Sunday, November 29, 2015

this is what the whole thing is about

Got up on a cool morning. Leaned out a window.
No cloud, no wind. Air that flowers held
for awhile. Some dove somewhere.

Been on probation most of my life. And
the rest of my life been condemned. So these moments
count for a lot--peace, you know.

Let the bucket of memory down into the well,
bring it up. Cool, cool minutes. No one
stirring, no plans. Just being there.

This is what the whole thing is about.

we may miss our star

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider--
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give--yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.


the richest man in town

I have a friend who has never earned much money.  He's in his seventies now and doing okay because he fell in love with a woman who owns a house and inherited a large N California farm, so he is not at risk of becoming homeless. Now. This is how things are for him now.

But when I first knew him, in a moment of discouragement, he lamented that he had never earned any money and felt like a failure.

"Ken," I exclaimed, "How can you say that?  You are like the Jimmy Stewart character in "It's A Wonderful Life", when at the end of the movie, his brother returns a war hero, the whole town is gathered in Jimmy's house and his brother makes a toast to the richest man in town. You are like the richest man in town!"

"How do you get that?" he groaned, still feeling down.

"Because you have lived your whole life aligned with your values, that's why. That makes you the richest man in town. Not many people can say they have always lived aligned with their values."

I could hear his being respond to what I had said. I don't remember that he said anything to me. I think he gruffly changed the subject.

I meant every word I said to him.

this goes with Picnic piece

I once did some EMDR therapy with a PhD psychologist I had already seen for nearly ten years, in Minneapolis.  She had just gotten trained in EMDR and was curious to try it out on a patient she knew as well as she knew me after all that time. I was in the midst of moving away from Minneapolis but I loved Jane. I had actually stopped seeing her but when she called and asked if she could do some practice EMDR (eye movement desensitization something, some new fangled therapy! and Jane was as conventional as a shrink could get until that EMDR move so I was fascinated and cooperated).

Afterwards, Jane said she thought I had gone deeper and and gone deeper faster than she had ever seen anyone go in her long training and practice program and she attributed that to how deeply she and I trusted one another. Who knows? She asked me, while she did her rapid eye movement thing, to go back as far as I possibly could. Within, perhaps, a minute, I was an infant in my actual crib, in my tiny first bedroom with the door closed, the shades drawn and realized that was how I spent most of my infancy, with my mom only coming in when she absolutely had to. I was so young in my Jane-induced flashback that I could not yet hold up my head, much less sit up or roll. And I lay there awake but already aware of the futility of crying. I kept my infant focus tightly on the door, wanting to be able to see the look in the eyes of either of my parents as they entered. I was laying there as a helpless infant eager and hoping to catch a look of love, of fondness, of happiness to see me.  I don't think I saw my mom's eyes light up like that. And in 1953, moms did the childcare. My dad adored all his kids but he played his expected male role and left babies up to her, at least for the early babies. So at age 2 or 3 months, I felt unwanted, felt that I was a burden. My mom would roll her eyes when she entered my room -- and rolled eyes was one of her better looks.She often looked frustrated, even angry, that I was disturbing her.
So different from me as a mom. My whole being lit up whenever I beheld my baby. And I held her all the time, often as she slept. so did Katie's dad.
But not my mom.

loneliness is dangerous

Loneliness is as dangerous as cigarette smoking. Scientists have concluded that given all the drastic ways in which loneliness impacts our bodies, it represent as great a risk for our long term health and longevity as smoking cigarettes. Indeed, studies have concluded that chronic loneliness increases our risk of an early death by 14%.
~ from a psychology today article on loneliness

I sorta hope my loneliness will kill me.

the thrilling sound of puffing cranberries

Every Thanksgiving week I think about my holiday pie. I can't eat cranberries anymore because of a medication I take. I have been thinking about making my cranberry pear pie. I like the way memories can float about, like the smells coming from a kitchen readying a holiday feast.

It is a simple recipe. A bag of fresh cranberries (usually a pound) and less than one cup of real maple syrup and a bunch of beautiful pears. Prebake the pie crust slightly. Peel and slice the pears. If you are baking this pie with a child, let the child eat all the pear slices s/he wishes to eat. Layer the fruit artistically. And use a lattice top. It is a very beautiful pie. The red cranberries shine like rubies nestled in the pears. The red peeks through the lattice crust nicely. Serve with unsweetened whipped cream. Let the child taste a fresh cranberry too, if they wish. Explain the word pucker afterwards.

The recipe is not really what I was thinking about. I was thinking about the real reason I love to make this pie.

You put the maple syrup in a saucepan with the cranberries. The actual recipe calls for two cups of maple syrup but one of the reasons I like this pie is that it is not too sweet. Cut way down on the maple syrup and you really taste fruit. Cranberries are tart so they need the syrup but use as little as possible.

Heat the syrup and cranberries gently, slowly. Here is the  reason I used to make this pie: as the cranberries warm up and start to both cook and absorb the maple syrup, they make a very soft puffing sound.

Oh my gosh, I love the sound of the cranberries puffing. I love to do this with a child. I love to enjoy the hushed anticipation as we listen for the first puff. While waiting, this is a good time to kiss the child on top of the head a few times.

As soon as the cranberries start puffing, you have to quickly pull the saucepan from the heat. The thrill does not last long, the puffing is only a few seconds and the sounds very soft. Yet it is a very fine experience. There is a temptation to keep the cranberries on too long in the hope that you will get to hear another mild puffing sound but you must resist. Resolve to make this pie again soon.

Then you layer the cooked berries, the pears and bake, not too long, just long enough to meld the flavors, to lightly bake the pears.

a gift dilemma

I had been thinking of getting my baby bro, the one who is visiting me after New Year's, a $50 Amazon Fire tablet, but that's big bucks for me. Dave has no smart phone, no computer and no internet. With an Amazon Fire, he could get online at wifi spots and maybe having it would inspire him to pay for internet. He spends a fortune on alcohol and restaurants, he can afford the internet. Plus with a Fire, he could watch millions of movies and tv shows via Amazon Prime or Netflix. I only want to give it to him if he'd actually use it.
But when it went down to $35 over black friday weekend, I ordered it. It sold many at that price and so mine won't ship until Dec 23rd.
here is my dilemma. A homeless friend spent $8.50 to buy a copy of the BAHA Harold Way appeal. if this homeless guy had a Fire tablet, he could sit in Peets or outside libraries and read stuff like that online. So I'm thinking maybe I'll give it to the homeless.  I am positive homeless guy would use it regularly and I am not sure my brother would.  I gave my brother a laptop once, an old one of mine, and he gave it away (or, more likely, sold it). And he once bought a Dell desktop and did not take it out of the box for like six years until I visited and put it together.  My bro shows little inclination to get online. 
Homeless guy or my brother. . . . . or just cancel the order. That's a lot of money for me.

the party room

My beautiful new apartment building has a beautiful party room on the second floor that overlooks the gorgeous courtyard. You can't see this courtyard form the street. My apartment building is six stories wrapped around a large, central courtyard. There are lots of plants and trees, beautiful picnic tables. The courtyard and party room is adjacent to the laundry room. It is lovely to put in a load of laundry and then sit outside while my laundry getes done. Or, on a cool day, sit in the cosy party room.

As soon as I first saw the courtyard, noting that my apartment overlooks it, I began to hear children playing out there. All the kids who live in this building should feel like that is their backyard. If I were a mom with kids here, I'd send them out there to play every day.

I think kids used to living in urban apartments might not have much experience with such easy access to such a beautiful outdoor amenity. Our courtyard is a beautiful private park. Kids need to run and shout.

I am easily irritated by commercial party noise when the party venue next door has a party . . . but neighbor kids playing? That sounds is joyful, healing music. I need that sound in my life.

Today, someone had a party for a baby girl. She turned one. There was a nice hum all morning while the moms organized the party. And then the party burst in, lots of kids, lots of laughing and shouting. I wanted to join them.

It should be okay to send a kid out there without adult supervision. You wouldn't let a two year old roam the building on her own but gosh, I would let a seven year old play out there, especially if I had windows overlooking the courtyard so I could see my kid. I would also send kids up to the rooftop playground.

It's not much of a playground. Not even one swing. Just a dopey rock wall that is too small to be interesting. And one of those fake store-front-play-houses that, I imagine, is supposed to stimulate children's imagination, allowing them to pretend it is all kinds of things. But all it is is a stupid fake thingy. There's no place to sit, no surface big enough to put stuff on. It's jsut there.

but still, it is an outdoor space with fancy, squishy soft material underfoot where kids could jump some. It looks like they intentionally designed the kid stuff for only very small kids, like under two feet tall. I bet some designer imagined having eight years old climbing and getting hurt so they dumped it down into nothing.

Still it is outdoors, sunny on sunny days.

A kid could play hopscotch. Does anyone do hopscotch anymore? or jumprope?

Anyway. A kid could figure some goof stuff out. But parents have to nudge them along, get them started.

My kid would have been shy and anxious to use the space on her own. I would have had to go out there with her and then leave her alone. She would have to have felt me nearby but then also felt free to ignore me. And she would have needed a playmate. My job would just be to pretend I wasn't there. But be there.

I miss my kid.

I see that I am writing incoherently. I have been very sick for the past three days. Physically and emotionally. I am starting to feel a tiny bit better. The kid noise really cheered me up. I keep imagining that I am going to know some of the kids in this building.

I am going to figure out a way to advertise my willingness to babysit. There are many single moms in this building. Lots of the kids don't look like they need sitters, middle school kids. But surely the single mom of a toddler would like to get out without her baby once in awhile.

In Chicago, when I was growing up on the South Side, they had a block mother program. In those days, of course, there were lots of stay at home moms. Actually, when I was growing up, in an all-Catholic ghetto, all the families had lots of kids and all the moms stayed home. There was one single mom on our block and she was a widow with eight kids. My goodness. We never saw her!! I used to wonder how she managed.

But as I got older, like by the time my sister was born in 1967, some moms were working. My mom started working, actually, in 1971, the year I graduated from h.s.

So, as the neighborhood changed and there were less moms around after school, the phenomenon of latch key kids got started. So there was a neighborhood block mother program. Moms who were willing to be an adult resource to a kid who needed an adult would put a sign in her front window that indicated she was a 'block mother'. That meant that is a kid needed something and no adult was home, they could knock on that door for help.

I never knew a kid who used this program. All us kids knew all the moms on our block.

but I have been thinking about that program lately and wishing I could be a block mom for my apartment building.

There are lots of latch key kids in this building, kids who come home from school while their parents are still at work. The kids don't get their own security fobs to get into the building until they are a certain age. I don't know the policy because I have no kids. But some kids don't have the security fobs so they have to ring the doorbell. Then doorbell can be connected to a parent's cell phone so then the parent can let the kid into the building no matter where the parent is.

I have my doorbell attached to my cell phone (because my friend marc made the good suggestion that I do this). It is a good system. If I have a houseguest, for example, I can admit the guest into the building even when I am not here (because I can't give my houseguest a security fob, I only have the one, right?). . . .

anyway, I see latch key kids coming home after school and ringing their moms and getting in. They have keys to the apartment but the elevator won't go up without the security fob. When they ring the cell phone, the parent can buzz them into the elevator. Then the person entering the building has three minutes to use the elevator.

I see little kids in the lobby waiting for someone to let them up in the elevator because they missed their three minutes. I am happy to let kids who live here up. But I don't know who lives here.

If i were a 'block mom', I could be introduced to kids who might need someone to, occasionally, let them in. an adult willing to be responsible just for a few minutes.

Sometimes a kid just needs a grown up to be responsible for a minute.

Of course, people worry about liability. I would take that risk.

The kids in this building keep looking to our very nice property manager, Catrice. Catrice's office is in the lobby and she is there most of the time and she is lovey and maternal and wonderful but she can't be letting in all the kids. That makes her responsible in a way that is not quite her job. Sure, she wants to be a good neighbor but she has organizational responsiblities that I don't have.

there are lots of grandmas-in-need in this building. We could all be block moms.

remembering a booze story about my mom

When I moved into my Victorian, gut-rehabbed duplex, the one I sold to finance my daughter's college education, my mom came to Minneapolis.

I had had movers move in all the furniture and put the boxes marked kitchen in the kitchen but I had all the other boxes placed in the full basement. That basement was fitted with pipes for a bath and kitchen, and had been studded to add a third apartment. The previous owner had been the developer of the whole role of rehabbed houses but he had lived in the house I bought so, everyone on the block said, it had many more features. Only I had an atrium with skylights in the second and third story owner's unit. Only I had a cement-block basement instead of the stone basements that the other late 19th Century, wood-framed houses up and down the block had. Plus I assumed a mortgage that would have been paid off in, I think, 2004, the year my daughter graduated from Cornell. It was a sweet, income-generating house. The two-bedroom rental was easy to rent, given our proximity to the University of Minnesota and downtown. And now, a light rail station is just a couple blocks away. Cherry real estate. I digress.

So on moving day, after the movers were done, exhausted, we went out to eat. On the way home, mom asked me to buy some liquor. My mom was an alcoholic, although she never admitted she was one. When I told here that all liquor stores closed at 8 p.m., and since it was after 8 p.m., we could not buy booze unless we drove thirty or forty miles east to Wisconsin, which I was not prepared to do, my mom called me a liar. She said "You just don't want me to have a drink." So I drove around to several liquor stores to show her they were all closed.

As we drove around, I did mention that in the many dozens of boxes in my new basement, there was some booze. A year or two earlier, mom's company, the one she inherited from her second husband, had been part of its industry's annual convention, which was in Minneapolis that one time. Mom had rented a fancy hospitality suite, as her then-deceased husband always had. And the suite was stocked with a ton of booze. When the party was over, everyone in the company, which was my stepfather's kids and my mom, were flying home and could not haul home a ton of opened bottles of all the kinds of booze one stocks for an open bar. I had several partially used bottles of just about everything, but all packed away in boxes. I had taken the booze home somewhat blindly. Mom urged me to do so and the stuff had to get removed from the suite or else they would be charged.

And then that booze just gathered dust in my cupboards, because I have never been much of a drinker. Along with the hard liquor, there were also some booze mixers like creme de menthe.

I had had that liquor in my apartment for a couple years and never given it a thought until I packed it for the move. And when, after my mother finally accepted that all the liquor stores were closed, and i foolishly reminded her that I had hauled away all the leftover booze from her big company party at the convention, she said "well, go down and get it."

I pointed out that I had no idea which boxes the booze was in, for I had labeled the boxes based on where I thought they should be unpacked, not by their content.

Dang if my mom didn't trudge down to that basement and spent an hour or so tearing open all my boxes, disregarding the mess she left me, for she had frantically removed and thrown around the basement things on top of boxes looking for some booze.

She found some. She came up stairs, red from the effort but also, I think, from the anger. She complained that I had no right to have packed 'her' booze. I didn't point out that a gift once given belonged to the recipient. I didn't really care if she took the booze. And she did pack as much of that left over booze as she could when she went home that time. She was so angry.

I had no mixers in the house so she drank whatever booze she had found, for she stopped looking as soon as she had found one bottle of alcoholic content, straight. As I write about this scene, which took place around 1992, I feel her vibrating anger.  I also feel, in a more suffused way, my own anger. I had not gone down to look at the mess in my basement but I knew that she had been down there a long time, tearing open box after box. I knew my packed belongings were now a big fat mess in my basement.

I had long believed my mom was an alcoholic but, not living near her since I left home for college, and only seeing her for a few days here and there each year, it had been easy to ignore her drinking. Plus she was an at-home sozzler.  I realized the day I moved into that house that my mom was an alcoholic.

This story reminds me of the day I realized my ex-husband was also an alcoholic. In the leftover collection of booze from our wedding open bar, there was a bottle of creme de menthe I had moved that bottle of creme de menthe a couple times, never even tasting it. There had been other leftover booze from the wedding but my ex had drunk his way through that pretty quickly.

One night, after we had been married awhile and owned a house, he wanted a drink. In the city we lived in during that short marriage, the liquor stores, at least back then (I don't know how late liquor stores stay open in these Midwestern states now), did not stay open late.

There were states, at least back then, that were 'dry' on Sundays, when you couldn't buy liquor anywhere. I think bars remained open on Sundays but you couldn't buy bottles of booze. I know this because when we drove from my home city to my grandparents who lived a few states away on the Great Plains, my aunt Margaret would urge mom to stop driving on Saturday to pick up booze because the state we were in was dry on Sundays. I wonder if those states are still dry on Sundays. I don't really care, just wunnering.

I think the tradition of closing liquor stores early dates back to Prohibition and represented a futile attempt to slow down drinking. I think there was some kind of rationale that folks who prudently planned their booze purchases before the liquor stores closed at 8 p.m., or whenever in other states, magiclaly lead to less alcoholism. Nonsense, of course.

Since I did not drink much myself, my ex and I did not have a habit of cocktails at home.  I don't really know when he worked his way through all our leftover wedding booze but one day, with him desparate for alcohol and no place to buy it, except bars. As far as I know, my ex did not go to bars, not while we were married anyway but who knows?

Anyway, when I said the only booze in the house was a mostly full bottle of creme de menthe, which does not have a high alcohol content, he drank the whole bottle, telling me it didn't taste too bad.

Yuck, right?  I was fairly certain that only an alcoholic would drink a whole bottle of creme de menthe when it was the only alcohol available.

After my mom has torn through my boxes of household goods and found her booze, I took her to a liquor store the next day and she stocked up.

I am blessed not to have the drive to drink booze.  My dad was a teatotaler. My sister will drink socially but she does not drink much.  My daughter seemed to be moving in the direction of being an alcoholic. I believe she had drug or alcohol abuse problems, which were enabled by her former boyfriend Michael. Michael used drugs, had been expelled from two elite prep schools for drug use. I wonder if he got her on heroin. I know she has dated a heroin addict, altho she dumped him. I know about him because he wrote to me. And when I could see her FB page, which she has now blocked me from seeing, I saw that many of her FB friends were in 12 step programs.  I hope she never slid into heroin but if she did, I hope she has found recovery. She seems to have.

My mom didn't see herself as an alcoholic because she didn't buy booze. She often said she didn't need to drink, she only drank when my brother, who she lived with a long time at the end of her life, provided it so she drank. Without it, she was fine.

But the way she tore through those dozens of boxes in my basement, scattering my belongings helter skelter while she rushed to find some booze showed me:  my mom was an alcoholic.

I had packed the bottles of booze separately, tucking them into boxes that had something to cushion a glass bottle so the booze was not all in one place. I remember, as I packed those disparate bottles of booze, questioning why I was moving booze that I never remembered existed, that I never drank.

Now I think I packed that booze so I would see my mom clearly as the drunk she had become.

And that creme de menthe night:  most definitely, he was an alkie.

time does not heal all wounds

where did the saying 'time heals all wounds" come from?

grief

You find a new center of gravity, but the limb does not grow back. ~ unattributed quote
I am not finding a new center of gravity for the loss of my daughter.

how to instantly empower


Saturday, November 28, 2015

fearless tearshedder

This essay, by Brenda Keaton, was found here:  http://www.rebellesociety.com/2015/11/28/dear-empath-we-need-you/

As I read it, it feels like she has pierced my etheric and is talking directly to my whole being.

To those who soak up the world’s energy like a sponge…
You play a critical role here.
You may not feel it sometimes. Sometimes it feels like you’re drowning in a sea of other people’s feelings, uncertain which waves have poured over from foreign waters and which come from your own deep center, far too immersed to reach, at least in this lifetime.
The part you play in this drama of human life is absolutely essential.
You are one of the truth-tellers.
You are one of the strong ones.
You are one of the believers in magic. You dance in the shadows to bring life to the light trickling in from cracks in the board that others fail to see.
Without you, chaos continues to ensue.
Sometimes you play the role of match-striker, sparking the fire that burns away the dust that has settled on top of the shell.
Know that the work you do, in stoking the flames, is not a bad thing. Rather, it is remarkable. It signifies your immense potential to get at the heart by pulling at the threads of bullshit we have wrapped our true selves in.
We all wear sweaters tangled with lies of who-we-need-to-be and what-we-need-to-prove, and you are often the sole being who sees the snags, unafraid to wrestle your pinky fingernail into the hole, however minuscule, and rip and pull and prod until the whole web, the false exterior, comes undone.
This is not easy work. This is the task of a fighter. A wolf. A truth-seeking ninja who will stop at nothing.
By most conventional societal standards, you are, without a doubt, the underdog. You receive none of the glory. People will not know to thank you, for waking them up. They may not realize until years later it was you that so gently (or sometime, when the direness of the situation calls for it, more urgently) removed the shambled cloak they lay sleeping beneath, to stir them back-to-life with a burst of cool air.
They may never comprehend the depths of your mission, the gift that you have so selflessly bestowed upon them.
You see, most people don’t notice the things you see and feel with clarity. Most others live in cheerful omission of the felt sense that simmers throughout your entire body, down to the root, remaining hidden by the tangibility society places on a pedestal.
For the survival of your empathetic soul, you must understand that these others exist on a different plane of being altogether. Not a lesser-than plane, nor in a higher state, but just in a different place.
Like originating from one country versus another.
These people cannot comprehend what it means to feel all the things, and to feel them to the core of their very being. They do not carry antennas flickering with messages at the faintest signal of emotion. The sensitivity of your feelers is not limited by physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual constraints. No walls, nor technological barriers, can prevent you from taking in what those around you feel.
You can try as hard as you like to put up invisible shielded boundaries. You can seek the protection of black panther guardians, use crystals and healing rays and countless other grounding techniques.
No matter your mechanisms to prevent the absorption of the energy around you, it is time for you, brave heart, to relent, and recognize that this is your gift.
You may never have the thick skin they will forever tell you to grow, but you wouldn’t have it any other way. Because with your power comes the ability to touch a child’s hand, and realize that while you have been bitten, in true zombie-apocalyptic fashion, with the detrimental effects of his lack-of-sleep foregoing nap time, you see the spring in his step amplify, and you know you have made him all the stronger, even if for only a moment.
And these small moments, of lifting others by sharing their afflictions, expand, one drop at a time, until the ripples of a creek fight through the hard, drought-ridden cracks. And then, one day, the trickle accumulates and grows strength, becoming its own, majestic waterfall. All created by your ability to shed other people’s tears on their behalf.
You will cry out in the meeting in which no one else would raise a hand, shining light on the vibes underlying the entire group. You will speak up for the whales, the ocean, even the air, which has been so violently ripped of life by those around you. You will not stop shedding your tears until they have washed away the world’s darkness.
Know that the others do not mean to leave you in the dust, nor do they intentionally thrust you into the fire without a helping hand. They do not mean to cause you to be the sole voice screaming the injustices from the mountaintop.
They simply do not know how to consciously give words to these deep-felt emotions. They cannot fathom sweeping the dust to form the bones of what matters. They do not understand what has been brimming underneath, nor can they hear their heart-song’s murmur.
At least, not yet.
But with time, I believe, we will all, gently, give way to the song within, and slowly reveal the flower as yet budding in the deepest interior of our core. One by one, given the right ingredients of nurturing, our petals will expand until we wave at the sun in unison, providing refuge to the bees to produce honey sweet enough to overpower the bitterest of earthly fruits.
You are one of the early ancient ones. Bringing us back to the ship from which we most recklessly jumped. Showing us the crooked, twisty, overgrown-with-grass path through the forest, toward the life we are all meant to live. The path straight to the source. Do not for one second doubt your mission here. We need you, in all of your strength and lack-of-glory.
We need you, fearless tear-shedder, to continue your song for all those who have forgotten they have a voice.

running an errand for homeless friend

I won't use my homeless friend's name, even though interpersonally, I try to address my homeless friends by their name, to give them that small recognition. But there are creepy trolls in this world and a couple of Berkeley centered cyberstalkers stalk me and also some homeless folks.

Geez, I totally support the Black Lives Matter work that is unfolding. And I know, as best as any white person can, I think, that blacks endure racism in ways the rest of us can't understand.

I see this particular homeless friend on most Saturdays when I leave the farmers market and head to Trader Joe's.   Today he called out to me from across MLK street. I called back that we could chat after I returned from TJ's. He leapt across the street, dodging cars, to ask me to pick something up for him.

I would have been happy to treat him to the quart of kefir that he wanted. He showed me the bottle, pulled out a twenty dollar bill and said he needed a receipt.    I waived away his money, said we could settle up later. He insisted on giving me money. He also insisted on a receipt. I laughed and said "Oh, I am willing to trust you for the price of the kefir but you want a receipt with your change?"  I did not treat him to the kefir because I believed he needed to pay for it, to show me he could.

But I decided, as I walked on to TJ's that I would buy him some small treat in the store.

Lately I've been eating bowls of oatmeal cooked with a few dried berries and some cinnamon, with coconut milk pour on top.  The berries plump up, spreading their sweetness. And the coconut milk is the bomb, yo. I also add chia seeds, which plump in the cooking, and chopped walnuts. All these ingredients have fiber, many have soluble fiber. Walnuts, chia seeds and oatmeal are very good at lowering bad cholesterol and raising good cholesterol. My lab results for cholesterol have been decent but I am determined to improve them with food, nature's medicine. This determination is derived from my ongoing battle with my endocrinologist who wants me to take a statin, which I will not do.  This meal is like a fancy dessert treat for me.  I don't eat it for breakfast. Typically I eat it for dinner.

I am eating lots of oatmeal, berries, walnuts and chia seeds.

And I stock up on dried berries, including wild blueberries, bing cherries (is that a berry?!) and cranberries at TJ's.

When I had the fleeting, whispery thought that I should get my friend a treat, my first thought was candy. Then, I reasoned, if he was into low fat kefir, he might like some dried berries. I don't usually buy three kinds of berries at once but I bought three different choices today so I could present my friend with the gift of the dried berries of his choice.

I asked "Would you like some dried fruit?"

"If you can spare it," he said politely. This guy is kinda gallant, a combination of Don Quijote and Parsifal. A seemingly lost soul but a dignified, chilvarous, gentle one.

I pulled out my fruit bags, waiving each one in turn, announcing each choice. "Dried bing cherries? Dried wild blueberries? or dried cranberries?"

"Oh, I love cranberries, if you are sure you want to part with them. It's Thanksgiving. I should eat cranberries."

The cranberries were the cheapest ones! And I had chintzed on the cranberries and not bought organic. The others were organic.

We had a gift deal!

This guy and I usually chat longer than we did today but he was in the shade. It's cold in Berkeley today. I suggested we move to the sun but he didn't seem interested. So I said I'd see him around and rolled on to my friend with the organic meyer lemon tree for free lemons.

Many dark forces are rising in this world. Racism is on the rise and becoming increasingly open, with white supremacists shooting five Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Minneapolis, cops flat out murdering kids in the street in Chicago and then BLM shutting down Michigan Avenue on Black Friday. Cheers to BLM in Chicago for that achievement.

We don't know who the light beings are, the Christs, the Buddhas and the bodisattvas amongst us, here holding space for the rising darkness, holding onto the light.

It breaks my heart to see and read hate speech directed at the homeless. If you replace the word 'homeless' with the 'N' word, much of what is written about homeless people would be unquestionably seen as hate speech. It is not okay to hate the homeless, to see them as scary threats to the fabric of society. The threat to society lays in some persons inability to see the humanity in a smelly, dirty guy pulling a shopping cart with all his worldly goods.

An appropriate pseudonym for my kefir-loving, cranberry loving homeless friend is Christ. I behold the Christ in him today. I am honored that he allowed me to get his kefir and gift him some cranberries. In doing so, I behold the light of love that is Christ in myself, too.

Good work today.





prayers fly from all directions

Do you bow your head when you pray or do you look up into that blue space? Take your choice, prayers fly from all directions.
~ Mary Oliver

fear anger hate suffering


I water myself down . . and still no one can deal


I don't know if I can hold on




This is the Alabama Shakes' song, "you got to hold on". Song playing in my head cause I don't think I can hold on.

Friday, November 27, 2015

fireflies

I am rarely out of doors after dark in the summertime. I don't know if there are fireflies in Northern California. In my old, Chicago South Side neighborhood, where I grew up, there were lots of fireflies. Being allowed to stay up late enough to see them was a very meaningful thrill.

I grew up in a real neighborhood, a real community. Almost everyone who lived on my block and the immediately adjacent blocks, which comprised my childhood universe, belonged to our Catholic parish. Most households had lots of kids. The households with no children still at home were still mostly Catholic. Me and my childhood pals, we sorta thought everyone on our block belonged, somehow, to us. We knew something about everyone that lived near us, even if all we 'knew' was, for example, that they didn't like the sound of children or they insisted that the paper boy get their newspaper on the top step, not out on the stoop.

The houses were brick bungalows. After the long ago famous Chicago fire (Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over a gas lantern that started a fire that burned much of the city to the ground), all homes in Chicago had to be brick. Pre-WWII bungalows. Built-in woodwork throughout. Sprawling atatics, cavernous basements. And front stoops. All the house had front stoops. Not just steps but stoops. Alongside the steps, all the houses had broad cement pads where all us kids clustered, talking, talking, talking our lives away. And watching. On my front stoop, which was the largest one on the block. Me and my brothers were very proud of this fact, because there was enough room for just about every kid to have a seat. . . and our father was warm and welcoming of all the kids. Some of the parents didn't like having ten or twenty kids, gaggled on their stoops. My mom didn't like the kid crowds but my dad loved it. And in those days, in our gray-flannel-suit era, fathers were in charge. Fathers always overruled mothers.

Another important aspect of our great, best front porch was that our porch came out in front of the house. Lots of the porches were on the side. If you sat on, for example, the Montags front porch, next door to mine, you couldn't see up and down the street because the porch was tucked back. Our porch, the largest, the highest, allowed a view of every single house, up and down, both directions, both sides of the street. In order to avoid our detection, neighbors had to use their back doors. But nobody did. Everyone came in and out the front. We always knew who was home and who wasn't. Well, technically, there were a very few households that came and went from our block off the ally but these were people with no children, people who did not interact with us kids. People who didn't matter.

It was a garden of Eden, the block I grew up on. To me, as a child.  Our block was particularly blessed, at least from my narcissistic, childhood perspective. There were more kids on my block, close to my age, than on any other block for, well, for what I perceived to be miles. In practice, the blocks immediately adjacent to the 5800 South block of Albany Avenue had many fewer kids than my block. 5800 South Albany Avenue was a kind of heaven.

I lived on the west side of Albany Avenue. On the northwest corner of my block, on my side of the street was a pre-WWII apartment building, the old-fashioned kind of apartment building with large apartment homes. Full living rooms, full dining rooms, large kitchens, pantries, maids rooms and three or four bedrooms. Vaguely, we kids pitied the renters, believing that people who didn't have their own yards were meaningfully deprived. The McGowans lived in an apartment on our corner. They had six kids. I don't remember a Mrs. McGowan but there must have been one. Johnny McGowan and Mary McGowan were close in age to me. Mr. McGowan was much loved by all of us. He would play baseball with kids, in the ally, for hours and hours.

Mr. McGowan insisted that the girls be allowed to play. Boys were always trying to keep me out of their games because I could not hit the ball or catch the ball or run bases fast enough to score any runs. Mr. McGowan always insisted that I get to play anyway. And, bless him, he made real efforts to coach me, to help me improve. Often, he would wrap himself around me, when it was my turn at bat, 'showing' me how to bat. Then he would hit one hard, past all the boys playing outfield, hitting it so far that I could have crawled around all the bases and scored my run before the boys could throw the ball to the catcher.

I loved Mr. McGowan. The day he was able to buy a house for his large family, leaving the rented apartment home behind, was a tragedy for me. I think I stopped playing baseball right around that time. Without Mr. McGowan's insistence, I never got picked. Some of this discrmination was rooted in my asshole brother Chuck. Chuck, a year older than me, was born an asshole bully. One of his abiding focusses in childhood was being mean to me and our little brother Joe. Yes, Joe was younger than me, eleven months younger. Me and Joe? We're Irish twins, born less than a year apart. We could pass for twins, me and Joe. We look very much alike. Joe turned out to be bigger and stronger than Chuck so gradually Chuck stopped bullying him because Joe could take him. Also, Joe often defended me, fighting with Chuck on my behalf. There were lots of nice boys on that block and most of them defended me with Chuck at one point of another. Chuck was an indiscriminate asshole, bullying everyone, but he picked on me the most. Why? Cause I was always there, living with him because we were stuck with each other. Where was I going? Fireflies?!

I was going to describe the serendipitous lineup of kids on my block.

On the northwest corner, was the McGowan family. Johnny and Mary about my age.
Next to the McGowans, in the first house on the west side of our street, was the Montags.

The Montags had three kids, eventually. When they first moved in, it was Bill and Peenie Montag. Peenie was the mom. Her given name was Darlene but somehow she had acquired the nickname Peenie. My mom hated Peenie. She despised Mrs. Montag and she considered her nickname to be pornographic. How, my mother would grouse pretentiously, could a grown woman, a mother no less, allow people to call her such a disgusting name? I had no idea why 'Peenie' was a disgusting name. I asked a few times, wishing to understand my mother's umbrage but mom would never explain it to me. With hindsight, I imagine that 'Peenie' sounded, to my mom, like penis?

Alls I knew was I loved Mrs. Montag.

The Montags moved in after us. Until the Mohtags, alls I had was boy neighbors. Then Bill and Peenie moved in with their kids, Tommy and Tammy. Soon, Peenie gave birth to Tina. Tina Montag was born the same week as my brother Tom. Tammy and I became instant best friends and we stayed best friends until my family moved out of the neighborhood when I was fourteen. This move broke my heart. My whole life might have shaked out very differently if I had been allowed to be an adolescent living in the 5800 block of Albany, if I had been allowed to retain the magical circle of the kids I grew up with. Even now, after all these years, I still think high school would have been a whole lot better if I had been able to stay friends with Tammy, Patrick Snooks, Bucky Cywinski, Frankie Vacco, Nancy and Ellen Schmudka, Tammy and Marlene Tellerico, Mary and Patty Danaher. Etcetera. I think friendships change when kids move from grammar school to h.s. and I know my friendships with these kids would have shifted. I know it is an illusion to think my adolescence would have been better if I had stayed on that block.

I begged my parents not to move. The move made little sense. We had a huge house with six bedrooms. When mom and dad signed the sales contract, they didn't know they were expecting my baby sister. Later, mom would say that if she had known she was pregnant, she wouldn't have moved. The move made no sense. We moved into a tiny rambler with three tiny bedrooms, no basement, no attic, no yard. Even without my sister's unanticipated addition, the new house was too small for five kids. Mom was lining up her life to leave my dad. She was trying to control outcome. Or something. Another factor, prolly: our old neighborhood, Albany Avenue, was blue collar. The new neighborhood was white collar, more upscale. Mom was trying to keep up with the Joneses? Or something? Fuck the Jones. Later mom would say that I probably never would have gone to college if we had stayed in the old neighborhood, that Tammy Montag and Nancy Schmudka's bad influence would have dragged me down. This was preposterous. I was a fucking genius all through school. There was never any possibility that I would not have gone to college. If nothing else, I understood that college, with dorm life, was my escape.

Tammy and Nancy did not go to college. Mom got that part right. I don't know what happened to Nancy, except I heard she got married at age 18, which appalled me. She was probably pregnant, eh? Tammy got a job as a secretary in the Sears Tower. I envied her what I imagined was an awesomely glamorous life. She had to take two separate elevators to get to her perch at work. Rode one elevator to like the 40th floor and then switched to another elevator to get to, like floor 83. doesn't that sound glam? The time Tammy told me about the elevators, that's the last time I ever saw her. I loved Tammy, especially because she kept in touch with me, not the other way around. I have tried to find her since but women change their names.

Where was I going? Fireflies.

The McGowans, then the Montags. Then the Fitzpatricks. Next house, had a widow and a college-aged son when we moved in. Mrs. Farski and her son Allen. Mrs. Farski used to pay me to weed her flower garden. They were nice enough neighbors but I couldn't help feeling regret that Allen was so old. I prayed for girls to move in, which they finally did but not until I was in about the fifth grade. Then the Smudkas moved in. Ellen, one year older than me, Nancy, my age, Debbie, one year younger than me and then Ned. Ned was one of those echo babies. The Schmudka's thought they were done with babies and then surprise.

Next to the Farski/Scmucka house was a two-flat. Two-flat is Chicago speak for a duplex, two apartment homes stacked one on top of the other. The bottom flat was inhabited by the owners, Mr. and Mrs. Sigurdson and their also-grown son Ole. Ole was in high school when my family moved to this block. Right away I set to regretting that Ole was so old. I used to imagine that having a friend named Ole would be very wonderful. Even now, I love that name. Ole, too bad I never got to know ya.

Mr. and Mrs. Sigurdson was standoffish, they did not participate in our neighborhood life, although they did go to church every Sunday. They sent Ole to public schools, which was rare and sitgmatized in our crowd. We always felt sorry for the publics, believing, perhaps because the nuns told us so, that public school teachers did not love or care about their students, not, at least, like the nuns loved us.

The Sigurdson's rented their second-story flat to the Snooks. Throughout my childhood, it was an established fact that there really was a Mr. Snooks and that Mrs. Snooks was still married to him. Divorce in our Catholic universe was foreign and unreal. The 'story' was that Mr. Snooks was in prison. I am pretty sure this was true. I heard, a few years after my family had forced me to move away, that Mr. Snooks got out of prison and took his place at his wife's wide. Also, Patrick Snooks, who was my age and my first best friend, once swore me to secrecy and told me that it was true, that his father was in prison. I never, not ever, told anyone about this disclosure until this moment.

Mrs. Snooks was nice enough. Being a single mom is always hard but in those days, it would have been even harder. She didn't fit into the grown up world, which was all couples. And she didn't date. She never had a job outside the home so she must have had some income. Relatives? We never saw relatives visit the Snooks. We never saw anyone come or go into their lives except each other. Patrick and his three sisters. I don't remember the girls' names.

Patrick confided in me that he hated my brother Chuck and that he thought Chuck was mean to me and he, Patrick, thought it was a crime for a guy to treat his little sister badly. He told me I could come over and play in his yard anytime I wanted, to get away from Chuck. Five-year-old tiny Patrick. He was always very petite, one of the smallest boys, always, I was always attracted to fine, tiny males. . . my first big crush, on a tiny, petite, bird-like boy named Norbert Putlack . . . gee, do I dare use his real name? How many Norbert Putlacks might there be in this world? and if I use these guys' real names on this obscure blog will, like, they ever know? I think it would be okay. I loved Patrick Snooks and Norbert Putlack. I still do.

I spent lots of time wondering what crime Mr. Snooks might have committed, to get sent away for so long. I decided it would have been something like embezzlement. I always imagined Mr. Snooks to be a gentleman like Patrick always was.

Patrick introduced me to his landlords, the Sigurdsons, informing them that I was his friend, even though I was a girl, and if they saw me come into the yard, it was okay, I belonged.

Next to the Snooks' was, drum roll please, Bucky Cywinski. Mr. and Mrs. Cywinski. Plus Bucky had an older brother, away at college or maybe in the military. Not a player in our world. Bucky was congenitally shy and his parents must have been also. I don't recall ever hearing Mr. and Mrs. Cywinski speak. I don't recall ever being in their presence. Me and Tammy speculated for countless hours on whether or not the Cywinskis ever left their home. They used the back door, of this we knew for certain. No one ever used their front door, not even Bucky. He came from around back, coming through the gangway between his house and the two-flat.

Bucky's real name was Richard. That's a beautiful name, don't you think, Richard Cywinski. I met Bucky when he was five years old. He was always Bucky. I don't remember if he had bucked teeth when I met him. I don't think he did, though. I think he didn't get very very bucked teeth until his second set of teeth grew in. This is something else Tammy and I speculated on with serious deliberation. We believed that he got the nickname Bucky long before he grew bucked teeth. We believed, with a sense of reverence and awe for the great mysteries that is the universe, that a kid named Richard could get a nickname like Bucky and then, only then, grow bucked teeth. Almost mesmerized by the potential magic, we wondered, over and over, and over and over, if his nickname had cast a spell, dooming Bucky to bucked teeth.

Another thing we speculated on, ad nauseum was his parents unwillingness to invest in orthodontia. Were they cheap? Were they poor? Didn't they love Bucky?

Bucky was one of those kids who, like, never talks. He was always around, always involved in group games. In my old block, we played team games endlessly. Baseball, basketball, sure. But we also invented games. Plus we played things like red rover and simon says, out in the street, blocking traffic a lot and getting yelled at for blocking traffic and then blocking it again. Sometimes we painted game boards on the street, made up games and rules. The painted game boards were inspired by hopscotch. One day, as Tammy and I chalked a boring game of hopscotch I had a vision: if we went out on the street, we could chalk the largest game of hopscotch ever. Soon we were playing imaginative role-playing games, with dungeons and penalty boxes, castles and crystal balls, soothsayers. All painted out on the street.

The painted-on-the-street board games was, I humbly submit, my idea. And it was a brilliant stroke. Until that moment (gee, Nancy hadn't moved in yet, it was still me and Tammy and boys boys boys, boys dominating all the game playing, boys shunting us girls to the side), the boys called all the shots. Suddenly, we had come up with something that boys wanted in on but that the boys didn't control because I made up all the rules. I shared credit, fully, with Tammy but it was all me.

One of the many reasons Tammy made a great best friend, for me, anyway, was because she was secure about my smarts. Other girls, as they infiltrated my best-friendship with Tammy, they sometimes competed in the smarts department with me. Tammy? She loved me unconditionally and placidly accepted that I was the brains in our partnership. And I was.

Does this stuff sound egotistical? I am not sure that it is. All us kids went to school together. We all knew who was in the high reading group and who was in the slow reading group. Bucky? He was a brainiac. Patrick? Not. These things made no difference to us, back on our block.

We had a sweet thing going, on that block. Back on our block, the kids on our block were all deeply appreciated and accepted. We gave each other unconditional love, I think.

Being a brainiac was hard on me. My brother Chuck used to beat the crap out of me for no reason but if I got better grades them him, for example, that would be a reason. Chuck wanted to be the best, the leader, the top of everything and he sure as shit didn't want no girl showing him up, especially his sister, which was the worst kind of girl to Chuck. Me. He despised me.

It was an important blessing for me to have a best friend who didn't mind that I was smart. Tammy and me? We made such a good team. It was a healing balm for me to be loved unconditionally by Tammy and it was a healing balm for her to be loved unconditionally by me. Cause off our block? At school? Tammy was one of the dumb kids. Back on the block, she was perfect. My best friend and perfect.

Me and Tammy, Patrick and Bucky. For a few years, the four of us lived in a happy cocoon. We were proud that there were four kids all the same age on our block. And wasn't it wonderful that our houses were all close together? The house in the middle, where the Smudka's eventually moved in, that was the only thing that separated the perfect line of four kids, all the same age.

Across the street, on the other side, were more kids. Keep in mind that at the beginning, when the four of us first bonded, we were all about four years old. We weren't allowed to cross the street. So, at the beginning, when we melded our deep bonds, the kids on the other side of the street might as well have been on the other side of the moon.

Then, as we grew, our horizons expanded. Plus new families came along.

When Nancy Smucka moved in, the same age as us, we were thrilled. Then there were five houses in a row with kids all the same age. Nancy came in, I think, the 5th or 6th grade. She had siblings. Her older sister Ellen, one year older, became a particularly good friend of mine. Nancy, not as much. Nancy was one of those kids that needed to be the center of attention. If I were parenting her, I think I would have understood this need for attention. As a playmate, it rankled. The four of us kids-all-the-same age had been sleepily proceeding through our childhood, me acknowledged as the smartest -- smartest in school smarts, Tammy as the sweetest, Patrick as the funniest and Bucky as the quietest. We moved, the four of us, like I imagine geese fly in formation, aligned, content, at peace.

Like a meteor crashing into a flower garden, Nancy arrived.

We had problems before Nancy.

I have, thus far, focussed on the 5800 block, on the west side of the street.

In the 5700 block, across 57th street and then on the other side of Albany (if you are keeping track, this required crossing two streets to get to this other side), were the Danaher's.

In my early days on Albany, as I stated above, the Danaher's might as well have been on the other side of the moon. When I was four, five and six years old, I was not allowed to cross the street. Not to mention I didn't need to cross the street. I had everything I needed on my side of things. I had my best girlfriend, I had Patrick and Bucky and I had my brother Joe who, in a pinch, was also good company.

I probably would have lived out my grammar school years ignoring the Danaher girls if I had been left to make my own playmate choices.

My mom became obsessed with breaking me and Tammy up. She despised Peenie Montag. Mom said Mrs. Montag was white trash. Mom said Mr. Montag, Bill, was a drunk. She was right about that, by the way. Mr. Montag was, most definitely, an alcoholic. And in a superficial way, Mrs. Montag probably was a little trashy. Peenie ratted her hair and she wore tight clothes and lots of clangy jewelry. And high heels. Hanging around the house, fixing lunch for her kids, Mrs. Montag would be gussied up, by my mom's standards, lots of makeup, blue eye shadow, clacky earrings and bracelets, tight capri pants, tight blouses.

Mom said Tammy wasn't smart enough, that Tammy was dumb. And mom said there was something wrong with Tammy, but she never came right out and said what.

Now, only with hindsight, I can tell you that Tammy was epileptic. At the time, alls I knew was that Tammy had spells. Mrs. Montag had sat me down and explained to me that sometimes Tammy had spells and if she ever had one when she was with me, I should get a grown up immediately. Tammy never had a spell in front of me but, of course, I kept an eye out.

Nobody used the word epileptic. When I was in my thirties, perhaps even later, I asked my mom if Tammy had been an epileptic and mom answered matter-of-factly that yes, she had been. That explained a lot.

I just remembered something that really got my mom going. This is the incident that got my mom to start dragging me over to play with Mary and Patty Danaher. Mary was the same age as me, Patty one year younger. Patty, by the way, was okay. Me and Tammy liked her just fine. We were always happy to spend time with Patty. But in our culture, it was not completely acceptable to play with kids one year younger than you. Perhaps on a different street, in another neighborhood, it would be harmless to play with a little girl one year younger than you but in our situation?!! It was so unnecessary. We had plenty of kids the right age, the same age.

Besides, even though we were willing to accept Patty on those occasions when mom forced playdates with the Danahers upon me, we resisted choking down Mary.

Mary was a bitch. That's right, at age six, she was already a troublemaker. I did not use words like 'bitch' in those days. I guess I would have called her a brat, spoiled, a troublemaker. Mary was not happy unless all the children in her orbit were paying attention to her and, mostly, she seemed to prefer negative attention. She liked to quarrel. She lived for disagreement.

Tammy and I had been sailing through our childhood like mindless cows in a pretty meadow, content to be near each other and, thus, not alone, simply 'being' together. We could, I am still convinced, integrated Patty into our lives. But not Mary.

Mary wanted me to pick her to be her best friend, which meant that I had to fire Tammy. She wanted me to say "You aren't my best friend, Tammy, Mary is." And then, as soon as I would capitulate to Mary's demand, then, or so it seemed to me and Tammy, then she would decide that she wanted to be best friends with Tammy. Then she would go to work to get Tammy to decalre herself to be Mary's best friend and for Tammy to similarly reject me.

Back and forth. This became our social life, fighting with Mary over who was best friends with who.

Patty, perhaps already wise to her sister, dropped out of the competition. She moved down her block, to the Barretts. She became best friends with Eileen Barrett and made a life for herself free of Mary.

Tammy and I would have loved to do the same thing, to carve out a life free of Mary. And, I still believe this, if we have been free to do so, we would have.

My mom interfered. Mom insisted that Mary was a better playmate for me. In the privacy of our home, my mom rat-a-tat-tatted negativity about my beloved Tammy, filling my head with all kinds of thoughts that had never occurred to me. I, simply, loved Tammy.

I am like this to this day. I love people like an idiot. I just love them. It doesn't take much for me to love someone. Usually, I will catch a glimpse of something about another being, maybe I will notice that they wear plaid pants and then, whoosh, I am in love with them. If I am feeling good about myself, I pretty much love everyone I look at, much like newborns love everyone they see. We humans are programmed to be this way.

I am not perfect. I am not the single most imperfect human alive on the planet at this moment in time. I admit it. I am imperfect. But mostly I am kind and good, loving.

Back when I was little and loving Tammy as my best friend? I was just about perfectly loving.

Now I did live with some challenges to my loving nature. We all live with challenge to our true nature, which is to be loving, am I right?

I had my brother Chuck. I didn't just have the constant negativity of my brother Chuck (I wonder, as I have many times, what the fuck happened to Chuck to make him the way he was? something must have happened, although it could have been a past life, we can't know these things). Having a bully for a brother was a great challenge. Even more challenging, for me, anyway, was the way my parents would never intervene, how my parents seemed to allow Chuck to do whatever he wanted. I had an insight, when I was very young, like two years old, perhaps younger, that as the first born, my brother Chuck had received some special, irrevocable status from my parents. With this special status, in my parents' eyes, Chuck could do nothing wrong. He was their golden, magical miracle: their first, precious, dazzling, mesmerizing, awesome miracle, a baby. Later, much later, I also realized that Chuck got extra credit because he came with a penis. Somewhere along the way, I realized that my parents would not have treated me with the same kind of ecstatiac reverence they bestowed on Chuck even if I had been the first child. The fact that he was a boy made him more special than me.

Thank goddess my next brother, Joe, was okay. When Joe was a baby, my mom found a poem about a boy named Joe that went something like this: dear little Joe, kind little Joe, he's the best little boy that you will ever know". That poem summed up my dear little brother Joe. Joe was everything Chuck was not. He was the best little boy I ever knew. Him, first. Later, Patrick and Bucky were all right also, although my brother Joe was much more intensely kind to me, being my brother and all.

But Chuck? Chuck?!!! Yuck.

Me and Tammy speculated, now and again, that whatever was wrong with Chuck had also infected Mary. Mary was also a first born. Maybe being first born came with some kind of curse? You know how kids turn things over in their minds, trying to make sense of the world they find themselves in. Tammy and I knew we had a good thing going when it was just the two of us. Bring other people into the equation, and trouble.

Tammy had siblings of her own. Her brother Tom was older than my older brother Chuck. Chuck was one year older than me and Tammy. I think Tommy Montag was three years older than me and Tammy. Tom Montag was enough older than us that our worlds did not really collide. Tom and Tammy had some sibling boundary issues. We weren't allowed to go into Tom's room. Sometimes Tom kicked us out of the Montag yard or basement because he required it for him and his friends. But Tom never beat Tammy up. And Tom never said a mean word to me. Not like Chuck. Chuck recited verbal abuse at me nonstop when there were no adults within earshot and sometimes even when adults were present. And he was verbally abusive towards Tammy, too. Yes, Tammy had her issues with her brother Tom but she and I saw, clearly, that Tom Montag was not as awful as Chuck Fitz.

Fireflies.

Somewhere in the magic of dark, hot summer nights on my old block, when my dad was around and allowing us to stay outside after dark, an important reason to stay out late, until it got really dark, was to see the fireflies. You can't see them until it's really dark. We punched holes in old canning jars and tried to catch as many as we could. Then we would feed them the next day, waiting for the next onset of darkness, to see if the fireflies in our jars would light up in the jar. They would light up in the jar, if they were still alive.

I keep thinking that it was my imagination, all those fireflies. How did my urban South Side get so many fireflies? It seems like fireflies would not thrive in the city. There were, as a contrasting example, not many birds in my old neighborhood. When we took summer vacations out of the city, to relatives living on farms in Indiana or living in Mitchell, South Dakota (where my grandparents lived, where I was born), it was an annual miracle of summer that we would hear songbirds and crickets. I never heard a cricket in my old neighborhood so how did the fireflies happen to thrive there?

I don't know how they happened to thrive. I only know that they did.

There was a street lamp in front of my house, which made it harder to see the fireflies. We would go down the block, down by Bucky's, to catch fireflies. Mostly, we stayed away from Bucky's house cause his folks were so standoffish and we tried to respect their quietness out of respect for Bucky. We kept quiet when we were chasing fireflies. We actually negotiated this with Bucky, getting his permission to be in his yard, catching, so to speak, his fireflies.

Just to give you an idea how young we were: Bucky's house was three houses down from mine. Standing in his front yard, holding my jar, watching for fireflies, reaching into the night to snatch one as it lit up, I had a sensation of being very far from home, far and at slight risk, to be so far from my home in the night.

As I recall these scenes, I feel the dusty sweat on my face, arms and legs. I feel the summer heat wafting off the sidewalk, cooling down from the noonday sun but, still, baking. The darkness itself was a kind of coolness, the absence of the sun cooling. I would see kids dodging and bobbing, up and down the block, grown ups sitting on stoops, keeping an eye on, probably, their children but also, perhaps, an eye on their neighbors. Folks of all ages taking in their world, winding down their day.

We kids got the idea that you could make gold from the firefly tail, from the little bit that lit up. How did this work? We did not know but we really wanted to make gold. I was already an avid reader, devouring fairy tales, which are full of tales of spinning simple things, such as hay, into gold. I wanted to believe in magic. I still do. I tried to catch enough fireflies to form a ring. Tammy and I talked about this project a lot, probably all one summer. We tried a few times. Then one evening, we banded with Patrick and Bucky. We would catch a whole lot of fireflies, rub the tail-stuff onto my left ringfinger. We assumed it would work best if we used the wedding ring finger. We agreed that if a gold ring did appear on my finger, that I would sell the ring and share the profits equally with the three other kids.

We killed a lot of fireflies that night, enthusiastically slathering the tiny bits of smooshed firefly onto my ringfinger.

There was no gold. None of us ever brought the failure up. And we stopped chattering about turning firefly light into gold. It was a big disapointment to me. I so totally wanted some magic. Sure, I knew there was no such thing as Santa Claus and I knew there was no tooth fairy or tooth mouse. I knew that magic was not real. But, gosh, wouldn't it have been wonderful if I had woken the next day and found a gold ring on my finger? Afterwards, for a long time, I enjoyed imagining telling Tammy and the guys, look, look, it's true, look, there is a gold ring. And I enjoyed pretending, silently, to myself, that I got lots of money for the ring and we all bought lots of great presents for ourselves with the gold. And then we made ring after ring.

Fireflies. I love them.

only the pure of heart can make good soup

Only the pure of heart can make good soup.
~~ Beethoven
I don't know how pure my heart is but I can make truly great soup.

how to lose a good woman like me


a fire in Berkeley and mandarin chicken

There is, or was until it experienced a major fire overnight, a large, old fashioned Chinese restaurant in downtown Berkeley. I never ate there.  I passed it often, for it is only a few blocks from my home and I always walk if my destination is within Berkeley.  I usually stop and read the menu and then have decided I wasn't hungry.

I never felt called to eat there because the place was always empty, or nearly so, even at times most restaurants would be busy.  It had the look of an old school Chinese restaurant with kitschy attempts to appear Chinese to mostly Americans.

When my daughter was growing up, she and I had a couple favorite restaurants that we nearly always went to. And she and I dined out a lot. The Great Wall was our go-to Chinese place, a nice place with not much kitsch and modest pricing. And white tablecloths! I always got the kung-pau shrimp and she always got the chicken mandarin. We were regular enough that all the hostesses knew we wanted to be seated in the no smoking section, this being back in the day when all restaurants did not yet ban smoking in the whole place, as is the practice now.  The hostess, or host, rarely spoke fluent English. She would raise two fingers as she saw us enter, looking at us to confirm we wanted a table for two. As we approached her more closely, she would say "Two no smoke, 'ight?" And we would say, yes, two no smoking.

We had dinner there every Christmas, having had our family holiday deal meal on Christmas Eve. Then we would go to a movie at the nearby multiplex. Our Christmas tradition.

One block from where I live now is Great China, widely said to be one of the best Chinese restaurants anywhere, as good or better than you find in San Francisco's China town.  This place is always packed.  They serve what is said to be the best Peking Duck anywhere, with many Chinese insisting it tastes better than any Peking Duck they ever had in China. When I first moved here, I wanted to try that Peking Duck, for I have never had Peking Duck, but, six years and counting, I have still not had my Peking Duck. It is a dinner for two, expensive by my standards and, at least in my view, the kind of festive indulgence one only has with a loving, fun friend.  Back in the time when my daughter dined with me, she and I would have had a blast trying that Peking Duck, if I could have gotten her to change from the chicken mandarin. My Rosie was always a picky eater.

When she was a toddler, about once a year, I drove her to my mom's home and left her with mom and her second husband and, in the earliest years I did this, her aunt, my sister.  Mom and Ron had other grandchildren and took them all in stride. Rosie was the first grandchild in my family of origin and all my relatives seemed to enjoy having a baby around again.  Rosie is fourteen years younger than my sole sister, and my sister is fourteen years younger than me. We hadn't had a baby around in fourteen years.

Mom and Ron were frustrated by Rosie's picky eating.  My mom had her flaws, so many that she probably should never have been a mother. My mom, however, was better with her grand children than she had been with her children. She did not try to force Rosie to eat. She and Ron seemed to enjoy the challenge of finding things she would not only eat, but enjoy.

Ron, a bit of a grump but also a cook, would make her all his best dishes. Mom never really cooked. And Ron would bring home white bakery boxes tied in string filled with Napoleons, his favorite decadent pasty, hoping to entice Rosie into eating one. And, although Ron and my mom had both had, even before getting together, strictly enforced the clean plate rule with all their kids (mom had six, Ron had three), they did not enforce it when the first grandchild, my Rosie came along. Instead, they metaphorically tore their hair out trying to find things she would eat.

I feel loving fondness for both Ron and my mom as I recall their favorite solution to Rosie's picky eating. Wendy's.  Rosie would not eat their burgers at that time. And my mom and Ron had not frequented any fast food joints before Rosie began to visit for several weeks at a stretch. So why Wendy's? They had a salad bar, a substantial salad bar in the early eighties.  My mom, who always ate with pious nutritional posing in front of people, esp. her second husband, would just get the salad bar. And little Rosie, in her little squeaky Munchkin voice, said "Grandma, I want the salad bar too."

To mom and Ron's amazement, Rosie ate more off that salad bar than they had ever seen her eat in one setting before. So, bless them, they took to going to Wendy's several times a week while she was visiting.

And they loved to tell me about having figured out how to get her to eat.

My mom, and also Ron, but he died when she was about five years old, was very good to my Rosie. Yet Rosie lived in the same city as her grandmother for the last years of my mom's life and never once contacted her.  My mom had only been good to her.

Back to the Chinese restaurant burning in Berkeley. This is not exactly an essay, just me revving up for my writing day. My morning pages, as it were.

Nearly every time I passed the Chinese restaurant that burned last night, I often had the intuition that it would burn down. And when I walked past it just a couple days ago, I was the most tempted to order something from it than I ever was, with a strong sense that the place was about to go away. I had a dark intuition. I did not think "there will be a fire". I simply sensed finality and darkness.

And do I think it was arson?  Hell yes I do.  The building of that Chinese restaurant is on prime downtown real estate, just a block away from two pending high rises, one a hotel and one an apartment tower. Prime, top dollar real estate.

Berkeley has had a significant increase in fires lately. And every time I see one, I think 'arson'. No trouble getting a demolition permit to demolish a building destroyed by fire. And no trouble selling that property to a real estate speculator who will hope to cash in on the scary gentrification happening in Berkeley and all over the Bay Area.

I wonder if they had a salad bar, mandarin chicken or Peking Duck. Now I will never know. No matter. Rosie is thousands of physical miles away and she might as well be living in an alternate reality. She is not ever going to have Chinese with me ever again, I predict. Plus, if anyone wants good Chinese when they visit me, we go to the Great Wall. Or Chinatown. I like the restaurant in Chinatown where Obama gets dumplings when in town. Someone I love is coming to visit me soon-ish. If he wants to eat in Chinatown, I'm going to push for Obama's choice.  Unless he wants Peking Duck, then we'll stay in Berkeley for that.

And here is a little bit more of nothing about nothing: in the Midwest, any Chinese restaurant I ever ate in always served bowls of white rice, included in the price of any entree. Here on the West Coast, Seattle and here, rice is always extra.  I wonder why this different practice exists. I won't wonder a lot but I wonder.





















special glasses

if I had such special glasses, maybe I could stop seeing, and wanting, my daughter and any kind of love
"Special Glasses" by Billy Collins

I had to send away for them

because they are not available in any store.

They look the same as any sunglasses

with a light tint and silvery frames,

but instead of filtering out the harmful

rays of the sun,

they filter out the harmful sight of you --

you on the approach,

you waiting at my bus stop,

you, face in the evening window.

Every morning I put them on

and step out the side door

whistling a melody of thanks to my nose

and my ears for holding them in place, just so,

singing a song of gratitude

to the lens grinder at his heavy bench

and to the very lenses themselves

because they allow it all to come in, all but you.

How they know the difference

between the green hedges, the stone walls,

and you is beyond me,

yet the school busses flashing in the rain

do come in, as well as the postman waving

and the mother and daughter dogs next door,

and then there is the tea kettle

about to play its chord—

everything sailing right in but you, girl.

Yes, just as the night air passes through the screen,

but not the mosquito,

and as water swirls down the drain,

but not the eggshell,

so the flowering trellis and the moon

pass through my special glasses, but not you.

 

Let us keep it this way, I say to myself,

as I lay my special glasses on the night table,

pull the chain on the lamp,

and say a prayer—unlike the song—

that I will not see you in my dreams.

but am I blocking the GPS system?!


Thursday, November 26, 2015

first Thanksgiving abroad: a zipper was involved

I spent my first Thanksgiving abroad while in a college program in Mexico. A bunch of us American college kids rode a van, a VW van of course because we were cool, to  another town to partake of the famous, and, for us, expensive Argentinian steakhouse. It was a very long drive but we were all spending our first major holiday away from home, all about 19 years old, and we wanted to do something special and food related. Every Mexican we knew said the Argentinian steaks were very special, worth the long drive, so off we went. 
I was high, very high, most of the time I was in Mexico so I am sure the food was very very good. The company, also all stoned. The only person I saw after I left Mexico was also from my home college. We were a bunch of American kids, primarily in Mexico to get high as much as we could. A long VW van ride for steak instead of turkey was funny enough, to all of us, to keep us laughing all the way there and all the way back the next day.
We had to camp out before going 'home'. I had a very bad cold and the couple who owned the van insisted I sleep in the van with them, for it was cold outside. I was very sick and accepted.

I don't remember the steaks or the meal. My main memory of that Thanksgiving was trying to sleep in that van when I heard one van-mate unzip a zipper. The zipper sounded very loud, given the circumstances. The couple evidently decided to just go to sleep, having heard how loud that unzipping has been. They did not rezip either.   I did not detect any further movement or noise besides their breathing and my wheezing. They apparently decided to stop spreading the love that night.

All in all, a great day. I can hear that loud zipper as I type. LOL.

an entire world of possibilities

As a matter of fact, people know little of what surrounds them on earth. How do they view life? The events of life as they unfold are strung on a thread, as it were. Some are considered to be causes, others effects, but beyond this little thought is given to the matter. It may sound strange that the actual things that happen form the smallest content of real life. They only represent the external content. There is yet another sphere of life apart from the things that happen, and this is of no less importance for life.
Let us take an example. A person is in the habit of leaving home punctually every morning at eight. He has a definite way to go, across a square. One day circumstances are such that he leaves three minutes later than usual. He now notices something strange on the square, under the colonnade where he used to walk every day. The roof of the colonnade has collapsed! Had he left at the accustomed time, the falling roof certainly would have killed him.
There are many such instances in life. We often find that had circumstances been different, this or that might have taken quite another course. We are protected from many dangers. Much of what could happen does not come to pass. In life we consider the external realities, not the inner possibilities. Yet these possibilities constantly lie concealed behind the actual events. The events of a particular day only constitute the external reality of life. Behind them lies an entire world of possibilities.
Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 140 – Life Between Death and Rebirth – XI – The Mission of Earthly Life as a Transitional Stage for the Beyond – Frankfurt, March 2, 1913

may the stars carry your sadness away


"May the stars carry your sadness away
May the flowers fill your heart with beauty
May hope forever wipe away your tears
And, above all, may silence make you strong."

~ Chief Dan George



Quote from: http://goo.gl/5Q9beb
Image credit: Photo taken through shop window in Santa Fe , NM, by Cherie Manifest. To see the true color and beauty of "Navajo Velvet" by R.C. Gorman v

my daughter

On holidays, I wonder
if my daughter ever thinks about me,
at least on major holidays.
is her mother, the giver of her life
okay on a holiday
or every day?

Does she have a single thought
of gratitude
for all I gave her
all the things upon which
her current life is built?
Does she even get
that I gave her the life she has now?
helped her achieve it
sacrificed for her to have it?
Does she silently, ever, thank me?

I don't think so.

Fourteen years
I struggle on holidays more each year
I hear a sonic boom tick tock, tick tock
time afleeting, only child lost to me.

Is she safe today?
happy? with loved ones?

What holes in her
allow her
to disown
her mother.

I have never been a drinker
Never a drug user
Never an abuser
Tick tock. Tick tock.
boom boom

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

a thanksgiving poem

A Thanksgiving prayer by Adam Zagajewski. His poem “Try to Praise the Mutilated World,” was published in The New Yorker after 9/11:
Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

(translated by Clare Cavanaugh)

wishing hoping giving up


here's one of my favorites

When I Met My Muse by William Stafford
I glanced at her and took my glasses
off--they were still singing. They buzzed
like a locust on the coffee table and then
ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the
sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and
knew that nails up there took a new grip
on whatever they touched. "I am your own
way of looking at things," she said. "When
you allow me to live with you, every
glance at the world around you will be
a sort of salvation." And I took her hand.

I lit up like this when beheld just so

This 'comic' comes from Dharma Comics Facebook page. She does such delightful work.

No one sees me these days, no one I am aware of.  I sometimes wish I had never felt the experience of feeling lit up everytime a certain someone looked at me, to have had that glimpse of heaven only to have it denied to me.  I try to focus on the fact that I had the experience but . . . I want more of feeling seen.  I don't think anyone sees me.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

you are loved just for existing

You are loved just for being who you are, just for existing. You don't have to do anything to earn it. Your shortcomings, your lack of self-esteem, physical perfection, or social and economic success - none of that matters. No one can take this love away from you, and it will always be here.
--Ram Dass

some things cannot be fixed

Grief is brutally painful. It doesn't only occur when someone dies. It occurs when relationships fall apart, when oportunities are lost, when dreams die, when illnesses wreck you.
Some things in life cannot be fixed. they can only be carried.