The Kindness of Strangers

Homeward bound.
Homeward bound.

I was traveling at the beginning of the new regime. On Inauguration Day, I witnessed the protests at a different statehouse, one that had defended slavery and bore the marks of a broken nation. On Saturday during the Women’s Marches, I walked the red clay trails of a state park, marching with all in spirit. On Sunday, we arrived in New Orleans for a much-needed vacation from the burdens of a country already spinning out of control, and found ourselves in an emergency room.

My husband became very ill with a bad infection on the 8-hour drive, and so we checked into our hotel and headed straight to the nearest emergency room. What followed were three days of uncertainty and fear in a strange city where we’d never been before and knew no one. Three days of an endless stream of nurses and doctors and housekeepers and aides who spoke in odd accents, from all walks of life and every corner of the globe, with compassion in their eyes and caring in their hearts. Three days of hearing and seeing the city’s poorest and sickest soothed and treated along the ER bays and hospital wards. Three days of witnessing what the world is like from outside my comfortable little box. Three days of relying on the kindness of strangers.

After spending our entire stay in The Big Easy living moment to moment, the drug-resistant infection finally turned a corner and we were cleared to go home on a beautiful spring-like morning that the natives thought unseasonably cold. Everyone on the staff shook our hands and told us how sorry they were that we never got a chance to see the real New Orleans, to taste her food, hear her music, savor her spirit. They told us to come back and give their fair city another chance.

And we will. But I feel like we’ve already experienced her soul without ever setting foot on Bourbon Street.

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Waking Up

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The post-election Supermoon of 2016.

The morning after the US election, I woke up strangely calm. I didn’t expect that reaction. And then I remembered; I’ve been through this rodeo before. On a personal level. Ironically, or maybe fortuitously, I’d been studying our president-elect’s particular personality disorder during the months leading up to our national November surprise, trying to get a handle on the kind of panic and physical paralysis I experience every time I hear him speak on TV.

His rhetoric throws me back to my old childhood and even recent adult showdowns with family members who exhibit the same traits. In or out of therapy, I’ve used all the tactics that have played out on the national stage in social media and comment threads. Anger, denial, defensiveness, sarcasm, blame, finger-pointing, compliance, withdrawal, pleading, compromise, escape, negotiation, a blind eye, even an occasional proactive offensive — you name it, I’ve tried it. Some of them seemed to work, at first. But in the end, what little gains I’d thought I’d made were just illusions, part of the narcissist’s great charm in promising you the moon but vanishing before you come to collect at sunrise.

I have neither solutions nor cures to offer. As long as the narcissist is getting what he or she wants, there is no motivation to change. It’s a very hard addiction to break. But what I do know is this: that hunger for the spotlight can never be satiated. The more attention (negative or positive) that is fed, the hungrier the appetite. I can only imagine that the gnawing search for more must be a form of hell on earth. And while I must forgive in order to be set free from the vicious dance I participate in as a narcissist’s compliant partner or even adversary, I will not forget.

What’s at stake is the sanctity of life for all of us, narcissists included. The ones in my life have taught me the hard way that no matter what I do or sacrifice for them, it’s never enough. Instead of beaming all our attention on the insatiable ones, I vote that we focus on ourselves, the stars of our own reality shows. We may not determine our outcomes, but we can control our outlooks. Do we sustain healthy boundaries? Do we care too much about what others think of us? Are we doing what’s important or just marking time, filling up space? Are we aware of the lessons being taught to us, supporting us, warning us? Are we awake?

I, for one, have seen the enemy, and behind all the bluster and bravado, they look just like us. In fact, they are us. We all play our parts in this tango, whether we lead or not. And if one partner changes the steps, the other must react, one way or another. Sometimes we follow, sometimes we break apart. And maybe, just maybe, we find a new rhythm, a new dance.

It’s time to get to work.

When the Fog Lifts

Day 19: I Said Goodbye To . . .
Day 19: I Said Goodbye To . . .

This year I said goodbye to some lingering roles that had run their course: the dutiful daughter, perfect mother and overcompensating wife. This year the fog lifted from my eyes, and rays of my own turth blinded me with potential.

I’ve decided to participate in Susannah Conway’s December Reflections  photo prompts again this year. During this hectic and stressful season, won’t you join me in mindful reflection from life’s photographic window seats and contemplative comments that provide refuge from the madness.

Feathering the Nest

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You seem cold
so I pull out all I can remember
and rip this in shreds
to hang high like hope.

Soon, I notice the beginnings
of fear in fraying scraps from
a bathrobe you’ve forgotten
I gave you, the mother I miss gone
in a flutter of tailored blue trim, while
your memory’s soft batting spills
onto a crazy quilt of early crocus
chaos underneath.

The awful resentment in granny’s
faded remnants still swings too low,
blocking your chance to rise
above, her bitter view spun on threads
she sewed into your youth,
your marriage. And even though
I bend the branches down,
you can’t look far enough beyond.

Instead, you build on hard ground
with only heavy hurt,
using a muddled history
as nesting wattle over and over,
unable to see
your life in the trees.

NaPoWriMo #5

*A friend of mine had the idea to put her colorful quilting scraps outside for birds to use in their nests, helping to create spontaneous works of art in nature. I began to envision the memories evoked by suddenly seeing a piece of old clothing in a new outdoor context, which led me down a completely different path.

I’m writing a poem a day in April as part of NaPoWriMo’s celebration of National Poetry Month. We may be able to live without poetry, but who would want to?

How to Live or Die by the Outcome of the Game

  1. Position yourself as far away from the TV as possible.
  2. As an alternative, you can dominate the viewing selection by turning up the volume on repulsive shows like Hoarders, thus forcing fans to flee into another part of the house.
  3. Stock up on perishables to sustain you, since no one else will be eating until the final score, and maybe for several hours after depending on the injustice of the sports gods.
  4. Keep earplugs nearby in case of excessive screaming over a bad call by a vision-impaired referee.
  5. Become engrossed in a good book set in a land devoid of all competitive activities but that still offers a compelling plot line. (No Hunger Games, in other words)
  6. Sneak in a nap during halftime while fans are mumbling about strategy behind closed doors.
  7. Above all (and this is most important) always remove yourself from the premises during the last “five” minutes of the game, which could take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.
  8. Return for happy hour or unhappy hour, depending on the fates.
  9. Next Saturday: Do it all over again.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

The vortex of Bowie. Or the end of my neighbor's PVC pipe. Take your pick, I'm flexible.

One of the worst parts about getting older, I have discovered, is not the gradual deterioration of body parts, the slow numbing of libido, or the downward slide of mental calisthenics, as distressing as all of that is to be sure.

It is the fear of impermanence, instability and nasty surprises. I, who have never blinked an eye over uprooting my household or completely renovating my persona, have been caught unawares.

It has crept up on me like Geritol in the night, smelling of aspercreme and denture adhesive, muffling my adventurous mojo in flannel and lap rugs. I have become stodgy in my habits and constipated about my future.

I am stuck.

So, in the spirit of the One Little Word project seen popping up around the blogosphere, I have chosen a theme for this year. As a caveat, I am well aware that the Universe can and will give you what you ask for. That is the point, after all.

The word? You guessed it.

But the Universe can be a fickle and mischievous mistress, and she favors tricks over plans at life’s cocktail soiree. In other words, I am asking for it.

That is, however timidly, the kind of party game I want to relearn at this point in my journey (notice my reluctance to actually say the word yet?)

Since I’ve already had my emotions pulled out from under me in December, it’s not like the energies need to be put into action. My sense of control light has been blinking uncontrollably for weeks now and I can’t find the manual.

Because there is none.

I like to think I’ve just misplaced it, a mere oversight due to the ever-shrinking menopausal memory, and that I’ll find it stuffed behind the fountain of youth any day now.

However, the one thing I can control is my reception of the one little word for this year. I can either fight it with an arsenal of glam rock wrinkle reducers and Ziggy Stardust age reversals, or I can invite it in for a cup of tea. Have a chat and see which way the wind’s blowing.

Okay, you can’t blame a gal for a little heads up, now can you?

Meanwhile, I’m renovating the attitude and putting my spiritual house in order. A little preparation won’t hurt.

And, you might notice that this blog looks a little different. It’s small change, but a step toward nonetheless.

Big Foot’s Got Some Brand New Vans

To me, these vessels are works of art, a masterpiece. I have wanted shoes like this forever. They speak to me of tomboys, denim and badass poets, classic footwear hovering on the verge of preppy. But not quite. Eventually, with worn heels and holes, they will smell of grunge band, fast times and flannel. There is something infinitely satisfying about wearing this symbol on the sidewalks of suburbia.

I have never been in style. Grocery shopping with my mom at our local A & P comes to mind, as I stared at the Dr. Scholl’s display in the same aisle with the hairnets and Legg’s eggs. I was 16 and lusting after those sandals with smooth leather straps (in three different colors!) and a neat center buckle. It seemed like everyone wore them, wooden soles clattering down the high school hallways and clacking nervously under classroom desks. I could only stand by as spectator, fascinated by how the teenage fashionistas kept those clog-like wonders on.

My mother caught me salivating and dismissed my dreams of finally becoming cool despite my bottle-bottom eye glasses and overall nerd status.

“They’ll hurt your feet,” she warned me and that was that. This from a woman whose toes were molded into torpedo points by those hellish heels of the 50s, a style providing countless numbers of foot surgeons with lifelong job security.

“But they are supposed to be good for your feet. They EXERCISE them,” I argued, reading from the box.

“They’re made out of lumber and a tiny piece of leather. You can’t wear those — your feet are too thin.”

And long. Size 10, to be exact. That’s all well and good for a 6’2” runway model, but my 5’8” frame only allowed me to be cast as the family’s personal Bigfoot (a term my father affectionately used for me).

Unfortunately, I possess the trifecta of podiatric woes: narrow, long and flat as a pancake. While my archless-ness might keep me out of a wartime draft, I would gladly endure boot camp than suffer the humiliations of a footwear gauntlet (otherwise known as the shoe store).

Ah yes, the dreaded yearly trip to the small-town shoe shop, where I would gaze sadly at a limited assortment of beautiful styles I could not wear. Right off the bat, my mother ruled out anything remotely cute or trendy, nothing with heels, absolutely no flimsiness or slip-ons allowed.

That left a few sturdy crepe-soled lace ups in geriatric browns and tans. If Velcro shoes had been popular then, I’m sure they would have come in a close second (nothing with flashing lights or wheels in the heels, however). Come to think of it, Velcro would have made the torment go a whole lot faster if not easier, as I sat tensely through the everlasting lacing procedure at the knee of the store owner, who had realized by this point there wasn’t one shoe in the entire store that fit me.

Yes, that’s right. While sitting amongst the piles of tissue paper and lidless cardboard boxes, after countless trips to the back, with me futilely pacing around like a caged animal while my mother pinched my toes, I always heard the inevitable proclamation of my shame:

We’ll just have to “special” order them.

I hate the word special. After what seemed like years, we returned to the scene of the crime for the prize I didn’t want. And the “specially” ordered size 10s wouldn’t fit much better than the store’s one pair of 9 1/2s, except that my toes weren’t as crowded (obviously my mother’s worst nightmare) and I could easily walk out of my new giant boats of leather without untying any laces, thanks to the narrow heels blessed to me by my grandmother.

Now, flash forward to the brand-new Vans, the cool ones here in black and white.

The ones I bought in record time after waltzing into the shoe section of a regular department store, zeroing in on the display model, quickly searching through the well-marked boxes, and finding just the right size (already pre-laced).

I tried them on by myself, no exhausted sales clerk hoping against hope that this trial of patience would soon be over, no mother following me around with her toe-seeking fingers at the ready, and no customer service associate painfully filling out an order form for my mythical pair of perfect shoes.

And the best part? They are a size 9 1/2. Either I have shrunk or American shoe standards have grown large. Oh joyous day, this means there are plenty of other big-footed gals out in the fashion wilderness. I am not alone.

And yes, Mom, I have plenty of room in the toes.