Self-Examination

::Grateful::

Posted on

Gratitude. People usually say thankful. Like, 

“I’m thankful it didn’t rain today, we’da missed our last game.” 

Or, “I’m thankful they started using skim milk in my latte, last thing I need is the extra calories.”

Being thankful is good, of course. I’ve been thankful most of my life … ever since, I guess, the Methodist minister’s wife picked me up at the gas station where she found me. I’d run away from kindergarten after daddy dropped me off, I was so afraid of being late again.

But now, in my dotage, I’m pretty much always grateful. 

Grateful I can hobble to the bathroom in the morning. 

Grateful I can plant my foot against the shovel, and heave piles of dirt in the garden. 

Grateful for clarity of mind, and the continuing passion for learning more, about everything.

Grateful for friends who take me, love me, and support me as I am.

Grateful for sunshine, and rain, and every season under God’s heaven — even this week in February, 2021, when we’re iced-and-snowed in. At this point, they all have a poignancy I’ve never experienced before. 

We never know when our last breath will be drawn, our last hugs given to those we care about, our last expression of love, however large or small. 

My most recent experience of love expression was the cleaning out of my garage. My son and grands helped, and we filled a dumpster with stuff that, had I not done it then, they’d have had to face it when all my “lasts” were done. 

I think about that a lot. My home, which I’m grateful for, is an estate sale in waiting. I know that, and it helps me take things a little lighter. 

We’re all in this big parler game called life, waiting for our number to be called. And while we play this game, let’s be grateful for the brilliant, heartbreaking, surprising, messy, beautiful life we’re living.

And may we never forget … there’s a last time for everything. 

::Dot and Robert::

Posted on Updated on

Dot Parker and Robert Benchley

 

I didn’t know about her for years. Never heard of her. Then, one day, in the period I would soon dub ‘the dark night of my ex-husband’s soul’ she came. A light dawned.

I’d always been a creative girl, a passionate teen, then while wedded I morphed into an unsure and eagerly accommodating woman. When I finally acknowledged the “past due notice” and filed for “the divorce,” I realized I couldn’t speak. No, listen, I could string words together, I could even sound coherent on occasion, but the kernel of “me” at the heart of it all was missing. When did I grow so soft?

There I was, plowing through the molasses searching for my focus when, at a Screen Actors Guild Directors’ meeting, I met Nat Benchley. ‘Benchley, Benchley, let me think,’ I thought as I smiled that smile and shook his hand.

Nat immediately had me smitten, as most brilliantly eloquent men do … I do love a great mind. And his was incredible, I thought, until … well, his nickname for me was a little off putting. “Reverend Gorgeous.” I can barely type it even now. It makes me blush, and warms my heart. But that’s not the point here. The point is, Nat was sharing with me stories about his grandfather Robert, and how this woman, Dorothy Parker, was his sidekick and best friend.

Well, I’d never heard of the woman, and you already know exactly what I did. I looked Dorothy up, bought her books, checked her out … and thought, ‘HEY! I recognize that voice … that irreverent, brilliant, hysterically ironic voice. It . Sounds . Like . Me .’

So that was the first step, learning about Dot. The next meeting Nat and I attended was in New York, and he decided we should go some place called the Algonquin Hotel. Over martinis with three fat olives he educated me on the infamous “Vicious Circle” and — as we sat at that very same round table, regaled me with tales of how his Grandfather and Dot would hold court there everyday at lunch. And so, we and our colleagues sat. We laughed. We drank. Because, you know. Dot and Robert.

Hirschfeld drawings of Benchley, Parker, and company lined the walls. The more I learned, the more I was convinced: Nat and I should do a two-person show, Robert and Dot. I mentioned it to him. He loved it. But life got in the way, as it tends to do, and we never happened.

That was years ago, and I only remembered these things when reading a piece this morning by Dorothy Parker. I’m much older now, and am not sure I still have the swagger necessary to deliver a good “Dot” onstage. But I love my warm memories of Nat Benchley. I continue to relish Parker’s writing, her voice, and the very clear knowledge that it was she who, thanks to Nat, helped me find my own.

::Every Little Piece::

Posted on Updated on

 

Raindrop

 

 

People always ask me when I started to write.  Especially songwriting.

I can think of points along my childhood and teen years, when I wrote to process feelings or moments; heartbreak. Confusion. Boys. But the truth is I’ve always, as long as I can remember, written it down.

I say that, and it strikes me quite odd that a tiny girl, not exposed to literary pursuits, would even think of writing.

I was a post war baby; my mother and daddy were young, beautiful, hard working. My daddy was a Navy man, and knew how to do just about everything. They were musical, and funny, but they were not the type to bury themselves in Tolstoy or Hemmingway. They had better things to do: roll up the rug in the dining room on Saturday afternoon and dance to Benny Goodman and Kay Starr records. Or sit on the front stoop at sunset, leaning into each other, beer in hand, and watch the kids ride their trikes in the driveway.

So how did I end up here, at this keyboard? Or way back there, at that Big Chief tablet with my Dixon Laddie #304?

I remember a moment when I was five. I was sitting on the swing in the back yard at 1563 North Marion. The sky was so blue, and I was so happy, I wanted to write a song about how I felt. I threw my head back, and instead of words coming out, I cried. My happy went heartbroken in that moment; I wept, because I knew I was too little to write a song that sounded like the ones on the radio.

And it’s interesting, isn’t it? How I remember that moment so clearly. How even as I think about it, I am “back there,” under that blue sky. In that back yard on that swing. My stomach even grabs for a second as the feelings I had then are here with me now.

So I guess you could say the writing thing has always been part of what I am. I remember in first grade, Sister Dianna was teaching us a song, and I was saying the words with her. She stopped, looked at me, and said,

“Mary Cecelia, do you know this song already?” No, I didn’t. I’d never heard it before. But somehow, I knew what would come next in the lyrics. Didn’t everybody? No, it turns out. They didn’t.

In third grade, Sister Mary Damien announced that the Highschool newspaper class was asking for poems from the grade school. They were going to publish one poem in the next edition of their paper. We were to turn our poems in the next day. My hear jumped, and my head started spinning with the tomes I would write.

That night at home, I took out my Big Chief tablet and my Laddie pencil, and I wrote. I wrote at least a half dozen one-stanza poems. I gave each stanza a name, and its own sheet of lined paper. I made the pages as neat as my third grade southpaw printing could get.

The next morning, I shuffled into the classroom with my classmates, laid my stack of poems on the corner of Sister’s desk, and took my seat. I watched her eagerly, hoping she would be proud of me.

Finally, Sister Damien walked over to her desk and picked up my pages. She leafed through them, then ripped them in half and threw them in the waste basket. As she did so she looked up at me briefly and stated,

“You were not to copy out of a book.”

My stomach lurched. My face turned hot. My eyes welled up. I was horrified, for several reasons:

First, it would never have crossed my mind to turn in someone else’s work; the fact that she thought I would do such a thing made me want to cry.

Second, even at seven years of age, I was in a panic: those were the only copies I had. I learned an important lesson that day: always make duplicates.

Third, though my classmates were laughing at me, I was more concerned with people thinking I had such a flawed moral compass. They clearly didn’t know me at all.

On another level, buried deep beneath my chaotic feelings, was a little voice that whispered,
“Hmmm. They must have been good. REALLY good. She thought you copied them out of a book.”

A backhanded compliment from a nun, saying my work was so good I could not have done it. I’ve lived a lifetime of twisted victories like that.

In fourth grade, we had music class two mornings a week. One morning the music teacher announced that there would be a music program, and that we would be in it. She then said to the class,
“We will need someone to sing the solo. Are there any solo singers in here?”

The entire class turned, without a sound, and pointed at me. All I’d ever done was sing with everyone else.  I was completely unaware of my own voice. With all those fingers and eyes directed at me, I buried my face in my arms and cried.

Eventually I did sing the solo in the program that year. And I kept writing. There were times, big stretches in fact, when I was writing for my life. And music is the silver thread that’s always kept me tethered here.

In fact, writing and music have laced the pieces of my life together, helped me make sense of myself, this world, and the path I’m on. They still do.

I used to think maybe these things were pieces of generations past, pulling me back. But I’m starting to believe maybe they’re pieces of the future, pulling me forward.

Either way, I’ll take it. And I’ll write and sing the pieces of my life together, for as long as I’m here.