Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas Letter, 2016

I never do this.  It's against my principals.  Christmas is Victorian in origin and should remain that way, including paper cards, with stamps, with a short note.  I get bogged down trying to read the annual Christmas letters that come my way, partly because they're so grateful and partly because they read like a slide show: we did this and then we did this, and then this happened...

Oh, yeah.  I forgot about the "we" thing.  "We," in this blog, is Daisy and me.

Still, I haven't written Christmas cards in two years and my handwriting isn't up to what it was after the 40th time I've said something.  So here goes.

In October, 2014, I decided to move from Brooklyn Heights and my dark, dusty apartment, back to my hometown of Missoula.  Actually, I'd been waiting for years to move in with a friend in Seattle and raise ducks and maybe a monkey, but I almost never heard from him any more, I was done with New York, my father was weakening and my sister-in-law finally blurted out, "Just come home.  You can wait for the Mr. Seattle here as easily as in New York and in more comfort."

So I went back to Brooklyn, packed up 4200 books and Brenda and Kimberly -- my sister-in-law and youngest niece -- flew out to help with the last packing and drive me and Daisy home.  It was Kimberly's first trip to New York.  I got the best seats I could for Cabaret, which Alan Cumming was reprising, took them through Little Italy and Chinatown, and then pretty much left them to do their thing while I tied up loose ends.

We took the scenic route home, mostly to avoid the November weather due to hit the Great Lakes but I finally got to see Lansing, PA, and listen to school kids scold my sister-in-law as she took pictures of them.  Since they were unhappy about that, and it's really not OK to do it, I took pictures of their laundry hanging out to dry.  So Brenda has kids happily playing and I have photos of their knickers.

We landed in Missoula and I waited for a good used car to become available.  I began to develop crippling social anxiety and mild agoraphobia as I lived in the basement of Jim's house.  I was hoping to move into a cottage which was at the end of a domino chain that didn't happen and in June my father died.

Dark, dark days.  Jim, Brenda and my shrink decided I should continue living with them until after the memorial in September.

It was a solemn occasion because Dad had a military interment.  He was a retired colonel so an officer of equal or greater rank was not hanging around wondering when the next old geezer would die.  I asked an acquaintance from high school, a recently retired Army general, if she would come out to present the flag.  She didn't hesitate to help out and it meant a great deal to me that she was there.  She presented the flag to Jim, who then turned, went down on his knees and presented it to me.

Our friend and former pastor gave a knock-out eulogy that started with, "Whenever I talked to Leonard, I felt like I should go home and read a book."  He went on to discuss Daddy and their long friendship and then his wife (this is part of the group at the "alternative Catholic community" in Missoula which I call "Our Lady of Off-Off Broadway) read the time to dance/time to mourn section of Ecclesiastes.  Jim and I took Dad on his last walk to his niche which is engraved with "Learn, love, laugh," and tucked him safely in. 

Then we all had enormous swigs of Bushmills.

The next night we had a party.  Jim and Brenda thought I was nuts for renting a karaoke, but you don't know what laughter is until my two nephews sing, pitch-perfect, one in falsetto, the other in a forced baritone, "The Music of the Night."  We danced, we sang, we ate hors d'ouerves, My nephew- in-law mimed cool jazz piano playing until we nearly passed out and it all ended with my youngest nephew Satchmo-ing Dad's favorite song, "What a Wonderful World."

Dad had an honorary chair with his favorite baseball cap on it: "Whatever."  It was cathartic. gave new meaning to Ecclesiastes literal meaning.  It was as much about having the whole family together for the first time in years as it was about grieving with laughter.

Soon after I began looking for an apartment.  September is a dismal time to look for a place to live so I decided to rent in a complex that's on the pricey side but has "amenities" (Work-out room, pool, club house.) It's like playing house for me: a garbage disposal!  A washer & dryer!  A patio!  I use the "master en suite" (I watch too much HGTV) as my office so I have lots of light and all my books together.  I fell in love with having plants on the patio and now have seedlings I'm growing in those clear plastic clam shells that pastries (shhhh'hhh) & pre-cut fruit come in.  The chives are growing like mad.  & friends from New York so sympathized with my mourning over the last of the flowers that they sent me a hibiscus tree.

I also potted iris and just before the snows came in earnest, made condominiums of boxes filled with straw, dead leaves, and paper and put them in my OUTSIDE STORAGE UNIT.  

I'm playing house, you see.

I was a busy girl going through boxes that came from New York, Arizona, Missoula storage and Oregon.  There were moments of tears in the unpacking -- finding that my mother had packed up her big jewelry box that Dad brought back from R&R in Japan during the Korean War & finding my own smaller version he'd gotten in case he ever had a daughter.  There were other such moments.  I'd gotten pictures on the walls when it was time to put up my first very own full-size Christmas tree.  I gave a lot of ornaments away, things I felt Mom and Dad would approve of going to more appreciative homes.  And I gave a lot of other treasures away -- Southwestern pottery which I have no taste for but was treasured by a friend, 1960s sterling serving ware to my 1960s architecture & design-obsessed nephew, ornate beer steins my connoisseur-nephew found fascinating.  It felt good to see these things go to the right homes.

But January of this year issued in a new project that hit me like a jackhammer: going through (and I'm not kidding here) boxes of photos and family papers dating back to the 1860s, and a history going back another 230 years. 

I'd been impatient with my grandmother when she died.  I was absorbed in myself and my life in New York when my grandfather and aunts and uncles died.  All the missed opportunities to talk to them on top of Dad's death and the side of Mom I appreciated most, the collector of china and student of dinner parties and a comfortable home, was too much.  I plunged into a 6-week depression that was the worst in 30 years.  I cried.  I slept.  I punched myself in the face,  My sister-in-law sailed in to make sure I got my meds & saw my shrinks because I couldn't leave the house.  At one point I was down to instant potatoes for food.

I snapped out of it in a sweat of anxiety when I realized by license plate tabs had to be renewed & I had one day left.  It was March 31st, a preternaturally spring day.  I put on a silk sari skirt & sweater & went downtown, stumbling from place to place before I found the right office.  I was shaking & dry-mouthed but I was legal & I'd done it myself.  I began to get better,

It was also around that time that my friend in Seattle began to get interested in living together.  I didn't and don't feel the timing was right.  I can't put Daisy through another move.  I have a novel that's writing itself in my stomach.  I really hadn't, in the weird limbo of staying with Jim for a year & then going through the massive task of moving, begun to get to know Missoula or even, except for a dinner party I gave & which everyone loved, reconnected with old friends.  I needed to give Missoula a year of not being agoraphobic & that was the least of my reasons for not wanting to move so soon.

We began talking about property in the Bitterroot or up the Flathead or in Missoula.  We Zilllowed Spokane.  In late July I went out for a needed vacation & we laughed & laughed -- but the pressure was on.  He was extending his teeny house.  Spaces were referred to as mine.  I repeated my reasons for not relocating 500 miles and we had a pleasant time in which I saw close-up some things that would bother me.

I also got to see four of my seven cousins, the children of my father's youngest brother.  It will be one of the highlights of my year.  I had missed the funerals of their parents, both of whom I was quite close to.  These are women I have aspired to be like, envied for being "real" Kuffels (all blond, all dimpled, all with the musical Kuffel laugh -- traits that my other set of cousins share exactly).  But that day when we were all staring at our 60s, the old shyness and need to over-exert dropped away.  One cousin said, as soon as we sat down, "So tell us about the Kuffels" -- I have the genealogy another cousin did that dates us to Napoleonic times in the Polish diaspora of Lvov and Prussia -- and my first question was, "How many times a day do you almost call your dad to ask a question?"  We all laughed at that, and I laughed when another cousin turned to me and said in a low voice, "Is there a Twelve Step program for china?"  I have three sets.  I understand.  I went home and boxed up our grandmother's crystal for her.  It was heaven.  I've been hinting in Christmas cards that we should all run away for a Girls' Thing.

I was sad, too, to be asked about my middle uncle and his four daughters.  They remember meeting them once -- and I remember that meeting like glass wind chimes, all those musical laughs going up and down a middle register that never hits an annoying whinny of giggling.  There was a disruption between the two families that was partially corrected when my uncles got together, but never a mending, never the chance for those eleven wonderful people to get to know each other.  

And I was happy that my uncle had told my cousins how my father helped out the family while my uncle was in medical school.  I was even more pleased that they didn't know that when my uncle was in practice, he offered to pay for my father to take any residency he wanted.  It was a moment in which a story was completed, showing a kind of fraternal humility that made me, for one, understand better the family culture our fathers had.  I wished my other cousins would have been there to hear those stories of sacrifice and help that were bone-deep appreciated between the three and not just the two brothers.

Ten months after the Great Depression and five months after that lunch I can be weepy and grateful and a little wiser but it somehow doesn't plunge me into a terrible day of regret.  I feel like I got to see my aunt and uncle through my cousins and that they, my aunt and uncle, understood why I wasn't there to say goodbye at the right time.

Goodbyes abounded this year: coming to terms with Daddy's death, feeling my mother as I transform her things into mine, Daisy's five-month battle with terrible bladder infections that started with a careless veterinarian and almost killed her, and then vistibule which looks terrifyingly like a stroke and that made it impossible for her to roll in the grass, let alone pee without falling over.  Twice in four months I thought Jim was taking me to the 24-hour emergency clinic (a Missoula amenity that does NOT need quotation marks: they see the sickest animals and have to be at the top of their game) to have her put down.  A year after my father died, I didn't know how I would survive it.

She's much better now, although at 13, she's a much weaker swimmer, has no interest in -- gasp! -- playing fetch (and everyone in New York knows how astonishing that is), and has a permanently slightly cocked head that makes her look like she's perpetually considering and judging the situation.

I'm grateful every time she eats and every time she hops into bed with me.

The last goodbye might be a real and living one.  Finally, my friend in Seattle got it that I'm not packing up and moving.  I feel horribly that he had to come to grips with this on his own and after so many cloud dreams of his own.  That landing in reality, taking place as I begin to get to know people and hang out with old friends who are genuinely happy I'm back, was a hard smack and no bounce.  He's cut me out of his life and I've lost a good friend.  I had responded that we're family -- I'd come out for Easter and he'd come out here for the Fourth of July, that my not moving to Seattle wasn't in the least personal except that there are deeply personal things I need to do in Missoula.  This, alas, did not get through.

Part of me wants to write a really nasty letter but the bigger part of me knows that the friendship had changed inexorably, that it was predicated on co-habitation and not on mutual delight.  I am trying not to ascribe blame in these statements.  What I can say, at the recently ripe age of 60, is that there is no such thing as a best friend in my life.  I have an oldest friend to whom I can say anything.  I have a second oldest friend, ditto.  I have a friend I was in love with and could be if I let myself that I fancy with via pretty constant email.  But I can't say any of these really wonderful people are my Best Friend.

Which is good, albeit dateless on Saturday nights.  

I named this blog for a Joni Mitchell song about waiting for The One to come as promised.  This morning I'm thinking of another lyric from the same album:

Everything comes and goes
Marked by lovers and styles of clothes
Things that you held high
And told yourself were true
Lost or changing as the days come down to you


Ah, but what is found!  My brother and I are friends for the first time in our lives.  I want to wiggle out of my skin when my nieces and nephews get together.  I think of that lunch with my cousins every day with delight and love.  My sister-in-law and I have become very close, although no longer living there can impose a distance on us that we really shouldn't indulge in.

The new year?  I expect to be jailed for using my First Amendment rights the Great Pumpkin is intently eroding.  I hope to get this novel under my belt.  I can't wait to start eating an entirely healthy diet again.  I want to become more myself, and become more so I can give it away and not feel empty after.  I want to put reindeer horns on a bouncy Daisy next Christmas.  And I want everyone who reads this to know I love you, love you for reading it, love you for being you, love you for having been there when the chips were down, love you through blood and honey.

Merry Christmas.
  Let me know what you want for your new year.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Curse of the Strawberry Moon

Last night was my and my brother Jim's second visit to the Emergency Animal Clinic this month, this time at 1 a.m.  Daisy had been playful and enjoying life all day but started whimpering around 10.  I thought she had to go out.  I thought her staggering was the urgency of needing to go out.  After she did her business, however, she kept staggering on the trajectory of "out".  I went after her with cookies but immediately realized something was terribly wrong.  She could barely walk, had no sense of direction and fell down in our 20-yard odyssey back to our own patio.  I called my brother because I can't lift her into my high-slung Ford Escape and told him Daisy had had a stroke and I needed help.

He was here in 20 minutes and we bundled her off.

Turns out she's having a vestibular episode, which old dogs are prone to.  The very kind vet explained this as I sat on the floor with Daisy in my lap (she adores her Uncle Jimmie, but when times are tough she needs her Mama).  Vestibular disorder affects the inner ear so the animal (including humans) have horrible vertigo, explaining why she threw up on the way back from her business walk earlier.  It passes within two weeks.  He gave her a shot to settle her stomach and another, at my request, to sedate her because she was panting and shaking so much.  We went home and Jim settled her into her bed and warned me she was out but a wreck.  She was: sleeping but still shaking.  Twenty minutes later, the full effect of the sedative had taken over and the shaking passed.  She looked like a stuffed animal.

She had seemed better at the vet's but this morning's walk was careening, she didn't want water and later came into my room and wanted to get in bed with me.  I hauled her up, slid way down  and whenever she whimpered, I'd wake enough to scratch her butt, which soothed her into calm something.

I just lifted her off the bed because I didn't want her to fall off in the quest of finding me.  She's in her bed in my office, limp as vermicelli.  It pains me to watch her walk a bit, then come to a standstill, tilted to the right, unable to make her body do what she wants.  She's probably more embarrassed and scared than she is in pain.

Luckily we only have to get through seven more days of this wretched month.

A recap:

Memorial Day: Home alone with a big resentment on my chest, Daisy begins to experience rolling shivers.  It's not right.  She's been diagnosed with failing kidneys, put on a kibble she hates, has to go out multiple times a night and now this awful shivering.  I think she is dying.  I call my brother.  If I have to put her down, I need my big brother.  The wonderful Emergency Animal Clinic does tests that should have been done by her regular clinic and announces her kidneys are fine but that she has a roaring bladder infection.  He puts her on antibiotics and pain meds for the sore back he's also found and we switch vets the next day.

June 2: Daisy iss been improving.  We are coming from a walk and I see we can't go inside from the patio because the sprinklers are on.  Then I notice a loud buzzing that, yes, is coming from our apartment complex and then the wail of fire engines.  I carabiner Daisy to a railing and go inside -- an alarm that could shatter all my crystal is going off and water is pouring into my apartment.  The upstairs neighbors sprinkler system had gone off and that sprinkler was  water sluicing from their window and deck.  The firemen are right behind me and snatch up my computer components and carry it into the living room and tarp everything they can.

Daisy and I are homeless.  We head to Jim's while they dry the apartment with enormous hot fans for four days and stay on because I can't move with so much recently behind me.  Also, Daisy loves rolling in their grass.

June 3: Jim calls me early in the morning to tell me Daisy can't walk.  He'd coaxed her out to pee that morning from the basement door and, fuck it all, gave her an ibuprofin for the pain, which I approve of even if we shouldn't give her Motrin.  When I go upstairs, she's gimpy and tender but mobile.  We see her new vet that day and he goes after her pains and problems aggressively, taking x-rays that show no masses & no arthritis, doubling down on antibiotics and on pain meds.  I want to marry him.
She starts feeling better immediately, is eager to eat the new kibble they've prescribed and is thrilled to go swimming at Flathead, screaming for me to throw the stick.

(Daisy does NOT believe I can swim.  As soon as I get up to my crotch in the freezing water, she keeps coming after me to do what I call Tunnels of Love, in this case swimming through my legs and circling back to do it again.  She is herding me to shore.  It's hilarious.  I am disappointed that I don't take the plunge.  As a kid, no matter what the weather, we were in the water on Memorial Day weekend and it's a week later & I'm too much of a weenie to go all the way in.  I am old.)

June 7: Daisy and I move home.  Dust everywhere.  Shattered glass from a picture knocked down in a bathroom, shelves moved from the hall into the living room, the hutch moved into the living room, my computer on the table in the living room.  A load of laundry forgotten in the washer for a week to re-wash.  No towels.  Can't log in on my lap top because the router is in the living room.  For insurance purposes, I need receipts for everything so after a visit to Best Buy to make sure my tower/hard drive are OK, I book the Geek Squad to come in and reconnect all the rest of my lap top in case parts of it were drowned -- the tower was farthest from the stream three feet away.  Everything checks out and they even bundle all the cables so that they aren't tripping me when I stand up.

Can they fold fitted sheets too?  If so, I want to marry them.

The apartment complex sends in guys to move the heavy furniture back into place.  Later they come in to replace a bunch of light bulbs the Great Deluge ruined as well as a socket plate the huge fans yanked from the walls.  I clean and mourn my periwinkle pansies that have died.  Daisy and I settle in and she lays in the sun while I combine what plants survived into two pots.  This working with flowers feels...affirming.

June 12: The Pulse Massacre.  Flags are at half-mast even in het Missoula.  I trade emails of horror with a client and decide to write an article in his name based on a list of facts I drew up for his website. I lose myself in writing over the course of two days.  I'd look up from it and four hours would be gone.  Daisy cracks me up on each walk by throwing herself on the grass to "rrrolll, rroll, rroll in de hay" although she doesn't catch the reference to Young Frankenstein.  Oh well.  I do.  I am writing journalism and I am Woman and I am Strong.  I have a novel to write.

Which brings us to last night.  And this afternoon.  Daisy is now a failed croissant in her bed, not moving.

*  * *

On Saturday, the 18th, my sister-in-law celebrates her one-year anniversary for heart valve replacement by climbing the M, a gleaming white M on a barren mountain above the University of Montana.  Everyone in the family except me (I spent the afternoon making the coconut cake she wants to end the day on) joins her.  My niece comes back to their house with their new dog, a five-ish-month-old what looks to be an English spaniel.  My niece lost her beloved dog last year and is having some buyer's remorse over the puppy.  He's all over Daisy, who in her uninterested dotage and former role as dog boarder, permits anything another dog throws at her.  She considers this one of her jobs, along with keeping me from drowning, running after thrown objects and rolling in the grass.  

This encourages the pup to try out fancier moves, such as humping.  I had just warned my niece that his squatting days wouldn't last forever and that, even though she was sure neutering would take care of it, he'd get into humping at some point.  Whereupon he began humping Daisy madly.  I made the mistake of cheering him on and got into trouble with everyone.

I'm sorry about that, Beloved Niece.

(Both male and female dogs hump.  Daisy humped Boomer and Hero whenever she could, as well as the odd fireman and a friend of mine she was clearly in love with.  I walked a dog who hated everyone except his owners, groomer, Daisy and Hero.  He LOVED me, and would attach himself to my leg as soon as I walked in the door.  The same with Grace, my best friends' Lab puppy.  She clamped on to me like a vise and left claw marks and dirt on my legs after.  It was an act of love and delight.  Dogs hump for reasons of which sexuality is the least.  Mostly it's a way of getting the humpee's attention, an invitation to play.  
I walked a dog who ran into his apartment and humped his big squishy bed: I think it felt good.  Dogs don't always like being humped, especially males, but it's a matter of hauling them off and redirecting their play energy.  I'm just sayin'.)

Everyone was in the kind of mood that showed us off at our worst that night.  I was glad to go home to get away from the simmering emotional noise.

Chatting with my sister-in-law today, I realized two things about all this dogginess.  My niece had gotten her Dog of all Dogs when Dog was a year or so old.  She hasn't done puppy.  When Daisy was a very young puppy, she was vicious.  It really wasn't until she got into the dog run in Brooklyn and played, got nibbled, gotten in trouble and made friends that she calmed down enough t risk petting her.  One of her first friends, older than she, humped her regularly, a sign, I think, of ownership since we were at her apartment and throwing her toys for Daisy.  But there was also a big white Lab in the dog run that Daisy humped so much that we wept with laughter.  Little Daisy began at his butt and humped all the way up to his head.  Then she'd turn around and hump him all the way from his head to his butt.  Again and again.  He knew this was puppy stuff and let her.

Beloved niece's Dog of all Dogs had a terrible and lingering death.  Beloved me had a puppy with a terrible and lingering puppyhood.  Now I'm experiencing the beginnings of what Beloved Niece went through and I'm not good at it.  It makes my hysterical.  As a confirmed pessimist, each visit to the Emergency Clinic has been, I believed and will believe, Daisy's last car ride.

Beloved Niece was much more optimistic and accepting when Dog of all Dogs could no longer swim, no longer run, no longer walk much.  I think of Daisy as a puppy and when these losses, so far temporarily, occur, I see it as the end.

It also occurred to me that my father experienced very little of the degradations of dying.  Losing his sight could have been one but he forged on with what vision he had left, his books on tape, his music and his incredible memory.  He died of an aneurysm, immediate and painless.  What other failing of old age, my brother dealt with.  My brother found him dead (on June 26th, just to round out this mense horribilis) and that has been very hard on him.  

Daisy is my turn, challenging my mindset, my patience, my experience.  I'm so glad, in retrospect, that Dad made me put my dog, a black Lab named Jan who was dying of kidney failure, down by myself when I was 18.  I remind myself I've done this before and survived it.  This series of crises and recoveries is what I owe her and owe my brother for taking care of Dad, and Dad, whose decline last year I squirreled up & hid from as much as I could.

The Strawberry moon has swelled and diminished in the last three weeks.  It's payback time for me, to the cycles of life and the lives I didn't, perhaps, honor as much as I should have. 

But I will need you a lot, Jim.  Even at our ages, big brothers do certain Things for little sister.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Letter to My Mother on Mother's Day

Dear Mom:

Is there a heaven?  Are you with Daddy now?  Have you come together as lovers again or as the sometimes-adversarial roommates of my most conscious years?  Yes, I figured that out.  For whatever reason, you pretty much left marriage -- although not the money, not the security -- as you took each step further in.
You didn't want to be Mrs. Lieutenant Kuffel and then you began, as I left toddlerhood, around the time everyone at St. Pat's knew you had cancer before you did, to really loathe being Mrs. Doctor Kuffel.  I saw the gleam in your eye when Dad lost his sight and you finally had the power in the marriage, at least insofar as being the sole means of transportation was power.  You never really understood that Daddy lived on his own planet and was serene there with his Ellington and Chopin, fights and football, history and science.  It drove you crazy, that serenity and noise, but you didn't understand that as much as he missed driving and other stuff, he was untouchable.

And yet you loved each other.

When Aunt Claire died, I described heaven to Colleen as a nightclub with red pleather banquettes.  That's where she reunited with Uncle Connie.  In that deep gravelly voice I love so much, Colleen said, "He was mixing martinis while he waited for her."

A comforting, pretty scene.  Was there such a one for you and Dad?  Was he mixing you a Manhattan?  Were you restored to your best youth so that after that drink and a smooch, you could fling yourselves into "Elmer's Tune"?

What the fuck happens when you die, Mom?  I need to know, even though Frank, in his eulogy for Dad, said his spirit had joined the stars, that we had to let go to let that fully happen.  Those words brought me the first peace I felt after Daddy died and they're appropriate to Dad, aren't they?  He'd like whizzing around the star nurseries and undiscovered galaxies.  You?  Not so much.  I want to know where you went, where Frank would have consigned you in his eulogy.  You were Frank's tool at St. Anthony's and Christ the King; that's what he focused on.  But I have to ask: is that all you were, a sideman to Vatican II?  Or did you have galactic clouds of your own to fly up to?

That's what's on my mind this Mother's Day, a year since I've written you, a year since I've blogged here.

I can feel you in a new way, living with your treasures.  Thank you for packing up your jewelry box for me -- I sobbed when I parted the packing in that box and discovered it.  Thank you for remembering the cherub candle sticks.  I used them on the Christmas table with sprigs of pine and small white and red carnations.  Jim remembered them as well.

I have felt you the last couple of days as switching out winter for summer clothes turned into cleaning the big closet in my office, throwing things away, packing up Grandma's crystal for Kaylie or bagging things for my favorite charity shop.  You approved heartily and kind of kept me going because it was such a Mom task.

I have a little more to do but am ready to move on to the next projects I need to finish before I try to start writing my novel.  If there are any plots hanging around where you are, could you send me one? I'll think of you as I write a version of Dick and the women in his life.  He loved you as much as he could but he was pissed off that you added Jim and me to your love.

And that's one thing that Jim and I, at least, never doubted amidst your abandonment of the marriage, We knew you loved us, and that you loved us for what and who we were.  You weren't disappointed in the whole of us, although I'm sure my smoking disappointed you and maybe my weight gain. Thank you from all of us who so tangibly felt your love -- Jim, Lisa, Tom, Michele, Jerilyn, Patrice, Rob.  Lisa always says you were the only person who had unconditional love.

Oh, you'd adore Rob!  He has inherited so much of his taste from you!

And Kaylie is graduating with her Master's Degree next Sunday.  Lisa and Dustin have moved to Big Fork, so they're theoretically nearby, although we haven't seen each other since Dad's memorial.

I think you wouldn't have understood parts of the memorial but you would have loved seeing all of us together, eating, laughing, drinking, singing, dancing and loving each other.  Only Jennifer was missing among the grandchildren, but that will have to wait for the novel I'm asking you to find a plot for.

Daisy will be 13 in two months.  She's starting to age now and has kidney failure we can control with kibble.  Jim thinks she has a year left.  I know he's right but Mom -- I can't lose her.  There will be no memorial for her, no eulogy, and yet she has shared 90 percent of my life and been the one I came home to from the other ten.  No one else I've hacked and cried over while writing this had Daisy's claim for Being There.

I'll try to visit Lisa this summer, Mom.  She took good care of your treasures and she's a good egg. I'm trying to pass on some of the family stories and I'll try to be better at that.  When I was organizing photos, I marveled over the pictures of you with Jim and Dick as babies and little boys.  It was good for Jim to see those pictures and all the mother's day cards he made and you saved.

Funny: I haven't asked where Dick is.  I don't feel at like doing so either.  This has nothing to do with hell: I just lack curiosity.  Or maybe it's that I lack missing the comfort and the ease and having things in common.

Speaking of which, I've been filling out the other two sets of china -- Grandma Kuffel's and the tea set I bought in London.  You'd get a kick out of that, I think.  You'd definitely have my apartment sorted out down to the last picture hook.  You'd drive me bonkers but I'd love you for it, and love you for looking around and saying, "It's very you, Francie.  Very homey.  Very pretty."

And I think those things are the only things I've ever wanted.

Love,

Francie


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Letter to My Mother on Mother's Day

Hey, Mom --

A lot is going on here and I miss you terribly in the turmoil of it all.  I've moved back to Missoula and Mother's Day is sweet with the mountains still green, the black-eyed Susans on the slopes and the smell of lilacs light in the early morning air.  I haven't seen this Montana in 30 years -- the hills are brown when I come in August and wild flowers out only in places like Glacier.
I've been here six months, staying with Jim, if you can believe it.  We haven't fought once, which is even more unbelievable.  He's been unfailingly kind, if a little hyper, and I've done my best to be cheerful and helpful or to hide when my mood turns south.

Almost the whole family is here for Mother's Day -- Lisa is in Oregon but they're moving back to Kalispell this summer and then the circle will be pretty much complete.  Little Sophie is in third grade and Anna -- did you meet Anna? -- is a very shy pre-schooler.  Michael and Leeanne moved to Spokane and all the Spokane kids came over to see Kimmie's play.  Kim tells me that every time she goes on stage she channels you.  I thought you'd like that.

I'm moving into a tiny cottage in about six weeks and oh, I wish you were here to supervise!  Will I find just the right pink for the kitchen and lavender for the living room without you?  I've bought a couch, Mom -- my first real one that Daisy will refuse to let me nap on.  I'll be gathering my stuff from the four corners and will have your/my bedroom furniture back.  You'd like this little house: it's very 30s, and so much of what I've inherited covers that period.  I want to mount your toy stove in the kitchen and I will be putting up photos of you and Dad over the fireplace in the living room.  All my dour great- aunts and uncles, the entire 23 of them!  You'd enjoy this move, Mom.  I think of you every time I buy something.  And you'd laugh at my mania to re-collect things from my childhood that got broken or went astray in the moves.  I actually bought a piece of carnival glass although the bowl you had was much bigger and more useful.  I'm going to see if I can get my part of the Azalea china Grandma Kuffel had which a friend and I have collected.  It would look swell in the kitchen.  I'll have to put a table cloth on the table to use the Spode.

You can see I'm planning dinner parties right and left.  That's your presence in me as well.

Dad is getting frail but is in good spirits.  Last night was the annual Western Montana Retired Officers' Club dinner.  Only five World War II vets left and I cried when they gathered to have their picture taken.  It was the day after VE Day and Dad was telling us about free drinks at the Officer's Club in San Francisco.  Jim found it hard to believe how even more ecstatic VJ Day was, how relieved you and Dad were that the Homeland Invasion was off.  Jim had never heard to story of you and Dad renting a room from the colonel and the colonel's wife expectation that you would clean for her.  It explained a lot to him about your dislike of the military, although you always seemed to enjoy the perks a great deal.

I was Dad's date and Jim and Brenda came as well. 
Seeing the men of Dad's age barely able to stand and hold a limp salute was a solemn sadness to us -- my eyes are pricking as I write this -- but he was terribly glad to be there, with us, and to see one or two of your remaining friends who I made sure came over and sat with him for a few minutes. 
All three of us pitched in to be ears, eyes and stability for him.  He's already set the date for next year.

He misses you, Mom.

Daisy's showing her age, too.  She'll be 14 this summer, can you believe it?  She's still active although she can't jump the way she could a year ago.  I like it that she is still at a learning curve at her age.  She has learned who Auntie Brenda and Uncle Jimmie is (she outright adores Jim!), and I taught her to stay in the unfenced back yard.  I don't know how I did that but I don't know how I taught her anything.  She's smart on her own.

You'd had laughed to see her facing down two deer one evening.  She kept advancing, slowly, barking, while one of the deer pawed the ground like a bull.  Finally the deer decided the noise was too much and ran off.  We call her the Deer Stalker and Brenda's plants are thriving with absence of ruminants invading the lilies.

Next spring I'll find a black bitch to join her.  The cottage has much more light than the Bat Cave had and I'll be able to read that little monkey face's mischief.  No dog can replace Daisy but I do love a black Lab.

It felt funny being Dad's date, Mom.  I put on an underwire bra, Spanx and make-up, but I'm ashamed of the weight.  I hope you would be proud of me despite the weight gain, and I hope you would have been proud of us last night.  I made sure it was OK for Jimmie to get in on the photograph of all the Vietnam vets -- it's the 50-year anniversary of the start of that war -- even though it was an officer's club meeting.  He felt chagrined that I did it but Brenda walked him over.  We're as proud of his sergeant's stripes as we are of Dad's bird and I'm glad we forced him into it. 

I have a new psychiatrist and she changed my meds up.  It's a huge help.

That's about it, Mom.  I want you to know how much you're on my mind and how much you would love this tender time of year and the 16 people flowing in and out of Jim's house this weekend.  I know you'd be buried in paint chips and helping Kimmie plan this doily hanging we have in mind.  Daisy misses your pocket full of cookies.

Oh -- I bought a car, Mom!  And a washer and dryer.

I'm trying to grow up.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Waiting...

It's a very appropriate title, Car on the Hill, because I've been in a state of waiting -- for a car, finally achieved -- since August.  That was when I knew my move back to Missoula was coming within the year.  In October I knew it was coming in a month.  By the time I got here I was waiting to pay off debts, get said car (an `09 Ford Escape), settle into my social media work.  Then I fell off my Prozac and went into a deep tearful frightened place and waited to get an appointment with a psychopharmicologist.  Then I waited to see what the Effexor she weaned me onto would do.  Now I'm waiting to move.

I've kept up with the social media accounts although one is winding down and I'm now on the hunt for two more (I have experience in weight loss, mind/body connection, military affairs, New Age stuff, addiction for authors but I'm a curious girl and could totally get into a Civil War book or thriving antique shop).  I've put out the first feelers -- this is another but will stop here -- and am trying to get it together to put out more.

And there's the rub.

Let's talk about Effexor first.

It's gotten the Black Dog off of my chest.  I'm on the starting dose and will probably add more as time goes on (we're seeing each other once a month, my new prescriber and I) and after some weeks of stabilizing I'm much more driven, more balanced when faced with implied criticism, more cheerful.  I'm on the verge of wanting to do things I haven't wanted to do in a long, long time -- see friends from Missoula I've barely been in touch with, write, dig into research.  I'm on the verge but not there.

This blog is an attempt to get there, to care about my own doing life rather than my paid passive life, to speak out about myself.  I don't know if this push is something "I" am solely in charge of, or whether I need to increase the Effexor dose, or whether it's going to happen when I finally move in about two months. 

I've done two Frances Has Entered the Building things so far -- bought furniture and do-dads for the little 1930s cottage I'm moving into, and begun to tweet and do Pinterest in the hopes of catching two new clients.  But spending money is too easy and scary.  While I've bought a great table, mismatched chairs, a sofa and love seat, a washer and dryer (!), and a hutch that will all honor the era of my coming cottage, I've also bought depression glass, odd dolls, and summer clothes because I have no idea where mine are in my storage unit that's bulging at the seams.  Buying is fun and it's gotten me out of the house but it's not, in the end, active.

I've had to put the rosary book on hold because so many books are packed, although I have located the one church in Missoula that says a daily rosary.  In the meantime, I've had an idea for a novel whose research I've mostly done -- it took a day -- and I could write quickly if I don't get neurotic about it.

Given that I haven't blogged since January, what are the chances I'll take this steady, sane approach to a comic, soft novel?  But writing is the biggest doing-thing in my life and I want to be doing it.  So far I have a vague idea of plot, 1 1/2 names.  You see I couldn't do more because I had taxes to finish.  Then I had a manuscript to finish editing.  Then I had some ghost writing I'd put off.  Then I had to take a short break from everybody else's business and ended up packing up stuff I don't need (cut glass and a rabbit doll) and then creating eBay listings for my family.  I haven't bathed, I'm in the same pajamas I wore to bed on Thursday night, I don't remember if I brushed my teeth yesterday and suddenly it looks like a really good idea to reorganize my bookmarks.

Sigh.

Do men do this? finish some looming work projects and then look for other people's work to do instead of attending to some allowable selfishness?

The difference between now and a month ago is that I'd have been in bed burying my ennui instead of writing about it.  I hope that in six weeks (I'm going to Oregon to take care of a niece after surgery in a month), I'll take a shower to curb my ennui and then call a friend.  Or write two pages.

It's been a fascinating experience to live with my brother and sister-in-law for going on six months now while we've all waited for so many things to fall into place.  I haven't been around people like this since spending a few weeks with my parents years ago -- and they didn't expect much of me.  My brother and I have had a contentious relationship but I've come to realize, if not always calmly accept, that much of his critical and bossy attitude that we've fought over for 50 years is a kind of speed dial for him.  He gets a thing in his mind and it joins the 44 other things on his mind and it all comes spewing out in one big sometimes repetitive rush.  I felt nagged for a while then began to see that something like joining the Y had as much weight as how his hamstring is feeling.  That's been an enlightenment.

Sometimes, too, I see him get an insight into me.  We were watching a mama deer with her adolescent young-uns across the street.  She was cudding away but the kids were playing -- none of us had ever seen deer play.  They were jumping straight up and twirling in the air, charging at each other and otherwise acting very puppy-like.  Once Mom looked up and joined in, then went back to her grass.  I narrated her attitude: "Norman, behave yourself or there'll be no rosebush for dessert tonight.  And Heidi, I want to see you acting more lady-like."

"'Heidi'??" Jim said, laughing.  "Where do you get that stuff?"

I shrugged.  It's that thing in my brain that I like quite a lot about myself -- verbal whimsy, I guess.  When I meet someone with whimsy, I am besotted.

For the first time since I was in grade school, then, my brother and I are friends.  And I've been friends with my sister-in-law for some time but we're now partners in crime, both of us ready to drive off to the Bitterroot and take pictures or pour over Craig's List.

It's also a busy way to live.  There is always a birthday to celebrate, a play to go to, a family member needing attention.  I've never seen so much cake.

My coming cottage is small.  It has a largish living living room, a kitchen out of the `30s, and a tiny oblong bedroom that used to be a porch.  There is a basement with one finished Bat Room and after struggling over it I decided it would be my office.  I'll be too late to plant much from seed but it has a rock planter and I'll strip it and fill it with pansies.

I am waiting to give my first dinner party.  It fills me like a craving for cake, this dinner party.  It's months away -- months of finishing with furniture, painting, unpacking and more cut glass (two bids on eBay this morning).

And so I wait.  I'm waiting for checks, one of them a big piece of change that would see me through lean times when I could come up with another half a name and a shower.  I'm waiting for the lilacs to burst through their fat buds, for the river to be low enough for Daisy to swim in, for next March when I think I'll get a black Lab puppy; I'm waiting to be me while I'm entirely grateful not to be smothered under the Black Dog and to have ideas and ambitions rather than retreating to bed.

And writing this blog?

It didn't hurt a bit.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Moving: One Step Forward

I'm OK, first of all.  Thanks for so many queries asking if I'm still alive.  I don't know if I know how to write any more, but I'm willing to test the waters here.

I've moved, if anyone doesn't know that, from Brooklyn back to my hometown, Missoula, Montana.  The return of the native has become the native is restless.  I'm without a car or a place of my own, living in my brother's basement (still has more light that the Bat Cave), & finding out why moving is considered one the three most stressful life changes. 

Who am I going to be? I began to wonder as I packed up boxes of books and clothes and silliness in October.  I won't be walking dogs -- can I scrap the stained clothes I used?  I began to do that, along with scrapping almost anything I couldn't see using or wanting.  But what would I be?  Who would I hang out with?  Where would I go?

Idiot me: I thought I'd find out & I haven't, much.  The Holidays are a terrible time to answer those questions because the wheres are fancy & the whos are not dependable when the calendar changes.  So far, my crappy dog clothes, those that weren't hopelessly awful, have been fine, although today I took my father to breakfast so I'm wearing jeans & a bra & my hair is still down & I still have earrings in.

This week I hit critical mass in the cha-cha of moving.  The IRS and I had agreed I would pay by check in December.  We discussed this twice.  I wrote a check.  The IRS deducted its amount from my bank -- my New York bank which I was about to close out because there isn't a branch to be found for 200 miles.  Overdraft & stop payment fees I can't afford hoved into my checkbook.  I called the IRS to discuss all this...&, after an hour of trying to get through, their computers were down. 

Really?  So does that mean everyone owing them money on January 2, 2015, gets a day's grace?

Somehow I doubt it.

All of this was preoccupying me while I tried to be a nice person waiting out agendas on my brother's home front so I could pick up the car I'd rented for a few days, then driving said car on ice after many years of not driving on ice, going to a Zoo Town Lit New Year's Eve & being asked questions like, "How come you weren't at X party?" & wondering if that was an answer to the question of who I'll hang out with (not some of the people you love) & realizing how hungry I am for the right writer friends to talk to.  But, uh, will I?

I'm reading William Manchester's Winston Churchill biography, Vol. 1, & am reminded of what it's like to make one's way in Society.  Once upon a time, I had a small niche of my own in Missoula -- Zoo Town -- Society.  No longer.  All I can do is show up when invited, follow up on what bait I've thrown out & try to decide if I want to be in Society.

It would be nice if this involved a long white train, ostrich feathers & curtsying to the Queen.

God.  It almost does.  Ouch.


Oh, dear.  What have I done?  I can't even walk down the street for cigarettes, yogurt & kibble.

Although the kibble is half as expensive here & cigarettes $5 less.

The good thing about all that was complaining to my father.  My father as you may remember always told us kids that if we wanted sympathy, we'd find it between shit & syphilis in the dictionary, so I was wary of blabbing out all my financial, family & social woes.  Amazingly, he understood.  He actually did.  He GOT it.  I felt heard after many weeks of trying & probably failing to be mute while I smiled.

It's all temporary but it's been a longish temporary that included a vicious stomach bug & a Holiday season in which I was too broke to buy all my family gifts.   Today I finally mailed the keys back to my landlord in New Jersey...although the postage machine didn't dispense the postage until I paid twice.

You see what I mean?

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Spitting Angry

I believe that the family member trying to keep an eye on her business has both our interests at heart and I'm sorry that she's caught in a mangle of unrealistic expectations on the one hand, and my orthodoxy regarding the original agreement on the other.

But I just came back from walking Daisy after spending five and a half hours tracking down every glimmer of interest in one of my social media client's book and making a list, nearly comprehensive, of the websites I use as sources for my work for her.  Last night I spent 90 minutes explaining what and I why I do what I do.  I don't know how many times I've run through that litany but I do know that, in the nearly three months I've been charging her for the four and a half months I've been working for her, this is the fourth time she has wanted to renegotiate the fee I put in the work to earn.

And I know very well that she expects the same work for half the money.

I'm leaving for Montana on Wednesday.  I need to do laundry.  I have no food in the house and I have prescriptions to pick up.  I have other media clients and my own sorely neglected social media and writing to attend to.  There is some cleaning I want done in the Bat Cave.  I'd like to pay a credit card and figure out my trip to the Festival of the Book in Missoula in October but I can't because I don't know how much money I'll make this month, or won't until tonight or tomorrow.  I'm pissed as hell and I ache.  I'm hungry and don't want to go to the market.  I want to hide but I want a friend.  I want to spit and hiss.

I ache from sitting still in front of emails, Hoot Suite, book marks for so long.  I know I have done a good job and I know I can't make a best seller on Instagram or Twitter or Facebook.  If I could, I would have done it for myself.  I have been honest about that since we met in March.  I have told her that my job is to get the word out and fashion a persona.  I have offered to do more but have not had cooperation.  When she has asked me to do more and I've double-checked my information, I've been met with sarcasm.

But I need this money.

And this client wants to write like me.

That's a very poisonous basis for any relationship.

I haven't worked for The Man since I was a literary agent.  I don't count adjunct teaching as working for The Man because aside from some simple rules, I was free to do what I wanted.  I've now been doing social media for 19 months and until this, it's been amiable and smooth sailing.  I'm learning how to speak up for myself when I'm asked too much or blamed without information, but this has been with someone rational.  I feel like I'm back in the literary trenches again, working against someone determined at once to like me and demonize my professional performance.

With each re-negotiation except for one, I've kept a cool head, not giving into tears or sarcasm or anger.  I've stuck to my original thesis: let's make this book earn out so you can capitalize on it.  I send daily updates of my work.  I forward important possible opportunities.  I'm stolid and steady.

But I gotta tell you, peeps: I'm fucking miserable here!  Everything I do for this client is fraught with whether it's good enough, whether she'll like me that day or ignore me or deride me.  I would KILL for the income to get out of this goddammed situation.  I would love to tell her I was quitting -- and in language that would make Freud blush.

One of the things I hate most in life is justifying myself.  It sounds shrill and pathetic in my ears.  It makes me question myself, immediately handing over power to my inquisitor.  I end up being the whipping girl and I feel like I'm walking on March ice.

When I picked up Daisy, the other dog waiting for us began to screech.  I call him Kreacher because he's like Sirius Black's house elf who was so foul to people.  He's actually a fabulous dog, part Chihuahua and suffering from Little Man complex.  Some guy across the street yelled down from his window to make the dog shut up.

HE is the one I'd like to go after, since I have to swallow my fear and singled-out-ness on the other front.  If I could have gotten a look at him -- if he'd leaned out his window and made himself known -- I'd have yelled back, "Dogs bark.  I don't like it either but I can't stop it.  Do you scream at babies crying or kids throwing tantrums?  I'll bet not.  So take it.  It's life, you jerk.  Live with it."

But the ass didn't make himself visible.  He made himself another voice in my head saying, "You don't do it good enough."

And I'm sick of that voice.  I'm sick of the fact that I've done what I can do to explain myself AGAIN to people who really only want a miracle of book sales and not one word else.  I'm sick of absorbing it all as being a fault of character or intelligence.  I'm sick of people deciding I've represented myself as a king maker when to know me is to know that's about the last thing I would claim.

And I can't teach anyone to write like me.  Who'd want to?  I don't make much money.  The people I went to graduate school with will probably be in English classes in 2114.  Anyone who doesn't like me, REALLY hates me because I expose too much.  I am doomed to misunderstanding.

What I have going for me is a talent for similes, humor, being unafraid to hang it on the line.  I get fired for writing blogs like this but sometimes the bullshit reaches critical mass and I don't have anyone to turn to today and be consoled (let alone fed mild amounts of alcohol) by.  I can't teach that.  To be in proximity of someone who thinks they can get it from me feels like one of those vampires who doesn't go in for the final kill.

As if a fifth round of financial recompense didn't already feel like that.

I think I'll go query the doorman across the street to find out who the dog sniper is.

I hope my client doesn't find this post.