Get off your butts world!

OK, I’m visiting a friend at a senior park.  I decided to do a deep dive into every activity they have here.  You know:  research what the oldies are up to.  A confession? In my world, I have an entire book of excuses why I can’t walk 2.5 miles in my pristine forest.  Among other things, the lady mountain lion might get me or a she-bear with cubs could attack me.  That’s highly creative with a tinge of truth.  So here I am in Southern California, the land of high energy and high impact dollies with blonde hair and short shorts, and did I forget the exquisite tans?  But I’m in elderville, after all.  These folks are ancient to the millennials.  And so am I.

So I ponied up to the exercise hour.  One day is walking, the next chair yoga.  I smiled.  What a bunch of pansies, I thought.  Of course, I never included myself in the pansies.  After all, who needs all this exercise hype?

And then Rosie walked in.  She is 92 and counting.  As I watched her do all 4 rounds of the walking impact whatever you call it, I suddenly realized that she is my heroine.  She was quoted as saying: “Don’t give up…We’ve worked hard to get here, There is NO GOING BACK.”

So,  Rosie is my new heroine.  If she can hang in there, so can I.  And by the way, there are no pansies in the crowd that shows up.  They are all dedicated to getting as much exercise as they can.  And glory hallelujah, there isn’t an exercise Nazi in the bunch.  They are all supportive of taking it slow, but doing whatever one can to keep moving.

Maybe our senators and political aspirants need to show up at an elder aerobics class. It might freshen their persepective.  Go team!  Go Rosie!

Clouds and Solteras

OK, I admit to an experiment of sorts.  I’ve stashed myself at the foot of a spectacular cloud forest in Costa Rica.  I’m alone and even the birds are a bit shocked at my rather meager collection of Spanish phrases,  but hey, that is what experiments are designed to be: meanderings into the unknown.

While other expats spend way too much money sitting at perfect sites along the beach, drinking inordinate volumes of umbrella drinks, I count the toucans and ask them to keep on soaring.  I’ve walked this walk before:  solitary (soltera, single babe) on other jaunts worldwide.  Some might be way too quick to view me as some wizened old bitty with wiry hair and smelly old thrift store clothes.  I have to confess:  I brought the whole enchilada:  just in case I was invited to meet el presidente or you know the drill, a night out among them.

A night out among them at this stage of the gig is a bit tremulous.  I live up a long muddy cobblestone road, and then down another equally precarious jaunt down a dark path.  No thank you.  I’ll hang with my toucans.  Oh and I adore my mosquito net which I hauled in my suitcase.  Twenty bucks at Amazon and worth every penny! I recline while mosquitos wait eagerly outside to pounce.  I picture myself as Meryl Streep in “Out of Africa”….waiting for Robert Redford.  He hasn’t arrived yet but one can light the lamp and hope.

Writing retreats are cool.  They engender comradery and so many thought provoking inlets while writing buddies wax poetic.  The solitary route bespeaks of monks and monkettes and talking to God.  Hell, I’ll talk to the wee hummingbirds that buzz my laptop daily.  Napping when I wish, rising in the middle of the night to write, wandering along the path next to the thundering river?  all mine and no I don’t spend multiple hours sharing on Facebook.  It’s my walk for now.  When I need to engage with another human, I’ll put on my happy coat and meander beyond the gate.  My Spanish is somewhere between horrible and hey she’s improving.  Expats are few and far between.  It’s kind of a difficult choice I’ve made, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A gecko just crossed the doorstep.  He is always watching me from the ceiling and then meanders down to stare at what I am writing.  I wish I could do that ceiling maneuver but as a homo sapiens, it just isn’t our gig.  So I”m here.  Sometimes I listen to the beating of my own heart.  Sometimes I remember God knows what of my rather unique life.  Memoir? maybe but I’m actually not that self-absorbed.  I’ll stand at a distance and write someone’s story but with another name attached.  For now, this is more than enough,  yes, enough is a tremulous word,  MORE THAN enough suits me just fine.  And Mr. Redford, if your GPS has misdirected you to another cloud forest, so be it.

 

Freedom Earned

It was now clear that the door was swinging open widely:  “Catch me if you can” was the prime directive.  Suddenly life had become more alive. Nothing surrounded me except my own personal joie de viv. The need to behave, conform and worst of all fit in were now shed like last summer’s stretched out bathing suit.

The sheer guts it took to keep walking, in fact, skipping forward was now a game of spiritual aerobics.  All the happy camper things I had learned so long ago, that had been shelved for enforced behavior mod and believing in the corporate song and dance were now awakening again.

Life would certainly be intriguing. If nothing else, I’d do what I’d always wanted to do:  live off shore in a cool place (to be defined) and WRITE!  Wheels up!

 

 

A Memory or Two on V Day

OK, It’s time for a confession of sorts.  I am a powerful babe but Lord have I tripped on a few misconceptions.  Before the dawn of time, I found myself at University with some fairly cool friends.  We used to hang out at The Grill at USC and our one goal was to impress one another.  One had to race for the latest copy of Times to speed read it and then casually drop pearls at the table.  Whoever pre-empted the others got the booby prize: a startled look and a “Dang!” from the others.  In those days, women scientists were few among the mix so the gathering was always lopsided with guys.

But on the Eve of Valentine’s day I was desperate.  I didn’t give a damn about the Times magazine and impressing the dreary lot.  I wasn’t dating anyone regularly and so the possibility of candy, flowers and silky nothings was somewhat remote.  But undaunted, I decided to put out a tiny request.  Of course I did it with perfect covert tactics.  I removed myself from the dialogue at that sacrosanct Grill and then interjected a thought into the mix.

“Y’know? It’s a shame we don’t all just simplify.  None of us girls need a full blown dozen of long stemmed red roses.  We’d even settle for ONE, One sweet little red rose bud.  After all, it says the same thing.  And by the way, it isn’t necessarily I love you forever.  It just kind of says, Hey, babe, I’m thinking of you.

I deliberately avoided eye contact but noted a silence in the group at that fated table.  Next day, I showed up after Chemistry class.  There was the same crowed of intellectuals and as I sat down, one of them, a good friend, not a lover, quietly handed me that red rose.  I have loved that moment forever.

Two years later, I found myself again, in a similar position, only at a different university in a different grill.  By that time, I had kissed a few frogs.  I had two closeted gay friends and I issued the same rose treatise.  They were professors and very very formal men.  I don’t think they were a couple, but who cares?

The next morning, I called in sick.  I just couldn’t face Valentine’s Day without a rose.  Call me a wuss, but I needed that validation.

On February 15, I resumed my research post and put on my lab coat and prepared for the day.  As I opened the refrigerator to get out some lab preps, I gasped.  There was a single rose in a vase.  Oh ye of little faith, I told myself and smiled.  The card read:  Hey, girl, no need to play sick.  Here’s your damned rose!  Happy V Day,  Ron.

Now, decades later, I still remember those two roses, both from men who were not my lovers, just my fabulous friends.  And YES, it was simple.  One rose.

Invitations of Various Kinds

Disclaimer:  this is a casual trip around the cosmos, with absolutely no direction whatsoever.  Caution:  Read at your own risk and not while driving.

Years ago, I read a poem entitled “The Invitation” by Oriah Mountain dreamer.  I strongly suspect that this was not her given name but it matters not.  She gave it to herself kind of like my non de plume Madam Truefire.  I’m sure each has its own story of origin. Oriah’s prose poem is not flowery and it doesn’t rhyme.  I envy her that poem because every word speaks directly to my heart. After many years, it remains timeless and most of all precious. I wish I would have written it, but that’s the beauty of words that fly across the page. Sometimes they are mine and I have to wait for the ink to dry.  Other times they are on a printed page written by another author. I get to choose a variety of options: asterisk the line, put a tiny pencil mark at the side, roughly turn the corner of the page down or use yellow out.  It then starts to appear “dog eared” which is an intriguing term.

When I’m reading something fabulous, the yellow out marker makes some chapters literally glow in the dark, and somehow this means I’ve owned the book.

I love buying used books on Amazon and in cool old book stores.  In truth, Amazon gets fairly prissy over the amount of usage.  They don’t have a loved to bits and beaten up and scribbled on choice.  Some of the kooky old nook stores accept books with notes on the side.  I love those notes.  They say:  someone out there read this book too and this is what he/she thought.  Getting a brand new book is a different story.  It is clean, immaculate and no thought forms stalk the pages save one’s own.  It feels sterile and requires owning in the reader’s hands.

When I was in my early twenties , I found myself smack in the middle of what Kerouac called the Beat Generation. By day I worked in tropical medicine research at UCLA  so I wasn’t exactly the type to drop acid and lie around in a pile.  However, my student dishwasher in the lab explored the universe nightly with his eclectic friends. I was invited to some of those soires where philosophy majors, drugs and wine and much pacing and dialog occurred.  I always stayed straight and sober enough to drive home. And hallucinogens were off limits.  I figured I did enough spontaneous trips on my own without them.

When I left that position at UCLA  to go off on a wild goose chase love affair which ended in an off shore marriage, two kids, and a divorce, I felt duty bound to divest myself of certain things.  After all, I was “in love” with a conservative Australian physician.  I needed to rise to some level of dignity.  I needed to grow up. So I began to divest.

I gave that dishwasher my wine stained, dog eared copy of “On the Road”.  He could have squeezed it out and had a good modicum of wine to sip.  That day, he looked at me like I had handed him the Holy Grail.  It’s been over 40 years since that book flew into his possession by fate, and I wonder where that darling boy is.  I’ve tried to find him a number of times, but he remains elusive.  With the way he lived, he may have left the planet.  He loved marijuana and LSD and living on the edge.   His life was one trip after another.  I’ve often thought of that ragged book and that look on his face. It became his bible.

An aside if you will,

I proved my somewhat straight laced life style a number of years later.  The “traveling folks” had progressed from LSD to Ecstasy, the feel good hallucinogen. I called my friend, an opera singer in Malibu.  It was New Year’s Day and I wanted to wish her well.  She was the Empress of Events:  kooky spiritual gatherings in a salon in a mansion above the cliffs that overlooked the Pacific.

I was there for several of her eclectic events and I’m here to assure you that she would never lose her position as Empress.  Of course she was gorgeous with long flowing blonde hair and a voice like an angel.  Couple those attributes with exotic Thai silk caftans and she looked like she floated several feet above the ground.  She also possessed the keys to magic.  We all played our parts in her royal court.  I dutifully lit 100 candles and then set up projectors with slides of beautiful transformational images.  A lovely older black man always showed up to spontaneously create ambiance on the grand piano and jam with that exotic diva.  And then there was the grateful audience who often brought poems or just jumped from their silken pillows to spontaneously recite some eternal truth.

I’ve often wondered if Walden Pond was a bit like this.  Still, Emerson and Thoreau were New Englanders not Californians so it probably was far more reined in.

What I’m remembering now is that during one of her majestic salons, the Empress taught us all freedom, the ability to express beauty in any way we saw it.

But I digress. It happened to be New Years Day around noon.  I dialed her number and that sweet voice of hers drifted across the line.

“Darling!  Happy New Year, Darling!  You must come up and join us! We’re all nude lying around snuggling and need your Divine Presence.  We’re about to do another round of ecstasy.”

Maybe there was a time when I would have accepted that invitation and jumped for my car keys; but that day, the vision of thirty or so nudes on ecstasy, cuddling in a scattered pile was not my preference.  I wasn’t ever a goody two shoes but walking into the room, cold turkey, let alone into a pile of stoned naked hippies did not appeal to me.

I graciously bowed out with an excuse of having children returning from time with their dad, or maybe the biblical I am sorry I have bought me a team of oxen…Even the bible is rife with usable excuses.

But hey!  Back to page one after this rocky trip around the universe.  I long for the salon gig.  I’d stand and read Oriah’s “Invitation” with a background of the sea and a hundred candles twinkling.  Then again, I just might read some of my own prose while someone spontaneously dissolved those images of mine on the wall.

But, now there would be interruptions of dings of approaching texts.  Unless of course, I demanded a cell free zone and put a basket outside the door where one could dump all electronic devices.

Much to ponder as the bath water cools and the snow outside melts.

Another day of of What if I had Nothing whatsoever I had to do today at all.

Dueling with Insideous Writer’s Block

Maybe the most agonizing aspect of being a writer is the challenge of the ever looming writer’s block. I’ve dueled with it many times in my career and have finally come to some sort of detente with it.

Like kids with lots of energy need naps, so do writers.  Some operate on the premise that after all, it’s a job.  They get fairly ritualistic over it all.  You know:  2.3 cups of freshly ground coffee, toast with avocado to be followed by a shower and then, of course, the uniform…something that respects the craft.  These prissy individuals, some on the best seller list by the way, feel that one must respect one’s craft.

Years ago I went kicking and screaming from corporate suits, panty hose and the ever present time clock.  In my world, that combination was anethema to my creativity.

So I set up a writer’s nook at home, complete with a desk that had a view of the garden outside.  I’d tidy my desk top, line up my pens and then hopefully stare out at the hydrangeas.  It didn’t work.  Command of the craft was like ordering a Prince Charming on sale at Amazon.  It wasn’t my way.

So I took a wilder route:  spontaneity.  I figured that if Ernest Hemingway could write on cocktail napkins, as the bulls raced through the streets of Pamplona, I would try this raucous free-lance gig.  It stuck.  I wrote on backs of bills, in dollar store nothing books, and grabbed anything I could with a surface.  I even tried dictating to a recorder.  I felt like an ass speaking into it so now I just press record for ideas that fly into my brain. Never, repeat Never, on command.

Eventually, I had what shrinks might call a psychic split.  Words would spontaneously arrive, sometimes in the middle of the night.  Sometimes in the shower.  Sometimes driving 90mph on I-5in the middle of nowhere.  By the way, it never occurred to me to pull over at a rest stop.  That would ruin the moment and fortunately on that particular day I had someone beside me.

This is God’s own truth.  I politely asked my friend to steer while I wrote.

If someone from the DMV reads this, I’ll deny it all.

The process, however, worked.  I had some cool music on the CD and again, politely asked my dear friend is she could steer one more time while I read aloud to see if the music and words worked together.  It was a slam dunk.

I need to explain that I-5 goes through a helluva lot of boonies so it wasn’t as dangerous as it sounds.

When we arrived at my home, I knew I still needed more.  After all, it was a script for a presentation on Mother Earth and Mother clearly had more to say.

At 3AM I crept out into the living room and wrote the second half.  Order? ritual? no just taking time to honor my muses.  And therein lies the option of psychic split or honoring my muses.

I found soon enough that there was a serious and scientific me an then, Whoa Nelly!, the muse, actually the muses arrived cackling with laughter, sometimes sobbing in agony, anger at the way things appear or wildly passionate with descriptions of wonder.

My “marriage” with my muses is a wonderful love afair that never ends. But freedom is the quintessential agreement.  I don’t get to push.  Deadlines are for dead folks.  Timelines are for those who think they can control the process.

Freedom means admitting to my feeble scribbling hand that sometimes my muses need to take off for the Bahamas.  They reside there in some elegant BNB, snooze in beach chairs and drink umbrella drinks until they get the inclination to return.

In the meantime, I’m on shore looking anxiously through the fog.  But they do return, Always, but Never EVER on command. That’s the way they roll.

A few years back, I wrote a novel about Merlin and the Lady of the Lake.  I was also attempting to finish a fabulous novella that I had started in the Himalayas. I just couldn’t figure out how to finish it.

I received an invitation to Scotland and I jumped at the chance.  After all, Merlin was a Scot.  I had to travel through the mirthless Heathrow airport and was vetted as a Yank who might want to make money in the UK.  I was asked:  Will you be making money while you are here?  Fortunately I answered, O heck now:  I’m praying it will become a best seller down the road.  I’m only here to write.”  Just in case you are wondering, had I answered some egocentric b.s. regarding fame and of course, I’d be making money, they would have put me back on a plane to the US.  That actually happened to someone foolish.

After a few days in Glastonbury and ….. I eventually made it to Highland Cottage on Iona, in the Inner or Outer Hebrides.  I never figured that one out.  That first night I was alone, it stormed and high winds tossed the waves. At 2:30 AM I heard “whisperings”, repeat phrases, sing songy repetition.  I growled, “Go away!.  The sing songy phrases continued.  In desperation, I grabbed my journal and pen and wrote in the dark for over an hour.

When the words stopped, I reached for the wee lamp.  Pages lay before me.  The storm had not abated so I climbed out of bed, turned on the overhead light and read it all aloud to the storm and the crashing waves.  Half way through, I started to sob but kept the reading pace going.  I had finished the last two chapters of my beloved novella.

I promise you, I could never in my scientific half come up with such a spectacular ending.

From that day forward, I deeply honor my muses and try not to notice when they are throwing stuff in their suitcases and preparing for the Bahamas.  Maybe that’s the trick, not pushing. ….waiting and napping until the return.

The Quintessential Writing Tool

As a budding corporate marketing specialist, some 40 years ago, I lived a screaming, stress-filled life of early rising, getting the kids off to school, freeway madness and the thorough nonsense of a job that didn’t fulfill me.

I began the search for the quintessential writing tool.  It was a board to fit across the bathtub to enable me to have a wee glass of wine and write.  My daughter, seven years old at the time, found the perfect match.  This board supported my glass, journal and pen.  Both of my girls knew that this time in the bath was MINE.  Aside from the return of the Apocalypse, I was not to be disturbed.

During that healing time, I realized something profound:  it helped me heal all three:  mind, body and spirit AND I did not punch into somebody else’s time clock.  Lord, I hated that time clock!

Sometime that year I started a “Be Do Have” workshop.  It was pretty much the beginning of what came to be known as the New Thought Movement.  Heck!  This kind of stuff was ancient.  We robot humans had simply forgotten.  It ignited my longing for change.

So I soaked my sorry backside while I balanced the board and wrote whatever I pleased. Wow!  No more stunningly boring reports on chemical processes or biomedical white papers.  I now have come to suspect anything that has to do with white papers.  They signal pontification and falling asleep after the third paragraph.

So I wrote poetry, free-lance anything that came to my pen and it was delicious.

When I had enough of time clocks, I escaped to the orient and eventually to Kathmandu.

…..

As the water was draining from my current bath, I realized that the precious board enabled me to write without getting water spots on my pages, so I am now putting out a call for someone with a board of precise dimension (29 inches x 7 inches, x 1 inch width).  Looking back, I have no idea how my daughter found that exact dimension which fit perfectly across the enamel enclosure.  I even wrote a resignation letter from that board.  It was time to move on and explore other options.

What I then remembered was a wish I have always harbored:  to be a syndicated columnist…you know,  one that writes pithy stuff that is quick to read.  Abby made a ton of bucks advising folks and she was the queen of pith. I’ve never really done the Dear G stuff but I’m kind of a fantasy historian story teller hybrid.

When I was twenty-four, I got bored with a research position at UCLA.  It was prestigious but also hideously repetitious.  I looked to the horizon and asked for co-ordinates to the best escape route I could find.  Since a friend was signing up for “Project Hope”, a hospital ship that cruised (do ships themselves cruise?) to parts unknown, I applied as well.  All I knew is I didn’t care about the somewhere.  It was pretty much anywhere.

So I interviewed and when my walking papers arrived, they said Nicaragua, Central America.  My boyfriend and I had to take out a map to find Nicaragua.  So much for U.S. Citizens and their knowledge base of even the Americas.

At that time, the Sandinista revolution was on the back burner.  The esteemed Anastasio Somoza was running the country. That year was what I call my before and after year.  I came back changed forever.  I would never be happy with North American status quo again.

And as for the after, I’ve continuously longed for far away places. I have become the High Priestess of frequent flyers. I’ve written in the dead of winter on an island in the outer Hebrides.  I’ve sat behind mosquito netting in Kenya and read to a local tribal woman.  I’ve also been accused of a certain addiction to travel when I hopped on a plane to go do a video documentary on a pig farm in Uganda. That is the gig that had my wings clipped for awhile.

But back to Nicaragua.  My mom and dad bought me one of those fancy reel to reel recorders.  I would sit out on deck at night and dictate letters.  There was no email or Face Book then and it was either dictate or write a letter and still chance it getting lost.

When I returned stateside, my mom handed me the letters I had written home.  Without telling me, she had contacted a journalist with the newspaper and yes, he had a syndicated column.  He shared my stories word for word and never gave me a byline.

Mom told me that when I went on hiatus for a while, this same journalist called frequently for more stories.  Readers had loved the pieces and wanted more adventures of the wild dame in the tropics.

As I write this today, that journalist is likely 6ft under, (turkey that he was and is).  He stole my credit, my byline.

But hey, I still somehow qualified  a “syndicated columnist.”

Reading the day to day of that year is now priceless.  A girl friend honored me by mixing her famous margueritas and asking me to read those letters aloud.  It was my birthday somewhere in my sixties, and well, she loved the stories.  It was magical as I stood and read them, sipped the marg and shed a few tears.

So I’m calling for the board.  I just found a shelf I could improvise. besides, who needs more doodads on a shelf when I just might write the Great American Novel with that shelf in the tub.

I’m also packing a mini laptop and sorting through my frequent flyer options and still valid visas.  Before I escape, however, I’m going to gather all my stories in one place and honor them.

Time passes far too quickly and Emily Dickinson, eat your heart out.  I’m not dying with my boots on with a trunk load of writing to be honored posthumously.

Get out of the way snooty agents and publishers.  I’ll do it myself and yes, I’ll take the by line.