Tuesday, April 30, 2019

"Grief as Praise" on Who Lives Like This?!

Heather Barnes Jackson, Me and Allison Benavides

I hope ya'll will listen to today's podcast. We interview Heather Barnes Jackson, a mother, advocate and the CEO of Realm of Caring. She is one of the most beautiful women I've ever met -- brilliant, funny, warm and earthy. She's quite literally helped tens of thousands of children and young people -- even saved their lives.

I've been thinking so much of what she describes as a "sick obsession." It's suffering and grief, but her insight is not just provocative but deeply healing, at least to me. As I listen to the podcast a couple of weeks after we originally recorded it, I'm struck, again, by the astounding people I've met over the last twenty-four years. Grief as praise, indeed.

Listen to the podcast here or anywhere you listen to podcasts. You can also read the accompanying blog post on our website: www.wholiveslikethispodcast.com

Sunday, April 21, 2019

"the green of Jesus"

Today is Easter.

I've baked some cakes and made some waffles and orchestrated a brunch for some friends and drunk some champagne and laughed with Carl and Oliver and cleaned up the mess and enjoyed the impossible green of the garden  and a few malted milk balls, speckled like bird eggs and now I lie on the couch and finish reading Night by Elie Wiesel and ponder the meaning of all things, things of meaning I can not begin to understand. There's always a beginning to meaning and an end to what is meaningless.

Easter another word for dawn.

Here are two Easterish poems that I love by two poets whom I love:

The Palm at the End of the Mind

After fulfilling everything
one two three he came back again
free, no more prophecy requiring
that he enter the city just this way,
no more set-up treacheries.
It was the day after Easter. He adored
the eggshell litter and the cellophane
caught in the grass. Each door he passed
swung with its own business, all the 
witnesses along his route of pain
again distracted by fear of loss
or hope of gain. It was wonderful
to be a man, bewildered by 
so many flowers, the rush
and ebb of hours, his own
ambiguous gestures--his 
whole heart exposed, then
taking cover.
Kay Ryan

spring song

the green of Jesus 
is breaking the ground
and the sweet
smell of delicious Jesus
is opening the house and
the dance of Jesus music
has hold of the air and
the world is turning
in the body of Jesus and
the future is possible

Lucille Clifton

Happy Easter to you.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Deli Healthcare and My 911 List

I took my baby boy Oliver to an appointment today at Kaiser Permanente. Most of you probably already know that this is an HMO and that Oliver is not a baby. He will, in fact, be 18 years old in May. Good god almighty. We have not been in an HMO in twenty-five years, but this year I downgraded his and my health insurance policies because I just could not afford another 35% increase in premium for the PPO that we were on with Sophie. Sophie stays on her Cadillac plan with MediCal as a secondary policy. 


Kaiser Permanente proved to be exceptionally -- dare I say -- efficient. We really, really liked the doctor we "picked." It was amazing, honestly, how easily everything worked -- a one-stop shop. We visited the doctor, moved to another floor and barely waited to get blood work and then another to pick up a prescription. We were out of there in less than two hours, and the co-pays were minimal. Honestly, if Sophie didn't require such specialized care, I'd be all over Kaiser for her care, too. I've always been terrified of managed care, but let's face it. We're all managed every single moment by the Powers That Be. When we went to the lab for bloodwork, we had to get a ticket with a number on it, one of those little scraps that you get in the deli department at the grocery store. That was maybe the only moment where I felt annoyed, but I let it go. So, after just one visit, I'm going to recommend Kaiser Permanente for routine healthcare -- my god, in comparison to literally ALL the other places we've sought healthcare (UCLA, NYU, Columbia, USC, Children's and Cedars-Sinai), it was the best experience. I'll keep you posted on my own physician visit which is coming up soon.

Now, let's talk about 911. We just dropped another Who Lives Like This?! podcast. This week, Jason and I had Dr. Rita Eichenstein on the show. She is a neuropsychologist and the author of a really great book. Not What I Expected: Help and Hope for Parents of Aytpical Children. Even if you aren't the parent of an "atypical" child (and this category includes children with mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, as well as diagnoses of ADHD), I think you'll find a lot of value in our discussion. What really stood out for me was some advice she gave to those parents with newly diagnosed children. Among many helpful tips, she suggested compiling a 911 list of people you can call when you need help and support. After listing these people, she suggests calling each of them and asking whether they'd be willing to be on your 911 list. I know some of you are thinking, well, duh, of course you'd already know who to call or who wouldn't say yes to being on the 911 call list? I'm here to tell you that, at least for me, it's hard to call people, to ask for help, to vent, to cry, to share grief and exhaustion. Especially when it's done, over and over. I think it would have been tremendously helpful for me to have made such a list early on in The Troubles and communicated what I was doing with those people I trusted to be on it. Does that make sense? I feel guilty when I call my friends with my latest woes, especially regarding caregiving. I actually don't even do it that much anymore and feel isolated (of my own making, I know) as a result. I do see a therapist regularly, and that is enormously helpful, but it'd be great knowing that certain friends had taken on the responsibility of being on call for me, beforehand. I know for a fact that many of us struggle with asking for help. This seems like a simple -- yet almost formal -- way to connect with others and to "allow" them or give them the opportunity to help us. 

What do you think?

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Sunday Greetings from the Church of the Batshit Crazy*

I've built another secular altar in my house, this one made of books I've purchased and not yet read. I moved them there recently in one of my weak attempts to make order in the house and reduce clutter. Basically, they were piled up next to the reading chair by the window, positioned in front of the shredder, to hide it, which on top has piles of New Yorkers and literary periodicals that I get in the mail with free subscriptions for submitting poetry and essays that are always rejected. I should say that the books are mostly not yet read (or should I say unread?) because on closer perusal, I've read a few of them. The Lucia Berlin over there on the right (love, love love), Sing, Unburied, Sing (my god, it's good), Dreyer's English (fun and helpful with my teaching), The Friend (fabulous award-winning novel by my fellow Hedgebrookian, Sigrid Nunez), and When Women Were Birds (I've read the opening probably fifty times). The cross on the right is one of those Mexican things whose name I can't remember, but my dear friend Heather McHugh gave it to me recently, along with the little heart on the left with the cross above it. Reader, what are those things called? The Bird Photographer came back the other day from a trip to Costa Rica, where he led other bird photographers for over a week through the jungles and waterways. If you'd like to go on a bird-watching/bird photography tour to Costa Rica, please leave a comment, and I'll hook you up. Carl's pictures are, of course, astounding. Here's one of some red-eyed tree frogs:

photographer: Carl Jackson

He brought me back those little bird carvings on the left, on the top of some of the books not yet read. I've learned the bird is called a quetzal and is one of the Holy Grails of Bird Photography. You can also see a pair of pears and a poster of an old red typewriter. The gold box on the right, under the Mexican cross, is filled with cake-baking paraphernalia. Praise to those who gift me respite, to those who photograph beautiful creatures of beautiful countries, who continue to love me despite being batshit crazy, to cake and to those who write books.

About those books that I've not yet read. As you can see, I have a bit of a problem. They are piled everywhere. Some years ago I bought a Kindle with full intentions to never buy a book again. I now have probably 679 titles on the Kindle and stacks of books piled -- well -- everywhere. It's okay, though. They make me happy. I'll eventually donate them to the library, even though I should be borrowing them from the library myself. I told you this is the church of the batshit crazy, though. Right now, I'm reading NW (goddess material, as usual) by Zadie Smith. I'm also making my way through Merritt Tierce's Love Me Back (so much graphic sex!) and Anna Dostoevsky's biography of her husband, Dostoevsky: Reminiscences. I read about the last one on the wide world internets and ordered it from some secondhand place and dang, I'm a sucker for the long-suffering, devoted wife and muse to a great author trope.


I actually haven't read very much of late due to some television watching. Have ya'll seen the final season of Catastrophe? I'm so mad that show is over.  I am absolutely not a Game of Thrones watcher (the only time I conceded to watch it with my son Oliver, I had to bolt from the room after two minutes of incredibly graphic sex and then some man had his nipples sliced off). I was out of there and back to Shtisel, an Israeli series about four generations of an ultra-orthodox Jewish family in Jerusalem. Please, someone out there, watch this show, so I can talk to you about it. I love it.

I've just eaten two slices of leftover pizza and fed Sophie some fabulous farro/vegetable salad. I'm going to work on the post that will accompany the next Who Lives Like This?! podcast, which we're dropping tomorrow night/Tuesday morning. It's with Dr. Rita Eichenstein who wrote with Dr. Dan Siegal the amazing book Not What I Expected: Help and Hope for Atypical Children. I sure hope you listen to our podcast and enjoy it as much as we enjoy making it.

I hope that everyone is out there enjoying their Sunday. In lieu of a musical interlude, here at the Church, I'll leave you with this sublime video of Yo Yo Ma playing the cello at the Mexican border, where -- you know -- hordes of horrible people are climbing the walls and entering our precious country with their dirty children, stealing our jobs and raping every white woman who walks by.

* My church is a west coast satellite of beloved Reverend Mary Moon

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Black Holes and Superblooms

So, ya'll saw this first ever photo of a black hole, right? A grad student, Dr. Katie Bouman, "developed a crucial algorithm that helped devise imaging methods for it,"  according to CNN.


I'm smitten. I like how it's described, too:

"A black hole is a region in space where the gravitational pull is so strong that nothing –– not even light –– can escape it, and it only grows as it consumes more and more stars, planets, and gas." New York Times

"The picture is also visual proof of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which states that dense and compact regions of space would suck everything in." CNN

Black holes have always lent themselves perfectly to obvious metaphors, so I won't pile on. The universe is still so impenetrable, isn't it? Call me weird, but knowing that I'm just a blip in the scheme of things gives me peace. It might be why during huge personal crunches -- those times when I'm fully into the who lives like this?! moments, I'm able to disengage and sometimes even eventually laugh at myself and everything else. Another thing -- why do we get all caught up in the idiot running our country? He's running it much as he runs his mouth. Like shit. 

We should just be concentrating on stuff like black holes and people like Alaa Salah, a young woman in Sudan who stood on top of a car during a mass sit-in against Bashir, the president of Sudan. She's become a symbol of the uprising and of the growing movement of female leadership. 

"The bullet doesn't kill. What kills is the silence of the people," she said, reading from a poem.

I'm smitten. Here's her picture:

photographer: Lana Haroun
I'm taken by everyone holding up their little light boxes to record her -- little light boxes that seemingly connect us, one to another, across miles and time. We've known about black holes, somehow, long before we could even take a photo of them. I don't even remotely understand the grappling of scientists and mathematicians and physicists over such things -- what understanding I have comes from the gut, I guess, the sharp intuitive thing I've got going, the threads of stuff filling up my brain, behind my eyes.

Black holes look like eyes, it seems, at least to our eyes.

Things are going on all over the world that make Americans' problem with our shitty leaders seem insignificant. There's nothing new under the sun, it says in ancient books. Women are rising up, literally everywhere and making change.

I got into an argument the other day with one of my girl students, about gun ownership, of all things. She had asked me whether I'd shoot someone who was trying to kill me. I'd told her, No. She was incredulous and upped the ante by asking whether I'd shoot someone threatening my children. I told her how much I disliked hypothetical questions like that because, really, how would we know how we'd react in such a situation? I told her that I had made a sort of pact with myself to eschew violence (yes, I used the word eschew because -- TEACHER). I told her that I hated guns and thought it was unnecessary to carry one for personal protection. I came short of telling her that the 2nd Amendment was bullshit because -- well -- it wasn't appropriate. I told her that killing anyone was kind of like a black hole to me, the ultimate black hole. This young girl's opinion bummed me out. The whole time I was talking to her, I wanted to stop. I wanted to disappear into a black hole. I had never seen a photo of a black hole because there wasn't one, though. I wanted her to disappear into a black hole. I wanted us both to come out on the other side and into the Antelope Valley where the rains have created what we call a superbloom -- so many flowers and so much color that you can see it all from space.

Monday, April 8, 2019


A woman had a seizure.
The light fell just so on an orange Gerber daisy in a blue vase.
A squirrel ran across a thick power line
and it was a rope that cut the palm frond
hewing blowsy
like hair from the thin trunk
more stalk than stealth


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