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The Giant Fake Pearl Chandelier

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On a recent visit to Philadelphia, we stayed at a plush hotel to celebrate New Year’s Day and my friend’s sixtieth birthday. A waiter with a linen towel over his arm offered us flutes of champagne as we stood with our suitcases waiting for the elevator. It was that kind of place — the kind I had only seen in old black and white movies.

The dining room was massive, with busy black-suited waiters bustling between tables like concerned penguins. Was this alright? Did we need more of that? Here was a complimentary cocktail made of tomato juice and vodka and oyster juice (or something dreadful like that, I forget. It wasn’t good).

I’ve got a lot of photos from the weekend, particularly of the Mummer’s Parade, a seriously strange celebration that completely takes over Philly every New Year’s Day. I’m sure I’ll share some of them with you. But for now, this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge of “Symmetry,” gives me the opportunity to share this photo of the outlandish giant fake pearl chandelier hanging from the ceiling of the XIX restaurant in the Hyatt at The Bellevue.

 

 

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I Got Skills: And Some Wine

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If you could choose to be a master of any skill in the world, which skill would you pick? Good question, right? I’m still in a bit of a writing funk, having fallen into a vast vortex of nothingness, so I thought I would check out the Daily Prompt from WordPress. I like their question, so — what’s my answer?

I wonder if it’s cheating to pick a skill that people tell me I’ve already got.

Maybe this is supposed to be something to which I aspire. If it is an aspiration, then I’d like to be a brilliant creative writer: My words and I would become one, and my prose and poetry would conjure up vivid images and intense emotions and move my readers from laughter to tears in a matter of moments — and I would never, ever, fall into a vast vortex of nothingness.

Woman Writing Letter by Gerard ter Borch. Public Domain, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Woman Writing Letter by Gerard ter Borch. Public Domain, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

But meanwhile, back in reality, I will choose a skill that I’ve been told I already possess to some degree. Some call it a “welcoming spirit,” some tell me I’m “easy to talk to,” and some say I make them “feel at home.” Others say I make them laugh a lot. Or it could just be the wine.

Anyway, that’s the skill I want — to make people feel comfortable. Not a big deal, but it makes me happy to be relaxed and open with people, and that’s easier if they feel comfortable with me.

Dysfunctional Roots and Shoots

I developed this skill as a way of coping while growing up in an alcoholic home — if I could get people laughing, lighten the mood, relax the tension, then I might prevent the nightly dinner table dramas and arguments. The stakes were high, because if laughter failed, I would have to break the tension by spilling my milk, and then I’d get yelled at. 

As a child, this coping mechanism served me well, although as an adult it morphed into a desperate need to be loved and resulted in some pretty dysfunctional behaviors. But I’ve worked hard to rid myself of emotional baggage, and now I couldn’t care less what anyone thinks of me (yeah, right).

C’mon, Smile

I’ve also used the skill in a professional capacity. Having an easy-going, accessible personality came in handy when I was an environmental lobbyist on Capitol Hill. One of my secret personal goals was to get a staffer or member of Congress to laugh in the first five minutes of our meeting. Even if they were super-conservative, right-wing folks that I simply needed to cross off my list and from whom I had no chance of getting an environmental vote, I still wanted them to listen to my pitch. Putting them at ease was essential.

I’d probably make a good salesperson, except oh my God, talk about a vast vortex of nothingness.

Wanna Be Friends?

The skill I’m after is not the lobbyist’s insincere, slightly manipulative, chumminess. What I want to master is friendliness. Like comfy slippers or a purring cat, I just want to be a good friend. And I’ll bring the wine.

So – if you could choose a skill, what would it be?

Wrong Turns: Hold the Map Loosely

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One of the nice things about getting older, at least for me, is that I don’t get lost anymore. I may occasionally feel lost, but I know I’m not truly lost. 

This weekend, I was driving the winding roads of western North Carolina with two friends in my car, returning from four days at the Wild Goose Music Festival in Hot Springs. Nothing looked familiar, and I realized Suzanne was taking us home a different way than we had come. 

There was a lot of map rustling and Siri debating as we approached a crossroads, and I felt tense because I sensed my friends were getting tense. We might get lost! We might BE lost and not even know it!

“Is that going to be a slow and winding road?” 

“That’s not the way we came!” 

“Does that get us to the interstate faster?”

“Make a U-turn; let’s ask at that gas station!”

Thing is, I knew that both roads would get us where we needed to be. I wasn’t sure which was most direct, or whether people might laugh at me for choosing a silly route, but I knew that technically, I wasn’t lost. 

Spiritual Navigation 

My circuitous spiritual journey has taught me a bit about navigation. Mostly, not to panic.

Wandering Path

Wandering Path

Here are some things I’ve learned about getting literally and metaphorically “lost” in life.

  • You can see beautiful things and meet interesting people on the side roads of life, the roads you didn’t plan to take. The unplanned vistas and visits are often the most memorable.
  • Sometimes the slower roads are the better ones. You can absorb your surroundings and appreciate the present moment when you eschew the interstate and tootle along with your foot propped up on the dashboard (yes, I drive like that) and a Starbucks soy chai latte in your hand. You see real people sitting on their porches, not shadowy heads behind a windshield.
  • When you’re off-course, ask for assistance. This allows other people to help you, which makes them feel good and boosts your belief in ultimate goodness. We’re all on this trip together.
  • Choose your traveling companions and the soundtrack of your trip carefully. Choose people who laugh easily and don’t take themselves or the journey too seriously. Choose to listen to the positive and the upbeat in the universe, not to the critical voices in your head or to the negativity and nonsense polluting our culture.
  • Hold the map loosely. There is more than one way to get where you need to be. Someone else’s route might not be best for you. As long as you’re facing the right direction (when all else fails, look for the sun; look to the light), you are going to arrive at your destination.
  • Rest assured that things will work out in the end. You’ll get where you need to be if you pay attention. Even at the ultimate end of the journey — the one we usually deny and try to avoid at all costs — it’s all going to be OK. We are safe. There’s a cosmic navigator driving this space ship. Relax.

 You Can’t Get There From Here

When I read the WordPress Daily Post writing challenge asking us to write about the last time we got lost, the first thing that popped into my head was a riff from Firesign Theatre. Unless you are of a certain age, you won’t remember this hysterical stream-of-consciousness comedy group from the late sixties/early seventies. Some of us had their albums memorized. If you like Monty Python, try to dig up some Firesign.

Firesign Theatre

Firesign Theatre

I share this because I think it enhances my points above, but also because it’s ridiculous and I couldn’t help it:

NICK DANGER: Hey, pop!

POP: All right, hold your horses.

NICK: Where am I?

POP: (pause) You can’t get there from here.

NICK: But I’m looking for the Same Old Place.

POP: Ohhh! You must mean the old Same place! It’s right out back, sonny. Here’s the key.

— From the album, How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All?

Daily Prompt: An Ode to Dancing Memories

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There are two, two dancing memories:

Early, early on – I think I was three,

My older sister played Elvis

Very, very quietly lest Mom hear the banned music.

My brother and I stood rapt

As she pulled a towel

Back and forth, back and forth across her backside.

Her arms pumped and her hips swayed,

“See? It’s like you’re drying with a towel,” she said,

As she taught us the Twist.

Elvis_Presley_Jailhouse_Rock3

At seven, I leapt about the Florida room

Flailing my sun-pinked arms like a gawky flamingo.

My father’s Mexican sombrero lay on the floor

And I danced circles around it to the strains of some Spanish composer,

While Mom paused in her sweeping to smile, nod, and applaud

As the classical music that she so loved

Danced through her youngest child.

* * * * * * * *

Thanks to WordPress for this very fun Daily Prompt. Do you have early memories of dancing?

Weekly Photo Challenge: An Object in Italy

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I got lost one night on the streets of Florence –

Italy, not South Carolina.

Post pub, my friends dropped off, one by one:

One to her hostel, one to his hotel, one to the train station.

“You sure you know where you’re going?” asked the last one.

“Oh yeah, how hard can it be to find the Duomo?”

Turns out there are a lot of ancient domes in Florence;

From a distance, to an American, they all look pretty much the same.

Wandering the streets, I came upon this forlorn bicycle,

And it made me want to laugh and cry at the same time.

Oh, the roads it’s traveled, the stories it holds!

Forlorn in Florence

Forlorn in Florence

This week’s Photo Challenge asks that we use a tangible object as inspiration and subject. Give yourself permission to escape the mundane for a minute and imagine one of the stories this bicycle holds!

An Outsider on Christmas Eve

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There’s red, a lot of red. The overhead lights are dim, but there are candles. Bulky shapes mill about, coats and scarves and hats that presumably contain people. All of this I can see as I approach the double glass doors, and I slow my pace.

What was I thinking coming here?

I’ve met some friends in the parking lot, and they nudge me towards to the church building.

“You OK?” one of them asks, and my scarf nods. I feel completely disembodied, as if my physical self left with my brother when he died, now twenty-eight hours ago.

It’s Christmas Eve, my favorite church service of the year. I thought I wanted to come.

My friend opens the door and my body recoils from the music, the laughter, and oh my God, the smiles. An arm is around me and shepherds me through the door. Inside, I shrink against the wall, burying my face more deeply into my red scarf, the one my brother gave me last year.

I feel as if I’ve unexpectedly happened upon a horrible accident, and I wish for all the world that I was not here. I can’t bear to be near the joy.

“I don’t think I can do this,” I say to my friends. They circle around me, offering protection from the churning mass of smiling humanity. One of them hands me a cup of hot cider and I inhale the sweet smell but am afraid to sip it. Swallowing is not the simple matter it was a few days ago. Nothing is simple.

One foot in front of the other, I walk with my friends into the sanctuary. Delicate white lights twine through Christmas trees, wreaths, and holly, and quiet carols fill the room.

“Merry Christmas!” someone says. “How are you?”

“My brother died,” I say, because that seems to be all I will ever say for the rest of my life when someone asks me that question.

“Oh my God, no,” and I’m enfolded in arms and then more arms and I cry.

Then I’m sitting between my friends holding the candle that will soon be lit and raised upwards as we all sing Silent Night together.

“You OK?”

I take a sip of my hot cider and feel its spicy warmth move into my chest. I nod and smile, just a little.

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This post was written in response to today’s Daily Prompt:

Tell us about the experience of being outside, looking in — however you’d like to interpret that.

Safety First: A First Date Gone Terribly Wrong

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How did I get here, on the floor?

Who is this man

With the red face and the red eyes?

He smiles like he’s nice,

But he’s not.

He laughs like it’s fun,

But it’s not.

He pulls my clothes

And rips the buttons off my new dress,

The one with the little pink and red roses.

I felt so pretty.

Now I feel dirty

Stuck here on the floor

By the stairs.

Little Roses

Little Roses

This is my inner five-year-old’s remembrance of a first date gone very wrong, circa 1987. You tell me why I dated this guy for several months. I refer you back to my previous post on becoming a woman of dignity — this takes time.

This poem is in response to today’s WordPress Daily Prompt, “Share the story of a time you felt unsafe.”

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