Tuesday, September 17, 2019
I'm sitting in my dining room, eating an apple from my backyard tree, some salami and provolone and crackers. I just taught the short story "The Things They Carried" to a tenth grade boy at a small, specialized private school and am getting ready to read and grade a slew of essays on the "American Dream." These were written by my eleventh grade girls who are all part of a very conservative Jewish community. The apple is from the first crop of this little tree. It is green and blushed, tart yet sweet when it counts. The salami and cheese tastes a bit like packaging, and the crackers are banana-flavored, something I didn't notice when I bought them, but all together it hits the spot. As they say. It's all connected, in the end, maybe even by me. An apple tree in southern California, packaged salami and cheese, banana nut-flavored crackers, the Vietnam War and a boy who hasn't heard of it, the American Dream and a bunch of sheltered girls dreaming. That man sleeping on the sidewalk around the corner from my house with the apple tree in the backyard, his dirty feet and that woman walking, the crease where her ass hits her leg, a cup of bright red juice, the photo itself, me in my dining room, eating and reading, looking up at a small orchid, its magenta petals tipped by sun and the sound of leaves outside rustling a bit in a new fall wind.
Monday, September 9, 2019
|The night before the Empty Nest, as photographed by Leonardo da Vinci|
It's official. Sophie and I have an empty nest. I drove Henry to the airport last Thursday, and he took a flight to Italy where he'll be spending the fall semester. Poor boy. Afterward I kept my shit together and taught my classes for the second day, but when I got home I had what I am now thinking, in retrospect, was a collapse. Honestly, I know I am dramatic at times and prone to hyperbole, but I tell you this, Reader. Having both boys gone flown the coop off to college off to Italy beginning new lives as young men you know the rest was obliterating. It's honestly felt, at times, like something ripped from me and that something is the whole of it. I feel slightly embarrassed writing this out because Henry and Oliver are strappingly healthy and alive and happy and hell, they profess their love for me so I have nothing absolutely to complain about but let's go back to the ripping sensation. Yeah. I imploded on Thursday night, I think, and if it weren't for the Bird Photographer (interesting and ironic and synchronous, no?) -- well -- thank you, Carl. I'll add that Sophie is with me, that we both have an empty nest. The atmosphere around these parts is mighty different, and we'll get used to it. Until the getting used to it, though, it's plain weird and takes my breath away. I ate a tomato sandwich tonight with spinach and mayo on some whole grain bread. I put on a pair of compression socks (my GOD!) and organized all the paperwork for my four classes of high school girls. I opened the dishwasher and it was EMPTY. There's toilet paper in the holder in the bathroom, and the towels are folded on the rack and dry. It's very, very quiet.
Here's a poem my friend Andrea sent me:
The House Was Quiet And The World Was Calm
The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night
Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,
Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom
The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.
The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.
And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself
Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.
Monday, September 2, 2019
I don't even know how to write in this space anymore. I don't know how to write in any space anymore. I don't know what space I'm actually occupying anymore. I don't know if I'm even a writer at all anymore. My best writer friends are always so very busy writing. I am busy not writing or should I say (write) not busy writing. It's only words. I might be beginning my life as not a writer. I didn't write for ten years when baby Sophie was diagnosed and maybe I'm on another ten-year bender that I'm hard put to blame on anyone but possibly it's the pospotus and possibly it's because there are members of my family who are still devoted to him and the republican party and possibly it's just because I turned 56 the other day and my hips started hurting in the middle of the night to mark the occasion and make a mockery of my otherwise robust physical health that I've taken for granted by never exercising and eating cake without regrets. I went for a vigorous walk today, though, on the second of September in the two thousand twentieth year of our lord jesus and came upon a mushroom spaceship (speaking of space) that had just landed, and a tiny door opened on the underside and I saw a tiny little creature inside and a vast world beyond, beckoning, and I almost did it, almost left.
Maybe it's because I miss Oliver and will soon miss Henry as he's off to a semester in Italy later this week.
I don't want to lose touch here, though, lose the community of beloveds. So, I'm here doing what's not really writing but was it ever really writing anyway?
See, I've nothing to write that isn't a whine. Or is it whinge? Does anyone use the word whinge? Reader, look it up and just listen to how it's pronounced! God, I do love words even though I'm not writing them.
As per the history of my fifty-six years on the planet, I'm still reading words. Right now it's Valeria Luiselli's Lost Children Archive (it's a slow read but good and has a rad structure that would be inspiring if I were a writer) and Darcy Steinke's Flash Count Diary (menopause and orcas) and an amazing graphic memoir called Good Talk by Mira Jacob.
Reading, she said, is my only constant.
In other news, my job as Teacher of English Literature begins this week, and I am so excited. I've missed the girls over the summer and am not even whinging about the hosiery I'll have to put on despite the dog days heat.
I should have always been a teacher instead of writer.
Saturday, August 24, 2019
P.S. Lest you believe my son to have reached some lofty place of magnanimity and compassion, led there by a mother more bodhisattva than human, I'll confess that we decided we wouldn't feel the same way if it'd been Dear Leader who'd been on that motorcycle.
|The view from Oliver's penthouse dorm room.|
Wednesday, August 21, 2019
I am sad.
It's all good, right?
It's all good.
Thursday, August 15, 2019
Just in case you haven't, here's the link to our latest podcast. For new readers, my friend and co-host Jason Lehmbeck and I have a podcast for caregivers. Actually, it's a podcast for caregivers and the rest of humanity. We interview siblings, too, and the one with Clio Chazan-Gabbard, the daughter of author Chris Gabbard, will, I think, enlighten you no matter what you're doing in your life.
She's a very special young woman with profound insight and heart-piercing honesty.
Friday, August 9, 2019
The title is not a cry for it.
I learned recently that Sophie was eligible to receive a home health aide, but I felt dubious about the whole thing for reasons I won't spell out since you've heard them ad nauseum for as long as I've been tapping away here. When she received a very generous number of hours, thanks to the great State of California and the Regional Center, I told my father and he said, I find that hard to believe, and I said, I know. I told my therapist about it, and she said, Wonderful! and I said, What will I do with myself in the mornings? and she said, Rest! and I said, What do you mean? and she said, Lie on your bed and read or go into your room and write and I mused on that for a while, lying there on the couch in her office where I've spilled the darkest of my guts and wept and been guided and helped for years. Asking and receiving help is acknowledged by most caregivers I know as two of the most difficult things to do, and while a lot of that has to do with the actual busy brain and body work it takes in terms of time and arrangement (CEO of Sophie, Inc. reports), a lot, I think, has to do with this deep, psychic attachment we have to our unique children and young adults. It's less about burden, more about acceptance and everything about love. Throw in guilt and responsibility and the ridiculous and very much American ideals of individualism and pull yourself up by your bootstraps culture, coupled by an ableist society that looks on disability as something so hideous and burdensome that we hear things like would you have had an abortion if you knew? or I'd rather be dead than dependent on someone or I could never do what you do -- well, it's damn hard to ask for help and even harder to receive it.
I am receiving it, Reader.
Sophie's morning aide is a delightful young woman who comes to the house weekday mornings and gets Sophie up and dressed and groomed (see above). She makes her breakfast and feeds her, brushes her teeth, packs up her stuff that she needs for her adult day program and then drives her there in our accessible vehicle. She talks to Sophie and is incredibly gentle and meticulous about her hygiene, the style of clothes she will wear that day and can fix Sophie's outrageous hair into all manner of amazing styles. She gives her choices and treats her with dignity and respect and humor. It's unbelievable, actually. The only thing that she's not allowed to do is administer medication, so I do that. It took me some time to train her and even more time to will myself into letting go, but guess what?
Reader, I am resting.
The universe is abundant.
Here's that Extreme Parent Video Project that I made years and years ago with the help of other caregivers, many of whom I had only met online. You'll see that asking for and receiving help was a common theme. Enjoy, share, ask for and receive with gratitude and grace.
Tuesday, August 6, 2019
The world is in this room. This here's all there is and all there needs to be.
Sethe, from Beloved
It seems like everyone is mourning the death of Toni Morrison, and I've been tearing up off and on all day thinking of her, of her spirit, her words, her regal presence, her books, what she meant to me my entire adult life, as a reader and a writer and a human being, and then I was thinking of all the people slaughtered over the weekend, of the piles of dead children, of the human stain of racism in our country, of all that we have to do, to fix and how to be. I first saw Toni Morrison at Spelman College in the late 1980s, shortly after Beloved was published, and I sat in a huge auditorium with hundreds of people, mostly African American young women, and before She walked out onto the stage, a group of women played drums, the beat so steady and rhythmical they presaged her voice, her voice with the words, always, that she put on the page. She walked out, probably at the age I am now, and I was struck then by her presence and by the impact she had had on the women in the room. She was their voice. I read nearly every single thing she wrote. The second time I saw her was not too long ago in Los Angeles, in a theater downtown filled with the mix that is Los Angeles, yet when she walked into the room, she was so grand, so regal, her voice so rich and deep with humor and wisdom, all of us so rapt and smiling and nodding our heads that I thought then: she is all of our voices.
Rest in peace and power, Toni Morrison. Thank you.
This is the time for every artist in every genre to do what he or she does loudly and consistently. It doesn't matter to me what your position is. You've got to keep asserting the complexity and the originality of life, and the multiplicity of it, and the facets of it. This is about being a complex human being in the world, not about finding a villain. This is no time for anything else than the best that you've got.
Toni Morrison, in an interview with writer Pam Houston, Oprah Magazine, 2003
Friday, August 2, 2019
Monday, July 29, 2019
|Sunset at Allison's|
Twin Peaks, CA July 2019
is poetry, and it's not what I write but what I want to read, words floating up or by like fish in my mind. Wallace Stevens comes to mind complacencies of the peignoir.
In the span of let's say five minutes I scanned just scanned words strung together (scan, scroll, read?) Mitch McConnell Mitch Moscow his voice a drone the rap something about something and then a star not of the sky (the stars' wrapping) but of rap his radiance in Sweden who threw a guy across a street which I believe is assault (the Swedes say) but whom POSPOTUS wants out (of Swedish jail) encouraged by the Kardashian paper doll who put on clothes that her husband ordered up designed that covered her famous breasts and ass and fly waist and Cinderella feet so that she could pose with the men in orange, most recently, take a selfie and
P for justice reform and Ikea be boycotted (Ikea being Danish not Swedish but who cares but meatballs and lingonberries and soft-serve cones) and wait, who do we support here?
remember: five minutes (maybe ten including the footage of the blue-eyed Eilish)
they ended with Meghan Markle editing British Vogue and insisting on freckles and then the photo of the boy standing in grass his thin-lipped sweetness smile shot dead at a garlic festival by another angry white man with a gun.
Another one (or two) added to the piles of dead children.
I've stood in a sunflower field with my sons in Gilroy.
There's humor in befuddlement or is it wry or rue?
Here's the poem.
That strange flower, the sun,
Is just what you say.
Have it your way.
The world is ugly,
And the people are sad.
That tuft of jungle feathers,
That animal eye,
Is just what you say.
That savage of fire,
That seed —
Have it your way.
The world is ugly,
And the people are sad.
I think we (you) suffer from an intellectual laziness, a lack of imagination.
Like Stevens' also wrote:
People are not going
Saturday, July 27, 2019
I'm not going to fix the "s" thing, so you'll have a little game today, I guess, this lazy Saturday afternoon.
Both boys have gone to the eat coast to spend the week in Hilton Head. I've decided to tay here with ophie and try to feel calmer and more relaxed. Hilton Head is not my happy place, to use a loathsome cliche, but I hall mis my family and the feeling of being together, however fraught with family drama. Perhaps it's a trial run for when Oliver goes to college in late August, and Sophie and I will be fairly alone and defenseless except for the large guard dogs we have and the crowbar I keep beside my bed, ready to swing at the first person who sets off my fancy Nest security system.
Today I went to see Dr. Jin, and when she stuck a needle in the flehy part of my arm just below my elbow crease, I felt a surge of -- something -- and then tears or were they water? started leaking out of my eyes and down my face where they pooled, I'm sure, on the white paper I lay on. What i this? I asked Dr. Jin, but she was already down at my feet and remarked, Almost done, it's good to cry. Cry and then relax. he put the tinny Chinese music on, and I cloeed my eyes and drifted, like I always do, to the past and a kind of lucid dreaming where I am at once aware that I'm lying on the table with needles sticking out but drifting through past lives and memories and boys and babies and it's all very zen and soft and humid and sensual without any exertion. Before I left, Dr. Jin reminded me to take the special pills she'd given me last week. I imagine they are some form of Chinese prozac and will help me to regain my former effortless composure and sunniness.
What are you doing this weekend?
Thursday, July 25, 2019
A lot of you have been around, reading the old blog for over a decade, so this may come as a surprise that my Henry is 21 years old today! He tells me that he went out to lunch with his gorgeous Annika and had his first legal drink. He also brought home a bottle of gin so that we could make Negronis before we go out to dinner tonight to celebrate. Lest you think alcohol is all we're doing today, he also announced that he'll be heading to the nearest cannabis dispensary.
WHO DO YOU THINK I AM?
I've said it each year, and I'll say it again: Henry has been the light of my life since the moment the doctor pulled all ten pounds of him out of me. He is sweet and smart and beautiful, inside and out, and I love him.
Happy Birthday, Henry!
Saturday, July 13, 2019
Children do not belong in detention centers. "Detention centers" appears to be a more acceptable term than "concentration camps." Families belong together. This is now a popular trending hashtag. So is Close the Camps Now. Last night I attended a vigil downtown at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Detention Center, where over 1000 men are being held. We gathered outside the facility with 4000 people, just over the 10 freeway. Some people brought Mylar blankets as a sign of solidarity, fashioning brilliant flags and scarves out of them. The incarcerated children have been given such blankets to cover themselves during detainment.
One of Sophie's caregivers, a legal resident originally from Guatemala thanked me for going, and I felt ashamed. There is much tension in our city as families gear up for tomorrow's ICE raids.
Meanwhile, Terrible America provides snacks and movies to the thousands of children separated from their families, languishing in private facilities whose boards are stocked with profit-hungry rich men, rich men who've protected one another in the vilest of ways. Perhaps the vilest of them all, the POSPOTUS, plays golf, presides over rallies and is cheered by the most ignorant people in the country. The most powerful people in the country who continue to support him have lost whatever shreds of moral authority they might have had and will, I imagine, go down in history as spineless, lacking even a modicum of integrity.
I'm curious. I had an exchange last year with someone who objected mightily to my outrage over separating children from their parents when they sought asylum at the border. Anonymous, what do you think of the camps now? How about the children separated from their parents? How about the conditions of the camps where thousands of men, women and children are being held?
Is this who we are?
* So reported F*^king Vie President Pence after a recent "visit" to a detention camp in Texas and proceeded to blame Congress for the over-crowded conditions in the men's facilities. The photo of him and his entourage smiling their greasy smiles of paternal solicitude made me sick.
Wednesday, July 10, 2019
I took 24 hours and left with Carl on Sunday morning for Ventura and a boat that took us to Santa Rosa Island, one of the remote, uninhabited Channel Islands. We spent the morning looking at whales and dolphins and the wide-open Pacific, the water choppy and sky overhead gray and moody. It took over two hours to get to the island, but once we were there, the skies opened up blue and we wandered around the fields and explored the deserted buildings of the ranch that had once displaced the native Americans who made the island their home. It was very beautiful.
No one lives on the island anymore, but some people brave its isolation and camp, and there are volunteers who stay to lead tours. Carl and I avoided the few people who had gotten off the boat and made our way alone down to a beach that might as well have been in some tropical paradise, such was its wildness and solitude.
I lay in the sand and read and dozed and we ate a bit of the food that we'd brought -- turkey, crackers, cheese, grapes and plums.
I tried to let everything go, everything.
to be grateful for love and companionship
for the ocean
for the souls that were banished from this place
for the sand and the breeze that bends
for the wide world that still holds us up
the deep world
Saturday, July 6, 2019
Reader, we are fine so far after two of the biggest earthquakes we've felt in the twenty years I've lived here. Last night I went outside a bit after dinner and stood in the front yard looking up at the sky. It was a beautiful night, a typical glorious southern California clearness to the air and the temperature, and I noted how quiet it was -- no sirens, no voices, no birds. No birds.
I do not like earthquakes. I do not find them exciting, particularly when they happen really close to one another. I do find them similar, in some ways, to living with a person who has uncontrolled seizures. That means that I never get used to them. They come out of nowhere, cause the same burst of cortisol (or is it adrenaline), and one makes you feel nauseous and like you can't trust the ground under your feet while the other makes you feel nauseous and like you can't trust -- well -- anything. So, I generally practice being mindful, or at least try to be mindful even as I dissociate a bit during Sophie's seizures and marvel/wonder/holy shit! during earthquakes. But we're fine, honestly -- taking stock of emergency supplies, wondering if the 30 gallon container of water in the backyard shed is still good and whether I should go ahead and pack a "to go" bag specifically for Sophie and her meds.
Those meds control Sophie's seizures about as well as preparing for an earthquake controls my nerves. We could stretch out that metaphor to say that all is vanity and there's nothing new under the sun.
I read something the other day about the importance of a belief system -- higher power, etc. etc. to allay anxiety. I remember feeling somewhat faithful in my Catholic childhood and early adulthood, was obsessed, briefly, with the lives of the saints and even went to a Billy Graham revival with my Bible beater college friends, but when I look back and read back (lots of religious agonizing in the journals), from this vantage point of general/relative unbelief in any higher power other than the universe itself and, of course, love, love love, I'm struck by how I labored to believe and how the whole religious thing banks on the myth that it takes labor to believe, to love, to have faith, etc.
to those I've engaged with over the last few days who argue semantics (the term concentration camp) and wave their silly flags and insist on the rule of law and God and Jesus and prayers and then exclaim should we just let them WALK over the border, then? and bite into their charbroiled burgers and slide some mustard over their hotdogs and watch some hulked up millionaire swing a bat at a ball as American as pie.
Speaking of pie, The Gig Economy Worker made seven peach pies this week and is taking orders for the rest of the summer.
(I picked those donut peaches from a friend's tree, a tree that had a ridiculous number of peaches and bowed branches, so heavy was its fruit. Alas, the taste was not as sweet and generous as the number, so I used very ripe, very delicious peaches from Trader Joe's)
Thursday, July 4, 2019
I was sitting at my computer, paying my American Express bill and waiting for a peach pie to finish baking in the oven when what was the biggest earthquake I have felt in several years began. It started as a jolt and then it grew in waves even as I glanced up and saw the chandelier swaying and heard the pots clinking on the pot rack that hangs over the stove. I willed myself not to panic and walked toward Sophie's room, the hallway a galley in a boat swaying back and forth. I nearly put my arms out on either side to keep my balance and when I passed the boys' room, I shouted to Oliver, Earthquake! and sat next to Sophie who was lying in bed, her eyes open, my stomach lurching the pots clinking and windows creaking. It seemed to go on forever and then it stopped. Everyone is fine. We are all fine. Sophie, who had a ridiculous number of huge seizures yesterday out of the blue, as she'd been doing so well, is fine. I know that she had those seizures now because she is exquisitely tuned in to the strange and elemental goings on in the universe. I imagine she feels relief now, her brain settled even as we settle. It seems like relief, now, after the simmering rage and unease I've felt for days, a rage that I attributed to what's going on, the unease to the imperative to celebrate, to wish happy fourth of July when so many are suffering, when tanks are being power-washed to shine at military parades for that POSPOTUS, the empty rapist in chief of Terrible America. Yes, my words are harsh, but isn't it true? And what can we do beyond cutting our pie crusts out with END THE CAMPS letters scattered over caramelized peaches? How can our voices be anything but tiny and inexhaustible (Faulkner)? I just can't wish anyone happy anything this 4th of July. I feel angry and ashamed to be an American, to be so ineffectual, to be able to do nothing but post horrible photos and satirical cartoons about the POS we have leading us and the incredible injustices that he and those who support him, those we know, those, even, we love, are doing in our name. It makes me so sick to my stomach that the very real earthquake that rocked our house was a kind of relief.
Thursday, June 27, 2019
The light in Sophie's bedroom in the late afternoon is incredible. I'll walk by and just stand there staring at it and her and wish I could walk into it, truly walk into light so that I might become light again. Because I'm near spent. Because I almost never feel light these days. I feel heavy, literally and figuratively. I am not as resilient as I once was or perhaps, if I'm kind (always kind) to myself I might attribute this heaviness to the years, the years or perhaps to upcoming transitions (Oliver leaving), those existential changes that take even the strong by surprise in their intensity. Today I went to the doctor, and I tried to explain this malaise, this lack of resiliency, this burning feeling in my throat that persists and this ache in my hips. Is something wrong? Really wrong? I think, I wonder. I have scanned the worldwide webs, have allowed the slip in -- you know how that goes, right? -- of guilt, of reckoning, because, really, how fortunate can one possibly be when one endures so much stress on an ongoing basis? I let that slip in my mind, the thought that it was all going to come home to roost, as they say, that instead of morphing into my peasant grandmother and die demented at 88, I'd get sick and who has time for that? I spoke with rue of my weight of the necessity of exercise and losing weight and the doctor agreed. You'll feel better, he said. And what about these? I showed him the starbursts of blue on the backs of my legs. They don't hurt, I said, and he said, I wouldn't worry. The blood work was fine, the blood pressure is normal and the new burn in my throat from stress, he said. Here, take this. The way these things are doled out, so casually and why would he know that I in my peculiar writerly way will note this, will note the casual shrug, the burn in the throat reduced to acronym (GERD) and take this for 8 weeks and do this (exercise) and that (lose weight) and you'll feel better but I'll know better from better and there's still that light, nearly spent.
Here's a poem by Mark Doty:
Late August morning I go out to cut
spent and faded hydrangeas — washed
greens, russets, troubled little auras
of sky, as if these were the very silks
of Versailles, mottled by rain and ruin
then half-restored, after all this time...
When I come back with my handful
I realize I’ve accidentally locked the door,
and can’t get back into the house.
The dining room window’s easiest;
crawl through beauty bush and spirea,
push aside some errant maples, take down
the wood-framed screen, hoist myself up.
But how, exactly, to clamber across the sill
and the radiator down to the tile?
I try bending one leg in, but I don’t fold
readily; I push myself up so that my waist
rests against the sill, and lean forward,
place my hands on the floor and begin to slide
down into the room, which makes me think
this was what it was like to be born:
awkward, too big for the passageway…
When I give myself
to gravity there I am, inside, no harm,
the dazzling splotchy flowerheads
scattered around me on the floor.
Will leaving the world be the same
—uncertainty as to how to proceed,
some discomfort, and suddenly you’re
—where? I am so involved with this idea
I forget to unlock the door,
so when I go to fetch the mail, I’m locked out
again. Am I at home in this house,
would I prefer to be out here,
where I could be almost anyone?
This time it’s simpler: the window-frame,
the radiator, my descent. Born twice
in one day!
In their silvered jug,
these bruise-blessed flowers:
how hard I had to work to bring them
into this room. When I say spent,
I don’t mean they have no further coin.
If there are lives to come, I think
they might be a littler easier than this one.