And so it is Thanksgiving. Another meal eaten and another year older, and lots to be thankful for.
The agastache is still blooming. This is a Missouri native that we added this year, and in several colors. I never expected it to bloom this long, but that’s one good thing about wild flowers. It’s in the Anise family which we also planted some of this year. The bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds find it very tasty.
It was the summer of 1997. I was living in Memphis, attending college, and working full time as an assistant manager at Party City. And I was ready for a change. I loved Pier 1 Imports, and a new store was opening across the street from a new mall called Wolfchase Galleria which had just opened in February. I decided to apply, was interviewed by the store manager on the spot, and started there two weeks later. After a few months, I was promoted to an early hours assistant manager position that would be in charge of unloading the freight, receiving it, and stocking it. I was trained by the 1st assistant manager, a man named George Ettinger. George was nine years older than me, and like me, he was gay. We got along great. We liked the same music. We often saw each other out. George was an all-around nice guy with lots of friends. Like many, I loved having him as a coworker and friend.
Less than a year later, I found myself having to look for a new place to live. There was an ad in the Memphis Flyer for someone looking to share a rental house on North Parkway, close to downtown. I immediately called the number to see if it was still available. It was, so I went to look at the place that night. I accepted it and began moving in the next day. My roommate was a young man named Spencer. The house was a tall two story rectangular old brick house with a flat roof. It had a large front porch and balcony, a small front yard. For the neighborhood, it was a bit creepy but it had such charm on the inside. The entire bottom floor was Spencer’s apartment: a three bedroom unit with a large kitchen and hardwood floors in the front room. It was mostly empty because Spencer didn’t have a lot of things. The rest of the house was divided into two apartments upstairs and two one room apartments on the back of the house. The landlord was an old man named Bill who had grown up in the house. And the rent for mine and Spencer’s apartment, the largest in the house, was only $500 a month and that included utilities!
In December, Spencer got into some trouble and vacated the apartment. It was an uneasy situation, but I was happy to take over the apartment and try to find a new roommate. At the time, George was wanting to move back to Midtown so I mentioned the place to him. He followed me home that night to take a look at it and immediately agreed to move in. He loved the placed and had enough stuff to help finish decorating it. We set up the third bedroom as a TV room. We painted the entire place. George loved tinkering with things and fixing up the place. I remember coming home and finding he’d removed all the hardware from the kitchen cabinets to clean them. George was also a good cook. And he liked to work outside so he set out improving the front yard and making our quaint little porch a nice retreat for us and the neighbors. We threw wonderful parties…Christmas, Birthdays, whatever. With his friends and my friends, the house was always filled with laughter and smiles. George and I became close friends, and he was the best roommate I ever had.
As time passed, George and I both left Pier 1. He became a full time bartender at the Pipeline, which eventually became the Pumping Station when the owner died and one of George’s friends took it over. I went to work as an assistant manager at Bookstar, a position I’d only keep a year before going back to Pier 1 to be a manager-in-training. I was tired of Memphis and ready for a change. And I wanted to find love. So, in the Fall of 2001 I interviewed for a position as store manager in St. Louis, Missouri. I was offered the position and accepted it, and soon found myself surrounded by movers packing up my things in the house at 925 North Parkway. In September, 4 days after 9/11, the house was half empty, my cats were crated in the backseat of my car, and George and I stood on the porch saying our good-byes. He was the last person I saw in Memphis before driving away to my new life in St. Louis. Before I left, George slipped a gift into my backseat. When I arrived in St. Louis, I discovered it was one of his jewelry boxes shaped like a dragon, and inside was a post-it note on which he’d written, “It will all be okay.”
I saw George and his new husband, Greg, again in 2003 when I returned to Memphis for a visit. They’d made even more changes to the house, opening a doorway through my old bedroom that led into the front room. It really looked nice. They would eventually buy the house when Bill passed on. From then on, we lost touch. Miles and distance and time were all that kept us apart. We found each other on Facebook ten years ago, and though we didn’t speak much on there, it was still like I was part of his life. I could see photos of the house. He and Greg grew vegetables in the back yard. That’s the magic of the internet I suppose, a super power that we take for granted because it’s such an everyday part of our lives.
And it was on Facebook last night where I learned that George had passed away quietly in his sleep the night before at age 47. I immediately messaged a friend in Oklahoma who had been our neighbor back then. George and Greg were the God parents of her child, so she’d kept in closer contact with them than I had. She told me George had had a heart attack a few years ago. He was diabetic and had neuropathy in both feet. Despite his health setbacks, he was in good spirits so the cause of death right now was unknown. I messaged Greg who told me that George had spoke of me often. I had spoken of him too and thought of him often over the years, and now regretted that I had not spoken to him or visited. I was just speechless, recalling all the good times we’d had at 925 North Parkway #1.
Despite our lack of contact, I still thought of George as a friend. A close friend. I had a lot of friends in Memphis and I was selfish for leaving them. I haven’t stayed in contact with any of them, and though they are guilty of the same I don’t fault them for that. And yeah, we are all friends on Facebook, keeping up with each other’s lives through witty posts and pics but we rarely speak to one another. But if we gathered in a room, there would be no anger. We’d pick right up where we left off, where time left us all those years ago. And we’d say a toast to George…Bubba, as his good friends and family called him.
I still can’t believe he’s gone. I learned so much from him now that I look back. He taught me how to stack fancy wicker chairs at Pier 1 without damaging them, a savvy skill I haven’t had to use in years but I was damn good at it. He taught me to have fun, and not be so serious about life at times. And now, he’s taught me how important friendship is and how though we have Facebook, we still need each other in our lives. Sure, George got along just fine without me. But if we never forget someone, and have never forgotten them or the impact they had on our lives, then just being friends on Facebook can’t be the excuse we have for not reaching out to one another. If it is, then one day it might be too late, like it is now for me.
I know George wouldn’t want me to beat myself up about this. Sure, he’d razz me a bit and give me a hard time for not visiting, but I could do the same to him. But then he’d probably remind me that he never forgot about me and probably thought of me often, as I have with him. And that’s good enough for me, and makes me feel a bit better to know that no matter what, no matter where I find myself, I still had a friend.
It will all be okay.
My birthday was three weeks ago. I’m 38 now. Another year closer to 40. Birthdays have never been a big deal for me in the way of celebration. It fell on Easter so I just kind of ignored that I woke up to it. And then I had to go get my license renewed the next day. Updating the information on it was an eye opener, especially when the lady took my height and weight. I should have lied.
And then there’s my 20th year high school reunion this year which I’m helping to plan. It didn’t help that a fellow committee member recently mentioned “middle age” on Facebook a few days ago. So, that got me to thinking…is that really where I am now? Was I already there before at 36 or 37, or have I just arrived? And is the only way out to move over the hill? What’s next for me?
Though I’d like to admit it is completely unrelated to this middle age rant, it’s probably not and there’s some deep underlying metaphor slapping me in the face right now. I went biking on Saturday. It was a sudden decision, and it helped that the weather was absolutely gorgeous outside. Not too hot. Nice breeze. Mid 70s maybe. One of those decisions that can easily be overlooked and substituted with a television or book and a comfy sofa, but I made up my mind to just do it (no Nike pun intended).
Now you probably wonder why this was such a hard decision to make? Well, I haven’t ridden a bicycle in at least 14 or 15 years! I’ve lived in St. Louis since late 2001 and I know I haven’t done it since I’ve lived here. I bought a bike the last two years or so that I lived in Memphis and frequently rode it to the park and back from my house. I remember selling that bike to a friend before I moved. So, yeah, it’s probably been close to 15 years.
Now, I had a brand new bike that had been sitting in my basement for two years. Yep…two years, and it was free! Did I mention brand new too? Even had a helmet for two years too. I practically got winded just lugging it up the basement stairs and into the kitchen to wipe the dust off it. And then, I had to take it through the house and load it in my SUV. Didn’t spend as much effort deciding what to wear thanks to a plethora of gym clothes and workout wear I have that doesn’t get used much. I packed a cinch bag with my wallet, cell phone, and a bottled tea.
I stopped at the gas station to fill up and to put air in the tires, and then had to drive several more miles to the trail. My point is I had lots of time to think about my decision and turn back. But I didn’t. I kept going. I chose a trail that was basically flat for several miles. Though I didn’t expect to make it that far. Parking in a nearby lot, I put the helmet on and threw my keys in the cinch bag. I put the cinch bag on my back and then got the bike out. The lot was a bit rocky and there were a lot of people around. Too many to see me fall on my ass if I chose to get on the bike right away. So, I walked the bike across the lot and over to the trail…more time to change my mind, but I didn’t.
Once I reached the trail, I knew it was now or never.
I got on that bike and I started pedaling, and though I half expected to be shaky or to fall over right away, I didn’t. Bicycling is truly something you just never forget. It was as if I’d never stopped and had been doing it for years. Suddenly, with a breeze in my face, I was just doing it. And I felt exhilarated. So much that I think I smiled and laughed out loud. It was an epiphany, that climactic moment in the movie where a really good song comes on and everything changes for the lead character. Like the “You Make My Dreams” musical number in 500 Days of Summer! Yeah, it was totally that.
Once I adjusted the speed and resistance of the bike to my liking, I was off. Forrest Gump Voice: “I wassss bi-king!” I rode a good distance before turning around and heading back. I thought about my dad for a moment, who at 73 recently fell and broke his pelvic bone and is currently recovering in a senior center. He taught me to ride a bike. It was one thing he never would let me give up on. I remember how determined he was. He made me do it, and I did. And I’m so happy he did. Something so simple, and yet here I was enjoying it once again.
I passed the point where I started and though my legs hurt a bit and my butt was sore, I wanted to keep going. I reached a park bench along the trail and decided to stop and check my phone for the time and to enjoy my tea. I’d been biking for an hour already! So, I decided to stop there and head back while I was close, but not before I noticed the placard on the bench. It had been dedicated in someone’s memory. And beneath their names it said: Live in the Moment. That seemed very appropriate. So I took my phone back out and snapped a photo to remember this very moment. Then, I headed back to my car, took the helmet off, loaded the bike, and decided to drive the route to see how far I’d biked. It was 5 miles!!
Yeah, you might think big deal. Shannon got his slightly overweight ass on a bike after 14 years and biked 5 miles. And yep, that’s exactly what I did. But to think about how many days had gone by that I could have been doing this all along really got me to thinking. Remember I said that bike had been in the basement for two years! It’s kind of like treating yourself to a blizzard at the DQ after not having one for a few years because you’ve been dieting. Or maybe your splurged and bought yourself a new pair of shoes, ladies. Whatever makes you happy and gives you so much elation after having not done it in a long time, that’s what this was for me.
I was proud of myself. And that’s saying a lot, because I tend to beat myself up quite a bit. No one made me do this but me, and I’m glad I made myself do it. I think the only thing that could have been better is having my dad on a bike right beside me. But now that I think about it, he never rode a bike with me before. He ran along side me, with his hand on my shoulder holding me up, offering support. So maybe he was there in some way, and I was just too distracted by my happiness to see him. He was the happiness. Last time I saw him a few weeks ago, he was giving a wheel chair a good workout up and down the hallway of the senior center! I heard he was up walking again some last week. I love ya, dad.
So, by now you might ask, am I going to do it again?
You bet I am!
Last night was our final writer’s group meeting at All On The Same Page Bookstore. The bookstore is closing this week. Robin Tidwell, the bookstore owner, and I started the group over a year ago, meeting one night of every month from about 6pm to 9pm. In the beginning, there were never more than 3 or 4 of us – including me and Robin! Over time, the group grew to as many as ten once. Last night there were eight of us, all regulars for sometime now.
We’ve always been an informal group, spending most of our time rambling on subjects not even related to writing or books. Someone always eventually read something they were working on. We’d listen intently (though Facebook pics from last night’s meeting might make you think otherwise) and then we’d give feedback.
We’d sip wine and share our lives for a few hours. It was a much needed affair for all of us in some way, or we wouldn’t have continued to come otherwise. This was the group I first shared Dickinstein with and read a few chapters in the editing stages; I bounced other ideas off of them as well from time to time.
Last night we each asked questions as if we were interviewing authors or writers.
My question was, “What has been your most disappointing moment as a writer or author?” It was a question that I actually didn’t answer out loud myself due to a lack of time, but my answer wouldn’t have been any different or more inspiring that anyone else. Others said lack of sales or getting bad reviews, and I’d agree with them.
The influences question was an easy one.
And even the memoir question was fun since I’d just read a few this past year, even though I’m not usually a memoir fan. It got me to thinking about writing a slice-of-life memoir of my own thanks to some other advice given in the group. Which slice would I pick? That’s the next question to answer. We all have a story to tell.
As for the defining moment, no one’s answer beat one new author’s reply who said our group had been her defining moment because she’d never shared her words with anyone until she found us. We were her defining moment.
Heartfelt, yes, but down deep that’s what a group like this is for. Whether or not a group’s purpose or expectations is clearly defined, put a bunch of writers in a room and the edges get blurred. But to be told in the end that the one true purpose of a group like ours had been reached is all that matters.
Hopefully, our group will move on. We’re losing our quaint little space in the middle of a shotgun-style used bookstore, but there’s a back table in a Starbucks somewhere waiting for us. With our purpose having been reached here, we’ll find a new one.
We’ll strive to change the life and words of another aspiring writer. We’ll sip lattes and take bad Instagram photos of each other. We’ll bitch about our bad reviews and our bad days. We’ll make each other laugh and smile.
We’ll read aloud and give advice. We’ll make memories and write memoirs. We’ll stick together.
We’ll ask questions.
We are writers. We are travelers. We are friends.
Originally posted on Gabriella West:
The quality of our lives has an interesting rhythm. We strive to make our lives better, lighter, and then at certain times we feel haunted and pulled down by darkness.
Certainly the horribly untimely death of Philip Seymour Hoffman this weekend had—and still has—the feeling of a bad dream. He’d talked explicitly about his addiction problems, but was always seen as someone who had beaten them LONG ago. But no, it couldn’t be as simple as that. I think of his films and then I think of what his last weeks or his last day must have been like, and it all barely makes sense. On film he’s in control, a master of his art. The consummate professional. To think of him lying in a bathroom with a needle in his arm, in an apartment littered with bags of heroin, just has the quality of … a bad dream.
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Here is pic two from the sleepy winter garden. All of our outdoor pots are plastic. Over the years, we stopped buying potted plants that had to come inside for winter but we still like the look of pots in the garden. A fellow gardening friend shared this idea with me: Cut the bottom out of plastic pots and fill them with soil, placing them in permanent spots in the bed. This gives height to the bed or can elevate other plants over others. You can also use them to fool the rabbits! Here we have two pots we placed last year (we have many others). One has a small rose bush in it that rabbits were munching on before when it was in the ground. The other has spring and summer bulbs in it. Cutting the bottom out keeps the pot from freezing or holding too much water; roots can also grow deep for nutrients from the ground.
For the rest of this week I will be sharing pics from our garden. I am always quick to celebrate a bloom or branch when it is spring or summer, and the garden goes neglected this time of year when it is dormant. So I snapped some photos to share. This is our walking stick tree, one of the first permanent plants we installed about four years ago when we first started landscaping the backyard. It will be covered in waxy leaves in a few months, hiding all those twisty branches that give it its name and character.
Originally posted on Bucket List Publications:
I read this post this morning and loved it! I don’t often share the work of others on the blog but this post was definitely “share-worthy”. Creating a bucket list lifestyle encompasses treating yourself right and learning from your mistakes. This post is a great reflection of those lessons.
Is there one of these that you do often? Are there several? Let’s let the good things catch up.
Written by Marc and Angel
When you stop chasing the wrong things you give
the right things a chance to catch you.
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