Saturday, April 28, 2018

People Are Strange

My thoughts are on strangers: a Venetian beauty with the stunned expression Venus should have had when she emerged naked and fully grown from the clamshell; the everyday strangers in one's own family; and my favorite song about being strange.




The Birth of Venus, Botticelli, 1482



My mother enjoyed talking to odd strangers (The Tattoo Lady, Mother and Me) because she could be wacky with them; this embarrassed me to the extreme since I was cultivating a shadow presence. In my inbred and criminal-laden school district, I learned to keep my eyes straight ahead and not speak lest I be accused of giving someone the wrong look of the day. Survival is it's own reward, as is blogging about childhood tortures. Besides, now I’m more like Mom.

In Venice, I stood in a long line for gelato in the Piazza San Marco, and kept my eyes on the server, a young woman whose beauty was dulled by a stunned expression, as if the repeated impact of nothing happening had made her deaf, blind and mute. I wanted to see her smile; an open-mouth laugh would have been a special Venetian treat.

The line moved forward and one tourist after another, and not just Americans, approached her and pointed at the flavor they wanted, sometimes grunting at the same time. I looked behind me; the line stretched into the middle of St. Mark’s Square. Turning back to my creamy gelato lovely it seemed as if her Botticelli eyes barely registered her surroundings.

It was my turn. I smiled and asked her in the Italian that I'd just learned while in the queue to pronounce cioccolata for me. We laughed at my attempts and her smile was enough to make me her slave. I thanked her for serving me, but I’d only taken a few steps away when I glanced back for one last look at a real Botticelli babe. Her robotic expression had returned.

Every encounter is a chance for interaction. Not everyone is open to it, but sharing a laugh with a stranger creates a connection with the world that makes me feel significant, almost like I’ve performed magic, kind of the opposite of Morrison's song.









People are strange when you're a stranger
Faces look ugly when you're alone
People seem wicked when you're unwanted Streets are uneven when you're down
When you're strange, faces come out of the rain When you're strange, no one remembers your name
When you're strange when you're strange when you're str-ange

Jim Morrison
The Doors
1967

Saturday, April 14, 2018

STUCK IN TIME: FORGIVENESS & FORGETTING

 Is it really possible to forgive and forget?


The Tree of Forgiveness
Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1885


Greek legends tell how Phyllis, queen of Thrace, fell in love with Demophoön, king of Melos, who visits her court en route for Athens after the Trojan War, where he had hidden inside the legendary Trojan Horse. He left the court, but when he failed to keep his promise to return within a month, she committed suicide, whereupon Athena, taking pity on her, turned her into an almond tree. Eventually, Demophoön returned to Thrace and, discovering what had happened, embraced the tree, which immediately burst into blossom.

Between you, me, and the almond tree, in the painting above, Demophoön looks as if he doesn't expect to be forgiven.

Memory is very important to me, but I've learned not to hold grudges. Grudges are all about keeping your pain, fear and anger alive. By doing this, you allow the grudge to control you. Your memory is not just a recollection, it's a reenactment. It initializes all your emotions just as if it were happening again, a recording in constant rotation shooting you back in time. In reality there is no time jump, but you are stuck in time.

Forgiving means that the memory no longer has the power to control you, to make you suffer in quite the same way. The blade of memory may make you wince, but you no longer bleed so profusely. You've taken the pain and anger and sorrow into you, but you've released the vilest portion of it, the part that made you feel less than, lowly, vulnerable.

©s. obriant

A lot of bad people did bad things around me and to me and to people I loved when I was a kid, so how did I manage to survive, much less forgive? Forgiveness wasn't this huge benediction bestowed on the evildoers in my life. It was the sure knowledge that I wasn't like those people and didn't want to be like them. This gave me hope.

Lack of forgiveness, grudges, and revenge arise from a lack of hope, a core belief that nothing changes. Change is my mantra.

I never forget, but I have discovered the capacity to forgive by letting go of my fear. Fear makes me sad and my childhood was overlain with fear and sadness which in my teens I camouflaged with anger. Fiery anger can be tinged with righteous purity, masking any true knowledge.

My camouflage worked so well that it took me years to realize that I was still letting fear rule me. Drat! I still had to deal with those memories and how stuck I was in the past. Writing helped me ferret out many of those emotions, examine them in detail, endow my characters with all the depth and nuance of being simultaneously good and bad.


This happened when I had a solid sense of who I am, and knew that the essential Sandra would persevere. The joy I feel in the world starts inside of me and radiates out.

I'm not a Pollyanna, a foolishly optimistic nutcase. I have felt both despair and hope. The memories of both states are not just in my brain. The feelings they generated are buried deep within the muscle tissue, sinews, veins and capillaries of my body. I can activate them. I know where they live.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Unpopular Crow Dies Savagely

The crows are absent (West Nile Virus?). They drove out the pigeons, but what will replace them. Saw a lone, young crow on the telephone wire yesterday. A blue jay was harassing it. There were multitudes in my urban neighborhood in 2009 (see below). Where have the crows gone?



A crow's caw is discordant, but part of our neighborhood backdrop, and easy to ignore. Just now, they set up a racket, the kind that usually heralds their spotting some tasty dog kibble left in the backyard, but this time it was more riotous than usual and was accompanied by a great beating of their wings.

They are big birds and some of them have a 3-foot wing span so if a few of them are together they manage to pound the air and stir things up. A panicked, pleading sound underlay this display, almost like that of puppy being tortured, yet more avian than canine. It was pitiful enough for me to put down my laptop and go investigate.

At first I thought the crows were going after a more mundane bird, but it was one of their own. A giant crow, glossy-black and commanding, was attacking a smaller crow. He was accompanied by three henchmen, and oddly, a bluejay.

The victim flew off, crying and begging, and the others followed. They circled back and the smaller crow tried to move into deeper tree foliage. The bigger one swooped in hard with a premeditated body blow and knocked it off its perch. Then, all of them took turns swooping down on it. It happened so fast and with such a flurry of wings that I couldn't tell for sure if it was being pecked. It managed to right itself and fly off again followed by the crowhood.

The boss's calls were louder than the others and angry, definitely not a dog kibble caw.

They circled back. The blue jay landed on a telephone wire to observe the proceedings. He didn't do any attacking, but still this was crow business, was he crazy?

I tried to keep still, but they simultaneously cocked their heads in my direction. I quickly calculated how fast I could get inside the house (damn you, Alfred Hitchcock!) They flew off into another yard, but I could hear the attack continuing.

What did the smaller, presumably younger, crow do to deserve this punishment?


Thursday, March 29, 2018

INCONSTANT MOON

If they say the moon is blue,
We must believe that it is true.
 Old English Proverb    

                                                                                           
    “It was different in my day.  Kids respected their parents," Mom said. "My mother and father were wonderful.” 

   Her father was a drunk and a pedophile.

   By the time Mom turned five her mother was in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down. It happened on the night of a blue moon. No medical opinion rendered, the family suspected witchcraft.

   “My father worked hard and he took care of mother. He only drank for birthdays and religious holidays,” Mom said in his defense. 

    Then I must have a photographic memory for those holy Hallmark days of Grandpa lit up, his eyes and lips shiny, unzipping his pants and grabbing little hands to rest on the hard surprise there. We never told. The aunts and uncles paid no attention to the kids hanging around jolly old Granddad.

    “It only happened once,” Mom says when I remind her that he molested her, too.  “And my mother chased him with a frying pan.”  

    That’s her story and she’s sticking with it. That was the night of the blue moon and her mother never walked again. No more chases with the frying pan: truth waned with the moon.     
      
    “We were happy then,” Mom says.  “Life was simple.” 

    She smiles at her happy-ever-after ending to the story of her life. She’s 83. I still have a life to live, a ways to go, the irresistible pull of the blue moon to fight.


Published in 2007 in Storycircle                              



Sunday, March 25, 2018

Breaking the Rules: Confession and Revelation

Someone recently summed me up when I revealed my Catholic encrusted childhood. That knowledge muddies the waters in any relationship carrying with it preconceived notions of stereotypical neuroses. Guilt is one. Sexual addiction is another. Together they form their own twisted helix of desire and denial. Totally not me. Really.

The question at hand is Breaking the Rules, which for both Catholics and Buddhists segues into confession and revelation. The former lets you off easy, the latter involves learning something about yourself.

My family is sprinkled with sociopaths. Mom taught me how to peek at presents before Christmas and Dad told me the next time Jackie Jan beat me up, I should pick up a brick and hit her on the head. The priest wouldn't give Mom communion when she divorced. She joined the line to the altar anyway and knelt before the priest. He placed the wafer on her tongue. Parish nuns told my aunt it was a sin to take birth control, even when the infant she bore every year had increasingly disturbing problems. Mom drove her to a clinic for birth control. Too afraid of God to accept the medication, my aunt consumed heavy doses of alcohol instead. She drank to the point that my uncle lost interest in bedding her and the babies stopped. Footnote: she became sexually abstinent but my Uncle Benny didn't.

My last confession was when I was twelve. Went with a group of girls and when it was my turn I confessed to playing a kissing game with the boys on my baseball team. I was the only girl on the team. We played baseball everyday, and the kissing was a new and exciting after game activity. I wasn't exactly clear on whether or not it was a sin, but with confession it's better to be safe than sorry. I expected to have to say lots of rosaries, and get on with my day, it being perfect baseball weather. The games lasted until we couldn't see the ball and/or we took an afternoon break and hung out in whoever's house was empty of adults. Revelation: I had a typical Catholic's understanding of the machinery of confession since I had every intention of kissing my team again.

The priest on the other side of the confessional screen had different ideas. He asked me questions about tongues and probing hands in panties. We didn't kiss with tongues. There were no roaming hands. The priest's breath was halting and heavy, too, kind of trembly in an unpriestlike way. Waves of damp heat swept to my side of the confessional. I wasn't sure what was happening. It felt scary, kind of like I was in the bad-man-candy-from-strangers danger zone. I wanted out of there.

Worst of all is I knew it was taking way too long and people were going to start to wonder about Sandra and her Sins. Finally I told him I was feeling sick and he dismissed me in a sad, resigned way with only three Our Fathers and three Hail Mary's. My girlfriends gave me the what the heck squint when I came out. It was so embarrassing.

Confession implies guilt and censorship, but also forgiveness. This confession made me feel guilty. Not for what I'd confessed but for what I had aroused in him. He sinned. I did not.

I lost respect for him. He made me lose faith, not just in adults but in adult religious men.

Revelation involves sharing and openness, and should flow in a natural exchange of thoughts, philosophies, and experiences where unfinished people learn something about each other and themselves.

My last official confession was when I was twelve. Revelation is an ongoing process.


A short story:  Against the Rules

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Date Night With the Empty Nest Folks



             
         The waiter at our favorite restaurant brought a bowl water for Joey. He told us about the Shar Pei his roommate had rescued. Shar Pei’s are the large dogs with all the loose skin folding around their faces. The original dogs came from China and look nothing like the designer dogs the West has produced.                                                                                                                

“They have all sorts of health problems,” he said, “blindness, renal failure, yeast infections in their ears.” 

“All because of human interference in the breed,” I said. He nodded and left with our order.

“Poodles are the same way,” my husband said, “if you don’t shave their butts, they can’t take a crap.” 


I’ve wanted a standard poodle for a long time, but Gerald always nixes that idea. His mom had a poodle. One of his childhood laments is how shaving the dog’s butt was his responsibility. 


“They’d die without humans caring for their butts,” he said.

“Poodles living in the wild would groom each other,” I said.

“There are no poodles living in the wild.”

“If there were, they’d clean each other’s butts. It’s like alcoholics and their enablers,” I said. “You enabled your mom’s dog to not clean his own butt by paying too much attention to that area. Own it.”

“That makes no sense.” He looked away, but not before I saw the teeniest smile.

“It’s perfectly logical.” 

The waiter brought our dinner and Joey sat at attention for his share.              




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Monday, February 26, 2018

Retro Reptile



Slender shoulders, blades jutting out like wings, Lydia walked through treacherous high school corridors after first period, head held high, looking neither to the left nor to the right, straight out the door to her ‘56 Ford.  She tossed the parking ticket in the glove compartment with the others, giving no thought to the future.  No one knew who she was or where she was going.

She drove past low, pink hills dotted with piñon and adobe homes camouflaged in the scrub.  Lydia felt abandoned by the relentless blue sky filling the void above until she reached the vineyard. Well-tended and deserted as usual, she walked barefoot through rows of twisted vines, squeezing the crumbly black earth between her toes and listening to the shadowed creek down the hill. 

A little snake darted across her path and stopped.

Lydia froze.  She’d not thought about meeting snakes, only murderers or rapists.  They wouldn’t find her body for weeks, probably.  

The snake turned its head cartoon style to take her measure.  It was bright green under the blazing sky, and it was more frightened than Lydia.  It took off at a fast clip down the hill to the water. 

The day turned hopeful.




Appeared in Silhouette. 2009. WriteGirl publication