Gratitude for Friendship

Have you ever had a friend with whom you share a bond so deep that you can feel it when the person wants to talk to you?  I have such a friend and yesterday she had surgery for cancer.  She was on my Prafile00071829345yer Warrior friend’s prayer list and she was certainly on mine, though I’m not sure how open that channel is.  I send up my gratitude for all that I have, and my “This Could Use Your Attention if You Have Time” list.  God does what God does with that list.  I suspect there’s a celestial wastebasket with my name on it somewhere.  Yesterday he didn’t toss my request in the bin, and for that I am extremely grateful.

Today I wasn’t sure how long to wait until I called her.  Not too early; let her sleep.  Not during doctor rounds.   Not during lunch; can she eat?  Around noon I was antsy and decided to call her…but I couldn’t find my Bluetooth.  When I had my coffee, some cereal, my laptop and my phone all together, I picked up the phone to dial out.  The Missed Call icon was on the screen and it was my friend calling to say that she was on her way home.  Everything was fine and she was good to go.

It is rare that communication with other people is so direct.  I treasure our conversations and the hope that they always bring me.  I feel heard and seen.  She acts as an amplifier for any psychic ability I possess.  When we talk, I can feel more strongly the presence of people who have passed, their emotions and desires.  Both my friend and I have had a wealth of these experiences individually, but put us together and it’s Ghost Central.  Maybe we should open an office.  This is unlikely to happen since we live 250 miles apart, and both of us have life partners who like where they are and have no interest in moving.  So we do what we do over the telephone.  As my sweetie would say, “It is what it is.”  For that, and for so much more, I am grateful.

What Makes A Childhood?


Periodically Facebook posts suggestions such as “Do You Remember These?” accompanied by pictures of household items or TV and movie greats from bygone eras.  They tend to be from the early 1950’s to the 1980’s, as Facebook users seem to start with Baby Boomers, and thirty marks the age at which one traditionally begins that downward slope to the grave.  The items and people in question are meant to evoke a sense of nostalgia for one’s childhood, to conjure up the smells, sounds and sights of better days.

But what actually marks these times as wonderful, weighing heavier than what the textbooks recount as history?  How does one equate the era of Nikita Khrushchev, Eugene McCarthy, atomic bomb drills, and presidential assassination with idyllic childhood?  The answer lies in how our parents shielded us.

Today if you ask any parent of a five-year-old child if it is reasonable to allow the child to roam the neighborhood within about a half mile radius from breakfast to dinner, checking in maybe for lunch, that parent will commend you to the authorities for child neglect.  For an eight-year-old to walk to the movie theater downtown (three quarters of a mile away) unaccompanied would raise eyebrows as well.  And yet we did this back in 1960.

My parents practiced what they called “benign neglect.”  As long as we told them the general vicinity we were going to, and which children we were planning to play with, they were content to let us go.  In fact, on Sunday afternoons we were shooed out of the house and told to go where we wanted, so long as it wasn’t inside the house of any of our friends.  “We are napping and their parents will be too.”  God protect you if you ever entered our parents’ bedroom on those days.  On rainy or snowy days we could inhabit the downstairs of our home, preferably in the farthest reaches of the house.  My personal favorite activity on these days was riding my tricycle on the Persian rugs, something which was strictly verboten.  I was headed for Hollywood, and the faster the better.

Tramping in the two-acre wood behind our house was a special pastime.  There we built forts, played army, hide-and-seek, and vampires until someone called us for supper.  We climbed trees of all sizes, sledded down steep slopes, rode our bikes on all terrains, and paraded the streets in dress-ups.  My personal favorite costume character was lady-of-the-night.  I’m not sure what I thought she did, other than hike up her skirt and stick out her thumb for a ride, but it seemed glamorous to be one.

Did we get into trouble or get hurt?  Of course we did.  I hit a root from the sycamore tree and accidentally popped a wheelie on my brother’s banana seat bike, causing me to fly arms-first down our driveway for twenty feet.  While attempting an arabesque, I hit a pothole and my foot fell off the fender of my Schwinn, landing in the wheel spokes.  My brother and his best friend became lost for hours in a cave which runs under our hometown.  I dared a friend to see how far she could shove a kidney bean up her nose, and a doctor at the ER had to remove it.  We picked raspberries and blackberries from amidst the poison ivy, and cherries from the tallest trees in the neighborhood.  One friend fell thirty feet and broke his arm while trying to wrestle cherries from the upper branches of a tree.  We snuck out to smoke cigarettes, kiss boys, and look “tuff.”  Would I trade these memories for play dates with someone watching us like a hawk while we play inside with Leggos on a sunny day?  Never!

Once my older brother and his friend set off firecrackers around a house up the road, where the “help” was having an unsanctioned party.  The noise was very audible, and when the two miscreants arrived moments later, barely able to contain themselves, Daddy issued a decree that if they weren’t in the house the next time said noises occurred, they would both be punished.  My father’s best friend was visiting and saw an opportunity.  He caught Hugh’s eye and nodded his head toward the kitchen.  One after another they filed out, and I right behind them.  I got a 16oz Coke from the fridge and watched Homer teach them how to use an unfiltered cigarette as a fuse for a firecracker.  I knew better than to give the game away.  When loud bangs erupted all around the outside of our house, Daddy was livid.  The two teenagers were sitting sedately in the living room.  He sputtered and fumed, and then pointed his finger at Homer, “You! You’re the worst, because you think it up!”

My father would have taken a switch to my hide, had he known some of the things I did.  My mother had rules, like no roller skating, no riding my bike off our own street, but she erroneously assumed I would ask permission first.  My thoughts on the matter were that if it wasn’t specifically forbidden, it was ok, and it was always better to ask for forgiveness than permission.  I was less concerned with safety than in not getting caught.

My take-away from this is that our ideas about freedom stem from the parenting styles of our childhoods.  One cannot learn how to act and think independently unless one is given the freedom to play and make mistakes.  I’m not sure how to translate that to inner city conditions, but I expect there is a way.  If we don’t allow our children some arena to explore and think for themselves, they will either rebel in the most dangerous fashion or they will rely on those with the narrowest views to dictate their behavior as adults.


file00012989551My bifocals progress from distance vision to close-up at exactly the center of the monitor screen.  I can’t find my pair of reading glasses; I suspect they’re buried in the pile of papers on the desk next to me, begging me to organize it.  The seat is uncomfortable.  The scanner juts out and forces me to sit at a weird angle to the keyboard.  I’m getting a stiff neck from this position.  Maybe I should wait until I get the computer gear rearranged.  That ought to buy me a week. Then there’s Christmas cards, painting the bathroom, cleaning the cat box, doing the dishes, and on and on and on.  There must be a million ways of avoiding writing.  But why do I go through this?  The analysis could take eons and still never hit the real reason; it becomes yet another form of avoidance.

There are as many stories floating in my head as there are means of avoidance.  There are essays on politics, on the newspaper industry, on living in the country, on the animals with whom I live, on the condition of marriage, on my family of origin, on my friends, and on my own peculiar exploits.  There are science fiction stories, a laundromat thriller, and some O Henry style short pieces.

Nobody else will write these for me.  No one else will put the same spin on them that I would.  I have one friend who would try and I’m sure he would remain faithful to my intent…but his style is so different from mine, that it would never be as if I’d written the stuff.  And I doubt if I’d be satisfied with the finished pieces.  I’m never satisfied with the things I write, so it only stands to reason that someone else’s version would fall short of the mark.  Count that one out.

Once I was so close to death that I could taste it.  I came away feeling driven to do something, to write the story of that event, to write all my stories.  My husband-to-be told me to slow down, to dim my flaring light before I burned it out entirely.  The writing was the first thing to go.  (It has always been the first thing to go.)  Then I began to fear that I might die without imparting all this material.  Mind you, I didn’t fear it enough to sit my fanny down at the computer, but enough to consider passing the information posthumously to some poor sucker via Ouija board.  Automatic writing is quite the fad these days; you can even do it with your computer.  And who says that all those spirits who inhabit the astral plane are up to no good?  Maybe they’re just trying to wrap up a little business before they go to the light.  What’s time to a ghost anyway?

My rationale here seemed so perfect.  I could guide the subject’s fingers on the board or keyboard, just as I might have done myself.  Or, better yet, I could transmit the information telepathically, sending the images directly to the mind of the subject.  There would be no interruptions on my end, for what else would I have to do?

I am assuming that there is no one who will come for me and tell me to set aside my worldly tasks.  Oh, how rude that would be!  To be engaged at last in the dream of a lifetime, with all of eternity at my fingertips, and then to be whisked away into the ether before I can ghost write my literary masterpieces.

But I digress.  The problem is self-discipline, or the lack of it.  A new friend of mine is also a writer; by that I mean she writes things with a beginning, a middle and an end…more than one thing, I think.  She encourages me to join a writers group, where she believes I will be more likely follow through with my good intentions.  She says I must start working out the writer’s muscles, to be exact: write five pages of absolute shit every day.  Adopt this as a creed or a curse.  FPOAS!!!

But I can’t stand to write drivel!  I can’t stand to write and not edit as I go along.  Every fiber in my body rebels at stream of consciousness style.  I DON’T CARE IF IT’S GOOD FOR ME.  I don’t want to do it!  I don’t have writer’s block; I have a bad case of procrastination.  Let me instead write one or two pages of something I can stand to read.  I can’t even do a good rant on the subject of my crazy family for more than three pages at a time.  And, if you can’t rant on for five pages about your family, who or what can you rant about?

I guess the trick is to keep talking, like a good filibuster in the Senate.  An ancient beau of mine was very good at encouraging me in this.

“That’s good,” he’d say, “I want to hear more.”  He believed in uninterrupted creative efforts and also in hashing out relationship woes.   “First you talk, and then I talk.  No, you listen while I talk, and then I will do the same for you.”  It changed the way I approached things in many respects.  But it’s hard to keep it up on my own, and the subsequent relationships have not been with composers or writers.

It’s not the natural order to sit down for several hours at the computer when my love is at home.  There are things to say and do.  The telephone rings, and the day intrudes.  Avoid, avoid, avoid.  Back at square one.  Five pages of absolute shit.  Well, this makes two.



To the initiated lung, breath comes with ease.  Steady in, then out.  Its housing rises and falls to an inner rhythm, broken occasionally by changes in task or by the entrance of an unwanted speck of dust or emotion.  It is such bliss to its owner, when accompanied by delicious scents and flavors, such as chocolate, roses or hemp.

One begins to appreciate this function of life as the rhinovirus takes a firm grip on tender membranes.  Nasal passages swell and drip, forcing a new pattern of breath down your throat.  The tissue is like Dacron: drip-dry and scratchy.  Hoarseness creeps into your larynx and deep honking coughs erupt from parts of the lungs you never knew existed.  For four or five days you sound like a freight train running amok in New York City.  Mercifully, the tube into the ears also swells, making these noises more painful to the outside world than to oneself.

As a child I often listened to my mother’s breath while she slept.  Her snoring was loud and incessant.  To this day I can’t listen to a chainsaw without thinking of her.  My breathing adjusted to the same rhythm as hers, with no effort.  The effect was hypnotic.  Occasionally she ceased abruptly at the height of an inhaled breath, not a sound uttering from her lips…or mine.  Both if us hung on that pulmonary precipice for many seconds, until an equally sudden snort ripped the air, her spirit returning to ground.

Breath is precious; hold it, at all costs.  We children played games with this theme.  How long can you hold your breath?  Time it; the winner gets first pick in the cookie jar.  Usually some other purple-faced child poked a finger in my ribs and tickled me, thereby assuring his or her own win.  On rainy days when my father babysat us, we played hiding games.  How many can hide beneath the skirts of an armchair?  All breath was held in the balance, as his feet thundered past.  The line between real and imagined terrors was fragile, his alcoholic temper being subject to flare at any moment.  Some forty years later I still hold my breath in times of anxiety or excitement.

And then there is that last gasp that everybody fears.  I have been there and back.  In a fit of anaphylaxis I tried everything in my asthmatic’s arsenal to open my swelling bronchial tubes.  The swelling was relentless, tightening its grip like a vice around my throat.  I radiated heat and my ears began to ring loudly.  I clutched my boyfriend and asked, “Do you think this is one of those times you call 911?”  Seconds later I blacked out.  Fortunately he had already called the rescue squad, and ten minutes  after I took my last perceptible breath, they arrived.

Most people don’t survive past ten minutes without breathing.  I survived beyond all the odds.  Even the ER physician counseled my boyfriend that, if I made it, I probably wouldn’t be the person he knew.  I think my lifetime of holding my breath must have enabled me to pass this ultimate test.  Now it’s my turn to have first crack at the cookie jar.

Enter The Cat


In the warm darkness of Madeleine’s guest bedroom, Cosmo was tiring of the catnip mouse. He had chased it around the room and under the bed, batted it up in the air and rubbed it against his muzzle and whiskers to get the full sensory effect of the catnip. He had inspected every surface of the room and thoroughly snuffled all the shoes in the closet. Now it was time for his treat, but Cody had not come back.

Cosmo tucked a striped paw under the door to see if the door would open. It rattled a little but did not give way. He scratched at the door lightly and then put both paws up on the door, arching his full back. He could get the paws up to the knob, but to no avail. He sat back on his haunches and thumped his tail.

Similar noises were rising from the floor below. Something scratch-scratch-scratched, and then there was a tinkling noise. The tabby waited for the sound of a metal lid being peeled from a can. There was no such noise. Instead there was a loud bump followed by a human grunt. All this noise and no treat. Cosmo began to yowl.

Excerpt from The Spin


What Makes People Tick?

Tizzy and Bitty
People are always asking me why I write, where I get ideas for stories. It’s all about daydreams. While you are daydreaming about some good looking person you passed on the street, building your castle in the sky, or drooling over imaginary concoctions of Beef Wellington, I am wondering what drives a person to madness.

We don’t become crazy overnight. Of course there are some cases of chemical or endocrine imbalances, brought on by medication, trauma or sudden illness, which trigger aberrant behavior. But most disturbed individuals get there by degrees. What gets explained as a “fussy baby” grows into a “hyperactive child”, grows into “ADD”, “ADHD” or perhaps becomes diagnosed as  Aspberger’s Syndrome. We want to label or medicate it, thinking that temperamental children become unruly teenagers who may turn violent as adults. That’s the fear, so we sometimes step on the behavior hard, lest it get the better of us. This is the old school notion of discipline. The new school notion is more lenient, less punitive, more time-outs, fewer spankings.

I often wonder why two children, raised by the same parents in ostensibly the same environment, turn out completely differently. I used to babysit two children who exhibited “good child”, “bad child” patterns – and they sometimes swapped positions. I don’t think they ever talked about it or were conscious of the pattern, but it was very visible to me. Somebody always had to be the bad one.

Over time they became the saint and the sinner.  The saint would not only give you the shirt off his back but, should you admire any portable stick of furniture in his house, you’d find it packed in your car when you left.  The sinner battles alcoholism and wavers between model citizenry and vicious verbal assaults on even her oldest friends and staunchest allies. Which one is the most likely to go postal? I’d lay money on the saint.

In The Dark

I stared at the green carbon copy of an office memo with an address hand-printed on it. RR2 Box 347…no city, no zip code. Was this address at the beginning of the Staunton part of my route or at the end of the Waynesboro part? At 4 o’clock in the morning I couldn’t exactly go knocking on doors, nor could I telephone saying, “Hi, I’m your newspaper carrier and I can’t find your house.”

Maybe there was a clue in the street address. Ahh. Here it was: New Hope Rd. But before I could get comfortable with this new information, doubt crept into my mind. Was it New Hope Rd or Old New Hope Rd? Or was it RT 254 or RT 612, both of which some folks called New Hope Rd? Are you with me or did I leave you somewhere around Box 347?

I tried to remember what the person at the circulation desk had told me.

“It’s the place with the black mailbox with gold numbering,” she said, adding, “You can’t miss the potted geraniums or spotted chrysanthemums…whatever.”

I looked about me. The roadside sported a row of fifteen black mailboxes and several of the visible porches had potted somethings on them. With 277 more papers to deliver, I didn’t have time to check out each porch.   Though the mailboxes each glittered with gold numbers, there was no way to tell which were the corresponding dwellings. (As it turned out, the route number and the street address never did match.)

So I bagged fifteen papers with post-its announcing myself as the new carrier on the block, and encouraging the recipients of this free edition to start every day with our paper in hand. I dropped a note in the mail asking her to call me so that we could get it all straight. Three days later we were having coffee and inspecting her chrysanthemums.   I gave her an armload of papers and a gleaming new tube decorated with our company logo…and an orange reflector dot on it, so the next carrier couldn’t miss it in the dark.