Monday, December 29, 2014

List, continued

4.  Someone asked me, can’t remember who (see?), what I felt – FELT – when I was told I had cancer. The question made me realize I never stopped to think what my mother felt when she was told she had cancer.

    My mother had a way of handling the inevitable that can only be described as Stoical. She did drama – my, Lord, yes, she did drama, but only when it involved something that could be changed by drama. The inevitable was always met, Stoically, with “you do what you have to do.”

    On the other hand, my mother never expected much from life. She accepted, but seldom expected. There were few things she had any desire to do, other than what she had already done. She enjoyed visiting with her children and grandchildren and would travel any distance to do so. But she had no desire to see London or Paris or even the Grand Canyon. 

    I think she learned early on that hers was not a life that would impact the course of history as we read of it in books. And she had no need to be otherwise. The only thing I ever remember her wanting was a cabin in the woods. And in the end, toward the end, she had that, at least for a few years.

    As for myself, I’m not sure I can say what I felt, because I felt nothing … and everything.  And I knew I would do what I had to do.

Friday, December 19, 2014

My Life, the List

1. Life’s a funny thing. You’re born, you live, you die, and somewhere within you are touched – by love, by pain, by joy, by fear - by the lives of others. It is a wheel that spins without our control or resistance. And somewhere along the way, maybe, we will touch someone else’s life as well.

2. I know there are lives that impact the course of history. Mine is not one of those.

3. I’ve always been a list maker, but always for the reinforcement I received from crossing things off the list. I make lists now just to be able to function. My oncologist calls it anesthesia-brain and said about the time I recovered a reasonable amount of functional memory following the mastectomy, I would be starting chemo. And chemo-brain is another real thing … she added.

So, my life runs on notes, now. Mostly just one or two words that will remind me that I must order new contacts, soon, and I must get my glasses repaired so I will be able to see adequately to drive myself to treatments, which will undoubtedly cause my eyes to be very dry and make it impossible for me to wear the contacts I order. 

I have two overdue library books that apparently have been in my car for two weeks. I had no idea it had been that long since I had been to the library.

I need hand soap for the bathrooms and the kitchen. I’ve been using the Dial Gold which is antibacterial and was prescribed for use before surgery, and my Dawn dishwashing liquid – both of which dry my skin terribly.

Some of these things have been on my list for a couple of weeks.

Sometimes I forget to look at the lists.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I should be sleeping

    I should be sleeping. It’s 12:15 AM, and I should be sleeping. I should be tired, and body is but mind isn’t; so I hear the whisper “write” “write” “write.” Insistent and persistent and damned annoying. And much too talkative of late. So, in spite of best efforts to the contrary, I am awake, and writing.

     I have been resisting the whispers. Writing is too personal, too telling. And there are things that if said would perhaps be uncomfortable for people I don’t wish to cause discomfort. Perhaps I will start an anonymous blog. Perhaps I shouldn’t say I will. Perhaps some obsessive person or another would see that as a challenge and set out to scan all blogs in netspace to find the one with my telltale writing idiosyncrasies. Because I have them, I’m sure. I’m not sure I could recognize them for myself, but I am sure I have them.

     But for now, for tonight, for this blog that has already been identified as belonging to me, I will write something not quite crazy. Although I am sure there will be some who think otherwise, but I have to write something and the story of the formaldehyde man seems to be the one that wants to be written. Tonight. This blue moon night. Once in a blue moon …

    When I was a young girl, growing up in various neighborhoods of Memphis, TN, - which is another dozen or so stories in themselves - I would pray to be made blind. That is not a new revelation. I have mentioned it to a few people before. It’s one of those comments, when said, is most often said offhandedly because I must say it but fear if I make it sound too important the person to whom I am speaking will be uncomfortable with the revelation. As if I am opening a door they really don’t want to look inside because they may see more than they want.

     Which is exactly how I felt for the first 20 years of my life.  It took me that long to figure out how to not see too much. 

     But in early years, before I had learned that convenient survival skill, I had the occasion to encounter the formaldehyde man.

     I rode buses a lot as a child and teenager and even young adult. They were inexpensive and convenient and most often the only form of transportation available to me unless I called a taxi, and taxis were definitely outside my budget. So, I rode buses, Memphis city buses. We did not have school buses then, we did not have desegregation then. School was far enough away that I chose not to walk unless I didn’t have 10 cents for the student fare. Sometimes, when the weather was having one of those “I’ve just got to get outside” kinds of days, I would walk home in the afternoon. But mostly I rode. I continued to ride when I got my first real job downtown and even after I started college, but the incident I remember of the encounter with the formaldehyde man was during the high school years.

     He often got on the bus at the stop after mine and walked past me to his seat. He didn’t go all the way to the back, which was designated “For Colored Only”, so I assumed he was white or Caucasian as we said then. (When did that stop being a designation of race? When did we start identifying race by color?  I guess we always did, we just weren’t as honest about it. We were still selectively naive.) He always stopped at the last seat just before the back door of the bus. Convenient to exit, perhaps, but I will never know because he never left the bus before I did. So, he walked passed me on boarding, and I walked passed him to exit. And he smelled like formaldehyde.

   He was the oldest person I had ever seen. Maybe the oldest I have ever seen. His face had fascinatingly deep wrinkles and reminded me, in spite of myself, of the apple head doll I had made one Christmas. I can’t remember the procedure for the project, but I do remember the creases and crevices as the apple aged and withered. But more than his face, I remember his hands. They were dark, browner than a coffee with milk brown, but not as brown as black. And so papery thin there were places where the skin appeared to be peeling back, folded back, like the corners of very old pages in very old books.

    More than either the face or the hands, I remember the formaldehyde. I had been exposed to the odor in the biology classes I took in high school.  I had dissected crayfish, earthworms and even fetal pigs. I knew the smell of formaldehyde. I wondered, and not just briefly, if it might be the reason for his longevity, his preservation. I knew the only way to know for sure, if this man was alive or … not … was to look into his eyes. 

     Life is in the eyes. It’s obviously there when we are living and just as obviously not there when we are gone. 

     One day, in spite of the danger of seeing too much, curiosity overwhelmed self-preservation.  I nervously, but with determination, reached for the cord to signal my stop, gathered my books close to my chest and walked reluctantly to the back exit. I avoided looking at the man’s face and the man’s hands, and anywhere at all except the floor of the bus ridged with rubber matting. I wasn’t breathing as I reached out with my left hand to grab the pole to steady myself for the first step down. I didn’t breathe as the brakes hissed to a stop nor as the door snapped open. I didn’t breath as quickly, surreptitiously, with my face partially hidden, I supposed, by my extended arm, I looked.

    There is a moment, sometimes longer than moments as we are accustomed to counting them, but a moment, nonetheless, in the continuum of life, when there is neither life nor death in a person’s eyes. It’s that moment between the two.  I think that day on the bus is the only time I have seen it and known what it was. Now I only recognize it in retrospect, after the fact, in pictures, perhaps, that were taken near the end, before we knew, even, that there was to be an end. 

     I think that’s the way it should be. I’m not sure our eyes need to see that much.

Friday, June 08, 2012

The Night the Bed Fell

( ... with apologies to James Thurber)

As I have stated elsewhere in this blog, I believe, I am an ardent fan of James Thurber. Very few people can make me laugh, consistently. I have never appreciated jokes the way I should, and I find humor to often be too predictable to be truly funny. Thurber, for whatever reason, consistently hits my funny bone. So, this morning, when the bed fell, I immediately thought of his story, “The Night the Bed Fell.”

Unfortunately, in my case, there was none of the accompanying madness and mayhem that James recounted. In fact about the only similarity between his story and mine is that a bed did, indeed, fall. I was not in either bed when they fell. In my story no one was in the bed. The reason for the fall was totally predictable, however. In an effort to lift the bed high enough to fit a trundle underneath, my friend’s father had raised it up on wooden legs (which reminds me of a song we sang in church during my growing up years when I was less heathen and more faithful, but that’s another story and has nothing at all to do with this one).

Since I agreed to work in the French Quarter both yesterday and today, I asked if I might stay last night in the “former slave quarter apartment” my friends rent just around the corner from the gallery. With their usual generosity they assured me there would be no problem with that arrangement. They had assured me earlier that a new bed had been purchased to replace the one that was too hard for anyone to sleep in comfortably. I had assured them I never slept in the old bed, anyway, but had actually found the hide-a-bed to be more conducive to a good night’s sleep. They took that as confirmation of how badly they needed to replace the bed.

With all of these assurances, I was confident of a good night’s sleep.

Imagine, then, my surprise when I entered the apartment and discovered a bed that had been raised to dizzying heights. I thought, momentarily, that perhaps it was a new rendering of the Princess and the Pea, but I immediately scoffed at the thought. Anyone who knows me knows I am no princess. With or without peas.

It quickly became clear the modifications had been made to accommodate a trundle with an additional mattress underneath the big bed. Closer inspection revealed the modifications were dependent on the integrity of a couple of two-inch square supports, approximately 10 inches high, under both legs at the end of the bed. The headboard end was more securely supported with brackets and braces and serious wooden boards.

It was also clear that one would need a short ladder just to get into the bed. Had there been a ladder readily available, I may have actually been tempted to try sleeping at loftier heights. The pause to look for said ladder was just long enough to convince me to sleep again on the pull-out sofa.

Shortly after awakening this morning, and after my shower and the first cup of coffee, the bed fell. One of the sticks supporting one of the lower legs cleaved in two and that corner of the bed crashed to the floor.

That’s all. Nothing was broken, otherwise. No persons were injured. I don’t even recall my heart racing. I think I may have expected it. I think I may have been disappointed otherwise.

I do wish there had been dogs to bark, maybe a scent of camphor, a little hysteria or cries of “He’s dying!”; and I would have loved to have had a pile of shoes to throw into the hallway. But, then, no one can tell a story like Thurber. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Room above the Noodle Shop

The Room above the Noodle Shop

He passed again today in that slow deliberate way he has of seeming always to be going somewhere else but content as well to be exactly where he is, and I watched this time more closely as he went from shop to shop, corner to corner, passing here or there in some uncommon random way to consider where he was or where he was going or perhaps, even, where he had been;

and I was sure his life was full of stories and adventures of lust and longing and all the lives he’s lived; full of places and people and stories forever changed by his passing; and so I followed as he walked this way from corner to corner and block to block, and with each step the mystery and the marvel grew and grew from large to grand until I was quite sure I could never, even if I lived forever and walked the miles and blocks and corners on my own, know such a life as he must know.

And I found myself falling into that moment just before despair that always seems to follow when we look too closely at our lives compared to others and find them somewhat lacking, and just when I began to fear my life may really be as dismal as one life can be, the man I had been following, admiring, envying stopped at a door set into a nook right beside a noodle shop window, and with a nod to the woman just closing the shades, he took out a key, unlocked the door and began to climb the steps to the top.

Moving on ...

     It’s been the better part of a year since I laid to rest my best and truest friend. I have had many opportunities since to write the pain and joy of everyday living and post it here for the world to read. But each time I came and saw the picture of my dear old friend, I would have to leave it a little longer at the top of the page. A tribute to all he was to me for so long, for so much living. He is still missed.
     I have been spending a good part of my life for the past month in the French Quarter, the Vieux Carre, working weekends for friends of mine who have a shop on Royal. And rediscovering the city girl who has been so long on the bayou she had almost forgotten how to drive in the city. That’s a common phenomenon here, apparently. For years I have listened to folks tell me they “don’t drive in the city.” For years I have wondered what that meant. I had begun to discover that in myself until I started coming in on weekends, finding my way into the Vieux Carre, maneuvering the narrow streets, avoiding unfortunate encounters with pedestrians and bicycles. I have discovered one gets better with practice.

     As long as one remembers the pedestrians have the right of way.


     Even when they are wrong.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Moose, 1998-2011

There should be a law … or a rule or at least an unspoken agreement … that writers should never acquire pets. Especially dogs. Most of us know how vulnerable we are to the slings and arrows of those we love; how easily crushed we are by the slightest breath that bodes anything less than good and perfect harmony. We expect that and build our barriers, construct our walls, fortify ourselves against those hurts that will inevitably come.

But we trust our dogs, just as they trust us. We know as surely as we know the sun will rise and set on the world somewhere today that our dog will love us and trust us and accept us even when we are at our worst. Few of us ever feel that way about another human, but we easily feel that way about our dog. So, we go on for years, taking him for granted, giving him our leftover time, showing him every side of our self that we would never trust to another human.

And we forget…conveniently, easily, too completely…that one day, no matter what, he will die. And take with him all the best there is in us and leave us alone with our worst. Very much alone. Alone in that total aloneness we can feel only after we know what it is to be loved absolutely and unconditionally, the way only our dog can love us.

I said goodbye to my friend, Moose, yesterday after 13 years of being loved by him and only sometimes being worthy of that love. My granddaughter says there is a dog heaven where he will be a puppy, again. I hope that’s true. Just in case there is something to life after death for the pets we love, I buried him on the bayou, very close to where he caught the dead fish and nudged the turtle shells and buried more things than I will ever find again.

Moose was the best dog ever. A much better companion than I will ever be. He set a good example. He will be greatly and unconditionally remembered and loved and missed.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Life in the Fast Lane

I should have saved all of my writings concerning the accidents in front of my house. I would have enough for a book by now. My affection for the traffic in my personal corner of the world began long ago, when I first moved to southern Louisiana. I soon became aware that no one can go anywhere without turning around in front of "the shop." The shop was my late husband's place of business. It's used for temporary storage, now, and the occasional indoor yard sale, (which, by the way, is an oxymoron, as I have recently been reminded); but the traffic pattern has remained the same.

Anyone who goes anywhere in my parish (county) must come here first to turn around. I have always suspected information is given out to strangers passing through, requesting directions to anywhere within, say, a 30 mile radius, ..."well, ya know dat shop dere, where da man uset ta sell dem tvs and veeceearahs? Well, ya go dere, sha, and ya make dis turn in da udder direction, den ya go ..."

I even suspect google maps, Garmin and Tom-Tom use this as the starting point for getting anywhere in the parish. They've just cleaned up the language, "go 2.2 miles then turn right, turn right, turn right, turn left, go ..." Coming from the other direction the miles change and the rights turn to lefts and vice versa, but the effect is the same. You cannot get anywhere in this parish without coming here first.

As a result, there have been a lot of bizarre accidents. There was the time a car ended up sitting on the broken shaft of the telephone pole. And the guy who dredged both of my ditches but managed to leap over the driveway right in the middle. Of course, we've had a couple of sugar cane trucks lying on there side. And more recently, some people may recall, a tire off one of those sugar cane trucks hit my front window and knocked one entire brick wall of my house away from the underlying wall.

Tonight I lost a mailbox. Actually, two were lost, but only one was mine. The other belongs to my neighbor across the street who has shared these vignettes of life with me over the past thirty years. Some light colored truck decided to take his ditch, this time, instead of the road, and that included plowing under our mailboxes and the post that held them up.

And then he kept on going. He lost a bumper, but kept on going.

Presumably, no one was hurt.

Mailboxes can be replaced. Grass will fill in. One more story to make me shake my head. One more story for the blog. Like Paul Harvey used to say after telling the rest of the story, "Good day ..."

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Viktor Frankl and Having Choices

A young friend, today, reminded me of an author I have not considered in way too long. Viktor Frankl saved my life. The circumstances were long ago and far away and of not much consequence, anymore. But save my life, he did. And he probably deserves more frequent remembrance.

I do not often have difficulty expressing my thoughts about matters of deep meaning to me, but, it seems, I struggle here. I tried to assemble these thoughts into some sort of meaningful review that would, perhaps, inspire someone else to think thoughts differently. But still I struggle.

I will think on that more. Until then, I will share those particular words that were the most meaningful to me at the time, so many years ago, when I was someone else, but, in some ways, more me than I am now.

(Does it ever seem to anyone else that we are devolving instead of evolving? That we are born closer to who we are meant to be and we live our lives struggling to stay connected to that self, only to find the more we struggle the further away we get? It's sort of like drowning, in a way. If we could but trust that we were once fish, how easy it would be to swim. If we could cease the struggle ...)

The Words of Viktor Frankl

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

When we are no longer able to change a situation - we are challenged to change ourselves.

More of his words can be found online. A life-changing experience,possibly, can be found in his book, Man's Search for Meaning.

And if I can find some sense of my thoughts, one day, I will write a more worthy review.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How come ...

I began my writing this evening with a small frozen daiquiri from a drive-through window. We have those here, in southern Louisiana. I actually never had to leave my car. I drove right up to the window on the side of the bar and told the girl at the window, whom I have known since before she was out of diapers, that I wanted a Margarita flavored frozen daiquiri. This was served to me in a styrofoam cup with a straw for convenience. A fast-food drunk on the road. I don't get it either. The whole business seems to me to be a recipe for disaster, but I am responsible enough not to take even one sip until I am back at home, out of my car, and comfortably ensconced for the night.

And I always try to sip slowly, as I imagine one would have sipped a mint julep out on the veranda of an overly large plantation home. Thinking about the plantation home necessarily creates images of slavery and abuse, spoiling the taste of the julep and breaking me unpleasantly free of reverie. As I strive for a more appropriate image, comes the pondering.

... after I have had just the right amount of an alcoholic beverage, words I have been searching for all day, all week, maybe for months, begin to tumble and roll and literally drop from my fingers. Forcing me to struggle to keep them from spilling all over the floor and oozing out the door and across the patio and plunging into the bayou, streaming inexorably to the ocean, exposing every thought I ever had not only to the gator and that awkward looking bird looking back at me from the water's edge but to every living thing on this earth.

How come?

How come words can't find me when I am already sitting at the keyboard, coffee cup comfortably close by, when I'm feeling lazy and at ease with myself and the world? How they can't line up, obediently, and stand there without moving until I can get them in their proper places, with time to check the hemlines, and the dirt behind the ears, and make the necessary adjustments?

I want to write sort of slow and southern with a little bit of sassy. I tend to believe more words are better than less - as long as there aren't too many more. Just enough to temper one's progress across and down the page, allowing time to savor the journey and encouraging the reader to sit back, settle in, stay awhile.

How come my words can't fall like that? Why does it always seem as if there were a pendulum swinging relentlessly between rush and struggle and absolute dearth of ideas? What do I do when my glass is empty?