Thursday, January 18, 2018

That Perfect Melancholy Cranberry

I can't believe Delores O'Riordan, the lead singer of the Cranberries, has died at the age of 46.  I've felt so sad about this and have been wanting to sit down and write this since Monday when I heard the news, but it's been a shit show of a week, so I haven't had a moment until just now. 

I remember when my girlfriends and I, during my Senior year of high school in 1993, drew names for a Christmas present exchange, and my dear friend, Mittie, gifted to me the Cranberries, Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can't We? audio cassette tape. 

I adored that tape.  Played the hell out of it.  Still know every word.  And every other Cranberries album I came to own in the years following.  When I was in college, I cannot count how many hours on end I spent driving my old Blazer on wide Texas highways singing along with Delores...  And crying sometimes.  And filled with angst at others.  And feeling beautiful at still others.  Singing all the while.  Her voice is embedded in my psyche, imprinted on my heart. 

When the new Cranberries acoustic album came out in 2017, it felt so personal.  So immediate.  So perfect.  Who knew then that it would be the final manifestation of the rebirth of their music?

I had dreamy plans to hire the Cranberries to play for me one day, I was that moved by the new album.  And that particular dream is, sadly, now only a dream with Delores gone.  But here's the thing that makes that okay.  I know the lives of others don't revolve around me.  I know that.  But I cannot help but be so grateful in knowing that her time here, on this Earth, at the same time as me, was supposed to be part of and influence my life in a deeply moving way.  I feel lucky to have received so fully her beautiful music that stirred me completely; it's like the clouds parted when I heard those old songs reworked again in the newest album.  It wasn't made for me, but it also was, if you know what I mean.  For us, actually.  Not just me.  It was a true gift.  I am able to appreciate the rebirth of that music before her death and see it as a reconnection, an homage, and a perfect ode to the beauty the Cranberries gave the world.  So, I'm grateful for the reminder.  And my obsessive nature pretty much ensures I'll keep playing Cranberries over and over and over and over... absorbing it more fully each and every time.  

So thank you, thank you, thank you Delores, for all your delicious melodies and dreams through the years, and especially most recently.  I've been faithfully listening to your voice every time I turn on music since Monday.  I'll be dreaming my dreams with you. 

(Also, here's a not great, but also awesome faded black & white photo... it's of Delores O'Riordan's house in the Irish countryside that I took from the window of a bus in Ireland circa 1998 when the bus driver pointed out that it was hers.  Slainte, dear Delores, even if only in spirit.)


Sunday, January 14, 2018

That Perfect Clandestine Deep Ocean

"'What do I do now?'  I asked her.
'Now,' she said, 'you step into the bucket.  You don't have to take your shoes off or anything.  Just step in.'
It did not even seem like a strange request.  She let go of one of my hands, kept hold of the other.  I thought, I will never let go of your hand, not unless you tell me to.  I put one foot into the glimmering water of the bucket, raising the water level almost to the edge.  My foot rested on the tin floor of the bucket.  The water was cool on my foot, not cold.  I put the other foot into the water and I went down with it, down like a marble statue, and the waves of Lettie Hempstock's ocean closed over my head.


I was holding my breath.  I held it until I could hold it no longer, and then I let the air out in a bubbling rush and gulped a breath in, expecting to choke, to splutter, to die.
I did not choke.  I felt the coldness of the water--if it was water--pour into my nose and my throat, felt it in my lungs, but that was all it did.  It did not hurt me.
I thought, This is the kind of water you can breathe.  I thought, Perhaps there is just a secret to breathing water, something simple that everyone could do, if only they knew.  That was what I thought.
That was the first thing I thought.
The second thing I thought was that I knew everything.  Lettie Hempstock's ocean flowed inside me, and it filled the entire universe from Egg to Rose.  I knew that.  I knew what Egg was--where the universe began, to the sound of uncreated voices singing in the void--and I knew where Rose was--the peculiar crinkling of space on space into dimensions that fold like origami and blossom like strange orchids, and which would mark the last good time before the eventual end of everything and the next Big Bang, which would be, I knew now, nothing of the kind."

Those words aren't mine.  They are Neil Gaiman's, excerpted from The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  They encapsulate the feeling with which I'm left after finally reading this book.  I bought it--signed by Neil himself--at a reading he performed and talk he gave at the magnificent Majestic Theater in Dallas a few years ago.  Somehow I'd forgotten to read it then.  But then I noticed it on my bookshelf recently and was moved to read it now.

Drinking deep.  Drinking so deep he's filled with Lettie Hempstock's ocean.  And he needs saving, not dissimilar from Charles in A Wrinkle in Time needing to be saved from the IT.  And as the battle with the hunger birds ensues after he and Lettie exit her ocean, she indeed saves him, and then he hears someone humming a tune "from a long way away," and it's an old nursery rhyme: Girls and Boys Come Out to Play.

"...the moon doth shine as bright as day.
Leave your supper and leave your meat, 
and join your playfellows in the street.
Come with a whoop and come with a call.
Come with a whole heart or not at all."

And that nursery rhyme is one I know, too.  Sort of.  It turns out that it's clearly the inspiration for, and loosely smooshed together with, Wee Willie Winkie (the reference to which I only discovered as I was reading from a children's book my daughter has), in a song called Babylon by an old band called Clandestine that I used to go see play in Austin years ago when I lived there.  It makes me wonder how many other nursery rhymes are conglomerated into this dear song.  I've found two references now in this one song that's always made my heart sing.  Maybe I'll come across other references as time marches on.  In the meantime, I'm loving the ongoing serendipitous connection.  The Wee Willie Winkie reference is in the fifth stanza, and the Girls and Boys Come Out to Play reference is in the eighth stanza.  And astonishingly, and unwittingly, the sixth stanza pretty much sums up this part of Ocean quite nicely.  Babylon was released by Clandestine years before the Ocean book, and I'd be shocked if Neil ever heard the song, but I suppose one never knows. 

As soon as I finished reading Neil's Ocean yesterday, I went and listened to Babylon, singing quietly along, every word by heart, and all the while connecting the dots and juxtaposing the two, drinking in the metaphors.  Filled up with my own deep ocean.

Here are the lyrics... it's hard to find a version of the song to listen to online, of course, if you don't already have it at your fingertips like I do, but it's worth the effort....

"How many miles to Babylon?
- Threescore and ten.
Can I get there by candlelight?
- Yes, and back again.
How many miles to Babylon?
- Threescore and ten.

Down on the carpet, you shall kneel,
While the green grass grows at your feet.
Stand up straight, and choose the one you love,
And choose the one you love.

If wishes were horses and beggars could ride,
I'd be over the sea with you at my side.
But if "ifs" and "ands" were pots and pans
There'd be no work for a traveller.

How many miles to Babylon?
- Threescore and ten.
Can I get there by candlelight?
- Yes, and back again.
How many miles to Babylon?
- Threescore and ten.

Up all night, and running through the town -
Upstairs and downstairs, in my nightgown.
Peering through the windows,
And crying through the locks,
"Oh, where is my sweetheart, it's eight o'clock!"

Lavender green, lavender blue
If you love me, I will love you.
I'd skip over ocean and dance over sea,
All the birds in the world can't catch me!

How many miles to Babylon?
- Threescore and ten.
Can I get there by candlelight?
- Yes, and back again.
How many miles to Babylon?
- Threescore and ten.

Come out with me, and come out to play -
The moon, it shines as bright as day.
Oh, leave your supper, and leave your sleep;
Come down with your friends now,
Here in the street."

by Clandestine

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

That Perfect Wrinkle in Time

Reading out loud to someone is such an act of love.  I adore it.  I have read to my children since they were wee babies.  I used to read prose and poetry in speech competitions in high school, which is really a form of dramatic reading up in front of judges and a crowd, and I used to be good at it; won prizes for it.  There's something about having someone hang on your words, as you breathe and speak life and heart into letters formed into words, formed into sentences, formed into deep meaning, all just printed on a page.  It's such a gift to be able to give.  These days, I am almost always on the giving end of reading, when I read to my children in the evening-time or to their classes at school, but the times when someone has taken the time to read books out loud to me... it's pure magic.  Absorbing a story through the voice of a loved one is truly a wonder.  I sometimes dream I'm being read to.  Clearly something deep in my psyche needs that. 

Tonight I finished reading out loud the last two chapters of A Wrinkle in Time to my son.  We've been reading the book a chapter or two at a time for a while now.  Not every day, but pretty consistently.  The only other time I have ever read A Wrinkle in Time, I didn't read it myself at all.  My third grade gifted and talented teacher, Mrs. Maxwell, read it to our class.  I remember loving it as she read it.  Hanging on her words, spoken to us, seated in a circle around her, in her gentle voice.  When I was home in Louisiana for this past Thanksgiving, I ran into her in the Kroger parking lot (I cannot go to Kroger in my hometown without seeing folks I know... ever).  Mrs. Maxwell somehow hadn't aged and still looked exactly as I'd remembered her, and it was this happy run in with Mrs. Maxwell that inspired me to read this book to my kids now.  My daughter wasn't interested in it, and she fell asleep every time we tried to include her, so it became something just Max and I shared after the first couple of chapters or so. 

*I certainly don't want to spoil the story for you if you've not yet read it, but there will be some spoilers in here.  Can't be helped.  So, you've been warned.  I wish you had a Mrs. Maxwell or a me to read the whole book out loud to you, because it's divine read that way, but go read it on your own.  Or out loud to your own child.  Or someone else's child.  Or come and read to me.  I'd happily take another turn listening.  Anyway... on to a few points from the book that moved me to write this.  That's where I was headed.*

I'm not going to recount the whole story here, but the gist you need to understand is the battle the characters have with IT... the Dark Thing... the thing that makes everyone it infects alike, rhythmic, makes them take the easy path... makes them give in to what isn't intrinsically them ("How am I not myself?" -- I Heart Huckabees). 

After the IT had held Meg's father captive for many Earth years, and Meg and her friend had rescued him at long last, he explained:

"Yes.  Nothing seemed important any more but rest, and of course IT offered me complete rest.  I had almost come to the conclusion that I was wrong to fight, that IT was right after all, and everything I believed in most passionately was nothing but a madman's dream.  But then you and Meg came in to me, broke through my prison, and hope and faith returned."

*And speaking of this same kind of real, true life passion, I recently wrote down a quote from my boss at work one day who said something along these lines... not quite as poetically, but still:  "Without obsession, there is no passion, and that's not a life worth living."  This sentiment keeps recurring.... Living passionately is not a madman's dream.  It's the very point of living.*

And now I'm going to, at my whim, chop and ellipses the hell out of passages from tonight's reading where Meg must save her little brother, too, from the IT... my strange run-on quotations may be a little of a jumble, but try to absorb what's there so I can give you the flow of the feeling embedded there:

"'Don't worry about your little brother.'  The tentacles' musical words were soft against her. 'We would never leave him behind the shadow.  But for now, you must relax, you must be happy, you must get well.'  The gentle words, the feeling that this beast would be able to love her no matter what she said or did, lapped Meg in warmth and peace. . . .  'You must eat slowly and quietly.  I know that you are half starved, that you have been without food far too long, but you must not rush things or you will not get well.'  Something completely and indescribably and incredibly delicious was put to Meg's lips, and she swallowed gratefully. . . .  Time no longer had any meaning. . . . 'Please sing to me, Aunt Beast. . . .'  It would be impossible to describe sight to Aunt Beast, it would be even more impossible to describe the singing of Aunt Beast to a human being.  It was a music even more glorious than the music of the singing creatures on Uriel.  It was a music more tangible than form or sight.  It had essence and structure.  It supported Meg more firmly than the arms of Aunt Beast.  It seemed to travel with her, to sweep her aloft in the power of song, so that she was moving in glory among the stars, and for a moment she, too, felt that the words Darkness and Light had no meaning, and only this melody was real. . . .  'What can I tell you that will mean anything to you?  Good helps us, the stars helps us, perhaps what you would call light helps us, love helps us.  Oh, my child, I cannot explain!  This is something you just have to know or not know. . . .'  'Kindly pay me the courtesy of listening to me. . . [a sonnet] is a very strict form of poetry, is it not?  [And w]ithin this strict form [of a sonnet] the poet has complete freedom to say whatever he wants, doesn't he?. . .'  'You mean you're comparing our lives to a sonnet?  A strict form, but freedom within it?'  'Yes.' Mrs. Whatsit said.  'You're given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.  What you say is completely up to you.'"

And when Meg realizes she is the one who has to go and save her tiny genius little brother from the despondent, cold, conforming force of IT, struggling with all her might through her terror of confronting the Dark Thing to get there, her guides, Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which all gently lead her by her thoughts to help her realize she has something the IT doesn't have that will help her beat it, help her get Charles back.  Meg's heart pounds in her chest as she visualizes the pulsating brain on the dais that is the IT as she approaches it with slow steps, relying on pure faith that she will succeed, still wondering what thing it is that she has that IT doesn't... 

*And it is here that my son interrupted the story and shouted excitedly in a eureka of a moment: "HEART!  Meg has a heart!  IT is just a brain.  It has no heart.  That's why Meg will win!  She will use love power."* 

I don't think I have to tell you how the story ends.  But I will:  it, indeed, ends with love.  If I have been able to teach Max by my loving example through the years to recognize with such purity and excitement that it is the heart that wins before it's even obvious in the story, I swear I can do anything. 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

That Perfect Sensational Place in Dallas

I tried something completely new today.  When I started this blog, I intended to write about fun and interesting things.  Maybe even sometimes things to do or must see things in Dallas.  Occasionally, I'd dive into a memory of something or veer inward, but mostly my posts were outward facing.  See, I started this blog because I was trying to occupy myself with creating and focusing on positive... er, perfect... things when I desperately needed positivity in my life.  But then things got even harder (as they do), and I had lots of surgeries and other hard things that turned me very inward.  And lots of introspective postings have come pouring out of me.  More of those to come, I'm sure.  But not today.
Today's post is more akin to the ones that started this whole thing... well, at least kind of.  Today's post is physical.  Sensational.  Oh that's a good word for this.  It's about something purely sensory and sensational.  I actually DO have a place.. ahem, and experience... to recommend.   

I am a junkie for massages.  I cannot understand how any human doesn't want/crave/need massages on a regular basis.  I mean.  Really.  I started getting massages regularly, and out of necessity, when I started having my joints fail me.  It started with my left shoulder in 2009.  I first went to a chiropractor, who also did massage, and only did that a few times as it didn't seem to help much.  Plus the guy sorta creeped me out.  So then I switched to non-chiropractic massage.  I've tried all sorts.  Had memberships at massage places.  Visited spas.  Had medical massage and acupuncture.  During some times on my broken-body journey, I've gone for massages as frequently as weekly.  Other times, I had forced dry spells because my broken parts were too fragile to take it.  Nowadays, I go every two to three weeks for maintenance.  By that point, my muscles are often at their breaking point, and they need some deep release.  Hypermobile joints make muscles work too hard.  Plus Life on top of that.  And I'm still not physically right... maybe never will be... but massages help me be and do the most I can with this vessel I've got.  My current masseuse is really a physical therapist/masseuse.  It's a fully clothed experience, with deep pressure, working out all the nasty knots and hot spots.  And sometimes hurts, in that necessary way.  I first went to him on a prescription from my shoulder surgeon (the good one).  He knows all the names and locations of all the muscles and explains why the pains in my body show up the way they do.  He helps me feel better physically and helps me understand this damn bodily pain that persists.  I'm not complaining.  Really.  I'm about to get to the point of this post.  But I do rely on those massages as much as I rely on water to drink.

I had a physical therapy massage yesterday.  That was necessary.  And helpful.  And all the good things.  But it wasn't new or sensational.

Today.  That was new.  And sensational.

I went to King Spa in Dallas today with a close girlfriend of mine.  King Spa is a traditional Korean spa, known in Korea as a Jjim-Jil Bang.  My friend frequents King Spa and has been many many times over the past however many years it's been since it opened.  This was my first time.  I'm going to attempt to recount what happened chronologically because I'm still sort of in blissful shock. 

First, my friend picked me up and we drove far north, almost to Farmer's Branch, to King Spa.  She paid for us to get in with a Groupon, and the difference we paid as an entry fee was a meager $7.  They gave us wristbands with keys and "gym suits" and sent us on our way.  We walked from there into the locker room, and we were immediately confronted by a nude woman bending over.  I scanned the room and saw that it was, indeed, an entirely nude locker room.  Women just strolling around.  Paying for spa services.  Drying off.  What have you.  All nude.  A few in gym suits.  I've been in many locker rooms at gyms and spas.  Many.  Most women's locker rooms have folks changing clothes, of course, but usually they're more modest.  This was loungey-er.  More casual.  More intentional.  Different. 

My friend and I found our lockers and changed into our gym suits, and then she gave me a tour of the massive facility.  (Let me stop here to explain that the entire place is NOT a nude spa.  There are plenty of co-ed parts where people wear the gym suits.  Or bathing suits if it's the co-ed pool area.  And, by the way, the gym suits are unflattering baggy shorts and t-shirts.  Nothing fancy or glamorous about them.)  We toured everything... the pool area, restaurant area, a sea of recliners, a movie theater, the very many sauna options (hot and cold varieties, each with themes), and also the bar area overlooking the pool.  It was almost like Disney World.  But without Mickey.  And I wouldn't take my kids (though some people do... I saw some).

I warned my friend that she was giving this lovely tour of this massive place to her most directionally-challenged friend (I seriously have no sense of direction...) and that I'd probably still have questions and lose my way through the maze of distracting places, especially as I kept finding myself focused on bizarre murals and other decor choices.  More about those later as we go.

Next, we returned to the locker room.  And it was a When In Rome experience.  After having two babies and seven orthopedic surgeries in the past decade, I've lost any bashfulness I may have ever had about my body.  Though in all honesty, I've never really been that shy.  And I also took twelve semester hours of life drawing (nudes) in art school, which translates to eight hours a week for two years, which also helped me appreciate the human form in a non-sexualized but aesthetically pure way.  And, indeed, though it all sounds weird writing it down (I almost didn't even write this blog post because I recognize this all sounds bizarre-o to us 'Mericans), it became normalized pretty quickly.  I guess that's what happens when you're surrounded by folks all doing the same thing unabashedly.  It's easy to just go along with the flow.

Just off of the locker room behind glass doors and stacks of orange hand towel-sized towels, there was a large, very wet room with rows of showers and bathing areas lining the walls and four "baths" -- three in the center and one at the back of the room.  Three of them were varying degrees of hot (large bubbly hot tubs), and one was cold where women would occasionally plunge for a short time.  I stuck with the hot water, though my friend braved the cold one more than once.  And one girl dived into it, though a sign said no diving.  There were lots of signs telling people what to do and not to do everywhere... so many that even this lawyer was overwhelmed and didn't read them all.  Except the one that said something like "Avoid the Toads," which were hot water faucets shaped like toads spitting scalding water into the hot baths.  So we blissfully soaked nude in the hot tubs with whatever random women happened to be there with us at from time to time until we were getting pruney.  I could even pretty much float on my back in there, like I love to do in swimming pools, it was so roomy.  I loved the weightlessness in the bubbly hot tub.  (I so need to buy a hot tub... that will be another blog post some other time.)  Again, it sounds kinda crazy, but really it was relaxing and peaceful despite the naked strangers everywhere.  Most of the ceiling had these large circular dimple shapes, and I kept finding myself tracing over them with my eyes as I relaxed into the hot water.  And my eyes liked focusing on them better than the back-lit, slightly faded, Venus de Milo staring down at us from the center of the ceiling.  And I wondered if the shiny circular air vents here and there among the circular shapes in the ceiling were really cameras.  Then I decided they better not be and convinced myself to stop thinking about it.

Then I heard about this magical thing called an Aroma Ceremony Scrub.

This.  Is.  Something.  I.  Never.  Imagined.

Essentially, there are these plastic coated pink massage tables lined up in a row (maybe ten or so) behind a 3/4 high marble wall with Simpsons themed glass work above the walls (kinda like the glass partitions between booths at restaurants... but why Simpsons (like Homer and Bart Simpson... really), I have no idea, and I wouldn't have even noticed the Simpsons theme if my friend hadn't pointed it out... it was that subtle), with deep barrels of hot water being filled and refilled between the tables.  And each table had assigned to it a Korean woman whose job it is to bathe, scrub, and massage the women who sign up for the Aroma Ceremony Scrub.  You can choose to get only a scrub or only a massage, but I don't know why in the world anyone would choose only one when you can sign up for the whole shebang.  I expect many people reading this have had professional massages at some point.  And those are typically nude.  With tactfully draped covers.  They're not like this.  They're modest and dark.  This is not that.  But it's also not weird somehow.  Getting scrubbed and bathed by these skillful women was a treat I had no way to expect would be so professional and so relaxing.  The deep respect they had for cleansing and treating the body well was deeply apparent and like no other experience I've had.  A few times, I thought to myself, is this legal?  I also thought to myself about various people I knew, wondering if they would ever find themselves in the situation in which I found myself.  And then I wondered how these women came to choose this as their profession.  And then I thought about how most Americans are prudish -- we're taught to be that way by so many societal norms and pressures.  But most other cultures aren't.  Silly Americans.  But mostly, I drifted off into blissful relaxation.  I won't go into detail about the treatment (this ain't that kind of blog), but I suppose it's pretty much what you would expect an Aroma Ceremony Scrub would be in a place like this.  Except it's 90 minutes.  Nintey.  And they wash your hair.  And douse you with giant buckets of hot water that feel like ocean waves throughout everything.  And it's a hundred times more incredible and calming than you can imagine.  Actually, there's no way I could have imagined this experience ahead of time, so that measure is probably way off.  And here's the kicker, when you finish, they give you a card for another free entry.  They create lots and lots of addicts that way, I'm sure.  From the other women I saw in there getting massages and scrubs, I can say they certainly aren't hurting for customers. 

My friend didn't do the Aroma Ceremony Scrub today as she opted for a regular (dry) massage instead, though she described to me the time she did do the Aroma Ceremony Scrub as "epic."  That's pretty fitting.

When I finished up and changed back into my lovely gym suit, I met my friend for lunch in the restaurant.  We both felt happily woozy after our treatments - she described it as feeling high.  I think we needed to eat by that point, too, and we were uber relaxed.  Good thing I had no important decisions to make right then (which is a break from the norm... and a welcome one).  I had beef and egg ramen, and she had this bright red super spicy chicken soup.  We sat in the most delightful majestic little chairs with pink leather cushioned seats and white ornate woodwork with gold detail on the backs as we slurped up the goodness.  But the chopsticks were smooth metal which did not work with my slippery noodles, and I felt like an idiot using them, so I switched to a fork and spoon, a little let down with my skills, to be honest.  But it was delicious.  And we chugged water.  Lots of it.  And my friend pointed out the bizarre mural in the restaurant area, which I hadn't noticed because I'd been too focused on the wall-sized menu of all sorts of goodies.  And I noticed a weird wall with pumpkin decor near the Sphinx room across the way.  And the menu showed that they had shaved ice that I'm gonna definitely have to try next time. 

We then headed to all the crazy saunas in our pretty gym suits... one had a pyramid theme, with a sphinx outside, which was lovely, but kinda too hot pretty quickly.  One had giant amethyst geodes everywhere.  We tried a few others, and the themes of them are kind of running together in my mind, but they all had varying levels of heat and kiln-like quality, and varying murals or other wall treatments.  In some we sat, and in some we had to lie on the floor -- sometimes on mats, sometimes on large bamboo coverings.  I wondered if my metal cane would get hot to the touch sitting in the saunas, but somehow it didn't.  And then we went in the cold room, where we could see our breath (but I couldn't blow smoke rings, but for some reason I tried), but we didn't stay in there too long.  And then we spent quite a while in the oxygen room, where we laid on mats on the floor, this time with head cushions, apparently breathing in extra oxygen, which seems like it can't be a bad idea.  We only heard one man snoring in one of the saunas, which is surprising given how relaxed every single body in that place seemed.  But we definitely saw lots of people passed out asleep on the recliners and couches in the open areas (good for them).

When we'd had our fill of laying in saunas that felt like lying on a warm sandy beach but without all the sand, we headed back to the locker room for one last soak in the hot tubs and a rinse off in the showers.

All of this took about five hours.  For the Aroma Ceremony Scrub and my ramen, at the end I paid a grand total of about $129.00.  It may be the most well spent $129.00 I've paid in quite some time.  Good thing they gave us free entry return vouchers.  And thank goodness for friends who are comfortable enough with themselves and their friends to introduce them to such a bizarre and sensational place.

*You know you totally want to see this place.  There's even a picture of the toads you're not supposed to touch on that page.  And here's D Magazine's description: (Note, even D Magazine recommends the Aroma Ceremony Scrub.)

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

That Perfect Profound and Profane

I was just home visiting for the holidays, and one morning, as we were chatting in our pajamas in the dining room, while I sipped coffee and my Dad organized his pressed pennies, he brought up a song he wanted to play for me.  Little did he know it's a song I already knew, but in a version by a different artist.  The song was Hallelujah.  His version was one on violin by Lindsey Stirling.  My version was by Jeff Buckley.  We listened to each other's versions on YouTube.  And then we talked a little about Leonard Cohen, who originally wrote the song.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much my Dad knew about Leonard Cohen.  But then also not surprised. 

But my favorite thing about this conversation and this moment of sharing music was my Dad's observations about the lyrics to Hallelujah.  "Profound and profane," he said.  The combination of those words resonated and echoed, bumping back and forth through the grey matter between my ears, and then settled and nestled down somewhere deep in my heart.  That. 

Webster's defines "profound" as:

1 a : having intellectual depth and insight
   b : difficult to fathom or understand
2 a : extending far below the surface
   b : coming from, reaching to, or situated at a depth : deep-seated
3 a : characterized by intensity of feeling or quality
   b : all encompassing : complete
And "profane" as:
1 : to treat (something sacred) with abuse, irreverence, or contempt desecrate
2 : to debase by a wrong, unworthy, or vulgar use 
I told him I think all the most beautiful, most human things in the world have an element of both.  And as I sit here now, I know that the coupling of those two words speaks a truth about what is so moving about that song, and about all sorts of art, music, places, and people I sincerely adore and expresses a notion that is so often hard to put my fingers on.  But it's magnificent.  And I'm so pleased to have the words for it now.


Saturday, December 23, 2017

Those Perfect Tears

The other day, I was reading some posts by a work colleague of mine about his wife's diagnosis, treatment, and recurrence of a brain tumor.  It moved me to tears, though I've only met his wife one time, and recently.  And I had no idea when I dined with them at a firm holiday dinner party that she was undergoing chemo and awaiting results regarding recurrence.  She was joyous and charming.  It's amazing what lies inside of us that we don't show to others.  And in one of his posts, he talked about being so overcome with tears that he had no words.  And how the tears were holy tears.  He is devoutly Jewish, so his post had many religious references that I didn't fully understand.  But, he spoke of "the gates of tears" being open and the experience of crying being holy.  That, I intimately understood.

My Mom has told me before, but recently told me again, that she believes crying brings us closer to God.

Holy tears.  I suppose that concept resonates with me.  I cry easily when I am moved deeply.  In those spiritual moments when the entirety of the universe is just so very close.  I think that's what my Mom means.  And, like my friend who found himself with tears but no words at his wife's suffering, that wordless tearful state is one I have found myself in on more occasions than I could possibly recount during my life.  Crying is a release and a relief.  It removes tension.  It lets us get underneath the facade we force when we have to push through other things in life while the unspoken things underneath lie in wait.

Crying is the only thing that evicts the elephant that likes to sit on my chest sometimes.

My Dad tells me I am the most tender-hearted person he knows.  I think having plentiful tears just goes with that territory.  

I've also been told my tears caused rain to fall outside.  One of the most beautiful sentiments. Sometimes, I even believe that to be true.  There have been too many thunderstorms beating on my windowpanes during bouts of my crying for me to overlook.  Serendipitous crying along with the infinite sky.  An unearthly symbiosis that comforts me in those moments.

I cried in front of a friend not too long ago, and I was holding it together as much as I could while hot tears just streamed down my face, and she told me to just let go and ugly cry.  It's a tremendous act of love and sisterhood to genuinely remind someone to stop holding it in when it's leaking out in front of them.

I reminded another friend to cry when he was feeling vulnerable and afraid of doing something important just last week.  And I hope he took my advice.  I have a feeling maybe he did. 

There is nothing more vulnerable than crying.  Those of you who have seen me cry... well, just know I love you.

I also read something that said that we don't cry because we are sad.  We cry because something is more beautiful than we expected it to be.  How profoundly true that is.  Of course we cry when we are sad.  But in light of this wisdom, I think it is because we realize in moments of sadness how utterly beautiful something was, and tears fall as we soak in that realization.  Sometimes we even cry at beauty in the moment.  When we are present enough to fully comprehend it before it passes.  Happy tears, as my daughter calls them.  When we feel overwhelming love.  When we see a baby born.  When we feel relieved at an accomplishment being reached after working so very hard.  When we see a face we have longed to see after too long of missing them.  When we hug someone goodbye and we know it will be too many whiles until we can reunite.  When we hear a song that stirs the deepest parts within us.  Sometimes, tears flow when we don't expect it at all.  I think in those times, our minds are subconsciously focused on some deep swirling beauty, but our tongues have not yet awakened to what it is.  If we sit with the tears, though, understanding comes.

I know it seems odd to be writing about tears just before Christmas.  But, for the record, I know my cheeks will be lined with tears watching my kids open their presents.  Singing Silent Night (always makes me cry...).  And probably other times, too.  Because, as I said, I'm a crier.  And I wouldn't want to be any other way. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

That Perfect Not A Phone

This is not about a phone booth.  But it was.

I remember phone booths.  When they were all over the place.  It's kinda funny, isn't it, that we carry these cellular devices in our pockets and purses with us literally everywhere these days, and yet I am certain I spent way more hours talking on the phone when they were not nearly as accessible than I do now.  I guess there's a reason we call them mobile devices now rather than phones.  I mean, they are phones, but it's almost like a diminished secondary function.  But I vividly remember when I would have to stop somewhere to use a phone.  Where it was physically located.  Stuck to something.  Where I would actually pick up the receiver ("I'll make you a believer...").  And literally hang it up when I was done.  Physically, on a knobby hook built to hold the phone receiver.

I also remember old melamine rotary phones.  I still have the mustard yellow one that once sat on my mother's night table when I was a child.  It still has the typed phone number (still my parents' phone number, in fact) on some yellowed paper slid beneath a yellowed-clear cover in the center of the dial.  I told my Mom I wanted it in case there were hurricanes and I lost power (when I lived in Louisiana), and so she let me have it, but really I wanted it for sentimental reasons.  I'll never get rid of it.  But I digress.

Phone booths.  A relic of the time when we called each other.  When talking was how we communicated instead of typing.  I deeply miss that.

Apparently I'm not the only one.  There are a couple of competing metaphors in my mind with this one, so I'll just dive into the first one that came to me....

See, there's this phone booth that became special recently.  Because somebody had an idea and acted on it.  And missed phones, too.  Like me.  And it moved me.  I was driving on my way to work this morning, singing appropriately, in fact, as I dodged the too many potholes on my commute ("... I’m driving, here I sit... cursing my government... for not using my taxes to fill holes with more cement..."), and I decided I needed to share this very special booth.

Like flowers on a grave site, someone in my neighborhood did this to an old phone-less booth adjacent to the parking lot where I always stop to get gas.  So I pulled over and stole this little glimpse of it to share here.

In a way, it laments the passing of not only the phone booth as a physical thing, but also the passing of verbal communications we all took for granted, which were once so much more personal and intimate than text on a screen.  Not that text on a screen isn't majestic in its own right (hello, I'm typing this and you're reading this... which is pretty magnificent in the grand scheme of things if you really think about it).  It's just that voices back and forth -- giggles, sighs, gasps, overlapping excited stories, free flowing tangents, pregnant pauses... those are all lost in the everything-typed world in which we now live.  I'm grateful for the ease of communication typing bestows, but I miss the intonation.  I miss voices.  Phones that we had to use because we had no other choice gave us a different kind of richness.  Now phones, er devices, that are forever at our fingertips pretty much forget they can do the same thing.  So these roses mourn the passing of the voices unheard these days.  Because typing. 

The other metaphor that came springing into my mind when I stared at the phone-less booth: all those intonations, whispers, laughs, stories that come pouring out of actual phones... each of these is a precious bloom in and of itself.  Temporally limited, but bright and beautiful in its vocal blooming and fading, crescendos and silences.

Man, we should use our phones more.  I mean, we don't even have to pay outrageous long distance bills anymore.  It's all included.  How is it that the ease and convenience of phones has somehow endangered the existence of actual, real phone conversations?  It's not that I never talk on the phone.  That's not true.  When I do, and when I'm lucky, phone calls last hours.  But they are infrequent, which I lament.  But I am moved to do it more and more.  To reap the blooms that fall on my ready ears and to cast my own voice into the receiver, to be joyfully received.

It's not quite time for new years' resolutions, but I'm beginning to think mine might include more good phone.  There's nothing quite like good phone.  Roses, indeed.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

That Perfect Sign

Sometime early this summer a new roadside a-frame sign board popped up on my work commute.  It's gotten me thinking every morning.  There's a little shopping strip near my house I drive through (yes, through, not by) each morning.  It almost feels like the street I'm on devolves for a short stint from being an actual street into a mere turnaround for the shopping center traffic, but it's, in fact, actually the street (even if cross traffic doesn't always realize it).  There's also a little median with some plants in it and a brick walkway alongside the street.  And the a-frame sign board sat on that brick walkway each morning until very recently when people finally didn't need the sign anymore because the shop had been there long enough for people to know and remember it.  Including me, I guess, though I've never been in there.  In any event the sign caught my attention because it was bold and looked like this:
Image result for brass tacks barber shop

Brass tacks.  Every morning on my way to work.  For months.  I always picture old antique chairs - specifically some specific ivory striped ones that used to be in my parents' living room when I was a child with brass tacks lining the edges where the fabric met the wood.  I remember running my fingers over the line those brass tacks made, enjoying the feel of the inconsistent but smooth surface as my fingers rode along their bumpy track.  Small rounded hills with teeny fabric ravines in between.  It's a comforting memory.  Childhood things tend to be like that.

But this sign speaking to me with its bold font at the start of each new day, well, it got my attention, and it got me wondering the origin of the phrase.  And tonight, as I passed it on my way home, I was especially tuned into the concept. 

Turns out, we think we know what things mean when we hear them, but looking them up always gives a little more depth.  And frequently yields something surprising.  (If I'm good for nothing else, it's researching and diving deep....) 

Webster's has a definition for "brass tacks":  "details of immediate practical importance usually used in the phrase get down to brass tacks." And The Free Dictionary lookup yielded this: "Deal with the essentials; come to the point. For example, Stop delaying and get down to brass tacks, or We really need to get down to bedrock, or He has a way of getting down to the nitty gritty, or Let's get down to cases. The origin of the first phrase, dating from the late 1800s, is disputed. Some believe it alludes to the brass tacks used under fine upholstery, others that it is Cockney rhyming slang for 'hard facts,' and still others that it alludes to tacks hammered into a sales counter to indicate precise measuring points. The noun bedrock has signified the hard rock underlying alluvial mineral deposits since about 1850 and has been used figuratively to denote 'bottom' since the 1860s. The noun nitty-gritty dates from the mid-1900s and alludes to the detailed ('nitty') and possibly unpleasant ('gritty') issue in question. The noun cases apparently alludes to the game of faro, in which the "case card" is the last of a rank of cards remaining in play; this usage dates from about 1900."  

So it's getting to the bottom of things... the essentials.  Oh, essentials.  Ah.  Of course, that.  I've written about those at length before in an earlier post having to do with flowers.  So I can't help but go here:  "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."  The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  The invisible, the essential: brass tacks.  Apparently everything leads me back to here.  This quote was even mentioned in a novel I read to my children this week.  I think I'm sensing a pattern.  Or patterns.  But I guess I wouldn't be me if I didn't.       

Saturday, December 2, 2017

That Perfect Supermoon Photo

This is simply the majesty of an upside down and blurred technical error I made on my phone camera tonight, which yielded a drippy supermoon with stardust scattered around and just the right amount of creepy branches and what looks like a dragony-bird thing flying by to take a secret peek.  I feel like there are also spirits floating around in the murky mist, too.  The whole thing feels like swimming in moonlight to me.  If only.  It also feels kind of like the Upside Down version of the view from my yard but without the fear of the Upside Down.  Just searing, dark beauty.  Somehow quickly captured by accident... but just perfectly perfect.  There's magic right before us all the time. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

That Perfect Strength

Sometimes Life tests us.  Hardcore.  To the bone.  Maybe further than that.  Whatever "that" is and however deep "that" goes.  I thought after all my surgeries I'd learned how to just take it some more when I couldn't take things anymore.  Not so.  Life's challenges are all different.  They take different courage and different strength to face.  But strength nonetheless.  And I suppose I'm always learning how to face new challenges and the chaos that comes along with that. 

If there's one thing I've learned in my forty-one years and counting, even if we're ridiculously type-A personalities, even if we're fiercely independent, even if we actually believed once upon a time we could do literally anything (and probably pretty perfectly), it's this:  we sometimes need others who can see with vivid clarity the strength inside us that we ourselves have forgotten that we possess.  Because they can see us from the outside.  They have always seen us.  With true eyes.  And they remember all our triumphs along the way.  They intimately know the stuff we're made of.  They know we may be utterly tender-hearted, and broken in ways we desperately wish we weren't, but we're also made of steel where it matters.

I am so lucky in this life to have an incredibly dear family and chosen sister-friends who constantly remind me what grace is and who remind me that strength sits quietly beneath the surface, in a reserve we may think is empty, but it is certainly not.  I could spend hour upon hour writing about my family tonight, but I think I'll save that for another time.  Tonight, I want to focus on a specific night.  In my hometown in Louisiana.  One week ago, tomorrow.  In a beautiful home.  With some very special women.

I found myself the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving sitting in Alexandria with three of my dearest girlfriends at one of their houses.  They even yielded to me the ottoman so I could rest my bunk hip after my long journey in from Dallas after pouring me a glass of red wine as soon as I walked in, after big hugs with each of them, of course.  It's been weeks or maybe months since I'd had a drink, so it didn't take much to make me start to feel warm.  The relief at just being in the same room with them, and the laughter with which we all were frequently overcome, also helped. 

I've known these women the better part of my life.  One since near birth and the other two since junior high.  And we've seen and done and lived and loved through SO MUCH together.  Such beautiful heights, and such heartbreaking lows.  One is an artist.  One is a teacher.  One is a lawyer.  (And I'm realizing as I write this that I, myself, am an artist, former teacher, and current lawyer... all three... fascinating.)  All of us are moms with two kids each.  And all are so very beautiful, inside and out.  And it just so happens all three of these dear women friends of mine are widows.  In their early 40s.  It's not what anyone would have ever expected... or planned... or wanted.  But it is.  Life does not follow a playbook, as I was recently reminded by someone else dear to me.  It's also quite the beautiful mess, as I was also reminded recently by someone else I admire. 

And I know there are no accidents.  I need strength in this chapter of my life, and it is here I found myself.  Listening to and talking with these amazingly strong souls sitting before me.  The universe gives us exactly what we need in order to do what we need to do and be who we need to be.  I sat there in sheer wonder at the strength of these women I adore sitting around a table with me.  I would have never guessed in a million years back in our youth that we would be having these moments, these conversations at this stage of life, when back then we were dying our hair with Koolaid, running around at Mardi Gras in Lafayette, sunbathing, jumping on trampolines, or sitting on top of the world, or in Lodi, with Icees (that may or may not have been spiked).  We ultimately moved to the dining table where we shared tears and stories, songs and dreams, laughs and what-the-hells.  We held hands when we needed, lifted each other up, and we ate pecan pie.  With whipped cream.  We all understand deep love and deep pain in different ways and take nothing for granted.  It's as deep as it gets.  It almost felt like we were characters in some movie or something (though there's already a Ya Ya book-turned-movie about other amazing women from Alexandria).  But this is no movie.  This is the real shit.  The deeper pains and most treasured gifts only mid-life can bring.  I felt like such a lucky girl in that moment, despite the harsh realities we all discussed and cried our way through together.

I am still so in awe of those women and their stories, and mine interwoven with theirs.  And their all accepting love for me.  And mine for them.  It was no accident I was fully present in their presence that night, and I felt more at peace than I have in months.  The gnawing pit in my stomach subsided for a glorious while as I just existed in a deeply personal way with those girls.  We all Need More (#fileitunderNeedMore) in different ways.  And maybe, just maybe, we're here together on our journeys to help make sure those needs get met.  Actually, there's no maybe about it.  No irony is lost on me.  No serendipitous moment escapes my notice.  I hear it all.  Absorb it all.  And I am feeling my way in the dark... looking for stars all the while.  Hugging and holding hands of women I love through it all, deep in a special November night back home.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

That Perfect Weather

Gray day.  Everything is gray.  I watch, but nothing moves today.  I feel like I should be wearing a gray dress to match. 

I drove in the rain with the windows down just to let the morning's 42 degrees blow around in my car cabin with me.  It almost feels like it goes right through me.  That exhilarating cold is like nothing else, especially with seat heaters to balance it out.  I could do this for days.  Welcome winter.

Friday, November 3, 2017

That Perfect Imperfect Show

November 1, 2017.  Iron &Wine at the Kessler Theater in Dallas. 

Upstairs in the balcony, I sat nestled into the seat closest to and overlooking the stage, a mere tiny stone's throw from Sam Beam down below (though I'd never dare throw a stone at him).

I was transfixed.  Enamored.  Stunned to my core in the most beautiful way.  And when the lights dimmed, I felt all the space around me tunnel down toward the stage so that I noticed nothing else.  My body pains melted away.  The warm air felt temperature-less.  My tickly throat quieted itself.  I won't lie, some warm tears fell from time to time, and I noticed those as I let them run down where they may or occasionally wiped them away.  But my focus was intense, drawn, pulled, targeted.  It's amazing how physical sensations drop away when the spiritual is tapped into.  Occasionally, my gaze would drift elsewhere--to other band members or to the crowd--but then my mind would jump in and abruptly fix my eyes back on Sam because I wanted to be sure to soak up every single visual moment I could and didn't want to waste my eyes' unique ability to absorb on anything else.

Strings on various instruments popped with a twang during the performance.  And Sam's guitars weren't tuning properly, and I think I heard him say his capo was broken.  And he said fuck a lot when things wouldn't go right, but always in the most charming way.  And certain guitars didn't want to play the set list they had planned, so Sam said.  So he improvised and played whatever he felt like playing, which I'm thankful for after seeing the set list online and comparing it to my memory.  That's how Jezebel ended up being played.  And a cool song about Texas (which he said was NOT entitled "Texas Is Awesome" because that would be a stupid song).  So there was more heart all the way around because he got to play what the moment told him to play.  (There's a larger lesson there, I'm pretty sure.)

This video shows Sam talking about the mishaps.  But they made the performance more intimately perfect for the imperfections.

And here's one more mishap clip just for fun:

 The most straight up perfect moment of the show was the opening song.  THIS:

*DISCLAIMER... So I THINK I was able to sufficiently trim this video to fit in the Blogger parameters.  So, enjoy (hopefully) most of the song.   But because I had to trim it to get it to fit here, if you want to see the *almost* entire performance of The Trapeze Swinger (and the attendant chills and goosebumps that go with that; you should probably sit down), you'll have to just go visit my Facebook page instead where I posted it on November 2.*

And yet another imperfection: Sam refused to play Such Great Heights, despite the vast multitude excitedly chanting and calling from the darkened crowd for him to play it as an encore.  Instead of playing that song, here's what he gave us instead before playing a different final song:

So Sam left us all with a pretty grand humdinger of an intentional imperfection, so we'd have something to look forward to for next time (except for the girl who said she'd just listen to it in the car on the way home... certainly not the same as Sam playing it live... but I listened to it later, too, of course, to get my fix... it really does feel like an intense addiction that just isn't ever sated).  Next time, Sam.  Next time.  I mean it.  But, in truth, the imperfections are where so much of the beauty waits, hiding, smiling its secret smile.  To be mulled over and appreciated again and again as the music, his voice, those words all still stream in my mind, now days later, on repeat... on repeat... on repeat.  And still leaves me so thirsty for more.   

Sunday, October 29, 2017

That Perfect Thriller

I am a very nostalgic girl.  And like any girl growing up as a kid in the 1980's, Michael Jackson's Thriller thrilled me.  I got over it as I aged.  Forgot about it completely by high school or college.  And later on, I thought all those mob dances doing the Thriller moves were super cheesy.  Gack.

But this.  This brings the thrill all back.  Imogen Heap is an, admittedly, acquired taste, but I adore her.  And I adore this.

It's starting to be Halloween season.  In addition to my Nightmare Before Christmas forever love affair and my annual Cabinet of Dr. Caligari late night viewing, this song is going to be played a lot over here on my end the next few days leading up to the 31st.  The hollow and haunting voice accompanied only by a piano was bound to clench me.  I've always loved that sound.

And one thing I particularly love about this version?  Imogen's magnificent improvisation with the word "thriller" as the song progresses... Thrill her.  Spill her.  Just wow.  Gotta catch my breath now.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

That Perfect Silence

Well, it isn't totally silent.  That's a half-truth.  There's music in the background.  Because if it's up to me (and right now, it is), there will always be music on.  And there's also the occasional soft thud of kitties pouncing after each other on the hardwoods.  But I have a deep and unexpected serendipitous inner silence tonight.  I find myself alone in my house with no one else here since around 11 or so this morning until sometime tomorrow afternoon since my family went camping.  The last time I was totally alone for any real length of time was when I was away staying at a hotel for a conference.  And even then, I had events and programs to attend, and my parents were just down the hall, so there wasn't that much alone time.  And that was months ago.  And I don't count office time away from home as "alone" because though I'm in my own office space, it's still social at any given moment with the ring of the phone or a shadow at my door.  Maybe it's been years.  YEARS since I spent a night alone at home.  I literally don't even remember the last time.  Because of my surgeries, I haven't traveled for work and stayed at random strange hotels in years, and I've been just here.  And the handful of other trips I've taken, I've been with others the whole time.  So, still not alone.

But tonight, I am in this usually bustling house that feels so different with just a single soul in it.  So, here feels strange tonight.  This house is only my space for just a short while.  Time moves more slowly.  I've been wanting some alone time lately, preferably with some cliffs... I've got no cliffs today (those will come later, I'm determined), but, nonetheless, a little twinkling space carved out just for me.

I've been writing.   And absorbing a lot of music.  And I've had a few phone calls.  And I took an extra long shower.  Maybe I'll watch a movie.  But now?  I'm just sitting here wearing my favorite black dress with some dark lipstick, just because.  And I'm feeling the fabric of my chair lazily with my fingertip.  And I'm noticing my toes on one foot intertwined with the ones on the other foot.  And tossing my unruly curls from where they have fallen in my face from time to time.  And remembering here and there to take sips of Gatorade as I recover from the vicious norovirus attack I had yesterday.  I worked much of the day from home today making up for yesterday's illness.  But now I've got ME time.  I have to listen to and just be ME.

"I guess it's just me.  And me."  (Hey Jupiter, Tori Amos)

"I used to think that the day would never come."  (True Faith, New Order)

I think this is deeply good for me.  But it's a strange good.  "Take the sun apart and put it back together." (Sinkership, Sin Fang Bous)  Maybe I am the sun today.

"One night to speed up truth." (Heartbeats, Jose Gonzales)  When there's no one to listen to but yourself, you just do.  And I notice my own heartbeat more than usual.

"You say go slow, I fall behind." (Time After Time, Iron & Wine)  I always seem to fall behind with this damn hip of mine.  Everyone's steps are faster than mine.  Maybe I deserve it for walking too fast for all those years...

And of course my playlist randomly ended up on "Silent All These Years" as I'm wrapping this up.  Because of course it did.  I told you all in the first line that it wasn't actually silent.  Or I'm never really silent.  But I knew that.  Not when music colors everything in my head.          

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

That Monday Birthday Revisited (to Make it More Perfect)

So I turned 41 on Monday.  Quietly.  Without much fanfare.  No actual party or anything.  I mean, Facebook exploded with some funny and sweet messages from friends (to whom I mindfully replied each and every time I received a message so I could appreciate each soul who kindly remembered me), and I got calls and texts from some family members and close friends, and I opened fun presents with my family, bleary-eyed first thing in the morning.  I absolutely have a lot of people to be thankful for in my life.  But what did I do for the bulk of the day?  I spent most of the day working.  A lot.  Which isn't an entirely bad thing.  It just felt like... any day, I suppose.  Busyness and business.  I guess birthdays never quite live up to the anticipation do they?  Maybe if I'd had some quiet spare time to reflect, I'd have appreciated my own birth more.  Actually celebrated it deep inside somehow.  Maybe I am doing that more in this very moment by writing about it than I was able to do yesterday.  So I guess it's good I have this blog.

My Mom reminded me in an early morning text yesterday (I didn't need reminding, but I loved her reminder just the same) that a cold front blew through when I was born at 3:30 p.m. on October 16 forty-one years ago.  And, serendipitously, I was gifted from the Universe a surprise cool front on the anniversary of my birth-day.  Which is pretty damn cool.   (Ha, pun intended.)

But overall?  I guess it sorta felt like the Monday that it was.  I worked all day and then logged back in to work some more after the kids went to bed.  And I even took a raincheck on some phone calls because I didn't have time to take them....  I was so busy working I even missed the passage of midnight marking the end of the day as it slipped silently away while I was typing.  So my birthday ended with a whimper, not a bang.  Which isn't how I like things.

So what is a girl to do to make up for this blah Monday of a birthday (to be fair, it's only 41, not 42 or anything...)?

Well, it just so happens that my awesome brother called me and told me I get to/have to (okay, twist my arm; wait, no don't... my shoulder) visit San Francisco (and promised me some serious cliffs) next summer when he is getting married (!!!), and he and his lovely fiance also got me an incredibly generous SPA GIFT CERTIFICATE.  Soul gifts - the dream of cliffs and soon-to-come SPA TIME.  So I made an appointment today, and I'll be taking advantage of that by getting a hot stone massage on October 29 (which just so happens to be the first time I am free to even consider doing something of my choosing to celebrate my birthday).  This is gonna entirely make up for the Monday blahness, I am certain.  Silver linings.  There's always one if we look.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

That Perfect... I Don't Even Know... Rambling Something Important About Life (Wow This is Really Long)

When I stop to think about the incessant disagreement all around me, lately the political climate has made an easy illustration of this, I am coming to realize a fundamental truth underlying all of it.  Something is missing.  I'm getting ahead of myself.

And this post isn't about politics.  I generally dislike discussing politics, in fact.  It might seem like it's about law in a moment, too.  But it isn't really about that, either.  It started with a rumbling in my mind early this morning, and I'm just now able to sit and write about it.  You're on a rambling ride with me, so sit tight.

Let's think about systems.  I don't mean circle-of-life-type biological systems.  I'm thinking of those that are constructed.  Those that govern us because we agree, explicitly or tacitly, to be bound by them.  Maybe it's just by happenstance of birth and geography (as an aside... is that really happenstance?).  But in any event, there are many constructs with rigid formulae that govern how things are done in the world.  Or "should" be done.  And speaking of "govern," our system of laws is a good example.  So let's begin there.  Why on this great green Earth do we disagree SO much about what laws should be in place?  I mean, we've fundamentally agreed to be a society bound by laws.  Granted, there are countless laws you've never heard of if you're not a lawyer, and even if you are a lawyer (due to specialization, of course), and those largely aren't controversial.  But many of them are.  Why can't we all just agree?  There are countless reasons, of course, and I won't devolve into the myriad reasons we all have preferences and prejudices because of our own situatedness.  None of us has that much time on our hands.  But what's got me thinking is this: it feels like there is some deep and vast human piece of us that is being undermined by whatever law (or other thing in the world of systems that herd us and bind us) it is we disagree with.  Maybe it's nameless.  Maybe it's ephemeral.  But there's something in our core that conflicts with it.  Gnaws at us a little.  We are lucky if our self (for lack of a better term) isn't in conflict with the law or rule of the moment.  Maybe we concur with it, but don't fully agree (like a concurring court opinion, for example, which agrees with the result but has a few bones to pick).  We're on board with it enough to not get angry, but we take umbrage with something about it.  But overall, we will go on our merry way and probably forget about it at the end of the day.  But others?  Well, some of them just eat at us.  Here's the judicial dissent territory.  Like some of Scalia's dissenting opinions shortly before his death, there may be significant vitriol in our dissent.  We may be so unnerved by it our very core is shaken.  I see lots of that these days in politics (I know you see it, too, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum).

And yet, even though we may dissent, even vehemently, with a law, in the grand scheme of things, we are still bound by social contract and civility, not to mention the threat of criminal punishment (if nothing else), to abide by the rules of the game of life.  In law school I had the revelation that our Constitution only works because we SAY it does.  Think about that.  I hope you have a *mind blown* moment like I did when I realized that.  It has power because we decided it does.  No, really.  Think about that.  And "we" isn't even "us"; it's our predecessors.  And some of those who crafted it and the laws made purportedly under its authority may have had pristine motives dripping with goodwill.  Many of the deciders and makers of laws, as we know, though are power hungry and ruled by ego.  And just want to perpetuate whatever system benefits them personally.  We all know some people with power who respect that power and have earned it.  But we also know many don't.  They inherit it or have money (which, frankly, talks).  Plain as that.  And so it goes.  We are bound.  To something that may or may not have been well-intentioned.  And when we disagree, something in us is stifled, but we go on, just the same.  Because we just do.  It's kind of crazy if you think about it.  And amazing that it even works as well as it does given where I'm going next. 

And it's damn tricky when you're good at the game of life.  It can swallow you up so completely you forget something important.  We can all play the game, within the confines of the rules, and even enjoy it.  Whatever "game" it is you choose out in the world.  Maybe a job.  Maybe some other role.  It's all a grand mental puzzle.  But there's an inherent conflict there, right?  In any game with rules, there's always something that exists outside the game.  Beyond the rules.  The game board is a rectangle and has boundaries.  And beyond that... here's the thing... the game doesn't even exist.  Another epiphany I had in law school in my Contracts class was when I was learning about promises and obligations.  And, given my own rule-following sensibility, I was okay with that concept.  Until we started talking about the concept of breach.  What happens when a contract is breached?  I had a mental disconnect.  Um, breach?  Aren't we supposed to not break contracts?  Well, it just so happens that there are laws that govern when contracts are breached, too.  Rules for when the rules aren't followed.  Who pays what.  What damages might apply.  Ah, the irony.  Hell, my practice area as a lawyer is restructuring and reorganization, which is a fancy way of saying corporate bankruptcy.  The Bankruptcy Code is full of laws about precisely what happens when things go sideways.  When people and entities don't meet their obligations and promises.  There's even a concept in bankruptcy where a debtor can "reject" a contract.  I mean... stepping back, though it's a completely commonplace occurrence in my law practice, again... mind blown that there's a lawfully sanctioned way to do that.  Because why?  Because we decided that's what the rules would be.  

So I get caught up in the game of life.  Just like you.  And just like everyone.  Well, maybe in my own personal way, but you know what I mean.  We all work for a living because we have to.  Hopefully we enjoy the game we choose to play out in the world.  And I do enjoy my job as a lawyer.  I get to think about fascinating and complicated things, research about things I didn't already know, write a lot, and take actions to help clients accomplish their goals.  It's very rewarding in many ways, as jobs go.  It's also a necessary thing.  It just is.  I also have various other roles in my life; most critically, I am a mother who is simply crazy about her amazing kids and all the love and work that goes with that.

But notwithstanding my being swirled up into the systems that make up my daily life (job, kids' schools, social norms, various obligations of all sorts), someone said something poignant to me the other day.  She reminded me to never forget my private life.  My private life.  Ah, that.  Say that again.  The me that is quietly inside under the surface of all the other things I do.  And it's rich and velvety in there.  When I take the time to root around and nestle in.  It's in that inner life that self-consciousness melts away.  And gimmicks.  And skepticism.  And fear.  And distrust.  And judgment.  It is there, in the quiet inner self that there are no systems or rules.  No games--only the space beyond the game board.  Only the things I allow to be there.  Or that I create and put there.  It is there that what is universal or essential about our spirits can just BE.  Our spirits and very souls are at ease.  Whatever dwells in there is mine, and it is beautiful. 

What is that space?  Really, what IS that?  It's the question we humans have been pondering since the very beginning through science, philosophy, and religion.  The WHY endeavors (they're all really sisters in substance, though some are more sophisticated and logical than others).  The ways of thinking that get us pondering what this is that is IN us, IS us, is UNIVERSAL about us.  It's more than just analytic thought, though.  Science began as INQUIRY.  As CURIOSITY.  As WONDER.  As the Little Prince says, it is only with the heart that one can see rightly.  (Or maybe it's the vagus nerve?  The gut sure seems involved, too, somehow.  And nerves.  Don't get me started on how sensitive they are to things.)  Beyond the games.  And again to the Little Prince: What is essential is invisible to the eye.  This is why the disciplines that seek to understand seem so majestic.  Because what they are asking IS majestic.  They seek truth.  The something deeper.  Without shallow motive of any kind.  And disciplines that internalize the why and then create something from it, be it art, music, writing... those.  Wow.  Those literally create magic in the world that simply didn't exist before.  They come from that universal, quiet, perfect self responding to the thinking and feeling parts of us responding to the very act of being we experience on some deep vibrating level (the seventh wave perhaps?).  And love.  And awe.  The inexplicable things that come from within... that respond to beauty, to connection.  That, my friends, is all outside the game.  Outside the systems.  Off the board.  And this is why the external systems that are forced on us by social contract detract from, can never be on the same wavelength as, what is inside.  This is why we inherently can never agree with the constructs in their entirety.  It's better to go to our inner spaces than to dwell on such conflict. 

Last time I visited my hometown, I went to church with my family, which I haven't done in years.  It was the church I grew up in.  We went every week, sometimes twice, when I was growing up.  There was a sense of community and ritual about it that was always comforting to me, even if I always questioned probably too many things.  But the cool thing about that church in particular is it is a denomination that I was always told is the thinking person's church - it's an Episcopal church.  It was always okay to question.  There wasn't hellfire being hurled at me.  I didn't have to recite Bible verses in Sunday School.  There were lots of hugs.  And helping things we did for others.  And lots of dinners and holding hands.  And coming together for things.  Peaceful, really.  It's red brick, sits majestically at the end of the street I grew up on, and it has red velvety carpet inside.  And there's a bell in the tower I know how to ring with a secret button and did ring many times as an acolyte in my youth.  And the stained glass windows in that place are the most beautiful I've ever seen.  I've been to some astounding cathedrals and churches all over the globe, and these are still my favorites.  I'm not sure how very many hours I've stared at them in this life of mine.  (On a humorous note, I told my parents that I think these windows with beautiful man disciples with long flowing hair are why I always had a penchant for men with long hair... subliminal messages embedded in my psyche from church windows.  Maybe that's weird.  Don't care.  I was going to include a photo here, but the ones I took didn't come out very well.)  Despite my familiar love for that place, I am still a questioner, still not religious, and still don't regularly attend church.  Though I can recite all the prayers from memory without even consciously thinking about them.  But I am spiritual, no doubt.  I don't know what moved me to attend church that morning (my parents had expected I wouldn't), but I am glad I went that Sunday about a month ago.  There was something holy in myself with which I somehow connected while absorbing that space during the service.  I admit, I have an amorphous sense of what God is.  But I feel that whatever God there is simply must be that spiritual beauty within ourselves, especially as manifested in connections of that pure beauty with others.  A real and pure symbiosis.  THAT is what feels spiritual to me.  Holy.  There is no better word.  But nothing so small as a politicized man-made god used for beating others into submission (literally or figuratively) can capture the deep purposeful point-of-it-all beauty I'm describing (she says knowing she is writing about her own person-made conceptions... ever aware of the irony).  There is, I know in my bones... my heart... the primordial dust from whence I came... a universal spiritual connection we can tap into when and if everything lines up.  I suppose if it lined up all the time, we'd be in some utopian world we couldn't even appreciate anymore because even true beauty would be too mundane to notice.  Serendipitous connection and the spaces in between remind us though that we are these spiritual beings underneath all the titles, obligations, clothes, and faces we wear and bear.

And why is it there are so many broken people?  So many of us walking around feeling something is missing?  Because we fill our lives with the systems and rules and all the things.  And we forget what happens off the game board.  And we don't look inside and truly honor that being.  And we miss out on the joy of connection with others in the process.  We feel torn.  All the time.  Because life... with its systems and rules.  But we are both physical beings AND spiritual ones.  It is no wonder drug companies make billions off of medicating the misery that is created by living lives that are stifling to the spirits within us.

Maybe we'll get there.  I'm not perfect either.  I have an ego, just like anyone.  I have earthly desires, just like anyone.  I have needs for security, even more now that I have kids.  I have goals that may be too lofty, but I keep thinking I'll hit the moon at least, even if I'm aiming for the distant stars.  So despite my life out in the world of systems, there's also this me underneath. This private me.  I need to water her, too.  Listen to her, too.  Breathe her in, too.  I am trying hard to be open.  To remember to swim in there.  And I breathe SO much more easily when I do.  To find a balance between Life and the Universe within.  That is the goal.  Everything.  Even if only in my own private mind most of the time.  But that mind is my own kingdom (or queendom).  My garden.  And we simply must dwell there sufficiently in order to be able to connect authentically with others.  As a dear friend of mine in Baton Rouge told me after I'd stayed with her last weekend, "I love you seems too small."  That kind of feeling is what happens when the spiritual us inside is seen for what it is and mingles with and truly sees someone else's.  It is grace.  It's a rare and delicate thing, but it's worth living for.  Always.