A ‘Mary’ Ride with Polio

On April 12 I posted a quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to my Facebook account. For those that don’t know, Roosevelt, or FDR, died on April 12, 1945. I tend to honor his “death day” every year as he is personal hero. FDR, it was thought until recently where it’s become something of a debate, was stricken with polio or infantile paralysis in early mid-life and lived the remainder of his life in heavy braces or a wheelchair. What I did not know until this year (thanks Wikipedia) is that Jonas Salk’s treatment for polio was deemed ‘safe and effective’ on April 12, 1955, ten years to the day after FDR passed. At this moment, we live in a world of quarantine, where plague stalks the land, social distancing is the norm, and there is, to date, no certain cure or vaccine for the dreaded Coronavirus that floods our news day and haunts our nightmares. We also live in a world of misinformation, both accidental and intentional, where once thought of common sense practices like vaccinations are hotly contested, and everyone  seems to have a polarized opinion, whether well-informed or not. It makes me wonder what FDR would think of our current crisis. It makes me wonder whether he would have welcomed Salk’s vaccine or eyed it skeptically and dismissively. Sorry, just kidding. I have no doubt, given FDR’s documented struggle with his illness that he would have welcomed and preferred a cure, any cure to being wheelchair bound. Still, his struggle, inching toward a century old, feels like something from the murky past that we can’t touch. Polio is gone and feels almost mythic now doesn’t it? Except when I was growing up I witnessed its effects firsthand.

FDR in braces

FDR in braces

Her name was Mary, and she was one of my Nana’s bingo buddies. In the 1970s from around when I was six to ten years old, Mary, along with a motley assortment of other ‘golden girls’ would pull up in front of my house and whisk my grandmother and I away in a beat up Nova whose color can only be described as vomited forth avocado that someone mixed with glitter. The interior was maroon and torn, the backseat had no seatbelts (safety? Psshaw!), pick up was choppy, and the weight of the car sagged it toward the ground like an overburdened tank. In the back were variously me and my Nana, and Ethel, a woman who looked like her name sounds and who famously if absentmindedly ate plastic fork tines without realizing; and Alice, a red-haired raincloud whose language was loud and salty, and who vaguely resembled Heat Miser. Bertha, the kindly heart of the bunch rode shotgun, except when she drove the group in her own midnight blue Nova. I don’t know what was with the Novas back then; it was a thing. In the driver’s seat was Mary, a pistol of a woman who barely stood 5 feet tall. Mary’s legs were bowed way out and then turned back in on themselves, the result of the aforementioned polio. When she stood and walked she was bowlegged in the extreme and relied on a multi-footed black cane that made the macadam tremble when she lowered its boom. She was kindly, but her face bore the scars of a lifetime of struggling with affliction. At her age she sported what we used to call a ‘bread and butter’ perm. The total effect was one of a stooped, scowling, scrawny wishbone staggering quickly if determinedly towards you wearing a Q-tip on its head. As a driver, looking back she was no less terrifying. Her legs bent in as she sat, the side of one foot worked the brake, the side of the other worked the clutch, and she drove one-handed so she could pound the cane down to slam the accelerator into action. Every week, several nights a week in fact, we took our lives in our hands with her as we drove to bingo halls in Lebanon, Womelsdorf, Robesonia, and Myerstown, PA. We always arrived, though I confess I smashed my face more than a few times into the front seats in an effort to not fly through the windshield. It was the 1970s; that was considered a successful trip. Minor concussions were the price of flight.

It might sound like I’m making fun of Mary, but I promise I’m not. Quite the contrary. I look back on my time in that car, with those gals and my Nana as some of the most happiest of times. I think on Mary, especially of late, and all I see is admiration. This woman had lived a life of struggle and disfigurement, and she was unstoppable. She had lived to see her illness cured, thought eradicated, in those that came after her, but had to live with the knowledge that it had just been too late for her. To my knowledge Mary had married and been widowed, had worked in a factory and retired. She had done it all, and done it with polio; done it with grit, determination, and a cranky perseverance.  What a tough broad. When my Nana died in 1981 my excursions with the gals ended. No more bingo halls, no more Mary. There’s no question in my mind that she’s long dead; doing donuts in the New Jerusalem strip mall parking lot with St. Michael nervously smiling on.

I see people nowadays questioning the best available science. They thwart social-distancing, risk the lives of others with their erratic and self-serving behavior, and just rebelliously want to lead their “normal” public lives regardless of costs to themselves or others. I’m picking on no one in particular here; from ‘millennials’ on a Florida beach to picketers by a Michigan courthouse the mantra is always the same: I know better, I’ll do what I want, I don’t care who I hurt. Me is more important than we.

I wonder how some of these folks would react if they could see a lifetime’s lasting effects  from an illness for which there is (or was at the time) no cure play out on a loved one. Maybe they have, but missed the lesson. I wonder if they could learn to trust science and scientists, medicine and doctors, or would they still know better? I wish no one ill, but I can wish them wisdom. I had Mary. She was a good teacher. I count myself lucky.

Mary was a small, but significant part of my life. She is a window for me into a world long gone but one which could resurface if we don’t learn from the past. She was tough and unlimited. And she drove the country roads like Andretti after a few stiff ones.

I’m glad I knew her. I’m glad I could learn from her.

Thanks, Mary! On the ride of my lifetime, I’m glad you were in my pit crew.

Peace and Pennzoil,

Jason

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Not Mary’s car, but a good approximation, minus the sparkles

I’m Still Here Haiku

Well, there’s no question it’s been more than a long time since I wrote anything on my blog. And even with that said, I’ll save writing about what I’ve been up to, my family, the Coronavirus, and all that stuff for another day. Truth is, with all this working from home I have a little more time to do stuff like this, so hopefully you have a moment to read these little guys. Full disclosure, these haiku were written back in October of 2019, but as I was reading over them to select which to include in my post, some of them appeared almost eerily prescient or at the very least far too .timely. Anyway, enjoy, thanks for reading and wash your hands. I wish you peace and good health.

Namaste,

Jason

5230
It’s hard to stay sane
In a world gone truly mad,
Where nothing’s normal.

5231
There will come a day
When the nations of the world
Unify in love.

5232
How shall we proceed,
In anger and bitterness
Or forgiveness?

5233
That which flourishes
Will diminish tomorrow
While we ride the waves.

5234
Que sera sera
Is such a Buddhist notion.
What will be will be.

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Here is our kitten, Ickasik, (Icky for short) demonstrating social distancing by taking up all available room on the bed.

5235
Don’t let them make you
Dream any size less than big.
Small is not enough.

5237
Don’t give up the ship!
Plug the leak and head for shore.
You’re unsinkable.

5238
Be magnanimous.
Kindness, forgiveness, and grace;
That’s what it’s about.

5239
Just once I’d like to
Be like my cat: no worries,
Sleeping in a sink.

5241
We have yet to fight,
Live, love, prosper, grow, transform
To our potential.

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Here is Quicktop assisting me in getting fresh air into the house and any germs out by falling asleep in the open window for five hours. He and his sister are very helpful.

Haiku for an uplift

Well, it’s been a week. (I seem to say that a lot.) And that means writing haiku to bolster my spirits. I’ve been working seven days a week (doesn’t everybody nowadays?), celebrated a wedding anniversary, marked the 89th birthday of my father who crossed over 19 years ago, and just tried all manner of strategies to keep my head above water. So here you go! If these little guys bring you any peace, comfort, or joy, I’ve done my job for another week. May you be calm and blessed.

Namaste,

Jason

5216
Let today be a
Peace, Love, Light, Healthy, Happy,
Groovy kind of day.

5217
Who you choose to be
Is entirely your call;
Not a group project.

5218
We become our thoughts;
Our thoughts become our actions;
Actions, character.

5220
I brake for flowers,
Good food, sunrises, rainbows,
Slow turtles, and cats.

5221
Dance the cosmic dance,
Making up the words and moves
As you go along.

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The Tao of Kittens

5222
There are some people,
No matter how hard you try,
You’ll just never please.

5223
Mother used to say,
“Some people just won’t like you.
You mustn’t sweat it.”

 

 

 

 

5226
Seek help if needed.
Don’t suffer in silence while
Putting up a front.

5227
Live today today.
Put yesterday behind you
And tomorrow off.

5228
Try to breathe today.
Don’t let the grind get to you.
Hold to your stillness.

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Scary Halloween faces

This Week in Haiku

I find that I’m writing again. One haiku a day; but one is better than none. There’s been a lot of stress in my life these last few weeks, and I know it comes out in my writing. But my focus is still primarily inspirational/motivational, even if sometimes the voice is pushing from a place of frustration. Either way, the weather is beautiful today, and it’s Monday, and the week is filled with possibilities. So enjoy, thanks for reading, and I wish you a stress-free, productive week.

Namaste,

Jason

Hopes and fears and dreams,
Endlessly intertwined, each
Craving attention.

Open your heart to
Reveal compassion bursting
Forth like a rocket.

For your sanity
There have to be days when you
Say “no” and mean “no.”

Always be prepared,
For people will let you down.
So just be ready.

You need to let go
Of the bullshit in your past
And focus on NOW.

 

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You can’t fix stupid.
You can’t motivate lazy.
You can’t turn back time.

Know that there are times
When the best thing you can do
Is just walk away.

I’ve always dreamt big,
But I now find small actions
Are the way to go.

 

 

There will always be
A new battle to win and
A new hill to climb.

I am not perfect.
I strive for perfection, but
I miss the mark often.

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John Adams wishes you all a Two Thumbs Up kinda day.

The “Best” Dad in the World

My son, John Adams, makes us art all the time. ALL. THE. TIME. He just turned six. We get pictures of trees, flowers, rocks, birds, us, him, our families. You get the idea. It’s all somewhere between beautiful, heartfelt scribble, what is it?, and “now what the hell do I do with this?” We put some on the fridge. We lay away a lot in a box. We get overrun and start the process over. It is quite simply one of the joyous-griefs of parenting.

Recently, I reached for my yellow legal pad and realized I had inserted two of his more current drawings between the pages. I’m certain I did it in a moment of unconscious decluttering desperation. This time I stopped and looked at the pictures. The first picture was a lopsided heart with the inscription, “You are the best dad ever.” The second picture is of him and me walking outside on a sunny day with the words “Dad” and “Beeny” variously strewn about the page. I call him Beanie Bug at home or Beanie for short.  I really looked at his work this time, what he wrote, how he meant it. And I felt loved. And sad. Beanie Art20001

I’m not the best dad. I love him. I care for him often. I am usually the first face he sees in the morning and the second to last face before bedtime. I feed him, clothe him, and shuttle him back and forth to school. And he is with me for almost all of my work commitments. But I do frustrate easily at his unceasing chatter, his imperious self-righteousness, his inability to do for himself, his laziness, his petulance. And I let him know it, often, and in no uncertain terms. “You’re six, long hair. Get a job!”

Beanie Art10001

And yet, he still loves me. I’m the best dad ever. At least, in his eyes, on that day, at that moment. And he drew me a picture to tell me so. I couldn’t love him more, and I am unworthy.

So to all the rest of you out there, in the spirit of Paying it Forward, if you are feeling down about yourself, feeling unworthy of love, here’s some affirmations from our family vernacular to you, to lift your spirits a bit; to remind you that you are worthy of love and affection, even when you’re not meeting your own standard.

You are:

The best piece of chicken…

The longest game of UNO…

The warmest, fuzziest blanket…

The funniest animal video on YouTube…

The last lick of a Tootsie Pop, right before the chewy center, when the candy and Tootsie Roll are blended in your mouth just right…

The bestest hug…

The mightiest superhero…

The softest fur on the friendliest cat…

The kindest face when I first open my eyes in the morning…

And, of course, you are:

Bacon

 

Love and Hugs from the “best” dad,

Jason

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Beanie and I at the Caledon Butterfly release

My Once and Future Passion?

I don’t think any of us really know where it is we’re going to wind up in life, but it’s certainly not where we think we will. When I was 18 I was sure I would be working on Broadway by the age of 25. Then I graduated. And again and again and again. Got married, had a child, moved several times, started various jobs, and…you get the idea. I never got to Broadway. At least not yet.

My relationship with Broadway has been a love/hate one over the years. When I was performing more, had more money to see shows, felt in some way connected to the NY theatre scene, I’ve taken more of an interest in its “doings.’ When I felt dispirited, broke, sick, or just plain didn’t like what I was finding, I would put my interest unconsciously away, just forgetting that it even existed for years at a time.

In 2014, after graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University with my Theatre MFA, I was full of excitement and hope about my prospects in the business. It didn’t last long. The job market wasn’t great (is it ever for the arts?) and I didn’t find my place in academia (again, at least not yet). I lost interest in Theatre, perhaps due to its lack of immediate interest in me, put my scripts and cast albums away, and turned my attention to my son, my family, my stable church gig, and the education of my students. Through all that time, I’ve felt incomplete somehow, but it somehow seemed in my best interest to turn my attention elsewhere. Cue the last few weeks…

Flower Drum Song

The 1961 movie of Flower Drum Song

For the last few weeks I’ve had a renewed interest in my old love, Broadway, especially musical theatre. I don’t know why it came on. It just did. It started with me deciding to watch Flower Drum Song, the last of the big Rodgers and Hammerstein successes that I was mostly unfamiliar with. That led me to listen to both its cast albums, and then turn my attention to the other lesser known scores of R and H: Allegro, Pipe Dream, and Me and Juliet. I’m currently reading the script for Pipe Dream and I’m sure the other two aren’t far behind. They’re in the pipe line so to speak.

As of this writing, Spotify has become my best friend. I’ve listened to cast albums that I’d never heard before from Brigadoon, The King and I, Pipe Dream, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. And I’ve turned my attention further back to the operettas that were never part of my education, but should have been: Babes in Toyland, The Student Prince, and The Desert Song. I’m learning a lot, and hearing a lot I’d never heard before. It’s frankly, thrilling.

Pipe Dream

City Center Encores sings Pipe Dream

I don’t know what brought it on. I don’t know where it’s going or where it will end. But for this moment, this “brief, shining moment” (now I have to listen to Camelot) it’s nice to be in a mental place where I can appreciate the music I once and always loved; the music of my childhood; the music my father and I especially shared. It’s like hearing from an old friend you’ve been mad at but can’t remember why.

Now please excuse me, I’ve got listening to do.

Musically Yours,

Jason

Brigadoon

Kelli O’Hara as Fiona in Brigadoon

Well, It’s Been Awhile Haiku – March 2019

For some reason I just needed to get these out today. I wrote many of these weeks and/or months ago, but they are no less relevant today. Life has been crazy, busy, tempestuous, frustrating, and (time permitting) joyous. A more thorough update/investigation of me and my family is warranted, (or at least a 4 page summary), but today these haiku will have to stand as testament to my mood. I hope they bring you comfort, inspiration, resilience, and motivation. Yeah, I’m working on it too.

Peace to you all.

Until next time,

Jason

Carefree and reckless;
How alive one must feel when
Running with scissors.

It’s all too easy
To repay low with low, but
High requires work.

Don’t give in to fear.
Real or manufactured, both
Should be met with love.

Some people lack both
Common sense and decency.
They are our crosses.

Who can you count on
To be there when it matters,
When it’s not easy?

 

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Nancy and I on a very cold camping trip in Prince William State Forest

Science and wisdom
Await our return from the
Lowlands of the Lie.

When someone hurts you,
Focus on healing yourself,
Not taking revenge.

Hare or tortoise? Choose.
Each offers advantages.
Me? I’m a tortoise.

 

 

 

Roll with the punches.
Take what life gives you gladly.
No, it’s not easy.

Let’s work together,
Build our ‘more perfect union’
On peace, love, and facts.

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Shadow says, “May you find time for this today.” And food. Lotsa food.

New Year, New Haiku (2019 Edition)

Dear Reader,

Happy New Year, 2019. It has been over 5 months since I connected with you. So much in my, and my family’s life, has changed. We live in a new house; we’re closer to our work; I have started a new job with the Stafford Regional Choral Society; Nancy is two chapter revisions away from defending her dissertation; John Adams is in Kindergarten; and there are many smaller, subtler changes and adjustments that have altered our lives since last writing. We are still packing and unpacking. We are still finding our footing in a new home. There has been less than a little time to be creative with the move, and then  into the holidays. But I am still here; we are still here. And I am still dedicated to my blog and my writing. So with that said, please enjoy these new haiku, written over the last few days; the first new writing I’ve done in awhile, and certainly the first writing I’ve done in 2019. Until, next time, thanks for reading, thanks for noticing me, and thanks for being a part of my life, online or other, in 2019.

Blessings, Bounty, and Bacon,

Jason

The New Year’s begun.
Will it bring big surprises,
Or more of the same?

We are our actions.
Inaction is an action,
A choice of no choice.

Character matters.
Your actions and words matter.
Children are watching.

Model behavior
You wish to come back to you,
For it will return.

We have adopted
A white lump of fat some say
Used to be a cat.

Shadow set to spin

The road up is hard.
The road down all too easy.
Which road are you on?

No resolution
Can survive January
Without discipline.

I love New Year’s Day:
We resolve, renewed, hopeful;
Tabula rasa.

A cool blast of change
Blows with a wintry crispness
Across our country.

 

Pray for each other.
Listen to each other.
Love one another.

The family on Christmas Eve, 2018

Last New Haiku in an Old Home

Well, here we are: less than ten days away from moving into a new home we are blessed to have been offered, but the sadness and nostalgia of the moment is competing with the excitement, challenge, and exhaustion of a major move; even one just across town to convenient Fredericksburg. Our little 9-room idyllic rancher in King George, VA has been mine and Nancy’s home for eight years. It was our first home together. While in it we became engaged, married, pregnant with John Adams, gave birth and raised him for almost five years. I received my MFA. She all but completed her doctorate. We adopted our beloved cats, Duke, Ceyde, and Shadow. We leave our hearts behind with Ivan, Scoutie, Kisaki, The Nix, and many, many fish. We have borne illnesses and celebrated Openings and successes. We have as many memories as the clutter that we seek to escape. Who knows what comes next. Hopefully, we are trading the good for the great, the inconvenient for the convenient, the isolation for community. Only time will tell. So much to do before and after the move. We are so truly excited. Well, excited and scared. Anyway, enjoy the haiku, draw strength or insight from them if you find them worthy, and we’ll talk soon.

Namaste and may your life be one of exciting change,

Jason

 

 4776
Most differences
Can disappear with the words,
“But I accept you.”

4777
Be reliable.
Be someone they can count on
Even when they’re not.

4779
Animals know us;
They perceive our fears and moods
In ways we can’t hide.

4780
Attention expands
Those things which we put it on.
Where is your focus?

4781
Meditate daily
On your unique perfection.
You’re like no other.

 

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First Forsythia of Spring

4782
In adversity
The most gorgeous flowers bloom.
Seek out mud puddles.

4783
I am perfect health.
I am perfect abundance.
I am perfect love.

4784
Why are you waiting?
With each passing year you age!
Take those risks right now.

 

4785
There’s only one way,
And that is the way forward.
There’s no going back.

4786
Seek the difference
Between opinion and fact,
Between spin and truth.

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Our home in King George, VA (2010-2018)

Haiku – Late May Musings – All is Perfect

The school year’s ending. Life is crazy busy as we all gear up for summer. Change is in the air. Pause and appreciate the accomplishments of the last few months, and of your place in the universal whole. Take a moment to glance through my haiku below, and remind yourself that you are perfect. All is as it should be. And as changes arise they too are part of the ever-evolving and expanding perfection of the universe. And remember…breathe.

Namaste,

Jason

 4763
Within or without,
The Source of All surrounds us.
We’re part of the Whole.

4764
There is only now.
Whatever you do with now
Defines the next now.

4765
Rejoice and be glad,
For God made you as you are,
Perfect and unique.

4766
Christians, Muslims, Jews,
Buddhists, Hindus, Confucians,
Taoists, Pagans, Love.

4767
I have a strong heart;
It beats in empathy for
Myself and others.

 

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Caledon riverscape

4769
When we help others
We reveal our best nature.
Service is godly.

4771
The mind’s eye sees all.
Though words can deceive the world,
Souls know only truth.

4773
Grasp infinity
With your warm, mortal tendrils,
Yearning to know both.

 

 

4774
Unclutter your soul.
Discard the broken pieces
Of the half-lived life.

4775
Love that which loves not.
Love that which knows only fear.
These are our burdens.

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“I can do anything!”