The Woman Sitting Near Me

There’s a woman sitting near me, and she’s gorgeous. Low suede boots, a forever-long black dress with tortoise shell buttons down the front, suede purse with a very long strap, and a topknot of lovely red hair. She’s chatting with another equally lovely though less bedecked woman, but I’m unaware of the words they exchange. They seem to be friends, and yet each is carrying a slightly irritated humor throughout their time together.

I’m glad I’m not with them. In just this glance, they feel Heavy. Burdened. Tired, and I feel myself coming perilously close to gulping their attitudes into my own. I’m glad when they stand and walk away in thinly veiled versions of themselves.

Thinly is an odd word, and yet so appropriate.

THinlē, adverb. In a way that creates a thin piece or layer of something; “thinly sliced potatoes.”

THinlē, adverb. With little flesh or fat on the body; “he was tall and thinly built.”

THinlē, adverb. Minimally interacting with life; “she was thinly present.” (my addition)

I love to watch. Or … I love to watch, in theory.

In reality, most people are far too heavy for me — or you — to carry around in either our brains or hearts, and this is good to remember.

Confessions of a Shoe Girl. Or Not.

I’m something of an icon in certain circles. Small circles, and few of them, and only something rather than the thing, but still, people tend to associate me with shoes. Frankly, it’s all a bunch of hooey. Or not.

The truth is, I have a lot of shoes because, well frankly, I despise them. I know that sounds like it doesn’t make sense, but hear me out.

I despise their voluptuous forms that pinch and blister. I despise their endlessly breathtaking hues that just as endlessly endlessly attract maligning black smudges. I despise their manufactured tilt that perks up my derriere and plants my face on the pavement. I despise the tactile thrill of their butter-soft camel leather that rips free as I step onto an escalator. I despise their strappy straps, their buttons and bows, their silk embroideries, beaded delusions and peeping toes. I loathe the fit, the seams, the pads, the heights, the flats, the price.

And? you ask with lips pulled thin and accusing eyes.

And … most of all, I despise having to wear them.

I’m pretty sure we all have more shoes than we need. I’m also pretty sure we have fewer shoes than we want. And why? Because NONE OF THEM FIT.

And then a few weeks ago, I did a thing. I stuffed each pair of lovelies with tissue paper for safe travels ahead, lined them up in the back of my car, stared at their magnificence one last time, gunned my engine, and drove them damn straight to the thrift shop. Yes I did. The boots, the heels, the flats, the embellished, the RED, the toe peepers and marchers, the gladiators, mules, and platforms, and even the kitten heels.

I know you’re wondering. I know you want a peek. I know you’re waiting patiently, so here it is.

I kept one pair of Converse All-Stars (yellow), one pair of ballet flats (black), and one pair of flip flops (pink with yellow soles) for the beach.

That’s it. And I’m not even missing the rest.

I Can’t Believe I Ate the . . .

It’s cold. Not as cold as it is at my sister’s, with a wind chill in single digits and 49 mph gusts of other-people’s-trash, and not as cold as it is for friends in Edmonton, Alberta, due to hit -25 on Wednesday, and certainly not as cold as the -80 recorded in Alaska in 1971. We won’t even talk about Antarctica, because no one is intended to live in that sort of frozen perpetuity.  But I am cold, nonetheless, and it’s the sort of cold that triggers the hunched-shoulder-body-tensing daylong headaches. Unpleasant for me and a bitchiness-breeder that haunts my husband, but cured rather nicely by hot tea with honey, languid baths, and browsing wildflower catalogues. However, there’s one winter reflex that I find more difficult to control.

No tail, no arboreal agility, no penchant for darting back and forth across streets, but suddenly I’ve triggered the squirrel syndrome. I can’t stop eating. And I’m not even picky, and though I haven’t yet stooped to scooping acorns, pretty much anything else is fair game. Something in my brain is craving the feeling of fullness, the defense against winter and sparsity.

I hear that creeping age lowers the  appetite, and I’ve seen mothers and grandmothers who ate like birds, and great grandmothers who refused food of any kind. I’m old enough to witness the skin begin to sag beneath my jawline, but apparently young enough to eat like, well, a squirrel. Saggy skin does not pair well with bulging midriffs, and I expect to sprout bristly hair across my chubby cheeks at any moment.

We have a gargantuan turkey, beautiful breads, Spoons barbecue, fennel slaw, caramelized butternut squash, a huge tin of sugar-molested pecans, boxes of mint cookies, sweet pomegranate seeds, sugared cranberries, lots of prosecco, those smashable dark chocolate oranges, and a 10X-dusted pear clafouti, which is some sort of French Kiss made by pouring heavy cream and butter over a few sliced pears and cooking it into a 2000 calorie romp through the Jardin des Tuileries. Scratch that — I finished it off last night. Heading back in for some barbecue now.

When I was a girl, my father once came in from the garden muttering blasphemous un-niceties after the crusty man-over-the-fence grinningly brandished his .22 and a handful of dead squirrels dangling by the tails from his fist. We were not a “gun” family, and were even less enamored of the idea that a crotchety old man was shooting in our city neighborhood full of young children. My dad probably figured he shot them because they dropped nuts on his car. My mom probably thought it was the ticks, fleas, chiggers and mites.  At the time, I just thought he was crazy. Now I know why.

But seriously, what’s the deal with binging? I don’t need the extra food for energy and I don’t need the extra fat for warmth. I’m blessed to have heat, fire, a stove,  warm water, sweaters, coats, scarves, and ear muffs, and it rarely dips below freezing here. There’s food in the pantry and I can still use a can opener. No twitchy tail, no pointy black toenails, and no visible mites, but, apparently, a generous set of expandable cheeks.

Sigh.

Paris: Beyond the Croissants

Sure, they melt in your mouth. Sure, every layer is laced with butter. Sure, it’s really, really, really GOOD butter. Sure, it’s a three-day process with 27 layers. But no matter how delicious the authentic Parisian croissant may be (and trust me, it is), you might be surprised at how much more — so much more — there is to do in Paris.

Why does a long, dark rain in North Carolina make me feel like I might as well take a pass on the day — lolling about in a giant white cotton sleep shirt, sipping tea, and considering dreams in the grayness passing by my window just a bit too slowly. Is this punishment for a day wasted last week? A gift of possibility following too many days of work? A Dream Machine that fell out of that last cloud and into my lap? Let’s go with Dream Machine. Today I’ve decided to do something rather impractical and guaranteed to cure the blahs.

Don’t laugh, but I’m going to plan my dream day.

I’ll wake with the sunrise (again, no laughing) in Paris, stretching like a cat who hasn’t yet caught a whiff of the mouse, rustle around for some French yogurt, and sip a cup of tea at my windowsill facing Rue du Pré aux Clercs. After a quick shower, I’ll stroll over to Rue de Raspail, a delightful market so crammed with gorgeous edibles that you could walk through and fill your basket blindfolded and still return home with with the makings of a fabulously fresh, flavorful and delicately presented feast. But let’s pass on the blindfold because you’ll want to see it all, including the French babies. French babies rock. The jury’s split on French dogs.

Veggies grabbed and stashed in my flat, I’m off across the Seine to the Right Bank in search of the Marais Dance School, nestled into the upper floors of a 17th century building on a delightful square. And co-ed changing rooms, because of course it’s France and the bodies are beautiful and no one feels the need to hide them. Since my toes last eased into ballet slippers a few decades ago, I’ll choose the beginner class and have at it with the gusto of a spring robin, hitting every plié, relevé, and glissé with a smile on my face bigger than my wealth of accrued blisters. Who cares about blisters?

I’ll still leave feeling as if I’ve conquered the world — in Paris — wearing tights — Ka-Ching!.

I’ll be hyped, heady and ready for Act 2, and the walk to my next adventure feels great. Here I’m trading movement for a more tactile eroticism — clay. My tutor, a graduate in both fine arts and Beaux-Arts, will take the reins and delightfully overwhelm me with more types of clay than I ever knew existed. That’s a good thing, right? I’ve tried clay in the past, with rather grisly results, but this time, right????? Because it’s Paris! I work it like nobody’s business, but at the end of the day, I still suck at clay (and that’s okay). I’ve met new friends, laughed more than most, and shaken off a lot of new-student anxiety. I’m calling it a win.

After a couple of hours strolling The Seine and my favorite Gothic gorgeousness Sainte-Chapelle, and my hunger for all things French points me back toward the Left Bank. No one has ever tacked a Best Cook Ever sign to my forehead, but neither am I the worst, and surely a late afternoon dedicated to faire la cuisine is just what I need, crave, hunger for. Drooling with lust, I haul it over to LeFoodist, where I’ll learn to make the most perfect, most exquisite, most shockingly life-changing baguette known to woman. But first I need an address and, no surprise, it’s smack between two of my favorite Paris haunts, Île Saint Louis and Le Jardin du Luxembourg — a very good sign indeed.

How does it go?

Okay, so it turns out that a true French croissant is no easy roll in the hay, but it really does change your life, not only because it’s a previously un-imagined wonder, but because it’s literally possible to make it yourself … if you really love baking, layering, experimenting, buttering, perfect measurements, and starting over. All part of the fun, right? When you’re in Paris, absolutely.

My imaginary day is one I’ll visit again and again when I’m feeling a little dreamy. Every moment teaches. Every moment inspires. And no matter the magnificence of my French experiences, the best of them will always, always, include the croissant.

———-

Disclaimer: The locations listed are accurate and currently operating as of this post and are well-respected businesses I look forward to visiting. At this writing, I haven’t yet had the pleasure, so no, they’re not yet legitimate recommendations. Emphasis on Yet. But I can promise you I’m headed that way.

At the Bookstore, Dreaming

It’s a cloudy, drizzly Sunday, and there are 30 people in the check-out line at Barnes and Noble. There are 12 in the cafe/caffeine line. I head for the second, mostly because I perused (and occasionally bought) everything in the first line a few weeks ago.

One of those heavy gray days with crows flying about, and the sky so wet that dribbles of moisture keep sliding down the sides of me like a cold bath. It’s dreary, and no one looks quite normal as they hunch this way or that trying to ward off discomfort.

The young girl across from me sits in the cafe section by way of the cash register section, and the belongings that cover her small table and quite a bit of the floor include giftwrap (a roll of gold and a roll of white with gold stars), a furry stuffed cat (orange), a science kit on Climate Control, nine record albums whose titles are sadly just beyond my view, a black purse, Monopoly (with Hello Kitty gracing the box), and two hefty hardcover books. The girl is midway through an even heftier paperback. I like her.

Every person in the cafe is wearing black on at least half of their body, with the exception of one girl wearing pajamas.

I got here just before the crowd. I get here every day just before the crowd, no matter what time I arrive. I’m lucky that way. I love bookstores, probably because they’re filled with minimally comfortable humans making their way in a world that generally includes few and excludes many, most of whom love to read.

I used to read. I pulled back when so many novels suddenly became harder to handle, and indeed happy books seem not to be in style these days. There were decades when I could handle the murders and loss, mostly because there was always a happy enough ending, and of course the good girl or good guy in charge of it all always saved the day. Now just as often, the good guy dies. Realism, they call it. It’s the third Saturday before Christmas. I’m in no mood for murders. Or much realism, for that matter. When I started writing, I devoured books until they began to hurt — when books came too close to reality.

So now I write. Growing up, I had no use for fiction and was all about truth and evolution, or as close as you can get from a carefully selected book chosen at least partially because you liked the cover. I still tiptoe around fiction a bit, but I love the process and the character creation. Those girls live with me always.

I envy the girl with the hefty book and the orange cat. I miss the days when I could read a slightly disturbing book, find the silver lining, and move on with a bit of new understanding enlightening my brain.

There is a Hell, and it’s Pink. ish.

Okay so I’ve never really been into makeup, and for decades I’ve resented the entire 3 minutes I waste on it every morning. Well sometimes I skip. But I wear it because one of my first boyfriends, who had been dating someone else for a while when I first asked him out, but she went to another school so I didn’t really know that, said to me one night a little quizzically, “(we’ll call her Betsy) Betsy always wears a little makeup and eyeshadow when we go out. It makes me feel like she cares enough to make some effort.”

I looked at him quizzically — it was the 70’s and no one wore makeup because we were FREE SPIRITS — but he was a good guy and it was a small concession, and I’ve been doing it ever since. But not in an “ooh let’s check out the latest at Sephora!” kinda way. But there it was.

So I get that the world is focused now on the newest whatever, and I know this because every time I try to buy toothpaste at Target they’ve restocked the shelves with 15 new and improved styles of Crest and omg it takes me 15 minutes to find the most old school brand closest to the now-discontinued tube I bought last month and throw it in my cart. Sigh.

So about a month ago, I ran out of the lipstick I’ve worn for the past six years or so. I like the color, the tube, and the pure joy of being able to replenish the supply by just recognizing and grabbing 3 tubes at a time. And of course it’s been discontinued and even the tube style it came in no longer exists, which means I have to make a new selection on multiple levels, and I’m dreading it so much that I don’t walk through those doors until weeks have passed. It takes me 45 minutes of searching every nook and cranny of Ulta to accept the fact that I’ll have to pick something new, and another 30 minutes to find something similar enough to live with and calm my daily grousing, but it’s a matte, and … sigh.

What’s up with matte? I don’t care, but why??? Sigh. I take it home and dutifully apply it this morning and OMG the texture is heaven! It’s like the powder dusting fairy came down from the heavens and touched me ever so lightly on the lips and said, “Hey girl. You’ve been good. I’m gonna give you a break.” My eyes lit up and I almost broke into a smile when … I smelled a smell. I hoped someone had snuck up behind me with a bottle of tween girl perfume, but if only. No. It’s the f-ing d lipstick. My lips are so happy, and my nose wants to cough up a hairball and die. Yeah I don’t do scents either. Especially not scents clearly developed for the 6 year old scent palate.

WHY WHY WHY is there a scent in my lipstick???? There isn’t even an image of My Little Pony on the front, any mention whatsoever of a scent, and no purple baggie of gummy bears attached.

Seriously, this is just another way they kill off the old people.

Oh No!

Past, Present, Future (with Sun, Sand and Bracelets)

I’ve never been called the adventurous type, and I have to admit that social gatherings scare me. I should drink more, but what can I say? I’m a lightweight. I suck at keeping up with people, and that includes the people I love most as well as those I’ve loved the longest. I’ll spare you my soul searching on that one, and only share that this past weekend, a lovely spontaneous possibility presented itself, and I didn’t say no.

Instead, I settled into a glorious reunion with my two best girls from college, neither of whom I’ve seen in something approaching thirty (!) years. The wait was way too long, but, you know . . . best laid plans . . . life intervenes.

Nature Boy ElliotI spent some time on the ride home wondering about the nature of friendship. I met Jeanne and Carol pretty much by chance and proximity. We shared a dorm, a hall, and adjacent rooms. That could have been our only bond, but it wasn’t. Out of 5,000 undergrads, they remained my closest friends throughout those years. Away from home for the first time and wading our way through growing up, it worked. But what about now? We’ve never spoken on the phone, and letters and emails have been sporadic. In fact, it took another friend to get these balls rolling again for three introverted girls.  Nature-Boy Elliot made sure we found each other again.

And here’s what I’ve learned. Life is often scarier than you anticipated, but friends still help you through. Was our friendship chance? I don’t think so. Would we still be friends if we met today? Absolutely.

What did we do? We ate, we explored, we watched the waves and got a bit sunburned, we ate more, laughed more, learned more. We posed in front of the camera for Jeanne’s SuperHost Husband Rick. What did we talk about? Exactly what we always talked about: life, family, love, ups, downs, figuring-it-all-out, and a bit of nonsense. And we did what women do best — we reaffirmed. And so I emerged on the other side of the weekend a little browner, a little more relaxed, a little happier, a little more loved, and a lot more anxious to stay in touch with those who have helped make me who I am. I miss our abundance of innocence and idealism sometimes, but we still pretty damn well rock it.

xxooxx

Mapping a New Landscape

When I was a girl, every Saturday morning breakfast was punctuated by my father pushing his chair back from the table, standing, and announcing that he was headed out to “survey the estate.” Our “estate” was quite small — the size of an average back yard in the city — but luscious, with tended perennial beds, brick paths, a secret Japanese garden with a winding stream and waterfall, a couple of small brick terraces, climbing vines, tall hedges, a fig tree, and a hand-carved grape arbor. I loved this garden because it was cool and beautiful and welcoming, but more importantly, because it lived and breathed a family. Not only did we spend summer days and nights here, but it existed because we existed. Every flower and blade of grass, every scraggly shrub starter, every brick, every hand-patinaed piece of statuary, every pond liner and edging stone and wooden arbor joist had been planted and carved and laid and edged and watered and tended by my visionary parents, with the aid of three fledgling wheelbarrow drivers. I’ve lived in gardens ever since those early years, but my first remains the gold standard. Not because it was prettier or more lush or contained a magical variety of flora, but because watching an ordinary family create that garden taught me just how much influence we have over the landscapes of our lives. I grew up believing that anything was possible with a little sweat, imagination, some scavenging, a tool or two, and someone to help with the wheelbarrow.

And my life has been very much like this. When I’ve acted on this belief, some pretty magical things have happened. I’ve always claimed to be lucky, to be blessed, to have escaped turmoil, despair, poverty. I’ve been pretty good at remembering that I have everything I need to live, create, and love, even if I can’t immediately remember which drawer or which recess of my brain has it safely tucked away. It has been, most certainly, a wondrous life and, despite a few sorrows, I could hardly have penned it any better.

And now at 57, too old to be tragic and too young to be inevitable, I have cancer, and though I am quite often irritatingly adept at seeing things coming, I did not see this.

Today will be hot, but the sky is dishing out a soul-stirring bluster. Yesterday I watched a tree throw her leaves in an arc that crossed a lane, fluttering madly in a last dance. This morning the walnut and elm on opposite sides of the garden are tossing their dual ingredients into the tango in swirls like fall, and it feels both happy and sad to see a summer breeze awash with still-green leaves. No longer green myself, I still feel the flutter and recognize change.

And so I look at the bountiful landscape of a life and wrestle to place my changing self into the life I’ve loved. Though my prognosis is good, I’m irritated that my future, which should map out genetically at a good thirty years (still peanuts!) will now be measured and celebrated in five year increments — barely time enough to make a bucket list, especially one scheduled around chemo treatments. And I’m irritated that my gurus, carefully chosen by the matching of heart to soul, will now be peopled with strangers selected by paper credentials and calendar availability, and that they will have as much say, and perhaps more, in the way I live my days from sunup to sundown for the rest of my life. And I’m irritated that cancer so often attacks women in the very organs that give and sustain life — Karma, wake the hell up!!!

Of course the bottom line is that the landscape of my life has also changed, and shockingly so. The way I look at my days has changed. The way I think and experience has changed. In a way, I’m okay with that. But I need to start over like a child with my trowel in the dirt, learning the feel of both peat and clay, the difference between nectars and nettles, how to map paths around this sinkhole or that hornet’s nest. Landscape, I want to look you full in the eye with my colored lenses off and my antennae roused. I need to know you intimately so that I can meet you on my terms. And yes, I will bitch and moan. I will withdraw. I will snap. I will be preoccupied. I will cry. I will cling. I will write more than I will speak. I will not wear the smiley face. I will be unpredictable, just like this disease. Just like this changing landscape that looks so foreign to me in this moment. But in the end, there will be beauty.

I want to be Zen again, one day, but make no mistake that this time I will be Zen with a dragon tattoo, really good hiking boots, and backup. So please pardon me while I raise a little hell and clear the nettles.

Rousillon

Landscape of Rousillon, France
Read More Here

Proliferative Rat Bastards

I don’t know how long I’ve had breast cancer, only that today was the first day I woke up knowing it. Today was the first day I opened my eyes aware that something inside me wanted more, and it wasn’t love or inspiration or creation or enlightenment. Today was the first day I opened my eyes aware that something inside me isn’t “me” at all, and I’m telling you, it’s a total Sigourney Weaver moment, but without the big paycheck.

There are many qualities I have to reach for on a daily basis, because living outside of myself does not come so easily for me. My True Self is 99% sensitivity and introspection. I see in others what I know in myself, and I try to serve as a partner along the path. And if I’m all about looking inward, how did I not see this? How did I not feel this? How the hell did I grow this, and allow it to feast on me?

There are many things I’ve worried about in my life, and breast cancer was never, ever, ever even a blip on the radar. I don’t have a single risk factor for breast cancer. I’ve taken diligent precautions in other areas that were much bigger threats to my health. I don’t even think mammograms hurt — piece of cake. Although I hadn’t had one in a while. Not for any good reason — is there a good reason? The last thing my beloved doctor of 12 years said to me before she left the building a month ago and joined a “boutique” practice was “Go downstairs and make an appointment for a mammogram before you leave the building.” And I did. If I could afford the $2500 annual fee, I would walk into her new office and hug her big.

And this is what it feels like: Strength. Calmness. Hysteria. Dissolution. Resolve. Lack of Focus. Resignation. Belief. Giving Up. Anxiety. Muteness. Dirtiness. Openness. Love. Hate. Love. All on the fast track and vibrating like a loaded spring inside me, blocking the pathways between sensing and knowing, between realizing and speaking, between the intent and the act.

I’m not going to turn this blog into a cancer diary, because this damnable grabby greedy rat bastard stealer of life won’t be with me for long. But he has forced himself uninvited and unwanted onto my path, and he will change me a bit just as love and childbirth and friends and Italy and art have changed me, and I will continue to scour the corners of my psyche to see what’s hiding and what needs the light of day for a better understanding. So yeah, more of the same. But I’ve got my growl on now.

Looking at Trees

Costa Rica Tree, by Pamela Goode

When the kids were young and we lived in a small town in South Carolina, I was briefly a biker. I’d hop on my Wal-Mart Special every afternoon, plug in Jason’s walkman and pedal as hard as I could, asking questions and listening for answers in the music. After the requisite number of laps around the park by the bay, I’d coast into the historic district and walk my bike into the cemetery at Prince George, laying my body flat on the weathered stone that covered one of the raised tombs beneath the dogwoods. Music off now, I’d stare through the leaves, lime or forest or claret as the seasons changed, peering beyond them to watch dark birds so far beyond my eyes etching circles into the blue. I didn’t think, and I didn’t need to think — the watching filled my heart and soul and soothed my limbs and made the way seem easy. Sometimes I’d let a question lie beside me on the stone in quiet co-existence. More often than not, I walked back to my bike and headed for home with a fresh view. I made friends with the issues, and the issues were usually content to fall away.

Some days I need more trees. I need to be able to stand on the sand near the bay, or sit on the gritty picnic table in salty jeans with my face upturned and listen to the trees talking each to each, the wind singing by on tiptoe or deep-throated, grabbing me by the ears and rouging my cheeks and urging me to join the dance, to hear, to grasp, to run, to yelp with joy or sorrow or passion or fear or laughter but to pull out of myself and join in the sound of the pines and the sky and the circling birds. I haven’t been there in a while.

I once wondered if I listened hard enough, or well enough, or often enough, if I could learn the words or the tune or the meaning of treesong. Outside of Harry Potter and, was it Babes in Toyland? — I’ve never seen an evil tree. Trees are universally comforting. They shelter, cradle, feed, and dance and soothe us with a sense of permanence and balletic invincibility. I need to take myself back there.

Some days the best thing that happens is the kindness of a stranger with grandma hair and warm hands, making sure she looks you in the eye when she speaks so you can feel her words even if you can’t hear them. Some days it hurts to reach because you have a hole in your flesh big enough to pass a pair of tweezers through. Some days those you adore want to be with you every minute, because they need to hold on to the love and make it real enough to stand as a fortress. Some days are made of nothing but hours and the ticking of second hands, because nothing exists between the tweezers and the call. Some days there is nothing better than holding hands, and nothing that heals as much as looking at trees.