Wednesday, March 31, 2010

FBI Raids My Demented Mother's House

This represents my mother's fractured brain.

An extraordinary event took place yesterday at my mom’s assisted-living facility.
The FBI arrived at 6 a.m. and took control of the house. With them was a small army of the Dept. of Social Services and the county Ombudsman service.
The owners of the house, and three others like it, were arrested and charged with trafficking in human beings—basically Filippino house aides working as slave labor.

I got a call around 9 a.m. which alerted me to the situation. Mom was safe and a caregiver was on site. It was unknown if the house would remain open. For now all was well (!)
I immediately started making calls to track down the county ombudsman service and get more information. Nothing more could be told to me. They would contact me in the afternoon. A “placement” person would be seeing what she could put together for Mom, if it developed that she would have to leave the house.

At 2 p.m. I got home from an AA meeting to find a message on my house phone from the FBI, that the house was being closed immediately and my mother and the other residents needed to be moved out just as immediately.

The ombudsman gave me a very short list of facilities reputable enough to take my severely demented mother. None of them was willing to take her immediately. None of them was in my town. All of them were large facilities with high prices, protocol that required assessments of the client, multiple forms completed by a doctor, and no sooner openings than perhaps the next day, which is today, if they indeed chose to accept her.

The price quotes they gave me were $5,800 to $6,800 per month. In my town, an assisted-living facility charges between $2,700 and $3,500. In my town, assisted-living facilities licensed to care for dementia patients are in critically short supply.

When I got over to Mom’s house after exhausting all avenues for assistance that night, the kind FBI folks told me my mother was a sweetheart, she had been interviewed, and now it was my turn. I told what I know of the way the house was run, and I asked what they proposed to do about my mother.

They looked at me blankly. She was not their responsibility. Their concern was the house aides in a form of indentured labor. Someone from the FBI’s “Victim Assistance” office was there, but she could not assist, because her area of concern was the house aides of the other three homes, which also had to be shut down. No one in official capacity was interested in what became of the residents.

The Ombudsman said there was simply nothing that could be done for my mom. One of the other houseguests had found the last room at a facility 30 miles away. The other one had relatively no dementia and found a home in our town with another board and care home. Mom was on her own, because her level of dementia is technically “advanced” and it requires higher level of care.
So, praying like a mad dog, I took my moms things and put what I could into my car. Then I got Mom in the car and tried to explain to her what had happened. She couldn’t comprehend. I got her home, got her night-time meds into her, put her to bed.

Mom is a lost little girl who doesn’t speak grown-up language. She has nightly roaming problems, staying up and wandering in the dead of night, sometimes shouting at people.
She no longer understands her bathroom functions and uses whatever surface that is easily found…such as the floor, a chair, a hope chest….

So I’m trying to practice the tools I’ve learned in AA: Just keep doing the next right indicated thing. I have a small plan for tomorrow, running Mom hither and yon to meet with new facilities, go by the Doctor’s office, see about the requisite new paperwork, and see what unfolds. I’m pretty powerless and very confused.

But I know God knows and He is in charge, and I need only wait on his direction, keep taking the next indicated step. God has a place for my mom. Please join me, those of you who pray, and let us ask the Lord together, to be merciful to Mom. To guide us clearly in the way we should go. Mom has been asking God for a long time just to take her home to heaven. We join her in those prayers. We also ask that she receive good quality of life in whatever time remains for her.

Please remember us in the next few crazy days. Thank you!
(Update, 5 a.m. or so:)
At four this morning my mother wet the bed and got out of it to remove her wet things. We heard a crash as she fell. I ran in and found her without clothes lying on the floor, which she had also wet.

She was understandably distressed and confused. I helped her sit on the floor, wrapped in a blanket. Having no other bed, I laid a mat of dry towels on the bed, ran and got a pair of the Depends I'd gone out to buy at the late night store after she went to sleep, found some sweat clothes of mine (too big), and came back to the guest room. There she sat like a confused little girl.

I helped her to pull on her first pair of adult diapers (no fuss from her, as there had been at the house), got her dressed. Laid down another mat of dry towels on the bed, and she laid back down. Found dry blankets to cover her with. I rubbed her bony skull and forehead, and talked to her a bit. She found my warm hands welcome, and she drifted off to sleep.

My hubby dear stood by helplessly. Shouldn't we strip the bed and wash the sheets? He wondered. It quite mattered to him that the bed would be soaked. I said Eff that, she wants to go back to sleep. She was dry enough, and if the mattress got soaked, so be it.
I feel triumphant that she consented to wear her first Depends. This is going to be one hell of an interesting day.

Maybe with some luck and cooperation, I can give her a little bed bath before we head out to see what the day brings.

Keep first things first. Going now to have a little quiet time with God....

Monday, March 29, 2010

Death by Rose Thorn

My hand was on fire in the wee hours. It calmed a little in the afternoon. I doubt if it is due to the vicious rose thorn that stabbed me last week. Something more mundane, perhaps, like carpal tunnel. The mucked-up hand didn't stop me from hopping along with Willow's Magpie Tales, which asks for a spring theme. Here's the tale of how I hurt my hand:

Where I Belong

The dust lies thick
on all the shelves.
I’ve told the bills
to pay themselves.
I just don’t care
about the floors.
Dirty dishes
are such a bore.
To be honest
the bathroom tub
is filthy and
it needs a scrub.
The dog hair drifts
along the wall.
The laundry piles
are four feet tall.

I’ve turned my back
on everything
to do the chore
that makes me sing.
In the garden
I raise a sweat
with hoe and rake
and violets.
In springtime sun
I weed and prune
and hum a bit
of catchy tune.
The house could fall
I wouldn’t care.
I’m happy here
and crabby there.

Calla lilies’
heart-shaped smile
and hyacinths’
perfumey style
dance with tulips’
cherry red heads
and iris flags
in flower beds.
Sweet freesia plays
with daffodils
and rambling rose
grows where it will.
The fennel fills
the air with scent.
At dusk I ask
where daylight went.

A garden’s joy
is heaven sent.
I understand
what God once meant
to show us in
His Eden, see?
A garden grows


A new double daffodil in my collection

A Busload of Pain

My hand is on fire.
At 3 in the morning, I'm in so much pain, I can't sleep. Apparently tendons and a bundle of nerves, running the length of my right hand from the wrist to the middle and ring fingers, would like to kill me.
I've taken naproxen, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen. Maybe I can kill my hand.
Yesterday I whacked down and chopped up two shrubs. Seems like a modest amount of work. But those fingers on my right hand have been acting wonky for a week, since I stabbed myself there with a rose thorn.
Slow Death by Rose Thorn.
It's surprising how loudly pain screams in the brain. I'm remembering what I mentioned in my post the other day, about pain receptors and the fact that hands are the most sensitive parts of the body.
I wear my grandmother's wedding band on my right hand. I've worn it for 27 years. I can't budge it over my knuckle, and now, when it's impossible, I'm obsessed with removing it. Can I call the fire department?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

I Hope the Bus Stops Here

Today I climbed on the Poetry Bus for this week’s international tour. While the Totalfeckineejit rests those busy brain cells, Rachel Fox of Scotland stepped into the driver’s seat. Her challenge: Write a poem about a favorite word, then report back to her. My all-time favorite word is “hope.”

Grapevine bud break, Easter morning

Hope in Nothing

I lift my hands,
good strong hands
and they are empty.
They make me think
of old grape vines
butchered for winter
resting in the field
and each is a black
cupped hand
raising dark fingers
While the sun
and the rain march
over the land,
the old vines wait
through endless days
looking up at God.

He does nothing.

Row upon row
of bare black hands
supplicate, wait,
bereft of all
that makes a grape.
God is silent.
There could be
no god
for all they know.
They are prepared
for the long haul,
to be dead wood

My good strong hands
are barren, while
God does nothing.
I am tired
of lifting them
to silence.
There could be
no god
for all I know.
Spring marches
past, bringing


One day the sun
climbs out
of the hills
and a bud
breaks free.
black fingers
keep reaching
to God.
Row by row
the empty hands
Nothing ends.
The filling begins.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me

I have a curious habit when I wake up in the morning.

In the dark I get dressed by feel, pretending I am blind. I feel for the labels on the clothes, or the tie waistband, or whatever can orient me to the proper way to put things on. I find the right shoes for my feet by feel. I feel my way through the house into the kitchen.

This habit is new since I’ve been getting up in the darkness. It’s like a puzzle I solve every morning, practicing my sense of touch.
It somehow pleases me to know that there are ways other than by sight to see.

So just for fun I did a mini-study on the sense of touch.

I think of my sense of touch as being in my hands. But while my hands are covered with the most touch receptors and those sensations are processed by a large part of the area in my brain that registers the incoming data of touch receptors, every bit of my skin is used for touch.
My body has about 20 different types of nerve endings that send signals to my brain. The most common are the touch receptors for heat, cold, pain, and pressure. I was sorry to learn that I have more pain nerve endings than any other type.
The sense of touch starts off in the bottom layer of the skin. The nerve endings there send information about sensations to the spinal cord, which zips the signals up to the brain. The brain examines the information and the effects of the touch, then sends messages about the reaction to the rest of the body.
Some body areas are more sensitive than others because they have more nerve endings. The most sensitive areas are my hands, lips, face, neck, tongue, and feet. The least sensitive part is the middle of my back.

But I also found out there’s another sense involved in why I can stand up and put on my clothes in darkness, then walk across the house using only my memory map of the rooms. It’s called proprioception, and it’s the sense of where my body parts are in relation to each other.
Proprioception uses input from my inner ears, where sensory neurons signal my motion and orientation, and input from receptors in my muscles and ligaments. It then tells my brain where the parts of my body are located relative to each other, and whether I’m moving the way I should be moving

So I have six external senses that help me perceive the outside world even if it’s dark… taste, smell, touch, and hearing, plus the useless sense of sight, and a sixth one, balance. I also have interior senses, which allow me to perceive the pain and movement of internal organs. Proprioception is in a sensory class of its own, and it provides feedback to my brain about my body’s placement as a unit of arms, legs, torso, and head

There’s our little science lesson for today. Enjoy the 100 receptors on each fingertip, and if you have an ear infection, be careful when you walk.

Songs running through my mind this morning...
Feel Me
Touch Me
Heal Me
Listening to you, I get the music
Gazing at you, I get the heat
Following you, I climb the mountain
I get excitement at your feet
Right behind you, I see the millions
On you, I see the glory
From you, I get opinion
From you, I get the story

Manfred Mann's Earth Band, 1975

Blinded by the light,
revved up like a deuce,
another runner in the night
Madman drummers bummers, Indians in the summer with a teenage diplomat
In the dumps with the mumps as the adolescent pumps his way into his hat
With a boulder on my shoulder, feelin' kinda older, I tripped the merry-go-round
With this very unpleasin', sneezin' and wheezin, the calliope crashed to the ground


Friday, March 26, 2010

True Love in 55 Words

This is a Friday Flash 55, a story told in exactly 55 words. Thanks to the G-Man for hosting this.


No more than the bird with piercing voice
is my beloved to be feared
when he sings of his complaints.
My shortcomings, and the world’s,
are worth a serenade from him.
He does it often but does not leave me
and I find strange comfort in the song:
Is this not true love?

Thanks to Sappho, eternal Greek poetess, for the first eight words. They are all that survive of whatever poem accompanied them.

True love…today I’m grateful the subject doesn’t cause misery. It doesn’t go hand-in-glove with suffering anymore.

Not everyone is given that gift. When I told one of my dearest old friends about falling in love with Joe, he told me, “Wait until Reality sets in.” Love, to my friend, was a source of cynical laughter.

Joe and I have waited 18 years for Reality to set it. We have never left each other, no matter how angry we got. We don’t whine about each other’s faults. We do listen to each other and offer encouragement. We keep our expectations at a low roar.

We do it one day at a time, too. This day is all we have, so we might as well live it fully, the way our Alcoholics Anonymous program tells us to. Today, well lived, leads to a series of good tomorrows.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Strange Ideas

This was the sky yesterday before dawn.
Why are there so many contrails? I have watched the sunrise for months now, and I’ve never seen this many in the east.

During the day, numerous jets fly overhead on their way to San Francisco and Los Angeles, I think. One day last week, the atmosphere up where they fly was so still that every contrail lasted for a long time, and contrails upon contrails crisscrossed the sky until they actually merged and became high clouds, lowering the temperature here on my part of the earth.

A reader of a weekly newspaper I used to edit here in my small town once sent me an interesting letter to the editor. She believed that contrails were part of a chemical conspiracy to sedate the masses. She asked me to send a reporter to investigate this. That would have made an intriguing story. But my staff was busy on other stories and I had to put that idea in the slush pile to be considered on a slow news day that never came.

There are curious tales wherever you look. I once sent a reporter out to interview the wastewater manager of the city. He’s like the chief of the sewer. My reporter was terrific and came back with a wonderful story about what happens to the water that goes down the drain in your house. My reporter asked the guy, What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever found in the big trap the wastewater flows through on the way to the pond? He said the strangest thing he found was a set of false teeth (they went unclaimed).

Today I’m taking a mental health day. Yesterday I spent all afternoon in an ophthalmologist’s office waiting to consult about my mother’s cataracts. It’s very hard to wait with a person who has dementia. Mom can’t read magazines or hold conversations. She has a very short attention span. At one point, she said lucidly, I’ve had enough of this shit; I want to go home. Cracked me up. I felt exactly the same way.

At any rate, I’m going to get out in the garden today and turn some soil. I’m not going to think about loved ones with Alzheimer’s or brain damage (see my Wednesday post). I’m going to praise God for my working mind and for the advent of Spring.

Spring Has Sprung

Winter cracked
and it broke wide open

out sprang a nectarine tree
in a hot pink tutu

it did a little pirouette
pink petals shivered

then out sprang a plum tree
in a white bridal gown

it did a little shimmy
a snowfall of white petals

drifted down on
the breathless congregation
What strange tales have you heard recently?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Where Do the Words Go?

This is my cat Mystery talking to you.

My cat can talk, but not my friend who had a brain hemorrhage last week. Oh, she can say a few words, even a simple sentence, but then the aphasia robs her of words.

Aphasia: lack of language abilities; the partial or total inability to produce and understand speech as a result of brain damage caused by injury or disease

My friend is frightened. How much of the damage will be permanent? No one knows. She has a long period of speech rehab ahead of her. Some physical rehab too, because her balance is off. Last week, she was working up a storm. She was fierce in her work. This week she requires aid to get out of bed and a walker to go a few steps.

She can’t tell us how she injured her head. She doesn’t remember. One of these days, when she’s making headway, I’m going to tell her about the four empty bottles of mouthwash. She will have trouble staying sober through this if she lives in denial. I have a theory that drinking mouthwash is a desperate act to keep from drinking booze. That theory might not fit her. Only she can say, and she can’t say right now.

Wednesday is Haiku Day at You Know…That Blog. Haiku is the perfect poem for someone who is low on language. It’s just five syllables, seven syllables, and five syllables, brief and to the point. The theme this week is Dreams.

Scenes that flash quickly
Nonsensical images
The landscape of dreams

Desire to attain
Passionate unending work
Dream in the making

I have a big dream
All people are satisfied
No one is hungry

Your mind is restored
We can have conversations
An Alzheimer dream


I wonder where words go when you can't find them. Are they like socks lost in the dryer? Do they hide in filing cabinets in your brain? What if you couldn't find words to communicate? I can't imagine being without language.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

You Nailed Me


You nailed me
with your comment
that I am an addict
and yes I do see
the truth in your view

but truth isn’t always
the whole fuckin’ story
and truth isn’t always
the sole way to see

You stalk me
with pamphlets
designed to appall me
with babies deformed
by their mothers’

the truth isn’t always
the whole fuckin’ story
and truth isn’t always
the sole way to see

It’s true I’m addicted
but I want this baby
an abortion is bad
for my imperfect soul
I have to say no

the truth isn’t always
the whole fuckin’ story
and truth isn’t always
the sole way to see

Leave me in peace
I will bear this alone
I’ll clean up my act
and be a good mother
You asshole, you’ll see

the truth isn’t always
the whole fuckin’ story
and truth isn’t always
the just way to see


This poem is based, ironically, on a true story, an event that happened in my life.
Tuesday is Magpie Tales day. Willow publishes a photograph to inspire a piece of fiction or poetry. Follow the link to see what wonderful creative minds are doing with nails.

Today is my AA anniversary. I mark two years clean and sober. In an earlier life I had far more years but never this much serenity. I remember clearly what happened two years ago today, and I am content to be what I am.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Bus Is Full of Hypocrites

My goal is rage today, because I'm taking a ride on the totalfeckineegit's Poetry Bus to Mad City. I've never been good at wrath, for deep psychological reasons (!). TFE's Poetry Bus theme is a challenge for such a mellow soul as me.

Hypocrites and Other Sinners

I protest the presence of mean people on this planet
I protest the assholes who litter, who jack off in public
who abandon their elderly parents to fend for themselves
I protest the bureaucrats and government officials
who feather their nests at taxpayer expense and spend
all of their time doing nothing to benefit the people

I protest the war and lives lost or irrevocably wounded
I protest the buttheads who take pleasure in damage
who want what they want and don’t care what it costs
I protest the sadists who inflict their sick thinking
on children and women, who murder the innocent
then live out their lives on the public’s dollars and cents

I protest all dictators, racists, and hypocritical clergy
I protest a world where the few who wear Gucci
get tax credit for sending a small check to the shoeless
I protest the greedy who profit from misery or slaughter
who line their pockets with the skin of dead animals
and sleep well while sweatshops churn out their products

I protest while sipping my premium fair-trade coffee
I protest by keyboarding on my new laptop computer
a fast little beauty I bought with American Express
I protest while wearing my UGGs and Liz Claiborne
in a home so well-furnished, I bemoan all my “stuff”
and I think I stand guilty of hypocrisy too.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Day of Hope

“The day the Lord created hope was probably the same day he created Spring.”
Bern Williams

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”
Anne Bradstreet

“All through the long winter, I dream of my garden. On the first day of spring, I dig my fingers deep into the soft earth. I can feel its energy, and my spirits soar.”
Helen Hayes

When I decided to write something in honor of the vernal equinox, the first day of Spring, I couldn’t choose which of these three quotes to use. They all speak to me. So you’re getting all three.
Spring does represent hope to me. The long winter is officially over. The sun will linger longer in the sky. The plants will bathe in it.
I finished the colossal work of weeding at 6 p.m. on the first day of Spring. Everything is clean and ready for the season of growth. I found new buds hidden in the weeds. I uncovered hyacinths. The buds on the cherry trees have exploded into flowers.
Hope explodes.

An alcoholic woman I sponsor is in intensive care today with bleeding in the brain following a head injury. She’s unable to tell us what happened. She’s unable to communicate because it looks like her language center is severely impaired.
What we know is that no one heard from her for over two days, and a bag of groceries sat on the table with the lettuce turning to mush. We know she was incoherent from a head injury when she was found Friday by the police after a concerned friend called them. She was malnourished and severely dehydrated.
We know that four large, empty bottles of mouthwash were found in her trashcan outside the house. We know that she has struggled to stay sober ever since giving up some years of sobriety on a drunken spree last year.
And I know that this time she was very excited by a newfound sense of surrender and she was happy to have three months sober.

For someone who suffers from alcoholism, alcohol is cunning. The disease is almost a living beast with powerful claws and teeth that sink deep into a person who is unarmed against it. To keep it at bay, recovering alcoholics have to maintain a daily close spiritual contact with a Power greater than alcohol. Recovery takes a lot of courage and vigilance. It isn’t for sissies.
The reason I’m relating this story on a day of hope is this: For anyone who is an addict/alcoholic, or who loves an addict/alcoholic, the disease only seems to be hopeless. There is a Power greater than the disease. Millions of people have tapped that unsuspected inner resource and have been released from bondage. I’m powerless to save someone who suffers from addiction, but there is Someone who can, and who will, if He is sought.

Today hope springs eternal.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Vertigo and Other Pleasures

It is the first day of spring. Hallelujah!

A sassy blogger with the pen name Fickle in Pink passed on the Beautiful Blogger award to me, and it has taken me almost a week to think of the requisite seven personal facts someone might be interested to know.

1. I once rode in a hot-air balloon race in Albuquerque just because I wanted to write a magazine article about a day in the life of a hot-air balloon pilot. I’m deathly afraid of heights, so this was a personal challenge. We didn’t win the race, but I loved the ride and got a good story out of it.

2. Yesterday morning I suffered a severe attack of dizziness and illness, and I decided that I probably had suffered a stroke or had a brain tumor. (I regularly catastrophize.) My doctor did a few tests and announced I only suffered from vertigo. I was mightily relieved. It was nice to know I wasn’t going to die yet.

3. Speaking of dying, I’ve planned my funeral, gathered my favorite music and photos for a PowerPoint presentation, and written my final words in an essay to be read at the celebration of my life. It’s actually in a file folder on my desk right now. It was fun to do, and my therapist says it’s wise, not morbid.

4. Childhood was traumatic for me. I ran away from home the first time when I was three years old, just put some things in a paper sack and toddled away. My mother stood there and watched. When I didn’t come home, she ran after me and brought me back. I left home again when I was 15, 16, and 17. When my father stopped beating me with his belt, I stopped running away. My childhood made me a better mother.

5. On the surface, I’m a cigarette-smoking, espresso-drinking poet and drug addict alcoholic in recovery. Underneath the surface, I’m a devout Christian feminist poet and drug addict in recovery who smokes too much and exercises too little. I think God has been very good to me.

6. I thank God every day for my life, my husband, and my recovery. I believe that an attitude of gratitude is the most powerful force in my life.

7. I sing when I’m alone. “Your Cheatin’ Heart” is one of my favorites. Old gospel tunes are another. Do you sing when you’re alone?

The Beautiful Blogger award moves on now. I want to pass it on to my blogging friend Kim at One Day at a Time. The lady is thoughtful, wise, smart, and a lovely writer. Please go say hello and see what I mean.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Grinning Moon

A fingernail moon grins in the night sky
wearing a pendant, a sparkling point of light
Evening arrives, like a girl going to the prom
The boy will come, awkward and handsome
in his rented tuxedo. He will hand the girl
his heart, but she will not know what to do,
wishing for an orchid.

This is a Friday Flash Fiction 55. If you want to tell a story in exactly 55 words, post it and go tell the G-Man.

And with that, it seems that I have used up my supply of words today. I’ll leave you with a photo of the bright faces of periwinkle and a question: Do you remember your first prom?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Can You Smell the Sound?

Oh I can smell the sound...

My mother, March 2010

When I arrived at the care home where my demented mother lives, she was beside her bed, folding and refolding her underwear. She had torn at the fragile skin of her arms with her fingernails until there were substantial wounds. This was a disturbing new behavior.

I helped her get dressed and took her for a long drive through the green hills and pastures. We had our usual Alice in Wonderlandish conversation. I pointed out a new bridge. Yes, she said, “We played there because it wasn’t being worked on that particular day.” I pointed out a horse in a pasture. “Look at that camel!” she said.

I had to stop the car at one point to make a phone call. When I was finished, she looked out the window at the tall green grass. “Oh,” she said happily, “I can smell the sound…”

It was a beautiful moment. Never mind I had to cut her fingernails because she’s forgotten how, and it grossed me out. Never mind the one-sided conversations. She could smell a sound! How wonderful! I’ve never heard of such a thing.

I was lectured yesterday by an older woman friend who went through Alzheimer’s with her mom. “This is just another part of her journey,” said my friend. “Laugh at it when you can. Go with the flow.”

Well, here is what flowed last night, a poem from my mother’s comment.

Oh I can smell the sound
a freesia makes in its sweet purity
It is the sound of all life has to offer
in one fragrant package of petals
It is the sound of roots growing
deeper, the sound of joy,
the smell of music swelling
on the breeze from the west…

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Here You Are

This is “Almond Hill” in my town, the southwestern vista we look at every day. In late February through March, the old almond orchards bloom. During my L.A. years, I came back home many times to see the almonds bloom. I took the photo on my blog header from up on these hills.
We called ourselves “The Almond Capital of the World” once, and our almond display won a first place silver cup at the World’s Fair in 1904. We had the largest concentration of almond orchards in the world and a splendid almond-processing plant.
The decades passed. As a child in the mid-60s, I played in orchards and made money harvesting almonds. Then the market turned. The plant closed, and by the ’70s the Almond Capital turned to grapes. Now we are a notable wine country.
And that’s where you are when you visit me: the former Almond Capital of the World. I still love the old orchards, many of which are dying off from age and neglect. But Almond Hill still blooms.

Wednesday is haiku day at You Know That Blog. This week’s theme is “Generosity.” In honor of the almond orchards, I wrote this haiku:

Petals drift like snow
An end to winter’s resting
Trees burst with seeds

What do you think of almonds? Most of the almonds you eat came from California, although not from my town anymore. What kind of curious thing is your town noted for?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cremating Mom

A watercolor on my wall by my friend John Barnard

A new sign showed up on the corner where the panhandlers stand with their cardboard messages of penniless vets and broken luck.
“HELP ME TO CREMATE HER” it declared. Under that was a blurred photocopy of a Depression-era woman who’d led a hard life, you could tell. It was labeled: MOM.
The man who held the sign was an aging, bearded street person. That’s all the detail I caught as I drove by.

I should have stopped and given him a couple of dollars because of the sign alone. I thought about that sign all afternoon.
With apologies to honest people down on their luck (I’ve seen the sign: BROKE AND DOWN ON MY LUCK, a truth if ever there was one), I confess that I’m cynical about cardboard-sign people. Two of my AA friends are former street people, and what they’ve said about panhandling makes me doubt all panhandlers armed with messages about their troubles. I never stop and give them money. Sorry.

But that sign, “HELP ME TO CREMATE HER,” got to me. Especially with that poor picture of a hard-luck lady called MOM.
What if it was for real?
Imagine the fellow’s plight. Imagine the coroner or the mortician saying, “It will cost [this much] to cremate her, sir. We will keep her until you raise the funds.” And there’s the fellow, trying to raise the money a buck or two at a time while his mother waits in the morgue.
What if it’s not real?
I think about the sheer originality of the cause. And the brilliant salesmanship that made him include the bad photocopy of MOM. The fellow deserves something for his creativity.
By the time I reached a decision, it was early evening (I think slowly), and he was long gone. So that was that.
A prayer is in order, and God can make prayers retroactive. So Lord, he’s one of your kids. Whatever his situation is, I hope his needs were met. Please rain a special blessing on his head to make up for what I didn’t do. Amen.
What would you have done? Or is that Monday-morning quarterbacking?

Monday, March 15, 2010

My Scars

"Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”

Kahlil Gibran

I was out in the garden yesterday, attacking the weeds. It was a pretty spring day, a great day to be outdoors.
Armed with a tool or two and special weed-gripping gloves, I worked hard. I lost track of how nice the day was in my focus on the weeds.
I came in and wrote this poem:


Why do the roots
descend so deep?
They grip the soil fanatically
hell-bent on survival
while the precious flowers
press their roots
to the earth like polite guests.
Weeds will release
their crowns but not their guts
the sacrifice a lizard makes
in giving up its tail
So resolute a thing inspires
not respect or awe
but fiercer dedication
to their eradication
foul fiends

Here’s what I noticed about the weeds, a variety of dandelion in particular: The more often in the past I had tried to rip it from the ground, the thicker and stronger was its root system today. I’m not kidding; there were dandelions out there that I have been fighting for years, and they are stronger than ever, because they have suffered at my hands.
This time I went after them with my long pointy dandelion digger. We’ll see how that works.
Gibran with this quote makes me fear that they’ll just grow more massive characters.

I like to think there’s an up-side to adversity. I like to think that all people in recovery are stronger souls because of the suffering, that survivors of all kinds of trouble have greater character than the ones who’ve never faced pain.

For decades I thought the scars I bore marked me as messed up for life. Only in the past few years have I realized, thanks to great help, that I can wear my scars with courage and dignity. I didn’t get them because I was bad but because innocent people get hurt like anyone else.

I think the roots of survivors grow deep. What do you think?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Sunrise in the Soul

My writing room faces east. I’ve seen a lot of sunrises this winter, because suddenly I’ve become an early riser.
I wake up in the predawn darkness, make a cup of Italian or French roast, and come into my all-glass room. My shades are drawn for privacy, so I turn on the light and open my blog.

When the sky overhead lightens to a purple-blue, I turn off the light and raise the blinds. My desk overlooks the northeast and a huge oak that’s 500 years old or more. I watch the oak become visible in the twilight of dawn. I watch the sky over the eastern hill change color.
I’ve seen fluorescent red dawns, purple and pink dawns, yellow dawns, dark gray dawns.
Several times I’ve tried to describe in a poem the transformation I see. I keep trying, because there’s something deeply spiritual about the inexorable journey toward dawn. The breakthrough moment of sunrise, when that ball of fire lifts its face over the horizon, always feels like a victory.

When I was a practicing alcoholic addict, I saw a few sunrises when I had stayed up all night partying, as we called it. I can remember the sense of exhaustion and chemical tweaking that went with it.
Usually the nights ended with me collapsing on the bed, hoping to be dead to the world for a few hours, at least until the world stopped spinning. At the end of my drugged career, I was often sick with the poisons I had pumped into my body.
Dawn meant misery.
Last night I got some material ready for a woman who wants to begin work on her 4th Step. She’s like me, someone who was clean and sober for years and then relapsed when she stopped practicing the 12 Steps in her daily life.

In an inventory, we uncover the causes and conditions that led us to drink and use. That step allows us to begin work on the resentments and fears that drive us to do what we do.
I thought my childhood caused me to self-medicate. I thought maybe I was mentally ill and doomed. Whatever, it was not my fault, and I was hopeless.
That wonderful 4th Step inventory showed me that my problems originate in my mind, in my way of viewing and interpreting experiences. If they originate with me, then I can do something about them.

The 12 Steps give me a sunrise in my soul. With each step I take, the dawn grows brighter, transforming my world. Each morning, I am new again.
Dawn brings hope. As long as I practice recovery in my life, my hope is renewed daily. It’s a spiritual hope that just for today I will dwell in the sunlight of the Spirit. And the Spirit never disappoints.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Desire Gave Him Wings

A photo I did not take of a bird that visited my yard.

More than 2,500 years ago, Sappho knew how to put a poem together. (If my old professors knew I talked this way they’d cringe.) She had an earthy zest for love and its many faces: desire, heartache, worship, bitterness.

I’m taking a break from serious stuff like earthquakes and dementia and pretending to be Sappho. The competition I’m getting ready for requires us to copy one of Sappho’s lines as a prompt. One of these coming days I’m going to write a poem I like enough to enter.

So here’s a little game for you. Here are some Sappho poems. Which are mine? It would really make my day if you can’t be sure.


The doorkeeper’s feet are seven armlength’s long
and his black eyes gleam like teeth as he leaps
to meet his high-breasted lover


Some say cavalry and others claim
infantry or a fleet of long oars
is the supreme sight on the black earth.
I say it is
the one you love.


To me he seems like a god
as he sits facing you and
hears you near as you speak
softly and laugh
in a sweet echo that jolts
the heart in my ribs.


Sweetbitter unmanageable creature who steals in
to wring my heart with thoughts of her
Back! Go plague some black-faced warrior
whose stout heart can bear your vagaries.
Leave me to ply my violets in peace.


Stand up and gaze on me as friend
to friend. I ask you to reveal
the naked beauty of your eyes.


Here are fine gifts, children,
all my flesh is wrinkled with age,
my black hair has faded to white,
my legs can no longer carry me,
once nimble like a fawn’s,
but what can I do?
It cannot be undone,
no more than can pink-armed Dawn
not end in darkness on earth


If you don't want to talk about poetry, let's talk about taxes.
I'm putting mine together today. Do you do your own, or do you have a pro do them? For 30 years I've done all the figuring and then given them to a pro. I'm afraid to use a software program and submit them myself.

People who rent, who don't have children or investments, might be the people who really support the government with their taxes. The rich have write-offs. The poor have tax credits. Those who work to make a living and who can't afford a house, like my daughter and her honey, have to pay the full price the government exacts.
God bless them.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Unexpected Poetry

“Stupid things happen to old people.”

My Mom

We took a ride to the lake, which now looks like a lake instead of the snaky wide river it resembled last year after a few years of drought.
It’s a fun drive (at least for me, the driver) as the road winds through the oaks and pastures out to the lake. We parked out there on a hill overlooking the water, and the three of us walked and talked, son, daughter, and mother.

Talking with someone who has dementia is like riding a horse that hurdles fences. Strange leaps of subject matter at regular intervals keep you on your toes. Down this avenue; UP IN THE AIR. Down that avenue; UP IN THE AIR. OOPS, a little wobble there.
It was interesting watching my brother try to follow Mom’s leaps.
Mom: “I have an image…oh, we were there…and it must have been when Jim came…”
Brother: “Jim who?”
Mom: “Who?”
Brother: “Who was Jim?”
Mom: “It was so…relieving.”
Brother: “Was it Jim ---- ?”
Mom: “Who was it?”
Who’s on second….
A field on the way to the lake

Here’s a silly Sappho fragment, if anyone wants to try a hand at writing a poem that uses it as a title or a first line:
“gold anklebone cups”
Don’t feel inspired by that one? How about:
“you burn me”
Here’s Tupelo Press’s link to the Poetry Project—Fragments from Sappho contest. The deadline is March 31.


Mom walked past a boulder yesterday and said, “I was curious about that, but I couldn’t put water in it.”
Later she nudged a dried-up worm on the sidewalk with her toe and announced, “It’s done done.”
When the drive was done done, the aide and I coaxed her into the shower, which enraged her. After the ordeal, when she was dressed again, she said, “Stupid things happen to old people.”
Yes, they do, Mom.
I came home and wrote more Sappho poems.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fragments of My Mother

Today, my mother has forgotten how to write her name.
For this woman, an avid reader who trained me to love libraries, a business owner who put her signature to documents all her life, Alzheimer’s disease has destroyed that final link with written language.
Her writing skills have been deteriorating for quite a while. She couldn’t spell anymore. But even three weeks ago, she was able to sign a card to her sister. It seemed instinctive, her hand shaping and flowing through the many letters of her complicated last name. For 59 years she scrolled out that signature.
Today, her name was missing parts, whole segments had vanished, and it broke my heart.
Okay. We trudge on.
I have missed my visits to friends in the blogging community. For a few days here, I’ve had to knuckle down and work on assignments. Met my deadline, though, yesterday.
There’s something succinct about my tendency to put off until tomorrow what needs to be done by tomorrow, and it’s written in the Alcoholics Anonymous guide to the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions:
“Consider, too, our talents for procrastination, which is really sloth in five syllables.”
I stand convicted of sloth.
But today all that is behind me, and I’m looking forward to a drive through the beautiful green countryside with a brother and my mother. The natural world in my neck of the woods flourishes with the generous rains after a three-year drought.
For some reason, a verse from the 23rd Psalm leaps into mind. “He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul.”
My next plan is a small-press competition called the “Poetry Project: Fragments from Sappho.”
Sappho was a timeless ancient Greek poet whose body of work includes numerous fragments of poems. Tupelo Press challenges poets to write a poem using one of 10 fragments as a first line or title.
I’m going to play around with a few. Here’s one, with a first line of a Sappho fragment:


But I to you of a white goat sing
a tune more lusty than your sensibilities
You are too fine a goblet
to bear the peasant wine I pour
while dreaming of my shepherd

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Noble Art of Neglect

“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.”

Lin Yutang

I confess that I have dust bunnies. The floorboards need cleaning. The Christmas decorations are still on the garage floor. The list of chores that are undone is pretty long, actually. I have priorities higher than housekeeping.

Today’s quote makes me feel great. I get to make choices about what’s non-essential today, using the welfare of others and myself as my guiding light.

Distractions pull me away from my priorities sometimes. I want to complete a task, but get waylaid by answering emails or cleaning a suddenly-too-dirty bathroom. Susan at Inappropriate Sue has a wonderful post called The Science of Distractions. You’ll love reading it. It totally distracted me from a job I had set out to do, and it was well worth the time.

Sometimes people interrupt me when I’m working. They call at inconvenient times or they have problems when I’d rather think about my own self. That’s when I have to choose what’s essential and what’s not. People usually win over work.

Phone calls from members of Alcoholics Anonymous take a lot of time each day. Occasionally, I’ll sigh when a newcomer phones to tell me about her issues. But I have to remember that if I want to keep what I have, such as serenity and sobriety, I have to give it away. It’s an essential.

Creativity is an essential too. There’s tremendous spiritual satisfaction in creating something, whether it’s a piece of furniture or a poem. We all need spiritual food.

I need to spend time with my family, to nurture those relationships. My older brother is coming to visit for a few days at exactly the most inconvenient time today. I have two more magazine articles to write. But they’re short, and I can stay up a little later. Family is important.

It’s a challenge when two essentials conflict. That’s when I ask for guidance and try to think outside the box for creative ways to take care the necessary stuff.

What are your essentials? What do you think of the noble art of leaving things undone?


My photo is of what I think is a piece of brain coral. It represents my brain on overload, because I have left all my writing assignments until deadline.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I Have Rocks in My Head

I’m weary of writing. I did my piece on earthquakes, then had to cut a third of it out to meet my word limitation. There’s a great deal of interesting stuff about earthquakes out there, and I enjoyed learning all I could, but I have too much plate tectonics in my head to think.

So here’s a little haiku for your pleasure:

Earth rattle and roll
tremors and ruptures galore
it is not my fault

(Hours later...) Now that I’ve had some sleep, I want to offer a word of warning.
Like Chile in South America, the West Coast of the North American continent sits on the “Ring of Fire,” shaped like an upside-down horseshoe around the Pacific Ocean. Eighty percent of the world’s monster earthquakes happen here.
The last time the West was shaken by a catastrophic earthquake of magnitude 8 or 9 was more than 300 years ago, when an estimated 9.0 struck somewhere between northern California and British Columbia. Elsewhere on the Ring of Fire, giants happen with some regularity: 15 times in the past 100 years.
They appear to happen in clusters, with a 50-year cycle. In the last cycle, from 1950 and 1965, seven great quakes between 8.5 and 9.5 hit the Rim of Fire.
The recent cycle of Big Ones began in 2004, with three in Indonesia and one in Chile. Seismologists say the entire West Coast region may be overdue.

For my friends who live in the area, do a couple of simple things. Keep shoes, flashlight, and some kind of clothing beside your bed. Keep a stash of ready cash (ATMs won’t work). Put canned food, medical supplies, flashlights, battery-powered radio, water, and other necessities in a waterproof bin where you can get to it quickly. Keep a kit and sturdy shoes in your car.
At home and work, check out the safe places, under sturdy furniture, a clear hallway or against an interior wall, and the danger zones, windows, tall furniture, kitchen cabinets and large hanging objects. If an earthquake hits: DROP to the floor in the safest place, COVER your head, and HOLD ON.
Check out more earthquake preparedness info at here or here.

My hubby and I have done these things since going through a major quake in 1994. I don’t live in fear, but I live in earthquake country and precautions are wise.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Does Persistence Make You Brilliant?

“My strength lies solely in my tenacity.”

Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur had a lot more going for him than his persistence. He was a brilliant chemist who was one of the founders of microbiology, and he made major breakthroughs in the field of germ-caused disease. His name is a household word because he invented pasteurization, a way to prevent milk from causing sickness.

But he said the secret to reaching his goals was his determination, not his intellect or his creativity. So be it.

I’ve stuck with things long after they ceased to be beneficial. I have persisted in unhealthy relationships, destructive drug and alcohol use, and stinking thinking, as it’s called in some circles. I was either determined to make them work or unable to stop engaging in them.

But I’ve learned how to curb that stubbornness, and it isn’t because I became strong. Instead, I teamed up with God, and I was willing to be transformed. God laid his grace on me. It takes a daily decision on my part to accept his grace.

Thanks to that spiritual relationship, I can use my tenacity to do good things. I get work accomplished. I participate in a healthy marriage. I research and make discoveries about life. I can resolve to not engage in unhealthy behavior, and succeed for the most part.

This past weekend, tenacity helped me learn about earthquakes. I studied plate tectonics, the magnitude, energy, and intensity scales, data from the U.S. Geological Survey and international agencies. Then I wrote a 1500-word article explaining earthquakes for my local magazine. We had a 6.5 quake here six years ago, and it made the town sensitive to the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile.

Tenacity helped me put aside distractions and focus on the work. It’s a challenge to explain complicated information in simple terms. It’s also a lot of fun. But other pleasures had to be postponed. I didn’t get to blog much this past weekend, so I have catching up to do.

How does tenacity fit into your life? Is your persistence a force for good, or for ill?


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Risky Business

“Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself.”

Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923)

I got new glasses on Friday, and that’s me up there at 6 on Saturday morning. The new specs are kooky and they look like upside down glasses. They’ll take some getting used to. But it was fun to take the risk, trivial as it is, and not to care for the opinions of others. (But what do you think?)

Katherine Mansfield, who’s quoted today, was a brilliant short story writer who lived a brief but bohemian life. She was risk taker who flaunted social mores and she became, in acting for herself, one of the preeminent writers of her time.

“I want, by understanding myself, to understand others,” she said. “I want to be all that I am capable of becoming.”

When I perceive how my thought processes and motives work, when I can clearly see my flaws and strengths, I can be more understanding of your efforts to become what you want to become. I can be empathetic toward you when I am considerate of myself. If I don’t understand my own humanity, how can I appreciate yours?

All of this is a risk. I could make a fool of myself by putting on dorky glasses and risking your poor opinion. I could try to be what I want to be, but what if I fail at it? How can I become what I wish I were if you think, he thinks, they think I’m not good enough?

It comes down to courage. We have to have the courage to change, to take action. If I’m willing, I can think for myself. I can set goals and work for them. If I have courage, I don’t have to live in the fear of what if.

I get that courage by testing the water in small things. The world’s not going to come to an end if what I try doesn’t work out. Keep plugging away at it. It may be the hardest thing in the world to be yourself, but the garment you weave will fit you perfectly.

How are you taking care of yourself today?

A Sunday 160
In which we say something profound in 160 characters (counting spaces). See Monkey Man for more.
At 5:45 a.m. on a winter day
When the night sky lightens to navy blue
I can see the bare bones of naked trees
The hope of morning swells in me
Like a red balloon.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Paralysis of Thinking

“Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.”

Napoleon Bonaparte

Do butterflies have a brain?
Why does a tube of toothpaste have directions on it?
If microwaves were fluorescent green, what would your microwave oven look like while they bombard a cup of water?

Those are three thoughts I had between 4:30 and 4:45 this morning. They amused me, so I’m sharing them. Anyone have answers?

I could find the answers within a half-hour, thanks to the wonder of Google. But I’d rather talk about Napoleon. Should we take seriously the advice of a guy who ended up in exile because of his actions?

Of course we should. Many enormously gifted people have landed in prison because a more powerful faction could put them there. Just because he was a grandiose fellow whose aspirations exceeded his abilities doesn’t make him wrong.

Napoleon’s advice about taking action makes me think of some 12-step sayings that I love. For example: Take the action and the feelings will follow.

And this one: It’s easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking, than to think your way into a new way of acting. I personally love this axiom. It’s helped me do everything from the large (staying sober) to the little (cleaning house).

Excessive thinking often leads to paralysis by analysis. What I’m learning to do is this: Stop thinking and re-thinking, wringing my hands and pondering something every which way from Sunday, worrying an idea like a dog gnawing on a bone. Instead: Pray, deliberate, ask my advisors, and take the next action.

Just take the first indicated step into the situation. As Napoleon said, “Stop thinking and go in.”

Can you relate?


Friday, March 5, 2010

Have You Thrown Your Heart Lately?

Flash 55

This is a Friday Flash 55 in honor of a loved one's birthday today. Gone but not forgotten. If you want to tell a story in exactly 55 words, post it and go tell the G-Man.

Grief Stricken

Her eyes
looking at you
were tender
The light
in her smile
lit fires in you
Her hair
shone golden
in the sunshine
The lightness
of her touch
moved your soul
Her presence
with life
The lightness
you always
Her light
has died
now forever
How will you
ever breathe

“Throw your heart over the fence and the rest will follow.”

Norman Vincent Peale

One night when I was 18 years old and tired of living in a small desert town, tired of hanging out with my druggie friends, I lay in my dark bedroom wondering what in the hell could I do?

What happened next, I can only describe as a vision that bloomed in my mind like a flower: I could go to college!

No one in my extended family had ever gone to college. At this idea of me in college, my heart smiled.

The next day I started writing letters, asking for information. I talked to my parents. They talked to each other. They hit me with an offer. If I earned half the cost, they would pay the other half.

I threw my heart over that fence. It took me almost a year to save the money from my florist-shop job. I decided on a university and got accepted.

All the rest followed. I studied my love, English. Graduated summa cum laude. Went to L.A. and enjoyed a 20-year career in magazine editing and writing. Made a rewarding life for myself…all because I put myself whole-heartedly behind a vision.

In the same way, I threw myself into Alcoholics Anonymous 20 years ago. I’ve stumbled, got up, and thrown my heart into it again. The vision of life as a sober person gets 100 percent of my commitment.

I’ve done the same thing with my marriage to Joe. For 18 years we’ve both put our hearts into this thing. We’ve learned forgiveness, acceptance, laughter, anger without mean words, and compromise.

When I read Norman Peale’s quote, those are the things I think about and feel grateful for. I think when we throw our hearts over the fence of a good cause, the rest follows. There’s a qualifier here: The cause has to be for our good, not for selfish, screwed-up motives. I’ve tried that way, and it led to unhappiness. But when the fence is good, when our commitment is full of our best efforts, when God smiles on us…the rest follows.

For what have you thrown your heart over the fence?


Thursday, March 4, 2010

How to Make the Best of Things

“Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out.”

Art Linkletter

I picked my demented mother up Wednesday for her usual outing with me.
Her brain’s wiring is all screwed up. The lichen in the photo above makes me think of the plaque that my therapist tells me builds up in the diseased brain. This plaque screws with the synapses, the neurotransmitters, whatever, of the brain.

I’m learning to go with the flow with her, even when thoughts are not flowing well in her head. Since I’ve been practicing acceptance, I have a new peace about her condition. Sometimes peace morphs into hilarity. Sometimes I do a double take.

Today’s Alzheimer’s Poetry:
“What is that pink tree?”
“I think it’s a fruitless mulberry, Mom.”
“Well, yes, I thought it bore a resemblance, but then she went the other way.”

“She wasn’t much of a talker, but …..oh, well.

“Sometimes I miss those two boys, the ones who… the ones who…”
“Your boys, my brothers?” I ask.
“No, the ones that ride the bicycle.”

“Cataracts? I hear that’s going around.”

Here’s my point: I’m trying very hard to remember what Mom says, because I want to study her thought patterns and see if I can understand what part of her brain is affected. I’m trying to remember also because some of the things she puts together are so off the wall funny that I crack up.

My Mom-isms are a way of making the best out of the way things turn out. I’m learning how to banter with her, how to carry on a one-sided conversation with wacky things thrown out into the mix by my Mom. I’m learning slowly to laugh instead of cry about her situation.

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. How have you had to make the best of things lately?


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Do It Before It's Too Late

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow.”

Mahatma Gandhi

One night I had an epiphany.

My dear husband and I had bickered that evening about something so trivial, I don’t even remember it. We had made a pact once that we wouldn’t go to bed angry, but that night we didn’t kiss and make up. He went to bed and I stayed in my sunroom, reading a good book.

When I went to bed, I was still a little cranky with him, but he was fast asleep. I lay there on my side of the bed, chewing on what had been said between us. I even made it a point to keep my arms and legs to myself.

Then the thought came to mind: What if he were to die tomorrow and this is the last night I get to spend with him?

So I lay there for a little while, imagining my life without him. The more I thought, the less I cared about the thing that had annoyed me. In fact, I stopped being annoyed, period. I did what I’ve been taught to do and asked myself, how important is it? The thing we had argued about had no importance at all in the bigger picture. My perspective was entirely restored to sanity.

So I hugged him in his sleep and let everything go except love. Nothing else was important.

I wrote this poem the other day when I remembered that epiphany in the night. It’s been a number of years ago now, but I haven’t forgotten the lesson I learned. Death (or the idea of it) issues us a challenge, said author and speaker Leo Buscaglia. “It tells us not to waste tells us to tell each other right now that we love each other.”

Tulips Grow After You Pick Them

Their stems arc and lengthen
as they reach for the roof
the only flower that thrives
in captivity, or maybe not
maybe they do not grow
but reach back, longing for
the bulb the root the earth
where their hearts lie

as I lie here at night longing
for the touch of your legs
twining with mine
which I never told you
while I had you here
and now it breaks my

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Do You Have Enough Happiness?

“Man is fond of counting his troubles, but he does not count his joys. If he counted them up as he ought to, he would see that every lot has enough happiness provided for it.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky

It’s interesting that this quote comes for one of the masters of suffering. Poverty, exile, physical ailments, and emotional suffering dogged Dostoevsky for much of his life.

I think it’s poignant that this man urges people to count their joys and discover happiness no matter what their lot in life. It’s a testament to the undefeated spirit.

I was taught early in recovery that gratitude is essential. My sponsor gave me these instructions:

Get up in the morning with a thankful heart, focus on helping others, and go to bed with a thankful heart.

If I followed directions, she said, I might have some bad moments but I would have good days. She steered me right.

The only bad moments happen when I put myself in charge of making sure things go okay. That includes making sure you do the right thing, and making sure events go the right way.

That is such a big job, it’s better left to God.

A friend of mine is struggling through a rough patch in a long marriage. They both see what’s wrong with each other right now. She’s trying to act lovingly and hoping the feelings will follow.

We can so easily dash each other’s hopes, with a single unkind word. All too often we feel the need to point out what’s wrong. And we have those magnifying minds: What we focus on gets bigger, whether it’s good or bad.

I wrote this poem with my friend in mind.

Relationship Trouble

When you tell me
I don’t meet
your expectations
I want to tear out
my hair
and ululate
like women do
in the East
to show you
there is a death
and it is me
you have killed.

In my own marriage, we’re trying to do what Dostoevsky and my sponsor said we ought to do, to count our joys and not our troubles. We tried the counting-troubles part and it was a failure. So we tried the other way, starting with a grateful heart and ending the day that way too. It works. It really does.
Big-time Gratitude: You can read my poem "Redemption" on the poetry blog Bolts of Silk.
And what about your joys? What happiness lives inside you today?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Thank God for Trouble

“We are continually faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.”

John Gardner

This is me (sometimes) when faced with trouble: A tennis shoe tumbling in a dryer.
I ruminate repeatedly on the problem. Because I can’t think of a solution, I just think about the problem, until my head feels like a dryer with a tennis shoe in it.

Some troubles are fun because it’s a challenge to find an answer. Some, I’m powerless to fix and so I have to practice acceptance. Some are just plain painful.

Take my mother, for example. She has dementia, which has metamorphosed into Alzheimer’s in the past four months. It causes some problems that are interesting, such as how to explain the process of putting on a pair of pants, when she is totally befuddled by the procedure? It causes other problems that I’m helpless to change, such as the loss of her memory. Rather than fight against it with constant reminders that hurt her dignity, I have to accept that’s how things are now.

And the dementia causes plain old pain, because I’ve lost my mother and I feel grief about that. Every day, I have to be the parent to my own mom, and I hate it. I don’t like the “opportunities” that presents.

Much of the time, I make my own misery by refusing to accept insoluble problems, by trying to exert my own willpower over them and manhandle my way into fixing them to my satisfaction. The book Alcoholics Anonymous says, on page 133, “Avoid, then, the deliberate manufacture of misery, but if trouble comes, cheerfully capitalize it as an opportunity to demonstrate [God’s] omnipotence.”

I guess I’m not highly evolved or spiritual enough, because that word “cheerfully” seems impossible to me. But trouble does drive me to my knees these days, and that’s a good place to be.

There are many problems beyond my human ability to mend. There are problems I could mend if only I knew how. Both of these situations are opportunities to watch my Creator at work, if I put my troubles into His big hands.

I’m thankful that in recovery I’ve learned the power of getting out of the problem and into the solution. I don’t have to let the shoe in the dryer keep on tumbling into infinity. Today, troubles are, for the most part, opportunities to grow along spiritual lines, to let go and let God. But to tell the truth, sometimes there are scratch marks where my fingers held on until the last possible moment!

What do you do with your problems? How do you turn them into opportunities?

(The photos are of my Katie Cat, who kept pulling out her stitches. The solution to her problem was a cone. After five days, she no longer fights it and is practicing acceptance.)


Albert Einstein Quotes