Month: October 2014

Magpies: On Shiny Objects and Flying Solo.

The embarrassment didn’t settle on me as my treasure was secure and jangling in my hoodie’s pocket two blocks from home.  Seven shiny pennies would clink into my circus elephant bank in a matter of steps– seven!  Nearly a dime’s worth.  But better, because there are seven.  And there is something about the bronze-copper skin of Lincoln that is superior to a dimming silver in that from-the-shores-and-caves-of-Tortuga sort of way.  You know.  Pirate stuff.


But these gems weren’t procured after a fortnight’s voyage through the Caribbean.  These are the result of me bent head first into a stranger’s bright blue trash can, my 97 pound dog pulling the opposite direction with the mortification of a 16-year-old accompanying her institutionalized mother on a rare town outing.  Never mind the honking horns and slowing cop cars.  Never mind the disgusted look on the face of my now-ex when I explain where these most recent riches were found.  I’ve got seven pennies ringing like New Year’s Day because some fool misplaced their belief that all that glitters is gold.

Magpies and me?  We are like a regular Bonnie and Clyde of shiny objects.  These Eurasian-and-sometimes-Coloradan birds, best known in Scottish folklore for their role of bringing death to each household they window-perch, have a knack for everyday thieving that would earn them gainful employment for Bill Sykes himself.  They have a distinct advantage over me, of course, with their sky high getaway cars and bird’s eye views.  But I’m certain the delight in each acquisition of glistening garbage is evenly matched.


Before the onslaught of congratulations for holding the same values as a literal bird brain, it is important to note that magpies aren’t your common robin IQ.  These are the only birds who can recognize themselves in a mirror or a photograph.  These are the only birds who cut their food– and their babies’ food– to appropriate portions.  If you hold these feathered friends in captivity with bad housekeeping, they will literally build tools to clean it out (and likely complain to the general manager).  These creatures can take down predators of mass destruction with more tact and strategy than the US government.  And that’s just to get them through winter.

And despite all of their intellect, luck-and-death folklore, and general beauty (have I mentioned these birds are also gorgeous?  I took on a full about-face on my first encounter just to catch another glimpse), they are best known for their insatiable need to collect shiny objects.

Last weekend would have been my fourth anniversary had I decided to stay and work things out and hope that two angry birds could share one tiny nest.  Magpies mate for life.  Though usually the annoyingly chattery type, the men use the ancient secret of low sweet talking to lure their lady.  Once she is secured, they resume their cackling banter for the rest of their lives.  Or until one of them dies.

945052727 (1)

It is also common knowledge, however, that the sight of two magpies is the promise of good weather.  When the weather is fine, the magpies concede to hunt together.  But the moment a storm or cold scarce winter begins, the two separate, agreeing that it is better that they each scavenge and keep what they find for themselves so that they may both have a chance to survive, rather than splitting feathers over who gets the larger berry.  Practical birds, certainly, even if a little less than romantic.  This life lesson sponsored by Nature may not be one that I need in most situations, anymore.  But for occasions like the commemoration of what is lost, this bird is happy to have flown solo.


Autumn is playing its trickery, again, where the trees masquerade themselves with too much rouge and slowly lose layers like a well practiced show girl.  Even the gold of these Halloween leaves couldn’t persuade a magpie.  They would be more preoccupied with the coin I found today in the movie theater parking lot.  This puts me one beak up on the magpies, I think.  The end of the storm– if this is the end– may not have brought me back to an old once-smooth-talking-mate-for-life.  But I’ve got two eyes full of fall, one dime to thumb in my pocket, and more shiny objects than I can carry in one hand.


Overdressed (6): On Nicole and the Acceptance of Safety Pins for Zippers


She was shocked to see it when her mother-in-law brought it down from Michigan.  It was dirtier than she remembered.  More beat up.  And it broke her heart.




When I asked Nicole to take part in the Overdressed series, it seemed that between her wild hesitation and the chronic scheduling conflict, this last piece would need to be left undone.  Upon my arrival that morning, though, the timing (as always) was perfect.  Nicole had spent our missed times warily walking past the guest bedroom where she had placed the dress after the initial reunion, and hadn’t had the courage to enter that room since.



“I just thought, if this looks this bad– so much worse than I remember– maybe the whole day was worse than I remember.  Maybe it wasn’t perfect.  Maybe I wasn’t,” she told me.


She feared the dress.  She had refused those days that it haunted her house to try it on, or even look at it again.  What if it didn’t fit?  She flashed to her grandmother’s dress, how so much money had been spent to preserve the dress and, still, how it fell apart in her hands years later as she took it from the box.  Not enough tissue paper and all was lost.  Her own dress felt like a different sort of loss, “I didn’t feel worthy to put it on again,” she admitted.  “For the first time in my life, I don’t feel completely comfortable in my own skin.  I’m scared.  And here’s this perfect picture staring back at me that I don’t fit in, anymore.”




This incubation process, stuck in her lovely home with this ghostly expectation, left her distraught even a couple days before the shoot.  She relayed that a friend of hers took her fear and unraveled it, reminding her that if she met her husband on this very day, he would still choose her.  Nicole seemed a little more reassured at this thought.  But it was Nicole herself who had the final say on the matter.  And she chose to walk into that back room and put on the dress, presenting herself boldly with a container of safety pins for me to use where the zipper failed.




The rest was left for her to hold up on her own, and she did so in her tiny backyard kingdom with the ease and grace and cheerfulness of Snow White– her chickens and dogs and flowers bending to her every movement.  Her caramel-lined back glowed as she wandered around the life she has grown and loves and fits into perfectly.




And she is more than a worthy picture.


Overdressed (5): On Samantha and the Art of Omnipresence


“I hold on to them for when I get married,” Samantha told me as she opened the wooden chest in her one bedroom apartment, pulling out layers of plastic and fiber.  She smiled, delighted with her statement, and adds, “I guess I should find someone to marry, then.”


Sam has chosen her mother’s wedding dress, pulling the 1981 lacy, dramatic garment from its disguise of a black garbage bag and laying it out for display.  Unlike the smooth, sleek silk of the dress that belonged to her father’s mother, this matriarchal beast of a garment comes complete with a hat and a veil that must be secured with a pin– neither of which Sam intends to bother with this morning after a late shift bartending.  And, somehow, the moment she puts on the blast-from-the-past, the dress– and Sam– are transformed into a serene archetype of classic beauty.  “Cool,” says Sam, looking herself over in the mirror, “I’m not going to do my hair.  I’m hungry.  Want coffee?”


It should be noted that Sam isn’t a stranger to the camera or the spotlight.  A singer-songwriter in Nashville, Sam has been plucking away on various stages around the country for years, crooning lovesick and homesick country songs like someone destined for a cliche break:  a smoke-filled honky-tonk, dirty cowboy boots, and one important person who happens to be present and ready to bring her out of her ass-busting touring schedule and give her a proper chance to sing her songs under brighter lights.


That hasn’t happened, yet.  So she waits, in the constant transition of career, for a break or the right song.  It suits her.




It is here, in her prided apartment-for-one, with every room a different color, and every piece of furniture and artwork Sam-picked in a style that weds family heirlooms with stranger’s lost vintage treasure, that she recovers from her stints on the road.  Like every performer-homebody dichotomy, she confesses the need to force herself out of the house and see people instead of Netflix, all while getting her health back– pulling each piece of the road’s gravel from her skin until it’s time to go back out again.  This is Samantha of the Present.


Samantha of the Future talks about buying a house, something small, “I won’t need anything bigger.  It’s just me.”  But Just Me Samantha is making hints at Samantha of the Future to give a sign about a certain Mr. Samantha.  The moment is brief, though, and Sam is back to being happy just being Sam.  Friends and strangers often shake their heads and declare her too special to find someone right away.  I think they’re right.


While her encounters with Samantha of the Future seems brief– a quick Kramer-style drop-in– she also maintains a more consistent roommate.  Samantha of the Past has been entrusted with more family heirlooms than space to fit them.  She declares the framed old-timey pictures and two wedding dresses and knick knacks a default, “I’m sort of everyone’s historian.”  This hitch-a-ride roomie seems to be what is simultaneously driving her away and pulling her home.  Maybe it explains her need to perform– to be the one documented instead of the one documenting.  Or to have both at the same time.




Regardless, Samantha of the Present seemed well adjusted to the constant time travel– the pull of what was and what is and what’s to come.  She looked lovely in her mother’s dress as a photo of her mother in the same dress peered from the refrigerator with full approval.  In spite of Past and Future Sam, making breakfast seemed like a good enough occasion to wear it as any.



Overdressed (4): On Megan and the Art of Choosing


A lady named Tula sold it to her in a Russian dress shop in Canfield, Ohio.  When Megan got married, she didn’t want to wear her mother’s flowing, hippie thing– much to her mother’s relief.  And while her grandmother preferred that Megan wore her dress, years of maintaining a too-thin, 1950’s figure made her betrothal garment a modern day less-than-size-zero an impossible feat for a healthy human being.  So, just as with the last few years of Megan’s life, when faced with a decision that came detached from generational story and should-and-should-nots, she chose the lace-and-bustle of a perfect fit.






Megan is perpetually in a state of What-I-Chose-Instead, and being grateful for it.  Within seconds of the last corset loop and button being tethered, she was in a sincere state of reflection, remembering the life she had chosen over the life she didn’t want.  She recounted dreams of nightmarish quality in which her marriage to Daniel costed people their life’s happiness.  And then, as if waking again, she would turn herself to the dress and go about the business of living a life she favors.







In that morning’s light, in a house she bought years ago, she is aware and can accurately recall the moments that led her to where she is now.  She can name it down to the movie on TV (Audrey Hepburn) and what she was eating (ice cream, on the couch).


And always, she comes back to what she has now.  At the cost of what she left behind.  What she chose instead was to be happy and confident– at the expense of feeling like a pariah.  She is tired of apologizing for what and who she didn’t choose, and the dress is a smug reminder of how constricting the right choice can sometimes feel.  The choice to choose your own dress and not your mother’s.  The choice to accept you are not your grandmother’s size.  The choice to marry someone your friends weren’t expecting.  The choice to trust him with all of your collective baggage.  And the choice to carry it, too.






And today’s choice: what dress to wear.  There were more– one with tags still in tact that could be returned, though she’s never tried.  A couple of bridesmaid dresses.  Those stay, too.  Another too tight from a blue period of cigarettes and starving.  She won’t take it back.  She won’t get rid of it.  Maybe because it reminds her of all she’s chose since then– and all that’s better.




Dog Drool and The Land of Enchantment: On the Art of Seeing.

“Some people call it the Land of Enchantment, others call it the Land of Entrapment,” the long-time New Mexico resident told me yesterday.


I am currently perpetuating the image of Contemplative Writer in a Far From Home Cafe, one year after sitting at this same Albuquerque cafe, where I contemplated the speed in which one’s life can turn to shambles.  At this time last year, I had dropped the divorce papers at our previous stop in an Amarillo post office, and wept my way across West Texas.  This year, I travel backwards, with Amarillo waiting for me tonight, and Flagstaff already two sleeps past.


My great adventure West was well documented, my Instagram buckling under the wealth of desertscapes and sand dunes and Pacific ocean views.  I bought a new film camera and more rolls of film than I could afford, and snapped as many photos as emotional threads.  I posed, hands on my hips Wonder Woman style, my trusty security blanket dog by my side, daring anyone to tell me I was breaking, “Look at me! I am an amazing human being!  Look at all of these feelings I have and not a single one hurt!”

The Land of Entrapment wrapped me up like a blanket to the face, and I was gasping for breath by the time we hit Tennessee again.


In the year that followed, I meticulously concocted home remedies of drinking til I slept and chain smoking and other romantic Hollywood break up endeavors.  And as the grieving process goes, I switched to caffeine free teas and yoga.  Then attending public functions– and not just the dark movie theater kind when you’re two margaritas in with your sister and choose the most depressing film Julia Roberts has ever made (thanks, Devon).  And then, taking pictures.

The problem with depression is not just the general crisis of wondering whether or not to live or die, but that it is all that exists.  I baked Gluten Free Depression Biscuits and took Butter on sad walks in Depression Park and learned to play the Depression Accordion to accommodate all of the Depressingly Quirky Songs I was writing.  But then there was a time a few months in when I realized I still hadn’t offed myself, so I may as well keep trying.


The art of seeing is the first thing lost– before my feelings could catch up, I was staring at every Enchantment offered, and could only make out the fuzzy image of a lost moment in Entrapment.  And then, I would snap a photo.  Maybe I could see it later.  South Dakota.  Rhode Island.  Georgia.  A year’s worth of Enchantments captured for later hope on film and phone, while my vision stayed keenly square on What’s-The-Point-Of-It-All-Anyway.


When we started this year’s trip out West three weeks back, a paralyzing fear that all I had worked on to Keep Going would be squelched at the first sight of a cactus.  In the panic, I took up meditating under a couple friends’ suggestion, and found one word interrupting my usual whycan’tifeeldifferentwhycan’tIfeeldifferentwhycan’tIfeeldifferent mantra: SEE.

75740013 (1)

The instruction felt simple enough to follow, so I did.  In a letter I penned from Omaha to my friend Bryan in Nashville, the whole ordeal unraveled itself.  It turns out, Depression is just a giant spider monster who demands complete attention in order to survive.  And I had given it the attention it needed devoutly.  So it grew.  This new proposition, to SEE, caught me like a magpie’s eye on a shiny object, and suddenly, every object shined.  And it wasn’t just the friendliness of trees and all the other hippie nature shit, it was the way my dog’s slobber glimmered in the Nebraska sunset, and the humor of a cricket stowing away in my suitcase.  I remembered the feeling of the universe delighting in my delight.  And the spider monster, at least for a time, packed up its gigantic web and went to haunt some other divorcee’s corners.  As it left, it didn’t seem so big.  I don’t know for sure.  I was busy admiring the cacti in the Land of Enchantment.