Saturday, July 25, 2020


Yesterday, on an excursion to a place called Grassy Hollow where Carl and I headed for some much-needed nature, I read an article on the worldwide webs about the enormous hardship of our migrant workers, how they are bearing the brunt of the pandemic, even as they pick the food we eat, pluck the chickens we roast, slaughter and package the meat we barbecue. I won't regale you with the statistics, but it's gross. This country is foul.

How do we unhook from this culture?

This morning, I lay in bed thinking over-thinking wondering lamenting the usual morning fare. Professional basketball players are housed in what's being called the "Disney bubble," quarantined together with their families, at Disney hotels, kept safe and fed and tested constantly for the virus even as they are getting ready to finish the season of basketball that was so abruptly stopped and that fans so desperately await.

Do can will basketball players play without anyone watching? 

Does a tree make a sound when it falls if no one is there?

I'm reading an article in the newest New Yorker by Lawrence Wright titled "Crossroads." The subtitle is "A scholar of the plague thinks that pandemics wreak havoc -- and open minds." The scholar is Gianna Pomata, a retired professor at the Institute of the History of Medicine, at Johns Hopkins University who has returned to her hometown, the old city of Bologna, Italy. She compares Covid-19 to the bubonic plague of the 14th century -- "not in the number of dead people but in terms of shaking up the way people think." She says, "The Black Death really marks the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of something else." We know that something else was the Renaissance. Pomata also says, "Chroniclers of the plague describe the crumbling of the family. At the same time, human beings are creative. They react to this perceived moral decay by creating new institutions." She's less optimistic about what's going on in our country, a country that she loves, where she lived in and worked for over thirty years. "What I see right now in the United States is that the pandemic has not led to new creative thinking but, on the contrary, has strengthened all the worst, most stereotypical, and irrational ways of thinking. I'm very sorry for the state of your country, which seems to be in the grip of a horrible attack of unreason. I'm sorry because I love it, and have received so much from it."

I just can't help thinking about the migrant workers picking my fruit and the basketball giants in their bubble. I can't stop thinking about those who are both ignoring the necessary actions we need to take and those who want to "get back to normal" or "learn to live with it." I am aware of the absurdity and privilege of my own lamentation.

Again, how do we unhook from this culture? Maybe you don't want to. Tell me why?

After wandering around Grassy Hollow, Carl and I drove to La Cañada to try to see the comet in the northwestern sky. We parked on a street called Sleepy Hollow and walked up a dirt trail to a peak that looked out over the entire Los Angeles basin. We watched the sun go down in orange flame, a thin crescent moon rise, the lights of the downtown skyline appear out of a thin haze and then the Big Dipper. There, Carl said, just to the left of the ladle. I saw only a very faint smudge, my night blindness preventing any real recognition.  There was the comet, so aptly named Neowise, just barely visible to the naked eye, a cosmic snowball made of ice, rock and dust. I read that there are about 13 million Olympic swimming pools of water in Comet Neowise, that it's nearly 3 miles long and travels about 40 miles per second. When asked what she wanted to do when the pandemic was over, Gianna Pomata said that she longed to see her mother who lives in Sardinia. She wanted to swim there again. "Older people need exercise," she said. "I don't spend time at the beach gossiping with friends. I don't even take the sun. I just go immediately into the sea."

On Carl's super-camera, Neowise was a green blur with a fuzzy tail, 70 million miles away from the Earth where we stood.

I am grateful for my life. For life. I marvel and mark my own insignificance in this world. And I love the world and its people. But how do we unhook from this culture beyond going out into hollows and onto peaks to bask in and gaze at its mystery?

Here's a poem:

For the Sake of Strangers

No matter what the grief, its weight,
we are obliged to carry it.
We rise and gather momentum, the dull strength
that pushes us through crowds.
And then the young boy gives me directions
so avidly. A woman holds the glass door open,
waiting patiently for my empty body to pass through.
All day it continues, each kindness
reaching toward another—a stranger
singing to no one as I pass on the path, trees
offering their blossoms, a child
who lifts his almond eyes and smiles.
Somehow they always find me, seem even
to be waiting, determined to keep me
from myself, from the thing that calls to me
as it must have once called to them—
this temptation to step off the edge
and fall weightless, away from the world.

Dorianne Laux (1994)

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Pandemic Darts

Reader, Sophie is full of grace. She's a little lady. She loves to be outside. Really, that's all she wants to do -- to be outside. She loves the trees blowing in the sky. She can't walk as well anymore, but she enjoys sitting on the ground. Her eyes light up when she's outside. There's a lesson there, I know.

I had a conversation with Nice Neurologist the other day about Sophie's resistant seizures. We never really talk about anything else. Sophie's seizure control is okay -- but it really is all relevant. What she endures and what we think is a good day or week or month is a nightmare for others. A friend recently called me for support as she'd found her four year old son under the water, seizing. He'd been taking a bath with his older brother. She called me from the hospital. Her son was okay, but she wasn't. The boy hadn't had a seizure in four years, and she was wrecked. She should be wrecked. There are few things worse in seizure world than the bathtub seizure. Nakedness and thrashing and the water a killer. Yet, he hadn't had a seizure in nearly four years. How have I watched my daughter seize nearly every day (we have had brief periods of total seizure freedom) for twenty five years? More importantly, how has Sophie seized so many times yet loves and lives to be outdoors? While I listened to the panic and horror in my friend's voice, I couldn't help but think no wonder I'm dissociating half the time while Sophie is seizing. I don't really know how I do it. How I've done it. This shit is hard. I was struck by how I know this, yet I still don't entirely rest in it. I still feel agitated or guilty that I'm not doing enough, researching enough, trying to figure it all out. Figure it all out. So, back to the conversation I had with Nice Neurologist the other day. We were in a bar playing darts. He said, What about giving her a pulse of Ativan in anticipation of her bad days? and threw his dart. My turn. I don't understand why that would help? Do other people do that? I threw mine. Well, let me think about it. I'll look into the research, see whether it's been done. He threw another dart. Our darts were all over the bar at this point, a Dilantin hanging off of the seat of a chair, an old-school Diamox wedged into the front of the bar, Ativan dangling from the back of a stool. A guy walked by pulling one out of his neck. Nice Neurologist aims but generally misses. I throw wildly most of the time, but when I really concentrate and listen to what I know, I hit the target. Or maybe it's the opposite. It's only when I throw wildly that I hit the bullseye. No amount of concentration or attachment or expectation improves my aim. There's a lesson there, I know, and it's how I do it.

I don't know why I'm telling you this now. During a pandemic when the whole country is going mad. I guess I'm encouraging you to hang in there. The whole "we can do hard things" mantra. I don't know why, but we can. Lots of people do hard things, literally all the time, for years and years and years. Something is changing, and we have no idea what's happening. I think we need to think wildly and let go of our concentration, our attachments and our expectations. I think we'll aim true that way.

Friday, July 10, 2020

This Is A True Story

A very long time ago I held the baby in my arms in a brown and cream-checked easy chair, rocking back and forth while she screamed. Breathing in I calm myself, breathing out I smile, I said in my mind over and over back and forth. I got in a black car with a driver who took me to a nursing home in the Bronx where an Orthodox Jewish rabbi a supposed holy man recovered from a stroke. I walked down a hallway with the baby in my arms behind a small group of men in beards in black they turned left into a room there were no other women. The rabbi sat in a wheelchair his head on his shoulder his eyes looking straight at me and the baby and his eyes were clear and I had to look away look down not to escape but to absorb I guess (it's been 25 years). He said some things some things I won't repeat here although I've said these things before some things about eyes and evil eyes the whole time he spoke his head lay on his shoulder (the stroke) his beard lay on his chest he stroked the baby's head and said she'll be okay. He gave me a small medal with a sign on it that I pinned on the inside of her clothes for months, maybe years, taking it off each small shirt, dress, onesie, for months until it turned black it was cheap and magical. Years go by went by are going and as she seized seizes I say you're okay, it's okay, it's okay, it's okay and for a while I thought it would be okay and then I thought (with rue) when? and then with dark humor I forgot to ask when? and now it's all okay, it's really okay. 

May we be well, happy and peaceful.
May no harm come to us.
May no difficulties come to us
May no burdens weigh us down
May we always meet with success.
May we have strength, resilience and courage to meet the inevitable failures and disappointments in life.
May we be held.
May we be transformed.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Edge of the Continent

What's happening with you? We're living large out here in Covid-California times. I haven't posted in over a week, but I've composed many in my mind. That was our Fourth of July celebration. We weren't celebrating #TerribleAmerica but tried to make the best of the day. I don't feel like using this space today to rant and rave about this country or the POSPOTUS, but I will inform you that I don't think I've ever been this stressed out in my lifetime and it's not just about the pandemic, the POSPOTUS and the Assholes Who Still Support Him. There is so much stuff happening, none of which I can control but all of which I am juggling because -- well -- apparently that is what the universe is currently demanding of me. I am on edge. I am the edge. My ex continues to detonate giant mushroom clouds; I am now supporting my tenant whose job was affected by Covid, who can't pay rent and who is entitled to stay rent-free as long as the moratorium is in place.  Don't ask. I've started my baking business up to help make ends meet and am currently deep into peach pie. Last night, Sophie had three giant seizures in a row and I changed over five diapers in two hours and then I just told Henry to keep an eye on her, got in my car and drove toward the edge of the continent. I played Ennio Morricone's music because he died yesterday, and I cried and wanted to yell but then I got to the ocean, so I parked the car and walked out onto the sand and just stood there, in the dark, listening to the surf, the lights of the Santa Monica pier bright in the distance. No one was on that ferris wheel but it looked pretty in an apocalyptic way. The world is vast and oh, so weird.

I felt better.

Today I am thinking of you, Reader. How are you doing? What are you doing? Reading? Listening to? Watching?

Here's a poem:

Not Writing

A wasp rises to its papery
nest under the eaves
where it daubs

at the gray shape,
but seems unable
to enter its own house.

Jane Kenyon (1993)


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