Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The voice of admonishment and comfort

I imagined a voice that sounded much like my mother's saying, "This is what happens when you overdo it and don't get enough sleep."

She's right of course, but I felt frustrated with that all-knowing voice rather than my lack of ability to scale back plans and let some things pass. There are times when self-loathing comes easily; this was not one.

In order to earn my sore throat, achy muscles and alternating sweats and chills, I woke up at 4 a.m. on Saturday morning to make the hour-and-a-half drive around Lake Champlain so that I would arrive in Essex, N.Y., in time for my friends' sunrise vernal equinox party. The bagel shop was open when I left and I bought a dozen fresh from the oven. Just as I drove into Essex there was a hot pink sunrise and my Uncle Louis was walking down Main Street toward the gathering. I picked him up and we went together to enjoy food, poetry and friendship — all well worth my while.

The rest of the day was spent with my uncle and aunt. We visited the local bakery where you can always find familiar faces with which to sip coffee and snack on cinnamon buns. We lounged back at their home in front of the wood fire. We watched "Kinky Boots," inspired by a drag show that my uncle attended on a recent trip to Florida. There is no time better spent than with this couple that has known me forever and with whom I've shared laughter, tears and many many hours of conversation.

In the late afternoon, I caught the ferry (which hadn't yet started running during my early morning commute) back over to Vermont and made plans with a friend to see a live band play at an area music venue. We danced until the lights went up and the band stopped playing. By the time I climbed back in bed, I had been up for nearly 20 hours.

Sunday passed quickly with my usual routine of yoga class, meeting friends for a late afternoon drink and catching up on household chores. It wasn't until mid-afternoon Monday when I was back at work that I started to feel hoarse and shivery. That's when I heard that voice telling me that I should have done less and gotten more sleep.

But when I got home from work at midnight with a bone-aching weariness, I wanted only one thing — to call my mother and hear her tell me that I would feel better in the morning.

Monday, March 3, 2014

A quartet

I spend a quite bit of time for work and pleasure thinking about how stories are made. I learned most of what I know from reading and writing, and some from just listening.

Saturday night, my friend Rick invited me to attend an Extempo storytelling event, a Vermont-version of "The Moth." Rick who is a poet and teacher also likes good stories and has studied their construction for more years than I.

The event was held in a coffee shop in Barre, Vt., and featured nine storytellers of various ages and abilities. The culmination involved a panel of judges choosing their favorites. Between Rick and I, we correctly guessed the second-place tie as well as the overall winner. 

Although not a winner, we both agreed that another storyteller had been successful. The heavyset, suspendered man had attempted the unconventional form (at least for this event) of offering a quartet of vignettes from his childhood. The scenes represented important moments of intimacy and personal truth.

Though none of the four stories attempted to illustrate large life lessons, Rick and I agreed their seeming simplicity disguised the storyteller's skill in selection and delivery. Though not a winner, he did a damn good job.

Here's a quartet of my own inspired by events from the weekend.

She carried lipstick and gum in her purse, and I loved her for painting my lips pink in a bathroom in Budapest. She showed the four-year-old me how to rub my lips together and then gave me a stick of gum to chew. I felt sophisticated for the first time as we rejoined my mother and baby sister at the tourist lookout. The lipstick eventually wore off and I'm still chasing the feeling. 

This particular path of devotion was a two-hour trip down a one-lane road to the town of Rutland, Vt. She suggested we meet for lunch at this halfway point between her home and mine. Delayed by a slow-moving truck, she was there when I arrived. Still taller than me, still wearing lipstick.

I went with the waitress' suggestion of cookie a la mode. She brought it in a cast iron skillet with two spoons. She took a scoop, then me. She, then me. I wasn't particularly hungry after the BLT, but still savored the sweetness.

Coffee done, bill paid, we walked up the street to her car. She pulled from it a western-style feather coat that had been her mother's. I tried it on. It felt warm and the silver buttons were engraved with patterns. I pulled up the fur hood and felt small and cozy in the puff of the coat, in the presence of this woman who will always be taller, always carry lipstick. 

Me and Marla