Friday, May 22, 2015

Inch Sixty-Four: All Grown

How do you know when your children are truly grown?

When you ask if they would be willing be listed as contacts on your advance directives.

Advance directives are documents in which you direct the medical world as to end of life decisions. Many states, Ohio among them, adopted versions of them following the 1990 Cruzan decision by the US Supreme Court. In Cruzan, the Court ruled that an individual may be removed from life support if the person had left clear and convincing evidence that he would not want to be kept alive in a vegetative state. Ohio's directives, the Living Will and the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, apply when a person is either permanently vegetative or in a terminal condition (i.e., dying).

As I used to tell my clients, the Living Will speaks for you as to your end of life decisions and the Durable POA gives others (your agents) the right to speak for you if you are unable to.

I last signed as set of directives in 2006. Sam was still a teenager and Ben was only partway through college back then. I named Warren and my youngest brother on my directives. I could not name Sam as a minor and I did not want to burden Ben at that time in his life.

Nine years later, my boys are grown.

My sons and I have not talked about my end of life wishes, including my opposition to life support. We haven't talked about my dying. Truth is, we have not broached any of those difficult conversations.

It has only come up now because I am executing a new set of directives. I would like my sons to be listed on them, along with Warren. If end of the life decisions have to be made and I cannot speak for myself, I want these three to be able to speak for me.

I will not add either of them without permission. More than once as an attorney, I saw clients name someone as agent without discussing the matter with that person. When a medical emergency arose, the unaware agent was stunned (as opposed to being "pleasantly surprised") to be thrust into the role of having to make critical medical decisions.

So yesterday I sent Ben and Sam an email asking for their permission to name them. I will follow up with a phone call this long weekend if I don't hear back. Because of other events, I need to execute the new set this Tuesday.

Some parents have great difficulty seeing their adult children as adults. (In fairness to those parents, some adult children are so naive and unworldly that I understand the difficulty.) I am so far away in place and time from Ben and Sam that long stretches of life go by without our seeing one another face to face. When we do finally meet up, as we did in Portland last January, I am immediately aware visually just how grown up my children are. Although I call them my boys, there is no questions that they are adult men. (It also helps that I work in a juvenile court. As such, I always have a fresh and clear impression of what a teenager looks, sounds, and acts like. Young though my sons are compared to me,  they are not teenagers.)

My boys are grown. I have two adult sons in their stead. And now I hope they will take on an adult role in my life.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Inch Sixty-Three: Evening Walk

My blogging friend Darla over at Bay Side to Mountain Side  often takes her readers on walks through her neighborhoods. She always carries a camera (or else has a more sophisticated phone than I do—trust me, that's a low bar) and so her posts are punctuated with great photos showing you what she is seeing.

I thought about Darla as I walked last night. I don't carry a camera or iPad or any other device when I walk, so I told myself to pay attention to what I saw so that I could write this post later. Making myself pay attention required me to stay in the moment as I walked, instead of sorting through my schedule, court matters, or other issues. Not a bad way to walk, all in all.

A robin has nested in the ornamental cherry tree in our front flowerbed, about ten steps away from the front door. As soon as I opened the front door and stepped out, she swooped away to a nearby tree to give me time to move out of her area. That was how my walk started.

I tried to pay attention to small things:
  • The spiderwort's deep purple-blue blooms in that same front flowerbed.
  • A clipped lilac hedge with the lilacs in bloom. I stuck my face in the hedge, inhaling the fragrance.
  • Irises blooming in front yards.
  • An old hitching post on a quiet side street.
I walked in the immediate neighborhood, which is full of old, large houses, most built between the late 1800s and the early 1900s. It is a visually soothing streetscape, the house patterns familiar through the tens of thousands of steps I have taken in this town. I walked down the alley I used to live next to, back when Ben and Sam were younger. In the little court of houses behind my former house and the next yard, my friend Patricia was outside with her daughter and husband.

Patricia and I have hardly seen one another all winter and rushed into each other's arms.

"Patricia!"

"April!"

I stayed a little while to visit, admiring the new candle fixture on their front porch, sitting in my favorite spot at the kitchen island, catching up with my friend. Then we hugged goodbye and I continued my walk, heading another block and a half before turning back towards home.

Steve and Debbie have just moved (this Tuesday past) into their newly built house, downsizing from their larger estate out in the county. Steve was outside, attached by a leash to a small dog, and I called out birthday greetings (thank you, Facebook) before crossing the street to talk with him. Steve and Brie (the dog) and I ended up walking two blocks together, chatting about lot splits and building restrictions and the city planner. Steve is also a lawyer whose practice has included a lot of zoning law, as did mine when I practiced, so it was a good discussion.

As we went our separate ways, I thought about how far Steve and I have come in a quarter century of knowing one another. Steve is the only lawyer with whom I openly argued in court, with both of us drawing a sharp admonishment from an otherwise congenial judge. It took me a long time to get over our initial introduction, but I eventually came to admire his professional skills and genuinely enjoy him as an individual. When I said "welcome to the neighborhood," I meant it. (And who knew that Steve was such a softie when it comes to Brie?)

I was conscious that I am walking more slowly now than before winter wiped out the frequent walks. Some of that is due to not having my walking legs under me yet, coming off of that long icy layoff. Some of that is what the myeloma or the treatment or both combined continues to extract as a toll from my life. But I'm not racing anybody or anything, especially not the clock, as I walk, and did not dwell on my steps.

By the time I reached home, I was ready to be in. Warren was at a rehearsal and would not be home until later. There was a foil-covered paper plate on the front porch; my youngest brother sent home birthday cake via my parents, who had supper with him and his wife earlier in the evening.

As I turned into our driveway towards the front walk, the robin swooped off the nest, this time flying only as far as the ground under the pine tree.She was back on the nest even before I finished closing the storm door. Apparently she decided one slow walker was not a threat, or else she was tired and wanted to be back home, in for the night.

And that is how my walk ended, tired and back home for the night, one with the robin.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Inch Sixty-Two: Naming Rights

What's in a name?

That, of course, is the question Juliet famously poses during her balcony soliloquy, concluding that a rose by any other name "would smell as sweet."

That may well be (and there are many writers who have disagreed with Shakespeare over the centuries), but I would have given anything to be have given a different moniker than the one my mother saddled me with 59+ years ago. Oh, I have borne it all these years, but not without complaint.

My name came up recently because a friend reading my unfinished manuscript commented immediately that the characters based on real people (such as my children) are called by their real names except for the character based on me. That character is called Hannah.

You bet I'm Hannah in the novel. I wasn't about to write an April into the script.

Growing up, I longed for a normal name. I went to school with Beckys and Teresas and Brendas and Kims and Debbys (not to mention Debbies). I would have gladly gone by Sara or Hannah or Jane. But no, I got April. My mother was apparently at her most lyrical when she chose my name. Heck, I never even acquired a nickname. ("Ape" does not count.)

I never contemplated legally changing my name to something more tolerable. I think I knew, even at my surliest ages, that I did not need yet another battlefield with my mother. I certainly did not want to go through the rest of her life being criticized for such a betrayal.

As I thought about the name issue, I realized I have several friends, all women incidentally, who use either a middle name, nickname, or another name all together. Katrina uses her middle name. Cindy was named Cynthia. Margo, it turns out, adopted as her name her 7th grade French name (spelled, I presume, "Margaux") and gradually erased her birth name. Both of my grandmothers despised their first names and used their middle names, so "Eulalia" became "Clare" (a choice I thoroughly understand) and "Maggie" became "Mabel" (a choice I do not understand at all).

Do women have name image issues, like our body image issues? Do I have a name image issue? Apparently.

When I converted to Judaism several decades ago, I chose a Jewish name for the conversion. Even then I did not choose the name I really loved, which is Tova, but instead chose Chaya. There is a strong custom in European Jewish culture not to name a child after a living relative, and I wanted to save Tova for the daughter I eventually never had.

There's nothing wrong with the name Chaya, but it's not Tova.

Recently, though, I chose to name myself once and for all the name I hear as my name. I had to choose a user name for an account. I am so tired of variants of my name as a user name and equally tired of another name (and its variations) I have been relying on for years. But Tova with some additional characters and words? Mayhap that would work.

There is a passage in the Ray Bradbury short story, "Dark They Were, And Golden-Eyed," where the son of the main character asks to change his name:

"What's wrong with Tim for a name?"
Tim fidgeted. "The other day you called Tim, Tim, Tim. I didn't even hear. I said to myself, That's not my name. I've a new name I want to use."
Mr. Bittering held to the side of the canal, his body cold and his heart pounding slowly. "What is this new name?"
"Linnl. Isn't that a good name? Can I use it? Can I, please?"
Mr. Bittering put his hand to his head...He heard his wife say, "Why not?" He heard himself say, "Yes, you can use it." "Yaaa!" screamed the boy. "I'm Linnl, Linnl!" Racing down the meadowlands, he danced and shouted.

I know just how Linnl felt.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Inch Sixty-One: "Are You A Writer?"

The last concert of the symphony season is upon us; the performance is Saturday night.

Wednesday night, I found myself at rehearsal. I had been planning on attending some of it because we have a guest composer here, the amazing Richard Blackford, and I volunteered to shuttle him from the concert hall to his lodgings. I thought I could arrive at 8:00 or so, spend an hour, and then be gone.

The phone rang soon after they left. Would I bring the orchestra bells? Yes, yes. So I spent two hours at rehearsal and never shuttled Richard, as he had to stay to work on a sound issue.

I tell this story not to complain, but to point out that there has been a whole lot of music and music talk and music stuff the last several days. On Wednesday, before rehearsal, Richard, Warren, and I had a light meal at the house before the two of them went off.

The talk was of music and the therapeutic drumming program Warren created and the art of composing. Then poetry was introduced (it was still National Poetry Month, after all) as Richard had collaborated with Maya Angelou on the work "King" (he wrote the music; she wrote the lyrics). That added a layer of poets and poetry and verse to the music discussion.

Warren excused himself after the meal to change and pull together his case for the rehearsal. Richard looked at me and asked "Do you write?"

Shades of the old high school cheer with the emphasis on a different word in the short sentence. Do I write? Do I write? Do I write?

I fumbled my initial response. "Yes, but not professionally. I mean, I blog and I write a monthly column for an online site but I don't make money at it..."  Then like the receiver downfield, I recovered the conversational ball and had a surer grip. "...and I used to write a monthly column about local architecture for our newspaper, so yes, I do write." I paused to draw a breath and added "I love to write."

"How about poetry?"

Not really, I admitted. About poetry, yes. But not poetry.  Richard nodded.

He acknowledged that he preferred to write prose. "But I'm writing a novel," he confessed, his face lighting up. "I've finished the first draft and am now on the second."

A novel! I jolted upright. A novel! And while he explained where the novel stood, including the novelist friend who'd read and marked up the first draft, my mind raced to my own confession.

I finally opened my mouth and said, "I'm writing a youth novel and am about two-third through my first draft."

We did not talk plots. We talked about leaning a scene down, about moving a scene along after it had stalled out up a blind alley, about the aha! moment when you realize what the character really was up to and why the character did what he or she did.

I said that for me the hardest thing was making time to write. He talked about the shortage of time; I talked about honoring that time.

"Yes, I write." The statement, buried though it was, opened an amazing door.

There is an entry in the journals of Anne Morrow Lindbergh after Harcourt, Brace accepted her first book, North to the Orient, for publication. She received a call from Harcourt himself, who after praising it and tell her the firm accepted it, said "You've written a book, my dear." Anne hangs up the phone and stands looking out the window, "completely happy. They like it—and my happiness was pure and tangible and right there. It's true—I have it, then...[one of those] moments of personal triumph."

I've never submitted a book for publication, let alone ever had one accepted. My manuscript, in first draft stage, is at 21,000+ words and maybe (I think, I hope, I want) about two-thirds complete.  But...

"I write."

"I'm writing a novel."

The glow of those words—just getting out those words—carried me through the rehearsal and on into the night.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Inch Sixty (Five Feet!): Sticking a Net Into Time

Sometimes there are too many topics, potential blog posts all, rushing through my head. There are only six days of National Poetry Month left, counting today, and I spend a great deal of time mentally and physically selecting my favorite poems to offer on Facebook.

What an idea! My favorite poems? I might as well walk outside at night, stare up at the sky, and select my favorite stars. Or stand under the Bradford pear in the backyard and choose my favorite blossom of the hundreds on the tree.

But the stars and the blossoms: there's the thread on which I will hang today's post.

I have noticed a difference in recent months. I have an increased awareness of time slipping through my fingers. I am like a child trying to grasp a handful of water or sand, unable to stop its draining out no matter how tight I hold my fist.

Ben and Alise and Ramona gave me the gift of writing this past Chirstmas: a box of notecards, a Decomposition book, and a bound journal with a magnetic clasp and a silvery, ornate cover. Recently I started using the journal. I am not journaling in the traditional sense of noting my thoughts or the events of the day. Instead, I find myself writing observations of the outdoors: the thin, silvery sliver of a new moon, the icy coating on a rudbeckia leaf when it frosted earlier this week,  a chilly morning walk yesterday and gazing at the sky so intensely blue that it hurt my heart to look at it. This is what I am capturing in my journal: the small moments of time and the world.

Annie Dillard, in Pilgrim At Tinker Creek, wrote "I want to stick my net into time and say 'now' as men plant flags on the ice and snow and say 'here.'" I have been carrying that quote around with me for almost three decades.

My journal notes are my net and my "now." They are my flag and my "here."


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Inch Fifty-Nine: On Poetry

April is National Poetry Month and I am sad to see the end of it coming ever closer. In past Aprils, I have called attention to NPM in this blog and one year I even went out on a limb (a very long and shaky one) to post poems of my own in celebration.

This year I am celebrating by posting a poem or poem fragment a day on Facebook. Some days are dedicated to friends and family: "The Art of Disappearing" by Naomi Shihab Nye for my friend Margo, "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" by John Keats for my friend David, "Arithmetic" by Carl Sandburg for Sam, "in Just-" by E. E. Cummings for Ben. And some days I have posted advertising campaigns that used poetry excerpts brilliantly: this one by AIG (T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock") and this one by Xbox One ("Invictus" by William Ernest Henley).

So many poems, so little time.

I am married to a poetry adverse individual, a pronounced flaw in an otherwise wonderful man. It is one I am willing to overlook because Warren and I are so well-suited in so many other fundamental and essential ways, but I look at him and wonder "what teacher at what grade did you in?" (Listening to his recitation of English teachers from junior high on, I'm pretty sure I know who the culprit was.)

Poetry, like music, like art, is in fair danger of disappearing entirely from our schools. While Ohio's Model Learning Standards for Language Arts pay lip service to poetry, the reality is that poetry is being eradicated line by line from many school curriculums, not by choice but out of necessity. There is no time or place for the luxury of poetry. It is a frill that does not fit neatly into our standardized test world of modern education, and, as students, parents, and teachers alike will confirm, we are teaching to the test. Small wonder that when a number of teenagers broke into and vandalized Robert Frost's farmhouse in December, 2007, few of the offenders knew who Robert Frost was.

The Gradgrinds of the world would approve of eliminating poetry in its entirety. They adopt as their mission their founder's famous words: "Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else...Stick to Facts, Sir!"

It is that kind of inside-the-very-narrow-box thinking that I rebel against. It is that attitude that makes me look forward to every April, when thousands of us across the land wave the bright flag of Poetry wide and high. (Thank you, Robert Hunter, poet deluxe.)

A world without poetry would be an empty and bleak world indeed. Warren may say he disagrees, but when the poetry goes, so do the song lyrics, including his beloved Emerson Lake & Palmer.

The Academy of American Poets (the driving force behind National Poetry Month) has designated this April 30 as Poem in Your Pocket Day. (The day varies each year, but not the sentiment behind it.) Mark it on your calendar now so you don't miss it.

The world needs every poem it can get.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Inch Fifty-Eight: A Place at the Table

Monday night I attended a seder, the Jewish ritual meal for Passover, at Ohio Wesleyan, our local college. It was not a traditional seder, nor even a full seder, but it had the structure of a seder and that was a good start. The OWU seder is offered in part for its very small Jewish student population and in part for non-Jewish members of the greater Delaware community who wish to experience a seder.

It was the first time I had been at a seder in 27 or 28 years.

The first person I met when I arrived was Jessica, the associate chaplain and rabbinic student, who was the driving force behind the event. We'd exchanged emails prior to the seder but nothing prepared me to come face to face with someone in my age bracket.

Students drifted in, along with a lot of adults from the community. None of the other adults were Jewish (I knew all but one, and I ended up sitting next to her at the seder, so got to know her religious beliefs early on). Of the students, I would estimate perhaps a third to half were Jewish, with the rest coming from the campus Interfaith House or just coming along out of curiosity or friendship.

It was so odd to be outnumbered at a seder by the non-Jews.

Since I last attended a seder, there have been new additions to the seder ceremony. (By "new," I mean changes that I had never experienced, although the changes date back almost 30 years themselves.) A seder table always has a filled wine cup for Elijah the Prophet. Our table also contained an empty wineglass for Miriam the Prophetess. The glass was passed along the table and each of us emptied a teaspoon of water into the glass to honor Miriam and her well, which miraculously accompanied the Jewish people during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. And the seder plate, which holds ritual objects (a roasted lamb shank, maror (bitter herbs), haroset, matzoh), also now holds an orange. The orange was introduced to recognize and include the Jewish LGBT community. Both of these changes resonated with me.

I had forgotten the flavors of a seder. There were bowls of haroset every three to four plates. Haroset is a mixture of chopped apples and chopped nuts, flavored with cinnamon and bound together with grape juice or, more traditionally, kosher grape (sweet) wine. Haroset symbolizes the mortar the Jews made bricks with when they were slaves in Egypt.  In the course of the seder, you not only eat the haroset, but you also eat a Hillel sandwich, which is haroset and maror (traditionally horseradish) between two pieces of matzoh.

I had forgotten the sting and sweetness of the Hillel sandwich. And I had forgotten how addicting haroset is. I wasn't the only one who felt that way. The young woman next to me and I kept returning to the haroset bowl, which she had moved to be between the two of us. "I love haroset," she said, smiling as she spooned some more onto her plate. "It's my favorite food at seder."

Passover is the festival of freedom. The intertwined issues of slavery and freedom have always played the key role in the haggadah, the text followed during the seder. Now issues of social justice—poverty, hunger, inequality, homelessness, modern slavery—also are part of the telling. We did not use printed haggadahs, but instead had readings that took us through the order of a seder.  As Jessica explained, Jews are supposed to tell the Passover story as if it is happening now, not just reciting something that happened long ago. I am eager to participate in a modern seder that contains this new overlay.

After the seder concluded, I talked with Jessica for several minutes, long enough for us to say we had to stay in touch. Her immediate recognition of the All-of-a-Kind Family books ("Of course I read them! I'm 50!") made for a quick bond, one which we hope to grow over coffee and conversation in the coming weeks.

Warren asked me when I came home if I had a good seder experience. "It was more of a seder outline," I said, but added that I was satisfied. For the first time back at the table, it was a sweet reunion.

You traditionally end a seder with the words "next year in Jerusalem," an element that was omitted Monday night. I already know what I want next year. Next year I want to attend a full blown seder or even host one myself. I want to make the haroset, I want to bring the desserts.

Next year in Jerusalem. Next year a seder. Next year a place at the table.