on my way to where the air is sweet

IMG_20140511_160604_348Sesame Street came to me in a waking dream the other night.

A vivid sense memory (probably a false one) of time lapse photography in Spring: a seed sprouting, chartreuse, then lime-green, into a two-leaved plant, piercing through the upper crust to reach the sun; a pink-gray earthworm making its way through black-brown earth and mulch; a barren tree bursting into light-drenched green leaf, pink-white flower.

These weren’t the exact visual images, I’m sure. But it doesn’t matter, because what really hit me were the sounds of Springtime playing in my head— a pseudo-Sesame Street-fever dream of crackling and popping, snuffling and rustling, shivering and shaking.

Beautiful inelegant noises, full of life, possibility and wonder.

This vibrant mind-dance probably came to me because here in the wonderland of Minnesota, we are finally out of one of the worst winters ever recorded.

May is two-thirds over and our trees just sprouted leaves. Our lilacs are at least three weeks late. And my poor, poor boxwood shrubs have probably bit the dust because of the brutal and overlong winter (they’re 90 percent yellow, but they’ll bounce back, right?).

So today, after five months of living in an Ice Age sequel, and another thinking we might need an ark, I finally felt Spring spring. Heard it, by God. The snuffling as I dug in the earth (my nails are still dirty even after scrubbing), the pop as I pruned my rose bushes, and the rustle as I cleared my beds to aid those tender shoots reaching for the sun.

Those who live in more temperate climates will probably never understand what I am about to say, but I would really like them to:

Living through our dramatic winters (especially this one, but a few others I can recall in my last 14 here) has taught me what trust is all about.

Maybe even faith.

I don’t mean that in a religious or spiritual way. Well, maybe I do. You decide. Basically, I have to trust, or have faith, that following the natural order, Spring will eventually come, contrary to all external appearances and crappy weather forecasts.

It is not easy.

Sometimes I worry. Okay, I worry a lot. The longer winters, the hotter summers. We hear about it all the time about the future of our planet, its changing natural cycles — shifting climates, inhuman temperatures, superstorms and growing, yet dying oceans. I worry about whether this little blue-green ball will be hospitable when our kids are our age, raising children of their own.

It’s enough to make me want to bury my head in the sand. Or just dig in the dirt.

But if living through a Minnesota winter teaches me nothing else, it is that I, as an individual, have very little control…over much of anything. I can recycle, use environmentally sound detergent, unplug my coffee pot at night, but as far as slowing the progress of global warming goes, all I can do is trust, have faith, hope against hope. Believe that we will make it out the other side.

Just like we do with winter.

So I allow myself to live in the moment and revel in Spring when it finally comes. Dirt under my fingernails. A garden free of weeds. Bare feet. Sun-warmed skin. Open windows. It is what is right now. It is all we have.

And if I let it, it makes me want to sing with joy in the fulfillment of my belief that Spring came as promised:

Sunny days, chasin’ the clouds away.
On my way to where the air is sweet…



There’s that moment just before you fall when you know it’s going to happen.

You have a premonition, you see it, yet are almost powerless to stop it. Watch me slip on that patch of ice. You dare it to happen, almost want it to happen – heck, it would be like scratching an itch, and it would throw the entire balance of the universe off if you didn’t do it – step on that patch of glossy ice in your stupid cute boots and land slam on your right butt cheek, your head snapping back hard, almost hitting the frozen concrete before you caught it. You knew it was going to happen so you had some time to plan how you’d fall, what you’d hurt.

It’s a compromise, because every week now, it’s something new. Shoulder, ankle, neck, back. What can I afford to injure and still be able to function, to play tennis, to write on the computer (it hurts even now), to sleep? 

I am always in pain, but I guess it could have been worse – had I brittle bones, it could have been a broken hip, or arm.  But I really feel it today, worse than I would have imagined – it literally rattled my bones, shifted tendons and ligaments into next week…and perhaps beyond.

I guess I can’t complain, though. I pretty much asked for it.

This is an exercise for Just Write, a freewriting forum hosted every Tuesday by Heather King, writer and blogger of The Extraordinary Ordinary. Thank you for indulging my 10 minute ramble.

the book

It’s not everyone who has the luxury to write a first book. I’ve been given that luxury. But it doesn’t come free. And it isn’t easy. Not at all.

My husband, my girls are supportive – but cost is their impatience and occasionally wavering support, which combined with my own insecurities (Who am I to think I can write a book?)…a very, delicate balance: When will you be done? (Why didn’t I write today?); Are you doing any work for pay this week? (Will I lose all my clients over this ludicrous idea?) Are you going to get lonely again like you used to when you first started working from home? (Am I going to be able to stand the hours of solitude?) And again, when are you going to get that book done? (Crap, I guess I better make a deadline).

And some days, writing feels like that dream where you can fly — just a little leap and you’re airborne. You karoom! all over the blank Word doc pages and you know you were meant to do this. It is beautiful. It will all work out the way it’s supposed to.

Other days, though, it’s a heavy chore – worse than scrubbing that dirty toilet you’ve been neglecting for this, worse than pushing a Sisyphean boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down over you and crash into the house of cards that is your confidence and belief in your project, yourself. What…the…hell…am…I…doing???

But you are called back, by something, irresistibly. It is who you are on a cellular level. So you stop looking at websites that tell you your “genre” isn’t being published anymore, that no one is publishing anything anymore — and you know that you will make it happen. This book will be done.

Thy will be done.

life and death

I’ve been thinking about death for the last couple of days. Sitting with it, really. Not that there’s anything new in that. I mean, philosophers, poets, major thinkers – people far more adept at using reason, words and art to express themselves — have been thinking death to death since human beings had time and brain capacity to really sit and contemplate anything other than where their next meal would be coming from.

Not to mention everyone else who has ever lost a loved one or who might indeed die one day, too, having had a few thoughts of their own about it. The big “D” is a topic that every person on the planet has had or will think about, and will inevitably experience. So what I am thinking or feeling (melancholy, that’s how I’m feeling) is no more valid or true than what anyone else thinks or feels about it. For some odd reason that makes me feel very alone and sad.

Because there is no answer.  We don’t even know the question, though some religions and belief systems would have you believe they know it all. They really don’t. They could be right, but nobody alive, I mean NOBODY alive really knows.

But to be honest, all that “what happens to us after we die” morass isn’t what has me feeling a surge of gratefulness and love and fear every time I look at my husband and wonderful daughters.  I am not really afraid of dying, more of what dying does to those left behind.

This past weekend, someone I knew slightly, but liked a lot, died after a year of keeping death at bay, with children too young to not have a father and many, many friends who appreciated his amazing creativity, kindness, and free, almost metaphysical spirit. Two of those friends are dear friends of ours, people I don’t see often enough, but who I love and who loved this man like a brother.

I hurt for them. All of them. I am going to the funeral and while I am sad that he is gone, I will probably be a blubbering fool because of the people left behind. And how embarrassing – I hardly knew him, though he was always warm and engaging when we met. But this is what happens to me at funerals – my heart breaks for the living.

And, oh, how I fear the possibility of having to mourn anyone I love dearly too soon. Or of my family having to mourn me before my girls are grown and well on their way. Before I am “old enough” for it to be somewhat okay for them.

And then there’s the other side of death – life. It makes me think about my life. Am I living…enough? Is it enough to sit on the front steps holding my husband’s hand quietly while we watch the sky grow dark? Is it enough to sit in front of the television to watch Serena win yet another US Open, wincing and cheering with my tennis-rabid 13-year-old on a gray Sunday afternoon? Enough that my almost 17-year-old snuggles up to me on the couch and says, “I love you, mommy.”?

Oh, God, yes. Yes, it is.


Photo copyright Molly Kelash

These guys never had the option of working from home.

When people find out I work for myself from home, the first thing they say is, “Ooh, you’re so lucky!”

Then the inevitable envy of imagined slovenliness hits.

“Dude, I bet you get to lounge around in your pajamas whenever you want!”

I assure them that the novelty of sitting in the same night-clothes for a couple days in a row wears off after the first week.

But they persist.

“Still, you’re your own boss – you make your own schedule…you don’t work for the man, man!”

I concur. That is a benefit. I also don’t have the burden of a regular paycheck nor the boredom that comes with the same-old predictable amount coming in every month.

“Well, yeah.  Still, I bet your house is always immaculate and you’re able to cook great meals for your family!”

Nope and nope.  It’s taken me years, but I have perfected the art of separating “working at home” and “housework” in my mind and in my practice. I can now happily let the house fall around my ears as I clack away on my computer. If I have work, I don’t do a single load of laundry, a single dish.  May sound counter-intuitive, but I have to do this to stay sane.  As for dinners, I’m kind of ashamed to admit that my husband makes them most nights. If we want to eat well, that is.

“Hunh. Well, at least you’re free of office politics, gossip – all that stuff!”

Sure. But I can also get very lonely with just lil’ ol’ me most of the day, especially in winter. For several years in a row, every deep, dark January I would start looking and applying for “real” jobs.

“But I bet you get to spend great amounts of quality time with your kids!”

Yep – they’re home before three every day, which means I pretty much have to pack up my work, listen to them grunt their “Fine”s when I ask them how their days were, and prepare to drive them or pick them up from their afternoon activities.

“Well, it doesn’t sound all that great the way you’ve laid it out there.  I guess having a ‘real’ job is probably more up my alley.”

But as the person wanders off, feeling lucky they never took my path, I feel like calling them back, because I only told them the bad stuff – not the reasons I could never do what they’re doing.

I didn’t tell them that the freedom of being my own boss is worth all the regular paychecks in the world.  That when I’d get into those interviews for “real” jobs, I would subconsciously sabotage them – even for my dream job as head of communications for a museum.  Because as lonely as I was at home, my throat started to close in contemplation of being trapped in an office 10 hours a day, with limited vacation time and no after school chats with my daughters.

What I didn’t tell them is that eventually, I figured out how to combat loneliness without having to dust off my resume every winter — through the regular social interaction AND exercise that comes in one perfect activity: tennis.

I didn’t tell them that while spending more time with my daughters may not have seemed like “quality” time at every moment, the quotidian familiarity – the sheer accumulation of hours together – has allowed me to forge wonderful, easy relationships with them that I’m not sure I would have had the energy for as a full-time, stressed-out “company man.” I know my limits.

All that said, I know that being able to make my work secondary to my family is a luxury not everyone can afford.  And I know that for others, their careers are of higher importance than I place on mine, so it would be anathema for them to have their jobs take a back seat.

I think I put out the “negatives” of my situation first so that people don’t think working from home is some kind of cakewalk or easy way out.  It’s not.  It’s been a tough, trial-by-fire sort of struggle that has taken me years to figure out – how to keep work from bleeding into my family life; the housework conundrum; the loneliness factor; the herky-jerky, chaotic workflow and income.

It’s unscheduled, messy and definitely not 9 to 5.

It’s really not for everyone.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

why I decided to leave the catholic church this election year

///Note: I wrote this in letter form to my choir and some friends earlier this year, but wasn’t really ready to share it with the world until now. As the election looms, I think it too important to ignore the fact that the Catholic Church has no business interfering in the political process./// 

After months of soul-searching, I recently decided to leave the Catholic Church, perhaps forever, but at least for a time.  I sat through Mass not long ago, and realized that I have reached my threshold, the point at which I cannot, in good conscience, continue to call myself “Catholic.”

The Church has done, and continues to do, untold good works in the world – it educates, heals, feeds, comforts, befriends and loves. But it has historically also perpetrated great harm, a legacy replayed, unfortunately, by men like Archbishop Nienstedt, who attempt to rule it with absolute power, and corrupt it into something resembling a Soviet oligarchy, forcefully imposing hateful, retrograde policies and practices and sending out spies into parishes to ensure they are not opposed.  Meanwhile, the atmosphere in the “house of God” here in Minnesota is a noxious blend of fear and loathing — priests and church staff fear to speak up for the sake of their livelihood, and parishioners become evermore disaffected and hopeless.

Is this a spiritual home? Is this where God lives?  Our Archdiocese has become to me the antithesis of a “Christian” institution, ignoring abuse, promulgating exclusion, enforcing bigotry and preaching hatred in the guise of love.  I can no longer sit in complicit silence while the local Archdiocese feeds its people a toxic gruel of fear and hypocrisy, inappropriately (and, frankly, illegally) participating in the political push of a wrongheaded, amoral policy – one I believe would be far more damaging to society than a solemn commitment between same-sex partners to love one-another, raise a family, volunteer in schools, make their communities safer for their children, etc., etc., could ever be.

It is true the Catholic Church is an archaic and arcane institution that changes at a glacial pace, if at all. That has always been the “given” for me, an assumption I could live with as long as any movement it made was forward — even sideways was tolerable to a point.  But lumbering backwards toward a darker past is something I cannot abide.  I believe at some point, sooner rather than later, this time will be seen as a dark stain on the Church, a time when human rights hung in the balance, and the Church, especially here in Minnesota, stood on the wrong side of the argument.

Leaving has been hard – and strangely freeing – but it isn’t really courageous. Other than no longer being part of a community I care deeply about, it won’t have a huge impact on my life.  Courage comes when doing something you believe in comes at a potential or inevitable high price. Many I know have the courage to stay on and workhard to change the Church from within, to make it a place Christ would feel welcome. That’s a long, courageous road, and I salute them.

Moral courage is even more difficult. It places a person at great risk when standing up for a conviction or belief. I am discouraged and saddened that we’re not seeing moral courage from more priests we know disagree with the Archbishop, and watch them instead stand by silently – or speak in esoteric metaphor or outright hypocrisy. Meanwhile, lone voices in the dark — gutsy, solitary priests — are punished and threatened with the loss of their livelihood and their life’s work.

Because the Church is not a democracy, and I am the impatient child of one, I don’t have the admirable endurance it would take to potentially change it from the inside. And so I will expend my energies lending support to those who are fighting its stance on gay marriage in the halls of the Capitol.

As I mentioned, the Church has done and is doing enormous good in the world on an institutional and everyday level.  It is, in fact, the good, everyday people of the Catholic Church who are its best hope, for God is in the details, not in the dictates of the few men – some sorely misguided – in power.  And someday, through these quiet, strong people, I hope to see the power structure re-adopt the idea that God lives in the community we create and share, the welcome and acceptance we provide to all — regardless of their differences or the way they choose to live or love.

goddess of the swimming pool


I loved the water from a very young age...

I want to let you in on a parenting method I developed without even knowing it. Forget the Tiger Mother or the Fabulous French Way of Parenting (or whatever it’s called) – this one blows the rest out of the water. Literally.

Let me explain:

Growing up, I believed in and worshiped gods and goddesses. In fact, I spent time around gods and goddesses. As much time as I possibly could. At least during the summer.

I didn’t need to put them on a pedestal because they had built-in ones — those sun-bronzed, baby-oiled lifeguards at the local pool held court from their platform chairs, rain or shine. From the time I was 8 and a good enough swimmer to be at the pool by myself, these teenage deities were my role models, and objects of admiration and awe – the guys were crush-worthy but untouchable; the girls, beyond beautiful.

And no one questioned their authority. They were the kings and queens of all they surveyed…within the pool fence, anyway. If only I could be like them someday…

So I knew, from an early age, exactly what my first summer job was going to be. It was quite obviously my destiny. I couldn’t imagine a better job, one that paid you to be in and around a pool, in the sun, every day – something I joyfully did for free anyway. As soon as I turned 15, I took the lifesaving course and…five summers later, I was still guarding.

Yes, there were summers when I felt fleeting guilt or jealousy about the summer jobs my cohorts had — “real” jobs at malls or in offices that would look better on their resumes, even though they meant living under fluorescent light all summer. But by mid-summer I became (at least in my mind’s eye) the epitome of those gods and goddesses of my childhood, browned and blonder, the sunlight seeping into my skin and bones, warming me at least partway through the fall and winter. By then, I no longer cared about my resume…sigh.

And could my friends say their jobs were half as important as ensuring people didn’t die?

Anyway, the point in telling you all this? Here goes:

In being a lifeguard, I learned how to be a parent. Granted, I also babysat, but all my best stuff is from those summers spent as the Goddess of the Pool.


Yes, really.

Call me Lifeguard Mom.

Top Ten Parenting Tips from Lifeguard Mom — the cutting edge, water-based form of parenting:

  1. The Goddess of the Pool. Everyone, especially children, but even other adults, are aware that inside the pool fence the lifeguard is the absolute authority.  The lifeguard’s job is literally to guard lives, ensure swimmer’s safety while at the pool and keep chaos to a minimum.
  2. Break!  Kids need to sit out from swimming furiously for a little bit, take a break by themselves, or they could get overtired and start to drown.  Lifeguards and adults at the pool also need this break from focusing on the kids, to take time to take a few laps with the other adults in the scenario.
  3. Black and white rules. They’re as clear as the sign on the pool fence — follow the rules or you sit out for 10. Break the rule three times and you’re out for the day.
  4. Kids need to prove they’re ready for the deep end. They need to pass the swimming test before they go where they can’t stand up.  It’s up to them to decide when they want swim a lap unaided, but going out of their depth before they’re ready can be deadly.
  5. The older the swimmer, the less oversight they need. Okay, I generalize here because there are plenty of adults who can’t swim at all, but for the purposes of this extended metaphor, you know what I mean.
  6. Set pool hours. Swimming pools have rigid schedules – opening and closing are the same time every day so swimmers know exactly what to expect, which minimizes or eliminates fussing, whining or delay tactics.
  7. No smoking, alcohol consumption or drug use in the pool area. This is self-explanatory.
  8. Believe it or not, the people at the pool look up to you.  And not just because you are sitting in a tall chair — so try to act accordingly. This is similar to the Goddess of the Pool rule, but has more to do with how you comport yourself.
  9. Lifeguards should enjoy their time in the sun. Hours of relative boredom, dirty bathrooms, dead baby mice/frogs in the gutters and screaming children can seem tough at times, but consider the alternatives – fluorescent lights, files, uncomfortable work clothes – and be grateful.
  10. You can build your resume later. Those offices can and will wait. They’ll be there when summer is over. The little people at your pool need you now, but won’t always.

You see what I mean?  I could go on, but then I’d be giving this amazing information away for free, when my goal here is to land a contract with a big publishing house that will fund my research into this method, which will require a lot of poolside sunbathing…er…scientific observation.

In all seriousness, I think there’s a little something to the Lifeguard Mom idea, at least while you are parenting younger children.  Because like all good things, summer, lifeguarding and parenting – even if you don’t see this while you are in them — can’t last forever.  As my own daughters have become teenagers, I see the brief, but shining summer of their childhoods nearing an end, approaching a time when they will no longer need me to guard their lives quite so fiercely. They are starting to want to dive into the next phase of their lives, asking me to let them go beyond the glittering, confined space over which I had almost complete control.

Each time they go further and further from me, but come back mostly unscathed, I try to let go a little more.

There’s a final Lifeguard Mom rule…for the Lifeguard Mom:

Close down at the end of summer and prepare for the next season. Once the swimmers have left your pool area on the last day of that last season, drain the pool, lock the fence and move on to the next phase in your own life.

And try not to look back, because a pool without swimmers or water is a very sad thing.

the joke, or life as a circus

Today I found a gray eyelash. Ah…whah?

God (and very few others) knows I have gray hair pretty much everywhere hair grows (even spots where it shouldn’t). But my eyelashes? They were the last bastion of youthful hair in my body, and their reign as such was over before I even knew they were a bastion.

I found this offending lower lash (it gets worse) while looking into my magnifying mirror which (and even worse) I now need to avoid looking like something out of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. Or is that just Baby Jane? Uh, did I mention my memory is going, too?

Oi. When did all this happen?  When did I get so old, so middle-aged, so like…my mother?  No offense, Mom, but you know how it is. While you’re growing up, your parents are the previous model, living dinosaurs who talk about dead people, listen to tragically old music and wear laughable clothes from another era.  Even in their early thirties, I believed my parents were seriously O-L-D.

I used to calculate what year it would be when I turned 30. I would roll “1997” around in my pre-adolescent brain and wonder at how far away it was, as well as the impossibly aged sound of “30” as if I were trying to conjure up a visual image of what one-billion looks like.  Unfathomable when you are 10.

I don’t want to fall into some cliché-ed rant about how unfair growing old is, how youth is wasted on the young, how our bodies betray us, how short life is, how existentially meaningless it all is, etc., etc.

But I have to say, it sometimes does feel like someone is playing a practical joke on us humans.  At least on me.

In my 20s, I had it all – a high metabolism; relatively good looks; a fit, impervious-to-injury- body; a sharp(er) mind (and memory, if I remember correctly); FREEDOM; and a sense that the world was full of possibility.

Did I know I had it all? Does an ostrich know it has wings? I only saw what I didn’t have, the imperfections and flaws in my body and mind. I lacked any direction or motivation that could have put all that lovely, young sap into something amazing.  I was too busy luxuriating in narcissistic, existential angst (my favorite writer was Milan Kundera – hence the title of this piece stolen from his book, The Joke) and bewilderment.  To top it off, I was hyper-focused on men, allowing dating and relationships to occupy whatever creative cerebrum space I had.  Needless to say, I was miserable.

In my 30s, I had even more…and somehow less.  Husband, babies, house, business – it was a lot and served to occupy every ounce of me.  I had no space to think, let alone make some big statement in the world or pursue creative, fulfilling or fun avocations.

So now we get to my 40s and the reason I’m writing this.  I finally have space to breathe and think; and the patience, calmness and lack of self-doubt to cultivate it.  In the last four years, I have developed a mien for artistic photography (even sold some shots!), tried my hand at being a partner in an art gallery, taken up (okay, developed an obsession for) tennis, traveled more than ever, launched this blog and an app for teens and their parents late last year (www.teensphere.com).

But the universal joke is on me, you see. Just as I have the confidence and maturity to start really living, my physical being is withering away with mounting speed. More than gray or stray hairs, or even wrinkles, it is the body-pains and aches, the injuries, the weird health issues, the failing eyes — all of which seem like a practical joke, banana peels thrown my way by Bozo the Universal Clown.

But I promised not to go all negative, “poor old me” on you, so I’m reframing my thinking around this irony-of-aging thing into something a little more positive.

Here’s what I’m thinking: rather than a joke, it must be a universal balancing act. Not the clown show at the circus, but the high-wire act. Forgive the big top metaphor, but I’d like to go with it for a minute.

Imagine this.You’re going along the high-wire, a leotard and tutu covering your fit, fabulous body, but your brain – well let’s just say you aren’t very mature even though your synapses are firing on all six cylinders – is not making the best decisions. Your powerful, youthful body can handle it, though. It either catches you when you take a wrong step, or it isn’t hurt too badly when you fall into the net below.

Do I sound like a dorky self-help book yet? I’m sure you know where this is headed: Your body ages, and gets hurt more easily, you aren’t as strong physically, but your mind and experience keep you from making as many mistakes as you go along that high wire.  You might not even need the little umbrella-thingy, which is really a crutch anyway, to keep your balance.

My premise is simple: we trade youth and its wonderful beauty and resiliency fraught with emotional pain and bewilderment, for wisdom fraught with physical pain and degeneration.

Somewhere along that high-wire, we cross a line. We are more wise than unwise.  The balance tips. The pendulum swings. But we have to pay the piper – there’s no such thing as a free lunch – you can’t have both youth and wisdom at the same time unless you’re the Dalai Lama, and, as we know, there can be only one Dalai Lama at any given point in history.

So you pay with emotional and/or physical pain. But getting hurt — physically or emotionally — then taking the time to heal, is part of the path of greater and greater wisdom.

When I hurt my shoulder in tennis a couple years ago (it still tweaks out once in a while), I railed against the gods, my tennis pro and my surgeon when he told me I was out for at least four months.  The injustice of it! I find a sport I actually like doing, one that I am improving in every day and it is snatched away in one stupid attempt at a topspin forehand.  Bloody banana peel, I would have thought … if I had thought of the whole joke concept yet.

But looking at it now, I realize that being forced to sit out meant I had to the energy and mental space to start this blog. Tennis had frankly started to eat up most of my free time and head space, and my creative self wasn’t being fed. Ka-Pow.

Lighting bolt.

Light bulb.


The universe and I were out of balance, and I had to pay the price. But it gave me the gift of this blog, which has been a mind-blowing, cathartic and, believe it or not, healing powerhouse in my life. It is probably one of the more transformational things I have ever done and far better than any therapy I’ve ever experienced.

If hurting my shoulder was the price of catharsis, well, I guess it was worth it.

My final, final thought on the subject?  Wisdom comes to you over time, with every step you take, dangerous or careful. But beware — it takes a body part or your sense of peace before you reach the platform.

So who cares if I have tendonitis in both knees and I limp up and down stairs. Who even notices I have gray eyelashes under my mascara?  I am much, much more than the outside shell, the “plastique” as the French call it.

And, heck, at this rate of injury and aging as the trade-off for wisdom, I’m bound reach a state of nirvana really soon.

Or have I taken this line of thinking just a tad too far…?

Nah. It’s way better than Bozo and banana peels, so I’m going with it. Plus I’m wise now, so roll with me, okay?!

innocence found

Why did I fall for it…again?

Maybe it was the end of summer and my brain was fried from sun and children.  Maybe I ate too many carbs the night before, or had too little coffee that morning.

Or maybe it’s because I get so tired of being cynical and hard-bitten that I let go briefly.

Whatever it was, as the founders of Las Vegas used to say, there’s a sucker born every minute. And this sucker was born again that day, the most recent of several sucker- incarnations. If there’s sucker nirvana, I’m sure to get there any day now.

The first time, I was a junior in college, traveling in Spain with a friend, both of us age-appropriately naive but old enough to know better.

In the train station on our way back to school in Paris, we were approached by a dapper, but frayed-at-the-edges older man, a Swede, who told us this tale of woe: his Mercedes had broken down in front of the station, his wife was home ill and he had no way of getting cash (he’d left his wallet at home, you see). He needed as much as we could spare to get his car fixed so he could get home to his poor darling.

With a mixture of feeling-like-such-good-people and trepidation, we gave him the equivalent of $70 in French francs — a fortune for us at the time — and our addresses in the US to which he was to send repayment.

As we got on the train back to Paris, the holes in his story began to worm their way into our silly, sweet brains…why didn’t he just take a cab home to get his wallet? Why wouldn’t the garage where he was getting his car fixed take him home? Couldn’t he call a friend to help? And his shoes…did you see his shoes? They were pretty crappy for a rich guy.

Ugh. We (finally) realized we’d been duped. Taken. Hustled. Grifted. Fooled, in the most awful way one can be – not through our greed or vanity, but by playing on our best impulses, our desire to help, our empathy, our basic humanity.

All that sweet goodness we’d filled up on turned into roiling sourness and acid, like too many bags of cotton candy, mini-donuts and cheese curds after you’ve left the State Fair.  We both felt nauseous, upset and burned.

I guess that’s what loss of innocence with a side of humiliation tastes like.

We vowed to never, ever be taken in by anyone again. We also vowed to never speak of it because we were so embarrassed.  Yes, I am “speaking of it” now because I’m no longer embarrassed (who was that dumb, foolish kid?), and I figure the statute of limitations is up after 20-plus years.

Have I mentioned I learn things the hard way? Because after that horrible, scarring experience, lo and behold, it happened again. That same year in fact, while I was in Italy with a different friend. Another older Swedish gentleman, this time claiming to be deposed royalty (beware, young travelers — Europe abounds with ancient Swedish grifters posing as earls seeking to separate you from your riches!). He somehow bamboozled us into believing such astonishing stories, and feeling so sorry for him and moved by his infinite, ex-pat loneliness, that we ended up at his very seedy apartment high above Rome. At night. With no way back down to the train station.

Did I mention that no one who cared about us knew we were even in Rome?

I won’t go into great detail, because the statute of limitations will never run out on this stupid move, but suffice it to say that we got him to take us back into the city, relatively unscathed, but shaken by our own stupidity, gullibility and the fact that we obviously weren’t as ready for the world as we thought.

Through the years, living and traveling in big cities, I have come to believe no one, trust no one asking for money is on the up-and-up. But I have occasional, inexplicable lapses. Like the time I gave money to the guy standing at the Dupont Circle Metro stop in DC. You know the story: I just need a few dollars to get the bus back to Baltimore where I have this great job waiting for me, which I really need so I can pay the medical expenses for my poor, sick elderly mother.

I knew it was bull-crap, but something about the way he told the story, his bravado or gall at using such a tired line, something, made me stop. “Look, I know you’re bs-ing me. Tell me the truth and I might actually give you some money.”  A sheepish, but somehow winning grin spread across his face. It was nice to stop playing the game for a minute. “Alright, lady, but don’t tell no one else. I’m gonna use the money to get a drink.” Normally, I am beyond opposed to contributing to someone’s addiction, but he’d told me the truth, so I gave him a buck.

My cynicism is truly and fully intact. My belief system hardened and formulaic: anyone asking for your sympathy, or money for food, bus fare, medical expenses, broken-down cars, wants it for something else, is using your best impulses to pay for or get something awful and dirty, some horrible vice like drugs, alcohol, sex or gambling.  I ignore people at freeway entrances and street corners. I am an immovable object…except for that pregnant woman that one time…and, oh yeah, the mutilated child in the Paris metro. Other than that, though, I am stone cold.

Fast forward to a couple months ago. My doorbell rang. Outside stood a woman with a desperate look on her face.

“Do you have any work I could do (ahh, we have a work ethic — good one!)? I need $28.97 (brilliant use of a specific number!) to buy antibiotics for my sister who had back surgery at Hennepin and they messed it up — it’s their fault (poor, poor victim of the system!).”

After some back and forth, even the offer that I could keep her phone until her boyfriend dropped off money to me later that day (of course I wasn’t going to take her phone, dumb rich lady like me!), I gave her $14, all the cash I had on hand, spoke to her sister (who called just at the right moment to seal the deal!) who God-blessed me a few times (the sainted, unselfish invalid!) and lauded her self-sacrificing sister for walking all over the city for her.

It was…sublime. I fell for it on purpose. With calculated innocence, an abandonment of everything I’d learned about the worst of human nature. Because I really, really wanted to believe it, and deep down where I was honest about knowing that it was a ruse, I decided that it really didn’t matter why she needed the money. She actually needed it —  her desperation was real, palpable, cloying.   And, I think, underneath the lie, and (perhaps?) a faint feeling of self-loathing, she was truly grateful to me for being willing to fall for it.

So call me a sucker, a naive, an innocent idiot. My humanity got the better of me again.

Sure, those women “fooled” me, but deep down I hope I never lose the occasional willingness to see beyond a lie to the core of emptiness and despair that drives people to such depths. It could have been me in their place, having to lie for a few dollars. I guess I figured it wasn’t much to pay for the luxury and good fortune of always being on the other side of that very sad equation.

juicing up

It’s happening as it does in unpredictable cycles, this dip in productivity, a heightened fear of failure, of putting myself out there — all resulting in…nothing. No creative juices, no brilliant bits of prose, or beautiful photographs or even a particularly inspired bit of home organization.

I don’t know if it’s a seasonal thing — summer certainly wore me out psychically.  I lacked  a spiritual room of my own, no schedule per se with fragmented, hectic mothering and coordinating to do. As for recharging — ha! Summer is a frantic race to pack it all in, “enjoy” the outdoors, wring the most of every sweltering, shortlived minute.

So to reiterate, I am not recharged, revivied, renewed. I am creatively drained. I’ve started writing at least five posts in the last few months of my hiatus and either finshed one and hated it, or didn’t finish it because I lacked any feeling around it. They all felt wrong and overworked. I was afraid of not being “perfect,” a word that sits like a bitter berry in my throat with one hell of an aftertaste.

Thus I am freewriting today, an exercise I haven’t done since college, but one that has been used by writers through the ages to end a “block.”  There is a simple joy in not worrying too much about how something will turn out, what the tie-in will be and whether what I write will appeal to my readers. If this isn’t the most profound or topical of blog entries I apologize, but it’s probably my most personal blog  in a way, a crying out for nourishment from my poor, starving little muse. It is what I needed today. And it is enough.

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