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Hope is the only universal liar who never loses his reputation for veracity. ~ Robert G. Ingersoll

livingontheedgeI am not a control freak. I easily delegate, happily let others get on with whatever their thang happens to be, accept the changing tides and times. Heck, I’m even happy enough grasping the idea that comfort zones need a slap upside the head from time-to-time and change can be a good thing.

I’ve lived long enough to get that bumps in the road make sense when looking back on the journey, that time heals wounds (or vice versa), that good things come to those who wait, and all those other aphorisms routinely trotted out when life is crappy.

 

But …

When the list of things I have absolutely zero control, influence, even minor sway over is thirty times more impressive than the couple of bulls whose horns I can manage to take … well …

I try to grow hope.

Hope: aspiration, desire, wish, expectation, ambition, aim, goal, plan, design; optimism, expectation, expectancy; confidence, conviction, assurance; promise, possibility. Yeah, there more versions of hope than there are shards of broken glass on a beach, and although forming an aspiration or two is easy enough, expectations that plans or designs will provide assurance, or even possibility, rather lack conviction. As Robert Burns so well put it, albeit most likely with a touch of whiskey and haggis on his breath … which may account for all Scots talking funny …

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Having found my bootstraps on many occasions and tugging fiercely, often for years, I am well practiced. My kids’ lives are sorted safely, securely and happily, so I can put down the lead umbrella I’ve been holding since the age of seventeen. I can take care of myself. I don’t need saving or completing and I’m okay with seeing to my own daily needs.

Ain’t life grand?

Compared to some, mine is pretty great — roof overhead, wine in the fridge — and I’m not knocking what I have, what I have worked for, or the plans I’ve made that actually almost worked out. Neither am I regretting … anything.

I am, however, doubting an adage I once trusted; that things happen for reasons and in their own time.

Another relationship ending disappointingly, thousands of miles between me and my kids, a tenacious tether to property, advancing age that has done jack shit to lower my desires or expectations … all beyond any jurisdiction I find in my realm.

Hope is the feeling we have that the feeling we have is not permanent.                              ~ Mignon McLaughlin

I know I don’t have many years left, more behind me than ahead, and very much want to live fully, but am feeling restraints it seems I have no power to loosen. Doing what I can … involving myself in endeavors I find worthy, learning stuff I’ve not paused to cozy up to in the past, conversing with those I like, admire or disagree with … fills time and brings some relief, but I’m frustrated as I feel days and weeks and months and years flash past … and don’t mind.

Some would call it ‘being at loose ends’, but it feels more like the tank is running low, and although I’d like a refill there doesn’t seem to be fuel around and I don’t know where to even look anymore.

The free-floating anxiety I’ve experienced in the past is returning and I find myself again constantly checking the sky for shit asteroids, even though I know damned well you never see them coming.

I have been, however, gently nurturing a few seeds of hope. I’ll see my small kids in a couple of months — always a bright light that warms. I’ll continue to try to sell my place to free myself up for more travel, more adventures. I’ll finish that fuckin’ book I’ve been working on. I’ll continue to lend my voice to those who think it will help.

I’m not 80 … part of the hill is still before me … and a quarter tank just might get me further than I think.

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. ~ Anne Lamott

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For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
~T.S. Eliot

The_Little_Engine_That_Could1Anyone reading me for a while knows I have no great fondness for the changing of the years and the obligatory omphaloskepsis that accompanies the calendar flip it requires.

Not only does it mean more thinking about time and its passing, causing an infernal hesitation before jotting dates on checks and documents, it stirs shit that has taken 364 days to settle uncomfortably to the surface and forces contemplation of said shit.

In the grand scheme of quantum quandaries linear time doesn’t exist, an idea rejected out of hand by our puny biological built-in chronometers, so just try moving your head beyond the day-by-day plodding that can only feel to us like a train moving along a straight stretch track and hell-bent on a final destination not to be found on any map we know of.

Pausing at stations along the way is an illusion, as the train is always moving, and always in the same direction. It may seem we’ve dallied, stepped off to enjoy time on the platform, but it’s all just part and parcel of the ride.

Accepting that, we ignore the train and try our best to focus on the journey. Throwing ourselves into our personal odysseys (and occasionally under the train … bus … whatever …) and using our imagined stops along the way to gauge the distance traveled and judge progress feels natural to us, so that’s what we do.

Being confronted by the timetable on a regular basis hits hard though, and once a year there are few ways to avoid the slap upside the head. The turn of the page from one year to the next shows us an indication of how far along the track we’ve traveled, and the angst in our baggage is prompted to contemplate every stop we didn’t make, how much we have added to our load, how much we’ve lost, and how long we’ll keep moving.

Some choose to imagine an engineer in control, some expert that guides the trip up and down mountains, through tunnels and avoiding obstacles along the way. It’s handy and alleviates responsibility, but the fact is we are all driving our own trains; storms, fallen trees, rusting components, precarious terrain are ours to deal with as they happen; there’s no reversing and no stopping until the end is reached. It is for us to navigate, to face decaying bridges in the dark and make necessary repairs to keep the damned train moving.

Personally, I find it much easier to calibrate myself with a new timetable when the track ahead appears to be clear. Once again, though, that’s not the case with the flip from 2015 to 2016. I know what’s behind me, but have no idea what’s ahead, and if there is a light at the end of this tunnel I just hope it’s not the headlamp of another train set to derail the one I’m driving.

In preparation for contingencies, I’m trying to work out a strategy.

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.

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I have a lot of Christmases under my belt.

There were those when I was a kid and followed my mom’s tree-decorating dictates demanding tinsel was to be strung one … strand … at …a … time, then collected in the same fashion when the holiday finished, put away carefully, then stored for the next year. (I swear she was still using some 1958 tinsel in 2010!)

The years my first batch of children were little were at times fraught, but we always had a tree with gifts under it and Santa always did his midnight visit. We’d open gifts and such, then go to Grandma’s house for the feast that never varied. (Okay, once it varied; mom made orange jello-mold salad with carrots instead of green jello-mold salad with the alternating pineapple slice/cherry pattern we’d grown up with. She never heard the end of it … nor did she ever again try that sketchy menu change.)

When those kids were older, money was less an issue and the house was much bigger, so the tree was a sixteen-footer and decked to the halls. Gifts were more lavish and home was the gathering place for relatives from near and far. My brothers played basketball in my living room, the turkey was huge and the table could sit 25.

One Christmas found me in Australia with a family that wasn’t mine, but was still family and lovely. It was my first ‘Summer Christmas’ and a pool party was a novel idea in my mind that took a bit of adjusting to, but there were laughs and fun … and the fire to roast chestnuts was a barbecue. I had my first Pavlova that year and I heartily recommend that addition to the traditional meal no matter where you are.

Christmas in England encouraged every Dickensian fantasy I’d ever had, and my daughter’s decision to spend the holiday with me over the pond made it pretty perfect. We were introduced to crackers and crowns and the weather gave us a bit more perspective on poor old Bob Cratchit’s issues with coal.

By the time the holiday rolled around in Seychelles I was accustomed to the Beach Christmas concept and surrounded by friends. Christmas gatherings were huge affairs attended by people from many countries speaking often up to 10 languages, all bringing their own flavors in food, traditions and entertainment. One year we had Shetland Island folk songs played on mandolin and fiddle by an authentic Shetland Islander, and a fabulously funny game of euphemisms … another word for the male member, the sex act, etc. … which allowed submissions from any language.

Once Sam and Cj joined the family Christmas was again about kids.The tree went up, the house draped in various sorts of holiday tat, gifts went under the tree. We’d host a party Christmas eve, then trot up to Gay’s for what had become the traditional food Bacchanal with participation of people from all over the world. The last time this happened was 2 years ago and the festivities of the Eve and the Day included folks with roots in Seychelles, England, Kenya, South Africa, the USA, Scotland, Sri Lanka, Germany, Australia, Ireland, Italy, and probably a few I’m not recalling.

Last year I was back in England to celebrate with the kids in their home-from-home. To say there was a bittersweetness to it would be an understatement, but the ‘sweet’ was very and the ‘bitter’ was easily swallowed. To Cj’s disappointment, it didn’t snow, but it was cold enough to warrant extra coal on the fire. The circle of family had expanded wonderfully and embraced all.

Yes, so many Christmases under my belt.

This one, however …

For the first time in my life I am alone for Christmas. I have already watched the 1951 version (my fav) of “A Christmas Carol” AND “It’s a Wonderful Life” as tradition dictates, but must admit that big a dose of the ‘spirit’ didn’t help much.

Yeah, yeah … I know there are a load of songs on being alone for Christmas, but listening to any of them is not on my to-do list. I’m at loose ends, confounded, stuck between I-don’t-give-a-shit and bawling.

But I’m a grownup, FFS, fully aware that for millions of people this is just another day, and millions of others haven’t one-tenth-of-one-percent of what I have to be grateful and happy for.

Thanks to the age we live in, I will Skype with my kids on Christmas Day … a gift beyond measure! I can take a bottle of wine to the beach and toast the holiday, the ocean, the sky above me and the Earth beneath my feet … and be thankful. I can reflect on Christmas Past, ponder the years, remember those who are no longer reachable by technology, and I can set my focus for the positives.

And I will do all those things. But today, the day before Christmas Eve, I’m indulging in a bit of some whine in the sun. (Poor me. What a bummer. If wishes were horses I’d be elsewhere. Etc., etc., etc. ad nauseam.)

Wishing everyone a Happy Christmas filled with love and food and making merry. I will raise a glass to all with love and hope and to Christmas Yet To Come!

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Five years. Five years? Five years!

I have nothing to say today, so will simply link to the first post I wrote after the death of my amazing son, Jaren.

There are many others here about him and me and death and grief you can find and read, should you be so disposed, by typing his name in the search box. I’m reading them all today.

Five years.

I miss him.

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Not dead today ... just at the beach ...

Not dead today … just at the beach …

Today is my 15th Not Dead Day.

Yes, I have had a few thousand days of being not dead, but on this day in 1999 I very well could have been.

During the course of what I thought was a routine checkup with a cardiologist while on holiday in Singapore I was yanked from a treadmill after about 10 seconds, told to lie down, had a Heparin patch slapped to my chest and was informed that I was within one to thirty days from a massive and certainly fatal heart attack.

Good thing I took that vacation, huh?

I’ve written before about the process, recovery, etc., so no need to do that again. What I would like to do today is talk about living. Fifteen years … nothing to sneeze at. I would have missed a lot had I not been around. Not that everything has been peaches and roses (sometimes not even coming close with pizza and rotgut), but an unpleasant slog through what we know as real life. There have been times I’d have rather avoided, some that almost broke me …

You fall out of your mother’s womb, you crawl across open country under fire, and drop into your grave. ~ Quentin Crisp

But so much has been worth much more than the price of admission. Fifteen years of sunsets and puppies and laughs and love and friends and fresh fruit and hugs and cuddles and kisses and great books and conversations and new experiences coming seemingly from out of the blue.

Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies. ~ Erich Fromm

I’ve had

They're growing, and I get to watch the process...

They’re growing, and I get to watch the process…

another fifteen years to learn new things, to confront my personal ghosts, and wrestle them for lessons, to put effort into making the world a better place.

Life has meaning only if one barters it day by day for something other than itself. ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I’m still around to see Sam at 11 and Cj at 9, to fill their heads with as much wisdom as I can and as little baggage as possible, to do my best to leave them with as few gaps as I can … and I have no doubt I will leave them before the gaps are full, just as all parents do … and to live up to Walt Whitman’s edict in “Leaves of Grass”

“…the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.”

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This evening, as the kids and I watched the “Wizard of Oz’, I had a sudden recollection that ties the generations together for me.

The movie came out in 1939, the year my mother turned seven-years-old, and made quite an impression on her.

It began what was to be an annual run on American television in 1956. I was five that year, but we watched it as a family every year of the ‘50s from then on.

I don’t remember ever not having a TV in the living room; sitting in front of that tiny (by today’s standards) screen in the huge wooden cabinet on the oval braided rug as my mother … either perched on the brown, skirted couch, cup of coffee in hand no matter what the time of day, or standing behind the ironing board with a bowl of starch water at hand … did the ’50s version of multitasking. It was a position I must have mastered very early. Color TV had yet to arrive, so black-and-white was all we knew. Ricky and Lucy’s apartment, Sky King’s sky, everything the Mouseketeers got up to … all were sans any shade but variations on gray.

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The 1939 Poster

And that was fine … most of the time.

The exception to the whole being-okay-with-B&W thing came with the opening bars of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. My mother’s WoO had imprinted itself on her brain before the age of television, when films were only seen in ‘movie houses’ where a show cost a dime … unless you wanted to sit in the loges … and grownups could add a bit of atmosphere with clouds of cigarette smoke.

By 1939, cinemas also offered films shot in Technicolor, something this movie was made for:

Notable for its use of Technicolor, fantasy storytelling, musical score and unusual characters, over the years it has become one of the best known of all films and part of American popular culture. It also featured what may be the most elaborate use of character make-ups and special effects in a film up to that time.

The fact that this beloved experience was reduced for us kids to NO color annoyed my mother no end, apparently, so she did a running commentary to enhance our viewing pleasure … or hers.

This is where, all of a sudden, everything goes into brilliant color!

That is the YELLOW brick road!

The witch has GREEN skin! (No mention that she looked just like our Aunt Mary when seen in B&W until we were much older.)

Those flowers are poppies … bright red poppies … and are so beautiful.

The whole city is GREEN!

That’s the ‘Horse of a Different Color’ and as it walks around the color changes from green to purple and more!

And so on …

All these years later, I found myself tonight explaining my mother explaining the colors to me to my kids as they watched a hyper-hued DVD of the road and the witch and the poppies and the horse, realizing as I did that time sometimes moves in circles.

Now … if I can just find those damned ruby slippers. I know they’re around here somewhere …

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DeadguyThere’s nothing new about trying to keep old, dead iconic autocrats around; the Egyptians came close to perfecting the process more than 3,000 years ago, after all. What differs now is the lack of the bling, the box and pointy building.

These days there seems to be the thought that people will actually yearn to be very close to a lifeless corpse and to lament the lost leader while gaping at said corpse forever. Hugo Chavez is the next despot in line for non-desposal. Being somewhat iconic in life, someone apparently figures displaying the icon rather than burying it six feet under will render it (not in the candle sense, please, although my guess is that would shed more light on more subjects than a carcass) somehow still tenacious.

Yes, Chavez will soon join the ranks of Mao, Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, Ferdinand Marcos, Eva Peron and the Kims … father and son, both Il in life, both dead-but-not-gone, Jong and Sung … on display, like Roy Roger’s horse. (Russia offered Stalin The Stiff as a side show until 1961 when he was finally buried as part of a move to “un-Stalinize” the country, figuring, I suppose, that out of sight is out of mind.)

I have had the dubious honor of filing past the perpetually present corpse of Mao, an experience fraught with emotion … but not the sort it was designed to inspire.

It was 1989, just a couple of weeks before the soon-to-be-deadly protests started in Beijing. I was in China with my nineteen-year-old daughter, out and about to see the sites. At that time, it was required visitors be guided, both physically and with the intent to lead them toward unreasonable conclusions. On our way to visit Tiananmnen Square, our chaperone explained our upcoming experience.

“You will now have the great pleasure to see the most famous exhibit in all the world,” she said in heavily accented not-quite-Chinglish. “Millions of people come every day to see what you are about to see.”

We waited for it …

“THE MOUSE MEMORIAL!”

At least that’s what Jenn and I heard.

It took a few minutes to realize that the queue of Chinese peasants stretching for some distance … four abreast, equal distance apart, eerily silent … were having their places pushed back some so we tourists from the decadent West could officially cut in front to enter Mao’s Memorial.

Well … sorry propaganda machine of the government of the People’s Republic, but there was no way in hell we Californian’s had not already constructed a working version vision of Mickey Maos.

We had previously visited the Beijing Zoo (Remind me to write a post about that nightmare someday.), so weren’t expecting much in the way of quality, but were a bit surprised at the lavishness on the inside of the square, squat building. It was posh in the way that flash-over-substance always is and filled with enormous bouquets of white chrysanthemums in garish vases. The military was well represented with dozens of uniformed men holding automatic weapons and standing at attention. (My daughter got off the line of the day when she noticed the Red Army wears white socks.)

Reserving pride of place amongst a bazillion flowers sat a glass-domed casket inside of which lay the perpetually rigid corpse of Mao Zedong.

He wasn’t looking so good.

Being that we entered the place with certain images already in mind, could we help it if the thoughts and whispers we shared had to do with what the Disney people could have done with him? He’d be sitting up and waving at the crowd, perhaps even pacing the floor like Lincoln on Main Street instead of simply assuming the position of the waxy, fake-looking lump of whatever he might actually be after all the years … not that he was a particularly attractive man when he could still walk under his own power, but obvious inches of pancake re-dos hadn’t helped. (Here’s an explanation … sort of … on how he was made up.)

Laughing was definitely out with all those guns and properly inculcated citizens of the PRC around and stifling our giggles took a LOT of self control, but we certainly had no problem going along with the no-photos-no-videos rules. Since we’d passed on the offer to buy flowers to add to the heaps, we meandered by with our hands over our mouths and swallowed our chuckles until we made it to the other side.

And now Chavez is in the perfect position for the same treatment … if trocars and formaldehyde can be considered treatment … and legions of the faithful, the morbid and the amused will be filing by as he continues to be dead.

Personally, I hope someday to rest in peace, not in public … it’s just so TACKY.

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