Category Archives: writing

Fiction from a Walk — “Jake’s Bet”

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Welcome to the new and completely unpredictable feature on this blog wherein I take a photo of something I see on a walk with the dogs and write a piece of fiction about it. I hope it is less than bad.

Today’s image: a bolo tie in the church parking lot.

Let’s begin, shall we…..?

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Desdemona peeled out of the Charleston Baptist Church, singing “So long, succccckkkkaaaaaahhhssss!!!!!” between cackles, which eventually trailed off about a tenth of a mile down the road. It was hedging on dusk, and she had just dumped the losers in the parking lot after a crushing afternoon of strip poker.

These were sons of bankers, a US senator, prominent real estate moguls, a Calhoun (!), and the great great grandson of a plantation owner. A few generations’ pride worth of landed gentry. The men she abandoned, were humiliated, slightly inebriated and in a condition most unbefitting persons of their caliber: they were naked. Utterly and completely. And shivering from sunburn.

To Desdemona McLeod, it wasn’t about winnin’ the money, honey. Although y’all know it always sweetens any deal, it was about vengeance. Despite her own impressive lineage in the Charleston tradition, y’all, she was a woman, and simply put, women don’t play cards. Desdemona played cards, just as her aunties taught her, and their aunties taught them. This was a well-kept “secret” (lie of convenience and complicity) dating all the way back to the 1740s with her most famous relative, Marianna McLeod. Of course, this bein’ the south, it was hush-hush.

People loved to play cards with the McLeods, but no one talks about losing at cards. Especially to a woman, so most losses were relegated to the muted conversations behind the wood sheds or the alley ways along the Battery.

Desdemona didn’t see the fun in that.

“Winnin’ at cards ain’t no fun if I can’t boast about it. What’s the point?” she would huff to her daddy later at the house.

“Winnin’ Dessie. Just plain winnin‘…. It’s a matter of principle too: people don’t take a shine to humiliation. One of the rules of bein’ a card-playin’ McLeod is that we pride ourselves on winnin’ kindly. That means we just take the jackpot and quietly end the game. No need gettin’ anyone’s public pride involved in it…” he trailed off, counting her take.

“To borrow from Scarlett O’Hara, ‘fiddle-dee-dee’ Daddy. That’s just plain ol’ stupid.”

Daddy took off his glasses and stopped counting.

“This is an impressive lot you’ve won here, darlin, absolutely. What keeps this train goin’ is the gentlemanly nature of our relationship with all the players. They all want to be winnin’ over a McLeod, an’ some do. But we play by a simple yet established — y’heah me?– system: we don’t boast … Sixteen thousand four-hunnert n sixty-six … and an West Point ring, poor Perry, and a classic Rolex with sapphire lens crystal. No bad, my dear, not bad a’tall…. That’s what keeps ’em comin’ back, Dessie. We win kindly.” After he organized all the take, he sat up, deposited the funds and the jewelry in the massive vault behind the false door in the wall.

Returning to his daughter who was now in a slump, Daddy rubbed his temples and took a seat in a cognac tanned vintage overstuffed leather club chair; the classic “I have arrived” chair, but in the case of the McLeods, the chair arrived after the family, the chair was the one saying “I have arrived.” He smiled warmly at Desdemona as he sat back, closing his eyes and still smiling. Daddy placed his hands behind his tousled head of blond hair as he propped his legs up on the matching ottoman and released a satisfied sigh.

“Then I reckon I might’ve overdone it, Daddy.”

Opening one eye, Daddy stole a peek at Des. She was biting her lower lip and had perched herself nervously at the edge of her seat. The sun coming in from the tall library windows alongside the room was low; dust motes flickered in the shafts of dappled light which escaped the leaves on the magnolias outside. The summer sun was setting. Daddy noticed that Desdemona was ashamed, but peculiarly animated.

“Come again, deah?”

“We didn’t play here. I also didn’t drink along with them. That’s because of the rules, there was no other woman with me, so I didn’t drink, Daddy. But they did. A lot. Uncle Mitch’s mash, in particular, was a favored drink among the boys. That an’ bourbon…. It was so funny… Jakey Ravenel was the only one left with anything on — his ‘good luck’ black bolo tie… I remember telling him that even if I won it, I didn’t want anything to do with it… they make my stomach turn; ‘There’s no place for a bolo tie in South Carolina,’ I remember tellin’ him… He kept rambling about it because of his Texas uncle… ‘Not an uncle by blood…’ his brother Jimmy reminded him…”

“Where did you play, Des? I’m sure I want to know…” Daddy’s eyes were both open now. The horn-rimmed glasses were back on. The legs were off the ottoman, both feel firmly planted into the cherry hardwood floor beneath the chair. One hand was smoothing his hair and the other elbow was pressing into a thigh, leaning forward in the chair.

“At Lou’s. Off Penny’s Creek down near Wadmal —”

“Down near Wadmalaw Island. You went all the way near Wadmalaw… Did you cross route 700?…”

This was critical.

Desdemona put up her hand, “Just a sec, Daddy. Let me think….”

“Did you cross route 700? Did you go anywhere near Johns Island? Did you leave the county?” he asked, hotly.

“Maybe. But we weren’t playin’ yet. See. We were getting a bite to eat because the boys needed food, so I stopped for a bite. I told them it would be my treat because the next meal they’d need they wouldn’t have the money for… It was hot today…. But no. We didn’t play yet.”

She knew where this was going. She let her ego get the best of her. Des was prone to getting ahead of herself. In all her 23 years, in her fledgling first year of law school, she didn’t care for the details. She just wanted to get in the courtroom. Her family was convinced she’d make a better law enforcement officer than a law interpreter. “Nope. No playin’ cards … least not by me … anywheres near Johns Island.”

“But you drove.” Daddy reminded her.

“Yes, but I can’t play and drive. That’d be crazy. Nope. No cards played by me in the truck while we were on Johns Island.”

Daddy finished law school. Head of his class. UVA. Had an established, prominent and ethical law practice in town and did a ton of pro bono work. To him, it was about the advocacy more than the paycheck. “Sometimes people just get stuck in a bad way and they need help. That’s why I’m here.” was printed on back of his business cards.

“Did anyone play cards in the truck while you were on Johns Island, darlin’?” he asked.

She shifted in her seat. “That I can’t rightly say.”

Meanwhile, back at the church parking lot, the heap of prominent-familied, ruby-skinned, men fell asleep under a palmetto tree on the soft-ish, rounded and warm landscape pebbles and a sun bleached pool towel stolen off a clothesline not too far off in the distance. In the southern sky, a crescent moon was on the rise, reminiscent of the South Carolina flag. Save for the silhouette of the many moons below, it was a lovely picture.

A rejected black bolo tie rested in the setting sun all by its lonesome. Come tomorrow, Sunday morning, early attendees were in for a surprise of God’s creation.

i'd leave it in the parking lot too...

i’d leave it in the parking lot too… (not a very good picture at all; the dogs were in the way and they’re not very smart…)

Thank you.

Soccer Mom — red card…

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I am not sure how to start this. I debated whether titling this post “one for the eulogy” or “red card.” I dabbled over the former, not because I’m macabre and depressing, but because I’m quite aware of the fact that we all die one day.

Yesterday started out gloriously. I was sitting in the sun, awaiting one of my sons’ games. They lost soundly, it was a 5-0 defeat.  At halftime, my son was crushed and was asking for advice. I had none other than to say that when he’s off the field, watch the other team’s players and see what they do and then try to do it too.

This particular son is more of a hair-twirler and bouncy runner. He’s young, emotionally, still soft, without that “killer” instinct for the sport, but he LOVES being part of a team and putting on a uniform, cleats and shin guards, arriving on time and doing his best. When he’s focused, he’s a good little defender. My shouts from the sidelines to remind him to “win it, Thing 3! DEEEEEFENNNNNSSSE!” seem to perk him up. I don’t do it very often, so I think that’s why it tends to win out over his dedicated coach’s tips and directions which start to sound like a droning after a while. He woke up in the second half, being more of a gnat to the other team’s approach for our goal, thwarting a couple advances and that made him feel better. As we walked to the car, he said, “Did you see when I stopped that big kid from his drive? I was afraid, because he is huge, but I kicked the ball off track to one of our guys…” and he did. He cleared it a good 20 or 30 feet, with some help from the patch grass bumps in the field, from the goal.

My other son’s game was happening at the same time. I could not attend that one, for obvious reasons, but they lost as well, 8-2. I learned from my husband that our Thing 2 (who is now 14) played quite well and he made a gorgeous penalty kick which he fired with such ferocity that the goalie simply couldn’t stop it. Despite the loss, my son was proud that he had played his best. That’s all we can ask for, isn’t it? That they feel proud of their efforts that they did their best.

Several hours, a spin on the ergometer, a meditation session and 40 minutes in our hot tub later, was the first game of our oldest son’s team. These guys are what’s called “U19” and they comprise all ages from 16-19 in a defined window of available athletes who didn’t make or can’t afford the high school teams and are possibly attending college locally but don’t play on those teams either. These guys are competitive, aggressive and some of them are wildly talented and a pure pleasure to watch. You can see how they’ve acquired thunderous legs and powerful chests, fearlessly advancing the field with a passion you read about. They are not nincompoops. They know the sport, they try to get away with a little here and there, but by and large, these athletes have been playing since they could walk. I imagine some of them slept with a soccer ball as they were children, or young men. It’s as though the ball is an appendage of their form. They are thugs who play like gentlemen… (read on.)

My oldest used to be awkward, afraid, timid. He’s got a coach now who reminds me of the sheriff in “O Brother Where Art Thou?” (I wouldn’t be surprised to learn this coach intentionally plays up his image a little, creating a pastiche of the character for the amusement of the spectators and the team.)

credit: the owners of this image, a massive movie studio owned by a global conglomerate somewhere on our planet.

credit: the owners of this image, a massive movie studio owned by a global conglomerate somewhere on our planet.

He has those sunglasses. He wears a sport jacket to games after 6:00pm. Last season when “we” went to all-region, he wore a dark fedora and a long black wool coat to the games. He’s pretty quiet on the sidelines. He’s intense and he saves his commentary for when the players come off the field or for half-time pep talks. I recall him quoting a German philosopher or naval officer at the end of one of their early games last season in which they were simply outplayed in every possibly fashion and lost by a score of 11-2 or something. He started to play my son less and less as the season went on.

We don’t engage, as parents. My husband and I have a tacit understanding that interceding on our children’s behalf for their supposed betterment or advancement says more about us and simply hinders any growth in our kids. If it’s the kids’ coach, teacher, friend, parent of friend, mentor, counselor … we just don’t really get involved. They have to learn to navigate these waters. (I’m not saying it’s EASY… sometimes I have to literally bite my tongue, step away and close my eyes… read on…) So my son was understandably frustrated by the continual lessening of his play time. We encouraged him to talk to the coach. To be upfront, sincere, mature and above all diplomatic about his plight. He was and the response he got back was some of the best advice — the same thing his father and I have whispered to one another in the stands — he could have received, but he ASKED to hear it: “You’ve got to be fearless. Get physical. Play some rugby in the off season. Don’t take anyone out, but really, get in there. I’ve said many times, ‘It’s a gentlemen’s game played by thugs.’ Be a thug, but play like a gentleman.”

So Thing 1 came away grateful, a little intimidated, but very clear about what the coach wanted. You can count on Thing 1 for that: he will absolutely follow direction, and he’s a reliable self-starter, but this U19 team was all new to him, he’d never played against and alongside MEN. I knew this coach was going to help turn my son into a man. He’s tough though… and regardless of our scrap-up yesterday (read on…), I still respect the hell out of him.

So this third game was at scheduled for 6pm on a turf field at a park. The center ref is an old man. He reminded me of the “old timer” in the Brady Bunch’s Jesse James episode:

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credit: the Brady Bunch. I shit you not – they are twins. All that’s missing is the black ref’s cap.

I’m not an ageist. I saw this ref and I thought, They might be really lucky, they’ve got a guy who really knows his game.

No. (read on.)

This ref wanted to start the game early, shorten the halves to 40 minutes each and gave up without any pressure his utter lack of knowledge of the rules. He’s usually a linesman, my husband tells me.

My husband, who is a very patient man (you really don’t know how patient he is…) sighed when our coach shared this information. Apparently we agreed to start five minutes early at 5:55 but keep the halves at 45 minutes (which is the COACH’s discretion).

My son’s team was playing beautifully. They were winning, elegantly. My son scored a nice shot, his first of the season, in the first game, in the first half. He was really proud of himself. I was excited for him. The other team was good, but they seem disorganized and loose. They were out-skilled, but not by much. Due to the low number of available teams in the area, I’m certain we will play them again later on and it will be good to see how they’ve improved. At the half it was 2-1, we were in the lead.

But it was the ref. His calls were inconsistent and beginning to favor the other team, blindly. Clearly legal plays, a slide tackle where the ball was touched first (something I recently understood as the linchpin for that maneuver) was ruled “dangerous” and one of our guys got a yellow card. Even the opposing coach was beginning to be surprised by his team’s inexplicable good fortune.

In the midst, my son’s team managed to get a nice shot in, making it 3-1. My son’s team has increased its chatter on the field and it’s paying off. The other team seemed again to be a little demoralized by “our” fluidity.

Nonetheless, everyone trudges on. Keep playing keep playing keep playing. The un-choreographed dance of 20 or so young athletes was hard for me to keep track of. Plus it was cold, about 55˚ now and the sun was going down. I began to feel sorry for the ref. The spectator heckling was apparent. He likely couldn’t hear it. A couple times, he got hit by the ball with such intensity many of us in the stands were impressed he was still standing. I think those hits started to do something to his brain… he made calls from one end of the field about actions happening 40 yards away. His line refs were exasperated by the randomness of it all. Our team made another shot on their goal, 4-1, which everyone agreed was legal, but from the other end of the field, this ref must’ve used his bionic vision and Big Blue processing chips to recall the goal.

No matter, we were still ahead. Back to 3-1. Then somehow the whistle. No one understood. The other team made a successful penalty kick on our goal, 3-2. We were still ahead though, so … you know, just keep on…

Then the other team made a gorgeous goal during the second half, tying the game. It was hard to ignore the majesty in the drive which began all the way at the opposite end of the field. The ball was passed without much interruption from one player to another in an advance to the goal and then one player just went for it. Without hesitation, and he nailed it. It was a pleasure to witness even though it was now 3-3.

Somewhere in the next few moments, we made an answering goal, 4-3. We were all running out of time, it was close to 7:25. The game, by all rights, due to the -5 minute start time should have been over. Competitive players that they are, our team started to hog the ball, take its time retrieving it, kick it off the field. That got a corner kick which was unsuccessful.

It was 7:27 now… you know, the time in the universe when all in-progress U19 soccer games are supposed to go pear-shaped and the refs are programmed to go batshit crazy. People are starting to question how much time.

All along the course of the game, this ref never explained his calls. He never answered requests for the charges. I know there’s something in the US Constitution about the absolute requirement by an arresting officer to name the charge against a suspect… Doesn’t that commute to FIFA or US Soccer or whatever the governing body is of this sport? My husband says, “Sort of. The ref is supposed to explain each charge, especially if questioned…”

Well apparently we were now playing “kick the ball, run around, and blow the whistle just because” not soccer. This ref allowed player subs at all the wrong times, disallowing subs when they were legal… it was crazy. When you have a six-year-old player still in his uniform from another game putting his head in his hands and running his fingers through his dried, sweaty hair because the calls don’t make any sense, you’re witnessing a travesty of justice.

He gave the other team two inexplicable successive penalty kicks. This one was a free kick. He mumbled something to our players and they lined up, placing their hands in front of the family jewels and waiting for the shot, which went over everyone’s heads and was denied. Still 4-3.

The next penalty, which even I questioned (and that means a lot because I don’t understand this game at all, so I keep my trap shut) because the whistle was blown during a throw-in from the sidelines (on a ball my son had let go…) deep into our territory. While the ball was still airborne, heading toward the goal. Nothing had happened … the ball hadn’t even made contact on the ground. I thought, Did one of the feet come up during the throw? Was it the wrong KIND of throw, not evenly over the head? Was it slung from the hips? But I knew enough, after 11 years, that a bad throw necessitates a re-THROW. And that was not happening. This was a line up for a penalty kick — no interference from other players, just the kicker and the goalie. I questioned the validity by thrice shouting, CLEARLY, from the stands because he’s ancient, it’s windy and cold and the game should’ve been over by then anyway, “WHAT? IS? THE? CALL?” (which our own coach didn’t even demand the answer).

The ref heard me. He looked up at me and waved me off. I’m sure it was the old “he threw the ball too hard” call we hear so little about. Turns out when the throw-in was made, one of the other team’s taller players leaped up to head the ball (legal) but our player who was shorter, yet quite powerful, but right beneath / behind him (on the other player’s descent), crossed his arms upon his chest like a pharaoh in his sarcophagus and that was considered pushing when the other player inevitably, because gravity always wins, landed on him.

The other team’s coach was astonished. His own player ran up to him and said, “you know that’s not a penalty, right?” and the coach nodded and said, “Yeah! …”

Nonetheless, the whistle and ignorant, half-present octogenarians reign.

It was 7:33 now. Eight minutes PLUS the end of the game’s official time. The player placed the ball and took the shot. In the corner. Done. 4-4.

IMMEDIATELY UPON THAT BALL’S SLING INTO THE NET, HE BLEW. THE. WHISTLE.

Not ten seconds later, not another play later, not even when the ball was … stopped from the thrust.

That’s when I lost my mind. I’m not proud of this. I am embarrassed and I immediately sent an apology to our coach when I got home. (read on…).

I stepped down from my seat in the stands and shouted, with my hands cupping either side of my mouth, directly aimed at the ref clearly, emphatically, passionately and intentionally:

YOU SUCK!

.pause. is he looking at me? no.

YOU SUCK!

.pause. has he followed the voice? can he see me? no.

YOU SUCK!

.pause. can he find me yet? no.

YOU SUCK!

.pause. is he looking at me? yes. one more for clarity…

YOU SUCK!

I waited each time I said it, a nanosecond to some, but a lifetime to me, to see if he had made the connection. That he had disgusted a yoga teacher who usually just sits in the stands and cheers everyone — no matter how humiliating the loss — if I see a great play, I’m gonna clap.

My son’s coach, the Sheriff, whipped around like the snake in “Beetlejuice”:

credit Beetlejuice and a big fancy movie studio.

credit Beetlejuice and a big fancy movie studio.

He tried to shut me down. “THAT’S ENOUGH!” — to me, I was just getting started.

Woe, the little man who tries to shut me down.

“NO IT’S NOT!” I growled back. “THIS IS BULLSHIT. HE DIDN’T EXPLAIN EITHER OF THOSE CALLS….” and I hadn’t said, “The game was eight minutes over time! That call was for spite. He’s teaching these kids that rules, decorum and tradition don’t matter and personal pettiness does. AND YOU DIDN’T QUESTION ANY OF IT!”

“YES IT IS. DO YOU WANT ME TO GET A RED CARD FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON???”

>oh. time to stop.<

“NO! I DON’T! BUT THIS IS CRAZY, FUCKED UP…” and I grabbed my bag, told my other son who was ashen and enraged (NO ONE YELLS AT MY MOM LIKE THAT!) that I was leaving and he needed to ride home with his dad, and I stomped away. I’m sure I left a haze of brown smoke behind me.

I didn’t look back. I’m sure all the grandparents were just … “Well, I never” -ing, patting off their sweat with their doilies and reaching for their smelling salts.

I was still seeing red. I put even more of an ugly face on my face intentionally. The face that said, “If you think you’re going to make an impact on me, if you think you’re going to change my attitude, think twice because while I’m unhinged and disgusted, I’m about to get into an SUV and I need to calm my shit down and I don’t need a lecture from you… ” because the shame was starting to sink in. The embarrassment… and oh… the gut-churning shame.

A proud woman in a crimson WISCONSIN hoodie looked at me. She stood up in the space between her open driver’s door of her blue Prius as I was advancing toward my gas guzzling Earth destroyer.

“I agree with you,” she said.

I cooled to a simmer.

“Thanks.” I said and started to continue my retreat.

I stopped and turned back. She was almost in her car. I was defeated and exasperated and so ashamed.

“I’m just so sad.” I said. “That ref didn’t know what he was doing. He started the game early. He wanted to shorten the halves. He knew he was ignorant of the rules, he told both the coaches. He ruined a really good experience and he showed everyone, not just the spectators, but the players and the other refs, that bad calls and not adhering to the rules is just fine and that playing hard and honestly doesn’t count…”

She nodded as she said “He tore apart the integrity of the game right there…”

I thanked her for her kindness. I apologized for my rant. She said, “Nope. You were right. You just said what a lot of us are afraid to say…”

I rage for the many, I thought to myself, sighing and walking to my car, feeling the benefits of my earlier meditation, hot tub soak, writing, and grueling 6k workout on our rowing machine sift through my consciousness. I had negated all that good.

I got home. Didn’t kill anyone on the road, I checked the front of my car later to make sure.

My oldest son called me from his father’s car. I answered. I wanted to hide.

“Hey honey…” I said, faking cheerfulness.

“You ok? I am calling to check on you. I know that took a lot out of you,” he said.

“I’m as good as can be expected. This isn’t your job to fix me, hon…” I said. “I’m so sorry… It’s not at all like me…”

“I’m not trying to fix you, Mom. I apologized to everyone for you. They told me not to bother. They think you rock, Mom. They said they were amazed by you. You said everything they couldn’t say. That our coaches couldn’t say. You let it all rip. No one thinks you suck, Mom.”

My heart softened, toward myself, a little. I brightened. My ego stepped in… “They did? What did they say?” I cringed.

“Just that. That you were the voice for us all.”

I shared with him my points of my argument; that my rage was not personal, and that I was afraid of my rapture. But I also maintained that my reaction is about the principle and the integrity of the game and that no matter HOW HARD ONE WORKS TO TOE THE LINE, there’s always gonna be some asshole who thinks it should be the other way around. I told him that the blowing of the whistle, eight minutes over, as the ball slammed into the net, before it even hit the tensile apex of the net, smacked to me of self-righteousness. That he got to have the last word.

Well, I wasn’t about to let that happen. When it comes to kids, we need to be on our best, most sterling behavior. That includes the ref. I blew it. I sank to his level of stupidity.

I am not a horrible person. I am not a mean-spirited person. But I am a passionate person. I sent an apology immediately to the coaches when I got home:

Coaches Sheriff and Deputy,

I want to express my sincere apology for my outburst on the referee at the end of today’s game versus Saturn. It was a pleasure to see everyone play so well.

I am a passionate person, yes, but one not normally driven to such excess. I exhibited poor behavior and I regret that. I was not a good role model for spectatorship. Next time I’ll spare everyone the drama, leave the game in disbelief, and offer up a silent prayer for my own tolerance.

Please know that the last thing I would want to do is injure the team by causing your absence on the sidelines. The boys are lucky to have you.

Sincerely,

Molly

PS — you’d never know from today that I’m a yoga teacher…

My husband said it was the perfect apology. I owned my side and I didn’t blame it on anyone else. My son told me his friends on Twitter said I was awesome. (I still don’t know how to feel about that…)

Later that night, after I started to calm down, I turned on my Kindle and started reading Steven Pressfield again. He wrote about “our last days” or the attitude changes which occur (for good or for bad) in patients diagnosed with terminal illness. He said many of them shed the trivialities, and turn toward their passions, fearlessly. They discern, within minutes of the pronouncement of their illness, what matters most and they act upon it. Some people do crazy stuff, others do good.

Earlier in the day, I had picked up random pieces of an episode of The Simpsons my son was watching. It was the one when Homer was told he had 22 hours to live; it would have been 24, but the having to sit in the waiting room took up two hours… Homer did lots of things to make amends for his behavior to his kids, father and others in his life.

Earlier this week, I had read Oliver Sacks’ powerful op-ed in the NY Times disclosing his final days of his life due to terminal brain cancer. He wrote that he was going to stop watching and reading the news; that he was not going to worry about the Middle East as much as he had (he clarified that he was going still care, but that worry served him no purpose) and a change a few other things in his life to bring more meaning to it. The comments on that pre-obit were extraordinary. Treat yourself to them and read them. Not coincidentally, I’ve begun listening to his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat while I “row” on our ergometer. It’s a great book. Sacks has a way of deeply humanizing the misfortunes of his patients and reminding us that our right hemisphere, the one so often discounted by Freud et al., is really the one which gives our lives meaning; the one which matters most.

I reflected on all that data I’d consumed — those pieces of reminders that our days are limited here. I reflected on lots of things, and I determined last night, before I ended my day, that I was not going to feel ashamed for my outburst: I had apologized to the coaches, to my sons, and to the brave and compassionate woman who spoke with me and I asked for forgiveness from God. My shame was pointless, what good did it serve me to hang on to it?

If it were my last day on this earth, and I did know it, I wouldn’t have done anything less. I would have gone to his game, I would have been as passionate about the travesties and I would have had no regrets. I may have been shot out of a canon last night, but I cried out most of all for the all kids. To me, their coach had let too much slide.

Carl Jung writes famously something along the lines of what irritates us about others gives us a better understanding of ourselves. I used to take this to mean that what irks us about Bipsy means we suck too. Well, that can be the case, but I’ve decided to really lean into the words, “a better understanding” — it doesn’t mean we suck; it’s an insight into ourselves. Sometimes it sucks, sometimes it shows us what matters to us … sometimes it shows us we need to change, or that we have a set of principles about things that we weren’t quite sure were really there, and that thanks to the engagement of another person or series of events with other people, we come to see what matters to us. Kids matter to me. Ethics matter to me. If that game were played by adults, I really wouldn’t have freaked out. I might’ve been incredulous, it would’ve ended there. But it was about kids. 

So I say this to you, if you’re still here… Live passionately and fully, and own it when you screw up because we all make mistakes. It’s ok.

Thank you.

When We Run Out of Bandwidth We Can Always Reboot

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I’m sitting outside on our brick walk-up on the first truly nice day of spring. The sun is out, still a little weak, as it’s only April, but the air is a gorgeous 75˚ and perfect humidity, if there is any at all. On either side of me are three boxwoods and they’re making this strange fizzing sound, as if they could foam and the thin suds popped almost as soon as they were formed. I remember this phenomenon from last spring, and I went to search it online. The guessed causes ranged from insect infestation (of which I could find no evidence) to the warming of the sap in the wee branches exchanging moisture from the roots with nourishment from the warming sunlight, now eight minutes old. Always eight minutes old.

While the air temperature is warm, the breezes waft through the bushes and over the mulched garden beds, ushering along with it much tiny pouches of cooler air reminding me that we are still very early into the season. Sparrows, starlings, cardinals and finches are serenading, well, alarming their peers of the presence of my nine-year-old yet still-frisky gray cat, Gandalf. He’s still an impressive hunter, if not part-time resident of our home. He cheats on us with the pet-less, empty-nesters across the way. His reclusive and more loyal sister, Beezer, is black. She has come out of her hibernation. She’s never had kittens, but she has this strange sack-like stomach which sways from side to side as she saunters from house to house, rolling in the dust created from pulverized stones which were applied to the street during the recent ice storms. I always say she needs liposuction.

Ours is a quiet street. We live on what’s called a “pipestem,” or private street along which anywhere from three to fourteen houses are nestled in my 32-year-old bucolic neighborhood of more than 6,000 families. It was originally supposed to be the home of Dulles Airport. Congress put the kibosh on that. Instead of the airport, now we’re in the flight path. Sometimes they are so close, I can see the logo of those massive intercontinental jets as they circle above my end of the county.

I’m sitting outside, not just for my own enjoyment, but to serve as sentry as my youngest son rides his bike up and down our private street. He is eleven now. He rides in his Batman shirt and khaki cargo pants without a care in the world, without looking both ways. Without watching out for parked cars and cats and swooping birds. He speeds up hidden driveways closest to the main street and whips his nimble hand-me-down blue and silver bike around in a tight 180˚ preparing to vaunt himself, yet carelessly again, back into the main feed of the driveway.

The neighbors do not mind, but they are not home. They are at work.

Work.

I have considered, with more weight than the previous time, my return to it. To don a suit (do women still wear suits to the office? Are there still offices?), wear sensible heels, have sensible hair and attend sensible meetings — all with the noble intent to help conjure funds to pay for the next stage of my parental life: college tuition for our oldest son. And then our middle son. And then our third son.

I read an article in the New York Times this morning about why college costs so much. My outcome was not relief, a sense of “gotcha! now you colleges will tone down your lack of federal funding rhetoric and tuitions will recede!” but rather great discouragement; there is no way to shut down that business machine. And that’s what it is … a business. I don’t know who said the original sentiment, but the watered-down version of it at MCI where I used to work in corporate communications was this: “Create the need and then sell the answer.” I’m not pooping on college. I definitely see its value and its importance for a life well lived; so much of what you learn in college doth not come from books.

We attended a college financial aid night at the high school about three months ago in the dead of winter. We braved 12˚ plus winds for 300 yards from our car to the building to listen to a knowledgeable man from Georgetown University’s financial aid office talk about things that make no sense to me: that if we paid the tuition for my son to attend my alma mater at $23,000, we could conceivably get financial aid for him to attend Georgetown for basically the same amount thanks, to the benefits. My school is no slouch, but it’s not Georgetown. Couple that with the fact that our of-age son did well enough blindly on his SATs to get into several very good schools. But SATs and GPAs and ACTs aren’t enough for a white, American, middle-class, highly intelligent, book-smart, socially affable, male to be admitted (not “get into”) a good school anymore. He has to be regal, and somehow disadvantaged.

Back to creating the need: I read in the comments of the NYT article that the nation needs college educated kids to survive in the future. But the college costs are insane. That “low skill” labor jobs aren’t what’s going to carry this nation. That no one wants those jobs. Yet they, too, are absolutely needed for the future (who’s going to pave the roads?! who is going to catch the fish? who’s going to fix the cars? the planes? so many good jobs are out there!). There was also the sad acknowledgement that a college degree also doesn’t guarantee a competitive edge in the workforce. But it’s non-negoatiable; a college education is non-negotiable, it’s a must-have. Yet the tuition is insane. But the schools don’t need the money. But it’s become a business. But kids have to have a college education… But it’s super expensive… Am I repeating myself?!

Heck yeah I am.

So I started to whirl out of control over the last few days. Panicking. WHATTHEFUCKAREWEGOINGTODO? HOWCANWESTILLEATANDPAYFORCOLLEGE? HOWWILLWEDOTHIS? WHATABOUTCOMMUNITYCOLLEGE? WHATABOUTHISFUTURE? AREWEFUCKINGHISFUTUREALREADY? WHATBOUTHISBROTHERS? IHAVETOGETAJOB. IHAVETOGETAJOB. THEREISNOBOOKINMETHATWILLSAVEUS. JESUS. WEARESOFUCKED.

I started to run out of bandwidth. And to prove it, to prove that I had literally run out of mental space to be a sane and nonreactive person, I picked on the only person in my life who is nice enough to come back for more, because that’s the kid of guy he is: my husband. I created chaos. It wasn’t just him that I went after. I went after myself, in a really yucky and sad way. I said and thought things about myself that I would never say to or about another human being (well, maybe Hitler). It’s a very thin line, I learned –again– between picking on yourself and kicking yourself in the ass. After two days I figured out that I was creating a shitstorm for myself and that my anger vented at my husband was really about me. But why? Why did I pick him? Well, to deflect, and keep the heat off progress of course. If I create a shitstorm, I have to clean that up and feel sorry for myself some more. If I simply act and do the appropriate thing, where’s the fun in that? It’s about growing up, dammit.

Then there’s my own shit in my head to deal with. I’ve written about it here: the panic about my personal future and following and not crapping on my own dreams: to write.

To bring this idea closer to my own soul, to allow the kindnesses and compliments of readers and friends to actually sink in and not simply run off my skin only to drip into little puddles beneath my fingertips and pool around my feet or soak the linings of  my shoes I have begun to read the eminently readable War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I learned about that book after listening to Steven Pressfield’s podcast on The Accidental Creative. His book is a breezy little tome, broken up into very brief segments or chapters or utterances (sometimes just a paragraph long) about Resistance.

Seth Godin refers to Resistance as The Troll Inside Your Head. Pressfield says that Resistance is that thing inside us which stops us all from being healthier, ending a sick relationship, allowing creativity and living better. In its early pages I learned that Pressfield not only has a ritual (I’ve heard SO MUCH ABOUT THAT NEED FOR A RITUAL… OK…I get it…) but he also has a zone, an altar, if you will, dedicated to his writing or his creativity. He is disciplined. I used to be very disciplined. Then I had kids. That threw that bathtub right out the window. But my kids are older now. Creating a ritual and an altar does not seem quite so rife with failure anymore. He talks about not setting a word limit or a time limit on his writing and that when he starts to lose his thought, then he knows he’s done for the day. He’s very reasonable.

Pressfield makes a very compelling case about Resistance and why it wins so often. Pressfield makes us dig very deeply to uncover why we let Resistance in.

We let Resistance in because we find it easier to be afraid than to be courageous. He draws comparisons between Resistance and self-sabotage. He wrote something about how it’s even a form of sabotage against our peers, about how the worst act of treason against them we can commit is to better ourselves or get this: we subconsciously halt the betterment of others because we don’t want to be stuck with ourselves. He used an oft-cited story of the fate which befalls the crab who dares to leave the stock pot and how the others will dismember it to prevent its liberation.

You have to own your stuff when you read this book. In order to grow from it, you MUST be willing to stare yourself in the mirror and admit when you were a crab who tried to pull the fleeing one back in: are you the friend of someone who is striving for weight loss who offers him cake or makes little jabs at her progress? Or are you the one who puts out a spread of fruit and vegetables and offers water instead of soda or wine?

That made me think back to a time in my life with my mother when as much as I wanted her to be healthy and sober and available to me, I was also (this is a big confession) weak and terrified that her recovery would require me to be softer and kinder and vulnerable to her. That I would lose my enemy. That I would lose my edge. Part of it was teenage girlhood. I better understand my role in my sins against her and with that, not so much a sense of guilt, but an awareness of my fears and my false power.

I am so grateful that my go-to response was NOT guilt for the first time in my life.

It’s not like I spiked her cokes or swapped her tylenol with valium. Guilt has no place in that dynamic because ultimately, I had no power over her. What I was guilty of, if anything, was thinking I had any role in hoping for as well as fearing any sense of recovery for her. It’s hard for me to convey to you without sounding like a shrew how truly difficult it was between us, when things were difficult. To do so brings to mind that poem about the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead: that when she was bad, she was really really awful. So I really try to avoid talking about it all. But doing that solves nothing either, other than makes me feel like I have to shut up and that makes me mad. I have found that when I simply accept things as they were that I don’t feel compelled to be pissed off about it all. I have to remember that.

Reading Pressfield allowed me to see my baser, more unkind and craven self from those days. Surprisingly, it has bolstered me. I see how far I’ve come! I also see myself less as a victim of hers or of circumstances and more as a participant, albeit a reluctant and confused one. I was not a young child when I had those fears of my mother’s success; I was running out of bandwidth then. I was an adolescent, on the verge of bursting from my pent-up rage against circumstances I had yet to fully understand but only sensed their state of frustration.

My middle son is now that age when I first began to understand what was going on — what was really going on — in my family. We were about to move to Virginia, uprooting my mother. My older brother had mentally left for college, I was poised to repeat 8th grade (due to low attendance and a few dozen tardies) and it was utter emotional and logistical chaos. I see my middle son now and as much as he hates school (boy!) he goes. Every day. He is more intellectually present now and his grades are improving. He understands that all of this is his responsibility (we provide the stable home life and he does the work). It has required a lot of attention on my husband’s and my behalf to keep him remotely on track, but nowhere along the line do I find myself sabotaging his efforts and secretly wanting him to slide.

My oldest son is the age when I started to become emotionally unglued; that when I actively hated my mother and defiantly rose against and mocked any belief in her proposals of recovery. It was likely my disbelief and emotional garrisoning was all I could muster as she was a virulent strain of artist, alcoholic and depressive narcissist. In retrospect, I think it was a survival skill. I was out of bandwidth.

Pressfield goes on to talk about how to overcome Resistance. How we need to be ready for it and to learn from it. There are pages awaiting me which prescribe a future without Resistance and I can’t wait to get to them. I’m in the section now where he could not shake the sense of a need to write nonfiction. That he simply couldn’t bear to write fiction yet and that he felt like a fraud for thinking himself worthy of giving perspective and advice to anyone who dared to read his words.

Man, can I relate to that. And yet he did it anyway. And I’m so grateful. Should I ever go in that direction in a cohesive sense with an all-out book, you won’t catch me daring to say I’ve accumulated the requisite letters after my name to make me worthy of dispensing advice. I can’t shake the feeling though that there’s no way to write fiction, ever, for me until I bang out something which is entirely nonfiction.

I can feel myself on the precipice. This is unlike any other sense of thrust or self-trust or self-belief I’ve ever felt.

I have considered writing when the kids are at school. But I busy myself with other things which I would categorize as Resistance. But not today. Today, I am aware. It’s like being on a financial budget: don’t needlessly spend the money if you want to have it later. Be smart about how you spend your time. Try to not run out of bandwidth. But if you do, be OK with it. Reboot. We can always reboot.

So I’ve come semi-circle about the returning to work thing. Watching my son ride his bike up and down our street mandates that I be home when he is. I have seven more years of this. I don’t think of that with regret though, as if I am trapped here. That is the mistake lots of us make. We are not trapped here. It’s a matter of perspective. Even a castle in the Alps can feel like a prison.

Ideally, I’d like part-time writing and editing work. Nothing too fancy. Just something to help the blow in a couple years. Pay for a vacation. To a place which requires an airplane ride, a rental car and abuts turquoise water. Wouldn’t that be nice? College will happen. We will figure it out. We will have to. Everyone manages to figure it out. By the time our youngest is finished I will be dead. hahahahaaaaaa.aa….aaaaaahhhh ….mmmm.

No. I will be 56. NINE YEARS, BABY! And it will ALL BE OVER! That’s almost dead. I joke. Fifty-six is the beginning of the salad days, my friends.

But for now, I sit here still. My shadow extends a good twenty feet to my right as the sun, still eight minutes old, is setting to my left. The boys have gone inside. The boxwoods are still fizzing. The birds are beginning their night songs and my cats have retreated to nap in preparation for their nocturnal missions. The liberated cherry blossom petals are rolling and tumbling along the ground, propelled by the breezes of alternating pockets of cool and warm air. They dance and twirl as if they are children on a playground, chasing a soccer ball. It’s truly magical. The issue at hand for me is to turn this love of observation into something I can share with the world, not just on this blog, but bigger.

The wind has picked up and now pollen is bombing my keyboard and screen, and my laptop battery is at 9% remaining. This is good. What a glorious day. … and there goes the ice cream truck on the main street its warped-78rpm version of “Dixie” and “Camptown Races” blaring out the yogurt-cup-sized tweeter.

Thank you.

Catching up, Dream-State Messages, Childhood Angels

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It has been so long since I’ve written anything. I’m in a bit of a revolt, I think. My father said he doesn’t necessarily relate to my style, “stream of consciousness,” he called it. I will admit that threw me off a little; made me more self-conscious. It’s not that I don’t believe in my skills, but when we ask for opinions, we will assuredly get them.

True to form, since I’ve last written, I’ve had headaches, so I think that means I’ve been holding things in. Not expressing myself, feeling unconfident. I’ve also been very busy and I’m not really honoring the “creative pact” one has to make with one’s self if one is serious about creating anything. Instead, I’ve been reading books, listening to podcasts, and watching videos about how other people commit to creating.

A lot has happened in the past few weeks. Nothing earth shattering, but enough to keep my attention elsewhere, wandering, unsettled.

I’ve woken with two messages, or statements — one on 3/10/15 and another on 3/18/15 — which I consider to be very empowering and encouraging. I’m reluctant to share them because people will think I’m nuts. But I have decided that I will share them, because we’re all a little crazy. Besides, there’s only two of you reading.

The first message was “You have been written a blank check by God.”

That was a lot to take in. I “heard” the statement in a voice of sorts, just as I was waking. It was sort of part of a dream, but it was also not. I have been deep in thought of late about the concept of shame and guilt and blame and how to sort through those feelings. As much as I felt liberated by the dream I had a few weeks before about a female presence which I believe to be my mother’s “energy” but the visage was of several different women of influence — good or bad — in my life, occasionally something will happen which will trip the trigger on a feeling and we can be “found” skirting the boundary of it all, hence my thoughts on shame and guilt, et. al.

In the words I heard, I received my peace of mind. I am a Catholic on paper and I dig this current pope immensely. I haven’t consistently been to Mass in years and my brother is a pastor in another state and I have a cousin who is a priest across the country. They both left the Catholic faith. I absolutely have trouble with the whole trinity thing, to which my mother often said, “that’s the mystery of faith” which I apparently recited allegiance to for years in one of the creeds I would recite at rote during Mass. All that aside, I believe in God and I always have. Don’t ask me to qualify it or talk about Jesus. It’s not going to happen. I dig Mary, Jesus’ mother like you wouldn’t believe, and so that’s enough for me. The other aspect to me about God is the heavens — the sky and stars and moon and all the galaxies — that to me is proof of God. I suspect my leanings don’t align with the Tea Party (thank you) and other people who think Earth is only as old as the Old Testament guesses, and that’s okay with me.

But this statement, “You have been written a blank check by God” is about Grace and God’s limitless forgiveness. It tells me (whether I believe it or not is really the issue) that I am going to be alright and that the ruminating about shame and guilt regarding my relationship with my now 18-months gone mother (which is now a futile concept, time to get on that bus) is folly. That no matter what I do to myself, God is going to keep that blank check coming to me (and you).

The second message was “For every shame there is a star.”

Clearly, this is more direct. I had not given up on the concept of assigning myself shame and guilt. I had not let go of my dear friend victimhood which keeps me separate from love and acceptance. I also felt I am supposed to share this phrase as well. These messages are not for me only. I am not some prophet and I don’t plan to build an ark anytime soon or start a church or run off to a mountaintop, but I believe that these are concepts that are coming to me because I am seeking counsel, I am seeking relief from a really crappy pattern I’ve nursed about not being “enough” of a person and that in that crappy self-regard, I’m not alone. Hence the decision to share them here. With both of you.

The point of this, like the blank check, is that there is nothing God or the universe can not handle nor predict; all bets are off. There are billions upon billions of stars. I believe that my sense of shame is really more of one of regret for behavior and that it’s something I’m going to have to get over, this sense of failure or perfectionism which I apparently try to pursue and achieve yet never talk about. I honestly thought I was beyond seeking perfection, but I guess my subconscious (and my hamstrings and shoulders and the fact that I don’t feel confident to write these days) would disagree.

. . . . .

I have always taken to seeing coincidences as more than two things that dovetail at the same time. On Wednesday last week, 3/25, we needed to write a check for a field trip for our son. The fee was $44 to cover a charter bus. I hadn’t had my coffee yet and I just wrote the check. My son, noticed immediately that the check number was also 4400. Now, if it were April 4th and it was 4:44 in the afternoon I would have really been freaked out, but I think that was pretty cool on its own.

Later that morning, I had to prepare for a procedure I was having the next day. Even though I wasn’t supposed to have milk in my coffee, I decided, “Fuck that.” And I put the milk in my coffee. The instructions for preparing the preparation for the procedure allowed a tea bag for flavor. I decided to take a lemon ginger tea bag and place it in the container for use several hours later.

Here is what the tea bag tag (Yogi Teas) said, and I am totally and dead serious about this, I did NOT go through a box of tea bags to find this particular missive:

“Empty yourself and let the universe fill you.”

Proof:

How do you not think twice about this?

How do you not think twice about this?

Of course I was going to have to empty myself. Sweet mother of God, have you ever done a prep for a colonoscopy?

I will not go into details (you’re welcome) about this experience, suffice it to say that it was my third time. I go every three years because of family history and it’s the most humbling experience of my life. When I think of people to whom I feel inferior, I remember that they will experience this. When I think of people to whom I feel superior, I remember that I must experience this.

They say that poverty is a great equalizer. I would add that spending several moments in the bathroom to the point of thigh numbness, delirium, exhaustion and dehydration — INTENTIONALLY, peeps — comes in a very close second. What makes it all worthwhile, I decided, is the injection of the milky propofol 18 hours later and trying to communicate the sensation that overcomes your brain, your actual brain, when the drug makes it light-speed ascent to your noggin.

Anesthesiologist [as she is lining up the injection with the port on my IV]: You’re going to notice a strange taste in your mouth.

Me: Really? Like strange how? [Watching the ports line up and hearing the click.]

Anesthesiologist: Um, just strange. Like metallic. [Pressing the plunger…]

Me [watching the fluid push into my line and thinking, ‘that wasn’t very descriptive for an anesthesiologist…’]: Woah. No taste. My brain. Yikes.

Anesthesiologist: What? Tingling?

Me: Ye … [It was tingling. Like spiders crawling all over it, but in a nice way. Nice pretty spiders.]

OUT. Procedure commences.

Apparently I dreamt about my oldest becoming a soccer player for Ireland’s celtic football club. He was very good and I was very proud. Apparently I told everyone about it.

The good news: I’m fine. The bad news: I do this again in three years. I have got to turn this frown upside-down. I have got to determine that I’m lucky to be here to hear the good news and get the milky propofol again.

. . . . .

Last weekend my family and I went to brunch at a cousin’s house. My dad came along and in the car I asked him about a housekeeper / domestic helper we had when I was a child. Her name was Betty Sortino and I believe she was one of The Most Stable forces in my young years in what was a fairly unpredictable home. Betty was short. I believe I would tower over her today with my massive 5’5″ frame. She was a proud Italian American. She had a boyfriend, Al, who would pick her up from her shifts at our home. She had shoulder-length black hair, veined with an occasional silver strand. She smoked a lot. She loved Hershey’s chocolate bars with almonds and she would share them with me, even though I wouldn’t want the almond. I would take it. That she shared her chocolate with me was huge. I didn’t get that from my mother; there was no sharing of her chocolate. Betty drank cold coffee or water. I would drink milk with my share of her Hershey’s. She would come over almost every day and often stay until my bedtime. She would sit at the foot of my bed and jiggle her leg, to let me know she was there and that I wasn’t alone. She would do this until I fell asleep. She would sing to me, “I Shot The Sheriff” in her rough smoker’s voice and I remember the heavy acidic, yet sweetness of her smoker’s breath lingering as she sang.

About that song, I remember asking Betty, “What does ‘dignity’ mean?”

She corrected me, “‘Dignity’? That’s not in the song…” I remember her contorting her face, searching her memory for the word in the song.

“Yes it is. ‘But I did not shoot the dignity…'” I recited back.

“DEP-u-ty… I did not shoot the dep-u-ty…” she said back to me. “The deputy sheriff. He didn’t shoot the deputy sheriff, but he did shoot the sheriff.”

“Oh. But what does ‘dignity’ mean?” I asked.

She blushed and looked down. I remember this as clear as day. She blushed and said, “It means your virtue. Your parts of you that make you special. Who you are and how people know you… You protect that.” She indicated my heart and my body, using her hands to float around and surround my physical space.

I was confused. But I remembered it.

My father said Betty was several years older than my mother. I don’t remember her that way. I remember her as youthful and vibrant. Present and current. She knew Eric Clapton songs for Pete’s sake. My mother would’ve thought Eric Clapton was perhaps an obscure 14th century playwright.

Betty stopped working for us, probably when I turned 11 or 12. There was no issue or rift. I just remember her not being there any more. I missed her. Then about two years later we moved.

My grand father died several years later, in 1989 I believe. We traveled back to Buffalo for the funeral. It was a hard season for my mother as she had lost her aunt, her mother and her father all within 18 months or so of each other. I heard from a relative that Betty came to the funeral. She asked for me and my family. I didn’t know she was there and so I didn’t see her. I would have loved to have seen her that day, or I would like to think that I would have loved to have seen her. At 21 – 22, I was a pretty bitter person. I was focused on my studies and hell bent on getting on with my life. I’d taken what amounted to a couple years off from college (although I took classes part-time to keep me in the system) and I was very anti-my parents at that point. I do remember someone telling me she asked for me and I do remember feeling regret I missed her. Whether I would have connected all the dots as to her huge contribution to my life, I don’t know. I connect them now though. Betty Sortino was an angel. She was sent from somewhere to show me how to share, that adults can be calm and that simple constancy does matter.

In summary, I’m going to write more, not care about what anyone thinks (even though the opinion was innocuous) and just keep at it. Life is too short to get caught up in stupid thinking and there are more than enough stars to handle any crap I end up putting out there.

Thank you.