I put a spell on you…

Let me start by saying I know nothing about the religion of Voodoo (or Vodou, considered by scholars to be the more appropriate spelling). I am sure it has been drastically misrepresented in television and the movies. The religion originates in Africa, but is different in the various places it is practiced. As practiced in the Americas (most famously in New Orleans in North America) and the Caribbean, it combines African, Catholic, and Native American traditions. Voodoo is not necessarily a cult, or violent, or the black magic it’s been portrayed to be, and my understanding is that most people who are Voodooists have never seen or used a Voodoo doll. (If interested, you can read more about Voodoo the religion in Saumya Arya Haas’s article for the Huffington Post.)

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Voodoo festival in Benin, image from cnn.com

 

I, however, am fascinated by Voodoo dolls. I have a few, not a lot, that are not meant to represent anyone in particular and I don’t stick pins in them or anything. Mostly, I think they are terribly cute.

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My Voodoo dolls. Cute! And their powers are for good, not evil.

At least the ones you used to be able to buy from places like Jamie Hayes Gallery in New Orleans are cute. I bought a couple of dolls the week I was there between Christmas and New Years in 2009. In the gallery window was a Christmas tree decorated with little dolls, and I thought it was about the most adorable thing I’d ever seen. )Looking at the website now, I don’t see any dolls.) These are the dolls I bought at the gallery:

 

I love these 2 in particular because they remind me of another cute overload duo–Hoops and Yoyo™ from Hallmark.

Hoops and Yoyo for real

Hoops and Yoyo™ crack me up. My inner 12-year old takes over at certain moments, and she will almost always choose Hoops and Yoyo™ if choosing a card for someone (given that humor is appropriate; I do have some common sense).

 

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The tiny Mariposa doll was a gift from a very dear friend who always knows what to pick up for me on her travels.

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Tiny Mariposa. Use the cat hair under her feet for scale.

Mariposa, a string doll from Watchover Voodoo, has a particular assignment and was thoughtfully chosen for my needs:

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My first experience with a real life Voodoo was at a job, a job I loved but unfortunately didn’t stay at long. And no, that had nothing to do with the presence of a Voodoo doll in the boss’s desk drawer. The Voodoo doll was meant to represent the former boss, who had left suddenly and vaulted the new boss into the position with little notice or preparation. In times of stress, New Boss would secretly take out the Voodoo doll of Old Boss and stick a pin or two into her, and then get back to work. The secret didn’t stay secret, but given what a cool and unflappable (being sarcastic there) group of women we were, none of us thought too much about it. It was an amusing way of relieving stress. If Watchover Voodoo had existed back in the early 1990s (or, if online shopping had existed, which, believe it or not children, there was such a time), New Boss might have bought Watchover Voodoo’s the Stress Reducer, the Love Your Job, or even the Ninja.

 

 

I myself am partial to, besides Mariposa, the Bad Hair Day (I have a lot of those), the Pixie, the Loner, and the Nice One. Sometimes I really need the Scatterbrain. Take a look at the collection; there’s one for everyone and every need!

 

I might have made a Voodoo doll once, but I won’t go into too many details except to say I was at a very low point in my life and I was really furious at the person whose name and image the doll carried. I did stab the doll through its little heart a few times. Did it make me feel better? Absolutely, for a minute or two. Did it make a difference? Not at all.

This brings to mind the whole concept of magical thinking, which I’ve always found myself doing, but hadn’t thought about as a concept or applied a name to it until I read the Augusten Burroughs memoir Magical Thinking: True Stories (St. Martin’s Press, 2004).

 

Best known for the memoir Running with Scissors (St. Martin’s Press, 2002), Burroughs does not shy away from the personal and painful while still mananaging to be funny.

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From the site GoodTherapy.org:

Magical thinking is the belief that one’s own thoughts, wishes, or desires can influence the external world. It is common in very young children. A four-year-old child, for example, might believe that after wishing for a pony, one will appear at his or her house. Magical thinking is also colloquially used to refer more broadly to mystical, magical thoughts, such as the belief in Santa Claus, supernatural entities, and miraculous occurrences.

My experience as an adult with magical thinking runs along the line of the belief that I am bad luck for the San Francisco Giants so I shouldn’t watch their games on television (e.g., if I root for them they will lose, but if I don’t pay attention, they will win). Or if I wish really hard, that pair of shoes I really want will go on sale. Magical thinking can be totally harmless, but can also be correlated with mental health conditions such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Does love invite magical thinking? (I just stole that line from the book The Awkward Age by Francesca Segal.)

 

Joan Didion also wrote a memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, in which magical thinking plays into her journey through grief in the year following the death of her husband, while she also cared for her comatose daughter, who also eventually passed away.

 

We see athletes who never vary their pregame rituals or their approach to their turn at bat, say. I’m thinking of San Francisco Giant Pablo Sandoval there.

 

Or former Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum, who was reported never to wash his trusty cap, but to spray it with Febreze fabric refresher once in a while, for luck.

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You can call it superstition or magical thinking or delusion or irrational or whatever you want (or unhygienic in the cap case). But does it work? According to a 2009 article by Piercarlo Valdesolo for Scientific American, it can give people an edge. Lucky charms do have power, not because they are indeed magical, but because we believe they are.

Rituals, signs, omens. They’ve been part of the human psyche forever. Supersitions and the belief in luck are reported to have an evolutionary basis. The cave person who runs from the rustling in the bushes survives, whether it’s a fanged and hungry carnivorous beastie or the wind.

Many writers have compiled encyclopediae of superstitions.

 

Some of the described superstitions are amusing, others not so much. For instance, diagonal windows in Vermont are called witch windows, due to the belief that a witch can’t fly a broomstick through them.

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A witch window. Eccentric but harmless.

 

At the animal shelter, we see more often than you might think people who will not consider adopting black cats. And some shelters will not adopt out black cats at Halloween to prevent animal torture.

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All of that aside, lucky charms and rituals provide us with comfort and a feeling that we can somehow control the chaos of life. I’m okay with that! Much less fattening than a bowl of macaroni and cheese, even the vegan kind.

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Vegan mac and cheese recipe available at The Organic Authority.

So now I bring out my magic wand and take you back to the magical and simpler time of 1982 and the band that was known as America.

 

My magical powers are perhaps limited. I can make a great vegan muffin. And make it disappear as well! I can try to make Einstein see the wisdom of my words.

 

What I really can do is choose how I live in this world. And I choose, to the best of my ability, to live a good life, a life of love and kindness, and a belief in the magic of happiness. Perhaps the beautiful and inspirational Audrey Hepburn said it best.

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Peace and hugs.

Remember Proverbs (Cultivate Kindness)

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That’s something I never thought I’d do: start an essay by referring to the Bible (or any other religious text). It’s so not my style. First of all, I’ve never read the Bible so quoting the Bible or anything remotely Biblical is beyond me. The Bible would be one of my nightmare categories if I ever competed on Jeopardy! or any other quiz show. Along with sports and pretty much anything to do with geography.

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I think of myself as more of a secular pagan (if there is such a thing) than anything else: I love feasting and gift giving but for reasons of all kinds and on a daily basis, not because of any religious foundations. I’d much rather celebrate solstices, equinoxes, the seasons and nature. And kindness as an everyday way of life. Which leads me to Proverbs.

I didn’t get there by myself. The author Alex George took me there in his book Setting Free the Kites.

On page 39, the main character Robert, after the new kid at school, Nathan, defends him from the school bully, is being told by his mother, ” ‘So now he needs you to be kind back. Remember Proverbs: Do not let kindness and truth leave you. Bind them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart.’ She smiled at me, and I knew the game was up.”

Do not let kindness and truth leave you. Bind them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart. 

This struck me as possibly one of the most important things I’d read in a long time. (If you must know, it’s Proverbs 3:3, according to Google.) Words spoken by Solomon, who I was thinking about just the other day. Really.

A story I do remember hearing often is that of two women both claiming that they are the mother of a fought-over baby and King Solomon, deciding the case, advises cutting the baby in half. I was always horrified by what was called the wisdom of Solomon. But of course the upshot is that he correctly surmises that the woman who says she will give up the baby is the real mother. In her love, she’d rather give him up than have him hurt.

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Maybe the story wouldn’t have scared me as much if I’d seen it told with Legos.

I have to remind myself every day to be kind. As much as I wish it always came naturally to me, it doesn’t. People try my patience and elude my understanding. I find myself being judgmental, envious, dismissive. Working in an animal shelter, I see both the best and worst in human nature. It is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, part of the unpredictability of being human.

I felt called upon to be Solomon not so long ago when two women were arguing over who should get to adopt a particular dog. Would Solomon have suggested cutting the dog in two and seeing how the women reacted? Neither was willing to step back and let the other adopt the dog. I had to make a decision based on our first come, first served policy. Whatever my decision, one of the women was going to be very angry with me. My interior voice was saying that there are plenty of little brown Chihuahuas (also called LBDs, Little Brown Dogs) to go around so let’s not argue over that particular one, but I can’t say those things out loud. I really don’t like the feeling of having made someone angry and unhappy. And if I had handled it better, two dogs would have gone to new homes, not just one.

I wish I had remembered the wisdon of William Ury rather than Solomon. Ury is a noted writer, speaker, negotiator, and helped found the International Negotation Network with former United States President Jimmy Carter.

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William Ury

Here’s his amazing TED talk, The Road to Yes.

 

I am familiar with William Ury from his book The Third Side: Why We Fight and How We Can Stop.

the third side

 

I automatically went to the role of arbiter in the dog dispute, but I could have explored other roles. If I’d only had the book with me and the time to consult it! As an introvert operating in an extrovert job, I find myself not always thinking fast on my feet. I like to mull things over, reflect, and formulate my responses. I’m terrible at witty answers to stupid questions, too.

One of my go-to sources on postings about life as an introvert is Introvert, Dear. I’m not alone in my need for time to respond. Plus, if I said the first thing that comes to mind, I could get in a lot of trouble.

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The motto “the customer is always right” really sucks sometimes. Because the customer isn’t always right. Alexander Kjerulf listed 5 reasons why the motto is wrong:

  1. It make employees unhappy. True. We take a lot of bad mouthing and abuse and smile while we do it.
  2. It gives abrasive customers an unfair advantage. Absolutely. Squeaky wheel syndrome. Bad behavior is rewarded.
  3. Some customers are bad for business. Yes, anyone causing a ruckus at any place of business will turn off other customers and they will go elsewhere. Or we will get a bad Yelp review.
  4. It results in worse customer service. If we are tired, humiliated, frustrated, we may unintentionally reflect that to clients who are there with the best of intentions.
  5. Some customers are just plain wrong. They are. And sometimes we have to convey that to prevent harm to an animal. Tactfully, of course. Our ulitmate priority is the health and safety of the people and the animals we serve.

I can list many examples of all of these points, some funny (the male dog returned after 2 hours because the woman felt awkward explaining to her 6 year old about male body parts), some sad (the elderly woman who fell in love with and wanted to adopt a particular dog but her son said no because he didn’t like the breed mix), some infuriating (people who insist on animals living outdoors despite evidence that animals who live indoors with their human families generally live longer, healthier lives), some downright puzzling (the woman who pointed to a kitten and asked “do you have that one in gray” as if she were shoe shopping). And don’t get me started on some of the phone calls we field!

John Cleese
“You want me to come catch the wild turkey in your office parking lot?”

We all have bad days, make mistakes, could use a little leeway. I try to keep that in mind with the people I deal with. I wish everyone kept that in mind when dealing with others: we don’t know what another person might be going through, what might be making them act they way they do, what their story is.

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In a world where you can be anything, be kind. To each other, to animals, to the earth. To yourself.

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A song I adore (got to get a musical reference in here somewhere!) that speaks to love, kindness, and writing them on the tablet of your heart is Clem Snide’s Find Love. Love is an infinite commodity. The more we give, the more we have.

 

I do have a quibble with Proverbs. Our hearts are not tablets. That to me implies stone, a hard substance that wears away with time. I think of the metaphorical heart as able to grow, to be nourished and to provide sustenance, more like a garden. Apparently Jesus said that hearts are like gardens too (I didn’t know that, I just Googled “the heart is a garden”). I also discovered a poem by Katherine Merrill, Heart’s Garden.

Heart’s Garden

By Katherine Merrill

My heart is a garden where thought flowers grow.
The thoughts that I think are the seeds that I sow.
Every kind loving thought bears a kind loving deed,
And a thought that is selfish is just like a weed.

So I must watch what I think each minute each day,
Pull out the weed thoughts and throw them away,
And plant loving seed thoughts so thick in a row,
There will not be room for weed thoughts to grow.

Buddha also compared the heart to a garden. As did Oscar Wilde. I feel like I am in such good company on this one!

buddha

Oscar Wilde

If this is too high-minded for you, think of Dr. Suess’s character the Grinch and his tiny little heart that grows when he discovers the power of love and kindness.

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You might have noticed I haven’t addressed the truth side of the Proverbs quote. Is it possible to have kindness without honesty? Honesty without compassion is cruelty, I’ve heard someone say. Bruce Kasanoff writes about the downside of honesty without compassion. Maybe brutal honesty is just brutality. Michelle Reid addresses the question of whether honesty and kindness can coexist, and they can, if we stop and think before we speak. And I’d add, reread and think before you hit send on a text or email.

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If I am honest with myself at this moment, I should go fold that load of laundry waiting in the basket. But I’m going to choose kindness, and get back to my reading.

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Peace and hugs.

All mouth and no trousers

 

don't talk

Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words. Practice what you preach. Well done is better than well said. Walk the walk, talk the talk. It was George Bernard Shaw who wrote in 1903 in the play Man and Superman, “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” You can talk a good game but be full of empty promises.

GBS at 90
George Bernard Shaw at 90. He looks wise to me!

From Shakespeare, who said everything better than anyone else, in Richard III:

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Fear not, my lord, we will not stand to prate;
Talkers are no good doers: be assured
We come to use our hands and not our tongues.

BC as RIII
Benedict Cumberbatch portrays Richard III.

In other words, yep, shut up, we are here to get shit done.

Apparently, in the UK they say someone who is full of those empty promises is “all mouth and no trousers.” Which makes me think of the Wallace and Grommit movie The Wrong Trousers.

wrong trousers

 

 

Last month I attended my last required residential conference for my doctoral program at Saybrook University. No, that doesn’t mean I am anywhere near completion! One of the sessions I attended was about identifying our values and then living and leading by them. After we each winnowed a 2 page list of terms down to our personal top 3, we had to write the 3 on the backs of the name badges we wore throughout the conference.

Values

Since I could never make my badge hang right anyway, for the rest of the conference, what people saw if they looked was not my name but the words I had written. I kept waiting for someone to ask me about it, but no one did.

Maybe everyone thought I had the adorable hippie name Kindness Compassion Love. It’s easier to spell and pronounce than my actual name.

But I was quickly tested on living by my values. Of walking the walk. Of proving I wasn’t all mouth and no trousers. It wasn’t so easy. In that same values session, we broke out into small groups to discuss examples of leaders who we think of as living by their values. Normally in these sessions, our political alignments tend to be fairly aligned. I mean, come one, it’s an alternative university with twice yearly meetings in Monterey, California. Not a huge bastion of conservative Republicanism; in other words, it’s not Trump country. Just saying. But we are all allowed our own views and the safe space to express them, yes? And there are students at Saybrook from all over not just the country, but the world.

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The first student in our group, a new student in her first semester, prefaced her choice by saying that she realized she would be the only one in the room to choose who she was about to name. Then she said that to her, Trump (she said President Trump, which I refuse to do) is second only to God in leadership and values, and that she admires his family values and people skills. No joke. I sat in stunned silence for a moment. She was clearly serious, and I have to admit it took courage for her to take this stance in this group of people. She knew she was a minority of one. My mantra of “kindness compassion love” looped through my thoughts. I smiled, I babbled. I was friendly. Later, I made an effort to befriend this student. I could tell she felt lonely and somewhat ostracized in the group. Others, also shocked but wanting to walk their walk as well, talked to her, engaged her, made their best efforts to include in her group activities. But even though she seemed to relax a bit, she still kept herself somewhat separate from the class.

ostracized

It was an uncomfortable feeling to find myself so clearly tested on my values. I came away hoping I had learned a lesson in tolerance. And then it happened again at work.

Not a Trump incident, but in dealing with a difficult person in a public setting as a representative of the organization for which I work.

I work at an animal shelter. Emotions can run high in both directions. Yes, pople are often overjoyed at meeting their new best friend and getting to take them home. But people also cry over lost and deceased pets. They get upset when the animal they want to adopt has been adopted by someone else. They get frustrated when we don’t have the answers they want to hear. And we get frustrated when we are trying our best and the situation is still going downhill despite our best efforts. (Check out this list of tips from Psychology Today.)

There is a woman who lost her cat. She comes to the shelter looking to see if we have her cat. That’s reasonable. I would do the same. She is sad and angry about her missing cat. I get it. She is frustrated. Desperate even. She is not easy to talk to. Her anger and emotions get in the way. She perceives she is being treated badly, that people are being rude to her. I spent about half an hour with her, doing my best to practice kindness, compassion, love. To exercise my empathy muscles. Reminding myself that she is a very unhappy person and to be treated gently. It wasn’t easy, but I did my best. We did not have her beloved kitty. I hope she finds him. I hope she comes to realize some inner peace.

lost cat

As for myself, I will always be a work in progress. I have to exercise those empathy muscles so they don’t atrophy. To remind myself not to turn a blind eye to people who are homeless, to not turn my head the other way when I see suffering, to not bury my head in the sand when I don’t want to know what horrible things are happening in our world. Apathy is not one of my values, and I must do my best not to let it lull me to inaction or avoidance.

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In the words of essayist/philosopher/poet/filmmaker Suzy Kassem, “Apathy is the door to ignorance. Empathy is the door to wisdom.”

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Suzy Kassem

 

I want to be wise, not ignorant. So I am going to put on my trousers and get out there walking.

my projects

 

Peace and hugs.

Sometimes unexpected friendships are the best

I’ve been thinking a lot about odd couples, or what looking at from the outside seem like odd friendships. These musings started, as many of my musings do, watching the animals awaiting adoption at the animal shelter where I work (Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation, or ARF). Often, an animal housed with another animal will do better at the shelter, and in the home as well. So our behavior and animal care teams try out pairing roommates, and sometimes they come up with what turn out to be surprisingly winning combinations. Our marketing department even recently developed a campaign for 2 cats using The Odd Couple theme as a hook.

Cash and Swift
The Odd Couple, Cash (black) and Swift (tabby).

In Neil Simon’s play (1965), later a movie (1968) and then a television series (1970-1975), the mismatched roomates are the persnickety neatnik Felix Ungar and cigar-chomping slob Oscar Madison. On Broadway in 1965, Oscar was played by Walter Matthau (he seems to have been born for the role), with Art Carney as Felix.

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Water Matthau and Art Carney, 1965 production of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple.
Neil Simon
The ever-funny Neil Simon, still smiling at age 90.

 

Felix and Oscar were perfectly portrayed in the 1968 film by Jack Lemmon as Felix and Walter Matthau again as Oscar. When adapted for television, Tony Randall was cast as Felix and Jack Klugman as Oscar.

 

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Tony Randall and Jack Klugman as Felix and Oscar, 1974.

 

But back to Cash and Swift. Cash arrived at ARF as a tiny kitten with his sister Mermaid. The shyer of the 2, Cash watched as his sister and then several kitten roommates were adopted. Unfortunately, black cats, including kittens, tend to stay longer at the shelter awaiting adoption, so Cash was growing up at the shelter. I love our shelter, but kittens should grow up in homes with loving families. Swift, a little zany guy with a serious play drive, was so active that he overwhelmed his siblings. He, too, was the last of his litter reamining at the shelter. Cash was between roommates, and Swift needed a buddy, so the team decided to give them a shot, and it worked! Cash, in the role of Felix Ungar, taught Swift, as a tiny Oscar Madison, some calmer manners, and nutty Swift brought Cash out of his shell and showed him how to have fun. The first time I saw the 2 curled up together on their cat bed, I knew in my heart that they had to stay together. Others at ARF felt the same way, so we made sure to make a point of sending them to an adoptive home together.

bonded pair

 

It’s not quite as odd a pairing, but it seems to work, for another cat set of roommates: Nathan and Wynn. Nathan is another shy black kitten growing up at the shelter. Wynn is a little older and also very shy. Nathan has done well with roommates, and Wynn originally came in with 3 other cats, more outgoing than he and quickly adopted. Wynn was really shut down at first, cowering in a corner behind his cat tree. But he and Nathan, in an example of mutual support, are both getting a bit bolder every day. It’s sort of more like 2 Felixes making each other feel better about life.

 

 

I suppose I’ve been a part of some odd couples. Not so much personality-wise, but more in the Mutt and Jeff way of me being not-tall and many of my friends being not-short.

mutt_and_jeff

 

In the classic odd couple pairing, I was the quiet, good girl who ran off with the loud, bad boy (or wannabe bad boy, anyway). It worked until it didn’t anymore. That’s all water under the bridge, as they say.

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I was looking for famous examples of odd couples, not necessarily of the Hollywood celebrity variety, and this one in particular struck me: comedian Groucho Marx (1890-1977) and renowned poet, essayist, and critic T. S. Eliot (1888-1965). They became pen pals in 1961 (coincidentally the year I was born) and maintained a correspondence, finally meeting in person in 1964.

 

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The friendship supposedly began when the author of such profound classics as The Wasteland and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, wrote to Marx, who dropped out of school in the 7th grade, asking for his autograph. Yes, Eliot asked for Groucho’s autograph. My favorite lines from Prufrock:

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A Groucho Marx line that always makes me laugh:

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But as Groucho pointed out, they both liked puns, cigars, and cats. Remember, T. S. Eliot did write Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which Andrew Lloyd Webber adapted into the musical Cats in 1980.

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T. S. Eliot stops to say hello to a cat.
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Groucho Marx with one of his cats.

Of course, let’s not forget all of the cats who look like Groucho Marx.

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Another human odd couple that I am fascinated by: Pulitizer Prize winning playwright Arthur Miller (1915-2005) and actress Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962).

Miller And Monroe

They married in 1956 and divorced in 1961 (something about that year, 1961). Famous for such heavy-hitters as Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, Miller and sex symbol Monroe faced numerous hardships: investigations into Miller’s communist sympathies and Monroe’s depression, miscarriages, and drug use. Monroe died the year after their divorce, at age 36, of a barbiturate overdose. You know I had to look for a pet connection. Marilyn was an animal lover, saying, “If you talk to a dog or a cat, it doesn’t tell you to shut up.” That’s a really sad quote when you think about it.

 

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Monroe with one of the many animals she loved during her too-short life.

 

with Hugo
Miller, Monroe, and dog Hugo.

 

On a lighter note, there are so many examples of unlikely animal friendships: the gorilla Koko and her love of kittens, Bubbles the elephant and Bella the dog, Mabel the chicken and her puppies, to name a few. There are even several books available about these friendships.

animal friends

 

While not quite as exotic as some of these, our late Golden Retriever/Cocker Spaniel mix Sadie was mother to abandoned kittens Ben and Sara, and she and Ben were close their entire lives.

 

Sadie and Ben
Ben and Sadie in their senior years.

 

More in alignment with the original Felix and Oscar theme, we also have Misty, our gorgeous but persnickety 6 year-old diva of the Greta Garbo “I want to be let alone” school, and goofball and wild child, 1 year-old Marble, who insists that they play together. And sometimes Misty will play. When we decided to keep Marble, I was afraid Misty might try to hurt him, but he is persistent and she can’t help but play chase and wrestle with him. He is a force of nature, an irresistible force to her immovable object.

Misty and Marble
Misty, up top, with Marble, down below.

 

I was that unmovable object once, in the face of an irresistible force–a pit bull named Snuffalufagus. I never thought I’d feel so much affection for such a big dog. She changed my mind forever about pit bulls.

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She’s irresistible, and I turned out to be movable!

 

 

Don’t resist–make friends where you find them, even if they seem to be unlikely candidates. Greta Garbo didn’t say she wanted to be left alone, she said she wanted to be let alone, and there’s a big difference. Treasure your friends and family.

Peace and hugs.

Isn’t it romantic?

 

 

In my dreams, I’m swept off my feet by grand romantic gestures.

 

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As I’ve alluded to before, I have a guilty addiction to the Hallmark Channel and the endless stream of pretty much identical romantic comedies they produce.

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The Prince Charmings in these movies always make the grand romantic gestures look so easy. Et voilà–a room filled with flowers and lit with twinkly lights and an orchestra playing oh so softly and discreetly as the couple waltzes around said room in their designer jeans bought in the adorable boutique in America’s most charming small town filled with lovable, quirky characters.

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Abby and Trace in Chesapeake Shores on the Hallmark Channel, set in Maryland but filmed in Vancouver.

 

The movies are mostly filmed in Canada, so those impossibly charming towns aren’t really American. This only fuels my desire to move to British Columbia.

 

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Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

 

After one of these dreams, I woke up feeling a little melancholy. Where were the grand romantic gestures in my life? Then I realized, it depends on how you define romantic.

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In the romance department, I’ve received some pretty grand gestures from my significant other and my life is enriched because of him. We may never be the center of a Hallmark Channel movie, but we have a good life. Not that it’s always been easy, but we’ve worked hard and learned along the way.

Bob and Gen

 

Bob is my biggest cheerleader, always supportive and encouraging without being pushy.

 

cheerleader

 

I knew he was a keeper the first time he came to my house and wasn’t taken aback by the fact that 5 animals shared the house with me. I had kind of left that little detail out of the conversations we had had up to that point. Didn’t want to scare him off before he had a chance to meet them!

 

He loved these animal companions, and he loves the ones with us now.

 

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When I bring home foster cats and kittens, he jumps right in to help care for and socialize them. When I brought Marble home a little more than a year ago, he was the first to say we should keep him with us. Sharing our love for these animals we live with is pretty romantic in my book!

b and marb

 

Bob also acts as Barista Bob, fixing me coffee when he has time in the morning. Seriously, real romance is the smell of coffee in the morning. Flowers are nice but coffee is essential! He spent hours researching espresso machines to get just the right one. She’s been one of my best friends for a few years now. AND he got me the world’s best coffee travel cup–the Zojirushi “super-size me” in blue. One of the better “no ocassion” gifts I’ve ever received.

 

When I was divorced and thinking of dating, one of the things I worried about was finding a guy who loved books and reading as much as I do. Bob! He loves books, we both gravitate to bookstores when we explore new towns and cities. He’s even writing books now! Our bedside tables match in the growing piles of books we each can’t wait to read. Romance!

 

A couple of years ago, on Valentine’s Day, he did the most romantic thing I could have asked for–he installed the Little Free Library in our front yard. I swoon!

 

 

Every night after dinner while we binge watch whatever series we’ve been sucked into (currently Bloodline; intense!), we share a chocolate bar. Bob makes sure he buys the vegan ones that have animals on the labels. Of course, this routine might have something to do with me needing to lose 20 pounds, but he never says anything about that. That’s love!

 

Traditional romantic gestures still abound as well. He took me to Paris, a dream come true. He went up the Eiffel Tower with me even though he’s afraid of heights. He led me on a mission to see the Biblioteque Sainte-Geneviève.

 

 

On our recent trip to Iceland, knowing how badly I wanted to see a puffin, he made absolutely sure I got to see one, getting us on an excursion boat and taking that all important puffin photo. He also stopped the car every time I wanted to get up close to the gorgeous Icelandic horses and picture-perfect sheep.

 

 

I doubt he orchestrated it, but Bob was equally excited to meet the one and only cat we saw in Iceland. We named him Benson (after Ben, who is shown sticking his tongue out above). It was one of the best moments of the trip!

Iceland Benson

 

Next time I have a Hallmark Channel style dream of being romanced, swept off my feet, showered with flowers and stars, I will remember what romance really is to me–someone to share the things I love with, someone who accepts me for who am, someone who makes the gestures that really mean something over the long haul. Flowers fade, twinkly lights burn out. But this smile will always be with me.

Iceland Bob

 

As always, James Taylor has a song for this. Don’t take your loved ones for granted, and think about what true romance really means.

 

 

Peace and hugs.

So Far Away (I love you, Carole King)

Not so long ago, I went with my buddy Debra to watch the recent film of Carole King performing her groundbreaking Tapestry album at Hyde Park in London in 2016.

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Tapestry (1971) was on repeat play on the turntable in my sisters’ room when we were growing up. I have strong and fond memories of the music.

Tapestry

Debra, inviting me to go, remarked that I seemed like the type who would love Carole King. She was right.

The Hyde Park concert was amazing enough to watch as a film. It must have been magical to be there. First of all, Hyde Park in London. I’ve never been but it looks lovely in photos.

hyde park photo
Hyde Park, London

A huge and congenial crowd is in attendance, singing along with Carole and clearly connecting to her music, whether as a remembrance of a time past or as younger, newer listeners struck by the emotion and angst of the songs.

Tapestry itself is such a classic, every song a gem (except maybe Smackwater Jack, but I loved it when I was 10 and I still like to sing along with it). This is the list of songs on Tapestry:

  • I Feel the Earth Move
  • So Far Away
  • It’s Too Late
  • Home Again
  • Beautiful
  • Way Over Yonder
  • You’ve Got a Friend
  • Where You Lead
  • Will You Love Me Tomorrow
  • Smackwater Jack
  • Tapestry
  • Natural Woman

You’ve heard them all. I’ve sung them all. It’s a legendary work of art. But what I’ve noticed a month after seeing the film is that the one song that won’t leave me is So Far Away.

 

There’s so much about this song that keeps it on my mind. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and prone to nostalgia. The lyrics themselves provoke a sense of loneliness, time slipping away, a need for connection and love and friendship.

so far away

lyrics

I’ve been thinking of the notion of far away. It can be distance, it can be time, it can be a mental state. My sisters and my brothers are distance away–3,000 miles give or take. That’s far. Too far. My mother is time away; when I say time I mean earlier days and memories, not a discrete amount of time that can be traversed. She died in August, 2009. But I dream of her frequently and miss her every day. And then someone can be sitting right next to you and be far away, lost in thought, in another world, with you but not with you. I am sometimes that person who is far away, dreamy and distant.

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I wake up with So Far Away playing in my head. I will be listening to my audiobook of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and up will pop So Far Away. That is fitting in its way. If you know Anna’s story, she was ostracized by friends and family and the larger society, not allowed to see her beloved son. She was right there, but made to seem far away, even to herself. Spoiler alert–Anna’s story doesn’t end well. We need family, friends, connection.

anna

“One more song about moving along the highway can’t say much of anything that’s new.” So true. And it’s predominantly men who sing those moving on down the highway songs. The Allman Brothers and Ramblin’ Man as well as Midnight Rider. The Grateful Dead and Truckin’.  Ricky Nelson and Travelin’ Man. (And what’s with the dropped letter g, by the way?) Steve Miller took it to the skies with Jet Airliner. Steppenwolf and Born to be Wild. Pretty much anything from Bruce Springsteen’s album Nebraska (which I love).

 

 

Was it a coincidence that about 95% of the audience in the movie theater the night we went was female, of a certain age, and we all sang along? But it was So Far Away that had me wiping a tear from my eye. I can think of one other song that has this effect on me–James Taylor’s Shower the People (1976).

 

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Letting the people that you love know that you love them–it seems so simple yet it can be so difficult. It’s the subject of many a novel, play, movie. We carry such inner turmoil around showing love. Yet we crave love ourselves. James Taylor is a guy that gets it.

Again, not a coincidence that James Taylor and Carole King have a history going back more than 40 years, including him performing backing vocals on Tapestry. In addition to his own songs, he’s performed (and made famous) many of King’s songs, such as You’ve Got a Friend.

 

James has his own Highway Song; it seems to be a male rite of passage. Women want to seek out and befriend, men want to get moving along/away.

 

When I was younger, my ex-husband’s response to strife was to suggest we move. During our 20+ years of marriage, we lived in too many apartments and houses to count in several different towns, including Ashland, Oregon; Ankara, Turkey; Chico, Vacaville, Winters, Sacramento, Davis, Fairfield, and Napa in California. I think what he really wanted was to move on without me. Now, with Bob, we’ve lived in this same house for the 13 years we’ve been together. It’s a nice feeling to be at home! Yes, he travels, but I always know he’ll be back, and be happy to be back. He’s never so far away that I can’t reach him.

Come visit us sometime; it would be so fine to see your face at our door. As long as you aren’t allergic to dogs and cats. They help make this place home, too.

 

 

Made to Order (Or, Just Accept Us All for Who We Are)

I woke up thinking about the little girl I never had, who I wrote about a little bit in Broken Dreams. In my fantasies, she loves to do the things I love to do. We would read together, I would teach her how to cook, of course she’d love animals, and we’d fingerpaint whenever possible. But maybe she wouldn’t have enjoyed these things. She might have prefered super heroes and running outside, climbing trees, and getting into mischief. Or maybe she would have been a math and science whiz, and smarter than me! Or maybe she’d have been all kinds of things. And of course I would have loved her no matter what.

 

Maybe in a science fiction movie or some weird clinic somewhere, you can put in your order of what your child will be, but it doesn’t work that way for the most part. On internet dating sites, you can look all you want for that perfect person who meets all of your criteria, but no one is exactly perfect and we shouldn’t expect them (or ourselves) to be so.

charlie

Working with adopters at an animal shelter, every day I talk with someone with very exact criteria of what they are looking for. For example: a small, white, hypoallergenic dog who is house-trained, doesn’t bark, likes kids, cats, other dogs, and can be left alone all day. Or a short-haired female kitten who is snuggly, playful, good with small children, dogs, chickens, litter-box trained, won’t scratch the couch, and just this shade of brown tabby. These are not realistic parameters.

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I’ll try to direct people to what I think are good fits for what they describe, but then they also expect to feel an instant bond, for the animal to look into their eyes and give them the sign that “this is the one”. Much like when we are meeting people, friendship can be slow to develop. Love at first sight is common in movies, but not so much in real life. We need to spend time together, get to know each other, and look beyond the superficial traits to the ones that really matter.

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Love at first sight might not turn out well. Look what happened to Romeo and Juliet, or to Tony and Maria.

 

Picking a companion animal based on looks often fails. Take the ubiquitous family with toddlers and an older dog who insist that the big beautiful young German Shepherd is the perfect dog for their family despite what we tell them about breed traits, jumpiness, keeping working dogs both physically and mentally engaged, energy levels, etc. Yes, sometimes it works beautifully. And sometimes the dog will be returned to the shelter within days for “being more than they could handle” or “knocks the children over” or “doesn’t get along with resident dog”.

bored dog
A bored dog is a naughty dog, as we say.

 

It reminds me of women who yearn after the cute bad boy only to find out later what a jerk he really is, while the really nice guy has been sitting there all along. All of her best friends warned her, but she wouldn’t listen. Of course this is a common movie theme, much like love at first sight, but it happens. Trust me. I have an ex-husband out there.

bad-boy

Don’t get me wrong. I am thrilled that people are coming to the shelter rather than going to pet stores or breeders. Sometimes love at first sight works for the human and the dog or cat. Just the other day a young woman took home a scruffy little dog who had been returned once already; she met him and loved him, went home to think about, and came back about an hour later, hoping he was still available, because she was sure he was right. And I believe it. They were perfect together.

scruff

Sometimes the so-called “imperfect” ones, the one-eyed cat or the three-legged dog, are the most awesome friends you could ever ask for. And they deserve a chance at love and a good life just as much as any others. It’s what I call the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree approach. Love and attention made that tree beautiful; it was the one nobody else wanted but Charlie Brown saw that it needed him and it showed itself to be the special tree that it was all along.

What frustrates me is people who come in having seen a picture of an animal on the shelter’s web site. They want that one. Only that one. They don’t want to meet any other animals. And if the one they want has been adopted or isn’t perfect when they meet, they aren’t willing to meet a different dog or cat. Maybe the one you haven’t considered is the one for you. Think about it. It doesn’t hurt to give love a chance.

chance

 

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Broken Dreams

 

I had a dream about dreams. In the dream, the one I had while asleep; the kind where you see weird stories and wake up in the morning thinking, “What was that all about,” there was a bittersweet moment in which a beloved person looked at me and referred to broken dreams, at which I smiled.

dreams.jpg

I woke up wondering what that was all about. Do I have broken dreams? In the literal dream I seemed to recognize the reference to my broken life dreams. This sounds so sad, yet it was also a romantic moment in the dream, that connection you have looking in the eyes of another person and feeling an understanding.

Are my broken dreams educational? I did have dreams of an Ivy League university with ivy-covered old brick buildings and finally fitting in somewhere. But I went to a small state school, dropped out, and then eventually went back to a big state school, which I loved. And now I am working on my PhD, which is mostly online, so the whole ivy-covered brick building idea is a thing of the past anyway.

ivy

 

Or is it my ever-downward career spiral; downward in terms of monetary rewards, not the mental or emotional ones. Yes, I had dreams there, too. Once to be an artist until I realized artists have to be really savvy at representing themselves if they don’t want to starve, Then of a museum career, which I did for a while. That dream seemed promising until it turned sour last year. And now I am in what I realize is my dream job after all—working at an animal shelter helping connect people and homeless animals and making lives better. I make almost no money, but I love going to work every day. And that is a rare gift.

shrem 1
Seemed like a good idea at the time.

I’ve had ups and downs along the way in my love life, of course. A marriage that seemed good until it didn’t, and a divorce that was painful but from which I ultimately came out of a stronger, smarter person. For a while. Until I hit the next relationship bump in the road, which was really more of a mountain, but I climbed that mountain and came down sober, determined, and excited about life. Thank you, Bob, for climbing that mountain with me.

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Children. There it is. I never had children. I am not childless by choice but by the fickleness of human biology. I would have adopted in a heart beat, but in a relationship, I firmly believe that both partners should agree to as big a decision as children, so I gave that dream up. And sometimes it still hurts terribly when I see happy families and children being children. For a while, I wouldn’t go to baby showers. Now I am too old to have friends that are having baby showers. I have great-nieces and great-nephews. I am old enough to be a grandmother. And at night, asleep, I do still dream of that little girl I longed for. She’s a smart, impish, sprite of a thing, with blue eyes and strawberry-blond hair and my mother’s cute button nose. She has a wreath of flowers on her head. She holds my hand. I call her Jessa, short for Jessamyn. She sometimes seems real to me. I drew a picture of her once, but I put it away because it makes me cry to look at it.

flower girl

 

But (there’s always that but), I see how scary crazy the world is right now, and hear how for the first time in America, children will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. For so long, there was an assumption that each generation did better than the one before. That is gone, as far as I can tell. I travel through Oakland and San Francisco, even Berkeley, and there are so many parts that look like so-called Third World countries. It’s heart-breaking. And it getting worse, not better.

Would I deny myself my Jessa if I could have had her? No, of course not. But she wasn’t meant to be, so I try to reconcile myself to that. Does this make a broken dream? I suppose so. But life goes on. Kittens need to be fostered. And I can meet lots of Jessa-like children at the animal shelter, and help them meet the dog or cat of their dreams. One of my favorite sounds in the world is that of a child squealing when she or he sees the animal that is the one they can’t live without. “Mom, I NEED that cat!” I’ve said those words, and I love to hear them. And I can help. Dream come true.

the first foster
My first foster kitten, Abracadabra.

Peace and hugs.

 

 

Why We Won’t Be Keeping Chiclet (meant to convince myself more than anyone else)

Meet Chiclet.

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Now that we are all in love with our current foster kitten Chiclet, here’s why this won’t be a foster fail. If you believe all of this, great! I’m trying. I haven’t been quite this attached to a foster since I’ve been fostering for the East Bay SPCA.

Last night, Bob broached the conversation of keeping her. Not because he thinks we should, but because he knows I want to. This was such a sweet gesture, and he firmly keeps the World’s Best Boyfriend crown on his head.

us

Of course I wanted to squeal in delight and jump up and down, but I was trying to be sensible. Silly me!

Here’s the rundown:

  1. She is highly adoptable. The minute she’s available, there will be people falling in love with her and wanting to give her a loving home. If I am going to foster fail again, I’d rather save my Keep the Cat card for one who is going to have a harder time. You know, that 3-legged, 1-eyed, snaggle-toothed one with a personality disorder. Who won’t have everyone oohing and aahing and filling out adoption paperwork at blink of a kitten eye.
Bill
Bill the Cat needs love too.

 

2. We have 3 cats and a dog living with us already. I don’t want to be a hoarder.

confessions-animal-hoarding-facts-020

 

3. Sara is going to be 19 this summer. Does she really want another kitten in the house? We recently added Marble, aka the Tasmanian Devil, to the lineup. Maybe Sara would like some peace and quiet in her twilight years.

Sara.JPG
Peace and quiet, please.
Sara meets Chiclet
Maybe, maybe not.

 

4. Poor Einstein can’t catch a break. He’s a very patient dog, but will another cat be the last straw? And he’d like some time and attention, too! Walkies!!!

Einstein
What about me??

 

4. The aforementioned Tasmanian Devil.

Taz-Looney_Tunes.svg

Marble isn’t a year old yet and is a handful! When we tried introducing him to previous foster kitten Pepper, he grabbed her by the throat. Not good. If I have to spend my time making sure one cat doesn’t kill the other, I will not be happy or pleasant to be around.

 

5. Misty. When we adopted Misty, she was considered “unadoptable” because she really doesn’t like people. Can’t blame her. She was treated roughly during the 4 years before she came to us. She’s slowly coming around, but VERY slowly. She’s great with Marble, and might be fine with Chiclet, but like Einstein, she could use some more special time and attention.

Misty
Unadoptable, says who?

 

6. The family just waiting to meet Chiclet. It would be selfish of me to keep her. I imagine the 8 or 9 year old me meeting Chiclet and falling in love. How can I stand in the way of another child’s destiny??? Those moments at the animal shelter when I hear a child say, “Mom, I NEED this cat!” are why I work there.

girl with cat

 

7. We aren’t getting any younger. If Marble lives to be 20 (perfectly possible), I will be 75 and Bob will be 81. Should we really keep getting kittens? Maybe we should adopt older cats when we adopt more. Senior cats need homes too, and what better match than a senior with a senior?

old-adopted-cat-37__605

 

8. When I take Chiclet and her mother Sugar Cube back to the East Bay SPCA, I make room in our home for another foster family, helping to continue the cycle of saving lives. Isn’t that the point? We have fostered 32 cats for the East Bay SPCA since we started back with Abracadabra in 2015.

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Mama Sugar Cube with her little Chiclet.
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Abracadabra!

This count does not include Marble, who was a rescue of a different sort (that might or might not have been entirely legal but it was definitely in his best interest).

Will it be hard taking her back to the shelter? Yes. Will I be sad? Yes. Will I sing sad songs? Undoubtedly. I’ve already got one picked out, Irving Berlin’s What’ll I Do? as sung by Rosemary Clooney.

 

 

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What’ll I Do?, Irving Berlin, 1923

 

But I’ll get up, dust myself off, and find out who my next foster family is. I’ll fall in love again. Life goes on.

Up next: Take Me Out to the Ball Game!, in which there will be no mention of cats but lots of baseball, the Arizona desert, and a side trip to the Musical Instrument Museum. Stay tuned!

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Once upon a time…

Ah, another sleepless night. Hello insomnia, my old friend. Often when I can’t sleep, my brain takes a nostalgic turn, so here I am listening to the dog snore and dredging up childhood memories again (see Be It Ever So Humble…). This happens more often than I’d like these days. Is this what my golden years are going to be like? And by golden years, I mean the “I am getting old” kind, not the cool David Bowie song kind.

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This isn’t really a new phenomenon in my life. I remember lots of sleepless nights. Often I would lie awake in the dark on the nights before a big day at school: the first day of the new school year, the day I had to do anything in front of the class (my biggest dread), if I had a really awesome new outfit to wear or new haircut, if I thought I might see whichever cute boy I had a crush on, all kinds of triggers.

It goes back even earlier. When I was a little one at Bassett Kindergarten in Decatur, Georgia, there was the worst time of the day–nap time. We’d roll out our mats, the teacher would turn out the lights, and while all the other kids drifted off to sleep, I’d lie there in the darkened room wishing it would be over or that I could have a book to look at. I do not nap.

Kindergarten Gen - Version 2
Kindergarten, 1960-something. I’m in the lower right in the stylish red knee socks. I still love colorful legwear.

Sleeplessness didn’t look so bad on me then. Now, I can use some beauty sleep.

sleepless in Oakland
Sleepless in Oakland.
sleepless
Sleepless in Surry.

Sometimes I think I was a cat in a previous life. I like curling up in sunny spots, I prefer to be alone, I hate the wind and dislike riding in cars. But there are 2 ways I could never be a cat–I don’t eat meat and I have trouble sleeping. Cats don’t have trouble sleeping.

Some of my sleepless childhood nights have a soundtrack. I was afraid to sleep in my own room. There was a weird gleam off of the fence post outside of my window that made me think of eyes watching me. Even with the shade pulled down, I knew it was out there. So I sometimes acted true to the pesky baby sister stereotype and camped in my teenaged sisters’ bedroom, which in my mind was huge and fun and full of cool things (a television, a phone, inscrutable hair and make-up products, high school text books). They had a record player, and often put a stack of albums on to play through the night to lull them to sleep. So dark sleepless nights came with the sounds of their favorite music: Carole King, Barbra Streisand, popular movie soundtracks.

stackable

beetle
There was a jeweled beetle pin that Cathy and Ellen would place on top of the stack of records for extra weight. Not sure why. Or was it on the needle to keep it from skipping?

Maybe to get me to sleep in my own room, I was given my own record player, a cute little portable in a red box.

red record player

I got to pick out my own records! I loved playing my mother’s old 45 of the Mills Brothers singing Glow Worm (1957).

Like my sisters, I loved a good movie soundtrack, but in my case, it was mostly a Disney-leaning collection.

Peter and the Wolf

My first attempt at coolness was when I bought the 45 of Dobie Gray’s Drift Away in 1973, leaving Disney behind. Here is a 1992 performance:

We also had a record player (aka, a turntable) in the den. I have so many memories of that room! Mostly around either reading in the green arm chair or watching the miracle of color television (we had color, but this was before remotes or cable, children). I was not an active child, clearly. I seem to remember a Danish Modern stereo cabinet with a vertical filing section for the albums.

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Perhaps something like this.

But I don’t remember what records were stored in there! I know my mother loved the singer John Gary, so I’m sure there were a few of his albums. And I know we had the Andy Williams Christmas album, a classic and well-loved in the Cottraux home.

christmas

John Gary (1932-1998) is probably someone not many people are familiar with anymore, but he was quite popular in the 1960s, known for songs like Catch a Falling Star and So Tenderly.

The song I remember is Once Upon a Time, written by Charles Strouse (music) and Lee Adams (lyrics), from the 1962 musical All American.

all american

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It was performed by many artists, including Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, and apparently, Tom Jones (if you trust Wikipedia). I have to find this recording, if it exists; I love Tom Jones! I did find a version of Bob Dylan singing it at a Tony Bennett 90th birthday tribute.

But the version I know is John Gary’s. And it’s beautiful. And I will always think of my mother when I hear it.

In my imagination, then and now,  it was my late father, who died young and tragically in 1962, singing to my mother from heaven (see Nancy and Pete: A Love Story). I was a romantic even then.

daddy
One of the few pictures I have of my father.

As I write this, I wonder how accurate my childhood memories mwight be. According to some scientists, not very! Our brains are susceptible to false childhood memories. I’m not sure I want to know, but if you do, read this! Yes, human memory is fallible. But I like the bubble I live in just fine.

bubble
The Swiss-designed Cocoon I. I want one. Now.

When my mother got her first and only CD player, my sister Cathy sent her a CD of John Gary songs. I thought maybe I had it in my CD cabinet, but if I do, I couldn’t find it. I might have a degree in library and information science, but I can never find anything on my book or music shelves. Like the cobbler’s children have no shoes, the librarian’s books have no order.

cobbler-and-barefoot-boy

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If John Gary is in here, I don’t see him.

'Where in the world did I put the book, 'How to Organize Your Home Library'?'

I think I’ll add home library organization of things to do in my golden years. Unless I am too busy catching up on my sleep.

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Peace and hugs. And sweet dreams.