Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Honor System

In honor of Halloween, I'm posting this very scary picture, taken two years ago. No, it's not a cute costume or a trick-or-treater or a spookily decorated house. This is what happens when two moms see an "honor system" candy bowl and no one's around to say, "Hey! You're too old to trick or treat!"

And tonight, when the moon is full and my little goblins are out scaring the candy away from unsuspecting neighbors, I will keep my eyes peeled for more unattended candy cauldrons... If you see any with Reese's peanut butter cups or Junior Mints, let me know...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Swimming with Sharks

We took the girls to Heavens, just north of Malibu, and found an empty cove. The girls wandered over the rocks to a tide pool while Raf and I read our books, listened to our iPods, observed the random daytripper and shell-seeker. We dreamed about going to Spain and Italy next summer, discussing what the kids would eat, where to stay, lowering our expectations to simply a string of days on foreign beaches interspersed with Gaudi and gladiators. 

A pod of dolphins swam past the rocks. I counted them silently, wondering if the girls noticed them. One... two... three fins! 

"At least they're not sharks," I said to Raf, who took one earphone out and clicked off his iPhone.

"Yeah, I didn't tell you this," he said, squinting under his dark glasses, staring out to sea, "but a surfer got attacked by a shark last week, north of Santa Barbara. Guy my age."


Raf doesn't sugarcoat things. "Ate him. He washed up on the shore."

I didn't say anything at first. I blinked under my own dark glasses, searching the horizon for  answers. I wondered aloud if maybe the food supply for sharks has been affected by global warming or some other environmental illness, and maybe that's why we're hearing about more shark attacks closer to the shore.

"It's the first time a shark has killed a surfer in Southern California in 11 years," Raf said.

A few paddle boarders and kayaks sailed by the cove. My life with Raf flashed before me, glorious beach days like this one combined with the future I imagine for us, filled with traveling and surfing and weddings and grandbabies and growing old, really old, together. 

"I haven't told the kids," he said. "They'd never go back in the water."

"Or they wouldn't want you to go back in." I held my tongue though I wanted to add, Please don't get eaten by a shark... please don't get hurt ever...

He laughed. "Like I'd stop surfing because I'm afraid of sharks."

I let some time pass, considered the glint of sunlight on the glassy green surface of the water. "I don't know what I'd do if anything happened to you," I said, trying my best to keep my voice flat, unemotional.

"You'd be okay."

"Yeah, but -- "

"You'd be okay. That's one thing we know, unfortunately. Life goes on." 

I saw the girls rounding the top of the rocks again, waving, pink-brown skin and bikinis, big smiles, beach hair. Max and death and Isaac and sadness and the Great Unknown swirled above them like the banners that soar behind small airplanes over beaches on sunny days. The ocean lulled below them, lapping softly at the barnacles on the rocks. Understanding seeped in, and I let it sit with me.

We swim with sharks.  And life goes on. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

We Can Be Heroes

Emme and I saw "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" together today. Frankly, I was a little nervous about taking my 12-year-old to a teen coming-of-age movie - I've also had reservations about allowing her to see certain parts of "Moonrise Kingdom," so maybe I'm just overprotective - but it turned out to be an incredible moment of understanding for both us.

The movie is based on a bestselling novel by Stephen Chbosky and explores the "dizzying highs and crushing lows" of growing up (text from the film website). But it's so much more, in the same way that "The Breakfast Club" and "Garden State" and even "The Big Chill" were much more than the sum of their celluloid frames. Within its quiet joys and even quieter heartbreaks, "Perks" said so much to me about my own life and the girl I was in high school, in part because it's set in the late 80s/early 90s and is filled with music I loved (the Smiths, David Bowie, even Camper van Beethoven).

Seeing it with Emme felt like a full-circle moment. On one level, I understood the characters and their struggles because I lived in their world at one time and was influenced by the same culture and music. But Emme understood them just as intimately, because she observes the same desires in herself and her friends: the need for love and acknowledgement and acceptance. And, maybe we even share the same questions, right now: Will I be okay? Will I make it through? Am I good enough to be loved in the way I want to be loved, fully and without judgment?

It reminded me that we are not actually the same age as our last birthday. We are *every* age we've ever been, made up of every moment we've ever had, and even though we can never go back, sometimes we can touch our fingertips to those younger selves and make contact.

And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.

- Stephen Chbosky

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Random Thoughts While Driving

I have been on a long blogging hiatus and I'm only peeking out for a moment now, just to say hello and check back in. When I follow my friends' blogs, I always enjoy the feeling of closeness I get from knowing what they're doing and hearing the complexity of their inner worlds, the chaos and joy of their lives. I used to feel the same way about Facebook, but since I've taken a month-long FB hiatus, I don't miss all the extra noise. I check on certain friends as I think of them and that's about all I can handle. No offense to the pet lovers, but I've had my fill of adorable kitten pix to last a lifetime.

I took the picture at the top of this post while driving (I know, I'm wicked, Muriel) and of course it's blurry but it was one of those perfect autumn sunsets on PCH, windows cracked to let in the ocean breeze, a smattering of surfers savoring the glassy waters of Surfrider, and I didn't mind how long it might take for me to get home. As I drove, I considered the life I have now, the life I used to have, the lives of my children...

It's hard to pinpoint exactly when life changed, when I grew up, when I began to truly feel my age... But I feel all of these things now, all of a sudden, even though the feelings crept up gradually and I watched them cover me like fog rolling over a mountain. The strangest realization is, I don't mind aging. I don't mind getting older. I don't mind being called "ma'am" because, frankly, I'm not overly concerned about what strangers might think about me. (That doesn't mean I don't care about them or the rest of humanity; I just don't have time to be all things to all people anymore.)

What I do care about is being there - truly there - for four people: Raf and the girls. In the past few years, something clicked and I finally understood the importance of creating the world and life I wanted, rather than waiting for it to magically occur. And, almost as soon as I had this epiphany, I looked around and noticed that the people I loved most - my immediate family and closest friends - were similarly creating the lives they wanted. I also noticed that many of the people who presented major challenges to me - I couldn't deal with being near them, their "energy" was tough for me to handle - were not actively pursuing or creating a life they loved. And that was a huge revelation.

I guess the main thing I thought, as I drove home in the orange autumn glow of that Malibu sunset, was: when we're actively pursuing our dreams, there's not enough time to contribute to the drama and challenges of the world. 

And that's a good thing. Instead of ruminating on negativity, we can choose to focus on the steps we need to take to achieve our greatest dreams. Maybe we get to the "finish line," or maybe we find a new path in the middle of our pursuit and we change direction, following a new passion...

I thought about Frances Mayes recently, the author of the lovely Under the Tuscan Sun books. I met her twice on a single trip to Italy a few years ago - by chance, in two separate cities - and I remember thinking, "Wow, she's got it made. House in Italy, published author. She's set for life." A lot of people/writers may have continued writing only about Italy, continuing the same series about daily life in Cortona. Which she does, of course, but I've been inspired by how she's continued to live the way she wants and contribute to the world by following her passions, with cookbooks, poetry, travel books (about wandering and roaming away from the Tuscan sun), literary fiction... This is not a woman who was content to fall in love, buy a house, fix it up and write about it. Life goes on, new passions present themselves. What is supremely interesting or significant this season may be replaced by a new hobby or passion next season. And, with so many limitless possibilities, there's just no time to waste.

I must go back to the deadline I've created for the "completion" of my current passion, but I hope you're busy enjoying the fruits of this season, and that the next season will bring many more...

End of Summer

One of the only "up" sides to the end of summer (which happens in autumn here in SoCal, which is why I'm mentioning it in late October) was finally draining our Shrek-green saltwater pool so we could have the surfaces acid-washed and start fresh. I couldn't wait to get it drained, get it cleaned, and get sparkling new water in it. 

But the girls could have kept it empty for much, much longer.