Sunday, March 18, 2018


Years ago a friend of mine drove through California visiting her siblings. Since (at that time) I lived in the middle of the state, she also stopped to visit me. I asked how the sibs were and she said they were at the age when they stood around talking about their ailments. I thought it was funny. I was in the early stages of that age.
I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about and talking about my ailments. It's just so boring to be obsessed with the minutia of one's body. Organs and joints and skin all clamoring for attention. Pain usually defining what gets the attention but the effort to keep things from getting worse also absorbs a lot  time.
Barbara Ehrenreich has a new book coming out in April. There's a bit of it in this months Harper's. She writes about a man who works out before work and after work just to "keep going". It reminded me of a story from Being Mortal in which Dr. Gawande meets a man having a very difficult surgery because he believes he will be back to paying tennis afterwards. If the surgery goes well he may have less pain and more mobility but he will never play tennis again. He's reached a point in aging where there's only so much better he can get. Considering the risks of the surgery he might be better off accepting some limitation. Ehrenreich writes with her searing lucidity, her PhD in cellular immunology and critique of capitalism. The piece is titled Running to the Grave.
In America if something happens with your health (good or bad) it's because of something you ate or didn't eat. Exercise you did or didn't do. An attitude you maintained or didn't maintain. It's not part of life in a body. It's a task list for prevention. And hey ... there's always a product to buy. 
I listen to Parker Palmer on Moyers years ago over and over. He talks about the moment in aging when you have to accept what you will no longer be able to do. And how important it is to weed through how much of what we wish for is a learned desire. My first experience of this was visiting a friend of mine in the hospital after the birth of her first child. Dad went home to clean up and Mom went to the bathroom. I sat with the beautiful boy in my arms and it hit me that I would never have my own baby. Even if I could have pushed through the problems of my age (I was 50) I didn't have financial means to care for a child. I had grown up without a father present. I didn't want to give that experience to a child. The grief that hit me was overwhelming.
I just read the Ruth Reichl memoir of her mother. She frames her mother's life in the ideas that were so constricting in her mother's time. To be successful a woman needed to be married and have children. Ruth's mother was never at home in those roles. Her anger and frustration made everyone around her miserable.  At the end of her life with her husband dead and her children off in their own lives she had the freedom to be herself.
I've questioned if my desires for children and a partner are just something I learned. I love children and I love having them around. I'm not sure if I would have loved the relentless demand of raising them. I have never wanted to be married (too obedient to the state) but I have longed for a relationship. Although I'm very clear that at this point it would be a challenge to have someone in my life, I still pine and suffer from time to time.
Most of the take away (for me) from the Parker/Moyers conversation is about holding the tension of what you want and what you have. Not being an un-grounded, affirmation, positive thinker and not living in despair. Holding the tension of what seems to be oppositional. He calls the place of that tension the tragic gap. It may sound dire but it feels so real to me. Solidly real.
I'm don't hate the white hair and the wrinkles but I'm not sanguine about the stiffness in my joints, the slowing of my mind, the limits of my digestive system. My wobbly chin bothers me sometimes. Having lived though the mommie's decline, which in many ways was surprising, I am often overwhelmed by thoughts of what will probably be the cause of my death. I find myself imaging all sorts of horrors and harp a bit on the fact that I live in a right to die state. Sometimes I feel like I just want to get it over with but then ...
I went swimming a different pool yesterday. I had a view of the river and the rolling green hills of Dalles Port. The clouds were putting on their best fluffy show. The pool was warm and soothing. Beauty and comfort go a long way. I want a lucid open hearted acceptance of however decline may shape itself. I don't want to be driven by fear. I feel I may lean too much on an acceptance of death but ... I always have.
I swim. I read. I cook. Is that enough? I think it might be. I guess we'll see.

Saturday, February 10, 2018


I just finished Rereadings, a book of essays by a few different writers (some of my favorite) on rereading favorite books. I loved most of it. I balked when reading Lopate on Stendhal because I haven't read Stendhal and it was frustrating. I need to stop reading books that add to my need to read list. At least until I catch up with what I already have. Stendhal is someone I feel I should read but may never. Same goes for Henry James. Reading about them makes me feel the urge. I will admit to being a bit intimidated by them. Maybe someday.
Patricia Hampl has an essay in the book, which sent me on an often repeated quest. It would be silly to say I don't have a lot of books. I have a lot of books. It just doesn't seem like I have so many that I should regularly lose them. And I do. My books have never been more organized. Yet I'm always standing in front of my shelves looking for a book. I am very sure I read her book: I Could Tell You Stories but I cannot find it. Frustrating. I recently lost one of Fadiman's books: ExLibris. I found it on a shelf with mostly Spanish/English dictionaries. Sometimes a book is on a shelf because that's where it fits. 
I was visiting my father once. (I barely knew him.) (I spent less than a year in presence.) (But that's another post.) So I was visiting and found a copy of In Cold Blood on a shelf. His wife at the time (he had six) was a reader of sorts. For lack of anything else to read I read it. I don't really remember what I thought about it. Years later I was assigned it in a class on non fiction writing. It was illuminating to read it again in that context. AND THEN ... I was assigned it in my MFA program. When I saw the movie: Capote I felt like I was never going to get away from the story. It is a masterful book. But of all the books in the world I might reread! TWICE!!!! I mean. Sigh.
Didion wrote about the night her husband John Dunne died. She was making dinner, he was rereading a book because he was trying to understand it mechanically. Their entire relationship feels so romantic to me, right up till the end. It's the romance of reading and writing and thinking about reading and writing and having someone to talk to about reading and writing.
I'm not sure I get the mechanics of writing when I read. Maybe sometimes but it doesn't come easily to me. Rereading does give you the distance to notice things like structure. I was also assigned The Color Purple years after I read it for pleasure. Reading it in the context of a class changed the way I felt about it. Not in a positive or negative way. I remember thinking that I hadn't really noticed the epistolary form the first time. I was just caught up in the story.
I was just talking to Val (well actually writing to Val but it feels like talking) about rereading and loving books. I have friends who only read for pleasure and I am not the least bit critical of that. Sometimes I enjoy a book so much I forget to notice the writing but not often. I would blame my MFA program but it's always been that way. In fact I was dismayed by how few of the people in my program read. Or loved reading. Or loved books.
I was staying at a friend's house once. She loved Herman Hesse. She had really sweet little collection of his books on her dresser, shrine like. I don't remember her reading much else or having many other books. I had loved him in high school. Loved! Felt like his books were road maps to life. One night I carefully picked up one of her books and ... kind of hated it. I don't even remember which one or exactly why I felt that way but it was a terrible feeling. It was like a love of my life had been smashed. I intend to read something by him again just to see if I can figure it out, if I can ever stand to feel those feeling again. Vivian Gornick has an essay in Rereadings that says something similar about her rereading of Colette. She does not reject Colette but walks around feeling as if "pieces of her writing lie heavy on my chest." Gornick is "wrenched by the beauty of that which no longer feels large, and can never feel large again."
I have a stack of to be reread books almost as large as my to be read stack. When I was seventeen the mommie sent me to stay with my paternal grandmother for the summer. She was afraid of the changes she saw in me and felt I might do wild hippie things if left at home while she worked. I suspect I might have done a few wild-ish things but mostly I would have watch reruns of StarTrek (the original) and read books. I took Dostoevsky into my exile. My aunt had recently died of Cancer but her beauty shop was still in the back room. I leaned back on the chair in front of the hair washing sink and read The Idiot, Crime and Punishment and The Brother's Karamazov. I also huffed glue. Wild-ish things happen everywhere. I'd like to reread them with out the teenage angst and blurry eyes.
I'd like to reread Anais Nin's journals to see if they still feel so exciting. I'd like to reread Kerouac for similar reasons. These were the books that sent me into the world looking for wild-ish things.
It all depends on how long I live and how well my eyes hold up I suppose.

Monday, January 15, 2018

My Reading List

Years ago Kristina was reading Snow by Orhan Pamuk. I forget why. Maybe a class. Maybe just because he is a writer of note. I sort of remember she wasn't liking it much. Over the years I bought three of his books but never read them. I'm really not sure if it was something she said about the writing or just the fact that he is of note,  highly regarded and loaded with awards.
When I was in Bellingham visiting Val I went into a really nice bookstore and loaded up. Then in SF I hit two book stores one of which being Green Apple, a favorite. And then I got a lot of nice books for Christmas. I am currently in book heaven.
As I read them I reorganize shelves. My desire is to have all of a writer together with the exception of certain books that fit in sets. I love sets. I have one shelf that has most of the to-be-read books (although they are all over the nest.) I had moved the Pamuk to that shelf and as I was picking a book to read I saw them and wondered why I never picked them. It's like I felt like they were books I should read and didn't really want to read. But I had no idea if I even liked his writing. So. I pulled them off the shelf and began.
He is, in fact, a really great writer. He is also a bit of a yammer-er. He writes a lot of internal dialogue and it goes on and on. The characters from all three books have stayed with me. The stories were haunting. It's rough when you're reading translation because you don't really know if you're getting the words the writer would have chosen. I fall hard for a writer with beautiful words. It felt like work to read the books sometimes. So I'm on a fence about him. I liked/loved some things but didn't really ever get that enamored feeling I get about a writer.
The book I have in my purse is The Buddha in the Attic. It's about Japanese picture brides immigrating to America. The writing is amazing. It's like a prose poem. The subject matter is so heartbreaking. It's startling to have that beauty and horror in the same book.
I feel like reading is a great way to feel through experiences that you don't have. From the Pamuk I have felt the difference in the life of someone growing up in Turkey around the same time I grew up here. From the Otsuka I am feeling rage about the lives of women. The Pamuk experience was actually more internal.
There are two more Pamuk books I want to read but I'm going to take a break. I'm going to read Americanah by Adichie. Seems like a timely story. I read a few of her books a while ago. I really like reading more than one book by a given author at a time. You really get a feel for their style.
There are books that make me swoon. I always want to be reading them and never want them to end. But I like books that make me think and feel. I'm not really sure where these books fit. As much as I struggled with the Pamuk books I can't get them out of mind.
There are only a few of my friends who will even get what I'm yammering on and on about right now. Because it's ... just ... a little ... loopy. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

My Happy Place

The other day a woman stopped me as I was coming out of the Sports Club. She teaches yoga at the club. She offered to come to my home and teach me yoga. Very nice I thought. In a way. I said I do yoga every day. I started doing yoga years ago with Lilias on PBS. She said me too! But there was a look on her face. Like she knew I was at the club so I did some kind of exercise. She thought yoga might be good for me. Because ... yoga is good. It all might have been benign. But what would make her pick me? And why did she look surprised that I already did yoga? I mean. People occasionally compliment me for being at the club. I feel like it's so mysterious that I ... a fat person ... moves.
Of course I could be imaging any mal intent. It might all be well intended. It just feels. Off.

The pool is my happy place. I always want to be there. It isn't a discipline. I'm not always in the mood to be around people but I always want to swim.
My yoga practice isn't grand. I've focused on being consistent. Its more important to me to do it every day than to do more. It's a time of reflection. Stretching helps my joints.
If I don't swim I do a short session with some hand weights. I feel like I need to keep my arms strong. I like it least of all. For some reason I did like doing weights when I was in New York. When I'm doing it now I try to remember that. It just bores me. 
Tomorrow is the first day of the year and people are going to stop eating things they think are bad and start some kind of program. The parking lot at the club will be full and obnoxious. I just feel like we'd all be better to find a happy place. I know of at least one person who loves to walk. In this town people love all kind of out door things. Wind surfing, of course. River sports in general. Skiing in the winter. It's happy stuff. Women in the dressing room at the club often seem slouched. Resigned. There to do what they should do. And it doesn't seem to last.
Sometimes when the aerobics for people with arthritis class looks bored and a good song comes on I start dancing and sometimes they do too. We swing out.
My big push on this last day of the year is to clean the nest. It's going well. I clean for awhile and then I write a bit. I made it through the holly-daze with a few tears, a lot of time slumped in the chair under a blanket drinking Throat Coat watching Inspector Morse. It might sound dreary but it wasn't. It was subdued. I got some really nice gifts. I have a sense of what I will and will not be able to do in the future. I feel really lucky to have my nest and my friends and my books and ... my happy place.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Silent Night

There was a time in my early twenties in Boulder when I walked around taking chugs out of bottle of Triaminic. I had chronic bronchitis and was always coughing. I could have/should have been in a bed with a spoon for my medicine. Drinking it on the street felt so ... damaged. I liked that feeling at the time. I liked feeling poor (I actually was) and sick (again, I was) and ... damaged.
I might be remembering this because I've had some kind of crud. It starts with watery eyes and sore sinus. I start popping Wellness Formula and drinking Throat Coat and it goes away. It's been going on for weeks. This last week was the worse. There is a part of every day when I feel better. And then it returns.
I never used to buy Kleenex. I used toilet paper and paper towels and even cloth hankies. It seemed an unnecessary expense. When the mommie came to town I made sure to have Kleenex because she was a princess. Now I have a box in every room.
No longer romancing damage. I am warm, resting and medicated and can wipe my nose with comfort.
I just read:Where the Heart Beats. It's about John Cage and the many artists of his time and Zen. He was compelled by sound but searched for silence. He did a piece in which a piano player walked on stage, sat at a beautiful grand piano and ... did nothing. Some people walked out but many people became aware of their reactions to silence.  He was after that awareness.
I saw James Hillman years ago. He was promoting Dream Animals (which now sits on my fireplace). A young woman asked him a question. He was a very tall, lanky fellow. He sort of leaned back, rested one arm on the the other. His finger rested on his lips. He was quiet for quite awhile. The young woman stuttered a bit. The room squirmed. When he answered the question it felt like his answer came from a deep and well considered place. 
We can't really ever be silent. Our bodies make noise. Our blood pump. Our synapses whine. We can listen with awareness and a sort of distance. Or maybe we just learn to rock with the beat.
I've been looking for my copy of Zen Mind Beginner's Mind. Can't find it. I realized that I have most of my spiritual and psychology books on the top shelf where I can't reach them. I guess I felt like I was done with self improvement. Hard to imagine since it's been the ongoing theme of my life. Not so much to escape or even heal the ... damage. Rather to live with it. Attentive and sort of distant.
All of these musings have been filling my holly-daze. It's been snowing all day. Mr Berlin should be happy. There's nothing so quiet as the sound of snow falling.
The nest smells like roasted garlic and Thieves Oil.
If you're reading this I am wishing you all the best. 

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Object Lessons

When I moved into the nest so much of what I had dragged from SF looked better. There's no logic to that but it was true. Things that I'd barely looked at found primary places on walls and shelves. Everything seemed new. Then the Mommie moved to the Hood and brought so many things from our shared past. I wrote about a few of them, the Grandmom's chair specifically. There was furniture, photos, bric-a-brac from the Grandma's home and the Mommie's home. It felt like my entire life was represented. There are things that transport me back in memory. This Christmas has been overwhelming in terms of objects of memory. 
DeAnna decorated the nest. I might have done 5% of the decorating. She did the things I couldn't do physically, which is most of it. Last year I wrote About the Mommie's Christmas village. It is now sitting on the shelf about my desk.

I remember watching the Mommie arranging it on the buffet in her dining room. She took so much pride and pleasure in it. I wanted her to have it out in her room at the assisted living facility. DeAnna helped me with that as well. I knew the Mommie would worry about leaving the lights on all night so I talked it over with her but she said it was OK to leave it them on. That night after dinner some of the ladies came back to her room to see it. She told me on the phone when I called to say goodnight. A short time later they called to tell me that she had fallen. She was trying to turn off the lights and her feet got tangled in the cords. She looked like someone had beaten her. My entire being hurts when I think about it. I planned to put it where it is now so she could see it on the weekends but she was gone before the next Christmas. So I look up at it and am swarmed with memory and feeling.
I was always adamant about having a tree. Usually small. Even in New York where I had none of my ornaments and the really small and raggedy tree I got blocked the narrow space, I had a tree. Two years ago I couldn't find a tree that would fit into the really small space I have for one. I did find a live tree in a pot that was perfect. After Christmas I planted it in Gayle's back yard where it is reported to be very happy. It's a spendy way to have a tree but it feels better than dragging the tree corpse out the door. So...I have another tree in a pot this year.
Many of the ornaments were gifts. Many are from the Mommie's trees. I stare at it and remember.
There's a lot of chatter about the value of downsizing. I know it's a good thing. I feel like I've been doing it for the last five years. But these objects have sentience. I'm not interested in blank walls and empty shelves. I like color and texture and things that are held together with glue.
I was just reading about a Zen master's satori. Everything (including him) went transparent. We live in shimmering illusion. Beauty is a dream. I may not be a candidate for Satori. I'll be enjoying the shimmer to much. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

One Year

I don't like euphemisms. I say I'm fat because I am and I don't need to back away from that fact. It's a simple descriptive word. But talking about death has been a study in euphemisms. I find myself squirming away from the most simple word: dead.
Today marks a year from when the mommie ... died. When I've seen people who I haven't seen for awhile and they ask about her I say she's gone. It feels like the simplest way to say it. But gone? Where did she go? I've said she passed. Also seems like way not to say dead.
I was thinking about how we say birthday but not deathday. Birthday is about a beginning. Death is about an ending. We celebrate beginnings. Deathday feels morbid. I'm just not sure it should.
I heard Neil deGrasse Tyson being interviewed by Larry King talking about death. He talked about what happens with the body. So very science like. He wants to be buried instead of cremated because he likes the idea that his body will be consumed by the earth and become part of what keeps biological life growing. He has no evidence that anything happens to his -soul(?). Might not be the word he used.There may be no evidence. It's just never made sense to me that what ever it is that animates us (soul, spirit, personality) is just gone when we die. Nature doesn't waste anything so why would that energy be wasted? It's so vital and diverse.
In my life I've had many beliefs about what happens after death but now I have none. I told the mommie a story about her husband going to heaven early so he could build her a geodesic dome and plant a garden, which would have been his idea of heaven. I told her a story about her family coming to visit and welcoming her. And I hope she had that experience, even if it was only in the last flickers of brain waves. My only wish is that there be moment of revelation. A moment when it all makes sense. But even that is really a limit. What happens next might just be beyond our imagination.
The mommie is with me in so many objects, needlepoint pillows, cross stitch pictures, photos and (of course) frogs. Memories, good and bad. Songs. But she is ... gone.
Friends get tired of sadness. I've been trying not to talk about it too much. But today I am sad. I was sad a year ago but sadness changes shape. Last year it felt dense and heavy, like concrete. Over the year I've been knocked down by waves of sadness. Sometimes it's more like a breeze. Superficial and brief. Today it's like an ache. But it feels normal, in a way. Of course I'm sad. I don't feel like I need to work too hard to feel anything else.
It's grey and rainy. Perfect sadness weather. My plan is nothing special. I'm going to make soup and read and let the tears fall when they come. I'm going to feel through it.