Saturday, May 21, 2016

Medical Baseball and the Umbrella of Grace

Since the beginning of my blog in 2008 this is the longest I've gone without posting. There is also a change in content because I like my blog to be upbeat and creative, informative. But instead when I do post I've been writing about myself and not in my normal optimistic way.

Here's a nutshell: JB and I moved to an ocean dream house last August. Even prior to that JB was in a wrestling match with anxiety, not because because of life events but because of genetics. You may or may not know that the management of anxiety is an art, not a science. The medication part is a trial and error process and it can take months.

So we move in August and from there, I have a routine annual physical. The blood tests are suspicious. So I have some diagnostic medical work ups--scans and specialty exams-- and they are normal except as an aside, the workups discover other areas that merit more workups and scans and specialty exams. That's where I am now--knee deep in unknowns that do not appear to be life threatening or life limiting but I'm not feeling quite right. That's the backdrop to last Thursday and beyond. I am at a friend's wake and I pass out, twice. I'm out long enough that it was a dramatic event. Poor JB. It was scary. We went to the hospital by ambulance. With a siren. 

Now comes the grace part. 

Five weeks ago JB and I traveled from Massachusetts to Arizona to visit a friend I hadn't seen in 35 years. She's had ovarian cancer for 7 years and she asked me to come. On the way JB and I won $ 6300 playing the slot machines in Las Vegas.

When we arrived in Arizona, my friend had just been given a prognosis of 4-6 months but it looked more serious than that, my friend's adult son had just moved in to help her, her ex-husband Max was there too, and her current husband was in the quickly advancing stage of dementia and decline, which no one had talked about until we got there. 

I've been able to help with this: getting hospice involved, arranging cognitive medical care, assuring that wishes were honored and financial matters corrected, reconnecting with my friend as if no time had passed, building on a bond with my friend's son Eric that had ended when he was about 8 years old, and realizing that my long long friendship with Max has morphed into family status. My friend died peacefully a week ago and her family will have no regrets and great memories. I know I had a part in that. It was a privilege.

Thursday night at the Emergency Room, with JB and my daughter Jess (mother of four small children: what a gift that she could be there), I am in the middle of test upon test as Max and Eric walk in. They have left the funeral service to come to the hospital. Jess hasn't seen Eric since they played together when she was 6 and she has never met Max. 

Here's what happened: the five of us sat in the ER cubby for 90 minutes, talked, shared, remembered, laughed. Then when I was discharged we went out to dinner (I moved slowly.) It was such a relief from sadness for Eric and Max and such a distraction for JB and me. And another thing: so often, by necessity, most of the time I step into my daughter's life. This time she stepped into mine. It was precious in a way I will never forget. I wonder if others (you) understand this, how precious the memory of a bad situation can turn out to be?)

I am now home again. I will see my local doctor on Monday. I am concerned about all these symptoms that don't seem related to each other and the truth is I don't feel great and haven't for a couple of months. But I'm not so concerned that I'm convinced I'm on a path of crisis. I'm bothered that I'm missing too much of Springtime by the sea; that my little yard doesn't have my gardener's touch; that I haven't made new friends here. But I know to wait to worry. So far I have no actual bad medical news.

Meanwhile, I keep thinking about the last few days. The ambulance ride was a low point. Poor JB was so scared. And then, in the process of burying a wonderful woman who fought to live and died in peace, five connected people came together in an Emergency Room cubicle and shared something deeply healing and deeply important; something that will be long remembered. 

I'm convinced this is how grace works. 


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

On Life

Be warned: I've written this mostly for myself. I'm pondering joy, how to let it come, how to chase it down, how to hold it tight. 

I took a walk with JB yesterday and hundreds of black birds nestled overhead in the trees. It must have been some kind of special day for them because they sang more than they squawked. The weather and my perspective was grey and chilly and all those birds singing added an aura of intrigue that shouldn't have but it molded into sadness.

There are times when I feel so utterly alone and sometimes I welcome those times because I figure I need the experience for a time when that might truly be the case. It's a foreign place for me, really--to feel and be alone--and I think it would be a plus if only the feeling didn't include sadness.

You know those sappy inspirational quotes exhausting the serenity of living near the ocean and spending the day reading books and living leisurely?  I know a couple of people who tell me that's how they actually live. Because I live near the ocean and have time to read books I think that should be me too. I view those people with awe.

I still work because I want to. Money has ceased to press on my day-to-day. I've had a few medical scares this year and my back screams at me to lose weight, but all in all I'm healthy. JB and I have been together long enough that the fibers of being known and permanent love and shared interests carry us past our differences. My daughter is married and it's a good marriage with four children who never fail to delight when they run to me when I pull into their drive way.  I'm smarter than I ever thought I'd be and I have the creative benefit of loving to write.

To be clear: I have no doubt I'm committed to my own happiness. But at that point things get murky. I had this epiphany this week: with surprising precision I remembered the two months I came to the Cape to write a manuscript on Happiness. I sat on our red sectional couch each morning, the early morning sun poured in, I had my Peets coffee, and I began to write. I wrote for a couple of hours and then my dog Rosie and  I walked one block to the bay beach and I let my mind think and wander and I watched her swim and I chatted with people about what a great day it was, and then I came back to the red couch and followed the same pattern through lunch and then dinner. By the end of the day I'd written for ten hours or so and I was thrilled. JB would come down on weekends and that was nice too.

Where the heck has that 'me' gone? Here I am again on the Cape and on this couch. It's not red but teal this time and the morning sun is more subdued in this house. But I have an exciting book to write and the bay beach is still a block away. What's changed besides the fifteen years between then and now?

I can answer this in a flash: a too-tight body, some too-soon losses, the too-high price of prickly wisdom. But there's something deeper. There's a core of 'me' that's this close to knowing how to really BE. Here. Now. Sometimes I already know. But other times I watch the knowing slip right through my fingers. 

I starting writing this post three days ago, in a funk. Tonight I'm at the end of a good day and I have a feeling. What I'm looking for isn't out there. 

I tell this story in the the training programs
I sometimes do:

"Long ago the wise and powerful gods of the world wanted to protect the secret of happiness. "Let's hide it at the bottom of the deepest ocean," one of them said. "No, they'll find it there. Let's bury it at the top of the highest mountain." "No, no," another said, "One day they'll have planes."

Then the littlest among them said, "I know! Let's hide it inside them. They'll never think to look there!"


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Is it?

It's easier to write when I'm looking up and harder to write when I'm falling down.

I'm not exactly falling but I'm in and out of the local health clinic like I have a membership. Twice I've had symptoms that really scared me and twice when I stopped being scared I've promised to wring every juicy moment from this life that is mine.  

Today I asked my doctor, "Is it age?" He smiles. "The problem is your mind is still a very smart 4o."
I smile back.

Is it age?

This year,
not last or the one before that,
for four seasons now
I'm giving blood
and getting news:
this works but that might not.

I'm a weary pocket
filled with coins
waiting to cash in,
ready to roll
but lying prone
when I should be

In this year
the doctor reassures
but here's another test,
this one for kidneys
that one for lungs.
A knee, a back, two hips
and a damn tooth.

Body, it's spring:
time to wise up.

Saturday, March 12, 2016


I'm in Pismo Beach California, having left Burbank yesterday and soon to be in San Luis Obispo. I was in Burbank for a work assignment and I'm here visiting old and new friends. I'm also airport phobic (no idea why) so it was no small matter that my flights from Boston through San Francisco to Burbank took 16 hours and included two canceled flights and one skin-of-my-teeth standby. I came a distance for a 10 AM meeting in Burbank that couldn't be rescheduled and at 6:30 pm the night before I have no guarantees (Grrrr United Airlines) I'll be anywhere near Burbank, not even the next morning. 

Not to mention my luggage. I've flown in the equivalent of a fancy teeshirt and comfy pants. Not business attire.

The whole time I kept saying, "Wait to worry, wait to worry," but my nerves would have none of it. 

I'm writing this two days later and I made my meeting.

I stayed at the funky1960's orange formica decorated Tangerine Hotel near Warner Brothers Studios (no I didn't tour, a small regret) and my junior high school friend Max picked me up there. We stop in Carpenteria and have lunch with my friend Lori: she and I do some welcomed and good reconnecting.  Max and I drive along the Pacific Coast to his home in Pismo Beach and last night he and his wife and I went to a bonfire on the beach in celebration of the marriage of a doctor and a nurse, both women.   (I knew neither.) There was an ample bowl of Reeses' Peanut Butter Cups and Hersey's chocolate and hot dogs and fixings, all there to be roasted in the fire in the sand. Hot dogs and S'mores. The evening air was cold and it rained but in between the fire performed perfectly, except the heat made our eyes water.

Today Max and I will continue to catch up on forty-plus years of our lives since high school. We both talk non-stop and we both know full well that we are confirming and cementing that we will now stay close friends. 

Tomorrow Max will drop me off in San Luis Obispo where I will spend the night with Sharon Lovejoy, my friend from these blogs. We call each other honey and her house and yard and studio and illustrations and articles and books have  been featured in plenty of magazines. I will be delighted to have a night and a day with her.

When I return in two days to Ptown, it will be Spring. Crocuses and daffodil stems will have cracked open the soil and I will sit in the side yard or on my couch and wonder if I'm better off having a plan of what-when-why-how to my days ahead or just letting it all unfold. I don't mention this quandary lightly. 

I'm not a good traveler. But I travel anyway. I'll wonder about that too.The thing is, a blank canvas doesn't stay blank either way.


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

How I Spend My Time

First of all, this is where I live. Not right here in the Provincelands, but no more than a mile or two away. In addition the bay beach is barely a block from our house, and whether the sky is puffy like this or deep pink or bright orange or wild grey or robin blue, light bounces off the water here in Provincetown and it makes the world here very beautiful. But too, it''s been a tough move. JB's been sick and settling into this small wonderful community has been slow. Socially, I'm probably as sedentary as I've ever been.

It has been a year since my Mother died. I factored her into my plans so much and so often that there's been a certain kind of day-to-day relief (freedom) since then. I find I think of my parents quite often: how lucky I've been to have been raised in a family who loved me and put me first. I'd never seen this picture of my Father and me until recently: I look so hip-nerdy and he looks so handsome-relaxed that I just feel proud that he was my Father. He was a mason with rough hands and easy tears whenever he talked about his difficult childhood or his lottery-winning gratitude that my Mother loved him. He died the same way my Mother died: surrounded by our family, unafraid, comfortable. I'm so thankful for that.

JB and I have begun looking for a shelter dog to adopt. Maybe even two. We're more cautious than we've been in the past because our last dog, Chase, a greyhound, never adjusted to living with us and we had to return him to be rehomed where he would live with other greyhounds. It was awful to admit he was wasn't happy or bonded with us. I wouldn't want that to ever happen again. We want an adult dog who's had a hard life, who's good with kids, who's very smart and a little goofy, and who like all dogs deserves a good home. We've begun the search.

I went to Colorado for two and a half weeks to help JB help with her sister's surgery and I came home thinking I'd have three weeks to write before JB came home herself. I began, but I got sick and stayed sick for the whole remaining time. So much for plans and preferences. I have a novel to finish and it's moving so slowly. I think part of the reason is because my main character thinks she can handle just about anything thrown at her and that's not quite how I feel these days. I'm not sure a writer is supposed to get bogged down identifying with her characters, so that might be a problem. Some of the reason is also because I'm working again and I can get pre-occupied with that. I wrote my first book in 2008. This second one is way overdue.

I feel that I'm damn lucky to love. I hope I love well most of the time. I know I've become far less judgmental as I've aged. I have strong opinions, and I shy away from people I don't feel good about, but I'm not righteous about any of it.

I wrote a stupid comment here on my blog about finishing up a work project and I made it sound like all I cared about was getting paid. It wasn't at all true that money was at the root of it, but my words gave cause for someone to be offended and my thoughtlessness created some waves and conflicts. I should have known better. I'm at a point and an age where I have zero interest in competing with anyone or winning a race. I just want to do my best and feel proud of what I do. (What a relief that is.)

JB is nudging me to take a walk with her every day and I am reluctantly agreeing. I'm trying to walk at least 1.5 miles a day. I know it's important for my health but I am at my core a sedentary person. I surprise myself by how lazy I can be. If left to my own devices, I could stay in the house for days at a time.

I am cooking more. And baking. I like that.

Ah my four grandchildren. I adore them. I try to see them every two weeks and lately I'm plotting how to have overnights here with one kid at a time. I like teaching them things, pointing out colors and clouds, telling them stories real and imagined.

Long ago I read this book and I remember thinking these "Agreements" were pretty much on target. I've come across them again lately, and I still think that.  So I'm sharing: here they are.

He's six and he came for an overnight. It was a grand success.

We did a lot of things--movie, beach, shopping, eating, walking, coloring, story telling. But best of all we made sugar cookies from scratch and then frosted them. Drew wants to learn to cook. Here he is with  JB in our kitchen which, by the way, is going to be completely gutted, probably this fall, a new and necessary foundation put in and rebuilt and designed. We're working with a space planner and it's exciting.


And finally, this is a typical scene walking along Commercial Street. It is just beautiful. Which is how I started this post. Life is wonderful and life is hard and the trick is not to miss the wonderful parts.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

If I Ran for President….

Here in the USA the extremes between the two major political parties are shocking. If it weren't so sad it would almost be comical. My logical and confident self has ideas that make more sense to me than so many put forth by politicians. Here's my platform: 

1.I’d make it a major emphasis of my campaign that I understand why and that white males and middle class families feel under siege. These folks have lost generational job security, upward mobility, wage increases, and traditional values. They’ve watched entitlement and welfare programs grow and gay marriage and minority rights overshadow their beliefs about hard work, tradition, and the American dream. They’ve lost power that through the years they’d been able to take for granted. They want their country back the way it used to be. But there’s a problem with that. starting with  a significant 37 % of American citizens are non-white and  3.8 % are out of the closet gay or lesbian. We’re even more of a melting pot than we were back in the days when Americans prided themselves on being a land of immigrants. And now there’s an x-rated bodacious fear mongering candidate who graphically describes White American frustration and anger, using crude and exclusionary language and who  points fingers and casts blame. 

2. I would talk incessantly about job creation, starting with how to bring manufacturing jobs back. I’d outline new tax incentives for certain businesses and I’d describe my plans for no or low tuition training programs. And not just manufacturing: I’d talk about new economy jobs and how the public and private sector will and can concretely help citizens access them.

3. I'd bring back welfare to work. Democrats emphasize being a voice for poor and minority and underprivileged Americans. But in most people’s minds, entitlements are not the best way for these folks or for the country. I agree: I’ve been privileged to work first hand with families on public welfare.  More than half of these folks, maybe even three quarters, have the physical and mental ability to work and a good number want to and would work. But the average cost of living--not fancy living--far exceeds what even two paychecks can bring home on $ 9/hour. Add up the actual costs of food stamps, health insurance, child care, subsidized housing, and  compare that figure to the take-home pay of an unskilled person earning $ 9/hour. The disincentives to work are real, not to mention that folks who don’t have cars rely on public transportation that sometimes require two or three bus changes. That’s a tough situation for someone trying to show up for work on time. 

 My plan would screen and then insist on full time work for everyone who can and should work, but also provide a supplemental income to at least allow a reasonable standard of living. And my plan would train or retrain folks for new skills, not indefinitely, but for a year or two. After that, work would be expected; if necessary, in assigned community service.

4.And finally, although I’m no expert on foreign policy, I’d run on this promise: If I drew a red line, I’d keep it. I believe the waffling in intervening in Syria has caused a whole lot more deaths and heartbreak than a clear and enforceable red line would have. At the same time I’d continue efforts to collaborate however and whenever possible though the United Nations and with other countries. (This doesn’t conflict with red lines.) The nations of the world need each other more than ever..... 

This is what I would do Hillary, Bernie, Jeb, Ted, Marco, and Mr. Kasich. (Mr Trump omitted for good reason.) Call me naive or ridiculous, but the difference with me is that I mean every word. And I think across the board, I'm not alone.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Mish Mash in a New Year

The moment I read this I understood the change that's taken place and is shaping me again. I've always been an optimist but in the last few years I've had challenges that have tossed me every which way. Even now things are not quite balanced in my world. But I read this and I knew that I am back to the  me who pushes through and appreciates. Time can heal. Hearts can bounce. 

 The last month has been a whirlwind. I am writing this from Colorado but I started in Florida at Disney. My last post was all about that trip, but this post is so much about transition that it's fitting to begin with these children, minus Reese who was so scared of these giant mice that there was no way she could endure this picture. 

I love these children. When the oldest, Ryan, was born, I told my daughter Jessica I would love him, of course, but never as much as I loved her. She smiled then and said, "That's okay." In that moment we both understood and exalted the unconditional love of a parent.

Now I know there are different kinds of love, each deep and true. It's still true that I love Jess so much  I can't imagine anything competing with that. But my heart's expanded. There's plenty of room in there.

So what does a new year mean? Especially a new year where I'm eager to be astonished and productive? I've moved to a new town, surrounded by a bay and ocean, where the way light bounces off the sea is astonishing.

I'm determined to finish my book this year, to shop it around to agents and publishers and I dream of it in print by the end of the year.  And if nobody nibbles, I will publish it myself. I have more to learn about the matriarch of my novel: she is gutsy and resilient, that's for sure. But does she crack and fold too? I don't know that yet. But I will. 

A week after I got home from Disney, JB and I were on a plane to Colorado to help her sister through knee replacement surgery. The plan was for me to stay a week and JB five weeks. I was sure I'd use the month JB was gone to write and possibly finish this slippery book. But I'm not home yet: complications and an extended hospital stay and now an East Coast winter storm. I'm heading home on Tuesday to my own version of snow. 

 Colorado is beautiful and here in Colorado Springs, the Rocky Mountains are everywhere. The singer songwriter John Denver has a prominent role in my new novel and as soon as I remembered that, I've been looking at "Rocky Mountain High" with new awe.  Many men here wear leather cowboy hats and look weathered and almost everyone is polite and helpful. The Springs is a very conservative area, very unlike my own politics, but I'm easily avoiding that fact.

I found this on Facebook and I think it's just adorable. HAHAHAHA. 

Mr. Ryan had his ninth birthday before we left and I put into action something I've told him a hundred times. About money. "Ryan," I say, when you get money for a present or you earn money, keep a third for yourself to spend however you want, save a third, and give a third to someone or some cause that will help others." 

JB and I put a $ 20 bill in each envelope and put the three envelopes in a shiny new metal pencil case. Jess sent me this photo a few days ago and it made me glow.

 Here I am these days.

Colorado is a legal marijuana state. Some cities regulate sales by limiting it to "medicinal sales,", but there are also retail shops every where. In our common spirit of adventure, JB and I walked in to this store, Emerald Lakes, were asked to show identification, and were escorted into a large room with tables displaying and demonstrating all kinds and all prices of choices. I asked the young woman orienting us if this was a transition job for her and what she hoped for ahead. She said, "I want to grow marijuana. I need $ 15,000 to start off and I don't have it. But I know from working here how much money you can make growing it."

It might have been her glassy eyes, but I felt sad seeing and hearing her. I wondered how her parents in Ohio felt. 

Because we've spent a good deal of time hospital visiting and helping out, JB and I have eaten out often here in Colorado. This is a french cafe, charming in every way. We met an older couple here who couldn't figure out our relationship. The gentleman first asked if we were sisters. No, we said. A few minutes later he asked again. "Friends or business partners?" Even five years ago I might have hesitated. But I said, "We're partners. Been together thirty years." And for good measure I added, "We're a couple…"

He was taken back but gracious. He had grown up in Massachusetts and we told them we were from Boston, and now Cape Cod. So after they left the waiter told us they came every week for dinner and we asked if we could buy them a drink in advance. "Sure,' the waiter said, "But she doesn't drink."

So with good wishes "from the girls from Boston," these folks will have one martini on the rocks and one velvet cupcake on us. I'm pretty sure they'll enjoy it all as much as we've enjoyed the giving part.

And finally, in a few days I'll head back to Provincetown. A great local photographer named Sue Ballard took this photo, a common scene of the Provincelands. This is the magic I will return to.

I should add that American politics are absolutely scary nuts and the world is in turmoil. I'm well aware of that and I'm very distressed by it. But finally, I'm back on my hopeful grateful feet. I hope this is true for you too.