Sunday, November 23, 2014

What Anne Said

On Wednesday I went with a friend to see Anne Lamott for the third time in about ten years.

There were thoughts of meeting other friends for drinks before we went to see her but it is November. It is the season of cold and dark and hibernation rather than random acts of frivolity.  One thing a night, Friend and I decided. Only one thing and then we can go home to our pajamas and warm bed.

All along I wondered if seeing the same writer three times was a good idea.  Even though she's my favorite author, was I tempting fate and maybe falling out of love with her if she, too, showed up with the same November apathy that I was wearing?

Thankfully she was not, and although she tends to look like she rolled out of bed and picked her outfit up off the floor, she brought her energy and love even if she had to dig deep on an exhausting book tour to find it.  In her rumpled, dreadlocked self she stood on stage and told her stories.  She is funny. Hilariously funny in the most self-deprecating way that makes her all the more endearing.  In between the funny is the profound, and if you know about her younger self you also know that her physical, emotional and spiritual well-being were hard fought for and never taken for granted.

She read a little from her latest book, skimming some stories and at one point going back and saying, "Oh wait.  I have to read this part.  I love this part."  I got teary-eyed when she said that.  Years of writing, millions of books sold and she sounded like so many of us sitting there who become charmed by the magic that happens when the sequence of words is just so.

That sealed my fate with Anne LaMott.  I will remain her groupie for a lifetime.

The next day at work I emailed a friend telling her about my night.  "There were so many good stories, Gee," I wrote, "but my favorite was about the bees."  She related the story her pastor tells of how easy it is to catch bees.  "All you do is put some nectar in a glass jar and you've got them.  They crawl around bumping into the sides over and over until they eventually die. They never look up and if they did they'd see the escape hatch is right above them.  We have to remember to look up.  That's where the stars are."

Gee wrote back.  "I love that....really love that."

"I know, Gee.  Right?  We have to stop running into the same walls doing the same thing.   We have to look up and find the stars."

And then Gee had the most brilliant plan.  Let's find her.  Let's find out where she lives, break into her house and hold her hostage.  We could break her legs so she can't go anywhere and then make her tell us story after story. Let's do it.  We should wear Depends for the road, don't you think? We want to get there as soon as we can and not worry about getting slowed down by pee stops at rest areas and gas stations where the creeps and felons hang out.

That Gee.  Not only do her emails save me from feeling like I work in a coal mine every day, but she always has the best ideas even though they sometimes involve the possibility of consecutive sentences at the Big House.

"I'll bring the Capri Sun and the beef jerky," I wrote back.

A dismal, cold November has been replaced by something much more exciting.  Two friends shedding the bees in their bonnets and looking up at the stars.

We owe it all to Anne.

We can't wait to tell her.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Some Enchanted Evenings

The purpose of my new writing space was to, ummmm, write more.

Peoples.  It is so cold.

This space is over the garage and has never been what you'd call toasty (except for June, July, August, and half of September) but these past few days it has been downright frigid in here.  I can think of an excuse every day not to write so it was a given that I would not be creating in long underwear and gloves. Add to that my work buddy had to go and leave me for a few days and so I was bored and depressed day and night.

She came back today and yelled from her office when I arrived, "Did you miss me?"  I wanted to jump in her lap and lick her face but she might have thought that was weird.  And maybe crossing some boundaries.

People who need people......

I cranked out the work during the day and brought a space heater into my writing room when I got home.  It was time to get back to business.

*****

On Friday I had a dentist appointment to get my teeth cleaned.  "Are you doing anything fun this weekend," my dentist asked.

We were.  We had a soup night with new friends and never-met-friends and a dinner party on Saturday.  The dentist, the hygienist and I talked about entertaining.  Why, oh why, we wondered is it such a big deal to have people over?

I told them about being a little girl and my mom and dad having couples over for dance parties on Saturday night. The women would wear dresses and Mom's lipstick blotted toilet paper would smile from the bowl before company came. She'd spritz some Avon on and Dad would say, "Well, don't you look like a million bucks?"  Then the other couples would arrive with their lipstick and dresses and go into the garage turned dance club while Dad poured the scotch. Mom once said, "The great thing about being friends with the chief-of-police and his wife is that you won't get in trouble if the neighbors call the cops because you're too loud."

Mom would let us sit on the stairs in our pajamas for a little while to watch and then shoosh us off to bed.  I remember falling asleep to the sound of talking and laughing and Frank Sinatra and I thought being an adult must be the best thing ever.

There have been plenty of parties since then but it seems that an abundance of social media these days has replaced real conversation with real people.  It's all so out there all the time that maybe it seems unnecessary to have people over when they've already seen your vacation photos on Facebook.

But this weekend we shared stories and food with people we knew a little or not at all. "Where did you go this summer because I want to come along next time?" Debra asked me before soup was served.  "Montana and it was perfect," I answered.  And her and I talked about being in nature and realizing how small you really are compared to your surroundings.  After the soup and dessert the Tarot cards came out and I was nervous because Mom might have implied way back when that a good Catholic wouldn't dabble in that sort of thing.  I'm a lousy Catholic these days and so I tapped the stack three times to remove the energy and picked three cards.  I am on the brink of something big.  Mark followed me and picked his three.  His cards said that something he's been working on for a long time is about to bear fruit and I was more excited for his predicted good fortune than my own.  We left with plans to make soup on Friday a standing date once a month and I felt grateful to be included in the maiden voyage.

At the following night's dinner party we knew only the host and hostess and broke bread with some people who had the most incredible stories of love and life and cancer and healing and art.  All day Sunday Mark and I looked at each other and said, "Who gets to meet these kinds of people?"

How very small we often feel to ourselves when we are surrounded by the barrage of Facebook feeds and breaking news, but such compelling stories we walk around with every day in our own back pockets.

They deserve time to be unfolded, smoothed out and lingered over.

They deserve to be invited in and served with soup or steak....and a side of Frank.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Room Of My Own

I had grand plans a few weeks ago to repaint and redecorate a neglected room in the house.  All started well enough but I got sidelined by a cold then some other annoying health thing and so things moved along slower than I thought they would.

Or maybe my age means I can't redo a room top to bottom in two days like in the olden times.  Alas, I pulled it together this weekend.

The room is connected to our bedroom (by that door on the left) and so it needed to work with what is going on in there.



It also had to cost me practically nothing.  We have spent plenty around here lately so I bought the white paint, and the gray on the window frame and dresser was a sample pint I bought to try out on the outside of the house. I spray-painted the knobs a couple of different colors and then wiped them with stain to get the bronze look I wanted.

I stole from every room in the house to fill it.  Thank goodness winter is coming and I could take many things that normally would be on the screened porch.

The top two levels over the dresser I bought a few years ago.  I love work tools and then last year my mom acquired my grandfather's toolbox.  The bottom level was his and his initials are on it.  The old pyrex bottle with the mini lights in it came from an estate sale.  I saw it and loved it and went back the next day when it was half off.  My niece's speckled trout artwork has a proper frame now.

The wallpaper hanging table that I am using as a desk I got about fifteen years ago at an estate sale.  I paid $65.00 for it and have used it in every way imaginable.  The legs fold down and then the table itself folds in half so it has been easy to store when I haven't needed it.

The cabinet on the desk I got on the last day at Good Company - a vintage shop where I used to have a booth.  It was marked down to $30.00.  I had no idea where I would put it but I loved it and brought it home.  I filled it with my nature stuff - turtle shells, rocks, bird's nest, antlers, feathers, driftwood.  I recently told a coworker how I like that kind of stuff inside my house and the look of horror on her face cracked me up.  I thought about painting it but Will yelled, "Everybody needs to stop painting stuff."  I'm glad I heeded his advice warning.

I need a few more things on the wall but other than that it is done.

Sheesh.

I'm inspired and content every time I look at it.




Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Conversation About Race

I got a new coworker many months ago.  We went through a dating period for awhile as we got to know each other and we were on our best behavior.  I don't know when the good manners slipped away and we started acting normal, but eventually we did and now we are work buddies.

She is smart.  So smart.  I couldn't even tell you how much I've learned from her.

I am in and out of her office all day.  She peeks over my cube wall.  We're snarky.  We're irreverent.  Every Thursday afternoon she says, "Please work tomorrow.  It's so boring when you're not here."

On Friday she texts me.

Wednesday morning I sat down dejectedly in her office.  My flaming liberal self was completely shot down by the election returns of Tuesday night.

"Can you even believe that last night," I said to M.  I mean, geez, we had a senator reelected that hasn't lived in this state for years.  How can that happen?  I never even knew he was married until his acceptance speech last night.  Shouldn't you know something like that about the guy who has been representing you for years?  What is wrong with people?  Why did they vote for all these idiots?"

I boo-hooed in my coffee.  "I never talk politics at work," she said, "but you are down-to-earth and I feel like I can say this to you.  I look at this president and think of all the possibilities and then I think back to those men standing there saying they would do anything to defeat him.  As soon as he started the job they said that.  We will defeat you. We will make sure that you are not successful at anything.  And in many ways he has been successful despite them.  But oh how things could have been if only they had changed their mission.  It all seems very racist to me and I hope you are not offended by me saying that."

"Well, that would be hard since I agree with everything you said," I told her.  "And now the most vocal one of those men is getting promoted to Boss of the Senate. It's not right, M."

We talked about the thing everybody avoids talking about.  Race.

She told me about going to Memphis and seeing a museum exhibit on the slave trade.  "So many of those men brought from Africa died on the ship because the conditions were so brutal.  They'd unchain the shackles and throw them overboard.  One after the other like they didn't even matter.  It changed me when we went down there.  It wasn't that long ago and you know what else happened when we were in the South?  Little white kids stopped and stared at me like they'd never seen a black woman in their life before."

I told her about going to the civil war battlefields.  "Not even the width of your office, M.  That's how close the North and South were when they were shooting each other.  And you know what, M,, I felt them.  The spirit of those Union soldiers fighting for the freedom of slaves seeped into every part of me and I have never forgotten it."

"Yes, I know what you mean.  That's exactly how it was when we were in Memphis.  I felt those slaves."

I told her about the time we were driving to my Grandma's house a few weeks after Martin Luther King died and the street was lined with protesters.  Mom's fear filled the car but Dad said, "Now, Ger, nobody's out to hurt us.  They're upset and they have every right to be.  We're all going to be just fine so relax."

"The Underground Railroad couldn't have happened without white people," M. said.  "Did you know that?  White people were instrumental in helping slaves escape.  I bet your Dad would have been that kind of white person.  An Underground Railroad kind of person."

I don't know.

I know that every single day when I feel overwhelmed M. comes along with a lantern to light the way.  I think she would say the same of me.

Two woman.

Two backgrounds.

One a descendant of slaves. The other a descendant of slave owners.

Each helping the other get to the railroad.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Devil's Holiday

When I worked at my favorite store, I had an equally favorite store next door.  It was a home d├ęcor and furnishings business that was filled with vintage and new wares.  Their displays were so inventive and creative (and even more so for the holidays) that I would often wander over when things were slow at our place.  These two businesses were the perfect neighbors - creative and arty in every aspect.

I wasn't the only Nattie that shopped next door.  Often on the way back and forth from the parking lot to the store, one of us would say, "Have you seen what they've got in the window now?"  That would cause an exodus to check out their newest display that often resulted in returning to the home base for a debit card.

I got a vintage chair reupholstered in houndstooth as a Christmas present one year.  Two days in the window and I brought Mark by and said, "This.  This is all I want this year."  It has been in my living room ever since and is still one of my favorite things.

One day when my mom was visiting I took her up to the shopping center to meet my coworkers.  "We have to go next door, too, Mom.  You have to see what they do."  My mom doesn't share my love of vintage, but she is game and acts enthused when I gush over rust because she is a mom and that's in the job description regardless of the age of the kid.

The owner happened to be in and I introduced her to Mom.  Her and one of her employees were in the process of taking down the Halloween decorations to get ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"Oh, I just hate Halloween," Mom said. 

"Me, too," the owner said.  "You do know it's the devil's holiday, don't you?"

Among the skulls and bats and other ghoulish decor, Mom said, "Oh yes, of course I've heard it referred to as that. But for my husband and me it was more about trying to come up with costumes for six kids every year.  That was long before you could actually buy a costume like you can now.  You had to be creative with whatever you had on hand."

Her six kids could vouch for that.  We spent years being ghosts (hello white twin size sheet) or Mom's personal favorite - a hobo.  None of us actually knew what a hobo was, but Mom sure did and she could blacken a wine cork and smudge your face dirty like a hobo pro. 

"I don't like it," we all said to her at one time or another.

"You look great," she'd say shoving you out the door with a brown paper grocery sack and a bandana hanging from a stick over your shoulder.  And when the neighborhood kids would ask you what you were supposed to be and you said "hobo", they would look equally confused.

But at that point it no longer mattered.  With no curfew, supervision or limits on radius or neighborhoods, what mattered most was how many pounds of candy you and your costumed cohorts could haul home before your overladen paper sack would tear and spill all that sugary goodness onto the the sidewalk.

It was the most perfect day to be a kid.

"Didn't you love that store, Mom?" I asked as we headed to the car.

"It was fine," she said.  "I have to say, though, that that woman sure doesn't seem to mind making a buck off the devil's holiday."

That's when I knew that despite what she always proclaimed, Mom had secretly been on the side of her six, little devils.....even if it meant losing her marbles for weeks before.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Dream Catcher

When Mark is out of town I like to surprise him with a decorating project upon his return.  One time he got home in the middle of the night and ran into all the newly rearranged furniture. 

He might have cussed.  I might have said, "But don't you think it looks so much better?"

He tends to think everything is just fine the way it is and often doesn't understand my need to change things up.  I put a new-agey spin on it to justify my thought process and say, "This wall color and couch is stagnant much like my life right now.  We need gray everything.  Look at these swatches.  Which do you like better?  Storm cloud or anonymous?  They might look different but they're not so really look at them."

His defense mechanism is to leave town to escape the madness.

My current project is my writing-bill-paying-clothes room.  It hasn't been painted in years, and come to find out, no furniture has ever been moved and vacuumed behind.  Little no dusting has occurred either.  I had a consult with my designer son and decided to go way out on a limb and paint the walls white. 

I need calm.  I need to bring up my six foot wallpaper hanging table that is about eighty years old and spread myself all over it.  I need my nature chotchkes and favorite books close by and my clutter gone. 

As is my style, I grossly underestimated how long this thing in my head would take to come to fruition.  Three days, max, I thought.  But the Royals are playing in the World Series and they need me to cheer.  Then I caught a cold.  I am far from done and Mark will be home in two days.  It is chaos in the bedroom where everything has been put so I have room to paint.

Welcome to my cluster, honey.


******

When I worked at the bank, Phyllis asked me if I wanted to be on a softball team.  I declined.  I had never played before and went through four, long years of high school being called "Peeps"(even by the gym teacher) because I ran like a chicken.

That really was enough humiliation to last a lifetime.

Phyllis was relentless.  "You don't have to be good.  It's just for fun." 

I joined.  She was a big, fat liar.

These women were competitive.  Long-time softball players who could knock the ball to the next zip code, they were out to kick ass, take no prisoners and win.  I was there to have something to do a couple of nights a week and drink beer afterwards because my husband often worked late.

It didn't take long for it to become apparent that I had no softball skills.  Even though I had three brothers that played Little League and we always played ball in the backyard, it all seemed hard and foreign to me.  I became the catcher because the furthest I could throw the ball was back to the pitcher and that was on a bounce and a slow roll.  I frequently made it on base because I hit the ball so softly that no infielder was expecting a baby bunt when nobody was on base.

Towards the end of the season, a batter from the opposing team sent one sailing out to left field.  Our player chased it down and sent it back to me like it was shot out of a cannon.  I was terrified because that ball was coming for my face and I knew I sucked, but Lord Have Mercy I caught that thing and tagged the runner out at home plate. 

We whooped and hollered even though we lost the game because not a single person on that team, especially me, ever thought I would catch that ball.

*****

We were at a wedding last weekend and a darling, young girl sat down beside me and said, "I feel like a stalker and we've never met but I read your blog and I wanted to tell you that I love it.  I know you're not from the south but you write like a Southerner.  Like William Faulkner.  In fact, I've told all my friends and they read your blog too."

That's when the room started to spin and I felt faint. 

Then I got awkward and dorky and Peeplike and talked too much.  "Did you read the one......." I asked.  "Oh, I've read them all," she answered."  And it felt like the holy spirit scooched between us to say, "Listen up, girl" because I have struggled mightily to get something written once a week. 

"My daughter says I need to write more," I said.  "I would be in agreement with her," my new friend said.

The next day I decided that the place I write has to reflect the expectations I have of myself going forward.  It has to be serene with the things I love close by and I have to show up more for practice.  It has to be dusted off now and then.

When it's done my old wallpaper hanging desk will look out onto the fall trees, then the bare, snow-covered ones that will give way to spring.  My goal is to spend time there every day.  I can picture it all just like that ball sailing towards me at home plate.

And guess what?  I can see me catching it.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Wild Card

I once read that kids find a way to connect with their fathers by pursuing their dad's interests instead of their own.  I'm not sure if that is always true but it certainly was in my case.  A mild interest in the Cubs that was fueled by a trip to Wrigley Field when I was about ten and the deal was struck. 

Dad's team became my team.

We would arrive early enough to watch batting practice with a picnic lunch in tow.  Mom and Dad would get a beer or two from one of the vendors to wash down the ham sandwiches, and my sisters and I would get peanuts and cotton candy.

I dove head first into my new obsession, clipping newspaper and magazine articles for a scrapbook I kept.  I made a rug with the Cubs logo for my bedroom.  When I was in high school my mom got tickets to a luncheon for Cubs fans and I got my picture taken with Fergie Jenkins.  I once saw Ernie Banks on the streets of Chicago and ran back to my office so I could call Mom and tell her.

My interest in baseball ebbed and flowed over the years depending on how busy my life became.  When I met Mark I made him watch the World Series with me and explained everything my Dad had taught me.  The strategy, the signals, the base runners.  He grew up on hockey and so this was new turf to him. He loved it, or maybe he tolerated it and loved me more.

Sitting at home on the couch one can almost smell the crisp, autumn air of a World Series game that makes the sound of the ball pop when it hits the glove of the catcher, or the crack of the bat as though it is across the street instead of thousands of miles away.

And then there's Vin Scully.  The play-by-play announcer that has made a career of putting poetry to baseball.

This year the Kansas City Royals are going to the World Series.  In a wild card and playoff series that often went past midnight, this bleary-eyed city woke to win after win and collectively said the morning after, "Did that really happen?" 

Kansas City is also home to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and it is a cultural gem.  When I went I happened to be following the current director and was right on his heels as he gave a tour to two women.   He was a wealth of knowledge about a time long gone when there was a white league and a Negro league, and never the two should meet until Jackie Robinson came along.

Vintage photos of the Negro League games show crowds in their finest apparel.  Most games were on Sunday afternoons and so fans would walk from church with their picnic baskets and then sit in the stands to cheer for the Kansas City Monarchs.

In a football season that has started with more violence than most of us can stomach, this team has been the antidote.  The MVP smiling while clutching his trophy and then beaming when he was cradling his newborn son.  They are our gentleman players - the Sunday-after-church kind that seem grateful enough to tip their caps and thank their moms.

My dad used to run training sessions for lineman at Commonwealth Edison in Chicago.  One team knew how much Dad loved the Cubs and bought him a coffee cup with the names of all the bullpen pitchers on it.  "You have it, Kath," Dad said.  "You love them as much as me."

That's what I drink my coffee from each morning, and though it traces back to 1969 and seen better days, my love of the game has the best days ahead of me this year. 

While an entire city cheers the Royals on it almost seems a certainty that the spirit of those dads who rooted for the Monarchs or the Cubs, the ones who patiently taught the intricacies of the national pastime to their eager kids, will be right beside us.

So close in fact that it wouldn't seem the least bit odd to say aloud after a diving catch in the outfield, "Can you believe this game, Dad?"