Category Archives: The Path

where i’ve been, where i am, where i’m going and why

salad

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All I wanted was a salad. I’ve been living on popcorn and bananas for two days while I rebuilt Windows and Microsoft Office. Something green sounded really good. Also the sun was shining.

Back Yard Burger apparently went on break and just left the people in the drive-through to sit and wait on her return.

McDonald’s was stacked up so I tried to go in and order at the counter.

But the door was locked. Also they don’t even have salads anymore.

I somehow drove right past the Wendy’s on Yates.

Is it even still there?

So I ended up in Germantown. They were out of the salad I wanted but the one I ended up with was quite good.

The lettuce was very fresh and the chicken was still hot. The tea was also freshly made but they were out of straws so I’m waiting until I get home to drink it.

I mean, my antivirus software assassinated my laptop last week so I’m not very trusting of the cosmos right now. Gravity could fail at any moment.

The first quiet spot I found to rest and eat lunch happened to be Germantown Cemetery.

I like dead people. They are sometimes surprised to see me but they never turn me away and they don’t bug me too much. I see one guy is a Mason. Another has a plinth but no monument. Maybe that is the monument.

Another has a fine looking obelisk but I will have to return to investigate when it’s not so marshy. The recent storms have left piles of debris in the parking lot that look like giant wads of freshly spat tobacco and I am reluctant to tread there.

Plus I have three more hours of CNN in Ukraine to edit.

The dearly departed glance at one another and, one by one, slowly fade from view. And I know what they’re thinking: extra greeters will be needed in Europe’s corner of Heaven tonight. So that’s where I’m sending all the spare beats of my heart for today, just in case it will help.

❤

Photo by Steve Masler, June 19, 2015.

strange times

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I gave up trying to go back to sleep at 4 am and made coffee. I usually only have these wide awake, wandering wee hours in the spring.

To say they are strange times seems kinda duh.

I opened a window in the living room to let in the cool fresh air. Then I wandered out onto the porch in my bare feet, in my summer nightie, and caught the moon backlighting the clouds.

About two miles away, in what used to be a highly desirable residential area, there is gunfire every few days. Yesterday someone on Nextdoor found half a dozen spent casings in their yard. But it’s quiet now.

I’m just about over my cold. But it wasn’t a cold. I don’t know what it was. Fever, chills, headache, yadda. I’m not concerned. I won’t be seeing any of you anytime soon so you shouldn’t be, either.

I can hear a train running alongside Poplar Avenue like I’ve heard a gazillion times. It sort of roots me to the moment, reminding me that some things are still the same. And the moon is still the same, though barefoot photography in December is rather new for me.

I think about some of my younger friends, who are fighting time the way the gangs in Yorkshire are fighting each other, desperately, with no apparent effect other than distress and grief.

Let me tell you, from the winter of my life, I would not trade these quiet moments of wonder and contentment to be 40 again.

Strange times indeed. And I’m glad for them.

Happy Tuesday, y’all ❤

booster

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maryoliver.wingsIn a rare moment of clarity I scheduled my booster shot for when I knew I’d be off the next day. My reaction is much milder than from my second shot but I’m going to stay in bed and drink hot tea until it passes.

The beautiful man in the blue scrubs at the Kroger pharmacy was clearly stressed but treated everyone with kindness and joked with staff and customers alike, even the ones who were maskless.

He cleaned the vial as if he was about to vaccinate his own child. I did what I usually do with people and asked him how he was doing.

He said he just wished it was over and things would go back to normal. I told him that, when I dream, no one is wearing masks. He found that really interesting and he seemed to brighten a little bit, reflecting on his own recent dreams.

I felt the bump of the syringe but not the sting of the needle and I complimented him on his technique. He said he had given about 10,000 injections so he had gotten pretty good at it. He probably meant it as hyperbole but I did the math and that’s about 14 a day so he’s probably not too far off.

I wasted a minute of his time by sending him on a search for my vaccination card when I had already pocketed it. I apologized for my mistake and thanked him for his service. I wished everyone a Merry Christmas and the response was what you might expect from people who are just plain worn out.

I see you, cashier with the pink braids. I see you, postal worker with the wire rimmed glasses. I see you, produce clerk, apologizing for the empty bins. I’m grateful for you and I hope your jobs eventually get easier. I think they will if the Kroger guy keeps on giving 14 shots a day. Thank you for your service and stay well.

Happy Friday, y’all ❤ #AngelsEverywhere

trust the process (2)

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Queen of Cups

art from biddytarot.com

About once a year, when I’m particularly stuck, depressed or just want to run away, I will do a random Hoyle deck draw of three cards and then do a tarot interpretation using:

hearts : cups
diamonds : pentacles
clubs : wands
spades : swords

So I had drawn the Queen of Cups, who appears to be far and away my totem. In some illustrations she even has a mermaid tail, as do all Capricorns; though in tarot, cups represent the water signs.

But her characteristics are:

emotional receptivity
relational fluidity
intuition
psychic ability

This from nylon.com, a site I’d never seen before.

Nylon.com says Capricorn’s card is The Devil, “driven to succeed but chained by earthy expectations.”

And that rings a bell.

“The Devil, too, wants you to know what is and what isn’t right for you — but he wants you to find out the hard way.”

Well, that pretty much sums up my life.

Turns out nylon.com is a pop culture and fashion site. So IDKAT.

Wasn’t sure what “relational fluidity” meant, so I Googled it. Now Google was convinced I meant “relationship fluidity,” and most of those hits pertained to sex, especially bi/trans sex.

So I pressed for my original query (butt out, Google) and those hits brought up papers on social rhythms, autonomy and identity. Now we’re talking.

I think, for me personally, the attribute of relational fluidity means that I relate to all kinds of people, not just the ones mother liked.

Oxford defines the pros and cons of fluidity:

smooth elegance or grace
vs
unsettled, unstable, changeable

— so presumably the Queen of Cups reversed.

Being naturally wary of things deemed superstitious (but intrigued by them nonetheless), I roll everything around in my head like a ball of dough until it becomes smooth and looks like just one single thing.

I’m reminded of what Colin used to say, that the universe is just one big thing doing one big thing.

Googling that quote takes me nowhere relevant, which is why we need librarians.

Also it’s vintage Colin and we don’t have a lexicon for him yet, as far as I know. Maybe I should build one.

But I digress.

I like to say I trust the process, even when I can’t tell what it is and where it’s taking me. And that’s never been truer than now.

Last night I moved from my bedroom to the guest room because it’s better insulated from the sound of drag racing on I-240. I had the sense of staying in an Airbnb — cozy and impersonal.

So I thought, what if instead of running away, I just pretend I’m already where I want to go?

For one, it would be a lot cheaper.
Two, I’m still not entirely settled from the last move.

So staycay starts today, albeit a working one. Gotta save up for when I truly do run away.

Retail Reverie

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Retail Reverie

I couldn’t get it all at Kroger, so I went to Walmart. I was just too tired to shop two stores.

It was like entering a church. People were solemn. I’d call it a skeleton staff for a Friday evening, more checkouts closed than open. Some of the produce bins were empty, no potatoes or onions left.

I didn’t care. Whatever I bought I’d have to carry upstairs and my feet hurt. So I stuck to my very short list. I was done in no time.

Checking out, though….

Paper products used to be here. Wonder how long these shelves have been bare. — at Walmart Cordova.

The lines were 15 deep. Carts were as full as folks could get them. Then a lane opened up on the opposite side of the store. I headed that way as nonchalantly as I could, not wanting to set off a stampede.

My cashier’s name is Judy. She would not make the cut at Aldi. She bagged every single item as if it were a carton of eggs. She’s older than me and she has osteoporosis. She should be at home in a big soft chair.

This concrete floor is getting harder by the minute. I do some stretches next to my cart, which I have placed strategically to keep the customer behind me from breathing down my neck.

This is not new behavior for me. My personal space just has a much bigger radius in Walmart.

“Customer needs assistance in fragrances,” the intercom says.

I guess it’s important to smell good in a crisis. The shopper behind me, who is still close enough for me to hear, says something about needing perfume when the toilet paper runs out.

The woman in front of me is wearing a white wig that is in braids down her back. Over that she has a rasta-looking slouchy hat. A few minutes ago she was in a good mood, chatting on her phone. But now her debit card has been declined.

Suddenly I inhale a cloud of perfume. I guess that customer got their assistance. Must have tried every tester on the counter.

I really need to cough. But I read somewhere elbows are no good. Now we’re supposed to cough into a tissue. No more elbows. But I don’t have a tissue, just a grimy hoodie sleeve. So I cough into my armpit. Maybe I’ll start a trend.

The woman with braids has been digging into her bag for at least two minutes, sliding coins across to Judy, who has sat down on a stool to wait. I’ll bet Judy’s feet hurt, too. I step forward.

“How much do you need, honey?” I ask.

Her smile has some teeth missing and it is sheepish but genuine, grateful for my concern. She apologizes.

“That’s OK,” I reply and pat her shoulder. “We’re all just doing the best we can.”

She pulls her cart away in triumph but not before thanking everyone in the queue for their patience.

“Hi, Judy,” I greet the cashier as I pull out my credit card.

I’m glad I have a credit card. I’m glad there’s money on it. I take the bags as she fills them and pull my card from the machine.

“You have a good evening,” she says as I walk away.

I know it will be better than hers. I get to go home now and say hello to what’s left of my toilet paper.

field trip

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on the Memphis side of the Hernando de Soto Bridge

Maybe a field trip to Marion wasn’t such a good idea, I thought, stuck in the stop-and-slow on the Hernando Bridge, bouncing ever so slightly from a cosmos of 18-wheelers. But I really needed some big sky and wide open spaces.

The Big Muddy is murkier than usual and has surged deep into West Memphis. But the corn is up, ears already fat and round, the size of a man’s fist. Rice fields are exuberantly green from so much rain. And there’s more coming, overhead clouds plump and milky enough to satisfy Howard Hughes.

I don’t know why the tree died but its skeleton is like silver in the sun,
reaching up as if to reanimate itself as a still living thing.
It could happen on a day like today.

I meet some people who are happy to see me and my money. At a tiny charity shop, I buy a whole bag of stuff for friends I haven’t met yet. On a nearby shelf, a radio is tuned to a talk show. The guest tells her host that he must be sanctified for his works to be good.

I decide this is Cheat Day and drive to a shady parking lot to eat my drive-thru burger and fries. Across the street is an older house I would love to own. I picture myself on the porch, looking at paint swatches for the trim.

Heading back, I take the old route home on a 2-lane, where there is hardly any traffic. I wish I could play hooky for the rest of the day. But work is waiting and I’m glad for it. And my whole body is smiling.

Improv Tom Kha Gai

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I had most of the ingredients for tom kha gai but I just didn’t have time to skip out to the Asian grocery for traditional elements of this soup, like kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass. Shiitake, oyster or maitake mushrooms weren’t available at my grocery but baby bellas are a nice substitute.

I had bought a jar of almond butter that had way too much oil floating on the top. So I poured it off and used it to saute my onions. SUCH amazing flavor. But ordinarily I would use EVOO.

There is no substitute for fresh ginger and cilantro. There just isn’t. So if you have them, use instead of ground spices. Sauté a sliced 1/2-inch nub of fresh ginger with your onions and add a handful of chopped cilantro at the very end.

If you want to use precooked chicken, add it at the mushroom stage.

Sambal oelek is my favorite way to add heat to a dish. But you can use red pepper flakes, Louisiana Hot Sauce or sriracha sauce as you like. I would advise not adding so much that you drown out the other spices.  But, hey, this is your soup, you can do whatever you want.

If you have more people than soup or want to stretch it out, ladle it over a bowl of rice noodles or vermicelli. IMHO, nothing is finer than finding noodles at the bottom of my soup.

INGREDIENTS
extra virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, coarsely chopped
1 large red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 fresh whole chicken breast, cubed
1 cup chicken broth
1 can coconut milk
2 cups sliced baby bella mushrooms

2 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground coriander

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sambal oelek, more or less.  Or none.

salt to taste

DIRECTIONS
Heat olive oil over high heat in a Dutch oven and sauté onion for 2-3 minutes. Add peppers and sauté another minute or so until the onions are soft.

Add cubed chicken and cook just until all the pink disappears. Add a little more oil if you need to. Don’t overcook. It will finish during the simmer phase.

Stir in chicken broth and coconut milk and when it reaches a simmer, turn down the heat to continue simmering.

In a small bowl, stir together brown sugar, ginger and coriander. Stir in soy sauce, lime juice, rice vinegar and sambal. Add a couple of tablespoons of the simmering broth to the bowl and stir well. Then add all this back to the pot and stir.

When your chicken has simmered for 10-15 minutes, add the mushrooms and simmer another 5-10 minutes. Then turn off the heat.

I like to let mine rest for 10-15 minutes. It’ll still be hot enough to eat but that allows the spices to continue to bloom.

Taste your broth and add salt, lime juice, soy sauce or sambal as you like. Garnish with fresh cilantro if you have it.

nightmare

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the fabric of life is torn from me.
I cannot bind these strips of bleeding flesh with your tears.

circles are widening on the canvas.
I fill them with pale light.
the blackness around them wonders why.
I have no reply. just go away.

pretend I was never here.
make it mean something.
otherwise it was all just a nightmare.

1962

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It happened a long, long time ago. But it is also happening this very minute, like time travel. And I cannot make it stop.

I am 8 years old.

I smell the bacon as I pull on my dress.

I hate this dress. It’s ugly and it leaves scratches on my side. But she likes it.

I go into the kitchen. She is angry. I must have done something wrong. But I’m afraid to say anything.

She makes us eat breakfast every morning. I am queasy in the mornings and I hate breakfast. But she is a good mother and we are lucky. She wasn’t so lucky. She won’t talk about her childhood. She says it makes her sad.

She turns the eggs in the skillet. One of the yolks breaks. She sets down three perfect eggs, one for her, one for my brother and one for my father. She gives me the broken one. Now I know I have done something wrong.

My father comes to the table. He is angry, too. He and my mother don’t look at each other.

My brother doesn’t notice that anything is wrong. She speaks tenderly to him. He is the best thing in her life. I am just there to help with the housework. I wish I knew what made the difference.

So I ask her. She stammers and I never really get an answer. It’s a question I will ask her again when I am older.

“I was always afraid that you would be smarter than me,” she will say. “But I realized that since I am older than you, I will always know more than you.”

She doesn’t love me because I am smart? What do I do about that? I thought I was supposed to be smart. They fuss at me when I don’t make all A’s, even though they are happy with my brother’s B’s and C’s.

I already know I am not pretty. She is always telling me how pretty my friends are. She tells them how nice they look and she laughs with them. I wish she would laugh with me like that. But I am a disappointment.

I think if I were not around my parents would be happy. My brother is their true child. I wonder if I was adopted. That would explain why they don’t like me.

Maybe I can smother myself. I crawl into bed and put a pillow over my face. But I can’t do it. The air feels so good when I breathe it in. I would hate to die by drowning.

My mother comes into the room. “What are you doing in bed? Get up. You’re burning up.” My hair is wet from sweat. She thinks I went to bed because I am lazy.

She tells me to fold the laundry. I don’t know why she gives me this chore. I never do it right and she always complains. I’d rather be outdoors with the other children. But after this she is going shopping and I have to go with her. Dad is watching the game on TV and I will bother him. My brother gets to stay home and play outside. I do not understand this.

I hate shopping. It is boring. The store smells bad. But she loves it. I walk between the racks of clothing. I like the way the fabric feels. If I squeeze myself into the middle of a bunch of dresses it feels like a hug. Someone tells me to stop and behave myself.

My head hurts and I am tired. I just want to go home. But I don’t even know where home is anymore.

trust the process (1)

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I’m so distracted I lost a shirt and my cup of coffee between the kitchen and the living room. I started a home project and couldn’t focus on what I was doing. So I’m just going to write it out.

My mother is dying. Conversations with family members invariably turn to memories of her.

Mine seem to be different from everyone else’s.

Utter one of her several bynames, and mindvideo from my vast collection queues up, my mother’s face distorted in anger, spewing criticism and humiliation.

This morning I am trying to see if I can edit those old tapes. I’ve never done this before and I can only make a start. But I figure anything I try can only make things better. And I have to trust the process.

Someone posts a photo of Mom on Facebook, remembering her with tenderness.

I see a woman about to explode with rage.

I step into the photo. Mom holds it together until she and I are alone. Then I will witness a barrage of frustration and vitriol. Granted, it’s not all about me. Maybe none of it is about me. But it will wound and deplete me all the same.

I’m trolling my mind for times when she and I laughed together. Those are the easiest ones to find. And the one that shows up is 50 years old. As other loves entered my life and vied for my attention, the laughter began to die. But in 1969, I was her best friend.

My father was 6 feet tall. Mom was 5’4″. When Dad was happy he’d come into the kitchen, where she and I were preparing supper. He’d hug her and then lift her straight up off the floor. He’d bounce her in his arms and she’d complain that he was hurting her boobies. But they’d both be laughing and I would be, too.

Mom loved to laugh and laughed easily, as did my father, when they weren’t fighting, which was often. When the two of them were laughing together, I knew my brother and I could relax for a few hours and they would be sweet to us and to each other.

Today I will play this mindvideo over and over to see if I can find footage before and after it, to look for details, like the pan of potatoes I was peeling or the dishes she was washing in the sink of our tiny kitchen. I will remember that I went to pick okra from the garden, washing and slicing it, dredging it in cornmeal and frying it in a cast iron skillet.

My mother is happy because I am helping her and I am good company and we are going to have a fine meal very soon.

As I write this, I’m aware that my palms are sweating and my heart is racing. I really don’t want to dig this deep. My friend, pain, is a festering abscess and I’d rather run in the other direction. But the only way to heal is to open the wound. And I’d rather face pain than live with bad memories.

It was only in the last couple of years that this type of abuse had witnesses. By then it was dismissed as a symptom of her dementia. No one believed me when I complained because she was consistently charming and kind to others. By the time I was 8 I was convinced I was just not worth loving.

What I do know is that hurt people hurt people and my mom’s story is full of pain. And through our family’s generations we have changed that trajectory. My grandson is proof of that.

This is limbic memory and no amount of positive thinking is going to change it. So I’m just letting the truth emerge as it will. And when it shows up, it looks like confusion, pain, anger, distraction, depression.

So I write. If the gods are with me, the stories emerge. I’m trying not to judge them as they do. What’s new for me is it no longer matters if anyone believes them. I know what happened.

My goal here is to tell my truth as I know it and to encourage others to tell theirs. It serves me nothing to perpetuate the myths of my family. If I do, I will never heal. And maybe through my healing, others will as well.

In one of my last conversations with my mother, I lay all my cards on the table. I like to think that I made amends to her but the only thing I remember is her saying, “I hope you’ll forgive me.”

That’s what this is all about. I’m sure gonna try.

10/14/2021 EPILOGUE: The reference to my grandson isn’t necessarily true, as I discovered recently. Denial is also a big component of family dysfunction. But the story’s not over yet. I’ll keep you posted.