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Undertow

20170714_124154.jpgI scoop my wimpy arms forward and kick my scrawny feet. My torso twists unnecessarily with each stroke as I try and get back to shore.  My swimming technique is not, nor ever was, that great.  I am tiring out. Breathe, stroke. Breathe, stroke.   A wave crashes over me and I am sucked under without warning. My mouth fills with nasty salt water.  I kick like a frog, my hands pawing for the sky through the water.  I barely emerge when another wave crashes over me, sending me further down.  It feels like a lifetime before I finally surface. My eyes sting from the saltwater. I have turned completely around and lost sight of the shore. I see the next wave coming at me in time to take a deep breath and duck under before getting completely annihilated.  Each wave wants to carry me out to sea, out into the great Pacific.  I resist the succession of insistent waves with every cell in my ten-year-old 70 pound body. It’s going to take all the will and strength I’ve needed since birth to get back to shore.

I’m stuck in the undertow.  Where’s my family on the beach?  We don’t have an umbrella.  I have drifted far away from the pile of towels my sisters Leslie, Gwen, Melissa and I parked near the middle lifeguard tower.  I feel my body pulling further out to sea.  I remember to focus and swim with purpose, like they taught us in swimming lessons in our neighbor’s pool.  I try not to panic. I remember to not resist the current too much so as not to wear out.  It’s better to come in further away than to tire out.  I have to get back. I breathe, stroke and kick some more.

It’s the summer of my 10th year between fourth and fifth grade. My parents are divorcing. My Mom has rented a beach house in Corona Del Mar for us to live in while our childhood home goes on the market.  Even though our mom told us this was happening I assume it won’t sell and we will be moving back.  We had a yard sale. I went through my toys. I made very adult decisions about what I could stand to get rid of, like the metal play stove and the stuffed toy skunk, whereas my Jennifer doll with the mohawk I was keeping. I got that we were moving, but my ten year old brain didn’t really get the forever part.

I loved our house.  Even as a young kid I knew how cool our Eichler house was.  Designed by famed mid-century modern architect A.Quincy Jones, the Eichler house we lived in was at the forefront of a trend towards affordable modern tract housing.  The ethics of mid-century modern were to bring the outside in and the inside out.  Our house had a carport with a big round doorknob leading into the atrium, so when you came inside you were still outside.  Inside there were high beam ceilings, large pane glass windows and a pebble walkway that looked like a riverbed.  My dad’s abstract paintings lined the gorgeous wood paneled walls.  My mom sewed all our school clothes in her sewing room with the skylight. This was the perfect home for an art professor and his family.

Though my mother graduated top of her class at Parsons and designed for Lanz of California my dad put his foot down that he would be the only artist in the family.  Being an art professor’s wife wasn’t as ideal as one would think.  He had one affair too many and my mom decided she was done.  She took up with another dad down the street from us and to avoid neighborhood gossip moved us out of the Eichler tract.  It was not as common then to divorce, let alone live with someone unmarried.  To soften the blow she moved us to the beach for the summer.

Being near the beach was a pretty fun distraction.  On a daily basis my sisters Leslie, Gwen, Melissa and I traipse down the hill with our towels and snacks to set up camp at Corona Del Mar, the crown of the sea.  We run barefoot on the jetty.  We count letters in the skywriting.  We swim and get sunburned.

The parents are never there.  This was the 70’s.  Kids weren’t supervised the way they are now.  Jaws hadn’t come out yet. Child abduction wasn’t really a thing.  We were pretty fearless.

We pay attention to the flags on the lifeguard stand.  Green means all is safe, red means don’t go in the water, yellow with a black dot means dangerous undertow.  Today the green flag is up.  I go in the ocean with my sister Leslie.  I find myself getting pulled away from the shore.  Leslie’s no where in sight.  The tide keeps pulling me.  I’m really far out, near the bouys. The resistance of the tide is seductive.  The desire to let go and float out is strong.  Will I run into a ferry boat and be rescued?  Will I end up on the news?   I have to keep pushing.  I have to get back.

Five summers of swimming lessons haven’t prepared me for this.  The hardest part of those lessons was battling my own low self-esteem.  I knew I would never be a great swimmer.  The kids called me toothpick. Sports were always a challenge.

Where is the lifeguard?  Do they even know I’m gone? I can barely feel my own body in the cold water.  I have to stay alive.

The shore is within reach.  I am crushed by a wave and can barely make it back up, but thankfully after one more swell my feet touch the bottom.  I limp onto the shore. I barely manage to stagger all the way down the beach to my sisters. I plop down face first on my orange towel.

Melissa and Gwen are really excited to tell me that Leslie was saved by the life guard.   “Where were you?” Leslie asks. I want to scream “Why didn’t you tell the life guard to come out and get me?!  Why didn’t you look out for me?! Aren’t you supposed to be my older sister?!  I was battling the waves! I could have died!!”

All I can muster is “I got caught in the undertow.  They had the wrong flag up.”  I would have cried quietly into my towel, but I didn’t have the energy.

We find out soon after that we are moving into a rental on Balboa Island for the school year.  Making new friends doesn’t sound fun, but we don’t have a choice.

My mom was following the path of least resistance by starting over fresh. She was up against an insidious undertow of sexism.  Rather than having her kids subjected to ridicule and shame because she decided to live with her boyfriend, she moved on.  As an adult I get that she did what she had to do, but as a child I was confused.  That next year on Balboa Island I went sleep walking every night, trying to get out the front door.  I guess I just wanted to get back home to the Eichler house.

All my life I have been trying to get back home to that Eichler house.  For example, I have an obsession with mid-century modern design.  I compulsively collect glazed lamps, hairpin-leg tables and naugahyde couches.  These things aren’t home, of course, but they remind me of a happy time when my life was innocent and unformed, when my parents were still together, when my sisters and I had room to laugh and play.  We only lived in that house for seven years.  I’d buy an Eichler now but they’re out of my reach.  It’s time to move on.

The tempatation is always there to float out to sea on a current of dreams and avoid reality.  I need to find ways to stay grounded.  Life can be difficult.  We all need to find our way home. I know home doesn’t have to be a mid-century modern house; it can simply be time spent with loved ones, hanging out with my cats, or hiking in the hills.  Home can mean being active in the community, making small changes against social injustice, or just helping someone in need.

Like that day in the ocean resisting the forceful undertow, whatever life throws at me I hope always to have the strength to get back home to my warm towel on the beach.

 

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Creativity, Stillness and Magic

Originally posted April, 2011 as a guest blog for Kris Cahill

The Titan Arum, otherwise known as the corpse flower, blooms every
hundred years and grows to be the worldʼs largest blossom, attracting
tourists from around the world. It is tall, phallic and smells like hell.
I think the lesson here is donʼt let your creative projects wait one
hundred years to blossom or else they might stink.
But there is another lesson, and that is the magic is there, waiting to
happen. It takes patience, but if you keep the plant fed and watered
every now and then a magnificent bloom will appear.
Donʼt mistake patience for procrastination. It is amazing how when
pressed with a deadline I suddenly find it very important to redecorate
my apartment and watch the Real Housewives marathon on cable
TV.
Rather than procrastinate, next time practice stillness. A good way to
find stillness is through meditation, but there is also truth to the
phrase “sleep on it.” The seeds are there. The beautiful blossoms of
your creativity will appear. You donʼt need to push the shoots through
the stems; they know how to bloom already.
I am not saying that creativity just happens, obviously. You do need
to sit down and type the screenplay, rehearse the part, pick up the
guitar to compose that song, pick up the brush to paint your canvas,
write the punch line to that joke. But stillness helps if, like me, you
have many ideas and donʼt know where to start. Stillness helps
create space in the middle of working on a project as well. Next time
you are struggling to find a solution in your work try taking a little quiet
time. When you return to the computer, the canvas or the piano you
might be surprised how easy things flow having taken some space.
The Quakers in their meetings have a practice of sitting in silence.
No one speaks unless absolutely compelled to do so, and then no
one is required to respond. This makes what is said all the more
powerful. And there is also great power in just sitting in silence.
Perhaps a better example than the corpse flower would be the lovely
night blooming jasmine that appears outside my window from late
February to late March. It surprises me every year, this beautiful
smell that transports me to when I first moved to Los Angeles. I
have lived here nearly twenty years and yet I forget about the night
blooming jasmine until one night in late winter I walk home and there
it is, that amazing aroma filling the air.
But the jasmine plant was there all along, growing and taking over the
fence knowing full well the blossoms would appear. The blossoms
were a foregone conclusion. The plant didnʼt forget, just me. And let
me tell you it is nice to be transported by the magic of that smell
every year.
We have stories and art in us, and some of these creations have
been there for a month or a year, some are from our childhood, and
some from generations before us that come from deep in our bones.
But great art comes from within. You can boost your creativity by
adding a little quiet to your creative process, whatever that may be. If
you are patient I bet you will discover magic appearing more often in
your work, and every now and then you might grow a crazy giant
bloom that people pay good money to see (hopefully one that doesnʼt
stink) or something more delicate but equally remarkable like the
night blooming jasmine.
Let your ideas and projects grow. Feed your creativity by listening to
good music, having fun conversations with friends, or going for walks;
whatever gets the juices flowing. Add a little stillness or meditation
practice to the mix. But mostly just trust that the magic will appear. If
it is there it will find itʼs way out and surprise you (and consequently
your audience or viewers) when you least expect it.

Dead Couch Season

It’s that time of the month when all dead couches end up on the curb.  How did they get there?  What will happen to them?  Better yet, where do they go?  I know in more than one instance a couple drags the couch to the curb to take to the other person’s apartment, probably because they split up, probably because of the stupid ugly couch, and then once the stupid ugly couch is on the curb and all it’s ugly sctratches, lumps, stains and sags are seen in broad daylight the sad couch is abandoned and left there on the curb to die, like the relationship.

I have four couches in my apartment and just ordered a daybed.  That’s right, I will have five couches.  Two mid century day beds (one white, one blue) one two-piece bright pink sectional, all naugahyde.  Why?  Because I have a problem, a mid century addition.  It started small with nesting tables, lamps and 1960’s barware.  Now I have a bar, shitloads of lamps, and yes, four couches.  I have a one bedroom 750 square foot apartment and I live upstairs. Don’t worry, most mid-century furniture has removable peg legs and two of the daybeds are stored upright in the closet at the moment. Still, that is too many couches. Even I admit it.

The new daybed will have a pull up trundle to convert it to a double bed (in case I am ever in a relationship again, ha!) and will not be naugahyde. I bought this daybed (totally different than the mid-century modern daybeds, an actual BED daybed) and sold my queen-size regular bed to move out of the bedroom and turn it into my art studio.  Do I sound crazy?  Can you follow this?  I am a little cray.  The obsession manifests itself in a healthy(?) way with my furniture, um, collections.

One OTHER couch was five pieces and three of those were sold when I bought the white mid-century modern naugahyde daybed to go with my two-piece pink sectional.  The five piece (sans two end pieces) sold for 200 but will be reupolstereed and sold for 2000, maybe 2500 even.  (Damn I wish I could reupolster.  I wish I could spell reupolster.)

One time I did reupolster the two-piece pink sectional with a bolt of awesome spanish style mid-century fabric in bold orange, pink and black (see photo.)  I basically staple gunned it to the couch.  It looked great but wasn’t great once sat upon.  That’s when Babaloo decided this was HIS couch.  It is now back to being pink.  A friend came over to buy it but Babaloo made sure that sale would not go through, and it didn’t.

That fabric is off now and it’s covered with pink blankets because those seat cushions are just so bad.  I painted over them then started peeling the paint.  It’s just a sad sight.  Which leads me to this: what to do with the pink naugahyde couch?

I looked into reupolstering it orange.  One place nearby quoted me 800 then a year later that price went up to 1300.  Such is the price of procrastination. I looked into verikote paint, which is 200 a gallon used on car upholstery.  (Damn there’s that word again.) The problem with this is I would have to clean all the peeling shiny stuff off for it to work.

I could cover it in colorful gaffers tape.  I considered actually weaving gaffers tape into a plaid pattern on it.  Now that IS crazy. All that sticky tape sounds like a real nightmare! Or I could graffiti it.  I think graffiti is the way to go, because clearly no one is buying this sad once amazing specimen off etsy or craigslist.

I think Babaloo has a spell on this couch (or maybe Gremlin the other cat) and won’t let it go. Since it is naugahyde he can’t scratch it and if he pees on it that will do no good – the pee would just slide off. But he put a spell on it somehow and I need to satisfy both our needs.  It’s time to graffiti it. Yes.

I could graffiti some clear vinyl and staple that over the couch, or I could get some friends to help me take it downstairs to paint it, and warn the neighbors a spray painting party is happening.  I could have a rad couch like one of these! What do you think?1604686_628454857203156_501868656_n tumblr_miu44c9exh1rjhyjwo1_500 graffiti-sofa graffiti-art-on-your-couchcouch with cats orange couch4 couch5

Back to the scene of the crime

What is wrong with me? I returned to the post office on Beverly and yet again bad things happened. My labels got stuck in the printer at the remote self help machine. I went to the line.  Once I got to the front I got the middle aged asian guy. I like his face. He always has a natural smile. He’s patient. He’s my favorite. He stamped my envelopes and sent them through. Phew. No parking lot issues this time. Time of day; about an hour earlier than when I was there last. Time of day is KEY.

Fender Gender

Despite my better instinct yesterday I found myself at the Beverly Post Office, the one by the Grove, the one with the rude people and impossible parking. Not the PO staff – they are lovely and have been there forever. I especially like the Chinese middle aged guy – he’s always so patient. I’m talking about the people who use this particular PO; they’re not so patient.  I think this is where the term PO’d comes from.

Today I had two ebay autions to mail out and used the automatic machine for priority mail. In and out in five minutes. I get to my car in the crowded parking lot, look to make sure no one is coming. It takes a while because there are cars going both directions and also backing out from behind. And one stupid car sitting there waiting for a spot. I am about to back out when I see an affable young man standing in front of my car. Is he really going to try and direct me I am thinking. I dare to roll down my window and say “I think I got this, but thanks.” He says, “No I was just waiting to get into my side oor.” Oh. I laugh and say, “Oh sorry, I will get out of your way.”  This time I forget to look and start backing up, right into a white car. He says “Stop!” but it’s too late. Crunch.  He makes a face.

Serves me right. I should have asked him to help me rather than chastise him when he wasn’t even trying to help me. He gives up on getting in his side door and ducks out of the way, never to be seen again.
I get out of my car. The lady I hit is not so nice. It’s barely a scrape – we merely exchanged some paint. To be honest my car is the worse off but she’s being difficult about it so we exchange information. I consider giving her a wrong number but no, I pull out my business card and everything. I tell her it will buff out but she says she is not sure. I say the damage is worse on my end and she whines in her slightly British accent “You backed into my car!”

I didn’t even try and argue with her. But whereas the guy was so nice but in the end was no help at all, the woman was rude. But it was nothing. I bet if the roles were switched he would have let it go.

I don’t think she’ll bother to call. She was just miffed.

I am never going to that post office again.