Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Missing You Never Gets Old

One year ago today, I woke on a chilly weekday morning before dawn. Tangled in the web of a bad dream, I’d jerked up in bed and remained in a state of wide-eyed apprehension until throwing off the covers and surrendering to the day.  Wrapped tightly in my familiar old robe, I trudged to the kitchen, propped myself up at the counter with a cup of coffee, and reached for my phone.

After slogging through a maddening lot of junk emails, and a couple late night texts, I surrendered to the siren call of Facebook. I scanned the first post that popped into my feed, from an old friend from high school days. I can’t recall the exact words she used, but she was torn to shreds as she passed along the news I never expected to hear: David Bowie was dead.

I read her post over and over. I checked the BBC and sure enough, it was true. I cried as the shock bore into me, and I felt a pain I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t felt for the death of even some people I actually knew. Weird to some, I know, but the knowledge that this artist was no longer breathing shook me to my core, that place that even my husband or my kids can’t touch. The lush, dark place from where I grew, molded and guided by the things around me, showing me who and what I wanted to be. The place within myself I truly became aware of as an adolescent.

And what did a British man in his late 30s have to tell a struggling teenager in Texas?  That the perceived weirdness and oddities I languished over in the mirror were not only okay but should be embraced. Not that I always listened to his advice, sadly. But the message was there.

And then, of course, there was the music.

Ample rock obituaries and tributes have been written about this man and his influence on music and the world at large. But what I’m thinking about as I sit here listening to his final album, Black Star, released just two days before his death, is how he still inspires me creatively.

Gary Kemp from Spandau Ballet described Bowie on Sirius XM's Volume, and he summed up my feelings quite nicely:

David Bowie allowed people who weren’t musicians to be creative about themselves, with themselves, and for themselves. To paint an image greater than their boring lives and walk out onto the street like that. He gave us the license, the validation, to be greater than we are.

This is precisely what spoke to a teenager in Dallas putting on her Catholic school girl uniform to face her peers and what speaks to me today, as a forty-six year old woman heading to a PTA meeting. Live bigger, dream wilder, nurture your creativity, never be afraid to change. Life is more than what you’re allowing yourself to live.

In trying to explain his loss to someone who isn’t a music fan, I’ve described it as such: it’s like a favorite color is missing from the box of crayons. Let’s call it Silverstar. You love to sit at the table in front of the window and color the trees and sky you see through the smudgy glass.

Sometimes, you imagine it’s nighttime, and you draw the heavens. Even before creating the black background of night sky, you instinctively reach for the Silverstar crayon, but your fingers land in an empty hole between Barn Owl Gray and Timberwolf. Both nice colors, in their own right, but not Silverstar. No other color in the box has the same juxtaposition of thoughtfulness and glam, shimmer and soul. You look around the room and see all the other pictures you’ve drawn over the last decades using Silverstar and admire their tenacity.

But you will never color with Silverstar again.

David, I’m thankful for your ability to reach through glass, metal, and wood into the heart of a girl who didn’t know herself. And every time I listen to your music, I feel your grasp on me again, reminding me to set aside the distractions and create. Not for what it can be or who will see it, but for the sake of art itself. To release my own brand of emotion and beauty into the world that wasn’t there before.

“Someone will appreciate it,” he said. And we did.


The moon flows on to the edges of the world because of you
Again and again 
And I'm awake in an age of light living it because of you 
Better take care 
I'm looking at the future solid as a rock because of you 
Again and again
Wanna be here and I wanna be there 

Living just like you, living just like me 
Forever 
Putting on my gloves and bury my bones in the marshland 
Forever 
Think about my soul but I don't need a thing just the ring of the bell in the pure clean air
And I'm running down the street of life 

And I'm never gonna let you die 
And I'm never ever gonna get old
 - David Bowie

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Promises for the New Mama

I softly shut the front door behind me and stepped out into the bright sunlight, reeling at the jarring switch from quiet cave to loud air. Construction workers in full swing across the street, a lady walking her dog, life happening all around. Funny, I didn’t notice any of it inside the house, tomb-like in its reverence for the new life cocooned within.

My arms dangled, unusually light without the steady, comforting weight of the baby. Oh, that baby. That thoughtful pink face, those tiny fingers and toes, skin flaky from the cold, cruel air outside the womb. But contented little noises, puffs and sighs, with the occasional hiccup, told us that in her tiny world, all is well.

As I drove home, back to my own life, I thought back to the days and weeks following the birth of each of my children. The fear, joy, exhaustion, and teary-ness all came flooding back to me. I recognized those things in your eyes today, New Mama.

I wanted to smother you with hugs and tell you over and over that it will be okay. You are already doing great, with your pencil and notebook, recording each feeding and diaper event. You are already loving and worrying and raising this little girl, and you’re doing it so very well.

I promise it will be okay.

I saw the love you poured into her as you gently changed her diaper, gingerly lifting her legs like the china doll that she is. I noticed the tender manner in which you cradled her head and the way your breath caught as we cooed over her utter perfection.

But still.

I patted your arm and gave you permission to be human.

“It’s overwhelming. It feels like I’m chained to her. Kind of like prison,” you tearfully admitted.

Yes, it does, and you are, and it kind of is.

I understand. We all do.

But I promise, it will be okay.

True, you are not the same person that you were before this little darling joined you on the outside. You are now officially a Mother. You will never again not be a Mother. You will forever carry the weight of another’s life on your shoulders, and as scary as that sounds, I promise, you won’t want it any other way.

You see, after the initial hell of the scariness, the overwhelming-ness, the craziness, there will come a point when you’ll start rolling forward. Slowly at first, but you’ll pick up speed.

You won’t cry every single hour. And you might feel like washing your hair. Or not. You’ll find small pockets of time when you can remember who you were – the woman who liked to listen to music, read a book, or play a game on your phone for a few minutes. And it will hit you, “I am still that person with a name other than Mama. I’m still in here.” And the more you connect with her, the less crazy you’ll feel.

I promise it will be okay.

As a mother who has been around the block, I won’t tell you to “enjoy every minute with your precious angel." Because that is not even a real thing. I will tell you to try and be present, to not let yourself get carried away on the roller coaster of worry and doubt. Trust your instincts, and don’t be too hard on yourself.

Oh, and please ask for help when you need it. We are your tribe, and we are just a text or phone call away. We would love to hold your baby and pretend she’s ours for a few hours. We’d love to feed her and burp her and change diapers and not argue about homework or screen time or whether those shorts are too short. We’d love to remember what it feels like to have a fuzzy little peach head resting on our chest and our pinky finger in a tiny newborn death grip.

We are on the other side of this ocean. We’ve made it to the shore. We’re not done with our journey yet, but we’ve made it this far. And I promise, you’ll get there too one day. In the meantime, we are here to throw you a life raft and tow you in to shore.

All you have to do is hang on.

A break for the new mom, cuddle time for me, it's a win-win.


Friday, July 8, 2016

Thanksgiving Square

The white spiraled tower grew out of the ground like a massive seashell pointing up to God.

My tiny, six-year-old hand grasped for my father’s large one, craving the reassurance that only his enveloping strength could provide.

“Come along, Tootsie.  It’s time to cross the street.”

I’d been happy, sitting behind his giant oak desk, drawing with the paper and colored map pencils that his secretary, Mrs. Baker, supplied me.  Reds and browns that ordinarily traced turns in rivers and bends - hunting oil - became hearts and tree trunks in my fingertips.

Maps covering the white walls of the room cast a comforting order about things. Assurance that life could be untangled and plotted out. That chaos could be controlled.

I skipped to keep up with him, stumbling and scuffing my navy blue Buster Browns.  My mother would fuss at me later.

Skyscrapers soared over my head. Traffic roared, an angry horn honked, and I grasped my father’s hand tighter. My nose burned with the hot sting of steam from the sea of cars and buses, carrying people who all looked tired.

We hurried to reach Thanksgiving Square.

Achingly bright, green grass. The lulling echo of water cascaded into a pool. Giant bronze bells towered above, chiming on the hour.

We stepped inside the hushed interior of the seashell, and I looked up into slivers of colored glass, the warm Texas sun painting a chorus of rainbows over the interior curved walls.

My worries about my shoes and my mother slid off my shoulders, swept away by the waterfall outside.  I felt my chest rise and fall with each breath.

“Daddy, what is this place?”

My father inhaled and glanced up to the apex of the domed shell.

“It’s a place to remind us to be thankful.  For our blessings.  And for each other.  And it’s a place to be quiet and find peace.”

I thought about the colored pencils, and Mrs. Baker, and Sam, our cat who had died, and my friend at school whose father didn't live with her anymore.

“I like this place, Daddy, can we come back?”

He smiled and took my hand in his again.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

All Hail to "The Kid"


Electric word, life, it means forever, and that’s a mighty long time.  But not long enough for the pop, rock, funk, and R&B icon who transcended classification.  He died at 57, which is only ten years older than my husband.  

Shit is getting real around here.

2016 is killing me…David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Merle Haggard…I just can’t take anymore.  You know my devotion to Bowie and how his death affected me.  Here’s the thing about Prince, as so eloquently put by Martha Quinn today:  Bowie and Frey, we shared them with other generations.  Prince?  He was ALL OURS, the MTV generation.  He belonged to us, and we belonged to him, Raspberry Berets, and all.

For so many of us, and I’ve heard this echoed repeatedly today on social media, it’s like a part of our youth has disappeared with his death.  Every time one of these iconic artists dies, I feel like I’m holding the photograph from Back to the Future, where people are starting to disappear the longer Marty stays away from 1985.  Just knowing that Prince is no longer on this Earth to belt out, “Let’s Go Crazy” is just too much.

Saying goodbye to Prince means saying goodbye to so many of our firsts:  first kiss during the slow dance at the first high school dance after a football game, first R-rated movie we snuck into, first air guitar solo (Let’s Go Crazy), first time to realize we were listening to something we shouldn’t have been listening to.

Like Bowie, Prince refused to be defined by gender stereotypes, and that was somehow okay with us in the ‘80s.  He danced better in high heels than I ever could.  He was mysterious, guarded, and soft-spoken with words, letting his music do the communicating.  He refused to be owned by anyone and was constantly blowing apart our expectations.  

His prolific songwriting puts modern artists to shame.  In fact, as my tween daughter and I were listening to a Prince tribute in the car tonight, our conversation jolted me to the realization that this generation doesn’t have anyone remotely like Prince.  My daughter cited a musical entity called, “I Heart Memphis” as a modern iconic musical influence. 

Um, no. 

No, no, no, no, no.

They (he?) apparently sing a song titled, “Hit the Quan.”  I don’t even want to know what that means, but I’m hoping it has nothing to do with the rape charges that popped up when I googled him.  Bottom line, most of the artists of today are nothing but a blip on the radar of money-churning pop charts, sadly.

So while I sit around here tonight, feeling glum, reminiscing and crying to Purple Rain, I’m also praying for the future of our children, their musical and artistic landscape, and the world in general.  Because Prince was a true artist, of which the modern era is sorely lacking.  

And we need true artists and poets to take our hand when we’re hurting and lead us to higher ground.  To be there for us when our family and friends fail to show up.  Someone to soothe our hearts with music and lyrics when nothing else can reach us.

These days, that kind of trust in music isn’t expected or deserved.   If you can lip sync to it on musical.ly, it’s “iconic.”  Back in the ‘80s, you had to earn it.  Prince earned it tenfold.  We may have lost his body on this planet, but we will always have his music. 

And I will never stop playing it.

All Hail to "The Kid."




Thursday, April 14, 2016

I am from

Written by my eleven-year-old daughter
Inspired by "Where I'm From" by George Ella Lyon

I am from a room full of toys with old blue carpet

Playing with neighbors, now life-long friends

I am from the smell of fresh baked cookies, filling the air

I feel a warm fuzzy when I hug my kitties, as soft as a blanket

I am from the wishing dandelions in the garden, the little ladybug I saw

The beautiful butterflies I watched them go


I'm from putting the star on the Christmas tree,
all the lights shimmering around

From watching my Dad spin my brother around,
that used to be me so long ago

I'm from licking the batter and spilling the sprinkles,
and slurping spaghetti on fun nights


I'm from saying "excuse me" and "yes ma'am or sir"

And watching "The Muppets" or "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown"

I'm from picking the best pumpkin in the patch
or picking the best Christmas tree

I'm from yummy croissants or macaroons,
all reminding me of my heritage

I'm from ice cream sundaes and apple pie, wondrous family foods

All the memories spilling out but quickly running away

Good times I used to have, I wish those times were now


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Dreams

Last night I had a dream that I was about to jump out of a plane.

You know how in dreams, things aren’t exactly the way they are in real life, but yet, you know exactly what they are meant to be?  Well, I wasn’t in an airplane, like a normal airplane.  I was in a large tin cylinder, with the openings facing north and south.  So, if I looked down, I could see the sky and the ground faraway beneath.  I never looked up.

In the midst of my terror, I somehow managed to be captured by the beauty of the heavens: an infusion of cold that tickled my arms with goosebumps; the smell of clean air, that scent we’re always trying to capture in air fresheners and laundry detergent; the never-ending, cottony puffs of clouds glued to a blanket of ice-blue sky; the warm, comforting rays of the sun; the peacefulness that beckoned beneath the roar of the plane’s engine, if my ears could only reach deep enough to claim it.

Someone called out, “3…2…1…GO!” and I was supposed to let go.

But I did not.

My eleven-year-old daughter was in front of me, or beneath me, in some weird configuration that’s only possible in a dream.

She let go.

I remember hearing her elated squeal as she slipped away from me, growing smaller and smaller, down through the bottom hole in the cylinder, and finally plunging into the sky towards the brown and green patches of earth below.

I remember no longer being able to see her.  I remember feeling afraid for her safety, but impressed with her nerve.  I remember wondering if she would ever come back to me.

I still did not let go.  My fear got the best of me, which is not surprising.

Many times in my life, childhood through young adulthood, have been characterized by a desire to try new things and not having the courage to follow through.  I’ve grown better at this in my 40’s.  The fact that this blog exists is pretty major.  But I am also old enough to know that I am not going to push myself so hard that it will draw blood.

But my daughter?  Not like me at all.

She decides she wants to try something, and ten minutes later, she’s doing it.

Surfing? Check. No problem forgetting the sharks we just saw at the aquarium, plunging herself into the ice cold Pacific ocean with a strange man/instructor, surfboard tethered to her ankle, swept out further than I would allow myself to comprehend.  She popped up on the surfboard on her second try.

A new sport?  Sure thing.  Breaking her dance girl stereotype, she stepped right up for the volleyball team and has pursued it with a commitment I’m not sure I’d have given her credit for a few months ago.

Me?  As a kid, I would have wanted to surf but would have been caught at the shoreline paralyzed by the what ifs.  As a twenty-something, I desperately wanted to join the company’s softball team - it looked like such fun - but instead of giving it my best shot, I hid in the car in the parking lot, tail between my legs, like the lion in The Wizard of Oz.

My daughter is like me in so many ways, introverted, shy, and somewhat awkward.  But in so many other ways, I see my sister, my aunts, and other yet-to-be-named DNA in her.  When she was little, I thought of her as an extension of myself.  The call of adolescence will be recognizing her uniqueness and embracing her capability to outdo me.

It’s not hard, really.  Isn’t that the unspoken parenting wet dream all parents have?  For our kids to turn out better than we did, even though we’re perfectly fine?

So I’m going to sit back and keep letting her put me to shame.  Who knows, maybe she’ll inspire me to pick up a surfboard or a softball glove.

But one thing I can promise you:  I'm never jumping out of a plane.


Mama’s Losin’ It

Monday, January 11, 2016

Goodbye, Starman

I was poking around my older sister’s room, looking for I-Don’t-Know-What, mainly just wanting to feel close to her.  The giant, four-poster bed loomed large in the middle of the room, and I amused myself by swinging from the posts, hanging upside down and arching my back until my long, yellow hair grazed the brown shag carpet.

I often spent time in her room when she wasn’t home, combing her shelves looking for clues to the mysterious, grown-up charm of hers that I coveted. Among the pictures of horses, old Nancy Drew books, and Vogue magazines, I stumbled upon an album that caught my eye.



The stark contrast between the graphic black and white image and the bold red lettering drew me in, and it was nothing that the likes of my seven-year-old-self had ever seen.  And although I knew nothing of this artist or his music, I felt like maybe somehow, someday, I should.

*****

I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the television set, eye-level with the VCR my parents had finally given in and purchased.

Rewind, Play, Repeat.

For a ten-year-old kid in 1980, pre-MTV, a VCR recording of Friday Night Videos was as good as it got.  The show came on every Friday night, and not only did I watch it live, I taped it and watched it over and over all day on Saturdays, pausing only to grab a Coke and throw a Totino’s pizza in the oven.

On this particular Saturday, I was mesmerized by the new video, Ashes to Ashes by David Bowie.



Haunting, trippy, bizarre, nonsensical, beautiful, sad.

All the things I felt as a young girl watching this video on repeat. 

My Dad, passing in and out of the room while puttering around the house on a Saturday, decided to stop and see what all the fuss was about.

“ What kind of strange music is that?”

“DAD! GO AWAY!”

“Why is that guy dressed like a clown?”

“DAD! GO!”

“ Why is he wearing makeup?”

“DAD!”

And so it went.  As my obsession with Bowie and his music grew, so did Dad’s teasing.

“So, how’s Jim BOO-ee (aka, the Texas revolutionary from the 1800s)?”

“Very funny. It’s DAVID Bowie, with a long O, Dad.”

“Really? Does he know he has a knife named after him?”

Sigh.

*****

My friend and I sat on her bed on a Friday night listening to Space Oddity, Changes, and Ziggy Stardust from ChangesOneBowie, playing each song over and over to decipher the lyrics.  She was a bit more poetic than I, and she seemed to grasp more meaning in the words than I did.

But although I'd only begun to scratch the surface of human experience and emotion in his songs, his music spoke to me with the familiarity of an old friend.

The gift that Bowie gave to me that day, throughout my adolescence, and even today, was the gift of settling.  Not settling in a bad way, as in, for something less, because that’s never what he did.  But settling, as in settling down and settling in...to my perceived weirdness, my otherness, my difference from what I saw when I looked around me.

He showed me that the world was a really big place, more than I could ever imagine, living in my one-dimensional suburban bubble.

I didn’t fit the cheerleader mold, or the athletic girl mold, the band girl mold, or even the Brainiac mold.  I didn’t really know where I fit in, and Bowie told me I didn’t have to fit in at all.

That I didn’t have to be one solitary answer on a multiple choice test, but that I could be ALL OF THE ABOVE.

He showed me that we are fluid beings, morphing and growing, built to break one's image of oneself as soon as it’s fixed. 

The thing about his death that gets me, really rips me in half, is that I was kind of counting on him to always be around to remind me of this.

Because there are days when I’m still not so sure.

One thing I am sure of is that when David Bowie entered the Pearly Gates, I bet my Dad was there to shake his hand and say, “Welcome to Heaven, Jim Boo-ee. Good work inspiring my girl down there in the trenches.”


I'm not a prophet
Or a stone aged man
Just a mortal
With potential of a superman

I'm living on.


I'm counting on it, David. Rest in peace.