Sunday, October 15, 2017

Small Moment

We have entered that time of the baseball season that I love the best: playoffs and World Series time. Realize that even this time of year, we don't haul out the television, or stream the game online, or even (for the most part) listen on the radio. Sometimes I'll check the score of a game while it is happening, then turn to other things. It is the idea of the series, that they are happening now, that fuels my passion.

My beloved Chicago Cubs are in the League Championship Series once again after a 5th game win against the Washington Nationals last Thursday. Warren was livestreaming the game part of the evening and I happened to be listening during the 5th inning, which had to qualify as one of the wildest innings in playoff history. I was yelling incoherently—I think some variation of "YES! YES! YES!"—and said to Warren after the side was retired, "I can't listen anymore." So I did not know until the next morning that the Cubs held on and won, propelling them into the LCS.

Last year close to this time the Cubs were bearing down on returning to the World Series for the first time since 1945. Warren and I were out somewhere in Columbus that evening when a text came in from my son Ben:

       Not sure if you are still up but the cubs are 3 outs from                 going [to] the world series

I don't remember whether we were listening to the game when Ben texted but we quickly found it on the radio. That may have been the evening we got back home before the game ended and I told Warren to drive a few blocks more so I could hear them finish. The Cubs won and my phone lit up again:

       They did it! We love you

Indeed the Cubs did it. 

I have saved those texts, locking them on my phone and in my heart. They were quick hugs from Benjamin—baseball, love, World Series, the Cubs—across the miles. October once again, I pull them up and reread them:

       They did it! We love you

I love you too, Ben. Here's to this baseball time of year.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Don't Read This Book. Read This Book.


I just read The Best of Us, the new memoir by Joyce Maynard. I first found Maynard when I was 16 and she was 19, when she wrote Looking Back: A Chronicle of Growing Up Old in the Sixties. I have followed her ever since. The Best of Us is Maynard's account of her life with her husband Jim Barringer: their courtship and marriage in their late 50s, his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, 19 months of treatment, and his death.

Don't read this book. It will break your heart.

Read this book. It will break your heart.

Maynard is, even at her best, a high maintenance individual. She makes it clear in The Best of Us that she can be (and often was) self-centered, demanding, impatient, and a whole host of other less than wonderful characteristics. In the end, she concluded, her husband's cancer and their experiences burned away the dross—the need for constant attention, the need to always have the last word, the needs to be the center of attention, the need to always be right—and brought out the very best in her.

Don't read this book. It will drain you with the ups and downs of their lives as the cancer raged ahead.

Read this book. It will move you by the love and devotion that rose like cream above the nightmare of living with an aggressive cancer.

Two-thirds of the way through The Best of Us, I closed it, looked at Warren, and said, "You cannot read this book. Ever." I was quiet a minute, then said, "Mel [a close friend whose husband has cancer] can't read this book ever either." When Warren asked why, still blinking in surprise at my pronouncement, I added "because it will kill you both."

This book pierced my heart. After finishing it, I threw myself on the bed to think about it. Warren lay down beside me. I thought about what is ahead for both of us. Then I told him I was thinking of the book.

"I'm not surprised."

Then I voiced what has long been in my heart but I have rarely said out loud. "I don't want to leave you."

With that, I started crying. Warren's eyes welled up and tears ran down his face.

"I know you don't."

As I said recently, in the start of an eulogy, all of us are going to die. I know that. But I'm not thinking big universal concepts here. I'm thinking small picture. Personal picture. Our picture.

And that is where The Best of Us triumphs. Maynard's focus is on the small picture, her and her husband's small picture. Because in the end, that's what mattered.

Don't read this book.

Read this book.

Yes, read this book.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Small Moment

The other night, running into my longtime friend Donna at a gala event, she asked me how my basil did this year.

Pretty lousy is how my basil did this year. Even the bees were irked at me.

"I think I still have some left," she replied. She said she would check and if she did...

"Pesto in exchange for basil?"

"Absolutely."

Midday Sunday she texted me that she indeed had basil. "It's on a bag on the porch near the caladium pot."

Well, I didn't know what caladium was (I do now), but I found the bag easily. Pesto making is in my immediate future.

I don't can anymore; I gave my canner to Goodwill and my jars to our Court's Girls Group. I don't do a lot of labor intensive cooking anymore. I do have a lot of containers of bean soup, different kinds, in my freezer, because bean soup is the world's easiest food to make in bulk and then freeze in portions. But I will gladly spend an hour or so tonight making pesto, some to freeze, some to give back to Donna.

Just a small moment. A little friendship. A little community.




Saturday, October 7, 2017

Vulnerable

Trigger warning (which I do not believe in, in principle): This is a personal and political post.

I am feeling very vulnerable these days for lots of reasons. My health is increasingly a question mark. There are many nights I crawl into bed with something—the cancer, the treatment, anything—muscling its way to the top. For several nights now I have reached the flat plain of the mattress with gratitude, hugging it as a shipwreck survivor must cling to the first land she washes up on.

Earlier this week both a Confederate flag and a White Power flag went up outside a house about two blocks from here. Even in our "nice" neighborhood, there are people who want to see people like me—any of us who are "other"—eliminated. The neighborhood response was to write affirming slogans of equity and love and acceptance on the sidewalk of the house next door. The flags came down sometime in the middle of the night, but I doubt it was a one-off incident.

How appropriate that I feel that way these days, and that our community had a polarizing event, because I also feel vulnerable as an American living under the current administration. My safety—personal, religious, medical, physical, you name it—is increasingly at risk. All I think about, especially in light of the just concluded High Holy Days, is I have been guilty for being "aware" but not really "getting" what individuals of color go through every single day of their lives. I am so sorry that until the last several months I have only sympathized and occasionally added my verbal support, but have stayed too quiet otherwise.

I am sorry it took Charlottesville to make public what I'd already suspected but not said aloud since the new administration took over: people of color, Native Americans, LGBTQ individuals, Jews, people in poverty, Muslims, anyone who is "other"—we are all in danger. I am sorry that it took this year's attacks on the American Care Act to point out the wrongfulness of my thinking "oh, they'll never take away protecting those of us with pre-existing conditions because even the most flinty hearted conservative Congressman doesn't want to see people die." I am sorry that it took the threat of a Justice Department headed by Jeff Sessions becoming a daily reality of "where am I not safe now?" or, more correctly, "where are we not safe now?" to catch my attention.

I just read The Wrong Way To Save Your Life by Megan Stielstra and found strength in her words. A few months before that, I read Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay and found strength in her words. I just copied two essays, one from each book, and sent them to my friend Anne, hoping they give her strength. I tell myself there are strong voices and minds out there and I draw strength and encouragement from that.

I worried whether to allow comments on this post. Steilstra writes about the vulnerability of writers in this electronic age, the ease with which one could be traced, stalked, threatened, and she concluded she might as well be public about her voice and her stances as a determined individual could find her no matter what. I don't worry about being harmed in that way (fantasy thinking of an older white woman living in a "nice" neighborhood, albeit one with a White Power adherent two blocks away), but I worry about something far more insidious in me: offending others. I am still learning to speak up for what I believe in, even if my voice shakes.

Like right now.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Reflections

Yom Kippur came in last night, Friday night, as we ate a late evening supper of blacks beans and rice, a side salad, and bread.

If you are Jewish or familiar with the rites of Judaism, you know that any sentence linking Yom Kippur and eating is immediately suspect. Yom Kippur is the capstone of the High Holy Days, the Days of Awe, which started midweek last week with Rosh Hashanah. It is considered the holiest day of the Jewish year, one of introspection and atonement, and requires fasting from sunset to sunset.

But there is an exception from the fasting. If you are ill and it is against medical advice to fast, you do not have to fast. In fact, some Talmudic commentators observe that under such circumstances, the individual is prohibited from fasting as to prevent further harm to the body.

As a person with cancer who is in ongoing treatment, treatment that just moved into Phase 2 earlier this week, I get an exemption. Given how I felt by day's end (at the start of Yom Kippur), I knew I had slid past the point of no return on feeling okay (heck, I'll even say "decent") and was rapidly approaching the stage of red flashing lights accompanied by a loud repetitive buzzer.

I am coming up on my 13th anniversary of being diagnosed with multiple myeloma. I have far exceeded the mortality tables for this particular cancer. Six to seven years post-diagnosis is a good, solid number for how long one lives. Over eight and the crowd starts thinning. At 13 years out, I feel like I am perched on the far rim of the flat world depicted by Renaissance cartographers.

Here be dragons.

The High Holy Days, regardless of how I observe them in the larger Jewish community, are for me a meaningful time of the year. Perhaps the most meaningful time of the year. I spend the days leading up to them, the waning days of the old year, reflecting on the year past and the year to come. During the ten days between the start and conclusion of the Days of Awe, I often meditate on what I could have done better or differently in the last year and what I hope to be and do in the year just beginning. What am I going to do to be a better friend? A better colleague? A better partner/spouse/companion to Warren? A better parent? A better family member? A better member of this community? Tikkun olam—the obligation of each Jew to repair the world, not matter how small a repair that may be—is always present in my mind.

There is always, always room for improvement in the community, in my work, in my life, in my family.

Tradition has it that during the Days of Awe, the Book of Life is opened in heaven, so that one's fate for the coming year may be inscribed. The book closes at the end of Yom Kippur. A traditional saying is "may you inscribed for a good year in the Book of Life."

May we all be so inscribed.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Loose Threads

Yesterday Warren had an afternoon rehearsal (followed that evening by a concert) in Mansfield, which meant I had a lengthy block of time in which to read and write.

Reading I did. I finished off Bootstrapper, a painful, thoughtful, hilarious memoir by Mardi Jo Link. It is appropriately subtitled From Broke to Badass on Northern Michigan Farm and is about divorce, poverty, and scraping by. 

But the writing? Sometimes I just can't make the sentences flow coherently no matter what. This was one of those times. Three starts, 400+ words in each time, and...nothing. The topic would bog down and I couldn't salvage it. Or the next one. Or the next one.

Sometimes all I have are bits and pieces of thoughts. It is not unlike opening my well worn sewing box and seeing a sketchy layer of snippets of threads from prior repairs, some still threaded through a needle, but all too short to use.

So here are my loose threads, in no order chronological or otherwise, from my afternoon and my blog attempts:
  • Doug's wonderful memorial service and the many layers rippling out still from it
  • Effigy Mounds
  • Dinner in Rochester with my longtime friend Tani and her partner Tom (Tani and I go back some 30+ years)
  • Decorah, Iowa, and wondering where that little gem has been hidden all my life
  • Mayo
  • Mayo
  • Mayo
  • A vivid prairie sunset
  • Realizing there were still plenty of tomatoes in my garden 
  • Being on campus at the University of Chicago and realizing we were in the middle of the freshman arriving on campus
  • Remembrance Rock (Carl Sandburg's ashes are under it) 
  • Crossing the Mississippi River three times in one day
  • Making a sour cherry pie with my dear sister-in-law and savoring every bite (our husbands, brothers, do not eat cherries in any form, which baffles Margaret and me, but leaves more pie for us)
  • Super Dawg
  • The iconic red barn set against the autumn trees 
  • Nomadland (Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century) by Jessica Bruder (If you are reading only one book on the continuing economic wreckage of modern America, this should be it) 
  • Taylor, my "other" son, getting married yesterday midday
  • Making it home Wednesday evening before sunset and Rosh Hashanah began
  • Gifting a piece of art—one that I love so much that Warren said, with surprise in his voice, "you're giving them that?"—to someone I love and knowing it was the absolutely right present

And that is enough for now. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Lost Dreams

Last night my brother Mark texted me:

I was just thinking. If Dale was still here and was able to open up a business on the islands, it would have been destroyed. That would just be the exclamation point of his business decisions...Just saying.

Our older brother, Dale, whose 64th birthday is next week, will have been dead two years come this October.  At the time of his death, Dale was underwater and delinquent on two mortgages (his residence and a rental property that I have written about before) and owed tens of thousands of dollars on overdue credit accounts, utilities, and my parents. Along the way, he had depleted every retirement account he had—not that he had huge sums in them—presumably feeling the tax hit was worth getting the cash.

It was the sort of debt that at 62 he would never climb out of, what with the real estate market soured and his only real income being hard-earned as a car mechanic.

But Dale had a plan, along with several others. Now whether he or the others or he and the others came up with it is immaterial. The plan was to turn his back on his mountain of debt and the creditors dunning him, and move to St. John Island in the U.S. Virgin Islands to open a bar along with those others. They had found a willing investor and Dale no doubt saw himself living a worry free, cheap Island life.

And while our brother had a string of business busts dating back some 30 years, he at least had the right personality for that line of work. Dale was funny, congenial, and a good listener. No wonder he was so angry whenever anyone mentioned the gravity of his situation (Stage 4 metastasized lung cancer). His dream was just right over there, just a plane hop away.

So when I got the text from Mark, I texted back:  Word. The final act of the play.

Mark agreed: Yep, the curtain came down. 

Without looking at a computer, I figured St. John Island was hit hard by Irma. After supper, I went online to find out. Words like "devastated" popped up immediately.

Mark was right. Had our brother made his escape, and assuming he'd been able to pull off the bar dream (and actually keep it a viable business), it would have come to a crashing end with Irma.

All that came to mind was Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and that magnificent Requiem at the end. What was our older brother but a later version of Willy Loman, chasing a tired dream and coming up short?

In the end, our brother's estate was insolvent and messy. I resented the toll it took my my brother Mark, the executor, who saw it through to the end. It was Mark who got stuck tracking down all the debt, the scant handful of assets (old—not vintage—vehicles, small change in bank accounts, some furniture). Every get-rich plan and every get-rich scheme, because Dale had both, had come to naught.

Over the last several months, I have been thinking about our family trajectory and narratives. Dad came out of harsh Appalachian poverty; my mom came from a working class poor family. It was our dad who broke the poverty cycle by becoming a skilled machinist. And so I scratch my head at my brother, a skilled mechanic in his own right, searching for Easy Street, hoping for a golden ticket when he unwrapped the chocolate bar.

In the end, it didn't make any difference. Dale is almost two years gone and the bar dream died with him, rather than getting flattened on a hurricane-ravaged island. He got out from under his mountain the debt by dying, not by skipping off.

There is nothing funny about the destruction of Hurricane Irma. Nor was there anything funny about the mess my brother left or the fact that he was willing to walk away from the mess without taking responsibility. But as Mark and I went back and forth, he texted me this:

I could picture him thinking, well I got one over on everyone I owe money. In my mind he is saying that as he is hanging onto a flagpole with his feet straight out behind him. 

And that is funny.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Ready Or Not

We played a lot of hide-and-seek when I was a kid. We had a large back yard, and a game at dusk on a summer night could go on for multiple rounds. The great thing about hide-and-seek, whether you are the hider or the seeker, is that moment when the seeker finishes counting and shouts out "Ready or not, HERE I COME!"

Ready or not, here I come. 

I'm back. Back ready to write. Back aiming for a post once a week. I'll see how it goes.

So what changed when I walked away from a weekly post back in July to a spotty silence to now?

I changed.

Some of the change has been physical. When I brought an end to my weekly posts, I was at a very low point. I had spent months and months feeling lousy all the time. I had little or no energy. I had just started a new drug regiment with fairly disastrous effects. My quality of life was mediocre at best and poor all the rest of the time.

As of this week, I just finished eight weeks of the new (to me) treatment. I feel better now than I have felt in a very long time.

REALITY CHECK: Let me temper that good news. (1) Multiple myeloma is incurable. Still. It will be for the remainder of my life. (2) This is the last approved drug currently available that I have not had before. There is nothing else for me to take, other than combinations of things that I have had before with limited results. (3) I feel much better. I also accept that the myeloma is still advancing, albeit slowly (we hope). To paraphrase my favorite medical realist, Dr. Atul Gawande, the myeloma night brigade is still out there on my perimeter, bringing down the defenses.

With those small reality bites stated, let me just say the overall message again. I. Feel. Much. Better.

But feeling better physically is not the sole impetus to my coming back to blog. The bigger factor—bigger by far—is that I have finally realized once and for all what I'd been paying lip service to for a long time. In order to write, I have to write.

Well, duh.

If I went back through this blog, I would find numerous posts in which I would plaintively write something very much like this: "oh, I want to write, I need to make time to write, I need to honor time in which to write, blah, blah, blah, blah." And after whining about my not writing, I would go right on not writing. Oh. I'd write here and there, but only in the cracks of my life. Even the simple rule of "write 30 minutes a day no matter what" didn't stick.

So what has changed in me? Lots of things. A very good friend just died of stomach cancer. He gave me a model of how to die with grace and love and peace. The last nine months or so of his life, he reached out and savored life, not filling a bucket list, but tasting the world one final time, knowing it was all winding down. 

Losing Doug earlier this week was one change. 

Another change is an internal sea change. Maybe it was getting so low and so sick before the new drug regimen. Maybe it is knowing that this is the last drug and I cannot rely on there being another when this one stops working. Maybe it was seeing my family this summer and seeing Ramona as a different child from the other Ramonas she was previously. I don't know. But I recently realized that I am more acutely aware pf the passage of time—personal, seasonal, generational—than before. (And I was no slouch before.) And I am more aware of the physical world than before, almost intensely so. Dew on the grass, the deep red sunflowers opening, a cold white moon high in the sky: they all stop me in my tracks these days.

As I already said, I am aiming for a post a week. I'll not do inches again, although Anne Lamott's words remain fixed in my head. I don't know where my pen will lead me.

As for carving out time, my phone alarm is set to go off after 30 minutes. I am sitting in the living room penning this out in longhand. 30 minutes is my minimum bar. I'm free to write longer, of course, but going forward I am committed to 30 minutes daily be with with pen and paper or keyboard and screen.

I have been writing poetry all summer. I'm getting my column back on track at The Myeloma Beacon. I'm ready to return to my three-quarters done MG novel.

I'm ready to write.


Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Best Book of the Summer


Last week, Warren received an email at the Symphony office asking surreptitiously whether I was feeling okay. The sender had not seen any posts from me recently and was worried that perhaps I had taken a turn from the worst. 

This morning I received a call from longtime friends Dick and Milly. Dick came right out of the gate fast: he reads my monthly column in The Myeloma Beacon (and perhaps this one too) and was concerned that I wasn't doing well because he hadn't seen anything from me recently. After I had assured him I am fine, really, he said "good!" and passed the phone over to his wife.

August was a grab bag: treatment, zucchini bread (24 or 30 loaves to date), school mediations (yes, we have started already), poetry, a benefit concert, tomatoes, and most of a solar eclipse (although not as much as Ramona got to see in Vancouver, Washington). Threaded throughout it all has been books—so many that I cannot recall most of them except in snatches. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (highly recommended), $2.00 A Day (which I am reading for the second time), a splendid new biography of Henry Thoreau by Laura Dassow Walls just in time for the bicentennial of his birth, some memoirs (always a favorite genre). 

And then, thanks to a glowing review that piqued my interest, I found and read what is clearly The. Best. Book. Of. The. Summer. 

The book is Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children's Literature as an Adult, by Bruce Handy. 

Handy is only two years younger than I am, which means we share some common touchstones in both our reading and our childhood/adolescent experiences. That made his book fun to read, even if, unlike Handy, I did not discover the Narnia books until Ben was young. But it is the sheer love of reading and the love of children's literature that snared me immediately. That Handy references many books that I (a) love, (b) read to my children, and (c) still read from time to time sealed the deal.

Handy writes with humor, an occasional snarky comment or two, and great insight as to why some books work and some books don't. He makes no pretensions about this being a comprehensive look at children's literature; this is his personal stroll through his favorite library, and he brings the reader along for the walk.

Handy starts with Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and ends with E. B. White's Charlotte's Web, which he rightfully concludes was one of the finest books ever written. I still have a copy of the White and so can turn to it, but his homage to Brown was so on point that I almost drove to a store to buy a replacement copy. I won't tell you what other titles and authors he works his way through (although the title and the cover should give you a hint as to at least one of them): read it yourself.

I will add that I picked it up this past Wednesday evening, reluctantly set it aside to get some sleep, read some more while the oatmeal cooked Thursday morning, and then finished it off with great satisfaction (and not a little anguish because it was over) Thursday night. 

Of course I read it in great gulps. I could do no less. 

So that was the Best Book of the Summer. Heck, it may qualify as the Best Book of the Year, and given how many books as I read, that's no small beer.

It is a gray and damp Saturday evening as I type these words. The remnants of Hurricane Harvey have been moving through the area for the last few days. I think of all the displaced people, children and adults alike, in Texas, and hope that there are books in the shelters to help shut out the overwhelming trauma of the storm. 

We have had a wonderful (albeit atypical) cool summer this year. Not great for the tomatoes, but not to be beat for curling up in the evening with a good book in hand. Or at hand. Or both. 

It's nice to be noticed. So Becky, this is for you. You too, Dick.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Dandelion Wishes

Those who know me well know I am not a shopper. I am not drawn to malls, to boutique shops, to online shopping, to anything. Heck, in the last two years we have had both an upscale outlet mall and an Ikea open within 20 minutes of my house and I have yet to set foot in either of them.

So when a recent work group broke for lunch and we ended up at a restaurant with a gift shop attached, I cracked up when everyone else at the table announced they had to look in the gift shop before we went our separate ways.

Really? Really?

I followed my colleagues up the stairs to the open, airy gift shop and looked around. Clothing and jewelry that way. Quilts that way. Decorative household items over there. Gift books and clever toys for children back there.

N was soon holding up a rhinestone encrusted watch. S was in the clothing, looking at colorful scarves. The other S was thumbing through a gift book on friendship. She explained her best friend had just lost her father, and maybe this would be good to send her. Then she turned over the book, looked at the price tag, and said "that's the cost of a shirt for my daughter, and school starts soon."

I wandered through the space, bemused. This was more exposure to items intended for sheer consumer consumption than I had experienced in months and months.

Wall plaques are big business in this shop. You know: heartfelt sayings painted or printed on wood to nail to your wall or prop up on your mantelpiece. Some of them were grouped by theme: Family, Autumn. There was one area of eclectic: some inspirational, some faith-based, some silly.

It was on the hodgepodge wall that I saw the one item in the whole gift shop that I actually looked at. "Looked at" as in touched it, looked at the tag, then thought "I don't need more stuff in my life." It was a small plaque, painted distressed bright white, with an Impressionistic dandelion splashed against the white. (I admit it: the brightly colored dandelion is what caught my eye). Underneath the dandelion were the words "some see a weed, I see a wish."

To my husband's dismay, I love dandelions. I love their brightness when they bloom, I love their airiness when they go to seed. I still love to pick the puffs and blow them into wishes. Warren is pretty vigilant about snapping their heads off and digging them out when one makes its way into our lawn, but every now and then one slips by his eagle eye. And if I am out walking and see one in an untended lot, I do my bit by dispersing the seeds.

I walked away from the plaque without any regret. As I thought at the time, I don't need more stuff. But the sentiment of weeds and wishes has stayed with me.

My next walk, I may just have to look for wishes.


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Inch One Hundred Eighty: Changes

This is the 180th Inch I have posted. Not counting a couple of soapbox posts from the time I resolved to post a weekly inch, I have been posting an "inch" of my writing weekly for over three years.

There has been a change in the lineup.

July, even though it is not yet over, has demanded a lot of me. I moved Aunt Ginger into an assisted living facility. With the help of several others, I emptied out and cleaned her apartment. Unneeded furniture headed to an auction, household/decorative items headed to my sister-in-law's yard sale, and all the rest headed to...our downstairs study, where it has taken over all available space. Mostly it is family-related: old photos to send off to cousins, old papers to shred. It has been an Augean task and I am not yet done with it, although with the move long behind me and the apartment empty and ready to be relinquished, two huge weights are off my shoulder.

July held, of course, a long-anticipated visit with my family traveling to Ohio. I still have not sorted through the photos I took, let alone the emotions. Biggest hit for the travelers? Fireflies. They don't exist out west and three of the five had never seen them before. Every evening, Ramona would announce loudly, "It's almost time for the Firefly Show! Come on, everybody!" Her very last evening in Ohio found her, Grandpa Warren, and me out on the deck, watching one last Firefly Show while the grownups packed.

One of my biggest regrets for the trip? That Ramona and I did not bake a pie together. She asked if we could. I simply did not have the energy to make one. I am hoping there will be another opportunity, here or out there, to bake a pie with my granddaughter.

This month also marks my return to treatment after about eight weeks of "holiday," which in Cancerland means simply "we're taking you off your drugs right now to let your body recuperate." (My body has been wearing down from the ongoing treatment and from the slow action of myeloma.) Last week I resumed treatment, starting a new drug regimen.

It has not been pretty.

I knew going in and had been counseled by nurses and oncologists that the initial treatment might produce a bevy of side reactions. That's why it is given very slowly in the first session. What none of us (least of all me) expected was for my body to react very strongly to the new treatment. Nausea? I threw up so hard and so much that I broke a blood vessel in my cheek and looked (well, still do) like someone cold cocked me. Rash? The skin around my eyes swelled and turned bright red. Respiratory? My nasal passage totally shut down and my throat started to close too. My reactions were such that my oncologist came up to Infusion from his office downstairs to consult with the nurses, talk with me and Warren, and shut down treatment until they could get me stable. I had to come back the next day to finish the initial treatment; Day 2 went off without a hitch.

No, I don't feel well. No, I am not myself right now. I go back this Tuesday, and will continue to do so for some time. We are all hoping I got all the reactions over the first time, but we don't yet know that.

The fun never stops in Cancerland.

And because the fun never stops, I am stepping back from my commitment to post an inch a week. I'm not going silent. I'm not walking away. I love writing. I just am out of inches right now.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Nine: Here And Gone Again

They should be in the air and headed back to Portland as I type. Too many feelings to write.


Friday, July 7, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Eight: Update

Last week I previewed some of July and now I can update what has happened and what will happen.

Aunt Ginger is moved. I have the rest of this month to dismantle her apartment.

4th of July was a huge success. The weather was perfect and the crowd was large and enthusiastic. The link at the end of this paragraph should take you to the 1812 Overture, viewed from the orchestra, when the theater cannons are being set off at the end of the work. You do not need a Facebook account to see it. (Warren is on the timpani at the right of the video, playing timpani.) https://www.facebook.com/centralohiosymphony/videos/10154757183273603/ 

We are under 24 hours and counting for the plane to touch down and everyone to disembark.

And, despite my predictions to the contrary last week, Ramona will be able to pick a tomato.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Seven: What July Will Bring

It is early morning on the first day of July. We had heavy rains last night; the air is cool and damp. The skies have not yet cleared, but in looking at the radar, that should follow soon.

Brian and Margaret have come and gone. The pie was delicious. The company was even better. We did eat the pesto (it, too, was delicious), Brian took several lengthy bike rides, and Margaret joined me at Poetry Night. (Heck, even Brian and Warren sat in on some of it.)

Much is afoot here. Tuesday is 4th of July, which in this household means the day starts early and runs late. Long after the last firework has faded from the sky, Warren and I and a host of volunteers will still be striking the stage from the annual concert. Looking back at past 4th of July posts, in which I sound similar themes, I would also note that my garden is right on pace (perhaps even a little ahead) and the coneflowers, earthbound mimics of fireworks that they are, are already thrusting their bright colors straight up into the heavens.

Even without the 4th of July thrown into the mix, the first week of July this year starts out with a bang. Later next week I will helping my beloved Aunt Ginger move into assisted living.

Aunt Ginger will be 88 this October. I wrote about her on her 80th birthday, which we all (30 or so of us) celebrated happily and noisily. At 88, my aunt is frail physically and mentally. She is not happy at all about the move (this will only be the 3rd address she has had in almost 88 years), but after shedding a few tears every time we talk about it, she squares her shoulders and tells me she will just have to make the best of it. And knowing Aunt Ginger as well as I do, she will. With bells on.

And right after the Big Move? The contingent from the Pacific Northwest arrives with Ramona, Alise, Mackenzie, and my sons, Ben and Sam, flying into Ohio and into our house for a week of family and cooking and family and laughter and family and love and family.  Oh, and fireflies (lightning bugs) which Alise and, of course, Ramona, have never seen. We have a bumper crop this year and I cannot wait to see their reactions to our nightly light show.

And of course there will be pie. Likely more than one this time.

I started this morning (after typing the first paragraph) with breakfast with Warren followed by my going into the admittedly soggy garden and weeding. The basil is finally showing signs of coming up. There are lots of tomatoes on the bushes, but I doubt any will be ripe enough for Ramona to pick. That's life.

Any day (and month) that starts with breakfast with my beloved husband followed by quiet time in the garden is bound to be a great one. Welcome, July, welcome.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Six: Life's Essentials 70% Off

We have weekend company arriving later today. This will be a shorter post than usual because I have been putting my time and energy into cleaning the house, getting their room ready, and getting groceries. A little gardening early this morning and going to the office later today are tucked in there too.

Oh, and a pie is in the oven as I type these words.

The guests are family: Warren's brother, Brian, and Brian's wife, Margaret. I have known Brian even longer than I have known Warren, and that's saying a lot. Margaret and I are very close. I have commented more than once to Warren that I am so glad his brother had the great sense to marry that woman.

I recently deleted a piece of spam titled "Life's Essentials 70% 0ff." I never opened the email, so I don't know what those essentials were and why they were 70% off. I strongly suspect my list would be radically different and I would have found few of what I consider essential in that email.

This weekend is an example of life's essentials. Family arrives later today. There is a small ensemble outdoor concert tomorrow. Brian brought his bike, and my friend Corroto, who bikes all the time, marked out some area routes for him. Margaret and I will talk and talk and fit in some long walks. We will make cinnamon rolls together for Sunday breakfast. There is pesto from last year's garden in the freezer and one of our meals will be pasta and pesto. They are staying until Tuesday so that Margaret can join me at Poetry Night.

And there will be pie.

Life's essentials? My weekend will be full of them. I will have family and music. There will be good talk and quiet togetherness. There will be walks and laughter and Poetry Night. These sorts of things tend not to come 70% off anything, as they are one of a kind ephemera.

After all, how can you put a price tag on homemade cinnamon rolls, made side by side with a friend you love? Or a slice of that pie, which I made for those I love?

Life's Essentials, Priceless.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Five: You Know You...

You know you have lived a long time in a percussionist's world when, looking at an online auction to see its format, a set of five brass bells catches your eye and you bid on it. And then up your bid after the original bidder ups the bid. 

You especially know you have lived a long time in a percussionist's world when you watch the online auction tick down to make sure your bid stays the high bid and then gloat when it is over and you have won. I will be picking them up later this afternoon about five blocks from here. They are a gift intended for the percussionist in my life. He already knows, so I am not giving away any secrets here.

You also know you have lived a long time in a percussionist's world when, in trying to describe how you feel, you revert not only to musical terms but also to tuning terms. (Because, among other things, I have acquired more than a passing knowledge of how tuning bars and crotales works.)

For the next few weeks, I am on a drug holiday from all (ALL) chemotherapy and related treatment regimens. Earlier this morning, apropos of nothing, I said, "Well, I think we can answer Dr. Leung's question about whether it was the chemo making me ill all this time." 

Expectant pause.

"It's not. We all pretty much knew that. But it's different off the meds."

Oh?

"Well, the exhaustion is one long sustained chord now, instead of being broken up with a whole bunch of different dynamics."

Okay.

"And the sick feeling? Kinda the same. A steady pitch without any overtones. Does that make sense?"

Absolutely.

So you really know you have lived a long time in a percussionist's world when not only are you analyzing your incurable cancer in music terms but also your partner (the percussionist) understands what you are describing.

Warren and I are coming up on 11 years together. I have lived in his percussion world all that time, including but not limited to attending international percussion conferences, having a timpani room in the house in lieu of a family room (doesn't everyone?), having a machine/wood shop in what used to be a garage (ditto), and learning that absolutely anything—anything—can be (and often is) turned into a percussion instrument. 

And you know you have lived a long time in a percussionist's world when that's the norm. And you're okay with that.

More than okay. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Four: Detroit

I spent three days this past week in Detroit, attending the national conference of the League of American Orchestras. When you are married to the Symphony, you often end up at these things.

The League has stepped up its focus on and push for diversity and cultural equity in the orchestral world. These are topics that resonate deeply with me, so I was thrilled to attend three excellent panel discussions (two being interactive with the audience) on these themes. I came away with new points of view, some new discussion points, and some new approaches for the implicit bias workshop I will be co-facilitating at work later this month.

The conference was held in downtown Detroit, at the Renaissance Center. The Center is the world headquarters for General Motors, backing up to the Detroit River. We stayed at a small, just adequate motel within walking distance, and so walked the 4 or 5 blocks daily to the conference. I also went off by myself to walk around the downtown, exploring a little before I caught the QLine (light rail) to the Detroit institute of Arts.

Much was made at the opening plenary session, a panel discussion, of Detroit's rebound from its bankruptcy of 2013 and the Detroit symphony's rebirth from the musicians' strike of 2010-2011. Rebuilt neighborhoods, urban farms, the QLine: these are all measures of forward progress. The Detroit Institute of Art, one of this country's great collections, was saved in the Grand Bargain. But some panelists reminded us that much is yet to be done. This July is the 50th anniversary of the violent Detroit riot and, some reminded us, the city is still dealing with the aftermath of that event.

What struck me hardest about Detroit was the visible and omnipresent poverty. I am not a newbie when it comes to poverty and I know that in big cities, I am more likely to run into people asking for spare change, for a few bucks, for some help. What I saw in Detroit was far beyond that. Yes, there were people asking for change, but there were adults, mostly men but some women, who were sleeping nightly in the green spaces downtown or in a little protected back entrance of a building with no place to go. Unless you deliberately turn a blind eye, you cannot help but see them. It cut me deeply. Call me a dupe, but I gave away every bit of pocket money I had. I don't care what the recipients did with it; once it left my hands, it was theirs to spend.

On Thursday, the last day of the conference, I took a break late morning. I crossed over to the park that runs alongside the Detroit River, just behind the Renaissance Center, and sat for a long time in the dappled shade of a tree, looking across the river at Canada. A musical duo was playing steel drum and keyboard somewhere over my shoulder behind me. In front of me was a sidewalk fountain, a series of jets that shot up different lengths (a variation of a dancing fountain, but larger and more complex than the ones I have seen). It was a warm, sunny day and children were playing at the fountain. Children shrieking, laughing, dancing, jumping, drinking, squatting, yelling with delight. They would run back and forth to their parents, sitting or standing in near proximity. I watched in particular one little girl, maybe all of 3, who saw an older child bend over and wet his head in a spray. She carefully bent over and doused her own head: her forelock first and then all of it. Standing up with a gasp, she shook her head and trotted back to her parents, laughing in delight. There are far worse ways to spend a long half hour in Detroit.

We left Detroit a few hours later, and I carried a swirl of images: the tiger sculptures at Comerica Park, the woman who slept each day in a sleeping bag, one medium-sized purse near her, on a grassy sward just yards away from the Renaissance Center, the Rivera Court in the Detroit Institute of Arts—stunning enough to make me gasp when I entered it, the young teen, who looked surly and unapproachable, but who helped an older woman with a cane boarding the QLine car to a seat, and helped her up when she reached her stop down the line, listening to passionate musicians of color talk about the need to stop talking and to move forward on breaking down the barriers, and the elderly man to whom I gave money, who thanked me and told me his name, and then asked me mine.

And the laughter of children. The laughter of children dancing in the fountain.


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Three: Ripple Effect

My brother Mark recently posted a long commentary on Facebook that caught my attention. After ranting about the anger and rage in the world, he wrote:

Would it be so hard to have some compassion or show some empathy towards someone? Put yourself in their shoes for a little bit. Look at their situation. We are all guilty of not doing this. You can affect your little part of the world and maybe, just maybe help someone in the process. The person you affect may help someone else. It is like when you throw a pebble in the water and you watch the ripple spread. 
Tomorrow let us be the starting point, the pebble so to speak. See if you can make the world a better place.

Music to my ears.

At Juvenile Court, we (coworkers and I) facilitate a class called Victims Awareness. We spend a lot of time working on concepts of control and impact.

We pose them this problem: What can you control? What can you not control? We write their responses on the room's whiteboard. Control? "My anger." "My choices." "My reactions." "Who I hang out with." Not control? "Other peoples' choices." "Other peoples' actions." "What someone says about me." 

Lively discussions accompany some of the selections. 

We discuss control after we take the juveniles through the ripple effect. The ripple effect is simply the concept that the choices you make almost always have consequences that you may not have thought of at the time. Like a rock tossed in a pond, your actions—good or otherwise—set in motion a series of ripples that affect others. One of our juveniles' tasks is to parse on a chart the impact of their offenses: who was affected, how they were affected. Here is a typical ripple: my mom was affected when I shoplifted because she had to come to court with me. Oh, and that impacted her employer because she could not work that day. And that impacted her paycheck because she lost a day of work.

Ripple effect, choices, what can I control, what can I not control. They all come together in the class. Often there is a moment, usually midway through the five weeks of class, where I see the lightbulb come on in the juvenile's eyes.

OH.

When I read Mark's post, I immediately thought of our kids. When we do the ripple effect exercise using their offenses, we follow that up with an exercise in paying it forward. The inverse of a negative ripple effect is doing something positive: a random act of kindness. We challenge our juveniles to find a way to do such an act before the next class. We emphasize it doesn't have to be BIG, it doesn't have to cost money. They report back: I helped my grandma clean her house, I bought my friend lunch at the school cafeteria because he was out of money, I helped someone at the grocery store load groceries. Little ripples of good deeds. 

We also have our juveniles weekly capture on paper a good choice and a poor choice. As the class continues, the good choices move from "I studied for a test" to "I walked away from arguing with my mom" or "I did not punch the kid calling me names." Our youth are reflecting on their control, and starting, slowly, to weave that reflection into their lives.  More ripples, more realizations that there are real choices even when you are only 15. 

My brother got it right when he wrote "the person you affect may affect someone else... [Be] the pebble so to speak." 

I'm stepping away from facilitating the Victims class. We are just finishing a sequence and this one will likely be my last one. My job has changed in ways that make facilitating harder to work into my hours and the later day (we run class until 5:30, followed by a debriefing) takes a bigger toll on my health and energy than it used to.

I will miss the kids. I will miss the lightbulb moments. 

And I will watch for the ripples. 


Friday, May 26, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Two: My Good Enough Garden, Year Two

Last year, I blogged about my good enough garden. Another year has come and gone, and this year's garden will also be a good enough garden. At this point, the harder work has been done.

Tilling? Borrowed our neighbor's electric tiller. It's small, but so is our garden. Warren tilled some, I tilled some, Warren tilled some more, and if it took more than 45 minutes, that would only be because I had trouble moving the fairly lightweight tiller when I wanted to till a different patch.

Budding butterfly weed
The perennials that we planted just to winter over until they could be transplanted to new beds? We didn't move them last fall. We didn't move them this spring early either, so they are solidly up and, in the case of the butterfly weed, budding already. Warren tilled carefully around the flowers to get the tilling started.

The plantings? I went out to one of our local family farming enterprises and bought tomatoes and peppers. They went in the ground on the heels of the tilling. We had a day of (mostly) soft rains yesterday, so the plants settled in and are doing nicely.

The flowering sage
The sage, to my surprise, wintered over and is in full bloom. I'll sow some basil seeds close by because I cannot imagine a garden without basil and without bees in the basil flowers. I'll sow marigold seeds in the concrete blocks that delineate two sides of the garden and call it done.

It remains to be seen whether the cucumber beetles return to plague my tomatoes this year.

In an effort to thin out the spiderwort that dominates our front bed, I moved more clumps to the backside of the house. There is a spindly strip of "garden" along the backside of the house and I cannot think of any better place to let spiderwort run riot than there. Spiderwort is the easiest plant I know to transplant. You dig a big hole, you go dig up a clump of them with a shovel, you slide the clump into the big hole, you put the dirt back, you call it a day. Other than the physical energy needed to shovel up a large clump of spiderwort, it's low effort work.

Fortunately for any latent gardening impulses I have, we have new young neighbors to the south who are energetic gardeners. The day that Warren and I visited late last fall to welcome them, they invited us in and I spied a copy of The Urban Homestead on a table. Wonderful! Our neighbors (and their very, very young daughter) have taken urban homesteading to heart. They have planted fruit trees of every kind and have put together two substantial raised beds in which all kinds of vegetables are already up and flourishing. I love seeing it and I love seeing someone other than me laboring over such a full garden. And I was pleased to hear that they planted cucumbers, which means the aforementioned cucumber beetles may stay to the south and leave my tomatoes alone.

With luck, I will have some tomatoes by the second week of July. That is when the Pacific Northwest contingent—all of them—are arriving and I would love to have the joy of watching Ramona pick tomatoes off the vine.

A good enough garden? You bet.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-One: Bone Tired and Other Little Bits

Last week I wrote about finishing the attendance mediation and speculated on its length and depth. I spent a part of the work week this week running numbers. Our department attended 384 mediations, 341 of which were mine. Our first mediation was, as I had speculated, in September 2016; the last was almost eight months to the day in May 2017.

And I am still recovering.

How tired am I? Yesterday I gave our bathroom a long overdue deep cleaning (and noted this morning as I showered that I still missed some spots in the shower). A byproduct of the cleaning was a stack of wet, dirty cleaning rags, destined for the washer. This morning, I started to hang up the rags to dry before I washed them, um, later today.

Really? Really?

You know you are really, really tired when you start to hang the wet dirty rags so they'll be dry when you go to wash them the same day.

While I type this, Warren is downtown doing some of the earliest grunt work for the weekend's Arts Festival. Time was, a decade plus ago, when I would have been downtown at about 5:30 a.m. to help chalk the streets and prep for the vendors to arrive. I have great memories of those days, but can't say I'm sorry they are over.

2007 Arts Festival Prep

A well-meaning friend recently reminded me that, in our early 60s, we are all at the age where we are more tired, take longer to heal, and generally are older, so I should not be so quick to look to my myeloma as the source of my exhaustion. I replied that I know we are all older, and I take that into consideration, but trust me, there is a difference between the two types of tiredness and I can tell the difference.

The caption of this post promises "Other Little Bits."

The first little bit is that I got my first poetry acceptance by an online journal. No pay, just publication. I am thrilled. More to the point, I am encouraged to go on.

The second little bit is about pets. When my sons were growing up, we did not have pets. Period. Their father was opposed to having a dog, ever. There were enough allergies in the house that a cat was ruled out as well. Ben, especially, very much wanted a dog, so it was no surprise to me when, as a young adult, he and Alise acquired Lucy, a medium large dog of indeterminate background (at least to me) and gentle temperament. Lucy accepted Ramona without much fuss and has tolerated her many depredations over the years.

Let's hope the newest addition to the family does as well. Meet Squishy Sanchez, joining Alise, Ben, Ramona, and Lucy this week:



I don't name them, folks, only meet them on social media.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy: Finish Line

Yesterday, I completed the last three attendance mediations of the 2016-2017 school year.

We are done.

It has been a long season. I do not have my work folders at home while I type this, but I am pretty sure our earliest mediations were in September. September! The school year was still fresh and new then. As of yesterday, when we concluded the last mediation, there were eight days of school left. Eight! 

I scheduled and appeared at over 300 mediations; a coworker appeared at another 60+. "Appeared" means I was there, along with one of my amazing school colleagues, Stacy, Vikki, or Lisa. "Appeared" does not mean we necessarily had any parents show up to participate, but because we hold the mediations at the schools, we have to be there, period. (Historically, I do not mediate without a parent, but we are changing that policy, at least at the high school level, for the upcoming year.) Next week, I will run the numbers on how many mediations were actually held. That number varies widely by district, to no one's surprise.

Ohio has just revised its laws on attendance, decriminalizing the offense for juveniles. (The adult offenses, failure to send and contributing, seem to not have changed, but many of us are still combing through the new legislation.) I sit on a committee at the Ohio Supreme Court charged with helping the Court direct our state's juvenile courts on how to implement the new legislation, which took effect April 6. All of us on the committee are going into the upcoming year with our eyes as wide open as possible, albeit wide open staring into a pretty murky fog.

One thing is clear: there will probably be even more mediations next school year.

But back to being done. I would like to say that we finished and popped champagne bottles (well, seltzer water—we do work for a court, and a juvenile court one at that, after all) and that confetti and balloons dropped down from the ceiling. I would like to say that Lisa and I walked out of the middle school and airplanes were writing "WELL DONE, LADIES" in the vast blue sky above us. I would like to say a brass band was waiting for me when I pulled back into the parking lot at court.

No. No balloons, no skywriting, no brass bands. We finished the year quietly. When I got back to the courthouse, I went in and up to my office, logged out of my computer, shared the news ("we're done") with my supervisor, and came home.

I am spent. I feel like I could be in one of those videos of runners who are physically depleted but staggering blindly, often with help and encouragement, to the finish line. I am grateful I made it over that line, grateful for the aid and encouragement of my colleagues and my husband.

The school year is all but over around here. It will be back soon enough in mid-August. I will be ready when it comes.

But for now? Let summer begin!





Saturday, May 6, 2017

Inch One Hundred Sixty-Nine: Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton
I have spent the last several evenings immersed in Anne Sexton, reading first her daughter Linda's memoir, Searching For Mercy Street, and then Diane Middlebrook's in-depth biography, Anne Sexton, interspersed with selections of Anne's work out of The Complete Poems.

 April was National Poetry Month, and as I have done for the last few years, I marked it by posting a poem a day on Facebook. This year, subconsciously or otherwise, I posted mostly works by women poets, Anne Sexton among them.

I don't know which poets, if any, are in today's high school literature texts. (Poetry has fallen out of favor because it doesn't lend itself to standardized testing.) When I was in high school, back in the 70s, the poetry curriculum was very much the white male canon, English and American poets only. No works in translation, only token writers of color (yes, Gwendolyn Brooks, but only if it was "we real cool;" no Langston Hughes), and few women except Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who I found monotonous (and still do) and Emily Dickinson, who was still decades away from being reexamined and was still very much presented as a troubled agoraphobe who quaintly used string to bind her poetry around marmalade jars.

I discovered Anne Sexton by wandering in the library, as I was wont to do, sniffing around the 811 (Dewey Decimal System) aisles. It may have been All My Pretty Ones I cam across first. At some point, I discovered Transformations, her wonderful adaptation of Grimm fairy tales. No matter, I was hooked.

Sexton was a revelation. For one thing, she was a contemporary poet. High school lit texts, the process being what it was to get one approved and to market, let along adopted, ran decades behind contemporary writers, especially in poetry. All the poetry I'd been exposed to in school to date was by poets now dead.

For another, Sexton wrote with a loud voice. For an aspiring writer, for an aspiring female writer, I was thrilled to find that the whispery lines of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Emily Dickinson (as she was then portrayed) were not my only options.

In the poetry world, Sexton was in the vanguard of the confessional poetry movement. Sylvia Plath, George Starbuck, Robert Lowell, William Snodgrass, Anne Sexton—these were poets who wrote of intimate, intense themes—mental illness, body, divorce, family, sex—that the academic and critical poetry world did not recognize. Confessional poets were willing to take their own lives, their own triumphs, failures, and shortcomings, and shape them into poetry in the first person voice. It was that first person voice that delineated confessional poetry from the impersonality and universality of the then standard canon.

And maybe that's what drew me to Sexton (and then to Plath, hard on the heels of Sexton): that sudden realization that poetry did not have to be written in the third person, did not have to be removed from the poet, but could be immediate and personal. Poetry could be about messy topics, about hurtful topics, about real topics, about anything. As I commented to Warren as I talked about this post, I observed that if you looked at what little poetry from my past still remains, you could see the shift from the impersonal remote to the first person. That was Sexton's influence on me.

Anne Sexton committed suicide in October, 1974. I was in college in Chicago when it happened; I read the news in The Maroon, the school newspaper.  It shook me up enough that I remember having to find a place to sit down and reread the brief article. I would like to think I was conscientious enough to have headed to the library to find a volume of her poems, but I doubt it. But the realization that this poet, this bold, audacious writer, was dead, stayed with me for days.

I stumbled backwards into this recent immersion. Too pressed for time to get to the library for new reading material, I resorted to what was at hand on my shelves and Sexton came to the top. I don't know yet if I will tackle her collected letters (which are well worth the read), although I hear their siren call as I type these lines. At this point, Sexton has been dead for almost as long as she lived and I have outlived her by a decade and a half. But the power of what she wrote, and the impact of that power on my own writing—that is still with me all these decades later.


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Inch One Hundred Sixty-Eight: Small Moment

Today is the next to last day of April, which means it is the next to last day of National Poetry Month. That sigh of relief you just heard was from my dear Warren, one of the most poetry-adverse individuals I have ever met. (I believe I have written this before, but somewhere in his past he had a doozy of a literature teacher who scarred him for life.) 

I was all set to write about poetry and indeed had as of last night a post about 80% done on that topic. It can wait. I want to write instead about a small moment, a small personal moment, that happened and that has been warming me ever since.

Those who know me know that my schedule is hectic, especially during the school year. I wrote about some of the hectic quality in this blog just last week, in fact. This week has been no exception. Thanks to changes to the Ohio attendance law, our attendance season is stretching longer into the school year, which is rapidly coming to a close (25 days, but who's counting?). As a measure of how tired my colleagues and I are, Stacy arrived at a school yesterday for yet another set of mediations, slid into the seat next to me, then laughed and said "I had to ask myself if I had the right school. Is this where I was supposed to be? They are all blending together at this point."

I write for a column for the online Myeloma Beacon, and my April column just ran. It is about treading water, because sometimes that's the best I can do. (You may find my column here if you are wondering.) 

So here is my small moment, which took me out of the pool, out of the hurly-burly, just out. 

Warren and I went out for dinner (which is a rare enough event). My only requirement was that it be quiet. Our mutual requirement was that we stick to Delaware. One by one, we rejected locations, mostly on the issue of noise. We finally settled on the Panera on the west side of town.

Note: We are not Panera patrons. Nothing against the chain, mind you. We just don't eat there. Ever.

Panera was quiet. (The drive-through line was heavy, but the indoor area had only a few diners here and there.) Warren ordered this and that; I ordered that and this. The meal came. It was warm, it was filling, it was delicious, I was starved (I had not eaten since breakfast due to an unusual schedule that day). 

We ate slowly and gratefully. Grateful for the food, grateful for the quiet, grateful for one another, grateful for the chance to talk and catch up on the day, grateful to be across from one another. 

As we sat there, talking or not, savoring the interlude, I felt the world drop away. It was just us. The Symphony, my workload, my health, our families, Aunt Ginger, the nation, Warren's shop work, the upcoming schedules, all receded. 

It was a small moment. It was a quiet moment. It was a Warren and April moment.

And it was all I needed. 


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Inch One Hundred Sixty-Seven: End of the Season

No, not that season. Although we at Court are nearing the end of the attendance season, it's not over yet, even though the school year almost is. I am currently slated for mediations up through May 4, and we may add some more before calling it for the year. Some would question whether it makes sense to mediate attendance so late in the school year. The schools are all out by May 25; seniors are out even before then. Yes, it makes sense, especially when we are having the discussion and a parent suddenly says "oh, I didn't know that..." (usually but not always said in the context of how many parent notes may be used each year) and can tuck that information away for the 2017-2018 school year.

The season I am talking about is the end of our Symphony season. Season 38 of the Central Ohio Symphony comes to a grand conclusion this evening, with an all Ohio emphasis. The concert features Ohio composers, Ohio arrangers, and Ohio soloists. (And, of course, all of the orchestra musicians and our conductor are also Ohioans.) Aptly titled "Hear Ohio," it should be quite a performance.

I realize I have written a lot lately, both here and elsewhere, about how much I deal with exhaustion and illness on a daily (hourly) basis. My friends both here and by mail, admonish me to slow down, pull back, don't push so hard. My Aunt Ginger today looked at me and said "don't do it all at once. Take it in small pieces until it is done." (She then sat silent for a moment, then added, "so says mom" and giggled.)

Finishing the Symphony season tonight takes a little off my plate. I am not as deeply involved in the group as I was in years past, but you can't be married to the group's Executive Director and not be married to the Symphony. I don't do the heavy lifting and carrying anymore, but I still write the press releases, proofread when asked, and generally aid and assist in smaller ways.

And I still bake our wonderful conductor a pie for each and every concert. Here is the End of the Season pie for another amazing year.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Inch One Hundred Sixty-Six: Keeping My Accounts

Back in January I wrote about putting stringent monetary controls in place so I could achieve some upcoming financial goals. I had two looming expenses at the time. The first expense was meeting my 2017 out of pocket and in network medical deductibles ($1500.00). As of the last EOB, I am within $5.00 of accomplishing that, and with the EOBs trailing the actual medical bills, I know I have met that figure early on.

The second expense, a goal really, was buying tickets for the whole Pacific Northwest contingent to fly home in July for a week together. I bought the tickets on the last day of March, managing to reach that goal in the first quarter. That expenditure ($2150.00) knocked my account (my "expense account," now renamed my "goals account") to under $300.00, but with recent deposits, including my March mileage check from my job, I am closing in rapidly on a balance of $1000.00.

For someone whose finances have ranged from tight to tightest for a decade and a half, being able to see I almost have $1000.00 set aside in an account separate and apart from my daily checking account is a stunning moment. I all but blink back tears when I think back over those years: a lengthy separation and divorce during which I shouldered 99% of the expenses of two households, the medical catastrophe of an incurable and expensive cancer, being unable to work for over a year, a bankruptcy, and on and on. There were long stretches of time, even as my finances stabilized, even after Warren and I married and both of us had more financial stability, when I wearily wondered whether I would ever get past living paycheck to paycheck. [A note: Warren and I keep our finances separate. When I talk about living paycheck to paycheck, I am talking about myself only.]

And here I am.

I continue to print out my pay stub every payday and pen out where my dollars will go. This has been a great visual tool to keep my mind focused on the relationship between money in and money out. On the home front, I am tracking our 2017 monthly grocery/household expenses and we have dropped them from $200.00 a month (not counting eating out, which continues to regularly come in under $50.00) to about $175.00 a month. (Thank you, Warren, for being as thrifty as I am.) And thanks to my outright antipathy towards shopping and mindless consumer consumption, my expenditures tend to be few and far between.

In Walden, Thoreau often wrote of economy, which is fitting given that his time at the pond was an experiment in seeing how close to the bone he could live. In my recent rereading of the book, I came across this wonderful bit of advice: "keep your accounts on your thumb nail."

What a great sentiment! I don't do my nails ever, but if I did, I would have $1000.00 painted onto my thumbnail, just to remind me of how far I have come.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Inch One Hundred Sixty-Five: Small Connections

Mary Poppins by Mary Shepard 
We are still in what I call attendance season: the span of months from October to early May in which three colleagues and I at Court spend much of our week mediating attendance matters in four school districts. I am only the mediator; Vikki, Lisa, and Stacy, in addition to mediating, also meet with students individually on an ongoing basis throughout the year. Between the three of them, they will have over 3000 contacts; add 300 mediations and you are talking a lot of work.

A. Whole. Lot. Of. Work.

It goes without saying that I am tired. I am invigorated by the pace but exhausted. Early May cannot come soon enough. Coffee with friends has gone by the wayside. Other appointments are squeezed into the cracks between the mediations. (Actually, it is the other way around. I set appointments that I cannot move—Aunt Ginger's hair appointment, for example, or chemo—and then wedge mediations in around them.) And the three colleagues I work with are going at my pace and beyond.

So what does this have to do with small connections? Stay with me.

Christopher Robin & Pooh by E. H. Shepard
Warren has been playing in the pit orchestra for an area high school's musical, "Mary Poppins." I went to see the show last night. Let it be known that I am a huge fan of the books by P. L. Travers. I am not a fan of the Disney movie, which removed all of the wit and wisdom of Travers and added a huge dose of saccharine musical numbers and dialogue. (Which is too bad, because Julie Andrews was excellent and would have been every bit as good, probably better, if she had the real Mary Poppins to play instead of the Disneyfied version). The musical version, still a Disney vehicle, is better, allowing a bit of the vinegar back into into the story, but it is still a far cry from the books.

Which is a long way of saying this morning at breakfast, after a late night getting home from the musical, we were discussing the show and certain scenes, and I jumped up to get my 80th anniversary omnibus edition of the Poppins books. (The revised Poppins books, because Travers had the good sense to remove some wildly racist writings, with apologies, and totally rewrite the stories, although she still missed a scene here and there). In thumbing through the book, I came across one of the line drawings that showed Warren what I was referring to.

In my tiredness, I looked at the drawing and thought "Shepard."

Toad by E. H. Shepard
E. H. Shepard illustrated all of the Winnie the Pooh books and The Wind in the Willows. His line drawings for many of us define what Pooh and Toad look like (hint: not the Disney version, either). But to my knowledge, E. H. Shepard had not illustrated Mary Poppins.

And indeed he had not. Mary Shepard had. Related? A quick Google search confirmed that Mary was the daughter of E.H.  E.H. was too busy to illustrate Poppins when it came time to find an illustrator. Travers claims she saw a Christmas card illustrated by Mary, liked what she saw, and the rest was history.

And my small connection today. Not dot to dot, but line to line, drawing to drawing, book to book, father to daughter, Milne to Travers, Pooh and Toad and Mole to Poppins and Jane and Michael.

We were having a later than usual breakfast this morning due to a later than usual night out last night due to the musical. We were having a slower than usual breakfast because it was Saturday and neither of us had to rush to the office or to a school or to rehearsal. Warren and I have not seen a lot of one another the last few weeks because of rehearsals and work and mediations, so we took the time to talk and smile and savor Margo's homemade English muffins (a birthday present to me) and reconnect.

Connections. Some big, some small, all just right.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Inch One Hundred Sixty-Four: Writing Prompt

My awesome coworker Cecelia and I have just finished the latest writing class at our court. We facilitate an eight-week group for court-involved juveniles during which they write about their choices, their goals, their supports, their obstacles, and so on. We have seen some amazing writing and some amazing juveniles come through our class. Sometimes our juveniles write straight from the heart, and the words are so pure that there is often a silence when one of them finishes reading because everyone is so blown away we cannot even formulate a "WOW!" (Trust me, though, it and other compliments do get said.)

Cecelia and I write alongside them during class and, like the juveniles, share our writing. Having both the youth and the staff write sometimes opens up some interesting dialogues.

Writers are often given the choice of writing based upon the class topic or using a prompt (related to the topic) as a jumping off point. We sometimes dictate the form: write a letter, write a haiku, write stream of consciousness. We sometimes tell them to write in whatever form they feel like.

For the last class, the form was short story. My chosen prompt was "With that, she walked into the rain and did't look back. That was the last time anyone saw her."

*******
When she walked out that night, a few of us had waved or nodded. The party was pretty low key—just a study group that'd gone as far as we could before opening the wine and eating the cookies someone had brought.

She—christ, I can't even remember her name now—had been pretty quiet all night. Oh, she'd commented here and there as we studied, citing some arcane law or opinion that changed the outcome—but not much more than that, really. I seem to remember her pouring a glass of wine, then drinking it in one smooth, long gulp. That stuck with me all these years.

It was raining when she left. Of course it was—it always was in Portland. She gathered her notebooks and her books, pulled on her hoodie, and paused at the door.

"See you around," she said. And with that, she walked out into the rain.

Only we never saw her again. Never. She didn't show up for class the next day or the day after that. One of us, closer to her perhaps, drove to the little house she rented in Multnomah. No one answered the doorbell. Looking in the windows, the place was scoured clean.

Nothing.

And nothing ever came of it—no leads, no crime tips, no note, nothing. She'd disappeared entirely.

Decades have gone by. Whenever my class gets together, we talk about ourselves—who's a judge, who just retired, who's argued before the Supreme Court. We drink the wine and eat the hors d'oeuvres and talk about days gone by. "Remember Lansing's Golden Spare?" "Remember the IRA kegger for St. Patrick's Day?"

And invariably, someone, usually a woman, will say "I wonder what ever became of..." and then pause, because, damn it, no one remembers her name.

Just that she's not there.

*******
No, it's not a true story. Yes, I was surprised to find myself drawing on a topic and era—my law school years—I rarely think about, let alone write about. I'm not even sure where that came from, but clearly it was waiting to get out. Other than two tweaks (we all write longhand), this is what came out Monday.

The next class starts in two weeks. I can't wait.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Inch One Hundred Sixty-Three: Winnowing

How many more times, after all, am I likely to read Walden?

I recently posed that question, largely rhetorical, to my son Ben. I have just finished reading Walden as of this past weekend. This is perhaps my fourth time through it since I first read it back in the 1970s.

Walden came up because I am in the mood to winnow out more of the domestic flotsam and jetsam of my life. A Facebook friend and his wife recently sold the family home and downsized. He posted photos of stacks and stacks of boxes throughout the new space, commenting wryly that apparently they "didn't get" the concept. 

There but for the grace of God go I. 

Some of the impetus is feeling the (very faint) stirrings of Spring—some incipient sense of spring cleaning, perhaps? Some of it, as my close friend Cindy and I discussed earlier this week, is that we have all hit an age (our 60s) where we realize we all just have too much STUFF. 

Some of my mood, I am quite sure, is that I am applying for assisted living for my elderly aunt Ginger. I will be moving her from a one bedroom apartment with decades of accumulations to, in all likelihood, a small studio. Even if not a studio, a decidedly smaller space. This means I will be tasked with distributing and disposing of everything else, which ranges from a small dinette table to sacks full of papers. The papers include but are not limited to the 2013 Changes to Medicare Manual. Later editions may not be available because I have already intercepted and recycled them, but because Ginger has mixed quasi-important papers with the dross, and because some of the papers contain personal information (account numbers and the like), I will have to go through the sacks one by one by one.

It will be an Augean task.

On my own home front, I have been building a small wall of paper sacks in my study, all destined for Goodwill. One bag holds strings of large, incandescent Christmas bulbs, the old fashioned kind that look like glowing snowdrops on a snowy night. The last time we used them, our electric bill doubled. Another sack holds Boy Scout popcorn tins, the overpriced decorative ones that Cub Scouts with innocent faces sell. I've held on to several thinking they'd be perfect for holiday treats. The holiday treats, incidentally, that I do not make (other than biscotti). The cup cozies from conferences, the dress pants that were never comfortable, the jigsaw puzzles that have been worked—you get the picture. 

The bags will head to Goodwill soon enough. Having finished Walden, I walked it Sunday to a nearby Little Free Library. I'll still have a house and life full of stuff, but maybe just a little less stuff.

Thoreau, in writing Walden, exhorted the reader to "Simplify. Simplify." I'm trying, Henry. 


Monday, March 13, 2017

Inch One Hundred Sixty-Two: Friends

My friend Cindy's dad, Jim, died last last week.

Jim was 86, well on his way to 87. His physician had discovered end stage cancer several weeks earlier. His death was not unexpected.

Cindy and I go way back. She is a year older than I am; we grew up together. Her mom, Mary Lou, and my mom became friends in their girlhood and graduated from high school together. My dad and Jim knew each other from young adulthood on. My maternal grandparents knew Cindy's maternal grandparents. Our families have been linked in so many ways for so long.

Growing up, it was not unusual several times a month for my family to be at Cindy's house or her family to be at my house. The adults would play cards and drink pots of coffee all evening; we kids would play endlessly (when we were little) or talk nonstop (when we were older).

I always knew that my dad and Jim were close friends but I didn't realize the foundation and depth of that friendship until Jim's funeral.

My dad was asked to speak at the service. For me, it was a first to sit back and listen to my father speak in public. In keeping with his personality, Dad kept his observations short and plain. In talking about Jim, he told a story I had never heard before.

When Dad was a young adult, newly married with a baby on the way, he was trying to learn a trade. Because he was draft age, the local industries in this town did not want to spend time training him. So while he found work at low-level entry jobs, he was shut out of learning machining, which is where the money was.

When Dad finished his Army stint and came back home, he had the same dilemma. He needed a job with a future in it if he were to support his growing family. He had mechanical skills, but still few marketable trade skills.

Jim had those trade skills. Three years older than my dad, Jim had learned machining somewhere along the way. In addition to his shop job, Jim also owned a lathe and did piece work for his employer as a way to earn extra money. Jim used his lathe and machining equipment to teach Dad the basics on being a machinist.

My dad paused in speaking at this point.

"Because of Jim teaching me, I was able to get a job as a machinist, improve my skills, make better money, and work my way up. If it hadn't been for Jim, I would have gotten by, but not had the opportunities or the eventual good income that being a machinist gave me."

Several years before ever meeting Jim, Dad had been told by some stranger that he'd one day work with electrical things. When Dad retired as a master machinist after a lifetime of machine shops, he retired from General Electric.

"So you see," Dad said slowly. "It must have been predestined that I'd meet Jim."

Predestined? Who knows? The common thread more likely was Mom and Mary Lou being longtime friends and young wives and mothers. But put in the context of a lifetime friendship, of gratefulness for another man taking the time and effort to teach a valuable trade—well, maybe predestination does play a part.

It was a touching tribute and a fitting goodbye to a lifetime friend. We should all be so lucky to have a Jim in our lives. We all be so lucky to leave behind such a powerful impact.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Inch One Hundred Sixty-One: My Reedie

I love Reedies.

Reedies are students at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Twice a year I get a phone call from one of them as part of the fall or spring college fund drive

Tuesday night my Reedie called.

All Reedies follow a script; that's just the reality of fundraising. But what I love about Reedies is how they deviate from the script quickly. My Reedie, looking at my connection to Reed College, asked me about my son Ben (Reed, 2008). That lead to my commenting about my daughter-in-law Alise (also Reed, 2008). She then asked questions about whether they met at Reed (of course) and all but swooned when I said they got engaged on Commencement Day. "That's so romantic," she breathed.

My Reedie this time around is a linguistics major. She knows German and "some Chinese," but the language she is concentrating on presently is sign language. To me, that was a classic Reedie answer.

My Reedie asked me if I'd ever been to campus. Oh, yes, oh, yes. I explained that besides Ben's commencement, I was occasionally on campus during my Portland years (1977-1983). In fact, as I shared with her, when I transferred at the tail end of my junior year to a Portland college, the only reason I applied to Lewis & Clark instead of Reed was that L&C had a three-quarters residency requirement, whereas Reed required six quarters. Wanting to be done with my bachelor's degree, I chose efficacy over quality. It was the right decision for me at the time, but I always had a slight tinge of regret that I skipped Reed.

Maybe that's why I encouraged Ben to look at Reed closely when he started his college search. And when Ben said he was applying only to Reed, I backed him 100%.

Reed gave Ben a lot of thing, starting with acceptance. At Reed, he gained intellectual growth, being a part of a close community, and his wife, among other things. Because of our greatly reduced financial circumstances (Ben went to Reed during the years I was in dire financial straits), much of his education was free.

It is that last point—that Reed paid for much of my son's college—that explains why, when my Reedie asked me if I would give again, I said yes and pledged $25.00.

Under my current stringent financial controls, that small pledge will come out of my "spending money," which currently stands at $74.00, with another week until payday. That might make things a little tight, especially if I end up buying any groceries this coming week, but I can make it work.  It's for a college that set my older son on his path to adulthood.

And besides, my Reedie asked.