One woman, lots of paint and hundreds of tiles. If you're here because you found a painted tile, it's yours to keep.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Seanchai's Tales

When Seanchai was a little girl, and things felt beyond her control, as they sometimes do, she’d make up little stories in her head to help her get through things. She had this one little character she called Stacey, which was actually her birth name, and she’d imagine Stacey always doing what she knew in her own heart was the right thing to do.

Once she thought about it long enough, Seanchai usually did know the right thing to do, but didn’t always have the courage to do it. It often felt too risky. Like she remembers this one time that a new girl had moved into her small-town neighborhood, a mod big-city girl who smoked cigarettes and drank and had lots of boyfriends back home and deep dark juicy secrets to share. Sonya was two years older than Seanchai and her friends. But since there were no girls Sonya’s age in the neighborhood, she broke into their little group quickly, and became the big sister who told everybody how to get in trouble without getting caught ... 'cause no matter what it was Sonya had been there and done that. She knew everything about everything. Whether it was drugs, boys, sex, how to get tattoos without your parents knowing, she'd have the answer. She had all the answers and at least 5 wildly entertaining stories to go with each one.

Seanchai was amused by Sonya’s tales, but knew she was lying at least half the time. Well, not lying really. She suspected there was a kernel of truth to Sonya’s stories, but that most of them were simply about people she admired and wished to emulate, even if they did wind up in reform school, which is where parents once sent kids they could not handle.

Seanchai only knew one girl who’d been sent to reform school, and that girl’s parents had told her parents that they sent Patty there because they had other younger children and they were afraid Patty would be a bad influence.

When Seanchai told her grandma about Patty going to reform school, her grandmother said that’s just “a load of malarkey,” which is what her grandmother said about a lot of things. There’s a reason they call it reform school, Seanchai’s grandma told her. It’s because kids have be reformed, because their foundation’s screwed up from the start. The reason for Patty’s troubles, she declared, is that no one ever listened to her. If people would just listen to people, she said, they would know how to deal with others, and successfully navigate life. Parents expect, she says, that their kids are like them, but they’re so not, she said laughing. We have to come to become acquainted with them, without our own baggage, she says, and that only happens by being quiet, and listening.

These weren’t empty words. Seanchai knew her grandmother had mastered the art of listening. In fact, her grandmother was the one to whom she told all her stories as a kid, and grandma never tried to interpret her stories. She simply listened and asked Seanchai questions that led Seanchai to realize what her own stories really meant, because sometimes, even while she’d written those stories in her composition books, she didn’t fully grasp the underlying meaning until she’d talked them through with her grandmother.

She told her grandma about Sonya too, and how she knew that Sonya was a storyteller, and had talent for it too, but that she was using that talent to turn Seanchai’s friends away from her, and that some people were falling for it.

First, her grandmother, who’d been the one to dub Stacey “Seanchai,” explained that Seanchai did mean “storyteller” but that it’s original meaning went back to old Irish history and laws that weren’t written down but related through stories. But all the stories we tell ourselves and others, she told Seanchai, and even the ones that only exist in our heads or our hearts, are valid, and important, and every word we write comes from our own history. Sure we bring imagination to it, she says, and we should, to meet our challenges. But from our own personal history, she assured, we develop the “laws” of our life. The law, she says, is basically truth. If we listen, and we operate in honesty, she said, no other laws are needed.

“As for Sonya,” she added, “you see her soul as a fellow storyteller, and you will know what to do about that. She's as lost as the rest of us, but you can help her find her way.” That conversation stood out in Seanchai’s mind to this day. ... "You will know what to do."

But it was hard for Seanchai to deal with Stacey, who acted so meanly toward her. She kinda didn’t like Sonya for doing that, but then she thought about it long and hard, and wrote another story in which she imagined telling a little tale of her own to Sonya, about a girl who deep inside was afraid to put her whole self out there, but knows that if she could truly find the words to express and share all of it, that people would probably understand, or maybe they wouldn’t. What's important is doing it, because ultimately, one of the most challenging and exciting and rewarding risks you can take, is to be completely honest, and know that some may not accept you. What matters is that you’ve been real, and if you have the courage to do that, you can overcome a lot in this life.

Many years later, Seanchai and Sonya still keep in touch, about life and the stories they continue to tell themselves when their worlds feels out of control and they don’t have the answers they feel they need. But then, Seanchai will hear in her mind the reassuring voice of her grandmother, saying “When the time comes, you will know what to do. You'll just know.”

Sometimes it really is that simple. And usually, she does know. The little voice inside tells her when the time is right.

But is she doesn’t listen to that little voice, she also will hear her grandmother saying, "Seanchai Stacey O'Connor, you had better listen to that wise little voice, because if you don't, well that's just a load of malarkey. Pure malarkey.”

Seanchai's in a newspaper box --- some big fat box that has Citylink and a Spanish-language newspaper in it, just in front of Southland Shopping Center on State Road 84 in Fort Lauderdale. Not the newspaper boxes by the Dunkin Donuts ... the other ones by the mailbox.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Binky's Revelation

Binky had been working in the office for about 10 years. After 9 years with the company, new management came in and they were, to put it bluntly, not very nice. Binky realizes that’s not really all that blunt, but she hates anger and confrontation and people saying things in a way that’s not very nice, and that’s how the new people at the top were …cranky, power-trippy types who believed they knew everything about the business, even when they clearly did not. Like they got their jollies speaking to people in a ridiculously condescending manner when really all they had to do was be straight-up honest in a nice way and things could’ve gone far smoother.

At first, she would go home and feel all stressed about it, like she was about to explode, but Binky usually did well with keeping her anger in check. She just didn’t know what to do with all this stress. Then she started going out with the other office workers on Fridays and everybody would whine and complain all night over drinks, but that didn’t really make her feel better either, ‘cause then she’d still feel all negative and have a little chardonnay hangover the next day.

Then late one night Binky couldn’t sleep because it was a Sunday and she knew she had to go into that angry workplace again on Monday where the tension was thick and the tempers short. She turned the TV on, hoping the boring infomercials would lull her into the sleep zone, but they didn’t. The infomercial was sorta fascinating. It was all about calming herbs and the books you could have shipped for only $99.95, with eight E-Z payments spread out over a whole year, and if you ordered now, they'd even throw in a Calmerizer blender and three herb starters.

Binky lay there, with her cat Blackie curled up at her side and began to dream of the whirring blender that could change her world. She never did order the book or the Calmerizer but began googling for herbs the next day at work. She ordered a bunch and that night bought her own fancy stainless steel blender.

The following week she went to work like the mad scientist she was about to become, right in her own comfy kitchen. She’d play music all the while, mostly opera because it always made her giggle. But she could never tell anyone that, because her favorite operas, they're apparently sad and they end in tragedy. Yet that high-pitched passionate and crazy singing, for some odd reason, makes her laugh so hard that tears start rolling down her face and she just can't stop. Once when she saw a Maria Callas performance in a movie, she broke down laughing until the tears rolled but all was OK, because the serious movie goers at the art cinema house simply thought she was overcome with grief. Digging deep into the cavern of her very large purse, she unearthed an old Dunkin Donuts napkin to sop up her tears. It smelled like a jelly donut, which made her laugh even harder, and cry even more. While exiting the movie, a distinguished looking older gentleman who appeared to be choking back tears of his own, handed her a perfectly white starched and unused old-fashioned handkerchief, what her grandma called a hanky, and said "Do not worry, dearest. You cried for all of us."

Binky thanked him and laughed hysterically most of the way home, and felt completely emotionally cleansed. She filled the hanky up with catnip, tied the ends together and gave it to Blackie, who rolled around on the living room floor and laughed too, in his own little kitty-cat way.

While Binky has developed an affinity for catnip, she doesn't need as many herbs as the suits, because she and Blackie listen to the secret opera. She mostly does the herbs for the suits. They seem to really need it, and she was doing her best to provide that in order to make going to work more manageable, for everyone.

She soon had a whole stockpile of herbs and would whip up things special depending on the mood of the office on any particular day. She had St. John’s wort, valerian, chamomile, red clover, black haw … Binky never heard of most of these things before but soon became obsessed with growing and smooshing herbs and learning how to incorporate them into delicious brownies, chocolate chip cookies and even carrot cakes, all of which she brought to work and happily watched everyone around her consume. The suits especially loved the catnip oatmeal cookies … but she just called them oatmeal cookies. Said they were her favorite grandma’s special recipe. She felt sorta bad that she'd fibbed about her late grandmother, but she knew her grandma would have supported her in this venture and would probably get quite a kick out of it.

After awhile, those herbs started to kick in, and even the crankiest little suits became pleasurable to be around. She loved how she had taken control of the situation in her own little way. It made her feel like she was quietly running things. She could see how this was making a difference not only in her own life, but everyone around her seemed happier and healthier, and was getting along better. She watched one of the suits actually apologize for the way she'd been acting, said she didn't even know what had gotten into her but just woke up one day and realize she was being a complete ogre. Binky watched in wonder as some of the walls began to crumble and the sun began to shine down again on her little office.

She liked to imagine the tiny role she had played in her co-workers lives without them ever realizing. Even Blackie was happier. She loved it when Binky baked those catnip cookies because she always threw some of the catnip on the kitchen floor, and he’d roll all around in it. When she was done, Binky would make herself a big cup of catnip tea before turning in for the night.

Sometimes, Binky wished she could share this little herbal secret with the co-workers with whom she’d grown closest, but she knew them well enough to know that there was no way they could keep a secret this good. She could just hear them talking now … “Yeah, Binky over there, is the one who’s really in charge … do ya know she has us all secretly drugged with her herbs? We don’t even wanna know what she puts in these cookies, but they sure are good. Wanna try one?”

Binky knew that the very reason this little experiment was so compelling to her was the secret nature of it. She never wanted to be a real manager, the type where people expect you to be in control and run things. That was way too much pressure. She felt far more powerful being a secret manager with a magic herbal lab, with a forever meowing four-legged assistant known simply as Blackie.

Blackie kept all her secrets, and in return Binky gave him a special treat each day -- one large jumbo shrimp.

Left Binky in the ladies' room at the Starbucks on Davie Boulevard and Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale. She likes to drink the herbal tea there, but always adds a little dash of the catnip she carries in a fancy little jeweled box in her giant purse.