Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Best I Can Do

I was just commenting over at "Dear Ethel" that I don't think the originators of Thanksgiving and Christmas would find it in the least bizarre that their heirs would be grouchy. The Pilgrims were a miserable lot & hungry as hell. The Indians were scared of the white intruders. Mary was not gracefully praying over the manger & Joseph was probably bedded down in the straw with both God & the Mother of God in order to generate some badly needed body heat.

All these folks -- who were grimy, cold, hungry, frightened & physically exhausted, as well as thankful & in awe -- were probably pretty crabby.

So I'm advocating the OK-ness of wishing people a Grumpy Holiday Season. Personally, I'm going to concentrate on doing the best I can, enjoying what I can & avoiding talking too much about myself for fear of breaking into tears.

Hence: one pretty bad photo of the Empire State Building in autumnal colors. My amazement at the roses that are still hanging on. Curling up with whatever dogs I have on hand & watching their trusting sleep.

Thanksgiving was a near-tragedy in errors. I spilled pureed sweet potatoes all over the oven & couldn't clean the mess up sufficiently to avoid an hour of smoke. On my way to bed that night, I smashed & broke a toe (another toe; again). I took three things to Thanksgiving dinner & felt like I was catering the whole meal for twenty people. My life has gotten so small over the last five years that I'm easily overwhelmed. I 1) have to respect that, & 2) have to work on it.

Getting Daisy, a crate, luggage & myself to Newark for a 6.30 a.m. flight should challenge my hide-in-a-shell mentality.

I had five dogs to take care of that day as well. One of them lives about a mile from where we had dinner. Too full, having drunk a number of glasses of wine, exhausted, I walked three dogs down to DUMBO & left my keys in Henry's door. I didn't realize this until Chance, Daisy & I got back to the Heights. No. Way. I saw a light on in my building. No one answered. We turned around & got the doorman at Chance's house to let us in & bunked down there & picked up the keys in the morning.

Pressure. Thursday Daisy & I move to Molly's house for three nights & four days. I leave for Arizona on the 18th for three weeks. I've wrapped all the presents I have on hand & will mail them by the end of the week. A little compulsive, Frances?

Yes & yes. I should be getting editorial notes this week & will have a little over two months to revise my manuscript in a publishing atmosphere of canceled contracts & retrenchment. I'm scared. I have a lot of work to do. I have to get as much Christmas done in advance as possible. It would be a wonderful thing if I opened the box of cards at my feet & started them tonight, but I still have Italian greyhounds to feed as well as myself.

I would like to not eat sugar tonight.

I deserve to not eat sugar tonight. I wrapped those presents, having hand-picked them. Some of them are inspired. I did laundry this weekend & swept the kitchen floor after cooking before putting down the clean kitchen rug. I put all the summer linens away. I've done the dishes & taken a bath. Surely I've done Enough to merit going to sleep easily, without the aid of sugar?

I can't be a size six for my parents this Christmas, which would be their favorite present. But I could lose six pounds.

But oh Lord, the oblivion! I love the oblivion!

Angry Advent, everyone!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Stumped for a Title...

Well. That was a hurtle, the simple act of committing myself to a title.

I've been absent for much of the autumn. There have been reasons.

In mid-October, I went to Arizona for my parents' birthdays (91 & 87) for four nights and stayed for two weeks. My mother had been taken to Intensive Care the night before I arrived, with fluid in her lungs. Thirty-six hours on a ventilator followed by four more days of intense antibiotics, fluid counts and respiratory therapy saw her released but very weak.

I was very weak. Hospital visits are a balled knot of waiting to go, then, once there, wanting only to get out ASAP. My father, who is blind, discovered a great deal of his helplessness that he's depended on Mom for. He is also a physician & pragmatist.

Last night I made plane reservations for me and Daisy for what is most probably my mother's last Christmas.

Writing and reading those words makes me pause. How do I go on, here and with life?

I've been doing a piss-poor job of life since the summer, cycling in and out of depression & food. After something like two years, my 16 hormones decided to stage a coup last week & I found myself at the drug store wondering what size of tampon was called for.

I find that I wake up with a fair amount of energy & that around 2 p.m. I start to slide down the slope of my despair. It lifts a bit around 7 or 8 p.m., enough to do one errand or chore but also just enough to run over to the deli.

They say the most dangerous time in starting anti-depressants is when they begin to work just enough to give the patient the energy to kill herself. In my world lately, I get just enough energy to poison myself.

It hasn't all been like this, but I knew Friday when I heard people behind me on the sidewalk and I cringed to the side to make sure they didn't have to step out of their way that IT was back.

Today I began a conversation with Judy. I had to think about what I would tell a friend who is feeling the fear of the holidays, a manuscript revision in a time when publishers are thrilled to kill books, and tight finances, with some heavy dollops of guilt and resentment, but first I had to decide who the friend was. I thought of Marilyn Monroe and of Judy Garland, poor souls. I don't think I could listen to Marilyn's breathy pipsqueak, so I decided I would reassure Judy of some things.

"It was huge that you made those reservations, Judy. You know it takes four times as long to do it when you have to book Daisy, too, but you did it."

"Just do one thing that feels impossible, Judy. One thing. Take your pills? Great! Brush you teeth? Amazing! You did it."

You can see where this is going.

My heart, I tell you, is exhausted.

My mother and father are not a perfect mother and father, but they have sheltered me, believed in me, loved me even when I feel unlovable. They called to forbid me to buy them Christmas presents this year but I had already consulted with my friend Ann about what she did when she was facing her mother's last Christmas.

"I bought her a beautiful, expensive gold bracelet. She loved it. I knew it would be mine soon and when I wore it, I always thought of her."

So they will have Christmas presents, whether they want them or not. I probably won't -- Mom is too feeble now even to call a catalogue order in. That will be weird but OK.

I want to make a beautiful Christmas for her. And I wish I'd gotten the china figurine of the penguin mother and hatchling rather than the necklace. It would have better said what I'm feeling.

Or what, for 52 years, I've felt.

Maybe I'll do it anyway.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Blues Are Good Today

It's raining tonight, but the Empire State Building is bathed in blue light.

I've been an Obama supporter from the primary race, partly because I find Senator Clinton a little shrill and a little weak. I've never quite forgiven President Clinton for going down (as it were) on the gays-in-the-military issue or her loss of the reins on health care, all of which happened terribly quickly in his first term.

My support was deepened when I bought an Obama baseball cap. "I like your hat," was the most common reaction I got from African Americans, but one guy went so far as to say, "Thank you for wearing that."

This was in spring, mind you. Before AIG failed, Lehman Brothers went belly up, my bank was bought by Chase and foreclosures started to be a national pastime. Being thanked made me realize that I wasn't only dressing as an alternative to Senator Clinton. I was extending my hand in greeting and solidarity.

I AM Mary Six-pack or Josie Plumber. I own no property. My credit cards are groaning. I don't have health insurance. I worry about my teeth and the bump on Daisy's ankle. Despite that, I live in a wealthy enclave, where the per capita income is something like $45,000. Not per household but per toddler. The Federal houses and Victorian brownstones were a series of Obama posters. Last night I walked Daisy when the Ohio numbers came in. We heard cheering from the apartments above.

My brother, who I love dearly, is the antithesis, religiously and politically, of me. He once said that the East is, of course, Democrat, because all we're interested in is money.

I tried to point out -- not to argue, because our arguments last at least a year of silence -- that Democrats tend to increase taxation on the wealthy. My neighbors, who filled the streets with blue posters, are facing a certain tax increase.

Brooklyn Heights families send their kids to private schools that cost nearly $25,000 a year, then on to the most elite college the kids get into. They have jobs with fabulous health and retirement benefits. They don't need to worry about Head Start and education. They don't need to worry about health insurance or social security. They don't need to worry about the price of gasoline, their dogs' bumps, the filling that fell out four years ago. They don't need food stamps. There aren't a whole lot of moms, fathers, daughters and sons serving in the military.

They're Democrats because they care about those things for other people.

So whatever my brother meant in that statement continues to baffle me. The liberalness of people who will be paying more also continues to baffle me.

The joy last night was, however, audible and this morning, tired from an hour waiting in line at the polls before walking four big dogs for three hours, I understood what that joy will, in part, mean.

Daisy and I turned left and the first person we saw was her pal Kanga. Kanga is the super two apartment buildings down and he speaks fluent Labbish. Her butt started to wiggle and she was bucking on her leash, which I dropped so she could zoop straight to him. He was sweeping the sidewalk and hanging out with his grandfather. "Congratulations!" I said and he broke into such a big grin I thought he'd start to wiggle his butt. We shook hands, then I shook hands with his grandfather, who raised him when he was abandoned by his mother. "It's a new day," I said and we both started to cry. Then he turned to his grandfather and said, "I wish Grandma had lived to see this."

I was stricken at the same time I was alerted to an alteration in the fabric of my small life. How many African Americans are celebrating but also mourning the facts of those who didn't make it to see this day? On the other hand, this was the first time I spoke with his grandfather and we were formal in our shared elation. More importantly, we could admit they were Black. On the way to pick up Henry I congratulated another man, a stranger, and he thanked me. Another head bobbed up from the car he was inspecting and he, too, called out, "Thank you!"

And they were, in fact, thanking me. Thanking me for...congratulating them, recognizing it was their day, an historical threshold, a new dignity. Thanking them for not just walking by as if they were invisible, a thing I do to 98% of the people and dragons on the street anyway but not today. Today one word admitted our difference in color and our hope to make that immaterial. One word recognized the specialness of their color.

As a fat person, I loved it! There are franchises for everyone. No one has to accept invisibility or indignity.

My heart is overfull today. I almost can't carry it any more. I have had pride in many things the United States has the past. The Battle of the Bulge. The Declaration of Independence.

But until today I don't think I have been proud to be an American.

In an elevator later, I realized that we could not have elected Senator Obama without Black people nor could we have elected him without White people. Not to mention the various Olive, Brown, Yellow and Red people who came out and voted against their histories of discremintaion and non-inclusion.

Many many many people did this, one poll lever at a time.

And by the way: Kanga was sweeping up glitter.