Thursday, March 31, 2011

March 31st

On this day, in 1933, my father was born. Throughout my life, my dad was the source of comfort and affection. He ran a small Luncheonette, my home base for all of my childhood adventures.

I remember his voice booming down the cul-de-sac where my friends lived. He would call for me whenever I was late or avoiding responsibilities. He yelled a lot.

In our house, my dad had his chair, a hideous recliner that smelled of cooking grease and sweat. It was where my father would fall asleep whenever the television was on. Sometimes his snores drowned out the dialogue. He sat in that chair, cradling my infant son, rocking and humming softly. Ba-ba-do, ba-ba-do.

The worst thing my father could say to me was, "I'm disappointed in you." When he uttered those words, I was inwardly crushed, though my cold adolescent exterior defied my inner pain.

Nearly every weekend, he would wake up at 3:30 in the morning to accompany me to the barn. I would braid horses in the dawn. Once it was light, he brought me breakfast. He would not leave until others arrived. At the horse shows, he sat in his lawn chair and read the newspaper. He hated the monotony, but was there every time.

My dad loved my mother with a purity and strength I have never seen. They fought like petty children, and their ambitions were severely mismatched, but my dad had hitched his heart to my mother's star in the second grade and never let go.

He taught me how to fight cancer. He faced his disease with dignity and optomism. Every time his body failed him, he simply kept going. Until he could go no more. Even then, he died quietly, holding his life-long best friend's hand until she gave him permission to go. My sister and I were not invited to that leave-taking. We'd already said our goodbyes. He was 60 years old.

On what would have been his 70th birthday, I was struggling with my own cancer. I had had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma and some lymph nodes. It was a rainy day, my arm was swathed in bandages and an Outback coat, as I marched up and down the driveway with my horse. That evening, I said goodbye to a beloved friend.

I like to think my dad was waiting for him.

Happy Birthday Dad.

Didion's Vortex*

We left Denver and headed West on I-70. The greenish-yellow Ford Maverick sped toward the waiting range. Maps spread across the front bench seat. The windows were rolled down letting in the summer air. The highway threaded through canyons. Though the car rolled ever-upward, the mountains seemed to grow, their whitening peaks promising cool relief from the late June heat. I was the navigator, an easy task as there was only one possibility for us through the range. My aunt drove, fiddling with the radio and singing when no stations would register. I stared out the window looking for wildlife, though I saw mainly ground squirrels and soaring raptors. We were at the beginning of a three-week expedition through the American West.

Driving through Colorado, West on I-70, I followed the maroon Ford Ranger toward the looming Rockies. The engine of the silver rental I was driving strained as we headed up an incline. The clouds, a duller version of the car color broke apart as we red-lined up the incline. The stress of following another car, weaving through traffic, toward an unfamiliar destination caused palm-sweating hyper-awareness of the surroundings. The mountains erupted from the plain. A pathwork of bare red and gray rock, dark green pines and wispy scrub-grass dotted the slopes. Houses became sparser, neighborhoods gave way to clusters of log and glass homes pinholed into those dwindling places where building was possible. We laughed as we ascended deeper into the Rockies; our family Colorado adventure was just beginning.

We followed the maroon Ford Ranger up I-70, toward the mountains. The engine roared as I pushed on the accelerator. The gray clouds broke into blue patches. The rugged front range stood vanguard to its taller, snow-covered siblings. My knuckles were white, my palms sweaty from the anxiety of following my son toward an unfamiliar destination. And overwhelming memory. The chasm opening before me was not canyon nor ravine, the car was not careening into space. But something within my chest was falling, sinking into some dark and painful abyss. I counted swallows of mountain air, ignoring its sparser oxygen, instead, I focused on the action. Inhale. Exhale. The inner black mist dispersed. The turn-signal on my mother's old truck came on. We left the highway. I sighed as we turned toward the beauty of Red Rocks on the last day of our Colorado visit.

*Right after the "incident," (in my family, we call it the crash that took the lives of our mother and aunt the "incident," because, after all, a drunk driver slamming into the back of their car at 130mph isn't an accident) anyway, after the "incident," a professor recommended Joan Didion's A Year of Magical Thinking. In that memoir, she descibes moments of overwhelming memory and grief that hit suddenly, ususally when a smell, or a scene, or a situation stir up a particular memory associated with a lost loved one. A kind of debilitating deja vu.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My Thickening Skin

Can you hear them? The dulcet tones of rejection. Notes not written in e-mail or archaic pages, but the simple, gaping lack of a name on a list of finalists.

Maybe it's better this way. It is more impersonal than some form letter - a formulaic "Dear Writer, You suck and we couldn't possible publish your drivel in our paragon journal of modern fiction." OK. I have not received one even close to that, but my insecurity leaves even the most mundane, "Thanks, but sorry," the way it wants. And I did aim high- one of the more prestigious literary journals.

I am disappointed, but surprisingly not devastated. I think my writerly skin is thickening. I can look at this objectively and tell myself that the story I submitted is a hard one to place. It doesn't really fit neatly into a genre; it blurs the line between poetry and prose. There is a place for it somewhere and I am convinced it is worthy of publication. It's up to me to find its niche.

It is another example of how writing is becoming my job- the creative side and the administrative aspect, because finding appropriate markets takes time, sometimes as much or more than the actual creative process.

Meanwhile, my office is nearly finished. It awaits some pictures on the walls, the aging laptop on the desk, and my butt in the chair.

Let the submission process recommence.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Slothful Inspiration

Yesterday I took a much needed lazy day and the snow and wind outside encouraged indoor pursuits, filling me with a desire to nap. After a whirlwind week of home trailer repair, working on the barn office floor, taming a large(and vengeful) thornbush, raking the vegetable garden, and a visit from Mr. W.'s cousin(great fun!But I think next time, I will forego the butter on the movie popcorn. The after-effects were part of the lazy day inspiration), a day of lounging on the couch with a heating pad on my sore, knotted shoulder was wonderful.

What did I do? Obviously, I did not blog. I did read (Middlemarch, my continuing attempt at filling the literary gaps in my education), but mainly, I channeled my inner sofa vegetable, occasionaly straining my clicker-finger.

I watched part of Avatar and my favorite pieces of The Proposal- how I love that movie. I flicked back and forth, until, perusing the guide, I found Immortal Beloved on the Indie channel.

It's one of my favorite flicks. There is no one who can do genius/crazy like Gary Oldman. Imagine my delight, when in the beginning scenes. I recognized the square in front of Prague Castle. So there I was, lounging on my couch, sharing an afternoon with Beethoven and Prague.

Being the dork that I am, I grabbed my Kindle and downloaded the writings of Herr Ludwig and read excerpts as I listened to the dialogue. Very interesting. Very, very enlightening. I scratched just the surface, but I found ideas as stunning and complex as his music. And of course, there is the ideal of his "Unsterbliche Geliebte" (Immortal Beloved). And no one knows who she was.

So where did all this creative stirring take me?

I would love to say that it inspired a frenzy of ideas, sending me screaming to my computer to relieve the pressure of my fecund imagination, birthing exiting stories and pages of brilliance.

It did stir things up a bit. I jotted down a few new thoughts. Then watched The Bounty Hunter. Yeah. That killed all intellectual stimulation. I could feel my Muse writhing in the corners. I think she had a few vivid homicidal thoughts directed at yours truly during that irretreivable hour-and-a half. Though maybe she hated me more when I attempted "Moonlight Sonata" on my severely out-of-tune piano. Pathetic. I know. Especially when you consider that in the many, many, tortuous years of lessons, some at a reputable music school, I never mastered reading music...

There are always recordings by people who can actually play Beethoven and the books on my Kindle to relight the creative flame. Despite the dousing of the creative flame by stale romantic comedy, ideas are still swirling around my Muse, who is desparately trying to capture and tame them into something coherent.

I'll let you know how that works out.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My New Motivator

The diet and increased exercise are going well. The barn office is coming along nicely. And spring is definitely in the air. My itch to ride is increasing and I intend to relish in some serious pony-time tomorrow-they are predicting sun and sixty!

But there is definitely more work to do, evidenced by the bursting of my "I'm-not-that-chubby" bubble. Some people say I suffer from body dismorphia. I choose to call it reality. I am not a size 2 and I never will be, but 4 used to be doable. Yes, clothing manufacturers have widened their size paramaters. I even have a couple of size 2 jeans that I could sausage my thighs into. Not so much anymore.

I am aware of my expanding girth, and with the wedding approaching, Mr. W. and I have been working with a personal trainer twice a week. We have a brand new elliptical machine in the basement. Admittedly, it isn't being worn out, but it has had company fairly regularly. And there was the week when it was drying out from taking a swim in 16 inches of flooded cellar.

There is nothing like reality TV to really hit you in the face with the reason why many celebrities are so skinny.

Last December, my sister, my future MIL, two of Mr. W.'s cousins, and I spent part of an afternoon at Kleinfeld, the home of the program, "Say Yes to the Dress." It was a memorable occassion, not entirely because I found THE DRESS, but also for the spectacle of the film crew and subjects.

On the day we were there, a young lady was being filmed choosing her dress. We knew nothing about her. Except that she was difficult to fit. She was very well endowed. Infact, her cups runneth over. Literally. And they kept squeezing her into strapless dress after strapless dress. Janet Jackson at the SuperBowl had nothing on wardrobe malfunctions.

Seeing her in her dresses made me feel positively svelte in my choices. I was feeling pretty good and I was ecstatic with my dress.

Last weekend, I got a message informing me that we, my posse and I, had actually made it onto the show. Granted, we were in the background, but there we were!

Scrambling to find a rerun or recording of the episode, my sister and I were disappointed to only find a preview. However, in one shot, there I was standing on my pedestal in a dress. Was it THE DRESS? I couldn't tell.

For three days I kept checking Amazon and iTunes to see if I could purchase the episode. I wanted to see if they had caught the look on my sister's face when the busty one came out of her dressing room, stuffed into a dress that would have made Tinkerbell jealous. (It turns out her friends picked it out and she hated it. She put it on to humor them. I applaud her bravery.)

My sister did make it on film and I must say, she looked great. I have to say that my parents' investment in her smile really paid off.

I paused the video on my large computer screen. There I was. And yes, it is THE DRESS. It's distorted by the pixilated picture, though it is still beautiful. I, on the other hand saw how desperately I need to step up the diet and exercise.

My mother always used to tell me, "You're not fat, you're chunky." Yeah. I'm beyond chunk wavering into full-blown chubbo status. You can tell me that TV adds ten, twenty, thirty pounds. And I'll politely nod and thank you. But I won't believe you.

Don't worry. Although I would like to starve myself for a few weeks (I know what people say about starvation diets, but let's be real. Anorexics are skinny.) Food deprivation works. Luckily, I have no will-power when it comes to food. I get hungry. I promise myself I'll only have an apple, or some cereal, or a couple of clementines, which evolves into, why don't I just eat lunch now. Of course later, I want a snack...

I guess this is another good reason to hole-up in the barn during the day. I'll stock the mini-fridge with carrots and water. I'll be able to write and diet simultaneously. Sounds like a plan to me! Just have to forget about the summer supply of Haagen Daas ice cream bars in the nearby pool house...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Spring Forward

We set the clocks ahead, lost the hour of sleep, and woke to a gray and damp-cold day, but somehow, I feel that Spring is winning the struggle to throw off the white and windy mantle of Winter.

Of course, that means more snow will fall. I saw some flakes fluttering in the air when I was at the barn. I'm sure I was hallucinating. The time change and all...hey, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

The exciting part, for me anyway, is I have the desk in place for my barn office/writing cave. The room still needs arranging and organization, however, I am that much closer to an internet-less, dog-less (no, Putter does not count as a dog-he already has a bed waiting there), fuzzy-purring-keyboard-punnching-lap-monster-less office.

Let the creativity flow and the writing commence!

Ok. I do have visions of Chevy Chase in "Funny Farm."

I can see it... The lamp is on, casting a warm glow upon my laptop, which will run oh so much better without the internet temptation. I sip my glass of water, glance at the horse pictures adorning the wall, before turning to the cursor waiting for the magical flow from imagination to fingers to screen. I type. I delete. I type. I delete.

With a deep breath, I pause and gaze out the window at the horses grazing in the paddock, warm sun glistening off their hides. They inspire my thoughts. I type. I delete. I type. Hey, that wasn't bad! I find a rhythm, filling a page with new images and ideas. The magic tickles, it's not there, but it hovers close. Another page filled and it sputters, fizzling like a candle wick drowning in wax.

I sigh. My attention returns to the gleaming horseflesh...Is it noon, yet?

Really, I am sure I have the discipline to remain in my perfect writing nook, working diligently toward finishing at least one of my many projects (I have chosen one to focus on. No. I have. Honest.), and striving toward my goal of publication.

How do I know this? How can I be so sure? Because I have a plan.

I'm going to ride first. Or pray for rain.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

One Last Horsey Hug

Last night I went to the barn to bring in the horses. Gil and Tucker came in as usual,but Cosmo did not come to the gate. Instead, he stood in the paddock with his head hanging a bit, his sheepish expression telling what I needed to know. My hand covered my mouth almost of its own volition. Tears blurred my vision.

I trudged across the mud and clipped the leadshank to his halter. He placed his long head against my chest, something he typically does to garner some ear-stroking. I call it a hug.

As my fingers careesed the copper fur, he sighed. It was time.

I turned toward the barn, he stumbled as his left hind leg buckled a bit. He dragged it a few inches before he was able to lift it and take a proper step. Together, we shuffled toward his waiting stall.

"Can you hang on until Thursday?" I asked him as he munched his grain. He didn't answer my selfish request. I had to go to New York for an appointment, I wouldn't be able to arrange all the details to relieve his pain the next day.

But this morning. Cosmo would not leave the barn. He shuffled out of his stall to the barn door, but would go no farther. I wanted to scream, to change my plans, call Mr.W.'s mother and tell her to go to our appointment with the party rental company without me. I wanted to forget about wedding plans, have a good cry and lead my horse on his final journey. But I couldn't. I had to go to New York and he couldn't wait.

So while I was choosing table linens, wine glasses, china, chairs, and serving plates, my good doober was taking one last walk. Without me.

Maybe, in some way, that was what Cosmo wanted. Maybe, like my sister says, he saved me, by some spiritual transferrence, from another bought of melanoma. Maybe, the tumors that grew so furiously through his body were meant for me and he, sweet and kind soul that he was, suffered them without complaint. Or, maybe it was all just some strangely cruel twist of fate or life, devoid of higher purpose or divine reason. He simply contrated the same disease as his owner. There are no easy answers.

Tonight, I cherish the good things, the head hugs, his groans of enjoyment during a good roll in the snow, his contented form basking in the sun. I will remember how he wobbled down the road like a drunken sailor, half-turned toward the barn, then suddenly trotting ahead to see what waited around the next curve. I don't think there is another horse that can travel forward while craning his neck around to look back, but Cosmo could. He'd clumsily walk into you, then lower his head in shame when you yelled at him for crushing your toes. He'd whinny and trot circles in his stall if left alone, requiring a bath for simply "standing" in his stall. He'd turn himself inside out to avoid walking through a puddle, then when you were ready to pull out your hair, he'd calmly splash through the offending water, as if saying, "Oh. You wanted me to go through that? Why didn't you say so?"

Above all, I will remember his gentleness. I will miss the happy sparkle in his eyes, his big blaze hanging over the stall door, the way he would, at every opportunity push the stall door with his nose to stand in the opening.

Most of all, the gentle press of his head against my body, his warm breath against my stomach, and the fragrant softness of his forelock against my cheek. Nobody gave horsey hugs like Cosmo.

Goodbye my good doober, my "blonde" boy, "Meemo", "Mo". Thank you for everything my Cosmo.