Saturday, October 29, 2011

Drinking Smoking and Screwing

Last night the man who loves me said that my recent blog posts made me sound like St. Theresa. He might have meant Mother Theresa. Then again, maybe he knows what he's talking about. What I recall from Catholic school is that the Spanish St. Theresa had visions and heard voices. She was a writer, too. She looks pretty intense and not all that much of a do-gooder in this portrait by French artist, François Gérard.

The French St. Theresa (Thérèse), also known as "the little flower" joined the convent at 15 and devoted her life to God. She's the one you often see as a plaster saint holding a bouquet of roses. Weeelll.... I like roses.

As for Mother Theresa, I've read something somewhere that while engaged in her ministries she was something of a yeller and was known to treat her underlings severely. I suppose saints are never quite as perfect as we think they are.

But just for the record, I'm no saint.
I like dogs.
I like sorting through piles of second-hand clothes and finding useful or beautiful things that have no business being sent to a landfill. I like making things with my own two hands, and I've been known to read this book on airplanes so I don't have to make pleasant conversation.

And I drank wine from both of these bottles last night.

Friday, October 28, 2011

What I Like About Walking Dogs

1. Walking
2. Dogs
3. Zero fashion sense required
4. No one cares if there's poop on my shoes
5. Talking to myself while it appears that I am talking to a dog
6. Talking to a dog
7. Sitting in the grass in the park while giving a dog a belly rub
8. Saying things like, "Go ahead, pee on that tree too."
9. Saying "Who wants some love?" out loud in the middle of the park on a sunny day.
10. Dogs. I said that already? Well, I'm sayin' it again.

The little dog in the photo is named Boo Boo. He's sweet, well-behaved and very enegetic. His face is gray, but his spirit is young. He's at the San Gabriel Humane Society.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

As I begin to shape my weeks in a way that will include experiences other than staring at a blank word document and wishing I could or would write something, I have been doing a couple of different volunteer jobs. Today I sorted clothing donations at the DWC. A mountain of clothes. More clothes from Ann Taylor Loft than the inventory of an actual Ann Taylor Loft store. Things in such pristine condition that they may have actually been donated by the store. And if not, there's someone out there with a serious shopping addiction who just cleaned out her closet.

Los Angeles amazes me in this way. Such plenty. Such poverty. Three times a week, the women who patronize the DWC day center (these are the women who drop in for meals and showers and other care, but don't live there) get to "shop." The clothing, given the once over by volunteers like me in order to eliminate things too dirty or tattered, is sorted into piles of small, medium, large, and extra large before the women have at it. I haven't seen this in action yet, but today both residents and day center women chose Halloween costumes from the items we pulled from the giant pile and laid out on tables in the conference room. If you're downtown frequenting some of the meaner streets in the City of Angels, look for boas and flapper headdresses, for a genie, an airline stewardess, a church lady, a magician, a mannequin, a convict, and a doctor. Look for women who, once upon a time, probably had a place to call home just like you and me.

photo credit:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dogs and Doggedness

It's been a busy day. Some writing. Some exercise.

At the the San Gabriel Humane society I walked a poodle who spends his kennel time hiding under the doggie bed. I "walked" a tiny little dog who thought she was a wallet. Yup, I'll bet she was carried in a purse. (Damn you, Paris Hilton.) I walked a dog whose tag purported that she was an Australian Cattle Dog. She looked like an Australian Cattle Dog. Except she'd fit in a purse, too. Which raises the question, do those Baby Belle cheeses come from mini-cows? If so, I know an adorable dog who could use a job. I walked a little orange poof of a dog who was excellent on the leash and full of personality. Hi there, southern Californians, if you like little dogs, The San Gabriel Humane Society has about 100 of them. Really. Small dogs became all the rage thanks to Ms. Paris, and now they are being discarded like last year's shoes. 

After the dogs, I came home and had a terse discussion about my lack of reliable Internet service with my cable provider. I rebooted, gave up on my wireless, plugged directly into my modem and found this in my email:

Attached is your copy
of the final judgment paperwork,
which officially finalizes your divorce.

Of course there is still the QDRO. But that is being handled by the special QDRO attorney. "Which will take months."

I'll bet my "regular" divorce attorney has sent flowers and champagne and chocolates and it should all be arriving any minute.

photo credit:

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Blob

The blob is my day. My week. My year. The blob is me.

I suffer from blob-itis, a condition of acute shapelessness that struck me when my thirty-year marriage ended at pretty much the same moment that my well-feathered nest launched its last fledgling. After decades of running, tending, and attending the clock wound down and the calendar emptied out. Oh, there was plenty to do, but nothing as regular as seeing a kid off to school or putting breakfast on the table or waiting for the sound of the garage door opening. The band was still playing, but no one was keeping time. I made appointments and forgot them even though I wrote them down because the days felt interchangeable. The things I did seemed  non-essential--things that someone else could do just as well or even better.

I'm still struggling with trying to construct a regular schedule. In this fantasy of attacking the blob, I harbor secret desires to meet the same friend every Sunday for tea and yet another friend on Mondays for Margaritas. The first Thursday of the month? Well, that must be my writer's group. The last Tuesday? Knitting circle. Sunday? Well, what should I make for the potluck? None of these regular engagements are real, but in the calendar of my dreams, they are inscribed in big block letters and I relish their approach calendar page after calendar page. And of course, the largest portion of my day would be hugely important. To someone or something.

I sometimes wonder if I might have been a good nun or a soldier or a school teacher. Instead my days dissolve without the sounding of a single bell to mark their passing. The fact of the matter is that everyone I know is busier than I am. They have husbands and jobs and meetings and kids or grandkids or elderly parents that live nearby. They have people who are counting on them to do whatever it is that they do.

But the battle of the blob continues. Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays, I will walk dogs for the San Gabriel Humane Society--dogs kenneled for days at a time--like the ones I walked this past weekend.

On Thursdays I hope to do some kind of something (notice how this is already crumbling?) at the DWC while I wait to see if they have room in their schedule for a writing workshop. One weekend a month I will drive 400 miles to see my son and his family. One weekend a month I will fly to Baltimore to see my mother. Quick, if you want to schedule a regular anything, now's the time. I'm gonna harness my life into some sort of shape.

photo credit:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

In Honor of the Bride and Groom

I had a little dinner last night because the bride and groom are visiting. It did not look exactly like the picture below because that photo is from a Thanksgiving dinner at my old house. But if you take the dishes and the crystal and, in your imagination, put seven of those place settings on the table in the next picture, you'll get the idea.

The china was given to me by my mother and the crystal used to be my step sister's. After the divorce when I moved from a large kitchen to a tiny one, it was easy to see I wouldn't have space for the fancy things and the every day dishes, so I left the everyday dishes right where they sat. Except for a set of bright red breakfast bowls and coffee mugs, the china is my only dish ware. Even a piece of toast and a glass of orange juice gets served up as if it were paté and champagne. So last night's dinner of chili and salad and warm bread and chicken apple sausage got the usual rather luxe treatment.

One of the couples at dinner has known my daughter since she was a baby, the other for more than a decade. I still find myself somewhat stunned by the idea that my daughter is a grown woman with a husband of her own. That baby, that little girl, the teenager all seem present, too, but just out of reach--as if she were a set of matryoshka dolls forever sealed shut. The past versions of her are there and simultaneously forever gone.

That's the way I feel about my father, too--dead now for decades longer than I knew him. I keep a lot of old family photos around, and I sometimes feel that those dead people I loved are looking out of the pictures at me. As if they, too, are present in a way but inaccessible.

A couple of months ago this photo below of my grandmother (she's seated in the center) surfaced in some kind of historic display from an old department store in Dubuque, Iowa. I suppose she's a few years older here than I am now--but maybe not much. Last night at the dinner table when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I saw a silver-haired lady with big eyes, and I thought of this picture. I never used to think I resembled my grandmother, but now I see her in my mirror as if she's been inside me all along, waiting to come out.

Friday, October 21, 2011


Just as I settled in bed to read the other night, the power went out. Total darkness in a city is an eerie thing. Total darkness when you are home alone is even eerier. I might have been able to roll with it-- to rejoice that my noisy neighbor couldn't be in his garage sawing, or grinding, or disposing of  bodies with a myriad of power tools or whatever the hell he's doing over there, but that's when the beeping starting. First my cordless phones, then the security system. Little warning beeps at first, then more insistent until the security system was full-out blaring. I had to call them up to find out how to stop it. "Enter my code," they said. Of course. I might have thought of that if the noise hadn't disabled my brain. "It's a courtesy noise," the woman at the alarm company said, "to let you know the power is out." I didn't argue with her, didn't say that there was nothing at all courteous about that noise. Didn't tell her that if I'd already been asleep when the alarm started blaring that I probably would have had a heart attack or jumped out of window right into the arms of Mr. Mayhem and his saws.

I had 27% of my battery left on my iPad when the darkness descended so I went to Edison's website to see what had happened. Then I browsed around a little bit. Here's what I found on the "Safety Checklist During an Outage" under the subheading of "food safety tips:"  When you go to bed, leave a bedroom light switched on. It will wake you when power returns, so you can check the condition of your food. Check on my food?? In the middle of the night?? 

It turned out that I did accidentally leave my bedside lamp on, and when the power was restored a couple of hours later, the light jolted me awake. I didn't go check on my food. I just swore a lot, switched off the lamp, and turned on my fan so I wouldn't be able to hear my neighbor in case he left his lamp on and it woke him up, and he decided to dispose of one more body before dawn.

photo credit:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Was and the Then

The headlines have been screaming terrible divorce news lately. This and this, and The McCourts and their millions of dollars spent trying to divide their empire. Before my own ugly divorce, stories like these seemed to me to be grand guignol. The characters were too large for real life, towering and garish like those Bread and Puppet Theatre creations. Or that's how I remember it now. How I want to remember it. How I want to minimize it so I don't have to ponder myself staring into the chasm, inching nearer and nearer to the edge. But there's a shadow of a memory that tells me I was one of those puppets back then lurching and staggering even before the end of my marriage, precipitously close to toppling into the crowd. If I really look back at the reality of it, that's what I see.

I'm torn, these days, as to whether or not I should allow myself to look at the Was and the Then. What danger I was in. Remember it, one voice says. Let yourself forget that, the other voice says. The voices aren't letting on which of them is the right voice, but I think it's the memoirist's obligation to remember as accurately as possible. To see myself standing on that bridge. To remember what shoes I was wearing and how I thought about what they'd look like wet. And to tell the nice gray-haired woman--the one who hates to make problems for other people--to go sit in the corner and be quiet if she's going to deal in glossed-over half truths.

I had a social day yesterday. Not the usual course of events for me. Lunch out with a favorite writer-friend, dinner at my place with another friend--someone I've known for decades. When we spoke of the divorce, and how finally yesterday, I got the "notice of entry of judgement," we all chirped the joyous chorus of how much better my life is now, how I'm happier, luckier, healthier.  And it is. It is. The comparisons mean nothing though, if I forget what was. What really was.

And it turns out the Entry of Judgement is not the long-awaited end of the struggle. Apparently there is something called the "actual conformed judgement," and if it does not magically arrive in my attorney's office, they will have to send their attorney service to pick it up--and of course there will be a bill for this.
What better way to reminded of all the dark complexities? Oh--and I have a new attorney now, too--the one who is handling the QDRO (Qualified Domestic Relations Order) which deals with the division of the pension and retirement funds. "How long will this take?" I asked her. "Several months," she said.

So the story of my divorce has a five-year frame around it, and I'm still in that story. And there's the part that came before. And the part that will come after.

photo credit:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mother and Child

I suppose, if you're homeless, L.A. is preferable to colder locales.

I've in lived in L.A. since 1975, and the homeless have been a fixture from the beginning--the old guys who slept in the park near the duplex we rented in Culver City, the cast of characters who inhabited the broken-down house across the street from my apartment in the Wilshire district. In Silverlake there was the guy roving around with his guitar and the old lady with the dog who hung out in front of the 7-Eleven. That dog bit Mr. Ex and tore a hole in his brand new suit way back when--quite a scare and a financial blow to our modest finances then. When we lived in Los Feliz the homeless tumbled from the edges Griffith Park. I didn't like to walk in that neighborhood in the mornings. The bleary-eyed desperation of the guys dragging their sleeping bags out of the bushes scared me. Our next house was out of the city in a suburb, and people there joked that the police stopped anyone who looked homeless and pointed them west or south to an adjoining larger suburb--but still, there was the guy who seemed to live in the park tucked up against the mountains.

Certain pockets of downtown L.A. are well-populated with homeless people. Freeway off-ramps throughout the metropolitan area, even in tonier neighborhoods, are likely to have a homeless person holding a sign, stationed like a sentry. Lately I've noticed more women at those off-ramps. Women whose hair still holds the vestige of a decent cut, women with roller bags instead of shopping carts.

I can't recall, though, ever seeing a homeless woman with a baby on the streets of any of my neighborhoods in the City of Angels. Until tonight. She sat on the pavement next to the ATMs on the back side of Bank of America. Her sign said that she had two kids and couldn't pay her rent. I pondered what that meant exactly while I stood tapping my selections on the ATM screen. Had she been evicted?--or was she just trying to get enough rent money together so she could pay it? I knew I would give her money, but how much? Should I ask her if she knew about Para Los Ninos? If she had a safe place to stay for the night? Wait, I told myself, this doesn't make sense. If she has two kids like the sign says, where's the other one? Was she just panhandling for drug money like the woman who rides the Gold Line asking for pizza money for her kids? The regular train riders tell everyone she's a junkie. But the pizza woman never has her kids with her. This woman sat on the sidewalk with a baby in her lap. "God bless you," she said when I gave her the money. She didn't look strung out.

I walked on to the post office, wondering if I should swing by the police station. No. They'll take the baby, I thought, and put it in protective custody. I decided I'd go back and talk to the woman, but she was gone. It's chilly tonight. I hope she and her baby are warm. I hope that the next time I see a woman and a baby sitting on the sidewalk in my tidy little neighborhood, I'm a little quicker at working up the nerve to talk to her.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Homelessness: Real and Symbolic

I lived in a tent once. It might have been for a couple of weeks. Or less. Or more. I don't remember. I'd just moved to San Diego after college. I was in a performing commedia dell'arte troupe under the auspices of a UCSD summer program. Apartments in San Diego were expensive. A year or so before that I'd stayed on a friend's dorm room floor for a while after I returned to college before I found a place of my own that I could afford. I suppose you could say I was homeless. But not really. Not in the way that the homeless are homeless in big cities across the U.S. today. 

I spent the morning at the Downtown Women's Center. "Founded in 1978, the Downtown Women’s Center (DWC) is a nationally recognized nonprofit organization that provides over 50,000 meals, 71 permanent supportive housing apartments, and a wide array of health, education, and other supportive services to more than 2500 homeless and very low-income women each year. The Center meets our mission by offering a warm, friendly atmosphere that encourages homeless women to commit to their own betterment and healing process." They also provide meals, showers, and a haven from the streets for around a 150 women who drop in during the day.
I'm going to be volunteering at the DWC and hope eventually to do a creative writing workshop there.

After my orientation, I walked over to Occupy Wall Street Los Angeles. There were tents. Probably not inhabited by the truly homeless--but who knows? There was a lot of activity, but nothing very cohesive going on during the time that I circled the perimeter. Still, I was happy to see the involvement.

But the most inspiring part of the day was my visit to the DWC's cafe and gift store called "MADE." 

Many of the items for sale are made by the women of the DWC.

I especially loved these journals/sketch books made from the covers of old books.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Beautiful Details

I'm still swimming in the beauty of my daughter's wedding.

The place:

The flowers (origami created by the bride herself): Above is a boutonniere and a wrist corsage; below are the bouquets for the bride and the maid of honor--a bit out of focus.

The invitations were handmade, too. Here's the detail that appeared at the top and at the bottom--a hand-tied lover's knot:

At the reception my 87-year-old mom was still able to perch on a barstool and....

dance! (on the dance floor, not on the bar stool)

The Maid of Honor's toast was bolt of blinding love. There was a part in it that went something like this, " speak love--loud and soft. Speak love profoundly. Speak love prosaically in the aisles of the supermarket. Speak love, and never, ever shut up."

And there was plenty of lobster every single day that we were there--eaten with family, eaten with friends, eaten with the man who loves me while the water glimmered in the background reflecting all that love right back at us.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

High Anxiety

I have been hair-standing-on-end anxious all day. Jet-lag? Post-wedding blues? Withdrawal after a record-setting 5 days and nights with the man who loves me? Pre-turning 59 angst? Realization that I am a financial life-boat? (see previous post). Contemplating and fighting against the idea that I might be linked to Mr. Ex forever just because he fathered my daughters? Grandchildren withdrawal? The fucked up news about Iran and the assassination plot? Because I miss my dogs? Air pollution after spending time in Maine's pristine air? The current heat wave/Santa Ana? Allow me to quote Raymond Chandler here:"There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Ana's that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen.

I don't have a husband.I do have a carving knife. And I'm anxious. I'm sitting outside because it feels better than sitting inside. I'd sleep out here if I had a tent. Sleeping out here without a tent gives me the critter jitters. Racoons. Squirrels. Snakes. I really don't think I can sleep at all.

I stand with the 99%

After reading my friend Elizabeth's blog this morning, I took a moment to submit my photo and statement to We Are the 99%.

I found it hard to be concise as the instructions stated I should. It turned out I had a lot to say.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Maine Event

My daughter is married.

Somehow the baby that could barely tolerate being out of my arms is now, a quarter of a century later, a married woman.

It's a lot to comprehend.

It's been over four years since my own marriage fell apart, and although the trail of destruction the divorce left has not exactly been scoured away by the winds of time, there's been some pretty significant erosion. Oh, it's true that there were separate tables for him and his relatives and for me and mine, but there were incursions into one another's territory.

He danced with my mother. More than once. God knows what she said to him, but the music was so loud that regardless of what either of them said, it's doubtful that they could hear one another. I had a chance to chat with all of his brothers and sisters, and spent plenty of time with his niece who happens to be one of my favorite people.

And so the story of a divorce segues into the story of a marriage. Stories do that. They have a mind of their own, stories do. A baby girl is born, and some time later all hell breaks loose. There's heartbreak. A reversal. The story continues. There's a divorce. There's a wedding. And at this wedding, for the first time ever, four generations of  a rather unusual family find themselves in one place at the same time.

And now I'm home on my couch with my ancient cat purring on my lap. The man who loves me is at his place--savoring the solitude--or, who knows, rattling around in it, lost and wondering what happened to all the joyous hubbub. The relatives and friends are home, too--or making their way there by car, ogling fall foliage as they go. The younger daughter is running victory laps around my mother's trailer, having carried out her Maid of Honor/Party Captain duties, and safely returned my mother and her oxygen machine.

It was a peak family moment, this wedding.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Prenuptial Palpitations

You'd think I was the one getting married.

Two nights ago I stayed up until after 2:00 a.m. with some insane burst of energy. Last night I woke at 2:00 a.m. full of what-about-this-what-about-that, picturing my daughter driving up the New Jersey Turnpike with my mom riding shotgun and her suitcase-sized oxygen unit seat-belted into the back. Oxygen is flammable, I thought. Worryworryworry. Those east-coasters drive like demons on that turnpike. Worryworryworry. Only now, somehow, at the age of nearly fifty-nine, I know how to step outside the worry, step outside myself, and say. Okay. Breathe. And keep going back to the breath like I do when I meditate while my brain is tap dancing all over itself. And with the man who loves me breathing in a deep sleep beside me, it wasn't so hard.

And now my mom and the soon-to-be maid of honor are lounging in a waterfront hotel halfway to Boston. My mom was sipping her martini when the daughter called. In a couple of hours from now, they'll be asleep. The ssssssiippp-pppsssshhh of the oxygen machine a fore-shadowing of the surf on Maine's southern coast.

Tomorrow night there'll be nearly a dozen of us in Boston. And tonight, who knows, I may wake again, worried that we'll oversleep, that I'll forget some essential something, that I'll be careening around coastal curves in the dark between the rehearsal dinner and the hotel. But it's just worry. Oh. Hello, worry. You again? I'll breathe. And then in the morning, get on a plane.

photo credit: a guy named Phil. It was a long time ago, my wedding--and I can't remember Phil's last name. He took some nice pictures.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

This just seems wrong

From the New York Times: Guys, Skip the Break-In on These Louboutins

I've written about Louboutins before HERE and HERE. They hold a special repugnant significance in my life.

Or it could be that I'm too clumsy to walk in high heels and maybe I'm secretly jealous. But even if I thought I could walk in them, I'd have to stumble onto a swank garage sale and get them cheap. Hundreds or even thousands of dollars for shoes?

It seems like the world should be walking in the shoes of the people who are out of work, the shoes of people who can't afford health insurance, the shoes of people without shoes.

And did you know that the New York Times only covered the Occupy Wall Street protests in the "N.Y./Region" news? It didn't merit being categorized "U.S." or "Top News." The Los Angeles Times had their article on page 26. That seems wrong, too.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Wedding or the Check?

I'm a thrifty person. After I graduated from college my career aspirations included joining a commune, doing street theatre and living on hand-outs, traveling the world, and going to grad school. I never fantasized about marrying a doctor or a lawyer even when I discovered I could not afford grad school, but still, being broke in L.A. and driving an ancient car got old after a decade.

After I became an attorney's wife some of my favorite clothes still came from thrift stores. Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy the money. A house. Private school for the daughters. Travel. Lots of theatre tickets. But even then I didn't want all the trappings--diamonds and Rolex's and luxury cars just seemed like a waste to me. Weddings were one of the items I put in the category of unnecessary extravagance. Whenever we took our daughters to a big wedding, I told them that they, too, could have a fancy wedding. Or they could have a check. Eventually, those discussions were abbreviated to simply, "The wedding or the check, girls." I'm pretty sure they knew I wanted them to choose the check--or at least a very modest celebration matched with a modestly-sized check.

C. and her fiancé hovered between running off to Vegas and having a more traditional wedding. She was calm and happy when I spoke to her yesterday after their shopping spree at thrift shops and bargain stores to hunt down the necessary pieces and parts to make centerpieces. She was glad they were having a wedding, she said. She learned a lot--and one of the things she learned is that there are a lot of people she likes and wants to party with. Me, too. I'm thrilled there'll be a wedding. It takes a big event to gather our far-flung family together. Of course, not absolutely everyone we love will be able to make it, but big milestones are meant to be shared, I think. To be witnessed. To be celebrated. And the words "celebrate" and "alone" seem like they wouldn't want to be at the same party.

Me, I'm ready to party. I look forward to meeting more of N.'s family. To traveling to a beautiful place I haven't been. To seeing a bunch of my ex in-laws. And I want to draw the circle tighter around my daughters and my son, the people they love, and me and the man who loves me. This will require some effort and concentration, since we currently inhabit four different states. That geography might shift a bit in the coming year. But no matter how that shakes out, I'm aiming for a state of togetherness on a more regular basis. It will be easy to think about that this coming week as we revel in a state of fuzzy family love.