Sound Memories

This coming June, I’ll have officially lived longer without my mother in my life than I did with her. What a concept. I can no longer remember her voice, except for the sound of one painfully high note she would hit when we’d sing a particular song. “Ain’t gonna GRIEEEEEVE my Lord no more!”

I think she did that on purpose to make me laugh. At least I hope she did. No one in my family is known for singing, but that… that was excruciating.

I miss it.

It’s funny, the things you remember and the things you don’t. Sounds, smells, songs… Sounds particularly stick with me.

I remember the sound of cowbells on a distant slope in Switzerland when I was 19 and more in love than I had ever been before or since.

Travel sounds, in particular, seem to stick with me. Coqui frogs chirping on one swelteringly hot evening in Puerto Rico. A fog horn on the coast of Canada. The call to prayer in Istanbul. Mariachis in Mexico. Flamenco dancers in Spain.

I can hear those things like they are happening right this minute. I also remember hurtful things that have been said to me. I wish I didn’t.

I remember heading out for work one day, just like any other day, except my dog Sugar ran up to the fence and threw back her head and howled like her heart was going to break in two. Before I could leave, I had to run over and give her a hug.

I remember being told I’d never leave the little redneck Florida town where I grew up. Ha! You got that wrong. But you’re still there. And you voted for Trump, too.

I remember a loved one beside me, snoring. I was irritated at the time. Now I’d give anything to have someone beside me, snoring.

“I ain’t gonna grieve my Lord no more…”

coqui

Like this blog? Then you’ll LOVE this book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

A Story About Reframing Misfortune

This month, the theme for the monthly storytelling group I attend was “Starting Over”. I’m the poster child for that, but I didn’t feel like being too intense this time, so I thought about a blog post I did a while back on the Evil Eye. That’s the story I told, with some modification. If you have the ability to listen to the audio below, let me know what you think. And if you have a chance to join a storytelling group in your area, like Fresh Ground Stories here in Seattle, I highly recommend it!

Spanish Proverbs

One of the things I love most about the Spanish language, and one of the reasons I chose to learn it, is that it is full of wise sayings. There is no exact translation for some of them, and that’s a pity, because a lot of them are gems. We can learn a great deal from Spaniards who bristle with platitudes. Here are a few of my favorites, which I’ve translated as best I could.

  • Mejor perder un minuto de la vida que la vida en un minuto. – It’s better to lose a minute of your life than your life in a minute. (In other words, patience is a virtue.)
  • Cada martes tiene su domingo. – Literally, every Tuesday has its Sunday. (In other words, every dog has its day.)
  • Lo comido es lo seguro. – The thing you’ve eaten is the sure thing. (In other words, you can only count on the food that’s already in your stomach.)
  • En tiempos de guerra, calquier hoyo es trinchera. – In times of war, any hole is a trench. (In other words, any port in a storm.)
  • Mucho ruido y pocas nueces. – A lot of noise, and few nuts. (In other words, much ado about nothing.)
  • Entre bueyes no hay cornadas. – Between oxen there are no horns. (Hard to say this one. Basically, you can trust those you have something in common with.)
  • Un paso a la vez. – One step at a time. (Exactly as in English, but it just sounds so much cooler in Spanish!)

That cultural tendency to want to share wisdom is one of the things I love most about Spain! There are tons of Spanish Proverb sites on the web. Check ’em out. You might learn something.

proverb

[Image credit: dondrummstudios.com]

Convivencia

There was a period in Spanish history between the beginning of the eighth century and the end of the fifteenth century known as the Convivencia, which, roughly translated, means the time of living together, when the Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in relative peace. Not to say that Spain hasn’t had a past checkered with as much violence and intolerance as any other country, but there was that enlightened period, at least in the southern part of the country, and that has always appealed to me.

I try really hard to live in Convivencia, not just in terms of tolerating other religions, but other philosophies and lifestyles as well. One of the most beautiful things about being well traveled is that you learn that your way isn’t the only way, and it may not even be the best way. Once you realize that, you become a lot more open minded.

I have never understood people who use the term “politically correct” as if it were an epithet. They assume that that tendency must be insincere and false. That speaks volumes about them. It really is possible to accept diversity without being disingenuous about it. It might take effort sometimes, but it doesn’t have to be unnatural. It may not be your custom to fast during Ramadan, for example, but how hard is it not to eat in front of someone you know is fasting? It’s common courtesy and it shows that you have the maturity to be aware of those around you.

I’m always befuddled by people who get angry every year when someone says Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. Why is it so unpalatable to them that you want to include everyone in your well wishes? I personally appreciate any well wishes that come my way.

For that same reason, I don’t get people who oppose gay marriage. What they are basically saying is that they don’t want “those people” to have a chance at the same happiness that they have. That makes no sense to me. Why do they care?

The tendency to embrace the wider world is much more positive than practicing a xenophobia that not only limits you, but pours the acid of hatred on your very soul. Allowing for other points of view can only increase your emotional intelligence and open you up to a broader range of experiences. Try it. You might learn something.

tolerance

I Was Here

Approximately 40,800 years ago, someone, possibly a Neandertal, painted the oldest known cave art in a place called the Cave of El Castillo in northern Spain. This is the first evidence we have of someone saying,  “Death shall not silence me.” And we’ve been saying it ever since.

Wanting to survive beyond your expiration date is a natural instinct. It’s what art, architecture and writing really is. By writing this blog, I get to say, “Barb was here” every single day. If you read it on one of the rare occasions when I’m asleep, I’m still talking to you. It’s like sending radio waves out into space. These messages will go on and on and on, with or without me. That’s a heady experience. When you leave your mark, you are cheating death. You are poking fun at the grim reaper.

Long before we developed writing, we were telling our stories through art and monuments. Archeology is the study of the physical stories that long dead civilizations leave behind. “This is who we were.” “This is how we lived.” “This is what we thought was important.” “This is how we want to be remembered.” “These are the mistakes we made.” “Learn from us.”

What an amazing first step that caveman in Spain took! Did he or she realize how important this was? Probably not. But maybe. And that, above all else, is why it’s so exciting.

Cave Paintings

[Image credit: huffingtonpost.com]

The Evil Eye

Location: Some Nameless Godforsaken Village in Northwest Spain

Year: 1986

So I’m with a friend, sitting in a café that overlooks a green slimy swamp. To say we were in the middle of nowhere would be generous. You couldn’t even see nowhere from where we were sitting. I had no freakin’ clue how this restaurant survived. There weren’t even houses anywhere in sight.

It was all my fault, really. I got it into my head that since we were in this part of Spain, we should go somewhere where we could at least look into Portugal. So, trusting my guidebook, we hopped on a bus. Sadly we’d have to change buses. Even more sadly, the layover was 5 hours. On the side of road. Next to a swamp. This was something I had somehow overlooked.

So we’re sitting there, trying not to snipe at each other, when along the road comes this little old Gypsy woman, straight out of central casting. Black dress. Humped back. Grey hair in a bun. Patch over one eye. She asks us if we’d like her to tell us our fortunes. I say, “No, thank you.” My friend says, “Sure! Why not?” I’m thinking, “Oh, God…”

So the fortune was told, with me acting as translator. Nothing exciting, nothing dramatic. Until she asks for her fee, and my friend takes exception to the outrageous amount. My friend hands her about 1/10th of the asking price. Oh, God…

The lady, predictably, freaks out and starts speaking more rapidly than my Spanish skills allow. She may not even have been speaking Spanish, for all I knew. And then she lifts her eye patch, fixes her cold blue (and in retrospect, perfectly functional) eye on us, lifts her hand, extending two fingers and…I swear to you…hisses.

Then she walks away.

I don’t believe in the evil eye. But when things aren’t going well for me, I sometimes wonder.

Evil_Eye_246304

(Copyright maxidus)

Fantasy Island

I just got through reading an article on the NPR website entitled, “Pacific Island, Bigger Than Manhattan, Vanishes.” I assumed it was going to be about global warming, and that maybe it had sunk below the rising sea level, but no. Based upon studies of the sea floor, this island never existed in the first place. Apparently this “island” has been on maps and charts since around 1772. And now they’re looking at other questionable islands in other parts of the world in order to update maps.

fantasy_island_by_tessig-d4w7qz5 (Credit: Tessig.deviantart.com)

Can we just take a second to absorb this? In this day and age, with all our global whosawhatsis, how does this happen? It makes you realize how vast the world is, and how much we want to believe what we’re told. But I still find it vaguely unsettling. If we can’t count on our geography, what can we count on?

Here’s the thing. When my mother died when I was 26, I felt as though there was no longer any solid foundation beneath my feet, as though everything that I counted on had suddenly vanished and I was adrift. It took me a long time to get over that. A very long time. I will never forget that feeling.

Without getting into a debate about quantum physics, we count on things to be solid, to have substance. And we expect islands the size of Manhattan to stick around. This is why I could never live in an earthquake zone. To have something solid suddenly start rippling like water? I’d have a nervous breakdown.

There has to be some fundamental…thing that you can hang your hat on, and build from there. Without that, how do you know what’s real? It reminds me of a quote from the Spanish dramatist Pedro Calderón de la Barca, which translates as, “Life is a dream, and even the dreams are dreams.”

Tilting at Windmills

Sometimes when I’m just waking, a phrase percolates up from my subconscious. Today it was “tilting at windmills”. What am I trying to tell myself? Am I, like Don Quixote, fighting a ridiculous battle? Am I getting unnecessarily agitated? Am I ignoring someone who is trying to talk sense into me? Maybe I should wear a brass basin on my head and go horseback riding in Spain.

don q Photocredit: Deeptruths.com

I don’t know. I did go to bed last night feeling really upset that despite all efforts, my life does not seem to be improving, so I’m sure that once I finally drifted off my subconscious got to chew on that topic for an extended period. I just wish that when I got a message from myself, it didn’t come in the form of a riddle. I’m more of a forthright kind of girl. Just give it to me straight.

In retrospect, I have had my fair share of Don Quixotes in life. For example, I have one friend who seems to think that legalizing marijuana will be the cure for all our ills. He doesn’t seem to notice that he’s the most unhealthy person I’ve ever known and he smokes enough pot to fumigate the entire White House.

There’s another guy who stands by the side of the road in my neighborhood with a sign urging you to stop and get his report about how to reform the school board. He has been standing out there, day in and day out, for years. So one day I stopped and got his report. I figured it was the least I could do. It was about 50 pages long, and filled with so much gobbledygook that if there were some amazing insight in amongst the insanity, it would be lost on any reasonable person. I really wanted it to be an intelligent and thoughtful treatise. I really did. He has obviously invested a great deal of his life into it. But no. It’s bird cage liner at best.

It’s hard to get upset at Don Quixotes. You have to admire their persistence. And what if you convince them to give up their great crusades and move on with their lives only to discover that if they had fought the good fight for just one more day it would have made all the difference? You do hear stories about people who struggle long past the point where the rest of us would have quit, and in the end they succeed. I suspect that we Americans are fed those stories in our high chairs with our strained peas. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. NEVER give up? Never? At what cost?

I wish I had the answer. Maybe it will come to me in a dream.

When the Punishment for a Good Deed is a Lifetime of Regrets

Everyone probably has a story about trying to help someone and instead unintentionally making things worse. This is one of those stories. But if you’ve been reading my blog, you probably know I don’t ever go half way. I strongly suspect I may have ruined someone’s life, and the worst part about it is that I’ll never know for sure. I’ll always have to live with that.

In college I had a friend whom I will call S. She was a sweet girl. Kind to everyone. Gentle. A talented artist. She was one of those people who kind of seems like they may have grown up in a secret garden, surrounded by butterflies. She even had the faraway look. She was oblivious to the world’s ills. She had no concept of self-protection, and didn’t have a skeptical bone in her body. I honestly don’t know how she had made it through 19 years of her life without something terrible happening to her, but apparently that was the case. If I believed in angels I’d swear that one had to have been watching over her. We spent a lot of time together in school. We were even roommates for a while, and took a two week trip to Spain together. Lovely girl.

After graduation, we kept in touch for a time, but life has a way of pulling people in different directions, and that was the case with us. A couple years passed with no contact, and then I got a phone call. Probably the strangest call I’ve ever received in my life. It was S, but it wasn’t the S that I knew. This was…how do I explain it? This was S on laughing gas. This was S in the Emerald City, complete with ruby slippers. She was so euphoric I considered recommending hospitalization. It was just…weird. Don’t get me wrong. Happiness is a good thing. But this wasn’t that. It was more like head trauma happy. She said she was in town and she had to, absolutely had to see me. I have to admit I was curious, so I told her to come on over.

When S showed up, I was horrified. She was skinny, had dark circles under her eyes and looked kind of feverish. And ecstatic. I was thinking drugs, but didn’t see any tracks on her arms. Of course, that’s not the only way to take drugs. Then she told me about Lifespring. This was an organization I’d never heard of, but she said it had changed her life. She had come to convince me to join. Fortunately I’m not a joiner. (My mother couldn’t even get me into the Girl Scouts. After one torturous school year in the Brownies, I put my foot down.) She told me that Lifespring conducted seminars that changed your life in some way that she just couldn’t articulate. Yes, of course they cost money. She had spent every penny she had on them, but she wasn’t worried. She knew she’d be taken care of. In fact this was the first time she’d been outside of the company of a fellow Lifespringer in, oh, months. She had convinced several of her family members to join as well, and this is a family with money. She was so happy she barely felt the need for sleep, which was good, because they were always there, and rarely gave her time for it. But that was okay, ‘cause she was happy. Happy, happy, happy. So happy. She told me that she had given my name and address to the organization.

As you can imagine, I was floating in a veritable sea of red flags at this point. After she left, I went straight to the library. (This was before internet.) I started researching Lifespring, but wasn’t finding much, other than that some considered it a cult, and that a few people had left Lifespring and then committed suicide. I also discovered an organization called the Cult Awareness Network, and they had a great reputation back then*. I called them, and they sent me a packet about an inch thick, full of documents about Lifespring. The more I read, the more horrified I became. This cult uses all the standard tactics such as sleep deprivation, influence and persuasion and mind control methods to suck you in and then bleed you dry financially. Their main method of recruitment was to have members approach family and friends, or, barring that, befriending strangers under false pretenses and slowly introducing them to the concept. And she had given these people my address! Rest assured I was highly suspicious of new “friends” for about a year after that.

I like to think of myself as a loyal friend. And I hope that if I were in a cult, someone on the outside would care enough about me to intervene if possible. I brooded about this for about a week. If this were someone with a modicum of self-protection or was capable of even a soupçon of critical thinking, I might have let it go. Let her live her own life, make her own mistakes. But this was S. Her secret garden surely didn’t prepare her for Lifespring. So what to do? I couldn’t call her mother. Her mother was in Lifespring, too. So I decided to send the inch thick packet of information to her father, along with a note explaining that S had joined this organization. I would just let him take it from there.

So far, so good, right? And maybe it was a happy ending. It could have been. I hope so. But here’s the twist. I was not exactly a woman of the world back then, either. So it didn’t really consider the ramifications of what I did. You see, her father is Pakistani. So there are several possible ends to this story aside from the happy and loving one I hope for:

  • He disowned her, cut her off financially, and she’s out there somewhere, probably still in a cult (although Lifespring, apparently, no longer exists).
  • He dragged her back home and
    • Married her off against her will. (She had said he was pressuring her, but she was resisting.)
    • Locked her away somewhere.
    • Worst case scenario, killed her off for shaming the family and depleting their fortune.

The reason I tend to think the results were negative are not because I’m Islamophobic. Quite the contrary. It’s just that S seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. She has not contacted anyone we knew since her calls to me, attempting to get me to join Lifespring, petered out about a month after our last visit. She hasn’t given a current address to our Alumni office. I never heard back from her father, either. And she has a relatively rare name. I have Googled and Facebooked her about every six months for as long as there has been Google and Facebook. Nothing. Not a trace.

S, if you’re out there, I hope you’re genuinely happy. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll probably never know for sure. But hey, I did the “right” thing. Right? Didn’t I?

*Please note that the Cult Awareness Network is not the organization it once was. In 1996 it had been bombarded by so many bogus lawsuits by the Scientologists that it had to close its doors and the Scientologists bought out its name so that they could spread disinformation about their own cult. Any “help” that this once reputable organization will give you now will surely be warped, twisted, and biased to their way of thinking, so I’d avoid them entirely, but if you do feel the need to contact them, approach with caution.