Too Many Turkeys

 

Turkey Day Table

 

Last year at about this time, I was at the grocery store, near the dairy case, when I overheard a grown woman yelling at the grown man by her side: ”Because Bob! You don’t get to tell people where to buy their food!” Bob looked fairly unfazed. He also looked unconvinced. I’m not sure what had preceded the bit of conversation I heard, but it didn’t look like their Thanksgiving week was off to a good start. And it sure didn’t look like Bob was gonna be happy with whatever it was someone would be bringing to his table.

 

That little run-in said it all really. The holidays are here. Some folks are overjoyed. Some folks are overwhelmed. This time of year can be tough. Maybe there’s no getting around that, but I like to think Bob’s route isn’t the only way to get over the river and through the woods. I mean – wouldn’t it be nice if we could just set aside the drama? Wouldn’t it be lovely if we just broke bread together instead of breaking spirits? And if we really just don’t like someone (whether they’re family or not), do we honestly have to spend time with them?

 

As Turkey Day approaches, I wish you peace. I wish the same for Bob. And I wish the same for myself, too. Trust me – we deserve it. Gobble, gobble.

It’s Not a Perfect System

 

Actual Quote From George W. Bush

 

So many people have reached out, asking about my goings-on, my well-being, that I feel a response is due on my part. And that’s not easy for me. On the one hand, absolutely nothing is going on. On the other hand…

 

Mikki and an Art Show

 

While trying to create new art, I was also recently one of the featured artists in a local show. It was good for me to participate in the event, to interact with friends and strangers alike. It’s also good for me to tackle new works. I’m elbow-deep in a painting now that is so Mikki. It requires hours of taping, layers of planning and is a logistical quagmire. For some reason, that appeals to me and brings me contentment.

 

Art Show

 

I’ve also figured out how to build floating frames for my work and that has been incredibly fulfilling. I learned quite a bit at a framing class, but the logistics of floating frames wasn’t covered, so I had to rely on my own ingenuity and mechanical mind to suss the sitch. I don’t mind telling you – I nailed it.

 

Physical Therapy

 

While trying to wrap my head around my body’s aging, I’m also undergoing physical therapy for an injury. I’d love to tell you I hurt myself playing footie (World Cup fever abounds in our home), or while throwing down in a late-night dance battle on the streets of Los Angeles, but the truth is much more boring: I hurt my shoulder while shoveling rocks. It’s true. Rocks. The repetition and the weight were more than my body could bear. And so now I’m dealing with a humerus that doesn’t seat itself correctly in its joint, which is anything but humorous. The pain is sometimes enough to make me cry. And for now, I just have to ride it out. I’m not on pain meds, but I am on ice packs. And booze. Those things help a bit. I’ll take what help I can get.

 

Vonnegut

 

When not wringing my hands over how terrifying “The Handmaid’s Tale” is in relation to our fucked-up world, I’m re-reading an old Kurt Vonnegut book, Cat’s Cradle. I saw it on the shelf and was drawn to it. I don’t often re-read books, but I think following my gut on this one is a good choice.

 

Mikki and a Blurry Tony Bourdain

 

Depression is heavily at play for me these days. The injury, the sorry state of my country… Some days are almost too much to handle. When the world adds another log to the desperate fire of my soul, I struggle more than I can say. The recent suicide of Anthony Bourdain was one such weight. I didn’t know the man or anything, but I did appreciate the hell out of him. Watching the final two episodes of “Parts Unknown” was heartbreaking. I don’t know why, but I believe I’ve not yet shed my last tear for Mr. Bourdain. I can’t explain why his death has hit me so hard. It just has.

 

Panda Cake

 

Sometimes I’m able to avoid the news. Sometimes. I was able to distract myself with a young cousin’s first birthday party. And that was a gift. Watching the little guy eat his panda cake was a reminder that not everything is bad. Remembering that simple fact can lead to noticing other good things in the world.

 

Mikki in Pretty Shoes

 

Like wearing pretty shoes.

 

Mikki At JPL

 

Or spending an afternoon with science-loving geeks at JPL.

 

Strawberry Moon

 

Or gazing up at a Strawberry moon, with Saturn’s glow nearby.

 

Families Belong Together Rally

 

And yesterday I attended a local “Families Belong Together” rally. The crowd had full hearts and positive energy. Even though I was quietly crying through most of it, I was reminded of hope.

 

Families Belong Together Rally - Migration is Beautiful

 

There is good in the world. The hate-filled, ignorant, fearful masses can’t do a damn thing to change that. They can’t eliminate beauty. Or hope. Or love. On good days, I simply feel sorry for them, the haters. (They really are a pitiful group of pathetic souls.) On other days…

 

I struggle. I’m trying, but I don’t always prevail in my attempts. Truth is, I’m upside down right now. The shadows and weight can be downright awful. If I had no inkling of how sublime life can be, I might not know how far down I’ve gotten. But I have walked in the light. I do know the pleasure of joy. And this ain’t it.

 

These are some of the reasons I’m out of touch. Why I’m in mostly silent mode. Trying to practice self-care is taking more from me than I can sometimes spare. And so I pull back from the world. I try to preserve precious energy. To protect my fragile heart. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s the best I can do right now. And for the record, I am doing. I know me. I’ll keep doing, keep going. Not for you or for anyone else, but for me. Yes.

 

Highgate Cemetery - Fallen Angel copy

Don’t Fear the Dark

 

 

I’m trying. I really am. In the face of my country’s ugliness and shameful behavior, I’m trying to lift my own spirits and to reclaim my joy. Some days, it half works. Others…

 

There’s been a lot of loss of late in my little world. Layers, in fact. A great aunt passed away recently, and that has required processing. Processing that will continue, probably in ways I don’t yet know. Two days after hearing of her passing, I learned that my mentor was abruptly closing his studio and would be retiring earlier than previously planned. It was too much.

 

 

I spent my last night in his studio thinking of what the place has meant to me. I walked around and photographed the unlit corners that seemingly have nothing to do with the beauty produced there. The paint-splattered sink, the tins of paint thinner (“juice” as my teacher always called it), the random articles on a cluttered shelf. All of it greeted me for years, and now it’s gone.

 

 

I won’t lie. I cried several times during my final session there. I cried when I thought about my very first visit, when I decided to be brave and give painting a try. I cried when I thought about how my sweet friend Nicole came to my life simply because our easels were side-by-side one night. I cried when I thought about how my time in that sacred space changed my life forever. As I type this, I look around my home and its walls are covered with art, most of it made by me. When someone asks what I do (I hate that question), I tell them I’m an artist. And I am. Some of what I produce is real crap. It’s true. And some of what I produce is so good it makes me want to cry anew, because it is such a gift to create beauty in this world. And in every inky crevice of my heart, I am fully aware of how very “gifted” I have been on the painting front.

 

 

And then there’s my mentor himself. On that last night in the studio, I cried because I was allowed to know him. Because I was allowed to be his student and to learn from him. He is a remarkable human soul and I know what a privilege it’s been to study with him. I have learned more about painting than I ever thought possible. I have also learned – from him – about being a decent person. He is kind and patient and wise. I pray that a little bit of those parts of him have rubbed off on me. Maybe they have. Maybe not. I suppose only time will tell.

 

 

So yes – I’m processing a lot of loss right now. And it runs deep. If I could, I would probably crawl into a hole and stay there. But that isn’t how life works. If I were to choose that, then I’d become someone I don’t want to be. I cannot succumb to the loss. I know I have to adapt. All of life is change, isn’t it? It keeps evolving and turning over and over again. For me, I know that if I don’t roll with it, there won’t be much point in waking to another day. And if I know anything about myself, it is that I absolutely love being alive. So roll with it, I must.

 

For now, I plan to practice self-care while going about the business of living. And I plan to give myself some time to figure out how to move forward with painting. I also plan to wish so much love and joy for my mentor. He deserves nothing less. His life should be lived with gusto, with beauty and with art. All my tears can’t stop me from smiling while thinking that. I am so grateful to have known his teachings and to hear his voice in my mind: Don’t fear the dark.

 

I won’t, Eli. I won’t.

 

Get Out of Your Mind

 

 

The other night I was painting at the studio and chatting with my buddy, Nicole. One of the topics covered was the importance of liking our nearest and dearest. And we weren’t merely talking about our romantic partners, either. Liking friends is pretty danged important, too.

 

When we fall in love with someone, we tend to be temporarily blinded to faults and less-than-perfect behavior. He pops his knuckles? That’s so cute! She wears socks to bed? How darling! Some of the things we don’t see at the beginning of a relationship can really drag a person down, five years in. But this is how we’re designed. Our biological imperative is to mate and to insure the survival of our species. That in-the-beginning blindness is our DNA’s way of trying to get knocked up.

 

It isn’t that different when friendships are formed. We become smitten with someone and think they’re the bee’s knees. We overlook the amount of energy required to simply carry on a conversation with a dude. Or we think her petty comments about our hair aren’t petty at all, and maybe she’s on to something and a style change is called for. Only after time has worn away the new relationship fog do we begin to truly see. And once we’ve seen how much effort it takes to entertain that dude, or how that chick’s comments are really veiled insults, only then do we begin to understand how unsuitable that person may be for a lasting friendship.

 

So yes. Liking someone is important. And it’s a two-way street. But I digress.

 

Back to the other night… As the conversation with my buddy progressed, both of us spoke of the value of time apart from our loved ones, no matter how much we like them. She said something about how lovely it is to miss a person. And how important it is to be able to feel that for someone. I agreed. As a gal in a long-friggin’-term marriage, I know what a gift it is to get someone out of our minds once in a while. When I said as much, another thought occurred to me: it is just as important to get away from oneself every now and then.

 

That really got me thinking. I mean – how do I get away from myself, and give me some space? Meditation is one answer. And if you’re a practitioner, you surely know the grace granted from that discipline. Personally, I’ve never been very good at solitary meditation. I tend to benefit more from a class, or from a guided situation. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t experienced meditative bliss. Painting is meditative. So is gardening. Any practice that engages my mind to the point of absorption and single-minded focus is meditative for me. And it is during those moments that I am able to get out of my own mind and, as a result, get a break from myself.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I love me. I do. And most of the time I actually like myself! In fact, I’m quite partial to my own company and truly enjoy my Mikki time. (If you’re lucky, you feel the same way about time with yourself.) It’s beautiful to appreciate one’s company. Beautiful and fabulous. And yet – I occasionally need a break from me. Meditative practices give me those breaks and allow me to miss me.

 

When I realized all this, after talking with my buddy, I knew I had figured out a small part of my relationship with myself. And it made me happy. Not only that, it made me appreciate me even more. As my own best friend and most trusted advocate, that appreciation is a blessing.

 

We’re about to enter that phase of the year when the parties and family get-togethers seem endless. Some of the faces we’ll see will have been missed dearly. Some – not so much. But see them we shall. So let’s try and administer a bit of self-care during these last few months of the year. Let’s engage our minds in meditative activities as often as possible. Let’s give ourselves some love and some space. After all – all those social commitments are temporary. Those relationships, be they family or friend, will never be as intimate as the one we practice with ourselves.

 

Love yourself. Please. You deserve it. I swear to beans.

Memento Mori

 

 

I recently read a BBC News post about post-death photography. (That piece can be found here, complete with photos.) The piece got me thinking about all kinds of so-called “death photographs.” The New York Times did a piece about such photos, along with their elaborate staging (found here). I found a reference to a Puerto Rican gangster’s funeral here, as well as an ABC News story about the practice of staged death scenes here.

 

This sort of stuff really boggles my mind. I’ve heard of photos being taken with the dead at funerals, and that sort of gives me the heebies. Factor in that I’ve heard tell of such occurrences at funerals of my own relatives and it all becomes a little too close to home. I mean – I know I’m a bit touched in the head, but dang! If that sideshow freak shit is spread out across the branches of my family tree, I may be more tweaked than I know. And that ain’t good, y’all. (By the way – I don’t have a link to a reference photo for this, as I’d have to go through the photo albums of distant relatives to obtain an example, and that’s something I steadfastly refuse to do. Suffice it to say, at least one of my second cousins will need copious therapy to deal with all the photos of her as a baby in the coffin with her deceased mother. Oh yeah. That shit actually went down.)

 

And now I’m officially closing my book on this subject, as I just did a search for “babies in coffins” and I clearly went too far. I think I’m gonna have a stiff drink and do a jerking dance to remind myself just how very alive I am. Hallelujah to that.

 

 

Goodnight, Mr. Hamner

 

 

Early Thursday afternoon, Earl Hamner, Jr. died. If you’re wondering who the heck that might have been, then you, my friend, probably weren’t glued to the television in the early ’70s, watching The Waltons.

 

I, on the other hand, was soaking up as much of The Waltons as I could get. I loved the narration, provided by Mr. Hamner himself. I loved the grandparents. My own depression-era great-grandparents were living representations of those poor, TV mountain people. But for me, the show’s appeal was more than that. The family shown on The Waltons was a dream. They were good, decent people. Good, decent parents. I loved “John” and “Liv.” They showed me what parents could be. And they gave me hope. Thanks to them, I learned a lot about choosing what sort of person I wanted to be. And I learned, through watching that program, that I didn’t have to become anything less, regardless of what I saw in my own real-life family.

 

According to all the reports I’ve read, Mr. Hamner was surrounded by loved ones and listening to his favorite music (John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High”) when he took his final breath. It sounds so simple, and yet so perfect. We should all be so lucky as to have a long, love-filled life.

 

Goodnight, Mr. Hamner.

Family

 

This week I get to spend a few precious hours with my cousin Patty. She lives on the other coast and though we talk once in a while, we rarely get to see each other.

 

Family is crazy. Just yesterday I spotted a dish towel that read “Family is like Fudge – Wonderfully Sweet with a lot of Nuts.” Personally, I doubt the “wonderfully sweet” part. Then again, sometimes family is alright. Hell – sometimes the nuts are even alright. Depends on the type of crazy, if you know what I mean. And if you don’t know what I mean, you’re either lying or terribly out of touch with your relations. We’ve all got crazy hanging on the tree, y’all. All of us.

 

Anyhoo – I look forward to my upcoming visit with Patty. She’s a light, I tell ya. And the world needs all the light it can get. Lucky for me, I get her.

 

Easter Sunday

 

 

Somewhere in the North Georgia Hills, about a jillion relatives are getting together for the annual Easter celebration. Assuming the weather is sweet, there will be a softball game and a gi-normous egg hunt. And no matter what the weather decides to be, there will be more good food than most decent folks can imagine. Mmm…

 

Anyhoo, here in SoCal, Mister and I will be thinking of the fam in Georgia. We won’t be eating nearly as much as if we were in the South. But we will kick back and enjoy the day. Maybe nosh a little too much. Probably enjoy the beautiful Spring weather.

 

Here’s hoping your day is lovely, no matter where you are.

Arachno-Wha?

 

 

I was perusing online news this past weekend and a headline caught my eye. It seemed eerily familiar. I read its first few lines and remembered. I never shared it before as it wasn’t my story to tell. Now that it’s on the interwebs for the the whole wide world to see…

 

A few years ago Mister and I were visiting friends in St. Louis. They were telling us a real-life horror story about their dream home – a dream home that became a house of nightmares. The short version is this: immediately after moving in, they and their children began encountering spiders. Brown Recluse Spiders, to be precise.

 

For those who don’t know, Brown Recluse Spiders are not our friends. Sure, the wiki page devoted to them states their bites are “uncommon” and that the spiders are “rarely aggressive.” Oh, yeah? Well I hear or read a story on a fairly regular basis about someone being bitten and losing a huge chunk of flesh from their person to the necrotic effects of this spider’s venom. Personally, I consider gangrenous ills to be a most unwanted and unfriendly experience. And in the cases I’ve heard about, the affected persons encountered a spider. As in singular, not plural.

 

Anyhoo, as our friends told us – the spiders were showing up regularly and in frightening numbers. Exterminators were engaged. The spiders persisted. Academic professionals were consulted. The spiders persisted. The children were so terrified (and rightfully so), they all climbed into their parents’ bed each night – but only after a thorough search to make sure the bed was spider-free. No place was safe, not even the shower. When our friends told us about the spider craziness a couple of years back, they were still trying to live in the house. Still trying to figure a way out of their 8-legged dilemma.

 

Cut to the AP story I read a few days ago. The bad dream is ongoing. (You can read about their saga here.) I plan to wait a while before reaching out to them, as I’m guessing they must surely need a break from this unbelievable chapter in their lives. And just so you know, these are good people. They are a darling couple and their family is love-filled. Their experience is a sad example of how life sometimes makes zero-point-zero sense.

 

I don’t know what to think of all this. I can’t imagine what our friends think either, or how they’re managing to process what they’ve been through. What they’re going through. But I’ll tell you this – when I picture them, I do not see spiders. Instead, I see their smiles and hear their laughter. I see their love for each other, made tangible before my very eyes. No matter how this ugly part of life plays out, I sincerely hope the strength of their love will carry them through to the other side. And I cannot help but believe their next dream home will prove to be one from which they never wish to wake. With nary a damned spider in sight.

Miss Vera

 

 

On this date in 1907, Vera Owen Bridges was born. She would become a mother 21 years later. Many, many years after that, she would become a great-grandmother. My great-grandmother.

 

All my memories portray her as an old woman. Honestly, I don’t recall her having teeth, at least not during my lifetime. Her gray hair was kept short, though once in a while it reached a length that allowed her to twist it into a tight, little bun. Maybe that wasn’t an allowance. Maybe it was a hindrance. I’m not sure. I don’t recall her going to any beauty parlors (which is what she would have called them), but I do remember her applying a blueish tint to her fine, thin hair. And that took place in her old kitchen.

 

Actually, a lot took place in that old kitchen. Biscuits were baked. Catfish was fried. Gravy was stirred. More meals than I could ever recall were eaten at the kitchen’s old wooden table, its aged oil-cloth cover sticky and cracked. There was no formal dining room, but that table held more class and grace than most.

 

Granny Vera told me stories of being the daughter of a moon-shiner. How her father had taught her to drive an old truck so that she could deliver the liquor to his customers. The thinking was that if she ever got caught, she wouldn’t go to jail – being an underage girl. On the other hand, if her father or older brother had been busted, jail would have definitely been in the cards. So young Vera did as she was told and learned to drive a truck with a manual transmission and no power anything – steering, brakes or otherwise. When I drive around in my old Volvo – named after Granny Vera – I think of her each time I work hard to crank that steering wheel. And no matter how hard it gets, I think to myself that if Granny could do it, I can, too. Especially since my car has never once been loaded down with the weight of illegal hooch.

 

I suppose the drinking began when she was a young girl, but I have no proof of that. I know she met Eugene Bridges – Big Papa – at a juke joint in Georgia where she liked to go and dance. I’m fairly certain her drinking continued there. And after.

 

By the time I met her, and really grew to know her, she was sneaking her drinks. The family had decided she shouldn’t be drinking anymore. Maybe they knew something I didn’t. I mean, there were times when it seemed to my young eyes that she was probably drunk. And those times were fun. Granny never stopped enjoying dancing, and I have specific memories of dancing with her in her front yard, bare feet and hard red dirt. She danced with abandon, which only served to encourage my own flailing limbs and crazy rhythm. For Granny, it was about fun. For me, that meant the world.

 

There were, of course, times when she was none too happy with me. That was to be expected. I was, after all, a kid. But even during those few tense times, like when she hurled a giant wooden bowl at my head (and missed), the scenes ended in laughter. Those times, too, meant the world to me.

 

Granny Vera outlived Big Papa by fourteen years. She even made it to see the year 2000. I like to think she held on, just to see what might be new around that monumental corner. She was a few months shy of her 93rd birthday.

 

As I’ve said, I never knew Granny Vera as anything but old. But the kicker is that she was perhaps the youngest adult I shall ever meet. Her jokes, her curiosity, her laughter, her stories – all were aspects of a young-at-heart gal who enjoyed life and did her best to live it. She was cash-poor every day of her life. And yet somehow, she taught me to be joyfully rich. I will love her right through my last breath.

 

Happy Birthday, Granny. Today I dance in your honor.