Monday, July 26, 2010

Happy Birthday, Sir Mick

Happy birthday, Mick Jagger! The boy can still rock. Happy birthday, Rick Bragg! Happy birthday to everyone who shares this day with me. Yes, it's my birthday too.

I have a theory, yet unproven, about birthdays and the afterlife. It's in the unpublished manuscript that I call my book. I'm feeling lazy today so I'm just going to cut and paste. Here it is.

Birthday Theory

I’ve got a cockamamie theory about birthdays and the afterlife. As with all other theories about the afterlife, it can’t be either proved or disproved, but I see no reason why it can’t turn out like I imagine it. Besides, I have another corollary theory about the afterlife—that you get the heaven you want/deserve. So if your idea of heaven is sitting around for all eternity with Jesus and all of your former pets, while eating jelly donuts, playing backgammon, and listening to klezmer music, then that’s what you’ll get. So there’s no reason to believe that my cockamamie birthday theory won’t materialize.

Here’s my theory: When you die, you get categorized and sent to a section of heaven based on your date of birth. It doesn’t matter what year you were born, just the day and the month. So, if you were born on January 1st, you get put into the first section with everyone throughout all time who was born on January 1st. (Don’t ask me to explain what happens to people born before the Gregorian calendar, or those born BC—it just confuses me. I’m sure God has it figured out.) The sections will roughly end up having equal numbers of people, except of course for the smaller section for February 29th. Those snobs in the February 29th section are going to be intolerable. But I’m not sure how much we’ll interact with other sections anyway.

I would not have developed this theory and steadfastly held onto it if I weren’t planning to be in good company in my little heavenly birthday pod. I was born on July 26th. Here’s a partial list of those who share my birthday:

§ Mick Jagger—Sir Mick is the one who got me started on the theory, the emperor of rock

§ Carl Jung—how cool is that, all that collective unconscious theory and dream interpretation

§ Aldous Huxley—author of Brave New World, should be an interesting conversationalist

§ Rick Bragg—one of my favorite writers, among other things wrote All Over But the Shouting

§ Kevin Spacey, Helen Mirren, and Vivian Vance (Ethel from I Love Lucy)—actors so we can do skits!

§ George Bernard Shaw—he’ll write the skits

§ Jean Shepherd—he wrote A Christmas Story so he can write more skits

§ Hannah Kirkman—a sweet child in my extended family

§ Colleen Reed—an old friend of mine

Those co-birthday celebrants I knew about, but I went online and did a search for other famous people who share my birthday, and thus will spend eternity with me. I thought it was a good idea to be prepared. Sort of like going to a cocktail party and asking for the guest list ahead of time to be able to (1) know how to make small talk, (2) know which guests could be boring, and (3) know to avoid sensitive topics. Some of the others:

§ Gracie Allen—wife of George Burns, “Say goodnight, Gracie”

§ Salvadore Allende—former Chilean dictator

§ George Catlin—painter best known for his work with American Indians

§ Joseph I—one of the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire (I’m anxious to see how he gets along with Mick)

§ Mary Jo Kopechne—the young woman who died in Ted Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick (maybe she’ll tell us what really happened)

I’m hoping there are some other fascinating but less famous people who share our birthday. For example, we’re going to need a fabulous pastry chef to make our birthday cake. I’d like some great musicians. I wish Yo-Yo Ma had been born on my birthday, but alas, he was born on October 7th. Trust me—I looked it up and I would lie about it if I could. I also wish Mary Cassatt had been born on July 26th, but no such luck. Still, I’ll be in great company and rumor has it that heaven is a place of perfect bliss, so I won’t miss them.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Freewriting exercise

Bob Dylan—Chronicles, p. 276

“I’d think about this later in my dumpy apartment.”

At the time I thought Henry Luce Willston McElroy was the love of my life, but he shouldn’t have been. It was such a waste of precious time and energy, time and energy I wish I could get back. But it was what it was and there ain’t no going back. The Reverend Henry Luce Willston McElroy claimed he was ordained a preacher in the Gospel Church of the Savior when he was a young man. He said the Lord appeared to him and told him what to do and he just followed the Lord’s command. He was pretty convincing. I used to watch him on the TV, screaming and crying and making people fall back under his power. He seemed all humble and Christ-like when he asked viewers to send him money, but when he preached he seemed more like a ferocious angel, barring wretched sinners from heaven. Years later Daddy claimed he didn’t never trust Henry. Daddy said, “He weren’t God, he just played him on TV.” But Mama believed every word he said and she’d save her egg money and put it in an envelope and send it to the reverend. I was only 15 the summer he came to Easton with his Gospel revival tent. Daddy was off for weeks cutting timber and I can guarantee you that what happened would not have happened if Daddy had been at home. Mama got me and the little kids all scrubbed and shined and we went off to the revival meeting. And there was the reverend! His presence in real life was even more powerful than it was on the TV screen. He was a force, a big man with a shock of white hair, wearing a white suit, soaked in sweat, and aflame with the fury of a righteous God. He convinced us that we were going to burn in the fires of hell. And he called us to come up to the altar, confess our sins, and swear to him and the Lord Almighty that we were going to amend our ways and follow the Lord. Mama dragged me, trembling, up to the altar before him. He laid his hands upon me and prayed in tongues. Mama fell on her knees and he said, “Rise up, rise up, woman, for you have been called by the Lord.” Then he whispered in Mama’s ear, told her to bring me to him behind the tent after the revival service, that he had a special message for her. So when the crowd departed the tent, Mama stayed behind and told one of the reverend’s assistants that she had been told to bring me to see him. He was sitting in the dark, his jacket removed, a wet towel around his neck. He told my mama that she was blessed, that he had seen an angel of the Lord hovering over my head, and the angel told him that I was go with him as witness to the power of following the Lord’s will. Mama wept, but took me home, gathered my things and put me on the bus with the reverend and his assistants. I was only 15 and I didn’t know love. Henry told me I was the chosen one, that the Lord himself had chosen me to be with him, that it was written in the stars at the beginning of time. He said his love for me was second only to his love for God and my salvation was tied to his, that we would be together into eternity. He told me that my body was but a tangible manifestation of the love of God. I believed all of it. But then came the dark days, the fear, the wrath of God turned against me. And I got left behind somewhere outside of Phoenix with a suitcase and a $10 bill. I wondered what it all meant. I wondered if there’s really a God who speaks through men like the Reverend Henry Luce Willston McElroy. I was trying to figure it out, but I knew that I’d need to think about this for a while. I’d think about this later in my dumpy apartment.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Competitive closet cleaning

I see that Pioneer Woman is having some sort of contest where she gives away her own beautiful used clothes to lucky readers. Someone will be getting Nanette Lapore silk leopard print blouses and other lovely little designer items. She's a hoot--so creative. (See her giveways at

Okay, two can play this game. Now I admit that my clothes are going to be a poor substitute for Pioneeer Woman's glamorous clothes. Just wait until you see the baggy jeans and the hippy things I own that embarrass my daughter. She recently made me take my MC Hammer pants to the Salvation Army. Forget designer blouses. I'll give you the equivalent of a size 8 pair of pink high-t0p Chuck Taylor Converse high t0ps from my collection, but I'm going to make you work for it. Here's a photo of the shoes. Write me a brief essay on why those chucks will be happier with you than with me. Keep in mind that they've been worn for some pretty funky musical performances and they were among the earliest in my collection of Chucks so there might be some social order issues in the shoe closet. And keep in mind there are nine pairs of brothers and sister shoes that might be broken hearted.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Saturday Farm Market

Every Saturday I go to the Falls Church Farmers Market. I love it, love the ambiance, love getting ideas about what I can cook with all the beautiful fresh food. My brother is here for a visit and we had all of tonight's dinner bought at the market today--home-made Santa Fe chicken sausages, cooked on the grill. Roasted white corn, wrapped in foil with butter and Old Bay seasoning, cooked on the grill with the sausages. And a simple salad with multi-colored heirloom tomatoes, Persian cucumbers, and dash of balsamic vinegar. Dessert--fresh melon and peaches.

And now I'm inspired to do a ratatouille next week to take advantage of the beautiful variety of eggplants. And I'm bound to reproduce the baker's yummy date/sesame/almond scones.

Had to post a photo I took of a charming little girl who was at the market. Wearing a tutu and crocs, and boldy eating an entire raw zucchini with all the delight usually reserved for an ice cream cone. Love this kid!

Friday, July 16, 2010


If you don't like peaches, don't even speak to me. I mean it. There has to be something inherently wrong, like psychiatric diagnostic code kind of wrong with a person who doesn't like peaches. It's a great peach season here in Northern Virginia and I'm using them every chance I get. Sliced on cereal, mountain peach pie, or eaten unadorned with juice running down my arms. You should see me trying to lick the juice off my elbows.

I posted this a couple of months ago but it's worth repeating now that peaches are in season. I developed this recipe using fresh peaches in a tossed salad. You may not have thought of using peaches this way--I was inspired by my daughter-in-law Rachel who is a great foodie. If you like, you can even add cut-up grilled chicken for a perfect cold summer meal.

Salad With Curried Dressing and Peaches

¼ cup good quality olive oil
2 tablespoons orange champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon chutney
1 teaspoon garam masala (can substitute sweet curry powder)
1 ripe peach, unpeeled, chopped coarsely
1 small Persian cucumber, sliced thin
¼ cup dried cranberries
½ cup dried sliced bananas
2 tablespoons roasted pistachios
1 head lettuce—tender lettuce like butterhead or green oak
Handful of pea shoots

In mini food processor, mix olive oil, vinegar, chutney, and curry. Blend thoroughly.

In large bowl, gently toss lettuce and pea shoots with peaches, cranberries, cucumber, and bananas. Pour oil/vinegar mix over lettuce/fruit mix and toss. Top with pistachios.

Serves 4.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


No, I can’t believe I’m writing about this . . .

I was cleaning toilets today (everyone should clean a toilet from time to time for a dose of humility) and I thought about the time a visitor to my house neglected to flush the toilet and it went days undetected. I’m not referring to an “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” water conservation situation but an “if it’s brown, baby, it should go down” situation. I should have called the county health department for an emergency intervention. If you were a visitor at my house recently do not fear—it wasn’t you. Trust me.

Things like this can cause a lifetime of hard feelings. Take, for example, our family story about my grandfather. He was visiting a cousin somewhere near Pittsburgh in the 1950s. Apparently my grandfather was in the house alone, used the bathroom, and left the house without flushing. The cousin presumed that my grandfather left the toilet unflushed as a silent message of scorn. My grandfather claimed it was just an oversight. The cousin refused to believe him and they never spoke again. The Hatfields and the McCoys have been feuding for decades over less than an unflushed toilet.

Remember to flush.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sleep-in for peace

Hell, no. I won’t go!

I’m feeling 60s. Not 60s like my age, but 60s as in 1960s. Yes, I participated in protests back in the 60s, but that was a lifetime ago and in recent years I’ve become soft. It’s high time for me to make a difference, to step up and be counted, to organize my own personal peace protest. (Organize may be too strong a term.) Perhaps I’ll reach back into classic protest history in honor of the 1969 John Lennon-Yoko Ono Sleep-In. Do you think I can get some press coverage if I spend a week or so in bed in pursuit of world peace?

I’ll allow a few select individuals to visit me. They can bring lattes and almond croissants and peaches. The peach harvest is fabulous this year. That can be a sub-theme—peaches for peace. They can bring me trashy magazines and DVDs. I could use a manicure and a pedicure since I’ll spend a lot of time just staring at my feet so a manicurist must be summoned, hopefully early in the week.

No, I’m not lazy—I have a cause. Give peace a chance.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Pain is such an all-consuming experience. I went to physical therapy today for my shoulder. The pain was so bad I couldn't speak. Tears were running down my face. The therapist asked me something--I can't even remember what--and I just muttered some one-word answer. I was trying meditation, trying to just be in the moment and accept it, to analyze how intense it was. I don't know anything effective for dealing with it. I know that I had a vacant stare on my face.

I've been told that I need to get through it, that ultimately it is the cure for my almost frozen shoulder. But in the course of four sessions of physical therapy, the pain has become increasingly worse, and considerably worse than it was when I began.

Now, hours after the treatment, the pain is still intense. I've taken prescription and non-prescription pain relievers. I used ice packs alternately with heat. I've paced the floors because I couldn't sit still with it. The pain has migrated now to include my shoulder, my entire right arm, my neck, and occasionally my other previously painless shoulder. And I have a splitting headache.

And whom do I trust? Do I trust the orthopedic surgeon who saw me three times, handed me a sheet of exercises that he never explained and said come back if I want to? Do I trust the chiropractor/physical therapist who says just to stick with it and bear the pain because if I don't I'll be in much worse condition?

I think I'm going to trust myself and stop getting treatment. I'll stretch, do yoga, just do what feels right and keep it moving. I hope I'm not wrong.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Freewriting exercise today . . .

Galway Kinnell, “A New Selected Poems,” (poem entitled The Last Hiding Places of Snow) page 103.

“I know there are regrets we can never be rid of, that fade but never leave: permanent remorse.”

My name is Maylene Myrna Johnston and I’ve lived much longer than anyone expected. I’ve probably lived much longer than I should have lived. But still, I’m here. My twin sister Mureen Myrna Johnston and I were born in 1921, in the second floor bedroom during the worst heat wave ever recorded in Mt. Rainier, Maryland. I’m living alone now in that house where I was born, but long ago I locked that bedroom door and threw away the key. Back then Papa made his living selling ice and coal and he tells the story of how he set up electric fans and blocks of ice to try to make the birthing room cooler for my mother. He said the midwife wrapped ice in linen towels and rubbed the ice all over her. The heat was unrelenting and the labor was long. My mother was a tiny woman whose belly seemed unusually large for her first pregnancy, yet no one knew there were twins coming. I was born first, bright pink, entering life with a loud screeching wail. Maybe I’ll soon leave this life with a loud screeching wail. The midwife quickly became aware that there was a second baby to be birthed. Mureen was born second, blue and gasping for breath. She faded from life soon after birth and my mother followed her. All this long life of mine I have felt like half of a whole, like the price of my life was the loss of two others. Papa took care of me as best he could and then I took care of him as best I could. I did get some schooling but most of what I learned came from books. I never associated much with neighbors or other children because I always felt they were talking behind my back, saying, “She’s the girl who killed her mother and her twin sister.” It’s a burden to live a long life of solitude, to feel the presence of ghosts. I know there are regrets we can never be rid of, that fade but never leave: permanent remorse.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Since I’m much too old to marry Stephen Strasburg, I’m going to adopt him. I hope his parents don’t mind. In case you’ve been in outer space for the past couple of months, let me bring you up to date—Stephen Strasburg is the rookie ace pitcher for the Washington Nationals. He throws fastballs faster than the speed of light and he seems to be a charming young man, modest and delighted with his own success.

I’m feeling some kinship with big league pitchers in general ever since my doctor told me I have the shoulders of a big league pitcher. That’s not a good thing in this context. I said, “Doc, am I ever going to pitch again?” He chuckled as he moved my right arm around and I heard the crunching of my shoulder joint. I told him that once upon a time I was the arm wrestling champion of my high school. It’s true but I’m not sure he believed me. Oh, the glory days!

I’ve been from family doctor to chiropractor to orthopedic surgeon to physical therapist. The diagnosis ranged from bursitis to frozen shoulder to impingement of the shoulder. Whatever they call it, it’s a problem in my rotator cuff that has left the upper right side of my body weak and hurting. All a result of shoveling too much snow and I suppose not helped by playing too much banjo.

So today I had my second physical therapy session. Physical therapy hurts. They get me to do exercises to increase range of motion and regain strength. They put me on an electrical stimulation machine for 10 minutes allegedly to relax the muscles. But the pièce de résistance is when the physical therapist beats on my shoulder with a tire iron. It’s not really a tire iron but it might as well be. It’s the medical equivalent of a tire iron—a smooth piece of stainless steel that looks like a small boomerang—that the therapist uses to break up the adhesions in my shoulder muscles. No pain no gain? If that’s the case then I must be making some serious gains.

If one more person quotes to me the aphorism, “growing old is not for sissies,” I think I’ll vomit. Think about it. The saying implies that it is somehow brave or perhaps even noble to grow old and put up with aches and pains and the decline of the body. Do I have a choice?