Where I Write

Where I Write
A room of My Own

September 16, 2014

How Does Your Garden Grow?

My friend Goldie lived in this house for more than 45 years with her husband, Tony, on Umatilla Street in Denver. They lived with his parents for half of those years, and Tony's mother didn't like Goldie. That's another story for another day, but talk about marrying someone for better or worse.

A  few years after Tony died, she sold the house and moved to Texas to be close to her brother only to realize she wanted to live the rest of her life in Denver. So she packed up and moved back to Colorado. By then her house was owned by a young couple with a golden retriever. We even met them.

Each time I visited Goldie in Denver, and I mean each time, we would drive by her former house on Umatilla Street. As I said, we even met the new owners. We would stroll by the house reminiscing, and once we took a photo of Goldie in front of her beloved home. Always Goldie would say what a big mistake she had made letting go of the house. She wished she had never sold the brick bungalow with the wood floors, high ceilings, located in a neighborhood she loved. There was a lifetime of memories for Goldie behind that front door, even if it wasn't her front door anymore.

When I was back in Colorado visiting Goldie this summer, of course we drove by the house again. Lo and behold the house was gone. Poof! The entire house had been torn down and something new was being constructed in its place. The land was there, but no brick bungalow. Goldie and I just stood and stared. I was so surprised and bummed, I forgot to take a photo.
 In the movie Frozen (okay it's a kids movie but it was fun) one of the songs is about letting go. The message in the song is more about being true to oneself, but I think it can be applied to holding on to stuff, or old ideas, or anything that keeps us from moving forward. Proceeding as my friend Sandy says.

 Yet letting go is easier sung than done.  That song came to mind when I found this slip of paper stuck to the  bottom of a table I purchased at a thrift store last week. Apparently, the table was once the property of William and Alice. I felt as if I was stealing when I removed the tag though there's a good chance William and Alice are dead. Or not. Either way somebody said this table has got to go. Even if we slap a "property of" tag on something we possess, eventually it won't belong to us. I don't think heaven has storage units. Maybe hell, but everything would just burn up, anyway.
The city where William and Alice lived is known as a retirement community here in Arizona. Maybe their kids donated the table. Do you wonder if your kids are going to cherish, and keep, all your possessions as much as you have? Or maybe your stuff will end up at an estate sale or thrift store. Alice and William could have been downsizing. Doesn't matter. For now this solid wood, tiled table is mine all mine. Ten dollars. Score! Actually, I'm hoping heaven is just one big thrift store with sparkly shoes that fit my big feet  and look new.

There's a little bit of hoarder in all of us, even if look with pity, or even contempt  at the hoarders on reality television. We all have stuff we like to keep.  We might not keep furniture, but we might old photos. We might not stay in the same house, but we might cling to an old dream.

So now I don't really need, or have room for this other table. But still I hesitated to let it go. When I was young, and seemed always to be moving, I lived that let it go song all the time.  Now even the thought of moving exhausts me. I grow fond of stuff so easily. Recently, I was challenged to ask myself three times a day this question. What am I holding on to? At first I thought I wouldn't be holding on to much each day, but surprise surprise. So now it's my turn to let go of a table.

Below is the messiest thing in my house. Well, I have some drawers that would make people cringe, but oh well. I let go of trying to be perfect a long time ago, as my friends will attest.
This is the image board for my novel. My goal was to not take down this assortment of collected images, which symbolize characters, settings or ideas in my novel, until I was finished with the darn book. It's hard to let go of that goal, or dream some may say, but I'm renovating my office. Time for me to belt out that song about letting go. Doesn't mean I'll quit the novel, but it's time to let go of all this stuff hanging up on my wall, to get it out of the way for the workers to work on making my office look beautiful. I won't die if it is gone, in fact I might even feel lighter.

So after Goldie and I stared at her house that day, we got back into the car and drove away. I worried Goldie would be sad, maybe even cry. But not a tear. We ate lunch at the Country Buffet and gossiped and giggled  as we always do. Then we returned to her apartment which is just so sweet and shiny, safe and new. She picked some squash she had grown in the community garden and showed me her tomatoes and lettuce, too.

Without having to say so, I knew Goldie had finally let the house go. If we can release the old to let in the new, who knows how our gardens will flourish and grow.

September 2, 2014

Giant Heads


My journey into the land of giant heads began this spring in Panama when I came across this art work.  I found the heads interesting and odd. Were they the children of the amazing Easter Island sculptures? There's something mystical and intriguing about heads minus bodies. Floating heads, unencumbered by  torsos, seem to have great knowledge and wisdom.  I kept waiting for them to speak to me, but they were fussy and uncommunicative.

I have so many questions I need answered about life.  Number one.. why  have people become so odd about food these days? Tell me that head.  I actually had a lady at the restaurant the other day announce she must eat soy free, gluten,  dairy and sugar free. The chef just shook his head when I told him. Poor chef. The woman ate a dry salad and drank water. Why bother. Is that really living? Why oh why has this happened in 2014? The heads must know. Another one..why do mean people live forever and ever and good people die young? Tell me that, would you, big head.

Anyway, I didn't think much more about heads until this summer when I was in Chicago's  Millennium Park and met his man, or perhaps woman. Not sure. Hard to tell without a body.
I thought of the smaller heads I'd seen in Panama and wondered maybe if this was from where all the little heads sprang. I wanted to ask this head a question,  but it wouldn't open its eyes up and appeared to be in an endless sleep. Dreaming big thoughts I bet. I left it alone because in the distance I saw an even larger, white, head. You can glimpse it between the two buildings. I wanted to make a pilgrimage to the head, sure it had answers to my profound questions, but we were running late for the train and my friends weren't all that interested in giant heads. They have no imaginations or maybe they just wanted to get back in time for happy hour. I will have to wait to find out why I haven't finished my novel yet. Oh wait. I know why. I keep procrastinating.  I don't need a head to tell me THAT.

I didn't think much more about massive heads until I was in Tucson this weekend and stumbled across another big guy or girl.
Inside this head is a cocktail lounge. Finally a place I could find answers to questions such as why does the skin under my arms flap when I wave. Okay I know that's fat and age, but maybe it knows the winning lottery numbers.

Unfortunately it was morning, and the head wasn't accepting any visitors. So I went thrift store shopping instead with friends.  I might make another journey to Tucson, if nothing else but to ask the head to tell me a joke or two. If the head won't chat, then the tipsy patrons surely will. Skeptical that a head that is a bar would know the answer to the cure for cancer. Maybe.

Speaking of a joke, I saw this sculpture in front of a hip new hotel and let's just say I'm glad it wasn't talking to me, either. I don't even want to know it's backward view of life.

August 28, 2014

One of the first books I ever read, and loved with all my heart, were the ones written by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  The collection of her books is pictured above. I still have each of them and never have tired of reading the  pioneer girl's stories. (I refused to watch the television show Little House on the Prairie for several reasons one being it competed with my imagination which didn't have pa looking as actor-handsome as Michael Landon. In real life, from the two photos I've seen,  Pa had a long, wild beard. Though I've seen no photos of a smiling pa, it's doubtful  he had Michael's sparkling Hollywood teeth. I'm thinking there were few dentists on the prairie that did teeth whitening.)

I'd curl up in my middle class suburban home of the 1960s and be transported to a place where clear creeks bubbled, the air smelled like wild flowers and the sound of one's own heartbeat was easy to hear. And the people were fine and good and never did bad things.

From reading the books multiple times, a firm idea about what life was like for Laura and her family cemented in my mind and stayed there for more than 50 years. Until now with recent news that shattered my illusion.

Wearing what I'm assuming were their best dresses is Carrie  on the left, Mary in the middle and Laura on the far right. Sister Grace came in later books. In the books, Laura and her sisters were thrilled to get a candy cane at Christmas in a tin cup. They were happy just having a warm place to sleep and matching dresses that looked like picnic table cloths.

There was no talk of jealousy or wanting more, gratefulness for the simple things, or even nothing, was the rule of the day. In my neighborhood everyone competed to have a bigger car, or better clothes, or a nicer house. Life in Laura's world was kinder, people helped each other, and cared about each other, dropped what they were doing to forge a river, put on a roof or cut down a tree. Or so I thought.

Laura's first book transported me to the cabin in the big woods of Wisconsin where Laura and Mary curled up on snowy winter nights, listening to Pa play his violin while ma sewed and baby Carrie slept in her cradle, a cheerful fire crackling nearby. Sure Pa had to work hard to feed the family, and Ma was always busy doing yucky stuff like making soap or scrimping to make ends meet, but there was a lot of love and joy. The words divorce or martial discord were not even in the dictionary. Not for the Ingalls family or for anyone else in Laura's world, or so the books made it seem.

In the book when Laura's family moves to the prairie, I still believed  in the purity of the world the author created on the page. Sure they lived in the middle of no where, on Native American land, but I brushed aside  those pesky details and felt the excitement when Pa put glass windows in the small house he built, or Laura and Mary romped in the muddy creek with their faithful bulldog Jack.

People worked hard, did the right thing, encountered hardships but never complained. No one was trying to be better than the other person, except maybe Nellie Olsen, but even she didn't have that much stuff to brag about like a trip to Disneyland. So what if she had new ribbons in her curls. At least she wasn't bragging to me about her dad's new Oldsmobile.

 The books went on with Laura telling the story of her family's move to the Banks of Plum Creek and the Shores of Silver Lake and then finally the prairie of South Dakota where she met her husband who I assumed was a gentle and wonderful man, just like all the other people Laura wrote about.

Here is Laura and Almanzo Wilder shortly after their wedding day. Her coat is likely trimmed with something her husband caught in a river or creek which is creepy, but I forgave her because I knew there were no big department stores like where my mom worked as a sales clerk. Moms didn't work as sale's clerks then and give kids keys to let themselves in after school.

As a child, I needed this idealized version of Laura's life which she wrote about in her books because I grew up in a place that looked perfect from the outside. The lawns were mowed, and the driveways swept, and the children's clothes washed clean and people drove new cars and dressed tastefully, but I knew that ugly reality, and all its imperfections, lurked behind those trimmed shrubs and manicured lawns with color coordinated patio furniture.

I wanted to believe divorce, and infidelity, depression, addictions and all the other stuff Oprah talks about on television, didn't happen to the people in Laura's world which was so sweet and simple. The world just oozed with goodness. While in my neighborhood people gossiped about Mrs. Schrump having whiskey in her ice tea glass, Mr. Miller seeing other woman, the boys across the street that broke into people's houses, life in Laura's world was stellar and safe.

Even as I got older, I clung to this belief. Perhaps as an antidote to reality television. Or to my own family and the people I grew up with in my suburban neighborhood.

My illusion, or some may say delusion, is now shattered with the news that the author, Laura Ingalls Wilder (pictured above looking all jaunty in a hat which again looks as if once again some animal died for its creation) wrote an autobiography. It is titled Pioneer Girl the annotated Autobiography and will be published in September by the South Dakota Historical Society.

The book will be the adult version of Laura's life as a pioneer girl. It will include domestic violence, love triangles and a man setting himself on fire after drinking too much whiskey. I also read that the dear bulldog Jack may have been given away to strangers. Gasp. And this is just the start. Say it isn't so Laura!

 I don't need more reality in my life. I want to retain that image of happy people living off the land and being satisfied with simple pleasures like church dances and eating pancakes with maple syrup and ugly dresses. It pains me to learn that Laura's life contained all the stuff of, well, this book.

Oh well if Laura was alive today she might enjoy the truth being told. Maybe as she wrote the children's books she thought what a bunch of poop this is and I just want to be set free to tell what really happened.

Myself I just wish I could stay in the snug little cabin in the Wisconsin woods with snow falling gently outside, deer roaming nearby, fire burning bright, with Laura and Mary and Pa and Ma and baby Carrie, dear furry Jack snoring by the front door, and never have to venture outside to the big, bad world of sex drugs and rock and roll, at least not until it was time to make soap. That sounded like way too much work.

August 11, 2014

The Girl's Locker Room

As part of my high school reunion last week, a tour was planned of my alma mater, James B. Conant. As one of the current science teachers, John Shoro, generously took his time to explain and show us the many changes at the high school, I began to feel as if I didn't recognize the place I'd spent four years. There were more windows, the latest technology and sky lights, for goodness sakes, in the cafeteria.

Until the tour stopped near the girl's locker room. Pushing open the girl's locker room door and stepping inside felt as if I had crossed a cosmic threshold and been sent back to 1974. No drugs needed. Only when looking into mirror, which I swear was the same mirror from the 1970s, all battered and foamy, was I reminded that I was not 16 anymore. Darn. The place smelled the same too, a combination of worn tennis shoes, sweaty gym socks and old flooring.

That green tiled room pictured above was the girl's showers. That room scared me more than Math class, or Vice Principal Butler.  It looks exactly the same, as if it had been preserved in time for us to visit, a shrine of sorts to the gym locker Gods. Or demons. Girls were required to take showers after gym. The only way you could get out of taking a shower, or so I thought, was if you had your menstrual period and then you would say M to one of the nasty gym teachers. (I won't name names, as they are probably dead now, but I can still see their scowling and pinched faces.) The gym teacher would write M in some official-looking book. I'd say M quietly, fearing I'd be challenged, but I always got away with not getting naked. May I say I think the female gym teachers of the 1970s would have been way nicer if they could have let their rainbow flags fly. No judgement. Just saying.

After talking with several other women on the tour last week, I learned that no one liked taking the showers. In fact, everyone said they avoided them. I swear I remember a bunch of naked girls in that green tiled room, but I guess we were all escaping the hot water.  I thought I was the only one horrified to get naked in front of everyone. Now I go to spas and get massages, yada yada, outdoor hot tubs where people soak naked, but when you're a teenager and insecure about all your body's changes...really? Scary. We laughed and took photos of ourselves dancing around with our clothes on in the shower because, though we might not be teenagers anymore, sometimes we still act as if we are.  And there were no gym teachers there to yell at us to stop. Nah nah.

This is what our gym uniform looked like. It had snaps and our name stenciled on the fabric. I always felt so ugly in my gym uniform, but then who would  feel attractive in a navy blue romper? No wonder women my age like to wear cute yoga pants and fun tight t-shirts to exercise. Remembering these ugly outfits makes one want to wear something pink and tight or at least without an elastic waist. No wonder I dreaded gym, and not just because I was crummy at field hockey and gymnastics.
This might just look like an average bulletin board to you, but this bulletin board held the fate of many aspiring pom pom girls. It is in the entry way of the girl's locker room. STILL. Forty years later. It was board were the list was posted for those who made the pom pom squad each year following try outs. It was the place were I cried when I did not make the squad. It is the place where I jumped with joy when I did make the pom pom squad.
Seeing the board made me want to write or post something there. I don't know what. I do know that I made sure to ask our teacher tour guide, John Shoro, many questions and learn because I realize now that my pom pom abilities of smiling and shaking shiny stuff in the air didn't always equate with career success.  Maybe I could write that on the bulletin board. Have fun girls, but listen to your teacher and don't get sent into the hall a lot for talking too much in class about pom pom try outs.

Even if the locker room still had the scary shower, and smelled stinky, I think if there had been cocktails served us girls would have stayed awhile and had a drink together and chatted. As long as we didn't have to take off our clothes I think we would have been just fine.