Shirley MacLaine Was There: The American Revolution

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pardon that this post about the Fourth of July is not perfectly timed to the holiday.

But I discovered only last night that Shirley MacLaine was there at the birth of America.

As MacLaine explains in her 2001 book, I’m Over All That: And Other Confessions, two authors writing on past lives “claimed through channeled sources” (whatever that means) that Ms. MacLaine is the reincarnation of Robert Morris, the patriot who personally financed a big chunk of the American Revolution.

(I myself learned of Robert Morris’s identity when I started teaching at Robert Morris College — now Robert Morris University — many years ago. To add to your bucket of Revolutionary trivia, there is a statue of Morris on Wacker Drive in Chicago.)

But back to the book: I picked up this MacLaine book a few weeks ago in the laundry room in my building. We have an informal  book exchange on a shelf above the washers. How could I not pass up this book by Shirley? I never read one before.

Of course I had heard of MacLaine’s belief in reincarnation, synchronicities, and all of the related woo-woo. Note that I am not making fun of her spiritualism and convictions. The older I get, the more I am drawn to these ideas myself.

This odd little gem of a book is organized into chapters of things that Shirley is “over,” and things she is “not over” as well. For example, she is over going to funerals and having sex, but she is not over being frustrated by packaging that she can’t open. I can relate.

In addition to her mundane issues, she also writes about not-so-everyday ruminations, like how she committed “cosmic suicide by cutting the silver cord attaching my soul to my body” during the destruction of Atlantis. She is regretful of this act and calls it “cowardly,” wishing that she would have gone through the devastating experience with everyone else. Someone should make a movie about that whole scenario.

And on this Fourth of July weekend, I discovered that Shirley  is “not over the Founding Fathers.”

Citing a passage from another book she wrote, Shirley says: “The men who signed the Bill of Rights and drew up the Constitution said they wanted to form a new republic based on spiritual values. And those values they believed in went all the way back to the beliefs of Hindu scriptures and Egyptian mysticism. That’s why they put the pyramid on the dollar bill — in fact the dollar bill and the Great Seal are full of spiritual symbols that link way back to long before the revolution…” She goes on to say, “They (the Founding Fathers) believed that cosmic truths could be applied to creating harmony in a new society. They believed that people could be self-governing and self-correcting. They warned us against being ignorant of ignorance. They cautioned us against losing the foundations of our spiritual identity.”

She continues with a commentary about the Founding Fathers feeling a “chromatic link between music and the rainbow and the scales of sound and color,” and the connection between the Iroquois Nation and the signs of the Zodiac.  That’s where I got confused.

But her connection to the American Revolution doesn’t stop with her having actually been there in a past life. According to the book, Shirley was once allowed the privilege of sleeping overnight in Jefferson’s bedroom in Monticello. There, she felt his presence, “quiet, but commanding.” And she heard him whistle, just as the guards do every night. One of the curators gave her a lock of Jefferson’s hair. She is so connected to those guys!

I can understand why Shirley  worries about our country wandering “far off our transcendentalist track.” Nonetheless, we are lucky here.

Right now, right this morning, I look out my window and see people strolling toward the beach, relaxed, calm, free (except for the big coolers they’re dragging behind them), and looking forward to a lovely day in the sun to do what they want to do with whomever they want with a relative sense of security (unless some teen throws an M-80 at them). And right now, somewhere else, people are at war, dying, fighting for their own existence, struggling passionately for their unalienable rights, for their own ability to pursue happiness, their freedoms.

Our Founding Fathers were really something. It’s good to be reminded by Shirley MacLaine that their spirits are still alive and with us. We sure do need them.

Seizing the Solstice

solsticeI have the grand luxury of being able to watch the sun rise over Lake Michigan.

It’s quite astounding to me  — and I never get tired of noticing — the way the sun appears at a different point on the horizon each and every morning. There were 20,000 revelers gathered at Stonehenge to celebrate the longest day of the year. I sat in my living room and drank coffee.

Hail, Great Hot Pink Ball of Fire! Today’s sunrise was a stunner. Happy Summer Solstice!

From where I sit, our Constant Sun rises every June 21 at a point on the horizon at Montrose Harbor, a spot north of downtown Chicago. Starting tomorrow, the sun will appear just a little south of that point and move a little farther south every day until, at the end of summer, it will show up on the horizon around Fullerton Beach. By the Winter Solstice on December 21, it will look to me as if it’s rising downtown near Navy Pier.

And so it goes. The sun travels up and down the horizon, making its way back and forth, step by step, day by day, inch by inch, over and over and over again. It does what it needs to do. It seems like such a relentless trooper. How crazy the spinning Earth must look to the Sun.

Sometimes I try to tilt my body the same way I imagine Mother Earth is tilting so I can better understand where I am in the universe. And then the realization sets in that I am spinning around really fast in the solar system. It’s too big of a concept for me to get my head around. I feel both painfully inconsequential and absolutely thrilled to be part of such a vast space-time continuum.

Nonetheless, welcoming the longest day of the year is always fun, especially when there’s a little ritual thrown in.

At dawn, I paid tribute to the sun with a made-up pagan prayer and my own extremely awkward version of a yoga Sun Salute.

Tonight I’m hoping to dance around a Maypole or a bonfire — someone will have something going on in the park tonight if it only stops raining. If it doesn’t, I may have to settle for  an indoor spin around a collection of burning candles. But yes, a dance is absolutely in order for the Summer Solstice….and a sunset cocktail, too, a summery one with fizz and fruit.

Frivolity aside, the reality of the Solstice is this: We’re already six months into the year.

And the Giant Shining Life Source in the Sky seems to be asking, “What’s left on your TO DO list? Tomorrow I start setting a little bit later every day. Time’s a’wastin’!”

Yes, Mr. Sun, you’re right. It’s time to seize the day.

_________________________

Related articles:

Yoga Sun Salute: http://www.wikihow.com/Do-the-Sun-Salute

Stonehenge Party:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2345638/Summer-Solstice-2013-Revellers-rise-dawn-celebrate-drumming-dancing.html

Solstice Cocktails:  http://www.ahistoryofdrinking.com/wordpress/2012/06/20/an-excuse-to-drink-summer-solstice-cocktails/

Auxonne, 1654

259words_01.jpgIn 1654, on a perfect spring day in Auxonne, France, Rupert L’Estrange — at last! — took his beloved Christina to bed. Without hesitation or fear, their exquisite bodies sought frantic pleasure atop white linens….until Christina’s husband stormed in.

“Philippe! No!” Christina cried as Philippe lifted Rupert off the bed and slammed him to the floor. He kicked him hard in the stomach. And kicked him again.

Philippe grabbed Christina by her thick black hair and struck her face. “No, Philippe! No!” Rupert struggled to his feet. He had to save her.

Christina looked at Rupert; Rupert looked back at her. Philippe saw in their eyes the unquenchable passion they had for each other.

Enraged, Philippe pulled out his dagger and slashed Christina’s throat.

At the site of her slumped body, Rupert let out a moan that came from deep inside his soul. Numb from sorrow, he didn’t even feel the dagger that Philippe drove into his side.

Death came in an instant. But his scream didn’t stop.

The sound of Rupert’s agony echoed in Philippe’s mind until he was driven to madness and hung himself from the highest beam in the stable.

Nearly 349 years later, a yowling little dog, a mix of fluffy and sweet, appeared on YouTube.

When the dog’s owners chanted “Rooo-pert, Rooo-pert,” the dog spun in circles, startled and scared, not sure what horror lived inside of him.

The dog howled. It wasn’t a dog howl, but the agonizing moan of a demon.

It was the eternal pain, the eternal scream of Rupert L’Estrange.

Fresh-Cut Flowers

259words_01.jpgEarly in the morning, Marisa sat at her computer, apathetically reading through the news feed pronouncements on Facebook. She stopped scrolling when she saw that the man she loved for oh so long had posted a photograph of a glass vase filled with bright yellow flowers. In the comment box, he wrote only one word:  Daffodils.

He used to buy flowers like those for her.

Throughout their years together, he had made sure that the vase on the table next to her side of the bed always had flowers in it. Lilies, orchids, mums, forsythia.

Now he bought flowers for someone else.

Marisa looked at the daffodils in the photograph — their saturation of color, the ruffled petals. She wondered how flowers themselves could look so absolutely happy, almost giddy.

Marisa knew that if she had seen this photo posted during the dark days of the past winter, she would have wept, sobbing sobs that would leave her feeling vacant and drained. She may have curled up in a ball, pulling her comforter over her head, abandoning all hope of surviving the big black sinkhole of pain that grew inside of her.

But that was then. The longer days of spring had arrived.freshcut

Marisa decided that the first thing she would do today was buy herself fresh-cut white tulips. She would carefully arrange the flowers in a glass vase and set them on the nightstand next to her bed.

The tulips would turn toward the sun, and each day, their petals would open wider, reaching out toward new beginnings.

Burst, Pop, Go!

yellowfleursThe first buds of spring pop open and here we go — the unfurling of leaves! the burst of flowers! Most palpable is that resurrection/birth buzz in the air that fills us with a sense of urgency to scrub, to plant, to do.

A big part of the fun is seeing the Moms and Dads stream into the park with their aspirations, sporting gear, and kids in tow.

“Let me show you something,” they say. Kids are lucky when they have parents who teach them how to do things.

This weekend, I saw one man trying to teach his son how to catch with a mitt. (Dad also needs to help the poor kid learn to throw.) A father of red-haired twins demonstrated soccer ball passing techniques that were way beyond his kids’ abilities, but they were having the time of their lives.

One cool mom ran around with a kite, her young ones chasing after her, sharing a collective groan when the kite nose-dived to the ground, hurrahing in a collective cheer when the wind swept up the kite so far and fast that it became only a speck against the blue sky.

And then I saw a young dad teaching his daughter how to ride a bicycle.

My dad was one of those dads willing to take the time and effort to show and share. Over the years, he taught me how to ice skate, swim, read a map, play horseshoes, drive a car, love books, hit a baseball, do crosswords, laugh at the Marx Brothers, polish shoes, mow the grass, put up a Christmas tree, make people feel welcome. He taught me to sing out loud with abandon and ignore the people who might squelch your enthusiasm with their critical looks.

But the day he taught me how to ride a bike? That was especially magical.

We were in the park across the street from our house. My sister, reluctantly, let us use her dark blue Schwinn. Perched on the seat, I could barely reach the pedals.

My dad said, “Don’t worry. I got ya.” He held the back of the bike seat with one hand, the handlebar with the other.

“Ready?” he asked.

I nodded, but not ready at all.

“Go!” he said, still holding the bike while he ran alongside of me.

I tried to stay steady but the bike was tippy and out of control. I felt helpless. I wanted to cry and quit. My dad laughed and rubbed my back. “That’s OK,” he said. “You’ll get it.”

He would buoy my spirit, take a deep breath, and do it again.  And again.

At last, in a surprising momentous second, a miraculous moment in time, I felt some kind of internal trigger kick in and connect me to a weird power of the universe. Balance!

As soon as this shocking awareness of balance hit me, I felt the sudden rush of another sensation. Trust! A giddy, I-can-do-this belief in myself that filled me with unbridled Hallelujah joy.

Wide-eyed, I looked over at my dad. “Don’t look at me!” he said. “Keep going!”

I looked away from him and set my sights straight ahead. “Atta girl!” he kept saying, running next to me. “Atta girl,” he said, clapping. Clapping? I realized he had let go of the bike. I was on my own.

Freedom! Exhilaration! Independence! With the wind in my face, hair blowing behind me, I pedaled that bicycle for all I was worth, full speed ahead.

“Atta girl,” I heard my dad shout from somewhere behind me.

I felt like I could fly.

Learning to ride a bike may be one of the greatest moments in any kid’s life.

And that little girl in the park. I had to stop and watch. She was about 10, sitting on an adult-sized bicycle, barely able to reach the pedals. She wore a brand new bike helmet on her head.

Her dad steadied her, talked her through it. Over and over. Finally, she got it. I saw her dad let go of the bike while he kept jogging alongside of her.

I’m not sure she noticed he had let go.

When she passed me, I shot her a big smile. She gave me a sideways glance and smiled back, then quickly refocused her eyes on the path ahead. In that split second of our shared smiles, I saw in her eyes a combination of fear, triumph, surprise, optimism, and what-the-hell-just-happened? That jubilant moment of balance and trust when you realize you can believe in yourself. And with that bit of knowledge, you can do almost anything.

So spring bursts open for us about this time every year.  If we’re lucky, we can be transformed.

Ivan Drives

259words_01.jpgIvan drives the #36 bus route, a long, lurching stop/go, stop/go ride between downtown and north side neighborhoods. Up and down State Street. Back and forth on Broadway.

Ivan is close to retirement and a good pension. He has seven grandchildren who call him Poppa.

Most of the time, he doesn’t pay attention to the rush-hour crowds. They heap in, mournful and glum.

“Move to the back, please,” he says into the loudspeaker. Rarely does anyone listen. He has stopped trying to understand people who choose to bunch up in the front. Ivan makes sure the passengers pay their fares. Sometimes, he’ll deny someone with an expired transfer. Not always, but sometimes.

He’s been a dutiful driver, acknowledged at Transit Authority lunches for his complaint-free record. He’s received special awards too, one for delivering a baby and another for nabbing a pickpocket. He takes only a few sick days every year.

Sometimes, after he’s loaded passengers, he’ll see out of the corner of his eye a commuter running down the street, frantically waving to get his attention so he’ll wait and pick him up.

Sometimes, Ivan will stop.

Other times, he’ll pretend not to see, adjust his seat perhaps or check his schedule.

Then ever so slowly, he’ll apply his foot to the gas pedal and cruise through the intersection, leaving the would-be passenger behind. Ivan will look into his rearview mirror and watch how the mad dash turns into slow motion and resignation. He lip reads the spewed curses and knows he would never use language like that.

Connecting With Readers Over “Human Slices” — Priceless

The Visible Human Projectwww.ccmp.ncifcrf.gov

The Visible Human Project
http://www.ccmp.ncifcrf.gov

For any writer, a positive connection with a reader is priceless. When a reader feels compelled to seek me out, I am flattered, overwhelmed, happy, encouraged…and I whistle for days.

I received a Tweet from @taramade, an exuberant reader of my book, Human Slices. She wrote, “Great read, Gloria! Love the museum scenes. I want to see them myself!”

I was over-the-top delighted. When she comes to Chicago, I will be happy to show her around.

By museum scenes, she was referring to the novel’s opening action that takes place at Chicago’s Museum of Science & Industry. One spot is particularly pivotal. The human slices exhibit, comprised of actual cross sections of human bodies, is the first meeting place of the two main characters.

At the human slices exhibit, each rectangular display case jutted out from the wall so that people could observe the slices from both sides. Salm stooped down to examine a shrunken, yellowed stomach from one side of the display case. Playfully, she closed one eye and peered through an open gap between the stomach and the intestines. Through this tiny opening, she could look out to the hallway.  She looked left and then right, and then she saw a man appear from around the corner. 

The title of the book, of course, is a tribute to that weird and fascinating installation.

I’ve been told time and time again that Human Slices is too freakish for the title of a love story. When I was looking for a publisher, one agent wrote in his rejection letter, “Is there really such an exhibit in a Chicago museum? Your lady’s attraction to body parts seems morbid and ghoulish. You’re making things very tough for yourself.”

I understood, of course, yet I never was able to change the name of the book. I was following the gut feeling emanating from inside my own “human slices,” the same way the female protagonist in the book listens to her heart to find her own truth and happiness.

In spite of the peculiar title, readers still reach for the book and periodically send me some first-rate feedback. It’s so much fun to know that someone has enjoyed it and given my characters a chance to come to life again for a brief moment in time.

A few days after @taramade’s Tweet about the museum exhibit, she posted other enthusiastic comments, like: “Loving all the little details! I forgot to mention the shrimp cocktail wine glass,” and “You come up with the perfect boat of course. A fat little red tug with lots of blankets.”

Next, she shot me a Pinterest photo (below) that reminded her of a scene where the lovers go stargazing in the back of the pickup. The photo she sent was absolutely perfect. @taramade was reading my mind! If a reader can “see what I mean,” I’ve done my job and that’s amazingly gratifying.

I didn’t think her comments could get any better. And then I received one more message…@taramade wrote: “I’m afraid to read too fast…I don’t want it to end!! :)”

Then another reader @La_Raconteur wrote to @taramade:  “OMG, isn’t this book simply gorgeous? It’s one of the few I’ve read that immediately captivated me. Perfection! ”

With those most excellent Tweets, my own “human slices” sparked and sizzled inside of me.

I’m still whistling.