Griswold Revival

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“I dedicate this house to the Griswold Family Christmas!” – Clark Griswold

At this festive and whimsical time of year, a time of sharing and gratitude, I feel compelled to share a little secret of mine; a sometimes embarrassing though always endearing fun fact, known only to my childhood friends and neighbors.

I was raised by Clark Griswold.

No, not Chevy Chase, he was just the actor. My father, I am certain, was the inspiration behind Christmas Vacation; the movie’s jubilant and mildly mischievous muse, wrapped in a thousand blinking strands of Christmas lights and hung with moosey mugfuls of frothy spiked egg nog.

Now, looking back, I recall with immense gratitude and joy the quirky assortment of memories that have become Christmas to me. So grab your beverage of choice, put your slippered feet up and dim your lights to an appropriately magical and Christmasy ambiance, as I take you down a bit of my memory lane…

Growing up, we had many a wild Christmas tree that just couldn’t quite squeeze itself between floor and ceiling, and though no squirrels ever launched themselves from among the sappy branches, I do recall a mass exodus of coniferous creepy-crawlies squirming and scrabbling up the living room walls.

Intense exterior decorating ensued promptly on the morning after Thanksgiving, and would continue well into the night. The house often looked to have been hosed down with Christmas lighting by a rampant host of runaway, drunken elves. (In reality, if one were to search among the sparkling bushes or under the twinkling trees, one would find scattered bottles of Sam Adams Winter Brew as evidence.)  This was all very fantastic. Less is more did not apply.

However, with a ‘more is more’ approach to holiday decor, my father has also been known, as his movie character so precisely expresses, to take things, ever so slightly, overboard. My mother does her best to support his antics, often quietly adding her own touch of class (usually elemental versus electric and plastic), to smooth out the random tackiness, though there have been times she’s had to firmly march him back to Wal-Mart to return a life-size waving Santa Claus or 10 foot inflatable snow globe, or some other accent piece for the front yard. She did, however, let him keep the projector beeming all manner of holiday insignia upon our home; snowflakes, candy canes, little snowmen, all arcing across the front of the house in constant parade.

I recall on one of our annual Christmas pilgrimages from Florida to Wisconsin, my father insisted my sister and I stand outside in a remote and snowy landscape, two shivering Sunshine State teenagers dressed in thin, ill-fitting jackets borrowed from cousins, until he snapped the perfect picture. I remember we finally had enough of it, and with appropriate adolescent attitudes turned up our chapped noses and marched back to the car. Which was locked. We turned around, and there he stood, in his own thin jacket. He, however, grew up in Wisconsin. He was not cold. “Take your time girls.” He said with a smile. “I’ve got all day.” Needless to say, my sister and I posed with wide, blue-lipped grins.   We even ventured upon a frozen lake for a few snapshots, which we later learned from a horrified aunt, was not fully frozen.

He has chauffeured countless Christmas cruises, piling all available family members into the car (even the grumpy ones), cranking the carols until the speakers shook, and, and no matter the weather, rolling the windows down to fully enjoy the neighborhood’s decorations.

He will wake with the sun to brew the most recent seasonal roast of coffee for a sleepy household, and at night he will build a fire, even though he lives in Central Florida and it’s 80 degrees outside. On a cool night.

For my own children, he dresses as “Tropical Santa”,  donning what looks like red furry boxer shorts with white fuzzy trim and a short sleeved top of equally silly design. Weather won’t stop him from being a Griswold. He adapts.

He has instilled in me a love of all things Christmas, whether it be the latest flashing yard accouterment or the newest soulful ballad offered up by a pulsing deep south church choir over the radio waves. Because of him I hold a deep affinity for plastic reindeer, a certain fondness for the old Christmas cartoon specials, knowing most of the songs and dialogues by heart, and am an undercover connoisseur of every variety of Christmas tree . Christmas carols, in my house where I am now the momma rather than the child, start well before Thanksgiving, and sometimes make a surprise appearance in July.

But there is much more to this man than just silly memories of seasonal brews and Santa suits.

My father has taught me the insurmountable value of celebrating for the sake of celebration; that gratitude, mirth, and plenty are states of mind.

Thank you for the unorthodox approach to life that almost never takes offense, but nearly always finds humor (even if its offensive humor).

Thank you for showing me that laughter is always appropriate, even when it’s not.

Thank you for teaching me levity and goofiness are not only always options, but often medicines.

I raise my moosey mugful to toast. Cheers to you dad. Thank you for blessing me with your twinkling humor, your love of merriment, your goofy nonsense that shines on me like the northern star. It will forever be my beacon and my strength. I am revived by my family memories. I love you.   Merry Christmas.

The Fierce Poetry of Madam Chicken Legs

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“I know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong, but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once, to find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions, facing blind, deaf stone alone, with nothing to help you but your own hands and your own head.” – Primo Levi

I have never been particularly strong of body. Regardless of the hearty, home-cooked meals my mother always provided, I remained a hopelessly skinny child. During my tumultuous middle school years, my bony frame earned me the nickname Chicken Legs.

Neither was I gifted in coordination. Repeated basketball team tryouts resulted in repeated first cuts for me, despite hours of dedicated practice with the hoop in my driveway. Weeks of dance lessons ended in “um… maybe you should just sit over there and watch the other girls”.  Frustration. Tears. Embarrassment.

While other girls were blossoming, I was simply lengthening.  A long, wispy weed of a girl. The boys looked elsewhere. The coaches looked elsewhere.  I felt invisible, weak, feeble. Betrayed by my own body.

I was, however, very strong of mind. I was the perfect student; learned quickly, loved to write, mathematics came easy. In academia I shined, I was at the top of the class.  My body had given me great self doubt and pain, but my mind held the big ideas, the big knowledge, the big money. I (unconsciously) vowed never to challenge myself through body again.

Somewhere in college, amidst inflated dreams of material success, the straightest of A’s and doting professors,  I decided I’d become an ace business woman. Shrewd, creative, rich, fabulous. I envisioned a loft in Manhattan, first class business trips and five star hotels, standing at the head of the boardroom’s long, glossy table, ruthlessly presiding over my neck-tied male minions, and my God, I’d don the most gorgeous heels.  Three inch heels , in fact, with never a tripped step.

Fast forward about 15 years, and much has changed. I have traded in the New York loft for a quirky, amazing house in New England, the hotels for an equally quirky and amazing family, and my shoe preference has morphed to flip flops or boots, depending on the weather.

My mind I have nourished well. I have feasted on Lao Tzu, Rumi, Hafiz. I have devoured Eckart Tolle, and nibbled around at Gurdjieff and Blavatsky. I have rubbed my belly happily after tasting the sweet morsels offered by Steiner. Through much work I have changed who I am by sharpening purifying, exercising, loving my mind.

And yet.

I had been neglecting something, and it always chewed on me, squirming around in the corners of my being, something that was slowly being starved to death. Something that I feared and disliked, that made me vulnerable and nervous; a little piece of me that I had exiled to the categories of hopeless, silly, and unimportant.

The strength of Body.

Two of my children began taking Tae Kwon Do this past summer. I was intrigued; the dojang is run by a Korean master, a man with such grace and presence as to make every visit a spiritual experience. There is authenticity here; a depth and richness as cannot be created without the magical ancestral blessing of a great heritage passed down a strong line. There is something of divine plan and beauty in the movement of this people of Korea.

Unwittingly, I began imagining myself on the floor practicing with them; kicking, punching, shouting, sweating, which led to inner excitement and dread. What must it be like, to move like that? To be that alive in the body?

You don’t have to do it, you just have to analyze it. My mind comforted me. I am very good at that. Don’t you worry about it.  Just sit here in your nice comfy chair and watch the kids.

Oh yes, my mind could see it, could tally it and mull it and crunch it, describe it utterly, like a very talented NFL announcer. The John Madden in my head was quite skilled with his microphone, but grass stains, bruises, and pigskin were just well…far too primitive for his tastes.

I was afraid. So I signed myself up.

I remember my first class several months ago, I was shaking. When I go to class tonight, I will still be shaking.

Recently, in an especially fast-paced class, I was partnered with a kind man; high school math teacher by day,  bad-ass black-belt by night, (I have a sneaking suspicion he might also be Batman). He was doing his best to help me.

In theory, he was supposed to be trying to punch me, and I being Bruce-ette Lee, would be artfully dodging and roundhouse kicking him to the kidney with acute precision and timing. In reality, I resembled corn popping, sporadic little bursts of unruly energy, flailing limbs. Pop pop plop!   No good. His eyelids sunk to half mast, but he offered me a smile and took a new approach.

“Try to get into a rhythm.” He kept telling me. “Try to flow.”

“Like poetry!” I declared. “Rhythmic and flowing, like poetry!”

He was now utterly befuddled, and slightly more exhausted.

“I like to write poetry.” I offered timidly.  I fought back the urge to tell him I had been an excellent math student and even took Pre Calculus in high school.

“Um…ok. Like poetry.” He conceded. “but fierce.”

YES.

I realized then a deep piece of my nature; of my dreams, goals, desires.

I want to BE fierce poetry. I want to light fires with my words AND my movements.

I want to synchronize. I want to revolutionize. I want to be strong, fast, bad ass, beautiful, amazing, descriptive, illuminating. I want to be the magical, the mystical, the wise, and the physical.

The body does what the mind cannot do. It transcends the mind’s structure and rigid rules, the ego’s hypersensitive defenses. The body is an instrument of beauty, of primacy, of power.

It offers a visceral mysticism. Corporeal fusion of the divine and human, of the mind and body, the sacred union of mental and physical that leads to robust wisdom and freedom.   The body, I have realized, is just as suitable a vessel for this freedom, this wisdom as the mind. They are sisters.

I want to feel with my body the curves of intensity in the concepts my mind has embraced. Beauty. Freedom. Love. Power. Wildness. Potency. Fierceness. Poetry. What do these things feel like?

I want to feel with my body the letters that make the words that build the written concepts.   I want to feel, embody, the letter V.  Smooth and sharp, quick in it’s motion, yet long and velvety in its sound.   Yes. I want to feel the V leading the concepts of Velocity, Vivify, Vivacious.

Very verbose vernacular vacillating among violined vampires, ventriloquist voices, voracious vaccuming vixens, venting violent victims and a victorious velvety villainess…yes…all that is me…

Come play with me.  Come dance with me. Come fight with me.  Come write with me.

Let us be fierce in our poetry.

 

Garden

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The seeds of the soul, carefully tended by the heart, mind and body, grow a most rich and tender human garden. Among the flowers are thorns, among the weeds the sweetest nectar, among the tangled vines the most fragrant fruit. We are always simultaneously growing and decaying, pruning and sprouting, reaching reaching reaching, for the sun…

Set off into the wild forest.

Gather seeds,

And plant them among the tidy rows

Of your tender garden.

 

Collect water

From the stream that feeds the river

That feeds the ocean,

And quench the thirst of the wild seeds

Planted among the tidy rows

Of your tender garden.

 

Dig your hands deep into the warmth and rot

Of your own steaming compost.

Do not be ashamed to be dirty.

Soil in the garden feeds the seed.

Soil in the fingernails feeds the soul.

 

Feel the sun,

Fresh from her commune with flora and fauna

On the other side of the Earth,

Commune with your own body.

Let her wisdom and nourishment mingle

With the gypsy waters and pungent soil

And pregnant seeds

Planted among the tidy rows

Of your tender garden.

 

Witness, in stillness,

The emergence of feisty green shoots.

The unfoldment of their soft tendrils.

 

Do not be too quick to prune them.

Even weeds enrich the soil.

Even weeds reach for the sun.

 

Now that work is done,

Let down your hair

Kick off your shoes

And dance barefoot in the arms of the moon

To an audience of stars.

 

For every garden needs a bit of magic to blossom.

Cauldron of Life

In the afternoon, after dancing with my voice reading A Wrinkle in Time and Kenny Rogers singing early Christmas carols, after the nourishment of Norse Mythology and home-made granola, two children drag a basket full of stuffed animals into the leaf covered front yard, and sit. And play. For hours. Many would say they are too old to be entertained by such simple toys, by such silly machinations of the imagination. Yet somehow, they have fed the magic in their souls, and they play.
And there is a feeling there.

In this same afternoon, there is a daredevil gigantic 7 year old baby wearing a helmet to protect his head from seizures, and he giggles and babbles and climbs on top of the kitchen table and knocks a huge pile of carefully written thank-you cards to the floor in one triumphant swoop of the arm, to the shrieks and sharp admonishments of his siblings, who sound all too much like their mother. And I laugh to myself and scoop him up and put some nonsense on the television and he is thrilled.
And there is a feeling there.

At night, the sound of the commuter train echoes through the almost bare, blowing branches of trees and mingles with the dishwasher’s sudsy, rhythmic whispers, to sing me to sleep.
And there is a feeling there.

And there is always my man willing to ride the waves I churn in my life-cauldron. Could be chicken soup I’m concocting in there. Could be fire cider. He never really knows until its froth splatters all over his face. Surprise! And yet, he always holds a space for me to brew, to boil, to alchemize.
And there is a feeling there.

I peek into my cauldron.   Children’s laughter. Farts. Poopy diapers and piles of laundry. Lighted candles. A happy Buddha smiling down at me from the mantle. A tiny, golden Kali who hides in my hand as we writhe together in ecstatic meditation. A baby carrier. Lacy underwear. Cookbooks and the sweet smell of baking gingerbread cookies. Incense. Lapis Lazuli. Five thousand light up toys and comic books. Autumn becoming winter. A sweet maiden becoming an old witch and back again. And back again, again.  Me becoming more Me.

The vile. The beautiful. Oh my beating heart!  It’s intoxicating. I need all of it. It’s all the secret ingredient.

To My Sistahs

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Sometimes the beloved Goddess, with golden locks, full breasts, and flowing garments grows a mustache and a hairy mole and a long, beaky nose. She hoists her little cottage up on chicken legs and runs cackling and clucking into the night.

Sometimes the fairy godmother is nothing but a con artist.

Sometimes, perhaps, Cinderella needs to trade in the fancy up-do for inner sovereignty.

Sometimes Mother Nature provides the sweetest nectar in the daintiest of flowers. And sometimes she provides the pungent effluvia of hot bodies. Who taught you they were different?

Sometimes the craggy old witch and the slithering snake are the best allies.

Sometimes we should take the apple. Bite it. Go ahead. I dare you.

Sometimes innocence must be exchanged for something more fierce, more nourishing.

Tonight is Halloween. Put your masks on, ladies. Or better yet, take them off.

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