Monday, December 4, 2017

If we want it

Here we are, firmly moving into the (bah, humbug) full holiday frenzy. I didn't even seem to be able to catch my breath long enough to mumble my annual deep thanks for living in a time of modern plumbing.

The wind is a whipping cold version of Santa Ana's tonight, which is for sure SoCal Christmas weather. In mere weeks we will go through the longest night and then celebrate the growing light, the birth of The Word (even if Jesus was most likely born at a complete different time of year), and charge on into the a New Year of making promises to ourselves and no keeping them. But for these precious children in my life and the wonder in their eyes, I would just as soon lock myself in my room for the duration.

More and more, I have been feeling irrelevant. Somehow while I was busy growing up and raising kids and loving and surviving, things have just sort of passed me by. If I have gained wisdom, it is wisdom nobody wants. If I could have had a bigger purpose, I don't know that I can now.

But there is this other voice whispering in my ear. It is the timeless message of the season that just happens to be an ongoing theme of my entire life.

I wonder, has there ever truly been an age when the world was at peace? But more than that, I grew up somehow very aware of the threat of war. I remember when I was 4, a plane would fly over and I would fear that a bomb would drop. During most of childhood and teen years the nightly news was also the nightly death count from Viet Nam. Even when we weren't in active battles, we have been in threat, my entire life. Now, again, powerful children are beating their breast and making threats with nuclear missiles.

And so this is Christmas and war is over if we want it. Peace on earth, goodwill towards humankind.

And we argue about someone standing or kneeling during the national anthem. And we pretend to be shocked that casting couches have been a real thing and who is going to get caught next. The greedy continue to be greedy, the predators continue to stalk the prey. But don't worry, the next Star Wars is coming out soon and next month pot will be sold legally here.

Maybe we will all be blown to the dark ages tomorrow with apathy paving the way.

Still, can I ask you to light a candle this season (a battery operated one will do). Smile at a neighbor who doesn't look like you. Show kindness to a stranger. And write a letter to someone in power, asking them to work for peace. One more time, can we consider giving peace a chance?

I am only one voice, and nobody wants to hear one old lady who's day is gone and past. But I still have this little light, and here I am, shining it in the dark tonight. Shine, little light, shine.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The way it always is

My manager, not really that much older than I was, announced that he was considering retirement. He needed to find a new supervisor, and he said “I’m going to be looking for a man good enough to replace me … or a woman, I guess.” But I heard that he meant a man, and of course it was a man who was hired. This wasn’t that long ago; but he and I, we grew up in the generation where the men were almost always in charge.
And when men are almost always the ones with the power, lines are crossed. Me too isn’t just about rape and assault, it is about those lines that are crossed. It is about women who grew up knowing that is just the way it is. It isn’t right, but if you complain it is the woman who suffers. Always. Despite laws.
When the manager of the fast food restaurant over hired to get the new location open with a band, then cut over half the staff, it was no mistake that most of those kept were young cute women who liked to flirt with Mr. Boss. It was obvious, but how do you prove that? Who cares about fast food workers?
But is doesn’t stop there. Men are routinely seen as more valuable, more promotable. That is just the way it is. But women in work situations always know the stories about that one Mr. Boss and how Ms. Cutie came back from a convention or business trip with a nice promotion.
And that isn’t assault, and it isn’t harassment. And usually you can’t prove it. But suddenly every other women in the office feels like their work and skills don’t matter.
This isn’t just in the past. I have heard the stories the last few years, we all have.
Me too is about always feeling less.
It is also about saying no on a date and having your reputation trashed. This happened to too girls, like me. We back off, say we aren’t ready for that, say no to more dates. We weren’t assaulted, we weren’t raped, but he tells everyone that he did the dumping because she was taking it too fast. It happened to me, too. That is just the way that it is.
It is the constantly grabbing hands, the unrelenting pressure. It is being called names because you won’t, but being called names if you do. And it is knowing that, at any point, at any moment, in your journey through this world, there is likely to appear a powerful, predatory man who blocks your way and says “I don’t care how smart, how good, how talented you are. If you want to pass this point you have to pay my toll.”
And if we fight it is he said she said, and who has the power?  Yeah, that is the way it is, right? That is the way that it has always been, right?
So, women are standing together and saying me too. I think we are feeling a little more validated, a little bit heard. But the world is a crazy busy place with a lot of noise and distraction. And I’ve been around this old sun enough times to realize that pendulums swing back, and the balance of power has not really shifted. This is important, we need to not become once again silenced. We need to keep speaking the truth.
Me. Too.

Can you hear us now? 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Bumpy Journey

A friend asked me today about my parent's religion.  Well, that wasn't exactly the question, but that is not exactly what I want to talk about.  And the friend is also a Friend.

And it has been a journey.  I was raised as nothing on purpose, with a cultural Christian bias. My dad was raised Church of God, which is a strict Pentecostal denomination fitting the stereotype of "holy roller." As a result, he was a firm believer in not pushing religion on kids. My mom was from a Baptist and Presbyterian background, but private about her personal beliefs.  I attended both Church of God and Presbyterian when visiting Grandparents.  Also as a child (with different friends and family) I visited Lutheran and Catholic services, joined in a family celebration of the first night of Hanukkah, and hung out with real live "60"s hippies.

As I grew into my own mind and choices a bit, I decided I was an atheist, then encountered God and became a "Jesus Freak"  After we moved to Florida I tried baptist and did Seventh Day Adventist for about a year, until I decided God just wasn't working for me.  Over the next decade I explored re-incarnation, Edgar Cayce, Theosophy, Buddhism, looked into Bahia a bit, almost got caught up in a cult, and spent a few years doing Unity. There were some other detours, so I also learned quite a bit about Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and reading tarot cards along the way.

I eventually returned to a brand of contemporary Christian with a charismatic flavor.  Did that for a long time, despite some bumps, until finally I felt bumped out on my ass and it was a rough landing.

So, a couple of weeks ago another friend who is also a Friend asked me if I ever identify myself as a Quaker. And I had to admit that just earlier that week I had, in a bit of a joking way.

But here is the thing, in all my seeking and bumping around I have gotten a pretty clear picture of what I believe and how I want to express that in the world. Turns out it is pretty much like a Quaker.  But I really don't know that I'm ready to take that as a label.  It has been a pretty bumpy road to travel to here, and there is a part of me that is just waiting until I hit the next bump. I admit that I have a history that has learned to expect rejection, and I don't stay where I'm not wanted.

But it's OK, my Friends seem to be just fine with that.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Not the same single

I'm not good at hanging out with friends in my general age range that are single. 

I admit that part of it is my introversion. I don't relax in crowds. I much prefer quiet conversation with a few trusted friends, but nobody seems to have time for that. 

But also, it seems like my friends who are in my age range that are single are in that condition because of relationships that went wrong. They are single because of bad divorces, or lack of commitment, or just never meeting the right person. They are still hoping to meet the love of their lives, or they have given up.

Being a widow is different. I was married 23 years.  I have every confidence I would still be married today. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not bragging, I'm not saying I'm better.  I'm just saying my perspective is different.

When you are in a lasting marriage, it isn't all rose petals and hearts. There were times that were really hard, and we didn't like each other very much. But commitment and underlying love got us through. Stubbornness helps.

And see, I have had that, I have had the "love of my life" and know it isn't the be all and end all - it just is. I don't have to prove anything about myself. I know the daily grind of love.

Sure, I would enjoy another relationship. I get lonely. I get horny. But I had a good marriage with someone who was also my closest friend. I could never settle for less. I'm not actively looking, I am not fixing myself up to impress anyone. I'm not going on dating sites or looking to be fixed up. The last time I got naked with someone besides a medical professional I was 26 years old. My body has changed, and not for the better. Safe sex still was not an issue then.

I have never had sex with a condom.

So really, it isn't just that I'm picky and not that interested, I am insecure and not even sure how this all works now.

So yeah, I'm single. Just not that kind of single. Sigh.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Effing Gnomes

For those who asked for the tale.

How do I know it is Gnomes?  Well, I don't, but that is what we have taken to calling it/them.  It is, for sure, something from faerie that is bent on mischief but is not actually harmfully malevolent. I'm willing to hear arguments for other explanations or names.

I know, I know, people misplace stuff.  This is on a different level.  The first time we really took note may not have been the first interference, but the first that was so clearly out of the usual.  The sewing scissors went missing.

Now, I'm not talking a pair of scissors, I'm talking a pile of scissors used by a housefull of sewers.  All but one or two pairs were being stored in a specific sewing box.  One day, they were just gone.  Michelle looked high and low and asked everyone.  We all looked, and each of us looked in the sewing box where they should have been - more than once.  No scissors.

But we were too busy preparing to move to make it the center of our whole attention.  Maybe we would find them in all the packing and unpacking process? No.

Then, about a month after we were all  moved, Michelle went to get something else out of that same sewing box, and the scissors were all back, just like that.

That was the day we started calling them the effing gnomes.

It is not always clear when it is them and when it is just human error, but there is a pattern of it being sewing scissors, like the pair I thought I had somehow left at a sewing circle type activity.  No one had them and they were not in my bag that I had carried my things in.  I figured they were lost for good, and bought another pair. A month later I went to get something else out of that bag and, you guessed it, they were back.

They take tools from Mike, usually phillips head screw drivers.  He will go to get one out of his tool box and it will be gone.  He will yell about people messing with his tools and stomp around. Then a few days later he will go for a different tool, and there is the screwdriver, exactly where it was supposed to be.

A few weeks ago, he lost his keys.  Mike and Michelle searched carefully through the house.  They both ran their hands down in the cracks under the furniture cushions - several times.  When Marcus got home, he found them, in the crack in the sofa.  He didn't even have to try that hard.  Come to think of it they never mess with Marcus.  Hmmm.

But this latest one, last night, has me really confused. I was starting to get ready for bed, plugging in my electronics and putting things back in my backpack so it would be ready in the morning. I noticed something shiny in the bottom of my backpack that looked like a - yes - it looks like the stitch plate off an older sewing machine.

I took it downstairs, wondering if it was something Michelle or Megan had that somehow got knocked into my backpack, and they were as mystified as I was.  It had a part number on it, so Meg did a little googling and established that it is a stitch plate to a vintage Singer.  Not my Featherweight, mind you, a full size machine from before they etched seam markers on them.  Now we do own two larger vintage Singers, but they have both been in storage for several years and we have not touched them since they were put there.

Somewhere there is a vintage singer suddenly missing it's stitch plate. If it is your's, I have it.  Why they thought I needed it in my backpack is beyond my understanding of the world.

The only thing I can say is effing gnomes.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Reasons I’m probably not really a Quaker

So, I’ve been going to a Friends Meeting for a little over a year.  There are so many essentials I really resonate with, but I still am trying to figure out if I should think of myself as a Quaker.  Now, the disclaimer is that this is mostly based on my experiences with one smallish group of really nice people.  There is no way I’m at expert level in knowledge on this thing.  But I decided I needed to make a list.

I’m not earnest enough.  Really, I just can’t take things seriously enough.  If there is the least bit of humor, irony, or chance at a bad pun I cannot let it pass.

I’m not educated enough.  Not that I didn’t want to be, life just had other plans for me. But really, most of these people are seriously well educated, like PhD’s and such. 

Although I believe in non-violence, I still like my murder mysteries and shoot-em-up Sci-Fi’s.  I also have a temper.  I am probably not peaceful enough.

I haven’t been that politically involved in social justice.  I mean, I have been pretty much in survival mode for much of my life.  I have felt the injustices of being forced out of school for being a teen mom, of being blocked from a position in a church for being a single mom, have been on welfare and food stamps, and have seen my children’s spouses deal with issues of racism and immigration, but I haven’t been an activist or anything. 

After my last escape from the conformity of in institutional religion, do I really want to be committed to another institution?  There is no doctrine, creed, or hierarchy, but that doesn’t mean there is anarchy.  Maybe we really are all that like-minded on the essentials, but still, I thought I knew what I was doing last time. Can I trust myself not to be suck in and become a mindless follower?

I might be too wild in my heart.  There is that part of me that wants to dance in the meadows.  There is that still that hippy girl inside that wants wear tie-dye and twine flowers in my hair.  There is also that tiny bit of kink.  And it isn’t that differences aren’t allowed, they see that of God in every one. I just get the feeling that I’m expected to be a responsible grownup by now, but I feel like I’m just starting to find my free self. 

I still carry too much of other beliefs with me.  I still like the Bible.  It isn’t that they reject the Bible, it just isn’t very significant. I carry with me a love for old hymns and newer worship songs.  I still love Jesus.  I even still pray in tongues to myself.  And I do pray, even though my conversations with God never quite fit the mold of my old church, they are conversations and not just holding in the light.  The light has long been one of the ways I feel the presence of God, so that language works for me, as well.  And it isn’t like I’m going to intrude my viewpoint into their process, I don’t think that is how God works.  Like, I’m not about to break a perfectly good silence to sing Amazing Grace or something.  Unless I feel like the Spirit is really wanting that, which is highly unlikely.  But see, all these ideas of the parts that were life and love in all my previous religious explorations, that is all still a part of who I am. And that is always going to make me feel a little bit of caution in how I word things.  But being respectfully cautious seems to tread awful close to being fake or dishonest. And then we get back to that conformity thing.

I’m too selfish.  If I lean into this, then I need to start finding a way to put some of my limited funds into the Quaker oats cookie jar.  I need to give more time to it, too.  Commitment to being a part of something means helping more, bringing snacks, doing other activities.  My life is just so full, I don’t have time and energy to practice my music or write as much as I carry in my head or, oh, a zillion other things that get pushed aside to do that work thing and other responsibilities.  I know that they will let me keep coming, but I will feel more and more like I’m taking more than I am giving.  It is a matter of my own conscious.

Well, there it is, laid out.  I think that about covers most of it.  It is very likely just a matter of time before I find out I’m in the wrong place.  I have a hard time explaining the things that call me back there week after week, or what I get from just quiet listening as worship.  Maybe someday I’ll be able to explain it better, or maybe not.  In the meantime, this obviously needs more thought. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Falling Up 5: Canyon child

When I crossed the field above our house some mornings, dew hung on the spiderwebs in the wild oats by the path, sparkling like strings of rainbows.

At the bus stop, there was a creek bed with large and small sand stones. We would hunt for small colored ones, blues and pinks mostly, and draw pictures on the bigger rocks. Once there was a hummingbird nest and we would very carefully look at it everyday, not touch, until the eggs hatched and the babies grew and left.

During recess we often hunted lizards. Bluebellies were most common, but I liked the little sand colored lizards. You had to be careful with the alligator lizards, they bit.  They weren't venomous or anything, but when they clamped on they wouldn't let go, and it really hurt. You had to run them under water to get them to release. A good teacher was one who would let us keep them in our desks, as long as we did our work.

There was a type of flower that a friend showed me, blueish on a long stalk.  If you dug up the root bulb you could scrape it against a rock at the creek and it would foam up just like soap.  When we packed our lunch and stayed out all day, we washed our hands before we ate.

There was a bank covered in bushes that I knew about.  Once you were under the bushes, there were trails, though you couldn't stand up under there.  We called them fox trails. It felt like a very hidden safe place.

We didn't play Cowboys and Indians, just Indians.  We gathered grains and seeds and ground them on rocks.  We were peaceful.

We knew our neighbors.  We knew Mr. and Mrs Robinson and sometimes we would stop and to see their parrots. I knew Mrs. Morgan. Sometimes I would stop by and she would offer me tea. She gave me a stuffed poodle once that had been her daughter's. Almost every house, a mile straight up the hill to the bus stop, I knew someone at somewhat. Even when I walked alone, I always felt safe.

All the girls were in Girl Scouts, even the Catholic family that didn't go to our school.  Most of the boys were in Boy Scouts.  

But the canyon was, and always had been, a little different. At one time Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger had lived there.  In the 50's there were beatniks. In the 60's it became one of the grooviest places outside of San Francisco.  The kids I went to school with, many of them were artists and musicians, and writers. I knew gay and lesbian couples just as people I knew before I even knew what that meant. My dad sold a house he bought and fixed up to two men who were raising some adopted sons together - in the sixties.  If anyone in my community had a problem with it, I never heard about it.

In some ways it was the most typical Wonder Years type childhood, with air raid drills and PTA. But it was so much more. Like out Halloween carnival.

We had the best game booths, and a cake decorating contest, and tickets and prizes.  But the best part was the costume contest.  I don't know how to explain it, people went all out.  One year my friend's little sister won; she was a giant witch's hat. One year we had a marching band leading the costume parade. If someone showed up in a store bought costume, everyone felt sorry for them, like they had a black eye or something. 

When you grow up running those canyon hills, you learn an independence of spirit and a unique appreciation for the lessons of nature that last a life time. And you also grow up understanding that we are here by permission, mother earth can stir and clear us away just like that.  Anyone who grows up in Southern California Mountains knows, I've seen fire and I've seen rain.

These are two lessons my feet learned.  When you are walking on rocks across a creek, you keep you weight and balance on the back foot and test the next rock before you trust it and then gently shift, but keep that security of the last rock before you fully trust the next one.  If you need to go down a steep bank, you can slide down on your butt and look silly, pick you way down slowly and maybe end up on your butt anyway (or worse, your face).  Or, if you are brave enough, you can spread you arms for balance, let yourself begin to fall forward, then let you feet run to catch up.  It is really scary, and sometimes you still fall, but it is also one of the most powerful feelings in the world.  Caution and unrestrained risk, and the discernment to know which to use when.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Falling Up 4: Revelation

I was bored out of my mind. Any 6yo would be, waiting in the doorway of the gas station garage while some work was being done on my mom's car.  She had a chair, but I was just standing, hopping around, and bored. So I started pretend races.

At that time races were a big deal at school, who was faster, and my friend Lila won almost all of them. I did not. In any race, I was most likely to trip and fall on my face. But in pretend races ...

I asked my mom to do the ready, set, go, and I raced across the space of the open garage door. I was racing against Lila, and I won! Except I didn't. My mom declared Lila the winner. Because my mom believed in telling the truth, and she knew the truth.

Years later, when I was going through the process of getting in touch with my emotions, I remembered this. Everything I couldn't feel at the time, the hurt and frustration and the deep desire to just have my mom believe in me, it all came up. Every last feeling, fresh in the heart of that little girl, and I cried until I was swollen and numb.

I don't want to make this a whiney account of all the ways I was made to feel less. I don't want to go on for pages about missing affection, the liberal use of switch and belt, and the because-I-said-so rules. These were all pretty standard for the times. 

What wasn't standard was the complete inconsistency. My mom wasn't cruel; just tired, distracted, and painfully practical. But my dad, I never knew. I would come home from school and he would be out on a job or asleep on the couch watching TV with a book open on his chest (no, I'm not kidding and don't dare change channels) or he would be cooking dinner while doing some frenzied project, or he would be angry and yelling about everything, or he would be (rarely) nice, laughing, singing, telling stories. We would eat in the living room, except when we ate around the table like a proper family. We would go visit relatives, then he would tell me how we were really better than them.  He would also sometimes tell me things about my friends parents, things a child didn't need to know about drunk driving charges or previous marriages.  

And his mood could change in a moment. I remember once when we were eating at the table. One moment he was teasing me about something, we were laughing. Then suddenly he was yelling that I was laughing at him and he was standing up and undoing his belt to whip me. I had no idea why or where it changed.

My had grown up in a very strict southern pentecostal religion, while my mom had been presbyterian. He did not believe that religion should be pushed on a child, but there was still a family and community standard based on convenient bits and pieces of the Bible, especially don't use God's name, don't lie, and obey your parents. 

Sometimes when I visited my Grandma I would go to Sunday school at her church.  One summer, the year I turned 10, I was going to go two weeks in a row, so I took on the task of memorizing the assigned verse. Grandma even gave me a little New Testament that I could keep. 

The verse was Colossians 3:17 in the King James Version. "And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him." But I was a reader, so I kept reading:

18 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.
20 Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.
Yeah, yeah, obey your parents. Then the next verse, "21 Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged." What? God has rules for Fathers, too? And he isn't supposed to be making me angry on purpose, like the way he would sometimes push me to argue and then either be proud or beat me?
Sometimes I get in discussions about the Bible. Some people think that it is no longer relevant, or valuable only as ancient literature. I have spent over 50 years now in perusing, studying and being taught about this book. I understand the criticisms, a discussion for another day. But one thing I can tell you about this document, it can sometimes provide the greatest truths just when they are most needed. Like that moment in my life.
That was the moment in my life when I began to think that maybe things weren't supposed to be this way. I began to think that maybe God knew how hard this was, how wrong this was. In that moment, on the basis of a Bible verse, the true seeds of rebellion were planted in my heart.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


Once upon a time there were people, a few, who called me a prophet.

And I knew some people who were being held up as prophets, who would bring messages to people from god.  I saw as they seemed to grasp for some kind of fame and basked when people gathered to hang on their every utterance.  And sometimes I could almost see the sleight of hand, the misdirection, the parlour trick that felt to me like a slp in the face to the truth of God.

Here is the thing; I do have a basic belief that if you listen the one who is light and love that I have come to know as God will sometimes speak or show or, I don't have words for that enfolding of holiness.

And sometimes I would be asked to pray for someone and words of prayer would come that I did not know I would pray, they were just the outpouring of being in that awareness of God.

And I was asked by a person In Authority what I was doing to work on my gift of prophecy.  This confused me.  How was I supposed to "work" on this?  I was a wife and a homeschooling mom and busy and fighting depression and trying to make ends meet and crying out to know more of God during the cracks and crevasses of my time.

And feeling weak and dull and trapped.

How could I work on anything.

Over time I backed away.  I backed away from people who set themselves as godly authority.  I backed away from people who worked at trying to prove God loves them best.  I backed away from people who thought they could tell the amount of sin in your life by the amount of prosperity, beauty, and status you held.

But I didn't back away from that being that I know as God.

And I turn again and again and again to love and light and the enfolding presence.

And I ask again and again and again, what is the path, the next turn, where is the center in this moment?

And I'm still sometimes surprised by the answer.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Falling Up 3: Don't Feel

Today, near the end of the workday, I heard that someone who used to be in our department is not expected to live through the night.  As I saw tears come to some eyes, I was really surprised.  When she left because of a very nasty cancer, I did not expect her to live this long.  I know her faith was strong, and I wish her well on her journey.

Death is part of life.  But it is hard to know what young children understand about it.  I have to remember that when I tell this story.

One morning my best friend came over to my house.  This was odd, I usually went down the hill to her house.  Even odder, her older sister came too.  They looked at me sadly and said they were sorry.  I was confused.  That was when my mother explained to me that my Grandpa had died.  I remember wailing uncontrollably, but I don't think I really understood.

I remember being 5, but the date I have says I was 6, almost 7.  I was dressed in a new, scratchy black dress and we drove to my grandparents house in Palmdale. My Aunts and Uncles were there.  Everyone was dressed up and looking very serious.

At the funeral home it seemed like there was endless talking as I squirmed on a hard bench next to my mother.  Then we walked past a dressed up doll in a box that people said was my grandpa and everyone said how natural he looked.  He looked plastic and was dressed in a suit instead of his usual overalls.  I followed along, did as I was told, but in my memory it is like a play I was once in.

Then I was in some fancy car, sitting on a little pull down seat in front of my mother.  Then standing between my Mother and my Aunt in the bare, desert cemetery where my Uncle Who Was Killed in the War was buried.  The box with my grandpa was closed up and covered with flowers, and more words were said. At that moment I knew.  I was never going to see this big, silly man who loved me again.  Tears started rolling down my face.

I heard one of my Aunts whisper to my mom "Look, she's crying."

My mom whispered back "Oh, that's just because she sees us crying, she doesn't really understand."

I was so confused.  My heart was breaking, but my mom said I didn't understand what I was feeling.

The rules of a dysfunctional family are simple.  Don't talk, don't tell, don't feel.

Sometimes I still struggle with expressing my feelings.  I have gotten better, but the more something matters to me, the harder it is to share.  Sorrow or joy, love or anger, if it is a strong feeling I have to hold it and guard it.  I have to be sure it is safe to share.  I have to be sure I know what I am feeling.

So, I have to find a way to tell you how it was in my family, how it felt in my family, because the seeds of many of my later choices were planted during the following seven or so years.  Some of the seeds grew to fruit, some to weeds, and I'm still having to deal with sorting it out from time to time.  I hope you will be patient with the story.  I will try to tell it as true as I can and not make any one better or worse than they were, including myself.  But I was a child.  Sometimes I forget that.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Family and myth

I was talking on the phone with my brother, I think it was 6 or 7 years ago.  He was telling me things that he had heard about our family that he didn't think I knew about, and he was right.  But more than that, some of what he told me seemed more like myth; here are some things that make us more special.  I have been thinking from time to time over the intervening years about how much we mythologise our family histories.  I mean, we all want our stories to be special, right?

There were a few things that I had grown up knowing.  Like I knew that my grandma was part Cherokee.  She knew her grandpa had married a Cherokee, and that was why her hair was so dark and her nose had the look it did.  Now, there was also a family rumor that there may have been some Native American on my grandpa's side, too.  But others in his family denied it, so it was a maybe.  But my grandma?  That was a known fact.

So when someone shared a link with me on Facebook about why so many white people claim to have some Native American in their family, something about white guilt and feeling special or different or something.  I don't really remember, because I just skimmed it, because that wasn't my family.  My family, it was a known person attested to by my grandma.

Except, then I did a DNA test a few months ago.   And you can guess, but after 61 years knowing one sure thing about my family, I learned it isn't true.  I am English and Irish and Scandinavian with a few tiny traces of other mostly white people.  White through and through.  So white I still don't know how I could possibly have such brown eyes.

It has been really hard to wrap my head around.  How could my beloved and trusted grandma get this so wrong?

We want our family stories to be wonderful and magical.  And let's be real here, those of us who are educated and have big hearts and grew up in the US thinking about the history and culture of our country, well there is a lot of ugly in that mix.

But I also come from a long line of strong women who survived some really hard circumstances.  I come from a long line of deeply spiritual and intelligent people, even if much education was not often available to many of them.  I come from a musical family, and a family of storytellers.  I come from a long line of people who tell the most horrendous stories of surviving some really crazy stuff, and yet who keep finding the silver lining and who keep laughing together.

And that is the mythology I hope that my grandchildren and great grandchildren will carry into the future.  With the advances in testing, they may grow up knowing more truth about who they are they my grandma could have ever imagined.  And really, aren't the very best stories the ones that you can prove?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Crafting a protest

I'm going to share with you my crocheted version of a pussyhat.  But first I'm going to talk to you.  Or you can skip my blathering, and jump ahead, but I do have some rather strong thoughts.

Do you remember when the word changed? When did the sweetness of another word for kitty become a name for a private part?  When did it become an insult?

In protesting the current administration, pussyhats have become a symbol of unity.  We are taking back the word, putting pink ears on our heads, and marching for respect, for equality, for human rights, against hate.  The bright pink riding the heads of protesters is a great visual, showing up well on the photos of large crowds.  It makes a statement that can't be missed.

But I have also seen people talk against them; saying they are vulgar, women wearing vaginas on their heads.  Women saying not all women are pink, and making brown or tan ones.  Somehow I think they missed the point, the message. This isn't a representation of our privates that are not up for grabs.  This is taking back a word that has been made vulgar and weaponized, used against women and men.  I mean, if that is how you see it, by all means, you do you. But this is my blog, my viewpoint.

Part of what I love about the pussyhat project is that it is people crafting with their own hands, people crafting for friends, sending hats to strangers. People sharing in protesting even when they can't march themselves.

I looked at the patterns provided here:

I tried out the crocheted one, as I don't knit.  I played with it, made some changes, made some other changes, gave some away, got feedback.  Then I came up with this.  And people love it and want directions.
I have never written a crochet pattern in my life, but I'm going to do my best.  And really, as patterns go, it is pretty simple.

That is the first thing you need to understand about this, it is a very simple concept.  You can knit it, crochet it, or sew it.  Once you have the dimensions down, you can play around with it, do whatever stripes you want, do it all solid.  The power is in your hands, only limited by your own creativity.

Think of it as a tube, about 20 inches around and 9 inches long, closed straight across at one end.  It lays flat, is rectangular in shape and can be mailed in a 9x12 envelope.  But when you put it on your nice round head, just like that, the top corners become ears.  What a wonderful thing.

For this hat, I used Red Heart Super Saver yarn.  It is widely available and had the range of colors I needed.  I used a size 5 mm hook.  Your results may vary, depending on yarn, hook, and the tension of the thread when you work: everyone is different.  It takes me a weekend afternoon, or a couple of after work evenings to make one hat, depending on how distracted I am.

These are the colors I used: Pretty 'N Pink, Medium Purple, Turqua (most of these have several languages, I have been giving you the English name, but this is the only name on this one), Spring Green, Lemon, Pumpkin, Cherry Red (Really?  I just now read the name of that color, and now I'm giggling a little, and here I am saying no, it is not about that! )

Chain 60.  Slip stitch in first chain to form a ring, but try to keep the chain from twisting.

Row 1: With Pink, chain 3.  Double crochet in the next chain and in each chain around the ring. Slip stitch to join to the third chain of chain three.

Rows 2-10: Chain three and turn work (so you are going back the other way). Double crochet in each double crochet around. At the end of row 10 end off (or row 16 if you want to make yours a solid color).

Rows 11-16: Do the same thing as the previous rows, but move through the rainbow.  I do purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, red.  I prefer to have the purple next to the pink, you may choose to do it the opposite way.

Finishing:  Weave all loose threads into the inside of the hat.  Using a plastic yarn needle, or other large eyed blunt needle, sew across the pink end using pink yarn. Weave in those loose ends.

If you need help learning stitches, or how to sew a crocheted item, there are many websites and videos around, or ask a friend to show you.  There are different techniques, so be bold about trying several so you can find what works best for you.

Wear and share with pride.  I have a public album on Facebook of my pussyhats, in case you would like to see some of the ones I have made.  I intend to keep adding to it.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Falling Up 2: A House on the Hill

It would be odd for a preschooler to understand much of the family finances. The stories that I heard when I was older, though, combined with my memories lead me to believe that my family was struggling.

My dad had been in the Air Force for 13 years, war years and beyond.  He was a control tower operator before the stress of the job was understood.  When he got out, a year or so before I was born, my mom fully expected that he would want to return to North Carolina.  I have no idea how he decided on Santa Monica, California.

My mom had suffered through a number of miscarriages.  I would have had a sister two years older, but she was quite premature and did not survive.  They were convinced that my brother was going to be an only child, so they bought a nice little 2 bedroom post war bungalow.  My dad got a job at the phone company, and they settled into suburbia. I certainly was unexpected, and a bit of a disruption.

Part of what I don't know is if my dad worked well at the phone company.  Some little hints were dropped at times that maybe there were problems.  I know he also tried selling Fuller Brush for a while.  Then my mom got a job, and I had sitters for a time.  The other part I don't know is why I suddenly didn't have sitters, but was staying home with my dad during the day.  I don't know if he was fired or was working nights, he did seem to sleep on the couch a lot. At any rate, from hints dropped later in my life, I think my parents were struggling to make the house payments.

When I was around three and a half or four, my dad began to take me with him to Topanga Canyon.  I remember a couple of times we just drove a little way in from the coast, to a pull out just before the first big curve.  My dad left me in the car with strict instructions to just sit there and wait, while he hiked up a side canyon with his rifle.  What seemed like hours later, he would come back and put his rifle back in the trunk.  That night we would have a special "fried chicken" meal.

Bu then we started driving deeper into the canyon, meeting up with someone at this house or that. We would go look around a house and talk about it, I seem to remember he would ask me what I thought of this or that.  Then he made me promise not to tell my mother. That was easy, because I didn't even know what I would tell her.

Then one evening after my mom got off work, we all drove up the canyon, up a side street too one of the houses, and my dad announced his surprise to my mom. This was going to be our new home.  My mom was less than excited.

The house my dad had chosen was a weekend getaway shack.  As I remember it, it was up on stilts overlooking the whole of the canyon.  It had a main room with a bit of a kitchen in the corner, a bedroom, and a screen porch stretching across the front to take in the view.

When we moved in, one end of the screen porch got partitioned off with plastic tarps to become a bedroom for my brother and I.  I don't remember this, but I have been told that the whole house slanted so that you had to hold onto things set on the table or they would slide off.  

My dad added supports, used a hand jack to level the foundation, dug the bank out deeper, dug holes and used concrete to anchor the house more securely in the hill, and leveled the whole thing out.  He found termite damage and treated it and replaced major beams as needed.  He built a downstairs, two bedrooms and a storage room.  He built a bedroom upstairs, the end of the screen porch that had served temporarily. He moved the bathroom plumbing from the add on off the back, into the back corner.  Put in a full, if small, kitchen and dining area.  He rebuilt a shack into a home, mostly by himself, with many of materials bought from demolition sites.  He did it in a year.

During that year my mom had another miscarriage and then a followup infection, my brother broke a front tooth, and my dad chipped a bone in his elbow.  

At the end of the year, my parents owned a three bedroom house free and clear, two cars, free and clear.  All debts paid.  On the salary of a file clerk. We ate a lot of beans.

The house was not large, it was not beautiful, but it was in Topanga Canyon, with a view that went on forever. I'm going to have to tell some hard stories and some sad stories about the years that followed, but this one story is almost too good. It is like a  pioneer going into the wilderness, or a big dreamer making a dream come true. But this is just a man who found a way to build a life for his family with his bare hands. And because of that, I got to grow up in this amazing place of trees and caves and creeks.  

And when he dusted his hands together and called it good, he had a whole new skill set.  He put an ad in the paper, got some business cards made, and took his show on the road.  Over the next few years he built an impressive client list from Malibu to Venice Beach, painting and patching, stopping drips and leaks, eventually adding rooms.  He was his own boss, and possibly the only boss he could ever handle.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Falling Up 1: Beginnings

I have said that it is perhaps time to try to tell the complicated story of my life. Having said that, though, I'm a bit lost as to how to start.  I know the principles of good storytelling, that I should start with action, with a visceral memory, with sensation.  And this is my life, How much family background do you need to know for context?  It may explain much, but it would be so boring.  And also there is a chronological telling.

Hmm, a chronological telling.  I have some unusually early memories.  Visceral memories.  Memories that begin to tell the story.  Like, I remember having my pants changed because I had wet them, and feeling shamed.  This was at the babysitter's, and I remember that I had had another babysitter before this one. Because I know that my mother went to work when I was 18 months old, I think this memory was when I was around two.

But before that, when I had just started walking, I remember.  My mother's friend was visiting.  She sat on the chair and my mother sat on the couch.  They talked and talked and I was bored.  I was sitting on the floor in front of my mother, with my legs under the couch when the bottom of my right foot felt itchy.  I put it up and asked Mommy to scratch it for me, but she thought I wanted to be picked up. My other knee was bent backwards and hurt very much.  It hurt whenever I tried to walk.

I don't know if it was a day or longer, but I remember my Daddy took me to the Doctor's aqua office. The door was right on an outside corner, with a curve of glass brick around it. The Doctor poked and prodded and tried to get me to walk, and I sat on the floor and said it hurt.  The Doctor told my Father that he couldn't find anything wrong and he thought I was just afraid to try.  I remember the very real pain, but my whole family started to refuse to help me, to try to make me walk.

One day my family was going out someplace fun.  My mommy and my daddy and my brother stood by the back door, leaving me.  I sat in the floor and crid as they said I needed to just get up and walk or they would leave me alone.  I think they may have even closed the door. I don't remember how this was resolved, I just remember the terrible abandonment because my knee hurt.

This tells you some key things about me and my family, did you catch them?  My mom worked, which was not the norm in the mid '50's, nor was it the norm for my dad to share child responsibilities.  I was taught from a young age that I needed to take care of myself, be tough, and I couldn't rely on my family to help me.  I also learned that my parents and my brother were a unit that had fun together, and I was a burden.

A psychologist once asked me if I noticed a pattern of feeling like an outsider. She said maybe it is something to think about; when these feelings began and check for if they really apply.  And yes, I don't ever remember not feeling like an outsider in one way or another.  From being the outsider in my family, to the new kid in the neighborhood.  From being too tall, too geeky, too sexual, too fat.  I have been rejected for asking too many questions, for being a single mom, for not caring about the right celebrities, to caring too much about, well, everything.

So, I know, as I begin to write this, I write from a slanted perspective.  There aren't very many people left, though, who can tell me what I'm getting wrong. They say that history is written by the winners, by those who survive.  I guess I have survived long enough that my version is that one you get to hear.