Friday, December 21, 2012

A Little Tree

In 1999 my mother was in a nursing home. For her first Christmas there, I took her a little tree—about three feet tall—covered with tiny red glass balls and lights.

“Baa Humbug,” my cranky mother said to the little tree. She didn’t really hate the tree, she hated her life. I put the tree on the top of her dresser and plugged it in. White lights sparkled in her dim sterile room. “I like the lights,” Scrooge conceded.

In 2000 the little tree returned to Mom’s nursing home room for another Christmas. “Oh, that again,” Mrs. Crabapple said. Then I plugged it in and she smiled. She liked the lights.

By Christmas 2001 my mom had moved on. She had been saying she’d go to heaven, but I figured she was at the North Pole in charge of putting soot in the stockings of the naughty kids. The little tree stayed at my house.

One year I put the little tree in the bay window in our bedroom. Some years it hung out in the basement. This year I put it on the end table in the living room. John and I put the gold Christmas tree I made out of junk in the front window. One living room. Two trees—seemed a little glutenous.

Last Sunday I talked to my friend, Kim Fay, who’s been having one nasty, baa humbug year: sucky finances, a leg pain that’s been hurting for months, two horrendous trips to the hospital and—with good reason—depression. She wasn’t decorating for Christmas this year.

On Monday I put the little tree in a black trash bag. I tied a red bow to the top and attached a card signed “Merry Christmas, From Santa.” Anonymous is good. No fuss, no muss. No “Oh my gosh, now I have to reciprocate" woes. None of that. Just a little tree to cheer up a friend.

When I put it on Kim’s front porch, her car was in the driveway, but the house looked dark, no lights, no movement. Of course, it was early afternoon, so she wouldn’t necessarily have her lights on. Then I worried. What if someone stole the bag from her porch. What if she didn’t leave the house for days and didn’t find the little tree?

There is a line of deception one follows in these matters. I asked my friend Joy Powell to have her partner Keith Brown call Kim from an untraceable number. “This is Santa,” he told her, “I’m calling from the North Pole. There’s something on your front porch.” He said Kim laughed.

On Facebook she posted, “I don’t recall a kinder gesture. I have no idea who you are. Be it known to you somehow, you delivered hope to a worn out soul.” 

One night I drove by her house on the way to somewhere else. The little tree was in her front window. The lights sparkled. 

My Xmas was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. One of my very best.

Since then I’ve come clean. Kim knows where the tree came from, and some really good things have happened for her—a painting commission, a little prize from the Detroit Artists Market…the little tree was ”the start of good juju,” she says. 

Also, through Facebook, she discovered a woman who had been dreaming of having a violin for forty-two years. Kim’s giving the woman her old violin. Next year she plans to pass the little tree on to someone else who needs some cheering up. Remember the movie, "Pay It Forward"? This is how it works.

It's a Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

2012 CLOG

How did this happen? It's just twelve days until Santa. The pundits on Fox are all in a dither over the atheists and Liberals stealing Christmas. Huh? I want to know who stole Thanksgiving. Oh, right, it was Macy's and Kohl's and Target and all the baa humbug retailers putting Christmas shopping before the turkey.
I also want to know why my life is going by so fast. I heard it has something to do with the speed of light. Believe me, friends, I'm not getting any lighter. All kidding aside, I feel like it shouldn't even be November yet and it's the middle of December. How can this be? They say, time flies when you're having fun. I must be having a blast.

Do you get Christmas letters? I like them, basically because I'm a nosey person. I really want to know that Trudy's aunt Dorothy had her gall bladder out, and that the whole family went to Frankenmuth for chicken dinner. All good stuff. 

Since I haven't written any blog entries for MONTHS, I thought I'd send you a Christmas letter blog. We'll call it a Clog.

Here goes...
You may remember that I wrote a memoir last year. It's okay if you don't remember, It was pretty bad. But I liked the writing—the act of it. Since June I've been making up stuff. I'm writing a novel. This is incredibly fun. I'm getting old and in the process of getting old, I've had the good fortune and bad fortune to see and feel and hear a whole lot of interesting tidbits. So now I wake up early with people who don't really exist—Fred and Lily and Grace and Robert and Christina—filling my head. Oh my gosh, I'm so excited, I can't wait to get to the computer and write it down. But when I start writing these made-up people have their own ideas about what happens next. They have overtaken me. Seriously.

When I'm at the grocery store, or separating whites from darks, or watching Rachel Maddow, Fred will say something and Robert will reply. Whispering here...they aren't really real. I am possessed.

For my concerned friends, who think I should be painting, Fred and Lily and Grace and Robert and Christina won't let me. Sorry. They own me.

Other than that, we spent most of October gone. Airlines and car rental people love us. We drove down to Atlanta for a weekend in the beginning of that month to visit John's daughter Laura and her family. A week later we flew to Austin for our niece Nicole's wedding. It was all wonderful.

When we got home I talked John into a trip to New Mexico, so I could do some research for the novel. This involved a trade off. I got Santa Fe and Taos. He added Moab, Utah; Mesa Verde and Redstone, Colorado. Ten days total. What he really wanted was to drive us through the mountains up to Denver. So thanks to my being drugged up on Xanax, it was a beautiful scenic drive. In Denver we had a pleasant visit with his daughter Alison and her family.

Mesa Verde

Rio Grande River near Taos

All the gall bladders are long gone from the people in this household. We had a chicken dinner in our own kitchen last week. And I'm happy to report that we're healthy and happy. I wish the same for you and yours—not the gall bladder part, the healthy and happy part. 

May your sacred holidays be sacred, and your best gifts be intangible.

Happy Christmas, Merry Hanukkah, and a Glorious New Year to all of you.


Sunday, June 24, 2012


It was pleasant. Something I enjoyed doing. Graphic design with no banking or automotive client to please. Organizing. Quiet. Peaceful. Interesting. Photos and letters were coming in from all over the country: Chicago, Atlanta, Colorado, Arkansas, Texas, Arizona, and Wisconsin. 
It was 2008 and I was creating a book for my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday—a book celebrating her life. John’s daughter, Alison, came up with the idea. Alison was busy, so I said I’d put the book together. I used Their books are very professional. I choose a hard cover version with a glossy dust jacket. 
I puzzled over sequence of photos, but finally with John’s help we figured out which pictures came first. Mitzi as a young girl in Austria. Mitzi at seventeen with her young husband. Mitzi with a baby boy (my husband). Mitzi in America with three more sons. Mitzi with her daughters-in-law. Mitzi with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Scan photos. Scan love letters from the family. Play around with the design. Hit the upload button. Blip—it’s gone to be printed. 
The book turned out great—I mean, really great. We wrapped it in a box meant for a blouse, and took it to the farm in Wisconsin for a weekend family reunion and surprise birthday celebration for my mother-in-law. John bought 22 white t-shirts and ironed-on decals we designed with Mitzi’s picture. On her birthday everyone greeted her wearing her face on their chests.

She cried when she opened the book. “I didn’t know I was pretty,” she said. “I didn’t know anyone liked me so much,” she said to us all. 
Shocking—one little book, 7” x 7” square, 74 pages long—could make her know, really know, that she was valuable. 
In a small Austrian town, where everyone knew everyone, Mitzi’s unwed mother had rejected her very young daughter—just threw her baby girl out on the street like garbage. Mitzi’s father’s parents took her in and raised her. When Mitzi’s crazy mother saw her on the street, she cursed her, screamed at her, and wished her dead. It didn't matter if there were other people around or if she was all alone walking to school. Where do you draw your self-esteem from when your own mother hated you?

The hurt little girl grew up to be a warm and loving mother and grandmother. She had spent 80 years being a good person, despite the hurt core.
Mitzi tells me that I gave her the best gift she ever had. We've become closer since the book. It embarrasses me that compiling the book was simply a nice project for me. I love her. If I had known how the book would have affected her—if I had known the consequences of my actions—I would have done it years before. She should have always known how special she is.

A follow-up book with the photos
everyone took on the weekend

Back cover with more family members

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Good Listener

I need someone to talk to. Someone who will truly listen. Someone who will take each word at face value. Someone who will repeat my words back to me, so that I’ll know what I say is what they hear. 
Hmm, psychiatrists do that. 
Naa, I’m not having a mental issue at the moment.
John hears me. But, sometimes when he hears me, the words he hears are completely different than the ones that came out of my mouth. It makes us laugh. 
I have good friends—good listeners. I think so, anyway. I want to be a good listener, but I wonder—am I a good listener? I don’t think so.

This ear was photographed with my iPad
and fuzzied up in Photoshop

Sometimes I drift off—dreaming—picking up tidbits and word scraps thrown on the Piazza like stale bread to feed the pigeons. Sometimes I don’t pay careful attention. Sometimes I’m half or quarter listening because I’m busy figuring out what my response is going to be. 
Sometimes my brain is racing ahead guessing what the other person will say next. When my guess is wrong, I miss the end of the speakers thought. I’m lost in the confusion of my faulty guessing. Then I’m embarrassed to ask for a repeat, and when I do ask for a repeat, sometimes I forget to listen to the end. You really can’t ask for two repeats.
I’ve discovered that I can talk to my iPad. On the keyboard there’s a little microphone. This is so exciting. Press the little microphone symbol and it lights up. Talk. Press again when I’m done talking. Typing appears on the screen. Woohoo, I can talk and then check up on my listener. 
So here’s what I said to the iPad, “Are iPads good listeners? Or anyway, let’s see, I’d like to know the answer to that.”
Here’s what iPad heard, “Our iPads good listeners or I’m today let’s see I would like to know the answer to that.”
What I’ve learned:
  1. The iPad always spells iPad correctly.
  2. He hears no punctuation.
  3. I must talk like I have a mouth full of marbles.
I think I’ll call a friend. I’ll say “Hello,” and then I’ll listen. Really.

Friday, May 25, 2012


Several years ago I began a painting (shown below) in a Sarah Shrift's oil painting class at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center. After finishing the painting at home, I entered it in the student show. It was rejected. Some month's later I entered the same (unaltered) painting in a professional show and it won an award.

20" x 20" oil on canvas

It is all subjective, Dear Ones. When we do anything creative, some people will hate it, some will love it. So, what do we do with those opinions?

If someone else loves it, does that make it good? If someone else hates it should we cover it with gesso, sand it down, or put it out to the curb for the trash collectors? I think we have to use our own judgement. 

The agent rejected my book. It was a nice rejection—for a REJECTION. She enjoyed my voice and the story. She wished me well in placing it with someone else and reminded me that her opinion was subjective.

Years ago, back in the stone age, when I wrote something that got rejected, I'd address a new envelope, and immediately send it out to someone else.
Sometimes we know, or at least believe, that what we’ve done is good. Leave it as is. Submit it somewhere else. 

But sometimes there is doubt. Look at it again. It’s easier with a painting. It’s visibly right there in front of your face. With a book—58,000 words—it’s harder to know. But the truth is, I do know. The book needs more work, more thought, more time. 
Okay, so back to the laptop, which is much easier than etching in stone.
If you would like to receive email notices 
of new Blog Posts please sign up at:

Friday, May 11, 2012


Many years ago (36 to be exact), I worked for a small printing company. The owners hired me as a bookkeeper. They quickly realized that they better do the bookkeeping themselves, so they taught me how to keyline. If you're thinking that I'm going to explain arcane graphic design methods, relax, I won't do that to you. 

The printing business was in their home. The basement had an art department with drafting tables for keylining and design. There was a big camera in the back room, and a dark room with chemical baths for developing film. The garage had been converted into a room for the printing press.

I was newly divorced at the time and when I told my mother and grandmother that I was working for two men out of their home, they were both alarmed, frightened for my safety. 

"Don't worry," I said. "They're gay."

That's when my grandmother came up with a new worry. "Aren't you afraid you'll become homogenized too."

Yes, she did say homogenized. I assured her that homosexuality wasn't catchy.

These guys were my bosses and also my friends. They were in their fifties and sixties and had been together for thirty years. I felt honored that they were open with me about their relationship. They thought people didn't know they were gay, but everyone did. They never mentioned wanting to be married, but then again in 1976, it wasn't an option. 

I have friends and family—heterosexual couples—who have lived together for decades and never pushed wedding cake into each others mouths. They've chosen not to be married. 

My gay friends pay taxes and vote and some even defend our country, but they get no choice about marriage unless they travel to another state. 

After the President came out about his feelings about gay marriage, a black man from South Carolina called into NPR to say he would never vote for President Obama because of his position on homosexuals. "Two men or two women marrying was going against the bible," the man said.

I am no bible scholar. However, I do know that there are bible passages that condone slavery, and if someone steals from you, it's okay to chop off their hands—an eye for an eye. If folks are selective about the bible passages they want to live by, why can't it be the part about "doing unto others as you would have them do unto you"?

I am proud to be an American. I will be even prouder when we have equal rights under the law for all of our people.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Priority Mail

Last Monday I went to the post office. 
Okay, so does that opening line grab you? 
That opening line makes me feel queazy in my throat. It causes little sweat balls to form on my forehead. It makes my stomach turn flips and flops. It gives me little tremors in my fingers.
Last Monday, March 12, 2012, I took a pile of papers—query letter, first two chapters, outline, synopsis and a stamped return envelope—to the post office. 
I hunted around the lobby and finally found the Priority Mail envelopes. My hands shook. I put all my papers inside the Priority Mail envelope and sealed it. I used the Sharpie Marker I brought with me to carefully address the mailer. Shaking, afraid I’d misspell the literary agent’s name. What if I miswrote the address, I could be waiting on pins and needles for years while my memoir was sitting in the back of a grocery store in Hoboken, New Jersey. Checked it again. Okay. Her name was spelled correctly. The address was good. New York, New York is a wonderful town.
Six people were ahead of me in line. I stood there. My fingers vibrated uncontrollably, I could have played a mandolin. A dark-haired cute—no, really hot—young guy was in line behind me. Brown eyes, sweet, maybe thirty, maybe fifteen, a distraction for my frayed nerves.
“Could I please borrow your Sharpie?” he said, and then continued with some other words.
I handed him my pen and smiled, forgetting my shakes for a moment. While he wrote on his package, I looked at mine again. I flipped my Priority Mail envelope over. On the back side was a space for the Sender and a space for the Addressee. Why would it be on the back? OH SHIT!
The line in front of me was down to three people. The line behind me was up to ten. I asked Hotty to save my spot. I hurried to grab another Priority Mail envelope. Ripped open PM envelope #1. Took out my pages. Wrote the address, hurried—but careful. Get it right. Get it right. 

My numbers up, I told Hotty to go ahead of me. Did I spell the literary agent’s name right. Check twice. Got everything into the envelope. Look at both sides again. Seal it.
My turn.
Hands shaking, I handed the clerk the envelope. Stammered about Delivery Confirmation. Shaking. Did she wonder about me—what was this woman putting in the United States Mail? Did Ted Kaczynski cross her mind? No, I guess not. She gave me my receipt and I left the post office.
The package arrived at the literary agents at 10:19, March 14th. Now I’ll wait around, revise the book some more. Get ready for the day she sends an email, or a note in my self-address return envelope. Ugh. Will she want to see the whole book, all 218 pages? Will she not be interested? We’ll see. Writing was the fun part. This isn’t.
I thought about not posting this until I had an answer in six to eight weeks. But what are friends for anyway? 

So friends, how about some crossed fingers, prayers, a little voodoo, whatever...

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Open Voting

At the end of my book club meeting, as all the women were putting on their coats, voting came up. Tuesday is the Michigan primary. We have open voting here, which means we can go to the polls and vote for either party. This is posing a question for us non Tea Party, non Libertarian, non Conservative voters. Should we skew the vote?

The question floated in the air. A couple of my friends had done early voting. Gingrich: one. Paul: one. What about Santorum? “No way in hell,” was one comment in a rustle of winter coats. Romney: zero. Did I mention that my bookclub consists of all liberal Democrats.

Newscasters are saying that Michigan could make or break Romney. It’s his home state. So what does he like about this state? “The trees are the right height.” He has to talk about the trees, because he doesn’t much like the people. Marie Antoinette said, “Let them eat cake.” Romney says, “Let them go bankrupt.” That comment is probably the least flip-floppy of anything he’s said during the campaign. His business career bankrupting companies made him rich. Bankruptcy’s fun, in a gimme gimme way.

Santorum hates women, hates sex, hates education. Colleges want to turn students away from God. This seems to be a sign of a very fragile belief in God. If knowledge can make you change your religion, something’s wrong with your religion. And birth control? Ladies please squeeze your legs together.

Gingrich’s big plan is to colonize the moon. I imagine that the first folks he’ll send into space will be the Black kids he wants working as janitors in their schools.

And the final choice is Ron Paul. Ron, like his fellow Republicans, he hates government. He hates government so much that he wants to be the government. Does this strike you as a little sado-masochistic? He would eliminate public education, and all the military. You know he’s hoping for a time when we can get back to dirt roads. He would de-regulate everything (also like his cohorts). We should trust businesses not to pollute our water, not to give us poisonous food, not to sell us dangerous products. 

Whew, choices, choices, so many choices. I really feel sad for my Republican friends.

President Obama is also on our ballot.

In case you’re wondering, I’m voting YES for local schools. And I’m voting for the only candidate who wants all of our children to be educated, the one who risked his presidency to take out Bin Laden, the one who wants health care for everyone, and yes, the one who can sing. I’m voting for the Black guy.

Late news: part of this blog post got into the comments section of Charles Blow's Op Ed piece in the today's (Saturday, Feb 25) New York Times. Here's a link:

You'll have to scroll down and click on "Read More Comments" to find it.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


When I was a little girl, before writing was invented, or at least before anyone taught me handwriting, I’d sit with lined paper making marks, writing secrets that no one could read. I was writing in my own personal cursive. It looked like the writing I saw big people doing; mysterious and exciting.
Last spring I went back into my childhood and did a painting with imaginary script written on a curve with a rubber-tipped tool. I carved imaginary words into the surface of the wet oil paint. That painting and three others were in a group show at Scharolette Chappell’s Gateway Gallery in Oak Park.

"Cursive" 30"x30" oil on canvas

During the show, people asked me if the writing on the painting was Arabic. Since Arabic was one of the earliest alphabets, it tickled me that my pretend cursive, my earliest handwriting, looked Arabic. People asked me what it said. That made my heart go bumpity-bump. When I was a little kid no one ever asked me what my writing said. 

Every year the Scarab Club in Detroit has a special show for women. Marilyn Zimmerman is curating "2012 Women Image Color". Treena Flannery Ericson (Gallery Director of the Scarab Club) came over last night and selected ten paintings (including “Cursive”) that she wants to add to the show. Treena’s a delightful, bubbling, down to earth woman. I think she knows every artist in town - and remembers everyone’s name and their work. Can you imagine how exciting it was to get a call saying she wanted my paintings? Wow. I‘m feeling very humbled and honored.

Here are the participating artists in the exhibit:

Diana Alva
Lynn Arbor
Rhiannon Chester
Jenny Chope
Joan Farago
Anne Fracassa
Linda Mendelson
Gilda Snowden
Lois Teicher
S. Kay Young

Anyway, if you’d like to come see the show, here’s the skinny:

The Scarab Club, 217 Farnsworth St, Detroit, MI 48202
Artist reception: Friday, February 17,  6-9 pm
Crone Celebration (Closing reception): Friday, March 23, 6-9 pm
Linda Mendelson and Lois Teicher will be honorees.


Update: I’m still pretending to be a writer. The memoir is coming along, growing ... some day, some day, some day, it’ll be a real book. I'm still wishing and Geppetto's still carving. 


One other thing — everything on this blog is copyrighted. 
Copyright © 2012 Lynn Arbor
So don't be a copycat. Do your own stuff. 
Thank you.