Tag Archives: memories

Moving past lost while short of found

“Man is the strangest of all animals. He is the only one who runs faster after he has lost his way.” — Rollo May

I expected to arrive. I pulled a corner on the emotional road map of my life and expected to see this figurative place to pull into and get off the road. A long road trip over. I thought I’d arrive and sigh a contented sigh.

Until the truth dawned. I was not where I wanted to be. I was the opposite of arrived. Lost.

My red-rimmed eyes pinched as if somehow grief had crowded out their normal occupancy in my skull. My head felt crowded, like when visitors are sleeping on your floor with suitcases strewn about. Visitors usually arrive invited. The imposition becomes a temporary exchange for the pleasantness they bring. Instead, Grief had arrived without an RSVP.

“Just who the hell let Grief in?” I demanded, the obnoxious lump in my throat leaving skid marks on my voice box.

I needed to move around a bit. There was no room for me within me.

Fresh air. Sunshine. Sweat on the lower back. Camera poised at the ready determined to see something. Anything. Look anywhere expect in there where all the churn churned and churned. Except I didn’t really click the lens. With the menu of life all around me, my taste buds were bland and pasty filled with indifference to anything of flavor.

“Direction is so much more important than speed.”

My spiritual director posted this on social media. They have a way of pissing me off without even noticing it.

Surprise. No matter how fast you move when lost, it’s difficult to enjoy anything other than being found.

****

 

I’ve come to grips with me a bit since then. I chased Grief out with a broom. The dust motes of it remained behind.

I am a sojourner who dreams of home. It’s a discontented travel, one that misses the strides in search of the destination. My spirit wanders, while my mind talks trash. My gut clenches and wags an angry fist about how fucked up it is to be caught in the middle.

Can’t we all just get along, I wonder.

And then She speaks up.

“You have what you need. I have not deprived you. But only you can decide to see it or not see it,” God says.

I wince at a stern voice.

Well… hell, I think. That blows. Once again, I’m the fucking problem all along.

Memory plays tricks. Remember this? Remember when? Like watching an old movie, you feel something vague but sweet as you recall life’s finer moments that you want back. Instances of intense intimacy when every sentiment is shared with another, when feelings expressed are joys not burdens, when every touch is electrified not cloying, when every pain is dulled the by the light of the other’s eyes that look at you that way, the way that makes you feel immortal.

This is not false sentimentality or flaccid Rom-Com prose. No, we mock what we don’t know. This could be the glimpse across to the Other Side where our full humanity meets the aspiring divinity of another. It is rare and dangerous and wholly holy, a time of transcendent coupling when the sentimentalist in me believes he can hear the angels sing.

Life can only be lived in the present tense. Memories come along for the ride. Like unexpected emotion, they clutter up the living room of the soul. Not badly all the time. Sometimes they fall in place, but I still think it best not to leave them strewn about.

The present tense feels a bit lost. Found seems still out there under a blanket of Karl The Fog. But I’ve slowed down. I’ve tried to rediscover direction instead of pace.

I’ve given this wandering about of mine a different name than “Lost.” I’m calling it “today.”

Today is fine. And so am I.

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Shirk the Valentine’s day game with the practice of romance

It’s Valentine’s Day. So, naturally I suppose I should take this time to write about the love that I have for my husband. I mean, as women, we expect this from our lovers correct? As women we are supposed to live for this day. At work, we wait for the dozen roses to arrive because this, we are programmed to believe, is the day that our lovers are expected to shower us with roses and chocolates. We look forward to a night out with our lover. Get dressed up, nice dinner with an even nicer bottle of wine. As women we are programmed for this shit.

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Did I miss something? Is there a flaw in my genetic makeup, because I don’t buy into this holiday. In fact, my hubby and I don’t do anything extravagant or magnificent on Valentine’s Day. Do you want to know why? (Effin Artist: I’ll take a guess. Is it because if people knew we were celebrating a saint who was brutally martyred for his deep abiding love in Christ all the romance would be doused like a cold shower? No?)

Because, we are both secure in our relationship to know that we don’t need Valentine’s Day to tell each other that we are special to each other. (EA: Oh yeah, that too.) That we love each other. That we are dedicated to each other. If you are in a loving, committed relationship this sentiment should flow naturally from you to yours truly. (EA: “uh… I do like chocolate, I’m just saying…”)

Now, I must confess, before I go any further: I am not your typical woman. I am not overly romantic, nor do I need to be swooned over. I’m just not that way. My husband, I’m sure will chime in and agree 100% on this. (EA: Yes. I will chime in and agree.) We often joke that I am the man in our relationship. I’ll never forget the time that I bought him a mother’s day present. (EA: A ’95 Opus One. I nearly wept. I never got to drink it. I went into rehab before I opened it. Shit. Thanks for that memory baby. Happy Valentine’s to you too…) It’s a joke we share about our relationship, and this is the beauty in our relationship, that we can joke about this obvious switch of roles. (EA: Recently I told The Bride that she’s such a Marine. She comes home and expects me to put out. HOO WAH! I like a little sweet nothings if it’s not too much to ask… I did probably spend all day slaving over a hot stov….you know what, I’ll just stop right now before I have to check my own manhood.)

I’m confident in my relationship with my husband. I know that he loves me, and that he is 100% in love with me. I say to him often, “Honey you are stuck with me. My baggage matches yours.” I couldn’t imagine going through life with another. I’m lucky. He’s 100% present and all loving in our relationship. He puts my needs before his, always. (EA: Actually, I went back over the years and did the math. It’s 99.4% love, 87.7* present –it’s tough to be present even that much, cut me some slack– and 91.3% her needs first, but The Bride likes to say “One hundred percent” a lot and I don’t want to discourage her enthusiasm. But I’m not 100 percent, though 91.3% is not that bad.) I can’t remember a time when he didn’t do this (EA:I can but I’m not saying).

I find heart-shaped Valentine’s nearly every day that I spend with him. In the way that he wakes up next to me each morning, with a kiss on a neck and a “good morning, my love.” In the way that he always makes sure that I have a warm cup of coffee. In the way that he cooks me dinner each and every night. In the way that when he’s in the other room, listening to Pandora and our wedding song comes on (“I’ll Be,” by Edwin McCain) he turns it up, and I know that he’s thinking back to that beautiful day. In the way that he will run my baths, making sure to add bath salts or bubble bath, and the fact that he knows how much I love my baths really, really hot. In the way that he rubs my feet, and from time to time paints my toenails. He loves me for me, and wouldn’t change anything about me. He often says that he is most attracted to me when I’ve just woken up, bed head, no makeup on my face. I love this man. He will always be my beloved. (EA: “Well… if that’s not the best Effin Valentine’s Day card ever, I don’t know what is.. and wasn’t this about not wanting to do the Hallmark holiday?!)

When I think to the future, whatever God has in store, whatever doors open or shut I may not know about any of this but I know that he will be right by my side. He’ll be holding my hand or walking a few steps behind me, letting me shine and be me. Or, he might be carrying me because I’ve grown weary and tired of the day’s stresses. I don’t know what is going to happen to me in the future, where my life is going to take me but I do know that my husband will be with me, and he will be my biggest cheerleader. My champion. “The greatest fan of my life.”

My love – I love you truly, madly deeply.

(EA: I’ll admit, I’m a bit choked up right now. I love you truly, madly deeply as well. Happy Not Valentine’s Day. HOO WA!”)

The Eagles: Artistry endures long after the lifestyle fades

At the end of a three-hour documentary about one of America’s most enduring rock bands, Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown, who knows a thing or two about enduring by the way, says the Eagles don’t care about legacy. They remain in the moment, still creating the best art they can.

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It’s a well-crafted moment,  a book end to the legacy of the Eagles. The song “Take it to the Limit” plays, a song they wrote to say they had an artistic obligation to keep stretching, to never arrive, but to find a new limit, over and over.

No wonder they are still so EFFin good.

The documentary enraptured me with equal parts fascination with greatness, a touch of voyeurism to see the gossip behind the greatness, and the perspective gained through hindsight.

The first part of the documentary is the runaway train. As they reach the heights of greatness and all that comes with it, you know the inevitable destruction that led to their split is coming. It taints everything, like a sepia tone on a color photo. Still you laugh at quotes like these:

“There were always girls,” — Glenn Frey

“Sex and drugs. I am not at a loss for words on either subject,” Frey said in the mid 1970s.

Henley, looking back from a perch of thirty years of hindsight says,

” The creative impulse comes from the dark side of the personality. So we worked it hard.”

The dark creativity reached its peak with Hotel California, a truly inspired work of artistic greatness. That song more than any other of its era will transcend time. The hype turned it into a “Paul is Dead” conspiracy. Overwrought Evangelicals said the band was satanic — you remember that? When every good band worshipped Satan… geez oh please — and folks dug and dug for hidden meaning. But the lyrics and the dueling guitar tracks rose above the din to musical greatness, capturing the southern California of my youth.

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“It’s a song about a journey from innocence to experience. That’s it.” — Don Henley on Hotel California.

The insanity followed, including the album “The Long Run,” which took years to make and splintered the band. Joe Walsh’s antics and addictions couldn’t lighten the mood, but they made for good press. One particular night Walsh and John Belushi took over Chicago.  The final tally: ruined seat cushions in the most elegant restaurant in town, a whole lot coke and $28,000 in damages to a hotel room.

The split came in one moment after a decade of music. They just left a concert and went away.

The final hour was “part two,” chronicling the reunion of the band in 1994. Both Frey and Henley proved their chops with plenty of solo success. The band members married, had kids, dried out — except Walsh. He kept partying. Of booze and cocaine and the high-life, Walsh said,

“In the early years it worked. Then you chase it. I ended up in bad shape. I had hit bottom.”

Only Frey ordering Walsh to get clean prior to the band’s reunion gave him the inner drive to get into rehab and see it through. He got out of rehab, and the Eagles were back.

What was amazing is Walsh had to go back out on stage, this time, for the first time, sober. The Eagles, the band itself, was enough to keep Walsh clean.

“Joe was pretty dark that first year,” Frey said. “But then he came out of it. He played better than he ever had before.”

The band had families. They had perspective. It all came back together and worked. It still works today. Some of these new songs are just as good. The lyrics are poetic commentary. Walsh’s song about getting clean is elegant truth telling, “to my best friend Vodka…”

So forty years later, the Eagles are still going. Still living the dream.

Henley said, “It’s a fine line between the American Dream and the American nightmare.”

In some ways the Eagles lived both. But their artistry endures.

Who rivals the Eagles as the best American rock band? Reply below.

Italian Zen garden has plenty of flour

I once tried pruning one of those little juniper trees. I basically turned it into a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. I like those sand pits with the little rakes that sit on top of desks, but my little recycled desk hasn’t enough room for my coffee cup. Pretty much everywhere I’ve lived I’ve had a fish tank or a fish pond just to sit and watch and decompress, but the pond is frozen solid under a blanket of unlikely snow and I didn’t get around to putting fish in it when I built it in October anyway.

The point? I like having a way to what I call, “zen out.”

For two decades Happy Hour was my favorite method, but thanks to 53 months and counting of sobriety I need a more permanent plan. So imagine my surprise when I rediscovered a truly wonderful way to zen out… and then eat something truly wonderful when I’m done.

I’m talking dough. I’ve truly rediscovered dough lately, and its like rediscovering my high-school pen pal twenty years later and realizing I’ve known my soul mate all along. There’s something about working with dough that settles me. I like the process of combining. I like the elusiveness of it, how each batch takes on a personality of its own. I like the multitude of outcomes — pizza crust, pie crust, cookies, coconut bread or my soul mate’s favorite, peanut butter banana bread– that each distinct batch of dough can become.

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I mostly like kneading the dough. My mind floats into a peaceful nothingness as I work the dough around and around in my hands. The process reminds me a bit of what I loved so much about wine (besides the more obvious reasons). It’s alive. It changes and keeps changing until eventually it declines and decays unless consumed. It’s art with a shelf life, sort of like us humans when you get right down to it.

I’m constantly in pursuit of the perfect dough. I pursue it knowing it will never come. But I still find myself mesmerized when I watch the process, like when I cut in butter to certain types of dough and it transforms from powder to crumbles to cohesiveness.

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I like the liveliness of how dough responds to touch.

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I like how it then leaps to life when left alone.

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When I was a kid one of my all-time favorite foods was Nonie’s fried bread. The dough would rise all night and then she’d fry it up in olive oil for breakfast. We’d put ricotta cheese and her raspberry freezer jam (sooooo EFFin deliciouussss!) on it. Next to Nonie’s raviolis, nothing is better.

When I grew up, I decided to start making it for myself.

“How do you make the dough Nonie?” I asked.

“Eh.. just get the frozen dough. It’s easier,” she said.

I took it at face value, even though from the age of 15 I was working with dough every night, spinning it above my head as I hand-tossed pizzas. I never really put two and two together that fried bread and pizza used the same dough. I bought the frozen dough in the orange bag that hasn’t changed once in 30 years and made fried bread for my kids as they grew up. They got older and I passed on the same message to them. Get the frozen dough, it’s easier.

Only now do I realize how much better something can be even if its not easier. I’m not just talking taste, because for fried bread, those frozen dough balls are really good– even if not so great for pizza. I’m talking about missing out on the process.

Nonie had a right to tap-out from making dough. She was retired and had spent a lifetime making ravioli dough six days a week for the restaurant her and my grandfather and my mom and my aunts and uncles all helped run. (I still have the proud burn scars on my foot from the restaurant kitchen when Nonie was babysitting me). They made raviolis by the thousands; the recipe from her says the serving size is 1,000 raviolis. For her dough was work. Hard work.

But for me its the opposite. Dough is a timeout from the work. It dirties my hands so I can’t pick up the cell phone or bang the keyboard. I lets my mind get lost and take a break. It zens me out like few things can.

Today in the mail a thick, heavy envelope arrived. I opened it up and found a clear white bag with no label. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. My 00 flour from Italy arrived. The silky fine powder is like the orchid of my zen garden, truly exceptional. I’m going to wait until a particularly anxious day before I break it out and make my own pasta from it….

….

Oops, drifted off there for a moment. Anyway, there’s plenty of flour in my zen garden, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Farewell to a beloved Auntie

Family is big with most people. At least we all give it some pretty good lip service of importance. With us, for all its complications, family remains foundational to all we do. From the day my grandfather’s boat (see photo above) arrived at Ellis Island, family has been our focus. That’s what makes Thanksgiving so wonderful as food and family pretty much sum up the holiday — even this year despite my Clark Grizwald turkey.

Each year at Thanksgiving my ties to family weaves through the distinct aromas in the kitchen. Each year I break out the old grinder from my Nonie’s restaurant of years ago and mash the ingredients that will become our signature green stuffing. Every time I break out the grinder or heat up the ancient cast iron pan, I can’t help but think of the woman who distilled in me the passion for cooking and for our culture and … for family. Family most of all. She lived 95 wonderful years but I miss her as I grind away. I’ll never stop missing her.

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This year the memories are thicker for many reasons, but not the least was the loss right after the holiday of my beloved Auntie, who lost a four-year battle with cancer. She may have always been too dramatic, too loud and likely very difficult. But she always made me feel loved and she was my favorite. She will be missed. My mother is now the only one remaining of the old Italians of my youth who gave me such rich memories. I’m glad she is here to anchor her generation to mine and to that of my children.

To end on a lighter note, I ask you… do you recall Green Eggs and Ham? Of course you do, if you of a certain age. Remember how disgusting it sounded? We all agreed with the guy in the book, “not in a car, not on a bar… I will not eat Green Eggs and Ham…” or something like that.

But Dr. Seuss had it right, and the green eggs and ham were delicious. Well, so too is GREEN thanksgiving stuffing. This Italian recipe goes back with my grandmother at least half a century and it is amazing how good it is. This is the only stuffing I eat. The grinder still drips stuff all over the floor and counters and that’s fine with me. I still grind the turkey giblets and whatnot because my grandmother knew what it was to be poor before she was successful and never lost the basic fundamental of using everything. And I still miss her every time I make it.

Green stuffing? Wonderful. Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without it.