Saturday, October 22, 2016

Am I an Elite?

It could not be a more beautiful Autumn here. I am writing every day, benefiting from the ocean air and sunsets, and planning for a huge renovation of our kitchen and second floor. We will have to move out of our house for three months this winter and soley by luck, we've found an affordable two bedroom incredible place to stay, directly on the bay. I will watch the tides and the weather coming in and changing with the eagerness of a puppy.

I am also following the human and political drama of the American Presidential Election. I do not support the candidate who targets Muslims and Mexicans and speaks with uncensored vulgarity. Still, I try to dig into how he can possibly have the support of so many Americans. I know at least two dozen decent thoughtful people who agree with him and I find that boggling. 

The candidate likes to point fingers at the 'elite' who are rigging the election against him. "Washington insiders," "Not regular hard working Americans," "People who read the New York Times and watch CNN."

I don't live in Washington DC and I read and listen to all kinds of commentary and news, including the Times and CNN. Am I a regular hard working American? 

I think so. 

I'm a college graduate and I'm white and along with JB we have income and savings that got  us a second home for a time and allowed us to get our daughter through college. I don't worry about making rent and we find ways to travel as we wish. I'm older now so I work only part-time, on my own terms. I spent a recent five years in the middle of an impoverished community serving white, black, and Hispanic families. My Father was a mason who left school in sixth grade and my Mother was a seamstress who came to the USA speaking only French and dropped out of school even earlier. I grew up in a middle class industrial town in Massachusetts, my family owned the house my Father and uncle built themselves, I went to a state college, I started my own business, I'm quick to volunteer. 


When Obama was elected to the Presidency, I accepted, with relief, that the melting pot of different nationalities and races and religions and sexual preferences won out: that the melting pot would finally take root. I knew there was an real and mostly white anger that the country had changed, that manufacturing and employer loyalty had fled, that people on entitlements seemed to have it easier. I knew that but I thought the majority of Americans had spoken democratically and decisively. 

I was so wrong. That anger simmered and Donald Trump has now given it a legitimacy that borders if not crosses race baiting and violence. It's US and THEM.

He blames the problems and the differences on the elites. 

Based on education and income, that must be me.

But that must be him too. And all of government. And all of our educational institutions. And all of Congress. And the Generals. It looks to me like it's everyone but the powerful mostly white males who like to rule with authority and are not interested in nuance or balance. And it's not the folks who feel like the wrong direction has ruined the country.

It's not the folks who have felt powerless, who long for job security and a time that won't be coming back again no matter who is President . This man says he will take the country back to the 1950's. Back to when jobs were permanent and unions had clout. Back to when black people were second class citizens in silence. Back to when the United States had no interest and no need to collaborate or cooperate with other countries. 

It is my hope that the damage already done settles down and enough people understand we have to heal. 

Am I an elite? I must be; I qualify. But I don't feel a whole lot different than most other people I meet and know. I'm likable and fair and it shows. 

My biggest fault is that no matter how hard I try I cannot understand how and why good people I know continue to support a man who is pretty much a pig.


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A September Song

I look at this scene almost daily.  It is a view from my side yard, where JB and I sit, a block from the bay, and where I imagine what it must be like to live in a treehouse.  

I haven't said much lately about the land by the sea where I now live. That's because I stepped away from the the rhythm of the ocean tides and the pink-orange colors of sunset at Herring Cove. I stepped away because of real problems but no longer.  I've still not returned--not yet--because I am consumed with finishing a novel I started writing six years ago. I am into that lovely zone of timelessness when one is doing something one loves and because of that, I have to push myself away from the manuscript. 

And this too: my daughter and her family have bought a lake house in Maine. They've watched the sunrise and sunsets this summer, and every night they speak about the beauty of that. Their young children  each morning walked into a back yard that is a beach, a beach yard with a hammock and kayaks and a small boat and rocks to fish from. I don't know if I've ever felt as content for my Jess as I do now And I say this after eight weeks of surety that she had cancer. (Misdiagnosed!)

Because of that surety, in a panic I found a studio apartment near her so I could help with the kids and help my daughter when she lost her hair and became too tired to move. I had to sign a one year lease and that has turned into a blessing--the apartment is adorable and cozy and convenient. We never would have spent the money to rent it had the circumstances not been critical, but now that we have, I can be here a couple of days a week, hanging out with my grandkids, learning to play the guitar, writing, writing.

There was a sophomoric time in my life when I longed for a soho-type loft. With this place, I have it.

The reason I'm writing this post tonight is not for any of the reasons I've just talked about. I'm writing because I visited my 99 year old Godmother today. Our visit was about planning a party in late October for her 100th birthday.  I'd asked her for  a list of people she'd like to invite. In her best handwriting she's written out names, addresses, phone numbers, an explanation of who is who. 

My Godmother is an amazing woman. She lives alone, she gardens, she feeds birds and squirrels in her driveway, she cooks and bakes, she reads the newspapers every day. Today she showed me an article on Koko the ape, his daily routine and how he mourned the loss of his pet cat. 

And she told me how she remembered me as a fun little girl, how I crawled into bed with my grandmother when she was sick and how I visited my grandparents every day, evaluating if the supper menu was better than my mother's. I asked her if I had been a good kid. She said yes, yes, you were.

I am organizing this 100 year old birthday party in late October. I asked my godmother if she wanted to speak at the party and she said, 'maybe, but mostly I want people to meet each other.'

I want that too. Her family was separated when she and her sisters were orphaned so I don't know her sisters or nieces and nephews. I don't know her friends. She gave me a list of 40 names today. I expected 15. On her 100th birthday she will celebrate with all the important people in her life.

I'd say that will be a great gift.

Happy September, everyone. FYI: the optimist in me has made a comeback.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

The Return of Me

No new photos, no extra wisdom, just a feeling that it's time I checked in here and confirmed that I am finally healthier and more grateful than not.

I'm coming off probably the hardest year, or two, of my life. My mother died, JB's been emotionally unwell, Jess had cancer before they told her it was a misdiagnosis, and my annual physical brought up more body systems with problems than any one person could even have. That last part, except for a painful and stiff back and pelvis, I'm actually alright and every day feeling more like my old self.


JB and I moved to this lovely ocean community just a year ago. Living here in Provincetown, at the land's end, is a dream to many, a goal for many for some day. For us, however, it's been burdensome to live somewhere so special and to have too many challenges and problems to even minimally partake and enjoy its beauty, its light, its people, its zaniness. 

I think that limitation is now changing. Jess is well, JB's improved, I'm okay. This means I've been able to write again. I started my second novel about 18 months I finished my first. Never did I think six years would pass and I would not have finished this story.  It's about an American family and about devotion. Parts of it are funny. 

Now I'm in a groove and if I had the time I could write 12-14 hours a day. As it is, I'm writing regularly and I'm psyched. I have a goal of a finished draft by December. Then I will search for an agent and a publisher. If no one bites, I will publish it myself. 

I am not a great writer. I wish I were, but I'm not. My skills are basic and I lack technique. So I'm not going to be offering a New York Times best seller; I know that. But I care about these characters and I know not to let go of the manuscript until it reads just right to me. I know I will give it my best try and my best work and I'm satisfied with that. 

Otherwise: I am also taking guitar lessons with my nine year old grandson Ryan. And his seven year old brother Drew is taking piano lessons in the next room. After the lesson the three of us walk to the corner for Asian food. This was my idea because the boys come from a sports family and I figure why not push a bit of music too, and who knows, maybe poetry after that? We've had four lessons and the three of us love the whole time together. 

That's it for now. Oh more more thing: the American political situation is bad. I'm very very very hopeful that no one with orange hair gets anywhere near the White House. 

Love love

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Most Incredible Update

Two days before the start of chemotherapy, a very fancy doctor with cold eyes informed us that the pathologists no longer agreed. He said there were some who now questioned that Jessica age 38 Mother to four young children and my precious daughter had lymphoma. He said more time and tests were needed. 

Four weeks later, this Wednesday, a different doctor, this one engaged and kind pronounced that a misdiagnosis had been made. He said an inflammation had been mistaken for lymphoma. He told Jessica to step back into her life and live it as she had before. 

Lucky. It was not an easy seven weeks at all but luck won out. 

In seven weeks I learned (again) without a sliver of doubt that I would give my life for Jessica. I would on the spot die. (I like myself even more because of this.) I also learned that Cancer and even Fancer (Jess' term for 'fake cancer') shakes up the snow globe of a  life in ways that if you're lucky enough you end up appreciating more not less.

Which brings me to this poem I wrote for Jessica some years back. Slightly edited, but still the same….

(Thank you so much for your support and prayers. It's meant a lot.)


Take both eyes, both hands,
My legs and arms, 
Even take the precious German clock
And every special book.

Take my bank account,
All twenty photo albums,
My garden in August
And the miraculous April rain.

Take it all if you can promise. 
I knew in the instant this would be so.
I’m in to any burning house,
On to a frigid raft at sea,
I’m ripping the mangled steel with my bare hands.

Anything, anything for this girl.
The edgeless corners of the truest love
And the endless reserve of cavernous protection
Surround this child who lives within and without,
This fantabulous kid with the crack up wit
And the tender expansive heart.

Take it all, whether you are a son-of-a-bitch
Or an evolving angel, 
Whether the cost is temporary or forever,
Take it all, and then shelter this child
Through every molecular motion and moment. 

She sits at a prestigious desk; 
Makes decisions, honors words;
Seeks out  bargains and eats salads; 
And on Sundays shebrings Sprite to her grandmother.
She is an anchor in an unsteady world.
She is hybrid fuel to those who love her.
She is a reason to push
And the forever foremost answer
To everything that could ever matter

Given the chance to love like this, 
The price of my sightless limbless body
And wiped clean barren possessions
Amounts to nothing more than shiny pennies and
And effortless will. 

This kind of devotion can't be bought. 
It has no price.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Rosie Girl

I wrote this poem to my dog Rosie soon after she died. That was well more than ten years ago and I came across it again tonight. I'm still asking the same questions….


What’s To Know
Rosie girl, tell me about heaven.
I expect you to greet me, you know,
Your soft stub of a tail wagging so effortlessly
that I will see you even in the back row,
and even in the faraway barley fields,
Your enthusiasm rocked by the flow
of something never lost,
Something never handed over.

Tell me what I should know about living
So I can get it right.
Tell me if abundance is real,
and if it is,
Tell me I can turn in my leash for a dance card
and stroll and roll through the back woods
knowing that every sacred scent is in place.

Tell me, Rosie, that it is enough to try.
Enough to care, enough to prepare,
Enough to get it right simply because
it’s all right.
I’m unable to know these things myself
but I trust you, Rosie. I know you know
what matters most
and what matters not at all.

Can you tell me about hearts?
Mine is pretty deep these days,
but still I wonder how far hearts can stretch
especially in the moments when they work overtime.
I wonder if perhaps a heart does not break
But maybe snaps instead,
a little fragment breaking off so it can rest somewhere in isolation
where certain memories and longings cannot be harmed.

Sometimes I wonder if I am up to the task
of letting every broken fragment finds its resting place--
Even if it means I can’t be whole.

Tell me Rosie, do I have to be whole,
if given the chance for love to stretch me
so far beyond my safe walls
that I forget I am confused and instead
feel only gratitude and greatness?

Rosie girl, I will spend my days
asking questions like this
and letting the answers and clues
Guide me home.
And Rosie girl, I will run straight to you
even before your ears shoot up
For our hearts’ reunion of a lifetime.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Apartment

Here I am once again lamenting with good reason. A few weeks ago my beloved daughter Jess had a routine procedure and routine labs following a routine flu and to our complete shock she has lymphoma. Cancer. Good God. 

She will have chemotherapy at the renowned Dana Farber Institute and the doctors and pathology reports say the goal is cure. It appears a routine flu that led to a routine procedure and routine labs (we're told) may have saved her life. We are however stunned. Jess has four young children, the youngest is 2, a loving and equally stunned husband, good friends, and wonderful in-laws. But I live almost three hours away complete with summer vacation traffic.

So in fast speed fashion, I started looking for a little space near her that I could rent. She'll need help with the kids and maybe trips to chemo and medical appointments and maybe just knowing her Mother is close by. (I wish I could change places with her: in a flash I would.) 

It turns out apartments close to Boston are not cheap. I called about twenty places and wasn't comfortable with any of them. Except one.

I somehow have secured a studio apartment in a renovated mill building where thirty condominium owners live. They had this community room that nobody used so they decided to convert it to the only apartment in the building. It has the same high end touches that the condos have: exposed brickwork, a private outdoor patio, a granite walk-in shower, central air conditioning, a washer and dryer, a full efficiency kitchen, and  a layout that feels much larger than the studio space it is. I am over the moon with my good fortune. Jess can come here and be sick if the kids are too much  and I am five minutes away. The space has the feel of a New York Soho loft. I imagine I will have time during many days when I will be on my own and I think I may write well here.

The downside to this, besides for the reason I'm here at all, is that JB is back in Provincetown and we will have to figure out when I'm there and when she's here. It will be a challenge. Both of us have been unwell and on edge for our various reasons and Jess with cancer has tipped us perilously close to defeat. But somehow the apartment's helping. As I write this I'm looking out at the stone patio and there are birds and one sweet chipmunk scurrying around. 

I caught a break with this apartment. That's positively good news. And one thing I know about myself: I can build on good news. 


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.