made me ugly, shows that it is not my skin that is unattractive, but their superficial insecurity. I would not trade those experiences for any amount of beauty. 

How frustrating it must be to feel that you should look decades younger than you are. How positively awful to judge yourself by what someone shallow enough to place your value there would think, or for that matter, what anyone but you would think. And shame on anyone who judges only the outside, they are missing all that is important. 

I have, as they say in Italian, five decades, in a blink I will have six, and if I’m lucky, seven and then even maybe, eight.

And I want to look beautiful—and eighty. I want my eyes to shine as the crinkles radiate from them and my smile to deepen my laugh lines until the story of my extraordinary life is written on my face. No one but me will have my unique memories, will have seen and felt the experiences I have had. That is precious to me.

They have a saying here in Italy, “If you are fortunate, you will get old” It doesn’t matter what you do to try to hide it, you will age. Why not appreciate the value and beauty of that? When did we forget to honor age and the passage of years? To see it as something magnificent in itself? 

I will look at this ancient city and see the crumbling walls and the fading frescoes and listen to the secrets that they whisper and see the magnificence that stands, more graceful and vibrant for the time that has brushed them, and I will feel overwhelmed with life, with death, with the beauty of centuries, of ages, past and present.

Venerable Venice, it is always the same for me, I am awed. And the millennium that have passed over and through it make me smile with my heart.

We are not so different, after all. I will grow old, and I’m content with that. And I know that my husband will never look at me and say, how beautiful I was, wishing that he could see me then, he will smile softly at my old face and say, “You are amazingly beautiful now.”

And he will mean it.

Amore da Venezia

Shari, February 24, 2013

Life in General

Return to Venice

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How lovely to be back in our favorite city, and for a month. I have been many times, and I still get lost.

Just like life, you think you know now how to handle mistakes, rude people, even the psychopaths you deal with regularly, yet each time, you find yourself thrown off and disoriented when faced with the twisting paths of territory that is, not necessarily unfamiliar, not even unexpected, but somehow still surprising. You can know that a city is twisted, that a person is unreasonable, that a reaction is absurd, but they are what they are.

And yet, along the way, we find beauty, affection, and real connection and you draw enough strength from those to suffer the random insanity. On this adventure we are staying in an apartment on the top floor of a 16th century palazzo. I find that amazing. To be in a place that was built for a single family over 400 years ago. The view from every window is remarkable, historic, and awe inspiring. And I feel so honored to have this opportunity.

A large part of my heritage is Italian, and the food, the laughter, the passion—and the aggressive driving—are in my blood. They might not have cars in Venice, but on the way into the city on the water taxi, our driver was on a mission to beat out the other boats, my daughter, whose humor always warms my heart, turned to me and said dryly, “He drives like an Italian.”

Which he was. Which I am, though tempered with a good portion of British blue blood. We have been here only one full day and already we have connected with so many good people. There are no elevators here, of course. And our apartment is on the fourth floor, many wide marble steps, interspersed with magnificent mosaics on landings, mark our pathway home. An older gentleman occupies the only other top floor apartment and we arrived home as he was bringing his groceries up. Not having known he was going all the way up, when he arrived after us, I said, in italian, “I’m sorry, I should have helped you.” Then joked, “Troppi scale!” which means, “There are too many stairs!”

He looked at me with a bright eye and a yellow toothed smile and said with a laugh. “Troppi anni!”

Too many years.

Ah, the heart of the Italians. To have spent your life in a city of ancient and immortal beauty.

And an inimitable sense of humor, a love of laughter and life.

You cannot have too many years.

Con amori da Venzia,

Shari, February 18, 2013