Monday, December 27, 2010

The Death Talk

Last night, I was reading Isabella a bedtime story and one of the characters was a mouse. She said she wanted to see a real live mouse and I casually mentioned that I used to have a lot of mice when I was a kid, and I named a few of them. She asked me what happened to them, and I said, well, mice don't live very long, only about two years- so they all became old mice and they died.
Why did they die? She asked, looking intensely at me with those big blue eyes- uh oh-
Well, I said, everyone that is born eventually dies.
Now, I guess you can get to the ripe old age of 4 1/2 and not realize that you are mortal- and apparently this was the case with Isabella.
"You mean, I'm going to die?"
Oh, crap, I thought. This is a horrible conversation to have- but a necessary one.
Then she looked at me.
"And you- you're going to die? I don't want to die! I don't want you to die!"
And then the crying began.
I soothed her by saying most people live until they are very old before they die and then it is okay for them to die and that she would probably live for a very long time.
Apparently, she thought people only died violent deaths when they were bad guys-oh television, you can really warp things-
I can't really recall that I have ever had this conversation with another child of mine. I mean, I probably did, but I was at a loss suddenly of how to handle this. You would think after five children, I would be better at explaining things but those innocent eyes looking at you can destroy all confidence. I was ruining her perfect bubble.
I remember when my oldest child was about six and the man who cut our lawn, Henry, a really nice man but a very old man, when he died, I remember telling my son and he was pretty upset because he really liked Henry, but he understood pretty well what death was and the finality of it. I cannot myself remember what it was like to discover things die, people die.
I remember discovering sex, the great secret of what it was. It never bothered me to destroy that mystery for my children, because it can be a dangerous mystery, keeping children in ignorance about their bodies and how they function. I always tried to explain it tenderly and in age appropriate detail. It has always been important to me to try to answer my kid's questions to the best of my ability and not to lie to them about the important stuff.
Still, I felt wrong saying I wasn't going to die very soon. I don't know that. None of us know. I tried to explain that none of us really know when we are going to die and it's a great mystery but most people live long lives.
She said "Unless we get stabbed by a really long sword."
Hmmm, this is true.
I'll happily create a wondrous world with fairies and Santa Claus and unicorns and far away lands- but lying to her about death was impossible. I didn't really want to tell her about Heaven either. It bothered me because it seemed like I was just saying that to make her feel better and although I wanted desperately to make her feel better, the thought of telling her that to take the sting off reality was just a band aid for an innocence I had inadvertently destroyed. Sigh. This was much worse than the sex talk. Maybe because sex is a creator and not a destroyer, just generally speaking. I tried to think of anything really positive about death- well- it does end pain if someone is really sick and suffering.
But that isn't really appropriate discussion with a four year old. Gah!
So, you know, I told her I would always be with her in her heart, which is something I can believe in- and wherever I was after death, I would always love her. Because I believe love transcends death and all the people that have died and been a part of my heart are still with me.
She's a smart kid. I think she will understand that concept. Anyway, she stopped crying and I gave her extra hugs.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mountains and Memories

As a child, I was constantly writing. I think that is why my memory of events is so good, I was always writing things down, re-living them. I was always looking for outlets for my huge wells of emotions, so I journaled and wrote stories constantly. Last week, my mother dumped a box of my things in my living room and in there were about fifteen notebooks. They ranged in time period pretty radically. Some went back as far as to me being fifteen years old and they stretched into my early twenties. I found a first draft of a paper I wrote on "The Color Purple"- the book, not the movie, when I was sixteen.
I knew I loved the book, but I did not realize how strongly and how personally I connected to the character. I mean, in a way, this is how I understood her. I wrote powerfully about the character of Celie being like a black hole, taking in everyone's abuse and swallowing it into herself. I didn't even know I was writing about me in there.
I saw this profound connection to this woman who I should have no connection to, but this speaks directly to the power of Alice Walker- that book transported me beyond time and color.
Then I began to read the letters and the random diary entries. I would write in anything. If I had the need to go deep within myself, I had to write it immediately- there are diary entries everywhere- there are long and detailed letters I never sent of how I felt about relationships, most of the letters are to guys I was dating when I found it impossible to convey my feelings verbally. These remind me of Celie's letters to God in a way...but only in the sense that they both exist in letter form.
I was so much smarter than I knew I was.
I was so afraid to express how smart I was to these boys.
I dumbed down who I was. Not to the point that I completely suppressed it, but to the point that I was never allowed to be utterly and truly myself.
And in these letters, I knew clearly and succinctly what the problems in the relationship were and I expressed them over and over just trying to be heard. When I finally found the courage to say some of these things out loud- well that was when the abuse began in earnest.
I was being controlled by their addictions. At one point I wrote a long piece about how it was okay when he was drunk one way but when he reached a certain point it wasn't safe anymore, he would become nasty tempered and awful. In some way, I thought if I could just keep him from hitting the tipping point between happy and violent, things might be okay.
I remember being afraid when one of my boyfriends would buy a certain kind of alcohol- I knew that increased the likelihood that I was going to end up being abused verbally, probably physically, but I knew the evening wasn't going to end well. Not that you can ever predict anything like that. But I always tried to look at reasonable outcomes. I also knew that if I left him, I couldn't protect him from what he might do- that if I was a casualty of the evening, at least it was only me. It occurred to me that eventually I was just trying to survive the relationships like I was trying to survive growing up with my father.
It's been a long time since I have lived in this kind of tyranny.
I hate it, in a way that it hurts so much to look at it and remember how much time I wasted being washed over by him of the moment. It makes me physically hurt to go back and read the raw and painful emotion that I was in.
There is one letter I wrote where I am literally begging a boyfriend to come back to me because I was alone and pregnant and I couldn't take one more minute of the misery and pain and could he just come back and take it all away, that I would forgive him anything if he could just relieve this pain.
I am so glad he didn't come back. But I want to put my arms around that child and tell her it will be okay, that it will be for the best some day that I survived that emotional storm, that I went to the bottom of that ocean and felt it all and I came back up and was this stronger, and more wise human being than I ever could have imagined. It's hard sometimes when I read those letters to be grateful for that pain- because sometimes it's just a memory, but sometimes it is right there.
That's the way with the past, isn't it?
One of the more interesting discoveries was the stories in those notebooks, some half there, some fully complete. Two stories I have no memory of writing whatsoever. How odd to find things in my own handwriting that I know came out of my brain that I wrote and to not remember is bizarre. That is completely rare because I have such good recall. I remember most of my stories. Though I have to admit, some people that I was writing about in my diary I have no recall of who some of those people are any more!
If I remember more than most people, how odd it is what I forget. What is that mystical part of memory that we lose? Is there some sort of brain organization that says "Eh, I can let this one go."
I have this really detailed and extraordinary memory. I can go back and remember what I was wearing during a certain fight I had with someone and sometimes they are meaningful memories and sometimes they are ordinary.
When I was five years old, I remember imprinting a small memory and promising myself to keep it forever. It was a simple thing, but simple things can be mountains to five year old children. I can still recall that simple moment as if it was yesterday because I told myself to remember it forever. Even as the smallest child, I had the biggest ambition wrapped in the most fearful package. I knew then, as terrified as I was to even speak to a stranger, or raise my hand in class, I knew then I had a lot to overcome. I remember sitting in story hour in kindergarten, we had a guest reader that day and she had these beautiful, shiny black shoes. I was sitting about two feet away from those shoes, thinking intently about my future, I suppose I could not have been listening to the story because I was mesmerized by those shiny shoes.
I can't reason this out because I was five when I thought it, but I decided that if I could get myself to reach out and touch that shoe, then I would be able to do anything, to conquer anything, to achieve whatever I wanted to in life. Ha. So, after a few minutes of screwing up my courage, with my heart pounding in my ears, I touched that shoe. The woman didn't even appear to notice, so lightly did I touch it, but I can feel it on the tip of my finger still.
Whenever anything feels large and overwhelming to me, I remember to know my limitations and I remember that I touched that shoe. I overcame whatever I needed to overcome that day and I told myself to remember it forever. It's as simple as allowing myself to reach out.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Awakening by Sonny Carroll

I found this essay in the notes on friend's page- and in spite of the religious overtones, there is a great deal of wisdom in it- I find it remarkably similar to my own journey- and very eloquently and beautifully put. Enjoy.

The Awakening
Sonny Carroll

There comes a time in your life when you finally get it ... When in the midst of all your fears and insanity you stop dead in your tracks and somewhere the voice inside your head cries out "ENOUGH! Enough fighting and crying or struggling to hold on." And, like a child quieting down after a blind tantrum, your sobs begin to subside, you shudder once or twice, you blink back your tears and through a mantle of wet lashes you begin to look at the world from a new perspective.

..........This is your awakening.

You realize that it is time to stop hoping and waiting for something or someone to change, or for happiness safety and security to come galloping over the next horizon. You come to terms with the fact that there aren't always fairytale endings (or beginnings for that matter) and that any guarantee of "happily ever after" must begin with you. Then a sense of serenity is born of acceptance.

So you begin making your way through the "reality of today" rather than holding out for the "promise of tomorrow." You realize that much of who you are and the way you navigate through life is, in great part, a result of all the social conditioning you've received over the course of a lifetime. And you begin to sift through all the nonsense you were taught about :

- how you should look and how much you should weigh,
- what you should wear and where you should shop,
- where you should live or what type of car you should drive,
- who you should sleep with and how you should behave,
- who you should marry and why you should stay,
- the importance of bearing children or what you owe your family,

Slowly you begin to open up to new worlds and different points of view. And you begin re-assessing and re-defining who you are and what you really believe in. And you begin to discard the doctrines you have outgrown, or should never have practiced to begin with.

You accept the fact that you are not perfect ,and that not everyone will love appreciate or approve of who or what you are... and that's OK... they are entitled to their own views and opinions. And, you come to terms with the fact that you will never be a size 5 or a "perfect 10".... Or a perfect human being for that matter... and you stop trying to compete with the image inside your head or agonizing over how you compare. And, you take a long look at yourself in the mirror and you make a promise to give yourself the same unconditional love and support you give so freely to others. Then a sense of confidence is born of self-approval.

And, you stop maneuvering through life merely as a "consumer" hungry for your next fix, a new dress, another pair of shoes or looks of approval and admiration from family, friends or even strangers who pass by. Then you discover that it is truly in "giving" that we receive, and that the joy and abundance you seek grows out of the giving. And you recognize the importance of "creating" and "contributing" rather than "obtaining" and "accumulating."

And you give thanks for the simple things you've been blessed with, things that millions of people upon the earth can only dream about - a full refrigerator, clean running water, a soft warm bed, the freedom of choice and the opportunity to pursue your own dreams.

And you begin to love and to care for yourself. You stop engaging in self-destructive behaviors, including participating in dysfunctional relationships. You begin eating a balanced diet, drinking more water and exercising. And because you've learned that fatigue drains the spirit and creates doubt and fear, you give yourself permission to rest. And just as food is fuel for the body, laughter is fuel for the spirit and so you make it a point to create time for play.

Then you learn about love and relationships - how to love, how much to give in love, when to stop giving, and when to walk away. And you allow only the hands of a lover who truly loves and respects you to glorify you with his touch. You learn that people don't always say what they mean or mean what they say, intentionally or unintentionally, and that not everyone will always come through... and interestingly enough, it's not always about you. So, you stop lashing out and pointing fingers or looking to place blame for the things that were done to you or weren't done for you. And you learn to keep your Ego in check and to acknowledge and redirect the destructive emotions it spawns - anger, jealousy and resentment.

You learn how to say "I was wrong" and to forgive people for their own human frailties. You learn to build bridges instead of walls and about the healing power of love as it is expressed through a kind word, a warm smile or a friendly gesture. And, at the same time, you eliminate any relationships that are hurtful or fail to uplift and edify you. You stop working so hard at smoothing things over and setting your needs aside. You learn that feelings of entitlement are perfectly OK and that it is your right to want or expect certain things. And you learn the importance of communicating your needs with confidence and grace. You learn that the only cross to bear is the one you choose to carry and that eventually martyrs are burned at the stake. Then you learn to distinguish between guilt, and responsibility and the importance of setting boundaries and learning to Say NO. You learn that you don't know all the answers, it's not your job to save the world and that sometimes you just need to Let Go.

Moreover, you learn to look at people as they really are and not as you would want them to be, and you are careful not to project your neediness or insecurities onto a relationship. You learn that you will not be more beautiful, more intelligent, more lovable or important because of the man on your arm or the child that bears your name. You learn that just as people grow and change, so it is with love and relationships, and that that not everyone can always love you the way you would want them to. So you stop appraising your worth by the measure of love you are given. And suddenly you realize that it's wrong to demand that someone live their life or sacrifice their dreams just to serve your needs, ease your insecurities, or meet "your" standards and expectations. You learn that the only love worth giving and receiving is the love that is given freely without conditions or limitations. And you learn what it means to love. So you stop trying to control people, situations and outcomes. You learn that "alone" does not mean "lonely" and you begin to discover the joy of spending time "with yourself" and "on yourself." Then you discover the greatest and most fulfilling love you will ever know - Self Love. And so it comes to pass that, through understanding, your heart heals; and now all new things are possible.

Moving along, you begin to avoid Toxic people and conversations. And you stop wasting time and energy rehashing your situation with family and friends. You learn that talk doesn't change things and that unrequited wishes can only serve to keep you trapped in the past. So you stop lamenting over what could or should have been and you make a decision to leave the past behind. Then you begin to invest your time and energy to affect positive change. You take a personal inventory of all your strengths and weaknesses and the areas you need to improve in order to move ahead, you set your goals and map out a plan of action to see things through.

You learn that life isn't always fair and you don't always get what you think you deserve, and you stop personalizing every loss or disappointment. You learn to accept that sometimes bad things happen to good people and that these things are not an act of God... but merely a random act of fate.

And you stop looking for guarantees, because you've learned that the only thing you can really count on is the unexpected and that whatever happens, you'll learn to deal with it. And you learn that the only thing you must truly fear is the great robber baron of all time - FEAR itself. So you learn to step right into and through your fears, because to give into fear is to give away the right to live life on your terms. You learn that much of life truly is a self-fulfilling prophesy and you learn to go after what you want and not to squander your life living under a cloud of indecision or feelings of impending doom.

Then, YOU LEARN ABOUT MONEY... the personal power and independence it brings and the options it creates. And you recognize the necessity to create your own personal wealth. Slowly, you begin to take responsibility for yourself by yourself and you make yourself a promise to never betray yourself and to never ever settle for less than your heart's desire. And a sense of power is born of self-reliance. And you live with honor and integrity because you know that these principles are not the outdated ideals of a by-gone era but the mortar that holds together the foundation upon which you must build your life. And you make it a point to keep smiling, to keep trusting and to stay open to every wonderful opportunity and exciting possibility. Then you hang a wind chime outside your window to remind yourself what beauty there is in Simplicity.

Finally, with courage in your heart and with God by your side you take a stand, you FAKE a deep breath and you begin to design the life you want to live as best as you can.

A word about the Power of Prayer: In some of my darkest, most painful and frightening hours, I have prayed, not for the answers to my prayers or for material things, but for my "God" to help me find the strength, confidence and courage to persevere; to face each day and to do what I must do.

Remember this:- You are an expression of the almighty. The spirit of God resides within you and moves through you. Open your heart, speak to that spirit and it will heal and empower you.
My "God" has never failed me.

Copyright © 2001 Sonny Carroll. All Rights Reserved
Reprinted here with permission

Introduction to The Awakening by Sonny Carroll

I actually began writing this piece in 1996 shortly after coming out of a long drawn out and painful break-up. I was a total mess. My life was in shambles and as I tried to make some sense of what had happened, and why, I began to write The Awakening. This piece is a compilation of all the lessons I learned and the observations I made about myself, about other people and their relationships, and of the wisdom that my most dear friend, Drane Uljaj, has shared with me over countless cups of tea.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sundays with Dan

Many of you know that I used to work for Cicero's. I was a manager/server/bartender there for four years and in that time, the general manager was a man named Dan. We had a fairly friendly relationship the first year I worked there but when I switched to nights, we became very close friends in addition to being co-workers. He was like my work husband. I don't think I would have lasted four years at Cicero's had it not been for Dan. At one point, the employees were calling us work mom and dad!
I've always hated working Sundays but somehow at one point, Dan talked me into it. We closed early and it was a pretty easy shift with decent money. I used to bartend and he was the manager on duty.
The first year Cicero's was at the corner of Kingsland and Delmar, Dan went out and bought new icicle lights to hang and he decided to do it on a Sunday night after we closed. He told me I didn't have to stay, but I did anyway and it became a yearly tradition for us to hang those lights together, even after I no longer worked there, several years I went by and hung up the lights with him. I had the best conversations with him on Sundays- we laughed so much, but that didn't stop us from being serious, too. If you're lucky, you meet someone like him in your lifetime. We could tell each other anything.
Every time I see those holiday lights, I think of him. It doesn't take much to think of Dan, he was one of my dearest friends and I still don't think I am over the shock of him being taken from all of us by a heart attack at 45.
Dan was a complex man, he had a job to do and he could be tough as nails, some called him heartless, but they would have been wrong. He used to say he didn't give a shit about some things but the truth of the matter is, that man felt things more deeply than most of those employees ever knew.
He never fired anyone without cause and though he could make the tough choices, he was never without conscience.
I have lots of great Dan stories but one of my favorites was about a cook, I'll call Joe. Joe had worked there for about six months, and he was a pretty easy going guy for the most part. He showed up for his shifts, did his job and had a nice smile and a pretty good attitude. I had never had any problems with Joe, so I was surprised one night when Joe came out of the kitchen into the bar area angry and complaining, following Dan.
Honestly, I can't remember the details but I think Dan had caught him doing something he wasn't supposed to be doing and Joe was outraged and defensive. Dan told him to get back in the kitchen and finish his job, and Joe threw his apron on the floor and (I'll never forget this part) he said "Dan- you can just suck my dick!"
Dan very calmly said "Clock out, go home and don't come back. You're fired."
A slew of expletives followed but Joe clocked out and went home.
"Damn shame." I said, after it was over. "I liked him."
Dan agreed that he had liked Joe, too but we also agreed that he had no choice in firing him.
About a year later, I was just coming in to work when I saw Joe sitting at the bar with Dan and Dan was holding an application. He shook hands with Joe and then Joe walked out the back door, saying hello to me on the way.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"I just decided to hire back Joe. Give him another chance. He was a pretty good cook."
"Yeah, Dan, he was a pretty good cook., do you remember why you fired him?"
"Did I fire him? I couldn't remember, thought he might have quit."
"Oh no, you most definitely fired him."
"As I recall, because he threw his apron on the floor and told you to suck his dick."
Dan turned beet red and then laughed his deep belly laugh for about ten minutes.
"I sure wish I'd remembered that!" He said."Oh well, too late now!"
He forgave Joe and never brought up the incident and as I recall, he never had any similar problems with the guy. That was Dan. Heart of gold. I miss you, my friend. I miss my Sundays with Dan. I hope you're making 'em laugh wherever you are.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Karma or the year I stole a Christmas tree...

This is my favorite don't mess with karma Christmas tree story.
More than a decade ago, when I was living in my parent's house and enjoying Christmas eve dinner, my mother looked at my brother and I and said "Are you two going to get a Christmas tree or what?"
"Yes," I said. "I guess we better get going, it's after seven."
We had done this many times before, gone to get a last minute Christmas tree on Christmas eve- haggled on the price of the tree. My mother prided herself on getting nice ones for $10 after she wore down the guy selling them. Poor guy just wanted to go home, it was Christmas eve. I kind of felt sorry for him, but we liked getting a good deal. My mother handed us $20 and told us to get a nice one. Neither one of us is as good as my mother at this, she is the master haggler but she was not going to go this year.
My brother and I bundled up and headed out into the cold and decided to go to the fairly close by Boy Scout lot. When we arrived, we found it cold and dark and completely deserted! Oh no!
But they left the trees, big, huge lush beautiful Christmas trees!
My brother and I took one look at each other, knowing what we were going to do. We were going to steal a Christmas tree. The conversation went something like this:
"Okay, we can NOT tell Mom we did this."
"Agreed. That means we can get a nice one, but not too nice."
"Yeah, if it's too big or too nice, she'll be suspicious. She'll never believe we got it for $20."
We then began the careful process of selecting a tree. I have to say, we were very restrained about our choice but we got a really full and nice one. It was a nice little Christmas miracle.
My mother was immediately suspicious but my three kids were thrilled to spend the rest of the evening decorating this really cool tree! We almost never got a tree that nice. Bargain basement last minute trees were our forte! Not exactly Charlie Brown Christmas trees but we usually got the unwanted ones that were marked down or the seller was willing to let go of cheaply.
My brother and I managed to deal with our guilty secret until New Year's when my mother got the truth out of us. Mother's always know, don't they? I think she was more amused than anything but her job is to be outraged at the pseudo theft. It's not really stealing a tree when it's lying there all free and ready to be loaded into a car. I mean, those trees were just waiting for good homes. Those Boy Scouts had done a charitable thing, leaving us those trees. And I'm sure my brother and I put the twenty bucks to good use... okay, maybe we had lousy fast food but I digress...
The following year, I had similarly procrastinated getting a Christmas tree only I was invited to the annual Blueberry Hill Christmas eve employee party as John's guest. This party no longer exists but back in the day, the place closed at five and the staff ate, drank and was merry til very late in the evening.
That year, I was pregnant with Marissa, about four months, not really showing yet and definitely the designated driver for John who took the drinking and being merry part very seriously.
I had not even bothered to try to get a Christmas tree earlier that evening because I was planning on a late night heist of the Boy Scout Christmas tree lot. I was so confident that I would get a great tree, I didn't even look at the time we left Blueberry Hill and I think it was close to 2 AM when I finally insisted to my very, very, very drunk boyfriend that it was time to leave.
John and I were not yet living together, we didn't cohabit until after Marissa was born- so he asked me to take him home.
"Just help me get a Christmas tree first, it won't take long!"
"What? Are you crazy? Everything is closed."
"I know. I'm going to go take one of the leftovers."
"You want me to go with you to steal a Christmas tree? No way, take me home."
I tried to convince him that I was pregnant and he needed to help me and my kids would be really bummed out if there was no tree on Christmas morning. His response was to pass out in the front seat. Great.
So, I drove to the Boy Scout lot- and it was completely deserted. Not even a pine needle remained! It was as if there wasn't even a lot there to begin with. I completely panicked. I started driving around, trying to remember where other lots might be. Stupid, stupid, what was I thinking? I began to pray for a Christmas miracle. Not that I deserved one, premeditating a tree theft and all. I knew this was bad. I had mocked the miracle of last year...
I finally remembered there had been this lot we used to go to a few miles away and I drove up there- hoping against hope and- score! There were Christmas trees, everywhere all over the place, an abandoned lot with a ton of trees lying all over the place. I was so relieved. I nudged John, trying to get him up. He made some sleepy noises and began snoring loudly.
"Get up and help me get this Christmas tree."
He mumbled something about not being an evil Santa and resumed snoring. So, I did what I had to do. I got my pregnant ass out of my Mazda hatchback and began looking for a good tree and soon discovered- the horror.
I guess the people who ran this lot had no charity in their heart, no spirit of giving- when it was time to close, the Grinch came to work and brought a chainsaw, cutting off all the tops of the trees! NOOOO! I stood there, stunned. I had to make a decision. I either took one of these pathetic trees, brought it home with me or there would be no tree for those three kids with the little shining faces waiting for Santa to come. I had no choice. It was 3 am, I still had an hour of decorating and wrapping and placing presents under the tree. My parents were probably wondering what the hell I was doing. Usually this was done by midnight. I'm sure they were already dreaming nice dreams of not having any more minor children.
I could not fail the kids. I picked the least straggly tree I could find and stuffed it in the car. John wouldn't even wake up and help me decorate. I dropped his drunk ass off at his mother's house and went home to salvage what I could of this Christmas nightmare.
I fell asleep on the living room couch around 5:30 am, thinking, the kids won't care that the tree is kind of crappy, they will be like those Who's down in Whoville and be singing Christmas carols and all, it won't matter that the tree is ugly and misshapen and has it's top lopped off. I had tried to cover it up with a nice angel...well, I did the best I could.
I awoke to my oldest son staring down at me on the couch.
"What the heck is that, Mom?"
"Merry Christmas, honey! Mommy got you a tree!"
"That's the ugliest tree I've ever seen! Why'd you get that one? You couldn't get us a good one?"
My daughter looked up at me with her little face. "Mommy, were we bad this year?"
"It was either this or no tree. That was all they had left." I tried to explain.
"You should have left it in the lot, Mom," my son said.
Humph. Ungrateful. I thought. But you know, seriously, that was the last time I ever premeditated stealing a tree. Christmas tree karma is a bitch. Don't mess with it!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Best and WORST Christmas movies

Okay, it's always the right time to watch scary movies, Halloween makes it better but scary movies rock all the time.
But who wants to watch Christmas movies in July? Yeah, it's a little weird, all those people wearing layers while sweat is tricking down your neck. Who needs that? I watched this pretty funny movie a friend of mine made called "Another Christmas. They shot the film in the summer time, you can't tell at all, I wouldn't have known unless the actors told me. But I have to be in the festive mood.
I really think I could get used to Christmas in the tropics but so far, it's culture shock for me. I have only known the unpleasant cold at Christmas.
This weekend last year I shot my film "Play Dead" and fortunately, we were not trying to pretend it was warm out because trust me, it wasn't. This weekend was even colder than last year so I am thankful to not be outside in it this year but I sure wish I was shooting a film! (indoors or in a warmer climate)
Anyway, back to holiday movies- that's my topic. No matter where you are, or what the weather, it is that time of year!

So, are you in the mood? Get out the fuzzy socks and warm up the hot chocolate, pop the popcorn and cuddle up in your snuggie in front of your electric heater or fire place.
Here are my favorite Christmas movies and a few stinkers I either love to hate or would never see again! Here is my best list:

10- Bad Santa Kick the kids out of the room! This movie is for grown ups only! The filthiest holiday movie I have ever seen. I didn't stop laughing for the entire film. Seriously, this is a hard R rating- enjoy.

9.Gremlins Maybe you can watch it any time and enjoy it, but it really is best around the holidays. Don't you just love that bit when the little guy is driving the sports car through the department story? It has a moral message at the end, too.

8.The Nightmare before Christmas It's sad and it's sweet, it's got Halloween and Christmas together- it's funny and it's poignant, what more could you want. And you can let the kids back in the room now, it's safe.

7. A Christmas Story Admit it, you really want to get someone that fishnet stockinged leg for Christmas but you don't really want to spend $50. Buy it after Christmas when it's on sale and put it in the closet for a year- Hey kid, you'll shoot your eye out!

6. Miracle on 34th Street Go for the original, it's so much better. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!

5. Scrooged It's still funny every time Carol Kane beats the crap out of Bill Murray. I love the re-imagining of this classic- but I have to recommend other versions of A Christmas Carol the Henry Winkler version was pretty cool for me.

4. Okay, Christmas would not be Christmas without Rankin/Bass! Those shows never get old year after year, so here is to the classics- Santa Claus is Coming to town, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman two others that fall into the animated most nostalgic place are The Grinch who stole Christmas (1966) Not that crap Jim Carrey tried to shove at us, the original animated wonderful version- there is no other. And of course, the timeless Charlie Brown Christmas

3 Trading Places I know it's not strictly a Christmas movie but there is a drunk Santa- and it is really, really funny. Eddie Murphy and Dan Ackroyd for the holidays! Bring on the eggnog (not for me, of course, I will have hot chocolate)

2. The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. It's a wonderful Christmas film, and Father Christmas hands out some interesting toys. My deep love of CS Lewis made this most recent film very worthwhile for me, even if it does warm up in the end.

1. It's a Wonderful Life This movie can get pretty depressing, but it makes me cry happy tears every time I see it, and I love that it can only be broadcast once a year. I know it is nostalgic and weepy and poignant but I love, love, love this silly movie because it never gets old for me.

I'll take marshmallows and whipped cream in my hot chocolate, thank you.
Okay, seriously on to movies that I am cool with never seeing again. In no particular order-

Surviving Christmas Wow, seriously awful, more like surviving this movie.

Christmas Vacation Okay, Chevy Chase is funny but oh, my this movie sucks- I think I wanted out when the dog puked under the table and my ex boyfriend wanted to rewind it so he could laugh at it again. Yeah, that was the moment I turned against him and the movie.

Jingle all the way Um, Arnold, they gave you dialogue, that was the first mistake. Dude cannot act and proved it with this movie. Seriously stupid movie.

Elf I never saw it. Will Farrell is in it. That's enough for me- I'm pretty sure it is resoundingly stupid. I don't care if you say it isn't. la la la, I'm not listening to you!!!

Christmas with the Kranks Still trying to scrub the memory from my brain!!!

Four Christmases What a waste of Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn, couldn't anyone write those two talented people a good script? I will, I will!!! Sappy, crappy, not even worth a good sentimental cry. Hope they got paid well. Romantic comedy set at a holiday- fail

Live action How the Grinch stole Christmas really- how could you? I mean how could you people go and ruin it like that? Shame, shame, shame on you for that.

Have a lovely holiday, everyone, enjoy the movies. And I will tell you a little secret, I get a kick out of the bad ones, too!!!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Top Horror/Suspense Films

I began an early love of scary books and movies, thrillers, suspense, edge of my seat, keep me up all night experiences. I love a gripping story. It is one reason why I never wanted to put myself as a writer in a box. I want to write romantic comedies, dramas, thrillers. And I have always loved what scares me, what thrills me. It's kind of like a roller coaster, you know that you're going up for the terror, and you're disappointed if you don't get a good scare.
That must be where my risky behavior lies. For me, early terror was sneaking out of the house. Heart pounding as I stood on the stairs, going down extra slowly so I would not get caught. The suspense of getting out of the house carefully. It took me a good twenty minutes to sneak all the way out. I knew where every creak in the house was and I choreographed every single move. I carefully lowered my toe down the next stair, and tested it, if it began to creak, I pulled back- wait, wait, count to thirty, try was excruciating, and when I made it out the back door, I ran, adrenalin screaming in my ears- go now!
Recently I caved in and let Marissa watch The Exorcist. I knew she would find a way to do it with or without me. That kid is determined, so I decided to let her watch it with me. I think it scared her but I don't think it scared her nearly as much as it scared me every time I watched it. I think she admired the craft. I certainly did. This movie is a careful study in suspense and contains almost no special effects- most things are done in camera and with makeup and it still to this day holds up as the scariest movie of all time. The amazing thing about that movie is that it doesn't look dated, it doesn't look old and although Ellen Burstyn screeches hysterically a great deal, that doesn't even bother me. Some movies, you can tell they were made in the 70's- this one has actually achieved a timelessness about it.
I mean, sure, the fact that there is an actual phone cord sort of stands out but for the most part, it only adds to the terror. The hospital scenes are as horrifying as the head spinning. This movie is a masterclass in suspense and terror. It's always going to be number one on my list. The bit at the end when the demon is staring at the dead body of the priest- chilling, the lighting is brilliant, that blank and satisfied expression... that is what I love about the craft, when I see those genius moments.
So, here are the scary movies that changed my life. In no particular order, just as they came to me-
But let us just say for reasons I just listed- the top of my list will probably always be:
The Exorcist I cannot imagine any movie scaring me more than this one did.

Poltergeist- because it invaded your mind as much as it invaded your house. It started out all fun when the kids were sliding across the floor and stacking chairs on the table but you moved the headstones and not the bodies!!
A Nightmare on Elm Street the original, of course. This guy could invade your dreams, there was a back story and a score to settle. When Johnny Depp gets sucked into the mattress, it was wicked scary! Don't fall asleep!
Carrie I spent a lot of time feeling like a misfit and a freak, I've always related to this character. And enough is enough, she gave them plenty of chances! Putting evil Mom in the cross position was just the icing on the cake. Didn't we all kind of feel sorry for her? We should have learned that bullying lesson early on. Carrie spoke in class today, she said, you people suck!
The Sixth Sense Don't you love a good twist? How many people went back and re-watched that movie to make sure he did it right. This movie was pretty terrifying because of Haley Joel Osment. The kid looked certifiably frightened a lot of the time. The suspense was built beautifully. I don't think M. Night has managed to equal this story. I've liked some of his other movies but none of them were as well crafted as this one. He grounded it in character- which is where it really shone.
Jurassic Park Come on, you know you were all hanging on to the edge of your seat when those dinosaurs were attacking! Which leads me to...
JAWS The first one, of course! That first scene was completely terrifying. Didn't we all think midnight swims were great before that? Oh Spielberg, I want to be you. You can direct in all genres and no one tells you that you can't do it or puts you in a box!
Psycho and I would have to say a lot of Hitchcock films go with this one but again, the craft in this film is brilliant. I love the ending. This isn't at all what you would expect. The heart pounding drive away with the money is just as scary as the shower scene...
Rosemary's Baby just creepy and suspenseful and so freaky!! Just the thought of giving birth to the spawn of Satan gives me the chills!
Shadow of the Vampire This movie is so brilliant and just gives you the creeps in a major way- I love that genius that came up with this!
Seven and not just because of the hotness that is Brad Pitt. it's suspenseful and gritty. And that brings me to-
Silence of the Lambs Oh My God! It puts the lotion in the basket... I ate his liver with some favra beans and a nice Chianti- could that have been scarier? The scene in the dark with the green light? The intercutting? Ahhhhh!!! Masterclass in terror!
The Omen/ Damien Omen 2 Okay, clearly the devil scares the crap out of me!
The Ring Really, seriously, that girl climbing out of the television scared the hell out of me- and it had a plot that kept you going...
And last I am going to say these three Friday the 13th , Halloween and The Amityville Horror- needless to say, the originals of all of them. Because they were all a 70's kind of horror film that I appreciated- I'm sure there are many more.
Marissa has always inherently understood my love of scary movies, she exhibited very early on the desire to watch scary film. She would see a commercial and beg to watch the movie, even though it was clearly too mature and R rated for her. There is something deeply satisfying for me surviving a scary movie or finishing a scary book. When Marissa was five, she was begging to watch The X Files- I get it. I never would expose the other kids to scary movies but this one has always gravitated towards it. I actually can't wait to make more.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and The Random 12/6

The Good:
We had a pretty lovely Thanksgiving. There was no family drama and it was a nice day. I let go of the desire to try to contribute and I just showed up.
I was able to help a friend finish her film project.
I found a sublet in Los Angeles for January and I'm really excited about it.
I like it when coincidences seem to lead me to meaning in the world.
I managed to not over-react about a couple things.
Because I lost my voice, I can't yell at anyone or raise my voice and in the last few days, it has made me realize I probably don't need to do so nearly as often as I do.
It has forced me to use fewer words and to value silence.
I started and finished writing an entire play in five days.
My questioning of in law family dynamics actually led to a conversation for once and maybe it will result in better communication next time.
I was picked to be on a jury and it was a really fascinating experience.
I didn't lose my voice until the trial was over.
I used my voice to make really good points in the jury room and people actually listened to me.
I was able to be a real force of reason and fairness and stuck to my principles.

The Bad:
I got sick, then I got well, then I got really sick again and I have not had a voice since Thursday night.
I had a major disappointment this week and I'm trying very hard not to let it get to me, but it is.
I can't do what I need to do because I am so sick.
Staying up all night coughing and throwing up is no fun.
I had to miss out on a couple social events because of illness.
I had started to clean before I got sick but had to stop.

The Ugly: looking in the mirror at the pale sick person!

The Random:
When I first started losing my voice, Isabella said "Stop that, Mommy, stop talking like that."
I whispered to her that I had lost my voice and she put her hand on her throat, balled it up into a fist and then put it over my throat.
"here you go, Mommy, you can use my voice until yours gets better."
When that didn't work, she said "Try to laugh, Mommy, maybe that will help."
She has been so cute and so sympathetic over the past few days.

I have begun to wonder why everyone is so quiet out there. I know people read this but I have very few comments. I hope people are encouraged to let me know they are reading, even if the comments are private or anonymous.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Jury Duty

About a month ago I got a jury summons in the mail, filled it out and dutifully returned it, all the while thinking, how do I get out of this? Isn't that what most people think? How can I get out of this?
I sent back the questionnaire attached to the summons, and I heard nothing back that would excuse me, so I called in the night before and was informed that everyone was required to be there. I don't like getting up early, especially when there was a party the night before and I found myself feeling sick in the chest. I wondered if you could call in sick to jury duty. But by the time I was awake and showered, I started to feel well enough to go, so I went.
I was a little late but turns out nothing had happened yet anyway. I had prepared by bringing a book and a water bottle. I forgot to bring extra money for the vending machine. It was a freezing cold morning and I had trouble finding the right parking garage to park in and after I had walked the block to the courthouse, I realized I had left my book in the car. As I was really cold, and late, I thought, I'll go check in and then go back for the book. Turns out that was a really bad idea because once I checked in, they didn't want me to leave.
I looked around. It's a very large room with several hundred seats, I thought, maybe I can sneak away to the bathroom. No, that was in the room. I thought- I can pretend to be a smoker and they will let me outside- wait, are you kidding me? They have an outdoor patio attached? I sank back in my seat. I was going nowhere. The jury police had thought of everything. Dammit. I was not going to have a chance to leave before lunch.
I was trapped. I really wanted to read my book, too. Instead I opened up Facebook on my IPhone and complained about my dilemma. Several people chimed in and I was momentarily entertained. I wondered how long my battery was going to last. I was also given a pamphlet when I arrived, so I read it. After a while, a judge went up to the microphone and explained what was going to happen, what we should expect and all.
After another hour, another man came and called twenty five names. My name was not called. I was starting to get hungry, and sleepy and began to look forward to lunch. I checked facebook. I checked my email. I looked at a couple websites. I put my coat on and scrunched down in my chair and closed my eyes.
Then a Bailiff stepped up to the microphone and started calling more names. He may as well have said "Everyone that is left in this room, go stand in the hall!" but we all said "here" when he called our names and went and stood in the hall. There were 32 of us and that emptied the room.
When he called our names, he gave us a number to remember. I was so surprised to hear my name, I immediately forgot my number for a minute. We all went down the stairs two floors and stood around in that hallway until he told us to line up by our numbers. I was number 18. We all went in to the courtroom and began the questioning process. I think we learned pretty much what the case was going to be about right there. It was a civil case about a car accident.
If you've never done the questioning process, it is super boring. The first question was "Tell us about yourself. Your education, your occupation." The first five people in the row had Master's degrees. Whoa. What kind of jury pool was this. The higher education continued. All in all, I counted three people out of 32 who said "high school education", everyone else said Bachelors or above, and most of those Masters degrees were women. Was this normal? I had no idea.
After the trial was over, I asked the lawyers, one who had been practicing law for 38 years and said he had never questioned a jury pool with that much higher education. A fluke, I suppose.
After that, we had to say whether or not we knew anyone who had sued someone or been involved in personal injury case- it went on and on. Finally the plaintiffs lawyer was at her last question and this woman on the end said "Why didn't you ask us if we personally have been involved in a car accident?" So for real, then we had to go around the room and list every car accident we could remember and whether we got hurt. If there could have been a collective groan at the woman, there would have been. More of the same from the defense. I might say that this was cutting in to our lunch hour. It was already pushing one pm when the judge called a recess in questioning.
There was a part of me that just wanted to go home but a part of me that knew I was going to get picked. After all, I hadn't done anything to prevent myself from getting picked. Like the guy in the front row who immediately said "I can't be fair in this trial because of my religious beliefs."
Later we all agreed that was kind of lousy of him.
None of us specifically wanted to be there but this is part of our civic duty. I was torn, wanting to be picked, because I knew I could be fair and reasonable and that I would be a good juror and being tired and not feeling my best. I decided I would just be honest and let the lawyers decide what they would.
The defense lawyer asked if any of us were Libertarians because it might mean we did not feel we should follow that law. That question made me unhappy, but I am not and never have been a libertarian and I wasn't going to start lying about it even though it isn't exactly something you can prove.
I think if you can elect a Libertarian to office and swear said person in and expect said person to uphold the law- then said person should get to serve on a jury. Wondered if the lawyer was going to ask if there were any anarchists in the jury pool-
At 1:30, the lawyers were given ten minutes to decide on a jury. We all thought we should have just been sent to lunch but apparently this doesn't take very long. We got called back in and I was the tenth juror picked. Again, a little surprised to hear my name.
So, we are all sitting there, stomachs growling away and the judge, thankfully sends us all to lunch after telling us not to discuss anything with anyone. Okay, I'm going to admit this up front. That is the hardest part for me- not talking about it. Not because I can't keep a secret. I absolutely can and have- it's the being told not to do something by an authority figure. Because I want to rebel. But my higher self realized the importance of this instruction lay in the way it could sway me, so I didn't discuss it at all, not even that night with my family. And I really wanted to tell my husband- because I tell him most things.
I went to lunch with three other women, really nice people. And we discussed all kinds of things other than the trial. We talked about the food, the weather. The elephant kept peeking out at us. We found it safe to talk about the people who had not been chosen- because we were all curious about the process.
When we returned, we heard over an hour of videotaped medical testimony and it was super boring but I paid attention and took notes. It was going to be important later. Then, the judge sent us home and told us to come back at 9:30 AM the next day.
Part of this was exciting to me and part of me was disappointed. It wasn't a very good trial, a very interesting trial, a trial with any kind of fascinating or brilliant details. It was a trial about a car accident and a whiplash injury- and the defendant claimed she couldn't have hit her hard enough to have caused any injury.
And the thing was, I sympathized and could see both sides of this issue- and as disappointed as I was with not getting a really juicy, thought provoking trial, I knew inherently that the outcome of this trial was going to affect people's lives- and my part in it should be taken very seriously.
The next morning, I reported to the jury room and there was coffee and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. I liked the other jurors in general. It was a group of intelligent and interesting people- and I couldn't even remember who had a Master's degree in what, not that it matters, but because they all seemed like generally fair people who had interesting thoughts and lives. They were telling stories about themselves. We were careful not to discuss politics or religion or anything controversial. We complained about work, discussed our children, discussed the jury system in general and what was expected of us- and stayed in the safe zone. No one dared to piss anyone else off. We all knew that we had to agree and work together.
In a criminal trial, the verdict has to be unanimous. In a civil trial, nine out of twelve has to agree and we were not burdened with reasonable doubt but asked to decide three questions and if it leaned towards more reasonable than not reasonable we should decide that way.
So, it's funny how this works. I heard the same trial everyone else heard- and all of us varied wildly on what we thought should happen. It seemed obvious to me that both of the women lied on the stand. Little lies. Lies of exaggeration. Lies of omission. Lies of not really remembering what had happened three years ago in this car accident and whether or not they had pulled over to the shoulder and waited for the police or stayed where they were the whole time.
It didn't help that there was no police report. The officer had completely failed to do one.
So I had to filter past the fact that we were being lied to and stick with the facts of what we knew. That it was unlikely but not impossible that this woman had been injured in a minor fender bender bump at a yield sign. That the medical evidence was fairly compelling and the fact that this woman had pursued treatment for three months made it likely that she was hurt in some way.
And, so for me, this part was easy.
Did the defendant cause the accident? Yes, she admitted it.
Was she negligent in doing so? Yes, she admitted not looking.
Was there injury?
Ah, this we were not sure of. The medical evidence was there but it was shaky, even the doctor admitted it is possible to fake this kind of injury but highly unlikely.
And it boiled down in the jury room to the fact that people didn't like the plaintiff, didn't believe anything she said, and half of them were convinced she was out for some big payday. Which seemed kind of laughable to me, as her medical bills were not even that high and she wasn't even asking for much over her medical bills. I think that was the biggest problem. The plaintiff's lawyer did not give us good guidelines on what to give her as compensation.
All of us eventually agreed that there was injury, as unlikely as it seemed to be, that the medical evidence was there.
Once we decided that, it was a fight to award her the medical bills. Part of the jury room had a problem with where she sought treatment, part of her treatment was chiropractic and they had issues with it.
There were some nasty things said about this woman in that jury room. Nine women and three men were on that jury- and two of those men were joking "I think she falls down a lot." implying she is a drinker.
I heard the comment "Are you going to ask her out after this is over?"
Also, "She's kind of old, maybe her bones break easier, but is that the other woman's fault?"
"She's kind of rough, probably rode it hard that night before and hurt herself."
In the end, this is what bothered me the most. In the end, I feel like half the room punished her because they judged things about her personality based on the way she looked. I can't begin to figure it out but I think the pre-judgment started before we even got there. They had already decided she was a lowlife looking for a pay day.
In the end, I wish I had asked them "Are you making this decision on the facts or because you don't like her?"
Because I really feel she was not given the compensation she should have been given- but that was the fault of a number of issues. I thought she should have been compensated for pain, travel and time spent seeking treatment, because that is what any other person would have been awarded. Instead, the best we could agree on was her full medical bills, and I realized that is the best we were going to do on that jury.
In all, we deliberated for about an hour and a half- and in the end she was given the exact amount of her medical bills. In the end, it cost that woman to be injured in a car accident and it shouldn't have. In my opinion. But that was as fair minded as I could be. I knew she was exaggerating, I knew she was laying it on thick, but I couldn't hold it against her because she was doing what she had to do. I knew the other woman was incredulous that such a small bump could have caused any injury. I would have been as well. All of us found the defendant's testimony far more credible than the plaintiff. But it was about following the facts and the rule of law. Funny how half that room wanted to decide on the fact that they didn't like one of the women.
Afterward, one of the other jurors and I had a thirty minute conversation with the plaintiff's lawyer, fascinated about what had been excluded, what we weren't allowed to know- how we were picked and what went on behind the scenes.
We went upstairs and turned in our jury badges and were allowed to go home. I felt in some small way that some kind of justice had been done. This trial has weighed on my conscience more than it should have. I was invited into the lives of strangers and asked to settle a dispute fairly and I'm not sure we completely did that. But it most definitely was a learning experience.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

On my Grandmother's birthday

Today is December 4th and will always be my grandmother's birthday. Let me tell you about her. She was born on this day is 1903 and she died on May 24, 1983. She missed the greatest hits of me going off the rail and being the most rebellious teenager ever, she saw the beginning of the highlights. It has always bothered me that I never knew her as an adult, that I never got to fully appreciate her off color humor and the rich, fullness of her personality that she shared with the other adults.
Lucky for me, there were plenty of people to talk with about her.
I have fond and fuzzy memories of her as well as some that are not so fuzzy but for the most part, I adored her fiercely. She was not a hugely indulgent woman who spoiled me rotten and she was not an overly affectionate or touchy person in general. I had an arrival hug and a goodbye hug, but I never had any doubt of her affection for me and her fondness of me.
My mother once told me that she has no memory of her mother telling her that she loved her but there was never a shred or molecule of doubt that she was loved completely and utterly.
She was born Ella May Hill in Forsyth, Georgia but I don't think she was ever known as Ella, she always went by May and I'm not sure at what point but she changed the spelling to Mae. When my oldest brother was born, she has to decide on a grandmother name. She called herself "Mammy" so that was what we called her. She was the third child and the first daughter, eleven pounds at birth, her face was compressed in the birth canal and her nose was always a little flat on her face.
Recently, I was in her house in Georgia looking through pictures of her when she was a little girl and a young woman. This is an extraordinary thing to have seen these pictures finally. I'm the only grandchild named for her- my middle name is May and knowing that I think I always felt a special connection. It's an odd responsibility to be chosen as the one to carry her name, though my mother kept the original spelling since I was also born in May. My grandmother lost most of her hearing in one ear in a diving accident when she was about 17, so we had to speak very loudly to be heard by her. I never heard her be impatient or complain about her loss of hearing. She would simply ask you to repeat yourself and you would. It was the complete opposite of my father, who also suffered profound hearing loss and was nasty tempered and completely impatient.
It's pretty easy to martyr someone when they die. It would be easy to tell stories of all the wonderful things that she did in her life but in an odd way, it was her mistakes that comforted me. It was her triumphs and her tenacity that inspired me. It was often made great sport of that my grandmother could hold a legendary grudge. In fact, you were lucky if she ever got over it.
This was always spoken of with a kind of awe or praise, which I never understood. It made me a little afraid for her to be mad at me, in case I would end up on the grudge list.
Oddly, it was her ability to do something terrible, to make a lapse of judgment fairly heinous and hurtful to another person and then realize it and correct it that gave me the most hope. It is her humanity that endears her to me now. It was her fierce determination of spirit that made her unlike anyone else I will ever know. Her fierce stubbornness in the face of whatever obstacle there was.
Mae Hill's college diploma hangs on the wall of the house in Georgia. She went to New York to be an artist after college, lived there for a while and then met and married an Irishman. By all accounts, it was a fiery marriage. This is the part where I wish I knew more because no one can tell me what she could have and she never spoke of her ex husband. She was divorced from my grandfather and he returned to Ireland and died before I was born.
This is what I know. She divorced my grandfather after my mother finished college, as much as she fought with him, she fought not to get that divorce. And she was heavily embittered by it when it happened. She told my mother that she had to choose between her and her father and that if she ever saw her father again, she could no longer be a part of her life. My mother adored her mother and so agreed to the heinous terms, but because she is tender hearted and loved her father, she went to see him one more time. My grandmother found out and stopped speaking to her.
The year I was born, my grandmother and my mother weren't talking. She had no idea my mother was pregnant, had her only daughter and had named me for her mother. The whole year we lived in California, they didn't speak. I cannot imagine how difficult this estrangement must have been on them both, they were so close. My mother describes the reconciliation as her begging on her hands and knees to be taken back into her life.
As awful as this was, it's not a sad story- what a triumph of will and spirit that must have taken my grandmother to abandon her grudge, someone who hung on to things in legendary fashion. How much she must have loved my mother to let go of her anger and bitterness and move back to a loving relationship. I never saw anything between them but fond affection.
How close I came to missing out on her. I watched her carry a life long grudge against her cousin and next door neighbor. They shared a driveway and one day, my grandmother was unloading her groceries and Cousin Cora pulled up behind her and honked her horn so she could get past to pull into her inside driveway.
The story goes that my grandmother emerged from the house and a yelling match ensued, where Mae was reported saying "Don't you honk at me in my own driveway." Now I am sure that there was plenty of other history behind that but they never spoke again. I used to go next door and visit my Cousin Cora often when I was down there. Cora always had kittens. And my grandmother never told me not to go and she never really disparaged Cora in front of me. This story I learned in bits and pieces as many stories about her come to life like that. I'm sure she had her reasons and I don't know all of them.
This is the grandmother I knew. She was loyal and smart and kind, but she was not afraid to let you know when you deserved a punishment. She patiently taught me so many things artsy and craftsy but my favorite memories were in the kitchen with her snapping beans that she grew in her garden and rolling out pie dough and mixing up everything home made. It took hours and hours in the kitchen to prepare these lavish and wonderful meals when we down there. When I was sitting around the kitchen table, if I could manage to be quiet, the women would tell these wonderful stories about their lives and they spared little about what they thought about other people. This is why I am so fond of making home made goods. I feel her through me. She rarely followed a recipe but she had plenty. She cooked by heart and by feeling.
My grandmother went with us to museums and castles and looked at great works of art with us. She walked across Stonehenge with me and when a horse stepped on my hand, she brought me a potted African Violet plant. It was the only plant I have ever made grow and do well. Everything before and after has died, but I haven't really tried- it broke my heart when I had to leave that plant in England. I think, to this day, this is why I won't even try to grow a garden or take care of a house plant. I am like her and not like her.
I have not inherited her ability to hold a grudge but I am fierce and stubborn in determination and spirit. I am not an excellent oil painting artist like she was but I can write a story and I have an artist's eye in my films. I can bake a cherry pie and make delightful chocolate cakes. I wish she had gone to the doctor when she had chest pains instead of going to bed but I am lucky to have known her. She never knew my children or who I grew up to be but when I was a teen and beginning to give my mother a special hell- my grandmother reassured her that I was going to be okay with a sureness and a confidence that my mother was able to hold on to through the dark days.
Sometimes she used to talk to me in my dreams. If I dream of you tonight, I hope I remember to tell you happy birthday.