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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

 

 

Be It Ever So Humble…

There’s no place like home. I’ve been awake for a while, listening to the rainstorm outside. Despite what people from other parts of the country say, we DO have weather in California. And right now I am watching out the window, waiting for an ark full of animals to float past.

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I did sleep for a while, and in my dreams, I tried to buy my childhood home. I called the owners. I have no idea who they might be. I’ve written about my dreams and phobias (see  Tim Gunn and Ruby Dee walk into a bar… ) before;  I must’ve really wanted that house in the dream if I used the telephone. I offered them half-a-million dollars for the house. No, I don’t have that kind of money. Never will! When you talk about those sums, it might as well be play money.

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Granted, half-a-million dollars doesn’t get you anything in the real estate market in the Bay Area of California, but maybe it still does in Atlanta, Georgia.

I often dream of the house in which I spent my early childhood  (see Look Homeward, Angel, or Things Thomas Wolfe Said). When I can’t sleep, I try to draw the floorplan in my head. This morning, I actually tried sketching it out. I have the proportions wrong, but the basics I think are right. Note that my mother sold the house in 1972 and I have not been inside of it since, and have only seen it from the outside a few times when visiting my family. But I remember this house better than almost any other house I have lived in. The memories include sense memories like smells from the kitchen (and the boy funk smell of my brother’s room); the taste of tomato sandwiches; the darkness in my sisters’ room at night, where I often slept on the floor between their beds; the feel of the green recliner chair in the den, where I curled up with books and cats.

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I don’t have many pictures from those times; my mother lost a lot of the old photos in a house fire in 1987.

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Early days in the backyard of the house, before the additions in the 1960’s. I am the little one on Mom’s lap.
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The street view on Google Maps.

There’s no place like home, so they say. Dorothy had Toto and Auntie Em, I had Luke and 3 older siblings.

I also had my trusty stead, which I also said goodbye to when we moved to California in 1972.

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Apparently I really liked that outfit.

Is there really no place like home?

Why are the memories of our childhood homes so vivid? And are they accurate? According to writer Lauren Martin,

“The past is as elusive a dream as the future. Always distorted, always yearned for, and always seen as better days. It keeps us from the truth of the present and the pain of reality. It’s seen as something beautiful, something irrevocable and somewhere that will always be better than where we are now.”

In The Psychology of Returning to Your Childhood Home, psychology professor Jerry Burger “found that almost everyone who visits a childhood home goes to the place they lived from the ages of five to 12. Burger says people have an emotional attachment to their childhood home because it’s a part of their self-identity, and the self is developed between the ages of 5 and 12.”

He distills this need to revisit our childhood homes to 3 main reasons:

-a wish to reconnect with childhood.

-a desire to reflect on the past when going through a crisis or problem.

-unfinished business from childhood.

Okay, I can see some of all of those in my dream forays to 1737 Dyson Drive.

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Especially the unfinished business from childhood. In my case, an unfinished childhood. My widowed mother remarried in 1972 and split up the family, taking me and my brother from Atlanta to Sacramento while my sisters stayed in Atlanta. Mom’s second husband was a mean drunk who called me Little Shit. We moved several times, necessitating changes in schools. I spent my pre-teen and teen years mostly in my bedroom, drawing pictures, reading, and talking to the cats. I married young and drank too much myself. It’s no wonder I’ve idealized those years before 1972, and the house has come to symbolize that time.

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My relationship with my stepfather in a nutshell. I’m the pissed off one being held into the picture by my sister Ellen.

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Kathleen Hughes writes in The Wall Street Journal of our desire to return to our childhood homes:

“While most people say they want to return simply out of curiosity, psychologists say the visits reflect a subconscious desire to bring childhood into perspective as an adult. For baby boomers stressed by aging parents and teenagers, the visits may offer a quick route back to memories of a better time—an era when parents were healthy, families were still intact, children felt loved and the world at least seemed safer than it does now.”

Jungian analyst Dr. John Beebe describes it:

“A lot of people haven’t fully left home,” Dr. Beebe says. “Some people need to go back [in order] to move on.”

Others, while claiming to be “just curious” about seeing their childhood home, may have a deeper motive, he suggests: a desire to reconnect to the way they felt as a child before life—school, careers and families—required so many compromises. “In adapting to the world, we all lose some of our soul,” Dr. Beebe says. “When we make the journey back, we find some of our soul again.”

For me, it often leads to the question, how would my life be different if we had stayed? I also ask the question, how would my life be different if my father hadn’t died when I was a baby? These questions are interesting to ponder, but ultimately don’t change the paths our lives took. And the paths are what make us who we are. It’s taken me a long time, but I like who I am now.

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I am studying story and narrative this semester prior to going into the writing and research phase of my PhD. One can’t study narrative structure without running into the inimitable mythologist Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) and his writings on the Hero’s Journey.

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In 1988, Bill Moyers released on PBS “Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth”, 6 1-hour conversations with Dr. Campbell on what enduring myths can tell us about our lives and how the Hero’s Journey translates into our personal journeys.

There has been feminist critique of Campbell’s “somewhat lopsided and masculine view” (Laura Kerr). In his lifetime, Campbell did not publish a book on the woman as hero, but he did leave writings and lectures, which were published posthumously in 2013 as Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine (Joseph Campbell Foundation). A short excerpt is available at New World Library.

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I also like this quote from Muhammad Ali; just substitute person for man.

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I definitely don’t view the world the same way in my 50s as I did in my 20s. I probably have more in common with the 9-year old me with my bike and my cat and corkscrew curls than the me in my 20s! And that’s okay. When I feel homesick, I can travel to Dyson Drive in my head, reliving the feeling of the sun coming through the window while I read Doctor Dolittle in the scratchy green reclining chair. I can even see the dust motes in the light. I’ll set it to the soundtrack of James Taylor singing his 1968 song about homesickness, “Carolina in My Mind.”

Peace and hugs.

Making a kitten video becomes a music appreciation lesson

Smart phones and social media have made it possible for me to indulge myself in my fantasy world of talking animals that I so believed in as a child. I was a shy, quiet, bookish girl, lost in my stories of animals and little people like The Wind in the Willows and The Borrowers (see Some of the books that made me a life-long reader). If I had access to video and the internet in the 1960s, I am sure I would have been unbearable, dressing the family pets in clothes and making them act in weddings and other such human activities. But I can have my second childhood now and let my mind go back to that precious place.

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Today was the day that the most recent family of foster kittens left our care to return to the shelter for their next steps in the adoption process. So the 10-year old that lives in my head decided we needed to make a graduation ceremony video. My cameraman (cough, cough, Robert Ward) kept getting his hand in the picture, but we are still working on our technique.

 

You can’t have a graduation without playing Pomp and Circumstance.

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Which is where the story takes a turn from kittens to musicians. As we were driving the kittens to the East Bay SPCA, Bob, who happens to be a classical musician, said, “Elgar is the James Taylor of classical music.” Um, what? This required some explanation.

NPG x11894; Sir Edward Elgar, Bt by Charles Frederick Grindrod
Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
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James Taylor (born 1948)

James Taylor has a way of creating a sentimental, nostalgic, introspective mood that often seems to look back on better days and times.

 

Matthew Riley wrote an entire book on Edward Elgar and the Nostalgic Imagination (2007, Cambridge University Press). He uses terms like vanished greatness, a lament for times past, childhood and the countryside of an old England as musical subject matter. The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th were times of great change, and Elgar’s music was a look at times past, not a look forward to the future. Arguably, the same can be said for James Taylor reflecting on the late 20th century/early 21st century.

While driving me and the kittens (I see a new story called Driving Miss Crazy Cat Lady in here somewhere), Bob put the car audio system on Elgar’s Piano Quintet in A Minor. It’s quite lovely. Here it is performed at the North York Moors Festival in 2013.

 

It was suggested by my instructor that I might like the Enigma Variations as well. I do have a taste for both nostagia and melancholy, but I usually lean toward sad and folky singer/songwriters since I am still fairly ignorant of the classical music world after all these years (sorry Bob).

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The Enigma Variations (1898-1899) comprise 14 variations on an original theme, each variation being a musical sketch of a loved one or close acquaintance. I won’t post all 14, but here is a selection, Nimrod, the 9th variation and tribute to Elgar’s great friend Augustus Jaeger, performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with conductor Daniel Barenboim in 1997.

 

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Music editor Augustus Jaeger (1860-1909).

Another singer/songwriter in the musical world I inhabit is Natalie Merchant.

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Natalie Merchant (born 1963).

Whenever I take a foster cat family back to the shelter, saying goodbye to them always makes me think of the song Break Your Heart.

 

Did Sir Elgar like animals? I have no idea. I assume Natalie Merchant does, although I couldn’t find an image of her with any. She did allow the use of her song My Skin on one of those heart-breaking and tear-inducing ASPCA ads, which is too hard to watch so I am not showing it here. But this is the song:

 

I know James Taylor likes animals. His cat, Ray Taylor, is often featured in JT’s social media.

 

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James and Ray Taylor.

Now that we’ve come full circle back to cats (I knew I could do it), I will leave you with this. Please consider fostering for your local shelter. It will add joy to your life, and help the shelter save more lives. You might even meet your new best friend, like Marble here, who entered our lives as a foster and now is a member of our furry family (see The one that didn’t get away).

marble

Peace and hugs.