Brick by Brick

Excuse me: What!!!? Now, really, I didn't plan this juxtaposition of events in the news and at a less public forum I attended, but I sure do intend to expand on it.

We are, by now, all familiar with the Akin comment and ‘legitimate rape’.  Infuriating that people are still that stupid, but there it is.

Last week I attended a speaker’s forum, looking to get my toe in the water of professional speaking, something I have done quite a bit in the past, but have neglected lately.

As a general rule, I would like to think, I don’t keep my mouth shut when I hear something offensive or questionable. But there are exceptions.I have been trying to figure out why I didn't object when I first heard the comment or even afterwards at the Q and A. Here’s what I've come up with: it was my first time with this particular group, the atmosphere was all supportive and positive and a bit ‘rah-rah’ lets listen to the experts who’ve made a ton of money speaking, therefore they know what they’re talking about, and the atmosphere of pleasantries and success. That, and I had to be somewhere else.

The keynote was a charismatic fellow, a former Olympian, smooth, commanding, all the qualities one would want to cultivate in the speaker biz.But, but, there was one comment, almost a throw away line, that in order to be successful as a speaker one must be vulnerable, let the audience know you are one of them, invite them in. And, surprise, those who are better at being vulnerable at the podium are men. Why? Because they are not pre-occupied with whether their shoes and purse match.

I know I furrowed my brow and the side of my mouth pulled up at this, wondering if there would be some brilliant insight to follow. Alas, there was not. There was only some supportive laughter.

Vulnerable? Men are ‘better’ at being vulnerable? Excuse me, what!!!? 

What a crock of shit!! Now, I don’t curse. I am, on principle, against vulgar language. Not only because it is ‘unladylike’ but, because it is, generally, ignorant and brutish and overused.

But, once in a while, it’s the only fit.

I have a daughter, a daughter-in-law and a granddaughter. All girls, all women, must learn, at a very young age, how to protect themselves.We learn how to build walls, and we better learn early.We learn how to read a room, learn how to pick up on facial and body language. You remain innocent of these lessons at your own peril.

This is not optional. It is mandatory. We must develop this sense, this intuition, if you will, of how to read people, how to sense threat, how to step away from danger. But often, too often, that is not enough.

Why? Because we are vulnerable.

It has nothing to do with matching shoes and purses. It’s a fact of life.

Women are vulnerable all over the place: in dark parking lots, in pregnancy, in size and strength (generally), in our willingness to take the little ones of the world into our hearts and bodies. And, listen carefully, we are vulnerable because we so often want to assume the best in people, we want to trust and be empathetic and let people in.

Women have cornered the market on vulnerability, fellas. If that is the key to success in the speaking business, then sign me up.  If I trust you, I’ll let the shields down. If I don’t, then watch out for flying bricks.

PS:  I am available for speaking and readings to your groups on a range of topics.

Another Scene

I haven't posted here in such a long time. I have been working on revisions for the book I mistakenly thought was completed. My timeline was out of order, so I have corrected that. I have filled out many scenes, and added many more. For whatever reason that urges such things, I thought I'd share one such scene with you. I love to hear from you, so please leave comments or questions. Rose takes the arm that Dennis offers as they exit the church. It snowed overnight and this morning Rose feels she is standing inside a pewter cup; the image of Don Quixote with the barber’s bowl on his head makes her smile in a quizzical way. The thoughts we have, at the oddest times, she thinks.

She takes her seat in the limousine next to Kieran and Marie. Dennis drives their car. The heavy clouds have snuck into her brain somehow, causing her to feel muffled. Every thought she has is dull and impotent, a soft mess of tragedy and comedy.

The hearse drives slowly through the stately iron gates that separate this bit of earth from the homes across the street on one side and the cars zipping by on Metropolitan Avenue on the other. Angels and saints and large stone crosses rise up alongside ancient trees that stand sentinel over the occupants covered in dirt and memory. This is a place of reverence; there is no rushing here, no need to rush ever again.

There is no direct route to the patch of ground this dark procession is heading toward. This is some kind of metaphor, Rose thinks, designed to symbolize the winding roads of life that bring us ultimately, here. The earth is blessed, words echoing baptism are proclaimed by the deacon whose job it is to minister to the dead, to sprinkle holy water and make the sign of the cross that bought our eternal life, so she has been taught since infancy.

The ground is still soft at the Banfry family plot, still rounded from when their father was buried just weeks ago. The big square hole next to Phil Banfry’s mound is deep.  The casket is suspended on straps so it can be lowered gracefully into the damp dark earth, to rest above the bones of their sister. Rose wonders what is left of Cilla, thirty years here. Surely the flesh is gone. In movies they open caskets to expose naked bone, hollows where eyes and nose once lived. Lips and face evaporated, teeth large and bold in a mockery of the once living person .

Ashes to ashes.

Her dress is probably still there, Rose thinks, covered in the dust that was once Cilla, that white dress she wore so proudly on her First Communion, holding a small bouquet, twirling the skirt out, tapping her white patent leather shoes on the tiles in church. The white is probably gray, maybe yellow.Empty dress. You’ve done your job. What was she spared, Rose thinks, for the first time, what was she spared being taken so young?

She turns back to her brother. In that box, such a lovely box, with brass handles, polished to a high degree.He slept on the floor in a room he never cleaned, now his broken body lies on satin, wearing his father’s suit. Our father. His dead face was not fit for viewing, smashed and torn on the rough asphalt. She had to identify him hours after he died. Yes, that’s my brother, that’s Jimmy. Though she only nodded and turned into her husband’s chest.

We had that one night, that last dinner of pot roast and beer. Do this in remembrance of me. He stood in the backyard, arms open to the rain, to the lightening. A second baptism; his last rites.Rose asked for the chaplain who served the morgue, asked for the anointing of the dead, though Jimmy may have scoffed at that, she asked for him because she needed to see her brother prayed over, signed with blessed oil.The ancient rites that join us generation to generation.Words of consolation and hope.Words of promise that this life was not in vain.This life mattered.

 And, sudden as a gust of wind, a terrible possibility indicts her.

Did I do this? I wanted to save my brother, didn’t I? I wanted to have him in my life, I wanted him to be whole. I wanted him to be someone other than who he was. Someone clean and happy and successful.

But more, I wanted him to know my wounds! See, you were not the only one hurt by them. I wanted to let him know that all the years I was alone had taken their toll on me. I wanted him to take some responsibility for this. He was my big brother!! Why didnt he protect me? Protect me from that soul disfigured priest. Protect me from our mother who lashed out because I was the only one there. Protect me from the pain of the absence of our father.

Did I do this? Did I kill my brother? The questions echo in Rose’s head. Did I ask too much of him?

This wildness in her!  Standing here while the deacon reads from the gospels and they make the sign of the cross, even now, she makes the sign of the cross in unison with everyone while beneath these gestures, the real Rose is accused, tried and condemned because of her selfishness.

Pay attention! Here these men, strangers, in their dull black suits and black ties. Their uniform. Professional pall bearers. Professional mourners. We have to hire people  to show us how to do this, this act that is just as much a part of life as birth. They go home to their lives and tomorrow there will be another family to escort to the grave.

They are so careful with his remains.Would they have noticed him just last week? Would they have crossed the street if they saw him coming toward them? Disheveled, dirty. His anger contagious. His illness a disease to guard against. I would have crossed the street. Hell, I wouldn’t have even been in the same street with him to begin with.

What did he need from me? Need from me? I only thought of what I needed, wanted. I wanted him to go back in time and save me from that priest, save me from my aloneness. I wanted him to be the son my parents wanted so there would be peace in the family.Was that too much to ask? Why did you have to make trouble, Jimmy? Why did you have to move in with Kathy? Why couldn’t you just be good, like they wanted?

This is just a nightmare, right? A nightmare and now I’ve learned the lesson. Now I can awaken from this terrible dream and know not to have expectations of Jimmy that he cannot handle.

What’s the use of learning if the price paid for my mistake is his death?!

There is no coming back from death, no chance, no second chance, no third. I’ve learned my lesson, God. I’ve learned. Oh please, let me wake up!! Let me wake up and see my brother, alive, whole, happy. Let Me!!

Who am I yelling at? A God who will not hear. A silent God, a God whose only answer is that Jimmy will remain dead and I will have to live knowing that I killed him. Knowing that I killed Cilla because I was tired of her being sick all the time?

It’s time to go. Dennis steers her with her elbow back to the car.


Helpful Hints

Why are helpful suggestions so irritating? Ah, the deep questions I pose.

The subject of today's post was generated because my husband/web master (doesn't 'master' carry a sinister tone?) noticed in horror!  horror, I say!! that I have not posted to this site which he built and maintains, in a very, very long time.

But, but.... I have only lame excuses.  Alas and alack!!  Let slip the dogs of war!! (it is Shakespeare's birth and death day, so there).

Now, this husband/web master of mine has known me a very, very long time.  At sixteen I suppose I was still cute and  smart in a sarcastic/sassy sort of way, and, most of all I was a girl! (he went to an all boys high school, you see) so he was more than willing to overlook any faults I might be the proud owner of. (I know, that preposition thing.) And besides, who but he and other way too smart people, ever dreamed there would be a computer in every home.  (A loftier goal than a chicken in every pot, I must say.)

Now, in my defense, I would be willing to overlook his faults, if I could find any.  It's tough living with a saint.  An organized, highly productive and creative saint at that.  Add even tempered and genuinely nice, and look what I have to deal with!

The balance of the faults falls to my side.  I am messy, disorganized, ready and willing to follow any tangent that shadows my path ("Squirrel!" for all you "UP!" fans) and full of good intentions. (You remember, the path to hell is paved with them.)  And today, apparently, I am full of parentheticals-- I hope it's not fatal.

But, I digress.  Re: faults of mine.

Helpful suggestions are irritating because the one on the receiving end is usually quite aware of the need to improve and doesn't really need/want a reminder from the more perfect person.  Every time Grace Notes pops up (this web master of mine has arranged it so it is the first thing to pop when I open the net) I cringed.  I started out with good intentions, again, to post every week.  And for a long while, to my credit, I claim, I did just that.  Whether I had anything to talk about or not.

But here I am.  February 4th to April 23.  Not so much every week.  I have fallen off the regular posting wagon.  I promise to reform.  I'll take the pledge.  See you next week. I hope.


Red Suede Shoes

There's a pair of red suede flats I've got my eye on.  I have a pair of its sister shoes, in a grey suede, heels. Over the years I've almost stopped wearing heels, claiming I'd rather be comfortable, which generally, yes, I'd rather be comfortable.  But.  Ah, there's the rub (pun intended).  These red suedes are so cute, my heart actually beats a little faster just looking at a picture of them. Okay, confession time.  I was raised to not want 'things'.  One of six kids of parents who got through the Depression and World War II with a minimum of things, we kids wore uniforms (twelve years in plaid!) and had school shoes, play shoes and one pair of Sunday shoes.  Not so much a problem when everyone you knew was in the same sartorial situation.

These little desires creep in, don't they?  Duh.  I was  trained in a sort of Franciscan ascetic to turn away from the lures of the world and focus on higher things.  I love focusing on higher things. I could not count how many books I've read on 'higher things' and how many conversations I've been part of on 'higher things'.  I often think I have lived 'in my head' for a whole bunch of my life. But, again, there's that but.  I don't live in my head.  My head does not have a cozy bed to snuggle in, does not cook tasty meals, does not air condition the house in summer or heat it in winter. And my head has absolutely no need for red suede shoes.

That is some other part of me that wants those red suede shoes (I'm still waiting for the right occasion to wear the grey suede heels). It's not my feet so much as it is my soul.  Yup, soul.  One of my go-to books is Thomas Moore's Care of the Soul.  He claims that our soul needs ground us in the real world, the world of things, of textures, tastes, smells, and by extension, red suede shoes.  I don't claim to know if he ever thought of his work as a justification for the desire for red suede shoes, but, there it is.

Now, I think I'd like some breakfast.  Mmm.  I've got some yummy blackberries and blueberries waiting on the counter to be smothered in creamy Greek yogurt.  There's that soul again.  Better answer its call.


I’m stuck. I don’t have my head wedged in the arms of a big iron fence. Not yet.

But the scale keeps coming up with the same number when I step on it. Stupid scale.

That doesn’t really help, now, does it? Nah, you’re right. (Stupid scale.)

Something has to change. Looking back, that initial weight loss seemed so easy.  And it was.  But now I have hit the stubborn pounds.  The pounds that declared their presence on my hips long ago. They pull out the homesteader clause that gives them the right to stay put. I have to come up with a clever and effective means of evicting them.

So when I am finished with this post I will put Frankie on his leash and go for a walk.  A longer walk than we’ve been taking, because, as I said, something has to change.

Now, being me, when I’m stuck in one aspect of my life I wander over to where thoughts hang out in my brain and pluck the idea that being stuck on the scale is a metaphor for being stuck in other aspects of my life.  I know I have to change things up a bit.  Stuck is comfortable.  Stuck is easy. Stuck is magnetic: stuck grows with each passing aspect of life and pulls it in, makes it cozy in the nice plush groove of predictable.  It whispers you don’t really want to buy clothes in a smaller size; you don’t really want to eat more fruits and veggies; you don’t really want to change the way you cook, and if those don’t work you don’t really want to change the way you live.

I do, I protest.  Really, really I do.

Now, I'm trying to come up with a clever way of closing this post.  But, you see, I'm stuck.  When my mother's brother was a little boy he managed to get his head between the posts of an iron fence. He was stuck. They twisted his head this way and that. Pulled, tugged, worried (my grandmother was an Olympic class worrier). Nothing seemed to work. Finally they had to call the fire department.  They came with crowbars to pry the little boy out.  He was un-stuck!!

The conclusion, therefore, is that all I need now is a crowbar. I'll let you know how that works.