Cribbage0547

It’s Like the Cribbage Board

People are different from each other. This is both obvious and simple while at the same time complex and difficult. We process information and experiences differently based on a whole host of scientific and esoteric reasons. It’s good for the species, it gives us variety, adaptability, a human for every situation.

However, when two or more humans attempt to coexist on a day to day basis, adjustments and adaptations must be made.

Like the cribbage board.

Cribbage is a card game played by counting points in each hand and pegging those points on a tall, narrow board with 60 holes in it for each player. The holes are arranged in two rows of 30 each. As a child I was taught to go up the outside of the board and down the inside of the board as the game progressed, making the entire circuit twice per game for a total of 120 points to win.

I’ve taught lots of people the game over the years. I taught my friend, Diane, 35 years ago. When we travel together, I keep the board and cards handy in my purse. Waiting in an airport? We play a hand or two. Dinner taking longer than expected? Break out the board.

Now, I taught Diane and we’ve played for many years, so you would think I’d know everything there is to know about Di and cribbage, but recently she surprised me.

I set up the board, putting the black pegs on on the side nearest her with the bottom of the board (where the pegs start their path) toward the outside edge or bottom of the table. This is how I do it. How I’ve always done it. For 50-some years, this is how I’ve always done it.

Diane looked at the board, frowned, and said, “The pegs need to switch.” I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t figure out what she meant. Sighing with exasperation, she switched the pegs to the other side of the board, turned the board upside down with the starting point toward the inside of the table, and then smiled, completely satisfied and at ease.

I was even more confused. This was just wrong. Wrong. What was she thinking? I went ahead and played the game but it felt unnatural to me. I thought perhaps it was an anomaly.

It wasn’t. Continue reading

burst4wccom

Meditation

NOTE: This was written for a women’s gathering. Feel free to adapt it for mixed groups or men only.

Get in a comfortable position with both feet on the floor or sitting cross-legged with your spine erect. Close your eyes, then allow your head to float up and away from your shoulders. Lengthen and open your spinal column. Let your back widen, making room for the lungs to stretch.

Breathe in and out, slowly, rhythmically, finding a pace that fills you and relaxes you. In and out.

Now, relax more.

Look into your heart and see there a point of white light. Allow the light to expand—brighter, softer, larger until you feel yourself floating in that light. Continue reading

Travel and Trust

Photo of Cappadocia, Turkey

Morning balloon ride over Cappadocia, Turkey.

There are probably as many reasons to travel as there are people who travel. I have a whole list of things I love about it. Art and architecture, culture and color, people, places, food and fashion. Most of all, I travel for the experience. I’m with my best friend, Diane, and this is a long trip for us—almost two full months on the road. From apartments with two bedrooms, a kitchen and spaces large enough to dance, to the tiniest of hotel rooms with two feet between the single beds pushed right up to the peachy pink walls and a bathroom where you sit on the toilet to shower with a hand held faucet dribbling water, each day is filled with unforgettable experiences. I’ll admit, I sometimes can’t remember which city we were in or what day it was, but I remember the laughter, the exhaustion, the exhilaration, the waiting, the getting through it to the next thing, and the incredible gratitude for a life that allows me to live deeply and expansively.

Along the way, I get to work on my own issues. Trust, self-confidence, authenticity, trust, courage, fear, creativity, trust and responsibility.

I said trust, right? Continue reading

Life Changing

Raja_grivasanaHow much do you think you could change your life in one year? If you really wanted it? If you faced your fears and lived fully? What would it mean to you to do that?

For me, it meant learning to be happy. Not through the accumulation of stuff or even being able to pay my bills on time. There are no external circumstances that can make me happy and I know that now. How I see my life (and my corresponding happiness quotient) is totally up to me. Learning that, and how to change the stories I tell myself when emotions begin to run rampant, has turned my life around. Continue reading

Does This Make Me Look Fat?

Day one of extended writing and all I can think of is whether my ass shows through my leggings too much.

I’m wearing one of those impulse buys—a rayon shirt cut on the bias with long tails hanging on either side. It’s a deep olive green, one of my favorite colors, and looked amazing on the rack at the street festival where I got it. I should have tried it on but the booth was closing, I was late to meet my family, and the vendor assured me I would rock that shirt. Besides, that color, the color of my 11th grade prom dress, the color of clothes I’ve loved in my life—how could I go wrong with that color?

The color still works for me. The style, I believe is more appropriate for a boyish 12 -year-old than a 60-year-old woman.

I’ve tried to wear it several times, over different pants, pulling it up in places to create folds and gathers that might camouflage my slightly poochy belly. Of course, when I do I have to reveal either more of my bum in the back or girl parts in the front. With leggings neither is a look I want to sport. Continue reading

Vision Quest

In October 2008, I went on a vision quest. I spent four days in a local provincial park fasting and meditating. I was completely alone and kept silent for three of the four days. On the fourth day, I was hungry, cold and tired. I asked to use a cell phone and seriously considered conning small children out of their bananas but thought better of it. Unseemly behavior after questing, I mused.

What did I learn on these days of deprivation and deep meditation?

Always carry a nail file. It’s damn near impossible to connect with a vision when you’ve got a raggedy old nail catching on your wool sweater or pants every 15 seconds.

You may think I’m being frivolous or flip here, but let me tell you, there’s a lot of nuts and bolts kind of stuff that comes up when you’re out in the woods for four days, no matter how saintly your motives for being there.

Like, where will you pee? Continue reading

Poem Shot

This morning I awoke to my husband’s honking iPhone alarm. Barry continued to sleep as I jumped up to check whether our son was texting for an early morning ride home from last night’s sleepover. Sliding the lock to the right, I saw it was a reminder, not a text, that read:

Max flu and poem shot

It took a moment before I realized he meant flu and pneumonia shot.

I really liked poem shot, though. I’m uncertain if it’s a vaccination against or a dose of, but I like it either way. To think you could be inoculated for poetry, hit with just enough to keep it in your system forever, steeling you from it’s intoxicating effects was rather profound. You’d be immune to its power, aware but unafraid to go places it exists. That could be useful.

But for me, give me a shot of poem straight up, no chaser. Let it burn my throat going down, heat up my toes and make my head spin.Whether I like the taste or not I will experience the flavor concocted by another human and, if I’m lucky, be transported by the draught to unknown lands, learning a new topography and language.

Besides, hanging out with poetry drunkards is bound to be more fun than meeting with the theorists, critics and editors.

Oh, the joys of misspellings and malapropisms. I love that man.

Hide-n-Seek

Families, especially large families, tend to have legends, lore and stories about their histories. This is one of those stories.

Until I was four, I lived in a very small house on a very large lot, both constantly filled with children. In our 3-bedroom, 1-bath home there were two adults and five kids. One bedroom (downstairs across from the bathroom) was for the parents, one-bedroom (upstairs under the peaked roof and to the right) was the childrens’ room, and one bedroom (upstairs under the peaked roof to the left) was for my father’s model railroad set.

Downstairs was a small eat-in kitchen, a small living room and a big pantry closet under the stairs. The washer and dryer were out back behind the house in a side room of a large shed and garage building. Our freezer was in a room on the other side of that same shed. In the room with the washer and dryer were an old pump organ, lots of moldy old steamer trunks from the relatives, cans of paint, old appliances and tools, and hundreds of other treasures children couldn’t keep their hands off.

We played outside and in that shed a lot to stay out of the way of Mary Elizabeth Baker Williams, the black woman who took care of us, the current baby, and the house. We played cowboys, army, kick-the-can, tag, and of course, hide-n-seek.

I had only just turned four and was not that good at coming up with hiding places. At three you’ve only recently left the stage of believing if you close your eyes, no one can see you. My sister, Pat, age six, on the other hand was brilliant at hiding. I attribute this partly to her naturally sneaky personality which became highly troublesome in her teen years but that’s another story.

This particular sunny summer afternoon, my brother Warren, age five was IT and Pat and I were the hiders. Chubby little Robin, who had just turned three was toddling around somewhere and Mary Elizabeth was in the house with Robert, not yet two and the baby, Cheryl, only five months old. Pat and I were in the shed as Warren counted down and the pressure was on. Behind the organ was out—overused, wedging between the trunks was possible but fairly easy to find. Further back in the shed was not for me—too many spider webs and I was a rather timid child.

In desperation I asked for guidance from my older sister. Pat never really liked me except for a few years in my 30s and 40s when I was a good place to escape from her own six children. I’m fairly certain at age four I already had a scar on the back of my head where she hit me with a conch shell (stitches) and a scar on my little finger (stitches) where she slammed my hand in the door.

Still when she opened the round glass door of the dryer and said, “Hide in here,” it was not my instinct for self preservation that kicked  in but rather my desire to win the game. It was an excellent hiding place. Who would think to look there?

I’m a little shaky on the details after that. From the way the story’s been told, Warren ran into the shed, yelled, “I see Wendy,” and hit the button.

I’m not sure  how long I bounced around inside before someone ran to get Mary Elizabeth. If only I had been able to brace myself like in some amusement park ride it would have been way cool, but those protrusions inside the cylinder meant to keep your clothes tumbling nicely whacked me mercilessly  as I tried to figure out what was going on.

Mary Elizabeth rescued me and shooed us all into the house frantically telephoning my father the doctor at his clinic in the middle of our small town. He, of course was shocked and appalled. “Mary Elizabeth,” he admonished, “all those cameras around and you didn’t get a picture?”

Later when he came home, he spanked us all. Pat for telling me to get in, Warren for turning it on (and for blaming it on Robin) and me, for being foolish enough to get in.

To this day my family believes my hair is curlier than my siblings from being fluff dried at an early age.

Clothes Make the (Wo)Man

An article in the New York Times today seems to have finally settled a debate in our house—whether clothes are important to how we feel and behave. If you see my son Max, you’ll know on which side of the question he stands; the same is true of my husband Barry. It may not be immediately obvious what my feelings are on the matter (I’m a middle-aged self-employed Mom—I love my fuzzy sweatpants) but the truth is I’ve known for a long time what you wear can make a great difference in your feelings and performance.

Certainly, there were hints of this in high school when a Villager skirt and sweater with Pappagallo ballet flats could make me feel I ruled the world. However, the most striking instance to this day of the magic an outfit can create was the summer of 1977.

I was doing an outdoor drama, Wings of the Morning, in St. Mary’s County, Maryland and for our Second Stage production, director Andy Weisnet chose Jean Anouil’s The Lark. I had hoped to land the lead role, Joan of Arc, but as these things go I was cast as Joan’s Mother. This was a small role yet I was onstage the whole time as was the rest of the cast. We performed by candlelight in a restoration of Maryland’s  first statehouse in sweltering humidity on our day off. When not “onstage” cast members sat motionless on benches in tableau awaiting cues to stand and perform. I committed to doing the play though I was less than thrilled with my part, that is, until I put on the costume.

Designed by Andrea Sachs out of bits and pieces left over from the costuming of the main show, my dress was plain and coarse, a sort of burlap and rag creation. I put on my heavy peasant dress with wimple each night and slipped into another era. I became another person; I moved differently, spoke differently, felt I was Joan’s mother. The effect was so profound even my colleagues treated me as if I were someone they had only just met. There was a reverence in that costume and a stoicism accompanied it. I sat immobile each night of the play enduring heat, dripping sweat and flies just as Joan’s mother had endured what happened to her daughter.

I’ve had outfits since then that made me feel wonderful or powerful or pretty but those feelings pale by comparison to being transported through time into a new identity via the power of clothing.

Pulling Bottles

1950s Coke BottleIn the late 1950s I loved going with my older brother, Warren, to the barber shop. It was an old-fashioned place, large, dark, and manly; three hydraulic chairs in front of a long bank of mirrors with exotic bottles lined up along the shelf below. The unvarnished wooden floor was black with years of footprints and the cavernous green walls were heavily stained from cigarette smoke.

This was the domain of men, men both big and small. I was an outsider and knew it, so the barber shop held a compelling fascination for me, like some exotic foreign island I could visit from time to time but never inhabit.

In the front section of the building was the barber shop itself. The side with the barber chairs brightly lit, the opposite wall where I sat on a deacons bench, dark and shadowy like the rest of the building. Midway through the room, separating the front from the back, ran a low open railing with a sort of gate at the gloomy side of the room. Beyond that barrier lay the pool hall.

If the barber shop were an exotic island, the pool hall was the 9th circle of Hell. You simply didn’t go there. It was too dangerous, tinged with sin, full of riffraff. And, as such, was just about the most alluring place a 5-year old girl could ever hope to see. The smoke, the dim lights, the crack of balls smacking against each other, blue chalk and mysterious red cubes shaken from oddly shaped containers kept me fascinated while my brother was on the chair. Some part of me knew I should be paying attention to my brother and Mr. Bill Upchurch, the barber, but my eyes and ears were constantly drawn to the dark smoky richness behind the barricade.

As children we were not allowed to pass the gate except to go to the Coke machine. Mr. Bill must have felt the strength of that pull to wickedness because invariably he would open the cash register and give me two nickels, one for me, one for Warren, and I would open that gate and step into that other world gingerly and breathlessly. Sometimes, though not often, an older boy with slicked back hair and a pack of cigarettes tucked into a rolled up shirt sleeve would look up past pool cue and bulging bicep to grunt some word of acknowledgment before returning to the concentration of the game. I was insignificant to him, but that moment of being seen was heady stuff for me. I was thrilled.

I’d go back to my seat on the other side occasionally climbing up to the red leather banquette where businessmen came to read the newspaper while a tiny old black man rubbed paste wax on the their shoes, buffing and polishing like a machine, which is how he was often treated by his customers. From time to time he would be present during Warren’s haircut. He would smile and help me up to the leather bench that floated high above my head and once treated my tiny brown oxfords to a professional shine.

Like as not, once I got my coke, Mr. Bill would hand me a pack of salted peanuts to go with my drink. A coke was good, but a coke with peanuts was pure heavenly delight. I’d open the package with my teeth and pour part of the nuts into the cocola as we all called it. Then I’d take a big swig of liquid, filling my mouth with peanuts as well. What a taste sensation; sweet and salty, liquid and crunchy, rich and mouth filling.

By this time Warren would be finished with his haircut, dusted off with talc and doused with cheap perfume. He’d come over to my perch, climb up and enjoy refreshment and entertainment with me. We were both loath to leave, knowing it would be weeks before we got to reenter this wonderland. And so, to pass more time, we began to pull coke bottles.

The coke machine was big and red; retro versions have popped up all over the place in the past decade or so, but this was the real thing. You put in your nickel, you pressed the button (there was only one) and an ice cold drink clanked through the metal flap at the bottom into a trough awaiting pick up. A wall-mounted bottle opener was attached to the railing between barber shop and pool hall, and to the left of the machine itself was a tall (at least for a 5-year old) rack with angled slots where people would place their empty bottles. Beside that were wooden crates where the bottles would eventually be organized for return to the bottling plant, our nearest being Goldsboro, North Carolina, a mere 20 minutes up the road.

It was the angled metal rack that was important. The bottles went in base-side down. This way any unconsumed liquid stayed in the bottle rather than spill on the floor. Only the bottle necks were visible and accessible. Now, the bottom of each bottle was embossed with the name of the town where the bottle originated. Because we were so close to a bottling plant, most of the bottles in our rack came from Goldsboro—most, but not all. Coke bottles were surprisingly mobile in those days. You might pull a bottle from Oxford, Mississippi or Little Rock, Arkansas. It was custom of the pool players when not betting on their own games to bet on the bottles from the rack. Greatest distance from Mt. Olive won the bet.

I started pulling bottles before I could even read. Warren and I would each choose carefully, draw a bottle from its resting place then take them over to Mr. Bill who would read out the names for us. Exotic locations blossomed before us as those names were read out. Greensboro, NC; Chattanooga, TN; Tupelo, MS; and my personal favorite, Tuscaloosa, AL.

Oh, those names, musical and magical. I knew one day I would see those places. I felt it deep in my tissue and bones; I would see the  world.

I have gone much farther than Tuscaloosa in the ensuing years. The wanderlust imprinted on my soul is just as palpable as the embossing on those bottles. The excitement I feel seeing each new place is the same sense of wonder I had at five hearing their names read aloud. Travel has never disappointed me. Perhaps I owe it all to the Coca Cola bottlers of the South, and if that’s the case, I humbly thank them.