Sunday, September 28, 2008

Who's a sissy?

Getting old isn’t for sissies.
- Bette Davis

When did it happen? When did I merge into the realm of ma’am instead of miss? When did I cross into the official time zone of middle age? When did the sad realization hit me that Bette Davis is right? Getting old is definitely not for sissies.

When we are in our twenties we live glorious, self-centered lives. We are strong and tan and full of vitality, oblivious to a future of paying the piper. In our thirties we come full into adulthood and embrace our responsibilities, while hanging on to a sliver of youthful abandon and defiance of what is yet to come.

In our forties we settle comfortably into our lives, keeping a stalwart denial that things are changing. We laugh about how our knees pop when we get up or how we will feel less than perky the morning after too much wine. It’s still amusing. It’s still not real. Not me. Unhuh. No way.

Then we cross the threshold of fifty and after suffering the surprising damage of eating cucumbers or red peppers, we can no longer refute the possibility that our bodies are just not the same. The popping knee is no longer a joke. The vino impairment a sad awakening.

I don’t know about you, but my body continues to taunt me with the consequences of aging. I can remember with stark clarity the day I looked in the mirror and realized my butt was no longer where it belonged. The tight little touché that once audaciously perched just below my waist, now spreads itself over the top of my thighs. Time had stolen my bum.

All of us mid-lifers know too well the dread of sagging skin. The elbows, the neck, the mid-section that we’ve come to know as “muffin top”. But, alas, it also shows up in startling places. One morning, as I was doing my Child’s pose yoga stretch, with head leaning forward, I noticed my field of vision was obscured. I sat up. Vision was okay. I leaned forward. Obscured. With alarming awareness I realized that my cheeks were sliding up into my eye wells. Ahh, that’s just cruel.

But there are other remarkable qualities that come with aging. Determination. Grace. Tenacity. Wonderful characteristics that if adopted with enthusiasm, help us get past the heartburn, the hair growing in the wrong places, the gas, the aching joints and flapping skin. Reticence is replaced by joie de vivre. Uncertainty by clarity. Ego makes way for acceptance.

There’s another anonymous quote that I like:

Youth is the gift of nature,
But age is a work of art.

So as we waddle down the road of the inevitable, we have a choice: Live artfully, or whine like a sissy.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wish I'd written that #1

My post on Oge.e.ku (September 8) got me reading some of my favorite poems again. There is one memorable verse that offers such vivid imagery you can see, hear and smell the story it tells.

I’m posting a shortened version of it here as the first in my “Wish I’d written that” series, hoping that you will savor the grit and texture of it, and appreciate how a snapshot of everyday urban life can be so dramatically reflected.

by T. S. Eliot

The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o’clock.
The burnt out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.

The morning comes to consciousness
Of faint stale smells of beer
From the sawdust-trampled street
With all its muddy feet that press
To early coffee-stands.
With the other masquerades
That time resumes,
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms.
I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.

Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Wanted: apathy free zone

When I started this blog, I promised myself I would veer away from political topics. In a season overwhelmed with pundits shouting from rooftops, I wanted to stay out of the fray. But here I am assuming the soap box position.

Not to worry. If you have already done your due diligence and have adopted an educated stance, there’s no need to keep on reading. On the other hand, if you’re boasting, “I hate politics.” Or being coy, “I probably won’t vote.” Then brace yourself for a full frontal assault.

This. Is. Not. A. Time. To. Be. Apathetic.

With the issues facing our country, apathy is a four letter word. It’s an insult to the red, white and blue. It’s a poor excuse for being lazy. It’s a sad, silly façade to hide behind.

Grow some conviction.

There is absolutely no excuse for being uninformed. Educational resources today are widely available and mostly free. Cable TV offers a multitude of news related programs. If you don’t have cable, most shows can be viewed after broadcasting on the station’s Web site.

The Internet brings the world to your fingertips offering everything you ever wanted to know about anything. Did you know that Google offers a service where you can choose a topic and they will send you an email every time a story related to that topic appears on the Web? Homework made easy.

Politicians, historians, economists, etc. will be visiting every part of the country between now and November. Go hear what the have to say. Ask questions. Heck, even demand that they substantiate their views.

If you find the myriad of issues too overwhelming, then pick one or two that really resonate with you and become immersed in knowing all that you can. There are so many to choose from: war, economy, education, environment, budget deficit, health care, global relations. What do you believe in? What do you want to believe in again?

Obviously, in my own partisan way, I’m hoping that by studying the issues, you will come around to choosing my candidate. But the bigger picture here is that you have exercised your right to choose. You have taken advantage of the freedom to be informed. To express your opinion. To cast a vote.

In the current fragile state of our country, indifference is inexcusable.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Kodak moment

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing a new production of The Music Man – that delightful musical romp through small town Iowa. The story centers on a traveling con man selling musical instruments and band uniforms to gullible citizens who have been taken by his charm. Along the way he manages to transform the repressed townsfolk and redeem himself in the process.

But for me there was a more significant message in the story.

Near the end, as Professor Hill is falling for Marian the Librarian, he says something to the effect of…”I don’t want tomorrow to come without making a memory today.”

Hmmm. For lighthearted theatre, that was a fairly profound thought. And it gave me pause. In today’s frantic, cyber-linked world, how often do any of us make time to create a memory? It’s really not about a shortage of hours in the day, but rather a lack of inclination.

Speaking for myself, I am very guilty of living an inward life. I am at ease in my own company. Which translates to: it’s easier to amuse myself than to get off my duff. I prefer to call it cocooning but what I fear is that I’m losing the thrill of spontaneity, the joy of fresh connections, the anticipation of trying something new.

I am not a hermit. I have many friends and varied interests. But you know what? I can’t remember when I last put a recent picture of a special time into a photo album. Where are my Kodak moments?

Of course that’s a metaphor. It’s impossible to take a picture of a squeal of laughter. Or to capture on film a spirited discussion. Special occasions don’t have to be holidays or vacations or birthday parties. They can be small moments of magic that won’t happen without a little effort.

Here’s my thought starter list for making memories:

- Take a tap dancing class.
- Call a friend you haven’t seen since high school.
- Plan a block party and get to know neighbors you’ve never met.
- Slip a love note into your sweetheart’s pocket/purse/backpack.
- Take a guided moonlight hike through a nature preserve.
- Flip open a cookbook and make the first recipe you see.
- Read poetry to a child or a grandparent.
- Take some friends to a grassy knoll and roll down it like you did when you were a kid.
- Leave a Saturday unplanned and see what unfolds.

Okay, those are my ideas. What are yours?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sweet surrender

For a while now, I have been working on learning how to live in the moment. For an anal retentive, organization demon, this is a tough task. Move, move, move, put it away, get it done, do it now. My mantra.

As I try to release the urge to control my life, I am bombarded by hit’n’run reminders of what I need to accomplish. Magazine articles recommend: Let it be. Talk shows preach: Go with the flow. Spiritual teachers advise: Go within.

In trying to relax into the moment, I can completely stress myself out. But this summer, Mother Nature gave me a living example of sweet surrender.

For years I struggled in vain to grow tomatoes in my small city yard. I’ve taken out rose bushes to give them a prime sunny spot, but they were invaded by some kind of boring worm. I’ve planted in the hinderlands of the forgotten south side hoping more sun would please them, but the sandy soil was too poor to produce a real crop.

I put them in a huge pot near the house where I could keep an eye out for hungry squirrels, but still I lost the battle. I tied them to the side of the porch and ensconced them in mesh; the critters ate through it.

I gave up. I surrendered. No more tomato attempts for me.

This year as I was doing yard work, I noticed in the tiniest of cracks between the sidewalk and the garage something was growing. Never quick to weed, eventually the sprout revealed itself to be a tomato plant – obviously the gift of a neighborhood bird with incredible aim. I was amazed. I waited for it to die.

It didn’t.

That plant is now six foot tall and cresting the roof line of the garage. I’ve had to tie it up four times to keep it from toppling. As of last count, there were ten tomatoes of impressive size, with another ten or so pea-sized fruit.

But the really magical part – the tenacious plant is growing in deep shade on the north side of the building that is really more suitable for the production of moss. I am confounded. Even the squirrels have been surprised into submission.

When I gave up trying so hard, I was rewarded with the fruits of no labor.

Now as I look out the window and marvel at the bounty I am about to reap,I can’t help but smile at the thought, at the irony of it all. But for me the real sweetness is in the lesson learned.

Monday, September 8, 2008


I’ve always loved poetry. In my own superficial wanna-be-a-poet way. I’m enamored by the thought of being “poetic”. By the hope that someday I might say something profoundly lyrical. Or lyrically profound.

That desire, though, is soundly based in a deep respect for the written word. Prose/poetry. Fiction/memoir. Journalism/satire. A beautifully composed thought is powerful in any format. But it’s the dramatic imagery, the romantic verse and even the silly little ditty that make poetry so beguiling.

In recent years I became fascinated with Haiku. I think part of the appeal for me is that it is so peaceful, so simple, so lovely. But more recently I’ve decided what I miss in this style is the rhyming nature of poetry.

Two of my early favorite poets were Ogden Nash and E. E. Cummings. Nash because of his surprising humor and pun like rhymes. Cummings because of his rogue elimination of the period and his frequent touch of satire.

Therefore, I announce the formation of a new form of poetry, one that makes use of the elements I admire. I’ve named it -- Oge.e.ku

Here’s the structure:

Og – for Ogden Nash. This calls for the use of irregular meter and off kilter rhyming devices with words that are sometimes deliberately misspelled.


is dandy
but liquor
is quicker.

e.e. – for E. E. Cummings. Pull in the lower case format, some idiosyncrasy of syntax with a dash of surrealism and peculiarity.


I sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or

ku – for Haiku. The short form reigns here, but its not limited to three lines or a certain number of syllables. Nature and seasons can, or cannot, be connected to the theme.


Morning light appears
The new day has awoken
Nature stirs and sighs

That’s it! The structure is so unstructured even I can do it.

Contorted, twisted, eagle spread
bewitching, twitching, lump of lead
my dog, while small in stature be,
takes up more space in bed than me


am I wise
to compromise
the gypsy in my soul?


A virgo’s lot
is always not
a Pollyanna view;
the color’s wrong
the song’s too long --
sour note, bad hue

I’m sure over time I will do some tinkling with the elements of Oge.e.ku. But for the moment I declare it born unto the high world of poetry. If someone is reading this (I think there’s one or two of you), I encourage you to partake of this liberating new format for expressing your silliest thoughts. Go forth and be free with your rhymes….and please post them to this blog.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A special someone

I am very fortunate to have a special guy in my life. Not your ordinary Tom, Dick or Harry. A really handsome fellow whom I adore, and who adores me right back. He’s faithful, loyal and true.

Yeah, okay, I can’t take him to the movies on a Friday night, but we’ve had many great walks in the park and shared countless meals. Of course, I do all the cooking but he’s pulls his weight as a primo pot scrubber.

That’s him on the left. The big guy with the sweet face. His name is Murphy and we’ve been together for over fourteen years now. The little guy on the right is Nelson, the newest addition to the family.

The big palooka is moving a little slower these days. Arthritis and atrophy have slowed him down. He can barely hear. Cataracts dim his vision. He’s popping warts and fatty tumors all over his hobbled body. And much to my dismay, he’s has become the most gaseous creature on the planet. But his smile and spirit never fade, and I love him more than ever.

I watch him now when he sleeps, wondering if his breathing is really irregular or if it’s just my imagination. I try not too fuss over him when he has trouble getting up or show him special attention by offering one too many biscuits. He’s been my best friend and I’m preparing for the end.

I came across a little story I wrote about him a few years ago. I thought this might be a good time and place to revisit it.

Murphy Brown Dog

Almost ten years ago I decided I was responsible enough to bring a dog into my life, so I started calling rescue groups inquiring about adoption possibilities. I found a local organization that had an upcoming event.

Do you have puppies, I asked.

Oh yes, was the reply, half chortle, half sigh. We have puppies.

I eagerly headed to the adoption site and found a screened off area that had been set up for the pups. I watched as one by one they were brought out of a large van. Many furry black faces. Many. Then to my surprise, one light brown dog was presented.

My heart fluttered as I picked up the soft bundle. He lay quietly in my arms, his head on my shoulder.

What a laid back guy, I thought.

When I finally put him on the ground, he began circling in a whirlwind, like the Tasmanian devil from cartoon life, but with a happy stride. To this day when I call out “devil dog, the frenzy begins all over.

For many wonderful years, that happy, happy outlook has brightened my life. The smile has gone a bit lopsided, but the enthusiasm never wanes. From the first light of day when he places his head on my bed, to settling in for the night, all aspects of life are met buoyantly.

Over the years Murphy has been a friend to many fostered dogs whose lives were not as happy as his. He shared his cheerfulness with all who shared his home. A loving nature his gift to impart. And now he coaches a young, newly adopted brother – Nelson – through all of life’s lessons.

What joy and laughter and pleasure he has brought to my life. Every day I look him square in the eyes. Sweet, brown eyes. You’re the best puppy in the world, I say. Thanks for being my friend.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Try, try again

I am a perennial yoga drop out. I can’t recall the number of times I have enrolled for a class, eager to improve my well being, and committed to follow through. Whatever that number is, it’s the same number of times I never made it through the course.

The reasons for falling out are fairly typical: too busy, too lazy, too whatever. I took my first class about 30 years ago and that drop out can be blamed on a fashion faux pas. No, not mine. The instructor’s. She was wearing her tights over the top of her leotard -- holy jiminy -- and I was mortified. If I took yoga would I also become such an obvious fashion “don’t”?

Recurring enrollments were mostly thwarted by the fact that I have no flexibility. Really, none. I almost flunked junior high Phys Ed because I couldn’t do a forward roll – my head just would not tuck close enough to my chest to permit the forward rolling part. Repeated and aborted attempts took me high on the spaz-o-meter.

Eventually my need to spare myself from embarrassment led to the purchase of a yoga video. In the privacy of my own home I was being led to posture refinement by the lovely Raquel Welch. Please, hold the guffaws. While the craftsmanship was flawed, the premise was a winner: seven 10-minute segments offered a manageable routine for every day of the week. And, her tights were worn properly.

I used that video off and on for many years, but two years ago it proved quite invaluable. Out of the blue, I started having back pain. So I decided to try some back stretches to loosen up. Raquel got me started and the practice seemed to be working. I added in new postures I found in books, then lo and behold, something took hold and I stuck with it.

Within a couple months, the back pain had subsided but I was hooked on my morning routine of meeting the day calmly with deep breathing and relaxing stretches. I was proud that the embarrassing toe cramps had gone by the way side and that the Downward Facing Dog no longer induced the urge to barf.

It was about six months into my practice that the miracle happened. One morning as I entered into a Forward Bend, I involuntarily bent over further than I imagined possible. A little voice said, “Further, bend further”. With minimal effort – OMG – I was actually touching my toes! I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I had no flexibility. Never before in my life (I might cry here) had I been able to reach the floor without bending my knees.

I will never be a Yogini. And I’m not preaching that Yoga is the end all, be all. What is important, though, is to embrace those opportunities/challenges/tasks put before you. Even if you have rejected something many, many times (stuff comes back to you for a reason!), you just never know what reward a little fortitude might bring.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Let me count the ways

I think many people, including myself, have a fairly unshakable morning routine. I feed the animals, bring in the paper and start my own breakfast. The variation would be when I do myself the favor of yoga stretches or, depending upon the state of my elder dog’s gastro-intestinal system, take him for a potty walk.

Back at the breakfast table, I tune in to the Today Show and while it’s playing in the background, I rip through the paper. With all the respect I have for the depth of on-line news sources, you just cannot find a web replacement akin to reading the daily comic strips.

I’ve been known to tear up reading Lynn Johnston’s ForBetter or Worse. Ms. Johnston’s charm and talent centers around telling stories of everyday family issues. She captured the heartbreak of losing a parent, broke ground with her controversial scripting of a young man’s “coming out”, and ripped out our hearts with the death of Farley, the family dog. C’mon, admit it, you cried!

Now if you want to start your day with a good snort, you probably go first to Stephan Pastis’ strip, Pearls Before Swine. I’ve been known to spew Cheerios across the table as I roar over the daily antics of his animal crew. Rat can be really mean to pig.

For sweetness, I’m charmed by Pat Brady’s Rose is Rose. The alter ego to Rose, is Vicky, the Harley riding babe who favors mini-skirts and knee boots. Every woman has a little Vicky in her. Rose’s other escapes include leaning on her “Let it be” tree or ruminating on her own stubbornness while in the “Dungeon of Resentment”. We’ve all been there.

But nothing tugs at my heartstrings quite like Mutts, by Patrick McDonnell. You can’t help but love Earl, cause he’s a lovable pup, and Mooch, the curious cat, or Shtinky, who is very involved with saving endangered species. But my heart really goes out to Guard Dog, a chained dog who asks “How do you guard against loneliness?” While it’s warming your heart, I hope it also motivates you to adopt a bundle of love from a shelter near you.

So when was the last time you stopped to think about how much comics add to your life? For me, here’s the short list: warmth, charm, laughter, motivation, inspiration, complicity, friendship, compassion, balance, creativity.

Much more than just a part of your morning routine....a ritual to be savored.