Sunday, November 28, 2010

in between

We are in between the holidays right now--Thanksgiving (we had two again this year--one with some family on Tday, another last eve with new friends, family and our son who works on the traditional date); Chanukah starts this week and, of course, there is Christmas which arrived in all of its materialistic glory before Halloween. Thank goodness (and Godness) that there are ways to bridge the season meaningfully. For Christians, today is the first Sunday of Advent. For Methodists, we begin the Sunday service with one more hymn of Thanksgiving, light the first Advent candle, have a short sermon from Psalms 100 and then end by singing "Look to the East" and "Emmanuel." So, in a short hour we shift from turkey to evergreen.

This was a wonderful week, actually. Only on Wednesday did I succumb to the drumbeat of emails and work-related phone calls,three failures making divinity (my mother's recipe) and with this, a return of a mild anxiety period. But, that was the only "blip" and "slip" of the week. I stayed pretty centered thanks to Mark's companionship and the sweet distraction of the presence of my visiting sister and brother-in-law and niece and nephew. I was gifted by their request to "sleepover" at Aunt Nini's house on Friday so Saturday I had two pre-adolescents bundled under the covers, watching "Lord of the Rings", being served eggs, fruit and toast by their smiling auntie. I loved it.

I didn't do my poetry prompts everyday, but several days and so I include them here. My MAJOR milestone, also on Wednesday and probably a contributor to my anxiety cycle, was my submission of my short, short story to Writer's Digest. Gratitude goes to my writer-coach who helped me craft a mere 700 plus words into a narrative that I felt I could send forward. It's my first submission in 35 years, so I am officially a writer-out-of-the-closet now.

And here are my poems from this week:

11/21 prompt: "taking a stand"
When you've been on your ass
for two and a half months,
first, foot in a cast,
then a black velcro strapped boot--
Relearning how to stand
is a lesson in humility.
Adding twenty-five pounds
every twelve days
demonstarted how muscles have to work
and how hard it is
to ask them to
after all that rest.
But, amazingly, the body responds
to the mind's commands.
And, after fifteen days of pounds added,
I stand.

11/23 prompt: Hay(na) Sku poetry form
fly south
in the winter.

come north
as the sun rises.

children fly
to the desert.

aunt waits
with open heart.

a few
days, she laughs.

the birds
migration means change.

the end:
all is well.

11/27 prompt: blame
Blame the moon
for the light that shines.
It pulls me to it
all through the night.

I toss and turn
rise and stand,
look out the window
across the land.

Where mountains rise
up from the dark,
where coyotes prowl
and make their mark--

Called "scat", it signals
where they roam.
While, wide awake,
I remain at home.

But my soul, also,
prowls desert spaces
with fear and drama
in distant places.

There missiles fly
and flames arise,
brushing red and black
into warring skies.

All because
the moon so bright
is round and full
on this late autumn night.

11/28 prompt: what really happened
Who know what really happened?
It's all speculation now.
Whether he "flew the coop"
out of fear or the need to explore
the expanding horizons of adulthood.
What matters now is
he ate at our table last night
with smiles and laughter.
He hugged me with love,
admired my cleaned up pantry,
talked with his aunt and grandfather,
saw the stars on his way home
and stayed safe on the road.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

it's getting better

I am thinking of the Beatle's song: "It's getting better every day...." As I write this. It did help me at least (not so sure about you readers out there in the blogosphere), when I wrote last week and as I worked through Wed-Friday, I felt myself slowly turning (although not steadily) toward the Light. One thing I started last week was an almost daily write in response to the "poetic asides" prompts at Writer's Digest's blog. I will share what I wrote here as my weekend blog entry:

11/9 Prompt "slow down"

I wake in the dark,
even the birds are still silent.
But my mind begins to rush--
a torrent of things to do.
I try to breath deeply,
slowing down the speed,
imagining a rhythm of waves
moving me forward
but not toward the rapids.
Instead, the waters carry me
carefully around grey boulders,
gently through barriers of broken logs.
I arrive slowly and safely to the shore,
and I get up for the day.

11/12 prompt "forget what they say":

At twelve years old, they told me to smile more,
not be so serious.
I tried and still do.
Back then, I sang down the locker-lined hallway,
mimicking Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.
But later that year,
Kennedy was shot, then Martin, later Bobby.
Not much to smile about for years.

And now,
Mom has died,
Dad stands on his seasoned legs
but bends with his walker.
My young neighbor
passes by my window,
runnning with her jaunty dog.
And I smile without laughter,
waking before dawn,
trying to squeeze as much of life from the day
as I can.

Last night,
after brown rice and egg drop soup,
we came out of the restaurant
and my husband's pointer finger
froze at a ninety-degree angle.

"Look at this," he said,
placing his hand on the steering wheel.
That finger,
rigid as a rock
sent me into a spasm of laughter--
the ludicrous image of a crooked finger
pushing against a wheel.

11/15 prompt: "just when you thought it was safe"

Almost seven months
since the ladder fell,
twisting my ankle and breaking it
into three pieces.

"Lucky it wasn't worse," the EMT guy said,
which my doctor repeated as did
several others.

And I am grateful it wasn't worse.
Because I am almost healed.
"Up to 90% now," my physical therapist coaches.
I can do most of what I want to do--
walk, bake, drive a car.
I can't dance yet, but I can roll on my stomach and do yoga,
both feet flat against the rug.

And yet, my anxiety lingers--
about the missing 10%,
about annual medical tests,
about aging, in general.

I don't want to imagine too much safety--
a little danger, hazard, risk
creates a little drama.
So I make it up.
Like a batch of brownies from a box,
I don't have to start from scratch.

Worry and anxiety is in my DNA,
ingredients amply supplied by Mom and Dad
and generations before.
Worry about his future got my grandfater to take a boat
from Italy to New York.
Anxiety about another year's harvest
got my grandad out to the barn on mornings so cold
ice formed on his eyelashes.

But my life is sheltered from these challenges,
so I make up my own.
Everyday I can read a newstory to feed
my fretting and worry--and I do.
Because just when I think it's safe--
a ladder will fall.

11/16 prompt "stacking"

In the pantry,
instead of organizing the
boxes of cereal and crackers,
the jars of jam,
the bags of nuts and rice--
I stack them on top of each other
so it looks like a skyline
when I open the pantry door,.

Sometimes, like today,
an item
Today, it was strawberry jam.
And I had "strawberry fields, forever" sticking
to the brown concrete floor.

11/18 prompt "lost and found"

For ten months my son was lost to us,
wandering, somewhere in our desert city,
marching to his own quest.

We got through it, somehow,
past the sleepless nights and long days.
Even when the Twin Towers fell, he was still gone.
And I wondered, "Where are you?
Do you want me to hold your hand
as we sit together and mourn?"

Now, he is halfway home again,
and I weigh what was lost, what was found.
The balance of both is not equal.

11/19 prompt "a poem with a hole in it"

I have to keep my eyes open when I walk,
looking for holes hidden under fallen branches
or in the broken asphalt next to the car,
as I step out.
It's tricky walking with a healed broken ankle.
All those tiny bones taken for granted everyday.
They do work only the mind can imagine
but mostly doesn't.
They pivot and balance in millimeters
keeping me from falling down.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

grief arrives before dawn

Sometime I have struggled to stay away from this blog becoming a place for me to reveal the darker side of my reflections. But since August, I have been going through another phase of grieving and despair about more than personal issues have crept in, usually arriving during the darkest part of the night, after about five hours of sleep but well before I want to awake.

This morning, after Mark got up and returned to sleep, I awoke with the now familiar flutter in my stomach and mild feeling of panic. I seem to have to work through all of my affirmations, memories of Naples and Napa, California, Florence and Rome, Italy, letting more recent memories cascade forward--of last night's community conversation in Marana, of yesterday's reading Chapter Two of The Sorcer's Stone with 5th graders at Pueblo Gardens, of Kevin and Nicole working me through my steps at Physcial Therapy, all those thoughts as I try to breath slowly, reduce the fluctuations in my metabolism and then I come to grief.

My chest tightens and I cry silently under the bedcovers. I cry for Mom, who died last August but who began to leave us a couple of years before. I seem to be retracing her final behaviors with my own: focusing on my physical changes, leaning on my husband for attention, nudging my son for emotional contact. I see her in me and somehow feel reconnected. But it's a false impression because, after a year now, I know she is really gone, except in memory. And, in August, this year, I thought I was going to lose Dad to breast cancer and that episode through me into Alice's rabbit hole where I still go in the dark of night, needing to wake early to reassure myself I am still here. Dad hangs on, living somewhere between euphoria of chowing down on fries with a McDonald's McRib sandwich, preceded by his morning walks and the suggestion of suicide he makes between sandwich bites to end his life by not taking his prescriptive pills. I listen to his meandering between these emotions and just hang on for the ride, as long as it lasts, knowing I will drop into the abyss when he dies.

And I grief for the loss of my relationship with my sister. Never an easy one, even when we played together on long midwestern winter days in the chilly basement/playroom of our house on McClure. Adulthood brought more bumpiness and estrangement, briefly rebraided through our early days of shared motherhood. Then torn apart again twelve years ago when she was hospitalized. As she struggled to regain an equilibrium of control through medications and other choices I can only guess at, our gap widened. It was partly due, I think, to our different responses to mom's dementia and to the challenges we each faced as our child/children grew into adulthood. Now, through a bumbling step I made on this blog, the fragile thread of sisterhood seems broken. We do not speak. She has not responded to my last email. The holidays beckon and we are apart.

My mother's brother died two weeks ago. Mom loved him very much. He was the only person I knew that she let call her by her given name, Jessie. At some point in her young adulthood she dropped that name and became Carolyn, her middle name. I don't know that story and I wish I did because I bet it cost her some pain with her mother. But she did it, became a working gal during the war, smoked cigarettes on the rooftop of Woolworth's, and went to dances at the YMCA where she met my dad.

As I grew up, there were many times I wish she had left my dad and taken me away from his anger and fierce love. I know now he grew up in an alcoholic home and suffered physical and emotional abuse which he passed on to me. My sister didn't get the physical hits but she suffered as a bystander and paid/pays her own price. I thought, for these past twelve years or so, that I had bypassed the compulsive behaviors that crippled my dad (and his family), that my sister adapted to and lived her way. Even though I came to acknowledge, following my son's spiral into unhealthy adolescent behaviors, that I had learned enabling from my mom, learned how to control and try to fix others' problems, and, in my head, recognized my own "stinkin' thinkin'" as a compuslive disease, somehow, I kept the deeper parts of the disease in a manageable place.

But in April, when unexpectedly, a ladder fell on me, dislocating and shattering my ankle, something else snapped. Right before the accident, I had gone through my third year of repeat/more imaging for my annual mammogram. I have lost a good friend to breast cancer during those three years and know two more diagnosed with it. Each year for the past three, I felt the sword of Damacles hang over me. Then, when I thought this year I had dodged it again, the ladder fell. And among my feeling of shock (which I did physically experience as well as mentally and emotionally), I also felt relief that here was something real, not anticipated or feared, remembered and hidde; here there was a real injury I had to pay attention to. So for almost seven months now, that has been my focus: healing my ankle. It delayed, I think, a normal pattern of grief for my mom. It diverted me from getting too involved in my son's circuituous life and tugged me away from other places where I could have slipped into too much helping.

But, as I have recovered and healed from the accident, I have slipped back into old patterns: too much involvement in "fixing" my community, too much worry about Dad, too much fear about aging (mine and my sister's--will we, like mom, have minor strokes, be misdiagnosed, face dementia with increasing isolation and confusion). And so, here I am today: waking up at 4 a.m., trying to use self-talk and memory, succumbing and surrending as the light breaks, to grief and tears, stretching my ankles and standing up, coming to the safe space of the written word and putting it down. Somehow, like writers before me, and after, I hope, the order of one word coming after another is similar to the rhythm of ankle recovery I have learned at PT: how walking is not about going in a straight line but zigzaging, back and forth, up and across and down. This is how we walk, how we live, how we grow. And we do, often, regain balance, find our center, heal and lean forward, into the dawn.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

sunny day

Even though I do not like my new and somewhat unpredictable normal of waking up before the sun rises, it seems, as I do, I fill up the day with activities now that I am more active again. I have to keep reminding myself to slow down to watch the butterflies scatter around the blowing branches as mulberry leaves fall, or gaze at the shimmer of the hummingbird's wings as it catches the early morning light. It's gotten chilly at night in the desert and so, twice this week, I wore gloves and my red stocking cap as I stretched my walk from twenty to thirty minutes. The taste of hot chocolate in the afternoon on the two days that Mark had off this week was a treat although, sitting at Borders one of those days, the background music of Christmas Carols was intruding on my mind as I enjoy these days before Thanksgiving.

We are already making plans to do what we did last year: take Dad to Xmas Eve Church service and dinner and then, the two of us will take off for Sierra Vista's buffet. Instead of staying overnight at a BandB which wasn't all that great last year, we will stay at a hotel, get a hearty breakfast on the 26th and enjoy Bisbee galleries and shops. The Christmas lights will be hanging across the main road in Bisbee and, no doubt, crisp weather will linger between the rocks. Last year there was a dusting of snow on the hills which added some nice texture to the town's landscape.

As for what comes first, Thanksgiving, I am looking forward to seeing my sister-in-law and her family. Since Aron has to work, we'll have a second TDay when he is off and that's the one I actually spend time in the kitchen for. The "first" dinner is partially from Safeway--we've done that for several years now, starting with the last two in Green Valley with Mom and Dad-and with some additional side dishes and dessert, it makes for an easy and agreeable compromise.

Anyway, the main point, I think, of this lovely November holiday should be just to be grateful for bounty of food, family and health. Christmas gets lost in merchandising, merchandising and it's second cousin, Chanukah, gets short shrift even though it's really a secondary Jewish holiday, made more important by the weight of Christmas on Jews whose children also "expect" presents with the Menorah. When Aron was young, we did both and never really had trouble with it. But I suspect he has leaned toward Christmas in his adulthood, less for its spiritual meaning, probably, than the expectation of something special.

Most of the specialness for either Chanukah or Christmas this year will be limited because we are spending our budget in January in Philly for Sasha (my niece's) Bat Mitsvah. New luggage for two of us and a winter coat for Aron has to be purchased and tho we scored some reasonable hotel rates--everything seems tight this year (again--third year when both Mark and I are aware of financial restraint).

But there is no lack of abundance of sunshine today. It's been glorious and tomorrow promises the same. What we lack in political brightness in Arizona may be (?) somewhat compensated for with the brightness of light when the sun shines.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

dream architecture

Last night we saw the movie, "Inception", and I thought it would stimulate my subconscious to the danger point and stir up bad dreams. I have had several early this week and, on two subsequent nights, I dreamed Mark and I were (unhappily) leasing a two story, modern architecture house, set on a hill and decorated entirely with white, nubby-textured furniture (I hate both). But despite my misgivings, last night I simply (?) slept and don't recall any dreams I had.

My favorite scene in the movie was when the new "architect", played by Ellen Page (she seemed stuck in somberness in this movie and her plain features didn't light up with even one smile)--anyway, she collapsed the city of Paris in on itself to fold into a three dimensional (or was it four) cityscape. Then she and the main character, played by Leonardo di Caprio--who continues to dominate every scene he is in no matter who plays opposite him although Kate Winslett, in Revolutionary Road, is the best foil he has--anyway, she and Leondaro's character walk up and around the streets of Paris.

If you have been to Paris, as I was 8 years ago, it's not too hard of a stretch to imagine the multi-dimensional stroll along the streets, in the alleys, along the Seine. The medieval quality of its urban architecture, blended with Hausmann's 18th century boulevards and recent architectural changes create a kind of mash-up that fits into the maze-like structure (as the movie suggests) that makes up our dream architecture.

The idea of elements that fight for the subconscious to maintain some kind of equilibrium and control vs. those who would extract our thoughts or plant them (i.e. inception) is also intriguing, although I would suggest female dreams might be demonstrate less violent conflicts than those depicted in the movie from the male brain (and to satisfy ticket-buyers). I suspect, in my brain, my subconscious protectors are like big mountain lions, ready to pounce to protect my sanity--at least, I hope they are in my dreams, doing their job.

Because the outside world right now could use some redesign of its external architecture. Driven by fear the world is pulling its fabric apart and there seem to be mighty few of us trying to keep the fabric woven together. As in T.S. Eliot's poem, the center will not hold (or something close to that--I am not quoting him here but using the poem as a reference for making my point). We need some protectors to take on the role of protecting us from our waking insanities. Maybe that's why, right now, I am dreaming about homes more often, even ones I don't like. Interestingly, as I write this, I realize I had those house dreams I describe here, on pre-election and election nights. Maybe my subconscious was creating the house, barely hanging on a hill, as a symbol of how I felt about our country, the world, teetering on the edge of destruction. It's a connection to consider, I suppose.

But for the rest of this day, I will take solace in this: the creative minds that make up stories, generate quality movies, write poems and plays, cascade song lyrics--these are my heroes: they continue to create order and meaning out of chaos; they believe, as this movie states, that we can architect our dreams.