23 September 2012

Prodigal Journey

It’s not until sometime later that I realize what this silty emptiness is, why I’m still waiting here, on top of this slag heap, sweating and feeling my skin burn under a bright white sun.  I’m waiting for my grandparents.  For them to come and greet me, the prodigal granddaughter returned.

Last night, on the long, lonely trip here, I drove through Queen Creek Canyon, the anticipation building as I crossed the first high bridge.  I held my breath as I passed through the tunnel carved into the canyon wall.  And though I was alone, I could sense my brothers and sister in the car with me, and I wondered if they were cheating, too, like I almost always was, to make it through the tunnel without taking a breath.

At my grandparents' house, I search for tendrils of smoke from crackling fires stoked by my grandfather in the stone hearth he had built, heat radiating through the living room as my cousins and I whispered secrets across the lumps of sleeping bags and pillows strewn about the floor.  But now the sky is blue, and the sun emits a heat that burns so efficiently there is no smoke.

 I listen for a loud family gathering, glass and silver clinking, feasts with far too much to eat, followed inevitably by pies.  All of this is accompanied by laughter and stories and jugs of wine that my underage brothers sneak sips from.  They know the adults will not miss a glass or two, imbibing in the happy tales regaled around the table while the dogs wait, patiently, to be fed.  And I wait for my grandfather’s toast:  I wonder what the poor people are doing.  I never understood it as a child, but now as an adult, I see its irony:  a joke born during the Depression, told during joyously rich family moments.  But the only sound I hear is the hum of the highway, cars just passing through on their way elsewhere.

I seek the shadows of the oleanders stretching long across the backyard, the adults chatting within a circle of webbed folding chairs, drinks in hand, as we cousins wander back, parched from our adventures down in the valley behind the house.  But today the noon sun affords no shade.

I think of phone calls with her.  How she would ask how I was, listening to my news.  I wasn’t the smartest grandchild, nor the most beautiful, and also not the most athletic nor the most musical, but she would listen as if I were her favorite:  the one she loved best.  I think of how when she deemed the phone call was over, she’d just say okay and hang up, and I was surprised, every single time, to hear the click instead of goodbye.

In front of the house, I see where my grandfather kept his boat, and I reminisce about picnics and fishing trips to the lake, us kids stuffed into the leftover spaces in the back of the truck, bumping along and wondering if Grampa meant to hit every pot hole in the road.

But then I see her, my Gram.  She’s hurrying down the driveway in her button-down shirt, polyester pants and Keds, waving.  She greets us as we tumble from the car, the warmth and softness of her hug, her squeaky greeting breathless.  I blink and the driveway is empty.  The shadow of a bird crosses the yard and is gone, and I know that fleeting apparition is as close as I’ll get to hugging my grandmother again.

I drive away, toward what is now home, feeling like there’s a rock or two in my belly.  I wonder if I’ll always miss them.  I think about those who have lost more than I have, and how it is that we go on, move on, without them.  As much as we want to, as much as we think we need to, we can't go back.  And somehow, later, I finally come to realize, that we carry them with us, safely ensconced within, glowing embers of memory.  And that, I suppose, might be enough.

10 September 2012

Good for Two Months

I can live for two months on a good compliment. - Mark Twain

This morning I received a huge compliment, one that might get me more than two months' worth.  Chez Cerise has been nominated for a Liebster!  (Yay!  Woot woot!  Wait.... what?  Did she say 'lobster'?) 

A Liebster is an award bestowed upon a small blog (read: fewer than 200 followers) by a fellow blogger.  And my friend and former student, Savannah, who is an all-around good egg, smarter than the dickens, incredibly talented, and one of the most sincere and genuine people I have had the good privilege to know, chose this space and place as one of her faves.  (Be sure to check out her blog, Untethered as a Cloud, which now includes dispatches from Paris.)  And before I begin gushing like Ms. Fields, I am delighted to share with you Chez Cerise's very first interview:

1.       If you could be any music album, which album would you be?

The Creek Drank the Cradle, Iron & Wine or Lay It Down, Cowboy Junkies

2.      What is the first thing you do every morning? (After you pee.)

Check to see if my daughters’ covers have fallen off their beds, and if needed, tuck them back in so they can snuggle until it’s time to get up.

3.      Which book has impacted your life the most?

Too many to mention without leaving out something significant, but James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues” saved my life in a way during a very dark time and helped me remember what a good story does.  If I had to choose a novel, it would be Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver, which redefines home and family in a beautiful way.

4.      Which cartoons/comics did you watch/read as a child?

I’ve never been a comics reader, but as a young adult I appreciated the Far Side.  I watched        probably way too much Tom & Jerry as a kid.

5.       What is your favorite day of the week, and why?

Definitely Saturday.  The perfect Saturday includes much of the following:  la grasse matinée, no work, much play, time outdoors, reading a good book and/or watching a good movie, some good food with a choice of adult beverage(s), and staying up past bedtime.  And knowing there’s still the half a weekend of potential when I go to bed.

6.      If you could be a city, which city would you be?

If I could be a city, I would want to be San Francisco:  sophisticated, multilingual, and a little out there.

7.       Who is your favorite fictional protagonist?

This is probably the toughest question I’ve ever been asked, to only choose one, but I’d have to go with the classic answer of Atticus Finch:  a rare man who does the right thing, even though it’s the hardest thing in the world to do. 

8.      White, red or rosé?

Red:  Petite Sirah, Lava Cap Winery

9.      Why did you start blogging?

I suppose I thought I had something to say, but I couldn’t seem to find the time to write (full-    time job, full-time family, hmmm, why no time?), so it was a way for me to impose arbitrary deadlines upon myself.  I seem to have a few fans, and every now and then I even actually piss someone off with my ideas.  The most gratifying thing about writing a blog is when, in the midst of writing something, I finally figure out what the hell it is I have been trying to say.

10.   What are your goals as a blogger?

 Write, create, document.

11.    How did you spend your last birthday?

My last birthday was spent among friends from a previous lifetime, at my 25th high school reunion.  Make the most of your time here - it goes by more quickly than you think.

06 September 2012

:: this moment ::

:: this moment :: - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. (Homage to Soule Mama)

05 September 2012

Half the Sky

A couple of years ago, I read Half theSky:  Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, a Pulitzer-prize-winning husband and wife team of American journalists.  The book is not an easy read.  Each chapter details, with remarkable research, the major issues preventing women from becoming more productive, more equal to men, and more educated, specifically in Africa and Asia.  The reasons, as you can imagine, aren’t pretty.  If you read the book, and I hope you will, you’ll learn that there are more slaves on earth right now than there were in the 1780’s, during the height of the African slave trade.  And that the majority of current slaves - some estimate the lowest projection at more than 12 million - are female prisoners of sex traffickers, and an appalling number are under the age of eighteen.  You’ll learn the horrifying effects of genital mutilation,  rape as a weapon of war, and preventable reasons for high maternal mortality.  And if you don’t know what obstetric fistula is, you’ll wish you hadn’t learned.

But in spite of the sickening, heartbreaking information, you’ll also learn that it’s actually pretty easy to make a difference in the lives of these women.  There are courageous women and men leading organizations that truly improve the quality of life, and in doing so, nurture progress and hope.  There’s more about how you can get involved at the Half the Sky website.

One really exciting development, one that might get even yours truly to watch TV, is the airing of a documentary of the same title, on PBS on October 1st and 2nd.  In this four-hour film, the impact of the book on topics like improving health care, education, and economic opportunity in ten countries are explored.  Here you can see the preview for this film.

It can be disheartening to be made uncomfortable even (especially?) in your own living room, but what change might ever be effected without first having to experience discomfort?  And any discomfort we might endure pales dramatically when compared to the real struggles of females born on other continents.

So what can you do?  First, I hope you’ll tune in and share this book and film with others - and then I hope you’ll do something, no matter how small. 

The title, Half the Sky, comes from a Chinese proverb:  Women hold up half the sky.  Many of us have already envisioned the devastating outcomes of half of our world’s population being oppressed.  But what future could you visualize if each of us were given opportunities that allowed each of us to work to reach our full potential?  What if strong families led by strong women were the norm in the developing world, rather than the exception?  How much higher could each of us rise, lifting our own piece in the patchwork of sky that connects us all, one to another, hope ballooning within us all?