Friday, March 16, 2018

That Perfect Upside Down

"I'm okay when everything is not okay."

I mean, it's true.  Somehow, that's actually true.  Even though they're Tori Amos's words, not mine.  But I'm taking those words and making them mine today.  Even when I feel like it's really not okay, my heart knows it is.  I guess that's what faith is.  I guess that's what hearing yourself and listening to and heeding that self feels like.  Even when angry chaos is outside and knocking at, or trying to beat down, my door.  Sometimes I just have to ride it out on a trusty blanket.  And pull the blanket up to envelop me and just let the wind blow where it will.  And keep focused on the stars that center me again and again.    

I sorta think upside down is part of my fate.  And maybe it's also just what my 41 looks like.  And, again, that's okay.

That song.  It keeps playing in my head today.  No matter how sophisticated a person becomes in the real world, and how experienced a person grows to be through the complexities and intricacies of climbing ladder after ladder, hill after hill (thank God some of them have cliffs we can see at the top)... we still all started out the same -- a little blue and upside down in the hospital, when we first began, knowing only our mothers.  And I suppose despite all the growing, learning, stumbling, succeeding, and aging, each prior stage of us never leaves.  Like a mother's love.  And like a coat of paint underneath that you can cover over again and again with different colors.  But it remains as a priming surface.  Including the upside down blue one after being thrust out of the womb.  And there's some solace in remembering that I, too, was an upside down baby once.  And felt like one other later times in life when I wasn't.  Because I know I'm stronger than that now.  Smarter than that now.  Understand the nature of love now.  Feel the deeper forces of the universe and revel in them now rather than letting them destroy me.  When I see that I was able to weather that upside down and become the me that I have, I am assured I can weather this, too.  Because it's all part of a larger whole that I know is beautiful.

And that kitten, kitten, kitten in my hair line.  That feeling.  Giving in to the tangled mess that is determined to just... keep... fucking with you when you've grown so weary of it.  In fact, I painted a large oil painting long ago when that line got stuck, a record skipping in my mind, in another upside down chapter of my life.  Turning round and round.  And that one, inspired by this song, was red.  And around the same time, I also painted this other blue painting with birds picking me apart.  Back when I first got brave as an artist.  And didn't care what people saw on the canvas; I just needed to pour things out.  I had no choice.  These two paintings pictured below were once hanging in a gallery and have adorned the walls of many homes I've had, but they are currently in my attic, at least for the moment....  They're the first two paintings I made that were real, and I mean that in the Velveteen rabbit kind of way.  The way that real means messy and worn... and broken and not particularly shiny... but also feeling genuine, essential, and found, all at the same time.   

My little blue world is turning upside down.  That may be a good way to put it.  Not like the Stranger Things Upside Down.  My nightmares can be haunting, with images so hard to shake in the daylight, but thankfully not in the demogorgon kind of way.  And I don't have nightmares that often these days, but when I do, mostly they're manifestations of my latent fears of death or disease befalling a loved one.  I think our dreams give us the keys to life we need; they tell us what's important to us, in secret but confident whispers. 

There's certainly an upside down-ness to life these days.  I am using the strength in the reserves I've saved for a rainy day (or more likely stored up on a rainy day when I've been revived by the rain).  The kittens in my hair and birds pecking at me in those old paintings remain, but they don't feel quite the same.  I know more.  I've learned more.  I have faith now.  And I have more warmth inside that is simply incapable of being chilled.  And the blue has faded... I'm not a dangling blue newborn, and my blood is circulating mightily because this beating heart of mine was meant to weather all of this, I know that.  But I'm not fully right-side up just yet. 

For now, I'm gonna go listen to that song again and stare at these old paintings for a little while more, as I quietly continue to resolve to do the work of turning myself the right way round.   

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

That Perfect Blue

There have been two stressful events now that have made me see blue.  Like a blue haze over everything.  Like a film.  Kind of spotty.  And it exists somehow, ephemeral between me and what I see, if that even makes sense.  Can see it even when I close my eyes.  Kind of a cobalt blue - that's the closest pigment color I can think of to try to name it.  I've Googled this before, and I came up with literally nothing.  No explanation.  I talked to a friend last time it happened who assumed it was something like an aura signaling something deeper.  I wondered if it's a strange sort of stress migraine.  Or maybe it's some spiritual shift.  I honestly don't know.  But when I feel like everything is outside me and broken wide open to a place I can't comprehend in that moment (which is insanely rare for a control freak like me), I somehow am lifted up on to some other plane out of pure necessity to escape a moment, and things go blue.  Maybe it's my spirit saving me from something I need saving from.  Twice now.  As of tonight.

Try not to worry about me, if you are so inclined.  It didn't seem to have any lasting effect last time this happened many months ago.  I've survived way worse.

I'm reminded of a song, which in this moment somehow makes this unnerving blue a little less worrisome... it's the most human color, after all:

He stumbled into faith and thought
God this is all there is.
The pictures in his mind arose
And began to breathe.
And all the Gods in all the worlds
Began colliding on a backdrop of blue.
Blue lips
Blue veins
He took a step but then felt tired,
He said, I'll rest a little while.
But when he tried to walk again,
He wasn't a child.
And all the people hurried past
Real fast and no one ever smiled.
Blue lips
Blue veins
Blue, the color of the planet from far, far away
He stumbled into faith and thought
God this is all there is.
The pictures in his mind arose
And began to breathe.
And no one saw and no one heard
They just followed lead.
The pictures in his mind awoke
And began to breed.

They started off beneath the knowledge tree,
Then they chopped it down to make white picket fences.
They marched along the railroad tracks
And smiled real wide for the camera lenses.
They made it past the enemy lines
Just to become enslaved in the assembly lines.
Blue lips
Blue veins
Blue, the color of the planet from far, far away
Blue lips
Blue veins
Blue, the color of the planet from far, far away
Blue, the most human color
Blue, the most human color
Blue, the most human color
Blue lips
Blue veins
Blue, the color of our planet from far, far away.


Thursday, March 8, 2018

That Perfect Integrity: A Meditation

I have been thinking a lot about the word integrity lately. 

As a lawyer, I've heard so many times, and I've seen with my own two eyes, how critical integrity is.  My word matters.  My ability to feel and show respect matters.  My temperance matters.  My intense and steadfast care in the things I do matters.  My conscientiousness matters.  These are all forms of external integrity -- meeting high standards, not giving in to defeat, respectfully working with others, and in all ways, being respectable.  It's imperative in a profession where poor judgment can lead to losing a law license or the respect of judges and peers.  Without my integrity, what have I got? 

(Caveat: I am human though, and I have learned to also be mindful about my conscientiousness in particular going too far... I know this now.  It can create an unhealthy rigidity that can feel toxic if it bleeds over into everything too much.  A law professor once told me I was conscientious to a fault... which I was a little offended by at the time, but now I realize that perhaps I can be, when I am overthinking things, anyway.  It may give me near perfect grades and a reputation for doing impeccable legal work, but it steals joy to be too conscientious in all facets of life.  Perhaps I should remember a little more often something that my boss (also a highly-respected lawyer, by the way) told me a few months ago: you have to be good enough to be healthy, but bad enough to be happy... there's a lot of wisdom in that off-handed comment (which clearly stuck with me).) 

But at the core, without integrity, I am not me.  And I cannot do all the Everything I do in an authentic way without it.  And interestingly, as an artist (my other me, the eccentric and grittier side of my otherwise type-A personality), integrity also lies in the center of everything, albeit manifested differently.  Maybe it's no coincidence that integrity has the word "grit" embedded in it.  I've got that in spades.  The artist-side of me is a less conscientious version of my integrity-fueled self, though.  When I have focused on art in various ways throughout my life (in making, in loving, in music...), it's been with an honesty and ease of dedication that comes more effortlessly than in any other form.  There is no bending to expectation or convention.  It is just pure as can be.  An integrity tied to my inner self that just flows out.  I am less anal-retentive in art, and passionate.  But still... integrity is key.  (And I'm realizing the concept behind what I'm sleepily trying to explain is also tying to a book I started reading called Finding Your Own North Star... and the main important takeaway from that book (which I didn't finish yet) seems to be this: we have social selves (the supposed to do's and should do's) and essential selves (our own internal North Star that our gut points us to if we listen).  And they must be in harmony.)

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I should probably back up and start where lawyer-me usually does: with the definition (...that art-side I was swimming in a moment ago in that paragraph just before threatened to interfere with my orderly analysis... but I honestly like that it interrupted the order by injecting a little chaos, so I'm gonna leave it as I wrote it... as it just came out).

Anyway, Webster's defines integrity as:

1 : firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : incorruptibility 
2 : an unimpaired condition : soundness 
3 : the quality or state of being complete or undivided : completeness
Adherence to a code... an artistic code even.  Incorruptibility.  Unimpaired.  Soundness.  Completeness.  Undivided.   

This is who I am.  Who I must be.  At my core.  Whether it's the conscientious and detail-oriented lawyer version or the steadfast and pure artistic side flowing from within.  Either way.  Incorruptible.  Sound.  Unimpaired.  Whole.  Even if seemingly disparate on the surface. 

And I'm realizing why the concept of integrity keeps sitting on my shoulder.  It's one of the hardest things to hold on to with steadfast determination when things crumble or catch fire.  When change is afoot.  And it happens to be the Monday concept on which I focus in a series of daily meditations I've been doing for a number of months now.  Each day of the week, I focus on a particular concept or notion from the seven virtues of Bushido, which I understand only loosely and on a surface level to derive from the Samurai honor code.  I'm not focused on the history of Bushido or the why or how this concept ended up on my path.  Indeed, I had never heard of Bushido at all until a friend posted about it on Facebook.  But I saw it, it caught my attention, and I realized I needed to incorporate it into my way of thinking at this time in my life.  And so I have.  (When something makes itself evident to me, I listen now.  I don't quash or ignore things I sense I'm supposed to see or hear.)  And so these seven lessons are now ones I remember, consciously, every day.  On repeat.

I have this printed out on my desk at work next to one of my monitors and have an electronic copy on my phone for reference on the weekends, with a reminder on my phone for every morning to meditate on the Bushido concept for the day.  And I do it and reflect on how it fits and strengthens me with each passing week.  The first virtue I meditate on every Monday, and so on through Sunday when I get to the seventh.  

And even though I began this post thinking about integrity, today is Thursday.  Which in my meditative cycle is honor.  Which happens to have my favorite precept of all seven in a simple and poignant line at the bottom:


Can't you just still hear that reverberating in the air?  I cannot hide from myself.  
I did for a long time.  Not in everything.  I've been authentic more often than not throughout my life.  But I did hide from myself as I tried mightily to be conscientious in all things, even if it meant silencing inconvenient things inside, even when mess should have been allowed to win.  Life is a beautiful mess, after all.  And this conscientiousness of mine running rampant was, indeed, to a fault as my professor tried to tell me twelve years ago; I now see.  But I refuse to ever do that again.  There's no going back once you open your eyes to your self.  I know myself, and I love her, strengths and faults... all the things.  And I trust her.  I never wanted to hide from her.  But it's easy sometimes to hide from yourself when you're so determined to do what's objectively right, when you're a pleaser by nature, when you're determined not to fail at things, and when you've worked so damn hard.  But... when I stopped hiding from myself, something magical happened.  I greeted myself on a path.  Petals unfurled.  Smoke cleared.  Fog lifted.  Every metaphor like that you can think of.  There was more light I had forgotten to see.  Things began to sing everywhere.  I could see things falling into place.  It's an irreversible course fueled by energy, by the universe, by everything I see, which just propels me forward in an authentic and beautiful way.  With so much less fear.  Enlivening and solidifying the me from whom I cannot hide.   Indeed, pieces seem to fall into place even while they are also objectively falling apart.  I cannot hide from myself.  The conscientious form of integrity is still inside me of course, but so is the integrity with GRIT.  My social self and my essential self -- my North Star -- are coming together.  I have a burning desire to be whole again.  And I am so close. 



Tuesday, February 27, 2018

That Perfect City

Maybe it's because my dad grew up there through his whole childhood and all the formative stuff, and he's one of my very favorite people.  Maybe it's because my grandparents lived there when I was a kid, and we'd hop in the station wagon to go visit them at 1336 New York Street (God, how do I remember that address?), with the terrazzo tile and the swimming pool and banana trees... and where I'd mail the cardboard backs of my dad's legal pads I'd drawn pictures on and made into makeshift postcards to my grandparents, and I'd get a return poem from my grandmother in the mail inspired by the postcard-drawing I'd sent each time (no doubt penned with a too-long-ashed cigarette hanging from her lips as she crafted the rhymes for me while wearing amazing cat eye glasses).  Maybe it's because my grandfather would cheerily answer his art business telephone "Ted Drell in Sunny New Orleans."  Maybe it's because he left me all his art supplies and furniture when he died.  Maybe it's because it's where I gulped down a terrible rum old fashioned with my grandfather after my grandmother's funeral at the mausoleum, where he cried to the point of shaking even though he'd cheated on her.  Maybe it's because I like the memory of hearing about old ladies my grandfather flirted with in his dotage who took him to the museum for outings, which, when I'd visit, he'd tell me about over french toast he'd make for me with special Ted butter (the kind the fat falls out of when you cook it).  Maybe it's because every time I went to New Orleans as a kid (from my small hometown a few hours away), I understood deeply and had imprinted on my psyche that "This is what a CITY is."  (I almost cried in a cab, overcome by that very specific feeling last week as we drove by so many buildings I recognized... and again now as I remember it all over again while I type this.)  Maybe it's all the old restored signs on all the businesses that seem to have been there forever... and they better never be replaced.  Maybe it's the puddle-ridden cobblestone streets coated with grime that makes the stone feel almost soft.  Maybe it's that Popeye's on Canal Street.  Maybe it's because it's the first place I knew where tattoos were okay, and even beautiful.  Maybe it's all the balconies and small shops filled with treasures and skulls (including the nutria skull I bought long ago, which they said was a beaver, but it's not).  Maybe it's because more often than not, dark and dirty is more beautiful than clean and too-perfect.  Maybe it's because my parents met, had their first date at Venezia's Pizza, and fell in love there.  Maybe it's because of all the road-trip-concerts I saw in high school in New Orleans, usually at UNO, and especially Lolapalooza... and even more especially the last Lolapalooza, when I lost my shoes and my friends and I piled in cars and slept at my Aunt Barbara's house in Metarie on every inch of her floor and any spare soft surface.  Maybe it's because of that high school art field trip where Rachel and I pulled some ridiculous shenanigans (I'll never tell) and almost missed the Bolton bus home, which we mightily grimaced and laughed about as we reminisced while we weaved our way through the artists and poets-for-hire in Jackson Square last weekend (24 years later).  Maybe it's because of biegnets and gumbo (even though as a small kid I'd complain about going to Cafe Du Monde with my family because I didn't like biegnets... let's just pretend that didn't happen).  Maybe it's because I got my nose pierced at Rings of Desire there back in the day when I wasn't supposed to.  Maybe it's the extra cherries they give you in your Hurricane at Pat O's if you smile when you ask.  Maybe it's all those spirited musicians on the street corners (including the electronica snake charmer sounding trio I saw last weekend).  Maybe it's all those trips to Mardi Gras during college (even though I was fully groped everywhere that counts by a complete stranger in the wall-to-wall mosh pit of people on Bourbon Street that one time).  And speaking of college, maybe it's because I almost accepted my offer to attend Tulane for undergrad but for the charms of Texas drawing me in so fully and away from my home state.  Maybe it's because I worked for a Fifth Circuit judge after law school in Lafayette and spent many days in hotels and eating at all the best restaurants in New Orleans while we were in town for court sittings at the gorgeous Court of Appeals building on Camp Street (seriously, those courtrooms are majestic).  Maybe it's the air that hangs heavy and makes my hair grow bigger by the minute (who cares?).  Maybe it's all the big love and reverie that just is that city.  Maybe it's because now I'm no longer a Fluevog shoe store virgin.  Maybe it's because rain feels right there.  Maybe it's all the things seen and unseen that hang in the air there and make it feel like I belong.  My body and blood knew last week that I was home.  When I was there, my body breathed more easily.  My tense upper traps felt like water instead of stone.  I rested more fully.  Was in much less pain.  Felt more beautiful.  Relaxed into my environment.  And I loved every single second as I let it just fill me up.


Monday, February 26, 2018

That Perfect Little Prayer

Tonight it struck me that I've been saying the same prayer every night with my kids, for their whole lives, that I said with my mom as a little girl.  I started singing it quietly to my son when he was a wee baby, and I just never stopped.  My singing was the magical cure that could calm him.  Almost like a snake charmer.  Not much else worked.  I'm still his touchstone for calm in this crazy world, and I dearly hope I always will be.  I also sang Puff the Magic Dragon to him over and over and over.  Even when I was deliriously tired with a cranky baby, I just kept singing in the dark with him because he loved it so.  It makes me teary to remember doing that now that, at nine years old, he comes up to my nose.  And when my little girl came along, she got to join in our ritual, too.

But back to the prayer... when my mom and I used to say it together before I went to bed, it was third in succession after two others.  We had a routine.  (Perhaps this began the series of many routines I find myself forming and craving, and always have... or perhaps I'm just a wee bit OCD.  Or, likely, both.)  In my childhood, the first prayer was mine to say alone (The Lord's Prayer), the second one my mom would say alone (it was one generally about gratitude, though I don't remember all the words now, but it included something about being thankful for the "birds that sing" and for "Everything"), and the third one, we'd say in unison together... and, well, that's the only one I say with my kids. 

Actually, I don't say it with my kids.  I sing it.  And they sing it with me.  Because I tend to turn random stuff, especially with my kids, into songs.  My daughter even danced to it last night.  It's still spell-binding to my son, the same way Puff the Magic Dragon was when he was teeny.  His eyes just hone in and lock on mine, and he sings with me.  It's just a thing we do.  And I love it more and more every single night we do it, as they get older, and as I get older.  First, I sing it with my daughter in her room, then with my son in his.

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
Guide me through the starry night
And wake me with the morning light.

(We sing the first and third lines to the tune of the first part of the alphabet song: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and the second and fourth lines to the tune of the next part of the alphabet song: H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P.)

And I like remembering that "Amen" means an expression of solemn ratification or agreement;  “it is so”; “certainty”; “truth”; and “verily.”  

It's that simple.  But it's also kind of Everything that matters at the same time when I really open my heart and just sit with it.  It's like star gazing and dreaming all wrapped up in a perfect little prayer. 


Sunday, February 18, 2018

That Perfect Music... and Flight...

Sometimes that's all there is.  Floating in my mind.  Enveloping me in my car.  Pouring through these membranes between speakers set in cushions on my ears.  Filling me with something.  I can't see images without associating songs with them.  Can't see faces I love without tunes filling in the missing pieces.  Everything that matters is always tied up in music to me.  Perhaps that's why it makes me cry to watch my little girl dance with so much emotion. 

I read recently that God speaks through music.  "You know what music is?  God's little reminder that there's something else besides us in this universe; harmonic connection between all living beings, every where, even the stars."  (Robin Williams)  And while I'm on the topic of God, I had a realization the other day about a phrase I must have heard about a million times throughout my childhood, but it never really struck me until now.  I made note of it in my phone during the middle of a random day this week when the thought passed through my mind.  And the hallways of my mind are echoing with this notion in my Mom's voice:  God is love.  Such a simple answer.  Maybe that's why I'm always so struck by love songs (the good kind... the subtly good but deeply real ones). 

Music is the place where people pour themselves.  And we can't help but swim in it.  The most passionate parts of us are music.  I get chills hearing the right music.  My OCD grinds its teeth and clenches something inside me when I hear the perfect song to hold the hand of the exact feeling I'm cloaked in... and then I find myself listening to it on repeat for days on end.  It's like the song is around every corner.  Whether it's actually playing or not.

I thought late last night about writing about a particular song that's got my attention as of late, but I was too close to dreamland to get up and type.  It's one I've been listening to a lot after first hearing it while watching figure skating on the Olympics.  It's a Coldplay song with gentle piano rhythms behind haunting vocals.  And it's about a flock of birds taking flight.  Hovering above.  "It's how you think of love," it says.  And it reminded me of a print I made in art school that is part of an autobiographical series I made into a handmade and hand-printed book called Stages (both the performance kind and the time-passing kind).  This particular print looks back and encapsulates how I felt just before I fell from grace and became lost in my young adulthood.  A shifting into a lonely place.  The image in the print is of this flock of birds taking flight, coming right at the viewer, out of a New Orleans balcony window.  It's a serigraph, with deep reddish undertones.  But amid the lively flock emerging is a dead bird, bound and hanging by a rope in the very heart of the image.  But the hung bird I printed in transparent iridescent purplish ink on top of the rest of the photographic image, so it's faint.  Glimmering quietly there, shadow-like.  You can only see that something is dead in the very heart of that emerging flock if you look really closely.  If someone wants to see what's actually there.  It's easy to miss if you don't look long enough.  But it's there.  That print, with the free, soaring flock marred by the nearly invisible dead bird just hanging there, feels like that song.  A sadness.  It hangs.  But also sings.  Nothing is ever black and white, is it?  And every beautiful thing has tears inside of it, doesn't it?  What else in the world can capture a feeling like that besides art?  And what does it better than music?  Maybe only art and music combined, even if only in my head.  But I don't think it's only in my head.  Music is entirely too universal for that.  Thank God for music.  Or is that just redundant?

Saturday, February 17, 2018

That Perfect Re-Emergence of My Professional Self

This past year, I worked a full time year.  For most people, that's not a big deal.  In years past for me, that wouldn't be news at all.  But in BigLaw speak, after so much medical leave and working from a recliner at home when I could even work at all, that officially means, I'm "back."  And I am given important work to do.  And am assimilated into my team.  In real world terms, it means I finally proved to myself and everyone else I could still do this very hard and demanding job of mine after my seven surgeries and all the recovery time that goes with that.  It means people I work with believe in me.  It means I believe in me.  It means my kids get to see what grit and determination looks like.  What getting up when we fall looks like.  And my law firm is incredible.  Not only in terms of the work we do, the clients we have, and the quality of intellect of the people with whom I work, but also in terms of how well they have supported me through my difficult time because they understood the value I bring to the table.  While I work in BigLaw, which is known for being an environment that is the toughest of the tough, this firm is special.  All the high expectations are there, but the support is also there when they see that you're giving your all and have real value to contribute.  So, it's a win-win.  I think those close to me probably all wondered for a while there (me included) whether I could still do this given the physical hurdles I faced.  Whether my professional re-emergence was possible.  It was humbling and scary.  To my core.  For years.  Especially when I'm the sole breadwinner, and I have precious young eyes looking up to me for love and financial support as they grow and shine through their childhood years.  While nothing in life is ever assured, it feels damn good to be back in the swing of things, to be working in my office for full days every day, and to have even earned a bonus this past year for all the everything I've committed of myself to this endeavor during my steep climb up the recovery hill.  And climbing is hard with these operated-on hips, let me tell you.

Last week, I had two monumental achievements... well, monumental to me. 

First, on Monday, I gave a CLE (continuing legal education) presentation to a group of lawyers in my firm.  It was based on the substance of a scholarly article I've written that is being published in June in a major legal journal in my field.  I spoke for about an hour while people either were or pretended to be interested in jury trial rights issues in bankruptcy detailed in my PowerPoint.  I used to speak to large rooms filled with lawyers about all sorts of topics related to my field at various conferences both in Texas and Louisiana.  But I've not done it in about three years due to all my surgeries.  And the room of folks to whom I spoke this week wasn't as large as many I've faced, but still.  I did it, and did it well. 

Second, I attended a dinner meeting of the Inn of Court (a true honor to be a part of) this week.  I've been unable to sit for extended periods for so long that I've also not attended Inn meetings in years.  It felt incredible to attend, and I was moved by how warmly I was welcomed by my colleagues in my field from firms all over the DFW metroplex.  I sent an email yesterday to the seven or so people with whom I sat at dinner at the Inn meeting just to say how much I enjoyed being in their company again, and everyone sent me lovely responses in return.  It's always important to show people you're grateful for their presence when you are.  That stuff matters.  My Dad taught me that, among many other things, when I was a baby lawyer, and his influence and guidance regarding my professional career has been immeasurably valuable.  Mostly, it consists of being mindful and friendly to everyone (because you never know who you're going to meet and how your meeting might be a light or a help for you, the other person, or someone else), being damn good at what you do (this is where the hours of grunt work and polishing of grey matter come in), and putting yourself out there (this is where bravery comes in), so that people know you and know what you're good at so that you become a go-to person when it comes to the things for which you're known.  And then people start to use the word "expert" when they talk about you and your work (who knew I'd become an expert on bankruptcy jurisdiction, for instance?).  That advice has increased my success ten-fold.  It's a pretty simple formula really, but there's a lot of character and discipline that goes into putting into action.  It's funny... I wonder where I'd be today but for the orthopedic quagmire that dragged me down.  It's probably not worth thinking about... "what if" roads rarely are.  Instead, it's better to think more along the lines of being a phoenix that people weren't sure would rise again.  But I'm rising.  Because that's who I am.  And this week, I have concrete examples of forward progress.  Of rising from my ashes. 

And next week, I'm attending a conference for lawyers and judges in my field in New Orleans.  Which takes my breath away.  I used to speak at gigs like this, but I'm not speaking this time... though I'm thrilled to be attending.  I'm the most senior attorney from my firm attending this year, so it's important for me to be there and to circulate.  And it will feel like putting on an old comfortable pair of loved shoes I haven't worn in a while (though, ironically, I don't think I get to wear my trademark heels to this conference just yet because of my hip).  Settling back into the professional public me I worked so hard to build.  And I'm really looking forward to it.  My oldest brother is also a restructuring lawyer (ahem, a fancy way of saying business bankruptcy lawyer), and he'll be there, too.  Which is a comfort and gives me even more to look forward to.  Quality time with my big brother.  Given how different our personalities are, I find humor and odd joy in the fact that we ended up with pretty much the same job (though we approach it in our own unique ways and at different firms).  And then the cherry on top of this cake is that I get to spend the weekend in New Orleans after the conference with some of my dear Louisiana girlfriends, who always fill me up and bring much needed insight, hugs, and laughter into my life.  And I get to be in New Orleans, a city that always sings to me.  It's where I visited my grandparents so many times growing up, and a place I attended so many concerts in my youth... in short, a place that is simply beloved to me. 

Despite all my positivity and talk of rising from the ashes, there's something I'm a little afraid of.  The scary part I keep trying not to think about is that I'm flying alone for the first time in 3 maybe 4 years.  Flying is flying... which is always a little scary just because of the small space and nowhere-to-go-in-an-emergency fact of being in a plane among the clouds.  The normal flying fear, I find, is easily overcome by consciously remembering how cool it, in fact, is to be in the clouds.  And amazing music in headphones and a good book to read (I've definitely got the music and headphones part covered, and I have a book arriving from Amazon today) also create lovely distractions.  But here's the thing... schlepping myself and my things through an airport while still maimed is not something I'm looking forward to.  It's precarious because I am not willing to hurt myself again, and I have to be so careful that I don't.  And it's an embarrassing contradiction to still not be physically independent when this girl inside is so independent.  But if there's anything this broken-bodied journey of mine has taught me, it's the grace necessary to ask for help when I need it.  So, Southwest (and perhaps fellow passengers) and New Orleans hotel staff, here I come... and I may need a hand here and there to make it where I am going.  Some help on my journey onward and upward.  Because it matters.  And I simply have to be me again, and this is part of it.

So it's a monumental couple of weeks for this curly-haired girl with a cane... who happens to clean up pretty well in a suit when she needs to. 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

That Perfect Entertaining Thing to do Whilst Others Sleep

I only remember perhaps once or twice a year that I own this set.

I don't know that I take it very seriously, but it's fun to dive into.  And I feel like diving right now.  And for fun, I am going to add some music that seems fitting with each card....

I did a pretty standard tarot reading on myself just now.  The card at the top represents the archetype, a/k/a me for purposes of this reading.  Then there's a set of three cards.  The left card represents the physical realm, the middle card represents the mental, and the third represents the spiritual.

My archetype card for this reading is Fourteen - Temperance.  The book describes Temperance as the character Delirium.  Here's the excerpt from the book for this card:

Always in command.  But bound.  Paradoxically views herself as weak.  As a result, ignores the restraints most people think of as normal.  Coming after death.  Winged.  Tossing liquid gold from one gleaming cup to another.   Power in excess.  Yet calm, self-possessed, contained.

 This one has to be Tori Amos.  Cornflake Girl seems fitting.

Okay... with that foundation, on to the physical: the King of Pentacles.

Belongs totally to the world he rules.  The spirals are not alive, and some are broken.  Fossils.  Body mostly stone and dead matter.  Master of wealth, property, power.  Had to fight to achieve, to protect.  Does not seek out battles.  But not passive.  Torn and cracked crown, but with a fiery light.  Person of importance and substance.  Successful.  Loves life.  Protects what she loves.  Calm but with deep understanding.  (Interesting how the physical card was literally about physical attributes, including brokenness, yet power.)

Here, I'm thinking Iron & Wine.  Woman King.  Unmistakable power, but with bloodshot eyes, and weeping.  And Marlene Dietrich's Favorite Poem, a single line is resonating in my mind here - ...spoke hushed and frailing hips.... 

And mental: the Six of Swords:

Intellect.  Conflict.  Fenced.  Complicated images - productions of the mind.  Everything in the universe, seen and unseen, fits into some perfect pattern.   Everything with a place in the grand scheme.  Obsession with visions becoming more and more complicated... as the medieval cosmos, with the universe's concentric circles moving in harmony.  We can never really separate intellect from our emotions.  (Interesting again how the mental card was about intellect....)

For some reason, with this one, I'm thinking Hedwig & The Angry Inch.  Origin of Love.  Historical, mythological roots trying to explain how our bodies came to be and love.  Intertwined, harmonic, approaching some sort of logic to describe the indescribable... but fanciful all at once. 

Finally, spiritual: the Page of Cups:

Feminine.  Water.  Above a stream of words.  Water is feminine in the way it flows and shimmers with beauty.  But hermaphroditic, including all qualities, flowing from one thing into another.  Spreading over everything.  Literary stream of consciousness... no judgment.  Experience.  Imaginative, dreamy, reflective.  Allowing feelings or fantasies to flow into awareness without judgment.  (And interesting, once again and finally, that the spiritual card involved water and flowing.)

 I'm going to end it here with Tori again.  This time Reindeer King.  "Crystal Core... you are at the still point of the turning world... The divide, fearing death, desiring life... Ice you were the one most tender with the rivers, you the roof of the waves layer after layer...."  And also Love is the Seventh Wave... "There is no deeper wave than this...."

If you're still reading way at the end of this long, long blog post, I hope it's at least been a little fun to journey through this with me here in my quiet late evening.

Friday, February 9, 2018

That Perfect Bracelet

When I went to Baton Rouge last fall for my ten year law school reunion, I stayed with my most sister like friend, whom I've known since 8th grade when we met upon her move to Alexandria from Maryland.  We bonded immediately on her first day at Brame part-way through the school year, the day we met over red beans and rice in the school cafeteria talking about loving R.E.M. and how awful New Kids on the Block was.  And she gave me an early 41st birthday present this year on my visit.  It's quickly become one of my favorite things I've ever owned.

This girl and I have lived through so much together, even over many years of not living in the same town (though I've especially loved when we have).  She knows every inch of my soul.  The good, the bad, the saintly, the dirty, the perfect, the messy.  All of it.  And loves me for every piece of it as much as I love her for all of hers.  It's amazing how we both sit in awe of each others' strengths... and quirks... and what stirs us.  We've been planning our meet up in New Orleans in a couple of short weeks from now (squee!), and she texted me yesterday out of the blue and asked me if we could go to her favorite hat store after we go to the Fluevog store (this will be my FIRST Fluevog in-store experience... I almost can't believe it, and her first time in person at her hat store... thank you, Internet).  I never mentioned the Fluevog store.  She just knew we'd go.  Just like she always just knows everything without me saying it.  That's also why we kick so much ass at Pictionary together.  Either of us can draw the first inch of a line or a squiggle, and the other will automatically know it's a swing set.  Or a clown.  Or whatever it's supposed to be.  I can read her facial expressions like they were my own.  And vice versa.  Last time she spent the night at my house, we each lay awake in separate rooms unable to sleep, but there were too many people here that night that we'd surely have woken up others if we got up to actually talk that night.  So we just talked with our minds in a way, I guess.  Unsaid things might as well have actually been said between us.  We have a strange kind of ESP with each other.  Always have.

The birthday present she gave me this year is a handmade piece of jewelry from a Louisiana jewelry maker called Mimosa.  And it is the most wonderful bracelet.  I've never been much on wearing bracelets.  Watches, sure.  But I don't remember loving any bracelets ever since I had an arm-full of those hand woven ones from summer camp friends in junior high.  But this one... I find I wear it almost every day.  It reminds me of what is most beautiful in this life, in this world.  I even store it in it's own beautiful ceramic jar all by itself.  And I'm ever grateful for what it represents to me.

We were eating some delicious meat pies when she gave it to me this past October, and I remember getting teary reading the card that came with it sitting there in that restaurant.  Here's the front and back of the card:

I love re-reading this card.  It sums up everything that truly matters in life to me.  (And it's even Irish... I mean come on.)  And Rachel is a beautiful symbol of that.  Actually, Rachel and I are a beautiful symbol of that.  It's the bond that is so lovely. 

I like to text her random photos sometimes when I wear it and stop and think of her, just so she knows.

Like this one, taken just now.  This next one's from not too long ago.

And another from sometime before that.

You get the idea.

So... I love this bracelet and how it symbolizes the me, the we, that we are capable of.

Anam Cara.  💗

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

That Perfect Rain

It can't rain all the time.

But I sorta wish it would.  I mean on top of lingering and dreaming in rainy, pensive moments, which I'm wont to do way more frequently than I'll solidly admit, rain soothes me physically more than I think I realized.  And who doesn't sleep better under a cozy feather comforter with a rainstorm barreling outside (which I'll hopefully be doing shortly...)? 

I've been trying out some new postural experiments with my back.  I've been trying to arch my back more, against what every physical therapist has told me over the years, because I've realized that it makes certain weaker muscles in my low back kick in (in a good way), makes my upper back relax (also in a good way), and feels like that's how my body wants to be positioned.  Always has.  I'm an ever perplexing jenga of a person with the repaired shoulder and hip on my left side (four times on the shoulder, twice on the hip).  With hypermobile joints now in my 40s, which were fun in my youth, I struggle daily as I experiment with my body and try to find sitting positions, standing positions... well, everything positions that don't hurt too much.   Sometimes I win.  Like yesterday when I was on day 3 of focusing on holding my back in the right arch-like shape whenever I became conscious of it.  I remembered that before my surgeries, my back was always arched... more than other people's.  And it didn't hurt.  And I was surprisingly pleased with how I was able to manage my pain some with those new positional efforts.  Today, however, was a losing battle.  I think the arching while working at my desk all day yesterday maybe went too far.  Too much of the same position?  Plus I started my period.  And woke up in the middle of a dream to my nine year old in my face and my alarm going off just a moment later.  And I woke up sore... which might be okay, but I could also just tell it was probably going to go downhill.  I could just feel all the aches rising up in my joints, in my bones as I crept out of my bed and began my morning routine.

It was chilly this morning (so said my phone) when I ushered the kids out the door with their nanny to school bright and early.  She showed up this morning in shorts while I was piling coats on my kids.  Then, when I stepped out on the porch as they left, it didn't feel like the 40 degrees my weather app had reported to me.  But it felt kind of humid and weird.  With cold coming.  Maybe that explains the aches, too.  It was colder by the time I left for my office almost an hour later, and I got a chill while pumping gas on the way downtown, even though I had on long sleeves under my blazer. 

As I sat at my desk working intently on some intense projects today, I could feel the pain building.  And building.  And I'd find myself distracted, sighing loudly to myself in a near futile effort to break the tension occasionally before just deep-diving back into work.  And then whispering "fuck" to myself here and there when I just couldn't find a position that wouldn't distract me from my work for very long.

And then it happened.  Late this afternoon, a heavy storm hit Dallas and began pouring down.  And suddenly, simultaneously, much of the pain lifted.  Took leave of my restless body.  Reprieve... at least for a while.  When the rain began as gentle little pitter patters on my window up on 38 in the sky, I got up and snapped this photo of my view of the perfect rainy gray day above the city below.  I love how subtle the rain-droppy streaks are on the glass in front of the ominous gray surrounding and eating up everything in its path. 

Rain just knows how to blend with my soul... kind of like painting with watercolors.  It comes in with intention, may be harsh here and there, but then it blurs and bleeds things effortlessly together until they feel more peaceful, more flowing, more bathed in color.  And at least for a while this afternoon, in less pain.

It's hard sometimes feeling like I'm trapped in this vessel that dishonors all that I have inside me to be, to give, to share, to love with, to thrill with, to sing with, to create with, to dream with, to intuit with, to connect with, to drink deep with.  Acceptance, girl.  Grace and gratitude for all that is in me. Remember that.  And the rain.  And I can hear comforting thunder rumbles in the distance as I type.

Who cares if my body feels like it is in smithereens if my spirit is ever strong and true?

Friday, February 2, 2018

That Perfect Encore

I am lucky that a dear friend's birthday was close enough to today to justify my buying us tickets as a gift for her to go see Jose Gonzales at the Majestic Theater together tonight.

She and I talked about Jose Gonzales's music one night not too long ago when we had a slumber party at her house and stayed up talking deep into the night.  She had seen him play in New York many years ago when she lived there and loved him.... and so when I saw that tickets were on sale, and they were at the Majestic of all places, I bought them on the spot.  And she loved him again tonight.  And so did I.  And I'd be remiss if I failed to mention Bedouine, this lovely singer who took the stage as an opener before Jose.  Mesmerizing and mellow.  Feels like something melting.

Jose was more electric, while being acoustic.  He was an incredible one man show.  How so much deep sound, an abundance of thoughtful lyrics, trance-inducing rhythm, and soul-bending crescendos emanated from a single person in the center of a beautifully adorned stage, I still can't quite comprehend.  But I'm grateful for the experience.  I only cried a little (okay, twice) as I sat there moved and beside myself.  ;)

And he had very minimal lighting, mostly consisting of a lightningesque streak from time to time and spotlights that were sometimes blue.  Sometimes white.  Sometimes red.  And there was smoke curling in them, which kept catching my eye, especially during the more trance-like rhythmic guitar sessions.  They reminded me of times when I (stupidly) smoked cigarettes in my youth but took joy in watching my exhaled smoke curl in sunbeams.  I have vivid content memories of watching that back in the day in college.  It's a deeply good memory, even if toxic... literally.

You may recall I blogged about the encore at a recent Iron & Wine show leaving me (and everyone else in the crowd) wanting.  But not the encore tonight.  I didn't even miss a beat of it videoing it because I was certain it would be the encore since it wasn't played during the main set.  Mikila looked over at me just before Jose came back out, and she said "It's going to be Heartbeats."  And I agreed.  And I readied my camera.   

He referenced "the Knife," the original singer of this song, after he played it.  But it sounded like he referenced the song as a metaphorical knife in that moment because he then followed it with what he called a love song, seemingly in an effort to try to give us an emotional reprieve after the beautiful knife of a song we'd just lived through.  Magnificent.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

That Perfect Musical

I've seen plenty of musicals live in the many years I've had season tickets to the Dallas Theater Center.  My all time favorite live one was Cabaret.  Lord, it was darkly incredible.  Oh, and I also saw Hedwig and the Angry Inch.  Though I must admit I liked the film better, the live show was also such fun.

Hm... this is maybe harder than I thought... there are more musicals I have really loved than I realized when I set out to type this.  No matter.  The inspiration will become clear as I write.

I recently saw the film The Greatest Showman, which is based on the life of P.T. Barnum and the birth of the circus.  Anyone who knows anything about me at all knows I have a penchant for cirque.  Always have.  Though playful in my youth going to the circus with my grandmother, and ever impressed with the elephants who always stole the show, it took a dark turn for me in my own artwork in college and after.

I found myself surprisingly moved during The Greatest Showman.  Certain scenes took my breath away, though I have to say the bearded lady seemed a little overdone (imho... it's my blog, I can say what I want).  And the lyrics to the songs are incredible and lift up something inside of me.  It also reminded me of what life might have been like if I'd stayed the course being an artist full-time.  If I'd created that traveling puppet show I'd dreamed of long ago.  Or some other dark, slightly twisted version of something along those lines.  That girl-artist still thrives inside this broken body with a mane for hair and the lawyer brain.  And I will always root for the oddities, the dreamers, the dancers, the ones with brutiful stories under their drive to shine for a moment with the flashing lights and colors.  Because I am one at heart, too.

What I did not expect was how my little girl who absorbed my very spirit in the womb would take to The Greatest Showman.  I have already cried multiple times watching her expressive improvisational dancing to the music from the film, which makes me love it all the more.  Her dancing embodies how the film and its music made me feel - my inner world presented to me in a dramatic and precious miniature me (and yet not me) before my very eyes.  She is destined for greatness based solely on the musical lifeblood flowing through her.  And this film brings it all out in her in shining glory.  So even though I have loved some other musicals, this one got personal, in an utterly magical way.

(Please let this video work... iMovie is giving me fits....)

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.)