In My Life

I was all of 11 when I first fell in love with the Beatles.   Well, Paul McCartney, to be precise; the way his beautiful brown eyes turned slightly downward at the corners and that hint of a pout in his lips, things I had never been conscious of in looking at a boy before that time, but things I would always pay attention to after. To say that Paul (and George and John and Ringo) may have inadvertently triggered the sexual revolution of the 60’s may not be entirely farfetched. How else can one explain the millions of pre-teens, teens, and yes, a fair number of older women ready to chuck their daily lives in a passionate heartbeat to run away to England to kick Jane Asher’s (Patti Boyd’s/Cynthia Lennon’s/Maureen Starkey’s) butt, and live happily ever after with the man/men of their dreams?

Of course the music had everything to do with it. The Beatles practically wrote the soundtrack of my growing up years. The sweet and innocent “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and the other early stuff described perfectly the anguished longing behind my gawky 7th grade self desperately wanting that 9th grader with the long hair to at least acknowledge my existence. By the time “Magical Mystery Tour” and “Sgt. Pepper” rolled onto the scene, the love beads and flowers that I wore in my own long hair were signals to the world that at 16, I was ready and more than willing to explore the realm of sensual and spiritual existence the Beatles promised me was out there, alive, psychedelic, and waiting.

And then there was John Lennon. In my Paul crush years, I remember being a little afraid of John. The attraction I felt for him was enticing but dangerous, a little beyond my innocence at the time, as if he was just too much man and not enough boy for me to deal with safely. However, the Beatles grew up as I grew up, and by the time I was old enough to fully appreciate John, he was leading (or accompanying) me down a whole new path, that of political and social activism, questioning authority and taking to the streets to “damn the man” by daring to “Imagine” and “Give Peace a Chance.”

The Beatles have never ceased playing in the background of my existence and there still seems to be a perfect Beatles’ song for every milestone occasion of my life. One of my oldest childhood friends just mailed me a box of pain au chocolat from a French bakery along with a birthday card that reads, “What’s the difference between you and a senior citizen? A lot less than there used to be.” Ha ha. Very funny. In it he wrote, “Yes, I’ll still need ya…yes, I’ll still feed ya, when you’re 64.” It seems I’m not the only one with the Fab Four still playing in my head.

Rather than that telling tune, I think the Beatles’ song I’m hearing today as I celebrate (for my generation) a milestone birthday is this one. Pastry and goofy jokes aside, the femme d’un certain âge I see in my mirror this morning looks just the same as she did at 11 and 16 and 22 on the inside, and I seriously wouldn’t trade my arrival time on the planet this time ‘round for any body else’s.   What a wild, crazy, and amazing ride it’s been “In My Life” so far! As for the Beatles,

“…But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more.

From “In My Life,” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney







The urge to purge comes upon me every so often; especially when I need to lay my hands on something I haven’t picked up in a long while for some urgent reason and can’t find  it anywhere. Yes, it’s trendy now to be organized; to live lightly and simply and “tiny,” but that is so not me. My house is my treasure box, its shelves and cupboards and crannies filled with the jewels of memories of people I’ve loved, places I’ve been, and experiences I’ve had. Like a magpie or a bowerbird, I’ve filled my nest with sparklies and shinies that may not be worth much in anyone else’s market, but that enrich my life with the joy of remembrance and the sensory fulfillment of surrounding myself with magical and beautiful things. Even if I can’t find what I’m looking for at the moment, I can always find something.

Because I have always been part of a family and tribe, my nest is also filled with other people’s things, “touring exhibitions” in the museum of my life. Even though all my kids are grown and have moved out for lives on their own, my garage is still a warren of boxes marked with their names, filled with childhood memories and the rest of the good stuff they will move into their own basements, attics, garages, or storage units someday. It’s karma, I know. A goodly portion of my worldly goods lived with my parents until my sister, cleaning out the family home, was finally forced to chuck the stuff out. Mind you, none of it has ever been mindless junk. We don’t hoard in this family. We preserve. There is a difference.

There is also apparently a psychology behind our need to collect things, whether it be the thrill of the hunt and the ultimate fulfillment of finally bringing down one’s prey (that rarest of rare stamps, that elusive vintage Elvis bobble head, that final button from the Presidential campaign of 1936) or the comfort we feel when we are surrounded by the safe and familiar. Some psychologists cite our need to feel godlike in creating and controlling order in a clearly defined mini-universe when we collect things, although one look at the collections in my garage will make it clear to you that we’re really not into that control thing at all. The universe I live in is unruly, happy chaos.  At last count, there were probably two dozen or more “collections” out there, taking up the space that should be occupied by, say, a car: ceramic pigs, marbles, postcards, stamps, coins, rocks, shells, Christmas ornaments, tins, baskets, board games, puzzles, nutcrackers, dolls, pop culture figurines, vintage sheet music—you name it, the Daniel clan has collected it; all this on top of the usual books, movies, music, and photo albums most families have lurking about in some quantity or another.

Some experts say that creating a collection fulfills our existential need to leave something of ourselves behind in this world when we go, a ghost of our identity that will live on as long as our children and grandchildren or the grateful citizens of our community or nation care to keep whatever it is we leave them. That may be true, but I have to say that once you’ve experienced an evacuation ahead of a devastating forest fire, flood, or tornado,  you become aware, with crystalline clarity, that if stuff is all you leave to be remembered by, you can be erased from history’s memory in a flash.  At that moment of truth, when you have only minutes to determine what you can throw in your pocket or your suitcase or your car, it becomes very clear that your life, and the lives of those you love, are really the only existential things that matter.  All the real “collections” are in our heads and our hearts any way.  You never need a suitcase or a wheelbarrow (or a garage) for those.



On Writing

It has been some time since I posted on this blog, having spent the holiday season writing instead a “Winter Scrapbook” on my Facebook page. I commented at the end of that little project that simply envisioning the scrapbook as a project helped to keep me motivated to write every day, but in reality, I couldn’t help myself. There is so much to observe, experience, and describe about the keeping of the holy days! The senses are electrified by color, taste, and sound. The heart is touched by an overflowing of hope, wonder, and memory. What else can a writer do but write?

Writing is something that I do and have always done.  I enjoy it. The stumbling block for me, and for other writers that I know, is never the act of writing, but the challenge of overcoming our need for a reader, someone to respond in some way to what we have written. Do we speak or sing or scream to hear the sound of our own voices? Hardly. We speak or sing or scream or write because there is something in our depths that is just too big, too urgent, or too emotionally overwhelming for us to experience alone. We are compelled to try to communicate and to connect. This is the writer’s koan: like the sound of one hand clapping, does the writer exist if there is no reader? The heart of the artist says yes. One writes, dances, paints, composes, or emotes because one must. “I write because I am.” We just have to trust that our creation, our call, our cry will be heard somewhere.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh had this to say about writing:

“One writes not to be read but to breathe…
one writes to think, to pray, to analyze.
One writes to clear one’s mind, to dissipate one’s fears,
to face one’s doubts, to look at one’s mistakes-
-in order to retrieve them. One writes to capture and
crystallize one’s joy, but also to disperse one’s gloom.
Like prayer–you go to it in sorrow more than joy,
for help, a road back to ‘grace’.”

Grace, Nirvana, peace, whatever you call it. We continue to breathe—and write– our way home.



Meet Cute

My family has a collection of videos that we traditionally watch at different times of the year. One of our favorites for the Christmas season is the 2006 American romantic film comedy The Holiday, written, produced and directed by Nancy Meyers. In this film, two young women exchange houses for Christmas in an attempt to leave behind broken relationships. Iris, a journalist from England, has been in a very painful, one-sided relationship with a colleague who has been stringing her along for years. Amanda, a movie trailer producer in Los Angeles has just discovered that her boyfriend has been cheating on her with his much younger secretary. The exchange of houses for the holidays also leads to an exchange of lives in a way, as Iris opens up to revel in an unexpectedly luxurious Hollywood life and Amanda sees a new side of the life and love in a quiet English countryside village.

Among Iris’ new acquaintances in L.A. is her neighbor Arthur, a retired screenwriter from Hollywood’s golden days, who is now alone and somewhat isolated by old age. She finds him lost and a little confused outside the gate of Amanda’s mansion one day and escorts him home. They soon become fast friends, as Iris pushes Arthur towards getting back out into the world by accepting a film honor at a ceremony he doesn’t want to attend and he pushes her towards “becoming the leading lady of her own life,” and no longer the victim of a painfully unrequited love.

Among the stories Arthur shares with Iris is the story of how he met his deceased wife, the love of his life. He tells Iris it was the serendipity of a meet cute that brought them together. Arthur describes a meet cute this way: “It’s how two characters meet in a movie. Say a man and a woman both need something to sleep in, and they both go to the same men’s pajama department. And the man says to the salesman: ‘I just need bottoms’. The woman says: ‘I just need a top’. They look at each other, and that’s the meet cute.”

Hollywood has been successfully using this device for decades, largely because it is a completely authentic human experience, although it’s likely more rare than it used to be in this age when people really don’t take the risk of looking at one another or making eye contact. Do we treasure it more in the movies because we no longer do it in real life? I think we yearn for it. We miss it. It’s sad to think of how much love has been lost, or never made, in this world because we keep ourselves so safely masked or hiding from one another. Yet the look is where the magic happens, isn’t it? That sudden jolt of aliveness, of recognition, of desire, of connection?   I have a feeling we’re missing a lot of rainbows in life because too many of us spend too much time avoiding the lightening. What are we so afraid of?

A young woman of my acquaintance was sitting on a train in a station waiting to go north when she unexpectedly looked up to meet the eyes of a young man sitting on a train stopped beside hers waiting to go south. The fellow looked down and appeared to be writing something on a pad, which he then held up to the window. “You’re beautiful,” it said. She smiled; the perfect meet cute. As the trains left the station, both were wishing they were somewhere else. Hollywood maybe?