Friday, August 02, 2013


Raise your glass, my friends.
Here's to the women
who still laugh after tears
recalling bruises and fists.
Brava for the women
who say, "Let them have it.
I know I'll go on."
A song for the mothers
who know waiting rooms
and funeral homes
the way others know play dates
and prom dates.
A chant for the women
who bandage their wounds,
then work helping others heal.
Whoop for the women
who see into eyes too bright, too wide
and tend with lipstick on a shaky smile.
Applaud for the women
who open their hearts
and let you see inside.
Hurrah for the women
whose straight backs and vinegar words
keep them moving
when their strength is gone.
A prayer for the women
who position, twist and spin
with a chessboard eye
when hoping hearts and clever minds
collide and race.
A hug for the women
standing in shadow with dulled eyes
blind to the light they give.
Rejoice for the women
who don't know they soar
on a leap of faith.
Here's to the women,
my friends.
The women,
whose scars are jewels
on lives
rendered deep,
painted bold,
and rich beyond measure.

Sweet Tea

In Memory of Trayvon Martin

It's supposed to be
icy condensation
running down the side
of a glass,
not the sudden, cold sweat
of fear.
Laughing conversation
on a screened in lanai,
not tires moving slowly
through a muggy night.
Sweet tea,
it's meant to be shared,
offered from one friend to another.
Sweet tea is heritage,
passed from a mother's hand,
a living pulse felt
as the glass is passed,
not blood
spilled on a sidewalk.
Sweet tea is everywhere.
We turn to it
to cool us
when the heat runs high,
and the atmosphere
weighs us down.
But now,
it is bitter
on my tongue.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Life on the patio

My apartment is in the middle of my building which has been designed for my next door neighbor and I to share a patio.  I've never seen my neighbor on the patio, but I try to respect that only half is really mine, but I have edged a little over the halfway mark.  I've tried to turn my share into a little garden.  It's been my pleasure this spring and summer, and despite the brutal heat and humidity, I'm drawn out there multiple times a day.  There are times when I may be outside for only a few minutes at a time, but a few minutes of pleasure several times a day makes a big difference in a life.

On one end of the patio is a window box.  It's technically against the condo regulations, but I didn't put it there, and when the manager found out I'd already planted in it, I didn't have to take it down.  I filled it with white pansies, purple violas and English ivy.  The violas didn't hold up to this brutal summer, but the pansies were hardier than their wimpy name.  I've enjoyed their blossoms for months.

Next to the window box is a cast iron planter that my mom used since I was a little girl.  It was black but has developed a wonderful patina.  Mint had almost taken over a border in my sister's yard, and she was going to rip it all out. I helped myself and filled my mother's planter.

Across from it is a large terra cotta pot filled with three different types of caladiums, white, red and variegated.  I love their shape, colors and how they draw my eye away from the air conditioning unit stuck in the wall.

I have faux french doors that lead to the patio.  (Only one opens, thus the faux.) I placed a baker's rack in front of the one that doesn't open.  On the top shelf are pots of basil, dill and rosemary.  The heat has made my basil rather limp and pale, but I'm trying to nurse it back to health.  The fragrance, particularly on a humid night, is heavenly, and I can't go out on the patio with gently caressing the rosemary and the mint.

On the shelf below it is a pot of chives.  It reminds me of the hair of a troll doll.  When I haven't minded smelling oniony, I've gathered it into a point just for a bit of silly entertainment.  There's also a pot of cilantro. I might have made too much salsa.  The heat might have gotten to it.  I may have underestimated its water needs, but it's down to one little stem with a few pale leaves.  I'm determined to nurse it back to health.

My flowers are on the shelf below that.  Yellow and red striped petunias fill a bowl shaped container.  They were nearly destroyed by the heat, but I got out my scissors and cut back every non-producing stem with wilted leaves back to about two inches.  They've leafed out again and produced three blooms.  There was one long stem that never quit blooming, and I couldn't bear to cut it back. It's crooked and scraggly, but it's still blooming, and that keeps it safe from my scissors.

I use the bottom shelf for supplies, a bag of potting soil, my watering pot and trowel.  I keep those hidden with a large pot of purslane and a "take this home" funeral basket.  Like most of those baskets, it's over stuffed.  There's a palm of some sort, a mother-in-law's tongue, a philodendron, a peace lily, a prayer plant, something spiky, and something resembling a philodendron.  The basket came from the funeral of my brother-in-law's son, my nephew.  I only met him once.  The basket only served to remind my brother-in-law of the funeral, the occasional consequence of "take this home" gifts.  I'm tending this plant to honor a life cut short too soon.  A lot of people consider purslane a weed, but I love how it trails, its morning blooms, and how it's edible.  I haven't tried it yet, but that time will come.

Beside the baker's rack I have two patio rockers and a small table.  On the table is an angelonia with deep purple flowers.  I just had to have the color.  In front of the table is a sago palm. Watching the new leaves grow from a row of tightly curled balls on a silvery stem to spiky deep green leaves has deepened my sense of wonder at the world.

This is my little haven.  I sit out there in the mornings, drink my coffee and read.  It's where I go out for a smoke.  I had to give up my animals when I moved.  I miss them badly, but life demands hard choices sometimes.  I've found that I need to care for something living, and my little garden lets me do that.  It's the place where I feel the most me.

Friday, May 25, 2012


The incident with my schizophrenic, former neighbor made me realize something.  After Randy died, I shut down a big part of myself.  I couldn't communicate, because I felt like I was a spewing volcano of toxic emotions whenever I tried to write or even talk.  I also couldn't handle my empathy.  Dealing with my own emotions was hard enough, and I had to shut it down.  I don't know how I do it.  I just know that I threw my barriers up, and I became, in the words of my much loved Dickens, as solitary and self-contained as an oyster.

Actions always have consequences, and we're not always able to know what those consequences will be.  I got some of what I wanted.  No more auras. No more walking into a room and getting hit with a wave of unwanted, multiple emotions. It was a sweet relief.  Also gone were my intuition and my instinct.

I replaced those with order, structure, stoicism, and classic Southern lady manners held together by grief and self-pity.  I continued my quest for insight.  The motto of the clan from which my family descended became mine.  Disce Pati -- Learn to endure.  Yet again, I proved myself a good student.

When you cut yourself off from your intuition, you also lose your creativity.  The leaps, twists and turns my mind used to make nimbly were unimaginable.  I also couldn't get a good read on people, and that, in part, led to the unpleasant encounters with my schizophrenic neighbor.  That little insight didn't come until he was safely away from me.  During this same time, I happened to meet a woman I had first known as a child.  She was one of the first kids I ever babysat, and now we're becoming friends. She's an exceptional woman who's worked to understand her life and herself as hard as I have, and she has recognized the double edged blessing of intuition and perception in her own life. You could say that she was the angelic counterpart to the devil  of a schizophrenic stalker.  I could see the benefit of  having my empathy back

Barriers go up more easily than they come down, but I've been working on it.  I've found that I have to go gently here as well.  A few days of being the sympathetic listening friend to several people left me frazzled and on the edge of a panic attack.  A rough conversation with the daughter sent me over the edge.

I've found myself crying over a book.  That's not a bad thing, but when it's the new Sookie Stackhouse novel, it's gone too far. I'm crying over many little things, just a tear here or there. No deep sobbing, thank goodness. I'm feeling very vulnerable, and my own emotions are spilling out all over the place. I'd forgotten that feeling vulnerable is often a consequence of empathy. It's a good thing for my family and friends that I've had another round of laryngitis, because there's no telling what I might say.  I'm starting to see traces of light around people, but full auras have not come back.  It's pretty obvious that I haven't found my balance, yet I'm sure that I will.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Fear is necessary

Since I've moved to Franklin, I've really enjoyed this new phase of my life.  However, I've made a real effort to focus on the positive.  I've got so much to be grateful for, but I'm not going to pretend that everything is perfect.  One thing has been truly odd and more than a little scary.

I love sitting on my little patio. It's small, and I've filled it with potted plants.  It looks out over a small courtyard that has oak and dogwood trees and each patio has shrubs planted in front of it.  I have a view of the sunset through the line of pine trees that separate this complex from the one behind it.  There's also a big utility pole with wires running from it, but I choose not to concentrate on that.

There's another building that is perpendicular to mine, and a neighbor who also enjoyed sitting on his patio walked over and started a conversation.  He wasn't bad looking, and the conversation was a little odd and a bit poetic.  A few days later, he asked me out on a date.  I had a "don't do this" feeling, but I also realized that if I don't start accepting dates that feel less than perfect, I'll never have another date.  I should have trusted my instincts.

The day after that, he came over and knocked on my door.  When I opened it, he sort of walked on in.  My patio door was unlocked.  He told me that he wanted me to know something and then proceeded to drop his pants.  What he wanted me to know was that he had a sore on his penis, "just in case I was interested in sex." I was thinking, "Oh, God, I'm going to get raped," and wondering if I could reach the solid marble ball on the book shelf -- a convenient, heavy, blunt object.  I was also talking and explaining that he had the wrong idea.

He immediately apologized, acted embarrassed and left.  He avoided me for a few weeks, and when he spoke to me again, he was appropriately apologetic. He started coming over and talking to me when I was on the patio.  He'd stand outside the shrubbery and talk, and his conversation got stranger and stranger.  He started bumming cigarettes and would climb over the railing to get them and talk to me.  I want to point out that the railing is a couple feet above the ground, and climbing over it takes some serious agility.

As his conversation became more and more disjointed, he told me that he was schizophrenic, had been addicted to various drugs in his past and was desperate for someone to love him. He told me that he was my new husband.  I was getting seriously nervous.  I tried to stay polite but remain a healthy distance from him.  It didn't work.  He started knocking on my door four or five times a day, and I got to the point where I wouldn't answer the door.  I started looking to see if he was outside before I'd go out on my patio.  One day, when he saw that I was inside, he stood outside and repeatedly called my name until I answered him.  I compromised my life because of his actions. I felt stalked, and I couldn't stand that.

One night, other neighbors whose balcony overlooks the same courtyard came to my door.  Seeing it wasn't the other neighbor, I opened the door.  They wanted to make sure that I was okay, because they had seen a man crawling over the balcony.  I explained the situation and told them I was calling the police.
The police stayed on the non-emergency line with me until officers arrived at my door.  I told them what had happened that night, and what else had been going on.  They told me they were familiar with my neighbor and asked me if I wanted them to talk to him and tell him to leave me alone.  Of course, I said yes, and after that night I started keeping a log of any incidents.

It worked for awhile.  He walked over one afternoon to my patio and asked why I'd called the police.  I told him honestly that I thought someone had been trying to break into my apartment.  I did not say that I thought it was him.  He said, "I'd never do that. I just wanted to get a cigarette butt from your ashtray."  Then he backed off and said that he needed to keep his distance from me.  A few days after that, my bakers rack filled with plants was covered with white powder, and my plants started dying.  I found the blade of an industrial box cutter and chunks of wood in my window box.  Another day, he spread out a blanket in the courtyard and laid down facing my patio doors.  I just closed the blinds and decided that if there was one more incident, I was going to request a restraining order.

After I got back from my trip to Florida, I noticed that he wasn't around.  It was a relief until another neighbor told me that he had threatened and chased another resident in the complex with a butcher knife for complaining about the volume of his music.  He was arrested, charged with a felony after the guy he chased refused to agree to a lesser charge.  That night, I broke down, trembled and cried all night.  I've since heard that a judge has ordered a psychiatric evaluation, and I pray that he gets the help he needs.

I saw his family move his belongings out of his apartment.  I'm enjoying my patio without fear now.  I'm also wondering why I seem to attract wounded people.  This neighbor was not the first, just the most extreme.  I don't want to lose or even hide the compassion that I think might be the drawing card, but there's something more here, and I haven't even begun to figure it out.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012


When I found that curtain rod, I regained a sense of the possible as well as the beginning knowledge of what I liked.

I believe that when you live in a small place, there has to be a sense of continuity among your rooms.  Without that, you have an erratic, choppy flow, your home feels smaller and can feel oppressive. Even though it took me weeks to get that curtain rod hung in my bedroom, it was having an effect on the rest of my condo.  I found a blue and white seersucker shower curtain and silver hooks with faceted crystal knobs. I moved my small collection of crystal, frosted glass and silver perfume bottles, and a crystal candle holder with a white linen shade to the counter.  I hung a small, framed Van Gogh poster filled with his yellows. golds, blues and greens.  One room held the right balance of cool and warm.  It felt crisp, fresh and clean, and then I knew I could create the home I wanted.

When I moved, my sister gave me an old couch of hers, a good solid sleeper covered in blue and white mattress ticking. On the piano behind the couch is a lamp that was also a gift from my sister. It's a cream ginger jar decorated in an imari style with birds, branches and flowers. Blue, white, silver, crystal and birds became the constants in my home.  Since I've always preferred rich, jewel tones, this light, airy feel surprised me. What also surprised me were how many symbols of air I found in my house.  There are birds everywhere. I found crystal birds that had been given to me over the years and tucked away because their navy blue didn't really work in any room of my home.  I have the owls I've collected since college.  I found a bird shaped plate that's now hanging on the wall over my kitchen table.  Symbolically, one of the meanings for air (as one of the ancient four elements) is thought and imagination.

Actually doing things, moving furniture around, deciding on where pictures and accessories would go opened up both my creativity and my confidence. Not for writing, no, not for that, not yet.  It hit in other ways.  I started cooking, really cooking, again. With a little inspiration from Food Network's Chopped, I started thinking about how I could combine ingredients in new ways.  I've played in the kitchen, had some meals that were barely edible and surprised myself with the quality of others.  I'm particularly proud of my cream sauce with avocado and horseradish.  (I served it over tilapia.)

I have a container garden on my patio with pots of basil, rosemary, cilantro, chives lavender, petunias, pansies, violas and English ivy. I planted some of the violas in an old silver pitcher that was tarnished beyond my ability to polish away, and now tentative, purple blossoms are starting to spill from its spout.  I remembered one of the exercises from The Artist's Way, collecting a folder of images of things you love and would like in your life,  and I started a Pinterest account.  I've made recipes I've collected there. I've done a couple of crafts, (painting picture frames and wrapping others in fabric), utilized some organization ideas, used wine bottle corks as labels for my herbs.  I'm doing as well as dreaming, and I really like it.

I think the thing that has surprised me the most was a purchase I felt compelled to make.  I went to a craft store to pick up a plate hanger. (The plate collection has surprised me as well, but it's not your granny's plate collection.)  To get to the plate hangers, I had to go through the art supplies, and there was this sketch book, smooth and black, with the elastic band to keep it shut and the loop for a pencil.  I have half a dozen empty journals in the same style.  It was filled with beautiful, creamy, unlined pages, and almost right by it was a box of water color pencils.  I had to have them.  I've never used water color pencils before, but they feel exquisite when I pull them across the paper.  It's easier to let yourself be bad at something and enjoy it when you don't have a good bit of your ego tied up in it.  I don't have to draw well, and I still love it.

So, I've found I like small, cozy spaces, light and bright colors, the play of light through my windows, the smell of herbs in the evening as I sit on my patio, the feel of a whisk in my hand, and the blast of heat from an open oven door.  I love playing with color and shapes, and I love feeling like I'm actually playing a role  in creating my life.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012


Home is a powerful concept for me. Ideally, home is where we're the most comfortable.  It's where we restore ourselves.  It's where we kick off both the public pretenses and the shoes that feel tight at the end of the day. It's where we're safe. When I moved, I fell in love with my new town immediately.  It's friendly,  has areas of great charm, and activities I enjoy.  My new apartment took a little while longer.

I live in an older condo complex. It was built in the sixties and has been well maintained and updated over the years. It has interior entrances. When I first walked into the hallway that holds my front door,I thought, "Oh, God, this looks like the hallway from The Shining."  I kept expecting to see spooky, hand holding twins staring at me.  Then I unlocked my door, and I thought that there was absolutely no way that I would fit everything in here. My sister, who basically made my move possible and located the apartment, told me that it was small, about 900 square feet, but just how small that would be didn't really register.  It turns out that it's really 750 square feet

I have one room that is combination kitchen and living room, a good sized bedroom, a tiny bathroom, and a small patio. When my moving crew left, I had paths between furniture and boxes.  I dug in and within a couple of weeks, I had my furniture basically in place, but getting things right took awhile. I found out that I didn't trust myself or my taste.  I didn't even have a clue where I wanted to hang pictures.  I called in my oldest friend, my daughter, my sister, and they all had good ideas.

It's next to impossible to move into a new place without buying some new things.  When I found a curtain rod, something inside of me woke up.  It was silver with a clear crystal ball for a finial.  I loved it.  It felt cool, sophisticated and a little quirky, and I realized that I had the chance to make my home an expression of who I am.  I just had to find out what I liked, and that's the journey I'm on.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Looking in, around, down and up

When you spend a lot of years as a caregiver, and you go to a lot of therapy sessions for the people you love and are caring for as well as yourself, you're very likely to hear something fairly often.  "You're co-dependent."

When you're in the thick of it and have your day scheduled by doctor appointments where you have to be both the transportation and the interpreter, when measuring out medicines for multiple people who either can't or won't take responsibility for it themselves takes time every day, when you're cooking three meals for each meal of the day so you and two people with very different eating requirements each have something they will eat, when you provide the only income, do all the housekeeping, and hear from the people you're helping that you're not doing enough or not doing it right, and making time for yourself means going without sleep, and the only breath you feel like you can take is the comma in a run on sentence, that diagnosis doesn't sit well.

You want to scream, "If I don't do it, it won't get done.  I'm not co-dependent.  I'm being responsible, because someone has to be!"

Then, it all stops, and it's just you.  You have all the time you've been craving for years, but the only thing you can fill it with is memory, regret and pain.  That trio of villains are so strong that you go silent, both externally and internally.  Thought and its expression just makes everything worse.  Sound becomes your friend. So does mindless entertainment.  So does regimenting your day into responsibilities so small you feel you can handle them.  You can smile at a customer.  You can go to the grocery store for an elderly neighbor.  You keep your pets fed.  You keep yourself well groomed enough not to be offensive.  You stay just busy enough to realize that your life really is empty, and you have no idea how to refill it. Damn it, you really are co-dependent, but now you have no one with whom to share that dependency.

Life begins to come back when you realize you want to be better than that.  You acknowledge that you have been and are stronger than you ever knew you could be.  You decide you do have choices in your life, and now you get to figure out just what they are.

This is where I am. Welcome (back) into my life.  There will be more to come.

Friday, March 23, 2012


Getting a gift first thing in the morning is better than that first cup of coffee.

This has not been a good week. Sunday was great, and since then it has just spiraled downward.  For the second time in three weeks, I fell and landed on my bad knee.  Besides that, I've felt like I've been caught in some energy sucking vortex.  I've felt weak and tired for days, and my appearance has reflected it.  Worse, I've felt a sense of foreboding, as if trouble is coming.  I'm actively trying not to worry, and I'm having greater success with that than I used to, but it takes emotional work that is also an energy drain.In short, I was perfectly primed for something good to happen.  

I live in a smoke-free condo complex.  This has meant two things.  I smoke about a third of what I used to, and when I do smoke, it's outdoors.  This morning, I headed out to a glorious spring morning with a cigarette in hand and a brain full of morning fuzz.  Waiting for the nicotine to kick in, I was thinking of some of the stresses I've handled lately.  These have primarily been providing emotional support to some people close to me after a tragic loss.  With my empathetic nature, this has taken an emotional toll on me.  I've been willing to pay the price, but that doesn't mean I've enjoyed it.

This morning I was thinking of all the times I've had to work with difficult people.  I'm good at that.  In my recruiting days, my co-workers called it my specialty.  I won't say that I'm good with people in difficult situations, but I don't run away from the difficult times.  From having been in so many of those myself, I know that counts for something.

I realized today the source of those gifts was my mother.  If she and I had not had a difficult relationship, I would never have spent so much time trying to figure out how she worked, and then how other people worked.  A childhood spent walking on eggshells made me sensitive to other people's emotional signs and signals. I really like this part of me.  I'm proud of it, and today, I felt very grateful to my mother for helping to make me the person I am.  I feel a little further along in the journey of coming to peace with her, and I can better appreciate the things about her I already thought were wonderful.  It feels really good to think of her with nothing but gratitude, thankfulness and love.

No matter what else happens today, this morning will count as a really good day..

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Craving dirt under my nails

For fourteen years, I had nearly an acre of land with oak, maple,holly trees and two more I never identified.  I had azaleas, roses, irises, sunflowers, caladiums, snowball bushes and crape myrtles, and the most gardening I ever did was mowing and occasionally feeling macha with electric hedge trimmers. There was so much yard work I had to do that I never got around to doing what I wanted to do.  Now, I have a small concrete patio, and gardening is on my mind.

The southern heat and a yard that was too much for me to properly tend always made me feel guilty.  It could have been beautiful, but I just wasn't up to the job.  Now, it's officially spring.  Everywhere I look, trees and flowers are blooming. (The last windy, rainy day, I was almost as covered with pear blossoms as I was with rain drops.)  My car is coated in green pollen.  If I spend too much time on the patio, so am I.  I don't feel guilty.  I'm excited.

At the end of the patio is a window box (if you can call it that without a window over it).  I've bought the coconut liner.  I've got the bag of potting soil.  I've got my baker's rack on the patio.  I'm collecting containers that used to serve other purposes.  Now I just have to decide what I'm going to plant.  I know I want something blooming that will cascade over the window box.  I know I want a fern.  I know I'll plant rosemary, sage. basil, thyme, garlic and chives.  I want purple, blue and white flowers. I want fragrance to surround me on the sweaty summer nights.

I always kept houseplants (until the cats ate them all), but I don't know anything really about gardening.  I'm looking forward to learning, and I think a visit to Home Depot is in the near future.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Wherever you go...

There you are.  For years I wanted to go anywhere but where I was, whether it was the suburb of my youth or the tiny town of my married life where I felt like some oddball loner.  Now that I'm actually living in a place that I like near friends and family with whom my social life is rewarding, I've found that cliche' really is true.

That used to scare me.  I've always wanted to travel.  Behind the wheel of a car with road spinning out behind me is one of my favorite places.  When you're in a new place where nobody knows you, you can be anybody you want to be. At least, that's the hope. The fear is that you'll still be the loser of your worst nightmares, and that everything you dislike about your life in the place you don't like is simply what you have earned and deserved.  I feel really blessed. That part didn't come true.

I'm learning though just how much of an introvert I am, and these lessons are helping me to both appreciate myself more and take better care of myself.  The other night, my daughter came up, and we were talking about all the faces we wear in our lives.  She expressed it so well, and I admire her for realizing this at 21.  I learned it much later in life, but I did learn it, and that's what matters.

With my sister, I'm funny, full of laughter, helpful, listening and occasionally providing her with an insight or idea her very different mind set would never have provided.  With my oldest friend, I'm quieter but a little wittier.  With her, I can indulge tastes my family doesn't share.  At work, where I'm the only woman in the office, I'm organized, a good listener, open but humble with my suggestions and very receptive to being taught new things.  I'm appreciated and respected for my work and my intelligence.  Working in a drama free environment is wonderful and a whole other story.  These are just some of the faces I'm wearing now.  They're all genuinely me.

What I've found out from having a better social and work life though is that loving being with people, even though it's enriching my life and nurturing a long neglected part of my spirit, still takes energy.  There are times when I love what I'm doing and who I'm with, and I still find myself emotionally exhausted.  I have to return to my nest and spend time with myself.  I could veg out on the couch.  I could sit on my patio, listen to the bird song, drink tea, smoke and read. I could sit down with my journal and try to regain my writing chops.  I could work my tail off cleaning and organizing or make my laughable attempts at learning yoga.  In short, I could use my physical energy or rest.  It doesn't matter, as long as I'm alone, and I let myself recharge.

Being alone is a good thing as long as it's not my only choice.  It was only when solitude was the system default setting for my life that I was lonely.  Having choice is empowering.  It helps you accept and embrace who you are.  My introversion has always felt a bit like a weakness.  It was one of those things I'd hoped I could leave behind all those times I wished I could hit the road and start anew.  My introversion came with me to Franklin, and I'm glad it did.  I want to be who I am wherever I am.  It took being comfortable in a place that feels more like home than anywhere I've ever lived to learn that.