Seeing Ghosts

Packing up to leave a coffee house on my circuit, I decide to purchase a delicacy before departure when I glance right and see my old boyfriend sitting at the counter. He’s not supposed to be here – he lives nowhere near this locale – and I’m not supposed to care because we broke up five years ago. Only seeing him casually sitting there is like seeing a ghost sunbathing. You can’t help but be startled.

We met over hot beverages. Accidentally. A crowded coffee house with too few tables. I pulled an empty chair into no man’s land trying to balance my drink with my reading material, no surface for support. A guy with bleached-out hair and the coolest fountain pen offers to share his table. I say thank you and slide over. He’s scribbling in a spiral notepad and I’m lusting over his pen.

“Cool pen,” I say with all the suave in the room. I flash my drugstore variety Sheaffer at him and say, “I love fountain pens.”

“Me, too,” he replies, and he starts sharing the history of his pen while demonstrating the way it moves across the page and pointing out the fine crafting of its nib.

Five months later he vanishes without warning, without a word, and takes my heart with him.

The in between part from pens and coffee to disappearance are messy and involve shared living quarters (mine), loaned money (mine), and the destruction of trust (also mine.) He resurfaced two years after his departure to apologize and repay his debt. By then I was accustomed to living without a heart, so after the initial jolt of hearing his voice, talking to him had little effect on my pulse.

But seeing him today oddly did.

I alter my direction and exit the coffee house via the side door leaving the thought of food inside. And now, with an empty stomach, I’m digesting. That man sitting with his coffee was the first person to sit me down and tell me that I must write. As he said the words handing me back my pages of a meandering novel/memoir-type concoction, I smiled and shyly shrugged off his praise. And then he upped his level of seriousness to stern and said, “I mean it. You Must Write.”

Without offering me a roadmap, he insisted on my taking the journey. His adamance got my attention and along with my own desire pushed me to abandon the working life I’d been living. Over time I concluded that this was the purpose of his entering my life, for after the blow of his disappearance that left me paralyzed for months, I needed to find positive meaning. I’d been certain that he was my reward for the hard work of healing after a troubled marriage, but then he was gone.

Seeing the ghost reminds me of the good he brought out in me, how I was lighter and funnier, risky and playful. I was kind to myself then, more tolerant, more accepting. To lose that when he left stung, but I finally believe that he had no intent of hurting me, that his abrupt departure was simply a dramatic display of his own problems.

And suddenly I feel forgiving. I consider other hurts of my life and I recognize how I could have minimized the pain, how I could have stood up for myself better. Receiving hurt in silence is wrong. If we’re not willing to stand up for our needs and wants, how can we expect others to honor them?

So, seeing the ghost has pushed me through forgiveness and made me stand up straighter. My rescuing days are over unless it involves my child, my dog, or strangers who fall onto subway tracks (hey, I, too, can aspire to greatness.) I feel a smile that can’t be squelched. And I can’t wait to see who shows up next, spooky or fleshlike.


Sisyphus Has Nothing On Me

There’s something that’s coming between me and my sanity and it’s called my much neglected mail, the mail that stacks up because I’ve paid the immediate bills but before me sits that semi-necessary stuff that really should be sorted into my overstuffed file cabinets because there are rumors floating around that someday I just might need it, like in case of an audit or a purchase malfunction or if I ever find myself with a shortage of reading material (impossible!) or I just don’t know why.

Going through the stacks semi-weekly, I manage to toss about half of what was left over from the previous week because the offer expired or the event has passed or the election is over and I never did read those recommendations because the ones I found online were much easier to access because they didn’t involve climbing the mail Mt. Everest.

When I purchased a shredder, I envisioned my path to clean-counter heaven. There’s nothing like a new toy to enlist participation in a dreaded chore. The whizzing, the whirling – I saw junk mail disappear before my eyes, but I faced the daily arrival of the postman and like Sisyphus could never get over the hump.

I hear the tips roaring in. Tackle your mail the minute you walk through your door! File immediately! Nothing gets to remain on your desk/table top!

Brilliant advice, but my file cabinets are exploding. Each time I must file something new I don’t want to wade through all the old to figure out what can go. That’s double duty. I got it into the file cabinet once. Can’t it just reside there forever?

It could if I owned a million file cabinets and lived in a palace.

I could go paperless and get all my bills and statements via email, but I don’t trust that yet, which is a shame because my computer is a beauty to behold – organized and neat – with all its endless folders. If I forget where I filed something, I can just do an easy search, and there it is dancing before me saying, “Here I am. Here I am.” Furthermore, if longevity is what I’m after, I’m certainly more likely to rescue an external hard drive in the event of a fire than fifty file cabinets (okay, two, but once they’re beyond the size of a shoe box, numbers don’t mean much.) We’re talking fire and running and grabbing animals and photos and children. Old credit card statements? I don’t think so. So maybe I must rethink my skepticism here.

The biggest obstacle between me and relief is the tax audit. I’m convinced that as soon as I toss my old financial records, the Tax Man will knock at my door and wag his finger at me as if he’s been lurking in my alley peering through binoculars into my window to detect the perfect moment to strike. Ironically, I don’t even know if the papers I save would prove anything on my behalf. I have a creative way of tracking my expenses that has little to do with receipts. Still, I have faith in my system, mostly because it’s mine.

In an effort to force my hand, I placed all my unfiled mail upon my bed with the mandate, “No sleep until this is dealt with.” Unfortunately, my mind has a mind of its own, and with one grand gesture it found a spot in the corner of my room screaming for company. That corner is no longer lonely.

My file cabinets still overflow, my shredder is silent, and the Tax Man must lurk a bit longer. If there’s ever a fire in my home there will be no shortage of fuel, and I’m convinced my obituary will read, “Death by mail.” When people ask, “Given the opportunity, what one luxury would you offer yourself?” I answer, “Forget the daily massage. Forget the gourmet restaurants. Give me a secretary.


Finding My Home

I’ve gone offline and started submitting more pieces to print media. Romping through newsstands looking for a fit is enough to bring a female essayist to tears. I have little to say about make up and diets. Actually, I have a lot to say about make up and diets, but what I have to say would get me banned from women’s magazines. Besides, content aside, I can’t stand the stench left on my hands from touching those perfumed pages. Do these magazines really speak to my species?

I have much to say about the journey of the parent, but so far I’ve noticed that in-print documentation of the experience appears to end before the kid’s age hits double digits. My tales of encountering puberty don’t fit next to toilet training. Parents of teens don’t read magazines geared at parents anyway. We’re so ecstatic to have more freedom that we mostly just drop our kids at the movies and go read a novel or hang out with friends. If we’re feeling especially entitled, we may sneak in a massage. We return to pick up the kids and ask them if they smoked while we were gone. We then practice reading body language. I must find a publication interested in this phase of the parenting journey, the stories that reflect as much about our learning as that of our offspring.

Despite previous attempts, I’ve been discouraged by those in the know from further submitting to the NY Times op-ed page – the paper I read – because supposedly I need a bit more fame in my corner to get printed there, even if it’s fame only in the eyes of the NY Times. Instead, I’ve been nudged to the LA Times, which I no longer read. I will look there again.

I can’t deny my grandiosity. I’ve submitted to publications I’m too shy to confess to here despite my blog title. If they take me, I’ll shout it from the moon so you’ll certainly know.

I’ve been told not to look for a fit for my writing, but to find a place I could imagine writing for. This frustrates me. I’ve spent all this time looking for my voice, and now I’m supposed to tell it to shut up and be someone else. “These magazines have a format,” my ears hear. “Don’t try to get them to bend for you.”

“Why not?” I want to scream. “Isn’t that the point of creativity and originality? If we all speak the same cloned voice, why not just program my computer to write?”

Wait, could I do that? Go spend a week on a tropical island and have my computer write for me?

“But of course not,” you say.

“I know,” I reply, while fantasizing ever so briefly and imagining turning the idea into a tidy short story.

I will keep writing. I will be mindful of publications and what they print. I will send stacks of essays appropriately modified to places that may wish I’d never been born. I will poke and prod and pray and hope. And I will offer a finder’s fee to anyone who points me to a publication I haven’t considered that ends up taking me. Ready, set, go.


Beyond Memory

To ease our access to history my mother pulled our home movies from the closet and transferred them to disk. As I pop DVDs into my player, images of my mother in her youth move before me – parading coyly before the camera, in a cowgirl costume dancing with friends, posing with her brother – and I sit transfixed meeting a person I’ve never known.

And the journey continues from my parents as teens freshly in love before the promises of forever to my sister’s arrival. She appears serious and observational, the dramatic demonstration of the personality she still inhabits. My brother comes next, altering the family balance and casting the players into new roles. Finally I appear causing yet another shift.

I watch myself as a baby and a toddler living a life of which I have no memory. “But that’s me,” I think to myself. It’s so foreign, so inaccessible. It might as well be someone else’s life. And I can’t help but wonder how to calculate the value of what I can’t remember.

Seeing my family before my existence, in motion, offers a kind of understanding that anecdotes, still photos, and description will never provide. The way my mother walked as a teen. How my grandfather always mugged and performed for the camera using whatever props were at hand – a garden hose, a diving board, another person. His spirit of play greets me in a way that I never experienced in the flesh. Unknown faces appear representing an unknown story. It’s a tease. I want to dig deeper, to sit my mother down and ask questions.

I continue watching and come to a gap in the history. Life between my third and eighth year doesn’t exist. “Mom, there’s nothing of all the roadtrips we took when I was four.” I say. “Sun Valley. Crater Lake. Nothing.” And her simple response of, “Really?” rather than, “You’re kidding? We were shooting movies all the time,” leads me to imagine that the films aren’t missing from the neatly labeled and organized box of 16 and 8mm treasures.

If the cameras stopped rolling, what altered my parents’ need to preserve our adventures and milestones on film? Had they recognized they would not go forward as a family? Had the unraveling begun? Or was it just the syndrome of an aging family where the tireless documenting slows down?

1969 and 1970 present two offerings: my sister’s high school graduation and a random day as I played with my two dogs. Then all the recorded moving history ends, as did our family unit.

I think of the closet of home videos of my son. Will he recognize the day his parents split up by the sudden absence of his father in the videos? Will the visual shift speak poignantly or appear as a simple marker in our family’s history?

And I see that I owe my son the preservation of his father in this time, that since the camera lives in my hands, I should film his dad whenever he appears, whenever they are together, or in the least, hand over the camera to them to capture their own moments. My son will want to remember.

My mom asked me to edit the films she gave me, to compile them in a neat and tidy way, to remove the boring and the blurry, but I can’t get myself to do it. Out of focus or repetitive, lingering or chaotic, all are precious moments, and I don’t want to lose any of them. Adults often say to children, “I was once a kid, too, you know.” The viewable proof is breathtaking.


Tagged: I’m It

I only did this for Cover because I love her writing and sort of considered it an invitation. But, I won’t be tagging anyone to follow because it feels like supporting the draft, which I oppose. (Either that or I lack blogger spirit.) However, if you want to be tagged by me, consider it done. I won’t deny it. Even under oath.

Five Things:

1. I seem to always get my car washed two days before it rains. Two days. After waiting months to do the deed. So if you live in Los Angeles and want to make plans that are weather dependent, monitor my car washing. I think I’m more reliable than the nightly news.

2. My thirty-year-old boyfriend took me to my senior prom. Beforehand, he bought strawberry daiquiris in a posh restaurant that my friends and I shared. Nearly thirty years later, I’m still attracted to thirty-year-olds. Either I live in a time warp, my soul has a permanent age of thirty, or there was something very magical in those daiquiris.

3. The only regret I have in life was trying to put on overalls in a small bathroom at age eight. A piece of advice: never attempt this by bending rapidly at the waist as you reach behind to fling the strap over your shoulder. I collided with the sink and spent the next ten years in a dentist’s chair as a lab rat before the days of perfected bonding. Better advice: don’t wear overalls unless you’re a farmer.

4. I speak four languages, one quite well (English.) My ability in the other three (Russian, Italian, French) is deteriorating at an alarming rate. Luckily, I came up with a handy solution: blending. When I put together what I remember of the three, it comes out as a delicious Esperanto-imitation, yet more flavorful and with a far more sordid history. I give lessons upon request, though don’t expect to get much use of it in the real world. You will, however, have the opportunity to see the look on the ticket seller’s face at Gallerie dell'Accademia when you ask to purchase one adult and three children’s tickets in ‘Italian,’ prompting her to respond, “What language do you speak??!

5. My right shoulder barely functions, supposedly due to overuse at a young age. I question the simplistic diagnosis, suspecting instead a war wound from a past life (hence part of my resistance to the draft.) I think a spear was involved. Don't worry, I've learned to compensate nicely with weird body contortions.

And despite all that I’ve shared here I am profoundly private, except in the company of alluring strangers and alcohol. You’re been warned. Onward.


Watching the Detective

I suspect I wasn’t born a detective. I suspect my occupation was cultivated in my youth. However, as with many of life’s mysteries, I’ll never know, will I?

As I went about my young life climbing and playing, racing the neighborhood, shooting unpopped popcorn through a peashooter at parked cars, things were happening around me. Things no one was talking about. Things I was blind and deaf to. I embodied innocence in a not so innocent world.

In my third grade year, the bomb exploded in my upper middle class home. Climbing from the rubble, I watched as my parents came and went in shifts. I learned about hospitals of the physical and psychological kind. I learned that asking questions might not get you answers, especially if you have no way of knowing which questions to ask.

So much was going on in my world that I didn’t even know how much I didn’t know, but eventually my subconscious caught on and planted the seed that if you want to know anything, you better pay attention. There are signs, my subconscious warned. Only the savvy and the attentive will know.

The Detective was born.

I imagine what I’m not hearing and what isn’t being said. I look over my shoulder, search for clues and signs and indications and hints. I take notes. Friends come to me, my skill at detection well known, and ask, “What do you think it means?” My powers of observation and analysis are well respected. I offer answers. I serve the people.

And I’m tired.

I’m tired of not trusting in what I don’t hear. I’m tired of imagining what is being said between the lines. I’m tired of waiting for the next bomb to drop, in believing that if I’m more vigilant in my detection I can get out of the wake of the explosion before I end up in the rubble again.

I used to see my story as one of survival, of making the best out of the bad, of using adversity to hone independence and create a pocket of powers. And all of that is true, but more is true as well.

Children should not be protected from all that is bad. Absence of information and explanation creates a lack of trust, for once the curtain is pulled aside and the protected learns the truth, he doesn’t know what to believe in the future.

If you want to protect your children from a lifetime of healing, let them heal in pieces from the beginning. Share pain in small doses. Share truth in age appropriate terms. This does not mean bleeding all over the child. A child can choose to drown saving a parent. Throw your child a life preserver first. But do not protect with lies. Do not mask reality with well-rehearsed smiles and fairy tales.

Unless you want to raise a detective. A suspicious, somewhat-paranoid detective. A detective who will blame himself for his lack of belonging and trust. A detective who will always be searching, for there is undoubtedly something to be found. There certainly was in this detective’s childhood, and while one can’t blame the budding detective for not unearthing clues at such a young age, the detective may always believe that the clues were sitting waiting to be discovered. He may not believe it in his head, but he may somewhere deep in his soul.

But take heart. It’s not so serious. The Detective has fun. The Detective figures out movies before the rest of the audience. The Detective seldom says, I never saw that coming.

The Detective even has enough savvy to eventually figure out what’s been nagging him for years. The Detective can turn his detective powers on himself. It’s the beauty of living. Everything moves and changes. The absolutes are the beginning, not the end.


Dance Partners

Forgiveness and I are not close. I’ve never really understood the terms of the friendship, so I haven’t reached out and invited Forgiveness into my life in any grand way.

While Forgiveness has made short visits such as after a minor misunderstanding or slight – the kind that mends easily with an “I’m sorry” – for big injuries of the recurring kind I have mostly shunned Forgiveness by saying, “I need to know how and why.” And so far, Forgiveness has mostly defaulted to clich├ęs, such as ‘to forgive is divine’ or ‘it’s for your own good.’

Of course, I know Forgiveness is good for me. In theory. But sometimes I feel that Forgiveness wants me to assume the entire burden of the friendship. In becoming buddies with Forgiveness without first having tea with Understanding, mustn’t I simply swallow Hurt?

When the way through pain is visible, it is easy to dance with Forgiveness. But when pain is disorienting with no clear path to release and Forgiveness casually calls, how can I act all cool and jaunty and step onto the dance floor? To link hands and prance feels so disingenuous.

I know a friendship with Forgiveness can liberate me. I know it’s like saying, “[Whoever] didn’t mean it.” But what if [whoever] did mean it? Or what if [whoever] doesn’t care about repeated insults? Must I then simply try to have a threesome with [whoever] and Forgiveness? Isn’t it kind of slutty if you’re not really into it?

I have a long way to go in developing a healthy relationship with Forgiveness, but I’ve decided to at least try a few dates. Maybe with some time spent together, we can learn the fox trot.


Take a Walk with Me

Despite my inviting faux-down comforter and several soft pillows, if I toss down the TV remote onto my bed, my dog scurries over, circles, and plops right onto the device. It’s hard plastic. With protruding buttons. It can’t be comfortable.

Most say that men have a more passionate relationship with remote controls than women do, and since I have a male dog, I attribute his behavior to his gender. But honestly, I think it’s damn weird.

Speck has strong affection for my cell phone as well. If I’m lounging on my bed with my cell lying beside me, Speck sneaks over, glances about surreptitiously, drops down, and situates his head right upon the phone. He concludes by wrapping himself in the headset cord as if he’s trying to floss his whole body.

I’m not one to deny my housemates their pleasures, but I’m a bit uncomfortable with my dog’s infatuation with technology. Maybe I’m just bothered by the fact that I can’t ask him about it and get any kind of reliable response.

I want to get down to business, to write interesting and insightful things, yet all I can do is look out the window and notice how the sunlight is hitting the palm fronds. I sway with the gentle movement of the leaves in the breeze, the afterbirth of the tremendous wind that was here a few days ago. I tell my mind, “Focus. Vacation is over,” as if I were ever really on vacation. My son was on a vacation and I jumped aboard as if I’d been invited, neglecting the necessity of having to have something to vacation from. In my inventive way of thinking, I decided that as long as my son was sleeping late in the morning, so could I. If my son was staying up late doing frivolous things, I could turn to him as my role model. It was party season, and I wasn’t about to be left out.

But today school is back in session, and my body knew without any formal ceremony. I awoke on schedule before six a.m. to darkness and quiet. For a brief moment, I mourned the end of permission to do nothing. I reached for my laptop on the nightstand, booted up, and raced through my morning reading of key New York Times articles with one eye on the clock. As if programmed by the military, I knew when it was time to pull myself from bed, stumble towards the bathroom for the morning ritual, and then move to the kitchen to feed the offspring.

After depositing my son at school, I went to one of my favorite coffee shops to write, but just as I was settling in, the speakers filled the room with Shirley Temple singing “On the Good Ship Lollypop.” I know they were going for unexpectedly hip, but I found the attempt unsuccessful. I dove into my laptop bag for my headphones only to discover they weren’t there. I was hostage to the young lass’ voice.

Turning to my laptop, I tried to imagine anything other than a four-year-old tap dancing, but Shirley wouldn’t be ignored. My coffee was growing cold with neglect, my ears were screaming for a song of this era, my fingers wanted permission to meander, and the tauntingly delicious pastries in the case were mocking my healthy resolve.

Like a refugee seeking a new country, I quickly packed my belongings, and ran for the door. “There’s a better world out there,” I told myself. “Go find it.”

Only guilt jumped in and reminded me that today I am to be focused in a way that will forward my goal of something. That’s the problem, the goal has grown murky. The goal of career success is being replaced by – catch your breath – the goal of romance success.

You’re not allowed to talk about that now,” my inner critic interjects. “I’ve warned you about this.” And Inner Critic has, only finally, I may stop listening.

I have been singing false independence for far too long, the I-don’t-need-a-relationship mantra to keep me firmly planted on my own two feet because I hate the word ‘need.’ Only, my feet aren’t the problem. My heart is.

Last night, an old flame rang me up. We always settle into nice conversation, and suddenly I am reminded of how nice an easy connection is, how with someone by your side, all the other life goals have a chance of cozying up to perspective. After such a lengthy period of singledom – so long that if I revealed the duration you might panic on my behalf and organize a search party for my next mate – I have begun to question my ability to find romance again.

So once again, I am faced with the question of balance. I have been convinced that establishing a new career will calm my inner longing, but now I wonder. If that were to be secured, would I then just look for the next missing ingredient? How do we find contentment?


I blush just typing the word. I want to be anonymous in confessing the longing, but if Speck can unashamedly profess what he loves, maybe I can take yet another hint from him and come clean with my desires.

And maybe I can even invite them in.


Complicated Relationships

Writing and I are arguing a bit right now. Some days I'm in love and other days I want to break up. Today I'd rather spend time with coffee and have an illicit affair with someone else's novel.

I know every relationship goes through troubled times so I’m determined to stay patient. After all, it is the new year, and though many leap forward with rash decisions disguised as ‘resolutions’ I know better. I know that while I’m happiest with guarantees and promised futures, that the creative life seldom offers such comforts.

My relationship with Writing is, however, straining my relationship with Bank Account. Bank Account was spoiled for many years, indulged with weekly deposits of escalating amounts. Such attention made Bank Account feel loved and nurtured. Now it wants to know why I care for someone else more.

It’s hard to convince Bank Account not to take it personally, that I wish things could have remained how they were.

Peoples’ needs change,” I told Bank Account the other morning. “While I loved our healthy run, my dedication to you was interfering with my relationship with Inner Peace.

Bank Account doesn’t understand for it sees my monthly stress while paying bills. It thinks Inner Peace has me duped, that I’ve fallen under the spell of the guru chant of ‘Find your true path.’ I try to convince Bank Account that this bumpy patch in our relationship is temporary, but Bank Account interrupts me and asks, “Are you trying to convince me or convince yourself?

I never knew Bank Account was so savvy. Clearly while I’ve been off pursuing some new avenues, Bank Account has been reading, which brings me back to where I started. Writing and I are fighting today. I’m going to go read. If I call it ‘research’, maybe Bank Account will cut me some slack.


Chipped Away

experiences come at us like a sculptor’s tool
injury, hurt
the unexpected collision,
a troubling encounter.

as pieces
of our form fall away
we imagine
we are losing who we are.

but maybe
those who enter our lives,
who take a small swing,
are indeed the sculptors

the ones who seek to get to the heart
like Michelangelo
chipping away at the unnecessary
to find the essence within.

Yesterday I closed my eyes and saw myself as a piece of marble with chips flying off of me. As I examined the experiences of life, suddenly the hurt hurt less, and the dismantling felt more like a gift than any kind of loss. I thought of Michelangelo and the slaves.

Visualizing particles falling through the air like confetti, I felt enormous appreciation for all that I’ve been through.

I welcome the new year and the opportunities it will bring.