There’s something about the number 13 that frightens people.
When we lived in a high-rise in Miami Beach, it was on the 14th floor, except for one problem. There was no 13th floor.
The elevator jumped from 12 to 14.
I thought it was so strange that buildings everywhere excommunicated the number 13. Ironically, life seemed to open a portal into happiness for us when we lived there.
My sister and I would grab a ride on a jitney and take it to the hotels like the Fontainebleau, which we had access to because we lived in the condominium. We lay on the beach, swam in the pools, and enjoyed the people who visited.
I could’ve seen the number 13 as some sort of omen. Instead, 13 seemed a saving grace, a hidden message, a sign.
So, when Jilly sent me a message, I saw it as a sign.
I hope you do too. If you have Amazon, watch it for free with your Prime membership.
Plunging into LA has been a summer indulgence that I’ve learned how not to live without. I crave the perfect weather, and when I mean perfect weather, I mean perfect weather. The consistently bright sky free of dark clouds, which translates to little if any rain, which translates to no mosquitos, no racing inside and yelling “Go, go, go!” to anyone in front of or following you, no mildew smells, none of it.
This summer wasn’t any different when it came to the weather, but other things dug under my fingernails. Really, just one thing got stuck in there. It was the degree to which the people in LA can fake it. In fact, they fake it so much that you can feel their nerves splitting as they speak.
They talk a lot about energy and crystals and energy and, really, I agree, energy is there, everywhere. So, when we went to a restaurant, a party, or even just for a walk, I felt it, even saw it.
“HHHHiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy,” she would say in such a high-pitched voice that I could feel her frayed nerves followed by the shrill lies muted by her hand shake that she tried to cover with the steadiness of an extra hand on the outside. Ouch! It stung a little.
And, it went on and on, daily, hourly sometimes.
I still enjoyed it. I still chilled with my sister, my family, but it felt strangely different. Even the Elvis impersonator who I loved catching on his way to work had left us. Not surprisingly, he had moved away, maybe to Vegas, a whole other story.
I doubt it if he would head on over to New York, but it’s still a place for impersonators. I mean, New York, in particular, New York City has its share of the inconceivable and the outright bizarre, but the fake? Absolutely, emphatically NO.
Do I want to live there? Not really, but I don’t necessarily want to live in LA either, no matter how much I love to visit.
I think an actress who was interviewed on Conan O’Brien said it best.
Although, I don’t want to live in New York either, I have always preferred the rough-edged realism of New York to the giant teeth shining behind often-oversized lips in LA.
There are those days when I wondered if I should’ve encouraged them to be doctors, lawyers, scientists, anything but artists.
“You know, Ya Ya always says, ‘That’s why you need to be a doctor papito. So you can take care of me,” my son said the other day. “She says it to all of us.” He’s referring to all of his cousins, her grandchildren.
My son and I were in the car outside a doctor’s office. “Yeah, doctors have it easy,” I said.
“What do you mean? It’s really hard to be a doctor,” he argued, which has become a regular routine lately.
“Yeah, no, I mean, they have to work hard, but they make so much money. You saw your cousin’s house. You know what I mean?”
He nodded but continued to talk about how difficult it is to be a doctor.
I reluctantly agreed and accepted my fate: to add another artist to my household.
I think every parent feels conflicted about encouraging a child to take the artistic route. It’s more unpredictable in our eyes.
You’re so smart. Be a doctor, a dentist, an engineer, a scientist, a lawyer, they say. Many parents I know outright announce that artists make no money. You can draw, even paint, but don’t try to make it a career.
And, what’s most disconcerting is that many teachers announce that students can’t do anything with a degree in art, let alone make a living with one in the fine arts. So, parents waver and our kids waver, sometimes they even give up on the whole idea.
I didn’t tell my kids to be a doctor or lawyer. I taught them to explore their worlds. I actually encouraged my children to be as creative as possible, not as a hobby, but as a way of life.
A once-white sink full of blue paint sits clogging one of our bathrooms. Drawings on walls are commonplace. Clothes splattered with paint seem expected.
But, when I want to hang a painting on the wall, I’m met with protests that it’s just not good enough or friends will think it’s stupid. You’re reminded of how fragile such creativity can be.
Yet, there’s a magic to living with artists that surpasses the often stressful or methodical worlds of academics or athletes.
Artists live on the brink of ecstacy or the edge of insanity more often than not, so when you live with them it can feel just like you’re in the swirling winds shot from a magic wand.
My daughter left for a pre college art program and, because I share her heart of an artist, I sit wondering what to do without her and hoping she has a good time while worrying that she’s so fragile she could break under her guise of strength.
Then I remember that guise is not a disguise at all.
It’s actually her reality.
She bears a resemblance to a Greek goddess in the midst of a tumultuous highway of mindsets bent on nearly crashing into her.
She stands, sword in hand, striking the sounds of doubt from her stance, sometimes, often, receiving their criticisms, wounded, in pain, dropping her sword, lowering her head, lying down.
She heals eventually and returns to her power.
The number of times she has stood her ground when she fought with me has increased over the years. The power with which she uses and doesn’t use words can set a room on fire. The intensity of her work puts shame to anything I’ve ever accomplished.
That’s magic mixed with a power so intrinsic to an artist.
And, we are all artists.
Accepting that makes our lives easier to manage and enjoy. Otherwise, we’re sent plugging away in drudgery at the daily confines of tasks to be finished and jobs to be done.
Those not just content but happy doctors, lawyers, and engineers are creatives in their own right.
They stand over patients and inspire them to fight for their lives and wellness.
They plunge into difficult cases emerging with solutions to difficult problems.
They sift through data and documents creating new ideas out of old structures.
Parents living with teenage artists find solace in their art.
Our artists are abstract and concrete all the while leaving us breathless with what they can conjure up for us, what they can pull from nothingness.
And you writers, well, you tell us the stories to keep us going when we find ourselves lost in worlds that have abandoned the idea of being artists.
So, as a parent of two artists, I watch in awe of their resolve, saddened by their wounds, hoping for their healing, and waiting for the next burst of magic, bound to love them through it all.
Writing was only used to text or post for help. We had to preserve electricity.
Funny how we call it power.
Well, we lost power. By that I mean, the kind we depend on for everything lately, even our brains. We are so accustomed to Googling everything that we use, essentially using electricity inadvertently instead of our brains.
Needless to say, everything slowed down after Irma ripped electricity from us.
And, all I have to say about it is a lot.
After the storm: Irma ripped away our electricity.
If you’ve never been to Miami during a humid hot summer day–and I don’t mean at the beach–then don’t roll your eyes when I repeat what everyone is complaining about. One day without electricity left us baking inside our houses, even with the windows open. By day three, my daughter slept on the tile floor while my husband fanned her with my son’s science board.
I kept getting up and putting the pillow under her head, but she still had bumps from hitting it against the floor.
I thought I could deal with it, but the hurricanes before Irma left us with somewhat of a breeze during the long days of no electricity. Irma left Miami and the Keys and other parts of Florida with not even a small breeze to tease us enough for a hint of hope.
Dead heat sucked away all of our energy. So that brain power, which needed to be harnessed and used for the lack of power we have become so reliant on, that was useless except for reading books and minimal movement.
I picked up Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and read it finally. I’d been pushing it to the side in the name of parenthood, work, cleaning, sleep, and even writing. The hellish descriptions of enslavement intertwined with the lyrical tone of love and resilience kept me more than thankful for what we had despite the extreme discomfort during the days without electricity. I also relearned history and was continually reminded of how lucky and spoiled we are.
Incredible people emerge when circumstances leave us vulnerable.
Let’s be realistic. There were the crazy creeps who crawled out of the woodwork and thought it was the Walking Dead come to life, so they hoarded all the gas to power their pickup trucks and generators. But, for every single creep, there were multiple kind-hearted humanitarians who came to the rescue for the elderly and all of us who were so anxious and tired.
We picked up tree branches and cut trees from our fences, mailboxes, and cars.
Especially those with electricity, neighbors and friends asked each other if anyone needed help: a charger, a warm shower, a place to breathe fresh air.
Then there were those we couldn’t even contact.
Phone service was terrible.
Landlines didn’t even work, let alone wireless phone service. Most of the first three days after Irma hit, texts wouldn’t go through and phone calls lasted maybe 10 seconds if you were lucky to get a signal at all.
We had to walk or drive to hospitals or grocery stores that were able to open just to try to contact relatives. It wasn’t just the heat that kept me from sleeping for five days. I would wake up drinking in hot air after passing out from lack of sleep. Panic attacks plagued me after 12 and sometimes 24 hours without a word from my parents.
Irma took my parents’ home.
My parents lost their dream home in Plantation Key. They are the hardest working people I know. My father’s a 74-year-old war veteran, who was awarded a bronze medal for his service, never shed a tear over it; but he was heartbroken. He quietly stood tall and accepted his loss as my mother cried then grew strong with her own acceptance.
Slowly their hearts were mended when the police officers and fire rescue in Miami-Dade and the Keys checked on them. Most of their neighbors also came to their rescue, even locals who didn’t have any idea who they were responded to my pleas for help on social media and checked on them.
They have another home in the Keys where they took shelter and remained without electricity, cleaning up debris and flooded areas while enduring this damned heat. Those beautiful police officers and fire rescue workers got the word out and managed to restore their electricity yesterday.
When our electricity finally blipped on, everyone in our entire neighborhood, windows open, cheered. My mind flashed to us with spears in hand dancing in honor of the electricity gods. My children panted, “I will never take it for granted again.”
I joked that we now worshipped the electricity gods. Before this one, our children just took it for granted. Now they understood adults spouting words such as “spoiled” and “lazy” as they relentlessly played with their electronics and inhaled fresh, cool air.
The only good think Irma gave us was a deep appreciation for everything she took away from us.
This is what my daughter played on the piano after we were blessed with electricity.
Yesterday, that grit that has kept me trekking through some of my longest struggles abandoned me and left me panicking.
I’m the one with the fight. Everyone expects it.
But, sometimes, I just fail at what’s expected of me.
When I got the call, I just started breathing these long, deep breaths from the gut. Meditate. That’s it.
Then, it all just hit me in the gut.
The grit was gone.
A heavy pounding pumped my chest and I knew the only way to survive this one was to cry. We’ve been so worried about this happening that the moment it happened, it felt like I’d used up all my grit just holding on to nothing.
My husband lost his job, not because he’s a terrible employee, but because the company was bought out by another company who wants to streamline things. You can fill in the blanks for the rest of that story.
But, don’t worry I’m still working. I don’t make much money because, well, I’m a teacher. Need I say more?
He, however, is in the news business, an online producer, social media specialist, you name it. He has an immaculate background that includes loyaltyand hard work, but sometimes I wonder if that’s what employers even want anymore. I mean, doesn’t it just come down to who will work for the least amount of money, at least in the online news business?
There’s punchline in here somewhere.
I guess I’m the punchline because he just went to the bedroom and shut the door. He started looking for work immediately. I, on the other hand, turned on Spotify and listened to Prince songs (“Let’s Go Crazy” was the first song to play), randomly freaked out my kids with wild screeching noises, watched a couple of old episodes of Modern Family, drank three espressos, went running in the middle of the hottest time of the day in Miami, then told him to get ready because we needed to go to Happy Hour somewhere.
If you rewind through that list of crazy, seemingly random activities, you’ll see how I got my grit back or even better my grit turned to grace.
A good cry gets rid of unwanted crap.
Prince has grit, in death and life.
Singing liberates you, even if you can’t carry a tune.
Laughing about problems grounds you.
Espressos fuel you.
Exercise refreshes you.
Sweating cleanses you.
And, Happy Hour reminds you that life’s supposed to be fun and crazy.
At Happy Hour we played with a link on Facebook that morphs you into an old Hollywood star. He became Clark Gable and I turned into Grace Kelly.
We remembered that we were once just kids and we’re somehow still in love despite some really scary moments in life. We’ve done a pretty good job at making a life for ourselves and our kids and, frankly my dear, there are worse problems than this. Grit
There I was, the one who had a different opinion, the one who didn’t talk, the one who stood out. I was perfect for their names. It was an introduction to learning to laugh at yourself.
It was high school, and it is life.
I had curly dark hair then. Sometimes wisps would create a halo that looked like the sun, at least that’s what I told myself when I rationalized my “nickname.” It’s just that when they said it, it sounded like, “Heeeeyyyyy, Sunshiiiiine!” The sound of giggling afterward quickly sharpened the tone as if to say, This isn’t a nickname stupid! This is a game. They’re gonna have their fun with you.
I’d turn away and pretend I was only temporarily occupying this body. I threw myself into an alternate world while still walking the tan corridors leading to my next class. It kept me walking.
Later, it wasn’t until I started teaching that someone said that to me again. I didn’t even flinch. I didn’t turn away. I didn’t feel bad. I didn’t even remember those moments when that group of girls chose me for their weekly victim until they could find a better one, which they did.
I just looked at the person and smiled. I also felt sorry for her. I wondered if someone had done that to her. Wasn’t she too old to be doing this? She made it a thing too. She started saying it all the time as if trying to create her own group, no one joined it, but she still said it until she stopped.
Somewhere along the way, between the high schooler turned writer turned graphic artist turned editor who becomes teacher, I traveled to The Keys, stopped at a shop along the narrow road, and spent a scorching amount of time staring at an enormous, ceramic sun.
I can finally hear the trees speaking to me again. It’s been a while.
After a school year that seemed relentlessly long, there’s nothing I’d hate more than to talk about this school year. I don’t want to give any advice about reading, questions types, testing, and, please, don’t ask about writing, in particular, essays.
I’m looking up.
I’m disconnecting from what supposedly defines me. Not from my phone, computer, or TV, although that’s some of it, not from electricity in any way, but I’m disconnecting from school.
So I’m going to give myself a break from thinking about reading assignments, reading comprehension, required reading, homework, grading, everything in connection with traditional, structured, life-draining education.
What a relief!
I woke up last week and it was 6 a.m. Normally I’m up at 5:30 getting ready to take my daughter to school then returning to get ready for teaching and take my son to school.
But I didn’t have to, so I looked at the time and went back to sleep.
After I woke and became instinctively lazier, I took a walk.
I noticed the trees and how many brilliant flowers were blooming. I’m physically looking up, up, seeing the branches sway and the petals drop. My neck pain is at a minimum because I’m not hunching over a computer or over stacks of papers.
The trees spoke to me. They waved and winked as I approached them. Orange petals floated over my pathway, welcoming me to life, the best kind of life.
My heart opened.
Now when I look around me, I see my children relaxed, smiling more, looking healthier and happier than, well, than in the last several months.
I see my house, messy, but home just the same.
I breathe a whole lot slower, deeper, calmer.
My feet don’t hurt.
No students to reprimand. No screeching noises. No nothing.
Everywhere you turn, you hear a buzzing sound–that high-pitched synchronicity peeling through your eardrum deep into the dead of night.
Even when there’s nothing really there.
I had planned to begin this blog post by focusing solely on education because I’m trying so hard to stick to the just to that topic of which I’ve dedicated my last 10 years of life to, but I just can’t do it.
See, I live in Florida, in particular Miami.
Miami is all over the news along with the earthquake in Italy and the campaign for the presidency.
In Miami, however, the Zika virus has dominated the attention of everyone.
Walking the campus on the first day of school, I saw students wearing long sleeves and smelling like Off. I just smiled and asked, “How are you today?”
Normally, I’d get an “OK” or a “Really tired” or even a “Super happy” every once in a while. But, this time, I just got “Hot.”
I felt their pain as a parent and a teacher. I knew somewhere my own children reeked of Off, so I just rolled my eyes at myself.
What is Zika?
The virus delivers flu-like symptoms, lots of achiness, and a rash. Pregnant women seem to be the worst victims because of the possible effects on the fetus.
But, everyone here has already begun to panic. I received several texts telling me to use the strongest repellent possible and every time I look on Facebook, someone’s posting something about Zika. They really love giant, digitally enhanced photos of the mosquitoes with rounded, red bellies.
Of course, though, it’s the news that always sends us into a frenzy—talking, stressing, watching, then spraying ourselves with dangerous chemicals, rarely leaving the house, but when we do we smell like mosquito spray and we’re sweating in our long-sleeve shirts and pants.
Then, as a parent, we start to worry about our children.
We contemplate insane questions such as Should I send them to school? Should I demand that they don’t participate in P.E.? Should I send them with a can of bug spray so they can re-apply it like sunscreen? Should I keep them from playing sports?
An even more pressing question for many parents especially in Miami might be Should I have my child switch schools to an area deemed “less contaminated”?
We begin obsessing, only to find that we all could be infected with Zika because we all might not even show signs of the virus let alone be tested for it.
And, we all know that’s the truth down deep inside, behind our collective, paranoid mindset and the media’s ability to control that.
We should take control of our situation and dismiss the rest of the jolts of information once we know what we need to know. At least, that’s what I plan to do.
Out of all the news reports and speculation on the virus, I just read a post that reveals the insanity we are experiencing around the world and over here in Miami.
The post Propaganda Machine Takes Aim at Zika Virus compares the media coverage and viewer reaction to the bird flu and Ebola. It also breaks down the facts into digestible chunks so you understand what’s really going on as opposed to panicking.
I consider myself a fairly logical person, but I’m emotional when it comes to my children, just like most parents. That’s why it’s so important to remember that monsters live mostly in our heads.
Written by Lisa Chesser
Stumbling, Tripping, Falling, Brushing Off, Standing Up