Friday, March 29, 2013

Scintilla#13, Day 15

1. Tell the story of how you got the thing you are going to keep forever. Include an image in your post, if you can.

2. Fears come in different sized packages. Tell the story of a time you had a face a fear, big or small.

Oh, let's just comment on both of these today.

The thing I am going to keep forever, hm. Well, nothing lasts forever, for sure not this life, although I hope I've got a bunch of years still to go. And I'm much more in the mindset of getting rid of 'things' that I no longer need/use/want, although I have a long way to go on that front.

I wear rings that I probably will keep forever, or at least until I leave this body. Three were given to me by my dearest love, my husband. The other two, on the same finger, are my mother's engagement ring and my grandmother's wedding ring which my mother wore along with her wedding rings.

But things are things: we imbue them with emotion and sentiment from our stories about them. They do not have emotion of their own, although I do think gemstones can absorb energy both positive and negative, and would always cleanse a stone that had been worn by someone else. Things can clutter up a life and certainly a home, and I am ready to simplify and pare down papers and books and possessions. It is a process, though, not a mere spring cleaning. I'm simply done with too much stuff.

And then fear: oh come on. All of us face daily fear in one size or another: is that twinge normal or is it cancer/heart/stroke? Who is in that car in my driveway -- I'm not expecting anyone? Will I have enough money to pay bills/retire/survive a crisis? Will my children be safe on their way to and from school today? Is my job reasonably secure (understanding that in today's world, NO job is secure)?

There are a thousand and one little fears that stress us every day whether or not we acknowledge them as fear -- but that's what they are. How we handle them is the key to living a good life, a life that is what we want it to be. When we allow fear to paralyze us into inaction, we endow it with power over everything, our heart, our brain, our courage, our health, our peace of mind, our quality of life. And sometimes we need help in figuring out how to walk through the fear and find our true life -- from a friend, from a spiritual practice, from a doctor or therapist. But the important thing is that it can be dealt with. We do not have to live in fear.

My health is probably the most fearful thing in my life right now: learning to walk and balance again on a new ankle, hoping that I will eventually be able to take walks again without pain, hoping that my afib does not mean anything more than a broken natural regulator which can be controlled, hoping that I will not fall and break something, or get cancer, or get Alzheimer's, or any one of many other maladies. To cope, I try to eat properly, take prescribed medications that will diminish symptoms, strengthen my muscles and balance through PT and yoga, spend some time in gratitude and energy work, and live life one day at a time, which is all any of us really have anyway.

When I allow myself to go 'off in the ozone' and feel fearful, I talk to my honey, or to my doctor, and I find something to do that will shift my focus. The wee small hours of the night are a perfect breeding ground for the ice weasels that snake up your spine and dance into your belly, and magnify fear and anxiety. When they happen -- not often -- I sometimes picture myself surrounded by angels in white light, with the light repelling the dark fear. Or I drink a cup of hot tea in our quiet, dimly lit living room, often with a sleepy cat who comes to inquire why I am not in bed and stays to purr in my lap, further quieting the weasels (cats definitely hunt ice weasels, by the way). And then I go back to bed and to sleep.

 "To fear is one thing.  To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another. " ~Katherine Paterson, Jacob Have I Loved

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Scintilla#13, Day 14

So I'm a couple of days behind the scheduled prompts, but I'm not the only one. And they're really timeless anyway. So here we go:

1. Talk about a time when you were younger and you embarrassed your parents in public, the one that still shames you.

2. We exert control over ourselves and others in many ways. Talk about a time when you lost that control. This can go beyond the obvious emotional control into things like willpower, tidiness, self-discipline, physical prowess - any time that you felt your autonomy slipping away.

I was pretty much the child who did what she was expected to do. While I probably embarrassed my parents, nothing immediately springs to mind, nor am I still cringing over anything.

On to #2.

Who doesn't struggle with will power? Or perhaps we should call it won't power; "I won't eat that dessert. I won't eat candy. I won't take that drink. I won't smoke another cigarette."

Uh huh. I've been there many times over the years. Lost a few, won a few. I suspect some battles will continue the rest of my life, or at least until I don't care any more.

But let's talk about physical ability this time. I've had a few surgeries that kept me quiet and hampered my abilities, but I always found a workaround that allowed me to continue functioning. When I broke my elbow in 1972 and couldn't do much with my hair, I got an easy haircut that I could blow-dry with one hand, one that turned out actually to be one of the best styles I've worn. When I was tethered to a wound-vac in 2002 and couldn't go anywhere, I ordered groceries online and had them delivered. When I broke my right wrist in 2010, I learned to use my left hand to eat and to use the computer, and was still able to cook one-handed.

This last time, though, I was totally non-weight bearing. And older. I needed help to bathe. I was pretty useless in the kitchen other than sharing information. I couldn't go outside to feed kitties -- I couldn't even carry their dishes of food. I was mostly dependent upon my husband for the eight weeks I was in a cast and had to be totally off my feet. And I've never been dependent on anyone for very long.

My wonderful husband took over all the tasks I usually did, including cooking which he hadn't done since we've been together. He fed kitties. He shuffled dirty clothes into the laundry room and into the washer, although I was able to help some with that task and could at least fold clean clothes. He made lists and went to the grocery store and to WalMart -- both places he has tried to avoid going for years -- and never complained. He made sure I had water and the phone and the TV remote within reach, and retrieved mail and papers every day. And the biggie: he faithfully emptied the bedside commode (that was such an enormous help) every day, without complaint or comment. I am so grateful for him!

I had to learn to just BE, not DO. I had to give up the guilt about not doing 'my' chores, about putting so much on him. I had to learn to focus on me and my recovery, and to keep a positive attitude. And I did; so much so that I don't want to revert to doing-doing-doing stuff now that I'm back on my feet and generally mobile. And that's a good thing.

 I want to be one of those senior-senior citizens who is reasonably well and mobile right up until the day I wake up dead. I don't want to be bed-ridden and dependent upon others for basic life skills, not my husband, not my children, not on anyone. And with nearly three weeks of physical therapy now under my belt, I am discovering what a huge difference strengthening exercises have made in my body, my ability to walk unassisted, and my attitude. So as much as I have hated going to gyms and doing 'work-outs' in the past (yoga being the one exception), I am going to continue going regularly to the gym after the PT is over so that I continue to build on the strength and balance that I have achieved so far. It is finally clear to me that I must....MUST...take responsibility for my physical shape if I want to continue to be mobile and independent for the rest of my life.

Over the years that physical ability has lessened: once upon a time I could skip, dance for hours, jump, and shop without pain or limitations. I can't do that now. But I can keep what strength and ability I have recovered if I continue to exercise and tend it. That is another huge lesson that has come from this surgery and recovery.

"Once in a while you get shown the light
In the strangest of places if you look at it right." ~ Scarlet Begonias, Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Scintilla#13, Day 13

The choices:

1. Post a photo of yourself from before age 10. Write about what you remember of the day the photo was taken. It may not be a full story—it may just be flashes of event and emotion—but tap into the child you were as much as you can.

2. The saying goes What you don't know won't hurt you, but sometimes the opposite is true. Talk about a time when you were hurt by something you didn't know.

Two things I didn't know about: drug addiction and molestation.

Not mine. The repercussions of both impact me still today, however, and changed the life of my loved ones forever.

I didn't know about either when they first happened. It took some time and a lot of denial to believe the former. The abuse came to light years after it took place, but the true extent of it didn't surface until years later, and the two are definitely intertwined.

How they've hurt me: Shock.  Tears, oh, so many tears. Denial. Accusations. Loss of trust. Complete loss of trust. Dislike. Distance. Hours spent searching for help; more (futile) hours in 'detective' work. Grief for what might have been. Grief for the pain and suffering my loved ones have had. Grief for my hopes for their future. Grief for their hopes and potential.  And So. Much. Anger.

Oddly enough, guilt was not a factor, although I'm usually very good (and quick) at it. But I didn't even suspect  the abuse and therefore could not take steps to end it. I wish with all my heart that I could have stopped it -- but the authority of a child molester over his victim can be more powerful than the victim's desire to speak. The molester still lives, free today from a way-too-brief prison sentence for molesting another child. We know of many more victims for which he was not tried. I believe that what goes around comes around; I hope with every molecule of my black, revengeful Scorpio heart that it will. And that I will be around to see it.

The drug addiction was never mine to fix and it is always a choice to use or not to use, regardless of the circumstances. It took me years to truly, deeply understand that you cannot love someone clean. It will take many more years to trust again, and to stop feeling angry that this dear person has chosen such a horrible, destructive path. And the grief over the losses will probably never go away completely. I have learned that mine is the only life I can save. And I pray every day that my loved one will be able to save their own.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Scintilla#13, Day 12

Family ties....that bind and sometimes gag us, sometimes liberate us. This is the prompt:

Those that went before us have walked paths that we may never fully understand. Talk about a time when you learned something important about your family history.

Today the Supreme Court began hearings on marriage equality. Crowds of people are outside the Supreme Court building, demonstrations are both online and in cities and towns, and polls indicate that the majority of citizens support gay marriage.

My parents would have agreed.

But some years ago there was a disturbance in the extended family force that touched on this issue and also on the actions and ethics of our then-president, George W. Bush. What came out of that changed my feelings about those family members, and I seldom hear from or see them, both by instance of geographical distance and by moral and ethical distance.

The details don't need to be completely exposed in this venue. One family member clearly outlined in a family letter his opposition to Bush's war and the intolerance of thought towards gay and lesbian rights. It was a strong letter, but well thought out and supported, and it was emotionally and intelligently written from the heart. He acknowledged that he knew there would be differences of opinion, but hoped there could at least be discussion.

At least two family members shut him off completely first with angry, insulting words, and then with complete silence. They did not respond to phone calls, to letters, to any gesture of reconciliation, and to my knowledge at the time of his death a few years later, had never again spoken to him other than to say 'Don't ever call or write me  again.' It weighed deeply on him, and he talked with my mother at length about it, and even to me, and, I suspect, to other sympathetic family.

But what I think it did mostly was to bring out years of unspoken resentment and anger, based on I don't know what exactly -- probably a lot of history I don't know about that stretches back decades --  and divide the family.

I am too liberal for most of that side of my family. So was he. So were my parents, truth be told, but they pretty much subscribed to the 'don't ask, don't tell' school of getting along with family members with whom you don't agree, in the interests of not rocking the boat.

While there is shared history with my extended family members, there are apparently few shared values or morals or ethics with many of them. I can dance politely on the unsteady surface for a few hours at rare family gatherings, but  not for long. And I can't forget how they treated their family member when he spoke his truth from his heart. 

"Family quarrels are bitter things. They don't go by any rules. They're not like aches or wounds; they're more like splits in the skin that won't heal because there's not enough material." ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Scintilla#13, Day 11

1. Write about an experience you had that was so strange or incredible, it sounds like it could have been made up.

I am sure I've told the story of how Tony and I met somewhere in these posts, and I can find references to that magical day, but not the whole thing. Here's the snapshot version;

I'd recently moved to the Bay Area after leaving a 27-year marriage and was living alone for the first time in my adult life. New job, new life, little apartment in Pacifica looking out on my beloved ocean.

A work colleague had talked about how much fun she was having meeting people through Yahoo personals, then a fairly new way to connect. Practically on the eve of my 50th birthday, I decided to try it and put out an ad mentioning a variety of authors, saying "If you know these, we might have something in common."

Got several responses and spent the next week e-mailing back and forth with a couple of them. Met one guy the day after Thanksgiving at a museum in Golden Gate Park -- the day was gorgeous and sunny -- the guy was nice enough but clearly not a match. We parted ways after spending a couple of hours in the museum.

Back home, I checked email: A note from a guy I'd been corresponding with, had already established that we both lived in Pacifica and that he knew most of my authors, but this time he told me where he lived (three blocks) and his phone number, saying he'd love to get together for a coffee.

I didn't dither long -- it was too pretty a day. Called him. "I live three blocks from you. Want to go for a walk on the beach?" I asked. He said yes. "Meet me at the stairs in 20 minutes."

He did. I did. We walked. Talked. Kissed. Talked more. Came back up the stairs five hours later, in the dark, giggling the whole way.

And we haven't been apart since.

Now is that a fairy-tale ending or what!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Scintilla#13, Day 10

More choices for this day on The Scintilla Project. Check out other stories on the blogroll, and be sure to read Tony's selections on his blog, Cat-E-Whompus.

So which to choose?

1. Sometimes we wish we could hit the rewind button. Talk about an experience that you would do over if you could.

2. Write about spending time with a baby or child under the age of two. The challenge: if you're a parent, do not talk about your own child.

While various BIG decisions I've made instantly came to mind with this prompt and caused some intense discussion with my honey, I'm actually not sure that I would really do them over given the chance. Some of them have been painful and still have the power to cause me to cringe. But I also learned lessons that have been instrumental in getting me to where I am now -- a pretty good place, actually. So maybe not.

So let's talk about hair. Hair decisions can really seem like a big deal: to cut? Not to cut? To color? How much, what shade, how often?

With hair like mine -- stick straight without even a hint of curl, several awkwardly placed cowlicks, and super fine, which means it also has little body, falls at a hint of humidity, and will not hold even a hot roller curl for longer than it takes me to get to my destination -- my big decision has been:



I remember my mother giving me Tonette perms at about age four. Tonettes always included some paper dolls or other 'prize' inside the box since they were made specifically for children's hair.

 I sat in our kitchen swathed in old towels and listening to the radio or playing with the 'prize' inside the Tonette box while Mother patiently wound my long fine hair onto dozens of curling rods. Then came the application of the stinky permanent wave solution -- peeeeuwwww -- and then holding a towel tightly to my face while it processed, dripping everywhere. The last step was to rinse off the solution with curlers still tightly in place -- I remember laying on the kitchen counter with my head tipped back over the sink while Mother poured pitcher after pitcher of warm water over the curlers. And then, finally, she gently removed them and worked in one last rinse/setting solution, running her fingers through my now-curly hair -- it felt soooo good to get them out.

And then it was ready to be wound on those pink or brown soft plastic curlers -- not rollers --  and wait for it to dry, sitting in the sunshine or just by sleeping on them overnight. Hair dryers were not yet home appliances.

The result? Long banana curls with cute barrettes holding the hair back a little from my face. For a few months, anyway.

And probably a lot of broken-off hair.

I got perms -- home perms, beauty school perms, and later perms from salons -- through much of my life, stopping those only when we finally moved to Red Bluff and I decided to let all the coloring I'd had done on it for about a decade grow out and see what color my hair really was. That, and I hated feeling the spiky little broken-off hairs that always followed any kind of perm, even the ones where the stylists coated my hair beforehand and gave me super-gentle processing.

I told my daughters to remind me of how much I hated them if I ever uttered the word 'perm' again in connection with my hair.

So it's been a good 10 years now. I still have fine, stick-straight silky hair that has turned out to be a gorgeous shade of silver and white mixed with some of my own brown, and even my current stylist told me she'd have to refuse if I ever ask to have it colored! And once I lucked into stylists who know how to cut around my cowlicks and style my straight hair properly, it's never looked better.

Definitely a do-over if I could. And a vow of 'never again.'

Friday, March 22, 2013

Scintilla#13, Day 9

And here we are again. Scintilla is a limited time prompt project, so I'll eventually get caught up with the prompts, but I'm trying not to feel so pressured to get them done. These are the Day 9 choices:

1. Talk about where you were going the day you got lost. Were you alone? Did you ever get to where you meant to go?

2. What is the longest thing you know by heart (for example, a prayer, speech, commercial jingle, etc.)? Why did you learn it?

Apparently the Muse prefers the second option today, although I intended to write about the first:

I am good at memorizing and have committed many words to memory throughout my life, including a good bit of the Declaration of Independence once upon a time, just because it was there in my fifth grade classroom and I could.

Like many schoolchildren, I could recite Lincoln's Gettysburg address once upon a time. Of course we learned the Pledge of Allegiance (since we said it daily then) and I even remember having to relearn it with the words 'under God' which Wikipedia says were added by law in 1954. We also learned songs like "America the Beautiful" and "The Star Spangled Banner" by heart because we had music teachers in the schools then.

As churchgoers, we learned early to recite the prayers and Creeds, and sing so many hymns.  I have sung in many church choirs over the years, at least half-memorizing most of the anthems and cantatas and oratorios. I can still sing most of Messiah from memory (and I know my brother can too).

Singing is actually a really good method of memorization, and I can recite today a Robert Frost poem -- Choose Something Like a Star -- that I first sang back in high school. Frost is one of my favorite poets, though, and I have a few more of his works stashed away in memory. I still use them to focus on when I'm stressed or anxious. Snippets of other poems often come to memory, especially the works of Eugene Field which my mother read to me when I was very little. Sometimes I have to go find the rest of the words; usually I can remember most of them.

And then there are the plays.  The longest was probably A Flea in Her Ear in which I played Lucienne -- that was back in 1996 and I loved every moment of that experience, although I don't think I could recite much today. Steel Magnolias, on the other hand, I have been in three times -- once as M'lynn, once as Ouiser, and once as Clairee, and with only a little prompting, I could probably get through most of that play from heart -- truly from heart, as it is my favorite play and story.

Words stick in my head: stories, poems, plays, song lyrics -- and pop out in my writing, my speech, my thoughts. I try now to focus on meaning, not rote recitation, and that digs them in even more deeply. They sometimes can help me express a meaning, an emotion or situation, more clearly, and I like that I can usually find a quote or song to make my own words more clear to readers and listeners.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Scintilla#13, Day 8

My life has suddenly become active after nearly three months of leisurely quiet: I'm out of my cast and mostly out of the air boot and in physical therapy three times a week, which sure cuts into my reading and writing time. With that, I'm also gradually assuming more household tasks and relieving Tony in the kitchen for at least dinners. I'm determined not to lose the quiet time though -- I want to read and think and meditate some every day, but it's been more of a challenge since I am definitely not moving at a rapid pace.

I'll get there, but at my own speed. Like today's prompts will get done maybe today, maybe tomorrow. Eventually I'll get through the whole series.

Day 8 prompts:
1. Many of our fondest memories are associated with food. Describe a memorable experience that took place while preparing or eating food.

2. Write about a time when a preconceived notion or opinion (about a person, place, thing, etc.) turned out to be wrong. What did it take to change your mind?

The first prompt would seem to be the logical one here. I've written in the past about memories surrounding food: Christmas cookies and our traditional wild rice and bacon, popcorn balls,  -- well, just hit the 'food' label on this blog to see some of them.

I think that sensory memories are the first and strongest we hold all of our lives. A scent of your mother's perfume can instantly take you back to your very earliest days. For me, the smell of coffee and bacon and toast in the morning puts me in my childhood home, coming sleepily downstairs to a bright, warm kitchen and Daddy cooking bacon while he sang little snippets of song. The tang of sharp cheddar on my tongue conjures him up, slicing thick pieces of it for a snack or a fabulous Sunday evening grilled cheese sandwich.

The salty, creamy mixture of clams and linguine puts my mother with me at the table: she loved her linguine and clams, and once after a hospitalization for something I don't now remember, I made a big batch for her and froze the sauce in individual cups so she could have it whenever she wanted it, since it was one of only a few foods that she was at all interested in eating.

I have my mother's and my grandmother's recipe boxes, and while I don't often use the recipes, I do read them, fingering the old, stained 3x5 cards with the faded ink in their distinctive handwriting. Sometimes there are notes about where the recipes came from: "John's Marge," "Leon's Marge," (my dad and his brother both married women named Marjorie.) "Lois." "Paul's beans." "Ginny's pancake."

There is life in those cards despite the fact that their writers are both dead, as are so many of the people referred to. I know their stories. I've tasted the results. Some, like the Lima Bean and Pork Chop casserole, will never be made again, at least by me (hated it then, doesn't remotely appeal now).

When I make Jule Kage, the citron and cardamom-flavored Scandinavian Christmas bread, my grandmother and my mother are there in the kitchen, reminding me to heat the milk and knead it well (although I cheat and use my bread machine most of the time). I haven't made Fattigman, the thin, rolled, deep-fried and powdered-sugar Norwegian cookies that my grandmother always had, in decades -- they are so not healthy! -- but I can see her hands rolling them out and showing me how to cut a slit in one end of the diamond and pull the other through before dropping it in the deep fat even when I read the recipe.

I don't know who will get these recipes when I'm no longer cooking. I have a recipe file too, but more of them are printed rather than handwritten, although some are stained and dark with use. I hope my girls will read them one day and feel my spirit in the kitchen with them too.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Scintilla#13, Day 7

The choices:

1. Write about someone who was a mentor for you.

2. What have been the event horizons of your life - the moments from which there is no turning back?

While I know I've had mentors -- my parents, a fantastic youth pastor, even my ex -- no one really stands out. I'm pretty much a do-it-my-way person, and most jobs I've had have been in one-person departments or as an individual contributor. I never climbed a corporate ladder so had no mentor there either.

So that leaves #2.

The pivotal event horizon for my life was where I decided to go to college, and then two years later, decided to stay there to complete my degree rather than transfer to a larger school (although I'd been accepted at a couple).

Those last two years  put me on a track that has determined nearly everything else.

It was a small school affiliated with the United Methodist Church and nicknamed '52 acres of Christian atmosphere.' It was in a tiny rural county seat town, just 30 miles from the University of Missouri, but since few people in those days had cars on campus, it might as well have been 300 miles. 

The quality of education was adequate; I had some wonderful professors in my major field, English, but I don't know that I was especially challenged there or in any other class. After my freshman year, I spent much of my free time at the campus radio station and learned news reporting, a choice that would influence the rest of my career. I also met my husband (now ex) and married slightly more than a month after I graduated.

That choice determined where I would live for the next 27 years as we moved five times in three states for his jobs, and then I would find jobs or freelance, which then formed my experience and resume. We adopted our daughter which changed nearly everything, both good and not so good.

While there were other, lesser, life choices made during that time, it wasn't until I was in my 40s that I began to really see the crossroads when I was standing at them, which made the decisions much more analytical and difficult.

And then when I was approaching my 50th birthday, I made another crucial choice -- to leave the marriage and move to California -- which changed the course of my life. And I've never been happier.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Scintilla#13, Day 6

Most writing prompts require some contemplation before I can begin. When I let the ideas simmer for a while -- like while I'm sitting on the exercise bike in physical therapy as I was yesterday -- usually something bubbles to the surface. And this story actually fits both prompts.

1. Describe a time when the content of your character was tested.

2. Write about a chance meeting that has stayed with you ever since.

He was the husband of a work colleague, a woman I knew reasonably well and liked for her down-to-earth practicality and sense of ironic humor. I didn't know Hal very well, but in a small town you see the same people at parties and gatherings, and we'd exchanged greetings now and then. But he was older than I by at least 10 years, sandy-haired and burly, and very 'macho man.'

It was summer and hot, and I -- a long-legged, slightly gawky 20-something -- had just come out of one of the downtown shops, heading for the drug store and a cool, fresh limeade. He was walking along the sidewalk and said hello.

I smiled back. "How are you doing today, Hal?"

He came closer, just slightly inside my personal comfort space, and met my eyes as we exchanged comments about the weather. He was my height -- I'm tall -- and I noticed how blue his eyes were in his craggy, tanned face. He smiled warmly.

After a few minutes of inconsequential, friendly chat, I made a move to continue my quest for a limeade, and he put his hand on my arm.

"You know," he said, looking at me intently, "you are a very attractive woman. If you'd ever consider it, I'd really like to have an affair with you."

Surely that wasn't what he just said, I thought, fireworks going off in my stunned brain.

"If you'd want to, that is," he continued, his hand still firmly on my arm, slightly caressing my skin. "I hope you'll consider it."

"Hal, uh,  I'm happily married," I managed to stammer out. "But, um, thank you for the offer. If I ever decide...." Decide to what? Decide to sleep with you? What about Noreen, your wife? My husband?

Head reeling and a little shaky, I smiled at him again, adrenaline streaming through my limbs, mumbling something about nice to see you, and crossed the street, realizing that yes indeed, I'd just been propositioned by a man I hardly knew, in broad daylight, in the middle of town, both of us stone cold sober. (I was anyway, and I don't remember smelling liquor emanating from him.)

I told my closest friend about the encounter -- she also worked with Noreen -- and we laughed about it and wondered if Hal was in the habit of cheating on his wife (we suspected yes). But I did not tell my husband, and never mentioned it to Noreen, of course. After that, I only glimpsed Hal occasionally, and he never repeated his offer -- but then I always found someone else to talk to, avoiding an encounter.

It was the first time that I understood that I was a striking, attractive woman, that I was desirable to someone besides my husband. (I'd dated some, but was never the belle of the ball, sought after and lusted over like the cute, perky coeds in my high school and college classes.) It took decades longer to really believe that I was, and to finally embrace and like who I am. Hal was the first person who actually told me, and while I could not have accepted his proposal (betray the trust of my husband and his wife? No.),  I was flattered.  

Monday, March 18, 2013

Scintilla#13, Day 4-5

We're running slightly behind schedule here -- a busy weekend for this still-recovering writer. Here is Saturday's prompt;

1. Being trapped in a confined environment can turn an ordinary experience into a powder keg. Write about a thing that happened to you while you were using transportation; anything from your first school bus ride, to a train or plane, to being in the backseat of the car on a family road trip.

It was a quiet trip. Very quiet.  (Even the elephant in the back seat said nothing.)

I'd come to understand, through many counseling sessions and a lot of introspection during that pivotal year, that my husband really liked it when we talked about him, his interests, his work day, his concerns, his pleasure, when I asked him questions about himself or what he was thinking/doing/feeling. He didn't really ask similar questions of me, and when I did volunteer such information, it usually became a conversation about him and his experiences and opinions.

So I decided not to ask and see what happened. If he asked a question, I responded, but I didn't volunteer much. I sat and read. Listened to music. Watched the scenery. Thought a lot.

For two days.

I was pleasant enough, visiting some with the group we were traveling with, and I was pleasant to him. I just didn't ask him his opinion, his thoughts, but waited to see if he would pick up the conversational ball.

He didn't. We didn't acknowledge the elephant that had come along either, the one that had been living in our house for some time. But a few months later he finally said he thought it would be a good idea if we got a divorce. HE said it. And I agreed.

Sunday's prompt:
1. What talent do you have that your usual blog readers don't know about? Talk about a time when you showed it to its best advantage.

I can sew. I learned the basics in my seventh grade home economics class, and some from my mother who was an excellent seamstress, making most of my childhood clothing and some wonderful things for my daughter in addition to draperies, pillows, crafty accessories, and embellishing towels and pillowcases with insets and appliques.

I made clothing. Nothing terribly tailored -- that was never much my style anyway, but I loved choosing fabric to create long, flowing dresses and tops and skirts and pants that suited me and my height -- it was always difficult to find clothing that was long enough in the sleeves or legs, or that fit my broad shoulders, much less in a color that I liked.

So I made them, often trying on styles in department stores and then heading to the fabric store to find similar patterns to customize. Most of my career clothing was my creation, and I could whip up a pair of pants or a top one day to wear them to an event the next. (I still have a long velvet button shirt and skinny pants that I made oh so many years ago for a special banquet!)

When the rage in the late '80s was for knit separates, skirts, pants and tops that could be accessorized with belts and scarves and jewelry, I made them -- easy to do with one marvelous pattern that could be customized for sleeve length, crew or v-neck, and length. And they were all finished with the machine -- nothing by hand -- which made them even easier!

The most intricate dress I made was a prom dress for my daughter, a strapless black brocade with a fitted and boned bodice and a double skirt -- an underskirt of tulle with the black overskirt. It fit her to a tee and she looked marvelous in it -- she had chosen the pattern, the fabric, the length, and was thrilled with it. And so was I. 

I have my mother's Bernina and all her notes from the classes she loved to take at the local sewing shop, but I haven't made anything except a pair of curtains and repaired a few seams here and there in more than a decade. You just never know when you might need it again.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Scintilla#13, Day 3

The prompts du jour:
1. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. Write about a time you taught someone a lesson you didn't want to teach.

2. Talk about a time when you were driving and you sang in the car, all alone. Why do you remember this song and that stretch of road?

Any parent who says they have not ever been cruel to their kids to teach a lesson is in denial or they have kids who run all over them. Any person who has ever had to deal with a loved one's substance abuse, ditto.

Another day for those stories. Let's take a road trip.


It was October 1997. I was heading, by myself, to California where I was beginning a new life, a new job, in a place that was completely unfamiliar. I was about to turn 50. It was one hell of a mid-life crisis.

I'd left Alabama on Sunday morning; left my husband of 27 years, my 21-year-old daughter who was in college there, a job, a host of friends and a life I'd known since I'd graduated from college. It no longer was enough. I knew I didn't want to look back years later and wonder 'what if.' So I was moving on.

A lot of preparation and angst went into the decision and the move, mind you, and it fell together, finally. I knew it was right, but it wasn't easy. I was eager, though, for the road trip, the transition of miles between old and new lives, the complete change of culture and topography.

That was my Grateful Dead period, about 20 or 30 years later perhaps than most people my age, but then I'd come late to a lot of things. I'd been properly introduced to the Dead that year through an Internet friend, a person who ended up being a huge influence and teacher to me on many levels. I was in love with the poetry of the lyrics, the harmony of the voices, the intricate instrumentation, and I listened to studio albums as well as tapes recorded live at concerts.

They accompanied me on that three-and-a-half-day journey, across  I-40 through Tulsa and Oklahoma City and on to Amarillo, and then Tucumcari. Through the long straight stretches of prairie and sky, I sang "Just a Little Light," asking for 'just a little sweetness, just a little light.' I bounced in my seat to "Come hear Uncle John's Band by the riverside, Got some things to talk about, here beside the rising tide."

From there, I wove my way through the mountains around Flagstaff, singing songs from "Terrapin Station," especially "Lady with the Fan" -- "Let my inspiration flow in token lines suggesting rhythm that will not forsake me till my tale is told and done," and then my favorite, the segue into the album's title song: "From the northwest corner of a brand-new crescent moon crickets and cicadas sing a rare and different tune..." Indeed.

I paused overnight at the brink of entry into California  at Kingman City, Ariz., with strains of "Box of Rain" and "Walk into splintered sunlight Inch your way through dead dreams to another land." And continued the next day across my new state, marveling at golden brown dunes and slowly rotating windmills, to Cambria and the ocean, singing, "Built to last while years roll past Like cloudscapes in the sky Show me something built to last Or something built to try...."

And then on a bright, sunny morning,  I meandered over the last bits of highway, the glorious and curvy Highway 1 through Big Sur, the lush fields of Castro Valley and Watsonville, to Pacifica, my new home, with "Touch of Grey;" "Oh, well, a touch of gray, kinda suits you anyway, That's all I had to say 'cause it's alright I will get by, I will get by, I will get by, I will survive."

I still listen to the Dead sometimes. I still smile when I hear those road songs, those voices that helped me make the biggest change I'd ever made for my life, and gave me lyrics to pin my new dreams on. 

"Terrapin - I can't figure out
Terrapin - if it's an end or the beginning
Terrapin - but the train's got its brakes on
and the whistle is screaming: TERRAPIN..."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Scintilla#13, Day 2

Today's prompts:
1. What's the biggest lie you've ever told? Why? Would you tell the truth now, if you could?

2. Tell a story about something interesting (anything!) that happened to you, but tell it in the form of an instruction manual (Step 1, Step 2, etc.).

Since I've been pretty much out of commission since the end of December and my days have been mostly spent sitting in a recliner with my foot elevated, not much of interest has happened. I'm currently doing physical therapy, but that's not interesting to anybody except me. And at this moment, I'm simply brain-dead about anything 'interesting.' So no to number 2.

As much as I despise liars now, I will confess to having told a few whoppers when I was much younger. No, really. I haven't done much lying for a long time. Perhaps I haven't revealed everything I know, to be sure, but that's not exactly a lie. (Is it?)

I can't really talk about the biggest lie because there are people still alive who don't know, and while I don't think they read this blog, I am not revealing those secrets. (And I'm still glad I told it. It was literally life-changing for me.)

One of the big lies I remember happened just after I got my driver's license at age 16. I was hot to drive by myself the mint green old (1950-something) Nash Rambler that was my mother's car. She'd gotten her license just months before I got mine, and the folks bought the Rambler because it was an automatic shift -- she hated the stick shift on our primary car as much as I did.

I finally got permission to drive my brother and myself to our Sunday night church youth group, but not until my parents had extracted a promise from me to 'Go straight to church and come straight home.'  I vowed to do just that, totally excited to at last have wheels! WooHOO!

But. One of my closest friends needed a ride home, and I volunteered. I mean, what could happen? It wasn't too far out of our way, just a jog here and there, and then straight home. I assured her it would be fine. Jimmy, my brother, was fine with that.

No problem. We pulled into her gravel driveway, she hopped out, and then I took my foot off the brake momentarily. The passenger front door was still open a little since my brother had transferred into the front seat. And the edge of the door caught a sturdy tree that was near the edge of her driveway, wrenching it open with a loud screech of protesting metal.

Oh. My. God.

I knew I would never be allowed to drive again.  I would be grounded for life. It was going to be expensive. And I had disobeyed my parents' explicit orders. (I was a very obedient child, I must say, pretty much always doing what was expected of me. At least at that point...)

Jimmy and Carol Ann and I put our heads together -- theirs being much cooler than my panic-stricken one --  and came up with a story. There were concrete half posts interspersed throughout the church parking lot. We decided that I had backed a little too close to one of them and Jimmy had not yet closed the door all the way and it just caught the edge and bent it. Right? Right.

The door wasn't hanging off the hinge, but it didn't close all the way either, and Jimmy hung onto it to keep it more or less closed all the way home. Tearfully I explained to my folks what had happened AT CHURCH and how sorry I was, and he backed me up, straight-faced and solemn.

If they didn't quite buy the story, I didn't hear about it. Carol Ann never said a word. And my brother and I have never talked about the big lie we conspired to tell our parents so many years ago.

Would I tell the truth now? Uh. Probably not. The car was fixed and as I recall wasn't a big expense but more of a big inconvenience. We were allowed to drive to church by ourselves at least occasionally. But I never again deviated from the 'straight to church, straight home' instructions. I knew I'd gotten away with it once, but was sure it would never happen again.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Scintilla#13, Day 1

Last year I participated in the first Scintilla Project, a couple of weeks of daily writing prompts that encourage you to tell your stories. And here we are again.

If you want to sign up for daily prompts in your inbox, go here. It's not too late to begin.

Every day you get two possible prompts; do one or both. Today's are:

1. Tell a story about a time you got drunk before you were legally able to do so.

2. Tell a story set at your first job.

Well, it's not like I don't have experience with getting drunk before I was of legal age. And perhaps another day I'll tell you about the very dark night we met a very black cow in the middle of a dirt road while we were heading out to 'the brush' for a party. But not today.


 Oh, I had the usual kinds of teenage jobs: babysitting mostly, and a summer or two as an A&W carhop; a  part-time campus thing in college where I threw greasy fried potatoes or rubbery scrambled eggs on plates in the cafeteria at the butt-crack of dawn, and a much better gig as the news director of our campus radio station, the first woman on the (paltry) paid staff.

My first post-college job was as a school teacher, and I have several stories from those years, although not necessarily that first year when I was barely three years older than some of the kids I was working with and still was startled every time someone called me "Mrs. Steele" since I was also a newly-wed.

But the summer before my college senior year I was a reporter for my hometown daily newspaper in Springfield, Mo., full-time and decently paid. In those days before the big media companies had bought up the medium and small market dailies, in those days before the Internet and cell phones and widespread use of computers, we had two daily papers: The Daily News in the morning and the Leader-Press in the afternoon, and a full contingent of editors, columnists, reporters, typesetters, and printers for both. (The papers were bought by Gannett in 1977 and were consolidated since 1987.)

My first morning as a reporter for The Leader-Press found me at a second-row desk with an IBM electric typewriter in the noisy open bull pen . The news desk editor and managing editor sat facing each other at a huge U-shaped table to one side of the room, with copy editors flanking them on the arms of the U, and the publisher's office was nearby with a big window and a door looking out onto the news room. The long back of the room, in a sectioned-off area, held rows of tall filing cabinets -- the 'morgue' -- which contained ongoing permanent files and reporters' notes and clippings about current or important stories, information about civic leaders that could be pulled instantly as background material in the event of their death,  and bound volumes of  newspapers in addition to files of the current year's copies.

It smelled of fresh ink and paper, and cigarette smoke and stale, thick, burnt coffee. There was a constant low thrum throughout the building from the hum of many electric typewriters, the linotype machines in the composing area, and from the giant presses churning out newspapers and advertising sections.

It was a bit overwhelming. And everyone seemed to be very busy. And I was the lowest of the low, a cub reporter, one of three college students hired that summer, and the first one on deck.

Later that week when the other students showed up, I was reassigned to the Daily News (morning paper) staff and honestly felt I'd found my tribe there: in that time of shirts and ties for men and dresses and pantyhose for women, these reporters were a little more casual, ties loosened and shirt sleeves rolled up, wandering into the newsroom around 2:30-3 in the afternoon to take stock of what had occurred during the day that would be tomorrow morning's news,  It was a congenial group, often going out for coffee together after the last version of the paper had been proofed and put to bed. Not many women, either: there was one on the night staff, also an intern, who had just graduated and was offered a permanent position after the summer, but the other women reporters worked during the day or as columnists. There was one outstandingly marvelous, bat-sh*t crazy female photographer with whom I got to travel several times in search of  'local color' photographs and photo essays ( I wrote the cutlines -- captions -- and got the ID if we were including people pictures.). Even today I recall with heart-stopping clarity the abrupt screeching as she stopped her car in the middle of a somewhat busy country road so she could take pictures of a big box turtle moseying across it.

But that first day, I was a little timid and quiet, taking it all in, rewriting little local briefs and a few straightforward obituaries sent over from area funeral homes, and  hearing the constant ding-ding-ding of the signal bells and non-stop clackety-clacking from the AP and UPI wire teletypes in a tiny nearby room  as they spit out alerts and story after story on the long, endless rolls of yellow paper in boxes which sat stacked underneath the machines. Reporters and editors stood intently over the teletypes much of that day, ripping and handing long strips off  to others to mark up, and nobody said much to me as they strode purposefully past my desk.

The date was June 6, 1968: Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated. I am embarrassed to say it was several hours before I knew that, and me in a newsroom! Clearly it was not a typical day for any newsroom, but it was a memorable first day on a new job for this writer.