Monday, November 30, 2009

Powerful Messages are Sometimes Hard to Hear

I am not a believer in reincarnation, but if I was I would swear I had lived at least two other previous lives. One of those lives would be that of a Native American medicine woman and the other, a survivor of oppression from the Holocaust or slavery. I say this because of the visceral response I have any time I read a book or watch a program in any way representative of either life.

The Native American scenario is one I welcome, a lifestyle I am both drawn to and incorporate into my current way of living. A “revisit” into the other supposed reincarnated life is not so pleasant, I’m afraid.

I am currently reading The Lost Quilter by Jennifer Chiaverini. I can only read so many pages of the life of a slave in the eighteen century South before I have to put the book down and occupy my mind with something positive. Reading about the tortures endured by fellow human beings such as is portrayed in this novel cause me to dream badly and to go through my day with despair in my heart at the cruelties of humankind.

My dreams involve running and hiding, finding safety away from an unknown entity that is pursuing me. Upon waking I have even gone so far as to prepare for just such an experience by stockpiling food and water – just in case. I can’t begin to tell you the reaction I had to watching Schindler’s List or having to sit through the documentaries about Nazi Germany presented in college history classes. If I know a movie is critically acclaimed but has content about the cruel abuse of one to another, I will not watch no matter how much I want to see a good ending.

Ever since childhood I have carried a strong awareness of injustice. I recall traveling from New York to Florida for spring vacations and going through the areas where dilapidated homes were pointed out to me as the homes that black people lived in.

Photo from the digital collection at Miami University, Palm Beach

I will not use the language that my family used to identify this minority that lived in abject poverty; suffice it to say I knew then that the terminology was wrong and I grew up silently cursing my own family for their prejudices.

I don’t know where my indignation on behalf of others, be it minorities, abused children, or homeless animals comes from, all I know is I am deeply affected by their plight. Could be the reason I provide a refuge to so many abandoned animals, in my own small way I am trying to make a difference.

Just a few of the the strays being fed on our property
(rest assured, they are all spayed or neutered!)

I’m going to try and get through this book.  I suspect I’ll have to renew it from the library as it is taking me so long to read it. My next acquisition needs to be an easy read, perhaps Bridget Jones’s Diary or a Janet Evanovich novel – I need a break from all this darkness.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Breakable Unbreakable Bonds

I really wonder if parents and children know to how influential their mutual bond is, how an action or word by one profoundly affects the other to the extent that one’s spirit can either be nurtured or broken.

As I am sure is the case with every person who is a member of a family, we have all been witness to the interaction that takes place; love, compassion, nurture, hate, abuse, and fear. Sometimes, however, the worst is disregard, when one family member ignores the needs of another, dismisses their feelings, shuns them out of disappointment, makes them the target of their own misery.

It is hard to be the bearer of this treatment, be it by a mother to her daughter, a son to his father, or a sister to a sister.  If only the perpetrator of such ill could see how damaging their behavior is, if only a mirror could be held up to them so they could see that in dishing out pain they are in turn hurting only themselves.

Having lost parents early on, I have grown to envy anyone who has a relationship with a mother and father, have felt jealous that they have the ability to experience the ebbs and flows of a parent/child bonding. At least their parents are still of this earth and there’s the chance to make up for any lost opportunities to express love, vocalize grievances and make things right. If only the parties could see just how lucky they are; rather than hold on stubbornly to grudges for so long it’s at the funeral where the tears of regret flow, too late for one to hear the apologies of the other.

For me, the family connection is everything: the good and the bad, and anything short of the purposeful infliction of cruel behavior on the part of someone in my family, I would never disown a one of them. I am a product of how conflicting the emotions of love, hate, forgiveness and non-forgiveness can be; my father killed my mother and I have spent a lifetime trying to understand his motives and come to some sort of peace about the whole thing.

If, rather than seek some sort of understanding, I chose instead to wallow in hate for this man, I know in my heart I would be living a life of dark and profound misery. I would not ever have experienced so many moments of joy and love that I have.

I only wish I could share this lesson with others: that in turning away from someone in your life that has hurt you, disappointed you, not lived up to your expectations, or not seen things your way, you are denying yourself so much. Nothing in this world is as important as the bond between a parent and child, siblings, or even friends; in essence – the human bond. To disregard this connection is to shortchange one’s self to the profound and beautiful experience that is loving one another.

If only others would listen……………………..

Monday, November 23, 2009

Holiday Humbug

For me, the Empty Nest Syndrome hits the hardest during the winter holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Now that my girls are all grown up, living elsewhere and with plans of their own, I feel a strong sense of “who cares” when it comes to holiday plans. It’s just my husband and me now and as he works in an industry that knows no vacations, he has to work on the holidays. So when I get the inevitable question, “what are you doing for Thanksgiving?” I feel an awkward reply stick in my throat, “not much.”

I actually don’t mind avoiding the preparations involved in either hosting a holiday event or going to a social gathering, it’s kind of nice not to have the hassle. On the other hand, I remember one of my very favorite Christmases, about five years ago when I had a house full of people for four days, a fire going in the fireplace, and me, cooking and baking and watching my family and friends enjoy the warm embrace of our home and hearth.

Frankly, living in Las Vegas during the time of year when snow should be on the ground has never given me a real sense of the holiday spirit. I find it laughable to see decorations such as snowmen and Santa set up on desert rock landscaping; it just isn’t the same.

 However, the display that the Fashion Show Mall and the Bellagio Gardens puts on makes up for it.

It’s this time of year I really feel the sting of not being near family. I could fly back home to New York, but my husband wouldn’t be able to go with me. We could drive to California to be with his family, but not when it falls on a “work” day for him. Besides, holiday traffic does not an enjoyable holiday make.

In years past our home was the stop for anyone we know who was far from their own family, we loved the mix of people. Now, I’m the one who gets the invite. As much as I appreciate the offer, generally I’d rather stay home or wait until John arrives and then take a long drive – in the opposite direction of everyone else. While we still live in Las Vegas we take advantage of the great food served in the casinos on holidays, so I can take comfort in the fact I don’t have to cook or clean up!

I see a move in our near future, out of Vegas and to a more rural lifestyle where the winter holidays look like they did when I was growing up.

Here's my brother showing off his winter wonderland

Soon I will have that roaring fire blazing, family and friends surrounding me and tired feet but a happy heart. In the meantime, my plans for the upcoming holidays “aren’t much,” but they’ll do.

Happy Thanksgiving to All

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Words I Like and Don't

As a writer I love words. I believe in their power to inspire and to hurt. I love the sound of certain words and disdain others, so I thought I’d write about words I like and those I dislike.

I got the idea for this post after hearing exacerbated used in one of my audio books. I don’t like that word at all, it doesn’t roll off my tongue easily and I mess it up any time I try to say it. I like the meaning of the word: to make worse, but I can’t use it because it is so difficult to both say and write.

I occasionally (another word I don't like because I never spell it right!) work as a substitute teacher in the local school district and I find myself struggling to pronounce the varied names of the students in the class. How awful is it that I keep asking the class, “How do you say his/her name?” when the poor child is sitting right there? I ask the class because I often can’t understand the child who belongs to the name. Not only are some of the names difficult to remember, they are darned hard to pronounce and a few have annoyed me. How about “Javenus”, a name which doesn’t lend itself to an easy pronunciation, it’s just a choppy name. I embrace diversity and like creative names, but some of them make me grateful for vanilla names like Melanie and Tommy.

I often think of James Lipton, host of The Actor’s Studio, who asks his guests, “What is your favorite or least favorite word?” Many of the answers are words with meaning, such as bigot or truth. If I were to answer in kind I would say my least favorite words are hurtful curse words, or curse words in general. I don’t like to hear someone pepper their speech by swearing every other word; it is a waste of perfectly good language. However, when alone, usually in my car or in my yard and either a pushy and rude driver or a kinked garden hose gets the best of me, I can spout profanities as good as any Hell’s Angel, so who am I to talk?

My favorite words with meaning are cliché: love, kindness, justice. I’d have to say my all-time favorite word, one that easily rolls of my tongue and holds meaning for me is Siskiyou. The word just sounds wonderful and it reminds me of a place I long to be; the mountains of northern California/southern Oregon. I loved the word so much I named a new puppy “Siskiyou” but unfortunately it died young from Parvovirus. The experience was painful but at least I don’t associate the loss with the name, I still consider it my favorite.

What is your least favorite word? Your favorite? Why? What meaning do these words hold for you, or do you like them just because they sound good to you?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Dreaming of a Good Night's Sleep

Yesterday I went to Costco and bought two down pillows. I had a coupon for $10.00 off, which helped me justify the purchase. I have been sleeping so poorly lately I hoped if I had better quality pillows I could solve my insomnia. I had been blaming the light sleeping on the hot weather, but now that it’s cool that argument doesn’t hold. It’s the mattress I say, but we have one that is perfectly comfortable; it’s fairly new and we spent the money on getting a good one. I don’t believe in watching T.V. just before sleep so I always have a good book or magazines to read and I find just a few paragraphs in I’m nice and sleepy, so falling asleep isn’t the issue.

It’s during the night that I find myself waking up and aware of my surroundings.

I’m awake enough to think if I turn on the light and read it will help, but I don’t want to wake my husband and it’s nice and snuggly under the covers. So, I lie there until I can fall back asleep, only to wake again and again until I know it’s time to get up. I just want a good night’s sleep, you know the kind – when you wake up ready to go and feel rested. That hasn’t happened to me in a very long time.

I know I’m not doing as much physical activity as I used to, but even that doesn’t solve the problem. I will go in the yard and dig, plant, water; I’ll do a one-hour workout or a Yoga class, both of which makes me feel good but does little to aid in my sleep pattern. No, I am pretty sure I know what is causing this, I’m getting old!

I’ve read that women of my age experience this sleep deprivation, due to changes they are going through. I once read an article that highlighted women going through the menopausal process found their artistic talents late at night when they couldn’t sleep, producing masterpieces and writing their first novels.
Menopause: A time of life often feared and disregarded in our culture, is paradoxically the richest in female potential and a gateway to full self-realization.
As I lie there in the dark I think to myself, what am I in the mood to create? All I want to create is a good night sleep! I don’t want to shuffle from bed to use the bathroom, much less tap into talent that doesn’t have the good sense to show itself during the light of day.

The sleep aid Ambien is a wonderful product, one that I have turned to on occasion and which takes me into a sleep that nothing can disturb. I won’t rely on it though for a number of reasons: I’ve always been afraid of the addictive quality of drugs, I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to be so sound asleep you can’t wake up during an emergency, and when you take the pill two days in a row, the next few nights sleep are more wakeful than ever.

I haven’t figured out my sleep issues, but I’d rather let my body work it out naturally. If it gets too annoying perhaps I will give in and become a night person and start a new career as a painter or potter. Or maybe I’ll just clean the house and for the first time in my life have everything clean and in order. That’s a stretch. Maybe I’ll just turn on the light and catch up with my reading. My husband doesn’t seem to have trouble sleeping whether the light is on or not.

Sweet dreams.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bad Hair Day - Everyday

I’m letting my hair down today. I ignored the curling iron so my bangs are not straight, but are curly cues with some strands sticking straight up in the air. So in addition to the curling iron, I avoid mirrors today. I have great hair but I have one, never learned how to work with it, and two, have never learned how to appreciate its naturalness.

I grew up in the Marcia Brady era; long, straight blonde hair was the ideal and I certainly didn’t qualify. With coarse, curly hair and hot, humid New York weather, I was prone to a mass of unruly hair that was, as a teenager, the bane of my existence. Curling irons and hot rollers were not part of my beauty arsenal so I used orange juice cans. With a rubber band I secured my hair atop my head, then rolled chunks of it around the can securing it with bobby pins. Sleeping was a challenge. In the morning after releasing my hair I winced in pain as my roots once again returned to their natural position. For a short time I enjoyed straight hair but as the day wore on the inevitable frizziness won out and I once again contended with hair that had a mind of its own.

High school graduation picture.  See how well the cans work?

In my twenties I discovered that permanent waves worked. You would think the perm would only make matters worse, but it actually tamed my hair.

I thought the perm was a good idea!

I don’t perm my hair anymore. It’s bad enough that I have to make regular appointments to cut and color.  I am not a maintenance person and I certainly don’t like what hair care costs these days. No, my routine is minimal; usually consisting of a scrunchy or clip. I’ll comb it out, use an iron to smooth the frizz and be done with it.

I wish I could be as talented as my daughter, Adrian, whose hair is much curlier than mine. She is an artist when it comes to hairstyles; she can shove bobby pins in her hair and it comes out looking spectacular. She also wears hats really well, a trend I'm trying on for size. 

My hair may drive me crazy but the truth is, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The best thing I am finding about getting older is in learning to embrace the “real” me.

So today is a let-my-hair-be day. I just got back from Los Angeles. In the airport and on the plane I was getting all sorts of looks, all of which I interpreted as appreciative. Then I got home and checked myself in the mirror. Sure enough I looked like Cameron Diaz’s character in the film, What About Mary?”

My husband just asked if I'd like to go out for a while.  I guess in the interest of personal dignity I'll go plug in the curling iron. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Dance with "Me"

I’m not really big on exercise. When I was younger, before the middle-age spread hit, I never had to partake in regular exercise; I really was one of those gifted ones who ate constantly and didn’t gain. That’s because I was, as a fellow high school friend whose name I have forgotten, called me “spastic.” At the time the label stung because I thought it made me weird or something, but I came to realize it was meant to describe my overzealous approach to life – I never sat still.

I still don’t sit still much but things have slowed down; my metabolism mainly, which has resulted in a new approach to my health. Either I learn to embrace exercise as a regular part of my routine, or I learn to embrace the new “me.” No thanks. So exercise at the gym and on my living room floor is my new best friend. I really dislike the cardio part of my workouts; the running, fast walking, spinning, but always feel great afterward with sweat running down my forehead, my face flushed.

My favorite part of working out is stretching. I have always been drawn to Yoga, attending classes on and off for years.

Actually, I have always been a stretcher – laying a blanket down on a hard surface and moving every part of my body. That feels good. I discovered that I make lots of sounds during this activity; groans, moans and sighs from my mouth, cricks and snaps from my body. Holding a pose or working through a movement is kind of like a dance, and when I allow my mind to let go I really find myself in concert with myself; listening to the music I make and feeling the flow as my body goes through the motions.

My dancing opportunities are few and far between these days; life is just too full of other obligations to head to a venue, and besides, I don't stay up that late.  I guess in between those rare chances where I can rock out on a real dance floor with a real partner, I will enjoy the company of my new dance partner - Me.