Monthly Archives: December 2009

Elvis Is My Christmas Miracle

This morning a stranger sat next to me in a cafe.  I was in a fog, just surfacing after 4 days of flu-like symptoms combined with a stomach virus that resembled dysentery without all the fun.

During those 4 days, I spent 3 at home semi-comatose, not working or doing much of anything.  I did manage to drop my laptop and the screen shattered.   It will be fixed on the 16th.  Did I mention the 16th is the day after my deadline to overnight my book to the professional editor?  I guess I will plan on getting it to her Christmas week, especially since the rewrites I need to do before I send it off are on said broken laptop.

The day I dropped my computer, my husband’s Subaru slid on the ice and into a curb, so front end work and a new rim are now needed.  Oh and the washing machine died.  And I haven’t bought or made any gifts or sent any cards.

So I’m sitting there this morning minding my own latte when this woman, who looks vaguely familiar only because we are the same species, pulls a small matchbox out of her purse and hands it to me.  It is decorated with glitter and paint and a picture of Elvis Presley holding a guitar and smiling in a 50’s-era blazer with piping.  I don’t know what to say but I am cognizant I am accepting the gift.  She leans in and says, “Take him around, Elvis likes to travel.”  And then she is gone.

I slide open the matchbox and there is a turquoise bead, a capsule of dirt, 3 tiny worry dolls, a bean of some kind and a folded note.  The note says, “If you could kick the person responsible for most of your troubles in the backside, you wouldn’t be able to sit down for two weeks.”  The bottom of the inside of the matchbox shows a guy who might be a Mexican Elvis holding a giant globe in his powerful arms.  He is wearing what appears to be a red thong and black boots, almost Christmassy in a gay burlesque kind of way.  Under him it says, “El Mundo.”  I turn over the outside of the matchbox and it says on the back, “Magic Matchbox Shrine.”  “Each shrine contains worry dolls from Guatemala, healing dirt from New Mexico, turquoise for protection, and an Anasazi bean for strength and wisdom.  Carried in purses, the car, or home, these shrines bring blessings and good luck to the carrier.”

So it has not been the easiest of weeks but here is Elvis and he’s come to save me, to lead me to redemption and healing and a holiday season full of good cheer.  Once in the 1980’s on a weekend-long bender, I played ‘Suspicious Minds’ over and over again until the cassette broke.  I had just been dumped by a guy who cheated on me constantly.  So Elvis has helped me before in tough times.  And maybe the gay burlesque thong-wearing Elvis holding up El Mundo is telling me it’s time to lighten up, that he’ll take the load, and I can move through this time of year with a tiny bit of grace.

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22 Years Ago Today

Nancy Ruth Martin, January 29, 1934 to December 10, 1987

My mom died 22 years ago today.  Here are some of things I remember about her:

She was born in Clovis, New Mexico and her grandmother was from the White Mountain Apache reservation east of Alamogordo.  The grandmother, who I think was named Minnie but I don’t know her last name, was a cleaning lady for a Mr. Morgan, who started the Alamagordo newspaper in 1898 and ran it until 1948.  He was originally from Walsenburg, Colorado.

During the course of Minnie’s employment, Mr. Morgan raped her and she became pregnant with my grandmother.  The Morgan family had other, white daughters and Mrs. Morgan, who was mean as a snake, ran off my great-grandmother but kept the baby, naming her Ruth and hardly ever letting her out in the New Mexican sun because Ruth would turn “brown as a berry and then what would people think?”  Ruth’s real mother came by once when my mom was about 12 and growing up in Winslow, Arizona.  According to Mom, they sat in the shade and Minnie told her the story of what happened in the family.  I met Ruth’s half-sister, Mildred Morgan, in the early 1990s at the county home in Alamogordo and visited her every year for a few years until her death.  When I gingerly asked her about all of this she turned purple and shouted, “There ain’t no injun blood in this family!”  I never asked her about it again.

Mom said it was hard to find out more information on that side of the family because everyone was dead and the county courthouse burned down in the 1930’s, including all the birth and marriage records.  She also said that growing up, having Indian blood was like having Black blood in the South and you just didn’t talk about it or acknowledge it.

My mom’s father, William “Step” Martin, was born in a whorehouse on the U.S.-Mexican border near El Paso to a Native American woman whose name and origins are a mystery and a white father.  The father came to New Mexico by wagon at age 10 as the oldest of 4 children with his mother at the reins, all the way from Martin County, Kentucky.  His father, my great-great grandfather, died from black lung and that’s when his mother packed up the kids and headed west, so her sons, the oldest being Step’s father, would not have to work in the mines and die young plus there was railroad work out west.

Step injured himself on the railroad in his 20s and had a limp.  That is how he came by his nickname.  He was a big guy, 6’4” tall and a crazy drunk.  He ran the Knotty Pines Motel and Bar on Route 66 in Winslow for 30 or 40 years and sold Indian jewelry on the side.  One or two beers would put him in a blackout.  Mom said that was because he, like the rest of us, didn’t have the enzyme to metabolize alcohol.  The phrase “Indian drunk” applied to him, and would to us, when we drank.

Mom was abused by Step physically, sexually and verbally.  She said he told her repeatedly to forget about college because she was, “too tall, too smart and no one was going to marry her.”

But she set her sights on college and was the valedictorian of Winslow High School in 1951.  She landed a few scholarships to the University of Arizona at Tucson that fall, including a National Riflemen’s Association scholarship for marksmanship, a rare honor for a woman, especially in 1951.  Mom said she was mortified her first week of her freshman year at UA because the newspaper featured a photo of her at target practice with her .22 and a headline that said, “Freshman Out To Get Her Man.”

She arrived at college not knowing how to play one team sport because there was no physical education for girls in the Winslow schools.  And she was embarrassed about her handmade clothes, which she had to make herself since she was 6’ tall.

Her freshman year she was in a bad car accident coming back from Nogales with a bunch of drunk college students.  She broke her back and suffered from that injury for the rest of her life, although once she started doing yoga in the late 1960’s it helped her a lot.

When she came back from college after her junior year, Step tried to abuse her again and her brother Dee, who was born on D Day and only 10 years old at the time, picked up a baseball bat and told his father that if he ever touched Nancy again he (Dee) was going to kill him.  Grandpa never touched her again.

Mom met a guy whose name I guess I’ll never know around this time and together they went to New York in 1953 to protest the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.  Mom was against capital punishment the rest of her life.  I think she said he was from Madison, Wisconsin.  The two of them married but she got an annulment at some point soon afterwards.

She looked into going to law school at UA but was discouraged at the prospect of being the second woman in the class of 1958 there and as she put it, “Having to try so hard and kiss so much male chauvinist ass.”  So she started teaching school but I think she wished she’d gone to law school.  Then two of her kids did.

She met my dad in 1959 and they married in 1960.

Mom knew she was smart and could be arrogant about it, subtly making fun of those less intellectually endowed.  But she also spent a lot of time helping others.  She went to the University of Northern Arizona for a masters in Special Education at nearly 40 and took us kids to some of the classes and field trips with Downs Syndrome children.  We were never allowed to say the word “retarded” and I find it offensive to this day.  I don’t know if she finished the masters degree.  I know she never used it or taught special ed after we left Flagstaff for Crested Butte in 1972.

Mom started Montessori schools on Hopi, Navajo and Zuni reservations in the mid 1960’s, before we moved to Misawa, Japan.  We were very little at the time in the mid 1960’s and she took us with her to play with everyone.  After we returned from Japan, she also took us to peace marches, to Cesar Chavez rallies for the lettuce pickers and other farm workers who were trying to unionize and improve their deplorable living and working conditions.  We never bought grapes because of all the labor problems associated with farming them.  At the rallies I remember hearing Joan Baez sing and then when it was dark, eating fry bread with a bunch of brown kids while the adults drank beer and talked.

She had a lot of causes.  She protested the Vietnam War, rallied for farm worker rights, marched for Gay and Lesbian rights, camped out at San Onofre to protest the building of a nuclear power plant on an earthquake fault, attended Grateful Dead concerts, and wrote endless letters to her elected representatives about any number of topics.  She started surfing at 50, about 3 years before she died, even though she had cancer.  She was beautiful too but insecure, especially in crowds.  Even though she was loved, she had a hard time believing it.

She was also as crazy as a hot day in the middle of winter and just as unpredictable.  Her instant fury could sear me with one sentence but then she would turn around and make fresh donuts from scratch before I had to catch the 6:30 a.m. bus to Gunnison High School.  She took in stragglers and runaways if they had no place to go and needed somewhere to crash for a few days.  Her compliments to us kids were not frequent.  I remember her saying, “I’m very intelligent but you kids are fucking brilliant and that’s evolution.”  Oh and once she also told me I “had the best nose in the family.”

Even in the midst of complete chaos, which was more often than not, when the electricity was turned off, the rent unpaid and the food stamps running out, she used to say, “Everything is in Divine Order.”   Then she would roll herself a joint and start laughing.

I still think about her almost every day and wonder what life would be like if she were still around, now at age 74, almost 75.  I think we’d be good friends.

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Charity

12/5/09

n. pl. char-i-ties

1.  Provision of help or relief to the poor; almsgiving.
2.  Something given to help the needy; alms.
3.  An institution, organization, or fund established to help the needy.
4.  Benevolence or generosity toward others or toward humanity.
5.  Indulgence or forebearance in judging others.  See Mercy.
6.  The theological virtue defined as love directed first toward God but also toward oneself and one’s neighbors as objects of God’s love.
Fred and I invited a homeless woman I know to move in with us a few weeks ago.  She is exactly my age, ragged and rough around the edges, but beautiful, and going through a really difficult time.  She only sees her 3 children under supervision.  Her life crumbled around her in the last few years due to a variety of choices and circumstances I can relate to well.  But each day she stays with us, she looks better, more rested and seems happier.  I don’t know how long she will stay, maybe a few more weeks.  She is interviewing at a sober halfway house next week and hopefully can get in there.  It is closer to where her children are and her now two  part-time jobs.  She got the  second job yesterday.

I am proud of her.  She is trying so hard and following the rules we laid out: no drinking, no drugs, no men and no cigarettes (she smokes on the back porch).  Walk the dog and help a bit around the house here and there, although we have someone clean it every few weeks and don’t need that done to any great extent.  She made Thanksgiving dinner fun and easy as the two of us rocked out and cooked for hours.  I like her so much.

Is this charity?  Because it seems to be doing more for me than for her, plus we have an extra bedroom, a place where she is safe and warm and rescuing herself rather than letting someone with ulterior motives “rescue” her.

Is charity this easy?  Sometimes.  Maybe it is just helping someone by providing the space to heal his or her soul, with few expectations.

At first I didn’t want an invasion of our sanctuary of a town home, and I wondered if Fred would even agree to having her, or if she would steal from us, or not be responsible with the pets, letting them out where they would be eaten by all the coyotes and foxes.  But Fred agreed with a sweet smile; and our guest turned out to be responsible and wonderful to have around.  Like the rest of us, she is just a wounded human being but maybe a bit more wounded at this stage of her life than we are.

I was homeless too once long ago.  It was 1986 and I was kicked out of the cold water basement apartment I was renting in a dilapidated row house on 118th between Lenox and Adam Clayton Powell in Harlem.  I still had my job as a paralegal at a huge white shoe Wall Street law firm.

My belongings were in Hefty garbage bags and cardboard boxes, just clothes and journals and too many books.  I took a cab all the way to the firm downtown, bringing everything into the small office I shared with another paralegal.  My clothes went in filing cabinets and the ones on hangers into the coat closet in the hall.  My books and journals went into larger file cabinets labeled “X Client’s Discovery.”

I knew which partners were on vacation and would sleep on their office couches at night.  If I could not find a couch, I slept on the industrial gray carpet of my office, waking up with a stiff back.  If I was feeling flush, I paid for a room at the George Washington Hotel, which I called the George Washington Hotel for Women Without Boyfriends.  It was gross there, and I had to bring my passport and wallet into the shower with me in a plastic baggie or they would be stolen out of the room while I bathed down the hall.

After about 10 weeks, the paralegal I shared an office with found an apartment, his mother co-signed the lease and we moved into it, he in the loft and me in the windowless, cockroach-infested basement.  And I was no longer homeless due to the generosity of my coworker Kevin and his mother.  The generosity of virtual strangers helping someone with no place to go and no money to go there.

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Writing and Pesky Day Jobs

12/4/09:  I don’t pretend to understand the forces of the Universe that gelled together to land me my great job 20 months ago, allowing me to leave a family law practice forever and start anew in business, banking and real estate law at my then-age of 45.  I actually like what I do most of the time now.  I respect the people I work with and for.  My office is small, just 6 lawyers, but it suits me.  It’s fun to be here much of the time.  It’s humbling how much I have to continue to learn every day.  But I think that is why it is called the practice of law.

I worked as a paralegal at a huge firm in NYC and in house as a paralegal at a NYC investment bank in the mid 1980’s but smaller is better for me as an attorney.  So I like what I do and I’m getting out of debt and providing pretty well for my family that consists of a good husband, an often bad dog and two cats.

Still, I think of myself as a writer, and even though I write constantly for my day job, that is not the kind of writing I think of when I want to define myself as a writer.  My black and white thinking tells me to be a real writer, I probably have to go back to Paris to live, wear black all the time, learn to smoke, and write all day long in a cafe while nursing espresso.  Or that I can’t possibly be a writer without at least a year off on a desert island.  I have an ego that is something else.

So I do what I can to continue to be the writer I dreamed of being most of my life.  The problem is my pesky day job that I enjoy and am well-paid for.  I have to work at that job when I’m there.  It’s the right thing to do.  Still I am highly distractable and sometimes have days where my productivity is a joke.  More on that later.

A few years back I hired Jerrold Mundis as a writing coach.  He suggested I write just 5 minutes per day and then in a week or so, increase it to 10 and so on, until I was writing 25 to 30 minutes per day.  I finished the first draft of my book and half a rewrite that way, 5 minutes at a time.

He also told me not to do The Artist’s Way or any journalling, as that would cause me to leak needed creative energy for my book.  But now I have a 2-day old blog I am obsessed with and want to blog 3 times a day which just might cause a teeny, tiny energy leak.  And a bit of wallowing in self-importance.

So my pledge here and now is to work on my book first and then screw around with tweeking and adding to the blog.  You heard it hear first.

Solemn Pledge Photo Below:

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Walking Into Walls

12/3/09:  I don’t know much about blogging but I’m giving it a whirl because I’ve written a book and rewritten it and it is about to be professionally edited, which makes me nervous and vulnerable and full of doubt.  So why not start a self-centered blog about me and my feelings?  It’s the only thing I can do.

Last night I attended the Colorado Women’s Bar Association Holiday party at a fabulous old mansion converted into law offices.  I was one of the only people having coffee instead of vino and yet I am the only one who walked confidently into a remarkably clear glass wall.  Really confidently.  At my full-I-lived-in-Manhattan-for-7-years-36″ inseam gait.

I smacked my head hard.  It was loud.  The whole place went silent.  At least I did it in front of an excellent PI attorney, Patricia Jarzobski.  Oh the humanity.  Did 50 or so, give or take 25, county, state, and federal judges and magistrates HAVE to witness this?  Really?  Yep.

Then I did my best nonchalant walk of shame through this gauntlet of bench sitters and others clucking in my wake and found refuge in the vast library room.  I had to collect myself.  Naturally I said the F word when describing to friends what happened and OF COURSE one of the judges had her darling 5 year old daughter there, right behind  me, listening intently.  Crap.

I spent the next bit of time working through my instantly teenage feelings around being 6′1″ tall and gawky as hell.  It made me think I didn’t ever work through anything.

I had a headache until about 1 a.m.  But no subdural hematoma that I know of.  A banner evening.

So this morning I was obsessing about the incident even though most of the attendees probably forgot about it shortly after it happened.  I started to dry my hair.  In my anxious mood I began taking half empty bottles and cans of old hair care products out of my hair care product drawer.  I began adding various chemicals to my hair, including waxy goop, mousse, other foamy stuff not called mousse, special African oil that is mostly silicon, even spraying things on my curling iron.  It seemed the only solution to last night’s social debacle was really, really big hair.  Hair that, due to a perfect alignment of planets and layers of chemicals, is today larger than life, large and in charge, a fluff-do of magnificent proportion creating its own gravity-defying micro-environment, unaffected by the elements, namely the wind.  A protective helmet for my sensitive cranium in case I have any more run-ins with glass walls today.

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Book Journey

I am doing everything with this book backwards.  Except maybe writing.  I’ve been writing nearly every day since I was 10 years old, a few days after my mom left me, my sister and my brother in the Philippines.  Writing saved me a tiny bit, day by day.  I like think it still does.

The book is going to a really cool professional editor on December 15, 2009 I met through an old high school friend.  It does not feel ready for that step.  But it will be whether I feel that way or not.

Then there is the reading I’m giving on December 9th for a group of really supportive neighbors.  I think that’s the kind of thing that happens after a book is published but I’m doing it before a professional edit.  See what I mean?

And now the blog.  I started one about a week ago but decided to have the Memoirs and Half Truths in the address instead of what I did have.  Now I’m transferring my few posts and screwing around with my blog instead of revising my book.  Did I mention the December 15th deadline?

I figured out what is possibly more self-centered than blogging and that would be me commenting on my own blog posts.  But I might do that too.

Today I took the dog out in the snow, letting my husband sleep.  My houseguest has been upstairs for coffee.  She generously offered to put up a Christmas tree for us since I am so busy and have that, um, deadline looming.  But we don’t decorate every year so I am thinking what’s the point, other than it will be cheery as hell and possibly another way to not write as much before December 15th.

So far, since I’ve had this deadline for a few months, I have really written a lot and procrastinated a lot.  Here are some of my excuses:

Working at a job that pays

Revising my memorial service (I’m 46 and in excellent health)

Cooking elaborate meals

Taking everything out of the kitchen cabinets, washing the cabinets down with vinegar and water, washing all the contents of the cabinets and rearranging the now-clean contents in the now-clean cabinets.

Reading about writing.

Hosting Thanksgiving.

Making lists that include “work on book.”

Calling friends.

Helping others.

Sorting out all of my ski gear.

Watching the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and/or Mad Men.

Reading other people’s blogs.

Baking pies.

FaceBook.

Trying to figure out if I have faith or am just faking it.

Surfing Overstock.com for things I don’t need and don’t buy.

Rearranging my closet.

Fussing over my houseguest.

Walking the dog.

Playing with the cats.

Filling up the birdfeeder.

Talking about being a writer.

Watch the snow falling and the sun trying to break through the clouds.

Today I will transfer the stuff from the other week-old blog to this one and start fresh.  And maybe tell people about this.  Maybe.

Oh and go to my sister’s to eat her special yeast waffles and bacon, hang out for a few hours and decorate their Christmas tree with her 4 year-old son.

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