Friday, July 31, 2009

Identity Crisis Abating

You've shown so much support, concern and wisdom in how to handle my unwitting parachute jump, that I owe you both thanks and the partial resolution.

I think the metaphor I felt earlier this week was standing on sand as the tide moves out. I see it now as an identity crisis, not helped by simple things like not being able to get hold of my sales rep at the Canadian drugstore from which I order my steeply discounted Zoloft (don't worry: I ponied up the $40 for a two-week supply and will do it again if I have to) or wondering when a client would pay me.

It's pretty easy to see now that I and my agent, in tandem, made enough noise at my editor to get a verbal, positive response to the revised manuscript I turned in eleven weeks ago: I needed, to told my editor, to know where I stand with her in order to stand. I've become a kind of aunt to my parents which is shocking at the immature age of 52. The silence regarding the thing I love best in the world -- writing -- stripped me of an enormous part of my self. As soon as I got the validation I needed (the manuscript will be accepted), I felt like I could breathe and plan to move on.

The next masks, of course, and fashioned to suck me away from everything I love, are depression and compulsive eating. I know how much my mood is improved by being abstinent. I know how much more I can feel that I'm a writer and an author. By accepting the restrictions of my food plan, I can accept more easily the fact that I really can't do anything about my parents' situation, that it's their journey and by being with them, the journey stops.

The only person I'd like to talk to about all of this (it's so complicated; we've been through so many rounds of discussion and argument; their moods change three times a day) is my brother. His last response to me was to go to church and pray. That's good advice but not quite sufficient. His wife is in the loop so the loneliness of the looniness isn't as acute. So I have one tool and one action: accept the need for me to let them assess their happiness, health and peace of mind.

My favorite dog moves to the `burbs next week. The failure of a couple of family members to respond is another feeling of loss. I could get tremendously angry at losing my abstinence but I don't, frankly, have the energy. I have just about enough energy to try to make in through Day Two and to thank you all for listening. I'll be in the Rooms tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Kicking and Screaming into Acceptance

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous has a very famous section that all 12-steppers know: "...for acceptance is the solution to all my problems". It means letting go of trying to control people, places and things, and it's a very good idea.

The idea, however, is under trial by fire, as it were, and while I'm kicking and screaming against getting sick with another depression, I'm also sad and scared by how much has careened out of -- well, I never pretended to have control, so maybe the word is out of its customary places in my life.

I need to list what's making me wring my hands.

  • I turned in the revision of my book ten weeks ago. I know that it's going through a legal vetting but I finally begged my agent yesterday to try to shake five words of reaction to the work itself from my editor. She duly emailed my editor and said I'd be expecting her call yesterday or today. No call. Do they hate it? Is it too hot for the ledgal department to permit publication? Is it going to be canceled? How much revision will I need to do of the last round? I'm feeling hurt and angry that my editor can't take three minutes to email, "Some good work here. I'll be in touch soon with more specific comments" or "I have some major problems with what you've done which we'll need to discuss in depth". I can't count on any part of it -- the timing, the revisions, the money, the commitment. Worse, all this belies faith in my work and in the praise my editor shared with me before the revision was done.
  • My sister-in-law was maybe going to come out to take author photos of me. My brother said in an email last week that she was checking into flight. No word. I'm feeling frustrated and confused about how to proceed and angry that if she comes, I'll be put on the spot to clean and prepare for a guest. I'm confused as well about whether to book another photographer or simply use my PFT photo.
  • My mother is home with my father. He reports she is getting stronger but also that she's had some bad breathing attacks (she has congestive heart failure). They've been sleeping in their recliners because it's too hard for Mom to lie down and/or because she's not breathing well. Of course, my father is being run ragged and no one is particularly worried about what this is doing to his 93-year-old health. I feel guilty for not being there; scared of the inevitable; angry that I have to deal with this and angry that they aren't going into assisted living up in Montana ASAP.
  • I never know when I'll be paid by certain clients. My funds are low. It make me angry because they'd sure as shit say something if they were failed to be paid. And I'm scared because with extra expenses of nursing and moving, I can't ask my parents for help.
  • One of my favorite dog's owner just told me he and his wife are putting their apartment on the market and will move to Westchester. I'm sad because I'll miss her desperately and scared about income. Nor do I know when this will happen.
  • I abstain from sugar and then I give into it. I eat at night when I can't sleep -- I'm powerless over sleep, too -- and because I feel both as though I need consolation for the faults of the day and because I deserve the punishment. I can't count on myself and my sponsor is out of the country for the next month, so I can't count on her either. This makes me furious.
  • My concentration is shot. I can remember one thing at a time, can't read, can't focus on anything that asks me to step out of myself.
Helplessness. I am besieged. Even the editing project I have, which I struggle to concentrate on, is in a state that I feel helpless to do more that point out the flaws, with little idea how to really fix it.

What are the common threads that threaten my peace of mind? Anger, frustration, fear, estrangement from myself and from the parents I've relied on for 52 years, hurt, lack of faith, loneliness.

I feel as though I've built my house on the tide line and the foundation keeps sliding further out to sea. But each day I get up, more often than not feeling vile from the food of the day before, and suck up the hope that I'll get something done or run into serendipity or that somebody will recognize that I simply, fucking exist.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Night Soliloquy

It's after 11.30 pm. The weekend is over. The dog that is making me insane will be off my hands tomorrow & I can settle in to "routine". I took a shower & washed my hair. I'm abstinent. I showed up for all the dogs under my care today. I called my parents. I culled a lot of papers & mail off my desk. So why am I ready to put my clothes on again & go out in search of my pals, Ben and Jerry?

I have a project I'm deer-in-the-headlights over. Until I finish it, I can't really move on to other projects. It's convenient, because each project is scarier than the one before.

I'm also fighting a depression, which is a most selfish place to be in. After almost five weeks of family in two months, there's not much of me left & I don't want to give in to reading or writing, things that feel as heavy as a stack of bricks & which will take me away from this narrow stifling place that is, at least, mine.

I'm frozen in place. Ice cream will not make it better, at least not tonight. I've got to break out of this cell but not for Key Lime Pie ice cream. I'm scared.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Brought to You from Facebook...

Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Pass it on to as many people you like. You can't use the band I used. Do not repeat a song title. It's a lot harder than you think but as the list spirals down to the last questions, you'll find yourself surprised by its power.

Have fun!

Pick Your Artist: Joni Mitchell

Are you a female or male: Woman of Heart and Mind
Describe yourself: Big Yellow Taxi
How do you Feel: I Don't Know Where I Stand
Describe Where You Currently Live: Two Gray Rooms
Describe Where You Wish You Could Live: California
If You Could Go Anywhere, Where Would You Go: Free Man in Paris
Your favorite form of transportation: Ray's Dad's Cadillac
Your best friend is: A Strange Boy
Your favorite color is: Blue
Your favorite animal is: Daisy Summer Pipers
Favorite Time of Day: Chelsea Morning
What's the Weather Like: Eastern Rain
If your life were a tv show, what would it be called: I Wish I Were in Love Again
What is Life to You: Waiting for the Car on the Hill
Your Relationships: Sweet Sucker Dance
Your fear: Last Chance Lost
What is the best advice you have to give: In France They Kiss on Main Street
If you could change your name, you would change it to: Hunter
Thought for the Day: No Apologies
How I would Like to Die: Taming the Tiger
My Soul's Present Condition: Song toAging Children Come
My Motto: Help Me

Friday, July 17, 2009


Oi. I've been through the mangler of dealing with the ongoing parental crisis. My father and I haven't had a true fight in a long time -- maybe never, because he's Dad and I'm Kid, and now I'm not the Kid -- but we had a real fuss late last week when I asked if we could make inquiries about getting and staying on assisted living waiting lists so that he and Mom can move when they're ready.

This was the most innocuous of requests, especially because my brother would move them back to Montana within the month if he was the boss of them. Dad wouldn't hear of it. The argument got weird fast: what, he exploded, if Mom dies? The ratio of women to men in their retirement community is 16:1, you know. (Hunh???) No one would be happier than I to see either of them go on to new partners but what did this have to do with the fact that Mom is alive, can't walk much, will never drive again and the isolation this will impose?

"What if I die first?" he burst out again. "Then Mom will stay in a nursing home," I said, a bitter fact but inescapable. "I've taken a couple of tumbles myself," he lashed out. "Do I need to be in assisted living?" "Not as much if you used your white cane," I said.

What did any of this have to do with a refundable deposit on a long waiting list?

I think it had to do with painful emotions, which my father has been careful to avoid all of his life. Fear, anxiety, helplessness, suspense, confusion, resentment, loneliness, love, sorrow and grief -- I don't know that I've ever seen those feelings play out so volubly before. He's been the Doctor and the Colonel and now he depends on strangers to change the batteries in his hearing aids and wonders if he has the money to cover what could be a very expensive future.

I've seen laughter in my father. Graciousness, intellectual passion, silliness and playfulness, affection, admiration, pride, generosity. I've seen and experienced his harshness and anger but they've been short-lived. This is new territory where Slavic stoicism is more dangerous than it seems because it's crumbling.

Later that night I heard him telling my aunt that there was no way he'd go into assisted living, "it would drive me bat shit." I went to my room and cried, called my brother and got the commiseration I needed but was still so angry I couldn't speak to him for a day, thus waving the flag of "Francie Is in a Mood". Even my mother asked, when I stayed home and cooked dinner instead of being in a car with him, if Francie Was in a Mood.

Yes. Francie Was in a Mood. She was in the mood to scream or twist his wrist behind his back. She found some alone time instead of doing either.

Thirty-six hours later he called a friend in Montana and my niece and I heard him saying it was time for him and Mom to move up North and into assisted living. Lisa came into the dining room with wide eyes to find my eyebrows hovering above my head, which was spinning. My mother can't remember having a shower and my father is changing his mind and using phone calls to relative outsiders to tell us what he's thinking. It's like everyone's speaking in Voices.

I realized in that episode that I was enabling him as surely as if I was buying bourbon for a drunk. As long as I'm there, he doesn't really have to face the fact that he can't see and that life without vision at 93 years of age is limited. Who will tell him his tomatoes are red or that he can take the plastic tops of his Aerogrow garden? Who will read him the catalogue for the Library of Congress Books for the Blind? Even Mother won't be able to do many of these tasks, unable to walk that far or get her breath to talk that much.

The nursing home where she's been finishing rehab has announced that she has plateaued. The Medicare Express has turned Local. They're urging assisted living or keeping Mother in the nursing home, which would be the death of her, and Dad has announced he's bringing her home on July 24th, two months after her fall. He's given my brother the go-ahead to put down a deposit for one of the places in Missoula, which is giving my brother the same kind of chilling thrill that Dad's blindness gave my mother by putting him in charge and giving him a new sense of being the jury.

I don't understand the financial fiascoes my father has ignored and that my brother feels is Dad's shrinking capacity to run his own life, but I have cottoned on to the fact that when Dad charges in to remove Mom from the care facility and doesn't want to talk to my niece (she's a hospital social worker and knows Medicare better than God -- she's been our savior) first because he's got to get bars up in the shower, he's acting on all those frightening emotions rather than the logic we can allow at the remove we have from the situation. I managed to convince him Lisa needed to be involved in every inch of the next week in order to secure the next round of Medicare benefits and I managed to get through to him that in the 20 hours a day he won't have a nursing aide to help out, he needs to find the time and ways to take care of himself. "If the neighbors ask you to go water-walking, say yes and ask a friend to sit with Mother. Let's get an intercom system so you can watch TV in your bedroom when she's in the den. Don't be afraid to ask Monica (their aide) to look at your tomatoes or take you to the hardware store."

What have I missed?

Mother is going to take an enormous toll on him. I know this because he took an enormous toll on me and everyone kept telling me, "Take care of yourself," a concept I couldn't follow through on. I have little experience of really taking care of myself, and even less experience in saying out loud what I need and what I will do to take care of myself. This deficit should have been clear 30 years ago but it took the last six weeks to really get it.

I have it easy, too. My father isn't going to be able to leave my mother for a psychic spa, whereas I'm beginning to understand that the first thing self-care consists of is largely to leave people to their mistakes and frailties and live at a remove from them.

Maybe this will be easier when I can get to sleep on Eastern rather than Pacific Daylight Savings Time...

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Angels Are in the Details

I'm trying to decide whether to postpone my return to Brooklyn. My niece is due to arrive in Phoenix on Wednesday but we have her in mind for my mother's release from skilled nursing to home and we know Mom won't be home for several weeks yet. I haven't gotten hold of Lisa and in the meantime, Dad has a doctor's appointment and I witness his struggle with tasks like his remote controls and hearing aid batteries and his peremptory attitude toward Mom and the staff. If one stays a week in this environment, there's going to be one Breakdown Day. Mine started the day before yesterday and finally cracked open last night. There is a question as to whether my mother's fall was caused by a small stroke and her records from the hospital and accute rehab don't include a CT of her brain. Dad is a little flippant about it while I want her attending doc to schedule a work-up.

In short, it's all very complicated and sad and I often find myself at loggerheads with my father about any number of things.

I am a Daddy's girl, so when I say that my dad can be a bastard, I say it after I've given him a LOT of latitude.

Still, the nursing home has been a revelation to me and not entirely in sad or scary ways.

It takes so little to brighten a few moments of the residents' day. Yesterday I wore a red and white toile skirt and every woman I passed who was sentient remarked on how pretty it was, how much they miss girlie dresses and skirts in vivid colors. There was a traffic jam on the way from my mother's room to the lobby, which is sunnier and more comfortable than the nooks that are a jabble of television non-watched by residents who are wheelchair and dementia-bound, and I had to ask a woman if I could move her wheelchair so we could get through. She didn'y understand at first but acquiesed when I explained again. I found a spot she seemed to like and, as I walked away, I trailed my hand across her shoulders.

She said something as I began to push Mom on. I bent down and asked her to repeat it.

"You'll be back soon, won't you?"

What could I say but yes?

One insentient patient had dropped the lambie she holds and nurses on. I stopped to pick it up and lay it in her lap. The woman next to her looked me deeply in the eyes and said "Thank you." So, too, I was able to communicate in a normal voice Mother's tablemate's desire for a second bowl of clam chowder last night, the first semi-solid food she's been allowed in quite a while. She thinks the staff ignores her when it's more a matter of not hearing her soft voice and tendency to tuck her chin into her chest. That soup was the best thing she'd ever tasted.

Of all the treats and sensible things that have made my mother's life more bearable are the down quilt my niece gave her for Christmas and the plush yellow Lab puppy I sent her. She calls it Taffy, after the first dog my parents had, and she takes it everywhere, as many patients do. I'm surprised that she remembers she has it, given her memory loss, but it was an instant success.

This stuff breaks my heart, although the facility is the most loving environment I could imagine, with jolly nurses' aides and PT staff who pass through the seas of wheelchairs and stop to talk and touch, two resident dogs and a cat. I wish the chaplain guitar trio that performs every week would switch from Jesus music to the Marine Corp anthem, which I got Mom's dinner companions singing last night, or to "Dancing Cheek-to-Cheek" -- songs that these people know in the recesses of their minds and need only the tune to bring them to sudden animation. I wish the food was better (one of my father's and my fights has been over taking dinner to Mother: he says it insults the staff).

Mostly I wish I didn't have the feeling that I'm fucked if I stay and damned if I leave. If I stay, I'll eat and lose valuable time and time with my beloved Henry, who is moving to the suburbs in August. If I leave, my brain will be three hours behind, wondering if Dad is OK, if Mom needs lotion rubbed on her swollen legs, if the doctor is pressed to order a neuro work-up. That worry drains the value of my time at home as well.