22 May 2015

Clairvoyance: The Move to Yellow Fever House, Part 2

2.     quick, intuitive knowledge of things and people; sagacity.

a digital representation of Rene Magritte's painting 'La Clairvoyance';
harvested from Google Images search results

 The second day after the move, a Saturday, my purse was snatched from my front porch by two adolescent males. Don't ask what I was thinking:  I couldn't tell you. But I took off in hot pursuit. A 60-year-old smoker, I chased these boys. Reflecting on the whole episode a few days later, I thought "Wow! Adrenaline is real!"

Here's an excerpt of my FaceBook post (FaceBook, the record of human history not told in History Books):

So much for a relaxing rainy Saturday. ... I sat an armload of bags and my purse on the porch and turned to retrieve the things from the trunk of the car. I was about 10 or 11 feet away from my bags when two young males dashed onto the porch, snatched my bag and started running. I yelled "Stop! Stop them! They snatched my purse" and started running after them. "Stop! Just drop it, it's OK. Just drop it!" I screamed but they did not drop it.

A driver on the next street over saw and heard what was happening and set out in pursuit. ...another car pulled up, ..and shouted "Get in! We'll get them!"

We called the police while in pursuit and chased until we hit a dead end. The boys had cut across the graveyard and run into the adjacent woods. Within 5 minutes HS police, Officer Glover, was on the scene. My driver let me out when the police arrived and the other driver jumped out of his car and ran a short way into the field/woods before returning. "I know one of those boys, " he said. ...

...The policeman took me home and ...I went ...to the library to use internet and cancel cards, phone, etc.

Back on my front porch with friends ...I was into the story when Chief Harris pulled up. "We caught them. We got your purse. Can you follow me to the station?"

..."Do you want to press charges?" I started crying. "No, I don't. Like we need two more black boys dropped into the justice system..."

"Well, do you want an apology?" "Yes!" I followed him to his office. The boys were there. ... One 15 years old and the other 18. The grandmother who has custody of the older boy was there. The mother of the other arrived a little later. They apologized. We talked. We all cried at some point. Even the boys. I hugged them both, a lot. ...

Chief Harris mentioned a mentoring program that meets every second Saturday. The boys apologized ..and I asked them to promise me to attend at least the next six sessions ...I also asked them to keep in touch with me. ...

I told them they have power and choice. "Holly Springs is your home, babies. You have power to make this community. You can live like you want a Miss Alex Piano Teacher's house, where you can stop by and get a coke or help with homework or talk about your girlfriend; or you can live like you want Miss Alex to start carrying a gun and looking at you and every other young man with suspicion." ...

...I have two new princes in my circle of acquaintance. I care about these boys. They said they "just weren't thinking" when they snatched the purse. The opportunity presented and they took it.

I got everything but my phone back. This is how bright these youngsters are: they figured the phone would have GPS so they tossed it wide into the woods first thing. I'll have to buy a new phone but, otherwise, what a happy ending? Who knew I could run two blocks?
 I thought this blog post was about clairvoyance. About seeing. The crystal clear view I experienced during the adrenaline rush of chasing the boys. My self perspective one morning this week when the boys stopped by unexpectedly: I was still in pajamas, uncombed and unwashed, with coffee. A little embarrassed but very glad to see them. I wanted to write about how I felt this morning when D___ (one of the boys; they're both minors so I won't use their names) dropped by. In search of a pencil sharpener.

I was in pajamas again. This time pre-coffee even. I was glad to see him. Also felt a tinge of suspicion and fear -- he came specifically to my house? to sharpen a pencil?  Alone?  Also excited:  I asked him what he was working on and he mumbled something about a Spanish project. I said, "Bueno! Tu hablas espanol?" Blank stare and something mumbled about not knowing about "all that." I told him it sounded like an exciting project and offered whatever assistance he needed since I speak Spanish fairly fluently.

Yeah, I wanted to write about how my view of the boys, as well as the view of myself, is changing through encounter.

But I ran a Google Image search on "boys will be boys" and found so many intriguing images, I decided to devote the rest of the post to sharing some of the ones that piqued my interest. Enjoy!

21 May 2015

Lies and promises: The Move to Yellow Fever House, Part 1

Exodus 20:3-17 (Holy Bible, NRSV)

1.       You shall have no other gods before me
2.       You shall not make idols (“…whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Note: verses 4-6 are potent and provocative.)
3.       You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord
4.       Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.
5.       Honor your father and your mother
6.       You shall not murder
7.       You shall not commit adultery
8.       You shall not steal
9.       You shall not bear false witness (against your neighbor)
10.    You shall not covet (you neighbor’s house…wife, male or female slaves, ox, donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor)

There’s so much bad behavior not mentioned in the Ten Commandments...

It is a little strange to find myself sitting before an open Bible at 7 a.m. But I have a new address. A new home. New rooms. New views from new windows. I’m in a new space, doing new things and everything is a little strange. Not unpleasant or frightening. Just…..new.

The events precipitating my relocation were also strange. Sudden and unexpected and unexplained. There is some chance that I will eventually file a detailed written account of the whole “episode”; but the task is not a high priority. I posted an S.O.S. on FaceBook early (during the first — and only --  moment of panic I have felt since my mother died in 2012).   That post generated many Comments and I engaged with them briefly and sporadically; but the moving process required vigorous mental, intellectual, physical and spiritual attention. There was little energy leftover for interactions on FaceBook.

It’s been eight days since that Monday morning when I stood in pajamas making coffee and heard the front door open. The night before, I’d had the dream about losing teeth again. In the dream, as usually happens, I am startled to find teeth, unanchored, in my mouth. New in this edition of the dream:  they are not my teeth. My teeth are all anchored evenly in my gums, bright white and shiny. I am deeply amused by the situation. I feel fat and solid and content. I am about to spit the loose, alien teeth out into my palm to take a closer
look when I wake up.

An hour later, a few minutes before noon, a troubled man who has been my housemate for over a year and was a friend for ten years before that, walked through the house and into the kitchen, said “Good morning” for the first (and possibly only) time since I returned from Brazil at the end of March, and handed me a Removal Order from the Justice Court of Marshall County, Mississippi. “The Court says you have to be out of here by 5 p.m,” he said.

We had the briefest of eye contact before he turned and walked out of the house. We had had infrequent eye contact for a long time. His eyes that morning were disturbing; I saw coldness, death, fear, bondage, hatred and confusion there. I saw sickness and suffering. 

Days later, I would remember the dream and think “Those were Troubled Man’s teeth!”


It took less than 72 hours to travel from receiving the Removal Order to receiving the keys to my beautiful new home but a lot happened in that time.  Three days of Amazing Grace:  rescue and resources from trusted friends, surprising support from acquaintances and strangers, fortuitous serendipity and coincidence, profound experiences of gratitude washing over and within me.

Unpacking and settling into the new house has gradually revealed “what I lost in the move.” I had students scheduled the day of the Removal Order so five hours was in actuality less than three. I loaded what I could into my car and relocated Piano Studio to the Episcopal church for the afternoon. At 5:00 p.m., I started my final lesson for the day but back on Johnson Park, I imagine Troubled man began feverishly dumping my belongings on the curb. By the time I arrived over an hour later, with Angels of Mercy, there was  a jumbled mess on the sidewalks of 216 Johnson Park. 

We had no boxes. We worked fast to cram everything into my VW and the two vehicles of the Angels. By Wednesday, things had been sorted and boxed and made for transport from the fancy front rooms of the Angels to my new home.

Thoughts of Troubled Man and Johnson Park now arise most often when I need something and discover it is no longer in my possession. It might be a knife – carefully chosen and preferentially used for three years…and “lost in the move” (LIM). Or the matching chopstick to the surviving singleton of a cherished pair. Or the beautiful wooden linen shelf from the bathroom. Or the handy undulating floor fan. Or a set of plastic nesting containers for leftovers. Or measuring cups, brandy snifters, champagne glasses, cherry-red barbecue grill…  Can goods and spices and cooking oil. All LIM.

Each instance produces a tiny psychic stab and, for a couple of days, elicited an automatic “Fuck you, C______.” The utterance happens less and less often as a) feelings of annoyance are overwhelmed by feelings of gratitude and contentment; and b) remembrance and reflection on the final days of our relationship reveal the sad underlying dis-ease compelling his actions.  It is within these reflections that the issue of “lies and promises” occurs. 

I would rather receive scathing criticism or outright argument than be ignored. I would rather hear hard truth than a lie. I prefer being flatly denied a request to being belatedly betrayed. 

Troubled Man preferred non-communication and betrayal. In retrospect, (see "Both Sides Now" post here at SITC) signs of the likelihood of the failure of our friendship were in evidence from the beginning. Recurrent pangs of “Ah! I should have known. I should have listened to my gut…” have been features of this transition. 

An essential and enduring mystery at the center of this story is “Why did he kick me out?”  Additional questions include:

·         Why is he angry?
·         Why did he stop talking to me?
·         Why did he deposit his mother on the front porch to watch the eviction?
…all of which can be distilled to “What happened?”

And then I remember his eyes. And the answer is right there:  Something broke.

It is frightening to think about it too often or for too long. I imagine the psychic and physical condition associated with eyes that gleam with such hostile confusion. 

I shudder…and willfully turn my attention away from such imaginings.


Through silence, cowardice and passivity, the Troubled Man avoided outright lying. The Ten Commandments include no specific prohibition against the default lying that results from omission or silence, for example. Or lies of denial or deception. The Removal Order permitted him to passively withdraw his hospitality (“The Court [‘not me’] says you have to be out of here by 5 p.m.”). 

Back in August 2012, the first or second night I was in Holly Springs, before Troubled Man flew back to his pastoral duties on the East Coast, he said “As long as you live in Holly Springs, you will always have a home on Johnson Park.” It sounded like a promise. My gut clenched. These almost-three years later, I can admit that that clenching sensation was the physical expression of instinctual distrust; I did not believe his words. 

It was embarrassing. I did not say “I don’t believe you.” (In my memory, only once have I ever told someone to their face “I don’t believe you.” Contemporary social culture seems to generally regard it as rude to say such a thing outright. In my lexicon it is akin to throwing a drink in someone’s face….which I also remember doing only once in my life. I confess experiencing supreme satisfaction after each faux pas.) I remember he also shed tears during this conversation. The whole thing was rare and embarrassing and memorable.

I shudder now…and willfully turn my attention away from such memories.


I am happier now than I have been since my first days in Holly Springs. The undergirding of this joy is different from those first happy days fueled by anticipation and curiosity. This joy is sparked by the blatant and relentless generosity and goodwill I have received from members of a community I thought despised me. I feel at last the dawning embrace of acceptance. A hundred times a day, I stop in my tracks and gaze around me and say aloud “I love my home!” All anxiousness to “get out of Holly Springs” has disappeared. 

I want to take on more piano students. I want to make this house a home. I want to attend a City Council meeting and research the history of this house, the other “named” houses on the street and the town in general and share the stories with tourists (I’ve done a bit of this already after living here for only five days!) I want to maintain a relationship with the young men who stole my purse Saturday (that story for another post). I can imagine a future of unspecified duration here in Holly Springs. 

My gut is not clenched. A thrum of  “possibility” winds through me. Mornings glow. The breeze at dawn has a secret again….”Don’t go back to sleep.”

[Note:  This posting was interrupted by a knock at the door. It was those boys who stole my purse last weekend, plus a friend! They came to visit and talk about what they could do to make amends. The Future and Possibility came to my door this morning. Amazing Grace!!! Who would have imagined I would end up in  MS playing Debussy on piano for adolescents I met for the first time at the police station?]

24 April 2015

Both Sides Now

Tomorrow, my son turns 37. Can it be that despite a strong feeling of déjà-vu and (I'd swear) crystal-clear memory, I have never posted a blog on the anniversary of my son's birth?

I suspect my memory is accurate but either the post was deleted a year or so ago when I was cleaning up the blog with an eye toward turning it into a book; or the reflection was recorded in the Journal I kept for decades before launching this .... journal/blog.

On 25 April 1978, at 6:33 a.m., I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and my life was forever changed. Cliché?  Yes. And, also, true. I didn't sleep the night before because I was in labor. After spending nine months in, what was for me, a blissful altered state, a coworker dropped me on the doorsteps of a hospital to undergo 12 hours of the most intensely uncomfortable and challenging psychic and physical experience of my life, alone. At the end of the ordeal, I stood in the world as a mother and stepped forward into all the glory and heartbreak that role carries. 25 April 1978 was the start of a new era for me.

The effect of that night-into-day birthing experience changed the way I looked at the world and myself. Specifically:  the pain and the loneliness of the experience left an indelible mark. The perceived lessons were "Never rely on anyone else" and "People always, ultimately, abandon you."

I remember gazing out the window from my hospital bed, feeling amazed and invincible. Now I can do anything, I thought, by which I meant that after going through what I went through without companionship or guidance, I could endure anything the world threw at me from that point on.

As it has turned out, the labor of childbirth has not been the stiffest challenge of my life. Or, perhaps, in the interim I have developed strengths sufficient to triumph over more daunting challenges...

24 April 2015:  I sit on the back porch of a little house in Northern MS, waiting for work men who are at this point an hour and a half late, after a near-sleepless night. It was not physical travail that robbed me of sleep this time but psychic ("of or relating to the human soul or mind; mental (opposed to physical)"; Dictionary.com) turmoil. The catalysts: one, my housemate informed me last night that he wants to terminate our living arrangement; and, two, a friend sent email thanking me for a thank-you gift I made to her but declining to accept it, offering to ship it to me for redistribution.

No surprise that my birth-bed reflections return -- "Never rely on anyone else" and "People always, ultimately, abandon you." 

I came to MS to live in a house owned by a friend and, from that base, jointly launch an artist retreat and conference center. His announcement last night came after many months of tense cohabitation and felt, in that moment, like one more proof of the gigantic error I made moving here from CA in 2012. Nothing I hoped for has come to pass and much that I would not desire has become the defining status quo for my life.

The separation is, ostensibly, a mutually agreed upon strategy for "saving the friendship" but haunting questions continue to swirl. What is friendship? Do we have one to save? Is the ache in my heart proof that our relationship is something more than persistent respectful regard or just a measure of my emotional fragility?

The occurrence of these questions is also not surprising. Those who know me or read this blog will recognize this insecurity about "friendship" (and "love" by extension or extrapolation) as a recurrent motif in my thinking and life experience.

Who can remember when it happened? Was it after the third or the 30th time that someone I loved left me?  After which instance witnessing the disintegration of something I thought would last forever did I begin to suspect that I am the Reason and take on the identity "The One No One Can Love"? (It feels very, very old as I hear my mother's voice in my head saying, again, "If everybody but you believes it, it must be true" which over the years has distorted and translated into "If everybody leaves, there must be something wrong with me.")

It is both arrogant and ignorant to think this way. Everybody is an exaggeration. And fundamental to wisdom traditions I embrace is the appreciation of the transience of ALL things, not the least human relationships. It is the way of human psychology to place oneself at the center of every event and assume either the role of monster or victim.

And we are also "wired" to long for something reliable and lasting and to believe that a thing must last in order for it to have value or be true.

Today I learn, again, that nothing lasts forever. That nothing and no one can be known completely, only understood a little more and a little more with the passage of time.

And something else, some other lesson or awareness that feels both closer AND more far-reaching. Something that feels like part of my spiritual and physical DNA.

I'd call it "intuition" but it feels bigger and less personal than "intuition." "Trust people to be who and what they are" is part of it. And "trust your gut" is another part of it. 99% of the time, as something falls apart or someone leaves or a promise is broken, I catch a whiff of a scent I recognize. it was there when the thing began. I gaze unblinking at a gaping hole and remember the dangling thread I noted in the same spot when we started; and remember an inkling that I pushed to the back of awareness on Day One; an evidence I early denied...for any of a number reasons that we deny what we "know."

A beloved therapist/guide/teacher once compared life experience to a spiraling orbit, coming back round again and again to particular issues and interests and lessons; never retracing the orbit precisely but rather tracing a slightly higher or lower or wider path each time around.

The lessons I digest today are familiar in flavor and texture.

And also....new. I was 5 years old when I returned home from kindergarten to discover the caravan to the zoo had left without me. A broken promise and an abandonment. I'm 60 years old now as I contemplate the dissolution of what's been "home" for 3 years. It evokes memories of the 5-year-old disappointment but, unlike that day, I shed no tears and I don't cry out or collapse on the floor. There's less outrage. Some kind of strength, I guess.

Am I any less mystified?

I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
…I really don't know life at all
---Joni Mitchell, "Both Sides Now"