Sunday, September 30, 2007

California Road Trip -- Day 3

“Here’s nothing. Not make something of it.”

That’s the dialogue that plays out in my mind whenever I encounter an ingenious act, production, or someone’s rags to riches story. That’s what I heard today standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona.

If that last line sounds familiar it’s because you’ve heard the Eagles sing it as “such a fine sight to see: it’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford slowing down to take a look at me.” The good people of Winslow – or in the scenario of my conjecture, one irritatingly persistent musician turned businessman who saw the potential tourist attraction no one else could see and convinced enough towns folks to approve it – turned a random corner of the city into the main reason people stop and on a sleepy Sunday morning line up to take photos with a statue of a man and his guitar positioned in front of a brick wall with a mural of the aforementioned girl painted as to appear to be a reflection in the window.

An eagle is even perched on the make believe windowsill to offer credit where credit is due. The band’s songs blare out of a nearby store where mostly motorcycle mamas and t-shirt clad families familiar with the Bedazzler can stock up on magnets, more t-shirts, shot glasses and caps.

We asked and the town boasts a population of around 5,000. I think the source was being generous. But what they lack in volume they make up for in ingenuity. The Penney’s building on which the mural was painted actually burned a few years ago but the wall was saved and a park is soon to grace the backside of the now singular wall that attracts visitors every day.

The whole experience made me smile. Of course, I was in a better postion to do so after having FINALLY found a restroom. I mentioned Winslow is sleepy and on Sunday morning everyone and every business (save those two tourist joints) were on an extended siesta. I was contemplating spots on the side of the road when we were vainly searching for some relief when I spotted a hotel. La Posada claimed to be open though we saw signs of either destruction or con when we drove up. I didn’t care. I raced inside.
As focused as I was on that particular destination I couldn’t help but take in a deep breath when I realized this was no rundown, run of the mill, sleeping establishment thankful for the occasional RV driver who is longing for a hot shower and a bed with box springs.

The high ceilings, heavy wooden beams, New Mexican color scheme and artwork practically shouted at me to slow down. I glimpsed indications that I couldn’t make this a slam bam thank you mam kind of visit as I desperately sought out the relief facilities. When I had concluded my business, I gave them some with the purchase of a small basket I thought the folks back at my former business could use as a thank you for my going away. Then I went in search of Stan.

He, of course, had found the other gay man on the premises who happened to be the hotel clerk or manager. Engaged in conversation when I approached, Stan paused to update me on what he’d discovered thus far. The hotel was popular in the 30s, abandoned in the 50s and had been empty until it was restored in 1997. Our new friend and self-appointed tour guide seemed inspired by our obvious pleasure in the place or Stan’s cute legs and offered to show us some of the rooms, each decorated differently. They were named for famous celebrities and politicians that had once stayed in the resort stop for trains back in the day. His favorite was the Harry Truman room with its king size bed and Jacuzzi as well as a sitting area that overlooked the garden. I preferred the double jaccuzzi next door as I had just finished one of my sensual stories I’m working on apart from this blog and it seemed like it would make an excellent setting.

Betty Grable had a room. Jimmy Stewart. Howard Hughes actually stayed in the room that they had graced with his name. I asked if the hotel was doing well given that the evidence to date was that it wasn’t exactly a thriving metropolis and he assured me that they were constantly busy, booked up to a year in advance and currently working on opening up 10 additional suites.

Our guide’s story was an easy one to retrieve. I just asked and discovered he had five kids (we saw pictures of when they were small) had been born in the area but left until the kids (note that it wasn’t the wife) asked him to return and he’s worked there for a year to date.

After a bit more small talk, he left us to explore and I returned to a room of paintings that I’d seen from the corner of my eye when in search of the ladies room. The mural at the top of those steps was at least 30 feet wide and still allowed for another of the same size on its right should they ever need to display another. The name was as intriguing as the artwork which at first seemed to be a party scene but upon close inspection appeared to be table after table of corpses, each painted carefully to resemble folks you thought you might know. Sure enough, when we read about it we learned it was A New Years Eve Party in Purgatory with Liberace Dropping in from Heaven Just for the Hell of It. The notes helped us out by identifying some of the guests – Marilyn Monroe, Sid Vicious, Jimmi Hendrix, and a couple of artists Mark Rothko and one local one who took his life upon learning that he would soon be blind. The artist is Tina Minon and after reading about another large painting she’d worked on just before the Berlin Wall fell in which she juxtaposed nuns with Babushkas, we discovered that she had married the man who had first established some international peace walks she’d been part of and that the two of them were the owners and chief renovators of the hotel!

Ingenious and serendipitous are our words of the day, kiddies!!! A bathroom break prompted the setting for what will have to be a focal point in an upcoming story, an introduction to some local lore, and a touch of cuteness for Stan to enjoy. One woman’s investment in her own sense of justice netted her a new life in Arizona. And one small town is now more than just a spot in the road.

Sometimes takin’ it easy is the only way to go!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

California Road Trip -- Day 2

Nothing like starting the day with a windblown walk to see 10 Cadillacs buried nose down in the earth.

God, you gotta love Texas!

The Cadillac Ranch was exactly as I'd imagined and not. I had seen the cars before in photos. I had never seen the surrounding area for what it is -- vast, empty plain! Wow! The wind can treated my little VW like it was not much more than an empty Coke can. Walking to the exhibit meant taking on about a 100 yards feeling like you were in a wind tunnel at NASA!

The cars get painted white regularly but it doesn't take long for the graffiti folks to add color. I was surprised at the lack of profanity as well as the lack of protest -- no anti-war messages, no hate messages, no nothing . . . except a lot of who loves who outside Amarillo, Texas.

The midpoint of Route 66 is in Adrian, Texas. We found some wonderfully tacky souvenirs and had a scrumptious cinnamon roll (whoever came up with the combination of butter and sugar was a sheer genius . . . and the spawn of the devil if I consider the impact on my hips!).

We moved between I40 and old Route 66 (which, when it became a dirt road, was not on my "must do" list) and after a few hours of scenic mesas and valleys and canyons and blue skies with puffy white clouds which we viewed easily because the top was down I was soon "freckle-licious".

Santa Fe was as I remembered it from my visits years ago as a good Baptist making the journey to do training in the conference center at Glorieta, just a few miles away. I smiled that both Stan and I have come a long philosophical, theological, emotional way since then.

Traveling to Gallup for the night, we pulled off for a moment to take the top down again and take in the stars. Stars dancing indeed!!!!

Tomorrow . . . Winslow, AZ where we hope to see a girl in a flatbed Ford and then on to Las Vegas.

Road Kill Ruminations

“May the road rise up to meet you” isn’t such a great thought when road kill is involved.

And dead varmints seemed to be in surplus this past weekend. In Louisiana, our host told of hitting such desecration as to need an emergency run to the car wash to prevent the scent from his truck from prompting passers-by to wonder if they needed to call in CSI.

Driving home from my sister’s (the arduous journey of 13 whole minutes from her college town to my hometown that my mother often felt was too much to ask me to cover in an afternoon of errand-running) I encountered what I think might have once roamed the world as an opossum and reduced its hindquarters to mush.

And while powerwalking Hwy. 45 for my daily constitutional I noted what I thought and hoped was a mound of paper blocking my way on the sidewalk ahead. I was wrong. I’m not sure what the swollen, rain-soaked mass once was exactly because I chose to risk the oncoming traffic rather than get too close to the odiferous mess.

The last encounter got me to thinking about how rural areas tend to deal with death. They (or should I say “we” given that my roots are rather deep in unconsolidated soil) are rather practical about it. Pretty much, if there’s a dead skunk in the middle of the road you either move it or leave it up to the elements. Once when I took out a deer with my 1972 Malibu the most asked question was not how the five teenaged girls in the vehicle were holding up but rather who got the deer for processing. (And if you’re one of those people, I’ll go ahead and tell you that it was the county jail.)

This practicality may be the reason I never found it odd that my high school job at the Dairy Queen often required me to get the details on who was also at the funeral home next door. The owner of the DQ was also the town mortician. “Has Jimmy got a body?” was the first question of the shift. That fun fact never fails to amuse my non-small town friends.

My mother is on the benevolence committee at her church. When the pastor reported on Wednesday night regarding the status of “Miss” Patty, a fellow church member slightly younger than my mother, Mom remarked to me later that she’d need to make a run to Sam’s to pick up the needed paper products to feed the family after she passed away. She'd picked up her cue from the pastor's public proclamation that after his hospital visit that day, he could report that "Miss" Patty wasn't doing well; she wasn't doing well at all."

Don’t get the idea that we’re vultures, awaiting the inevitable. But death happens. And life goes on. And sometimes the best thing to do is recognize that cleaning up is inevitable so just get to it. You need to know the language to really catch what's going on because practicality doesn't usually equal transparency. "We'll work 'til Jesus comes" as the song says but we'll whisper while we do it.

I prefer the practicality to the occasional but lame attempts at philosophizing. When my brother died at 38 from a totally unanticipated heart attack, my mother was “comforted” by any number of folks assuring her that “God must have wanted another bass in the choir” or “Bart was just too good for this world.” Months later mother asked me about the comments.

I responded with a question of my own. “Do any of those words provide you with comfort?”

“They make me mad as a hornet!” she exclaimed.

“Good!” I offered. “’Cause I think their stupid statements made by people without a clue.”

“So what should I do?” she asked, ever wanting the next practical action to take to “fix” the situation, to step in and at least do something.

“Grieve. Be angry. Do whatever works for you, Mom. And don’t listen to them. If you want, tell them to shut up. If you don’t want to, get away as soon as possible. But this is yours, Mom, and you don’t have to live up to anyone’s standards.”

“You think?” she asked, her voice filled with the hope of one who longed for comfort.

“I don’t know much, Mom, but I know this. Your grief is your own.”

She sighed.

Psychology isn’t a hallmark of small town living. We whisper when asked about the idiosyncracies of our own, offering euphemisms such as she’s a bit “touched in the head” (unless of course you’re my sister who just notes that they’re “bat shit crazy”). And therapy is limited to the lame of foot, not of soul. If you’re suffering inside, another trip down the church aisle to confess your sins should do the trick. Otherwise, troubles are best kept behind closed doors and alluded to in public with only knowing glances and nods.

I once rebelled against the system that hid rather than identified and examined the issues. Now I accept its inevitability as what works for them. My science teacher balloons and loses weight to skeletal proportions every three years or so. A high school girlfriend kicks her husband out of the house on a regular basis for imagined shortcomings and while the church folks question the wisdom of her being allowed to take on a leadership role in her unstable state, she’s in charge of one of the more popular Sunday School classes. Another fellow alumni and now teacher once told me that she was having to have massive amounts of dental work as the result of all the vomiting she’d done in her bulimic days. I nodded and wondered quietly if those days were as much a thing of the past as she was trying to indicate.

Road kill and secrets are inevitable in small towns. (And now I must revert to) They may not have the best or healthiest system for cleaning up the destruction but they take care of their messes.

Perhaps that’s the biggest reason why I visit rather than live there anymore. I can only hold my breath and whisper for so long.

California Road Trip -- Day 1

For those who love a good dose of juxtaposition . . .

1. Welfare and Comfort are west Texas neighbors.

2. We’re riding in a VW Beetle convertible. I’ve plugged an inverter into the cigarette lighter so that my Mac can power up. We’re listening (via the amazing VW speakers) to the Ipod I just charged. And we’ve just left Comfort, Texas where I paid $7.50 for a BLT and salad and we tried to decide if the Double D Restaurant, Bakery and Biergarten was painting their brown walls white or their white walls brown as we seemed to have caught them in mid-paint. That or they liked the cattle hide motif the walls suggested in their current spotted form.

3. Stan asked what one might call a resident of Comfort.

I offered up, “Comforter?”

“But definitely not a Duvet,” he concluded.

Yes, we’re having a good time.

4. Fact: Red VW Beetles do not fly under the radar in west Texas! they do however get off with a warning from cute State Troopers clocking them at 77 mph in a 70 mile zone. Stanio Andretti (as Brit referred to him) that was driving at the time in case you're curious. And, no, we're not sure which one of us batting our eyes at him made the difference.

5. Stan saw the terrain shift from city streets, to hill country, to flat plains and noted spottings of sheep, goats, cows and horses. I spent much of my non-driving hours writing (which is what I do now in this non-vacation existence that some folks are having a hard time grasping as my new 'normal' and how I hope to make a living) and listening for his alerts to views worthy of notice. The sunset, as always, took up the entire sky on the left and was suggestive a spilled can of red paint. The moon, humungous on the right, comforted me and rivaled the glow of the Mac.

6. We didn't stop in Happy but we did note our passage through.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tragedy, Loss and Other Happy Thoughts

Mark mumbles.

Mark also wears a day glo orange baseball cap on his closely cropped hair, suspenders that keep his pants below his protruding belly but at least up, and a sweat stained t-shirt. He drags his right leg slightly as he walks his "route" around my hometown.

When I was in my 30s, I heard that teenaged Mark had been in an accident. The town rallied with prayers and family support as he came out of a coma. They prayed harder when the recovery started. Then, they still held out hope for the Mark they'd known to return.

He didn't. Now almost two decades later, the town that rallied often runs when they see him heading in their direction. As we say in these parts, "Mark just ain't right."

The town does support him. Odd jobs keep him busy. Everyone does chat with him or at least attempt to because, really, all you can understand are one or two words in the stream of sounds coming from him.

My stepfather is one of his benefactors. He keeps him sweating with outdoor jobs that no one else in town would want to do and especially with the demanding tone that Doc often uses when he's focused on a task. Mark does them with a mumble or he simply leaves and comes back the next day. Their relationship works in some Odd Couple kind of way. Doc can't hear. Mark can't speak. And together they survive each other's personalities.

Mark's recently gotten into some trouble with some of the other townspeople. He's said some inappropriate things, popped up at a door at the wrong time, etc. Still, the town keeps supporting. They just do it with eyes open and no longer the innocence of thinking their good deeds are going to be rewarded by Mark suddenly becoming something he's not. Mark is and will always be a grown man, emotionally and physically stunted by a tragedy.

Mark's plight made me think of Dolph. He was only a few years younger than me when I got word that he'd had an accident on the football field. A bad tackle and this outstanding quarterback, blonde teenaged hottie, and all-around great guy was paralyzed. Thirty years later he's still in a wheelchair. He's about the size he was back then. But he's also degreed and working in a management position in the rehabiliation center where he recovered what he could of his body.

What exactly makes the difference? One tragedy puts a man on the streets. Another is equally as tragic but has something of a better ending. Both have families. Mark isn't homeless. But Dolph maintained the essence of who he was. Mark left more than his physical ability at that roadside wreck.

In a workshop, I once used a Winnie the Pooh video about Tigger losing his stripes. After his friends tried to help him answer the question of who he might be if he were not a Tigger (the popular thought being that without his identifying stripes, he must no longer be a Tigger), he became frustrated with the failed attempts to make him a Rabbit, Piglet, Pooh and even a Christmas tree. Frustrated until Eeyore saw him on a dark road, "Evening Tigger" he moaned.

"That's the second time today you've called me that," the Tigger-who-thought-he-wasn't exclaimed.

"That's your name isn't it?" Eeyore offered.

"But Tigger's have stripes and I don't have my stripes!"

"Just because you don't look like a Tigger on the outside, doesn't mean you're not still Tigger on the inside. It's all in the stuffin!" and with that, Eeyore went his not-so-merry way and Tigger bounced, reclaiming his signature stripes.

After showing the video, my friend Pat made her way to the front of the room. Pat had had a stroke a few years before. She'd been in management then. At this point, she had a job at the building where we both worked but she no longer had a career. She, too, dragged her left side. As she made her way to me, the familiar rise of guilt started. The guilt came as I and other friends had been there in the beginning of her crisis with good intentions, prayers and a flurry of activity but eventually we had each fell away as we realized that our image of Pat was a memory and would never again be reality.

She spoke first and when I saw the tear forming in the corner of her eye, my tears started organizing as well.

"You know that's true, don't you?"

"Yes, I do."

"Just because I don't look like Pat on the outside, doesn't mean I'm not still Pat on the inside," and now her tears were flowing.

In that moment, I agreed. I agreed with the IDEA that she remained the same. I agreed because I wanted to support her at least one more time. But in truth, I didn't believe it. She wasn't Pat, not the one I'd known, not the wise-cracking, irreverent creative but practical manager of time, people and projects. She was a new translation, not any less than but never to be the same. And I had little in common with this Pat, the one prone to depression, anger, and quick to point out her limitations.

Eventually, she married someone from rehab, someone who knew her as she was post-stroke and would never compare her to the Pat before. We celebrated with her and sent her own her way. I've seen her once in the two decades since.

Wouldn't it be a testament to the goodness of humanity if the initial efforts around a tragedy were sustainable? Wouldn't it be worthy of note and possibly celebration if we could adjust from what was to what is now without hesitation, frustration, or failure? But we can't, can we?

Pat has the husband she'd often longed for but still limps. Dolph has a career but needs care and maneuvers with a wheelchair. Mark stays busy but still mumbles.

And me? I watch and still feel the guilt.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Accent-uating the Positive

(on phone)

Him: How long have you been in Tennessee now?

Me: Four hours or so, why?

Him: Sounds like it's been longer.

For those who are keeping track . . .

Hot air balloon ride -- check
Day at the lake in Louisiana -- check
Visiting family in Tennessee -- in process, returning to Houston on Thursday

Road trip to California with Stan including stops along Route 66 -- Friday through next Monday or Tuesday
Lake Tahoe and detoxing with Larry at Redwood Glen (hiking, learning his vegan lifestyle) -- couple of weeks in October
Pretty much ruining the detox when I spend a week with Richard and Robin (both great chefs) -- third week in October
Road trip back to Texas with stop in New Mexico to pick up Roger for last leg -- beginning around October 20 and returning October 27

Week of nothing but trying to figure out where all my stuff that just got packed and stored in four different locations now is, having lunch/dinner/whatever with whoever that is available, trying to get a handle on my rodeo speaking commitments and writing

ESL certification class -- daily throughout November

Playtime!!! and working for rodeo speaking committee in Houston -- first two weeks of December

Road trip to Alabama and east Tennessee to see family and friends -- third week of December

Holiday with mom, Doc and family

New Years Eve in Houston

Ten weeks in Tanzania beginning in January

RODEO -- last two weeks in March

And then ????
(plans currently include Taiwan, spending some time at a cabin in New Mexico, and one more trip to Australia before the big adventure concludes)

Behind the Scenes of Hope

Sing for Hope.

The event is annual, has been for 13 years. What started as a something-just-above- “we’ve got a barn, let’s put on a show” has evolved into the biggest fundraiser for Bering Omega, the AIDS-based community service program that includes the hospice where I volunteer. Up to 10 performers from across the U.S. converge on Houston and put together a half opera/half show tunes 90 minute program of excellence – with only two days of rehearsal.

A couple of years ago, the organizers heard me when I mentioned I had some backstage experience. Since then, I’ve headed up the crew that ensures props are where they are supposed to be and when they are supposed to be there. We stand in the wings, invisible in our black-on-black attire, and wait for cues to act. However, our performance is best if no one ever knows we’re there.

Since we are volunteers, total cloaking isn’t usually the case. We are also human and on occasion a chair can be dropped, a prop misplaced, or some other slight. But for the most part, we run a smooth operation and I’m proud of the continuing emphasis that Bering places on the value of volunteers working alongside professionals. I’m not a nurse but I assist with resident care. I’m not a stage director but I keep my crew alert and ready.

This year, I added a couple of other duties to my responsibility list (since rounding up props and keeping up with changing scripts wasn’t consuming nearly enough of my time) by being part of the hospitality team.

Brian is our captain and he’s a wonder. He orchestrates all airport pickups and extracurricular requests from the artistic folks. He guarantees that some form of transportation will be on hand when needed and he sincerely puts forth every effort to make the artists happy they’ve come. I drove for him last year. This year driving and massage therapy were on my agenda.

The therapist who usually gives his time for the event was getting married. My massage therapist was happy to give of his services but he was only available on Friday night. Still he enlisted a couple of other guys and they handled that night with ease and compliments.

But no one was free on Saturday. So I said yes to two massages and then added another half before my morning was over.

The first was a hoot because the New Yorker wasn’t accustomed to all our air conditioning and took the opportunity while in her room to avoid the cool blasts by not turning on her unit AT ALL. I walked in to what felt like a sauna. Fifty minutes later, I looked like I’d been in one. She had had her eyes closed throughout the massage and actually gasped when she finally saw how badly I was sweating. I began the second massage with an explanation since I was sure my next “client” would be frightened by my appearance. She laughed when she saw me and, quite reasonably, asked why I hadn’t mentioned the heat. I told her my basic philosophy about giving massages – I may not be a professional but what I can do is give you my best and allow my time with you to be totally about you. As a mother and wife and performer, she really liked that idea!

Two of the women tried to tip me. I thought it was a sweet gesture but as an amateur I didn’t think it was right for me to accept it and, really, I wanted them to know it was a gift. While I don’t hit a high C or know a major from a minor chord, I do know how to help a person relax. Put a bow on it and call it my contribution.

We raised more funds this year than ever before. After the stage was clear and the champagne had been poured, after all the artists were safe in their rooms or wherever they chose to unwind after the show, Brian opened up his home for some of the volunteers to finally breathe. And we did. Hot tubs are good things, you know?

I actually wasn’t completely through however. I had an airport run the next day and I still needed to get the U-haul truck back to its location. But the sun was shining a bit brighter on that Sunday morning and the breeze was definitely cooler and the company was most excellent so it didn’t seem like work at all.

When my friend Fiona who made an excellent U-haul driver and I returned to Brian’s for a final goodbye he was preparing a Sunday brunch to rival our city’s best restaurant’s. We stayed and chatted and finally parted about mid-day.

The women I massaged commented on how they were grateful for my gift of time throughout the weekend and how they hoped I was being taken care of as well. No worries. Between Brian, my most excellent crew, and my dear friend who gifted me with a kicking hairstyle on the night of the performance, the pay-it-forward theory was definitely being realized.

Sing for hope . . . even though I can’t carry that much of a tune . . . I do sing with my hands, my connections, my car. And I do hope, waiting with expectation for the day to come when the songs will be only those of celebration.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Launching THE Big Adventure

When the shadow of the hot air ballon was visible on the stone wall of the Shreveport factory, I was visibly reminded that every experience has both its bright and dark side.

While more than a hundred feet above the city, the lush green of the treetops was the first thing to grab my attention. Then I noted the street life of the inner city neighborhood -- the drab shops, buildings with windows broken, men walking home in the early morning hours from a night out, a garage sale in full swing at a gas station, dogs barking (lots of dogs barking!) and reality set in. Life was going on. I was above it all and not.

We waved. We called out. They waved and answered back.

"Coffee on?"

"Sure thing! Come and get it!"

When we arrived at the meeting location, I felt a tinge of worry. The pilot was over six feet five inches and pure Louisiana redneck. He was slightly put off because we were late, having stopped for Southern Main donuts at a shop that also advertised their outstanding fried catfish. He shifted to giving orders quickly as we drove to the launch site.

"When my guys get started I want everyone out of the way. You men might be asked to help out, but you ladies (I was the only one) will have to stand back."

I held my tongue given that I was about to put my life in his hands. Later I would remind him of his comment and he would assure me that he wasn't a male chauvenist and was simply concerned for my safety. I pointed out the three other women in the other two balloons -- one of whom was a pilot -- but he didn't notice the contradiction.

We floated. We ooo-ed. We ahh-ed. We took photo after photo. And we simply took it all in.

We also hit the tree tops at one point to make a right turn (not sure if this wasn't a convenient explanation for a steering error or not). And we landed with ease.

Rather than the traditional bottle of champagne at the close of our trip we were treated to eggs and fried pork products with hashbrowns at a dive that knew our pilot well and allowed him to come back and help serve the plates.

We chatted up the crew who helped launch and pack the balloon and discovered they were all volunteer, mostly retired and felt that our storytelling talents would allow us to fit right in with their make-shift family.

I smiled. When the pilot asked which of the three men with me was my husband I had assured him that not one of the handsome men was attached to me. I didn't mention that Roger had dated both Geary and Carlos. We still needed a ride back to the car!

When we got to the vehicle and said our goodbyes, I found out what a Lousiana tip feels like when the non-male-chauvenist-pilot pushed himself against my breasts and grabbed and tickled my ass.

Beauty in the shadow of reality . . . I was struck throughout the day with how exciting all that I have planned has already been and is going to be but I was also more keenly aware of all that I'm also going to be missing. My friends are moving to new homes. New relationships are forming. Babies are going to be born. Hearts are going to be broken and mend. And that's just in the next few months. I want to see it all and still live the adventure and yet I can't.

Today I choose the adventure. Today I choose to rise above the treetops, to eat the bacon, to watch the 8-year-old football game that looked like a field filled with bobble heads, to ride the hydro behind the boat, to hit the wake while on the jet ski. Today I choose to live full out. But . . . I still noticed the shadow and remembered all I couldn't see, couldn't be a part of.

Seeing both the light and dark -- not a bad way to start a journey of reflection, I'd say.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

All About the Story ....

My 11 year old charge was sitting in the back seat of my convertible with the wind in his hair (because he and his little sis like the top down) and he piped up, "You know we have all those facts and stuff on the Internet, Karen?"

"Uh ..." not sure if I was supposed to offer a reply I went with keeping the conversation open for him to feed into it, "Why don't you tell me?"

"So that we can pass the stories down from one generation to the next; the way it's always been," he practically beamed at how pleased he was with that answer.

Another storyteller, I thought. Gotta love it.

At least I do. I tell folks all the time that it's all about the story. When my friend Larry took me on a 40 mile hike for his 40th birthday, I reminded him and me along the way when I was breathing hard or his buddies weren't keeping the pace he wanted that we'd have stories to tell. And we do!

Last night I spent a wonderful evening with three incredible women -- two of whom owned the fantastically modern house with such clean lines an architect would salivate just to see it -- and they were explaining how they had come to see the stories that were behind every one of the estimated 10,000 decisions they had had to make in the building of it made the living there that much richer.

I marveled at how two people could be so thoughtful. From the ramps for the dachsunds that are prone to back problems to have free reign of the first floor to the mud room to the elevator that goes directly to one of their mom's wing of the house to space that was designed for entertaining, this house speaks to looking outside one's own self and to the needs/wants of others.

I imagined walking through the house in a few years and hearing the stories upon stories that would be added. I've already fashioned a few of my own there.

Of course, the best part of storytelling is when the moment the great aha comes.

I see the next few days as prep for one of the biggest ahas of my life. What stories I will tell! Hope to see lots of you here in this space.

For direct contact, I'm going to be at

Monday, September 10, 2007

Ouch! Ouch! Double Ouch!

I hate it when I have slap my own hand!

Recently, I spent a lunch hour with an agnostic and listened intently as he told me of what he "sort of believed". Later, I chatted with several theological conservatives and secretly rolled my eyes at what I was actually not hearing.

A day had to pass before I realized that I was acting the role of hypocrite. I was willing to embark on this faith journey open to what the Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist, agnostic or wiccan might have to share that would give me a different perspective on what this world looks like to others. But I was unwilling to listen to those using the language with which I was most familiar; I was convinced I'd heard it all, been there, done that.


So . . . I commit to opening my ears to many voices -- including those with tales I've heard before.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Pocketful of Paradox

The rodeo mixer at the bar and grill elicits more talk of God than my entire day at work at a denominational entity.

One of only two participants in a workshop I did today on communicating effectively across generational lines was so entrenched in his way of thinking (shaped mostly by his being raised by his grandparents than his generational issues) that I had to practice what I was preaching in order not to throttle him.

The wisest woman in the room today had the least amount of formal education.

I'm ready for change and terrified that it's right around the corner.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

God is great ... God is good ... let us thank him ...

A friend who is caring for her ailing mom in a nearby state texted me on Friday.

"Know you would appreciate this. The church ladies have indeed kicked in. I'm looking at a lemon meringue pie with 2-inch high meringue, having just put two pans of brownies in the freezer and found a place for the chicken and dressing in the fridge. This comes after a peach cobbler last week. Of course, mom can't eat any of this so that means I'm going to weigh a ton -- or two. And, by the way, all this except for the dressing was cooked by two 85-year-old women!"

I replied, "Baptist women -- we can't fix what ails you but we can certainly feed it."

Later, I had to laugh at my amusement-filled reply given that I did the exact thing when I was told at the AIDS hospice on Saturday morning that two of our residents were "actively dying." Knowing that translates into family members streaming in and out for their final goodbyes throughout the day, I inquired about the status of our freezer/fridge. We always have food at the house, but, many times, it's donated food and while quite filling and very appreciated, there's only so many ways you can make frozen chicken nuggets tasty.

My fellow volunteer and I found some ground beef (actually, we probably found a half a cow ground up in one-pound-packages of brick-like frozen tubes) and a few things for sandwiches. I asked if she would mind if I vacated the premises for a few minutes to take a drive to the store. She ushered me forth and soon I had all we needed for a large pot of soup with FRESH vegetables and aforementioned ground beef, cornbread and some tuna salad.

I left my four-hour stint knowing that the 30-year-old who had to sit up with almost 100% oxygen hitting him as he fought valiently to breathe while drowning in his own fluids and the 30-something-young woman who was so out of it she barely knew we had to give her a suppository to break her 103 degree fever would absolutely not care that their families had soup and sandwiches for later. But I knew. And as a Southern woman I had done the one thing I knew to do. Care for the living. Pray for the dying.