The Queen

The sun rise illuminated crumpled red sequin dress in the middle of the floor.

Strappy black stilettos had been dropped at the door. Cell phone at 3% lay within arm’s reach of the charger.

A dark curled wig draped on the edge of mirror and kept watch over a handful of used makeup wipes and a ball of hair-speckled duct tape; padding was piled on the trunk at the foot of the bed.

He was curled up in the center of the bed, covers up to his ears; an ever-so-slight smile still shimmered on his still rouged lips.

smeared makeup

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March Madness

The cool thing about living is: there’s plenty of it for everyone. Enough to go around. Something for everyone. And, despite everyone’s varying needs and desires – or perhaps because of them – we can find what a little something to please everyone.

I was reminded of this when reading the New York Times Travel Section today. One article outlined a giant cruise experience; contrasted with that was a small Alaskan cruise. We have different needs and preferences when we travel – when we live.  Our world, wonderfully, offers more variety than any of us will ever be actually able to experience in a lifetime.

I never went on a drunken-Florida-show-us-your-tits-spring-break trip when I was in college.  Aside from one year when my dad and mom took us on a cruise, I didn’t do anything over spring break. Well, maybe I worked. Then and now, people like to fill their spring breaks with entertainment, discovery, travel, drinks, and rest. Now, I know not everyone gets a “spring break,” but I also know that even those who work where such breaks are not given seem to carve out spring getaways.

This year I worked a little, but I found my house and life filled up with children and pets; and, without straying too far from home, we have had some adventure right here.

Entertainment: The activity youngest son put on the calendar this year was going to a drag show to see a few of RuPaul’s drag raceRuPaul competitors. Did you know that drag shows start late at night and never on time? Now you do. Also, so you know: it’s almost as interesting watching the people who go to drag shows as watching the shows themselves. And, you can mark this in your “good things to know chart”: chatting with the guys that tend bar is entertaining enough that you really don’t have to drink much to have a good time.

Discovery: With eldest son home from abroad and looking for jobs and apartments in the area, there has been some discovery. We have a lot of jobs in our area. There’s a good variety of housing in this area. Both apartments and jobs are easier to coordinate if one has a car. Still, with persistence and planning wonderful discoveries are out there to be made and planned for.

wineTravel and Drinks: I lived in Moscow almost a year. I didn’t visit the Kremlin until three days before I went home. Many of us – indeed, I would posit all of us – live in or near interesting places. And, often, we are blind to them. There are interesting things to do in and around our own towns. We might need to look outside of the traditional boxes, but our communities all have something to offer. Get the newspaper; look online; talk to your neighbors. We went to three live music shows (two of which were totally free), all of which were held in cool local places with food and drink available.

Four of the five of us here this week also took kickboxing classes (for a minimal charge – you know, if you talk to people, they will often cut you a deal). And, I was able to engage several times with the wonderful community of writers and poets that we have in our area.spring flowers

With five people and two animals in a condo, it has been a pretty mad March so far, and with any luck, we will continue finding the right activities in the right places for the right people – and, enjoying ourselves along the way.

Join me.

 

 

Gated

“We need a goddam sign out there – that’ll solve all this,” Jake said.

“Nah, we just needta let the cops know. They’ll come an’ run a trap.”

“Shit, the cops don’t do nothin’ round here ‘cept what the mayor tells ’em.”

“Well, then, let’s talkta the mayor.”

“Right.”

After a lifetime of silence, Lucille spoke up, “Well, we can get a sign made and start there. That’s probly the easiest anyways.”

“There’s sense. My brother-in-law has a shop – he can make a good’un,” Jake offered.

So, since last June, the Halycon Fields Mobile Home Park has had a big sign warning potential criminals, hopeful cut-throughers, and Jehovah’s Witnesses: “Road for Residents Only. All Other Will Be Persecuted.”

Yellow warning sign

Yellow warning sign

All or Nothing: On Growing Up

Are you grown up? If pressed on some kind of governmental form, what would you check: A) child B) teen C) adult D) depends on the day E) no fucking clue. I think I’d need a box to check that offered “depends on the hour.” But, it hasn’t always been so for me.

I have been what some call an “old soul.” That roughly translates into someone who followed most of the rules for fear of getting in trouble, didn’t like to play Red Rover, and usually spent indoor recess in the library. This oldness limited my friend base in high school, kept me out of trouble in college, and has helped me be judicious and successful in my career. So, overall it has been a good thing.

don't grow upLately, though, I’ve found that perhaps I embraced that oldness too tightly, and I limited myself.  In letting it go a bit, I have discovered there’s a bit more fun and a lot more freedom to be had than I thought. Furthermore, that oldness really kept me in a boxes of others’ construction, bound by obligations of my own invention. And, in escaping those boxes, I have begun to see what I really like to do and who I really am.

Let me put it another way.

Think of middle school. Or junior high. Whatever you called it, it was a time of halves. Half well-read, interesting human; half slightly domesticated baboon. Half stay-up-until-midnight-would-be partier; half can-I-go-to-bed-now toddler. It was a rough time. But it was a really honest time. Middle schoolers embody the heart of being human; perhaps that is why they drive us so crazy – really, they remind us of ourselves. They show us that no man’s land between being a responsible adult human and needing mommy.

Back then, that middle school push-and-pull wasn’t fun, mainly because we didn’t have the mental capacities to reflect thoughtfully. Back then, we also had little power to make changes to our day-to-day lives. Most of us were in school and governed by a parent. Now, as “grown-ups” we get to manage the desire to do what we want and the need to do what we have to.

A few years ago, when I first started thinking about what I really wanted to do and how I really wanted to live, I kept pushing myself back into those boxes of others’ expectations. In doing so, I felt that I had to do certain things in certain ways; society expected specific things of people my age, and I needed to conform. Luckily, I have a friend who is a successful professional, an excellent cook, a beer brewer, and a video game aficionado. Once I made a disparaging comment, noting that adults do not play video games, and his response was beautiful: “Why not? I like them. I have fun. Being grown-up doesn’t mean one thing. It means doing whatever the fuck you want to and being who you want to be.”  Simplistic? Perhaps. But it was revolutionary for me.

In my mind, being an adult meant living in certain sober, serious ways – not much fun about any of it, and “setting an example.” I grow up.cummingsmean, I had been “setting an example” since I was three when my younger sister was born. It wasn’t fun setting an example, especially since I had no idea what the example was supposed to be – just as when I was “being an adult.” There are actually a lot of ways to do that.

My friend showed me that it’s okay to realize that life is not all or nothing. You don’t have to be a total adult or a middle schooler – you can do both. If we can embrace all of the ages, interests, and parts of ourselves, how different would our lives be?

A life lived the way we want to live it – in gardens of our own design instead of in boxes built by others.

That is my wish for us all.

Join me.

 

 

 

Between a Laugh and a Tear

We do not know what is going to happen.

god laugh

We don’t.

You can’t argue on this because it is true.

We can plan, but that’s about it. Well, I suppose we can hope. Of course, we can work. But even the most strong willed person cannot make everything she wants to happen. God. Fate. Karma. Something can and almost always will interfere with human plans.

Are we at the mercy of unknown devils then? Those devils that interfere with dates, keeping us single and unfulfilled? What about the baby devils: unexpected joys or sorrows knock people off their feet. Unemployment has lots of minions it likes to spread around, wreaking havoc with our lives, doesn’t it? Disease keeps its own special brand of fiends to send out into the world – no one is safe. And, of course, death sneaks in through the cracked door just when we least expect him. We really don’t know.

How about some examples? Let’s make this is a little more concrete, shall we? Did my friend know five years ago that she would meet one of the loves of her life when she met an old classmate for a drink? Was I thinking about returning to Iowa on that hot June day in 2000 when I was moving to Georgia? What do you think my dad might have had to say if he could have foreseen the hideousness of Parkinson’s disease before he was diagnosed?

plan aNo, we really don’t know what the hell is going to happen. But we keep going. We are resilient. We adjust our plans ever so slightly. Not a dream job, but a good job. Kids leave their hockey equipment on the stairs, but they are laughing and eating pizza in the basement. Or maybe our adjustments are a little bit bigger. We love unexpected babies. We have joyful reunions despite the funeral. We stay up late. We get up early.

Someone once asked me – in a sincerely concerned way – if I were ever happy. (I guess my resting bitch face was working overtime that day.) My answer is pretty simple: No. I don’t know that I have ever been happy. I have been unhappy. I have felt ambivalent. Lately, my overriding feeling is contentment. I told that inquirer that I really didn’t know if happiness needed to be the goal to which she replied, “Everyone needs to be happy!”

I disagree. Maybe the goal is to just live. Keep those demons at bay when we can, and adjust when we can’t. Maybe the goal is to drink wine with our friends; be there when times are hard; enjoy a sunny day; give advice; and, try to go to sleep contented.

It’s simplistic perhaps, but I really wonder if we don’t make life harder than it has to be when we refuse to roll with the punches. Think about it.

Join me.

 

Red Beard

Surf roars were the only pleasant sounds that echoed from his childhood. The others were mother crying and begging muffled only by slamming doors. As long has he had been alive, he wanted to set sail on the wide ocean. But a red-headed boy who had been blinded in one eye by hot oil and whose left leg was shorter than the right wasn’t exactly ship’s complement material. The East India Company turned him down flat; he knew better than to even look in the mottled window of the merchant marines. No matter he knew the ins and out of every ship that ever put in port – being small and insignificant had its advantages. No matter that he knew ranks, names, personal habits of every sailor and pirate – being invisible had an equal number of advantages. He had made up his mind that thirteenth summer: enough of nothing. No one can explain it to this day, but it was the summer of low tides; the only ships that came in were as small as insignificant as he was. Finally, solstice came and he knew it was now or never. Just as it unmoored, he scampered on the rutted brigantine and hid with all his heart.

 

pirate.2

The Gold Standard

“It’s your fault we have never had a father. Nothing about this is normal,” he yelled in tears, surrounded by boxes in the galley kitchen of the small apartment. It didn’t matter that roughly a quarter of American homes are mother-only homes. It didn’t matter that I was educated and well-employed with the support of extended family. Middle son was right. It was my fault.

The year was 2009, and events of a Sunday night had led me to contracting an apartment to be moved into on Friday afternoon. When I told my then-husband about the move that did not include him, he said, “That’s fine. I have boxes in the barn you can use.” Not that there wasn’t angst or anger or acrimony; I guess we had both seen this coming.

The thing that middle son really pointed out that evening was that the gold standard of family life still consists of mom, dad, siblings, and pet or two. The same house to grow up in, visit on holidays from college, and eventually hold the estate sale when mom and dad are gone. In his mind, that was what was supposed to happen. That was the vision. That’s what he never had, and it wasn’t easy.

goldTo this day, he can’t fully know why I abandoned the familial gold standard. When middle son was one, I divorced his father. He has no memories of ever living with his dad. When he was in middle school, I divorced his step-dad. Throughout those years, he, his brothers, and I struggled – separately and together – with what it meant to be “less than.” The church we attended had only back pews for families of divorce; the school they attended prized whole families showing up to every event; the friends they had did camping trips with dad and shopping trips with mom. That was not our family.

I sometimes wonder what would have been if I had been able to give up myself for the sake of either marriage; if I could have blended into the carpeting, allowing and even enjoying the tread marks.  Would that have been golden? We will never know because those were the options I had but could not accept. So, I created a life that required a couple of moves; a mom working more than she wanted; and children who shared rooms and clothes. It wasn’t bohemian by any means; there were no drugs or mental illness or other made-for-TV movie drama points; and, after divorce number two, I boarded up the men’s entrance. But I created a life where there wasn’t really a dad. No picket fence. And very few shopping trips. No, we did not match the gold standard of a traditional American family, and I think about the trade-off and I wonder.screws us up

I wonder if in making such choices, perhaps my sons know it’s okay to quit something that doesn’t work for you. I guess eldest son (now somewhere in Peru) embraced living life on his own terms. I wonder if they realize it’s required to not let yourself be walked all over. I want to believe that middle son knows that there is not a one-size-fits-all life jacket you get along with your college diploma. Life isn’t about matching your neighbors; it’s about creating your own bits of happiness and moments of contentment. Youngest son is certainly carving his own path – and in middle school no less – the time when conformity is at a premium. (I know this for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was his recent huff, “Mom, my generation is filled with asshole narcissists.”)

Yes, it probably would have been easier for the boys if we could have lived in a predictably standard setting. But, I wonder if they would have developed into the opinionated, creative, beautiful souls that they are if they had lived among only gold bars rather than sparklings of silver, palladium, and ruthenium that made up the moments of our lives.

When middle son stood in that kitchen not so many years ago, I think he was scared. I know I was. But choices had to be made. Oh, children, I do hope that you have a plethora of things that come easy to you in life. I also hope that you are faced with hard decisions that chisel who you really are into your heart. And, I hope you define your own standards – gold or osmium –  and live by them.  You see, no gold standard exists – and that is both scary and liberating.

Join me.