aging

Dear Much Younger Self

My darling younger Laurie,

What I am doing is nothing new.  In fact, writing letters to one’s younger self is downright hackneyed.   Everyone does it.   Oprah did it a few years ago and the world went ape shit,  she then wrote her own eulogy and all  of Alpha Centauri had a brown out.    Ah, the infinite power of The Oprah.

I guess I could take it one step further and  write my  own epitaph while I’m at it.

IMG_2144

First, we’ll address us when we were 20.     Nice time.    We are/were was young and thin.    Still living in Austin before the severe leftist intrusion the late 80’s.    College was fun, like high school with ash trays.   It was a raucous time to be alive.   Back then, no one tried so hard to be different.   Uniqueness just was– not a lifestyle pursuit.

You’ll look back one day and laugh at how during your college years, you moved every time the rent went up.  Silly.  Don’t do it.  it’ll only cost more in the long run.   The $72.00 a  week you’ll make at that retail store will be tough to live on, but it’ll be one of your greatest teachers.   Yes, a paycheck such as it,  will be a wonderful learning tool……you’ll learn to go without.  But that’s important.     You’ll learn how to moderate moderation.

It’ll be a hassle to be a  full-time student working at a crappy job that introduced itself to you as a crappy job.   We knew it when you said “Yes to the stress”.    But you’ll  do just fine.   You’ll learn to live within your means and you already know about talking in a higher octave to buy a cheaper Happy Meal without the guilt.

Never forget get those insidious roach infested apartments we lived in.   They were and for some time, will be, tiny and cramped.  They will, be lean to’s with a few shingles, some with indoor plumbing.   But you’ll appreciate that you have a roof over your head.   . But never forget, the DNA of a hundred previous tenants will always be swirling on every surface.   Avoid the petri dish that will be your kitchens.   Look into healthy ways of employing anorexia in your life, if possible.   You won’t want to place food, much less eat it, anywhere near most of your kitchen counters.

For a time in your  early twenties to age 30 or so, the only letters you’ll receive will be returned check notices from your bank.   You’ll learn to hate that distinctive shade of pink paper that shouts  “welcher…..loser” from behind the envelope’s cellophane window.   But I beg you, don’t beat yourself up about this. Why?  Because you will survive the “student experience”.  And bouncing checks..on purpose, .with intent, is part of that survival experience. I didnt say ethical but it woo bevomecan necessary evil.  In fact, it’s survival  101.   You’ll make those particular sacrifices several times  while still young in life.    And I promise there’s, an end to what seems like an impossible student loan payback process.

You’ll live in neighborhoods that were shady because like your neighbors, you didn’t have a choice.    At least not in the fiscal sense.   And yes, the chasm between you and “the haves” will exist, especially while still in college, You’ll look enviously at those rich, indulged sorority types who were subsidized  by parent-ships, mummy and daddy paid for everything,     You used to think their only goal for four years was to pledge the right sorority, date the right guy from the proper Texas zip code and study, in between winters in Cabo and spring breaks in Gstaad.   But I want you to let go of any resentment ASAP.   It’s beneath your humanity   and besides, everyone has a veneer, a lovely candy coating…..and consequently, everyone has a price they must pay for everything.   The Big Mental Get Even comes later, I promise.    You’ll be amazed how once you’re in the real world, the playing field will be leveled.     Not completely, but more so than it was during your college days.  You’ll grow up, mature and see the error in your thinking.    You’ll eventually right your listing ship with emotional ballast you never thought possible.

Oh and while I’m at it, don’t date a jock at while at The University of  Texas.   It won’t end well.     For him, as it turned out.   Avoid pilots at all costs.  There’s a shoe salesman, a smart yet immature and confused engineer and an selfish actor wanna be in the mix.    Avoid them all.   Run from them…head west, head west!!!

You’ll have a kickass career, especially at the very beginning and while the money isn’t flooding in, your star is rising and you will be heralded in ways you envidioned at age six.     On air, you are loved unconditionally and disliked with as much passion.   Learn to edit criticism from viewers and listeners and for God’s sake, run like hell from broadcast consultants.     All they know is resentment from on-air careers  that went to hell or worse, never went anywhere.   They’re Satan’s spawn on a salad plate filled with nettles.     General Managers with few exceptions are generally full of hot air too, their hands still aching from all the knives they plunged into other people’s backs.    They will eventually stumble and fall as well.   You’ll learn that failure and disappointment are viable and unavoidable  facts of life.    Embrace them.  They are lessons indeed, but not necessarily pass/fail courses.    You can choose your mode of testing.

In order to do that, I urge you to ignore the tall, handsome Canadian.   Avoid the lessservrelationshipscthstbtook morevthsnnthry’ll hive.     Stay clear of the lure of fame even if regional, even if it’s on lowest rung on the show biz latter.  Try to abstain from all the stuff that feels good and either sounds like, or actually includes the letter “x” anywhere its title.   Imbibe less.  Learn that Love is more, much more than having a a few commonalities,    A mutual love of chicken coop welding will bring  you together, but it’s not enough to keep you together.   Love is complicated, regardless of how easy and effortless  it might feel.   Use common sense, don’t be a doormat.   Reinforce your spine constantly.

Please let go of that precious little lion cub by 1975.    Trust me, your life will be easier.    Adolescent first loves are too often idealized and never a reason to seek a vacuum cleaner hose to attach to the exhaust pipe before shutting the garage door.  Not that you’d ever do that,.   But this break up will feel like the absolute end of the world.  It’s actually just the end of a phase….that just feels like forever.   .But please let go early.   There’s power in release.    He never loved you like you loved him.     Seek emotional parity and let him go in the process.  He’s  nothing more than a greasy  kid stuff  memory .

Learn that donuts aren’t sweet bagels, don’t date co-workers.   Madonna will always be thinner than you AND might I add, always a year older.    Calibrate the mania in your life, keep stress on low and battle the inertia, where possible.  And please know this—it’s perfectly fine to be vulnerable, just not to the point of exploitation.

So, be kind  to yourself.   More than I was.   I’m sorry for some of the decisions I made….not so much what I did, but who I did.   Had I been wiser, the tone of this letter would be far less cautionary.  But in spite of all the warnings, there will be good times in your life and yes, you will know joy, but understand that (unless you did an unscripted  180 and became a cloistered nun), it’s not a constant.    It should be, but it can’t be, no matter what bill of goods someone  is trying to sell you.   You’re an errant human and you’ll know joy’s varying degrees throughout your life.    Revel in its presence.     Use time wisely, it never seems to stop until it has passed.   Oy.   Enjoy your memories but stay focused on  your dreams and goals.      And uh….being the first female broadcaster in space, isn’t one of them.

Marriage and motherhood can be in the picture should you choose to form a civil union or procreate….but it’s not an all or nothing scenario.   Don’t let anyone tell you you’re selfish because you don’t want kids…..if, you decide you don’t want kids.  My ability  was compromised after the wreck we had in 1992′.   It’s quite different to not want kids, yet still have it be an option..    It’s quite another thing  to be told you can’t.    But  you’ll  survive that, too.   Welcome menopause and be okay with aging, as long as you don’t attach anything numerical to the process.  Stay away from fun house mirrors and laugh, loudly and often.  Walk tall, learn to accept and respect your gifts. You have more than you have allowed yourself to realize.  Avoid complex carbohydrates and refuse the urge to celebrate your birthday during Fiesta in San Antonio, 1991. As we discussed earlier,  the trip there will literally wreck your life.

You wil lose your best friend to AIDS in 2007 and another very dear friend will be taken by a massive heart attack ten years later.    You’ll lose many colleagues and very close broadcast mentors between  2000 and 2017.   These things will happen in rapid succession and it will eviscerate you emotionally.  Cry all you want, and trust me, you will.   Don’t even bother wearing mascara.   But you’ll recover.   A few will even serve as guides from the other side.   And even if they aren’t really, , it’ll make me good to think so.

Jettison  from your life negative,  needy people, the poseurs , the petty narcissists  and general assholes who are mean spirited and cruel,     This will be easy since station  closures help with attrition.

Invest heavily in Big Pharma and BioMed in 2017.  Oh and something called Alphabet….Google it.

Lastly and perhaps the most important thing Older Me can impart to Younger Me would be this:  your mother wasn’t Kreskin, or Einstein.     She was wrong about a lot of things.

Huzzah!!

Hugz,

Me at 58.

An Untitled Ode

If I were asked to name a new rock band, I’d call it Ava’s Gardner.

I thought about that while waiting in line at the Walgreen’s in my hamlet.   I know it would only be  funny to ‘people of a certain age’, still,  I found it funny.

Then, I pulled up to the clerk behind the bullet proof glass and the metal drawer that when fed various forms of negotiable currency,  magically dispenses all kinds of drugs that are supposed to help combat issues associated with ‘people of a certain age’.    If only the drug dealers of my wanton youth were as attentive and accommodating and NOT under DEA surveillance.   My bedside table looks like a crime scene photo from  Marilyn Monroe’s bedroom.    Like hers, my bedside table is littered  with amber hued plastic pharmaceutical bottles.  Unlike Marilyn’s collection of Big Pharma, my collection includes  none of the fun stuff.   Aging it seems, is a condition that must be treated medically.

In 1973,  when I transitioned from an  8th grader to a high school Freshman, I discovered FM rock stations.   What a concept.   No AM static or hiss or loss of signal when you drove under an overpass.   Even standard songs that ran amuck on AM station playlists sounded better on FM.    I remember one of the first songs I heard on this amazing new format–’twas aural splendor.  It was an Elton John tune that was a few years old and rarely played then, much less now.  It was entitled Friends, from the French movie of the same name, about two young teen lovers (a term I loathe).  The beginning of the second verse is as follows:

“It seems to be crime that we should age….”

Turn 14 and all that that implies, and listen to those lyrics and try NOT to experience new-found teenage angst and existential doubt.

Funny how amplified a pimple, a break up, an unrequited crush, a mid-term exam, the prom, being popular or not, can be everything at one point in life.  How small the world is in the life a young teen in a free society circa 1973

In those years, all I wanted to do was experience what my new masters, the surges of estrogen, were commanding me to do.   But mother didn’t like it.   To her, I’d become  a problem child.    I proclaimed  her “pubic” enemy #1.   I matured faster than my two older sisters who were more demure and feared her.   I didn’t.  The fact that I would  argue and debate points  WHY I’m should be allowed to attend a senior party, were lost on her.  She didn’t see it as burgeoning negotiation skills.  It was me being a sassy.  A smarty pants.      It’s as if she viewed my larger boobs as dousing rods that would lead to bad behavior.   She was very strict based on reasons she couldn’t explain.   I was actually very normal for my age, but she was intent on coloring me abnormormal, compared to the two daughters she’d previously raised.   I was constantly threatened with being sent to a convent school and forced to see priests and shrinks because she couldn’t understand me.

It wasn’t long before I realized our mother/ daughter dynamic was textbook skewed.    She knew it too.  The truth is, she was hardly the mother that a girl like me should have had and I wasn’t  the daughter that  a woman like her should have had.    We’re were misplaced in each other’s lives.  We were a living conundrum–very much alike while also being polar opposites.

She was/ is short in stature and even shorter now, and even though I surpassed her in height decades ago, she has always been nine feet tall,  completely imposing in her very counteneance.   I saw that as a challenge.     I’d get grounded, but felt it worth it if I got a good line in as my two week sentence was being handed down.

It took a number of years before I understood her as a woman with issues of her own.

She turned 86 in June.   She is slow and doddering, her memory will lapse, she searches for words and can stand  with vacant eyes, her mouth agape until what ever synapse starts firing normally again.   She’s now at that point where if she can’t remember it, it didn’t happen.    “Damn liar!”,  I’ve decided, is a term of endearment.

It’s taken years to understand how unkind onset of senility can be.   

She has good days.   She has bad days.  She has aches and pains.   She’s deaf and refuses to wear her hearing aid.   She’s often grumpy.   Her front and back bumpers of her car are mosaics of colors from things she’s  bumped into.    The familial discussions about additional care and imposing new restrictions such as allowing her to continue to get behind the wheel, are becoming more frequent.     It’ll enrage her to learn she can longer drive. But we would do it for her own good though she’ll compare to a stint in Abu Graib?

It was her choice to move into a lovely semi independent home earlier this year, though  she doesn’t socialize with her fellow residents.   She talks more openly about her death, a topic I hate, but I know it’s my duty as her daughter to remain quiet and absorb everything she says as opposed to denying her the priveledge.   After growing up in The Depression, after watching friends and brothers  leave to fight in World War II or Korea and never return home; after all she’s witnessed, such as  the advent of TV, astronaut Neil Armstrong take one giant leap for  mankind…and after giving birth to two compliant  daughters and one ABC After School Special (aka me), she’s earned that right to talk about her life and the end of it.

It’s taken a few years to appreciate aging along side my mother.

It’s odd that we’ve finally reached something akin to a canvass  of common ground that’s painted as gray as our hair and on a landscape of  mirroring wrinkles.

My two sisters see her once a month.  Her decline is more obvious to them.  But I notice it too.   Often, from day to day.

But despite that, life goes on thankfully and I’m renewed in some way that we still argue, we still have distinctly different views on almost everything but we have a better understanding of each other which remains unacknowledged.    And that’s okay.   We’ve never been demonstrative in word or deed.  She told me she loved me by giving me coupons for products I liked or  highlighting newspaper articles about weight loss, a knee with encroaching arthritis or how  to find THEE man of my dreams.    I’m emotionally awkward too, though I can say I love you easier than she can.  She’ll say it in return if told first, but she never initiates it.

And that’s okay, too.

I understand so much more than I did at eight or 18 or 38 or 58, which if you must know, staring me down in a matter of months.

The reality is my time with her grows short.   Someday, sooner rather than later,  the phone will ring and life as I’ve known it, will cease.  One day, I know I’ll miss being told no with a hand slap,  or that what I’m wearing, watching, reading,  driving, drinking and thinking is all wrong for me.   I’ll miss hearing  my hairstyle is 20 years too young for me and there no more be questions about the  eye liner I’ve applied being or something from the Slut Line of cosmetics.    She’s old, but still biting.

I’ll even miss being called a Communist spinster with a bad attitude;  hearing the  constant criticism that comes with wearing bra that’s completely ill-fitting for a woman with what she calls, some “heft”.

Someday, she’ll be gone.

And it will take years for me to get over it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Icing Man Commeth

As in a man icing a birthday cake.

Yes, the old Laur will have traipsed Ms. Buck’s ‘Good Earth’ for 57 years.   Hard to believe.   It’s been an interesting  57 jam  packed years filled with amazing life experiences so incredibly groovy and so horrible, they could reanimate  Buddy Ebsen.

And some years could’ve inspired Dante.

Good and bad were and are always present,  just at different times for different  purple.

I keep getting asked what I want this year.      My answer is nothing.    Im  reminded  that everyday I spend  above ground is a treat and I am grateful.     And I want other things like global  love, world peace , equality,  no more profiteering from war and all the other typical Miss America Q&A response shit.    But my passion for al these things are waning.   Im hardly as passionate about any of it as I used to be.   I mean, I’m not willing to burn the flag, my haggard bra  or my AARP card in protest.     I protest with my wallet now.   For example, If I don’t like how little Dole pays its pickers, I don’t buy their pineapples.

And I used to think college protestors who burned the ROTC building or overtook the dean’s office were cool.  Today, I think they’re criminals.    To have youthful idealism is womderful, but keep it within a reality  based perspective.   Everything must change.    Like elongated boobs that were once taught and perky but  now hold a tray of canapes. They’ve changed.    Everything changes.    Life is about change and how we changed with the changes forced upon us.is

My whole family consists of pre-Clinton Democrats.      They aren’t now.     I used to be a blond.   The every increasing streaks of grey  amid the dark roots prove I’m not that not that much of a liar..     My tolerance has changed.     And I’m now far more confrontational.     If I see an ininjustice, I’ll say something.   If one is perpetuated against me, God help the perpetrator.  If warranted, I’ll use what few good bones I have left left in my leg aim directly at the crotch.    Any crotch..      A grocery cart rolled into my car recently.   You know that  plastic sign in the side insisting that all children be” carefully strapped” in  seats??

The cart now has a huge ding between the reo ‘Ps’.

As for turning 57, my brain is now taking orders from my body more than my brain,     I had a nasty car accident 27 years ago and broke 11 bones, so my brain gets overridden quite a bit.    Moving really isn’t all that easy and the accompanying chronic pain is no picnic  but if strong enough, you learn to live with your newfound abilities..

So….I guess what I’ll do my BD do is wake up that morning, take a post wake up nap, scratch whatever  itches—-bathing will  be based on a coin flip, check FOX News to see who blew what up, then go my almost 86 year old  mother’s house and stare at her third and final caesarean  section scar for 57 seconds as she reminds me how painful my birth was.    Her memory wanes.   I keep telling her she did not have me vaginally.  She insists she did and seems to recall the spinal block  injection that numbed everything below her waist was just a mosquito bite.

I’ll just sit there and agree with her, then make an apology for my painful birth she never felt,  but that’ll fall  on deaf ears.     As in literal deaf ears.

Then I hope I go back to my house sans people trying to hide behind furniture to surprise me, then I’ll light a votive candle and make the same 51 year old birthday wish  I always make.   It won’t come true, but after 57 years  it’s become a habit.   I can always hope.

Look, I know this makes me out  you be a cynic,  pessimistic and  jaded.   Don’t get me wrong.   Life is okay.    I go out early on clear Central Texas morning and see stars that I just know are looking back at me and only me.     I’l be thankful that while my boobs a do look WWII issue German hand grenades, they’re both healthy.   Ill smile because I’m NOT a mother of five in Mexico who struggles to feed her children.    Then I’ll smile even bigger becsuse I can  write a check to a charity that can help her her get all the food  she needs.

So  yeah, , I’ll 57 in a less than week.    Sure I’ve hardened;  gotten older, colder and in the process of being happy to be bored, perfectly ok with being alone, even being more intolerant of certain things, I’ll,be okay,   All those things, as unpleasant as they might be, means I’m alive.

But you know what?   On second thought, I do want something, but good damn luck trying to wrap it in a box, because all I want is some time back.     I want the time….just enough time to express my gratitude for all the things and people in my life.

And for all the things and people I’ve lost and will soon be losing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

is,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

grateful

Dear Laurie

My darling younger self,

What I am doing is nothing new.  In fact, writing letters to your younger self is downright hackneyed.   Everyone does it.   I guess I could also try to write your epitaph while I’m at it!!!!   Okay, but that’s for later in our therapy.

First, we’ll address us when we were 20.     Nice time.    We are/were was young and thin.    Still living in Austin before the severe leftist intrusion the late 80’s.    College was fun, like high school with ash trays.   It was a raucous time to be alive.   Back then, no one tried so hard to be different.   Uniqueness just was– not a lifestyle pursuit.

Remember how we moved every time the rent went up?   It was a hassle to be a  full-time student working at a crappy job that introduced itself to you as a crappy job.     We knew it when we said “Yes to the stress”.    But you’ll do just fine.   You’ll learn to live within your means and you already know about talking at a higher octave to buy a cheaper Happy Meal without the guilt.

Never forget get those insidious roach infested apartments we lived in.   They were and for some time, will be, tiny and cramped.  Lean to’ with shingles.  But you’ll appreciate that you have a roof over your head and indoor plumbing. But never forget, the DNA of a hundred previous tenants will always be swirling on every surface.   Avoid the petri dish that will be your kitchens.   Look into healthy ways of employing anorexia in your life, if possible.   You won’t want to place food, much less eat it, anywhere near most of your kitchen counters.

For a time in your  early twenties to age 30 or so,, the only letters you’ll receive will be returned check notices from your bank.   You’ll learn to hate that distinctive shade of pink paper that shouts  “welcher…..loser” behind the envelope’s cellophane window.   But I beg you, don’t beat yourself up about this. Why?  Because you will survive the “student experience”.   You’ll make those particular sacrifices while still young in life.  You’ll live in neighborhoods that were shady because like your neighbors, you didn’t have a choice.    At least not in the fiscal sense.   And yes, the chasm between you and “the haves” will exist, especially while still in college, You’ll look enviously at those rich, indulged sorority types who were on parents-ships, totally subsidized by mummy and daddy.  You used to think their only goal for four years was to pledge the right sorority, date the right guy from the proper Texas zip code and study, in between winters in Cabo and spring breaks in Gstaad.   But I want you to let go of any resentment ASAP.   It’s reductive and besides, everyone has a veneer, a lovely candy coating…..and consequently, everyone has a price to pay for everything.   The Big Mental Get Even comes later, I promise.    You’ll be amazed how once you’re in the real world, the playing field will be leveled.     Not completely, but more so than it was during your college days.  You’ll grow up, mature and see the error in your thinking.

Oh and while I’m at it, don’t date any jocks at while at The University of  Texas.   It won’t end well.

For him, as it turns out.

You’ll have a kickass career, especially at the very beginning and while the money isn’t flooding in, your star is rising and you will be heralded in ways you only imagined at age six.     On air, you are loved unconditionally and disliked with as much passion.   Learn to edit criticism from viewers and listeners and for God’s sake, run like hell from broadcast consultants.     All they know is resentment from an on-air career that went to hell or worse, never went anywhere.   They’re Satan’s spawn on a salad plate filled with nettles.     General Managers are generally full of hot air too, their hands still aching from all the knives they plunged into other people’s backs.    They will eventually stumble and fall as well.   You’ll learn that failure and disappointment are viable and unavoidable  facts of life.    Embrace them.  They are lessons indeed, but not necessarily pass/fail courses.    You can choose your mode of testing.

In order to do that, I urge you to avoid pilots, ignore the tall, handsome Canadian.   Stay clear of the lure of fame even if regional, even if it’s on lowest rung on the show biz latter.  Try to abstain from all the stuff that feels good and either sounds like, or actually includes the letter “x” anywhere its title.   Imbibe less.  Learn that Love is more, much more than a few commonalities,    A mutual love of chicken coop welding will bring  you together, but it’s not enough to keep you together.   Love is complicated, regardless of how easy it can feel.   Use common sense, don’t be a doormat.   Reinforce your spine.

Please let go of that precious little lion cub by 1975.    Trust me, your life will be easier.    Adolescent first loves are too often idealized and never a reason to seek a vacuum cleaner hose before shutting the garage door.  It just feels like the end of the world.   It isn’t.  There’s power in release.

Learn that donuts aren’t sweet bagels, don’t date co-workers.   Madonna will always be thinner than you AND might I add, always a year older.    Calibrate the mania in your life, keep stress on low and battle the inertia, where possible.  And please know this—it’s perfectly fine to be vulnerable, just not to the point of exploitation.

So, be kinder to yourself than I was.    I’m sorry for some of the decisions I made….not so much what I did, but who I did.   Had I been wiser, the tone of this letter would be far less cautionary.  But in spite of all the warnings, there will be good times in your life and yes, you will know joy, but understand that (unless you did an unscripted  180 and became a cloistered nun), it’s not a constant.    It should be, but it can’t be, no matter what bill of goods you or someone else is trying to sell you.   .    You’re an errant human and you’ll know joy’s varying degrees throughout your life.    Revel in its presence.     Use time wisely, it never seems to stop until it has passed.   Oy.   Enjoy your memories but stay focused on  your dreams and goals.      And uh….being the first female broadcaster in space, isn’t one of them.

Marriage and motherhood can be In the picture should you choose to form a civil union or procreate….providing the ovaries can produce anything but powdered eggs.    That’ll be an issue.   But  you’ll welcome menopause and be okay with aging, as long as you don’t attach anything numerical to the process.  Stay away from fun house mirrors and laugh, loudly and often.  Walk tall, learn to accept and respect your gifts. You have more than you allowed yourself to realize.  Avoid complex carbohydrates and refuse the urge to celebrate your birthday during Fiesta in San Antonio, 1991. The trip there will literally wreck your life.

Lastly and perhaps the most important thing Older Me can impart to Younger Me would be this:  your mother wasn’t Kreskin.   She was wrong about a lot of things.

Huzzah!!

Hugz,

You at 56.

A Week With My Mother

I was summoned to the Texas Hill Country last week…partly by my mother; partly by a need to get out of Houston and breathe different air and also because of a sense of daughterly duty.

I stayed with my mother who as of this past June,  boasts a life consisting of 81 years on this planet.  The woman who bore me 52.5 years ago,  truly is an amazing woman.   She’s short…only  4’8″ (4′ 9.5″  providing her coif is sufficiently teased and Aqua Netted) but in many ways she’s the tallest woman I’ve ever known.  Her personality is as it has always been:  bigger than life.    I appreciate her now in ways I couldn’t….

Or wouldn’t.

My problem is that I always allowed her mothering to get in my way.   You see, she wasn’t necessarily a bad mother…perhaps, not the best for a woman like me.   I wasn’t a bad daughter either…just hardly the one a woman like her should mother.

We’ve always had a rather tumultuous relationship.    I’m not even sure why.   I do think we’re both to blame though.

A little background:    I knew I wanted to be a Broadcast Journalist since age six when a camera crew captured the  top of my very blond head which appeared over the back of my centenarian great grandmother’s wheel chair.     KENS-TV, the CBS affiliate in San Antonio had come to my home town to film her 100th birthday party.   Guess life expectancy for former South Texas pioneer women wasn’t very high in the mid 60’s.

That night, clad in Winnie the Pooh footed pajamas, I sat cross-legged on the cold linoleum floor in front of the Curtis Mathis that night, waiting to see if I could see me on the news.  Sure enough, there I was.   You could only see the top of my head and only for a fraction of a second, but it was  just enough to make me realize what I wanted to do, to be;  to experience when I grew up.

I feel sure my mother had the same aspirations most of her life.   But she dropped out of Baylor her Sophomore year to get married.  Her hopes of being a writer were dashed when my oldest sister was born.   Protestant procreation urges forced  her to sprout two more groin fruit.   I was the third and last bi-product of this Sealy Posturpedic co-mingling.

I am more like my mother than my two older sisters.  In me, she saw herself and that was both good and bad.   I became what she wanted to become but  because of personal choices, didn’t.   But I don’t think she always saw it like that.  My mother has never been one to admit mistakes and because of that, at times I feel she needed to believe others stood in her way.  This conveniently allowed her to cover up her own disappointment for never trying harder to do all the things she wanted.    In fact, after a very tumultuous divorce, my mother was convinced that her marriage to my father–the result of  falling for some line about his coercive  fears of being made to fight the Korean hun and only returning to Texas in a coffin–was the main reason why her dreams of becoming a writer, were trashed.

The truth is, she never tried to write throughout her years of child rearing.   I think she was scared of both failure and success.  But that all changed several years into her retirement.   She finally went for broke and took a few writing courses, but dropped out when the instructor harshly critiqued her essay.    All of her life, her  flawless dreams of  being a published author never included  being  “edited”.    No dreams ever do.

Sadly, she never wrote again and we all knew better than to ask why.   The sad part is that we also knew that she actually could write very well.   Even all these years later, I hate that she let one person’s very subjective opinion sully every aspiration she had.

Perhaps that’s only added to the conflict between us that has existed for decades.  For reasons that I would suppose are deeply Freudian in nature, I feel certain that my mother both loved and hated my very public career in TV and radio.    Whenever she had something to say to me, it was almost always critical.  She found fault in every report;  with my appearance in every TV stand up.  She hated what I wore;  how I phrased something.   Then, if she couldn’t find fault with my performance, she criticized the station itself or the city it was in…or my salary.    Yet I know she was proud of me because she would express her to other people but for some reason, she could never tell me she was proud of me to my face.   I think she wanted me to succeed yet she needed me to fail.  And that resulted in many attempts to shake my confidence.    Most of the time, I deflected her negativity by striking back with arrogance.   I acted like a know-it-all brat who fiendishly went for her emotional fontanel  by rubbing her nose in my successes on more occasions than I care to admit.  That almost always resulted in  horrendous shouting matches  that would make wharf whores and teamsters blush.

Regrettably, we’ve spent a lifetime arguing more than anything else.   But this visit was different.   At least, it certainly felt different.

This time, we weren’t rivals, but we weren’t friends either.  I’m not sure what we were.  But I do know the dynamic between us was very different.  It was easier.  I guess one could even call it effortless efforting,   Somehow, the anger induced sparring of the past  fell by the wayside.   For one week we were civil.   It was as if we’d managed to evolve into  two much calmer women who understood each other…maybe for the first time ever.   We celebrated that by drinking Scotch and sipping wine on occasion.   We went shopping and tended to business.   We watched TV  together;   we tried to out play each other on “Jeopardy”.   We ran errands together; we had dinner out;  cooked dinner at home and hosted a dinner party for family one night,  but regardless of what we did in the course of the day or the plans we had in the evening, every afternoon at 5:00 like clockwork, we’d go outside and sit on her front porch to watch Monarch butterflies pilfer nectar from flowers wilted by a hard summer drought.   We watched migratory geese fly south for the winter and wondered out loud how in the hell the geese selected the lead HGIC (Head Goose In Charge) and what a drag it was to be the weakest in the phyla and be forced to fly at the end of that famous “Y” pattern.     We laughed at silly jokes and shared memories.   We talked about love and life and failure and successes–other people’s’  mind you; certainly not our own.  And yes, at times, she couldn’t help herself.  She’d revert to type to do what she did best:  she played mother and I knew I had no choice but to reprise my role as daughter.

And here’s the difference I wrote about earlier:  I took it all.    I just sat there and quietly endured six afternoons of being barraged with comments about my skin and how bad it  looked.  I learned that my hair was cut in a style that was much too young.  I dressed all wrong for my age.   I looked bloated.  She’d ask me why I choose THAT eyeliner and how could I wear those shoes?   And last but not least in order to meet a nice man and settle down, she insisted that I couldn’t just sit in my apartment and wait for one to knock on my door.  I needed to get out there,  take a chance, BUT I SHOULD AVOID GOING TO BARS TO MEET MEN!!

I said nothing.   Arguing wasn’t an option, nor did  I  want it to be.   I decided that I had two choices within this new ritual we were establishing:   I could take the negative things she says to heart and flounder…OR…I can see my positives as I know them to be and refuse to  allow someone’s  insecurities and feelings of inadequacies to rewrite my life’s profile page, even if that person is my mother;  especially if that person is my mother.    I had come to terms with the reality that this was who this  woman is and has been;  what she’s all about.    It’s who she always will be  and in the course of my week spent with her, I finally stopped fighting that fact.   It was as if my life as her daughter and her life as my mother had reached some mystical reckoning simultaneously.     And it all came into focus under the nuclear explosion of color that is a Central Texas sunset in early Autumn.    In a way, she’d earned the right to be her whether I liked it or not  and the late afternoon light proved that true.  It illuminated her face and it showed every line and wrinkle,  courtesy of so many years and experiences.   It was odd seeing her like this….literally in ‘a new light’….and because of that,  I  never averted my gaze.  I desperately wanted that image of her  permanently emblazoned in my memory.

And as I sat on her front porch afternoon after afternoon, I realized that I no longer felt the need for approval that would never come.  I no longer wanted her to compliment or coddle me.   I didn’t want money or maternal recognition of any kind.  I simply wanted time.   That’s all.    I wanted more time to be with this woman.

As twilight drew near, she’d always suggest  that we go inside.  I’d always oblige, but did so under silent protest.   In many, many ways, I didn’t want to go inside.  I didn’t want to leave that porch.   I didn’t want to leave her house.

The truth is, I didn’t want to leave my mother.

I once read that  Life is but a candle’s flicker;  out with a puff of smoke.    All week-long, that sentence kept coursing through my head.    I know her years left on this good Earth can be counted on a few fingers.  Even so, I refuse to regret anything that’s happened between us.   Even the bad stuff.  Every afternoon, in the midst of butterflies, questions about flying geese and shadows that grew longer with each passing minute, I made a vow to  replace every bitter regret with better memories.  Mercifully I realized or rather, I hoped, I’d still have time to make more.

Armed with this new strategy and mindset, I stood with her one last time on her front porch this morning.   I got in my car after two hugs, a promise to return in a month, one kiss on the cheek and one “I love you”.   I was the one who said it.     She said nothing.    She never does.   When it comes to expressing emotions, that’s the one time when this normally chatty woman becomes utterly dumbstruck.

When I arrived back home to Houston after a long,  three-hour drive, I looked  in my purse and  found one of her trademark powder blue envelopes which contained  a $2.00 off coupon for some Oil of Olay anti-aging skin-care product; a  $3.00 coupon for Metamucil and a newspaper article about the pros and cons of being loveless over the age of 50.

Two coupons and a newspaper clipping told me what she couldn’t:  that she loved me, too.

It’s Always The Simplest Explanation

Years ago….20 to be exact….I used to review movies for a station here in Houston.  One largely forgettable movie I once tackled was “Jacob’s Ladder”.   It stars  Tim Robbins who portrays a  New York postal worker named Jacob Singer who’s  trying to keep his frayed life from unraveling. His days are increasingly being invaded by flashbacks to his first marriage, his now-dead son, and his tour of duty in Vietnam where he was wounded by a bayonet during an attack on his platoon.

He wakes up in a New York subway on his way home from work late one night. Over the next few days,  Jacob is chased by demons and believes the army is conspiring against him, all of this while having strange visions representing different periods of his life.

OK so, there you have the plot in a nutshell.   But what this movie is about isn’t as important as its title. “Jacob’s Ladder”.   I’d heard the phrase before. I knew it had something to do with biblical philosophy…or home construction.

I had to look it up because well, as a recovering Catholic, I would have to.   It’s first mentioned in Genesis 28:10-12.

Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway/ladder resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

It’s in this passage that God reveals Himself to Jacob and reaffirms the covenant He made with Abraham, promising Jacob that his offspring will be many and that the Promised Land will one day belong to his descendants. In this vision Jacob sees something similar to a ladder or a stairway which signifies a connection between God and man. In this instance, it was God who provided the means necessary to link Himself to man as opposed to the men of Babel in Genesis 11 who tried to reach heaven by their own actions, without the help of God.

And we all know what happened with the Tower of Babel, right?   It started to lean big time  and became a tourist attraction in Italy.

But I digress…

The movie, which I hated, got me thinking about all kinds of axioms–biblical, philosophical and otherwise.  In my pursuit to learn more about Jacob’s Ladder, I started getting into all kinds of similar thought processes; Occam’s razor for one.

In the simplest of terms Occam’s razor (or Ockham or Hockham or any of a number of different spellings) states that the simplest explanation is usually the right one.  Doctors use it to determine an illness by its symptoms.   Detectives use it to deduce who the likeliest suspect in a murder case would be — you know, as in “the butler did it.”

I hadn’t thought much about Occam or his razor until I attended a party recently.   I saw friends, former broadcasting colleagues and acquaintances that I hadn’t seen in decades.    I didn’t recognize some of them.   Sadly, several didn’t recognize me either.   Why?  Well, it wasn’t a costume party, people.   We didn’t recognize each other because we’ve aged.

A lot.

And then, the concept was hammered home further when I dined in a Middle Eastern restaurant  not long ago.   The dining room had this very large TV screen.  As I sat there eating my gyro, I was forced to watch a soap opera I hadn’t seen since the mid 80’s.

I used to watch the soon to be cancelled, All My Children in the TV lounges on campus in between classes.  University officials turned several cafeteria adjacent meeting rooms into comfy, darkened rooms in which students could come in chill and watch the carryings on of their favorite asshole men and bitch/tramp women as they’d consort, cavort, cheat, lie and when ratings demanded it,  murder their way through the course of an hour’s time slot on the phenomenon known as “daytime television”.

The last time I watched AMC, Erica Kane was still wreaking havoc in Pine Valley; Mona was her long-suffering mother. Phoebe was still rich and conniving and several young characters had been introduced, too.   I remember one of these nubile newbies was Tad Gardner, played by  dashing actor, Michael E. Knight.  This is how I remember him. 

Good looking, huh?

Michael E. Knight always had a lot of personality, at least he acted like he did.   I always thought he’d be cool to know.   He perfected the “Tad The Cad” role beautifully and became one of those characters that we (and this is so cliché)  “loved to hate”.   His character was wildly popular and often his antics became THEE STORY line on All My Children.

I think I last laid eyes on him  it was  maybe, possibly the early spring of 1985.  I graduated in May of that year and entered the work force right away and never again fell victim to the siren song of soap operas.   They are like meth in their addictive natures.

And that means my last dalliance as a soap fan was….what?   Twenty five years ago?

Well, much to my surprise, I saw Michael E. Knight…the 2011 version of him on All My Children  as ate  my lunch.    Wow!!  He’s still on AMC which professionally speaking, is an incredible feat, but that wasn’t the source of my dismay.  I was shocked because Michael looked so…so…old.

This man is, in real life, a mere two weeks younger than me and he now has the audacity to look like the 52-year-old man his driver’s license says he is.  How did that happen?   When did that happen?  Now please, don’t get me wrong.  Mike is still wonderfully handsome, even in his well-worn, lived-in state, but after 25 years of not laying eyes on him once…not one single time, I was surprised at his aging metamorphosis.    I really couldn’t believe my eyes.

No, that’s actually a lie.

I didn’t want to believe my eyes.

To do so would mean that I too have aged just as much, which I have, but here’s the difference:  I’ve watched what time has wrought on my face and body.   I’ve witnessed the southern migration of my body parts on a daily basis.  I look in the mirror and I see what looks back at me.  So, in my defense, I was a bit shocked because I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Michael Knight in a quarter of a century.

And spare me the insults–I know I’ve no room to talk.   Like Michael, I’m 52  and while blessed with very few facial wrinkles, my metabolism has moved and left no forwarding address and as a result,  I have an ass that continues to enter a room, five to eight seconds after I do.    This winter, I plan on using my boobs as a scarf.

My paunchy, hormonally layered stomach is no better.  If I ever allowed my fish belly white skin ANY solar exposure, I’d know that by the second hour in the sun, one of the little red plastic timer things would pop out of my navel indicating my doneness and that I’m ready to be removed from nature’s oven.

But then again, it is as I’ve said–I’ve seen my downward spiral as it happened.  I was there; present  as it was unfolding.   And if I didn’t think that before, going to the party I attended recently changed that for me.  I saw the way they were looking at me.   They scoured  my face and bod and probably struggled to recognize who and what they last saw a decade or more ago.  I KNOW they saw someone older…. certainly wider.   And sadly, I looked at them in the same way.

Some people age very well, but the truth is,  Time isn’t very kind to most people.    We can do everything we can to ward off the ravages of time, but without locating the Fountain of Youth and drinking from it with Big Gulf cups.  Or if you have the bucks to employ Dr. Juan Epstein, plastic surgeon to the scars, you’re gonna age with all the nasty, ugly tale-tale signs.

Enter former Doobie Brother, Michael McDonald.   He was a guest coach on American Idol not long ago.    His talent is still obvious, but he too has fallen victim to time and tide and apparently, Twinkies.

“…I keep forgetting we’re not a size 6 anymore…”

DENIAL  CASE 1:     I’d love to think that both Michaels, my fellow party guests and myself are all victims of some horrible life hoax perpetrated by special effects guru, Rick Baker and his team of Hollywood make up wizards sneaked in our homes and armed with latex, fat suits, wrinkled skin prosthetics and Bondo, and when we were asleep, aged us all a la Benjamin Button just for grins.

But that didn’t happen.

DENIAL CASE 2:  I’d like to think we;ve all aged because we’ve been exposed to an alien pterodactyl fart.   One that’s still pissed at humanity for that extinction thing and made radioactive because it had perched too long atop one of the reactor towers at Chernobyl.

But that didn’t happen either.

The explanation behind what actually happened is simple–we’ve aged.  That’s it in a nutshell..

We’ve been incested by Father Time; mocked by depleting collagen;  attacked by digestive systems that are retaliating after years of beer and pizza and then the fad diets we’d employ to reduce the damage all those carbs caused initially.  Make no mistake, somehow along the way, we got older and that meant we got grayer, wrinklier and heavier.   These are the more obvious components of the human condition; it’s what happens in the natural process that is the acquisition of years.

What are ya gonna do????

It is life.

It is Occam’s razor.

Shit….

.

My Memories Of Yore

Here in Houston, the 2011-2012 school year will be starting in a matter of days.   Local  TV news is treating like the event it is.    There are ‘back to school’ stories on every edition and the subject matter rarely changes from year to year.   So, now until Day 1, we’ll be inundated with  stories from what’s new and different this year to ways idiot Moms and Dads can pack more nutritious lunches for little Peyton or Madison.  

It’s been 34 years since I traversed a hallowed high school hall.   And I can honestly say I loved my school days…from kindergarten through 8th grade, but  I LOATHED high school.   My experience was horrible and it was something I never want to relive.   And while I haven’t exactly had to relive those days, I’ve had to revisit them a time or two. 

You see, part of my curriculum vitae includes being a reporter.    One fairly recent incarnation in this position involved an assignment that  took me back to high school.  I was asked to  interview a young pianist with impeccable skills.  In fact, his ability to play his instrument of choice , landed him in concert at Carnegie Hall; an extreme honor for any person of any age. 

As I walked through the halls of this large, urban edifice o’ education,  headed toward the auditorium where the interview was to take place, I was flooded with memories.  Namely bad ones.   For me, high school was a four-year prison sentence replete with a warden, guards, bad food,  handmade shivs in the form of homespun insults and a certain kind of cruelty that can only be fueled by rapidly fluctuating teenage hormones.

And did I mention bad shower sex???

Don’t worry, there wasn’t any.  But I do seem to remember that back in a P.E. class during my Junior year, there was a large, looming woman who had a gaze transfixed where it shouldn’t be, along with a steady drool.   I believe her name was Ralph.

Anyway,  fast forward to present day. 

As I walked down seemingly endless hallways,  I witnessed  a dream come true for any colorful metaphor in need of a writer.  I saw kids from every walk of  life;  kids with every kind of discernible angst.    Troubled kids like the Emo ones who can cry and write gut wrenching poetry at the drop of a hat.    These are the kids who actually know the lyrics and can sing  the aria, “Vesti la giubba” from Pagliacci, but would never admit it.

I saw the cute, popular girls with perfect skin, teeth and clothes.  I saw their exact opposites with bad hair and skin, who cowered behind big shirts and even bigger self-image issues. 

It was typical, really.  Somethings hadn’t changed.   There were the jocks,  the stoners, the brainiacs, the easy chicks and the cheerleaders and their style–all idiosyncratic to their high school social strata –which never really waivers that much  from generation to generation.    The same applies to band kids.   Fashion trends might change, but certain truths never will.   You can spot a Band Nerd from a million miles away–just as you could 34 years ago.   I would know.  I spent a few years as one.   Something about them gives them away:  their smallish, underdeveloped bodies  or perhaps it’s the shiny glean of light refracting off their braces.   Or maybe it’s the crackling breaks in their voices when glands and Nature play tug of war with a pair of testicles that just don’t know whether to descend or not.    

Kids in shorts roamed the halls.  I saw acne so bad it could emboss an envelope.   Guys with hair down to the middle of their backs.  Backpacks everywhere.   And very little makeup…more on the Emo kids than on the eyes and cheekbones  of the pretty, popular girls or cheerleaders.

Wow, it’s all so different these days.  

I got home from work that day and I had something of an emotional death wish–I decided to revisit my high school years.    The Internet allows entre to all kinds of  worlds, even those buried deep within our  psyches.  

Below, is a photo of a portion of the high school I attended.  It’s Karnes City High School and its image is something I lifted from the header of the KCISD website.

The ferocious three pawed critter that was obviously eating Cheetos before it walked across the header, is a Badger.  Our mascot is the Badger and we sport the school colors, orange and black. 

That’s a shot of the west side of the Dave Moore Auditorium.  It’s changed some since I used to pretend to be anywhere else while singing and dancing on its glossy, hardwood stage.  I think it’s air-conditioned now.  In fact, the whole school is.  

In 1977, it wasn’t.

And that’s not all that’s changed.  When I was in school, the girls weren’t allowed to wear pants until 1970…and even then, they had to be dress slacks.   We all kind of forced the blue jeans issue and by ’71, it was an all denim world.

The boys had a dress code in terms of their hair length.  It couldn’t be below the tops of their ears or the top of the back of their shirt collars.   Hey man, we didn’t want hippies at school!!!  But we had hippies.  The daring ones just put their longish locks behind their ears–most got away with it, too.   Our skirts and dresses could be no more than four and half inches ABOVE the middle of our knees.    Today, anything goes.   

In 1977, it didn’t.

And these days, kids are so coddled.   Everything is so ridiculously “self esteem’ oriented.   You don’t flunk tests these days; you’re challenged by them.   In today’s educational climate, kids are supposed to be emotionally healthy.

In 1977, I wasn’t.

Or was I??

As I walked and walked and walked through that very large, urban school, I thought about all that’s ahead of these kids.    Oooooooof.   And that’s when I realized that I would NEVER want to be that young again.  Late college age–my early to late 20’s???  Oh hell yeah, but my teen years?   No thanks.   I spent four  exhausting years in high school as a chameleon–changing hourly it seems,  just to be all things to everyone.  I was at any given moment that glistening band student with the metallic mouth…a jock…an actress…a cheerleader…an Emo and a stoner who fought with self-image and anyone else who dared to question an identity of which I never really certain.

Then again, maybe that’s what High School really is all about:  one big, complex hat sale in which you get to try on a different chapeau everyday until you find one that fits, that works…that you don’t have to remove unless you want to and yes, it somehow goes with every emotional ensemble you own.

…if only it could have actually been that easy…

I read this once:   Some parts of  your life you can do without, but high school isn’t one of them.”      Well, I beg to differ.   I should have started college after 8th grade.  Somehow I think that by doing that, that would have automatically rendered me four years younger, but four years smarter than the 52 years my driver’s license currently implies. 

But that wouldn’t have worked, cuz Doogie Howser, I wasn’t.

Let’s face it–even if you loved high school and LOVED your hometown, the reality is you can never really go home again.  Sure, you can visit that place you once called home and then mercifully, you can leave it.  That option is one of the pay offs for being an adult; what you get for having  survived childhood.    But I think in the long run, it’s not really about where you’re from, and to be honest, it’s not even about where you’re headed.  Nature possesses a million and one monkey wrenches which She’s ready to toss into the mix to short-circuit those plans.   Your imperfect past is proof of that.   What matters is who you are right now…and where you’re spending that time being you.

And as I age and grow closer to that point where I can look back on  my life and see what my youth has occluded, I know that the 18 years spent in my hometown –even the four I spent in high school–helped create who I am today.  This is true, for better or worse.

 All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naive. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with:  that I am nobody but myself. ~ Ralph Ellison, “Invisible Man”

And once you’re FINALLY okay with being you; when you’re comfortable in your now collagen-lacking skin, you hit menopause and middle age.  For women, we spend ages 47 through maybe 53 or 54  in that sweat lodge  we call our bodies.  Men spend their middle-aged  metamorphosis wearing Scorpio medallions while driving new Corvettes and Harleys and wishing to all that’s holy to recapture a glimpse of their youth and praying that Pfizer will one day go nostalgic and make Viagra in the shape of select Flintstone characters.    Our male counterpart can easily lose their hair which now is akin to milk weed petals in a stiff breeze while women start growing hair in the damnedest places.

And all of a sudden, we gain weight; copious amounts of it–seemingly without eating a bite and then, we find our body tolerances change.  Wanna know the cruelest reality of all?  Ice cream now gives us diarrhea.

My God!!

EPILOGUE

There IS strength in numbers.   You see, I’m not alone in this venture called aging and I take great comfort in this.  In fact, a friend of mine who’s two years older called a few minutes ago.  He was taking a shower and while soaping up a fat wrinkle around his stomach,  he found 18 cents.

In pennies.

.