Saturday, April 30, 2005

20 Years Into It And I Still Sweat

The nicest gift came my way today.

I was fretting BIG time about a writing/editing assignment I've gotten myself into. First, I'm not all that sure that I want to be doing this one. The folks I'm working for/with are . . . let's just say a bit more, uh, "structured" than I'm used to. Second, I don't know the subject matter like these folks do which means I have to hunt the web and track down details that because of their tenure, they just spit out at me on phone conference calls as though they were going back and forth between two languages. And finally, I'm the "new kid" and I haven't been this unsure of myself in a very, very long time.

That's not to say in my non-new-kid role, I carry myself with the calm, confidence of an Ellen Goodman whom I picture smiling on her porch with laptop in . . . yes, there it is, her lap, rocking contentedly as she hammers out yet another thought-provoking comentary on politics, social injustice or her nephew's upcoming marriage. No, I'm more Murphy Brown. And I'm not talking about the fact that the character was supposed to be an award-winning journalist! Have you caught the re-runs of this lately? I once loved that show but to watch the I'll-need-to-read-those-lines-off-the-cue-card acting that went on is almost painful now. And frankly, that girl was a whiner!!! She was constantly lamenting about something, wringing her hands about an upcoming yet-to-be-scheduled interview or a bad interview or a political crisis that she was personally going to have to solve.

I connect with the hand wringing. (God, help me, if everyone else thought it was because I'm a whiner!) I pray I don't whine but I do worry . . . a lot.

I worry that my ideas aren't strong enough. I worry that someone is going to call me out for the lack of experience I've been hiding all these lo 20 years I've been doing this! I worry that all the compliments I get on my work come from friends who love me and who'd support me if I told them I was going to don a red sequin dress, climb aboard the top of a Baby Grand and start belting out love songs for a living. I worry that even if my ideas are better than my new supervisor's I won't have the guts to stand up for what I think is best.

As a result, I sweat. And I've been doing so for the last 3.5 hours as I've worked on this project.

So . . . you know what the gift was?

Just before I began the project, I opened my email. I had sat at my computer with fear and almost trembling. So I was delighted to see a familar name in my in-box. There I found a note -- only a couple of lines --from a dear friend who I respect and admire more than I can possibly capture in a sentence or two. Unknowingly, he had come to my rescue. These two lines -- about something totally unrelated to the project -- told me I had it in me. "It" being whatever it takes to call myself a writer.

The neat thing was he was commenting on something I'd done several days ago and that I assumed was now buried. And, it was probably the LAST thing I would have imagined he might have read.

And that was the gift. I realized that I just needed to trust . . . myself, the process, the writing.

The project's birth is now complete. I've sent it off for comments. And you know what? I'm not sweating anymore.

Friday, April 29, 2005

A Nod in Death's Direction

Death lurked around my door today.

I like to think that Death somehow is kept at bay for the most part. We know it's real and around but usually on the front lawn in the corner, at the edge of the road -- certainly NOT looking in the windows or waiting to be ushered in.

But today . . . I received an email from a conference participant I met almost five years ago. When I first met this guy, I thought he was a nutsy old guy and wondered why he would have been among the hand-picked pastors who were invited to participate in a two year training program I was helping launch in the Northwest. "Nutsy" is a nice way of saying that he sometimes just seemed rude and always was a bit off on what you might call the social graces.

He spoke bluntly and then laughed as though we should all know he was joking. He picked on me specifically because I was the only woman on the team and he wasn't accustomed to being taught by women. And he was often inappropriate enough that some of the men at the table would feel the need to come to my defense. As you may have guessed . . . I didn't really like him.

And yet . . . he was extremely, and I do mean extremely, creative. And I can forgive a lot if you possess that particular trait. Also, I learned that his apparent lack of appreciation for women in ministry was actually much evolved and that he was attempting to evolve further. Then I discovered that though past retirement age, he was giving of his time to his congregation and others, that he was a marvelous teacher, and that there was more to him -- as a father, cyclist, husband, etc. than would ever meet the eye.

At the close of the two years, I hugged him with genuine affection knowing that I'd miss him most of all.

Then I got the email. He had cancer -- in one of his cycling hardened legs. He overcame it and was back on a bike in fairly short work of it.

Then came the next email. His wife had cancer.

That one hasn't turned out so well. Today I learned that she's moving into hospice care. She's gotten at least a year more than they ever expected and much of it has been filled with the church and family life that I now know sustains them . But you could tell in his writing that they are ready for her suffering to end and for her days of "being half aware and half unaware" to come to an end.

I marveled at their faith, and their legacy, and the things you can learn when you let yourself overcome what seem to be enormous emotional barriers.

Later in the day I met with J, a man I met at a party and who wanted my help in crafting an AIDS presentation. He's HIV positive, Jewish, a homosexual and has seen more than his fair share of death. The list of "modifiers" for him screams SUFFERING and yet as we planned we couldn't help but laugh. I think it's because we're both fairly well acquainted with the character lurking at the door and hey, why not invite him in for the party? Ignoring it makes it no less real!

So we nodded in Death's direction and carried on . . . just as my friend has done for the last year.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

More Thoughts from Anne Lamott

I finished Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. While I never want to sit and watch her speak again (she drove me nuts with her attention-deficit approach to addressing a crowd often stopping to comment on what she looked like on the monitor), I LOVE the way this woman writes. Here are a few goodies I gleaned:

  • . . . we should try to stay on God's good side. It's not hard. God has extremely low standards. Pray, take care of people, be actively grateful for your blessings, give away your money -- you're cool. You're in. Nice room in heaven, flossing no longer required -- which is what will make it heaven for me. Oh, I mean that, and Jesus.
  • Left to my own devices, I find myself hurrying along with my head down, shoulders hunched, my hands grasped behind my back like Groucho Marx. But Sam [her son] beside me and the songs of unseen birds make me look up and around, make me notice the patches of blue sky between the dense branches. Maybe this is what grace is, the unseen sounds that make you look up. I think that's why we are here, to see as many chips of blue sky as we can bear.
  • I live by the truth that "No" is a complete sentence. I rest as a spiritual act.
  • On the day I die, I want to have had dessert. So this informs how I live now.
  • Look, my feet hurt some mornings, and my body is less forgiving when I exercise more than I am used to. But I love my life more, and me more. I'm so much more juicier. And as that old saying goes, it's not that I think less of myself, but that I think of myself less often. And that feels like heaven to me.
  • While she was alive, I spent my life like a bitter bellhop, helping my mother carry around her psychic trunks.
  • I remember something Father Tom had told me -- that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns. Faith also means reaching deeply within, for the sense one was born with, the sense, for example, to go for a walk.
  • Hope is not about proving anything. It's about choosing to believe this one thing, that love is bigger than any grim, bleak shit anyone can throw at us.
  • Augustine said that you have to start your relationship with God all over from the beginning, every day. Yesterday's faith does not wait for you like a dog with your slippers and the morning paper in its mouth. You seek it, and in seeking it, you find it.

Life Changes

"Change is good. You go first." So reads a favorite t-shirt of mine.

A friend with a couple of years on me has taken on change in a big way. He's accepted a role at a church. I wanted to send him words of encouragement and yet not sound like I was giving a soul-less pep talk. So after much thought (most of which was done in my site of much inspiration -- the shower), I came up with this:

You're a pastor now.

I know that you've had this role before. And I know that you've counseled many a younger and older man/woman on what it means. But I'll bet it's been a while since you heard those words and felt them in the fiber of your being . . .

You're a pastor now.

I'm not. I never will be. But I have learned a thing or two. And as I thought about how to mark this day -- this first day of you becoming what you are next to be -- I decided to share a few things I have discovered after this many years of watching and listening.

First, or as soon as possible, decide if you are going to lead through change, maintenance or birth a new thing. Once upon a time, I probably thought one of those was more right than the other. Now I don't. What is right, is that the leader knows which one he/she really cares about and pursues it passionately.

Secondly, remember the beauty of balance . . . competence means so much more when there's equal amounts of caring, professional doesn't mean you can't also get personal, serious seems so much better when sparks of silliness are allowed to seep in.

And last of all, hold fast to the grace that you know you've been shown. You'll be a much better minister for it.

We don't often speak in such serious tones, so you should know that I was smiling the entire time I wrote this! But I didn't want this day to end without letting you know that I do realize the significance of this next life change for you. Bless you, my brother, today and always.

Fashion Senses

I've known poverty. I've known middle class. If I have my way, I will always have money for the dry cleaners.

As middle age descends, there's something refreshing about having a garment restored -- crisp and like new once again.

This acknowledgement is brought to you by the fact that I especially enjoy fashion's recent turn.

When so much of me doesn't move the way it once did (or too much does!), I enjoy the illusion of gracefulness that the current fabrics offer. The sight of a sleeve caught in the wind and dancing its own dance unmindful (because fabrics can't truly think no matter what those labels say about its having memory) of constraints pleases me.

As do the sparkles and beads that beckon to a time of passion and protest. My passions being somewhat dulled these days and the protests of my body overwhelming those of mind and spirit, I relish the wonder that what I wear makes me remember and sometimes become a bit more.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Sunday in the Park

Exotic takes on many forms. If you grew up with Spanish moss cascading from the tree in your front lawn or armadillos scurrying across your bicycle path, perhaps you might not think my Sunday all that unique.

But I only knew the joy of pecan trees and 'possums as road kill. We didn't have the built-in oooh factor of mossy swamp lands and live alligators in our Tennessee state parks. So pardon me if I'm in awe! And I am.

A last minute "we-must-get-out-of-the-city-on-a-day-as-beautiful-as-today" decision had me an hour or so outside Houston in the Bayou Bend State Park yesterday. I biked, hiked and counted 'gators with all the non-English speaking tourists who shared my idea of what an exotic outing looked like on a Sunday afternoon.

It was absolutely delightful. In fact, on the ride back into the city, I made a mental note, "Remember this, dearie. Because this is what happiness feels like. And you, lucky girl, know it well."

Zydeco Makes Me Smile

Must be the sight of a man wearing a washboard or something equally as kinky but I do so love zydeco live.

I drove straight from the airport to Houston's downtown (and, after the ill-advised move to the Reliant Stadium PARKING lot last year, this is perhaps a significant sign that indeed if all is not exactly right in the world, there have been moves in that direction) International Festival. The theme this year is India and while I enjoy a good paan saneer as much as the next girl and who can ever get enough of dancing shirtless young men with drums(?), I planted myself at the blues & zydeco stage for an afternoon of guitar picking, harmonica pounding, and washboard strumming delights.

I was not disappointed.

I realize that musical purists might have a problem with the repetitive rhythms and rhymes. But, I don't have a clue about that kind of thing. All I know is that when they start asking for us to join in for a chorus of "hey zy-deeee-co ooooh", I'm chiming in.

Didn't hurt that this might have been one of the most beautiful weekends Houston's had to offer in several months!

Friday, April 22, 2005

Success Comes in Many Forms

I convinced my mother to remove one table and a lamp from her incredibly crowded living room today. She'd already done a bit of rearranging and wanted some advice on decorating. When I'd suggested over the phone that she consider purging a few of the items that she and my stepfather have accumulated over the years, she'd hesitated. I assumed I was going to meet nothing but rationale as to why everything needed to stay exactly where it was when I arrived there today.

I was wrong.

She really had attempted to arrange furniture and not just make more shelf space. She'd done a wonderful job on the dining room, opening it up so that now the traffic pattern at Christmas dinner (the only time she has a dinner in the dining room) would flow smoothly. She'd made the guest room an homage to her past with hat boxes and rare photos of her family. And she'd listened to a few of the comments I'd made the last time I was home and placed some of her folk art in neat crooks and crannies.

But she still had shelf after shelf after shelf of the STUFF people give you when you say aloud that you like something. My stepfather was a doctor so folks have given him every type of doctoring statue you can imagine. He's also a UT fan (that's Tennessee, not Texas) and if you pick up a stuffed animal in this house prepare for a recording of "Rocky Top" because there's a microchip in there somewhere! Orange and white in one cabinet, crystal we have absolutely never used in another cabinet and at least a decade's worth of Snow Village figurines and houses in . . . count 'em . . . four floor to ceiling cabinets.

These Depression-era born seniors like to keep their stuff where they can see it!!!

And yet, today, I rearranged, shifted, removed, hid, and tossed, and mom simply beamed. Two bathrooms, one living room and a breakfast area later and I was feeling like I'd lived through an episode of Trading Spaces, but she loved it.

And I must admit, no matter how old you get . . . there's nothing like seeing satisfaction in your mother's eyes.

Dinner Conversation After the Buffet

My stepfather: He's big, really big (motions to indicate twice his girth).

My mom: He married a big girl too.

My stepfather: She's half his size and she's still BIG.

My mom: But he sure does have pretty teeth.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

A Stitch in Time

A subculture is a subculture is a subculture.

Language, look, logic, and lessons passed from one generation to the next -- all a subculture make. Today, I expanded my horizons once again and observed the land of the . . . quilters.

I am not a quilter. I barely hem pants and have even considered tape on more than one too-lengthy-leg-but-too-short-0n-time occasion. My sister says she broke the needle the last time she set out to sew (but she is an artist when it comes to crochet!). And my mother? Well, she's the one who passed down this degree of domestic skills!

But that doesn't keep us from appreciating a good quilt show. And just down the road, about an hour or so in Paducah, Kentucky is a quilting oasis come April. Today we wound our way through the back roads and straight to the river upon which sits the Executive Inn and Expo Center complete with several ballrooms full of award-winning quilt designs.

They were exquisite. I have no idea what the difference is between Machine Workmanship ribbons and simply Machine awards. I did decipher the distinction between a Bed entry and a Wall entry thank you. And at some point one of the very helpful conventioneers tried to explain what a long arm machine is and how that would make an incredible difference regarding the artistry but by that time, I'd ooohed and ahhed over irises, moonbeams, surreal designs with no basis in reality, tiny Dutch women in big bonnets, trees representing each season, and more tiny little squares than I'd care to count (although one participant did and entitled her work "Pieces of Life . . . 5,634 to be exact"). So I really didn't keep up with the explanation.

My discoveries?

1. I'm glad someone enjoys this art form enough to put the incredible outlay of time into it. I'm equally glad it's not me.
2. People who come to quilt conventions are really into expression through fabric . . . and not just the kind you put on the wall or on a bed. These women (and by far, they were women) moved in clumps with other similarly clad cohorts. They wore matching hats on which they'd stitched everything from pink flamingos to feather boas. They wore matching dresses with lots and lots of applique. They even wore matching hats and dresses.
3. White women really, really like quilt conventions. Out of the thousands I saw today less than ten people were non-Caucasion (although the biggest winners by far were Japanese quilters) and less than twenty were men (if you take away the food vendors the numbers for that shrink drastically!).
4. Did I mention that I'm absolutely satisfied to sit on the sidelines for this spectator sport???

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Never Thought I'd See the Day

My sister's story is my sister's story, so I'm not going into a lot of detail here. But when I was 16 she wrote me a poem that called me -- 9 years her junior -- her "older/wiser sister" and for many years, I played that role reluctantly. Then she discovered a way of life that she greets with enthusiasm every day and now 17 years down this path, she is a woman I admire, relish spending time with and, if she weren't my sister, would be included in my chosen family within minutes of meeting her!

During the hard years, she allowed her house to become less and less of a home and ultimately, didn't want the family to see its decline. So for many, many years I didn't see the place she spent her nights. (I said that this way, because otherwise, she spent very little time surrounding by its walls.)

Last summer, she married. Over 50, she surprised us all with the act and her choice. Her taste in men to this point was less than stellar! But this guy? Wow! The love they share plus the common interests and a sense of life's true value make them the type of couple folks are drawn to.

This summer, they bought a house. At this moment, I'm sitting in their computer room (I never thought my aging hippie sister would own a computer) and listening to her on the phone as she deals with insurance personnel (Once upon a time, I could have only barely entertained the thought that she'd have anything to insure ever again). Yet, it's happening!

There are rooms here with furniture, shelves housing mutual and individual obsessions . . . uh, I'm supposed to call them "collections" . . . a brand new deck with a brand new grill (which we will commission for service this very night and my mouth is already watering) and actual growing trees and plants around every corner of this edifice.

My sister has a home.

I say, "I never thought I'd see the day" and yet, I knew she had it in her all along. Maybe, just maybe, though, it was the combination of what she had in her and what he had in him that God needed to make the creation of this home just right.

All I know is that each room -- including the one they've deemed mine -- has potential oozing out of each board. They've already planned parties in their minds, have rooms set aside for their outreach to others, and overall are like any newlyweds just starting out. Except they are smart enough to value each day . . . one day at a time.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Motown Monday

It's alright. It's alright. So have a good time, 'cause it's alright.

'Nuf said.

Sunday, April 17, 2005


I had written the first draft of the blog entry on paying attention when I began the drive to the church where I sometimes help out with the Sunday worship experiences. Since it's a very long drive of 45 minutes I was using the time to chat with my mom and then my sister. During those conversations I heard the beep of incoming calls, so I tied them up quickly and discovered that two different friends in two different parts of the country were experiencing some new and different life highlights. I took great delight that in the midst of their delight they both wanted to share their joy with me.

When I got to the service, I noted that our small group had been joined by a visitor. Since we meet in a coffeehouse, someone off the street will sometimes sit with us a while and then move on. This guy seemed planted and he was also enjoying the other libation served by the establishment -- a beer.

Now, I don't have a problem with that because we really do want to be a place that is welcoming to all. But I think that was my first "sign." This guy was definitely going to be here a while. Usually, the pastor would have engaged him in a casual conversation prior to starting and then might have even chatted him up during the service. But my pastor wasn't here. And most of our extroverts were missing as well.

So after the music I followed the plan of introducing prayerwalking and sending the folks into the community to pray, and then made my way to the visitor to discover his story and assure him that he wasn't expected to prayerwalk if he didn't want to.

I need not have worried about not being the world's best greeter. (For those who know me, this may be a surprise but I don't do hearty handshakes and small talk with the new guy well. A party with folks I know? No problem. Conversations off the cuff with complete strangers? Not my thing.) This guy wanted to talk. About what? Well, that's the story.

In about 15 minutes we covered: that he might be a man or he might be a ghost, that his family included a saint, that he -- like the saint -- would die at 33 (even though he was obviously already somewhere between 50 and 60), that he was once asked to be a mercenary in Africa but turned it down, that he did serve in a "conflict" but he didn't say the name, that he was divorced and the oldest son bore the brunt of the scars but he didn't want to go into the details of that because that would blow my mind. Or was it the three born again experiences that would blow my mind? Frankly, at some point, I'd started trying to recall what the protocol was for talking with someone who had a fairly weak grip on reality. I decided it was to go with whatever he said as the working reality and ask no questions beyond clarifying the last statement. That kept us fairly busy.

Finally, one of the walkers returned. Finally, I made my way away from the table where we'd spent those few moments. Finally, I began to wonder about my commitment to paying attention.

I must confess that while I really want this place and group of people to live up to the commitment of being a "space for the community and a community that offers space," I cringe at having to be space for folks who are just plain off in space! I like reality. I like conversations based in reality or, if we must go to a "realm," I prefer the spiritual variety. I like getting calls about new jobs and vacations that are so good they have to be shared via the cell phone. I like paying attention to the things I find worthy of attention. OUCH!

This day I saw the test of my commitment. I'm not sure I made a passing grade.

Paying Attention Pays Off

Yesterday I paid attention. Such is not always the case, but for once, I got it nearly right.

I started the morning at the hospice where I volunteer. Usually, I know who my fellow vols are but I'd lost the calendar and simply knew I was supposed to show up. When I arrived, I found that some of my favorites would be working alongside me and that there would be plenty of surprises.

Some of those surprises came in the form of people -- lots of people. We had workers in the hallway finishing up chair rails. We had volunteers in training on the floor above. We had two older women in the kitchen delivering both groceries and a meal for the day. And, later, I discovered a couple of folks painting rooms near the offices up front.

With that many people come stories.

For instance, one of our crew had brought a visiting nurse from Thailand. Her English was broken but she held her own and really lit up when she fed us Thai food she'd prepared and shared the story of her experience on a boat while the tsunami was actually HAPPENING! She and her twelve companions survived but she spent two days with very few clothes on what she pronounced as a nearby ice-land (island).

Another story came when I volunteered for a second time to assist with one of the resident's showers. His girlfriend stays with him most of the time and usually handles much of his care. I was told she doesn't allow men to assist her but she let me two weeks ago and agreed to do so again yesterday. Her boyfriend is very tall, no longer talking, mostly blind, very cute, white, and incapable of standing on his own. She is short, a little stocky, Hispanic, older than he, holding down two jobs, and dealing with a home that recently flooded, a daughter that is angry because mom threw the deadbeat boyfriend out of her house they all were sharing, and a mother of her own that reversed her role years ago and still relies on this woman to hold the family's feet to the fire. (When we took a break after giving the shower and wrestling with clothes for -- did I mention the boyfriend is TALL? -- the resident, I got the extended story including the brother with seven kids who doesn't work and does drugs with his now adult kids, the ex-husband cop who she hasn't lived with for 8 years but is cute and charming and probably going to jail, and much, much more.)

The hospice also became the backdrop for learning a little bit of the story of the nurse assigned for the day and the fact that one of the residents has a chocolate cake birthmark on his thigh . . . (I resisted pointing out to him that as an African-American any birthmark would probably resemble chocolate something. I'm trained to be sensitive like that.)

After the hospice I sped to a downtown open air exhibit that included works from around the world on the theme of coexistence. Each large canvas was accompanied by a quote that seemed to support or challenge the artwork. As my friend and I explored each piece, we caught each other up on our latest life happenings. More stories, more enjoyment.

And then I missed it.

As I was concentrating on the printed words beneath one billboard, I heard, not too far away, "M'am? Say m'am?"

My mind immediately went to the fact that I was holding my wallet in my hand, that this was downtown and that panhandlers often interrupted my walks or meals in the area asking for "just a few dollars for the bus." I just didn't feel up to the give and take, so I ignored the voice and quickly moved across the park to reconnect with my friend.

From my now safe distance, I looked back to see what my would-be encounter might have been. The only possibility was a man sitting on a bench directly behind the billboard I'd been so intent on understanding. The seated man was obviously blind.

Fear kept me from the story of the blind man at the art show.

I pray I pay more attention next time.

Friday, April 15, 2005

What Is It About Color?

I love a good black and white photo. The impact of the story seems so much more evident when the "characters" are captured in the starkness of dark and light.

But . . .

When you truly see color explode off the page, outside your window, on your plate, in a storefront window . . . WOW!

Reds warm me and conjure silky luxuries. Midnight blue takes the oxygen from the air and fills space with possibilities. Yellow stings in a silly, satisfying way. Orange pouts and demands attention beyond being Red's second cousin! Green has to grow on me . . . while not my favorite, I do see its potential. But best of all is purple -- the one you can almost taste, the one that drips with promises and possibilities. If ever I were crowned queen of color, purple would be my cape.

Evidence of purple's truly engaging persona can be found on

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Loquat About It

A loquat tree grows on my patio. At the moment, almost every limb ends with a cluster of round, plum-sized yellow fruits. The limbs are high overhead and I could only reach (by standing in a chair) two last night when I determined it was harvest time. Still I collected a bowlful.

I'd heard someone say I had a Japanese plum tree but I'd never taken the time to find out much about it. This week the newspaper carried a story about the loquat or Japanese plum and offered up several recipes for using the fruit.

Wow! I had a food source outside my window and I didn't even know it. You see, I'd assumed that the round objects weren't edible. Otherwise, I figured someone might have mentioned it. We're talking food here, people. In my world this is not a topic to be ignored.

Yet for weeks, I'd watched the objects grow, and other than fear the clean up when they began to drop, I'd not given a thought to the things.

Now, I'm both consumed by and consuming them. I sat outside last night designing imaginary devices for reaching the top branches. I played out an Alfred Hitchcock influenced storyline when the birds began to feast on them. I engaged in conversations about their flavor, texture, and uses with my neighbors -- having now become the resident expert because you know I'd read an entire article about them.

I've discovered they are tasty -- much like the cherries I plucked off my grandmother's backyard tree when I was a child. I discovered they are lots of work for little gain -- the pits are huge and between them and the outer skin there's little room for actual fruit. And I've discovered that I like them natural -- because there's no way I'm taking the time to peel and cook them. The whole tree might cook up into one jar of sauce! (and that's an if-fy "might")

But I love the idea of the loquat tree on an urban patio offering up its treasure and right outside my door. A tree may grow in Brooklyn but here in Houston we go one better -- ours have loquats!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Nightmare of a Man, Dream of a Life

I was in a meeting with several men (what a shock! me in a room full of men). Several in the room were friends or friendly. One was not.

A friend and the one who was sharing his success story was asked where his boss was. He knew the general location but couldn't remember why. I knew and shared with the group.

My friend, chuckling, said, "That's you. You know us -- where we are and what we're up to."

And then to the group he said, "What's more she's great at telling our stories!"

The member of the group I was hosting and the one guy I've now deemed THE OBNOXIOUS ONE then said, "She has to. Without your stories she'd have nothing to say."

(I'm pausing for your righteous indignation to rise to the appropriate level. . . . There yet? I can wait. . . . Ok that should do it.)

My friend encouraged me to breathe deep cleansing breaths as I noted aloud my own outrage at such a socially inept commentary. And we continued on with the meeting.

Later I reflected on THE OBNOXIOUS ONE's remark. At first, I wondered if indeed he was right. Then I slapped myself and returned to reality. The man didn't know me. He had chosen, in the two days since he'd met me, to engage in less than 5 minutes of impromptu dialogue with me and had otherwise based his whole opinion of me on conversations he'd overheard or presentations I'd made. He never asked me a single question. He never said anything directly to me.

And he was the one who had begun the experience acknowledging that he lacked a dream.

I want to be EXTREMELY angry with this guy. But you know what? I pity him. He not only lacks a dream. He lacks joy. He lacks the beauty of seeing beyond the face of diversity and learning from its heart. He just lacks.

I also came to be so very thankful that I have the reputation of knowing the stories. For it's in the stories that life happens . . . again and again. And we celebrate . . . again and again. And I have the undeniable pleasure of being a part of all that. As a storyteller, I'm living my dream.

Faith Secrets

My friend(regarding a recent experience with her child): "When you were 12 did you ever sit at the dinner table and ask your mother if Buddhists were going to hell?"

Me: "Are you kidding? We whispered the word catholic!"

My friend: (laughing) "Oh yeah. In my hometown, an older man remarried and we never knew his second wife's name. It was always, 'oh you know . . . the (whispering) catholic one."

Catholic, cancer, pregnant . . . the verbage of my youth relegated to under-the-breath commentary. Similar to but not quite the same as profanities we could spell but not speak . . . the f-word, n-word, a-hole, etc.

Funny how word games far beyond the daily Jumble and crossword puzzle abound.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Rants Happen . . . And Can Be Deleted

My first blog today was a recounting of my day in which I was rather negative . . . and unpleasant.

I didn't wish this for my day nor do I wish it upon anyone taking the time to read So I deleted it.

Instead I will tell you about a particular moment in my day.

While riding away from the city, I turned to chat with someone in the van. I caught a glimpse of the skyline against the cloud-spotted blue and unexpectedly, but without hesitation, gasped, "I love my city!"

And I do. I really do.

Here's hoping you love your city too.

Friday, April 08, 2005

My World In Barn Red

I bought a chair for the patio. And thus it began.

The chair needed color. Red! I thought. So I bought stain.

The chair needed company. Flowers, I thought. So I bought flowers.

The flowers needed planting. So I invited a friend to show me what to do.

The chair needed staining. So I accepted the offer of yet another amigo who did a masterful job.

The newly planted and newly painted needed musical interludes. So I moved my musical source from bedside right to bedside left and in front of the window.

Bedside right needed something to fill the gap and the patio needed ambience so I bought candles which could serve two purposes (as opposed to two masters which we are not supposed to be able to do).

And last night after I watered my new, multi-colored plant life, I sat in my red chair, listened to my soft jazz, watched the flames of my torches and knew . . .

This is my world . . . and it is good.

I'm Thinking About This One

Anne Lamott in her latest book called Plan B tells the story of a rabbi who always told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scriptures on their hearts.

One of them asked, “Why on our hearts and not in them?”

The rabbi answered, “Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your hearts, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.”

ARGH!!!!! vol. 3

Is anyone else bothered by the fact that our American contingent to the Pope’s funeral that had a five person limit to it included former Presidents George Sr and Bill Clinton but Condoleezza was sitting where Jimmy Carter should have been? I pray he said no to the opportunity to go and that’s the ONLY reason she’s in his chair . . . ‘cause let’s face it, there’s no way she can take his place!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

La. La. La, La Means I Love You

Motown. What's not to love!?

Monday nights at Houston's Red Cat Jazz Cafe three older Black men in matching suits sing the songs of Motown and with choreographed movements to emphasize particular parts of the choruses bring smiles to the few folks who have discovered this entertainment option at the first of the week.

Twice now I've joined some friends for this musical interlude. Twice I've smiled to the point that my dimples stretched. Last night I was the object of the singers' attention.

Seems part of their act is to make their way through the audience and sing to women or encourage women's dates to do the singing for them. The first night I went with two gay men and a married pastor. They tried to determine which one of the men should direct the chorus of "My Girl" at me, made a guess, got it wrong and we laughed at how confused the singer seemed to be at our table's plight.

Last night we were seated a bit closer to the stage in the still rather empty room (March Madness was taking its toll on the potential audience) and I somehow caught the spotlight. First the younger man with the shaved head and earring seranaded me. Then the short guy with the gap between his two front teeth decided that he needed to direct his falsetto in my direction. And finally the lead and eldest had a song or two for me. Hands were held. Lyrics were spoken, sung, acted out. The evening was much fun . . . at least from my perspective!!

I plan on letting more of my buddies in on this little Motown Monday secret. But I'm going to miss the attention!

Monday, April 04, 2005

ARGH!!!!! vol. 2

My friend comes in from the east coast. She's visited two times in ten years. And BOTH times, the airline she's traveling on (different ones) lost her luggage. Ok, that's aggravating but not a total ARGH.

That's what happens next.

First she's told that they don't know where her and the other 15 passengers' luggage is. What do we get those handy computerized tags for if not for keeping up with such things?

Then she's given a telephone number that only takes her to computerized option or the friendly reminder that she can check the bag's status online.
What happened to HUMAN customer SERVICE????

The bag arrived this morning . . . 21 hours after she did.


Friday, April 01, 2005

With Fear and Trembling

He had the look of a blind man -- dark circles under unfocused eyes, clothes slightly askew. A cloud of pathos seemingly rose from his over-gelled hair . . . spiking underscoring how little he still had at such an early age. He wanted to please. He really did. And that's what made it all so very uncomfortable.

My friend and I were enjoying another one of our we-may-not-have-money-but-we-do-like-the-finer-things adventures at a local community college. Their culinary school has practice runs as the semester concludes and tonight was seafood night. For $15 we received a five course meal complete with palate-cleansing sorbet interludes.

Not too shabby.

Except for the waiter. "Shabby" is exactly the term that comes to mind when reflecting on the young man we learned wasn't quite a student in the program yet. He's taking this course in hopes of getting in and having it count next semester.

Hearing him stutter through that explanation and seeing him fumble with his acknowledged "cheat sheet" of courses, stumble through the placement of plates, cups and saucers, and require more and more assistance as the the night wore on had me wondering if someone wasn't holding out false hope.

We learned that all the students rotate roles from week to week. Tonight's manager of the "restaurant" might be next week's chef or even be bussing tables.

After watching our waiter spill the tea, lose the berry off my friend's sorbet, delay the salad, and have the manager "assist" with the table clearing, I began to cringe at the sight of his impending arrival. He walked with such caution, precariously balancing glasses or plates on the oversized platter that I almost bolted from my chair to help him out. I did take the ever-clattering dishes from his hand on more than one occasion as he approached my place setting with true fear and trembling.

Oh, and lest you think otherwise, I was employing my very best calming voice, words of gratitude, and "there, there" attitude. If someone was inciting his fear, it wasn't our table.

When the absolutely delicious meal of seafood quiche, garlic soup, trout with vegetables, lentil salad and bananas foster concluded, my appetite was definitely sated. But the experience overall left me wanting.

I want people like our poor waiter to have a place in the world. I want ineptitude in one arena to unfold into expertise in another. I want good things to come to sad situations.

I want him to be a great cook!

But, here is where I have my own serving of fear and trembling. I fear that such is not the case. I tremble that inequity is part of the system and that rather than simply "feeling bad" for truly pathetic people, I'm supposed to extend grace . . . love them in their unloveliness.

Here is where I pray for an understanding manager to come to my aid. 'Cause, frankly, here is where I suck at this job.