Monday, March 30, 2015

Monday: a Day in Pillville

Leap out of bed when the alarm sounds (new resolution.) Do the morning things. Put away the clean dishes. Tidy things. Walk. Update the caregiver when she arrives.

But I can't flip the switch in yoga. I'm breathing. I'm doing. But I'm not in the room. Or I am, but I'm not processing the instructions. Weird thing: At the end of savasana when the teacher's singing bowl makes it tone, I'm really discombobulated. The sound was coming from inside me. Maybe I fell asleep and was dreaming.

Then the anxiety. Oh my god, I have to get my car washed because I'm driving my mom to Miracle Ear this afternoon and I can barely see out the windows, and she always has to steady herself against the car and it's awful for it to be so grimy, but wait, Oh my god, I know I'm subbing for a fellow T'ai Chi Chih teacher next Sunday and Monday, but wait, she wasn't in yoga class so maybe it's this Monday, and now I probably can't take my mom to Miracle Ear and she is so tired of not hearing jack shit. So I make calls and texts while driving to the car wash. (Thanks, Siri.) And it all turns out swell, I didn't fuck up, but I lose my wallet and my phone in the carwash for a bit. Find them. Hooray! Get my car back. Clean! Hooray.

I go to CVS to use my 10 dollar coupon and buy headbands for my mom. I obsess for an hour. I buy a hot pink sharpie because I'm worried that her POLST form which the new doctor should have put on pink paper, but didn't will not be noticed by the paramedics if they come again. For months I've been keeping the old POLST in the front of the packet for visibility (remember this ) The paramedics are trained to look for pink.  And having two POLSTS confuses everyone. So the pink sharpie is super important. Which one? Which one? And the home care nurse calls me--ah I did fuck that up--I thought she was coming after I got home. Which is okay. The caregiver knows what's up.

And when I get home, the caregiver looks worried. "Your mom broke a piece off her dentures, and it's stuck in the drain." I should call the plumber--but no--who cares about the piece of pink plastic in the drain if it can't be glued back on? So I call the dentist. Email them a photo. Fixable? I wait to hear back. Still waiting.

Meanwhile I call the pharmacy about a prescription we're having trouble getting renewed. The doctor isn't responding to the faxes for a new prescription. Then I see that the name on the bottle is her old doctor. How can that be? It's been renewed soooooo many times since we changed doctors. Has the old doctor been signing off on it? Did the pharmacy enter the old info on a new label? I call the  cardiologist because it's a cardiac med. She  should be the one prescribing it anyhow. But they turn off their phones for 2 hours at lunch. And now I have to remember to call later.  Oh, and note to self, call the primary doctor for the post-hospital follow-up. But they're probably at lunch too. Note to self: follow up with dentist. Call the plumber if need be. Call the cardiologist and the primary doc after lunch.

Note to self: Your oldest California friends are coming to dinner. They're bringing a meatloaf. You've made a strawberry ice cream cake. It's going to wonderful. It's going to be fine.

The border of the POLST is now pink. That's wonderful. It's going to be fine.

Oh, and I found out recently that a rather long essay of mine is going to be published in what I think will be a very good anthology. It's going to be wonderful. It's going to be fine.

This is what's going on this Monday in Pillville. What's happening where you live?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Thank you. You have no idea. Well, Maybe you do.

I snapped this photo on Valentine's Day
Thank you, everyone, for you well wishes for my mom--and for me. Thank you for your emails. your texts, your Facebook Likes, your calls, your company, the wine, the pie, your yoga and T'ai Chi Chih classes. Thank you for your phone calls and the nice things you said or wrote to me about caregiving. Honestly, I'm tired. And I'm shitty at it some of the time, so your words give me the faith that I can turn those shitty moments around and be better. God almighty, what would I do without you? If I had a nifty little convertible like this, I'd deliver a dozen roses to each of you.



Friday, March 27, 2015

Report from Pillville: The Triumphant Return

My mom is home. A stop for fro-yo, a stop for antibiotics, and zoom. There I was at the kitchen island, figuring out what meds she still needs to take today.

The first thing she did was pluck her eyebrows.

We had frozen pizza and a fruit plate for dinner. And of course she had a martini.

Why-oh-why does it take hours to get released from the hospital? They told me she was going to get released this morning, but the actual process took all day. You could bust out of prison with a file and a shovel in that amount of time.

And what the fuck is up with the bread they serve? The toast is soggy. The hamburger buns are soggy. The dinner rolls are soggy. Is there something about soggy bread that supposed to propel you back to robust health? I don't think so. So stop serving that shit.

Dizziness actually sounds like fun to me right now.

I should probably have some wine.

Thursday, March 26, 2015


In the hell of hospital land, you can go for days without seeing a doctor. You can go for days without finding out anything at all. Does my mother have pneumonia that's a result of a virus or bacteria? Or is the fluid from congestive heart failure on a little vacation visiting her lungs? I don't know. Here on day four in hospital land, I'm willing to say, I might never know.

Here in hôpital land, if you're 90 and weak and arthritic, you could starve trying to open your little packets of butter, jam, mayo, mustard, ketchup, sugar, coffee creamer, the lid on your coffee, juice, your carton of milk. Where the hell are all of the school kids who need to log volunteer hours? Get over here with your lithe and nimble fingers. Please.

Here in hospital land, they give you menus for your next day's meals and no pencils. They give you plastic devices to cough phlegm into without opening the package and assembling the thing.

So I'm here in hospital land. Visiting with my nimble fingers and my purse full of pencils. For every meal, I'm here. (Not going anywhere near the phlegm thing.) Camped out. Keeping vigil. Somewhere in this damned place, there's a doctor. I'm sure of it.

The plastic owl on the rooftop and I are waiting.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Korean Tailor and the Golden Tortoise

Dan had a jacket he wore a lot. He was wearing it the first time I met him. I kept it and another one similar to it, and for months, both jackets sat neatly folded on my closet floor. They were way too big for me, the shoulder seams halfway to my elbows, the sleeves half-again too long. I finally decided I'd have them tailored and asked around for a recommendation. Rome Tailor, someone said. That sounded spiffy. I imagined the tailor would look like an older version of this, and that he'd do a meticulous job remodeling the jackets to fit me :

The tailor did do a marvelous job, but he was Korean. According to the Census bureau, this county is only 7.3 percent Asian. I would imagine that the Japanese and Chinese ethnicities far outnumber the Koreans. Of all the gin joints. 
The tailor couldn't imagine why I'd want a couple of not very remarkable cotton jackets altered, so I explained. He nodded rather gravely and had me step up onto a platform and then circled around me, marking out his plan with chalk and pins.
When I stepped down and went to his counter to pay, I saw the array of carved turtles/tortoises stretching across it. Big wooden ones, little brass ones, some made of stone, probably one of jade. I thought of a dream Dan had when he was almost recovered from his surgery and thinking about moving out of my house back into his own place.
In the dream he was in an antique store and spies something he likes: a golden tortoise. What follows are Dan's own words as he wrote them to journal the dream:
"...... I ask the cashier the price of the tortoise. She says "it's a designer piece of (gives a woman's name) so the price is $24,000. I smile and dismiss the idea..
Then I'm in a house, guy knocks on my door. I answer,someone I vaguely know is talking about something and then asks if I know who the vigilantes are the yard. No, I say and I look out to see four good old boys who are sitting in an open car with their seats reclined to the same angle, looking at me and smiling. I know that they are from the store and are there to do me harm. I rush inside, grab the tortoise and toss it to them, cognizant as I go inside that I still have a beating coming. I awaken, eyes wide open scared."
The dream left a very vivid impression on him. He couldn't stop talking about it. He even posted it on Facebook.
We exchanged a lot of texts and talked on the phone a bit as he rode the train back to L.A. that morning. We exchanged some links that might explain the tortoise as a symbol. I scrambled and unscrambled the letters in the words golden tortoise to present a variety of messages. As I recall, the one that got the biggest laugh from Dan was "Lo! Go rt. to Denise. I was, at the time, trying to talk him into continuing to live at my house while he got his chemo and radiation treatments.
So. The Korean tailor. The tortoises.
The same night he had a second vivid dream. Also Dan's own words:
"Dream 2: last night, I'm made aware that I have somehow received a gift of great material wealth. I'm seeing it as a cloak or a curtain, perhaps with valuable coins sewn into it. I accept it with quiet pleasure but go on with another activity, as though wealth was given me every day. Later, on closer examination the cloth seem to be wrapped around me. In fact the wealth beneath the cloth seems to actually be my own body. I awaken."

Now the cloth, the jacket, that Dan wore will be next to my skin. Having it on feels like a sort of wealth.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." ---Kierkegaard

Follow the corridor that looks down on the koi pond and the garden. Get in the elevator. Don't bother with the barrage of confusing signs, just let muscle memory lead. You've been here before. Maybe six or seven or eight times in the past year. Who's counting. Walk past the life-size photo of the nun, past the skinny Jesus painting, past the seascape, turn right at the sailboat. Now walk to the end of the hall. Wasn't it this room where you had to be gowned and masked to visit Dan last spring? Now it's your mom's room. Don't be surprised. Yesterday she was in the very same ER cubicle (# 12) that he was in for his final visit. The day after Thanksgiving she was in #1, also a cubicle that Dan had spent several hours in. Maybe the universe feels you need to be reminded of all this for some reason. So be reminded. Go there. Let the past inform the present. Put your ear to its mouth. Listen.

My mom has pneumonia. She's in the hospital. Between the three visits I made there today, I crawled in my bed with my clothes on. I didn't really sleep. I didn't really read. I lay there, inhabiting a liminal space between past and present. Whenever I decided to open my eyes, I deleted old emails or read a few poems. Tonight I'm sitting in my living room, drinking wine. It's so quiet, the silence is roaring.

My mom seemed very, very tired this evening.

When I left the hospital the sky looked like this.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Painting and a Poem

I could write about what a surreal day it was in Pillville today. Or about how I cried at breakfast this morning with someone I'd just met when I told her about Dan.

And I might tell you all that. Tomorrow.

But tonight I keep thinking of this painting and this poem. The poem was written a couple of decades before the painting, and probably the poet and the painter had never even heard of one another.

Here's the painting, seen on my recent visit to LACMA:

The poem, from the website:

My Light With Yours
Edgar Lee Masters

When the sea has devoured the ships,
And the spires and the towers
Have gone back to the hills.
And all the cities
Are one with the plains again.
And the beauty of bronze,
And the strength of steel
Are blown over silent continents,
As the desert sand is blown—
My dust with yours forever.


When folly and wisdom are no more,
And fire is no more,
Because man is no more;
When the dead world slowly spinning
Drifts and falls through the void—
My light with yours
In the Light of Lights forever!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

24 hours, 27 minutes, 51.39999 seconds (I'm estimating) Part 2

The book salon was delicious and full of animated discussion. The book, "A Debt to Pleasure" by John Lanchester was a wonderful inspiration for my friend Elizabeth's cooking talents. Provencal fish soup, rich aioli, tomatoey something or other, salade verte, espresso creme brûlée. We drank Pim's Cup and Lillet. I love trying new drinks. As for the book--the verdict was mixed. Some people were on to the fact early on that the narrator was a psychopath, and they did not find that his wit did much to redeem him. For me, the neon sign that flashed DANGER! did not light up until page 78. By the time I realized our protagonist was a murderer, I was deeply intrigued with the goings on and wanted to watch it all unfold. His narcissism amused me. Which might explain a couple of my unfortunate life choices.

This morning I awoke after a weird and remarkable dream:
I was at some sort of retreat or artist's residency with a few dozen of us milling around with our laptops and tote bags full of manuscripts. There was a man that I found entertaining. Short and slender with white hair and pale skin, he made me laugh every time I ran into him. He's falling for you, one of my friends told me. Average white guys don't interest me, I told her. Then his mother came to visit. She was Japanese. I realized I hadn't really looked at the guy who was falling for me. Somehow everything fast forwarded, and he and I were lying on a blanket on the beach. He told me he wanted things to work out with us; that he wanted us to be a couple. 

I woke, sat up in bed, and swung my feet onto the floor. Oh my god, I said, am I falling in love?!

Oh wait. It was a dream. There is no guy.

But in honor of all that, I guess, I went to LACMA and to the Pavilion of Japanese Art,

where I looked at a Netsuke  exhibit. The very first carving made me laugh out loud because of the title "Badger Imitating a Priest." All of the netsuke in this exhibit were animals and some of the other animals were imitating priests too. I don't know a thing about the deeper meaning of all that.

And this guy, "Meditating Monk Annoyed by a Fly" made me laugh too.

LACMA is really a gorgeous place. I've always loved it there. Maybe it's the red.

Oh, and maybe the over 100, 000 works of art.

Friday, March 20, 2015

24 hours, 27 minutes, 51.39999 seconds (I'm estimating)

So. Another weekend adventure in L. A.
I'm comfortably resting in my AirBnB. 

Bouganvilla and birdsong outside. 

Earlier I visited the Craft and Folk Art Museum and saw an very cool exhibit of contemporary quilts made by men.

And this. 

I didn't completely love the look, but I loved the idea. What would make your life better, dear reader?

Tonight, the fabulous book salon. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Small Kindnesses, Comfort, and There Are Things You May Never Know

I have a secret Tuesday night life.

Not many people know that I go dancing. I take a parks and rec department class--two of them, actually. Social dance, i.e. foxtrot, waltz, etc., back to back with Latin dancing. I have a partner. A hired gun of sorts, brought in by the instructor to dance with the single women in the class. Due to the fact that there is a very tall unaccompanied woman and a second very tall hired gun, the shorter guy is pretty much all mine.

There's a confluence of coincidences wrapped up in all this. My dance partner shares a name with the Someone and shares some physical characteristics with the man who loved me. The weird icing on this crazy cake is that we dance really well together. The guy is a really good dancer--or so it seems to me, but the instructor has commented more than once that I make the guy look good because I follow so well.

I follow.


Imagine that.

Can I tell you what a comfort and a relief it is not to be the boss of anything for two solid hours once a week? To place one hand in his hand and the other on his shoulder and move where he wants me to move. I'm not in charge of his meds, his bank account, his IRA. I don't cook for him or share a house with him. I don't take on his pain or his worries, ask him if he needs a hot pack or his coffee warmed up. We don't discuss the mortgage or taxes or if the trash cans got brought in or if should we get a dog.

I know very little about this guy. Almost nothing actually. His name. His first name. That he wants to become a really good social dancer. That he drives a Prius. That he also has a van in  which he sometimes transports his bicycle around because he's a fairly serious biker. He works out at a gym. He goes east when he leaves the rec center parking lot.

I think the only thing he knows about me is that I'm the caregiver for my mother. That I drive a Prius. That I go west when I leave the rec center parking lot. What he doesn't know about me is the comfort he gives me.

What if each of us were that secret comfort giver to someone? What if some small kindness that's just a fraction of someone's day or week was really so important that they counted the days or the hours until it came by again, and you didn't even know it?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Signs, Proof, and the Buddha Makes Lemonade

This is proof.

That this happened this weekend.

And this.

But I have no proof of what I saw this evening when I went for a walk around the block. Looking in my patio window, I saw my mother reaching behind my cookbooks where I stash my unfinished bottle of wine. Her martini glass had been drained just minutes before, and I mistakenly thought that her body had forgotten the sea of alcohol that it had been afloat in for so long. Of late she's been congenial about her two-ounce martini. She might have seen me. But maybe not. The bottle of wine was tightly sealed with one of those vacuum corks, and when I returned (just minutes later,) it was still sealed. "That sure was a short walk," she said. "It was," I said.

And this novel I'm reading, "The Debt to Pleasure," by John Lanchester---SPOILER ALERT---overwhelmed me with its darkness this afternoon. I have no proof, but there are signs that our narrator is a psychopath who has murdered his parents and caused the death of  perhaps two household employees. The book is a feast of language and wit and actual recipes. Not to mention a banquet of arcana that regularly sends me on a Google tangent. BUT. Either I've figured out on page 111 where this story is going or my prediction of where it all will end is a sign of my own darkness. 

And I'm not sure what's going on here in my iPhoto as it interfaces with Blogger, but for the second time in recent months, a photo that I have not selected--a photo from months ago--has appeared in this post. It's a photo from Dan's memorial. I'm going to call it a sign. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Bird of the Day: Snowy Egret

See the bright yellow feet? Spectacular with the black legs and white feathers.

I was happy to get a photo with the bird's neck extended, but I also love how it looks with its neck tucked in. My neck was certainly tucked in today. It was gray and cold and windy out there on the sand.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Feeling Owlish

My balcony. Terrifying to pigeons. Hahahaha.
It's almost spring. Love is in the air.

Sunday I removed the stalagmites of pigeon poop from three years ago. If you visit here often, you know I love birds, but I do not love pigeons pooping all over my balcony. This spring, I'm  waging war, not love--or so I tell myself. There was a dove sitting on the couch out there this morning and I'm clearly insane because I added a third owl. Two plastic owls weren't doing the trick, so now there are three plastic owls. Snakes, my aunt told me on the phone earlier, get some rubber snakes. Rubber snakes, plastic owls. Pretty soon I won't want to go out there.

There''s also an owl in the palm tree below my balcony.
I have an owl suspended above my front door too. It startles me sometimes when I catch a glimpse of it from my upstairs hallway.

The swallows will begin to arrive any day now. The best solution for that is to take off the window screen and spend a lot of time upstairs by the window where they like to nest. I stalk them with a spray bottle. Eventually they give up, but it's a full time job for a couple of days.

Uh-oh. I gotta go. I hear pigeons cooing.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Monday Morning Beach Report and a Photo of Life in Pillville

Down the beach a ways, two fisherman.
No  hint of the islands.
And a lone surfer makes his exit while
a single tern drops into the sea.

My mom and I just returned from a visit to her primary care physician to discuss pain. One of her meds--Cymbalta--will be increased. Meanwhile, this is how she copes between pain pills: microwave hot packs. These are scented with lavender. She says she needs another one...for her brain.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Stranded Sea Lions--Do you know what to do?

This sea lion is probably okay....not excessivley skinny, not a tiny pup.

Sea lions haul out to get warm. People go nuts. They get close. Take pictures. Videos. "Would you like a photo of yourself riding a sea lion?" I jokingly asked my friend Ellen when she was here for a visit and we came upon this critter during a beach walk.
It could happen. People do crazy stupid shit.

After we passed this one, we came upon a young pup. Too skinny. I called CIMWI to report it while Ellen tried to keep beach goers from getting too close and inadvertently chasing it back into the cold water. She also tried wrangling two unleashed and romping big dogs who unfortunately chased it back into the ocean.

Here's what to do if you find an underfed, or distressed, or injured marine mammal. Rule #1: Don't get too close and inadvertently chase it back into the water. DO NOT  pour water on a seal or a sea lion or an elephant seal. They have come out of the water to get warm.

Put your local marine mammal rescue phone numbers in your phone. Call for help.

Educate yourself about global warming and its effects on marine life.

Friday, March 6, 2015

A Poem and A Dialogue

Seen on yesterday's beach walk

From the website

A Person Protests to Fate 
by Jane Hirschfield

A person protests to fate:

“The things you have caused
me most to want
are those that furthest elude me.”

Fate nods.
Fate is sympathetic.

To tie the shoes, button a shirt,
are triumphs
for only the very young,
the very old.

During the long middle:

conjugating a rivet
mastering tango
training the cat to stay off the table
preserving a single moment longer than this one
continuing to wake whatever has happened the day before

and the penmanships love practices inside the body.

And now for the dialogue:

Mom, this is the handyman. Can he put the new toilet seat on your toilet now?

Oh! Sure! Hey, there! Are you married?!

Yes, I am.

Thanks, Mom. Thanks for looking out for me. One of these days we'll score.(leads handyman to bathroom to look at the toilet) 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Report from Pillville: The Cardiologist

Imagine it. A little exam room. Three women. One, a cardiologist with a strong Chinese accent. Another, ancient and gravelly voiced and very hard of hearing. The third, repeating every word spoken. If I transcribed the conversation word for word, your heart might stop beating out of boredom--unless you find repetition soothing--then you might just take a nap.

The upshot: Blood pressure and heart rate excellent. Lungs clear. Weight gain resulting in an almost normal bodyweight. Lab results: Enviable cholesterol and triglycerides. Great liver and kidney function. (Both have been kinda sketchy in the past.)
The bad news: My mom is the teeniest eeriest bit anemic.

Her secret: Consume a stick of butter every couple of days. Dump half the sugar bowl in your coffee that's liberally laced with half and half. Eat a quarter of a jar of jam on your toast. Ice cream every night before bed. Drink Coca-cola. Gatorade. And gin.

Lately when M and I see what my mother eats (while eating our kale) we say that we want to live to be 90. I'm planning my menu. Ice cream. Red wine. Cheese. Paté. Trail mix. Cake. Gin.

Oh, and speaking of matters of the heart, I'm over HERE today too.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Monday Morning Grief Report

Mondays. Bottom of the crater. Mondays. No salvation.

Dan always spent Sunday night at my place. Awake before dawn. The lingering. Out of bed at the last possible moment, bolting through the shower, then downstairs to the coffee pot. We took our coffee into the car, me always reminding him that the clock in the car was twelve minutes fast. Driving in the pale light. Warm coffee. Warm hands. Train station kisses. Call me, baby. Or I'll call you, doll. Sometimes he liked to say my whole name: Good-bye, Denise Emanuel Clemen. My name seemed so extravagant next to his. He signed his emails to me d--. I signed mine D--.

The dawn sky was pure drama this morning, but I could not get up. Sit up and take a picture from bed, I told myself. I did not. C'mon. No. When you argue with yourself you always win.

At 6:06 I thought about reaching for the phone. Thought about calling the caregiver and canceling. Skipping yoga. Staying in my pajamas all day. Telling my mom she could stay in hers. I thought about it a long time. At 7:30 I bolted into the shower, then downstairs to the coffee pot. Still brushing my teeth when the caregiver arrived.

Yoga is always good. Body. Mind. Spirit. I hate that we divide ourselves that way. Whatever. Afterwards I sat in the hatch of my car. Outdoor office, the yoga teacher said. Room with a view, I said.

I declined an invitation to walk with friends. Made a doctor's appointment for my mom. Ordered one of her prescriptions. All the while fighting the sadness billowing inside. Errands. Errands are the cure. Do what must be done. One does not weep while shopping for a toilet seat riser in CVS. Well, one could. I did not. Study all the slippers. One does not weep shopping for slippers. Maybe there's a pair that would be better for her. Feel all the soles. Feel all the souls. Too slippery? Too much grip? What else? What else can I buy to make her life easier?

Finally I make it to the beach. I walk with a cup of coffee, warming my cold hands. The day looks like this.