Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Blooming Sort of Life

My favorite flowers are zinnias. Today, they are, anyway. Tomorrow they might be camellias. Or magnolia blossoms. Can't really say.
But today, like I said, it's the zinnias which are still blooming in my garden- the only thing left from summer's planting. The tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans, cucumbers and squash are all gone. The volunteer watermelon that made the sweetest, reddest fruit I ever ate is history but you can bet I saved some seeds. A few weeks ago, my husband and I spent a good two days, pulling up weeds and dead plants and hauling them all next door to throw over the fence to the neighbor's grateful goats, but we left the zinnias because they were still blooming.
I like these flowers because they come in what I call crayon colors. Bright reds, yellows, oranges, purples, lavenders, pinks. And they cut well and look right joyful in a vase. They're a hardy plant to grow and the butterflies love them, which is a beautiful thing to see- the colorful winged flowers that butterflies remind me of, drifting and settling on the stationary ones. A tiny bit of paradise right here for my own eyes.
My life has recently been a little bit like a bouquet of zinnias. Quite colorful and profusely blooming. In the last week I've been in four performances of Casablanca, had two sets of overnight guests and last night I threw a little family birthday party for my 22-year old daughter. Her birthday is today and I remember the day she was born like it was yesterday. Of course.
It was one of those suddenly-chilly late September days, with that blue sky that makes all the other skies jealous. I had a score of friends in the house to help me birth her and although it was my shortest labor- a mere 15 hours or so, it was the hardest. She weighed over ten pounds and had her little hand up by her head. After a very long period of pushing, I managed to get her head out and then her shoulders got stuck. This is a life-threatening situation called shoulder dystocia but my midwife kept her head and turned me over to my hands and knees (try doing that with a baby sticking out of you) and out she came.
Yeah. That was a hard, wonderful day.
Anyway, we celebrated her birth and life last night with chicken flautas and chocolate cake. All her siblings were here and her daddy and grandma and fiance and best friend, too. Today I'm going to take her out to buy a wedding dress and have some lunch. It's going to be a big year for that girl and the whole family as well.
So between company and play performances and birthday celebrations, I haven't had much time to myself which is something I seem to need a great deal of. I'm not suffering or anything- it's been a beautiful week made up of many bright colors and lots of love- but I'm about ready to settle back into real life.
We finish up the play's run this weekend with a rehearsal tonight, and performances on Friday and Saturday and then we tear-down and have a little cast party on Sunday. I sure am going to miss it, that rush of nerves and magic that happens when the lights go down; the velvet, the jewels, the sparkle and shine. Mostly, though, the people. I don't really socialize very much, so it's a real novelty for me to have lots of different people to talk to, to interact with, to act with, to play with and I have enjoyed it tremendously.
But I'm looking forward to being able to write daily again, to exercise more regularly, to spend more time with my husband, to get the fall garden in.
I guess my usual life is less like a bouquet of zinnias and more like a bouquet of lovely, dusty pink roses- less spectacular, more consistent as to color, but sweet and mighty nice.
It's good to change things up now and then. Lord knows that things are going to change, for good and for bad, no matter what we do, but it's nice to think that we can make the choices for ourselves sometimes.
And for now, I'm still enjoying the zinnias. Me and the butterflies. There's plenty to share.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Playing and Pretending

When I was in high school, I loved being in Drama Club. We did a few typical high school productions and I was also in a community theater production of Our Town. I played Emily and it was, quite literally, a high point of my life when a tough guy I knew came to see the play and told me afterwards I'd made him cry. I felt like I'd won an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Tony Award, all in one night.
I never had any delusions of grandeur about acting, but I always planned to do maybe a little community production here and there.
But as things turned out, I got busy with life and didn't even test the waters until last year when my youngest daughter and I, just for giggles, decided to audition for a play in Monticello. We both got roles (everyone who auditions for plays in Monticello gets roles) and we had a grand time with the play. We had rehearsals three nights a week for 2 months and I thought I'd end up being sick and tired of the whole thing by the time it was over, but I wasn't. I enjoyed every minute of it.
And so this year, when I read they were doing a production of Casablanca at the Monticello Opera House, I went and read and again, got a part. My daughter was too busy and has just started college, so it's just been me making that three-times a week trek to Monticello and I miss her company and her humor and our little gossip sessions but I've had a lot of fun.
Anyone who's seen the movie of Casablanca surely knows there are not a whole lot of roles for women in the play. There's Ilsa, the Ingrid Bergman role, and Monticello's resident "real" actress quite reasonably scored that one. There's the part of Annina, who is a Bulgarian girl who goes to Rick for advice on how to avoid having to sleep with the Prefect of Police in order to get exit visas for her and her new husband, and there are a few random cafe-goers who are women and then there's Yvonne, a French woman who has the hots for Rick but who is terribly misused by him in the most callous way.
Can you tell from my complete empathy for the woman that this is the role I got?
I have all of nine lines and when I say "lines" I mean perhaps one-or two word lines. And that's it. I sit at the bar a lot and I have to sing the Marseillaise and that's about it.
But goodness gracious, I am enjoying it so much.
It's quite odd to be in a play with so many men. Community theater is usually at least eighty-percent women to men, but in this production, the ratio is reversed. And I have to say that being in a production with so many guys is just a real hoot. They're like...little boys.
And of course, that's the great, great thing about being in a play. We're pretending. Do you remember pretending? That's what we did as children. "Let's pretend you're Tarzan and I'm Jane." Or, "Let's pretend we got caught in a snowstorm." Or "You pretend you fell off a cliff and broke your leg, and..."
We went from there. It was great. But then, around the age of eleven or so, we quit pretending. Well, at least on that so-literal and honest level. I think we all pretend, every day. We pretend we know what we're doing. We pretend we know what we're talking about. We pretend we're not afraid. Basically, I think we pretend we're all grown-ups.
Which is why it's so much fun to have the opportunity to pretend again so openly and whole-heartedly as an adult. We're dressing up and pretending to be someone quite different from the people we truly are. For example- I get to pretend I'm someone who would wear a black, beaded dress and who would tell a bartender to "shut-up" when he tells her he loves her. How fun is that for a usually polite woman who's been married to the same man for over twenty years and who mostly lives in cargo shorts?
A lot of fun, is what I say.
And the opportunity to hang out in the old opera house is just a joy. It was built in 1890, and has been a part of this community for so many years and I can't help but think of all the performers who have literally trod its boards. The dressing room where we tug our costumes on and off, share make-up and zip each other up- how many people have done the same in that small space? There may or may not be ghosts in the Opera House but there surely are spirits.
We open on Friday night, but there's a preview performance on Thursday. I like performing just fine, but what I really love the most is the creation of the whole thing. The part of the process where the pretending starts and proceeds to the point where we can slip out of our real selves for just a few hours, as easily as we slip into our uniforms and beaded gowns. The part where we're doing it for ourselves and for the joy of it.
For the joy of pretending. We're grown-ups but for these few hours, we get to play.
And the play is the thing.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

All That Is Holy and Miraculous

St. Clement's Chapel as it stood in my yard in the olden days...

Sometimes, for no reason, I feel bad. I wake up and just feel bad. Physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Bad. Everything I think about makes me sad. I consider the human race and it all looks like one big organism, determined to fuck up everything we have here on this amazing watery orb spinning through space.

Then there are other days, which for reasons just as random and unpredictable, I wake up and feel good. In every way. And when I think of the human race, I feel a tender empathy for it. Sure, we're trying to destroy everything good and true, we have some really bad traits that probably evolved back when we were learning to walk on two legs (or maybe before) but golly! some of us really are trying.

Too bad it's not those particular humans running the country, but that's another story.

Today's one of the good days for sure. My walk reminded me of how glorious nature can be. I didn't see any deer as I do some days, or even a hawk or a luna moth (saw one of those yesterday) but I did see lots of butterflies, flitting about in that crazy way of theirs, landing on this flower and then another, juicing up perhaps for that long flight to Mexico. Wish I could go with them.

The sky was blue, the air temperature was reasonable and the tiny cenote I pass had more water in it. We had some good rain yesterday.

Even passing the area behind the defunct gas station about a mile from my house where they have decontamination crews trying to clean up the mess that was left behind didn't ruin my day or cause me to hate mankind.

One thing did cause me to pause and think about things, though. There's a church nearby and they've brought in construction equipment and trucks and lots of steel and guys that know what to do with all this stuff, and they appear to be adding on to the church.

I have to say that I've never in my life lived in a place surrounded by so many churches. There are, and I am not kidding you, at least fifteen different churches within a ten mile radius of my house. Some of them are small, quaint, and not very prosperous looking. Well, most of them in fact. There's even a church right next door to me that meets for exactly one hour on Sunday mornings. I hear that the tiny Episcopalian chapel on Piedmont Dr. in Tallahassee used to sit in my yard where my driveway is now. It was built by the Episcopalians of Lloyd in 1890 and when their numbers dwindled to less than two, the diocese had it moved to its present location in 1959. There are still some older Lloyd residents who are NOT HAPPY ABOUT THIS.

So anyway, when I saw the steel going up for the new addition on the church down the road, it made me wonder what the deal is about the human need to get together on prescribed days at set times to "worship."

I think you either have the gene to understand or you don't. I do not. I also do not have the sports gene or the patriotism gene. Whenever I hear anyone say, "This is the greatest country on earth!" I want to say, "Yeah? You ever been to oh, say, France?" Or even Norway for that matter. New Zealand's probably pretty darn great, too.
But that's neither here nor there.

On my "bad" days, just thinking about things like people sitting in churches listening to sermons being preached by someone who claims he or she knows who God is and what God wants while they could be outside watching butterflies and trying to figure out how to save the planet so that the butterflies can keep on doing the amazing things they do, not to mention the whales and gorillas and the giant redwoods and tiny frogs and oh yes, us humans, too, makes me want to scream. Not that I'm tearing it up to prevent global warming, I have to say in order to prevent being labeled as the hypocrite I am.

On my good days, though, I just scratch my head and realize that some people need church for some reason and I shouldn't criticize those who do. Some people like to sing hymns and some people like to listen to what they consider to be the word of God and some people like the way they feel when they put money in the collection plate.
I guess.

And really, I think it would be pretty cool to have a chapel in my driveway. Maybe they'd bring it back if we got up a petition. We could have services there. I could be the pastor and preach sermons that would go like this:
"Love one another. Okay. That's it for this week. Who brought the potato salad?"
And then we could all go outside and sit on a blanket under an oak tree and watch the birds and talk about Miracles We Have Witnessed, such as Keith Richards and so forth, while eating yummy foods that we all brought to share and maybe drinking a sacramental beer or two.

Sounds like a religious experience to me.

But I'm having a good day and tomorrow I might change my mind about all of this.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

I'd just like to make a public apology to my husband (and why, I'm not sure- the man has only the haziest idea of what a blog is, due to the fact that he actually LIVES his life) and say that he has been working like a dog all weekend at the island. This work involves chopping hundreds of roots out of a septic tank.

This does not sound like fun at all and once again I have to say- Honey! you the man!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

One Week's Life Lessons

This is what I've learned this week so far ( and it's only Saturday!):

I love the empty nest so much it's almost embarrassing. Why did it take me so long to raise these young'uns up?

Places that sell wedding dresses are a world unto themselves and they all have a riser for the bride-to-be to stand on with mirrors all around them to that they will feel like a queen when they are trying on the dresses AND that when they put that veil on the magic is complete. Also, that for some reason, the veil can cost almost as much as the dress. Throw in a tiara, and it does. Let us not discuss shoes, jewelry and so forth.

Even the daughters of old hippie mothers sometimes want to have Cinderella weddings, which completely confuses and baffles the old hippie mothers who may have gotten married in a skirt made of a pair of men's Levis back in the days when dinosaurs ruled the earth.

They aren't kidding when they tell you it works best if you write every day.

For some reason it is more important that the septic drains be cleared at the house on Dog Island than it is for the roof to be fixed on the house where I live. This fact was proven to me when the husband took off for the island this morning dragging the boat behind him, leaving me here with a leaky roof. And what's the deal with those fishing poles, honey?

The combination of exhaustion from watching a daughter try on wedding dresses and too much to drink does not lead to gourmet cooking.

Friends who really love you will not complain or criticize you when you do not present them with gourmet cooking after having too much to drink while being exhausted.

Husbands who really love you will wash the dishes after you overcooked the beautiful flounder they caught, due to exhaustion and having too much to drink.

I can make really good sourdough bread, even if I'm exhausted and have had too much to drink.

I love life the most when I eat right, exercise regularly, write every day, don't have too much to drink, and don't leave Jefferson County.

It is possible for a child to be too honest with her mother. For example, telling her mother that yes, she IS too old to be playing the part of Yvonne in the upcoming production of Casablanca, and that's just the truth.

The Marseillaise is a song that will stick in your head like peanut butter to the roof of a dog's mouth.

It is a glorious thing when the oppressively hot days of August give way to the cooler days of September and you can feel the breath of fall all the way from Canada where it is waiting for its cue to start moving down.

When you somehow manage to cram a chest of drawers into the back of a Mini Cooper and it leaves just a few tiny brown marks on the car's interior, your husband may not congratulate you on your ingenuity.

Magic eraser really IS magic!

Sometimes when a teenager doesn't talk to her mother for almost an entire year, it is not because she doesn't love her mother. It is because she has gotten her tongue pierced and doesn't want her mother to notice this.

When those teenagers grow up, they sometimes tell you things like this when you take them shopping for wedding dresses.

Somehow it looks better to wear a wedding dress that displays your tattoos prominently that to wear one that sort-of but not really hides them.

Girls who get tattoos still sometimes want wedding dresses that look like something from a Disney movie.

Same as above for girls who get their tongues pierced.

Sleeping with two dogs on the bed is not as much fun as you might think.

I would rather be at home on my porch watching the bird feeder than almost anywhere else on earth.

There are some mighty fine people out there in the Tallahassee blogger's world.

And one more thing I've just learned:

Don't do a google-image search for "tattooed bride" with safe search off before your first cup of coffee.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Life and Light, and That Other Stuff, Too

Ya know, just when you think you have a handle on the situation, just when you're sure the light is really shining, just when you think you've figured out a little tiny microscopic part of the universe that you live in...
You find out you know nothing.
NOTHING, I tell you!
At least that's true for me.
As I said in my last blog, the nest is well and truly empty. Child number four took her wings, packed them up in her Honda and unpacked them in her dorm room at FSU.
I cried some. I mourned some. I grieved some.
Then she and I went to see good friends in St. Augustine for the weekend and I realized that she's mighty happy with her new life and that she'll always want to do things with me and she still loves home too. So if I'm worried about her, I'm seriously crazy and it is really and truly time for me to enjoy the fruits of my labor and understand that my life can go on, can get bigger and that good times are to be had. Hell, GREAT times are to be had.
The husband and I are enjoying the new freedom of home. So far this has meant nothing very wild. Mostly that if he needs to go see why the dog is barking in the middle of the night, he doesn't have to put his pants on.
But still, you know what I mean.
And he's been gone today and will be gone until tomorrow and so I've had the house all to myself. I fought the urge to scrub toilets or do something crazy like that and instead, sat myself down and wrote some pages on a could-be novel that I'm enjoying a lot. Sure, I did the laundry and I went to the store and I went to yoga, but I didn't even sweep! There's a poor little dead green frog on the porch as we speak and I haven't removed it yet. This takes more will power from me than you can possibly imagine.
And I'm thinking, "Yeah, I can do this. I can use my time to do what I've been wanting to do my entire life. I can sit down and write and not feel overly guilty. I am allowed to enjoy this sweet life I have the privilege to call my own."
It was bliss.
Then the phone rang.
Now I'm not the kind of person who can ignore a ringing phone and I haven't figured out how to turn these modern phones' ringers off. I will let it go if it's some 800 number but when it rang today the caller ID was someone I didn't recognize and it was a local call so I answered it.
The woman on the other end was looking for someone with my name. Turns out it was me she was, in fact, looking for. She's a woman whom we rented an apartment to years and years ago and she wasn't sure I'd remember her, but I did indeed.
When she showed up on my doorstep in answer to the apartment for rent ad we'd put in the paper, she was a shy woman, obviously gay, and I could tell right away that she wasn't exactly proud of that. Her entire demeanor seemed to be set in apology mode but when she saw the bumper sticker on my car which said, "I'm straight but not narrow" she visibly relaxed some. She felt it important to tell me that she was indeed gay because she didn't think it fair for me to rent someone an apartment (it was in our basement) without knowing.
I laughed and told her that was fine with me. Gay, straight- it didn't matter if I liked her and thought she'd be a good tenant and I liked her and I knew she'd be a good tenant. And she was.
She lived downstairs from our family for a while. I can't remember exactly how long but I was sorry when she moved on. She'd come from some very small town to Tallahassee, the "big city", to make a new life as a gay woman and she did. She outgrew the little apartment downstairs when she met someone she wanted to partner up with and moved on and we lost touch but I've thought about her many, many times over the years.
So when she called, I was surprised, but glad to hear from her, although I could tell immediately from her voice that something was very wrong.
And it was.
"I've been diagnosed with terminal cancer," she said, just as quickly and just as honestly as she'd told me she was a lesbian all those years ago.
My heart sank and I wished I could reach out and grab her and hug her up through the phone because I didn't know what in the world to say.
She said she'd been thinking of me a lot and something told her to call me. I was glad she did, but I didn't know what I might have to offer her other than to tell her I have always thought highly of her and wish that this horrible bad thing hadn't happened to her. She asked me if I knew of any churches that might have a support group so that she could talk with someone about this whole thing. Cancer, death, I guess.
She mentioned that her family has been asking her if she's talked to a preacher. She mentioned getting "saved" a few times.
I told her that in my opinion she was saved and it made my heart so sad when she said she knew she'd been a sinner.
"Jesus," I wanted to tell her. "Sin's just a damn word that religions have cooked up to keep people in control." I sort of did say that, but perhaps in more diplomatic terms.
"I know your heart," I told her. "It's as good as any heart on earth." And I meant it.
"Well," she said. "Maybe."
I promised to see what I could find out about any sort of spiritual support that might be more open to alternative life-styles. I know there must be some out there. I've already e-mailed one friend who might know something.
And I so wish I could help her to feel more at peace but how in the world can I do that? Her world is crumbling. Her life may be ending. What can I do?
I can call and check on her. I can do a little research. She has so many questions about what's going to happen when she dies. I told her we all do and that no one truly knows, no matter what they say.
When we hung up, I knew I hadn't made her feel better. But maybe calling me was one of the things on her list that she could cross off. Just to call me and tell me what was going on, to hear that I'd be sending her love, that I do love her- maybe that was important in some little way.
And here I am, at the tail end of this day that started out with me so full of light and joy at the prospect of a new life in front of me, a good life already behind me.
And I guess what I have to say is that now I feel darker, of course. Death is going to find us all and it truly sucks when it's someone relatively young and who is, no matter how a church may define sin, a good, good person.
Every time we rub up against death, it darkens us because it reminds us that it's going to happen to us and to the people we love, too. Eventually it will.
So I'm trying to just send her positive thoughts. I'm trying to remember that she's someone I used to know, and that my life hasn't changed one bit since I found out that she's not well.
But is has, hasn't it?
I know in my heart that when we die the light that we are made of does not go anywhere. It's here forever, just as it was here before we made our arrival on the planet. I don't understand how this works, but I'm pretty sure that it's mainly about light and it's about love and that those two just somehow have to be at least microscopically stronger than evil or darkness.
Even if I could explain that theory to the woman who called me today, I doubt it would make her feel any better. But I'm trying at this moment to make myself feel better.
I'm going to go light her a candle.
That may be all I can do at this moment, and it's probably not going to make much of a difference in her life, but it'll remind me of something I seem to need, which is that we need to dance in the light and in the love as long as we can so that when darkness surrounds us, we have something to call up to fight the darkness with.
At least that's my theory and what I hope is true.
So if anybody out there knows of any resources for this woman who might be able to give her some comfort, to let her ask the spiritual questions without judging her on being what God (and I use that term loosely) made her, please let me know.
Or at least just try to find that place in your heart that is as pure as the place in hers and send her a good thought. Send her a little light.
Then dance some, maybe. Do a little dance and celebrate your own light.
That'll make me happy and it sure can't hurt my friend.