Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Zen Kinda Day

Today was one of those days I wish I could capture in a jar and save. It started with a very enlightening conversation about life paths. I often think that life is like a maze where we must find the best path to the end. Along there way there are a million places where we can get stuck, lost, or turned around but we should strive to find that ideal path. I had never thought of it as a book where we select our own ending. This comparison really shifted my perspective. Rather than a predetermined path, we make choices every day that come with positives and negatives, These choices define our path but one is not necessarily better than another. I found this rather comforting and freeing. You don't have to search for the perfect path because there isn't one. Funny how you don't realize where your thinking is sometimes stuck on a faulty notion.

During my lunch break I was able to sit in on my first Zen meditation session. After my stimulating morning, this was a wonderfully relaxing experience. For someone like myself who can't stand being quiet, it was amazing to just sit silently in a room with 6 other people and simply "be". Five minutes passed by like a minute. My brain started thinking about all the work waiting for me on my desk, and I immediately pushed the thought away. All my stress dissolved. I just sat there quietly breathing. Between short meditations we talked about Buddhist thought and religion. I can't wait to see where this goes next week. I am grateful I stumbled upon these sessions and am able to attend.

And then came the farmers market! I had been waiting all month for this particular market because one of my favorite craft vendors was going to be there. Earlier in the year I won a $30 gift certificate to her booth and couldn't wait to use it. I don't think I left an item unturned at her booth, carefully deciding how to spend my certificate and then some. When it came time to check out, I was informed I should pick out another item for my bag. And there was no charge for any of my items. What a delightful surprise!

I feel truly blessed for these sometimes simple and sometimes unexpected gifts. I forget that every day is filled with them if I just remember to look. Namaste.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Black Cat Friday

Leaving work just before dusk on a Friday night late in summer, I see a black cat outside the University Library. While I am admittedly a tad superstitious, this cat is very unsettling, not because of her coloring but because of her placement. Just days earlier, a boy jumped from this very building, dying on the cement where this cat now rests. This event has been haunting me for days. I cannot rid myself of the images burned into my memory. I wish I could erase them. I wish I could press the rewind button and change the events of that day. But life doesn’t have a master control and I am left with the uneasy task of coping with what I have witnessed.

What is odd about this cat is my sighting of her. In the twelve years I have worked at this University, I have never seen a cat on the grounds, much less so close to the building. She eyes me cautiously. She is a young cat, less than a year old judging by her size. After a few moments of watching each other, she slowly walks away from me, looking back every so often to see where I am. I feel compelled to follow her. I talk to her in a low and calm voice, “Kitty, come here kitty. I just want to pet you.” She quickens her pace. I continue to follow her around the building. Although we are surrounded by trees and small bushes, she never leaves the cement. I try to get close enough to touch her but she runs away. She reminds me of this boy, lost in his own sadness, too scared and untrusting to allow anyone to share whatever burden he must have been carrying.

The cat is obviously hungry. She finds what looks like peanuts scattered on the cement and begins to eat. I tell her I can get her food if she will just trust me, but I get one step too close and she runs off. We circle each other on the cement for a quarter of an hour. She looks tired. I wish she would simply give in and let me pick her up. I want to bring her home with me, give her a warm place to sleep and plenty of food. I slowly inch my way toward her. When I get close enough, I grab for her. She scrambles away quickly, terrified of my sudden movement. I watch her hide under a bush. I wait patiently and eventually she slowly emerges from her hiding spot. She cautiously makes her way back onto the cement, only feet away from me. I pour some water from my water bottle into the top of the container and leave it for her. I back away from it to let her drink, which she does, guardedly.

After an hour of chasing her back and forth across the cement, I begin to realize that I won’t be able to catch her. She doesn’t want to be caught. She once again retreats under a bush. As I turn to leave, she gradually comes back out, watchful of my every movement. I must accept her decision to stay in this unpredictable and unsafe environment. I know her chances of survival when winter comes will be questionable, but I must let her go. Life is fragile. There are times when no one can help because the help isn’t wanted. We must find a way to cope with our own best intentions. Sometimes they just don’t work.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

And though the news was rather sad...

The story of John Lennon’s death is widely known. Late on the evening of December 8th in 1980, John Lennon was returning to his residence at the Dakota in Manhattan’s upper west side, when he was shot and killed by Mark David Chapman. His death was a shock to the entire world. And although I was only five years old, I also remember this tragedy.

I often tell people that John Lennon’s death is one of my first childhood memories. I claim to recall this event quite vividly but my family often disputes my childhood memories, and I won’t be a bit surprised if they also dispute this one. I used to tell people how I remembered being at my parents wedding, which took place 5 years before I was born. The memory is in black and white in my mind. I can recall my mother in a simple white dress, my father in a black suit with a flower in his lapel. I was only a toddler so when the music started, they handed me to someone in one of the front pews of the church and then together, walked toward the altar. The odd thing is that I can’t bring to mind my older sister being there. My parents laugh this off, dismissing the scandal this would surely create if I were correct.

I also remember a time when my mother took me to Emily Lake when I was little. We were walking on the beach, just the two of us, when we came across an old man with a monkey. I believe he was an organ grinder. I was curious about the monkey and when I got closer to him, he jumped upon my shoulders. I was terrified and ran away with my arms flailing to make the monkey get off of me. There was a cloud of dust and then the monkey was gone. My mother asserts that we never went to Emily Lake without my father and sister, and that I never met an organ grinder. But I am sure of it.

This is my memory of John Lennon’s death. It was early in the morning and my mother and I were watching public television while folding laundry. Dixie, our white poodle, barked happily as my father pulled up outside on a break from his job. Excitedly I ran to the door to greet him. He hastily brushed past me and told my mother to turn on the news. I followed them into the living room where my mother quickly turned the dial to a news channel. They both sat silently in front of the TV, listening to the report already in progress. Feeling ignored, I demanded “What’s going on?” I tugged at my father’s pants pocket. He didn’t respond. His eyes looked red and tired. “Mom,” I whined, “what happened?” She appeared not to have heard me. I repeated myself, only louder this time. Still she did not answer. It was only on my forth inquiry that my mother, tears in her eyes, acknowledge me. “Shut up!” she snapped. I felt as though I had been slapped. My mother, a very mild mannered woman whose worst curse word, the British “bloody,” had used a phrase forbidden in our house. I was stunned into silence. I busied myself with my Digger the Dog toy and waited for someone to pay attention to me. I didn’t understand what the reporter was talking about; I just recall the sadness in the room. This had to be bad news. Eventually my father went back to work and left mom and I alone. I don’t remember exactly what she said to me but I know she explained that someone very important in the world had died. He was a singer and many, many people loved him. It wasn’t until much later in my life I understood the significance of this event.

During those early years, when my sister, Jenn, born 3 years ahead of me, had started school and my father had transitioned from working at the local Holiday gas station to working as a head janitor for the school district, my mother and I spent hours together at home. I recall those days as days of discovery, happily spent with my mom. Small details come to mind, such as working in the garden, watching Picture Pages, and buying boysenberry yogurt and Kit Kat bars at the corner store across the street. I couldn’t tell you what we did most days, hours stretched out before us. But I do remember the music.

I spent hours and hours of my childhood playing in front of our family record player. Occasionally my interest would shift from whatever toy I had to the vinyl records stored beneath the player. I loved to hold the old 45s in my small hands, letting my fingers pop through the hole in the middle. There was one 45 in particular that I liked to play with. Most of the records were just black discs with grooves and words I couldn’t read. But this one had a picture and it quickly became the most special record of them all. In the center of the record was a large green apple, perfectly cut down the middle. I would flip it over and over and look at that apple, mesmerized by the picture on both sides.

On especially exciting days, my mother would play some of these records for me. I loved to listen to the songs with catchy lyrics like “love me do” and “I saw her standing there.” Some of the lyrics didn’t make sense like “take the back righter.” It wasn’t until I was in fifth grade that my mother explained to me that the lyrics were actually “paperback writer.” I loved to listen to songs about Rocky Raccoon, yellow submarines, singing blackbirds, and revolutions. My mother enjoyed other songs about weeping guitars and a girl named Michelle.

The LPs were not as fascinating to me as the 45s. I couldn’t fit my fingers through the center hole, so I was left with balancing the record on one tiny finger carefully placed in the middle of the record. Sometimes the pressure of the vinyl on my tiny fingers would hurt, and I would have to put them away. There was one LP however that I was particularly drawn to. It was different than all the other larger records in their colorful, pictured sleeves. This one was completely white. The lack of color made it different and intriguing to me. When you opened the album, it unfolded like a book. Inside there were pictures scattered across the pages. I spent hours looking at those pictures. There were funny pictures, and serious pictures. Some pictures showed the men with long, shaggy hair and funny clothes, while others portrayed them in black and white suits, clean cut with short hair. One of the photos always caught my interest. It was a long haired man sitting cross legged on a stark, white bed. It didn’t look like he was wearing any clothing, just a thick, dark necklace. He was talking on the phone. Lying next to him was an Asian woman sound asleep. I wondered what this man was talking about so early in the morning that this woman would still be sleeping. Why didn’t he wear any clothing? How did he know the exotic woman next to him? Were they friends? Was she wearing clothes? Why was his hair so long?

I would make up stories about the pictures and the people in them. As I grew older, my interests shifted and new secrets from the album would reveal themselves to me. I can recall the first time I noticed the doodle in the upper corner of one of the pages. For years I thought it was just a scribble, and then one day my eye was drawn to something new about it. The doodle was of naked people, a man and a woman. I snickered to myself, sure my mother had not noticed this. As I learned to read, I like to test my skills out on the printed lyrics sheet. Again, the album revealed new secrets to me. I discovered lyrics like “Why don’t we do it in the road?” Certainly my mother hadn’t read this. And if she did, she must not have understood it.

There was one song she played during our time home together that always stood out to me, “Let It Be.” I would beg my mother to play it over and over again. And she always obliged. Sometimes we listened to the Beatles sing it. Other times she played a treasury of gospel music with a choir singing the song. I was always frustrated by the treasury set with its 34 records all grouped together in a box. I would search and search for the one song I wanted to hear but each record looked identical to the next. I sat in wonder as my mother always selected the one with the song we wanted to hear. It was like a code only she understood. As the record hissed and popped on the player, I would sit in silence waiting for the music. I quietly listened to the melody and the words over and over. Something about this song seemed so sacred. All my young life I had listened to music, on Sesame Street and during long car rides. I would sing along with the silly songs about numbers, letters, and colors, but somehow this song was different. It was like the music spoke directly to me. And it was beautiful.

As I got older, I moved on to other music. When I began buying albums, I never bought a Beatles album. To this day I don’t own one. I never saw the need to. They were always with me, in my memories of childhood. I chose other bands to fall in love with. I ate through albums, quickly devouring the Doors, the Cure, Cinderella, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Blink 182, Bright Eyes, and more. I studied the music, learning where the bands were from, what the songs meant, and what the musicians stood for. But nostalgic, I would still seek out a Beatles song from time to time.

While I enjoyed Paul McCartney’s voice and songwriting, I always had a fondness for John. He was an icon of peace and strength. I admired him for his views and his daringness to express them. I also fell in love with the story of Yoko Ono and John Lennon. I often referred to this as the greatest love story ever. I didn’t busy myself with stories about her interference with the band or the odd things they did together. I focused on other stories, stories about their dedication to one another and what they believed in. I recall hearing that after John had died, Yoko had left his closet exactly as it had been the day of his death. Twenty years later it was still unchanged. She never discarded a single item. I was in awe of how strong her love had been for this man. And how heartbroken she must have been when he was taken from her. And how I remembered that day.

On a trip to New York City in May of 2008, I decided to visit Strawberry Fields on a whim. Dedicated on October 9, 1985, on what would have been John’s 45th birthday, Yoko funded this Central Park memorial for John. I dragged my travel companion, Robin, along with me. She knew little of the Beatles but agreed to make this stop on our tour of the park. Entering Central Park across from the Dakota, we moved down the passageway to find a sign indicating we were entering Strawberry Fields. Bright and brilliant flowers decorated the perimeter of the path. As we continued forward, the trail suddenly opened to a clearing where a large inlay of gray mosaic spelled out the word “Imagine”. It was simple and breathtaking. I paused here, taking in the entire view, the contrast of colorful flowers and the stoic slate of the grey stones. I breathed in deeply, allowing my thought to wander. There were tourists from all over the word paying their respects. I thought of the millions of fans who cried the night John died. I thought of Yoko and her heartbreak. And I thought of my mother and that sad day when my father came home from work to show my mother the news.

I watched the other tourists, representing a variety of ages. Some sat quietly paying their respects. Others laid on the mosaic, posing in front of the word boldly tiled in the center. I was sad hearing them laugh and giggle, snapping shot after shot. Robin, not understanding the wash of emotions I felt being in this place, asked me if I wanted my photo taken in the mosaic. I quietly declined and joined the other silent mourners on a nearby bench.

A seemingly homeless man, dressed in dirty pants, a tattered shirt, and an elastic headband, worked silently putting flowers around an imaginary peace sign at the heart of the mosaic. A large black dog tied to a park bench with a piece of dirty rope appeared to be waiting for him, panting in the spring heat next to the wilting bouquets. Three men walked by practicing fighting moves. They carried dirty white boxing pads. Each time one of the men would punch the other, the dog would get riled up and bark at them. I waited for the man to stop his work but he continued with his flowers. The men moved away from the dog but she continued to bark and lunge at them, upset with their disruption. They finally conceded, calling the dog by name and then moved down the path, out of view. The homeless man, muttering to the smiling tourists about their disrespect, shooed them away as he persisted to place his drooping pink and yellow roses around the tribute. I wondered who this man was. He obviously had little money and yet somehow he had all these flowers that he so meticulously placed across the small stones. Had he spent his last few dollars to pay this tribute? Was this something he did every day? Were the flowers day old discards from a nearby market? Did he know John? What compelled him to complete this task?

Overwhelmed by this scene, I could feel the tears welling up. Robin sat next to me unaffected. She shrugged her shoulders at me and said something about not really knowing anything about the Beatles, they were before her time. Her words angered me. I was too young as well, but the Beatles seemed so timeless. You didn’t need to grow up in the 1960s to understand what they meant to the world of music. I didn’t want her to see me cry, so I bit the inside of my lip. I swallowed hard, trying to retain control of my emotions. I thought of all the things this place meant to me. Of all the things the Beatles meant to me. And how much they were a part of time spent with my mother. After a few minutes, I stood up, looked at Robin, and we silently resumed our travels through Central Park.

Time dulls all wounds. It moves forward and buries events with new tragedies and joys. On the seventh anniversary of John Lennon’s death, my mother gave birth to her youngest child and only son. I was twelve. It took me over 20 years before I realized the connection of my brother’s birth and that early memory of my childhood. Did she ever think with sadness of John Lennon’s death while we watched Ted blow out candles, open gifts, and flail around blindly trying to pin the tail on a paper donkey? If she did, I never knew it. This day was all about Ted.

My mother, now in her 50s, still plays her Beatles albums. They are no longer black grooved records that I can fit my hand though but are now on shiny metallic discs. These compact discs are tucked in a desktop in my parent’s home office, so far from the living room which once held the record player and all the vinyl that was underneath it. When I am her age, I hope that I too will listen to my old albums, in whatever format they will be in, and still find a connection to the lyrics and melodies that shaped and impacted me.

I have a more recent memory that involves the Beatles, and I like to think this one is less disputed than my memories from my childhood. But again it involves tragedy. I was working at a library in Green Bay Wisconsin, when on a cold day in November 2001 I heard the news of George Harrison’s passing. Taking a break from the front desk, I was surfing the Internet when I came across a headline on that Harrison had died of cancer. I instantly thought of my mother. Her favorite Beatles’ song was written by George, it was one she played often during those mornings we spent together before I started school. I sped through my day, anxious to call my mother and make sure she was okay. I felt silly, like a small child, asking if she heard the news. We spoke only briefly of George’s passing and moved on to other topics. While she talked about what my father was doing and all the things taking place in that small town I grew up in, I thought how this would not be the last call I would make. There were still two more Beatles left. Her words began to blur as she continued on with her stories. I wondered if she was sad. But before I hung up, I remember her thanking me for calling.

Friday, May 23, 2008

seeing other people

I sit next to you in your blue Topaz
as we drive out past the airport
to a place where you say the airplanes
slide up into the sky over head
leaving the runway behind.

Sitting on the hood we wait, surrounded
by the stars and the trees and
a light wind that tickles my arms.
Instead of the planes that you promised
we watch an unlit field.

Around 3am rain spots the windshield
and I wonder why we haven’t gone home
but you kiss me again, your hand on my thigh.
I cannot stop the thoughts of Jonathan
asleep alone, waiting naively for me.

I won’t say it’s guilt I feel, but
an odd loneliness growing between you and I,
I can taste boredom in our kisses.
You ask me what is wrong and I lie.
I say it is the rain and I am tired.

You drive me home in silence.
I try to forget this night happened.
All I want is to lie next to Jonathan
and pretend he is still mine.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Fish

The sign in the aquarium says “No Skinny Dipping.”
I doubt the fish have read it.
They swim aimlessly from front to back,
side to side,
with bright colored scales exposed.
The only camouflage is the green plastic plants
swaying here and there.
A house stands in the purple and blue gravel
with the door wide open.
I doubt there is a closet to hold any wardrobe
a fish might own.
if there was one, the snails have slid their way inside
and stolen all its contents,
hiding the clothes
in their giant houses on their backs.
So the fish swim naked, displayed for us
in their 20 gallon tank,
disobeying the sign,
which I suspect
the snails posted anyway.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Essay one regarding Anderson Cooper

I am reading a book by Anderson Cooper. There are pictures of him at various disasters reporting the days’ tragedies. The last picture shows him in his red CNN sweatshirt reporting from Texas as Hurricane Rita hits. I remember that night for many reasons. I fell in love with Anderson Cooper that night, the way he risked life and limb to report a story 2,000 miles away from me, his silver hair gleaming in the hard rain.
It was also a Hurricane that I shared a name with, Rita. I found it oddly coincidental that Rita threatened Texas, especially Houston, where John Salas and his family lived. I had been dating this Texas boy for over a year, off and on. It was a relationship of convenience because it provided me an audience without any hassle of a real boyfriend. There was security in knowing at this distance the relationship could go nowhere. It had no potential to develop into anything too meaningful. It was true that we had a strong connection, one that lasted even after he moved from Green Bay; I just couldn’t see it progressing past this point.
But the irony of the situation is that two years later my life has changed little from that lonely evening watching Anderson pummeled by wind and rain outside a Holiday Inn in Beaumont, Texas. My relationship with John, while seemingly one continual fight after another, is still intact. We may go days, weeks, and on occasion months without talking but it always comes back to this. Somehow we miss our talks, our fights, and in general, each other.
I’m not sure I understand his reasons for remaining in the situation. His invites for me to move to Texas are always avoided, always put off for one reason or another. And although he gets upset with me, we settle back into a routine of nightly phone calls.
I begin to envy Anderson, moving from place to place with little attachment, his mind always focused on the job, his audience provided through reporting on wars, inclement weather, and other news worthy events. I want to trade places with him, not worry about some silly boy 2,000 miles away. I wonder what it must be like to travel from city to city, country to country, and not have to call someone every night to check in, not have to explain where you are going and who you are seeing, and why you haven’t bought plane tickets for that visit you discussed a few weeks ago. I want to trade places with Anderson. But then I lack his journalistic talents.
Thinking back to that summer night 2 years ago, watching reporter after reporter lose feed until only Anderson remained, I sat mesmerized and worried well past 4 in the morning. I remember thinking how odd it was that I was waiting up all night watching CNN hoping there wouldn’t be anything exciting to see and yet disappointed there wasn’t.
I think I understand what Anderson must have felt, standing in the midst of a hurricane, hoping for the least amount of damage possible, but appreciating the excitement and the drama it created.


Visiting a liquor store at 2 in the afternoon, John and I select a couple bottles of wine. John chooses a Shiraz because of the kangaroo on the bottle. I go with my old standby, Firesteed Pinot Noir. I notice the liquor store has that stale smell of hops and cardboard. When we first walked in I was so disoriented by the stark walls and large windows that I didn’t even notice the door leading into the wine room. We run into Raul, stocking white wines. John met Raul a few months back when John first moved to town. Occasionally, after his shift at Barnes & Noble, John likes to stop in and look over the selection. He likes to learn about the various high end bourbons, scotches, and tequilas.

I still feel a little uncomfortable shopping for alcohol with John. When I met him he had never drank. He talked a lot about his father’s addictions and how he vowed to not become like him. While I supported his decision, this was always a point of contention between us. I love to go out for a margarita with friends once a week. According to John, this made me a borderline alcoholic. It was only this past New Year’s that John decided he was ready to enter the world of beer pong, bars, and middle of the afternoon wine runs.

Raul adjusts bottles of Riesling and Gewurztraminer while he tells us how the store was robbed just last week. He says he wasn’t really scared, just a bit shaken by the events. I stare at them both wide eyed, feeling so out of place. They talk about robberies like they happen all the time. Me, I live in a small suburb of a small city covered in snow this time of year. Daily crime for us involves someone stealing a yard gnome. Raul gives John a few recommendations before we take our selections to the cashier.

As we near the front of the store an old man stumbles in, rambling in Spanglish. He is wearing a red and white winter jacket. Although it is December, it is inappropriate for the 80 degree weather in San Antonio. He asks the cashier for a fifth of whisky and pulls out a pocket full of change. It is obvious he is a regular by the good natured joking of both clerks as one of them counts out the assortment of nickels, dimes, pennies, and quarters. They laugh and make comments on the road work being done out front. The man looks around and makes eye contact with us as we turn the corner where the other clerk is ready to ring us up. Although he looks friendly, I pretend to not notice and make myself busy by inspecting a tequila display.

I don’t fit in here, a pale white northern in this sea of tan Texans. I worry that at any minute someone will point to me and say, “Wait a minute, she isn’t from here” and I will be promptly driven and deposited at the border of Texas and Oklahoma.

The old man looks at John. He smiles and then his brow furrows as he notices something. He points to John and says, “Hey man you got something on your back.” Immediately intrigued, I turn to look at what he is pointing to. There nestled between John’s shoulder blades on the back of his red periodical table t-shirt is an H-E-B sticker.

H-E-B is a chain of grocery stores. The initials stand for Here Everything’s Better. It makes me laugh because they are located throughout Texas and one cannot help but notice the amount of pride Texans have in their state. On our first date, two years earlier in Wisconsin, John told me he was a sixth generation Texan. He planned on being married, having children, and dying in Texas. He also professed his admiration for our Texan president, George W. Bush. Being a liberal who voted for Nader back in 2000 without any hopes that he would win, I was unprepared for this conservative loyalty to one’s state and everything in it. John often spoke of going to H-E-B on his breaks from work. Heb, I would think in my head with a smile.

Earlier in the day, John took me to H-E-B to buy some groceries. In an apartment of 20-something year old boys, I was ensured there were not many vegetarian options available. It was at the checkout cxt line that I spotted the H-E-B stickers. They were hanging near the bagging area. It was obviously a ploy to keep children and 32 year old Wisconsin visitors occupied while the adults paid for the groceries. I couldn’t resist taking one. I put it on John’s back, knowing it would irritate him. I thought back to a conversation we had on the phone one night shortly after John had moved back to Texas. He told me that whenever he buys something, like a shirt or sweater, he inspects the entire item for any loose strings, tiny tears, or flaws in the fabric. He won’t purchase something if it isn’t perfect. I had laughed at this story because I couldn’t be more flawed. If I were a shirt on a rack, I would have mismatched fabric and a missing sleeve. John tried to put the sticker on me but I simply stuck it on the back of his shirt where it would be hard for him to reach. Defeated by my childish antics, he left the sticker there.

Without missing a beat, John looks over at the old man, shrugs and with a gesture my way, says, “It’s her.” He says it like they are conspirators in a plot I am not allowed to know. The old man smiles wide, exposing a mouth full of rotting teeth and gaps. He laughs in a sympathetic way and looks at me knowingly.

For a second I am confused. I take John’s statement literal. I wonder, am I on his back? I look at the sticker and suddenly feel sheepish by his meaning. Maybe I should take the sticker off. Before I can do anything, John grabs my hand and we walk out into the warm Texas sun. I wonder if I have embarrassed him but I look over at him and he is smiling at me the whole time.