Month: January 2014

Gray Is the New Black

I don’t want to have gray hair.  I feel young, for the most part, and I still make mistakes and laugh at fart jokes and want to dance all night.  I always thought that by the time my hair grayed I would feel gray too and I’d be wise and all-knowing and people would travel from all over the world to seek my advice on any range of issues, and that I would have grandchildren and a garden and drive a Cadillac and eat a lot of oatmeal and clip coupons and go for long walks holding hands with my husband while the sun was setting.  But, I don’t feel any of that and I don’t do any of those things.  And, instead of gray, I feel more like bright green with sparkles.

The dilemma is figuring out what parts of aging to embrace, and what parts are unjust and are to be challenged.  If I start dying my hair, will I then need liposuction, a personal trainer, a gluten-free diet, botox injections and a wardrobe overhaul?  Because that’s a lot.  If I dye my hair, will it be like painting one room, where before all the other rooms were perfectly fine, but now they look awful and you can hardly even stand being in your house?  Or, will it be like when you buy one new piece of furniture and suddenly realize how gross and outdated everything else you own is and you just want to go live in bungalow somewhere in the Caribbean? I don’t know if it will be like any of those scenarios, but I have a sneaky suspicion that it could be the pinnacle of a very slippery slope.

As a skier, I enjoy slippery slopes very much.  But here I feel like I’m poised on a precipice upon which I’ve never stood before, and I’m looking down and there is nothing below but cloud cover, it’s a temperature inversion, hiding every detail of the vertical. I could stay here, but I’m alone, alone and gray.  If I jump into this unknown, it could be a wild ride with hidden consequences and obstacles and I could end up looking like a total freak when I reach the bottom, marred by branches and ice crystals and lasers and needles.  And, I really hate to admit that I may be vain.  I’m okay with aging, but I don’t want to be unattractive, and I don’t want to look like I’m my friends’ mother when we have girls’ night out.  I can just see it: a handsome young waiter approaches our table, the six of us all dolled up and feeling fabulous, ordering wine and salads and laughing about something insensitive our husbands said right out of the Husbands 101 manual, and he says, Hello, ladies, I can tell it’s a special occasion, perhaps a birthday? He winks at me and pours a vanilla Ensure into a martini glass and sets it in front of me with a maraschino cherry on top…  

There is the option of going all out and embracing what is inevitable, that by the time I feel as old as I am I’ll probably be too old to get my ass to the salon to do anything at all with my hair, which I’m sure will be long and swirly and insane.  I could preemptively dye it all gray, or white, and come up with some story about waking up one morning and looking in the mirror and holy crap I turned white!  I could feign astonishment, and cultivate a New England snobbery accent, like a 1940’s actress, and call everyone dahling and start smoking.  I’d have to get silk pajamas and robes and a daybed and more furs, lots of furs, and walk around the house with a rocks glass filled with ice that clinks as I glide around avoiding my own trail of smoke telling everyone to shhhhhhh.  I would have to ignore my children, too, this woman doesn’t sit on the floor and pay Uno, she taps her fingernails on the new piano during the children’s three-hour daily lesson as a metronome.  And I’d have to stop cooking because silk is highly flammable and I’d be really skinny because I only eat ice and nicotine, and I’d burn up quickly if I caught fire, which means we would need a housekeeper who can cook.  And I’d need a driver for obvious reasons.  And some other things that I can’t put my finger on right now.

So, I guess my options are rather limited and both seem to require a lot of effort and financial commitment.  In the mean time, I’ll drag myself to the store on the other side of town to surreptitiously buy some brand of matchy-type color in the hair aisle and cover it up in my basket with a large bag of cotton balls that I don’t need.  And then I’ll go home and spend all morning reading directions and prepping and brushing and dying, telling myself that it’s not vanity I’m servicing here, it’s my inner artist who has been for years starved of a proper canvas.  And then I’ll rinse the darkness from my hair, careful not to let it linger on the white tiles, lest it stain and forever serve as a tattle-tell of my cosmetic deception, and then, voila!  I will have erased Father Time in one small way; but I look at my hands and my eyes and my boobs and I realize that the hair is where the deception stops.  He is winning this game of moisture and gravity; but I’m not competitive, I play for the fun of playing, and when it is no longer fun, alas, I will surrender and let him drape me in gray, because gray just may be the new black.  

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That’s Like So Totally Racist?

A couple of evenings ago, I answered the doorbell to two bouncy, smiley middle schoolers, a blond, the older sister of the little girl who had been over playing all afternoon, and her Chinese friend.  I invited them in with a Hello, girls, how are you, and other general niceties.  The blond responded to my inquiries as such:  So, like it’s my aunt’s birthday? And we’re going out to dinner? And my friend from school is coming with us? So, like it’s time for my sister to come home now?   Was she asking me to verify these things?  I wasn’t sure.  Perhaps she had been studying the movie Valley Girl and was perfecting that insipid style of speech for a play.  One can hope.

As we waited together in the foyer, I asked them questions about school and the holidays and where they were going for dinner, and they responded in that singsongy answer-question manner.  I called to the little sister that it was time to go home, and here the chit chat lingered on dinner and favorite foods.   The blond said to her friend, You eat fried rice like because you’re Chinese?  They bounced and giggled, and the friend replied, Oh my god, like that is so totally racist? and they burst into a fit of shrugging and honking.

Witnessing this I started feeling itchy, and called downstairs, urging the sister to hurry, that it was time to leave, but she was too busy ignoring me.  The blond then said to her friend, You’re like always having rice when I’m at your house?  To which the Chinese friend retorted, I can’t believe like how racist that is?!  And, once again, they disintegrated into laughter that sounded more like three short wheezes and a squeal, over and over and over, and all the while the Chinese friend is shaking her head and rolling her eyes at her very funny friend.  Who she keeps calling a racist.

I study them with an expression that has been described to me as unpleasant.  It’s when I hear something that I do not like, or that I find disturbing, and it bothers my ears which makes my face muscles constrict into what appears to be a squinty scowl, just as it pulls my chin high into the air and with it up come my arms, who reflexively cross over my chest tightly in order to keep them from continuing over my head.  It’s an innocent reaction, contemplative, really, and completely autonomic and widely misunderstood.  I have an aversion to this type of speech pattern, one could say an allergy, to which the only remedy is total removal of the irritant.

I stand in front of the two sillies in said posture.  Girls, I say calmly, racist is someone who believes that one person or group is superior to another solely because of race, so those were not racist comments, they were just observations. Do you understand the difference?   They stopped wiggling and stared at me.  Waiting, just waiting, non-blinking, hollow staring without a hint of recognition and maybe a touch of fear.  Hurry or we’ll be in big trouble?  the blond yells down the hallway.  Did I not say that in English? I think to myself.  More than likely, yes, I did, but I couldn’t remember, and by the way they were looking at me I thought, perhaps not.  Just then, the little sister popped up, coat on, ready to go.  The girls did not disguise their relief as their eyes lolled about in their sockets and they began that hunched-back shoulder-rolling that seems to preface giggling and other inanities.  

I said good bye and thanks for playing and to enjoy their dinner and thank you for the interesting conversation.  The girls seemed to have already forgotten about the deep discussion that we almost had, and I had a sudden panic that in a mere six years they would both be eligible to vote…

I imagined the future:  Umm, I just want to say, that, like I’m really really proud of myself for all of my hard work ruining the fossil fuel industry?  And, like I think solar is really really awesome?  And, I think if we all ride bicycles there will be world peace because you can’t, umm, fire a gun from a bike? And if you like fried rice, you’re like totally racist so I’m leading a world boycott of it?  Heeheehee!

It reminded me of an interview I listened to the other day on NPR of a woman who works for the Environmental Protection Agency discussing the checkered history and industry projections of coal, and with the exact same inflection as these girls, i.e., a complete absence of gravity, and a smile behind every word, she said definitively that it would be dead..?  I thought it was a mock interview and laughed through most of it, until the end, when I realized it wasn’t a spoof after all; it was real, and that absurd woman was real.  And she was probably an absurd sounding middle schooler before she went on to be just as absurd in high school and then on to Harvard to double-major in Historical Blunders of White Men and Girl Power, and then proceeded get a job at the EPA to harass an entire segment of our energy economy out of business.  I imagined that woman in one of her meetings, eyes lolling about in that same girlish manner of indecision, shoulders rolling and bouncing, snort-laughing at some hilarious organic farming joke she heard over the recycling bin.

In theatre, and then later in debate (theatre’s aggressive cousin), I learned that people will judge you, whether you want them to or not, and they will do so first by the way you speak, and second by the way you look; it therefore was most important to learn to speak properly, without a noticeable accent, and to speak with confidence.  Confusing a statement and a question was unforgivable, an instant shave of twenty-five IQ points.  Using like and umm in  place of a thoughtful pause was always inexcusable, instant banishment from any meaningful conversations.  (One night in high school over dinner, my dad asked me about my day, and every time I said umm, he immediately yelled umm!  It was illustrative, and incredibly obnoxious, and aggravating.  I didn’t speak to my dad for a week or so after that teaching moment, which he found hilarious, and which aggravated me even more, but I must admit that it broke my umm habit.)  The worst offense, however, was the misusage of words, back to point, and these girls violated it, and violated all three with the determination of a pack of hyenas.

In summation, if you’re fortunate enough to not have been born in the Valley, don’t pretend that you were by adopting the accent; if you need time to collect your thoughts so that you can speak coherently, just stop talking, less is better; if you don’t know what a word means, truly means, especially if it is a lightening rod like racist, don’t use it, certainly don’t accuse your friends of being it, and don’t laugh at it unless you are a well prepared to defend yourself, verbally and physically.  We are the protectors of our culture, which we pass down via the instrument of language, and to abuse it so is more than an affront to our society, it is  like totally embarrassing?! 

Smelly Feet

My olfactory senses are not the keenest.  Certainly, there are particular essences that I absolutely love, that can transport me years back and to places far away, but for the most part, there aren’t many scents that move me.  The exception to this is foot odor.  Not my own, of course, to that I feel a kinship, a loyalty, an unpleasant attraction, even.  Other people’s foot odor, however, can bring me to the brink of insanity.  My oldest daughter has exceptionally ripe pedals, and on several occasions, has nearly caused an accident simply by  removing her shoes in the car.  That is a lot of power for a nine year old to wield, by the way.

Friday was an early-release day at the elementary school – because after a week long break for Thanksgiving, then two more for Christmas, and then another week for snow, it makes perfect sense to honor those pre-determined half-days, no matter what.  Anyway, we followed our normal routine after school: crash into the house; throw backpacks and coats on floor; fight over computer; reconcile; do homework; beg for snacks.  And then the friends start to ring the door bell.  Having wreaked sufficient havoc in their own homes, they follow innate signals which draw them to ours, similar to locusts.

Everything was moving along nicely this day.  All the little girls were sequestered downstairs in a controlled-chaos environment.  I ignored them completely and stretched out in another room, away and almost out of earshot, contemplating my quantum parallel universe which is always quiet and orderly.  It was a perfect arrangement, until the screeches, squeals and thumps suddenly stopped and all was quiet.  My eyes popped open.  I waited for the wail, but it never came.  The silence continued and hung in the air…   I swiftly tiptoed down the hall to listen more closely, to let it tell me what was amiss below, as every parent knows that there is nothing more foreboding than the paradox of a room full of soundless children.  I placed my ear to the door.  Nothing, not even the shh’s and ess’s of whispers.

Fear gripped me and in three bionic leaps I was in the den, whereupon I found four little angels perched carefully on a crafted nest of cushions and pillows, preparing for the start of a  movie, just patiently waiting.  I studied them suspiciously, but they seemed in order.  I studied the room suspiciously, and nothing was broken.  Everything okay down here? I asked casually.  No response.  The grating voice of Barbie suddenly broke the peace in the room.   That shrill voice and gumless smile were enough to keep me from lingering longer, and that’s when it hit me: a smell.

I couldn’t put my finger on it right away; something unnatural and putrid, but not immediately identifiable.  What on earth is that smell??  No response.  Great, I thought, Make a mental note to add another week to Latin camp this summer to counter The Barbie Effect.  I lifted my chin and let my nose guide me around the room, lifting costumes from the floor with the tip of a pencil, expecting to find something huge and moldy and unidentifiable, an Ah-HA! just waiting to leap out.

As physical evidence eluded me, there it continued to hang, the tart stench, lingering invisibly, taunting me, daring me to inhale deeper.  I ask again, a little louder, Girls, what on earth is that smell???  One of the girls quickly looks up a me, the big one with the knotted blond hair, and says, Oh, it’s probably my Uggs.  Uggs???

I do not understand Uggs.  Firstly, it sounds like ugly, which they are, and which I do not aspire to be, not even my feet.  Foot-haters is what they are, Vietcong-esque woolen sweat boxes.  Why torture them so, poor feet, trapping them in their own brine, marinating them in bacterial waste?  It’s just too disgusting to contemplate further.  When I see people walking around in them, I know they smell, without ever having to know them, or smell them.  And to pay a premium for a branding of stink is simply bizarre to me, maybe even insane.

If I pay several hundreds of dollars for a pair of shoes, which I’m not opposed to doing, it will make me smarter, younger, thinner, and taller, and generally make the world a more pleasant place.  With the right pair of shoes, it’s totally doable, and then even the priciest of tags seems a great bargain.  The complete opposite seems to be the case with Uggs.  Even their brownness is an affront, like dirt or poop, and they’re not fooling anyone with the pinks and purples: underneath we know it’s just brown brown brown.  As if that’s not enough, they splay, which connotes Neanderthal, and it just doesn’t get more inelegant than that.  Australia, what were you thinking?

But this, this was too much.  A seven year-old with overpriced quarantine-worthy boots stinking up my basement.  Just then I looked down and noticed the offenders: purple, they were, all disguised to make them appeal to children despite their inherent unattractiveness; like a McDonald’s Happy Meal, that is neither happy nor a meal, and posing as both to those who do not know better.  These need to go outside, honey, I say in my Compassionate Mother voice.  No need to humiliate, she’s just a kid.  The little girls laugh and the big one with the knotted blond hair, laughs the loudest and cheerfully bounces from the pile of cushions and bounds over to her boots, at which point the smell intensifies ten-fold.  My eyes water and my face pinches, Dear god above, could that possibly be coming from her FEET???  It was.  The smell, all along, was feet.  Smelly feet, rubbing into rugs and smearing up and down stairs, in and out of rooms all over the house.  I moved into emergency mode: this is where crucial decisions are made lightening fast and you feel like a wizard.  I gave the little girl a fresh pair of socks and instructed her to take her own, stuff them in her boots and place them outside the front door, quickly.  Done and done, or so it seemed.

While Barbie droned high in the background I glided back upstairs to assume my repose. But that smell, that horrible smell, nothing at all akin to my running shoes or ski boots, oh no, that is special and earned, those smells have miles and memories to them.  This was the smell of willing entrapment, and there it was, stained on my smell receptors, burned into my cerebral cortex, and smudged all over my house.  It stayed with me like the sensory memory of an amputated limb.  I lit candles.  I vacuumed.  I walked around the yard.  I would have opened the windows, but it’s cold, so I sprayed white linen, and it all just managed to confuse me, and the last thing I needed was a cerebral short circuit.  I put the boots in a plastic bag and tied it, which seemed to do the trick.  Even my receptors know that little escapes a sealed plastic bag.

With that, I popped a huge pot of popcorn for the girls, to their delight, and all was well again as the house filled with the aroma of exploding kernels and melted butter.  Happy smells that canceled out all of the others, a short circuit narrowly averted.  And herein lies the moral:  that replacing something unpleasant (smelly feet) with something delightful (homemade popcorn) can be transformative beyond all reason, and it works both ways.  So, when you come to our house, we advise keeping shoes on at all times, and if you’re donning Uggs, expect a preemptive, fragrant bowl of buttered popcorn to follow your arrival.

Rabble-Rousing Rule-Breakers

As a kid, I got into a lot of trouble.  Not usually for major offenses, but constantly for stupid little stuff.  Some rules for me were more like benchmarks, or statements to be tested.  It didn’t make sense to me why there were so many rules for so many things, and it seemed like everything was against the rules.  Why could we not run around the pool?  Every kid runs around the pool.  That’s all we think about on a hot day: getting to the pool and running around it, running after our friends, running to the snack bar, running to be the first to greet a latecomer, running to burn off your sugar buzz, running away from your parents when they say it’s time to go home and you are no where near ready to go home.  Who wants to walk around a pool?   They say it’s so you won’t fall and hurt yourself, but not running doesn’t keep you from falling; and running doesn’t always end up in people getting hurt.  Where is the logic behind that rule?

They should leave the runners alone and blow the whistle at the kid who does get hurt.  That’s the kid who should sit out for five minutes, the one who wasn’t paying attention, crashed into the chair and skinned his knee.  The moral becomes, pay attention, or you may get hurt and will be forced to sit by the mean lifeguard and watch all of your friends having fun running around the pool.  Everyone else is perfectly fine, they shouldn’t have to suffer for one person’s misjudgment.  The trick here is to run as fast as you can around the pool, and the second they blow that stupid whistle, jump in the water.

Here’s another one: I cross the street whenever I want.  Any free human being in a free society should be able to make that decision for themselves.  If you cannot decide properly whether or not it is safe to cross a street, you should either be in a stroller, or in a home somewhere safe with padded walls and floors where you can’t hurt yourself, handcuffed to a chair.  Instead, somebody decides that nobody should be allowed to cross a street except where designated, because one person’s potential inability reflects upon an entire community’s competence; i.e., you are now no longer allowed to maybe get hit by a car.  That makes no sense to me.  Why would I wait for a blinking light to tell me what I can determine on my very own, that there are no cars on the road and that it is safe to cross a street?  Why on earth do I have eyeballs?  In part, so that I can make appropriate decisions regarding my personal safety, not just so that I can recognize my children and coordinate my outfits.  Street crossing is something that I have been doing successfully for many, many years, which makes me an expert.  Hence, I cross a street when I see fit, not when a non-expert computer who has never, ever crossed a street before, tells me it is safe to do so.

Which brings me to stop signs.  Why do we need to press the break and hold it for three seconds for it to count as a complete stop?  A rolling stop is fine if nothing is around that would require a full stop.  Either version of a stop could lead to an accident, because accidents happen.   If you’re not paying attention, the chance of an accident increases dramatically, whether you stop or not.  If you feel the need to make an unnecessary law, why not outlaw accidents, or not paying attention, and let us make our own determination as to what requires a big or a mini stop?  If you are the only car for miles and miles and miles and no humans are anywhere around and there is no chance of you hitting anything but the stop sign itself, why must you even stop at all?  I probably wouldn’t.

And what is up with parking meters?  Why do we allow these immoral metal nuisances?  My obsession with the immorality of parking meters begins here, where parking meter rates and taxes rise in order to cover the costs of the stupid parking meters and their overlords.  When meter enforcement is increased in order to collect more fines in order to pay for more meter enforcement, a government hamster wheel has been created that benefits no one, and harms everyone; this is why it is immoral.  It also means that the $500 dress you just bought in the new boutique is really $540, with taxes, and, if you take too long looking at yourself in the mirror, trying to decide whether you look ridiculous or like a fashion goddess trendsetter, you’ve acquired a $25 parking ticket, which in effect raises the cost of the dress to $565.  Or, how about you just paid $5 for a crappy cup of chalky coffee, see an old friend in line whereupon she regales you with her ten-point plan for finding perfect husband number-three, which took longer to tell than the dime you dropped into the meter granted you permission to hear.  Now, your crappy cup of coffee has cost you $30.  Who on earth would pay that for a cup of coffee?  So, we are forced into the protection of malls with “free” parking.  The poor shops and cafes with meters gradually go out of business or migrate to  malls where people can stay for long periods of time buying and perusing goods unmolested by sociopathic meter cadets and spending their money freely, while still contributing to the tax coffers.

In the mean time, the the city gets sued because only people who can walk get to write tickets (which is so much fun, a highly sought after position), and so in order to be an equal opportunity employer, the city has to buy little scooters for the parking ticket personnel, which means they all become obese because they sit all day, and now the health care and disability costs skyrocket for the city and taxes have to be raised, AGAIN.  But the cash cows, the businesses and shoppers, have moved to greener pastures, and so the numbers of parking meter payers and offenders drastically decreases, just as the demand for an increase in said payers and offenders skyrockets.  And why do cities not understand why they go bankrupt?  They are either run by kindergardeners or hamsters.  Dr. Seuss could come up with a system that makes more sense than this.  How about this: ditch the meters, fire the personnel, lower the taxes and let us all own, shop and eat in peace?  If I pass someone’s meter and it is expired, I drop in a quarter, which is against the rules, by the way.

Now, I get the reason why we have rules and laws, and I understand that we need them in order to have an orderly society that can prosper.  But freedom doesn’t mean that you are free from pain or discomfort or loss or injury; it means that we have the opportunity to make choices in our lives, and good ones are usually rewarded, and bad ones are sometimes punished.  If you desire rewards, you have the choice of whether or not you will do the work and make the decisions required in order to achieve those rewards, just as the converse is true, as well.  Buying an overpriced cup of coffee is not a behavior that should be discouraged by the financial punishment of a city government, it is a choice that I have every right to make all by myself.  Because I am a big girl.  Ultimately, laws and rules only effect those who choose to obey them, anyway.  If you desire a peaceful society, why harass good people? At the beginning, middle and end of the day, the choices are ours to make, and if we are all turned into a bunch of rabble-rousing rule-breakers, well, you get what you paid for, you over-achieveing rule-makers, and you are exponentially outnumbered.  Liberum arbitrium.

Looking for Inspiration

The first story I ever wrote was about a little boy whose parents were divorced. It was an odd subject choice, being a girl with married parents, but my teacher loved it and was curious as to my inspiration for the story.  I didn’t know, and I was embarrassed, did I even know what inspiration meant?  It popped into my head and I wrote it down and I turned it in, is what I was thinking, but instead I turned scarlet, shrugged my shoulders, and wished to melt into my chair and disappear.  My teacher gave me a proud pat on the shoulder, which was unusual, and dropped my paper on my desk with a big red A on it, and moved on.

I reread the story several times when I got home and wondered where on earth the idea for such a crazy, sad tale came from?  And I was accustomed to being asked questions that had right and wrong answers, and whose right answers were already known by all the grownups.   Usually, imagination wasn’t even talked about, and the kid day dreaming in the corner or doodling in his notebook got into trouble. Intentional exploration of the source of imagination was uncharted territory.

At that time, I was in the forth grade in a small classroom on the second floor of a sixteenth century Tudor manse that had been dismantled, stone and plank, in the English countryside, sailed across the Atlantic, and reconstructed in Richmond, Virginia. It was lovely and creepy and we were constantly recounting ghost stories, the library, basement and elevator all reputed to have aggressive spirits guarding their hidden treasures.

From our classroom at the end of the hall, there were two sides of small pane windows in diamond shapes held together with black lead.  They swung open easily by twisting the iron latch half way up the inside, and in the Spring we would clamor over one another to release the stagnant air from the room and replace it with a cool scented breeze from the gardens.

I will never forget this place:  the P.E./History teacher who threw erasers and chalk with startling accuracy at students who misbehaved; the teacher whose shoulders were always dusted in white flakes of skin, her hair piled high on her head in a Victorian bun, teaching children the elements of music and theatre with the patience of a saint; the mild-mannered Principle/English teacher who always seemed to enjoy my stories; the Math teacher who just didn’t understand why I just didn’t understand.  For many reasons this school was memorable, but the moment that I held magic in my small hand was by far the most, and it was an iris.

There were several colors to appreciate, but the particular one that I was drawn to was special, it was the most beautiful arrangement of colors I had ever seen. It was violet laced with white and yellow, brushstrokes of subtle hues of blue and purple, set against the purest white and soft as chalky silk.  The petals were long and curved like the panels of a gown, opened in vulnerability and invitation, the furls of ruffled pollen outstretched for all to behold.  I studied this iris: there is nothing more beautiful.  I inhaled its fragrance: there is nothing more lovely.  If I were a fairy, I thought, I would live here, in the iris, and at that moment, I believed that this place was indeed magical and that fairies whistled all about disguised as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

I picked it, oh sin.  In full bloom it was about the size of a child’s head, and I climbed tentatively into one of my favorite trees, the one with smooth black bark and low branches, careful not to crush my forbidden prize.  The  trees were draped in thick ancient vines that made climbing and hiding easy, and planted in a row alongside a mossy brick wall that disappeared into the foliage and followed the length of the lawn.  I settled in a well-worn crook that was out of sight and offered a perfect view of the green expanse, the roses that needed pruning, the boxwood maze that needed tending, and of the slated terrace with it’s scalloped staircase that led into this wondrous place.

Every day I climbed this tree by the hidden wall and memorized every shade and shape that revealed itself to me.  I sat in the back of the classroom and would catch glances at that mighty terrace below, wondering who could have created such a place?  From that moment, the intimidating halls and imposing paneled rooms, the secret staircases and empty closets, the basement and attic, none of it frightened me anymore.  There were stories about the crippled old man who was mean and cruel and who chased all of his children away.  And there was talk of hidden passageways and secret doors, of catacombs under the gardens.  Anyone responsible for that garden was no evil brigand or murderous father or merchant outlaw, that I knew for sure.

I continued to develop my lopsided education and dreamed of writing operas and painting canvases and singing duets, and longed to experience inspiration.  I needed to see it in the way grownups see right and wrong; I needed to know that it was the right answer and I wanted to understand it, to capture it, so that I could call upon it when I needed it.  I wonder if my meeting with the iris was a serendipitous one, one that provided an illustration of inspiration, one that showed me that some things do not fall into reason, that some things are unexpected and unconditional and unexplainable.  Perhaps it was a question answered, a resounding YES!  For, after all, what is inspiration but the planting of a seed?