The Capsicums

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The Capsicums

Cayenne pepper has been an integral part of my medicine cabinet for fifty years.  It’s always been referred to as The Master Herb, and I confer.  Upon discovery of its benefits, I avoided more than one perilous trip to a medical office, especially for sinus, ear, and throat issues, frequent complaints in my youth. Doctors are not above The Harvey Weinstein Syndrome, especially then, and trust in their profession became hard-earned.  But their prurience drove me to a body of knowledge in self-care, and an eventual healing practice.

For emergencies in travels, a bit of cayenne is worth the space it t consumes in a curated-down-to-the-ounce suitcase.  Traveling in the former Yugoslavia, early nineties, my friend and I met a local writer along our unplanned route, and before we gave it much thought, we were sitting on the deck of a freighter, traveling to the pastel island of Cres in the Istrian Sea.  After checking into an austere room in someone’s house, I changed into my swimsuit and jumped in the water.  Within seconds, a blast of wind circled my head and resulted in an earache and a raw throat.

Our new friend possessed a natural ability in languages, and eventually understood I was asking for cayenne for a concoction.  After going into a number of grocery stores on my behalf, he said, “We don’t use cayenne in this country.”

Remembering a chicken dish from nearby Hungary, I said, “I’ll try paprika.”

Also a member of the capsicum (pepper) family, I later learned paprika has many of the same anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant properties as cayenne.  He went back in the store and came out smiling.  I squeezed the juice of a lemon into a water bottle, put in a pinch of paprika and drank it down, repeating hourly until bedtime.  By the next morning, my fellow travelers no longer peered at me from the front seat of the car as if they were plotting a drive-by/drop-off at the nearest hospital.

This series of shorts is not meant to be an herbal medicine guide, so only a few basics of cayenne’s benefits are addressed above.  But in writing this, I recalled that in addition to lowering blood pressure, it can be mixed with water for an effective bug repellent in vegetable gardens.  And cayenne is used in self-defense in the form of pepper spray.

In all these years, I’ve never carried it in my purse, and now I don’t really need it.  Well, maybe for general safety, but it’s certainly no longer necessary to repel unwanted sexual advances.   Personally, at this stage in life, being referred to by a man as wise, glamorous, intelligent, or strong, are all preferable to the minimizing label of ‘hot.’

Shepherd’s Purse

 

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In the late 60’s, with weeks of constant flow in the female nether land, the only doctor who didn’t immediately dismiss me suggested I needed a hysterectomy; that or a psychiatrist.  Fearful, enraged, and determined to find better options, I left his office and immediately and purchased several books on herbal medicine.  The first thing I read was that the surgical term, hysterectomy, came from the word hysteria.

Looking through an index, I discovered a very thorough section on my symptoms.  Shepherd’s Purse, a common herb, was highly recommended for its positive results.  My ex and I lived in a loft downtown, and many times I’d walked by an old-style apothecary, and until that day had never had a pressing reason to enter,.  I went in and asked for Shepherd’s Purse, imagining the proprietor would sell me dried leaves in a little packet, very little interaction, and I would be free to go home and make a tea.

“What do you need with that particular herb,” he asked.  I was more than unprepared to have an intimate dialogue, but compared to the previous doctors who asked nothing, he was kindly and respectful and it took very little time for him to gather all the gory data.

With surprising agility, he climbed a rickety rolling ladder, almost to the ceiling, and came back down with a tin labeled Shepherd’s Purse.  Stationing himself at a stained counter, while I read through the walls of his inventory, he brewed the concoction.  Handwritten instructions were taped on the brown bottle of the formula.  As he gave it to me, he said, “Listen carefully,  At all times, you must keep your feet warm.”

Within a few hours, my feet were completely numb with a cold not felt anywhere else in my body.  And the cramps increased by the minute.  But following his directions, I soaked my tootsies in hot water, which had the extra benefit of a more relaxed abdomen, and continued the appropriate dosages.  By day three, the month long onslaught was history.  The symptoms being dealt with, I had a long way to go in discovering the causes, mostly stress, but I possessed the bare bones of an herbal library, which has continued to serve as my personal insurance against hysteria.

Stephanie Urdang

Goodbye and Welcome

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Every December, someone tells me they’ll be glad when the year is over.  The first thought is always, ‘It’s not the year.  It’s life.’  But this one has been a doozy.  Yes, positive strides are in evidence, yet the daily combo of backsliding, global suffering, ecological disasters, fear, violence, and ridiculous politics hover over our collective heads like an iron clad cloud.

With plenty to be thankful for, I do not dare tally up the number of deaths in my little orbit these past twelve months: young, old, disease, natural causes, suicide, the passing of a mentor, and a pedestrian mowed down by a truck.  Plus, 2017 marks the disintegration of more than one personal relationship.

Since August, I’ve been on a break from Wild Nature of New York.  Along with grim reality, my silence came from facing the indulgence factor in personal writing.  All creative energy was funneled into the renovation of my apartment.   And in every dusty step I thought about what to write next: articles on healing and well-being, a fictionalization of the life and untimely death of my sister Gretchen, a collection of essays for a book, and too many other ideas to list.

By now, I, too, am relieved to say goodbye to 2017.  And it was just last night while talking to my writer friend, John Gibson, that I had a breakthrough.  In conversation about politics and journalism, I said, “I’s time to create a new reality.”

To start, inspired by a book John gave me for Christmas, I’ll publish the first piece in a new series next weekend.  And oh, what a relief it is.  Whether my new works are on the personal as universal, fiction, essays, or journalism, writing is the blood of my being.  It’s as inevitable and necessary as the coming of 2018.

Wishing all of you a happy and healthy New Year,                                                      Stephanie

#6: Phrontistery

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Definition of Phrontistery: noun, a place to think or study

My niece, Hayley, jumped into bed in the middle of the day and covered her head.  We were on vacation near Sarasota, trying to balance homework with a good time.  Through a muffled voice, she kept saying, “Leave Me Alone.”

A junior-high paper on the pros and cons of gun control was due in three days.  Her parents stood on each side of her, and opposing ends of the issue of weapons and permits.  They were gently unified in their goal that she just start writing and all would be solved.  But a contest of wills ensued, and Hayley popped her head out from the blankets.  She said, “I’m thinking!”

I butt in with, “In her mind she’s working on it.”

What looks like stalling to others can be vital to the process of getting in the chair with a firm concept from which to build.  My strategies include whispering to my orchids, talking to myself, or arranging new vignettes from my vintage French pottery collection.  The gym is good for finding the rhythm of a dialogue, but running errands kills the day.  So does a lot of talking with others during peak writing hours.  Hiding under the covers wouldn’t be my choice, but when Hayley came out, she was ready to write.

Creative concepts naturally happen in all kinds of situations.  But to grasp from the ethers the perfect phrase, a well thought out essay, a finished book, or to write as a spiritual practice, a phrontistery is required.  I need proper ergonomics in an aesthetic environment, and silence.  Otherwise, Good Ideas Gone By is the only story there is.

Photo of orchid by Marissa Bridge

P.S:  For the rest of August, Marissa and I are suspending this column.  We need to sink into our individual phrontisteries and work on bigger projects.  Bearing much gratitude for you, our followers, we’ll resume soon.

 

 

#5: Fode

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From the Oxford English Dictionary: † fode, v.

[‘ trans. To deceive or delude with kindness or kind words; to entice or lead on with delusive expectations.’]

“Who comes to you,”  was an artist’s question when I told him about the healing work I do.  I should have just answered, ‘creative types,’ but leaving out names or institutions, I listed categories of power in the art world.

Our connection was through OK Cupid and after one phone conversation, we met at a park.  I must say, he was a gorgeous creature, but the opposite of what an interested guy would do on a first date.  He spent the evening dropping bombs of financial, professional, and emotional disasters,  His desperate need to find a gallery presented many chances for me to offer connections, but I honored client confidentiality.

This attempt to fode me was a familiar one.  My detection skills were solidified in a recent deception, one for which I fell.  While serving as President of the Board in our building, a co-owner approached me with an offer.  He’d seen my modeling pictures and insisted they needed an update.  As a photographer with a make-up artist partner, they were willing to do a head shot session, no charge involved.

I turned them down, but they didn’t let it go, applied pressure and flattery until I acquiesced.  Sitting for portraits is something I have done many times, but this shoot was an energy-less chore equivalent to cleaning out someone else’s garage.  Though the photography turned out fine, my sour expression ruined the possibility of usable images.  When they insisted I select favorites, the thought of looking at those photos again made me want to go invisible.

This shoot happened during the same month that we conduct our building’s annual Board election, and after years of serving as Madame President, a new person was voted into my old position.  Happy to step aside, when the photographer’s partner found out the results, her first response was to stomp her feet, and then she cried.

Such a surprising emotional display got me thinking: for extra income, they used their second apartment in the building as an Air bnb, technically against the rules.  The headshot session was designed to keep me looking the other way while they did what they needed to do to maintain both spaces.  By not campaigning to my position of power, I’d dropped my end of the silent deal.

Even though we’re on friendly terms, the photos were never spoken of again.  And coincidentally, the man who wanted art world contacts just wrote stating ‘energy differences’ regarding a match, with an offer to continue our ’instant friendship.’  The answer to that is no thank you, because through the eyes of a foder, everyone is humiliated.

Photo by Marissa Bridge: Deceiving colors

#4: Ecdysiast

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From The Oxford English Dictionary :                                                                   Ecdysiast: (noun) a striptease performer

In the late sixties, Jeff, my ex-husband, and I met a dancer from a long legacy of ecdysiasts.  We were promptly invited to her home to inspect generations of vintage stage costumes, and to meet her thirteen foot boa constrictor, Tiny Tim.

Upon arrival, our hostess said, “The snake is hiding behind the stove.”  So the dark-haired beauty pulled out her Kansas City skin-trade costumes, many of which belonged to her mother.  Dressed in regular clothing, she demonstrated a few shakes from behind a fluttering fan of pink ostrich feathers.

Very distracted by the sound of slithering, I could only barely whisper, “That’s cool.”   A snake on the loose was not what I anticipated from our social call.

“Jeff, will you help me get him out of there,” the dancer said.   “He might cut himself.”

Jeff wrestled the stove out of its confines, the woman grabbed the snake by the tail, and said, “Oh God, help me!  Tiny’s wrapped around the gas-line.”

Jeff gripped Tiny Tim with both hands.  Because of the reptile’s powerful writhing, his arms shot above his head, positioning the monster close to the ceiling.  Jeff managed to hang on, but as we stared in horror, dust bunnies from Tiny’s body fell off him and landed in our eyes.

I never heard such sounds from my ex, as if he were on a runaway roller coaster.  He lurched, twisted, and tripped from the kitchen to a small cage in the front room.  Tiny obediently coiled inside his home, the dancer slammed the door and locked it.  Just like that, it was over.  Left panting and sweating, Jeff held his snake oiled hands out like he’d been slimed, I was fairly sure I never wanted him to come near me again, and with a quick dip and giggle, our hostess had just survived an awkward performance.

In seconds, we left that house with an oft-told tale: Jeff and I knew a stripper who performed with a boa constrictor.  Given the strength required to handle thirteen feet of pure muscle, it simply wasn’t possible.  After all these years of embellishment, this is the truth: that girl was a normal dancer with a pole, removable costumes, and a few inanimate props; Tiny Tim was her household pet; and it was Jeff who danced with a boa constrictor.

Photo by Marissa Bridge

#3: Canaglia

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Based on my mother’s limited expectations for marriage, she chose her mate according to his gene pool.  My dad called himself ‘The Producer,’ so I’m pretty sure he operated within the same parameters.  Their insecurities, lack of opportunities, coming of age in WW2, were overcome by what they saw as  physical superiority, in themselves and their children.

Beauty was more valued than education.  Their badges of honor were square shoulders, shapely legs, almond eyes, good hair, exceptional posture, and in my mother’s case, speed.  Her driving skills matched any daredevil man’s,  Dad was a normal driver, but nothing could slow her maneuvering excellence down, especially four screaming kids in the backseat.

Not long after my father left, so did Melanie and I.  She was still in high school.  We had only the confidence of our upbringing, youth, and skimpy clothing.   Those led us directly to a hippie artist with a page-boy to be coveted, who lived in a retired mail truck.  Old friends in a matter of hours, we piled into his vehicle for a spin around Kansas City.

The truck had been converted into a sunny, drivable living space, lined with daisy wallpaper.  Big enough for sections, it housed a sofa/bed, a small table, and what Melanie and I used as a running track between the front and back.  The driver sat on a free-standing swivel stool, and in a moment of quiet repose, I plopped next to him cross-legged on the deep dashboard.

When he pulled in front of our house, one of his friends, referring to our car antics, said to him, “God, all that screeching, now that those two are leaving, maybe we can actually hear ourselves think.”

Self control and car manners were not part of our upbringing.  Until then, we’d gotten by with our buona faccia facades.  Realizing that acting like wild animals wouldn’t cut it with those outside my parent’s model was as shocking as a slap, and the first step to self-examination.  And even though we were mere canaglia, I fit into the artist’s aesthetic vision.  He moved out of the mail truck, into our house, which he turned into a palace of his imagination, and I married him.

Definition of canaglia, n. from the Oxford English Dictionary:                                             [‘ Rabble; the common people; a mob or pack of people regarded as rabble’]

Photo by Marissa Bridge