Where I Write

Where I Write
A room of My Own

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.

July 16, 2014

If I had a second chance....

I'm returning home for my high school reunion in August and a tour is planned of James B. Conant, where I spent four years of my oh so fleeting, or so I realize now, young teenage life. On the day of the tour I wish I could hop into a time machine, set it for 1974, and go back and do some things over again that I missed out on doing the first time.

Just for one day I would be one of those girls who smoke cigarettes in the bathroom. I want to know what it felt like to be puffing away in a stall,  knowing any minute a teacher might bust me. Oh the thrill.

One time my friend Debbie Kraft and I went into the  bathroom to practice are pom pom routines and some of those tough girls were in there smoking. We scurried away, a cloud of smoke trailing behind us. The girls wore black and sneered at us. I think one might have even kicked the door behind me. Shudder. These  weren't the type of girls who would appreciate watching us dancing around, kicking our legs and smiling. Actually I can't blame them as we were a bit too rah rah at times. Those bad girls wore dark eyeliner and teased their hair. I'd like to get rid of my pig tails with the bows that matched my blue and white pom pom uniform, and be one of those tough girls just for one day. I want to be a girl who wore hickeys on their necks planted there by the kind of boy who I yearned to ask me out on a date.

A boy like this. A greaser.  One of those guys who slicked back their hair so it shined and had a cool motorcycle or a fast sport's car, a Camaro or a Trans Am. The greaser did everything fast. And these kind of guys drank beer and didn't care if they got bad grades cause they were so cool. They weren't even afraid of the Vice Principal Butler. Scary. I'd like to strut down the halls of James B. Conant, my greaser boyfriend's smoke-scented black leather jacket across my shoulders. He would be named Frankie.

And on that same day I'd like to have a boy kiss me by my locker. He doesn't even have to be a nasty, sexy greaser. Any kind of boy. I want him to stand at my locker and we would smooch secretly, but still have other people see us and know I kissed boys. Oh sure it was fun in high school to have my girlfriends decorate my locker on my birthday, and giggle when we met there between classes, but I want some lip action. And maybe I'd even get caught by Vice Principal Butler then sit in detention knowing it was worth the punishment because I made out by my locker.
Next I would go to the juke box in our cafeteria and play a song. I would actually be brave enough to walk right up, hit a button, and play Led Zeppelin or Grass Roots or even Linda Ronstadt. In high school a group of hippie kids sat by the jute box. They looked all shaggy, these people, and their clothes didn't match.They scared me. I don't know why.  I never even ventured near the jute box as if afraid they might...I don't know what, make me smoke pot. That might have been nice. 

The more I started thinking about it all, I realized I did all that stuff, but after I graduated from high school. It was if I was trying to make up for lost time.

I  picked up smoking, then had to struggle to quit, had a boyfriend with motorcycle, had to dump him because he was mean, worked as a waitress in bars and played the jute box music plenty of times. I even danced to jute box music now and then.  I brought myself a 1977 Camaro which I beat to the ground and went plenty fast myself with a a few speeding tickets to prove my recklessness. I moved to Colorado and became a hippie with plenty of pot to smoke.

 I never did kiss a boy by a locker.  No regrets, yet there is one thing I would like to do on the high school tour.

Sit in the high school library. Okay I'm not THAT old. This isn't my high school library. I confess. I don't even know what my high school library looked like. I have not one memory of ever being in there.  In high school, I was too busy waving my pom poms in the air, gossiping with my girlfriends and dreading math class. This I regret most of all, especially because I'm sure it would have helped me in later years in college when I realized I didn't know how to study or write research papers worth a darn. Oh my poor high school teachers.

After high school, there were many times when the library was my best friend. When I was broke and lonely, I could always find books and thanks to them I felt joy, companionship and knowledge. When I was happy, I loved the library just as much. I still do today.

Maybe on the high school tour I'll get to sit in the James B. Conant library awhile and pretend I'm 16 again. I'll even open a book. Then I might see if someone, preferably a man under 80 year's old, will kiss me by a locker, holding books I took out at the library. But no hickeys.