Thursday, December 24, 2009

Comfort and Joy

This fall has been a traumatic time in my family, most lastingly, perhaps, because of the schism of alienation in the wake of my mother's death.

Enough said.

I was talking to my pal BJ not long ago about how she was decorating her new house for Christmas. She's new to this concept of trees and wreaths and whatnot, having fallen in love with the idea after marrying an Italian. She's still adverse to the notion of Santa Claus or nativities, and he gets a Christmas stocking while she gets a Hannaukah stocking, but for the last couple of years, nothing has delighted her more than getting ornaments as gifts and buying them after Christmas. In the latter case, she puts them away still packaged and is surprised all over again when she opens them the next year.

So we were talking about her tree, which she put up some time in mid-November and I asked what other decorations she would put up. "Nothing," she said. "A wreath...lights!"

"Icicle lights," I recommended. "No lawn ornaments?"

She laughed with derision. "No sleighs, no inflatable anything. I won't live in a Bay Ridge display."

I laughed because when I was growing up, we lived across from a carninval. Each year, our neighbor made one more mechincal gizmo from wood and machinery -- a carousel, a waving Santa on the roof, a elf-run workshop. I don't remember everything that filled his yard, but I do remember the traffic in our cul-de-sac, bumper-to-bumper on the days around Christmas. Most of the other then-seven houses kept the spirit up, I told her, by putting up lights. My mother sewed long strings of gold foil disks to hang in our living room window, with gold lights in evergreen boughs in the flower box that ran along outside.

"Oh, and we decorated the circle of the cul-de-sac," I remembered. This was my brother Dick's project. Our court had a small stone circle with some evergreens and a birch tree. For much of the fall we saved the lids of coffee and other large cans, and collected copies ofReaders Digest. We spray-painted the lids and thronged them with glitter, punched a hole in them and hung them up in the circle. We folded each page of Readers Digest to make a point so that when we were done we had a large heavy diamond-shaped object that we also spray-painted and hung. We put up flood lights. It was very homely but had the advantage of being unappealing to pranksters.

"You had an enchanted childhood," BJ said with a certain wonder in her voice. I thought about that and decided yes, in main I did. Passing for Thin and Angry Fat Girls tell the grim stories but I know from the Rooms and from friends how good I really had it, especially at Christmas.

That's an odd statement in a way because when I was a kid, gifts were not always my parents' point at Christmas. I recently got a Barbie catalogue and nearly choked when I saw that one of the reissued dolls was Nurse Barbie. I got my first Barbie in first grade, which was in the days when it was clothes we wanted for our dolls, not more dolls. Barbie was expensive. The clothes were beautiful. Now it seems the opposite is true. Girls collect the dolls and the outfits are frayed rags.

So I got my first Barbie and she was the first bubble-haired Barbie, the pony-tailed version just phased out. And I got two outfits, which would have to last her a year of play -- a tutu and pointe shoes and that nurse's uniform.

Need I say that I bought Nurse Barbie that night?

My brothers often gave me choice between a birthday or a Christmas present, the two dates spearated by less than two weeks. The next year, my brother Jim gave me a packet of Barbie shoes and hats.

We all know that not only can a gal have too many shoes, but an eight-year-old is especially in need of Barbie shoes.

I think I got Ken in second grade but one of the puppies made short work of him and ever after my Barbies -- Midge, Francie, Skipper, Tutti, Todd and Jessica -- were, unbeknownst to me, lesbians. I think Barbie had to be replaced at some point because she was an amputee. More fine work on the part of Jet or Sandy or Buff or Jan.

The first cooking memory I have is of waiting impatiently for my mother to come into the kitchen to make sugar cookie dough for Christmas cookies.

Last year I gave BJ a mistletoe ornament and her husband a bike ornament. They had a few of these personal ornaments among their generic but pretty balls and I felt kind of sorry for them for not having a tree that is their lives' histories. I just put ours up and saved the few fragile bulbs from my childhood for prominent positions. We have Henry VIII and his six wives because I'm obsessed with the Tudors, and Clara, the Mouse King and the Nutcracker because we all love the Suite so much. There is a cathedral radio like the one my father grew up with, many gnomes because my father loves them (and calls them g-nom-eys), a number of Labradors, a hippo in a tutu because one of my parents' "songs" is [Offenbach?] the piece in Fantasia ("Dance of the Hours." Note: remember to tell Jean the flowering bush is forsythia.) There are oraments from all over Europe and the Southwest, the University of Montana, cloisonne bells that match my mother's small collection of Japanese cloisonne that my father brought back from R&R while he served in Korea, Polish emblams and German and Englsh Santas from my mother's of the family. This morning my father asked why we don't have any mushrooms, which he studied and during surgery made replicas of with the hot substance used to make artificial hip sockets.

Of course, when I was a kid, there were some fancy glass balls, some less fancy ones, and a lot plastic. The lights were the big colored ones and my brother Dick would string tinsel, strand-by-strand, for hours. At some point, my mother made a popcorn garland: I remember taking the ornaments out each December and nibbling on the incredibly stale popcorn.

My father actually had candles on the trees he grew up with. They were lit for about five minutes with a bucket of water at hand. My mother's father invented (and should have patented) strings of white fairy lights from the switch board lights at Bell Telephone where he worked. Her baby doll and straw carriage were left behind in a move but I still have the electric oven of the `30s that was another year's big gift.

Because I was the youngest by seven years and because my mother figured out that T.I.N.S.* from the handwriting on the packages as soon as she could read, Santa was downplayed. We opened our presents on Christmas Eve -- we are Northern Europeans whether we know it or not -- and as I was in the bathtub later, I would hear my father or mother saying, very loudly, "Ohhhh...Santa. Francie is going to be SO sorry she missed you!"

I'd go running out to the living room, wet and nekkid, but he had ho-ho-ho'd off to thenext door neighbor's house and I was left with a tricycle (white, with those plastic streamers on the handle bars, so pristine that I remember riding it through the house) or a cradle and high chair for my baby dolls. Then, when I was four or five, I asked my mother why there was a Santa on every corner Downtown. They were the Salvation Army of course, and the six blocks of Higgins Avenue that was our Downtown, and a place we wore white gloves when we visited, was merry with ringing hand bells. She was tired of Santa and had been disillusioned early enough that she looked down at me and said, "T.I.N.S." End of THAT ritual, though I kept hoping that if I said I believed, I actually would and Santa would come back.

That, I believe, is double-magical thinking.

There was so much snow when I was a kid! Forget about quilts and blankets of snow, this stuff huffed down in boulders and stranded my father's Jeep in mid-driveway. One year my brothers were broke and so they built me a snowman as tall as our house. I loved that more than Barbie shoes and I loved my Barbie shoes. The dementia of the project tickled me and it was such hard work to go to for a baby sister.

All of this left Christmas Day wide open. We always had dinner with our aunt, uncle and cousins, always a reprise of Thanksgiving, always mincemeat pies and "poison" (a.k.a. oyster) stuffing. There was, also, always a paranoia about cranberries, a condition we grew up with from the holiday dinner my aunt served without cranberries. My father and uncle, his brother, excused themselves and went out to find a can. Where? In those days, there were no 7-11's, no grocery store was open -- society expected housewives to be ready in advance because that's what all women did. Somehow the cranberries were procured and I wonder still if they went to one of my father's nurse's houses or my uncles railroad buddies to find them. They grew up in Missoula, went to the same grade school I went to. They knew everyone between them. My uncle had the most wonderful dimples and melodious laugh, as did my other uncle. All of their kids inherited both. Put my eleven paternal cousins in one room, tell a joke, and you will hear the music of the spheres.

There are pictures but not many of those Christmases. To take a home movie or photo meant, in the former matter, a six-foot light bar that instantly made all participants' behavior completely abnormal. And cameras had single flash bulbs that, once used, smoked and had to e thrown away. The temperature of the living room was raised by a good five degrees when movies were taken, and another ten degrees when we burned the wrapping paper in the fire place. Please don't tell Al Gore about that.

So much of what I remember has been lost -- the big Christmas bulbs, the plastic ornments peculiar to the 1950s, tinsel and the patience to string it, the Big Snow, the ice skating rink at the University where my brother Jim danced with me, the hats we wore (knitted ovals that covered the ears and tied under our chins: the Vermont Trading Company just started to carry them and I bought two), the worry about finding last minute cranberries. But a lot of it is on our tree, collected in fond memory of who we are and where and when we came from.

There are ornaments I couldn't bear to unwrap and hang this year - the tin treadle sewing machine that was like the one my grandmother used, the quilt blocks, the Scarlet O'Hara figurine (my mother to my father when Francie wa third grader, when Gone with the Wind was released every ten years: "I am not waiting until my daughter is nineteen before she sees Gone with the Wind!").

But a lot of them are hung, rehung, admired after being forgotten for a year. And now I'm going to go make my grandmother's sugar cookie dough.

*There Is No Santa.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snow Day

Well this really sucks -- or maybe it doesn't.

I tripped in the Grand Canyon this October & smashed the lens coverings of my camera. If I was careful, I could still use it but last week it died a true death. I find I'm lonely without my camera. It's been a good friend. I'll replace it in lower-priced everything in Arizona but in the meantime I can't show you what my street looks like under whipped cream.

On the other hand, it's one more reason I don't have to put on 8 million items of clothing & go outside.

I was due to leave The Bat Cave for La Guardia at 6.30 a.m. for my 8.30 flight to Phoenix. When I called American Airlines last night about the weather conditions, the Human said the flight was on but to call as soon as I woke up. At 4.45 this morning I called & found out my flight was canceled & please hold for the next available agent. I knew, after something like 24 hours of cancellations, I had to stay on the line if I was going to get a flight in time for Christmas. At 7.15 a Human voice interrupted the music & woke me up.

"M'mpg m'mph, yabba, bwaf," I said.

"I can't understand you," the Human Agent replied.

I shook myself awake and told her my flight had been canceled and what should we do about this. She reticketed me for Monday afternoon & I found myself truly alone for the first time in years. There was white snow-light pooling into the Cave, I was exhausted from therapy, errands, packing & laundry the day before, Daisy is staying with her auntie & uncle for the duration of my trip & went off to the Fields of Snow in New Jersey yesterday. I keep thinking she's sleeping at the end of the bed & will start whining any minute for a walk. It's very quiet. I slept till 11, called various car services to cancel & re-book, read, called my father, read, napped, considered a spot of interpersonal turmoil I've hit but had had explained to me by New Therapist & now it's 8.30 & I've taken two Klonopin & thought I'd write a spot of blog before it hits.

I love Daisy. You know that. But I'm oddly enjoying this strange solitude that comes from everyone thinking I've left & no dogs to be wrenched around by & resting after an incredibly busy week. I've boarded with dogs for something like two weeks, had a promotional video & podcast to do at Berkley, a day of tradition with my friend Meem (Union Square Xmas Fair, Qi Dong massage in Chinatown), a marathon present-wrapping day & another of delivering, then a Saturday of errands & appointments & chores. Had I made that flight this morning, chances are I'd be a zombie tomorrow. Maybe I'll be a little fresher & rested for today's enforced downtime.

I'm missing a radio interview in Phoenix, however. Never a good feeling but, well, not my fault.

I'm actually looking forward to this two weeks in Arizona, although I know it will have some heart string tugging without Mom. Does Dad really want a tree? Does he really want cookies? Will I be forced to make mincemeat pie with my mother's alliance? Despite the questions of who my father and I really are when it comes to Christmas, I know my presence there will do more good than not. It's a good feeling, to be needed.

One of the gifts of this year's general yuckiness has been a growing correspondence with one of my cousins. She gifted me her kids who have adopted me. I'm like a pig in shit with all these younger first-cousins-once-removed who are snarky, smart, articulate, educated & share some common ancestors we can laugh at. One lives in Arizona & another is coming to stay with Dad and me (I should tell him this, yes?) for a few days.

I'm looking forward to 2010. Angry Fat Girls may have been turned down for some of the media coverage that Passing for Thin got (20/20 wants all five women in the book & I've been creative in protecting their anonymity), but I think AFG is a much more important book. PFT is a sort of fairy tale come true; AFG is the truth waiting at the close of every fairy tale. I want very much to make the point that weight gain is not merely statistically inevitable but biologically and emotionally normal. If we can't live with our selves we won't sustain weight loss and will make being overweight a form of 24/7 punishment. I want to salve some of our collected woundedness.

I want my relationship with my family to mend. New Therapist asked how I expect this to happen & I said, "Organically." I'm not sorry for this hissy fit(s) I threw over not being at Mother's memorial service but I am working through the anger & not mattering to my family. The lump in my throat right now is MUCH smaller.

I'm done with writing about fat & thin. I'm moving on to the kookie side of my life, of being a peasant in Brownstone Brooklyn. Today is the only day I've not had some light bulb flash of something I need to add to one or another planned essay.

I've eked out enough savings to plan another trip abroad, either to Budapest/Krakow or Brussels/Amsterdam. I'm planning to go to Seattle & Portland to promote AFG & will see many friends & extended family there, as well as snoop around Seattle as my potential next home.

Right now my attention is on those things. It's also on the intangibles of what I want from therapy -- setting boundaries, making myself heard, not reacting to stubbing my toe by automatically saying, "I hate myself." It's high time I hie myself off to the Rooms to get those boundaries & automatic reactions applied to food as well. But for now, it's a small miracle that this Panic-Disordered Lady can run a half dozen errands & get herself into a shrink's office.

These are the ruminations of a snow day. I'm grateful this difficult year has less than two weeks to wreck its grief, worry, stress, loneliness & rejection on me. I want, for the first time, to be the driver of the new year, rather than a nervous cringing passenger.

So. Happy new year to all of us. May the snow melt quickly.

Friday, December 18, 2009

In My Own Two Hands

Things are coming together for the publication of Angry Fat Girls, and between the work involved with promotion and Christmas preparation, I haven't had any time at all.

However: here it is, in all it finery:

I'm setting up an Angry Fat Girls website & redoing my personal website at Look for changes to come.

I think it's a glorious cover & have no idea how the art director came up with it. But then she probably has no idea how I come up with some bizarre metaphor, either.

You can pre-order from Amazon now and it should be in bookstores in late December - early January. Its official publication date is January 5th, the eve of the Epiphany.

Will post soon. I'm freeeeeezing.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


A close friend called last night and took me to task -- gently, a little bit -- for leaving my blog readers dangling for a month. I'm sorry. I've been on a bender of pain and finding ways to dodge the pain.

I start my days wondering whether it's a Klonopin day (if my heart is beating fast and my stomach is fluttering at the thought of leaving the house, leaving bed), or a codeine day (if my heart is in my throat and I've got to try to show up. Some days I use those drugs, other days I get back in bed as soon as possible, or I zone out on computer games or, of course, at night, sugar.

The other day I realized I was really and truly poisoning myself with sugar. I was dashing to the toilet a half dozen times a day, shaking like a leaf and so, so tired. I have a very fragile few days' reprieve and my energy is a bit better as are my visits to the bathroom.

But each of the last three mornings would have been a codeine morning had I chosen to swig some back. Let me explain that my reaction to codeine is a muffling of bad feelings and a slight heightening of good ones. It's also dangerous if not taken with a lot of water, on a full stomach. And one of the reasons I'm making an effort to reign in my food is that my new shrink commented on Saturday that it's no wonder I'm so tired: I'm hanging onto the cliff above all the grief, fear, anger and love that I need to go through that it's exhausting. He's right. So I'm trying to get rid of the sugar/flour & let myself fall off the cliff, as frightening as that is.

My poor friend who prodded this entry: she got to hear a shard of the abandonment by my family and my fright over Christmas alone with my father. There are other things gnawing my insides as well. I don't have a good feeling about the fate of this book. I know of an adoption going on and my birthday is soon -- I want to write a letter to that baby to tell it how special it is. I've started work on a new book proposal and, wouldn't you know, despite it not being particularly about me, I hit a spot where I'd have to talk about how apart I've always been from my family: dead halt. Nor am I sure I want to write that book. There is a boy on the far, far periphery of my life that I try hard to keep behind my dinky fake Christmas tree on a high shelf who has fallen off the shelf a few times. My favorite aunt died a month after my mother did.

I don't even know where to start letting myself feel this stuff although I'm weepy as I write this.

There have been wondrous things as well, of course. I've discovered a branch of my family who care unjudgmentally about me, who are hilarious, literate, interesting. I spoke with the cousin my age about my aunt's brief illness and that little contact with a cousin I've always looked up to was marvelous. Hero's dad took Daisy and me pheasant hunting. Daisy put up a flight of crows, found a dead pheasant and played nicely with a pheasant from the freezer, her repugnance to feathers a one-off before she caught on. I watched how much fun she had following Hero's lead into the brush, how well she took my commands to go with Uncle S., and her concern when I lagged too far behind. I saw about 95% of what a Lab is all about that day.

I've spent masses of money creating a wardrobe for my hoped-for publicity, mostly in browns (a bright color will really add pounds; black is what is expected of authors, fat women and New Yorkers) & I've assembled a couple of calendars for gifts and a raffle item that were absorbing, amusing projects. I want to start my last calendar, for the Labs, today.

And, after two months of being unable to concentrate on much, I'm sick of chick lit and can, with certainty, say that the only writers in the genre truly worth reading are Helen Fielding and Marian Keyes.

But I've been in heroin zombie mode except for those times I had to get it together, and exhausted from the effort afterward. I keep thinking of first lines of this blog but fall into pointlessness almost as quickly as I think of them.

Fingers crossed that I stay clean. I've got Christmas to do, dogs coming out of my ears, and vegetables to chop.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Public Confession

I had a b-a-d week & it all culminated in acting out yesterday.

I desperately needed to be at my mother's memorial service in Missoula on Sunday. I needed to hear what the co-founder of the "alternative Catholic community," which I call Our Lady of Off-off Broadway, said about the years of working with my mother in the Church. I needed to remember my mother with friends from high school who have the same context as I do for her. I needed to see how my father reacted in the moment.

But I had a dog to board, a promotional video to do & a flutter since then of more interviews for Angry Fat Girls. My publisher is optimistic about the fate of the book. I am cautiously hopeful.

Not only, then, could I not go and everyone set the date in stone, but I didn't hear from anyone except my high school friends about the service or about being missed. I went to Mass with friends, who held my hands during the prayers for the community. We met another friend of our age for brunch & laughed ourselves silly at all the old Catholic stuff which we share an obsession with. I was happy until I got home & saw the emails from friends about the service, at which point I fell apart again.

Something burst in my heart yesterday morning & I blasted off a phone call about the timing of the memorial. I think Christmas is going to be cheaper this year because of it, and my publisher is seeing if the last line of the acknowledgments can be changed.
& so began my day.

What was big became venal. Daisy took a dump in a pile of leaves at dusk & I couldn't find it & didn't search very hard for it. Later, Henry took his dump & I was deep in conversation with a friend about how death opens up thinly healed family dynamics. No one saw & I didn't venture out to the ed of the dog run to pick it up.
I always pick up poop that can be picked up. I am insistent about this because dogs are in such danger of being hated in the city as it is.

The grocery stores had none of the free local broadside newspapers I need for the Italian greyhounds's crate but two copies of the New York Times were lying around the vestibule so I took them.

Petty thievery! The only thing I can say for myself is that given the state I'm in, the dogs were lucky to get a good walk & play time, and that the greyhounds are lucky I went over to feed them & clean their crate. This morning I washed dishes that were two days overdue. I finally put the toilet paper on the roller. I'm blogging instead of playing Monopoly, which I downloaded. Maybe today can be a little bit better. No transgressions today. Keep "forgive us our sins as we forgive others" in the front of my brain. I didn't yell at Henry when he broke my favorite bowl today. I've picked up poop. I wrote my sponsor. I am trying to be somebody in the wake of feeling my family regards me as no one.

But, Lord, I wish I had some gumption to take on a bathroom shelf or noodle around a new book proposal or walk over to the office supply store to buy bond paper. Beyond hurt, anger & bouts of impatience with the dogs, I am empty.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Damn Me

I should have kicked & screamed when plans were being made for my mother's memorial service in Missoula. I am booked until about Friday, November 6, & had earlier advocated for doing it on Thanksgiving weekend but I acquiesced to doing it on the 1st. I didn't know how much I needed to see old friends, of mine & of my parents, & to see my oldest nieces & nephews.

It's like a whole new fucking death, this being cut out of the formality of saying goodbye. What was I thinking?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Life Is a Buffet

Last night Daisy & I stood next to a young woman on a cell phone as we waited for the light to turn across from the Binge Store. Daisy gave her a happy look & she said, "Oh, what a cute puppy!" Unfortunately, Cute Puppy's look of interest swiveled immediately to the trash can on the corner which was filled to the brim with the tossed out eats wrappers of the intersection of Binge Street & Binge Boulevard. She jumped up & started pawing around before I pulled her out. I slid a look to the cell phone woman & said, "She's a buffet eater."

The light changed & I heard her telling her friend my remark. It made me think as I doled out ice cream to Daisy, freezer-burned enough that I think I may have lost my taste for the stuff for a minute. I've been low lately & using my blog as a way of talking. This strange zone of quasi-grief is not the only thing in my life. There is a buffet of moods, observations & tasks that I don't report here.

For one, after I posted yesterday, I took a galley & a gift over to Daisy's Uncle Gerry. We sat in his garden & I told him I'd ordered Eye Witness guides to Belgium, Amsterdam, Cracow & Budapest, but that I'd also been looking at a website called The Blue Army because I have an itch (mainly to buy up the girft shops) to go to Fatima & Lourdes. Fabulous tour but, we agreed, unbearable after a maximum of three hours because of one's fellow tourers. He gave me a handful of leaves to smell, lavender that kept breathing the scent of wellness every time I crushed them again. A small hour-long chat that did worlds to bring me out my morning funk.

I have decided that the only thing more wonderful than a slender woman wearing black balerina flats is a slender woman wearing red ballerina flats.

As Daisy & I were crossing yet another street (sans ice cream for once), we slowed our pace to match a whizzy-haired hippie mom with two kids who were ahead of us. She was loaded down with their backpacks & of course one had the name tag "Maya" hanging from it. I think even Daisy rolled her eyes.

It's odd that if I were to hop on a train & go ten minutes beyond New York City the leaves would either be in great yellow piles or blazing on the trees. Is it the ambient heat of the city that keeps the same trees that turn colors everywhere else from turning here. It's rare to see a tree in fall foliage. I didn't grow up with much of it in Montana so I miss it more keenly knowing it's out there, a ring of fire around the city.

Today I terminated & cut up two credit cards. One company tried to convince me the monthly fee & 23% interest was in my best interest. The other asked what they could do to keep me. I told them I wouldn't keep any credit card that was more than 14%. She very generously came back & offered me 14.99%. "That's 15%," I said. "Yes it is," she agreed. I terminated. Did Citizen's Bank think I would listen to the fourteen rather than the ninety-nine?

And finally, an overheard conversation between a yuppie mom & her eight or nine-year-old son.
Son: Mom, do you like nature?
Silence as both parties think about this question. Son realizes it's a sumb question.
Son: Like, you know, leaves?
Mom: Yes, I like nature. I like trees & flowers & animals...
At which, Daisy began barking her big scary bark for no discernable reason.

I wonder if there is a book in the Blue Army? I wonder what a year of Marion devotion would make me?

Now I have to deal with all the jewelry I brought back from Arizona & confirm the appointment with the possible new therapist. Noon on Halloween. Doesn't that sound...auspicious...?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Contrary to Evidence

This morning it occured to me that I need to go back into therapy. I wish I didn't. I have a pretty good idea of what's wrong with me -- low self-esteem, depression, addiction, social anxiety. I also have some ideas about what's right with me -- talent, intelligence, wit, generosity. But I don't know how to get the two categories to balance each other out.

I've been sitting at my computer most of the morning doing the usual things, taking pleasure in none of them and wondering why I'm doing them. I need to get into my files, three feet away from where I'm sitting, and find some stuff for my publicist and editor. I planned to put away all the clothes that happen to be out. None of this is difficult work but I can't do it.

My brother called to tell me that my last and favorite aunt is in the hospital being treated for lymphoma. I spoke to the cousin I'm closest to in that family and it was good in the moment -- we cried about our parents and laughed about our parents, recounted the many ways her father (my father's youngest brother) and my father were tied together. But when I hung up I was empty. Empty or full. Full of a feeling of what's-the-point. I walked Daisy, then walked myself to the ice cream and cookies at Gristides, took two klonopin and we shared a bingelet.

Today I'm on the verge of tears.

The deal with me is that whatever happens, I accuse myself. Objectively, of course, I didn't kill my mother but it's easier to mutter "I hate myself" than be sad. That has to be fixed. So far, I haven't been able to.

When I realized I should get a shrink, I wondered what sort. I trotted my fingers over to the Psychology Today website to look for therapists in my neighborhood. Much as I love Dr. Miller, it was a three-hour commitment to get to the Upper East Side and back again. It's time to shop local. The website has a nifty diagnostic test and this is what it told me:

  • You appear to have experienced at least one major depressive episode.
  • You show signs of Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
  • You appear to suffer from panic disorder with agoraphobia.
  • Your responses strongly indicate that you suffer from Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

I also came up as having lesser symptoms, kind of like having a minor subject area in college, linked to "Social Phobia," post-traumatic stress disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder.

Who, I wonder, decides which of all these states gets capitalized??

My body dysmorphic would have been off the scale if it asked questions besides those concerning anorectia/bulimia.

I found a therapist a few blocks away and emailed him. I think it's time to try a male shrink again. Now I'll have a cigarette, brush my teeth and get ready to call my father about my conversation with my cousin. That may call for a nap.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Onward through the Fog

I thought grief would be a spectacle. You know, breaking down in public, asking the missing one if everything is OK or if she has some wisdom to shed on some subject. I went through a grief similar to that when the Boy from Connecticut dumped me in Round I but this is different.

I don't get it, frankly. I always thought that when my parents died, I'd be headed for Payne Whitney. Up until last May, Mother was the person I was most consistently open with, the person I went to for advice about everything except men. It's not that I don't have a lump in my throat as I write those sentences, as well as the operative phrase "until last May," but this frame of mind I'm in is more like a fog than a fire.

My concentration is almost nonexistent except for stupid computer games. Sunday I slept 19 hours. I never really unpacked from my trip to Prague and came home with some of my mother's jewelry and scarves so the Bat Cave is like a jigsaw puzzle dumped out of the box.

I keep losing things. My checkbook went missing in Arizona but I found it at the last minute and packed it in my suitcase. It did not, however, come out of my suitcase. I've looked ineffectually for it everywhere. Then my ATM card went missing. I found it but only after I'd gotten a replacement. And those are just the important goners.

Nor can I remember things. I sat down, sans checkbook but with a notebook, and paid bills, writing them down. When I looked at my checking account a few days later, there were bills I wrote down that hadn't gone through and bills I'd paid that I hadn't written down. It took an hour to find check blanks and a new ledger and then I called all my credit cards because I had no idea what their balances were after traveling for four weeks out of five. I bought a gift for friends, along with a few other items, and discovered when I got home that the box was empty.

And let's not forget handing over my passport at the bank to get a new ATM card and being unable to remember my social security number for a good three minutes.

I feel haunted -- not by my mother but by a feeling that I've forgotten something important. When I'm out on the street I'm in a rush to get home and do something but as soon as I arrive, I stall out.

It's a miracle my animals are alive and that I haven't walked into an oncoming delivery truck.

All this forgetfulness and losing stuff makes me incredibly anxious. Add stomach problems to the mix. I would love to be able to sit down and cry my eyes out if only I needed to. I'd much rather be in paroxyms of grief than in this light-headed Alzheimer's state.

I'm clinging to accomplishing small things and to the hope of another day's abstinence. I was so wound up over the bank card and keys I needed to return yesterday that I couldn't decide what to do or in what order. But I managed both as well as groceries. I went through masses of papers last night. It took at least two hours when someone else could have done it in 30 minutes, but things are paid and National Public Radio is $25 richer. Today I've done one load of laundry and found a photo for my Lab Lady blog. I've brushed my teeth and taken my morning meds. I remembered that a hungry stomach means I should eat before getting into a new twitter of disorganized organizing.

For the time being I guess I'm going to have to slow w-a-y down, keep my lights on dim and the windows open.

But if anyone finds my brain, could you let me know? I'll gladly pay overnight shipping.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hello Again

Thank you everyone for so many kind wishes, prayers and listening ears.
I got home very late Monday evening from three weeks of mostly dealing with the Aftermath. Sorting, giving, tossing, organizing; reading tiny bits of paper to my father; eating & sleeping; absorbing.

It's good to be home. I have a lot more absorbing to do.

This is not so much about Mom being gone. She began to leave, emotionally and mentally, when she fell in late May & was in such rotten shape that to regret her dying when she did would be an act of cruelty. She would have been 88 years old this month & she was ready. When the social worker at the nursing home asked her three days running (she couldn't remember much by September) if she knew what hospice care meant, she replied it meant end of life. Then asked how she felt about that, she replied, "Shit happens." I'm more OK with her death than I imagined I would be.

But it was an intense time of family & looking at family. Much of this began earlier in the summer & circumstances conspired in various weird ways to keep me looking back in time. Conversations with cousins, with people I knew in grade school, being a unit with my father & brother, making calls & receiving visits, figuring well, we're talking living wills and family trusts -- is there a better time to ask about my birth mother? Much was revealed, much has been forgotten, only a little of it all is something some of us can address.

My brother & I were pretty united over the summer in our efforts to help & plan but death, even a benign one, is a wall one hits, I suspect, with the kind of impact that brings out undercurrents. I collapsed one day soon after Mom died, binge-reading, napping & finally sobbing hoarsely. Jim did not collapse. He soldiered on, reading mail to Dad, sorting business papers, making business phone calls, wrapping up my mother's official life. I have lived alone my entire adult life & I'm not only used to having a lot of private time, I need it. I wasn't surly through that day but I was not communicative nor was I a team-player. Around five I began to stir & Jim walked into my room & said, sarcastically, "Are you going to connect today at all???"

I snapped back in equal sarcasm, "I'm going to take a shower." Which I did & then came out & made crab quiche for dinner.

When we drove to the airport for his flight home, I got a lecture between his taking cell phone calls. Dad was hurt by my moodiness. Dad didn't know if we could all spend time together in the future. Et cetera.

I listened & was mortified. I'm used to being as much in my own world when I'm with my father as he is -- I thought -- used to being in his own world of talking books, science lecture series, football & the Discovery Network. I didn't mean to hurt my father but my "mood" was exhaustion, escapism, grief & a response to how accustomed I am to Dad being literally plugged in to anything but live human beings in his home.

And, dammit, I listened & accepted without retort. I began to see an old pattern re-emerging in that week with my brother. He kept answering for me or cutting me out. People would ask when I was planning to leave & despite my having an open ticket & no set plans, he would give them a day that for some reason he thought was best. We had a small remembrance party with my parents' Arizona friends & the hostess said Jim would say a few words & then Francie would say a few words -- except that Jim thanked everyone for coming for me.

Years ago, he took me to see his shrink to see if I had any memories of childhood that would shed some light. I'm a pro at shrinks & after a while the man broke in & said, "You're great. You know, I met your parents & I've been seeing Jim for a while but nobody ever talks about you. It's like you don't exist or something."

Yes, well, that's a pattern. & rather than turn things narky, I said nothing of my own hurt feelings & ability to speak for myself & let him codify me into whatever story of me he's comfortable with.

I'm "sorer" about that than I am about my mom's death. Once again I feel as though I have no brother, both because the man who calls me "Sis" (Sis? When the fuck did I become SIS? I HATE that name; it's as bad as being called "Fran". Sis makes me feel like a 16-year-old snake & Fran is a nasally whiny version of "fat". Sis infuckingdeed) doesn't get that I am a grown-up (& he could have spoken to me at 2 in the afternoon instead of letting his resentment fester until 5) person on my own, and because I eventually came to feel resentment & disgust rather than anything more fond for him.

I laugh that he is my mother's child -- uber-organized & organizing, dogmatic according to his own lights, a little belittling of my father for Oedipal reasons of his own. I'm my father's child -- happy in my own world, relaxed about certain kinds of things. He needs to DO in order to justify his days & I need to BE in order to survive mine. He's far to the right socially, politically, theologically & I wonder if this gives him some sort of patriarchy complex, a need to be the Man.

I'm sighing here & thinking, whatever. The full story turned out not to be all about Dad being hurt. I felt more manipulated yet. I wonder what other childhood attitudes will blossom in the next few years & I wonder if I'll have a brother after them.

All of this was particularly odd because a week or so after he left, two cousins came to visit. They were eager to hug & catch up & I had to warn them that I am the Antichrist to their similarly conservative headroom. It worries me a little -- I am glad-handy with everything they find reprehensible. It worried me more when I jokingly said that Catholicism is as heathen a religion as anyone could wish & they nodded solemnly. It's a paradox that I'm sure the Old Testament, somewhere, warns against: how can one love someone whose advocacies in life are anathema -- possibly, in their gestalt, sinful?

All of which makes "love" feel a little fragile.

I've always known death brought out the worst in people but I thought it was material rather than whatever this is. I went on to spend two nice weeks with my father & if Jim's competency with legal papers made me feel pointless, I did a lot of heavy lifting & cuticle-ruining going through closets, drawers, desks, under beds. Dad & I drove up to the Grand Canyon, which in nearly 20 years of spending half or more of the year in Arizona I've never seen. We had a nice time & we experienced that wonderful rare thing of synchronicity when we stopped at an Indian market outside the Park as we drove toward the Painted Desert. I don't know why that was so but we enjoyed it the same way, inhabited that 15 minutes so happily that our rhythm the rest of the day was set. It was a two-day excursion we'd never done because in those nearly 20 years my mother simply hasn't been well enough for it.

There are second acts to come even as, once again, I wonder why I can't open my mouth to stake my boundaries and my self, & why I'm not right -- as in, stable & OK -- the way I am.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


This is what I want to remember about the first day of my mother's death watch:

After we'd all taken our turns at sitting and talking to my mother, maybe 1/4 conscious, my father retired to the recliner in her room and listened to a book-on-tape while Jim sat by Mom and read a book. I, who was three hours off of everyone else (except maybe Mother), sacked out on the floor and fell asleep. I woke to a room in which the only noise was the oxygen machine and the small noises of my family in snug proximity, each of us in our own world. It felt like I was three years old again.

I want to remember, too, the tears dripping off my father's nose as he held Mom's hand during Bach's "Ave Maria".

With sore tired eyes, my father and I came home while Jim spent several more hours with Mom. He asked me to arrange Last Rites for today after having shrugged off the suggestion on Saturday. We will, once again, gather as a family to participate in the most solemn and hopeful blessing of the sacraments. The last time we did this, Mom was part of the standing circle.

We are ready.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Price of Sunlight

I'm in a gushing hurry to finish many things before leaving to board with a dog and leave for Prague on Sunday, but I couldn't let your responses to my last post dangle as though I were too numb to absorb them. Indeed, your sympathy -- and in many cases, your shared experience -- had a profound impact on me. Possibly even more impacting was the effort and tears I put into writing that post and waking up on Monday to a calmer disposition.

It was weird, though. On Monday I felt like the previous couple of days had been a lost weekend, with grief instead of food or booze or something. I ran into a good friend who I see nearly every day and it was like I'd been far away to someplace bleak, like Chernobyl. But the air had cleared. The humidity dropped, the air was cleaner and cooler. I'd cried most of my available tears and had tried to articulate this process and its peculiar grief as best I could. I understand my reaction a little better and I definitely feel a community of people going through the same feelings.

But the price of having a little light back in my scope of vision has been not being able to get to sleep at night and waking to a churning stomach with all the things I have to do before I leave on Sunday. There comes a point in the afternoon when I wilt. I've been unable to get my body on to a subway to exchange dollars for crowns -- Herald Square feels amazingly too daunting for me. When I took a look at the Czech Airlines website, however, I saw that I could make the exchange at JFK.

And today I plum fell over and badly bloodied my knee, either not paying attention to Daisy or to the uneven sidewalk. Gawwww...

Sometimes I wonder what hallucinogens I was taking when I booked this trip. I'm an agoraphobe! Is someone who can't face the bustle of Midtown fit to travel to a place where there are words with no vowels???

I've done the best I can. I booked a lunch cruise of Vlatava River for five hours after arrival. I should just about make it, with time for dropping my bags, having coffee and finding the meeting place. From then until 2 I don't have to think. I can just take pictures of the bridges and castles and drink Czech beer.

It's been hard to go from that blotted grieving place to semi-productivity, but I wanted you to know there are breaks in this hideous process. I have a coaching project on hand and I really do love not only cleaning up prose but finding the story that is often missing from the pages. I've run errands when I can steel myself to get out and done odds and ends toward being out of hear in reasonable order on Sunday. I feel much better that I won't be a loose ends with jet lag when I arrive. I also booked excursions to Nizbor to see the Bohemian glassworks, to Kutna Hora, an amazing cathedral town, and to Terezin, because I believe that if one can visit a death camp, it's a moral obligation to do so. All of it leaves another six hours a day to see Prague in my own slow fashion.

And I think I will buy Christmas ornaments for my parents while I'm there. I think I will try to focus on what is beautiful and possible in their futures.

With a lot of help from my cyber-friends.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Oh, yeah -- we're back to discussing depression again.

This ongoing mood I'm enduring is weird. I've written before about my beasts of depression -- the black dog, the red beast, the gray dog -- & I think that what's interesting is that my depressions have specific colors attached to them. A red depression is anger turned inward. A black depression is very very bad. A gray bout is milder but has a hopeless quality.

One reason I've been relatively silent lately is because I really don't want to talk, don't want to feel. I had dinner with very close friends last night who have gone through the business of how to deal with failing parents. I described how I want to sleep all the time, how my stomach is always electric with a stress I can't attach a name to, how lonely I feel & how incapable I am of soothing that loneliness.

"Yep," A. said. "That's the Elderly Parent Depression. We should find a color for it. Maybe blue. Or lavender."

I've been think that perhaps this feeling is the static on a television, an absence rather than an excess of feeling. I forgot that white is the combination of all colors when I typed it into Google images, thinking instead how blank white is. One of the first suggestions it gave me was "white tiger". OK, I thought. I have my beast. Padding almost silently as it stalks me. Not bad. This is a quiet mood.

But it's not quite right, the white tiger. I don't feel hunted in this mood-space. I'm not torturing myself with accusations, or at least not the kind that make me feel at once filthy and helpless. I think we've been very high-handed with my father, announcing plans to move him and Mom into assisted living in Montana on September 14th, transferring all their medical records, making lists of what will be moved north, even talking with my dad's financial adviser. But I also know that my brother and I can't keep flying to Arizona when there's a crisis and that my father is terribly lonely with Mom in a nursing home and blindness making him dependent on car services and Meals-on-Wheels. We're doing the best thing for them but I feel that in doing what we're doing, we've stripped my father of a lot of his vitality. Meals-on-Wheels for Mr. Cook? Every week he sounds a little more reduced, a little less in possession of his command over life. Will it come back when he's settled and Mom is with him? Will Mom shake out of her lack of interest that has come with the consequences of what I think now was a stroke?

I tell myself it will all be worth it when he walks outside on September 15th and smells the pure, sweet, cool air of the Bitterroot Valley. Will it? Can we re-create his mental stronghold for him? Will his curiosity and desires return?

Perhaps what I'm feeling is what I'm hearing. Without one of us there to read him his music, lecture and Library for the Blind catalogues, there's little excitement or eagerness in him. He seems not to have lost his appetite so much as his taste and his cravings -- and a reason to cook. When Mom was home for a couple of terrible weeks, she barked commands. "Water!" "Bathroom!" Now my brother and I are informing him of his next moves. And with Mom more comfortably established in the nursing home, his wife has turned into someone more vacant than he's ever known her to be, losing her thoughts and her own tastes and cravings (except for chocolate). His world is small and out of his hands.

And I am haunted by it.

There is color in this grief and terror and loneliness I am experiencing, but not much and not clear enough to define the outside world by. I miss my mom -- not only because I can't get hold of her in the nursing home but because my mom isn't really there any more. Now I'm starting to miss my father, too. What I seem to have -- a conversation with them, a visit -- is leached of its vibrancy and possibility.

Maybe this depression, as I suffer through articulating it, is the way my father, blinded by macular degeneration, sees the world. Incomplete and without a center.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

In the Day

My world has been rocked so severely this summer that I badly want the emotional space to absorb and deal with crises in other people's lives. Things are going on in my extended family's lives that need a certain amount of what's left of my heart, and my heart needs to rebuild by being there for them and by being here for myself.

To whit, this is Day Six of a clean abstinence that pretty much drifted down on me in a meeting. Something about having acquaintances console me and stroke my arms carried that ineffable grace we all need to take whatever the first step toward healing is.

My crisis upon arriving back from Arizona is abating. I know my manuscript will be accepted; Henry has departed for the suburbs and is beyond my clutching grief; my prescription company has finally gotten back in touch with me; there is a modest amount of income coming in from dogs and from coaching writers, a gig I find I really like. I'm a tough and honest judge of writing, but I'm good at it.

My loose ends seem still to cluster around the book, however. When will the legal department vett it so that the second payment can be made? Will the woman who participated in the book sign the necessary waivers? How in the world can we make a January pub date when we're already so behind? Should we move it to June or the following year?

My mother is such a moving target of good, lucid, humorous spells, followed by bratty breakdowns, followed by gasping, gray-faced immobility and incoherence, that I can't say much more except that my parents will be moving back to Montana in September. This, of course, has consequences for me. I'm not looking forward to regular visits to the ghosts of my home town. It's twice the expense of flying to Phoenix. There is one Very Very Important Person in Arizona who I'll know longer see every so often. And all of this has been coming to a head in the last two weeks, with about three or four weeks to go -- a time period in which I must make some money and will be away for eight days in Czech-fucking-Republic. I just accepted a boarding job that will end with a last walk just before I go home and pick up my bags and leave for JFK. Last night, in sorting out the dates, it all became real to me.

So add a dose of extremely useless guilt that I'm not on the spot to help with this move.

I have serene moments and once-a-day or so meltdowns. Today I will write or call a good friend of my parents' who is one of the heads of the "Alternative Catholic Community" in Missoula to ask him to perform Last Rites for Mom. My mom's involvement in forming the ACC is how she got ex-communicated. I call it "Our Lady of Off-Off Broadway". Suddenly I find their inclusiveness ("Our Father and Mother...") not quite as hilarious. I need them. I will be easier in my heart for the Rites and I think Mom will too.

But today is today: surprise! I've got dogs to walk and board out. I have Zoloft to pick up at the drug store. I have finances to take a serious look at. Writing this is heroic but then each action in the day feels heroic -- brush my teeth? Impossible. Do it anyway. OK, if I can do that, maybe I can take my meds. Maybe I can wash the breakfast dishes. Maybe I can pick up a few things at the store. Car on the Hill is so far and beyond those mundane things that I feel like a weight liftress.

I doubt I'll dive into my novel today but I might get to Psychology Today. What I'd really like is a mani/pedicure -- my fingernails are so long they account for half my typos.

In this day, I will try to be fair by my dogs. I will try to keep my needs up to date. I've been eating deliciously. I've begun toasting old fashioned oats in a skillet -- high heat for about five minutes, stirring often -- then adding them to yogurt with vanilla and blueberries. Summer tomatoes are in and deserve better than my usual dressing, so it's been olive oil, salt, lemon juice, cayenne (helps digestion) and black pepper (helps depression). I can really taste the greens and the tomatoes this way. Dinner has been yogurt, late. Comfort food at the dangerous part of the day.

I think I'll look into some electronics I'm interested in today. I think I will gave a giddy little hop for meeting each impossible challenge -- dog gigs, grocery shopping, emails, looking after my body. I was smart enough to start the morning off with half a klonopin: my brain is scrambled eggs and I've been forgetting keys and dog things and words because I'm already onto the next hurdle. Klonopin settles my brain down enough to -- well, write this before I go walk Boomer. Wear life, as an acquaintance says, like a loose sweater.

I'm feeling everything at once today. Fear, grief, shame, loss. Tranquility, acceptance, hope, relief. Anticipation, eagerness, pride, gratitude, love. My hatred is minimal and I have little curiosity -- don't really want to read or write. But then, when one is in the midst of all of that going active on at once, missing one defect and one asset ain't all that bad.

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.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

One Foot in Front of the Other

I'm sorry for the silence. I got back from Arizona on the 10th and went straight into dogs and cleaning my apartment in anticipation of my nieces' arrival on the 15th, then showing them as much of New York City as time, tickets and energy permitted until Friday morning. I slept most of yesterday. Writing this blog looks to be the crowning personal achievement of some very draining weeks: I go back to Arizona on Thursday for ten days. This will give my brother and me a chance to catch up on our parents' situations -- there are many -- in person, and to be there in case Mom's next nursing facility discharges her earlier than we would like.

I'm walking around these days with my heart in my throat and sometimes in my nose, that tickle of tears coming. We have a lot of changes to make for my parents that are going to be difficult. Mom's fractures need time to heal. We're getting on managed care waiting lists in Montana so that they'll be near family. We'll have to pack up their house and put it on the market. Dad has had to accept that he needs outside help at least a couple of days a week. Medical facilities have their own agendas with Medicare reimbursements that they toggle without sharing records and even my niece, who is a hospital social worker, can only guess at what help or hindrance those records regarding rehabilitation progress contain. We're all exhausted except for Mom, who is slowly losing her mind.

My abstinence is in pieces. My favorite dog, Henry -- Mr. Happy -- is moving to the `burbs in August. I'm out of cigarettes (quitting lasted 8 hours yesterday until I was making reservations to go to Arizona at 11.30 at night) and Zoloft and the place I order my antidepressants from has not returned my email or phone calls. I have not had much Daisy Time and will have less in the months to come. I have to pull myself together today. Get a two-week supply of Zoloft (the withdrawals are horrible), get my food in order, speak to my sponsor, start writing my blogs, start paying attention to the gifts instead of the broken-ness of my life.

Mostly, I think, I have to realize not only that this is what life is and that food doesn't solve it, but that This Is What Life Is. Parents age, and they die. Dogs move. Separations occur. I suffer from depression, food and nicotine addiction. I have talents. All of these things require day-to-day responsibility and acceptance. And none of them are the end of the world. At worst, they mean periods of great grieving -- but my life will probably move on if I'm not hit by a truck or something. There will still be lilacs each spring, Neapolitan mastiff puppies, yogurt, naps.

And yet...Mom! The woman who made me dolls from hollyhock flowers. Who read me fairy tales and told endless stories from her childhood. Who was a dead ringer for Madeline Kahn and sooo elegant.

It's OK to have a breaking heart.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Swimming Dilema

God help me, "dilema" does not look right. There's no dictionary on my father's comuter's tool bar, so please assume I'd do a better job under other circumstances.

I'm hoping to go swimming today. The problem isn't getting time to do it, it's that I need to be chaperoned in by a resident of the retirement city where my parents live. & the chaperone has to have a gust pass punch card, which my father and I couldn't find. A neighbor has offered to take us today if my father's obsession with upsy-downy tomato bags doesn't overtake us. The pie (which I didn't eat) took up so much of yesterday that we visited Mom as she was finishing dinner and was put to bed, a move that elicited a sound of pain so horrible I had to step into the hall to say Hail Marys, my fallback prayer for the worst moments of my life.

My father and I have begun to make phone calls to friends. Perhaps we sense The Time is coming. I don't know. He says only that he misses "Mommy," his ocasional phrase of enormous affection for my brother and my sake. I have no idea what I'm thinking any more except how sad I am. When I said goodbye last night, even her hands were tucked under her covers, like a child. I was crying -- I hit meltdown yesterday -- and said "I love you so much, Mom," to which she replied, "That's all that matters, isn't it?" Her question was partly wry. I know she wants more than words, more than visits, more than the photo albums I brought that caught her attention. I think she wants to be well and, more realistically, to be released from so much pain. She has crippling arthritis, not life threatening but much harder to live with than her pulminary condition.

And I think, like any scared child, she wanted Dad or me to get into bed and hold her, and warm her.

All I could tell Jim when we spoke later that night was to be prepared. He's coming down next Saturday. I don't like thethought of leaving my father, blind, on his own for four days again.

My food isn't perfect by a long shot. I wanted some wine more than I wanted pie, and I had 2 glasses diluted with water and ice. Jim laughed that it was a fair trade-off and I agree. Slightly lit, I proceeded to make my father bacon and eggs and ate the remainder of the eggs and a bolw of grapenuts, which I'd had for breakfast, the only other meal I had yesterday. That was a "good" food day for me. Actually, it's the best so far.

I keep tellling myself how many people -- you among them -- are pulling for me. This is life. I always say I want a life: well, this is what life is. Draining, bewildering, demanding, fractious, disoriented. I have to learn to BE in it, do what I can and not eat. And if I can do that, then someone else who is struggling and eating might have some hope they didn't feel before. It reads corny, for which I'm sorry. But for now, my livelihood is how I deal with my mouth and my body. I don't have the luxury of certain kinds of privacy.

So there are a few answers: I can't go swimming on my own; my brother isn't here sharing the pie; my father is simply more at ease knowing I'm here to find pie tins and pass on phone numbers; and I'm kind of a wreck.

Thanks to all -- love, fmk

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Event Horizon

Radiating from my parents' bedroom is a series -- a long series -- of lectures on astronomy. For three days I've been moving through a drift of phrases -- quarks, supernovas, quasars, MCDI -- some of which makes sense and a lot doesn't. I haven't stopped to watch the lectures with my father because it's an eight-part series and I arrived somewhere around Disc 5. Still, all this cosmology has come to characterize my personal time here so far, and I am now standing as close to the event horizon -- that threshhold at which matter gets sucked into a black hole from which it cannot escape -- as is possible while defying the siren song of gravity.

Time moves so s-l-o-w-l-y here. An hour feels like three. Dad is immersed in relativity but not so much his relatives. Conversation is limited to astronomy, my mother's medical condition, when my brother last called (always within the hour), what to have for dinner. Right now he's taking a break from "the afterglow of the big bang by making the filling for a strawbery-rhubarb pie.


I've had enormous support and prayer in this endeavor of visiting Unlimited Food Land so I feel, for you and for me, that I need to check in and say I haven't had sugar or flour but it's getting dicey.

One other thing besides my knowledge of how many people are rooting for my abstinence that I have to remember is how Mom brightened when I walked into her room on Thursday wearing a white tank top (I NEVER wear sleeveless clothes but I figure what the hell) and a white capris: a bit of my Other Body's figure is beginning to come back and it made her really happy. She told Jim I'd "slimmed down a lot" when she talked to him yesterday. In a way, I resent winning aproval for losing weight but I don't think this is the time to quibble over my worth according to body size and I, too, of course, am happy to be wearing sunnier, more form fitting clothes. I had more confidence when I talked to Dr. Kidney because I wasn't a lump that could allow him to presume me stupid or lacking control when I walked out to the nurses' station and cornered him. It's an entirely weird thing, this morphing and its two-sided blade of pleasure-giving and confidence on one edge, and privacy and...I've always been me on the other. Sort this out for me, if you can. I'm confused even as I'm going to have to go out and show my father how to make pie crust with the new Cuisineart.

I'm not used to not moving my body. Each day I ask if we can go swimming and Dad tables it for another day. The heat and the lanscape are not inviting for walks. I came out with a pile of articles I tore out of New Yorkers before throwing that magazines away and my head is swimming with trains to Tibet, the physiology of laughter, monocular vision, the New Jersey container ports, Facebook ten months after it started...

Will I or won't I have pie?

Nights are awful. My father becomes loquacious on the six mathematical equations used to measure the distance of stars, or on my mother's rapidly deteriorating mental faculties. Then im calls and wants information I can't give him yet. Dad stays up late and I wait for a double dose of Klonopin to take over, which it only seems to do the next morning when I pull myself from sleep.

I've at least managed to install a wireless router so Jim and I can continue to work while we're here, and we're going to be here a lot. But I feel like I'm in lockdown prison ward and pie sounds like an escape.

My mother has, it was finally determined, fractured her pelvis and upper femur, none of which requires casting or immobility. When she was aken to hospital, her kidneys were barely functioning, her blood pressure was dangerously low, she had fluid in her lungs and her electrolytes were wacked, so she was in cardio for several days. The nephrologist was dismissive of her chances of ever coming home again and got downright caustic when he learned my father is blind. "Resthome?" I asked and he gave a short laugh and said, "Please. We call them `managed care units' here."

The social worker in charge of making transfers from the hospital to rehab had to argue with Dr. Kidney to have Mom admitted. That was Thursday and she'd gotten her very first shot of morphine in her entire 87 years an hour before we got there. Yesterday, Friday, she had no idea she'd been moved to rehab. I asked what her PT and OT sessions had consisted of; she had no memory of three hours spent in therapy. My brother called in the middle of the visit; 15 minutes later Dad asked what Jim had to say and she couldn't remember (although why should she? I repeat myself to him because I can't remember what I said and because there is nothing TO say there's nothing worth remembering). It's going to take time to assess all this and part of her OT is cognitive functioning.

But God it's sad and scary to see, and it's an inevitable state to which she is moving, whether it's this time or not.

Dad misses her but is furious she put herself in harm's way and fell, furious that she's seen her internist the day before and her BP wasn't investigated or the fluid rattle of her lungs pursued. He complains that when he offers to share a lecture series on something like the origins of Judaism, she prefers to watch Dr. Phil. I don't think, given his nature, he has any other way to emote except through anger. All Mom wants is for "my husband to warm my hands" and I have no idea what Dad wants, besides rhubarb-strawberry pie and not to be scared any more.

I want to go swimming, not eat between meals and to cry.

That's the news from Desert Woebegone. Thanks for hanging in there with me.