Gratuitous Color Shot #4: Horton in the house

Lately my time has been occupied with a mix of superficial + potentially life-course-altering tasks, tasks which are helping to distract me from simmering extended-family issues over which I have approximately zero control.

Of course by “distract” I mean “tip my stress management meter reading from ‘Handling’ to ‘Expressing Overload Via Bizarre Minor Health Situations That Generate Eyerolls.'”

I swear I’m putting a lot of effort into stepping back, but really: what’s the protocol when the proverbial elephant moseys into one’s living room and can’t get everyone’s full attention? Besides hope the the elephant is pink, and thus an accepted marker of drunken hallucination.

[Except when it’s an even more tangible sign of HEY, OVER HERE!]

Hallucinating BIG pink elephants or crossing paths with Seattle signage?

Hmmmmmmm.

Though the rosy-colored variety gets a bad rap in Western culture, bog-standard elephants represent many wonderful things in their native lands: faithfulness, intelligence, strength, wisdom, endurance, memory, prosperity, sexual vigor….

All those enviable qualities certainly come in a large, hard-to-miss package, though. Maybe those of us who are waiting not-so-patiently for others to see the room is rather crowded need to take a deep breath—or twelve—and throw tons of effort into channeling the metaphorical guest.

Salad, anyone?

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Criss-Cross

The usual holiday notes and calls, along with my recent California road trip/Holiday 2009 Freeloader’s Tour, emphasized life’s natural flux a bit too much for me.

It’s been rather a mixed-bag whirlwind of people joining my extended network of family and friends and of people leaving it. Of people redefining their role in it (by choice or necessity) and of people oblivious to how they’ve been redefined.

It takes a fair amount of energy to assess the level of intimacy each one seems to desire or deserve. It’s my opinion that some need to be brought closer and some set adrift, but follow-through takes more effort. And brings the risk of a battle.

But onward ho. Because while we’re born alone and die alone, in the middle there are others.

…going into the new year (over?)thinking about the way our relationships continually evolve as we support, protect, overlap, and connect in ways that feel right to us—as well as how our ties fray through benign or deliberate neglect…

(top to bottom: Strolling through Sonoma County redwoods; encountering Topher Delaney’s “Garden Play;” jellies at the Monterey Bay Aquarium; a princess fantasy made public in Balboa Park)

Not just whistling Dixie

We’ve actually had quite a few bolters in my family, though most died before I came along. Disappointingly, no one appears to have high-tailed it due to scandal. Leaving home in hopes of finding perspective or power is a univeral tradition, but considering how much my family talks there’s a dearth of narratives about the wanderers. Who looked at expectations and felt they could tell the end of their story before it started? Who looked at the furrows, stared at the plow, and realized they needed to take off running?

Other than my grandmother, that is.

Her life story may have gained in complexity over the years, but once she was just a girl who ran North at 17, a girl determined to find an identity that had little to do with the one she was leaving behind.

As a pre-teen, I was fascinated by her past behavior. No doubt she was a fun grandmother—and a young grandmother—but she wasn’t particularly spontaneous; like all the other women who floated in and out of my life, she was firmly embedded in her domestic and workplace duties. Her life was full of daily routines, her escapism seemingly limited to cigarettes and romance novels. During visits I’d eavesdrop on the grownup chatter about jobs and kids and money and remind myself, “Once she just up and LEFT everything she knew!”

Sure, both of my parents had moved away from their hometowns. Somehow, though, it wasn’t the same. They had boring middle-class reasons for leaving: college, jobs. Structure awaited them. The unknown called to her.

Being smart and vivacious in wartime America meant she had more than a few opportunities for adventure. Hers never strayed from the civilian variety—unless wholesome frolics with men in uniform count. And among all the soldiers and squids milling about, she managed to fall for a Yankee. Not a fairy-tale Yankee with old money and a penthouse on the upper East Side, either; just a good-looking, good-natured guy with modest prospects and ambitions.

Marrying him meant she ended up further north. Whatever regrets she may have about her life with my grandfather and her life without him, she seemingly has few regrets about the location: after 7 decades her siblings have yet to entice her back for anything more than fleeting visits.

Of course vestiges of her Deep South past loiter: there’s the accent that grows stronger after a little bourbon, the backlog of magazines which celebrate all things (genteelly) Confederate, the generous hospitality visitors receive no matter how brief the stay.

But she’s transplanted herself into a different life, a place where winter means snow and she’s nobody’s daughter, nobody’s sister, nobody’s disappointment. She’s just herself, a hybrid who hasn’t always thrived, but has grown to be part of the landscape.

No more monkeys jumping on the bed

Coming from a long line of jesus mary and joseph get to the point storytellers basically means I am screwed when it comes to thinking in logical and precise ways.

And because logic and precision have always had top-notch PR people, cultures have been only too happy to swag them in laurel wreaths or make them the center of multi-day feasts or throw them televised extravaganzas.

But come on: if it’s not a case of putting things together (brains, buildings, transportation devices) or taking them apart (bombs), can’t we all agree that a little slapdashedness and meandering can be a beautiful thing?

And likewise, can’t we all agree that A LOT of slapdashedness and meandering will cause most to gnash and rend?

I hope so.

Because then I can take you with me the next time I go off to see family. I will stack us like a vegetable display, I will hand out Gorgon-bedecked shields, I will chirp “let smiles be our umbrellas!” when hope’s cinders start raining down.

As wholesome as a belly full of hotdish

Whenever I see a certain faction of Mr Vix’s family, I semi-voluntarily go all cat burglar on my brain and get super-serious about eradicating traces of my more slatternly tendencies. My efforts are about as successful as my ACTUAL cleaning, but I’ve convinced myself that they are nonetheless appreciated.

While this subgroup’s characteristics include “highly respectable,” “conscientious,” and “integrity-prone,” they aren’t particularly sheltered.

I mean, they can process that their—coincidentally!—preferred vacation community makes more money from the meth trade than from tourist souvenirs. And thanks to Mr Vix being a bit cavalier when answering questions about our Netflix choices, they’re aware that we live vicariously through characters who have lots of sordid encounters and ingest surprisingly massive amounts of legal, illegal, or yet-to-be-categorized substances.

[Of course it’s more that I am the one living vicariously. Not because I’m reliving my youth or my last grocery store detour, but because I get bored with my own brand of self-destructive tendencies and thus enjoy a side order of vive la différence with my entertainment.]

Now unlike my family, his relatives would never use anything I say against me in a court of law or during a heated Scrabble game.

However, over the years I’ve found our get-togethers proceed more smoothly if I try to restrain myself from enthusiastically sharing much of what passes through my head. Sort of or EXACTLY like a lot of people do when they are on the job, yes. But unfortunately I’ve worked in a lot of BOUNDARY-FREE, WHEE environments where I’ve been the comparatively tame one.

As a result, I just don’t have the same skill at self-editing as, say, a married politician who’s trolling for man-on-man dalliances or Argentinian sexcapades. Sadly, tamping myself down requires that four-letter word, WORK.

I suppose it’s good practice in case I ever aspire to move back East and become a lobbyist’s aging trophy wife or something. But jeepers, a Vulgarity Detox can sure leave a broad jonesing for her fix, you know?