Saturday, January 7, 2017

Snippets

1. Snippet # 1:  Reunion
I spent my Christmas break in Petaluma, CA, visiting E.  She was 101 in July, 2016, and it had been close to 2 years since I had seen her.   Although there are signs of deterioration, she is still able to go on road trips and enjoy them.  So, in the course of my 5-day visit, we went to the top of Mt. Tam,  into the Muir Redwoods, over to the Sonoma Coast, through the Sonoma Valley,  into cheese factories and wineries.  The weather was perfect:  blue skies, crisp air, clear light.  

She fell the first night, splitting open the thin skin on her left forearm.  Her daughter took care of the ER visit, and I wasn't aware of the incident until the next morning, but the rest of the visit I started each day changing the bandages and examining the arm for radiating red or pus.  She was disoriented, convinced that she was at her aunt's house in Bakersfield, instead of her sister's house in Petaluma.  But otherwise, she was her own wonderful self, delighted to see me and to be with her family.  "Oh I'm so glad you are here, did anyone tell me you were coming?  It almost makes up for that great disappointment."   She was referring to the visit I had planned in October, that was canceled the morning of the flight because of the violent attack of vertigo.  So, her memory is intact for some things.

It was a special time, a renewal of a special bond.  It was possibly the last time I would see her, probably the last time I would see her able to go out and about.  I ached as she said "when will you come back, why don't you move to California," as I replied, "I'd like to."  Her niece drove us to the airport on that last day, and the conversation consisted of telling E that she was going to her home in El Cerrito, and I was going to my home in Taos.  That we were separating again.  That I was not staying with her.  A final hug, and I walked into the airport.  I had a cold, but that's not why I was sniffing.

2.  Snippet 2:  Politics
I delivered my rent check and he said, "So, it's 2017 and the world hasn't come to an end."  I nodded, "Not yet."  "Give him a chance," he said.  I mentioned the new Cabinet appointees, and the denial rocked me.  "He's not a racist....I don't believe in Climate Change either."  I walked away.  This is the other side of it.  I'd like to believe that Trump supporters are thoughtful, that they voted him in because they don't like the status quo and they don't believe he is a sociopath (or that it matters in terms of what he can do).  But, some of his supporters, maybe most of them, are like my landlord.  I am frightened.  I read my Daily Action text and call the number to protest the first action of the new Congress:  a breathtakingly cynical attempt to do away with ethical oversight.  And then the Sociopath tweets "no, no, no" and the media says, "ain't he great."  I feel played.

How can we be proactive instead of reactive?  How can we stop playing the Sociopath's game?  A friend says, it's just the pendulum swinging.  It's what we do, why do you get so upset about it?  But I find it impossible to be philosophical about it, and I cannot be comforted by the thought of the pendulum swinging back.  So much evil will be done on this side of the swing.

3.  Snippet 3: Friendship
In the laser music room at Meow Wolf
She spent her 70th birthday with me in Santa Fe.  We walked the Rio Grande Nature Center, we went to Meow Wolf, we checked out the Indian Fair, we froze in the Glow at the Santa Fe Botannic Garden.  We had a lovely meal at the Compound, and the busser who shared the birthday brought us free desserts.  

She is the only friend from Portland to visit me here, and has done so faithfully every year.  We have explored Chimayo, Taos, the Agnes Martin room at the Harwood, Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch, Jemez Springs, Bosque del Apache, the VLA, and Albuquerque Luminaria tours.  We have talked, she has analyzed.   In the 30+ years we have been friends, we have traveled together, eaten memorable meals, drunk memorable wines, listened to wonderful music, and....talked.  She is argumentative in the best sense of the word:  she observes, questions, and thinks.  No offhand comments allowed:  you have to defend your position.

She claims to be organic in her approach to travel, to life.  "You'll retire when you want to stop working, when it's time" she says, dismissing my agonizing over budgets, health care,  and What Will I Do?  She says live in the moment, be content with what you have.  Or words to that effect.  

G says similar things.  "You're a dreamer," he said today.  I'm not so sure about that.  I know I'm tired, tired of being sick, of having no energy, of having no focus, no reason for existing.  Today, as I stood in his shower, enjoying the feeling of the hot water on my back, I thought about living in the moment.  Yes, this moment is good, but is it enough?  Am I enough?

When I was visiting with E, I overheard her talking about me with her niece.  "She's so kind, so genuine," they agreed.  I smiled at the time, almost saying "You know I can hear you, right?" but instead letting the eulogy run its course.  Now I wonder....is a life of friendships enough?  Lord knows I am a careless friend.  "You never call, you never write...."  

And it's true enough.   I think about C, my freshman year Resident Advisor who passed 3 days before Christmas, leaving behind a teenaged son and a coterie of heartbroken friends and family.  I learned about it through a text, the texter having learned about it through Facebook.  What a world we live in, where friendships are created or maintained through social media, where you learn the most heart-rending news browsing through your iPhone.  And where your grief is shared and assuaged through the pixellated pictures and memories and anguish posted through the special Friends Of group on Facebook.   

Through the shock, I process.  Why am I so upset?  She was important to my life 40 years ago, but I haven't talked to her since.  Some of my fellow advisees have seen her, talked to her, written to her, but not I.  I friended her on Facebook after the 2nd Spider reunion, and I've followed her posts, and she has responded to mine, but that does not a friendship make.  Or does it?  What comes through, shiningly, as I read the posts of fellow mourners, is what a friend she was.  She was kind, she was genuine, she was thoughtful, she was present, she was incisive, she was supportive, she was creative.  She was beloved.  And she is gone, leaving behind her beautiful poems, her unfinished book, her teenaged son, her husband, her friends, her family, the pictures and gifts and memories and love.  Is it enough?

Will it be enough for me?  I do not have her gift of friendship or creativity, I have not changed the world one iota for the better.  Is it enough that I have, outside of my carbon footprint, not changed it for the worse?  Is it enough that, occasionally, I give back to those who so unstintingly give to me? 

4.  Snippet #4:  Rituals
My friend sent me a picture of my Portland house, as it now appears.  My aching heart is soothed:  the outside shell looks good, and I have hopes that the garden will have roses in the future.  They didn't cut down the walnut or destroy the shed.  

I think about the years I spent there, and the rituals that I no longer follow.  I no longer throw parties to mark the annual holidays:  Halloween pumpkin carving,  Thanksgiving turkey from Otto's, Christmas cookie baking, New Years Day jigsaws and mulled wine, Bastille Day wines on the deck.  I used to make lefse and julecaga every Christmas and decorate the house.  I'd harvest pussy willows every spring.  I'd make winter wreaths from the red dogwood clippings and the Oregon grape,  summer wreaths from the my friend's lavender and my old-fashioned hydrangea.  I'd make paper from the junk mail and send out holiday greeting cards made from the homemade paper and origami. Every month I would respond to the changing environment:  certain hikes fit certain seasons, and every August I'd take the basil harvest and make ice-cube trays filled with pesto.  Every birthday was celebrated by a trip or a hike or a special dinner:  the common denominator being the celebration with a beloved friend.

Now my rituals are sharply curtailed.  I go out at sunset and take a picture of the sky, of the light on the mountain.  It gets posted to facebook, along with a haiku.  I make popcorn with garlic and brewers' yeast instead of cooking a dinner.  There is no pesto in the freezer, no yeast for baking bread, no oven in which to bake the bread.  I made no lefse, and the julecaga I made in Petaluma was dry. My friends don't drink, and the wine deliveries from my wine club get turned  back by UPS because there's no one to sign for them.  While I do harvest sage from my landlord's garden for sauteed buttered sage, the garden yields no other food or craft material.  I spent my 57th birthday alone.  Now I sit in the evening, knitting and listening to audio books.  And time passes, unmarked.  I am not comforted by the quiet assurance of ritual. The future does not beckon, it leers.  

Snippet #5.  What now?
I've spent the last year working a reduced work schedule:  30 hours a week, 10 hours unpaid FMLA.  The idea was that, instead of quitting my job, I'd keep the health insurance and figure out what's wrong with my health.  I've been tested and drugged and overhauled, and the net result is....nothing is wrong?  But, I still get migraines and nausea, and now I've started my annual winter cold with attendant cough.  Is it just the way my body ages?  The areas of weakness just get weaker?  What do I do?  

I have so much I'd like to do, so much I'd like to write about:  Meow Wolf, the changing seasons, the sculpture at UNM Taos, the future.  But all I seem to be able to manage are these snippets, and now it's time to make a salad for a late lunch.  I guess that's a reasonable outlet for my creativity.  It's at least a moment worth living in, if not enough for a life.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Wild Spirits

We got turned back at the gate of the new (to us) prison, where SC is now living.  Actually, we were beckoned into the gate so we could break the posted rule which barely registered as we looked at the bar blocking our path.  No firearms, etc  or ALCOHOL permitted beyond this point, said the sign to the left of the gateway.  The bar in front of us lifted after several moments, and we rolled through, coming to a stop as the guard stepped out of the warmth of her little office.  She was short and round, hatted, gloved, and coated against the below-freezing temps.  Standing by the passenger side, she asked who we were visiting, and then said, "Level 4s aren't allowed visitors." She started talking on the walkie talkie, and then asked us for SC's offender number.  I had the number in my online address book, so I got out to fish my phone out of the trunk.  We'd already prepped ourselves for the usual: no phones, no jewelry, nothing but a roll of quarters for the vending machines and your license and keys, to be surrendered at the checkin metal detector.  We were old hands at this, and even though this was the state run facility instead of the overcrowded private facility (CCA), we assumed it would be the same.

It wasn't.

As I looked through my phone for SC's offender number, the guard looked in the trunk and pulled out the bottle of wine I'd brought along as a gift for that evening's hostess in Santa Fe.  The guard said, "you can't bring that in," and I said, "even though it's staying in the car?" and she said nope, and I said, then what do I do with it?, and she said, she was calling her lieutenant.  We were still trying to convince her that SC was NOT Level 4 and that she was eligible for visitors, we were not worrying about the wine, when two men came up and gestured us to drive further in, and park off to the side.  It was like a traffic stop:  Stay.In.The.Car, Wait.Here.  They talked to the guard and then came back and gestured at me to roll down my window.  "You're on a 24-hour suspension, because you tried to bring alcohol in."  No arguments, no letting us bring the wine back to the hotel for them to hold, no leaving it by the side of the road ("kids will find it"), no recourse.  They wouldn't even call SC to let her know we couldn't come in.  Jerks.  "This isn't the old place.  We put one of our guards on suspension for bringing in an empty can of beer."  Oh KAY.

Tails between our legs, metaphorically speaking, we turned around, drove past the very clear sign (I'll give them that), re-booked our room for the night, called our Santa Fe hostess to cancel the evening plans, and drove southward.  I'd wanted MS to see El Morro for some time, and it looked like this was the best option for our day.

It was.

The weather was crisp, the skies were clear, and although the switchback trail was closed, we could still hike up to Atsinna for the splendid view.   The striped walls of the mesa were lined with ice.  Through the winter light, we sought the inscriptions from Ancestral Puebloans,  conquistadores, army units, and pioneers.  We looked at the blown cattails in the perpetual pool, the "reason we are here."






SC called a few times, but the signal kept getting lost.  Finally she got through as we stood in the freezing wind, looking into the canyon and across the sea of sage and badlands towards other headlands.  It was after noon, and she'd been frantic about our non-appearance.  Not for the first time, I cursed the system.

After a few hours of walking and looking at the sites, we went further south to see the  Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary. Because the snow and freezing temperatures were followed by some melt, the gravel road to the sanctuary was pea soup slush.  Despite the new tires, the car was slewing, not dangerously, but disconcertingly.  And at one point I hit a puddle of slush and mud that went up over the windscreen and along the sides of the car.  At the end of the road I told M that he got to drive back.

The sanctuary is a compound of fenced enclosures and yurts.  You walk in the gate and turn left, duck under the short lintel, and enter a dark round room, filled with wolf-themed tchotchkes and apparel.  I almost bought stuffed wolf cubs for my grandnieces, just to be helpful to the sanctuary.  They were so darned cute.  But I resisted.  The long-haired granola type girl sold us tickets to the tour, which was due to start in half an hour.  We walked over to the  Candy Kitchen general store across the road for some hot coffee.  It appears that the store is a combination meeting place, laundromat, and deli, as well.  (I found out later it was a place to buy moonshine, and they sold pinon candy as a front.  The name stuck.)  A long porch with wooden benches and chairs and rickety tables ran the length of the building, facing into the muddy parking area.  We were greeted by an aged Rottweiler mix, and his bearded owner remained seated at the far end of the porch, not paying much attention to us.  A dreadlocked couple in their 20's sat at one of the formica tables by the deli case/kitchen area.  It appeared they were doing their laundry and watching the TV.  There was no one behind the counter or by the cash register, and no one in the store.  We wandered about a bit, looking at the display of old VHS and DVDs for sale, checking out the shelves of snacks and canned foods and cleaning supplies.  There was no coffee that we could see, and no one to sell it it us in any case.  We got ready to leave, when one of the couple went to the door and told the Rottweiler's owner that he had customers.  Hmmm.

So, he made us some coffee, and we sat outside to drink it.  Then, back to the Sanctuary for our tour.  The 20-something guide was a New Zealander with an accent that came and went:  she'd moved to New Zealand when she was 8 and had recently been getting her degree in biology in the States.  She was bundled up, with her long dark braid hanging down her front, and carrying a baggie of jerky treats for the wolf dogs.  She was very engaging, and we tipped her generously at the end of the tour.  It was her last week of the 3-month stint, and while she clearly loved the work, she also clearly was happy to get out of the yurt home and back to New Zealand.

We met wolf-dogs from all across the United States:  some came from hoarders who had been busted.  The shelters don't know how to handle or interpret wolf-dogs and are afraid of them, so the animals had been housed in poor conditions after their "release."  In one case, the dogs had been born at the sanctuary, and were living out their lives there.  The shy ones actually came to the fence, and our guide told us how lucky we were.  She sounded sincere, but I think we may have been played.  That's okay, though.

I learned that wolves do not have blue eyes:  that's a myth from the fact that true wolves cannot be trained to "act," so all the wolves depicted in films are actually malamutes or huskies.  I also learned that wolf behavior is the opposite of dog behavior:  a tail held high in dogs is happy, while in wolves it's aggressive.  Wolf-dogs are a man-made construct of the exotic pet industry:  unlike coyotes, wolves won't willingly breed with dogs in the wild.

The shelter has ambassador wolf-dogs, who visit schools and libraries and other institutions to share the word:  wolves should not be bred with dogs, wolves cannot be pets.  The wolf-dogs who live at the shelter are there for life:  they cannot be safely returned to the wild because they do not have the skills to survive there.

My favorite myth-buster was the concept of the alpha:  it turns out the alpha of the pack is female.  So there!

We wandered up the hill past the fenced enclosures, meeting various animals and hearing their stories.  We stood behind a low wooden barrier log, a few feet from the fence, while our guide stood next to the fence with the treats.  There was a different ritual at each enclosure:  some of the inmates came to the fence, some just watched us from a rock or straw-filled hut at the far end of the enclosure.  Some were white arctic wolves, some grey timber wolves.  We saw and heard Himalayan singing dogs and we saw a dingo pack that had been bred in Florida and advertised for sale via Facebook.  (The breeder was betrayed and retreated back to Australia, leaving the dingoes behind.)  We even saw a fox:  beautiful.  For the most part, the sanctuary focuses on wolf-dogs, but there are a few other escapees from the exotic pet industry.  The sanctuary receives several hundred calls a week, but most of the dogs in question are huskies or shepherds whose owners cannot handle them.  The sanctuary uses behavioral and visual cues to determine the breeding of the dog as DNA testing would be expensive and not conclusive.  Apparently the wolf DNA is not that different from dog.

There was a lot of information to absorb and we also talked with our guide about her background and plans.  So, the tour was fun and too short.  As the sun westered, we hoped to hear some wolf music, but it was not to be.  We walked back through the lengthening shadows, said our goodbyes, and drove back down the slushy road.

My car needed a bath.

I thought about the various images of the day.  SC, fenced in behind barbed wire.  Wolf-dogs, ditto.  Snow, ice.  Signs and inscriptions.  Mud.  Tumbling walls at Atsinna, strong walls at the prison.  But mainly I thought about the golden light, about wildness penned up, about the ways people hurt the world and each other, leave their marks and disappear.  About sanctuary.

Appreciation

"I appreciate you," she said, as she left the library.
It's a common phrase, here in Northern New Mexico, and I've often smiled in...yes, appreciation...at its use, but this time it seemed like I really heard it.  Appreciation.  Not the same thing as thanks, although it's often included with the thank you.  Not love, which is often said almost by rote, too, to indicate a deeper feeling than like.  Not like, either.  Nor affection.  Appreciation.  Acknowledging something at the core of the person.

Appreciation. n.
C1600 (with an isolated use from c1400) from Ango-French appreciation, noun of action from Old French apprecier from Late Latin appretiare "estimate the quality of." (Etymonline.com)

Yes, it's a recognition of a person's quality.  And I find myself thinking we need to do more of that, estimate the quality of the people who are running our country, appreciate the people we live amongst.  It might even transform the public dialog (if only it were a dialog.) But, the real reason I am thinking about appreciation is that it seems possible, even in the hopeless mood I currently inhabit. I cannot give thanks: thanksgiving is an active thing that also implies there is a being who has done something specific and good.  Gratitude is an offering of an emotion, and my emotions are deadened by the Trump effect.

I wrote recently to a friend, "I'd feel better if I felt less helpless.  I'm not able to fight, that's never been my way, but trying to live a life that lifts people up doesn't seem to be working, at least not on the scale that is needed.....I'm still in gray mode, exhausted, confused, and a little numb to the glory and terror that is life."

So, on this Thanksgiving Day, I cannot give thanks (to whom?) for my family, friends, relatively good health and income, worthwhile job, and more than adequately functioning body and brain.  I cannot raise a paean of joy for the clouds and skies of New Mexico, the crisp cold scent of sage in the  evenings, the warmth of the crackling fire in my wood burning stove, the feel of clay under my fingers, the sound of an excellent audio book in my ears, the savor of a fresh-baked cranberry-peach pie in my mouth. Seeing, feeling, touching, smelling, tasting, hearing....all those wonderful senses working so well and so beautifully to bring the joys of this world to me....and I cannot give thanks in return?

No, not yet.  But I can appreciate it, and that's a start.  It's a noun of action, even if the action is not energetic. It's a recognition.  And it's possible.  "I appreciate you," she said, and I can second that emotion.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Making Sense

Election night, I worked until 8 pm, when the polls closed in New Mexico, and half the electoral votes were in.  Clinton was behind by 33, but there were 294 left up for grabs.  The mood could have been cautiously hopeful, but I felt dread deadening my emotions.  I texted a bit with PT and G, but they were watching polls and TV and online election maps, and my stomach couldn't take the play by play.  I bowed out, and listened to James Marsters read The Summer Knight, with that perfect amount of Sam Spade in his voice.  I took diazepam for my queasy stomach and spinning brain, and fell asleep.

I woke up to the news that my country, my neighbors, my friends, my family, had elected a man whose entire campaign denigrated and marginalized women, minorities, and The Other, people who were also my neighbors, my friends, my family.  We elected a bully, a man whose "Art of the Deal" consists of screwing over the people with whom he deals, a man who is proud of working the tax system while the rest of us pay, whose response to criticism is a blisteringly vulgar tweet, who is all about what he can win for himself.  I can't even talk about the rape accusations and his treatment of the soldier's surviving family.

I was heartsick.

I walked through my day, feeling tears in my throat, dread in my heart.  I was nauseous, my head hurt as well as my heart and stomach.  I saw but could not feel the sun shining on the snow-sprinkled mountain. There was a haze over everything.  I wasn't sleepwalking, but I was not present.

Eventually I started reading other people's words. In most there was some version of shock and dismay.  One particularly poignant post in Facebook said "We have elected a CHILD RAPIST!"  I looked up the details in Snopes.com.....well, legally he has only been accused, and the suit has been withdrawn.  As with so much that is horrible about this man, one can't help but wonder:  is he really a sociopath, or is that just his shtick?  And, in the long run, does it really matter?  We have elected him as he presented himself to be.  That in itself is enough to shame us all.  But does it?

I started listening to people's words.  And, as I listened, a glimmer of...something....came into me.  It was not hope....not light....it was a spark, a tiny ember, melting away the hard lump that I was curled around. I started paying attention again to my body's reaction:  nausea, pain, tears.  I was feeling grief, and it was a very familiar feeling. But, I have some tools to deal with that.  Meditate, let the grief and other emotions flow through and out, envision myself as a clear vessel holding light and love....I think about that, and it seems too personal, too small in the face of this global catastrophe.  Can lifting up really be the answer?

And yet, there's that tiny spark.  I listen some more.  And I realize that my country, my friends, my family, my neighbors did NOT elect this evil person (and I truly do believe his works and his effects are evil).  At least 50% of us do believe in the value of women and marginalized people.  We want to safeguard our natural resources.  We want affordable health care, social services, freedoms.  In fact, many of the people who voted for him seem just as horror-struck as those who did not.  I read screeds of blame and shame, saying it's our own darn fault for choosing Clinton as our candidate.

What it seems to come down to is that everyone feels discouraged and disenfranchised. So, some of us tried to take down the old power structure which Clinton stands for.  While I think it is irresponsible to elect an unknown just because he isn't part of the old guard, I do understand. And I cannot descend into blaming and shaming.  My only hope while I work through this grief is that the government, corrupt, lumbering entity that it is, will use its will to live and swallow him up.  Just as liberals become part of the machine they want to fix, so will this sociopath.

And, in the meantime, it's time to get to work on that revolution. If I don't run away first.

I've been threatening
To leave if the worst happened.
But where can I go?

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Gutted

I learn they gutted
My 1893 house.
I feel gutted too.

It was 101 years old when I bought it.  The style was "Rural Vernacular," which I gather means a farmhouse that's been added to and surrounded by a neighborhood.  That, at least, was its history.  I once looked it up in the old City Directories.  In the 1890s, houses were not indexed by address, but by owner.  My old home's address was "2 blocks n. of Section Line Rd," and the residents were a family with a Dutch-sounding name (Vanderhoven?).  One was a seamstress, which used to be code for prostitute, but in this case was the real deal.  Her brothers seemed to swap ownership, and most of the family worked at the same place, a plumber outfitter, a few miles away near the river, I believe.

All this research is in a folder in a Portland basement, and my memory is clearly at fault, but I remember when my elderly next-door neighbor came inside and told me what it used to be.  My downstairs office was her aunt's sewing room.  The central room/dining area/entry was the living room:  they sat on a bench to the side of the fireplace.  The fireplace was now bricked up, and one of my antique wardrobes filled the space that used to hold the warm bench.  The large opening to the living room used to hold a door, and the living room was the special sitting room for guests.  The downstairs bath was the back porch, off the kitchen pantry.  The back deck off the kitchen covered the sidewalk from her house next door:  she came up that walk every day to visit her aunt and uncles. Upstairs, the large open skylighted room was the main bedroom, and the alcove with the washing machine used to hold a dresser.  There was a hallway to the front room, which used to be divided into her uncle's bedroom and a storage room.  The stairway was just as steep, but it was enclosed, with a curtain of beads at the bottom that they used to swing on.

100 years later, the house was pictured in a book of historic houses.  Because of various remodels, it was not on any historic register:  the value was that it added to the historic character of the neighborhood.  Now that neighborhood is barely recognizable.  When I visited 2 summers ago, 3 years after I moved to Albuquerque, funky old Division Street was lined with steel and glass high rises, and one of the new storefronts housed a specialty ice cream store with trendsters lined up for half a block to get weird ice cream.  (It actually was pretty good, but no ice cream is worth a 30 minute wait.)  I was comforted by the fact that the street was also full of nude bike riders:  at least some of Portland's weirdness was still going strong.

I acquired the house from friends:  it used to be C's party house, but he rented it out to some younger friends when he moved in with AB.  It became a Reed house, and I spent many happy Sundays enjoying brunch and crosswords and companionship.  It became my house through a series of friendship-based events.  AB was driving me and my seriously ill cat home from a homeopathic vet.  The vet had done a psychic hair test and informed me that Yo-cat had leukemia and I was sobbing while I stroked my cat.  As her stress-loosened fur swirled around my hand, AB searched for a conversational distraction...."I don't know what C is going to do with that house, now that R is moving out (she was the principal renter)."  I gulped through my tears, "He should sell it to me."  I wasn't serious:  I was happy in my converted milk barn, and I didn't want the responsibility of home-ownership.

One hour later, I received a call from R:  "C says you could have the house for $100K."  Huh?  "Oh, and he says there's no way Yo-cat has leukemia."  That call was followed by another, this time from C:  "I called my vet friend in St. Louis, and YO-CAT DOES NOT HAVE LEUKEMIA!  And I'd love to sell my house to you."

My loan was $74K, and I pulled another $6K from savings, for the deal of the century.  C put down vapor barrier in the area under the house, AB painted the trim, and I received dispensation regarding the cedar shake siding:  they didn't make me paint it.  One fine April day, a caravan of friends with cars and trucks descended upon my milk barn home and transported my possessions to my urban farmhouse home.  I paid my workers with scones, coffee, and raspberries scavenged from my new yard as they carried my things up the walk.  E stayed to put away my kitchen things, V took charge of the library, M set up stereo and music.  By the end of the day, I was moved in and soaking in M and Ws hot tub:  they now only lived a mile away.

In the course of the next 17 years, I hosted annual pumpkin carving parties, Christmas cookie baking parties (all the best parties happen in the kitchen), Superbowl parties.  When Grandma turned 80, I took over the Thanksgiving dinners. One weekend much later, I kicked D out and invited woman friends to a detox weekend, complete with massage and cleansing foods. Housemates came and went.  So did pets:  Bunji and Yo-Cat were both buried in the yard.   In summer and fall I harvested raspberries and walnuts from my jungle yard.  In winter I made wreaths from the red-brown dogwood cuttings.  In spring I cut pussy willows and filled vases around the house.  I gathered greens and lemony-tasting sorrel from the yard for an Easter omelet.  For every holiday and season, the house provided  space and inspiration for celebration and love.

 And, I made my own changes to the house, refinishing floors, moving doors, adding attic space and closets, releasing a hidden skylight, and opening up the tiny upstairs room, changing it into a library.  The big remodel was the new addition, which took out the hawthorne that the cats used to climb to get onto the porch roof and into my bedroom window.  It also took out the daphne and the hydrangea, but it added a wonderful family/guest room, with a wood-burning fireplace, wall bed, reclaimed-wood kitchen bar, and tiled shower.   The stained-glass window from the old Woodstock Library was imbedded above the fireplace, with a light behind it.  The room was comfortable, filled with music, art, and light. When I lost my PSU job, it paid for itself as an Airbnb room.

Friends were also incorporated.  B's mother took my grandmother's quilt scraps and crafted quilts that graced the guest room.  AB's water colors and oils, and AC's prints and my own photographs filled the walls.  L's roses brightened the jungle garden.  When I thought I'd have to lose my house, MC wrote a check for $4K to keep me afloat.  I found a house-mate and finally realized my dream to change the shed into a guest room.  It had previously morphed from carpenter's shop to printshop to artist's studio, to garden shed, but in my last few months I slept under the skylights, watched the sun rise and illuminate the flower-filled garden, and listened to the rain on the roof.  I was happy in that new space, despite the financial uncertainty, nightmare house-mate, and eroding marriage.

As the house changed, so did the neighborhood.  Indigine closed, but other restaurants opened.  Nature's had a place just a few blocks away.  The neighborhood remained a tad bit funky, with middle-aged hippies, original residents, and gentrifying yuppies making fairly gentle incursions.  New businesses were careful to use the shells of old buildings and homes, and the thrift stores did a thriving business.  The nearby park was leash free, and I walked and biked around, visiting friends and heritage trees and local coffee shops.

In other words, I had a home.  And now it's gone.  But....

At least the friends
And memories have remained.
For the time being.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A rainbow



"There's a beautiful rainbow," she said from the office door.

It took a moment to process it. I'd been sitting with my back to the window, typing away at the notes for the Staff Council meeting I had attended a few hours before.  I was dimly aware of a brisk damp breeze blowing through the window.  I had weighted down my notes with stapler and tape dispenser, but I hadn't turned around to see what was happening.  Now I did turn, and saw a golden light through the slats of the window shades.

I grabbed my cell phone from my pack and walked quickly to the east door of the building, the Library's unofficial entrance.  Facing east, I saw the right leg of brilliant rainbow.  I came further out, and there it was,  a complete bow, arching from the middle of the Taos mountain  range to the north and ending at the southernmost  campus building.  It was immense and perfect, and I couldn't hope to capture it with my little cell phone.  But I tried.  I walked through the spattering of raindrops to the north and west, trying to get a clear view of the mountain with this incredible prism dropping to its peak.  When I got to the point where I could see the peaks clearly, I was also able to see the setting sun.  It was a bright orb at the rim of the earth, with a golden haze above and a few glittering clouds to the side.  Over there, the sky was almost clear.  North, east, and west, the sky was filled with clouds, some dropping rain, some clumping up around a few specks of a cerulean blue.

But the rainbow filling the eastern sky took control, and I could only look away for a short time.  It absorbed the mind and the emotions in a way that could not be analyzed, only felt.  It was so big, so perfect, so semicircular.  In this land of big skies, the rainbow seemed to carve out its territory and make the sky even bigger in the process.  The wind whipped my hair around my face, and the rain spatters became a little stronger.  I was chilled, and I had to go back to work.  But I couldn't focus, so I pulled up my pictures and tried to edit them to show the glory .  It was futile.  All I had was a dim indication of the glorious awe I had experienced.

Later, when I left work, the sun had set, leaving a pale blue streak along the horizon.  A huge bank of clouds covered the southern sky.  It was edged in white, surrounded by the dark blue sky, still clear of stars.  I could tell a full moon sailed behind that cloud bank.  To the east, the clouds lit up with lighting flashes, and as I drove home, I watched similar flashes to the north.  If there was thunder, it was too far away to be heard.  The wind had died down, and all was still.

Still later, I walked out into a silvered landscape:  the moon was clear of the clouds, or the clouds had drifted away, while I was eating dinner and washing dishes.  I strolled down the road, listening to the not-so-distant barking of coyotes and dogs, watching the lightning, which was still outlining the northern and eastern edges of the sky.  I drew a deep breath and wondered again why I ever want to leave this enchanted landscape.


Sunday, September 4, 2016

Watching Time

I watch through the doorway as the humped-over woman in the wheelchair grips the arm of another wheelchair-bound woman.  They are facing each other, wheel to wheel, but they are not looking at each other.  She holds the other woman's arm tightly for several seconds, almost a minute, pressing hard enough, it seems, to leave bruises.  The skin on the arm hangs down in white flabby wrinkles. The arm's owner makes grunting noises, but says nothing.  When the first woman finally lets go, the other woman wheels herself backwards and away.  There is no comment from the attendants at the desk, and none at all from the two women.

My guess is that the one woman got in the other woman's personal space.  There may even have been some wheelchair bumper car action.  I had been knitting and looking occasionally at my client as he dozed, so I missed the beginning.  And, it's not for me to do anything:  these are not my clients.

This particular assignment is both easy and difficult. Easy because I don't have much to do, and difficult for the same reason.  Since I began working as a weekend caregiver for a national organization, my assignments have been regular 3-hour stints, and none have required the training I went through in April.  I have not transferred people using the belt, I have neither bathed nor diapered anyone, I have not wiped any butts.  I've only done a few household tasks (emptying the trash, making a meal, washing a dish or two, brushing a cat.). Mainly, I've kept someone company or driven someone to an appointment.  My main KSAs have been the ability to drive, a flexible attitude, and a nice smile.

My current client spends most of his time dozing.  Once in awhile he opens his eyes, looks at me with a puzzled and direct blue-eyed gaze and says, "What are you making?" or "Do you like this place" (he doesn't, he feels "captured"), or "You're a good girl."  I smile and answer ("a hat, yes, thank you") and he closes his eyes, wipes his mouth sideways on his pillow, and falls back into his doze. Yesterday when I left I asked if he needed anything else and he said "Only you."  This made me feel good and depressed me, in pretty equal measure.

The economics of caregiving are interesting.  I get paid $9.25/hour for unskilled work (aka companionship) and another buck if I have to do any Personal Care (aka, wipe a butt.) I think the company charges around $20/hour for my services.  Trained nurses get more, and so they should.

Not all my clients are in their own homes, which I would think is the main purpose of my job:  to keep them out of the nursing homes.  But, some of them need the assistive care, and they want to know someone will visit them regularly.  Family usually cannot do that, so enter the paid caregiver.

Who pays for this?  Not all my clients are wealthy, and health insurance only pays a certain amount for skilled nursing.  My role is not easy to define, and thus not easy to evaluate in financial terms.  In Victorian England I would be the poor relation or the paid companion, and I would not be respected much.  Financially, I'm still not respected much.  In many ways, I consider it a volunteer gig, like the Dove Lewis Therapy animals visiting the hospitals and libraries and assisted living facilities.  Only, I think I'd rather be visited by a dog than a knitting 57-year-old.

These people have pasts, they have the present, but it seems they have no future.  Any conversation, especially with the Alzheimer's and dementia patients, does not cover the future, and it doesn't deal in numbers either (how long have you been here, how old are you, how long were you married to her?). For some odd reason, 5 is the magic number.  I remember E used to say her mother died 5 years ago.  It's a number that conveys a reasonable amount of time, but doesn't put it too far back, because otherwise, why would we be talking about it?   At least, after some pondering, that is what I've finally decided is going on in their brains. I can't fault them:  in many ways 5 is my magic number too.

I took this gig because I wanted to see if I like caregiving, per se, or if I just liked E and the Co-op.  Well, I do like caregiving, in the same way I like my library job:  I'm good at it, and it makes people's lives better.  It's a community service.  Unlike my library job, though, it does not utilize my brain or my creativity.  It just utilizes my time.  As I sit and watch my client, I don't think.  I'm just marking time until the 3 hours have passed.  Then I go back to G's condo, fill out the online record-keeping for my boss, and settle down with my iPad.

It's not a bad use of my time, but it's definitely not a long-term solution to my search for a meaningful existence.