Friday, November 3, 2017

My Private party of Words

I write because I must. I write because if I don't my mind becomes a dark, deserted alley in which scary creatures  lurk ready to pounce , holding me hostage and rendering me unrecognizable to myself.

I started writing because there was no one else to talk to. The things that I needed to talk about either got me in trouble or got me feeling like I was some kind of freak.

Freshly remarried on the rebound, mother and my new "father" shunted me off to Florida in the summer of 1966. I was enraged.I was ripped away from a world I had started to build for myself.
If nothing else, my parents' divorce let me know that my mom and dad were individuals with private agendas that had little to do with me. A divorce teaches a kid that they are not the center of their parent's world. New wives, new husbands, new sisters and new brothers were the world into which I was thrown without choice. I hated every damned piece of it. I was filled with an anger so hot that I sought refuge in a world of my own which had nothing to do with family.

If you look for me in the 1966 Plainwell, Michigan yearbook you will find me. I am the pale girl with the black watch kilt and knee socks and the unattractive black pointy eyeglasses. I am standing on a tier along with others for the journalism club photograph.
It was during that, my freshman year, I discovered I had a mind- a good mind that was inquisitive and equally important I had found others with whom I could share this part of me.

I eagerly awaiting Study Hall each afternoon. In hushed tones my cohorts and I discussed such books such as John Howard Griffith's Black Like Me or Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. We debated the newly passed Civil Rights Act and worked feverishly to dissect the cryptic lyrics of Bob Dylan's recently released Subterranean Homesick Blues.

The fact that I was not one of the a pretty, popular girls who looked sexy in their angora sweaters and tight wool skirts. no longer mattered. The fact that I was the only kid in town who had divorced parents (yes, divorce in Waspish midwestern small towns was rareL I had found a niche into which I fit.

On a night in mid June a bit beofre the first day of summer I had stood in our foyer clutching frantically at teh first boy I ever loved as I postponed that inevitable goodbye. next morning with my face swollen from tears i joined Mom in the yellow ford Fairlane packed down with a parakeet named Flower tomove to the lnad of eternal summer.
During that lonely summer of my fourteenth year that my love affair with words got serious. I spent hour upon hour reading and compiling lists of new words that I diligently recorded in a tiny notebook. I would read them last thing before bed and first thing in the morning. Reading and studying made me feel good inside. It gave a form to my day. It gave me something of my own that no one could take from me.

And it was at the modern built-in desk in my new room in our new modern house with the flying roof That I started writing what I referred to as "Letters to God."

I don't recall possessing a strong faith in the existence of the "God" of the churches I attended as a child and certainly not the God of the Sunday school class at St. Lukes in which we little children were forced to sit still and silent in small hardwook chairs. The already cold high-ceilinged room was made chillier by the presence a stern, unsmiling teacher who scared me with pictures of scary- looking angels and tales of what happens to children who don't learn the Bible. The church was not a soft place.

But the library was. During my junior high years my favorite escape during had often been the town's library- a once grand Victorian house whose maze of rooms provided the perfect place for a young girl to hide from the world. The ugliness of my parent's divorce coupled with my ever growing sense of isolation could not find me among the stacks of books. Here was a place of escape and fantasy. Here was a place where no one would or could disturb me. Here were the words.

Mom would only allow me so much time alone in my room behind my desk before she would start her tirade outside my closed door. "A normal 14 year old girl does not want to sit inside her room on a beautiful day. Why don't you go to the pool and make some friends.? she wailed.

I would not budge. I read those books. I made those lists, and I continue to write those letters to God. It was a big part of what I wanted to do, but it was also a wonderful way to get back at her for hauling my teenage self to this hot and sticky land of relentless sunshine- a place where most of our neighbors had gray hair and the lady next door decorated the spikes of her Spanish Bayonet plant with the pink and green styrofoam nests which cradled grocery store egg from the local Winn Dixie.

forcing me to dress, put me in the car and dropped me off at a softball field.
There I stood in my aqua striped surfer shirt and matching shorts. I was thin, tan shy and bookish. I did not know how to "make friends". Those kids alrady had each other. I had been thrust into a the closed society of teenagers most of whom had known one another since elementary school.

To ask myself at the age of sixty, "Who am I really" , or How is it I must now live takes a courage and committment that I am not certain I possess.and So my writing helps lead me to edges that the frightened part of me wants to avoid.

Just last evening a friend asked me if writing helped me make sense of things. I replied that I did not think so. I only know that after I have written a piece, I do feel a sense of relief.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

"Put Your Lights On"

I know that one huge blessing I have is that I have many very good friends. 

For most of my life I did this thing where when I would run in to a person who I had been around only a few times I would reintroduce myself because I figured they would not remember me. I thought that I was that insignificant. Usually, that person would reply, "Of course, I know who you are, Paula."A jab of surprise would register inside my heart.

It was me who did not know who I was.

My dear friend who died in February was that way too. She did not see her incredibleness.
My mother was that way, and so was my grandmother. And as a school teacher I would often marvel at  the low self-esteem that my funny, bright, talented and lovable students carried inside of themselves.

I think the saddest thing is that so many of us do not  love ourselves. We go through life thinking that there is something we must yet do to make the mark. When all we had to do was just be us.
I mean really be who we are and allow that to shine.

I have been crying a lot over the past week. My tears are not only tears of sadness but tears of such huge gratitude for the love I have known in my life. And for the gratitude that I am finally beginning to take care of myself and to honor myself as a lovable person.

It used to surprise me when I realized that someone liked me.  My tears also flow for the young and very insecure woman I was in my twenties and thirties and even my forties. I tried so hard to do it all right.

I have been having a very hard time over the past couple of years. The ground on which on depended has shifted dramatically, and I see open holes in many places. It is my challenge to fill those holes with 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Each time another problem has come down in the past two years I first get shocked. Then I move to action. While my logical brain calculates, rage, despair, fear and sadness fill  the cracks of my breaking heart.

I am not particularly pleasant to be around unless I am putting on my bravado show. My bravado makes a sound that could be either laughing maniacally or  chanted keening. My bravado dances to Tom Petty's "Refugee" and Bette Midler's "Beast of Burden." 

Grace comes when the tears begin to fall.

I pull myself up. I line my eyes blue and wear orange and green.

I lift heavy weights and dig in the soil without wearing gloves.

I give thanks for every possible thing I can think of like having indoor plumbing and eyes that see.

Friends and Music  save me from a bitterness that could destroy me if I don't remain vigilant.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Getting Old with "Lady Marmalade"

Yeah, I sit here on this morning in late May. The huge oaks in our backyard are dappled with  early morning light. I write as I listen to Dylan. I have had a huge  crush on that man since I was fourteen. Believe it was "Rainy Day Women" that did it for me.

That song for my young uncertain mind conveyed an exciting mix of angst and danger.

Age. Our guy Dylan is now seventy-two. Only twenty years ago  seventy-two conjured up  pictures of recliners and pill bottles. Yet, he still rocks. May I too rock at seventy-two?

Aging is happening to the Forever Young set.  Friends are dying. People we love including maybe our own selves are getting scary diagnoses. What once was a month is now a week.
And a day is a mere  piss in the wind.

Unsettling for sure. I stay busy as if in doing so I can keep  the Grim Reaper from laughing too hard.

Got another cancer scare this week. I chose not to talk about it. No amount of talking does a damned bit of good. Diagnosed with breast cancer last March did not scare me at the time. I was too busy staying in action researching , and then jumping through the hoops of surgery and radiation.

It was only about six months later that I admitted to myself that I was scared shitless. Not so much about dying, but scared about dying feeling that I have not totally lived.

And that is the $64,000 question. How do I know the answer to that? Perhaps I think too much- always been accused of that. It is, however, my nature to ponder. Been that way since I was a little girl.

My aunt once said it was my "artistic temperament" whatever that means. A doc said it was OCD. Well, whatever the fuck it is, it is who I am. And inherent in those very qualities are my gifts- double-edged though they may be.

I think of two  friends who passed away this year. My darling girlfriend died in February. Our dear buddy with the dancing eyes died on Wednesday. Too young to die?  Fifty-nine and sixty-eight respectively.

See, we think that is young, but it is not. As my deceased friend Sue wrote to me in an email a few years ago:

"This is it Paula and I am making great efforts to accept my life as a miracle...what is the 
alternative? "

Yesterday was the day that I knew my biopsy results might be available. I was so scared that I felt slippery in my gut.  While doing kitchen chores,  "Jackson" played on my iPod dock, and before I knew it I was dancing and singing  to both June and Johnny's parts.

Next, I dialed up Patti Labelle's "Lady Marmalade" and I danced hard. As I did my inner self  burst out  and smothered my fear.

Dancing Paula  was vital, sensuous, sexy and young because that is what is in her soul - the part she finds it easy to forget too often these days.

I made the call to Moffitt. I went about my business with a steady hand as I awaited a call back from pathology.

Turns out results are benign.

Things fall apart. They fall together again. They fall apart again. They.....

And in between all of that, we must dance.

Today is my Grace.

Tomorrow I dance no matter what happens.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Deep Purple Dreams

your death is still an abstraction
in my mind

I saw the online obituary
last night
a picture of you so gleeful
with one of your hat creations atop  your head

I said to myself, "Why that is Sue!"
and then I re-remembered that the photograph
accompanied your obituary

I know nothing.
nothing, nothing, nothing
and I have known I know nothing for many years now

but a primal place inside of me
knows that where you are is good
and soft and kind and pretty

I KNOW that.
and this knowledge is visceral not cerebral
I'm going with visceral more and more these days


stuff was backward Sunday afternoon
my bike was that is

at 2:16  I got on my new green bike
and the seat felt too high
and when I tried to pedal, it was too hard
my knees just up and hit the handlebars

I lay the bike on the front lawn
and as I did I remembered how I used to do that all the time
when i was a kid- back in the day when a girl
could leave her bike lying in the front yard
with no worry that someone  might take it

I went inside and Dan comes out, looks at the bike
and says, "Lucy, you have the wheel all turned around."

and gosh, I did
and then I got on the bike and I pedaled west
to meet my friend for a walk
relieved I was as I pedaled toward my friend's house

maybe an hour later I was back on the bike
the short walk with my friend  over
and my phone buzzed in the pocket of my  shorts

I did not answer it since I was just a block from home
but I knew what the call was
somewhere between my backward bike problem
and my walk underneath the glorious February sky
you left

all that morning I had been playing
top Billboards from 1963
and for the past few days since you died
these words keep coming across my mind

sure is a pretty song, isn't it?
it was one of those that hung in the back row of my memory
like a comfy sweater I had long forgotten
 sure am glad I found it again

HERE  are the lyrics if you want to sing along. Singing always makes me feel good. 


"Deep Purple"

When the deep purple falls over sleepy garden walls
And the stars begin to twinkle in the night
In the mist of a memory you wander on back to me
Breathing my name with a sigh
In the still of the night once again I hold you tight
Though you're gone, your love lives on when moonlight beams
And as long as my heart will beat, sweet lover we'll always meet
Here in my deep purple dreams
Here in my deep purple dreams
When the deep purple falls over sleepy garden walls
And the stars begin to twinkle in the night
In the mist of a memory you wander back to me
Breathing my name with a sigh
In the still of the night once again I hold you tight
Though you're gone, your love lives on when moonlight beams
And as long as my heart will beat, sweet lover we'll always meet
Here in my deep purple dreams
And as long as my heart will beat, sweet lover we'll always meet
Here in my deep purple dreams

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Gift of the Mundane

When I was thirty-nine, my mother died. This was my first experience with a death that was close.
It was my first experience with watching a person decline and die.

I suffered protracted grief that went on for years. I became angrier, more driven, and much less spontaneous.

Now at nearly sixty-two loss comes knocking more and more often. No amount of barricading will keep it away.

Today I got up and got going. I notice that I welcome my daily chores more and more the older I get.
They serve as a roadmap for my day.

I have come to be grateful for structure. When I was younger, I spend much energy rebelling against it. I guess I feared being swallowed by routine.

As today wore on, I began to feel a sensation as though I were trying to walk through a wall of water.
My chores became more difficult. My body felt unbelievably spent.

I knew I must rest. The best relaxation for me is to lie flat on my back on the floor and stare at the ceiling. The hard surface of the floor serves to ground  me.

If I get lucky, one of my feline familiars rubs its face against mine or bumps its body against me tickling my soul just a tad and reminding me how much delight life still offers.

Five minutes flat on the floor helps to restore me.

I get up and do the next thing on the list.

I have learned to lower my expectations for my day as I age.

Grieving forces that on me.

Moving slowly but steadily has its own rewards.

It allows me to take in the small, sweet bits of my day.

Monday, February 4, 2013

My Love Song to Sue

You were a bit of  a sprite
in those last days.
I lay  at the end of your bed,
and I asked if you knew how much I loved you.

And you said you wanted me to tell you how much.
So I told you that if I were to paint a picture of my love
it would be of a place where the sky is always violet
and proud blue spruces stand tall.

Later I made reference to a Downton Abbey  plot detail
you had not yet watched. You looked me in the eye and said, "Busted!
We giggled a bit. Then you let out a Sueism.
"If I have to die, I will die funny".

Jolly times we surely shared.
We had a little ritual for a spell there in the '90's
in which we would greet one another
by breaking into a silly dance: we never needed music to dance.

Hard times we shared too.
Walks and talks in which tears
and confidences were exchanged.
You were my for better or for worse friend.

You walked your talk, my girl.
And I adored you for that.
You could tune an engine and wield a hack saw
as well as the next guy. And I was in awe of that.

Well, okay there.
You go girl; you go funny
'cause funny is good.
 Zip-A- Dee-Doo- Dah- lady- friend- of -mine

For every dance step I take, I'll do one for you.
For each beach day I have, I'll send you a sun ray.
But if you were to ask me, my sweet girl,
more than dying funny, you died strong.

There will come a day when the skies
will open to hues of purple and aqua and
orange and red.
And we all who loved you shall cast our eyes upward.

If we look real hard, we shall see
a chariot drawing itself across the heavens.
A regal woman rests upon a golden chair.
And her name is Sue, Queen of Serendipity.

                                                     Sue and Paula August, 2012
Weeki Wachee River

Sue wheeling me through Lettuce Lake Park
Summer, 2011
Our yard sale at Sue's house

Playing Dress-up sometime in the 80's

At twenty-eight years old when I first met her.

Dancing Crazy

Paula, Sue and June
"Bad Taste In Outer Space"