Thursday, November 24, 2016

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.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Making

We met to discuss Joan Didion's essay on keeping a notebook.   I had suggested that it might be good reading for her Slow Travel class.  As it turned out, it was mainly helpful in helping her define the point of Slow Travel journals.  M's reason for journaling is to help her focus on the moment.  Being open to the events of the moment is a main part of Slow Travel.  On the other hand, Didion's  journaling serves as a window to her past self:  what was she noticing, what was interesting her then?  Sometimes those notes make their way into her writing, but that's not the real point.  My recollection is that a factual record was also not the point:  her notes convey the mood, and may not be accurate.  For example, a past participant might say, "It wasn't snowing," but in her memory and her notes, it was.  That was her reality.

An analysis of reality or mood is not M's goal.  She documents the smells, the sights, the sounds, the tastes, the words she overhears, the breezes, the sweat, the senses.  On the way, she might document an emotion, but mainly she is engrossed in experiencing, not analyzing.  In that way, she is like Christopher Isherwood: "I am a camera," shutter open, passively recording.  Later he will fix the images with his words, but for now, he is an observer.   So, in that way she is not like Isherwood, either.  She is an experiencer, not an observer.  The recording is not going to be used later, it is used in the here and now to help her keep her focus sharp.

It's a subtle distinction, but I am slowly figuring it out.  I'm not sure how she will manage to convey it to her Slow Travel attendees, especially because she also doesn't care how and why other people journal.

As we discuss Didion et al, I wonder, not for the first time, what compels me to blog, to post pictures and haiku to Facebook, to record and share the things that fascinate me.  Why do I need a product? Why can't I just use the camera and the word to help me focus on the moment?  It's true that sharing has some huge fringe benefits:  other people share back, and those sharings inform my visions.  We none of us create in a vacuum, right?  And I get great pleasure when other people post their own creations in response.  It's a conversation, opaque and long-distance, but so much more satisfying than a monolog.

The healing part of this blog is over, I think.  I'm tired of whining about the emotional and physical twists in my days.  I'm tired of being tired, and I'm bored with my thoughts.  I'd like to go back to the sharing part, but I seem to have nothing to share.  I work, I watch the sun set, I do the various things that I can do:  make food, music, photos, poems, love.  I can share some of that, I suppose.  But what I want to do is make tracks.  Where and how, I do not know.