Thursday, September 30, 2010

Oh, Henry


At last, here is a portion of Henry, the hospital dog.

I hope that his magnificence comes through - or that your facile imaginations will assist you in knowing what a fine fellow he is.

With his mom, they make hospital rounds, assigned, as I understand, to a particular unit on each of their visit days. What they do is stop and connect with as many people as they can, not only the patients. They listen to people as they wait to be seen and, likely, admitted. They sit with families of patients in surgery. Henry also poses for photos with doctors and staff, for many of whom his loving presence may be the brightest moment in their work day; hospitals are not always sources of good news. They meet patients in the halls as they exercise and, at least once, have met a patient again upon his discharge, a man who spoke emphatically about his earlier encounter and how he would never forget it. To all these moments of happenstance, Henry brings his gift of mystical empathy and his trick, the extending for a shake of one paw, then the other. Repeat as needed.

Henry was rescued from what his mom calls "benign neglect," not outright abuse but a chain of events that wore him out, wearied his spirit, yet somehow did not diminish his ability to give from a reservoir that had become periously low. He is part of a lively, fanciful home where his unknown backstory becomes more elaborate and textured with each telling.

I will guess that it might be likely your local hospital has an animal visitation program. It would be worth a call to find out. If you are the parent of a zen-calm, people-loving pet - and inclined to enjoy the company of people who may have something to get off their chests - the two, or more, of you could become bringers of restoration. We can never have too many of those.

Monday, September 27, 2010

There must be some kind of way out of here

(2:30 p.m. PDT update: Los Angeles breaks all-time high temperature record at 113. Since records have been kept, there has never been a hotter day in L.A. And you thought I was imagining it.)


Here we are, Angelinos and more distant correspondents, stewing, toasting under a sun that seems to have moved closer.

Questions arise: are we in the crucible of transformation? Is weather that turns us witless meant to cleanse the mind like the refreshing sorbet I'd rather have?

On the heels of equinox and the full moon of whatever description you care to use (Pointy Stick Moon, Body Dysmorphia Moon, Moon of Vanished Motivation, Weasels Ripped My Flesh Moon, Couldn't You Just SCREAM Moon and Moon of Who Ate All the Leftover Pasta), anyone entirely comfortable in their skin and head should be lighting candles and offering platters of expensive, out-of-season fruit to gods known and unknown.

What sort of ill-signposted path does it take for one to become lost so easily? I will blame it on the heat - triple-digit temperatures are up to mischief, check your numerology...or just step outside. All I know is that the way ahead seemed open, free of treacherous debris and now, I feel as though I tripped the secret panel in the old library and have been spun into a state of WTF?

It this evaporates (likely for most substances, given the lack of humidity) when the heat wanes, I will have identified the source. But if, when the air cools, I am still here in the cobwebby backside of shelves filled with annotated works, a chamber dim and soundproof, and if Abbot and Costello or a Nancy Drew nemesis are sitting in my favorite chair, please send someone with finely developed investigative skills to let me out. Send a team, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law would do nicely. They may even leave their shirts on.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

STEP.AWAY.FROM.THE.BOOK.





Sept. 25 through Oct. 3 is Banned Books Week. Don't ever relax. The thought police are relentless. I say, let's make trouble by reading or rereading as many as we can, carrying copies with us in public and talking about their content where we think it will provoke unease.

Background on the observance and The List may be found here. I have not read every one of the top 100, and then there is the need to read again what has been, in great part, forgotten.

With some of the offending titles I developed a more personal relationship. I was in junior high when I read many of them - some of them, even younger, for the list includes Charlotte's Web and Winnie-the-Pooh. Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, turned me away from family staples, the bologna (or baloney) sandwich and the hot dog for several years. After On the Road and, in honesty, ever since, part of me remains a closet beatnik.

As a junior in high school I was on the newspaper staff. I was asked if I'd like to write a book review column, a first for the paper. It was by far my best assignment, I took it seriously (as a 16-year-old can) and one of the books I wrote about was The Catcher in the Rye. I remember encouraging comments from friends, one was a senior who'd been in the commercial art class I dropped to move to journalism and I took his approval very much to heart. I wondered, though, why he seemed to feel that the column was, in some way, an act of bravery. Soon I learned that by discussing Salinger's book, my expulsion - not suspension - was being considered, the paper's advisor was chastised and the book column, out there where actual, impressionable students could read it, was cancelled.

The Grapes of Wrath gave me a truer picture of history in the San Joaquin Valley, where my father grew up. He could point to sites of Hoovervilles where Dust Bowl families such as the Joads had landed as their options ran out. California was far from the only state where such transient communities grew.

Whatever we once read from this collection of literature deemed unacceptable, we were affected by it, possibly shifted to a depth that lingers still. We were informed, awakened and altered. A mind opened to lives and worlds wider than our front door is still a subversive agent. The revolution continues, choose your side.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Equinox

Posting preamble. There is not time right now to complete the post I started two days ago. It will be perfect for Friday or Saturday.

Yesterday, forgive me if all this seems like old news, was the full moon and the autumnal equinox. My mother, whose birthday was September 23, used to claim the equinox as her own...what's a day between friends?

And on the day of the full moon and the autumnal equinox, I had a visit from Henry, the hospital dog...Henry and his mom have been trained to do visitation at Cedars/Sinai. I will write more of the visit, with photo of himself, very soon.

Henry is, as his mom describes him, a Buddha. He is an empath; when one is speaking of sad or difficult things, he sighs and rests his chin on the ground. He is fellow of size - 145 pounds - of gentleness and healing in a red fur coat. He and his mom are my blessing, my glorious deliverance as we launch ourselves, full of hope and harvest thoughts, into fall. May the new season open doors to the rooms your heart longs to visit, perhaps rooms in which you will take up residence. The world, as we call it, grows wider every day.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Being in-between

Rachel wondered if there was a name for the in-between of seasons. In reading her words, I wondered if we might want names for other in-betweens. I thought of time being a form of alchemy, a process by which this becomes that.

We - and circumstances - can be in transition, which conjures stock shots of locomotives or stoking the engines of fabled steamships. Transition speaks of going. The in-betweens I picture stay in place while they become.

Indian summer describes a brief warming before fall settles in for the duration. Caterpillars come with stages of evolution clearly identified. Humans have the predictable range from infant to old.

But within ages we may move from clueless, sleepy, stuck, wandering or adrift to aware, energized, enlightened, purposeful and vibrant. We may come to our senses, see with new eyes, have our world turned upside down or, suddenly, get it.

We may shed our lethargy for focus, our blocked creativity for words that pour out faster than we can write them. There must be a stage, no matter how brief, before we leave one to enter the other. Canals have locks that raise or lower ships in increments when a waterway goes from one altitude to another. I can see us morphing as we let the water lift or lower us, lock by lock, to the level we seek, then sailing forth, easy and smooth, on the next leg of the voyage already under way.

Standing in line is an in-between. So is being pregnant, though it is a named condition. When we wait for an answer, either one that comes externally or a wise, quiet internal voice that urges us along, we are in-between. Jobs, marriages, homes, vehicles, projects, reading - all are opportunities to be somewhere that is neither here nor there.

Anticipating, hoping, dreading, ignoring, we are held in a place that is just before whatever is next; we have mentally and emotionally left what was before.

I seem to have answered my own question, found something to call that spot that is not this and not that. From now on, I declare myself to be in a fluctuating state of being in-between, for it will always apply to something. I may be found here until further notice.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Yielding

There is grace in adapting.

Adjusting ourselves to what is, prying our fingers from their death grip on life as we think it should be, we learn to bend.

Flexible is not one of the words on lists of classic virtues, yet would any of those serve us better?

It doesn't unfold the way we imagined when we wrote our scripts in the air or in our minds. Parts of it don't unfold at all, they are tin foil balls where the edge is lost in mishmash. Nothing flat and untorn will ever again be made of this.

For all that seems without answer, more remains that can be understood but using a different template. We give wheels to what is unable to move on its own.

There is strength in releasing fixed notions. We fall back and reconnoiter. Plan A becomes Plan B, and so on. We keep moving forward.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Warning: Political opinion

Can I see another's woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another's grief,
And not seek for kind relief?

William Blake: On Another's Sorrow, from Songs of Innocence, 1789
(from Tom Clark, Beyond the Pale)

Once the 9/11 observances were over, media types and political spokespeople stepped up and began sticking forks in the economy. My belief is that way more people are no longer even part of the economy than anyone will acknowledge. We have been here before.

On his blog, Tom Clark has been sharing researched and collected photos commissioned by the Farm Security Administration when last America was in (let's call it by its name) a Depression. His postings go back several months (certainly back to July 27, the topics are listed along side the posts) and illuminate, sometimes with photos alone, sometimes with accompanying text, who and where we have been. As the child of parents who grew up during the Great Depression - what would they call this one? - and a reader of Steinbeck and others who took up the cause of the afflicted, I saw in the photos the stories we are not meant to forget.

There may be nothing that makes me angrier than being mistaken for a fool. I know our government lies to us, I'd hate to see just how much dirt they've tried to sweep under the rug and I have no idea who will ever be able to clean it up.

The photos tell a far more compelling story of lessons unlearned than I can. We may not have answers, Congress may block President Obama's every attempt at repair, but we can still know how deeply too many of our countrymen have been wounded by a government that implied it cared for them and would see them through hard times.

One thing we can do is recognize how far from our national purpose we've drifted and at least share our hearts with those whose only constant is jeopardy. We may have no answers but we can, we must, care that such is the case.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A theory

My relationship with time is a one-sided affair. It has no awareness of me and I think about it constantly. Perhaps time infatuation is an identified disorder. It is really a matter of where we look for meaning. I find meaning in time.

Last Sunday's Los Angeles Times Book Review section offered, on the same page, an interview with historian Sean Wilentz on his new book Bob Dylan in America, and a review of The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, here.

The page featured a quote from Wilentz about Dylan, "He had this sensibility that the past wasn't the past, that the past was the present." He further said of Dylan's early days in New York, "He was living in this world where Edgar Allan Poe was living around the corner...a phantasmagoria of American history." Times reporter Charles Taylor referred to Dylan's CD of holiday music, Christmas in the Heart, as Dylan's love letter to the holiday music that was part of the American popular music he grew up hearing.

When Dylan returned to the Newport Folk Festival in 2002, where his electric debut elicited boos and jeers in 1965, Wilentz said, "There were ghosts all over the place. You could feel them." Wilentz told how he sensed the ghosts take form, many of the pivotal musicians from the American tradition, "...they were all kind of assuming shape again."

My interpretation of this information is that others, including a respected historian who teaches at Princeton, find that the past lives in and through us. We bring it forth in our thoughts, in works we create. It is not a dead thing, immobile in some unreachable long-ago, but alive, its influences at work on us through memories, either individually or collectively.

In his review, Michael Moorcock said that the Hawking-Mlodinow book suggests that physics and metaphysics are growing closer. Robert Oppenheimer is said to have proposed that physics and poetry were indistinguishable.

Moorcock described, "In an environment that includes black holes, super black holes, dark matter, dark energy, string theory, M-theory, alternate pasts and alternate futures, we can no longer assume there is one universe or even a set of universes with a single group of natural laws applicable to everything from the domain of atoms to that of astronomy.

"Models of the universe are changing radically. We now live in a world in which many physicists have come to believe there are not merely three dimensions (plus time) but 10 or possibly 11.

"Even laws we have taken for granted, like those relating to the speed of light, might be at odds in different realms of a near-infinite set of universes."

Those review excerpts and the remainder of the article suggest to me that anything is possible.

What I believe is that, if we pay attention and look inward frequently, we learn to identify our truths. They don't need educated, scientific validation to be true for us, but it does take some of the lunatic self-labeling away to have credible sources appear to think along similar lines. What I feel, what I experience, is the fluid quality of time (yes, I HAVE mentioned this before) but also the real yet intangible way that what has gone before is not gone.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Juggling 101

On the one hand, there is the importance of gratitude, acknowledging all gifts (or, according to some teachings, acknowledging all things as gifts). In contrast is the necessity of allowing our less than glowing thoughts and emotions to surface and be noticed, for word is, they fester if we try to ignore them.

Here I am, in my one and only human, aging and drifting mind, trying to make peace between these combatants. Their feud is ancient, has, at times, involved throwing very pointy sticks and always, always unpleasant words and slapping gestures - or worse.

As I am the only candidate for middle, I am chief among the usual suspects when this pot begins to boil, again. In most days there is - or ought to be - time set aside for attempts at detente. Had I known this was how it would play out, I might have studied diplomacy or joined Ken Kesey on the bus and said to hell with it all. Sadly, balance, or the seeking thereof, is a part of my nature that I just can't flick off.

Since childhood I have been able to go to the cupboard, eyeball whatever remains and know how to prepare something from those unlikely bedfellows that will actually taste good. It must come from a different part of the brain. What I try to fashion from these incompatible tins is something the trolls wouldn't touch.

But those grim thoughts, barbed and rusted memories, are not docile when the lid is tightened. It may take years, lifetimes, but they plot and wait, marking their days on the seeping walls with yellowed talons, knowing they WILL be heard.

What would it be like, a tidy life? I doubt that one has ever existed. I have never met anyone completely free of issues, so no matter how swell it appeared, there must have been...imperfections. Still one can embroider, think the "what ifs" and imagine arriving in advanced middle age as solid and untroubled as a beloved, well-trained, good-natured dog.

That is the angst du jour, not as large as an iceberg nor microscopically pesky as a hangnail or hair that didn't turn out in the back, but still clingy and keening. Heartfelt thanks for every blessed thing versus all those years of...whatever. Would it be so awful to give each faction great helpings of cake, ice cream, pizza and sweet fizzy drinks and send them to their rooms while I go take a long nap?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Mike

There you are, plinking and dinking along in your everyday life, quietly sure that you know all the drawers, secret and otherwise, within you and just what they contain. And then you are inundated by a version of amazing grace and what you didn't know had been lost is found.

Forty years ago, I was friends with three Michaels. One of them was my brother, back in America for a time after his move to Australia. The others were friends he made once here and I got to know them as well. To keep this from reading like a game of three-card monte (which Mike is under which card?) described by a woman who can't learn to knit, I will try to keep it simple.

We lived in the same neighborhood, two of them were my neighbors. We spent time together, I think mostly laughing and eating, and I took for granted the fun of being part of their group. There were other friends with other names whom I met. We all had day jobs but, looking back, it seems we had ample time to visit and eat at the late-night coffee shop a few blocks from us. Sometimes I cooked.

My brother returned to Australia and I remained friends with Mike and Mike. Not too long after, I got married and we all spent time together, even when we moved out of town. Then somehow, we slid out of touch.

Saturday I had an assignment from brother Mike. He had a lead on one of the (presumed to be) lost friends, hoping he would also know the whereabouts of the other. I will simply report that all are now accounted for and the domestic ones are as near as they once were.

In talking with first one, then the other as I collected information for my brother, I had no sense of years, decades passing. My occasionally porous brain could reach for and hold facts, bringing them forth without the familiar...wait, let me think...

In talking with them, I was not remembering what the time had been like, I was reliving it. I was suddenly 40 years younger and could feel, in mind and body, a youthful, unencumbered happiness. It had been gone so long I had forgotten it ever existed, thriving and free of expectations. I re-experienced the ease of their company, and myself as alive and alight in their presence. How I have missed them, the person I was able to be among them, perhaps a true self that long ago. And here I thought she was just freshly unearthed, a new find. What distraction and distress had taken up residence in my days that I let all that get away?

That so much time had passed we would not have recognized each other in passing was of no consequence. My phone-it-in detective work was all but done for me; the timing was perfect. Had I called a few weeks earlier, all the parts might not have come together. The symmetry was surprising, yet organic. Of course, how else could it have gone.

My brother is now able to reach out and know they are there. They can begin to tell their stories. I can do the same. For the moment, awareness of grace so profound it makes the top of my head feel as though it is opening like a 1960s convertible, is a fragile artifact I wish to hold and shelter. I awake at night and gratitude spreads across me like a family reunion picnic table; is it possible that this silly joy is mine?

I am aware of needing to decompress from having flown so high after so long. I am entirely clear about happy milestones that were reached during the past nearly half-century. I am also readjusting to sharing my clothes and hairbrush with a missing twin who disappeared into forgetfulness, who went out for a loaf of bread and turned up nearly 40 years later, looking to my eyes the way she did the day she vanished. I am still absorbing the fact that a vague emptiness has been filled. I didn't realize it would be filled with me.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Body/Mind

Post traumatic stress disorder is real. It gets kicked awake by things like Christmas lights and, recently, a schemer's try at grabbing money for a bill long since paid.

Three and a half years ago my son, then 27, was ill. What we thought was bad bronchitis or pneumonia was congestive heart failure. The ER doctors thought it likely he would code. He had no health insurance. Two young residents worthy of being trailed by documentarians, deserving of gifts of luxury automobiles from grateful patients, finally diagnosed myocarditis. It is an auto-immune condition in which the body perceives the heart muscle as an intruder and attacks it. Organs begin to fail.

He spent 8 days in the ICU, then was the youngest patient by decades in the CCU for another two weeks, during which Christmas passed like just another day. He was off work for 10 months. His medical bills were a substantial portion of a million dollars. Through more than 2 years of hearings, applications, appeals and legal representation, his acute disability was acknowledged, benefits were awarded for a finite period and all his bills were paid. Because the process began when he was still adjusting to being alive, I put my years of administrative skills to work and dealt with the business aspects of his illness.

Two weeks ago an alleged attorney sent a threatening letter in an attempt to collect for part of his treatment. I knew the bill had been paid and had copies of all documents to prove it. In telling a friend of this new plot turn, he learned that this is something that happens all the time, that crooks find information - like cars that changed hands many years before - in data bases and see if they can frighten regular people into sending them money.

Two days ago a woman's recorded voice, an English accent to lend a touch of class or legitimacy, no doubt, called demanding payment. I was shaking when I phoned to tell them no money was owed. I am shaking as I write of it and I realize that unease comes from two sources. I am saddened and horrified by the magnitude of fraud, or attempts of it, around us and anything that yanks me back to those frightening weeks slaps me stupid.

The arthritis which had a clamp on me before this emotional time escalated into near immobilization once the adrenalin subsided. The connection between mind and body has been clear to me for more than 20 years. This wasn't my first encounter with traumatic stress, after which disorder sets in. Time does smarten us up. I am taking a long look at the ways in which I respond physically to so much fear.

I believe that, as our minds have the power to bring us to our knees, they are also capable of lifting us from the trenches where we've been huddled. Grudgingly, I acknowledge that a notice from crooks illuminated an aspect of life that I want very much to see become better, to heal as much as it can. Awareness is a beginning. I have no defense for not connecting my infirmity with events that preceded it until now. I was occupied being relieved by and grateful for his recovery. We know when we know. But Christmas is another beast. I have accepted that it will never look or feel the same again.