Pat Day 2017

I think I fucked up last year, and didn’t write.  But every year on dear old Pat’s anniversary, the anniversary of when she was born, the legendary Ides of March, I think of the old gal.  In this episode of remembrance of things past I mostly am thinking about the conversations I would have had if she were to still wander around planet earth. (I think I just subjunctived the shit out of that sentence.)

The first conversation is all about crafts.  I ridiculously bought myself a button maker to make little pins like thes
I suspect the desire for this little gadget was straight up recapture of the 1970s I never had.  I always wanted whatever the toy version was back in the olden days.  I think it might have been this Button Factory. Although, circa 1978 seems past my peaked pique interest.

Getting back to Pat and crafts more generally, though. Kindred spirits to crafty Pat stroll the hallways of my work. The knitters among my colleagues have of late left the shadows. We gather during the workday and create knitting circles during lunches.

(Completely tangentially, I should disclose that Pat’s own crafty daughter, the person typing this sentence, may have held a little sway in bringing the crafters into the sunshine. )

One knitter spouted a surprising reflection of Pat to me.  She said that there is value in using your hands, having a hobby, an outlet that wasn’t the thought-heavy essence of our daily work. Not everything can be reading and thinking and computers and communication and using your brainiest bits of brain.

Instead, things were solvable by not dwelling on them.  The best of a good hobby is that it takes you out of whatever the thing that you might be doing or might supposed to be doing and puts you somewhere else.  If your hands are busy for a little while that’s all that matters.  Then, while making something homey and crafty, your brain gets to rest and fight another day.

Pat would have nodded in agreement.  One of my favorite Pat quotes in reference to someone going through a bad patch of depression and struggle and maybe a soupçon of intoxicating substance — “She thinks too much.  She needs a hobby.”  It was that simple.

Given half a chance, Pat would have tried to bring a junkie to Jo-Ann Fabrics or Michael’s and had them pick out something to do with their hands.

Which brings me to thing number two that I’d be talking with Pat about if she were here — The scourge that is Donald J. Trump.  The knitting circle at my work and the pussy hat phenomenon, doubtless come from the same place — Scores of woman with hands and a need to do something, anything to make something, create something, build something in the face of the nihilist president.

My aunt and my sister and I have each and all wondered: What the hell would Pat say about Trump?

She’d probably throw herself deeply into doll house making, maybe making the Capitol dome, the real one already miniaturized in moral authority, wee little unethical congress.  Maybe a miniature Capitol dome would be too redundant.  Or, maybe a  White House, tiny and to scale of what real grown up governing looks like, something in line with Trump’s tiny vision, one-inch scale.

And as she built, she’d be ranting.  Each shingle on the miniature roof would be another grumble. Kellyanne Conway would be angrily painted furniture and wrapping paper cum wallpaper.  Betsy DeVos might warrant her own wing or maybe a wall.  She’d build a wall, little bricks glued together to ease the pain of a woman ignorant of how education works being in charge of the whole enchilada.  Schoolteacher Pat would be, in her word, livid.

Maybe this year’s Pat day is about Pat the ultimate maker.  And, now, in the dark days of the most fucked up presidency, the maker spirit is living.  When protests arise out of nowhere.  When knit stocking caps, and really the homespun warmth of DIY, are the cultural fashion gracing the New Yorker magazine.  When everyone is not sure what to do, but they just start doing, because to do nothing is worse.  When strangers speak up, band together, share, write postcards together, share congressional phone numbers on Facebook, march, walk, make signs, rally, write words in the sand on the beach, that’s DIY, that’s maker, that’s crafts.

The best of making shit with your hands is knowing that you can. We can all build a movement.  My next pussy hat will be made for my mother.

I’m pretty sure Donald J. Trump has never built anything with his own tiny digits.  And maybe for just that alone, Pat would never have trusted him.

Mother’s Day, Pat and life is so damned tough


I completely fucked up and didn’t write my annual tribute you on Pat’s Day, March 15, her erstwhile birthday. So, on the hallmark-iest of days, I’ll write about Pat and how much I particularly wish she were here today, right now, this week of all weeks. And, I will provide a tribute in a pic of her favorite meal.

In the way, way, way back days, Pat taught “special needs” kids. In those days of the 60s, 70s and 80s, that euphemism was used for students who had things like dyslexia or couldn’t sit still. They were normal kids with learning disabilities and rode the regular long bus not the short variety. Instead, the short bus riders were called mentally deficient or most often retarded.

Now it’s a slur, and then it was an adjective.

So, back in those dark days, my town, the same one in which Pat taught, was actually not bad in handling kids who were developmentally delayed or had an intellectual disability. I’m not sure of the best words to use. Anyway, according to what my mother and her friends told me, and my own experience, there were students from nearby towns joining our schools,nand for a few hours a day or week, the handicapped kids were “mainstreamed” into our classes. Pat was besties with Debbie, who taught, or in some cases just managed, the classroom in their school where these kids were the rest of the time, and Pat would help that class, too.

She affectionately and without a shred of malice–seriously it was a different fucking decade–called them her “retreads.”

Because I was me–a dorky, lumpen, possibly doughy little girl, who far, far preferred reading and writing to actually talking with people, and because I was for better or worse Pat’s baby and shadow in so much of her teaching life, which chronologically coincided with my schooling life, my mom had a plan. She put the word out to her teacher friends to use me in classrooms, as peer and friend to the kids getting their mainstream swerve on when I was in class.

Doubtlessly if asked, my mother would have said wryly that I actually belonged with the intellectually disabled.

It would have been a crime of capital proportions if I was anything but friendly and respectful to these other kids. I think one disparagement would have pushed Pat over the line from threatening a physical beating to actually doing it. So I was on a first name basis with kids with all sorts of issues — cerebral palsy, what was probably autism, Tourette’s Syndrome, Down’s, Fragile X–all of the things that could get them beaten up by the bullies.

I also learned from Pat and her friend Debbie some pretty horrible tales of mistreatment for these kids. Teacher Debbie, for example, reported physical abuse, then fostered, then adopted a friendly little boy whose dad (or step dad) would daily try to beat some sense into him. When we became adults, my mother long retired, he would great my mother by name in the local grocery store where he worked with a big smile and wave.

I was taught to just not be an asshole, and (mostly) I kept my mortification of being in with these kids in check and genuinely tried to tutor and be a friend.
Pat championed these kids. She really championed any kid who had it rough. Broken-heartedly, she also helped abused kids, including testifying in court for a poor little dude who came to her for help, which led to the revelation that he was being sexually abused.

As a side visual — there was a lot about Pat that was more grandmotherly than motherly in appearance. With her cap of sometimes untamed curly hair, big glasses and panty hose, standing all of 5-foot-2, she was not a MILF. She was kindly and comfortable to the kids, and undoubtedly they cried in her soft arms more than I ever did. I never really talked with her about sex, since that seemed so out of her area of expertise, so I can only imagine how desperate the little boy was who came to her with a health issue involving the most private of his parts.

Why am I thinking of all of this on Mother’s Day? Because this week, more than many a week, maybe ever a week, I would love to hear what Pat would say. 
In my daily life, because I am still the little girl who Pat made befriend developmentally disadvantaged folks, I chatted with a guy around my age who could only handle minimal tasks and mostly talked about baseball. He has been a fixture of my morning routine for years, greeting me with a smile and “Good Morning, Sunshine,” and I talked to him like I was taught normally to people with intellectual disabilities in a place where some people ignored him.

He was arrested this week, accused of child molestation, and then his home was searched, and they say they found child porn. After the news broke, I found out through people who knew him better than me, that at least on paper, he was not actually one of Debbie’s “retreads.” Because of the labeling and terrible situations years ago (and probably still), his mom never wanted him to be one of those short-bus kids.

So who knows what has happened, and whether anything is true. Innocent until proven otherwise. In the newspaper, he’s a grown man. But assuredly he wasn’t on the same page intellectually with most men his age. He’s sitting in jail, where certainly he will be broken if only because of his own stubborn adherence to his own daily routine.

But, he may have done one of the worst crimes you can commit.

So I wish I could hear from Pat. I wish I could hear her heart, the ferocious defender of the less fortunate. I wish I could hear her professionally, the teacher for decades of so many kids with so many problems. Where would her feelings fall? What would she say? I need her help to understand a fucked up, monstrous, horrible, bad thing. I want my mommy.

Pat 2015

I’ve been thinking about my mom, but I can’t figure out the angle here.  Well, there’s the anniversary of her day of birth.  But, maybe it’s this:  After getting my perfomance reviewed at work — corporate America’s annual dance or bloodletting depending on how you are doing–I keep wondering if she’d be happy or pissed at me.

First week of the month, I was going full-on existential postal.  I can’t think much about where I am in life before I start thinking of all the places that I am not.  I am not rich, famous and beautiful, and I’d be good at all three, goddamnit, so I should be.  The crisis du month, though, was the triple-decker pileup of my birthday, my performance review and this thing at my place of toil that I can’t describe but involves sharing stuff about yourself.  

Amid the self-loathing caused by age and excess self reflection, I had a fleeting thought about my mother. A point I will get to after I set it up with too much detail.

Some days, I think I confound some of my coworkers.  The environment of my paycheck generation is well-educated and high performing. It definitely charts about the curve by most definitions, or it’s proof positive that with the right motivation and circumstances, and money to pay for it, anyone can get a graduate degree.  There’s a metric ton of letters after people’s names.

I was too desirous of money and the associated purchases — groceries and rent mainly — to stick around ivied halls any longer than I had to do to get my bachelor’s.  I wasn’t burning for any more learning of the formal sort circa 1985.

From 1985 almost to the day she died, Pat, my mother, reminded me I could still go to grad school.  I let her down on that decision for decades.

Today, I am docorate-less and masters-less in a sea of masters and doctors.  I have more years of relevant experience than many, though, so I hold my own with common sense and moxie.  Hence the confounding, I just don’t defer to not knowing shit, because there’s a lot of shit I know even without the sheepskin to prove it.  

it’s a bit like the end of the Wizard of Oz; I grant myself a doctorate of thinkology.

Now here’s where Pat comes in… That woman worked hard, year after year, helping to educate other people’s kids.  That hard work full on cramped the woman’s style.  Some of the other teachers and the school administrators crushed a bit of her creative sparkle. She was a little pounded down.  By retirement, she was caved in by it all.

She indoctrinated me into a fear about work.  A fear that you could lose your job for many types of infractions.  She had near perfect attendance over years and years.  She carried out all of the side jobs and extra tasks asked of teachers with nary a complaint — bus duty, after hours tutoring, grading papers on her own time, mentoring young teachers and helping with banquets and school events in the evenings.

I learned and listened and I have almost perfect attendance and do a lot of good citizeny extras at work.  But try as I might I can’t bury my non-conformist tendencies.  I am a good worker bee in a happy hive, but I’m a square peg in a round-holed world.

Problem is, I like it.

So, I work in a job that is easy for me.  I sacrifice some pay and will likely never have a good title, but I know everyone in the building.  My days are laid out with honkingly wide swathes of leeway and not a lot of  having my clocked punched by somebody else.

It’s a trade off.  It’s a choice.  And, it’s a little bit of anxiety.  If I got the gig where I got the pay that meant I have to manage stuff, I might fail.  I might have to leave my sneakers at home.  I might have to be at my desk for geometrically larger periods of time than I am now.

I think Pat might see the genius of my choice.  For good benefits and a not awful paycheck, the man isn’t keepnmg me down and the thoughts inside my head are free to breathe.

Outwardly, she’d tell me to do more.  She’d ask about promotions and growth opportunities.  She’d worry. 

Or maybe she’d smile.

The other Mother’s Day

I was reading that it is never ever St. Patty’s Day on March 17. But, today is March 15, and Patty’s Day it is, the erstwhile day of birth of my old, and not quite sainted mother.

Erstwhile, perhaps, because can you celebrate birthdays when the guest of honor no longer stomps the earth?

So many reasons to think of my mother, Pat, today. Not the least of which is being there for the funeral of M.’s mother. The ceremony, the prayers, the food, the people, the rituals so different. Yet the similarities so deep.

Both M. and I grew up with just one parent. My dad died when I was four. His dad and mom split when he was a kid and then dad died young. Now we are both orphans together.

Like for my mother’s wake, a wave of older people came by for M.’s mother. So many people identifying as friends, explaining who they were, where they lived, how lives intersected. For both women, the presence of these mourners spoke to affections and warmth and relationships that we, as children, did not know. Shading into depth the women we knew only as mom, but they knew as a friend.

Comic relief: My favorite old broad who came by to say goodbye to M.’s mom, walked up to him, and I’m told said to him, “If you don’t remember who I am, I will slap your face.”

I hope a long line of people drops by my remaining body to call me friend in the end. Of course, I hope more to have more years of partying it up and making and having friends.

M. and I have talked about our mothers. It seems to me that they were both gentle people bruised by unexpected circumstances and tragedies big and small. Each woman was shy and reserved, sometimes too passive, sometimes just bound to get the smallest piece of pie, shortest straw or dealt the unlucky hand.

Each of them squirreled away pennies, sacrificing their own wants, for their kids.

Consequently, M. and I each rail against an imagined fate, louder, stronger, more resolute than the women who raised us. We don’t save money for cake tomorrow. We buy cake today and enjoy it with gusto.

20140315-133616.jpg

Holy shit, I wanted this one to be funny and light. As the kids say — FAIL.

Here’s the manifesto to put the morose and melodramatic bullshit behind.

Every month of March, every year, hell every freaking day, I want to remember and climb on the hand offered to me. Our mother’s didn’t die in vain. Our mother’s didn’t live lives of privation for no reason. Precisely because our mother’s didn’t have every opportunity and real life undercut their dreams, we will live ours.

Don’t wait. Don’t stop. Don’t allow worry and anxiety to be roadblocks.

Dream and more importantly act.

Hate your fucking job? Leave.

Landlord sucks? Move.

Tired of the cold and snow? Relocate.

Today, and I hope every day, if I don’t fucking laugh at least once, I haven’t done it right.

For both our mother’s, who weren’t given the chances to do it all, we will try to cram in the fun we can in the days we have left. Misery is not an option.

It ought to be a holiday

Every year, well more frequently than that, I think about my mother. I think about her on the Ides of March, the portentous day in which Brutus stabbed Caesar and my mother was born. Not the same year, mind you, as I’m not tapping this out on my ancient Roman computer.

Actually, it was portent upon portent for old Pat. She was born on the Ides of March the year of the stock market crash for the Great Depression. She was meant for great things.

So, another anniversary rolls around.

I like to remember the ways in which Pat stood out from the crowd. Or in my warped and selfish and self-absorbed brain, the ways in which Pat affected me and stood out from the crowd.

Today’s memory is tied to the current season of my manual toil. OK, typing and sitting at a desk isn’t manual labor, but some days it grinds you just the same. I got callouses on my tappy type finger tips.

At work these days the pesky little papers (now computer files) that once a year worker drones planet-wide, or at least U.S.-wide, bemoan are due — the annual performance reviews. The neat little report where you and your boss get to write out how you’re “meeting expectations” and otherwise doing what a cog does when one is employed.

You say to yourself right about now, I can hear you breathing and thinking, you say, but how does that relate to Pat. Surely, she was not your boss, apart from the sense in which we are all subordinates to our mothers.

Well, here’s the thing. I might be one of the only people rambling around that has written their own performance “self reports” for the decades that I have been employed as a grown up adult, who got their start years before they were allowed to work.

Pat, enmeshed in some heavy duty politics and just short of Brutus-like backstabbing in my town’s school system, turned her typewriter over to her precocious daughter one fine day and asked for her help in word smithing her review. She had to describe her classroom contributions, and since she floated around helping learning disabled kids within other people’s classrooms, she had to talk about that too.

By nature, she was a mix of fierceness on some opinions and topics (ahem, Catholic molesters) and shy reticence on a whole lot more. She complained to those nearest and dearest, but she was way too polite to complain to anyone or anything with any authority, including a cashier at a convenient store. (Although, the school teacher might pop out at any time if said cashier couldn’t do the math to make simple change.)

Real humility, not the false stuff that often passes for humility, was part of her core, and she could not find any words at all to describe what she contributed. She knew what she did, but she couldn’t spin it to advertise her brand.

I could do that for her and with some nudging to not get carried away with florid prose extolling her greatness, together we spoke about her patience with kids in the classroom. Her vast experience. Her gentle but persistent nature. Her true and deep caring for children and learning and education. Her mastery of basic skills and pedagogies and learning methods. That she could set and meet goals until the sun rose and set a hundred years.

She was a champion to a whole lot of kids fumbling in classrooms with dyslexia, a host of other syndromes and disorders, and simply poor study skills.

Pat was also a drill sergeant. No misplaced modifiers, misspellings (which I incidentally just mistyped), prepositions dangling at a sentence’s end, no math not shown happened on her watch. For the stuff where there is a right and wrong way to do it, by god she was going to teach you the right way or die trying.

All of her skills, the ones that made strangers come up to me in high school and beyond and say they knew my mother and that she was great, they were in her heart effortlessly as a teacher.

But, she did suck at telling management what was up. I helped do that for her. I was a kid and it was a fun writing assignment and in truth I had no feel for the politics or fear of the consequences, so I could write without inhibition. She could not. It became an annual ritual in her later years of work.

Now, about a thousand years later, or maybe just shy of that, I have to do the same kind of reports for myself.

So, I sit at my desk and return to the game that I had done at my mother’s typewriter. I right fast and furiously, and I have learned how to advertise my own brand but temper it with a soupçon of self-reflection. I allow for the things I do not know, and I hammer out my strengths. I find the notes of self improvement that are surmountable and demonstrate my good attitude.

I try very hard not to by cynical. But, for that to happen, I do not dwell, I do not agonize. If I spend over 15 minutes on the thing, at about 10 minutes in, I walk away until my head is in the game and I give it only 5 minutes more.

It’s impossible to tell your boss that in addition to my 25-30 years of doing the things for myself, I might have done 10 years more. We breeze through the things, the virtual online handshake is done and another year will pass.

And my highest proof of mastery were the words of my attorney, the one I hired on account of my work at the time not really feeling the love, the labor lawyer who helped me out of a jam. That besuited gentleman pulled all of my Human Resources records out of the belly of the employment beast, and he went through each paper with the loving care that an hourly fee will get you.

Upon sage and learned analysis, he proclaimed that while many a person had come through his office doors with a sad story to tell about the workplace, almost all of them had some marks in their permanent records. But my file, the years of reviews and meetings, they were a pristine and glimmering example. He said in all his years of lawyering he had never seen such stellar performance reviews.

More on money, but not mine

After a 20+ “career,” or something like a career, I guess the kids call them “jobs,” working in non-profits and grant management, I ended up in a strange little niche. Instead of looking for money, I help give it away.

The environment is greater than first world conditions, it's privilege and quality of life and life-work balance.

Smack dab in the world of the richies, my poor self works.

Life is literally a buffet, at least on some days of the week. And, almost every damn day, having been trained as the accomplice to my mother's many capers, I have to squash deep down the desire to tuck a free bagel or yogurt or two, wrapped in a reused plastic bag, into my purse.

Allah will provide

Growing up I had an a mythical or maybe horrific relationship with money and finances. It was a semi-idealistic view, but with an undercurrent of mixed messages and vague dread.

The basics were covered. Food, clothing, shelter, yup, we had them. So I didn't want. At least I didn't identify with the kids in the government-subsided apartments in town or the ones who carried their tattered meal cards that promised hot food every day. I had my ham and cheese sandwich on white bread and an apple, thank you very much, I was good.

Yet, I wanted. I knew my pants might get tighter and shorter for a few more months than the better dressed girls growing alongside me. Some of the same designer labels hugged my back and backside except in my case the labels were cut out or over-imprinted with another designer name — The House of Irregular.

I never noticed at home, but when I went out and ate at friends' houses, there was variety we didn't have. Or maybe freshness. Much of my gastronomical intake was from a chest freezer in the basement loaded down with day old bread and treats from the bakery outlet and meat bought in bulk and repackaged in plastic wrap in suitable meal chunks.

Ground beef was stretched across multiple days in various disguises. Burgers, chopped with onions and spices, mixed with mac and cheese, sloppy joes and fabulous taco fiestas, a new an exciting food idea in our white bread town.

It wasn't until adulthood that I understood the magnitude of my mother's feeding five kids, maintaining a household, paying for the house and all on a public school teacher's salary. I cannot type that we were poor, because that betrays what an incredible job Pat had done keeping us afloat. But, we weren't rich.

The climate on these issues was hot and cold. We didn't talk about money. Grown up stuff was solely my mother's domain, and she felt no compunction about keeping the details under her hat.

However, at a moment's notice, an unexpected squall would kick up and the lack of money would rush to the forefront of the drama. Want the coat with the little extra design and worst of all retail, first-run tag? Better run for cover before the barrage of “Who do you think I am?” “Who do you think you are?” “I work so hard, and you kids don't appreciate me.” “I work my fingers to the bone for you.” “You just take, take and think money grows on trees.”

Worst of all: “Fine. If that's what you want, you can decide. I'll just go without a coat this year, if it's that important to you.” Followed by silence. A thick, ominous silence.

Speaking of coats, Pat rocked a red dress coat with a real fur collar on special occasions, like holidays and church. On ordinary days, she'd wear the kind of ordinary, drab jackets and “car coats” that got folks through New England winters, and she wasn't opposed to wearing a hand-me-up from one of her own children. I have a dim recollection of Elmer's glue, the collar and tragedy that had my mother soaking and scrubbing fur for days. That dress coat had to survive another year, and by god she'd make it happen.

Good at math and figures and observant, I started to piece together the situation. But, money was an abstract concept for me about which I hadn't learned to manage. I only learned there wasn't enough.

The vague dread lingers in adulthood.

I seemed to have inherited Pat's knack for money management. In fact, I pretty much have made a living largely because of that knack, managing million-dollar budgets for other people.

I can make some calculations in my head. I know the logic of compounded interest. Putting together a contract or grant or spending plan is more muscle memory at this point in my career. I literally made four times what I put into my first condo when I sold it. Car dealers don't intimidate me, they are a game.

Still in all, I worry about money. Sometimes rationally. Sometimes not. I dream of having the kind of nest egg that negates any possibility of concern. Hedge fund billions.

I remain a thousandaire.

However, my mother's lessons end at one crucial point. My whole lifetime, or maybe not the first few years before my dad died, Pat scrimped and saved for survival. Only in her later years, with a paid off mortgage, a remodeled house thanks to a well-insured fire, five grown children with their own jobs and homes, a pension and a scattered but flush shoebox of investments, she still scrimped and saved as though it was for survival.

Her final years were Campbell soup, and they could have been caviar.

Worry as I might about cash, I don't live in privation.

I used Pat's money, my small inheritance, to buy a new car, finance a move cross-country, help create a settled household for my partner, who had less than me growing up. I shopped and paid off debt and created a new chapter in my life, but with a jumble of happiness, anger and bitterness.

If I had realized how much she would leave behind, I would have angrily tried to shake loose her self-induced deprivation. It's a remaining regret I have for not having done more before she died.

So, today, I worry, but I talk myself through it. I may not have a nest egg, or this week even much in my savings account. But, I have a comfortable life. My only debt I couldn't pay off in a minute is my car and our house. It's worked out in worst times than these, I remind myself.

Maybe the future will require cheese sandwiches and raman noodles again. Worry? Yes. But to live and live well and as best as I can, that is imperative. Otherwise, what's the fucking point?

Another year, another day to mention Pat's Day

Ah, the Ides of March have come, and for me that means thinking about my dear old madre. She would have been 82, I do believe, if her stroll here on planet earth hadn’t ended.

For all times, I hope to celebrate my own memory of Pat by choosing to eschew the conventional. I hope I always pick the bright red bloomers and sassy bra over the pale pastels or floppy white cotton. If the woman taught me nothing more, it was to enough to know to have a little fun in the underwear world.

A friend back in Boston, who unlike myself actually gets stuff done every now and again including the Idatorod, is working out an idea. It’s a book compiling stories of embarrassment and tragi-comedy, called Mug of Woe. She sent me a note, so I sent her back a little bit of my embarrassing life. It got me thinking, and writing more again.

In a completely separate universe, metaphorically and literally, a friend in California had a party on Sunday afternoon featuring her favorite psychic. I wrote about Felix last year round about this same time.

Once again, he mystified my skeptical soul with shit I can’t explain. The dude says my dad is there and is showing him something about mowing the lawn. He even mimes the full body gesture of starting the old style gas motor, yanking on an imaginary rope. Felix asked if I understood why he would be mowing the lawn.

Everyone who knew my dad in 1968 would know what the lawnmower was all about; it’s essential information. My father was mowing the lawn when he suffered what would be a fatal heart attack.

But I ain’t writing about my dad today. Nope.

Felix the medium is chatting up my mom. He mentions something about frilly clothes, but it’s not clear to him, and it’s not clear to me. Frilly wasn’t Pat’s outwardly defining style.

Pat is showing him writing, my writing, and near as I can tell, she’s cool with my pathetic ambitions. I’m supposed to write, spirit mom, spirit Pat indicates, and she understands.

At this juncture, I feel like I need to explain a bit about writing to the assembled room, about what I’m trying (painfully and lazily and fitfully and occasionally happily) to get out on paper or electronic screen. I mention my writing about my relationship with Pat and the working title of “Burying My Mom in Leopard Print Undies.”

Felix is rolling with this interruption. I gather spirit mom is cool, too.

Then I tell them one of the stories about why that might be the working title of my book about our fucked up by largely functional mom-daughter relating. I give the Reader’s Digest condensed down version. The story, though, is the self-same one I had just sent off to my friend’s Mug of Woe project a scant week before this close encounter.

Way back in the dark, distant days of the 1970s, I went shopping with a junior high pal and her moms. It was that day that I learned Pat had a different sensibility than the hausfraus in our ‘burb.

When I dropped my drawers to try on some pants, my little buddy’s mom lost her mind. My 11-12 year old tush was swathed with black lace, the very lingerie Pat had given me the Christmas before. In fact, she had given my sister and me each matching boxed sets of undies feature red, black and white lace.

Seems my buddy’s mom found them unseemly. She didn’t believe me when I told her my mom gave me the black lace. In her, albeit cramped and tiny, universe, little girls wore white cotton, at best with a miniature pink satin rose marking the front from back.

Felix the medium jumped in somewhere at this point in my story telling. The voices over there had confirmed the frilly clothes reference with which he had begun. Pat was channeling in black lace.

Over the years, I came to appreciate Pat’s sense if underwear whimsy. It’s like regardless of the mood, weather or whatever shit is happening in your life, you can have a party down below, or underneath as it were.

My sister and I bought her a lovely matching set of leopard print bra and panties with improbable yellow lace to return the favor. Sadly, we bought it the day before a priest waved incense over her mortal form and we buried her next to my dad.

However, it was the quintessential out-of-step gesture she would have dug had she been there to see them. It’s the kind of quintessential out-of-step gesture that I think keeps me amused to this day, and in turn keeps me from looking the haggard 47 years that people assume I should look.

Tomorrow, undercover of some semi-respectable work clothes, I’m rocking red satin. Wherever you are, whatever you do, even in the tiniest gesture, it’s good to let your freak flag fly.

Pat taught me that.

Not writing and writing

I guess it’s summertime and I’m busy going on adventures, like whitewater rafting, walking to the beach and barbecue. And, of course, there is my most recurring adventure, sitting on the couch and getting fat.

I’ve had some ideas for things to write here. I could write about the full on anxiety and trembling I felt whitewater rafting when the full force of my first experience on the Nile came back and I started feeling irrationally and overwhelming phobic. I could write about Dr.Laura and how I learned about her epic fail from a chat with a homeless dude named Larry in Berkeley.

I could write about my experience concocting an evening outing for work that turned into my own little amusing performance art piece in which with a little help from some friends I brought a crowd with some uptight and overeducated folks to a veritable hippie street party. I could write about the mundane, or maybe the way in which I still feel like an abused spouse in the workplace, even as I only get positive reinforcement in this job.

Or, I could do what I’ve been doing and not write.

For over a year, I’ve been naval gazing and hang wringing and other body part manipulating in a pretty unspectacular, boring cave of writer’s block. Someone asked me seriously, genuinely, strongly why do I write, or more why do I feel compelled to write. Further, he told me I didn’t have to write and I certainly didn’t have to validate myself through self-flagellation at a keyboard.

It struck home, and I haven’t gotten full on unstuck. Combine that with the sinking feeling that the books I loved as a little girl are a technology with a cloudy future. Being an author was never an easy row to hoe, now with the state of publishing it seems worse than dirt farming.

This week, or more last week, though, I was reminded by life one of the reasons I do want to write. Not to be all cliched and philosophical at the same time, but sharing stories is kind of what it’s always been about humanity wise.

A good friend, someone who I feel would have been a great friend had I not fled Boston, lost her mom. For the past year or so, she’s been keeping house and cooking meals and taking care of her mother however she needed. She emailed me a few days before when her mom was in a bad state after a stroke and then a series of strokes. The inevitable happened on Thursday.

Now, on the side of the country I left, she’s gone through the busy flurry of wakes and a funeral and having folks back to the house and making food and eating and storing food. No doubt, she’s functioning on autopilot and in the coming months she’ll feel intensely the change in the universe from not having to worry any more about her mother’s fragility and missing the place where her mother used to be.

I have the kernel of the idea about my mother, Pat, and me, and a few shallow chapters on my ‘puter, because story telling keeps us sane and keeps us knowing we aren’t alone. Not only would I get to exercise my demons by writing them down, but just maybe a reader would dig it and breath a little easier.

I can’t do anything to help my friend out but talk on the phone. I told her about my small smoking binge for the months that followed Pat’s funeral. It felt OK when she, having quit years ago, told me she and her brothers had been having a smoke on the stoop. For both of us, I think, there’s something cathartic in knowing someone else did the exact same thing.

The other day, I took a day off of work for no reason and with no plan. Ultimately, I wandered the aisles of Target and Daiso, a Japanese store with housewares and junk. It was relaxing to have absolutely no agenda. I came home with new underpants and various things for the house.

I laughed out loud in one department of a department store. A middle-aged woman and an older woman, crooked from osteoporosis, stood side by side in front of a shelf if empty bins. The older woman was examining a little plastic storage bin, carefully considering the possible purchase. The other woman, who really could only have been her daughter, questioned why she could possibly need it.

“You never can have enough storage, you know.”

The retort was quick and exasperated, “Yes, you can. Especially when you have no where to put it.”

I smiled a friendly head nod, as I passed by them in the aisle.

The dialog and its tone were so familiar, so comfortable. Among friends and strangers, I’m sensitive to all of the daughters and all of the mothers living through the last phase of their relationships. It’s a tough rite of passage, frustrating and rewarding.

On top of losing my mother, there are also a thousand ways in which I remember the Pat I did know and have in my life. I almost wrote on Twitter the other day that I can’t pass doll house furniture without quashing the urge to pick something up for her.

I wish now I could get some of her inspired and surprising creativity.

For example, I know she could help with another thing I could write about–a friend with breast cancer. She’s an unlikely friend, in that we’re not contemporaries (in fact she’s the same age as my uncle) and lives in Washington, DC. Still and all, we are long-distance coworkers who have swapped stories and realized some kinship, including strong-charactered mothers, and sharp, wicked senses of humor that have caused almost as much trouble as laughter.

As the contemporary of my aunt and uncle and from the generation about which Gail Collins writes, she’s straight up first generation feminist and solidly liberal. The pink ribbons, pink everything else and what Barbara Ehrenreich bitches about for its infantilism leaves her flat.

As does the notion that she should be a docile and placid patient, as opposed to the pugnacious fighter in her soul. I pity the poor oncologist or radiologist who doesn’t take the time to explain enough.

I want to send her something, especially post surgery and going into her second chemotherapy treatment, when she’s talking wig shopping and whether to go down to the army base for a $10 head shave from the barber there (apparently that’s a real option). If Pat were here, we could brainstorm. No doubt she’d come up with an off-the-wall scheme or some bizarre conglomeration of bargains and nonsense. Maybe she’d loan her a hat.

At gift-giving moments like this one, I always imagine the crazy, ragtag, assembled over weeks gift basket, which in my memories was colossally large, that Pat put together for a retiring colleague.

She didn’t leave behind blueprints for how to do such projects proud. I need those skills and those plans now, with one friend sick and another grieving.

At the same time, I need to remember all of the fights and frustration, big and small, with Pat or with life, including all of the many indignities she described as holding her back in life. If I remember the thousand things that made her great and the thousand things that made her troubled, i might have a story. I definitely would have a reason to not become complacent,

My life ain’t bad, But, somewhere there is still a gnawing. Maybe the words will escape some day, late to help my friends, but in time for some one else.