Thursday, May 31, 2007

DANCE ON PAPER: Lessons from a Ten-Month Old

By Marti Zuckrowv

I watch my ten-month old niece in awe. Minute by minute,
she discovers new ways to move. She is becoming more.
She is moving forward toward the rest of her life. She
is a pioneer exploring new territories; almost
crawling, she scoots backward on her belly and finds a
wall behind her. She is delighted to throw anything
she can get her tiny hands around, and to watch it
sail through the air and land beyond her reach.

She splashes in the tub, entertained by the whoosh of
water her sturdy little self creates each time she
slaps the surface with her rubber ducky. On her back,
on the changing table, her feet easily reach her
mouth, her body stretches and contracts like elastic.
Astounding, this degree of suppleness. So much ahead
of her, so many, many physical skills her 10-month-old
body will master.

Ah, the gift of witnessing this miracle.
I missed out on treasuring each moment with
both of my own daughters. I was too busy surviving.
There was no luxury to bask in the glory of each new
life. I was lucky to get through the day. Living with
their Dad, a severely mentally ill man, took it out of
me. I lost touch with myself. I let my body go. I held
on to my own mind, as tightly as I could.

Interesting how being with my niece brings back memories. Many
I've buried so far down I've almost managed to forget
they were MY memories. I feel cheated of the pure,
unadulterated, completely-at-peace-with-the-world
feeling that a baby in your arms can bring. All is right
with the world and if time stopped, that would be
fine, too.

Of course, cradling my two babies, nursing
them and seeing them grow healthy from the milk in my
breasts, this was an unequaled joy. Hearing their
first words, seeing them take their first steps,
utterly amazing. Looking into their little trusting
faces and seeing a smile replace a frown was magical.

But through it all, there was the man in the other
room, losing his mind, pacing the hall, hallucinating
the horrors that eventually landed him in a padded
cell. I felt his pain; perhaps my daughters did, too.
I wish it had been different, for ALL of us.

It has been different for my niece. She
was adopted at birth. My nephew and his wife were
there when her tiny head crowned and her birth mother's
final push brought her into the world. I met her when
she was 6 days old. Spending time with her is
precious, and I make sure I am around her a few times
a week.

Each day she makes new discoveries; yesterday
she discovered electrical outlets (instantly
childproofed), the day before she learned how to open
a drawer. Simple everyday things we take for granted.
Or do we.

I am a personal trainer and work with the elderly. (I
just turned 63 myself). For many of my clients, basic
motor skills are being threatened. There are so many
challenges that make simple tasks and pleasures
difficult and sometimes impossible to manage. One
client is losing the ability to walk due to severe
neuropathy. Another client fears falling because of
inner ear disturbances. One man's cancer has returned
for the third time, guaranteeing yet another
debilitating round of chemo and radiation. "I'm ready
to kick ass again," he told me yesterday. And I know
he will give it his best shot. One woman is getting
ready for her second knee replacement so that she can
hopefully live a pain-free life. Another had a
triple bypass and hopes to dance at her
granddaughter's wedding this summer.

It's amazing and a great privilege to witness this spectrum,
from the beginning of life with the miraculous development of
the mind/body connection, and the winding down of
life, the losses we face and how we cherish our
abilities and independence for as long as we can.
In my ex-husband's case, mental illness devastated his
life when he was a young man. Today, at 66, a
ventilator breathes for him, his lungs ravaged by the
cigarettes he smoked in an attempt to cope. Losing
your mind, losing your body, not a pretty picture and
yet, our bodies do decline with age, and sometimes,
our minds.

Ah the question, how to age gracefully. As a friend of mine
says, we need to age gratefully, and treasure our time
here. We need to live in the moment and be present.
Really, when it comes down to it, that's all we've got-
what is right right RIGHT now.

My 10-month-old niece knows this. Babies have much to
teach us. Let's learn from them. As we move closer to
our endings, lets celebrate their beginnings.

Marti Zuckrowv is a writer living in California. Her "Dance on Paper" column appears at the start of each month.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"Tic Toc Tic Toc"

By Joni Daidone

Com’on what do say we make a baby tonight. A little bratty girl with big brown eyes, dark wavy hair in pigtails, and a mischievous toothless smile.

Spawn of Jackie. I don’t think the world can handle another little Jackie running around.

Oh com’on. If you’re good, I will make sure she has your mouth, maybe even your nose, but not your teeth, god please not your teeth.

While you’re at it make sure she doesn’t end up with your boobs, that’s all I need, to have to follow her around with a shotgun. Look I’m too old to deal with pimply- faced goons with too raging testosterone.

Don’t worry, she’s probably end up flat-chested like your mom.

My mom isn’t flat-chested.

Of course she is. Don’t look at her now, look at when she was
Twenty, flat as an ironing board.

Well your mom had a weird nose.

Weird nose, that’s a Roman nose, a classic nose, the gods and goddesses
Of Rome had noses like my mom.

Now you’re descended from the Romans gods, I thought you were
A Mayan princess in your past life.

Not past life, ancestors. My Italian heritage.

Oh right, thought they were all Mafiosi.

Again with the Mafia, my family grew olives and grapes, where
Do you get this Mafia stuff from?

Ok, ok can I get back to my book now?

But I thought we going to make little Teresa tonight.

Little who?

Teresa, I’m planning on naming her after my grandmother, you know
That’s an Italian tradition. That’s so when you call everyone for dinner
You only have to say one or two names and everybody comes a' running.

Writer Joni Daidone divides her time between Millerton, New York and New York City where she lives with her husband, Brian, and dog-child Miles. She writes advertising copy to pay the mortgage and short plays and stories to keep her sanity. MyStoryLives is delighted to welcome her to its bank of writers!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"Positively Perfect"

By Meredith LaFrance

She bit her lip. The brief moment of pain proved to be only a small diversion. The moment was still awkward.

They sat side by side on a park bench. The breeze was soft and the sun glimmered through the branches above. Amanda tucked a small tendril behind her ear and accidentally caught her finger on her chandelier earring.

"Ouch," she gasped.

"Are you okay?" Ari took this as the perfect opportunity to play the strong man coming to the aid of the fair damsel in distress. She refused to play along.

"It's no big deal," she insisted sharply. She reached her other hand up to her ear and adjusted the tangled mass of gold links. She really wanted to be somewhere else. Why had Felicity dragged her into this blind date? Ari was beyond boring. He was intolerable.

"Nice evening?" Ari inquired, as if he hadn't the wits to figure it out for himself. "The weather is perfect."

"Nothing is perfect." Amanda decided to draw an argument out of him. If anything, at least they were conversing. The silence was a killer.

"I disagree," argued Ari. "I think that perfection does exist. It may not be perfect to everyone, but I think that when someone is looking at something so indescribably beautiful, the only word for it is perfect." He flipped his hair out of his face and looked directly into her eyes.

"So you associate the word perfect only with beauty? Isn't that a little shallow?" She was playing devil's advocate. It was the least she could do.

"Well, not necessarily." He was coming back at her, rather pathetically, but persistently nonetheless.

"Well," she said. "I think that the word perfect is too constricting. For instance, is I say that this bench is perfect, then what is the Grand Canyon in comparison to this bench? How do I describe its even greater perfection?"

"They're both perfect. You're perfect." His words were sudden and struck her completely off guard.

"Ummm. Ok." She looked down at her hands and then back up into his eyes. "That's a little too forward for me, especially on a first date. You don't even know anything about me."

"I don't need to know anything about you, though," he said. At least not yet. That's what's so perfect about it." He shifted slightly and then rested his chin on his hands as he stared off into the distance. "You hate me, but I think I'm already loving you."

"I never said I hated you." She was offended by this assumption. Perhaps she was being a little too harsh, but she didn't hate him.

"You just seem bored by my presence." He was reading her like a book. She blushed slightly and turned away him. She did not want him to see the shame in her eyes.

"I just don't like that I was thrown into this blind date. That's all. I would much rather have met you under different circumstances." She didn't want to tell him that she really had been bored by his presence, but she didn't want to flat out lie either. She decided to tell part of the truth.

"Then let's pretend we haven't met yet." His suggestion surprised her.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, if it's all about the circumstances, we can change things around. You go over there to the swing set and I'll go get a drink from the water fountain. Then I'll walk over to you and we can meet for the first time." His enthusiasm was catching and she culdn't help but let a little smile cross her lips.

"Fine then," she said. She rose from the bench and walked away from him. This was definitely unlike any date she had ever gone on.

When she reached the swing set she removed her sweater and wiped away the evening dew that had formed. Then she sat down and scuffed her shoes in the dirt. She brushed her hair out of her face and looked up to search for Ari. He was casually sipping from the drinking fountain, as if she didn't even exist. She shook the heavy chains on the swing and then began to push herself back and forth. She closed her eyes and tilted her face upward.

"Hello." His voice startled her. Her feet hit the ground with a soft clump and she sat up. There he was.

"Hi." It really was as if they were seeing each other for the first time.

"My name is Ari." He leaned against one of the polls supporting the swing set.

"I'm Amanda."

"I couldn't help but notice you. I really didn't want to disturb you. You looked so happy and relaxed, as if nothing in the world mattered." His eyes seemed to see right through her. She couldn't believe this was the same boy she had been fidgeting next to only minutes before.

"I like to swing." She felt dumb the second the words escaped her mouth, but he didn't seem to notice.

"Would you like to go out?" He ran his hand through his dark shaggy hair.

"Sure. Let's go for a walk." She rose from the swing.

"Perfect evening, isn't it?" he asked.

"Yes," she said with a smile, "positively perfect."

Writer Meredith LaFrance will attend the University of Oregon in Eugene next fall. Currently, she lives in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

"Remember Me When You Take Your Shower"

By Camincha

Young, homeless man at 6th and Bryant McDonald's is standing in center of restaurant holding a big, full, clear plastic bag and nonstop jumping on one foot. Going 'round him she gets in line.

He smiles at her from his six plus height and shouts over the clutter in the place, Hi!

She directs her smile at his beautiful eyes. Beautiful sapphire orbs.

I love baskets, he tells her. See my baskets?

Amused, her smile broadens.

He gets serious, starts turning his bag 'round and 'round. Oh! here it is.

He's smiling again. I love baskets. See my baskets?

She can see them, varnished wicker, fragile, dainty, fringed with lace. Suddenly: He's smiling again, his eyes shining like jewels. I've lots of these, He tells her. His hand is in front of her face holding a box full of colorful spheres to her nose. I've lots of these, He repeats.

She can smell the fragrant soaps of bright colors nestled in lace and ribbons. She looks up. He's smiling broadly.

He forgets to jump on one foot. He holds still. He holds still.Then his hand is reaching for hers. Reaching. Here, this is for you he tells her.

Silently, questioning him, she just stands there looking up at sapphire eyes.

It's yours. It's yours, he tells her. He's delighted. He laps up the surprise on her face. He's a baby bouncing on his mother's knees. He's a boy in love for the first time. He's a young man photographed next to his first car. Holding the scented box of bright colored spheres, He's reaching, reaching...

It's yours, he tells her and finally places the box in her hand.

Thank you. Thank you, she says, and under his watchful eyes, looks down to slip the fragrant soap box into the side pocket of her briefcase.

When she looks up again he's pulling his plastic bag out the door. And over the clatter at 6th and Bryant McDonald's, he shouts at her: Remember me when you take a shower!

Camincha is a California-based writer and a frequent contributor to MyStoryLives.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

"My Middle Name"

By Robert Combs

my middle name is Carl
I know why
my dad's middle name is Carl but
he changed it to his first name when
he joined the army
didn't want to be called Wiley
I guess but even he can't explain how
any war could be called civil like
the statues and monuments and plaques
in my town recall

there are paintings in the museums
in the library
in the restaurants
of slaves in the fields black and bent
forever picking cotton smiling and
singing like it was a grand time to be alive even
reproduced on post cards for tourists
(I've seen them in the racks of all the stores)
who come to see the Old South and
where it still lives today dressed up
in antebellum gowns and paraded around
the city auditorium every night for a month
at a time spring and fall keeping the tradition alive

while nothing changes everything changes
our mayor is a black man
a good man
a fair man
an honest man and still
the white people hold their Confederate Pageants
keeping the tradition alive outside
in the humidity old black women dress up like
Aunt Jemima to sell their pralines outside
the city auditorium and on the main streets
keeping the tradition alive at the crossroads

there's a place they once sold slaves
actually traded in human beings harvested
from their homelands like ears of Iowa corn
the commodity market of my town
people and cotton gone now but still signs point the way
like we're proud of our town's legacy and the
plantation porches like it's history we're selling instead

put an end to the tableau
take off the perjured costumes
stop the fine ladies from counting and
re-counting on their colored fingernails their colored friends
like they actually have them over to Sunday brunch among
their inherited gardens of blood and screams
remove the pestilent leer of the politically
corrected tan painted mammy-shaped roadside diner that
will forever remain a huge black happy face tied
up in a red Jim Crow kerchief
with huge black hands holding the serving tray...
'nigger Mammy's' cafe especially
to the bruised memory driving past
in the bruised eye of the children with no escape wondering

is this all we can do today for as surely
as I never owned a slave I know no one
who ever was a slave except my father
named Wiley Carl who changed his name
but not his mind
and not his heart

Robert Combs is a single father living in Natchez, Mississippi. He is a frequent contributor to MyStoryLives.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

DANCE ON PAPER: "Walk the Dog, Starve the Patients"

By Marti Zuckrowv

Ginger is a rescue white boxer. Her albino-like appearance put me off when I first met her at my nephew's house several years ago, but her gentle, friendly disposition lured me in.

So now we have a relationship, a committed relationship.

I show up three times a week and the two of us old gals take an hour walk up through the hills of Oakland and into Piedmont, where huge homes abound and an army of
gardeners maintains large yards. Ginger pees often, and although I like to keep us moving at a decent clip, I know first hand about aging bladders, and don't mind the frequent pauses in our "exercise walk."(I carry my plastic bags like all responsible dog walkers do.)

As we walk, I imagine living in the grand homes we pass and wonder what life would be like if I wasn't me. Who would I be? What if I wasn't first-generation American and my ancestors had come over on the Mayflower? What if my mother hadn't lived through pogroms in Russia, subsisting on black bread and whatever scraps of food could be found, sometimes sucking on salt to ward off hunger? What if my Polish father, a child himself, hadn't been left in charge of his three younger siblings when his mother died of cholera where they nearly starved before coming to America?

Would feeding myself be a simple matter? Would I be free of my "fat phobia?" It's difficult to remember life before my thin obsession enslaved me. Ginger doesn't share in my "what if" game, thrilled to be out and about sniffing the world around her and trucking up the hill. No pondering there.

Nor for my cats, Alfalfa and Oats, two huge guys that my husband refers to as livestock. These cats know how to enjoy life. I envy the content life they lead. The authentic way they exist. Like Ginger, they investigate their surroundings,
content to be alive, fed, and loved. I want that comfort.

I love my life, and celebrate each day that I wake up,
feel my husband's warm body beside me, climb out of bed, and prepare my
sacred cup of coffee. It's the idea of feeding myself
that hits like an earthquake, rattling my peace and
shaking my reverie. If I put nuts in my oatmeal, will
I get fat? If I eat a banana now, can I have another
one later. Fat free or one percent milk? How I'd love
to butter my toast, absolutely a no no. A criminal
offense in the mind of an anorexic. Liquid load; drink
more tea so you won't be hungry. How many packs of gum
do I have, will they last me through the week? Let's
see, I'll be taking two walks today, so it's OK if I
add raisins. Do I deserve to eat?

My therapist tells me to reverse the equation: Did you
eat enough so that you deserve to exercise?
Somehow, I don't get it; the body needs food to stay
ALIVE. In one session we both cracked up imagining
my nutrition philosophy applied to the bedridden
patients in a hospital. Well, they would all die, we
both agreed hysterically. Even I saw the madness in
that way of thinking. For others.

So what's the deal, I chide myself on a daily basis?
It's about mothering, about nurturing me. Nourishment?
I nourish myself in so many other ways and reap the
benefits of feeling satisfied and full, pursing my
passions, diving down into my creativity and bringing
forth self-expression. I walk in nature, I get
massage, I make love, and I indulge in wine. What's
the deal with FOOD? Why did the obsession with being
thin bite me in the butt?

I see through so much of the consumer hype the media
pushes on us, I don't need a BMW, season tickets to
the ballet, the latest designer clothes, diamonds, a
face lift, a boob job, a flat TV. I like the gray in
my hair. I don't get my nails done. I'm far from being
a girly girl.

Is it (A) the subtle and not so subtle messages I've
been exposed to for most of my life? Is it (B) a
biochemical disorder? Is it (C) learned behavior? Is
it (D) the dance world I traveled in) I pick all of
the above. I wish none of the above were of concern
to me. Well, I wish there was peace in the world,
food and shelter and medical care for everyone, a cure
for cancer, AIDS, and Alzheimer's. The list goes on.
And life goes on. And Ginger and I go on taking our
walks in the hills, our hearts beating, our blood
flowing and our relationship deepening. I am learninga lot from her, and maybe one of these days, I'll stop
playing the "what if" game and enjoy the rest of my
life fully, no matter how much I weigh.

Writer Marti Zuckrowv's Dance on Paper column appears the first week of every month in MyStoryLives. She lives in California.