I Flew To Where He Was

Once upon a time, my father wrote me letters.

I was 60 when I found them, excavating my childhood, exploring the boxes that had been in my attic since my mother’s death four years earlier. Boxes that contained my high school graduation announcement; a dried corsage, a faded memory of a long-ago senior prom; a good citizenship award from eighth grade, report cards from seventh; a menu dated Le 28 Novembre 1957 from the Wonosobo, the Dutch freighter that was our home for 75 days as we made our way from Saudi Arabia through the Far East to Long Beach, California.

And in one box—along with loose photographs that documented my life from infancy to high school graduation—my red scrapbook, covered in dust, its pages frayed at the edges.

Randomly pasted throughout the scrapbook were the letters my father wrote me while he was living alone in Saudi Arabia. He had to go before us to earn enough points for family housing. He was there for two years before my mother, brothers, and I could join him.

The letters began when I was four and ended shortly after I turned five, between 1953 and 1954. In them, he assures me that Santa Claus comes to Saudi Arabia (he arrives by helicopter because the sand is hard on his reindeer). He explains that Arabs drink water from water bags made of goat skin, describes how they make them, confesses that he would likely never drink from a water bag made from goat skin, and explains that really, it’s only the Bedouins who still use them—his Arab crew had coolers with ice-chilled water. He talks about how happy the Arab children are, though they have no toys.

In nearly every letter he describes the kittens he’s come across and how they make him think of me, and that when we join him, I will get a kitten.

In one letter, he describes a camp in the middle of the desert. He was on an “Exploration”—a trip into the desert to explore for oil.

“On each of these exploration parties,” he wrote,  “an Emir and a troop of Arab soldiers accompany each party. The troops have their tents pitched a mile from camp, and over about three miles and a couple of sand dunes away, the Emir and his four wives have some more tents pitched.”

He describes the desert foxes that come into his camp, the kangaroo rats, and the locusts. “You see one flying around, or rather, a jillion of them, and you’d think it was a flock of sparrows. The Arabs catch them and boil a big bucket full of them and let them dry in the sun and eat them, but they have no competition from me, ’cause Daddy was getting too good of food to try anything like that.”

On the same trip he describes the sight of his Arab crew kneeling and bowing in prayer along the ridge of a sand dune. “Sundown is prayer time for the Arabs and so they try to get on the highest point to try to be the last one to see the sun go down. They feel they are closer to Allah that way.”

In that same letter he says, “The thing I remember the most that I liked was at night; as I’ve told you, we had a full moon, and you’d walk out past the camp lights— it was cool at night—just right for shirt sleeves. You could sit out there and talk— everything seemed so peaceful you’d think you were on another world.”

My mother must have read his letters to me when they arrived, but I have no memory of that. She or I glued the envelopes with the letters tucked inside into the scrapbook that also has my drawings of angels, spelling exercises from my first grade class, and a letter to me from Santa Claus.

The letters end shortly before he came back to the States to accompany us on the journey to where he lived. We traveled across country by train, stopped in New York, flew to Amsterdam where he bought me dolls in Dutch costumes, and had dinner at the Rome airport. These were the days of prop planes.

I woke the morning after we left Rome and looked down on what I thought was the Mediterranean Ocean he had described. “No, Punkin’,” my dad said, “those aren’t waves. That’s the Empty Quarter. Those are sand dunes. We’re flying over Arabia now.”

He continued going out on Explorations, bringing home arrowheads and rocks that had been smoothed by sandstorms. One time he returned from the Empty Quarter with the promised kitten tucked in his shirt. It is still a mystery to me how he found a kitten in the Empty Quarter.

I knew my red scrapbook existed. I had looked through it over the years while it lived at my mother’s house, but I had never read the letters written on delicate tissue-like paper—the kind of paper you used in the Fifties for letters sent via airmail. They were mostly written at night, just before he went to bed. Each letter ends with “I love you and miss you.”

In what might be my favorite letter he says he got a high school graduation announcement from one of his nieces who lived in Iowa. He sees the photos of me, notes how much I’ve grown and changed since he last saw me, and imagines the day that I will graduate from high school.

He was, of course, there the night I graduated in 1967. We had been back in the States for about seven years by then.

The years that followed were not easy on my father and me. I went to San Francisco State University, which by the end of my freshman year was getting swept into the turmoil of the late Sixties. Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed in April of my freshman year, the Thursday before Spring break, and Robert Kennedy in June, just before we went into finals.

My sophomore year began just weeks after the violent 1968 Democratic Convention. Richard Nixon got elected president that November and my school went on strike.

But politics were not the problem for my father and me. A union man, he was a staunch Democrat who opposed the war in Vietnam. He hated that police used their Billy clubs to punch protestors in the kidney—a particularly debilitating blow. Perhaps it had happened to him in his early union days.

What opened a chasm between my father and me was my loss of innocence. I saw bloodied students stagger to the Student Commons. African American Vietnam vets, students in their mid to late twenties, raged that they had been sent to risk their lives for a country that had opened fire hoses and let loose attack dogs on them when they marched for civil rights—and killed their little girls in churches, civil rights workers on back roads, and their leaders in front of their homes. Their murderers were tried by juries of their peers so they would be set free.

This was not a campus where coeds celebrated getting pinned or engaged. It was a microcosm of what was changing in the world. I saw bad things happening. I could not be a little girl and survive in such a world.

In 1971, I married in an unconventional ceremony, one that did not include my father giving me away to my husband. I claimed that I was no one’s property to be given away or to. Or that’s what I told myself.

The father giving away his daughter, a friend had told me, was symbolic of transferring protection from the father to the husband. Complicating the innocence I had lost as my college campus descended into turmoil, was an earlier experience.

I had been molested by my maternal grandfather and uncle shortly after we returned from Saudi Arabia. I had of course, kept it a secret.

It was not a part of the story that belonged to my father and me, but by virtue of the insidious nature of such familial crimes and the unspoken demand for secrecy, it had intruded into ours. I had lost my trust in his, or anyone’s, ability to protect me.

I don’t know that I really understood the convoluted feelings that went into my decision at the time, but in retrospect, I was breaking from being a little girl of sugar and spice and everything nice, so I could enter into the world of being a woman neither my father nor I imagined when he saw kittens and thought of me.

My father died in 1994. He had had Alzheimer’s for over ten years by then, so really he’d been gone for longer than that. He was never remote in the way I have heard so many describe their fathers. But, I had long since given up believing he was the daddy who would fix the world for me. In fact, as he descended into Alzheimer’s I wanted to fix the world for him. By that time I had learned that his father had beaten him until he wet his pants, raising welts that took a week to heal.

I was ready to close the distance between my father and me, but Alzheimer’s had created a new chasm, one that was insurmountable. A scared little boy had taken up residence in his body. He looked like my father. I loved him like he was my father. I began to believe he was my father—the man I wanted to reconcile with.

But there was no reconciliation because that man—the one I had to break from—was no longer there.  All I could do was help my mother tend to the reality of his living with and dying from the loss of himself.

In the world of Father Knows Best, a popular late Fifties-early Sixties television series, Jim Anderson called his daughters Kitten and Princess. They lived in his protection, waiting for the day each would marry a man who would take her into his home, ensuring that she would not have to fend for herself in the world.

I don’t know for certain if that’s the life my father imagined for me, but that was surely the story I believed he wanted for me. I think he hoped that he could protect me from the world where bad things happen and that protecting me from that world would assuage the brutality of his childhood.

Parents want to do that, protect their child from the world where bad things had happened to them. I wanted to do that for my stepdaughters. When I became the grownup to my father’s child, I wanted to do that for him. I knew I couldn’t protect him from his father, but I thought I could protect him from Alzheimer’s.

That was impossible, of course.

I will never know what my father thought of the woman I grew into, or if he ever reconciled losing his little girl. He left me before he left.

I will never know whether my father knew that he opened doors for me by the choices he made. In the same box that held my red scrapbook I found a “Disembarkment” paper from our Wonosobo trip—it permitted me to go ashore in what was then called Bombay. We toured the city in a horse-drawn carriage, taking in the scenery, inhaling the aromas of pungent spices mixed with teeming humanity, some of whom lived on the streets.

We were unusual, the carriage driver told my father. Most Western tourists took taxis.

My father took me to a world beyond Kitten and Princess. That was his legacy of protection for me—protection from being sheltered like a kitten or a princess.

I will never know what could have been if Alzheimer’s hadn’t possessed my father. I thought that was the father I was left with.

And then I read his letters, written on delicate paper so they could fly to me, rather than be carried over land and sea. He writes stories that made his exotic world come alive, and expressed his yearning for the day there would be no distance between his world and mine:

“Honey, I’ll sure be glad when you guys get over here. It’s sure lonesome without you. You’ll have a good time over here. First of all you’ll have a nice long airplane trip across the U.S. to New York then across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe and stop at the place Daddy sent you the Dutch dolls from. Then you’ll fly over some real pretty mountains and cities to Rome, and from there across the Mediterranean Ocean and then over the desert to where I am.”

Alzheimer’s and death make for a one-sided relationship. Frozen in time for the one who goes away, the one left behind carries its legacy with all the ambiguities of love flawed by expectations, disappointments, secrets, and misty memory. We are compelled to write and rewrite the story of the relationship to make sense of it, to find peace with it, to accept that we love and are loved imperfectly.

My dust-covered red scrapbook with its frayed edges had several empty pages. I don’t know when or why I stopped pasting memories into it. I don’t know when it got stored away as a relic of my childhood.

But, once upon a time, my father wrote me letters. He promised I would get a kitten when I joined him and assured me that Santa Claus would find me no matter where I was.

And, just as he imagined, I flew over some real pretty mountains and cities to Rome, and from there, across the Mediterranean Ocean, and then over the desert to where he was.


Everything’s Going To Be Okay


Sen. Robert Kennedy sprawled semi-conscious in his own blood after being shot in brain and neck while busboy Juan Romero tries to comfort him, in kitchen at hotel. 5th June 1968

Those were likely Robert F Kennedy’s last words, spoken to Juan Romero, the 17-year old busboy who cradled his bullet-shattered head.

“Is everyone okay?” Kennedy asked.

“Yes,” Juan Romero, replied.

“Everything’s going to be okay,” Kennedy said. And then lapsed into unconsciousness.

That was June 5, 1968, shortly after midnight. He had just won the California primary. “On to Chicago,” he concluded his speech and minutes later, as he made his way through the kitchen, a bullet ended the dream.

He died on June 6th at 1:44 in morning.

I remember a friend coming into my darkened dorm room and waking me to tell me Bobby had died. I was a freshman at San Francisco State. We were going into finals. Martin Luther King, Jr., had been killed two months earlier—April 4, the day before Spring break.

I thought of the night of June 5, 1968 as I waited for the results from the California primary on Tuesday, 48 years later.

Everything’s going to be okay.

Bobby was no saint. But one had the feeling that especially after his brother John’s death he had transformed. It was not merely political expediency for him to embrace civil rights. I believe he had come to a soul-deep commitment to guiding America to its true greatness

But, something died that night in 1968.

A dream.

A hope.

A belief that everything was going to be okay.

That we could make our way out of Jim Crow, lynchings, young men dying in a war that had no meaning, young and old. men and women dying to secure the right to vote.

Instead, the Chicago convention happened. Hubert Humphrey, who had not participated in any primaries, was given the nomination. Richard Nixon was elected president in November, promising he had a secret way to end the Vietnam War. Instead, it dragged on for another 7 years—for political purposes. And in 1972, George McGovern, an honorable man who served in the military and opposed the war in Vietnam, was buried in a landslide by Richard Nixon, who two years later resigned in disgrace.

Everything’s going to be okay.

It was hard to believe that.

I was at a rally at the Federal Building in San Francisco in the late 1980s. Ronald Regan was president. I don’t remember the purpose of the rally right now—probably protesting our involvement in El Salvador. I had been to so many rallies. Someone began singing “We Shall Overcome,” which always choked me up. But this time, I couldn’t join in singing it. I did not believe we could overcome.

George H.W. Bush succeeded Reagan and appointed Clarence Thomas to replace Thurgood Marshall, a lion of civil rights. Thomas was confirmed after a hearing that brought into the open the insidiousness of sexual harassment professional women endure. I was the sole woman manager in a small technical company. After those hearings, my colleagues made fun of me in meetings I was charged with and when I finally got frustrated and angry, asked me if I was on the rag.

Everything’s going to be okay.

It was hard to believe that.

And then the election of 2000 happened. George W. Bush got appointed to the presidency, in part because some thought Al Gore wasn’t pure enough. And so we got the Supreme Court that gave us Citizens United and eviscerated voting rights.

Everything’s going to be okay.

It was hard to believe that.

And then, Barack Obama was elected. For a brief moment, I thought we had crossed the threshold. Obama brought the economy back from the brink, and laid the foundation for health care to be a right. It wasn’t perfect. It was flawed. But it was a start.

From the moment he took office, the festering racism that lingered in the soul of our country took hold and the Republican Party welcomed it, using it to gain power and delegitimize Obama’s presidency—for the sole purpose of making him fail so they could retake the White House. They succeeded because too many of those who voted for Obama failed to vote in 2010 because they were disappointed that he wasn’t perfect.

And so we got a Congress that has eviscerated a woman’s right to choose, the right to vote, the hope that we can address climate change.

Everything’s going to be okay.

It was hard to believe that.

I thought of all of this as I waited for the results of the California primary last Tuesday.

I went back and forth through this primary season about who to support. I am behind everything Bernie Sanders brought to the forefront. But in the end, decided that I supported Hillary Clinton because I think she is better prepared for the job, and that we have more of a chance of steering the country to the path that Bernie’s revolution evoked with her as president.

I was appalled at the level of vitriol thrown at Clinton by Bernie supporters.

Everything’s going to be okay.

I hope so.

I did not realize how much it would mean to me that a woman is on a major party’s ticket. I know that the Green Party has a woman on the ticket, but the Green Party candidate has little chance of winning a presidential election. A woman on the Democratic ticket is a sign that another barrier has been broken.

I do not understand the vitriol hurled at Hillary Clinton. I think that any of the men running would have folded—or gone ballistic—long ago under the constant barrage of nastiness.

Is Hillary flawed? Yes. She is too self-protective. And that makes her seem secretive. I can’t really blame her for her self-protectiveness, but I think it hurts her.

She is more establishment than I am. And, in 2008, I didn’t think she had undergone the kind of self-reflection about gender that Obama had about race. I think she may have now.

She won the nomination fair and square. I cannot believe the nasty memes I have seen on Facebook about her. The vitriol. I have unfollowed friends or hidden their posts to keep from unfriending them.

I’m going to work for Hillary to become president. In part because it would be disastrous to have a Trump presidency. He is the very definition of white male privilege—a privilege that condones rape so long as it is committed by a white, privileged male. A privilege that I think turns one into a sociopath—a solipsist who has no understanding of where he or she ends and the outside world begins.

I’m also going to work to change the face of Congress. It’s a challenge because I live in a place that already has progressives in place. I don’t know how to influence other parts of the country.

Everything’s going to be okay.

I almost believe that.

I have been feeling very grumpy towards the Sanders’ faction that says Clinton and Trump are equivalent. I actually feel old and grumpy. I want them to look at 1968 and see how assassins’ bullets killed dreams. I could not vote in 1968. I was 18. The voting age was 21. Yet, 18 year-old kids were drafted and sent to. My grandmother, who died in 1988, did not have the right to vote until she was in her 30s.

Things change.

Compromise and governance is what will turn this aircraft carrier that is our country around. I believe it takes a mile for a ship the size of an aircraft carrier to turn around.

I still wonder what could have been if Bobby had made his way through the kitchen and then to Chicago. I still weep when I pause to remember that night.

Here’s a portion of the spontaneous words Bobby Kennedy spoke when he delivered to the crowd the news that King had just been killed. The audience was mostly African-Americans gathered for a Kennedy rally:

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”

And then there what were probably his last words:

“Is everyone okay? Everything’s going to be okay.”

Everything’s going to be okay.

It’s incumbent on us to direct our efforts and work as if we believed those words.

Is everyone okay?

Everything’s going to be okay.


Yes, She Can Make a Cherry Pie

She being me. Or is it she being I? To hell with it. I can make a cherry pie. That is the point.

cherry pie donePie was something we had at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Pumpkin pie. Store bought. I know my mother never made a pie from scratch, and I’m not sure my grandmother did either, though she cooked everything else. I think Grandma was more on the cake side. She loved the Karo syrup and egg white frosting I learned to make in Home Ec when I was in the seventh grade.

Or was it in the eighth grade?

Whatever, it was a time when girls took Home Ec and boys took shop.

But, we never learned to make pie. Or to be more precise, piecrust. Yet, that is the crux of the biscuit so to speak, the piecrust, when it comes to pie.

I did not appreciate pie until I had my mother-in-law’s pie. It did not matter what kind, I loved it. I even liked her lemon meringue pie, which was not cloyingly sweet as most I had tasted.

I asked her once if she could teach me how to make piecrust and she said I should watch her make it sometime. But we never got around to that.

I have been working on a novel in stories for the past several years. Pie has always been in the stories, but recently I realized pie was a character in the stories. It became imperative that I learn to make piecrust in order to fully realize the character of pie.

I started on a Sunday. I knew I needed a pie tin, a rolling pin, and a pastry cutter. So I headed to the local kitchen supply store. It was closed. I did what I hate doing and have only done twice before in my life (and took a shower afterwards), I went to Walmart—the only place open that would have kitchen supplies.

I found the cooking tools section, selected a French-style wooden rolling pin (just because I like the feel of it), a pastry cutter, a pie pan, and a thingie on which I could roll out the dough.

Then I headed to the canned goods section to look for pie filling. I was baffled by my selections. I noticed an older woman close by. “Do you know anything about making pie?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said, “head over to the baking section and buy yourself some pre-made piecrust.”

“Oh,” I said, I can’t do that. “I’m writing a story and I have to make it by hand—like women did during the 40s and 50s.”

She understood. Told me to go to the library and check out a Betty Crocker cookbook from the era for the recipe, then told me to cut the butter (or lard or Crisco) into the flour until it made pieces the size of her pinkie fingernail. Then she, said, buy two cans of the pie filling, one wasn’t enough.

Betty Crocker was already checked out so I got two other books—all about pie.

Pie, it seems, is a topic unto itself. In one, I learned that there are some very strange attitudes about making crust, including one from an incredibly sexist chef who claimed the piecrust served that day was not good because his pastry chef was menstruating when she made it.


Once upon a time, there was more homemade pie, the book continued. And then women went into the workplace. Pie, it said, took time and intention. Something in short supply for women.

I became even more intimidated. My pie making collection sat on the counter for a good three weeks.

And then rounded off Pi Day happened: 3.14.16—it happens once every 100 years.

Of course! That was the perfect day to start my quest to make a pie. I downloaded a Betty Crocker circa 1950 recipe from the Internet.

The day passed. Pi, but no pie.

But here is what did happen on Pi Day. I learned that “Goodnight, Sweetman,” the third of the stories in my novel in stories, had been accepted for publication in Tidepools magazine and was awarded first prize.

This is my first official acceptance for publication.

I’m a little embarrassed that being published has been a gnarly, annoying, burdensome burden for me. I don’t do what you’re supposed to do. Send things out. Get over the rejection. Send it out again. I have received rejections, but not that many because I just haven’t sent things out the way one is supposed to do to get published.

So this is a bit of a miracle for me, but also not. I think the timing was right because I did not feel like the acceptance validated me as a writer.

Here’s what it did do. It made me feel that my work had been seen, and would be seen. And, I think that is what I think is important about being published. Your work gets seen. I want my work to be seen and hopefully that once it is seen, will make the reader feel like they are moved and feel the connection to what it means to be human.

Back to pie.

The next day, the ides of March, I took Lady Macbeth’s advice. I screwed my courage to the sticking place, cleaned off the island top, gathered my tools and began.

I cut the butter into the flour, adding more when the nice little crumbs didn’t appear. I set out a Pyrex cup filled with ice water and added a tablespoon. Use a fork to mix it in, the recipe showed.

Don’t overwork the dough is what everyone said was the key to making a good piecrust. Which feels a little bit to me like tearing the tag off the mattress or pillow and then you read it is against the law to do that. How do you know it’s been overworked and when will the pie police send you to jail?

And then, a memory wafted through my brain.

“It’s the tenderness of mixing the wet with the dry,” a woman had said to me once, the imaginary flour and water streaming through her moving hands.

I set the fork aside and let my hands dance to mix the wet with the dry until I was pretty certain I had worked the dough just enough but not too much. I formed it  into two balls, flattened them, then covered them in plastic wrap and set them in the refrigerator for the 45 minutes instructed in the recipe.

I unrolled the awesome thingie I bought to roll out the dough. It had multiple circles, each one inscribed with a marker indicating the size of the crust. I rolled out the dough, plraw dough fillingaced it in the pie tin, added the pie filling, rolled out the top crust, placed it over the cherries, cut off the excess crust, and then used a fork to make marks along the edge. I placed the pie in the oven, checked at the proscribed time, then let it go a little longer until I thought it looked golden brown. (Golden brown is one of those things. Just what the hell does golden brown look like?)

Then I set it on the rack to cool and contemplated. Writing, it seems, is a bit like making a pie. You really do want someone to eat your pie and hopefully enjoy it. Be enriched by it. Likewise with what you have written.

Also, you don’t want to overwork or underwork the story, but you mostly have to rely on your instinct to know when you’re done writing and ready to serve it.

A good story, I also think, has something to do with the tenderness in the mixing. Elizabeth Strout, as she has a way of doing, gobsmacked with a quote from her newest book, I Am Lucy Barton,

“I think it was the next day that Sarah Payne spoke to us about going to the page with a heart as open as the heart of God.”

That quote showed me the way to tenderness for my characters.

Including pie.

I posted my progress with my pie making on Facebook the day after Pi day, including how impatient I had become waiting for my pie to cool. Warm pie tastes really good, a friend commented.

Approach my pie with a heart as open as the heart of God.

piece of pieAnd so I cut a piece of pie, poured myself a glass of milk, and dug in. It might not have risen to my mother-in-law’s level, but it was sure as hell not store bought. It had texture and the taste blended with the filling to transform it into something new.


Earlier this week, I watched Everything Is Copy, the HBO documentary about Nora Ephron, written and directed by her son Jacob Bernstein. She is one of my favorite writers. I love her authenticity and that she writes all of the above. She doesn’t confine herself to one genre or type of writing, and she loves romantic comedies.

I took it personally when she died.

Everything Is Copy ends with a recitation of the list she included as the last chapter in her final book, I Remember Nothing. I did not know she was dying when I read it. The title of the last chapter she calls, “What I Will Miss.”

Her kids, her husband, dinner with friends, Paris, butter, and so on. And finally . . .


pie finish eating



Setting a New Course

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Great Egret - HB 0455_DSC8374

First post of 2016.

I tried for one last week, but all I could do was rant. I will grant you, there is a lot to rant about. But . . .

So then this morning, I drew the Ant card from the Animal Wise Tarot deck. And the Scarlet Macaw. And the Porcupine.

It’s all about balancing work and play and finding the spiritual in the mundane.

Setting the new course.

I emerged from last year. That’s how I can best describe last year’s journey around the sun. A journey from which I had to emerge. Mortality shadowed me. Not mortality as in my death, but in how mortality shapeshifts life.

As I said, I felt like that candle in the wind.

And then the winds stopped as I sailed into the doldrums.

I don’t much like the notion of god as a stern taskmaster, looking down on us, wondering why we can’t be better, forgiving us for not being better. I personally believe that god is in awe of humans. Amazed that we can live and love with mortality perching on our shoulder.

I remember reading that Inuits don’t have a word for art. Their art is functional, tools fashioned for the mundane but imbued with spirit. A recognition that the ordinary tasks required for living a life are part and parcel of an extraordinary creation.

I read this last week in an article by Nancy Langstonian titled “In Oregon, Myth Mixes With Anger” in the New York Times:

Great Egrets Courting - HB 0169_DSC6647“In the first decades of the 20th century, the conservationist William Finley paddled a little boat through the marshes of the basin and came upon a colony of egrets slaughtered by plume hunters, the young left to starve. Out of hundreds of thousands of egrets that had once nested in Malheur Lake, only 121 were left.

My first response was to rant. To scream at the television. To swear on Facebook. To join those who are sending dildos to the people who are occupying the Malheur Refuge Center.

I wanted to do something extraordinary to make it go away. But I wasn’t sure what “it” was that I wanted to go away. Stupidity? Ignorance? Arrogance? But, other than keeping my head from exploding with outrage, I could not see how screaming at the television, swearing on Facebook, or sending dildos to the occupiers made it go away for me.

Side note: just as pure theater, I think sending the “Occupiers” dildos was brilliant and encourage its continuance. Even if it can’t help, it can’t hurt.

That article in the NY Times was just one of the many outrageous pieces of information floating around in the media. And with journalism taking a back seat to corporate media, the information just hangs out there as if all sides are equal. As if anger that we have to share the world with others is equal to anger over lives lost

So, setting this new course, having decided to sail into this new year, is going to be tricky

I’m going to start by saying right out loud (please read this aloud) that claiming god as yours and yours alone is not a spiritual act. That is finding the mundane in the spiritual and calling it religion.

Okay, got that off my chest.

I’ll also say out loud (please read aloud) that “telling it like it is” is not truth telling. It is vomiting out vitriol, which I guess gets it out of one’s system, but exhorting crowds to believe that god supports their prejudices and that they can kill (figurative or literally) anyone who matches their prejudice or gets in the way of their god-given right to have a world that supports that right, is blasphemous. And nasty. And mean. And cruel. And stupid. And cynical. And will lead us into a very dark world.

Snowy Egret Reflection - HB 0133_DSC4460One where only 121 egrets survive.

I often start these posts not really knowing where I will end up. I think I just got what this has to do with setting a new course, finding the spiritual in the mundane, the spirit in the mundane in the coming year.

It’s remembering those slaughtered egrets and giving voice to the ravaged landscape. Wherever that may take me.

In case the copyright doesn’t show, all photos are copyrighted by Sue Padgett, a friend for close to 50 years and photographer extraordinaire.

I Like To Be Liked

I just know that the phrase I woke to yesterday, January 1, 2015, was “Once more around the sun.” There was some kind of clarity to that—clarity that I have no idea what this next trip around the sun will bring.
From my first blog post in 2015.

death steals everythingIt’s been a momentous year. Some who were with me when I wondered what my trip around the sun in 2015 would bring are no longer here. And then there was Tom’s dance with cancer.

I had an acquaintance tell me recently that she wanted to wait to have lunch with me until I had something cheerful to talk about. Though this year has been filled with loss and lessons in mortality, it never occurred to me that I wasn’t cheerful.

What this trip round the sun brought me was a profound experience of life, up close and personal as it never has before. I am acutely aware that I am a different person today than the one who wrote on the first day of my most recent journey ’round the sun.

More secure.

It’s that last one, more secure, that I didn’t expect until I wrote it. I’m often surprised to learn that people think of me as self-confident, since I have been filled with insecurity and self-doubt.

But something about weathering the storms of this past year has helped me strip away my expectations of myself—that if I didn’t please everyone, if people felt uncomfortable around me, if I scare people, that it was a fault in me.

I wanted everyone to like me.

I think I’ve learned that it’s prudent to be a bit more specific. Like is important to me. As important as love. I like to be liked.

Life, I learned this year, likes me. It throws stuff at me, but it likes me. And I like life—with all its joys and sorrows.

I have no idea what my next journey ’round the sun will bring me, but I’m sure it will be filled with life. I welcome it.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

My Bobbsey Twins Christmas

She Wolf Howling © Linda Ryan

She Wolf Howling © Linda Ryan

I’ve been in the doldrums for most of December. I prefer the nautical term, because it is the metaphor that fits. My journey through this year got stuck at the equator.

It makes sense, my doldrums. This was a year filled with losses that appeared regularly, with little time in between to fully experience them. I tried my best to keep on sailing. But then I sailed right into the doldrums. Or maybe that was where I was supposed to sail into.

It’s not really fair to call this the most wonderful time of the year. Sometimes it is, but it is also the time where absence is a profound presence.

doldrumsI think that is probably what I mean by the doldrums, absence that is a profound presence. The price of loving—feeling the profound presence of one who is absent. And yet, loving is well worth the price.

At times it seemed that my sails had finally filled with wind, only to have them deflate as I stayed in the doldrums.

I decided not to rush it.

And so, here I am on Christmas Eve thinking about the reason for the season, annoyed by the whole it’s-Merry-Christmas-to-hell-with-whatever-it-means-to-you faux Christian victimization. I try to be kind, but when you’re stuck in the doldrums, you tend to lose your sense of civility.

I’ve vowed to think carefully before I rant on Facebook, because when I rant on Facebook , I forget the nuances of it all and become the crazed loner ranting on Facebook at two in the morning.

I’ve been mostly faithful to my vow.

My worst Christmas ever was in 1981, when I was the only one of my siblings at home with my parents. I had been unemployed for much of the previous year and unceremoniously dumped by boyfriends who didn’t want to commit and then married the next woman they got involved with. I had “Loser” stamped on my forehead.

My heart broke for my father, who sat at the rattan bar they had bought in the Phillipines on our journey (by ship!) back from Saudi Arabia, sad and lonely for his family. I wondered what I could do for him when he turned to me and said, “You’re such a pretty girl. I don’t understand why you aren’t married.”

My mother tried her damndest to get between me and his words. But she could not match the speed of sound.

I fled the house and went to the local Lyons where I thought I would find an anonymous place where I could drown my sorrows with a patty melt.

I sat at the counter. The waitress knew everyone’s name but mine. Everyone knew everyone else, but me. The loser sign stamped on my forehead blinked on and off with neon lights.

I vowed I would never again celebrate a holiday unless it truly meant something to me.

That’s when I remembered the Bobbsey Twins Christmas. They woke in the morning, opened their presents, gathered ’round the breakfast table as Papa Bobbsey read the Christmas story from the Bible, then went to play with their new sleds in the landscape that had turned snowy overnight.

It was at that point that I realized that I had never, not even once, experienced a white Christmas. A green one, when we were anchored in an Indonesian bay the year we spent Christmas on the ship that took us from Saudi Arabia to California, but never a white Christmas.

So why, I asked myself, was a white Christmas so important? And why did I care about Christmas?

I realized that though I had been raised Christian, I just did not believe that Jesus had been sent here to die for my sins. I also realized that I tended to be down at this time of year. And something felt natural about that.

That was when I first understood that there was something natural about feeling sad as light’s waning reached its end.

And then light returned.

That’s the reason for the season. Light. Whichever story floats your boat, it’s a story about light.

I love deeply those who are with me and deeply loved those who have died, be they animal or human. Tom’s cancer diagnosis left me feeling like a candle in the wind; the accumulation of losses led me to the doldrums—a place so calm I had no choice but to sit with the losses and be that candle in the wind.

That’s what it is to be human, after all.

What touches me about the Christmas story is the triumph of love and mercy over rules and law. Joseph should have rejected Mary for being pregnant, but instead, in a time of social turmoil, chose to be a mensch—to take care of Mary and the child she bore.

Tom and I have listened to Pentatonix Christmas CDs this past week. We both cry when Little Drummer Boy comes on. Better than anyone I’ve heard sing it, they evoke the emotion of the miracle of recognizing light emerge from the darkness.

What I liked about the Bobbsey Twins Christmas is that they connected it with a story.

In April of 1991, I lost my dog Coyote. Some say he was part wolf. Whatever, he was a magnificent and beautiful spirit. It broke my heart. And so I wrote the story that has become my reason for the season. I share it with you now:

Wolf waited.
He waited as he did every year on this night.
It grew darker and darker and colder and colder.
And still he waited, knowing that she would return.

Darkness reached his deepest pitch.
The birds, the trees, the ocean, and the rocks grew still.
Wolf gazed deeply into the eyes of Darkness as
Wind wove her cold fingers through his rich, thick fur.
He closed his eyes,
Held his breath,
and listened as Wind whispered,
then felt her caress as she flew away.

Wolf knew it was time.
He opened his eyes and saw her
— a glowing luminous ember
emerging from the opening
between the earth and the sky.

She did on this day
What she did on this day every year of Wolf’s life.
Light returned.

On the hill overlooking the ocean,
Wolf circled three times, lay down, and took his rest.
Light wove her warm fingers through his rich, thick fur.

Before he left,
Wolf whispered to me what Wind whispered to him.
He wanted me to share it with you.
Here’s what she told him:
“Expect to be loved.”

Wolf Waited copyright©2000 Karen L. Hogan