wordjunkies

from one junkie to another!

Reality vs Fantasy (part 3) May 4, 2012

Filed under: Life — Annie Maier @ 9:09 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

May 4, 2012, oh, and May 7th. 

Previously on wordjunkies: blah blah blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah. Blah. Blah and blah, blah blah. 

Critical

adjective

  1. expressing adverse or disapproving comments or judgments
  2. having the potential to become disastrous (!!!)
  3. having a decisive or crucial importance in the success or failure of something
  4. expressing or involving an analysis of the merits and faults of a work of literature, music or art (more on this later) (perhaps much later).

Stay with me, the definitions/connections should become clear.

While writing/blogging/communicating, do you ever just want to say screw it? You write and parse and ponder, trying to come up with the perfect word combination/s, only to realize that despite the care you’ve taken, you’re somehow still missing the point. That’s how I feel. I wrote a sequel to last week’s blog, or at least the first few paragraphs, but even as I worked I knew it just wasn’t gelling. My words were factual, but not, technically speaking, true. Because by then, I’d lost my way. Cosmically speaking, what does it matter that I was late for an appointment? What do black holes, red undies, and uptown traffic have to do with anything? At least anything truly important? Not a damn thing.

My point, several hundred empty (and now discarded) words later, seemed to be that after decades of being me, I’d come to a conclusion: OCD may be controllable and anxiety familiar and perhaps inherent to Rizz0-dom, but juggling two personalities (Reality vs Fantasy) had become unsustainable.

But now, that is, a few short days, many bottles of wine (red, white, sparkling) shared with my lovely sisters-in-law (sister-in-laws?), 16 family members (beneath one roof), a dozen trips to and from the ocean, a message from a friend that I had to read 12 times to understand (thanks Drew) later, my conclusion has shifted. This moment, with my head and heart snuggled in the comfy throes of an alcohol-induced universal awareness, it seems to me that only thing crazier than my current state of having two people reside in my head would be undertaking to banish either one of them. Pragmatic and stubbornly delusional, I need them both.

So, forget the full brain overhaul. What I should do instead is focus on uniting the disparate sides of my personality in a way that is acceptable to both me (them?) and those I come into contact with. I need to be on time, yes, but I also need to maintain whatever quirks identify me; I need to control the bursts of smart-assed sarcasm that act as my only defense against the outside world, but without losing my (PG County born and bred) edge; and I need to accept that functioning as a “normal” adult may not ever fall within the ven-diagram chaos of my comfort zone. I can get up early, check the mail, and return phone calls in a timely manner. I can lay out my clothes the night before, make sure the gas tank is full, and keep  spreadsheets on debits, credits and receipts. But I can’t do any of those things simply because that’s what “responsible” people do. I’ve never been interested in being responsible (just as I’ve never believed in hell or obligation).All I want is to be a decent human being. If setting my alarm aids that process, then I’m all for it. But if clinging to a conventional ideal of normalcy is the only way to be accept-ed/able… well, I’m just not up to that particular task.

Nonetheless, I do want to accomplish a dozen or so things over the next 90 years, and one or two of them most certainly will require collaboration with other human beings, some of whom may have only one person tucked beneath their skulls. Yet another task that I have, up until this point, found if not impossible then damn near so.

And this, patient reader, is my point:

Think of my head as a plastic paperweight, filled with decades old water and in need of a good shake. Unsure of how to go about such a thing on my own (remember, I’m trapped in the paperweight), I sent an email to friend and not so long ago Qi Gong instructor, Jackie Burleson. Jackie is a life coach specializing in EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique). (You can read about Jackie/EFT here: http://www.eccoaching.com/bio.shtml ) This wasn’t a particularly inspired decision, nor was it made overnight. As a serial vacillator I’ve often considered seeking out someone possibly cheaper than and/or less socially stigmatized than a psychiatrist to assist me in approaching such matters as getting dressed in the morning, making dinner, and/or leaving the house each day without simultaneously provoking a nervous breakdown. Fortunately, Jackie was amenable to the idea. Our first appointment is in a week. Before then, I have to complete a few simple tasks meant to address my most pressing issues. These are, as I determined during our initial phone consultation, releasing my book to the world, launching WordJunkies Press, and learning to “connect” to and with my fellow human beings. The first two are pretty clear cut. That last one may prove a bit more problematic.

Back to my initial point of (critical) contention: is any of this truly important? No. Not in the scheme of world peace, hunger, disease, and whether or not Demi is a drug addict or Madonna has had work. But I don’t live only in the greater world. I live in my head as well, and after all these years I’d like to escape, however momentarily. Because hitting a wall is no excuse for stopping.

 

Hiatus June 1, 2011

Filed under: Life,Writing/Words — Annie Maier @ 5:06 pm
Tags: , ,

Is blogging relevant? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself for the past 10 months. Not the whole time, just every few weeks or so… whenever I felt guilty about not keeping up with wordjunkies and/or Manifesto. Apparently the answer was no. At least my answer was no. That’s the short explanation. The long explanation is muddled, boring and 100% inconclusive. I’ve no idea what is or is not relevant. In words. In life. In my own head. I’m not okay with that, but I am ready to release all expectations… at least for this site.

Writing. That’s all that matters. Ass on seat, fingers on keyboard. Away I go…

 

August 16, 2010: Little Old Men (Part 3) August 16, 2010

Filed under: Life — Annie Maier @ 5:19 pm
Tags: ,

Jack

The sky was heavy and threatened to spit rain, but the coffee shop was packed and noisy so I took my drink outside to find a spot away from the fray. The porch was old and rickety, with peeling wood planks worn smooth by years of caffeine deprived coming and going. As I sat down and opened my book, Jean Giano’s The Horseman on the Roof, I noticed a little old man at the table directly behind mine, twirling a cup of coffee. Even for a LOM, he was striking–clad in the requisite long sleeves (it was August in Manteo, about 100 degrees and humid as hell) with white hair spiking out in all four directions and a cell phone pressed close  to his ear. Smiling to myself, I sat down and opened my book. Between phone calls, I heard my porch companion shout out greetings to passersby. I always worry about LOM being alone, and knowing this one had friends in a community of vacationing strangers made me inordinately happy. Despite my interest, I tried to ignore his conversations, more or less succeeding right up until he began shouting instructions into the phone.  

“No!” he said. “You go ahead. I was waiting for my brother’s son but he stood me up. Do what you like…”

My happiness was replaced with concern. He had a brother, which was good, but also an irresponsible, negligent nephew. I wished he was my uncle, or even my neighbor. I’d mow his lawn, bake him cakes, cook him soup in the winter–I heard him shuffling around behind me preparing to go on his way, and felt a pang of sudden regret. Why hadn’t I sat closer or invited him to share a coffee? Why hadn’t I– 

“Would you like one of these?” he asked, suddenly appearing at my shoulder with a pair of sturdy, red-checked cushions in his outstretched hands.

Though I prefer the imperviousness of wood and metal to fabric in strange, damp climates, I would have choked before saying no to this man. “Yes,” I smiled. “Thank you.”

“Wait,” he said, holding the proffered pillow just out of my reach. “You won’t steal it will you?”

“No!” Jumping to defend myself, I noticed the bright twinkle in his very blue eyes and in that second, that moment of stopped time and miraculous connection, I smiled, feeling the buoyancy of my immediate affection bubbling up and over my usual reserve. Apparently he felt it too. 

“Now, look at that,” he said with a nod. “You have beautiful eyes.”

And this is where I inevitably lose my wits. I am a sucker for sweet talking little old men.

“Thank you. So do you.”

“Why are you sitting here with your nose pressed into that book? We could have been having a nice conversation, but I didn’t even notice you behind that thing. Why would you want to read when there’s someone to talk to?” 

I could have told him that reading is my passion and protection, but instead I mutely agreed, hoping he would take a seat. Hoping he would tell me about his brother and nephew and the tasks he had that needed tending. I was more than ready to offer to see to them all.

He held out his hand. “My name is Jack.”

I took it warmly. “Hello, Jack. I’m Annie.”

“Well, Annie!” he said with a wink, “I’ve got to run but come back tomorrow and we’ll have that talk. I’m here every day.”

I smiled, knowing I was leaving town the next day and very sad to have missed such a perfect opportunity.

Next up, why LOM?

 

August 6, 2010: Little Old Men (Part 2)* August 6, 2010

Filed under: Life — Annie Maier @ 6:56 pm
Tags: , ,

*see previous post for part 1

Herman

There were, of course, plenty of little old men in Arizona and I befriended what was probably more than my fair share (including an artist, a priest and a man I sold birdseed to every Saturday afternoon but whose name I never knew), but I never really attached myself to any of them like I had Mr. Helwig. 

It wasn’t until Connecticut, where I moved next, that I met my next true LOM. His name was Herman Depass and he lived at Ridgefield’s Congregate Housing (CH), an independent community for people able to live alone but not able to provide their own meals and cleaning. Herman was an angel—coming into my life at a time when opening a vein seemed one of my better options. Shorter and plumper than Mr. Helwig, he had longish black hair shot with defiant streaks of gray, an evil grin lit with kindness, and very blue eyes framed by thick, black glasses. For a woman newly transplanted from the warm, red desert earth and lonely beyond reason, Herman’s appearance was like a beacon amidst New England’s white winter gloom.   

As is quite common with LOM, there wasn’t a reserved bone in Herman’s body. The first day we met (I served meals in his dining room every Thursday), Herman grabbed my hand and asked me to marry him. When I showed him my wedding ring, he asked if my husband “would share.” Thereafter, he greeted my on each visit with an enormous hug and a plea for just “one little kiss.” (He eventually got the kiss, but not till his 88th birthday!) 

I adored this man, and went so far to show my devotion as getting a job at CH just to be near him. In the course of our afternoons together, he told me stories about his wife, his son and grandson and his hopes of remarrying. I met his friends (Al, a cantankerous old man with greasy hair and a bit of an attitude over Herman’s wild ways, was my favorite); we exchanged Christmas presents; I told him about Lauren.

Occasionally, I asked my husband Billy if Herman could come live with us. This plea wasn’t new. In the course of our 20-odd year marriage, I’ve petitioned the adoption of a dozen different old men (as well as that of children, kittens, horses and even the odd little old woman). THough generous, he has never once agreed (at least not on the LOM front–I did get a cat).

A year later, it was time to move again, this time to North Carolina. I was delighted to leave Connecticut, but heartbroken at leaving Herman. I tearfully gave my notice at the center, then told my LOM I had to leave. This time, he cried too. We promised to stay in touch, and for two years we did, sending one another cards and letters and calling on special occasions. But Herman was not well and when I mailed a present for his 90th birthday, it was his son who sent me a thank you and pictures from the party. Herman looked happy, but smaller and very frail. A year later, I received another letter from his son, this one thanking me for my friendship and including a copy of Herman’s obituary.

North Carolina has been like Arizona. Men (of the little old variety) have appeared in my life at weddings, in line at the grocery store and choosing plants at Young’s Garden Center in Fort Mill. A few have become my friends—another artist, and oddly enough, another priest, but both of those relationships ended abruptly when I left the church in 2006—but none as close as Mr. Helwig or Herman. Feeling lonelier than usual lately, and again missing the West after a month-long stint in Boulder, I’ve been on the lookout, keeping my eyes peeled for that familiar gray hair and those blue blue eyes.

Next up: Jack

 

August 4, 2010: Little Old Men (Part 1) August 5, 2010

Filed under: Life,Uncategorized — Annie Maier @ 10:04 pm
Tags: , , ,

I have a thing for men. Not just any old men, but little old men. You’ve seen them, fiery eyes, white hair, mischievous grin. Some are tall, some are stooped, some are thin, some not. Most wear long sleeves in the heat of summer and carry some kind of stick–a sheleighly, a cane, an umbrella–anything they can poke you with to get your attention. Many have blue-eyes (does that come with age or wisdom?), but some have gray or brown. None of that matters. What’s important is the age: 75 is the minimum, but over 90 is best. I have a history with these men. They seek me out in the most unlikely places. Church was a hot spot back when I went to church. Hospitals, nurseries (the plant kind), Target, I’ve even been approached in nursing homes. I used think I emitted some sort of little old man beacon, one  that shouted, at just the right little old man frequency, “Good Listener Ahead!” or “Geriatrics Welcome.” Today, I know better.  

I met my first LOM when I was in my late 20s, separated from my husband (I don’t know if that detail is necessary to this story, but at this second it seems important.) and living in College Park, MD. Mr Helwig lived a few blocks down the street in a rambling brick house with decaying floors and no central air. Pulling up in front of this house was like stepping back in time fifty years. A gravel drive led to a lean-to garage with an ancient, rusting car parked beneath crumbling beams. The property, unique in a neighborhood of .25 acre lots, resembled a park more than a yard, with a long, deep lawn, rows of old-fashioned rhododendrons and flocks of  birds fighting and calling in the enormous oak and maple trees planted when the Helwig children were small. 

I’d read about Mr. Helwig in our church bulletin. No longer able to drive, he needed a ride to the doctor and the grocery store. The day I met him, on a sweltering day in July, he wore a white collared shirt, a brown canvas jacket zipped to his throat and grey dress pants. His hair was wild, white and straight and pouncing off his head in all directions, and he had those blue, blue eys. I was smitten. After that, I left work at noon every fourth Tuesday to drive Mr. Helwig to the commisary where he bought frozen dinners, Cheerios and milk for himself and Nicolodean tv dinners for my daughter. (Lauren had long begged for those  toxic-stews in a box, but I’d always refused on the grounds that she’d be better off eating garbage from the street. When Mr. Helwig entered the picture though, I caved. If he wanted her to eat garbage, then by god she was going to.) 

Always concerned about “not being a bother,” Mr. Helwig never accepted any other overatures (lunch, dinner, help in the garden) from me than our monthly drive. Over time, though, and dozens of glasses of warm lemonade or tepid tap water shared in his airless kitchen, I learned about his life–his wife of 60 years, who had recently died of cancer, his children, all living far away, and his career as an engineer. He’d attended Perdue University and was one of the smartest man I had ever met with a long list of impressive jobs and degrees to commend him. Nonetheless, except for his birds and a wiry neighborhood cat, who Mr. Helwig assured me never ate a single other critter, he was alone. 

Two years later, when I decided to move to Arizona from Maryland, I had a harder time telling Mr. Helwig than I did my own parents. But he was nice about it, assurng me, as my father had, that this was the way of the world and wishing me luck. I cried when we said goodbye.   

Next up: Herman

 

The Complexities of Being a Shirley pt 2 March 14, 2010

Filed under: Life — Annie Maier @ 2:01 am
Tags: , , ,

March 13, 2010

Okay, it’s not the next day. Still, I have more to say on the subject.

Anyway, when I told Mom Uncle Richard was in town, she reacted with simultaneous joy and anger. How wonderful! Why hadn’t he called her himself?

I decided to ignore the anger for the time being, figuring it wouldn’t help at that point to remind her the state of her relationships with her siblings. Instead, I focused on the joy. We (I) called Uncle Richard and told him yes, his sister would love to see him – and then I handed her the phone.

To say I will never understand my mom is probably an understatement, but after five years, she greeted her brother as if they’d talked yesterday. They laughed, they joked, they bonded – while I sat contemplating the fact that despite my love for everyone involved, I was an outsider. The go between. When they finished a few minutes later, she hung up.

“So,” I asked, “are you going to see him?”

“Sure.”

“When?”

“I don’t know, he’s going to call later.”

Now, call me crazy, but if it had been my brother, I’d have been at his hotel 10 minutes after hanging up. But then, I’ve never gone five weeks without talking to Eric, much less 5 years.

“Do you want to go now?” I prodded.

“No. He’s here for a week.”

Alrighty then.

Two days later, Uncle Richard called me again.

“So kid, where the hell is you mother?”

“I don’t know. At home? Why?”

“I’ve been trying to call her for two days, and she hasn’t answered her phone.”

See, that’s another thing about my mom, she doesn’t answer her phone. I promised Uncle Richard I would track her down and hung up. The great thing about Mama is that she only doesn’t answer when she knows the person calling. Strangers she’ll talk to anytime. So when I can’t get in touch with her on my cell phone, I cheat, calling her from my home phone – a number she never uses and so doesn’t recognize. It works every time.

A few minutes later, I was back on the phone with my uncle, determined to get him and my mom together before the week was up. It took a few more calls and 12 hours for everyone to think things over (What things, I wondered. Why couldn’t this be simple?), but the next morning, I picked up mom and we headed over to meet Uncle Richard.

We planned to have lunch at Showmars, not fine dining, but friendly and within walking distance of UR’s hotel. Mom and I pulled in as he was walking down the street. He’s had two heart surgeries since I’ve seen him, and I couldn’t help but notice how tired and drawn he looked. Mom, who hasn’t seen him in years, was equally surprised, but true to her nature couldn’t admit why. Instead, she covered her real concern and absence in his life with a triviality.

“Oh!” she said. “He’s bald! I don’t like that.”

“He’s not bald, Mama.”

“He looks bald.”

“Nope.”

“He looks older.”

“Five years and two heart surgeries will do that to you.”

“Two heart surgeries?”

I ignored this plea of ignorance, hopping out of the car. After hellos and hugs had been traded, we headed in for lunch. Looking around at the spare restaurant – the billboard, counter and waiting cashiers – Uncle Richard said “What the hell kind of joint is this?”

He had chosen it, on the advice of his wife, my Aunt Judy, so I didn’t want to say anything disparaging. “Um, well, it’s nice enough.”

“Really? I try not to eat in places where you line up like cattle to order.”

“Oh. Would you like to go somewhere else?”

“No, no. You said your mama likes it, that’s good enough for me.”

So, up to the counter we went. Mom ordered her usual fish, I ordered a vegetable pita and Uncle Richard – he ordered a Jack Daniels. And this is when I remembered just how eccentric the Shirleys can be. How loud, and wild, and unruly. When the girl told him they didn’t have alcohol, Uncle Dick said, “No problem, I’m not suppose to drink anyway.” I exhaled. Then he looked at her partner, a young man of about 20, and said. “What about you? She says I can’t buy a drink, but you must have a joint you want to sell.” 

In a second, I flashed back, remembering my cousin’s high school graduation. The party was at a nice hotel and everyone was on their best behavior. Until that is, my grandmother, Nanny Shirley, tried to sell my cousin’s friends drugs from her coat pocket. “Want to buy some coke,” she kept asking. To this day, I have no idea whether she really had any, but with Nanny, nothing was impossible. As I had then, I simply smiled – and tried to act like everyone went to Showmars to buy pot. Fortunately, the kid behind the counter took it well, saying only “Huh, I wish.” We got our food and sat down.

When I was little, Uncle Richard was the only one of Mom’s siblings who would drop by unannounced. He’d bring his guitar and he and Mom would sit at the kitchen table talking and singing for hours. One of my fondest memories is falling asleep to the sound of their murmured voices and music. It was great to have him in Charlotte, to see him and Mom laughing and happy. As happens, their talk turned to the past. All three of my uncles served in the military –  Uncle Richard and Uncle Wesley in the Army, the youngest (my uncle Baba, or Rodney) in the Navy. For hours that afternoon, Uncle Dick talked about the years they spent in the service, including time in Vietnam.

I won’t go into the details, but I will say, this is what I love about lazy lunches with family. Back when I was a kid, no one much talked about the war or my uncles’ time in the service. The sum of what I knew was that Uncle Wesley and Uncle Richard got out as soon as they could, while Uncle Baba made it his carrier, spending 25+ years on various submarines, travelling all over the world, and getting married in Korea. As I sat listening to Uncle Richard’s anecdotes, each one sprinkled with hilarity, profanity and wisdom, I saw a side of him I had never seen before. His love for life and for his brothers was palpable.

As he ran down a list of the countries he had been to, I asked him if he was glad he had joined the service.

“You know, I am. I was just a dumb shit from Capital Heights. I’d never been outside a paper bag before then.”

And so it went. I knew I had hours of work ahead of me, but I couldn’t bring myself to end the afternoon. Instead, I sat quietly in that orange vinyl booth, absorbing the rhythm and solace of my childhood, happy to have even a small faction of my family together again.

 

The Complexities of Being a Shirley February 21, 2010

Filed under: Life — Annie Maier @ 9:55 pm
Tags: , ,

February 21, 2010

My uncle called me last week. I haven’t spoken to him in a year and a half, not because anyone was angry, but because the last time I called I had to tell him his sister (my Aunt Nokie) had passed away. He took the news very hard and I managed to forget that death and sadness weren’t my personal responsibilty. As a result, we haven’t spoken since. (He doesn’t call me, as it is a personal rule of his not to call anyone younger than him. This is entirely in keeping with the fact that he is a Shirley (my mom’s family) and Shirleys are nothing if not eccentric (Hey Oot! My sweet pea! My sunshine! My bundle of energy and light). It’s one of the reasons I love them. It’s also one of the reasons they make me crazy.)

My mom has a rule of her own. She doesn’t call (visit, speak to) anyone named Shirley. No siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, etc… She talks to my brother and I, sporadically (I think because we’re technically Rizzos), and her granddaughters. Period. This has been a recurring theme in her life, but this time it’s been about five years since she’s conversed with her family. A few years ago, I decided it made no sense for me to  follow suit, and so I try to keep tabs on everyone (except My Uncle Baba in California. I’ve only seen him about a dozen times in my life, and while I love him, I don’t know him. This makes me sad, but I haven’t the wherewithall to remedy it.). Nonetheless, we still manage to lose touch from time to time.

I’ve always felt the absence of my family. My father (even when he was alive), my mom, my brother. My dad was an only child, and because of a deep and abiding rift in his extended family, I’ve never known any of my Rizzo relatives. Some of them came to my wedding, but they were there more for my dad, and I’ve not seen them since. (I did have a very close relationship with his mom and aunt. They died in 1984 and 1992.) Mom’s family – her mother, six siblings and their many children – are the only extended family I’ve ever had. Because they were in and out of our lives,  I often went huge lengths of time without seeing or hearing from them.

So I was both elated and alarmed to hear Uncle Richard on the other end of the line. He sounded great, though, hailing me as he always has – “What’s up, Lucy Brown?” (I’ve no idea why he calls me this, except that all Shirleys have at least five nicknames. Not counting the names I’ve been given by Eric and Dad, I am or have in my life been Louie, Lurch, Loo Loo, Me Ooch and Ewtie Pewtie – that last one even has a song. I’ve also been known as Pumkin, but this doesn’t count as I think every child in America spends some time under that moniker. Uncle Richard is, however, the only one to use Lucy Brown. He somehow escaped the nickname curse – I think because he had the misfortune of spending the first half of his life as Dickie.) Anyway – what was up was that my aunt and uncle were going to be in Charlotte for a few days and wanted to see my mom. I don’t mind being the go-between. I have in fact been pleading with my mother to talk to Uncle Richard for years. But I was terrified of having to confront her yet again with him waiting down the street to find out if she would see him. How in the hell, I wondered would I tell him if she refused? 

At this point in the story, I realize I have far more to say about all of this than I thought. I have reams of homework waiting for me, so the rest of this story will have to wait until tomorrow. For now, I will say – Mom didn’t refuse. She acted like I had lost my mind for thinking she would. For about the zillionth time in our relationship, I almost fainted with relief, realizing that I had once again misread my mother’s complex and ever changing mind.  

 

 
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