Make Me Immortal in Your Art !

Several years ago, for my second 39th birthday, a friend of mine who wishes to be known only as the mysterious "Trebuchet" commissioned the comic strip artist Dan Piraro (famous and beloved for his syndicated comic strip "Bizarro") to draw a cartoon portrait of me for a birthday gift. My friend used as a model for this picture a famous, or infamous ( depending on how one thinks about it) picture of me that was taken back in the day when GFT was young, slim, nubile and unwrinkled. The gesture was a kind one - Trebuchet knew I was angsting over this particular birthday, difficult as those bdays ending in "0" often are. And so it is that I own this lovely tribute - to my youth, to our friendship - and I am forever immortalized in a work of art. Any woman should be so lucky.
To see the original photo that inspired the cartoon, see "The Story of a Photo" in this blog, March 2008.


The Jolly Lama

A few years back, I was fortunate to be introduced by my gf "C" to a rather eclectic local group , which has no formal gathering time/place or name, but whom I refer to as the Denton Buddhists. Such a group contains the usual assortment of ex-hippies, free-thinkers, wannabees (I include myself in that label) and this being a 2 college town with a fair number of international students and professors, folks from all over the world for whom Buddhism is their native cultural practice.

These folks , as far as I can tell, assemble in a variety of ways, and mostly seem to know one another - how, I am not exactly sure (being a "new-comer", having lived in town only 11 years, and barely on the fringe of acceptance, myself) ......I know there is a funny sort of Japanese temple-looking building here in town, known to natives as " the ashram" ( recalling those long ago days of the Beatles White Album and Haight Ashbury and all that implies) and which, as far as I can tell, is known chiefly nowadays for offering an oxygen bar and yoga classes in the late afternoons. The local Unitarian church offers yoga too, as well as holds a meditation session on Monday nights ( which I have not yet attended, b/c it conflicts with too many kid activities for which I am still designated chauffeur.....but someday, when Son # 1 can drive.......) We have a small but charming locally owned organic grocery food store here in town, kind of like Whole Foods but not as yuppified, that has a wonderful cafe inside - I have seen some of the same faces there. And to the uninitiated - i.e., me - that seems to be all I can find out about this group, where they hang out, what they do.

I keep asking all whom I meet : Where can I go to learn more about the practices of Buddhism ? Where can I study / learn to meditate / buy books / talk to others ? The answers to my queries are vague.......perhaps this group, Buddhists trying to co-exist in this land of the Bible belt, is deeply underground. Perhaps it does not exist in any formal sense. That would be typical of the beliefs of many Buddhists I know.

So it is with a brief sense of joy, however tenuous - similar in nature to that one day a year when all the monarch butterflies pass through Texas on their way to their winter's sojourn in Mexico -that I join other folks in town interested in learning more about Buddhism for a lunch with the Jolly Lama. Who is the Jolly Lama , you ask ? He is Lama Rinpoche Dorjee, (Dagpo Rinpoche, born in 1932 in Tibet, was recognised by the 13th Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the great master Dagpo Lama Rinpoche Jampel Lhundrup. His previous reincarnations include the Indonesian master Lama Serlingpa, who was the main teacher to Lord Atisha, as well as the translator Marpa, master to the famous Milarepa, sayeth his own web page), and he makes the trek to Denton once a year to help local business woman Angela Sangmu , (owner of a wonderful little shop, Juliet's Jewels, which sells clothing, handcrafts and jewelry from Tibet, India, and other Asian countries) celebrate her birthday. She graciously shares these visits with all in town who are interested in listening to a few words of wisdom from Lama Rinpoche, who is known as "the jolly lama" due to the natural and joyful use of humor in his teachings. The J.L.'s visits start with sharing a truly gourmet pot-luck lunch ( mostly, but not entirely vegetarian). Folks loosely associated with the Denton Buddhists gather together, eat, then listen to the Jolly Lama give a little talk on whatever he feels is the Topic du Jour. This year, it was how to focus and survive, by altering one's thinking, in a time of economic crisis and upheaval. Could not have been more timely .....and the things he says, simple core Buddhist ideas, hit right home to me. I enjoy this day very much, and look forward to it each year.

25th College Reunion

I went to my 25th college reunion recently, and it was not only a trip down memory lane, it was (as we used to say in the 1960's) "a trip, man" - in all the meanings of the word.
For this gala event, hubster and I (we both attended Rice U, and both graduated 1983 - so this reunion event was one we shared) decided to take a Friday off work - something we have never, ever until now, done- to drive from the DFW area to Houston. We decided not the leave the kiddies home with granny, (they are getting too wild and woolly for her to manage these days), but opted instead to park the junior rugrats with my ex for the weekend - that , in itself, was a Christmas miracle......still not sure how I convinced him to take the little devils ! My ex just happens, conveniently, to live in the same town our reunion was being held in, so we had to take the kids out of school for a day, too - to make all this work out. We've never really been the kind of parents who pulled kids out of school to go on a family vacation; have always preached that school is important and comes first, but it was the only way we could make this weekend, which kicked off with a Friday afternoon cocktail party, work.
So off we all drove on a sunny autumn day, heading to hubby and my 25th college reunion .....hubby looking forward to a weekend of drinking too much and convincing himself he is the same person he was . I was filled with a bit of trepidation, not really wanting to relive being the person I once was, or the person I was supposed to be now.
Hubster attends these college reunion events every 5 years, and knows what to expect. He has also kept up with all his old college buddies much better than I have . Neither one of us is the kid we were 25 years ago ......at the cusp of middle age, who really is ? Hubster was not too cool in high school, but "blossomed" into a widely known and popular campus character known far and wide as "Bluto" during our college days. I think I reached the apex of my social life in high school, and was sort of an odd duck in college. Not sure where I fit in - had some popular friends, but alternated between them and some rather quirkier sorts, as well . Worked long hours, lived off campus some, avoided mainstream spots like the dorm dining hall. Didn't take the expected path after graduation, either....For the most part, the choices I have made in my life in terms of career, husbands, how I live, what I spend my money on, are all deliberate ones. In the words of Robert Frost :

"Two roads diverged in a wood and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. "

Corny though it may sound, this quote holds great meaning for me. I started my college career thinking I'd be a lawyer. I finished my undergraduate days planning to get a PHD in history or anthropology and be a college professor. Life sort of got in my way - I needed to work right off the bat to support myself, couldn't afford years of grad school, and wasted almost a decade of my life supporting husband number # 1, thus putting my own dreams and career goals on hold. After awhile, I made the conscious decision that a career in teaching met my core values ( service to others, working with young people, not too terribly materialistic, prefer to spend my time thoughts and energy on academic interests, and a strong desire for periodic time off .) I've been a teacher for 20 years now and never regretted it. It was an unfashionable decision during the 1980's . Most of my peers were engineers, pre-med students, or went on to get law degrees or MBA degrees. Twenty years later, they are all comfortably wealthy. Many of these women married well and have not worked for awhile. I'm not really complaining about my life ; I am comfortable with the choices I have made, and enjoy my life. It is exactly as I wish it to be, and I wouldn't change a thing. But I have very little in common with most of my old college buddies these days. Our paths are so divergent that it leaves very little available in terms of meaningful conversation at this point......maybe if we kept up more, maybe this is why we don't. So spending a weekend with my old gfs, engaged in small talk about the kids, who vacationed where, what our husbands were doing - all the while secretly assessing each other carefully, to determine who's had a little "work " done on themselves, and who has yet to do so - was a sort of slow torture for me, comparable to the medieval practice of being placed on the rack for 48 hours. One emerges taller, certainly, but with a lot of emotional wear and tear.

Don't get me wrong - I love my old friends. They are part of who I am - or was. But as with most things women create, our relationships are so ........complex. We were a generation of smart, competitive women who graduated from a challenging , tough university. Many of us are at the top of our careers , having surmounted a variety of mountains to get there. I am proud of us all, proud to know my old friends, proud to be among them. Sometimes, I wonder : do we compete now over non-important things, because, like Alexander the Great, we have no worlds left to conquer ?

Hubster, with his guy friends, never has these issues. In the words of Henry Higgins from "My Fair Lady" : "Why can't a woman be more like man ? " All hubster's buddies want from their reunion experience is to drink some beer and act ridiculously childish for a few days, like they did all those years ago. Retell all their old war stories, laugh at all the silly things from days gone by. Because they perpetuate the old collegiate habit of dressing schleppy, there is no subtle competition over who has the most expensive purse/shoes/jewelry. Economic barriers fall by the wayside if everyone is wearing khaki shorts and a collegiate t-shirt. The ubiquitous base-ball cap covers varying degrees of baldness. Their simple revelry , releasing the inner Id, so long ago clamped down by the Superego they exercise most days, was refreshing. I can understand why one of them said to me, as we parted ways when the weekend was over , "Uh, ok guys, see you again in another 5 years ?"

"You bet ! " I replied. "We'll keep doing this, even if we have to gimp along, in our walkers ! We just need to invent a walker with a beverage holder attachment."

* * * * * * *

From the musical "My Fair Lady", words and music by Lerner and Lowe. This song is titled "Hymn to Him", and is actually rather ironic : It comes at the moment in the story where Eliza has been received at the ball as a princess, and Henry Higgins has won his bet with his friend, Col.Pickering (that Higgins could pass Eliza, the Cockney flower girl, off as a "lady" by changing her diction and speech). Eliza is heart-broken that Higgins congratulates himself, but not her, for this achievement, and Higgins, perplexed and angry that Eliza has left him, makes the following argument, in a song, with Pickering. Of course, both men have missed the point : They are so self-congratulatory that they don't even realize how they have hurt Eliza's feelings.

HIGGINS Pickering, why can't a woman be more like a man?


HIGGINS Yes... Why can't a woman be more like a man?

Men are so honest, so thoroughly square;

Eternally noble, historic'ly fair;

Who, when you win, will always give your back a pat.

Well, why can't a woman be like that?

Why does ev'ryone do what the others do?

Can't a woman learn to use her head?

Why do they do ev'rything their mothers do?

Why don't they grow up- well, like their father instead?

Why can't a woman take after a man?

Men are so pleasant, so easy to please;

Whenever you are with them, you're always at ease.

Would you be slighted if I didn't speak for hours?

PICKERING Of course not!

HIGGINS Would you be livid if I had a drink or two?


HIGGINS Would you be wounded if I never sent you flowers?


HIGGINS Well, why can't a woman be like you?

One man in a million may shout a bit.

Now and then there's one with slight defects;

One, perhaps, whose truthfulness you doubt a bit.

But by and large we are a marvelous sex!

Why can't a woman take after like a man?

Cause men are so friendly, good natured and kind.

A better companion you never will find.

If I were hours late for dinner, would you bellow?

PICKERING Of course not!

HIGGINS If I forgot your silly birthday, would you fuss?


HIGGINS Would you complain if I took out another fellow?


HIGGINS Well, why can't a woman be like us?

Why can't a woman be more like a man?

Men are so decent, such regular chaps.

Ready to help you through any mishaps.

Ready to buck you up whenever you are glum.

Why can't a woman be a chum?

Things I Am Thankful For

"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one...just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Ch. 1
Nick, the narrator of Fitzgerald's novel, The Great Gatsby, is given this advice by his father, and I think it is good advice for many of us to follow. You may recall that Nick is the sort of moral compass in that story, it is against his solid mid-western values that the various characters play out their little dramas; he is the judge of their performances, actions and motivations,and finds many of his friends and family lacking in their ethics.
GFT is acutely aware that, in spite of some periods of stress and upheaval, she has had an overall marvelously charmed life. Every day I see students and children who wonder if there will be dinner on the table that night, who have no parents, or parents who mistreat them, or are unable to care for them as much as they would like, or are homeless, or suffer from unimaginable problems that make anything I have ever had to live through seem absolutely mild in comparison. I am reminded on an almost daily basis that "the problems of two little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy mixed up world of ours", (Rick to Ilsa in "Casablanca"), and so on Thanksgiving, and most other days as well, I am extremely thankful for many things.
(In no particular order)
I am thankful that I have two beautiful, healthy, bright, handsome children. I spent years trying to get pregnant - had 5 surgeries to correct endometriosis and other gynecological issues, and went through 2 nightmarish pregnancies ( the 1st due to an abusive first husband, the 2nd due to health problems related to the pregnancy itself ; 2nd husband was very nurturing and helpful in that pregnancy). I had my kids relatively late in life, and for the longest time I never thought , as the years waned on, that I'd ever get pregnant or have a child of my own , at all. So I am always counting my blessings , every time I think of my kids - even when I am yelling at them for the awful things they did that moment . And I am grateful they are healthy, and hearty, and full of spunk and mischief. I have taught disabled students for over a decade, and while I care about them, I see how their parents have struggled to raise them as best they could, and what a long hard road their lives have taken.
I am thankful for husband # 2, the hubster, for while he annoys me greatly a huge percentage of the time, he also makes me laugh, and for that reason alone I think I'll keep him. He is smart enough to never bore me - that is a difficult feat. He has given me a good life, overall; rich in family where I had little, full of holidays at the beach and interesting adventures both home and abroad, as we traverse our lives' journey together. I just wish he could remember to put the toilet seat down and finish the various home repair projects he has started.
I am thankful that both hubster and I have good jobs, and to have a job that I don't hate.
I am thankful that I live in a charming, pleasant, relatively stress-free, low-cost area of the country.
I am thankful for books and newspapers,especially, that feed my mind and inform me of so many countless things.
I am thankful for good weather -when I experience it.
I am thankful for the many advantages I had as a child : middle to upper middle class upbringing; parents, who although flawed loved me as best they could, gave me all they could, including a first class education and many cultural opportunities, enough family money to ease some of life's troubles yet not so much as to make me jaded or careless with it.
I am thankful for the Impressionsist and Renaissance artists, scultors, and painters.
I am thankful for all my friends and family, without whom life would not be worth living.
I am thankful my children do not have ADHD.
I am thankful, every day, but am reminded of it more strongly when I travel abroad, that I live in a country where I can : vote freely ; voice my opinion without fear of reprisal, live /travel/go where I want; wear, shop, eat, hang out with whoever or whatever I want - what Norman Rockwell illustrated in his series of paintings, " the 4 freedoms",one of which is pictured above.


Things I Love about Denton

GFT has lived in many places : born and raised in Dallas, Tx. Moved to downtown Houston, lived there for over 13 years. During that time, interspersed here and there, I spent a summer in Los Angeles/Orange County , 6 months in downtown San Francisco ( Stockton St near Chinatown) , little over half a year living in semi-rural northern suburbs of New York City. I also called the Washington, DC area home for 3 years - lived in Alexandria, Va; worked in Silver Spring , Md (near Kensington). I love big cities, but I also enjoy small town life. It was after the frenzy of trying to live, work, commute, and raise our two young children in the DC area that the hubster and I decided we needed to leave the insanity of Big Cities and find a more family-friendly place to raise our little brood. Hubster commenced a job search and had several interviews/offers . After much analysis, discussion and thought, GFT and hubster loaded up all their belongings and moved to Denton, Tx.
We decided we were looking for several key things which we found all in this one location : affordable housing, proximity to a major air hub , also to a major city, yet wanted to avoid the "bedroom community " syndrome, where everyone is the same ethnicity, religion, income level, and boringly snooty of those not like themselves. I threw in the requirement that Mexican food be readily available, (really suffered withdrawal when away from it ) and hubster requested not having to shovel snow. Given that hubster is a college prof, we knew we'd be living in a college town, large or small - another important plus . Our latest hometown, even after a decade, still charms us on a near daily basis with the small town feel and cute touches (old fashioned ice cream parlor, roller skating rink, longhorn cows dotting pastures on the edge of town ) and the fact that , after living in the northeast, people are so amazingly polite. They actually wave to each other at four-way intersections, "no, you go first". Lots of "yes , ma'am" and "no, sir". People honk "howdy" if they pass you on the street. Lines in grocery stores are civilized; if several lines need to merge, people take turns. Boys hold open doors , old men tip their cowboy hats. (I spent pregnancy #2 in the DC area, and routinely , while hugely pregnant, had people slam mall shopping doors in my face, not offer me seats on the metro, and one guy in a movie ticket line pushed me roughly b/c he thought I was trying to line jump- I wasn't.)
There are many wonderful things about my new home town, not just the manners of its denizens. That is difficult to capture in a photo, so here I've chosen to focus on a few of the places in this town that fill me with joy. Top of this posting : the downtown square, in twilight. I drive past this site several times a week, and it is especially breath-taking in the winter, when the leaves have fallen off the trees and you can really see the old courthouse silhouetted against the sky. I don't know why the turrets on the building have onion domes, making it look almost Russian in appearance. I'm just glad they do - so many Texas courthouses have a boxy imperial pseudo art deco 1920's look about them.....we actually call that style "early courthouse". Somehow in Denton, we got this whimsical structure , which nowadays is a museum. The actual functioning gov't buildings are all modern, and are down the road a piece.

Living in a college town has it's advantages, and in Denton we are doubly blessed - we have two universities ( UNT and TWU.) This means lots and lots of college professors live here, and when old college professors die.....their families hold incredible estate sales. Often their relatives are young and clueless or unappreciative of grandpa's collection of musical instruments from around the world or grandma's nick-nacks and hand-made linens. Because members of this town often have travelled quite a bit, you can find Belleek china and drums from Africa and Thai silk curtains and all sorts of wonderful things at local yard and tag sales. But most importantly - books! GFT is an avid book collector, has books in every room of her house, even the bathrooms. I have more books than my local school library, and add new ones every day ! Not only are there all the college professors' books floating around at estate sales and used book stores, but all those college kids , whenever they need beer money , what do they do ? You guessed it ! They sell their books ! We have many wonderful book stores in this town, but none more so than Recycled Books on the Square. Highly selective in what they will buy, this place is a former opera house filled with gems - rare finds, first editions, popular reads, all kinds of wonderful things. No trashy grocery store novels.

Recycling - Denton was big into it, before "green " became the "new black". This town does all the usual stuff - but also recycles buildings. When a national grocery store chain left town a few years back, the city bought up the boarded up stores and remodeled them into a variety of civic buildings. This one is now a library near my home. Can you ever imagine this was once a grocery store ? It even has a Starbucks inside.

Music scene - Denton is famous for the school of music at UNT, and also for it's lively bar/club scene. You can see anything from c & w to rock n' roll to hip-hop. We also have many recording studios in town, and a local band, Brave Combo, that has won numerous grammy's for their polka CD's- they show up at many local events , like the big Fourth of July bash at Fouts Field. Have you ever seen 3,000 people performing " the chicken dance", all together ? I have. The Fry Street area near UNT is a walkable student shopping/restaurant/club district that recalls Austin back when Austin really was weird. All this music activity also means that there are wonderful music programs in our local schools with many great teachers.

Beth Marie's old fashioned ice cream parlor. Don't think this town is all cute and charming - we have our ugly strip malls, our upscale designer boutiques, our boring track homes. They just don't inspire GFT to write about them. Our city's unique little spots, do , however - and this is one of them. Everyone wishes they had a place like this nearby- and everything in Denton is 10 min from everything else. In addition to dozens of home-made premium ice cream flavors, Beth Marie's serves lunch, too, soda fountain favorites like BLT's and root beer floats. To me, the cutest thing about his place is that if you go there, late on Friday night, you will find a truly eclectic clientele : punked out college kids on group dates, moms and daughters, soccer teams, old couples sharing a float or sundae, escapees from the bar scene having a quiet moment. Too cute for words.