A Sunday in the time of ‘rona…

As the fog of the past eighteen months continues to dissipate, it’s impossible not to register the hurt of humanity around us. Everyone we know, everyone we see, has absorbed pain and uncertainty since the outbreak of the pandemic, and it shows. In the human race we want somebody else or a whole lot of somebody elses to understand, to just please get it, okay? And when it feels like nobody does, it’s a lonely place, so maybe someone needs to hear this on the first day of August 2021:

Much of the world is still in dire straits, and here’s a fact: It always has been. But the trajectory as we start another new month is onward and upward, which hey, happens to be our state motto: Ad Astra Per Aspera – To The Stars Through Difficulty. Feels better, hm? And in case nobody’s mentioned it since Christmas of 2019: If you’re reading this, you’re worthy of everything the world has to offer, so getcha’ some.

So here’s a simple rule of thumb…

And this, despite its typos, says good things:

*****

This presents as an oxymoron, but it’s possible to take our time while moving forward…

We’re really not here very long…

*****

Best thing to know in the midst of chaos, sadness, happiness, all the time…

Happy Sunday, August 1, 2021, to all of us, with a hug for everyone who still stops by this blog. ūüíôūüíč

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Addendum…

There’s still such a rumble out there about Simone Biles’ supposed “dereliction of duty,” I’m posting another story that deserves to be remembered. Simone Biles stands as the Greatest Of All Time in gymnastics, and owes the world precisely nothing. That she’s being dissed for declining to risk life and limb for people she’ll never know and who will never attempt to rise to the greatest heights of anything whatsoever, is sublimely ridiculous, end of story.

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The woman on the left is Elena Mukhina, the 1978 women’s gymnastics World Champion. She broke her leg and was not permitted the appropriate time to heal. Soviet gymnastics coaches pressured doctors to remove her cast early so she could start training for the 1980 Olympics. She protested heavily, as she knew her leg was not properly healed and would not withstand the grueling training regimen typical of her sport. Trainers and coaches dismissed her concerns and forced her to continue her training.

While practicing the Thomas Salto (since banned for being so dangerous), she under-rotated due to her newly weakened leg, and she landed on her chin. She broke her neck, which rendered her quadriplegic for the rest of her life. She was 20 years old at the time and died at 46.

Reports from Tokyo are that Simone Biles does not trust her own mind and body right now. Given the high level of difficulty (and danger) of the skills she performs, it is asking A LOT to expect her to continue to perform before that self-trust is restored. By pulling out of the team finals, she is listening to her body and her mind and giving herself enough time to heal so she can continue being the badass Queen she was meant to be.

Simone is doing what Elena was not permitted to do – be a voice for her own body and mental health. Anybody who would malign Simone for pulling out of the team final (and daring them to settle for the silver medal) should consider how they’d feel if, instead of reading the headline “Simone Biles pulls out of team final,” they were greeted with “Simone Biles paralyzed during dismount.”

And if you asked the rest of Team USA if they’d rather have a healthy Simone Biles or a gold medal, you know damn well what they’d answer, and they wouldn’t have to think for a second.

Angie Woodson – 7/27/2021

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But did you die?

Things… they change. Having taken a step back from the abyss lately, I’ve been dragging my psyche into fewer angst-ridden areas of life, but I’m nevertheless acutely aware of the controversy swirling around Simone Biles and other Million Dollar Babies of the sports world this year, and particularly this week. Apparently some round-headed pretender who likely couldn’t pull the trigger on a chin-up has called Simone Biles “a selfish sociopath” and “a shame to the country” for putting her health and well-being ahead of gold medals. According to Charlie Kirk “We are raising a generation of weak people like Simone Biles.” She’s so embarrassingly weak she does death-defying gymnastic moves nobody else in the world has ever thought of. What a taker.

So hey, if you live through it, no harm done, right? Everything for Mother America. That sounds a little 3rd Reich to me, so I’m giving Byron Heath a guest-essay spot this morning…

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This realization I had about Simone Biles is gonna make some people mad, but oh well.

Yesterday I was excited to show my daughters Kerri Strug’s famous one-leg vault. It was a defining Olympic moment that I watched live as a kid, and my girls watched raptly as Strug fell, and then limped back to leap again.

But for some reason I wasn’t as inspired watching it this time. In fact, I felt a little sick. Maybe being a father and teacher has made me soft, but all I could see was how Kerri Strug looked at her coach, Bela Karolyi, with pleading, terrified eyes, while he shouted back “You can do it!” over and over again.

My daughters didn’t cheer when Strug landed her second vault. Instead they frowned in concern as she collapsed in agony and frantic tears.

“Why did she jump again if she was hurt?” one of my girls asked. I made some inane reply about the heart of a champion or Olympic spirit, but in the back of my mind a thought was festering:

*She shouldn’t have jumped again*

The more the thought echoed, the stronger my realization became. Coach Karolyi should have gotten his visibly injured athlete medical help immediately! Now that I have two young daughters in gymnastics, I expect their safety to be the coach’s number one priority. Instead, Bela Karolyi told Strug to vault again. And he got what he wanted; a gold medal that was more important to him than his athlete’s health.

I’m sure people will say “Kerri Strug was a competitor–she WANTED to push through the injury.” That’s probably true. But since the last Olympics we’ve also learned these athletes were put into positions where they could be systematically abused both emotionally and physically, all while being inundated with “win at all costs” messaging. A teenager under those conditions should have been protected, and told “No medal is worth the risk of permanent injury.” In fact, we now know that Strug’s vault wasn’t even necessary to clinch the gold; the U.S. already had an insurmountable lead. Nevertheless, Bela Karolyi told her to vault again according to his own recounting of their conversation:

“I can’t feel my leg,” Strug told Karolyi.

“We got to go one more time,” Karolyi said. “Shake it out.”

“Do I have to do this again?” Strug asked.

“Can you, can you?” Karolyi wanted to know.

“I don’t know yet,” said Strug. “I will do it. I will, I will.”

The injury forced Strug’s retirement at 18 years old. Dominique Moceanu, a generational talent, also retired from injuries shortly after. They were top gymnasts literally pushed to the breaking point, and then put out to pasture. Coach Karolyi and Larry Nassar (the serial sexual abuser) continued their long careers, while the athletes were treated as a disposable resource.

Today Simone Biles–the greatest gymnast of all time–chose to step back from the competition, citing concerns for mental and physical health. I’ve already seen comments and posts about how Biles “failed her country,” “quit on us,” or “can’t be the greatest if she can’t handle the pressure.” Those statements are no different than Coach Karolyi telling an injured teen with wide, frightened eyes: “We got to go one more time. Shake it out.”

The subtext here is: “Our gold medal is more important than your well-being.”

Our athletes shouldn’t have to destroy themselves to meet our standards. If giving empathetic, authentic support to our Olympians means we’ll earn fewer gold medals, I’m happy to make that trade.

Here’s the message I hope we can send to Simone Biles: You are an outstanding athlete, a true role model, and a powerful woman. Nothing will change that. Please don’t sacrifice your emotional or physical well-being for our entertainment or national pride. We are proud of you for being brave enough to compete, and proud of you for having the wisdom to know when to step back. Your choice makes you an even better example to our daughters than you were before. WE’RE STILL ROOTING FOR YOU!

Byron Heath 07/27/2021

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I have excruciating memories of Kerri Strug’s sacrifice for those farging bastidges. No one should ever ask that of any athlete.

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Are you old enough?

A lovely guest post…

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Kicking over the traces…

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Do you ever want out of your skin? You know, because you’re worn out from thinking all the thoughts that pile up in your brain like kindling, splinters poking and needling. Because the stuff held in by¬†your skin hurts all day every day. Because someone you love is stressed and unhappy and you can’t fix it. Because the world isn’t kind and the slings & arrows extract their pound of flesh and energy every freaking day and you’re tired of the ugly. Because all the relentless hurt hurts so relentlessly. And you finally drop your guard and share some of the pain to make it feel less potent and you’re hit with the ice-bucket challenge – dispiriting to the max. Meanwhile, your heart flutters like a bird in¬†your chest and you fully grasp why people drink and do drugs.

Yeah, me too, bubbie, getting out of this skin is Job 1 today; however, that’s apparently not happening, which leaves humor for toughing it out. What’s your antivenin of choice – deadpan, dark, ironic, satirical, blue, highbrow, slapstick, something else… what helps you get through the night? It would be a kindness to come share some of it with us – we’re dyin’ heah. Life is so simple most of the time that when it turns crunchy it’s really noticeable. The world is full of crazy-ass people who make me want to cry, mean-ass people who do make me cry, willfully-ignorant people who make me want to leave the planet – I don’t feel like seeing ANY of it today, boo-hoo.

So come share what makes you laugh. Robin Williams knows how to make the hurt better by sharing it, so he’s my go-to guy.

 

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The Unbearable Lightness of Reading…

 

A marathon it’s been, the best kind – three books in quick succession, by three distinct authors, and connected by one unbroken muscular¬†thread – The People, as they have always called¬†themselves – and their existence from time primeval.

First in the “series,” entirely by¬†happy chance,¬†was MAUD’S LINE, written by Margaret Verble and published in 2015, the fictionalized story of a young Cherokee girl becoming a woman in 20th Century Oklahoma. Its contemporary portrayal of a time just past hooked itself into my imagination from – halleluiah, page one – and delivered me directly to book two.

Which – I assume you’re taking notes – was LAKOTA WOMAN, by Mary Crow Dog and Richard Erdoes, published in 1990, and not fictionalized at all. The author was active and instrumental in the Bureau of Land Management and American Indian Movements of the 1970s and 80s with Russell Means, Dennis Banks, so many others, and her gritty recounting of¬†all the seemingly unrightable wrongs¬†that have altered¬†The People’s reality since the White Guys got here burned¬†itself into my consciousness, not to put too fine a point on it.

So when both a friend and an esteemed¬†nephew recommended Annie Proulx’s BARKSKINS within hours of each other it was clear that lil’ Ms. Serendipity had dropped¬†in¬†again and placed¬†a shiny object¬†in my path. Off the top, let me quickly¬†address a few¬†negative comments I’ve seen: that perhaps Ms. Proulx’s focus is…unevenly focused…that she hammers, that she commits “stylistic infelicities.” Yes, I caught all of that, recognized it, owned it and read on. The scope of the story is so expansive, so unexpectedly gripping, that the combined weight of all the¬†odd little imperfections adds up to less than that of a feather – notable by virtue of¬†existence, but in the end taking¬†nothing from the whole.

Annie Proulx, author of THE SHIPPING NEWS, for which she won a Pulitzer in 1994; BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, for which she won the prize called “We’re turning your book into a movie;” along with at least a baker’s dozen more titles, has at 80 years of age turned out an epic about trees, of all things, that kept me absorbed¬†from first page to last. Aside from her colossally amazing book, I love that she’s even older than I am, has been described as “sassy,” and knows how to write like a mutha.

Annie takes us from 1693, starting with the French in what became Canada, to 2013 in what is still Canada Рwith side trips to London, New Zealand, what we now know as the continental United States, and points everywhere around the globe, the entire saga stemming from one family line and diverging throughout multiple others, from the French, to The People, to the Dutch, et.al. And the wonder is that she makes us care about the majority of those characters, even though we sense they are soon to be swept from the stage to make room for succeeding generations, each one more fascinating than the last.

I like big books and I cannot lie, and at more than 700 pages¬†BARKSKINS¬†was too short. Annie Proulx knows how to put us at the scene of the tale with a lovely economy of language; how to scatter¬†engaging and/or¬†redeeming characters into all parts of the story, avoiding what could have become a tedious litany; how to illuminate dilemmas that we would downplay if left on our own. If that shedding of light is “hammering,” we’re clearly in need of a butt-load more of it – the denuding of nearly all this planet’s original forests is but one ongoing dilemma of many.

BARKSKINS indelibly lays out the sins of the past and their consequences for all humanity while also serving up reasons for hope, that essential tool of survival. Hang onto it, you future humans, and may it save your hide since most of your forebears have never carried, nor do they (we) carry, their (our) fair share of responsibility for what your present might look like.

As William T. Vollmann wrote in his New York Times book review:

“Now our own world is likewise fading, thanks to climate change. The root cause of our self-impoverishment is thoughtfully teased out in BARKSKINS, whose best line may well be this: ‘My life has ever been dedicated to the removal of the forest for the good of men.'” ¬†–¬†June 17, 2016

 

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Memory of a dream…

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I move to your warmth

but you aren’t there

tears deliver me to unhinged

dreaming

and morning shows up rude

careless

awful

.

you won’t be there

ever again

nor there

nor there

and mornings will arrive

rude careless awful

forever

.

death of hope snuffs out life

a morning has to come

not rude careless awful

breathing beings cease with

only rude careless awful

but hope is pliant

she offers herself endlessly to true believers

.

JSmith 6/23/2016

 

 

 

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Memorial Weekend…again

Went back to my 2014 remembrance post this morning, knowing that for too many people every weekend is memorial weekend.

It’s a typically¬†perfect¬†Memorial Day morning here, like so many from my childhood, when every year we could count on it to be¬†raining or blistering hot and windstill, or freezing cold, or all of the above, in gusts, or maybe cool and clear after one of those rains. In Lawrence this morning it’s 79¬ļ headed for 82, sunny, blue skies, humidity has dropped from 89% when I went out at 7am to 60% five hours later, and it’s exquisitely beautiful¬†out.

But life holds more than beauty ¬†– especially for those who will never see any of it again – and cloudy skies take over sometimes. ¬†By 2pm we’re supposed to be mostly under cloud cover here, which seems altogether fitting for the day.

In 2016 I reshare my family’s story out of gratefulness, and out of reverence for, and abhorrence of, unspeakable loss on all sides throughout the generations.

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First posted Memorial Weekend 2014 (with edits 5/30/2016 – a personalized haiku for anyone who’s bored enough to find them all – link provided below.)

My grandpa enlisted in the Army at the age of 17 and served at the front as an infantryman during WWI. ¬†His six sons were all military men, Army, Navy, and Marines. ¬†The three Marines, 18, 19, and 21 were in the Korean Conflict at the same time, in the same general location, under miserable conditions. ¬†All seven Reese military personnel returned¬†home intact in body and went on to raise thriving families of their own. ¬†Many of my cousins have also served with honor in the military. ¬†The only family member I’m aware of, without digging into the archives, who was¬†directly lost to war, was my Aunt Bette’s husband, making her a teenage widow with a baby. The baby, my cousin Vickie, is standing in front of her mother¬†and between our grandparents in the family portrait. My mama is top right in both the portrait and the thumbnail pics, somehow descriptive of her position in my life for all time. And kudos today to my Baby Aunt Barbara, lower right in both, who put this collage together.

So thankful to have four of the original Reese Dynasty kids – Vic, Jerry, Barbara, and Roger – present and accounted for, on this Memorial Remembrance in the year 2016. Hugs and kisses all around, beloved.

Ongoing family is priceless. Feeling deeply thankful right about now.

Reese Family

 

Okay, Constant Reader, the edits took on a life of their own, so don’t even try. If, however, you’d originally thought you might, for the haiku, throw me a subject and I’ll do it anyway!

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(S)he had a face like a blessing … *

*Cervantes

Last month a friend added me to a Facebook group, an action that would¬†ordinarily raise the hair on my neck except for who connected me and to which group. I like to be asked first, but if you actually know me you can probably slip that cheese past me without an¬†implosion. Oh, but hoo-boy, the misguided adds I’ve quietly tiptoed out of! ¬†What was it about my¬†posts over the past eight years that revealed¬†a secret affinity for¬†Home Canning groups, Fundie Prayer-Chains, or a support page for Nursing Mothers? {Hypothetical examples to spare the guilty, who clearly did not know me.}

This new page, though, is serendipity – all about women and faces and selfies. ¬†One of those things is not like the others. Women and faces = good. Selfies = I suck, both at¬†taking them and accepting the results. ¬†But happily, this¬†is all ABOUT acceptance¬†– for ourselves and other women. Without camouflage, before coffee, after a run, in sadness, elation, frustration (!!), other women’s faces are endlessly beautiful to me and seeing them every day is showing me more about genuine acceptance of my own features¬†than anything I’ve encountered until now. If they can all be real, why would I think I couldn’t? When someone shares a shot that’s possibly¬†less than bare-faced, I think “No, please, show us your genuine, natural, beautiful self, the one who can trust her sisters.” So maybe I could dare hope my sisters would think the same on¬†seeing photos of me.

Over the past decade or so my¬†body has been in the process of¬†betraying me, but even at that we’re better friends than back when my pudding-stage¬†brain thought I was such an irresistible speck of humanity. I’m getting pretty comfortable in this body with¬†this face on it, but my selfies still shock me every time. “Hello, Me, this is what we really look like now from the outside, can you believe this shit?” I choose to blame it on Bad Inanimate Face because Resting Bitch Face sounds so ugly and judgy. Pretty sure two things are at work here to make me uncomfortable with my own shots:

  1. It’s MY face in the viewfinder.
  2. Selfies allow me to study my face in a way that invades my personal space and hurts my feelings.

But…sigh…the suggestion is that we each post a selfie every week for a year and write something positive about every photo we share, which I think is delightful advice, in theory. ¬†I’ve managed one so far – right now I’m busy drawing from other women the inspiration to be as naked as they are. Faces, guys, naked faces. As you were.

And being real at every stage of life is all that matters.

“If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?” – Abraham Lincoln

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On cleanliness and opportunity …

Conditions in the broken-bone sector have improved enough¬†that spa-tub soaks are again in the picture and after several weeks’ worth of spit baths, sink baths, and whimper-laden assisted showers, basking in hot water and bubbles up to my armpits is the height of ecstasy. ¬†It’s the shiznit¬†for sore muscles but beyond that it feels wonderful to be¬†clean all over again.

Luxuriating in all that therapeutic goodness makes me acutely conscious of my fellow travelers who lack access to basics like showering, washing hair, brushing teeth, stepping into a clean set of clothes. ¬†Inevitably, after days, weeks, and months on the street they’re cringing inside a filthy threadbare meat suit that reeks of underbelly and in no way represents their spirit, but it’s what everybody sees. ¬†After just a month¬†of enforced¬†immobility and minimal hygiene I’ve been dismayed to find my skin taking on a slightly gritty texture and¬†rejecting its host, namely me. ¬†The¬†nails on my usable hand are constantly grubby simply because I can’t do this right now …

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But because I ordinarily have access to all the soap and water I’m big enough to handle, I can start every new day clean, lotioned from head to toe, wrapped in clothes that smell like fabric softener and fresh air, and that alone means I don’t have to justify my needs¬†to everyone I meet, or fight for my right to exist. ¬†I have the luxury of owning words and concepts like these:

 

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… and it makes all the difference. ¬†Healing happens easier, quicker, better, and it’s a fact that as I roll through life the advantages I enjoy and the possibilities that are open to me are fairly limitless. ¬†It seems apropos to acknowledge that once in a while …

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… because¬†none of it¬†comes with a lifetime guarantee.

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When was the last time you thought you knew everything?

If it’s ME you’re asking, that was¬†another lifetime. ¬†Kim and I met twelve-plus years ago, we’ve been married eleven, and if you know him it’s no surprise that I’ve learned a lot from him. ¬†I wasn’t a¬†rookie, I knew things … just not necessarily THESE things, not for sure. ¬† So from the always beguiling¬†viewpoint¬†of my toothsome¬†mentor …

LIFE LESSON #1: ¬†It’s okay to be happy — you have to give yourself permission.

LIFE LESSON #2: ¬†Just because someone looks like that guy your mother warned you about doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fall in love with him, get married, and live happily ever after.

LIFE LESSON #3: ¬†Knowing when to be satisfied is the key to life. ¬†{Spoiler Alert: ¬†It’s when The GOOD arrives, not just¬†the Good Enough. ¬†Knowing the difference between GOOD and PERFECT is central to the equation.}

LIFE LESSON #4:  With proper motivation old dogs can learn new tricks.  {Madison affirms that truth.}

LIFE LESSON #5:  Work is not the only honorable use of time, and is, in fact, an insult to the universe if not matched with an equitable amount of not-work.

LIFE LESSON #6: ¬†The best way to get a job used to be a) say you know how to do it ¬†b) go home and read the manual/book/instructions/recipe, and c) show up¬†and do it. ¬†Even though the world doesn’t much work that way anymore, the basic principle still applies in some way to most of life.

LIFE LESSON #7: ¬†You won’t necessarily stay in command of your limbs and faculties right up until you die, so in case your heart/lung apparatus¬†keeps performing longer than your motor skills and your brain stays on the job until lights out, you’ll need things to think about, so start deliberately cataloguing scenes in your head … memories of EVERYTHING. ¬†The way the air smelled, the voices, all the¬†sensations. ¬†Every part of every face you ever loved … and the taste of kisses, all of them. ¬†Because someday if you aren’t exactly independent anymore, and the hours get long and you’re going¬†out of your freaking gourd, you can stop chasing nurses up and down the halls in your throttled-back¬†Jazzy and take some time to remember the good shit. ¬†Once you crawl into your empty box, snag a memory from the archives¬†and get settled, you won’t even remember where you parked¬†your carcass. ¬†You won’t hear anybody, you won’t see anybody, they’ll assume you’ve come unhinged, which is perfect because they just might walk away and leave your wrinkled old¬†ass alone until it’s time to ladle out the evening pudding.

*****

There are more, but I’ve been¬†pleasantly hung up on #7 since last week, and I’m preoccupied with¬†storing details in the database. ¬†The weather triggered all of this — our early transition from hot-and-humid to autumn-is-at-the-door. ¬†The air has changed, the leaves are turning, the students are back in town — it’s ridiculously easy now to memorize the feel of the mornings and evenings and what happens in between.

Last night I asked Kim to wake me up early enough to see the sunrise this morning, and by golly if that didn’t stick in his drowsy mind. ¬†6:15am he’s standing right there, on the job, already dressed (I peeked), his smile threatening to¬†blind me, so without actually opening my eyes I slid into my jammies and felt my way to the balcony (because he’d sweetly provided a hint). ¬†The view that greeted me when I finally raised my eyelids was totally worth waking up for. ¬†First of all, my husband — still smiling — and in front of him on the table two steaming mugs of coffee. ¬†And the SKY, seemingly ALL of it, splatter-painted every shade of blue and pink. ¬†We sipped our beans and listened to the city waking up while the big orange sun floated out of¬†the trees in nearly the same spot the big orange moon did last night. ¬†The air was clean, the sounds were a sampling¬†of everything, those wafty little food-smells from up the street were insinuating themselves past the railing and making us consider our bellies, the sky was growing ever lighter, brighter, and more childrens’-movie-like, with its panoramic rays and white fluffy clouds and sheer natural drama¬†until it all became so overwhelming¬†I had to come back in and lie down. ¬†I did better than Maddie — she was back in bed in five minutes.

*****

We aren’t really¬†solidifying plans to end our days as wards of the medical system, I mean, who DOES that. ¬†But if

*

Plan A) to get really ridiculously old but also miraculously in shape and just gradually eat less and less until we fade away right where we are

*

… doesn’t work out, and

* 

Plan B) to spend the last of our cash on a fabulous trip around the world and then drive off a cliff together in a brand new Porsche

*

… has to be cancelled for lack of discipline and foresight

*

WE’D BETTER HAVE SOME GOOD STUFF TO THINK ABOUT.¬†

 

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Once in a while time stands still …

For all my new friends here, delving into the archives a bit … this one from May 2014.

There are times when¬†I love people beyond words. A¬†tiny girl in our neighborhood is learning to walk. Every day now we see her with her dad or mom, pushing a little Fisher-Price cart, slowly making her way down the sidewalk. This morning I was on the balcony dead-heading flowers and here she came with her mama. They waited until the coast was clear, then headed across the street in our direction. About the time they reached the mid-point, a police car approached from the east and stopped well short of the intersection … and waited … and waited … and then when Little Miss had safely reached the curb the car rolled ever so slowly up the street. Nobody hurried her, not a hint¬†of impatience was displayed down there on that ordinarily busy street. Something very important was taking place and everything else could wait. You rock, Lawrence, Kansas, yes you¬†do.

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Fixing myself on my own …

whole world

No part of my world seems to be coming undone today, but in past days, weeks, months when it has been, writing it down has saved me. ¬†If I can tell myself what happened, life loses its¬†power to put me under. ¬†When you’re broken, it’s good to know where the glue is. ¬†¬†

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The Tale of the Topless Dancer, the Baby Clown, and the Cross-Country Heist …

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In the end it was the rain that did it. ¬†Her breath stopped short that morning as a thread unraveled somewhere in her chest and let go, while water kept falling everywhere-all-the-time-non-stop, and she instinctively knew one more day of it would finish her. ¬†That and the asshole she lived with. ¬†Him more than the rain, because when things were new and intoxicating between them the rain had felt nurturing and cocoon-ish and hadn’t sent her mood into the toilet. ¬†Zoe had to face it, The Asshole was the cause of her angst, and just like that she couldn’t wait one more second to get far, far away from him.

Bits and pieces of past escape plans, the ones every smart cookie stores¬†for eventualities, hopped around in her head. ¬†When the guy shopping for groceries¬†who persuaded¬†you¬†into his bed on sight … or had it been the other way around … lets you know, none too subtly, that you’re¬†replaceable … a girl has to start reviewing her options. ¬†There weren’t many, she didn’t even have a car, but she was pretty sure she could recruit Teresa and Bobby Lee, whose jobs happened¬†after dark, to help her with the scheme she was beginning to hatch.

Turned out things were currently loose-goosey for her day-tripper friends — they’d been hanging around for the next romp and picking up a U-Haul day-rental sounded like a nice little diversion. ¬†So while The A-hole was away doing a job, she and Teresa and Bobby Lee — who was strung out enough to let the girls do most of the work, not that he was particularly chivalrous under primo conditions — loaded all her stuff — not a huge quantity — into the truck. ¬†Zoe was possessed by a sense of urgency — go, go, get it done, get out of here — but it wasn’t easy keeping her friends on task, her brain was zinging like a sparkler, Teresa was wearing her customary 6-inch heels, and although Zoe had to admit her friend was as skilled at navigating her spikes on the ground as she was on the pole, all she wanted was to keep moving and be gone before he got home, leaving no trace of herself behind. ¬†In the kitchen she made a snap decision not to leave him so much as a fucking knife and fork. ¬†She was done. ¬†Finished. ¬†Tired of being played, tired of living at the frayed edge of the law, tired of people she didn’t know showing up at her house at all hours, sometimes sleeping there, drinking her beer like it was water, stinking up her bathroom, leaving everything for her to clean up. ¬†And the guns — she was weary of all the firearms. The Big A, so recently thought of as The Desired Beloved, kept a .357 Magnum in the bedroom, handy but out of sight, and that had been preying on her thoughts more and more, not because she particularly feared finding herself on the business end of it, but because — HOLY GOD — she had a small son who was nothing if not curious. ¬†Her SON!! ¬†Her almost-four-year-old Jacob was at the circus with his second mom, her closest friend, and she had to figure out a way to pick him up on her way out of town!

The rain took a smoke break, they wrapped up the load-out, and she got ready to say her goodbyes, but Bobby Lee had a different plan. ¬†By now, the three of them had tacitly acknowledged that this was no day trip, and Bobby Lee, the proverbial good-hearted gangstah, who would find himself¬†cooling it¬†in prison not long after, was reluctant to let her set out cross-country without a companion. ¬†So when Zoe pulled out of¬†the driveway, sitting in the passenger seat was Teresa, decked out in her CFM spikes, little ankle socks, and one of the off-beat — some might say bizarre — outfits she loved so much. ¬†The three extra thongs she carried in her battered model’s bag would have to suffice for the duration. ¬†And of course other stilettos¬†and their adorable sock friends — a girl goes nowhere without options. ¬†The tops and little¬†shorts and scarves and vests she favored for covering¬†her lusciously-acceptable assets took up barely any room, and what self-respecting entertainer leaves home without her makeup? ¬†Trip.ON!!

The day was getting away. ¬†What if he came home, saw what she’d done, and started tracking her down? The girls navigated their way¬†to¬†the circus, located Jacob laughing with his friends Izzy and Marc, and whisked him away as unobtrusively as they could considering that he was having the time of his life. ¬†Second Mom had taken the boys down to the floor for face-painting and not only was Jacob in clown-face, he’d won Best Clown Award for the amazing visage he’d given himself. ¬†Irony of ironies it ended up as¬†a full-page photo in the local paper, but not until after the little entourage was¬†halfway across the country.

ClownBoy

It must have been a harrowingly hilarious trip from the coast to the heartland … the falling-apart former country girl, the miniature clown who declined to have his face washed in any service station restroom, and the drop-dead-hot topless dancer. ¬†God only knows what Teresa thought up to keep Jacob entertained along the way, but she’d never been accused of lacking creativity.

They managed to get across the state line before the truck started breaking down and losing A/C. ¬†Having no other choice, they pulled into the first U-Haul place they saw, where not only did the fine employees put them into a brand new truck, they transferred the load for them. ¬†Meanwhile, Teresa nabbed the paperwork from the office and had a private moment with it in the Ladies’, changing enough numbers to keep law enforcement off their tails until later.

Back on the road. ¬†Drive, nap, grab junk food, drive, nap, grab junk food, straight through to the middle of the continent. ¬†Zoe wished Teresa would get behind the wheel some of the time, but she trusted herself more so she kept her mouth shut. ¬†Mile after mile over the next two days, through dark and light, her mind was occupied with the immediate past, the slightly-deranged present, and the murky future. ¬†“How – really, time to be honest here – did you end up as a 21-year-old single mom living with a big-time coke dealer who finances his operation by stealing and chopping cars? ¬†I mean, really.” Despite being more adventurous than most, she’d always seen herself as a good girl. ¬†And notwithstanding a couple of rough patches with drugs and binge-drinking and heartbreak, resulting in some ill-timed decisions and close-call extrications, she still knew she was a good girl. ¬†She just needed to get away from a bad situation and clear her head and she’d be fine. ¬†She had to get clean, too, a process that was already underway since she and Teresa had fled with only so much. ¬†Zoe knew she’d be crashing about the time they reached their destination. ¬†This wasn’t going to be pretty … but when you need time and a fortress, you go home.

She didn’t call anybody, her reasoning emotion-driven … what if her mom or dad sounded dismayed at the news that she was on her way back to the farm? ¬†What if all they needed was that much warning to head to the mountains or somewhere? ¬†What if they said, We can’t do this, you’re going to have to figure it out on your own. ¬†She knew, worn down as she was, that anything less than love and acceptance at this point would break her, so she kept her foot jammed in the gas pedal and her eyes on the road.

Halfway through the third day out she turned in at the farm, her little clown asleep in a crumpled heap on the seat, his face paint smeary and faded, and the dancer scrunched up against the door, looking shaky and shop-worn.  And surprise, surprise, no mom and dad. Genuinely stunned that her instincts were right for once, and so exhausted her knees would barely keep her upright, Zoe decided to pull a Scarlet and think about it tomorrow.

Sure enough, show up on the morrow they did, visibly displeased to see a U-Haul truck in the yard and the shock of their daughter and grandson in the flesh, big as life and twice as natural. ¬†Oh WELL, Zoe thought, so much for acceptance and a fortress … time will have to be my friend. ¬†Wonder how much slack they’ll cut me on that?

As it turned out, slack-cutting was in Zoe’s favor, but Teresa had to go. ¬†One look at her exotic, tall, blonde, stacked loveliness, legs all the way to her ass, starting with the six-inch stilettos and those baby-doll socks that promised everything, and Zoe’s mom decreed that Teresa would be on the next flight out. ¬†She was. ¬†Zoe’s parents drove her to the airport the following morning, however much her dad may have inwardly wished¬†for a week or so to get acquainted. ¬†Back to the coast, end of story, thanks and all that.

At home¬†again, Zoe¬†and her dad off-loaded the truck into an outbuilding, and a couple of evenings later around the table, he said “Shouldn’t we be getting that truck turned in?”

“Um, no, Dad, it isn’t going¬†back — that’s the rest of the story.”

So she filled it with gas from the farm tank, and with her mom and dad following she drove, drove, drove, drove, far out into the countryside, parked it where it would be discovered, and in the pitch dark carefully wiped it down, leaving it unlocked, keys in the ignition. ¬†The whole time she was industriously removing DNA from the truck, her dad fretted and urged her to hurry. ¬†He kept saying “I just know we’re gonna get caught.”

Her mom finally told him “Hush. ¬†You’ve seen entirely too much TV.” ¬†That and her enthusiasm over the night’s shenanigans¬†almost moved Zoe¬†to forgiveness for her initial coolness. ¬†But no, not¬†ready yet, and she had¬†too many overwhelming things to figure out before she’d know who she was again … so she crawled into her parents’ back seat, nodded off on the way home, and lay on their couch in a fetal position for a couple of weeks while time took a vacation.

One morning she woke up to sunshine and her old¬†self-mocking mantra popped into her head, “Good girls go to heaven. ¬†Bad girls go everywhere.” ¬†Well, hell, she thought … let’s get going.

uhaul-in-desert

{Not exactly fiction — you can’t make this shit up.}

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Red Leaves

Celia 1 She stepped off the train in Atchison, weary and vaguely conscious¬†of stares as she made her way to the station, maintaining a firm¬†hold on the well-worn carpet bag she’d inherited from her mother. ¬†The long trip out from New York had sapped¬†her energy and optimism — just getting as far as Chicago had been a daunting challenge in itself — and she wanted nothing more than to find her boardinghouse and sleep for a week, not that she’d be afforded that luxury.

During the layover while arrangements were being made for continuing to Kansas on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, she had given¬†serious thought to staying put. ¬†Chicago in 1905, after all, was a place of substance — diverse, full of life and no doubt abundant opportunity. ¬†But she’d made a commitment and when the time came she set her jaw for the Jayhawker state.

In 1887 the state of Kansas had opened the Soldiers Orphans’ Home in Atchison, and when St. Patrick’s Catholic Church wrote to the¬†East Coast dioceses some years later appealing for young women of integrity to care for the children, our girl saw an opportunity. ¬†Celia Miller (ne√© Mianovskis) desperately wanted out of the tenement flat on the edge of a New York ghetto that she shared with her father and two of her five brothers. ¬†She was almost eighteen¬†and beginning to picture herself as an¬†old maid, and she didn’t appreciate the slightly breathless feeling that gave her. ¬†As the baby of the family, whose mother had died as a result of her birth, she’d been spoiled and coddled by her father and brothers, gruff as they all were. ¬†She’d been allowed to avail herself of the bits and pieces of education that were accessible, to ask questions about the world, to dream … now she needed to try her wings but there was no ladder in place¬†for a lower-class¬†girl with ambition. ¬†The Orphans’ Home, ironically, offered freedom, independence, and excitement, three things notably missing in her life to date, and all she had to do to reap those rewards was ¬†travel halfway across the United States, giving up everything she’d ever known.

Her father had told her stories of Lithuania, and her brothers, too, as if they hadn’t been¬†born in America just like she was. ¬†Proud and feeling unfairly disenfranchised by their first-generation foreignness, they pretended to remember, as their father did, a Lithuania before the Tsar, before all the strife, before hunger and relentless hardship. ¬†Their bravado and inventiveness became an important part¬†of the protective shield they tried to form around their small sister. ¬†The brothers thought, and managed to articulate among themselves after a fashion, that if she had a “real” country to believe in, a “real” history to cling to, her own slightly alien persona would matter less to her, and thus come across in a more pleasing¬†way¬†to the people she met. ¬†So their stories were wide-ranging and sometimes fanciful, but always with a lesson underneath. ¬†For instance in Lithuania, they said, there grew something¬†called a tallow tree, with heart-shaped leaves that turned bright red in the fall. ¬†It was a temperamental tree, but once established it was difficult to uproot or control, and tended to eventually¬†overtake the surrounding area. ¬†That one they especially liked, and savoring their cleverness they repeated it to her over the years until it was part of¬†her DNA. ¬†There were other stories, most all of them about being brave, strong, and determined. ¬†She was a lucky girl, our Celia — other¬†brothers in their circumstances¬†might have counseled a fey coyness, a manipulative sort of avoidance, a safe and chaste route through life. ¬†And just so is a¬†life determined.

Papa Mianovskis, baffled from the first hour by his tiny daughter and more so with each year that passed, was anxious to do right by her. ¬†He loved her in his own way and didn’t want her to leave, but life had made him a realist — he knew he had nothing of worth to offer her, not even his continued protection. ¬†He thought she might be beautiful, and he hoped that might somehow save her. ¬†Thus confused, well-meaning, feeling slightly broken by all that had transpired since he last saw his homeland, he blessed her, and with a sob in his throat gave her more money than he could spare, wrapped in a handkerchief from the Old Country, along with his mother’s rosary. ¬†Her two brothers were equally generous, not only with cash earned from prized American jobs, but also with¬†small¬†food bundles and bear hugs. ¬†Her three eldest brothers were long out of the house, living by their wits like everyone else, and Celia knew it was unlikely she would ever see them again. ¬†She wondered if Papa would hug her — he had never done so — but of course he simply patted her lightly on the shoulder, sniffed, cleared his throat, and took out his hankie, swiping¬†it across his mustache before walking¬†resolutely to the door. ¬†It was time for him to go to¬†work, and for Celia’s brothers to get her to the train station by hook or crook and still make it back for their own shifts.

As Celia’s various trains wended their way cross-country toward an entirely new life, she found herself watching for glimpses of red along embankments and in tree copses¬†of every sort. ¬†She was thankful for the benevolence of St. Patrick’s in providing funds for the trip to Kansas, that she would earn a small stipend for her work at the Orphans’ Home, that she would be provided room and board, at least in the beginning, and most of all that her heritage and the caring of family, haphazard as it may have been, had prepared her for life. ¬†She sincerely hoped that was true, as she could only imagine the obstacles and challenges to be faced in an orphanage. ¬†And Atchison — would it be anything like New York? ¬†A red-leafed¬†tree along the way would be just the thing¬†for easing anxieties.¬† She knew her own heart, she knew she’d been strong under certain circumstances … but what more was life bringing?

Later, she couldn’t recall the details connected to locating her boardinghouse, or exactly how she got there. ¬†She remembered being thankful that she had only the one bag, an ancient Persian once¬†cherished by her dead mother, to safeguard. ¬†She knew she’d had some soup — delicious! — and a night’s sleep on a feather mattress. ¬†And then it was morning, with its¬†eastern Kansas sunrise, and time to see what reality looked like this far from New York.

An officious-looking man collected her from the boardinghouse and trotted her to the orphanage forthwith, speaking not a word on the way.  She tried to think of ways to start a conversation, but the ride was jouncey and her head seemed to still be sleeping after the long journey.  It scarcely mattered, the distance was short and the destination in sight before she could fully get her wits about her.  Atchison, it turned out, was nothing like New York.

Her escort deposited her on the lawn stretching in front of the orphanage and she could only assume she was to present herself at the front door, so she set out on¬†the curving sidewalk, looking around her as she went. ¬†An imposing red brick building, along with others of the same description, how many she couldn’t tell, loomed¬†in front of¬†her. ¬†She shored¬†up her courage once again¬†and had just rounded a shapely¬†hedge when she saw it, ten feet from the main doors — a small tallow tree, its heart-shaped leaves turning from green to shades of red. ¬†Celia Miller caught her breath, paused, and strode forward into her new life, looking for all the world like Papa. ¬†She could not know then that she would marry well, bear children, and live a life of genuine service … but she was on her way, with a small red leaf tucked up her sleeve. tallow leaves

Soldiers Orphans' Home Atchison

Soldiers Orphans’ Home Atchison

******************************************************************

**Author’s note: ¬†The preceding is fiction, made up out of whole cloth, based on the photograph of Celia Miller, found while sorting through boxes¬†of family pictures with my two sisters. ¬†The only thing I know about Celia is her name. ¬†Correction, two things: ¬†she was also beautiful. ¬†She was clearly connected with Kansas and my family line in some way, and much of my Dierking/Fuhrman family settled¬†around Atchison, so it wasn’t a stretch to imagine a story for her. ¬†I’ve grown to love her and need to know more …

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