Monthly Archives: August 2018

A sorrow larger than life

My heart aches for two of my brothers, Mark and Frank.  They lost a friend today, a man whom I principally knew because he befriended another brother, Steve.  Greg Harwood succumbed to complications relating to a failed heart surgery.  I don’t understand the medical piece; but he has gone.  His family and friends, including my brothers, must navigate a sorrow larger than life.

The only genuine conversation which I ever had with Greg took place at the after-gathering following the memorial service for my brother.  We stood a bit awkwardly against one wall of the restaurant.  He asked how I had been.  Tears rose in my eyes, tears that I thought I had exhausted.  Greg put a hand on my arm.  “I know,” he said.  “Me too.”

Neither of us broke the connection.  He asked a question about my son.  I made some reply.  I said my nephew Nick had been with us when we got the word.  He and I came to St. Louis.  We left Patrick with friends.  It seemed right at the time but seeing all the cousins running between the tables, I wished I had brought him.

We fell silent again.  “I’m sure it will be fine,” Greg said.  I looked into his face.  I knew nothing about him.  Was he married?  Did he have children?  On what basis did he feel competent to advise me on the wisdom of not bringing my son to his favorite uncle’s funeral?  But his words gave me comfort, as did the light touch of his hand.

A few minutes later, something happened to draw us into another room.  I think someone started singing, or stood to make a toast, or maybe alcohol got the better of one of us and a crying jag made the rounds.  Either way, our conversation ended.

I never saw Greg again, as far as I recall.  Based upon what I’ve heard in the last few days, he was married; he did have children.  He’d seen enough of life to give me the assurances which he offered twenty years ago.

When a good person dies, we find some way to ease our own pain.  So I intend to imagine Greg and my brother Steve walking on the banks of a river together.  They will find a willow tree, and lay themselves down.  They will rest.  Perhaps they will share a glass of wine, or a cold beer, or something heavenly that I cannot imagine.  Greg will gently place one strong hand on my little brother’s arm.  Steve will take comfort from his presence, just as I did, so many years ago.

It’s the sixteenth day of the fifty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.




Measure of my day

It’s Wednesday; it’s a cool late summer morning.  I have work to do, writing to continue, and jobs for which to search and apply.  But I chose to find a different way to measure my day.

I’ve run out of money to hire people to do things here at Angel’s Haven.  However, a lot needs to be done.

And so:

Hand-painted dishes (reveal below) from Mexico so very like ones we had in my childhood home, set of five cups and saucers found at Robin’s Nest in Rio Vista:  $5.00

Somebody’s home-made, not-quite-squared-when-built shelf, from the same thrift store:  $3.00

D-rings, wood screws, level, & electric-screw-driver, all already in my toolbox, so, free.

Getting a crooked shelf hung on a crooked wall above a crooked tile back splash with a minimum amount of cursing and only one do-over, AND GETTING IT LEVEL RIGHT ON THE DANG MONEY:



It’s the fifteenth day of the fifty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.



Whispers of autumn

The temperature reached 81 today.  At present, it hovers below 60.  I sit in my writing loft with darkness beyond the windows.  I ought to have turned off the ceiling fan.  It still whirs, wafting chilled air in my direction.  I shiver and glance longingly at my sweater hanging on the back of the door.

In our Community Garden, the beets which had flagged beneath the bright sun have revived with two days of being covered by a twin sheet from my cupboard.  The mornings hang light with dew and a glimmer of tule fog over the cornfields.  Autumn whispers, I’m coming to the Delta.  I begin to wonder if I have enough warm clothing.  I didn’t think I would need it.  I forgot about the far-reaching drift of sea-going breezes.

I laid in a supply of groceries to combat the four days during which we will not easily leave Andrus Island.  The reconstruction of HIghway 12 reaches its final phase this weekend.  The only route to somewhere else will be over Twitchell Island Road and out the back way.  We can get to Antioch, to the long stretch of bridge which takes us to Highway 4.  But all other roads will be foreclosed to us.  Some of us will no doubt begin to feel anxious after a couple of days.

But I’m set.  My little camera arrived from the internet.  I’ll be able to take pictures, make videos, and amuse myself photographing the peppers as they ripen in the raised beds.  I’m halfway through a longish piece of writing that might be something worthwhile.  If I get overly bored, I can always look for job openings to which I can send my resume, even though I no longer truly expect any results.

The wind rises across the meadow, down from the river, wild through the trees.  Crickets still call, restless and wakeful.  My house grows cold; soon I will have to close the windows against the night air.  But not just yet.  For a few  minutes more, I’ll listen to the sounds of night: Rustling in the grass; the occasional coo of a mourning dove as she settles; and the wind.  Here, the wind remains an endless presence so much like the sea that I can almost smell her salty breath and  feel the sweet eternal kiss of her rolling waves.

It’s the fourteenth day of the fifty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Coming home

My RAV4 had accumulated four days of dust and soot in the parking lot of Lodi Memorial.  Pattie deposited me adjacent to its driver door, my belongings safely tucked into the passenger seat beside me.  She waited while I slid into the car, then guided me back to Kettelman Road for my drive to the Delta Loop.

After brief stops at the drugstore and the bank, I traveled westward, towards the winding rivers and the islands which they formed a century ago.  I turned into Brannan Island Road just past four o’clock, days after leaving for what should have been a scant few hours’ errand.  I traveled past the Lighthouse, then Pirate’s Lair, then the Spindrift, and thus into Park Delta Bay, where the garden grows and the scrub jays wait for my unsalted peanuts to appear in the little feeder which Christina made for me.

My arms bear the bruises unavoidable during a hospital stay.  They stabbed my rolling veins every six hours, measuring my clotting time, my hemoglobin, and my platelet count.  “I’m a hard stick,” I’d tell each lab person.  I followed with a laugh and a warning:  “I’ve got a two-poke rule.”  Only one person needed the admonishment, leaving two nasty mars before getting the butterfly needle to draw blood.

As I rounded the 1/4 mile circle drive on which I live, I passed Sarah, with her blue hair cascading down her shoulders and a bag of laundry bouncing on her hip.  I opened the window to greet her.  “Hey, welcome back,” she called.  We told each other that we would be at the community garden that evening at six.  My long absences seem to inspire dramatic development in the garden.  This time, Sarah and Jessie built a tree branch trellis to support the pole beans.

I followed the curve, past Pattie’s trailer, Melanie’s tiny house, the little Scout new to the neighborhood, and others:  another tiny house, a couple of RVs, one or two empty lots.  Finally, I parked in front of my tiny house on wheels.  I sat for a few minutes, looking at my tiny garden, the blue roof, the cedar siding, the porch with its faded rocker and old oak box.  Satisfied that nothing had been disturbed,  I eased my stiff muscles from the vehicle.   I clutched my computer bag, prescriptions, and a parcel which had arrived for me that Pattie retrieved before driving to Modesto to get me.

I struggled with the upper lock, but the door finally yielded.  A slight musty air washed over me.  I stood for a minute, beholding the sink of Wednesday’s breakfast dishes, the unmade bed, and the  bundle of laundry waiting for its turn in the washer.  But other sights awaited me: outside,  the limes on my little dwarf tree; and within — walls of gorgeous art; shelves of angels and fragile mementos of my clumsy but well-lived days.

I dumped everything on the table, then unsealed the package, and lowered myself to the little chair in which I spent so many fond hours in my mother-in-law’s home.  I carefully unfolded the bubble wrap which Pat Reynolds had used to cushion her creation.  With trembling hands, I slid two tiles from the depth of the box.  I rested them on the piece of wood from my 100-year-old Kansas City bungalow which I’ve reserved for just this purpose.  I knew, as I sat contemplating the sweet gift of my devoted friend, that I had indeed come home.

It’s the twelfth day of the fifty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.



The Play’s the Thing

I’ve never been a Shakespeare fan, but just before my new friends from the GI Lab (shout-out to Sandy and Jill) wheeled me into the briskly efficient OR room for my colonoscopy last evening, I turned to them and said, “Much Ado About Nothing”.  Everyone laughed, including the GI doc who had just proclaimed that he did not anticipate finding internal bleeding, based on my labs.

His prediction held.  He identified five polyps (snip, snip and out they came) but found no blood and by 9:00 p.m., I dined on my first food in three days, a lovely hummus wrap which an enterprising nurse had scored by raiding the closed kitchen.  Oh my gosh, and coffee!  Instant Folgers, but it might as well have been freshly ground Jamaican Blue.

In a sea of lumpy news, being told that you’re not all that sick after all rises like a blushing mermaid and lolls on the rock facing the shimmering sun on a calm morning sea.  I might be a lot of unenviable things — alone, unemployed, weary, and plagued with a few random diseases of which Sutter Health Modesto Memorial personnel have never heard.  But I’m not bleeding inside and the nasty polyps got caught before (we hope and assume) they morphed into cancer, if destined to do so they had been.

The nurse who had expressed frustration on my Thursday rejection of chicken broth orchestrated the voyage to the wilds of the darkened cafeteria to feed me vegetarian fare after I got back from the OR yesterday.  As I ate, she took a moment to tell me about her son’s viral condition, which she apparently passed to him and deeply laments.  I told her about the Immunologist at Stanford whom I see.  She asked about “my” virus and noted the website which I frequent to  learn of advances in virology.  By the time she went back to her duties, any discord between us had vanished. “You’re a good advocate for yourself,” she announced.  I asked if that meant she thought that I was crabby.  “Far from it,” she assured me.  “I do the same for my son.”

We had reached the point of understanding.  More than that:  My resolve has been restored.  The curtain rises on Act Three, and I step out from  the wings and deliver my first line.

It’s the eleventh day of the fifty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.



When one tells the truth, one can be calm.  When one buries one’s truth in lies, one must constantly agitate and accuse.  That’s the beauty of truth-telling.

Recently someone attacked me for asking if the person might be upset.  I don’t mind if someone queries about my emotional state, and I’m always astonished when someone does.  If the question comes between friends, with a voice of concern, it should not evoke anger in return.  That surprises me; but it shouldn’t.  Some people can’t handle even their own truth.

Today a lovely nurse tended me before a procedure.  I admired her earrings.  She said she had retained them since childhood, the only thing which had endured.  I expressed surprise that she could hold onto a piece of jewelry so long.  “Yes, me too,” she admitted.  “Especially when you lay your head down so many different places as I have.”

I admired her ability to acknowledge her reality. She spoke without rancor or self-pity.  I didn’t know if her nomadic existence arose from choice or circumstances.  I did not need to know.   Whatever had happened, she understood it for herself.  She did not need anger to hide her reality.

Later, another nurse, equally beautiful, responded to my request for assistance with several obvious lies.  She had forgotten my small need, plain and simple.  But she could not acknowledge her error.  So she placed blame on others — an aide, the hospital, policy-makers.  I let it drop.  The slight impact of her remission stood, just as her inability to truth-tell.  She had forgotten.  The margin of time within which to acquire what would have fulfilled my request closed.  She could not just apologize; she had to place blame.  I wanted no part of her choice.

Finding my own truth has given me a sense of quiet.  I rather pity those who have to throw stones from within their glass-houses.  Admitting their exposure would serve them so much better.  Perhaps, one day, the fog will lift and they will see clearly.  One can but hope for them, and in the meanwhile, let them see your smile through their windows.

It’s evening on the ninth day of the fifty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Never a Dull Moment

I truly intended only to follow my doctor-at-home’s instructions to seek urgent care for a small medical problem.  I set off to a scheduled “zipline appointment time” at a Lodi facility at 10:30 a.m. yesterday.  Now, at 7:30 a.m., 21 hours later, I’m in-patient at a hospital in Modesto, a town that I did not know existed until about 8:30 last evening.

Life might be a lot of things for me.  Confusing, frightening, tumultuous, exhilarating, wonderful.  Challenging, certainly.  But never dull.

I find myself grateful for the thousandth times for the huge sum of money that I drop each month to maintain my health insurance.  Thanks, too, go out to Pattie Whitaker for bringing my phone charger, computer, hair comb, and a winning smile.  With the wisdom of hindsight, I wish I’d had her bring a few items of clean clothing, which I did not think the hospital would let me utilize.  They would have; and now I’m feeling a tad bit grungy.

But it’s all good.  I had to do a little tearful begging for answers at 1:00 a.m., from a nurse who did not understand the least concept about some of my more complicated medical issues.  I actually had to ask her to listen for a minute instead of repeatedly saying “I don’t know anything about that”.  Fatigue and fear loosed my tongue but I reined in my anger and simply explained, wearily but quietly, what I wanted to have them consider.

So I made it through the night.  This morning, a doctor who has never met me and won’t have the benefit of my medical history will try to find a simple explanation for the small problem that started this odyssey.  I’ll survive, and hopefully, without complaint.

It’s the ninth day of the fifty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Dirt under my nails

Summer wanes.   In the Delta Bay Community Garden, another bed has been laid.  I got good silt under my finger nails tonight, rich with composted manure from a nearby horse farm.  We hauled it in Jessie and Ken’s new Prius and my sturdy RAV4.

I worked too late last night, sending out job applications and resumes.  By the time I got to bed, tomorrow had arrived.  A handful of hours later, the sun rose over the park and I dragged myself awake.  I pulled my body around the floor, grateful for such a small living space.  Staggering to the stove, to the coffee, to the bathroom takes so much less effort in a tiny house.

The air moves over me with a gentleness that I crave these days.  I’ve renewed my dedication to stretching even though my body hurts again, aches and burns like it did years ago.  Each cell screams  for  placation.  I’m remembering the days when I had scores of narcotics in the cabinet.  I’d wash them down with cold coffee and lie in bed waiting for the fog.

I got cleaned of those prescription drugs four years ago.  Now I let the breeze soothe me, and the  herbal tea stands hot in my mug on the railing of my porch.  I take nothing stronger than Tylenol.  I’d rather have pain than numbness and the bleak disconnection that the painkillers brought.  If it overwhelms me, I open the window a little wider, close my eyes, and breathe the heady fragrance of the California Delta.

It’s the seventh day of the fifty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


A few shots of the Park Delta Bay Community Garden


The Voice of Dissent

It’s been a while since I flat-out trusted myself to tell another person something negative about themselves or my relate with them.

Whenever I have done so in the past, the response has been swift, hateful, and devastating.

I’ve been told, “You don’t know how you talk to people.”

I’ve been instructed, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.”

I’ve heard, “You always make this about you.”

Some have said, “You’re so petty,” and continued by calling me “high maintenance”.

I will never, as long as I live, forget the bitter glance of someone professing to love me, as they proclaimed that they did not believe my account of mistreatment by a store clerk.  I could have video-taped the incident and this person would have totally dismissed both my narrative and the documentary evidence.  His mind had hardened and not in my favor.

For many years, I bought these assessments of myself without question.  I believed them whole-hog.  I had been judged, found completely wanting, convicted, and sentenced.  From these experiences, I concluded that I had no redeeming virtue, and that any situation which went against me constituted nothing short of what I deserved.

Then I started down this path.  I studied nonviolent communication.  For several years, I entirely stopped expressing dissatisfaction with anyone’s conduct. I took complete blame for every failed relationship, any uncomfortable conversation, and even the tiniest shimmer of hurt feelings.  I endured tirades by people who accused me of bad mothering, failing as a wife, disloyalty as a friend, and discourtesy to waitstaff, among other shortcomings too numerous and unqualified to here recount.  I allowed myself to be convinced that I caused anything bad which happened between myself and another person.  I therefore have spent the last four years trying to alter every nuance of my thought, speech, and behavior so that whatever it was which I evidently did to people would cease.

I have become an expert in reliving every conversation, in examining gestures, in holding a looking glass to every single motion which I make.  I’ve scrutinized my slightest utterance, usually before it passes my lips and definitely countless times afterward.  I have nearly frozen in time for fear that I’d commit some atrocity and hurt someone else’s feelings.

This weekend, I went to the local grocery store and encountered three separate clerks in the course of trying to find one particular item.  Each of them failed to help, one of them made unpleasant comments to me, and a third suggested that I had fabricated the item to cause them distress.  I kept my cool and left the store after paying for the food which I had gathered, items that I bagged on my own because one of the three clerks had simply stopped doing her job.

All the way back to the island, I debated  whether I should say anything.  An internal dialogue raged.  I knew that I had remained calm throughout the fifteen-minute incident.  I had not raised my voice, nor used any profanity, nor said anything mean or spiteful.  I had simply pressed.  Should I contact the store?  Doing so could be considered complaint.  I’d be “sweating the small stuff”, as one friend has repeatedly admonished me never to do.

But I felt that the store might want to know.  So I crafted an email.  I edited it.  I changed some verbs.  I re-read it.  I waited an hour and re-read it a third time.  Then I hit send.

The store manager called me this morning.  We had a pleasant conversation.  He expressed gratitude that I had written.  He stated that he had shown my account to the three people involved, and they had essentially confirmed my factual narrative.  He apologized for their behavior.  I thanked him.  We closed on good terms.

An hour later, I tried to get an appointment for a new doctor.  I got the run-around.  The clerk offered me an appointment with a lesser level of specialist than I need, and in January.  She avowed that no other option existed.  I advised that I knew what I needed and to whom I had been referred, and pressed for a return call from a higher authority.  She demurred but said she would send a note, though she expected no accommodation.

I got on the computer and found the fax number of the clinic. I wrote a straightforward letter stating what I wanted, and explaining why I could not accept less, giving medical references.  I detailed the urgency of the situation.  I asked for an accommodation.

By early afternoon, I had an appointment with the proper provider in one month’s time.

Maybe I’m learning from this process.  Maybe I’m starting to be able to use a voice of dissent in different tones.  And maybe —  just maybe — I’m not as awful as I’ve been branded, by those other, louder, voices of dissent which cut so close to the bone and drove me to so thoroughly despise myself.

It’s the sixth day of the fifty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


I write surrounded by the work of some of my most beloved artists, friends, & family. 

Among others:





Almost home

Some instinct drove me to book my usual guest room at Jim and Nancy’s place in Oakland.  As fate would have it, my Stanford gurus re-arranged Thursday’s appointments.  I would have made the Delta well past night fall.  Instead, I held a glass of a very lovely Oregon red from a seat beside the schefflera  on the patio by six.  In an hour, a fire blazed in the steel pit and the aroma of pasta wafted towards me.

Now I have taken a detour and sit at a table beside the bay in Vallejo.  I don’t need the banana bread but I always encourage those cafes which provide gluten-free fare.  One for the team, calories around my waist but nonetheless delicious.  A family speaking Spanish stroll past, the little girl on a wobbly bike encouraged by her brother.  I hear a mortgage broker convincing a couple that they can afford more house than they want to buy.  Their coffee cools as they listen to him.  I want to step over to them and shout “Don’t do it!”  But I hold my peace.  I’m terrible with money, so what do I know?  I think his dark glasses should suggest untrustworthiness.  He sounds a little slick to me.

The fragrance of the sea mingles with the smokey haze drifting down from Shasta County.  Firefighters have gotten the inferno under control.  Evacuation orders have been lifted.  Families hurry back to their neighborhoods to frantically search among the embers for whatever can be salvaged.  Funerals for the lost citizens and firefighters mar the joy.   The perrenial purge of the woodlands by nature has intensified with the impact of human damage to our ecosystems.  This much cannot escape our understanding as we watch the fires burn hotter, and longer, and more often than Northern California has ever seen.

Travelers descend and cross to the ferry as I watch.  I cannot help wondering where their journeys will end.  As for myself, I’m almost home.

It’s the third day of the fifty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.