Monday, October 7, 2013

Hello All,

          It's been a long time since I've posted.  It's  complicated but then it seems like lots of things about life are complicated.  My head is spinning these days and I am not sure when any of it will stop.  Maybe never.  What I know is that I go to work every day and, in that place and time, I function well.  I have clearly defined roles and expectations.  I have a purpose.  I am on strong footing and solid ground there.

         Away from work, I still function well.  I do what I am supposed to be doing but, in the same moment,  I am questioning everything.  Well, not everything.  I have a family that gives me all that I need (both family of origin and family I created).  We do have our moments but really?  Really, I couldn't ask for better companions on this journey.  Beyond family, I am lost.  That sounds dramatic but I don't have other words right now.  For the past couple of months I have been unwilling to write or paint anything.  I have been unwilling to socialize beyond family obligations.  I have very nearly been unwilling even to read.  And that's what tells me I am in big trouble.  Reading is my go to for any pain. And I can't even go there.

     I go no where but into silence.  Okay, occasionally I get myself over to the ocean and watch the waves.  I go to the dreamscape.  Mostly I go to night dreams but sometimes those night dreams invade my day dreams  and that is an interesting adventure.  I am investigating, touching, feeling the places in my head that I never saw before.  I am also experimenting with going to places that are NOT in my head.  That's an unfamiliar experience for sure.

    The whole thing sounds so weirdly cosmic.  Yeah, I don't have words for it.

    I'll see what happens next.

Yours for new and better times,

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Some Days


     Okay, if you are not naturally inclined to poetry (or even if you are), just do yourself a favor and try reading this short poem out loud.  Try reading it at a measured pace (meaning not racing to get through it).  See what pictures come into your head.  Just try it.  It won't kill you.

    Some Days    

       by Billy Collins

Some days I put the people in their places at the table,
bend their legs at the knees,
if they come with that feature,
and fix them into tiny wooden chairs.

All afternoon they face one another,
the man in the brown suit,
the woman in the blue dress,
perfectly motionless, perfectly behaved.

But other days, I am the one
who is lifted up by the ribs,
then lowered into the dining room of a dollhouse
to sit with the others at the long table.

Very funny,
but how would you like it
if you never knew from one day to the next
if you were going to spend it

striding around like a vivid god,
your shoulders in the clouds,
or sitting down there amidst the wallpaper,
staring straight ahead with your little plastic face?

      What do you think?  Is this not cool?  Do you get what he's talking about?  Some days I am on top of the world.  I have life nailed and I am doing it well and I am loving it.  And then there are all those other days.......with my little plastic face staring straight ahead.

    For another taste of Billy, go here

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Implied Contract

    In a previous blog post, I introduced my readers to Dr. Gordon Livingston, a psychiatrist and writer.  I had enjoyed his recent book The Thing You Think You Cannot Do and wanted to pass along some of his observations of the psychotherapeutic process.

    One of the essays in this collection is entitled "Old Age Is the Revenge of the Ugly".  My family (immediate and extended) works hard to support our aging matriarch and so we are all familiar with the issues of the elderly.  Pauline will be 91 in a few months.  She is determined to live alone and that can be worrisome for all of us.  She would be willing to move in with one of her children but, at this time, the obstacles for that are many.  So we do the best we can with the situation as it is.

    In this essay, Dr Livingston brings his focus to the fear that may of us have about the aging process.  He notes that our date of birth is likely the most important aspect of our identities.  As we move past middle age, we are aware of the generation ahead of us and most often do not see a vast number of vibrant and optimistic folks on the road in front of us.  Instead, we see lots of examples of aging people who complain of the physical consequences of growing older.  They are surprised at their declining vitality and disturbed by the difficulties they encounter in daily life.  Livingston proposes that "the old have lost most of what we celebrate in this culture: energy,  sexual adventure, a sense of possibilities, and the capacity to change the future."

   Livingston suggests that perhaps there is an implied contract that governs our lives but maybe it was never properly explained to us. Here's the fine print in that contract:

   "If you are lucky enough to grow old, you will be stereotyped and marginalized by society, even by your own children.  You will become slow of thought and movement and have to cope with unexplained pains.  You will experience unspeakable losses that, finally, will include the loss of yourself.  This is the bargain."

    So, go ahead and have your long life but be prepared for a very different existence than the one you experienced as a younger person.  Be prepared for marginalization and the feeling that you are being left behind.  Be prepared for limited mobility, pain, and heartbreak.  I don't quite know what to make of this at the moment.  In my current days of relative health and well being, I don't want to imagine a life as limited and dark as my mother's appears to be.  But who can say how I might feel at 90 years of age?  And what choice do I have anyway?

     What do you think?  Does the implied contract about sound familiar to you?  Is it one you would take as is?  Is there room for negotiation there?

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Thing You Think You Cannot Do

     Gordon Livingston is a psychiatrist and writer who lives in Maryland.  I stumbled across this book of his recently and was intrigued enough by the title to read more.  I would not call this a self help book but rather a collection of essays that might give a thoughtful reader something to ponder.  Among the Amazon reviews,  there are some commenters who slam the author for being political.  I think that is part of the author's point. He takes some of the psychology behind personal fear and applies it to the national scene.  He talks about fear and vulnerability and the impact those have on individuals but he also occasionally segues into how fear can dominate a culture and its leaders.

     I am well acquainted with his political perspective but that wasn't what got my attention.  What got my attention was simply that he is an older guy who appears to have lived a rich life.  He has met tragedy face to face in his life.  His 22 year old son Andrew killed himself while under the grip of a bipolar illness.  Seven months later, his six year old son Lucas was diagnosed with acute form of leukemia.  Lucas died six months later.  Reading a bit about his professional approach to psychiatry and some of his experiences as a psychiatrist made me think I might have something to learn from him.  I'm not sure I learned anything new from his book but it did make me ask a few questions and it reminded me of some answers that I already had within me.

     Dr. Livingston gives a nod to the pharmaceutical industry, acknowledging that there are some medications that can be effective for some forms of mental illness  What I like, however, is that he also very strongly supports the therapeutic model.  He makes a lot of room for courage and resilience to take their places in our lives.  Anxiety is high on the list for those seeking psychotherapy.  There are so many fears:  fear of dying, fear of change, fear of intimacy, fear of loss, fear of failure, fear of time, fear of loneliness, fear of the unknown, and on and on.  There may be a biological component to anxiety but that doesn't mean the antidote needs to be pharmacological.  I, frankly, don't understand the psychotherapy process but that doesn't matter.  What matters is that he apparently does and his work with patients involves developing relationships that foster such virtues as courage and resiliency.

    The author talks about depressed people as people who are fresh out of future dreams.  His job, as a psychiatrist, is "to sell hope in individual doses".  He listens to people, he questions their fundamental beliefs about themselves, and he works to help them identify and change those parts of themselves that are holding them back from a more satisfying life.  It's not a fast track process.  Some people come to him seeking advice (and maybe prescriptions for medications) because he is seen as "the expert".  He considers it among his harder tasks to convince his patients that the answers must come from within.  It is his job to ask the questions that will help the seeker find their own answers.  The obstacles come when patients aren't willing to be patient, when they aren't willing to give the process time to come to fruition.  Many people are also resistant to this approach because it requires them to take responsibility for themselves.  They just want him to fix them.  What he has to offer them is hope.  And the thing they need in order to accept his offer is courage.  I think it must be a complicated dance.  And a scary one.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Fast and Slow

      On my professional path to where I am now, I spent a chunk of time as the orchestrator (aka teacher)  in a K - 2 classroom.  I had the pleasure of guiding children for their first three years of public school education.  Unless their sibling was in the class, I generally first met my new students as eyes wide open five year olds.  I got to hold them for three years, taking them from that pre-literate place to thriving chapter book readers. From September to June, we had wonderful days together.  There was a daily rhythm in our world complete with songs, art, outside play, tons of books, math stuff, writers' workshop, hands on science exploration and lots of (what I thought of as) the social curriculum.  That was simply time devoted to learning who we each were and how to get along with each other.  I don't know what it is about little kids but their observations, their reality, their freshness completely capture me.  I enjoyed planning our days together and I loved watching their faces and their reactions to what unfolded in our world.

    Parents were an integral part of that world.  I needed them in order to make everything happen that I wanted to have happen.  I needed parents who would sit on the rug and explore tangrams with children or guide a lesson about ladybugs or take a small group outside and play with jump ropes while I sat at the reading table helping children learn to make sense out of letters and words.  I loved the additional adults in the room too just for the shared adult perspective and humor,  Most parents trusted me to guide their children but sometimes there was some anxiety about a child's academic progress in the class.  I completely got that.  After all, these parents were turning over their most precious jewels to me for six hours a day.  Parents wanted to know that their child's time was well used.

    One thing I did know clearly was that children cannot be rushed.  They will come to places in their own time.  That didn't mean that I wasn't alert to possible obstacles that the school could assist with (a referral for special ed services, for example) but my professional eye often could sense when a child simply needed a slower time frame.  She was going to get there (reading chapter books, for example) but she was taking the scenic route.  Somewhere I came across this phrase and it fit perfectly:

   Recently I had cause to return to this notion of taking slow to grow.  Oddly, what occurred to me is that it isn't just kids who need slow in order to grow.  We adults often need the same thing to reach new places in our lives.  The current culture is jammed with activity and expectations.  Days go by fast.  How many balls can we juggle?  How many things can we check off our to do lists?  How fast can we go?  The flip side is what happens when we slow it way down.  What can we see and what can we hear when we meander instead of sprint?  It's no earth shatteringly new idea.  But it is one worth considering.  I, for one, plan to experiment with more slow and less fast.

    How about you?  Where do you find slow in your life?  Are you drawn to fast or to slow?  Would you like more of one or the other?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

In Your Own Skin

       Skin - interesting stuff.  It's the largest organ in the body.  It has several essential functions, including protecting the muscles, bones, ligaments and other organs.  Skin serves as a barrier, preventing pathogens from getting in and excessive fluids from escaping.  It separates the inner and the outer world.

     I never gave much thought to skin when I was a kid or even a teenager.  It got scraped, black and blued, and even chopped open from time to time.  One of my charming older brothers who shall remain nameless even smashed open the skin on my head with a baseball bat once.  It was an accident.  Really, it was!  I remember from time to time examining my skin for some reason or another and actually liking it.  I remember being 15 and being thrilled to return from the beach with the classic and cool bronze tan.   As a 20 something, I remember liking my skin a lot.  I was spared much of the agony of acne and my skin really was relatively flawless.  No makeup applied.  Self respecting hippie girls didn't do that. That was then.

    Here's the shocking part:  I don't like it so much now.  You knew that was coming.  It no longer meets the cultural standard for attractive.  It still does an awesome job of protecting and containing stuff but it is multi toned and, yeah, not so smooth.  There's no bronze now, only stupid patches of brown pigment.  I've got some scars here and there and some veins that might scare little kids.  These days I do apply a little of this and a little of that (emphasis on little) but am not interested in expensive skin care products or procedures.  My skin continues to serve me well and I deal with its changing landscape.

   What caught my attention recently was the phrase "comfortable in your own skin". Back in those days when I liked it, I can't say that I felt comfortable in my own skin.  Those teen and early adult years were about figuring how who it was who really lived in that skin.   I needed time to get to know her.  I was awfully busy checking to see if she made the grade.  Was her school and work performance of the highest quality?  Did she dress and look right (whatever the current "right" was)?  Did she say the right things and laugh the right way and blah blah blah?  I don't think I was a whole lot different than most younger people.  I know there are a few people who grow up feeling comfortable in their own skin and I think they are very fortunate.  But I wasn't one of them.

    I guess it comes to mind because I finally feel as if I am comfortable in my own skin.  Yeah, it's not so pretty maybe but it finally fits really well.  I have an ease now that took some serious years of living to acquire.  I still have lots of expectations of myself and I am no where near ready to turn into a frumpy   woman, but, on my good days I can also be much more accepting of me in the present moment.  I am doing the best I can with whatever comes my way.  My skin might be a bit lumpy or crinkled but my eyes are pretty damn shiny and I can sparkle just as much as I did when I was 21.

    How about you?  How's your skin fit you these days?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Got It!

    Guess what?  There IS one thing on my bucket list!  Ha!  I fooled you (although not intentionally).  I have always wanted to live at the beach and, before I die, I would like to make good on that.  

      The ocean is a powerful draw for me and always has been. As children, we went on day trips to the California beach often and every summer there was at least one beach camping trip.  My college years were spent close to Santa Cruz and the Monterey area.  I went to the beach all the time.  Sometimes it was to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk or the Monterey/Carmel beaches.  But just as often, I trekked out to the more remote beaches between Santa Cruz and San Francisco.  Those days were always renewing. sometimes adventurous, always enjoyable.  Later I ended up living north of the Golden Gate and still spend plenty of days during all seasons of the year at the beach.

     Maybe twenty years ago, I seriously considered relocating permanently to a beach locale.   In order to be affordable, I would likely need to move to a fairly remote beach area.  Fairly remote means few jobs and that leads to no money for rent and food for the family.  Best to set that idea way over there to the side until kids are launched.

     Fast forward twenty years.  Kids are launched.  I'm still working but I can think about some other options.  Here's the thing.  I like my house.  I like my neighborhood.  I don't really want to deal with buying and selling property and I am not sure I want to be in the beach climate 24/7.  Anyone who knows me knows my thoughts on fog and gray.  

    But, here's the creative part.  Who says "living at the beach" has to mean relocating and living all day every day at the beach?  How about this?  How about if I were to really live at the beach for, say, one month a year?  How about I keep my house in my neighborhood but I go live at the beach for intervals?  Maybe one year I live on a NorCal beach for the month of January (one of the best times to visit NorCal beaches, I might add).  Maybe the next year, I find a place to stay on the big island of Hawaii for the month of February.  Perhaps the next year in March, I try Cape Hatteras in North Carolina.  And the pattern continues:  Gold Beach, Oregon, the Jersey shore, Cape Cod, San Diego, Key West, Florida, Acadia, Maine, you get the idea.

    Do you have a favorite beach?  Give me some words about it, please.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Tastes the Same

"The sea is nothing but a library of all the tears in history."
                                                                     Lemony Snicket

      Okay, I'm putting it right out there.  All of my life I have been afraid of tears.  They say I am weak.  They say there is something wrong with me.  Buck up, baby.  Show nothing lest you be seen.

     Here's the rule:  you can cry.  Just not in front of anyone.  Okay, maybe in front of your best friend but that's it.  Cry at any other time and you are less than.  My parents did not cry, my older brothers did not cry.  As a matter of fact, if you did cry, the response was, "Stop crying, young lady, or I will give you something to cry about."

      One exception to the rule is death.  Death is too big to hide from.  I even saw my dad tear up when his mother was buried. Tears are, indeed, a surrender to the power of death. Tears are sadness, anger, frustration, happiness made real.  Made visible.  Tears connect us humans in all of our deepest places.  Exposing those places?  What a risk!

     Lately I've been thinking that I might want to change the rule.  Maybe tears actually signal strength?  Maybe they say "Yes, yes, I know my pain.  And, yes, I know your pain.  You are not alone.  Nor am I."

     After all, let's get real.  Pain is a link for all humans.  For me to go inside and then deliver to the public my  heart and soul?  That takes strength.  Maybe even courage.  My tears connect me and I can be known.  Scary.

You're not alone
I'm with you, I'm lonely too
What's that song
can't be sung by two?

A broken home, a broken heart
isolated and afraid
Open up this is a raid
I wanna get it through to you
You're not alone

You're not alone, every night
I stand in your place
Every tear on every face
Tastes the same

A broken home, a broken heart
isolated and afraid
Open up this is a raid
I wanna get it through to you
You're not alone

A broken home, a broken heart
there's no need to be afraid
Open up this is a raid
I wanna get it through to you
You're not alone

I wanna get it through to you
You're not alone

Saturday, June 29, 2013

On the Bench Again

If loneliness is the disease, the story is the cure.   
- Richard Ford

    There are lots of folks who sit on the bench in my neighborhood but the quietest one, and one I highly favor,  is the observer.  He generally straddles the end of the bench, chin in hand, eyes covered in RayBans.  His curly dark hair is always bunched under a hat, often a fedora but occasionally he sports the black and orange of the home team.  This dude just watches.  He's not above a chuckle and a high five when a passerby or someone else on the bench makes a remark but his primary goal in life appears to be contemplating the world.  He notices the details:  the cop waving to the little kid, the punk on the bike chomping his gum, the sexy lady singing to herself while walking downtown .  He hears that rat dog whining, the engine on that 1990 silver Toyota knocking, the blender in the kitchen across the street making margaritas.  It's all there.  Recorded for future reference.

     Yes, what isn't obvious from the bench is that the observer is also a recorder.  What he reckons is that everyone has a story.  Everyone.  Sometimes people know their story and sometimes they don't.  Not yet, anyway.  And maybe never.  He is curious about  their stories but he knows enough to realize that you can't force the telling of the story.  So he watches.  He lets people tell their own details, even if they can't hear their story.  He waits for the unfolding.  And records what he knows.  In the stillness of 4:00 in the morning,  the stories fall out of the observer and onto the keyboard.  And he feels connected.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Bucket Lists

    I don't have one.  A bucket list, that is.  You know,  like in that movie The Bucket List?  Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman?  Old guys trying to do the things they want to do before they "kick the bucket"?

    I don't quite get it.  I get lists and sometimes I even make lists but I don't have any check off list of what needs to be accomplished before I fold into the mystic.  That seems so huge and so transient to me.  What I want right now is, in all probability, not going to be what I want in six months or a year, let alone in ten years.  I guess you can make the list and change it a lot but what exactly is the point of the bucket list?  Do you make one because you might forget what it is you want to do?  Or is there some internal satisfaction in checking off the old list.  Just wondering.

   Do you have a bucket list?  Tell me one thing that's on it.  Make it something that doesn't have to do with travel, if you can.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Into the Mystic

     I stumbled over some vintage Van Morrison the other day on my way to somewhere else.  Isn't that how it often is?  On your way to one place, you find the real treasure along the path?  The cosmos gets us like that.

     I hadn't listend to this little piece of Van in a long time and it knocked me over when it fell from the sky.  Thing is, you know, I am still wrapping my head around my friend's death and then this little wondersong stops me in my spinning.  It is such a powerful, sensual, and haunting almost hymn. Some  might even claim magical and spiritual. What I know to be true is that it made me pause for a minute and just be. That's a good thing in my book.

     Life is finite.  I know that:  "We were born before the the wind, also younger than the sun"
     The call is to live it to the fullest:  "Smell the sea and feel the sky, let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic."

    Make room for love:  "I will rock your gypsy soul, just like back in the days of old."

    And make room for acceptance:  "We will magnificently fold into the mystic."

     The thing is, I hold Van Morrison's music close.  Common Irish roots?  Don't know, doesn't matter. His music makes me feel alive.  This is one song that I wouldn't mind hearing someday, on a warm summer evening, as I say goodbye to this world that has held me for lots of years.


We were born before the wind
Also younger than the sun
Ere the bonnie boat was won
As we sailed into the mystic

Hark, now hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic

And when that fog horn blows
I will be coming home
And when that fog horn blows
I wanna hear it, I don't have to fear it

And I wanna rock your gypsy soul
Just like back in the days of old
Then magnificently we will fold into the mystic

When that fog horn blows
You know I will be coming home
And when that fog horn whistle blows
I gotta hear it, I don't have to fear it

And I wanna rock your gypsy soul
Just like back in the days of old
And together we will float into the mystic

Too late to stop now?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The (Body) Machine Shop

      To my dismay, I have become way too familiar with the physical therapy clinic. Because I am a highly active person who also happens to have inherited arthritic tendencies, I have become a fairly regular visitor at PT over the past ten years.  The sessions have sometimes been related to the arthritis issues but sometimes are a result of overuse or accidents that have occurred because I like to move. No matter why I am going there,  I am grateful that I have access to physical therapy (even if it is a literal pain and a disruption to my day).  I am also finding the clinic to be an interesting classroom for the study of human beings.

   When I walk in for any appointment, I take in the big room with all the equipment and the various combinations of therapist/patient at work.  It's odd to me that, although this is a medical establishment, privacy is not a priority.  The room is open and the conversations are accessible for anyone in the room.  My current therapy is entirely related to the joint replacement surgery that I had on my right hand  in early March. I am primarily ensconced at a table in the "hand section" of the office.  I mostly sit at the table while my hand is massaged and manipulated, electrified and examined, heated and cooled.  I do WWF, or make with the chit chat with the therapist or sometimes other patients who are also having their hands entertained.  But mostly?  Mostly I just watch the people there.

     People come in with their broken body parts, each broken in its own way and each significant to the owner.  But to the physical therapists, each body part seems to be just that - a broken part of the machine.  Isolate the problem and attack.  Most of the PT's, frankly, look bored. As in, here I am repeating these same old knee exercises for, what, the 5th time today?  the 10th time this week?  the 100th time this year?  They stare off out the window or make jokes with the other PT's while their victim groans their way through the exercises.

   The patients are a diverse lot.  They are a collection of bodies, more over 40 years old than under 40.  Most seem perplexed or uncomfortable with the exercises. It's almost as if they don't know that part of their body very well. That last description includes me.  The patients come in all sizes and shapes.  Very few fit the cultural profile for attractive but they all come with bodies that are functional and in need of some kind of repair.  I observe some patients just resting on tables or enduring (enjoying?) some hands on therapy.  Awkward.  Some are working out on machines or with big exercise balls or long rubber tubing. Yes, you read that right.  Long rubber tubing that you use to stretch and strengthen muscles (it has been part of some PT sessions in my past).  Most appear not particularly graceful nor comfortable with what they are asked to do but they plod their way through it.  I am more interested in what their faces say than in what their bodies do. Faces say things like, "You want me to do what?" or "Well, this is fun!" or "Is it time to quit yet?".  Or maybe those are just the thoughts in my own head.

     When I walk into the room, I tend to distance myself from the others, as if somehow I am above this.  What's that about?  I am self conscious and wonder what other people watchers are noting about me.  I don't know why this place makes me highly uncomfortable.  Perhaps it speaks to vulnerability and flaws?  That makes sense to me.

     What's your take on physical therapy? Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Saying No

    I had a dream the other night which engages me on several levels.  In the dream I am at a medical facility.  There is a group of 6 or 8 doctor types gathered around me.  They are telling me that they need to do some kind of highly invasive procedure that will be quite painful.  They tell me that there is no guarantee that they will be able to gather any useful information but they MIGHT get some answers to some questions they have.  They want me to sign the paper so they can go ahead with this.  I very calmly look at them and tell them no.  No, I don't want that procedure.  What?  They are aghast!  What do you mean no?  This is what we have to do in order to attempt to fix you.  You will have to submit to this procedure or we can not help you any more.  You might die.  Okay then, I say calmly.  So be it.

    Weird, heh? I like that I say no in the dream.  I like that I make the decision for myself.  No one is going to railroad me into something that doesn't work for me.  I suppose I could be seen as foolish.  After all, they are trying to "fix" me.  I should comply with them.  But I am not interested in the painful, invasive procedure.  Not if there isn't a payoff.  I don't like their attitude.  It is as if they know what's best for me and I should take their word for it.  Guess what, peeps?  I am the only expert on me.

   I suppose part of this dream might stem from the sadness and frustration I feel about my friend Lesly's recent death.  Lesly and her family fought with cancer for over three years.  If she had known from the start how this was going to end, would they have fought the battle so long? The last six months were especially difficult, fighting always for some, if not improvement, at least pause in the cancer's progression.  Such a hard time and yet the ending came anyway.  Far too soon.  Who knows what avenue I would take in a similar situation but I wonder if I would carry on as long as Lesly did.

Monday, June 24, 2013

How About That 2013? (Part 2)

      On January 1, 2013, I made a list of fifty things I might do in 2013.  These were not meant to be high pressure goals but just random thoughts about what lay ahead in the new year.  I checked in in March to see how that list was looking in the light of spring.  Now it's time to see what the mid way point in 2013 looks like.  I'm not going to review everything on the list but I'd like to consider three things that I have actually done and three things that I might still choose to do.

     In March I celebrated the progress made on kitchen improvements and hand surgery.  Neither of those items can be completely checked off the list as done but they continue to move forward.  Item number 12 seems to be a focus for now:  paring down possessions (see Dump It All).  That feels important and freeing.  I know I am also well aware of item number 13:  avoid accumulating even more possessions.   In April, I reveled in the stunning peace and beauty that is Yosemite.  Those few days definitely take the prize for being the highlight of 2013 so far.  I enthusiastically placed item number 7 on the list in January.  I was so jazzed to plan to participate in the A to Z Challenge.  That tower of enthusiasm crashed as April got under way and I moved on.  Some things just don't go the way you planned, you know?

     Reflecting in June on the list made in January makes me keenly aware of how much things change.  For some unknown reason, many of the items on the list don't capture my attention these days.  So be it.  Maybe they will come into focus again later but not now.  I am experimenting with item number 20:  accept the darkness.  I would make it much broader now.  I am learning to accept a lot of things as the way it is.  Not good, not bad. Just the way it is.  Number 28 (Learn what it means to make and apply my own rules to myself) seems to be a theme for these summer months.  I wonder where that will go. I suppose it will be influenced by number 38: engage in frequent and random conversations with myself.  Interesting thought, that one.  Sometimes I feel as if I am the only one available for me to talk to.  The people with whom I might want to talk are, for lots of reasons, just not available right now.  I am an observer, a recorder, and a reflector.  I have to know that a person wants to engage in real conversation before I begin to share any of those self to self conversations.  Real conversation means they will talk back about things that matter.

     In theory, I will check in again in September.  I expect that number 47 (Look for surprises) might be on the agenda.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Speaking of Anger

       Last night my good friend and neighbor Lesly died.  She had been diagnosed with cancer in the fall of 2009 and lived the ups and horrible downs of life with cancer ever since.  There is a huge hole in the world this morning with Lesly's departure.  She was a smart, creative, caring, and fun person.  She leaves a beautiful family mourning her death.  Her presence in the community was quiet, helpful, and always accompanied by good wishes.  She was a highly valued employee of FedEx and the customers along her route cheered every time she returned to work after facing yet another round of chemo.  We will miss her.

    Lesly was the parent of two children.  Her insurance with FedEx paid for not only her medical care but that of her children.  She accrued retirement benefits and those should be useful for her family, right?  "Should be" - operative words.  Lesly was not married.  In fact, Lesly was legally not allowed to marry her life partner.  Even though Stacey and Lesly were committed to each other for 27 years and had two now teenaged children together, they could not legally marry.  A very practical outcome of this situation is that Stacey cannot access Lesly's retirement account.  It died along with Lesly.  Social Security benefits died with Lesly too.  That enrages me.

      I am married and have two children.  If my husband dies, I am entitled to his retirement and SS benefits. Stacey and Lesly would have been married if the love they had for each other was recognized by the state of California.  Stacey, Clare, and Ian would have at least had some kind of financial security if that marriage had been recognized.  I understand that some people hold onto a belief that marriage is a union only between a man and a woman.  Explain to me, please, how Stacey and Lesly's union cannot be recognized as the marriage that it was. Certainly people are entitled to their own beliefs and, trite as it sounds, if you don't support gay marriage then simply don't choose that option for yourself.  But it is wrong to deny benefits to couples like Stacey and Lesly simply because your religious beliefs stand in the way of such a union for you.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Rhetoric of Pop Culture

   That was the name of a course I took when I was an undergraduate in the field of Speech -Communication.  That class focused on the movies, music and tv of its time and I really enjoyed it.  I was pop culture savvy at the time and thrived on all things contemporary.

    I am still intrigued with pop culture but feel so removed from it.  I suspect that this distance is common with people who are old enough to remember vividly the Summer of Love but that doesn't make it acceptable to me.  How does this happen?  How is it that younger people can be infused with pop culture while older people are distanced?  Or are they?

    Really, I want to know this.  I want to know how I can rejoin the popular culture.  Or is it even possible?   I get distracted by a demanding profession.  That profession does involve teenagers so you would think that might help and it does - a little.  I also get overwhelmed with the abundance in the culture.  How do you make time to stay tuned in to new music, new technology, new movies especially when your first impulse is to read and do physical things outside?  Do I make myself not read the contemporary fiction and non fiction (leaning the most toward biography, sociology, and philosophy) but rather read lots of blogs and on line periodicals?  And I'm not talking about being plugged into celebrities.  I don't really care about them.  I am talking about being plugged into the ideas that make the culture alive now.

    For those of you that fancy the pop culture, what is the route I should take?  Four years ago I secured a  part time job at an Apple store mostly because I wanted to develop Apple acumen.  I did.  I gained a lot of knowledge but I also wore myself out (I was still working my "real" job).  That attempt at staying current was fun but too much. My best connections to now include Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Wired, The Atlantic, The Rumpus, other websites, and, of course, my own kids who are in their 20's and plugged in.  What avenues would any of you recommend for touching the ideas that float around the culture these days?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

News to Me

    I love being a life long learner.  And the lessons are so all over the place. Here's a subject that I am finally getting around to really studying.  I don't want to take the final exam but I am curious to see how I would do with it.

   The subject is anger.  I grew up pulling anger out of my pocket every couple of weeks when the nuns would drag us over to the church on Friday afternoons for confession.  It was my "go to" sin.  I could always count on having at least three or four episodes of anger that I could point to and claim as my sins for the week.  Anger was a bad thing.  NOT okay to be angry.  And I was always angry.  Angry at my mom for making me do chores.  Angry at Mark the Park for calling me Dog.  Angry at my sister for messing with my stuff.  Angry at the other kids at school because they had nice stuff and I didn't.  Angry at the stupid priest (horrors!) for embarrassing me because the car pool made me late for the required attendance at morning Mass. Angry at having to go to Mass.  Angry at having to go to school. Angry angry angry.

    And here is the unbelievable part.  I never lost that piece that says anger is bad.  I spent much of my life yelling at myself for being angry.  Bad person.  Get rid of that anger and do it right now. You have no right to be angry.  Get rid of it, I said!  NOW!  Guess what?  I am only now learning that anger is really NOT a bad thing.  Anger is a feeling and it just is.  Sure, you might do something when angry that could be harmful or mean but anger, in and of itself, is not bad.  What a revelation. Amazing.

  So what I am learning now is that it's okay to make a place for anger in my world.  I can feel angry and notice where I feel it.  I can observe anger and maybe paint or write about it (or not).  Then I can decide what, if anything, I want to do about it.  But the big lesson here is that anger is not the bad guy. And I am not the bad person for feeling anger.  This is all new to me, folks.  I am not sure how this new knowledge is going to play out in my days but I am curious to find out.

  How about you?  Are you comfortable making a place for anger in your world?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

More About Stuff

I'm going to whine more about stuff.

I like my house in the neighborhood.  I like that I have room in this house to leave all my paints and
works in progress on a table.  I like that the kitchen is spacious and airy, that we have an extra room that makes it easy and convenient when we have guests (especially when our 28 year old son comes home for the weekend).  I like that RR can watch baseball in the living room and I can retire to our bedroom at the back of the house to read and/or nap.  I like that the dining room table does dual duty as my writing space and yet it can open way out for family events that require space. We have a small wall closet in our bedroom but, in the upstairs loft area (that provides RR with office space), there is a catch all closet where off season clothes can be stored.  I like it.  There are two bathrooms in the house.  Do I need to say how convenient that is?

I like the generous half acre parcel in town that allows us room for fruit trees, vegetable garden, flowers, and a fenced dog run.

So where's the whine?  That would be maintenance.  All these "things" need to be tended to.   I could just ignore the those dirty (but beautiful) south facing windows.  I could allow the crumbs and dog hair to simply sit in the corners and sulk. I could let the kitchen counters and bathroom sinks gather gunk at the faucets.  I could let the leaves on the house plants sink with accumulated detritus and just say I enjoy the dusty leaf look. Ditto the blinds on the bedroom windows.  Don't you think dust just adds some texture and interest to the otherwise boring cream colored blinds?  That yard is lovely but, unless  you prefer the natural look, you need to spend hours on the raking and sweeping.  Regular maintenance (dishes, laundry and occasional sweep of the floor) I can handle.  It's the serious vacuuming, dusting, clean the bathroom, wash the windows, blah blah blah, that I resent.  And get mad at myself for not doing.  If I didn't have the house and the stuff, I wouldn't have this discussion with myself.  If I lived in a small, even condo sort of place, I wouldn't have to maintain it all.  Or, I could just stop maintaining the house to "decent" standards and do what I want with my time.  My choice.

What do you do?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Dump It All

What the F word  is all this STUFF I have?

I am in a toss-it-all-out sort of place.
Just dump this and that.

Dump anything you don't use on a regular basis.
Dump books that don't speak to you any more.
Dump clothes that don't fit or don't feel right.
Dump pieces of furniture that just take up space.
Dump all the friggin dishes and kitchen stuff that you don't use anyway.
Dump the art supplies that you bought and don't use anymore.
Dump the stuff  that is in the bathroom that was purchased years ago and never used since.
Dump the flower pots that sit empty out on the deck.
Dump the letters and cards from long ago.  
Okay, keep the ones from people who have the power to break your heart.
Dump the kid stuff from years ago - games and puzzles.  Dump it.
Dump the self medicating stuff that doesn't work anyway.
Dump anything where the expiration date was pre 2013.  Duh.
Dump blankets and pillows and linens that sit in closets.
Dump the Walkmans and the worthless printers.
Dump the the tangle of computer/electrical cords and the cameras that require film.

Dump it all.

Make the place empty
That's what I want.
I want to be empty except for core essentials.
But then what happens?
What happens when everything is empty?
Will I get lonely?
Will I fill it up with new shit?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Bye Bye, Airlines

      I'm not saying that I will never fly again but I am emphatically saying that, until something changes in the Land of Corporate Greed,  I don't plan to buy any more airline tickets.  I am on strike against the airlines.  Last January, in the dark and cold of winter, I thought a trip to Chicago in the summer would be fun.  Now that June has arrived,  I wonder what the heck I was thinking back then?  Now, a trip to Chicago sounds exhausting and expensive.  A big expense (in my budget) is the $330 airline ticket.

      Here's the question:  Can anyone out there give me any reason why the airlines get to be so unreasonable about the return or exchange of airline tickets?  A reasonable explanation will have nothing to do with "national security".  It infuriates me that I can buy a ticket on January 4th, 2013 for a flight on June 27th, 2013 and, no matter what happens, I am stuck with that ticket.  I don't get why there can't be a refund on tickets purchased so far in advance?  Oh, that's right, Corporate Greed.  Someone will throw out "national security" as an explanation but that is so lame.  If I get my ticket refunded then my name is out of the system.  Where's the problem?  Hotels will often have a 72 hour cancellation policy (money refunded if cancellation is within 72 hours of scheduled stay).  Why can't there be a 72 hour window in which an airline refund is not allowed rather than a forever window?  Why do airlines get to rip the public off like this?

     Equally appalling is that I can't even give that ticket to someone else.  This is infuriating.  Again, I don't buy any "national security" excuse.  If I want to give my ticket to my friend, why can't I contact the airline and have the name changed on the ticket?  When boarding, the ticket holder will still have to show photo id.  What is the deal on this?  Right, Corporate Greed.

    In addition to these horrible business practices, the airlines stuff people and bags into those planes.  They also have the nerve to charge you for your suitcase.  Yes, it infuriates me.  They try to sell you cardboard that passes as food for some ridiculous price and, in general, act as if they are all that so that you can get from one place to another in a timely manner.

      As for me?  I've decided that, for the most part, "a timely manner" doesn't matter any more.  I like travel.  I like broadening my world and exploring other places and ways of living.  But, I refuse to support the airline industry.  I will go by car, train, boat, foot, or bike.  I will not plan to fly again.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tattoos and Scars

"I don't want to die without any scars."

Chuck Palahniuk - The Fight Club

    A blogging friend of mine recently wrote about the design he has selected for his tattoo.  He seemed excited about the upcoming piece of body art and asked his audience for their thoughts on tattoos.  Did they have one?  Had they ever thought about getting one?

    Though I went through a phase when I considered getting a tattoo, I never did and, frankly, I'm glad now that I didn't. Tattoos are permanent and that bothers me. I would have to care passionately about something to have it etched into my skin.  Everything changes so what is important now may well fade in importance as I move on through life.  Do I really want to always be reminded of who I was back then?

     I also don't like the colors that I have seen on tattoos.  For the most part, they are creepy to me.  Perhaps that is simply related to being a little kid and noting tattoos on people (mostly men) who seemed frightening to me. The colors seem dark and haunted.

    I will say that I do like scars. I have several and I wear them proudly. They say to me that I endured (and, in one case, survived) major pain and they mean I was, at one time, broken but now am functional (if not whole) again. Tattoos? Tattoos don't have that meaning to me. About the only tattoo that appeals to me now would be one that I would get to physically hold a loved one who has died.

    But, that is me. Hats off to anyone who wants and gets a tattoo for their own reasons.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

To Be Human

         I know a man who occasionally makes comments like this: "We humans are like that" or "We're human, right? That's what humans do"  or "Human beings do that sort of thing".  When he says things like that, I find myself somehow soothed, as if recognizing that whatever behavior he is commenting on is normal and natural (instead of the wrong or bad I might have been assuming).  It is such an accepting way of seeing the world.  A conversation with him a couple of days ago set me to thinking about what it means to be human.  What is the essence of being human?

         Human beings are the same in so many ways. Human beings are different too.  Yes, they all have fears and dreams but those fears and dreams are different from person to person.  All human beings hurt sometimes but they hurt in different ways and for different reasons.  But the experience of pain is a commonality.  As Tom Robbins says,  “There is no such thing as a weird human being, It's just that some people require more understanding than others.”  I like that.  It speaks to the complexity of being human.

          Human beings are a bundle of everything.  I would say that the life of a human being is messy.  To be human is to have conflicting needs and wants.  There's the messy part.  It can be so confusing to sort it all out.  So complex.  To be a human who is alive is to be a human who experiences both what it means to be broken and what it means to be whole - sometimes at the same time.  To be human is to fight and  to surrender, to be strong and to be weak, to be cautious and careless, to be clear and to be muddled - all at the same time.  Messy, messy, messy.

       Being human also means being flawed. No one is perfect and the flaws show our humanity.  You can be messed up and confused and scared and it doesn't mean you are defective.  It only means you are human.  Human beings are also not fixed in stone.  Feelings or aspirations from one day may be gone in the next. Curiosity calls forth new roads and yet old roads can remain too.  To get what we want or need is not necessarily easy.  Our eyes may turn in one direction and our bodies may crash into the wall in that same instant.  It takes effort and focus.  And you can pay a price for effort and focus.  Nick Harkaway said it like this: " Being human isn't like hanging your hat on a hook and leaving it there, it's like walking in a high wind: you have to keep paying attention. You have to be engaged with the world.” 

     I am curious.  What do you think it means to be human?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Pressing Pause

     It's flat out amazing how refreshing it can be to push the pause button on life.  This  past week, I ditched work and headed to Yosemite for several days.  Don't get me wrong. It's not as if I were irresponsible. I had these comp days coming since last summer,  That's when I made the reservations at the Yosemite Lodge (good quality hotel but not to be confused with the majestic Ahwanee Hotel).  The weather gods must have been happy with me as night time temps were around 40 degrees and the days were clear blue sky days with temps approaching 70 degrees.  Amazing.  The Valley is not crowded on a random week in the spring and the falls are in full gusher mode.  The deciduous trees are budding and the wildflowers are gearing up for their full spring show.

    Yes, I am an ocean person but Yosemite completely captivates me.  I cannot be in that place and have my mind race.  The job place hassles, the worries about family members, even the pain from the recent hand surgery all drift away.  I can breathe and fill my senses with the moment.  I wish I could give this feeling to you, kind reader, but about the best I can do is share a few photos.  Listen to the wind in the trees and the falls barreling down the rocks.  Just be.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


      Last night I had the chance to watch the Academy Award winning documentary "Searching for Sugar Man".  What an inspiration!  Rodriguez is a young Mexican-American man living in Detroit in the early 1970's.  He is a singer / songwriter who pays the bills by doing manual labor in the construction world.  A music promoter hears him one foggy night at a smokey bar in Detroit.  That promoter knows a good thing when he hears it and signs Rodriguez on.  Rodriguez has a compelling voice and writes music that is haunting and significant.

     For some unknown reason, this album, which should have taken off, pretty much flops.  Before the flop is recognized the record company has signed Rodriguez on for a second album.  Two weeks before Christmas, Rodriguez is notified that the record company is going belly up.  So ends Rodriguez's music career.  Or so it would seem.

     Rodriguez's life goes on, including the acquisition of a degree in philosophy and the addition of three daughters to his life.  What no one realizes is that his original album found its way to South Africa.  These were the tense and difficult closing days of apartheid in South Africa and the music that Rodriguez had created formed the most appropriate anthem for the anti-apartheid movement.  Because there was a world wide boycott of South Africa, many people were not aware of the influence of this American singer in that place.  In fact, the urban myth had developed that said that Rodriguez had blown his brains out on stage in America (or burned himself alive on stage - take your choice).

    "Searching for Sugar Man" is Rodriquez's story.  I am so enamored with this man.  His music resonates with me but his attitude and his humbleness are what entirely captivate me.  In some ways, his music reminds me of Dylan (without the raspy voice) but Rodriquez is a man who is not living the "rock and roll myth".    When the music career seemed to cave, Rodriquez went on with his life.  The film suggests the devotion he has for his daughters and the committment he has to his communtiy.  We need more people in the world like Rodriguez.

     This is one of my favorite songs of his:

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What You Can't Do Without A Right Hand

     During the last six weeks, I have had the chance to learn the value of my dominant hand.  My right arm/hand has been incapacitated.  The inconvenience/frustration of not having the use of this extremity has been far greater than the physical pain of joint replacement surgery.  Here are some things you might not have realized are impacted when you have only one arm available (especially when it is the non dominant arm that is available to you):

1)  Typing is unbelievably  slow, frustrating,and discouraging. 

2)  You can't button your own pants,  Just try going to work when you have to plan how to deal with bathroom issues: Skirt?  Too cold.   Elastic waist sweat pants?  NO WAY.   Confide in and beg a friend for help?  Don't go to work?

3)  You can't cut up or butter your own food.

4)  Lifting weights with only one arm results in a very uneven workout.

5)  You can't drive because you cannot grasp the steering wheel nor the shifting knob.

6)  Mascara.  Need I say more?

7)  You can't floss your own teeth nor wash your own left arm /armpit.  TMI.

8)  Have to write something?  Like a signature?  Hello, left hand, get to work!

9)  Putting on a bra?  Again, TMI.

10) Try making a decent meal with only one hand.... or folding  a load of laundry.

11)  Open the door while carrying the groceries in?  Right.  Let's just say, it becomes a multi step operation.

12)  Do you have any idea how hard it is to put socks on using just one hand? Or, better yet, tights?

    The thing I have learned (yet again)  is that life goes on.  Things get done.  Or don't get done.  I find creative ways to tackle the obstacles.   I never knew before how useful teeth could be - especially when it comes to getting dressed.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Kitchen Remodel

    Home remodeling projects - fun?  Or not so much?  RR and I have lived in this house for 27 years.  We knew when we bought the house that there was a kitchen remodel in our future.  This past February we actually completed the third (this one relatively minor) kitchen remodel.   

     The first kitchen project, completed in 1987, expanded the kitchen to include a dining area.  Prior to that expansion,  the room was dominated by an island.  If the family wanted to eat at a table together, you had to bring everything in the adjacent (carpeted) dining room.  We also created a separate laundry room space and moved the washer/dryer out of the kitchen.  This kitchen project served our young family really well.

      In 1999, we did some major renovations in the house.  We replaced most of the old single pane windows, installed hard wood floors, fashioned a smaller, less obtrusive kitchen island, installed a kitchen pantry unit, replaced the shower units in both bathrooms, and painted several of the interior rooms.  Big bucks, that one!  Despite the expense, we never regretted these improvements.  The house has been brighter, more energy efficient, and more comfortable as a result.

     The most recent project was the least expensive so far.  Its goals were primarily cosmetic and were designed to make the kitchen feel warmer and more open.  The island got a facelift with new countertops that feature warmer tones and integrated sinks.  We replaced the thirty year old stove and fifteen year old dishwasher (still functioning but certainly not as energy efficient as newer models).  Additionally, RR painted over some of the dark wood trim with a warm yellow tone.  The overall effect makes the kitchen feel more open and less cavelike.   Although money is tight, we had saved for these modifications and nothing went on a credit card.  I think it makes the kitchen an even warmer gathering place.


Pre remodel - note the heavy wood accents up high.

Pre remodel - I painted the mural on the east facing wall above five years ago.  It remains a focal point in the kitchen.

Remodel in progress - new stove/microwave and upper trim in transition.

Remodel in progress.  We really like the new countertops and integrated sinks.
       What has been your experience with home remodeling projects?  Have they been worth the money and effort?