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Winter, particularly these two weeks, are very difficult for me. It seems especially hard this year. I am heavier than I have been. My depression is thick. My back hurts again. I am having a hard time remembering to be grateful for the wonderful things I have and that I’ve recently had an amazing trip to somewhere lovely and warm. And that in itself makes me sad.

When I trudged up the stairs from the bus station yesterday, as most I do most days, I came into Union Station (a story in itself). There are two remaining original benches in the new version of this place where I used to find such solace. On bad days, like yesterday, I try to lower my stress levels for a minute by sitting on one of these benches and just soaking in the spirits that still remain from thousands of travelers who passed through this building for over 100 years – including my own grandfather.

As I watched the light flooding through the high, round, window, a Cat Stevens song came on over the piped-in music. I think it was “Morning Has Broken”. I remember hearing that song when I was in the sunny front window of my first restaurant at 17. At that time, I knew where I wanted to go to college. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew where I wanted to go. I was a little slip of a thing, a dancer. I was looking forward to my future, even though I couldn’t see what it was

There was a line in “Out of Africa”, one of my favorite movies, that says, “Perhaps God made the world round so we could not see too far down the road.”

I believe that.

I never thought I would be living in Denver, would have been here for over 30 years. That wasn’t in the plan when I stood in that sunny front window that afternoon. I wonder when I lost track of the plan? I wonder if I ever had a plan? MKL and I were talking about this the other day – how I have a hard time with creating a plan and sticking to it, especially when I have more than one thing to focus on. Together, he and I are building a plan, and that feels good. I never thought I’d be divorced, much less re-marrying. All of that makes me look forward to my future.

I watch my daughter planning her future – I think she’s better at it than I was, but then she’s more down-to-earth than I was. But I wonder, in twenty years, will she look back on being just 18, and having all these plans and dreams, and have achieved them? Or will she be like me, looking back and wondering, “What happened?”. If that’s the case, I hope she finds herself happy with where she is.

There’s that other saying that I love (credited to many) that “Life’s what happens when you’re making other plans.”

I believe that too.

So what’s the point of this ramble? I suppose it’s that when we are younger we cannot see our future, no matter how much we think we can or how optimistic we are. It’s great that we have that vision, but it’s a real challenge to make the vision a reality. I didn’t really understand that at 17. I do now. So that’s part of the point.

And the other part is that I am a gloomy otter and the eighth anniversary of my Mother’s death is next week.

I’ll find my light again. I promise.

DSCF3165

Little Cayman.

The Fiddlehead Ferns of Fate

The passionate young man in overalls
has aged gracefully.
He tends his garden as he tends his children,
lovingly and in such a way
that each progeny,
be it flesh and blood
or root and leaf,
knows that it is treasured.

The wildness of soul is –

For now –

Expressed in a mystical empathy with beautiful beasts
and in decadent desserts.

He has danced in the pouring rain
and judged the quality of absinthe in a dim cafe
and always remembered a single promise.

A man of such heart
deserves
the cool and wonderous touch of fate
found in another’s hand to hold
as he passes through
this sun-dappled world.

I hope
he finds it
somewhere admist the ferns.

Ready for take-off at the 1940s Dance at the Boulder Municipal Airport.

Boulder, Colorado.

Quote of the day: “When unicorns headbutt, there are no winners.”  —  Josh Stern

Daily gratitudes:
The giant bolt of lightning outside my house tonight
Bats winging their way through the twilight treetops
Crickets
My bed
My parents

 

Because of our senses, so many parts of the past are not lost to us.

Sight? We have images from as far back as 1826.

Sound? The first audio recording ever is from the 1860s. For Christmas last year, when I bought Kelsea her record player, I also bought an album of historical figures speaking, just so we could have a voice to attach to a name and a picture. We are cut off from this part of the past prior to the recorded word.  Such is not the case with visuals, as we have paintings prior to photographs that give us images from centuries ago.

Taste? Well, for centuries some people have had good taste and some people have had questionable taste, but we’re not talking about that kind of taste. We’re talking about, say, turnips. A turnip today – at least one grown organically – likely tastes pretty much like a turnip six hundred years ago tasted. Ergo, status quo. We retain a history of taste due to the unchanging nature of basic foodstuffs.

Touch? Ditto taste. A cat’s fur feels the same as it did one thousand years ago. I think. Not everything is the same to the touch but there is a living history, A rock still feels like a rock.

And so we come to smell. And here is where history fails us. The sense of smell is lost with time – it is the most fleeting and least replicable of the senses. You know the fragrance of a rose, yet one fragrant rose is unlike another. And many roses are having the fragrance bred out of them, either because of people’s allergies and oversensitvity, or because the scent is sacrificed for a more stunning visual beauty. Will there come a day when the scent of roses is just a memory? Can it even live on in essential oils if there are no more fragrant roses?

Florals aside, while we can look at Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s picture, Netherlandish Proverbs, and you can see a lot of what life might have been like in a Dutch village in the 1500s.

You can imagine sounds, because you know what a voice sounds like, what a goat sounds like, what a cacophony of noise sounds like, but what is missing is being able to imagine the rich aroma of the place and time.This was an era when people didn’t bathe often, lived in close quarters, kept animals on small parcels of property, and had no particular system for waste disposal of any kind. Of course, they didn’t have all the trash that we do now, but organic waste is just as smelly as any other kind of waste. And there was possibly a lot more organic waste than we have now – I have no idea what they did with dead animals.  Buried them, I hope. Or ate them, perhaps?  Times could be tough.

This one sense, which in each of us today, is so variable – some can smell things that others cannot – is the element of the past from which we are most disconnected. A curious thought.  Especially when scents can trigger such memories. When I open boxes that I packed up five years ago the day after my Mother died, her scent can waft out as if she’s by my shoulder. Perhaps she is.

When I was pregnant, I would have olfactory hallucinations – memories of smells from my past – primarily gardenias.  It was lovely.

But then Kelsea came up to me this morning and said, “Mom, smell my shoulder.”

I guess that sense of smell can be a mixed blessing.

 

 

Today’s guest poet  —  Conrad Aiken

Chance Meetings

In the mazes of loitering people, the watchful and the furtive,
The shadows of tree-trunks and shadows of leaves,
In the drowse of the sunlight, among the low voices,
I suddenly face you,

Your dark eyes return for a space from her who is with you,
They shine into mine with a sunlit desire,
They say an ‘I love you, what star do you live on?’
They smile and then darken,

And silent, I answer “You too — I have known you, — I love you! –‘
And the shadows of tree-trunks and shadows of leaves
Interlace with low voices and footsteps and sunlight
To divide us forever.

Rocky Mountain PBS is showing the Ken Burns film “The Civil War”.  I just came upon it tonight, and don’t know if this is a one-night affair or if it will be rebroadcast again this month, this month – and April 12 specifically – being the start of the Civil War.

I first encountered this film on my honeymoon.  We were winding down and spending the night in Taos, New Mexico in a chain hotel, eating Lottaburgers and purusing the cable channels when we found it.  I had no idea what it was, but I was fascinated and entranced. On viewing it tonight, I find that I still am.

I’m not quite sure why.  Perhaps it’s because Ken Burns obtained an amazing amount of photographs from the era and the battlefields.  I have no idea where he found them all.  Perhaps it’s because it’s simply a marvelously well told story that brings this important chapter in history leaping so vividly back to life.  Perhaps it’s because the background sounds – crickets, frogs, cicadas, the cries of blue jays – take me back to my beloved homeland (I am, and will always be, a Southerner).  Perhaps it’s because I fell a little in love with the late Shelby Foote the first time I heard his honeyed drawl.  He was always one of the people I’d have at my dinner party, if I could invite anyone in history.

The War Between The States was (from a Southerner’s perspective) a war of honor and identity, with very little glory.  It was an economic war, with slavery being the lynchpin of the Southern economy.  It was futile for the South in the end, and caused a rift within the country that has never entirely healed.  As I’ve said before, some Southerners still seem to be fighting the war, and I have always had a sense that the South is just biding it’s time, waiting for the right moment to rise again.  There was a pridefulness about the War that I was aware of even as a child growing up in North Carolina 100 years later.  I can still recall old men – grandsons of Civil War veterans – marching in their grandfather’s uniforms in a parade down Main Street once.  I remember my father had to explain it to me – I must have been very, very small.

A few years ago, Kelsea and I did a bit of a Civil War tour as part of a trip to Virginia and Maryland.  We went to Manassas, Loudon, Antietam, Harper’s Ferry, and a few other spots, exploring, learning and picking up the vibe of places where so many lives were lost.  It was powerful and we’d both do it again, investigating some of the many other sites we didn’t get to see.

All this is feeling particularly close to home these days. Perhaps it’s because of a certain uneasiness in the world and the economy.  Perhaps it’s because 1% of the people in the US are taking in 25% of the nation’s income, according to an article by Joseph E. Stiglitz in Vanity Fair.  With the uprisings in Egypt, Libya and other Middle East countries recently, protesting inequality and injustice, I wonder if we in this country are not due for an uprising of our own, one that pits class against class, similar to our late Civil War.  If such a battle were waged, who would triumph?  And would the price of victory be too high for anyone to pay?

As I say, this film fills me with reflection.

Photo title: Bottle Sheik

Do you see the peeking sheik?
Longmont, Colorado

Quote of the day:  “The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions-the little, soon-forgotten charities of a kiss or smile, a kind look, a heart-felt compliment, and the countless infinitesimals of pleasurable and genial feeling.”  —  Samuel Taylor Coleridge

In His Era
(In abstract memory of the late Clark Wang.  Rest in peace, Clark.)

It was last week we found ourselves in Cat’s Cradle
After sangria on the too-cold rooftop of Papagayo’s
Waiting for the music.
We danced and smiled and bloomed
And Zan lusted after me
And I laughed and said no.
(I learned months later in a Boston parking lot
that he had a wife and six kids.  I was glad I had said
no.)

Sarah and I always wound up our nights
at the Continental Cafe, even when they were close to closing.
Coffee and Perrier
and talk of darkness in the lights of our souls.

Tonight, I indulge in Irish Whiskey with Christine
in a too-loud pub.
We talk of everything, and I lust
sight-unseen
after her 20-something son,
forgetting how old I am.

In my heart’s age,
my mind’s years,
I am still sitting on a wooden bench
at Cat’s Cradle,
marvelling at the music
as Trina and the band warm up,
and wondering who will
walk through the door
and what will happen
next.

I am not creeping up
on a half a century
unplanned,
writing poetry at night
on a public bus.

Or fighting a lingering battle with death,
and losing.

Or perhaps I am.
Perhaps we all are.

I took a 6-mile hike this morning.  It was muddy.  It was windy.  I was all alone with the prairie dogs and four hawks.  I cranked my iPod and got blisters on my feet.  I thought and thought.

I’m taking advantage of the few days before I start the new job to get outside in the warmth while it lasts.  This morning’s was a lovely hike, even with the blisters.  And as music will, the songs on my iPod took me to a myriad different places.  There were some songs I couldn’t listen to now and others I didn’t even know I had.

I’m venturing into a new world next week.  I’ve almost been thinking of it as a grown-up world – a world where I do real work, commute to a big city, be professional.  It feels like a long time since I’ve really done that.  The prospect is exciting.  It’s ironic how far this new reality is from the reality I thought I’d be facing right now, and there’s a poignancy to that.

In my teens, I had the world before me – it was the open-door world.  I could do anything.  I felt invincible and fearless.  I made decisions clearly and rationally.  I worked my ass off to get into and through college.  I had such hope for the future.  I can remember that feeling as if it were yesterday.

I was three days past my 22nd birthday when I got involved with my husband-to-be.  My 20s were tumultuous, mostly due to that relationship.  My life didn’t take the path I had planned for myself, and somewhere along the line, the choices I started making felt less like choices than requirements.  I started falling into things instead of making decisions about my life.  And I very much wanted to be married.  I needed to know that someone wanted to marry me – that I was loveable enough for someone to want to marry me.  Looking back, I placed FAR too much emphasis on marriage.  And so, I worked.  I grew professionally in a job that I fell into.  I think the only big decision I made during this time was to buy our house.  Otherwise, I was drifting through a fairly interesting, fairly hopeless world, and trying by myself to make our marriage work.  I consider this the semi-conscious world.

Then came my 30s.  The marriage got worse.  We separated for a time.  That was my decision, and it was a big one.  But I reneged after only a few months.  I was still drifting – it didn’t matter whether Pat came back or not, so I let him come back.  I was still pretty unhappy in my marriage, but things were a little better.  Pat was working and we had two houses, so we lived apart for part of the week.  I was travelling a lot for work and I loved that.  I was successful.  I was in the professional world.  I felt grown up.  But I felt something was missing.  And so, late one night, looking in a mirror in a New York City hotel room, I decided I wanted to have a baby.  In fact, that night was just about exactly 15 years ago.

So I consciously moved from the professional world to the world of motherhood.  As sometimes happens, having a child improved our marriage for a while.  But I was still working, always working, trying to support the household and be a good mother.  I left my job of 13 years when Kelsea was two – a restructuring resulted in my position being eliminated and I declined the replacement position they offered me, so the parting was mutual – and that was kind of a choice for me. Pat was working and was supportive of me pursuing my writing and photography.  For a few days.  In an ironic turn of events, he got fired about a week after I left work, and swore he would never work for anyone again.  My choices vanished.  I was back to working again and not really by choice.  I was missing my daughter’s childhood.  I was drifting, but I was dedicated.  I was in a stifled world.

Finally, I hit my 40s.  I had gone through several layoffs at several jobs, and had been working multiple jobs for years.  I was literally working myself to death.  I could feel it.  I would go days without seeing Kelsea awake.  Finally, I decided again that something had to give.  I decided to take a once-in-a-lifetime dream trip to the Caribbean.  Pat wasn’t interested in going with me.  So I went.  On a beach on Cane Garden Bay, my soul opened up and I recognized, buried inside me, that happy, hopeful young woman of my teens.  God, it was good to know she was still there, and that she just needed a little peace and sun to emerge from beneath my skin.  I had entered a hopeful world – where I could see potential.

I came home feeling happier.  The once-in-a-lifetime trip became two or three times a year.  It was the only way I could hold onto who I was, since I was still working so hard at home.  But regardless of my travel, my marriage worsened.  I grew happier – he grew more sullen and angry.  He drank more.  My trips became escapes from my real life.  And that was not acceptable.  My parents died. My life was too painful.

Finally, I found the support and love I needed to take the step of leaving my marriage.  I told my husband I was moving out, told my daughter we were getting a divorce.  I shook up my world and entered the transitional world.  During all this, I got laid off, but had a temporary reprieve for 9 months.  I had made a big choice to get divorced.  But I was immediately in another relationship – it was what inspired the change.  I felt supported enough to start my own freelance business, but couldn’t seem to motivate myself to pursue it.  I just wanted to rest after all those years of working.  I know it irritated my new partner.  But we had plans.  We kept talking about our future.  It was all about to happen at this time, this year.  And the relationship ended.  I had the rug pulled out from under me.

In that relationship, I had felt that teenage hopefulness again.  A vibrancy to my future.  Like my dreams could actually come true.  I was willing and eager to work with a partner.  The depression that settled on me in the last few months has left me a place that’s worse than drifting – a world of despair.

So now, I have started over.  Started making choices again.  I am choosing a job that I want (where they want me).  I am choosing to try to invest in a house here.  I am choosing to re-enter the professional world and the big city, armed with the knowledge that I will be learning something that will serve me well in the future.  I am choosing to continue writing – my novel and a new book, and articles.  I am choosing to stay close to my daughter for a while longer, even though she continues to encourage me to move to a warm island somewhere in the sun.  But not yet.  Right now, I am in the conscious world.  And I like that.

I’m making some plans for myself.  They are fledgling.  And a part of them, the first part, aside from the new job, is that I need to grieve for the dreams I’ve lost.  For the love I’ve lost.  And in grieving, I can let it go.  And enter a brave new world.

The Bonnet Channel (aka Turner Classic Movies) is focusing on the work of director Hal Roach this week.  Among many other movies, Hal Roach did a series of short films featuring a goofy taxi driver in various mishaps with friends, reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy.

The taxi driver theme reminded me of the worst first date ever, one I had when I was 19, back in Boston.  I worked in Harvard Square at a little clothing shop called Serendipity, and would take my dinner breaks at the old Mug n’ Muffin.  I loved the Mug n’ Muffin.  It had ancient waitresses who had been there forever, wooden chairs and tables with no tablecloths, and a big open space.  It sounded mariner’s bells every fifteen minutes so you knew what time it was (which is how I learned what the mariner’s bells were.)  And it had wonderful coffee.  It was a local hangout, and people who frequented it had a nodding acquaintance with one another.

I had a nodding acquaintance with a handsome young man with beautiful blue eyes.  We were quite shy around one another, but finally, we actually started talking.  He was a taxi driver.  After a couple of days of chatting over coffee, he asked me out.  I was so excited.  He picked me up a few days later at my house.  The plan was to go to the movies and then go out to dinner.  We were both so nervous – I think we really liked each other, and we both wanted to make a good impression.

I’d let him pick the movie – if it was produced after 1950, I knew very little about movies, even then, and I thought this would give me a good idea of his taste in such things.  We parked at the theatre and waited in a long line to get tickets, encouraged that the film would be good because there was such a crowd.  I thought in passing that the crowd was a little different, but didn’t really pay attention.  It was a foreign film, but it had the word ‘Taxi’ in the title, which he took as a sign that it would be entertaining, since he knew that driving a cab was a world of entertainment in itself.  Truly, he had some amazingly funny stories about his fares.

We got our tickets and settled into two seats in the center of an aisle in a packed theater.  I noticed that I was about the only woman there, which I thought odd, but at the time, I just thought how many taxi drivers there were in Boston.  (Can anyone see where this is going yet?) 

The lights went down, the curtains opened (it was an old movie theater) and the film came on.  The first frame was a full-body shot of a naked man sitting on a toilet taking a dump.  Seriously.  We were both a bit taken aback, but hey, it was an artsy foreign film, so let’s just stick with it.  The man in the film gets up  from the toilet, goes to the bedroom and proceeds to have sex with his male lover.  And you saw everything.  EVERYTHING. From every angle.  Going into every orifice.  Oh. My. Goodness.

We both just sat there, horrified, not looking at each other, not saying a word, mesmerized like two people watching a train wreck.  After that endlessly long scene, the film progressed to a semblance of normalcy with German subtitles for about 5 minutes.  Then we dived into graphic Glory Holes in department stores, Turkish Baths, and public park toilets.  My date started whispering, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I really thought it was about taxis.  Do you want to go?  We can go.”  Remember, I was 19.  I wanted to be sophisticated.  I didn’t really know if this guy was joking, testing me, being sincere, or just being a creeper.  I still wanted to impress him, so I whispered back, “No, it’s okay, we can stay if you want to.  Maybe it has some artistic merit.”  Artistic merit my ass.  Or the asses of everyone on the screen. 

We continued to whisper these lines to each other through the entire highly intimate movie, all the way to the end.  He could have just said, “Let’s go,” and I’d have said, “Right behind you.”  OK, given the context, I wouldn’t have said “Right behind you,” but I would have agreed immediately.  I spent the entire film aghast and trying to figure out if I should be offended, interested, aroused, shocked, suspcious…on and on and on.  I had no idea what the right reaction should be.  Maybe I should have said “Let’s go.”  Maybe he thought I was into it.  Who knows?  As it was, we spent an endlessly uncomfortable two hours, and when we got out into the fading sunlight, we had no idea what to say to each other, except that we continued to apologize.  I was pretty ready to laugh it off, but he remained positively mortified.

I suggested we put it behind us (or something like that) and go to dinner, and he readily agreed.  We got to the cab, and it was dead. Dead.  Dead like, I realized at this point, our freshly planted relationship.  He tried and tried and tried to get it to start, with no success, until he finally had to call for a tow.  This failure, even though it was no big deal, just added to his embarrassment.  He couldn’t even look at me with his pretty blue eyes.  In fact, he never met my gaze once after we left the theater. 

So, he went off in the tow truck.  I lived close by, so I walked home.  He never called me again.  He never came into the Mug n’ Muffin again.  I saw him once, pulling out of an alley in his cab the following spring, and when our eyes met, the same look of terrified mortification rushed into them, and he pulled away quickly.

I suppose my reaction to the film wasn’t the right one.  I should have insisted we leave immediately.  Who knows what he thought of me that I sat through it.  At any rate, it was a relationship that clearly was not meant to be.  (And though this was both a first and a last date, it was not my “worst last date”, but that’s a story for another day.)

The film was called “Taxi Zum Klo” for those of you who wish to see it or who wish to be sure to avoid it.  It was actually a groundbreaking, award-winning film about gay male life.  With a title like that, his thinking that it was about taxis was understandable, but a little extra research might have been helpful.  Poor guy.  I hope he, to this day, thinks of it as his “worst first date ever” story as well.  And I hope that now he can laugh about it.

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