Through the Muck

 violet

I have a big dog. A Great Dane in fact, and this morning I was out back collecting some spring flowers that only seem to thrive in the places where we’ve dumped her winter offerings collected from the snow covered yard. A 135 pound dog can create an impressive volume of offerings. It’s a ritual; following her after her daily constitutional with the blue metal scooper and carrying the mess to the side beds to toss it just over the ornamental rail where it decomposes beneath grapevine, clematis, day lilies, azalea and other sleeping things in the garden.

By May, after the mess has been incorporated into the soil and mulched, it’s a tiny jungle of green. As I crouch down to move the lush green leaves and collect the delicate violets and lily-of-the-valley that grow there, every brush of my hand against the petals will cause a cloud of heady fragrance to perfume the air. The amazing scent these tiny bell shaped flowers give off herald spring and all the little things that have returned after our punishing Michigan winters. They bloom and thrive for a few short weeks and then they’re gone. Waiting for next winter’s feeding to gather the steam to do it all again.

These beautiful, tiny wonders were fed from the mess that was once dog crap. Hey, it’s fertilizer. Whether it comes from cows or another creature, the nutrients and organisms make for rich ground.

Dog shit. Who knew that out of such an unpleasant situation, some of the most fragrant and lovely flowers could rise from the muck and thrill the lucky recipient of the bloom? It got me thinking about other things; people even, who started their lives in awful, challenging and difficult situations and somehow turned their time on Earth into a blazing wonder of creativity.

I have bought, and received, gorgeous hothouse flowers; roses and other things that look absolutely perfect from a distance. Moving closer I am always disappointed to find there is hardly a scent to them at all. Pressing my nose right into the blooms I find nothing; as if they were silk and a Made in China paper tag should be found stuck to the stem near the plastic thorns.

These flowers have been given the perfect setting, just enough water, nutrients, light and tending to produce perfect petals and uniform color. They bloom on time for the growers and are cut and delivered to market like obedient little children; having done their homework and gotten the proper eight hours of sleep each night. Everything…right. Everything…calculated and perfect. And they are that; perfect. Flawless. Soul-less. Lifeless and perfect.

These hot house flowers are like so many boarding-school, trust-fund children; their path from birth to death a safe and predictable journey. Bred and trained to maintain the family’s reputation and to protect the fortune amassed by relatives until the young reach an age when they can quietly whither in their private gardens observed by those who can afford the luxury of their physical beauty.

Call me crazy but I’ll take a handful of dog-shit-fed, knock-you-on-your-ass-with-their-heavenly-scent, drive way throw off, back-garden lily-of-the-valley any day over the surgical beauty of a hothouse rose.

I’ll take my friends and my heroes like that too. The people I know who started out fighting their way through the shit are the shining stars that make life fascinating. They took what they were fed and used it as fertilizer for books they’ve written, for art they have made, for inspiration to grow on through the mess. The ones who came from nothing; even the wealthy rebels who rejected the attempts to conform them to the family cookie cutter shape, they have brought a bouquet of fantastic memories to anyone lucky enough to meet them.

Here’s to starting life in a pile of crap and coming up smelling like heaven…

 

lily of the valley

 

 

 

Other Projects

“So, what do you do?” God, that question. I never know how to answer that. I don’t have a neat little job description like insurance actuary, doctor, real estate agent. Those would explain in a few words, exactly what you’ve been up to for decades. When people ask me what I do my awkward response usually begins with, “Umm…” It probably leads them to the conclusion that my work involves things that I would rather not explain.

Like my friends who also trip over that question-my background reads like several different people tossed their odd jobs onto a community resume and the amalgamation was used for my new identity after fleeing a war torn nation.   I’ve been a writer, a tour guide, a gift shop owner, a metaphysical counselor complete with tarot card readings, past life regressions and hypnotherapy. Very early on, I was a directory assistance operator (Remember 411? Yep. That.) I was even an airport security person in Phoenix long before a post 9/11 world. I’ve worked as a photographer and assistant and also did design and marketing under contract for a University.

It’s a big old casserole of accepting opportunities because they sounded interesting to me. Because of my willingness to hang my ass out there and learn on the fly, I have been asked to do all sorts of interesting things including script and assist in the direction of a destination promotional film. It was a two week gig with a crew of mostly Spanish speaking editors and long nights in Miami drinking Cuban coffee and surprising the guys when they were tired enough to lapse into Spanish and I could still follow their commentary on the film cuts. I must have been too tired as well to remember that I only have the most rudimentary knowledge of anything but English.

This year, just for the hell of it, get out a notepad and write down all the odd jobs that you could still do in a pinch and all the hobby skills you have acquired in your lifetime. You may be shocked at just how much stuff you actually know how to do. Don’t leave out weird stuff like knowing how to drive a motorcycle. I taught my kid sister how to drive one in a short afternoon. Still drive a stick shift or know how if you had too? Me too. I keep telling people who dismiss this skill that someday when all the computers crash they are going to be staring at the high-tech giant paper holder in their driveway and I will be driving my manual shift car over to rescue them. That’s a skill and one that someone may ask you to teach them so brush up.

I take a lot of photographs. That started with a brownie camera as a kid and graduated through several 35mm models, my favorite being my lightweight and trusty Olympus OM-1. That thing went everywhere with me. Like a cave person, I have yet to purchase myself a decent digital camera. That is on the horizon. For now I have set a challenge to take interesting photos using only my cellphone camera. I have a Samsung Galaxy S4 and it has a pretty decent little system.

Yesterday I found the website YouPic and decided to upload only my cellphone photo portfolio. At first I uploaded a handful of pictures and as the day progressed I continued to toss more out there as I retrieved them from my sd card. When I opened the site this morning to upload a few more photos I saw that I’d gotten 5,229 views. That was shocking. How the hell are that many people enchanted by my cat? Who knows?

The next thing I did was peruse the “fans” I had acquired while I was sleeping and I started to go through some of their uploads. Granted, some are professional photographers with some serious equipment though many are amateurs who managed to capture life on Earth in spectacular pictures. I am blown away by the talent out there. They have skills! I have skills! You have skills! Remember those?

Next time you are tempted to sit your ass on a sofa and stare blankly at a TV screen, take a minute and make that skill list I mentioned. Then get up, off your ass, and do one of those things for at least an hour. Remember some of the thousand things you one day thought that you might be and pick up that guitar, or that cooking pot or paint brush or Bic pen and MAKE SOMETHING. And if you need some inspiration, say hi to my cats at: https://youpic.com/photographer/mimidifrancesca/mimi.difrancesca-from-michigan-united-states

UPDATE: Four days after opening the YouPic site there are now 13,422 views and 252 Followers. Dang. That Lucca is one sexy cat.

Lucca

What I’ve Seen…Reaching 60

Arteyes

Tomorrow is my birthday. It’s a big one. Sixty. At this auspicious moment I am wondering how the hell did this many years pass so ridiculously fast?

When my kids were young teens itching to do something they weren’t ready for yet, I would get out the construction tape measure. I would lay it out to 100 inches and chalk where their ages fell and how long their wait really was to participate in the activity that eluded them. Then I would point down the line to how many more times they could do that forbidden thing in the one hundred or so years they had to live their lives. It made the two inches from 14 to 16, when their driver’s license would come seem like the paltry eye blink that it was.

Looking back down my own line of numbers, already passed, I am embracing my million moments that drew together to make me. Gathered knowledge is just hoarding thoughts until you share it. For what it’s worth, these are some of the things I have seen.

Even if you grew up watching shows like Friends and assuming adulthood would be a constant coffee klatch with your across the hall neighbors, you will spend most of your time alone in this life. Unless you are conjoined, this is the way of the world. And if you can’t be at peace in your times of solitude, why in the hell would you think other people would be interested in spending time with you either? Learn shit. Get interested and then you will be interesting-to yourself and to others.

The greatest lesson for young teen abstinence should be the fact that the first person you get naked with will-in all likelihood-not be the last. With the exception of the four couples you will meet who are childhood sweethearts-you will swim into and out of tubs, ponds, raging rivers and oceans of love in all its forms until you find somewhere that becomes your place in the world. That’s where you will build your home- however early or late in life you find it and trying to pitch a tent anywhere else will give temporary shelter and nothing more.

When people close to you lash out it is usually because they want you to love them more than it appears you do. If you pay attention, people will tell you what they want-so listen.

Most people, even the most hardened among us, still have a soft, gooey center and if you are paying attention and listening you can figure out what they love. That is what made them gooey like that in the first place. If they showed you the gooey love, they shared the keys to their castle. Honor that.

There are seven billion people on this planet. When you are not famous, the statistical magic of finding one person who can see you for the blazing light you actually are is a gift rarer then the most expensive gemstone. Own that.

Real love never dies. It only changes shape to accommodate the way you live now.

The secret to happiness is this: figure out what you want and find a way to ask for it.

Love is your own personal experience. It sparks and blooms inside your own head-like a private revelation; a movie only you can see. Even if the object of your affection does not return your ardor with the same intensity or at all, never hold regret for having felt that feeling. To know what love feels like is like visiting the most beautiful place on Earth. Not everyone will go there in their lifetime but you have, and you can tell others what it feels like to stand in the center of all that beauty; what it is to see the blazing light of someone else and have it warm your soul even if it’s just for a moment. It will change you forever; no matter if life or death moves you far away from that other person, it will remain part of who you are now.

What I have seen while I have run, swam, played, danced, loved, fought, created, walked, crawled, bled, cried and laughed my way through the sixty years on planet Earth comes down to this: love. It always comes down to that. And on the last day I get in this life, it will still be about love; who I loved and who loved me.

That is where I have a cave of treasure like Aladdin. I remember all the love my heart has felt. It fills my pens, my brushes, my cooking pots and the large broken parts inside of me. It is my gold.

The Japanese have a practice called Kintsugi. It’s a ceramic pottery ritual where a beloved broken vessel is pieced back together with molten gold used like glue. It gathers the shattered parts together; making it whole again in a new and beautiful way.

Today, I will visualize all the love I’ve known as gold and let it fill the cracks and broken parts of me to make me whole like the day I was born only different…better. It will be my private gift to myself; the strengthening of my weak places. What I’ve seen in my sixty years has been a kaleidoscope of wonder and I am filled with anticipation as the curtain rises on the next act.
kintsugi bowl

Hey. Is That Squid on Your Face? The Italian Eyeglass Mafia…

Italian Eyeglass Mafia

I’ve been wearing prescription eyeglasses since first grade. Calculating one pair per year and accounting for lost or broken pairs as a kid; plus some years as an adult when I had two or three pairs; plus prescription sunglasses, I have had about one hundred pairs of glasses.

My life with eyeglasses dragged me through horrifying 1960’s when flesh-tone-sparkle-laden cat eyes were one of two options for girls. The other option were those wire and plastic gender bending numbers worn by accountants, government geeks and nuns. You know them. They’re back again as the ugly things that hipsters now pay a month’s rent to wear because they are suddenly cool and not just the state issue monstrosities you would have gotten with your orange jumpsuit before entering the penitentiary.

The 1970’s brought some better styles and totally groovy rose lenses or sky blue; wire frames like John Lennon or a big girl cat eye from Rayban. I lived in the Phoenix area then and I bought my glasses from Gatesh Opticians. Suffice it to say they were most famous for being Elton John’s favorite eyewear purveyor. R.I.P, Gatesh brothers, now selling outrageous eyewear to touring angels in galaxies far and wide. Mine from that era didn’t hit the same crazy level Elton’s did but I definitely pushed the envelope.

In the 1980’s I had leather glasses, wooden glasses, purple glasses, navy blue glasses, green glasses and others that frighten me now when I see them in photos. I also traveled a lot that decade and had the chance to buy an eyeglass wardrobe in Hong Kong for a song, some of those my most favorite frames.

In the meantime, I’ve tried conservative, dressy, mom-glasses, edgy frames and non-descripts and have settled into a few styles now I can live with but do not love.

There are a few things about glasses that I will never understand. Lots of insurance policies do not cover eyeglasses. If you need an eye exam it’s $100 and up. A pair of frames will set you back $90 to $300 and up. Prescription lenses? Another $150 and up. Don’t want them to look like coke bottle bottoms? Another $100 charge. Not wild about bifocal or trifocal lines that cut horizontally across your line of vision? Add $200 and up. Your purchase is going to cost you somewhere in the neighborhood of $1300 for one pair of glasses. If you can’t see, you’re going to have accidents that will hurt you and maybe others so isn’t it incredibly stupid that insurance companies would rather roll the dice that you won’t get hurt instead of coughing up our own money to give us glasses?

If you pulled apart a pair of glasses, the entire amount of material you’d have is roughly the same amount of plastic, wire, screws and polycarbonate that many tiny children’s toys have. Those shaped plastic things sell for less than $15.00. Total.

Back in 2012, CBS News did a story called Sticker Shock about why eyeglasses are so darn expensive. Apparently, there’s a company in Italy, Luxottica, and they are like the mafia of eyewear. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/sticker-shock-why-are-glasses-so-expensive-07-10-2012/  They sell billions of frames around the globe under hundreds of different brand names and control the market keeping the price of eyeglasses sky-high. Like vision-crack, we poor sighted humans just keep going back for more and they just keep getting richer.

This year, as I wade back into the alligator pool to look for a new pair of glasses, I’m going to roll the dice on a website I just found
called www.SpiffySociety.com. They have a virtual try on area for their eyeglasses that uses your webcam to slap a pair onto your face and once it’s there, you can change the color options to see if you like them. It’s kind of genius.

I’ll order a new pair again this year and I’ll wade in that murky pond knowing full well that I’m going to be royally screwed by that Italian conglomerate…again. Yeah, I see you over there counting your money, Guido Scungilli. At least you could buy me dinner.

Jar of Wonder

Jar of wonder

I’ve used the last of the lotion I concocted several months back and I can’t seem to toss out the cool jar. It’s squatty and round and it once held a moderately pricey and amazing royal jelly body butter from Savannah Bee Company.

Custom blending makes me feel like an alchemist; scooping and stirring and sniffing this and that to decipher its compatibility with the other bits and bobs. I do the same thing with spices, much to the entertainment of my family. Oh, crap. Here she goes again. It starts as a chore because I’m out of something that I need. Once I get going, I fall into the spirit of the scavenger hunt around my home. Every bathroom has some Bermuda Triangle area of lotions and potions and tiny tubes and bottles from hotel stays and gift baskets that I open and smell. If it passes muster, it comes with me to the kitchen.

I start with something thick and un-tinted like Nivea and add a few tablespoons of it to the jar; then the fun begins. A teaspoon of Curel, another of Jergens another of some cocoa butter weirdness and on it goes until it’s almost full to the top. At the end, I add a big dollop of some perfumed cream with a soft and lovely fragrance like the old Breathe Romance from Bath & Bodyworks which, of course, they no longer make just because I love it. Luckily, I’ve been a miser with my last jar so I save it for mixing like Merlin would have saved his stash of dragon blood for spell work.

I’ve made a tiny treasure of this oft used vessel and now call it my Jar of Wonder and the lid bears some of my artsy handiwork and sparkles like a starry night. It seems so much more lush and decadent with the beauty lid when I go to rescue my indoor-winter sand paper feet and hands.

The point of all this is that when I found the jar empty this morning, my first reaction was the same as it is when so many good things end; a downslide into an inventory of all that once was and is no longer at my fingertips. It’s just a jar for cripes sake. I know this. But, cut me some slack. I live in mid Michigan; the second cloudiest place in America, so my vitamin D sunshine levels are dangerously low in January.

And as it turned out, while I was on my search for ingredients, the more I found, the deeper it sunk in that I do indeed have far, far more of everything of this sort than I could ever need. Even if that means I have a whole lot of a little of this and a little of that.

So, it’s not a 40 oz. vat of royal jelly body butter. No matter. If I had a giant container to mix and stir in, I could probably make 40 oz. of my Wonder Cream and be up to my neck in it for months to come. And is that not the way of all our “I don’t have enough…” stories?

Maybe we don’t have Jay Leno’s garage full of cars and motorcycles to choose from that might match our outfits today, but we can always find a way to get from point A to point B and that was the goal anyway.

Perhaps we aren’t in the throes of big-big love at this part of our lives, but we may have a dozen friends and family members who collectively fill our cup with joy and that is really something.

So I don’t have any royal jelly body butter left, but I do have all this other stuff that, together, works remarkably well.

The point is, when you’re feeling like you’ve just run out of something and you’re going to feel its absence because you have come to count on it, go on a scavenger hunt in your life and see if you might have a variety of things you can notice and celebrate and bring together to make your own Jar of Wonder to soothe the rough spots in your life.

Look around. You just might surprise yourself.