In the Car, By the Curb

Me and Mel-nee; Mel-nee and me. We’d sit in the car by the curb. The lights of her parent’s house glowed out at us; curious, luminous eyes. We talked endlessly, ate Doritos, Starbars, and drank Diet Coke. With full voice, we roamed creation from the comfort of that plush interior. Sometimes I let the engine idle, but eventually I’d cut it off. We’d slide our shoes off and stretch our bare toes to the dashboard. Freedom of speech would commence. We’d laugh about everything, from our moms to burps. The ritual PTA (pits, tits and ass) shower before a trip to the gynecologist; how totally creepy and adult. The Rahs, the Pot Heads, the Techs, and the director of every musical, Hutz the putz.

We took the long way home. There was no hurry, our parents’ trust was a given. We shared teenage questions; the hunger of nations, and the lopsidedness of it all. How could people be born without lungs, arms or a mind? Milly the no middle Murtle. There were so many ignorant people; stupid bigots. What of our souls? Weren’t we fortunate to have it all figured out. We empathized the pain of others as best we could in my parent’s Toronado with the power windows. Seventeen. Time sat in the back seat and waited. We didn’t want to leave the car or one another – ever.

There was a running joke, how people probably thought we were lez-beens. All the time we parked, watching the neighborhood, voyeurs of the curb. A Rah came home from a date three houses down. We watched them kiss and talked about that. I’d been kissed; not lately though. I could tell only Mel-nee that I kissed my pillow when there was a lull. She kissed her hand, and said it’s more real that way. At home I tried it, and she was right. It’s more real, except you can stop when you want to. Better than real.
I never asked to touch her hair. I was at least that smart. Whitebread kids with dim wits asked. They’d marvel at the softness. Fro looks like Brillo, and feels like velvet cotton. Grin and say, “cool”. God, she was patient. Do you sunburn? She explained it all. Mercy on ice. But the ice melted in the car by the curb and I never asked to touch her hair.
We talked about what they expected. They; everyone but us. Mel-nee was smart; there would probably be a scholarship to the University of Virginia. So, they expected grades from her. They expected her to be brilliant on stage like Solomon, her older brother. He was accepted to Julliard. He was beauty and talent wrapped in thin bronze skin. So much was expected of Solomon. He never made it to Broadway, or off Broadway. He quit Julliard. He works at the 7-11 on Rt. 100. Mel-nee says he loves it. If he doesn’t, then at least he loves the role. Middle America diva, cheerful checkout, no milk expires on his shift. He is brilliant still.

They would expect Mel-nee to be funny and she was. She was funny for those who listened and liked wry cynicism. One clown asked her how she got so cynical at 17.

“Do you think I’m cynical?” she asked me in the car, by the curb.

“No!” I answered quickly, not quite sure what cynical meant. I know now, and yes, she was … we both were. We still are, even more cynical. Still funny if you listen.

Late nights in the car we mulled over the boys at school. They were all toads. All but one, and years later we learned that he was gay – figures. We were picky. We had standards. Jackson Browne; now he was slightly hot. He had a conscience and great hair. If we couldn’t have him for a boyfriend, then we decided in the car by the curb, that we would be his back-up singers. That seemed totally do-able. So, I turned the key and we would play the radio. We’d sing harmony, just for practice. Screw college, we’d just hit the road! We sang loud and together. One night we sang back-up for the Doobie Brothers but it was a short gig, because the battery was low and I didn’t want to get in trouble. Time lay napping.

The giant, luminous eyes would go out eventually. Her parents would not wait up again.

“I’d invite you in,” she’d say, “but it’s filthy. There’s some leftover lasagna though, you want me to bring some out?”

“No.” I didn’t want to go in. I didn’t want to whisper. I wanted to be saturated with the warm silhouette of her face, in the blush of suburban street lights, yammering on about everything and nothing. Together we hashed out the issues of the day. That damned Farrah Fawcett poster, gas lines, abortion and the clothes her mom would buy her. “Sick! She expects me to wear this?”

Senior year, screw the play. If they keep me as lead dancer again, I’m out. Hutz the putz was pissed, which made it still sweeter.

“We need you,” he begged. Tough shit. Mel-nee agreed; tough shit. I’d only cuss in front of her back then. You wonder what we’re doing in the car by the curb, you freakin’ Rah? We’re cussin’ and singing back up for Jackson Browne. There were no grades, no expectations, and as the tempo accelerated, time yawned and tapped me on the shoulder.

We turned 18, we graduated and left behind the car on the curb. We married, had children and live on opposite coasts. Still, on some cool, clear nights, I’d love to press my thumb into the stainless steel handle of my parent’s Toronado. To climb in and relax in its sofa soft, and cranberry seat. I’d stretch my toes and my mind. Mel-nee would be there to unfold the layers of adult understanding and coax me out of what I have become to a time of plain belief and innocence.

Between Two Points

The scientist and mathematician agree; the shortest path between two points is a straight line. I have a re-occurring image of myself as a child. Little Me would envision two points and try to make a straight line between them. This seemingly simple imagining was tortured proof of my inability to perform a basic task on my own, without tools.

Little me, without the tools of a ruler, pencil and paper, couldn’t even imagine a straight line. Fail! Fail! As each imaginary point on the line was drawn the rest would disappear. I couldn’t keep the line in my mind, in it’s entirety. Only the fraction of the line I was focused on was real. The other line bits, as soon as I didn’t focus on them, would go *poof* into the cosmos. As I tried to attach the bits of line to pull them back into the perfect straight line, I ended up making huge arches in my imagining. My mind was not vast enough to gather all the pieces of line as they became air-born. I could not make a straight line in my mind, as hard as I tried. I did try hard, for years. I tried during class, watching TV, riding my pony and under the kitchen table while adults were talking.

Sometimes, Little Me would find an alone spot to work this problem out with my body. My body was an allowable tool, since it was attached to my mind. Alas, the straight line, eluded my body as well. The wide sweeps of my mind came back with a vengeance as my heart directed my shoulders, straight arms, reaching fingers to, “get ahead of the line before it escapes!”. My pony’s wide-eyes watched as I flailed in slow motion, in the center aisle of the barn, trying to catch my imagined pieces of line from escaping. I was horribly aware that I was  making the very opposite of a perfect line. If I couldn’t reach the perfect line, I would just fail gloriously. It was so fucking frustrating, I can’t even begin to describe. Even now, my heart is accelerated and my jaw is clenched at the memory.

I loved the ruler, the blank page and the pencil that allowed me to make a perfect, straight line between two points. I hated it too, because it make the whole concept of a straight line look so basic, so easy. I would practice this on paper, thinking that if did it enough with tools, I would be more equipped to imagine it without tools. In the end, it did not work.

I don’t know why the perfect, straight line between two unsuspecting points became such an important goal for Little Me to accomplish on my own. Maybe the “shortest distance” is not a path I was made for and maybe I needed to discover that for myself. After all,  I am neither a mathematician or a scientist. I am a woman of full moon imagination, that bursts from my heart and arches widely. Big Me wants to embrace Little Me and say, “thank you!” for never mastering the precise ability to imagine the perfect straight line. “Thank you!” for trying to gather the little pieces of line that strayed and, “thank you!” for failing in that. I am learning to use tools to collect the floating pieces of imagination that have been escaping all these years. As each shard of imagination is laid and pieced together with the rest, they may evolve into something worth sharing.

An Epiphany. A New Start.

I changed the title of my blog. As much as I like the idea of writing, “Off the Top of My Head”, I don’t do it and I surely didn’t post anything directly off the top of my head. The new title, “Something Worth Sharing” is a more accurate reflection of my practice. Maybe I should put a question mark at the end, “Something Worth Sharing?” The fact is, I try to be careful when I write. I am careful not to post anything that would hurt anyone I love. I am careful not to post anything that would embarrass God. I am careful to share just those things that are personal enough to be authentic, but universal enough to be relate-able. No wonder my posts are months apart!

What has given me the courage to return is the great freedom of mediocrity. Here are the facts –

1. I have a virtual friend who is an incredibly gifted writer. I have no doubt that someday, she will write the perfect sentence (if she hasn’t already). She struggles to get published in small literary e-zines. I read her work and think, “Whoah. I could never do that. Damn.” See http://www.annehodgeswhite.com/. She’ll blow the top of your head off.

2. I recently went to a blog of a writer who is successful and my reaction was a sloppy shrug with a, “meh”. Her contemplative essays were ok, but nothing my mind would return to or meditate on.

3. I find myself returning to the work of #2 just to release some of the pressure that the work of #1 puts on my psyche.

There you have it; freedom in mediocrity. God bless America and happy 4th of July! I’m baaaaaack non-existent readers!

The Old Lady with the Saw

Disclaimer: Being the non-scholarly type, I have always considered poetry a kind of literary masterbation – immensely gratifying for the performer and that’s about it. So, I apologize … as I am experimenting with different forms of creative word expression, I wrote a poem I titled –

The Old Lady with the Saw

This woman, this

image of serenity, of

time and pain holds

her saw between

her thighs covered.

The top gently rests

between her fingers as

she slowly caresses the bow

to the blunt end,

giving birth to haunting strains

releasing each note

to the streets and alleys

of St. Peter’s Village,

lavender, precarious

and swollen with her

beautiful song.

Christmas in August

My dad’s name was Samuel Pettee Shaw. He went by Sam Shaw when introduced but, as kids we just called him Pebbles. He was a man of few words, so when he spoke to me I listened. His instructional advice has stayed with me decades after his death. Advise like, “Just take the next most logical step” and “Be a duck: gliding smooth on top and swimming like hell underneath”.

Dad was handsome with dark well combed hair, a strong jaw and a ski jump nose. He carried what little extra weight he had in his belly, necessitating a tightly cinched belt to keep his pants up. He loved a good joke, a bad joke, mashed potatoes and Jim Beam.

We worshiped at Downingtown Friends Meeting (Quaker) in Pennsylvania. Our fellowship celebrated the inner light in us all by not having a paid minister.  Dad rarely spoke in meeting, choosing instead to keep his thoughts private and ponder the messages of other worshipers. Music is typically not brought into the Meeting house. However, on Christmas Eve, Dad was asked to play his flute as part of the service. In the silence of the meeting, with candles reflecting off the original hand blown glass, Dad rose and put his silver flute, that he inherited from his father, to his lips.  With the clarity of a high mountain brook, he played –

Silent Night, Holy Night                                                                                                                                              

All is calm, all is bright

The air seemed to pause around me and I didn’t want to breathe for fear of breaking the spell. Around the Meeting house, heads rose and necks lengthen just a bit, as if each soul were being pulled slightly closer to heaven. While we listened, our spirits floated and looped above our heads, tying us all together in fellowship. When Dad was done, he simply sat down and rested his flute silently on his lap.

Earlier this week, that same feeling returned to me. I stared breathless as the moonlight covered my garden, came through the French doors and stretched toward my bed. Right here in the middle of August, in the dead of night, I could make out the life surrounding my windows.  The fields glowed pale against the black rim of the woods – dark arms wrapping around the bright, open landscape. In the perennial beds, white loosestrife caught the light energy, forming arched half moons bobbing with every shift of the wind. I climbed under the covers and felt my father’s voice near; assuring me that all is calm, and all is bright.

Embracing G.A.S. – wrote this some time ago. Thank God I am no longer at the Pentagon.

The Department of Defense slapped me upside the head with GAS (Government Acronym Speak) on the way to my new cubicle .  New boss said, “Read the SSAA for eCCS until we can get you IA”.   A confident smile burst through my ignorant fog.  “Will do!”  Internal dialog said, “hummph?”

 Each time I read the SSAA, the GAS sinks a little deeper into my skull.  I am picking it up more with each conversation overheard and paragraph read.   I am so impressed with this new, efficient and exclusive lexicon that I have created my own SAL (Secret Acronym List) to chronicle my first week at the Pentagon.

My day is divided into two separate phases.  First, beginning at 0600 I am at the PAC (Pentagon Athletic Center) where I have designed an OAR (Organic Athletic Routine) that combines RAT (Resistance Athletic Training) and FAT (Fast Aerobic Training).  Following the example of an obvious regular, I call him Poindexter Swarchenegger (some dude who has mastered the impossible:  incredibly nerdy yet fit-as-a -squirrel), I use a BST (Bubblegum Smelling Towelette) to clean and disinfect each piece of equipment I use.

Just prior to CA (Cardiac Arrest) and typically around 0700, I head to the LLR (Ladies Locker Room) to CPP (Clean, Primp and Preen) before work.  How wonderful that the PAC provides PSST (Postage Stamp Size Towels) for free.  There are always plenty of PSSTs so I grab three.  Occasionally, with luck, there may be a WMS (White Modesty Sheet) to grab as well.  These WMSs can cover all three points of female modesty without the use of yogic maneuvering.  There are five for the entire gym.  Herein is the favorite and most private part of my day.  ATFHWICT (All The Free Hot Water I Can Tolerate).  I. Take. My. Time.

Post shower, I dress and take my position in a formation of about 20 other working women in various states of undress.  News flash: women primp on the buddy system, so the sinks are super chatty.  I like this.  As if l am part of some kind of clothing optional sorority.  To date, I don’t join in, but instead engage in DHO (Dialogue: Head Only), which typically sounds something like this, “Don’t get toothpaste on your hair” or “Crap!  Mascara all over my cheek”.  Eventually, I give up, dress, stow my gym bag, grab my lunch and head to the office.

The halls of the Pentagon are like a museum of military history.  Each hall has a distinct theme, giving me ample landmarks to dictate where to turn and when to escalate up.  From the PAC I get off the elevator at the Buffalo Soldier, then head to the A-ring where I hang a right at the Veterans of WWI, then another right at the NATO star and straight on till evening.  People watching is a favorite hobby.  There are MIUs (Military In Uniform), GWUCs (Guys/Gals Wearing Ugly but Comfortable) and DUM (Dressed to be Upwardly Mobile).  Just like any city, you must lock your eyes on each approaching face to avoid being D-GAGed (Dropped Gaze to Avoid Greeting).  So far, I have been a DUM.  I wore panty hose yesterday and heal-click lady shoes that sound just like the spit-shines.  I stick to my known route so I do not become forever LIBOP (Lost in the Bowels of the Pentagon).  I arrive at my desk smiling and exhausted and ready to re-read, re-read, re-read the SSAA for the eCCS.

I was hired to be a technical writer, but thus far have not written a single technical letter.  I am waiting for a lady named Luvia to begin my in-processing.  Luvia can’t begin my in-process until a guy named Hank confirms that he has a chair for me in the Polk Building.  Hank is on vacation.  The Polk Building is an in-processing purgatory where I will sit to do IA (Information Assurance) training and god knows what else.  I’m just hoping there are no Body Cavity Checks (BCCs) before I am cleared to come back to the desk where I have already established BOC (Butt On Chair) residency.  My expectations remain below sea level.  In the meantime, I have developed a three-tiered SAP (Sanity Action Plan) that consists of RAASSAA, W2B, and WISP as explained below –

1.       RAASSAA (Reading and Absorbing the System Security Authorization Agreement Repeatedly).  This is the only task I have been given for the past five days, so I have done it repeatedly.  As this does little for my sanity, I rely heavily on –

2.W2B (Water cooler to Bathroom).  This is a necessary and mercifully cyclic tier in the SAP.  Multiple visits to the water cooler typically set off a time consuming series-

    a.Bathroom break – In addition to the obvious, this little trip is a welcome opportunity to stretch my legs and perform a DWAS (Dance, Wiggle and Stretch) in the privacy of the PBS (Public Bathroom Stall).  Once I feel my legs again, I wash my hands repeatedly.  This has less to do with cleanliness as my indulgence in a natural element: water.  I miss nature in this windowless maze.  Clean and awake, I return to my desk for

    b.HCAP (Hand cream Application Procedure).  Each hand lovingly massages the other with whatever was on sale at Wal-Mart.  Next, I rub Neosporin into my cuticles, pushing them gently back.  If I am careful, I can use 10 min in the W2B process.

3.WISP (Writing Insignificant  and Silly Pros).  Alas, by now this tier must be self-explanatory.  At my core, I believe such indulgence is a form of theft: SGT(Stealing Government Time).  As a tax-payer, I offend myself.  But, after five days, I added WISP to my SAP to keep from going ASS (Ape Shit Stupid).

With practiced study and osmosis, soon the GAS will flow as easily from me as it does from the cubicles around me.  I can hardly wait.

Angel of the Tool-Shed

I work in a vast Tool-Shed.  There are endless, yawning hallways, and I spend a significant amount of time walking those hallways in search of approvals (by that I mean signatures … concurrences … not as desperate as it sounds, but I’m leaving that for now).

There is the “crazy lady who talks to herself”.  That’s how most people refer to her.  I am convinced she’s an angel, though.  She walks, and speaks in full voice, not making eye contact; not noticing the people walking by, trying not to notice her.

One day, I was convinced that she was an actual conduit for the voice of God, as she walked towards me saying, “You’re fat!  You need to lose weight!  When are you going to go on a diet?!  You need to lose weight!”   I was a little stunned because I had been thinking the same thing.  Now, it seemed, even God agreed and he was using this awkward little angel to give me the news.

In hindsight, I expect that wasn’t the voice of God.  I like to think that if God had a 10 second time/space continuum to give me a message, he would focus on something other than my weight.  So, I am left wondering where my angel gets her material.

Then it dawned on me.  She typically doesn’t speak in messages, her dialog sounds more broken and personal, like the thoughts that run through all of our heads.  For instance, if I were to actually voice my thoughts right now, it would sound like, “crap. Headache. Angel in the halls. Fan spinning.  Guys working on the roof.  What a beautiful day.  My voice, finally.”   That is more like what my angel sounds like.  She jumps and rants, just like we all do, but she voices the thoughts in her head.  I don’t know if she can control this or not; I expect not.

I am more impressed with her than ever.  I have never really heard her say anything bad.  Seriously!  How many of us could keep our jobs (any relationships!) if the thoughts in our head just spilled out our mouths??  Consider the implications!  That is why I think she is an angel.  Her whole mind seems to be there for public dissection, and while it may be disgruntled and messy, it seems innocent, naïve and beautiful in its vulnerability.

I actually had the urge to yell, “NICE MULLET” to a lady as I passed her one day in the hallway.  I have also walked past flocks of precisely dressed workers waiting for important people and wanted to snidely say, “what a bunch of #^&*&#  Tools ” (hence my pet name for the place where I work).  I desperately want to leave a post-it note on a portrait that says, “looks like Harrison Ford!”  Sometimes I want to sing (and dance) to the songs playing in my head.  With all this going on in my head, it’s a wonder I can walk straight.  Actually, I’m not positive that I always do.  The point being, I am so glad I can keep the thought in my head private most of the time.  If I couldn’t, I would surely be alone and out of a job.

I am a lesser creature than the angel of the Tool-Shed.  She has walked those corridors for years, unfiltered and unassuming.  Her most private thoughts are public knowledge, and miraculously, she remains.  There is something achingly pure about that.

I think God has shown her to me for a reason.  I can be a bit stubborn about MY thoughts being MY thoughts!  Most of the time I like their bawdy, silly, insulting, observations.  They amuse me.  The Angel is a reminder to me that perhaps my thoughts aren’t as private as I like to believe.  For all I know they could be broadcast in some horrible dimension of Hell where tormented souls are shielding their ears screaming, “what a bitch!”

Last night, I read Thomas Kelly for probably the trillionth time.  The context is the complexity and over-crowdedness of our lives –

“We’re weary and breathless.  And we know and regret that our life is slipping away, with our having tasted so little of the peace and joy and serenity we are persuaded it should yield to a soul of wide caliber.  The times for the deep silences of the heart seem so few.  And in guilty regret we must postpone till next week the deeper life of unshaken composure in the holy Presence, where we sincerely know our true home is, for this week is much too full.”

Bam!  Need I say more?  I have heard the Angel of the Tool-Shed and I have heard the elegant Thomas Kelly.  They both seem to be saying the same thing.  MY thoughts are not necessarily MY thoughts, and MY life is tied intimately to MY thoughts.  Even if they aren’t broadcast in Hell, they are shared with God.  I don’t want God to shield his ears and say, “what a bitch!”  As Kelly says (on the front end of the book), “Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto Itself.”  I have no idea what the Angel is saying right now, but I know one thing … it’s absolutely from her head/heart and it wouldn’t hurt a fly.  I don’t want to hurt a fly either.  I want to open my life up to the astounding power of Eternity.  I want to bathe daily in the light, love and laughter of my Father.  To pull Eternity into Now and let it reside.  If you wish, please join me in prayer.

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