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25 December 2008 @ 10:11 pm
Christmas is over, at least the giving part. I got some earrings and a sweater. Standard Christmas fare. The best present? A pair of gloves, white and fuzzy, more for a child than a woman past the half century mark. The giver? My five-year-old granddaughter. She stood before me with such pride as I opened the package. "To keep your hands warm when you drive," she said.

I treasure the gloves. Why? Because somewhere in the back of my mind, I could see her fumbling over the selection. Something to keep my hands warm when I drive. She'd obviously put some thought into the present and into the five dollars I'd given her so she could buy it. The gloves had come to her mind when she remembered me complaining about how cold the steering wheel felt in my hands when I drove her to school. She'd wrapped it herself, using far too much scotch tape. The bow was scrunched tightly to the paper. The corners winked open just a bit, revealing the box beneath the wrapping.

As I thanked her with a hug and kiss, Christmas as it should be floated upward in my mind. Gifts exchanged out of real love and with a touch of innocence. The eyes of a child, blue and wide, filled with excitement over what she'd given and not what she'd received. Then I thought of the man whose birthday we celebrate on this day every year. During the last three years of his earthly life, he once said that "to enter the kingdom of Heaven, you must have the heart of a little child." The heart of a child: wondering, wistful, full, easily broken but quickly healed. The heart of a child: forgiving, loving, opening to the possibilities of love. Trusting, trusting that the five dollar gift was just as good as any other that lay under the tree and trusting that the gift of keeping my hands warm while I drive her to school would mean more to me than a pair of gold earrings or a cashmere sweater. She was right.

When her school reopens after Christmas break, I'll wear those white, fuzzy gloves and I'll tell her how warm my hands feel. I'll never be able to express the warmth in my heart or the joy of having her presence in my life. I can only hope she feels my gratitude when I take her hand in mine to walk to the school's front door or when I kiss her on the forehead and tell her I love her and to have a nice day.

The heart of a child. We should all hold tight to wonder and keep our hearts open. Some people are luckier than others. Some already have the heart of a child, a gift we should all pray for.
21 December 2008 @ 10:03 am
It's Sunday morning, the last Sunday before Christmas. My closet is jam-packed with little girl items and my purse has grown thin. I can't spend my day of rest resting. I must go to the second job this afternoon, a hot, little room in the back of a convenience store that the owner fondly refers to as "The Deli." I don't like that name, but I haven't been able to convince her that my little room needs another title.

I've thought of some. Behind the Screen Door. Last Sandwich for Twenty Miles (the store is located in BFE and that's probably a very true statement when it comes to geography). Eat and Go. Hillbilly Hot-dogs. She'll have none of these. I guess loss of sense of humor goes along with beer orders and bounced checks. The old Eat and Go has its problems, worrisome problems that might tend to diminish a sense of humor. Out of the three employees we once had, we're now down to two. Recession even hits hillbilly hot-dog makers.

As the locals return from long trips spent Christmas shopping, they stop in. It's much easier to grab fourteen corn-dogs than cook a meal after fighting through the combat lines at the Walmart.

When they order that series of corn-dogs, they stop to talk. I'm hearing lots of things. I'm hearing about the three factories in the area that have closed or are closing over the next year or so. I'm hearing about how diesel fuel's gone down in price but milk hasn't. I'm hearing that milk only brings eighteen dollars per hundred pound when the dairy farmer sends it to market, hardly worth paying the utility bills for electric milkers. I'm hearing how the public schools are cutting the number of aides for children who've been integrated into the classroom because the governor asked for seven million dollars in budget cuts. Yes, there's a lot of talk behind the screen door.

 And yet, those Christmas shoppers still have bags in their hands, shopping bags loaded with gifts. The bags aren't coming from Saks or Neiman Marcus. They've got more familiar names this year. The Dollar Store. The Dollar Tree. Walmart. K-Mart. The Five and Dime. Paper bags from the Every-thing-must-go Auction house down the road. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, but this year, he's eating Eggos instead of Eggs Benedict.

The economy is spiraling downward into the dark waters of another Great Depression, but the eyes of the children who'd rather eat a corndog than a bowl of spinach are aglow with anticipation of the holiday. They haven't noticed the sallow complexions and sunken eyes of their parents. To them, Christmas is Christmas, filled with magic, wonder, and lights. That dolly from The Dollar Tree feels just like the dolly from the uptown toy store. Whether the sweater is cashmere or straight from the Goodwill store, it's still a Christmas sweater, and no one's gonna wear it after December twenty-fifth.

Christmas is coming and nothing can stop it, not lay-offs or thin purses, nothing. Christmas is a heart thing, a magical thing. The spectrum of life and of Christmas stands across the stainless steel counter at The Deli. I listen to tales of woe and wonder, like a slightly-overweight bartender listens to crying over beer. I listen and then I remind the hesitant eater that this is the last sandwich for twenty miles.

06 December 2008 @ 09:58 pm
When I was a college sophomore or maybe a junior (that period is so foggy), I went to see Leon Russell in concert. Very exciting in 1973. These days, few college students could even tell you who he was. Times have changed. Concerts have changed. I've changed, as much as I hate to admit it.

Anyway, on the way to see Leon Russell, my friends and I...well, umm, ...we engaged in some interesting experiments in the effects of some herbs. You know how curious college students are. The experiment was fascinating and created a sense of fascination in all who participated. When we arrived at the concert hall or collesium or wherever we arrived, we entered a world of wonder. Hundreds of people stretched out before our very eyes, each one a maze of color. We had excellent seats, first row mezanine. I leaned over the railing and watched those colorful people milling about on the floor. One in particular caught my eye. I focused.

The man on the floor became, in my eyes, the king. Whatever he did, his subjects followed. Each movement he made was mimicked by the other floor dwellers. I became the perverbial fly on the wall. Then he suddenly disappeared into obscurity. My focus was interrupted by blackness, and my heart jumped. Noise emanated from the front of the hall. I quivered with fear. Then the lights came on, wonderful lights, flashing and moving. In the midst of the lights, a tall man in a top hat suddenly appeared as if by magic. His hair flowed from beneath the black hat, white and lovely. He held a glittering can of Old Milwaukee in his right hand. The strobe lights made his movement seem ethereal or mechanical. I can't remember which. The magic acted again, and the GAT band became visible. No warning, just the magic. The man in the top hat walked over to a grand piano, slapped his Old Milwaukee down on top of the piano, and music swelled, deafening music, wonderful music.

At least, that's the way I remember it, but then again, there's that herbal experiment to consider.
There are a few concerts that go down in musical history—Altamont, Woodstock, Live Aid, the Hannah Montana Best of Both Worlds tour—as legendary experiences. What live show stands as legend in your own experience?
Current Location: In the Yellow Submarine
Current Mood: indescribable
Current Music: Magical Mystery Tour
29 November 2008 @ 10:26 pm
A note of a previous post:

I finally heard from my lost friend. She has a full-time job! She's working in Tennessee. She's not loving it, but she's working. That's good, right? She sounded healthy and busy. I'm particularly glad to say 'healthy'.

Needless to say, I was pleased to hear from her. No longer lost. Friend found.

25 November 2008 @ 09:24 am
Thanksgiving is upon us. We can offer up our gratitude for friends and family, for the blessings of a job (any job at this point), and for the ability to continue in our personal pursuit of happiness. In the American Constitution we're promised that much, that we can pursue our own happiness, although some believe that the right to happiness is a given. 

Am I happy? If I knew what happiness was, I might be able to answer that question. Oh, I've known moments of great joy, but mostly, I've spent my time becoming acquainted with the struggle to continue, to exist. If happiness is defined in any way with the word 'prosperous', then I'm not happy because I have not prospered. After lo these many years of working my lower back (ur-um) off, I have little to show for it. I have managed to buy a house of sorts, but that's about it. And years of robbing Peter to pay Paul have resulted in a less than sterling credit score, so the days when I might possibly make another big-ticket purchase are gone.

If happiness is defined with the word 'content', then there again, I have some problems. Contentment is hard to find and especially hard to hold. Although there have been contented moments in my life, they were only moments, moments when satisfaction overwhelmed me. More times than not, my soul is filled with the restless desire to accomplish something, to find an agent and a publisher. To make the frayed and tattered threads of my financial life meet comfortably each month. Truly contented? I'm not.  To paraphrase Saint Paul, "In whatever state you find yourself, you should therewith learn to be content." Hard advice to hear and even harder to follow.

Now that I think about it, who of us really knows what happiness is? It isn't a continual state of joy. Maintaining that level of excitement would probably tax the nervous system and send us all to the hospital with massive strokes and heart attacks. Happiness doesn't come in a package marked 'Prince or Princess Charming.' We can't borrow our happiness from someone else. The entrance of a significant other in our lives can't supply it. It isn't a full wallet, (although God knows I'd like to learn what that one feels like). The vast numbers of the rich and famous who end up in rehab, therapy, and a self-inflicted grave bear testament to that fact.

If happiness is reaching the fifth level of Maslow's hierarchy, that place where you're comfortable in your own skin, then that's really something to pursue. What joy there would be if we could all reach our own potential and at the same time, understand our own limitations. Imagine that. I think that from here on out, I'll be clinging to my Constitutional right of pursuit, and I won't struggle for definition. The greatest definition is to be able to define ourselves. I'll just keep looking myself up in the dictionary that is life.

22 November 2008 @ 09:37 pm
I have a friend, or at least I used to have a friend who shared my former office at the university. She and I grew up under much the same circumstances: poor as church mice. (I know that's cliche, but it's the best simile to explain it all). Her husband was transferred and she moved on to greener pastures. For a while, we stayed in contact. I even drove down to her new house one summer for a visit. Alas, over the past year or so we lost touch. I even lost her phone number.

Lately, she's been on my mind, hiding there in my cerebellum. Her name's been popping up in conversation as well as thought and each time I hear it, there's a sense that I need to speak to her. Am I having some sort of premonition? Is it good? Is it bad? I don't know. Tonight I tried to e-mail her at work. I don't know if she's still at the same place, but I suppose I'll get a response from the evil I-can't-deliver-this e-mail fairy if it doesn't make it through.

Lost friends. What an odd thought. Can we actually just misplace an acquaintance, overlook a person we've once been close to? I wonder. There's a line in my recently completed novel. It reads: "The river of life. One drop evaporates and another drop is born into the stream." The line came out of nowhere when I was writing. It didn't form in my head. I didn't think it. My fingers wrote it as if they were somehow independent, working without contact with my brain.

I've thought about that line a lot lately. Are we just droplets that occasionally mingle in the stream only to become victims of some cosmic current that pulls us apart? Even if that's true, I don't think that we're helpless to stop it. 

A friend is difficult to find, that person with whom you have a sense of commonality, that person in whom you can confide without fear. A friend should be difficult to lose, especially in the literal sense. I've lost my keys. I've lost my shoes. I've lost countless important papers and necessary items. I've lost one sock, one earring, but I refuse to misplace my friend. I will continue to look for her, and soon, I'll come across her. She won't be in the back of some unused drawer or behind the sofa. She'll be right where I left her. Of that, I'm sure. When I find her, she'll say, "Where have you been?I've been looking everywhere."

19 November 2008 @ 09:00 pm
I journal, I blog, I write. The things I write vary. I seem to slide from the profound to the ridiculous. I write ghost stories. I write literary stories. I write short fiction, long fiction, poetry. Yes, I write all of these, and all of these mostly sit in my document files gathering dust, if document files gather dust. Now and again, I submit to an agent or a magazine, and sometimes I get a request for a partial or full manuscript. Sometimes, I have a few things published.

I've been published in a college literary magazine many times, EXIT 109. I've been published in a local literary magazine called ALCA-lines. I've been published in the local newspaper and in the not so distant past, one of my poems appeared in Songs of Lament. I've also had a poem appear in Raving Dove, and that one received a favorable review (actually, glowing, but who notices?). Recently, I've discovered a new on-line magazine, Raphael's Village. So far, they've published everything I've submitted. At last count, seven pieces: one essay, one of my ghost stories, and the rest, poems.

I write in the literary genre, meaning I love words and characters. Some say that I write well. Others? Well, others don't agree. My confidence is growing, albeit slowly. With every publication, my secret self swells with pride, but somehow, that pride is mixed with fear. What could I be afraid of?

I'm certainly not afraid of success. In fact, I salivate at the possibility of making a living as a writer. I couldn't think of anything that would make me happier. I'm not afraid of fame, and I do some extra salivating at the thought of having a best seller. I suppose I'm afraid of not having those things. I'm afraid that the few things I've had published were really just aberrations, that I happened to submit something on the day that the editor or agent had a case of the jitters and my piece was just boring enough to soothe his/her nerves.

I wonder if all would-be writers have these same fears. I'm better off than some. Some haven't had the courage to submit. Heck, some haven't had the courage to write that novel they've been dreaming about. All you writers out there in Cyberland, I need a little encouragement. I'm tired of waiting and yet waiting is part of the process. I'm tired of the fear that I won't ever be accepted, and I'm tired of the dust in my document files.
Current Mood: anxiousanxious
Current Music: The Impossible Dream
10 November 2008 @ 08:52 pm

I've heard it said that experience is the best teacher. I'm not so sure. Of late, I've noticed more and more people, my age and older, who keep repeating the same life mistakes over and over. Their past experience appears to have taught them very little. For example, today I met an old friend at a local diner. At one time, this man was one of the finest guitarists that I'd ever heard play, the toast of any party he attended, and believe me, he's attended more than a few. He was once handsome and charming, the kind of man almost any woman would have found attractive, and here too, he had more than a few.

Now, the guitar-man is aging, balding, and stoop-shouldered, a grizzly echo of who he once was. Why? What has brought the great man to this inglorious state? Booze. He watched many of his relatives succumb to the horrors of alcoholism. He went through rehab for his alcohol and drug addiction. He lost his wife and son because the booze took precedent over his family's needs. Has he learned anything from all those experiences?

The answer to the previous question? No, no he hasn't learned a thing. He spent ten minutes trying to charm me with his slurred speech and drooping eyelids. At one point, I thought he was going to fall asleep in mid-sentence. When I asked if he was all right to drive home, he mistook my concern for his fellow travelers for the hope of a night of...well...you know what he hoped for. I dashed his hope like ice on a candle. He drooped even farther toward the floor of the diner and slithered toward, you guessed it, his van. Helplessly, I watched him drive away and hoped that the two miles to his home were traffic free.

When I got into my own car, I sat for a moment, remembering him as a young man with laughing blue eyes and a glittering smile. In the back of my mind, I thought I heard him playing "Classical Gas" on his six-string guitar. I saw him dressed in a red vest and black silk shirt as he played lead guitar for a popular local rock band and remembered the eyes of the girls in the audience as they followed his every move in the glow of the strobe lights. I shook my head to dislodge the shadow of the man I'd seen in the diner. As I turned the key and started my engine, I made a choice. I chose to think of him as he was, not as he is, then I drove the winding road to my house.
Current Location: Safe at home
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
Current Music: Where have all the flowers gone?
05 November 2008 @ 04:15 am
It's 4:15 AM and I can't sleep. I've spent most of the evening dozing in my easy chair and intermittently watching election results. I admit that my man lost. I wasn't so much a McCain supporter as I was a non-supporter of Obama. At the risk of being politically incorrect, I find Obama snake-like, slithering in an out of situations without giving firm answers, saying only what the interviewer wants to hear. Snakey. That's it.

Now, I'm facing at least four years of that snake-like behavior, and I find it troublesome. The banks in America have already been nationalized and we're slowly but steadily moving toward socialism. We're teetering on the brink of another Great Depression. We have men on the fields of battle in two different arenas, and the national debt is at its highest level in history. Oops! Might be a few problems here.

Since snakes can never change their genus, maybe they can change their species. I wonder what the new head snake is going to do. Can Obama become a constrictor, or will he be a viper? That's my question. The way I see it, a constrictor would grab hold of a problem and squeeze it until it died. A viper, on the other hand, is more likely to make the occasional strike and slither away to strike another day, leaving his poison behind to work its dark magic.

One of my students suggested that Obama was the anti-Christ. I've personally reserved that title for computers, but now I have to wonder. This, of course, brings me to the Mayan Empire, their calendar, and their prediction that the world will end on December 21, 2012. If the Mayans long line of predictions-come-true holds and life as we know it ceases just before Christmas, three years from now, maybe my student has got something there. According to the Christian Bible, the period of peace that precedes the tribulation is just three years or so. Give or take a few months, that "peace before destruction" period would take us up to the next presidential election and the potential second term for Obama. Catch my drift?

The fabric of America has been ripping pretty steadily since the 1960's. Will it completely shred? Will the great war, the true war to end all wars, come upon us? Will we all end up wearing berkas and bowing to Mecca five times a day? Will we just spiral into oblivion and be chronicled on the pages of history as the "failed" great experiment? Who knows. I'm hoping for the alternative. I'm hoping I'm wrong, that that fatalistic streak in my character has been activated not because of some real problem but because of that stroganoff I ate for dinner. As Dickens once said, I hope that my disquiet has more "of gravy than of grave."

29 September 2008 @ 09:46 pm
Today the United States Congress denied the much lauded bailout of the financial markets of America. Like concrete statues, the members shot their venomous looks at each other across the asiles, and the partisanship of the great halls of government wouldn't give. Not an iota. Each party stretched out their arms and pointed a bony finger at the other, and "I didn't do it. You did it," echoed down Pennsylvania Avenue toward Wall Street. Yep. They're at it again.

Quite frankly, I can't bring myself to watch a group of grown men and women who've asked for and received the burden of government as they stomp their feet and cross their arms like defiant kindergarten students. On the campaign trail, I understand the concept of difference. "I'm a Republican", or "I'm a Democrat." In a perfect world, when the elected take their seats under the capitol dome, we should expect them to forget their partys' differences so the wheels of government can turn toward the betterment of the nation. Not a chance. They're all playing to C-Span and looking for their closeups while the country spirals downward toward another great depression from which we may never recover. FDR where are you?

Should tax payers fork over $700 billion dollars to the fat-cats who've mismanaged their companies right into bankruptcy? Probably not, but I don't want to see bread lines and members of the army of unemployed hustling rides on vacant railway cars. Something must be done. I think we need a broom.

What could we do with a broom, you ask? Perhaps the answer to this riddle is not on Wall Street, at all, not in the offices of those fat cats I mentioned, not even at the Country Club where the fat cats are hosting a masquerade ball paid for with those hefty bonuses. The broom should be placed in the hands of the citizens of this nation and used to sweep the halls of Congress clean, removing the dust-bunnies we call senators, filling our dustpans with the refuse of the House of Representatives. Instead of electing just a president, we might be better served to hold a citizens cleanup.

Perhaps the answer is to empty all those posh offices and expense accounts up in D.C., to send the blighters packing. Perhaps we the citizens should simply refuse to pay the salaries of the representatives that have so miserably failed us and see how they like hobo stew. If we don't, they'll still be pointing their bony fingers across the asiles of Congress and stomping their feet long after the bread lines have formed and the unemployment insurance stores have been depleted.

I drive a 2000 Ford Ranger pick-up truck. I hope the engineering holds out. The current credit crunch eliminates me from the possibility of buying another vehicle. As a single mother who's spent most of her adult life robbing Peter to pay Paul, my credit is somewhere around the bottom of the financial dumpster. I pay my bills but seldom in a timely manner so I'm the odd man out. I'm the one who'll pay the price whether in the long or short run. I can't imagine that I'm alone.

There are thousands of gaunt faces, staring at the television screen and wondering what this means for them. This means that what began as the World Trade Act and ended up as an excuse for more and more American industries to move their production plants overseas has risen like a snake to bite us in the (you can fill in the blank here.) It means that the greed of the financial community and the unregulated tactics and competition between companies has made that inevitable final coil and strangled those who believed they were too powerful to ever feel the pressure.

As for me, I'll get up tomorrow, climb into that pick-up truck, drive to work and hope I can afford to buy the gas it takes to get home. The failure of my elected representatives to act in my best interests means that when the old truck heaves its last oily sputter, I'll be without transportation and ergo without work. It means that the failure of the dollar on the worldwide market will move that gallon of milk from five dollars to seven in the blink of an eye, and it means we may be facing rationing stamps like we did in WWII in order to keep food prices low enough for the average family to eat. The greed and self-serving attitudes of those on whose shoulders I've entrusted my country has effectively destroyed that 401K, the retirment security of so many.

Am I a Republican? Am I a Democrat? Right now, as never before, I'm a victim of the need for one party to dominate another no matter the cost. Excuse me, I need to find my broom.