Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Festival of Trees

Trying to pull off the annual Christmas Norman Rockwell/Currier & Ives perfect holiday extravaganza, is akin to hoisting a bag of cement on your shoulders, while simultaneously heaving a box of Physician Desk References up a steadily increasing steep incline.

The load is inert and weighty, and transfers enormous amounts of unsustainable strain to one’s pale and quivering, cellulite-laced thighs, buckling knees, and causing bizarre and aberrant behavior.

This staggering process begins innocently enough around Labor Day, when the first Christmas trees appear in display windows, directly adjacent to the zombie-apocalypse costumes, and the occasional Yuletide carol inserts itself into airtime on the local rock ‘n roll stations. One is easily deceived into thinking the gradual ascent into “The Holidays” is a stroll in the park.

But it soon becomes abundantly clear that the load morphs into one of profound heaviness that can leave you feeling curiously light-headed in a “not there” sort of way.  It’s like trying to inch up the hill like Sisyphus.  The eyes don’t exactly focus, and one takes on that dazed and vacant look, like the after-effect of a sugar high and a glut of tedious holiday re-runs smothered in too much sentimentality.

You begin to watch yourself doing things in a somewhat disturbing, out-of-body perspective, vaguely aware of being slightly out of synch with the spatial orbit of the world…like we’re one shingle short, devoid of certifiable cognitive function.

Each year it becomes easier to sink into insipid vapidness and mutter vulgarisms in a corner, because of stress hormones that have multiplied exponentially - compromising our analytical reasoning ability.

But this year, the entire Ashton clan re-thought Christmas.  We decided we would not be chloroformed by the seasonal frenzy.  Perhaps this is the year to imagine the future and remember the past.  It is as if we have come through a storm, and all is calm again. 

The holidays become frenetic – empty and cluttered at the same time…a model of banality.  It would be different this year.

As an extended Family, we decided it would be appropriate to enter a tree in Dennis’ honor for the Festival of Trees.  This, we felt, was particularly appealing, because it would embody all he held sacred – the care and welfare of children.  All proceeds go directly to Primary Children’s Hospital, a place Dennis devoted his heart and soul.  These children were not just his patients.  They were his “Super Troopers,” a term of endearment and deep respect.

After months of planning, preparation and pride, we assembled the tree – dedicated to Dr. Ashton’s Super Troopers.  We knew the tree would be sincere.  We just hadn’t realized it would also be beautiful. 

When it was completed, we gathered around it in dumbfounded silence. 

We looked at the tree in quiet reverie, each of us lost in our own memories.  Trying to speak with lumpy throats just made us all sound like representatives of the “Lollipop Guild.”

Soon I noticed my little Asher was rather subdued.  Ash is my high-octane, raging ball of kinetic fur.  He is the original free radical.  So anything less than percussive is noteworthy.

Suddenly, he turned away from the tree, and with a face contorted with sorrow and mucus, he buried himself in my midsection and wept without shame or restraint.  It seemed to grant permission for what was inevitable for all of us.

I curled around him, and the family instinctively drew into a tight circle – The Clot in a knot.  And then, slowly, we all hug-walked from the tree.

In a way, it was liberating.  We were no longer casualties of pointless holiday mania.  Our hefty burden of sorrow became an investment of hope for the children Dennis served and reverenced. 

The world knows little of its greatest heroes.

As we wept, a thought occurred to me:  What causes us to weep, caused our Savior to bleed.  He understands our grief, absorbs our despair, and mourns with us. His love sustains us.  Promises were made, and promises were kept.  He coalesced the vapors, and we are no longer as heavily laden.  We have rest and peace, comfort and joy.

If it is possible to find the true Spirit of Christmas, we have.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

I See

It was a perfect autumn day.  Not too cool.  Jacket weather.  Just right…for another doctor’s appointment!  It seems all my annual check-ups fall in the autumn.  I really don’t like being my own care-taker, but I’m just trying to put things in order.  This is a colossal task, one that demands patience and fortitude that I didn’t know I had.

I confess I rather dread these excursions into the various clinics, overflowing with lab coats and congenial office personnel.  Grinning nurses always trigger paroxysms of anguish, and I begin breathing head-lightening quantities of CO2.

  What peculiar rituals.  The techs drain my infinitesimally private bodily secretions into trickling pools of humiliation to examine under a cold, unforgiving, soulless microscope.  And then they return with test results, diplomatically explaining that my shiny vitreous crystals, my lavishly polluted flaky biotate mica, and a dazzlingly confused biological geology confirm what they have long suspected…I’m eroding away to detritus.

So last  week when I went for my eye exam, I hid my dread behind my best game expression, assuming a detached strata of consciousness.  I did not want the doctor to enter the room and be confronted by a woman with eyes like a startled beast.

(I have reached that point in life when you consider it the supreme triumph to fog a mirror and have a full set of limbs.)

Well, the doctor went about placing drops in my eyes to dilate them, so he could beam his arc light into my pupils and cause aggravated brain freeze.  And then he got right into my face and asked me to read teeny weeny passages in a darkened room that became incrementally tinified, and I developed a migraine.  Finally, in a merciful act of benevolence, he concluded his scrutiny of my eyeballs and delivered his verdict.

With enthusiastic vigor and fevered delirium, he announced I had the best cataracts on the planet.

Whattttt???  I have catarAAAACCCCKS???? I shrieked, losing every shred of my mysterious serenity.

He said yes, explaining that the forward rush of life can be hostile, one of the perils of this hostility being  cataracts.  However, my cataracts are so minimal, they were not even worth mentioning. He explained that everybody “of a certain age,” has cataracts. It’s normal. I think that’s optometrist-speak for, “You’re old.”  But he just has never seen such preposterously undiscernible cataracts as mine.  Apparently my eyes have gone from 20/25 to 20/20.

Well, I finally caught the vision, so to speak.  I was as happy as the day I found out caffeine is a natural pesticide.  I became giddy.  And I left that exam room warbling, “I Can See Clearly Now,” “My Eyes Are Watching You,” “She’s Got Betty Davis Eyes,” “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever.” 

Furthermore, the good doctor said I have excellent eyeballs.   So I’ve decided to flaunt them with studied ostentation and pomposity.  We all have our physical attributes.  But when you have a figure like the number 11, you take your curves where you can get them!   

I am reluctant to toot my own vuvuzela, but I plan to expose my visual prowess by reading the side effects on every prescription bottle in the pharmacy, with one eye tied behind my back.  I will peruse the telephone book as recreation, take up crocheting, and spend my leisure time threading needles with spider silk.  I will guzzle lutein, and swill shakes of liquefied spinach and carrot juice from a straw.  I will look at every vista and adopt a confident gaze with eyes of chipped granite.

Hey, it’s not a sin to over-indulge in things that are good.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Patience Stone

November 2013

I just found out that it was Vivian Leigh’s 100th birthday a couple of weeks ago.  I was stunned.  Scarlett O’Hara a century old?  How could that be?  It seems like the ingenious woman who created haute couture from the dusty drapes hanging in Tara’s windows could figure out a method for eluding Father Time.

 I guess tempus fugit…for all of us.

Scarlett was such a fashion icon.  I always wanted to be like her, but alas, my house is adorned with sheers and shutters – not exactly the stuff of runways.

Hattie McDaniel’s character was also iconic.  As time goes by, my figure is more like Mammy’s, slightly stout and definitely NOT the 18 & 1/2 inch waist impossibility Scarlett achieved by cinching in her midsection into a steel vise.  And my voice is eerily reminiscent of Prissy’s, high-pitched and hysterical.

 I seem to have become a consortium of all Margaret Mitchell’s characters, with the exception of Melany Hamilton.  I’m relatively certain I couldn’t assist in the amputation of someone’s leg without anesthetic…at least for me.

Ah, but I digress. 

Halloween came and went, and I noticed at the children’s costume parade that there were more kids dressed up as old people than in previous years.  And I wondered if it was because of super-model Heidi Klum.  She had herself transformed into an elderly woman with the aid of make-up artists, and she was amazingly convincing.

They began the process by applying a prosthetic neck, complete with ripples, wattles and pleats.  Then they grayed her skin and liberally splattered counterfeit liver spots.  Of course, there was the mandatory fake fat butt, faux blue protruding varicose leg veins, crooked, disfigured gloves over her perfectly manicured hands, a wig of thinning, scalp-revealing hair, and pock-marked, cellulite thighs.

Heidi wore orthopedic shoes, droopy stockings, and a frumpy dress.  In addition, she donned a body suit with pendulous boobs.  Then she walked funny – tottering, awkward and unbalanced. She was converted into a mocking cliché of the aged.

 In short, she morphed into me!

It was the perfect hoax.  She was a hit.  Everyone was fooled and entertained.

And then, after all the attention and kudos, Heidi Klum dismantled her disguise.  She took off the butt, the boobs, and the wattles.  She removed the wig, the phony teeth, the veins and the liver spots.  She stepped out of the shoes, the stockings and the dress.  Then she let loose her long, luxurious Repunzal hair and took up residence in her impossibly perfect, 30-something body.

I hate Heidi Klum.

Time is merciless.  It is a tyrant, a terrorist.  It not only passes.  It inflicts collateral damage.  We are all casualties.

Oh, how I want to step out of MY disguise and take up residence in a perfected anatomy.

Well, needless to say, the whole Scarlett O’Hare/Heidi Klum thing made me want to flee to my “patience stone.” 

In folklore, supposedly a patience stone is a rock that will carry a woman’s most unbearable secrets.

And after being traumatized by Halloween, Heidi and the O’Haras, I have a whole lotta classified information to confess to a rock. 

So, here are some of my most palpable fears and insecurities. Perhaps by naming my dragons, I can slay them. 

       1.       I dread watching the contents of my medicine cabinet eventually consist of nothing but anti-depressants, stool softeners, diet pills and suppositories.

2.       I deplore having to convince myself that wrinkles give a face character.

3.       I detest the necessity of perfecting the art of “blame behaviors.”

4.       I have an abhorrence of humiliating myself in public so frequently that embarrassed family members discreetly google “A Place For Mom.”

5.       I panic at the thought of rejection, and am miserable with fear of abandonment.  (Refer to #5)  Although my will IS  my leverage,  I have also threatened to appear in public without benefit of make-up, burqa or Depends. It keeps the tribe in line.

6.       I resent having to research the best orthopedic surgeons for hip and joint replacement and keeping them on speed dial.

7.       I decry the fact that I’ve had most of my nonessential organs removed, and have to assuage my anxiety by considering those organs redundant anyway.


I suppose we all fear the thought of sitting in a care facility with nothing to do but try to split our unibrow with rusty tweezers. 

No one wants their life’s legacy to be that of benign inconsequence.

So I’m going rogue.

I plan to be a burden - a big burden - on my family and community.

 I will proclaim my bunion-count to be evidence of a higher IQ, and unexpected belching a social amenity.

 AND, I categorically refuse to be embarrassed, mortified, or ashamed by intestinal transit that results in unintentional bodily emissions – heard or unheard.

I may be inextricably skidding toward a permanent vegetative state, but I will do so on my own terms.

I hate Heidi Klum.


Sunday, October 13, 2013


The other day I went to see the movie, “Gravity,” with my family…in 3D…at IMAX.  Anyone contemplating seeing this show should bring ear plugs and a whole lotta Dramamine.  Watching Sandra Bullock float around the universe in a space suit specifically designed to mimic the age-related, bodily deterioration  of baby boomers was depressing. 
 I, too, have had moments of being lost in space, when I’ve wandered about in fevered delirium in strange and hostile territory.  This usually occurs upon entering my kitchen.

 But the whole concept of gravity is unsettling.  Basically, gravity is the force of attraction by which terrestrial flesh tends to fold into the center of one’s body and leak over the edges, causing a ripple effect and wreaking havoc upon said body’s bladder. 
In addition, it creates furrows and facial ruts the size of the Wasatch fault line that sends us all running for magic elixers and plastic surgeons.  And that’s not all.  Gravity shrinks us by inches, and we become shorter under the weight of our own vanity. 

Gravity has been on my mind, because recently I was invited to be a guest at Dennis’ class reunion.  As I renewed old acquaintances, I realized gravity is the great equalizer.  No one there went unscathed from the prodigious humiliation of a great migratorial shift south of our collective equators. 
Old friends spoke in present tenses and past tenses, as we got caught up and reminisced about the days before our mail was largely comprised of doctors’ bills and advertisements for hearing aids; the days before we needed extra quilts even on warm nights; the days before we mastered the technique of flushing a central venous catheter; the days before our latest surgery was the main topic of conversation.

That night I realized we had all become clichés of time and gravity. I loved it.

I mention this because my grandson, Abram, spent a long weekend with me while his parents were out of town at a soccer tournament, and he had obligations at home.  I was thrilled.  I adore the kid. 
Abram and I are usually on the same page. However, we’re not the same age.

So one day over a warm bowl of chile, he casually asked how Grandpa’s reunion was.  That was all the opening I needed.  I began to rhapsodize and made him a captive audience of a nostalgic soliloquy potent enough to produce a memory-lane-induced coma. 

Sounding a little like Edith Bunker screeching “Those were the days,” I prodigiously recalled the time before gels and mousses when guys smeared Brylcreem into their hair in quantities that rivaled a gulf stream oil slick. 

Abram didn’t know what Brylcreem was.  I explained that it was like lard on steroids.  The guys anointed themselves in ridiculously gratuitous amounts, no doubt hoping it would trigger amorous responses from the girls.  Amazingly, it did!
We girls had “do’s” that made us look like Einstein with a bad perm…in drag.  It was cool back in the day.

And we all smelled like Elsha and Aqua Net.
Abram kept ladling the chile.  Good chile inspires good dialogue, especially the way I make it.  The recipe calls for equal parts radioactive atomic particles from a spinning vortex somewhere over the Bermuda Triangle, and Arza Bateman’s chile beans that produce peculiarly articulated gut noises in the night, eliminates inertia, leaves one slightly light-headed and causes even Cossacks to weep. 

Of course, this amounted to conversational extortion.  Abram was a captive audience of one…he didn’t dare leave the near vicinity of the bathroom. 
Continuing my narrative despite watering eyes, I told Abram that my mother absolutely forbade me to pierce my ears.  She thought piercing your ears as scandalous as shaving your legs before marriage. It simply wasn’t done.  Of course, those were the days before pierced tongues, penetrated navels, perforated eyebrows and (wince!) punctured mammary glands.

Abram asked if we danced at the reunion, which launched me into even greater previous-life reverie.  I told him we used to surf, twist, and watusi.  However, we DID NOT TWERK!  (Come to think of it, the bunny hop might actually have been a precursor to twerking.)  But at no time whatsoever did we dance with foam fingers!

Abram sat there like all kids his age, moving about this planet, lean and sinewy, his body defying gravity and full of the right neurons to fire and pop, making it possible to fold into outrageous contortions and immediately resume its original position, without brute force or morphine drips.  How I envied him.
I sat next to him, like the cinnamon bun I used to eat and had now become.
We were both clichés, Abram and I, – youth and age – grounded by gravity and bonded by chile and DNA, drawn into each other’s stories by the force of attraction.

I wouldn’t change a thing.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


September, 2013

I just had a colonoscopy.  It had only been three years since the last Wazoo Watch, but the doctor didn’t want me to slip through the cracks, so to speak.  I guess it’s a rite of aging.  I remember when I was too young for such a procedure.  Oh, the good old days.  I agree with John McEnroe:  “The older I get, the better I used to be.”

What is it about this particular procedure that prompts everyone NOT about to have this particular procedure, to become one-liner stand-up comedians?  Perhaps these same people always seem disproportionately happy because THEY aren’t the chosen ones having to endure the prep. 

Everyone knows the “buns puns” and clichés that become nefarious double entendres sparking uncontained mirth…especially for those NOT pounding down purgatives scientifically designed to make you feel like you’ve just gone 15 rounds with Roto Rooter on steroids.

Enduring the purge leaves one cranky, dyspeptic, peering with an uncomprehending stare at hallucinations of Krakatoa.

So, without filters, (and still in the throes of propofol delirium),  I submit a sampling of the more foolish and preposterous contributions from dear friends who, otherwise, lead lives of devoted sobriety.  Read with caution.  View discretion advised.

1.       Colonoscopies are a crap shoot.

2.       No if’s, ands, or butts…

3.       No runs, no drips, no errors.

4.       Let me know how everything comes out. 

5.       “Blah, blah, blah…where the sun don’t shine.”

6.       Don’t forget you’re still in the flush of life.

Of course, I’m as guilty as the next guy when it comes to disgustingly grubby humor, but it’s usually when I’m going through caffeine withdrawal.  However,  when one is in the midst of “The Prep,” – not ingesting anything solid or fibrous for days and popping tiny red radioactive Dulcolax pills that could double as weapons of mass destruction - followed by a  64-oz. (SIXTY-FOUR OUNCE!!!)  chaser of Miralax laced with  plutonium – my sense of humor goes down the down the toilet.  I was wretched and belligerent.

I exchanged stoic and long-suffering looks with other “preppies,” who were emitting low-level glotallizations and appeared hollow-eyed and dessicated…like dehydrated Yodas.

In a coincidence of unutterably and monumentally bad timing, I had just received a notice from the “Neptune Society,” informing me that they’d provide me with peace of mind if I  pre-pay my cremation.  According to their propaganda, the Neptune Society provides “America’s most trusted cremation services,” at a fraction of the price of traditional funerals.  They further explained that cremation makes sense because it’s much less expensive, and has less impact on the environment.

I had just imbibed spontaneously combustible doses of incendiary liquid intended to strip me of my entire inventory of gut flora and convert my entire innards to a viscous chum slick as I waited to go KABOOM, and someone was offering to reduce me to ashes at discount.  FREAKY!

Well, I began muttering colonoscopy-appropriate sentence- fragments about where they could stick their society, and flushed the shredded ad down the honey-bucket.  I would have donned a haz-mat suit and declared a “fatwa,” but I was tethered in snug proximity to the potty and raging thirst rendered me too weak to shriek anything but empty threats to the universe.

Nevertheless, it made me think…having ample time for reflection.  As I consider the colossal scale of this planet, I have formed a proposal for world peace.  It is simple.  Before decisions are made for retaliation  that might result in global human cremation, perhaps all the world leaders should be forced to do a collective colonoscopy prep.  The idea has merit.

This plan is eco-friendly and has many environmentally- friendly advantages. 

For instance:

1.       Perpetual paranoia would be considerably diminished since it requires pathetic and rapacious quantities of energy to nourish the negative.  The laxative solution would interrupt this cycle.

2.       Profound lack of control of bodily functions prevents hubris and, therefore, strife.  One cannot whack a neighbor when frantically dashing for the potty.

3.       Chronic misapplication of force and resources descend the priority list when one’s guts are transformed by hallucinatory Dulcolax.

4.       Being pathetically impaired by dehydration reduces one’s ability to immolate one’s enemy into detritus.

5.       Emitting Miralax vapor trails is more humane and benign than gassing innocent civilians.

If I ran the world, being in constant prep mode would relax aggression, curb the behavior of those leaders  who are moronically negligent, and perhaps purge the bizarre and erratic  tendencies of megalomaniacs chronically gladiatorial,  bent on using blunt instruments to decrease the surplus population.

Laxatives are not only the answer to world peace, but they are environmentally sound as well.  This could be sublimely gratifying.  And maybe we could all do more with our lives than annihilate each other. 

It just makes sense.

Friday, August 16, 2013


I should have known that preparing my grandkids for the annual expedition to the Shakespeare Festival would not be as easy as it might seem at first. 

I naively thought that traveling several hundred miles to Cedar City (aka Stratford Upon Avon) and several hundred years back in time, I could bridge the gap between the Great Poet and my boys, so they will like it as I like it.

What a splendid tradition.  I was prepared to Rock the Bard.

And so with reckless zest and an exuberant lust for potato chips and playwrights, I began my narrative, scaled appropriately to the size and age of my boys, (even Shakespeare’s comedies can be a complex labyrinth of wit and metaphor.)  I thought I’d challenge myself by delivering the monologue in iambic pentameter, but switched to prose after the first mangled rhymed couplet. (“Lay off, Macduff, I’ve had enough!”)

The day was autumnal and subtly musky, a midsummer day’s dream, perfect for my grand oration.

It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done…a comedy of errors.

I began with a brief synopsis of one of Shakespeare’s early comedies, “Love’s Labor’s Lost.”
The play revolves around the king of Navarre and a trio of his friends, who resolve to dedicate the next three years to fasting, study and celibacy.

So far, so good. 

However, my ambitious intentions abruptly vaporized when one of the kids, befuddled by the term “celibacy,” requested further clarification.  He might as well have asked for a pound of flesh.

“Well,” I began, “celibacy is like if you and your friends made a pact not to text a girl for three straight years, because you only wanted to read books and subsist on a starvation diet of thin gruel and rain water.”

I continued, “This is also known as deprivation.  It is how you become enlightened.”

(That seemed to stretch credulity, but greater elaboration would only have made things seem even more peculiar.) The boys sat there, hesitant and a bit hapless.

Kid 1:  Did they text in those days? 

Me:  Uh, depends on what you mean by “text.”  Mostly they wrote sonnets. They wooed the women, and the women swooned.  This is what was known as courtly love.  No Josh, not Courtney Love, the rocker. 

I was aglow with articulation, when I launched into the next portion of my discourse – comic relief.  
Basically this centered on the world’s oldest playwright taking poetic license with the world’s oldest profession…a matter of delicacy to be approached cautiously, measure for measure.

These clowns or fools are usually disheveled, flatulent, and humorous, and would stagger and burp in foolish behavior that might indicate they were genetically challenged and socially inept…sort of a perpetual state of pre-pubescence.  But they are a congenial distraction that the audience instantly recognizes and appreciates, and can render relief when the play’s action becomes intense.

And then there’s Falstaff – definitely not a fop or buffoon – more like a comedic corpulent sumo wrestler. 

And, these characters are sometimes disfigured because of the pox.  Shakespeare was a genius at low comedy.

Kid 2:  What’s the pox?  Is that like chicken pox?  Did they catch it from chickens?

Me:  Uh, no.  But you can get it from chicks.  So don’t text before marriage.

I tried to disguise my mirth at my own wit and obviously succeeded – I was the only one snickering.

I was finding no recognizable center of gravity, when I made the monumentally useless observation that 
Shakespeare was very bawdy. 

Josh:  Yeah, Shakespeare had a big body, like Falstaff.


I would have been moronically negligent to have pursued that line of reasoning any further, so I simply said that Shakespeare was largely bawdy, because it was central to the characters of many of his plays.  
(I should have stuck with a treatise on the guilt of Hamlet’s mother – a much simpler concept.)

At the end, we’d all deteriorated into the realm of the chronically confused.  I had delusions of Birnam Wood approaching, so I thought it best to conclude the narrative. (Besides, I was becoming shrewish, and obsessively rubbing my hands trying to get the stain out.)

Later on, in a tone of sweet reason and a speech delivered trippingly off the tongue, I appealed to my daughters to have “The Talk” with their offspring before next year’s play, “Henry IV, Part 1”  The kids need to know about the “Bards and bees” to fully appreciate Shakespeare, and I’M NOT THE ONE TO TELL THEM!

Meanwhile, we managed to get through an evening of “Love’s Labor’s Lost” without collateral damage – although I was noticeably bruised and limping.  The kids loved the play and laughed at the right places, so I guess it was much ado about nothing. 

All’s well that ends well.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

As Time Goes By

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately.  And I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s later than we think. 

“And what is so rare as a day in June?”  The answer to James Russell Lowell’s query is, “Nothing.” 

Perfect days seem to be sequestered in this glorious month. 

I love summer.  It is a mysterious season of the year, and seems to pass at its own pace.  It is saturated with sweet memories and sensory sensations.  It has its own rites and rituals.

Lowell says:
“Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how;

Everything is happy now,…

And the eyes forget the tears they have shed,

The heart forgets its sorrow and ache;…”

I’m not so sure the heart is stricken with cardiac alzheimers, but it does experience blessed memory loss, and for a while, we are out of sync with the rigid rhythm of the rest of the year, when, like working a Rubik’s Cube, we frantically try to get all the dates and time slots of our routine to align.   

Summer heals.  It arrives with regularity thanks to millennia of predictable established pattern.  It is packed with solar endorphins, and we all become sunshine junkies.  It is wise to invest its moments well.

But it’s  August.  And I am detecting harbingers of fall, even though not a single leaf has changed its color.  Nothing tangible.  But it’s getting late early, which makes me think that time is more a psychological phenomenon than an immutable force of nature.

The days are still long and hot.  Morning is not at 7…more like 6:15. 
My grandkids’ feet are calloused and brown from going barefoot and feral, and their sun-brilliant hair is worthy of shampoo commercials.

Summer used to be right around the corner.  All the ads were advising us to get liposuction so we’d be bikini-ready. 

But we have summited summer.  Corner fruit stands overflow with produce that only last week were spring blossoms. Mid-summer boredom has settled in with a vengeance, and the kids are reduced to making blanket angels on my bed like inebriated revelers.  The other day, Abram, channeling his inner adolescent, chased his brother with a broom full of cobwebs as Josh hollered, “Don’t tase me, Bro!”  I was forced to make them sign a pact of non-aggression. Weary mothers of restless children form support groups and intentionally addict their offspring to “Candy Crush” just to get a few minutes respite…and in moments of monotonous mind-numb, consider intentionally anesthetizing the children with Twinkie-induced stupors.

Where does the time go?  Nostalgia strikes early and often. Time seems scarce.  I find myself humming autumnal tunes with nostalgic lyrics like “As time goes by,” and “These precious days I’ll spend with you.” 

I want to hug my little tribe to my bosom.   (In the total absence of cleavage, I must be careful they don’t concuss on my sternum.)

Each day surrenders a minute or two of light to the earth’s orbital and narcissistic shift.  And while it is hardly perceptible, I do not relinquish them willingly.

The last float of the Pioneer Day parade, of course, ushers in the Christmas Season, and soon winter will once again take up residency with the brutality of the Roman coliseum.

Perhaps the internal-timing device in my brain is marking pockets of experience that imprint on my mind and heart, causing me to reminisce even as new memories are created.

Perhaps the older I get, the faster time passes. I don’t know. The days dwindle down to a precious few. I suppose the universe organizes itself and corrects itself, in keeping with ancient symmetry.  Summer is comprised of perfect days, and autumn of nostalgia.

I do know that our grandkids are growing up too fast.  Tempus fugit.  It really is later than I thought.  When I need to gauge the passage of time, I just hold up my arms and let the skin fall in crepey folds and pool in the crook of my elbows.  I suppose if I counted the folds, it would correctly reflect the amount of time that has passed.

At dinner on Sunday, Abram and Josh wanted to try on their grandpa’s shoes for size.  They needed new ones for church.  Surprisingly, the shoes fit just about perfectly…although there is still room to grow. 

I advised the boys not to just wear the shoes – fill them.

They will – eventually – as time goes by.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Widow's Might: Joan's Koans

I’ve noticed that our culture is saturated with an amalgam of mantras, a plethora of pithy sayings and a buttload of witticisms all designed to recharge our spiritual carburetors, endow us with wisdom and inner peace, and provide reassuring respite.  In theory, they are supposed to cushion our daily stress and provide a rousing affirmative to our existence.  Theoretically.

OK.  I get that.  To arrive at  the temple of tranquility and well-being, we all need guidelines, a spiritual GPS to discover that which is sacred and ride out the storms gracefully.  At varying times, we are all maladjusted.

I personally believe that wisdom is the ultimate narcotic to counter the paralyzing injury and inefficiency that plagues us, usually without prior notice or consent.

We must have instructions, mental engineering, a higher state of reasoning.

Some of the most useful specifics for living well, I have learned from soccer coaches.

Here are just a few: 

1.        Turn and Burn!

2.       Run and Gun!

3.       Drill and Kill!

4.       Swear and Forbear!

(I made up that last one, but I like rhymes.)

However, images of violence notwithstanding, it is possible to extract some practical nuggets of rationale from 3-word rhymes for achieving Hemingway’s elevated vision of “grace under pressure.”  Of course, it requires  strong nerves and an iron will.

Why, just this past week, I had my annual appointment with the dermatologist, who practiced the soccer coach’s counsel with fervor.  He assembled his diabolical arsenal of Q tips that served as cruise missiles, and a gallon of liquid nitrogen, laced with nitroglycerin to give it maximum thrust.  Like a pitiless wombat with fast twitching muscle fiber and power-loaded haunches, he went tribal.  He would turn and burn, run and gun, drill and kill, vaporizing every mole and freckle.  I, in turn, had to swear and forbear. I rasped  obscenities that had lain dormant for years.

When it was over, I sat scorched, wincing, and looking like I’d been encased in festering bubble wrap, sucking in oxygen and blowing out carbon dioxide desperately exchanging gasses like fireplace bellows.  The whole of my entire pelt had been assaulted and singed, and I left his office hairless, witless and shrunken.  He said he hoped I had a good day as I hobbled out the door, no longer homo erectus, more like a pool of mercury on a glass table. 

Ah, but I digress. One of my favorite morsels for meditation came from Luis, Abram’s head soccer coach.  During a particularly intense moment in the match, he shouted with controlled power and authority, “DON’T.  BE.  TIRED!!” 

It resonated with everyone there.  Our team won the game, and I came home with a new coping mechanism.  I have moved a little higher up the evolutionary ladder, energized my batteries, and sworn off fatigue forever.

I have decided it would be in our best interest to re-evaluate the common sense of some of the sayings universally accepted as wisdom, and chip away at  inherent fallacies that are glaringly evident upon closer examination.  Adhering to fallacious reasoning is counter-productive. We’re toast, Dude.

For instance”

“Anything worth doing, is worth doing well.” 

Really?  Think about it.  That tired cliché, if strictly adhered to, produces guilt and frustration.  Even worse, it de-values mediocrity, a most valuable commodity.  Why do we continue to place unrealistic expectations of perfection upon ourselves?  What makes us fixate on what is wrong or missing?  We are casualties of false assumptions.  Mediocrity can be a far healthier phenomenon than stress and regret.  Expectations of flawlessness kindle depression and disgusting acts of depraved vulgarity.  I bear witness from experience.  Besides, it makes you Very. Very. Tired, which runs counter to Coach Luis’ admonition. 

Ergo, I propose we amend that little tension-producer to something more kind, more gentle, more forgiving.  How about:  “Anything worth doing…is worth doing.”

 That permits us to shamble along, taking pride in what we’ve accomplished, without being sucked into a black vortex of hopeless predicaments. Not every undertaking is deserving of majesty.  How vain is that?

So much of the manifestos of mantra druids should be debunked as outright hoaxes.  We need to refute and re-boot.

  “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”

WHAAAAT???  Of course, FDR delivered it to a nation in desperate need of stability and optimism.  Roger that. Now I’m not a proponent of paranoia, but we all have a whole lot to fear.  The newspaper and anchor people incessantly remind us of that hourly.  There’s terrorism, hostile take-overs, disease, insanity, murder, mahem, depravity, natural and unnatural disasters, the 2016 elections, the Royals and the Kardashians.  Don’t tell me we have nothing to fear!

I say, GET OUT THERE AND BE AFRAID…  BE VERY AFRAID!. It  cleanses the system and keeps one regular.  Besides, species evolve according to what they’re good at.  Without alarm and trepidation, we become complacent, unmotivated sloths, incapable of the fight or flight instincts crucial for survival.  The inescapable conclusion is that without fear, mankind, indeed the whole universe, will self-destruct.  Paranoia is our only hope!

Finally, I take serious issue with “No pain, no gain.” 

AS IF!!!  Were pain the only portal to gain, we’d all be members of The Church of Perpetual Masochism!  This little nugget of advice is truly a masterpiece of faulty construction.

Don’t get me wrong.  Pain has its place. I would not advocate for decadent and excessive consumption of luxury. Mark Twain said that humor is the poetry of pain.  I’ve studied Twain and his pain.  I’ve never been into self-flagellation, but I agree.  Some of the funniest stuff springs from the rubble of a broken heart.

Not everything has to hurt to be beneficial.  If pain is the pre-requisite to gain, why did man invent pain meds, hallucinatory drugs and recreational chocolate?

Therefore, I suggest we amend this four-word rhyme to “No pain, feels good.”  Not as catchy, true, but it might just propel us to mood stabilizing, meditative heights of mediocrity. 

Life is full of odd syncopations, grace notes, unexpected detours and infinite variations.  We need all the strategies we can get to negotiate the labyrinth.  Success running the maze is contingent on recognizing authentic wisdom.  So many of the time-honored clichés have all the validity of a hairball convention.  They only put blisters on the brain.

Happiness is a moral obligation, and it cannot be compromised by becoming victims of flawed thinking.

Today I am adopting the walking-meditation mantra:  “Om Sri Maha Ganapataye Namah.”  I don’t have a clue what it means.  I think it’s “And they lived happily ever after.”  Whatever.  I just know that when I repeat it, I don’t feel guilty, and, best of all, I’M.  NOT.  TIRED.

We need to anchor on something strong and assume the wisdom of gracious acceptance. I can do that.