Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hittin' the High Spots

Sometimes you just gotta trust your process
I mean if the rest of the whole world
Does not understand.

You still have to do it your way.

The only way I can come out
on top
is to go all the way through
whatever is in my dark alley.

Grace has befallen me once again.

I am singing and painting and looking
forward to stuff again.

I had to learn to focus on what I could do rather than
What I could not do.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Vulnerable Times

Please do understand that my writing about the problems I have in my life are not an attempt to garner pity. I need to put my words out for release. This is all about my trying to get some of my needs met. They say there is healing to be had by telling one's story. So today I am writing my story about the events of the past six months of my life.

For those who do not write, do know that I have been writing my thoughts and feelings out since I was around twelve years old. Often it has seemed that the pen and paper have been my most dependable, trustworthy and accessible confidantes.

I write because it helps me get past the jungle of confusion within me. The written words are able to form a pattern that my mind can use to make sense of what is chaos in my head.

I am at a place in my life whereby my very mettle has been put to the test, for the last six months of my life have been fraught with many challenges.

In May I learned that my only sister's breast cancer returned after a twelve-year dormancy. The cancer had metastasized. I sat in the oncologist's office with my sister when she received this news. I thought I might vomit.

On June 5 I was a passenger in a very bad car accident. My friend and I were going to see a movie, and a woman ran a stoplight. Our vehicle was pushed at high impact into a wall of concrete, and before this happened the vehicle in which I rode took down several street signs before crashing. I remember seeing the car coming at us. I remember the violent careening of the friend's van. What I remember most vividly is seeing the wall of concrete into which I knew we were heading.

A few broken ribs, cracked sternum, four cracked molars and a very sore leg later, I had survived. I must have been in shock, for despite the terrible pain in my left leg which the ER doctor had dismissed as a mere case of bad bruises, I set my sights on packing for the trip my sister and I had planned. Upon learning of my sister's health news, we had made plans to visit our family in Belgium.

Six days after the accident we were en route. My upper body hurt really badly, and my breathing was painful, but I figured all I had wrong were broken ribs, and that only time not medical treatment would solve that. I figured that since the trip was already planned, and my sister was feeling good that I should take the trip.

I was very wrong. Walking was what we did from morning until night. And that was fine by me. I love to walk, and every sight was new and totally lovely. My cousin lived in a neighborhood that looked like a fairy tale book illustration. I figured that my pain would continue to diminish with each passing day, and that the new sights would be wonderful distractions.

But the pain in my leg increased, and tensions were mounting between my sister and me. We were both in a great deal of physical and emotional pain. Although my sister and I are very close, we could not be there for one another, for we both were in severely weakened states.

When I was younger I heard that grief could ruin a relationship. I was naive then. I thought that having to face suffering together would strengthen a relationship, but sometimes that is not how things work out.

Sometimes a pain inside a person is so great that it takes all she has to rise above it, and the reservoir of compassion that normally exists within one has run dry. We must not chide ourselves for this. We are human beings. We all have our limits.

The tension with my sister and the ever-increasing pain in my leg, which was actually broken but still undiagnosed, was too much for me. I returned home after only five days of what was to be a twenty-one day trip.

Once home I sought help from my primary care physician. The office would not grant me an appointment. I was shocked. The person in charge me told me that the doctor was on vacation, and that the doctor would not allow the PA's to see me. She told me to go to the ER.
Later, I would learn that primary care physicians do not want to get involved with car accident injuries. Once involved they may have to deal with an extra load of paperwork including depositions which cut into their time thus lowering their bottom line profit.

I argued. I begged with the office. I reminded them that I have been a patient with them for thirty years. The nurse told me that they would not see me. She told me to go to a walk-in clinic or an emergency room.

I did go to an emergency room. X-rays were taken. The report came back that I had contusions and tissue damage. No fracture was reported. I told them I knew something was very wrong with my leg. I begged for an MRI. The technician told me they would not do that in the ER because MRI's are too costly.

With each passing day the pain increased. It got to where I could only be up for ten minutes without having to lie down and ice my leg. Then I could get up for another ten. By this time I was getting pretty desperate.

I called for an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon. The facility would not see me without a referral from my primary doctor, but of course, my primary doctor's office would not see me. I finally called my health insurance company. I was fortunate to get a compassionate woman on the phone. I warned her that my story would be long and convoluted. I asked if she would take the time to listen.

After hearing my story, the insurance woman told me that my primary doctor's office was in violation of contract with my insurance company. They are required by contract to furnish a physician for their patients when the doctor is on vacation. Within less than an hour, I not only had a referral to see the orthopedic, but I had an appointment at the primary doctor's office.

One MRI later I was diagnosed with a tibial plateau fracture of my leg. My kneecap and tibia were broken. No wonder I was in such hellish pain. I had been walking on a broken leg for over five weeks assuming that there was nothing more wrong than bruising.

I got good care from the orthopedic doctor. I had to use crutches, a wheelchair and a walker for ten weeks because I could put no weight at all on the broken leg. This was hard, but I was glad to know I would get better.

The bone healed. I started walking, and I was so glad. Everything was delightful. Being able to get out of bed to use the bathroom without assistance of a walker was cause for happiness. Being able to open my front door and walk outside and pull weeds was a blessing. Being able to put two shoes on my feet and walk in my neighborhood was nirvana.

One day early in my freedom from the wheelchair I went to my dentist to deal with the cracked molars I sustained from the car accident. My one tooth was aching terribly.
I got settled in the dental chair, the chained paper bib attached to my front, and I started shaking. This is not me. Dentists have never scared me. Then I started crying. The thought of the drill and more body pain was too much.

The dentist is a sweet man. I was terrified of the Novacaine shot- I have had dozens during the course of my life, and they have never been an issue – but all of a sudden here I was a sixty year old person acting like a scared little girl.

I explained to the dentist about the accident and my sister’s cancer, and he heard. He told me just to look into his eyes while he gave me the shot and drilled on my tooth. My eyes welled up with tears. His eyes were blue and kind. His humanity made me cry.

Five weeks later my still delicate knee buckled out from under me as I was dancing. We were celebrating our twenty-fifth anniversary here at home with a few good friends. Blame it on the Dave Clark Five's "Do You Love Me?" and the fact that dance music has a way of sending paroxysms of joy up and down my spine, but I just had to move to that tune. I tried to save myself from falling but instead rolled on my ankle.

I lay on the floor with my friends standing over me. My leg was straight, but my ankle was turned out at a right angle. My husband later described it as looking like a flopping fish.

A few hours later, I was diagnosed with a fractured ankle. Two bones were involved, and they were broken into many pieces. I am now a few weeks past surgery, and I will not be walking until sometime in February.

As far as I saw it, I was back to square one with the broken extremity deal. My day consists of spending ninety per cent of my time in a recliner, for my leg must remain elevated.
Things like getting up to use the bathroom, brush my teeth are now at the top of the “To Do” list. They involve planning and careful maneuvering.

I went through a lot of rage for the first three weeks or so, but now after almost six weeks of not walking I am starting to piece together a new way of living, for this recliner life will last until sometime in February as long as my healing cooperates.

Yesterday we had to put our dog to sleep because she has cancer. We got Ginger along with her two kitty sisters in the spring of 1999.

At that time we decided to take on a whole new passel of pets to bring joy into our home. The 1990’s had been a decade in which I lost the majority of my family to death. Our beloved Rhonda cat had passed away only recently, and Dan and I decided just to go whole hog and get a puppy plus two five weeks old kittens. What immeasurable healing these animals brought!

I look at my life today and know that I must focus on all that is good. However, I am very shaky these days- gun shy.

I must be very careful to not let my mind go to the dark place in which I fear more bad stuff happening. Because I have lived long enough to know that there will indeed be more loss.
I just want to catch a break for a spell, you know.

Yes, yes, yes. I know I am more fortunate than not. And each day I make myself write down all of which I have to be grateful for.

But still I am human, see? And I am not perfect. And sometimes we have periods in our lives in which too many sad, bad and scary things occur within too small of a space of time. And our strong place gets put to a test. Oftentimes the coping mechanisms that have worked well in the past no longer do. Maybe the things that I have experienced recently would not get to some people, but they got to me. They got ahold of my spirit, and I struggle each day to overcome my negativity.

Maybe I am not strong enough because I have broken down, but then again maybe I am strong because I am allowing myself to feel my darkness and face it and put practices into place to make peace with it. Sometimes we have to break wide open to find ourselves.

And that is my story, and I am trying very hard to get strong again.

I know. I know. So many others have it worse. But sometimes that knowledge only serves to make me feel guilty for feeling down. It makes me feel that I have no right to feel sad.

I am a mere mortal, and I am not perfect. I have tried to be perfect all of my life, and it no longer works for me.

One of the most gorgeous songs ever. Take a listen.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Blessing of the Tears

I continue to surprise myself at how far I will go to avoid breaking down into a good cry. Although I have long known that it is within the tears that I find equanimity.

I am having a hard time these days. Circumstances have converged that make it necessary for me to forge a new way to find peace within myself.

We all have our own coping mechanisms. Mine has usually been to be staunch, sturdy and independent. And I am proud of those qualities in me. I prefer doing most things by myself. That is who I am, and I must honor that.

My mother was a woman who thought she needed others to lean on. She fell apart easily and often, and her life consisted of a series of unhappy relationships which were based on need.

I grew up watching Mom run from life’s challenges like a hunted animal all the while tracking down others from whom she sought to borrow strength- the strength that she did not know she could cultivate within herself.

Mom did the very best she could. I don’t begrudge her choices. She loved me fiercely and with great earnestness. She showed me what she knew. Daughters sort out their mother’s teachings and apply what works to their own lives.
And what works for me is to face stuff alone. What works best for me is to be alone with my pain until I am strong again.

Mother’s emotional outbursts set the tempo of our home. At a young age I understood that there was to be no room for two drama queens under the same roof. My tack was to become the buttoned-down girl who ran interference.

I raised myself to avoid crying. I raised myself to buck-up. I was taught that others had bigger problems than mine, and that if I let loose with my feelings then all I was doing was making things worse for others.

I especially remember being told this when my parents were divorcing. I was twelve, and my mother's parents had come to help out as my mother was in helpless mode. My job, I was told, was to be strong for my mother.

My Victorian era grandmother told me me that a display of emotions is undignified. My grandfather agreed. He once wrote me a letter in which he said that I was too nice of a girl to have problems. I dearly loved my Mamie and Father John. Theirs was my Safe House. And because I adored them I practiced what they taught. I learned to maintain a stiff upper lip and let 'er rip with a therapist who I paid to listen.

These days I am crying more. I spend most days alone in a chair. And I cry. I rant. I pound. I scream. I cuss and I beg for help to the Great Unseen. I sing at the top of my lungs sounding much like Tiny Tim in chains.No one witnesses these moments, and that is just how I want it to be.

I cry until this thing happens in which it seems that my mind folds into my core of strength.

My strength looks like a razzle dazzle emerald rock not unlike one Elizabeth Taylor would have worn.
My strength smells like an early spring day in which the coo of the dove fills me with a sense of happy expectancy.
My strength is luxurious, thick and soft like the fur of my long-hair calico cat.
My strength sounds like Tom Petty belting out the words to “Refugee”.

I do not like to be taken care of by another person. I am much more of a loner than Mom was. That is who I am. It certainly is appropriate that by the time a woman is sixty years of age that she follow her own guide and take herself unto herself for better or for worse.

These days I prefer to take myself down to my edge and build myself back up. This is my daily practice. It is work that I must to do alone

This practice, too, will change someday when I have new things to learn.

My tears clean me out for a spell. I can then pull myself up by my bootstraps and carry on.

Tears lead me to Grace.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Someone to Watch Over Me

The side where the steel plate and the twelve screws are installed.

The tibia incision where two three inch screws are holding the tibia together. The bloody mess is called a fracture blister. These often form around incisions. They burn and grow larger and larger until they pop and dry up. All of this occurs while the split or cast is on, and the blister chafes against the cast and feels quite awful.

Broken Leg Girl got herself a new orange cast yesterday

I cried because I had to bend my broken ankle at a right angle so the cast measurement would be right. God, it hurt so much that I started to cry. I felt like such a big sixty- year- old baby sitting there, but it really hurt. And then the med tech said I had to do it again and then again.

Body pain is so primitive. It can take us back.I think about the first time I remember experiencing pain. I believe it was the summer day when I stepped on a bumble bee.

"Mommy, Mommy", my little three-years-old self cried as I raced from my sandbox to the back screen door. As always, she was there waiting to sweep me up into her arms and set me on the kitchen counter top to anoint my sting with Vanilla extract. She told me the sweet smell of extract would steal away the pain.

She allowed me to cry and whimper and bury my head into her as she murmured comfort. " Mama's here. I promise you will feel better before you know. It is gonna be all right."

Yeah, it was gonna be all right. She knew how to distract me with fun or funny while she placed a cool washcloth on my forehead and kissed away my tears. She let me lie down on the sofa and watch tv in the middle of the day which was a forbidden activity in our house. Mom always said that television was for boobs, and her daughters were not going to be raised to be boobs.

You get to a certain age in which there is no Mama to call, And if you live really really long there may be no one to call. So it is important to learn how to soothe oneself in the same tender manner that a mother would.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The 87th Circle of Broken Leg Hell

And welcome to my world, dear reader. That was quite a break I took from the blog, but that is because I was LIVING my life. Oh my, in the five weeks between broken legs I did have a good time.
Oooh, there were so many wonderful things I did. I planted winter annuals. Dan and I celebrated out twenty -fifth with a few very fine and very good old-as in duration- and YEAH old too 'cept for one who is a mere fifty-something.
Oh, and I garage sales and found some groovy things while visions of PROFITS danced in my head.
Always looking to turn a profit- always looking for a return, and aren't we all? I know this girl is.

I cleaned my house inside and outside from top to bottom. I got my porch floor so clean that it make me feel stupid.
I walked with my tunes around my sweet old tract houses- for Gi's- after WW II- neighborhood. I rejoiced in the comfort I took by passing by the houses that have remained the same during the
thirty years in which my husband and I have lived in this place- our modest, but oh so lovely and loved pale pink concrete block 1953 home. Our home. My home. The only home I have ever had that really felt like home.

I have a home. It took almost forty years, but after living that long I finally carved out a place that is love. Love in every piece of sweat and slow progress that Dan and I have put into N. Edison.

Tangent time. Tangent time.
My whole life has been on TANGENT TIME.

My angle was never right.
I was born obtuse.

Made wrong
not a Right angle
straight and easy

obtuse angle
and unpredictable

Broken Ankle
Time to blog

So mad about this second break in five months
I just spewed venom for three hours
as I tried to maneuver through house chores
with one leg stuck in cement

I cussed so much that I gave myself
And that was a lot of cussing because I was raised by a mother who taught me how to cuss really well.
Always had a dirt mouth
My dirty mouth
gives me a few private little chuckles now and then

Later. Back Season 4 of Six Feet Under
watching it the second time around

Great show. I adore Frances Conroy!

and a snippet of conversation between Nat and his dead dad.

Nate: "The idea of forty more years."

Dead Father: "The next forty years will fly by; it will be over before you know it."

Nate: Time flies when you are having fun, Huh?"

Dad: "No, time flies when you are pretending to have fun. Times flies when you are pretending to know what people mean when they say, "love.". Let's face it, buddy boy. There are two kinds of people in the world. There is you and everybody else. And never the twain shall meet."

Hey, don't pretend to know for sure what this means, but it is intriguing.



Thursday, September 15, 2011

On the Sunny Side of the Street

Washing Dishes at Fifteen

Venice, Florida

Long time no see, Blog Girl.

What happened is that my leg healed, and I got my life back.

And I have been driving and walking and being able to pull weeds and stuff.

And what is true is that my routines are my guide through each day, and I could not rely on them when I could not walk, so I turned to writing to pass the time.

Yes, I like to write, and I need to express myself if only to the anonymous reader, but if I was going to write well it would take too much time, so today I am just writing just because it feels good.

My routines save me from myself in lots of ways.

And maybe I will get back to more regular postings because I won't have to try so hard to sound like my writing is good.

Because in this, my sixtieth year, I am trying hard to let go of much of the perfectionist trip which was strangling my insides.

So I might just start posting whatever comes up that seems important to post.

And that will be enough.

Because I am enough, and you dear reader are enough.

How long and curvy the road to acceptance of oneself.



And now a little Judy Garland to cure what ails ye. She always does the trick for me.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Bette Midler Sweetheart Soap Kind of Day

Kalamazoo, Michigan

I am in my yellow bedroom with the Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater and Jack and Jill pictures.
It is bedtime.

I hear Mama yelling.
She tells Daddy that he thinks he is special because he has a penis in his pants.
He says something, but I can't hear.

The bottom drawer of the stove opens.
I know that sound.
Mama's goin' at it with the pots and pans.
Bam on the black and white speckled linoleum floor.
Bang come the lids. I hear one rolling on its edge.
I wait until I hear it fall over.

A door slams.
Mama is crying.

I tell my friend about what Mama said to Daddy about the penis in his pants.
I ask Mama why my uncle smells like New Year's Eve in the middle of the day

You don't get to talk truth in our house.
If you do, Mom takes you to the powder room
and she holds your head
over the lavender sink
while placing a bar of Sweetheart Soap in front of your mouth.

"Bite", she says.

And I do.
And I get the bad words washed out.
Mama's always telling me to "put a little sugar in my voice."

So see truth is not good, I figure.
It is something only for the grown-ups.
Not nice little girls like me.

Nice girls don't tell the truth.
They play by the rules of how a young lady is supposed to act.

Young ladies don't get mad.
Young ladies speak in soft voices.
Young ladies don't let themselves get dirty.
Young ladies ask; they do not state.

Mama hands me a booklet called You're a Young Lady Now.
It's got pictures of something called Kotex.
And a real ugly lookin' thing called a sanitary belt.

Book says I'm gonna be changing soon.
Book says things are gonna be different now
And that I will like it.

The young lady life don't seem fun to me-
well the pretty clothes part- but that's it.
I don't wanna be a young lady.

I wanna be my own girl.
I wanna wear my little mouse shirt that has snaps on the shoulder.
Mama says I'm too old because I have little bumps on my chest now.

She says that I am a young lady now.

Down and Dirty with Bette Midler
Johnny Carson

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Giving Ourselves Mercy

A few years ago I started thinking backward more than I was thinking forward. From what I have studied, that seems to be the case for people when they pass mid life.

This thinking back is a good thing and a bad thing. It brought up feelings of sadness. It brought up feelings of intense gratitude for the good fortune I have enjoyed in terms of loving people, a myriad of fabulous experiences and just plain old-fashioned good luck.

Conversely, this line of thinking also made me face all of the dumb things I have done. I thought about opportunities that I had passed over. I was at the point in my life when I was realizing that all of the things I thought I might do at age twenty were not going to happen during my lifetime.

I went through a period of what lasted about three years in which I was so angry, frustrated, frightened and awkward-feeling that I did not like to be around myself much. And to be honest, I must say I have usually thoroughly enjoyed my own company.


early spring sometime in the late 1950's

A girl of nine stands at the window outside her bedroom door. The view to her right is of her mother's kitchen window. Soon purple irises will bloom in the area under that window. But for now there is only snow- dirty, muddy, middle of March snow.

The girl sees the gray sky and the leafless trees. Today she has been told to stay home from school to watch over her mother. Mom has been in out of the hospital a lot lately. No one will tell her what is wrong with her mom. She just knows her mom cries so much, sleeps so much, and when she does get up to do something she isn't fun anymore.

Gone is the Mom who dances to Ricky Nelson in the living room on the big braided rug.
Gone is the Mom who sings while she whips up lemon meringue pies, hot cross buns and Easter bunny cakes festooned with coconut and jelly beans.
Gone is the Mom who puts a stick of Blackjack gum over her front tooth to get a laugh.

Here is the Mom who is sad.
Here is the Mom that the little girl must cheer up.
She knows so because her grandparents and father have told her that is her job.

They have told her not to cause trouble or ask for too much because your mother has worse problems. "You just be a good girl and make Mama happy," they say.

Down the hallway in her antique bed, Mama sleeps.
Still staring out the window on this very gray of days
the little girl wraps her arms around herself as if to ward off an inner chill.
And she tells herself, "I will always have me."


During so many of my young adult days I expected too much from myself. It was like I thought I had some dues to pay or something to prove. This force inside of me propelled me.
It was a drug as heady as good sex.

A few years back I just stopped trying so hard. That in itself has been a whole new challenge.

At some point, hopefully earlier than later, a woman must take sum of who she is and rejoice.
We are all too hard on ourselves.

Shortly after my mother died, I met Ram Dass. I was struggling with grief but sadder still was that I was passing judgment on myself as to how I was grieving. Was I doing it right? Was I taking too long?

Ram Dass stared me straight in the eye and said these words, "We must learn to give ourselves mercy."

I am fine just the way I am. And you, dear reader, are just fine the way you are too.

Let us stop being hard on ourselves. We've come a long way.

*Quite a few years went by before I realized that the following song was about loving and accepting oneself. It was written by Linda Creed, a young woman who died of breast cancer at the age of thirty-six.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Cracklin' Anny Pays Paula a Visit

Was eight in the morning on my birthday

Voice inside said you hang in the hole today

In the hole I don't bathe or brush my teeth

In the hole I don't try to make nice

The hole don't have no Warm Fuzzies or Smiley Faces

It got no course in compulsive positive thinking.

Here what it do got:

It got my real

The walls are plastered with icky gold-veined mirror panels

Keep me starin' back at myself everywhere

I stare so long that I see behind myself

Seein' behind myself

Hole is scary

Hole is about my Edge

Hole is about following my gut

I flash on the old lady

Who runs down Florida Avenue

She got pigtails and a backpack on

I see the guy who boogie woogies

In the median

At Florida and East Fowler

I figure it is about time

To get out of the place

I am afraid about what may happen

If I step over the Edge

Cracklin' Anny she shows up

She backs me up hard

Against the gold-veined mirrored wall

She is mad

And she has a good

Tongue-lashing for me

Let us listen to what she has to say:

"You push me back

Say I ain't nice to look at

Say I don't act right

Say you embarrassed of me"

"You treat me like refugee

But I been here whole time

Anny on your side

She got your back"

"I got some things to say

But you never listen

This time you listen

Time runnin' out"

"Your house too clean

You used to sleep in bed with kitty fur, cookie crumbs and paper piles

You happier then"

"You been thinkin' moresn' good for you

Been thinking all you life

You stop now"

"You hoop- dee- do girl

You kick it up more, you hear

You ain't nice girl"

"Nice girl smiles when she wants to cry

Nice girl agrees when she really mean fuck off

Nice girl goes along when she really want to go away"

"That ain't you

Don't mean you bad

Mean you grown-up

You sixty now"

Doris Day

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Bathing Suit Gals

Paula and Marcia in their Twenties

Mom and I sit on her sexy white wraparound couch talking about everything and nothing. She has her hands folded and her fingers are laced. As she speaks she twirls her thumbs. I know what this movement portends- sad news. Rotating our thumbs is what we do when bad stuff is coming down. Mom tells me her father has cancer. She cries.

Our conversation totters a bit on the subject, and then takes a strong right turn. Perhaps we discuss the new polka dot pillows I have brought for her sofa. Perhaps we talk some nonsense about the latest in celebrity news.

Mom stands up and lifts the leg of her trousers to mid thigh. She points to the zig zaggy purple lines on legs. She tells me that she is paying $350.00 to have these spider veins removed. I detect a hint of hopeful triumph in her voice.

"Good, Mom”, I say.

But my thirty-something mind wonders why. Mom is a woman in her late fifties. Age is bursting out everywhere on her body. Visions of the little Dutch boy who tried to stop a flood by sticking a finger in the hole of a dike cross my mind. Certainly this spider vein procedure cannot stop the inevitable fallout of age, I think to myself.

Later we go for dinner at the clubhouse. Two men my mother's age offer to buy us drinks. I hate this. I am a woman who does not let men buy me drinks. I am an “I will pay my own way thank-you very much “ type, but Mom is different that way. I give way to a cocktail. We drink, chat and leave.

Back at the condo, she models the yellow linen dress she has bought for her next blind date She has high hopes, for her vein procedure will be completed by then she reminds me. She has been actively seeking men for a few months now. Three marriages under her belt and a string of love affairs later, she still believes that she needs a man to be complete. The fluorescent light of the bathroom vanity accentuates every line in her fifty-something face.

“It’s real pretty, Mom. You look good,” I encourage her. Inside I pray that I won’t be this desperate at her age. "Hey, you will find a man if that is what you want. Look at those two men who just bought drinks for us."

She turns away from the unkind light, looks me straight in the eye, and says, "Paula, those men were interested in you- not me."

My heart breaks for her. She is probably correct, but I play dumb. My stomach squeezes in on me.

Mom grew up believing that her appearance was her most valuable currency. She had been able to trade on it for most of her life. She feared losing its spending power.

Oh, Mom, why did you not see that your raucous sense of humor, your keen intellect and your willingness to share your deepest feelings were your special gifts? They could have carried you gracefully over the threshold of aging.

A Young Sarah

Now Aunt Sarah, well, she did aging differently. Her body had its fair share of pooches, droops, and discolorations. But Sarah trusted who she was. And if she did feel a bit wistful at times about the loss of her youthful looks- and I am certain she did because I knew my aunt-she was not going to dignify it with any dialogue.

In the eye of memory I visit her. Today she is wearing old shorts and a paint spattered shirt. She gardens now as I look on, and as she does she sings:

"White coral bells

Upon a slender stalk

Lily of the Valley

Deck my garden walk

Oh, don't you wish

That you could

Hear them ring?

That will happen

Only when the fairies sing"

She has a joy in her heart that will not pay duty to the boundaries of age. She pauses to admire her flowers before heading to her studio, for while she was gardening she got an idea about how to solve a problem in her current painting. This has been gnawing at her for several days now, and she cannot wait to get started.

Today she will work in her studio in the woods until the late July heat beckons her to pull on one of her stretched-out swimsuits for a delicious swim in the bay. She rejoices that her heart still beats, her legs still carry her and that her eyes continue to seek out beauty.

The water of Grand Traverse Bay is just cold enough to be refreshing this evening. The geese cry as they fly in formation overhead. She is glad and give thanks for yet another day as she enters her eighty-second year.

Sarah in her 70's

Age has made me naked. It has shucked me right down to my stalk- raw and exposed. Pretending does not work any more. I catch myself lying to myself too fast these days. I have blown my own cover.

I put on my new blue bathing suit. I am the fattest I have ever been compliments of the broken leg.

I stare at the woman who looks back at me in the mirror.

If I, but for a moment, hear myself pass judgment on that woman, I shall stop. I will hold myself tight in my own arms until I find her- my own true blue gal.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sing Me a Lullaby

Summer of 1952

My eyes, my nose, my ears and my skin do not lie to me. They yield the truth of any given moment. And it is to the moments that I turn more and more as the years pass.

Days are swallowed into weeks, and a month no longer seems a large measure of time. And, of course, I find this awareness to be more than unsettling. It is downright frightening at times.

My earliest memory takes place in the backyard of the LaCrosse Street house.

Mama has placed me on the lawn atop the old fringed bedspread.

My eyes widen with wonder as I watch an ant climb a blade of grass up one side and down the other until it disappears into the tiny forest of the lawn. The late June sun feels good, and I feel safe because Mama is nearby.

I forget the ants, and I look toward her. She is hanging laundry on the twirly gig clothes line. She wears madras plaid short shorts and pointed red flats. Her legs are long and tan.

Mom is only twenty-one . She has married young not because she was ready, but because she was pregnant with me. She and my dad won't make it, but she does not know this as she hangs her laundry while keeping an eye on me.

Flap. Flap. The sheets snap in the wind.

Off and on, Mama comes over to me and dances a bit of a jig as she sings "Chicky Boom Chicky Boom. Chicky Boom Chicky Boom."

Her words send a carnival of joy up and down my spine. I can only gurgle in response, for it will be some time before words will become a part of my world. And with those words I will start to analyze experience. I will use language to separate myself from myself. I will often trust my thoughts more than I trust my feelings.

The laundry basket is empty. Mama scoops me off to the bed with the high sides, her lips to my ear as she sings:

"Sleepy time in the pastureland
Dreaming. Dreaming.
Here we come with our pails in hand.
Mary, Molly and I."

I close my eyes and I see the girls with the pails of milk coming over the hill. They will be there for me when I allow myself to close my eyes and remember. They will calm me during the scary times when sleep eludes me.

They will be there to bring me back to a sunny day in which clean sheets and ants and Mama were all I needed.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

I Will Be a Pine Tree

The swiftness at which change sweeps into my life these days still surprises me. I have observed that the older I get the greater is my ability to take things in stride. What might have seemed to be a major drama in my thirties becomes a matter of course as I approach sixty.

Loss may mound as I age, but I am always grateful when I remember to see the gifts inherent in the loss.

The older I get the less it takes to make me glad. Glad means getting to experience a big string of regular predictable days in which nothing momentous occurs good or bad.

What I might once have called a boring day is the very kind of day I now give thanks for. I call these days my Smooth Days.

Smooth Days are days in which I get to set the tempo; I live free form.

Smooth Days are days in which I can wander about inside and out taking the time to play with my cats and to nuzzle my face in their sun-warmed furry tummies.

Smooth Days are day in which I take the time to peel and chop mounds of different vegetables so that I can have a ready made salad bar in my refrig.

Smooth Days happen when I let myself trust my gut about what to do next.
Shall I continue working on a project?
Shall I garden?
Shall I read? Shall I just lie flat on my back on my bed looking through the skylight at my longleaf pine tree.

I lie on my back on my bed as I write.
I see the huge old pine from my skylight.

I feel a connection to this tree.

It stands tall and proud, for it has braved hurricane force winds, frosty Florida winter nights and searing summer Florida suns.

I will be a pine tree.
I will live three hundred years of life in this life I have left.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mama Beautiful Mama of Mine

Mom and Me
Venice, 1966

My broken leg and my cracked ribs have changed lots of stuff for me this summer.The good part is that I have allowed myself to receive from others again. As I have aged, I have become increasingly uncomfortable about receiving from others. And I believe that losing my mother played a huge part in this manner of being.

Somehow or other I had receiving and needing and independence all screwed up in my head. I knew that the men in my life did not want me needing too much. I felt that no one wanted an adult woman who was too vulnerable, so I became fiercely independent, proud and aloof, for to need too much was something I found to be both terrifying and repugnant.

No matter how difficult my relationship with Mom could be, I always knew one thing for truly sure - Mom loved me. She was in the background of my life. Sort of like a comfy old sweater. She was there if I needed her. On call. Waiting.

During my first adult heartbreak when I was twenty-two, I visited her. I lay in her bed frozen with pain sobbing. She lay down beside me, and she cried too. She said she would trade places with me if she could. She told me that things would get better. And they did.

She never missed an opportunity to champion my cause, to express her pride in me or to listen to me at length when asked to do so.

But my mother's need of me was too big for me to satisfy, for I needed to become my own woman, and I could not do it with Mama in my life too much. Her life had been focused on her two daughters. She called us her proudest achievements.And she did not want to let us go.

Years of a push/pull dynamic ensued between us. Guilt trips. Pathetic and desperate phone calls in the middle of the night. Threats of suicide. Mean letters. I distanced myself more from her with each bout.

Then one day Mom was dying. A phone call on the evening of November 12,1990 confirmed that. Lung cancer. Small cell. Bone and Liver involvement.
Mom -always dramatic- described herself to us as "eaten-up".

Thus began a period in which I fell in love with Mom all over again. I allowed myself to feel my great need for her- a need that was so huge that it frightened me, for I feared losing myself in it. I cuddled with her. I allowed her to brush my hair. We sat in her bed with our arms around one another to have our picture taken.

Over the weeks as the cancer took her body, we lay in her bed holding hands while laughing and crying over old photographs.

For her sixty-first birthday I placed a dozen yellow roses on the dresser that was opposite her bed. Three days later she asked me to remove them. She said she could not take them where she was going.

A few days later, she told me to go home to my husband and not come back. She said she had the nurses, and that I belonged in my own home where my life was. I remember crying and telling her that I wanted to stay by her. I did not want to leave her alone. I told her I wanted to be strong for her.

What I did not understand then was that she needed to be alone, so that she could get on with the business of dying. She could not perform the largest act of letting go that any of us will get to do, with her blue-eyed daughters and a vase of yellow roses too near.

She had to withdraw into a new place in order to die.

I last saw my mother on Monday, February 18, 1991. She died the following Monday.

6:40 in the evening Monday, February 25, my sister and I are talking about the hell that is being played out in my mother's blue bedroom . Her suffering has gone beyond what anyone should have to endure. And we want it to end.

A click over the phone line. My sister asks me to hold while she takes another call. Within seconds, she returns , "Mom died a few minutes ago" she said.

Death makes you feel like you have to get up and do something, as if in the act of doing you can make it go away. I looked out my living room window. My husband was coming down the sidewalk with a bag of Mexican take-out.
Minutes later, we are driving the seventy-some miles to Mom's condo.

Once there, I rush to see Mom. She is lying at a diagonal in the ugly hospital bed. She is dressed in her powder blue Vanity Fair nightie. Her blue eyes are open and staring far beyond me.

She looks like a fallen seabird.

I stopped letting myself feel any real need after Mom was gone. I guess I thought that needing hurt too much.

The accident has put me in touch with my need to need again. And I think I am turning a new corner as I approach my sixtieth birthday.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Me, 1973
Fresh out of college
A summertime of watching Watergate,sex,drugs androck n'roll

I blinked my eyes, and I am fifty-nine years old.

Just when being a "nice" woman, a "nice" friend, a "nice" wife was gettin' ready to lay me flat- I saw how the rage in me was gonna tear my insides out if I didn't pay it some attention.

The farther I got away from my true self the angrier I got.

I watched grown-up women long and hard when I was a teen. I saw what a woman's life could be like if she did not have grit.
I saw what a woman's life could be life if she devoted it all to a man.
I saw what a woman's life could be like if she could not support herself financially.

It was not a pretty sight. And I wanted no part of it.

Mama had taught me by example- a bad example for sure, but one that I learned real well- perhaps too well, but that in itself is another story.

Life sort of hijacked me along the way. Time and its trials has a way of doin' just that.

Before I knew it I was pushin' sixty, and I was a pale vision of my former self.

What had become of that feisty girl riding on her purple racer at fourteen?

What had become of that young woman who was so full of vim, vigor and rebellion?

Where did the girl go who dreamed of writing a book?

And why in hell was I not dancing my ass off more like I used to?

This is my story.

The year was 1974. I was living alone in my first apartment which was actually the bottom of a big old house. Funky it was with its window shaker air conditioner, the mushrooms that grew behind the toilet due to the Florida humidity and the green shag carpet which smelled like mildew, but it was mine.

It was here that I discovered the music of Dory Previn.

A song I never forgot. The fact that I, too, am left-handed is mere coincidence. I just really dug this song. And it speaks volumes to me even today.

This Birthday is Bothering Me

My age is not who I am, but this turning sixty is sure as hell getting to me.
I remember asking my ninety-something grandmother how old she felt in her head, and without pause she replied, "Why, in my mind I am always eighteen."

And yes, I am fourteen in my head. For fourteen was the year I first fell madly in love with a guy I met in my Latin class. He was cute, funny and smelled deliciously of English Leather aftershave. Fourteen was the year that I had crossed the line between young girl to woman-in-the making.

I was fourteen, and I was budding in my sexuality. Oh, I was a good girl Most of us were then. I mean I didn't know what a French kiss was until I was seventeen. And I thought it a rather gross way of kissing at that first time.

I had been groomed on the soft open mouth kiss that gradually turned hard and somewhat frantic. The kiss that took place in the 1965 Chevy Impala with Gene Pitney's "Town Without Pity" playing on the radio. However, I did note that my breasts felt as though they were pushing to be released from the heavy layers of my Peter Pan collar blouse, my v-neck mohair sweater and my wool coat on that subzero night in southwestern Michigan.

But first base is the only base I would ever go with this beautiful boy- my first true love.

It is below freezing that night. I am bundled in my Chesterfield coat with the velveteen collar. My body is flashing and wanting more of this beguiling swirly charge that I feel when I smell him, and when he kisses me.

Sixty is freaking me out. Or maybe some of it is that I was in a very horrific car accident six weeks ago. Or maybe it is because I learned in May that my younger sister may live only five more years. My god. It seems only yesterday that we were cute, tanned and sexy little hippie chicks. Living in old houses out in Lutz on lakes married to artsy brainiacs who opted to be hippie carpenters because they were not ready for the nine to five.

Nothing more to say. It is just getting to me about being almost sixty years of age.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Old People and Young People

My aunt expressed often in her later years that she got great pleasure when she could hang out with people twenty years or more her junior.
And to her I was young. She was eighty-something, and I was fifty-something, and as long as she was alive I was still relatively young.

Mom's been gone twenty years now. Dad is going sooner than later, and my very sister who is younger than me has a terminal illness. My cousins call to talk to me because as one of them said, "I am calling you because you are the oldest in the family."

And when one of them says that, I think what the hell- I don't know squat. In fact, the older I get the less I know that I know.

Here is what I know tonight.

I know it is necessary to be true to yourself. It is absolutely necessary not to allow yourself to put yourself down. We all have much to offer. And even if we cannot figure out what it is, we must trust anyway.

I do believe that there is meaning and purpose to life, but I don't know what it is. So now I am making it okay just to be in a place of trusting that just because I don't understand something does not mean it doesn't exist.

Tonight I went to an art opening. I was one of two of the oldest people there. and I felt out of my element. And being in the wheelchair compounded that feeling . I was so down on myself that I got absorbed in superficial thoughts.

So I took a reverie. I flashed back twenty-five years. I am young, thin, fit and ripe. I am at this same art opening. Out of the corner of my eye I see an older woman somewhere near my mother's age who is in a wheelchair. I want to pretend I do not see her, but the polite me pays her perfunctory attention . Then I make an excuse to scurry away.

I want to be full of the future too, but I must admit as I age I often must give myself a pep talk about staying in the game of making plans and thinking forward.

The wheelchair trip was like here I sat lower than all others, and I watched me watching me and visions of the poor crippled Clara in the Heidi movie crawled in my head. Young Clara, in her high back wheelchair both intrigued and repulsed me because I, after all, was a normal two-legged girl.

Tonight was an exercise in being the much older woman in a wheelchair This was an experience that I found both interesting from an academic standpoint and somewhat depressing from a ego point of view.

And it is hard to admit, but I still have a REAL BIG EGO. I would have thought by now that it would be so far up on there on a dusty shelf.

Another lesson. Tomorrow is also another day.

No one day of my life is in and of itself monumental.

In my mind's eye I am still me- on my bike at fourteen- wind at my back pedaling home.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Broken Leg, Broken Heart and Clipped Wings

Years ago at a Rebirthing retreat, I participated in a exercise called eye gaze breathing. Partcipants did circular breathing while staring into another person's eyes. After a period of time, I felt an incredible spinning/tingling/buzzing feeling that enveloped my whole body. It was the most delicious feeling I have ever experienced. I shouted out, "Fuck". After the exercise was completed, I soon learned from a pal that my outburst had upset the people who were hosting this "consciousness raising" event.
The word "fuck" had erupted from me. Someone explained that I had experienced what is known as a cosmic bath. Whatever it was, I had been an innocent. I had breathed myself into such an exquisite state of aliveness that the word "fuck" had nothing whatsoever to do with a thought but rather with a feeling - a feeling that emcompassed all of my passion for all that is life.

My reaction to the disapproval took me back again to the place inside of me in which as a child I was made to be wrong for being totally me.

I find that I continue to put my deep desires on the back burner. Always making an excuse for why I don't sit down more and paint or write or take on those creative projects that spin as endless loops in my mind. They taunt me. They torment me. They wag their crooked fingers at me and cackle hideously as they say, "See, you are going to die, and we will die with you. Hey, pay us some attention before it's too late."

Why in hell am I afraid to let it all hang out? What is there to lose anymore? So much is now gone. I remember when I was younger I would tell myself that I would really write when my grandmother Pearl died. guess I had her set up as the finger pointer of my young life.
Pearl died in 1997.

And still nothing.

Thoreau's words about how most people live lives of quiet desperation has resonated with me since my early twenties when I first read him. Tonight his words are thundering within me.

We create fences around ourselves to keep us tame- to prevent us from breaking out- to allow us to graze and pretend that a life of contentment is enough. It is like we are sort of afraid of what might we become if we just charge full force ahead with our passions leading the way.

But as I lie here tonight I know that I need more.

And that very thought frightens me.

I turn sixty in less than a month.

I have a fire that won't go out.

This fire is a passion in me that has been burning since I was a very little girl. I used to think that sex- lots of hard, rocking, three times a day sex would satisfy it. But that's not it. Sex is a dead end. It doesn't satisfy the hunger in my soul

I have finished with the fences. There ain't no security to be had 'cept the deep feeling in your gut that your fire is still burning.

And it is that fire that so many whom have claimed to love me have sought to extinguish.

Maybe this current state of being able to do little but lie with my leg up will cause me to finally implode and be reborn again. Fresh. Me- Paula.