The Occasional Thought


well, finally the rain has come.

just now. crashing, thundering down in torrents, with an amazing amount of noise and fuss. joshua’s japanese maple is swaying like mad and the sage plants are bare of hummingbirds.

in response to the deluge, Lulu flattened herself until she could slide UNDER the couch and i put away the color-palette template i have been working on, thinking i’d better unplug the computer. not having backed it up for months, i didn’t want to tempt fate.

that accomplished, and the tea kettle on, in this safe and warm inside moment, i thought i’d just send a quick hi-how-are-you-i-love-you note so you wouldn’t think i’d been trampled by cows, or fallen off the balcony that is still under repair — since August! 

actually, there probably aren’t many cows in silicon valley, but there *could* be…
my reference to cows simply means i miss the ocean. and you.

eLetter, once weekly, now way past weekly…

do you remember your dreams?

it isn’t often that i do, i tend not to sleep enough hours to have the necessary REM sleep, but if and when i do, they are vivid, action-packed, in full color and sound and i awake from them as though leaving a movie theatre! usually, with full recall.

this morning was odd, however, because when i awoke, it was not with any dream-movie still running in my head, but with only the title of a book. 

i heard the title.

no visual. just the sound of the words. if there had been a typeface, it would have been helvetica, nothing with any flourish.

there it was, the title: The Prisoner of Zenda.

what?!? the prisoner of zenda?

i couldn’t even remember the novel at first… it took some time to recollect the basics, but by the time i had run my morning mile, put away the 3-lb hand weights (which feel like 20!) and washed my face, i remembered that it was an adventure story — by Victorian standards — and that it had been published very near the end of the 19th century — the 1890s.

it’s unique because it was a romantic adventure story and inspired an entire genre of books (and later movies) called Ruritanian romance, in which there must be a man of character, with great power, a king perhaps (as in the story), forced into hiding to protect himself — but needing a “double” — a look-alike stand-in, one pretending to be the main character — in order to create the illusion of the main character’s presence, for whatever reason (a coronation in the story). of course, there must also be the obligatory and ever faithful lady love, betrothed to the former, who of course falls in love with the latter, but who performs admirably when the main character is free to return to his position, and the double must ride off into the sunset alone. 

[the same romantic impact can be felt if you can remember, or picture, the actor humphrey bogart, saying goodbye to ingrid bergman in the final scene of  “casablanca” (a black and white film made in the early 1940s), as the lovers part, bogart’s character Rick says, “We’ll always have Paris…” and then, the often quoted parting words, “Here’s looking at you, kid.” bergman walks into the mist, and both of them go on to do what they must, each in their own way, to fight for the allied cause during world war II.]

so. one hundred and eighteen years later, what on earth does The Prisoner of Zenda have to do with life as we know it in 2012 on a grey overcast morning in california? especially on the morning i had promised myself to sit down and write my oh-my-gosh!-has-it-REALLY-been-more-than-four-weeks-since-i-last-wrote letter?

maybe there’s been a stand-in writing my letters for me for the past four or five weeks? (hee hee…) that would have been nice.

i’ve missed you. i’ve missed writing. i hope your holidays were touched with sweetness. i simply can’t believe it’s the end of january. not possible! it’s been an unusual month. the loss of several family members has left its mark. one, a celebration of a life long-lived, well past the century mark! and the other, a tragic accident, a rich, full life ended too soon. it is impossible not to consider your own mortality when those you love are affected by death. in my case, too often touched by it, sudden departures magnify my understanding that we must be of love more careful than anything (e.e. cummings) and hold dearly and tell often those we love how much they mean to us and how important they are in our lives. in those little moments of the telling are everything we need, and everything we need to know about life.

those little moments are what we remember and cherish.

never doubt i love you. in any silence of mine, there is always a little pulse beating with your name on it. and even after i’m gone, which death reminds us could be at any moment, that pulse will beat, that universal heartbeat will continue. i have conversations with dead people. you will too. it seems odd. a little. but just listen. you’ll hear me. i’m convinced that the essence of each of us is in the love we give and share, and that it is never ending, that the presence of those we love is as strong in death as it is in life. 

i’ve been working on a series of prints for my little online shop. years ago, i did a series of pears. some were black and white, but others were a bit more colorful. one of those became a favorite of mine. so, here. have a pear. and forgive my long silence.

much love,

thursday eLetter on saturday

happy new year! {although i wrote this piece in september of 2007, when it popped open in an archived folder this morning, it seemed the perfect piece to end the year, or perhaps better put, to begin the new one. much love, m}

i write because i must. because i love to feel my fingers fly across the keys. it is as essential to me as the air i breathe or the love i hold in my heart, my whole heart. and as soon as i begin to write, my thoughts take flight.

just like little birds, they spread their wings and darken the sky of my mind with ideas and information, with hopes and wishes and dreams. what was it carl jung wrote? ah, with Memories, Dreams, and Reflections. sometimes with only color and patterns, like flocks of parrots on the dry amboseli plain, they rise up! and i am startled by their vibrant colors, held in thrall by the motion of their wings.

this morning, as i sip my coffee and think about writing a card to a friend, i begin to think about time and about religion. and the place religion has held in time, you know? when? and how? how did it all come about?

do you ever wonder? do you ever wonder which is the oldest organized religion? ever try to imagine its beginning?

i’ve been thinking about it, because the jewish new year is approaching and i’ve been reading about it. rosh hashanah means “head of the year” or “first of the year” and it occurs on the first and second days of Tishri, which is the seventh month on the jewish calendar.

do you ever think about other people counting the days differently than you do? i do. a long time ago, i used to count my own days. regular calendars seemed somehow inadequate to the task of “naming” my days. so i named my own.

what did Monday mean to me? or Friday? or Wednesday? the beginning of a work week? only here. in the states. in other countries, other cultures, the work week begins on Sunday. so what did Monday mean to me? only a way of counting time…and people do that differently, too, in other parts of the world. why, even our own military counts time differently than i do. i mean, what does “oh eight hundred” mean to you?

what does it mean? time?

and how long ago, by which calendar, in which eon, did organized religion begin?

well, it seems that too depends on how you count time.

because the vedas of the hindus were written about 1,500 BCE (which is another way of counting time and means “Before Common Era”), but the father of judaism, abraham, lived around 1,800 BCE, even farther back! however, since moses didn’t record the torah, the jewish holy text, until 1,400 BCE, well, it looks like hinduism is older, doesn’t it?

the funny thing to me is that two currently warring religions, christianity and islam are both “babies” in the time department. i mean, christianity only goes back to about 60 CE, when jesus christ started teaching, and islam about 610 CE, when the prophet muhammad had his revelation.

did you know that buddhism originated in india, too? so long ago… and zoroastrianism, which some think is the world’s oldest prophetic religion, because zarathustra may have lived in the 14th century BCE. so long ago…

it’s amazing, isn’t it? that some teachings should survive while others are lost to us forever?

it makes me wonder…if there will be another? i mean, if everything is change and growth and the evolution of ideas and practices continues, doesn’t it seem as though there would be another? or at the very least, that within each of these “schools of thought and religious practice” that there would be growth? that something within each would move apace? to keep pace with a world in which the words are no longer carved in stone, and scholars no longer write in huge leather-bound books sitting at tall wooden tables in the basement rooms of drafty castles and old monasteries? that something would “break out” or “break free” or “become” in some way that moved into this century, this time…

i think these things as i sip my morning coffee, knowing that somewhere in this vast and wonderful universe, someone counts the days of the year 5768 and knows that in this seventh month of the year, this month of tishri, there are 13 days of religious significance and that 7 of them are days on which work is not permitted, because rosh hashana and yom kippur fall in this time, when the High Holidays are observed.

i stop for a moment and look at my Gregorian Calendar, on which i clearly see that it is september, in the ninth month of the year 2007—and i remember when i counted my own days, in my own way….

what if i were to begin again? to count the days? to name what is in my heart? what would this one be?

how would you name yours? what would you call this month? this year? this moment?

Day of Remembrance? Day of Reflection? Day of Delight? Day of Friends Meeting? Day of the Empty Rice Bowl? Day of Prayer Flags Flying? Day of the Bear, Year of the Rabbit? Lifetime of Always, No Matter What?

shall we name our own days? shall we count each one? shall we make each one count in a way that is significant only to us? and our dear ones?—and then, shall we dream each one into being?


eLetter on Monday

"Black Friday" has such a dark inference, it’s difficult to associate it with bright holiday shopping, but it is the commercially celebrated beginning of the "holiday shopping season." 

So every year in the States, the Friday after Thanksgiving, hoards of people mob shopping malls and online portals to scoop up the excess that this winter madness provides. 

This year, I barely knew it was Friday, because I had convinced myself I would pretend it was still Thursday and write my weekly letter before the sun set on the commercial madness. But before I could even begin, I stumbled upon this lovely sight, which I send in lieu of *more words* this week.

The sounds and lights of Paris — as the French actress Audrey Tautou (AmélieBeautiful LiesCoco Before ChanelThe Da Vinci Code) illuminates the Champs Elysées for holiday shoppers…

Happy Holidaze 

two weeks ago…

i was leaving virginia and the people i love so much. no matter how long or short the visit, i cry each time we say goodbye-for-now. it can’t be helped. the time shared is never enough.

one week ago, i was packing to go to nevada for the wedding of my best friend’s elder daughter. it was impossible to believe that i had known the bride and her younger sister from the moment they were born. still more impossible to believe that their mother had died ten years ago. i love m&a as my own, and some of my life’s most precious moments are those early years, when their mother and i would drag all our children here and there, astounding restaurants when we arrived with five kids under five and asking for a “table in the back.” when my stepdaughter was with us, we were “two adults and six children, please.” you can imagine the terrified looks on the faces of the servers!

as i packed, i felt the thread of connection tighten at these thoughts, memories that were pulling me back so many years. as we threw our bags into the back of the car, i realized it was b’s birthday. so it was no surprise that a heightened anticipation, a tightening in the chest, was magnified by memory and a dim sense of loss. i have never stopped celebrating her birthday. no matter that it has been a decade. i celebrate her birth, and love her still. 

seat belt on. and off we go, across the mojave desert. it would be an eleven-hundred-mile journey start to finish, with several trips to the airport in las vegas, as cousins arrived from virginia, minnesota and southern california.

b was the first to arrive, with all the requisite hugs and kisses that he manages to bring with him whenever he travels.

a arrived soon after. sister of the bride, beautiful as ever, laughing and bending down for another hug. she looks like her mother and has the same wry, stand-up sense of humor that we all love so much.

m&n wouldn’t arrive until the following day, so we were gathering, walking outside the airport, making all the chattery, planning where-shall-we-have-dinner? talk that families do when they’re not at their own kitchen tables.

we were all staying at the Luxor — but what is there to say about the casino-hotels in las vegas? with the rare exception — the wynn, for instance, i have been assured, is quite a calm oasis in the desert town — or the platinum, perhaps, where the wedding service was to be held in a suite the size of chicago — generally, the casino-hotels are huge beyond belief, loud beyond wildest imagination, and grey-blue with the smoke of the grimly determined.

but as we all know, family, most wonderfully, can be happy anywhere. and we were. 

thrilled to be together, we found a quiet corner and talked and laughed until a went off to celebrate the “night before” with m&e, and we took the bizarre “inclined” elevator to the 11th floor of the pyramid-shaped building and collapsed on huge, comfy beds.

the next day, another airport run, to collect m&n, whose bags had no sooner hit the hotel room floor than they were off with b to ride the roller coaster on the strip and later, to sip absinthe at the wynn

while they were off doing that, a and i were scouring the town for flowers for the bride. none to be found! after 5PM even in vegas on a sunday night, every floral shop seemed to be dedicated to their own celebrations, and not really “open to the public.” but with the help of an amazing cab driver, we were finally successful! and off to the wedding.

m&e were glittery with happiness. the ceremony was lovely, poetic, real. an intimate circle of family and friends toasted their happiness and then — vegas-style — all three dozen of us crushed into a stretch hummer limo for the short ride to margaritaville for drinks, dinner and merry mayhem!

time with family, friends, and loved ones is so very precious…and slips through our fingers so quickly.

before we knew it, the weekend was gone, monday trips to the airport accomplished, and the drive back across the mojave desert begun.

there is always a morning or two of melancholy after such intense interaction with loved ones seen so infrequently. and for the first time in a year and a half, i had had the incredible good fortune of seeing *all* of my children in a period of a few weeks. the pure pleasure of *presence* is always tinged with the realization that as much or more time will pass before those hugs are shared again.

i used to fight it, that feeling, but now i sink into it, glad of the memories, perfect as they are, understanding that the next visit, mysterious as its appointed time may be, will bring with it the connection of our happy hearts.

perhaps the toast then should be, “Here’s to the next time…and the next…and the next….”  but for now:

the fountains at the bellagio. 

time to say goodbye….

Time flies

It seems impossible to believe that since last I wrote, we have traveled nearly 6,000 miles and shared almost as many hugs and kisses with our much-loved ones.

A week ago Thursday, when the journey began, we were stumbling about in the dark before 4:00 AM, and you know? There’s just *something* about getting up at that time of day, knowing that you won’t arrive at your destination until 5:00 PM… that makes it a little difficult to get going…

Imagine! If we had been flying east through all those actual hours, without any time changes, we could have been in Paris in time for tea! *Time changes.* Hah! Don’t even think about it!

Fortunately for us, B the Beautiful was sleeping on the couch, willing to stumble out to the car at dawn to take us to the airport. We love B.

Security was a breeze, although the large cosmetic cleaning pad that is now used to swipe your palm (which Bear insists is to check for chemicals or perhaps GSR), is a bit unnerving. 

Always having been one of those who truly appreciate the extra security screening, I don’t even mind standing absolutely still without moving, my hands above my head for 10 seconds, while a TSA person scans my barely breathing body. I remember flying in the 70s, when airplane high-jacking seemed to be an everyday occurrence, anyone flying with a laptop was asked to step aside, power it on, show it, shut it down, get back in line…and all the passengers clapped when the plane touched down, happy to have avoided being diverted to Athens.

Of course, this trip, I had two jars of “Nick’s Kitchen” fabulously wonderful apricot jam in one of my carry-ons. The jars raised a few eyebrows, so my bag got the full treatment, and I had to unwrap the little gifts. Not a problem. Better that than any possible alternative of terror. The jam made it through and was devoured soon enough!

Fortified with coffee and orange juice on ice, I sat elbow to elbow with da Bear,  who was happily reading The Economist, which I took a peek at from time to time, as he was reading about Steve Jobs…

When we boarded the plane, the early morning hour seemed to subdue everyone. The crowd milling about was quiet, the various *prestige* groups boarding early were orderly. The eventual Group 1 and Group 2 passengers (what few remained after all the “Platinum,” “Gold,” “Silver,” “Ruby,” and “Sapphire,” groups boarded!) moved slowly down the boarding ramp and no one seemed to rush.

As we entered the plane, near the cockpit, the captain poked his head out, reaching for something across the aisle, and I was only too happy to smile Hello and say, “Thanks for all that you’re about to do for us!” 

He countered with, “Thanks for flying with us! We wouldn’t have a job without you.”

Nice way to begin the first leg of the journey. Our bags were already winging their way across three thousand miles, zeroing in on their destination. 

We’d be stopping for lunch in the great state of Texas, where I would think of Gia and Wanda, and for the two thousandth time, think it would be fun to see Austin…

"Time flies" takes on new relevance as we adjust our watches, winging over the Rio Grande River, somewhere near Albuquerque. 

The skies were overcast, the low clouds obscured the view, but the Captain assured us we were flying over New Mexico. The river seemed to be a splotch of pools and puddles… I remembered having seen it years before, at ground level, when the water was so low it seemed impossible to believe that it could ever contain the raging white water you sometimes see in National Geo magazine photographs.

Everything takes on a different perspective when you have a bird’s eye view. I just sank into the sensation. Georgia O’Keefe clouds dotted the sky, I sipped my coffee, eyes closed, thinking about the hugs that were waiting to happen.

A long time ago, I asked someone where all the unkissed kisses went. The response came quickly, “The birds get them all, silly.” So for a moment, I imagined the birds collecting all those hugs that went unhugged, too.

Ah, but this time! There would be nothing left for the birds! I knew that, for a fact.

The plane, suspended and propelled through the sky reminded me how fragile everything is. How it is that things happen in a heartbeat that change lives forever. All the more reason, of course, to give those hugs and kisses, to leave nothing for the birds!

So, today? 

Surprise someone. 

Fall into the moment and give someone an unexpected hug. Couldn’t hurt, and the birds will never know.

Thursday morning DNA

a long time ago, when the kids were little, i had a sign in a super bold, sans serif font on the refrigerator. it said, 

"Blood is thicker than surnames."

my last name was different than my children’s and i often looked for ways to strengthen their understanding of the fact that what mattered was that we were Family, and although they and their stepsister had the same last name, which i did not share, i was mother to them all, blood to blood 3 out of 4 times, heart to heart in the fourth.

they were a tight-knit brood, still are. they stay close, love each other very much, are good friends. i think when i was having my kids, a year apart, one after the other, that was my only prayer. that they love each other and stay close.

i had a vague understanding of the fact that they would “grow up” and “leave home,” even though i wasn’t sure exactly what that meant. i believed that children should be treated well, as though they were guests in the home, only passing through. i believed that once they were fledged, they would take off! and fly across the sky, the town, the state, the country, the world! and they did. one by one, they left the nest. one flew to california, then another, then another flew off to Kazakhstan, and another to oregon….

i watched as they all created families of their own, and i began to create another for myself.

because we are living in an age of shrinking worlds, my friends had also taken wing and were thousands of miles away, but they all stayed in touch electronically and became amazing additions to what i began to think of as my collective E-family. it was wonderful. and responsible in some way for these weekly letters, which have varied in many ways over the years, but which connect and weave many threads of the heart.

at that point, i began to think about the families we were creating, the people who were becoming our own additional family members, the ones we would come to love most and best, the ones who would always take us in, no matter what — because there can be no “matter-whats” when you are truly loved. the ones who could be with you in spirit or in fact, who could talk or listen and somehow hear you in the silence.

i don’t think i ever imagined that i would actually have another family near at hand, but when i married Bear, i suddenly and wonderfully had 4 more stepchildren, and their partners, too. we gathered in my nieces and boom! 10 kids. amazing.

today being thursday, which just happens to be my friend-in-new-york allison’s birthday and the day before i’ll see my stepkids for dinner-at-Harry’s, i’m thinking about families and what they are to me. how by default i have been welcomed into several family circles, not only Bear’s family.

when T married, i fell in love immediately with my new daughter’s mom and stepdad. then, when M married, i had what felt like a reunion with my new daughter’s family — it was as though i had known her grandmother for a very long time, and her mother, too. in her i found a kindred spirit, one who creates endlessly and surrounds herself and those she loves with color, color, color. 

my friends and family, you are so important to me. i cannot imagine life without you. friends are truly family now and this little bit of writing, week to week, helps me to feel connected…. although so far away from most of you, here, we touch edges.

john lennon understated it well for me, when he wrote, “i get by with a little help from my friends.” because, for me, i don’t know how i would get by without you, dear family and friends. over the years, you have been my shadow, my shoulder, my pillow, my smile, my merry-go-round. you have been yourself when i needed nothing more than to hear someone breathing on the other end of the phone. and you have shown up, when no one else would do. how could i ever thank you?

virginia woolf wrote, “some people go to priests; others to poetry; i to my friends.”  i guess that would best describe me. “i to my friends” 

everyone knows those moments when the inner fire goes out. albert schweitzer inspired me when i read his words about that. he said, “in everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. it is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. we should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” 

those words bring to mind one person in particular, who came into my life silently and stayed when my inner fire went out. although we have never met, he and his family have become another of my families, those i love and would do anything for. across all those miles, E was there, for years, silently holding my hand in the darkness that sometimes comes. and when someone stole my much-loved, and many miles traveled teddy bear in a heavily trafficked airport, E sent another. that Bear became family, too. he survived a 7,000 mile journey and popped out of a box in the exact moment he was needed most. and all these years later, although he has had the stuffing nearly loved out of him, he remains, Family.

with many of the friends i have made online over the past six or seven years, our relationship is of necessity one of words and images, relationships of Mind, where physicality doesn’t enter in, and in many cases has no reality at all, because we have never even seen photographs of each other. unmet friends in the states include those in california, texas, new york, florida, oregon and maine.

another circle of unmet friends in france, israel, germany and switzerland. i cannot imagine not celebrating their birthdays, not including them in winter holiday traditions! i think of some of these folks as “friends of mind.” and so you can imagine the delight i felt when i read some words toni morrison wrote in “Beloved.”

"she is a friend of mind. she gather me, man. the pieces i am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. it’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind."

i remember reading something years ago, in a biography of edna st vincent millay. it was her response to a question about loving only one person. “how could that be possible?” she asked, “when the world is full of so many grand and noble spirits?”

i think that about families, too. you know?

i mean, how could we possibly have only one, love only one? 

margaret mead, an anthropologist of note, said that no one had ever before these contemporary times asked the nuclear family to live all by itself in a little box the way we do. here in the west, in “civilized” places, with no relatives nearby, no support, she believed it put our tiny nuclear families at risk, that it put us in an impossible situation. i agree. we miss so much by not having extended families nearby. i envy my son M, who shares life with his dear wife’s extended family. imagine! imagine the possibility of having four generations of women in the same room! i love the idea! and the reality is better than anything one can imagine.

sometimes, i look at photographs of the “ancient ones” in my family, and i think about the fact that so many of us grow up with only a ghostly apparition of relatives, ancestors dwelling in the attics of our minds, so often without even a photograph to help us understand the DNA spiraling in each cell of our own bodies, just because they were there — before us. their blood thicker than surnames.

back in the day you might have called it history, or generations that came before, a clan, a tribe, whatever. today, as you build your life on the lives of those ancient ones, their DNA dancing in you, you might call it a network. doesn’t matter much what you call it, you are a part of it. i am a part of it. it makes me want to whisper things that matter, like, thank you for all the ancient ones, what they knew, who they loved, because they are in me now. i continue them. in one family after another.

and just think! it all started because two people fell in love.

well, i did it again.

missed my turn on the freeway. this time, i was thinking about steve jobs. about his family, actually. his wife and children. i was just holding them in my thoughts for a moment, suspended, prayer like.

and i was thinking about how he will be remembered. by his family, by his peers and colleagues, by the computer industry. it’s no secret i’ve been with Apple since Day One.  so i was remembering the Beginning. remembering the first Macintosh computer, which i loved, remembering the excitement when i worked at Lotus back in the day when jobs and mitch kapor were buddies and we were hiding the new Apple computer in our building. unique at the time, it was a powerful, more intuitive computer controlled by a hand-held mouse, The Lisa. 

high-tech espionage was very real then and to have The Lisa under lock and key in cambridge was amazing. of course, The Lisa wasn’t destined for the Apple Store, but it was fun checking it out, knowing that while we were working on 1-2-3, the first integrated software package, that jobs and the folks at Apple were creating hardware that would make a new kind of software fly!

so, boom. i missed the exit.

in the twenty minutes it took me to get back into the heavy early-morning silicon valley traffic, i thought about steve jobs, the innovator, the marketing genius. the man who turned the computing world upside down and drove home a vision for the packaging and promoting of sleek Apple products with such zeal —

the man who was able with that same intensity to keep his personal family life as unassailable as he was able to magnify and broadcast his professional life — especially these days, when privacy has become a shadowy concept, and someone’s idea of reality is broadcast on the airwaves every night of the week. 

the spirit of jobs will continue to inspire high-end style development of technology. there’s no doubt about that. and although he will be missed, he has raised the bar for designers, so here’s a toast to him — and those who will follow his challenging lead.

in his own words: “here’s to the crazy ones. the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes; the ones who see things differently. they’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo….. because the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”