The Choices We Make

Today, or maybe every day, I can’t help thinking how so much of life is about the choices we make — and those that are made for us — sometimes by our allowing and other times in spite of our kicking and screaming. I can’t help wondering how our choices combine to make us who we are. What would you have done, and who would you be, if life — in all its incarnations — had not interfered? Who would I be? Would I still make art if I had grown up like other little girls? Would I write if I hadn’t been too shy to speak? Would I have danced if I had been good at kickball? Would I be a mosaicist if drawing came naturally to me? Am I a laundry list of second choices, or was I blind to a deeper truth for too many years?

Have my choices been internal or external? Of me, despite me, or not me at all? And the choices I make for 2023, now that I’m old(er) and (wise)er, will my choices be more on target, or have I learned to settle? Will I wish for more of the same because my life is blessed, or does my spirit still long to blaze a trail?

I’ve never been called spontaneous, and I’m tickled pink to love what I love. I’m happy to eat the same cereal every morning, wear the same leggings, and walk the same well worn streets (of Rome, preferably).

But in the minutiae of life, I confess that I have a special affection for the unexpected — the tarnish on the bling, the twisted touching skirts with the sublime. Our time on earth is so very much not a one-note dance, and I love the barely-noticed reminders of LIFE where we seldom think to look. And so it’s a no-brainer that I will select at least a bit of the everyday to tell my story through mosaic.

And of course here’s the thing: I like to think that my choices in art, as my choices in life, are intensely deliberate. But 90% of the time it’s the deliberate choices that I end up tossing into the bin, and the seemingly random finds that grab my heart. It’s almost as if my presence on this earth is not only arbitrary, but completely unnecessary — as if the “I” that I so carefully cultivate is no more than a worker bee robot for someone else’s fresher ideas, clearer vision, spot-on choices.

And so I end 2022 much the same as I started it — working, dreaming, becoming, creating, loving, encouraging, choosing — and wondering how much of my life has to do with me, and how much of it could have been the guy down the street.

But I’m learning one thing: in the end, it probably doesn’t matter. Maybe being the vehicle is a cool enough ride.

Sex in the Fifties

Prelude for Younger Audiences: “Ewwwwwww!”

So what’s the deal with Sex in the Fifties? Despite the hemorrhaging availability of botox, breast bags, hair weaves, penile implants, financial security, liposuction, hormone helpers, testosterone patches, mobility, anonymity, familiarity, butt lifts, viagra, and f***buddies, are we really getting any? Or are we just sick of the whole last-year’s-dance, preferring instead to curl up with a bottle of cabernet?

Frankly, we look old. We feel tired. We are Not in the Mood.

I wasn’t planning on giving up sex, ever. But even for those armed with a fistful of dollars and a bulge in the libido, nature keeps cropping up with a plan of her own. My mother always gleefully tittered that the years after menopause were the happiest of her life. Sorry Mom, but I beg to differ. If you’ve never had a hot flash, and by that I mean never been working away happy as a clam only to find yourself suddenly awash in a skim of sticky, smelly, pore ooze, usually in the midst of 1) a business meeting , or 2) clasping the Beloved, then get thee to a more approriate blog.

And what’s with the weight thing, damn it? Decreased Appetite plus Decreased Intake = 10 pounds weight gain. Eliminating soft drinks, chocolate, and cream sauces (kill me now) = 2 pounds weight gain. Increased Exercise = a pleasant 1 pound weight gain. So tell me why, with all the additional padding, are old people always cold? My Dear Mother Nature, if you want me to keep warm, drop the pound baggage and Let Me Have Sex! Friction = Fire, you know.

They say that menopause causes irritability. Not true. Sweat swells, bulky girth, and a dearth of hickies cause irritability. Big time.

The sad truth is that I know why Mother afflicts us in the 50’s. She has caught a whiff of rotten eggs, and wants to protect the Future of Civilization by causing hunkish males to blanch at our bulbous pretties and eau de locker room, fleeing to wantonly spew seeds into the incubators of twenty-somethings unaquainted with palimony.

And what of those man-type humans? Is their procreational rivulet spiked with preservatives? Does Mother just turn a blind eye to their dalliances, secure in the supposition that no DNA will be mangled by the Over-50 Male? I suppose it’s entirely plausible that she anticipates an occasional dip in the fertilizer population. I, myself, have considered popping off a few somewhere between the gynecologist’s office and the bank.

No one cares if a man grows fat and bald, least of all the man. But I can’t complain, really — as my Dearest insists, “I didn’t marry you for your body.” Ass.

And yet we manage well, all things considered. And, all things considered, perhaps extraordinarily well. We kiss and clutch in restaurant parking lots as gratefully as adulterers, and roll about gamely on sundry pieces of furniture more carelessly than teenagers . . . until I heave him to the floor gasping for a deep throat of air conditioning, nipples thrust greedily toward the ceiling fan, “Faster . . . faster . . . come to Mama NOW, you Bladed Beauty, NOW!”

At least the neighbors think we’re doing it.

(Copyright 2007. All rights reserved Pamela Goode.)

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.

Food Frenzy, Episode 1

Some of us do it on the sly in minuscule morsels. Some do it once a day; some can’t stop. Some do it at night, which is okay. In fact, you can’t not do it, no matter your choice. Some of us gulp it down, while others are persnickety and indulge only in small morsels at pre-established times. Fortunately you can find it in shops, theaters, at home, on the road, really most anywhere. The only thing you can’t do it stop, because each new day requires that you suck it up and do it again.

But that’s okay, because I have this thing for photographing food. And since it’s everywhere, it’s a pretty accessible gig.

The photos below show different eats in different countries.

Row 1, Left to Right: Artichoke with Herbed Butter, Bonnieux, Provence; Garlic, Piazza del Popolo Market, Orvieto, Italy; Jack Fruit, Costa Rica; Brie on Crackers with Mixed Greens and Pine Nuts, Bonnieux, Provence

Row 2: Chicken with Lemon, Olives and Herbs, Pawleys Island, SC, US; Market Lemons, Orvieto, Italy; Black Beans, Zucchini, Salad, Dragon Fruit, Salad, Costa Rica; Fruity Drinks, Barcelona

Enjoy!

Photos by Pam Goode

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.

Lost and Found: Moments in Time

You know how when you’re gone for a time, and possibly only for a week, and still you come home to the place you’ve known forever but then for a moment, that brief flash, you can’t immediately locate even the possessions that you use most often and that have been been kept in the same place for years (!!!)?

At first it’s a little disorienting and maybe fleetingly irritating, but in the end, isn’t it really pretty cool to know that only a few days of new input can shift your view, your rote, your same-old so quickly and so completely as to momentarily obliterate even what you know best?

It all comes back of course. But suppose we make the conscious decision not to rush back to what we know, but instead to embrace the shake-up and simply reinvent, quite spontaneously? I’m not talking drastic life changes, but where’s the harm in trying on a new hat now and then?

I’m quick to claim that I’m very much my own person — who I am is who I am, and re-invention seems — well, why? But the truth is that, like most of us, I’ve reinvented many, many times — often quite spontaneously and totally without prior consideration. Each time it was a seamless transition to a place I was meant to be.

I found a good hearing aid and started having conversations. With people. A lot. I was 49, and after 49 years of smiling and trying to fit into various boxes, I was suddenly and rather effortlessly a part of the world.  I walked past a trashed little space on a good street with a “for rent” sign and immediately knew it was waiting for me to reinvent as an art studio. I had no experience setting up or running an art studio, but it worked and I did it with joy for 13 years. On a whim. I just knew.

We all know. We don’t all act.

Marcel Proust (otherwise known as Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust) wrote a monumental seven volume novel over a period of 14 years with the distinction of having written the longest novel in the world. If you’re wondering, it’s À la Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time), filled with a whopping 1,267,069 words and twice as robust as War and Peace. But maybe that’s to be expected in a man with six flowery names, the first of which is Valentin. Considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, I’m not about to question his judgement.

But I wonder … did he plan this abrupt life alteration, or did it just appear to him and he grabbed it?

I’m beginning to believe that the life we meticulously plan is rarely our true life. I’m beginning to believe that we don’t give ourselves enough credit — we don’t aspire past what we consider our limits; we don’t reach as far as our arms were meant to. We barely know ourselves.

So take the trip, physically or metaphorically but preferably alone, and see where it leads you. Pretty sure you’ll be surprised. And you’ll be home. (Maybe in Paris)

 

 
 
 
 

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.

Cleaning Day

I’m not sure why I call this “cleaning day” when in fact it’s been 9.2 days of non-stop rip-everything-from-the-closets-the-kitchen-and-any-room-in-my-way-and-strew-it-all-over-the-bed (step 1), sort it (step 2), wash everything in the house (step 3), sort it again because my priority list has changed (step 4), fold the giveaways (dear god, please let there be many) (step 5), hang the keepers (step 6), repeat.

Yeah I’m a keeper kinda girl. I get attached to stuff, and not only the stuff but the memories that tag along. If there’s any sentiment attached, I’m keeping it. I understand that stuff is just stuff, but is it really? Because I have a really long memory.

And now, quite surprisingly, the day has come when it seems I really DON’T need that, and instead I have a sudden gasping urge to throw it all out, and by that I mean carefully consider each piece (can I wriggle into it?), judge the need (gasp), and evaluate the style (just because I wore it with glee in the 70’s doesn’t necessarily mean it’s still swoon-worthy (but of course it is)).

And then there’s the rest of the process. Clothes are one thing — the kitchen is another. Let’s just say there’s no real personal attachment to mixing bowls and platters. If it’s living in my kitchen, it’s not only easier to toss psychologically, but physically. I can cram five dresses into the space reserved for one, but a can’t really smush metal racks together.

But of course even in the kitchen, the place farthest away from my lifelong love affairs, there are must-keeps. Even if I stopped cooking at least a decade ago, I can’t toss the potato masher that my grandmother used throughout her entire life, which was long, or the blue tray that my mom pulled out so often that it’s frayed at every age, the wooden trivet that my dad hand-carved, my son’s inherited porcelain baby dish complete with a water reservoir to keep his pureed sweat potato at just the right temperature, or my daughter’s delightfully hand-scribbled notes to let me know each feeling that passed through her days youthful.

And so it goes. We buy, we use, we become attached. We fall in love with things because they’re so much more than things. They are our lives kept in drawers and used for a lifetime.

Women are a sentimental brood, and I consider it one of our best features.

This one I kept. I have no idea what it is, but it will always hang in my kitchen. Imperfection = beauty.

Short Skirt, No Jacket

On my last night alone before the house fills up again, it seems to be prom night. Or something like that. I only know this because on my late afternoon walk, I notice cars pulling up and parking everywhere near my house, which is an oddity. We live on a small cul-de-sac off of a dead end street street that has only recently made it onto google. So let’s just say that we don’t get many visitors, and those who do venture our way have puzzled expressions and wander off quickly.And suddenly tonight, someone’s having a party — cars literally everywhere — and I’m not invited. I’m slightly uncertain whether I’m sad or happy about that.

And then as I turn the corner and realize the size of the mounting car count, I see a young girl climb out from behind the driver’s seat. She has perfect blonde hair and a glittery dress, but it’s the length, or lack thereof, that tells me it must be homecoming, and that one of my neighbors is graciously hosting the pre-party so the girls aren’t left to their own devices. No jacket. The other three girls emerge a bit more slowly, carrying that little bubble of excitement/anxiety that changes your life.

I keep walking.

As I reach to the end of the street, I see another car, this one with a few boys tumbling out, trying to wrangle their fancy clothes onto their less adept bodies. They look way less confident than the glittery girl.

Homecoming, Sadie Hawkins, Prom Night — oh the memories, and none of them good. I missed my junior prom after my parents nixed the very nice guy I’d been dating. I made my senior prom, and it was … well let’s just say he was cute but psycho, and his allure was quickly axed. Then there was college in the seventies, and we were all way too cool for prom. But I’ve heard that some people like it.

Go forth. Grab the night. Be yourself.

On My Walk: Six Sisters No More

Six Sisters
The Lovely Girls

I’ve lived in the same neighborhood with the same walking path on the same streets with the same houses and the same daily joys for 17 years. For the most part, only the children have changed, and of course that’s a lovely thing — growing and learning and blossoming and becoming. I have issues with change, but I do my best to handle it gracefully.

Sometimes though, it hurts to the core.

Sometimes it’s murderous.

You may not remember my first post on the sisters shown above, but oh they were magnificent. Huge lovelies planted together like sisters indeed, filled to the brim with boughs and acorns and leaves shimmering with every passing breeze. Every single day, they were the highlight of my walk, and I’m pretty sure they enjoyed the meeting as much as I did.

One day last week, I noticed some trimming in progress, which isn’t unusual with trees. But then the next day they were missing — gone — a HUGE empty space surrounded by sawdust and loss. They had not only been cut to the ground, but their very roots dug out, tossed into trucks, and hauled off as if they had never existed.

Who does these things?

In this case, new owners moved in, ripped out the old and planted spindly screening trees. They could be considered cute enough, but they’ll never be majestic or live lifetimes or serve as the protectors and watchers of the neighborhood.

Change sucks. People say it isn’t true and I know they’re right in some sense, but in my world, change can really suck. Sigh.