"My Story Lives is a cornucopia of hope and optimism in the midst of challenging and sometimes dark circumstances. You're doing great work!" Dr. Mel Waldman, Psychologist'

"In my opinion, this is one of the BEST LITERARY sites ever created!!" Camincha, San Francisco Bay Area poet and writer

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ticked Off


Up in the sunny green field
Are two deer walking through the
deep unmowed grass.
Actually, now I see
three, a little one too.

White tails swish.

I wish I could look at those
deer and not be afraid
of the ticks they carry.
But there is this fact:
Like most of my neighbors,
I've got Lyme Disease.
Wicked fatigue, achy joints
six weeks of turquoise pills
will make you hate the sight
of those tawny deer,
even that innocent spotted fawn.

Beneath my hatred, though,
is plain old fear.
I am scared of grabbing weeds
without gloves or
lying in the grass or
exercising beside the pond.
Even
walking across the damn lawn
barefoot
can
make
you
sick.

It's hard when your yard
suddenly becomes so dangerous.
The deer love the green apples that fall
from our trees and I really used to love
them visiting the yard.
Now they feel like enemies
invading my territory.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Love Affair with a Landscape



By Claudia Ricci


This is a little story about the rather weird thing that happened to me when I visited Abiquiu, New Mexico, where Georgia O'Keeffe had her home and studio.

O'Keeffe first visited New Mexico in 1929. For years, she would leave New York and spend her summers in the stunning red, yellow and grey landscape of the Southwest. In 1940, she bought a small home on a starkly beautiful but desolate site called Ghost Ranch, and five years later, she acquired an abandoned hacienda a few miles away in a tiny village called Abiquiu.

The Abiquiu home, which had been in ruins when she bought it, was finally habitable in 1949, the year she moved permanently to New Mexico. It is perched on a small cliff overlooking the lush Chama River valley. She loved the house in part because of the huge gardens where she could grow loads and loads of vegetables, flowers and all kinds of fruit trees.

She told people that she had to have that particular house because of a particular black door situated in a long adobe wall in the open courtyard where the well sits. She spent years painting images of that door in numerous abstract ways.

Last week, on a tour of her house and studio, a rather strange thing happened to me in that courtyard, right beside that very door. I've always adored O'Keeffe's work, and decided to travel to New Mexico after visiting an extraordinary exhibit of her abstract work I saw at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. this past spring. (I was also taking a painting class in Taos.)

As our tour began, a fierce wind blew up. We entered the courtyard, and I saw the door, and the tour guide explained O'Keeffe's obsession with it.

Then the guide moved us a few feet into a protected hallway next to what she called "Claudia's bedroom." (O'Keeffe's younger sister Claudia spent many summers at Abiquiu.)

I stood staring at a second door in the courtyard, beautifully greyed and yellowed with age.

I was thinking to myself how that door called to me, maybe in the same way that O'Keefe's door had called to her. I decided at that moment that if I had paint and a canvas in my hands, I would paint that door. What I had in my hands at that moment instead was the flyer for the tour.

Anyway, that's when the weird thing happened. The wind came up, and spilled a small square of black plastic -- probably a shred of a garbage bag -- and the plastic landed right on my foot. I looked down, and the shape of it startled me. I picked it up and held it against the museum flyer with the image of O'Keeffe's door. My heart started doing a bit of double-time. And maybe that's why I started feeling a very personal connection to O'Keeffe as I continued walking through her house.

She kept huge jade plants, just like I do.

She had two huge black Chow dogs (I had Bear, who was part Chow, until, sadly, he passed in 2007.)

She collected small smooth black and white rocks. I have several rocks on my meditation table.

She adored chamomile tea (her kitchen is exactly as she left it, spices and all.)

She believed deeply in the education of young people (I teach college English to underserved students.)

As we stood in O'Keeffe's bedroom, I asked a woman from the village who was helping with the tour whether the local people took kindly to O'Keeffe. The woman smiled. She said that Georgia O'Keeffe had paid for her sister's college education and the education of many other young local people. (She also paid for a water system to be installed in the village.)

O'Keeffe insisted that the students present evidence of their academic performance. The woman told me that she had once accompanied her sister to O'Keeffe's hacienda, where they sipped mint tea while discussing her sister's grades.

That made me smile.

When I got home I couldn't wait to paint. I did a poor rendition of O'Keeffe's landscape.

One of O'Keeffe's most famous subjects -- and one she painted frequently -- was a flat-topped mountain called Pedernal. "It's my private mountain," she often said. "God told me if I painted it often enough I could have it."

After she died in 1986, her ashes were scattered on the mountain.

To say the landscape is beautiful is a vast understatement. I just hated to leave.

As I prepared to board the plane in Albuquerque, the poster of O'Keeffe with her sassy smile gave me one last glimpse of that amazing artist and her incredible landscape, both of which I adore.

Monday, July 26, 2010

So can you guess who she is?



Do you know the woman on the back of this motorcycle?

Do you know this gorgeous part of the country? The landscape she loved is pink and orange, yellow and white.

You might have seen it: breathtaking shapes and forms that are so beautiful they claw at your heart.

They clawed at her heart so fiercely that she made it her home. She spent years roaming the red countryside and creating some of the most extraordinary art of modern times.





Have you guessed yet?

Tune in tomorrow if you want to learn more about her home and studio.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Great Spangled Fritillary Visits


What a
treat
and
wonder
to see
a Great Spangled
Fritillary
come to
the garden,
landing
on mums
and lilies.

BABY BOOMER WISDOM: A RECIPE FOR LIFE


By Dr. Mel Waldman

I’m moving fast and I’m moving slowly at the same time. I can say that because I turned 65 a few months ago. I’m a baby boomer (although according to some definitions, I’m not). Now I experience and watch my life rush by, contained in a time capsule moving at the speed of light. If it’s true that life is but a dream, I am, like other baby boomers, discovering the phantasmagoric nature of reality. And yet, although my perceptions reveal a rapidly-changing life, evolving so fast that I can’t catch up to Time, I’m also keenly aware that part of me is moving and growing slowly. That’s OK.

Like the tortoise in Aesop’s fable, I can win the race and achieve my goal by moving slowly and steadily, persevering to the end.

I’m a paradox, a contradiction. At 65, that’s OK. I’m learning to accept and enjoy ambiguity, chaos, and confusion. It’s taken decades to become emotionally comfortable and wise about such things. Festina Lente! I make haste slowly.
As a child, I discovered and saw the miraculous in nature and the universe, and in human beings. I believed in G-d and in the divine nature of all living beings. I also perceived inanimate objects as sacred and holy. Yet one day, I lost my faith and the ability to see the miraculous. Slowly, after decades of searching for myself and G-d and the divine, I have rediscovered the miraculous. Inspired by my discovery, I have created a recipe for life that I wish to share with you.

Before I do, however, and before you decide that I’m just another positive thinker, let me share with you a few important facts. Approximately seven years ago, I was diagnosed with an apparently incurable, life-threatening disease. I was cured. A few years ago, I developed a second disease, Type-2 diabetes. I was diabetic for about half-a-year. Then, in another amazing miracle, I once again became disease-free. Now, I suffer from a weak heart. And six months ago, I was laid off. I was Clinical Director of the Mental Health Department at a Bronx Community Health Center. My department was eliminated. My former patients, many of whom suffer from PTSD and a major depression, wait for me to find a new job so they can see me again in another clinic. I can’t see them in private practice because their managed care companies pay so little to independent therapists.

I’m unemployed and have a weak heart. But like other baby boomers, I’m hardworking, independent, goal-oriented, and competitive. And like Norman Vincent Peale, I’m a tough-minded optimist. At 65, I’m rediscovering my resilience and spirituality. Perhaps, I’ll play tennis this summer. Who knows?

And within a few months, I’ll be working again.

I’m a baby boomer and I believe. Here’s my recipe for life:

1. DISCOVER THE MIRACLE OF LIFE. Life is a miracle. Each day, meditate on your breathing. Notice how you breathe, discover your optimal rhythm, and realize that with each breath, you continue to exist and live. Also become aware of the gift of consciousness. Consciousness is a miracle granted, it seems, only to human beings. Become aware of this gift and meditate on the mysteries of Being and Consciousness. Each day, look for the miracles in your life.

2. USE TIME EFFECTIVELY. Time is a beautiful gift. It is precious. Don’t waste it. As my life flies away, I am aware of my mortality. But with this awareness, I embrace and celebrate life every day.

3. BE PASSIONATE AND ENTHUSIASTIC. My life on earth is limited. I have a choice to make. Will I live my life fully and joyously? Or shall I live in fear and hide in Plato’s cave of darkness? I choose to live with passion and enthusiasm (en-, in + theos, g-d), the latter word literally meaning in G-d.

4. PURSUE YOUR DREAMS. I have discovered that when I pursue my dreams, I’m passionate and enthusiastic and happy. Joseph Campbell, a professor of anthropology, often urged his students and TV audience to follow your bliss.

5. CREATE A NEW BEGINNING. Most of my life I have treated patients in clinics and medical centers. I have also dreamed of completing a mystery novel inspired by Sigmund Freud’s case studies. I wrote isolated chapters ten years ago. Now, I’m ready to finish writing my manuscript. Each day, I work on the novel.

6. PERSEVERE. I am persistent and never give up. When I stopped working on my book, I was not disheartened. I needed time to figure out what I really wanted to write. I completed other projects while I struggled with the characters and plot in my mystery.

7. CHANGE NOW. I believe that change is possible at any age, any time. As a therapist, I have witnessed and perhaps, have been a catalyst for miraculous change in my patients. What is the secret? You must believe, let go of your fears, and take risks. With self-awareness and courage, the impossible becomes possible.

8. LEARN SOMETHING NEW EACH DAY. Exercise your brain daily. Be curious and excited by life. Explore and discover new ideas.

9. HELP OTHERS. Put your troubles aside, forget them for a day, let go of your narcissistic concerns, and help others. Now repeat this altruistic process every day. As a corollary, become political and vote. Your vote counts. It makes you an agent of change. It empowers you. It helps others.

10. LAUGH EACH DAY, AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE. Laugh and get your endorphins, morphine-like substances, flowing. Laughter enhances your immune system and reduces physical pain. As a senior, I know a lot about physical pain. My antidote is laughter.

11. DISCOVER YOUR SPIRITUAL SELF. FEEL CONNECTED TO THE UNIVERSE. Whether you believe in G-d or not, connect to something bigger than yourself, in order to get in touch with your higher self. When I write, I transcend my earthly existence. Writing is my prayer to G-d.

12. SOOTHE YOUR BODY WITH YOUR MIND AND SOUL. By discovering and developing your spiritual self, you will cope more effectively, especially with regard to managing your physical pain. Thus, you will feel better. Your mind and soul can heal your body. Like other baby boomers, I suffer from a plethora of physical ailments which, at times, are debilitating. When my body is in harmony with my mind and soul, I experience less pain and more joy.

13. BE TRUE TO YOURSELF. When I am true to myself, my mind, body, and soul are one. It is time to be real. Rabbi Hillel said: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?”

14. DISCOVER PEACE OF MIND. If you follow my recipe, you may discover peace of mind. If not, keep searching within. It’s free and the most precious gem in the world.

Dr. Mel Waldman has authored stories in numerous literary reviews and commercial magazines. His mystery novel, "Who Killed the Heartbreak Kid?" was published by iUniverse in February 2006.

Paintings and photographs by Claudia Ricci

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Summer Day


By Camincha

On a beautiful summer day
all a woman needs is a touch
of the sun on her cheeks to
make them rosy.

On a beautiful summer day
all she needs is the breeze
caressing her hair to create
tendrils that fall over her
forehead on the side of her face
and emphasize her cheekbones.

On a beautiful summer day
all she needs is the chicness of
her own fashion to create the
magic that spreads all over her
lover's life. Changes him makes
him ready for the night.

When the night comes in full moon’s
rays in silver cloak wrapped in musical
notes high in crescendo low in
prelude they dance and twirl and bend
and turn and oh! the pleasure under
the full moon its rays penetrating them
following them chasing them shining on
them one minute the next hiding them till
morning is come on a beautiful summer day.

Camincha lives in Pacifica California. The San Francisco Bay Guardian, says: “Camincha frames the ordinary in a way that makes it extraordinary, and that is real talent.”

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Chapter Seven: "Roseblade" -- He MADE me do it!


NONE OF WHAT ANTONIE WRITES HERE IS TRUE! This story "Roseblade" is just that -- a STORY, nothing more than the outpouring of my cousin Antonie's diseased mind. The truth is, he MADE me do it!

"ROSEBLADE"

Renata rose early to go to him, and when she arrived, Antonie was waiting in the bedroom, as he always was, sitting before the silver mirror at the dressing table, idly gazing at a book. Always in the morning, she looked so fresh, she wore a full-length white apron over her trailing habit. It was the apron she wore for convent chores, an apron with blousy sleeves and long ties that she brought into a tight bow at the back of her waist. So that she arrived covered in many layers, white on top of black on top of white again, and she was veiled thoroughly head to foot, and the bottom edge of the apron was coated in fine red road dust, and her heavy black shoes were scuffed and coated too. Her forehead was bound tightly in its white linen wrap.

That she was covered so well, that he could see so little of her, just the shy half moon of her clear face, was thrilling to him, maybe because she looked so clean, so crisp and efficient and orderly at this early hour of the day, so much the sweet-smelling, hard-working novititiate, a sister, a mother to all men, a woman in white who would be ever present to attend to daily care – his and that of others. But perhaps too he was thrilled because of the promise of what was to come, the promise of how she would be transformed before the sun descended into its afternoon arc. He wanted what she would become as he wanted nothing else, but he w anted to wait for it, to hold it off as long as possible, to extend the inevitable as one might try to preserve the life of a flower. She was for him, in the peachy morning light, a rose anticipating full bloom. Indeed, each morning that he greeted her there in the bedroom, he held out to her a single rose, of an exceptional color. It was lined in yellow, but dipped deeply in red, so that the inside of the rose petals looked to be soaked in human blood.

What thrilled him about the rose, and about Renata herself, was the notion that he would watch them both unfold, that he would witness the opening of their soft petals, that he would be present at the moment when each of the flowers became full and whole. Antonie’s greatest intoxication lay in inhaling the fragrance of the rose, and in thinking about what would happen to Renata under his influence, in comparing what she was when she arrived with what she would become through his coaxing, through the driving, unrelenting force of his emotions and his passion for her. Indeed, if the truth be known, he believed it was the very act of his gazing on her, his breathing on her, his being near and touching her, that opened her to the possibility of her transformation. For as long as possible, he put off her change, and was thoroughly aroused by its contemplation. Certainly he put it off for as long as it took her to shave his face with the straight blade, and for the time it took to apply cologne with her cool palms, which she pressed with gentle certainty against his face and neck.

Antonie smiled shyly when he heard Renata knocking softly at the ornate oak door. Like most everything at the hacienda, the door had its own elaborate story. Built and carved by her grandfather and his, Gabrielo Lopez Ruiz, the door had been chiseled from a prized stand of live oak. But before the old man could build the door, he had to hack down the monstrous oak tree himself. He did, but when he tied the felled oak to the back of his mule, the animal refused to budge, the tree being much too heavy. Gabrielo’s strength was legendary and according to the story, he ended up dragging the oak to the hacienda with tree balanced over his his own shoulders. He built and carved the door in a fine manner with the same determination that had produced the magnificent Spanish house between 1838 and 1844.


“Please, come in,” Antonie said, and Renata appeared in the open door, where she paused and gazed briefly at her cousin. For just that instant, she was double-framed, once by the heavy door, and a second time by the mirror into which Antonie caught her reflection. Almost instantly, she dropped her eyes demurely to the floor. Demurely, though, only from his point of view. Had she the freedom of description, surely she would have used another word, one that captured the modesty, the sincere reserve she felt as she averted her eyes. But then she wasn’t free to choose the word, because she was, as we have said, framed entirely by his gaze. Thus, he would do with the language, and with her appearance in it, much as he pleased, and he would attempt the best interpretation he knew. But in the end, it was his word, imperfectly matched against her feeling, that held sway. Had she heard the word spoken aloud, she would have at the very least colored an embarrassed red. But she would have forgiven him just the same, of that he was sure. Because she would know that he was doing the best a man could do to describe the subtle interior hue of a woman.

“So you came. Sometimes I worry that…and especially after the other night, too, I wanted to…I must tell you, Renata, I must apologize for…for…” But she was shaking her head and holding her finger first to his lips and then to her own and then closing the door.

“No, no, don’t, I don’t want you to apologize. I won’t in fact hear of it. I won’t have you speak of…any of that. And if you insist, then I too will have to insist, that is, on leaving.” And so they eyed each other across the space of the room, each gazing at the other in the silver mirror they now shared, the mirror with the hammered silver frame. The mirror in which they were reflected belonged to the grandmother they also shared, Gabrielo’s wife, one Magdalena Sanchez y Quiero, a woman of blue eyes and black hair, a Castilian, who, despite her fair skin, was said to be part gypsy.

And so they began always in the same way, speaking to one another in hushed tones, in something of a ritual manner, dancing in words before they actually proceeded to dance with their feet. In the next few minutes, Renata prepared to lather Antonie from the small silver bowl, a bowl she heated slightly with the light of a candle set underneath. All the while the candle glowed, Renata sought to distract Antonie, to call his attention away from herself. She spoke of Father Ruby or Mother Yolla or Sister Theresa, laughing when she mentioned the latter’s name, because in the same breath she spoke of Theresa she had also to tell one of Theresa’s jokes, because Theresa would do that too, making up some harmless but ribald tale about Father Ruby or even Mother Yolla. Theresa was known for the way she could spin a farfetched tale about any one of the nuns at the convent.

And all the while Renata spoke, she continued with the elaborate preparations, readying Antonie for a shave he didn’t need. Indeed, the truth be told, his face was as smooth and hairless as that of a young woman, save for the downy shadow of hair that grew above his fully-defined lips in the form of a vague mustache.

“Wash me,” Antonie whispered, his eyes closed, and Renata laid a large towel on his chest and tucked it around his neck, and proceeded to dip a smaller hand towel – una toalleta—embroidered at both edges, into a bowl of warm water. Wringing the towel dry, she laid it on his face. She then ran the fingers of both her hands through his hair, gently lifting back into place a strand or two that had come loose from the leather tie at the nape of his neck. Then her fingers moved deftly across his forehead and temples and neck, massaging him lightly, left to right, her fingers fluttering like the legs of one of the colorful birds that Antonie kept in a large cage swinging from the center beam in the dining room. Had they been in that room now, the birds would be heard in a raucous outpouring, starting up as they always did when Renata visited, almost as if they were connected to Antonie’s pulse, his very heart.

“Close your eyes,” she whispered, and that Antonie slumped slightly in the large chair, leaned his head back, closed his eyes, and inhaled her. Without a sound, she began to apply the lathered soap to his chin, dipping the brush repeatedly into the bowl. Soon the foaming soap covered all but his upper lip, masking cheekbones and jaw, grazing his earlobes and the Adam’s apple protruding sharply from the front of his throat. She set the bowl down, and laid in the brush, and with one of her little fingers, she caught a long curl of hair at his temple and laid it behind his ear. In that moment, he reached out, caught her free hand, and kissed it, coating it with shaving soap. Swiftly she pulled back her hand.

“And how many times have I scolded you before, and how many times, my dear cousin, must I scold you again? I have told you time and time and time again that you must never distract a hand that holds a blade.” She whispered thus into his ear, and the sound of the words, and the warm breath that brought the words forth sent chills clear through the center of his back. And when he opened his eyes, she had taken up the razor, and her eyes had the slightly dazed look they always got. That was the first signal, the clue that Antonie knew so well. He knew it wouldn’t be long now, that she was beginning to undergo the metamorphosis inevitably imposed by the task.

So he relaxed, and let her drag the blade slowly and purposely across the front of his chin, and into his dimple that lay there, and onto his cheeks and the sharply curved edges of his jaw. The skin of his face tingled in the razor’s wake, and he kept his eyes closed, imagining how her face looked above his, serious at her work, her dark eyebrows poised in a slightly knit brow. He imagined too the swift movement her hand would make as she snapped the excess soap from the blade into the ceramic bowl.

At one time, he had believed that magic lay in the way she moved the razor, the way she swept it over the contour of his face. But gradually he knew the magic was simply in the way she focused her concentration on a completely unessential task. Yes, the magic lay in the fact that she was caring so intently for him, for his face, erasing a mustache he barely showed, and a totally non-existent beard. The thought of it never failed to thrill him, never failed to make him feel new and whole and reawakened to himself. It sent chills down his arms to know that at least for the moments Renata shaved him, there was someone who gave herself over to him, truly cared for him, someone who was present to a task that was completely a necessary whim.

By then she had finished skimming off the soap, and now she had indeed been transformed by her work. Moving silently, Renata unwrapped the towel from Antonie’s neck, and loosened his collar, pulling the two sides of it apart so that a triangular area of his hairless chest was exposed, down to the center of his breastbone. A small circular depression, the size of a gold coin, lay at the center of his chest. Around that point his rib cage swelled, filled with air, fell, swelled again, over and over, with the regular insistence of an ocean wave, or the boat rocking on that wave.

Renata leaned across his heaving chest and reached for a crystal bottle from the dressing table. She shook a liquid balm, sweet with the fragrance of jasmine, into one cupped palm, and slowly she applied the tingling liquid against his face and neck, refreshing his heated body with her two open hands. The liquid evaporated as soon as it touched his skin. She moved progressively lower and lower, going in circles. Finally, she unbuttoned his shirt completely and pulled it apart, so that his shoulders lay exposed, and his head hung back, his eyes closed and his mouth limp and slightly open.

A third person watching in the mirror would see Renata’s hands fluttering across Antonie’s slightly protruding breasts, his hardened nipples, while Antonie’s own hands were lifeless, his arms draped across the elaborately carved wooden arms of the chair. The third person might decide then to look away, or say a prayer, particularly if that person were a God-fearing Christian, because Renata at that point lifted Antonie’s limp hand close to her lips, and folding his hand into a fist, she laid the fist to her mouth and kissed it, and then she unfolded the fist and kissed each finger in turn along its length, leaving no skin untouched.

By the time she finished with the hand, Antonie looked to be barely breathing. Moving swiftly, Renata tore the gold cuff link from Antonie’s sleeve, and threw it aside. Pushing the sleeve of his shirt away, she kneeled on the floor, as if she too were going to pray. But instead, she set her delicate lips, and the tip of her tongue, gently, gently, gently, to the soft white skin that lay along the inside of his wrist.

Renata prepared to lather Antonie from a small silver bowl, a bowl she heated slightly with the light of a candle set underneath. All the while the candle glowed, Renata sought to distract Antonie, to call his attention away from herself. She spoke of Father Ruby or Mother Yolla or Sister Theresa, laughing when she mentioned the latter’s name, because in the same breath she spoke of Theresa she had also to tell one of Theresa’s jokes, because Theresa would do that too, make up some harmless but ribald tale about Father Ruby or even Mother Yolla. Theresa's gift was spinning a farfetched tale about any one of the nuns at the convent.

All the while Renata spoke, she continued with the elaborate preparations, readying Antonie for a shave he needed, specifically, from her.

“Wash me,” Antonie whispered, his eyes closed. Renata proceeded to lay a large towel on his chest. She tucked it gingerly around his neck, and dipped a smaller hand towel into the bowl of warm water. Wringing the towel dry, she laid it on his face and ran her hands lightly through his hair, gently lifting back into place a strand or two that had come loose from the leather tie at the nape of his neck.

Her fingers continued deftly across his forehead and temples and neck, left to right, her fingers fluttering like the legs of one of the colorful birds that Antonie kept in a large cage swinging from the center beam in the dining room.

“Close your eyes,” she whispered, and at that command, Antonie slumped slightly in the large chair, leaned his head back and inhaled her. She applied the lathered soap to his chin, dipping the brush repeatedly into the bowl. Soon the foam covered all but his upper lip, masking cheekbones and jaw, grazing his earlobes and the Adam’s apple protruding sharply from the front of his throat.

She set the bowl down, and laid in the brush, and with one of her little fingers, she caught a long curl of hair at his temple and laid it behind his ear. In that moment, he reached out, caught her free hand, and kissed it, coating it with shaving soap. Swiftly she pulled back her hand.

“And how many times have I scolded you before, and how many times, my dear cousin, must I scold you again? You must never distract a hand that holds a blade.” She whispered thus into his ear, and the sound of the words, and her warm breath sent chills through the center of his back.

When he opened his eyes, she had taken up the razor, and her eyes had the slightly dazed look they always got. That was the first signal, the clue that Antonie knew so well. He knew it wouldn’t be long now, that she was beginning to undergo the metamorphosis inevitably imposed by the task.

So he relaxed, and let her drag the blade

slowly and purposely across the front of his chin, and into his dimple that lay there, and onto his cheeks and the sharply curved edges of his jaw. And all the while she saw the Adam's apple at the center of his throat.

The skin of his face tingled in the razor’s wake, and he kept his eyes closed, imagining how her face looked above his, serious at her work, her dark eyebrows poised in a slightly knit brow. He imagined too the swift movement her hand would make as she snapped the excess soap from the blade into the ceramic bowl.

At one time, he had believed that magic lay in the way she moved the razor, the way she swept it over the contour of his face. But gradually he knew the magic was simply in the way she focused her concentration on a completely unessential task. Yes, the magic lay in the fact that she was caring so intently for him, for his face, erasing a mustache he barely showed, a practically non-existent beard.

The thought of it never failed to thrill him, never failed to make him feel new and whole and reawakened to himself. It sent chills down his arms to know that at least for the moments Renata shaved him, there was someone who gave herself over to him, truly cared for him, someone who was present to a task that was completely a necessary whim.

By then she had finished skimming off the soap, and now she had indeed been transformed by her work. Moving silently, Renata unwrapped the towel from Antonie’s neck, and loosened his collar, pulling the two sides of it apart so that a triangular area of his hairless chest was exposed, down to the center of his breastbone.

A small circular depression, the size of a gold coin, lay at the center of his chest. Around that point his rib cage swelled, filled with air, fell, swelled again, over and over, with the regular insistence of an ocean wave, or the boat rocking on that wave.

Renata leaned across his heaving chest and reached for an ornate crystal bottle from the dressing table. She shook a liquid balm, sweet with the fragrance of jasmine, into one cupped palm, and slowly she applied the tingling liquid against his face and neck, refreshing his heated body with her two open hands. The liquid evaporated as soon as it touched his skin. She moved progressively lower and lower, going in circles. Finally, she unbuttoned his shirt completely and pulled it apart, so that his shoulders lay exposed, and his head hung back, his eyes closed and his mouth limp and slightly open.

A third person watching in the mirror would see Renata’s hands fluttering across Antonie’s slightly protruding breasts, his hardened nipples, while Antonie’s own hands were lifeless, his arms draped across the elaborately carved wooden arms of the chair. The third person might decide then to look away, or say a prayer, particularly if that person were a God-fearing Christian, because Renata at that point lifted Antonie’s limp hand close to her lips, and folding his hand into a fist, she laid the fist to her mouth and kissed it, and then she unfolded the fist and kissed each finger in turn along its length, leaving no skin untouched.

By the time she finished with the hand, Antonie looked to be barely breathing. Moving swiftly, Renata tore the gold cuff links from Antonie’s sleeves, and threw them aside. Pushing one shirt sleeve off his arm, she kneeled on the floor, as if she too were going to pray. But instead, she set her delicate lips, and the tip of her tongue, gently, gently, gently, to the soft white skin that lay along the inside of his wrist.

To read more of the novel Switch!! go to http://www.mynovellive.blogspot.com

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Dear Xandra, Am I Just Plain Insane?

Note: the following is an excerpt from my novel-by-blog, which is appearing in serial installments at http://www.mynovellive.blogspot.com. The novel Switch!! is a mix of murder mystery and time travel. It features a nun, Sister Renata, who in 1883 was accused of killing her cousin, Antonie. She is facing the gallows for the crime. It also features a modern narrator who thinks she is the nun; she thinks too that she can save the nun from hanging. Curiously, the blog site has already had 6,930 hits. And that may be the biggest mystery of all: who exactly is reading this Sister Mystery?


This time I’m on the phone with my best friend Xandra. This time I’m trying to explain it and finally I think it's making some sense.

But then I hear myself. “So I’ll be sitting there, reading a book, or playing guitar, or just standing at the counter, cutting a grapefruit or peeling a carrot,” I begin, “and then suddenly I close my eyes and something comes over me and I switch, boom, I am just...her in the prison shaking the bars or sitting in the courtyard with Sister Teresa just staring up at the lion-colored hills.”

The last words come out as a whisper. Xandra, who is closer to me than my own sister, was my roommate at Brown an eternity ago. She was a chemistry major, thoroughly practical. Grounded and rational. She spent long afternoons in laboratories measuring clear liquids into glass beakers. She went on to grad school where she learned how to use something called a single-beam spectrophotometer. She mastered ion-exchange chromatography. And electrospray ionization mass spectrometry. And now she lives in San Jose where she has a fancy job at a company trying to develop some kind of machine that will sequence DNA.

Curiously, though, Xandra also happens to be a certified yoga and meditation teacher. Which on the surface seems to make no sense, until you know Xandra.

But the most important thing about Xandra is that she loves and really understands me. I can tell her anything and now I have told her the terrifying truth, that I think I'm a nun living in 1883. And that by telling the nun's story, I believe I can free the nun -- who is falsely accused of murdering her cousin.

A moment goes by. Xandra speaks. “Well, so, it sounds to me like you're really getting into your characters. What's the problem with that?"

In college, I was the English major. I used to stay up nights writing by a candle. Xandra would find me in the morning, my head on the desk next to melted lumps of white wax.

She used to read every short story I wrote. Every poem. All of it. Often she would write comments like, "I'm not sure I get the point of this one, honey, but honestly I love it. I really do."

I am pacing the kitchen now. Ten steps to the door, ten more back to the jade plant in the corner. Around and around the granite counter three times, my fingers trailing the cool surface. “The problem, Xand, is that I can’t stop thinking that I’m her. Sister Renata. The problem is that I’m in her life as a nun more than I am in my own. The visions are coming more and more often and they are so.....”

I close my eyes.

I feel my backside damp and cold against the stone bench. I feel my fingers gripping the bars. I see my ankle crusted in blood and the infection in my leg spreading. I smell the rust on my hands and the cabbage slop in my metal dish and the sweat in my pits and worst of all, I smell the shit in the foul pail. The putrid odor is a swamp rising out of the corner of the tiny cell. Only when I yell and yell and bang my spoon incessantly on the dish does the jailer finally come down the hall jangling his keys and complaining about having to retrieve it.

“Gina, are you still there?”

"Yeah, yeah, sorry.” I snap back to the phone.

"As long as you’re getting to work, teaching your classes, and functioning in the house," Xandra says, "I don’t think you should worry too much.”

I run my finger, the one that’s sore from playing flamenco rasqueados on my guitar, along the granite counter. Quartz crystals the color of a cantaloupe glisten under the kitchen light. “But I do … worry,” I say, very softly. “Lately I worry a lot.”

Xandra sighs.

“I know you do,” she says. “You worry way too much.” She doesn’t ask what I worry about. She doesn’t have to. She flew back East numerous times eight years ago, just so she could be with me through the chemotherapy and radiation, the horrifying treatment that almost killed me, for the cantaloupe-sized tumor that filled my chest. She has also accompanied me on occasion to see a few other doctors too, namely, my shrink. Once she helped me make a list of all the meds I’ve been on -- Ativan to Prozac to Zoloft. She assembled careful notes when side effects forced me off.

And she’s been with me through the last couple of years, too, through more phone conversations than I can count, when I wept over my last child --Adam-- leaving for college.

She was there for me for all the rest of it too. The rest of it being the stuff that I'd like to forget but can't.

The rest of it being the shitty PTSD that still plagues me.

Let's just say there have been buckets of tears filling Xandra's and my transcontinental conversations of late.

I thank her again for sending me a half dozen embroidered hand towels for my bathroom. She used her super deluxe $7500 sewing machine to embroider each towel with my favorite flower -- a yellow rose with blood red tips.
That also happens to be the very same rose I see so often when I close my eyes and open them back in the other life.

“You are more than welcome to those towels. I felt bad I didn’t get them to you sooner, in time for the holiday. And I felt bad we didn’t get to see each other this year over Christmas or New Year's. So are you thinking of coming out here for a visit any time soon?”

“Maybe.” And then I start to say something that I had no idea whatsoever I was going to say until the moment I say it. “I might need to come out to do..."

I stop.

“To do what?”

“Research.”

“Research? On what?” I can hear Xandra's genuinely curious.

“Well, so, you know. I would be researching this...this story about Sister Renata because I feel like...like maybe it could actually be..."

Xandra interrupts. “I would say just do what you have to do. Come out. Stay with us. Maybe this is what you need. Maybe you'll finally let me teach you a little yoga. And get you meditating. Gina, I've told you this time and again, you need tools to handle your stuff. You need to find a way to manage all the heartache and trauma you’ve been through.” She sighs. Her words feel like cold little hammers tapping on my heart.

I can't count the times she's lectured me about yoga and meditation. My reply is the same one that I give my friend Denise, who, like Xandra, is always trying to sell me on what I call spiritual shit.

"Xand, you know me, I don't have a head for meditation. And I don't have a body for yoga."

Xandra says nothing.

“So, what I wanted to say, Xand, is that I honestly believe the nun story could actually be...true. I mean, I keep seeing the newspaper in my mind.

November 13, 1882
NUN MAY HANG FOR COUSIN'S MURDER!!

http://renata1883.blogspot.com/2006/06/this-is-newspaper-that-condemned-her.html“Honestly, I see all it so clearly that....” I let my sentence go off a cliff of silence.

My dear dear Xandra, always there for me, catches it. “Well you are always welcome here,” she says simply. “Whatever it is you want to do, Don and I would love the company."

I close my eyes and I see Xandra. Not only is she over-the-top brilliant. She's also gorgeous and sexy, with a flawless brown complexion and a head full of long fluffy dreds.

“So Xand, then you don’t think I’m...totally insane?” I hold my breath.

Xandra laughs. One short laugh. “Of course I think you’re totally insane. You’ve always been insane. You're just a little more insane now than before. But that’s OK, that's what I love about you. Or one thing at least.”

Xandra can say this to me and not make me feel the least bit bad. Maybe because we've had so much history together. What's amazing is that we are as different as we can possibly be. She spends her days hunkered down in the chemistry lab. And writing impressive research reports about this brand new machine that she's trying to develop. The way she explains it, we'll soon be able to walk into the doctor's office and ask for a reading of our DNA.

I've never had the guts to ask her why I should want to know the gory details of my DNA.

At home, her house sits in one of those immaculate California suburbs. The streets look buffed. Inside, her house is carpeted white. Her closets are organized with blue plastic crates. They are all labeled. She makes lists for every day of the week and she checks off each item she has completed at the end of every day. Her conversation is peppered with phrases like “at this point in time.”

Meanwhile, I'm living in a funky 18th century Dutch farmhouse that is also home to a slew of mice and ants and ladybugs. I haven't cleaned out a closet in two decades. I can't remember the last time I washed the windows or the curtains. If I make lists, I never manage to remember where I put them.

Anyway, I say goodbye to Xandra and go out to the backyard. I walk in my house slippers across the grass and stand looking toward the pond. The moonlight turns it into a shimmering silver coin.

David is inside. I call to him. He joins me in the middle of the backyard. He holds me by the shoulders. We gaze in silence up to the dark sky. Then he kisses my cheek and goes back in the house.

I remain, staring at the pinpricks of light. Glittering stars. Blinking on and on and off and off. The stars start it going. The switching.



I close my eyes and there I am, under a pale green night sky, and I'm riding on the wagon with SeƱora Ramos once more.Renata1883.blogspot.com.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Fourth of July Flower



Bee balm, a fireworks
of a flower,
its petals a
red shooting shower,
hardly
looks as calm
as its name.

Happy Fourth of July!