Monday, July 24, 2017

Racing Heart

My Facebook pals know I'm embarking on an adventure that started with my apartment complex's small swimming pool.  I hardly used it last year: it was out my comfort zone.  But this year I find myself there doing the sidestroke, a modified backstroke, a bit of the crawl.  I LOVE to swim.  Except for hiking somewhere beautiful and hard, which I'm not in shape to do, it's the only physical activity that makes me believe in an endorphin rush.  I seem to spend two hours there, partly to get hot enough to go in and partly to get dry enough that I won't take a nose dive when I put my flipflops back on.  I've also done some stretching exercises my brother showed me and which ended up in a bloody knee and bruised bone.  These improve my Achilles, which have gotten a bit tight, and my balance.

I love it so much, in fact, that I desperately want to join a gym when the pool closes.  My Facebook peeps can tell you that I've had to face up to the fact that I leave my comfort zone so little that a membership would be wasted money.  I had an epiphany about that, one of the easiest and hardest to put into practice: I have to leave my comfort zone -- my apartment, silence -- once a day in order to prove I'll use a gym membership.

This has had unexpected consequences.  I don't quite feel like our pool is out of my comfort zone, for one.  Nor is visiting my brother and sister-in-law.  So what constitutes leaving comfort zone?

I'm beginning to see it's a wider variety of things besides running long put-off chores.  Today I called a dear friend in Brooklyn.  I'm terrible at making phone calls, but I decided it was a good time to do it.  We had a lovely conversation, as though I last saw her a few days ago, and she ended the conversation by saying, "I love you."

I love you.  I don't hear that nearly enough, especially with my parents dead.  You could have knocked me over with a petunia.

Here's what I'm realizing about comfort zones: anything that makes one's heart race with fear, makes one's knees jello-y, makes one feel like taking a Klonopin -- going through with the moment at hand is leaving one's comfort zone.  People who work at home probably don't go out every day; there are things at home that make plenty shaky.  Writing my other blog or working on my novel; pitching myself for social media services; walking Daisy; having friends over; trying on clothes; taking a shower -- these all make the list at one time or another.  As do making phone calls.

The third piece of this comfort zone-swimming conundrum is what swimming makes me feel like afterwards.  I've just spent an hour or so gently stroking up and down the pool, losing myself in the motion, pushing my heart beat a little, leaving walking a few steps off the ground and tired from the sun and the swim.  Very calm.  Very aware the chlorine can screw up my hair, skin and bathing suit, which all go into the shower soon after getting home.  A lot of you know showering is hard for me.

Do I ruin all that by eating a pizza?  I know if I eat too many refined carbohydrates, I won't swim the next day.  I'll crash and burn.  I like the levitation too much to risk food.  I ate badly on Saturday, when I met an old friend for lunch, and I see from my notebook that I did not swim.  I napped.  I missed one of our 60 days of sun and heat for the sake of a pancake.

And yes, I've started writing what I eat down, how I pushed at my boundaries, whether I swam or not.  This morning I started with a sentence about why I might be in a bad mood.

It's the boundaries that matter more than what I do.  I thought I'd go to the bank today but I really wasn't in the mood.  And that's OK.  I was much more attracted to taking stuff to the thrift store and buying smoked pork chops at the Pig Store.  The Pig Store was closed, which means I won't put pork chops and collard greens in my crock pot tomorrow.  I had a feeling I wouldn't get around to chopping vegetables, either.  That left me without enough salad makings if I didn't go to the store.

I'm just saying, our best laid plans for boundaries are subject to other people's rules, but those rules forced me to go get a basket of fruit and vegetables so that I won't miss pool time tomorrow.

This morning I read an article called "Why we need to celebrate small acts of 'boring self-care'."  It was written by a woman who had suffered from unspecified mental illness and endometriosis.  Small tasks -- making the bed, doing the dishes or laundry -- were so hard for her that she's launched a #BoringSelfCare that's now all over Twitter and, I believe (the website isn't coming up for me for some reason, Instagram where she may post her illustrations of her small (to the world) achievements.  I like what people say on Twitter a lot.  They're another form of kin.  There needs to be a movement that recognizes that semi-agoraphobes, socially anxious, Klonopin-sucking folks exist and contribute and grow.

I hope I'm growing a teeny bit these days.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Letter to My Mother on Mother's Day

Dear Mom:

For most of my life, you have been or would be proud of me.  You didn't always understand what I was doing, but you were proud nonetheless.  I had forward motion.

For the last few months I haven't had the forward motion.  I don't think you'd be entirely proud of me right now.  I'm stuck, Mom.  Hitting 60 has been a horrible billboard that I have played grasshopper rather than ant.  I have a lot of junk to show for it but no retirement plan & unsure even if my taxes have included social security.  I'm scared, Mom.  I had parents who were mostly there to pick me up from a bad fall but no one, now, to help me into old age.  I am struggling with a decision that I will try to support myself until 78 (I gave myself three more years, which is a relief), then pack up everything & take a long chemical ride home to you & Daddy.

If there is a home to go to.  I doubt it, but I want it very, very badly.  I want to see you & Dad, Uncle Norbie, Uncle Connie & Aunt Claire.  I want to tell Dick I forgive him.  I want to lie down in the grass with all our youthful dogs and roll around in a crowd of tongues.

I, who cannot use the phone, called Tom this morning.  His voice, Mom -- it was like being home.  I'm not sure what prompted me to do it.  Maybe Mother's Day.  We both need a mom on Mother's Day.  It was a good chat.  I told him about my 18-year-plan & he was appalled.  But I don't think he would really want an old me on his hands.

It's hard living under a death sentence.  It makes living impossible for me.

And yet, of course, I do live.  I'm abstinent in my fashion.  This could lead to weight loss, perish the thought (perish me).  I planted a half dozen iris last fall & am amazed that at least two of them have the slender, arrowhead buds that will take another few weeks to bloom.  I didn't plant two of them correctly.  They need deeper pots. One didn't make it.  But I did it.  I planted iris, our favorite flower, & I didn't fail even if I didn't quite succeed.

Brenda, you'll be happy to know, was able to did up bulbs at the Lake, so the legacy lives on: Chicago to Ashland to Portland to Missoula to Flathead.  I wonder if our poppies are still blooming.

You would hate what the world has come to, Mom.  We have a president who laughs about grabbing pussies, who abides by no laws, who has made jeering at people & Kentucky Fried Chicken and steak with ketchup socially acceptable.  His supporters are just plain icky.  I feel like the last person in America who knows how to set a dinner table and make conversation, although I avoid the latter as much as possible.  Thank you for civilizing us, Mom.  I had the family over not so long ago & was staggered when I cleaned up.  Only Jim & I had used our napkins.  Only three of us had used dinner forks.  I know Jim doesn't think it's important but you put him on automatic pilot.  It helps our solidarity,

You & Daddy would laugh that Jim, Brenda & I are planning to travel together.  Jim & I: can you see what that would have been like 20 years ago?  We want to take a short trip this summer & a trip to someplace tropical where your water babies can do what we do best: swim & eat cookies.  Jim asked what I wanted for my birthday in December & it struck me on the way home what I wanted: time with him.  I want to rent a boat & drive fast around the Lake to our old haunts & swim at Bird Island & have ham sandwiches & chocolate chip cookies, the quintessential Flathead lunch for kids who'd been in the sun & water so long that we.they were shaking with hunger.  It's hard to find time with Jim, especially in the summer.  His bio-sister has now bought a house next to her cousin so I'm gonna have to lay the guilt on to get my day.  It's time to spread the other half of your & Dad's ashes, so maybe I can add that to my arsenal as well.

Since Jim got his bio siblings, I had my DNA tested this winter.  At 60 I wanted to know.  You'll be happy: I came out almost half German, half Dutch.  I like the Dutch part but not so happy about the German.  There's a snick of Irish in there but not as much as I thought or Dad once told me.

Daisy will be 14 in July -- can you believe that?  I have a picture of you holding her at four weeks when you picked her out of the litter.  "She's the calm one," you said.
 Hahahahahahahaha!  No one is scared of her any more.  Partly that's because we're back in gun-&-Lab country, but how dangerous could this white faced, gamy-legged creature be?  Fourteen is beating the odds & I feel very much like Daisy & I are walking down a long dark set of stairs now.  I don't know when they'll end, but they are the last stairs she'll walk.  I told Tom that the pre-grief is the worst of it & he agreed.  When the Time comes, it will be for Daisy's sake.  She has no idea that the weakness in her back legs & her long, long naps are harbingers, although I think she's aware that not being able to jump in the car or, sometimes, on my bed are...strange.  She is used to doing these things.  Why can't she now?  I'm anxious about swimming season.

I don't think a day goes by that I don't cry about it.  Lately, I've cried every day missing you & Dad.  I often wake up thinking I'm my Martha's Court bedroom & that you'll be there when I get up, probably nagging about something or being insultingly sunny.  It's very brief but very real, especially after another stormy night of anti-depressant-fueled dreams that are always about people who hurt me.

It's no wonder napping is my favorite activity.  I dream less.

Everything is up in the air -- no, that's not right.  It's like the world, my friends, the family are all twirling plates, busy twirling.  I'm standing among them stock-still.  No motion, no direction, watching my and Daisy's life spin themselves out on some Fate's spindle.  This conversation is about the most active thing I've done in months.  I don't know how to live, Mom.  Right now I don't even know if I want to except that I'm paralyzed by 78, by time ticking 18 years away with nothing to show for it.

What are you telling me that I can't hear?

Friday, February 24, 2017

Letter to a Critically Ill Friend Who Has No Fight Left

Dear M:

I don't know, quite, how you are physically feeling.  I say "quite" because I've had excruciating but brief experiences with ventilators for surgery, and long and worse experiences with nasal-gastric tubes after surgery.  I know what it is to keep on only because of my dog.  I know a little about wanting to die but my body itself has never taken me to that brink.

That is a betrayal indeed.  It's bad enough that mood disorders threaten the ice we skate on, but to have one's body, in the prime of life, exhaust itself and one's spirits, is beyond understanding.

You say you have no will to fight after this intensive bout of a week.  You're allowed that statement and that feeling.  You're physically and spiritually exhausted -- or perhaps bankrupt is a better word.  At a negative balance.  No one but you can state your feelings in this critical time.

But here is what I would say in a poem if I had the calm and wherewith all to write a poem:

There is a murre squawking over the division of the remains of a perch.  The murre is drab under the tarnished sky; the perch is the color of sand.  The tide is rising and the murre, arguing with a plover, will have to win or lose this argument quickly or the perch will be submerged & sucked back to see.

You are on a rock, watching this.  Behind you, on the hill leading to the car park, sheep sorrel is in pathetic bloom but there are wild roses enough to think of coming back to pick the hips for jelly, for tea.  The roses are massy and cheerful beyond countenance, but you will stop on your climb back up the asphalt path to study them, then to study one.
It is a pale, pale pink, almost white; a clean bell to crawl into but for the shaggy gold stamen that promises everything and wants only one: the pollen of another wild rose.  You will wonder if it's doomed to wither unfertilized or if bees have been ineluctably drawn to that fat wreath of pollen and the nearly invisible stigma where its life might begin another season.

It is windy.  It's always windy on the Cape.

But it hasn't rained.

There are other visitors here: locals out for a stroll, a very few tourists narrating their iPhone videos.  "This is the dramatic scenery of Cape..." And his wife fills in, "...Kiwanda" to finish the panoramic shot.

They haven't read, or haven't understood that what lies before them shouldn't exist.  Only Haystack Rock, stern and dark as a priest in the confessional, keeps the storms from gobbling the beach and the soft stone around you.  It's big, Haystack.  But big enough to preserve the place you sit since Mesolithic times?

I tell you now, here, that is when sheep were domesticated, and goats.  The ice was receding from Sweden and Denmark, making way for pastry and Hans Christian Anderson.  Jericho was thriving.  The Sahara was as wet and fertile as the Rogue Valley.

I'm a handy one at quick research and a pocketful of unrelated facts.

But imagine: trading deer meat for two sheep.  The warmth, the softening of the lanolin in a hardscrabble life.  Practicing the trombone in the rock tower soldier's keep in Jericho.

Every epoch has its new pleasures and discoveries and unwitting consequences.

Which is why you will study the pink-fading-to-white rose: are there bees enough to have made love to this particular, unremarkable rose that only you will know with such intimacy that you will never forget it?

Somethings are beyond the camera lens.  Beyond words.  This is communion.  It will become a part of you.  It will grow in you,  It will die with you.  You are its witness even though its purpose is only to receive the pollen of the last rose visited.  In this, the rose is at odds with itself: the survival of color and perfume, the survival of having been scrutinized among all its sisters, loved so well for a few moments that it will stain your eyelids as you fall asleep tonight,

This is a true story that hasn't been lived yet.

You will leave knowing the murre has eaten, that drab holds wild roses, wild thoughts, the wilderness of you.

Sunday, January 22, 2017


So my upstairs neighbor is screaming obscenities about shutting the fuck up, possibly to his upstairs neighbors, changing my mind about which list to start first.

I wanted to start with my favorite things -- I've been so wrapped up in politics that I want to remind myself of the good & the silly -- but X Man upstairs ruined that moment for the moment. So here is

Things I Hate

  1. Neighbors screaming.
  2. Awful music pouring out of cars.
  3. People posting their agenda on my Facebook wall.
  4. The woman on Twitter who says American women's rights are luxury problems (which is why women in so many Third World countries marched yesterday: ever hear of the slippery slope???)
  5. Worrying about money.
  6. Worrying about friends too far away to help gracefully.
  7. Not having my friends all in one place.
  8. Myself, when I'm not careful about food.
  9. The repeating cast of characters in my dreams.  I think they come back because I actually suffer some PTSD around them.
  10. Wondering why I had two bosses I loathed & whether they were crazy or I was.
  11. Children bouncing on ceilings.
  12. Being left out of things that are important to me.
  13. Introversion.  Depression.  Agoraphobia.  For anyone who suffers from them.
  14. The salt tracked into my apartment over the winter months.
  15. Inertia.
  16. Fear of writing.
  17. The noise of jet skis, snow mobiles, four-wheelers.
  18. Not being able to talk to my father.
  19. Stains.
  20. January.
  21. How often I have to clean the bathroom.
  22. Reaching out to someone to repair a friendship, thinking we have done so only to never hear from the person again.
Silly Things That Make Me Laugh
  1. My underwear drawer.  My brother busts his gut when I talk about what I've recently added to it.  Today there is an empty, open bottle of almond extract, left-over grated orange rind & a coffee bag in it, Jim.  I smell like a fucking Christmas cookie.
  2. Daisy rolling in the grass.
  3. Wondering every time a bell fell off my Christmas tree if an angel had died.
  4. How songs transmogrify in my head.  "I Have Confidence," from The Sound of Music, is really easy to turn into a song of sadism when it's on your brain for 16 hours.
  5. The recent of a weary business man reading the newspaper on a subway platform.  Below him is a weary business rat reading the newspaper on the little shelf just above the tracks.
  6. The scene in Patton when the general turns to his bull terrier & says, "You're not William.  You're Willie."
  7. I had a double-header of Christmas awe & shock last month.  I gave my secret shoe whore nephew a pair of Ralph Lauren blue suede bucks with lime green soles.  He was over the moon for them in absolute surprise.  My other nephew, who is an out-of-the-closet shoe whore, was flabbergasted.  We didn't know whose face to watch.
  8. Taking lint out of the dryer.
  9. Cartoons & pictures by & about introverts.  Yesterday a woman carried a sign saying, "Even introverts march."
  10. My love of polishing silver.

My Favorite Things
  1. The Alaskan socks that couldn't fit in ANY boot that my father gave me.  I can walk outside in these suckers & they don't itch.  Must be full of seal lanolin or something. 
  2. My apartment.  It's still so novel it's like playing house.
  3. Taking pictures.  I'm lonely for taking pictures.
  4. Le Pens.
  5. The reader who responded to my Christmas post yesterday (who inspired me to write a new post, although I decided to avoid politics) saying she had mascara running down her face.
  6. When Daisy lays down with me and flops her head on my thigh.
  7. Being butt-to-butt with Daisy.
  8. The 9-month-old black Mastiff, Cora, who barks for me every time she walks by my apartment.
  9. Being asked out to lunch.
  10. Certain recipes that are a lot of chopping but are healthy & amazing.  Always worth the effort I don't want to put into them.
  11. Starting to read a book & knowing it's THE book.
  12. The book conversation I had on Facebook last night,
  13. Bach.
  14. Roku.
  15. Being clean.  Clean sheets.  A clean kitchen. Note to self: Should do that more often.
  16. Planning & giving dinner parties.
  17. Getting a new piece of one of the three china sets I own, or a new crystal glass/goblet (My china matches, my crystal doesn't.  I like it that way.)
  18. My friend Tom.
  19. My friends F, C, K, E, C, S, L, S, A, G, A, S. D.  D features highly on the list.  We get it.
  20. Bill Maher.
  21. Online jigsaw puzzles.
  22. The bulbs I tossed in glasses of water that are now in bloom.
  23. Sofa pillows.

This Week's Bucket List (Gulp!)
  1. Groceries, green & clean.
  2. Go to Radius & get painting.
  3. Recycling.
  4. Try once again to choose photos for bathroom.
  5. Dry cleaning.
  6. Gas up car.
  7. Deal with health insurance.
  8. Call shrink.
  9. Try once again to get stains out of various things.
  10. Write blog for Psychology Today.
  11. Get some art supplies for spice jars & garden tins.
  12. Send paperwork for my brother's military records.
The Bucket List I Should Be Paying Attention to:
  1. Preamble or first chapter or whatever you want to call it of the novel I need to write.
  2. Put shims under my filing cabinet & put files in.
  3. Sort receipts for taxes.
  4. Start short story I have in mind.  I wonder if I could write two stories a month & sell them for, say, $2.00 to interested parties?  I don't think I'm young or good enough any more to find paying lit mags that would accept my junk.
  5. Gather & approach possible clients.
  6. What I eat.
  7. Reading the Mahabharata.
  8. Reading Middlemarch.
  9. Editing partial memoir manuscript.
  10. Walking.  Walking Daisy.
  11. Get help with laptop.  Get help hanging what-not shelves.  Get help assembling cube thingy.
  12. Get help.
  13. Write & ask for return of my share of the china a former friend & I were collecting.

Things That Weird Me Out:
  1. Taking the National Geographic DNA test & finding out I'm half German, half Dutch.  I don't mind the Dutch part but the German -- ?  So common, for one thing.  So...culpable.  So Not Irish, so Not Polish.
  2. My brother's bio-relatives.  I think he likes them more than me.  He knows more about himself than I can.
  3. Daisy is 13-and-a-half.
  4. How the dishwasher kind of collects dirt so that I have to clean what I wash AND clean the dish washer.
  5. Killing my chives because they got flattened when I watered them.  Buck up, kids!
  6. How much I care about What Happened in November.
  7. How tired I get after a social encounter.  It took me three weeks to get over Christmas -- & I'm German, for God's sake.
  8. Not being able to find words.  I needed the word "filibuster" last night in order to have an amazing conversation with myself.  It came to me this morning.
  9. Mushrooms.  Sardines.  Anchovies.  Fish with tentacles people expect me to eat.
  10. Being single.
  11. Once they were my best friends but we lost touch...
  12. Getting obsessed.

Things I Wish I Weren't:
  1. Barely middle class.
  2. Jealous.
  3. Angry at myself.  Angry at not doing, accomplishing as much as I should have in 60 years.
  4. Scared & mournful about Daisy.
  5. Scared of writing.
  6. Scared of leaving the house.
  7. Scared of asking for help.
  8. Scared of my moods.  Scared a mood will grow like a fungus & the next thing will be punching myself in the face.
  9. Snacky at night,
  10. Exercise-hating.
  11. Needy.
  12. Obsessed with failure.
  13. Stuck in Montana for the foreseeable future.
  14. Expecting thanks & praise.
  15. Insecure about whether my family & friends really like me or just feel sorry for me.
  16. A procrastinator.
  17. Self-absorbed.
So there you have it.  No mascara damage I think & at least I did this, today, when the sky & the ground are exactly the same colors.