What’s in a name?

I’ve been asked about my name at least 100 times. Probably more. I give different answers, depending upon the circumstances and my frame of mind at the time.

When someone I don’t know well or am just meeting asks something like, “Is that your real name?” I respond with some version of, “it sure is.” Sometimes the persistent acquaintance will follow up with, “but is it the name your parents gave you?” and I reply with something along the lines of, “It is my real name and it is not the one my parents gave me. At this point my name has been Blaze for half of my life and I don’t share my original name because it isn’t a factor anymore.”

Of course there is more to the story and I do tell it when the time and place are right, and when the person asks with a wide open face and heart. It’s best when there’s time for a mutual exchange, because everyone has a story and it’s nice to share.

It occurred to me recently when meeting a lovely couple of women who I was about to give a reading with that I needed a better answer to the question at times when I wasn’t in the space to tell my story. So here it is, in some version of fullness, in a place and on a date I can remember. The next time some intrepid, curious soul ventures into my craggy waters, I can say, “if you really want to know the full story…”<points to blog>

As early as the second grade, I had a feeling my given name wasn’t right for me. When someone said my name, it felt like “who, me?”  One day at recess, I was swinging for all I was worth in the sun before the bell called us back to class. Little Johnny, who’d apparently developed a crush on me, stood at the pole supporting my swing, calling my name repeatedly with love and longing for my attention. I became annoyed by the weight of his affection and snapped, “Don’t call me that. You can call me Rose.”

It was a moment’s inspiration and the name didn’t stick past that moment. Nonetheless the seed was planted and the roots spread out and grew within me.

When I was nearing the time of my high school graduation, the urge to re-name myself sprouted up again. The timing was perfect. I would make a clean break of it and my new college friends would only know the new, true name. I bought name-your-baby-books and tried names on, wrote out different combinations in my journal, but nothing fit. Nothing lasted beyond a temporary interest and there was so much else to figure out and prepare.

I moved on with my old name and my ambivalence about it. I was searching for a meaningful life in many ways when I happened onto the Feminist Spiritual Community, where I found a group of (mostly) women who were also seeking and celebrating authentic lives and a spiritual connection to the earth. After participating in FSC for a couple years, I joined one of their small groups–Native American Spirituality. Having a bit of Native blood way back in my family heritage, it felt like a good path for exploration. That first night we talked about creation myths and the creation of a personal mythology. We did a guided meditation to help connect with our deeper knowing about how to approach our life stories.

As I journeyed I saw sparks and went toward them. There was a fire and I stood hearing it pop and feeling it warm my face. I saw the life of the fire as it aged from tinders to embers, and knew it was my story. I asked myself, but where am I now? And I answered I am a Blaze.

The shock of it ran through me like lightning. I had come home to myself. This was the name, my name, and so it has been ever since.



Describe the Mess

I remember a day when my parents were still married—I was small, maybe in the first grade. There was a fight between them, but was it explosive, or a calm-voiced disagreement, or a slow simmering cauldron with acidic bubbles bursting into the room? The fight, one among countless battles, is lost to me.

Mom was curled up like a cat on the couch, slapping pages of a Cosmopolitan magazine against each other. Dad was in the kitchen, sitting at the counter with his back to her, looking out the window to the pine-dotted meadow, inhaling deeply on a Winston cigarette.

I don’t know how my brother and I became involved, but I remember going into the closet and picking up two of my father’s shoes. My hands were small and his feet were impossibly large and the shoes were heavy. I instructed my brother to get a shoe. He could only carry one at a time.

My father’s feet were riddled with corns and callouses that made him hobble and limp. Working at Dexter Shoes, he bought many pairs in his search to find one magical pair that would mitigate his pain. The back of the closet was lined with boxes full of them.

Like a fireman’s brigade, we gathered his shoes, ran to the kitchen and threw them on the floor in front of him. Back and back we ran until we were out of ammunition, wondering all the while when we would be made to stop. Finally when we came to throw the empty shoeboxes, he rose to yell at us and sent us to our rooms with warm bottoms.

Mom remained on the couch, the corners of her mouth curled into an I-was-right smile.

My brother and I still feel bad.

The School Bus

We bumped along the dirt road and lurched into spring potholes so big we called them swamps. Our driver’s name was Buzzy and thinking back, his bloodhot eyes may have given us clues about the meaning of his nickname.

One day, after picking up Danny Burrill and all of his older brothers and sisters, we got stuck in the turnout at the end of their road. The bus sank in the mud and tilted over to one side, making Buzzy swear, which made us giggle. Cursing again, he yelled at us to get the hell over to the other side of the bus so it didn’t tip over.

He radioed for help and Bunny Hall came with his tow truck. The Hall Boys were on the bus with the rest of us. Although they were only in junior high, they were as big a grown men. The Hall Boys, who always had motor oil blackening their fingernails, hopped out to help push and shove the bus back onto the road. They smiled to hear us clapping for them and were happier still to be too dirty to go to school.

They climbed into the tow truck and pointed at us, still on the bus, like we were monkeys in a cage.

Celebrations and Compelling Proposals

Happy Birthday, Golden Gate Bridge! Doesn’t the bridge seem like a fixture? It’s hard to fathom a time when it wasn’t there. The Golden Gate turned 75, which sounded old until I realized it’s a few years shy of twice my age. Ehem. Nonetheless we celebrated the old girl with a lot of shared love, admiration and a brilliant fireworks display.

There was more than one occasion to raise a glass in acknowledgement of an undertaking this week. I received an interesting proposal. Not from the handsome devil pictured above, but from two of the people for whom I work.

Penny Edgert, who wrote the California GEAR UP grant proposal and is our Principal Investigator (among many other roles and titles)  hatched this plan: to write about the life of Lynn Baranco and the Baranco family, as an exploration of the impact of civil rights and education on one Bay Area family.

The man who hired me, Lynn Baranco, started his career in his father’s shoe shine shop in the 1950s. The first of his family to go to college, he eventually landed at Cal (University of California at Berkeley) where he worked for many years starting with Upward Bound and serving as Special Assistant to the Chancellor and as the Director of Student Recruitment.

Lynn has lived a charmed life and there is a lot of great material to work with. He’s a natural story-teller with a ready sense of humor and a booming laugh; you know when he enters the building.

Penny and Lynn are Characters in every sense of the word. They’ve known each other for just about 40 years, so there is a lot of shared material! I’ll probably never get to hear it all, but I’ll be hearing a lot. They have asked me to help them write Lynn’s memoir. I’m thrilled to be asked and hope that I’m up to the task. It will be a fun project no matter how you slice it.