Thursday, June 6, 2013

"Pete, let's go home"

It was a gentle plea. He reassured her that they could talk about it in the morning. He might have known they would be her last words. That’s how close they were. She was the love of his life and he would spend this long and satisfying relationship trying to be the man she deserved. She was smart and witty. She could size a person up with a glance and deliver a perfectly timed one liner that let the person know they were made. Pete was a big guy with a marshmallow heart. He was like a big puppy dog, but he had his pride. I think Joan helped build up his confidence and self esteem. He loved spinning his beautiful life as an ideal. I remember when I was twelve he told me that he had something most people never achieve. I was so curious to learn this life secret. He told me that he had “peace of mind”. It was a concept I had never considered before he told me this. Only now forty six years later it’s just starting to make sense.

Pete checked himself out of the hospital against doctor’s orders to go home and mourn and get his plans in order and collect his thoughts about how he will be remembered. He asked my sister to come up and help him put things in order. He had her run errands for him and she fed him as much as she could. His large frame seemed extremely frail to her. Picture an eighty seven year old man that’s six foot five at one hundred and twenty five pounds. But he was sharp as a tack mentally. One of the last chores for my sister was to pick up Aunt Joan’s ashes.

Tina and her husband Roger drove to the mortuary and found the old stone building at the edge of town. They saw a tall thin young man in a black suit standing at the entrance . He led them into a nicely furnished waiting area. He slipped out of the room and returned with a box. He carried it in both hands and handed it to my sister. Tina and Roger brought her home to Pete. He took the box and sat with it on his lap for a while. Eventually he put the box on the mantle above the fireplace. The next couple of days he cried. Tina felt it was normal and healthy and what he needed and wanted to feel, but before she left she voiced a concern.

“Pete, you are such a social person. You are so used to being with people and telling stories and enjoying the stories of others. Do you think you might be happier back in the nursing home or assisted living facility where you can talk to people and socialize?” Pete thought about what she was asking and he looked at her and smiled. “No, Tina. I’ve never been alone and I really want to have the experience.” I think he really might have been right when he told me that he had “peace of mind”.

Tina said she had the best time with him and she was grateful to share that week with him. Within a couple of days he checked himself back into Hospice. No one knows what he did with his wife’s ashes. I don’t expect you could find them in the Koi pond. He died exactly one month after his sweetheart. He was ready. He was the man that she deserved. Uncle Pete will most certainly rest in peace.   


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Protip From Pat Crowley

Every time I see Pat Crowley he tells me to write more. I usually tell him that I write all the time, but I don’t publish most of what I write. That is true. I write and rewrite obsessively and only occasionally clean it up and package it. I have journals and doc files full of copy that is mainly a sort of free association of my stream of consciousness. 

Pat whispers to me as he leaves the room, “A day spent without writing, is a wasted day”. Is he channelling my father? My father is the man who used to demand that I learn a new word every day. He even paid me for it. It was the best job I ever had. I learned to love it and came to realize that the value of that exercise was far more that the allowance I was given. It was good money for the times. I got paid seven dollars a week. But there were sometimes penalties. 

So writing for me is a multi layered activity. I get often asked about my style and my process. I usually parrot back something one of my readers has told me about how I write. But I have been thinking about it a lot lately. What inspires me? What motivates me? How do I process it, and what do I expect from the presentation? 

In school I never wrote for the grades. I wrote to surprise the teacher. I wrote to get a response but not to impress. I wrote in an effort to connect and be connected with. That holds true today. I am hoping that reading what I write will make someone laugh or smile. I hope sometimes it helps someone remember a relationship or an experience from their own life. I like to get people to tap into their own memories and familiar emotions. If they uncover something that had almost slipped away, it's even better.

I am inspired by my own relationships and experiences of course, and sometimes the nagging stream of thoughts in my mind. I have a very noisy head. I talk too much. I think it takes the edge off, but writing is a whole different process with an entirely different motivation. It doesn’t turn the noise off, It creates more. So we share and it resonates with some people. I am also inspired by other writers. I like no particular style and have incorporated many. I went through a couple of years doing Gonzo style reporting. I had a particular public group that seemed to need to know what I could find out. I realized that the fantasy of being the female Hunter Thompson would have to end tragically. It would be cheesey if I lived happily ever after doing that gig. At some point I realized that I really didn’t need to orchestrate experiences in order to reach people. My own experiences and emotional connections seem plenty to work with. After all no matter where I go, I continue to feel powerful connections and I marvel at synchronicities that surround life experiences large and small. 

So reading the classics and comic books and magazines and lots of plays and historical and biographical publications influence me. I have also been inspired by reading erotica. While only I only rarely find it meticulously composed, it promises to create a very emotional reaction. That fascinates me. The same is true of horror and fantasy. Powerful and very base connections are present in these genres. Science fiction weaves imagination and hopes and fears through it’s themes. I like that too. Self improvement and inspirational writing has influenced me some. But I don’t have anything to teach or sell. It all is woven through the carpet and tossed like a salad. Since I think in mixed metaphors I don’t avoid writing them.         

In High School I don’t recall writing anything particularly memorable as assignments. But I do recall writing short stories for fun with my friend, Sandy Bell. We spent hours writing and laughing and sharing short stories with each other and writing them together. The process was simply entertaining each other. One of us would say, “It all took place in Greenwich Village” and then the other would interrupt with, “No. It was Haight Ashbury”. Then we would laugh until our sides hurt saying, “What the hell? Make it both. Just say she got lost on the way to Greenwich Village and found herself on Haight Ashbury.” It was beautiful and funny and creative. Most of our stories covered one or two pages of notebook paper. I doubt it would have been as funny to anyone else, but we wrote it for each other. It built our relationship. That’s where I learned that part. 

Even though I write nonfiction and it all is about my own actual experiences I never claim that it is the truth. I am not a reporter anymore. I am simply a story teller. The stories I tell are my memories. That doesn’t mean that it is the way it happened. It is what I remember and how I felt and how I feel and sometimes how I wish I felt. Over time my world view and my opinions and my philosophy and my core values change. Sometimes they change a little and sometimes they change a great deal. I try to always remember who I was and appreciate who I have become because of who I was. Sometimes it’s harder than others. If I am feeling a bit hard on myself I flip through my mental rolodex to find redemption for myself. I realize that we all have an audience and a story to tell. And that is life. Whether you write or paint or deliver the mail, you are presenting your own artistic statement to the people you contact. I told a friend recently your life isn’t always pretty, but it’s always beautiful. 

I am soon to start a new chapter in my life. I am folding my past over my present by going home. Recently my therapist told me that she was certain that no matter what choices I make I will never be homeless. I thought it a bit presumptuous of her to say this. I agreed, but I wasn’t willing to entirely take homelessness off the table as a possibility. (I don’t like taking all the “dark” out of a story) I found myself over the next week or so thinking about how I feel about never being homeless. I realized that I have felt homeless for most of my life, but when I go back to Jupiter I always feel at home. So the idea of living at home became something I was willing to entertain. I bought a picture of the lighthouse from Mike Hardin. It is such a powerful artifact for me. It is a symbol of guidance and safe passage. It promises an avoidance of grave danger. It reminds us that some danger is part of the beauty but we are never alone if we can search for a beacon.         

Somehow it became literal when Kathy sent me a message. She reached out to me. She offered me a chance to come home and have a home too. It is a powerful experience. I have a life that I must walk away from to get there, but I trust the lighthouse to remind me to search for a beacon when I am feeling confused or alone or unsafe. 

I hope Pat never stops nagging me to write. It gives me a reason to live more life.                               


Monday, August 20, 2012


“Rest In Peace Mr Paolillo”

I suppose this would be the appropriate sentiment to convey respectful condolences to a man who had some minor influence on me. If it ended with “Welcome Back Kotter” that might have worked. But I would have spelled his name differently if I had only been acquainted with that sweetly innocent slice of funny talented young man. He was a funny little guy with an unmistakable smile.

When I saw a couple of Gstar students posting “RIP Mr P” my first thought was “I hope this is part of some scene they are promoting for XScream this year". But someone linked the TMZ report and my heart broke a little. I had to tell my daughter. She was his “Peter Pan” last year. She needed to know.

I texted “Mr P died”
She texted “No freakin way. Are you sure?”
I texted “TMZ reported he died at 4am”
She texted “That’s horrible”

Later I noticed her Facebook status:
“WTF I’m the last to know everything. RIP Mr P. I didn’t know you were gay”

When I read this my first reaction was a giggle. Then I thought, this might not be well received by some people; polite and refined people. It’s not a politically correct memorial. But it was honest and sincere and personal.

I realized that my daughter is missing one of the same filters I lack. It’s a blessing and a curse. People who like us do so instantly. It’s rare that we grow into a friendship that didn’t start off with immediate appreciation of our wit and charm. But there are those who don’t find us charming at all. They are a bit put off right from the start and don’t get over it. Some tolerate us well in small doses, but have no desire to connect on more than a casual basis. She’ll learn more about it as time goes on.

So I have no idea how Mr Paolillo felt about my daughter as a person. I don’t know if he was amused or charmed by her. He may have been put off by her quippy comebacks and less than fully engaged attention. He was her teacher. There were times when she complained about him calling her out for being lazy. I tried to get her to watch “Welcome Back Kotter” so she could see how funny he was. She wasn’t really interested.

But I do know that Mr Paolillo validated my daughter as an actress. He gave her confidence as an artist. I am certain that he knew how incredibly valuable that is. The students he helped and inspired are his true legacy. That’s how I feel as a mother. That’s how I’ll remember him.

And I’ll remember his smile.          

Saturday, May 5, 2012

It just keeps getting better....

He did it again. This time we were seated in "Special" section of the Arena.

The graduates arrived and were packed like sardines in those awful folding chairs. They seemed full of energy and bright and hopeful and they all looked alike. They all had on those Harry Potter costumes.

I quickly consulted my program to try to see if there was a more effective way to locate King Nerd. I took note that he still has three stars next to his name denoting that he's still summa cum laude. Whew. Then I find the description of the colors for each of the departments.

I scroll down and find that the engineering department wears orange tassels. Okay, I look around and as luck (or assigned special seating) would have it we are directly facing the engineering graduates. So I scan the crowd of orange tasseled grads. No King. This is getting frustrating. Then I hear something happening up on the stage.

A bunch of really impressive wizards arrive in really elaborate robes with all kinds of color flag stuff all over them. They look every bit as impressive as Dumbledore and all of the Hogwarts faculty. Then some younger respectful but confident wizards line up on the stage behind the trustees. They have some pretty fancy medals hanging around their necks and gold Sea Org braids hanging down their robes. There are six of them. There are only Six on stage and an auditorium of thousands sitting in the crowd, mind you.

Yep! You guessed it. King Nerd was on the stage with the Top of the Class and Highest Honors. We were gobsmacked! He did it again. In addition to that he has been awarded the UCF Trustees Doctoral Fellowship. This covers his graduate and PhD program as well as a living wage stipend. I googled it. It's like winning Top Chef for Engineering students. (It's probably better - but it's a world I only visit when I see my son)

Since he is also the Official Guitar player for Dropbox in San Francisco, he is a celebrity on both coasts now. This guy has been busy for the last two years. Right? I really am proud as proud can be. I know his dad feels the same way. This kid gives us everything that any parent could hope for from their children. I can't call him King Nerd any more. He's so much more than that. I realized today that he really is an adult. He's so much more than what we gave him. It's hard to express.

That’s why his new title is:

Dr Rock Star!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Pirates of the Loxahatchee

You know that Johnny Depp isn’t a real pirate, right? But he certainly plays the part in a way that feeds my fantasy of clever whimsy and a disregard for customarily approved behavior. He is the beautiful and unconventional bad boy that women are undeniably drawn to. I stayed in a relationship for over 17 years because on our first date he promised to show me where the bodies were buried. But even if you haven’t succumbed to these obviously dangerous and at least slightly unhealthy emotional attachments, I’m sure you still understand the attraction. It doesn’t always turn out bad. Sometimes it’s a risk worth taking and sometimes it’s not a risk at all. You can even blame it on destiny sometimes.  

Even the nerdiest guys I ever dated and/or married were guys who managed to hook me with their enjoyment of “coloring outside the lines” in some fashion. While it didn’t always turn out well, I have no regrets. I suppose I’m a bit of a pirate myself. I tend to think of myself as more of a gypsy after being labeled such many years ago. I stopped moving and changing so much after that. My son lived in eleven different homes by the time he was 10 years old. My daughter who was born when he was 14 has lived in the same place her entire life of almost sixteen years. Sometimes I wonder if I changed how I lived and behaved for the right reasons and if I am better for making those changes. Is it possible I lost a bit of myself? I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure I brought all of my previous experience with me and it is present in everything I do in my current somewhat low key existence.

So picture this. It was first day of school at Jupiter elementary. It’s hard to explain how important this day was. I don’t remember the first day of first grade hardly at all, but my first day at Jupiter in Mr Buglione’s class was one of those pivotal moments. I had wished to be there. I had dreamed of living in this place. I don’t care if anyone believes me, because I know it is true with my everything. I would be able to become myself there. I would define my life there. I was home. Which didn’t mean I’d stay there, but it was the place that I’d take with me wherever life and adventure led me. In Jupiter I felt loved and accepted. 

I didn’t move from far very away geographically but the culture of Riviera Beach was ironically like being on a different planet. In Jupiter there weren’t just people. There were characters. Everyone knew each other and every person had a definite  role. It was like living in a novel or seeing a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. I had been a depressed and introspective child prone to night terrors and emotional outbursts. I was terribly unpopular in school and was made fun of mercilessly. I talked “baby talk” and spoke very softly. I was painfully shy unless I had gotten to know you quite well. So sometime between the age of nine and ten I began praying for a chance to start over. I just knew that if I could somehow be transported to where no one knew me, I would be happy for the rest of my life. It was a sort of pact I made with God. 

So by divine intervention I arrived that first day of school at Jupiter Elementary in Mr Buglione’s portable classroom. There was the good girl and the nerdy guy and every other cliche you can imagine. We were like the cast of every coming of age movie ever made. There was even a guy who dissected a frog and closed him back up several times. Mr Buglione encouraged him to bring his patient in so we could all observe. Sadly, on the day of the frog operation the patient didn’t survive. But we did get a terrific observation of live working organs that very similarly correlate to our own. The eleven year old veterinarian was holding the lung up so we could see the heart pumping and was going to close him up and then revive him, when the razor blade slipped and the lung just went flat and there was no way to save him.

I doubt I would have enjoyed that experience if I had not moved to Jupiter. Because there I wasn’t the shy uncomfortable friendless kid since first grade. Nope, at Jupiter in sixth grade I was the cute new girl who could pick her own best friend. I had three pairs of Bass Weejuns and two mohair sweaters. I was ready to be confident and popular. By the time I graduated from Jupiter High school I would have more best friends than I can count. They each deserve their own story and that is why I will never have to stop writing. But this is  about the pirates. My attraction to pirates.

Oddly enough it started that day in 1966. I met the first three dimensional pirate I would know. He was the boy who was loudest and most likely to say something inappropriate. He was not the best student and he wasn’t always encouraged when he did speak up, but he had a booming voice and he never backed down and he wouldn’t leave anything unsaid. He was the first bad boy / Pirate type I had ever met or been aware of. This guy was rough and tumble but completely uninhibited about the way he stumbled his way among the more mannerly and gracious of our classmates. I can’t say that I kept in touch with many of my classmates and rarely consider how they may have lived their lives or chased their dreams.

But when Grant Gibson posted a picture on Face Book of sailboats that he shot with his cell phone, I knew I needed the picture. I knew I had a story about that image. I had no idea that it would be a story about a pirate that grew into the man he was meant to become. He became a man who is never afraid to speak up. He speaks his mind and shares his truth and even though he’s a bit rough around the edges he is true to his own character. He married a Jupiter girl; one of my many best friends baby sister. He loves his family and his home town. Just like we all do. Thanks for permission to share the photo. Oh, and thanks for being my first pirate.  :P                                  

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Writers Write

There is part of me that despises the fact that I reduce complex events into two dimensional stories. I’m sure there are plenty of well intentioned people who would defend me for doing so and even commend me for my efforts. But I feel entitled to my own criticism. It helps me examine my truth which I trust also eventually leads me away from self loathing. I know all the universal quotes of nearly every philosophy that we can chant until the end of time. But I also realize that most of us feel like impostors in our own lives at least part of the time. So I’m going to try to get completely real with you today.

Writers write, but readers give the story life. The only artistic statement is the statement received. What I mean is, what you bring to your experience and your study of life or art or history is what gives it dimension and meaning. This is universally true. That being said I can justify what I write. It is a two dimensional version of memories and fantasies that have been pulled out of complex events and very multidimensional people. I share snippets of who I knew and who I loved. You provide the substance. I count on you for that. It’s my passion. And now it is my therapy.

A recent bout with cancer has given me what could be described as a severe reality adjustment. But I tend to find a use for negativity and hope for a positive result. Part of cancer recovery is getting back to normal. This is remarkably frightening for me because the way my mind processes this concept is that what I was doing back at normal was what led me to getting cancer. I’m not saying this is true or reasonable thinking. It’s just one of the twists in my personal mental toolkit. But I want to go back to normal, but smarter and safer, if that’s possible. 

I keep thinking my doctor will tell me that my energy will instantly return once I go back to work. Or one day I’ll wake up just knowing that I won’t feel slow and confused and strangely awkward and helpless. I can’t spend the rest of my life changing my bandages and watching bad movies on TV, so I wanted to get past this dark place at least a bit before writing. Sifting through my own thoughts has honestly been a chore. But it’s time to put one foot in front of the other. I still can’t get all of the Christmas decorations put away. But I can start taking things down one at a time. And I can write. The people who read will bring it to life. I think it’s because I remember enough of the good parts to make you feel like it’s worth your contribution. It’s a beautiful thing really.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Don't Ask Don't Tell

Having a teenager in my life is a harrowing experience. I find my self wondering “How did our parents survive us?” I find it difficult to wrap my brain around what it must have been like to not have cell phones and pagers and social media to keep in touch with and keep an eye on children as they become young adults. I suppose as the universe expands so does global communication and it can all be viewed as part of our evolution or increasing consciousness. I for one am grateful for being able to text or call my fifteen year old daughter any time I get the urge, including times when it might feel intrusive or embarrassing to her. I am grateful for google maps and GPS devices so I can locate either of my kids whenever I choose to show up and interfere in their lives.

My relationship with my parents was quite different. Our parents were unable to check up on us as we roamed wildly, freely, dangerously and at times disastrously through our teenage years. The year I was sixteen I totalled one car and wrecked another car twice. It’s amazing that so many of us survived. Of course some didn’t and they are still missed. Car accidents and boating accidents and drug and alcohol related incidents and even suicide were realities that peppered my youth. Whenever I feel resentful or upset about growing old, I remember how lucky I am to be able to experience what we have right here and right now.

All of this rambling is an introduction to a story of one of the many great loves of my life. The whole premise of my blog is that while I have no single “soul mate” I honestly believe that I have had many relationships that were meaningful and dear and I will hold the passion and joy of each of my friends and lovers for whatever piece of eternity I experience.

David Baxter showed up at Jupiter High School at a time when my friends and I were moving rapidly through puberty and were ready to experience all that this part of our development had to offer. He was beautiful. Even those of us who had boyfriends couldn’t keep our eyes off of him. I am certain that I was not the only girl who was mesmerized by how the sunlight reflected off of his blond curly hair through the windows of Miss McAtee’s classroom. He was tall and tan and lean with classic surfer good looks and just looking at him from across the room you could smell the ocean and hear sea gulls. I doubt sincerely that he was as instantly attracted to me as I was to him, but before long I am sure I captured a special place in his heart as well. 

One adventure early in our relationship was amusing in hindsight. I was planning on going camping with my friend Paula and somehow ended up spending the night on the beach in a sleeping bag with David. There was nothing especially unusual about this. However, the next morning something rather unexpected happened. As the sun rose on the beach the sleeping bag became almost unbearably hot and I awoke happy to see that we were on the beach at poles and could cool off with a swim. I noticed a woman walking down the beach and as she came into focus I realized it was my mother. I was shocked and worried about how she would react. I had no explanation and felt trapped into sharing more than I wanted to with my mother. I nudged Dave and told him to put his jeans on. We wiggled into our clothes just as she walked up she said a big friendly “Hello” and offered us a ride home. Poor David must have been uncomfortable as hell, but I was pretty sure my mom would spare us our dignity. The way she handled it from this point was mind boggling.

We got in the car and she drove to Dave’s house and dropped him off cheerfully. I just sat in the passenger seat and waited for her to speak to me privately. I had no plan and just felt certain that if she spoke first I would figure out what to say and/or deny. When we got to the top of the bridge she said the most amazing thing. “Patti, I can’t tell you how relieved I was to see David with you this morning. When you girls camp out I sometimes worry, but knowing David was with you makes me feel like you had someone there to protect you”. I couldn’t even answer and there was no need to. She continued, “But if I were you, I wouldn’t mention it to your father. He might not understand.”

Truthfully neither did I, but I took the pass. Thanks to my mother’s involvement without interference my relationship with David evolved seamlessly. It was sweet and fun and felt completely natural. Eventually it ended and we remained friends. It was and is perfect.