Thursday, August 05, 2010

Sunday, August 30, 2009

whichever way she lands...

In May 2006, I got this as a tattoo. It's the second of two I have.

The first was engraved in 1998, in summertime. The what and the where were a perfect fit. I was feeling strong again, after a long period of despondency. My renewed power came from my core and I wanted to mark my resurgence with permanence. And thus I became the Atomic Gal.

I've stumbled some in the intervening years, and I've gotten down again. But my first tattoo remains a touch-point, literally. It reminds me what I'm capable of, and of the depths I've reached (as well as the highs). It is a potent symbol, but easily misread; at quick glance, it could be a flower, its loops like petals; the dot in the center might be a seed.

But to me, with its circularity and symmetry, with its simple order, it signifies power, resilience and strength. And for many years, I was content with this one simple, secret tattoo.

And then came the Hurricane. And my divorce. What Katrina didn't do, my ex did. House gutted. Security stolen. Mementos lost to me, washed away to another shore.

It took years to account for the extent of the damage. Times many times over of looking for this thing or that (a kitchen utensil; a Christmas ornament; a book, a cd, a photograph), and realizing that I didn't have it anymore because he did. He took it with his leaving, believing it his right. And I never had a chance to say goodbye.

These things were lost to me (along with many people - many of them once cherished). And though it took years to count the losses, I realized right away what I still had.

I was, despite this misfortune, lucky. I lost a man (who proved by his manner of leaving that he wasn't really worth all the crying); I lost some stuff. But I had - and still have - a family who loves me, friends who support me, and plenty enough talent and wits to survive and surmount any tragedy or obstacle. I also had a comfortable place to live, the same one as pre-K; one without damage or flooding or blue tarp on the roof. I could only feel so sorry. Mostly I counted my blessings.

And I resolved to never take them for granted. I am the recipient of untold gifts, many due to the accident of birth and some due to grace (I strive to be kind and meet much of the same). I resolved to continue to earn it. I made a promise to do good by me, and marked this promise on my body, etched it into the most tender of skin (and had it touched up three months later). I will not falter; I will walk on.

It's black and bold and nearly the size of a beer coaster. But to see it, you must be an intimate. I see it every time I shower, undress or pause to pee.

"Whichever way she lands, she lands on her feet."

It's a reminder that life is but a swirl. That downs come up again (and ups, inevitably, go down). That friends, family and inherent good matter. That I am stronger than I often think myself to be. That grace goes further than faith and sometimes we just gotta go with the flow.

songs of the transformed - courtesy, carissa

This poem was sent by an old friend and included in her response to my birthday post. Even after all these years, she can still read between the lines and tell me what I need to hear.

Thank you, Carissa.

Songs of the Transformed
by Margaret Atwood
from The Circle Game

Men with the heads of eagles
no longer interest me
or pig-men, or those who can fly
with the aid of wax and feathers

or those who take off their clothes
to reveal other clothes
or those with skins of blue leather

or those golden and flat as a coat of arms
or those with claws, the stuffed ones
with glass eyes; or those
hierarchic as greaves and steam-engines.

All these I could create, manufacture,
or find easily: they swoop and thunder
around this island, common as flies,
sparks flashing, bumping into each other,

on hot days you can watch them
as they melt, come apart,
fall into the ocean
like sick gulls, dethronements, plane crashes.

I search instead for the others,
the ones left over,
the ones who have escaped from these
mythologies with barely their lives;
they have real faces and hands, they think
of themselves as
wrong somehow, they would rather be trees.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

happy birthday to me: 39 and counting...

"She won't do anything she doesn't want to do. She doesn't give a damn what other people think of her. She is tremendously skilled. And she is unlike anyone I've ever met."
Dragan Armansky on Lisbeth Salander
from The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Stieg Larsson

It's been a quiet summer. And a boring one. On purpose. I haven't written much here because there simply wasn't much to say. Or, better to the truth, much I wanted to share. Because I blog under my own name, and am thus easily google-able, I've lost both job opportunities and dates to my online accountings. Sucky, but I suppose if they found something here they thought objectionable, we wouldn't be a good match anyway, whether for work or fun.

Furthermore, I don't think anything in this forum is sketchy; in fact, I know it's all rather reserved. I've got lots more I could say, and want to say, and I've been trying to get up the courage to get it out here.

I've been filling up notebooks and index cards with thoughts, drivel and observations. I have drafts of several essays I don't know what to do with. And I've been readingreadingreading. Mostly online, but books, too.

I recently inhaled "The Girl Who Played With Fire." (I liked it fine, but preferred the first of the series, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.") The passage above jumped out at me. Because I think that would be an amazing compliment if it referred to me.

I've never been a conformist. I couldn't give a shit about trends or cool, and I really don't care if you don't like me (and if "you" are a man, I don't care if I'm not sexy/hot in your opinion). I do expect respect (and because I tend to give it, I get it). I'm a professional at work, courteous in public, and loving/kind in my personal relationships. The older I get, the less I care what random others think of me. I meet hostility with disinterest and I have perfected the art of the ignore. It's likely I'll never be rich, but I'll always have my integrity. (Unfortunately, I did live in Stockholm for a few years; remind me to tell you about it...)

With this post, I'm coming back online. I'm off to Chicago in a few hours, to spend the weekend with a good friend, her husband and their two young daughters. I'm bringing andouille, books and Hubig's pies, as well as other treats.

I have been promised a birthday cake.

This will be a good year. I will make it so.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

on mother's day

This one's hitting me a lot harder than last year, my first year without a mom. Last year, I had Dad, hand-in-hand, across the table, a hug and quiet company. This year I am alone.

I talked to Dad yesterday, in the morning (my morning, his noon). He says it's been raining on Long Island, all week and expected all weekend. He says the lawn looks good. I say it's hot here, in New Orleans, almost 90 degrees each day. Summer has already come. We've only the humidity to look forward to.

He is stir-crazy, stuck in the house with all this rain, and the sun is beaming while we talk, making him antsy. He's bought flowers for the yard and wants to plant them. We close with that note. His need to get his hands dirty. To go outside and play.

We talk good now. Have conversations. This was not always the case. It took my mother's death and the year we mourned together to bring this change.

We spoke for thirty minutes yesterday. Enough time to cover all the bases (work, health, love, life) and share a story or two. We are both grateful for our boring lives - we talk every week and not much changes in the interim. We agree that this is nice - the boring - since change is a-coming or has just past (he is thinking retirement and a long-distance move; I am still settling in and hoping to settle down).

He did tell his plans for today, Mother's Day: visits to our ladies, his Mom and mine. Loretta and Natalie. Should he go through with it, it'll be a long day on the road: their gravesites are at least fifty miles apart. And he lives smack dab between them.

So do I. Despite the miles and the years (Granny died in 1982), I hover between these women. My north and south poles.

(What's that make the men? The tropics and circles around my world? Does that make my Dad the equator?)

I wrote the draft of this post, as I do much of my writing, in a bar. At the time of the scribble, it was 10:30pm, on a Sunday night in New Orleans (which is my Saturday night, and for a great many other, just another night), and there are only nine people here. Including the bartender.

Today, I went shopping - to Walmart (I know, I know. I'm poor.) and to the local grocery. Both were relatively empty. I waited no time to check out.

It seems most folks are with folks, with their families, with their mothers. I knew that Mother's Day was one of the busiest restaurant days of the year (up there with Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve), but who knew it could kill retail and decimate the pubs?

I sure didn't. Not until I was motherless.

Monday, March 23, 2009

je suis arrivée

... et je suis retournée.

I'm a lazy blogger. I admit it. It's obvious. The evidence is here, by its absence, in the archives. It's been almost two months since I've posted. BlogHer has had it with me and asked me to remove their code from my site. I've complied. I can make them no promises about my blogging frequency though I have the best of intentions. I mean, I write. I edit. But I don't post. Maybe it's an only child thing; I still have trouble sharing.

The following post was written on February 6th upon my arrival in New Orleans, my first night back home.

Note: It would have posted earlier if Mardi Gras didn't get in the way. Then all the settling into a new place. A place without a secure, private internet connection (yet). As it's been, I've been poaching from neighbors (intermittent and unreliable) or schlepping my computer to bars and coffeehouses (it's heavy and valuable and I bring it out only for must-do internet tasks, like paying bills). But enough excuses; let's get to it.

It is now 9:30pm, Friday February 6th. I arrived in town at 6pm. Since that time, I moved everything from my truck up to the apartment, lit a lamp and plugged in the radio. I put a few things away.

I brought only the most essential bits with me in the truck: cats, clothes, toiletries and personal papers. (Everything else has been shipped and will arrive - *fingers crossed* - on Monday.)

I also have a chair. I meant to pack it with the rest of the stuff but it needed fixin' and it needed to sit for the glue to set.

No matter. I'm glad I left it behind. Now I have a place to sit.

I do not, however, have a bed. I plan to sleep on the floor tonight. I have promise of a soft spot at a friend's house a few blocks away, but it is a few blocks away and I don't have the energy to pack a bag and head over there.

Plus it feels right to be here tonight. To christen it. And this way, I keep the cats company.

The cats. Since I acquired them in 1997, they have moved nine times, only twice locally. Among the long-distance moves, one was by plane (Philadelphia to New Orleans) and two were under great duress (out of and back into New Orleans surrounding Katrina, traumatic bookmarks to their idyllic hurrication in St. Augustine FL). For the move from New Orleans to Oxford, they rode with me in the cab of the moving truck. Leaving Oxford for Long Island, they camped in the bed of my pickup, which was trailer towed by a 26" moving truck (and driven by my dad). They were comfortable, I guess. They had blankets and food, a litter box. They had the whole space to themselves. All tolled, they spent two days back there, including the night in between.

Same thing this time. Babies in the back. Two days, one night. Food, litter and blankets. Except this time I was driving and they had but a fraction of the bed space. Most of it was taken up by my most essential bits.

Despite the presence of the litter box, there were a few "accidents." Mostly on the blankets. At least once in a plant, a rose bush, the offense absorbed by the cotton sheet protecting its branches (and protecting the cats from the thorns). All of it gratefully minor. Nothing on my bedding, thank goodness. If so, I'd be walking that walk to sleep tonight.

It is good to be back. It is different from when I left (as am I). It is more lively now (me, I am more subdued; certainly this evening after two days and 1400 miles on the road). I am living quite near a happening area. Stores, bars, restaurants and coffee shops - four of them, in fact, all within walking distance.

(One of the four is a Starbucks and therefore doesn't really count for me. I am not a fan. Except for the *bucks in the Atlantic Avenue LIRR Station in Brooklyn. And that's only because it has a relatively clean bathroom: a one-seater, somewhat roomy, with a lock that firmly locks. Granted, you usually have to wait for the loo, but after the ninety-minute train ride, it's well worth it.

I've never actually bought anything there. I just pee and go, but if I wanted a coffee at that moment, I might get one. It doesn't have the *bucks stink.

Maybe it's because it's upstairs from the RR tracks or because it's near the station exit and Brooklyn continuously wafts through its doors, but that *bucks is noticeably absent of the malodour that typically pervades the chain. The one in my new neighborhood is steeped in it. I'm lucky to have other options.)

This - the bars, shops and coffeehouses - is one side of my neighborhood. On the other side lies St. Charles and its streetcars, the clangs and the clanks.

At the center, however, it is deathly quiet. Literally. I border on a cemetery. A small one, yes, but still the domain of the dead. As for the rest of the neighbors, they are mostly families and rich folk who live behind gates.

I too live behind a gate. To get to my apartment door, you must have a key to access the courtyard. From there, you ascend twenty-three metal steps making a left-L about two-thirds up. At the landing, another left takes you to my door and into a sanctuary.

It is more beautiful and so perfectly me than I remember. It all happened so quickly, I came away with only an impression of the apartment.

In January, during my New Orleans recon mission, I found the apartment on craigslist and signed the lease less than six hours later. It was perfect timing.

It was also a complete disaster. The apartment, that is. (The tenant then was a nurse, one with long hours, slovenly habits and a poor sense of design.) Nonetheless, its attributes were apparent.

First things first: the location, the local amenities and the security features (you gotta be Spiderman to get in here.)

Next, the inside: high ceilings, hard-wood floors and big windows.

Outside: a balcony. Plus, a landing outside the door (covered) and a courtyard down below (perfect for storing my bicycle).

Last of all and crucially important: the price. It's right on. Smack in the middle of my affordable range. And the property manager is great.

Until I walked in this evening, however, I had no idea how truly perfect (for me) this apartment is.

On my first turn this evening, just me and my keys, I checked all the lights, the windows, and turned on the fans. I lit each burner on the gas(!) stove. Tested the pressure and temperature from each faucet. I flushed the toilet.

I ran the HVAC units through their phases and looked in all the cabinets.

I stepped out onto the balcony and looked through each window for the view.

Most people - wise ones - would have done all these things before signing the lease. I guess I could have, but the previous tenant was so obviously still in residence that to do so felt intrusive. I was in and out, a quick look-see. I trusted my gut (all signs said go) and figured I'd make do with the best of it and fix some of the worst.

Based on my inaugural review this evening, this apartment is even better than I suspected. The ceilings are higher, the windows bigger and the rooms larger. There are also more windows, two ceiling fans, and a kitchen with absolutely no counter space (the gas range compensates). The front room holds a fireplace and considering the ashy evidence, it might work.

I am looking forward to seeing the apartment in the morning. I am looking forward to my sleep tonight. I'll pad a cot in the middle of the living room. Just me and the height and the dead.

And perhaps a cat or two.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

  • my furniture arrived on time and without incident. To save my friends the backbreaking work, I hired movers. That decision flattened my finances, but it was worth it. I say only this: twenty-three steps.
  • the rose bush died. And my other plants are struggling. I left most of the plants with Dad. He takes good care of them, especially the palms. The plants I brought traveled in a plastic bin and drowned in the humidity. I've rescued a succulent and a philodendron, but the rose bush is history. Perhaps it's the climate change. Perhaps it's the move. Most likely, it's the urine. Since I moved it to the balcony, Iphi has repeatedly defied the thorns and defiled the soil. I've given up hope. I'll get a new one.
  • my apartment/neighborhood is very quiet at night, but it's a bustle during the day. I'm sandwiched between St. Charles and Prytania, both main drags for uptown/downtown travels. A constant flow of traffic and lots of feet on the streets too. Tourists goggling the houses and visiting the cemetery. Neighbor folk walking dogs and running errands. It's a pleasant buzz and nicely balanced by the lull of night.
  • the neighbors: we ain't all rich. Or familied. Among the stately homes, there are a smattering of apartments like mine. And like me, many of the inhabitants are single folk in the service industry or young professionals. My immediate neighbors (there are five units in this compound) all seem to fit that bill.
  • the fireplace: I don't think it works. It's gas and I see ash, but I smell nothing, hear nothing when I turn the valve. I've held fire to every place that might emit fuel, but no spark. In the bathroom, however, there is a heater that works. A pink wall-mounted job that does burst to action with a match. I don't need it now (it was 75 degrees today; it rarely goes below 55 at night), but it's another amenity I'm glad to have. (Especially since it's pink. And nothing else in the bathroom is. The tile is white and turquoise. With seahorses.)
  • the windows: of the seven in the apartment, only two open. The two fronting the balcony. All the rest are nailed or painted shut. Great for security but lousy for cross-breeze. Fortunately, I've got fans and AC units.
  • the balcony: there is no better place to be. When I get proper furniture, it'll be even better.
  • and and and: mardi gras. I worked for much of the build-up to the big day/big weekend. But the Sunday-Monday-Tuesday triumvirate was suitably silly and disparate (uptown, downtown and all around). Joyous, surprise reunions with friends ("you're back? you're really back?!"). And a high-stepping Fat Tuesday decked in my wedding dress.

Monday, January 26, 2009

i know what it means

My year-long Long Island half-life draws to a close. I'm leaving in ten days, just short of two weeks. My time here is done. It's time to move on.

I lost my job on December 31st. It was a fitting close to a lousy year, the year I've dubbed "The Year of the Living Dead."

2008 began with my mother's sudden and untimely death and my subsequent uprooting from my temporary digs in Oxford, MS. I never expected to stay there long but I thought it would be longer than seven months. I moved there with the prospect of "until..." but I signed the one-year lease on my little house in good faith and I remain grateful to my landlord for letting me exit earlier.

My return to Long Island was fraught with grief and the first few months were sodden with it. I lived with a cousin from February through October and while I'm grateful for the housing, it was not without drama. My cousin was (and still is) deep in divorce proceedings and struggling with various crises related to mid-life, child welfare, and new-found freedom, and all of that spiked by long-simmering familial discord.

The tension oozed through the walls, fueled by outside cell phone fights and inside chaos. It was, at times, more than I could ignore.

He did his best, my cousin, and he always did right by me. And he tries to do his best by his boys, but if there was ever a man who needed a woman to keep his life and home in order, my cousin is that man.

In November, I moved in with my Dad. Into the basement. Me and my cats. For me, it's been great (if quiet). The cats, however, have suffered. An infestation of fleas, followed by overall skin irritation and hair loss. Both cats have lost weight, getting skinny for the first time since they were kittens. I've moved them (for the first time) onto can food, in the hope of fattening them up. It is one small consolation for their unhappy living quarters. It's one way I try to make up for the dog.

Ah. The dog. Teddy. I wish I knew him as a pup. He's three years old now and a beast. Seventy or so pounds. Aggressive with other dogs and generally gentle around cats. The housecats here put up with him. Minky, the super fat one, hisses when he gets too close. Mo, the tough boy, boxes with him, bapping Teddy on the nose and putting him in his place. Ted chases and barks but mostly leaves alone. He is indeed a Teddy Bear and worships my father like a god.

(Since I lost my job, I spend a lot of time around the house. Ted, he mopes. Curled on the couch - ignoring me - waiting for my father to return home. And when he does, Teddy greets his arrival with an enthusiasm I recognize: "Daddy's Home! Daddy's Home!" As a child, during one rambunctious romp of my one-girl welcoming committee, I bounced backward off the couch and straight through the glass coffee table. No damage, fortunately, except for the table. Ted, thankfully, does considerably less damage in his excitement.)

I agree with the dog. My dad is a superhero. A true good man. Certainly, like all of us, he's got his parts to work on, but his heart is pure gold. My treasure this year, despite its loads of crap, is the deepened relationship with my father. We met again in grief - and he matched his with mine (his wife; my life) - and we found a friendship in between. This year was redeemed by his love.

A love that extends to my departure. He is very sad that I'm leaving. If he had his way, he'd keep me in the basement. But he understands, reluctantly, that a subterranean, suburban life is no life for me. He knows that I'm bored. He knows that I'm lonely. He knows I have to go. And he's given his blessing (and loaning his dollars) so that I can leave the place I was born and raised to return to the place I call home.

I toyed with Philadelphia, flirted with D.C. and fantasized about Berlin (all of which would have been more acceptable to my father than my eventual choice). He'd rather have me move halfway across the world than return to New Orleans, but that is where I'm going. I'm going back to New Orleans. I know what it means to miss New Orleans and there's no place I'd rather be.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

my new old digs

My cats have fleas and are miserable. They also hate the sunroom, their exile from the basement during the flea bombing. They're curious about the dog, who is curious about them, and I'm tempted to introduce them but for my fear of a massacre.

The house is quiet and clean and well-stocked with food. The neighborhood is cozy and familiar and each morning buzzes with leaf blowers.

My ride to work is short and sweet, with no traffic. I know all the stop signs by heart.

My mother is present in a photo here and there, but her spirit has long moved out. It's Dad's house now and I'm happy to share it with him.