Call Me Silver‐Haired Devil?

From the road, Buc-ee’s beckoned.

Rather, my gas tank and bladder issued a joint siren call. One empty, one full, and both talking for 48 long miles.

Why did I wait so long—nearly an hour—to answer?

There’s gas stations and there’s Buc-ee’s. The Madisonville, TX store promises the most‐est in unique memories for any road traveler.

Dozens of gas pumps and restrooms.

Hundreds of drink and food offerings. Few of them good for you.

Thousands of worthless trinkets from clothes, rockers, backpacks, and the unrecognizable.

The line of cars to enter the two parking lots offered first warning.

An unruly crowd paced the parking lot I entered. Women holding children’s hands. Single men holding up their own hands, stopping traffic. TLC and Privilege butting heads with cars, both snaking around and between anything that moved. Which was everything.

What else is Buc-ee’s but a joint that moves, like a Friday night dance floor on the second round of drinks.

Inside the store, agitation spiked. Lines wiggled and squiggled as young, middle‐aged, and old jockeyed for quicker access to the need du jour. The longest lines surrounded stations for drinks, sandwiches, and candy.

Understandable. Road trips extort stomach energy and activate head nerves.

Both sets of bathrooms bore growing lines. Have you ever seen a man forced to wait to do his business? It was the antsiest column in the building. I smiled.

After years of traveling Interstate 45, I’d never seen this degree of traveler mania. Questions flooded in.

What’s wrong? Why this edgy‐nervous‐tense mood? Who lost a football game? 

That last question was valid—Texas A&M isn’t far from Madisonville. Then I remembered: Spring Break. Last weekend.

Alone in my car, I whooped, “Why, of course! How could I forget?”

Then I looked away, upward, to my rearview mirror.

I spied It.

My first gray hair. Actually, gray hairs. Plural.

What color are they? White? Gray? Silver?

Amid the splash of red and brown that threads across my crown, when did bleach join the party?

The longest white strand looks at least six inches long. That’s an easy six to nine months of hair growth. How did I not notice this earlier? Psychic blindness?

To my naked eye, these invaders loom larger than Antarctica. Soon enough, they won’t loom. They’ll rule.

Is this Mother Nature’s belated 62nd birthday present(s)?

I feel rode hard.

Make that road hard.

Stages on the Road

My past beckoned.

To the beach I returned.

Shooter & talent near the beach. Working, not looking for it.

From wet, windy, and cold Galveston Island, I said, “Reporting live from Virginia Beach.”

A longtime client had called. Their upcoming oil spill drill needed our team of roleplayers and camera crews.

The money was right. I was available. The road summoned.

A year ago, I left what I’d practiced for 30 years: providing crisis communications expertise to companies in trouble. We trained clients in all 50 U.S. states and 18 foreign countries.

Sometimes they had a big, immediate problem. Others worried about one occurring. Smart companies called proactively. Stubborn bosses crossed their fingers. I bit my tongue. 

Our clients included people mostly trying to do the right thing. They failed sometimes because humans are good at that. Companies mix up their priorities, forget who they work for, and leave the lasting damage for others to clean up.

At the beach, I learned nothing has changed. Storytelling in the business world remains the same: risk exists, problems occur. The only crisis is who’s in trouble today.

“Love Hurts” storytelling: on‐stage @ The Moth — Houston

An opposite sort of storytelling shows up on stage during Houston’s recent “Moth” night.

Simple rules: share a true story from your life. No notes. No props. 

Easy for an experienced crisis communicator. What’s a story but a tale seeded in crisis?

The night’s theme, “Love Hurts,” revives a Wyoming road trip — Trooper stops DH for speeding. I get the ticket. 

Twenty‐two storytellers sign up; ten names will be drawn.

Then I hear my name and remember the emcee’s earlier crow, “500‐plus of you came out tonight! We’re SRO!”

I walk to the stage. 

Remember lines. Remember gestures. Remember emphasis points. Remember eye contact. 

I begin. Sea of stranger eyes looking up, a long, wide, deep rectangle of black chairs. Primal Texas twang replaces broadcast voice. Knees wiggle, legs twitch.

Hands move, on their own, in all the right places. Eyes find friendly faces. Applause erupts in unexpected places.

I finish. Every line remembered.

I can do this. 

The emcee walks over, applauding; whispers, confirming: “YOU are a storyteller.”

Future and past merge onto a stage I never imagined.

Note to Reader: The words ‘shooter’ and ‘talent’ in the TV news business refer to 1) the camera person recording the story and 2) the reporter delivering it. Imprecise terms, one of which is less used nowadays. For obvious reasons.

Flick ‘n Fling at the Courthouse

When people take pictures of your shoes, it’s time to write about them.

Especially when Photo Time occurs at the courthouse.

We three women sat next to each other, awaiting the outcome of round one: would we be picked for jury duty? Bailiff updates droned on through rounds two and three. We began to chat.

After a few minutes, the woman sitting two places to my left eyeballed the shoes I’d worn on this road trip:

Both women erupted in surprise when I mentioned the paint job was mine. A cacophony of non‐stop questions and amazement followed. While secretly delighted, I finally said, “they’re only shoes.”

The first woman asked to take a picture. For her daughter, she said. The other, sitting next to me, noticed the faux gemstones.

I explained the white dots are not gems, only sticky white dots. Stand‐ins for old stones that disappeared who knows where, when or how. 

The picture‐taker leaned in and whispered, “so, how do you DIY shoes?” 

Why are you whispering? I wondered. Are these creations too weird? Am I?

I paused before the directions rolled like warm honey off my tongue. My fingers followed along in an artful sign language.

Easy‐breezy: shoe paint, leather shoes, and your fingers. Only four: index, middle, and ring fingers plus a thumb. All you do is flick and fling!”

I giggled at the ad‐lib, morphing it into Flick ‘n Fling Fun. then added, “Best part? No one in the universe will ever own shoes like yours. Who wants to be like everyone else?”

My two new friends nodded in agreement. Our shared middle‐to‐senior ages encouraged that collective attitude. We talked more nitty‐gritty details of painting shoes. Finally, we exchanged our names.

Sheila.

Melanie.

And Melanie.

Jury duty with a namesake.

Who also wished her mother had named her Scarlett.

Who parked two places away in the parking lot; who sat two spaces away in the courthouse.

Four synchronicities for the price of one.

Who says jury duty is a chore?

And, no, none of us was picked.

Lava on the Road, Story on the Page

Only weeks ago, I resolved to find magic in this New Year. It landed last night, courtesy of an unexpected gift.

The weekend crisis du jour sent DH and I on the road. A new lamp shade beckoned.

We arrived home with that and a bonus: a Lava Lamp for my writing studio.

In the store, the colorful box screamed, “All this color! You know you want me!” Curious, is it not, that all the box’s colors match my novel characters? Can you identify the six shades?

Looming larger, this toy offers a different kind of road trip—straight down memory lane. But in my 70’s teen days, I never owned a Lava Lamp.

Having one up‐close, I’ve realized a Lava lamp is essentially an electric candle, sans wick, parked inside a glass bottle. It works when a glob of bottled wax gets heated, rises then dances inside glass under illuminated by a tiny light bulb.

Lava Embryo With Legs speaks of new life, new creation, new start. And unable to stand.

This mutant look compliments reality. Nothing’s ever perfect as it’s born.

All applicable for what’s been an ongoing funky new year. Maybe now as we begin week number five, it’s full‐on reboot time? Isn’t that what last week’s Full Moon with a Wolf SuperBlood twist teased? Saying goodbye to the past and moving forward with gusto, finally free?

An hour after plug‐in, Lava Embryo With Legs grows up, sprouting a semi‐carpet of background grass.

Technically, my inner feminist says this should be Lava Woman. I squinted to identify relevant body parts.

It becames that: It. Or SkullScoliosisRump. Alien doesn’t fit because this image resembles no creature I’ve seen in the best (and worst) sci‐fi flicks.

Still, it’s perfect, mimicking change with scary precision. Is change ever easy to figure out?

Two hours in, an entire new world arises: Lava Universe?

This unfolding lava world reminds me of watching last week’s eclipse. Shadows and colors changing on the moon as a memorable lunar evening reveals itself. We changed, too, watching, absorbing.

As I unplugged Lava Lamp three hours later (and DH already in bed), the meaning of the night roared in.

We writers do all this as we pen the stories that call us to the page (or the computer).

Like solid wax in a cold lava lamp, Story remains static, unborn, unchanging. But give Story enough heat, time, and attention, and it rises to new life, changing shape, spawning tales, and building the form that was always inside. Waiting.

More than a half century ago, Michelangelo wrote: “The greatest artist has no conception which a single block of white marble does not potentially contain within its mass but only a hand obedient to the mind can penetrate to this image.” 

Substitute a few words and you’ll find a writer’s truth: “The greatest writer has no conception which a single page* does not potentially contain within its mass but only a hand obedient to the mind can penetrate to this image.”

We’re not working alone.

The Story is already inside us, awaiting heat, time, attention.

Like a lowly little lava lamp.

*Substitute computer screen, piece of paper, notebook, etc.

*NOTE: The Michelangelo quote is verbatim from 1501, thus verbiage rings/reads somewhat stiff and awkward to 21st century ears/eyes.

3 Days, 3 Roads, 3 Adventures

Tuesday. Drove to Hermann Park with Dear Friend (DF). We wanted to spend some time outside on a beautiful cool day with art, squirrels and ducks. This particular park is a wonderful place to go for a walk. There are concrete paths, gravel paths, and lots of grass to walk on. There are also many trees, benches and picnic tables. DF and I walked and sat and walked and sat some more. We absorbed as much of the park as we could and committed it to memory. I took pictures with a real camera (as opposed to the camera on my phone).

This particular sculpture was a topic of discussion last year when I took the Women In Art class at the Glassell. The artist who created this piece was sculptor, Hannah Stewart. The title of the work is Atropos Key and is located on top of the hill at Miller Theater.

Since it was a weekday, there were not too many people. Foot traffic did pick up during the lunch hour with several people escaping an office setting to commune with nature. Some folks just walked and others sat on benches and visited with the ducks. Some folks walked alone, some in pairs and others in small groups. The squirrels kept an eye on everyone who wandered through.

Wednesday. DF was in the hospital getting ready for some surgery. Nothing major or life threatening, but necessary. Sometimes a road trip involves being wheeled around a hospital (or accompanying someone who is being wheeled around a hospital). From admitting room, to pre‐op holding room, to operating room, to recovery room, to hospital bedroom. I spent the day either by his bedside or sitting in the waiting room. Surgery was scheduled for 11:30 a.m., but he was not wheeled into the operating room until 1:00 p.m. He pulled through the surgery like a champ. Only a 5 hour wait in the recovery room before DF is moved to a private room. Once I was assured he was comfortable in his room and tucked in for the night, I left with the promise to return the next day to transport him home. Nurses checked on him every hour.

Both before and after surgery, we spent time in curtained cubicles where we caught some strange snippets of conversations.

A doctor said, “Your wound is safe. You could put WD40 on it and it still wouldn’t get infected. You won’t have any problem with a shower.”

A nurse said to a co‐worker, “No, it’s an hour and a half. Do not try to add another 1/2 hour to my life.”

A nurse said towards the end of the shift to someone we could not see,“I don’t like coffee. I don’t like the way it looks. I don’t like the way it smells. I don’t like the way it tastes. I don’t even like the look of coffee beans. Coffee is not my friend.

Thursday. DF and I had hoped for a hospital discharge by 11:00 a.m. No such luck. There were no more road trips around the hospital. Lots of waiting in the room. The nurse continued to visit every hour. Finally by 3:00 p.m. DF was sitting in a wheelchair on his way to the front door of the hospital.

Once out in the sunshine, we drove off in my car. We went to a drug store for meds and then to Brasil’s for an early dinner. I drove slowly through tree lined neighborhoods. Classical music played on the radio. Now life began to return to what can be considered normal.

Until next week.….

Howling at the Moon

Copyright Valerie Gache, AFP, Getty Images

Oh, but to be a RoadBroad eyeballing this moon view at the Temple of Apollo in Corinth, Greece! 

That red‐orange orb, captured earlier today, is a Super Blood Wolf Moon. The same image, sans the Temple, will rise across North America at 11:16 p.m., Houston time. Add an hour for the Yankees. Subtract two for the Westies.

With clear skies and cold temperatures forecast, it promises a memorable night of sky viewing. Lasting an hour long, it’s the last of its kind until 2021.

The description “super blood” comes not from astronomers but from copywriters. Two reasons why:

Who wants to say “total lunar eclipse” when the moon’s orange‐red color looks like, well, blood?

Super’ slides in because the moon looks 14 percent larger than normal. It’s closer to Earth than usual for an eclipse. But it’s not actually bigger.

Ancient peoples dubbed the first full moon of the year as Wolf Moon. All that wolf howling in January. Why? High mating season for wolves. In the cold?

All these factoids led DH, the astronomy buff, to inform me that we won’t need his telescope for lunar viewing tonight. This big, bright, wolf moon requires only binoculars. Good. Easier maneuvering out the back window. Warmer, too.

Staying up after midnight might be problematic. Make that ‘will be.’

This Wolf Moon correlates perfectly with the man I married. He’s a real‐life Wolf. But my love doesn’t howl. Not in January. And never in public.

But I almost howled last week when a knock‐me‐flat cold did just that. Onset came less than 24 hours after a career‐rejuvenating writing intensive. Did the virus have something to do with completing a novel outline, consolidating 31 chapter opens/closes, locking down 11 character descriptions, and setting a first‐draft completion date—all in only four days?

The question brings me to the real point of this entire blog post about tonight’s moon.

Full moons offer completion. End of a cycle, stage, or phase. Pick your word. Astrologers say full moons are a perfect time to celebrate growth, note progress, and reflect on how far you’ve come.

Now cold‐recovered, I’m celebrating, noting, and reflecting.

And through the magic promised on this blog on January 1st, I’m starting over.

Happy New Year, January 20th.

Three months from Final‐First‐Draft Day.

Here we go…again.

Second chances always offer my best results.

Stuck? Try Constraints

For the first time in our 30‐year history, DH and I low‐balled our gift exchange.

$30 apiece on each other.

Why the limit?

Boredom? Familiarity? Fixed income? Seasonal stress?

A numbers thing: $30 for 30 years?

But that anniversary isn’t until next December. And we’re not early partiers.

What answered was this: time for something different.

And so, DH gained Sherlock socks plus a World Travel Book for Kids.

Nirvana for a retired kid with a travel‐hungry Holmes heart.

He gifted Springsteen’s Broadway concert CD plus colored pencils and word puzzles.

Music for a writer’s ears while filling in word clues with 48 different hues.

The deliberate, inexpensive gift exchange has, in less than two weeks, ascended to status as Most Memorable Holiday Ever.

Why?

We forced ourselves to think outside the box. Which, unwittingly, drop‐kicked us into another one. Whoever hears ‘think inside the box’? 

With four hard walls around our gift‐giving, we surrendered dollars and expectation to creativity and consideration.

Overwrought, over‐priced shopping expeditions sit in the ash‐heap of our coupled past. Thank god!

Now, it’s simplicity, fun, and creativity—in all presents. And presence.

Constraints: they’re as clever as you make them.

Like a < 200‐word blog post.

First ever.

Writing Chain

Prayer Chain, she called it.

I heard Writer Chain.

How could I not?

Look at its pieces—orange beads, angel wing, spiral, open hand.

Each, aspects of me.

The number four prominent—bead colors, bead types.

Divine Mother rising.

I bought Mary Jane White’s lovely bead work at Kay Kemp’s Holiday Marketplace in the Houston Heights. Upon returning to my writing studio, I laid the chain on my writing desk as you see it here—tucked in a circle and cradled in orange crepe paper as it was handed to me.

Words have flooded out of me since. More, better words than in months. Long‐percolating ideas and stories breathe with new life. Novel scenes possess a depth and weight unimagined at conception. Even scribbles from a novel initiated 15 years ago sparkle with invigorating possibility.

Best: feedback gathered on that writing stuns. (Note to reader: I share these comments begging your advance forgiveness for any perceived narcissism.) Some direct quotes: wow, what are you doing differently? Your writing has improved so much. Your stories flow so well; you’ve really crossed some kind of hurdle. How did you do this? 

I credit the Writer Chain.

Wonder invites pondering: what does chain mean? Words of pain—going dark and negative, a place I often reside—spring forth. Prison, gang, bindings, suffering. Then, Nelson Mandela.

To every yin, there’s yang. Mandela sought, and found, other meaning in his chains. Light to dark.

Perhaps chains serve as bindings, or links, to connect us, one to another. In uncovering those connections, we listen and interpret then discover what might move us forward. Uncover to discover.

Are these links, or chains, the key source for inspiration and progress in our journeys as writers, artists, human beings? How do we connect all the links we find?

Is this ultimately the Circle of Life?

The Lion King, courtesy Elton John’s songwriting wisdom, roars as the season encourages rumination.

I hope the chains, the links, in your life offer you similar inspiration and forward movement. Open your eyes and unclasp your hands. You’ll see chains and links illuminating your path. Little gifts surrounding you, awaiting uncovering.

On your desk. Under a tree.

Maybe take a quick, short road trip.

Only a half hour after I got into my car, I discovered Writer Chain.

I’m forever changed by a piece of art lying on a table awaiting my discovery. With my writing practice now unexpectedly richer than before, my life, too, stands enriched by a marketplace reunion with four wonderful artists—Kay, Mary Jane, Virginia, and Sharon. Thank you, friends.

A final thought for this almost‐over season:

Nothing reveals the truth like six little words on a t‐shirt.

Lollygagging

All right. I’m here. Writing another blog post. Again, there are no pictures that go with this treatise that explores the life of a writing RoadBroad. Therefore, I will include a few pictures of holiday lights. Enjoy.

I have been lollygagging, dawdling, and procrastinating this week with my writing. My apologies! As you may remember from last week, I was dealing with a torn meniscus. I was on the verge of getting signed up for some arthroscopic knee surgery. But all that changed when I had an MRI on Monday. I no longer have a torn meniscus. Alas and alack, my poetic attempts were all in vain.

What I have is arthritis. That’s it. Instead of signing up for surgery, I have signed up for physical therapy. I have also re‐upped my membership at the Y where I can enjoy invigorating water aerobic classes and stationery bicycles.

Arthritis does not sound as fun or exciting as a torn meniscus. I can’t say I got it because I am such an athlete. Is it just because I am getting old? When I was a young child I remember hearing old people talk about their arthritis. They also talked about their lumbago, their dropsy, or having a bad bout of the grippe. All old diseases. I’m going to have to process this and cogitate on it a while.

But don’t worry. I will not write any more poetry about my ailments. Whatever would I find to rhyme with arthritis? Maybe colitis, but I haven’t been diagnosed with that.

While I was dawdling this week, a friend put a word up on her Facebook post. The word was coddiwomple. What an interesting word. The definition is “to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination”. Well isn’t that what I’ve been doing with my life post retirement? I am redefining my entire way of being. I march down the road in a purposeful manner while writing, blogging, going to movies and museums. Now I can add physical therapy and water aerobics to my journey.

I am a coddiwompler, because I am coddiwompling my way through this thing called life. When I retired from my day job, I knew certain things that I would do. I became a full‐time writer. I have definite goals, but the destination is vague other than living my own life on my own terms and enjoying it. It feels fugacious, but is actually enlightening and transcendent. Plus the word coddiwomple is fun to say. Almost as much fun as fugacious.

Does this writing seem to be a bit of a flumadiddle? I promise it was not my intention to leave you discombobulated. I’m just a logophile which means I am a lover of words and enjoy playing with them.

It was much more fun than sitting around and cogitating on arthritis.

Until next week.….…

Tis the Season for…Orange!

In these days of red and green, I cringe. Orange is My Color.

Orange orbs over Sugar Land.

Imagine my delight when this little orb danced into my line of sight. 

Its mutant reflection calmed concerns about aging handwriting.

Triple bonus came upon realizing this is my first‐observed orange Christmas decoration.

If this is the wave of future noels, I’m all in.

The exploding consumerism of the holiday season sickens me. I avoid malls and stores. I toss every catalog as it arrives.

Our house decorations are deliberate and minimal. Fireplace nutcracker. Santa moose. Seven‐inch white ceramic tree. German music box.

Red and green candles atop the dining table remind us this is the season to slow down, offer light, pay attention, and breathe deep. Ignore what does not enhance Life.

I call it a season for the senses: see; listen; smell; touch, taste. No cash required. No purchases needed. Only savory observation.

Like an unexpected orange Christmas decoration.

Selfie of “Selfie” — why, of course!

I’d gone to Sugar Land’s Town Center to observe our infamous “Selfie” sculpture.

The bronze piece outraged many people at its unveiling. Even Good Morning America featured the art. Why the fuss?

Selfie” is fun, engaging, and contemporary.

If we want to engage more people in appreciating artwork, we must experiment, modernize some creations.

Is that not partly why Lin‐Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” still shines?

The same answer applies to painting, writing, dancing, etc.–name your art form.

One of the models for “Selfie” is Morgan, the niece of fellow RoadBroad Kay Cox. After my traffic box post last week, Kay enlightened me about the prevalence of public art in Sugar Land.

My cosmopolitan pride needed the education and the reminder: it’s never too late to learn. And so, I returned to the road.

Since, I’ve wandered across Sugar Land’s parks, streets, sidewalks, plazas and bridges. A wealth of public art surfaced. Color‐filled traffic light boxes at 13 intersections. Another 18 installations of bronze, iron, granite, and glass in sculpture, mobile, monument, and tiled form, all encircling an old Brazos River sugar town. 

What about where you live? Is there public art? Please tell us more!

In seeing how other communities create their art spaces, we each learn. As we share with each other, we enrich both our communities and our own lives. Thus, change gains wings.

It’s not just stories we need. We need art. In all its forms.

P.S. Notice the orange shirt in the “Selfie” picture?

Unplanned for this blog post. 

Like that orange orb, floating katey‐cornered from where I stood.

Ah, another synchronicity of the season…