I’ve been circling my laptop for hours (days?) like a lion… No, not like a lion — like the lion trainer. Fearing it. Wondering if it would bite me. Trash me. Shame me.
Sometimes, it’s hard to come up with an article. Sometimes, ideas teem and tumble through my brain in the most magnificent and disorienting, scary, and confusing ways.
Like just now, when I was writing about my mind tumbling over itself, I thought immediately of Brad Hudson, my friend on Piedmont Avenue who runs the wild, eclectic antiques store where you’re just as likely to find the finest leather motorcycle jacket as you are an old painting by a UCSF teacher who eventually became famous. Where treasures are heaped on trash, and it’s your responsibility — and privilege — to understand and sort the wheat from the chaff.
And you see, that very thought, right there, leads to a whole other story about thrifting with my daughter. And how she used to thrift with her godmother, who died of cancer three years ago and left a gaping hole in our lives. And there, that is a whole other story… as well.
How does one tame, harness, and organize the mass of stories, memories, ideas and make them make sense? It’s a mysterious process. Things that don’t seem to fit together somehow attach themselves to one another, and you don’t really now why until you follow the thread.
And yet, much of the time, I am inert. I have this kaleidoscope of ideas, images, memories, dreams, fantasies, and observations, but they move so fast I’m at a loss to capture them. It’s like letting loose a cage of multi-colored birds and watching them scatter in the wind. There is no way I will be able to catch even one to tell its story.
Stories connect, layer, and interweave. And I don’t know yet how to organize them. I read Benjamin Hardy’s recent article about journaling… using one’s journal to capture and organize thoughts, ideas, stories, in order to deepen them.
Sometimes I think I’m very surface-oriented. I just go… skate, as it were. What would it mean to go deeper? To take more time? To be more intentional? To cut the ice?
On my walk today, I thought of calling my memoir Deep Dive, or Swan Dive… Then I rejected the title because I thought, I’m not a diver, and that would confuse people. But, yes, sometimes I feel the trick will be to try to go deep. To go deeper. And then deeper yet. What did Adrienne Rich call her famous collection of poetry? Ah, yes. Diving into the Wreck. Exactly.
For example, a moment ago, when I was prepping a collection of forlorn vegetables forgotten in the fridge for a roasting at 400 degrees F. with dousing of olive oil and a shower of sea salt and fresh ground black pepper from my stout little French pepper grinder, I thought, seemingly out of nowhere, “Yes, I probably do have a Father complex. It would make sense.”
But what made me think of that, take that leap? I don’t know. I don’t remember. That’s one of the birds that flew away. And I need that bird. That bird was the seed of the story. But, I failed to capture it. It escaped my hands.
If I meditated every morning, it would help. I believe the tomes that tell me it would help my brain sort itself out. It would help the most meaningful ideas, problems, urges… what really matters… rise to the top like cream.
But, do I meditate every morning? Of course not.
Last night, I met someone who did, and does. And has. For some time.
And you could tell. He had an arresting straightness, directness, consistency. He observed. He took his time. You could feel him taking his time. Noticing. Pondering. Time slowed down with him.
It was more than refreshing. It was intoxicating. It was, “I want some of that” intoxicating.
Sometimes I feel like so much happens in a single day in my life I can’t even sort it out. It’s overwhelming. Is that good or bad? I don’t know. Is it worthy of writing about? I don’t know. I sometimes feel I need to exhibit more self-control. Make decisions. Carefully plan and structure my writing. Maybe that ability will come.
I feel right now that I need to trust the process. Whatever that process is. However un-process-like that “process” seems to be. However chaotic and unhinged.
A few years ago, I bought a beautiful book on intuition. So beautiful it almost scared me. I mean, if this was for real, what would it mean?
I knew it would help me. But I also held it slightly at arm’s length. Because to throw my life to the winds like that felt too risky. How can I trust… my intuition? Especially since I think my fear masquerades as intuition much of the time.
Was it fear or intuition that told me I couldn’t date a man with a giant soccer ball hanging in a net from the ceiling in his family room?
I was arrogant. I didn’t even try to look at the positive messages that might be read there… I disdained it. I was appalled. I, Miss Hoity Toity, who has loved more than one brilliant, successful architect and knows what beauty, harmony, balance, class, and style was…
I rejected him.
And yet, it is he I miss. I now believe he would have been a great partner for me. But, I couldn’t get around the soccer ball hanging from the ceiling.
Last night, I responded to something. Not because I wanted to. Not because I felt it was wise. Not because it matched my path forward or my plans for myself, but because my body responded. My body said, Go. I considered ignoring the message. But it was strong. And I went.
Is that “intuition”? I have no idea.
And I was paid off. That turned out to be the person who meditates daily and has for years. The person who has some kind of eastern/Asian god or goddess gracing the doorway of a rather nondescript apartment. And yet, having a deity stationed at the doorway… elevated… the space. The proceedings.
Recently, on Medium, I read a charming, moving article about a woman who was a flight attendant who suddenly and unexpectedly found herself sitting across from the Dalai Lama. Yes. The Dalai Lama. And then… wonder of wonders… she found herself inexplicably laughing.
She attributed it to an aura, an energy, that the Dalai Lama seemed to be emitting. It was pure joy. She was tickled, to the bone. She was delighted. She expressed it. She could not do otherwise.
I titled this article Gift to Children. But then serendipity nudged its way in. And I began following threads.
My daughter took a job. Her first “real” job, maybe. She’s doing a little cleaning up and housekeeping for a woman — the matriarch of our little block, a sweet street protected by a dead end that keeps traffic away (excepting the wayward motorist who misses the “Not a Through Street” sign posted at the entrance to the street.)
The other night, Nancy, my daughter’s “boss,” randomly gave her a copy of a recipe to take home. The recipe is for “Mocha Prune Cake.”
My father’s mother made him a “Prune Cake with Mocha Frosting” every single year for his birthday. Some years ago, I inherited his mother’s handwritten recipe book. It was leather-bound and written in fountain pen in a beautiful script.
And there, under “C” for cakes, I found the cake my grandmother had made my dad every year for his birthday. “Prune cake with mocha frosting.” And of course, I made it that very year, and most years following.
And here, just next to my elbow, is this recipe Nancy, our street matriarch, gave my daughter the other day, randomly, for “Mocha Prune Cake.”
Is that related to intuition? It’s serendipity for sure, at this time when my dad consumes my thoughts most of each day. How are intuition and serendipity related?
It comes down to the magic in the world. Divine intervention, if you will. Maybe there really is an order, a design, a sense of humor, a sense of comfort, in the universe. Someone really is at that whiteboard drawing out something that actually makes sense, and sometimes we’re allowed a glimpse. And it tickles us and puts everything aright.
Along with the recipe, Nancy sent home with my daughter a bag of dried figs. “Because they can be substituted for prunes.” (I beg to differ.)
But here’s the thing. I have never before in my life seen a recipe for prune cake with mocha icing. I guess it’s a generational thing. Nancy must be about the age of my father, maybe a little younger, but not much.
What does it mean that this recipe drifted onto my countertop unannounced, unrequested, unexpected? It can’t mean nothing. It’s too… serendipitous. It must have meaning. But, what? Just a nice underlining by God. A nice little tip of the hat. Thank you. Thank you, God, Goddess, Shiva, Vishnu, Buddha, or whoever. Thank you.
Today, I took my father to the orthopedic surgeon (for the second time. Last time we waited for an hour in a silent lobby before finally gleaning no surgeon was coming).
A vibrant, affable Ethiopian driver took us in the transport van. He wore expensive eyeglass frames and sported the bone structure and aura of a man who was quite handsome in earlier days. He arrived woefully late, but immediately won me over with his dazzling smile and easy manner.
He connected playfully with the Ethiopian nurse sashaying by over the word “Oklahoma” (apparently, her relatives had recently moved to that state where they found no, virtually no, totally no, Ethiopian diaspora.)
The word also signified the main concept her charge had absorbed. The charge, a woman with dementia like my dad, seemed to enjoy expelling at intervals the word “Oklahoma.” So, in between the moans of the woman who constantly cries, “Help. Help,” you hear peppered through the hall at intervals, “Oklahoma” for no apparent reason. Until you begin to work out the logic of the place, anyway.
The driver’s name is “Girma” (a name I’ve never heard). He took my dad and me to young, buff Dr. Jaison and his sexy young Yugoslav, former-almost-pro-soccer-player assistant.
The office was much more lively this time. The lights were on. There was color in the place. Life. Verve. At one point, a middle-aged, and very fit, doctor jogged in through the sliding glass doors all sweaty and leapt the stairs by threes presumably to his office. In a side room, a woman taught elderly how to build strength.
Girma and I got along. He had alacrity and knew how to connect. He loved food, and we spent a good portion of the time talking about injera and why it’s different here — the water, the neff — and how it is in his home country Ethiopia. He misses it. Sometimes it appears in stores flown in from his country. It’s incredibly expensive. I think he said $15 for four pieces. For fermented bread. Yes. That’s expensive.
We connected over child-rearing. He said all of his friends these days were sending their kids home to Ethiopia for high school. How they wouldn’t dream of sending their kids to high school here. The kids here are so bad, the society is so frayed. Kids think they’re grown when they’re only 18. Everyone in Ethiopia understands an 18-year-old is still a child. Still needs guidance. A lot of it.
He lamented about the lack of community here and related a story of when he’d first arrived here sixteen years ago. He was in a mall with a friend when a child running headlong fell to the floor and began crying. He immediately flew to that child’s side and scooped him from the floor.
His shocked friend later counseled him. “You must never do that,” he said. “You cannot. People here, parents here, don’t like that. They don’t like strangers helping them. Touching their kids. They don’t like that.”
Properly chastised, Girma never “interfered” again.
And we lost something there. Something important. But, of course, that’s a different article.
Believe it or not, this all does connect back to the title of the piece.
This evening, I was talking to a dad I know who is in terrible shape financially. No property, no retirement, no savings, no job, and immense debt. And his age? Mid-fifties. He said to me, “I want to help support my kids.”
I said, Be real. At this point, the best thing you can do for your kids is to take care of yourself so your kids don’t have to align their lives with your eventual care. The best thing you can do is try to make yourself safe so your kids don’t have to do that for you.
The greatest gift you can give your kids is what my dad gave me. My dad, for starters, has a pension. He has social security. He has my mom’s (albeit modest) journalist’s pension. He has excellent insurance from Masters, Mates, and Pilots (as he was a merchant marine).
Not only that. Well more than a decade ago, he went down to Neptune Society and bought his own cremation and funeral ceremony. And told me about it. When he enrolled himself in Piedmont Gardens/Grand Lake Gardens (ABHOW), he paid $50,000 up front so that if he ever ran out of money, he’d be taken care of, guaranteed.
All of this means that whatever I decide to do, it’s my choice. I have the gift and freedom of choice.
I may very well decide to pull my dad from the “nursing home” as the orthopedic surgeon today urged me to do. And I may not. The point is, I have the luxury of deciding, when so many do not. And my own kids may not have that luxury.
So, I tell you, the greatest gift you can give your kids is unfettered freedom, the chance to build a strong foundation for themselves and their own kids, to think of the next generation instead of the last, the (what’s the opposite of obligation?) … of not having to support their parents.
But, then… I wonder. What if the “obligation” of having to support and care for our parents is really a gift? Otherwise, we’re just warehoused. Right? Is that a gift to our kids? They have to live with themselves later, after all.
Someone recently said to me something about my dad being a “burden.”
I was of course offended.
He quickly realized he’d fumbled and tried to replace the word burden.
The thing is, “burden” is accurate. And yet at the same time, not necessarily a problem.
Maybe we NEED burdens.
These “Americans” who can’t be bothered to pick up someone else’s child from the mall floor… maybe they should be a little more burdened. Maybe that would be good for us. For all of us.