Category Archives: more than meets the eye

Lovely ~ UPDATED

My niece Gabi is 15 years old and is sort of my hero.

gabibir

That sounds weird and I can’t really explain myself without telling stories that aren’t mine to tell, but I can tell you that she’s so much like me it’s a bit eerie.  The difference is that instead of retreating from the world, Gabi reshapes the world to work for her. While I was writing dark, angsty poetry at her age, Gabi has skipped forward to look for the light.  I sang in my bathroom so much that it drove my family nuts.  Gabi taught herself the ukulele and performs original songs for strangers in parks.  She sews her own clothes and costumes, and constructs elaborate dragon wings, and makes zombie sock-puppets and is quietly and unapologetically herself.

A few weeks ago I heard a song she wrote and recorded herself and it made me cry…possibly because I’m an extraordinarily proud aunt, but also because the sweet words she said were what I needed to hear…what I needed to remember.  And I’m sharing her song here because maybe you need to remember too.

She didn’t have a video so she just clipped together footage from Skype sessions and homemade videos with her brother and sisters and friends, but it’s a bit perfect.  If you like it, you can check out the website she made this week.  I tried to convince her to sell her stuff on iTunes but she’s content to share it online for free and put out an online tip jar if you want to pitch in for ukulele strings or blank sheet music, or other musical instruments she hopes to buy and learn.

Thank you, Gabi, for reminding me of how lovely things can be.

UPDATED:  I fucking love you people.  Have I mentioned that?  Because it’s true.  Gabi was amazed at your wonderful responses.  She received over $1,000 in tips (which she’s earmarked to pay for a drum kit and actual music lessons) plus help and advice from other artists.   She just updated her site so you can download her music, and she’s currently in the park writing a song about this whole experience.  If you want to keep up with her progress you should follow her page on Facebook right here.  Thank you for being awesome.  All of you.

Compassion is painful. That’s how you know it’s working.

I’m sad about last night for a lot of reasons.  And if you are human, and allow yourself to be so, then you probably are too.  Maybe it’s the verdict that upset you, or the destruction afterwards, or the long and difficult path that has led us here and has shown us we have so much further to go before we get to the place where we want to be…a place where kindness and compassion and vulnerability are the things which can be lauded and seen and encouraged and felt.  Or maybe, like me, you’re upset about all of those things and you feel too defeated to want to care anymore.

But if you’re like me, you can’t switch those emotions off.  It’s so much easier to turn those feelings of vulnerability and hurt into a shield of rage.  Rage feels powerful and strong.  It feels good.  And rage is important.  But not at the cost of compassion.  If, like me, today you woke up weary and wanting to become numb, or turn away, or lash out angrily at everyone involved then I feel you.  But I encourage you to keep compassion at the forefront.  Remember humanity.  Remember that your words and actions make a difference.  Remember that the majority of us are so much better than the worse things we see in the news, and that so many of us are leading a quiet revolution to be kind, and compassionate, and to listen to the hurt, and amplify the things that will make a positive difference in our world.  It’s a quiet revolution that will never be covered on CNN.  It’s a movement of people who redirect anger to kindness.  Who listen even when it’s painful.  Who take the hurt of others on ourselves and feel it so that we can become better people.  Who wade into horrible online threads and inject compassion and reason because we know that it can become contagious if done the right way.  Who hope that reason and empathy will somehow lead to a place which is safer for our children and grandchildren.

Yesterday someone sent me this photo and it’s stayed with me, and it helped.  If you’re like me, maybe it’ll help you too.

hope

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant? ~ Henry David Thoreau

I don’t usually write about serious things like this because I think of this blog as a place for us to get away from the crazy bullshit of the world.  A place to laugh and heal and be ridiculous.  But sometimes healing comes in different ways and I need to write this so I can let go of some of this angst and refocus on what positive things I can do next.  Like donating to the Ferguson Library, which has served as a quiet sanctuary for so many children and adults.

Tomorrow we’ll be back to ridiculous cat pictures and possibly a story about an alligator in my toilet.  And tomorrow we’ll still feel compassion for the people who are struggling, and will continue to do our best to enact positive changes in our own ways.

I hope to God both of those things are true.

It’s weird. But all the best things are.

I’ve been super sick for the past few days but I got my voice back today (much to Victor’s chagrin) and the steroids are kicking in but not really enough to write a real post so instead I’m posting this, which I started writing a long time ago but never finished.  It feels undone and not properly tied together, but in a way that makes sense because “unbalanced and disjointed” is a pretty fair description if we’re doing a realistic portrait of me anyway:

Remember a few months ago when I said I’d share the rest of the photos that my friend amazingly talented friend Brooke Shaden took of me, but then I promptly forgot?

Well, I remembered.  So here they are.

This the first, which I already wrote about here.

thebloggessandbrookeshaden

But here are two more:

small powder

And…

small red dress

I’ll always keep them because they’re ethereal and dark and magical, but really I love them most of all because I can’t look at the pictures without remembering walking barefoot in the swamp while wearing ripped dresses that wouldn’t zip up over my boobs. Or having Brooke douse me in baby powder while my daughter gleefully looked for fireflies and Victor set off smoke bombs.  Or literally falling off that log in the bottom picture while trying to adjust my antler as a baffled hiker walked by.  Also, I now know why people use the phrase “as easy as falling off a log” because it is very easy, if you don’t count the hassle of stitches afterward.

It’s weird.  But then, all the best things are.

Veterans Day

This morning I watched Hailey sing to the veterans being honored at her school and it was lovely.

veterans

If you’re a veteran, or a relative of one, I thank you.

And a special salute today to Hailey’s grandfather and great-grandfather.

My father

My father

Victor's grandfather.

Victor’s grandfather.

Today, there are almost 50,000 homeless veterans in America and over a million  considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty. Hundreds of thousands of veterans have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and there are an increasing number of military families who rely on food stamps.  For ways to help, click here.

I fixed it for you.

Yesterday I got an email from a very sweet girl who wanted to tell me how happy she was to have found “this tribe of bizarre stranglings” because she finally figured out she wasn’t alone and there were others out there like her.  And it was very lovely, although I did think it was odd that she was witnessing so many stranglings here, but then I realized that she meant “strangelings” (like “changelings” but stranger, and that spellcheck had probably changed it for her because spellcheck is an asshole who doesn’t understand the fluidity of language.)  She also included this quote from the Breakfast Club because she thought it fit our odd community so well:

we're all pretty bizarre

And I agree.

And I decided to write this post in case you needed to be reminded of how important you are to me, and to all the other strangelings and misfits out there who find themselves at this blog, and realize they aren’t alone, and get the support they need to be the dazzlingly odd person they are without apology.  You have no idea how important you are.

And I love the quote, but I did feel it needed a small tweak to reflect the us that we’ve become:

fixed

Never change, sweet strangelings.

How did this happen?

Happy birthday, Hailey.  You are our sunshine.

mygirl

Now please stop growing up so quickly or I will be forced to freeze you in carbonite, like a tiny Han Solo.  And this is the first year that you will totally get that joke and you will make another, far more obscure joke about Clone Wars and I won’t get it at all, and you’ll give me that look like, “Aw.  Old people are adorable.  Bless your heart.”  And I will still love you because you’re amazing.  But I’ll also be stockpiling the carbonite.

You’ve been warned, my sweet girl.

So fragile, but so enduring.

I’ve been missing for awhile, but I’ve been trying to find my words.

Meemaw died yesterday, at the age of 80.

If you’ve read here long enough then you already know meemaw.  She’s Victor’s grandmother and she (and her late husband) helped to raise Victor, offering him a loving home and a sense of compassion and generosity that has kept him from strangling me over the years.    We were lucky enough to be able to move Meemaw down to live by us last year, so we could spend more time with her, but a lot of that time was spent in hospital rooms as she battled cancer and heart and lung problems.

Meemaw had a penchant for telling her favorite stories over and over, but she told them with such joy that we always laughed like it was the first time.  Sometimes it was the story about Victor getting his head stuck in a fence at Disneyland.   Sometimes it was about breaking her back after falling out of a moving jeep while shooting at rabbits.  Sometimes it was about picking cotton, or rolling cigarettes, or digging up a corpse, or meeting the man of her dreams as a 17-year-old waitress and marrying him 10 days later, or traveling the world as the wife of a career soldier, or making dresses from feed sacks.

A few weeks ago, family gathered around her hospital bed and she started to tell one of her favorite stories that we’d all heard so many times we could each mouth the words.

“When we were little,” she said, “mama would sometimes give all us kids a fresh-laid egg.  And we’d walk for miles down the road toward town, each cradling our egg in our hands.  There were six of us kids…”  She trailed off as she lost her breath and we waited patiently.  She looked a bit lost and after a moment her sister gently laid her hand on her arm and smiled widely as she picked up the story exactly where meemaw had left off.

“There were six of us kids and we’d walk into town because we could trade in our egg at the main store for a cold Pepsi.  We always chose Pepsi because it came in a bigger bottle and we could make it last all the way home if we sipped it slowly.  On really special days mama might give us two eggs and then we felt like we were rich because we could buy peanuts to go with our Pepsi.”

Meemaw smiled gratefully and nodded as she picked up the end.  “And in all those years, none of us ever dropped a single egg.”

It was the last time I ever heard her tell that story.

It was also the best time though, and I don’t know if I can do justice in explaining why.  Partially it was seeing the caring sparkle in both of their eyes as they recalled the story, but it was more than that.  It was seeing that even in her last days, as meemaw struggled to carry her egg, someone she loved caught it and carried it safely home.  She never dropped her egg.

It struck me that sometimes an egg is not egg.  Sometimes an egg is a story.  Sometimes it’s a shared secret, or a sweet relief, or a treasured memory or learned lesson.  Meemaw carried so many fragile eggs with her throughout her life, keeping them safe until she could hand them over to people she loved.  Sometimes the eggs contained kindness, or generosity.  Sometimes they were lessons in patience.  Sometimes they were lessons on the importance of family.  Sometimes they were late-night milkshakes, or handmade quilts, or staying up through the night to rock you to sleep when you had a fever.  Meemaw gave me two things:  (1) She taught me that you don’t always have to get even.  Sometimes you just have to get quiet.  (Because when you get really quiet that’s when people start to feel anxious and regret being jerks and then you’ve gotten even with them without actually doing anything at all.)  And more importantly (2) she gave me Victor.  Or rather, she instilled in Victor a sense of joy and love and generosity that made him able to be a wonderful husband and dedicated father.    And Victor protects those values she taught him and we carry them to pass them on to our daughter, who may one day pass them on to those she loves.

Sometimes an egg is not an egg.  Sometimes an egg is a life.  Sometimes an egg is a lesson.  Sometimes an egg is a gift.

Even in death, meemaw never dropped her egg.  She simply passed it on to us so that we can continue to gently carry it with us as we each walk down our own paths using the lessons she gave us.

May we all be so lucky.

PS.  This is the song meemaw chose to be played at her funeral this weekend.  I can’t listen to it and not smile.

Godspeed, Doris Jean Cantrell.

small doris cantrell