Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Three weeks ago, I was in Melbourne, Kentucky, at G's riverside family vacation home, for the 2nd Annual Spider Reunion.  Only four of us made it, as with the 1st, but the rest were there in spirit.  As we drove and photographed and chatted and posted silly things to Facebook, I realized how deep the friendship is.  We bonded at a young age, and when we meet, we fall back into the old patterns as if we never parted.

37 years ago, we were callow 18-year-olds.  We didn't know who we were, or who we wanted to be. By the end of the four years, it was clear that few of us would turn out as planned.  In the interim,  we had our differences, we had our crises, we grew up, we disappeared, we reconnected, we remained friends.  And now it turns out, the most important discovery from that long-ago freshman year is that friendship endures.  What a splendid discovery that is!

That being said, another discovery is how very little people change at the core.  The process of living has refined and winnowed, and we are unapologetically ourselves, without much veneer, and without much desire to have one.  In fact, we embrace our quirks, as evidenced by our ready assumption of the nicknames G's boyfriend M assigned to us (he couldn't remember our names.)  B was the Manly One, C the Child.  I was the Hippie (that's Bohemian to you, M!)  And yes, that's always been my bent:  slapdash with my house-keeping and organization, living in the moment, wearing comfortable swirly clothes, dancing and singing at the drop of a cue.  What sealed the deal, for M, was my home-made kale chips.  He took one, politely, nibbled and said, "that's good!" and then turned to G and made a WTF?! face.

This sounds like fun doesn't it?  And it was:  zip-lining between two backyard trees, sitting on the deck watching the barges and drinking coffee, walking through the woods and parks, listening to Latina jazz at G's regular Tuesday night music venue, and talking, talking, talking.  However, on the next to the last night, I got into a confrontation with G and realized how thin my skin remains.  I know it always has been, but I had thought that, since the divorce, I had toughened up.  I thought that I accepted myself and trusted in the love of my friends and family.  I was startled when, during the confrontation, my throat tightened with hurt and tears.

In many ways, it is a silly fight.   She says, "Tomorrow it's your turn to pick up and clean and decide meals."  Surprised, I say, "sure..."  and then I pause.  "Do you think I'm not pulling my weight?"  She looks at me and says, rather like a manager/psychologist, "What do you think?"  In times past, I would have crumpled and apologized, for what I wouldn't know, but I'd apologize and grovel and feel like pond scum. I would embrace the judgment and feel hurt by it at the same time. On this occasion I say, "Yes, I do think I've been pulling my weight.  I've been doing dishes and picking up and contributing."

She does not agree, and I recognize afresh how little power one has to change an opinion.  Because, yes, I am doing my share.  But, I am also leaving coffee cups on side tables, snack dishes on bedside tables, doors ajar.  I am making my bed, but leaving my coat and scarf hanging on chair backs and my knitting and camera bags on the floor by the corner chair where I download my pix every night. I am trying to contain my overflow, but, catlike, I am scattering my fur everywhere and sitting wherever I damn well please.  In her eyes, I am a nightmare guest, selfish and disrespectful of others.

I am hurt, and I leave the house and sit out in the old Shawshank bus/guest house, editing pix and talking with C on speaker phone.  I think about my reaction to criticism.  I can't totally blame D for it.  Yes, his constant picking amounted to emotional abuse, and yes, I am slowly recovering from that.  But, I wouldn't have been vulnerable to him, and I wouldn't feel hurt by G's irritation with me, if I didn't, at the core, believe that I am a pain in the ass, unproductive and unlovable.  I used to tell him, "I have my own voice telling me I'm a fuck-up, I don't need yours as well."  Now, although I stood up for myself with G, I don't really believe it.  I grieve:  why don't people notice the GOOD things I do?  Then  I think, why would anyone be friends with me?   I feel myself spiraling downward into the old self-loathing, and then I realize what I am doing.

I give myself a talking to:  People are quirky.  People have different priorities.  People have different ways of looking at the world, of being productive, of being friends.  People have flaws, and self-awareness only goes so far.  People are lovable.  And I am a person.

So, I talk myself out of the bus and into bed.  I get up and do dishes and put things away.  I wait on my friends. I sit quietly on the edge of group.  I get through the last day, uncomfortable, wondering if I will be welcome at the 3rd reunion, fumbling through an apology in my brain.  I talk with B on the drive back to the airport, working through my feelings, honing my arguments, shoring up my defenses.  I go home.  I act like nothing happened.  I don't send G an apology (although I do send a thank you.)  In the end, I have almost forgotten about it.  Until this week.

Yesterday would have been my 10th wedding anniversary.  For the last week, I've been in a mini-funk, without really knowing why.  It's October; the aspen and cottonwoods are golden and the deep blue skies are full of clouds and rainbows.  I'm making music, I'm seeing friends.  It's my favorite time of the year.  What is wrong?  And then I remember.  10 years ago, I was in Portland, marrying D, filled with joy and light and hope.  I was so sure I was doing the right thing, so confident in my friends and my love and my family.  The day was golden, the food was excellent.  I honeymooned in Santa Fe, I visited Madrid.  I planned to come back here to live.

Ten years ago, I felt like the most lovable person in the world.

I remembered this, because E and I were driving through Madrid back from ABQ, having dropped off her high-maintenance friend.  The relief was overwhelming, and I thought, G and D should try living with her.  I thought, maybe my funk was because it was so exhausting hosting her.  Then I recalled the date, and out of the blue, I emailed M and S and N:  "Care to meet me for dinner tonight in SF after rehearsal?  I'll be free at 7."

Why did I do that?

M couldn't make it, but S reserved a table at El Meson. It was a lovely dinner.  We shared our tapas, and we caught up.  They looked so happy with each other, both so beautiful and charming and smart and witty.  They talked of their jobs and their lives together. I talked of my travels and my future plans.  I pondered the idea of the library job in Taos:  it feels like I'd be moving backwards.  S said, no, care-giving is moving backwards:  you've done that for 10 years.  I did a double-take:  I've only been with E for one year.  And then it hit me.  hmmmm.  Yes, I was the caregiver in my marriage, and it is time to take care of myself, to trust that I am worthy of that.

S is not the best friend I've ever had, and I have been avoiding him for months because of past hurt. However, last night I remembered why I cared.  He listens to me, and he makes connections.  He helps me grow. He tries to grow himself.  And, like my old friends, he judges me and loves me anyway.  He and N were the perfect choice for my non-10th anniversary dinner.

As we talked, he reminded me that his ex died a year ago.  I was humbled.  I'm mourning the loss of my marriage, but there are other, deeper losses.  Yes, every day is an anniversary of something, and every day is a chance to make the choice of forward movement.  I don't have to wallow in the mistaken choices of my past.  I don't have to accept the mistaken judgments, even those of people I love.  I don't have to partner up, and I don't have to be alone.

I do have to have friends.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Remembering our childhoods

Tonight E and I were discussing our very similar childhoods. There were some basic differences of course.  Her father was a farmer/sharecropper near Bakersfield, CA, and mine was the head librarian at a small private liberal arts college in Monmouth IL (pop 11,000 at that time).  She was born in 1915, and I was born 44 years later.  When she did the weekly ironing, she used a flat iron heated on the top of a wood stove, she sprinkled everything before ironing, and she ironed table linen, bedsheets and pillow slips, as well as her father's shirts.  Her sisters never had to do the ironing, but she enjoyed "doing it right."  (She still does for that matter.)

I too did the ironing, but my work was less arduous and was shared with my sisters (in fact, they did much more than I.) When it was my turn, I pulled ironing from a big basket in Mom's closet and brought it to the TV room in the basement,  There, I watched soap operas (Another World, One Life to Live, and Dark Shadows) while I plied the electric steam iron, which I filled with distilled water from a nearby jug. I only ironed the table cloth for holidays.  But, we both hung clothes on a line in the back yard.

And, of a Sunday. we both went for family drives to the river.

They took ice cream, home-made with a hand crank and still in its rock-salt-and-ice-filled container. They built a fire and roasted chicken pieces before wading out (in somewhat sketchy bathing attire) to the sandbar.  Diving and other deep-water tricks were reserved for the reservoir near the farm.  We went to the Lock and Dam 18 on the Mississippi and watched the barges go through, singing the old campfire girls song.  I remember going to a nearby tiny crescent of a beach and looking for the round mud rocks that were potential geodes.  Sometimes we went to the covered bridge near Gladstone (aka Happy Rock), and in the autumn we stopped by Weir's Fruit Farm to get Mom's favorite apples (Johnathans) and drink fresh cider from the keg, using those pointed paper cups that we also used in school for the milk breaks.

I told E about the July 4th picnic with the Buccholtz's, where we also had home-made ice cream. Instead of a bonfire, though, we brought a portable barbecue and charcoal briquettes, and Bob marinated the chicken in Italian salad dressing, which made the skin crusty -black and tangy.

She nodded.  "I had a wonderful childhood," she said, and she proceeded to talk about the long rope swing in the barn.  "You could swing all the way across the barn, 10 feet high."  I told her of the tire swing that hung from a tree near my Grandma's house in Minnesota:  we'd sit in the hole of the tire and use our feet to push back and forth; or we'd climb on top of the tire, clinging to the rope while a sister would twirl us until the rope would twist no more and then let us go with a push. We'd swoop back and forth, madly twirling and clinging while the centrifugal force pulled the tire straight out.

She said, oh yes, she visited her grandparents too.  Like me, though, she only visited one set.  Distance and expense restricted my family to the Minnesota kin.  In E's case, her father was 20 years older than her mother, and I get the impression that his parents were gone by the time she was born.  Her father, being a farmer, could only get away for a short time, but the rest of them stayed for one to three weeks.  Her grandfather worked on the SP railroad, which ran in front of the house near Fresno.  "My grandmother was a 5x5, She was enormous (arms held wide),  as wide as she was tall.  She couldn't walk very well, but she was always in the kitchen, cooking. Grandpa was a very skinny man, no taller than she, but somehow he could command the respect of the crew."  He had a crew of around 20 strong Mexican men, who worked on the railroad under his supervision.  They lived on the other side of the fence with their families, and E used to lean against the fence, watching the children "laughing and crying and singing" on the dirt space between the two rows of houses.  Actually, she specified that the houses were not really houses, but residences constructed of canvas and boards, etc.  They were arranged in two lines, facing each other.

It was her first real experience with The Other, and she wanted to join them, to understand what they were saying, to play.  But her mother wouldn't allow it. Why?  I asked, probably naively.  To her credit, E didn't say:  because that's what the relationship was at the time. She thought for minute, considering the question.  "I don't know.  Probably she felt it would be too much trouble."  She'd have to chaperone, something might happen, they might not be welcome.  And she didn't speak Spanish either.

So, E stood at the fence and wondered about the little community on the other side, so close, but so far.  At night, they could hear the laughter and singing of the adults, and the shrieking of the children at play.  Later, E would learn their language, among several others, and spend close to a year in Spain.  But, she never connected with the foreign culture in her own country, and when she was in high school, her grandparents were no more.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Encounters in the High Desert

Late last night, as the respite caregiver got ready to leave, she said, "Wow, look at that walking stick!" I peered out the window to the lighted front porch, wondering if I'd left M's long wooden stick there, instead of putting it away in the casita. I saw nothing but the gnarled silver-gray log, sitting by the porch stanchion. "No, there on the screen!" It was a small insect, long stick body supported by four stick limbs which were splayed on the screen in a perfect X. Oh, right. I used to see walkingsticks in the zoo's insectarium, which my friend M regularly visited as part of her Aversion Therapy.

I saw tarantulas there too, and now they are a regular part of my autumn drives.  I see them advancing slowly and elegantly, crossing the roads or crawling down the driveway, large furry bodies arched above the stately-stepping legs. They are looking for sex, but they have the aspect of a regal progress. I carefully swerve aside. Other drivers are less respectful, and I look sadly at the furry brown carcass mounds as I drive past.

EB tells me that when she first arrived she had a huge spider phobia. I lost that phobia when I lived in the milk barn on Taylors Ferry Rd, back in the late '80s. My bed was in the loft, among the rafters, where huge barn spiders lived. I watched them warily for awhile, but they stayed on their side, and I stayed on mine. They took care of the flying insects and the silverfish, so I let them be.

EB isn't so accepting of the Epod spiders, but she doesn't kill them. She uses the glass and cardboard technique. You wait patiently for the spider to reach your level, plop the glass over it, rim tight against the wall or floor, ease a thin cardboard or paper underneath, being careful not to nip a leg or squish a body part, bolster the paper with a clipboard (to prevent flopping and gaps), and escort the offending arachnid outdoors. The tricky part is when you remove the glass:  will the spider leap onto your face and bite?!  I suggest a plastic glass, so she can just fling the whole thing into the brush and retrieve the equipment later.  

Right now the Epod is home to several varieties of arachnid. At any moment cone can see them marching around the ceiling, popping out by the bathroom sink, scuttling across the tile, crawling into crevices. I don't know their names, but one kind has a thin grey body with two hornlike front legs, another has a thick black body with stubby legs like eyelashes, a third has a long black body with a reddish brown abdomen (not the fiddle shaped black widow). EB has even encountered a small scorpion. It came scurrying out of the broom closet in the bathroom, and when she pinned it under the glass, it shriveled and changed color. She decided it was killed in the process and tossed it down the toilet, but now she thinks it may have been a defense mechanism, and she is racked with guilt.

I don't go that far.

The insects have cycles in the house. Spiders are a constant, but in the summer, the crickets invade regularly, filling the bathroom with echoing calls, undeniably present, but unfindable.  It keeps me awake, and I whine about it on Facebook:

The stridulator
Came out of hiding tonight.
It is outside now.

Outside, cicadas fill the air with their mating calls, loud and monotonous.  These are not the fat night-time cicadas of my youth.  Those used to congregate on the lighted tennis courts and stoops, massively ugly, with a singing cricket-like song.  When I moved to New Mexico, they lived in the cottonwoods and, on one memorable evening, drowned out the band on the stage at the Biopark concert and dive-bombed my hair. But the cicada on this high-desert mountain confounds me. It fills the hot mid-day afternoon with a endless percussive clicking, produced by wing-clicks instead of the more resonant abdominal tymbal. I learn that it's  a periodical cicada, a smaller variety with a 17-year life cycle, spent mainly underground. This is he year of a population explosion. It takes weeks before I track down the source of the sound, even though they are inches away from me.

After much peering
Into clicking junipers,
I locate the source
A friend commented, "OMG, Now I remember why I am not fond of the hot dry places."  Well, yes, but it's fascinating, too, and they don't harm you, unless, like C, you shake the limb to watch them scatter into the air.  One of them bit her, and serves her right.

Amazing and ever-present in their various shapes and often-noxious qualities, the insects are still not something I study carefully. I mainly learn how to co-exist, how to escort them outside, and how to avoid them. The beautiful two-toned tarantula wasp feeds on the yellow flowers, unmolested. I walk too close to the matte-black stink bug, and it points its abdomen upward, warning me away. I take pictures of bees and flies as they burrow into the cactus blossoms.  They are there, they are often beautiful, but I don't really like them.

When I first arrived here, I was more interested in the larger wildlife.  C showed me the bear scrape in the parking circle:  long ridges in the dirt that didn't look like much, but were the bear's attempt to find insects to eat.  She also explained how to differentiate mountain lion scat from coyote scat:  the former has a corkscrew quality.  This is the closest I have been to those mammals.  Sometimes on my evening walks I hear a yipping or a howling out of the scrub, down the hill.  I'm never sure if it's a coyote or a lost dog:  Reina and Tessa regularly roam the mountain, and Reina often gets lost.  When she appears without Tessa on our doorsteps, we call her into the car and take her half a mile down the hill to her home.  She sits in the back, ears alert, tongue panting through her smiling mouth.  We pull into the drive and open the door and she leaps out, then looks up, reproachfully.  This is it?  "Yes, go home."  Slowly and sadly, she walks down the drive, looking back once to see if we've changed our minds.  "Go on!"  

Last winter, we hosted a nightly supper party for the foxes. We discovered by accident that they were partial to birdseed, and we began scattering the seed on the portal. Chipmunks and birds took their share of the bounty during the day, and the foxes came out in the dusk. The mother was very cautious, watching for movement through the doors, but the two kits were braver.  E was enthralled, and mourned when they stopped appearing.  "Are they alright?  Where did they go?"

In another month, we will be putting the feeders out again, and hopefully the foxes will return. Right now, though, it's still rattlesnake season. I haven't seen a single one, but C has pointed out their holes, and she has seen the long tube-like paths they take to the shady regions under the greenhouse. We do what we can to not attract them to our homes, and when we walk we keep an eye on the shady bushes and rocks.

The birds are the most overt presences.  In the spring, we monitor the thrush nest in C and M's front porch rafters. The mother circles, shrieking at our presence as her chicks whine for food. In the summer, the high-pitched squeaks of the hummingbirds and their WWII airplane buzzing fill the air. They dominate the landscape as they dart and skirmish around the feeders and hover at their reflections in the windows.  High overhead, the crows soar.  Western scrub jays perch in the tree tops, Occasionally we hear the mournful coo of the white winged rock doves.  But the smaller, more social birds are not in evidence yet.

Still, for the most part the desert creatures are shy and unobtrusive.   Dead mice, captured inside and flung under an outside bush, are gone within ten minutes, but you never see the snake that took them. EB says that one day when they left the house, she saw crows or vultures clustered on the road, and, as they lifted into the air at her approach, she saw the mangled remains of a rabbit. Upon her return, 4 hours later, there was no sign of the blood and violence. The desert had cleaned itself, presenting a smiling emptiness to the gaze.  Clouds sail serenely overhead, casting moving shadows on the trees and flowery underbrush and rocks, but you have to be very alert to see the animal life that prospers within. 

Perhaps that's the enduring magic of this place.  It contains multitudes, and every day is a discovery adventure, repetitive and new at the same time.

Monday, September 15, 2014


Awhile back, my friend L posted pictures of things that made her glad. One of them featured Simone in the garden, and I felt a tug at my heart. I miss Simone so much, but she is no longer my cat (if she ever was), and this is not a good environment for an adventurous outdoor cat, anyway. She may be street smart, but I don't think she can acquire the feral knowledge of dealing with coyotes, bobcats, and bears. Or rattlers and hawks for that matter.

So, she will need to stay in her luxurious digs with H and S, who treat her like the little princess she is.

Meanwhile, I have been nudging EB to get a cat. She wants to wait on getting a dog until she is a full-time resident, as she wants to bond with the dog and be the alpha. But, she is becoming amenable to the idea of a cat for the here and now. E wants the furry companionship, and so do I.

This longing became acute last week. I was in the Olympic Peninsula, visiting J and H. Their friend, A, who lives on their property in a house they built for him, was scheduled to get an indoor cat from the local shelter, PFOA. H and I drove with him, with strict instructions from J to check out the setup:  they are donating money to several shelters, and she wanted to be sure it was well run.

Well, those cats have it great.The shelter is located in a rambling two-story house, situated in the country near Sequim. The outdoor balconies and patios are encased in plexiglass and bird-netting.  Each room has access to the outside, and each room is carefully populated with a reasonable number of cats and kittens who get along with each other reasonably well. They have their own beds, climbing perches, and toys. The "wands" are kept outside the room, so they don't choke on them, and each room has hand sanitizers which are to be used upon entrance and exit. The kitten room has the added precaution of foot protectors, which go over the shoes.

A was pretty specific in his requirements: a de-clawed old-lady cat. They live in the woods, on a bluff overlooking the Straits of Juan de Fuca, so he wanted an indoor cat that would not outlive him or destroy his furniture. His previous cats had been ripping up the carpet, and he himself is 89 years old.

The shelter had one cat that fit the bill.  While not a proponent of de-clawing (the adoption papers specify that cats will NOT be de-clawed), they do of course sometimes receive cats in that condition. So, Orange (a not very imaginative name, but better than Cutie Pie), received a visit from us.  She was shy, downright unfriendly in my book, and, after standing on the perch to be petted, she stalked outside, out of range.  A didn't mind:  his expectation was that she would, like his previous cats, spend two weeks under the bed before deciding to be sociable.  So, the deal was cut, and we went back upstairs to the living room to look at the papers.  It was a long process, and I opted to go visit the kittens.  They were, of course, adorable.  One skinny, pale red tabby was dominant:  she climbed up my back, draped herself on my shoulders, nibbled at my hair, and purred exceptionally loudly.  Here ears were like sails.  She kept the other kittens at bay, but they swarmed around anyway, and I petted a very soft all-grey, a sweet-faced calico tabby, a black cat with a bent tail, and a smart-looking shy tabby.  The tuxedo kittens stayed out of range, for the most part.

Eventually the dominant one found the lavender that I had put over one ear, and she took it away and started batting it around like it was a mouse, growling as the other kittens came near.  That gave me a moment to focus on the other purr-balls.  Eventually I retrieved the lavender and left the room, to find the paperwork still going on.  The kittens came out onto the balcony which encircled the living room, and I took some pix through the window.  I sent this one to EB...

Orange was retrieved and put into a loaner traveling cage:  she was a huge 16+ pound red tabby, and the cage A had brought was inadequate to the task.  I sat on the steps as they discussed final plans:  a mentor would be calling later to see how things were going, he had sample foods and instructions for gradually adjusting the diet, he made plans for returning the cage.  Orange mewed fairly constantly, and I put my fingers through the mesh, speaking soothingly.  I decided her name was Maggie, and told A so.  He was offended:  "We won't know her name until she tells us."  His previous cat was called Her Royal Highness Princess Pettipaticah (or something like that, no one could remember it), so I braced myself for something equally awful.  (It turned out to be Countess Brewsterbury (?) O'Bama.  O'Bama because she's Irish, and because he knew it would irritate J, which it did.)

Later in the day, A came over for drinks and snacks and I asked how Maggie was doing.  Ignoring the name, he said, "She's disappeared."  Apparently he had opened the cage in a middle area between bedroom and bathroom.  She sat in there while he set up food in the former and a litter box in the latter.  When he returned to her cage, she was gone,  An exhausted search (under his bed and in various rooms) netted nothing.  He was clearly distraught about it, so I went back with him to search.  No luck.  I checked all the open rooms exhaustively, looked in cupboards with doors a cat could maneuver, looked on top of furniture, glanced through the closed rooms and closets, looked in the kitchen sink and the bathtub.  No signs of her anywhere.  He said, "This is terrible!  I wish you hadn't come over, now I know she's really gone."  I said, "She'll turn up, give us a call when she does," but I was not sanguine.  My theory was that she had slipped out (if a 16 pound cat can be said to slip) while he was putting the smaller traveling cage out on the back porch, so I looked around outside for a bit.  His house is surrounded by trees and deep undergrowth,though.  There was not much hope of finding her, if she was outside and didn't want to be found.

J was also distraught:  she saw it as a sign that his memory had deteriorated more than they'd thought, and that he could no longer take care of other creatures, and maybe not even himself.  However, the next morning he called and reported that she was sitting on his lap and purring.  She'd somehow made it into the shut back bedroom (which I had searched).  I'm still mystified:  yes cats are good at hiding, but she's HUGE, and there was very little space for her to hide in.

Anyway, happy ending, except for the name.  I have continued to call her Maggie, and J and H have followed suit. The next night at dinner P was pushing Beatrice (pronounced in the Italian way...Bee ah TREE chay), and trying to convince A that, as she passed his house, the cat was in the window saying, "I'm Beatrice, Meow!!!"

A paid no attention but they did have a long discussion about Dante.

This morning EB and I exchanged cat stories, and she has agreed to go with E and me to a local shelter to pick out an elderly friendly cat that will be happy staying indoors.  The other stipulation: if the cat does not bond with her, I will be taking it with me.  That will cramp my proposed vagabond lifestyle, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.  E needs a cat.

And so do I.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Another milestone

Today I found myself walking my mini-labyrinth.  The winding path has been altered by the recent monsoon rains.  In some places, little streams had washed away the dirt, and a layer of small multi-colored stones was exposed.  In others, the rocky path walls acted as a dam, with smooth sand banks piled up on the eastern, downhill side.  Towards the west, clumps of small sunflowers push through the barriers and dirt.  It is all very miniature, though:  the paths themselves are intact and walk-able.

I didn't have much on my mind for this walk:  I just felt like being out in the breeze, watching the clouds piling up in the blue.  It is a cool sunny day, not quite autumnal, but carrying hints of that season. The gusts bring sweet and sage-y scents, instead of the grit and smell of baking dust.  I realize as I walk that summer is over.  Earlier, as I prepared breakfast, I'd left the eastern curtains open:  no need to worry about heat control, and one less thing to debate with E.  And now, I am out at mid-day, comfortable in a long-sleeved linen tunic worn over my long skirt.  I think it's time to move the birdbath out of the shade, back onto the patio, and start up the fountain.

Standing in the labyrinth's center, I start Tai Chi Chih practice.  How long has it been since I did that? How long has it been since I felt so peaceful?  My mind is unfocused as I count the reps, planning out a day of quiet events:  grapes and cheese for lunch, maybe practice the gamba, set up calendars, fill out spreadsheets, read a little, knit a little, think about supper. Shall we go into town and hear C play Spanish music at La Posada?  I'd already taken and edited some early morning cloud pictures, cleaned up the breakfast, done the crossword, tutored a bit.  Nothing of this is earthshaking, but it's all part of a productive life.  I think, without surprise, I feel content.

A year ago, on this date, I met E for the first time. A month later, I was making this labyrinth. I was searching for meaning, searching for choices, searching for myself.  I wanted, oh how I wanted, to make this time a productive one.  And now, here I am, still searching, but no longer grieving, no longer questioning and judging.  At least, not here, not now.  E is 99, and nothing stays the same, but at this still moment, I am centered in more ways than one.

I walk out of the labyrinth, raise my arms to the east, turn and bow to the center.  "Namaste," I think, and I walk back to the house to continue my day.  

Friday, August 15, 2014

Loving more?

Many years ago, I was introduced to the concept of polyamory, which seemed to involve open multiple loving/intimate relationships.  I respect and love the people involved, so I listened to their explanations with my inner skeptic firmly throttled down.  It seemed to work for them, but the operative word was WORK.  Lots of communication, lots of checking in, lots of loving negotiation.  Also, lots of people who really didn't get the concept, but just wanted to sleep around without repercussions.

I decided that it wasn't for me.

Fast forward to 2012, when I moved to New Mexico.  I met a gent who invited D and me to a potluck with "unconventionally-thinking people."  After we accepted, he expanded the description:  it was the Santa Fe Poly group.  As he described it, it was a way of including sex in the friendship mix.  Friends fulfill your social, financial, cultural, and sexual needs, but not usually all four at once.  So, you have a friend with whom you go to plays, and you have sex afterwards.  You have another friend who is a domestic partner (shared finances and sex implied.)  You have other friends with whom you are social, and maybe sexual.  In some cases, there is no sex at all.   Etc etc.  The common denominator is that everyone knows about everyone else.  And, there are discussions about that.

I was a bit confused:  it sounded to me like he was describing the basic rule of thumb:  you can't get every need met by a single person.  But, how is polyamory different from having a lot of different friends and sleeping around?

It was the beginning of a whole new exploration of the phenomenon.  There's the vocabulary:  metamour, compersion, primary partner, unicorn hunters, cuddle parties, solo Poly.  There's the etiquette: asking if it's okay to hug, for example.  I discovered that there are groups that meet to discuss issues (what do you tell the kids?, how do you handle jealousy?  what do you do if your primary partner does not want to meet your other partners?)  Afterwards there's a potluck.  It's surprisingly innocent.  Of course, some of the groups are loosely-veiled swinger clubs, but most differentiate between swinging and Poly.  There's a book that describes the various forms of Poly (a W is five people, whose connections form a W, a V is 3 people, etc etc).  The author is the doyenne of the movement, and is also a couples counselor.  I'd say she has lots of business amongst the Poly crowd.

Being fresh from a disastrous stint of monogamy, I was open to the possibilities.  I wanted a loving relationship that would allow me to pursue my own interests and friendships, with none of the control and claustrophobia that characterized my failed marriage. My OKCupid profile indicated that, and I began finding that my best matches were Poly.  I checked in with them, and discovered that Poly means different things to different people.  One man wanted nothing to do with the negotiation and communication (one might say over-communication) of the Poly community.  He didn't attend meetings or meet his partners' other partners.  He wanted the openness of dating and sleeping with a number of women, but didn't want any of the other connections.  He was totally open to basic non-sexual friendship, too, which was what we had for many months. Another wanted the connection (triple dates, for example), but his form of Poly was hampered by his inability to honestly connect, and I don't think he really liked independent, thinking women. Certainly, he did not like discussion or compromise.  Any confrontation was met with, "I don't feed the drama lama."  There was a kink element too, which is often the case with failed Poly attempts.  For example, I chatted with another gent who was mostly interested in finding a "slave."  Loving relationships were not what he was looking for.

There's the more insidious type.  This man discusses the whole thing up front and is very much into meeting other partners, but he doesn't know how to handle ex-intimates. Part of his problem is the hierarchy of primary and secondary partners.  People who emphasize the hierarchy are suspiciously like non-monogamous marriage partners: you can sleep with other people, but the real caring and commitment is with the primary.  There's a truly gag-producing term for one aspect of this:  fluid bonding.  Basically, it means non-protected sex.

I met a woman who exemplified the hierarchy gone wrong:  she got involved with a couple and then tried to detach the woman of the pair.  It ended badly:  she said the male partner was a chauvinistic misogynist with control issues, and he said she went into a screaming fit when he and his partner confronted her about her divisive behaviors.  I'd guess the honeymoon was over, and they had not been honestly Poly from the get-go.

I only met one person who seems to actually walk the talk.  He attends conferences and potlucks and discussion groups, mans booths at festivals, and is generally immersed in the lifestyle.  I think he is an anomaly, though.  He sincerely wants loving relationships, not just sex, and he wants the same for his partners, whom he thinks are awesome women (he is not bi.)

The awesome people don't, for the most part, seem to be Poly, though.  I met a Colorado group and I've attended two sessions of the Santa Fe Poly, and it seemed to me that a disproportionate number of the attendees were misfits.  They were breathtakingly homely, or exceedingly obese, or socially awkward or all three.  There were a large number of sexual deviants, aka kinksters. Trans-gendered and bi individuals were the norm.  Those who were most conventionally attractive seemed to be Poly-curious, not actually Poly.  One man in Santa Fe had fantasies of a fivesome:  3 women and 2 men.  He was very specific about that.  So, there was a lot of variety in motivation and understanding.  However, the common denominator and saving grace was an attitude of  inclusiveness.  Members were truly kind and thoughtful of each other. They had interesting jobs or obsessions, they liked to discuss many of the things I like to discuss.   They seemed, despite some personal unawareness, to be genuine in their desire to create community. Surprisingly, there was a reasonably even distribution of gender and age, and hooking up did not seem to be the main emphasis of the get-togethers.  I get the impression that other Poly groups are not like that, however.  The groups I attended are organized under the umbrella of Loving More, which is a political and convention-planning entity.  I found the leader in Colorado to be thoughtful and even-handed in her approach, and, if she has demons of her own, they are not in evidence. The leader probably sets the tone:  there was some discussion of a gent in Denver who seemed to use the group as his personal dating pool.

Anyway, I was comfortable spending time with them, but I was not attracted.  Community for the sake of community is not enough for me.  And sex without commitment isn't either.  There is an inevitable emotional connection that comes with the physical connection, and people who deny that are lying to themselves and their partners.  I don't know the answer to my desire for connection, but polyamory is not it. The recent encounters with Poly folk netted some friendships and an insight into the ways other people deal with the inherent loneliness of the human condition.  But that's it, even though  I like the honesty and the sincerity exhibited by many of the pilgrims, and I do believe that people should be free to pursue love and friendship in a variety of ways.  Diversity should not be a buzz word, applicable only to the politically correct few.

Still,  friendships are not soul mates, and increasingly I find that's what I want.  Do I seek for one, or do I table that longing and attend to living a meaningful life?  Can I do both?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


I just spent 10 days away from the cooperative, visiting the boyfriends, rehearsing, and playing 2 concerts. I also attended the Tedeschi-Trucks Band concert with G, and visited El Malpais, the VLA, Pie Town, the Museum of Nuclear History, and the Rattlesnake Museum in ABQ Old Town with M and S. I hiked the Sandia Crest twice. I had a fabulous time.

I can't say the same for the folks at the cooperative. While I was gone, E's caregiver/niece discovered a big mouse infestation. In my defense, I think the signs became obvious right before I left: I told her I'd heard mice and explained our trap system (a jug of water, desert mice are drawn to dive in and drown). I had heard the mice, but not seen them or their leavings, so I had not done anything else about them.

Anyway, she went into huge overdrive: there was apparently a nest of newborns, and there were holes in the roof and, and, and... She used to be involved in infectious disease stuff (had a PhD and worked in a lab), so she has been following an extremely careful CDC protocol and cleaning every day. EVERYTHING has been moved and disinfected, except for a pile of brooms and containers in the bathroom, and the things under furniture in my room. Those, and the myriad numbers of books will wait until the last mouse sign is gone. C arranged for foam blocks in the Epod and the Casita (which also has a mouse problem.)

I was sick all last week with nausea, fatigue, and aches, and I missed E's 99th birthday party. I was advised that those are symptoms of hantavirus, which has a 38% of being fatal. Never mind that the mice for hantavirus are deer mice, not field mice, and that you need to have contact with fresh feces, and E was not showing any symptoms. I bowed to the panic and went to the doctor on the Monday I returned: No, I do not have the hantavirus. My symptoms are probably due to stomach flu and reaction to the bodywork I'm having done for last month's whiplash..

After I went to the doctor, I gave J a break and spent the afternoon with a tub of diluted 1:10 Clorox, doing battle with mouse turds. Most uninspiring. Then, I sent a message to my boss, regarding schedules and the possibility of getting a piano for Esther.

She wrote back that we need to connect on her next visit and clarify things, and she is not happy with the idea of having a piano in her house: no room, and E wouldn't use it anyway.

So now I am going into paranoia mode. I think she is thinking that I am getting paid too much for my work, since I'm gone for a week every month, and have subs for two overnights and one afternoon a week.  Of course, we had agreed to that back in January, she perhaps wanting to change the terms of our agreement?  Or perhaps she is reacting to the hysteria regarding the mice? Whichever, it is not an acceptable attitude. I am a live-in caregiver, and I am here 24/7. My current rate of pay is barely $100/day. July was an anomaly: I had 17 days off (only two of which were covered by paid backup) and two 5-hour afternoons. That means, in July I worked 393 hours. At the going rate of $18/hr, that would be $7074. I'm getting $2100 a month, which translates into $5.35/hr last month, plus room and board.

Whatever, I'm cheap. And I am good at it. E and I love each other, and I do my best to shoulder my share of the co-op work, even though I'm not a member.

Probably this defense is not necessary. My boss is probably wanting to get another sub and hammer out the time off so she can budget for it. The real issue, of course, is that I'm thinking of the future. E just turned 99, and she is not happy here, and her memory and health will probably deteriorate. I'm only 55: What do I want to do for the next ten years before I retire? I actually spent the last few days of my recent vacation thinking about this. The mouse hysteria and my boss's message were just the tipping point.

I guess I feel like I'm ready to go back into the real world. I've been doing this since mid-September, so I'm close to the one year mark. I think that I could actually do this for a living, but then again, I can't expect to find other clients as wonderful as E. However, if I did this more formally, I would have much more freedom. Here, I'm responsible for scheduling my backup, and I don't have a real weekend: my weekends are 48 hours, not two days with the night before and the morning after, like most weekends. If I were working for an agency, like my friend C's, I would be making $15-20/hr, and if I were working a 24/hour shift, I'd be working a 3 day work week.

I'd need to get some EMT training, though. E is easy: she has short term memory loss, some hearing issues, and some physical frailty, but I don't need to administer meds or take her to the toilet or give her baths or any of that sort of thing. I'm just here, keeping her company and picking her up if she falls, making meals, and monitoring things.

I'm thinking out loud I want to do this much longer? Do I want to go back to library work? Do I want to stay in New Mexico? The last few days have proven to me that I still don't handle criticism well, so it's tough to figure out a job and a living situation that will suit my perfectionist, flawed, thin-skinned style.

I'm irritated
By implied criticism.
I don't have to be.