Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I remember next to nothing

     More often than not, I start out to do one thing, and low and behold, something else takes me off in a different direction, and I completely forget what I originally intended to do.
     Sound familiar? Ah, you can identify with my problem if you are a Baby Boomer or older, and it is pure rottenness to the core. Well, youngish folks often tell me they’ve had the identical experience once, and yet they quickly make light of it calling it a blip in memory. All I can say is just you wait. Your time is coming.
     What once was a clear and photographic memory is gone, gone gone faster than an auctioneer’s gavel coming down on the podium. I aced more tests and remembered telephone numbers like no one’s business without having to play peek a boo a second or third time with the phone book.
     I don’t care how many crossword puzzles, Sudokus and herbs are on the market guaranteed to keep my wits sharpened. The brain is amazing in its ability to hold me hostage.
     I tell you it’s no joking matter when forgetfulness is part of moving through a day. Memory lapse is like rowing with one oar in the water. How I remember clearly tiny bits of information from years and years ago, like my very first childhood telephone number, and can’t recall the short-term memory stuff is baffling.
     Certainly this is not an essay on Alzheimer’s or senile dementia. I don’t take the topic lightly for in my case my mother had dementia, and it was a difficult period for our family. To watch helplessly as someone steadily declines in language and memory function is not easy, and I truly appreciate caregivers.
     And what did I originally intend to write in this column?
     I wanted to try a new nail polish, chameleon, that I had seen advertised in a woman’s magazine. Sure this is a “fluflu” example, but I want to make a point before I forget. The advertisement shows how it changes colors as a hand moves in the slightest degree. That’s how my brain must be wired, too.
     I made a quick stop at our local drugstore, and it all goes downhill from there.
     Of course, I didn’t write the nail color down, and as I walked in the store I didn’t give it much thought. That’s what iPhone apps are for, aren’t they? Who’s to recall such trivia?
      All the jokes you hear are not funny when you are in the same boat not remembering where you are going down the river.
     I went in the door, turned to the right to get to the first cosmetic aisle, and  I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in ages. We talked and talked.  All of sudden my mind totally went blank. Why was I here in the first place? I looked at all the other purposeful shoppers filling their carts and couldn’t believe it. Rats.
      Wise people say to retrace your steps and relax your mind totally and it will come back. Ha. I went back outside like a fool, unlocked my car and sat down. I took a deep breath, counted to eleven and went back into the store. I noticed the clerk glanced over at me, but fortunately she was busy with a customer. Apparently, I didn’t appear overly suspicious.
     I ambled down the cosmetic aisle before stopping to grab a copy of the weekly newspaper. I remembered that I needed cotton balls, but the ones in this row were not what I was looking for so I wound down to the baby aisle for better choices.
     That took me off on a wild goose chase to the cough drops, and I selected a couple extra for allergy season. I found a basket to hold the cotton balls and cough drops, and recalled that I need to stock up on sympathy cards. Lately I have being going through way too many for comfort.
     A phone call interrupted everything, and when I noticed it was someone I must catch right then I went into work mode. No one was around and I managed to engage and finish. Thank goodness I didn’t forget what the business was about. I’ve been known to stall in my conversation until I can figure out what I am supposed to be agreeing with, or not.
     Since I totally had forgotten my original purpose, I went to check out in hopes that at the last minute when I had a line of people behind me it would come to me. (I am not one of those customers that rudely leaves the counter holding everyone up to find the missing item. The shopper returns to continue checking out without giving a look to the left or right, nor apologizing.)
     Not so. The light didn’t go on in my head. It didn’t happen. And it didn’t occur when I drove off from the drugstore. I wasted my time, gas and now I feel befuddled. My only salvation was to put the problem to rest and think about dinner.
     The very next morning after a restless sleep I woke up saying, “chameleon nail polish.”  That’s it. I reached for my phone and sent myself a note.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Writing contests and rejection slips

An online writing contest came in a blog post from a well-respected non-fiction journal. Usually I don't bother to enter, and not for fear of rejection either. Each takes time from other projects on my calendar deadline list, and I don't need the distraction. However, this one had a perfectly simple title, "That Summer," and I already had a couple short essays that could be ripped apart and pasted back together into a lovely memory worth sharing. Why not?

I remember hearing the late Frank McCourt speak and tell how as a teacher in New York City, he would paste all his rejection slips on the bulletin board reminding his students that writing is hard work. Nothing comes easily, and after years and years of denial, McCourt's book, Angela's Ashes, was published and rose to the number one spot on the bestseller list for weeks on end.

Humble as he was in character, McCourt's classroom lesson stuck with me vividly. My rejection slips go in a folder after letting go any negative feelings about my abilities. The magazine and Kay are not a good match at this time is how I rationalize it.  McCourt felt similar with the stories he had to tell. Somewhere, someone will listen, and connect to his thoughts.

Then too, I have a superstition about allowing others in on what I am sending off to publications like it will jinx my good fortune.

My story is almost ready, and with a tweak here and there, tomorrow I will push the "send" button releasing it out into the world for others to make of it what they must. The prize would be wonderful; it's freeing to make the effort nonetheless.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Exploring darkness

Growing up it wasn't uncommon for me to be crawling on my belly and giggled with my friends as we burrowed deeper and deeper into a small cave in the thick woods not far from the shoreline where we lived. I don't remember thinking a thing about it. Certainly I had no early warning signs of claustrophobia and scariness of the unknown.

The hours sitting on the front porch watching the lightning across Long Island Sound on a pitch black night were magnificent opportunities for nature's displays. How vast the universe. It was way beyond anything I could imagine and I realized then that I was just a speck in the larger world. The world didn't revolve around me and my little life at all. I was growing up and figuring things out sitting in the dark.

With more life experiences under my belt, things change and exploring in the darkness comes with more apprehension. It is time to break it down and make sense of it.

Often the way out is the same as the way in.

For safety, cavers understand that they must check behind them every few minutes to establish where they are at as it is confusing in the darkness. When it is time to return, they use markers they have left at crticial points to exit sucessfully.

The period of pitch darkness emotionally after a traumatic experience, death or illness is intended to be crawled through one tiny wiggle at a time until the lightness returns hopefully. How you feel and react during the difficulty is up to you, and it may be frightening or enlightening, or both for that matter. You just don't know what's going on. You have to have a little faith.  You show up day after day.

Transformation takes place in the dark.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Exercising my body and mind

 I would venture to say that where my feet take me usually my mind is ten steps ahead and beyond. Thoughts power stride in and out of my conscious realm, and sometimes it is best that I never know the difference. Fragments might last the entire hike; other times, I never remember a single shred of memory when I hit my porch.

The best bet for a dry fast walk on a potenitally rainy afternoon is strolling along with an umbrella for assurance. The fickle droplets never materialize threatening sky and all. 

About half way along my gait slows and I agonize if I am ever going to make the self-imposed three miles,  and I chastise myself something wicked for believing that exercise is a great healthy goal. It is, isn't it?

Wildlife abound on strolls where I pay attention to what's around my and not at my sneakers underfoot. The birds provide a better melody than my iTunes, and the cool breezes from the rustling branches help relieve the sweat pouring from my back. 

My pedometer announces I've made three-fourths of the walk and the end is possible now. My steps speed up and my emotions are much more hopeful. It is no longer a forced march.

Drinking from my water bottle. Stretching. Slipping on a light jacket. I'm good to go for another day.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sunday thoughts

And He will raise you up on eagle's wings. I associate those ascending melodious words with a funeral and the final passage lifting a dear one to eternal heavenly residence out of our earthly realm. Sad and hopeful.
The tears did flow at a service for a friend, and today on a meditative walk out into the countryside, a precious rare sighting of a bald eagle swooping and circling above me like a personal encore one final time gives abundant comfort. And hold you in the palm of His Hand. 
There is freedom in the eagle's soaring in the vastness above that attracts me to seek more beyond the confines of space. It inspires me, and mighty phrases land on a page as quickly as my fingers touch the keyboard like a nest where the mother bird faithfully deadheads to feed her young.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Blogged to a 'wordy' death

     Everybody and his grandmother write a blog. There is nothing private anymore that folks won’t announce in the cyber world.
     Sticking to the facts is iffy. Opinions often get higher marks than the truth. That “gray area” blends together all too frequently and speculation takes the forefront.
     I am going down for the count. Enough, already. You are reading this from someone who keeps a blog, too.
     Blogging is a trendy thing, and supposedly sets you apart from the rest of the guys and gals not serious about promoting what’s on their mind. How in tempo to look at someone in the eye and exclaim, “I have a blog, and by the way, here’s my card. Follow me.”
     If you are like me, you’ve got tons of blogs bookmarked. It takes effort to keep up with any, or all of them, on a regular basis. You would have to be reading round the clock overloading your brain, most of which content should be discarded like lukewarm bathwater.
     In fact, the majority of my blog list goes unread for days, let alone weeks on end. Every once in a while, I go through by category and delete many narratives. While I am cropping the list, it never fails but I find more to add. I know that I defeat my own purpose.
     On the other hand, there is something to say in defense of blogs. I love to reading short excerpts and viewing pictures from family and close friends. It is their scrapbooking method for preserving memories. It connects me with those at a distance.       
     If Twitter has become my quick source for news, then I find specialized blogs valuable that invite me further into my hobbies and interests. Likewise, I read commentaries by various news gurus, and pick and choose what I absorb before disregarding the rest.
     I am weak when it comes to supporting fellow writers attempting to get their work out for others, gain a little recognition and perhaps, an agent for their next novel. Some days I am sure that they are questioning why they chose such a profession in the first place.
     You might be interested, or not, in what I do read in the blog world. These are the exception to the rule in all ways.
     A journalist friend keeps “Peace and Justice Maven,” and her slant on global issues can be alarming and insightful at the same time. When she was living and teaching in the Middle East, I knew that I was hearing about daily life from an authentic source. Her trials and joys from inner city D.C. teaching strengthened her, and I applauded her caring about youth so much that she stayed committed to her assignment.
     An English teacher writes a book blog, “To Thine Own Self Be True,” and often I get my new reading matter from her reviews. If nothing more, I enjoy her thorough analysis with a touch of her wit to boot. I will shamelessly add here that she wrote a thoughtful review about my book, “A Smidgen of Irish Luck.” That’s no easy feat when she and I have been close friends for years.
     “Vagabond Way” is an invitation to the rest of us by a young friend and her husband traveling around the world on a shoestring. They are living on the planet responsibly with a goal of working on each continent. Right now, they have finished a visit to the Patagonian region of Argentina, and I am finding memories through their voyage in their natural way with words and pictures.
     Most blogs are pretty ragged around the edges, too. There doesn’t seem to be any protocol. Certain blogs are cluttered, and others are well designed. There is a virtual audience out there, and it could surprise you. I often wonder how someone stumbles on to one blog versus another.
     If your goal is to express yourself through writing, then blogging is the avenue. I’m not going to discourage you. It is a way to develop your skills as a communicator thinking beyond yourself to a vast audience of potential readers. Envisioning faces instead of words on your computer screen connects what you say with real people.
      Prior to blogging — how modern I am — there was journaling. Folks will say that they prefer notebook and pen best to this day. I respect that opinion.
     Therapeutic journals have been wonderful avenues for expressing those inconsolable feelings that are below the surface. Once in awhile I will read a book that is the outcome of professional help sessions, and it is humbling walking in the footsteps of a person who has overcome adversity.
     If you have read Paul Theroux and Bill Bryson, then you know that their journals turned into wonderful books for the armchair traveler.
     When I was thirteen a friend gave me a pink plastic diary with a tiny key to unlock the pages of my overactive imagination. I wrote in it faithfully every day for a month until it was discovered by my little sister hidden in my bureau drawer under three layers of underwear. A little light bribery and all was well again.
      I blog what I need to get off my mind quickly. You might liken it to a writing warm-up exercise; it is as plain and simple as that. Once my thoughts are out, I hope that a reader somewhere in blogsville will make use of my post.    

Sunday, June 29, 2014

An appreciation of all things genuine

     No generation in history has put so much thought, energy and money into keeping itself safe and secure, but still individuals are not happy when it comes right down to it.
     I hear folks trying to engage in more relevant activities picking and choosing with much better care taking into consideration the raising of their families. It is a frantic and action-packed agenda keeping them on the go. I listen to someone wishing to get more personal with friends long forgotten. It goes on and on.
     Our contemporary culture is fixated on “living large.”
     “Extreme” and “super-sized” gets put in front of everything making it more appealing.
     The older I get the more I am eliminating the useless activities in my life and bringing my experiences into sharper focus. Maybe it is a sensible rite of passage that I am supposed to go through achieving a serene and contented stage of maturity.
     I reach for people that are genuine. They are quite easily spotted, and often they come rather naturally into my circle. There is hardly any work in making a connection. It all falls into place as if we were meant to belong together. They see in me what I am in the mirror. (And it is likewise.) I gracefully take from the friendship a better me.
     These unique human beings are the ones that cross boundaries in their relationships, exude love for those that matter to them, take risks at every corner and lead rich lives. They can't be pigeonholed or molded from a cookie-cutter, and never are these friends always in my immediate space.
     Friendships do need to be cultivated, and in certain cases, they will be in my life for a brief period of time. It is important in my growth and development. I look back thankful for them, and how fortunate that I paid enough attention the first time we met.
     Others are the lifetime friends that cover a lot of territory with me. As one friend aptly says, “We have come this far and it’s too late to stop now. You and I know everything about each other.”
     My young neighbor and her two toddlers came to visit one early evening and immediately the older boy headed to our creek and searched for fossils. Mom brought the baby up to the porch for a check on his growth spurt, and he looked me over before falling asleep in her arms. She and I talked about how she is doing carving out time for herself and what she planned to do with the children exposing them to the area.  A bit of the conversation centered on her questions searching for motherly advice, too, and I welcomed giving to a person intent on listening and absorbing. There is a bonding going on across the generations that is hard to explain, but it is an honest and truthful one. We look forward to more, and know that we don’t need each other all the time either to maintain a beautiful friendship.
     On the opposite end of the age scale I have a ninety-three year-old friend that I do see quite regularly when she is not off jetting to visit with her sons in other parts of the country. We never end a conversation without saying to each other, “I love you,” and those words are pure and simple unconditional care for each other. Her life is so full that you can’t help but want to tap into her enthusiasm. Her wisdom and openness to diversity is encouraging to young and old alike. She is a woman I want to be emulate when I reach her stage in life.
     Having a close friendship with someone that lives out of the region requires a deeper understanding of why you got together in the first place. Each of us has needs that the other fulfills, whether it is advice or a shoulder to whine. The necessary requirements are that the connection is devoid of jealousy, appreciates the other’s concerns and doesn’t require anything tangible in return.
     All the activities and opportunities that I seek are ones that add a little more pleasure and joy into my daily world. I don't have to have a full calendar every weekend of the month, nor do I have to be going someplace, although reading my blog might lead you to draw a different conclusion.  
     Meeting new people and discovering places near and far means that I have to move out of my comfort zone and trust my knowledge base. I am not a tourist, but I am a traveler, and there is a huge difference. It is not about how much I can cram into a vacation; however, I could be accused of that if I don’t grab hold of myself and shake off the impulse to conform.
     Often the traveling somewhere is right in the natural woods or fields outside my door where I am once again in awe of the seasons of nature. Other times it is the solitude at my computer where I bring up thoughts that must be put on paper, and the hours spill away being a friend to myself.
     I believe in randomness, too. And surprises. Learning to be open and attentive while using my senses has revealed many valuable secrets in places that I hold dear in my heart.

    Instead of “too much is never enough” our culture throws at us in songs, videos and blogs, think about living small.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A spotless discussion of white

      A blank sheet of white paper can be as formidable as a speck of dust poking itself out on a bright morning advising me that the room needs a major cleaning. Neither writing, nor housecleaning, is a chore I want to do today. The page will remain devoid of my ramblings, and the floor will wait for the next rainy day. Decision made.

     The whole notion of white flashes back to mounds of snow, and a shiver slides down my spine recalling the piles and piles of it that I shoveled through only a few short months ago in the bitter cold. Today, the stretched-out clouds surrounded by a vivid blue sky connects me from earth to the wider universe. The warmer rays bring out my t-shirts and shorts.  Joy abounds.

     White is a color I disregard then. It certainly is not a favorite shade in my wardrobe, as I refuse to be bothered with pants or shirts that pick up dirt easily. The last time I swept my hand through the racks, I don't recall much in the line-up of white.

     The symbolic purity of white, however, and its peacefulness from any other cultural distraction, is a notion that I mindfully do accept.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Sharing my love of sports

     It strikes me that I have never written a sports column. I tossed the idea back and forth like juggling a dozen bulbs for garden planting. The possibilities are limitless, and there are so many plays I could run with the ball.
     March Madness. World Cup. Golf.
     My claim to fame is that I do hold a sports record, and whether or not it has been overturned, I have no clue. I was the singles badminton champion my last year in college, but I doubt that it was considered one of the significant sports recorded in the annals of SUNY history.
     The last time I looked on the wall of fame in the lobby of Kuhl Gymnasium, I didn’t see a bronze casting of my face, or an engraved plaque indicating I had ever crossed the arches of the school. That’s fine. I’m over all the attention sports stars get on campus and the privileged lives they lead.   
     For those of you trivia gatherers, badminton had its debut at the 1992 Summer Olympics and has been contested in 5 Olympiads. Fifty different nations have appeared in the games.
     I grew up in a home where my mother insisted on a net in the backyard to occupy the slew of neighbor kids productively during the summers. I suppose it was more likely that she wanted her share of practice every day, too.
    Mom was a superior player and adept at shots that kept her opponent running in all directions chasing the elusive shuttlecock. She wore a poker face — deception is vital — and could outguess all her rivals. She prepared for many different strokes that looked identical, and used slicing to fool her opponents about the speed or direction of the cone shaped object hurling through the air.
     If an opponent tried to anticipate mom’s arm motion, he might move in the wrong direction and be unable to change his body momentum in time to reach the shuttlecock. Mom would nail one once again with a slam of her wrist and a twinkle in her eye.
     In between playing for fifteen minutes of intense rigor, mom would put her apron on and return to the kitchen to check on the pot roast she was cooking for dinner. She was a multi-tasker before the label was applied.
     When we had relatives visiting, the game changed to volleyball, and somehow it lost the competitive edge with the hooting and hollering. There wasn’t anything serious about it. Forget about the score.
     Once a family with five teenage sons came to visit from Brooklyn. In the beginnings of puberty, I was a wreck at the thought of being in the same room with boys let alone them seeing me in shorts. Mom reminded me that we could beat those city slickers hands down at volleyball, and not to worry so much. Well, we did. They were good losers, too.
     The best part of the whole deal was that the father worked for a publishing company and he brought a trunk full of new books not yet on the market. The boys were not used to such lavish treats themselves, and they had as much fun as me pouring through piles of new reading matter.  
     Practice makes perfect, and I became somewhat a bright star. By the time I arrived in college and saw there was an actual semester’s course in badminton, I was in high heaven a little too sure of myself. Suiting up with the best of my newly made friends, I had the winner’s attitude.
      To score in badminton, I employed a wide variety of strokes in the right situations. They ranged from powerful jumping smashes to delicate tumbling net returns. Often rallies finished with a strong downward tap of the racquet, but setting up the play required subtler strokes I had learned at home.
     For example, mom taught me that a net shot forces the opponent to lift the shuttlecock, which gives an opportunity to smack it into the ground. If the net shot is tight and tumbling, then the opponent's lift will not reach the back of the court, which makes the subsequent wallop much harder to return. I loved that smash.
    My dad was a consummate sports fanatic, and I have mentioned before in other writing that he kept a TV in one room and a radio in another to make sure that he stayed on top of baseball innings. While passing through the room I walked on tiptoes like a ballerina, and occasionally, I would stop and watch the crowd yelling for a new pitcher.
     I had boyfriends that would get lost in conversation with my father about baseball, and sometimes they might have been better off spending the evening with him. Certainly our relationships weren’t going anywhere after high school.
     Dad stayed away from backyard badminton games. That was in mom’s court, and he wisely gave her a pass.
     Realizing I was too short for basketball, inept at archery and not fast enough for field hockey, at least I could be part of a team bringing glory to the university. The picture in the yearbook autographed by my coach and teammates was priceless.
     If I have disappointed you in my meager attempt at talking sports, then I suggest that you take a look at the second section of the newspaper The Livingston County News where you will have all your needs met well by our capable sportswriters and photographer.


Monday, June 2, 2014

Traveling the roads again

    You find yourself settling in with a view that is far superior to any from a travel brochure, decent park facilities - thanks, Canada - and a few random hours to snuggle with a novel listening to the crickets chirping. It's not for long, though. A group of us caravanned across the Maritime Provinces one summer in our RV's, and as we broke camp in the early morning, we played Willy Nelson's "On the Road Again" to put us back in the travel mood. There was a little bit of the wanderlust in his tune, and the excitement once more fired us up for the possibilities waiting. We had a lot of days on the calendar with no special agenda, and it became a huge memorable travel experience.

     I'm on the road again this plane, train, bus and automobile, and I will be watching how each mode of transportation might capture something to write home about:
  •   a "best" glimpse into traveling 
  •   a "humorous" account 
  •   a "frustrating" one that requires persistence, and a little tack
  •   a "surprise" that is completely over the top
  •   a "genuine" person I meet and have a bit of conversation
  •  a "getting lost" adventure      
     It's all in the way I observe, and what holds my attention in the short haul. Bits and pieces - smidgens - will come together long after the traveling is finished and I am back in my office.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Keeping the spice shelf full

     I think that there are good and bad points about putting all your eggs in one basket almost like deciding if variety is the spice of life or not. Either extreme could be hazardous to your emotional health unless you are in tune with your own well being.
     I like cooking with fresh brown farm-raised eggs.  Sunnyside eggs or omlets taste so much more natural without those chemicals the chickens have been raised on, and their yellow good looks are flavorful on the palate with minimal additional seasoning. It makes a big difference and worth stopping at the neighbor's to keep a supply on hand. Some days the chickens have not laid enough eggs for her to sell, and I have to return another morning. I suppose the chickens have their rights, too, and I go away in anticipation of a future successful visit rather than feeling it was a wasted stop. I have other errands to accomplish and books to return to the library. There is more to living well.

     The spice markets in Cairo weave in and out of dark alleys each with side paths leading to more alleys that can turn into a tourist's nightmare. There is a tremendous amount of bartering and bantering going on with merchants aggressively hawking their wares at higher decibels that I am accustomed to from salespeople. I am pushed and poked and if I hesitate for even a second, a young boy will follow me for a bit insisting that I buy whatever I paused to notice. It is best to go with the flow of the moment and take it all in gracefully for this in the ancient culture touching the modern. Walking along in the oppressive heat of the day, I absorb conflicting smells and unpleasant odors permeating the stifling air. The flapping of colorful rugs and scarves wrap me up a bit dizzily and into my ancestral roots in the Middle East where my father was born. Bins and handmade baskets overflow with cardamon and mint along with other unrecognizable spices. Without labels in English I have no idea what they might be. It is a sight to see - if only once- and then I must retrace my steps back courageously to the main thoroughfare to collect my fellow travelers and their personal adventures.