Friday, December 31, 2010

Needle Dee and Needle Duh

At dinner this week, I was admiring a friend’s new heart-shaped tattoo. It’s blue and filled with embellished swirls that she designed. She got this in the same month as her flu shot. I think she likes being needled.

Among my friends, I’m almost the only one un-inked. I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, and I just got my ears pierced once. It’s not that I’m afraid of needles – I just lack a fondness for most sharps. In fact, the only swoon-proof needle in our house is the diamond stylus on the turntable.

I may shirk the points, but I always honor my commitments to donate blood. It’s that little big thing you can do to help out a person in need. The worst part is the initial iron test jab when they prick your finger and mangle out blood into the tube. I can’t eye it; I just turn my head and look away.

Monkey no see, monkey no spew.

My tattooed friend says she has to look at the needles administered by the phlebotomists – by watching she feels more in control. I choose to close my eyes and trust them – which backfires – it makes me look like I’ve passed out, so they shake my shoulders and talk to me. I hate to be a big drip, so I squeeze the stuffing out of those little rubber balls. If it speeds me off the table and into the snack room, it’s a bonus.

Have you donated blood recently? Is it time to make your next appointment? Are you a Nutter Butter or an Oreo fan in the post-drip snack zone?

I wish someone would needle my good dress pants; two fugitive buttons went AWOL in the laundry and I’m making do with a paper clip until I can pick up replacements. I’m not hemming and hawing about donating blood, though, I’ve got a date with the Oreos and OJ this very weekend. And this kid’ll eat the middles first.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Deal with It

We recently played a long night of cards with a ten-year-old family member who loves the game Uno! With six people at the table, we kept it pretty lively with reverses, draw two’s and wild card draw four’s. As plays flew back and forth, the colors changed as fluidly as a bad acid trip in the sixties.

The object of Uno is to play all the cards in your hand. You want to hold them close to the chest, so that the others can’t see how you are suited. You have to give the warning call when you are down to one card, or you risk being penalized by having to pick up two more.

Life, it seems, does not mimic Uno. At least in my house, we wear our colors on our sleeves. It’s a perennial come-as-you-are party.

Instead of dumping cards, we’re accumulating possessions faster than the space to store them. It’s shameful to admit that we have a storage unit to hold all of our stuff that doesn’t fit in the house. Out of sight, out of purpose?

Perhaps not: I often refer to our storage facility as marriage insurance – with things out of sight, clutter is reduced. It also has a lower back indemnity clause – my husband’s not toting heavy seasonal boxes in and out of our attic up and down the fold-down ladder in our garage that taunts, “Climb me, I dare you!”

Nonetheless, in this era where lean is cool again, it’s time to pinch the love handles of those possessions that are weighing us down and consider giving them the boot. Except that I can’t give the boot to my shoe collection – I need them, all fifty gazillion pairs of them. My overflowing closet is a caterpillar’s heaven.

Make that a hungry, hungry caterpillar if you examine our pantry and kitchen appliance closet. Our stacks of canned goods from the Carter administration make ours a habitat for inhumanity as we bicker over what to keep and what to toss. A good clear-out might convert it to a demilitarized zone.

If it has a motor, boasts an on/off switch, and makes a noise when it runs, then my husband is likely to buy it off a 3 a.m. infomercial. Embraced at first, they all follow the same stop-motion trek from countertop, to under counter, to closet, to garage, to storage. Like broken down satellites orbiting the earth, they begin their out-of-this-kitchen trajectory as soon as they’re launched from their cartons, ending up in peripheral drift as space junk.

Are you handing yourself another “Draw 4” instead of playing what you’ve been dealt? Does your space give you abundant peace or an abundance of peas? What’s taken up residence that ought to be tossed in the discard pile?

I’ve pledged to reduce our storage unit to half its size within two months. Rather than go all out, we’re still tapping it for spinal protection. I’d rather us be shouting Uno! than oh, no! the next time we’re shoving the Christmas tree back in its cubby. No one wants a truss in their stocking next year.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hold the Popcorn, Pass the Ballot

My husband and I are still discussing the films we saw at the 17th annual Austin Film Festival. We’ve passed the popcorn for nine years during the week-plus celebration of competition and marquee movies, documentaries, and short films.

After the screenings, we cast our ballots rating our favorites and dinging the stinkers. Audience votes can help the filmmakers acquire distribution for their films, so we always participate. It’s hard for me, an industry outsider, to rate any of the movies harshly – no matter how outside my taste they are.

The courage to pour your heart into your work and see it through to completion, deflecting all obstacles is admirable and inspiring. The ability to assemble a diverse crew, on a scant budget, that can cooperate and tell cohesive stories demonstrates the conviction of the urge to create.

Hubby and I split our votes on several occasions. Higher or lower, one of us walks out with a different level of connection or distance, ah-ahs or uh-ohs. We may split the vote, but we are always united in our love of the festival and the fascinating people it draws, particularly during the Q&A sessions.

The “Casino Jack” screening was followed by the final interview with the Emmy-winning director, George Hickenlooper, who passed away the next night from a heart attack.

During the Q&A, Mr. Hickenlooper talked about the upcoming election and said that he voted for candidates from either party, depending on the needs of the country at the time.

It’s been a while since I’ve heard anyone admit this in public. Folks are polarized beyond conversation. Civility seems exhausted and has turned in for the long, dark night, pillow over head, shutting out the glare and growl.

I hate “pulling a single lever” – or now, clicking a straight ticket square that speeds away my convictions over little bits of copper into a portable chunk of magnetic memory. I’d never do that at the film festival – tick the same score again and again.

It struck me: do I pour more thought into rating a low budget horror movie than on choosing the leaders who will guide us into the next decade? Now, that’s a scary story!

Are you feeling the power of one? Will you make your voice count? When the polls close, will you have voted your true convictions?

I’m inspired by Mr. Hickenlooper to finish reading that stack of articles I’ve been clipping and collecting before I stand in the queue and the election volunteers call, “Action!” When it’s a wrap, I’ll pat my “I Voted” sticker to my shirt and head straight home to our “craft table” and delicious conversations on festival favorites.

Just hold the popcorn, please. I’m still picking kernels out of the laundry.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Show of Tiny Hands, Please?

The Texas Nonprofit Summit in Austin last weekend, sponsored by Greenlights for Nonprofit Success and the OneStar Foundation, brought together 700 of my closest, like-minded, do-gooder, non-profit amigos –- all eager to do better in an age of making do with less.

One of the breakout sessions that I enjoyed was “Lighting a Spark: Volunteer Engagement for Maximum Impact and Effectiveness,” with Rosa Moreno-Mahoney and Sarah Jane Rehnborg.

If you’ve ever had to recruit people to accomplish a goal, you know that they’re not knocking down your email pinging pick me, pick me! It’s more about having to burst through call screening and email dodging to pluck them out of a self-imposed identity protection program.

Many people suffer from volunteer fatigue. We often ask too much of too few.

But there's a smarter strategy to engage but not tire out those raised hands: in micro-volunteering, the requestor provides a task, the volunteer brings the skill, does the work, and gets out: small time blocks, big benefits.

When you plan up front, understand the gifts your volunteers can share, task them to achieve specific results, provide them the authority and tools to accomplish their missions, and then close with some praise and lessons learned, you complete a successful cycle.

We’ve all experienced good volunteering and bad volunteering.

In bad volunteering, it’s a cluster crash. Three people BELIEVE they’re in charge. Half the supplies are missing or no one has skills to use the tools at hand. Keys have ambled off in absent-minded pockets. At least two people rearrange the supplies for the task because the stapler belongs on the left, even if you’re right-handed. There’s no water or web connections, the bathrooms are locked or, it’s 103 degrees and the steaming port-a-pot stalls were emptied last Thursday. No one has a cell number to call for direction -- but if you could dial any number at all, it would be to a cab to speed you away from that hell. Three dozen tacky Tweets and Facebook unfriendings later, you’re enemies for life.

In good volunteering, you show up, there’s a person in charge who knows what they are doing and, better yet, has a clear plan for what you should be doing. The needs and capacities have been considered and there’s a shared measure of a successful outcome. There are snacks and enough to drink. People say thank you and mean it. The group works cooperatively, goals are met, and everyone parts satisfied with the group’s accomplishments.

With planning, in-depth skills assessment, and delegation, the latter can be history not fantasy.

What was your last volunteer outing? What it something you gladly attended, or did you slouch toward the commitment? If you had the day to live over, would you do it again?

Keynote speaker Linda Crompton, President and CEO of BoardSource, wowed us when she stated that nonprofits will need 80,000 leaders by the year 2016. That’s a lot of leaders organizing a lot of volunteers to serve a lot of needs in just six short years.

Well, that’s if that Mayan calendar thing is wrong.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Of Butterflies and Cockroaches

My husband and I recently treated ourselves to a night at Zach Theatre for Mary Zimmerman's "Metamorphosis," a production that wrings an interesting twist from Ovid's classic tales of transformation.

Upon booking our seats, we were warned of the splash zone, an indicator that this wouldn't be your average night out on the planks. In the center of the theater, the Whisenhunt Stage cradled a luminescent aqua swimming hole. Overhead, perfectly choreographed aerialists in long spans of white silk climbed, soared, and spun with mesmerizing grace and strength.

Though we sat one row above the splash zone, we still got sloshed a bit from the diving actors. They did not follow the adage: Say it, don't spray it.

When I hear the word metamorphosis, images switch from flittering butterflies to Kafka's dark tale of Gregor Samsa transforming into a giant cockroach. A monarch butterfly takes around five weeks to complete its four life stages. An American cockroach can live up to two years.

Either way of going through "the change," you end up with six legs.

Dorothea Brande wrote, "Old habits are strong and jealous." We struggle more with change than do the butterflies, resistant in our habits and habitats. It takes just one quick, brave poke through with our antennae for us to launch ourselves and soar to new perspectives.

Are you ready to burst from your chrysalis? What's the tastiest "host plant" that nurtures your transformation? Where will you let the wind take you this fall?

On their way to becoming butterflies, our caterpillars spent their summer vacation mowing down our host plants of dill, fennel, and parsley. Our salads have been lackluster, but its been our most glorious butterfly season ever. Besides, my seeds for next year's herbes fines are ready for their encore.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Screech of an Arching Eyebrow

On my nightstand is The Fifth Agreement, by Don Miguel Ruiz and Don Jose Ruiz, with Janet Mills. This is the latest in the popular Four Agreements Toltec wisdom series. If you aren’t familiar with these books, they are a collection of life principles from the Toltec society of artists, scientists, and healers in central and southern Mexico.

While the Agreements are not a religion, I have found that if I follow them faithfully, life just works out better and with a lot less calamity.

The Agreements came into my hands nearly a decade ago, when, in a difficult work situation, I needed a new approach for navigating a too-long string of spirit-killing days. Succinct and direct, the minimalist guidelines are:

1. Be impeccable with your word.
2. Don’t take anything personally.
3. Don’t make assumptions.
4. Always do your best.

Like the board game, Othello, these agreements take about a minute to learn and a lifetime to master.

I greatly benefitted from practicing the first four, so this summer, I’m eager to explore the challenges in the new book, The Fifth Agreement: Be skeptical but learn to listen.

Be skeptical. The power of doubt is alluring. I like questioning things, having learned to do this early in life. Before I entered first grade, I once asked my mother, “If it’s on TV, it must be true. They can’t lie on TV can they?” This was when I first heard the screech of an arching eyebrow.

Did you know the word gullible is not in the dictionary? Screech! Gotcha!

Discerning when to be skeptical is a lifelong challenge. How do we carefully consider the cacophony of incoming messages and identify what’s distorted or true – those twisted fibers so difficult to unravel?

On the zero of the spectrum: a child’s arms wrapped around your neck with sweet “I love you’s” in your ear. No skepticism allowed.

There’s doubting, and there’s being questioned or doubted, a dimension of skepticism that’s suddenly uncomfortable. That’s where practicing the previous four agreements comes in handy. If you’ve done the work, you’re centered and sturdy for the journey. When someone probes your pronouncements, you’re in sync with the integrity of your words. Let them question away.

Learn to listen. I’m all ears for good advice on listening in a world where you can’t hear yourself think over pod players, multiple speakers barking over themselves, the poly-pummeling of pocketbook-plundering promotions, and multi-tasking minds scurrying to get past one another so they can get home and multitask some more.

Listening may be more difficult than skepticism, but it can be practiced into fruition, and become quite fun. Removing the roadblocks is challenging but essential. When shyness creeps over me at a gathering, I shift my thinking to: This might be my only chance to understand that person’s perspectives. It’s easier to engage and open your mind when you are on a mission.

Listening involves receiving whole points of view without judgment, pro or con. Per Toltec wisdom, we each live in a dream world where we each create our own truths, some beautiful, some detrimental. No two people exist in the same dream. This perspective is as exciting as it is frustrating – depending on whether you’re fascinated by others’ visions, or you’re time crunched to create your own truths of the moment.

What will you be skeptical of this week? When will you make time to really listen? Who’s been a good listener for you?

The Fifth Agreement may not be summer beach reading, but I’m ready to kick the sand out of my ears and explore some new perspectives on truth. I doubt I’ll regret it.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

And the Horse She Wrote in On

Last weekend I volunteered at the annual Writers’ League of Texas Agents Conference. Over 300 writers came from all over the U.S. and beyond to attend professional development sessions and to pitch their books to agents and editors. The amazing stories-behind-the-stories of these tenacious authors brimmed with hope and conviction.

At the luncheon where keynote speaker Calvert Morgan, with HarperCollins, shared “The Top Ten Things You Should Know about Publishing,” I sat next to author Lynn Reardon who runs the non-profit organization LoneStar Outreach to Place Ex-Racers. LOPE, as it’s called, helps find new homes for retired racehorses.

I probably didn't know ten things about horse racing, but I learned that these animals, like greyhounds, need homes and opportunities to transform their lives – and their new owners’ lives – and build new careers for themselves.

Lynn’s terrific book, Beyond the Homestretch: What I've Learned from Saving Racehorses, offers inspiring stories of several horses that have lived on their ranch. Her own tale of bounding from an accounting career into a Texas rancher role is a fantastic feat for a woman who didn’t even learn to ride until she was an adult.

It struck me how writing is both an endurance race and one of skill: jumping the obstacles that block the track (e.g., the exploding calendar) and navigating turns and changes of direction. At times we need to trade our sunglasses for blinders to stay focused. Yet every paragraph moves us four hooves closer to the finish line.

Lynn writes of a persistent sense of being an impostor while learning the ranching trade. Many beginning writers feel the same, fleshing out stories and re-tweaking dialogue until the voice is clear and authentic. They slash, tweak, edit, and trim their way into lean story-telling machines. Every deletion is a riding lesson toward perfecting a consistent rhythm and stride.

She shares that the horses constantly teach you life lessons, especially about facing your fears and pushing your limits. Showing up with courage, whether in the stall or at the page is the only option to realize your dreams.

As a young rider, I slid off or was bucked off more horses than I stayed on – to me, all saddles hide an ejection button somewhere in the horn. I never became fearful, always swinging right back on, until the day I climbed into a friend’s pasture, and, without provocation, a mare they were boarding decided she wanted to kill me – not hurt me, kill me. My friend gigged her horse and backed him in between us, and I bolted over the fence to safety. Years later I forced myself to help a friend groom her Arabians, and it took weeks of rhythmic brushing, stroking, and proffers of apple nibbles to break my fears.

Writing is like this: it takes courage to climb atop a bucking 700 pound manuscript and hold on through revisions, critiques, pitches, and rejections. The brave writers and their tenacious desire to tell their stories inspires and teaches us to grip the reins, hunker down, and gig that bronco across the finish line to publication.

When was the last time you flew out of the saddle when working toward a goal? What prompted you to climb back up and keep course? How did you face your fear and conquer it?

I’m planning to visit LOPE this summer to meet some of the characters in Lynn’s book that still live on the ranch. With any luck, I won’t be run out of the corral. Of course, there’ll be a carrot or twenty in my pockets to help make new friends.
Horse Tales blog:

Monday, May 31, 2010

Soil and the City

It’s the end of May and already it’s too hot. Too hot to do much except gulp frozen spoonfuls of Texas peach ice cream in the air conditioning. It’s about choosing brain freeze over brain melt.

Nonetheless, as the thermometer whipped past 95 degrees, I spent half my day outside on the porch repotting plants, digging and mounding and squinting as rivulets of perspiration and bug repellent tracked into my eyes.

With the last dip of the sprinkling can, I was head-to-foot in Miracle Grow, having repotted some two dozen plants, and grinning from dirty nose to dirty toes. Every plant looked so cheerful: so grateful to exhale and settle into their new diameters, so thrilled with the extra wiggle room for their roots.

My mission was to spruce up some bushy new plants to decorate my office, so every weekend this month I set out with different friends also courting new fronds. Who wants to meet for cocktails when you can plant shop?

Walking into a nursery is like strolling into a magnificent chocolates shop. I ooh and ah over all the plants and apologize that I can only take a few of them home. By the end of repotting, stacks of empty containers mound like discarded bonbon wrappers. I get giddy thinking of trays of annuals and perennials lined up just for me. Think Flat Week instead of Fleet Week.

If I’d penned it, I’d have the “Sex and the City” ladies star in “Soil and the City,” hunched over damp, earthy nursery tables instead of racks of vintage designer clothes. They’d be drooling over 8” glazed pots instead of 4” Manolo stilettos. Instead of being dressed in haute coutre sipping pinkish cosmos in thin-stemmed crystal, they’d be in cushy gardening clogs clinking Ball jars of brown compost tea.

Like all intimate relationships, some plants require lots of attention and face time. It takes a little prodding with my husband to get past the “just fines” and get him to open up about his day. Full eye contact and a smile works every time. I also know that when he says he’s watered the potted plants, he’s been waving about a garden hose like an elephant bathing in a stream. Some get a little, some get a lot. I have to poke a finger in each one and ask them if they’re thirsty.

My husband does not talk to our plants. I always do; and I can tell they are listening: they answer me with blooms and buds and magical overnight growth. He thinks I'm one pickled pepper shy of a jar.

At one of my favorite Austin eateries, Casa de Luz, you pass through a lush green canopy of bamboo and stroll up a bricked path until you reach the vegan restaurant. The food is delicious, but I most relish the transformative wandering under the cooling branches. You’re relaxed, forgetful of the traffic snarls, and perfectly at peace by the time you’ve reached the restaurant steps.

What’s your favorite place to connect with nature? Where do you go to transform yourself? If you talk to your plants, what do you say to them?

Tomorrow I'll flash the lingering dirt under my fingernails like fabulous jewels, kind of a Miracle Grow manicure. Sitting amid a jungle full of plants is like being surrounded by diamonds at Tiffany's. So many cuttings, so little time.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Memories of Mela

On my nightstand now is a book written in 1966 by Alan Watts entitled The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. I’m an avid reader of leadership books, and when one recently cited many of Dr. Watts’ quotes, I was intrigued to pick up a copy from our local library.

Dr. Watts was a British philosopher, writer, and speaker who introduced and popularized Eastern philosophy to Western audiences. As a writer, he was an early master of the sound bite, as demonstrated in the many provoking quotes in this slim book. An excerpt that resounded with me:

“Real travel requires a maximum of unscheduled wandering, for there is no other way of discovering marvels and surprises, which, as I see it, is the only good reason for not staying home.”

When I contemplate the “Who Am I Really” question, I could simply let my wallet do the talking, overstuffed with dog-eared artifacts that prove I am who I am: as a driver, a voter, a reader, and a shopper.

But who I am really is a tally of the many life roles I play in my relationships. Along with wife, friend, and slave to cats is one I call Discoverer. What better way to find out who you are than to explore other cultures and lifestyles?

Economic times being what they are, it’s fortunate that we have a plethora of multi-cultural opportunities here in Austin to experience worlds outside our own. Recently I gathered with friends to attend the annual Mela celebration at the Barsana Dham, a Hindu temple and ashram sitting on over 200 acres of beautiful Texas hill country.

One of the largest Hindu Temple complexes in North America, Barsana Dham is a savory treat every spring with its fluttering fields of red poppies bowing in the wind. Under the most perfect azure sky, we were greeted by hundreds of rose bushes abounding in blooms--an astonishing gift from Mother Nature after our unusually difficult winter of extended freezes.

The word mela means fair, and every year near the last weekend of April, throngs gather for this festive welcome to spring and wander the open air shopping bazaar, win prizes playing games, ride in a Clydesdale-drawn carriage, pose for a fast flourish of mehndi flowers, and wince while excited children batter the rabbits, chickens, and baby pigs at the petting zoo.

One special treat of the fair is sampling the authentic dishes they prepare. To dine in their indoor cafeteria, you plop your shoes outside on racks or in piles and cross the threshold barefooted into an exotic world of sultry, spicy cuisine. From their Northern and Southern India menu options, we bought and shared a variety of vegetarian specialities including crisp roti, dosas, lentils, and rice. We drank the thick and satisfying mango lassis, black pepper lemonade, falooda (rose milk), and chai. For dessert we nibbled on gulab jamun, fried milk balls in a rosewater and sugar syrup flavored with cardamom seeds.

On the performance stage, a kaleidoscope of stunning saris swirled about on the colorfully swathed dancers. Both traditional and modern songs vibrated across the grounds, with the audience nodding in rhythm as an ensemble of young performers pounded out a Bollywood hip-hop routine to “Jai Ho,” the theme from the film "Slumdog Millionaire." Jai ho roughly translates as “victory to thee,” and its jubilance perfectly lifted the day's spirit.

What do you consider a really great reason for not staying home? What recent adventure taught you more about yourself? Where does your Discoverer self lead you?

It was a challenge to stay clear of the roving acrobats on stilts, but I’m glad we stepped out of our homes and transported ourselves to India for the day. In coming together, we learn that we are far less separate than we may have believed.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Laughter Yoga

Someone in our neighborhood just got a new trombone and is blowing it like a depressed elephant.

When I first heard it, I thought there’d been an outbreak from the zoo. Then, the more I listened, the more I could discern the great effort behind the bellowing.

It’s mostly in the afternoons. When it starts, I visualize some kid losing a lung in a rented and dented piece of brass. So far, there’s no real tune evolving, just a series of toots and hoots in the key of confusion.

One person’s ear pollution, another’s joyful noise?

Laughing, to me, is one of the genuinely joyful sounds we share, so last weekend when a friend invited me to join her in a Laughter Yoga class, I decided to give it a try.

After all, Readers’ Digest has expounded for years that Laughter Is the Best Medicine. It seems there’s some truth to it after all. Per the Laughter Yoga International web site:
"Laughter Yoga combines unconditional laughter with Yogic breathing or pranayama (breath control)…. The concept of Laughter Yoga is based on a scientific fact that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter. One gets the same physiological and psychological benefits."
At the onset, our leader explained the breathing techniques and informed us of the physical benefits of laughter on the body: increasing oxygen in the blood and endorphin activity, lowering blood pressure, and generally reducing stress while boosting well being.

You have to be pretty gung ho-ho-ho to get down and giggly with a group of strangers, especially in the belly laugh pose, where you lie head-to-tummy like a folded gum wrapper chain while everyone belts out a hearty laugh. Who knew you could get this much bouncing without a stack of quarters in a cheap motel room?

It felt silly and odd, for sure, but the breathing exercises were deep and clarifying. The good vibrations seem to melt away the muck and help you put things in perspective, just like a double-up guffaw with a close friend after you’ve been too stressed over the small stuff. It’s the lightness of laughter that lifts us and gives us the energy to keep going.

Have you laughed today? What incited your last great belly laugh? With whom did you share it?

I’m thinking our budding trombonist's parents could use a little Laughter Yoga before they employ a little forced pranayama on their prodigy.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Eat a Lot of Peaches

Why do they say that you know a song by heart instead of by head?

I don’t listen to music as often as I used to. Our home stereo configuration is still something of a mystery to me since dear hubby wired it so creatively with the television. (Wanna play a CD? Just flip about 40 switches and click through three remotes and you’re there.) Close and play, it's not.

Living in the self-proclaimed Live Music Capitol of the World, we have plenty of opportunities for hearing terrific live performances everyday in Austin. With hectic lives, it's rare that we get out, but l
ast weekend, we treated ourselves to the pleasure of an amazing performance by John Prine at the Bass Concert Hall.

I’ve probably seen him at least a dozen times and will go few a dozen more as long as he keeps traveling south from Nashville. When you’re hooked, you’re hooked.

His followers are often called “rabid John Prine fans,” which is a pretty funny description for a crowd so mellow they would only be foaming at the mouth if their plastic Shiner cups runneth over.

This ardent following is not about drinking the Kool-Aid—or the beer—it’s about eating the peaches. It’s about biting into the sweet fleshy melody, letting the sticky lyrics of life run down your chin, and savoring a soulful of sunshine.

We found ourselves in good company amidst the denim-clad cadre of hippy-fied working class folks sporting their long hair, beards, and cotton clothing. It’s not really a Spanx kind of crowd, or at least they’d all peeled themselves free for the night.

His fans seems to float in on a happiness high with beaming faces, emitting a positive, karmic vibe. In fact, there’s such a spiritual connection at his shows, it’s kind of like going to church (except that they pass the collection plate in advance, online, and charge you a “convenience” fee).

At first, I found the choice of venue odd for a folk artist. It’s where the flashy Broadway shows stomp through town. There’s not much that’s funky or Austin-hip about it. It doesn’t have the bourgeois charm of some of our bygone venues like Liberty Lunch, the Backyard, or the Armadillo, long blazed over by the bulldozers of the bully developers.

Basically it’s a giant beige space with terrific acoustics and some interesting lobby wall art, and nearly enough seats to house his many followers. And there they filed in, like worshipers streaming under the tent at a revival, packing the pews from orchestra to balcony.

Each of these die-hard fans would readily share their stories of the first time they heard one of his albums, their inaugural John Prine concert, the show where they met their spouse, or even the sultry summer night where, afterward, they were almost arrested for a midnight, post-concert skinny-dipping splash-in at Barton Springs. (Oh, yes, you know who you are.)

His music feels so authentic and personal, it’s like he wrote the lyrics in a letter just to you. Yet here you are with a couple thousand people swaying and singing along. In fact, most of the upper balcony around us kept chiming in, but the guy sitting next to me wasn’t even humming. I figured with tickets the price of two weeks of groceries, maybe he didn’t need me warbling along with the rest of the choir loft.

But there in the dark, I lip-synched every single word.

What was the last song that you sang along to, recalling all the words by heart? Do you have a personal anthem? Whose music speaks to you and makes you feel connected?

I’m still tapping my toe to “The Spanish Pipedream”:

Blow up your T.V.,
Throw away your paper,
Go to the country,
Build you a home

Plant a little garden,
Eat a lot of peaches,
Try an’ find Jesus
On your own.

Now, I do like fresh peaches, and I loved living in the country as a girl. And, there are definitely days when blowing up the TV sounds like a pretty good idea.

But that’s never going to happen, now that I’ve finally figured out how to turn on the stereo.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Wake Up, Little Suzy

Over dinner with the girls recently, we were talking about our favorite childhood toys. I remembered a “life-size” cloth dancing doll with elastic bands on its feet that you would slip over yours, and then you could dance with it. I still need all the help I can get when it comes to dancing. I have two left feet, no rhythm, and I like to lead.

I called her Suzy, which I think was the doll’s commercial name. But when I Googled it, the search returned a long list of pole-dancer dolls, and I felt Bob Dylan whisper in my ear, “The Times They Are a Changin’.” These are a few of my favorite things?

I got Suzy a few years before the 1968 television debut of “Laugh-In,” which showcased bikini-clad Goldie Hawn dancing in a palette of fake body tattoos. Suzy even arrived before Nancy Sinatra’s boots were made for walking. As young girls, we all wore go-go boots like hers. I remember thinking how slick I was at age 10.

As a matter of fact, I still own one pair of those boots. They are shipped back and forth between my friend Sandy and me – I think I first gave them to her for her wedding in the 1970s. They are gone just long enough to forget about them until the postman brings that odd box around again. Those boots were made for mailin’, not walkin’.

The bit about Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred Astaire did but backwards and in heels was supposed to resonate that anything men could do, women could do…backwards?

Via the television and movie programming of the era, we processed messages of what a woman should be: shapely frames in little black dresses with classic strands of gleaming pearls and French twist up-dos - and heels, always high heels. We were destined to date and marry Robert Wagner – or a dreamy facsimile with Cary Grant charm in a sleek tuxedo. We’d feel protected and, well, girlie.

But the times, they were a-changing. I grew taller than Suzy, and she was cast in the corner with the other well-loved dolls. Soon we had new female messages of bra-burning, pants-wearing, afro-sporting, and Staying-Free women. From my rural worldview, I had only known that women could be homemakers, teachers, lunch ladies, teeth cleaners, and shot-givers at the doctors’ office.

On the glamorous side, they could be models, actresses, singers, and stewardesses. Now these were the gals that got our attention.

I’ve been playing DVDs of Marlo Thomas in “That Girl” and laughing about the old mod styles we coveted. She can’t imagine how influential she was in shaping my young brain. Watching her, I believed that someday I could leave the farm, live independently in a sunny metropolis, and sport a giant up-do and brushy fake eyelashes. As much as I idolized Ann Marie, I never could stand teasing my hair. I’ve only worn false eyelashes once, and that was on Halloween when someone mistook me for a hooker.

The early sixties influences soon morphed into more modern Breck Girl messages via shiny-haired models like Cheryl Tiegs and Cybill Shepherd. We glued our eyes to American Bandstand, Shindig!, and Hullaballoo, and we tried to look Twiggy-chic. We traded-up for knee-length pull-on black crinkle boots to emulate Mrs. Peel from the Avengers. Forget playing house. I got busy acting out spy-fi adventures with my friends.

Somewhere between then and now, life happened. These days it’s more like, “My Birkenstocks Are Made for Walking.” When did we stop fantasizing about our bold adventuress lives? Can we recapture some of that zeal and enthusiasm that comes with the promise of a scathingly brilliant tomorrow?

Who were your childhood idols? What did they teach you? What do you want to be when you grow down?

This year I’m making it a point to revisit more of these old role models and see what lessons they still can share. In the meantime, here’s a little bit of wisdom I gleaned from my other American Idols:

  • Patty Duke (as Patty and Cathy Lane on the Patty Duke Show): Always temper the finer things in life with the wacky.
  • Elizabeth Montgomery (as Samantha on Bewitched): A twitch on the nose and you’ve got him in the palm of your hand (when cousin Serena is around, anyway).
  • Barbara Stanwyck (as successful rancher Victoria Barkley on The Big Valley): A woman can run her own business and look good in gauchos.
  • June Lockhart (as Dr. Maureen Robinson on Lost in Space): You don't need a PhD in biochemistry to cook dinner on another planet, but it doesn’t hurt.
  • Sally Field (as Gidget): A girl cannot survive with her surfboard alone; she must use a good sun block, too.
  • Anne Francis (as Honey West): Black cat suits are hot.
  • Stephanie Powers (as April Dancer on The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.): Girl power rocks.
  • Sally Field (as Sister Bertrille on The Flying Nun): Who needs wings to fly? (In the sky, you still need sun block.)
  • Peggy Lipton (as Julie Barnes on The Mod Squad): When you go after the bad guys, flail your arms from left to right to run like a girl. Not much of a life lesson, but she looked cool running.

God bless Netflix.

Nancy Sinatra sings on Ed Sullivan.

Hey, go-go boot aficionados, still carries them!