The End of An Era

 

 

Seventeen years ago I needed a car. I had an old beater, and it had served me well. Its hatchback had also fallen on my head a few times and jacked up my neck. There are a lot of things up with which I can put, but bodily harm ain’t one of ‘em. So the beater had to go.

 

 

I was out walking one day and I passed a couple of old ladies sitting on a bench. As I moved by them, I overheard one of the ladies saying she needed to sell her recently deceased friend’s car, as that was the last item to settle in the deceased’s estate. I stopped in my tracks and actually backed up. I looked at the ladies and said, “I need a car.” Conversation ensued and we set an appointment for me to test drive the vehicle.

 

 

When I  showed up, I knew I was in trouble, as I instantly fell in love with the car. After a very quick negotiation, we shook on the price and the deal was done. That’s how I became the caretaker of a 1966 Volvo 122 S.

 

 

I have loved that car more than you know. The adventures we’ve shared – some good, some not-so-good – are etched in my memory. I once drove her through a flooded intersection and the water was so high, it knocked out the engine. Momentum got me to the side of the road, where I had to wait for the old gal to dry out before she’d start again. I had to learn to use a choke with this car. When she was cold, I’d ride the choke like nobody’s business, until she warmed up a bit. I got real good at it, too. And I remember this one time, I was driving her in downtown L.A. Mister and his buddy Jack Daniels were in the back seat and my friend Gillian was in the front. As I took a hard left turn, at speed, Gillian’s passenger side door started to swing open. I reached across, real quick-like, and grabbed the door before she fell out. Also, whenever the front windshield fogged over, I used a throw pillow to wipe it clean so that I could see. I’ve kept a couple of leopard-printed throw pillows in there for the front passengers (myself included). The seat webbing has sagged and I can’t see over the dash without the boost of a pillow. These are just a few of the memories I’ve stored involving the old Volvo. Truth be told, there are too many to recount.

 

 

But now, well, it’s the end of an era. The old gal has been sold to someone else. I imagine he’s gonna hot-rod the shit out of it and make it into something altogether different. That’s okay. She belongs to him now and he gets to do as he pleases. I don’t begrudge him that. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s supposed to be. He’s gonna tweak and tinker and come up with something that makes his heart melt. Honestly, I kind of knew he was in trouble the first time he came to see her. It looked to me like he fell in love with her, instantly.

 

 

Nothing lasts forever, friends. The car’s original owner, Gertrude, had the old Volvo from 1966 (when it was brand-spanking-new) until her death in 2000. Sammie, the gal who sold the car to me, well, she passed away last year. And now the old Volvo is off to other parts of the world, and to new adventures with her new owner. If he’s lucky, she’s got another 100,000 miles in her. Volvos are weird that way. Only time will tell.

 

 

The day before I watched her drive away for the last time, I took her for a spin. I don’t know what possessed me, but I reached over to the old radio. It’s been broken for years, so I’ve always just driven around with my own thoughts providing the soundtrack for my travels. But there I was, reaching for that knob, as if it was something I’d done every day. And I swear, the radio came on. And so I listened to “The Sound,” a radio station that’s about to be gone forever, as its new owners plan to switch the format from Classic Rock to Christian Pop. (I would call that an oxymoron, but it’s simply moronic.) I started laughing and crying, and it wasn’t lost on me that the old gal was giving me the gift of a little goodbye music. That she was playing herself off the stage. That she was giving me one last memory.

 

 

And memories I have. Along with more photos than most people might find sensible. I don’t know what to tell you. I loved the old gal. She got me around. In style. She came along just when I needed her and she helped me be true to myself. That one’s too deep to go into, so you’ll just have to trust me.

 

 

I wish the new owner well. I hope he and the old Volvo have spectacular adventures and that they make memories he can file away for himself. Memories that bring a smile to his face someday, when he’s well into middle-age and remembering.

 

 

We should all be so lucky as to have fond memories. Of life, of love, of cars. I can almost hear the old gal humming, and she’s beautiful.

 

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.

 

Oh.

 

 

I’ve been a little blue the last couple of days, and I’ve been hard-pressed to understand why.

 

And then it hit me: I’m feeling a sense of loss over my TV stories and shows. The end of Mad Men is still feeling odd. And now The Late Show With David Letterman is no more. And I think that somewhere in my brain-hole I’m fully aware that I’ll be losing Jon Stewart from The Daily Show in a couple of months.

 

Judge as you will, but I love television. And if my attachments to shows and characters is unhealthy, so be it. TV has been my friend since it became my baby-sitter at an all-too-tender age. Would real human beings have been better? Maybe. Depends on the humans. As it was, I count myself lucky to have had the positive role models and comedic influences that glowed from the magic box in the living room. Had it not been for my TV friends and families, I would be a completely different person now. And I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t like me nearly as much.

 

I’ll get over my TV losses. We all will. They’re not nearly so painful as losing actual loved ones, right? Right? Someone – tell me I’m right.

Wisdom

 

 

 

My friend Betro was telling me about an old buddy of hers and how they drifted apart. She said that her friend had started over in a way, and was living a new life. Although Betro had been a positive force for her friend, she, like the friend’s former life, was left behind.

 

Have you ever experienced something like that? Have you had a friend who just sort of stopped being your friend, for no good reason? I certainly have. More than once. And in a few instances, I’ve desperately wanted to understand and to feel some sense of closure. But that’s not the way things have gone down for me, so I’ve felt a sense of limbo where a couple of relationships are concerned. I’ve not known how to deal with it and I’ve not liked it, either.

 

Anyhoo, after Betro told me the history with her friend, she said she understood. She didn’t like losing her friend, but the understanding is what got me. Betro said she figures that she had been a part of her friend’s former life. And that when said friend started over, he needed to break all ties and really start over. To truly forget the past. Including Betro. She thinks that as someone from his former life, she might remind him of the pain from that time. And she doesn’t hold it against him.

 

Wow! I sat listening to her, rapt. And I suddenly understood why at least one of my friendships ended without any input from me. My friend, from what I understand, is living a new life. And of course I want her to be beyond happy. If I’m part of her past, her painful past, well, I can understand her choosing to let go. And I cannot hold it against her.

 

Of course – there is a chance Betro’s life lesson has nothing to do with any of my experiences. Maybe I futzed up things with my friend in some irreparable way, and simply have no idea what I did. But I like to think of my friend out there in the world, making a beautiful, new existence for herself. And I like to think of her smiling. With new, fabulous friends and new, fabulous joy. So I’m gonna stick with Betro’s wisdom and leave it at that.

 

Finally – I feel peace where my old friend is concerned. And you know what? I’ll take it.

I Heard You – A Poem

 

 

 

Over the course of a lifetime, we will – each of us – lose a multitude of friends. I am no exception…

 

I heard you.

When you suffered a tremendous loss and others were unsteady in their approach.

When your pain was carried squarely on your shoulders, no support in sight.

 

I heard you.

When you were misunderstood and felt cast out.

When your humor was left lying on cracked pavement,

unappreciated by so-called nearest and dearest.

 

I heard you.

When your life decisions were incomprehensible to others.

When your go-it-alone choices were right for you

and your strength supported each moment.

 

I heard you.

When you stopped returning phone calls.

When you stopped responding.

When you stopped.

 

I won’t reach out again.

Because I respect you.

Because I admire you.

Because I heard you.

Nanu Nanu

 

 

For those of us who grew up watching “Mork & Mindy”… For those of us who actually owned rainbow-striped suspenders… For those of us who went to see Disney’s “Aladdin”, even though we weren’t kids (nor did we have any)… For those of us who were profoundly affected by “Dead Poets Society” and “Good Will Hunting”… For those of us who just like to freakin’ laugh…

 

I’m not gonna lie, y’all. I was in my car when I learned of Robin Williams’ death and I cried. He was only 63. Kids may think that’s old, but those of us with actual living under our belts know it’s young.

 

I understand depression and I understand demons. I will never ever judge anyone for battling either of those ills. But it still breaks my heart when we lose someone to that struggle. And to lose someone I’ve relied on for laughter and entertainment, for so very long – well, I am stunned.

 

But it occurs to me that if Robin Williams had never decided to give comedy a try, I wouldn’t miss him. I would never have known there was someone to miss. But he did go for it. And how! So I’m incredibly grateful that wonderfully wacky guy landed in my living room and challenged The Fonz on “Happy Days.” I’m grateful he and Pam Dawber made me want to go to Boulder, Colorado and see that cute town through their work on “Mork & Mindy.” And after all these years and a jillion roles, I’m grateful Robin Williams stuck around as long as he did and gave the world so much of his soul.

 

He will be missed.

Body and Soul

 

 

Yesterday’s post told of my neighbor’s passing. I mentioned how, as a Southerner, my go-to response to a death in the family is to cook for the family. And my go-to food is a baked ham.

 

I want to share a little something I’ve learned to do in cases such as this. When I take food to the bereaved, I make sure to present the edibles on some sort of dish the family can keep. The way I figure it, the last thing they need to worry about is which plate belongs to whom and how to get it back to the owner. So I make a trip to a thrift store and find some sort of inexpensive yet keepable item, purchase it and give it away. I make sure the family knows they can keep the dish and that it’s theirs to use or pass on. One less detail for them to deal with.

 

Mister pointed out to me that my neighbors probably won’t be hungry at all. I know he’s right. But if they do need nourishment, at least they won’t have to cook. And if people stop by (and people surely will), our neighbors won’t have to bother preparing something for their friends. It’s little things like that, things that feed our bodies and souls, that make all the difference in life.

 

Heaven knows, the little things matter. Especially in the face of the big things. And losing a loved one is about the biggest thing I can think of.

Too Soon

 

 

I will always think of him and his big, curious eyes. He was a good kid. I didn’t see him very often, granted, but when I did it was obvious he was a pretty easy-going child. His face was charming and though he was a boy, it was also lovely.

 

Mister and I saw him and his parents through their cousin, who happens to be our friend. All the way around, they’re an immensely likable family. After crossing paths with them, we often commented about how nice they are and how good it was to have talked with them.

 

Time inches along (or runs at breakneck speed) and sometimes we lose touch with folks. It happens. A month or so ago, when I read about young Christopher’s recent diagnosis of a rare cancer, I was shocked not only to learn of his illness, but also to see he was already 12 years old. Reading about his struggles was heartbreaking. Knowing that sweet kid added a layer of ache. I mean, no one wants to think of sick children. But they’re out there, in numbers far too great to ever make sense. And I suppose all of us have at least known a child struggling with illness. Many of you have been responsible for tucking them in at night.

 

I tell you all this because young Christopher lost his battle with cancer late last week. That beautiful boy is gone too soon. And there is nothing I nor anyone else who knew him can do about it. I’ve prayed, along with many, many others. I know fundraisers have taken place and I know meals have been prepared and delivered. Honestly, those are the only things we can do. And that sucks. Christopher’s family is surely appreciative, but they are also surely digging through levels of hell I cannot  imagine. They’re good people. How they’ll deal with this is beyond me.

 

One day at a time, I suppose. Maybe hour by hour. Remembering to breathe. Caring for their younger son, Christopher’s brother. Hopefully caring for themselves. Eventually. For right now, in the newness of this strange, unbearable loss, I imagine their bodies are simply trying to function. Hearts trying to beat and not crumble. Blood trying to flow and not harden. Souls trying to maintain and not shrink. Co-existence. That may be the goal, to co-exist with the pain of loss. Again, I don’t know. I’m only imagining.

 

There’s no real guide for navigating loss of this magnitude. Sure, books have been written. And maybe they help. I hope so anyway. For now, I continue to pray for Christopher’s dear family. That is, after all, the only thing I can do. And it will never be enough.

Standing on the Corner, Suitcase in My Hand…

 

 

Yesterday morning, after posting about the passing of Hal Needham, I had no idea I would be facing news of the loss of Mr. Lou Reed.

 

I was on my way to a Rock Camp brunch. Baker Jen was driving and one of the riders in our car had just read the news. As she climbed into her seat she told us, “Lou Reed died today. He was only 71.” We were going to a goodbye party for one of our brilliant volunteers, as she’s moving to Austin, Texas. The weight of saying goodbye to one of our own was already heavy enough. The news of Lou Reed’s death was an unexpected stun.

 

Many of us talked about Reed’s passing and more than once we spoke of how happy we were that he’d had love in his life over the last few years. (Reed was married to musician and performing artist Laurie Anderson.) Again and again, we said how young he was. Over and over, we expressed our sadness at the loss.

 

Speaking for myself, I am still trying to process my feelings. I won’t lie and claim to know every song or every detail of Lou Reed’s or Velvet Underground’s career. What I do know, what I can sing to myself in my sadness, is enough to fill my heart. And for that, I’m grateful.

 

While at brunch, I spoke to my dear Rock Camp buddy, Chaska. During this past summer’s session, she loaned the movie 20 Feet From Stardom to me and we shared heartfelt discussions about it. As we talked yesterday, I told her how I’d been thinking about the part of the movie when one of the back-up singers tells how Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” features the line “…and the colored girls go…” The back-up singer said how empowering that line was, as it truly expressed the strength and truth of just how important back-up singers’ contributions were. I was fighting back tears, and Chaska held on to my hand. I didn’t have to cry. Chaska knew and understood what I was saying. She, too, was terribly moved by that movie. I daresay she, too, has been moved by Reed’s music.

 

I understand that as I progress along life’s timeline I am going to face more and more loss. Someday, that last proverbial breath will be my own. But the intellectual acceptance of this does absolutely nothing to blunt the shock of these losses. And while I know that I will eventually process the death of Lou Reed, today I have not. I am still stunned. I am still sad. I am still hearing the opening lines to “Sweet Jane.” And I am picturing Mr. Reed standing on the corner, suitcase in his hand…

Goodbye, Bender

 

 

He wasn’t supposed to make it.

 

He was abandoned as a pup, in the cruel, dry desolation of the desert. The fact that he was found by a living soul was a miracle. The fact that he was found by a loving soul was a gift.

 

He was taken home to a comfortable house and given love, attention and care. He didn’t want for anything, and his gratitude showed. He not only loved his home and his people, he also respected them. It was as if he knew he had been rescued from certain death and therefore took nothing for granted.

 

I first met him when he was “Best Dog” in a wedding. And I have to admit, he was pretty darned impressive. I rarely saw him after that event, but when I did, he was sublime company.

 

 

I remember visiting his Salt Lake City home and being quite nervous about a radio interview I was to do the next morning. He seemed to sense my jitters. He appeared at the door of my room, waiting for an invitation. I said hello and he sauntered on in. He slept on the bed with me half the night, and on the floor – beside the bed – the rest of the night. And so I managed to sleep. For I knew he was there, protecting me. Calming me. (For the record, I thanked him profusely.)

 

I took a walk with him once, down through his neighborhood and to a local shop. His people told me I didn’t need a leash, that he wouldn’t stray from my side. “What about at the store?” I asked. They told me he’d wait for me, outside, until I returned for the walk home. And he did. When we passed other dogs along the way, he simply looked up at me. He never left my side and he never gave me reason to worry. In fact, I remember being addressed by human residents of his neighborhood. They wanted to know just who I was and why was I out with Bender. When I told his people about that, they laughed and said Bender was well-known in the neighborhood. More-so than them. He kind of looked up at me then, as if to say, “Yeah, it’s true. But I don’t know what to tell ya.”

 

He was so inspirational, I painted his portrait. And now, I’m so glad I did.

 

Bender passed away this week. He was somewhere around 14 years old or so. 14 years he wasn’t supposed to have. 14 years of “fribee.” 14 years of happily destroying phone books. 14 years of  chasing squirrels and hunting down tree limbs.

 

For his people, and for those of us who knew him, it was 14 years of one of the best damned dogs ever to come out of the desert. Or from anywhere, for that matter.

 

Goodbye, Bender.