Monday, March 31, 2008

The Alphabet Backwards: Vampires

There's no accounting for the strange roads my mind will take me on. Why today for the letter "v," when there are so many possiblities - violets, virtue, vulgarity, vanity, voice, vice, valor - it has lit upon the word "vampires" and stuck it's little brain teeth into it like a dog with a bone is beyond me. But vampires, apparently it is.

There are many kinds of vampires, I guess. There's Buffy the Vampire Slayer's campy, hip vampires, some good, some evil, some really hot and hunky. There are Anne Rice's wonderful, complex soul-searching vampires. I highly recommend her books - The Vampire L'estat, Interview With a Vampire and most of the series are dark, consuming, and make you explore places in your psyche that aren't altogether comfortable, but are good to gaze into from time to time. I think they are profoundly philosophical books, incredible explorations about the complexity of the relationship between good and evil - and they are entertaining good reads as well. Then there are vampires like the Bush administration - evil people who suck the blood and soul out of a nation, its constitution, it's economy and it's spirit without a twinge of remorse or conscience.

But I want to talk about another kind of vampire... The energy suckers. The kind of people who suck the life out of you pretty much just by walking into a room. I'm sure most of you know the kind of person I mean. I tend to be highly empathic which makes me especially vulnerable to such things. My brother was very much a vampire in my life... on many levels. It took me almost 38 years (I'm such a slow learner) to figure out that he was toxic to me and another 7 to extricate myself completely from the web of habit, duty, guilt and love that kept me tied to him. It's now between 15 and 18 years since I last spoke with him at all and 20 since I formally severed our relationship. Before that I was his devoted fan and slave. The rest of the family, who secretly found him at least as intolerable to be around as I did, were quite content to have me do the dirty work, while professing their deep devotion to him. But I'm getting ahead of myself, I guess.

My brother, who I will leave unnamed, is seven and a half years older than me. I adored him for all of my childhood and much of my adult life. He was handsome, very literally a genius (IQ of 163 or something like that), could be wickedly funny and charming. Alas, he had a mean streak that was as wide as it was subtle. He was probably as empathic as I am (very), but his way of using his intuitive knowledge about people was to hurt them with it. I was one of his favorite targets.

I've never written about him before. I'm not terribly comfortable doing so and yet it feels important at the same time. I always thought I'd wait until he died - or maybe forever... the old if you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything syndrome.... And of course because I am inclined to err on the side of being so fair that I should be institutionalized, I will herewith make the following disclaimer. It's possible, I suppose, that I'm wrong about my brother. Maybe he's the nicest guy in the world and I have simply misunderstood his behavior towards me for my whole life. Maybe my therapist (who had the misfortune of meeting him in a last ditch effort on my part to either avoid or validate my decision to become estranged from him) misjudged him too. I don't think so. Casting my older brother - my very sick older brother (he has Parkinson's Disease) - out of my life was not a decision I came to easily. It was one I agonized over. It was one I fought. It was one I still occasionally question. Certainly looking at the little boy in this photograph, you would not think he could have wrought such havoc in my life. But he did.

So that's my disclaimer. Here's a small fragment of my experience. As I said, it took me 40 years to wake up from the web my family had sewn me into and to start struggling for escape. I don't know how many people who will read this are old enough to remember the old Sinbad movies and the giant evil spider in the cave. That's how my brother feels to me. Like a giant spider who had me and wanted to keep me in his web, not necessarily to kill me, but to feed on and live off my suffering. I haven't seen him in almost 20 years and I'm still afraid at the mere thought of being in his presence. There are tomes to write on the subject of my brother and I am digressing from the topic of the day - the vampire part of my relationship with him.

I am forever grateful to a pastor I met in 1978. He was an awesome human being who turned my life around in many ways. One was by saying the following words to me: "Katherine, your brother is drowning and he wants to take you with him." My first reactions to those words was to think he was crazy, to ignore them, to fight against them. But really, I must have immediately felt the truth of them, because I never forgot them. They remain burned into my brain. That I have any sanity at all, any life at all, traces back to those words and Pastor Rick's gently nudging me towards reality and therapy. It took me ten years and a great deal of physical and emotional agony to take my life back from this messed up man who was - still is, I guess - my brother. As if to underscore the depth of his power over me, as I lay in bed this morning, thinking about this essay, by back stiffened up and I am in fairly severe pain. Every cell in my body is twanging with anxiety. And this is just a shadow of how I lived for the ten years and beyond during which I tried to separate myself from this family vampire, who sucked the joy and life out of the air around him. Just trying to begin writing about it has put me closer to a panic attack than I have been in 20 years. I don't know how I lived this way. I guess I was younger and more agile. I guess we just live because we do and because life is precious.

The original brother as vampire story that triggered today's post was how when I had not quite solidified my estrangement from him, I went away for ten days to an amazing workshop in the desert. It was an awesome experience. I came home rejuvenated, full of love and peace and compassion for all people. Maybe brother wasn't so bad, I deluded myself. I don't know if he called me or I called him. In any case he came over for a visit. Within 15 minutes of his being in my home, all the energy and enthusiasm of those wonderful ten days drained away. I was exhausted again, having difficulty breathing. It was a rough lesson, but it drove home to me the truth about his impact on me. And this morning as I type this out, in pain and shaking with anxiety, I am stunned by the power of memory and the human mind.

I suspect almost every one has encountered vampires like my brother in their life. One of the things that made my brother's impact so powerful is that he was so charming as he twisted some knife in your back. He was the master of the poisoned apple. "I'm so concerned about you.... I'm saying this for your own good... you know you're old and never going to marry." "Dad used to love you, but since you confronted him about his drinking, he's afraid of you." "I don't want you to worry, but..." (Just a general observation: Anyone who starts a sentence with those last words really does want you to worry. They want it very much. It's Vampire 101. It was one of my brother's favorite sentences. I would add that the motive of people who tell you things for your own good ought to be carefully studied. Look for their fangs and make sure they have a reflection in the mirror.)

There's so much more to write. I don't know if I am even making sense or why it seems so important to put this out there. I just know I must. I ask your forgiveness and your prayers.

*I could not not use the Bush vampire picture, which I found on google, even though I couldn't find an attribution for it. I hope I'm not breaking any copyright laws and that the artist will forgive me and let me know his/her name... and be pleased to see this portrait synopsis of the Bush administration shared with more people. I will regretfully remove it if asked to do so.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

One Single Impression: Laughter

This week's prompt from One Single Impression is Laughter. Great prompt and I just had a really hard time with it, so I decided to try and be "artsy," in hopes that nobody would notice...

Wishing us all much joy and laughter.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Saturday Wordzzle Challenge: Week 6

Well, I think I'm going to post this early... Friday evening.... because I'm bored and restless this evening and I'm going to try to add a Mr. Linky and I want to know if it works. So....

Since this is week 6 of our challenge, I'm going to just get right down to it without any introduction. Two people - Jay and Michael - sent me email submissions this week. So, with a reminder of the words, I'll post their offerings and my own and hope that Mr. Linky takes care of the rest. (I'm not sure why the Mr. Linky isn't showing the links up front - probably because it's the free kind - but if you click on it, I think it does work.)

Words for today's ten-word challenge were: arbitration, music, salamanders, frankinsence, trojan horse, balderdash, bottomless pit, fantastic, pugnacious, Trivial Pursuit and for the mini challenge: maniac, video store, telephone pole, flute player, windy day

From Jay Cole Simser I received the following mega wordzzle:

It was a bright and windy day as I walked down the street to the video store. I was watching the clouds in the sky as they danced around the sky like a maniac in a disco.

As I walked past the store I noticed a flyer attached to the telephone pole. Missing: Pet Salamanders, it said Reward, Inquire within. Music was playing over a speaker attached to the door frame of the store as I entered. The not so subtle scent of frankincense filled the air with a fantastic aroma.

A flute player with a pugnacious attitude was seated behind the counter playing a game of Trivial Pursuit with an assistant. A picture of the Trojan horse hung on the wall behind them.

“I have come to inquire about your missing pets. I would like the reward.” I stated succinctly.

Balderdash” replied the flute player, “There is no way you could have found them.”

“Oh but I have,” I said as I took them from my pocket and placed them upon the counter.

“Well, I’ll be,” he said as he examined them. “Where did you find them?”

“I was on my way to an arbitration hearing when I noticed them on the edge of the bottomless pit over by Hastings General Store. They were about to fall in.”

Losing his attitude he took the pets into his hands and kissed them gently on their moist backs. “The reward will be forthcoming” he stated and then turning purple and green from the chemicals on the salamanders he fell over writhing on the floor. His assistant opened the cash drawer and took out the reward money.

“Will he be all right?” I inquired.

“Of course,” replied the assistant. It is just his colorful way of saying thank-you.


Michael submitted the following - also a mega wordzzle.


"It was a fantastic, trojan horse of a windy day... one you woke to and welcomed but afterward felt as if you'd fallen into a bottomless pit with a maniac flute player whose music was pure balderdash. In a word... pugnacious. A day you wind up fighting through like a game of Trivial Pursuit up a telephone pole, trying to maintain a grip on reality while your opponents insist on submitting every bone of contention to arbitration. Salamanders slithered in my brain as I stumbled to the video store... overdue again. Another 'fine' day for me.... I should have had the frankincense to stay in bed."


My contributions are as follows:

Ten word challenge:
Pugnacious and the Salamanders , rock group extraordinaire, were happily celebrating their hit single, "Trojan Horse Comes Riding." The flip side, "Frankincense But No Myrrh," was doing really well too. They were euphoric. Their music was finally taking off. "This is beyond fantastic," Pug was giggling, "finally we can pay off that bottomless pit of debt that's been stifling us and start living like the moguls we were meant to be. Just as he said that, his cell phone rang and the others could faintly hear the voice of their agent on the other end. "Bloody F***ing Balderdash!," Pug screamed into the phone. "Those songs are ours. Ours! We wrote them ourselves and Trivial Pursuit, those wanna be hacks, know full well it's our music. They couldn't write their way out of a paper bag. Stinking phonies. "What do we do next? Arbitration? What's to arbitrate? I wrote Trojan and Jay Cee wrote the other one. We can prove it. Well how much are these lawyers going to cost us? Bloody hell... Well, do what you have to do, I guess." The Salamanders, who, of course had heard only Pugnacious's side of the conversation, were sitting crestfallen, shaking their heads. "We never catch a bloody break, " one of them muttered and then noticed that Pug himself seemed oddly untroubled by this terrible turn of events. Just as he was about to comment on this, Pug - who never tired of practical jokes, even bad ones - shouted gleefully, "April Fools! We're still rich! In fact the album just went platinum!" Lucky for him, his companions were already too drunk to wring his neck.

Mini Challenge:
Crazy Louie who owns the video store hired some desperate, broke flute player to climb the telephone pole outside the store and give a concert. He thought it would bring in more business and it might have except they chose to enact this little stunt on a very windy day. Even before the poor guy blew off the pole and broke his leg, you couldn't hear a thing over sound of the wind whistling. Crazy Louie is such a maniac that first he tried to sue the flute player for breach of contract and then he went after the phone company for not making their poles wind proof. After that, people pretty much started avoiding the store. Now that's what I call a publicity stunt gone bad.

I got brave and tried a Mega challenge this week:

So I'm heading to the video store and some maniac in an old VW van painted all over with salamanders and those Native American flute player guys - Kokopelli, I think they're called - well, he runs me off the road right into a telephone pole, if you can believe it. It's an awful windy day. I was already running late and now I'm stuck dealing with some car accident that will undoubtedly waste more of my time with arbitration down the road. Of course I'm grateful that I'm not dead. There is that. And my car seems reasonably unhurt. I get out of my car and this antique hippy guy come up to me all, "Peace Brother," like some vision from the past. "The Trojan Horse here," he says, pointing the the old van, "gets a bit pugnacious at times and develops a mind of her own. So sorry. I hope you're all right." Now this is so surreal and fantastical that I'm torn between shrieking at him and laughing. And then it starts to rain. "Come on in the back," he says. "No point negotiating in the rain." So I think, "why not," and it's like stepping into an sultan's palace... all purple cushions and smelling of incense - he said it was frankincense - and there are these two incredibly beautiful woman sitting there... It was pretty amazing... "Have a seat," one of them says, pointing to a huge cushion. I'm so stunned by everything that I do - and then they offer me a cup of coffee and some brownies. Amazing brownies. What happened next is kind of a haze of food and smells and music. I remember being so hungry that my stomach felt like a bottomless pit. Seems like they had tons of food... all kinds of things... and at one point someone (was it me?) went out for a pizza. We played some kind of game. I forget whether it was Balderdash or Trivial Pursuit. Next thing I knew it was morning and I woke up in my car. The strange hippie and the van were gone. I'd say it was all a dream - that I must have bumped my head or something - but I still smell like frankinsence and I'm ravenously hungry.

And of course I have to add my vanity (stuff I wrote years ago that nobody would ever read otherwise) wordzzle from my collection. Feel free to use these words yourself if you prefer them: Ebullient, bonanza, Bambi, geyser, carpet, goose, turnover, Taos, aquarium, fun

Bambi Bonanza, as she had renamed herself when she left Pittsburgh and moved to Taos, was ebullient. She was free! She was loose as a goose and twice as happy. Life was fun again. Bambi Bonanza was no middle-aged frump like Agnes deBono. Nope. Bambi knew how to live. The day of her father's funeral, Agnes had baked her last apple turnover, and closed and locked the door of the family bakery forever. A week later, bakery and house were sold and she was on the road in a new station wagon, with a new name, a new wardrobe and a new profession. In Taos she had bought the small house on Cactus Creek Road because she liked the carpet and the view and because the owners had agreed to let her keep the aquarium. Besides she had just had a good feeling about the place. Two weeks later, trying to plant a tree, she had found the geyser. The reporters who came to cover the geyser story had noticed her paintings and liked them very much. Fascinated by her story, they had written a Sunday Supplement article about the lady who moved from Pittsburgh to paint fish and wound up with a geyser in her back yard. Now her paintings were selling faster than she could do them. She was rich and happy and suitors were asking for her hand. Life was very, very good.


Anyone who wants to emulate the amazing megawordzzlers can try merging both challenges and make another megawordzzle. I finally tried it this week and it was fun.

Next week's words are a mix of suggestions that came from Jay, Michael and Richard. I mixed their suggestions together just to make it more interesting. I would LOVE to have more suggestions for words/phrases from other participants.

Next Week's Ten Word Challenge will be: fruitcake, necromancer, gibberish, marshland, Lone Ranger, hog-wild, effluvia, plaintiff, phonograph, fern

And for the Mini Challenge: frozen, history, myrmidon, Shylock, incapacitated

Thanks for playing. For those who are new, here are some guidelines to make the process more fun.

Enjoy! See you next week.

And this week, if all goes well, I don't have to paste all your links in because there's a MR. LINKY! Yippeee! Let's hope it works.

Fable of the Month:
An Agoraphobic's Romance

Once again it's time for my "Fable of the Month." Items from my unpublished works that would probably otherwise never see the light of day. I actually published this one once before when I had my agoraphobia column. It's silly, but hopefully amusing. And I guess that's enough of an introduction.

Katherine E. Rabenau

I met Frank at OA the one time I got up the courage to go out of the house. Let me tell you, my heart was beating so hard I could hardly breathe and my legs were like jello, all wobbly and weak. I thought I was gonna die or make a fool of myself, or both, and then I caught Frank's eye. He looked to be in the same condition and my heart went out to him, so I forgot about my own panic. "You ok?" I said, and he kind of gasped out "Panic attack!" I said, "Me, too," and it struck us both so funny that we started to giggle and forgot we were dying of terror.

Frank's fat too. And agoraphobic like me. Makes for an odd relationship. I suppose there's a mild sexual attraction, except we both have so many hang-ups. Me, I'm afraid of sex. If you'd ever met my mother, you'd understand why. Then add a hefty dose of sexual abuse. I have trouble being around when sex happens; I mean, I leave my body. I leave even when it looks like sex might happen. So it's really quite convenient to have a "boyfriend" who can't leave home and only talks to you by phone. For his part, he doesn't feel attractive, and to be honest, he isn't. I mean, he could be if he lost some weight. Isn't it awful, a big fat ugly woman who condemns other fat people. Or at least some of them. Frank just happens to be one of that group. I mean, he's one of the sweetest, kindest men in the world. Funny! He's got this kind of wry humor, slightly sardonic, but not mean. A tinge of cynicism, but also kind of a dreamer. Except that he's fat and agoraphobic, he's the perfect man for me. Or maybe he's perfect because he's fat and agoraphobic and I don't have to wrestle with the sex thing. I don't have to be afraid of him. He's so good at listening to me. I really love that and sometimes I wish I could touch him, you know, hold him and be held. We're both awfully lonely for touch. Sometimes he says he pretends I'm with him and he's got his arms around me and he's kissing my eyes and stroking my hair and just gently touching the softness of my skin. When he says that, I feel kind of comforted and tender and a little excited, and then I get scared and change the subject. I'm afraid I'd lose him if we ever got close, you know. Either he'd think I was cold or a whore, or both, and either way, he wouldn't want me and I'd be alone again, completely.

This way I can say I have a boyfriend and keep my mother's nagging at bay. All her, "if only's" and "you shoulds." "I do have a boyfriend," I counter. "Frank and I had dinner together just last night." And we did, sort of. We ordered food from the same Chinese restaurant and talked on the phone. We both got speaker phones so we could do things and talk, so sometimes we eat and sometimes we watch TV. We even rent the same movies sometimes and synchronize running them. Let me tell you, that's not so easy, but we've gotten pretty good at it. It's not perfect, I know, but I do love him.

We started therapy a few months ago. Found someone who makes house calls. Once in a while we have a joint session on the speaker phone, about, you know, getting together and touching. We've both lost a little bit of weight since we met and if I'm gonna trust anyone, it'll be Frank. Next month Jan - that's our therapist - she's gonna try to get Frank to come here for a visit. She'd have a session with us, then go out, and if he needed it, help him go home later. We thought we'd see how it felt to really touch. Sometimes I imagine it and it feels so sweet, I think it can't be possible. But who knows, maybe the times they are a changin'.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Poem of the Week: Ode to a Bat

I picked this week's poem because I happened to catch a conversation on Charlie Rose the other night about the troubling and potential environmental crisis involving huge numbers of bats in Vermont and upstate New York (not far from me, actually) dying of something they are calling "white nose syndrome," because many of the dead bats they are finding have a white fungus on their noses. Scientists have yet to discover the cause. This could have a serious impact on the environment because bats do a great deal to control the insect population. This is nice for those of us who don't like mosquitoes and flies, but beyond that, it's important for farmers and crops.

Anyway, thinking of bats took me back to my time working in the mammalogy department of the American Museum of Natural History. Except that it didn't pay enough for me to live on, it was a pretty cool job. Working in the big musty rooms beyond the visiting areas felt special. The museum is in an exciting part of the city - near Central Park - and in those days I'd walk either all or half way from 18th and 1st where I lived to Central Park west. It was good for my health. My office in the museum... I was a mere secretary - with three bosses - but I had my own huge office which I shared with the dead bodies of hundred of bats and rats from Indonesia. Because I worked fast, was easily bored, and could do it, I ended up editing manuscripts and (this was so cool) numbering and cataloging specimens. This entailed writing 8 to 10 digit numbers onto bones, some of them extremely small. It was interesting in a strange way and quite a challenge at times to fit all those numbers onto those tiny little bones.

But back to bats. One of my three bosses was the the late Karl Koopman who was at the time the world's foremost expert on bats. He loved bats way more than people. If some poor soul called in asking for help because his/her house was infested with breeding bats, Koopman told them they should learn to live with it or move. He sang the generic names of bats to the tunes of Gilbert and Sullivan songs. He even looked kind of like a bat. I didn't really know him very well, but he did change my peceptions about bats and I wrote this poem for him.

dedicated to Karl Koopman

Little bats, Bella and Boris

Winging softly through the forest

On your wings of silent leather

Unadorned by fleece or feather

Doing no one any harm

Yet driven off from hearth and farm

You who have since ancient times

Been the butt of unkind rhymes

You, who unlike men and birds

Hark the sound of your own words

You are not that nasty creature

Oft portrayed in double feature

Drinking blood and spreading fear

No! Gently do you twitch your ear

And listening for an echoed sound

Eat bugs and fruits which do abound

Then flutter home to cave or tree

And hang there, resting quietly

We're sorry for the fear-filled lies

That haunt your passage through the skies

And maybe as men grow less foolish

Our stories will become less ghoulish

And furry bats hung upsidedown

Will not be scorned in every town

Nor virgins wear a cross at night

To save them from your dreadful bite

And man, with realistic eye

Will watch untrembling when you fly

Nor will he pause this time to curse,

But knowing nature is diverse

He'll smile to think in yesteryear

Men looked at gentle bats with fear

Or thought you worked for evil ends

You kindly bats who are our friends.

- Katherine E. Rabenau

As long as we are on a semi ecological theme - I wanted to post a reminder that on March 29th there's something going on called the "Earth Hour." The idea is for people all over the world to conserve one hour's worth of electricity by turning their lights off for an hour at 8:00 pm on the 29th. For more coherent information on the subject check out

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wordless Wednesday:
Tara Grace in Black and White

Tara Grace

five pounds - fragile but tough
talks like a gangster - moves like a dancer
she has suffered cruelty and abuse
without losing the gentle sweetness that is her essence
I am honored by her love and trust

You can Read
Tara Grace's Story here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Few Thoughts on Feminism

Well, I'm at a loss for something to write today. Hopefully the well has not run dry already. Anyway, I got an email today from The Feminist Majority with this little "What Does a Feminist Look Like? " video.

Kids today, said the old crone in me, don't realize how far the world has come. I probably didn't realize how far it had come even in the 60s when I was working. I do know that there are opportunities out there now that I didn't have. I know that salaries may not be completely equal, but they are more equal. What is best and most important, though, is that young women are growing up with more of a sense of themselves. I doubt any patronizing moron would pet either of my nieces on the head as was done to me on more than one occasion in my working years. I know they each have a level of self assurance that I'm still striving to arrive at. That makes me very happy. I doubt men of their generation think it's "cute" when their intelligence shows. (Can you tell I'm still pissed off about my experiences? Oh, the stories I could tell... )

Of course, to be fair, my problems with self assurance weren't just because the world I grew up in completely objectified women. I grew up with crazy damaged people who damaged me, not out of malice, but because they didn't know any better. Such is life. I'm working on it. But back to the topic at hand.

Even though our society has come a long way in it's relationship to women, I think we still have a long way to go. Strong, successful women in the public eye - women like Oprah, Barbara Walters, Hillary Clinton among many - are helping to reshape how we view women, but evidence of the double standard is still very clear. Whether you like Hillary Clinton or not, there is no question that she is reported on differently because she is a woman. Her laughter is assessed, her dress, her sense of humor. There are rumors about her relationship with her husband, her sexuality and her femininity. How many questions have you heard asked about whether male politicians love their wives - or sleep with them, about whether they are butch enough? How many news reports are there on whether John McCain's laugh meets some standard of worthiness? If a male politician sheds a tear, we ascribe humanity to him, if Hillary cries, we call her either weak or a fake.

We still judge men and women by very different standards. Men are allowed to lose their tempers without much being ascribed to it. A woman loses her temper and she's unstable, a bitch or "it must be that time of the month." Give me a break. I think things have improved, but I think we still have a ways to go. Certainly the world as a whole has a long ways to go. Women are still being burned alive in India and imprisoned in Arab countries for crimes like talking to a man. Women are being raped regularly in the Sudan and Darfur and all over the world. Young girls (and young men too) are being molested and incested and we still have very little clue about how to handle it or the depth of damage such actions cause to their victims.

Lots has changed. But lots still needs to be improved. I could be mistaken in this, but I think there is still a tendency for doctors to dismiss women's assessments of their bodies. I was "yes dear-ed" by more than one doctor and I paid a heavy price for it. So have many other women over the years. One of the blessings to arise out of feminism is that young women are more prepared and more apt to stand up for themselves at the doctor's office as well as in other areas of life.

To be a feminist isn't to be anti-male. To be feminist is to be pro human, to recognize that women are more than just pretty play things for men, more than "just" mothers and housekeepers. The idea of feminism isn't to diminish the gifts of men, but to acknowledge the many gifts that women also have to offer. As many men have discovered, when they open up doors for women, they open up doors for themselves too.

The biggest lesson we will learn when we truly embrace feminism (and when we move beyond racism and other forms of bias and hatred) is that improving the lot of any person or group of people in society, improves the lot of all of us. It's a win win solution. Or that's what I think.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Alphabet Backwards: W is for Water and Wigs

Well, I was going to write something noble and wise - about how much I love water and what a blessing it is. I'm a water sign and one of the things I am most grateful for in life is the gift of abundant fresh drinking and bathing water we have here in the United States. Water is my favorite beverage and since baths are a bit too much of a physical challenge these days, my showers are sort of like mini religious experiences. I can't imagine living in a country where you can't just turn on the tap and have a nice glass of water or where you can't pop into the shower when you feel grubby and dirty. It's such a luxury for many people in the world and most of us where I live don't even think about it. If water were my subject, I could write about its dark side, about the floods we've had where I live for three years running, but it isn't my real subject and today the sun is shining, so I'll stick with my gratitude for clean, running water, a form of wealth many of us don't even recognize we are so blessed to have. Ok... so that's my mini treatise on water.

Anyway, while I was sifting through "w" words on my way to the computer - just to make sure there wasn't something better: Walruses, watermelon (another good subject), wolverines, winter, wandering... the word "wigs" came into my head and that reminded me of an experience from my college days that had a life lesson attached to it, so I'm going to say this is about wigs since a wig was the trigger and then write about the life lesson. It's only sort of cheating. Actually since I made up the Alphabet Backwards and am the only person doing it and it has, as far as I know, no format or rules, I'm not sure why I think I'm cheating. Because I'm a little crazy, probably. I'm just happy not to be writing about xenophobia or yearning or some subject that makes me anxious and stress ridden.

But back to wigs. During my second year in college, I went to some local place in Fredonia - yep, that's where I went to school SUNY at Fredonia - for a cheap haircut. Boy, did I pay a price for that decision. The woman hacked my hair with either incompetent or malevolent abandon. It was hideously short and since I have cowlicks in odd places - it stuck up all over the place. It might have been a big hit in the 80s, but in the 60s, well, not. Actually this haircut was so bad that I don't think it would have worked in any age. My self-esteem was already what you might call non-existent. This haircut felt like the end of the world. I think it came with a big pimple too, though that may just be an something I've added because it adds to how earth-stoppingly ugly I felt. I think there was a pimple, though. In any case, I just wanted to crawl into a hole and die. I'm not sure how long I hid in my dorm room. I knew I had to leave eventually and finally came up with the idea of buying myself a wig... well a wig thing - I think they are - or were - called "falls." It was long and pretty much matched my hair. It was synthetic. I couldn't afford a good one.

But here's the point of telling this story. Our minds are such strange creatures. I put that wig on and suddenly went from being (in my own eyes) a frumpy toad to a being a girl. I went from short hair to long flowing waves, from neuter to female. Alas, I also went from nice to obnoxious because suddenly I was getting attention that I wasn't used to and I was inhaling it. I was like the starving person led into a banquet room. I couldn't get enough. I was greedy for it and ready to push my friends out of the way to get it. At least for a few days. Luckily, I was reasonably self aware and after the first glorious flush of ego, I came back down to earth. It was probably less virtue than the fact that my friends - especially my female friends - were not feeling all that warm and fuzzy about me - but I eventually realized that I was not behaving very well. And once the big ego bubble burst, I realized that nothing had really changed about me but my perception of myself. That silly, ugly wig had made me feel pretty and because of that I had behaved differently - especially around men. It was a genuine life lesson. We really do create our own reality to a large extent.

I wish I could say that I had used this lesson wisely and gone on to develop radiant self esteem. No such luck. I went back to being insecure and pathetic and added those few days of blissful vanity to my list of things for which to judge myself. Still, it was a good lesson and has served me in lesser ways. I wish I had been wise (strong enough) at that early age enough to throw off the toxic shame my parents infused in me. I've made progress over the years in small ways, though that's probably not really as true as I like to think it is. Never leaving the house means I don't have to test my progress or lack thereof. I suppose I could don a wig and disguise and see if it made me more comfortable stepping out my front door, but I can't hide my obesity...

Which just makes me realize how close a call this "w" thing could have been. Thank goodness I didn't think of "weight," for my "w" word. Maybe there is a god. Now I think I'll put on some dark glasses, close the curtains and hide from even what I have just written.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

One Single Impression: Spring

Here are my Spring haikus (and quasi-haikus) for One Single Impression. Once again I couldn't stop with just one or two once I started...

As you can tell I'm not an artist but I like to play with paint shop pro and I feel insecure with just the poems themselves. The flower pictures are stolen from the internet and manipulated until they are hopefully sufficiently different from their source that I'm not taking anything from their creators. The others are my own photographs given equally cruel treatment.

The bleak winter sky
Whets my appetite for Spring
It can't come too soon

Hidden in branches
Spring flowers lurk quietly
Waiting to surprise

They're intangible
Changes seen without our eyes
That whisper: Hope! Spring!

Age makes time move fast

While winter drags frozen feet
Crocuses still rise

Tall Cinderellas
Don magic fairy slippers
And dress for the ball

Every year I watch
Trying to catch the change
The magic surprise

I watch for Spring buds
But find myself always shocked
When blossoms erupt

My eyes drink in your beauty
Ray of earthbound sun

~ Happy Easter ~ Happy Spring ~
Happy Anything that makes you Happy

Friday, March 21, 2008

Saturday Wordzzle Challenge: Week 5

It's week 5 of the Saturday Wordzzle Challenge and I'm delighted that a number of new people are planning to join in the fun. As I get the names I'll add them into the text of this post so that their wordzzles will be easy to find and enjoy.

As a reminder of what the words were for the current challenge:

Words for the ten word challenge were: horse shoe, antique chest, marigold, lunatic, science fiction, Oregon, previously, 10 billion, google, tree hugger and for the mini challenge: pardon me, feather duster, gathering storm, furthermore, magnolia blossoms

We've had another brave mega wordzzler this week - another email entry - this time from Rich. He sent me his submission in email so I'm not sure if he's planning to post it on one of his blogs. I'll post it here for now.

Just once in this Google world of 10 billion tags about tree hugger, science fiction, lunatic, horse shoe throwing, idiots from Oregon I'd like the previously drunken son's of marigold sniffing mothers to go to their antique chest and pull out the feather duster of all feather dusters and stick it where the sun don't shine. Futhermore if you will but pardon me for a moment I'll pull the windows closed against the gathering storm of thoughts and impressions which I can only liken to magnolia blossoms blowing through my mind.

Jay Cole Simser sent another offering this week. As the inventor of the mega wordzzle, I guess he felt compelled to wow us again this week. Here's his great paragraph.

The bouquet of magnolia blossoms and one marigold flower looked as if it had been arranged by a lunatic demon tree hugger. Previously 10 billion people from Oregon had been using google to gain information about the gathering storm. Pardon me, said the science fiction author, I have been looking for a horse shoe to place over the door to my wordzzle storehouse and furthermore I am in favor of using a green feather duster to clean the top of the antique chest which has become filthy with pollen from the marigold.

Others who have already posted their contributions - as I find them - this week are:

Elena Jane
my aplogies to elena jane... I missed her post...
her wordzzle is wonderful and I hope people will discover it

Here's my 10 word wordzzle for this week:

Marigold Magnolia Morton (her lunatic tree hugger mother loved flowers) was born on a commune in western Oregon in 1969. She couldn't really complain about the names. It could have been way worse. Her parents, who had previously been Sandra Michaels and Larry Lutz had changed their own names to Starflower and Moonrider (can you believe it?) and were the kind of fanatical super hippies who had "gone back to earth." They grew their own pot and vegetables and lived off the land. Their particular commune had even eschewed motorized transportation and Moonbeam (she was not allowed to call him father) had been selected by the community to be their blacksmith. Some of her earliest memories involved sitting on a large antique chest in the corner of the barn watching him at the anvil, muscles rippling, sweat pouring down his body, horses wickering quietly as he attached horseshoes to their huge feet. The horses had responded to his gentleness. She remembered that too. Her parents may have been crazy wierdos, but there were worse ways to be crazy, she guessed. In her desire to escape her parent's odd, lonely world, she had run 10 billion miles in the opposite direction. Science fiction was her passion. Living in the middle of nowhere in Oregon, she had seen her share of UFOs and her imagination (without TV it was amazing what the imagination could get up to) had invented wondrous worlds in outer space. Eventually she had written them down into a dozen or more very popular books chronicalling the history of the planet Zamphoria which existed beyond the outer limits of the Horse Nebula. Google Venus Moonstar, her pen name (agh, she was her parent's daughter after all) and thousands of links came up. She had grown up to be famous, filthy rich and as urban as they came. Still, she had not escaped the hippy curse completely and she had spent part of her millions to buy her parents a small ranch (they refused to accept a big one... still hippies at heart) in the greenest part of Oregon. When city life and outer space got to be too much for her - as they sometimes did - Marigold Magnolia Morton went home to her past to feed her spirit and refuel her imagination.

And my mini wordzzle:

Franklin Culover stared out the window of his once grand mansion and watched the mangolia blossoms swirling around in the breeze that was the first warning of a gathering storm. Behind him, his daughter, feather duster in hand, muttered about the clutter and mess and the inconvenience of looking after him. "Furthermore, Dad," she was saying, you need to get rid of some of this junk. "Pardon me for living," he wanted to mutter, but it felt too close to the truth, so he remained silently looking out the window and his daughter never noticed his tears.

I'm adding this late, but I felt I had to try the mega wordzzle... here goes:

Marigold Swanson, Horseshoe Falls Oregon's famous lunatic tree hugger huddled nervously in the upper branches of the huge oak apprehensively looking out at the gathering storm. She was uncertain what to do. She was a proud fanatic, ready to give her life to save this tree - or she had thought she was until she saw the lightning and the dark clouds and felt the ferocity of the wind already blowing even though the storm was still so far away. She had begun to feel uncharacteristically frightened. Furthermore, at 60, she was not as young as she had once been and oddly life seemed more, rather than less precious. Previously (you could check this out on google), she would not have let anything stop her - not rain, snow, forest fires - even an offer of ten billion dollars, though that had one had been tempting, if unbelievable. Previously she would have pulled her slicker tight around her shoulders, and distracted herself from her fear with a good science fiction story. Today, though, the heart that beat in her antique chest felt less sure - like magnolia blossoms or a feather duster in the wind. And when she saw the loggers, sturdy fellows all, anxiously heading for their trucks, she crumbled at last. "Pardon me, Mr. Logger," she called out, "Do you think you could help me down?"

My vanity (old stuff nobody will ever read unless I share it this way) offering - whose words anyone can use as an alternative to this weeks if they prefer is: snowdrop, palate, boomerang, soft, mushroom, tongue, belt, oblique, fortuitous, lounge

Rich tastes of mushroom and spices and gravy and tender meat rolled across her tongue and boomeranged off her soft palate, caressing her taste buds, but more than that, touching something deeper in her being. This meal had not been casually prepared, nor was it just some fortuitous mix of fine ingredients well prepared. It was a work of art, a work of divine inspiration. She cast an oblique, sidelong glance at Antonio. He seemed such a puffed up buffoon as he lounged idly across the love seat, his overly simple clothes adorned only by the huge and ornate belt buckle, the little white kitten which he called SnowDrop nestled in his arms. She wanted to detest him - the arrogant fool - yet each bite of this glorious meal dragged her deeper under his spell, and by the time she had sipped the last drop of her coffee, she knew that she would follow him anywhere.


Words for next week's ten-word challenge are: arbitration, music, salamanders, frankinsence, trojan horse, balderdash, bottomless pit, fantastic, pugnacious, Trivial Pursuit

And for the mini challenge: maniac, video store, telephone pole, flute player, windy day

Anyone who wants to emulate the amazing megawordzzlers can try merging both challenges and make another megawordzzle. I still don't think I have the courage, but go for it if you think you can.

I would LOVE to have suggestions for words/phrases from other participants. Also any advice/suggestions on how to make the process easier would me much appreciated. I'm new to the blogosphere and still clumsy at navigating it in some ways.

Thanks for playing. For those who are new, here are some guidelines to make the process more fun.

Enjoy! See you next week.

Picture Fiction Challenge #2: A Life in Pictures

Ok... I think this is the second monthly Picture Fiction Challenge created by REH at his Ramblings of a Madman and my first attempt at it. The idea is to take the five photos below and write a story based on them. Each photo has an assigned role in the story. I thought this was REALLY hard. Needless to say my inner demons are partying their psychotic heads off as I post this. I was tempted to keep trying to fix it but I finally decided to just go with what I have. As I so wisely advise others about about the wordzzles challenges, this is about inspiring your creativity and having fun, not saving the world or writing the great American novel. So anyway, here are the pictures and my feeble attempt to meet REH's evil challenge. Not too happy with my title, but it's the best I can come up with at 1:30 in the morning. It will have to do.

And now I can go see what everyone else came up with and judge myself even more. Ah, the joy of being me.


Even as a child, Carlotta Rodriguez had had dreams. Amazing, technicolor dreams, as exotic and vibrant as her waking life was dull and drab. She had started life on the wrong end of the poverty scale in a posh beach resort community where her mother worked two jobs - maid and waitress - and still barely earned enough to house and care for her young daughter. On occasion, though, Mrs. Rodriguez would bring home throw-away treasures, things that rich, self-indulgent tourists discarded as carelessly as you or I might toss away a used kleenex. It was one of those treasures that had changed Carlotta forever. For her daughter's 10th birthday, Maria Rodriguez had splurged on three rolls of film and wrapped up an old Kodak camera that someone had dumped unceremoniously into the waste basket in their room at the hotel. From that moment on, Carlotta had seen the world in photographs. She was a born artist with a gift for creating beauty from even the most unexpected scenes and objects. A wise mother, Maria had quickly taken note of both her daughter's passion and her talent and had encouraged her enthusiasm. They read books on photography and together explored all the potential aspects of picture taking - except color. This was not because Carlotta didn't want to take pictures in color, but because even baby-sitting for extra money and even with her mother putting aside every cent she could, it would have been a choice between a new camera but no film and no pictures at all, or continuing to work in black and white. All Carlotta ever dreamed of was a new camera. She saved every penny she earned towards that dream.

But then her mother died suddenly and Carlotta became a ward of the state, a foster child. The state - and, the foster parents to whom she was entrusted - decreed photography to be frivolous and expensive. Foster care was a nightmare. Her foster parents felt no compunction about going through Carlotta's belongings and "borrowing" whatever they wanted. When she asked for her precious old camera back, her foster father simply smirked and said, "not on your life. It's mine now." Later that night, he had come into her room, camera in hand and told her that perhaps he might let her borrow it if she would consider "entertaining," him. She ran that night without the camera, but with her innocence still intact. Luckily, neither social services nor her foster parents had found her hidden camera money. She had hidden it well. She ran with almost nothing. A few photos of her mother, a change of clothes, and steely determination.

Strangely, horrible and frightening as it was, it turned out to be the luckiest night of her life. When, the next morning, she stumbled, sleepy and frightened, off the train and into the crowded, bustling roar of New York City's Grand Central Station, she had no idea where to go or what to do. But as if led by an unseen angel, the very first thing she saw was a camera store. Hunger and tiredness forgotten, she entered the store as one walking into paradise. She saw and heard nothing except this world of cameras. Like the proverbial child in the candy store window, she was consumed with a hunger that pushed aside fear, doubt, even common sense. After train fare, she still had $180 of her camera fund left, nestled snugly next to her heart. She would worry about food and a home later. She had to have a camera. Nothing else mattered, nothing. And then she saw it. The camera of her dreams... the one she had read about, hoped for, pined for, dreamed of for what seemed like forever. She asked the clerk if she could see it and he handed it to her with an unnecessary warning to be careful with it. It felt like heaven in her hands. She pointed it here, there, checking the focus, the zoom. It was perfect. So lost was she in this world of her imagination, that she didn't notice the elderly man at the next counter watching her with a thoughtful expression. When she asked the clerk what the price of the camera was and he said $350, she couldn't believe it.

"But I only have $180," she said. "It's everything I have. Is there any way you can lower the price... or maybe I could work it off or...."

"Oh, sure," the clerk replied, "sarcasm oozing out of him, "I'm sure I can trust you for it. No chance."

It was then that the miracle happened. The old gentleman who had been watching her stepped in, whispering quietly,

"Give her the camera for $180, Fred,"

"But Mr. Candoza..." Fred stammered.

"I'll make up the short-fall, Fred. Give her the camera... and a dozen rolls of film. I've been watching her. She has the gift. Look how she holds that camera... with love... how she frames the world as she looks at it. I can see myself in her. She should have that camera... and I can easily afford it... but I want her to feel that she bought it herself."

Fred thought the old man was crazy. She looked like a punk kid to him, but as long as he got his money, he didn't care. Tony Candoza was a long-time customer and a famous photographer and Fred wasn't about to cross him over a $350 camera.

"Here, kid. This is your lucky day, I guess." And he was right. Because Tony Candoza did more than just help buy her a camera. He decided to take her under his wing.

"Excuse me, young lady," he said kindly. "My name is Tony Candoza. May I ask your name?"

"Tony Candoza! The photographer! I love your photos! They're so.... creative... and the way you get shadows, why... I just love them... I... I...," she trailed off, blushing. "Oh.. my name is Carlotta. I'm honored to meet you."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Carlotta. And always an honor to have my work appreciated so generously. May I offer you some breakfast? And maybe you can tell me about yourself - and who or what you are running away from. Come on, let's get some food into you and hear your story. I sense a fellow artist in you and us artists have to stick together." To her own astonishment she followed him eagerly as he led her to a surprisingly quiet little restaurant at the other end of the station.

Over a toast and eggs and bacon and orange juice, she told him the story of her life... and he told her the story of his... how he always seen the world in images, had drawn and painted from the time he was two. He had been lucky to have parents who were able to nourish his talent both emotionally and financially. He had gone to art school and during his time there had discovered the mystery and magic of the camera. It had become his life, his love, his mistress, his eternal passion. Watching her in the camera store, he told her, he has seen in her that same love. As she finished off her breakfast he said, "I have a proposal for you. Let's put some of that film into that camera of yours and see what you can do with it. If you're as good as I think you are, I'll make arrangements to become your legal guardian. If not... well let's not worry about that. I know you have the "eye." Let's go play. Today for certain you will have food to eat and a roof over your head in my guest room where you will be safe there, I promise."

They spent the next four hours exploring the city, taking picture after picture until all 12 rolls of film were used up and they were both happily exhausted. He watched her work, even as he took dozens of photos of his own. She watched him too, much as he watched her and picked up - even on that first day, little tricks she would not have thought of on her own. Then they ate sandwiches in the dark room and she watched him bring her photos - and his own - to magical life. She was in heaven. And just when she thought it couldn't get any better, they ordered Chinese food - which soon became her favorite - and he showed her many of his own photos. Her favorite was a strange photo of green M&Ms in a giant Starbucks cup. She didn't know why she liked it so much, but she did. He told her it wasn't one of his favorites and if he had to guess why she liked it, he thought it was because the colorfulness of it that appealed to her after so many years of being forced to create her work in black and white. She had realized that he was right. He knew her that well even from that first day. And she knew she was home in that moment. She knew that everything was going to be alright.

It was the beginning of a life-long (probably an eternal) friendship. Carlotta Rodriguez spent the next 15 years as Tony's adopted daughter and devoted student. He taught her everything there was to know about cameras, light and shadow, framing, developing film. He taught her about art and beauty, nurtured and nourished her talent, her passion and when she was ready, fostered her career. And he did something even more important; he wrapped her in kindness and love. He became the father she had never had, and his gentle generosity eased the pain of losing her mother at such a tender age. It didn't take long for Carlotta to become famous in her own right, but she became something better than famous. She was happy and fulfilled - in her life and in her work. Not everyone can say that.

Three months ago, when Tony had crossed gently from this life, he had bequeathed to her - among other things - the summer cottage by the shore where they had spent many happy days taking pictures and basking in the beauty of their surroundings. Even after she had married, she and her husband Tom (who loved Tony as much as she did) spent many weekends by the ocean with visiting with Tony - Tom drawing and painting while she and Tony did what they loved most. The cottage was full of Tony's love and his photographs and she studied them now, like journey through her own life. Her two favorites were very different. The first, surprisingly, was a picture of herself standing on the beach, wind blowing her hair across her face. It brought back a particulary happy moment on a particularly happy day. It wasn't very flattering, but it didn't need to be.

Her other favorite was taken on the last photo expedition she and Tony had taken together. It was her gift to him for his 78th birthday - the fulfillment of a life-long dream to photograph Siberian tigers of all things. She was surprised at first that he had never done it, but then she realized that he had probably sacrificed many dreams when he adopted her. That was one dream, at least, that she had been able to give back to him. It had been a wonderful trip. Their beautiful black and orange framed against white snow, those tigers were a photographer's dream. Tony had taken some of his best photos on that trip... and so had she. He had photographed tigers and she had photographed him, absorbed in his work and as young in spirit as if he'd been a teenager. She loved those photos. All she had to do was look at them and Tony was right there with her, laughing, pointing out some trick of light or color, pointing out some object of beauty or showing her the beauty of something most people didn't see as beautiful.

But there would be time to think about this later. The others were waiting for her on the beach now to give his ashes to the wind and rejoice in a life of a man they had each and every one been blessed to know.