She’s Back…

To paraphrase the iconic Carol Anne, she’s back…

No, I don’t mean me — although it is true RIPE and I are finally on the move again. (Yippee!) I’m actually talking about my new BFF. You all know her. I’ve mentioned her here before. The woman I would most love to sit down to lunch and talk low-cal, high fiber recipes with. The gal whose opinion I am curious about — does she watch the THE GOOD WIFE primarily as a law procedural or more for the character-driven drama? And more importantly, is it BREAKING POINTE or BUNHEADS? Or both? (There’s no denying the lady likes to dance, right?)

Of course I’m talking about that first lady of sweater sets, the one who lately has graced every taping from LETTERMAN to LIVE! with KELLY (and dig that co-host of the week), where she actually jumped rope with aplomb. I’m talking about your friend and mine, Michelle Obama.

I’ve been hearing from Michelle quite a bit lately, we just haven’t managed to connect. There was another letter this week. And few recent emails about a lunch get together. But we ran out of time. She’s been busy. I’ve been busy. Sometimes, that’s just the way it goes.

I haven’t written back yet, but this won’t sully our friendship. Nope, cause I know she’s got my back. Well, strictly speaking that’s more feeling than fact, since we haven’t actually met. But everything about her points toward the positive. It’s almost like we’re having a conversation when I read OBAMAFOODORAMA, the Blog of Record About White House Food Initiatives, From Policy to Pie. And you all know my food focus of late, so I relish the good info.

Last fall, when I received that first letter from Michelle — the one that helped inspire my first post on THE RIPE PROJECT — it was totally unexpected and just the kick I required. Actually that reminds me of the time I just couldn’t get my head around cleaning and organizing my apartment. I procrastinated. And procrastinated. Then finally, when I could stand it no more, I cleaned my apartment. [Ed. Note: For those of you who are home – not apartment – dwellers, this reference may lack a certain punch. Here’s a little game: take at least half your furniture and belongings and move them into two contiguous rooms of your house. The rest of the space is off-limits except as a storage facility for the overflow, for which you pay $225 a month and can only enter from 8 am to 6 pm. Now, go ahead: live and be neat about it.] Anyway, once I finally broke down and just cleaned the place, you know what happened? It wasn’t that big a deal. I had a much more enjoyable living space and I found a $100 bill. No, it wasn’t magic. I’d always had the money. I’d simply lost track in all the self-created chaos.

My point is, same thing with Michelle. There I was last August struggling for clarity, trying to locate the lost kernel of my idea for this blog when — voila!!! Une lettre de la Première Dame des Etats-Unis! It stopped my in my tracks. At first I was stumped. Compared to Michelle Obama, why should I even try. But a moment later it became just the creative compass I needed. As I compared the map of my life to the map of Michelle’s, at first the differences seemed insurmountable. Eventually Michelle helped orient me to who and where I am and where I want to go.

So take a few lessons in living from our First Lady. Eat healthy. Stay active. And write a letter to a friend. Help keep the US Postal Service in business (it’s nice receiving something other than bills.) Now that we have the Forever Stamp and you can buy them online, there’s no excuse. And won’t your Grandmother be proud?


Like the Landfills of My Mind…

Recently, I made a casual remark to my current boss, Joanne, about my being organized and detail oriented. Her immediate reply,

“I don’t think of you as organized and detail oriented.”

Now before the swell of that big, collective “Ouch,” she didn’t mean it like that. Well, actually she did. And what’s more, she’s right. That’s one benefit of working with an effective communicator. Because without her pithy observation, I might not have seen the truth peeking out from under the comment.

Throughout my life, I’ve slapped on the name tag “Good Girl.” Rule follower. Drawer organizer. You get my drift. I could have a religious experience at The Container Store — all that possibility makes me weak in the knees. But as soon as Joanne muttered her simple, declarative sentence, everything changed.

I grew up in a household where order and convention were key. My parents were incredibly successful at branding us for public consumption. Everything — the house, the yard, the kids, themselves — were coordinated, tasteful and ironed. Especially ironed (see below.) 

Even our playclothes matched. Around child number three (brother Mark), Mom did relax her grip and allow jeans. For the boys. This is not to imply I popped from some plastic personality prison. In truth, both of my parents were fun and incredibly creative. Just very focused on the visual.

Mark and Jan were both amateur painters who always colored within the lines (i.e., more still life than Jackson Pollock.) Their two biggest passions were landscaping and interior design and they excelled at both. They had many palettes. Every house we lived in (there were four) eventually resembled the tear sheets from an issue of House & Garden (that Condé Nast bible was always artfully displayed on our tasteful living room coffee table.)

In our house, at any given time at least one room was in the process a makeover. I can mark my childhood years by the changing bedroom decor. The primary colors and cinderblock bookcases of kindergarten (much more successful than it sounds!) The middle-school girl’s fairytale four-poster, all violet and viole (even then, a bit much for my tastes.) High school brought sophisticated green toile wallpaper and antiqued wood — very English country garden. We Kenna Kids learned all about restaging, long before the advent of HGTV. (M&J’s favorite channel, by the by. Scripps missed the opportunity of a lifetime not having them host their own show.)

And the decorating didn’t stop at the front door. We had more decks and patios, pools and pathways, arbors and stone walks than the Gardens at Versailles. But never too many or much. My parents had taste. In fact, I believe my mother deserved the Pulitzer Prize for Rock Garden Design (what do you mean they don’t have one?) Or maybe for that bi-level herringbone brick patio she laid by hand over several summer weeks. I’m sure it continues to provide respite for the current residents of that colonial garrison on Birchwood Drive.

And while it appeared to everyone (including me!) that we were loaded, this was all done on a dime. (Hittin’ the HGTV sweet spot again – PING!) Is there anyone out there who also played the cherished childhood game “To the Dump, to the Dump, to the Dump with Dad?” Nothing was more exciting that piling into the car for a trip to the mountain of misfit joys. My Dad was a genius with other people’s cast-offs. A chair, a broken lamp, an injured table. He’d strip, sand, apply his magical brushes — et voila! True beauty and purpose revealed. A favorite memory is his transformation of my grandparent’s broken-down RCA Victor combo TV/Radio cabinet. He tricked that baby out as a liquor cabinet so fine that, when first revealed, it prompted me to order a whiskey sour straight up. I was seven. They declined to serve.

And Jan — no slouch — was a demon on the Singer. She tailored slipcovers and draperies, complete bed ensembles and table linens, then kept on going. Throughout our early childhood, my mom designed and created coordinated Easter outfits for herself, my sister, Gina and me — right down to the hats. That’s right, we greeted the Easter Bunny dyed to a family palette. Go ahead, call Tim Gunn. We made it work.

But perhaps their biggest joy, the bond that kept them closest, was worshiping at the Cathedral of Clean. My parents were zealots with their own front pew. And the true saints in our little Catholic household? That holy trinity: bleach, ammonia and an old toothbrush.

Anything that could be laundered, was. There was rinsing, and hosing, and scrubbing and the ever present bar of Fels-Naptha brown soap. Shoes stood at attention in every closet, hangers saluted like Marines. To this day, any time I use a bath towel, I have to snap it sharply before folding it and placing it back on the rack. (Any hotel maid worth her salt knows if you plump the pile, the towel dries better…) Need I mention this terry cloth was color coordinated? Didn’t think so.

So of course, I grew up assuming those were my natural inclinations. Guess what, THEY’RE NOT!!!

I admit: I can meditate while folding clothes warm from the dryer. I delight to freshly laundered sheets. And not to make you blush, but washing dishes in hot, soapy water can be positively orgasmic. Yes, I can organize a closet within an inch of its life and rearrange a room in a heartbeat. But I’m finally embracing the truth. My truth. My natural tendency is to plop. To place. To let it all pile up. Read any TO DO list I’ve authored in the past 30 years. GET ORGANIZED stands near the top. Oh, there’s a message there, girlie…

Joanne’s comment tapped me on the shoulder, so I turned and looked back. Despite my childhood of artistic alignment, I live in a land of creative mess. I have architected a virtual archipelago from the landfill of my uncloseted sweaters, buildings of books and incomplete projects. Be they physical, mental, emotional — these dumpsites have grown to demand their own zip code. Every so often I haul out the garden implements and prune the jungle foliage. Occasionally I manage to release a few of the smaller islands back into the sea. But always they remain, firm as bedrock.

Hauling this around for years has been exhausting. So my thanks to Joanne (with the requisite nod to Oprah) for my “Aha!” moment. Seems I’m not detail oriented. But I’ll eagerly dive into piles of detail and roll around in the lint. I am organized, just not in the linear sense. I like to chunk my stuff. In different ways and in multiple locations. I’m not my parents, but I am their daughter. I appreciate the sleek, but I dive into the eclectic.

And that, I’ve decided, is not only okay, but FANTASTIC! Because you know those islands I’ve been dragging around behind me all these years. Those little mocking mountains of mayhem? Guess what!!! I suddenly realized, they’re mine to use as I wish. That’s right. So I’ve decided I’ll drop anchor and sit back and relax on this— my personally crafted beachfront. It’s all bought and paid for. I’m finally a property owner!!!

So with thanks to Joanne I think it’s time to say —

“Yoo-hoo, cabana boy!! Fetch me a chaise lounge and umbrella, please. ‘Cause this water’s looking mighty fine!”


All Aboard That Musical Tourettes Train…

She said, “Yeah.”
I countered, “Yeah.”
Now both, “Oh, yeah.”
What condition my condition was in…” BIG high five.

The above “yeah-yeah” exchange just took place in the lunch area at my current freelance gig.

I have this thing I call Musical Tourettes. This should not be confused with the neurological disorder Tourette’s Syndrome, which like many a medical disorder can use all the research dollars it can collect (hint, hint, click here).

What I’m talking about is my automatic tendency where one word, one sound, and I’m off singing. Apparently, I’m not alone. Rolling Stone has assigned Jeff Beck the same affliction. (Do I hear a new category for next year’s Grammys? Let the nominations begin…) As a group, it appears we already have our own Facebook page.

Now back to the lunchroom. My co-worker, Joan, and I are of the same demographic, which helps with the admittedly out of date reference. All it took was that first word, “YEAH,” delivered with the proper emphasis for me to hear the conductor’s, “All aboaaaard!”

“Surely, you jest. Just one word?” You betcha. Sometimes, just a sound and I’m off and running. While this may seem like a musical blessing, occasionally it can get in the way. (I hear you chuckling at that Mac Book Pro. That was typed ironically, so the joke’s on you!)

A while back I was an assistant at a theatrical literary agent. It was a cool job. Interesting. Different. My boss was a dream and we (well, she) represented some significant clients (Tony Kusher, anyone?) This was early in my awareness of my affliction and some days at the office, I’m sure I did a passable imitation of Dolby surround sound. It only took three or four musical mutters before I’d hear,

“Crap, Dezur. You’ve got the sickness today.”

Joyce was great to work with. But if you’re not holding a ticket, I’m sure the Musical Tourettes Train is as welcome as the elevated express hurtling past your bedroom at 3 AM. So I’d try to stop. I would. But that was like asking me not to breathe. I’d overhear a word or catch the rhythm of a pencil tapping and my brain would immediately fire:

“Like the beat, beat, beat of the tom-tom, when the jungle shadows fall…”

Or the phone would ring (back when phones actually rang):

“Zing went the strings of my heart.”

I became more aware of my Musical Tourettes out of necessity. I needed to keep a job. Sometimes I’ll find myself humming a tune or a lyric, completely unaware of what had flicked the switch. Part of my control was learning to trace it back. For example, with all the cars and jack hammers in Manhattan, the Soul Survivor’s Expressway to Your Heart is frequently at the top of my playlist. And many an emphatic knock on the door has launched the bass line for that oldie but goody Midnight Confessions by the Grass Roots. Yes, kids, that’s how it’s done.

For non-MTs, I assume being around one of us is akin to hearing the annoying bass line rumble for your neighbor’s stereo (anachronistic, but go with it.) You know, that night when they played the theme song from The Monkees. Very, very loud. Over and over and over again. Nothing like the repetition of a 1-4-5 progression to peel the paint off your auditory nerve.

Don’t get me wrong — I adored The Monkees. They were my first “adult album.” (Careful. Don’t shatter the memory of my fragile, pre-teen dreams.) Most of my friends were hot for Davy Jones. But I had a thing for Peter Tork. He was tall and I had standards.

But back to the task at hand. I’ve often wondered about the science of this phenomenon, my Musical Tourettes. Unlike breathing, which is controlled unconsciously by specialized centers in the brain stem, music memory resides in the medial pre-frontal cortex. The basic activity of this region of the brain is thought to be the orchestration of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals.  Orchestration. Musical Tourettes. Makes perfect sense to me.

Actually this puts me in mind of the feeling I get while pursuing any creative outlet: acting, singing, writing, setting the table for dinner guests. (My mother, Jan, taught me real good!) During each activity, I alway have this watermark awareness of my brain. A sense I can almost see the words, shapes and ideas pinging wildly across the colorful background of that moment’s pinball game. And the bells, the clanging, the whistles required to underscore this creative arcade? Yep, my Musical Tourettes.

So while I’m grateful for the advent of the iPod and Pandora Radio, I’m gonna’ keep my seat on that Musical Tourettes Train. To Georgia. Leavin’ on that midnight train. Woo-Woo.

See, I really can’t help myself.