Tag Archives: my life

The Rise and Fall of the Arrow Man.

Astonishingly ugly utility boxes.

Astonishingly ugly utility boxes.

The sorry situation:

Our 1980s-era house came equipped with these astonishingly ugly and poorly placed utility boxes attached to the structure’s outside back wall. They are situated right beside the deck so that I might contemplate with almost daily frequency what fool would have placed something so butt-ugly in such a prominent and visually unavoidable location.

After three years’ contemplation of these warts upon our dwelling, I could tolerate them no longer. However, I am strongly averse to spending money on cosmetic house repairs that might be better spent on something like, say, a backpacking trip to Death Valley National Park in mid August, so a quick and economic fix was the only acceptable solution.

“Make it so.” Patrick Stewart would love me, I’m sure of it.

From the fabric store came a couple yards of fuzzy-backed tablecloth vinyl; WalMart supplied a few cans of cheap spray paint in random colors: yellow, two shades of purple, navy blue. The yellow would provide a base color on the vinyl fabric and I could then adorn it with some stick figure florals using the other colors. Voila! For $25 and change, a masterpiece would emerge that I could hang in front of the utility boxes.

The playthings:

From white to happy yellow.

From white to happy yellow.

The tools of my trade.

The tricks of my trade.






But then. . .

The prospect of spray painting floral stick figures rapidly became ho hum, unimaginative. Sad, actually. The endeavor began to seem too mainstream Hobby Lobby. My interest lies in finding unexpected uses for everyday items, such as turning wine bottles into garden edging or teaspoons into wind chimes, but I’m mostly devoid of true artistic ability. My creative bursts are usually solo efforts, but I like to give people, strangers mostly, the opportunity to think differently and perhaps have a unique, fun experience. I want them to see that they can go beyond just thinking outside the box, they can throw away the box altogether. The icing on my creative cake is collaboration, and the sugary rose atop that is anonymity. Why not take a board from Tom Sawyer’s fence? Continue reading


Weekly photo challenge: Window — see the giants.

The Giant

The Giant

This poster print of “The Giant”  by artist N.C. Wyeth became part of a cross-country collaborative project between me and Mike’s niece and her two young children. Having the $10 print custom framed would have cost the equivalent of a one-way airfare, so I bought a frame and spray painted it white. I then shipped the frame cross country to my artistic partners, but not before I had to saw the  frame in half to get the price of shipping down from $100 to $50. My instructions were for the kids to have fun and hand print the frame. As you can see, they did.

While my co-artists were “handling” the frame, I spent many hours looking at the poster, coming to understand each child’s pose. The two smallest children in the center, fully facing The Giant, embody awe and unquestioning belief that it exists. The older girl standing in the rear sees, but will soon turn her head and nod absently and maternally when the two children explode with excitement about The Giant. The kneeling boy in red sees but his own energy will quickly outrun his belief and draw him back to his activity in the sand. The boy at far left sees and accepts, quietly. I find myself in the girl to the far right, apart from the others — just seeing, neither believing nor disbelieving. She will try, not always successfully, to remember The Giant. But she will keep trying.

I wrote this phrase on the crude homemade matting I inserted to fill the too-large opening:

See The Giant.

See The Giant.

What does all this have to do with this week’s photo challenge “Window”, you ask? Because this is where the poster hangs in our house:

Always look for giants.

Open your mind, and see the giants.

The Giant hangs between windows.



Weekly Photo Challenge: The World Through My Eyes

This gallery contains 8 photos.

I rarely go anywhere without chalk — it’s in my purse, in the Magic Bus’ glove compartment, outside my front door, and in a plastic container where my driveway meets the road. I started chalking when something very dear to … Continue reading

Fuck the Lilliputians.

I’ve had this quote from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs taped to the Magic Bus’ dashboard for almost a year:

 “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

 I gave my boss notice of my intent to depart my notjob by the end of this year, which is more than two months’ warning. I claim squatters’ rights on the moral high ground for allowing the company this much prep time. However, it took me nearly a week to actually quit after making my decision to do so. I’ve always had an ingrained and misplaced sense of responsibility to my employers. Never once have I inconvenienced any of them by walking off a job; I can’t say the same for them.

I reasoned I couldn’t quit on a Monday, that would be too cruel to start a week that way.  This is also an awkward situation with only two of us in this office, and it could become considerably more strained and awkward with my declaration of independence.  Tuesday I had Zumba in the evening which allowed little opportunity to announce my news to Mike. My list of excuses grew like Pinocchio’s nose. My chest tightened and I became inert for several days. I was disappointed and frustrated with myself at each day’s end. I began solidifying into inaction.

I happened upon this TED video about “power positions”.  I chose my day and shot the rattlesnake in my brain. I rehearsed my short speech, eliminating all pauses, excuses, and extraneous words, and arranged my body into a position that backed up my message – standing, no hands in pockets, no crossed arms. I remembered my Zumba instructor’s words – “keep your chest up.” I walked into my boss’s office and told him I was leaving, in the same tone I would have told him I had a doctor’s appointment. I did not ask for approval, I did not leave the door open to a counter offer. I gave no reason, and when, after recovering from his initial shock, my boss told me that I had to be honest with him about the reason for my departure, I looked at him levelly, laughed, and said no, I didn’t have to be honest with him and that I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to. No bridges were burned and no words were wasted justifying my decision. 

 I am now as a prison inmate whose release date is in sight. I should be happy, very happy that I am claiming my decision.

 Guess what.

 My stint here in solitary has given me, if nothing else, unlimited thinking time. As someone whose mind enters screensaver mode when deprived of a wide variety of stimulation and information, I’ve still managed to do quite a bit of deep thinking. I’ve watched TED talks, read blogs and blogs and books , and I’ve talked to friends, family, coworkers in other locations, former coworkers, and acquaintances. I probably talked to myself.

 I’m nowhere near happy, and I’m quite far from very happy. Right now, I am borderline furious. During my time at this notjob I have thrashed embarrasingly through the muck of frustration, anger, depression, resistance, resignation. There are long periods of time about which I can remember almost nothing. The fax machines and Outlook 2000 of this place have put me years behind technologically. The people skills and compassion and humility and sense of helping others in some very tiny, but very meaningful and soul-affirming way earned while working at M.D. Anderson have been locked into an excruciatingly dear and painful memory that rests on the road kill skunk reality of embroidered Yves St. Laurent towels, private jets, and Cartier Christmas cards bearing a modestly clothed baby Jesus that this job has been.

 I am angry because I am smart, funny, imaginative, strong, independent, and resourceful. Despite being all of those things, I have allowed myself to be tied down by Lilliputians, and I have been as much Lilliputian as Gulliver. I helped knot the ropes that have held me in various mindless jobs. I have been wailing and gnashing my teeth ad nauseum about the inanity of going day after day, year after year, to jobs that Winnie the Pooh, that bear of very little brain, could have dispatched with his little eyes closed. I have bitched and moaned and complained to anyone and everyone from friends to family to acquaintances to coworkers.  And I’ve done nothing to help myself. Nothing.

I thought if I’d gone to college I could have learned to think critically; three years stuck to an office chair in virtual solitary confinement with nothing to do have given me plenty of time to think clearly and strip off my oh-woe-is-me-cloak. The only work challenge I’ve ever accepted was having my own quirky little wind chime business where I was responsible for everything from gathering raw materials (frequently by climbing into trash bins) to making the chimes to building my displays to selling my products. I loved the process but burned out on the selling and prostituted myself back into office jobs that paid far more than they should have. I’ve told more than one employer that they paid me too much money but that didn’t stop me from taking the cash. I heeded well-meaning advice from near and far, from intelligent people who have actual careers and letters after their names, to take the money and just be glad I had a job. I bought into the line of bullshit the local employment agency fed me on my arrival here about the dismal prospects for employment in a town dominated by a single educational behemoth. I took on Mike’s fear that we will run out of money before our golden years. I have squandered years of my life that I can never recover doing mainstream paper-pushing that has virtually destroyed my self-respect and pretty much eliminated any reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Fuck the Lilliputians. I’m done.

I’m at the middle of my life, I hope. My mother, my very best friend ever, dropped dead at age 68, so I might already be closing in on old age.  I have a stupidphone and a hand-me-down computer. My clothes are second hand. I’ve never had or wanted a manicure or a massage. I have no kids or pets. If I’ve climbed into trash bins, obviously pride is not an issue. In other words, I am a very cheap date. What I’m going to do is to shed my inherited, unfounded fears of the future and my current boundaries of suffocating conformity. I am going to act on a primal need to become independent, responsible to and for myself. It’s way past time to set the bar at the level I choose. I am going to be at the right intersection with my thumb out when the party bus goes by, not watching from behind the safety of a steady paycheck. What I need, and what I will find,  is “the courage to follow my heart and intuition.” I’ll let you know how that goes.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Mine

mine: (pronoun) that or those belonging to me

What is mine?

Nothing. No thing. No person, no advantage, no possession, no dream, no thought, no situation, no words, no relationship, no place, no purpose, no time, no life. Everything, every thing, can be gone in an instant. Nothing is mine.

When nothing is mine, everything is mine. Frightening, yet liberating.

Nothing is mine and everything is mine. They are the same.

When spaghetti was spaghetti

I’m not a foodie. If someone wants to cook for me, I’m going to like it even if I don’t because they’ve gone to the trouble (unless they’re cannibals; I’d have to draw the line there. Hopefully they would have a dog under the table I could slip it to). Somehow my diet became healthier over the years, more so after I was away from home. My parents ate some pretty damning stuff — Mom dredged bread in bacon drippings and ate it and Dad had burgers & fries daily under the golden arches during his letter-carrier career.  They were simple, wonderful people and did an awesome job parenting three kids, each of whom has at least a dozen separate personalities, but they’re not on terra firma anymore. Their diet was a significant contributing factor in their premature heavenly recall.

The San Francisco treat!

Nuking rice today (that sounds healthy, doesn’t it, — and I’m doing it in cancer-leaching plastic) brought back some food memories. My Dad and I ate Rice-a-Roni brand Spanish rice (“Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat!”), made on the stove (that was in pre-nuke days) by my mother, who would say every time, “I don’t know where you learned to like spicy food.” That rice would not pass her lips. We’re Hungarian on my Dad’s side, and I hear we can trace back to Attila the Hun, so maybe that’s it. (You’re not surprised about the Attila thing, are you? Me either. It’s probably better than tracing back to Vlad the Impaler.)

We ate cake for breakfast. My Mom made frosting basically from butter, sugar and evaporated milk. I’ve never been able to duplicate it. I’m guessing there was a secret “mom ingredient” that’s the equivalent of the magical-sounding “grains of paradise” used in beer brewing, that only Mom knew how to add for the perfect, creamy spreading consistency over that two-layer chocolate treasure.

I’ve struggled for years to find a decent meatloaf recipe. Mom pretty much put hamburg in a loaf pan and drizzled ketchup on the top, which nearly sent me to cooking therapy in adulthood. (“Tell me about your earliest meatloaf memories.”) She’d eat chicken fingers, always a safe choice, every time we went to a restaurant. She mailed me a ham bone once so I could make soup with it. I think it took about a week to cross country, unfrozen, in the mail. She meant well.

My Dad sprang from the womb already working. He had no idea how to not work. He’d deliver mail through rain, snow, sleet and dark of Pennsvylvania, then head to job #2, making milk boxes. Go ahead, ask me. In the summer he’d come home from work and mow the lawn in his postal uniform, then throw back a well-earned beer. He’d get a fire going in a hole somewhere in the nether part of the backyard, let it get to coals, and put corn on the cob wrapped in wet burlap in the hole. I’m not sure where he got that idea, but I remember clouds of smoke foaming up the slope and into the neighbors’ windows. The corn would take hours to roast. He could turn a steak into cowhide on the grill. But he was a man who loved to eat, and made no excuses for it. He had some sort of connection with the military reserve, and we’d go on these reconnaisance missions with those guys to a frozen food place where we’d get enough frozen pies to feed 50 people for a year. Each one had at least a can of whipped cream on top. We ended up giving them away to neighbors.

Mary & Alex

But this isn’t about the food. It’s about the folks. It’s always about the folks, and the fam, and the friends. It’s about the memories you’re making as you’re making them. Who cares if the pizza’s smoky? (You know who you are.)  Does it matter if the cheese isn’t made by dwarf nuns in the darkest Bulgarian forests? Does it really matter if the coffee is half-calf or full moo? No. It really doesn’t. It matters who’s across the table from you, and what’s being said between you, and what’s not being said between you. It’s about the stories being told, and the memories being made, how the light looks in their eyes, and how goofy some of us sound laughing. That’s what matters, because when everything else is gone, including those people in your life you can never replace, or get a second chance to tell how much they matter to you, or just spend more time with, you’re not going to be thinking the spaghetti sauce needed more basil.


Sleeping around

This gallery contains 11 photos.

Sleep doesn’t come naturally to many of my family members. I hear (and see by those 3:00a.m. posts) through the Facevine that my nephew is awake at owl hours (darn, that’s good!) and my oldest brother and I have discovered, during … Continue reading