Thursday, March 28, 2013

Report from Pillville: My own private looney bin

I found myself barking at the ancient cat this evening. Piper is the human equivalent of 92, and my mother frequently reminds me that the cat is older than she is. Piper gets a "cocktail" around 6 every evening after my mother pours her martini. Piper's drink is a concoction called Catsure--a product for senior cats. But tonight Piper didn't want her hit of whatever it is that's in that stuff. She wanted to meow inconsolably instead. So I barked.

This is how it's been in Margaritaville. Yesterday I went to the doctor for my annual physical, and if you've read this blog for awhile, you know that's a change of pace.  A day without much going on for my mom so I carpéd the diem and went to the doctor myself. My blood pressure was somewhere in the region of the moon. The top number was 70 points higher than last year. True, I had been lost for a good fifteen minutes before I found the place. True, the person at the desk said go left when she meant right. True, my new doctor's office is inexplicably right under the sign that says, "Pediatrics" which immediately makes me think of pink eye, scabies, and un-diagnosable rashes. But still. The nurse retried after ten minutes, and it had dropped 20 points (still too high), and last night I could hear my heart beating in my ears all night long. Every time I rolled over, the poom-poom doubled its pace like rolling over was an Olympic event.

I have flown down the steps into the kitchen or into my mom's room a dozen times this week. Swearing, yelling, and 911-style screaming accompanied by banging of whatever is handy have signaled to me that:
her waffle is stuck in the toaster
her crocheting is not going well
she has spilled her V-8
or whatever

There was so much yelling coming from her bedroom this morning that I told her she could carry on as she needed to, but that I needed to close her door because she was just too loud.

So, I am fucking insane. Or I may be dying. Or maybe I'm just getting a cold.
In any event, I must return to the nurse and get my blood pressure re-checked next week. Meanwhile, I'll continue to abuse cats and old ladies, and hope that my heart does not begin to ooze out of my ears.

photo credit: emily's gifts

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Saturday Morning Encounter with The Dude

No. Not Jeff Bridges. The Dude.

I'm crossing the street heading for the sand. Oh, my. I must stop for the speeding bicyclist. I  take a step. Oh, dear. Here comes a truck. He does not stop for the gray-haired women in her flip-flops.

Across the street from me is The Dude. Ambling. In his Hawaiian shirt. He looks at me.

"Did you think I might not make it?" I ask.

"These people need to slooow down," he says. "They neeeeeed to take it easy."

I almost asked him out for a white Russian.

Friday, March 22, 2013

R.I.P. Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe has died. His book, "Things Fall Apart," written in 1959, did not enter my world until one (or maybe both) of my daughters read it in school. I picked it up and found it a chilling read.

In the book, a man who comes from a unsuccessful family achieves great fame and attains the prosperity that eluded his father. But things fall apart, as the title says. He beats his wives, hurts people, kills intentionally and accidentally. His final wrong, which he views as justified vengeance leads him to take his own life.

From a writing standpoint, it is a classic example of an author pushing a protagonist closer and closer to the edge. Trouble, danger, more trouble, more danger equals a reader turning page after page---something I'm trying to take to heart as I revise a bunch of short stories.

The other morning, M and I had a conversation kind of about the dangerous mis-steps that present themselves in this life. Neither of us feels that we are above or beyond doing something bad. I'm sure we have our separate reasons for feeling that way, but she and I agreed that we are unlikely to say, "Oh, I'd never do anything like that...." Whatever that may be. I've long had a weirdly morbid fear that I could end up in jail.

A fellow writer pointed out the other day that my protagonists are often on the run.

I hope every day to be a better person, but I often feel that the woman I want to be is ahead of me, turning the corner, slipping out of sight. I ache for goodness, seek it everywhere, but I do not take it for granted. I feel that I could be doing a better job at almost everything. Mind you, I'm not berating myself here. I'm not looking to be reassured. I know I do many good things in the course of a day, but moment by moment when the day is replayed, there are things I don't like.  I don't really take much comfort in the " did the best you could at the time" philosophy. Really? I ask myself. Really? Did I? Maybe I could have done better. I like wondering about that, actually. Wondering what might have been different.

I also like getting my characters into more and more peril while I try my best to stay out of danger. But it's always good to imagine that moment when everything might change. "In a flash Okonkwo drew his machete. The messenger crouched to avoid the blow. It was useless. Okonkwo's machete descended twice and the man's head lay beside his uniformed body." Writing-wise, that's pretty swell. I like how it's the machete descending--as if it is doing the deed, rather than Okonkwo himself. That is exactly how things fall apart.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Happy Second Day of Spring!

I know... Who are you and what have you done with Denise, right?

While I could tell you it's quite possible that my attorney has already spent my retainer, and then I still have not gotten what I need from the Someone to get the re-fi on my house, I think I will simply say that the rose pictured above is blooming outside my front door. Carted here in its pot inside a friend's truck, it took months to adjust to the cooler temperatures and sea breezes, but adjust it did.

I will also tell you that a heron just flew by my window--legs outstretched--its long neck seemingly in the future while its legs are already in the past.

I will tell you, too, that my mom's gastroenterology appointment went well, and that the doctor is as handsome--nay, I'd say even more handsome--than ever. My mom endured nearly constant stomach cramps for a long time, and she is much improved. I think of all the figures of speech we have that relate to this central element of our bodies: turned my stomach, he doesn't have the guts to do what is right, intestinal fortitude, it takes a strong stomach, too much to stomach, bust a gut, butterflies in the stomach, I have a gut feeling, we trust our guts, we gut it out, some things are gut wrenching, divorce is an emotional punch to the gut, some people eat to live, sometimes my stomach is in knots. The sympathetic knot in my stomach is loosening now that my mom is feeling better.

I will tell you that my mom is now wearing earrings everyday--not just when we go out to a doctor's appointment. And I will tell you that today, she put on lip gloss. A true beauty in her red sweater and pink shoes.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Happy Vernal Equinox to you!

Have you ever seen a dust bunny as big as a mouse?

I nearly leapt onto the couch when I moved an end table while vacuuming today. The "grand-doggy" came visiting with his family last week, so there was dog hair combined with the cat hair produced by the ancient cat. Not that she willingly came out of her hideaway in the laundry room, but I think her ancient wisdom allows her to send her cat hair throughout the house even while hiding under the laundry room sink. Long-haired humans are to blame, too, I think. Six Rapunzels with our combined tresses resulted in  every chair and barstool leg looking like it was wearing the sort of mittens one might buy in a boutique on a llama farm. I'll bet bald guys vacuum a lot less.

So I got out the edging tool and vacuumed under and between and behind. I took my cushions off my decrepit leather couch and got rid of all that crud, too. Honestly, I just did that three weeks or so ago, and it looked like I've been using the thing as a bird feeder. I got under the dining room table and wiped down the legs, and vacuumed the upholstery. It's clean.... but ack! to Ethan Allen furniture. I bought the couch and the dining room chairs after the divorce thinking that I should invest in some quality stuff. I recommend a bonfire upon my demise, children. Really, how is it that when you buy a "distressed" leather something it looks so vintage and cool, but when you and your pets do your own distressing, it looks like hell. And how is it that I can buy raw silk throw pillows out of a close-out bin for $5.99, and machine wash them fifty times and all they do is look so good that my couch looks even worse? Ethan, you piss me off.

So, yes, I know Obama is in Israel, and I listened to the NPR piece on annuities and a bunch of other stuff, and there are still plenty of insightful articles and commentary on the Internet about rape culture, but I cleaned my house today. I'm feeling happy balanced as an equinox.

And here's a close-up of the plants outside my dining room window.

Happy Spring!!!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Some days you're the ball; some days you're....

Yesterday I sent a rather large check off to my attorney with a signed retainer letter. It took me forty-eight hours to muster the will, but I followed my own advice and read the agreement from beginning to end. It's probably not a coincidence that, at this moment, I am in bed with an ice pack--not on my balls exactly, unless you'd like to get all metaphorical.

The amount of the retainer? Well let's say I could fly to Greece with a friend for 10 days. Take the daughters back to New York for a week of theatre. Buy groceries for my mom and me for six or seven months. Hell, if it were 1971, I could pay for a semester of college and go out for a beer every night (and that's private school tuition, folks.) And if it were 1971, maybe I would walk away the second that skinny long-haired boy in the flannel shirt begins to speak.

Why do I need an attorney now when everything was finally settled last spring? Because the unilateral lowering of my alimony without a court order has left me in a rather weird limbo. In this definitely-not-heaven-but-not quite-hell, I've found that I cannot re-fi my mortgage because the income shown on my bank statement does not match the old court order. I am deemed as having an "unreliable source of income." Underwriters do not like unreliable sources of income. I would imagine, that should I ever get into a tangle with the IRS, they might wave their red flags at this discrepancy as well.

I have been--without the assistance of legal counsel--urging, pleading, explaining why I need a new court order since mid-January.  If you look at the timeline on my sidebar, you'll perhaps get a sense of how things can get drawn out. I can't dawdle if I want my lovely low interest rate.

And what exactly is the sticking point, you might ask. I am not objecting to the lowered alimony. Proof, perhaps, is the sticking point. I have asked for proof of the Someone's lowered income, which is his reason for lowering the alimony. Proof of what one makes for a living shouldn't be so very hard to come by unless you work for a drug cartel, or get paid in cash and never count it, or are perhaps bartering eggs and sides of beef for shoes and bolts of cloth, and then a cyclone comes and blows your carefully handwritten records away.

Could you, dear readers, if called upon show proof of your income?
And how are you feeling today? Like the ball? Or the buster?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What do you collect?

I collect plastic shovels I find on the sand,

heart shaped rocks,

beach glass,

rocks that remind me of maps of land and sea,

a weird array of other things I find on the beach,

and divorce documents.

I have a large collection of divorce documents.

The Important and the Really, Really Important

Today I will sign a new retainer agreement with my divorce lawyer and send off a check for an as yet undetermined amount.

I sit here at my desk exchanging emails with her, but sea lions are playing in the marina. My son and his family will be getting into their mini-van any minute now. They will drive for hours, and some time this evening, I will hear children's voices even before the doorbell rings.

The mortgage banker will send emails asking again for things that I may not be able to deliver, but the fog rolls in and out here in Margaritaville revealing a golden light for a few moments between the gray curtains. I imagine my daughter M on a college campus a couple of hours away in her self-generated micro-climate of sunshine, though it may actually be pouring rain.

I will expect nothing in my in-box from the Someone because expecting nothing is far less tiring. Expecting is like walking on ice. You may slip and fall down when what you thought you were doing was going forward. And this makes me think of daughter C who must return to regular life in her cold and icy place, her husband's mother's ashes now sinking back into the earth hundreds of miles away.

The phone on my desk lies on its back looking uncomfortable (yes, I know I'm projecting my feelings onto an inanimate object) as it waits for a conference call, but I hear the microwave beep in the kitchen as my mother reheats her coffee, and the man who loves me and I are exchanging emails, and there is so much comfort in those two things that I can barely endure the beauty of it.

And now....a poem by Ellen Bass

If You Knew 
What if you knew you'd be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line's crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn't signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won't say Thank you, I don't remember
they're going to die.

A friend told me she'd been with her aunt.
They'd just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt's powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the dragon's spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

In which we randomly, or not so randomly, list imagery of the sea

Cast adrift, shipwrecked, pulled by the tides, toeing the line, run aground, in over my head, unmoored, three sheets to the wind, storm-tossed, in the doldrums, wind out of my sails, plumbing the depths, rats deserting a sinking ship ....but maybe my ship will come in. Until then, there are things I cannot fathom.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Well, at least there shouldn't be bird shit on my head....

In the past week or so, I accomplished a lot of things I wasn't particularly excited about taking on. I found the instruction manuals on the Internet to both my back patio sprinkler system and the larger automatic sprinkler system that waters my front yard. I printed the manuals out, studied them a bit, and programmed both systems to save as much water as possible. I also searched the Internet to see if there was any advice on my broken Prius remotes. I found great instructions and fixed both of them. While I did not do a very tidy job of glueing the rubber flange back down, both remotes are now fully functional.

I framed and hung a giant  and very heavy framed poster (40-some inches tall.) It's level. It looks fabulous. In case you can't read the writing at the bottom, it says, "To fish for stories felt to be true. And it will continue indefinitely. Hooray!"

Finally, I got the jump on the swallows and pigeons, I hope. As much as I love birds, I decided I was not up for another stalagmite of pigeon poop or the constant rain of swallow dung just outside my patio doors. I hung two plastic owls--one from the eaves outside my bedroom window, the other from the second story archway outside my front door. I'll spare you the vertiginous particulars.

I did not, however, succeed in getting the re-financing on my house. Despite my emails and phone calls, the Someone did not come through with the necessary court order reflecting my lowered alimony.   As a stop-gap measure, today I requested a letter saying the court order was in progress. That did not materialize either.

Nonetheless, I'm feeling rather accomplished.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Don't Judge My Covers by My Books

I used to read just one book at a time. Never, ever read two books for pleasure simultaneously. My brain kinda broke during my divorce and reading anything felt like a trek up a foggy mountain. I have no idea how I got my MFA during those first two post-divorce years. Everything I read, I had to read each sentence, each paragraph over and over again. Nowadays, I read a little of this, a little of that. I sleep with a pile of books and reach for the one I'm in the mood for at night. Reach for another in the morning. Take a couple to my comfy chair in the afternoon if I have time. There's poetry next to the bathroom sink and in the john. Lit magazines in my car. Lit magazines everywhere, actually.

I have no loyalty to prose or poetry. Novels don't own me. Memoir, you know I'll kiss and tell. Paper, screen--I don't care. I just want it. Morning, noon, and night.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Dreams, Snakes, and Rails

We talked about dreams today. How my mom often dreams that she and her twin are lost. In real life, when they were girls, she and her sister got lost in the woods. After walking and walking they came across a pasture of cows. When the cows began to follow them, they were afraid so they ran, and the cows ran after them, and they were even more frightened, but they had the sense to stop running before they were trampled. Last night, in her dreams, my mom and her sister were lost again. They had to run, but she wasn't sure from what. My aunt ran like the wind on her prosthetic legs, my mom said. And later in the dream, she had no legs, but still she somehow ran so fast my mom could barely keep up.

Tonight at dinner, she told me about the bounty on rattlesnakes. The county paid you fifty cents for a rattle. Real money in those days, she said. You could get a giant sack filled with loaves of day old bread for a nickel back then. Fifty cents was a fortune. She and her sister stoned the snakes to death, then cut off the rattle.

And she told me how her brother would stand by the railroad tracks waiting for the freight trains. Sometimes coal fell out of the overloaded coal cars, and sometimes the men working on the train would throw down some coal just to give it to him. He would gather it up and take it home for the potbellied stove that heated their house. Later the brother became a hobo. Road the rails across the country and back again.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Hire Me

Here is the email I sent today:

Dear Someone:

If you are well enough to pick up the phone and ask your attorney to do whatever it is that has to be done, would you do it, please?

I simply CANNOT function financially without a court order that reflects my current alimony.
The only other option is for you to deposit into my account that money that is owed per the current court order. If you did that TODAY I could finalize my re-fi.

Feel free to call me. I am at my desk....pulling my hair out.

This unfortunate drama has been going on for more than a month.

In a perfect world, there would be a job description that reads like this: "Wanted: Responsible and determined person to hover over people who do not return phone calls, answer letters, or emails. Job responsibilities would include hounding said unfortunate persons until they perform their required tasks--and inventing fit punishments for work not performed in a timely matter." 

I would so love to be the boss of that.

Meanwhile, the sea lions have been barking here in Margaritaville. I think I'm going to go bark with them....before it's time to do my mom's weekly blood test. Poking holes in people is not something that should be done until there's been some therapeutic barking.

photo credit: National Geographic

Monday, March 4, 2013

Fearful Symmetry

In a weird symmetry both the Someone and the man who loves me have been very sick with the flu. I would not know of the Someone's condition, of course, if it weren't for the fact that I have contacted him a half-dozen times asking him to please get a new court order to formalize the lowered alimony he began paying in January. He has invoked his illness as an excuse. A good excuse, as excuses go, but making a phone call is probably not going to spike a fever. Then again, I've become physically ill by having to root through a box of divorce papers.

I haven't seen the man who loves me for a month. Like many who've caught the flu this year, he's had a relapse and sounds positively awful.

Meanwhile, here in Margaritaville, the days tick by in their own symmetry. When I come downstairs in the morning, my mom is already up. She's opened the curtains, and fed the cat, and is standing in her spot at the kitchen island looking out at the water. I go to the gym, and when I come back, she's still there in her p.j.s drinking her re-warmed coffee. We talk. We read the paper. We talk about the paper. I eat my breakfast. She goes to her room to crochet and read, and I go up to my room to read and write. I come down for tea. She has her lunch. I have mine. She re-warms the last of her coffee. Off we go again to our separate retreats.

At five, the ancient cat meows for her special ancient cat milk. My mom gives the cat her "cocktail," and  pours her martini. I begin to prep for dinner and maybe race off to the store. Seven--we eat. She does the dishes. I put away the food and wipe down the counters. I brush the ancient cat while she takes a last scroll through the news on the iPad. She says good-night. I say good-night.

I read. The New Yorker. Jack Gilbert's poems. One of the many books from my MFA colleagues. Prairie Schooner. Missouri Review. The pages from my writing group. And sometimes I blog. When I hear the beep of my mom's oxygen machine turning on, I sink deeper into the reading or the writing. At my desk in the dark, I look out at the shining black water and marvel at rings radiating across the surface. Sometimes I open my window and listen for the heron's croak or the deep gasp of a sea lion as it comes to the surface. I take a deep breath, too.