Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Looking for a Sign

Venus and Jupiter are converging. The moon is almost full. The night sky so full of wonder, I don't know which way to look.

As I put some things in my hatch this morning after a Goodwill shopping spree, I heard a song that Dan liked wafting into the parking lot from somewhere. Just as I recognized the song, I saw that someone had scrawled a message in the dust on my car. "I heart u love." The confluence of those two things brought me to tears. The world seems full of messages right now. I'm watching and listening.

I know, of course, that it was probably one of my grandchildren that wrote the message.
Every message needs a messenger.

Whether you're looking for the messiah or love, there will be a sign.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Hostage Exchange

The grandchildren are here.

All 3 are enrolled in watersports camp (sailing, kayaking, paddle boarding) from 9-3:30 this week. With care for my mom only in the mornings, this seemed like a good arrangement and so far it's worked fine. We won't be taking leisurely walks, running out for fro-yo whenever we feel like it, or using the yacht club pool. But they're here.

Of the many difficult things that go with caring for a frail elderly person, one is that I can't travel to see them. (Tried it once...nope.) Hooray for M. and hooray for their mom who met half-way (200 + mile drive for each of them)  and performed what M called the hostage exchange. Some motherly free time for their mom in exchange for 3 children for us.

Anyone like to make a different sort of  hostage exchange here in Pillville?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Report from the Love Shack

Thank you for your comments on my previous post about love. I've been reading them over and over again. I appreciate your wisdom, your stories, and your honesty from the bottom of my heart.

It's not too late to leave a comment if you haven't done so already. I'm listening. Tell me what you know.

Just scroll down to the previous post.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Love: I Need Answers

My parents.  I think they really dug each other. Look at my dad. Don't you want to be looked at like that?

I've been thinking a lot about love lately. Why we use the phrase fall in love instead of soar into love, melt into love, expand into love. So many possibilities. Fall out of love seems right. But why fall in?

How is it that you can commit your life to being with someone and then it doesn't work out? You promised. Now you're un-promising? How is it that you can laugh hysterically with someone for an entire summer and then just up and decide Nope. How can you waste weeks trying to convince someone that you really have nothing in common when you're so attracted to that someone that the house burned down every time he walked in the door? How can you love one person and then find that you also accidentally love someone else but you still love that other person too? Can you fall in love just by reading a person's words when you've never even met him? What if you never meet him? Will you go on loving him? 

I fell in love when I was 15. Does that even count? Does it have more traction because we had a baby? Why don't I ever think of that man I was married to for 30 years? Am I a psychopath? Is it pure survival? Can you survive love? Can you fall in love with someone so gradually you would have never predicted it? How slow can love go? How fast?  If Train A leaves the station at 4pm and is traveling 40 mph and Train B leaves the station at 8pm, traveling 60mph, how many hours will it take for Train B to pass train A? If there are lovers on those trains, what will happen then? Can you fall in love with someone when you don't really ever talk? How in the hell can a person go to work in the morning, come home in the evening and have nothing to say? (This last question courtesy of John Prine)

I'm asking. Just asking. Tell me. Tell me what you know. I'm listening. Tell me a story. Your story. Tell me everything you know.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Report from Pillville: Living in the Future

I got up around 5:30 this morning for a little extra time to myself. I'm working on an essay. I have more painting to do to finish the laundry room. I'm still scrubbing the grout in the front hallway. You know. Stuff. Stuff I'd prefer to do alone.

It was some time after 7 (well over an hour earlier than usual) that my mom woke. Yes, I sighed a guilty ugh. I was sitting on the couch with my computer on my lap when I heard her go from her room into the bathroom. Clatter-crash-thump. I flew to the bathroom door.

She'd dropped her cane.

The booster rockets of adrenaline had already fired. It's impossible to call them back once they've left the launch pad and I orbited around mad and crazy for a while, grumbling about what a shitty way it was to start the day. Of course it would of course been a lot shittier if she'd fallen.

I've been exchanging caregiver communiqu├ęs with a new friend for the past couple of months. I wrote to him immediately. I told him I was seeing into my future and it looked just like the present. He wrote back and told me to stay the heck out of the future.

This is how I survive. Writing it all down. Writing it here. Writing it to this friend who's been taking care of his dad, reading what he writes back.

Things go bump and thump and moan and groan quite frequently here in Pillville. I'm in this house most days for 21 hours. Some days it's a little less. Some days it's all day. On Thursdays, I'm out most of the day. But even when I'm sleeping, I'm listening, waiting for the next moment that requires me to propel myself down the stairs. So guess what?  I'm always living in the future. Hell, I'm even sleeping there.

I need to rocket back to the present.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Monday Morning Beach Report

Some people are flying high.

I might be one of them. I might not. The wind shifts frequently here in Pillville.

But this is the Monday Morning Beach Report not the Report from Pillville.

The beach, my dears, is fabulous. And I found some beach glass this morning. Some of the pieces are heart-shaped. Do you see it? Or is it just me?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


I watched this sea lion struggle onto the sand this morning. It's a much larger animal than the others I've seen this summer. This creature appears to be an adult. Not super skinny. Not trembling or having seizures from demoic acid poisoning. Not injured as far as I could tell. It was the effort, the struggle to haul out of the water that made me decide to call the marine mammal rescue.

I've been thinking a lot about rescue. How we do it as friends. When to step forward and when to step back. What to offer. What to insist upon. What to just do without even a word of discussion. How the boundaries are different in different relationships. Dan absolutely did not want to recover at my house after his surgery. I'd seen my mom go through two similar lung surgeries and knew absolutely he could not go home to his place alone. A good friend and I staged an intervention of sorts. Look, we said. You won't be able to drive yourself home. Someone has to drive you and you're not going to be driven to your place. That discussion repeated itself when it came time to start the chemo and radiation, but I relented--mostly because his Medi-Cal was in a different county from where I live. It was a mistake. It would have been so much better for him to be here and ride the train.

What do we do when friend needs help? The best thing is just to show up, if that's possible. When Dan was in hospice at my house, people showed up and did a million things. But what if the peril is less tangible? What if there aren't moment by moment things to be done? Advice is cheap, as the old saying goes. I'm not even sure what the hell that means now that I think of it. I often ask advice. I spun around for months thinking about how to get my mom to Iowa for a big family event in October. I weighed the options with a lot of people, asking what they'd do. Fidgeted around with a couple of different plans until I figured it out.

It's the giving of advice that's harder. What if your advice is wrong? What if the person takes your advice and things turn out badly? What if they don't take your advice and things turn out badly? Can we save someone the way marine rescue can save a sea lion? Chronic or acute are the words that are dashing through my head right now. Years ago I  tried to save someone in a chronic bad situation. The results were disastrous.  I bear the responsibility of having helped put a child in harm's way as a result of my meddling/helping. The memory still turns my stomach.

But on the float trip I took while I was in Alaska recently, we rescued a young man. Cold, wet, and lost for a day with a dead cellphone, he climbed down a bluff to the riverbank and flagged us down. There isn't much to think about when the situation is acute. You pull the person into the raft and give him a jacket. You comfort him and hand him over to the paramedics.

Go head. Give me some advice about giving advice.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Report from Pillville: The Vascular Surgeon and A Gift from a Stranger

The vascular surgeon is tied with the neurologist as my favorite doctor. (The neurologist always asks about me. What I'm doing to take care of myself. If I'm getting two full days off every week. He means 48 hours. I'm not, but I'm close if you add up all the things I do for myself.) The vascular surgeon is the doctor who told my mom to quit smoking. You've already smoked your last cigarette is how he put it. My mom had 2 vascular procedures in the first year of living with me. She's been stable for a long while. Yes, there are still blockages, but not so severe as to require surgery.

Yesterday while we were waiting in the reception area at the doctor's office, my mom told another woman how much she liked her jacket. It was a denim jacket with embroidered butterflies, the neck and the sleeves bordered by beads. The two of them were chatting when I stepped out to go to the restroom. When I came back my mom was already in the exam room. I was ushered back and then a minute later a nurse came in with the jacket, neatly folded. She told my mom that the woman in the waiting room wanted her to have it. My mom literally squealed with delight and hugged the jacket to her like it was a teddy bear. We were both speechless. Of course medical privacy and all that means we can't get the woman's name and address. But the nurse told me that I could bring a note to her at the office, and she'd see that the mysterious benefactor gets it. We're going to enclose a couple of my mom's hand crocheted snowflakes with the card. I've schedule it as my Thursday errand.

Life feels full of gifts and beautiful surprises right now. I know it won't always be thus. But this is how it is in Pillville these days. Butterflies, birds singing, sweet voices, surprises.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Monday Morning Beach Report and the latest Report from Pillville

Why do I like these gray days at the beach so much?

No place to anchor the eye this morning. Plenty of places to anchor my heart. My two weeks in Alaska were beyond perfect, but I am glad to be back here. 

I've told everyone who's asked that I've spent over 20 hours on a plane in the last couple of days. It was actually 11, but I guess it felt like 20. Maybe I'm counting my mom's hours too. Of course, the whole shebang of getting her to the east coast, coming back so I could leave for my trip, and then going back to Maryland to get her was over 20 hours just for me. Worth it. Worth it. Worth it.

We are back in our routine. Caregivers to relieve me, hospice nurses, pills, interrupted  sleep, yoga, T'ai Chi Chih, martinis, the hiss of the oxygen machine, dancing. I'll let you figure out who does what.

Last night during the dance classes someone asked if my partner and I were newlyweds. "I don't even know his last name," I said. We laughed like 8th graders. Except now I do know his last name.   All of the other couples are long married, I believe. My partner and I leave in our separate Priuses (his is white and newer, mine is red) and the other folks depart, not so subtly watching us as he hands over homegrown lemons, figs, tomatoes. I feel fairly certain that Dan has arranged this fresh produce pipeline. How do I return the favor? Savoring all the joy is the only thing I can think of. Savoring all the joy.

I want to say that you learn how to savor every joy when you hold a person you love as he breathes his final breath. And that's true. I did learn that. But the knowledge leaves me. I don't really know how a person can forget that, but I do. I forget that I ever learned it, and when it comes back to me, it's like an idea I've never heard of. Right now, I'm holding on to it. Hope I don't fall.

On top of it in Skagway, Alaska

Friday, June 12, 2015

Birthdays of the Dead

an old family photo of Dan that was in the slide show at his memorial

You know how Facebook is watching you? You shop for lingerie or shoes or a new blender and then the next thing you know your side bar is full of bras and shoes and kitchen appliances? I think the Poets.org website is watching me. So often a poem drops into my inbox that seems just right.

Today is Dan's birthday. I'm in Maryland picking up my mom and Dan is nowhere and everywhere. If he were still alive, I certainly wouldn't be on the east coast. I'd probably have gotten concert tickets to...well, who knows. It's odd that we think of the dead on their birthdays, I guess. But how can we not think of them?


A. Van Jordan, 1965

I would like to swim in the Atlantic,
to swim with someone who understood
why my fear of drowning plays less dire

than my fear of bones, walking the ocean floor.
I would like to sync my stroke with a beloved.
I’d like to stand on deck on a boat

and jump in the sea and say, follow me,
and know you would. The sea is cold
and it’s deep, too
, I’d joke,

standing at the edge of the boat’s bow.
A wind breathes across the sea,
joining gently the edges of time.

With a dog paddling behind me,
I want to crawl across the water
without thinking about a future.

I have set my eyes upon the shore
and I hold you there—steady, in focus—
but let you go when, from below,

a voice breaks to the surface.

People in Airport Bars and the Chaos of Everything (A note from 30,000 feet)

It might be that there are 2 kinds of people in airport bars.

The bartenders at LAX never take your order without asking if you'd like a double instead of a single  for x dollars more. Everyone answers the question without hesitation. Sure. Or no thanks.

I had a gin and tonic before I boarded the plane. I still worry a bit about a full blown anxiety attack although I haven't had one in a couple of years. I also had a turkey sandwich. I don't eat turkey sandwiches. I planned to save half for my in-flight meal for the more than 5 hour flight to Baltimore. That resolution lasted until I finished the first half. Like I said, there are 2 kinds of people.

The bartender refilled the diet coke for the young woman on the barstool next to me. He mistakenly set it in front of the guy next to her and then caught himself. We all laughed. I don't think he wants to drink out of my glass, the woman said. The guy looked at her. She looked at him. I think he would have loved to drink out of her glass. Getting to know you, airport bar style, I said. We all laughed again and talked about Baltimore. When I got up, they were still talking.

At the gate I bumped my roller bag into the work-booted foot of a guy standing in the middle of things. I apologized. You didn't hurt me...yet, he said. Kinda creepy. A minute later he was chatting up a young woman who mentioned to him that she was on stand-by waiting for a seat. You can sit on my lap, he said. Definitely creepy. I circled around to get a better look at her, wondering if she was an adult or a teenager. They kept talking. She seemed okay with it. I kept out of it, but kept an ear open, listening. There were no stand-bys called to board the plane.

I created a certain amount of chaos for myself in the time between Alaska and getting on the plane to pick up my mom. I started projects that were too big to finish. Left a stack of mail unopened mail on my desk for both me and my mom. I wonder if I'm losing my organizational edge. If I just don't care anymore. Or if the cumulative strain of being the CEO of Pillville is wearing on me. (Of course it is.) Nowadays it always feels like I will let something slide off the edge. Somehow though I got my mom back onto hospice with a simple phone call. The hospital bed and the oxygen were delivered promptly within the one-hour window I requested. Maybe things are going to get easier, I tell myself. Sure. Maybe next time I'll save the other half of the sandwich, and just tell the bartender no thanks.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What the yoga teacher said, birds of prey, summer colds, and other miscellany

I took all these photos of doors in Greece on the island of Naxos a few years ago.

I forget what the yoga teacher said. I wanted to remember. It was good.

I have a cold of sorts. There a chinchilla in my throat and it might be pawing a nest inside my chest. There's a bird of prey in my gut. And in yoga, I noticed during savassana that there's a floater in my right eye that looks like a cartoon devil. It jumps around with a little pitchfork, its mouth moving up and down. It's telling me that if I get sick, really sick, I might not have to go back to taking care of my mom.

I know the devil is lying. So I'm not going to get sick. Because I have to bring her back here so she can get back on hospice living with someone who can stay home most of the time, etc, etc, etc. So now I'm imagining that the bird of prey is eating the chinchilla. I'm not sure how I will get rid of the bird of prey. (Dear Dan, Thanks for the Xanax you left behind. I might need it.)

Mostly I'm going to keep busy today. I've remodeled my pantry, moving shelves, adding shelves. Now there's a place for our five microwave hot packs and it's very near the microwave. I've taken the stack of my mom's medical paper work out of there and I'm going to get a file box and put it somewhere. Ditto with the 3 gallon size bags of unused meds which would be stupid to throw away. In case she's ever on them again, those  could save us a bundle in co-pays.

Speaking of saving me a bundle, I can't imagine (Dear law makers, can you explain this?) why I would be able to put my mom in a nursing home for a 4 or 5 thousand dollars or more per month once she qualifies for Medi-Cal when I could have a reasonably adequate caregiver assistance her at home for half that.

While I'm waiting for that to be explained to me, I'm going to paint the inside of my front door sea glass green or turquoise or some color that is not brown. I do not want to look down my hallway and see a big brown door. I'm going to paint my laundry room similarly since the door is always open and we can see in there from the living room and the kitchen. I want color everywhere I look.

And while I'm painting, I'm going to try and remember what the yoga teacher said.

Monday, June 8, 2015

This is a Love Letter

My friend Paula, about to turn around and walk toward me.
I am intensely aware of the love and support I receive from my friends. They visit me when I'm unable to go anywhere. They bring me wine and cheese and late-night conversation and rides from the airport shuttle stop. They walk with me. Teach me yoga, and T'ai Chi Chih, open up their hearts and homes. They plan trips and invite me to come along and the whole thing turns out like a miracle. They fill my in-box with thoughts and songs and things to read and lovelovelove. They come to dinner and bring cakes and pies and flan and tequila. They make me laugh until I can't get up off my chair--and let me cry. They tell me about books I might not otherwise read and then cook elaborate dinners in which we talk about the books. They write blogs that are a daily addiction and books and essays and stories that keep me up at night. All that and more. Yes, all that and more.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

One Year Later

Deodar planted last summerin Dan's honor by the Tai Chi Chuan Association.
It looks healthy and strong and a little bit taller.
I drove into Hollywood this morning and met M for an early lunch. Afterwards we went to Bronson Canyon to Dan's tree in commemoration of the anniversary of his death. We didn't really have a plan for what we'd do there other than depositing a small amount of Dan's ashes, but M pointed out that someone had tied a small white ribbon to the tree. Maybe someone else had visited and left it as a tribute? What could we leave? Locks of hair? Thread pulled from our clothing? We wanted to leave something too, so we tore thin strips from our business cards and tied the ends of the ribbon around them.

As we stood in silence for a couple of minutes next to the tree, I could hear a raven calling. I saw a lot of ravens on my trip to Alaska and also heard the story of indigenous Tlingit people's creation myth wherein the Raven brings the world into being by stealing the sun. The Raven is sometimes called the Owner of Daylight and is thought of as the creator of the world. So there we were, the raven, the tree, M, and me.

When I got back home and checked my email, the daily poem from Poets.org was this:

He Prefers Her Earthly

Thomas Hardy

This after-sunset is a sight for seeing,
Cliff-heads of craggy cloud surrounding it.
     —And dwell you in that glory-show?
You may; for there are strange strange things in being,
               Stranger than I know.
Yet if that chasm of splendour claim your presence
Which glows between the ash cloud and the dun,
     How changed must be your mortal mould!
Changed to a firmament-riding earthless essence
               From what you were of old:
All too unlike the fond and fragile creature
Then known to me….Well, shall I say it plain?
     I would not have you thus and there,
But still would grieve on, missing you, still feature
               You as the one you were.

Friday, June 5, 2015

I'm in the air.

We just flew over Mt. Rainier. It was completely covered with snow. You'll have to take my word for it since uploading a photo takes forever on the Internet here in this place not quite on Earth. I'm also about to have a gin and tonic. I know you'll take my word on that.

So how was the cruise, you might be wondering--if you even remember that there is such a place as Margaritaville after my long absence. Turns out that boat was a big as a mountain--which I didn't really know when I agreed to take this trip with my friend Ellen. She made all of the arrangements, and I said, yeah, yeah, sure sounds absolutely fabulous, not quite believing that I'd actually be able to go, given my obligations in Margaritaville's sister city, Pillville. But the grand plan to take my mom off hospice for two weeks and fly with  her to my brother's house worked out great. News has it that she's doing fine, although I won't know if that's the whole story until I can talk to my brother or his girlfriend (a.k.a. the saints.)

I never quite imagined myself on a cruise ship that holds a couple thousand people, and while the idea of that is, I admit, not my idea of the sort of ecological footprint I want to step into, for all I know, it's better than flying. The ship claims to recycle all paper, plastic, and glass, and they use few disposable products. Even the napkins are cloth and there are single use cloth hand towels in all the restrooms in addition to paper towels. They only change sheets and towels upon request, and the portions of food served are very modest. A big eater would have to hit the buffet before visiting the dining room, so there's probably less food waste than in the average American restaurant, diner for diner.

Now that I've given my best to justify the boat as big as a mountain, let's just say it was wonderful in every way. Beautiful little cabin, superb and friendly service (holy shit, I do sincerely hope all of these people are being paid a living wage) Delicious and healthy fresh food to please all tastes and ethnicities. (I wish I'd taken the galley tour on the first day that explains how they do what they do.) There were trivia matches, dance lessons (these were free), a well-appointed yoga studio with good teachers (not as good as the ones I have at home, but still...) There was a spa (too expensive for me.) There was an acupuncturist (not free). There were lectures by a naturalist, many entertainments with Boradway quality performers (all free), and for a pretty penny, there were excursions one could book at various ports. The two we did were worth the money--a steam engine train on a narrow gauge track up a mountain--more like on the edge of a mountain, really. I got terrified for a bit when the train couldn't make it up a particular hill, had to back up, then still couldn't make it and the tracks had to be sanded and even then the wheels slipped and the train geek sitting behind me mentioned that a more skilled engineer would have know how to build up a better head of steam and managed it without spinning the wheels. But I powered through by writing a note to a friend on my iPhone for sending later. Knowing I had his ear, even in a delayed fashion, got me through it. The other excursion was ocean kayaking which had its drama too, but I was actually okay with that. Both excursions were a dose of extreme natural beauty that left both of us awestruck.

So, there you have it. There may be an annual cruise wherein I depart Pillville in order to take to the water. I may even choose to go to Alaska again. I've fallen in love.