Tag Archives: relationships friendships

Transcendental Frienditation


What happens when you combine a love of featherfish with an artist who makes killa collages with a poem lauding the microwave and a family of five?

You get Transcendental Frienditation, and the gift of this friendship, now spanning between Northern Virginia and a little town in New Mexico has reached new heights.

I adore as you may know, the lovely and talented Lillian Connelly. The poem I wrote last week about the microwave, I wrote on the fly (as I do most of my posts; sadly, this one is sort of planned). While she liked that one enough and we had fun with it, it was the next post, the one about the featherfish that caught her eye; so much, that she fell in love with the featherfish as evidenced by many back and forth tweets on Twitter about them.

Screen Shot 2013-04-30 at 5.53.53 PMScreen Shot 2013-04-30 at 5.54.03 PMScreen Shot 2013-04-30 at 5.54.12 PM

And that’s how we got started. Here is Lillian’s post about her adventure via Twitter and how she and I are collaborating: How My Ideas Grew Two Sizes That Day.

I planned to go all by myself the following Sunday morning to the Eastern Market in D.C. It’s insane to get out of the house with the kids for a planned event; a spontaneous one: fugedaboudit. When I thought I was sneaking down the stairs, I saw my husband on his computer. That was fine. Then I saw Thing 2. Thing 2 likes shopping and going places, so I knew he’d be game. That’s ok. But I really wanted to be there hassle-free: out and about, in the sun, eating a crepe without having to deal with “idonwanna” and “letsdothisinstead” coming from the back seats.

The truth is, I love my team and as much as I wanted to be alone, I really wanted them to see the fantastic experience that lies only 25 minutes away.

My thoughts and plans of leaving at 9:30 in the morning were dashed like a skiff exploding on the rocky bluffs of Ireland when Thing 1 decided he wanted to come too. That meant Thing 3 simply could not stay home alone. Despite his assertions that he would be fine alone for several hours in our house, we made him accompany us. It was on this day that his fever returned and that the amoxicillin he’d recently been prescribed stopped working on his strep throat. He was an absolute pleasure to be around.

But what started out as a solo venture, ended up becoming one of the most fantastic days my family has had together in a long time.

Upon arrival, the first order of business was to stop and get some featherfish for Lillian. Imagine my shock and awe, when we encountered this:

featherfish, featherbears, featherbirds, featherowls, feathergoats, bullfeathers...

featherfish, featherbears, featherbirds, featherowls, feathergoats, bullfeathers…

I simply could not decide. I mean, what if she had a preference for the tortoises or the rams? So I called her, at likely 8am her time on a Sunday (you know, late) and left her a message that she did not listen to until Monday. It’s ok. I chose the fish, and I’m sure she’ll write about them. But in the meantime, she has been working on my homage collage, and I’ll let her show that to you.

So while we were purchasing the featherfish, my husband started talking to FeatherMitch, the maker of the featherthings. And um, let’s just say they got along well. “He is my long-lost brother!” Mitch said, about my husband. “You never know!” he said:

Mr. Grass Oil and FeatherMitch, long lost brothers. Mitch has a zen that makes my own husband's mellow ways seem like my zen, which is to say: no zen.

Mr. Grass Oil and FeatherMitch, long-lost brothers. Mitch has a zen that makes my own husband’s mellow ways seem like my zen, which is to say: no zen. (that little creature in front of Mitch is a featherladybug)

We spent about half an hour with featherMitch and he told us his story. I will sum it up: his grandfather left China during the revolution with nothing. He was not allowed to take his sheep or his money or his food or his clothes with him. He could only take his roll-up mattress and almost no money; China got everything. He wanted to go to Thailand. He met his eventual wife in Thailand, she too was a Chinese refugee. He stayed there and they raised a family, Mitch’s father. He married and Mitch was born. He said that his grandfather wanted to die in China, he wanted to die where he was born, but he wanted all his money to stay in Thailand. The story is a little sketchy and I have a feeling my husband will return many times to iron out the details because he has told me he has a fondness for Mitch (and honestly, who can’t?).

When Mitch was finishing his story, he looked at my oldest son. “What you want to do when you go to college?” he asked. My son stammered a little, kicked a rock, smiled, wasn’t quite ready to answer the question. Mitch had asked it so deliberately. I answered, “He likes engineering, and he loves science and math.”

“You be a doctor. Medical engineer. My daughter, I have two: one is at Columbia, getting her PhD, all she does is call me for money; and the other is at Berkeley. I don’t want them to call me anymore,” he said with no irony. “It’s expensive to live in New York, she calls me for money all the time. I tell her, ‘stop learning, get a job!’ but she’s my daughter. So I send her money.”

“You learn technology, but stay away from Facebook, iPads. Study instead. China wants you to stay on Facebook. All of us, it wants us to be all ‘waaaah waaaah woooaah…’ like zombies on the computers. That’s the only way it will win. Stay away from that. Go outside, exercise, meet people, read science and literature. Artists. Keep doing things, stay away from online talking. China will win and we will all lose,” he said very sharply and lovingly to all my sons.

“I joke with my mom that we should all learn Chinese because we will be speaking it one day when China buys the United States…” Thing 1 said.

“This is no joke.” Mitch said. “Mandarin. You and your children will speak Mandarin if we don’t get away from the iPhones and the Facebook. China loves that we love our phones. They make them and we forget we are alive when we use them.”

He was so correct. My heart sank. Here is a man who knows what China is capable of. We left him for other kiosks, but we planned to say good-bye before we left.

After featherMitch, we went to see a glass artist make pendants and watched his glass blowing demonstration:

Thing 3 was entranced. He and this artist talked so much about the pendant and heat and compared it all to the sun's heat.

Thing 3 was entranced. He and this artist talked so much about the pendant and heat and compared it all to the sun’s heat.

Then after that, we met another artist, Shumba Masani, who makes “canimals”: giraffes and other animals out of aluminum cans. Thing 3 saved his yoo-hoo can for him; he planned to make a turtle out of it. This artist’s works have been in the Smithsonian. He made a 6′ tall giraffe and sold it for $1,000.

This is Masani’s interview on YouTube, he’s amazing and he just sort of stumbled into his art. His lesson is important, so check it out:

I bought this little rhino from him for $20. It’s made from a can of olive oil -infused hairspray:


I suppose $20 is steep, but I’m thrilled because as Thing 3 said, I get to have an original piece of art from an artist whose other works sit in a museum. What I was most thrilled with was that my kids met him and talked to him and saw that all things are possible as long as you try and never give up.

After Masani, I found a second-hand leather backpack purse. Fully lined, “Fossil” brand and it was as soft as butter. At this kiosk, it was originally $35, but that price was scratched out and the new price was $25. I just had $23 on me. “That’ll do.” said the vendor.

“I love that it’s already got scratches on it and that it’s broken in.” I said. “It’s like a car: once you get that first ding in the door, no matter how painful it is, it’s still a car. It’s just less than perfect now. The pressure’s off to keep it pristine. Are you sure? Just twenty-three? Really?”

“Sure. Man, I like your style,” he said. “I wish more people were like you.”

I inspected the bag; it was fine inside: clean, no smells, intact. I love a bargain and I love a broken-in, butter-soft, leather backpack purse even more.

Yesterday, Thing 3 called me from school. He wasn’t feeling well. The amoxicillin had not done its job. We needed to go back to the doctor’s. While we were waiting, I opened my new backpack purse to put away my insurance cards and I looked over and saw this:

It looked like it was talking to me.

It looked like it was talking to me.

So we were having more fun in the exam room and Thing 3 asked me to take this picture:

"It said, 'Gryffindor!' mom, like the sorting hat from Harry Potter, but it's a sorting bag."

“It said, ‘Gryffindor!’ mom, like the sorting hat from Harry Potter, but it’s a sorting bag.”

I have a sorting hat puppet. As far as I’m concerned, you can love Harry and Hermione and Ron and all those people all you want, but when I saw that sorting hat, I was sold. No one else mattered, ‘cept McGonegal. No one messes with Maggie Smith.

Lillian and I are going to embark on more homage collages; or collages with poems and make a calendar of them all for people to buy. It’s all because of the featherfish (that post is about living in the now) and the fact that I was stalled on what to make for dinner one night. The takeaway from all this is that friendship is everywhere and the gift we’ve given to each other is one of new ideas and possibilities for our work; something that will take the writer’s blech for me and give her new things to play with. But the gift she gave to me and my family is permanent and lasting and it’s those little things: taking a leap of faith on a friend and loving what comes of it, that makes it all the richer. So do it: get to know someone and collaborate.

The featherfish were packed up in a box by featherMitch waiting by my front door Monday. Taking them to the post office was also a gift, I stood in line with some of the funniest people and shared stories with them and the very clever man behind the counter. Who knew one set of featherfish could bring me this much joy?

all ready to go to new mexico!

all ready to go to new mexico!

Lillian should get them today. I can’t wait to hear from her when she opens the box. She’s so great. As it turns out, her grandmother lives near me. When she comes to visit her, we are SO going to meet featherMitch. It’ll be a reunion of people who’ve never met.

Thank you.

Four Lessons I’m Learning


Here are some lessons about life and other random things that have occurred to me lately. If my kids happen upon this post when I am old(er), gray(er) and wiser, I will be pleased.

Relationships: Relative to non-marital relationships, some people simply aren’t a good fit. This assessment can occur immediately or after a while. But life isn’t like Seinfeld, and sometimes we can’t simply just stop relating to someone, can we? Sometimes we are bad fits right away but we ignore it, rationalize or try to force things. Forcing something to work that really mightn’t otherwise can be exhausting. The lesson or takeaway: don’t sweat the relationship’s demise as a failure. It’s no one’s fault, it simply ran out of elasticity. Mooning about it also is pointless (easier said than done). Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on. I think men have an easier time of this than women as we are nurturers and growers and creators by nature. I envy rational men sometimes for their efficiency when relationships go pear-shaped.  I’ve written a lot about relationships, and I will likely continue to because they are so important to have in our lives, but I’m at the point now in my life (one month away from turning 45) where I am forgiving myself for fighting the obvious when some fits are bad fits. I’m also giving myself a break and listening to my intuition now whenever I experience a feeling when relating to someone (even someone I already know) that suggests things are likely going in an unproductive direction. Relationships, friendships are vitally important to me and I cherish them all but I’m done forcing them to be something they’re incapable of becoming.

Relative to marital relationships: it’s a whole different ballgame. I have no advice in this arena other than to strongly advise, “KNOW THYSELF” before you throw yourself headlong into something you might underestimate.

Desire v. Scarcity: This one’s complicated because it’s a new subject for me. My parents were toddlers during the Great Depression. One parent was exposed to its woeful hardships vastly more than the other parent who was almost blindingly sheltered from its ravages. Because of this truly unique pairing, I have spent the better part of my life balancing the financial attitudes of easy affluence and parsimony. It has been gut-wrenching emotionally at times for me that way. I am financially responsible, always have been, but I don’t enjoy money. I used to think that I didn’t care about money; money was not really important. I think now, that this attitude of indifference was borne as a coping method to balance my fears of scarcity with my shame of desiring. That was the only way I could detach myself from it and learn to think of money as a tool (which I largely still do – I really don’t have an attachment to/interest in money). After thinking more about it and being around people who truly have no money worries at all, I have also learned that simply wanting more, better, newer, nicer doesn’t mean I am sinful or wasteful or extravagant. What’s more, is that I always know that money is flowing and that largely, I am secure. In fact, I am lightened by people who simply say, “I want X because I do…” and they go and get it and have no shame about it. Me? I watch and learn… take notes.

A little deeper: Because one parent consistently and emphatically feared for our lives regarding money and the other parent had no concerns about what things cost, I have “learned” that the honorable way to live regarding money is to hold contempt for worth and wealth — even if it were my own wealth. It’s as though fortune is undeserving and creates a sense of entitlement (which we all know is possible – look at the Kardashians), yet I believe in capitalism. What’s missing completely from this equation is the sentiment of: respect. I have no respect for what I am worthy of (a nice pair of shorts for example) without inordinately feeling like an ungrateful shrew for not enjoying / exhausting the things I do have. Thus I learned via witnessing my scarce-minded parent that wearing clothes until they are threadbare (because you know that’s virtuous – no, it’s not at all; it’s almost martyrdom, a form of manipultion) is the proper way to live. I am not so sure of that. One parent would buy hand-knit cashmere sweaters and the other would have collars turned over and resown on when they became threadbare. I know… really? Yes. Really.

But I am grateful. I shop at outlets! I drive my car sparingly! I eat when I am hungry! Above all, I am a very optimistic person! I live a lot of my life saying to friends, “You woke up in America; so far your day is ridiculously better than 6.8 billion other peoples’ so stop moaning.”

But as in so much of our lives (90% of what we do actually) it all comes back to unconscious childhood messages, and as a result I have trained myself to not want anything I don’t need and to doubt the necessity of things I have, yet not unload them. Ahhh… that’s pretty screwed up, isn’t it? Sometimes I’ve felt deeply shameful about wanting more, better, finer, larger, newer anything. I know this treads a thin line, because I do believe that abject gluttony is wrong, but in my woeful scarce-fearing mind, I believe what I am experiencing: a healthy desire that makes me ambitious and productive is not appropriate. What’s worse, I’ve seen how this thinking has begun to transmute into my personal life in terms of wanting better health, deserving better fitness. Even writing a book… wanting fame and fortune is wrong because that means I am vain… so I don’t seek fame and fortune. But then I’d be nuts for not wanting that right? No… Forget wanting the new shorts, this stuff is complicated.

The thing is: I never used to think that way, I was all about grabbing the brass rings and going for it, as long as I worked for it, but something has shifted. I recognize now that shift revolves mostly around my interest in having a larger home. (Spending a week on a private island doesn’t help things, I admit.) The house I live in is fine, but I realized this weekend (because I compared the plats and floor plans) that it’s only slightly larger, by 50sf, than the one we left; the only thing it offers that is larger is the backyard my children seldom use.

But it’s not even the square footage that’s a problem, it’s the layout. This house was built in the late 70s when everyone had cocktails in the massive living room and no one ate together save for the depressed housewife in her mu-mu feeding her flappy infant under low light. The neighborhood I live in is also transitory; it was built during the cold war and near the Pentagon. Most military officers who could afford off-base housing likely move every three years, so these houses weren’t designed with future lifestyles in mind, nor for long-term residents for that matter. We have lived here for 12 years. We aren’t military. I grew up in a big house. I want a bigger one now. That’s not a sin, is it?

I had an epiphany the other day about this though and while it’s a breakthrough of sorts for me, it’s going to take some work to unravel the years of fear and phobia that I experienced about scarcity. The epiphany (finally!) is this: it’s OK to want something newer or better. It’s OK to have desires as they can keep you focused, productive and ambitious. What’s “wrong” about desire is if it becomes an obsession and clouds your appreciation for what you already have. That is the hard part for me; this new way of thinking, of being OK with wanting something bigger or newer tends to swing my pendulum comPLETEly in the opposite direction where I tend to lose my impulse control, and I end up wantingwhatiwantwheniwantit. So this is going to take some training. Part of the reconditioning for this though lies in simply being OK with wanting more and not fearing scarcity. And admitting that has actually made me like where I am more. No one has ever died saying they wish they worried more. Here’s a great blog post about figuring out wanting and what we want  – what’s even better are the comments.

Shedding: Getting rid of things is good to do. Keeping stuff for future use just on the basis that you might need it someday (when it’s unlikely you’ll use it simply because you have it) creates a hold on the space in your life, preventing the flow from moving forward. Holding on stagnates what you do have and stops the item from going to someone else who truly needs it. The other day, I happened upon my bedroom Junk Drawer (it’s not bad, it just needs some culling) and after I gutted it I know I will never need another pen, ponytail band or chapstick for the rest of my life. I have some friends who have no problem whatsoever about throwing things away; not even recycling them! I try hard to do my civic duty and recycle, and donate things to charity, but that is work too. I have donated to charity and recycled since I got married almost 20 years ago. Sometimes, it’s just nice to toss something in the trash… you know?

When I threw out some stuff it relieved emotional energy and loosened me up. A matchbook from a restaurant, “Ruby Foos” in NYC that I’ve held on to since I got it the night my brother took us there before seeing a play, “Noises Off,” has done nothing for me. The matchbook didn’t suddenly make me remember the night. Those memories were already there. (Great play, by the way.) So I tossed it. I’m not saying I won’t recycle anymore, I will, but I’m gonna let myself toss useless things. The object is not the memory; the memory is the memory.

Mistakes: There is no “undo” button in life. There is “reset” and “redo.” It’s up to us to know the difference. Freud said there is no such thing as a mistake. I tend to think he’s right about that sometimes. But the biggest mistake about anything is not learning from anything; to suppose that you know all the answers. I don’t.

I guess the points I’m making in this post are:

  • That we must continue to live life and constantly learn what we can.
  • Do what works and stop what doesn’t.
  • Buy what you need, donate what have but you don’t need.
  • Throw out things no one will need, it’s OK.
  • Baggage foisted on to you by your parents or your childhood is not yours, DUMP IT.
  • Always aim for the stars but be happy if you hit the moon.
  • Letting go lets you live.
  • Be a boot-strapper and always, always, always try again.

Thank you.