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.

Sunshine and Hurricanes

I had almost three blissful weeks at Pawleys Island, interrupted only by a hurricane (minor detail) (or not). It isn’t as though hurricanes are rare in September, and it isn’t as though I’m unfamiliar with both the phenomenon and the havoc it can wreak, but I definitely wasn’t expecting it. We were deep in the midst of awakening our brains and creating and walking and walking more and talking and dreaming and making.

And then the sea got wild.

And then it got wilder.

And then we were evacuated. C’est la vie.

We only missed a couple of days, but of course those two days equate to at least seven more projects, eight more walks on the beach, several more armloads of shells, hours and hours of laughter, seven fabulous meals, and too many hugs to count.

Pawleys, I love you. See you next September.

Left to Right and Top to Bottom: Cloud reflections on wet sand; Caroline working on a woodblock; Dinner!; Night moves on the beach; Caele’s charcuterie; Laura McKellar’s glass mosaic; Laura Hitchcock’s crone-in-progress; Plum tarts with salad and burrata; Artwork by Staci Swider; Leaders Pam and Laura; Cocktails at Chive Blossom; Local landscaping; Mosaic-in-Progress by Pam; Sea creatures that attached themselves to an old flip flop on the beach; Painting by Laura Hitchcock; Pawleys Evening; Mary making magic with glass; Susannah the supreme ice cream maker; Armload of conch shells.

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!

Book Release Coming Right Up!

It seems easy enough, right? Many claim to have penned this truth: “Writing is easy. Just open a vein and bleed” — and no doubt we’ve all felt it, whether during middle school exams or penning a verse to a would-be lover.

But the truth is, writing is sometimes hard and sometimes easy, but editing and publishing can extinguish god’s own holy spark in the best of us. Not that I’ve ever been particularly holy.

Regardless, I believe I’ve just pulled myself through the last hoop atop the last hill (and yes I CAN hear you laughing in the background) and have pushed the appropriate buttons to make the July 24 release date.

Can you hear my wild self-applause????

Touch of Fire by Pam Goode, available as e-book or paperback July 24, available for e-book pre-order July 10, aka, NOW.

Pre-Order Link here. Let’s roll!

Bowling Lady Watering Can

Little Hurricanes

Prettier in Paris

My daughter arrived on Wednesday, creating a little hurricane in my carefully organized room, and isn’t that what we all need? Someone to stir the pot, to rustle us from the same old, to say “no” to our plans and shoulder us into the new?

She was ten when we first came here together, posing beneath the miniature Statue of Liberty in Luxembourg Gardens and dressed all in purple and pigtails. She won’t let me show the photo and she knows a secret: Honor the past, but don’t let it define you. I need to remember that myself.

Dressing this morning, she pulled a straw-like and scythe-shaped grey hair from her locks and held it toward me. I told her it didn’t belong there and not to worry; it had most likely blown off the weathered head of a boat captain as we walked along the Seine last night. Another gift from getting outside your self. He knows secrets too, but we decide to only imagine them.

 

Why I Make Mosaics

Photo by Ashley Hayward

A young man came into the gallery one day and, like many, stood with his mouth agape staring at the art on the walls. “What is this?” he asked. “It’s mosaic!” I answered with a smile. “Well how do you make it? Where do you get all these little pieces of glass?” “We cut them,” I said with a little glow. “Cut them? You mean you have to cut every one of these pieces?” “Yes,” I said. “Every piece.” “Oh man,” he said. “Why would anyone do this? There’s got to be a way to streamline this process. Somebody needs to sell the glass already cut. Doesn’t anyone sell pre-cut glass?” “Well, possibly,” I said, “but then I wouldn’t be interested.”

And there you have the answer in a  nutshell. I make mosaics because it’s hard.

During the monthly and often weekly classes I teach, new students will often take on a familiar stricken look when they first start cutting. I tell them to relax and cut for the pleasure of exploration — that making mosaics means learning the love to process. And the process is hard.

Some might say I like a hard life in general. I’m a good one for trudging through the minutiae of a situation, considering every possibility, and then selecting the most time and soul-consuming avenue. To me, this simply equates to actually living my life rather than just going through the motions. It’s the same way with cooking, planning, picking out (and decorating) a Christmas tree, traveling, thinking, loving, and art. Either I do it to the max, or I don’t do it at all. Otherwise, what have I gained? What have I given?

I love mosaic art. I love the interplay of color. I love the dancing of light. I love the intention of andamento and the way it makes your eyes move. I love the heft of a piece, and not only the weight of its gathered materials, but the sum of thought and labor involved. I love the antiquity of the artform and the accumulated labor of so many who have labored before me. But most of all, I like the slow, intentional, repetitive, considered and exacted repetition and thrill of determining the perfect cut, achieving it, and fitting it into place to create, many hours and days and weeks and sometimes months later, a piece of art that demanded and received my full attention — my full passion.

One of my favorite mantras is from the movie “A League of their Own,” when Gina Davis admits that something is hard. Tom Hanks (isn’t it always Tom Hanks?) says “Of course it’s hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it. The Hard is what makes it Good.” He’s so right.

It’s a funny thing about “easy.” There are many things that I do because they are “easy” for me, like sorting or folding laundry or unloading the dishwasher or writing a press release — I can have them done in the time it takes to think “oh — I should do this.” Accomplishment is a powerful feel-good, and we can rack up way more of the easies than the hards. But does that make them good? Well, no. None of my easies will ever make it to my Very Favorite Things list.

But give me something hard: determining and creating the ideal ratio of perfect cuts to “human touch” in art, cooking the (very) occasional meal that takes alllllllll day, raising a child, or growing the balls to be my fullest self, and I’m all over it.

So yeah. I love mosaic because it’s damn hard. I think we all need to love and engage in something that tests us, that pushes us flat up against the wall and says, “Do your best. Now.” What tests you? And what do you love about it?

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

Know Thy Selves

Our Bodies, Our SelvesRemember when it was all the rage to sit on the floor of the campus gym sans pants, whip out your compact, and examine your vagina? No weewees, no woohoos, no girliebits; we were hot to call a vagina a vagina, and we were determined to get up close and personal enough to be on a first name basis. Our Bodies, Our Selves was the handbook, although I seem to remember the 70’s bearing a rather unbalanced focus on the Bodies half of the equation. Frankly, it was a whole lot easier to find a group of women ready to shed their clothes for Enlightenment than to find one who actually carried (or owned) an actual compact. Makeup was for sissy girls.

Women 1970's via ourbodiesourselves.orgWe were a Gung Ho sort, and even if we read our Sartre naked in the bathtub with a guy we’d met at the falafel house only an hour earlier, we were hungry to know it all, do it all, feel it all, read it all, live it all, conquer it all, save the world, free women from centuries of silence, get it out there, and live it real. We were ready and primed to Make Life Our Bitch. We all looked like Ali McGraw, and we were determined to be taken as seriously as Gloria Steinem. We brought womanhood, for a time, from darkness into light, and it all started with a fierce determination to know ourselves, vaginas and all.

When did we lose touch?

A year ago today I sat in my kitchen with a close friend that I see only twice a year. She was waiting for test results from a biopsy, which would be positive. I had cancer too but didn’t know it — didn’t suspect — and wouldn’t until much later that spring. When did we move from living our lives armed with mirrors and books and knowledge and experimentation to living our lives with long and mostly irrelevant To Do lists, blindfolded against our innermost secrets? When did answers become written in water, and taking care of Our Selves become a second fiddle melody? When did we move from Knowing to Not Knowing, because Knowing has become so damn hard?

Contrary to popular belief, Our Bodies Our Selves was not about sexual liberation, even though most of us seemed to read it that way. In fact, it was about women learning to care for their own health. Forty-ish years later, we pretty much take care of others instead.

We march; we speak out; we advocate for free mammograms; we rally; we sit with each other and shave our heads in sisterhood; we refuse to be talked down to; we have each other’s backs. But we still never quite know what’s inside us at any given moment — a sobering reminder to seize the day.

Cousin Cousine 1975In many ways, 18 was bliss, wasn’t it? Knowing our bodies was largely a pursuit of pleasure: learning to kiss, trying exotic new tastes from multicultural gems near college campuses, teaching our muscles to scale mountains on weekends with adventurous new friends, getting silly with markers or grimacing under tattoo needles. At 56, knowing my body means something else entirely, and mostly what it means is discovering how much of what I’ve learned to love is now on the list of things that I’m forced to un-love (exotic tastes and climbing mountains high on the list). Making peace with the woohoo was a hell of a lot easier than making peace with organs that mutate in silence, and oh, how much more fun!

And so these later days reprise that urge to know, deep down; to feel, deep down; to live, deep down. If there is no magic mirror to show me what monsters lurk inside or to predict which cures will simply kill me another way on another day, I need to be in tune enough with my spirit to hear the longings of the body I yearn to heal: feed me; love me; take me out dancing; sing me a song; let me spend the afternoon painting my body with daisies and then giggle loud and long enough to wake the neighbors; or linger in a field of wildflowers way past time for dinner. Feed me a daily moment of bliss. Or three.

P.S. Dedicated to Carol, Susan, the MoHos, Jeanne Beanie, Carol H, the Duke Forestry School, my Love, my family