Interview with Artist Jean Capalbo: Inside the Magic

“Jean,” by Craig Chattin

Jean Capalbo is a world-class artist who just happens to live right here in Shandon, Columbia, South Carolina, with her husband, Craig Chattin (a retired technical writer and editor, formerly of Aiken, SC), and their two dogs, Willie and Luke.

Craig and Jean are avid travelers and enjoy camping and being out in nature. Jean is a native South Carolinian, but has lived in Los Angeles, California, and most recently, in Sedona, Arizona, where she was active in the local arts community.

Primarily a painter, Jean has revealed herself as a sculptor, to the amusement and amazement of her friends and family. The top of the garden wall of her home features guardian spirits residing in Jean’s recently-created cement chickens, brilliantly captured in mid-peck-and-strut-mode.

“Big Red Rooster,” by Jean Capalbo

Not all of Jean’s artistic renderings are that “concrete,” though (pun intended!), but as with her cement chickens, there is a spirit of playfulness in so many of her paintings as well. Aesthetically, her colorful paintings are delightful flights of fancy, but a closer look often reveals a story layered with experiences and emotions that make us all who we are because of and in spite of it all.

Her work has been exhibited at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia, Sedona, Arizona, and Los Angeles, California.

My thanks to Jean Capalbo for allowing me to post this interview here, and we both hope that you enjoy reading it.

The Interview

How would you describe the kind of art that you make?

I like to think it shows a celebration of life. I guess it’s mostly whimsical. I often end up weaving a story within it, so, sometimes it’s narrative. People have told me that they thought a painting was an illustration for a book, so, sometimes I guess it’s an open ended, whimsical narrative that could be called magical realism. Even when I’m doing a dog portrait, I like to think that I’m telling his/her story.

What is your favorite medium and why?

Lately, when it’s warm outside, it’s concrete. I had made some concrete chickens for my yard a while back and last summer I was inspired to increase the flock. I did a raven as well. There are so many concrete formulas, some resulting in very smooth detailed work, which mine are not. For paintings I prefer acrylics, which are the most forgiving.

How and/or why did you begin to make art?

I’ve been making art since I was a child and was always encouraged by grown-ups.

What are your favorite pieces of your own art and why?

“Beneath the Surface,” by Jean Capalbo

I have two favorite pieces that are both autobiographical. The first I painted after my first husband died in 2006. It is “Beneath the Surface,” which was done for a themed show in Sedona, “All That Has Passed Lies Not Far Below the Surface.”

The other one I painted when I moved back to South Carolina from Arizona. The house we bought here had been closed up for a couple of months before we could move into it. When we arrived, there were bugs—big roaches—living, dead, or dying all over the place. I had forgotten all about bugs since I had been living in a dry climate for so long. I was horrified! What had I done? That painting had my alter ego teetering on a tightrope above a jungle mired in buglife. It was not pleasant. Later I put an umbrella in her hand and changed the bug part to trees and foliage. What was interesting to me was, without the umbrella she seemed terrified. Adding the umbrella changed her expression to one of happy surprise and wonder without ever touching her face. That one I named, “Sometimes It’s a Tightrope.”

“Sometimes It’s a Tightrope,” by Jean Capalbo

How do you know when a piece is really finished?

I don’t. Even with the concrete I just have to stop.

What kind of reaction from people who experience your art makes you the happiest and/or the saddest?

When I’m painting someone’s pet and they tear up and say that I have captured their dog’s essence. That makes me happy. Or when someone smiles real big as they are looking at something I’ve done. I know my art is not for everyone, so I am not bothered when people pass it by now. That used to disappoint me.

Where do you get your ideas for your art?

Out of my head, for the most part. I had a professor at UCLA who had us cut out from magazines or newspapers images, colors, anything that attracted us. Then we’d make a collage and then use that total image from which to make a painting. It never ever comes out like the collage since the critical mind takes it over. Sometimes I’ll start like that.

“The Rooster,” by Jean Capalbo

Chickens and birds seem to be a recurrent theme in your work. I’m sure there’s a story there, right?

The chickens or birds are all about freedom. I often portray women in flight or women with birds. The idea of taking off, freeing oneself from constraints—self-imposed and otherwise—is appealing to me.

There was a time when some fellow artists and I did an art show fundraiser for an abused women and children’s shelter. The inspiration for my painting for this went back to my childhood when my family would visit my aunt on her farm. One summer there was a rooster who terrorized me. I let that rooster ruin my usual good time of running around the farm because I was afraid the leave the porch. He was always in the yard, ready to attack. Now I was bigger and stronger than that rooster, but I gave up all my power to it. So, in this case the bird did not represent freedom for me!

How do you deal with criticism?

I like criticism from people whose opinion I respect. I miss my wonderful critique group in Sedona which was made up of painters, photographers and sculptors.

What are your favorite tools for making your art?

I have a few favorite brushes. I mostly paint in acrylic, but still love the smell of oil. I also have some favorite things for mark making. There is a plastic filigreed placemat that I ripped up and have used for years. There’s only a little bit left that is not totally gunked up.

Who are your favorite three artists?

Oh, I love art museums and can be brought to tears looking at some paintings in person because I have stared at their reproductions in books all my life. Chagall is one. Bonnard is another favorite. I love the Fauvists/Post Impressionists like Matisse. I also love a lot of Latin American art, again for the bold expression of color, i.e., passion. For altogether different reasons I am drawn to Leonora Carrington, Dorothea Tanning, Remedios Varo, who were all women born early in the 20th century who are considered surrealists and lived storied lives.

Which three artists would you like to be compared with?

“The Birthday,” by Marc Chagall

I guess it would be most of the ones I mentioned before. People have said that what I do reminds them of Chagall, but I think it’s the lack of gravity there. You know, people fly.

What is your favorite art movement (realism, hyper-realism, surrealism, impressionism, post-modern, funk-pop, etc.)?

While I really admire modern movements like Super Realism and Photo Realism for their labor intensive dedication to detail (for example, Richard Estes, who is considered a founder of Photo Realism), my favorite movements are the old breakthroughs, in particular Post-Impressionism and Fauvism. They removed the limitations imposed on color and line, and in the process, liberated emotion and subjectivity. Artistic expression is about freedom, and that’s why these two movements are so relevant to my work.

When are you most creatively productive?

I don’t know if there is a particular time of day. If I get excited about an idea or something I’m working on, I don’t really think about anything else. I have not been known, however, to keep at something all night. I don’t like to lose sleep.

What do you think of the difference between what you want to express and the viewer’s interpretation?

I don’t care. Sometimes it can be very interesting!

Do you collect anything? If so, what and why?

My studio is filled with art materials, so I guess that is what I collect. Most anytime I hear about some new kind of paint or medium, etc. I want to try it. I even bought a kiln and potter’s wheel one time at a garage sale and played with that for a few months. Same with a rock saw, but with that I was afraid I’d saw off a finger, so it didn’t stay around long.

What is your favorite book and why?

I like crime mysteries that keep me up reading at night. I read a lot of non-fiction about social issues. Picking a favorite book is hard to do, but I can narrow it down to three: The Sound and the Fury, Moby Dick, and Anna Karenina are my favorites because they have rich, psychologically-complicated characters.

What’s the one piece of art from any other artist from any time period whatsoever that you could look at forever?

Detail of “Garden of Earthly Delights,” by Hieronymous Bosch

Nature I can look at forever. A piece of artwork…I don’t know, maybe “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” by Bosch. There’s a lot of stuff going on in there.

What is your pet peeve with the art world?

A lot of the art world is a lot of bull.

What’s the one art show you saw that really surprised you?

I was young and living in Germany teaching at a Department of Defense school and I took a bus to London over Thanksgiving and there at the Tate was a Post Impressionism Exhibition. It went on and on and on and I saw so many paintings I knew. It was the biggest and best art viewing experience I have ever had.

Where do you see your art going? Is it evolving, changing directions, becoming more eclectic, etc.?

“Jean & Craig, Willie & Luke,” by Gloria Talcove-Woodward

I have not painted in a while. In fact, this interview has inspired me. I have a good space full of art materials with which to play. I recently married again and married life is wonderful and very settling, so now I have the peace, if I can call it that, to let my mind wander and shut myself off up there. Craig understands. What I want to do is play with color. I had gotten stuck with a palette that didn’t change much and I want to change that. As for content, I don’t know. I have always painted my pets and I have not done my 9 year old, Willie, nor my newly adopted dog, Luke, who came with Craig. That would be an easy start, so, perhaps they will be my first project. When the season for mixing concrete ends, it might be time for a change.

 

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Filed under Interviews, Magical Realism

The Our Little Secret Travel Agency – Chapter 25: Out in the Cold

Almost there. You can smell the screaming, tortured metal cogwheel train tracks surrendering their essence to the damp walls of the steep tunnel.

Rain presses her forehead against the window and cups her hands around her face to block out the light from the train’s interior. Before her eyes can focus beyond the glass on the dimly-lit walls of the tunnel, she sees her own reflection at the end of her nose and almost jerks her head back in horror.

Unsettled, she remembers the creepy face peering at her through the Spa’s glass hallway as the cable car pulled her and the other passengers away from the safety of solid ground, shuttling them to the train station.

The train screeches into the station, its bright lights dispelling her uneasiness. They’re here! Jungfraujoch, the Top of Europe, and the highest train station in the world. This is a day of firsts, but every day is a day of firsts when your consciousness gets to travel around the world in a new, steaming hot body. Before she “arrived” at the Spa this morning, she had no idea that a place called “Jungfraujoch” even existed nor that Europe had a top to it, and now, here she is!

“Come on, Graciela! Let’s go make some snow angels!” Rain takes Graciela’s hand and pulls her towards the opening doors, while the two giggle like teenage girls. Rain leads her through the slow-moving crowd on the platform, running up the stairs and out into the light. The frigid air and bright sunlight evaporate the residual torpor that had settled upon them during the train’s long, arduous climb up to the Top of Europe.

They storm past tour guides whose eager, huddled charges wait obediently for the “show” to begin. Rain and Graciela almost knock them over, laughing like drunken frat boys in a cow-tipping contest. The little throngs of tourists bristle at their exuberant energy, and out of spite, they pretend to ignore the commotion created by these two beautiful women as they run into a snow-covered meadow, each one stopping only long enough to make a snowball and lob it at the other. They fall backwards into the snow, laughing. They make windshield-wiper movements with their arms and legs, creating one snow angel after another, pulling each other up and starting the process all over again to create even more.

A young man from the Spa approaches them, respectfully waiting until their raucous laughter subsides. “Well, ladies,” he says, as if reminding them to comport themselves in a more dignified manner, “Some of us will be hiking from here, Jungfraujoch, to the Mönchsjoch Hut. At most, it’s one hour each way. Are you up for it? Looks like you’re dressed for it, at any rate.”

He grabs Morgana’s hands to pull her out of her last snow angel, and noticing the perfect circle of snow angels, he smiles with approval. “That’s quite an artwork you two have created.”

“Thanks! We had so much fun doing it!” says Graciela as he grabs her hands, too.

Brushing the snow off her coat, Rain asks, “If we go on the hike, will we still have time to walk through the blue glacier?”

“Yes—well, that is if you don’t dawdle. Sometimes, we have people who slow the whole group down by stopping to photograph every snowflake, but generally, we have time.

“Well,” adds Graciela, “That won’t be us because we don’t have cameras or phones.”

The young man looks at her warily as if he suspects that the two of them could be trouble, camera or no camera.

“What’s at the…Hut?” asks Rain.

“The Mönchsjoch Hut is actually a lodge, the highest occupied lodge in Switzerland. Some tourists stay overnight, but during the day, it’s open to hikers and sightseers. There’s a restaurant which offers hot and cold snacks and drinks. We’re planning to have a light lunch there—cheese toast and ‘Hut Soup.’ It’s a really nice place—and the only place—to relax for a bit before hitting the trail again to return to the train station.”

“Hut Soup? I’ll bet they serve it with House Wine!” snorts Graciela, as she looks over to Rain for her reaction, which is rendered with a guffaw, not something Rain associates with her new demure demeanor.

“Or maybe, they serve the Hut Soup with ‘Culd’ Wine!” laughs Rain, keeping this silly repartee going with another volley.

The young man from the Spa attempts to tone down their giddiness with a simpering smile. Message received, Graciela and Rain look at each other and burst out laughing. Holding his head high, he maintains a pleasant expression, nods to them, turns, and then skids a little on the ice. Frantically waving his arms to maintain his equilibrium to avoid falling, he cuts a comic figure and once again, Rain and Graciela convulse with boisterous laughter. Firmly planted back on his feet, he turns around to face them with an intense stare and almost imperceptibly shakes his head “no.” With great decorum and self-restraint, he walks over to the group of people from the Spa who are ready to begin their hike to the Mönchsjoch Hut.

Laughed out and somewhat chastened, Graciela and Rain follow him towards the group.

“Phew! Wasn’t that fun, Rain? I didn’t know these tenems of ours could laugh like that!”

“Me neither! Laughing is one of those things that you don’t realize you miss until you’re laughing again.”

“Maybe we’d better not do anything else to piss this guy off any more than we already have. We wouldn’t want him to abandon us out in the middle of the trail, you know? We might need to stay on his good side, at least until we get back to the Spa.”

“Yeah, Graciela! I think you’re right about that!”

Catching up with the rest of the group, they hear the young man from the Spa introducing himself to the other Spa guests.

“As you may know, my name is Grégoire, and I’ll be leading the hike you’ve chosen to take from here to Mönchsjoch Hut. Once we get there, we’ll have about 45 minutes for lunch and relaxation, and then we’ll resume our hike back to the train station. Once we return to the train station, we will tour the Ice Palace. The ‘Eispalast’ is the highest-altitude ice palace in the world and is also the longest lasting, having been carved from the Aletsch Glacier, and measuring more than 23 kilometers, it is Europe’s longest glacier. It covers ab0ut 80 square kilometers. That’s a lot of ice, but unfortunately, we do not expect it to last into the next century due to global warming.”

“Enough of this global warming bullshit! I wanna hear about the Ice Palace!”

Everyone turns to gawk at the beefy blond American guy wearing ski goggles who is now noisily gulping water from a two-liter plastic bottle. After a loud belch emitted for the edification of his new audience, he bellows, “So why is the glacier blue?”

Grégoire, apparently used to boorish behavior, gloats inwardly at having an answer that he knows will probably go over the Beefy Belcher’s water-logged head.

“Excellent question, Sir, and one posed by anyone not intimately familiar with the physics of glaciation.”

Grégoire’s erudition is acknowledged by the Beefy Belcher who emits an even louder eructation which is heard by all, eliciting a ripple of titters from the crowd.

“But yes,” continues the unflappable Grégoire, “it is blue. Why blue? Because blue is the only color of the spectrum that is not absorbed by the extremely dense ice of the glacier, so it’s the only color for us left to see! The light scattering of its short wave length is the same phenomenon which makes us perceive the sky as being blue.”

“Oh, that makes sense!” whispers Rain to Graciela, who, trying not to laugh, erupts with a loud snort. The whole group turns to look at her, but Rain and Graciela only see the simpering smile of Grégoire.

Grégoire recoups the crowd’s attention by continuing his explanation:

“Of course, no one will remember why glaciers are blue, but once you have experienced walking inside a real glacier, you will never forget that glaciers are blue, so without any further ado, let us begin our hike. And, please, always keep to the marked path—stay in the middle and don’t get close to the edge.

Rain and Graciela follow the crowd along the wide path of snow.

Along the way, Grégoire turns to face the crowd from time to time to share interesting information and to point out distant peaks and the directions in which the different glaciers are “flowing.”

“That is a funny word to use since the flow of a glacier is very slow—the highest speed is 30 meters a day, the lowest is a half a meter a year, but the average is one meter a day.”

Here, Grégoire interrupts himself to look around. Seeing that the Beefy Belcher has separated himself from the group to light a cigarette—happily out of earshot—he continues to address the crowd.

“Due to global warming, the world’s glaciers are retreating at an alarming rate, which has dire consequences for the entire planet. For hikers and skiers, though, the threat is even more immediate since warming intensifies the movements of glaciers and avalanche activity. The greater the melt water, the greater the instability of everything you see around us.

“Most tourists to this site do not realize how amazing it is to experience hiking in the Alps without all kinds of ropes, safety equipment, and meticulous preparation, and we can only take this hike today because this trail has been specially prepared. Even so, crevasse danger is real and the last thing you want to do is fall into one. We’re not talking about sinking into the snow a few feet—these cracks, which vary in size, never get smaller, only bigger.”

One of the hikers adds, “I once saw a movie called ‘Touching the Void,’* about these two guys who were climbing a huge, snow-covered rock face in the Andes, and one of them falls into a crevasse—and survived. It was painful to watch!”

“Yes, I can only imagine,” agrees Grégoire, grateful for some positive interaction. “It would be nice if crevasses would do us the favor of revealing themselves to us before we fall into them but unfortunately, they don’t. Sometimes, there is a tell-tale trench or some ice spikes, but unless you’ve got an expertly-trained eye, you would easily miss it. You really can never be sure that you’re not walking or skiing right over a crevasse. If you’re lucky, it’s just a small one and you can climb or dig your way out, but all too many are really, really deep, like 45 meters or more, and should you fall in, you’d just keep falling and falling until you hit the bottom. Of course, you’d hit lots of protruding ice and break some ice bridges along the way. If you were lucky, or unlucky, enough to survive, then you’d have to worry about being rescued, but at that depth and at that temperature, your chances are pretty slim.”

The hike was starting to get a little more difficult. Many people stopped under the pretext of applying sunscreen or looking through their backpacks for their water bottles. The Beefy Belcher stopped often to unwrap a granola bar, his bulging jaw muscles clenching in a jittery frenzy to conquer and ingest the gooey confection as the wrapper was whipped away by the winds that grew stronger and colder with the increasing altitude.

“Rain, it’s really easy to tell who is a tenem and who is not. Can you tell?”

Rain looks quizzically at Graciela. “I thought we all were!”

“Oh, wow! OK, Rain, the air is getting thinner. How do you feel?”

“I feel just fine—why do you ask?”

“OK, look around at everyone. What are some of the people doing that we aren’t?

“They’re putting on sunscreen, eating energy bars, drinking water, wearing sunglasses or goggles, taking pictures, looking at their phones, huffing and puffing, complaining about the lack of bathrooms on the hike, and, oh yeah, smoking and chewing gum like that jerk who’s been giving Grégoire an even harder time than we were.”

Graciela nods knowingly. “Uh, huh! Now you know who isn’t a tenem!”

Rain looks around with new eyes. “Oh….”

Grégoire stops and turns to the group, many of whom seem to be struggling against the elements. “Don’t be surprised if you need to rest often. As I mentioned while we were still in the train station, we’re already up pretty high and as we climb, many of you may be affected by the high altitude. Up at the Mönchsjoch Hut, we will reach an altitude of 3,454 meters, where the oxygen level is even lower than it is here.”

“When are we going to get there?” someone whines.

The wind has begun to carry a lot of fine, dry snow for some time now and visibility has dwindled to slightly better than none.

“You could almost see the Mönchsjoch Hut from right here were it not for the wind blowing the snow around, but we’re very close now,” says Grégoire in an attempt to soothe the cold, uncomfortable crowd. He knows that this is the point at which the majesty of nature could easily be bartered away for a $20 cup of really mediocre soup with an under taste of dishwater.

A shriek cuts through their collective misery as all eyes are trained on Graciela standing at the edge of the trail.

“Rain! Come back! It’s dangerous over there! Didn’t you hear the warnings?” pleads Graciela. “Rain! What are you doing?!!!”

As if deaf to Graciela’s entreaties, Rain continues to walk on the thick crust of ice beyond the edge of the path. Distracted by one of Morgana’s repressed memories, she hears Morgana screaming, still holding the baby blanket she is crocheting for Gerri, as yet unborn, seeing her little boy, Travis, chasing a ball into the busy street at the edge of the park.

The words and the screams echo in her head but all she can do is walk to where her feet are taking her until she hears the crevasse open up. In slow motion, she feels herself plummet through a narrow slit that swallows her up. Shards of ice scrape her face and shoot up into her nostrils.

From far away, she can hear the commotion of panic as people who have watched her disappear into the ice shout and scream in horror and disbelief.

Wedged tightly in an envelope of space deep in the ice, the cold begins to fracture Rain’s thoughts, revealing glimmers of secrets of Rain’s “life” in the Spa.

Morgana wakes up thinking of a fake melting ice cube that she kept in her treasure box for years and wonders where it is now. Everyone thought it was funny, but it was actually quite horrible. The clear plastic featured an entombed fly caught unaware of its impending doom of false immortality. Every once in a while, she’d slip it into a friend’s drink as a joke, but more often than not, it would go unnoticed and then she’d have to dig it out of the drink’s dregs, and explain the failed joke to her friends. The joke barely worked back then, but it would never work now. For one thing, ice cubes were not the same shape at all anymore—ice was now chunked, crushed or slushed. Ah, the good old days! It isn’t so easy to trick people these days.

Or is it?

“Oh,” says Morgana out loud, “it’s Saturday morning!”

She gets out of bed with a bounce, not noticing that her nose is numb with cold, happily anticipating meeting Percival at the Cleveland Cascade.

To Be Continued in Chapter 26

Photo Credit: http://www.jungfrau.ch  (The Sphinx Observatory)

*Touching the Void is a 2003 docudrama survival film about Joe Simpson’s and Simon Yates’ disastrous and near-fatal climb of Siula Grande in the Cordillera Huayhuash in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. It is based on Simpson’s 1988 book of the same name. (Wikipedia.org)

Video Credit: 50 feet down in a crevasse after fall, Chamonix
Brandon Kampschuur (youtube.com)

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Filed under Science Fiction, The Our Little Secret Travel Agency-The Novel

The Our Little Secret Travel Agency – Chapter 24: The Devil is in The Details

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Robots of all kinds swarm through the black, silent, cold hallways. Most of the robots here at the Spa process visual information, and those that do, also have the ability to navigate and interact with their environment without light. Not all the robots “know” this. The ones that don’t, are not programmed to access their auxiliary night or infrared visual capabilities, and will be as clumsy or as helpless as a human being is when confronted with darkness.

Rain is wandering through a dark hallway, running her fingertips along the damp, cold wall, treading lightly just in case the floor isn’t where she thinks it is. The darkness is so black that her mind conjures up the memory of light in protest. When she sees a glimmer of light in the distance, she believes for a moment that her mind is playing tricks on her–but no, it’s a light alright!

Approaching the light spilling through the glass panel of an office door, her eyes ache as her pupils contract. She sees the back of a man’s head. He is sitting at a computer, manipulating 3D images on a screen, rotating them, making changes, tapping the keys. On a long table next to him, holograms of naked women two feet tall parade past him. Each one turns to him and waves or blows him a kiss or twirls as if for his amusement, and then moves on to allow the next woman her five seconds of attention.

The man swivels around on his chair to face her as she walks through the unlocked door. They are both surprised to see each other.

Rain’s Mystery Man’s face is wondrous with adoration. Rain’s gaze is locked onto his burning eyes. Every fiber of her being draws her towards him. She straddles him and sits high on his lap. She melts into him, and locked into his embrace, she drinks in his deep, hypnotic kiss.

The holographic parade continues at their side. The naked women continue to blow kisses and twirl in their direction, seemingly oblivious that their audience is otherwise engaged.

Rain wakes up, stretching, aware of the beautiful white chemise teasing her expectantly charged skin underneath. She moves her almost too-warm feet until each finds a cool spot on the mattress. Her toes wriggle while her eyes scan the smooth ceiling. She smiles, remembering that she is back at the Spa, beginning a day that will be like no other, an adventure, in a body that is an adventure in itself. Remembering her real body makes her appreciate all the more the eight hours she will enjoy in this sexy, sensual body, her “tenem.”

She is glad there is no one sitting by the bed, taking notes and/or perhaps unfair psychological advantage of her slowly-awakening state of consciousness.

Kicking the covers off, she inspects her long, thin, shapely legs and feet, running her hands over every inch of herself, reveling in the perfection of what is just too miraculous to be anything associated with her real life self. She hears herself laugh with joy, and is delighted all over again that her voice reminds her of tinkling bells. She remembers that in real life, she paid an awful lot of money to transfer her consciousness into this tenem, this body that she herself designed, but at the moment, all she can think of is how grateful she is to be here, and how this feeling is worth whatever fortune she may have invested in (or squandered on) this endeavor.

Holding her hands in front of her face, she smiles at the little heart-shaped “birthmark” on the back of her right hand, and reflects that all glitches in life should be so sweet. Maybe a lot of glitches are sweet but we just don’t realize it because most glitches are not heart-shaped.

Remembering the closet, she practically springs out of bed, and slides the door open, knowing that whatever is on the hangers will give her some inkling of what she can expect to do today.

A black turtle neck sweater and a pair of stretchy black pants, and a beautiful pair of sleek black boots with a rippled sole. Oh, and there’s a gorgeous white coat of faux fur with a hood. It occurs to her that she’s probably going outside. Somewhere inside her, there is a five-year old jumping for joy at the prospect of building a snowman or sledding downhill on a Flexible Flyer.

Pausing in front of the mirror, she admires the beautiful woman looking back at her. Every woman who is not beautiful appreciates the assurances of loved ones that she is beautiful. Being loved or appreciated does give one a sense of beauty, but actually being beautiful, seeing oneself as objectively beautiful? There’s no other feeling quite like it in the world. Why should that even matter? Only a woman who isn’t beautiful can answer that question. A beautiful woman could afford to say that it is disappointing to think that beauty had anything to do with personal worth. Oh, but who cares about personal worth anyway? Feeling good feels good, no matter the reason.

Touching her lips, she gasps as she experiences for a moment that passionate interlude with her Mystery Man. With butterflies in her stomach, she wonders if that really happened or if it was a dream or a hallucination. Whatever it was, she’d sure like to experience that again.

Out in the glass hallway shimmering with light reflected from the Alpine snow surrounding the Spa, she follows the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. Noticing the red headed beauty she met in the café last time, she hurries to catch up with her.

“Graciela! Good to see you again!

Like Rain, Graciela also has her coat slung over her arm.

“I’m so excited, Rain! Do you know what we’re doing today?”

“I have no idea, do you?”

“Yeah! After breakfast, we’re taking a train to the top of Europe, and we’re going to explore some blue glaciers! Ever done that before?”

As giddy as school girls, they find their way to the buffet breakfast, and help themselves to little croissants, cheese, mango jam and grapes.

Graciela steers Rain over to a comfortable booth. A handsome young waiter offers to pour coffee for them and, all smiles, yesses and thanks, they nudge their coffee cups over to him.

Both fuss over and pick at their dainty little breakfast.

“Don’t you just love the clothes here? In my real life, I feel like my closet is filled with sack cloth and ashes. And it’s not like I don’t have the money—I do! But I have no sense of what looks good on me, and believe me, not much does. What about you?”

Rain puts her little croissant down and fiddles with the grapes.

“I feel the same way. Part of the reason is that a body like this would make sack cloth and ashes look almost fashionable. Tell me the truth—what’s your real body like?”

Graciela laughs and shakes her beautiful red curls.

“Do you really want to know?”

Rain giggles. “Of course, I do!”

“Well, let’s just say I haven’t looked in the mirror at my real body forever, because it’s too depressing to see what’s happened to it. I got rid of all full-length mirrors in my home years ago when I was a mere 40 pounds overweight. From there, it just got worse. Now I’m about 100 pounds overweight. I don’t worry about how things look anymore, only how they feel. If something fits and I can move in it, and if the colors and patterns don’t clash, good enough. What about you?”

“Well, I’m the same way really, but luckily, I’m not at the point of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. To tell you the truth, I was never all that vain to begin with, but I did go to hell with myself for quite a few years. I ate whatever and whenever I wanted. But the surprising thing for me is that having this incredible body feels so good that I find myself making some positive changes in my real life. And you know, what started out as an escape from my lousy life is beginning to feel like I’m discovering bits and pieces of the life that I could have had. Like maybe, not only can I salvage some of the good, but also create something a lot better than what I had before.”

Rain surprises herself with that realization and wonders if Morgana, whose name she wouldn’t be able to recall because she’s programmed not to, will remember this.

“Well, I wish that were the same for me. I find that all the great experiences I have here make me more dissatisfied with my life. Each ‘visit’ leaves me more resentful of all that’s gone wrong for me. The only time I’m happy is when I’m here. And I’ve only got nine more visits left.”

“Can’t you just sign up for another 30 visits?”

Graciela shrugs. “No, not really. I already went into debt with the first 30 visits, so no. This is it.”

“Maybe you could come back for a real life visit. That could only cost you a few thousand dollars,” suggests Rain.

“Come back here in my own body in my own clothes? Now that’s depressing!” snorts Graciela.

They both chuckle at the stark truth of Graciela’s reaction.

The waiter approaches their table. “Ladies, there’s a train leaving for Jungfrau in ten minutes. If you are planning to go to the Top of Europe, please proceed to the glass hallway within the next few minutes. Don’t forget to bring your cold weather gear!”

Rain and Graciela join the crowd assembling in the glass hallway. They are led to cable cars taking them to a small mountain train station.

As the cable car begins its ascent away from the Spa, Rain recognizes a man peering out from the glass hallway. Morgana would recognize him as Chlaus, Jerinda’s husband, but Rain can only puzzle why she should know him. She wonders momentarily if Morgana will remember who he is or why he is here.

The train waits in the glittering snow, huffing out clouds of steam, as the excited crowd boards, each little group finding and staking out their favorite seats.

The train’s whistle hoots out a warning that they are about to depart. The doors close and the conductor walks through the aisles making sure that everyone is settled in and comfortable. Screens from the ceiling slowly descend and everyone is treated to a short film that explains the excavation of the tunnel and the building of the miles of train tracks that made this arduous journey possible.

After the film, attendants with rolling carts walk through the train’s cars with hot coffee, teas, and hot chocolate.

After an hour which passes so delightfully, they emerge from the tunnel into the blinding whiteness of the mountain top.

Outside at last, Rain hears little popping noises inside of her head. “Graciela, do you hear any popping noises inside your head?” she asks nervously.

Graciela laughs. “Yes, I do, but don’t get nervous, Rain. Remember that you left the real you, the flesh and blood you, back at your house. However real this body may seem to you, it’s just a machine, and those popping noises are the stresses caused by the change in temperature and pressure. No matter how perfect these bodies may seem to us, keep in mind that we are an experiment and that they’re still working the kinks out of us.”

“Eeeuuwww,” says Rain. And they both laugh. But Rain, in all truthfulness, never realized, until this moment, that she was just an experiment.

And neither did Morgana. Not that Morgana will remember this.

It’s all there, in the small print; you know, the stuff that no one reads.

Music Credit: The Chemical Brothers – The Devil is in the Details/Beats High Quality (You Tube)

Photo Credit: Sociopathlife.com

To Be Continued in Chapter 25

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The Our Little Secret Travel Agency – Chapter 23: Will The Real Me Please Stand Up?

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“If you can’t close the book, turn the page.” Morgana’s footsteps pound out those words over and over again. She has no idea where she has heard that phrase, but it works nicely to fill in the gaps between one excruciating thought and the next.

Still stinging from the revelation that Jack had never ended his involvement with her sister, Jewel, Morgana walks aimlessly home. Her Regal Countenance Mode forgotten, she plods along the Lake path in what can only be described as a “schlep.”

Oh, Jack, Jack, Jack, she thinks. How many times can you disappoint me? Good thing that I’ve already given up on you. Good thing I see nothing to mourn over except my own inability to have my own damned life.

Oh, and Jewel! My favorite sister! You must have been so mad at me when I married Jack. How the hell was I supposed to know that you still loved him when you screwed around on him, and then ran off with another guy?

Oh, Jack, how could you have used me to get back at Jewel? How could you have treated her little sister like the whore you believed Jewel to be after she betrayed you?

Yes, she thinks, I was only 16—Jack took advantage of me.

When the word “Bullshit!” echoes through her head, she realizes that her conscience was listening.

Stung again, Morgana admits the truth to herself. Yeah, I was only 16, but I knew what I was doing all along. It felt good, I can’t lie—punishing Jewel, the secret, hot, steamy romance with an older, good-looking guy. Yeah, I knew it wasn’t right to pick up with someone else’s “leavings,” as her mother told her upon discovering just who this “Jack” guy really was. Bad enough that he was too old for an innocent 16-year-old girl…but the jilted lover of her sister, Jewel? Really? How could she stoop so low, her mother wanted to know.

Her mother made it sound like Morgana was displaying a loss of pride, but had she called a spade a spade, “betrayal” would have been a more accurate characterization of Morgana’s behavior. To be fair, though, both Jewel and Jack had betrayed each other first.

Had Morgana been accused of “betrayal” instead of “a loss of pride,” perhaps it would have made a difference in her decision to marry Jack, but second-guessing with what-ifs after the fact is just running a fool’s errand.

It wasn’t easy dealing with that ill-fated decision. It had cost her many years of subliminal, seething enmity from her family. In spite of Jewel’s scandalous behavior, Morgana’s transgression of picking up with Jack and marrying him was regarded as the worst betrayal of all.

But who knows what betrayal really is? In this very moment, nobody better than Morgana! The realization is visceral. Betrayal is that nasty, opportunistic boogeyman lurking in the darkest corner of your soul who sacrifices loyalty on the altar of really bad decisions, sanctioned by the avenging angels of teenage angst. She is nauseated by the very thought.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The only thing that kept Morgana going all these years was her resolve to see herself as the victim in this relationship. Only now can she see how she made a bad situation worse, how her complicity in Jack’s retaliation against her sister, Jewel, only served to keep them apart officially but locked forever in an unholy alliance of Morgana’s own making. As inlaws, the bond between Jewel and Jack would never be completely broken, since there would always be weddings, funerals, graduations, christenings, and holidays which would occasion all kinds of get-togethers and family dinners. The spark between Jewel and Jack could be easily overlooked by the casual observer, but it was always there, come to think of it.

She shudders to think that her mother, her father, her sisters, everyone but her, watched Jewel and Jack exchanging furtive glances all these years, never forgetting what happened, never forgetting that thanks to Morgana, this scandal would be a permanent fixture in their lives.

Little did Morgana know, after all these years, that not only had Jewel and Jack buried the hatchet long ago, but that each had continued to harbor resentment against Morgana, seeing her as the real impediment to their happiness.

Up to this moment, she had always regarded herself as a cog in a wheel that she, herself, did not put into motion. Now she recognizes that this illusion gave her a false immunity from any blame.

She remembers now how, ever since she married Jack, she’s always felt like an outsider among her own sisters and parents. Jack’s family hadn’t been particularly warm and fuzzy either, but that’s just the way they were; her own family had never been that way before. Never one to fully trust her own hunches, she ignored those little glimmers of truth. There were always cakes to bake, dishes to wash, and kids to bathe.

She thought of her friend, Angie, who always said that Karma is one pissed-off, self-righteous bitch! It suddenly occurs to Morgana that the only thing that made her a victim was her own Karma.

Too tired to take the stairs as she does in her perkier moments, she gets on the elevator. She doesn’t see any of her neighbors, which is a relief. There’s no one she wants to talk to right now. If she liked the taste of alcohol, she’d probably just get drunk.

Back in her apartment, she retrieves her red flannel lumberjack nightgown from the dresser drawer, kicks off her shoes, and heads to the bathroom. She peels off her clothes as the tub fills with steaming hot water.

She kicks her bag over and out rolls the little mini bottle of Boney Stalker Scotch. Without a second thought, she uncaps it and downs the rest of its contents. Ugh! The bad taste makes her eyes tear and her nostrils burn but it quickly fades as she feels a tranquilizing warmth rippling through every fiber of her body.

It’s all OK, she thinks. Everything is everything.

Soaking in a nice, hot bath, she lets her mind go to some other place where she is neither the victim nor the perpetrator. She concentrates on the perfection of water, and how it just has to obey a few rules and everything’s fine. So simple.

Music Credit: Matt Simons – Catch & Release (Deepend remix) – Lyrics Video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LXsm9y-z3I)

Photo Credit: “Haunted Mirrors,” by artist Allison Diaz

To Be Continued in Chapter 24

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Wrapping it Up: Final Visit Rap

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The World’s Best Orthopedic Surgeon

The hardware from my knee
Was gonna have to come out
Cuz when I’d kneel on my knee
It’d made me want to shout
And scream out in pain
From which I try to refrain

I don’t like to complain
And be a pain in the drain
Because pain is not
The name of my game

So I told that to my doctor
Who is some kind of saint
Who always tells it like it is
And never like it ain’t

Watching Dr. Mazoue
Examining the X-Ray
He said I had a skinny knee
I’ll need a hardware-ectomy

So thank you, Dr. Mazoue
For driving in from far away
With scalpels
And pliers
To pull out nails and wires
Using pails and magnifiers
On sale from weird suppliers
And all things consistent
About which you’re insistent

I’ve got an awful lot of friends
Who’d pay a king’s ransom
For a doctor only half as good
And only half as handsome

I hope our paths will cross again
But I cannot say how, or why or when
I just hope to heck that it will not be
For a bone-ular glitch inside of me

But I digress…
My case I rest
I just gotta confess
That you are the best!

Note: The words “hardware-ectomy” and “bone-ular” are not real words. I assume full responsibility for any and all lexicographal repercussions resulting from their use.

Photo Credit: University Specialty Clinics, University of South Carolina School of Medicine.

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Two Boats and a Helicopter

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Talk by Gloria Talcove-Woodward
Sunday, November 20, 2106
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia
Columbia, South Carolina

Cautionary Tale: Recitation of Original Poetry by John Starino, “Lois.”
(Included here, with permission, from John Starino)

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John Starino

“Lois”

She was a big woman
For her height, five, five

Her other sibling
A Brother

She was married
Two children
One grew marijuana
For daily use

The other
Invalid from the First
Gulf War by some
Undetermined disease

She rarely sang in choir
Enjoyed her gossip with
Soap Opera at The Beauty Parlor

Her husband died in
An auto accident
While driving to the plant
Early one morning

She smoked, she drank little
She was

Now Lois is on the floor
In a cob webbed corner of her
Mother-in-Law’s garage within
A brown wooden box
Which has a peaked
Detachable lid
Along with her Wedding Picture

Inside of
Two plastic bags
One Wal-Mart
One Bi-Lo

Opening Words [adapted from Deuteronomy 6:11]:

We build on foundations we did not lay
We warm ourselves by fires we did not light
We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant
We drink from wells we did not dig
We profit from persons we did not know.

This is as it should be.
Together we are more than any one person could be.
Together we can build across the generations.
Together we can renew our hope and faith in the life that is yet to unfold.

Time for Children of All Ages: Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece
(Gloria Talcove-Woodward)

 

Community: Two Boats and a Helicopter

There’s a huge flood and a man is stranded on the roof of his house. A guy in a rowboat comes by and the guy shouts, “Jump in! I’ll save you!” The man on the roof shouts back, “I’m waiting for my God to save me.” Five minutes later, the water has risen to the man’s knees. A guy in a pontoon boat comes by and shouts, “Climb in the boat! I’ll save you!” And the man on the roof shouts back, “I’m waiting for my God to save me!” Next thing you know, there’s a helicopter, and the pilot throws out a rope ladder and shouts down using a bullhorn, “Climb up the ladder! I’ll save you!” The man on the roof shouts back, “I’m waiting for my God to save me.” Just before the man on the roof gets swept away by the flood waters, he shouts up to the heavens, “God, why have you forsaken me?” And the sky breaks open and God, who looks just like Bernie Sanders, shouts down, “I just sent you two boats and a damn helicopter! What more do you want?”

A religious person would interpret this story to mean that God’s hand is in everything. A Unitarian might say that we are God’s hands if She, in fact, exists, and a pragmatic agnostic (who looks just like Bernie Sanders) might say that if you had paid more attention to evacuation warnings, you might not need so damn many miracles.

My talk today is about community and the low-hanging fruit of happiness and how, in spite of the cards we have either chosen or have been dealt, a spiritual community can point us in the right direction towards having the best life we can possibly have.

And it’s also about how not to wind up in your mother-in-law’s garage like poor “Lois” in John Starino’s excellent poem. It’s a little late for a Spoiler Alert, but I don’t think Lois had a spiritual community.

As a Northern transplanted recovering Catholic, I moved to conservative little Columbia in June of 1987. My only acquaintances were my elderly neighbors with whom I talked a lot about tomatoes, tomato sandwiches, tomato plants, tomato cages, seven dust and tomato worms. I had no friends or relatives here, and other than my five-year old Chris, and the mailman, and an occasional magazine salesperson, I had no one to talk to during the day. I missed adult conversation so much that I believe I was the only person that the Jehova’s Witnesses had ever tried to get away from.

On September 27, 1987, I walked into this church for the first time–almost 30 years ago, great with child, and towing my little Chris by the hand. The first person to greet me was Mark T., who took his jacket off and put it on Chris because Chris was cold. When the service began, Mark lifted Chris up and put him up on the stage so he could light the chalice. I was so bowled over by that act of kindness and inclusion, that I immediately felt like I’d come home to a spiritual community I never knew I had. I knew I’d be here for a good long time. And ever since, I’ve called myself a Born Again Unitarian. Every time I see Mark, I always remember his kindness with a gratitude that I’m not sure he is aware of.

That same morning, during Joys and Concerns, Mitch Y. stood up and announced that he and Angie D. would be getting married right here, that very afternoon, and, to Angie’s complete surprise, announced with that great largesse that was so very Mitch that the whole church was invited. He didn’t have to invite ME twice! I had nowhere else to go!

I ran to Belk’s, bought a Chinese Ginger Jar that was on sale for $10, and Chris and I went back for their wedding, which was wonderful. I felt a part of someone’s family, and it didn’t matter one iota that it wasn’t mine. Angie tells me that the first time she remembers meeting me was on the reception line at her wedding. She had no idea who I was except I’m sure she noticed that I was about 10 months pregnant and that I was stuffing my face with wedding cake. The Chinese Ginger Jar went to Mitch after their divorce nine years later. The congregation continued to cherish Mitch and Angie, and their daughter, who grew up, right here in this church just like my kids. Sadly, Mitch, such a fun and funny guy, passed away in 2006. But every time I see Angie, I always think of her as that beautiful bride and the joy I took from being an almost wedding crasher on her big day. I am sure she has no idea how grateful I still am to her and to Mitch.

The same day that Angie and Mitch got married, Janet S., our wonderful piano player, who had just had a baby herself, also noticed that I was about ten months pregnant, and she gave me her telephone number and said I could drop Chris off at her house at any time of the day or night should I need to go the hospital. Nine days later, my parents were here, so I didn’t need to call on her, but what a relief it was to know that I had someone that I could call even in the middle of the night, if need be. Janet didn’t know me or Chris, but that didn’t stop her from reaching out to me. She probably had no idea of how much comfort I took in having someone I could rely on. Every time I see her, I remember with such gratitude that act of loving kindness.

And that was just the first day of my being here! And I’ve got thirty more years to tell you about, so kick off your shoes and get comfortable. Just kidding!

Why would anyone bother having a spiritual community? I mean, we have our little communities at work, we have our neighbors, we have our kids, other family members, we have sports teams, bowling leagues, book groups, our own circle of friends, you name it. And who has the time, anyway?

A spiritual community like ours remains a constant in our lives. We share a common history with a community that celebrates our joys and mourns our losses, that witnesses our milestones and our rites of passage, providing us with a sense of connection and continuity.

How important is that? Pretty important, considering that all the non-church groups I’ve just mentioned, come and go, but a spiritual community is always there. Your kids grow up and move away. You can move away from here, or you can get busy and forget we’re even here, but you can always come back. And the minute you walk in, you know you’re home again. There aren’t too many other places like that. And if you really want to feel like you’re home, walk into the kitchen, and open up the fridge. Just remember to close the door again after you forget why you opened it.

Everyone is here for variations on the same theme. We need different things at different stages of our lives. You will see everyone from newborn babies to senior citizens. We are all looking to find someone who can relate to who we are and where we are in our life’s journey. Some of us might be leading the way, and others of us might be trying to find our way. So many of us might just be looking to figure out which way is up so we don’t fall down.

In his new book, “Tribe,” Sebastian Junger points out that while 50% of our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans apply for permanent PTSD benefits, only 10% of those veterans have seen or been engaged in active combat. How can this be? He suggests that their PTSD is due in large part to their separation from their military brothers and sisters, their “tribe,” for whom they were prepared to fight and die, regardless of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, political philosophy or any other characteristic.

After their deployment ends, our veterans return to a society that has learned to live without them, and which seems to be at war with itself. Disoriented, marginalized and isolated, they cannot recreate what they have just lost: a purpose. In their platoons, they developed an intense loyalty towards each other and an unquestionable sense of belonging not common in our nuclear families and fragmented social systems. It is easy to forget that we were once a communal species, but the lack of our own tribe where each person is needed and valued does seem to explain our never-ending quest for meaning.

Tragedy and loss intrude their way into our lives when we least expect it. Death, divorce, addiction, betrayal, illness and disability, financial insecurity, and even elections, can all devastate us and make us wonder what, if anything, life is all about. Our survival depends upon our ability to get back on our feet again.

The right kind of community can help you to define a purpose to your life, just in case you’ve lost sight of what that purpose might happen to be. If you’re really busy and stressed out, the purpose of your life is just to get through each day. But during transitions to other stages of our lives, we have to reinvent ourselves. To some people, such an opportunity is a joy, but to others it is a profound and daunting challenge. Communities will have a common purpose, and whatever you contribute to that common purpose will be appreciated by others, and best of all, you’ll have the personal satisfaction of being useful. If you find yourself with some time on your hands, please don’t forget that we are here and we have lots of fun things we could use your help on. And the pleasure of your company would be just as good!

I will never forget the conversation I had many years ago with a man who was a custodian at my kids’ school. He told me that he had been a hopeless alcoholic, crushed by debt and illness, and tons of family problems. In desperation, he sought out the preacher from his local church. The preacher didn’t lecture him or quote the Bible to him. The only thing he said was start tithing, come to church two or three times a week, and you’ll be healthy, wealthy and wise, and you (probably) won’t go to Hell when you die.

Now if you’re a Unitarian and you come to church more than once a week, you just might be the minister. Also, we generally don’t tithe, probably because we don’t believe in Hell, so therefore, 10% of your income (and I don’t know if that’s before or after taxes and deductions) would be a steep price to pay in order to avoid going somewhere you were never going to go to in the first place!

That’s probably why the only Unitarian miracle I’m aware of is meeting our pledge goal. Now if we did tithe, we could probably afford to hire Megachurch Preacher Joel Osteen as our minister which would probably increase our membership by at least a thousand-fold, but then just imagine how high our capital campaign goal would be! It makes my head spin just thinking about it. Come to think of it, our current capital campaign is a real bargain! It’s much more than half-off!

Getting back to that man? He told me that he had stopped drinking from one day to the next, and, miraculously, his health and family relations had improved tremendously, and his finances stabilized, allowing him and his family to live a more secure and peaceful life.

It’s not that I don’t believe in miracles, but the skeptic in me just couldn’t take that at face value. Then I figured it out: There’s a difference between value and cost. Just like that commercial: The cost of tithing: 10%, the value: Priceless.

And here’s the explanation in Luke 12:34 and Matthew 6:21: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

All of which means that the man probably went to church where he was probably eating church food (which could be something like mystery meat on a hot dog bun), which would constitute a nutritional upgrade from bar fare (which could be something like four beers and a handful of Slim Jims). He probably got involved in some healthful activities like playing basketball with the church youth and quite possibly became a mentor to a few of them, and maybe he became the go-to guy for plumbing crises, and maybe he discovered that he was someone people could look up to, and maybe his kids were proud of him because they saw him as a leader that other people respected, because when I met him, he seemed like someone who had earned the love and respect of people he loved and respected himself.

The best way to surround yourself with a loving community is just to roll up your sleeves and pitch in. Whatever you do, you’ll probably have a pretty good time doing it. Very often, you find yourself just working on a committee with someone, or washing dishes in the kitchen after coffee hour, or painting the RE wing, or putting the chairs away in the social hall, or manning a table at our garage sale, or attending a pancake breakfast fundraiser for our RE program or carrying our rather unwieldy Standing on the Side of Love banner in the Pride Parade. (I mean, could that thing be any heavier? Even we Unitarians have our cross to bear) And something happens. You drop something (hopefully, it’s not the banner dropping on your foot!) or you say something, you laugh and you find yourself sharing a moment with someone that neither one of you will ever forget, and that becomes a little tiny chip in this huge mosaic of all the experiences that you have over the years in this church that will keep you coming back. You find yourself caring about other people’s lives, rejoicing with them over their triumphs and crying with them through their sorrows, helping lift a burden off their shoulders or letting them help you lift one off your own.

Community, especially a spiritual community, is an investment of our time, our care, our talents, our love, and our resources. If you take care of your investment, the dividends are surprisingly high.

A spiritual community contributes to our physical and mental health. Just being here calls us to our better selves, helps us to practice things like gratitude, compassion, forgiveness, mindfulness, respect, generosity and acceptance. It helps us to deal more honestly and effectively with disappointments and conflicts. If you have children, you know they watch you and they learn from you how to solve problems and conduct themselves during trying times.

It is here that our children learn to think critically and to make good decisions using our Seven Principals as an ethical guide. A community is where you learn to be kind, when to say yes, when to say no, and when to say nothing It shapes your relationships with people in your own life, the larger community of our neighborhoods, our institutions, our state and our nation. I like to think of our UU kids as good global citizens.

Not everyone needs or wants a church, and that’s fine, but for those of us who do, I sure am glad that this place exists. Community is a little bit like health insurance—it pays to have it before you realize how much you need it.

And because my favorite spiritual practice is laughter, I will close with one more joke:

God appears to a man one night in a vision. The man asks God to let him win the lottery. God agrees. When the man dies in a tragic flood, he goes to Heaven and meets God and complains that God broke his promise because he never won the lottery. God, who looks just like Bernie Sanders, says to him, “You never won the lottery because you never bought a damned ticket! What more do you want?” And the man says, “I don’t know! Two Boats and a Helicopter?”

Thanks for coming. Have a beautiful Thanksgiving, and please know how thankful I am for you, this wonderful congregation that I love so very much.

Benediction

Each of Us Ministers to a Weary World
By Darcy Roake

There is too much hardship in this world to not find joy,
every day
There is too much injustice in this world to not right the balance,
every day
There is too much pain in this world to not heal,
every day

Each of us ministers to a weary world.
Let us go forth now and do that which calls us to make this world
more loving, more compassionate and more filled with the grace of divine presence, every day.

*******************

Go in Peace.

bernie-and-me

Bernie and Me

 

Music Credit: Bruno Mars, “Count on Me,” www.youtube.com

Photo Credits: “John Starino,” by Kevin Oliver

“Two Boats and a Helicopter,” from The Office of CBP Air and Marine helicopter (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File )

“Bernie and Me,” by Sarah Damewood

“Literary Credit: Onion Season, Pt. 1, by John M. Starino, SilDag Press, 139 Dickert Drive, Lexington, SC 29073-9040, jmstar5@aol.com, Copyright © John M. Starino/SilDag Press, First Edition, 2012. “Lois,” p. 8.

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Coup de Grâce

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After spending a gorgeous star-studded night in an enchanted treehouse surrounded by giant redwoods, making love one last time, they awaken to stray beams of early morning sunlight that have managed to penetrate the dark coolness of the thick forest. And a wonderful last morning it is, indeed.

Downstairs, they hear pots and pans sliding onto and off of gas stove burners, serving spoons clinking into glass bowls, and an open refrigerator exhaling frosty air and its heavy door shutting on gummy gaskets; then they remembered that they forgot to cancel the breakfast that was included in the price of their last night’s stay. With or without breakfast though, this place was a real steal of a deal, thanks to their “Living Large” coupon that they’d bought on the internet.

The irresistible smell of $12-a-pound coffee brewing wafts up the spiral staircase, but they can’t have it. Too bad. Only now do they realize that their last cup of coffee was yesterday morning, served in a Styrofoam cup on the plane coming out here.

They’d had their last supper with their son and his wife somewhere between the airport and here. They had begrudgingly learned to love their son, always an odd and ungainly child with a penchant for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Even though they’d named him a perfectly good and respectable name, he’d insisted on calling himself “Boom.” They even learned to love his wife, Jezza, if only because she loved him for the very reasons they didn’t. The young couple, presently in their mid-forties, were failed strawberry farmers, and now, courtesy of Mom and Pop, were sinking another small fortune into vermiculture, a fancy word for growing worms. In spite of sounding like a foolhardy investment, handing over all their worldly wealth to these two young people felt like the right thing to do. At least it helped to assuage the guilt they’d felt all these years about their lack of unconditional love.

Their house, their cars, all their belongings, every trace of who they were, all liquidated and transmogrified into columns of numbers on financial statements. All their final papers are in order, all signed, sealed and just about delivered. They both have their own manila envelope, all set and ready to go. The only other thing they both have in their matching backpacks is their made-to-order, custom-fitted, zip-up mushroom suits, guaranteed to decompose their wearers more efficiently than natural processes alone. They’re the latest craze in green funerals.

Showering without any of the luxury soaps and shampoos provided by the host of the treehouse was a little disappointing, but the hot water and the power shower head helped rinse away some of the malaise that naturally asserts itself during one’s last anything.

They both dressed in yesterday’s clothes and took one last, mournful look around their charming little treehouse, and negotiated their way down the spiral staircase into the kitchen. Two silver-haired women, speaking softly in Spanish, were plating cheese omelets and blueberry pancakes. There was an inviting table set just for them with a four-piece Romantica Collection silver coffee set, lace place mats and double hemstitched linen napkins. Having to refuse such a beautiful breakfast almost made them cry. The women were so disappointed that their loving efforts came to naught, but they quickly packed up the omelets and the pancakes in cardboard to-go boxes, pressing the boxes on the mildly resistant couple as they headed out the door.

Who would be the recipient of the breakfasts they did not know, but waste not, want not; and what a sin to waste the earth’s bounty—such an ungrateful gesture.

They walked along the forest trails they had already researched and planned for their final walk, only now they were carrying these cardboard boxes, an inconvenient reminder that they could not eat the food so tantalizingly tucked inside while their protesting stomachs grumbled with outrage, which did, in fact, diminish their enjoyment of the walk.

Through the trees, they became aware of a man walking parallel to them, dressed head-to-toe in Hunter’s Orange. The woman’s first thought was to give him the boxed breakfasts, but quickly decided against it since the man looked a little agitated—actually, demented. He was mumbling to himself, his stride springy and stringent, his right hand grasping a shotgun, his index finger looped through the trigger guard. He was wearing an orange Elmer Fudd hunting cap. He never looked at them, but seemed to accompany them on the whole walk, keeping a distance of a hundred feet or so. They could hear his ranting punctuated by obscenities, conversations, and laughter.

Needless to say, the couple’s last walk was not the idyllic commune with nature they had planned.

As they approached “Sunset Associates, LLC,” a building that was camouflaged as a giant redwood, the man seemed to disappear and, other than an uneasiness that seemed to settle into the very marrow of their bones, they thought no more about him.

The receptionist looked up at them. “George and Adelina Edgecraft?”

“Yes,” they answered in unison. They had yet another coupon, also from “Living Large,” that they’d bought on the internet for “Assisted…,” well, they didn’t like to say the word, but yes, this was the best end they could possibly come up with. It was such a good deal that they couldn’t really pass it up. Plus, the timing was right, or so it seemed. Taking advantage of a free screening opportunity at their local Mall, George, 70, had just been diagnosed after a urological exam with some suspicious pre-cancerous cells, and Adelina, 69, had just been diagnosed with what could be a degenerative neuro-muscular disease. At the moment, both were asymptomatic, but they were told that could change with time. Both were advised to opt for aggressive treatment to “get out ahead” of any possible progression of their respective maladies. They both agreed that they were not prepared to witness each other’s nor their own decline, much less wind up at the mercy of Boom and Jezza and their damned worms!

“And you have both fasted for at least 12 hours and neither one of you is wearing any perfumes or deodorants nor have you used any soaps or shampoos in the bath or shower that you took this morning?”

They are ushered into a waiting room. Within a minute, a nurse comes first for George.

“We thought we’d be doing this together!” protests Adelina.

“No, we don’t have a double option. It’s only one at a time,” explains the nurse.

Oh.

They kiss and hug and tell each other what a good life they’ve had and how they love each other, and off goes George.

Adelina, sitting by herself, all alone in the sterile waiting room, starts to hyperventilate and shake, hoping it’s just nerves and not the degenerative neuro-muscular disease kicking in big time.

Half an hour later, the same nurse returns.

“How did my husband do?” asks Adelina.

“Oh, he passed out so we’re trying to revive him. State law says that you can’t euthanize someone who is not conscious.”

Oh.

She follows the nurse down a narrow hallway into a small room with a hospital gurney, and is given an adult diaper and a paper gown.

“Here you go! Take off everything and put your shoes and clothes in this bag and put these on, and I’ll be back in a jiffy!”

Adelina peels off her clothes and quickly puts on the paper gown just in case the nurse comes back too soon. The adult diaper is surprisingly thin and fits very comfortably. Hmmm…they probably don’t look too bad under jeans. Maybe if you’re not too heavy to begin with…? And if you are already fat? Well, who the heck would notice anyway?

She puts her backpack, the plastic drawstring bag with her clothes and shoes, and the two breakfast boxes on the floor under the chair in the corner.

An alarm cuts through the air and a mechanical voice drones, “Armed Intruder, Armed Intruder! Lock all doors, shut off all lights and shelter in place.”

The nurse barges into the room, deadbolts the door, and shuts off the lights. Side by side, they crouch on the tile floor and huddle, shudder and hyperventilate together. Both the nurse and Adelina are wimpering in fear.

An orange Elmer Fudd hunting cap and a scowling face appear in the little window of the door, and both women, paralyzed with fear, shake soundlessly.

Adelina’s paper gown has already ripped in a few places but she’s grateful for the adult diaper. It’s bad enough that her feet are already numb and she’s covered in goosebumps, but at least she’s not sitting bare-assed on that cold, tile floor.

The Elmer Fudd gunman kicks the door but it doesn’t budge. With the butt of his rifle, he smashes the little window, and fires into the room several times, miraculously not hitting them. A string of expletives and some hysterical laughter ensue. Newly enraged, he fires blindly into the room just once more, and the bullet ricochets off several surfaces in the room before lodging itself directly into his forehead.

George stumbles out into the hallway dressed in his paper gown and his adult diaper and almost trips over the dead hunter. He alternately screams like a little girl and bellows like a jackass, and in the end, is grateful to have been wearing that adult diaper.

Back in their own clothes, George and Adelina say goodbye to the receptionist on their way of out “Sunset Associates, LLC.” She reminds them that their coupons will expire in three days and that they are non-refundable. They gladly acknowledge that the coupon will expire long before they will, and they are delighted not to have extracted the value due to them.

Back out in the pristine forest once again, George and Adelina take their mushroom suits out of their backpacks, and stuff them into a bear-proof recycling bin. At a picnic table along the path, they sit down and eat their beautiful luke-warm breakfast from the cardboard to-go boxes. Never before, have cold cheese omelets and cold blueberry pancakes tasted so good!

After forcing themselves to finish it all, they head back to the treehouse where they’d spent what they thought was their last night.

The two silver-haired women are still there, the smell of coffee still lazing in the warm air of the kitchen.

“Hi, it’s us again! Two questions: Do you still have that coffee we didn’t want, and can we get another night here?”

Sitting at their little table with the lace place mats, they drink a whole pot of coffee between the two of them from the four-piece Romantica Collection silver coffee set.

George looks at Adelina and they smile at each other with new eyes.

“What the hell were we thinking, George? I can’t believe that we almost just did what we almost just did.”

“I can’t either, but I’m so glad we didn’t do it. Thank God for that crazy guy who almost killed us!”

Adelina gazes thoughtfully into her third cup of steaming coffee. “I’ll bet Boom and Jezza wouldn’t mind having us around for a few months. Maybe we could help them with their vermiculture business.”

“Why not?” says George amiably. “At this point, we really don’t have any other place to go.”

“Well, then,” laughs Adelina, “looks like we’re going up to the country!”

“The best part is,” says George, “we have absolutely nothing to lose! I never knew that could feel so good!”

Illustration Credit: http://www.pinterest.com (Oregon Treehouse)

Music Credit: Canned Heat, “Going Up To the Country,” youtube.com

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