the sun, when it comes

sun pic

I was feeling a little glumpy. My late husband coined that word, a cross between “grumpy” and “gloomy,” and it captures my mood as I hauled bags of disgusting wet crap out of my recently flooded basement

I had crawled inside my belly button and, not liking what I found there, crawled back out and started whining to God about the tempests that have periodically swamped my realm. I got a little pissy about it, wondering whether my life would, in fact, unfold in a non-stop parade of literal and figurative shit-storms (which reminds me of “shit magnet,” my brother’s apt coinage.)


As I said. Pissy. And God, as it turned out, had something to say in response.

But I didn’t realize this. Not at first. All I knew was that I needed a walk. Emerging glumpily into the daylight with a final bag o’ crap, I looked at the sky, blinked at the sun and set off for a hoof around my chipper little neighborhood. I’d been walking for 40 minutes or so when I saw a man — a stocky fellow — step to the edge of the sidewalk about half a block ahead.

As I walked up, he regarded me closely. He said something I couldn’t understand, contorting his transparent, gentle face with some obvious effort. He looked worried. He lacked a few teeth. Maybe he had some other deficit, too.

Hello!, I said.

“I wanted to give you enough room,” he explained, taking another step to the side.

Oh, thank you! But that’s not necessary — I don’t need a lot of room.

“But I just wanted to give you more room.”

Well, thank you, sir. You’re very kind. Have a nice day!

“I don’t know if I can. That depends on the weather,” he said, looking worried again.

It’s sunny today. That helps, right?

“But I don’t know what the weather will be. When it’s windy, that makes it colder. It just happens. I can’t do anything about it.”

That’s true. But at least it isn’t windy now. Just a slight breeze.

“But yesterday — yesterday was cold. And it was windy. That made it colder. We just can’t tell what weather will happen. We don’t know if it will be cold. ”

You’re right.

“It’s not up to us. It’s up to Mother Nature. We can’t really know what we’re going to get. Mother Nature does that.”

You’re right.

“We can’t do anything about the weather. It just comes.”

You’re. So. Right. It’s not up to us. It just comes.

I looked at this dear man — this sweet, simple, wise stranger issuing necessary truths — and I recognized God’s rejoinder to my glumpiness. No, I can’t predict or control the storms that come my way. It’s not my business to know when they’re coming. It’s not my business to even ask, and it’s certainly not my business to complain about it.

All I can do is accept what happens. Cope and clean up. Look to the sky and rejoice at the sun, when it comes.

Amen to that, and to strangers.






life’s rich pageant

Remember that time the temperature plunged to -1,000,000 and my pipes froze and sprang a leak and I swore and swore and swore? I remember that, too. It happened — ooooh, let’s see, now — less than two weeks ago. The leak’s been fixed. Yay Hurray! Happy ending!

BUT GUESS WHAT.  Today I’ve been dealing with a flooded toilet AND a flooded basement, and when I say “flooded basement” I mean up to my floppy soppy ankles. As I type this, The Mighty Sump Dump is doing its job while bowls and buckets and laundry baskets and other plasticky vessels and shit are floating around my cellar like abandoned dreams in a sad Scandinavian arthouse movie. plunger

But I’m not complaining. No way! I’ve only sworn once so far! I know how lucky I am to own this house o’ mine, just as I know how lucky I am to traverse a life that’s been chock full of oh-so-interesting triumphs and disasters. This is all part of the daily thrill of being alive. Just the other day I was thinking, “Wow, I’m only 52, and already I’ve done a lot of living!” It hit me: If I died tomorrow, and I so hope I don’t, I’ll have led a rich and interesting life.

And I have. I’ve loved like crazy, given birth three times, watched my children grow, traveled bunches, read books, written three, played soccer, played Dvorak, sung Bach, worked as a journalist for 34 years (holy old farts!), MET SIR ANTHONY HOPKINS, been assaulted by turkeys and assorted South American creaturesfallen hard, gotten up, felt the sublime, laughed like hell AND undergone minimally invasive cardiac surgery for a wacky heart condition that I’ll write about some other time, but don’t worry, I’m fine. Plus! I got to have a colonoscopy when I turned 50, which is something my dear late sister Lucy never got to experience. That was quite a trip. Everything was.

Even the painful stuff has been a blessing, in its way. Even the failures, the flooded basements, the floating receptacles of crap. Even the broken bits inside me, the wild furies of fear and human weakness. Even the losses — everything that cracks me open and lets in the light and warmth. I feel. I live. Can’t do one without the other.

A coworker reminded me, today, of that bit in “A Shot in the Dark” where Clouseau falls into the fountain and emerges sopping wet. The sexpot maid played by Elke Sommer tells him he should change his clothes or catch his death of pneumonia. He replies: “Yes, I probably will. But it’s all part of life’s rich pageant, you know?”

As I drove home to deal with the basement, I thought about this. And I realized: My life is a “Pink Panther” movie! AND I AM JACQUES CLOUSEAU! Minus the accent and the mustache. He was the embodiment of slapstick catastrophe, whether smashing a priceless Steinway (“not anymore”) or vacuuming a woman’s boobs. And he coped. He fumbled forward and figured shit out.

So here I am. My basement is flooded. My bathroom’s a mess, or it was until I mopped it with bleach. My whole damn house is a mess. My whole damn self is a mess.

But I’ll live, I guess. I have already.

and lo, i swore

Some pipes in the back room froze last night when the temperature dropped to a million below. This morning, I started thawing ’em out with heaters and a hair dryer. But that blew a circuit, and lo, I swore.

Then I started thawing ’em out again. Then the circuit blew again, and lo, I swore. pipes

Then the washing machine drained into a clogged sink, spilling all over the basement floor, and as I reached in to unclog it I knocked over a bottle of laundry detergent with a tragically loose cap, and that slopped sticky blue gunk all over the sink cover and down the sides and onto the floor, and lo, I swore.

Then I cleaned it up and went back to thawing out the pipes, but then the circuit blew again, requiring me to flip it back on again, and lo, I swore. Then, when the pipes finally thawed, they poured forth multiple cascading leaks all over the basement crawlspace, and I and my flashlight regarded this with pain and consternation, and lo, I swore.

Then I wondered if I could live the rest of the winter without water in the back room, and I decided I could not, and lo, I swore and swore.

Then the four horsemen of the apocalypse arrived, and fire rained down from heaven, and a plague of locusts coursed through the basement, and there was great wailing and gnashing of teeth, and then my body was sucked up by aliens and transported to the planet Zorggnon, but when they found nothing of interest they transported it back and I landed, in the basement, with leaky pipes and faulty wiring. And lo, I swore.

time to love

My younger daughter turned 20 in Australia today. Tomorrow she turns 20 here, which, as she pointed out to me at 9:30 this morning (or around 1:30 tomorrow morning her time), is the more accurate marker. But it’s Valentine’s Day in Sydney right now, which means my middle child has just escaped her teens by some reckoning or other. How beautiful and strange. But isn’t that life? And isn’t that love? mama and daddy older

I learned about love from my parents. I’ve written before about my mother’s commitment to my father, whose many years of dementia — probably brain damage — following his suicide attempt in 1974 meant that he wasn’t all there. No short-term memory, no way to help support the family, nothing to give besides his innate loving-kindness and his beaming, charming warmth. He was a loving presence, and that was it. That’s all he had. That’s all Mama required of him. She accepted it, and gave her love back with fidelity and strength.

I learned about love from my sister, who loved with all of her being. As broken as she was, as tortured by the unremitting urge to kill herself, she beamed a light around her that splashed and awakened joy. Anything she had to give, she gave. Everything she could reveal, she did. She was transparent in her compassion, and in her pain. It was all there, all out in the open, all part of who she was and how she hurt and loved. Nothing was hidden by her, or from her; she saw all. She saw inside my own brokenness and loved me, accepted me, still.

I learned from Lucy that love can’t fix anyone. All it can do is accept and give. We love not despite our brokenness, but because of it, — because we’re all broken, because we all wish we weren’t, because we all long to warm and be warmed, hold and be held. Because we have no other choice. Until we reach perfection in this life — and when will that be? — we need to make peace with each other, and ourselves.

I learned about love from my three children, who showed me why I’m alive. Giving birth means satisfying, finally, the age-old quest for meaning in this world: I no longer wonder why I was put here. It’s obvious. To bring them into being. To love them into adults. To help them as they grow. Brokenness, mine or theirs, is moot in the face of such a mission. Parental love is a window into God’s love, for it’s love without judgment, condition, fear of divorce or demand for reciprocity.

I learned about love from my late husband — who gave and gave and loved and loved until his brokenness stopped him — and from all who’ve blessed my life, friends, family, beloveds in every sense, everyone who’s entered my orbit and filled it with their gifts and their loving, broken selves. I haven’t met anyone yet who isn’t broken somehow. I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t love regardless.

We all are. We all do. It’s Valentine’s Day in Australia. Love.

what women want

Women like to be taken seriously. Why is obvious enough: Too many of us have spent too much of our lives not being taken seriously, or living in fear of not being taken seriously, or suspecting that even if we’re being taken seriously now, we won’t be in a minute or two.

We like to be taken seriously by men. We don’t like being: shouted down, patronized, ignored, regarded over the tops of our heads (whether literal or figurative), dismissed, psychoanalyzed, diagnosed or otherwise mansplained. We resent it when men try to tell us what we’re thinking and why, how we’re feeling and why, what we should be thinking and feeling and why. And we especially don’t like being told that our motives for doing something are other than what they are.

We don’t like it when women do that, either.

And that’s about all I have to say in response to Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright and their much-discussed attacks on the women — the young ones especially — who support Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. By now you’ve read all about Steinem’s now-weakly-retreated suggestion that female students were flocking to Bernie for the boys; Albright’s hellfire proclamation damning such women for eternity; and all the responses, both sympathetic and outraged, that pit This Kind of Feminist versus That Kind of Feminist.

But that, too me, is not the issue. Bernie or Hillary is not the issue. The campaigns of both are not the issue. The issue, to me, is anyone of any sex on any side not taking any woman seriously. If some double-X Democrat says she’s voting for Sanders because she’s more closely aligned with him or she distrusts Clinton’s motives, BELIEVE HER. If someone else says she’s voting for Clinton because she’s experienced, savvy and gets things done, BELIEVE HER.

Don’t ignore what a woman is actually saying. Don’t shout her down. Don’t shut her up. Don’t shrink her, scoff at her, dismiss her point of view and impugn the validity of her thoughts, feelings, actions. Take her seriously.  Take her at her word. That’s all we ever ask.

don’t talk turkey to me

What I’m about to tell you actually happened. It did! I have photographic proof! Also, I have witnesses! Yes! A kind lady in the Times Union cafeteria witnessed the entire thing, as did similarly kind colleague in the newsroom, and I would, in fact, refer to them both as “kind” even if they didn’t corroborate my story and thus affirm my (admittedly wobbly) sanity.

turkey boySo basically what happened was this: A vicious wild turkey chased me and PROBABLY would have killed me and/or eviscerated me and/or dismembered me with his giant turkey beak had I not escaped miraculously from his fowl clutches. Okay, that is a slight exaggeration, but this is my story, not yours, so sue me. (No. Don’t. I’m joking. I have no interest in being sued, I swear.)

I was out for my lunchtime constitutional, which consists of huffing and puffing up and down Old Maxwell Road and around a couple of nearby parking lots while windbagging on the phone with family and friends. In the winter, by which I mean a NORMAL winter, not this balmy all-expense-paid cruise to Cancún we’ve been having, I do this until my digits go numb and return to my desk feeling virtuous and cold.

I hadn’t been huffing and puffing very far, and was feeling neither virtuous nor cold, when I spied a couple of wild turkeys on the side of the road. This happens occasionally; they’re around. So, what the hey, I whipped out My Trusty iPhone, which I just now named Excalibur, and snapped a couple pictures of the closest one. He – and I’m guessing he was a he, as he was the larger of the two, plus he was working a chaw of tobacco and watching Spike TV in his boxers – seemed okay with this invasion of his privacy, or at least oblivious to it, until suddenly he wasn’t.

He started walking toward me. I thought: Oh, how nice! He’s a friendly fellow!

Then he kept walking toward me. I thought: Well now, that’s a leeeetle bit weird.

Then he kept walking toward me. I thought: OK. That’s more than a leeeetle bit weird. 

Then I walked backward. Then, being a turkey, he started trotting at me. Then, being chicken, I started trotting backward.

I said: Hey! Get back, turkey! Hey! Hey!


I said: Hey! Hey!


I panicked and said: Hie thee, evil turkey! Arrrrgh!


As he kept trotting, I kept panicking. What to do? Should I climb a tree? Poke him in the schnozz like a shark? Not being schooled in Effective Turkey Evasion Techniques, I decided the thing to do was to start yelling ARRGGGH! ARGGGGH! GO AWAY, TURKEY! while making aggressive anti-turkey motions that might have been better suited for waving off a cloud of moths.

This had no effect on him whatsoever. He kept coming right at me. So I picked up a large stick and poked it in his direction, still countering his SCREAAACKs with my ARRRGGGHs.

Then he started running. I started running. I ran ALLLLLLLL the way down the little steps to the Times Union parking lot, thinking, Shit! If I get killed by a wild turkey on my lunchtime walk, I will never ever ever live it down!

And then the turkey stopped. He was stymied by the steps, apparently. A smaller turkey – wifey? – joined him there, and they howled angry SCRAAAAAAACKs from their superior vantage.

Duly freaked out, I went back inside and announced A TURKEY JUST CHASED ME! I HAD TO FEND IT OFF WITH A STICK!, recalling that this was hardly the first time I’d been attacked by rogue members of other species. (See my book Figuring Shit Out: Love, Laughter, Suicide, and Survival for detailed accounts of my dust-ups with Ecuadorian dogs and monkeys.)

But I survived. And this morning, pulling into the TU lot, I saw Mr. and Mrs. Sociopathic Turkey once again. They gave me the hairy eyeball. I gave mine back and kept my distance.