Sunday, July 24, 2011

Who I Am

painting by L. Diane Johnson

Last week I noticed an elderly woman in a restaurant in Carmel, California where I was lunching with my Mom. She was dining alone and seemed to be having the most enjoyable, leisurely time of it. She wore khaki capris, a plain white shirt and a straw garden hat with a silver ponytail trailing out from under it. Her lined face was beautiful ... she reminded me a bit of the late Jessica Tandy, actually. I commented to my Mom, "Now there's a typical Carmel lady." Artsy, beachy, unpretentious, maybe on the wealthy side (I mean really, it's Carmel).

My mom and I enjoyed on own leisurely and scrumptious lunch ... big wedges of the most divine deep-dish veggie quiche and gorgeous fruit. (Okay, and coconut cream pie and a latte.) As I watched this Carmel lady, the writer in me immediately launched into conjuring up the details of her life.

She was an artist, of course. (Because it is Carmel, the city of galleries.) She's just taken a break from a gratifying morning of painting in her glorious garden. She's a regular here at this restaurant, dropping in often for lunch or a croissant and cappuccino. There is warmth in her eyes as she smiles at the waitress who brings her salad. She is friendly and welcoming.

Yet she is a loner in many ways. She loves her solitude and her creative time. It feeds and nourishes her soul. She has learned that using her gifts and talents and sharing them with the world is the most powerful connection to God. She is at a point in her life where she doesn't care what other people think. She's over it. She imperfect and worthy and grateful for every blessing that has come into her path. She is overwhelmingly content with her art, her house full of books and memories, her daily stroll on the beach, and her devoted family and friends.

Yes, as I painted the picture of her life I painted my own. This is who I hope to be in my 70s and 80s; I want the Carmel lady's life. Funny thing is, I feel like I'm well on my way. Over the years I've managed to wiggle myself from a place of self-doubt into a place of celebrating being an imperfect person living in an imperfect world and feeling utterly worthy of every day I get to stand on the right side of the grass. And I've recently had a return to painting and writing, two passions I've put aside for years. I've learned you can't turn away from these things .... they will come back after you because they are part of who you are at your core. Writer Mary Jo Putney says, "What one loves in childhood stays in the heart forever." Words that ring so true. And so ........

This is who I was.
This is who I am .
This is who I will be.

(You never know how much you might inspire somebody, just by sitting there eating a salad. Thank you, beautiful Carmel lady.)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

No journey is too great .....

I'm off to California to visit my Mom, who turned 89 yesterday. She is in surprisingly great health, has so much energy, and has a far better memory than I do! I plan to have a fun few days celebrating her birthday and catching up. (And it's 45 degrees cooler there than here in good ol' hot Austin, Texas ... a refreshing change!)
But before I go, I want to leave you with this wonderful sentiment on a thank-you card my beautiful friend and neighbor Jane, gave me ... just for bringing her some peach cobbler! When I read this, a tremendous feeling of wonder and gratitude washed over me, because I realized I DO find whatever I seek. I have hoped for people like Jane in my life and here she is. Another of my favorite people in the whole wide world, Katherine (who also happens to be my cousin's wife) found her way back into my life by moving into a house right across the road from me, all the way from New Zealand. I live out in the country which is what I've always wanted. I have a wonderful, creative life, and three sweet dogs who follow me around adoringly. I have a terrific husband and a daughter who is truly a dream come true.

This is the life I have sought and this is the life I have. Yep, sometimes the journey is rocky but it is worth everything when you find what you seek. Thank you, Jane.

A card with a dachshund even!

Sunday, July 3, 2011


Funny how just when you think you're all grown up, you put on a big growth spurt. At age 57.

Last weekend I went to Brooklyn to visit my daughter who moved there a month ago. Her move was a big leap, not just for her ... but for me. You see, she's my only child and not only was it so hard to see her go, but ... well, it was difficult to know that she was moving to an uber-urban place like Brooklyn and commuting by subway to her job in NYC. This is a far cry from our laid-back, Southern lifestyle in Austin, Texas. In Brooklyn there is massive graffiti, guys hanging out on stoops, dark and grimy subway stations and, you know ... stuff for a mother to worry about.

But over the course of my three days there, my daughter introduces me to her new Brooklyn neighborhood and beyond. We walk the streets to her favorite coffee house, little diners and restaurants for brunch or pizza, and even to the Flea Market on the East River where we buy her a nice big chest for her apartment. We have a lovely time. Nevertheless, it has been a very long time since I've lived in the Bay Area and navigated the streets of Oakland and I wasn't used to this starkly urban life. I am apprehensive.

We also spend a lot of time in Manhattan during my visit, and I follow my daughter through a maze of tunnels in those dark and grimy subway stations. My preferred way of NYC transportation ("Taxi!") gives way to countless subway trains as she tries to teach me how to do this alone upon my next visit. We take the subway everywhere... to Soho, to Macy's at Harold Square, to Fifth Ave. and 53rd St. where she works ... and all sorts of points in between.

Lots and lots of walking too, which I always enjoy while in Manhattan but this time my feet are killing me. (I think this is called aging. Or quite possibly, as my husband suggests, being out of shape.) As we weave our way through the packed sidewalks of Soho, I'm often cut off by the crowd and get separated from my daughter. She turns, spots me and waits until I can catch up, something like a mother duck and her duckling. She asks about my aching feet and we stop into a drugstore and buy shoe inserts, which helps for awhile.   

On Sunday, as we sit on a bench in Central Park eating our deli sandwiches, it occurs to me that she teaches me now. She teaches me how to ride the subway, how to see that graffiti can be art, how to recognize that those people on their stoops are most likely not thugs, but people enjoying the day. She teaches me how to navigate the city and guides me through her world. Most of all, she teaches me to trust that she will be fine.

She has taken me to the very spot in Central Park where she comes to eat her lunch everyday. It's a beautiful sparkling day. We watch nicely dressed families strolling by after church and the balloon man twisting up crazy shapes for children who beg their parents to buy one. We see the pierced and tattooed lovers whispering on a bench across the path, the numerous pregnant women walking by on the arms of husbands, and nannies rocking napping babies in strollers. I am flooded with memories of my years with this beautiful 24 year old daughter beside me .. as a baby, as a toddler, as a little girl whose hand fit in mine like a tiny sparrow as we walked the tree-lined streets to kindergarten.

I am glad to know this little piece of her day on a Central Park bench, glad to take that perspective home with me to Texas so that I can glance at the clock everyday around 11:30 a.m. and know where she is and what she sees from that bench, because I've been there next to her.

We gather our shopping bags and head out to Fifth Avenue where we hail a taxi. My feet are hurting so bad I cannot even walk the few blocks to the subway station. I'm not as young as I used to be.

And neither is she.

Just one month ago, it was painful to watch her disappear through the retracting doors at the Austin airport en route to NYC, her petite frame slung with heavy duffel bags. That image is branded in my brain. It was worse then leaving her on the steps of her freshman dorm six years before. Much worse. Because this time it seemed she was going so far beyond my reach, disappearing from sight, deep into her new world and life, far away from mine. All those years she spent beneath my cloak of protection are truly over now. When those retracting doors slid closed behind her, I felt the finality of it.

But now I trust that she is (and always has been) beneath a different cloak of protection ... one of a divine and loving nature, and that she will be alright, and safe, and very happy. I try very hard to hand her over.