Tag Archives: Life

Sunday Sweetness–Robert Frost

frost

Another day to get it right, to make things better.  Another day to love myself.  

This quote from Robert Frost reminded me of a piece I wrote last summer at the beach:  “The Sorrows of Your Changing Face.”  It all goes on.  

Petanque

Today’s writing prompt was “If you had a time machine and you could return to one point in your life, where would you go and why?”

My first reaction to this game is always, “What’s the POINT?”  It’s silly to think that I could go back and change a major event in my life.  The whole skein unravels if I tug on one thread and I like where I am now.  Even with sadness that I’ve known, how could I push it away without pushing away the gladness?  Would I go back to that day in grad school when I first laid eyes on Fartbuster?  Or to the day I found out he was cheating?  Why?  If I weren’t that broken-hearted person I became because of loving him, I wouldn’t have been on the side of the highway that morning that I met Richard.  And he wouldn’t have had me beside him when he died.  I can’t have one without the other.  It’s all one life.

Maybe I could revisit a time in my life when I had a clean house and nine hours of sleep a night, but I would undo the tired joys of having two people who light up when they say “Mama!”

As I was pondering this, my friend Robin sent me a Wendell Berry poem:

No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now, and always.
And so you have become a sort of tree
standing over the grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.

~ Wendell Berry ~

(The Sabbath Poems, 1993, I)

“Every day you have less reason not to give yourself away.”  So where would I go in my time machine?  I don’t want to undo anything, but there is one time I wish I had said Yes instead of No.  When I held myself close instead of being open.  A small sadness but one that has stuck with me.  Here’s when I would go now that I have less reason not to give myself away:

Paris.  December 28, 2005.  A chilly gray morning in a small park by the Eiffel Tower.  It was the third day of my solo trip to Paris and I had my feet under me.  I’d seen the view from the top of the Tour back when I was 21 and in Paris for the first time.  So that morning, as a widow waking up to the world again, I avoided the crowds and barkers near the base of the attraction and walked farther away.  To get some perspective.

My hands were jammed into the pockets of my black cashmere coat, the one I bought just for that trip so I could look more French and less American.  A red and yellow crushed velvet scarf warmed my throat.  Just a woman, walking in Paris.  On her own.

Boule.kugelI stopped to watch a group of elderly men playing petanque.  It’s like bocce or lawn bowling, but French.  There’s one small ball in the middle of the sandy court and each player throws larger metal balls at it in the hopes of tapping the “jack.”

They chided each other after bad throws.  Their laughter billowed in clouds in the frozen air.  Their heads were covered with black wool berets.  They rubbed their hands together to keep them warm and blew hot air into them while they waited turns.  They whooped like little boys and clapped at a masterful toss.  They argued among themselves over the close calls.  

They were busy enjoying each other and didn’t seem to mind that I was watching them.  I watched them for several minutes as my still feet grew colder and colder.  It was time to get back to walking before I froze in place.  I pulled my camera from my messenger bag and took a few snapshots of their game.

Then, in the way of French men who love all kinds of women, even the sad and dark, one of them signaled to me to come over.  I smiled broadly but didn’t come any closer.  Another grandpere turned to me with a friendly wave and invited me to join the game.  I laughed out a “Non, merci!”  

Then I continued my walk.  

That’s the moment I would return to.  I would say “Oui, s’il vous plait!  Merci!”  I would let myself be welcomed.  I would let myself be awkward and silly.  

I would give myself away.  Un petit cadeau.  

Here’s a gift for you to share with someone today.  

wendell berry tree with poem

 If you’d like to read other “time travel” stories, check them out over at My So-Called Glamorous Life.

It’s a Habit

OK, it’s Monday night and I’m high.

High on life.  Coming off a nine day vacation straight into a new job.  Where I get to do interesting things with people whom I genuinely like.  At home, I find myself surrounded by loveliness.  A sparkling jewel of a pool.   The wildflowers and roses in the backyard are singing in the rain.  Our grill still has gas in it from last summer.  I paid all the bills and had some dollars left until payday.  The children are acting like Von Trapps.  It was Father’s Day and they made hand print art in a wide variety of adorableness.

That kind of high.

Here’s a good soundtrack to that kind of high.  It’s called “Follow Your Arrow” by Kasey Musgraves, from her album Same Trailer, Different Park.  Get ready to whistle for the rest of the day!  I don’t listen to the radio much these day (or the Pandora-Sirius-youtube-interwebs either) so it took an episode of CBS Sunday Morning to introduce me to this album.  One listen to one song and I was on amazon buying it!

On another note (I promise to tie all this together, but first, to make a long story longer…), I’ve started subscribing to Seth Godin’s blog on the advice of my friend Michelle.  He’s a marketing guru (so is she!) but his daily thoughts on customer service, viral marketing, social media, etcetera get me thinking.  The other day, his topic was“Angry Is a Habit.”  Here’s an excerpt:

It’s easy to imagine habits like a scotch after dinner, biting your nails or saying, “you know” after every sentence. An event or a time of day triggers us, and we go with the habit. It’s easier than exploring new territory–it’s merely a thoughtless response to an incoming trigger.
 
But emotions can become habits as well.
 
Distrustful is a habit.
 
Lonely is a habit.
 
Generous is a habit.
 
 

Happy is a habit.  Because I’m happy today–and that “happy” translates to a complex combination of  rested+energetic+validated+challenged+cherished+nourished+useful–I see happy things all around me.  All around me in the same flea-bitten trashy house filled with the snot-nosed kids and the piles of laundry.  Seriously, we are so behind on laundry that I wore maternity underwear today.  And they weren’t exactly baggy.  Whatever!

But when I’ve had the chance to follow my arrow for a while, I get back to this happy place.  Just now, I looked over and saw Jinx the cat asleep on my cesspit of a desk.  I saw the little kitten my dad rescued from a trash can instead of the teetering stack of bills and magazines.  It’s 10pm and the kitchen still smells like the dinner dishes that are stacked in the sink, but that wrecked kitchen means we have plenty of food and I made a tasty meal from it.  Carlos still didn’t eat it, but he manages to thrive on a diet of bananas and air with some dog hair stuck to the bananas.

I tried to grill hamburgers tonight, but thunderstorms put an end to that.  So I broiled them, but they were still pink inside after 30 minutes and the smoke alarm going off twice.  So I fried those bastards in a frying pan right on top of the stove.  And while I waited for them to cook, I looked out the kitchen window and enjoyed watching the butterfly bush drinking in the rain.

Well, when I get this high (ON LIFE), I start to ramble I guess.  And I want to eat cake and Doritos, but that’s typical for any night.

So go make lots of noise, kiss lots of boys, kiss lots of girls if that’s something you’re into…when the straight and narrow gets a little too straight…follow your arrow wherever it points.

What are you seeing differently today?  Which way is your arrow pointed?

Training My Butterflies

vivi with butterflyWhen’s the last time you had a stomach full of butterflies?  I’ve got a big change coming at work so my tummy has been fluttering a lot lately.  I have to remind myself that butterflies come from a GOOD place.  Unfortunately, anxiety and anticipation live next door to each other in my stomach and I’ve got to check in with the butterflies every now and then to corral them into the right zone.  

The first time I noticed their proximity was December 25, 2001….almost midnight.  I lay in a narrow wrought iron bed in my parents’ extra room.  Couldn’t sleep.  In the morning, I would wake and drive myself to the airport where I would meet Richard.  We were taking our first big trip together, to Amsterdam and Bruges for New Years.  I had joy and adventure ahead, but I couldn’t sleep.  I lay there with my stomach tied in knots and I asked myself, “Why am I so anxious?”  

I was one year out of a decade-long bad marriage to Fartbuster.  We had never managed to adventure much in our years together…not from any lack of wanderlust on my part.  I couldn’t talk Fartbuster into going out on a Friday night for pizza and a movie because it was just too much trouble for him.  We might SEE PEOPLE.  For 10 years, the only butterflies I got were from anxiety, that creeping feeling that something was going to go wrong and it would be my fault.   

But there I was, hours away from a grand adventure with someone I loved, who loved me.  Someone who had a lot of experience with adventuring and was excited about showing me how to step out into the world.  Richard lived by the mantra, “If it doesn’t hurt anyone else, why not?”  Lying there in that narrow bed, that’s when it hit me:  this isn’t anxiety; this is anticipation!  Maybe because it was Christmas.  Remember Christmas Eve night when you were a kid and you could try and try and try as hard as you could to fall asleep but you just couldn’t make your body stop being excited?  That’s where I was that night–32 years old and feeling the excitement of Christmas for the first time in my adult life!  So I lay there and let myself be excited and happy.  These butterflies were from the sneaking suspicion that something was going to go RIGHT and it would all be my doing!  

Mistaking anticipation for anxiety is simply a habit that I often fall into.  I catch myself interpreting all this nervous energy about my new opportunities and labeling it “anxiety” when really it’s anticipation.  I’m thrilled to have something new to do.  I’m excited to have a new space and new coworkers and new challenges.  I feel alive again.  But being alive comes with far more risks than living numb.  I have to retrain my butterflies to flutter over to the side of my stomach that is ready to grow.  

The best case of butterflies I ever had happened in February 2007.  I had been antsy all night and at about 11pm, I found myself sitting on the sofa with my hand on my belly…wondering why I was anxious.  After all, I had butterflies in my stomach and that equates to anxiety, right?  Then it dawned on me that that fluttering feeling inside me was my baby girl, stretching her wings in a way I could finally feel. 

So when WAS the last time you felt butterflies?  Anxiety or anticipation?  

“You Keep Going”

It’s turned into “Spencer Week” here on Baddest Mother Ever.  That’s the cool thing about writing my own blog–I never know on Monday where I will have written to by Friday.

One of his friends told the story of a time Spencer brought an actual Tony Award to work.  He went from office to office and had each of his coworkers hold the award…so that they could then hand it back to him and he could practice reaching out for it and cradling it while he said “Thank you!”

Thank you, bright boy, for these words you left with us.  Click on the photo to hear Spencer’s own words about what it’s all about.
Spencer Interview

This next clip is from the memorial service.  It includes the above footage of Spencer’s interview in the documentary followed by an emotional performance by Kathryn Kitt of her brother Tom’s song “I Miss the Mountains.”  The song is from the Tony Award winning musical “Next to Normal.”  It’s sung by a woman who’s living a “normal” life thanks to mental health medications, but she misses the highs and lows of her old life.

But I miss the mountains
I miss the dizzy heights
All the manic magic days
And the dark depressing nights
I miss the mountains
I miss the highs and lows
All the climbing, all the falling
All the while the wild wind blows
Stinging you with snow
And soaking you with rain
I miss the mountains
I miss the pain
 

As Kathryn sings, a photo montage of Spencer’s life plays in the background.  I must have been sitting by the sound guy because I can hear myself laugh at a couple of points.  A couple of sobs, too.

Spencer Cox – A Celebration of Life – Kathryn Kitt Accompanied by Tom Kitt from LIPTV 5 on Vimeo.

Eight Million to One

Yesterday, I told the story of the chalk portrait of Spencer Cox, drawn with such skill and love by Jose Luis Silva.  I’d tell you where to find it so you can see for yourself, but it’s already gone.

Why sweat over art that will be washed away before you lie down to sleep that night?  Why write stories and fling them into the digital winds?  What remains of the work we do?

I am a storyteller (genetically, historically, unabashedly) so I tend to attach roles to the people in my life.  (You’ve met Fartbuster, right?)  Spencer was “the AIDS activist.”  I know other people who are HIV positive or who have AIDS, but Spencer was “my friend who lives with AIDS.”  I remember where I was sitting back in the early 1990’s when I heard the news that he had the virus.  I was sitting in a dainty mahogany armchair with Queen Anne legs, mother of pearl accents and a pink taffeta seat that my mother had covered with scraps for my graduate school apartment.  That was the same year that Arthur Ashe revealed he had AIDS.  So Spencer was dying, then.   I filed that away.  I hadn’t seen him since college.  I didn’t see him again for years.

Then came the 20th year since we all met at the Governor’s Honors Program in 1985.  We had email by now and a reason to get back together.  I had a freshly broken heart from the death of my husband from leukemia.  Spencer knew a lot about watching people die, so we began to talk about grief and surviving and getting back to living.  I remember a time when he compared grief to the silt at the bottom of a lake–sit still and it will clear, let it sift down and you will see the glints of gold.  Grief will rest after a while.  Mud distills into gold.  He didn’t make it back to Georgia for the 20th reunion, but we were connected again and I was grateful for his wisdom about dying.  And I was grateful that he was still alive.  I had no concept of how much he had done to make life available to people living with HIV.  Really, no idea.  I thought he was a fundraiser or something in New York and wore an ACT UP t-shirt on weekends.

Then came Facebook.  The years collapsed into nothing and we were all back together again.  My Vivi stories convinced Spencer that they were soul mates and he looked forward to serving as her Auntie Mame.  We got together a few times and I joked that he was the only friend of mine who doesn’t get a lecture about quitting smoking.  He barked out a sooty laugh and said, “The cigarettes will NEVER have time to catch me!”  Oh, how we laughed.  Twenty years and he was still here.  I told him that he was the most interesting person I knew and he snarled, “Jesus, I’m a 40 yr old man who lives with my mother.”  He was 43, by the way.  What a luxury, to outrun AIDS long enough to lie about your age!

Spencer cox ACT UP marchWe did get to praise Spencer’s work before he died–there was the movie, the Oscar-nominated documentary “How to Survive a Plague.”  We who had loved him at 16 began to learn what a giant contribution he had made to the fight against the plague of AIDS.  Spencer had always been larger than life and now he was getting to tell his story on the big screen.  He changed his Facebook name to “Spencer Squeaky Cox” after meeting Sarah Jessica Parker at a showing of the film and deciding that he needed a catchier triple moniker.  He was so alive in those heady days of interviews and panels and premieres.

I knew it was bad when I didn’t hear back from him for a week.  Then I got two phone calls at work within minutes–Bryn and Debra.  I answered the second one because I knew.  He was gone.  I didn’t have a “friend with AIDS” anymore.

At the memorial in New York, the eulogists spoke in chronological order:  his brother, his GHP friends, a college buddy, early NYC friend, ACT UP comrades, his ex, his broken-hearted and furious apologist.  Spencer’s magnificent work unfolded before us.  I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.  The video tributes from Anthony Fauci, Anderson Cooper, Larry Kramer–talking about that boy I met in Valdosta.  Tony-winning composer Tom Kitt played the piano as his sister, Katherine, sang “I Miss the Mountains” and I sobbed.

It began to sink in that even as Spencer was gone, there were people in that theater who were alive today because of him.  The face of AIDS that I had attached to one person in my life was all around me.  Many men who sat there in the light from the stage and nodded with an understanding that glowed from their sharp cheekbones and careful eyes.  Spencer’s drive.  His passion.  His pig-headed genius.  He did it.  He got protease inhibitors pushed through.  He found a way to fight the plague.

I heard the eulogists say “eight million people are alive because of Spencer,” several times but that number is so large that it is impossible to envision.  Then the man sitting beside us turned and said, “I’m one of them.”  Eight million people living.  One man, living.  I could touch this man.  I did.  Not a handshake or even a hug.  With some reflex that came from deep in my heart and overrode all my polite training, I reached out and stroked his fine cheekbone.  I cupped his aging face like I was his mother.  I wanted him to know I was happy he was here.  Eight million….to one.

Word Swaps: “I Don’t Have Time To…”

dont-have-time

How many hours does Martha Stewart have in a day?

How many hours does Michelle Duggar have in a day?

How many hours does Serena Williams have in a day?

How many hours does Ang Suu Kyi have in a day?

How many hours do you have in a day?  Yup, 24.  Same as everyone else who has ever lived.

Today’s challenge is a powerful word swap that I learned from my boot camp coach.  She doesn’t tolerate when someone says, “I don’t have time to exercise.”  You have to phrase it, “Exercise is not a priority for me.”  Ouch.  That puts the responsibility on…ME.

It’s true!  We all have the same amount of hours in the day.  Some of us have 19 children to wrangle.  Some of us dedicate huge blocks of time to athletic training.  Some of us sacrifice sleep to fight for social justice.  Some of us have businesses we built from nothing.  Some of us have immaculate homes.  We allocate time to whatever we make a priority.

Claiming “I don’t have time” can be helpful when I use it as an excuse to say no to something I don’t want to do.  I don’t have time to clean the baseboards.  Cleaning baseboards is not a priority.  Yeah, I’m OK with that.  But when it comes to something that I want to do but I’m not doing, using “not a priority” over “I don’t have time” makes me refocus on how I am spending my time.  For years, I said, “I don’t have time to write.”  Now I blog every day and I love it.  I made it a priority.  I quit running when I was pregnant with Carlos and I miss it.  If I keep telling myself I don’t have time to run, I’ll keep avoiding it.  But if I have to say, “Running isn’t a priority for me,” and that feels like an untruth, I better make time.  If I can say it and it feels true, I can let go of the idea that I want to be running right now.

Try it today!  Think of something that you’ve written off because you don’t have time.  Now rephrase it as “that’s not a priority” and see how it feels.  If it feels true, good for you!  If it doesn’t feel true, make it a priority!

Laura VanderKam seems to be the  source of the “it’s not a priority” language.  Her book 168 Hours:  You Have More Time Than You Think is on my Kindle.  Now I just have to make it a priority…