Thursday, December 30, 2010

Beware of Expungement

Every now and then I get bummed out. I love that phrase: "Bummmed Ouut." Or the more prosaic: "Bummed." I get bummed every now and then. I'm proud of my generation for dreaming up that one. Otherwise I'd have to go with "sad," "mad" or "bad" or visit Roget's Thesaurus, where I can get lost for days.

It has been a long nine months, beginning back here with the FBI raiding my demented mom's care facility and giving her the boot. Then she had a horrible couple of months and died. Then pneumonia, then a family feud, then yada yada yada, culminating with me on the pity-pot this week. Not a comfy place to sit.

In everything give thanks, sayeth the Bible. My 12-Step program makes gratitude a numero-uno priority. So I'm working on my y attitude. Meanwhile, I thought I'd let you have a peek at the unedited me. Part of my love affair with poetry is that I get to expunge (!) (is it real, or is it Roget's?) expunge the bad stuff that would otherwise stew inside and grow toxic.

Caution: expurgation going on here:

End of December

I lie down on my bed with my fat dog
beside me growing old before his time
slowly dying of his master’s love
for feeding him relentlessly

If only I could fall asleep and awaken
next spring, like the trees in my yard
or the magnolia in the garden, then
I might remember happiness or even

contentment. At 5:30 p.m., Dec. 28,
sleep is a dream that keeps me awake
as do the past year’s march of miseries
and I name them in case I should forget

starting with my mother’s demented
implosion on the Ides of March
then her slide into madness and death
and all that followed, discord, illness

the tapestry that was my family
unraveling thread by thread faster
than I could piece it back together
My fat dog snores, snuggled close

and I try to believe this is love
this is enough to keep going on
this is a blessing big enough
to balance the accounting sheet

But in the end I lie awake counting
my woes, angry with myself
for being wretched when I have a dog
beside me growing fat and old with love

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In Remembrance

On this day 120 years ago, 150 Sioux people were massacred by the U.S. Army beside Wounded Knee creek in South Dakota. Almost half of them were women and children.

The phenomenon known as the Ghost Dance in late 1890 had led to a resurgence of resistance by the native tribes, who had been ordered to reservations created by the U.S. government. The Ghost Dance vision foresaw the return of the buffalo, and a new freedom for the Indian. Officials feared it would lead to native uprisings against whites.

On Dec. 29, 1890, Big Foot’s Sioux band was retreating as ordered to the Pine Ridge reservation. On the 29th, surrounded by a force of more than 350 men armed with cannon and guns, the Sioux had given up what rifles they had and were powwowing with cavalry leaders about the ordered retreat.

During the powwow, a single gunshot was heard. Immediately the cavalry, including cannon, erupted into gunfire at point-blank range. Half of the Sioux people were killed outright, along with 25 soldiers from “friendly fire.” Many of the remaining Sioux were tracked and killed. A few survived to make the trip to Pine Ridge.

Wounded Knee Creek

In the frozen waste of the Badlands I sigh
under the snow for those who fell here

I remember the red-stained white snow
churned into mud and blood by fear

I hold in my white arms the memory
of frightened people running like deer

Between my banks the water still flows
to honor them, tear by helpless tear

(© Chris Alba)

If you click on the photo above, a Sioux invocation from the archives of Edward Curtis, you’ll go to YouTube for an awesome ballad by Robbie Robertson about the massacre at Wounded Knee.

There’s a very fine book about the westward expansion of the U.S and its destruction of the Native American people, called Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown. It culminates with the massacre at Wounded Knee, which is generally considered to be the end of the Indian Wars. You can find Wikipedia’s discussion of it HERE.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Post-Christmas Giggle

Twas the day after Christmas, and all through the house
Not a laptop was stirring, nor a computer mouse.
The hubby was working, but the little wife was not;
she was stretched out immobile on the marital cot.
The kitties lay with her and occasionally a dog.
The creatures were sleeping, unconscious as logs.
Dear hubby washed cars, and dishes, and clothes
While wifey my dear was not troubled by those.
For curious reasons, her spine was a tingle
As were her hands - such gifts from Kris Kringle!
Electrical pain shot jolts through her neck
Making her cry , "Hey, what the heck??!!"
She wrote a quick poem, then quickly she fled
To the warmth and relief of the marital bed.
And that's enough of that crap.

Here, late in the evening, is a tribute to Monkey Man and his Sunday 160, a tale told in precisely 160 characters and spaces:

Hours wasted Christmas Eve
Hiding gifts in paper
On Xmas morn two seconds later
got mounds of trash you can’t reuse
It’s the “Xmas Wrapping Ain’t Recyclable” blues

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Blessings to You

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a great day!

Three generations of our family gathered on Christmas Eve and shared a tamale/enchilada feast and memories of Christmases past. As we always have, as far back as anyone can remember, the older ones (including my age group now!) claim the seats at the dining room table while the kids make do in the other room. When I was a kid, that room used to be the kitchen. Now, it's the living room and they're watching old Christmas movies on my beloved's new gigantic HD TV.

It was a beautiful evening. I missed my mother, not as she was in the past few years, but as she was in decades past, bustling around with a dish towel in her hand. Mom was always doing something, from sun-up until bedtime. She sat down and rested only after 10 o'clock at night, fresh from her shower in a muumuu on the couch, reading the day's newspaper. When my daughter was a little girl, she drew a picture of me and titled it "Mommy always working." My mother trained me to work. I haven't done a terrific job keeping up with my legacy lately but that is the standard my mother engrained in me.

We greet Christmas morning with treasures filling our Christmas stockings, with reading the second chapter of Luke in the King James version, and with watching "Charlie Brown's Christmas." Who knows what the rest of the day will bring. But I know it will rain down blessings on our heads and I pray that blessings rain down on you and on your families.

Christmas Morning

We lie abed with the old dogs and listen to the wind

the children are all grown and have flown with the wind

the window is a collage of leaves washed by the rain

these are the gifts of the Magi: the scent of old dogs

the wealth of the years and the preservation of love

We lie abed with wrinkles and our sagging skin

our love windblown by the turbulence of years

imperfect and well worn The smell of it is beautiful

and your legs are soft as fur where they mingle

with mine and I pet them with my foot

as I consider rising up and bowing down

with this great gift extended to the king transformed

as we are by the hand of God

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Christmas Shock

Is it just me, or is everyone not blog-visiting because they're busy with holiday preparations?

I feel bereft. I don't spend time visiting my blog friends because my chore list is getting longer by the minute, keeping me away from the computer. And although I post a thought or two every few days, I get few visitors in return. This is my second Christmas as a blogger, so I don't know trends. I miss checking in with people to let them know their blogs are appreciated, and I miss your comments too.

Glad tidings of Christmas to you and your beloveds. I wonder what you all are busy doing. Are you doing the same things I am? Mailing last-minute gifts, shopping a little for stuff I forgot, returning things I shouldn't have bought in the first place? Pulling together details for the family gathering on Christmas Eve, checking in with everyone who's coming and with those wo are not because I miss them? Fixing decorations that are failing because they're 10 years old, trying to keep the finances up to date, and (always my favorite) cleaning the house for company?

I asked my hubby if I could hire a housecleaner in lieu of a Christmas gift and he said no. So today, while I ran errands and kept appointments and shopped a bit, he dusted the living room and every single knickknack in it! I went around studying the furniture and the multitudinous stuff that clutters it up, and he did indeed dust as I like things dusted. I'm speechless. I'm shocked. He gifted me with his own time! I'm going to stay married to this man forever.

Please say a prayer for a clean report for my youngest daughter's biopsy.

One big part of my life this past year that has blessed me is the blogging community that has welcomed me into its midst. You're a generous bunch of people, funny, honest, talented, caring, and thought-provoking. God bless your holiday, every one of you.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Which Wolf Will I Feed?

Today marks the longest darkness of the year. With the Winter Solstice, winter begins in all its bite and gloom and sense of death, where I live, its barren trees and frost-burnt landscape, shades of charcoal and brown as far as I can see.

This morning, as I look out on naked trees and gray sky during a break in a week-long rain, I feel the weight of the Winter Solstice on my shoulders. What it deprives me of is important to me: sunshine, warmth, the ability to walk sleeveless and barefoot in my garden, the joy of living in a fertile landscape. It will rain on Christmas, says the forecast, and the unrelenting rain has begun to cause problems around my county.

But then, with my second cup of coffee, I remember an epiphany I once had during an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting:

My attitude makes the difference between peace and unhappiness.

There's a Native American legend about two wolves. A grandfather tells his grandson that two wolves fight within him, one full of evil emotions, and one full of good. "Which wolf will win?" asks the grandson. The grandfather replies, "The one you feed."

The same message can be said many different ways, but the point is the same. First, my thoughts govern how I feel, and second, I have the power to change my mind - to feed a different wolf! The process, in the example of winter, looks like this:

The Winter Solstice is the longest darkness of the year. Yes, but from this point on, the hours of daylight will lengthen every day! The winter landscape looks dead, yes, but the life force is simply resting, as all living things must do. Sleep gives me strength to exert the energy of living. And the rain? Rain is the Great Nourishment of the earth. It hydrates the cells of our land, feeds our oceans, helps fuel our climates, awakens the sleeping seeds in the earth. Rain is the Lifespring.

All is well. Earth's cycles of rest and replenishment are in motion as they needs must be. God, or Gaia, however you name that power or life source, continues to provide for the needs of the planet, and the creatures living on it, like you and me.


After a three-year drought that turned to dust the riverbed,
today the manna from heaven falls on the surface of the soil,

Which laps it neatly as a cat. The pores of leaves open
like mouths to drink it. The shrubbery shivers with raindrops,

The pine needles quiver, the brave narcissus bow their heads.
Rain toots on the roof like a piccolo. A sigh of satisfaction

Escapes the mouth of the ground. Roots hum as their veins swell,
and brown water begins to pool in the riverbed. Small puddles

Rise in the low spots. Slowly they reach for their neighbors,
a trickle builds, they link, and the river’s muddy blood awakens


Speaking of rain, here's a vintage rain song on youTube by the folksinger Melanie, who performed it at Woodstock (where it rained). If you're like me and you can't catch all the words, lyrics are right beneath.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Strange Way to Make Peace

It's the Last Bus before Christmas. That has a sad sound to it, but never mind. At the wheel of the Totalfeckineejit's greatest invention, the Poetry Bus is the poet and recent medical-crisis survivor The Weaver of Grass. She told us fellow poets to make something out the word STAR. As there are many kinds of stars. this should get interesting. Follow this link.

Always an obedient chickita, I wrote a poem and stuck the word STAR in it. It was fun to write because I decided not to have me the poet/narrator appear in the poem to confess any personal emotions, and furthermore, you couldn't appear in the poem either. It was to be an observation poem without an observer, but it still needed to have an emotive impact on the reader. Does it hit the mark?

The other enjoyable part of this poem is its repetitive references to the principles of fractal geometry, which I taught myself in about two hours this past week. (Ha.) There's some interesting stuff on the Web about fractals, which are beautiful geometric shapes formed by infinite replications of similar units. PBS has a great program about fractals here. They're all around us and in us: branching trees, our lungs, watersheds and river systems. I hope the poem works for you.

A Midnight Course in Fractal Geometry

Sleepless again....a repetition of many nights
Windows in the pentagonal glass room reflect
endless patterns of white Christmas lights
Cheerful chaos erupts
from ordinary roofs and shrubs
Curves and angles and loop de loops
swing in a wind with a storm in its arms
A rope of blue transforms the invisible
fence....Now waves on a blue sea
undulate again and again and again
In the looking glass
infinite points of light
form infinite replicas of stars
repeating themselves until they vanish
into the midnight place....Men know how
to wrest order from chaos
They can turn these patterns into formulas
explaining why the shapes make sense
but they can’t say why
the stars make peace
on a December night

Friday, December 17, 2010

Lame Things the Brain Thinks

This is a cross-section view of my brain first thing in the morning and after several hours of Electronic Hell. Just kidding. It's a thing I made to honor my youngest daughter one day when we were not getting along.

A funny thing happened on the way to the store....

Someday I will start a list of the odd things I think of first thing in the morning. Waking up sleep-ridden, mindlessly making coffee, and opening the shades of my office, my brain isn't engaged until somewhere down the line, maybe about the thirtieth cup of coffee.

The morning before last, all I could think of for the first, oh, two hours of being awake was the line "A funny thing happened on the way to the store...." And nothing funny whatsoever had happened on the way to the store the last time I checked. I was so obsessed with that line, I Googled it. And nothing funny ever happened on the way to the store. On the way to the Forum, yes, and on the way to the theater too. But there is nothing funny about American stores at this time of year. They're crowded and parking is a pain.

Thursday morning, the weird thing that was stuck in my head upon awakening was a word: Imatropium. I'm a tropium. It's meaningless. I looked it up. My goofy, sleepy brain got a big kick out of saying it over and over again at 4:30 in the morning! The dumb word made me get up! I had to track it down, because I knew I'd seen it somewhere. And I found it: It's a misspelling of a chemical that I've been inhaling for the past month as part of my post-pneumonia treatment. And I'm not going to look up the chemical, either. I find myself in an obsessive state of mind, and Lord knows where that investigation would take me.

I got stuck in TECHNICAL HELL all day Thursday. Since I had so jolly much time in the morning, being as I woke up before the crack of doom, I decided it was a great time to address some digital technical difficulties. It turns out to have been an utterly insane idea, on all fronts.

First on the list was the satellite company, to whom we just paid a gazillion dollars to have a guy come to the house and "set up the system" for our new enormous flat-screen TV, which is my beloved's long-awaited Christmas gift. Oh, how happy he is! But we needed a new piece of furniture for the TV, because it no longer fits in the old-fashioned, beautiful oak entertainment center we've had for 20 years. And I discovered this proposed new piece of furniture was hideous, as my beloved perceived it in his dear head: a piece of laminated plastic crappola from one of those close-out super discount kind of places. That would mean the monolithic new focal point of MY living room would be the new enormous TV balanced upon a piece of shit. No!

Have you bought what one might call a "substantial" piece of furniture lately? I'll just say that it's more than half our mortgage payment. And then, come to find out, you don't just plug stuff in to an outlet. There now are multiple cables of various types and special surge protectors and "connectivity," and one must have surround sound and that means installing speakers all over our dinky living room, but wait, the surround sound dealy-bob happens to be a piece of crap, in the technician's eyes, and he advises us to retain the fine old HUGE speakers that go with the (now INCOMPATIBLE) stereo, which will have to have its own remote control device, as will the DVD player, because it's ... what? 15 minutes older than the new humongous TV? It will also need its own remote, so here are your three remotes, sir, see ya.

And the first thing that happens after paying this technician, who has been sent to our home by the national satellite company (accessed by an automated 800 number), yes, well, the first thing that happens is that we can't get the DVD player, which is playing the little DVD merrily, to communicate with the gargantuan TV, and so now we can't watch movies.

A simple thing to fix, no? When I called the automated 800 number and finally got to a human being, I learned that the satellite company doesn't "do" DVD players. What about the billon dollars we paid the guy to "set it up"? That was just to hook up the new satellite dish they said we had to have, and make it talk to the new satellite receiver boxes they said we had to have. I made her go talk things over with her "manager" but the answer was the same: Not our problem.

That was my first technical failure. My second took many, many hours longer. I decided, because of some crazy wild hair, to sort out why my computer doesn't recognize my digital camera. After spending all day and all evening sorting it out, I discovered that it's a simple matter of incompatibility between Canon and Microsoft Windows 7. I did find a "patch" on Canon's site and wasted, oh, maybe three hours doing every sort if iteration you could think of, to no avail. So sorry.

In my leisure moments, I idly poked around the computer, looking for reasons why my printer isn't recognized either, why I can't do scans, why I have to go in a back door to get things to print. Alas. No answers readily available there.

So I've spent the entire day attempting to solve difficulties associated with my purchase of equipment that won't even nod at each other let alone communicate. I fired off a couple of snide emails, but what will that accomplish, if their geeky little heads couldn't figure it out and avoid the incompatibilities in the first place? I don't mean to inply that all geeks have little heads. Just the geeks at Canon and Microsoft.

I knew I should have thrown all of this aside in order to decorate our brand-new Christmas tree. Had I done so I would have felt fulfilled as the evening came to a close. Instead, I felt frayed and dog-bitten by the hounds of hell. But a sweet little rain began falling, and I'm warm and dry and I have stuff to battle with even if no one's talking to each other.

If I wake Friday morning obsessing over another meaningless phrase, I'm getting up and decorating the tree.
THIS morning, I gave up trying to sleep at 5 a.m. but without a stupid phrase in my head, praise be. And this is how masochistic I am: I picked up the printout of Canon's camera-driver "fix" and read it again, and I felt my fingers itching to just TRY IT ONE MORE TIME, in case today the "fix" would work when it failed 504 times yesterday.

This is insane behavior, the definition of which is "to do something over and over again expecting different results."

Here's today's happy thought: On this date in 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright had their first successful airplane flight at Kitty Hawk. For some reason, their "insane" behavior, attempting multiple times to fly a motor-driven aircraft, was rewarded with SUCCESS!

Tomorrow, I think I'll address fractal geometry, which I learned all about in the wee dark hours this morning....

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Would You Like to Know the Future?

Twenty-five years ago I was lying in hospital room in Santa Monica, California, with my brand-new baby daughter.
It was stunning. I’d never thought about becoming a mother. Wasn’t in my cards, I thought. Yet here was a perfectly formed little human being, looking with those deeply concentrating eyes into my own as if I were some wonderful sight. I held her, she was mine, we were a new team. I had a great career. Now I had a baby daughter. Ah. How…?

Now I’m thankful I couldn’t see into the future. When I say that, I picture being told the events that would transpire in the next 25 years. What if someone had told me what would happen in my future when I was 25, like my daughter is now? This will happen, that will happen. Just the events only; not my inner life, not my emotional state.

It might look something like this: Your marriage will fail. Your father will die soon. Your child’s father will give you the boot. You’ll spend years alone. You’ll become an alcoholic. You’ll go on the wagon, marry a truck driver, get the boot from a wonderful job. You’ll live through a massive earthquake. Your best friend will die. Then your next best friend too. Your mother will get Alzheimer’s and lose everything in her mind, and then she’ll die. You’ll get pneumonia, and then…

Hey! What happened to “happily ever after”? The trouble with just knowing the events is that they don’t explain what happens inside you when they happen to you. The litany of stuff sounds frightening. If I had known what my future held, I might have simply adopted a dog and hidden from life.

But the events came and I adapted. Not knowing what lay ahead, I just kept getting up every morning. Hard times mellowed out. Good times came. They didn’t look eventful and probably wouldn’t have made the list of milestones. “You’ll go to the mountains and make snow angels with your daughter and laugh your head off and remember it for the rest of your life.” Would a crystal ball have told me that? “Many times you’ll look at your life and thank God for everything.” Would it have told me that?

I don’t want to know the future. I’ve heard it said that with one foot in the future and one foot in the past, you piss on the present. I like the present just fine. I imagine that I’ll be equipped, I’ll find the inner resources and outer resources to cope, when whatever lies ahead comes to pass, just as I have in the past. The worst happens, you think, and it doesn’t kill you. It does seem to make you stronger.

I like the photo I used for this post. As a marching band came up the street toward me at a Christmas light parade last weekend, I opened the shutter of my camera and exposed the picture until they marched past me. To me, the photo captures what the future looks like as it arrives: something beautiful, if you look at it in the right light.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Recipe Calls for Rainbows, Elephants, and Pineapples

My silence this past week stems from a couple of writing assignments that captured my attention (liking the story is always a nice bonus when you’re being told what to write about). The longest assignment was a dramatic story about the difficult rescue of a 38-year-old wife and mother who was severely injured in a remote wilderness area. A series of little miracles saved her life and her ability to walk, and she radiated gratitude.
My house is now decorated with Christmas lights and red velvet bows. Tomorrow is my youngest daughter’s 25th birthday and we’re headed for some kind of adventure, and possibly getting our Christmas tree, a lifelong tradition on her birthday. I’m still not feeling very well, but it has been a great week.

And now TFE’s Poetry Bus is chugging around the world, with Titus the Dog driving. Titus is a wonderful poet, but I’m not sure about having a hound at the wheel. If the unusual prompts are an indication, it’s going to be a wild Monday. Our choices were to write a poem to place in an “Essence Vessel” (it’s indescribable; you’ll have to go look at Titus’s post here), or to write a poem after watching a performance artist at work. I’m eager to see what the Bus riders will do (they are all linked here). Buffaloed at first, I decided to respond to the performance artist, with this:
If I were the Creator

I would spin stars on my index fingers
balance a plate of pineapples on my head
and march around the continental shelves
shin-deep in sea water.

I would drape myself in a cape of clouds
harness the jet stream to a herd of elephants
for a gallop around the glowing blue globe
with a flock of ravens.

I would swing a rainbow like a hockey stick
smack all atomic elements into the Milky Way
to be gobbled up by the black hole there
and jettisoned away.

I would resurrect my invention of manna
stir it with oxygen, hydrogen, carbon dioxide
and mantle the earth with a nourishing soup
so no one would starve.

I would station angels on mountaintops
so the air would resound with song
and heavy hearts float like soap bubbles
glittering in the sun.

If I were the Creator laughter would reign
and the moon’s music would lift the night
like a velour blanket tucking all in
for the sleep of a child.

Where is the Creator? Indeed, has he left?
Without him the world is wholly bereft.
Maybe he’ll hear this mad dream of mine
and respond with a sign.
I hope he is kind.

The illo of continental shelves is courtesy

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My Mother’s New Appearance

My mother, dead five months now, surprised me by floating through my dream this predawn morning, wearing remarkable clothes she never wore in life.

In a large gathering of familiar people at a once-grand, now-tired hotel, I glimpsed her sometimes as my dream-plot unfolded. She wore flowing silks (or maybe rayon) in bright, large florals—a tunic outfit, once, as she threaded her way through the lobby to the big banquet room, and later an ankle-length dress, an updated 1920s style with a dropped waist. The dress was a few sizes too big for her little body, but she had put on a bit of weight since she died.

For the last 30 years, my mother lived in blue jeans and plain cotton blouses, never tucked in, and that’s what she was buried in. For church and special occasions, she had two pairs of trousers and a couple of dressier blouses, plus a pants suit. My mother despised dresses, and on the rare occasion when she wore one in the ’60s and ’70s, they were shapeless and ugly.

She wore an awful knee-length A-line polyester dress, in an orange and navy geometric print, for her 25th wedding anniversary celebration with my father. She sewed an undistinguished floor-length polyester dress for my evening wedding in 1977. I tried to get her into clothing that fitted her curvy shape, but she wouldn’t have any of it. I wonder if she was motivated by dislike of her body (which she had expressed to me a time or two) or simply comfort.

I smiled to see her in my dream wearing those eye-catching bold floral designs in fluid, clinging fabrics. Oddly, she accompanied a lady friend wearing the exact same clothes. The sight of the two them, dressed alike, made me pause in my dream to marvel and wonder why. But I didn’t speak to my mother until later in the plot, and then it was a curious encounter.

I had gone into my hotel room to attend to some private mission, and I noticed as I closed the door that its lock was broken. That made me uneasy, vulnerable and fearful that someone would intrude. And sure enough, my mother opened my door and stood in the doorway, wearing that ankle-length dress. Behind her in the hallway was a shadow of that companion dressed like her.

I repudiated her immediately. I didn’t know if her mind was fully restored to its pre-Alzheimer’s existence but I gave her no chance to talk. I didn’t want her to witness what I was doing. My response to her standing in my doorway was along the lines of “Excuse me! Please leave! And shut the door behind you!”

And without any ado, she turned around and went out. I noticed then that her dress, which was a pastel aqua with an enormous floral pattern, was slightly too large for her, being loose around the hips. It was an eye-catching, attractive dress, but she needed at least one size smaller.

Then I remembered she had died. I felt a little guilty for sending her out, but mostly pleased because of her clothing, and then I dismissed her from my mind because she wasn’t important to my plot.

I wonder what dreams are about sometimes. I wonder if they’re significant or simply imaginative random adventures our brains spin in sleep. Part of me wants to ask questions about the whys and wherefores of this particular dream, but the other, more influential part of me says that’s inviting paralysis by analysis. Simply enjoy the curious dream and let myself smile about my mother’s new style of clothes.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Let Me Tell You a Crooked Tale

I have to make a rhyming poem. That’s as easy and as painless as making my legs six inches longer. Some people I know can dash these things off at work while using Skil saws and scalpels. I put on sackcloth and ashes, lit my white-sage bundle, did a smoke cleansing of the office, and read “Jabberwocky.” Twas brillig but no juice.

Poetikat, the rhymer of all time, is making me do this. She’s in charge of the Poetry Bus, and our leader Hisself the Eejit lets her get away with it.

A rhyme by itself is painful enough,
but the dastardly Kat makes it even more tough:
Use the name of a pub! she wickedly chortles.
Turn the words in the name into kitties or mortals!
Do it all on your head and then in the buff!

The Crooked Kilt

A pub up on High Street called the Crooked Kilt
sported the finest accoutrements man ever built
Like bidets in the “Lasses”
and self-filling glasses
and self-cleaning floors when thy cookies were spilt.

How about this:

I Kilt Him
I had a crooked spouse
who was truly a louse
about buying me flowers on my birthday.
So I tied him in lashes
and cooked him to ashes
then scattered him gaily on Earth Day.

No, again? Well, then, here is my best shot:

A Crooked Plot
A solitary man lived down the lane
and they called him Crooked Joe.
His affliction was strange but he didn’t complain
about his hard row to hoe.

At daybreak a person could find him
far out in the field on his tractor,
In shades so the sun didn’t blind him,
headed west since the sun was a factor

in the pain that tormented his head.
So west he would plow until about noon
when the sun was straight up overhead,
then east he would turn and head for the moon.

No one knew why but the sight of the sun
drove poor old Joe unbearably wild.
He’d howl and run with his britches undone;
insanity he showed as a child.

Luckily for Joe his fields were thin
but their length was incredibly long
and where his land ends, the Kilts’ begins
and Eliza discerned what was wrong.

So Eliza Kilt watched out for Joe
and she opened their gate for his plow
when he ran out of westward to go,
hoping he’d finally marry her now

and this be the summer his heart awoke.
One day she hailed Joe with bewitching glee,
and by Jove, he stopped the tractor and spoke,
then he did something she didn’t foresee:

He leaped from his seat and grabbed her waist!
“Eliza, my dear, you must marry me now!
I’m tired of waiting, and we have to make haste
so you can open your gate for my plow!”

She scrambled aboard with undo speed
without pausing to ask the man why.
They sped to the church, then home with their need
while the sun laughed high in the sky.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Read This or I'll Bump Off My Cat

This is the Best Thing you'll read all day, possibly all week.

So says my (biased) therapist (a New Yorker subscriber), who wants me to submit what follows (to the New Yorker). I wouldn't really bump off my cat. That was just a reference to an old postcard I have: Under a photo of a friendly-looking pooch, with a gun held to its head by someone out of frame, was this header:

Buy this or we shoot the dog.

(Sorry. I thought it was hysterical.)

What follows is a true story. To prove it to you, I took the photo above.

The Last Sliver of Soap

Here I stand in the white shower stall
warm water thrumming on my back
holding the last sliver of soap on my palm,

a thin, pink, oval broach, end piece
of the bar I salvaged 100 days ago
from my dead mother’s bath. I anoint

my body with it this one final time,
beginning the rite — unchanging rite —
of showering, raising my left arm

to salute the God I serve, raising then
my right arm to salute the strength
He gave me, rubbing the last sliver

of soap between my palms. Leg up
next, as if to step up to an altar,
honoring the march of days in a life.

With a stone’s smooth polish, soap
glides over my belly and breasts
blessing the lives they have nourished,

and in this rite I remember the day
my old mother yelled Shit! in the shower,
withered butt sagging and dignity pierced

as I and the aide conspired to cleanse her.
She hated the shower, demented but clear
that washing her body tormented her soul.

I hear her, and see her, and she is alive
as the last sliver of soap slips in my hands.
This was her brand, her ceremonial bar

night in and night out, preparing for bed,
emerging anointed, blessed be the day.
I pause in the shower to savor her then

holding what’s left of a relic of soap
the final memento I claimed from her room
the morning she died, a used bar of soap.

100 days later, the bar is a shard, last tie
to her body now buried in dirt, and she
requires no cleansing but I baptize myself

in the name of my mother, a holy bond.
The last sliver of soap in my hand is
sacred and I’ll save it, box it in velvet

tuck it away with a note, an intimate
totem of the woman she was, some earth
and a heart before God washed her away.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why Can’t I Read Anymore? (Hey,I'm Not Alone!)

Please see the update at the end of this post.
This is the coffee table in my office.

I haven’t been able to read a book since September 2009.

All my life, I’ve surrounded myself first with children’s books and then with novels and poetry collections and other things like essays and biographies. I can say I’ve literally consumed books, since I ate part of The Travels of Babar the Elephant when I was three. My shelves are jam-packed with books I love and can’t part with, even the chewed-up Babar.

The only time I’ve gone without reading is during my 28-day rehab after giving up 15 years of sobriety. That was in June 2006. Even then, we were reading the book Alcoholics Anonymous every day.

September before last, I don’t know what happened exactly. I had stopped taking my anti-depressant medication and fell into a deep depression. I started blogging, which was a godsend because I couldn’t care about anything else. I won a regional poetry prize and was writing oodles of (unhappy) poetry. The weather turned cold. By October I was on psych units in two different hospitals (not simultaneously).

When I got back home, I couldn’t read books anymore. In the past year I’ve bought several novels by my favorite authors, but they sit by my desk gathering dust. I open them; I close them. I read a few pages of this one or that one, but I can’t go on. Sometimes my friends try to help by giving me a book they couldn’t put down. But it seems I can put it down without any problem.

I remember the last novel I read, and if it’s the last book I ever do read, it doesn’t say much about my literary perspicacity. Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings, by Christopher Moore, is an entertaining marine-science fantasy about saving the whales and the ocean. It won’t win any Pulitzers, but I’m glad I read it, just like I’m glad I’ve read Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut.

When Mario Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize in literature this year, I thought I’d found my breakthrough novelist, the one who was going to rescue me from my sorrows. A novel has saved me from depression before, first in 1984 with mystery writer Ngaio Marsh’s Death and the Dancing Footman, and most recently Louise Erdrich’s magical The Master Butchers Singing Club in 2004. They lifted my spirits out of some kind of angst about living and gave me back my joy.

The news called Vargas Llosa “one of world’s greatest and most adventurous writers” and mentioned some similarity to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, another guy who saved my life once with One Hundred Years of Solitude. I’ve been so insulated, I’d never even heard of Vargas Llosa until the Nobel Prize. So I researched his bibliography and critics and bought two praised novels through the used-book network Who Killed Palomino Molero? for $4 and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter for $1.

The Palomino novel is thin and seemed approachable. It opens with a detective studying the tortured, castrated, impaled corpse of the boy named Palomino which is hanging in a carob tree. I have no bias against violence in murder mysteries (being a fan of James Lee Burke and Dennis Lehane, creators of violent havoc, and in fact one of Lehane’s novels scared me spitless, which I loved). But for some reason, what has happened to the boy Palomino distressed me a little. Now the book rests facedown on the coffee table in my office, opened to page 14-15. Arrrggg.

The Palomino novel lies on top of a stack of literary journals at least 15 inches high (see photo), and there are two of these towers of Poetry, Ploughshares, Fence, et al, on my coffee table. I’ve read many of them all the way through (skipping the fiction; I don’t do short fiction). (Obviously, I am not doing fiction at all, which is the point of this post.)

I save the journals because there are poems I like in them, and because if I’m in the mood to write a poem but can’t get going, all I have to do is browse through a journal, and POP! goes the weasel muse. I’ve written hundreds of poems in the past few years. Lines of poems race through my head at least once a day. Yesterday it was: “I wanted a thing and I wanted it bad.” I’m trying to compose some rhyming poetry, which I never do, for TFE’s Poetry Bus, and that line had a certain meter to it. I didn’t say that lines of great poems race through my head.

This morning I was brushing my teeth and opening the blinds in my gorgeous sunroom office when I suddenly thought: I wonder if poetry has ruined my ability to read novels? I wonder if poetry has given me a literary form of ADHD?

Oh, gak!

I think I'll just go gopher hunting, get a little violence in my life. We have one in the garden eating the hollyhocks, the precious little arsehole.

****** Update 8:30 p.m. ******

The comments you've left for me today have been hugely helpful. The biggest bonus is that I'M NOT ALONE. After reading some of the first comments, I wrote my own little fantasy (reprinted here for your ease and edification):

...Is anyone else in blogland experiencing this novel-reading difficulty? What if we've tumbled onto an actual disorder caused by blogging? What would happen then? Would we all have to go into treatment to become novel-readers again? Would there be rehabs? Would one of the pharmaceutical companies develop a pill that costs $20 each and then develop off-label uses for it and create a nationwide need for their drug (like, say, the manufacturer of a drug that rhymes with seroquel-don't-get-me-started-on-that)?

(Beware: I'm about to leap to a highly unscientific conclusion.) The majority of the bloggers responding to this post do indeed experience some perceptible change in their reading habits, i.e., a novel-reading reduction. Is this a blogland-wide trend? Anybody want to throw in their two cents? Any two-bit theories? I'll try to keep track of the, um... (what's the right science-y sounding word here?) DATA TREND here.

On another note, the gopher won today's skirmish and so has lived to tell the tale. He/she/it backfilled the tunnels into which I buried traps, good traps that were not touched by human hands but were baited with a banana. I was disappointed. I had actually been lucky enough to find the intersection of three tunnels! What a gold mine! But I only had two traps. Apparently I picked the wrong two tunnels. Hm. This gopher is smart. But I'm tenacious. Tomorrow is another day.

Gopher: 1 ----- Chris: 0

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

House of Sticks

House of Sticks

Lindy has a thing for picking up sticks
wherever she goes—the park, of course,
but also parking lots, surprisingly, with
their flotsam of trash, will sometimes
yield souvenirs of trees, and people’s
front yards where a tree clapped its hands
and threw a twig, and the ocean coughs up
sticks among the kelp, wrecked histories
of trees from foreign lands, stories caught
in their cellulose and they’ll never tell.

Lindy has trampled on sticks, passed
many sticks by with hardly a glance.
She has picked up a stick and then
thrown it away. She has walked
with a stick and then cast it aside,
as if it had finished what it wanted
to say and its mystery was solved.

But some whisper to Lindy and Lindy
picks them up, holds them up to the sky,
turns them this way and that, studying
their curvature or architecture or God
knows what. Maybe she imagines
a skeleton with that bone of the tree.
Whatever they say, whatever they are
is for Lindy alone, her ears and her eyes,
and she won’t explain why if you ask
her, only shrug with indifference
holding on to the stick. And that stick
comes home, joins others in jars,
and Lindy’s house is a tree
of myriad limbs, a Joseph’s coat
of a tree. It must sing like a choir
only Lindy can hear, as branches
grow over the windows and doors,
break through the roof and reach
for the sky.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Argument with God

I’ve decided to tackle God, as the Poetry Bus drives around the world picking up passengers this week, steered by Dana at Bug’s Eye View.

The Bug has offered three good prompts for us. The first is based on Isaiah 1, verse 18, in which God says, “Come. Sit down. Let's argue this out.” Dana wants us to tell about the argument we would have with God. The second one involves “The Hunt for Red October” and Sam Neill’s dream of living in Montana. The third prompt deals with the leafless trees of winter. I present a two-fer this week because I have strong feelings about the first and third prompts (sorry, Sam, you're a nice guy, but ... ).

I imagined that I could put God on trial for allowing the deaths of my father, mother, and older brother’s first wife, my dear friend. What came wasn’t a poem. It was a one-sided courtroom dialog between the plaintiff’s attorney and God, whom we can’t hear, who sits in the witness stand.

God on Trial

The plaintiff calls God Almighty to the witness stand.
Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you … God? ––
Please state your full name for the record. ––
Is Jahveh your first name, or your last name? Adonai, Lord, Elohim, I Am … Which of these is your legal last name? How, sir, shall the court address you? ––
Mr. Jehovah, the complaint filed against you by the plaintiff, Chris A., alleges you acted with reckless disregard and in fact caused the premature deaths of her father, Merle W., killed by cancer of the brain at age 53, and her sister-in-law, Jere W., killed by pancreatic cancer at age 46. In addition she alleges you exercised the same reckless disregard in the affliction of Alzheimer’s dementia upon her mother, Frances W., resulting in her death by same. How do you respond to these allegations? ––
You maintain then, Mr. Jehovah, that “reckless disregard” does not apply, because in your omniscience, not even a sparrow falls to the ground without your knowledge. So is it fair to say that you were aware of their impending deaths but still chose to let them die? ––
In what way, in your view, were their premature and tragic deaths a benefit either to themselves or to the plaintiff? ––
All right, then, we will stipulate that the deaths of Jere W. and Merle W. were not premature, because you in fact planned that their lives would conclude in the manner and at the time they did. We return, however, to the question: Would you care to explain in what way were their deaths, the manner of them, and the timing of them, a benefit either to themselves or to their loved ones? ––
If it is always a benefit to believers when they die and, as you say, go to heaven to live in perpetual joy with you, why then do you not simply let all believers die and go straight to heaven? ––
I beg your pardon, Mr. Jehovah. Question withdrawn. Let us rephrase the issue: Did you, with foreknowledge and intent, deprive the plaintiff of the love and companionship of her family members? ––
With respect, Mr. Jehovah, a simple “yes” or “no” is sufficient. ––
Your honor, would you please instruct the witness to respond directly with a yes or no answer to the question: Did you, or did you not, with foreknowledge and intent, deprive the plaintiff of the love and companionship of her family members? ––
Mr. Jehovah, would you please explain for the edification of the jury what you mean by executive privilege and diplomatic immunity?

As you can see, I didn’t get very far in putting God on trial. Maybe I need to change attorneys … Anyway, here’s a poem about leafless trees, sort of, and God too, since I’m still a little ticked off about his claiming executive privilege in my last outing with him. The funny thing is, I like God a lot and thank him pretty often for being very, very good to me. I guess I’ve had to wrestle with him a bit, and that’s what these two items today are about.

Eye in the Sky

All milk and smoke, the winter sky arcs overhead
rimmed by bare branches of trees

Lie down beneath it
like a hard brown chrysalis
on the dry ground

and look up
Stare at the pearly white eyeball staring back at you
with its branching network of nerves
through which the vision of yourself travels
to the unfathomable resting mind behind the eye

Marvel that you ever bother to cry out
to the God who turns this eye on his creation
and feel the chill of it all
in the tiny chrysalis that is you

(Photo from Wikipedia Commons, God bless 'em.)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday, the Sabbath Day

Here is a Flash Black Friday 55, the G-Man Mr. Knowitall’s challenge to write a tale in exactly 55 words. He's taking Thanksgiving off, though, so visit next Friday.

Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Honor Black Friday, therefore, as the sacred day of our savior, the credit card. Fix these words in your hearts; teach them to your children when you sit at home or walk along the road. Write them above your doorframes: Go forth and multiply your sacred debt.

My daughter, for a lark, went to Target at 3:45 a.m. this Black Friday morning, and the lines of people stretched 20-deep for a half-mile. The store opened at 4 a.m., and she says it took 20 minutes for all those people to file in the door. What did she buy? I asked. DVDs and shampoo, she said. Flannel pants and flannel shirts. She doesn’t have a credit card, just a debit card, so she can’t spend what she doesn’t have.

She was in and out in half an hour, she said, even though there was a line of people halfway around the store’s main aisles waiting to check out. People just stopped and stood behind the last person they saw standing in a line, even though all the check stands beyond that first one were open and empty. So she just kept walking, past the humongous line, past empty registers, until she came to the last register and bought her things. Say Amen, somebody.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Enough Is Enough

Enough: as much as is needed.

I poked fun at Walt Whitman the other day for being, um, excessively excessive. But then I ran across this bit of his, and it struck me as a perfect example of a thankful heart:

"I have perceive’d that to be with those I like

is enough.

To stop in company with the rest at evening

is enough.

To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh,

is enough."

May your Thanksgiving be blessed.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bountiful Poverty

You know you live in a small town when the front-page news includes an announcement that Bob's Big Boy is coming to downtown. Don't know what a Bob's Big Boy is? It's a coffee-shop chain that considers itself an art form, using words like "dramatic," "striking," and even "breathtaking" to describe its architecture, which looks like this:

Its diner fare includes the "vintage" double-decker Big Boy burger, along with fried chicken, fried fish, fried steak, and the "classic" chili spaghetti. I can't wait to try that one.

Chili beans used to be a staple in my family's diet, not because of our ethnic background (my dad was from Oklahoma and my mom was from a Norwegian farm family), but because we were poor. In 1966, my parents had suddenly uprooted our family of five and plunked us down in a dinky travel trailer behind a little market on the edge of some sand dunes in the Mojave desert. They had no savings, but Dad had found a job in his trade that was just enough to support us.

We'd left almost all our belongings behind in our old home town. We three kids slept in sleeping bags. For entertainment we had a transistor radio and a deck of cards to fill the evenings with family games of gin rummy. A couple of times a month, a library bookmobile parked beside the little market. Mom's older brother and his family lived down the road, so a couple of times a week all 13 of us gathered there to watch TV. On Sundays we'd all hop into my uncle's World War II Army surplus Jeeps, with my cousins on little motorbikes, and we'd go out in the desert, "boondocking" as my uncle called it, exploring canyons, abandoned mines, traces of old homesteads, and searching for wildflowers in the spring.

Dried pinto beans were cheap and Mom bought them in bulk. She cooked big pots of them, sometimes just plain pintos and onions, and other times with chili and a little ground beef added. We ate many meals of beans with homemade white bread and fresh oranges for dessert. We hadn't had a stay-at-home mom in a long time and not a lot of homemade bread either, so it seemed like a treat. The fresh oranges were wonderful too.

Today I'm thankful for a child's spirit that saw, not the poverty, but the small pleasures that arose from it, and for my parents' ability to make do with what resources they had, even making it all seem bountiful and adventurous. There might have been times I felt deprived, having no privacy, having to adjust to the strange new desert world, but what I remember is goodness.

And the memories make me smile: discovering the desert in bloom, listening to the new band called The Monkees on the evening radio, the taste of butter melting on warm fresh bread, the joy of getting white go-go boots ... even hearing my father use the word "shit" for the first time, when he gathered the three of us kids to announce we were driving our mother crazy, and we were to stop it immediately if we didn't want her to leave us.

"If she says 'shit,'" he told us at the end of his speech, "you say, 'Where and how much?'" That was frightening and funny at the same time. One of us, I don't remember who, actually said that to her the next time she said "Shit!" and got back-handed for the literal interpretation of Dad's edict. But it became a legendary family joke, and I'm grateful for a child's sense of humor in what might have been a scary adult situation. The look on my father's face, when he was called to account for his child's smart-aleck behavior, was priceless.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Poet as Superhero

This was my view today.

The Poetry Bus is enchanted this week, with my request that riders write about some aspect of their lives. On a wild hair, I tweeted Walt Whitman, dead poet famous for self-observation, and asked him to ride with us. He’s the superhero of poets who write about their lives on earth, the epic poet who heals the sick and conducts the universe too.
First he wanted to read all 1,347 lines of “Song of Myself.” No no no. Just a soup├žon, hold it down.
So here he is, the veritable Superman of Self:

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you ....
I pass death with the dying, and birth with the new-washed babe .... and am not contained between my hat and boots.”

Nice, Walt. That’s enough out of you.

Walt would be totally jazzed by the idea of American astronauts tweeting hither and yon and playing “Name That Land Mass” from space now that they have internet access. (Hey, how far exactly into space does the Web go?)

Thinking about stuff like this was what kept me from writing the poem I wanted to write today: “A Day in the Life of an Unknown Poet.” I know it sounds riveting but I just couldn’t do it. I can’t tell you how many times my mind buzzed off like a little blown-up balloon released from a kid’s fingers. Pffftttttt.

Look! The California Coastal Commission told L.A. that no one, not even that great sprawling asshole of a city, has the right to close access to California beaches even at night, like the city has always done. Pffftttttt.

Look at this crap about the global economy, currency valuations, portents of trade wars! Why did this U.S. Fed head announce on the eve of an international conference that Hey! the U.S. is going to fart around with its currency valuation and blow $600 billion into the national economy? Was that wise timing? Pffftttttt.

Oh, cholera in Haiti! and the U.N. peacekeeping crew from Nepal pretty much caught with their pants down. Now, that is real shitty. What a world. Pffftttttt.

Look! A gopher has taken up residence at our rental house next door, dining off apples and hollyhocks, lovely for him, double crap for me, who will now have to spend days hunting him down. Gophers aren’t allowed in my personal space. It’s a fight to the death. Pffftttttt.

Oh, and by the way, check out that madly growing morning-glory vine on the side of the rental house. Holy shit, it’s invading the kitchen!!!! Coming out through the kitchen cupboards and behind the refrigerator like a horror film. Double-double crap! Tendrils of tenacious, malicious morning-glory vine disappearing under the foundation of the house… This looks seriously bad. Pffftttttt.

Now it’s raining, lovely rain, pattering perkily on the glass roof of my office. Just another day in the life of an unknown poet.

Here are the wonderful poets riding the Poetry Bus today, as we tour the world and celebrate ourselves:

Rachel Fox

120 Socks

The Bug

Jeanne Iris

Dave King


Titus McKay

Carolina Linthead

Emerging Writer



Peter Goulding



The man himself: TFE


The Watercats



Dick Jones

And here is my Poetry Bus ticket, based on something that happened earlier this month: unzipping a box given to me by my mom, and unearthing almost 50 years of photographs.


The woman—
who refuses her gray hair with a blond rinse
—is not aged.

In her lives the young girl laughing in 1963,
before Jackie, John’s wife, and that bloody pink suit.
In her is the teen with solemn eyes. Alive and well in her
is the young woman in black robes and mortarboard,
smiling wide with a degree of joy she earned herself.
In her, the bride with wide hopes.
In her, the wide mother with child.

A parade of photographs marches around the bed,
playing the hymn of her middle-aged life. This gift
from her mother, zipped in a box, captures the roots
that ground her today in the earth of herself.

The passage of time has smoothed her rough edges,
leaving behind tracks of the years in her eyes.
You are a crone now, says her masseuse, kneading
the network of aches that lives in her shoulders.
You are the wisewoman who has found the answers
she sought. Lord knows where the diploma is.
That marriage is over, but the hopes remain.

The woman—
who has grown strong and weathered many storms
—still dances.
She hears the music of the seasons
and she raises her arms high above her golden head.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Lasting Impact on Humanity

Awakening on the anniversary of her entrance
into the world, surprised to find herself
still here, and still aging, Chris searched her past
thoughtfully for some lasting contribution
she might have made to mankind. Finally
it blossomed, her pearl of wisdom:

If you want the straight poop, go to the business end of the cow.

(I believe I created this pearl myself. I don't think anyone thought of it before me. So it's my gift to the great anals of human wisdom, right up there with "I came, I saw, I conquered" and "It ain't over till the fat lady sings."

It's Flash 55 Friday. Visit the Host with the Most, Mr. Knowitall Himself! for more blockbuster statements in human history, in 55 little words

(I didn't take this silly photo, and I don't know who did)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Alive and Glad of It

Me at the dawn of my life (on the right) with big head and older brother.

My birthday looms on Friday. November 19 has always been a favored day, a day of celebration for me, when I expect nice things to happen. I like the fact that I’m alive on this planet.

I am better now than when I was 15. I’m better now than when I was 36. I’m just better now than I was, because I am becoming that which I could be. One of my mottos has been Friedrich Nietzsche’s statement, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

This is me when my secret life included sexual abuse. Can you see it on my face? Remember what Nietzsche said? I surpassed it.

And this is me clowning with my mother on college graduation day, having earned my BA. They gave me a great gift, my parents. I was the first in three generations to graduate from college.

This week I provide the prompt for the world-famous Poetry Bus, created by the world’s most famous blogger, Totalfeckineejit. For bus tickets this week, I have decided to require…

Poems that address your existence on this earth. Good, bad, or indifferent, tell us something, anything, about your life here.

Come back Saturday or Sunday to tell me if you want to ride the Bus I drive this week. I’ll do the linkies starting then.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Got Any Money in the Bank?

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow a mystery, and today is money in the bank.”
Red W., AA oldtimer

I sobered up in a dingy AA clubhouse in the Los Angeles area 20 years ago. I showed up in my designer high heels, with my $100 haircut and boutique clothes, straight from work in my publishing house, right before the 6 p.m. meetings started so I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. I found a seat at the acres of long folding tables, metal chairs, and metal ashtrays and waited, staring into the middle distance with an eff-off lift of my chin.

I sort of liked the grimy place. It was a broad open space with a podium and a battered metal desk on a small stage at the head of the room. Hung on the “off-white” walls were signs in inexpert calligraphy announcing profundities like “First Things First” and “Easy Does It.” It was far better than the first hole-in-wall AA meeting place I had stumbled into, which had been the size of a bathtub stuffed full of bikers and gray-skinned heroin addicts who scared me.

I made $65,000 a year editing a fitness magazine for a world-famous bodybuilding firm. From a small-town girl, I had made myself a denizen of LA’s sophisticated side. I was 36 years old. On Saturdays, for fun, I spun around the LA freeways in my new little car with a bottle of Stoly’s and the windows down. Now I drank vodka in the morning before work, and I drank all day long, all night, weekends, everywhere, all the time, and I was ready to try AA.

In those meetings at that clubhouse, someone would get up, sit at the desk at the head of the room, and talk about alcoholism for a while, telling his story. A long-haired musician from Detroit. An aging make-up artist from the film industry. Some guy from PG&E. Then he’d pick people to go up to the podium to say a few words. The things people said were honest and searching and I could relate. I drank coffee and listened. Came back four evenings a week and on Saturday mornings at 9.

One evening the Mo-town musician looked down the tables and pointed his finger at me. I went to the podium and looked at all those people. I didn’t know shit from Shinola and words stuck in my throat. So I dropped the defenses and just told them the truth. I’m new. I drink all the time. I need help.

After the meeting a bossy, expensive little woman told me to come with her. She led me across the room to a corner table, to a white-haired elderly lady in heavy make-up surrounded by other women. “This is Helen,” she said. “You need a sponsor.” Helen told me that from now on I was to sit at her table with her “gals.”

Everything changed.

Eight years later I stood next to her bed while she died of pneumonia. Twenty years later I stood next to my mother while she died of pneumonia. I’ve been able to part of the human race. I’m not afraid of life or the dying that goes with it.

Every morning I get this day right here. Today is money in the bank. I don’t have to solve all the problems in the world. I get to do my best with what faces me now, be kind to the people who come across my path, and try to remember to say thanks somewhere along the day, the more often, the better.

Monday, November 15, 2010

No Butts, No Glory

This is a cruel photo.

I've attempted to reduce the damage by cropping the territory on the right side. Still, this is an example of what I was going on about yesterday. (The photo I was taking is the fourth one down on my sidebar.)

I wrote "No Guts, No Glory" (below) yesterday morning, but I wanted you to see it today if you hadn't already read my existential study of butts and that strange poem. Such courage! Such curiosity!

This morning, things are different in this blogger's life. I'm crashing. The steroid treatment has wound down. I slept for 10 hours. My lungs haven't come clean, they aren't sparkling new, I'm screwing them daily because I will not stop smoking. (Take a breathing treatment, Chris, and have a little ciggie after.) When I know the right thing to do and I choose not to do it, I give myself a crapload of inner conflict. Please don't give me advice.

But it's a gorgeous day in my neighborhood, and I'm hitting an AA meeting, and where there's life, there's hope.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

No Guts, No Glory

After five hours of sleep, I was talking to my beagle in bed this morning.

Why do I bend over so much? I asked him. I’m always bending over, pulling weeds, looking at stuff, showing the world my broadest aspect.
I know this because the family is always taking photos of me doing this. I pay them not to publish them.
Is it my nature, my physique, trauma suffered in Mrs. Philbrick’s second-grade class? I asked the dog. The dog didn’t know.
And why do I always bend over with my butt to the world? I’ve tried facing the world, but then some kind of gravitational force swivels that big beam right back where it was.
My dog was useless as an analyst. Remind me not to pay his bill.

Writing assignments were wrapped at 2:30 this morning. On steroids this week, I was a hummingbird on crack. Everything was terribly interesting, especially details, like constructing a sentence. I rewrote sentences like a maniac!
Put the clause here, no, put the predicate there, wait, it saves three words if I put the subject this other way …. Where’s that note I made? Hey, check out the world economic summit and learn about currency manipulation. Look at that! Some lady in London clears out her late sister’s house, takes an old vase out of a closet, and some guy in Asia buys it for $83 million! What a world!

So I sweat blood to earn my 15 cents per word. Kept hammering at it, struggling with it, missed my deadline, didn’t give up. I want to do good work. I want to touch people. I want to be proud of myself.

I’m a recovering alcoholic and I finally got my hands on Life’s Little Instruction Book, that book of secrets that tells me how to navigate my way through my messy world. AA’s 12-step program, mixing spirituality, realism, and laughter, has completely transformed my attitude and my abilities.

It hasn’t stopped me from turning my butt to the world, though. Maybe tomorrow.

Speaking of butts, it’s time to wave my ticket to ride the world’s greatest Poetry Bus, touring the planet now. The poet Karen of Keeping Secrets is driving, and she wants us to talk about turning points. I could talk about turning my butt around, but I won’t. Enjoy the tour, starting here.

The Assault of the Lungs

The Lungs were not my neighbors or members
of my social milieu. They played no role in the world
of my memories, of deserts, woods, oceans, or Alps
or child molestation or the death of my father.
They taught me no courses, paid me no wages,
did not attend my weddings or my lover’s quarrels,
sent no cards at Christmas or bills in July. They never
set foot in my home, never asked for a handout or a
donation, never played a role in anyone’s jokes. It was odd
how they burst into my life like an FBI raid, throwing me
to the floor and cuffing my hands.

I felt as you would naturally feel, finding yourself
prone on the floor under the barrel of a gun
pressed into your back, when you had simply restocked
the toilet tissue in the bath and expected no harm.
What? and what? your astonished mind asks
in spite of college degrees, an intriguing career
and regularly reading The Smithsonian. What?
Then someone bends over your ear and whispers.
Maybe they wear a pantyhose mask. Maybe their hair
is coiffed and their suit cost a fortune. What do you know
with your nose in the carpet? They whisper your name.
They accuse you of crimes, and all of the crimes
are ordinary acts, the sum of events in your daily routine.

You stare at the threads of the carpet and wonder
what the hell? in dull disbelief, gasping for breath
amid dog hair and dust because vacuuming fell so far
down the list. The accusation goes on like a litany
of sins: against who? Against you? The poor in the
world? The whispery voice says you’re paying
“for this” and they haven’t decided if you’ll live
or you’ll die. “Who are you?” you croak and at last
they announce they’re the Lungs and you’ve known them
all of your life. You’ve screwed them all of your life.

They left, unaccountably, slamming the door, with me
on the carpet. I felt as you naturally would, breathless
with fear, powerless too. Where was my cell phone?
Do I call the police? They hurt me, those Lungs. I cried
like a baby, a rictus of wailing plastered on my face.
An ambulance then, if I could get my hands free.
Thank God for husbands who pop in the door all hearty
and hale, trailing their tools, but able at last to adjust
to surprise at finding their wives laid out on the floor.
To the hospital we flew from the assault by the Lungs.
I’m home now, and frightened, breathing in dread
the Lungs will appear and exact their revenge.
They’ve scarred me for life but left me alive. What
do I do now? I wonder, and watch the front door.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

This Is Me on Steroids

The treatment for my pneumonia requires that I take steroids along with antibiotics and inhalers. I seem to have a lot of energy, and I am in a really good mood. Here’s what I do on steroids:

Write a 2,500-word brief for a law professor that a) details the civil-rights violations of hospitalized Alzheimer victims, and b) advocates enforcement of state and federal self-determination laws by imposing punitive measures against medical facilities for violations. Compile copies of the pertinent regulations, rejoice that the guy is interested, and send the package off.

Indulge in an act of shoe repair to mend my favorite slippers.

Cross-examine an old friend, via email, who has retired to a sailboat in Mexico and fallen in love. Quiz him at length about her, the circumstances, and the emotional/philosophical conditions of falling in love with a stranger.

Make yet another attempt to concentrate on my overdue writing assignment about local charity programs during the holiday season.

Wander in the garden with the pruning shears, investigating the whereabouts of two praying mantises that live in the dahlias.

Query the family corporate attorney about the legal interpretation of certain provisions in my parents’ trust, comparing the instructions to the actual intentions of my parents.

Stand in the middle of my sunroom office and whirl my arms in big circles because it feels great.

Have AA meetings on the phone with sober friends. Explore big issues like spirituality in marriage, how to pursue a goal, and the best way to treat a sore throat.

Cope with a bedtime panic attack, afraid I’ll stop breathing in my sleep. Wake my husband to warn him of my impending death and remind him where I keep all our essential papers. Ask him to stay awake and keep me breathing. Forgive him when he chuckles and goes back to sleep.

Make a little autumn bouquet and ride into town with a friend to put it on my mother’s new headstone, taking a photo to send to out-of-town family.

Stay on top of respiratory treatments and medications. Check for improvement with my new lung-exercise toy.

Eat a gloriously crisp Braeburn apple. Then grab a few Cheetos for nutritional balance.

Tackle that overdue writing assignment again. Try to write a lead paragraph. When that fails, take the beagle for a walk. Ponder my upcoming 56th birthday. Laugh at the falling leaves. Thank God for my life.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Pleasure Flash

I woke this morning to one of the best rock songs ever: Grace Slick belting out Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” ... hearing that powerful woman howl: REMEMBER!!! WHAT THE DOORMOUSE SAID!!! FEED YOUR HEAD!!! FEED YOUR HEAD!!!

And I jumped up out of bed feeling like a million bucks, wanting to write a happy poem, loving my coffee, loving my life. So great to be alive when people are singing and my feet feel like dancing!

Go forth and be grateful! Feed your head!
(Here's "White Rabbit" on Youtube)

The Puss’s Tale

My dainty white socks and tidy white bib
jazz up my plain tabby soul, and I fly
from the floor to the sky, to the table and lap
pleasured with morsels and spine-thrilling hands.
I’m queen of a world so intriguing and fine
that even my eyes and my whiskers must dance.

Can you tell a story in exactly 55 words? That's the G-Man's Flash Friday challenge. Check out other tales here.

Albert Einstein Quotes