A Year Later

We often encounter markers of time’s passage. Birthdays, anniversaries, New Years. For me it’s the annual trek to see David Sedaris at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Wednesday night was year seven for me, if memory serves. Assorted friends often recount the time they were my guest, sitting beside me, laughing till their stomachs hurt, grabbing at key phrases and tales to stash away for future recall, to facilitate a laugh on demand. Each year around the beginning of April, my phone rings with a caller inquiring, “Who are you taking to David Sedaris this year?” It’s a subtle way of asking for an invite to secure one of the most sought after tickets in town.

Last year my son was my date, the night David Sedaris asked my then twelve-year-old to introduce him on stage, a simple request that lead to a memorable evening. Following that night, I wrote a piece about the adventure and then boldly mailed it off to David along with a thank you and a photo I’d snapped of him with my son. Not long after, I received a warm and witty reply full of details of his recent vacation with his boyfriend that included an anecdote about a midget bouncer at a bar. In order to respect the privacy of personal correspondence, I’ll leave it at that. Beside, you may read about it someday in The New Yorker.

When April rolled around this year, I found myself starting to dream about David Sedaris, odd dreams of nervousness as if I might forget to attend his reading. The morning of the event I worried that I would leave the tickets tucked in my living room drawer or would somehow lose them on the way to UCLA. Weird anxiety, I confess.

My son was to be my date again. We arrived at UCLA early with the plan of seeing if my son could say hi to David. And I really mean, ‘my son.’ I’ve more than let go of the idea of a budding friendship with the admired writer. That rapport belongs to David and my teen with me as a mere observational bystander.

We entered Royce’s lobby and looked for the woman who had taken us backstage last year. No walkie-talkie wielding employees to be seen, I considered approaching the box office and asking for assistance. A table sat in the lobby selling books, so we first wandered over to catch a glimpse of the offerings. My anxiety must have blinded me to the long line snaking from the table, but finally after observing all the books for sale and noting that I owned all except those by an author David was promoting, I glanced left. There sat David signing books. Pre-show. Calm as can be.

“He’s right there,” I said to my son. “Let’s get in line to say hi.”

We waited patiently, the only patrons not holding a book for signing. The line moved slowly, David taking the time to talk with each fan, sharing a personal moment with an anecdote attached. Finally we reached the front of the line. I pushed my son ahead of me and took a step back.

“Hi,” he said. “I’m Anthony. I don’t know if you remember me, but I introduced you last year.”

“Anthony, hi. I was thinking about you,” replied David. “You wanna do it again?”

“Sure,” said my son, and David reached for his wallet, pulled out a twenty, “Your stage fee,” he said, and handed it to my son. “Could you sign it?” my son asked, and he did. Anthony had doubled his earning potential in one year, but it hardly mattered. The ten was neatly tucked in his bedroom drawer and the twenty would take a place beside it.

David told us to meet him back at the table in twenty-five minutes. This year he’d be signing books right up until show time. As we stepped away, my son said, “‘Stage fee.’ See, I told you that’s what he said. Not ‘stage pay.’” I wondered if my son was requesting an edit of last year’s piece.

A UCLA Live employee offered us to wait in the green room and eat David’s food. “He never eats it,” she said, but this year we decided to just linger in the lobby. When time came for Anthony to go backstage with David, I didn’t follow. In the passage of a year, I’d seen that this was my son’s moment, that he deserved a private interaction with David to find the words he would say on stage, that I didn’t need to hover and interfere. David had been kind when I’d said hello, but just like last year, I felt his discomfort in small talk with me. And I was fine with that. Really. We are strangers who pass each other once a year, usually with me in the audience and David on stage. That is the natural order of things, at least for now.

As my son disappeared through the lobby by David’s side, I entered the auditorium. Despite the ban on photos, I’d been given permission to snap away while my son was on stage, so I pressed against a pillar up front to the right and waited. I peered into the wings, and finally I saw David and my son arrive deep in conversation. David saw me standing within view and pointed me out to my son who waved and looked really happy and relaxed. I appeared oddly conspicuous standing with my tiny digital camera in hand. In this age of fear, I wondered if anyone found my behavior suspicious, and I launched into a fantasy of my being jumped as the lights came down and I snuck forward camera ready to capture a precious moment. I’d lift the camera and threaten with a flash of light, be tackled by a well-meaning patron or usher, get removed from the theater, and miss my son’s moment.

Of course, none of that happened. The lights went down, my son emerged, I snuck forward and snapped largely worthless photos with my pocket camera’s weak flash just as my son said, “No photos, videos, or recordings.” Like last year but with the modification of a few words and a deeper voice, he told everyone to turn off “cell phones and pagers and anything annoying.” He added his praise of David as a writer who’d told him a funny story about kidney stones backstage.

And then he was done and replaced by David on stage.

I took my seat climbing over fans who seemed annoyed, but when Anthony took his seat beside me, my status was instantly elevated as if those around us were thinking, “Ah, she must be his mom.”

After David read his first piece, he paused, and like last year, thanked my son for his courage to come on stage with little warning in front of a room of nearly two thousand people. He then went on to say something like if he had a kid, he’d want him to grow up to be like Anthony, that anyone would want their kid to grow up to be like Anthony.

I couldn’t agree more. And I thank David Sedaris again for a wonderful evening and memory.


A Semblance

She sat down at the table and tapped the seat beside her. “Sit down, denial,” she said. “We need to talk.” She proceeded to praise denial, the often maligned guest in the room, for following a week of achievement and well being, she realized what she had done best was to dance with denial, denial in the form of the unspoken self-critique, denial in the form of the over-obsessing worry sidelined, denial in the form of pure celebration of what is.

In waltzing with denial, she glided through life with ease, found new energy to greet life, spent time doing rather than imagining.

With denial’s urging, she gave her life a makeover. When the new furniture arrived unexpectedly in boxes with the declaration “Some assembly required,” she chuckled rather than groaned. “Just like life,” she said. “Assembly required.” So as she placed part A next to part B and joined them with screw C, she saw her life coming together. And when she stripped the paint off the layered and tattered closet doors getting down to the core in order to start fresh and build back up, she again saw her life paralleling the journey. The old layers of trash and garbage stripped away for new color to emerge. And with all the work done and pictures newly hung and the bed freshly made, she sat herself down and leaned against supportive pillows. She looked at the masterpiece she’d created and understood the newness before her. Some assembly required indeed.

(to see a before shot...go here)


Bowing to the King

When you place a beating heart upon a throne and adorn it with a crown, like any other ruler it gets mighty full of itself and starts bossing around others. The body parts gather to listen, for the heart’s been away for a while and like any admired traveler that returns from a lengthy journey, its subjects wanted to hear a good story.

I’d expected a place of exalted honor for delivering heart back to its home, but I was quickly pushed to the back of the crowd, my view obscured by arms and livers, a gallbladder or two, and even an overgrown ear. Heart stood high and claimed knowledge the other body parts were too ignorant to know. I didn’t like heart’s pompous tone, so I pushed out of the crowd and decided to wander along the highway that bisected the vast nothingness of undeveloped terrain.

Fields spread wide on both sides of the road, and I wondered why heart had asked to return home rather than enjoy wildflowers and discarded aluminum cans. One could learn a lot about travelers by studying the trash they threw from their windows. I could never do that, brazenly toss my garbage from a car, not since those anti-littering ads starring the crying Indian in full headdress. Years later when attending a university that once had an Indian as a mascot, I learned of the sacrilege of dressing an actor in Native American religious wear to cheer on a football team or for use in advertising campaigns. I think that may have been one of the key things I learned in college.

The two-lane highway was void of all cars, a simple dotted line dividing it into its two parts. I stayed to the right and walked mimicking the invisible flow of traffic, but I longed for a car for company, for life on a highway without cars was lonely and unexciting.

Restless with my walk and curious about how heart was getting on, I turned around. I heard the echo of heart passionately spewing from the throne, thinking it rules the body, getting all bossy and dogmatic about the importance of its role including mandates that it must not be neglected. Meanwhile, brain sits on the sidelines shaking its head – its head? itself? – anyway, shaking in amusement over heart’s overblown self-importance. On the other hand, brain relates to feeling all knowing in its role. It, too, has wanted undying admiration.

When the gathering of body parts ended and heart had said its piece about love and passion and paying attention to when it beats hardest, the crowd dispersed and brain saw its opening. It walked over to heart and asked to talk, defying the protocol of requesting a formal audience. Heart was initially suspicious remembering the last time the two of them had gotten into it over what heart called a failed romance and brain called an act of stupidity. The chill and silence between them had lasted for weeks until they were forced into an encounter at a whole body symposium. In each other’s presence they’d both finally conceded the value of the other and had agreed to a truce, though with notably less enthusiasm than was required to peacefully coexist.

But since brain was approaching nicely this time and heart was feeling generous in light of a warm welcome home, well, heart warmly embraced brain.

They stood in silence before each other for a moment. Finally heart opened the door. “You wanted to speak to me.”

“Yes,” said brain, but brain was uncertain how to begin.

“Well?” prodded heart.

“Well, I just wanted to say that I’m sorry for challenging you all these years, for trying to diminish your importance.” Brain paused.

Heart waited.

And then brain started to weep, a role usually played by heart. Heart softened, stunned by this shift in brain. Heart had wanted this for brain for so long, a letting down of its guard, a willingness to melt. In another era, heart might have been smug, but not today. And in an embrace, heart and brain finally realized they were on the same side.


Margaritas and Sushi

Last night I sat beside two men at a sushi bar, the ones who struck up conversation by asking how a margarita, which I was drinking, goes with sushi as opposed to the traditional sake or beer, and to whom I responded, “Well, I guess I’m always a bit of a rebel, but besides, it’s only vegetarian sushi, a veggie roll, so it’s kind of like having a margarita with a salad.”

These men next tried to draw me in with, “So, what do you think of Hillary for president?” And I told them that I refuse to talk about the presidential election at this point, that I’d rather these elected officials go do the current job they’ve been granted, that I could gather far more information about them by watching them perform as senators and civic leaders than by hearing them on the campaign trail. And besides, whoever has my attention at this point is completely irrelevant because eight months from now they could be long gone following a presidential race implosion.

So they got me to talk a little bit about the campaign, but my heart and head weren’t feeling political. I’d come for food and drink and the noise of the room.

The men started maligning assorted public figures as I sipped my margarita and dipped my not-tightly-enough-rolled sushi into soy sauce and wasabi, watching the rice and shredded carrots leak from the middle to create a textured landscape in my dish. I lightly continued my sideline participation in the conversation and eventually tossed out with a smile that I was certainly more liberal than they were, at which point they grabbed onto ‘liberal’ and told me what I believed, how I wanted to take their hard-fought-for money and hand it out to bums and partiers.

Despite the words, their tone was not aggressive and I took no personal offense, for from my perch on the counter-high stool I was relaxed listening to how others think. We were in communal drinks and sushi mode and I had no need to be right or understood. I uttered a few phrases that contained words like “not everyone starts on equal footing,” but I never let the softness leave my face for these men had come to their opinions long ago, as had I. I did say that if my neighbor is living better, I live better, that giving more isn’t a taking from me but a bettering of community. But I said little else. I didn’t discuss how far reaching ‘liberal’ goes for me because they set it in the corner with money and I didn’t uproot it to bring it to the table with justice.

Near the end of the trialogue when they suggested switching the conversation from politics to religion, which brought a huge smile to my face and the comment, “I don’t think we want to go to religion,” the man closest to me leaned back and spoke to the woman on my other side. She dismissed his question, “Are you a liberal?” with, “I’m a capitalist!” and they giggled together – really giggled – and I offered to switch seats since they seemed much better suited to each other as opposed to gentle dissenting me who was sliding into mentioning those who work very hard but may not be blessed with a mind best suited for navigating society’s complexities. I pointed out that I don’t take credit for the way my brain makes things easy for me, that I only take a little credit for what I do with that brain, but even then… I trailed off.

I didn’t go into my philosophy that I’m not certain I can take any credit for hard work because my brain is what pushes me to do what I do, and I was born with the brain I was born with. I did say, though, to the man who was certain that I wanted to take his money and give it to lazy partiers, that he may have a head for business while I know someone who works very hard but who has a head for art and music. When given a task he digs in, but forced to find his own way in a world of commerce he becomes a little immobilized, not from lack of desire but from being blessed with a different skill set. The sake drinker paused at that one. I saw a glimpse of new thought cross his face. His head even nodded a bit, though perhaps involuntarily.

I paid my bill, said good-bye to my accidental dinner companions, and walked out into the cool night air with a huge smile on my face. “I’ve grown,” I thought. “I didn’t need to strut my stuff or get stern and argumentative. I could simply allow that we would never see the world the same way.” I walked with a fresh understanding of how hard it is to get those with differing views to have the same conversation. I realized that maybe it’s okay to not even try to discuss the details, not when we’re all sitting firmly in our chair of belief. I didn’t make friends while dining, but I didn’t make enemies either. I wasn’t angry at their assertions about me, or their stances that I didn’t share. In talking to them, I simply saw ‘different’ sitting beside me. I understood that they feel they’ve earned what they have, and those who haven’t achieved as much don’t want it with the same will and determination. I don’t agree, but now I at least know what conversation lurks below the surface, and a night out gathering information and experience is always a blessing.


Gravity Killed Kurt Vonnegut

Gravity killed Kurt Vonnegut.
At least that’s how I heard it
as I drove in my car.
Complications from a fall, they said.
From a fall.
Not illness.
Not old age.
His own body hitting earth
did him in.

Despite plane crashes
and slips from rocky cliffs
I’d never thought
of gravity as a murderer.
What grounds me can kill me.
When I next lose my footing
I will think of Kurt Vonnegut
and the simplicity of his farewell.


The Life of a Sound

Until I got quiet and listened in a way I never do, I didn’t know of all the sounds, the voluminous sounds that when allowed to be heard jockey for attention like schoolchildren in a room with arms reaching towards the sky waving to say, ‘Pick me! Pick me!’

The sounds want to be heard, hateful of their dismissal as white noise.
Imagine how they see us, the inhabitants they dodge or bounce off of as they move to gather in a wondrous corner of a busy street to share their tales of adventure.

Sometimes they want to go unheard, for sounds have private moments, too. They can feel sad and small, seek to take up less space and go unnoticed. The life of a sound is seldom considered, but when I listened with clean ears, I understood, and I no longer complain about the noise.


The Highway Confessional

I hit the road, well, really the air, and landed on rich red clay that spent all week trying to henna my feet. When it came time for me to head home, the clay tried to come with me not knowing how good it had it where it was. But aren’t we all that way, unable to appreciate the beauty that greets us daily, the beauty we grow accustomed to?

On the road I tasted a life rich with quiet. The phone never rang, no messages to check, no email to answer, no news to read. I unplugged by choice, and once breathing this air, I said, “I can’t go back, at least not to what I’d become.” Over there, I remembered the me I once was: adaptable, flexible, curious, in movement, in conversation, gasping in laughter, pushing myself right up against the edge of tears in experiences richly felt.

But I had to come home. My life is here. However life and I had a little chat, and we’ve both agreed to change. I promised to walk forward more and detour less, for while detours are delicious, they can evolve to distraction, a reason not to cross a much-desired finish line. I have some finishing to do. In exchange, life offered to lend a hand, to keep me mindful of the present and not allow me to obsess about the unknowable future. Life offered me delusion, for only in delusion can I walk the path I have chosen. Life also offered to prod me to action, which has thrust paint swatches onto my bedroom walls and paint stripper onto my bedroom doors. These days, everyone gets a makeover.

And then there’s the other confusion. Here. As in here. Today is the one-year mark of this site, and we’re having some relationship issues. Here has become a detour rather than a forward march. In the clarity of away, in the over there, I couldn’t deny it. I couldn’t ignore all the hours I leap around the internet visiting other voices while the finish line waits with hands on its hips, looking at its watch, wondering what’s taking me so long. I have things calling, and I’m not sure how to reconcile my confusion.

So if I seem distant and unavailable, recognize the behavior as my dance with processing. How can I stay and not have an affair with distraction? How can I leave and turn my back on those I’ve met and what I’ve learned?


Heart and Fear*

Fear entered my heart, sat down on the sofa and put its legs up on the coffee table. “Long time no see,” fear said. Heart looked on suspiciously. “Well that’s not entirely true,” fear continued, “is it?”

Heart didn’t want to answer, not particularly happy to see this uninvited houseguest. Heart had been cleaning – dusting, actually – and whistling in a nice pitch that reflected calm and contentment. Fear sensed this and swooped in before things got out of hand.

Recently, having seen itself in a new light, heart had undergone a transformation. “I’ve kind of got it together,” it told its friends the other night over drinks at the local watering hole. Its friends had nodded and smiled. They’d seen the shift but had waited for heart to bring it up on its own. Heart continued, “I remember fun and relaxation and feeling good about myself. I don’t want to lose this.”

So when fear showed up, heart froze and grew stiff. “So you’re done with me, eh?” asked fear.

Heart smiled, “Oh, do you think I’ll ever be done with you?”

“Still…” fear slid in.

“Still,” repeated heart.

“I can see you don’t want me around anymore,” fear said.

“Well…” said heart.

“Go ahead, say it,” jumped in fear. “Say I don’t serve you anymore. It happens to me all the time. You’re not the first.” A tear leaked from fear’s left eye. Heart started to soften and thought to invite fear to stay.

“You’re very good,” said heart wising up quickly, nearly duped by fear’s ploy. Fear’s tear retreated back into its eye socket. Humiliated and angry, fear stood abruptly.

Watching fear leave through the door, heart felt warmly nostalgic. They’d been together a long time, and it wasn’t like heart to turn its back on a friend. But heart had to be honest and admit that fear had been no friend. Loyal, yes, but fear had clipped heart’s wings, and heart, wanting to fly, knew this relationship must end.

“Good-bye, fear,” heart whispered for no one to hear, and went back to cleaning and whistling a sweet tune.

*an accidental homage