No Warranty Required

“At my age I don’t need a warranty.” That’s what the man said standing beside me at the counter as he ordered his new eyeglasses, rejecting the offer to protect his lenses. He punctuated the sentiment with a chuckle that made us all smile.

I studied him. Trifocals. A slow gait as he walked to pick out new frames. Every statement ending with a poke of humor.

The technician asked him if he read a lot, to which the man answered, “Yes.”

“The lenses aren’t positioned right for reading. They’re too low.”

“I just tip my head back,” the man said and demonstrated with a gentle movement of lifting his chin. So easy in his dialogue, not a single complaint crossing his lips. He never said, “My old glasses weren’t right? You mean, I could have read more easily?” He simply said, “I just tip my head back.”

He was there alone, this man, the epitome of peace and acceptance. He selected new frames in thirty seconds. No meandering. No time wasted obsessing. He didn’t ply the employee with questions. Just a simple, “These are light,” as he cradled his new frames in his palm.

I wanted to know this man, wanted to ask him how he’d found calm, how he learned to casually toss around his mortality. His energy was infectious. I wanted to be him.

We never had that conversation. I never got his name. He vanished in the brief moment that I looked away.


Being Someone Else

The black canvas bag sat pressed against the walkstreet wall, top open and displaying its contents to the sky as if waiting for someone. I walk up cautiously, look around, expect an owner to be hovering near by. But I am alone. I hesitate to touch the bag. What if someone appears and thinks I am a thief rummaging for booty?

The street remains silent and the bag calls, so I bend down and tentatively push around the visible contents looking for a wallet or some identification. A walkie-talkie lays inside with a strip of orange tape sporting ‘Glam’ penned in black Sharpie. I pick it up, push a few buttons, but total silence. I imagine the bag having been grabbed off a messenger’s bike, rifled through, and left for dead.

I figure there is little I can do, so I stand and continue towards my home thinking, ‘Someone else will take care of this.’ But then I think, ‘Someone else? Aren’t I someone else?

I run inside my home, grab my dog awaiting his walk, and head back out. Facing the bag once again, I further study its contents. Hair tape, sewing kit, boxes of safety pins, fabric pouches. I think, ‘Make up and hair person.

I step away from the bag and move towards the Venice beachside boardwalk, my eyes scanning for evidence of a film crew. A few blocks north, production trucks stand gathered in a parking lot. I go into a slow jog dragging my dog with me.

“Hey,” I say, arriving next to a location trailer. “Did anyone here lose a black bag, probably hair and make up, with a walkie-talkie inside? One that said ‘Glam’ on it?”

“Let me ask,” the crewmember says, and disappears into the trailer. A second later he yells across me to a woman on my left. Suddenly she’s at my elbow.

“Yeah, the bag’s ours,” she says.

“Well, it’s down on my walkstreet if it’s still there. I’ll show you.”

She grabs a bike to get there in a hurry, and I start running beside her, rushing my Chihuahua who’d really like to stop for a pee. I point out my street, and she races off.

When I arrive on my block, she’s huddled over the bag. “Well, the cellphone’s gone, but it seems like everything else is here.” She thanks me enormously, scratches her name and number onto a piece of paper in case I discover the cellphone, throws the bag over her shoulder, and hops back on her bike and pedals away.

It was so simple.

When immediate danger calls, conscience and instinct kick in and we race into burning buildings, call 911, gather around an injured stranger. But when confronted by an inconvenient, non-emergency – the abandoned possession, the driver stuck by the side of the road – we call up the imagined ‘someone else.’ It’s easy not to stop and slow our pace of life.

But this time I did stop and was rewarded with satisfaction for reaching into a stranger’s life and lending a hand. I breathe in being someone else, and in the future will listen very differently if my mind tells me, ‘Someone else will take care of it.



Reflective Appreciation

If you come here often, you may know that I seldom participate in comments on my own blog. When I set out on this enterprise ten months ago, I was attached to an archaic idea of how I should approach my writing. This was my personal op-ed page, and who on the op-ed pages comes back to post-comment on what they wrote the first time around?

Well, nowadays, the writer’s response is common practice at papers like the NY Times, yet I have still largely refrained despite this green light from above.

My silence in my comments is not a lack of appreciation for all of you who do comment. Quite the opposite. I’ve been allowing that to be your arena to talk about me, uh, in front of my face. I didn’t want to interfere and trample the conversation, which is ironic because I love visiting blogs where the writer participates in these exchanges. With that in mind, I may have to reconsider my self-imposed policies.

But on to you. I want to clearly state how much I appreciate your coming here to read my words and how much your feedback means to me – including when you disagree with what I’ve written, for your thoughts encourage me to examine my words and opinion and to consider whether I have presented my views as intended. I also want to thank those of you who have helped promote my site via your site. Meeting new readers is why I’m here, and I couldn’t do that on my own.

When I launched this site, I intended to work on cultivating my voice. I envisioned crafting articles that I could eventually place elsewhere. I never planned on digressing into personal pieces that would clearly live only here, but as it goes, writing begets whatever the hell it wants. As a result, you’ve had glimpses of me I never knew I would write or post.

My one year blog anniversary will arrive in early April. At that time, I will see where I am with the blog. Sometimes this site prompts me to write and sometimes it takes me away from long-term objectives that deserve more focus. For now, I’ll take the wait and see approach. I hope you’ll keep coming back and sharing your thoughts with me and others.

With deep appreciation…


On Addiction

Like the last two participants in musical chairs circling the final remaining seat, my son and I hover over my laptop. Yesterday our 20” desktop iMac put itself to sleep – actually, knocked itself out completely by shutting down – and when my son approached to do his homework, it refused to wake up. I tried to come to the rescue, but none of my tricks worked. I suspect exhaustion and a condition of under-appreciation (the computer, I speak of.)

The power supply on this machine went out once before and needed to be replaced, so I figure we are going down that road again. Only this time there is no old backup computer waiting to be called into action. That one died an overdue death months ago leaving behind its unsheathed hard drive on my desk like a tombstone.

With the iMac off in repair land, the sole remaining computer in the house is my laptop, which I guard like it’s my third child after teenaged son and undersized dog. I share my son and pet more easily than I share my laptop, for it is my personal zone, the guardian of my two-dimensional life. A virus here would knock me out more than one in my own body.

But homework really did call, so I relinquish my machine to my son and then go into full-blown withdrawal. While I’m not on my computer all the time, knowing it’s out of reach makes me start to salivate just like when you declare a lover off limits and (s)he suddenly becomes more appealing. You may not call this person for weeks, but just add the mandate that ‘You can’t!’ and the jonesing begins.

I tell myself, “This is good. I can’t go strolling endlessly on the internet. I’ll pick up one of the many novels piled on my nightstand. I’ll file papers. I’ll redesign my bedroom. I’ll do sit ups – yes, sit ups – and stretch my hamstrings,” because in an act of positive thinking I’ve been visualizing my hamstrings loosening and allowing my hand to wrap comfortably around the bottom of my foot as my forehead rests relaxed upon my knee. Yes, with less time on the computer, I could achieve that.

The other half of my brain rejects the vision of loose hamstrings, instead having a vision of laptops, more laptops, endless laptops, saying, “This house cannot exist on one computer. Buy your son a laptop!” Apparently my alter ego is a consumer.

After hearing of this fantasy, my son has the good sense to suggest that a second laptop is a mighty pricey backup for the desktop computer, but then I mention the words “built-in iSight camera” and the consumer side of my brain has an instant ally.

We are spoiled,” I tell my son. “We are whining about sharing a computer.” Actually, I’m whining. He just grabs the laptop and runs. I can call him back, but then I’ll have a brooding teen to add to the drama, so I let him go. The computer is his lifeline to his friends and without this connection he could literally go into shock. I have books and pen and paper and really shouldn’t be suffering such severe withdrawal.

But that’s the funny thing about addiction. It doesn’t listen to logic. And now with all the gadgets in our lives, we have so many more things to be addicted to and so many more things that can break to test our resilience. Cellphones that go silent, cars that won’t run, elevators that sit still, DVRs that reject our programming. Simple life can barely be remembered.

I feel the absence when my luxuries abandon me. But when I abandon them, when I travel to distant lands where these tools are better replaced with a Swiss army knife and a map, a comfortable pair of shoes and a well-designed backpack, I feel liberated. I just don’t know how to locate that feeling in the fast-moving world I inhabit daily.

Word finally arrived that our iMac will be on vacation for another “three to five days,” a casually tossed off declaration from the technician surrounded by more computers than he can dream of. In the span of my life, that’s not much time. In the span of my teen’s, an eternity. And while I could challenge his addiction and deny him access to my laptop, instead I will challenge my own.


Beyond the Double Zero

A lot of ire was expressed when the ‘double zero’ size was released. Here was the evidence that women were getting smaller and smaller, striving to attain unreasonable sizes and weights.

But I am a double zero and would like to come to its defense. Sort of.

When I was in high school in the 70s, I wore a size 6, and I weighed about two pounds less than I do now. Slowly, I diminished to a size 4 without shedding an ounce. Five years ago when I was five pounds less than what I weigh now, I wore a size 2.

Recently I went shopping for a new pair of jeans due to the disintegration of my old favorites. I tried on assorted styles in different stores. Finally I found a pair I liked. The size two hung on me. The size zero fit fine, but I didn’t like the overly distressed color of that specific pair. There were no other size zeros in that style, so I grabbed a double zero on a whim. I pulled them on with no trouble, but they felt a little snug, and I wanted a pair to lounge in. I stuck with the zeros despite the color I didn’t love. I figured they might grow on me.

And grow they did. After twenty minutes on my body, I could slip off the zeros without unbuttoning them. They sagged and bagged everywhere. Jeans stretch, but this was extreme. I wish I’d left the store with the double zeros.

The problem is not the double zero. The problem is size inflation, a marketing trick to make women feel better about our bodies when shopping. I am no giant, but I am no wisp of a woman either. At 5’ 2”, my weight usually fluctuates between 105 and 110, appropriate for my height. And I remain in the same clothing size through it all.

The frighteningly thin super models do set an unrealistic standard, and if you’re five foot ten and wear the same size as someone five foot two that is the problem to be discussed. But as long as size inflation continues, please don’t deny me my double zeros.

The bigger concern is the continuing message that a women’s worth is in her appearance. Virtually every woman’s magazine focuses on beauty – even when the motto is ‘accept yourself as you are.’ As ‘yourself’ you can still look pretty, and the magazine points out how, supported by countless ads to back it up. Some magazines reject this emphasis with more of a focus on politics or feminism, but if you stroll past a newsstand, the overwhelming message from the covers of women’s magazines is appearance, appearance, appearance.

Where are the magazine covers celebrating aid workers or women with small businesses, innovative teachers or dedicated community leaders? When will we routinely see covers adorned by women representing the breadth of female contributions, those that reside outside beauty and celebrity? And when will the press stop reporting what a woman of power wears to a meeting?

Quite simply, when will we modify the message of what it means to be appealing as a woman?

I find it impossible to be immune to these societal pressures. As much as I strive for achievement in my chosen field and seek to contribute to society, the message that comes through the loudest is that my primary goal should be to work on my appearance. And this is why size inflation works in selling clothes. We will accept even blatant manipulation to feel better about how we’re measuring up.

If women were routinely and widely celebrated for reasons outside our physical appeal, the size of models would matter less. The size of clothing would matter less. If female role models from every arena of life graced the covers of magazines, women and young girls would receive the message that we have more to offer than a perfect body and a nice wardrobe.


From a Lump of Clay

When I lived a life of wide-open space, I spent hours in a potter’s studio hunched over a spinning wheel, legs in a ‘v’ to accommodate the machine before me. Arms tensed, hands gripping the moving blob of moist earth, I pushed and positioned trying to convince the clay to give over its will to me and become the shape I desired. I endured many frustrating battles before I learned to move with the clay rather than against it.

The chilly, concrete-floored studio became a relaxing and peaceful place to escape into during my long stretches of unreserved time between freelance jobs. I developed a specific wardrobe for this room – clay-encrusted, turquoise blue high tops and faded cutoffs. I had discovered it was easier to wash clay off of skin than out of fabric, and the assorted splatters on the high tops became a journal of the various colored clays with which I’d experimented.

I haven’t been back to the studio since my son was born thirteen years ago. Those wide-open spaces of time don’t exist in the same way. When emptiness sits before me, I feel the pressure to fill it with useful and productive over pleasure, but when I pull out my ceramic creations of the past, I feel longing. And last night when I served my son dinner in one of the bowls that usually lives high up in a cupboard more as a memory than as a daily life participant, he said, “Nice bowl,” in the offhand way a teen pays a compliment, and I thought of the studio again.

Pottery was good for me. The studio offered a built-in community of artisans and explorers. We’d share tips and marvel at the results of glazing experiments. At the wheel we’d sit in silence and watch our clay spin round and round. While the professional potters greeted a fresh chunk with a specific result in mind often requiring the use of a ruler to create a matched set, I went off in spontaneity, saying, “Bowl,” unconcerned as to what precisely would emerge.

A lot of (un)fortunate friends received my pottery as gifts, and eventually I'd created too much to store in my home. But I couldn’t halt the output because going to the studio was the only time in my life that was about process over results. The doing really was more enjoyable than the outcome. I was not in the studio to create cups, pitchers, bowls, and plates, but to experience the meditative pleasure of getting lost in spinning clay, to see a creation grow before me, to laugh at the miscalculations while also marveling at the unexpected.

As much as I tell myself to experience life as process, that doesn’t come easily to me. I always return to my goal-oriented perspective, certain I’ve spent enough time in process and now deserve to luxuriate in splendid results. But in remembering how joyous I felt in the potter’s studio, I seek to implant that vision in my mind to make it readily available upon request. Whenever I start to feel impatient awaiting results, I will picture myself at that potter’s wheel content and mesmerized. No matter what activity I am engaged in, I will strive to overlay the image of the potter's studio and chant the mantra, “Process, baby. Process.


Two Halves Making a Hole

Mary is a different person when her husband is around. Not bad. Different. She’s not unique in this shifting of identify. You know because you’ve met her. Over lunch when her husband is off at work, she spouts opinions and speaks with animation. She makes snide jokes. She has an edge that sparkles like a piece of broken glass.

In the company of couples with her husband by her side, Mary becomes a wife. Caring, nurturing, a little quieter in speech. Not bad. Different. And she knows it, though she doesn’t speak of this transformation because Mary doesn’t want to sound like she’s complaining by admitting that a part of her vanishes when she touches shoulders with her spouse, even when the touch comforts, even when it confirms her partnership.

For two halves to become a whole, Mary thinks part of her must sit on the sidelines. She has never told her husband because she doesn’t know how to respond to the imagined arrival of his crooked eyebrow of confusion. Instead she maintains her private side like a secret garden watered by daydreams.

Mary feels happy knowing she has a good life and a loving marriage. She tells herself that the part of her that questions is leftover from an earlier time. What she doesn’t know is that her husband has the same conversation with himself. He loves Mary, yet wonders who he’d be on his own and has fantasies of grander adventure and bigger risks.

Mary’s husband also transforms in the company of couples. He leaves crude jokes outside on the curb even though everyone would likely laugh. Instead of navigating into appropriate conversation, he finds his focus drifting away as if the room has less of a hold on him. Fortunately, his body remains behind to smile and insert well-timed questions, but his spark is weak. He is not complete.

The other halves of Mary and her husband await their turn. They hope that someday they, too, can join the party. But if two halves make a whole, what do two wholes make?

Miraculously, Mary and her husband share that thought on the same day. They shuffle to the breakfast table. Both reach for the pitcher of orange juice at the exact moment. Their hands touch. They don’t pull away. And they stare at each other and wonder what it means to be a fraction of a larger part.



“[Of course we make jokes about marriage because]
the enormity of being responsible for another person’s life [devastates us.]

The lead-in was vague, drifting away. Maybe less important, maybe swept up in ethereal dream movement unwilling to wait for me to focus. The tag equally so. But the middle part, ‘the enormity of being responsible for another person’s life’ might as well have been tattooed on my forearm, those words refusing to be forgotten.

I woke up in heart-thumping panic because an actor on stage had spoken this phrase in my dream, and it was as if it had to be remembered. Two of us exiting the play commented on the line because it spoke to us so deeply.

I have no idea why.

Sunrise hours away, I insist on writing down the words telling myself, “Do this now. Do not go back to sleep first.” I am certain I am plagiarizing, remembering something rather than mining my own thoughts, because when have I ever used the phrase ‘the enormity of’? Sitting in the dark, I actually think, “Do I use the word ‘enormity’?

But I want to listen to my dreams and my passionate response because when dreams wake you up, they want your attention. Yet I don’t know about his phrase. Where does it come from? What does it say?

The dreamscape is a faux European land of concrete and trains and underground passages. Lots of underground passages. Hued by overhead greenish lights and ticket takers in tollbooth cubicles. I miss a train, get on the next, and then travel too far. I’m not alone. Some mystery friend is by my side.

the enormity of being responsible for another person’s life

I am responsible for my son, but he does not live in this dream. The mystery companion? An appendage whose resonance fades upon waking.

My husband and I lived our marriage as two very independent people. Too independent. Safely detached. We found in each other exactly what we needed: another who let us be free. Too free. We weren’t trapped in each other. We were barely tethered. Too free.

I’ve wondered if marriage and I will have a reunion. For the me who is now, it would have to be different. I’d infuse the vows with some dependence, with the freedom to need the other, to trust such needing wasn’t needy, to proclaim a responsibility for each other’s life. An enormous declaration. In a good way. For it would be by choice. The enormity of being responsible for another person’s life: a commitment to love that deeply.

Unless my dream returns to comment, I can only pretend this to be the message. Or, I can choose it to be.


Don't Be Scared, It's Just My Brain

I have wanderlust. Don’t know why and can’t say for how long. That’s the amazing thing about following your moods – they don’t offer advance warning of their shifts. There’s no ‘I’m gonna feel really up and perky in an hour and fifteen minutes, but right now, kind of mopey, ya know?’ We don’t so much follow our moods as get dragged with them wherever they go like an unrelenting tour guide who really isn’t interested in what we want to see.

Mood sits beside me in my passenger seat, looking out the window like a dog who loves a car ride. I drive until Mood tells me to pull over. And then I brake and breathe deliberately. Sun hits me through the windshield, and I put down the window to release the stifling stagnation of the greenhouse effect.

Sounds differ depending upon where you park. In LA you seldom escape the Doppler effect of a passing car or a helicopter overhead. Motors create our white noise, and if the atmosphere grows still we imagine ourselves inside a Twilight Zone episode. I pity the next generation where the Twilight Zone will cease to be a reference point. That shorthand phrase unifies my generation with concise clarity.

I consider my scenery. To see a driver in LA without a cellphone pressed to his head or a Bluetooth device encircling his ear draws my attention. The absence of an electronic distraction makes the driver look unoccupied. To confirm this, I look left and see two drivers pass not speaking on cellphones. They look occupied in thought, so I immediately peg myself a liar.

As the drivers pull away, I notice my dashboard covered in white, hairy dust that insists on reappearing within six hours of carwashing. Studying the furry coating, I picture the inside of my lungs. I’m certain they never breathe air without texture. Another driver passes by not speaking on a phone, and I realize that today’s experience differs from my LA driver generalization because I’m not moving at rush hour but am parked on a residential block off a main drag during an unexceptional hour of the day. No one passing is hurried. If they were, they’d avoid this street with a stop sign every one hundred yards, a measure I arrive at after going to my brain archives and recalling two years of fall and winter Saturdays spent on football field sidelines with a long-lensed camera pressed to my eye striving to capture football moments that when frozen in still frames mimic ballet. The side benefit of my job was that the length of the field became etched into my mind as a handy measuring tool. Unfortunately, saying ‘the length of a football field’ to my foreign-born husband didn’t work, which added to our communication challenges, but I never blamed the divorce on that.

At this point I don’t blame the divorce on anything but bad judgment and misplaced idealism. Our system mandates marriage licenses, yet doesn’t insist on any test other than one of our blood, as if suggesting that driving a car is more difficult than driving a relationship. A few pre-marriage questions would serve us, I figure, and the test could simply be Pass/Fail with the opportunity to retake as many times as necessary until the participants pass or recognize they shouldn't be together. For ease of creation, questions from The Newlywed Game could serve as a launching point with creative modifications offered up by unemployed writers or marriage counselors. I would apply for that job.

Pulling away from the curb, I ask my mood which way to go, but get no response. I am on my own, required to be my own motivator and support system. I picture living in cavepeople times when questions of career were occupied by ‘You hunt, I’ll cook.’ I like the idea of stirring food over open fires, sharing stories about animal behavior and elusive berries. Fantasy is a drug like any other, only free and legal.

I consider what life would look like if we were handed a map upon birth with directions and designated destination. Detours would be permitted if you promise to return to the redlined highway within a reasonable amount of time, for the blue lines are known to vanish suddenly and lead the unsuspecting over a cliff. Some would say that that removes choice, but let me ask, do you really believe we have free will? How can we know since we can only make each choice once and will never know if we were capable or choosing otherwise?



Yesterday I received an email filled with good news. A former colleague of mine who’s been waiting desperately for a lung transplant was on his way to the hospital, new lungs en route as well. He’d been on the transplant list for more than a year and was seriously deteriorating, his lungs damaged from radiation treatments for cancer years before when he was a teen.

Seeing that he was finally going to get his lungs, I felt cautious optimism, relief, hope, anticipation – a smorgasbord of emotions. I repeatedly refreshed the page of updates on his family’s website eager for the latest news. The reports were good – the lungs arrived and were in good condition, he was in surgery, it was going well, etc. Finally he was in recovery, the surgery a success. He would sleep for a day or two, his family explained. The post ended with the tag, “Donor was 22 year old male who was six feet tall. Lungs fit perfectly.” My heart sank. I had been rejoicing for my friend’s successful journey through surgery, and suddenly I was mourning an unknown twenty-two-year-old. I pictured his family in sadness, wondered how the young man had died, imagined facing the decision to donate his organs.

I saw the cycle of life, the hard choices, the loss next to the gains, and from that moment on, struggled with the comments of joy celebrating my friend’s good fortune. Before the donor was mentioned, I could see the organs as a generic pair of lungs. Suddenly they became someone’s lungs. Thoughtfully, one well-wisher mentioned expressing gratitude to the donor’s family when the time was right, while another voiced sadness for the loss of the young man. My soul felt heavy.

Today I remain on my friend’s family’s website monitoring his recovery from surgery, hoping it goes smoothly, eager to see photos of him awake and smiling and breathing on his own. At the same time, a part of me hurts. I think of the other family gathered in mourning.

Last year I went to the Donate Life website to register as a donor while thinking of my friend with so much to offer, so young at twenty-nine. At 6’9” most donated lungs weren’t suitable for him and went to someone below him on the list, someone in less urgent need.

We’d worked together on a film about the war in Iraq. He fed me new facts and new clips daily. He helped me navigate the complexity of the story, thorough in his accuracy and consistently thoughtful regarding subtleties. He helped calm my frustration with the mounting footage and my distress over the stories we couldn’t fit into the piece. His focus and integrity inspired me daily.

When I first heard of his failing lungs, I lost my breath. “Not Jim,” I thought, as if somehow his life counted more than another’s. I wrote to him instantly expressing my shock and saying I hoped he would get the transplant soon. I visited his website frequently over the following months, but his posts focused on the extensive creative and political work he was doing and rarely mentioned his deteriorating health. A simple link sent readers to his family’s website detailing the transplant process. Knowing Jim, that didn’t surprise me.

For the past year, I’ve read about his struggles with insurance and hospitals, his family’s optimism and their disappointments. Over time he was forced to work from home, his mobility more and more restricted by the deterioration of his lungs. Standing in the shower eventually became almost impossible. Every update on his family’s website made me sigh, and I kept thinking, “Not Jim.”

Now Jim has his lungs. He has recovery ahead of him, but the caution attached to my optimism is receding. I picture him continuing his life and his work, and I feel relief. Our world is better with him in it. At the same time, I think of the unknown twenty-two-year-old whose family cries today.

UPDATE: Jim is breathing on his own, which raises the sweet quotient in the 'bittersweet.'