Where I write

Where I write

May 29, 2015

The Perfect Place to Write

      My first thought when  I saw this antique desk in a historic hotel last weekend in Prescott, Arizona was that if I owned this desk I would surely become a successful writer. The stained glass lamp, heavy chair, solid wood, would all conspire to help me write better and smarter and maybe even faster This looks like the desk where the great writers such as Mark Twain or Virginia Wolf would write.The words written at such a desk would change the world. 

     My desk and office lacks the same perfection and brilliance. Mine looks much less serious and important, much like my writing feels at times. My office doesn't look like where I imagine a book would be written that would be remembered through the ages. Or win any groovy monetary prizes, either. 
     Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful for my office, but on days when I'm having a particularly difficult time writing, when each word is like pulling out a tooth, I would like to change where I write. Not just my desk, but my entire office. I want to move it to a place where I would be more brilliant and successful.
   Maybe if I wrote in a room like this surrounded by books. This was the library of the retreat center I visited last fall in Oregon. All those books would be inspiring and perhaps through osmosis I would be able to channel all those wise and witty writers into my own work. On the other hand, I might never get any writing done because I would plop myself into that chair and just read, forget about writing entirely.
    Maybe when I looked out the window of my office and saw this rainforest scene I would be inspired. This was the view of the jungle from my hotel room in Costa Rica. Surely I would write lovely stories with this out my window rather than what I have today.
    This is my non inspiring view That mobile does make a pretty sound when the fan hits the bells, but it's not like the gorgeous symphony of sounds the  birds sang in the rainforest. However, the rain forest has a lot of bugs, some big enough to feel snug in my size 10 shoe. As much as I was in awe of the jungle, the desert where I live has way less bugs and that's okay with me.
   Sure there are times I think if I lived in a bright yellow house with pristine white curtains all by myself by the ocean, like this hotel in Costa Rica where we stayed, I would write and write and write and never be tempted to clean out my closet. Eventually, I would have to do laundry and sweep so that is unrealistic, too. Life always interrupts writing, but is up to us to decide how much we will let it intrude. 

  There's no perfect place to write. Wherever I go there I am. It's my butt in the chair, whether the chair is rickety or solid. I could be looking at a brick wall or a volcano. What matters is what happens between my mind and my fingers on the keyboard. As pretty as this shot of a volcano was that I photographed, it wasn't perfect for long. The next day it was pouring rain and foggy. Life is perfectly imperfect. 

   The following saying has nothing to do with writing, but I saw it in Nosara Costa Rica on a wall and had to share.  Wait. Maybe it does have something to do with writing. If I expect good things for my writing and I desire to write...I will write and respect myself. I admire people who write. All of you. Wherever you write. Just write. I will mirror you. 

May 22, 2015

Grandma's Golden Rules

     After more than three decades in business, the Landmark Restaurant is closing. I've never been to the restaurant because it's in Mesa. I live in Phoenix, and I have gotten lazy about driving to anything that is more than twenty minutes from my house. 
     The dining public is always looking for something new and it says something about both the food and management if a restaurant  has stayed open longer than the life of a gold fish. I imagine this place must have done something right to be open 31 years. 
    I learned about the restaurant closing in the local daily newspaper which included a quote from a councilman who said he visited the Landmark Restaurant monthly. Here's what Dennis Kavanaugh said, "The food was consistently  good, but I felt like I was eating at my grandmother's home so I always had to be on my best behavior."
    Really? Mr. Councilman how would you like to act in public? Do you want to take off your shirt and burp? What is wrong with being on one's best behavior at a restaurant? Perhaps the red brick and white shutters of the Landmark reminded him of church, or school, but must a restaurant be stainless steel and concrete floors? I'm tired of feeling as if I'm dining in a warehouse.
     I am weary of the word hip and modern, of restaurants trying so hard to look cool. I yearn for the days when people had manners when they dined out. And yes, councilman, I did behave at my Grandma's house. 

Below is a photo of my grandmother serving coffee to my Aunt Louise. At my grandma's house I did not swear, or speak loudly or interrupt adults. I said please and thank you. I felt special because I knew my grandma loved me. She made delicious potato salad and served drinks in tall frosted glasses. We told stories and laughed at grandma's house. I behaved and still had fun.
 This is the inside of the Landmark Restaurant. Sure the china cabinet, white table cloths and chandeliers are dated but I find it refreshing. I'm sure the carpet mutes the noise of conversations and people dining in such a setting might think twice before opening up a lap top and doing work. My goodness people here might actually think twice before shouting on a cell phone. They might not let a child run around the restaurant as if they are at McDonald's Play Land. People in such a setting might have conversations with one another without having to compete with loud and annoying music.
   I'm tired of restaurants that look like my old high school cafeteria. I don't want to be served by a woman in a football t-shirt. I want a chair that cushions my back. Is it too much to ask to have a server who doesn't plop down on the seat next to me and acts as if he or she is my new best friend? I'm tired of nose piercings.  I'm not hip. I'm not cool. And I don't have a tattoo. 

     Alright I know I'm ranting. But for a change it might be fun to go to a restaurant and be greeted at the door by this woman.

      Usually hostesses are indifferent or chirpy. Would it be so horrible to be greeted by a woman in white shoes and ruffled apron? Sometimes I can't differentiate the hostesses, usually dressed in something tight and black, from the other guests. Today's hostesses are usually young, beautiful and indifferent. I bet this woman in the photo would guide me to a table, pull out the chair and speak politely. I'd love this if for nothing else to look at her hat. She'd fit right in at the Landmark. Alas, that might be the problem. She's not hip enough.

   Alright alright I'm dating myself. I'll stop. My friend Gloria says I write if I am an old woman. I try to stay open minded but I've seen the changes of how people behave in restaurants, of the design in restaurants and, when even a councilman whines that he doesn't want to behave, I just have sigh. I just hope the councilman remembers the other golden rule grandma's teach, to wash his hands after he goes to the bathroom.

   Finally here is a photo of my grandma holding me. What struck me is how my grandma is starting to look younger and younger in the photos. How the heck is that happening? She used to look as old as the pyramids. And look at the clean white kitchen in the background to the left. That is where I went to the college of behaving myself. Thank you grandma for the education.

April 15, 2015

Fear of Flying..

     My mother tap danced when she was a little girl. No my mother wasn't Shirley Temple, but I always pictured her looking like Shirley Temple. Patent leather shoes, frilly dress, impish smile. Growing up, I watched Shirley dancing in old black and white movies,  and hearing those  sharp and bright clicks and clacks made me want to do the same. Life looked happier tap dancing.

    I might be wrong, but when I was growing up my town lacked a dance studio. In any case, I never took dance lessons as a kid. My mother's casual comments about her childhood tap dancing stayed with me. I wanted to be like her and Shirley. I wanted to don twirly dresses and make joyful sounds with my feet. I wanted to be a tap dancer.

    Alas it wasn't to be until about ten years ago when a tap class was offered at the local community college. The school even provided shoes. Granted the tap shoes were child-like, patent leather with bows, but I jumped, or shall I say, tapped at the chance. Hilary, the dance teacher was kind and patient. The class moved slow, and my brain and feet moved faster then.  I had just bought my own pair of tap dance shoes when the college canceled the tap classes for lack of interest and never offered them again. I tossed my tap dance shoes in the closet.

   There the shoes remained in the dark silence, until about a year or so ago. By chance I saw  an advertisement for a dance studio that offered tap. Remembering my college experience as pleasant and though not that easy, something I could do fairly well, I attended my first tap class at the local dance studio.

      I felt as if I landed in rehearsals for Dancing with the Stars. The women at the dance studio were serious. They were all practicing a routine as if they were about to be on Broadway. Surely, I thought, these women were all taught to dance as children because this couldn't be the first time they slipped on tap shoes. I felt slow and plodding, and the weak link in the class. I would have been the first to be tossed off the dance island.

     The studio billed the class as fun and welcoming to all. Everyone was nice, but they were serious. As time passed, I recognized what a blow it was to my ego to realize how lacking I was in advanced tap dance skills. Oh yes I can tap, but compared to these women in the class...I wanted to quit. Why should I put myself through this humiliation when clearly... I sucked?

. Because it was good for me.  I wasn't being shamed. Well, not by anyone but myself. I was learning. I had fun when I stopped comparing myself to everyone else. I remembered how I felt in my initial writing class. My journalism teacher put so much red ink on my first assignment it looked as if the paper bled. I didn't give up. I understood there is a learning curve. But time has passed. These days, I like to feel in control and in charge. I like to feel like I'm smart. Dare I say, at times, a know it all. However, life keeps showing me time and again I have a lot to learn.  There's a lot of mistakes to be made still in my life. Thank goodness I have the chance.

.  So I continued with tap dancing, and when my ego felt wounded I told myself that there are people who struggle just to have clean water and food each day. My problem with not learning the steps fast enough to a Michael Jackson song seemed far less important. And then surprise surprise with practice I got better. I did well. Recently, the dance studio closed for good, but I'm going to keep tap dancing. Somewhere.

     I found this book at the thrift store recently and enjoyed the quotes. Here's one which sums up what I hope to adapt as not just my dancing motto, but life in general.  It was said by, of all people, Sam Walton. So if some of you can put aside your dislike of Walmart, the evil empire, here it is.

      Celebrate your success and find humor in your failures. Don't take yourself so seriously. Loosen up and everyone around you will loosen up. Have fun and always show enthusiasm. When all else fails put on a costume and sing a silly song.

     Unsure if Sam followed this advice. He's dead now, but I appreciate the words. As I do this photo of Shirley. She's flying! Whatever makes our feet lift off the ground, we need to do more of and not worry a bit about how it may or may not look. Never be afraid to fly.  With or without tap shoes.


April 2, 2015

Sugar and Spice and everything is not so nice....

      Here I am, a sweet little girl dressed in pure white standing between my dear cousins who came to celebrate my first communion. Ah but all is not as it seems. Behind that innocent smile was less sugar and everything was not nice.

     Oh yes I behaved like a good girl. I was polite to adults and listened to my teachers. I didn't sit on my little brother and try to squish him. Not that often. I ate all my vegetables and behaved. I loved my parents.  I did as I was told. I never was sent to the principal's office or fought with my friends.
     Until I took out my Barbie doll and became. Well...nasty.
      My best friend Gloria said to me once as we played with our dolls in my bedroom, "you get so mean when we play Barbies." I remember thinking she was right. I did. But her comment didn't stop me. I secretly liked being bad. My Barbie was sassy and bossy and didn't want anyone to tell her what to do.  She didn't say yes. She said no. A lot. She argued. Not just with the other Barbies, or Midge or Skipper, but also with her boyfriend, Ken. He could do no right.
    My Barbie and Ken wore these same outfits to the beach.   Ken sure was a snazzy dresser. His sandals even matched his red bathing suit. And what about the peppermint stripped cover up he is wearing? Maybe I felt threatened and upset with Ken because he turned the heads of not just the women, but some of the men, at the beach, too.

   One Christmas Santa brought me the Barbie dream house and the sport's car. I was thrilled. I wouldn't let my friends drive the car. When they visited my house, I made sure they did not mess up my cardboard chair and matching ottoman or play with the stereo without my permission. It was my dream house. When I played with my Barbie, I was the one in charge. In real life, I let my friends romp all over my bedroom but when it came to my Barbie Dream House...the boundaries were drawn tight.
   At my Barbie dream house no one could tell me when to go to bed or what dress I had to wear to school. I could wear my high heels and earrings all day long and never clean my room if I didn't want to clean. I didn't have to share a thing with my pesky little brother. I could spend entire days at the beach with Ken, assuring him red was his color. Then call Midge on the phone and tell her off. And I didn't even drink wine then so I couldn't use the excuse it was the liquor talking.

  When I put my  Barbie away in her plastic case, I became my  good little girl self again. Certainly, a therapist could  analyze this and use phrases like repressed anger, and perhaps the experts would be correct. Or maybe I was just exercising an emotional muscle that I never had a chance to practice in my real good girl life. Eventually, I put away Barbie permanently and also learned to people please less and assert myself more. Took time but I thought I found the right balance.

   Until recently. I seem to have lost my filter. I worry I've become like my former neighbor Francis. She was in her 80s by the time I met her. A few months before she died the two of us were sitting and chatting near our townhomes. Another neighbor passed by, a young woman, and Francis blurted, "she's fat." I'm sure the woman heard. I felt terrible. But Francis didn't. Then Francis told me that my dog at the time, Buddy, was gay. "He likes other boy dogs," she said Which was true. But still.

    I once had a Midge doll. I cut her hair and used a mascara wand to dye it black. I think I must have been angry at someone to do this to poor Midge. I'm thinking in order to retain my friendships I might need to get dolls. Each time I want to say something that I should keep to myself such as, "why are you dating that loser?" Or, "are you really going to waste money again on that?" This is not a good way to keep friendships. Instead,  I will let the doll say all my mean thoughts just as I did when I was 10 year's old.

   But then sitting home surrounded by dolls and talking to them may not be the best idea. I'm thinking instead to pour all my opinions and biases and petty jealousies into the characters I write. Pretend when I write that I'm playing Barbies again and just let it all loose, to the fictional world rather than the real world. I'll embrace my inner nasty Barbie. As a result, I might be able to maintain a few more friendships so I'm not completely alone when my time comes.

    For those of you who don't like to write I would lend you my Midge doll but I threw her in the trash one day. Then I smiled and looked oh so sweet again.