Bow tie

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, September 18, 2016


A near perfect September day, you know the kind. We are about to witness a young bride walk down a path lined in pinecones and dusted with rose petals, a pathway of lightly mowed weeds and grasses, nothing too civilized or slick — in fact, all of it a little bit rough. The light breeze, the intense heat of the sun’s kiss on the backs of necks, the first yellow leaves on the aspens, these wrap us in late-summer sweetness.

It’s wedding season, you know: something you mostly hear about until you are actually there, looking on, squinting through the prisms of welling tears. Two people are about to make promises. This is something that feels big — as if silent forces are willing the entire cosmos into alignment, from stars and compasses to leaves on family trees to the micro-flutter of butterfly wings. All of it converges to a tiny crucible, a moment in time that brings human speck soldering to human speck.

Her dress is elegant and simple, off-white with a short train. Her flowers are native, carefully unceremonious. The sound of the breeze through the aspens ushers us into a deliberate moment of silence; and there is nothing to think about — and everything to enjoy. At attention, every fiber of our leaning in towards love makes us feel more vibrant

Hypnotized by this sound of the wind in the aspens, we allow ourselves to be drawn into a story about to begin. The words are good. The importance of friendship and of respect in a marriage. The value of constancy, and patience, and being present, and of never forgetting what it is that has sparked this fire to begin with. The two of them stand there, riveted, nodding, eager to quench a basic thirst for ritual, for the tying of bonds, for the making of meaning, for union. Their vows are fresh and easy versions of I-don’t-know-how-I-got-so-lucky meets I-promise-to-honor-and-respect.

But, I mean, they had us at saying each others’ names — saying names the way we all like to hear our names spoken. As if there is no other name in the world, weapons down, bare to the bone, a word that signifies one being and one being alone.

I notice that the four groomsmen’s ties perfectly match the flower arrangements. Gold, apricot, sage, eggplant. Later, when I ask if it this is a deliberate act, they look at me as if I’m insane. We were told fall colors, one says. That was all, says another. Well, I answer, you look great. Pretty ties — men forging order through the hand-over-hand of fabric-y knots — make me want to fall to my knees. Is it the tenderness of taking care?  Marking moments by dressing up for them? Is it the oddness of the tie itself combined with the time we take to tie it?

More and more we seem to be leaving it casual, moving through the world comfortably, sometimes even a little sloppily. Our shoes don’t have thirty buttons, our shirts don’t require ironing. We don’t wear overcoats and gloves the way we used to. Ties take it up a notch, especially in the mountains.

Last summer about this time, in a quirky workday moment selling cashmere sweaters, three men from a wedding party come in search of someone who can tie a bow tie. They are carrying tumblers of cocktails, wearing untucked tux shirts.  Charmed, I step up and use one of my motley skills. They have more friends, they venture, could they bring them by? A couple of hours later, I have fourteen dressed-up men in bow ties standing before me, and, eyeing the tie-scape in the small shop, I feel a great sense of absurdist accomplishment and joy. Something will be witnessed today.

At this very moment, the groom, in relaxed, country-life shades of tweed (but buttoned up nicely at the top), has just told his bride how much he loves her. How much he wants her to rely on him. How he hopes he will live up to everything she deserves. She has already said to him how all she has ever hoped for in a man, she has found in him. And more.

Towards the end of the ceremony, the two fledgling spouses are told that, as a matter of fact, because of this union the world will be just a little better of a place. That in union is much more strength and potential for love — that really anything on earth can be done from this starting point.

And as we wait in the noonday sun, wait for the groom to kiss his bride and for her to kiss him back, we cannot help but feel smitten, tenderized and completely renewed.


Mutiny of the bounty

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, August 21, 2016


Just a couple of hours down the road, there is a sweet little shady honor-system fruit stand, where before me, on a spectacular August-ripe summer day, stands an all-white Australian shepherd, a dog standing so still there is nothing to do but reach down and pat it.

Its owner, picking vegetables and a flower bouquet while keeping her eye on her charge (a baby boy playing with a carrot), tells us the dog is deaf and blind and that, in general, it is a good idea to let any dog sniff your hand before reaching toward it. Retroactively doing as I am told, I ask if it is a puppy. No, she says, the dog is actually 6 years old.

I find myself hypnotized by the quiet presence of the dog — just sort of struck by this animal’s life, eyes scarred and ears never having heard a sound, let alone a dog’s broader-than-human spectrum of them. I stay close, bending down. The owner fills us in on the nature of the rescue — another Aussie shepherd whose health was risked by breeders attempting, against great odds, to get the exceptional white one with blue eyes. Puppies with two merles as parents, usually dogs with an abundance of white in their coats, have a very small chance of being born normal; most are born either deaf or blind or both, and are then put down.

This dog has been adopted instead. She has been living on 40 acres, getting to know every square foot of the property by sense of smell and through the slow process of trusting those who love her.

She moves in miniscule increments in the fruit stand, micro-shifting this way and that like a compass needle, mostly staying put. I am feeling the silence of her world. She doesn’t know how beautiful she is, how little of the normal wear and tear is visible on her body. How thick, white, and wavy her fur is.

What gets me, though, right here and right now, is that she does not see the beauty and mutinous bounty — which can indeed overtake one — of the color-wheeled, sun-drenched, summer-thick world around her.

I buy slicer tomatoes so perfect, I am thinking of a sandwich (made on local brick oven bread I am not supposed to eat) of nothing but tomatoes and mayonnaise, just like the ones I ate as a kid. In the stall, a rainbow of produce is laid out neatly in brown bags, surprising flower bundles line a wall, and through the filtered mid-afternoon light, dust motes seem to be lolling in the air.  And outside? Where the dog cannot see, even more?

Outside, it is a banner year in these parts — nothing like it in 20 years according to people who live here. Trees are so laden, it is a wonder they can even support all the heavy flesh of fruit irresistibly dragging branches down weeping-willow style. Staring up from under the peach trees at a u-pick place to the brilliant blue of sky, I feel the thrill of warm fruit ripening so close to me, I can almost hear it. Everything is so lush, so about to burst.  In amongst the plums, we gorge a little before virtually holding our baskets up and tapping the beauties in.

In town, wild apricots line the sides of roads in blushing masses, then fall silently into ditches. And at a friend’s neighbor’s tree we find ourselves standing in the equivalent of fruit drifts, apricots so thick on the ground, our flip-flopped feet are sticky, sliding around, squishing the ripe fruit.

I am thinking of the pure white dog surrounded by the glory of the world and unaware of it. What do I know of her experience, though, really? Of her nose’s take on the world, or her heart’s? I know that in some ways what she really reminds me of most of all is me, of the sense of being a privileged human, someone surrounded by all kinds of great bounty and often not even aware of it.

In our readings of beautiful things, this is what we come across today by Pema Chodron, an 80-year-old American woman, Buddhist monk and gem. “What is meant by neurosis is that in limitless, timeless space — with which we could connect at any time — we continually have tunnel vision and lock ourselves into a room and put bolts on the door. When there’s so much space, why do we keep putting on dark glasses, putting in earplugs, and covering ourselves with armor?”

The white dog stays quietly in the stall. Me, I am outside, where — at least at the height of every kind of summer sensory overload — my dark glasses and earplugs are yanked out for a few moments in time.

RDHTMOM meditation

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, May 15, 2016

Recent sighting: a little red Chevy with the license plate RDHTMOM. Behind the wheel is a 40-something brunette with a medium bob and bangs.

Take a deep breath as you grip the steering wheel, and squeeze hard, hard as you can. Harder. Harder still. Aaaaand release. Feel the blood flow into your fingers, and then send your fingertips up, glancing at the color of your nails. Revlon, Wintermint — an icy shade of blue-green that smells delicious. Scented nails, and not a chip or flaw to be seen! Breathe in Wintermint. Relax.

Drop your shoulders and glance in the rearview mirror. Is someone driving too close behind you again? Gently signal and glide peacefully into the next lane, breathing in through the nose, and out through the mouth. From the lower belly, to the ribcage, then to the upper chest and throat. Just like they taught you in that yoga class.

Now, turn the AC off and open up your front windows four inches. With another deep breath, enjoy the feel of the warm wind messing up your hair. Yes, both a red hot mom and a regular mom might do this. Relax your whole regular-mom face. Take off your sunglasses. Shake your head. Remember yourself at around 8 years of age when the world was your oyster. Pretend you see your best friend coming toward you on her blue bike and smile that winning smile, ear to ear.

Turn off the radio — since you never know which station to play, anyway. There’s too much pop in country, and not nearly enough country in pop.  You have no clue what red hot music would be — and maybe never did. If your phone is on the dash, which it probably is, pick it up and toss it onto the back seat; because even if your phone does contain your life, do you need every square inch of it at your fingertips every second of every day? For that matter, wouldn’t it feel good not to have so many contacts? Or so many apps that your 10-year-old has to show you how to use? You hate Candy Crush. Your favorite app is Goldfish Pond because it sits there and shimmers, and when you touch it, it ripples. The fish glide. You can change the Japanese background pattern but that’s about all. Genius.

If you were going to design an app that was meant to make people happy, what would it be? Something like Pond. A blue sky with a random crow flying by?

Whichever way you were going to turn next, get ready to turn the other direction. Yes, you are going to go the other way. Not to the bank. Not to Safeway. Not to the school to pick up the kids. Instead, you are going to make that wrong — but very right — turn. Sink deeply into your bucket seat and adjust it back a click, letting your head tilt back with it. Say the words, “Oh yeahhhh,” just like in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” your favorite movie of all time.

Look around, noting beautiful things in this unfamiliar neighborhood. A budding rose bush. A dog sitting on a porch, wagging its tail. There is goodness here. Breathe in and out, and undo that top button of your jeans. He’d love you even it they weren’t so tight.

Of course, he thought you’d love the license plate. And the car. Because when a woman turns 40, and her two kids are already looking at her, like, “she’s old, she’s my mom,” she needs a pick-me-up. He was trying to make you feel good, tell you no need to worry. So you put on a show and acted pleased, despite the fact that you adored that 2001 white Suburban because it was smack dab in the middle of your comfort zone.

Now, your license plate makes every single person behind you speed up to check you out. And that forces you to look straight ahead, sunglasses on, as if you’re too cool for school, but really what you are is mortified. Belly breaths all the way around the block — a complete circumnavigation until you are calm.

There. Now, pull your shoulders up to your ears and let them drop. Then, do it again, only this time shrug lightly, holding the shoulders up in a lilting way, and smile that winning smile. That’s your move, Redhotmom. Shrug-and-smile.

Because then, when someone is giving you that sideways glance from the next lane, instead of being an imposter with a vanity plate that screams, “Look at me,” you’re the bright- eyed woman with the windy hair who shrugs and smiles every time, as if to say, “He thinks I’m red hot, and I just don’t have the heart to tell him otherwise.”

Tiny buds

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, May 1, 2016

Five years ago today, my husband died.

My daughter was about to graduate high school, turn 18, go off to college and start her life. She had weathered his diagnosis of melanoma and seen him through 17 months of struggle and regimen, pain and hope. She had weathered my moving out of the house for six months, as I worked to figure out what was wrong with our marriage, even as he was trying to cope with his health. And she weathered my moving back in after our reconciliation, which coincided with the discovery of a tumor on his spine and subsequent neurosurgery and hospitalization. She was there with me at the end when he died at home, his brain overcome with lesions.  She saw him struggle for his last breaths — a 53-year-old heart that was not ready to stop.

We sleep in the same bed for a month afterward to heal the trauma of his death, and then we begin the complex and unpredictable process of grieving.  We compartmentalize, keep busy. I pack up some things and leave others alone. She works; I work; we exercise. The permanence of the situation becoming clearer, we began to truly feel the gaping hole a daily familiar physical body leaves after its disappearance from Earth. I wonder how so many people on the planet can be going through the same grief. So much loss, so many holes — more holes than people, it seems.

When she leaves for college, I am alone in my house. I put in a new bathtub and get in it every night to play Words with Friends, 10 games at a time, for the company and to keep things very, very simple. I go to work. I feel the love of my community.  I listen to my daughter tell me about her new girlfriends at college, strong, smart, beautiful young women with whom, by the grace of God, she bonds. One of them has lost her father recently, as well, and there is additional support and understanding. I feel she is being watched over.

Exactly one year to the day after his passing, my throat swells up — I can’t swallow — and I go to the local doctor for a strep test, which comes back negative. Because it has a tendency to, my story spills out, and I ask the doc if he believes in metaphors. Gently, he says he does. “I guess I can’t swallow something,” I sum up. There’s something lodged in my throat; it’s a lump the size of a walnut, stuck there. In a moment of grace and epiphany, I realize what it is I cannot swallow: The idea that my widow’s year is up, that I will be asked to get over it now and move on. Once I grant myself a little more time, I get better.

That same month, I reconnect with a man I’ve known for 20 years.  My daughter watches, heartsick and angry that I’m seeing someone so soon after the death of her father. She watches us struggle through early days, two middle-aged people trying again. Meanwhile, she meets someone, and begins the first major relationship of her life with a sweetheart her father would have liked. She attends her own mother’s wedding and finds herself in a family larger by three adult stepbrothers and a 6-year old stepsister. She weathers the jealousy of her mother in another mother role, and then just barely weathers as she watches her mother sell the house she has called home her entire life.

Against all odds, she opens to a new stepfather and begins to develop a real relationship with him, despite the hole her own father has left. She asks me what if she isn’t grieving right. Why doesn’t she cry more, is there something wrong with her? Why does it seem, in some ways, to get more real and painful the farther out?

Meanwhile, I take the pulse of my own grieving, even as I begin the journey with a new partner once again. We buy land and start the process of building a house down the road, in a fresh place. Life moves us forward like a river, heaving underneath, bigger than us.

Amidst it all, the coexistence of things mystifies me most: the goodness of finding companionship again, for instance, even as I continue to dream of the man I spent 26 years with, trying to resolve in sleep what I cannot in my waking life. It is hardly parsed out into easy beginnings and ends; things overlap. How do I create a peaceful container for all the splashing, mixing and overflow?

Here on the cusp of my daughter’s 23rd birthday, I’m grateful for the beautiful gift of watching my child choose light over dark again and again. Her father would have admired this. What I hope I have given her is a sense that life is big, bigger than we can know; and every time we open our hearts to new growth — tiny buds sprouting from what appear to be the bare twigs of winter — we heal not only ourselves but also those lucky enough to be around us.

Cat interpreter

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, March 20, 2016

Wills, our willful orange tabby who just turned ten, has an interspecies interpreter at home. That would be me. I am the language specialist who delivers in English what this feline is “thinking” — or whatever crazy, mixed-up thing it is they do with their 30 grams of gray matter, which is, actually, organized quite a lot like the human brain

I come by the genes honestly, as my mother worked intermittently for the French Consulate in Seattle doing both written translation and simultaneous interpreting. It was superb job for her: She probably had the most academic brain of anyone in the family despite a schooling career cut short by the financial necessities of her family. She joined the Paris workforce in 1936 at the age of 15 and never looked back.

Though she flunked English in secondary school (bad teacher chemistry), she was meticulous and had a natural command of the language, which turned her into a really good translator. She’d also had the first 10 years of married life in the States to practice her writing skills, since she was writing to my father — who was in large part away, on tours of duty — nearly every night. Those who have learned a foreign language know that writing is an ocean away from conversation.

Besides all that, she could think like a lawyer, carry on like a diplomat and pull things off (she successfully presented herself in court as an attorney in her twenties while working for an insurance company in Paris). I remember her telling me later in life that for the sake of the meetings she was facilitating, sometimes she would soften or bend the translation to make sure that those speaking had the best opportunity for success.

At the time, I thought it was dishonest, that the clients were being cheated, misled. Now, of course, I think it was brilliant: the idea that relationships need mediation in the real world. How about when two people actually do speak the same language? Or how about when the two in the relationship are from different species? All brilliant!

Yes, I do realize I’ve written about this particular cat before. The cat from hell, the princess, the boss. The one who gets cream in the morning. And housemade cat food. The cat sitters I’ve had to cajole into caring for her. The long explanations about how her hissing is an everyday sort of sound. The one who can’t be down for the night unless she’s in her own room, with the door closed. The one who will stand at the top of the stairs waiting for her bedtime escort, preferably the man of the house, to take her down, but only after nice words are spoken and in the correct tone.

Sure, there are plenty of cues that are easy to interpret. She stands at the sink if she wants the water turned on. She actually hangs on the ledge of the door if she wants out (sometimes continuing to hang as it swings open). Putting her paw on your lap if she is going to attempt blessing a human lap with her kneading paws and an eventual plop-down.

But what about the more subtle things, things maybe only a person who has served her continuously for ten years could know? A short while ago, after some slightly erratic but not unfamiliar behavior, I tell my husband the cat is embarrassed.


-Yeah, she’s embarrassed. Because she asked you to open the door but then couldn’t make herself go out. So now she’s pretending to go nuts, but it’s just a cover. She’s mad at herself. Embarrassed at being such a wimp.

This elicits a delighted sort of snort. Weeks later he works cat embarrassment back into the conversation.

How I can overlay my human emotions on this eight-pound whack job in a cat suit? Whatever I’m doing, I seem to be doing it more the older she gets, maybe as her curlicue tendrils of thought become more familiar. Maybe as my mind is cat-melded into deeper comprehension. Or maybe it just makes all her ridiculous behavior somehow more acceptable to me, if I parse it out into a Henry James or Jane Austen version.

Ten years after going to pick her up in Norwood (on account of my daughter’s 13th birthday and her desperate need of an orange cat and a notice in the paper that very day that said “Free orange tabbies”), I am still trying to get a handle on this redheaded dictator who showed up without an interpreter.  I’m doing whatever I can, and as I know my mother would have had it, to make sure we have the best opportunities for success.


Sign of the Dove

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, February 7, 2016

It’s the early 80s and it’s New York City, still a gritty place with large pockets of swank. I’m a single girl, a young woman who doesn’t hang out in bars much. I have very little money because I work in publishing, an industry notorious, especially back then, for a small modicum of glory and a large amount of low pay. I have tried on yet another brand new oxymoronic look – thrift-store preppy –and I’m still not sure about the Fair Isle sweater and penny loafers.  Not that it’s any more of a stretch than the baggy, bleached Mexi-ponchos I’ve renounced, from my So-Cal college years.

According to my Social Security profile, I make about $9500 per annum during the Bantam Books era and spend roughly $500 on my monthly rent, in an apartment I snag only because I have bribed (unsure how) the newspaper stand guy to give me the real estate section on a Saturday night before the front section of the Sunday paper comes in.

God, I love having an apartment of my own on the Upper East Side, though, even if the bathtub is in the kitchen and the toilet is down the hall. It’s perfection, being in, watching black and white movies on my little TV, hearing sirens, staring through the bars on the windows at the lights of the big city at night. Even getting rejections from the New Yorker…. It’s all so — New York. Anyway. The downside? I’m lonely. I have to force myself to go out and meet people: and how is that going to work?

How will it work when virtually everyone in New York is taken? Not only that, the couples, that are everywhere as far as the eye can see, are perfect couples. Look at them, walking arm in arm in Central Park as the maple leaves swirl and crunch underfoot. And sharing popcorn and Junior Mints at some foreign matinee. Look at them huddled under a single umbrella as they brave the wind to get to the Guggenheim where they will appreciate works of art and then duck out to have a late night snack. Look at them on ferries staring into the distance at the Statue of Liberty, and marching across the Brooklyn Bridge, and window shopping at Bergdorf’s at Christmastime.

What a delicious, dangerous, and easy seduction it is to romanticize everything, from the togetherness of couples to the loneliness of a single person: and I do!  Around Valentine’s Day, when the romanticizing comes to a head, I hole myself up and watch whatever the old movie channel feeds me, falling in, head first, stuffing the gullet of the monster of fantasy. How it should be. How it isn’t. That addictive combination of storyline and brainwashing and vulnerability and hope and constant comparison.

Years later, I give my disease a name, Sign of the Dove Syndrome, after the a restaurant in New York (closed in the late 90s, replaced by a high rise) that I pass and stare at longingly as I walk the 45 blocks home from work, a restaurant filled with elegant people all presumably behaving in better than average ways. In the spring, the gauzy curtains billow and blow out into the street at East 60th, affording glimpses of the enviable world inside. Men in yellow paisley ties. Women in belted dresses and pencil skirts.

What I don’t realize at the time… is a lot! For instance, I don’t realize that for every single man or woman desperately seeking companionship is a companion desperately seeking something more or seeking freedom. That virtually 100 percent of the time, I know nothing about the people I have imposed life stories on, that it has no bearing on any kind of truth except this truth: that I am fantasizing and making stuff up. Something I am quite good at.

Years and miles removed from New York and still in recovery from a life fueled to some degree by fairytales, and fantasies, rom-coms, and popular songs, I am finally beginning to really believe that the romance of life is for the taking – for anyone at all to take — whether we are happily or unhappily attached or happily or unhappily single or somewhere in between. That romance at its best is simply enjoying the great unfolding drama of life – with less longing for what we don’t have and more relishing of what we do.

(And sometimes we have chocolates to relish, it’s true. Whether you buy them yourselves or they’re bought for you.)


Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, January 17, 2016

We’re at a dance party.

The DJ is talented, the people have come — even on a school night — and the birthday girl is happy. At 65 years old, she has a certain amount of defiance stored up, especially when you factor in a family escape from East Germany at a young age, a penchant for rock and roll, a love of leather, camo and militia boots and that inscrutable Germanic black-and-white-and-primary-color view of things. That’s reality, you know? Cut to the chase. Tell it like it is. Get in someone’s face if it will make a difference.

At some point, the mic is in her hand and she’s giving a spiel. How she never saw Jimi Hendrix (the great regret of her life), but how she managed to see Queen twice (while no one in the audience has ever seen them at all). How EXPLETIVE happy she is to see everyone at her party; how when they turn 65 maybe they will find it in themselves to EXPLETIVE think of her because chances are at that point she will have been dead a very long time….

That now, however, it is time to EXPLETIVE dance.

Yeah. She pauses. EXPLETIVE, yeah!

One fist shoots up in the air.  It’s one of those movements I’ve never been able to pull off — that I might have to try out in the privacy of a bathroom or something before liberating it. More likely, it is one of those body-words better left unarticulated by me. She, on the other hand, can pull it off, no sweat, because it comes naturally, like a sneeze. It’s one of her go-to physical articulations. You know, you can feel the essence of the fist up even when someone else does it; it plays sort of like a micro-anthem, a bird getting out of a cage. She works the crowd to get their fists up.

I’ve been to a lot of dance parties with this woman. Some with three people and some with a hundred. I’ve danced to the Stones, and Prince, and the BeeGees and Ricky Nelson, and Pearl Jam and French rockers from the ‘60s. I’ve done line dances, gotten on tables, done the twist, shimmied, bumped. Gone in costume (many of them from her closet), gone in jeans, even pajamas. We’ve danced with our daughters who grew up together — right up until the point that they started rolling their eyes at us. Then we kept on dancing anyway.

It’s gotten hot. The mostly middle-aged crowd, already dripping with sweat, is really beginning to let it rip. You got your people shakin’ it, your people grindin’ it. You got rockers slamming into each other. Your couples occasionally swinging too hard and twirling too much. You got your lone free spirits expressing grandly; your ladies-with-husbands-at-home pulling it off, inner fists up. There’s an audience participation version of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a big group in a huddle singing every word as they stare into the mirror of each others’ faces. There’s a make-way-for-dancers version of Night Fever.  Hips instead of lips get looser.

Birthday girl, in her black jeans and black top and punky shag-spiky black wig, is moving through the crowd to be everybody’s partner.  In “Moves Like Jagger,” she’s got her hands behind her back in chicken wings, homage to her man, Mick.

What a blessed thing to see 22-year-olds and 70-year-olds and everyone in between on a dance floor! I feel happy to be dancing, especially happy to have a husband who loves to dance. But dancing has always given me this gift. I feel happy in fifth grade in ballet class. Happy in sixth moving onto Michael Jackson. I feel happy in college in a ballroom dance marathon, happy in New York learning Martha Graham technique with zero prior training. I feel happy in ‘80s aerobics classes, happy in Zumba, happy back in my own living room cranking the Motown and funk. Dancing is one of the few things that roots me in the present moment with instant and unequivocal joy.

So Baerbel, happy birthday!

I wish you many more opportunities for fist-up, smile-on, Jagger-moves dancing. And from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for all those moments together on the dance floor — from the tiny patches of cleared-out living rooms to the bigger stretches of scuffed up, drink-sticky parquet. Thanks for loving and worshipping music’s ability to raise blood temperature and bring joy, and for creating a space for me (and lots of other people in your life) to turn up the volume, peel off a layer or two, and get real. [Insert fist-up here]