WHINING

The other day I sat around watching kung fu movies, eating tuna sandwiches on soft white buns and feeling sorry for myself. When I finally went outside for some fresh air, it began to drizzle. As I sat there on the patio getting damp, I started to grumble which is like being grumpy only with more turbulence.

That’s when I noticed how much I was whining was going on inside my head. It didn’t have the thrusting lower lip of a good pout or the awesome power of a full fledged temper tantrum. A whine is the paper cut of bad moods. It’s the squeaky chalk on the black board of life.

I must have some justification for this whining, I thought. After all, equanimity might be my middle name. Did I not like horses?  Were not my childhood heroes all cowboys? (Whinny – whine, do you see the unspoken but nevertheless obvious connection?)

So I reflected on the past week –

¨      The pinched nerve in my back has taken three painful weeks to unkink

¨      I received a notice that my medical insurance was going up

¨      I called to adjust my auto insurance and when they discovered my zip code was incorrect, my premium went up $200/year

¨      Mikey the Beta Fish has been not eating and is now swimming sideways

¨      The only chocolate in the house is from last Halloween

¨      My jeans are too tight

Faced with these facts I readily saw that my whining was not only justified but with a little more reflection just might graduate to full-fledged sniveling which means spinning downward with a drippy nose.

Yes, in spite of what a great person I was, life was poking me with the sharp end of the stick. I didn’t deserve this, I wailed. I should have everything I want when I want it. Waaa!

This is good, a small part of my head said – let’s pull out all the stops and really wallow in the self-pity – which is like feeling sorry for somebody but even better because it’s me! That’s when I noticed how good it felt to feel bad. What was this about! The more I whined, the more I wanted to whine, the more things I found to whine about.

It was like being on a bad drug. These negative thoughts were addicting.  When I ran out of things to complain about, a certain feeling of emptiness was present. After all, didn’t complaining bolster my image of self-importance – even if I was unhappy?

by Mary Engelbreit

Hmmm. Then I remembered a great picture by Mary Englebreit that showed a little girl, standing with hands on hips, staring at the viewer and saying, “Snap out of it!” So I did! I made another tuna sandwich, sent Mikey some encouraging thoughts on my way to the couch and joined Sweetie Pie for Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai.” It don’t get much better than this!

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ARS GRATIA ARTIS

Flower Garden
Flower Garden 5

A friend of mine who is an artist stopped painting last year after he realized he was repeating himself in terms of technique, subject matter and approach. A few weeks ago we visited a local museum together in an attempt to jump start his creative engine. It may be months before something clicks but it will click eventually. Meanwhile he suffers.

To follow a creative career is hard work, often painful and frequently not valued by the larger society. Few parents encourage their children to become poets, actors, dancers, painters or composers for they recognize that the arts do not often bring success, at least in material terms. For every rock star there are thousands of unknown garage bands. For every Picasso there are thousands – perhaps millions – of weekend painters.  It is true of all the arts.

So why do it? A creative person does what he or she does because it is more painful not to do it. In the beginning it really isn’t about fame or money or the thrill of execution; it is an undeniable hunger or longing that demands self-expression. And this self-expression comes at a price.

To access the creative realm, courage is need. Inhibitions must be set aside along with the fears of the ego, and the artist must embark on a journey that may lead to judgment, failure, ridicule, poverty, madness or even, worse, indifference. These are not unfounded concerns – just read the lives of the artists.

So why risk it? Because when the artist can open to the Creative, the small self is swept away – at least for a while. A new reality is experienced that is vital, raw, unlimited and filled with joy. It is a feeling that your real self has been found at last – a homecoming. There is nothing – except perhaps sexual intimacy or mystical revelation – that can approach it, and all three of these activities are related in that the small self is absent.

Luckily, this joy is not contingent on the quality of the work produced nor the ‘worthiness’ of the artist. It requires only the willingness to surrender the small self to the Creative Self.

When someone in a creative field starts adjusting his work to attract fame, money, recognition, satisfaction, pride, etc. the purity of the surrender is lost and with it, I believe, the source of originality and inspiration. When the artist listens to the demands of the market place rather than the voice of his inner nature he has effectively shut the door on his creative journey.

It is not easy to maintain this balance between selflessness and the self – and this is the great struggle of the artist. How long do you keep painting when you can’t make a living at it? How long do you keep going to auditions when you never get the starring role? How many rejection slips does it take to discourage a writer? How do you hold to your vision when your family is in need?

I don’t have any answers to these questions. They are unique and personal to each individual artist. Some people keep creating in spite of the odds; others commercialize their work; some give up and get a ‘real job’; some become teachers and hope to inspire others, while some wait for retirement from the everyday world.

Meanwhile, the creative journey continues in each of our lives and we can define our ‘art’ in our own personal terms. The art of engineering, of homemaking, of cleaning, of parenting, of computing – all are worthy vehicles ready to carry us along our individual paths to the Creative Self.

I have a new post on the art blog at http://MarieTaylorArt.wordpress.com.

 

 

THE WALKERS

After several weeks of fairly constant rain, the sun arrived a few days ago and in response the trees are in leaf – a million shades of green from chartreuse to apple to emerald. I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night to push the comforter from the bed and today the temperature is expected to hit 80 (where are my shorts!). We are getting a taste of the summer to come.

The little Russian Mister who lives upstairs came down yesterday with a smile on his face. The kidney stone he was suffering from has either passed or is in abeyance. He patted his stomach and said, “Good, good.” I congratulated him and waved as he started off on a walk around the block.

Speaking of walking, another phenomenon has recently arisen along with the clement weather and longer days. About four o’clock every afternoon a parade of dog walkers emerge from their various apartments. Armed with plastic poop bags, water bottles and sun hats these intrepid exercisers make numerous circuits around the complex while loudly chatting to each other about the other residents.

The old observation about dogs resembling their masters is mostly true, the exception being those who are the exact opposite of the owners in which case it is perhaps an anima/animus thing (no pun intended); to whit, the very large, mean-looking lady using a walker who has a small black submissive Silky Terrier. (I don’t think I got all the commas and semi-colons right in that sentence).

Then there is the short, sprightly, gray haired lady who owns a small, sprightly, gray haired Airedale terrier; the large, sort of sloppy guy who wear Bermuda shorts and black nylon socks with oxfords who drives an extra large, floppy King Charles Spaniel; the skinny fluttery lady who is in charge of two excitable Chihuahuas; and the slim, Asian lady who furtively scoots up and down the sidewalk with her black and white Lhasa Apso.

Sweetie Pie enjoys viewing this daily parade from the comfort of her patio seat and I often join her to share observations. Yesterday I had to gently remonstrate when she loudly sniggered as the King Charles Spaniel sat down and yawned mid-walk and her owner wagged a chubby finger trying to overrule her intractable behavior.

Then there was the time the two Chihuahuas circled and criss-crossed so many times the fluttery lady was completely tied up with leashes. That provoked a guffaw on both our parts as we happily traded anecdotes about other tie-me-up, tie-me-down scenarios we had experienced in our younger days.

The parade also has its runway aspect which is not to be confused with any kind of air travel unless you’re flying to Paris. The submissive Silky Terrier and the gray-haired Airedale Terrier are both Fashionistas, which is like being a Fascist but without wearing black shirts and tall boots although there is an obvious European connection particularly when you consider the pedigree of the dogs in question.

Both Terriers sport an array of costumes, from cute emerald green jackets with four leaf clover designs for St. Patrick’s Day, to bright plaid overcoats suitable for a day at links, and not to mention the yellow slicker a la Paddington Bear for rainy afternoons.

In fact, Sweetie and I noticed, with some astonishment and raised eyebrows I might add, the rainy day the Silky Terrier rode in the big lady’s walker and cast a jaundiced eye, which is similar to being supercilious but more yellow, on the slightly soaked King Charles Spaniel that was now dutifully trotting beside his owner.

Now that summer is just around the corner Sweetie Pie and I are both looking forward to long lazy afternoons spent drinking mint juleps on the patio and making snide (which is related to supercilious but sneakier) comments to each other as we watch the every changing parade pass by.

THAT’S MY BOY!

The free Music at Noon concerts every Wednesday has provided a pivot for my weekly social calendar. This week featured a jazz program with a violin, guitar, bass and piano. Noah, the piano man was making his debut – just ten years old and the son of the female violin player.

I watched his mother as he was playing and I could see her pride in his performance and perhaps also a little anxiety, hoping he wouldn’t be too nervous or make any egregious mistakes. It made me think of all the parents who watch their children perform – whether in music or sports or academic pursuits – and how they feel proud and sad at the same time.

The young piano player’s performance also brought to mind how he was following in his mother’s footsteps for she was a professional musician herself. Years ago most children would take up the occupation of their parents – boys would learn to farm or woodwork or bend steel at their fathers’ sides; mothers would teach their daughters how to cook and sew and can peaches.

Knowledge was passed down to the younger generations, traditions were maintained. But today the world changes so rapidly that knowledge is obsolete within a few years – or a few months – let alone generations. Now the parents are taught by the children. The world my children and grandchildren live in is very different from the one I knew.

As a child our telephone was a heavy, black boxy thing with a three foot cord anchored into the dining room wall. In fact, there was a piece of furniture call ‘the telephone table’ that was specifically designed for sitting and talking. The popular luxuries for the home were ‘picture’ windows and wall to wall carpeting.

There was one television and it was the size of a small refrigerator. We got six channels when the wind was blowing from the right direction. While we watched Father Knows Best and Gunsmoke we ate a new type of food called TV dinners on TV trays.

There was no such thing as tacos or sushi or pizza. At lunch we ate Sloppy Joe sandwiches with potato chips and drank cream soda in glass bottles. Instead of frozen yogurt we ate banana popsicles and chewed Bazooka bubble gum. Snickers candy bars cost a nickel and a loaf of Wonder Bread twenty cents.

It wasn’t a better time, it was a different time. Maybe that’s the way it always is. Parents can’t teach their children about the world they will be living in, they can only teach their children about the world that they knew. So it is not knowledge that a parent passes down but the ability to be independent. When the time comes a parent must be willing to let them go; if necessary, to push them out of the nest.

Letting go is not an easy thing to do because you are losing a part of yourself – maybe the best part. I remember when my older son Rob moved to his first apartment. Every morning for nearly 20 years I had heard him run the shower and get ready for school or work. That last morning he lived at home I remember thinking, “This is the last time I’ll hear the shower in the morning,” and it was.

A few years later my younger son Jason also moved out. He was a night owl and had always come home late in the evenings. I would leave the porch light on for him. The last night he slept at home I thought, “This is the last night I will turn on the porch light,” and it was. It was the end of an era. The little birds knew how to fly and my nest was empty.

Rob & Jay
Rob & Jay

So the other afternoon as I watched young Noah play the piano I thought of his mother and how this debut marked one of his first steps out into the big world. I sent her the thought, “The years that lie ahead will go faster and faster. When you later look back there will be so much more you wished you had said or done or shared. Savor these moments for they only come once.”

THE OPEN ROAD

"Pilgrim"

“The romantic – that was what I wanted. I hungered for the romance of the sea, and foreign ports, and foreign smiles. I wanted to follow the prow of a ship, any ship, and sail away, perhaps to China, perhaps to Spain, perhaps to the South Sea Isles, there to do nothing all day long but lie on a surf-swept beach and fling monkeys at the coconuts.

I hungered for the romance of great mountains. From childhood I had dreamed of climbing Fujiyama and the Matterhorn, and had planned to charge Mount Olympus in order to visit the gods that dwelled there. I wanted to swim the Hellespont where Lord Byron swam, float down the Nile in a butterfly boat, make love to a pale Kashmiri maiden beside the Shalimar, dance to the castanets of Granada gypsies, commune in solitude with the moonlit Taj Mahal, hunt tigers in a Bengal jungle- try everything once. I wanted to realize my youth while I had it, and yield to temptation before increasing years and responsibilities robbed me of the courage.”

From “The Royal Road to Romance” by Richard Halliburton, 1925

I came across the Halliburton book in the library the other day. His name sounded familiar but I couldn’t place him. It turns out he was Tennessee born in 1900, educated at Princeton, and after graduation took to the road. He lived through the jazz age, through the great depression until the eve of World War II and disappeared in 1939 while sailing on a Chinese junk from Hong Kong to San Francisco.

I have always loved travel books. There has always been within me a desire to explore, to risk, to meet danger and have adventures in exotic locales. I did not have the courage to follow those dreams and chose more prosaic paths – perhaps that was for the best – but my heart still beats a little faster, my eyes shine a little brighter when I read what others have done. I wrote this poem a few years ago when I heard the gypsies calling me.

I AM THE OPEN ROAD

I am the open road

I lay down myself before you.

Walk upon my hard packed earth

To distant lands

Where old men speak

In purple tongues,

Where words are made of herbs

And ears resonate to the sound

Of tree-born drums.

 

I am the open road,

I lay down myself before you.

Let my currents carry you

To pirate isles

Where palm trees

Mark graves

And clipper ships

Trail the scent of cinnamon

Across the waves.

 

I am the open road,

I lay down myself before you.

Lean into my winds,

Soar to mile-high passes

Where saffron monks

Chant the million names

Of a million gods

While yak bells ring

And incense rises.

 

I am the open road,

I lay down myself before you.

Ride the white stallion

To the nomad’s tent

Where a silent maid

Watches stars wheel

Silently overhead

While shifting sands

Whisper.

 

I am the open road,

I lay down myself before you.

Travel down the song lines

Of my dreams.

Drum into being

The rock and tree and hill,

While I dance awake

The rabbit and the panther,

The cobra and the child.

 

I am the open road,

I lay down my self before you.

I am calling.

Come.

NEIGHBORS

Cherry Branch 2011

A month or two ago I mentioned in passing the sweet little Russian couple who live upstairs from me. We continue to wave to each other – me from my chair on the patio, they from their many trips up and down the stairs.

Last weekend the Mr., whose name was once told to me but I’ve since forgotten – I am tempted to say Vladislav but know I am just making it up – was dropped off at 7 in the evening by another short, graying man wearing a flannel shirt and driving a jeep.

After a quick discussion at the back of the vehicle in a language I did not understand, the Mr. unloaded a fishing pole, a no-nonsense steel rimmed fishing net, sturdy tackle box and backpack. As he mounted the stairs I made pole casting motions with my arms and smiled and he replied with a laugh and said, “Fish, yes. Fishing, I go.”

Yesterday, upon returning from running first-of-the-month errands, I came home to find a red fire truck parked in front of the apartment. This is always a bad sign, particularly at a senior apartment complex, for it means ambulances and paramedics. Since the truck was blocking my parking space, I pulled over to the side of the drive and waited.

About ten minutes later, three men carried a gurney down the outside stairs, packed it in the truck and left. I was relieved to see the gurney was empty, meaning the situation was not critical but I didn’t know if it was the Mr. or the Mrs. who had required attention.

Yesterday afternoon as I was enjoying the spring sun, the Mrs. came down the stairs and when she saw me she said hello. This was unusual in itself for she is the more silent of the two and rarely makes an effort to communicate other than a smile or nod.

This time, however, her face was tense and worn, and her hands were trembling. Through a combination of sign language, broken English and telepathy I discovered that the Mr. was suffering from kidney stones and was at home resting. “Old. Not good,” she said with a shrug that carried a depth of silent meaning. “Yes,” I agreed to her what-can-you-do message.

Today I heard the Mrs. coming down the stairs again and as soon as she came into view, she said, “Hello.” I put aside the book I was reading and asked “How is your husband?” pointing upstairs. “No good,” she replied, shaking her kerchiefed head and hanging on to the stair railing, her brown eyes blinking.

“Pain,” I inquired. She nodded yes and pointed to her back and stomach, explaining how the kidney stone was torturing him. “I’m so sorry,” I said, wanting her to know through these inadequate words that I understood. She shook her head in resignation. “It’s hard,” I added, and thought not only for him who is suffering but for her who is witnessing.

I wanted to hug her to lend her some strength but the iron railings separated us so I blew her a kiss. “God bless you,” she said in her broken English and blew one back. There were tears in both our eyes as we acknowledged that Life sometimes shows its power rather than its mercy.

When she left I was reminded that just last Sunday I had hugged another of the ladies in residence here. That time it was Gina, the one I had formerly thought of as Jayne Mansfield because of her waist-length blonde wig and large bosom. It was the first time Gina and I had talked and she shared some of her history – her forty-plus years as a waitress, her love of plants, her sadness that she no longer had a garden to tend.

But it was the story of Lenora, her parrot of more than twenty years that had prompted the tears. “I never had no children and didn’t want none. Lenora was my little companion and now I’m all alone.” As she dabbed a kleenex on her eyes, she said, “Please don’t be mad I cried,” and I wondered who had made her ashamed of tears.

There are so many stories waiting to be told and the richest ones have a thread of sadness running through to give it depth and definition. Those are the stories that teach us about life and resilience and the beauty of the heart.