Sunday, December 21, 2008

Unemployed: Artist

I went to the bank the other day to open a savings account, a few decades too late. I’ve always joked that we would have enough when we retired to have lunch and then commit suicide, but it’s not so funny anymore. I mean, we might be able to have lunch, but we won’t be able to have dessert, much less afford to kill ourselves. There used to be the “put the old folks on an ice floe and let them float off to die” alternative, but with global warming, that’s out.
But – getting back to the bank.
The efficient young woman filling out the paperwork asked me what my occupation is, and I told her I didn’t have a job, and that I’m a singer, songwriter, and writer. She wrote in the blank: “Unemployed: artist.”
Ouch. I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to justify my existence to myself, and in two words the edifice of my self-worth trembled, and all the dark fears that my parents were right billowed around me. Remember, I grew up on a farm, and came from conservative hard-working people. I remember well their attitude toward artists.
Artists, actors, musicians, dancers, writers, god help us poets and their ilk did not really work. They had fun during the day and stayed out late having fun at night – not like the workers of the world who were early to bed, early to rise, and none of that damned arts nonsense. All musicians were hopheads. All dancers were queer. All painters were dreamy lay-abouts who couldn’t even make a picture that looked like anything. All artists were parasites living off the pissed-off people who had to get up and go to a job every day.
If that is what you believe, there is nothing I could tell you that would teach you what hard work it takes to create art. To create something wonderful out of what you can do with your body, your mind, and your willingness to be a channel for something greater than yourself is something you achieve by years of hard work and practice, all of which you do for no money. In fact, you might have to pay people to teach you technique – voice lessons, drawing lessons, acting lessons, dancing lessons, instrument lessons. Talent is also helpful.
Meanwhile, while studying and practicing, you wait tables, you type, you clean houses or paint houses or build houses, you do something to support your art habit, and you take a lot of criticism, both artistic and personal.
You will be told more than once not to quit your day job, because you just don’t have what it takes.
When you fill out forms that say, “Occupation – check one,” they will never have a box for what you do.
Artistic success tends to be temporary – a painting sold, a few paying gigs. If you get to be the member of a dance or opera company – well, do you realize how many people are competing for those spots, and how good they are? Do you have any idea how many failed auditions every single dancer, actor, and musician lives through?
Oh yeah, it’s a real walk in the park, the life artistic. That’s why most people do it as a hobby. Going to a job is much easier than being an artist. So why do people do it? They have to. It’s who they are.
That’s why it says on my savings account form, “Unemployed: artist.” I’ll go on struggling with the self-worth thing. Why stop now?
You could help by buying one or two CDs. Why didn’t I think of saying that ‘way before Christmas? Oh well. The music’s been good for over 20 years, and it will still be good in January. Email me at:, and we’ll talk.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snowed In

Dear Hearts and Gentle People ~
It’s a cold Saturday in Puget Sound, and according to the Weather Channel it’s a cold day in a lot of the US of A, except down in southern Texas, where my friend Susan advises me they have the air conditioning on.
I have revised my cold weather getaway plan. I won’t go to California. I’ll pass through California on the way to Houston.
My Brave Knight (that would be Rick) departed for town a few minutes ago, in a pickup truck with chains. He was carrying library books and a grocery list. He qualifies for the Brave Knight rating today because the snow is deep and more is expected. I was going to go with him, but he said that my holey old athletic shoes are not adequate for the snow, and I don’t have any more substantial shoes. So I made the list and sent him off. There was a time I might have argued to go, but that was when I had good knees.
Our road was graded and sanded yesterday, but we haven’t had mail or a paper for two days. I haven’t left the house since last Tuesday.
Being snowed in is not such a big deal when you’ve got cable and internet, but a wind storm is predicted for this evening, so we could be in the dark soon. On the upside of that, we don’t have to worry about losing food in the freezer. We can store it outside and it will keep fine. As long as the raccoons don’t get it. But we’ll deal with that problem when it arises.
So I’m sitting here listening to the Kingston Trio Christmas album, “The Last Month of the Year.” My grand daughter is gluing together a Santa Claus and a snow man my cousin Nancy sent her. After raising two boys I am always amazed that this little girl will sit down with a project and follow the directions and get it done. Wow. As a process person, I appreciate goal-oriented people. They are mysterious and miraculous to me.
Meanwhile I sit here in the middle of a zillion uncompleted projects, with the Kingston Trio singing me through the season.
“One for the little bitty baby who was born, born, born in Bethlehem!”
Stay warm, friends.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Living the Boring Life

Winter weather makes me a little nervous. This house I’m living in has no wood stove, so if the electricity goes off, it will get cold, and stay that way. When I asked the owner of the house what she did when the power was out, she told me that her kind neighbors took her in for a day or two, and after that she flew to California.
I am considering whether I shall follow her sensible course of action if the electricity goes off for an extended period of time. I haven’t been to California for a while.
California is where I was born and where I grew up until my early 20s, when I moved to Vashon Island. I was born in a little town called Watsonville, a farming community on the southern end of Santa Cruz County.
Today at the store I stood in front of a large Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider display, picking up bottles and looking at the pictures from Martinelli’s history on the labels, trying to see if I could recognize anything in them.
The Martinelli’s plant was across the street from my high school. I remember sitting in Mr. Plummer’s freshman English class in the basement of the old high school building (built in 1903, now long gone), staring out the ground level windows at Martinelli’s on the other side of Beach Street. I was waiting for life to begin, waiting to be free from school, and bells, and petty tyrants, of which there seemed to be so many, both adult and student.
One day a man who looked like Gabby Hayes, or a prospector straight out of the Gold Rush, came walking down Beach Street leading a donkey that was carrying a pack. This would have been in 1962 or so. I was curious, but I never found out who he was or why he and his donkey walked by the high school. He was a character, no doubt, one of the people at whom we rolled our eyes and twirled our fingers around our ears to indicate, “crazy.” In 1962 there weren’t many characters. Characters came in a few years later when we all decided to let our hair grow.
I wish I could say that I saw other interesting things while gazing out the windows of my high school classes, but that was pretty much it, just that one guy and his donkey. Other than that it was four years of boredom.
Growing up in California in the fifties and sixties felt pretty boring. I know now that I was living a comfortable life in a place where the temperature stayed between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit all year ‘round. I guess that being safe and comfortable can seem boring to a kid.
My cousin and I are planning a road trip to California next spring. We’ll drive out to Green Valley to see the ranches, both my grandfather’s and my father’s. My father’s apple trees are gone, replaced by dwarf varieties that produce more apples. Also gone are the peach, apricot, fig, and lemon trees that we had for our personal use. Once the place was sold and became a part of agribusiness, no longer a family farm, those oddities had to go. Too bad. I remember how happy my dad looked when he sat down to a bowl of fresh peach slices drenched in cream.
Now when I go up to the top of the hill and look at the views I so loved as a child, I am trespassing on someone else’s land. But I go, anyway, so I can look at the flat orchard-covered floor of Green Valley to the north, and the long vista over the Pajaro Valley and off to Fremont Peak in the hazy distance to the south, and drink the view in.
I must be getting old, to mourn times and people that are no more. Makes me wonder why we want long life, when the older we get, the more losses we carry. Still, you know I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
I wish you all a warm and wonderful Christmas, or whatever the heck you celebrate. May it be safe, and comfortable, and boring. You know: enough to eat, clothes to wear, a roof over your head, family and friends, no sickness or death or other catastrophes. Boring. Let’s hear it for boring.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Superwoman No More

In a conversation with some other women who have had significant health challenges, I heard myself saying, “It is so hard to wrap your consciousness around the fact that your body is not the same.”
They agreed: “No one prepared us for this.”
“This” could be one or more of any events or illnesses: cancer, car wrecks, chronic illness of any kind, falls, breaks, loss of hearing, sight, smell, taste, or cognitive ability; and whatever else I have forgotten or don’t know about that belongs on this list.
For me it has been various accidents, with mononucleosis piled on top. I cannot rely on my body to do what I once took for granted.
For example, move all these boxes of stuff so I can put up the Christmas tree? At one time that was the work of a moment. Not any more, brothers and sisters. Now it’s a matter of figuring out if I can catch my sons or my husband long enough to do the heavy lifting and shifting. If not, the thing does not get moved, and the little project does not get done.
When I do manage to get something done, I have to rest up afterwards. Crap. Insult added to injury, and then I’m too tired to sustain the insult, and need a nap.
Actually, the naps are great, but there was a time when I would not stop for anything, especially not a nap, which appears to be “doing nothing,” and horrors, we can’t have that, superwoman doing nothing.
Superwoman is beginning to realize that her high flyin’ days are over. They got left behind somewhere – for me, in that car wreck, in various falls and broken bones, and in the mononucleosis that left me with no energy.
It wasn’t until today, when I was talking about how when things happen to your body it takes forever for your conscious mind to catch up, that I realized that my mind still hasn’t caught up. I’m not sure if my mind has even started to admit that there’s anything different than it used to be.
It’s pretty frustrating to stand and look at work you used to do easily and confront the new reality that you can’t do it. It bodes well for anyone who plans on coming to the garage sale I’m going to have one of these days, though. I’m leaning in a lot of ways, but mainly I’m leaning towards getting rid of anything that’s in my way, and that’s practically everything.
Superwoman needs a nap now.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Joan Baez in Concert

My friend Becky and I went to see Joan Baez in concert last night. She was at the Moore Theater in Seattle.
We wanted to park close to the Moore because of my bad knee. I can’t do too much walking these days. So we caught a 4:30 boat and headed in to Seattle.
After trolling around the one-way streets of downtown for a while, we found the parking lot directly across the street from the Moore – location, location, location – and then the next thing on the agenda was to find a place to eat dinner, preferably a restaurant with bathroom facilities.
The closest restaurant, across the street from the Moore on Virginia Street, was the Buenos Aires Grill. They had the bill of fare posted outside the front door, and we stood there perusing it for a good five minutes. It looked good, but there were no prices listed. To my mind, when the prices are not listed on a menu, it means, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”
Suddenly Becky stopped reading and said, “If it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for us,” and then said to me sotto voce, “Look to your right.”
To my right, through the window, was a table with three people seated. Two were men and one was Joan Baez.
We walked in and a cheerful young man seated us at the table right next to Joan Baez and, as it turned out, her two band members.
Now Joan Baez is a cultural icon, so Becky and I tried to be good. We did not wish to disturb the folk goddess’s dinner. Inside, though, I was jiggling with excitement and thinking, this is so cool.
A lady who came in soon afterwards was not constrained in her behavior. She rushed to Baez’ table and gushed, “I’ve been following you for 40 years! In college I was you! I let my hair grow and carried a guitar around!” And so on. Joan Baez was quite gracious to her, but after the fan went off to her own table we noticed that Baez and her band mates switched seats so that she was sitting with her back to the room, which put her about three feet away from me.
This is so cool.
When Baez got up to leave, she graciously took the hand of the gushing fan and said a few words, and as she passed us I could no longer restrain myself and said, “Have a wonderful concert. We’ll be in the audience.” She kind of smiled and kept walking.
Now I am not famous, but I have been a singer/songwriter and have experienced people coming up to talk to me after concerts. Most of them, bless their hearts, wanted to say how much they enjoyed the music, and double bless them, buy a CD. Sometimes, though, people came up with a peculiar intensity that could be a little scary. There is a thin line between “rabid fan” and “stalker.” So I can understand the wish of a famous person to protect herself from being loved to death.
Becky and I had our dinners. The food was GREAT. The Buenos Aires Grill, as you might imagine from its name, specializes in good beef, well prepared, so not for vegetarians, but for those of us who are still omnivores, it was a treat.
I also called my husband on my cell phone, and said, “Guess who I had dinner with!” Yes, I was so excited I ended a sentence with a preposition. He was suitably impressed, and after I hung up I said out loud, “This is so cool!” Becky laughed. We both laughed.
One young man was still sitting at the Baez table, and I finally turned to him and said, “I’m trying to be good, but…are you a band member?” He smiled sweetly and said yes. He had a British accent. We talked a little. He said that it was great touring with her, and, “…especially chatting with her. We’ve had some good chats.” Becky and I agreed that Joan Baez must have a lot to say that is of interest. Later, at the concert, I would learn that this young man’s name was John Doyle, and he was the music director of the group, and he played guitar left handed.
The concert was great. She performed with three musicians, one of whom was John Doyle, and she also did some solo songs. She opened with, “Flora, the lily of the west,” and did most if not all of the songs from her latest album, my favorite of which was a tune by that album’s producer, Steve Earle, titled, “God Is God.” Good song.
There was a young woman who came out on stage to switch guitars so Baez could play in different tunings. She switched guitars, she unplugged and plugged in sound cords, she moved music stands. The young woman was eventually introduced as, “Stephanie, my assistant.” Man, I thought, I want a Stephanie.
Joan Baez sang from 8 p.m. until almost 10, without intermission, and did an encore of two songs, and in the last song of the last concert of a month-long tour, you could tell that everyone on stage was relaxing and letting down, having a ball.
Then the band walked off stage and Joan Baez sang “Amazing Grace” a cappella, and the audience joined in, and we sang the verses with her, and broke into harmonies, until the whole audience that filled the Moore Theater to the rafters was one vast gospel choir. As the last note faded, she thanked us all and said good night.
I floated down the ramp to the main floor, where I waited while Becky bought the latest CD, then we went outside and noticed a group of people standing around the tour bus. Becky decided to wait, but my knee was done for the night, so I headed off to the car to await her. When she came, she had her CD autographed by Joan Baez, and a photo on her digital camera of herself and Joan Baez standing side by side. “She was very gracious,” Becky said.
Yes, she was. It was so cool.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Glasses and Canes

My vision started to go when I was about 43. There were a few things I noticed that sent me to the optometrist. One: I was standing in church singing a hymn when I noticed that the letters seemed to be weaving around on the hymnal page like teeny tiny synchronized polliwogs. Two: I was driving on the freeway at night and noticed that all the tail lights of the cars in front of me were blurry, and had little star rays radiating. Three: I looked up at the stars in the sky, and they, like the tail lights, were blurry and had rays.
So I went to see Grant Lindskog, the local eye guy, who gave me an exam and informed me that I had presbyopia – my eyes were getting old. He cheerfully told me that it was people like me who sent his children to college, and he wrote a prescription for low magnitude reading glasses.
Rest in peace, Grant. We miss you.
After that I discovered cheap reading glasses, and started buying those. I got them in different styles, and gradually got stronger ones as my near vision deteriorated. They broke, and lenses fell out of them, so I bought more. I lost them frequently so I bought more and left them all over the house so that at any given time I could find a pair easily.
After about 15 years I started wearing prescription glasses all the time and stopped buying reading glasses, so I don’t have them stashed all over the house anymore.
I noticed the other day that now I’m starting to leave canes around the house.
I got my first cane about the time I got my first glasses, come to think about it – I had a bone spur in my left heel, and walked with a cane until the spur was surgically removed. Then I didn’t need a cane until my car wreck in 2000. After that I wore a back brace for six months, and used a cane for some of the time. I was in bed a lot the first few months, and used that time to tied string around a cane I picked up at the local thrift store. It was an adjustable metal cane, until I did the whole thing in sailor’s knots and varnished it.
Then my knees started to go, and periodically I needed to use a cane again, and I went to the thrift store and bought a few more canes over time. I think I had this idea that I was going to sand them down and paint them in colorful styles, but I don’t know why I thought that. I am not a craftsperson or an artist. Just another one of those darned bright ideas I tend to get, and forget.
Last week I took a fall that did something to my left knee that feels bad. Today I realized that I was leaving canes planted in various spots around the house so I’m close to one when I need it. I’m hoping my knees don’t go the way of the eyes, getting worse and worse. I have an appointment with an orthopedist in early December, and I think there may be some surgery in the near future for my knees. I will go quietly. I miss being able to walk. Maybe while I’m recovering from surgery I’ll have time to put sailor’s knots on some of my other canes. It’s a nice look.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Counting My Thankfuls*

Who misses those nasty campaign ads? Only the ad agencies that were paid to put them together and the television stations that collected the ad revenue for broadcasting them, that’s my guess. So that’s one thing to be thankful for this Thanksgiving: thank God the election is over.
Many rejoice that Obama was elected; it’s a new world, and a fresh start, and boy, we could all use a fresh start in this season of economic crashes. I really could not bring myself to believe beforehand that this amazing thing could happen. It felt like a miracle, a growing up in this country, and I am thankful for that, as are many people.
A conservative friend told me that she wore black and no jewelry the day after the election; I know that conservatives are mourning their loss, as I mourned when Bush became president, both times. I felt hopeless for the future of this country, and the world. Perhaps that is what conservatives are feeling now.
I know and love a lot of conservative people; I grew up in a conservative family, and don’t know why I turned out to be the only liberal, or progressive, I guess I’m supposed to call myself now. Maybe it was the inspiration of the civil rights movement and the ugliness of racism, or the siren song of rock and roll, or the yearning for peace while seeing the country torn apart by division over Vietnam.
Maybe it was the hypocrisy of people saying one thing and doing another. Many of the conservatives who now hoot about patriotism made darn sure that they did not go to Vietnam back in the day. That double standard is alive and well, from those American chicken hawks to Osama bin Laden, who was (and is?) willing that other people should commit suicide for his cause, but took (takes?) tender care for his own well-being.
What I sense is that progressives and conservatives want many of the same things: a living wage, a safe place to live, a healthy family, education for our children, the right to worship as we choose, enough food, a decent place to live. We want to be free to go about our business without the threat of terrorist attacks; we want our children to come home from war unscathed, or not to go to war at all. We all want these things. We disagree deeply about how to go about getting them.
We have lived with one way for many years, and now we’re about to try other ways. Changing how a government, how a country, is run must be akin to persuading a volcano to erupt in some other direction. Some things, when in progress, are almost impossible to change.
So everybody take a deep breath and get ready to work, because no matter who won that election, we had a lot of work ahead of us. It’s time to think about what you’re thankful for these days, and let go of what you cannot change. I’m thankful that we’re all still here to be in this mess.
I’m thankful for my family and friends, no matter what their politics. I’m thankful for the pleasures of the mind, and that I can still walk, if not very well some days. I’m thankful that my husband is still glad to see me and I’m glad to see him at the end of the day, after more than 30 years together, and that we still enjoy talking to each other. I’m thankful for the saving grace of faith in my life, and the laughter of my adult sons.
I’m thankful that I can still learn things about me that make me try to make my personal volcano erupt in a different direction, although now I sometimes say, heck, I’m sixty years old. I don’t want to take the time or energy to try to change (whatever it is) about me now. This is it.
I’m thankful for that, too. What are your thankfuls this Thanksgiving?
*Thanks and a tip o’ the hat to Julian for the word “thankful” as a noun.

This piece was written to appear in the November 20 issue of the Vashon Loop. Alas, Troy, the publisher, is in the hospital with gall stones, so there will not be a November 20 Loop.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Enough Sleep

The cardio doc prescribed a new pill for me the other day. It’s supposed to keep the angina away, but, she said, “You might experience some sleepiness.”
Well, the angina is indeed gone now, but that sleepiness I might experience has also come to pass. Two nights this week I have passed out on the couch at 7:30 in the evening, awakened in the wee hours, gone to bed, and then slept until nine in the morning.
Having had that much sleep, I am feeling rested. Rested is an unusual thing to feel. I have not slept well since somewhere in the middle of my first pregnancy. I suppose this much sleep is too much sleep. I’ll call my cardio doc to ask about a lower dosage or some other alternative, but for the time being I am really enjoying the rare feeling of having had enough sleep

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Susan Bardwell on Writin'

Just a quick connection to a column by my writer friend, Susan Bardwell:
You'll probably have to copy and paste. This piece is a writer's delight. Enjoy.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Beyond the Celebration, I Continue to Carp

It has been quite a week. Barrack Obama was elected president; our older son announced he is going to college; and that rain that was predicted with low confidence showed up.
Of the three, the first two were surprising to me. I am overly cynical, I know. I really didn’t believe this country was grown up enough to elect a black man, but when you come down to it, we didn’t elect a black man. We elected a man who seemed like a leader we could trust; the extraordinary thing is that as it turns out, that man is black. I thought racism would prevail. That it did not has left my heart lighter.
Oh, I know that some people are howling like the Wicked Witch when Dorothy threw the water on her – “What a world! What a world!” Perhaps they are stunned at this turn of events. Since 1980, when Reagan was elected, it’s been the same old Republican gang running the show, except for that eight years when Clinton was president, and he was sandbagged by a Republican congress and a witch hunt. Oh, I’m not saying Clinton is an angel. Clearly he is not, but he did clean up a little of the high-livin’ excesses of the 80s, when the bloodhounds and the Congress backed off enough to let him govern.
The night that Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, I felt the clammy hand of fear clutching my chest. See, I was in California when he was governor, and I knew what a mess he and his corporate buddies had made there. I moved up here in 1973 and missed out on the rest of what happened to California, but I was familiar with Reagan’s cheerful attitude that if you just put the homeless and crazy people out on the street, they’d go away. In fact, I heard him say that once – in California he had cut off all the welfare-cheating bums, and they had just gone away. In his social mathematics, “homeless and/or crazy = welfare-cheating bum.” I am not even addressing the institutional racism that was also bundled into that equation.
This is one of the reasons why when I hear people talking about what a great president Reagan was, I shake my head to clear it. Which Reagan? President of which country? The Reagan I remember who was President of the United States was a good enough actor to play a president, but he never impressed me as having the smarts or presidential cojones necessary for the job. He wasn’t a leader so much as good casting. His governments, both state and federal, were disasters.
I hate to be critical, but someone’s got to say, excuse me, Reagan was not a great president. He wasn’t. He – was – not. He was cute and nice and read his lines well. That is not governing.
So I am sorry for those who grieve now at the election of an Obama. If you wish to continue going to hell in a hand basket, don’t let me stop you, but for the first time in a long time I have hope that this country is not going with you.
And that’s about all I have to say right now.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Weather Report - night before the election

My computer has been making thunderclap noises. I don't know why. I thought maybe it was my Weather Channel desktop page, telling me that the weather is not so great, which I already knew.
So I checked the Weather Channel window and it says they're not sure, but they're pretty sure, it's going to rain, really hard, Thursday through Sunday, especially Thursday to Friday, with some breaks, and there might be some flooding in the Olympics and the Cascades but their confidence in flooding is low right now (really, that's what it said - their confidence is low) and they think this is going to happen and we ought to know but they're not really sure because, golly, everything is changing so fast. So prepare for lots of rain but don't be surprised if it doesn't happen because WE JUST DON'T KNOW.
That's my kind of weather report - insecure and honest.
Haven't heard any thunderclaps for a few minutes now - maybe it was my game page,, that was rumbling at me, but I don't know why.
Tomorrow's the big day, at last. Rick and I can't wait for the madness to be over. No more negative ads. No more recorded phone messages. Michelle Obama called the other day, and she wasn't much of a conversationalist. It all went one way.
I'll be surprised if Obama is our next president. But like the rest of you, I'll just have to wait and see.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Ayn-ally Retentive

Alan Greenspan is not having much fun these days. Three years into retirement he’s taking a fall for the way things are going now. He’s saying things like, “Gee, maybe I wasn’t right about everything.”
If Greenspan made decisions that affected a lot people, a lot of people went along with those decisions, so I think that if there’s going to be blame, it doesn’t all belong to him, but then I am of the belief that blame is not a helpful thing. I’m talking about the kind where you demonize someone else and don’t hold yourself accountable for your own actions.
I was not aware that Greenspan was a follower of Ayn Rand, but that is one of the things I’ve learned in recent days. He was part of a group that met in her apartment in New York City, where the tenets of Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, were hammered out. Rand said in the appendix to the 1957 edition of Atlas Shrugged, "My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."
She was born on February 2, 1905, in St. Petersburg, Russia, as Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum. Her family moved to the Crimea at the time of the Russian Revolution, and she came to the United States at the age of 21, changed her name to Ayn Rand, and went to Hollywood to write screenplays. There she met and married her husband, Frank O’Connor. She became a naturalized citizen in 1931. She and O’Connor later moved to New York City, where they lived the rest of their lives.
I read Rand’s novels, Atlas Shrugged, and The Fountainhead, when I was in high school. The scenes I remember most vividly from her novels were the violent sexual encounters, with the woman being brutally taken by the sweaty superior male and loving it, and him. I thought then, and I think now, “Eee-ew.”
Then there was the scene in which Rand gleefully killed off a whole trainload of liberals by asphyxiation. She described with evident pleasure the gasping demise of these poo-poo head do-gooders, one by one.
Also, she had a striking hostility toward soy beans. I’m not sure what that was all about.
A lot of people admired her philosophy and became her followers and disciples. You can see the attraction – the belief that you are superior to everyone else? The assumption that the superior being (you) should lead and triumph? That selfishness was the supreme good and that living selfishly can make you rich, and that’s good for everyone? Hey, sign me up!
Ayn Rand went to her final reward on March 6, 1982. That news may have been buried beneath the news of the death of John Belushi, who was a more popular public figure at the time, on March 5.
Her books still sell. People still buy into her Objectivist philosophy, and occasionally you still see a bumper sticker that says, “Who is John Galt?”
Apparently Alan Greenspan is having second thoughts, though. Ayn Rand was brilliant, no doubt, and she worshipped the rational, but it turns out that the rest of the world, with all its inferiority and irrationality, does not live up to her tenets. Darn.
So perhaps now we’ll try a new philosophy. You thought philosophy was a dusty old subject that had no meaning to the real world, but we have all been had by the teachings of a dead philosopher. It’s a cruel truth, but bad philosophy happens.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Choosing a Church

A friend remarked to me the other day that she was thinking it was about time to start going to church, “You know, just in case it’s true.” “Ah,” I said, “Fire insurance church.”
There are a lot of reasons for going to church. Fire insurance is a big reason for a lot of people. Some parents want their children to have some sort of moral and spiritual training outside the home. Some people want to spend time in a community of like-minded souls. Some feel called to become closer to God and church seems like the place to do that. Some people want an hour’s break from their kids on Sunday morning, and some like the coffee and baked goods after the service. God doesn’t care how or why you show up.
Whatever the reason, how do you find your spiritual home?
First, look at your history. Were you raised in a faith tradition? An outcome that takes some parents by surprise is that the children they raised to be good agnostics or atheists turn to religion with a passion in adulthood, and conversely, children raised as devout something or other turn out to be atheists and agnostics. What I’m saying here is that you can make choices about faith for yourself, but not for anyone else.
So, was your childhood experience with religion good? You might want to start there with your adult search. Pick up where you left off, and see where it takes you. Spirit being Spirit, you can have a great faith experience even if you are running away from the past. We all experience grace whether we believe in it or not. This annoys people who think you have to do something or prove something to receive grace. Fortunately those people are not in control of the dispensation of grace. Whew.
Was your childhood experience with religion bad, or horrible? Church may have been completely poisoned for you, and I can’t tell you that you’ll ever get over it. I would advise counseling for you, to make sense of what made no sense. All abuse is toxic, and abuse within a church is more so because we have this idea that you should be able to trust people in church. Unfortunately, people are still people and some of them will use church as a place to exert power and control over children and adults.
Here is a word of caution to all: church is not a safe place. It is a human institution, which makes it a place of division and politics and power plays. Don’t walk in thinking it will all be sweetness and light. It won’t.
So why go?
Because church is “a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” I forget which Anglican said that. You really can experience spiritual growth, and good companionship and community, and that is church at its best. It won’t be an entirely comfortable experience – I also forget who said, “Christ came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
If you are not of the Christian persuasion, but you embark upon a true spiritual journey, you will still find it is not an entirely comfortable journey. That’s the way spiritual journeys, and spiritual honesty, work.
One of the positive outcomes of spiritual honesty is true humility, and acquiring true humility can be a painful experience at times. Like that time years ago when I realized that the one consistent factor in all the crappy relationships I’d had was…me. Ouch. See, that was painful, but it was a good thing to know.
Still want to go to church? Listen to that call, because it is a call. I hope I’ve made it clear that church is not for wussies, and that spiritual quests are not easy or safe. All you Star Wars and Lord of the Rings fans know that.
If you’re just going for the social contacts and the coffee and cinnamon rolls, it might not matter where you go, but watch out. Once you open up the door for God to come in, all kinds of crazy things can happen. You might end up writing evangelical columns for an alternative newspaper. You never know.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pickin’ and Singin’

Whew. It’s been a good singing and guitar week so far.
Sunday night Rick, Becky, and I went over to Bremerton to watch the Brothers Four and the Kingston Trio in concert. Yes, Bremerton. Bob Flick of the Brothers Four expressed his thanks to Mapquest that so many people showed up.
The two groups had been doing a “Fiftieth Anniversary Tour,” about fifteen dates in three weeks, in California, Oregon, and Washington. This was the last date of the tour, and you could tell they were glad to be done and ready to go home and kick back a little.
That did not stop them from giving a great concert.
The Brothers Four have maintained the same sound over fifty years – the epitome of mellow male harmony. People a little younger than I am (that is to say, under 60) might not know who they are, but, talkin’ about my ge-ge-ge-ge-generation, people my age and older sure do, and in Japan they are loved greatly.
The Kingston Trio is a franchise, more or less. Two of the original trio are gone now. Dave Guard passed away in 1991, and Nick Reynolds passed away a couple of weeks ago. John Stewart, who replaced Dave Guard in the trio in 1961, died last January. Bob Shane, the sole survivor, retired from touring and now the trio is represented by George Grover, Bill Zorn, and Rick Daugherty. Grover has been the banjo man for the trio for over 30 years; Zorn played with the trio back in the 70s; and Rick Daugherty was Glenn Yarborough’s replacement in the Limeliters for many years. Bill Zorn was a Limeliter with Daugherty for a few years. So they have plenty of folksinger/trio cred, and while they don’t sound like the original three, they sound pretty good and they sing the old songs and a few new ones and indulge in snappy patter, which I envied. Being an old singer/songwriter myself, I can only say that you should never underestimate the importance of snappy patter on stage.
We Tuels have a connection with Rick Daugherty that goes back a ways. He directs operas down in the Bay Area, including for Sonoma City Opera, and has directed my father-in-law, Mark Tuel, in many operas. We mentioned Mark to him and he was delighted to hear of him and meet my Rick, and to hear that, at 87, Mark is going strong. “He’s made of iron,” Daugherty said. Yup, he pretty much is.
Becky and I bought stacks of CDs and listened to them on the way home, and here at home since.
This morning I had my own gig to play. Occasionally I sing at the local nursing home. Most of my audience gets wheeled in; some are no longer verbal, and some are what you might call a little too verbal. I took the summer off to do other things, so hadn’t been back for three or four months. There was a big crowd – the lunch room was packed!
I tend to sing songs from my parent’s youth: It Had to Be You, Melancholy Baby, Always, As Time Goes By. Songs like that. Red River Valley, a little Johnny Cash, Misty, Me and Bobby McGee – it’s a fairly eclectic mix of songs that were popular over the middle twentieth century.
One of the wonderful things about the internet is that you can find the lyric to practically any song in about a minute, and I print up lyrics of songs I’d like to sing and put them into a three-ring binder. I don’t always learn the songs, but today I turned the page and there was the lyric to “Plastic Jesus,” a song I have never performed before. I hauled off and sang it, and got to hear the words with the same sense of discovery and amusement my audience had: “I don’t care if it rains or freezes, long as I got my plastic Jesus, riding on the dashboard of my car…” We all had a ball.
But then someone asked me to sing Stardust, which I keep meaning to learn but don’t know. Flo Ann was there, though, and she knew it and she has a nice voice, so I said, “Let’s have a singalong. Flo Ann, you lead it,” and she did, and a lot of people sang along, and that was sweet.
At the end we all sang “You Are My Sunshine,” and then they got ready for lunch and I got to visit with Christine, a friend who has been severely disabled by multiple sclerosis. It is for her I learned the Johnny Cash tunes, and I thank her for it, because everyone seems to like his songs.
So, a good gig. I came out exhausted. Singing takes energy, and that’s not my long suit these days, but it felt good to pick and grin once more, and of course the applause never hurts. I’d like to take a nap, but instead I’m going to haul some discards up to Granny’s Attic, our local thrift store supreme. The more I get rid of, the happier I am.
Hope your week is going well also.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Too O-L-D

Some of you know that one of my main activities (and by “activity” I mean, “more movement than lying on the couch watching TV”) is going through the detritus of my life, sorting and tossing. There is a rule in office work that you only touch a piece of paper one time, and when you let go of it, it is filed, shredded, or passed on. It is history and you will never deal with it again.
What a beautiful concept.
My personal rule is that I pick it up, look at it not knowing quite what to do with it, and then add it to a pile. At some point I go through the pile and attend to things with time considerations, such as mortgage payments and power bills, and things I can recycle.
There is always the starter for the next pile, though – paper I can not figure out how to classify or process. Also there are drawings and other art projects my sons did when they were sweet, adorable little boys (there, you see how memory shines things up? They were sweet and adorable, and they were also little boys, so you figure it out). I cannot let go of these precious mementos of the past, theirs and mine, but I don’t exactly have anywhere to put them, so – they go into piles, which I sort through again and again. You can see why it is taking me so long to pare down the baggage.
The reason I take the time to look at every piece of paper is that sometimes I find treasure. Yesterday I found that notebook which I mentioned in my previous piece, and was warmly reminded of my friend Fran. Right after what I wrote about Fran, though, was a song lyric that never made it any farther than the page of that notebook. It’s in my handwriting, so I know I wrote it.
When I think of all the times I wished I could write a song, begged God to send me a song, went ape-poop haywire because I could not for the life of me write a song, gave up in despair and decided I would never, ever, write another song, it wonders me something wonderful that I wrote this lyric and then forgot all about it. It’s a squandering of creativity that horrifies me.
OK, so maybe it’s not a great song. I never know when I write these things. I take down the dictation, and maybe I put it to music, and if I sing it for other people and it seems to have meaning to them, I learn it, and sing it again.
When I read these words, I thought, hm, I can relate to that, and I’ll bet a lot of other women (and men?) my age could, as well. It’s a spelling song, and it goes like this:
I went to get a J-O-B
So I could pay my rent
They said I was too O-L-D
And that is how it went
I read the ads, I made the calls
I sent out resumes
On paper, great,
But then the gate
No J-O-B today

Too O-L-D
Too F-A-T
Grandma is too gray
Their eyes shut down,
I turn around
No J-O-B today.

It ain’t as though I want to go
‘Way up the corporate heap
The bottom’s fine, a job that’s mine
So I can earn my keep
I’m told that older workers
Are reliable and smart
But how’s an older worker
Going to get an honest start?

Too O-L-D
Too F-A-T
Grandma is too gray
Their eyes shut down,
I turn around
No J-O-B today.

Look out, Tammy Wynette.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Remembering Fran

Remembering Fran

Last night I found a little spiral notebook. I have about a zillion of these floating around, because I carry a notebook in my purse so I can write things down as they occur to me. Often I forget to pack the notebook, so while I’m out I buy another little notebook, and while I’m at it a new pen, because writing with a new pen is a physical thrill to me. Non-writers might not get this, but I’m past worrying about what people think.
So I found this notebook, and paged through it to see if there was anything worth keeping. There was. This notebook was with me about two years ago.
In November of 2006, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, Fran Gordon died. She’d had cancer for years and had been doing pretty well for a while. The summer before at Strawberry Festival she asked me to sing at the Heritage Museum up in town. She and her husband Dick were deeply involved in the Heritage Museum. The stage was a sheet of plywood set on the ground in front of the museum, with a PA set. I ended up singing a lot of hymns a cappella, and Fran came down and stood on the plywood with me, laying on her alto harmonies. My friend Tara listened, but most of the crowd passed by, some giving us a nervous glance as they went into the museum. We had fun singing those beloved old tunes, leaning into the harmonies, singing and laughing. It was a beautiful day.
A couple of months later she called to say that her cancer was back, and it was everywhere, including her liver. I don’t know if she knew the cancer was growing on that fine summer day. It would have been just like her to know, and to smile and sing anyway. In retrospect, I think she knew that all her treatments were holding actions, buying her time, but her attitude and intention was always, “I’m sticking around.”
That’s what she told me when I went to visit her.
“I want to see David go on his mission, and I’d like to see him get married,” she said. Fran was a Mormon born and raised, and David was her son, who was in high school. I told her that day that if she needed anything, anything at all, like a ride in to chemotherapy, to call me, and I’d be happy to take her.
Because she’s a Mormon, I figured her LDS family would take care of such things, but she did call me soon after and say she needed a ride in to the hospital for chemo the following Tuesday, and could I take her? Of course I could. Now I wonder if she called me because she knew I needed to do that for her.
I showed up that morning and helped her into the car, and loaded up her wheelchair. She was terribly weak, and terribly pale, and said she felt so tired. We talked and laughed on the way into town. We must have talked about a lot of things, but what I remember most vividly was her telling me passionately how she hated the F-word and all its variants and euphemisms: fricking, effing, freaking – all loathsome in Fran’s sight, because the way the word was used and what it meant was so disrespectful and demeaning to women in particular and to all humans in general. I was impressed enough that I avoided using the word or anything like it for months afterwards, out of respect for Fran.
When we got to the hospital we put her into her chair and I pushed her to her appointment. We sat in a waiting room with large aquariums that had fluorescent fish wafting around inside, and I took a picture of her with hair, because she knew she was losing it again. It was already starting to fall out. She planned to have it shaved off, but before that she was going to allow David to decide how to style it before it went.
She told her caregivers how tired she felt, and it was decided that she needed a blood transfusion. She told me that I could go back to the island, and asked me to go pick up Dick at work and bring him up to the hospital, which I did.
The transfusion helped, but not as much as one she’d had previously. We all knew the cancer was winning.
She had her hair done to David’s specifications. It was a multi-colored Mohawk. Libbie Anthony took a picture of Fran with her new ‘do before it was cut off.
Her sisters arrived from other states to take care of her. I went to see her on a Thursday, just a couple of weeks after I’d taken her to the hospital. She was in a hospital bed in the living room, placed where she could look out the windows and see Maury Island and the Cascades in the distance, and all the way to heaven, probably, from her perspective. She was white as her sheets, either asleep or groggily awake. I visited with her family for a while, said good-bye, and left. I don’t know if she knew I’d been there.
Two days later she passed. Her funeral was the following Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. The Mormon Church was packed. Fran had made such an impact on so many people’s lives. She had a way of making you feel like you were the most important person in the world to her. She’d been the president of the PTA for years, she did lights for many local theater productions, and she sang and acted in many of those productions. She was deeply involved in the community, and she was deeply loved.
For months after she died, when I thought of her I felt like falling to the ground and sobbing. It’s such a tough world, and it hurts to lose someone who makes it feel worthwhile to be here. I can’t even imagine what it must be like for her family.
Apparently I went somewhere a few days after Fran died, and I wrote in this notebook – remember the notebook? – while I was on the ferry, and that’s what I found last night:
Nov. 21, 2006
The last time I rode the ferry
Fran was with me
And now Fran belongs to the ages
(“I’m right here with you,” she says in my mind
“I want people to know
I had a good life
And no regrets
You don’t know
I can see it now
It will all be well
And I’ll be seeing you soon.”

My Lord will comfort me through these good-byes
It is a parting for a while
But not forever
You’ve gone ahead
I lag behind
Still you live on
A gift and a song
In my heart and mind

We’ll miss you so
We already do
The question we ask
Is how in this world shall we do without you?
And you say, “Cheer up”
And we see you smile
“You haven’t lost me at all.
Can’t you hear me call?
See you in a while.”

Fran Gordon. What a gift she was. How we miss her.

Monday, October 6, 2008


Well, kids, last week was a little rough, in the world and in my head, which kept me busy writing – parodies, a column, letters, emails – writing, writing, writing. Ended the week Friday by meeting a deadline AND singing at an Obama rally which featured pouring rain. By Saturday I was fried.
So I thought I’d kick back a little this week. I like to think that having mono has taught me to be less driven, less insistent on doing all of everything all the time until I keel over. The whole “keeling over” thing has lost its charm for me.
So I started the week thinking I’d go to Seattle and get some new shoes and hit Costco and fill the gas tank on my trusty old Honda Civic. Instead I woke up feeling a little off, which over the next couple of hours turned into a migraine, and I ended up going to bed and sleeping for a few hours with a block of ice on the back of my neck. Later in the day I drove up to Vashon town with my son to mail CDs at the post office (your CD is COMING, Sofie) and pick up necessities at Thriftway: pizza fixings and half and half. The Tuels will be marching on, thus provisioned.
It is October and the rain has arrived. Time to put the Birkenstocks into the closet. I made the mistake of wearing them up to the store today, and when I stepped out of the car they filled right up, soaking my socks. The problem with getting water into Birkenstocks is that they have that little rim around the sole, so the water does not drain back out.
I hear that the world is stumbling and falling all around us. So I hear. After all these years of hearing the crash was coming, it has finally arrived. Maybe. It was bothering me last week, but doesn’t seem to be bothering me this week. Oh well. What the hell. We’re doing the best we can.
That’s about all a person getting over a migraine can say right now.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Money, Morals, Religion, Racism: Summing Up

In 2000 and again in 2004, the election process was dubious, to say the least. That is saying it kindly. Here is what I think: two presidential elections were stolen in broad daylight, and nobody had the will or the power to do anything about it. I have heard people from third world countries calling what happened here a coup d’état. I’ll let Webster’s Dictionary explain what a coup d’état is: “a sudden and decisive action in politics, esp. one resulting in a change of government illegally or by force.”
As we have tried to go about our daily lives, we have experienced terrorist acts and we have been lied into a war we did not want.
We have watched the rich grow richer and the middle class grow poorer. We have watched our country go deep into debt, and we, the people, have gone deep into debt, some of us because of unwarranted optimism, some because of the lack of sense or the lack of the will to put off getting what we want; some because there was no other way to get by. Now we all seem to be having problems with credit, and money. The roots of these problems go a lot deeper than the last eight years, but the borrow-and-spend ways of the last eight years have precipitated the current hysteria.
Then there is morality. A little reality check here: does anyone not know that the alpha male has always assumed he’s entitled to sow his superior seed? That this is one of the reasons guys become politicians, and rock stars, and athletes? Scandal is always to be avoided, but that was easier back when the press was polite about these things. “Boys will be boys and what the people don’t know won’t hurt the boys.” The rules have changed, but the behavior hasn’t. For the first time sexual behavior that falls outside the strictures of Protestant morality is being reported and condemned.
The crazy-making part of this is how the morally righteous treat transgressors: Democrats who stray are slime who are given hell here and will later burn in hell; Republican transgressors are to be prayed for and forgiven. People who decry situational ethics practice situational morality, and it’s a safe bet that the people who howl the loudest about morality and sin are the ones most likely to be caught with their pants down, literally. Crazy-making.
Both the right and the left ends of the spectrum tend to believe they are morally superior. So I will now say a few words about moral superiority: like the military-industrial complex, it is to be avoided. If you think you’re right about everything, you have missed the mark. No one listened to Eisenhower, either, but he spoke up and I am speaking up. Knock that crap off. It does not help.
Then there’s religion. Many people adore Bush Jr. “because he’s a Christian.” I have no idea of the real relationship between George and his God. All I see is his public behavior, and from that perspective he acts, talks, walks, and quacks like a charismatic character who has been a perfect figurehead for the neo-cons, as Ronald Reagan was. As Bush, Sr., wasn’t quite, though he was a faithful party steward. As Sarah Palin is shaping up to be, in this era of politics as show business.
The biggest factor in the 2008 election is racism. All the campaigning, all the debate, all the issues, all the qualifications or lack of them, all these things are nothing in the face of prejudice. This election will be a referendum on racism in this country.
We’ll get up the day after the election and try, as always, to live our daily lives as well as we can. If your guy loses, and you think it’s the end of the world and you don’t know what to do, I point you toward this verse from the Hebrew Scriptures:
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” – Micah 6:8, NRSV
Not a bad plan for the day after an election. Or coup d’état, as the case may be.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Miracle and Parody

Miracle: it’s always nice to start your day with a miracle.
Well, to be honest, I started the day by getting up and feeding the dog. Then I headed back to the bathroom to work on a crossword puzzle, and I could hear thumping in the other room. What is that dog doing? I wondered.
Then I walked back out into the dining room, and a little brown bird flew into the room. It headed for the windows, where it tried to fly through the glass. The thumping I’d heard was this terrified bird flying into things.
So I walked over to the window where the bird was fluttering frantically, and I gently closed my hand around the bird, then my other hand around that hand and the bird, and quietly as possible, cooing to the bird that it was all right, I wouldn’t hurt it, and please don’t die from fright, I walked over to the open kitchen door where it must have flown in, and released it. Then I closed the screen to avoid further bird misadventures.
I don’t know what kind of bird it was. It might have been a female house finch. It was small and a dark speckled brown in color. It wasn’t until a few minutes after I released it that it occurred to me that I had just gone over and picked it up and taken it outside without thinking about it much.
The first time I picked up a wild bird in my hand was many years ago. A hummingbird had flown into what was then the shop room, and it sounded like the most enormous bumble bee you ever heard buzzing against the window. I looked around and found it, and found myself suddenly quiet within. Instinctively I went over to the window and picked the hummingbird up in my hands. It went still.
I called my son, who was a toddler then, to look at the bird, and then I went over to the door and released the hummingbird, which took off into the blue like a rocket. My son wanted me to “do it again,” and I had to explain that I couldn’t.
I felt like I had experienced a miracle. The awe stayed with me for months. Wow. I held a hummingbird in my hands! I’m not Native American, so I don’t have a totem, but I do have a guitar which is a Gibson Hummingbird model. That’s the guitar I’ve played and written music on my whole adult life, and I’ve felt a special attachment to hummingbirds because of it, and here I’d held one in my hand. It felt cosmic.
A few years later, another hummingbird flew into the house. Again I picked it up in my hands. This one did not go gentle into its rescue. It fluttered and struggled as I walked it over to the door. I set it free, and away it went. Not so cosmic, this time, although I still thought, amazing, another hummingbird.
This morning when I saw the finch, or whatever it was, that instinctive quiet kicked in, and I went over and picked it up. This bird did become still in my loose grip, though its beak gaped open, in exhaustion or terror or both, until I let it go. Then it was so outta here: zoom!
Three birds, three releases, three miracles. Oh, I know, some of you out there reading this are saying, “Big deal. I pick up wild birds all the time.” Congratulations to you if you do. I don’t, and this morning what most struck me is that I did pick up that bird as if it was a ho-hum thing to do, and the extraordinariness of the event didn’t hit me until well afterward. It makes me wonder how many miracles fly by without my noticing.
As for parody: the other thing I did this morning was write a lyric, a parody of an old folk tune. It’s a topical song, which means that it has an early expiration date. Last week our local bank, Washington Mutual, or WAMU, failed, and was bought by J.P. Morgan. That put this old folk lyric into my head, and here is the lyric that came through this morning. I don’t actually know the melody, but my husband does, and he will teach me. Although the economic situation may have moved on too far, too fast, for this to be more than a TV skit:

My Name Was WAMU (But It’s Now JP)

The little bank of WAMU started out in the Northwest
It worked so hard and carefully that it was a success
Instead of staying small, the bankers thought that it should grow
What happens when banks grow too fast? I guess that now we know.

My name was WAMU but it’s now JP
The mighty bank of Morgan has acquired me
They’re saying that I grew too fast
That’s why the party couldn’t last
My name was WAMU but it’s now JP

They bought up banks in other states, their interest did compound
They gave out mortgages so fast their heads were spinning ‘round
Then the housing market crashed, the money bubble burst
The “little bank that could” became the bank that couldn’t do worse

My name was WAMU but it’s now JP
The mighty bank of Morgan has acquired me
They’re saying that I grew too fast
That’s why the party couldn’t last
My name was WAMU but it’s now JP

The greed the money brokers have they do not try to hide
They’ve taken you and me and everyone else for a ride
Anyone with sense could see it couldn’t last for long
That’s why the folks at WAMU – I mean, JP Morgan – are now singing this song:

My name was WAMU but it’s now JP
The mighty bank of Morgan has acquired me
They’re saying that I grew too fast
That’s why the party couldn’t last
My name was WAMU but it’s now JP
Lyric © 2008 Mary Litchfield Tuel ~ September 29, 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

After Watching "Who Killed the Electric Car?"

I watched a movie last night, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” This is a documentary that made me amazed and angry by turns.
In 1990 the California State Legislature enacted a law requiring that the state have zero emissions vehicles on the road, phasing in larger percentages of such vehicles over time. Now, I just wrote a column satirizing such a law, so the subject is close to my heart, but what I was truly satirizing was “more politically correct than thou” attitudes, not electric cars.
The car companies and the oil companies did not want to give up the existing market. They sued the state of California, which then rescinded the zero emissions vehicle law. It reminded me of the time back in the 70s when ASARCO applied for a variance so it could keep smelting copper down in Ruston, putting arsenic and heaven knows what else into the air and the ground.
People who live in Gold Beach here on Vashon, by the way, are advised not to allow their children to play in the dirt in their yards. The reason? Back when the smelter was first built, early in the 20th century, it smelted ores with heavy metals, which went up the smelter’s stack, and blew over to Maury Island and settled in the soil there. That’s why.
I attended, and spoke at, that ASARCO hearing. The upshot of the hearing was that the Puget Sound Air Quality Control Board (or whatever their name was) rubber-stamped a variance that the smelter’s lawyers had written. The smelter ran for a few more years, and then ASARCO closed it down, putting out of work all the people who had begged to keep their jobs at the variance hearing. I wrote a song about it at the time; all I can remember is the last two lines: “If you want to change things, get power and money, and then you can write your own laws.”
Getting back to the movie: before the law was tossed out, General Motors responded to the zero emissions vehicle law by building an electric car, and then, as soon as the law was nullified, taking it off the road and crushing or shredding every single vehicle.
General Motors, by the way, is now advertising the 2010 Chevrolet Volt, an (are you ready for this?) ELECTRIC car! Woo hoo! Our corporate saviors!
There is nothing new in this story. Human beings are comfortable with the familiar, and we’re all familiar with gasoline-powered cars. It is only now, when gas prices have gone up far enough to really hurt, that we think maybe we should be looking at other, cheaper, power sources, which makes an electric car a viable source of income to the car companies.
So it all got me thinking (again, always dangerous), and here’s what I think: nothing changes until and unless the people who already have power and money have seen a way to make change pay.
We are coming up on a presidential election. We have a choice of electing the white guy who is guaranteed to maintain the status quo – a status quo which is not so hot for a lot of people at the moment – or electing the black guy, who might be able to do some good.
Or not. The power and money crowd are pretty entrenched and not about to let go of one red cent before they are forced to. I always imagine that new presidents find themselves stuck in “the way things are” and “the way things work” when they take office. This is why I don’t listen to election promises.
A president can’t make universal health care possible for all citizens, for example. A president can drag the entire country into a war that most citizens are not so sure is necessary. He might have to lie to do it, but up until now I have not seen anyone willing to lie to make sure that every citizen has medical care, or enough to eat, or a safe place to sleep, including the citizens who put their lives on the line in war when they come home.
So what can I do? My power is extremely limited: I can only write, and sing songs. I decided this morning that the electric car movie inspired a country song, a song of unrequited love and loss. I’ve only written four lines, and that’s as far as I’m going to take it:
“Gasoline – you made me love you
Gasoline – I am your slave
Gasoline – I have to have you
Gasoline – Now I must pay”
That’s it. A real tear jerker all right.
There is more thinking to be done. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I Had a Bad Dream

Dear Hearts and Gentle People,
People have been known to ask me how I get ideas for columns. This one explains in the first paragraph the jumping off point for the whole fantasy.
My only concern is that some people will not realize that it is a fantasy. I remember that when Dave Barry’s columns ran in the Seattle Times there was always an explanatory paragraph at the end stating that this was HUMOR. Even so a lot of people didn’t get it, and wrote angry letters.
I guess reality was getting me down, so a fantasy seemed attractive. But then my fantasy took a turn that was all too realistic, as you will see.
Hope you are all well - blessings, love, grace, peace, hugs - Mary

I Had a Bad Dream

Walking to the theater the other night, I noticed that three out of the ten parked cars I passed were Toyota Priuses. I remarked to my friend that apparently one of the requirements for living on the Island now is to own a Toyota Prius. We laughed, and went to the movie.
It got me thinking, though, which is always dangerous. I thought, and that night I went to sleep, and I dreamed…
“The Island Community Council met last week and declared that the Island would henceforth be known as the free, independent, sovereign nation of Salish Island,” reported Council spokesperson Samantha Earthglaze-Hudefrick.
“The name is in honor of indigenous peoples,” Earthglaze-Hudefrick noted. “However, if they want any more real estate than they already own, they’ll have to buy it at the going rate just like the rest of us.”
“This secession from the United States, the State of Washington, and King County is expected to reap numerous benefits for the residents. Of course, now that Salish Island will no longer receive any funding from those governments, a local tax base must be established. An across-the-board 90% assessment on the incomes of all residents was proposed, at least for the first three years, in order to get the country on sound financial footing. This may sound like a pretty stiff whack to the pocketbook for many people, but the council promises to use the funds accrued wisely for the good of all.”
“The change is expected to create many new jobs. Having enough customs employees to check the passport of every single person coming off the ferries, for example, would be the first noticeable addition to the employment pool, and of course we’ll need people to design, print, and issue those passports.”
“Setting up our own currency may take a while, so American money will be accepted and used for the time being. Someone suggested we use sand dollars, but that suggestion was considered frivolous.”
“The first action of the new government was to enact legislation mandating that the internal combustion engine be banned from the Island by 2014.”
“We realize this is a lot to ask of Islanders, so this will be accomplished by a gradual phase-out. All gas-powered autos, boats, airplanes, and helicopters must be gone by 2011. Motorcycles and ‘smart cars’ will be gone by 2012, and all gas-powered tools, implements, vehicles, vessels, machines, generators, and appliances by 2013. Hybrid cars will be the last to go. They must be gone by January 1, 2014.”
“After that time we hope to have in place an Island-wide electric light rail system which will serve all neighborhoods and be focused around the Island’s population centers and places of employment, rather than being focused on getting to and from the ferries.”
“Electric cars will be allowed, as well as horse, pony, donkey, goat, or dog-powered vehicles, sail and rowboats, and of course bicycles and skateboards.”
“We are confident that Islanders, being resourceful, self-reliant, and independent individuals, will be able to cope with the changes independence, self-rule, and the absence of the internal combustion engine will create.”
“In other council business, a motion was introduced to require all people who were formerly known as Republicans to wear an identifying ‘R’ on their clothing. The motion will be put to a vote at the next meeting. A committee was formed to study the feasibility of moving all such identified residents to a property that is presently a cattle ranch, so that they might have the comfort of ‘living with their own kind…’”
I awoke from my dream with a start and a shudder. Turned on the radio (NPR, of course) to get myself back in touch with the real word, and heard a guy saying that he believed it was safe to say that we are now in a recession.
So I decided to go back to sleep. After all, I can wake up from a dream.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Starting Out, Looking Back

There are many issues on the table right now: the presidential race and the war in Iraq, for two, but neither of those things are on my mind this morning. This morning I am thinking of my god-daughter, Maggie.
Maggie recently became engaged to a young man named Benny. Maggie and Benny: old fashioned names, and these are old fashioned kids. They met, they dated, they became engaged. This winter they will marry.
My husband and I celebrated our 29th wedding anniversary the other day. We hardly had time to notice it whizzing by. Such is life.
Not everyone makes it so far together. Stuff happens. There are good reasons why some marriages need to be put to sleep, in mercy, for the good of all concerned, and people who stay together don’t do so because they are happy, happy, happy all the time. You can’t tell that to kids who are just starting out, and you don’t need to. It will come to them, over time.
That said, for the last few months I have been thinking about what old fashioned kids Maggie and Benny are, and I wondered if a song would come to me for them.
The other morning a song did come, and I kinda thought it was a good one. My cousin Nancy was here at the time, and she liked it. “There won’t be a dry eye in the place,” she said.
I was going to sing it at the kids’ engagement party, but ended up not feeling well that day and stayed home, so I have not sung it for them yet, so I don’t know yet if Nancy and I are the only ones who like it.
A few days after I wrote the song, I thought about how this song could be seen by some people. I have this paranoid fear that some people might construe it to be an anthem for the “one man + one woman = marriage, period,” crowd. That’s not why it was written. That is not what it is meant to be. This song is a spontaneous wish and prayer for the happiness of these two particular kids, who deserve all the best – which is, after all, what we wish for most couples starting life together.
That’s the trouble with writing a song and not singing it in public – you can second guess yourself, and you really have no idea how it’s going to go over. Oh yeah, and it’s going to run in the Loop in an earlier version – this version has had some tweaking. Songs always get tweaked.
For whatever it’s worth, here’s the lyric of the song for Maggie and Benny:

When an old fashioned boy
Meets an old fashioned girl
And they recognize each other
In this new fashioned world
An old fashioned romance
Can spring into bloom
Now she’s an old fashioned bride
He’s an old fashioned groom

And all the women cry
And the men in silence stand
As they place each other’s lives
Into each other’s hands
Saying old fashioned vows:
“I’ll stay with you all my life”
An old fashioned husband
An old fashioned wife

The old can’t tell the young
How life can really be
You wouldn’t want to know
You’ll have to wait and see
You’ll live it now together
The joy, and work, and tears
An old fashioned couple
Together through the years

We give to you our blessings
We hold you in our prayers
Our hearts are full of love
For our children standing there
We look at where we’ve been
While you look ahead with joy
Our old fashioned girl
Our old fashioned boy

And all the women cry
And the men in silence stand
We hold each other’s lives
In each other’s hands
Understanding what it means:
“I’ll stay with you all my life”
Like an old fashioned husband
And an old fashioned wife
An old fashioned husband
And an old fashioned wife
© 2008 Mary Litchfield Tuel

Every blessing to you, Maggie and Benny.
Love, Your God Mama

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Olympics: a non-athlete's take

Rick and I have been watching the Olympics. The sculpted bodies, the brief moments of competition after years of training specifically for those few moments; the heart break of failure; the incandescent glow of winning; these are some of the things that make up the beauty and drama, and the shuck and jive, of the Olympics.
The shuck and jive has been in some of the presentation. The opening ceremony featured computer-generated fireworks, and a beautiful little girl lip-synching for another little girl who is a good singer, but was judged not pretty enough to represent China. These are the things we know about to date. China has been unapologetic – of course they wanted everything to be as perfect as possible. What’s the big deal?
It has been so long since entertainment and real life merged, that I see their point: what’s the big deal? The world expected an extravaganza, China gave us an extravaganza. Who are we to nitpick how they did it? The opening ceremony is entertainment.
The games, however, are supposed to be something else: they are supposed to be real human beings engaged in real competition, and the competition is supposed to have integrity. There are supposed to be no performance-enhancing drugs, for example. As far as I know no country has figured out how to send a computer-generated super athlete to the games to compete.
The games are also supposed to be about international good will: look, we can forget our petty squabbles for a couple of weeks; athletes of different nations can come together in a spirit of cordial competition. Russia blew up that myth with their invasion of Georgia. Did you find yourself rooting for the Georgian athletes? I did.
I sit here watching these incredible people who have devoted their lives to their sport, and consider that I am watching the best in the world – if you can qualify to go to the Olympics, or even come close to going to the Olympics, it seems to me you have won gold. That’s pretty exalted company, pretty rarified air, when the world record for, say, bicycle sprinting 200 meters is just under 11 seconds and you lose big because you did it in 11.6 seconds. Six-tenths of a second? How fast is fast enough?
If you’re a gymnast and you can get up on those uneven bars and do a routine at all, much less go to the Olympics, my hat’s off to you. What a glorious thing to be able to do. It’s like flying.
Of course as I watched the gymnasts I thought with my older person’s perspective, oh man, are these kids going to hurt in twenty or thirty years. I guess it’s worth it.
This morning my husband and I were discussing real people Olympics. He said that there ought to be an Olympic Spider Solitaire event, with commentary: "OK, the American is looking good - ooh! she missed the deuce on the trey move before dealing the next layer! Ouch, that's gonna hurt her!" And maybe a Poppit competition: "China holds all the championships in this event, but the Germans and the Americans are really nipping at their heels. Last night Lieblich pulled off three super-pops and got down to three balloons without using the weight or the pushpin! You don't see that very often!"
Ain’t gonna happen, of course, but just in case it ever does, I’m right here, in training.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Saturday Morning Cartoons

Watching cartoons on Saturday morning with my grand daughter, I ruminate on the evolution of the Saturday morning cartoon, and other children’s programming and animation.
The Saturday morning cartoons and children’s programming have changed quite a bit over the years. I watched Crusader Rabbit, Winky Dink, and Uncle Gary’s Fun House. My grand daughter watches Spongebob, Ben-10, and Chowder, among others.
I loved the Warner Brothers cartoons – “Ki-ill the wab-bit! Ki-ill the wab-bit!” – cartoons that had been produced for movie theaters, and really for an adult audience, from the 1930s through the 1960s. I know now that almost all the voices of those characters (Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Yosemite Sam) were done by one man, Mel Blanc, who also worked with Jack Benny in radio and later in television. Man, that guy had an ear. The Warner Brothers cartoons were the funniest, and the most sophisticated at the time.
MGM made the Tom and Jerry cartoons. We still watch those sometimes.
The Disney cartoons were magical, but let’s face it, they were turned out for children, and the writing was aimed at children, not adults as in the Warner Brothers and MGM toons. The stories were cleaned up quite a bit for childish consumption, unless you counted the death of Bambi’s mother. It wasn’t all milk and sugar, but it sure wasn’t Grimm’s fairy tales.
The Disney animation was incredible in its complexity and depth. I was taken to see Snow White, Pinocchio, Cinderella, Bambi, Peter Pan, Dumbo, and Fantasia (tip: pack a lunch if you’re going to watch Fantasia).
My favorite was Peter Pan, but I never wanted to be Wendy, who was kind of a snore. I wanted to be Peter. I wanted to fly. Looking at the movie later from the feminist perspective, the movie was a horror. Nobody wanted to be Wendy, the responsible woman who picks up all the pieces and does all the mending for those irresponsible boys. Growing up in the 50s, girls were pretty much taught to be responsible women picking up after irresponsible boys, and by the 1970s that was out of style. It was confusing for a lot of us. OK, now I’m not supposed to get married and have a family and that’s not the greatest career a woman could possibly have? The confusion persists to this day for young women who would really like to get married and have babies. They were raised to believe there was something shameful in that. Wouldn’t it be great if children could be raised without making them ashamed of their natural impulses?
OK, I’ll stop talking nonsense and get back on topic.
There were a lot of local children’s shows back in the early years of television. Where I grew up we had Uncle Gary’s Fun Club. Truth to tell, Uncle Gary kind of gave me the willies, but that’s what was on when I got home from school, and I watched it. Uncle Gary ran old cartoons you never heard of and never will hear of because they featured a lot of racial stereotypes. He also showed the Little Rascals, Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chase and other silent comedies. Yup. We grew up in the 1950s entertained by the stars of the 1920s and 30s. It wasn’t so bad.
I haven’t even mentioned Rocky and Bullwinkle, George of the Jungle, Super Chicken, Tom Slick, all clever creations of Jay Ward productions. Then there was the Hanna-Barbera empire, which grew out of MGM: Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Deputy Dawg, etc. H-B ruled animation for decades.
There was Superman (DC comics), and Spiderman (Marvel Comics). Beavis and Butthead, a parent’s nightmare, and South Park, which I occasionally watch and laugh at in spite of being shocked to my socks. Computer animation: Shrek, Toy Story, etc. Anime and manga and I don’t know what all other Japanese animation, some of it downright pornographic.
So when I sit on the couch with my grand daughter watching Spongebob or Chowder, I think about all these animated entertainers who have danced across the screen over the years. Some people think cartoons are only for children, and childish, and beneath adult consideration, but I think that many are well written and great entertainment, and I am amazed how many of the cartoons tell moral tales: right against wrong, good against evil. That apparently has not changed since the 1950s.
But then, I’m a goofy goober. Rahdle rahdle rahdle.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Mumph and grumph.

I’ve been feeling awfully boring lately.
It’s because it has been such a busy summer. After driving to Oregon and back for the weekend last week I came home and collapsed. The mono will have its way with me once again – does it never end? So I’m back to lying on the couch, watching movies, waiting, waiting, waiting to feel better.
If you think it’s boring and tedious reading my constant complaining about how boring and tedious mono is, I can only say that (1) I’m telling the truth, and (2) if I say it often enough perhaps people will believe me. I’ve become aware that some people think I’m faking it or something, meaning I’m not available to do whatever it is they want me to do, therefore, I am faking.
I am not faking. I am tired, exhausted, worn out, worn down, alternately pissed off and depressed, and feeling like my life has been in limbo for almost a year now.
OK, earlier this summer I did quite a lot for a few weeks. That’s why I feel so crappy now. It felt so good to be living an almost normal life again, but I was wrong to think I could do that.
Oh, and last night I fell down in the hot tub, injuring my…HEEL??? Who, besides Achilles, injures their heel?
Well, never mind, it’s much better tonight and it, like the mono, like the gimpy knee, will respond to bed rest, ice, elevation, and ibuprofen.
So I’m off to bed with a not bad book and the joy of knowing I’ll be going to sleep soon. Good old sleep, weaving up the ravel’d sleeve of care, as well as my knee, my heel, and my immune system, and dare I hope? My mood.
Mumph and grumph. Better times a-comin’. Good night.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Adventures of a Sexagenarian Singer Songwriter

It has been an exhausting few weeks here for yours truly. Summer is by itself exhausting. The only season that comes even close for luring one out of one’s house and into society for pleasure, activity, and enervation would be the Christmas holidays, a season which is shorter in duration.
The fine weather has been calling me (and you) to more than ordinary exertions. There are beaches to walk, picnics to attend, trails to hike, pools and other bodies of water in which to swim, mosquitoes to slap – in short, the fun never stops.
For me the fun has taken the form of songs to be sung to appreciative audiences. I have performed twice this summer.
To be a performer you have to have the willingness to get up in public and make a fool of yourself, and not everyone has that willingness. I call it “being vaccinated with a hambone.” Many talented, clever people would rather be dead in a ditch than have to get up on a stage to speak or sing or dance or act. To the rest of us the interaction with an audience is the breath of life.
I’ve been inhaling deeply lately. I won’t lie to you. I love performing. It’s a pain in the butt to be a performer, though. You have to work when others are playing; you have to leave your perfectly lovely home and wonderful family to go to work; you have to put out a lot of time, effort, and money before you get anything back; and everyone thinks you’re not working, you’re playing.
Women, Women & Song did a set at the Strawberry Festival to a large and enthusiastic crowd of old friends and a few new admirers. It was heady stuff. To get up and sing the favorite old songs was comfortable, and wonderful – and took us four weeks of rehearsal to pull off. I had made up a few CDs of our first album, “I Won’t Wait to Be Happy,” which sold out immediately.
The next week I played solo for the Vashon Saturday Farmer’s Market. Not so many turned out for this gig – I am not so legendary and loved solo as the trio is, but a lot of people did turn out. This time I had to sing two sets solo instead of one set with the trio, and it was hard work for the old sexagenarian. I had made more copies of “I Won’t Wait to Be Happy,” and also of the second album, “The Key of ‘R.’” My cousin Nancy and I spent most of one day and part of another doing what Nancy calls, “Arts and Crafts 101,” burning CDs, designing covers, printing covers and labels, cutting paper to size and folding it, and sticking labels on discs.
It is easier in some ways to be a singer-songwriter than it was when I was younger. I am not so distracted by worldly things, such as, for example, men, as I was years ago. My concerns these days are more spiritual and more prosaic – singing and writing are the only work I can do. I don’t have the stamina for gainful employment of the five days a week sort. The irony is not lost on me that it has taken illness to force me to fall back on the work I do well.
I won’t make a lot of money – perhaps not any in the long run. So why do it? Well, because it’s a calling, and because it is important for people to sing their truth, and to hear other people sing their truth. It’s easy to forget this when you go out to sing and people walk by trying to avoid eye contact. It’s easy to think, who cares? Why the hell am I doing this?
You always have to remember that this is a calling, a vocation, and you’d better enjoy what you do for the sake of doing it. If your art isn’t your joy, there is no point to being any kind of artist.
So this is what it is to be a sixty-year-old songwriter. After decades of striving for self-improvement, of seeking to become transformed through work and prayer and meditation and study into the best version of the person I was born to be, after all that, I find at last that I am left with no alternative but to be myself. I have arrived here partly through my strength and endeavor, but what has really kicked me through the door has been weakness -- the failure of my body to keep going as if I have not aged. I am forced, at long last, to be myself.
Life is full of these odd surprises.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Concerts, Haircuts & so forth

Dear Hearts and Gentle People,
Below find the latest smart aleck essay, which is in fact a rerun from about five years ago. I was too busy rehearsing last week to come up with something new before deadline, so did the desperate thing and looked up an old one to send in. I apologize for the repeat, but hope you enjoy it.
The Women, Women & Song set at the Vashon Island Strawberry Festival last weekend (July 12) was a whopping success. We got into the groove and sang a clutch of clever songs as fast as we could, because we only had 40 minutes, and had to leave out one or two anyway. The crowd went wild, bless their hearts. It was a great experience, and worth the effort it took for the three of us to put it together after all these years.
We sold all of our CDs on hand on the spot. I've made some more, though, of both "I Won't Wait to Be Happy," our first album, and "The Key of 'R,'" our second album. I will have those for sale when I sing tomorrw at the Vashon Farmer's Market (11 a.m. to 1 p.m.). If you think you might be interested in getting some CDs, by all means email me at:, and put "CDs" in the subject line so I'll know it's not spam.
I'm planning to make a few CDs of songs we never released -- more of that anon.
Any money garnered from these sales will be charitably distributed to the three of us.
Yesterday there was a meeting at Congressman Jim McDermott's office in Seattle to discuss starting impeachment proceedings against various members of the current administration. I wanted to go, the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. Linda Boyd, who was in the meeting, told me to call McDermott's office and she'd put me on the speaker phone, so I did, and she did, and I sang, "Impeach the SOBs" for the assembled group (about 18 people, Linda Boyd emailed me later. She said the song "brought a smile to the face" of McDermott's aide). I report this as the first time I have literally phoned a song in.
I have more to say, but hey, you've got a life and probably want to get on with it. More later.
blessings, love, peace, grace & hope to you all

Island Survival Guide, Part 1: the Haircut
As the world teeters on the brink of nuclear war, climate meltdown, and the extinction of the human race, my thoughts turn to issues of survival. Specifically, how will we get our hair cut?
There are a number of professional cosmetologists here on the island, many of whom have cut my hair at one time or another the last 30 years, and I think they are all great. If you can afford it, have a professional cut your hair. They are trained, they know what they are doing, and they can see the back of your head. Those things are worth every cent of the money you pay them, plus the tip. If you don’t like the results, you can complain, or switch stylists, and you know that what you don’t like is not your fault.
When I was employed full time, I got my hair cut regularly, but about a year ago I decided to pursue that college degree I never completed. I left my job, and started taking classes. Suddenly the professional haircut seemed like a big expense.
My father-in-law has a description for my hair: “Explosion in a Brillo™ factory.” For a while after I left my job, I allowed my follicle universe to expand, and the formerly disciplined curls began to spread out and wave joyously in the breeze. At the end of the college spring quarter, I went to the Cosmetology Department at the college and got a $5 haircut from one of the students. It was a good haircut, and I tipped the young Vietnamese woman who did the job generously. Including the tip it was still the cheapest hair cut I’d had in years.
Time passed, hair grew. I used to cut my hair myself at one time, but when you trim your own hair and then go to a professional, the professional tends to scold you for cutting it yourself, and sometimes they say a few harsh words about how hard it will be to fix the mess you’ve made.
I have a dear friend, whom I will call “Becky,” who cuts her own hair, and has curly hair also. This fall I had a bright idea: we could cut each other’s hair for free. So I suggested this to her and she was game.
Rick and I went over to “Becky and Roy’s” for dinner, and after dinner Becky cut my hair and then I cut hers.
Here’s what I learned from swapping haircuts with a friend.
First of all, be certain that the friendship is solid. Giving a person what they consider a bad haircut can be more divisive than having differing opinions about, say, Hillary Clinton, or George W. Bush. Becky and I both worried about whether our relationship would stand this test (it did).
Second, the wine we had with dinner – I still don’t know if that was a good idea. When Becky was cutting my hair, it seemed like a good idea, because I was relaxed and didn’t give a whoop what she was doing. When I was cutting her hair, it seemed like a bad idea, because it didn’t seem like drinking was the proper preparation for cutting someone’s hair. So if you’re considering this haircut option, ask yourself: How sober do I want to be when I pick up the scissors? It’s a question worth pondering.
Third, if either of you have teenage children, you probably should not allow them to watch the haircut process. They tend to provide running commentary as you work. I’m not mentioning any “names” here.
Finally, keep in mind two old clichés: (1) you get what you pay for, and (2) the difference between a bad haircut and a good one is about two weeks.
My swap haircut was fine, but it grew out, and strangely enough I couldn’t get Becky to commit to another round. You can’t figure some people. So this morning I went into the bathroom with a pair of scissors and trimmed my own hair. What the heck. We’re all going to die anyway, and I don’t need a great haircut to be dead. Although I did spend about ten minutes working on my dead mother’s hair at the mortuary, trying to get it to look the way she liked it. But that’s another story.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Mules & Singing My Heart

My email to Terry Hershey after reading his piece, “Rested Mules:”*
Dear Terry,
Just read - all the way to the end, because I didn't have TIME before - the piece which said so much about mules.
I suppose it's just god-incidence that I have been thinking about mules so much lately. I'd like to have one, but that's a dream - no place to keep a mule here at Casa Tuel, no pasture, and besides, not enough money to support a mule in style. But I have this idea that I could find a mule strong enough to carry me. I'm large, you know, and heavy.
When I was growing up on the farm, I had a donkey that I rode, and taught tricks: lie down, sit, shake. He taught himself the trick of going under a low apple tree branch when he was tired of me riding him. Later I had a horse but the horse was not so much fun as the donkey.
Well, anyway - I don't know if you read my column in the Loop, so I'll give you the background - last September I was feeling poorly and went to the doctor and discovered that I had bronchitis (which I expected), AND sinusitis AND pneumonia AND mononucleosis (none of which I expected). And I've been recovering ever since. Spent so much of the winter on the couch, knitting. Kept trying to get up and do things - and realized that no, this was not my time for doing things. I felt frustrated that it took so long to get better.
Somehow the last couple of weeks I've been getting this perspective: I'm still not fit enough to go out and get a job or anything serious like that, but I feel better than I had felt in about four years. Leading up to the mono I thought I must have heart disease - I got tired out so easily; I couldn't do the house work anymore.
Now, suddenly, the picture is coming into focus: my heart is, strangely enough when you consider my family history, not in bad shape. Two angiograms confirmed that. I'm starting to think that maybe I was just...tired?
I was raising a grandchild and being a newspaper editor (which meant also reporting and photography) and doing the rest of life - the house, the shopping, household book keeping, writing my column, singing in the church choir - I expected all that of myself. When people asked me to do something I invariably said, "Sure!" And I was in my late 50s.
Now, after all these months of being sick, of being FORCED to rest, the picture is clearing up. I can't do all of everything, can I? I've rested for about ten months now, and I'm starting to feel better, starting to be able to do a few things, and am taking time to rest intentionally instead of going flat out until I keel over, which I see now has always been my pattern.
I'm starting to sing again. Singing and songwriting was my first career - paid little, but meant so much, to me and to other people, and now I'm back to my first holy call.
Daunting to pick it up at age 60. I don't expect to make a lot of money, or if I'll even be able to support this "career," but I'm feeling called to do it again - in a slow, intermittent, as-I-can fashion. Can't push myself too far or too hard. It is interesting to me that after years of running around like a chicken with its head cut off, life, God, is bringing me back to my first calling - singing and songwriting - and that I feel affirmation everywhere for the importance of human hearts singing to one another and singing together. I keep remembering that if one song touches one person and makes them laugh and gives them courage to keep going or even to hope, then I have "done" enough "doing" to make my life worthwhile in the "doing" category. I know that God loves me because I am, but it feeds my soul to know that my work feeds other souls. Know what I mean?
Your sabbath pieces have been with me through these long months of illness and recovery, and have meant so much, and I thank you. They have made me laugh and given me courage to keep going and to hope - and have reminded me that I will "go" and "hope" in better harmony (harmony is important to a singer) with my spirit if I rest and recover. Amazing to me how long it takes for this lesson to sink in, how every time it comes around it sinks, oh, maybe another sixteenth of an inch into my heart and brain. Well, whatever it takes.
So that's my story as of this morning.
*Dear Readers: I am on an emailing list from Terry Hershey. Once a week he sends out “Sabbath Moments.” The latest one, “Rested Mules,” struck a lot of chords with me, and I wrote an email to Terry with my story, which is what I've published here. To read the “Rested Mules” piece which kicked this off, go to Terry’s web page at: and click on “Rested Mules.”
For further inspiration regarding the importance of singing, see the movie, “Amandla,” a documentary about the music that was part of the overthrow of apartheid in South Africa.
I charge you today to sing your heart.