A Christmas Worth Forgetting

Sometimes the blessing is in the forgetting…

The doorbell clanged and the whole family moaned. Everyone except Florence, who headed for the door, exasperated. “Kids, be nice to Uncle Brian. I mean it. It’s Christmas Eve, for God’s sake.”

“But he’s so mean.” Jillian plopped a bowl of mashed potatoes onto the crimson tablecloth, smoothing her Christmas-colored plaid skirt.

“Not mean. Just crotchety. Do as your mom says. Play nice.” Jim leaned over the golden-brown turkey, carving generous slices, his black brows furrowed in concentration.

“Dad, Uncle Brian’s totally mean.” Kai threw a pea at his sister Jillian and got a smack on the head from her wooden spoon. “Just like Jillian,” he added, scoffing.

“Ha ha.” Jillian’s heels clicked-clicked into the kitchen. “You’re so lazy, Kai. Come help. Get some ice for the water glasses.”

Kai’s gangly teen legs kicked back his chair. “Yes, commander.”

With a blast of frigid air, the front door opened. Florence called out, “Look who’s here, even through a snowstorm!” She reentered the room with her blond middle-aged brother, whose wrinkled trench coat matched his scowl.

Jillian sighed under her breath and placed a smile on her red lips. “Hello, Uncle Brian. Nice to see you.” She gave him an arm’s length hug. It was the best she could do.

“Damn. Turkey for dinner.” Brian shook his head and threw his coat on a chair. “It’s not Thanksgiving, last I checked.”

Kai walked around the table, aggressively plunking ice cubes into water glasses.

Brian watched him with disgust. “I see Kai wants to give us all a disease. Did you even wash your hands? I’m not drinking from those.”

Kai’s face turned pink with anger, and he plunked harder.

Florence closed her eyes to gather strength and took Brian’s arm. “Come on, brother. Ease up a bit, okay?”

“Fine. I’m drinking scotch, anyway.” Brian’s eyes drilled into Kai’s. “Neat. Guess what that means? It means, no ice. And for god’s sake, won’t anyone make that boy cut his damned hair?”

“Brian! Stop.” Florence pleaded.

Kai grabbed the bottle of scotch from the counter and slammed it on the table. And snatched a large handful of ice and threw it in a scotch glass. “You’re getting it on the rocks today, asshole, and next time I’m spitting in it.”

“Kai!” Florence blanched, shocked. “Please; all of you…”

Brian didn’t even blink. He grabbed the glass and slowly dumped the ice onto the floor, smacked the glass down, grabbed the bottle of scotch, and took a deep swig. “Merry fucking Christmas.” He stepped back and his foot slipped on an ice cube. He toppled backward, smacking his head on the tile floor, and lay there, out cold.

“Oh my God! Call 911!” Florence shouted. Jillian stood for a moment, stunned, then ran to get the phone.

Florence knelt by her brother. “Jim! Kai! Help me get Brian on the couch.”

Jillian frantically shouted their address to dispatch and finally stepped into the living room, announcing, “They’re on their way.”

Brian lay still and pale on the couch, and Florence knelt beside him. Kai sat nervously in the armchair across the room, jiggling a foot, with his arms tightly folded. “Sorry, Mom.”

Florence placed ice under Brian’s head and glanced up at her son, noticing his eyes were watering with anger and guilt. “He did it to himself, sweetie. He was completely out of line.” She sighed deeply. “He’s got a goose egg, but I think he’ll be okay.” Jim rubbed her back in silence, shaking his head.

Jillian sat on the floor and took her mom’s hand. “What the hell made him like this, Mom?”

Florence smiled sadly. “Believe it or not, it was love. A few years before you were born.”

Jillian frowned delicately, her dark eyes studying her uncle’s face. “What happened?”

Florence shrugged. “Veronica happened. He fell in love. Hard. They were going to marry, but she left him at the altar. He was humiliated, and he never recovered. He said he wouldn’t ever open his heart again, and he never did. And it poisoned him. Turned him into… this.”

Jillian cautiously touched her uncle’s shoulder, as if she might get bitten by a snake. “He looks peaceful. Isn’t that strange? I’ve never seen him without a frown.”

Brian stirred, his eyes fluttering, then opening slowly.

“Hey!” Florence’s lips parted to a smile. “There you are! You scared us.”

He tried to focus. “Hi.”

Florence giggled, relieved. “Hi, back. How are you feeling?”

He touched the back of his head, adjusting the ice pack. “A bit of a headache, but other than that, I’m fine. How are you?”

Florence laughed. “I’m fine. We’re all fine.”

“And… who’s we?” He started to sit up.

Florence gently pushed him back down. “Hey. Not so fast. You fell.”

“I’m Brian.”

Florence eyed Jillian, concerned.

Jillian patted his shoulder. “Hey, Uncle Brian. That’s your sister, Florence!”

“Nice to meet you,” he said.

The doorbell rang and a moment later, a petite female paramedic was by his side with a med kit. “Sorry, we’re short-staffed. The ambulance will be late. I had to take my own SUV. This storm…”

Florence looked at her, frightened. “My brother Brian fell and hit his head. And… I don’t think he knows who I am!”

The paramedic smiled kindly at Brian and tucked her red hair behind her ear. “Hello, Brian. I’m Sophia. How are you feeling?”

His lips pulled into a grin. “I think I’m okay. I guess I fell. I don’t really recall doing it, but I have a lump to prove it!” He chuckled, wincing.

Jillian and Kai exchanged glances. Uncle Brian was being strangely polite. Something was definitely wrong with him.

Sophia flashed a light, checking his pupils. “Brian, do you know who these people are?”

Brain turned his head, examining the crowd, and pointed to Jillian. “This young lady here says I have a sister.” His eyes rested on Florence. “But I don’t really recall. Everything is just a little fuzzy.”

Florence’s eyes welled with tears. “Do you remember our house growing up? The one with the bright red paint and the swing set in the back? And our black lab, Orin?”

He shook his head, confused. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I… don’t.”

Jillian mouthed to her brother, ‘Ma’am?’

Kai stood and stepped to his side. “I bet you remember me, Uncle Brian. I make you really mad sometimes. Pretty much, all the time, actually.”

Brian’s forehead creased. He struggled to sit up, and Sophia helped him. “Why would I be mad at you?”

Kai smirked. “Because sometimes you’re a humongous ass.”

Brian’s eyes widened with amusement. “Oh! Well, sorry about that!”

Sophia laughed. “Well, Mr. Popular, I need to take your blood pressure.”

Brian grinned, examining her freckles and heart-shaped face. “I love red hair.”

Sophia raised an eyebrow as she placed the band around his arm. “Fresh, too!”

“Not fresh, just honest.”

She shook her head. “Okay, Don Juan, stick out your tongue and say ‘Ah.’”


“Aha!” Sophia stared at him, accusingly.

Florence interjected, worried, “What is it?”

“He’s got the sassy tongue.” Sophia smiled at her. “He’ll live.” She turned back to Brian. “But you’re going to need an MRI. So sorry about the delay with the ambulance.”

Jim sat straight. “I could drive him to the hospital.”

Sophia shook her head. “The roads are pretty slick. Best to just keep him here for now.”

Brian leaned back and closed his eyes.

“… and awake.” Sophia poked his shoulder.

“Always vying for my attention, aren’t you, Sophia,” he crooned.

She raised an eyebrow and turned to Jillian, teasing. “Is he always like this?”

Jillian shook her head adamantly. “He is literally never like this. This is new.”

Florence took Brian’s hand. “Actually, this is how he was, before…”

Brian frowned curiously. “Before what?”

Florence wasn’t sure if she should bring up the forbidden subject. But maybe it would jar his memory. “Before… Veronica.” She held her breath.


Florence shot a glance at Jim.

Jim folded his arms and sat back, thinking. “This is interesting. Take away the memory of Veronica, and…”

Florence’s eyes widened with hope. “And the poison is gone!”

Sophia’s head jerked up. “Poison?”

Brian asked, “Was I poisoned?”

Jim waved his hands at them. “No, no. It’s a figure of speech. He had his heart broken years ago and hasn’t been the same since.”

“Um—sitting right here, folks.” Brian added, “I’d probably be embarrassed if I could remember anything about it.”

Florence tenderly asked, “Do you remember her, at all? Anything about Veronica?”

He shook his head and shrugged.

Sophia frowned. “I don’t think we need to dredge up bad thoughts. How about creating new memories? It’s Christmas Eve. And I smell a delicious dinner.” She craned her neck. “I believe I see it sitting on the table. Why don’t you all go eat, and I’ll stay with Brian.”

“Hey, no fair. I’m hungry too,” Brian said playfully.

Sophia’s face brightened. “Well, appetite is a very good sign. Any nausea?”

Brian shook his head.


“Nope. My head is clearing, too.”

“Do you remember these guys here?”

He smirked. “No, but I sure remember this gorgeous redheaded paramedic who came to rescue me.”

She ignored him but couldn’t hide a subtle grin as she turned to the family. “Go have your dinner.” She turned back to Brian. “If you promise to behave.”

“I’ll be a perfect gentleman.”

Kai headed for the dining room. “That’ll be a first.”

To his surprise, Brian laughed good and hard.

Florence beamed and kissed his forehead. “I don’t care if you don’t remember me. I am so happy to hear your laughter!”

Brian noticed tears in her eyes. “Hey. Um… sister—Florence, is it? Don’t cry. Please. I’m fine. I feel fine. My memory will come back—right?” He looked with hope at Sophia.

Sophia leaned close to his face and said intently, “I believe it will, Brian. I truly do. But remember, your life is filled to the brim, right now, with amazing new memories just begging to be experienced. You’ve got your family here, who obviously care a great deal about you…”

Kai shouted from the other room, “I don’t.” After a pause, he added, “Just kidding.”

Brian scratched his chin. “I actually kinda like that kid. Who is he, again?”

Kai called back, “Your favorite nephew, Kai.” He came strolling back in, gnawing on a turkey leg. “Want some?” He shoved the leg two inches from his uncle’s face.

“Hell, yes!” Brian snatched it from him and took a bite. “Mm-mm, I love turkey,” he said with his mouth full. “Why on earth do we only have it on holidays?”

Sophia chuckled. “Hey, easy now with the solid food. You should be drinking water. You need to hydrate.”

“On it!” Kai ran to the table and grabbed a glass of ice water. He sauntered back. “Here you go, Uncle Brian. The ice was hand-selected by me, placed in that glass by my own fingers.” He wiggled them in his uncle’s face.

Brian took a sip. “Hand-selected? I feel so special.” He raised an eyebrow, confused at Kai’s behavior.

Jillian slugged her brother’s arm with her free hand, the other one carrying a steaming plate. “Leave your poor uncle alone.”

“What? We’re bonding. Aren’t we, Uncle Brian.”

Brian shrugged. “Sure.”

“How’s the water?” Kai stared intently at it while eating mashed potatoes.

Brian examined the glass. “You didn’t piss in it, I hope.”

Kai involuntarily spat out potatoes with a burst of laughter.

Brian groaned. “Oh, God. You did piss in it.”

Kai couldn’t breathe for a minute, he was laughing so hard. “No. I promise. Nothing but ice and water. But if you’re not nice…”

“Geez! Okay, I’ll be nice. Please don’t ever piss in my water, and this is a very strange conversation.”

Sophia packed up her equipment and tilted her head to Brian with a teasing grin, her hair tumbling over her shoulder. “Looks like you’re feeling just fine, Brian!”

Brian was caught off guard, breathless for a moment. She was just so lovely.

“What?” she asked, curious at his intent stare.

“I just hope… we can be friends. In all seriousness. I haven’t laughed for years.”

Florence nearly dropped the plate she was carrying, shocked. She turned to Jim. “Did you hear that? Is he starting to remember?”

Jim held a finger to his lips. “Shh. Just watch.”

Sophia chatted softly with Brian.

Jillian headed for the living room, but Jim touched her arm. “Wait.”

Kai, seated again in the living room chair, shot them a glance. They all heard waves of laughter mixed with gentle conversation, from Brian and Sophia.

Sophia’s brow furrowed at a new cell phone message. “The ambulance is stuck in the snow. It’s not coming.”

Brian stood. “I’m glad. I haven’t felt this good in years. Will you join me for dinner? My sister’s an excellent cook. And Jim always carves the turkey extra thick.”

Sophia grinned and took his arm, strolling to the dining room, and the rest of the family followed. “Well, look at you! You’re remembering!”

He stopped in his tracks and frowned at the revelation. He studied Sophia’s stunning emerald eyes. He turned to his punk-ass nephew, Kai, with that mop he called hair. Then to his kind sister, Florence. There was Jim—a good man. And Jillian, his teenage whirlwind of a niece. “Yes…” he said, as if a veil was lifting. “Yes, it’s all coming back to me.”

Sophia nodded. “Well, this will be a Christmas to remember!”

“No.” Brian said it sharper than he’d meant to. “I’m sorry.” His voice softened. “I just… remember… everything. I remember…” he cringed as if he’d been pierced in the gut with a hot poker. “I remember… hate.”

Sophia slipped her arm from his and said gently, “But you no longer have to claim it. Hate… that was the other guy. The man I met tonight was actually kind of sweet.” She stepped back, knowing this was a family moment.

He looked around, deeply pained. His eyes rested on Florence. “Oh. Oh, Florence. I have been so… cruel.”

Florence cautiously stepped to him. “No. Not cruel, brother. You’ve just been lost.”

His lips trembled and he hung his head. He whispered, with a broken voice, “I’m sorry.”

Florence held him tight, and, though he was a tall man, he buried his face in her shoulder and shook with silent tears.

Florence whispered, her eyes wet too, “Oh, how I’ve missed you, little brother.” He lifted his head, and his sister wiped his tears. “Merry Christmas, Brian.” Florence stood back, patting her own cheeks dry with her sleeve.

Jillian ran up and flung her arms around her uncle. “Merry Christmas, Uncle Brian. This is my first real hug from me to you.”

“Thank you, Jillian.”

She stood back and nodded sincerely.

Jim extended his hand. “Nice to have you back.” He cocked his head. “Are you back?”

Brian nodded. “I think so. Yes. I believe so.” He slowly shook his brother-in-law’s hand.

Brian looked at Kai with eyes still glassy and pink. “How shall we do this?”

Kai shrugged and extended a fist. “I promise I won’t piss in your water if you promise not to be an ass.”

Brian bumped his fist. “Works for me.”

Sophia cleared her throat. “The weather is clearing. I think I’ll just slip out. It looks like you’re in good hands, Brian. And get an MRI in the morning. Until then, if you get any headaches, nausea, or dizziness, please call 911.”

“Or… perhaps I could call you directly?” Brain gazed at her with hope.

“Oh… that is against protocol…” Sophia smiled shyly.

Brian nodded. “Of course. I understand.”

“But I would like to follow up on you. Perhaps I could have your number… sir?” She held back a smile, mustering up a professional demeanor.

Brian cleared his throat and held back his elation. “Of course—ma’am.” He handed her his card.

She smiled enigmatically. “Merry Christmas, Brian.”

“Yes. Yes, it sure is. The best one yet.”

She waved his card in the air and turned away, but he saw her reflection in the window, and she was beaming. As she opened the door to a dusting of snow, he swore he heard her whisper, “Yes. The best one yet.”


Crossing Bridges

Bridges to each other
Building bridges for peace, because that’s who we are.

Bridges are everywhere, all across the world.

You may see ancient stone bridges standing a thousand years. If you listen for ghosts, you can hear the march of soldiers, the creak of wagons, the clip-clop of horses.

Turn a verdant country corner.

Just there, between the poplars, you will see a quaint bridge with playful wrought iron, a hundred years ‘young.’ A tell-tale pink ribbon hints at a recent wedding and life’s warm, wonderful continuity.

From deafening swollen rivers to the smallest giggling brook, we build bridges to connect to each other—to family, neighbors, strangers, foreigners… enemies.

The waters divide; we join. We do. We build those bridges because we hope. We are always hoping, we have always hoped to join together. The human spirit is more powerful than a raging river.

We panic sometimes. We get suspicious. We suddenly fear the other side. We knock our bridges down.


A storm blackens the sky, and we forget the sun ever shone.

For a while.

But that is not the definition of “us.” We are better than our fear.

The river shimmers from a tiny crack in the desolate clouds, that first glimmer of light, and we suddenly remember. Curiosity returns, as constant as the flow of the river.

And, like our ancient ancestors everywhere—our mutual family carrying our shared DNA in their blood, we pick up that first stone and drop it in the water. Because THAT is who we are. And, with childlike innocence, wobbling and precarious and full of dreams, we take that first step to the other side.


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Zen Radar Rainy Day in France

Rainy day in France

Zen Radar Writing in Europe

I have a Zen radar, which finds the cool artsy places to work. As a copy editor and writer, my office is wherever my heart says, “Here.” I search around, laptop in hand, and when I feel that “mother’s hug” I know that’s the place where the magic will happen. I do that at home each morning with my Zen radar on, searching for the “feels.” Hmm. Livingroom on the comfy couch? Sun’s a bit bright. Office with a candle lit? Strong possibility. Backyard swing with the hummingbirds? Mmm. There’s that hug feeling.

On the road in Europe, my Zen radar blips constantly at “the perfect spot” because they’re everywhere. When my hubby and I have a long driving day and I’m working in the car and we’re zipping past castles, seas, mountains, and villages nestled in valleys or clinging like barnacles to the side of a cliff, my radar can sometimes scream HERE! Wait—HERE! No—HERE! HERE! HERE!” These are the moments I respectfully put away the manuscript and sponge in the beauty of our little rock hurling through space. That’s as important as breathing. That’s how the artist finds stories.

Europe in the fall so far has been sweater weather at best. At last, in France, it begins to sprinkle. My hubby Anthony dons a coat and scarf and steps out for a long day of outdoor work.  Today, it will be in the mud. Not a problem if you make it an adventure, which Anthony always does.

Too soggy for my computer, my outdoor office is traded for two propped-up pillows and a down-filled duvet in our cozy hotel room.


Thunder punches the clouds, and a deluge floods the streets—and surely my spouse as well, as the mud turns into creeks outside.

And here I am, warm and cozy, sorry for my soggy spouse, happy that my Zen radar is on overload with an artist’s stormy-day atmosphere.

I have a record-breaking day for pages done. I am thrilled, and my soul is full.

Sundown, Anthony tramps in, and we are both starving—we haven’t eaten since our early breakfast.

We drive to the nearby ancient city of Gordes—one of those “clinging to a cliff like a barnacle” towns—and walk the streets. Turns out, this is the day they have closed for the season. On top of that, it’s Monday.

We drive to the next town, and the next. “Y a t’il des restaurants ouverts?” Any restaurants open? Nope. None.

With the wipers swiping buckets in a frenzy, we finally come upon a grocery store. Opening the car door, rain dumps on us as we laugh our way in, soaking. With no access to a stove or microwave, we buy a prosciutto salad, goat cheese-and-fig wrap, and a bottle of rosé.

Back under the duvet, together this time, clinking glasses, we enjoy an astonishingly delicious dinner (that came to 20 euros total.)  My Zen radar signals again. After all, I have my sweet man, a perfect impromptu dinner, and France in the rain. Magnifique.



Good Morning, Polignano a Mare…

Morning over the Adriatic

On a balcony overlooking the Adriatic, dawn fails to wake sleepy tourists; I have the view all to myself. Little sparks of light speak of fishermen, assuring tonight’s dinner will be ‘sea to table.’

A soft voile mist blankets but cannot veil, and mottled silver breaks through steel clouds—morning won’t be held back any longer.

Ten centuries prepared, old town gazes, steadfast, through long black rectangle eyes, from rustic peach stone facings here to whitewashed monuments there. All stand, precarious yet without fear, on a crumbling, stratified rock cliff.

I see the church bell through the arched window of the tower. That will wake the tourists, I think with a teasing grin. This feast for the eyes can’t be wasted on just me.

But then—never wasted when a soul is fed.

PFLAG: Because Its All About Love

It's All About Love
Sometimes, just showing up is enough

My cousin Henri and his spouse Gary are board members of the Long Beach Chapter for PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.) So yesterday I went to their pre-Pride Parade breakfast. There, I made a sign that read “I love my cuz and his hubby!” When I noticed that everyone else’s signs had writing on the back as well, I quickly scribbled the first thing that popped into my head: “It’s All About Love.”

I really was just there for Henri and Gary, to show my support. I didn’t think any deeper than that. I slipped on a PFLAG tee. Sign in hand, off I went with the PFLAG group, to get in line.

The parade started and I walked with a woman I’d just met, named Lori, who wore a matching tee shirt. Within moments, I looked at Lori with surprise and said, “I can’t believe how much love I feel in the air—its palpable!”
She agreed. She’d walked Pride before and said, “They really love PFLAG.”

And then I heard it. I saw it. An outpouring of thunderous applause, shouts of “We love you!” and “Thank you!” as our PFLAG group walked by them.

Again, surprised, I looked at Lori who said, warmly, “I told you. They Love PFLAG. So many people here have been rejected by their own families. Our support means the world to them.”

I almost felt stupid. Of COURSE PFLAG was important. We were straight people saying “I accept you and I love you, and I want to be on the record, in public, saying so, for all of you who have felt unaccepted and unloved.”

I couldn’t believe the affect it had on me. Just by carrying a sign, by walking a few miles, by smiling (uncontrollably beaming, actually) I was feeding damaged, broken hearts. I was helping to make souls feel whole again. I was a bandage, an elixir, a nurturing shoulder, a hug, a friend, a healer. Me. Personally. Just—me. By being there.

Astounded, my heart and eyes welled up for joy. I started making eye contact with each person standing on the sidelines, giving them my own personal wave, and they would whoop and holler, blow a kiss, say thank you, shout God bless you. Who was getting more of a healing, them or me? I suddenly felt so humbled and honored to be in that position. Me, who had just come for Henri and Gary. Suddenly I felt a responsibility, I felt… important. I felt loved, by thousands of people. My eye contact made a group of ten wave their arms frantically at me, and the cheers would turn to a delightful roar from the whole crowd, as if I’d just won a gold medal at the Olympics. Me. But not me, Rose. Me. The Stranger who was saying to the brown eyes, to the pink shirt, to the man with a blond wig, to the shy lady in the corner—“You are a whole person. You are loved. You are, in fact, really awesome, just the way you are. You are brave, you are honest. You are honoring your path.”

I wasn’t me, Rose. I was Acceptance. I was the Mom saying the words of support that their own mother never said. The Dad who hugged instead of hit. The Grandparent who showered love, not shame. I was, in fact, Their Family walking for them in the stead of their biological family who had refused to go.

I know I already used the word “Humbled” but it keeps coming to mind. I was in a position of honor. One I didn’t sign up for, one I didn’t mean to be in, in my naïve happy support for my cousin and his husband. I didn’t know—I had no idea I would be Every Family. It was a great responsibility, and so very… again… humbling.

They treated me like a war hero coming home, or Princess Di in a carriage. They loved me. Because I was, for a moment—for a three-mile stroll with a sign—Their Family. And for a truly lovely moment, they were my family, too. I learned, on a new level, that, really and truly, It’s All About Love.


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Wake me when I’m feeling better!

Clinging to a tissue box

Wrapped in blankets, robe and socks

Nose is useless for a breather

Vocal chords don’t work much either


Head is pounding, eyes are red

Set up shop inside my bed

Try to write but thoughts don’t come

Senses dull and brain is numb


Up again, I hear that soup

Cures colds, Bubonic plague, and croup

Pass a mirror- shrug and stare

Don’t care enough to brush my hair


Pills and steam and old wife’s tales

Nothing cures my aches and ails

Start a chore, pretend I’m fine

Dizzy, woozy, never mind


Crawl back to my little cave

Bed and pillow now I crave

Day is done, heads a balloon

Good night cruel world! Its only noon


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PITCAIRN ISLAND: home of Mutineers, Artists and Superhero Bees!

Pitcairn island population

I am aboard a small cruise ship, circumnavigating Pitcairn Island.  It is only two miles square—a tiny deep green bump smack dab in the middle of the South Pacific. The ocean is angry today, and sprays a breathtaking sapphire blue. The skies are bleak and ominous. The island has no port to accommodate a ship of our size, and so the people of Pitcairn have been invited to come to us.

I hang over the rail and search through the tropical rain until my sundress clings to me like a second skin. I want to catch a first glimpse of these most unusual residents; descendants of the mutineers from the famous ship Bounty, of Captain Bligh fame. Nearly all of the islanders, isolated completely for centuries, have the same two last names—Fletcher and Christian—whose same-named ancestors escaped the gallows of England by marooning themselves and their Polynesian wives on Pitcairn in 1790.

Pitcairn island steams a halo of cloud and fog from the torrent. As we sail closer,  I see sheer cliffs, and a cascading waterfall. Twenty-odd houses nestle against a steep hillside, each separated by forest and a steep hike.

At last a long boat comes into view. There are only fifty-four inhabitants on the entire island, and thirty of them—more than half the population—sit precariously yet happily on planks, grateful to have a break from island fever. They bob along towards us in the pouring rain and choppy seas, with the steadfast balance of true islanders. When they finally pull alongside our ship, they leap to the treacherous lurching gangway like mountain goats, these people made of volcano and sea.

Around 11 A.M. the Pitcairn Islanders set up shop in our ship’s spacious lounge, and open for business. This selling of handcrafted wares is their major form of income. I am very surprised at the level of quality of the merchandise. It could have been simplistic, and still worth its weight in gold for the novelty of being created by Pitcairners, but the crafts are unexpectedly, delightfully beautiful. There are gorgeous wood carvings of sea turtles, sharks with their mouths wide open to reveal teeth (beautifully carved out of bone,) sea snakes and dolphins. There are whimsical tees with pictures of the Bounty. For the collectors, there are stamps and postcards to buy, which the Pitcairners promise to send from their local post office (“Please allow three months delivery, as only four ships come per year to collect the mail!”) For a ten dollar fee, passports can be stamped “Pitcairn.”

The thing that catches my eye is a beautiful necklace. If I shut my eyes and imagine a mermaid swimming in the depths of the sea, this is the necklace she would be wearing. It is made of beautiful oblong silver pearls. Not flawless, but that is part of the beauty. In between the pearls are sea shells, black luminescent stones and clusters of tiny silver beads, with the New Zealand Paua shell as a pendant.

It is so beautiful that I take a picture of it, along with the jeweler who proudly poses. She looks quite British. The Pitcairners have varying degrees of English and Polynesian blood, and this woman is lanky and fair-skinned. She informs me that the price of her treasure is $750, which is an incredible bargain. I am not in the market for a necklace, and as I walk away she says cheerfully, “I can go down to $500.”

Pitcairn Island honey
Pitcairn Island honey

Oooh! I have to walk away quickly to resist temptation.

The biggest seller is the honey. With the current world bee crisis of diseased bees, and the diminishing bee population, Pitcairn Island honey is very sought after. Completely isolated, the Pitcairn bees are free from disease. Pitcairn honey is said to be the finest, purest honey on earth. Who knows? If the bee crisis gets bad enough, perhaps Pitcairn will be our salvation—after all, we need bees to pollinate our crops. I like the idea of the smallest inhabited island Democracy saving the world. There is something very poetic and noble about that.

I spy an amazing looking man from Pitcairn–starkly unique. He is a large man, with the build of a Pacific Islander—stout and muscular. His coloring is Polynesian, his beard is blond, and attached to his ears, which are pierced from top to bottom, are a cacophony of magnificent trinkets, again what one would find a merman wearing, from bone to pearls to shells to sharks teeth. Around his neck is a chain, thickly laden with more booty. I imagine him living under the ocean, and swimming until his neck and ears encrust with barnacles of briny jewels from the treasure troves of the sea.

He disappears before I can ask for his picture. An hour later, when it’s almost time for the Pitcairn residents to go home, I find him in the ship’s sundry shop, buying two manly armfuls of alcohol. I laugh and say, “There you go; you know what’s important!”

He concurs with a broad smile, and I seize the opportunity to take his picture, shouting, “You are gorgeous!” which results in a priceless picture of him laughing.

From behind a rack I hear a voice, “Hey! What about me?” Out steps a very Polynesian looking man, with dark eyes and hair. He pretends to be terribly indignant that he was left out of the conversation, so I say, “Okay, you’re gorgeous too!”  I ask both of them, “Do you write books? I imagine it would be fascinating to read a book about the life of the Pitcairn residents.” The blond one laughs and says, “I don’t have time to write a book!”

To which I reply, very sincerely, “Then perhaps I should come back and interview everyone and write a book myself!”

He smiled and said, “Don’t think it hasn’t been done before!”

HMS Bounty
HMS Bounty

I suppose that must be true, but what fun that would be—I’d do it in a heartbeat! And next time, I’m buying that necklace.


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The Transgender “Issue”

Judgment can be overcome by education. Being smarter is always a good thing. Loving more is an even better thing!

Years ago, I was walking along the shore with my preschool son when we crossed paths with a one-armed man. I did the typical avert your eyes! thing, but my son smiled at him and pointed, saying, “How come you have one arm?”

Before I could even crawl under a rock, the kind man chuckled and said, “I was born like this.”

“Oh!” said my son, whose curiosity had been sated, and he proceeded to pet the man’s dog, named Peanut. The three of us chatted a moment about the glorious day and Peanut, and we were on our way.

See? We are born innocent, like my son, with no judgment. A four-year-old still sees new things every day. Slowly but surely, life conditions us to judge.  When my son was born, I held him in my arms under the moonlight and we stared at each other. I had never seen his sweet face before that day, but he had never seen a human before that day! He was a brand new little sponge, and his perception of me had not yet been imprinted. He didn’t cry in terror at this big strange body cradling him. He had, perhaps even then, curiosity.

If we could all retain that innocent curiosity for the unknown, perhaps there would be peace in this world.

The first time I met a transgender person, I was at a restaurant, and the host had breasts, eyeliner and a five o’clock shadow. I was a bit shocked and confused—I had never even heard of such a thing. I was polite and didn’t stare, but after I left with my group of friends, we talked about it. I remember thinking it was “weird.” To be honest, I thought the person was weird. I had been conditioned to consider a person “Normal” if they fit the standard, textbook criteria for human.

The guy at the beach didn’t fit the standard, textbook criteria either, he was missing an arm, and it made me feel uncomfortable, until my young son enlightened me.

So when I learned the word Transgender, I remembered to attempt enlightenment. I read some articles, watched some documentaries and tried to open my mind a crack. I have learned that gender association happens in the womb. A person may have the genetic attributes of a male, for example, but have the brain wiring for a female. Its biology.

I came out of the womb a “standard textbook human.” What the hell is that, anyway? I have all kinds of problems and issues, just like everybody else. Mine aren’t as visible as a missing arm or male and female attributes. I suffer from mood swings, and at times, depression. Should I be hated, shunned or stared at for that?

I was a Catholic for years. I walked the walk, talked the talk, gave back to the community and all that. Catholics don’t believe in divorce. I didn’t believe in divorce. But when my marriage fell apart, I became just that—a divorcee. Everything changed after that. My relationship with God, (“How could you let this happen? I am a good person!”) my relationship with the community (“Everyone is whispering behind my back!”) and my relationship with myself (“What a hypocrite! You don’t even believe in divorce!”) I felt like I was torn in two—that the person I was, no longer existed. I also wanted to remarry eventually. Again, not the Catholic way.

It occurred to me, that God cannot love less than I can. That I am in a new skin, a skin called divorcee, and I cannot take it off. It is who I am now. I have to accept that, and I need to accept that God wants me to be happy. That is my religion now, simple and pure. God loves us and wants us to be happy. I do not believe in a cruel god. I believe in a benevolent one. The one who loves us when we find ourselves in new skin—one without an arm, or one with breasts and a five o’clock shadow, or one housing a divorced woman.

Transgender in the military? Do they belong there? I guess it depends. Are we in the military to stare at each other’s skin, or to train to protect and fight for freedom? I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d like to think of America as the land of the free and home of the brave. Feeling driven all your life to alter your gender, and following through against all judging, hateful bias—now that’s brave. Jumping into the fire, feeling like a pariah, pushing ahead anyway with what your conscience tells you to do, now that’s brave. Having the choice to follow through with such a difficult, life altering action—now that’s freedom. God bless America. And God bless Americans—all of them. Let’s each bless the Transgenders too, by supporting their journey and career choice and making them feel loved and welcome, especially if they are willing to lay down their lives for us.

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The F-Bomb: Friend or Foe?

I am searching for an answer. bomb

Not to the “Why are we here?” type of question. I just want to know if a writer like me should use the F-bomb. The F@*# word. That frigging, fragging, flipping, flurping notorious expletive that either disgusts or delights us.

When I was a kid, raised in a rural town in Oregon, the word was a big fat naughty no-no. Little old ladies would faint at the sound, and the word on the street was, “The F word is eeeee‑vil!” I never once said it, fearing a lightning-bolt might take me out.

As a teenager, I heard some of the really tough kids use that word, as they threw knives at each other’s feet playing chicken. (What else is there to do when it rains for nine months straight?) Anyway, once again the conclusion was, only a knife-yielding delinquent would use that word.

I went to college, and soon found a correlation between drinking too much Schlitz malt liquor and people dropping that F-Bomb. Still, I held out, my virgin lips sticking to phrases like “Gosh darn it, who moved the keg?”

I moved to California as a musician, started a family, and even got involved in a church for a time. Not very conducive to swearing. I wanted to be a good person, be a good example, I wanted to look back on my life and say I never hurt anybody. People called me “Sweet” and “So nice!” and “Such an angel!” They even called me Saint Rose, I kid you not.

Yeah. I was nice. But where was my backbone? When did I take a stand and ruffle a feather or two? I had political opinions but kept them to myself because I had both very conservative religious friends and far left liberal atheist friends. I was a mamby-pamby milktoast girl with a strong sense of self on the inside, and a weenie on the outside. I walked my career as a musician without stepping on any cracks. I tiptoed through my song choices with caution and frosting. Mick Jagger swaggered and sang deliciously naughty things that most of society played to their children. Me? I changed words around to make them G rated, deflating the fun balloon till it was a limp piece of rubber that was no longer interesting.

One day I woke up and decided I was going to be me. Just me, without all the frosting and rose-colored glasses. I made an effort to express my true opinions and feelings, and wondered if I’d still have friends at the end of the day. You know what? I got a great big “Bravo, it’s about time!” from pretty much everyone!

I work hard every day to lose old habits, and try to never repress. Now I sing what I want to sing. I rarely mess with lyrics. I write stories too, and try to stretch my characters beyond my own limitations. And now… I swear at my computer sometimes. Okay, lots of times. And yes, now and then, alone at home, I’ll drop that F bomb, because it releases anger and somehow makes me feel better in the moment. And then I go put a quarter in the jar. (Okay, just kidding about the jar.)

Last week I sat down to write a story. I had a blank slate, no idea or outline, I just put my hands on the keyboard and started typing. What came out surprised me, in a very wonderful way. It was a story called Cali’s Mojo. The story was me, if I hadn’t been such a conventional people-pleaser. Unlike me, she lost her parents when she was twelve and became a runaway. Unlike me, she spoke her mind—all of it. Unlike me, she did exactly what she needed to do without compromise.

And unlike me, she used the F-bomb in public.

I finished the story, and remembered my younger self who was so shocked by that word. I thought, do I owe it to others to be considerate? Should I remove the word? I have a whole arsenal of lovely cuss words to choose from that aren’t as repugnant to some.

Then I thought, “Hell no!” Sorry. I meant “Heck no! I will not slide back into that person who has to weigh everybody else’s opinion and lose myself in the process.”

Still, I’m a mother. A mother who told my own children it was a bad word. But I am a different me now. And Cali—the protagonist in my story—she’s different too. All my characters are different.

My instinct and promise to myself, was to be absolutely true to the character. She’s an edgy street-smart runaway who doesn’t give a flying… fig what people think. I want to be more like her. Who am I if I am just me, without wringing my hands and wondering what everyone else thinks of me? That’s the person I am desperately trying to be true to, so she can come out of the closet, so to speak.

I got so wrapped up in the question, “To swear, or not to swear,” that I decided to ask three people:

I asked my husband, who read Cali’s Mojo. I got a bowl me over, adamant, “Absolutely you cannot take the F word out. It’s who she is. You can’t sugar coat your writing.”

I asked my fourth grade teacher, whom I greatly respect and who is a published writer herself. She wrote me a very balanced letter saying she is old-school and one of those who finds the word boring and unnecessary. She also respected very much, the fact that I even asked her opinion.

I asked my sister, a High School English teacher who also helps me edit sometimes. She said, “It’s okay to skip the F-bomb, but don’t take away from her authenticity—she’s no priss! She is tough and strong.”

Cali would never have asked the question at all. She’d probably give me an earful just for writing this piece and questioning my unfiltered expression. I believe, after much thinking, that I will not filter. I endeavor to be the writer that does not censor herself. I write what flows from me, authentic and true. I may offend those who, like the old me, are weary of that word. I may offend people who don’t like my subject matter. I may offend people just for being me. But that’s okay. I know I am loved for who I am, too. And at the end of the day, I need to honor the artist.