Brothers

I have been thinking a lot about Brothers these past few weeks. When I was growing up, I always yearned for a full-time Brother. I had a half-brother, Ralph, from my Dad’s first marriage, who lived with his own Mother and visited when schedules allowed. The childhood photo above shows us in 1959 when I am 8 and he is 11.He turned out to be very bright, funny, and a solid citizen-much like our shared Father. We have stayed connected throughout our lives, despite being raised in separate homes; since neither of us ever had other siblings, I think we bonded early and fostered that relationship despite our distance and very different interests. He is special to me for many reasons.

I have also had the good fortune to be given many other Brothers; these are the chosen kind, not the blood-related kind. Over the years I have forged some very tight friendships with some amazing men who have become what I think of as my “Band of Brothers”. These guys are smart, talented, and compassionate people who have, for one reason or another, taken me under their strong wings and supported me. Sometimes they are people I can call to just talk through difficult times, or people I have to call when something hilarious, outrageous, or heartbreaking happens. They are always in my corner, which is such a comfort.

First there is Thom. We met when I was dating my then boyfriend (later husband), David. He was one of David’s best friends, and I could easily see why almost immediately. Thom is amazingly talented, very sensitive, and full of that special combination of compassion and integrity. I know I can call him anytime and he will listen, comment, and cheer me up just by being himself. We have shared heartache stories, single parenting stories, and so much more,that I almost cannot remember a time when I didn’t know him. Angels guided Thom my way early on, and I am so grateful.

Then there is Lenny. This Brother came into my life when I was twelve and working during school vacations for a florist where my Mom worked. Lenny worked there delivering flowers for a while during his college years at Portland School of Art. He was 11 years older than I was, so our friendship didn’t really start until I was in my twenties. At that time, he was a well-known local artist and musician. I enlisted him to play in a band that I put together, and our strong friendship was cemented. Over the years we have discussed every subject imaginable. He has come through for me in so many ways, from musical situations, to support for my many and various creative projects. I also became close to his Family, particularly his Mother, over the years. We are truly Scorpio Sister and Brother.

Craig came into my life through David, as well. He was part of the original Los Angeles gang of musicians and buddies that I met in 1971. But Craig and I developed a separate friendship based on common values and hard-won fights. Our struggles were sometime similar, sometimes not; but we have always had an innate understanding of each other that has proven to be a real blessing in my life. When I hear his voice on the phone, I know I will learn something from him, and I know he will really listen to me. This talented and special man is another Brother I love dearly.

There are other Brothers in my life for various reasons. Neil will always be a Brother who listens, analyzes, sympathizes, and sends love my way. He is bright, complex, and empathetic in so many ways. Mike is my dear pal who is like family to me: we learned to write together in High School and have kept up our strong connection for over fifty years. He is very smart, kind, uproariously funny, and a true Brother.

As usual, when I reflect on my past friendships, I realize how lucky I am to have the people I treasure in my life. My Brothers support me, challenge me, protect me, and cheer me on. I love all of them. Thanks, Bro.

Hot Under the Collar

I have always thought of myself as having a lot of self-control and good anger management. Lately, however, I am questioning this assessment.

For example, if I see ONE more article, post, or advertisement incorrectly using an apostrophe (either when there should be one, or when there should not be one), I may go postal. Seriously. When someone writes “I hope your feeling better”…I want to scream! Or how about: ” I have a collection of Santa’s”. Santa’s what? Leftover cookies? Anyway, these are reasons that some of my pals call me “Conan the Grammarian”.

Another thorn in my side is the constant loud and ubiquitous usage of cell phones. Unless you are a World Leader, Brain Surgeon, or CIA chief, how important is that conversation you are having? I mean, really? Does everyone at the supermarket need to hear about your latest bunion removal? Do we all need to know that little Kaylie won a trophy for attendance? Will there ever again be silent shopping? Isn’t the “music” played over the sound system torture enough? But I digress……….

If I made a list of the THINGS THAT BOTHER ME THE MOST these days, it would go something like this: The News. I now call it “Death, Dismemberment, Disaster, and Divisiveness”. I can no longer call most of it Journalism ( in which I have a degree). Scam Phone Calls. They are constant around all meal times, and becoming more and more cleverly dangerous. I really wish I could reach into the phone and grab the jugular veins. Too much? Remakes of movies and television shows. Some things really cannot be improved upon, and no one should try. Waiting for to see a physician. It is stressful enough that you have to be in the Doctor’s office for an appointment; it seems to be extreme cruelty and abusive treatment to have to wait for (sometimes ) hours. Maybe the physicians could offer free craft classes while you wait; that way you could have your appointment and leave with a scarf or potholder.

Maybe it comes with age, this intolerance. Maybe we get cranky because we start to feel that we have less time to waste, and every moment is precious. Or maybe I am just feeling the accumulation of a lifetime of small frustrations we all get to experience. I don’t know why, but I am more easily given to thoughts of slapping someone upside the head these days. I guess as long as I don’t act on it, I am still within the bounds of civilized society. Right?

But just in case, don’t get me started.

Austrian-born American actor Arnold Schwarzenegger on the set of Conan the Barbarian, directed by John Milius. (Photo by Dino De Laurentiis/Universal Pictures/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Acquired Taste

Rituals are comforting. Winter in Maine is full of rituals, and I have come to see them as reassuring. If I were younger, these daily tasks and predictable chores might seem annoying and boring; but at this time I find them a consolation for enduring the dark, cold, bitter Winter days.

Each morning as we layer on clothing and prepare breakfast, there are birds and squirrels to be fed. My man puts on the necessary sweaters and hats and boots, and ventures forth, cups full of seeds in hand, and doles out the first of several buffet rounds for our furry and feathered pals.

I am in the kitchen, cooking oatmeal while watching out the windows to see who arrives first at the Maple Tree Smorgasbord. After breakfast it is time for a brief dose of what I now call “death, destruction, and division”….the headlines of the morning news. Two or three minutes in,  and I can take no more, so I head for the warmth and escape of the shower.

As the day progresses there are meals to prepare, for both dog and humans. There are cleaning chores, shoveling, trips to the market, and as always.. laundry. There are at least two or three phone calls I must make to check on various family members and friends. I have my online business to take care of, and He has archeological work to organize. I have Writing to do, and He has Art to create.

When the afternoon sun reaches West, we slow down activity and watch the late comers feed on the deck. After dinner we unwind with an old sitcom and Jeopardy, keeping those Geezer neurons firing at top speed.

If I had read this ritual recitation at twenty-five, I would have yawned, laughed, and said ” How boring. They should get a Life”. But at sixty-eight, I have come to realize what is important: We need to nurture our most important relationships with those we love. We should try to improve our corner of the World in whatever small and kinds ways we can. We should do something that feeds our Souls every single day.

Often I think of the Zen Buddhist quote: ” Before Enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After Enlightenment, chop wood and carry water”.

Rituals are an acquired taste. Rituals are comforting.

Love

Valentine’s Day is approaching, and I decided to write about LOVE. It’s a funny thing, Love. You may spend most of your life either looking for it or wondering about it; but when it arrives, you are almost always surprised. It doesn’t give a lot of warning. It just shows up with a parade of crashing cymbals and blaring trumpets, overwhelming you with new sensations, sounds, and feelings. Then, it moves next to you with a quartet of strings, softly swaying your heart and soul. Soon it becomes a somehow familiar melody that keeps running through your mind. Ultimately, you succumb to the joyous music and it penetrates every fiber of your being, until it becomes a part of your every breath and thought.

I have been in Love before. I have also been infatuated, had crushes, and been in varying stages of lust before. But when the REAL THING comes along, it is very, very different. This Love is the greatest gift of all, because it is transformative and all-consuming. Every single atom in the Universe takes on a new meaning, and the simplest of actions or events have significance. I now have a greater sensitivity to the beauty around me in Nature, in Humankind, and in the vastness of the Cosmos.

I am sure there are cynics among my readers who will assume that this is hyperbole, or that I am looking through rose-colored glasses. But I am here to tell you that this kind of Love actually exists. I am experiencing it daily, and I am as flabbergasted as can be. I have not known these feelings before, and so they astound me.

Those of you who are already familiar with all of this may chuckle with recognition, or sigh with fond memories. But for those of you who, like me, have spent decades wondering if this Soul-Mate kind of Love can really happen…….please take Heart. Literally. Because it can, and does happen.

I hoped and dreamed for years that someone would come into my life and really understand Me. Someone who really gets me. Someone who loves me the way I love Him. Well, he arrived.

Happy Valentine’s Day, dear readers. I will leave you with this quote which the remarkable Vladimir Nabokov wrote in a letter to his wife:

“You came into my life-not as one comes to visit…but as one comes to a kingdom where all the rivers have been waiting for your reflection, all the roads, for your steps.”

The Answer, my Friend……….

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Theodore J. and I were walking back toward the house after our short stroll down the street the other day, when I stopped in front of my home and looked at the Maple tree that sits at the edge of my front yard. There, next to the tree, was a singular seed pod, or “helicopter” as we call them, floating on the breeze. It was, to my eyes, not attached to anything, but just staying afloat on the currents of air that were blowing sweetly that late morning. I watched this miraculous effort with great astonishment. How in the heck was this little seed pod staying airborne for so long? I marveled at the way it rose and sank, turned sideways, and yet never fell to the Earth. I was mesmerized for what seemed an eternity (probably only thirty seconds).The breeze just kept blowing and this small helicopter kept flying.

Theodore was very patient, and kept quite still as I continued staring at this spectacular feat. Finally, we walked the thirty or forty feet to our driveway and went inside. I thought about what I had seen, and continued to be amazed. Then, I remembered that sometimes if I really pay attention, the Universe will shoot me a message. Here is what I think I was meant to glean.

I am the helicopter seed pod. I am out here alone on the wind, struggling to find my way to a grounded and safe place. I am scared, and seemingly fluttering without direction; yet, there is something holding me up in these breezes and allowing me to soar and float, without any control. I need to let go and trust that Something to keep me in the zephyrs until it is time to slowly and gently come back to the solid place from which I started.

So, that’s it then? I need to trust the Universe/God/ the Angels to keep me flying until it is time to touch down on Earth again. I was very satisfied with this conclusion, and felt somewhat better about my plight as I went forth into another day of uncertainty and confusion.

Then my daughter, the brave and beautiful Caroline, came over to visit me. Once she was inside and through with the usual noisy greeting ritual with Theodore, we got ready to go on an errand. As I pulled out of the driveway, she looked to the right side and she asked me an unusual question: “Hey,  Mom, did you see that Helicopter seed thing outside that was attached to the Maple Tree?”.  As we drove by and it was still floating on the breeze, I replied that I didn’t see the attachment: I thought it was just being kept aloft by the wind. Caroline tried to show me the almost invisible filament of spider web or some other magical string that was attached to the seed pod and connecting it to the tree. I could not see it. But, because her young eyes are much stronger and keener than mine, I knew she was right. It was connected. This explains why it was “floating” for so long.

Now I had to reexamine my previous conclusion. Perhaps I was not just being carried by the Wind. Maybe I am being kept aloft by the most imperceptible of filaments: my tight circle of friends who love me. These wonderful beings are calling me, writing me, and checking in on me to see how I am doing. They are sending funny lines, supportive messages, flowers, cards, and lots of love my way. This is my lifeline. These are my spider-web unbreakable ties holding me up until I can find my way to float safely home.

The Aretha Franklin Effect

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When Aretha Franklin died last week, it stopped me in my tracks, and made me think about the Effect that her music had on me since 1967. When I purchased the album “I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You”, I was just 16 years old. As I listened to track after track, I was mesmerized by something; I was, in hindsight, too young to completely understand what I was hearing, but I knew there was something in that voice, those lyrics, and those melodies.

I played the album over and over again until it became scratchy and flawed from use. I could not get enough of that combination of angst, sorrow, heartache, resignation, and sarcasm in songs like “I Never Loved A Man”,” “Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream”, and “Baby, Baby, Baby”. There was also another set of feeling and sentiments that arose with the iconic “Respect”. Even though I had no romantic experience to my credit at that time, I felt a connection to Aretha when she told her man what she wanted and needed from him. All of it was powerful and earth-shattering, and I wanted whatever that was!

When I reflect on how many of her songs were part of the soundtrack of my young adult years, the songs seem like a collection of the long-kept letters of a sister, cousin, aunt, or close friend. The letters that are bundled in my den closet, ready to be re-read at a moment’s notice. When I listen to these tunes now, they bring back memories, happy and sad, of another place and time; a time when I was learning about heartbreak, the joys of first love, the sorrow of permanent loss. The Aretha Effect is one of the companionship of fellow sufferers, the elation of sharing newfound freedoms and empowerment, and the bond of sisterhood that makes all women connected.

Merriam Webster defines “soul” as: “A strong positive feeling, as of intense sensitivity and emotional fervor”. So that’s what it was I was hearing and feeling way back in 1967. No wonder I wanted IN.

Thank you, Aretha, Queen of Soul, for bringing me your great gifts of creativity, passion, and love through your Music. You’ll always have quite an Effect on me.