Laughing Through the Storms

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“Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air and you.”- Langston Hughes

I could be a bit of a stick in the mud when I was a teenager.  I was always so serious about everything and frowned upon dark humor, expecting people to be as serious about life as I was.  Slowly, I developed a sense of humor.

I remember when I started to loosen up.  My mom told me Easter had been canceled.  I asked why?  She replied, “the body was found.”   slowly it dawned on me what that meant and horrified chuckle escaped; from then on I learned to appreciate the power of laughter and levity, especially in times of crisis, when things are serious or emotionally charged.

I think that we sometimes feel when we allow ourselves to see the funny, the absurd, the ironic and the ridiculous in challenging and/or dark times that we judge ourselves, and have perhaps judged others, for their ability to joke, smile, laugh and move on, instead of wallowing, over-emoting, and analyzing everything. Sometimes you need to make the inappropriate comment, share a well-timed expletive and mine the situation you find yourself in for something valuable; shared levity and a sense of “we are all in this together.”

I found this especially so when I started working as a forensic interviewer of children who had been victims of crimes.  Who knew that you could find something humorous in something so awful.  Working with detectives and investigators you learn quickly the importance of levity.

One time, I was interviewing a nine-year-old. He had been kept in a closet for years but was very bright. I went over my expectations for our talk and let him know that I might ask the same question again, and if I did that, that did not mean I wanted him to change his answer, it just meant I forgot.  The child eagerly interrupted me at this point, exclaiming “Oh, do you have Alzheimer’s?  I heard that if you have Alzheimer’s you forget how to go potty.” Suppressing a grin, I explained, that just like him, I just forget things once in awhile.  Later on, while asking him a question, he replied “Is this really any of your business?  I’ll tell you anyway.”

Another time I was interviewing a little girl. As I leaned over she stuck her finger in my shirt and pulled the front down to look at my boobs.  When I took a break to talk to detectives I was asked: “Did she put a dollar in there?”

A detective once made a comment on how maybe a little girl, around seven, could be charged with solicitation when her brother offered to pay her for sexual favors.

Then there was the time I was doing a safe body talk with a teenager.  Who knew, in this day and age, that teenagers can still be shy or uncomfortable about naming private parts?  As a forensic interviewer, you can assume nothing and must use the child’s words so I asked her what the private parts are called on a boy?.  The teen, clearly at unease over the question, replied “a fruit bowl.” Trying to keep a straight face, I asked the teen what part of the fruit bowl is used for going to the bathroom. “The banana.”  I broke down laughing but quickly got myself together.  The teen assured me it was okay to laugh; that it was funny.

Then there was the time I was talking to a teenage boy.  It was a case involving an adult male trying to lure him into sexual touching.  We had a discussion about this and at the end, we talked about something more neutral that he likes to do.  He talked about how he just liked to stay in his room.  I chuckled and said “It sounds like your room is the place to be” and we concluded the interview.  When I went to talk to the detective he laughingly pointed out, that I had just told a teenage boy who had been discussing sexual touching, that his room was the place to be.

I also liked to infuse humor when talking about forensic interviewing.  One time, when speaking with a group of Victim-Witness Advocates along with the Director of the advocacy center, I used Spongebob to help explain rapport building with children.  I told them how I personally, found Spongebob to be creepy but kids just love him and then talked to them about what some of the kids say that is serious but also humorous.  At the end of the talk, my Director turned to me in amazement and exclaimed: “they were laughing.”  I explained that you need to have levity with the dark.  If you just talk about the heavy stuff it is going to be overwhelming but if you use well-placed humor it helps relieve some of the stress from what you are hearing and will make the information you share more memorable.

Humor has been a saving grace for me, whether at work or in my personal life. When my grandmother died, her ashes were placed in a box in a pretty purple bag.  I have often thought what a great gift she would be for a White Elephant gift giving party, like at Christmas.  I can just imagine the look on the person’s face, as they pick the cheerful bag and then look inside.  Do they think the package, labeled “human remains,” is a joke?  Do they try and open it, thinking there must be something really fantastic inside? Just the sheer shock and confusion on their imagined faces gives me a dark little chuckle.

Humor can have health benefits as well.  Have you ever been in a stressful situation and someone said something so absurd or so ironic that you just broke out in belly laughs with tears streaming down your face? Felt good, didn’t it?  You felt lighter, things did not seem as bad.

Humor is a survival skill.  It is a healer and shared levity lightens your burdens and helps you cope.  It is good for the heart, soul, and mind.  It keeps you walking thru your challenges and knowing that as dire or sad or scary as something might be, you can face it.  You are not alone. Just don’t look in the purple bag.

 

Family Tree and Me

The doctor was sure I was going to be a boy.  When I was born he exclaimed, “It’s a tomboy.” I came on an early Sunday afternoon.  Not long after my mom took me back to the farm.  My dad was not in the picture.  They were separated at the time and eventually divorced.

I never had a dad to read to me, play with me, scare off boyfriends.  I never had a dad’s shoulder to cry on or a dad to teach me to drive.  I never had “the dad experience.”  And that’s okay.   A lot of people don’t have the “the dad experience” and I know that I am incredibly blessed, no matter how difficult things can be.  My mom was always there for me.

I always felt there was something missing though.  Empty branches on half of my tree. My mother, who has always had bad health, encouraged me to try and find him.  She didn’t want me to be alone if something happened to her.  I knew that he was living in South Carolina, but that was about it.  I posted on his high school yearbook alumni page.

Time went by and I all but forgot that I had been looking for him.  Then, one day, I received an e-mail.  It was from his wife.  Next was a phone call and I heard his voice for the first time, a heavy Southern twang mixed in with his native Midwest tones.  We talked and talked.  Every few weeks he would call me.  When a couple of my aunts visited friends in the state I live in, they came and visited me too.  I felt like what was missing was filling up.  My tree was full.

 

By Abad Joaquin de Fiore (1135-1202) (Manuscritos en el Tiempo Liber Figurarum Tabla II) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This went on for years.  I could not afford to visit him and I eventually left a good paying job to be my mother’s caregiver.  We were struggling.  I used up my retirement. We had to accept state assistance. I sold many of our treasured items to pay bills and get additional groceries.  I felt it was worth it to be able to take care of my mom and having worked in a job that was emotionally and mentally dangerous (I was a forensic interviewer) I needed time to heal.

Then the 2016 election happened.  My Facebook Feed began to fill with venomous rhetoric, devoid of fact, that had an ugliness that made me feel heartsick.  Jokes about Muslims, hateful comments about Muslims and bizarre conspiracy theories.  My dad and his wife were now unfamiliar to me.  I guess, when you have a distance relationship, you get to imbue someone with attributes and characteristics that are sometimes naive and idealistic.  I was not the ideal daughter (opinionated, liberal in thought and action, my own person.) He was not the dad I hoped for (Atticus Finch, in To Kill a Mockingbird).

I’m okay with differences.  I am not okay with hate and cruelty. I unfriended my dad and his wife.  I was not seeking to sever my relationship but I needed to protect myself from something that I felt was morally wrong.  The next time he and I talked I told him what I did.  He appeared to accept this.

Then Trump came into power.  I was overwhelmed with a sense of dread.  Remember the witches in MacBeth warning “By the prickling of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes?”  That was how I felt.  Fear, anger, a sense that nothing made sense. In December, I got an e-mail from my dad’s wife.

My dad’s wife told me what a disappointment I was.  That I was basically working the system and she had thought so for awhile. Did I mention there had been an increase, before I dropped them, of postings putting down people who need food stamps and help? I confess that there were times I needed help and I did ask a couple of times.  I also tried to trade valuables for things we needed.  But, I was not begging, or using the system or my family.  She ended with telling me that she had not lost any of “her intelligent liberal friends,” and that she was erasing me from my dad’s phone and that if I tried to call, he would not answer because he did not answer numbers he did not know.  She let me know that they loved me and were praying for me. Um…..

I was upset. I contacted my aunt who let my dad know.  He got the number reinstated. The last time we talked, though, was in December of 2016. He did not know everything his wife told me, so I read it to him.  He said he could not make her apologize.  I did not want her to apologize.  I wanted him to care.  He then went on to tell me he worried about my social security.  Huh?  I was paying social security. I was earning income from a caregiver program to take care of my mom.  No empathy, no real attempt to understand.  I thought to myself, later on, “he believes what his wife believes.”

Since our last phone call by life has been hectic, but in some ways good hectic.  I finally found a second job that allows me to work from home and on-line so that my mom is safe and comfortable.  And, I love this job.  It is copyediting study lessons and it is fun. I get to learn and play with words at the same time.

I have come to accept that my dad is not going to be in my life.  And that’s okay.  I don’t need a father to define who I am, to make me feel whole.  I’m glad I was able to fill in the rest of my tree; I have no regrets.  Sometimes people just are not meant to stay in your life. I feel very blessed.  My mom is the only parent I need. She always has been.

 

 

 

 

Wonder: It’s Not Just for Kids

As a kid, I liked anything to do with the unexplained or mysterious.  I remember looking up at the night sky and wondering what was really out there.  More than one time I could have sworn I saw a UFO.  One memory that sticks out is standing outside my apartment complex; this was in Santa Fe, NM when I was eight or so. I heard a noise outside and went out, with a number of other people.  Up in the sky, slowly spinning while flying at a low elevation, was a round object, not unlike a toy top, with lights all around it.  As an adult, I have searched on-line to find whether or not this was a recorded event.  So far, no evidence.  But the feeling that I saw something special, something extraordinary, has stayed with me to this day.

My grandmother was my co-conspirator when it came to the supernatural and the unknown.  We would watch shows on UFOs and wonder where they came from and if they would be friendly or not.  We questioned how Big Foot could stay so hidden for so long and relished stories of human/Sasquatch encounters.  We scared ourselves with documentaries on Nostradamus and his predictions and, we were certain,  that one day the Loch Ness Monster would finally be revealed.

I muse about these things still.  At nearly half a century old I can still feel a childlike wonder when watching the sky at night, hoping to catch a meteor shower and a glimpse of something extraterrestrial. There are so many things yet undiscovered or unproven.

Every time a new tomb is discovered in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt I get excited.  Could it be Nefertiti maybe?  What about the lost continent of Atlantis?  Did it exist in what is modern day Santorini if it existed at all? Does the Bermuda Triangle have some sort of weather phenomena that steals planes out of the skies and disappears entire ships or is it something more sinister?  What about ghosts?  Do they exist?  I tend to think they do. But why are they ghosts in the first place?  What really happened to the colony at Roanoke? Also, was King Arthur real or fiction?  I would like to think real. I would also love to find evidence of Robin Hood and Merlin. Are there alternative realities or universes?  What about time-travel? Perhaps there is a real life Dr Who with a Blue Police Box Tardis somewhere out there in need of a companion.   In these unsettled, frightening times I think we all need a little magic, a little mystery, a puzzle if you will, to give ourselves a little escapism and perhaps some hope.

I like the idea that there are still things out there that we have not discovered, that are still unknown.  For some reason, I find it comforting. I may not find the answers but I will certainly have fun looking for them.

Vintage Dreams

What would you do, where would you go, if you could travel into the past?  I like to imagine what it would be like to go to the places on my vintage postcards, a kind of poor person’s time-traveling that allows me to visit and experience a time and place that is now out of reach.

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Just think what it would have been like to explore during the golden age of travel when the nascent field of archaeology began to bear the fruits of a rich, tapestried past in Egypt. I would go on early morning rides on camels to the pyramids of Giza prior to the stifling heat of the day and climb as high as I could the large mason stones so expertly cut and fitted to this 7th Wonder of the World. In the afternoon, I would have tea at Shephard’s Hotel in Cairo followed by an excursion into the colorful market of the suk with vendors hawking wares from fake scarabs to copper tea kettles to severed mummy hands, the smell of incense hanging in the air competing with that of the hookahs.The call of the muezzin to evening prayers for the faithful would give way to an evening of music and gossip in the coffee shops and cafes,  patrons spilling out onto verandahs and outdoor tables.

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I would also take a dahabiya (houseboat) down the river of life that is the Nile.  I would visit Luxor and Thebes and explore the Valley of the Kings which would gain worldwide attention with the discovery of Tutankhamun’s Tomb by Howard Carter in 1922. I would happily climb into tombs to revel in the incredible art and hieroglyphics that would tell the story of the owner and their perilous journey to the underworld where Anubis would weigh the heart of the deceased against a feather to decide whether or not they deserved to enter into the afterlife.  Woe to those whose heart was heavier than the feather for they would be devoured by a monster and cease to exist for all time.

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I would walk along the Nile in the evening, smelling the cooking fires as the feluccas sailed home with their daily catch, a blushing sunset kissing their sails. I would eat with the fellaheen and learn to converse in Arabic. As twilight set in, I would close my eyes and listen to the river as the sounds of the night came alive with the chirruping of insects. When the constellations peeked out of their velvety blanket above, I would look for Osiris striding across the sky, his wife Isis faithfully following her husband.

This is one of my vintage dreams. What about you?

 

When I was Five

When I was five we left the farm.  We left the green screened in porch where my grandmother and I would sit on the porch swing and sing Home on the Range.  We left the magical lightening bugs that hovered low in the tall grass of the front lawn that decorated an occasional jar for a night before being released the next day.  We left the Walnut trees that were home to playful squirrels and the strawberry patch that my grandmother and I raced through to see who could pick the most strawberries in the shortest amount of time.  We left the walking sticks that sheltered on the porch screen during rain storms.  We left the old chicken coop which was now a home to a wild array of ferns after becoming an unintended green-house.  We left our dog Jenny, a sweet collie/border collie mix that had been friend, nurse-maid, and protector since I was born.

That was the hardest part for me, and I had difficulty understanding the logic that Jenny would not be happy in a place like the Southwest with its heat, stickers and dirt: it would have been a miserable experience for a farm dog with a heavy coat who was used to the independence of a country life to have to live in such a contrasting environment in a small apartment, regardless of the love shared between her and her family. And so we left, my grandfather driving my mother and myself to New Mexico where hopefully the higher elevations and drier climate would improve my mother’s health and allow us to have a new start, just she and I.

The drive was long and I remember asking whether or not the hills we passed were mountains.  For the most part, they were just that, hills.  I also remember nick-naming the trucks that would whiz by us on the highway.  The small ones I called “meanies” and the larger ones “loudies.”  I have no idea how I came up with those names, but I still remember them for some reason.

I remember playing with the toys by grandmother sent with me for the trip.  One was a plastic Pluto (the Disney dog) that would jump around when you pressed the plastic button.  Another I remember, was Mr. Potato Head.  Grandpa had to use his pocket knife to widen the some of the openings for his body parts because they were too hard for my little hands to push in the nose, lips, etc….

I don’t remember the day we drove into Farmington, New Mexico.  I remember very little of it; we stayed there only a short time before moving on to Santa Fe.  What I do remember is the stickers that deflated my Hoppity Horse, the land lady’s sons’ who would give mom and I rides on their motorcycles and the really cool slingshots that they played with. Santa Fe would become the home of my heart.

Santa Fe had MOUNTAINS.  The sleepy little Spanish town sat at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain, part of the Rocky Mountain chain.  When I lived there in the 1970’s, Santa Fe  had not yet been “discovered”  by those who would later coin the term “Southwest Chic” and drive up the property values while commercializing that which made Santa Fe what it was, that sense of old worldliness and otherness that made it so special.  I feel lucky that I knew it before.

In Santa Fe, I would go to fiestas and parades on the downtown plaza, eat at the Woolworth’s counter, stroll in front of the Governor’s Palace with Native American artisans displaying their crafts on blankets.  I would watch the burning of Zozobra, “Old Man Gloom”, in the Fall and hunt for and eat roasted piñon nuts.  I would go on walks in the mountains taking in the crisp clean air filled with woodsy scents.  My grandparents would eventually leave the farm and move to Santa Fe, living in a modest home on a quiet street, making my little family complete.  The farm was where I was born, Santa Fe was where I began to really grow.

Not Sleep

I could not understand where my shirt went and why I was in public topless.  I desperately searched for something to cover myself up with.

Suddenly I found myself in a large building with a group of people.  Outside was a large dinosaur stalking us, busting it’s head thru the the walls.  All I could think of was finding the basement because I knew we would be safe there; it would be deep enough and strong enough to withstand any kind of attack.

Now I am in a tunnel.  I knew I had to use it to reach the dense forrest at the end of it to be safe from some unnamed terror that was propelling me into flight; the fear was all consuming.  I needed a forrest that was so immense that I could just disappear.  

Next I was back in high-school.  I could not understand why I was having to go thru that special kind of hell again, when I had already graduated and gone on to earn university degrees.  For some reason I feel like a fraud and that I have to repeat high school in order to feel real.

Then I woke up, but did I really sleep?  They say you dream when you sleep but I disagree.  Dreaming is NOT SLEEP.

Autumn Falls

Autumn is my favorite season.  I love the soft light, early days and the feeling that everything is slowing down in a world that is more often than not fast paced and busy.

Autumn is when nature prepares for a long sleep until it is awakened by windy spring days.  It is not a death like some think, but a hibernation.

In preparation for this long slumber, we are treated to a pallet of  infinite variety as leaves turn brilliant shades of amber, yellow, scarlet, and orange and the scent of earth and mulch mixed with the first wisps of smoke from long dormant fireplaces create an intoxicating woodsy scent.

Apple picking and pumpkin carving fill the days while hot cider warms you on chilly evenings of star gazing as Orion once again strings his bow.  This Autumn we were even treated to a lunar eclipse of a super blood moon just days after the autumnal equinox.  A beautiful red ball decorated the velvet sky; it is predicted that this visitation will not repeat itself until 2033.  Such treats should not be dismissed for it is in these fleeting moments that we are reminded of how small we are in a large and complex universe of which we ourselves are a part of.

Half-eclipsed super blood moon over the Santa Catalinas, Oro Valley, Arizona

And you know what?  I like it that way.  Chief Seattle mused that “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
In Autumn, in the mellow light that blankets the daytime and in the hushed blackness of night with its storyteller constellations it is good to be small, and connected and bound to one another.