Old Stories

Black BinderWednesday, September 17, 2014

Today I am grateful for old stories. I wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to take today so I went poking around into my saved file and found this piece I had forgotten I wrote.  I’m happy to say that I am now the writer, who writes every single day, that I wanted to be back in 2008 and I am grateful.  What about you?  What passion have you tucked away until tomorrow?  Pull it out! Tomorrow is today!

Black Binder

By Mary Mooney

© 2008

Some days are stranger than others.  This one was a doozy!  Did something get bombed or destroyed or flooded?  Nope.  Did I win the lottery?  Yeah right.  Not a chance.  No one died or got sick or disappeared.  So what made this dim spring day in Pennsylvania strange?  Cleaning.

We’ve lived in our “down-sized” town house for almost four years.  Sold the big house, got rid of a bunch of crap and moved the rest of the crap to the brand new townhouse in a 55 plus community a mile away.

For four years my writing has been stuffed in sturdy Staples boxes and crammed on shelves in the upstairs storage room.  Waiting.  Once a writer, always a writer works about as well as once an artist, always an artist or once a singer, always a singer or once a jack-ass, always a jack-ass.  Things that are core rarely change.

But is a writer still a writer when he/she hasn’t put digits to keyboard creatively in years? Am I the fraud I’ve always felt like as a writer, or is this stuff worthy?  I find a box with a three inch black binder inside.  This is my early writing.  Poems, short pieces, plays that I haven’t seen in years.  Words I’ve boxed up and forgotten.  My heart in a three-ring-binder, bleeding on every page, with the other binders pressed into service as tourniquets.

I was poised over the folder, ready to open it, when the phone rang.

“Mom? Karen and I and the two kids are on our way to visit you.” My youngest son said.  He’s the one I don’t hear from often and rarely see.

Chaos erupted the minute they walked in the door. A five and one year old inhabit space like none other.  It was a good visit.  The mess upstairs of boxes and boxes strewn everywhere was out of my mind, but the black binder still beckoned softly, like the white sound of background music in a mysterious film.

As one kid and family were getting ready to leave, the other son called and he and his daughter stopped in. All visited for another hour and the background music of my black binder grew more intense, seductive, calling me as a lover who can’t reach you would.

The families left in a flourish of jumper cables and treats and snacks and drinks and extra stuff that I was getting rid of anyway. I hauled more boxes, moved more shelves, arranged more junk in different shaped piles of junk, and declared myself finished for the night.  As my husband headed towards the computer I intercepted him. I got there first, my eyes fixed on the black binder in front of the monitor.

“Are you going to be on the computer?” He was shocked.  For the most part in the last four years, the computer has been his.  Unless I was checking a few emails, getting directions, or researching a vacation, I didn’t spend much time there.  I was working my first full time job in many years because we needed the benefits.  My days were consumed with non-fun computer work and exhaustion.  The last thing I wanted to do on weekends was sit at a computer.  Today I needed it.

“Yes. I will need the computer for the rest of the day.”  Puzzled, he went downstairs to turn on sports.  I waited until he was completely gone, then I opened the black binder, like I used to open the Bible, quickly, without thinking, someplace in the middle where a sign would surely be waiting for me on the page.  A sign that would tell me which direction to take in my life.

My first stop in the black binder was a poem called “Time”. How appropriate.  There can’t be more than seven words to it until towards the end when “tick” pretty much takes over.  Time passing.  Time stopping.  I remember where I was when I wrote “Time”.  Now I never have time to write.  That’s just wrong!

Second stop? A poem written by a friend, then faxed to me in Jakarta, Indonesia, where I lived for three years.  The edges were crinkled and the words nearly faded into oblivion, but could still be read.  It was sent at 11:55 p.m., Pennsylvania time on Wednesday, April 2, 1999.  Nine years ago.  Almost to the day.  What made me find “Dearest Mary” today?

Another flip. Flipping to a random page is not without trauma.  “I Cry” the very first poem I’d ever written, the poem that started it all, the poem that I wrote only to heal and not to publish or pursue writing, stared me in the face. I Cry?  And how.  Boy did I cry.  I cried for four years as I tried to find an emotional equilibrium I never knew existed.  I wrote cry sitting in a comfortable chair in my family room four houses ago.  I cried through the whole thing, then took it to my group therapy session where someone else declared it a poem.

The visit to the black binder was more emotional than visiting old friends, old words, old dreams. I turned to a few more crumpled pages, thinking I could do this for hours. Then I looked through the papers in the front pocket. There it was!  The sketch I had done of myself in the dress I would wear when I collected my Academy Award.

Behind the sketch were the notes about a vision I had experienced as I was wearing the dress. It was dated, October 7, 1992, between 4 & 4:15 p.m.  Sixteen years ago!  Why had I been so specific with the time?  There’s that word again. “Time.” Enough. I have to work in the morning. I need to stop this mad trek down the memory lane of words.

I put the binder away on a shelf, easier to get at, with a new promise.

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English Language

Jackie, Win & Liz SelbyTuesday, September 15, 2014

Today I am grateful for the English language. I have been speaking English my entire life but never appreciated the sound of it until we were on our look-see preparing to move ten thousand miles away to Jakarta, Indonesia.


We took a whirlwind trip to Jakarta, from Pennsylvania, where it felt like our feet barely hit solid ground for a week, what with all of the “air” time. I don’t think the jet lag even had a chance to catch up until long after we were back on the east coast.  Probably like many of you out there, when I’d hear a group of people speaking in their native language it made me uncomfortable.  I always felt they were talking about me.  Then we moved to Jakarta, where no part of the language sounded familiar and now I get it.  It’s lonely and isolating and exhausting to talk in a language you have little use of.


As incentive to get my husband to take the job at Mulia Keramik Industrindo, the company put us up in a lovely spot for a few days following the look-see in Jakarta. The Bintang Bali resort in Bali, Indonesia is a breathtaking place, right on the ocean with palm trees and blooming shrubbery everywhere.  In an outdoor arbor some kind of climbing, blooming orchid dripped down like stalactites.


I had gotten a pretty bad case of Soeharto’s revenge (guess) so I spent the first day in in the room, sick. Spending time in bed, my mind whirled and spun like a berserk Ferris Wheel.  How could we move to Jakarta?  I didn’t have a clue about the culture, the customs, the food, or the language.  What would our kids say?  Our friends?  My mom?  How does one communicate from ten thousand miles away?  (This was pre-internet)  I get lonely on the drive to work.  I was going to a place where I would not have one friend.  No one will understand a word I’m saying.  Even if I do try and learn the language, that isn’t going to happen overnight.  It’ll take time.  I had myself worked into a complete state.  I already felt isolated and alone and we hadn’t even moved yet.


By the second day I was able to go down to the deck chairs on the beach. Still wallowing in my morose gloom of the prior day, I watched two black haired Indonesian girls playing in the sand.  Children help and they were gorgeous children, with tons of spirit and one even had dimples.  I love dimples.  I alternated between the personal pity party and my joy at kids being kids.  Then they started to squabble.  They were pretty far away, but I can tell a squabble when I see one.  Soon they were running up the beach towards me and another woman sitting a few chairs away from me.  In perfect English they shared their conflict with her. . .their mom. . .who also answered back in perfect English.  My head spun around like Rosemary’s Baby and my jaw dropped.


“You speak English,” I said. The squabbling stopped while they all turned to look at the crazy woman.  “I can’t believe how perfect your English is!”  Then they laughed and that sounds the same in any language.  It was the beginning.  We became friends with Win Selby and her two children, Jackie and Lizzy.  They were half Indonesian (mom’s side) and half American (dad’s side). John would do magic for them and I would listen to them talk about school and their desire to become famous actresses. We remained friends for the three years we lived in Jakarta and continued somewhat after we left.


Obviously I’ve never forgotten them, but like so many people who have had an impact on my life, they were tucked way back into a long ago space. Until yesterday when I got a message from LinkedIn and I started scrolling past faces.  There was Jackie Selby!

I’d recognize those dimples anywhere. I immediately went on Facebook and sent a friend request to her and her mom, Win.


Before going to bed I usually check what’s new on FB. Win was probably getting up and preparing to go to work.  We connected. She gave me permission to share this gorgeous picture of the three of them.  The girls are all grown up and beautiful, yet Win, in the middle, will never age!  The chatting begins and I am so grateful that it can be in English. . .because she speaks it better than I do!  Sampai jumpa lagi!

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Phila - birds on pilingsMonday, September 15, 2014

Today I am grateful for serenity. The world has run amok.  Sometimes I wish that I was living in the gilded age and not the information age.  Lots of times.


Wouldn’t it be nice to sit around in your gorgeous gown and have “people” fetch your tea, then serve it with little sandwiches with the crusts already cut off, along with cupcakes with two inches of icing and none of it had any calories? If communication from the outside world was necessary at all, it would come in the form of a hand-delivered note presented to you on a small silver tray, inviting you to a dinner party where you didn’t have to bring a covered dish or a bottle of wine.  Fantasy?  I know.  There are down sides to the gilded age, too.  There’s the bathroom thing and the corset thing and the disease thing and the lack of sewage treatment smells thing.  All of them seem to pale when compared with the news these days.


I monitor my intake of the news as much as I do what I’m eating. Both are a major pain in the ass.  I read the newspaper headlines then decide if I want to delve further.  Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes I’m sorry I read further, sometimes I’m not.  I know everyone has a platform they support on Facebook and I celebrate their constitutional right to post pictures and articles with abused children or animals, but I will hide the pictures and won’t read the articles.  I don’t need more awareness.  I’m fully aware.  I’m too aware.  I’m so aware that if I watch the news on TV after 5 p.m. I won’t sleep at night.  I’m so aware that I feel the burdens of the downtrodden, the anxiety of the war-torn and the horrors of beheadings on my flesh, like a lead body suit.  I simply can’t allow myself to be so weighed down.  Bad news is like calories I can’t shed or that annoying relative who never leaves.  The burden is too great.


So today I’m grateful for the serenity of cormorants (John swears that’s what they are, but I never heard of them), just settin’ on some pilings, minding their own business, without a care in the world and nothing to do except wait for the next fish to jump. Serenity.

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Red Suit

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Today I am grateful for red suits. Who in the world ever knew they made them?  For men.  Grown men.  Big men.  And why?


If I could travel everywhere in the world and never take a main highway I would. You don’t see anything on highway’s but trees and the occasional river.  You would never see this gentleman wearing a completely red suit. . .red pants. . .red jacket. . .red shirt. . .red tie. . .and red shoes. . .walking down a main highway.  The closest you’d come is people in orange jumpsuits while they work off misdemeanors and other offences by picking up trash.


I love this guy. I love that he must have the largest. . .er. . .amount of courage of any human being on this planet to wear this suit.  I wonder if his underwear was red, too?  My guess is it was.  He looks like a walking, juicy, ripe tomato in that red suit and I am grateful I saw him!Phil-2-red suit

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Stored Pictures

Phil-2-Jackie Robinson mural with building (2) Phil -2-Jackie Rob mural-cropped Phil-2 - Large multi people mural Phil - 2 - modern muralSaturday, September 13, 2014

Today I am grateful for stored pictures. I have been saving a couple of pictures that I took when we were in Philadelphia the last time and today is a perfect day to use them.  One of the best things about driving to the city is that there is always something interesting to look at.


The last time we did not take highway or expressway so there was even more to look at and time to do it. If you come into town this way, you are on Broad Street forever and there are stop lights making taking pictures possible.


I never saw the Jackie Robinson mural before and love it. The very large one with all of the people is probably the most famous. . .and largest.  The last one is more modern but equally fascinating.  I didn’t realize these were on Broad Street and I’m grateful I found the stored pictures to share.


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Great Grandma - glamour glasses (2)Friday, September 12, 2014

Today I am grateful for purpose. I think that when people age and acquire any number of ailments that keep them from doing the things they either love to do or are used to doing, they lose their sense of purpose.  Not good.


We all want to feel needed, useful, necessary, yet some of us just do not. That gets worse as we age.  Our bodies don’t let us play tennis/golf anymore, or we get forgetful, or our visions makes it impossible to read music, or the recipe we used to love to make needs too much fine chopping and our fingers don’t work that way these days.


The quest for purpose is something I believe progressive retirement communities strive for. And most manage it well.  There is a special spot in heaven for people who work in these places, where eventually the people they serve will not get better or leave on two feet.  It’s hard.  It’s emotional.  It’s expected.  That doesn’t make it easy.


But while they are still there, the goal is to have them thrive as long as humanly possible. One of our local places, Peter Becker Community hosts an annual flower show that is designed, implemented and run by residents.  It’s wonderful.  Last night we saw a play at Brittany Point that had brilliant performers, with singing to challenge Sinatra, humorous bits and a big band trio I’d hire in a New York minute!  Both of these events take an enormous amount of patience and energy by all involved.  I applaud them.


Activity directors are “on stage” all day long, planning, encouraging, cheering and just plain listening. . .often to the same story over and over and over again. Bless their hearts.  They do not patronize their residents by calling them precious or cute.  They give them a real sense of purpose and I am grateful!  What a joy to witness.


(The picture is of my mom, channeling the old-time movie stars and was taken when she visited us last summer.)

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0929131021Thursday, September 11, 2014

Today I am grateful I can remember. And I wish I couldn’t.  The day will be full of tributes and remembrances and name readings.  While that might be necessary for some, for me it’s not.  Facebook will be filled with “So we never forget” posts.  As if!  I struggle to not dwell, but no one alive on that day will ever forget.  Ever.  I don’t need the news or the names or moments of silence to remind me.  I WILL NEVER FORGET.  Say a prayer for our world. . .then get on with your life.  It’s the best way to remember.


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