Tuesday, September 12, 2017

That Perfect Step

Hard wood clacking down.  Steps filled with intention.  Newly awakened.

I suppose all shoes are "real" in some sense.  But in my years as a lawyer, I have amassed quite a collection of delicious fancy shoes.  Racks of them.  I'm kind of a shoe whore.  And not ashamed.  But I've been relegated to wearing non-heel, soft-soled shoes for a couple of very long years now.  I won't lie.  I've got some adorable flat shoes.  But they're still... well... flat shoes.  For years before my surgeries, I was known around town as the girl with the cool shoes.  My reputation preceded me.  I was stopped on the street frequently by random women to graciously receive shoe compliments.  As I write this, I'm smiling, but I also realize it sounds shallow.

But, oh, it isn't.

When something becomes such a piece of your identity and it is stripped away from you out of necessity, something withers inside.

I take my fancy shoes down off their racks from time to time and dust them.  It's hard to watch them.  Just.  Sitting.  There.  I've thought of putting them in shadow boxes and hanging them up, afraid they'll never be worn again, but at least that way, I could look at them.  I mean, how cool would a shoe wall be?  I may still do that... at least with the really tall ones. 

But today was different.  A few months back, I bought some gel heel supports to put in this one particular pair of Fluevogs I thought might be workable this far into recovery, and then I strolled around the house in them on hardwoods to determine if I could wear them for any length of time without risking ruining my day by bringing on unnecessary pain before my day even really starts.  I'd tried this once before when I bought the inserts, only to quickly begin feeling sharp pains deep in my left hip muscles with the pounding down of my heel after only a few steps.  So I took them off, carefully replacing them in their spot on the rack, feeling a bit forlorn.  This particular pair isn't even that tall.  It only has a 1.25 inch heel.  Quite literally baby steps.  Or so I thought.  But THIS morning, when I walked through the house in them, half expecting to return them to the shelf any moment, there were no sharp pains.  Okay, there was one eensy sharp pain in my butt.  But it was small.  So I kept them on, determined, and I packed some soft-soled flats in my work bag (just in case) and braved the world in REAL SHOES today.

What I didn't expect was how the SOUND of the shoes on the pavement would awaken something deep within me.  The first clack of the wooden heels down on my driveway concrete as I walked toward my car on the street echoed in my mind.  Resonated deeply.  Almost brought me to tears.  Happy ones.  And then again on the marble floor in the foyer of the high rise tower of my office.  And then once again on the ceramic tile in the restroom.  And even on the plastic carpet protector under my office chair.  (But the sound on the concrete was the most satisfying.)  The sound of decadent clacking.  It was power, aesthetic beauty, confidence, control, intention, progress, and freedom all at once swirling together in my experience of each step I placed.  Echoes of each step from the moment before stirred anticipation within me to hear the next hard stride to follow it.  GOD I MISSED THIS.  So much.   The beauty of something so... me... returning, even in the tiniest way, cannot be overstated.  Indeed, words can barely capture the feeling that sound evoked in me today.  I sounded like myself coming and going.  And I so want more of THAT.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

That Perfect Musical Attunement

Sometimes, the Universe just speaks to me.  And when I'm especially lucky, it sings to me in verse.

There are two new albums that are just emerging, and I swear they're made just for me.  Whether the artists know it or not.  I don't guess that matters much.  With any art, you can make it yours no matter what the artist's intent was.  I always liked keeping the meaning of my artwork secret.  For many reasons, really, but among them, because I wanted people to connect with the images without preconceived notions, even if those notions were mine.  And it's always better if things aren't spelled out.  When they are, they can be trite... so much so that they make my stomach turn.  Ah, the power of the metaphor.  But if someone who knew me, like really knew me, understood the actual meaning of my work without me having to tell, that has always been my favorite thing, personally.  But that's about feeling understood as the maker.  Which is separate.  I think for the experience of the observer, the artist's meaning is a wholly independent thing altogether.  As the aesthetic experiencer, we long to be understood, but we get to create the meaning and weave it in with what we observe, feel, and hear.  When we give images or music our own meaning in our own situatedness, they become more special to us.  They actually become a part of the layered canvas that is us.  And in that way, we get to live and breathe in the new creation.  Pretty amazing, when you think of it.  We humans are good for something, it seems....

So these two artists with the new albums I mentioned just turn me upside down and inside out and melt my insides time and again.  Always attuned with my spirit.  And the albums aren't fully released yet, so I get to watch my iTunes for updates when new songs show up from the pre-orders I've placed.  Sweet tuneful anticipation, indeed.

The first one is Beast Epic by Iron & Wine (who I get to see in Dallas this November, which makes me so damn giddy every time I think about it).  There are two songs from the album out so far, though the rest of it isn't released yet.  But those two.  Whoosh.  Just try to listen to them without your heart soaring and sinking all at once.  So beautiful.

The first is Call It Dreaming, which came out a few weeks or so ago....  Here's a little excerpt:

"Where we see enough to follow
We can hear when we are hollow
Where we keep the light we're given
We can lose and call it living


Where the sun isn't only sinking fast
Every night knows how long it's supposed to last
Where the time of our lives is all we have
And we get a chance to say
Before we ease away
For all the love you've left behind
You can have mine."

And then Thomas County Law, another by Iron & Wine, just came out last week, and it's been swirling in my head since then.

"There's nowhere safe to bury all the time I've killed


There are castles for kings
There are birds without wings
I could whine 'bout it all,
But I won't....


When they hold 'em to the light you can see right through
Every dreamer falls asleep in their dancing shoes
I may say I don't belong here
But I know I do."

And now for the new one from my singing soul sister.  I just discovered this song last night on the new album called Native Invader, and it's been ever present with me since then.  I think I even dreamed about it.  I don't know if Tori Amos can actually feel the seasons of my life (surely not), but it's always, always felt that way.  I guess the Universe helps out with that.  First off, this song is called Cloud Riders, which appears to me to be an evolution from one of my old favorites of hers, Cloud on My Tongue.  Probably better to ride a cloud than to let it sit on your tongue.  Anyway.  In her very first line of this one, she sings about cliffs.  Cliffs.  She had me at cliffs.  But then she also saw shooting stars at 4:22 a.m.  And she brought a blanket to ride out a storm.  And was touched by the holy ghost.  And then she reminds me:  "Girl, it’s time you take back your life." 

Sometimes the Universe truly sings; we just have to listen.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

That Perfect Concept of a Flower

As I was about to toss some withered and mostly dead flowers unceremoniously into the trash, something gave me pause.  That moment suddenly got larger and more deeply scented in the depths of my mind as I stood there staring at them before they took the plunge into the darkness of the tall metal can lined with plastic.  And I stopped to snap a few photos in that moment... thinking that doing so would capture what I was feeling, which was carrying me quietly to a deeper place.

But then, when taking the photos wasn't enough to capture it, I turned where I often turn.  Writing.  Letting the emotion of the moment pour out, just seeing where it takes me.  Riding the universe of my mind through my words.

Floral sections of markets draw me in on even the most mundane of shopping trips.  I always seem to feel compelled to smell at least one bunch of flowers when passing by as if some bee-like honing quality has momentarily taken over my brain.  Even more delightful still are flowers in the wild.

I guess it's hard to call more than one thing a favorite when you can't narrow it down to a winner, because by definition, a "favorite" is the best one of the bunch....  With flowers, like songs and poems, though, I can't ever seem to pick just one.  Maybe everyone has this problem, and that's why there are such things as bouquets and mix tapes (er, playlists).  But, in any event, these are my favorites: Camellias, and their nostalgic ability to bring my mind zooming back to my childhood life in small town Louisiana.  Zinnias, and all their varied, crowded, gloriously wild intermingling stalks.  Cherry blossoms in their ethereal majesty.  Honeysuckle, in its calling us to partake of its golden sweetness on our tongues.  Wisteria, in its grape-like bunches of cascading petals emoting romance and charm.  Magnolias... that scent... there's really nothing better in this world.  (Hm.  The scent of the magnolia is really capturing something important to me... and after re-reading this post for typos before posting, that now makes so much sense in my retrospection... you'll see.)

But flowers bear a sadness, too, in their very being.  They are the living things, brought to their early demise, so that we can adorn bodies and tables with them on the most special of occasions -- in our hands in weddings, on long dinner tables at holiday feasts, on nervous lapels at proms, or in our hair as crowns in tea parties in fields.  And yet they are also the living things we are compelled to gift to others in times of immense sorrow -- the death or memory of a loved one, a miscarriage, or yet another surgery.  In both those forms of celebration -- in the lightest light and in the darkest dark -- we wield the flowers' life cycle to bring a thing of beauty into a moment that needs or deserves it, yet they also remind us of the reality of the temporal and fleeting nature of beauty... of life... of gifts... of joy... and even of sadness.

They can be a reminder and a muse, all at once.

If we look closely enough in our staring, we can feel the anticipation of the bud just forming, the awe in the glory of the full bloom, and even the melancholic love of the shriveling petal, which dries out no matter how much water it is given.  If we pay attention, we can see the cycle of the flowers, not just the life and death of the singular, momentary flower.

And, in my mind's wandering, I am also reminded of the Little Prince's rose.  In that book, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry describes a rose the Little Prince loved above all else.  It was the thought that there was his single rose on his teeny planet somewhere in the universe among the stars that made all the stars special and bright.  Without the knowledge that his rose was among them, the starts might as well have all been dark.  So long as the rose was out there somewhere, all was right in the world of his mind.  To a garden of roses, he spoke:

"You are beautiful, but you are empty," he went on. "One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you -- the rose that belongs to me.  But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose."

While the metaphor of the Little Prince is a tearfully beautiful one to which I have always been drawn -- the idea of a singular special rose -- I am thinking for the first time that this prose, in fact, misses the beauty of the rose.  A gardener does not prune a single rose for his whole life, yet he probably loves roses more than anyone.  A gardener prunes his roses In fact, when you get down to it, isn't even roses in their plural form, nor is it even a singular rose, after all, that move him.  In his mind, it is the singular concept of the rose he loves.  It is his love of the essence of the rose that keeps him wanting to consume its scent and to watch it bloom again and again and what causes him to care for it to keep it alive as long as he can.  But we all know, you can't keep a single rose longer than its life.  Unless you dry it.  And then, I guess you can keep it.  But then it is nothing but a dried rose that no longer smells.  It is not the same.  And a rose under a glass for safe-keeping still doesn't actually stop time, except in fairy tales.  And willing it otherwise only focuses on the fear of the inevitable loss of the one flower.  But, dear readers, do not despair as the Little Prince would have. 

Hope is not lost.  Quite to the contrary.  Indeed, the most deeply incredible thing about flowers is their ability to be, quite literally, distilled down to an essence so that we understand what is essential about the flower, not just its petals... the way it leaves a scent too strong to be overpowered by even the foulest of things this world can throw at us.  Even as we give and receive flowers in our times of greatest joy and our times of greatest need, we are forced to watch them die, which we accept... because we have to.  But unlike the Little Prince's focus on a small, momentary, singular concept of his rose, which evokes his fear, the idea of the flower... the genre of the flower... the eternal nature of its blooming and its perpetual scent can come to us again and again over time and bring a peace with understanding of the ebbs and flows of the process of new flowers blooming.

There is a peace embedded in the idea of the cyclical nature of blooming that helps us escape the mourning of the death of each momentary bloom.  It is this very kind of idea that has driven me to heal time and again after surgeries.  Rebirth.  Re-blooming.  To see myself as a cyclical being with new growth after what felt like near death too many times.  I lost petals.  Maybe even whole blooms.  But I nevertheless bloomed again.  Like ocean tides flowing in and out, flowers bloom again and again, even though individual clusters of petals surely die.  

Every time I see a magnolia tree in bloom and simply remember to inhale, the death of all the prior flowers never even enters my mind, and I am filled with only my love of its scent and the beauty it carries.  When one bloom dies, we simply look forward to the next one in the cyclic beauty of nature.  It is the magnolia we must think of, not the bloom that had its time.  And when we accept that, we can resume the task of tossing the wilted ones in the trash without much pause, or we may need to place them up on a shelf someplace safe to be dried by time because sometimes in our sentimentality we're not quite ready to let these particular petals go just yet, but deep down we know that there will be many more magnolia blooms to come, and they will unfold anew and carry their beautiful scent. 

In a joke I once heard about the irony of giving the gift of flowers, a comedian once said it something like this:  "I love you... so here, watch these flowers die."  The irony has surface comedic appeal, to be sure.  But it assumes that giving the gift of flowers is undermined by the very fate of the individual flower and its transience.  I am consciously realizing anew that it is not the flower, in its momentary bloom, that is even the point.  It's a much more universal concept that is drawing me in.  It is the idea of flowers that bloom again and again that we experience with each new blossoming.  Even if it takes watching flowers die in their season to remind us of that.  The magnolia is always the magnolia, which blooms again and again, and its scent is ingrained.  Maybe, in fact, the essence I have always loved from the Little Prince is even more true when viewed through the lens of the beauty of the essence of the flower versus the existence of a momentary flower:  "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."  We must look at the essence.  Never just the petals.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

That Perfect Mom and Max Trip

Before all my surgeries, I loved driving.  Just about anywhere.  Just about anytime.  Trips large and small are things of joy for me.  I love the dreamy anticipation of reaching the destination while driving there, the pure joy in living in the moment once I've arrived at my desired place, and then having the time to quietly reflect on the memory just made in the car on the way back.  How could I not love that kind of magic?  It is the purest form of combined experience and reflection all rolled up into one.  My son, Max, and I used to take "Mom and Max Trips" a lot before I had all these surgeries that have prevented me from driving myself places for far too long now.  Every time we went somewhere, just the two of us, we announced that we were taking a Mom and Max Trip and reveled in the opportunity to bond for a while without anyone else.  I've begun the tentative (and not fearless) process of driving myself places, alone, again as of a few months ago.  I cried the first time I did it, so overwhelmed by the experience of that independence and freedom again.  I still don't venture out too far alone because my muscles that keep me upright get taxed very easily, and sitting for long periods without being able to recline is still way harder than I'd like.  I've written about that before, so I won't belabor it here.  But I am improving, and I'm able to do more and more all the time.  I drive to work downtown, to doctor's appointments, and to physical therapy alone now with good frequency, which I call a gigantic victory and a huge step in the right direction. 

This morning, something beautiful happened in a moment that for most people would risk being simply mundane.  You see, this morning, we were out of coffee.  Which could have been a bummer or an annoyance.  But it wasn't.  There's a Starbucks a little over a mile from my house, so I decided to make a run to Starbucks to fulfill my selfish need.  Plus I have had a Starbucks gift card in my wallet for quite a while that needed using.  So I threw on some shoes and a bra, tamed my ridiculously large curly mop of hair a tiny bit, and kept on my PJs and decided it was time.  Time for a Mom and Max Trip.  It was a short trip, but I hoped he would be excited, not really about the hot chocolate I was going to buy him, but about the mere happening of a Mom and Max Trip.  And he was.  He was literally jumping for joy.  He didn't want me to take Dad's car, even though it was first out in the driveway.  Nope.  He wanted to ride in Mom's car because that's the car we always used for Mom and Max Trips.  So we backed out the other car and took mine.  We rolled the windows down, and I put on my sunglasses and some upbeat Saturday morning music.  On the way to Starbucks, he recounted to me his memories of prior Mom and Max trips, especially the ones where I took him to swimming lessons at the Y when Eva was a baby, which is when he discovered he loved Somebody I Used to Know by Gotye, which is still his very favorite song.  At Starbucks, I let him take off his seatbelt and carefully procure the cups from the drive-through window as he stood leaning out the back window.  When we'd secured everything in cup holders (without spilling anything, thankfully, because I only told him about five times to be so careful because they were sooo hot), and he was buckled up again, on our way home, he said this:  "Mom, I want to tell you something.  I love you more than video games.  And you know how much I love video games."  The whole way home, we talked about how much we loved each other (it's about a five minute drive, but a very precious five minutes, obviously).  And he said as we neared our house, "Mom, I will always want to take Mom and Max Trips with you.  Every time you ever ask me if I want to take a Mom and Max trip, do you know what I'll say?  YES!"  I, too, will always and forever want to take Mom and Max Trips.  And I wanted to write this all down to document it so I can remind him when he is a stinky teenager and I ask him to go somewhere with me and he would rather hang out with his stinky friends or his girlfriend (who I'm sure will be lovely) that he said he would always say YES to Mom and Max Trips.  But somehow, despite the teenage years, which will be here before I know it, I have a feeling I won't have to remind him.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

That Perfect Dream State

I attempted to write down everything I could recall of the dream I had this morning just before waking instead of letting it fade quickly, as I usually do, before my day begins. Here goes....

I was trying out for this Fluevog film/variety show of some kind. I was a finalist with 5 other interesting, odd folks. We chatted a bit in a small room and then began wandering around. Then somehow, briefly, my kids were in it instead of me, but that didn't last long. Then when I was back in the show instead of my kids, I kept sneaking off to smoke cigarettes (which I haven't done in many years, which was also true in the dream, but I couldn't stop myself despite knowing I was supposed to stay on set). I kept sneaking off to a bistro place that was full of oddities and antique junk - kind of like this old weird kind of a mall place with a bumpy brown brick floor in my old hometown (which was called MacArthur Village, but which doesn't exist anymore), but it was way more filled with stuff (so much you could barely get through, like an upscale flea market) and creepier - like if that old space had become an overwhelming junk boutique. And there were French doors and patios off this one part, where I kept trying to get, that felt like New Orleans, but I knew it was Alexandria.  And that part was upstairs, and there was a creepy elevator I had to use because I was using my old platform walker thing to get around again (the one I used right after hip surgeries), so I couldn't use the stairs. And there was an old sales lady in a red suit with a sparkly brooch, who moved slowly but who had long manicured nails, who kept trying to call the elevator for me, and it didn't ever come when you wanted it, and when it did come, it was slow and you weren't sure if it would even move or if it would trap you in. But I was late getting back to tryouts and managed to get into the elevator, but I accidentally left my platform walker outside of the elevator doors upstairs. I didn't have it in me to go back through the ordeal of the elevator and go back to get the walker once I made it to the first floor because there were a few fat flying spiders in the elevator that kept attacking me, and one got caught in my big curly hair for a moment which freaked me out. So I managed to limp around the first floor and find a cane amid all the weird junk in that place and hobbled myself back to the Fluevog tryouts. When I got back there, I found there was this carpet-like thick fake snow everywhere (tons of it - it looked fake but tranquil), and we were about to have some fancy esoteric photographer do a photo shoot of us each individually. And then we were going to have to do a short stand-up monologue of some kind after that, and I had no idea what I was going to say. But I convinced myself that surely I could think of something interesting to say on the spot. Then the guy in charge started in trying to tell us all the important stuff we needed to know, and this other finalist guy who looked like TJ Miller wouldn't stop loudly talking to me and showing me his iPad, interrupting the important guy, and he wasn't getting my eye-dagger hints to shut up. The director guy got mad at him, and I backed away to distance myself from the trouble. Then we were back to waiting on the photographer guy, and it was dark now with spotlight-lit areas and I started playing with the snow blanket stuff they had spread out for the photo shoot - even covering whole cars and large swaths of land - and then I accidentally ripped it while rubbing it around to see how thick it was, so I mushed it back together to pretend I hadn't done anything, and I walked into a Fluevog store that was part of the set somehow, and I tried some pretty shoes, with diamond-shaped designs in the leather, on my hands.