Ferrari or jalopy?

Love.

It’s something you never think about when the gears are in motion and the machinery is chugging along. You take for granted the easy ride, but the machinery of love requires upkeep, regular tuneups in the form of outings, dates, memory-making experiences. It benefits from regular polishing with the wax of affection, carefully and deliberately applied. Smoothing oil of conversation and companionship keep the motor purring.

Neglect any one of these things and this machinery starts to break down. Gears start sticking, squeaking and squawking. The motor gets tarnished and full of gunk. Forget about the tuneups and soon you find yourself stuck by the side of the road, trying desperately to flag down help.

 

 

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Battling the Loneliness Monster

The monster sleeps fitfully in its lair. A vicious opportunist with an insatiable appetite, it dreams of stragglers, outliers, awkward members of the group who veer to the dangerous periphery.

The smell of solitude awakens it from its slumber. A single soul wanders into view. Fully awake now, the monster sizes up its victim. Definitely alone. The monster gets up, hungry with anticipation. It pads on stealthy paws, silently creeping up from behind. Without a sound, it pounces, grasping the prey’s neck with sharp claws and rendering it immobile. The prey, feeling the tightening grip, feeling the danger, valiantly struggles to break free as the monster’s grip intensifies. With a desperate, pleading glance, she cranes her neck to look it in the eye, but dark emptiness stares back at her.

The monster pushes her down to the ground and puts the whole force of its weight into its goal of submission.  Tenaciously it clings on, waiting for the moment of despair, salivating at the chance for a long-awaited meal.

The prey fights back. She weakly calls for reinforcements, but they are far from the periphery, where she now lies immobile. They can hardly make out her cries for help. From their vantage points they can’t see the monster. They tell her to get up, to come back to the group, and then go back to their business.

On her own, she knows she must struggle or perish. Her hands flail wildly to the sides for something within reach, something, anything with which to attack the monster. She grabs a paintbrush and beats the monster, hitting its sides, its head, prying at the claws around her neck. She feels its weight shift, its grip relax slightly, feels its energy subside, but its weight is still on top of her and sharp claws, though looser, still encircle her throat. She grabs garden clippers and stabs at it, slowly, deliberately, purposefully. It releases one strong paw in defense and swings its head around. While it’s distracted, she drops the clippers, grabs a guitar, and bashes it over the head. With a yowl, it finally releases its grip and flees back to its cave.

There it lies in fitful slumber, temporarily subdued, awaiting a chance to strike again.

 

Life as a Jenga Tower

Carefully the foundation was laid,
Criss-crossing planks reaching toward a sky
That tantalized with low-strung clouds of hope
And a vast expanse of possibility.

Life took a plank here and there,
That’s how the game is played,
Opening holes into the recesses of mind and heart,
But a Jenga tower is not easily toppled.

Illness came like the petulant child and
Swiped at the blocks, scattering a few to far reaches,
Never to be seen again,
Knocking the tower a little off kilter.
But the tower remained standing,
Shored up by many hands.

Blocks were extracted as
Building materials for towers which were
Themselves under construction
In a reach for that wide expanse of sky
In a never-ending shuffle of finite resources.
Still, the tower held firm.

Then a block was drawn from the bottom,
And the tower groaned.

Then another.

And another.

Players played on,
Wondering why the tower swayed.
Unaware of the laws of physics,
Of gravity
And of equal and opposite reactions,
They poked and prodded at the structural integrity
Of the Jenga tower.

The game is still in progress,
Though the base has become riddled with openings
Where the winds of disillusionment and melancholy
Eddy and swirl.


Photo credit: Nicola since 1972 via Foter.com / CC BY

Table Talk

A table dressed
In Autumn red and gold,
Flickering tapers beckon –
Come,
Eat,
Share.

The feast awaits –
An amber bird, trussed and tied,
Overflowing with succulent stuffing,
Rests in a fragrant cloud of scent,
Next to humble mashed potatoes
And glistening candied yams,
Sensible salad and unassuming rolls.
A hush of appreciation falls
As the finely dressed are seated
Before the best china and crystal,
Spreading linen cloths across their laps.

Hand in hand,
A mumbled prayer of thanks
For goodness given,
Is all too soon
Drowned out by pungent words
As battle lines are drawn.

Relativity

Reminiscent of so many other times, we parked the car down the road and started walking toward my brother-in-law’s house at the end of a cul de sac in a quiet residential neighborhood. Only this time as we walked toward the crowded driveway we heard a loud oomph-a-oomph-a.

“Is that a tuba?” I asked my husband. “Did they get a band, or is somebody just practicing?”

He shrugged and seemed to indicate the latter was of greater possibility.

As we walked in the front door we realized it was a band, a family of four, with the father as lead singer, his daughter somberly plucking a bass, an older son holding rhythm on a sousaphone, and the youngest, a boy of around 12, stretching and compressing an accordion while wailing along with his dad. They were joyful and loud. We later found out that the police had already been called by a number of close-set neighbors, and my brother-in-law had been warned to wrap it up by ten.

We congratulated the pair on their anniversary and made our rounds shaking hands and saying hello before sitting down at one of the many tables set up under undulating blue plastic tarps. I looked around. The San Antonio riverwalk had nothing on this festive backyard arrangement. Fluttering under the tarps were paper picado banners, not the plastic kind, but actual tissue paper, cut and strung crisscross across the yard. They spoke of love and attention to detail. The tables were festooned with colorful plastic tablecloths, and each table held a Corona bottle vase graced with a single bright flower.

We weren’t allowed to sit long before being ushered to the lean-to shed, where a man was expertly assembling street tacos. The smells of carne asada and pork al pastor made me remember why I could never become a vegetarian. I demurely ordered one of each of these, and my husband eagerly grabbed a plateful of strange looking tripe tacos. We piled the tacos with fixings of fragrant cilantro, homemade salsa, onions, lime, and then topped the whole plate off with a pile of cactus salad and went back to our seats. I would later go back with gusto for more. I’m a sucker for street tacos.

I set about taking Snapchat pictures to send to my eldest two who now live far from home as if to say, remember this? Remember your heritage? I snapped a picture of my mother-in-law, now in her mid-eighties. We lost my father-in-law a couple of years ago; we try not to take this time for granted. There was a slew of back and forth salutations with lots of love and hugs and well-wishes, but all over the distance that technology provides, a sanitized version of connection, life through a lens. I sent snaps of food and videos of dancing, a framework that made up much of their extended family experiences.

A few people asked where our other kids were. They got our standard answer, “Oh, they don’t want to hang out with us anymore.” In reality, one was off at a wedding at his girlfriend’s house. He had promised her mom he would help set up. The other had run off with his friends for the day. My husband hadn’t given me much of a heads-up about this party, otherwise I would have made sure they were there. Still, our answer stands. The older teens don’t want to have much to do with us anymore. Maybe it’s normal. Maybe.

My husband went off to talk to someone. I watched him gesticulating animatedly from across the yard. I saw that the man he was talking to was leaning in, so it must not have been about work this time. I sat with my mother-in-law in the silence that loud music brings. Conversation in my native language would have been hard; lip-reading in Spanish was nearly impossible. So I observed.

My youngest brother-in-law was twirling his girlfriend around the patio. They would come back sweaty only to hop up again immediately as the band started up with another favorite dance tune. I had picked the only brother out of nine who didn’t like to dance.

An older brother-in-law was holding his grandchildren as his wife talked animatedly across the table with her son’s young girlfriend. The son was busy. His seven-year-old niece was looking up at him with starry-eyed devotion as he led her around the dance floor.

I sat and watched the new generation repeating what we once did, tios dancing with their nieces, people laughing and holding babies, the older generation dancing, dancing, dancing. I thought back to a Christmas party long ago, of my brother-in-law twirling my daughter, then five, around and around the small kitchen. I felt time telescoping in with a crushing sensation and all of a sudden I was squinting back tears as I felt the all-encompassing lonliness of endings, of time past, of the things I held so dear slipping through my fingers. I bit my cheek. Hard. And again. It wouldn’t do to cry right now.

All of a sudden I felt my husband at my side again. He was cracking a lame joke, looking into my face, drawing me out of the abyss. I smiled and went willingly.

We chatted with his mom and brothers and ate cake during the band’s break. My mother-in-law tried to separate her youngest from his beloved beer. My teetotaler husband once again proclaimed his status as the perfect child, while his brother looked at me and said, “He has his vices.”

I nodded.

“Work. Work is his vice.”

I know.

The band started up again. It was 9:45.

“Are you ready to go?” my husband asked. “I don’t want to be here if and when the police show up again.”

I laughed. “I’m ready,” I said.

We rode home in silence, my ears ringing with the residual oomph-a of sousaphone and my heart pinging with the loneliness of solitude.

Greener Grass

Ah, the old greener grass dilemma, the one that has you looking over the fence and drooling at your neighbor’s yard, dog, family, life. And by neighbor I mean anyone. It’s cliche, but the grass really may be greener on the other side of the fence. I mean, when’s the last time you fertilized your own lawn.

It’s easy to look outward, especially in the age of Facebook and Instagram, and see who you want to be. It’s hypnotizing, the desire to remake oneself into a thinner, richer, happier, or more successful person than may be the present case. A person may appear to be fulfilled, surrounded by beautiful, happy faces cheering him or her on. Yet a snapshot does not describe a life any more than a book cover does a book. Because we can’t know the fertilizer our neighbor is wading through, we may idealize his or her existence through whatever he or she chooses to share. Through social media we market ourselves as our perfect vision of what we hope to be as much as we buy in to others’ marketing efforts.  This disconnect has led to to the widespread Facebook envy phenomenon.

I’m here to tell you, that green grass has been fertilized by the same bullshit that’s heaped onto your yard and watered with the same tears, and the sooner you manage it and rip out those pesky weeds, the greener your own lawn will be. Tend your own lawn, and you will be so busy lying in the lush, green grass and looking up at the stars that you won’t even notice those poor souls peering over your own fence.

Sometimes people throw away something good for something better, only to find out later that good was actually good enough and better never even came close. ~Susan Gale

 

How Do You Vote?

I’m not stirring the pot of the heated election of 2016. I mean in your life, in your relationships, how do you vote?

Do you vote with your presence… or your absence? In a world filled with distractions, it can be tempting to eschew the company of a loved one for another trip down the Reddit feed or a Snapchat conversation with a friend. I have had many car trips with teenagers glued to their phones, and the longstanding rule of no technology at the table is continuously broken. Each look down instead of up is a choice for and against, and each vote is counted as a tally mark on the heart.

What role does work play in your life? A job is a necessity, but it can become a mission, another separate world complete with its own gravity, populated with its own citizens that speak a completely different language. Family becomes a distant blip on the horizon, a destination that becomes harder and harder to reach.

Do you take the time to visit loved ones, or do distances that are short on the map become insurmountable, as hard to reach as if they were on the other side of the world? It is said, where there’s a will, there’s a way, so the converse must be true as well.

Do you vote with your presence or your absence?


Photo credit: craftivist collective via Foter.com / CC BY

 

Do you vote with words of kindness or of criticism? Do your words uplift or devastate? Negative words are like acid, drop by drop tearing down even the strongest foundation. Kindness is a glue that binds and builds not walls, but webs, scaffolds of strength that hold us all up and unite us. After a long day at work or school, are your words measured and thoughtful or impatient and rude?

Your words are your vote toward what you value. Do you vote with kindness or criticism?


Photo credit: symphony of love via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Do you vote with your dependability or do you frequently betray trust? Can your partner, your parent, your friend, or your child depend on you to catch them when they fall or do you constantly rock the boat just as soon as they stand? Where do your loyalties lie? Is impressing the masses more important than holding tight to those in the inner circle? In life it’s good to know who’s got your back. Trust is the foundation of love, and without it, love falls apart.


Photo credit: birgerking via Small Kitchen / CC BY

So, in the relationships of life, how do you vote?