The Weight of Things

My friends Ming and David came out on Sunday for our annual New Year’s walk, only six months late. After coffee and croissants, we headed for the beach. The air was warm and humid, the shore was heaped with tangles of kelp, and little flies hovered about our faces. We detoured first to see the state of the whale that had died at sea in January and washed up onto the sand. It lies there now in graphic decomposition, having gradually become part of the landscape, from the distance just a mound of darkened sand, and in close-up a crash course in mortality.

What does it say about us that we visit it like a shrine, or point it out to friends as though it were a local landmark? We respect the majesty of its being, are shocked at the enormity of its death, and at the same time are morbidly fascinated by its remains–that something this large, once living, is becoming earth and dust before our eyes. The crowd of vultures, gulls and occasional coyotes that initially came to peck and feast on the carcass have long since abandoned it to ruin.  Its discolored skin has collapsed like a tent, here and there is the shock of bone exposed, and a vacated eye socket stares blankly into eternity.

We each bring something of ourselves to it. David, a veterinarian, points out a few anatomical features, although they are present only like Dali’s melting pocket watches, gone soft and shapeless, devoid of purpose, for time takes all, and even time is taken. Ming leans down to look more closely, falls silent, and gradually slides into a kneel, honoring the spirit once housed within this vessel. She gently touches what we think is skull, and closes her eyes for a moment.  She holds a quiver of raggedy feathers and a broken bit of abalone shell, treasures gathered as we walked. Ming is young, and open to the everything-ness, even when it overwhelms. And I am the one who suggests we get going.

Elsewhere, there are families on the beach, umbrellas and coolers, children and dogs, a kind of playful chaos that I remember well.

Doing things I used to do
They think are new

Yes, I know it’s maudlin and melancholy, but that phrase from an old song sung by Marianne Faithful is what comes into my head. Who can explain how fast it all goes by? Then there comes a time of reinvention. That’s where I’m at now. I walk on the beach with shoes and jeans, a part of the scene but apart from it, zig-zagging and wobbly. I’m trying to learn.

And that reminds me: there is a cattle scale at the corral at San Augustine that I’ve been curious about, the oldest in Santa Barbara County, and it isn’t far to walk from here, and wouldn’t it be cool to have our veterinarian friend explain how it works?

We walk a little further west,  inland, uphill, and across a railroad track to an area where fencing, cattle chutes, and other old structures from the ranching operations are clustered. The wood housing that encloses the scale has recently been rebuilt, but the scale itself has been in use since 1892, is still used today, and is known for its accuracy. Based on the design and time frame, David speculates that it is a Fairbanks scale, and he tells me about the Fairbanks brothers of Vermont, Erastus and Thaddeus, who developed an accurate and stable weighing machine in the 1820s. The Fairbanks scale used an arrangement of four supporting levers lowered into a pit, and a platform level with the ground, ending the task of having to hoist the entire load. It was patented in 1830 and by 1882 the company was producing  80,000 scales annually, both standard and custom.

David’s an enthusiastic teacher. He points out the route the cattle would take to get onto the platform, and he shows us the balances and counter-balances, and he talks about feed conversion, weight loss, and profitability. There’s a whole science to this, and accuracy is crucial. A red and white seal shows that our scale has been certified by the Santa Barbara County department of Agriculture Weights and Measures, which is very exciting, but I find my attention drawn to the beautiful rippled patterns and complex texture of the weathered wood fencing, the comforting chug and whistle of a passing freight train, the familiar golden hills framed in the window of a barn.  Meanwhile Ming has discovered a tiny, emaciated calf with a patch over its eye in a nearby corral. On first glance, David doesn’t think the prognosis is great, but maybe, with the special care it is evidently getting, the poignant little animal might manage to pull through. Just another small drama quietly unfolding…

We talk and fall silent in comfortable waves, and we inevitably get to the heart of things. Still in the ascending arch of her early thirties, Ming has life events to share, the kind that seem to come at you fast, ground shifting when you’ve barely found your footing. And it’s all a great adventure but there is also a fire nearby and the threat of evacuation, and a relationship that hasn’t really launched, and the college debt that feels impossible to climb out of, and most of all, there is the disillusionment of what is happening since the 2016 election.

“I grew up in a hopeful time,” she tells us. She didn’t know that misogyny and racism were still so prevalent, that our democracy could be under siege as it is, and everything we care about threatened. “I guess I don’t feel hopeful anymore,” she says.

I know what she means. The weight of the world is bearing down on us all. But I was an idealistic new teacher once, one of hope’s intrepid foot soldiers, and Ming, in fact, was in my class back then, more than twenty years ago. And I still believe that my role is to act in hopeful ways, particularly as an elder. It’s dangerous to flirt with despair, or even give it leeway it as an option. When it comes to despair, I’m deliberately in denial. I think despair, like hope,  is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Oh, I admit that life was easier when I didn’t understand how fleeting it is, when I didn’t know that rather than abating, loss compounds, and time heals nothing. Life was easier when I wasn’t bombarded moment by moment by news near and far, when I thought that suffering was not in vain and some kind of everything-will-be-okay-ness ultimately awaited.

Now it all weighs so heavy, it’s hard to stand up. But I point out legitimate victories to my young friend, and remind her that unanticipated developments are yet to come, some of which will be wonderful. We cannot be the ones who gave up.

When we three get together, we have a little ritual before we say good-bye. Ming calls it “postcards to the universe”. Some might call it prayer. We speak what is in our hearts, what we would want in the year ahead. On this occasion, David begins: “Dear Universe,” he says. “This is not so much a postcard or a request, but rather a statement of intent. I hereby resolve not to try so hard to control everything. I intend to have a lighter touch, to trust the give and take, the natural ebbs and flows, to navigate gently and know that we cannot force things.”

Ming’s postcard is essentially a wish and a summoning of strength, and mine is mostly gratitude for love and wonder, and an oft-stated hope that we’ll get through this dark time, as a nation and in our own lives, maybe even emerging better than we were, more cognizant, more engaged. Maybe something like faith will reassert itself without all this exhaustive effort to pretend it isn’t shaken. My heart is heavy, but there’s still a spark within. And sparks upon sparks can light the world.

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Our Smallness, and the Greatness of Our Love

It’s Saturday. Here’s a beautiful poem by Wendell Berry:

On summer evenings we sat in the yard,
the house dark, the stars bright overhead.
The laps and arms of the old
held the young. As we talked we knew
by the dark distances of Heaven’s light
our smallness, and the greatness of our love.

Now from that upland once surrounded
by the horizon of unbroken dark, we
(who were children only a life ago)
see reflected on the clouds the lights
of three cities, as if we offer to the sky
some truth of ours that we are certain of,

as if we will have no light
but our own, and thus make illusory
all the light we have.

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The Neighborhood

The sky had the haze of not-too-distant fires, but the air was mercifully humid. I had stopped by for a Sunday morning visit with our friends who live up the hill. Little Virginia was wearing lavender pajamas and her hair was in a braid; she held up scented marker pens for me to sniff: watermelon, blueberry, even a red one called pizza. I chatted with Margaret for a while. She gave me some chocolate and I got back on my bicycle.

I detoured at the neighbors’ place to check on the chickens while their people are in Paris. I poked around the coop a bit and pulled open one of the doors to find a large brown hen sitting contentedly and immobile on her eggs. I removed one small egg that was easily taken, a delicate and perfect object, and wrapped it in my bandana to carry home like a treasure. The chickens cooed and murmured, and I made a mental note to bring them some treats next time.

A section of the gate was entwined with jasmines enveloping me in fragrance as I stood to unlatch it.  A canyon wren was singing. The ground was a patchwork of sun and shade, grass and gravel, and my wheels were poised for an easy roll home, but I lingered for long minutes, just listening.

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The Fort of July


There is a FORT in comfort.
Sometimes hiding inside a word can help.
                                  Naomi Shihab-Nye

It’s a difficult fourth of July, but I am hiding inside words and clouds, keeping my head down and my heart open.  It’s a foggy morning, and the fog feels like a fortress, and we are fortunate to be here, fortifying ourselves with the smiles of children and the nearness of loved ones.

I rode my bike in the morning and came upon the roadrunner that frequents the canyon, and I followed him for a while. There’s always something a little ludicrous about roadrunners, that frantic zig-zag dash that segues into lift-off, a series of pauses and starts, the anxious bluster of indecision. No wonder they star in cartoons.

I was headed to the beach to see some local children ride their horses in an impromptu holiday parade. I stood on the shore and waited for them to come through the mist, a motley crew, with little flags held proudly.

I watched my daughter and Monte too, riding waves in the distance, both so dearly loved. Friends stopped by, and the air was strewn with ribbons of conversation, and playful dogs were frolicking, and there were dolphins in the water, very near.

We’re calling this a celebration, because we’re here right now, and we aren’t done, and hope is our forte.

Happy birthday, America…America, you great unfinished symphony…as Lin-Manuel Miranda describes it in Hamilton

Our nation has been highjacked, but we haven’t forgotten who we are. We are people from everywhere, and we care about each other. You sent for me. You let me make a difference.

We go forth, doing our best, making an effort, and there’s a fort in that too.

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Lights in the Night

I’ve been watching the glow of squid boats in the Santa Barbara Channel lately, a veritable parade of lights, and there is something beautiful about it. (I didn’t take the picture above, and I think it’s Malibu, but you get the idea.) Sometimes the prosaic feels magical.

The brilliant lights lure the squid and concentrate them near the surface, and then the fishermen use either seine or brail nets to catch them.  Seine fishing is the more common practice, in which the seine vessel deploys a skiff to encircle the squid with the gear to haul them aboard. Brail fishermen use a scoop net to harvest them at the surface after they have spawned. In any case, if calamari is on the menu, bright light was certainly involved. (Are those fishers unfairly exploiting the gifts of the sea, or simply partaking of abundance, enhanced by ingenuity?)

From the shore, I see only the orbs of light mirrored onto the sea and halos beaming skyward. Sometimes I awaken with surprise in the middle of the night at how bright it is out there, and even the room is illuminated. I can’t decide whether it’s comforting or ominous, like faith unwavering, or an apprehensive waiting. And I realize it’s a form of light pollution, but it casts a spell on me.

Squid boats aside, nighttime here is always filled with wonder. Stars do spill out in a milky way, an owl abruptly flutters by, the creatures that belong here wander freely. Now and then I hear the reassuring rumble of a train going by, setting off a ruckus of coyotes, and in summer, there is a tapestry of frog song.

We set up an infrared camera once to see what animals were visiting the creek. We know there is a lion in the area, foxes and bears are seen occasionally and bobcats often, but our camera revealed only images of cattle, coyotes, pigs–and this elegant glimpse of a deer in the textured darkness, its eye a little pool of light.

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Tuesday Morning

It’s early morning…everything is still quiet, the house is asleep. I had a dream-filled night, a solid sleep from eleven until five, which is pretty good for me. My daughter arrived last night,  and maybe I sleep better with her in the house.

I’ve been ridiculously excited about her visit. We got to town two hours early to do some shopping and wait for the airport bus. I hurried forward with exuberance as the bus approached, actually skipped when I saw her familiar profile through the windows among the other passengers slowly moving toward the exit, and I tried to contain an impulse to jump up and down as I waited for her to emerge.

And now she was standing before me.

“You don’t have to prance,” she said.

Oh well. She allowed me a hug.

The picture above has no relevance to this. It’s just a bull I had to get by as I walked along the canyon road the other day. He looked at me but didn’t seem particularly concerned, and I managed to slip past him, with trepidation. The cowgirls tell me that the bulls are not a danger as long as I don’t bother them. My worry is that I’ll come upon one that’s just existentially annoyed and ready to take it out on hapless me.

My daughter just came upstairs and made us coffee.  Both of us have work to do, and no particular plans. I just wish it were normal to have her nearby.

It’s going to be another breezy day: I can see the leaves outside trembling in anticipation.

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Turning Toward A Brightness

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

RS Thomas, ‘The Bright Field’, from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)

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Summer Settles In: A Re-Run

Summer is upon us. It’s been cool and foggy here at the coast, burning off by afternoon, daylight’s glare fading gradually until it all turns into magic, the broad white lingering sky that comes between sunset and darkness at this time of year. In fact, I just stepped outside to be in that light, and thought I’d return and write something in my enchanted state, but no new words arrived. Instead, on an impulse, I typed “summer” in the search bar of my blog, and the following post was one that appeared. It was written six years ago, and I found it poignant for many reasons. So much has changed, but I’m still here. (Ah yes, the heart learns slowly and our lives spin fast.) Here it is again, six years later:


Sometimes the blessed fog embraces us, burning off by afternoon, and then heat radiates from rock and backcountry, and a visiting lizard lingers on the deck, and a small party of scouting ants appears by the kitchen sink and I put away the butter and seal up all the sugary things. If I don’t get out on my bicycle in the cool of morning, I’ll never get any exercise, but if I don’t get an early start on writing, I will have lost my moment, for the climbing of the sun seems to correlate with my brain’s descent into stupor mode, and that’s the way it is.

On 4th of July I kept remembering a summer of a decade ago when my daughter wanted us to take her into town to see people and a fireworks show, and we said no. We said no because we were hot and tired and unmotivated and not terribly fond of driving and crowds or leaving the ranch. “I’m stranded here with a pair of boring old hermits,” she said, in tears. Then she went downstairs to her room feeling friendless and forgotten, trapped inside her parents’ weirdly isolated world, and she spent the night writing in her journal and being carried away by books. And I wonder sometimes if that’s why she left home so promptly and efficiently and went so far away. But mostly I want to apologize to her, long after the fact, because we should have taken her to see the fireworks.

The other day I went down to Orange County to look in on my mother. That’s never easy for me, but I guess looking in on elderly parents is what human beings are supposed to do. I took her for her favorite kind of outing…ice cream and a drive in an air-conditioned car…and I am truly grateful that she can derive so much joy from something so simple.  She seemed frail and flushed and her thoughts untethered. At one point she saw a sign for Edinger, a Santa Ana street name, and she started talking about Ebinger’s, a bakery in Brooklyn that I remember from my childhood, source of truly delicious cakes brought home in pale green boxes tied up with string. She remembered that two of her children were born in July and asked me to make sure we sent them cards. She twirled the white curl of her ponytail and mentioned that she could still walk far and run fast, but I pray she doesn’t try.

I also saw my sister, who had taken a much-needed week from work and she told me that she had been lying in her room and everything was quiet and she suddenly felt terribly bleak and sad. But we all feel that way sometimes, I think, when we step back from our busy-ness and the clamor of the world recedes. “That’s why we need to stay busy,” she said. “You’re the one who told me that. You said the trick is to stay busy.” But now I was thinking that the trick is to sometimes stop being busy and face whatever lies beneath.

And I was thinking how I wish I could make her worry and sadness go away, but I don’t even do so well with my own, and my life, by contrast, is a cinch.

But the heart learns slowly and our lives spin fast.

Recently I was standing on the stairs talking to my 85-year-old mother-in-law when a butterfly darted by. “When I was a little girl, I used to chase butterflies,” she said. “I’d run all over the yard in pursuit, going around in circles.” She walked down a few steps, paused, and looked back. “Come to think about it, not much has changed.”

As we drove home yesterday, we saw pelicans soaring low above the water in beautiful formation, a wondrous sort of welcome.

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An Open Reply to A Disillusioned Friend

Your email would have depressed me terribly had I not already been terribly depressed. I do agree with most of what you’ve said. I still wake up in the night with a sense of disbelief and heartache about what is happening to our country. After two hundred and forty years of this great, hopeful experiment in democracy, flawed and scarred though it may be, it is horrific to think that what might finally take it all down is an ignorant and bizarre conman, a cabal of unscrupulous crooks and right-wing fanatics, and the power of technology to distort and manipulate in unprecedented ways.

It’s a nightmare wherever we turn, from the deliberate disdain for knowledge and expertise, to the dismantling of institutions established for the common good, to the attempt to tear down even what fledgling steps were in place to help heal our beleaguered planet for future generations. There is something almost nihilistic about it. I see shameless, unmitigated greed, enabled by a rigged system, and among the populace, widespread ignorance and a displaced sense of anger and victimhood that has been deliberately incited and encouraged.

I never even knew how much I loved my country and how many things I took for granted. So perhaps in that sense, I too was part of the problem. I never realized to what extent I lived in a “bubble” of relatively enlightened people…folks who teach kids and hold passports, who ride bikes and read books, who care about the environment and education, and who understand that one fundamental role of community and governance is to help others along who may have been less fortunate.

And I guess I understood only in theory how much active involvement and attention a viable democracy demands of us; it doesn’t just trundle along of its own volition. I suppose I also underestimated the degree of hatred and resentment and alienation others felt, and couldn’t fathom that to many of those others, blowing the whole thing up…some kind of giant, scorched earth fuck-you…was the most appealing action. Nor did I really ponder the fact that we were not at all insulated from corrupt and evil oligarchs abroad, and how that too could hit us.

Anyway, I’ve had plenty of days since November when I feel immobilized by despair, just as you are feeling now. To be honest, I have a few such days every week; I’m only hoping today won’t be one of them. I go into a downward spiral at such times, and everything feels hopeless, and I don’t even want to think about it.

But then I consider the younger people who will inherit this mess, and I look out the window where in this very moment a hummingbird is darting about the honeysuckle, and there are oak trees in the canyon like gentle grandfathers, and the beautiful, life-filled sea beyond, all of it struggling to be and continue. That’s when I know I’m gonna get up and keep fighting.

Of course the problem is knowing what “keep fighting” means. It’s easy to feel helpless. What impact can we possibly have? Monte keeps telling me it’s a long game. We can’t burn out this fast. It takes patience and stamina, he says. He’s good at patience and stamina. And he understands politics.

Sometimes I get frustrated even with the folks on “our side”…the ongoing bickering, the wishful whining about Bernie, silly stuff. That’s when Monte tells me, “Don’t feed into cynicism!” I’m trying not to. We make do with the allies we have; our shared concerns far outweigh our differences. And we’re learning. I’m grateful for all who are committed and active and are earnestly trying with varied skills and styles to change things for the better instead of giving up.

We in California happen to have good Senators, and in my particular district, an excellent Congressman, although his seat is threatened….so I’m not making daily calls to their offices about the Republican’s so-called health care bill, for example, since I know we are on the same team. But I make donations, write letters, and participate in a local group to do outreach and voter registration, support our local representative, and to strategize and spread information and remember that we’re in this thing together. I’ve also signed up with organizations like Swing Left to flip seats in 2018.

Maybe some of what we do is just therapy or symbolism. At times it does feel futile. On the other hand, if we need to dig a tunnel to get out from underground and all we have is a teaspoon, we’re gonna keep on digging with that teaspoon, little by little, at least until we find a more effective way. It’s better than rolling over…right?

Like you, I was disappointed by the outcome of the Georgia District 6 vote this week. It would have been a nice morale-boost to win even just one of the special elections as we lead up to 2018.  But upon closer analysis, it should fuel even greater determination, because the numbers suggest that things are changing. Although this long-held Republican district should have been an easy win for the GOP, the results were incredibly close.

It’s a great wake-up call too, a reminder that politics is ultimately local. If we’re going to influence elections in other parts of the country and try to get a majority back, we need to better understand the regional contexts. Things we might find appalling (such as Georgia victor Karen Handel’s statement that she would support outlawing adoption by gay couples, or Montana’s Gianforte assaulting a reporter ) were obviously quite palatable to many voters in those places. The frameworks are fundamentally disparate, and, to state what is now very obvious, other people are not just us with different zip codes.

Willie Brown put it this way in an article in the San Francsico Chronicle about what the Democrats need to learn: “Ossoff’s profile and image didn’t help. Democrats need a “blue dog” moderate, or better yet Marine war hero, if they’re going to have a chance in a historically Republican district like the one where Ossoff was running. Preferably one who wears a baseball cap and overalls.”

And we can get behind candidates who are relatable to voters in their districts, maybe not quite what we would envision for ourselves, but still an improvement.  There are lot of “flippable” seats coming up for vote in 2018.

Believe me. I get it, and I’m with you. I am heartbroken about what is happening to our country. It is unprecedented and dire and demands of us a kind of ingenuity and resilience and spirit that we may not even possess yet. But we can’t let them win. We won’t. It can’t end this way!

And look: some things ARE working. The courts have blocked unjust and ugly orders. The press is refusing to be silenced. The people are standing up in protest. There is a noisy minority opposition in Congress, and they have been able to stall a lot of attempted actions. State and local governments are defying presidential proclamations. Investigations of Russian involvement, and of trump’s corruption and conflicts of interest are ongoing. And even if the GOP Senate’s cruel health care debacle passes, it will just be a matter of time until it is a noose around their necks. Patience.

Maybe I’m just in denial. Maybe I will just decide to run away or hide, to live out my own brief life span and try to keep myself and immediate others safe. I’m not quite there yet.

Thanks for the catharsis and therapy platform.

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Occasionally it becomes necessary to buy new underwear. Elastic frays, fabric thins, straps break, and finally one’s listless little heap of lingerie seems sad and barely functional. This observation prompted me to take a trip to Macy’s last week, where I ascended a narrow escalator and found my way to Intimate Apparel strategically located upstairs and to the rear.

When I was a child, Macy’s was a classy store. In those years before shopping malls and discount chains and the unimaginable phenomenon of sitting in front of a computer at home and procuring merchandise online, department stores were important destinations. We went to the one on Flatbush Avenue, pictured to the left. As mundane as that building may seem, the photo confirms my memory of a wall of windows on the upper floors, where shafts of sunlight entered and cast a kind of spell. Bicycles gleamed, china sparkled, and there were mysteries in unpacked cardboard cartons.

Indeed the place was an emporium of worldly goods, including an actual toy department upstairs, and model rooms displaying furniture where you could pretend you lived, and lamps you could click on and adjust and decide for yourself which warm glow of light you would choose to cast upon the space if it were yours. There were thick drapes and sheer curtains, men’s neckties in bright colors fanned out on tables, and circular racks of summer dresses, better and casual, and white pleated skirts, and pin striped seersucker blazers. There was jewelry, fine and costume…and millinery, oh, how I loved millinery, hats adorned with nets and ribbons and feathers and flowers and tiny birds and beesand there was even a section called notions.

I’ve read a lot about the economic and cultural shifts that have led to the demise of department stores. Times change, people adapt, and we don’t need more hand-wringing. That said, it was strange to enter Macy’s last week, because it felt like an abandoned ship. Instead of displays, clumps of stuff were crammed on racks, everything looking shopworn, and signs announced price slashing, 40-percent off lowest price, shouting deals, deals, deals. There were vague scents of perfume by the cosmetic counters, but it mostly smelled like cheap goods, some intangible synthesis of polyester, plastic, and insouciance. A few weary customers browsed. I felt suddenly sleepy.

There were a lot of Intimates. I had no idea there were so many variations of panties, bras, or camisoles, and such clever garments for the squeezing in and smoothing out of girth. I noticed groupings of items up to 70% off, took a quick look at those, and understood why they were there. I went over to a normal-priced rack and selected a few pairs of panties in boy cut, hi-cut, French cut, brief….no sense even looking at thong or string bikini. I narrowed these down to six pairs, and made my way to the register. Alas, the woman who had been idly standing there a few minutes earlier informed me unapologetically that she was just about to start her lunch break, but I could go anywhere else. Theoretically this was true, but most of the stations appeared to be un-staffed.

Finally, I noticed a desk where a thin young man with wire-framed glasses was working the register. Six customers stood in line awaiting their turn, and I took my place at the back. Apparently there were no simple transactions. The line moved slowly. The woman in front of me griped in equal parts about the tacky merchandise, poor service, and the bad music being piped in at this moment. She recalled going to Buffum’s or Bullock’s with her mother for back-to-school shopping when she was a kid. She talked about how everything had gone downhill. I was getting depressed.

But department store memories were uncorked now and pouring into my head. I remembered myself as a little girl in Macy’s, going to the ladies’ room all by myself. Everything was shiny, all tile and metal, and the room had echo potential, as bathrooms often do, which I imagine is why so many people sing in the shower. I entered a stall, unrolled a strip of toilet paper and set it on the toilet seat before sitting, as my mother had taught me to do, then hoisted myself up to take a pee.

The echo potential, combined with a misguided illusion of privacy in the little stall, and sparked by that old department store magic, caused me to break into song. The song was one I used to hear on the radio. The lyrics went like this:

Sing, everyone sing.
Sing, everyone sing.
All of your troubles will vanish like bubbles.
Sing, everyone sing.

I was belting it out. My voice took on a vibrato I didn’t even know I could produce. I sounded great! I sang it over and over, my troubles vanishing like bubbles, my vocal stylings sophisticated beyond my years, my voice ringing out from the toilet stall and bouncing back from the tile walls, an instrument of pure exuberance.

It’s hard to say how long the concert continued, but eventually I flushed and made my exit. Three women who had been standing there by the sinks, shopping bags at their sides, were watching me step out. One of them applauded me indulgently. One of them just stared at me and said, “Wow. All of that was you? That was a lot of singing to be coming out of one little girl.”

I was mortified. So thoroughly mortified that here I am remembering it, sixty years later.

But what really amazes me sixty years later is the realization that I had so much capacity for unbridled joy that I would spontaneously break into song in a public restroom and think nothing of it. Where does it go, all those unfiltered impulses and undiluted wonder? Must maturity imply shutting down so much of it?

Maybe there’s still a bit of magic even in the Macy’s, something in the parking lot worth singing about, stories worth hearing from the people in line eyeing their cellphones and worried about what they’re missing. I’m going to try to open up, re-see, be defiantly naive.

Maybe the thing that changed the most was me.

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