Monthly Archives: October 2019

That Kind of Person

I’ve always been the kind of person whom you can take at face value.

If I were going to be duplicitous, I’d get a better line.  I’d present myself with more appeal.  I’d polish my smile, put a lilt in my voice, and learn a few more gaudy adjectives.  

That I speak my mind cannot be denied.  I’ll compliment you, call you out, lift you to the heavens, and drag myself down with the coldest assessment of my worth you’ve ever heard.  I don’t mince words.  That comes to disaster at times.  A woman once asked me how I liked her curls.  I meant to ask if she had gotten a permanent.  Instead, my true sentiments twisted my tongue and I blurted out, “Did you do that on purpose?”  

I’m the kind of woman who gathers the leftover flapjacks at the community dinner to freeze.  Popped in the toaster, spread with sunflower seed butter, adorned with cut peaches alongside strong, dark coffee, they make a wonderful breakfast.   But I can’t bend to retrieve coins which slip from my spastic hands.  So I invented the concept of Angel money. I leave the scattered pennies for the guardians who have protected me through every challenge.  

I’m not the kind to shrink from my mistakes.  I tend to overplay them.  I rewrite every dialogue until I hit upon the better way of phrasing something — less abrasive, more kind.  Then I watch for a chance to apologize and rephrase.  I’ll listen when others do the same.  I like do-overs.  I’m not sure it’s forgiveness, exactly.  I recognize, after six decades, that we’re all just stumbling through the weeds, looking for a path to paradise.

The other day someone confessed to being uncomfortable with my disability.  I used to get that line a lot.  I don’t know if people accept differences more these days or whether they no longer readily admit their disgust.   I thought we’d gotten more tolerant but maybe bigotry has just gone underground.

I accepted the person’s pronouncement.   Later, I mentioned the exchange at my community dinner.  One of my neighbors said, Would you want to be friends with somebody who rejects you like that?  A fair point.  But what I really want is to step out onto a level playing field, where the color of one’s skin, the size of one’s bank account, or the gait which propels one across the street play no part in anyone’s judgment of your worth.

I’m that kind of person.

It’s the seventeenth day of the seventieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Speak to Me of Joy and Sorrow

On Joy and Sorrow
from
The Prophet
by Khalil Gibran

Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.
And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the reassure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

Note:  At times, I strain to find words which will not betray my mission.  On such occasions, I turn to those more articulate and less bumbling than I. 

It is the eleventh day of the seventieth month of My [Endless] Year [Learning to Live] Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 Tyler Island, Saturday, 11 October 2019.

Seasons

The tule fog returns to the Delta.  It drifts around the river bend and settles on the fallow fields.  Rising early, I spy little wisps of it in the treetops of the meadow behind my house.

Soon the Sandhill cranes, the snow geese, and the trumpet swans will descend on the flooded fields.  We will wake to their cries and huddle on the side of the road, taking picture after picture of the graceful arc of their morning flight.  In the evening, wide swathes of them will settle on our island; and the smaller birds will cling to the bare branches of the ancient trees.

In a few weeks, I will celebrate the second anniversary of the delivery of my house.  I walked around the little lot on which it sits today, thinking of the exhilaration in my heart as I waited that November morning.  In the weeks which followed, I had packing to do, and my house to sell, and cases to finish before I could follow along.  By the time I arrived here a month later, what passes for winter had taken hold of Northern California.

I feel the nip of winter now, but it has not yet made its presence truly known.  The hornets still swarm around the corrugated metal roof in the afternoon warmth. One of them bit me today, a sharp sting like electricity, sudden and brief but fierce.  My finger swelled.  I grabbed my phone and called a neighbor.  He came and did a little triage, assuring me that I didn’t need medical care.  Embarrassed, I thanked him, and waved as he continued on his way to work.  I went inside and collapsed into my chair, tears falling unchecked down my face.  

Today I burned the better part of four hours editing some of my old Musings.  I hope to make a book of them.  The need to leave something tangible presses heavy on my heart.  I haven’t much to show for six decades on Earth.  A few satisfied customers.  Some distant friends.  A handful of memories.  Walls laden with pictures, fading now, in broken frames.

Night has fallen.  I don’t know what to make of this sensation that time has gotten the best of me.  I’m suddenly overwhelmed with sorrow and something so very close to regret.  I started this journey to joy on 31 December 2013, three months after my mother-in-law laid down her uncomplaining head and died.  That same day, I took my very last prescription narcotic after forty-five years.  I forged clear-headed into 2014.  

The contours of that new year and each one since stood sharp and cold against the pages of the calendar as they drifted to the ground.  Today I clutched those crumpled pages, and the pages of the half-dozen happy years which preceded them.  I ought to burn the lot, but there are some lovely moments recorded there.  I smooth them out, one by one, and sit amidst the memories, in the silence of my little house.  I wonder, for the thousandth time, where it all went wrong and whether any glimmer of hope remains.

It’s the eleventh day of the seventieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Taken 10 Feb 2019. I will be watching for their return.  They flock to the same fields year after year.

Life’s measure

A little pile of rings sits on the place mat.  I slip them from my fingers whenever I wash dishes.  The stones might loosen and wash down with the suds; I might damage the settings.

I sit and study them after I’ve cleared away the debris of my late lunch.  Here is the sapphire that belonged to my mother-in-law.  My favorite curmudgeon told his daughter to ‘pick a good piece of your mother’s jewelry for Corinne.’  All the finest stuff had already been sorted and shifted.  She divided a matching set between my then step-daughter and me — I got the ring, Cara got the earrings.  When I found out, I offered to return the ring so her set would be complete.  She declined.  I’ve worn it ever since.

Here is the Thai piece that my brother’s daughter gave me when I came to help her last year.  She drew her emaciated body from the bed to rummage through her jewelry box.  ‘I want you to have this, Auntie,’ she whispered.  ‘It’s one of my favorites.  Take it. . . think of me when you wear it.’  She died a year later.  I wear her gift nearly every day.  At times, my fingers swell and I can’t find one on which it is comfortable; but it usually fits, and I truly do think of Angie when I see it.

The sterling silver spoon ring, I got more than fifty years ago.  I sent in a fistful of Minute Maid Orange Juice pull-tabs and the cost of shipping.  My mother didn’t expect the prize to be so grand.  We marveled over the thought of a company sending genuine silver through the mail for the pittance that we must have spent.  We’d normally buy the generic brand, since money had to be carefully budgeted.  But I had seen the advertisement and begged.  This ring, too, adorns my hand most every day.  It reminds me of my mother and the smile that illuminated her tired face when I opened the package.

I lift the final ring from the table.  In truth, I don’t often wear this one.  I have about twenty rings, all sterling or karat gold.  I bought this amethyst to give someone, but the person went from my life before I could.  It doesn’t fit me, really; but it’s a fine ring from Vulcan’s Forge, my friend Russ’s jewelry store in Kansas City.  My ownership of it makes me a little sad, though.

I lift the lid of my jewelry box.  So many lovely pieces — earrings, rings, necklaces.   I study the lot, wondering if my son will ever want any of it.  I try not to think of my collection as cold comfort.  It’s just jewelry.  Stones and metal and bits of crystal.  None of it measures my worth.  I close the box and turn towards the stove, where the kettle furiously whistles and the Chinese tea waits.

It’s the tenth day of the seventieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

It’s Only A Paper Moon

Many years ago, my friend Cecil got me a Canon AE1 from the police property room annual sale.  I tried to learn photography but failed.  My brother Mark appropriated the camera, remarking, I know what I’m doing, you don’t.  It’s that simple.  I never again tried to take pretty pictures.

Before I left Kansas City, a videographer of my acquaintance who shall go unnamed chided me for “stealing” other people’s pictures from the internet to illustrate this blog.  The scolding settled in my craw.  Finally, though knowing my failing eyes and trembling hands could never be the tools of a photographer’s trade, I nonetheless acquired a little Canon, with an auto feature and a basic zoom lens.  Since then, I’ve become obsessed with the eyes of hawks, the necks of egrets, and the fat bodies of cooing pigeons.

Tonight’s moon drew me to the pavement in front of my tiny house.  I fumbled with the tripod, and finally, battling the inevitable tremor, snapped dozens of frames of the half-moon high above the park in which I live.  My shoulder froze as I tried to depress the shutter without disturbing the angle at which I had positioned the camera.  Finally the chill got to me, and I went inside.  

It’s only a paper moon, I suppose; but it reflects the light of the sun as she sets an hour away, on the far horizon, over my Pacific.

It’s night-time, on the fifth day of the seventieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Pathways

The internet inundates me with messages of encouragement.  Put the past behind you!  Move forward!  Take control!  I set down my tablet and gaze out the window, past my neighbor’s tiny house, into the pale sky.  I think I’ve evidenced a willingness to follow these suggestions.  I’m not sure that the people who give such advice have any idea what real life holds for some of us.

I drove the levee road to Highway 12 and onto Lodi mid-morning yesterday.  Traffic moved swiftly and the draw bridge stayed down so I made good time.  I honked under the tender’s house as I traversed the Mokelumne.  My friend Demi Stewart works that bridge.  I never know if she hears my signals.   I keep honking, though.  I send my greetings into the air and smile as I continue eastward.

At my primary care doctor’s office, I sat waiting for the news, good, bad, or ugly.  I came to discuss all those points at which my body declines — my knobby, numb toes; my finicky digestive system; the sluggish thyroid; the varying blood pressure.  She keeps me over-long.  She asks a myriad of questions, then gives the sort of advice which nobody really likes.  Drink more water, eat your vegetables, move more, take vitamins.  “I know it’s hard for you,” she assures me, nodding her lovely head beneath its beaded scarf.  “Just do what you can.  I’ll see you after the new work in San Francisco.”

Ah, San Francisco!  Shining city by the sea, where the young, efficient specialists rub their hands together and grin when I cross their threshold.  New health insurance, new doctors, new theories about why my body twists and quivers.  Not this!  Not that!  Not what those other guys said!  They roll their eyes southward, to the now-discredited High Mucky-Muck Guru who once held court at Stanford.  Fired, he has been; not for failing to properly treat his patients, but for mistreatment of his staff and colleagues.  So here I am, consulting a whole new Infectious Disease department, with their youth and their efficiency and their disdain for twenty-year old theories.  

It exhausts me.

Back home last evening, I stowed the new bottles of Vitamin D, Calcium, and B-12 until the lab results and the determination of how much and what to take.  I heated water for tea and spread goat cheese on a rice cracker.  My gradual weight loss has been documented, encouraged, and applauded.  I demurred in the face of praise.  Eight years ago, I weighed 103 and wore a double zero.  I don’t care about size; I value the lessening of burden on my spastic legs.  I’ll get back down, though maybe not that low.   I don’t need to be so thin that you can’t see me when I stand sideways.  I just need to reach a healthy weight.  The doctors agree.  Drink more water, eat your vegetables, move more, take vitamins.

A friend posts on social media about a spinal implant for pain control.  I’m happy for him.  As for myself, I’ve surrendered any hope of controlling pain.  I shove the offending sensation to the back of my mind’s cupboard and keep moving.  I drink more water.  I fill my grocery cart with cabbage, cucumbers, and kale.  I park a little farther from the front of the store and carefully tread across the asphalt, keeping my shoulders lowered, my head held high, and my best foot forward.

It’s the fifth day of the seventieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Excused Absence

Dear Friends, Family, and Fans:

As noted on Social Media:

I haven’t been regularly blogging because I’m still exhausted from the broken clavicle and working FT. My brain writes as I struggle to find a comfortable position in which to sleep but I don’t have the energy to record the doubtlessly brilliant passages. I’ll regroup and resume by and by. Thank you for your good thoughts and well-wishes. 

Meanwhile, here’s a picture of a tanker in the San Joaquin to enjoy, this second day of the seventieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.