Saturday, February 28, 2015

22 Hours/Sanctuary: A Dispatch from the City of Angels

For the second weekend in a row, I've gone to L.A., thanks to the willing and competent M who has been here cooking and dispensing pills to her grandmother.

I went to my friend Elizabeth's book salon and got myself an Air BnB room a few blocks from her house. The house where I stayed was a former rectory or convent (the owner wasn't sure which) and exhibited a very Catholic vibe which played nicely into the backstory of the main character in "The Book of Salt."

At the Salon, there was appropriately themed delicious food:

Feast your eyes on this piece of edible art from Elizabeth's own hands:

The big picture and my very own slice resting on my very contented lap.

This morning I continued the French theme with a baguette for breakfast and two non-chain store lattés from two different cafés within walking distance of the Air BnB. Next, I went to LACMA  and looked at this:

It's called Levitated Mass, and you walk right under this 340-ton granite boulder.
I suppose an art installation might like this might seem silly to some, but seen in this mid-city context, where you can stand beneath it and look out at the high-rise buildings in the neighborhood, it seems way more poetic than those buildings do--and just as futile.

It's also an interesting counterpoint to the Page Museum next door, where bones of creatures from the ice age lie entombed in tar pits.

So levitate or get stuck, I say.

I also looked at a lot of art by the artists that Gertrude Stein (she is a character in the "Book of Salt") collected. Matisse, Picasso, etc., then finished the morning looking at Thomas Wilfred's light art. I was not acquainted with his work until I sat in an easy chair for about 20 minutes this morning, watching colors and shapes unfold. I let my mind wander and felt like I was watching the history of the universe.

And then on the way back up LaBrea toward the freeway, I saw again the windows of all the furniture stores that, last night, were tastefully lit tableaus.

Imagine these windows an hour past dusk, dear readers, warm lights drenching the sidewalks of the City of Angels, and beneath each one, a homeless person bedding down for the night.

“I was certain to find the familiar sting of salt, but what I needed to know was what kind: kitchen, sweat, tears or the sea.” 
― Monique TruongThe Book of Salt

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday Morning Beach Report

A sea like something out of Winslow Homer, abandoned except for the windsurfer and this boat rocking its way towards the harbor.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Play's the Thing

I tried out a bereavement group yesterday. It went really well. As well as bereavement groups can go, I guess. Still, if there were a pedometer on my heart, it would have read well over 10,000 steps. I came home and did this:

Today I'm doing this:

because I feel guilty when I go up to my room and put a pillow over my head. I mean, my mom spends a lot of time in her room, and I think I should be around when she comes out. From this vantage point, I can see her immediately if she heads for the kitchen, so it's a chance to check in. I have a lap desk that makes it kind of comfortable to lie on my back and write. So yeah, here I am, flattened by I don't know what. I'm not actually sick, just...flattened.

I had an actor's nightmare last night although it's been years since I performed in a play.

I missed my entrance and heard the actors on stage making up lines and re-cuing me. I entered in my underwear instead of my costume and began improvising. It was sort of a plot to cover up my mistake  because it was my fault that I'd missed my entrance, but I wanted to make up an excuse about a stuck zipper in my costume. So we improved and got the scene back on track, all the while the three of us on stage were eyeballing one another with that actors' panic. When I exited I didn't have long backstage before my next entrance and I was so rattled that I really needed to look at a script so I could read over the next scene. I asked everyone if they had a copy and no one did. "I really need to see the scene in print before I go out there," I said. "I have to see it on paper." I said that over and over again to everyone, but all the other actors were off book and no one could help me.

At the end of yoga this morning, as I lay on the floor in savasana, it occurred to me that yeah, I would really love a glimpse of the next big scene in real life. What to say. Who'll be there. Do I stand, or sit on a pretty chair, or lie on the floor in a heap? What does my costume look like? Do I have any props? Is the play a tragedy or a comedy? Anyone? Does anyone have a copy of the script? I just need to see the words in print. I need to see it on paper. I promise I'll get up.  I won't miss my entrance.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Sunday, February 22, 2015

24 Hours

This is the So Cal talk of the town this evening. But not for me.
I slipped out the door yesterday morning, simply telling my mother that I was off to an evening of theatre with old friends. (M is here.)

It was a much bigger day than that. It was a drive through the past, recent and not-so-recent, in a grid-lock through L.A. way where you have time to inhabit years of your life, taking it all in, remembering this and wondering if you'll ever forget that.

I had lunch with my dear friend Elizabeth, a friend I know "in the memoir way." You want to get to know someone? Take a memoir writing class. Write down your story. Read it. Listen while they read some pages from their story. Repeat, repeat. Thereafter those words will always hover between you. They are the basis for how you know them. How you trusted them with your story. How they will always be able to trust you with theirs. Sprinkle some of that over your Greek salad.

She and I went to the memorial service for the husband of the beautiful and fabulous women who taught that first class we took something close to a decade ago. This must be hard for you, Elizabeth and other friends said, acknowledging my own recent loss of the man who loved me. A dark place I chose not to step into. One cannot go to the service for another's beloved and wail. T'ai Chi Chih has taught me to place my feet flat on the floor, to feel the earth beneath the floor, and connect with the energy there. To breathe. To recognize my t'an tien. Your friend's grief is not your grief. All grief is all grief, said the voices in my head. Both are true. So I let those voices just talk it out while my feet stayed flat.

There were prayers, and poems, and remembrances. One learns so much at a memorial. Memorial. Memoir. Both peel open the story. The music, performed by the church choir and a soloist from the Los Angeles Opera was probably the most stunning I have ever heard at a church service. The soloist, a beautiful young soprano, was from South Korea. Dan's face seemed to materialize from her face in the moments I felt most transported. There he was in front of me, my beloved.

Then came the driving. I drove through one old neighborhood after another on surface streets, crawling along in traffic that seemed just one car short of gridlock, contemplating the three decades of my life with a man who discarded me like I was nothing. How incredibly lucky that was in the bad luck good luck sort of way. I shuffled my plans around to this and that as if all the time travel was unhinging my brain and after, a stop at a favorite museum, ended up in the new incarnation of the very restaurant where, for years, I ate dinner nearly every Sunday night with The Someone, Finally, I went to the theatre with friends and saw a play that I performed in myself forty years ago. I slept at the house of those dear old friends who gave me oranges and almonds this morning that I ate in my car with a perfect latté I bought at an old-haunt coffee shop.

It was a lot to think about.

And 24 hours later, an empty cup in my cup-holder, I was back. Not singed from the re-entry, but warmed.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Possum Report

Right here. Right now. Really. It's the animal channel on my patio.

Really, they're good animals.... I just wish they'd get a room. 

My mom has already gone to bed. That's probably a good thing.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tuesday Beach Report: Majesty and Macabre Wreckage

This is the majesty.

This is the wreckage.

It looks as though there was a great undersea fire and the blackened remains were disgorged on the sand.

Mostly natural materials with birds sifting through the detritus.

Lots of driftwood looking like petrified serpents.

But plenty of manmade crap in the tangle. Lots of one-eyed sunglasses.

 I believe this is called holdfast. It has let go.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Monday Morning Beach Report

Long weekend crowded beach or Why I love it here.

Holiday beach goers.
Bikinied girls boogie boarding into the waves, screaming.
The water is cold and there's a dead sea lion on the sand.
I traipse along in my orange polar fleece jacket, sipping the last from my coffee mug.
On the gritty pavement next to my car is a penny.
Just superstitious enough, I pick it up, put it into the cup holder, hope for the best.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Report from Pillville: Nursing Home Ratings Demystified

New Year's Eve 2013
In my daily life of life of caring for my 90-year-old mother, I do not think of nursing homes when things are going well. I have dozens of reasons why it's better for her to live with me rather than in an institution. On bad days though, nursing homes are all I think about. Give me a day with non-stop moaning, a day when I've barely slept because she's scared the crap out of me all night long with her nightmare shouts, or those shaky days and weeks when she's recovering from a fall or an illness, and I'm on the Internet trying to figure out where I can put her. 

My mom had a lobectomy in order to remove a cancerous tumor from one of her lungs in 2009. The day she was supposed to go home, I arrived in her room to find the crisis team preparing to hustle her to ICU. She couldn't breathe. After spending nine days on a respirator, she suffered at least a half dozen other set backs. It seemed that she was dying. During the worst of it, I hoped that she would die. It seemed like the only relief from the suffering. 

After a month she still was not well, but the hospital deemed it was time to release her to a skilled nursing facility. It was my job to find one. It wasn't that I didn't have the time. I'd been living in the hospital guest quarters for a month, writing my thesis, washing my three outfits out in the sink, microwaving weird convenience food in the microwave at three a.m. whenever anxiety kept me from sleeping. Finding a nursing home seemed easier than all that. There were WEBSITES AND RATINGS. I'd get her into some place good.

If you clicked on the link above that takes you to a New York Times article and a video, it's worth noting that I went to the same two websites portrayed in the video: U. S. News and World Report and Like the couple in the video, I had only a day or so to pull this off. The five-star place I wanted had a long waiting list, so I went with a four-star place near my brother's house since I lived across the county. I had no car to check out the facility in person, and my brother and his girlfriend had full-time jobs. But hey, U.S. News and World Report, right?

My mom and I arrived at the facility near dusk. The staff was too busy to provide any sort of cordial welcome. Things were chaotic Chez One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. The place stank and patients were calling out for various kinds of help. My mom and I had arrived by medical transport, so we were stuck. Later that evening when my brother arrived, we discussed just taking her to his place, but we didn't have prescriptions for her myriad of medications or any oxygen. We sat in her room with her for a while doing what we could to make her comfortable. We rang the call bell for her roommate who was crying uncontrollably. We sat, listening to the clack and hiss of her oxygen machine, going over our options. We tried to talk our not-at-all tech savvy mom into keeping one of our cellphones, but she refused. We sat for a while longer, marveling in horror at the name on her oxygen concentrator. Devil's Bliss, we thought it said. (It actually said Devilbiss, the name of the manufacturer) I couldn't stop wondering why anyone would name a piece of medical equipment Devil's Bliss. It seemed like a bad omen.

The next morning I went back at breakfast. My mother was having chest pains, and I insisted that the staff call 911. She was transported back to the hospital. After some days there, I had to find her another nursing home. Then I went to France on a writing fellowship. Things did not go particularly well at the new skilled nursing facility either. After my mom fell, and was subsequently tied (I'm sure there's a different word medical professionals use) to her bed, and overmedicated, my brother took her to his place. She was well cared for there by him and his girlfriend for three years. It will be three years this August that she's lived with me.

This past May when the man who loved me got sicker and sicker from his lung cancer, and my mom had been ill and had recently come home from the hospital, and I felt that I was not quite set up to care for two frail people at home, I found a nursing home for Dan. This time, I spent a day driving to all of the possible places near my house. I chose one. It seemed good, but it wasn't great. He was weak and disoriented and in grave danger of falling, so due to the fact that his daughter and his friend Linda had come to stay at my house, I slept at the nursing home. The night that I watched him writhe in pain for an hour, waiting for a dose of morphine, I called the hospice nurse at 4:00 in the morning and made arrangements to have him transported to my house. By the next afternoon, he was there. 

I don't blame myself in a guilty sort of way for asking Dan to go the a nursing home for those few days. But I wish I hadn't done it. In my mom's case, well, she was really debilitated, but maybe she would have been better off going right to my brother's place too. Watch that video in the link above. Read the article. Self-reporting????

 "Two of the three major criteria used to rate facilities — staffing levels and quality measures statistics — were reported by the homes and not audited by the federal government." 


So if you're faced with the need to consider a nursing home, wait, if you can, until Feb. 20.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Report from Pillville: Possums, Pills, Psilocybin, and Other Fine Things

I'm feeling incredibly accomplished.

I have three weeks worth of pills in pillboxes for my mom. I've been doing her pill sorting for several months now, and it only recently occurred to me that I could purchase additional pillboxes instead of refilling one box every week.

And because my mom eats about a quarter cup of jam on her toast every morning, I now have at least a dozen empty jam jars which means that I can pour out a couple weeks worth of martinis instead of doing that every few days.

So the drug and alcohol situation around here is awesome.

If I could just get my hands on some psilocybin, I think my world could quite possibly be transformed. I come so close sometimes to sensing the depth of my situation here as a caregiver. I know in my heart that it's an honor, a privilege, a true act of love, but it's so hard to hold onto that  minute by minute. Sometimes I feel it. A look in her eyes as she looks at me. That thread that pulls tight with something she says. And then it snaps, so frayed that I can't catch hold of it.

There's a possum hidin' in there.
Last night we had a long talk about possums. I wikipediaed the hell out of the subject at the dinner table. She's so curious about the possums in the pot. Just recently she's given up hunting down the booze and now I feel like I have to do possum patrol.

When my girls were little I got them a hamster. We got the furry little beast and the cage and the supplies upstairs to their room. "Do not pick her up or touch her," I said as I dashed downstairs to get some thing or another needed for the project of installing the hamster. You know what comes next. A scream, of course. By the time I ran up the steps, there was a trail of blood from the bedroom to the bathroom. I wonder how many caregivers have gotten the instruction not to let their patient try feeding the possum jam and toast. I'll try not to laugh when I say it to one of our near-palindromic duo (Amy and Mea are their names) arrives. And dear god of small furry things, watch over my mother. And the possum. Because when she's not talking about feeding it, she's considering that maybe it should be drowned in "the river."

Other accomplishments include a recovered chair seat so that it matches the decor. One way to know for sure that I've been body snatched is that I'll stop caring if things match. And I have houseplants. And M sent roses to my mom and to me for Valentine's Day yesterday.

Awesomeness, right? I really hope the next post is not about possums.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Report from the Wild Kingdom

I live in suburbia in a house with only a patio for a back yard. I have two tiny flower beds, a palm tree and a handful of potted plants in each of them.

The neighborhood used to look like this.

Right now, we have a possum living in this pot--or more correctly, an opossum, I guess. It always surprises me when the wildlife perseveres and stays to live with us humans.

I discovered it yesterday when I saw that the pot was tipped over and went to set it up, and a  white furry face poked up from  a pile of leaves. I'm supposing it's a female opossum and the leaves are a nest. I jumped back--not exactly in horror. But you know. A possum in a pot. Just a few feet from my patio door. My mom happened to be outside, and I suggested that she keep her distance from the pot. Hahahahaha. She walked right over. 

I'm planning to let mother nature do her thing. I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with my 

My brother was bit by a possum a few years back while repairing a floor in a mobile home. He had to get rabies shots, and I teased him a bit. Like, you know know you're a redneck if....Yeah, if two people in my family get bit by a possum, I'd say our rural roots are kinda indestructible.

So here's a picture of me in France with a French winemaker. Ahem. I'm really very sophisticated. And if anybody around here gets bit by a possum, I'm gonna swear like crazy.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Report from Pillville: Ghosts, the Grim Reaper, and Other Thrills

my mother and her twin Millie

If you're a regular visitor here, you've probably heard that my mother frequently yells in her sleep. Or maybe you've just plain heard her. She's loud.

One morning just past dawn I heard her proclaim, "I really don't know all that much about baseball," and then proceed to sing "Take Me Out To the Ballgame." Mostly though she yells things like: WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE? WHO ARE YOU? AAAARRRGG. NOOOOO!  GET OUT OF HERE RIGHT NOW! I'm usually awakened from a sound sleep sometime between 3 and 4 a.m., heart pounding, adrenaline rocketing through my body. Fight or flight, the horrified brain and body ask each other. Don't know. Pantpantpantpant. Don't know. 

Last night it was 4:45 a.m when she screamed all of the above. I leap out of bed and run to my door to lock it, considering that there might be an intruder downstairs. I dash back to my nightstand, grab my phone, go to the keypad and dial 9 to get a head start on 911. I listen. More screaming. Do I grab the martial arts stick of Dan's and go downstairs? Hahahaha. (Anyone who's seen me actually panic is laughing right now.) But, hey, I do grab the stick--I just continue to cower behind my locked door, a third of the way to an emergency phone call.

Holy shit, right?

Well, I determined that it was just my mom yelling, and I got back to sleep and then had a ridiculously stressful dream wherein I drove to Phoenix to help my friend P with her mother, knowing full well I had less than 24 hours to do so while M was here with my mom. I got lost. But finally found P's apartment which was massive and shaped like a Mayan temple with narrow curving driveways to each of the levels. It was so confusing I parked my car down below and then realized there was no way I could walk to the top. Plus, I had my cat from decades ago, Little Guy, with me, and he was squirming in my arms and I was afraid he'd run away, and then trying to get back to my car, I forgot where I parked it and then, in a panic, called M who was completely unsympathetic, but I found the car, and drove it up the terrifying driveway and found my friend P. Maybe I helped her, I don't remember, but when I went to leave I accidentally let her chihuahua, Max, escape, and he went running down the street with a pack of dogs who were chasing a car. But when a car came toward me, they turned around to chase that car, and I somehow grabbed him before P noticed and put him back on her patio, but I got lost again, this time in the network of courtyards and nearly bumped into an old tattooed woman who called me stupid. When I finally got to my car, driving down was more terrifying than going up, and I kept thinking that I must be on a pedestrian path instead of a street, so I kept turning onto an intersecting route every time I had a chance, but the roads kept getting smaller and smaller until eventually my car was squeezed and tipped onto its side, wherein a grumpy old guy with a narrow trailer just wide enough to hold a Prius on its side, said he'd take my car down the hill for me. But when I turned my back, he'd pulled it into his garage and covered it up with an old carpet and said he didn't know anything about my car. I realized he was a thief and then I woke up, horrified that I'd lost track of my cat.

Today I asked my mom what she'd been dreaming about, thinking maybe she'd seen a ghost or the grim reaper. "Oh, Millie and I were lost in the woods again," she said. "I thought we'd never find our way home."

Friday, February 6, 2015

Friday Beach Report




And in other news, I have not fucked up a single thing yet today. Yesterday there was more bad phone juju. I went off for my full day (as in 8 hours--not 24)  off from caregiving, and left my phone at home. I hurried back to get it and then went back to the charming little spot on the water I'd almost gotten to for breakfast. It was closed.

But my life is ship-shape (ahem.) If that's the ship that I think it is, there's a piece of my past on it. I believe it's this very same boat as this one:

That's daughter C, second from right. The Someone and I were on that boat (he took the wonderful photo) a million years ago. And if you're a longtime reader of this blog, you know that the marriage ran itself on the rocks not too long after that, and that this blog had a rather charming and funny name shortly thereafter, which due to a restraining order, I stopped using. The Someone is referred to only as the Someone due to the same restraining order. And my, what a lifetime ago that seems. No matter how hard the caregiving situation is here in Margaritaville, I think I'd keel over (ahem, ahem) if I ever again had to return to the no-man's land (that might be a seafaring term too) of life with a husband who shunned me.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Report from Pillville: It's all about me, me, me.


The trip with my mom to the blood lab didn't start well. Half-way there I realized I'd forgotten my phone, which brought on a wave of anxiety. I know. First world problems, right?

I wonder what it must have been like for my grandmother out in the country somewhere when she went to look in on her bed-ridden mother at her brother's farm and found that she really wasn't being cared for all that well. I guess she didn't whip out her cellphone from her apron pocket. She carried on.

So I carried on (anxiously) and just as I was about to turn into the blood lab parking lot, that rarely heard Prius chime, warning me that I was very low on gas sounded. Oh great, now I'm going to run out of gas on the way home with my 90-year-old mother in the car without my cellphone. Don't you just love the voices inside our heads and all the worrisome shit they come up with? And of course now that my brain had shifted into that gear, I remembered that on the blood draw the time before last, my mom got horribly nauseated with a brain-cracking headache afterwards and as we were headed home, my mom asked me to drive her to the ER where her blood pressure was found to be dangerously high. Oh great, you idiot asshole, now what if your mom gets sick again and you have to head for the ER and you run out of gas or what if  you're driving home and you need to call 911 and you can't because you forgot your phone, you fool? 

But the blood draw went so smoothly my mother said she didn't feel a thing and the tech doing the draw was wearing a button with a teddy bear (his spirit animal, I'm sure) on it that said "HUG ME!"and when he was done, my mom said, "Okay, I'll take that hug." Oh, no. Mom, he really doesn't want to hug you, said the voice. But he did. He hugged her and his eyes welled up and he told my mom she'd made his day. You're an asshat, Denise.

So my mom felt fine and we got gas and drove to get fro yo and then went home. But before that, as we were walking the mere 20 feet to the car, she made a tiny misstep, not a stumble exactly, just a minuscule something--oh my fucking god, she's falling, oh no--and my brain and my muscles conjoined their anxious efforts so that evil talons of pain clutched my lower back. Now you're fucked up for sure. 

And I kind of am. I almost never take Advil, but I took two this morning before I went to yoga where I pretended to be 90 and stretched the tiniest bit while moving almost imperceptibly and imagining my breath and powers of the universe marshaling forces to heal me. I'm somewhat better. Oh, shut up, Denise. Just shut up.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Monday, February 2, 2015

In Which I Dream of an Apartment


I went back to Dan's apartment (except that it wasn't his real-life apartment) and was amazed at how beautiful it was. His ex-wife and her husband had moved in and covered the bedroom walls in a textured white fabric that matched the bedding. There were twinkle lights around the edges of the ceiling like stars in a snowstorm. The other bedroom (in real-life, there wasn't another bedroom, but in the dream it had always been filled with boxes) was cleaned out and there was toilet in one corner with a shoji screen around it. The walls and the upholstery on a chair were the most beautiful sea foam green. There was a white daybed and on top of it was a tabletop size old-fashioned pinball game. "Novel plots at the flip of a switch," it proclaimed in fancy script. After you launched the ball, it would ping around and land in a slot marked with some life event or plot twist. Heroine poisons ex-husband. Beloved son killed in car accident. A entire game board of terrible things. It was a beautiful vintage thing, this pinball machine. Used, but well-cared for, and everything seemed to work. He'd probably gotten it for me at a garage sale and had planned to give it to me for a present, and forgotten about it when he got sick. I kept wandering around murmuring about how beautiful it all was, feeling impossibly sad. There was a little secret garden out the door and down a narrow flight of steps. Ferns and colorful mosaics. And in the kitchen, the faucet was a sleek red bird. You pulled up on its tail feathers to turn on the water. It was a piece of art, so lovely that I cried when I saw it. 

I woke up feeling so confused. Why the apartment that wasn't really his apartment? Why the red bird? Why the apartment and not him? It's been forever since I've dreamed of him.