Sunday, December 27, 2009

Living With Lewis


My husband, Flip, is losing ground fast. Every day he becomes a little less himself as his own body turns on him, but there are no weapons to defeat an enemy like Alzheimer's Dementia. He complains that something inside of him is saying "fuck you" to him all the time.

In the earlier stages when he was still more lucid, he named his disease "Lewis" because, he said, "It's good to have someone to blame." Flashes of his old humor take me by surprise now but remind me that he is still in there, still aware and angry and frustrated. At some point he will lose even this awareness. I don't know if that will be better or worse. I strive to ease his life while he still knows who I am, to fill him with my love so that when he is adrift on an ocean of confusion, he will still feel the warmth of it. Too often, I fail miserably. Lewis makes deep inroads every day and takes more of Flip away from me, and from himself.

Well-meaning people tell me that I must take care of myself and while I am grateful for the solicitude, with all respect they don't know what they are talking about. They earnestly remind me that if I do not I won't be able to take care of Flip, but the plain reality is that my needs do come second now. This disease has changed everything including the dynamics of our relationship. Sometimes the only thing that keeps me going is my absolute certainty that if I were the one Alzheimer's had chosen, he would do the same for me. He is probably a better person than I am.

Flip was once a highly articulate man who now struggles to express the simplest thought, and often gives up or simply forgets what he wanted to say. He was a professional musician who could play guitar, bass and drums better than most people. He was also a graphic designer, a talented photographer, and an avid bicycle rider. Now he is nursing injuries from his latest fall last week, lacerations and painful rib bruises.

I took his Bianchi to the bike shop for repairs. "You should see the other guy," I said. They have seen us often in the last year and didn't even charge me this time. Of course I wonder if Flip should still be riding since he now falls a lot, but as long as he wants to I can't see taking that away from him, too. He has already lost so much. He says that he feels free of Alzheimer's only when riding his bike. He wears a helmet to protect his brain even as it abandons him.

His mind now works in strange ways which seem illogical to me because I am still operating on the old brain model. Alzheimer's has its own logic as the amyloid plaques and tangles which characterize it struggle to perform tasks he has forgotten how to do. He has become a black hole into which every possible household item disappears. Almost nothing remains in its assigned place and it often feels that I am living in a world invented by Lewis Carroll or Franz Kafka. While cooking, I will reach for an implement only to find that it is not where I have always kept it; in fact, it is nowhere at all. Right before Thanksgiving, I noticed that an entire shelf of glassware had disappeared. Flip tries to keep busy by "helping" but his sense of spatial relations is greatly impaired. I suspect he couldn't figure out where to put the glasses, so he threw them away. This was my wake-up call to hide anything of value, which is a good idea in theory but not always possible. We live in small quarters and he has access to more of it than I do since he is over a foot taller.

In our former life, Flip and I spent seven years renovating an old house ourselves. He replaced wood flooring, rehung the crooked front door, plastered giant holes in the walls that had been concealed with ugly paneling which we removed, rewired the electricity and installed new copper plumbing, tiled the bathrooms, made structural improvements, replaced the chimney, painted everything inside and out and did extensive landscaping. The only thing we had done by professionals was a new roof which required removal of three former roofs, one on top of another. We turned an ungainly, plain house into a beautiful one with lovely grounds and sold it to move to California, where we live in an apartment.

We still have several huge toolboxes, but Flip is no longer able to hang a picture or replace a light fixture after changing a bulb. He has difficulty dressing himself although he usually refuses my help, and coat hangers bewilder him. He naps frequently, which his doctor says is because it takes so much effort to do anything when one has Alzheimer's. He is still unfailingly kind and generous, and the sweetest man I have ever known.

We belong to a support group for people with dementia and their caregivers run by the Alzheimer's Association. They divide us into two groups which meet in adjoining rooms and we are both fond of the people we see there. But sometimes we don't go because everything seems so futile. I am sure that passengers on the Titanic who had someone's hand to hold derived a measure of comfort from it, but the ship still went down.

I try to keep him entertained or at least engaged by planning small excursions, even if just buying a latte in a different neighborhood. I am now our only driver but we also do a lot of walking. San Francisco is a wonderful city to explore on foot because there is always something new to see, which is good because we are not able to travel the world as we have both always wanted to do. Alzheimer's has made our life much smaller. I try to see the lessons in that, and the opportunities for spiritual growth. Sometimes I feel angry, but anger in a vacuum is really a waste of energy which I badly need for our survival.

I worry about what will happen to Flip if I die first. This is a real possibility as I am older than he, but on the other hand, women tend to live longer and I am healthy. Alzheimer's has leveled the playing field so that it is anybody's guess which of us will go first. We have no plan in place for the future because I allow myself this small shred of denial.

This devastating disease is becoming epidemic as the Baby Boomers age. Those who study it say that they are seeing more and more cases of the early-onset variety. Flip is among the earliest as he was diagnosed at age 50, but in retrospect had problems for several years before. Alzheimer's is an equal-opportunity disease. It seemingly strikes people at random like an evil lottery. At present there is no way to determine who will get it, or why. Lifestyle seems to have little effect, nor is there any other reliable predictor. We know that smoking is more likely to cause lung cancer than not smoking, but there is no comparable preventive behavior associated with Alzheimer's. You are either lucky or unlucky. It does not operate by half-measures and takes no prisoners.

This is a most isolating disease. My family of origin, although wonderful, is only sporadically in my life while Flip's siblings and friends, even the ones who were supposed to be forever, have drifted away. It's disappointing but I don't blame them. They are dealing with their own concerns, and I think that when people don't know what to say they try to avoid the awkwardness by saying nothing. But it's lonely with only the three of us: Flip, me, and Lewis. Especially Lewis, who has become the most powerful presence in our lives.

Flip has asked me why him. I told him that the gods must have known that he could handle it better than I, and sometimes I even believe this myself. I cannot imagine being unable to form a sentence, or to read, or in effect to trust my own mind and body at all, without having an ongoing epic meltdown a permanent existential crisis. Knowing this makes me grateful for the small things in life, the things I always took for granted. Alzheimer's is the best reason I know for living in the present. I have learned that every day is its own holiday and should be celebrated, that while planning for the future is always a good idea, ones life can change in a heartbeat. No matter how intricately detailed our illusions, we are always flying blind. And perhaps this is a good thing because it keeps us sharp.

I think of Rudyard Kipling's famous poem, "If" which begins:

"If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;"


I substitute "Flip" for Kipling's "all men" and am mindful that I must be strong for both of us as I am increasingly called upon to keep my head while he is losing his, that even as he doubts me, I am by default the one in charge. Even though I would rather not be. And I must learn to trust myself more.

I try to live in the moment. I strive to honor and enjoy my husband as he is today while trying not to compare him to the man he was yesterday. I do this because I know that tomorrow he will no longer be the man he is today. But he is in all these aspects infinitely precious to me, and we will get through this challenge because we have no choice. And because life is always worth fighting for, even when defeat seems assured. The important thing is not to give up, ever, because a cure could be found tomorrow. And that hope makes today a bit sweeter.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Joy of Apoplexy



Here's a rhetorical question for you: Why do people choose to be nasty when it's far more effort than a simple neutrality?

Today was laundry day, my least favorite chore because although I am quite fond of clean clothing, sheets and towels, I don't have laundry machines and must go to a public launderette to do it. Usually this involves double parking while I unload my three overflowing baskets, driving home to put the car in the garage and jogging back to the launderette. When it's finished, I reverse the process. Today, however, I found a parking space on the same street, got out three times while inching back and forth to ensure that I was not blocking the driveway on either end of my car, and went to do the dirty. (Clothes:)

While I carried my baskets to the car afterward, a man yelled at me, stating that he couldn't get into his driveway, which unless he was driving a doublewide Hummer, was untrue. My car is considered a compact - I am always directed to the compact vehicle level at a public garage I visit often.

He waved his cell phone at me. "I didn't call the police but I will," he threatened. I didn't say anything because I was arranging my baskets sideways on the back seat of my car. "Do I see an evil look?" he bellowed. This was exceedingly doubtful as he couldn't see my face at all, but it's possible that my butt was giving him the stink eye. I can't control that.

I remained silent, which apparently enraged him. "Do you want me to call the police?" he asked. "DO YOU?"

"Why don't you?" I said. "I'm not doing anything wrong." His garage door was open. I could see two Mercedes, an Escalade, a Maserati and a Ferrari (red) inside. His house looked anything but impoverished but he doesn't own the street in front of it. His wife once screamed at me when I parked there, too. They seem to spend a lot of time patrolling their perimeters to make sure nobody parks in front of their house. The normal expectation of such perfect privacy is nil in a city since it requires a few hundred acres of land as a buffer between the homeowner and the rest of humanity. I wondered why a person who clearly has a very luxurious life would enjoy bullying someone who was no threat to him or his considerable property. But my reverie didn't last long because the man was still yelling at me. I think he wanted me to get on my knees and beg for mercy. He demanded to know if it would happen again because he is very friendly with the entire San Francisco police force and they'll put me in jail.

I shrugged. "It won't happen again," I said and drove off. I have been feeling perfectly horrible ever since, partly because I really and truly hate being yelled at, especially when I have committed no crime, but even more, I think, because I'm sure he took my statement as an admission of guilt.

I have meditated on this and while it's impossible to know what cross he is bearing, he has no idea what I might be dealing with either. To escalate to full bore rage in seconds is unhealthy for both the angry person and his target. Since I was the target, I found the whole thing immensely upsetting. Hours later, I am still feeling the aftermath of his anger and my reactive anger when it would have been just as easy to share a smile, or not to interact at all.

We really are all in this karmic soup together, so I have to ask myself what ill will I have put out into the world to bring this ill will upon myself because somewhere, at some time, I must have treated someone as badly as that man treated me, even if I can't remember it. We cannot change others but we can and should commit to changing ourselves. The only way to improve our experience in the world is to be vigilant of our own actions so that we don't cause another pain because sooner or later, those chickens come home to roost. And when they do, our world becomes an ugly place for us and everyone around us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

One Woman's War


A single mom who is an Army cook may face criminal charges after refusing to deploy to Afghanistan because she has no one to care for her infant son while she serves a year overseas. The Army requires all single-parent soldiers to submit a care plan for dependent children before they deploy to a combat zone, and Spc. Alexis Hutchinson had arranged for her mother to mind her 10-month old son, but that plan fell through at the last minute. Her mother kept the child, Kamani, for two weeks but felt overwhelmed as she already cares for three other relatives with health problems and also runs a day care center for 14 children in her home. She returned him to his mother a few days before her scheduled deployment. Hutchinson, who is no longer in a relationship with the child's father, was ordered to deploy on schedule even though she told her commanders that she needed more time to find another family member or close friend to help her mother care for her son.

She claims that her superior told her she would have to place the child in foster care and deploy anyway. The young mother was afraid that if she showed up at the deployment terminal, she would be sent to Afghanistan and her son placed with Child Protective Services, so she went AWOL. She was arrested by military police for skipping her unit's flight and briefly jailed while her son was placed in custody on the Army post until her mother could pick him up and take him to her home in California.

Specialist Hutchinson remains confined to the boundaries of Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia. A spokesman for the airfield said that he didn't know what she was told by her commanders, but that the Army would not deploy a single parent who had nobody to care for his or her child. If true, then her superior is a shockingly heartless person who has no business supervising others. Jailing a mother for refusing to abandon her child represents cruel and unusual punishment and should not be tolerated.

While our armed forces fight for our country and its lofty ideals, it is important to remember that every country is made up of individuals whose rights must be upheld or the entire system fails. A nation's people are the nation. Military law says that soldiers must go where they are sent, which becomes the old question of the law versus the letter of the law: Do we uphold a law exactly as it is written without regard for its meaning, or do we try to determine what the law was meant to accomplish? When we obey the letter of the law but not its spirit, we are obeying the literal interpretation of the words while betraying the intent of those who wrote it, and those who live under it.

It is meaningless for a soldier to fight for freedom when her own child is denied the basic right to be cared for by a person who loves him.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Mother Ship Has Landed


Tossing orange peels, coffee grounds and grease-stained pizza boxes in the trash is now against the law in San Francisco, and could lead to a fine.

The nation's most comprehensive mandatory composting and recycling law was put into effect last week. It requires all businesses, restaurants, and residences including apartment buildings to separate their garbage into three separate color-coded bins: blue for recycling, green for compost and black for trash. The purpose is to cut greenhouse gas emissions and send nothing to landfills or incinerators by 2020. Food scraps, plant clippings and other organic materials that go into landfills take up costly space and decompose to form methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Seattle passed a law in 2003 requiring people to have a compost bin but, unlike San Francisco, it did not mandate that all food waste go in there.

Those who fail to properly sort their refuse will receive warnings which, if unheeded, will result in fines: $100 for individual residences and small businesses which generate less than a cubic yard of refuse per week, and $500 for larger businesses. I wonder who will be assigned the task of going through people's garbage to ensure that it is properly sorted. Maybe the Meter Nazis Parking Police could pursue second careers as trash investigators.

A June 2008 report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a group focused on environmentally sound community development, said a zero waste approach is one of the fastest, cheapest and most effective ways to protect the climate. Garbage trucks take food scraps to the Organics Annex which is already processing about half of the city's food waste, more than 500 tons per day. The compost is then sold to Bay Area farms and vineyards.

"We hear a lot about climate change, and what we can do and should do, and what's happening in Congress," said Jared Blumenfeld, City Environmental Officer. "But people want to know what they can, practically, do every single day, and composting your food scraps is probably the single most effective thing you can do as a citizen in the United States today."

We have duly been issued our very own little composting bin which is a bit like a house pet because it's small, hungry, and hangs around the kitchen, although I haven't named it yet. The mother ship sits outside, waiting for all her babies to come home.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Die, Facebook, DIE


Have I mentioned lately how much I hate Facebook? None of the buttons works. For weeks I have been unable to accept a friend request from my cousin, whom I adore, or to send one to her or anyone else. I have tried repeatedly to block a couple of people I do NOT adore and FB keeps deleting what I type and stating that I have not blocked anyone. I am not even able to access my own friends list. Plus, my page has been taken over by someone with the same last name who is not a relative, and who seems to be obsessed with a Mafia Wars game which does not interest me in the least. So then people who are his friends, presumably, but whom I do not know comment to his progress in the game and my page does not feel like mine at all. He's a nice guy, but I feel as if I'm hosting a video game convention, and I am a pinball person. (Tilting is everything.)

I have thought the whole concept of Facebook was puerile, stupid and shallow from the start, but several people urged me to give it another chance. So I tried to get help, and after typing in "Other" twice to convey that my problem was not covered in their list of possible issues, I got a box where I could write what my problem was, which I did. Then I tried to deactivate my account, but even this didn't work because they kept telling me to type a security code which never loaded. Evidently, I'm a lifer. Facebook is like the Crips, the Bloods, or Ikea. Once you get in, you can never get out. Please send in the rescue dogs, an airlift patrol, a SWAT team, several sherpas and John Wayne. If none of this is possible, I would appreciate chocolate.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Everyone Wants My Body



Do I look like a goner to you? Today's mail brought an invitation to a cremation-- my own -- because "Death is what makes our lives so precious, exquisite and magnificent."

Oh.

I'm glad we cleared that up. I hadn't quite made the connection and tended to attribute all that precious, exquisite magnificence to life itself. I feel so stupid now.

"We offer basic cremation services because our clients are smart .... smart enough to know how best to choose a plan that fits their own agenda." Actually, my agenda does not include dying. I really want to know how everything turns out, so I believe that I will be best served by being here forever. That's basically a no-brainer.

Smart Cremation even has the nerve to quote Winston Churchill, although I doubt that esteemed gentleman was referring to funeral planning when he spoke these words: "Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning." It was during the Second World War, so I suspect he was strategizing how to keep England and her Allies free and non-German speaking.

This company is located in Washington State so I'm not sure how they intend to get my body up there to the raging bonfire, and aren't there laws about transporting dead people across state lines? Further, would they be taking the scenic route up the coastline, or simply loading me onto an airplane? When my mother died in Florida, we had her flown to New York for burial next to my father, who had been waiting for a very long time. Since I do not own a funeral plot and have never enjoyed burning myself in the kitchen, I see no alternative but to live forever.

Their stationery is decorated in a leaf motif. (Which is kind of a nice leitmotiv.) The letter itself has leaves along the sides that could be birch while the RSVP is definitely decked in maple. Is this a subtle way of telling me that they use woodfire in their ovens, like California pizza? (Hold the sprouts and pineapple.)

My cat's ashes reside in a Japanese urn on our mantel. Since I have three children, I would have to be divided among them if they couldn't agree on where to fling my remains, which brings to mind portioning out a chicken when they were young. Who would get the drumstick, and who the breast? White or dark meat? And how could they tell as one assumes that all ashes look alike? They shouldn't have to deal with Mom on a platter.

The ghouls good folks at Smart Cremation are awaiting my response. I hate to disappoint them, but they really shouldn't be taking anything for granted, like my demise. Nobody will be more surprised than I if I die, but I refuse to arrange for it because I know that what you focus on grows. And while I am growing older, I am not dead yet so any thoughts of disposing of my mortal remains are decidedly premature.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

You Can't Keep a Good Souse Down


The following article appeared in the Duluth News Tribune:

DULUTH, Minn. A Minnesota man has pleaded guilty to driving his motorized La-Z-Boy chair while drunk. A criminal complaint says 62-year-old Dennis LeRoy Anderson told police he left a bar in the northern Minnesota town of Proctor on his chair after drinking eight or nine beers.

Prosecutors say Anderson's blood alcohol content was 0.29, more than three times the legal limit, when he crashed into a parked vehicle in August 2008. He was not seriously injured.

Police said the chair was powered by a converted lawnmower and had a stereo and cup holders.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Heather Sweetland stayed 180 days of jail time Monday and ordered two years of probation for Anderson. His attorney, David Keegan, did not immediately return a call for comment.


Let the good times roll!

Monday, October 19, 2009

So Many Fools, So Little Time

Walking home from the neighborhood grocery, I heard a man say "Hi!" I turned around to see a man on a bicycle who wasn't addressing me but a very attractive young woman walking behind me. He dismounted and wheeled his bike onto the sidewalk to walk with her.

"What's your name?" he asked.
"Nicole."
"Josh," he said, extending his hand. She shook his hand and kept walking.
"How was your day?"
"Not very good. I'm a teacher and..."
He finished her sentence: "The little rascals."
She continued, "my mother is sick."
"Did you have a good weekend?"" he asked her.
"No, I just found out my mom has cancer," she blurted. "I really have to go." She walked faster. So did he. Without missing a beat, he said, "What do you do for fun?"

At this point, "we" were at my corner, walking abreast. Nicole and I exchanged the kind of look women understand which cannot effectively be translated verbally, but which means, basically, "This guy is a jerk with the finesse of a moldy boiled turnip and I don't want him to know where I live."

It seemed obvious that she was only being polite because she was in shock from her mother's bad news, and because she is very likely a kind person as well as beautiful. I considered inviting her to my place as if we were friends so the guy would leave her alone, but with strangers there is always that hesitation since I couldn't know for sure that she wanted to discourage him. I would have liked to offer my sympathy and say something hopeful about her mother but hesitated to interrupt, no matter how it seemed. But I do hope that all you gentlemen out there, in a similar situation, would realize that this woman, and all women, exist independent of your amorous intentions. The jackass was so hot for Nicole that he couldn't even manage the basic niceties, which, strangely, might have given him a better chance with her. Even though I'm pretty sure he wasn't riding the bike for exercise, but for transportation.

Can you say "stupid," children? I knew you could.

Friday, October 16, 2009

No Shortage of False Prophets



I am deeply saddened that once again, Native American culture and spiritualism have been used for fun and profit, with horrifying results.

James Arthur Ray, author of "Harmonic Wealth: The Secret of Attracting the Life You Want" and other self-help books, runs seminars for which people pay thousands of dollars to hear business executives, fitness experts and motivational authors exhort them to achieve material success beyond their wildest dreams within the framework of New Age spirituality. I think that spending vast sums of money to hear people speak is the exact opposite of self-empowerment, but it seems to be paying off for Ray, who is probably worth billions by preying on the dissatisfied and gullible. Clothing material lust in the trappings of spiritualism is a brilliant ploy to gain the hearts and wallets of baby boomers, many of whom are aging 60's hippies, by enabling them to reconcile a bornagain desire for wealth with their former non-materialistic values. (In my view, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with money, only with its misuse to have power over others. And there is certainly nothing wrong with changing our beliefs over time; otherwise, what would be the point in still being here?)

On October 8th, Ray conducted a sweat lodge as the culminating event of a 5-day Spiritual Warriors retreat near Sedona, Arizona, which participants paid $9,000 to attend. Native Americans have done sweat lodges for centuries - I have participated in a few - but the purpose is cleansing, not profit. The sweat lodge is typically a tent with large heated stones in a pit at the center on which water is poured at regular intervals to create steam, similar to a sauna. It is a profoundly spiritual experience and has nothing to do with material gain. It is also carefully controlled in that people are allowed to leave through a flap in the tent if the heat becomes too intense. Normally, the sweat lodge holds no more than a dozen people at a time.

In this case, however, 64 people crowded into a 415-square-foot space during a two-hour period Thursday night. Ray led eight 15-minute rounds of various spiritual exercises and while no one was forcibly restrained, participants were strongly encouraged to remain for the entire time. According to the Yavapai, Arizona, sheriff's spokesman, there was no permit granted for the construction of the temporary wooden building in which two people died and many others were taken ill.

Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee died after being overcome in the hut. Nineteen other people were hospitalized with symptoms ranging from dehydration to kidney failure. Ms. Brown was a hiker and surfer described by her family as being in top shape and the kindest person anyone knew. Mr. Shore was also in great physical condition and the doting father of three children. Both attended this event to continue on their paths of self-improvement as a means to better help others.

Ray has issued a statement through his publicist that says, "I am shocked and saddened by the tragedy that occurred at Spiritual Warrior in Sedona, Arizona, Thursday evening. I wish to express my deepest heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of those who lost their lives as well as offer my prayers for a speedy recovery for those who were taken ill." He has declined to comment further because there are "more questions than answers." He refused to speak with detectives on the fateful evening and left the state hours later. "He's interested in getting to the truth and will speak to the right people at the appropriate time," said his publicist. One can only assume that the appropriate time will be when he has concocted a story which exonerates him from any responsibility.

I knew there was a reason I was unable to finish reading his book and donated it to the library book store.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pasta Maria

Flip noticed a face in his dinner after adding more pasta to his plate on top of the sauce he had already taken.

I briefly pondered the many people around the world who see Mary or Jesus in mud puddles or on the sides of refrigerators, and thought maybe we could have a shrine, too.

But then he ate it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Some Thoughts on Forgiveness


I've been having a lot of "forgive them for they know not what they do" moments. People seem ruder every day but perhaps that is only in direct ratio to my getting older every day.

I decided to stop cursing in my car just when I had gotten really good at it. Wasting talent is rather like flinging gold in the streets, but expressing my anger in the vocabulary of a sailor's parrot has clearly not helped anyone's driving skills, even my own. Nor has it had an effect on the widespread lack of manners which have been replaced by an aggressive me-first attitude that is not conducive to loving kindness and tranquility. It is time to bring on the heavy artillery, forgiveness, for it can go where anger never can.

I have been contemplating the larger issue of forgiveness as it applies to more serious offenses than those committed by thoughtless, self-absorbed people in their cars. There is a natural reluctance to forgive because it can feel as if we are negating our own importance, but it is actually for the benefit of the wronged party because resentment is a heavy load to carry. Setting it down frees us to do more productive things with our energy, while dwelling in our pain and outrage keeps the injury forever fresh and unable to heal.

One of the lessons to be learned from abuse is to rise above it and not inflict it on others. While we know that most abusive people were themselves abused, it is not a get out of jail free card. Hurting someone else never evens the score. We all need to take responsibility for our actions, no matter how we were treated in the past.

Jesus spoke of "turning the other cheek," which does not come naturally to most of us. I resisted the idea for a long time, not because I am not a Christian but because I thought it meant that I did not deserve to be treated with respect, and I was unwilling to conspire in my own doormat-ness. I now believe he meant that our spiritual goals are more important to our soul's progress than bearing grudges reliving hurtful experiences.

It doesn't matter whether or not someone apologizes, and we further bind ourselves to a person by waiting for his remorse before we forgive. Our forgiveness sets us free. What he does with it is not our concern; our own emotional health is. Forgiving does not mean that it was OK to hurt us, but that we choose to do more rewarding things with our time on earth. We can have compassion for his suffering while protecting ourselves from future harm. When we have both understanding and compassion, we are able to truly forgive and move on. I have found this to be one of life's most challenging lessons, but also among its most rewarding, (right up there with becoming an accomplished cusser.)

“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.”
Paul Boese

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

No Animals Were Hurt in the Making of this Post


I've decided to begin knitting again, which I have not done in at least twenty years, maybe thirty. I used to make multicolored sweaters out of handspun yarns I dyed myself with natural dyes made of various plant materials and the process, especially the knitting, was extremely relaxing in a zen zone way. (My daughter has already requested that I not send her any [more] Charlie Brown sweaters.)

In August I bought some yarn from a seller on eBay, yummy, 100% hand-dyed alpaca. It will be like wearing a cloud, and I thought the price was a steal.

It turns out it really was a steal because although my PayPal account states that the money was paid, the charge has never appeared in my bank account which is linked to the PayPal account, so I called my bank to find out why. They said it had not been presented for payment, yet I know that the seller got her money, so I began the process of trying to get PayPal to correct their error.

Their website has a make-believe person named Sarah who is happy to answer my questions, provided they fit her very narrow range of issues. If they do not, she begins to recycle them until one gives up and tries to call customer service on the phone. Here is yet another example of customer DISservice. I was told that the wait would be at least 1/2 hour and it is not even an 800 number. I hung up and sent them an email explaining that they needed to return the money to the person who inadvertently paid for my yarn and charge it to me.

Several months ago, I got a double bill from the phone company which stated that I had not paid our bill the previous month, although I had. I had the bank statement to prove it, but undeterred, the phone company continued to charge us double for several more months, which occasioned countless upsetting phone calls involving very long waits to speak with people who couldn't help me. Eventually, they discovered that they had paid someone else's bill with my funds and rectified their error. I will never get back the many hours, literally hours, that I spent attempting to untangle this mess. It would have been far less stressful to simply pay it again and forget it, but that offended my sense of fairness.

The new yarn winks at me seductively from its basket. It has been wound into balls and every now and then I pick one up and hold it to my cheek. I don't know when I will use it, though, as in conscience (with a tad of OCD mixed in) I must first complete a sweater I started before I stopped knitting, whenever it was. Both sleeves were completed, and they are perfect. Unfortunately, I no longer have the pattern so I have spent hours on eBay looking for old knitting magazines from the late 80's and 90's, hoping that one will look familiar. I even bought six old McCall's Needlework and Crafts issues, none of which has the pattern, but one had an ad for Homemade Magazine, which I now think may have been the one. It is no longer published, although there is another magazine in Australia with the same name. I am not a good enough knitter, especially after such a long layover, to adapt another pattern so that the shoulders match the tops of the two completed (and did I mention, perfect?) sleeves I already have. I will have to rip them out and start over, of course, but I am stubborn. I will continue to put myself through unnecessary stress even though the act of knitting itself is a marvelous stress reliever.

As I was typing this, I actually received a response to my email from a person at PayPal named Hans. (I think he's married to Sarah.) The money was already in my account because I had returned a defective item and gotten a partial refund, so the yummy alpaca yarn purchase was made with that money instead of being deducted directly from my bank account. Mystery solved. I think I should get an accountant to tend to these complicated matters so I can spend my days zoned out and knitting.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Excuse Me, but is that Jackass with You?


I love that President Obama called Kanye West "a jackass." You have to trust a man who calls 'em like he sees 'em.

For those of you living on Venus or Saturn, West hijacked the acceptance speech of Taylor Swift, a county music sensation whose name I had heard but quite frankly, didn't know if it was a guy or girl. She won the MTV Award for Best Female Video and as she began her acceptance speech, West grabbed her microphone and announced that Beyonce should have won. (Beyonce later won the Best Video of the Year award.) Ms. Swift was so rattled that she walked offstage without giving her speech, and then had to perform live five minutes later. Beyonce proved that she is a class act when she got her own award and asked Taylor Swift to return to the stage to have her moment which had been taken away by West.

Apparently, a reporter preparing to interview President Obama a few days later asked what he thought of the drama at the awards.

"I thought that was really inappropriate," he said. "What are you butting in (for)? The young lady seems like a perfectly nice person. She's getting her award. What's he doing up there?"

A reporter then asked him, "Why would he do it?"

"He's a jackass," Obama replied. He immediately realized that he may have gone too far because he then appealed to the assembled reporters to keep his remark private. "Come on guys," he said. "Cut the president some slack. I've got a lot of other stuff on my plate." There is normally an assumption that presidential off-the-cuff remarks before a speech or interview are also off the record, but somebody immediately leaked his comment to Twitter where it caused a hail storm of debate.

I am not a Country Music fan but I watched the YouTube video of Taylor Swift, "You Belong With Me" and it's adorable. She is adorable, although admittedly part of my fascination was with her flawless 19-year old complexion.

Kanye West finally called her to apologize and she accepted his apology. She is a class act, too, and a very talented young performer. But Mr. West may want to take up meditation or anger management so they don't have to muzzle him for next year's award ceremony.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

First, Do No Harm


I've heard wonderful things about the Bach flower remedies so I bought a tin of pastilles at the health food store. They are supposed to relieve stress, to which I am no stranger.

First of all, I couldn't open the metal tin even after removing the tape. I tried to turn the lid and also to pry it, but it wouldn't open although I did stab myself with a screw driver. I was getting angry and increasingly stressed. Flip opened it for me.

"How did you do that?" I asked.

"Read the directions."

"Oh."

Even with Alzheimer's, he is more mechanically adept than I. It never occurred to me that I would need directions to open a tin of something. I buy Altoids all the time. No problem.

I took one and attempted to close the lid, but it wouldn't close. Of course. I positioned my hand exactly as pictured on the tin and the pastilles sprayed all over the floor. It's very hard to find little red things on a predominantly red Persian rug. I had to throw them away because they were keeping company with a pair of shoes I hadn't put away, and I know where they've been. I am convinced that the manufacturer is deliberately creating more stress so that I will keep buying their product, which comes in several forms. I'm thinking of trying the droplets in water next. And sending a nastygram to the Bach company, for stress reduction.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rapunzel's Lament


My new haircut makes me look like the love child of Harpo Marx and Minnie Mouse.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Is This a Dagger Which I See Before Me?


Six weeks ago, I was diagnosed with bursitis in both hips. Actually, I diagnosed it myself; the doctor confirmed it. You can learn just about anything online. It made me feel old, and even worse, it hurt. I've been doing physical therapy all this time but it hasn't helped, so I went back to see my orthopedist again today. He gave me cortisone shots in both hips, which is not a pleasure-seeking procedure. When I descended from the ceiling, he snapped, "I need you to lie still." I apologized while thinking how wrong it was that I should be apologizing to someone who was hurting me. I can understand why people crack and spill secrets under torture. He even had the nerve to say, "It didn't hurt me a bit" afterward. I think his sense of humor must be a great source of comfort to him. He claimed the shots hurt so much because my bursa are so inflamed. As if pain weren't bad enough, "bursa" sounds like a hideous garment Muslim women have to wear.

Bursae are fluid-containing sacs located between tendons and bones to cushion friction between moving structures, like brake pads on a car. When a bursa becomes inflamed, it's called bursitis.

He told me to further curtail my physical activity, like breathing, but I forgot to ask if I should stop physical therapy so I tried to call his office after I got home. They have a system similar to the 7 levels of hell protecting them, and it was impossible to get through to a real live person. I'm not sure he was one, anyway. He seemed like a wind-up doll. I heard him greet his next patient with the exact same faux-cheery tone and phrase with which he greeted me. It was one step up from a barker at the county fair bellowing "NEXT." He was practically rubbing his hands in gleeful anticipation. That poor woman had no idea what she was in for.

Meanwhile, I have left messages for both him and his assistant, neither of whom has called me back. It's like trying to get an audience with God, maybe harder.

It is no accident that the word "medieval" as in medieval torture device suggests evil medical practitioners. And yes, I do hold a grudge. Thank you for asking.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Princess Ariel is Alive and Well and Living in Israel


Mermaids have been seen off the coast of Israel. There have been so many recent sightings that the town of Kiryat Yam is offering a $1 million reward to the first person who produces a good photograph of one. The earliest encounter occurred when several people saw a woman lying in the sand. As they approached, she leaped into the water and disappeared, flashing her dolphin-like tail in the sunset.

Mermaids have held great fascination for many societies since at least 1000 BC, when the Assyrian goddess Atargatis fell in love with a mortal shepherd but accidentally killed him. (Tails are clumsy.) She jumped into a lake to drown herself but instead, her form changed to that of a human above the waist and a fish below. According to Greek legend, Alexander the Great's sister, Thassalonike, also turned into a mermaid when she died and patrolled the Aegean Sea, terrorizing sailors as she demanded to know if Alexander was still alive. If the unfortunate mortal responded with anything other than "He lives and still rules," she transformed herself into a Gorgon and destroyed the ship and everyone aboard. Mermaids appear in The Arabian Nights and in the folklore of many cultures, often as lethal seductresses luring men to their deaths in the deep.

In 1608, the English navigator Henry Hudson was skirting the polar ice off the arctic coast of Russia while attempting to find a northeast route to the spice markets of China. Near the coast of Nova Zembla, Hudson's entire crew saw a mermaid next to their ship, and his log entry of that June day described her in detail as having the back and breasts of a woman and the tail of a porpoise. Six years later, another English sea captain, John Smith, spotted a mermaid in the Caribbean, "swimming about with all possible grace." At first he thought it was a woman until she flipped over and he saw that below the waist she was a fish. She had long green hair which he remarked was not unattractive.

Christian missionaries in Africa were distressed when they discovered in 1700 that native Angolans were catching mermaids and eating them. The discovery raised a nagging theological question: Since mermaids are at least half-human, should acts of cannibalism against them be punishable by the Church? The desire to find an authentic mermaid extended into the "Age of Reason" and numerous European publications featured accounts of sightings and contact with them. In 1739, a Scottish magazine carried a report that the crew of the ship Halifax, short on rations in the East Indies, had captured and eaten several mermaids which moaned "with great sensibility." Undeterred and ravenous, they ate them anyway and later stated that the flesh tasted like veal. (Not chicken.)


In 1830, a woman in the Outer Hebrides saw the fish-like form of "a woman in miniature" turning somersaults a few feet away from her at the shoreline. The creature splashed away as people attempted to catch her, but a boy struck her in the back with a rock. Days later, the mermaid's dead body washed ashore. The dainty corpse attracted a large crowd. A careful examination was performed and documented by local officials. Everyone agreed that it was a mermaid and therefore partly human, so she was buried in a shroud and coffin.

I have always been enchanted with mermaids, and see no logical reason why they would not exist. Many of the creatures with which we share the earth are unusual by human standards, but no less real than we are. If one believes that there is life in other galaxies, it seems perfectly reasonable that they would not necessarily follow the form we consider human. It is also true that we have not explored every inch of our own planet, especially the fathomless oceans, and we can only assume that there are still unresolved mysteries which will continue to enthrall us for as long as our own species endures.

My father was the keeper of the Eddystone Light,
He slept with a mermaid one fine night
From this union there came three
A porpoise and a porgy and the other was me.

Yo ho ho, the wind blows free,
Oh, for a life on the rolling sea!

One night as I was a-trimming the glim
Singing a verse from the evening hymn
A voice on the starboard shouted "Ahoy!"
And there was my mother, a-sitting on a buoy.

(chorus)

"Oh, what has become of my children three?"
My mother then she asked of me.
One was exhibited as a talking fish and
The other was served in a chafing dish.

(chorus)

Then the phosphorous flashed in her seaweed hair.
I looked again, and me mother wasn't there
A voice came a-echoing out through the night
"To Hell with the keeper of the Eddystone Light!"

Friday, August 14, 2009

Blowin' in the Wind


Rock legend Bob Dylan, one of a handful of performers who defined the 60's, was accosted by two young police officers in New Jersey who demanded to see his ID.

He was on tour with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp and decided to kill time before the evening's performance by walking around a neighborhood near the shore. Someone called the police to report that a man was wandering around the low-income area, and they approached him.

"What is your name, sir?" the officer asked.

"Bob Dylan," he said.

"OK, what are you doing here?" the officer asked.

"I'm on tour," the singer replied.

The second policeman, who had also never heard of him, asked for identification. He said he wasn't carrying any so they took him to his hotel, where several tour staff vouched for him. The officers stated afterward that he couldn't have been nicer to them, which is not surprising as he was always known to have little ego.

It's hard to imagine an icon of a generation like Bob Dylan being unrecognized. Even in 2009, you'd think his face would serve as his ID with anyone over the age of twenty. I've heard it said that if Jesus came back today, he'd be arrested for loitering. Apparently this also applies to rock stars of former generations. What is the world coming to?

"The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind,
The answer is blowin in the wind."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Have Litter Box, Will Travel


Just when you start to think there's hope for us, the human race does it again.

This Clouded Leopard cub was captured in Bangladesh while eating a dead monkey with its mother and sibling. The species had not been sighted in over twenty years and was considered extinct, so this discovery means that there may be a small but healthy breeding population surviving in the wild. The mother and other cub managed to escape.

The villagers intended to cage and sell the animal to the highest bidder, but conservationists pressured them to release it back into the wild. Unfortunately, the cub is probably too young to survive on its own, and realistically there is no chance that its mother will be able to find it again. So a beautiful animal which is so endangered that it was thought to be gone forever has been dealt yet another blow by human stupidity and greed.

Besides, if they were going to tear it away from its mother and screw with its survival, they should have let me adopt it. All they had to do was ask. I know many humans who would qualify as food for a creature that eats monkey meat. It probably all tastes like chicken anyway.

Friday, July 10, 2009

King Solomon Would Be Troubled


It seems that Debbie Rowe, the biological mother of Michael Jackson's two older children, is about to sue for custody of them and of course, the many millions that will go along with them for their care and feeding. She apparently has not seen them in about ten years, since Prince Michael was two and his sister, Paris, a year old. It is well-documented that she conceived them in vitro during her marriage to the King of Pop as a "personal favor" because he needed to be a father. She was paid millions of dollars plus a house in Beverly Hills and a car for her services. She has stated that she didn't want the kids, that "they don’t call me Mom because I don’t want them to. They’re Michael’s children. I had them because I wanted him to be a father.”

Under California law, if a child has two parents and one dies, the other automatically gets custody of the child. Therefore, Ms. Rowe will probably get them unless the Jackson family can prove that she would be detrimental to their wellbeing. The substitute guardian under their father's will is Diana Ross, who apparently doesn't even know the children. Debbie Rowe sounds like a turtle which lays its eggs in the sand and swims back to sea, not a good and loving mother by anyone's description, even her own. Yet Katherine Jackson, designated guardian under MJ's will, is 79 years old, and along with her comes Michael's father Joe, who abused him horribly during his entire childhood.

King Solomon is most famous as a judge of incomparable wisdom, which was sorely tested when two women came to his court with a baby whom both women claimed as their own. Solomon threatened to split the baby in half. One woman was prepared to accept the decision, but the other begged the king to give the live baby to the other woman. Solomon then knew that the second woman was the real mother.

Let's hope it doesn't take such drastic measures to determine the fate of the Jackson children.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

And Jingo was my Name-O


As a lifelong Liberal with a philosophy slightly to the left of whoopee, imagine my surprise when I realized a half-hour ago that I have decided jingoistic tendencies. Who knew?

Flip and I went to the Palace of Fine Arts, three blocks from our home, for a pleasant stroll around the swan lake. Most of the area had been cordoned off because of a movie being filmed, a Bollywood movie no less, and American bouncers were keeping people outside the perimeters. I raised my camera to shoot some large equipment and a large guy instantly appeared to tell me it was not allowed. I told him that this is a free country. He said it was at the request of the film makers. I said that was ridiculous. "Is there a possibility that you could obey that request?" he asked, smirking.

"There's a possibility," I said. "but probably not. And when you use the word 'obey,' it becomes an order, not a request. An order you don't have the right to give."

A second large muscle-type guy got in my face and said "No pictures allowed." I said, "That's absurd." He argued with me and then told me that I would have to get off the sidewalk, which was outside the roped-off area. I stood my ground. He jutted his chin at a group of people gathered beyond us on the sidewalk and said, 'That's what we're trying to prevent." I said, "The Constitution gives us the right to congregate. You're American. You must know that." He said, "Well, we're trying to keep the sidewalks clear for -- handicapped people." I looked both ways. I didn't see any. "I'd be more than happy to get out of the way if a handicapped person comes along, but in the meantime, I'm not in their way." (It should be noted that I am a small person. I could not occupy an entire sidewalk if I tried.) He said, "Well, you can't take pictures here." I said, "The Palace of Fine Arts is a famous photographic destination. All these people either live in the neighborhood or are tourists. You can't forbid people to take pictures."

He said, "I'm not trying to give you a rough time." I said, reasonably, "And I'm not trying to give you one, but it's just silly." I snapped another shot as I walked away. He did not grab my camera. He couldn't. I'm a girl. Sometimes it comes in handy.

I have a problem with people who set themselves up as authority figures, and I also have a problem with the many who meekly accept the authority of anyone who says he has some. But what really rankles is that all of this was for a Bollywood movie. Still, if they want to work here, they need to have a little respect for those of us who actually make this city our home. If you walk into my life, don't tell me that I have no right to be there.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fishbowl Living


The unthinkable has happened and yet more noxious substances have hit the fan. For months there has been a vacant apartment directly across from us, separated by our backyard and the one that belongs to the other building. Today we noticed that someone had moved in. He has set up his laptop in his window which has a perfect view of our bed, and he either works from home or doesn't work at all because he has been stationed at his command post all day. He is terrorizing his neighbors and doesn't even know - or care.

I closed our window coverings which I usually keep open during the day because I like the sun flooding the room, my many plants need it, and it also provides extra heat which is nearly always helpful in San Francisco. The apartment is claustrophobic with everything shut, and there is really no other place to put the bed. I feel like a zoo animal. Big Brother is watching us, 24/7.

My gentle husband suggests that we buy a BB gun, a great idea in theory but neither of us wants to live in prison. Then he decided to stare back at the guy for as long as it takes to discomfit him. I suspect it will take forever as people generally select a place for their computer and keep it there. I considered painting a giant middle finger and propping it in our window, or setting up one of our computers there in the spirit of fighting fire with fire. Maybe dancing around the room naked, although that could be counter-productive. I have always heard that the people of Samoa settle disputes by hurling rocks. Does anyone know a nice rock-throwing Samoan who would help us out?

Let's just say that I won't be sending any Welcome Wagon baskets over there, unless they are outfitted with a timer. Meanwhile, I need to research the Peeping Tom laws.

Park Here and Prepare to Meet thy Doom



If the powers that be want me to continue living in San Francisco, they are going to have to stop giving me tickets.

I felt so lucky to find a rock star parking space right across the street from my destination. It was two spaces uphill from a flat street. I put more money in the meter than I thought I would need and bounced into the hardware store. I even saw the meter person citing another car but I knew I was doing everything right, so I wasn't worried. When I came out, there was still time on my meter and a ticket on my windshield for not turning my wheels out as much as I should on a hill. Fair enough, except that I was not on a hill. I was at the bottom of a hill, which doesn't count. What kind of person rides around checking people's tires all day, anyway?

I know the city needs money - we have a $24.3 billion budget deficit. But there is no way they are going to get all of it out of me. Do the math. Even at a cool hundred per ticket, I'd have to be racking up thousands of them every hour to make a dent. They really need to come up with a better plan.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Spoiled

It was bound to happen. Flip wants a digital camera just like mine, although he remained fiercely loyal to his Nikon N-90 and had no interest in the digital, also a Nikon, when I got it. But now he does. In fact, he wants my camera.

"I have a birthday coming," he said. There was positively oil dripping off him.

"You do NOT!" I said. "This is JUNE. I have a birthday in June. Yours is months away." These days it's hard to tell if he is trying to con me or if his memory has lapsed again. He had the grace to look sheepish, just a little.

It's my own fault. I have created a monster. Since his disease appeared in our life, I have worked overtime trying to keep him happy to make up for all he is losing. It was only fair. But it seems I have my limits. I will not give up my birthday for anyone, even him.

"It's not as if I'm Darth Vader," he said reasonably. That helps so much.

"Yeah, well he can't have my camera either."

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Your Mama Doesn't Live Here


As we were heading out for sushi tonight, Flip noticed a gas can in the building garage. The garage is at street level and our apartment, which is considered the first floor, is actually up a flight of stairs and next to the one above the garage. The couple who park their SUV by the gas can are chain smokers who toss their butts all over the garage floor. Fire and gasoline do not constitute a recipe for good health, so after dinner I wrapped the gas can in a large garbage bag and drove it to a dumpster by the bay. I wonder how long it will be before someone misses it.

Just for the record, I do not normally steal other people's property but I justify the deed because whoever left it there does not have the right to endanger everyone in the building. I assume it belonged to the SUV couple who have loud drunken parties every Saturday night, sometimes during the week as well. They stink up the building with their cigarette smoke, and are patently unconcerned with the comfort of others. The female half of the couple has "Connie the Great" typed on her mailbox label, and the male half often drapes his wet suit right on top of my plants on a table in the garden, so asking them to remove it would have accomplished nothing except perhaps being treated to a bird flipping.

Besides, what could be a better ending to a lovely evening than a little after-dinner petty larceny?

Thursday, June 04, 2009

But I'm Too Young to be Old


It's all over now. I'm done for. I might as well buy myself a nice cane, or a walker, because I've been outed. I'm old.

My neighborhood health food store gives discounts to seniors on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I am usually in there several times a week but am always happy when my visits coincide with one of those days as 10% off their prices is not to be sneezed at.

Today, engaged in conversation with the delightful, certified organic young man at the check stand, I forgot to mention my senior status. He smiled kindly as he announced my total and said, "Do you get any special discounts today?" Of course I do. I'm old as dirt, but while it was lovely of him to be concerned for my pocketbook, my feelings were hurt. I have reached the point at which strangers no longer clutch their throats and gasp, "But you couldn't be a senior!" I thanked him for his tact. "I try," he said. I felt like Granny Clampett. It's amazing how ego can outlast youthfulness. Of course, if my eyesight continues to decline, I will be able to reenter the world of fantasy again one day, especially if a white cane and perhaps a seeing eye dog are in my future. But for now, I am living with cold, hard reality, and it sucks.

Flip reminded me that in our neighborhood, everyone is young, as in 20 or 30-something young. "They think forty is ancient," he said. It was a gallant effort, but after a brief flutter of recognition, failed to make me feel better. My daughter recently remarked that I should live in Europe, where older women are worshiped. I don't know if that applies to older American women, but at this point, I'll take what I can get.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Bargain


Today I received an e-mail advertising Tonino Lamborghini driving shoes for men or women in a variety of colors. A virtual steal at only $268. Made in Italy, actual Lamborghini sold separately. I think the gods are toying with me.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

And the Winner Is...

Scarlett of From the Shores of Introspect and Retrospect, who won the drawing for a copy of Claudia Hall Christian's book, "The Fey."

Congratulations, Scarlett, and enjoy!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

High Maintenance Woman

I want to test drive a Lamborghini. It's either that or eating two pounds of dark chocolate, and driving is less likely to induce a Diabetic coma.

The showroom guards will probably require my Dunn & Bradstreet rating, a blood sample, genealogy, character references from the captains of industry who recently received humongous payouts from the government, and a note from Harry Winston.

I suppose I should wear shoes when I present myself, and perhaps the pelts of dead animals, artfully arranged to look as if they grew on me, Van Cleef & Arpels diamonds dripping from my earlobes, wrists, and hanging between my boobs, which I might add are my own. No plastic has been hurt in the making of this product.

The company logo seems to represent the Golden Calf, which in Biblical times symbolized a system of worship. This strikes me as incredibly blatant, but realistic. It's hard to be subtle when you're driving a vehicle worth more than a million smackeroos. ("Smackeroo" means both "dollar" and "kiss", which I also find disturbing.)

The Lamborghini is apparently the least fuel efficient vehicle on the market, but that is very likely of no concern to those who can afford one. Nor does the maker produce enough of them to cause emission problems on the highway.

The company was started in 1963 in a little town near Bologna, Italy, by Ferruccio Lamborghini, a manufacturer of tractors. I'm guessing he was tired of testing vehicles in stinking fields strewn with cow-pies and needed a change of pace.

Lamborghini was an enthusiastic owner of sports cars including Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Maserati and Ferrari. He eventually owned three Ferraris, all of which had recurring clutch problems. He complained to Enzo Ferrari, who stated derisively that a tractor maker was not qualified to criticize his cars. The gauntlet was thrown down. Lamborghini began to repair the clutches himself and noticed that some of their components were exactly the same as those he used on his tractors. Encouraged, he commissioned several of the top auto designers in the world to build a car that would rival Ferrari. The result would eventually become the Lamborghini 350GT, and a new company was born in the process. Its fortunes have waxed and waned over the years and it is presently owned by Volkswagen Group. The people's car.

I should probably just go for the chocolate, Diabetes be damned. The folks behind the counter at the Godiva store have never asked for my pedigree, and there is also no dress code. Sometimes they even throw in a freebie. And if I eat enough of it, I can probably run all the way home without my car. It doesn't get any more fuel efficient than that.

Monday, May 25, 2009

My Failed Music Career

My first musical instrument was the triangle in my kindergarten rhythm band, clearly the best one. The tambourines and maracas were a little too much like baby rattles, which we had only recently outgrown, and drumsticks without drums were anticlimactic, like the sound of one hand clapping. Cymbals had no tone and bells were just stupid.

A few years later, it was decreed that I take piano lessons like my older brother. Our father had been a concert pianist in his youth, and the first piece of furniture my parents bought when they married was a Mason & Hamlin baby grand from A Showroom. Apparently, my father preferred its bass registers to the Steinway he also auditioned.

My brother had learned to bang out "Country Gardens," emphasizing every note equally like a military march. He was praised mightily and enjoined to perform every time my parents had company. This charming ritual kept all but their most devoted friends from returning to our house a second time.

My piano teacher was Miss Kelly. She had stiff, cadaverish yellow hair and applied two perfectly round patches of rouge to her pale powdered cheeks that resembled unpressed linen. She sat next to me on the piano bench and spat when she spoke. Dodging spittle took all my effort and besides, I had very small hands so after a few months, we called it quits. My parents were probably as relieved as I was.

My father especially loved to play Chopin etudes, but sometimes he played Broadway show tunes and we all stood around the piano and sang. I had perfect pitch and was proud of my clear soprano voice. On singing nights I got sent to bed late. My brother locked himself in his room and my parents settled at the kitchen table for their nightly pot of coffee with milk and sugar. While my father smoked his last cigarette of the day, my mother washed their cups and saucers and they went to bed, too.

One winter’s night while walking home from school, I heard the strains of a violin through a window and sat on the curb long past dinner, transfixed. After a lot of begging, I got to take violin lessons. In six months I had worked my way through the first several lesson books, which normally takes years.

My teacher, who was first violinist with the Radio City Music Hall orchestra, told my father there was nothing more he could teach me. He urged him to arrange for lessons with a master teacher in Manhattan, but my father had no interest in driving to the city for this and arranged for my teacher to give him violin lessons instead so we could play duets. At first I thought he wanted to be closer to me, but what he wanted was to play better than me. Since he was already a brilliant pianist, I wished he would just accompany me on his own instrument and leave me to mine, but nobody asked my opinion.

My father played violin like my classmates sounded out "Dick and Jane." He forced me to practice with him, but it was painful to witness a beautiful instrument being violated nightly as few things sound as ghastly as beginning violin. Before long, I gave it up and never played again.

My father seamlessly returned to his beloved Chopin and I sang loudly in my room every night with the door closed. My target was Martin, the blue-eyed blond boy across the street, not my type but a boy nonetheless, and I needed the practice.

About this time I tried to write Popular songs, as they were called before Rhythm & Blues which became Rock & Roll, eventually morphing into simply Rock. I loved the music but noticed that the lyrics were often ungrammatical, and though I realized that grammar was being sacrificed for rhythm, I couldn’t bring myself to write double negatives. I hated that I was so uptight, but on a deep level I was terrified of sounding illiterate so my brilliant songwriting career never happened. I bootlegged a small radio under my pillow and listened to a New York DJ called Moondog play R&B every night until he went off the air at 2:30.

Years later, living in Nashville, I noticed that every other business was a pawn shop, filled mostly with musical instruments. In the heart of the country music Mecca is a soft underbelly I call the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, the place people come to become stars but mostly fail, even though some are immensely talented. I am not a country music fan, but have always wanted to write a song about the pawn shops of Nashville. Because it makes me cry. In my pickup truck. My Blue Tick Hound cries, too. Lord have mercy, it's enough to drive a body to drinkin' moonshine from my daddy's still after murderin' my cheatin' honky tonk boyfriend while awaitin' prison and redemption. My daddy was no coal miner, bless his heart, but maybe I could become obscenely rich, too, writing songs about poverty.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Author Tour Comes to San Francisco


One of my fellow bloggers whom I most admire is Claudia Hall Christian of On a Limb with Claudia. She has kept me in riveting bedtime stories for over a year with two (count 'em - TWO!!!) serial novels, Denver Cereal and The Fey. She is currently doing a blog tour with The Fey, a thinking woman's thriller-adventure story, and today is MY turn to host her and her fascinating characters.

1. Contest: Claudia is offering one free book to the reader of my choice. I will determine the winner in a drawing of all who ask for a copy, and announce it one week from today on May 31st.

2. Discounts: There is a special discount code, 2YSB5GPG, which gives my readers 10% off books when they purchase from Claudia's Create Space store. The discount does not work at Amazon.com, however.

INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR CLAUDIA HALL CHRISTIAN

1.) In your serialized novels, how many chapters ahead do you generally write before you publish them?


Denver Cereal is a true serial fiction. We publish on chapter a week. I have no real idea where it’s going or when it will end. Every time I worry that it’s ending, something else happens and story line is off and running again. I try to keep a month ahead of schedule. That said, life has kept me right on top of the deadlines. Sometimes the chapter goes up Sunday night just before publication. I don’t particularly like doing that because I miss major edits. But a chapter a week is a tough schedule.

The Fey is a novel with a finite beginning, a middle, and an end. In fact, there’s two sequels (Learning to Stand and Who I Am) waiting in the wings to be published. The Fey is completed and available for sale. Learning to Stand is in final revisions based on the last editorial review. Who I Am runs in the same time frame as Denver Cereal. (For example, the event that recently happened to Paddie Hargreaves is a part of Who I Am.) Who I Am is in first draft form.

2.) (a.) How many hours a day do you work?

I’ve never thought of work as different from play or living or relating. Thus, since I’ve been writing, I’ve never kept track of the hours. I get to my desk around eight in the morning and leave it around seven at night. In the time, I handle marketing, writing, manage the art work, care for the websites and also write. I try to get words on a page for at least four hours a day. Of course, some of my best story ideas happen in the hours I’m not at my desk.

(b.) How do you divide your time between the two projects?

I’ve done different things at different times. Write now, I start the week with Denver Cereal. Midweek, I transition to working on Learning to Stand (the second in the Fey series)

3.) I know the characters in both your books are somewhat related, and several of them even appear in both. Are any based on actual people?

No. In my mind, they are beings in their own right. They exist somewhere in some place that I’ve never been. I strive to be clear enough to tell their stories well. I met them when they appear on the page.

4.) It is a truly amazing feat to write two novels at the same time when most of us can't even manage one.

(a.) How do you navigate between Denver Cereal and The Fey without favoring one over the other?


Have you ever been in the mood for chocolate? You eat chocolate for a few days, then aren’t interested anymore. That’s what it’s like for me. I have a Denver Cereal mood then a Fey mood. The pressure to keep up with the weekly chapters keeps Denver Cereal in the forefront. And still I’ve devoted weeks to polishing a chapter or scene in the Fey series.

I’ve also been working on two other serial fictions – a real time serial set in Philadelphia and another post-apocalyptic set in New Mexico. My mentor would like me to have more serial fiction in more cities. I’ve held him at bay for a while. When Denver Cereal reached it’s year anniversary this June, I may start another. We’ll see.

(b.) Do you have a secret favorite child between the two?

I don’t think I favor one character over another. Some days, I like one character or the other as I work on telling their stories.

The character I admire the most is Alexandra Hargreaves. I’ve learned the most from her. She is tough and funny and loving all in the same moment. She has a kind of self confidence that comes from being really tested.

(c.) Also, who is the character you most enjoy writing about in each book, and why?

To me, they are unique, perfect in their own imperfections, valuable, and I’m merely their scribe.

5.) Do you work from outlines, or do you let your characters lead you where they need to go?

I let the characters lead me. I’m frequently stunned by what happens. For example, I had no idea Jacob would be injured or that Trevor would be killed. These things just happened.

I generally have a sense of where things are going. Sometimes, I have the specific stories written out already. And still, I’m regularly stunned at what’s revealed.

6.) I've noticed that Jill has become more confident and is no longer the timid, meek woman we first knew, traumatized by her mysterious disappearance when her parents died and her abusive marriage. In fact, she becomes more like Alex, the heroine of your other book, all the time while Alex has become more vulnerable. Do you believe that every downtrodden woman has an inner Alex, and every strong, confident one an inner Jill? Please discuss.

Jill and Alex represent two separate archetypes of women.

Jill is very Athena-like. We meet her when she’s doing an incredibly courageous act – attending her ex-husband’s engagement party to set the record straight. She survived the situation with her parents and the poverty that it brought. She has a lot of secrets – one of which is her own power.

Alex has traits of Artemis. Everything is play to her. She greets every event and challenge person as if it was placed in front of her to toy with. She’s capable of great loyalty and deep love.

I believe that every downtrodden woman is incredibly strong. How else would they survive? They stay in difficult situation because they are so strong, not because they are weak. In the end, it’s this strength that can lead them to happiness.

7.) If Jacob is psychic, how is it that he didn't know Jill was his mystery lover and Katy his child, especially since Delphie knew?

Psychic’s aren’t any good at predicting things for themselves. Things get very muddy when it’s about them. Some people say it’s against universal law for them to know their own future. Jacob has a sense of what will happen, but not the details. He knew that Katy would be his daughter, for example, but not that she was his biological daughter. That’s pretty realistic for psychics.

8.) Is there a castle in Denver like the one in Denver Cereal?

There is a home in which the Castle is based upon. I’d tell you where it is but I keep forgetting to tell the occupants! I also officed in the Crooke Patterson Mansion for three years. The scope and size of Crooke Patterson is more similar to the Castle than the original house.

9.) Writers are always cautioned to write what they know. Are there other reasons why these books had to take place in Denver?

One of the beauties of serial fiction is it’s capacity to interact with the real world. Dickens used real characters to help make his fictional characters come alive. In Tales of the City, a serial fiction set in San Francisco, Armstead Maupin was able to change the way people thought and felt about AIDS. Cupcakes are a big deal because they were highlighted in Sex in the City.

My hope with Denver Cereal was to include real streets, stores and locations. Various readers have told me that they get the feeling they could walk down a street in Denver and see Jacob, Jill or any of the Denver Cereal characters. That sense of realism brings a wonderful grounding.

I’m not sure why the Fey thriller novels take place in Denver. I only know that the story is better, deeper and more consistent when it takes place here. Part of the current rewrite of Learning to Stand is bringing it back to Denver. And it’s better here.

10.) The Fey is a multi-book series while, if I'm not mistaken, Denver Cereal is intended to be only one book. What were your reasons for expanding one but not the other?

There are at least eight books planned for the Alex the Fey series. We’re just getting started there.

As a serial fiction, Denver Cereal can continue… forever potentially. I believe the longest running serial fiction, the Diary of V in Redbook, ran for nine years.

I don’t have a specific timeline or number of books for either project. I will continue to write as long as these characters have something to say. So far, they haven’t stopped talking.

11.) Honey and Brianna have names but Trevor's second wife, their sister, does not. I've theorized that you didn't want to ruin any name by giving it to someone so evil, but Lucretia Borgia, Regan in The Exorcist, Carrie, and Cruella de Ville all have names so I'm probably spinning my head in the wrong direction. Would you explain why you didn't give her one?

I chose not to give Trevor’s wife a name because everyone knows someone like her. Everyone has a person in their life that treats the world as if it owes them things. The hope was that the reader could project their own evil name onto her.

Denver Cereal is inhabited with flawed people who, at the end of the day, try to do their best. Sometimes they succeed. Many times they fail. Positive, hopeful characters get too little time in our modern imagination. Characters like Trevor’s wife (the step-whore) have dominated fiction for the last twenty years. She doesn’t need a name. Because she, like all people like her, are just wasps that get in the way of the positive, hopeful, doing their best people of the world.

12.) I'm confused about the fact that Alex and Max have been referred to as "identical twins" often enough that it seems like a biological description rather than just a statement that they strongly resemble each other. How is this possible when they are not same-sex twins?

Opposite sex identical or monozygotic twins are possible, but incredibly rare. There are three documented cases in the world right now. And even then, technically they are not identical because one has two X chromosomes and the other has an XY chromosome.

Alexandra and Maxwell Hargreaves are monozygotic twins. A few of our early readers are monozygotic twins. They have agree that beyond the way they look, Alex and Max act like monozygotic twins.

13.) Do you speak fluent Gaelic? My great nephew from County Wicklow taught me to say "kiss my ass" which sounds like "pog mah hog" ( with hard "o's") but I couldn't spell it to save my hog.

I don’t speak Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic or Ulster Gaelic. The Fey team learned Irish Gaelic because it’s not spoken in the Middle East and only rarely spoken in Europe. Knowing Irish Gaelic gave them a chance to speak to each other with ease without fear of being overheard or easily understood even if they were monitored.

14.) When you come to San Francisco for an author signing, can we do dinner?

I am thrilled to come and spend time with you – dinner, a walk, a cup of tea. Name the place and time and I will engender to be there.