Thank You Leonard Cohen.

“I’m just another snowman, standing in the rain and sleet. Who loved you with his frozen love, his second-hand physique. With all he is, and all he was. A thousand kisses deep.”

You brought peace back into my heart.

It’s been empty for quite some time. I walked around the world in my false hope, in my false peace, thinking everything was just fine. It wasn’t. Until you began to sing last Saturday at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas I realized what I thought was hope was pretend. You sang and the light came in. You sang and I was saved. Imagine yourself in a beautiful world, a perfect bright world. But you suddenly realize it’s all a sheen, a sham, a false front. You find a door on this stage and step through it into a blindingly white light. It was kind of like that. Not to venture into hyperbole (I’ve been known to dabble), but I was changed.

Now I sit here, attempting to describe how I feel and sounding for all the world like a turn of the century hausfrau who’s just returned from her first tent revival. I can’t stop humming “Who By Fire?” I can’t stop smiling. I feel calm. My dreams are more vivid. Not sure how long this can last. I know it can’t. Change is the only constant after all.

Why am I even writing? Because I looked for a decent concert review and found none. Just a half-hearted attempt from the local paper full of song quotes. Not written by a fan or someone even remotely knowledgeable about your musical gifts. Of course you could listen for years and not begin to understand. It’s a very “You had to be there…” kind of thing.

You sang for four hours. Four hours of song that’s indescribable. Chelsea Hotel #2, Bird On A Wire, Anthem, they all threw my heart up to the rafters, then down to the depths until I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I felt exhilarated and exhausted. Mr. Cohen, you’re a man in love. So deeply in love with women, and love, and sex, and life that every song reflects it. You’re the Pablo Neruda of pop – all your songs dripping with so much innuendo I found I needed some air when intermission rolled around. When you’re not singing love, you’re singing justice, and spirituality, and loss, and death, and wonder, all the things philosophers have been pondering for thousands of years. In your fedora and suit, skipping around, going down on one knee to pray, then arising to sing and skip some more. You’re a playful mix of Pan, Tom Jones, and Zen Buddhist priest all rolled into one. A dash of Bugs Bunny. With a little bit of superhero thrown in for good measure because you sang for FOUR HOURS.

I don’t even know why I’m attempting to describe my experience. Maybe it’s because 5 days later I’m still on a high, still feel saved, still feel full of pure light and love. Which is rare for me. I wanted to write about it. I needed to. I wanted a written record to say YES.

YES, I saw the flowers covering the stage.
YES, I saw your fans singing “Just Passing Through” to anyone who cared to listen during intermission. Swaying to the music. Willing you back onstage.
YES, I saw the young lady rush the stage to embrace you.
YES, I saw the blouses flying during “It’s Closing Time”.
YES, I saw my tattered tissue and my tears so many times during your performance.
YES, I saw my own jealousy emerge when I realized I’d never write as good as this. And yes, I saw it dissolve in surrender when I realized it didn’t matter. All that mattered was the right now.
YES, I saw my heart explode in wonder when you performed “A Singer Must Die” alone, with just a guitar as accompaniment. Poetry. Conviction. Simply the best live performance of a song I’ve ever seen anywhere.
YES, I saw your gratitude. You wear your heart on your sleeve Mr. Cohen.
YES, I saw the faces of the people afterward as they filed out into the din and blare and ping of the casino. Their faces beamed. Their hearts were full. They’d been changed as well.

That night I had a dream. You are wearing a tracksuit. Hatless. In disguise, sweeping the casino floor while all around you people file past, leaving the concert. The noise and the blare and the ping-ping of the slot machines leave you unfazed. All of it rushes past in a flood as you quietly sweep. I step closer. I thank you for the peace you have brought. You just lean on your broom, beaming. Your face beaming beatific in its gratitude, in its grace. So pure. So simple. What is your secret Mr. Cohen? What hides behind that smile? How can I have that smile too?

After something like that you cannot help but be changed. I just wanted a written record to exist somewhere. To say with the full gratitude of my heart and soul that I was there. I experienced what might be your last show and I’ll never forget it.

Thank you Leonard Cohen. You brought peace back to my heart. Got rid of the darkness, at least for a awhile. And that feels so good.

My Nostalgia Shield.

“You’re the only one who knows when you’re using things to protect yourself and keep your ego together and when you’re opening and letting things fall apart, letting the world come as it is – working with it rather than struggling against it. You’re the only one who knows.” —Pema Chodron

This quote is me. At Thanksgiving. At any holiday really. Struggling, fighting, throwing an emotional temper tantrum because things aren’t going my way. Because what I see isn’t what I want to see. People have changed. I’ve changed. But I want things to be as they were. As they were all those years ago when Thanksgiving was perfect, the potato rolls were on the table, the country ham was never too salty and the turkey was never too dry. When all your loved ones were still with you, and the only stress you had was whether or not you’d have room for Nana’s perfect pecan pie.

The memory you have in your heart is always perfect. Unblemished. All year long I eagerly await Thanksgiving because I crave the closeness and the gratitude and the peace that comes from family. Okay, I just wrote that and re-reading it microseconds later I don’t even believe it myself. If family=peace Hollywood movie writers wouldn’t have any material. But somehow in my mind I equate Thanksgiving with all the happy memories I have of that time when I was a child. It’s like a perfect portrait of nostalgia. Not saccharin like Norman Rockwell, but certainly something close to it.

Except that picture doesn’t even exist. Life isn’t a stagnant oil painting. We grow up. Loved ones die. People move away. Things change. And the picture is a lie anyway. It doesn’t show everything. It only shows the happy, pretty surface, not all the pain, baggage, and crap the kids in the picture carried into their adulthood. Carried with them like a second skin, refusing to ever let go. You can’t see that in the picture. In the picture all is well. It’s this perfect, unrealistic picture I’m carrying around with me, constantly trying to recreate. Struggling to recapture in vain. Not ever looking past the pretty surface, hoping to forget the painful shadows and only see the pretty highlights.

In my head this is how Thanksgiving is SUPPOSED to be. Happy happy. Pretty pretty. Perfect. And so every Thanksgiving rather than accepting what is, surrendering to what I am and what I have, and what I can handle, I fight against what I think it should be. What definitely ISN’T there, but what in my mind SHOULD be there. Instead of living in gratitude, I’m struggling and fighting.

I haven’t accepted change and so I use nostalgia and memories as shields – to guard against the very real fact things are different. We don’t get together as a family anymore, I don’t have children, and things are never again going to be the way they were. And that’s okay. I can’t live in the past. It’s getting tiring. I am grateful for Pema’s words, because in reading them it’s helping me to be aware. I might not be ready to surrender my shield just yet, but she promises that maybe relief from all this fighting is in sight….awareness is the first step.

Trouble is, this whole blog is about remembering. Recording and remembering for when I can no longer. How do you record and remember without totally getting lost in the past? And how do you accept change and begin to move through the holidays without losing yourself in nostalgia? Without fighting. Accepting and moving on. Being truly grateful for what you have instead of spinning and spinning in this longing for what you think you’ve lost. Creating new memories rather than longing to bring back the old ones. They wouldn’t be as great as you remember anyway, would they? If hindsight is 20/20 then nostalgia is Blu-Ray…

Reunion.

Had an odd and strangely surreal and beautiful experience over the weekend. I went to a reunion. But not a school reunion. Well, maybe, but a different sort of school. The school of my early 20’s, the school of young adulthood.

Somehow, my old roommates from when I was 20, with a little Facebook magic, managed to pull together about 50 people to come back to Richmond, VA (my hometown) for a weekend celebration of………what? That I’m still trying to figure out.

Back in the day my friend D. was the man. Along with his partner G., he gave parties, beautiful, elegant parties. Themed parties where everyone dressed like it was 1927, complete with bobbed hair, black tie and tails, cigarette holders. Pandora’s Box starring silent movie star Louise Brooks would play on the television while we all mingled about, pretending we were Gatsby. Or Daisy. Or Clara Bow. Or Gloria Swanson.

D. threw LOTS of parties. Always packed with people because he created fliers and passed them out at the dance club where we lived. I say “lived” because we went there to dance, drink, socialize and generally make fools of ourselves literally 6 nights a week. D.’s parties were spectacular – always cocktails (never beer), fabulous lighting, and he’d place huge bowls full of Benson and Hedges 100’s all around the apartment so whenever somebody wanted one, all they had to do was reach over. The consummate host.

We dressed to the nines more often than not because the surroundings required it. The apartment was SPECTACULAR – like you’d just walked into the Vanderbilt estate. Beautifully painted eggplant walls, polished brass window latches (because he removed and stripped them by hand), antique sofas reupholstered in black silk shantung, Egyptian artifacts, oil paintings, the works. Very Rococo, but it worked. I loved living there. Moving in from my split level suburban shithole was like moving into the Metropolitan Museum. I had an antique armoire in my bedroom, and every time I walked out to make coffee in the morning, I felt like I should be wearing a silk robe or an antique peignoir. A friend once remarked he could never live in D.’s apartment because it looked like a museum. “How can you EVER relax?” he asked. But I love museums. Of all the places in the WORLD I’m most relaxed in a museum.

So why did I go to this reunion? Why does anybody go to a reunion? To brag? To satisfy that morbid curiosity that says, “I wonder how everybody LOOKS?!?” Isn’t that why? But I didn’t need or want to do any of those things. I just wanted to see them again. To give them a big ol’ hug of thanks. To see my old roommates, my very first roommates as a matter of fact. Other than living with a boyfriend which turned into a DEBACLE that sent me running back home, I had never lived away from my parents. D. and G. were the friends who first taught me to be, and to live, as a free adult. Free from parents. Free to make mistakes and fall right on my ass drunk and learn that most times you have to pick up your own damn self because most of the time no one is going to be there to hold your hair.

They didn’t even know they were doing it, but just by living with them, by being in that environment, they were teaching me it’s okay to fall on your ass sometimes. More than that, they accepted me for who I was. At a time in my life when I felt like less than NOTHING, completely self conscious and dorky, ugly, and beyond shy, they simply said, “Come on in! Live with us! You’re welcome here!” I’ve never forgotten it. And because of that they are, and always will be, good friends. How could I NOT go?

What were we celebrating? In a weird way I think we were celebrating the fact we had even survived that time. The substances, the casual sex, the shit we did back then? It’s pretty damn lucky all of us not only came out the other side of that 1980’s black hole, but came out well. Some of us own businesses, some of us have kids, 401K’s, nice cars, nice houses. And all of us, at least the ones who showed up this weekend, seemed happy. And damn did everybody look fucking great! We fell into old routines, refilling our glasses with vodka and tonic, picking up the cigarettes right where we left off when we quit back in 1992. It was as if time had stood still. Or at least turned back just a little. Except for the gray hair. And the laugh lines. And the beautiful crinkles around our eyes. Crinkles we had EARNED by god.

Talked about this with another old friend that night – someone I hadn’t seen in literally over 20 years. We marveled at how well and happy everyone looked and at how there really weren’t any horror stories when there should be. When you think about all the shit we got away with, there really should be. But we were all there. And all okay. Imagine that?

Were there stories? Maybe there are and I’m just choosing not to remember them. Or maybe all the drugs have washed away my memory. That’s completely possible. The more I think on it, there were a few. But they weren’t good friends, close friends. Well, one was. I still tear up when I think of Russell and how we lost him way too young. And I’m sure there are others. I bet if we all started hanging out again, we’d remember them. Think of them. But tonight wasn’t about that. It was ultimately about celebrating the ones who were here. Who had made it. The very fact D. and G. are still together (25 years!) gives me a warm glow of hope. Too cool in my book.

And of course these days, when you think of all the things “the kids” are doing at FOURTEEN, it makes the partying we did in our 20’s look pretty innocent. Sure didn’t feel like it at the time though. I remember D. remarking once at how it was a good thing we weren’t rich, or at least one of us would end up DEAD from the 6-day benders we used to go on.

Back then we even had a schedule – we’d come home from work, eat, nap, and then get ready to go out – never before 10pm. And every day had its own specific club. Can’t remember them all. Do remember Wednesday was reserved for Russian Quaaludes at the Bus Stop, then on to Fielden’s (an after hours club) for more dancing, drinking, and general misbehavior. Other nights? Maybe The Pyramid – then on to Fielden’s. Sneaking into Rockitz by sending one person in, then recreating the stamp she got on our own wrists with ballpoint pen to save some $$$.

Sunday brunch might be the Texas Wisconsin Border Cafe, or this other place upstairs from it that served hot dogs and drinks for $1 – sitting out there on Sunday afternoons, getting tan, talking about where we’d head to that night. All those places up and down Main Street and Floyd in the Fan where we’d drink pitchers of beer, nursing our hangovers, discussing where we should go out. The only nights we didn’t go out would be Monday, possibly Tuesday. A girl needs her rest after all.

Those were heady times. No obligations other than to get to work each day by 9am. And to somehow pay off that credit card bill. And that car payment. And rent. Maybe some food.

Why the Black Celebration album image? This was our soundtrack. Sure we played other stuff – Bowie, the Cure, the Smiths (LOTS of the Smiths), Erasure, some house music. But we always came back to Dave Gahan and the boys. Every single time. Black Celebration lived on our turntable for weeks on end, providing the background noise to so many parties.

Depeche was on the turntable last night in fact – D. still has that turntable, and finally hooked it up once again. The strains of “Drive…..drive anywhere,” and “Route 66” really take me back to those times. I can’t say they were the BEST of times. They were good times. They were important times. I learned a lot then. We lived through a lot then. All of us.

D. and G. are even living on the same block where I used to live shortly after moving out. It’s a long story – I still blame myself – for being too much of a party girl, for relying on them too much to pick up pieces I really needed to learn to gather my own damn self. But going to their house on that block last night brought it all back. I lived just over “there” from where they live now, my sister and her husband lived just “there” when they first got together in 1990, and two other good friends lived right around the corner. Yeah, I’m waxing a little nostalgic. But it truly felt like coming home. To a place you know like your own bed. Your own pillow. A place warm and safe and full of old friends. What’s better than that?

Back on Boogie Street.

…A sip of wine, a cigarette, and then it’s time to go. I tidied up the kitchenette; I tuned the old banjo. I’m wanted at the traffic jam. They’re saving me a seat. I’m what I am, and what I am, is back on Boogie Street...
—Leonard Cohen, Boogie Street

There we are, exiting the New Jersey Turnpike on a Friday afternoon, traveling at great speed under the overpasses of Hoboken. Slowing down as we reach Lincoln Tunnel. Snaking our way left and right between car and tourbus, tourbus and car. Winding down and down and down, spiraling as we get closer to the tunnel. Stopping. We’re not going anywhere anytime soon. The New York skyline just ahead through the windshield – hazy and hot for May. A giant hole resides where the towers used to be. And as I watch and wait for traffic to start up, Leonard’s song shuffles onto the iPod. And there I am. Back on Boogie Street.

It’s been 10 years since Hubby and I ventured to NYC – 10 years. We traveled there then to visit friends in the fresh bloom of our romance. We’d only been dating a month at the most. The bloom wasn’t yet off the flower as they say. And actually it still isn’t. But back then we didn’t know each other as well and so tiptoed around one another as new lovers do. Hesitant, questioning. A bit afraid to show the other our true self. I was a different person 10 years ago. More afraid. Less sure and quick to jump in with both feet. Back then it was one toe in the water, if at all. Although I’d been to NYC numerous times, 10 years ago the place still frightened me. It was a place of hide your purse and watch your back. But as I would learn over the course of a short weekend, things change. It started with that wait at the Lincoln Tunnel. Where before my heart might have started beating faster, this time it actually slowed. As I gazed at the skyline, oddly, New York felt like a homecoming.

We drove up specifically to see Leonard Cohen, who, after his manager ran off with his money Madoff-style, was forced out of a self-imposed-Buddhist-monk-retirement-existence into touring again. At age 75, Leonard would be performing at Radio City Music Hall. Since Hubby is a rabid fan, he scrambled to get these “last chance before he’s gone” tickets. I just wanted to go to New York again. Leonard? Eh. I just wanted New York.

And as we strolled Manhattan that weekend, doing all those cliched New York things like watching the yacht races in Central Park, eating smoked fish at Barney Greengrass, gazing at sculptures in the Met, and walking the streets of Chelsea, right by the hotel in fact, I felt (corny to say) reborn. I was a different person in New York THIS time. The city finally fit me. Before it felt too big, too intimidating, too fast. Now it was just right. I felt like I was running the city, the city wasn’t running me. I felt like a better, fuller version of myself. Like I had finally grown into my own skin. My fear was gone and instead of anxiety, I only felt enjoyment.

Even the enormous crowds at Radio City didn’t phase me – where 10 years ago I would have hyperventilated and made a beeline for a bathroom stall. This time I just breathed it all in and rode the wave – let the crowd and the feeling of being in the crowd wash over me. And the show? It was incredible. Leonard was simply amazing – so amazing I felt like a complete idiot for suggesting to Hubby that Leonard’s music resembled something you’d sing at a FUNERAL. Well, yeah, it does, but live? Here the songs come to life. Leonard brings them to life. Not only does his deep baritone resonate right to the heart of your soul, but he is so engaging and childlike you become caught up in the happiness he is feeling. Leonard skipped around that stage in his suit and fedora like a six-year-old boy, gleeful and mischievous like he’d just won at a game of marbles by cheating.

It was then I realized Leonard isn’t a depressing person. He’s just in love. So deeply in love with women, and love, and sex, and life that every song reflects it. He’s not singing sad, he’s singing love. He’s the Pablo Neruda of pop – all his songs dripping with so much innuendo I found I needed some air when intermission rolled around! And when he’s not singing love, he’s singing justice, and spirituality, and loss, and death, and wonder, and all the things philosophers have been pondering for thousands of years. In his fedora and suit, skipping around, going down on one knee to pray and then to arise and sing and skip some more. He was like a playful mix of Pan, Tom Jones, and a Zen Buddhist priest all rolled into one. And Pablo Neruda. And Bugs Bunny. With a little bit of superhero thrown in for good measure because the man sang for THREE HOURS.

Yes, THREE hours. He sang for an hour, took a 12-minute intermission, then sang for two more. At age 75. I couldn’t even go up and down on one knee without a great deal of agony much less sing for three hours and I’m almost half his age! Maybe it’s all that Buddhist meditation he’s been doing, but the man was spry.

And when he wasn’t spry, he was grateful. Thankfully for the jumbotrons we were able to see it. Several times when he began to speak or sing the crowd went wild, yelling, clapping. We were grateful too. To have Leonard back on Boogie Street again. Right by Chelsea. In New York again. Everyone knew why we were clapping and it made us clap harder. And Leonard just basked, his face a beaming smile of gratitude. Bathing in our appreciation. Taking it all in. Remembering it.

The biggest yells came during Everybody Knows when he sang, “Take one last look at this sacred heart before it blows…” The crowd went wild. And I started to cry. Because the irony of the statement – that this would more than likely be the first and last time I’d ever see him on stage – washed over me in a flood of emotion I didn’t expect. Which is why the concert was so mind-blowing. All those surprises. New York City. Leonard. The weekend. It was all just too awesome.

I cried at least 5 times during his show. When he performed 1,000 Kisses Deep as a spoken word rather than a song. When I realized he looked just like my Pop-Pop in that suit and fedora. When I realized how much love emanated from this man. And when he beamed at the crowd for the last time during the third encore. Amazing. He wore a face of gratitude that in my wildest dreams I could never hope to emulate. Does that come from meditation? Or does he feed on the love from the crowd? Or does he just live in the moment? I don’t know, but in this day and age, we should bottle it, because hell knows, we sure could use more of it.

I am so floored by the man’s aura (for want of a better word) I haven’t even mentioned the incredible musicians he surrounded himself with – drummer, bassist, backup singers, a one-man horn section. And probably the most beautiful Flamenco guitar playing I’ve ever heard in my life – whole sections of melody so complicated, fast, yet light as a feather it was like his fingers were butterflies alighting on the strings. And oh yeah, that playing made me cry too – and I don’t think I was the only one. The entire audience was rapt the whole three hours. Never have I been to a concert so silent when you’re supposed to be. Not one cell phone, not one ignorant bastard whispering when they should be appreciating. It was GREAT.* And on the walk home it began to rain……hard. We laughed, running under an awning to wait out the storm. Another cliched New York moment. Except we had just seen Leonard Cohen at Radio City Music Hall. Neither one of us could stop smiling.

Needless to say I too am now a rabid fan. I walk around humming Everybody Knows under my breath. When things don’t go my way (or when they do) I sing Boogie Street. I feel cheated I came to his music so late. But so grateful that when I did it was with a wallop. I saw him where it all began, at the height of his fame (2 sold out shows tells me that) and in Radio City, a place so architecturally decadent, so ultra-Art-Deco-New York, I can’t imagine seeing him anywhere else. And I saw him at a time when I was the “new” me, the better me, the stronger me. The me that is unafraid and so can take it all in as it happens and be in the moment too. Thank you Mr. Cohen.

Leonard Cohen’s Setlist
May 16, 2009
Radio City Music Hall

New York City, NY

Dance Me to the End of Love

The Future
Ain’t No Cure for Love

Bird on the Wire

Everybody Knows
In My Secret Life
Who By Fire
Chelsea Hotel
Waiting for the Miracle
Anthem

—intermission—


Tower of Song

Suzanne
Sisters of Mercy
Take This Waltz

Boogie Street
Hallelujah
I’m Your Man
1,000 Kisses Deep
Democracy

—1st Encore–
So Long, Marianne
First We Take Manhattan

—2nd Encore–
Famous Blue Raincoat
If It Be Your Will
Closing Time

—3rd Encore—
I Tried to Leave You
Whither Thou Goest

* Find myself running out of words to describe this show, but hopefully you get the idea…

Geraniums.

Every Mother’s Day I put something in the ground. Not just because it’s the first safe day for gardeners (no danger of frost), but because I want to remember my mother, who passed away in 2001, and who most of my blog posts have been about.

But Momma ran marathons, she had no time for gardening. In fact, I don’t think I EVER saw her with dirt under her nails. They remained perfectly manicured and lacquered, usually with Revlon’s “Toast of New York”. So today I should’ve gone for a run if my intention was to honor Momma. Instead I repotted my geraniums. Not technically putting something in the ground, but repotting is putting a plant in dirt. Giving it renewed life.

The tradition actually started several years ago when I wanted a wildflower garden in my front yard. My sister happened to come over after our Mother’s Day visit with Momma at her caretaker’s home. When Sis learned I was planting that day, she asked if she could help. So instead of dwelling on Momma’s poor health, we dug up the front yard and planted a wildflower garden. It felt healthy to be growing something on Mother’s Day. Instead of being depressed that our mother would never be the same, we were creating life. That wildflower garden came up tall and strong. But just before the whole area burst into bloom, my downstairs neighbors mowed it down, thinking they were weeds. Ever since then, I’ve planted something, or done some sort of major gardening project on Mother’s Day.

I actually love to repot plants. And I usually wait to do it sometime in the spring. I like the feeling that they will be reborn, just as everything else is, in the spring. Giving them a new lease on life. Discarding the used up soil – dry, powdery with all its nutrients sucked out, for the moist new potting soil, chock full of plant food, and smelling of mold and earth and life. I gently coax the plant out of its root-bound prison where it has spent all winter trapped in a too small terracotta space, gently placing the root ball into a pot with much more room. Burying the roots in a shower of moist earth. Patting it down. Watering. Allowing the plant to get used to its new home. Sometimes I think I can hear the plant breathing a sigh of relief as it gently lays itself onto its new food-filled bed. From winter boots to summer sandals. At last, their rooty toes have room to wiggle around and breathe.

I’m taking care of my geraniums on this day – leggy things I bought years and years ago. They lay dormant and bloomless all winter, but explode into ballooney balls of color the minute they’re placed on the deck out back. Explosions of red, pink, and white like flowery fireworks. And like I said, my momma never grew anything but her two girls. And our hair. And her hair.* But my grandmother Muddy overwintered her geraniums every year. I remember being shocked to learn this last year at her funeral. Then shock drifted away and I was left feeling comforted. Why, of course she overwintered her geraniums – mothering them through chilly sunless days, watering the bloomless green leaves – not panicking when most of the leaves dried out and fell off and you were left with just stems. Of course she did. It’s probably why I do now.

When I was a teacher I overwintered my flowers in the classroom, and my students used to ask why I didn’t just throw them out. “They’re dead!” they’d exclaim. But no, I mothered them. Like Muddy did. Like my Nana mothered her iris and roses. And like Momma mothered us, nuturing, caring, cajoling. Scolding sometimes. Scolding a LOT actually. Standing by and hoping, praying when our flowers weren’t as prolific or as abundant. Knowing that sometime soon, they’d come back. I put plants in the ground every Mother’s Day because I want to remember Momma, and Muddy, and Nana. All the wonderful women who nurtured us, along with their flowers, when we needed it the most.

*in fact, we grew so much hair that when we all went for a haircut, they alerted the media. For real. But that’s another story for another time…

Praying Mantis Green. And Lee Smith.

For various reasons, I haven’t been writing. I’ve been THINKING about writing, but not actually doing it. Part of it was health related (more on that later) part of it was a much-needed change in jobs, but most of it was because the urge wasn’t there. Something was missing to spur me on, to keep me going line after line.

But the health-related problems abated, the job changed, Spring came, and I found I was out of excuses. I made changes because the urge was there. I got that new job. Instead of Sirius or Itunes on the hour-long commute, I started listening to audio books. Began with Lee Smith’s, On Agate Hill and found that as I traversed the rolling hills near my home, snaking my way around them to finally emerge onto the main road, Smith’s words settled on my mind like a fine rain. She writes of Appalachia. Of doomed love, and tragic death. Real Southern Gothic stuff. The legends of my ancestors, both sides of which came from the very valley I reside in now. Her words sound like roots music. Like a banjo and fiddle. They lilt and yarn, twist and stretch themselves into a Southern langorous way, slowly meandering, taking its time. It calms me while at the same time inserts a longing, a missing of family in my heart. Family gone, and not gone. Because there are always memories. And so I’m urged to write by the sound of her words.

And as I sit here now at midnight, writing, up because of insomnia and because it is thunderstorming outside and my dog Lois is vitally afraid of thunder, I find I’m no longer afraid of insomnia. Or storms. I used to down benadryl like candy to fight the insomnia, to force myself to sleep. Now I sleep when it comes. If it comes at all.

I used to be afraid of Lois bolting during our walks, running away and never coming back, but when it happened today I wasn’t afraid. I laughed, gathered myself up, and started singing out her favorite word, “Ride! Ride!” (she loves the car). She had bolted after a squirrel, causing the leash to run fast in my hand and me to almost fall over. She took off into the woods, racing, galloping like a thoroughbred, at one point all four legs were in the air at the same time, her floppy black ears pointing straight back off her head like pigtails, her smile wide and grinning. She raced away like a little girl child. But when I called, she turned to look at me – she seemed to be giggling – before running back.

We had been out for an afternoon walk in the woods. It has been raining for what seems like years and because of that the trees have exploded their new spring leaves all at once. Overnight my woods are a jungle of new life. Trees are covered entirely with a fine mossy green down. Tiny little green leaves. Newly born. Brand new spring. The whole world is the color of a praying mantis, a bright acidy green. The air smells mossy and green too, like an old cemetery. Like the cemetery we found as children in the middle of the woods. Full of stones so old they’d been worn down to nothing and the tiny plot surrounded by a rusty iron fence.

As we walk I notice the new fiddlehead ferns on the forest floor, the tiny violets, the wild dogwood and azaleas that struggle to grow in this deep woods. Tiny white rosebud type flowers on a vine that I can’t identify. Everything is quiet and new and good. Even when I call out to Lois because of her running away, it doesn’t disturb anything. It’s more like a bird call.

I love Lee Smith’s book because it reminds me of this forest. Quiet yet wild at the same time. Musical. Green. Old. It’s a book I wished I had written because I have a feeling much of my family has lived it. But instead of me telling my family’s story, she did. It’s like she stole it away in the night. I love that she did it. But I hate that it wasn’t me.