I was in Springdale today, chasing the unicorn of outdoor security lights I wanted. You can’t wait on a landlord to provide the minimum of safety, after all. It was my second visit to 64 in fifty-three days. My eyes devoured the familiar yet mercurial sights as I drove.
I can’t explain how, but I knew my old friend Mike would be in his yard if I drove by unannounced. (I’ll call him Mike for this anecdote to protect his anonymity and association with me.) On a whim, I navigated the byzantine streets and headed to the cul-de-sac he wisely chose to buy a house in. I saw Mike standing along the fence, holding a mug. Two of his dogs were with him.
I parked and said hello and let the dogs lick my fingers through the wire fence along the perimeter of the curved curbside. There was a break in the beautiful line of vegetation and flowers they’d carefully planted.
He’s not one to be idle. Along with the rest of his family, he did everything right regarding C19. Even though he’s a lifelong community servant, he took the time to be careful. Despite being vaccinated, he got covid.
It was such a pleasure to see him and hear his brand of rapid-fire yet laconic wit.
He told me he’d retire in a couple of years. I laughed. He might retire from his chosen career – but he’ll never relax. Mike is not wired for it. For years, I’ve asked him to transition from one form of public service to politics. He’s uniquely qualified. The fact that he doesn’t think so proves that he’s the right candidate, no matter what office he might seek or hold. Anyone who knows him would immediately agree.
I showed him my scar. “What’s a worldwide pandemic, divorce, and surgery to complain about?” I jokingly asked him.
Seeing an old friend, fatigued but safe from severe harm from this scourge of a virus, I left, happier than when I’d arrived. That “light you up” thing? Yeah, Mike’s one of the good people.
And a reminder that even when you do everything right, things can and will go wrong.
That gives hope to a poor soul like me.
I came back to the apartment and spent a couple of hours installing the lights, my heart filled with fondness on two accounts.
Laundry is love.
Cooking is love.
Vacuuming is love.
It is love in honor of service if you do it for another’s time and energy or to improve a person’s life, even incrementally.
It’s as important as telling someone, “I love you,” or obligatorily remembering your anniversary. Words are easy. The grind is hard.
Take out the trash. Pick up the mess without commentary.
The bureaucracy of life fills our lives with stupid diversions.
Anything you do to reduce the to-do lists of someone you love is an act of love.
“Jesus es verbo, no sustantivo,” Ricardo Arjona sang to us. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, you’ll recognize that love is indeed a verb – and not just a noun.
I’m adjusting to taking several shorter walks instead of long, meandering ones. Instead of pushups, I opt to find a new place to put my feet if I go out. It’s led me to see so many beautiful houses. Fayetteville is packed with artfully done architecture and stunning homes. Even in areas where the houses have been neglected, I find surprises to admire.
This morning, a woman was out on her wide, covered porch. She was smoking, and a large decorative mug was on the wood railing. “Your house is incredible, ma’am,” I said as I walked past. “Is it?” she answered. “I forget. You probably have a better view of it than I ever do.” Because I’m all about the metaphor, I replied, “I think that’s true about everyone and everything. We get proximity-blind to the things around us.” She laughed, nodding. I waved as I walked away.
A block further along, a dog of some sort, a mix of indeterminate origin, sat on its haunches next to the sidewalk, not too far from a fragrant magnolia. It watched me approach. No owner was in sight, and only one light was on inside the nearest house. The dog wore a nice collar. Without caring if the dog decided to bite me, I kneeled and held my hands palms up. The dog wagged its tail and lunged at me, its tongue licking my arms and then my face. I let it show me affection as I petted its head and flanks. I laughed. I carefully sat on the edge of the sidewalk and the lawn. The dog laid across my legs as I petted him. I sat there for several minutes until I feared I might cramp; I hated to break the reverie of the unexpected interaction. As I stood up, the dog licked my fingers. I scratched its ears. It did not follow me as I walked away. I’ll come back by on a random morning, hoping to see him.
Though I probably walked only a mile on that short excursion, it was exactly what I needed. The moon shone brightly above, and the chill of the air was calming without wind to make my bones chatter.
I am “taking it easy.” I’d rather be at work, surrounded by turmoil and activity.
I took this awkward selfie this morning. I’m wearing a nifty phoenix brooch that I modified myself, as well as my favorite rip-shirt. You can see that my custom Dumb & Dumber wood print to the right gives me inspiration, now more than ever. My nice incision reminds me to be careful, especially if I see a surgeon sneaking up on me with a scalpel. It’s okay to look at the weird, jagged scar. It’s a part of me forever. Everything is, in part because I’m dedicated to remembering that no matter how well things are going, life is both beautiful and capricious.
Let the day begin.
One of the dualities I struggle with is how beautiful the afternoons are here, despite the fact that I live in an aging apartment simplex. Amidst the traffic and people winding down from their days of obligatory toil and commerce, light and birdsong fill this place. It’s a time for introspection and casual hellos. I smell beans, pasta, undefined meat, and like most evenings, cannabis and cigarette smoke. I listen to the insects; even they know fall is carpeting itself around them. I saw only one hummingbird this evening. It flew down to the railing near me and then darted two feet above, perching on one of the two craft hooks I left hanging on the upper canopy. It remained for at least two minutes. When it left, it flew down a foot away from my face, humming and hovering before it made its departure.
I watch. I listen. I think.
If I go back inside, I’ll hear the backward clock ticking. I love backward clocks, but even the fact that they run in reverse is some sort of metaphor.
Evenings are the time for togetherness. It’s been that way for millennia. The sun’s slow surrender signals a retreat into homes and shared spaces.
I misjudged the quiet tonight. It is a blessing and it is a vexation.
My usual tactics of a long midnight walk or of untold pushups are out of reach, at least for the near future. I got great news from my doctor today. As contradictory as it sounds, the good news in some way amplified my need to be surrounded by sound, voices, and touch.
I am grateful to be here. So many others are facing ridiculous obstacles and certainties. I got a temporary pass.
The train arrives, claxons, stopping traffic for ninety-four seconds, the red alternating warning lights shining and reflecting on each car as it passes, the two opposing left-turn lanes backing up in frustration. Its siren recedes until I can hear it no longer. It’s replaced by the echoing barks of dogs, in homes I can’t quite picture.
I count sirens and ambulances. With so many people around me, both are inexorable.
I’m already futurizing, thinking of tomorrow. I’ll get to see the sunrise and feel the chill that’s predicted. My shoes are already laid out, socks on top, inviting me to go find a new adventure.
I can’t be me without all of y’all. And if you think of it for a moment, ask that the sunrise greet me in relative minutes.
I visited my primary care doctor this morning. Inexplicably, my appointment started 45 minutes later than it was supposed to. Due to C19 (thanks, Lynette, for the cool abbreviation), I had to wait in the parking lot, observing the spectrum of patients waiting to be called from their vehicles. That’s what gave me time to write my Stolen Beauty post. Since I arrived 1/2 an hour early, I called 30 minutes after my appointment. Drinking two nutrition drinks, two bottles of water, and two cups of coffee before leaving the apartment (one from Kum & Go) left me with a conundrum: public urination in said parking lot or going inside the covid perimeter to the bathroom. Luckily, the woman on the phone could hear that I was almost gargling with the need to go. The nurse and I had a long and fascinating conversation about hospital conditions, my journey toward losing all the weight, and a dozen other topics. She told me she’d been put in the position of being the only nurse on an entire wing before she left her last job at a hospital. She also encouraged me to hide behind the door in an attempt to scare the doctor. Again. I’m guessing we laughed thirty times while we talked. Laughter is the best medicine – and they’ll likely bill me for that too. 🙂
The notecard is one I left on the doctor’s table prior to his arrival. He laughed about that, too. No one found the other couple of witty messages I placed in the exam room. At least, not yet.
I did hide behind the exam room door to scare and/or startle him. I think he might have charted himself a reminder to check behind the door on the way in, though, because he cautiously opened the door and peeked around just as I surprised him. The doctor was in shock that I’d lost so much weight. During my last visit, I told him he’d never see me fat again. I asked him to chart it when I last saw him, because I knew then what no one else believed: I was done being overweight. Though unplanned, The Stay at the hospital left me about 90 lbs. lighter than the last time he’d seen me. I told him the story. He said, “Yours is the single biggest self-done transformation I’ve witnessed as a doctor.” Please forgive me if this comes across as humblebragging. I stopped taking my blood pressure medication shortly after I saw him last year. Yes, my blood pressure has been fantastic since I went below 190 lbs. He told me details about my procedure that I hadn’t known. A herniation happened around my appendix, an improbable combination. He couldn’t tell me if they removed my appendix, though. Because of the CT Scan in the ER, the surgeons expected a tumor or something horrendous. I never knew that. The area affected was minimal compared to what they expected. They gutted me and fixed it in record time. Biopsies and lab tests confirmed nothing suspicious. He said I might be able to return to work once the staples are removed from my abdomen. (Note: they don’t want you to keep them and make a commemorative necklace out of them. That’s disappointing!) The doctor and I talked for several minutes. We laughed several times, too. I’ll never forget last year when I told him that I was over wasting time gaining and losing weight.
I didn’t sleep well last night. But I did stand on the landing outside my apartment as the lightning, wind, and rain made their approach. I could feel its chilly proximity. When the sheets of rain reached me, I felt like I was the only person outside witnessing it. It was sometime after 1 a.m. It was beautiful. The clotted overhead gutters gushed water in torrents unidirectionally. I was glad to have witnessed it. Later, around 4:30, as I started my morning, I watched the lower water-laden branches of a tree cast witch shadows across the pavement, the movement resembling awkward stop-motion photography. After my doctor’s visit, I noted that the parking lot is increasingly awash in thousands of newly-fallen leaves. I said “Hello” to the hummingbirds, who’ll soon leave for the season.
Because of the cause and a friend always recommended it, I went to Peace At Home Thrift Store. I found a shirt that called my name. I had to cut the shoulder pads out of it, which indicates which section I found it in. And for a pittance, I bought several things that seemed like they needed to come home with me. One of them is a nice fleur-de-lis brooch inset with sparkling stones. The woman who helped me pick them out had on a cacophony of jewelry herself. She laughed when I said, “I don’t really wear jewelry.”
Because it’s so close, I had to celebrate the great doctor’s visit by going to Renzo’s and getting a Caprese salad. I liked Caprese before but discovered that Renzo’s connected the dots regarding what it is SUPPOSED to taste like. When I arrived at the apartment, I ate half of it with pleasure. You might have heard me yum-yumming with delight?
“Old keys don’t open new doors.” That’s true. But they unlock parts of our lives that need to be examined. Closed rooms are secrets, ones that occupy parts of our minds and hearts that need to be aired out. A house is meant to be lived in – and our minds are meant to be free and open.
This beautiful key was a gift. It hangs on the wall next to my stove.
P.S. IF all goes well, I might be able to return to work shortly after my staples are removed.
Michael K. Williams was more than just his character Omar Little. That’s how legacy works, though. We become filtered by perception. People are often reduced to singular acts or traits. Michael didn’t suffer the fate of being reduced, though; Omar was larger than life.
If we’re lucky enough, we find a role like Omar Little, something which defines us and gives us a platform to flourish.
“The Wire” was a slow-burning show, one which I loved when it aired. Omar fascinated me, in part because he didn’t adapt to please, and his code put his feet in motion. I loved the show more when I discovered that his killer, a young boy, and sociopath, had previously been in an episode mimicking Omar and saying he wanted to be “the next Omar.” Knowing that many of the characters on the show were based on real people gave the plot a little more kick.
Michael Williams was initially a dancer, of all things.
His scar, one earned in a horrific birthday fight when he was 25, gave him an unintended sinister look that allowed him to blossom as an actor, a career he’d never imagined. An unexpected horror surprised him with his shot in life. Michael Williams had other significant roles; it’s Omar that I picture in my head.
The above picture is one I made a couple of years ago. It’s a 16X20 custom canvas that I have in my weird sink window. I attempted to pack in meaningful references to movies, books, and icons that inspired me. I chose a few “musts,” and the rest I picked at random from a list of about 50.
Omar is in the bottom right-hand corner.
Michael died when he was 54, the same age as me. He’d struggled with drug use for years.
There are a lot of Omars walking the streets. This fact made “The Wire” such an incredible show.
There was only one Michael Williams, and his fly feet will no longer grace the Earth.
“A man gotta have a code,” Omar taught us.
I hope yours serves you well.
I had another writer’s block moment. NOT because I ever have writer’s block. It’s just one of those themes people ask about: “Can you write about any moment?” Yes. “Do you ever run out of ideas?” No. “Could you maybe slow down?” No. 🙂 All the ways I share can be muted, scrolled past, or avoided. And if I’m standing there talking to you, arrange to have another friend sneak up behind me and put a black bag over my head – and then run and duck into a closet.
Also, I’ve discovered that I could DIE at any random moment. While I watched for C19, my own bowels plotted an invisible revolt. I take that personally! How are y’all going to react to the absence of these millions of words that I spew?
I’m surprised everyone isn’t infected with the urge to cement small moments into history.
Life is one big notecard.
You are not a perfectionist; it’s most likely you’re afraid of how your truth will be received. That is out of your control. Let go.
There’s not enough time to experience all the things that happen to us. In part, because we live them much more in our heads than we do out in the physical world. It’s the bureaucracy of living, the hum and buzz of devices, the impossibility of doing something we love because we have only a certain number of awake minutes in a day. No matter what conversations you have, the activities you do, or the people you interact with, choosing or not choosing by definition robs you of other conversations, people, and fulfilling yourself with the things you love. I hesitate to call it a zero-sum scenario; it’s close.
We run behind on everything – including our ability to ruminate on what we’ve done, said, and felt in a given day.
That lack of rumination lets us slip into not focusing on what lights us up: the people who reciprocate with kindness, love, and their time. The places that renew us. We’ve got to get back to the “lights us up” people and circumstances.
My notecard is always full.
I’m just too stupid to fully get to the next gear, where life really happens.
That bastard with the scythe gave me a reminder last week. I’m scribbling faster than ever. And pondering more.
On a long detour, I met the coolest cat working as a cashier at a Convenient-But-Costly store. It was the first time I saw him there. Funny, charismatic, and engaging.
“You could make a fortune in sales,” I told him.
“Too many tattoos. But thanks, you think so?” He smiled.
“Without a doubt. Tattoos don’t mean anything. You can’t teach your kind of engagement.” I meant it when I said it and I watched my words hit him a little bit.
He said something I didn’t quite catch, although I thought I did.
I said, “God is the boat. You’re the oar.”
He stopped as he was about to reply.
“That’s a great quote. Is it yours?”
“I don’t know, honestly. It popped out because I misheard your last comment.”
“I’m going to lay that one on my preacher when I see him.” He repeated the phrase back to me. He laughed. “And thanks for the compliment.”
“You’ve got the attitude, now find a way to launch your life. If this is what you love, keep on doing it.”
It was a weirdly deep conversation to have over a counter that usually held cigarettes, energy drinks, and fat-laden goodies.
Yes, I know I look tired in the picture. But I did sleep last night and woke up grateful again.
I sat with a borrowed cat this morning, its purr against me, slitted eyes sleepily pondering me, and my fingers languorously scruffing its neck. An empty coffee cup was in front of me, its contents too hastily enjoyed. It’s going to take a while for me to fail to appreciate making a cup when I want one, perhaps even a lifewhile, a word that appeared in my head as I stood outside feeling the chill of the morning.
I’d taken out the trash and threw it on top of the unimaginably overfull dumpster. I couldn’t convince myself that it had only been a week since I used my extermination kit to spray the dumpster; it’s a duty I took on to control the ridiculous fly problem. It seemed like a metaphor was at play. I wandered around the outlet of the apartment simplex, observing the distant roll of clouds against the early morning horizon.
My surgeon and hospital team forgot to include work notes or restriction information in my packet; I suppose my five follow-up reminders weren’t a sufficient hint. By sheer accident, my supervisor Joe was standing in the room when I noticed the oversight. He’s accustomed to the complexities and holes in medical care. “I guess I’ll be back at work Monday,” I said. We laughed. I wish I were returning to work tomorrow.
I’m supposed to maintain a routine and stay active. While in the hospital, though I might not have said so before, I did the breathing exercises 100 times a day and walked a thousand loops in the hallway without assistance. The worst thing physically I had to do was to shower myself without help. Not only because I had a massive hole in my abdomen, but because they’d left the IV in the inside of my left elbow, making safe flexibility on that side of my body impossible. I can’t stress enough how HARD that was, but I knew I would go without a shower for a week if I didn’t.
For all of y’all who are concerned, I am “taking it easy.” But I am not laying down or sitting needlessly. I’m working on a plan to reset my diet. Even before The Stay (as I refer to it now), I was formulating an effective way to gain weight. It made me nervous about getting on the scale once I was back at the apartment. My weight had dropped to 142 by Friday afternoon. For those with inside knowledge of my stay, they’ll tell you that I fought tooth and nail to get substantive nutrition and a plan of action; the bureaucracy of care cost me two days of what amounts to starvation without dehydration. Unbeknownst to me, someone who shares a weight loss journey with me was just about to reach out and lovingly tell me to pull up a bit before I had posted my intention to gain some weight back. It’s amazingly easy to take advice from someone who has walked the path themselves – without feeling attacked or defensive.
Even the hydration cost me constant vigilance, though. I still hear the alarms and claxons of the empty bags when I sit in silence. One of the secrets of a hospital stay is that staff will ignore alarms with steadfast consistency. If the person coming in to silence your alarms isn’t assigned to you, they will turn it off without much concern about whether it’ll be refilled or restarted. This includes scenarios whether you’re getting normal saline, anti-seizure medication, antibiotics, or any other drug. Call lights are hallway illumination until someone is ready to acknowledge them. You can’t take it personally. You have to learn to play the game of attention and leverage. It’s unfortunate, but one that no one in the system will possibly deny. This is another reason you need to have someone with you if you’re in the hospital. I have suggestions on how to make a game out of it, too, if you’re interested. This will keep the men occupied, assuming you can get them up and into the hospital room with you.
While in the hospital, I got a teddy bear, a t-shirt, a bag of suckers, flowers, activity books, a few visitors, 357 calls, messages, and well-wishes, all of which I appreciated immensely for one reason or another. AND one request to have something done with my face while I was already in the hospital.
PS A lifewhile is an indefinite length of time characterized by the unease of knowing something significant has shifted yet beyond our perception. In this case, my attacker was unseen in its approach. As I speed away from Tuesday at 1 a.m. when my surgery started, I’m accumulating lessons. The biggest ones are trite and already well-known: people are essential, and life is limited. A lesser-known one is that life is always casting its net out in the world, regardless of who you are or what you’ve accomplished. Your checklist can be full or empty when it snares you.
I took the above picture to capture that strange shoulder bone protuberance. I could feel that another layer off my body had melted during my hospitalization.
Note: I don’t wear sunglasses. Ever.
Yet, I saw these visor reflective ones and felt compelled to get one. I ordered them before my bowels tried to strangle me to death.
Whether it is by design or not, wearing them gives me the urge to carry a baton and/or skulk around in the periphery bushes of a random property.