New York in my Rear-View Mirror

It’s happened. After decades of waiting and wishing and dreaming, I finally visited New York. Think I went there filled with excitement? Truth is, I was flat terrified.

Why was I so scared?

How can I explain this? First, that town has gravitas in my family. It’s where my mother and grandmother were born. My Grandmother spent more than 70 years walking this earth and she never lost that New-Yawk accent. Or the assurance that came with it. And my Mom, with her birth certificate signed by LaGuardia himself, carried her birthplace through life like an imprimatur and shield. But I am only the descendant of Knickerbockers, not one myself. And the closer I got to takeoff, the more I felt like 18 different kinds of a Rube with less edge than a serving of Jello.

But guess what: New York is just a place, a city filled with lots and lots (and lots) of people. And not all of them are edgy fashion models. There’s tall ones, old ones, fat ones, thin ones, you get the general idea. But other than the fact that that they all seem to be in a hurry to get where they’re going, New Yorkers don’t seem that much different from everyone else. It’s just that there are so all-fired many of them. And they’re busy doing everything all the time.

Manhattan in Pictures

Of course, I was at some pretty touristy venues, some quintessential NYC spots. We hit the main library

Bryant Park

The theatre district

The the Strand Bookstore

Grand Central

And some other totemic places.

All gorgeous, all exciting, all fascinating. And when I came home, happy, tired, limping on both feet (which is hard to do, by the way) I wondered why I’d felt so intimidated. And whether the trip to New York would change how I look at my life.

See, this trip has been high on my bucket list for almost all of my life. And I was beginning to think I’d either never get there, or, if I did, it would be the last good thing in my life. (That’s what I get for re-watching Terms of Endearment.) But now that this trip’s in my rear-view mirror (and I’m still cancer-free) I’ve got a different perspective.

My kind of Happy Ending

Yes, I’m glad I made that trip. I’d like to go back again, soon. But now I’ve been back long enough to realize real life goes on after facing the fear or reaching a goal, or even crossing something off the bucket list. And that’s good too.

So it turns out New York isn’t Perdition (no matter what some folks say); nor is it the last stop on the road to Happily Ever After. But it is a good place to get a fresh outlook on life; and it’s where I went before whatever comes next.

It’s not just the Tale, it’s how you tell it!

Sondheim’s musical “Merrily We Roll Along” is currently enjoying a revival in New York and I couldn’t be happier that it’s back. The show has an unforgettable score and a legendary history of being a brilliant, beloved failure. Well, “failure”‘s not a really fair description. Merrily challenges audiences and casts because of the way they tell the story: it’s backward.

The Story

It’s a pretty simple story told the traditional way. Two young guys and a girl are best friends and colleagues, all working to break into show business. They hang out together, brainstorm ideas and cheer each other on while the rest of the world ignores them. Eventually, they each catch that all-important break but success does what years of failure couldn’t do; it splits up the team. Like I said, a simple story and a sad one when you tell it that way.

But tell it back to front and watch what happens! Right out the door, there’s the climactic fight that murders a friendship that existed for decades! Then back up a bit and you watch the information bomb drop that makes that last fight inevitable. Back it up again and you see the same characters again, a bit younger and nicer but making mistakes you know they’re going to regret. And on and on it goes, each layer revealing more of what makes you care about the people and hate the disastrous choices you know they’re making. It’s a brilliant, difficult technique and that’s why I love it. Because it’s not what story you tell, but how you tell it.

…and how its told

If each story is a raw diamond, the way its told cuts it, like the jeweler. Each choice brings out different facets. For example, let’s take perspective. Change the perspective in a story and you go from Wizard of Oz to Wicked. Or from Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead to Hamlet. Now make your narrator unreliable and you have stories with twist endings like “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” or “The Haunting of Hill House“. Or show that the story is bigger than anyone imagines by showing the same event from lots of different, limited perspectives (Rashomon). These are all literary techniques authors use to make a story sparkle.

Long-running TV shows love messing around with storytelling techniques. They keep the show interesting and give watchers new and layered insights into the characters. The point is how the story is told is at least as important as important as the story itself. And smart writers (and readers) know that.

So, welcome back, Merrily We Roll Along. I hope you enjoy a successful production. After what you’ve been through, you deserve something good. And thank you for your clever story-telling device. It’s a crazy, brilliant idea.

Keeping a Weather Eye on the Weather

It’s January, a good month in many ways, but one that makes me (and lots of folks around here) watchful. Maybe, even a bit paranoid. Not because we’re still feeling the effects from the excesses of December (though some of us are) and not due to the tax returns looming in our future. We’re worried because the weather is unpredictable in January and it can be extreme. And our history with schizoid temperatures around here makes amateur meteorologists (and curmudgeons) out of many of us.

Dressing for the weather

Let me give you an example. Monday, the temp outdoors went into the 60’s or higher. How much higher, I’m not really sure. Because I was inside, sweltering in a chin-to-knees sweater I’d worn because, hello, it’s January. Then the temp dropped like a rock, indoors and out, and I spent Thursday and Friday curled up in layers of clothing and huddled around reheated cups of coffee. No wonder everyone seems to have a case of the sniffles! January temps rise and drop like a roller coaster.

This ain’t supposed to happen in the South!

And that’s a problem when you live with Southern Architecture. Officially, this is a humid, subtropical region and our houses are built for that. I’m talking heat pumps, lots of windows, and outdoor living. This makes sense ten months of the year. But this place ain’t the tropics in January! And our buildings, so climate controlled in July, can feel downright chilly at this end of the year. Even cold, when we get some (gasp!) Snow.

…then there’s that old devil, Snow

Seriously, if you want to scare a group of Southern women, tell them there’s snow in the forecast, but do it at a distance of at least five feet, because those ladies are going to hit DEFCON 1. And then they will run you over getting out the door. See, S-N-O-W is code for Apocalypse down here, and those women are going to save their families. Because the white stuff hits this place like a bomb.

Schools shut down before the first flakes can fall, so kids need to be taken back home. Few people here have winter driving skills so the highways get turned into parking lots of fender-benders. And nobody has enough supplies on hand, so a blizzard warning means a run on the stores. And all that happens before it snows. Once that starts, this place is as helpless as a turtle on its back. And everyone who lives here, knows it.

When the Snow hits the South in January

So that’s why we’re all obsessed with James Spann and watching cold fronts like they were first downs. Because it’s January in Alabama. And anything can happen.

The day my Money went to NY (without me)

I’ve never been to New York, though the rest of my family has. My mother and grandma were both born in the City; my kids went there last fall. My sister goes there so often she can direct the tourists to stops on the Circle Line. But, I’ve never gone to New York. And I’ve been pretty much okay with that. Well, I’m not completely okay, d love to see the place (you can’t be an English Major and not want to see New York; it’s a mecca for readers and writers.) But financially, it’s never been a good time for me to fly to New York.  So I  dreamed and figured someday I would go there.  I just never thought my money would get there first.

aerial architecture blue sky buildings
Photo by Lukas Kloeppel on Pexels.com

It all began…

In that uncertain time between Thanksgiving and the beginning of Advent, before the juggernaut of December really takes off. A few friends and I decided to get together for a quiet drink after work. It was great, with everyone talking and laughing together and everything was going well until I decided to pay for a round. And realized my ATM card wasn’t in my wallet. Or my purse.

Now I’ll be the first to admit I occasionally misplace things, so I tried not to panic. I just paid for the drinks (using most of my cash) and excused myself to look for the card.  I still didn’t panic as I researched first my wallet, then my purse, and finally my Jeep for the card. Then, I went home and searched the house while I checked my bank balance.  And that’s when I hit “Red Alert”.

money pink coins pig

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

See, almost all the day-to-day funds in our joint checking account had disappeared.  The Grocery money.  The Light Bill cash.  The payment on my husband’s dental bill.  Entire paychecks worth of cash vanished from sight, like Brigadoon, or Judge Crater.  I killed my cash card with a phone call and cried.

When I showed up, still panicked, at my bank the next day (the minute they unlocked the doors) the bankers there were sympathetic.  Yes, they could make sure my missing ATM card was dead and yes, they’d help me with the identity theft claim.  A teller and I pulled up all the account transactions to figure out which we’d need to dispute and that’s when I saw how my money (literally) took flight.

Where did it go??

First, there was the airline ticket.  “Was that you?” the bank representative asked.  No, I haven’t flown since 2016 and I haven’t bought a ticket since then.  Then there was the charge for the Empire State Building Observation Deck ($102.00!) and something called Statue Cruises.  And then there was an admission to MMA, which turned out to be the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The Met? My money went to New York?

I don’t know whether the Bank’s service representative or I was the more stunned.  “Well, on the one hand, these charges obviously weren’t made by you.” the banker lady said.  “You’re here in Alabama, not New York.  Still…”  “I know,” I said, looking at the computer screen.  “Someone’s taking a cool trip through the City.

In fact, if the thief had thrown in theatre tickets, that’s a trip I would have loved to take.  It’s the trip I’ve been dreaming of (and putting off) for decades because I couldn’t afford it. Along with the panic and anger, I felt, I began to get downright envious.  The Empire State Building? The Museum of Modern Art? These were places I’d wanted to see.   Someone out there has lousy morals, but their taste is not all that bad.  The only problem was they were getting their culture with money my husband and I had earned!

I found out some things because of that theft. I learned that banks have to deal with this a lot. And that some bankers are really nice.  I’ve learned that the police are careful about jurisdiction.  I had to drive to four separate stations before I found the one able and willing to take my report. It’s been a royal mess getting the checking account straightened out and protecting the rest of my financial identity.  But this crystallized a resolve in me.

I’m not putting off the chance to see New York anymore; I’m going there myself, and soon.  No longer am I content to imagine being there while by looking at TV or  Google Earth.  It’s time I saw those streets for myself.  There isn’t enough time or money enough to do everything. But I will see something of that fabled place, and listen to that cacophony of sound. See, I don’t mind my money going to New York.  But this time, I’m taking it there.

 

 

 

 

 

The Accessory Liberation Device

Everyone who becomes an Adult goes through some Rite of Passage. It may be a formalized religious ritual (like a Bar Mitzvah) or something secular, like a Driver’s Permit. But there are talismans we gather as we go through life and the world expects us to keep them handy. Well, I just threw one away.

I enjoy being a girl

Yeah, that’s what the song says. Only the lyric didn’t apply to me growing up, not once I saw the accessory list. Have you ever noticed how much extra stuff women are expected to carry? Guys go from grade school, through high school, to life, and the only new thing they get is a razor. Girls get those too but they’re also supposed to start wearing costume jewelry at some point. And make-up. And perfume. Girls are expected to do complicated things with their hair. And finally, girls are given purses so they can tote all of this extra girl-stuff around.

Some of the Bags that Ran my Life…

If you can’t tell, I’m not a purse fan. More accurately, I’ve been a purse-hostage. For the past 50 years, wherever I’ve gone, some satchel’s hitched a ride on my shoulder. And instead of helping me (by carrying my stuff) each bag has been a pain.. Going to the movies? Don’t forget the purse. Riding on the roller coaster? Where and how do I store the purse? If I’m out in public, how do I keep Pursey from being snatched? If I’m going on a plane, does it count as luggage? (Believe me, there are times when it could). And if that isn’t enough, I’m not allowed to be ruled by just one satchel. No, I’m expected to keep multiple bags I can match to any season, function and outfit, all while my husband gets by with one wallet. No wonder men have more disposable income! They don’t have to spend it on purses!

What to do?

I was bemoaning all this to my sister last month when she mentioned a smartphone/wallet case. This gadget is a brilliant idea! A simple case with the phone on one side and pockets for cash, ID and cards on the other. It carries everything I really need and (even better) slides into a pocket. Actually it’s more an a fashion choice; it’s an accessory liberation device.

…Replaced by a phone in a case. (Dog not included.)

So, after almost 50 years of suspending leather bags from my shoulder, I’m back to pre-puberty basics. And it’s amazing. No more matching my bag to my shoes or rooting through the closet for a coordinating purse. No more last minute grabs for the bag I forgot while the car door closes on my arm. When it’s time for lunch now, I stand up and leave without rooting in a drawer or the file cabinet. As long as I have pockets, I can run through the world, unencumbered and both hands free.

All hail the Accessory Liberation Device! Now all we need is a law requiring pockets on all clothing….

In search of my New Year’s Day Miracle

Everybody has New Year’s traditions. Some people make and break lots of good resolutions. Some people serve black-eyed peas and greens. But that’s not my thing. While others are nursing hangovers or glue themselves to televised bowl games and parades, I’m outdoors, weather permitting, doing yard work. And I’m looking for my New Year’s Day miracle.

Yard Work?

There’s something so satisfying about clearing the yard, once the last of the leaves have fallen. You can rake and rake without breaking a sweat, and when you’re finished, there’s visible improvement. Actually, this is the small part of the year when I can get ahead on my weeding. Once growing season starts, it’s all I can do to stay even. And I quit once the temp gets too hot. So January and February are the months when I reclaim parts of the yard from the plant invaders, like kudzu. But New Years is not for reclaiming. It’s when I look for a miracle.

In Search of Spring

Now I’ll be the first to admit I don’t get along with Winter. It’s (usually) too wet and cold for my taste and I miss long, sunlit days. And, while I love where I live, we look kind of, well, shabby this time of the year. A little dirty and drab and run down. So I tend to spend the first day of the year in my yard, desperately seeking Signs of Spring. And, today I found them.

Know what these are? They are daffodil leaves and they’re growing in front of my house. On New Year’s Day. When winter’s just settling for 3 months of cold weather, these tough little flowers are sticking their heads above ground. The prospect of ice and snow doesn’t scare them (the way it scares me!). They’re growing, they’re daring to believe in Spring on the very first day of the year. That takes great Instinct…. or Nerve.

So daffodil leaves are my annual New Year’s Miracle and I hunt for them like a kid after Easter Eggs. I’m not ashamed. They’re a promise. A herald. An omen of change. And a great way to start the New Year.

Look like baby leeks, don’t they?

I think it’s Time for a Change

I started this blog years ago because I had a story to tell. A story about how two irreconcilable sisters learned to work together. Somebody told me before I could publish my book, I had to have readers which meant I needed to write a blog. When they asked what I could write a lot about, I replied, “Stories.”

Why Stories?

See, I think stories are the most powerful magic we wield. You can change a person’s future with a story. Think of all those people who started working toward law school once they read about Atticus Finch. The veterinarians who followed James Herriot into the profession. Think of the destruction caused by Mein Kamp.

But stories can change history as well. For centuries, Richard III has been vilified, not from the facts but because the next king spread nasty stories about him. And those stories made it into a great play. Sometimes the fictional story is so engaging, that we forget what really happened. Or a well-told story can rescue the truth from obscurity.

The thing is, stories, good stories, can undermine all our defenses. They let us see connections we were blind to before. They find the fear hiding deep in our hearts and linger in the corners of memory. They won’t let us go. Those are the tales I like to describe as “The Ones that Follow Us Home.

So What Will Change?

Well, I’ve spent 4 years writing (mostly) about stories other people have published and I think it’s time for a change. I still love taking about good books and I’ll continue to talk about some of those. But I want to change things up a bit.

I want to tell you some tales I care about that other folks haven’t written down. Ideas that have meaning for me. Stories that followed me home.

Like the tale of two little girls who believed they had nothing in common beyond a timeline and DNA. That’s a story still waiting to be told…some other day.

A Story of Auld Lang Syne

Ever since Thanksgiving, I’ve looked for a story that’s based on the end of a year. I couldn’t find one. There are stories about beginnings and seasons and other holidays but nothing for the end of a year. Instead of reading or writing about New Years, I believe we sing.

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot-

And never brought to mind?”

Like the character in “When Harry Met Sally” I used to wonder, what does that lyric mean? Are we supposed to forget those we knew long ago? Are we benefited somehow by releasing what become just the memory of memories? And, if someone has slipped beyond recall, what use is it to try and remember them now? It was all very confusing.

But confusing or not, Auld Lang Syne is as much a part of New Year’s Eve as the line at the bottom of a math problem.  We sing it to say farewell to a year that is ending and the people we’ve left behind in our pasts. This year, that song’s personal to me.

Why It’s Personal

This year I lost one of the best friends I’ve ever made, someone who taught me how to be a friend. We met when we were two weirdos made of nothing but potential and hope. Luckily, we both liked the same “weirdo” things, like folk music, liberal politics, and theatre. (Three subjects guaranteed to get you killed in small-town high school) We laughed at the same silly jokes. I think we were both still a bit scared about boys; both of us had impossible crushes. She yearned for a fellow in the town she’d left while I crushed on a transient teacher. So, we kept each other talking and laughing and company through two trying years of adolescence. Then, at graduation, we let go of the friendship with a wave. But neither let go of the memories.

My Auld Lang Syne
(photo credit: KHS yearbook)

The internet reconnected us decades later but, from the way we behaved, you’d think no time had passed. We still talked for hours at a time and laughed at the same silly things. But, instead of adolescent crushes, we got each other through harder experiences: illness, death, and real heartbreak. We had each others’ backs, at least we did until January 8th of this year. Ever since that day I’ve been learning to live with just the memory of her in my head.

I’ve shed many a tear since the day Lisa died and I doubt if my weeping is done. Our friendship helped me build a life that I love and it feels like part of my foundation is gone. But at least this year since her death has resolved my confusion about That Song.

For Auld Lang Syne

Should Old acquaintances be forgot? Can we forget them, really?  We drink to their memories at New Years, not because we memorized every detail of their existence,  but because they helped make us the people we became. And, although facts or faces can get hazy with time, their influence remains. They are in the jokes we enjoy and the songs we sing. They visit, at times, in our dreams. In our deepest memory of memories, we carry our Auld Acquaintances with us, defining us now by their absence as they did when they stood beside us. We never really leave them behind.

So this is for you, Lisa, on this last day of the year. I wish you hadn’t left the party so quickly. If I catch up with you somewhere down the line, you can be sure I’ll fill you in on what you missed. Because I won’t forget you. I didn’t after high school and I won’t after death. I can’t. You are my Auld Lang Syne.

Albert, the holiday Cold

So, are you enjoying the holiday season? Did you get the gifts you expected to get? Where did you go, what did you do, who shared your seasonal joys? I really want to know. Because my holiday was spent with Albert, the Christmas Cold.Display, pre Albert

Holiday display before the arrival of Albert

Why Albert?

It’s a reasonable question. First, I don’t get normal, every day Colds, never have. While other people’s colds stay 3 days or a week, mine move in for a season or more. And if anything sticks around that long I have to give it a name. My Colds get names I don’t like because I don’t want to being sick anymore than anybody else does. So, in the past, I’ve hosted colds named Harvey and George (which was really difficult since my boss at that time was named George and You can imagine the mix-ups… it wasn’t pretty and I don’t work there anymore.). Anyway, I’ve learned a lot of our Christmas traditions started in Victoria’s England, by way of her husband, Prince Albert ( who really enjoyed keeping Christmas). So, given the timing of this upper respiratory infection, I’d say he’s Albert, the Cold who came for Christmas.

The best laid plans

Display post Albert

Holiday display since the arrival of Albert

Thing is, I had other plans for this season. I had four days off in a row and I was going to do things. I was going to clean my house, take long walks, exercise, bake, go to movies, or the theatre, I’d study and write. I was going to make good use of my time. Then, along came Albert. Albert, with his head-heavy, joint-achy, pain and his mucus that runs like an Olympic sprinter. Only backwards. Albert, with the IQ-lowering congestion and the sore throat. Thanks to Albert, I didn’t have the energy or concentration for anything further than the drugstore. So, I got nothing accomplished over the holiday beyond building a mountain of used paper — Kleenex.

Life on life’s terms

But, how often do our dreams and schemes work out as planned? Rarely to never, from what I see. So, I spent the holiday germ-ridden and confined to the couch, so what? The world didn’t end. The holidays still came. And, if I didn’t write the world’s greatest novel (or even a decent blog post) I did get some much needed rest. And, now I’m hopefully past the worst of this, I learned that even An Upper Respiratory Infection like Albert is temporary. I suppose you could call him my Holiday Guest. A guest that wore out his welcome.

So I hope you had a lovely December and your every wish came true. But whatever comes your way, I hope you find some good in it, even if “it” is a Holiday Cold. Then move on to whatever story life brings you. Tomorrow.

The Autumn of Our Regret: Something Wicked This Way Comes

There’s no doubt about it anymore, this year has grown old.  We’ve gone through the frigid days of winter and the balm of summer and spring. Then we sailed through the most colorful parts of fall and now the world’s turned cold again.  It’s hard not to look at the shortening days and the denuded tree branches without feeling a little regret over the closing of the year. A holiday season is great but there’s nothing like a change of season to make you think about opportunities missed.

I think that’s one reason why Ray Bradbury set his haunting fantasy, “Something Wicked This way Comes” during the later part of the year.  Of course, it’s tied to Halloween – show me a good scary story that isn’t – but this tale is bound less to the ghouls and goblins and more to the real demons that bedevil our lives: fear, regret, isolation, and sorrow.

The Story

Longing and Age are the obsessions running through this dark fantasy: Jim Nightshade, just shy of fourteen wants to grow up and leave childhood, and his friend Will, behind.  What adults do behind window shades intrigues him.  Will’s father, Charles Halloway, has the opposite problem. He suffers the nightmares of middle-age, seeing the windows of his life beginning to close and aware he’s too old to relate to an adolescent son.  Between these two stands Will Halloway, who has pain and longings of his own that can’t be shared.  These three are the only souls to recognize the latent evil in the Autumn carnival that’s come to town.

Carnivals are perfect for a small-town’s thrills.  They’re gaudy, gauzy, visitors that arrive and entertain, then leave before they wear out their welcome.  But the rewards they promise customers are usually more than they deliver.  This carnival, the Autumn Carnival, promises whatever anyone’s longed for or lost and the townspeople are eager to pay the initial price of admission.   But the rides in the Autumn Carnival take more than the coins traded for a ticket.  And finally, only Jim Nightshade, William, and Charles Halloway stand between the town and damnation.

Why read this?

Bradbury delivers, in lyrical lush prose, this story of temptation and accepting the changing seasons of life.  It’s been praised and adapted for film, radio, and stage but the book (as usual) beats all adaptations.  Reading it’s a good way to remember the past and move forward into the present.  And that’s a good thing to do, even at the near of a year.  Better to enjoy each short  day of December than suffer through a long Autumn of Regrets,

%d bloggers like this: