Thursday, August 31, 2006

it's your day

Labor day on Monday and thank goodness … a day off at last. But I got to wondering, after living in the US for the past 21 years, what is Labor Day really all about?

When you mull it over, most other holidays are connected, to some degree, with man’s prowess over man. They originated primarily because of greed and power struggles; because of one nation's glory over another. For example: American Independence Day, or the defeat of my homeland’s loony King George. Yom Kippur, or the Ramadan War. Martin Luther King Day, acknowledged only after his brutal assassination. Christmas Day and Easter Sunday, both celebrated with glee in honor of a persecuted prophet who reputedly died for our sins. Columbus Day, and we won’t even go into who really founded what-when-and-where, or under whose flag. The list goes on.

But according to the American Federation of Labor, Labor Day is different.

Labor Day, originated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City to represent the creation of the labor movement, became an official holiday in 1884. The first Monday in September was selected as a national annual tribute to the “ … contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. Labor Day is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.”

Hey … that’s me and you!

With that sorted, I trust you will have a good, long, fun-filled, work-and-guilt-free, weekend!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

eavesdropping at large

The hour I'd set aside for this week's blog quickly vanished when a rush weekend assignment called me out of town. So I'd like to share an excerpt from one of my column's with you.~v

It’s Monday. A whole day where I make no business calls, do no research, no writing, no marketing, no e-mailing, no eavesdropping. Well ... almost no eavesdropping.

Ask any writer and they’ll tell you it’s habitual. That over the years you learn to have a pleasant and fully engaged conversation with a buddy, while simultaneously—and surreptitiously—scanning and sorting the conversations taking place across at least three neighboring tables in your local coffee shop.
Like the auto-tune on a radio, you’re able to hone in to what’s interesting, and might some day make good copy, versus what’s boring and can be skipped over. You learn to zone into the quietest mutterings with a bionic-like ear, sometimes learning far more about the strangers huddled on the sofa by the fire than you care to.

And I should know better. My Victorian-born grandmother, sadly long deceased, admonished me as a child when I blatantly listened to others' conversations, telling me it was impolite and that I should not be so rude. But despite my typically good British manners, I consider coffee shops exempt from this rule. Free-for-all. No holds barred.

Look around any cafe and you’ll see many people seemingly interacting in deep conversation; but then you’ll catch a tell-tale sign that at least one ear is subtly scanning the surroundings like a metal detector ready to beep over a possible gem. It might be a slight shift in body weight, a leaning to one side. A quick slide of the eyes to the animated couple sitting to the left. Or an out-and-out stare. Used to be that we sat and ‘people-watched’ at crowded malls or steamy cafĂ© windows. Now we sip double-double mocha’s and eavesdrop. And it’s not just writers.

A non-writer friend once shushed me because she couldn’t quite hear what the lady with the pink stockings was saying to the person of undetermined sex in the gray sackcloth. Another friend went to the bathroom just to get a closer look at the “moron” (her term) who kept griping at life’s unfairness, and how he wished he could experience what his wife felt as she breast-fed their new baby.

I concede that some writers take eavesdropping to a heightened level, but we do so with purpose. We’re always looking for new ideas. Fresh points of view. Tantalizing lines. Heady description and interesting tales and opinions—even if they do come from secondhand observation.

During the course of our regular coffee (or sanity) breaks, where we rally over the highs of a new project and bemoan the writer’s angst, my writer friends frequently grab their ever-present notebooks to jot down a word or a line before it slips into oblivion. No matter how much we tell ourselves we’ll remember that killer-phrase, we know we won’t, and in the absence of a notebook, a napkin or palm of the hand will suffice.

Conversations with a screenwriter friend are frequently stalled, while he punches whole dialogs into his slimline laptop. Once, while enjoying my favorite grande-nonfat-caramel machiatto, extra hot, extra sauce, he whispered a melodramatic “cut…” freezing me mid-frame while he captured the glee of three 5th-grade boys snorting latte down their freckled noses as they shared jokes, each one grosser, and apparently, funnier than the last.

Another time he raised a long artistic finger signaling that our chatter pause momentarily while he immortalized the sorry line that the guy with yellow bleached hair just hung on the girl with no lips. Obviously their first date, probably their last!

An author friend readily admits that when she’s feeling stuck, or even just bored, she’ll cruise a couple of coffee shops down by the beach hoping to find some good home-grown conversation to spawn the beginnings of an idea. While a talented colleague attributes his recent award-winning TV commercial entirely to a conversation he overheard between two teenage girls, while downing a triple-shot Espresso.

So, I’m sorry dear grandmother, but no matter how distasteful you’d find this revelation—and I know that you would—I make no apologies for my writer friends and their rude behavior!

Writers aren’t nosy for the sake of being nosy. They’re curious about people and about life. Always searching, always reaching, always exploring. Just as an artist looks for inspiration in the color of falling leaves and the texture of rain-washed cliffs, a writer’s imagination can be sparked by a word or an off-hand remark, and eavesdropping in coffee shops simply goes with the territory.

So how do I amuse myself while my cohorts snatch moments in time from the lives of complete strangers? Why, by eavesdropping, of course.

© 2004 Vicki St. Clair. Excerpt from Bibi's Beat column first published in Authentic Living.

Friday, August 18, 2006

midnight prowlers

It’s funny, but when you move to a new home, you don’t realize at first how different noises might be. The sounds you took for granted in one home can mean something entirely different in another home. Bangs and bumps in the middle of the night at my old apartment, usually meant that one of the residents had come home drunk and was trying to find the keys he’d dropped in the parking lot.

I’d often be blasted at 3am by a car stereo with “¡Oh tierra del sol, suspiro por verte! ahora que lejos yo vivo sin luz, sin amor …” (That's a whole other blog!) And sometimes I’d be woken by folks from a neighboring building fighting over who flirted with whom; or revving up their Colgate white low-riders and chasing each other around the block.

These were noises I was familiar with. Didn’t enjoy them. I’d curse the villian who woke me (again, thank you very much), pull the pillow over my ears and try to block the sound quickly before I became too agitated to sleep.

But now I have a new set of noises to get used to. Like the nightly creaking floorboards of an old house settling back into itself. The tinkling of my indoor wind chimes at odd hours, for no apparent reason. The clanking of passing trains. The sudden screeching of bald eagles. And stealthy footsteps outside my window, just 30-minutes past the witching hour …

There I was, last weekend, a vision of absolute loveliness, curled up in my favorite Gloria V’ PJ’s, watching The Shining. I have an overactive imagination at the best of times and have no business watching spooky films in the wee hours of any morning, let alone when I’m by myself. And in a new (old) house.

So after I’d jerked a glass of iced Perrier water over my legs—the result of a mild heart attack—I grabbed the TV remote, turned down the sound and held my breath. Nothing. See. Idiot. Shouldn’t watch films like this!

Blotting my wet legs with tissues, I settled back on the sofa and turned up the sound just as Jack Nicholson stuck his ugly face in a doorway and grinned that menacing grin and … damn it … the hair on my arms shot on end. More footsteps!

I jumped to my feet and grabbed the phone. Ran into the kitchen. Back into the lounge. Turned a circle … more footsteps … another circle. Heart pounding, back into the kitchen. Where’s the flashlight?

Holding my breath, I tiptoed to the side of the curtain and pulled it back about an inch so I could see out, without being seen. Nothing. Nothing. Just empty black stillness.

I snatched a breath and forced it out in a heavy sigh. Stupid, stupid woman.

I was about to step away from the window when a shadow leaned across the driveway. I dropped the curtain; heard more footsteps among the rose bushes. Two, three, four more. Coming closer?

Something knocked against the window; and again. Thumb paused over the number nine, ready to dial for help. Not breathing. Heart racing. I nudged the side of the curtain just a smidgeon. Three more footsteps. Oh!

My jaw dropped and a quick gasp of breath stuck in my throat.

Wow ... mommy deer stepped onto the driveway and into the moonlight. And her two beautiful kids followed. These were noises I could learn to enjoy.

Friday, August 11, 2006

pop, where are you?

Over the last couple of years I’ve been with two dear people as they passed from life to … wherever …

'Now-age' people (as new-age folks now like to be called) say the body’s just a vessel. We are more than flesh and bones. We are spirit; we are essence; we are one with the universe. We don’t die. We live into infinity. Christians tell you the body dies, but the spirit lives on and passes to a greater heavenly arena where they promise salvation. Buddhists believe we’re reborn to learn our past mistakes. Jews say we’ll have a place in the world to come. And Islam preaches the attainment of eternal bliss in the hereafter.

I never understood any of this until the day my aunt died. And I still don’t. But just minutes after my aunt passed, I was mystified. Standing by her side, I cradled her tiny, dry, withered hand in one of mine, sheltering it with the other. No matter how hard I looked, or how closely I leaned in to her still face, I could no longer see her. “Where have you gone, Catherine? Where are you?

Eight months later I sat with one of the most handsome, classy, vibrant men I’ve known, as he bravely slipped away. I draped across his footballer shoulders and tightly wrapped my arms around him, swallowing tears I knew he wouldn't welcome. But it wasn’t him I hugged. He’d already left.

At that very moment, I was gutted—yet bewildered. “Pop. Where are you? Where have you gone?” I pressed my cheek against his, then kissed his forehead, now pallid and relaxed of life’s stresses. Only minutes before, he’d mustered the last of his strength to give one final instruction, “You have to let me go. Let. Me. Go.” And go he did

I went back to the hospice the following morning where staff had laid my father in clean PJ’s, tucked tightly between crisp white sheets. He died just before his 69th birthday. Nurses had slipped the card I’d given to him between his hands; hands that were strong and athletic, artistic and gentle; hands that had held mine as a child, keeping me safe and secure; hands now void of life that lay neatly folded across his chest. I wrapped my hands over his and squeezed them as I leaned into his cheek to kiss him goodbye. But he wasn’t there.

I don’t know where Dad went when he left that body. I don’t have a faith. I don’t believe in an omniscient being. I don’t believe in rebirth. Or a life hereafter promising eternal bliss. I have no answers and I don’t believe I ever will. I just know that it’s the anniversary of Pop’s death next week, and as I miss him every day, my heart still whispers, “Pop, where are you?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

age is just a number

Had a long overdue lunch today with a friend and I have just this to say:

To my friend who's worrying about losing her Mediterranean looks as she turns 40--and in the process, creating even deeper frown lines--and to anyone else who despairs about their passing youth, today is the youngest you will ever be. Embrace it!

I promise that in 10 years you'll look back at photos from today and tell yourself how damn good you looked 'back then'!