On November, My Favorite Month…

Autumnal Leaves, Autumn, Orange

On November, My Favorite Month…

I was living in Chicago. I stood at the large bay window in my condo and looked out at the Forest Preserve. Fallen leaves covered the ground; the sky was grey.

It was then that I realized that I loved the grey days, their sense of melancholy beauty resonated with me. November in Chicago, grey days. And then November became my favorite month.

It remains so, though in North Carolina those grey days don’t come until December. November, grey days, the birthdays of those I love and those who have wounded me the deepest, Thanksgiving, a time when, bare of their leaves, trees show us who they really are, the Novembers of our lives, literally and figuratively.

I spoke to a woman in her late 80s recently. Her best friend, one she knew since her high school days, had died. She spoke of the loss, not only of her confidant, her friend, but also of someone who knew, and had shared, her history. And that is part of what aging is – losing those we knew and loved, losing those who knew us. It made me even more resolute to publish that memoir. Not only to tell my story, but also as a way of preserving that sensation of the self that I once was, complete with failings and at least a few strengths. The real, the true, as memory and imagination blur, my perception, my sense of truth as suspect as the characters in my story.

Meanwhile, from my sun porch I stare at my favorite beech, holding on to its brown, brittle leaves until Spring, unwilling to expose its bare branches except to those who look deep and hard. And that is what I want to do.

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It’s Been a Long Year…

US NEWS CLINTON 16 ABA

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,

who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,

who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,

who do what has to be done, again and again.

These are the words of Marge Piercy; Hillary Clinton cites them in What Happened. And doesn’t it fit for this year – a year that, for many of us, felt like we were harnessed to that heavy cart, like water buffalo, trying to not make what was happening around us the “new normal.” Never, we said. Persist, we chanted. And we did, and do, persist.

I, who always hated politics and still do, found myself calling and emailing my members of Congress almost daily. When I started, I told myself that I would stick to two issues: gun control and universal health care. A glutton for punishment, you say? Well, punishment it was, but, with those numbers on speed-dial, I developed a tolerance for the smirk and smarm from the staff who answered our politicians’ phone lines – that is, when I could actually reach a live human. Most times it was voice mail, or, thank you very much Senator Burr, a message saying that voicemail was full.

And I found that I could not stick to my two targets – each day there was a new cause, one that needed to be reckoned with. Hard not to become overwhelmed and discouraged, there were times when I had to take a few days off. But I persisted. Not for myself. This year brought the many blessings that I have into a new perspective. I had healthcare; I had a prescription drug plan where my 90-day supply of medicine cost me $3. And so, I asked myself, and my congressmen’s interns, why would I not want that for everyone? Why wouldn’t they?

I asked how much they took from the NRA – they promised to get back to me on that one – I’m still waiting. I asked about our national parks, about climate change, about the tax plan now under consideration, and I begged them to do something to remove the president from office.

Did it help? Who knows? I can only hope that it didn’t hurt. North Carolina’s two Republican senators, and my Republican member of the House (thanks to gerrymandered districts) stuck with the party line. But I persisted, and persisted, and persisted. I called up energy I didn’t know I had.

And then there’s Hillary. A few weeks ago, I stayed at the New Yorker Hotel – where she gave her concession speech, one that I cannot read without weeping. And as I read What Happened, that familiar knot in my throat returned. The book is long and has more names and facts than any sane person could grasp, but it also tells the story of a real person, someone who has survived heartbreak time and time again on a public stage, who has looked inward and recognized her personal strengths, and weaknesses, in life and in politics. I liked that. I like her. I’m still with her.

So, after this long year, I’m still here. My heart hurts; I am angry at the choices that some of our citizens made and continue to make. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it; I know I’ll never be the same. I am committed to doing, and saying, what I can to make our country one that builds a longer table, never a wall.

End of soapbox oration. Tuesday saw some triumphs for candidates who have a more sympathetic philosophy, but it is far too soon to do any victory laps. Persist, and persist, and persist. And just maybe, one of those staffers will respond, yes, the congressman is in full agreement. I’m waiting for that day.

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On New York and Resilience

Bravo! I took this subway with no guide.. take me back to nyc

On New York and Resilience—

This post was going to be all about me – my resilience, my trip to New York, my seeing the city, and myself, in a new, positive way.

Instead, I write about a terror attack near the World Trade Center, where pictures of mangled bicycles, stories of Argentinian friends, a battered school bus, overcome memories of a clear blue sky and leaves just tinged with gold.

Resilience – New Yorkers have it in spades. And not only from September 11, 2001. I think that they’ve always had it – that it stems from a pride, even an arrogance, of living and persisting in one of the toughest, and greatest, cities in the world. It isn’t easy to live in New York, though I know that each borough has its own distinct personality. The gift to be able to “walk anywhere” is one that comes with a few strings – you have to be physically able to do that, and at a pace that would set the heads of most non-New Yorkers spinning. The subway is always handy – and, depending on your definition of “handy, that could be eight or nine blocks away. And those steps…. not for the faint of heart.

But still, even for this out-of-towner, there is a pride that quickly arrives when one pushes one’s way through a crowd of people walking on the wrong side of the sidewalk – don’t they know? how could they not know? — of quickly and deftly stepping around a crowd of tourists, obviously, who have stopped, three- or four-abreast, to look up at what they think is the Empire State Building (it isn’t) – and what can I say of the swelled head when someone asks you for directions? I must look like I belong here. Sweet…

You need strength to live in New York, physical and psychological. I recognize that by spending only a few days there. And with strength comes resilience. And sadness. And heartbreak.

You can target this city, founded on trade, and money, and what some might consider the worst qualities of our country, but you cannot break it. And for that, we must learn a lesson and be proud.

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On My Outrageous Friend…

Image result for image outrageous friend

My Outrageous Friend…

She didn’t know who I was the last time we talked, but she managed to carry on a conversation with this stranger who called to wish her a happy birthday. Now a phone conversation is beyond her grasp.

My friend, my outrageous friend. I may be lost to her; she will never be lost to me. Too many memories, experiences shared. And doesn’t every serious person need an outrageous friend, a window into thinking, behaving, as we thought we never would, but always, covertly, longed to.

Cookie was that for me. We laughed until our sides ached, doubled over with breathless delight. I accepted and cherished her idiosyncrasies that placed her family in paroxysms of fury and sometimes despair. She had a flair for the dramatic, all right, and no compunction about indulging it. Many times I stood beside her, figuratively if not literally, sometimes picking up the pieces. I was happy to do it.

She loved me, that I know. She thought I was wonderful, perfect, smart. Well, who wouldn’t want a friend like that? I confided in her like no other, and she always took my side. I can hear her pithy, salty responses, always delivered in that memorable Baltimore accent. “Well, you know he’s an asshole, don’t you?” “That fucking bitch. I knew it the minute I laid eyes on her. You know she’s just jealous. Can’t stand in your light.” “I can’t stand to be in the same room with him. He makes my skin crawl. I’ll tell him. You want me to tell him? I will. He won’t know what hit him.”

It didn’t matter if it were an affair of the heart, a work issue, or an in-law kerfuffle. She was there, always, and always on my side. As I was for her, throughout her scrapes and tussles with life. She liked living on the edge, and would do what she could to make sure situations turned out that way. I was close, yet far away, enough to look at them with a wry and loving indulgence, and, most times, help her figure out a logical, reasoned exodus even if she seldom took it.

For so many years we lived far apart, as I moved to Chicago and then to North Carolina. We did manage to meet in between every year. Now I wonder why we didn’t do that more often. Our last time together, when she was who she was, we spent hours in a bookstore, going up and down the aisles pointing out books we had read, wanted to read, a reader’s frenzy. We laughed, and I wonder if she knew it would be our last time when we were really together.

She called me when she first received the diagnosis. She cried; this time I had no words or plans that could make it right. I continued to call, not often, but I kept in touch as she became more and more out of touch.

Until this weekend, when the recording said that her phone had been disconnected. I contacted her daughter. “Mom is in a nursing home. She’s happy, well fed. She doesn’t know where she is.”

But, for me, she will always be in my heart.

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On Why I Love the Yankees…

Image result for image new york yankee uniform

On Why I Love the Yankees…

October is here; it should be time for the World Series. In fact, the World Series winners should have been decided. But no. Now the season runs into November, while most baseball fans have tired of the game and moved on to Netflix. Bah, I say. Let us return to the days when we had a worthy number of teams – say, 1954, the year that the Orioles returned to Baltimore (sorry, St. Louis Browns). Yes, that was the year when teams were located where they should be. We don’t need baseball in the South or on the West Coast. The beginning of the end, 1957, when the Dodgers – well, I won’t deign to even write about that.

Now, I love the New York Yankees. Always have; always will. And not without reason, both subjective and objective. So, if you’re still with me, I’ll tell you why.

First, objectively, as a former Baltimorean, it is well embedded in my memory that the current Yankee team started in Baltimore. Yes. While the original Orioles of the National League was disbanded in the late 1890s, the team was reincarnated as an American League team in 1901. Then, as a result of a “misunderstanding” between the scrappy Oriole manager John McGraw and the League president, the Orioles morphed into the New York Highlanders, who, as all baseball aficionados know, became, in 1913, the New York Yankees.

Therefore, I maintain that supporting the Yankees is really a manifestation of loyalty to the city of their birth.

Second, subjectively, and this is close to my heart, the night watchman at my dad’s business was a Yankee fan. I knew this before I even knew what baseball was. Dick Young was his name. I doubt if he could read or write, but he had the wisdom of an old soul. He came to work early, and often arrived at the same time as I when I took the bus to the shop. He had his radio; later he had a TV, and knew how to get those Yankee games in those days before internet coverage was even dreamed about. He smoked cigars (King Edward Imperials)  , and would give me the boxes when they were empty. That’s where I kept my baseball card collection, so the mingled scent of bubble gum and tobacco infused the assemblage. Now, all these years later, one box remains.

I treasure it; I treasure my memory of Dick; I treasure the New York Yankees.

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PortraitS – A Chapbook….

Inline image

PortraitS: A Poetry Chapbook

Longing, nostalgia, plants dreaming deep, characters facing life or choosing to do anything but look inward.

How to describe those portrayals? A disillusioned therapist, an agnostic priest, a bitter war widow, an abandoned wife, a forgotten war hero….

None are outwardly connected; their backgrounds and personalities are divergent and ofttimes contradictory. Yet it is their yearning for understanding and love that unites them in that eternal search.

PortraitS is here. I hope that you will consider reading it. I hope even more that it touches your heart.

And now for the commercial: you can purchase it directly from my website: cynthiastrauff.com

And so it goes…

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On Mountains, History, and Private Property…

Image result for image grandfather mountain

On Mountains, History, and Private Property…

This was my view from my porch last week. Each morning I sat, coffee steaming in the cool morning temperatures, and looked out at Grandfather Mountain, said to be named by early settlers who saw the face of an old man’s profile in the outline of the peaks against the sky. The Cherokees, who were here for hundreds of years before, called it Tanawa (famous bird), but it appears that, as so often happens, settlers eclipse Native Americans.

Somebody owned this mountain, at least until about ten years ago when it was, sort of, donated to the North Carolina Park Service. I say “sort-of,” since the attraction side of the mountain (a walk across a swinging bridge and the opportunity to see animals that don’t realize that they are on display) charges a hefty fee of $20 to enter. Now all proceeds do go toward the maintenance of the mountain, but I can’t help but wonder how much of the huge parking lot and resultant facilities would have to be maintained were it just a mountain. (Oh yes, I developed quite a curmudgeonly attitude during that week.)

And now I move on to gated communities in those mountains that are somehow owned, remembering a few hundred years, when the mountains were just there – to be seen, explored, when the Cherokees, who had no concept of “private property,” lived off and respected the land. On this trip, I was incensed to find one gated community after the other, gates closed for what, I’m not sure. To keep out whom/what? For surely the bears and other animals whose habitat we have hijacked with our need for vistas to comfort and ease the stress of our days can walk right around them. So, to keep the gargantuan SUVs from what, befouling our golf courses set at 5,000 feet altitude? Is this what we have become? That we can appreciate the land only while sitting in our Adirondack-styled rockers, sipping our Makers’ Mark bourbon and enjoying the land that our forefathers worked, while making sure those who once lived here were sent West and put on reservations?

Well, I guess so. And the irony is not lost on me that I, in fact, was sitting in such a gated community while my husband and I rented a condominium that gave us this gorgeous view.

Cognizant dissonance, you say? I’ve got it in spades.

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