Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving Eve

On this eve of Thanksgiving 2017, I pause to think of all the things that I am grateful for:
  • Three children and five furry babies who are in good health
  • A smart, funny, prolific partner who loves me
  • A warm, safe roof over our heads
  • Food in the cupboard and the refrigerator
  • Family & friends who love me, care about me and treasure me
  • An inspected 2013 minivan without any warning dashboard lights on 
  • Health insurance and good dental care that I can still currently afford to pay
  • The ability to get out of bed and go to work
  • A sharp brain and a quick wit
  • Access to books, the Internet (for now), newspapers – and the ability to research and form opinions based on facts
  • In all likelihood, I will not wake up any time soon and discover that I, or my family, will be deported or chased from our home
  • I will probably never be targeted, assaulted or murdered for my gender identity, sexual orientation or gender expression … something that people I love will never be able to say
  • No one in my family has died in a hurricane or its piss poor management aftermath, or from escaping an international crisis, or under military crackdown and martial law, or from political dissent. None of them have washed up cold and blue on the shores of a country that they hoped would shelter them.
  • No one in my family has been harassed, belittled, spat on, ignored or taunted for the color of their skin or their religion. This is the benefit of privilege, and to deny this is ignorance.
  • I am embarrassingly ashamed while still thankful that although I have talked with my children about being careful and respectful with every word when and if they have to interact with the police in the future, in all likelihood, there is little chance they will be harmed if they don’t heed this advice. No disrespect is meant to any one of my friends or family in law enforcement. There is a known truth that families of color worry about police interactions with their children and have conversations about staying alive.    

And hey, before you think I’m all doom and gloom, that the daily subversion of our rights and attempts at writing a “new normal” by the current administration and Republican led Senate and House have caused me to lose all joy in my life, fear not. I am thankful for chocolate and wine and the perfect dirty joke. I am grateful for sex, no matter how sporadic it may be, and the remembrance of every first and last kiss. I’m thankful I’ve made it 45 years, that I had my mom as long as I did, and in a note of pride, this year my first Amazon bestselling poetry collection was released from Nixes Mate Books. I could rattle through hundreds of other truths, but I’ll spare you.  As we enter this holiday season, one with more unease and stress than many of us have had in a long time, I hope that you can recognize all that you have, my loves. And how little so many others do.          

Friday, October 13, 2017

Country Songs

     As much as my mother liked to believe that I sprang from her thigh with no influence from my father, there is unfortunately, more of him in me than I care to admit most days. I can enjoy the hell out of an adult beverage when the kids are all in bed, although unlike him I know when to stop. I have a dark temper, but I have learned how to choke it back or at least kick things in private. But when I'm in a funk, and if we're being honest the funk is strong, every sappy, morose, shitty love song was written for me.
     My father tended to mix the alcohol with the music -- country being his preferred avenue of self-flagellation -- for a one, two punch for why we all sucked as wife and children. When in his cups with that radio on, the temper wasn't far behind, so you best be out of reach of his hands. On a side note, I think that's why I hold my anger in, because I imagine I know what I'm capable of so best to just direct it to my spleen.  Anywho ...
     He could transplant himself into any country song and take on their indignation or sadness. It was suddenly his pickup truck, his dog and his cheated heart. This may be why I've never really cared for country music. Oh sure, there's a song or two that's quite catchy, and I know a ton of the older stuff by default, but it's just not my jam. Tonight we grabbed dinner at the Texas Roadhouse, which for those of you who aren't familiar with that chain, is all about the yummy food, country themed decor, servers who line dance in the aisles during certain songs, a birthday saddle that you are serenaded to whilst sitting on it, and very loud country music. We haven't been in some, and usually I can ignore the other stuff and focus on the food, but as I mentioned earlier, I'm in a funk so that music needled its way into my brain.
     Nothing destroys the sweet joy of a loaded baked potato like thinking about all the boys that don't love you anymore. Like I'm sitting there trying to keep a jovial look on my face while the image of being dumped in the sixth grade is going through my head. Boys are my kryptonite, and I can fall in like/love with you at the drop of a hat. Craig Fuller of Pure Prairie League singing "Amie" ... check. Voguing to Madonna during the high school talent show ... check. Diving into the third base stands to catch a Trot Nixon pop-up in the 12th inning ... check. Multiple mix tapes filled with an interesting array of songs that oddly all fit together ... I'll probably marry you.
     We left the restaurant, saying goodbye to the stuffed armadillo on the way out, and once in the car I hoped to turn on some sweet loud rock to drown out those dumping images. Instead we talked about how the world was falling apart, that the people of Puerto Rico are dying and how different and safer everything felt just 11 months ago. Suddenly, thinking about all the boys who might have adored me a million years ago didn't seem so dreary. I'm still in a funk though. Maybe, I'll go kick something.  
        

Friday, September 15, 2017

Whirlwind

     Matthew walked into my office today looking a little skinnier than the last time I had seen him. We'd worked together on a couple things over the last 2 years but nothing major. He handed me his checkbook and said he wanted to close his account, and while I was at it, I should close his credit cards, too. That's not a common request, so I asked why. He paused long enough to lean forward and put his arms on my desk. Then he said, "They told me I have three weeks left, so I want to tie everything up now."
     I probably blinked three or four times slowly, before I told him how sorry I was for him. He told me what cancer it was, but heaven help me, I can't remember it now. He tossed all the cards on the table and told me he would appreciate my help.  Meanwhile, his long term girlfriend came into the center, and I could see her over his shoulder through my office windows looking a little frantic. I motioned to her, and she came in. During our conversation, she several times mentioned that maybe the treatments would work and maybe he shouldn't close everything and maybe and maybe, before he took her hand and looking at me said, "There's no coming back from this."
     I took care of what he needed done, tried not to cry when the help desk representative asked why he wanted to close his cards, leaving it at "he's quite ill" and tried to make it as quick as possible. When you're measuring minutes, small talk and a casual pace seems like an unforgivable injustice. When he left, we all shook hands, and I wished them peace. He thanked me and said he was sorry that we wouldn't be working together again.    
     Not 15 minutes later, I was helping another older client who had come to remove his wife's name from their accounts, as she had recently died. He had brought his daughter to put her on the accounts, and although he was a tall man, he sat slumped beside her barely lifting his head to look at me. All his statements directed to the floor. In the middle of our conversation, my assistant manager needed to ask me a question. She had an irate customer who wanted what he wanted and was pitching a mini fit. I agreed with her decision and went back to my client.  Mid-way through collecting a death certificate and trying to draw out answers from my client, I head a thud in the next office and immediately excused myself.
     The irate customer in the next office was clearly trying to bully my assistant by emphatically banging his hand on her desk. I assessed the situation, asked him a couple questions and everything was exactly as she had explained to me. He didn't want to pay check cashing fees and was going to open and close an account every week in order to avoid them. I told him we wouldn't be doing that. He got louder and angrier and demanded things to go his way, not quite getting in my face. I reiterated this would not be happening and within another sentence or two, I told him he could leave or we'd call the cops. He threatened to call them himself, then quickly changed tactics and said he didn't want this to get out of hand and he just wanted to open the account. I asked him if he was going to close it next week ... did he want to shake my hand on his word? "I'm not shaking your hand," followed with something close to just open the fucking account. I said we were done and no account was going to be opened. I made sure he was out of her office and then went back into mine.
     I profusely apologized to my client, the widower I had left behind, as the jackass knocked on the windows of  my office on his way out. It seems as though it's a never ending whirlwind of emotions every day now.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Dan

     Dan told me yesterday that he has pancreatic cancer. He's a older client that I've befriended. One of my co-workers found out in advance and gave me a head's up, trying to ease my grief, but it didn't make a difference when he looked me in the eye.
     In his early 80's, you'd never guess it. Smart and quick witted, funny, and always on the move, Dan just doesn't slow down. He spent his working life as a man of finance and industry, made a fortune and protected it all for his kids and grandchildren. The last ten years have been spent in twice daily visits to a nursing home where his wife resides. She's long since forgotten who he is, but he goes morning at night to help her eat, to sit by her side, to just be there.
     He told me that he's got weeks of chemo scheduled, then weeks of radiation, and then finally surgery to cut the remaining tumor out. Dan told me that he's going to remain positive, but he's concerned.  His kidneys function at about 30%, and although he's been taking all necessary measures to mitigate any issue from that for years, his doctors are concerned about what impact the cancer treatment will have on them. He told me he's had a good run.
     This caused me to get weepy and say that his wife needed him around, and that's when Dan quickly shut my sentimentality down. He told me that she was extremely well cared for in the nursing home. She wants for nothing. But she has no idea who he is. He comes and goes without acknowledgement and with no expectation. He said, Heather, she stares off into space, has a hard time swallowing and has long since stopped being able to dance with me. And at that last image, my facade broke and I had to stop looking at him while he spoke.
     He told me about his upcoming plans and that I would probably not see a lot of him over the next couple of months, as he figured he'd be wiped out from the treatments. He also told me that he's going to a show downtown next week and he bought orchestra seats for himself and his daughter, figuring, what the hell ... why not. Why fuss and fret over the cost at this point, he said. He stood up and told me that he was going to be positive and that I shouldn't worry. Then he hugged me goodbye -- hugged me hard -- and whispered in my ear that it had been nice knowing me.
     It feels some days as though the older I get, the more I say goodbye.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Tonight's thoughts

     It's been a rough couple of months for me and mine since I last wrote to you, my loves. May is a really icky month, between Mom's birthday and Mother's Day, and this year it was made all the tougher by my job not honoring my request for the day off. My sister and I still went to Mom's grave, but it was two days before her birthday. We had to turn and burn to get there and back in a day and a half. It also impacted Mother's Day morning with my kids, which led to a whole other level of guilt. The schedule hasn't gotten any better, and it's wearing me thin. So thin in fact that I got the flu and was sick throughout the bulk of June. And now here we sit in July, the year half complete, babies older and hopefully we're a little wiser.
     But amidst this brouhaha, an amazing thing has happened. My first book of poetry has been released with Nixes Mate Books. I tell you this not to shamelessly hustle, but to share the enormity of this moment. Over these posts, I have described that my faith, music and words have in various parts of my life kept me alive, and sometimes not in that order. I'm not speaking in hyperbole. Books were a means to escape, to learn, to change, to become a better version of me. I've been writing poetry since the fourth grade. In  my teenage years, I kept most of it kept to myself and shared only occasionally with mom. Man, it was angsty and dark and filled with unrequited love.
     In college, I spent more time writing non-fiction, getting my poetry fix through Forensics and hours spent in the theater, my longed for vocation. Later in my twenties, I would ride the subway in Boston and write in notebooks. There were poems for babies that didn't exist yet, for worries for the future, for boys I loved. Then the children came and everything changed, as it does for most of us. Meanwhile, I worked for a bookstore, so I was around books all the time. I was always waiting to be found out as a fraud. Everyone I worked with read fiction and the classics, some could wax on about esoteric themes in literature, others had read every bestseller ever. I was the girl who read comic books and poetry and philosophy, so I memorized all the book jackets and learned how to confidently upsell something I had never cracked open.
     Books are light. They are freedom. They are hope. Unlike your pants, they never stop fitting, although you can outgrow them. They are knowledge, commiseration and growth. The first time I saw one of my poems online and then in print, I was giddy. Mom made sure we had library cards the moment we could print our names. To have a book with my name on the front cover would thrill her to no end. She was a writer, too. Honestly, she could do anything creative if she gave thought to it. I wrote her a poem for her birthday more than fifteen years ago. It was super sappy, and she ate it up. After her death, we eventually moved her desk into our bedroom. I haven't removed a thing from its original spot, other than to give my siblings their baby books that she kept in the lower right hand drawer. I've added a few items of mine in the hope that they will absorb her magic. I found the envelope with that poem I wrote her tucked between some files. She's in a lot of this book. I think she'd like that.


   

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Parenting

     This morning at work, I caught a flash of judgment about my parenting. It's possible that I'm blowing it out of proportion because obviously, I'm touchy about anything that relates to the kids. These three humans I adore are the best thing I will ever do with my life. They are the chance for me to ensure that my bloodline carries on in this world long after I've shuffled off this mortal coil.
     Papa is out of town this weekend at a reading for his latest poetry book. When it was arranged, I was originally scheduled to be off, but life happens, as it all too frequently does, and now I had to work. We then had to turn to the 19 year old to watch the younger two until I got home. This meant getting up wicked early for her when she normally stays up late writing. She did it, but it made her really anxious and upset just before I left. Her father was calming her down, as I walked out the door. She was going to have to be up and alone for a several hours before her siblings woke up and that added to the stress. She watches the other two when my husband and I go out for a couple hours, like to get the groceries or go to a local reading, so being in charge isn't a problem normally, but this felt different to her.
     Obviously, every child is unique and capable of different things. What you or I did at 14, 15 or 16 may or not be what another child then or now could or even should do. My husband and I have always believed that the kids should be young for as long as possible, because once you 'grow-up" there's no going back and being an adult often sucks, if we're all being honest with each other. When I was younger than 13, I was watching my siblings when we got home from school. My mother's expectations were that I do my homework, keep them alive, read her mind about whatever cleaning was necessary and start dinner. She got home late from work and that was life. Was it fair to me? Probably not, but I was the eldest and it was deemed my responsibility. As I got older, I had all sorts of activities after school (sports, theater, etc.), so I had to get myself home and then get done whatever I could before she got home.
     We were poor. She was a single parent. I was forced to grow-up faster then a lot of kids my age. I don't think it was a blessing or that it gave me some magical gift of strength. It taught me from a young age that life is work and that there's always more work. It taught me that you have to put up with shitty bosses so you don't get fired, since your kids like to eat and have electricity. I learned how to figure out how expensive something was in relation to gallons of milk or a loaf of bread; i.e. that shirt costs 6 gallons of milk, do you really need it? I learned that your chores have to get done before you're allowed to eat, that a meal is your reward for washing dishes and vacuuming the house. These aren't new ideas for some of you either. Unfortunately, I never forgot any of these lessons, but I didn't want my kids to feel the same way. Don't get me wrong, they have chores. In fact, they have a lot of chores, but their #1 responsibility is learning. Since we home school, that varies from day to day, but after chores, it's learning, writing, reading, music, language, the news, video games and a host of other interests.
     Getting back to this morning, when I got to work I told my team briefly what happened and said that if she called me, I'd have to leave. When I mentioned she was anxious, that seemed to make sense to everyone, but then someone said, but isn't your son 16, and I could swear I saw a flash of raised eyebrow. I deflected, talked about how the other two weren't even up yet, etc, but that moment stuck in my head and I've been ruminating on it all day. Intellectually, my kids are well beyond their age group, but emotionally they're a bit younger. By allowing them to have a longer childhood, I began to wonder if I've done them a disservice. My son is plenty cynical, and the eldest isn't far behind, so it's not as though they don't know about how hard life can be and often is. They have lost people they love. They are very politically minded and aware of current events, concerned how this administration will effect their future and their family. We challenge them to think critically, but we haven't challenged them to pick up the pace to grow-up.
     I've always felt that if you're questioning your parenting choices and decisions, you're probably on the right track. If you get too comfortable in your certainty on any topic, then you stop challenging yourself to do better and you stop growing as a human. I can be a better mother, a better friend, a better sibling - I'm an almost perfect wife, so not much room there for growth (haha) - but I know I can do better by them. The goal of every generation is we're supposed to screw them up less than we were screwed up by our own parents. It's going to be a long night of ruminating on my choices. I should probably find something to clean.          

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Oddness

     I had two odd transactions with customers at work today.  The first was with an older woman who although she doesn't come in that often is known to be a challenge. She's the sort of human that really doesn't think any of us are capable of doing our jobs correctly. I was helping her with a rather menial task, no big whoop, and we were exchanging small talk. Our entire encounter lasted less than five minutes, and during that time she insulted all my people as being too new to know how to do their jobs well (2 of the 3 working today have more than 20 years apiece with the company and the other one has 10 years), told me that one of the former male managers was so intelligent and so beautiful that she would frequently feel a need to tell him, and finally, she said that it was interesting how a young woman such as myself would have such an important job as manager at such a young age.  Because clearly I've used my extreme sexual prowess to work myself all the way into middle management in a slowly dying seaside community.  Nothing says success like feeling your brain atrophy while you order checks for octogenarians.
     The second odd transaction took place with an older man who also needed to order checks, because nobody can figure out how to do this through their computers apparently. I was touching base with my assistant manager in her office when he strolled in and asked for help. I told him we'd be happy to assist and was preparing to leave her to it, when he said he wanted to ask us a question, as well. Honest to God, this is as close to word for word as I can recall:

Client: He's my question. Let's pretend that the three of us work in an insurance company together.
Me: I'm sorry. What did you say?
C: So we're all working in an insurance company together.
M: Ok ...
C: I'm the boss and you ladies are the secretaries. Every day I come in and say please and thank you and we get along just fine. And one day, I call you a little girl when I'm talking to you. You don't like it and complain, and then I get fired. I mean, how is that fair.
M: Wow ... ok. (My assistant and I look at each other.)  In my experience, there's usually more to the story. One "little girl" isn't going to get anyone fired.
C: Well how is that sexual harassment? He didn't even touch her.
(Clearly, we have moved from the hypothetical at this point.)
Assistant: Sexual harassment isn't just about touching someone. It's often about how you make someone feel.
C: That's ridiculous! Come on. If you're not touching anyone, you're not harassing them. A man should lose his job over that? If you called me a young boy, I'd be happy.
M: I'm sure there's more to the story. Companies have to be super careful to not fire someone without just cause. They'd investigate, bring people in to interview the employees, really cover themselves before anyone would get fired.
A: I have to agree. That's my experience as well.
C: (throwing his hands in the air) I don't know what I expected talking to the two of you! Of course you're going to think he should be fired.
M: I didn't say anyone should get fired. You asked our opinion, and I think there's more to the story.

     I then excused myself to answer the phone in my office. When I got off, he was still belaboring the point with her. I heard her say, this is a different time now, sir. You can't say whatever you want to people without thinking about it first.  
     I know that I don't need to tell any of you reading this that there is a world of difference between calling a grown woman a "little girl" and telling an old man that he's "young." The first is a demeaning phrase used to talk down to someone and remind her to stay in her place, akin to calling a black man "boy." It's also incredibly demeaning to suggest that the surest way to advance on that old job hierarchy is to screw your way to the top. Unfortunately, some women far too easily buy into the bullshit they've been fed, too.  Age doesn't excuse harassment or make behavior acceptable.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Acceptance

     I'm thinking tonight about love, loss and obituaries. An odd mix, I know.  After work, I stopped in to Sara's wake. There was a large crowd of women laughing and sharing stories, oblivious to the evening sleet and snow coming down outside. I stood on the fringe scanning for an obvious family member to give my condolences to or her best friend Pam. I found her and the requisite family member keeping watch at the back right of the building near the casket. After extending my sympathies to Sara's kin and clasping Pam's hand, I knew that etiquette dictated I say my good-byes to Sara.
     Even though I've had a lot of people I care for die in my life, I've attended less than a handful of viewings mostly due to distance, timing, work schedule or cremation.  I was impressed by the people at the wake milling about from clique to clique and chatting each other up, all with Sara literally just over their shoulder. It was probably a testament to her personality how large a circle of friends she had; from her career as an educator, to her church, to college friends, town friends and decades with the Girl Scouts. So many people there to honor her and remember.
     Which brings me to obituaries. When I read hers, it was dignified, short and sweet. I've only been involved in writing one, and at the time I was kinda really sorta messed up, so my siblings and I enlisted my husband to make sure that the words all made sense.  On an interesting note, when we submitted it to what I will call my mother's hometown newspaper, they re-wrote part of it. That pissed me off immensely at the time. After I read Sara's, I couldn't help but think about how much was left out and how much would be left out of all of ours, out of mine.
     I'm not trying to be morbid, really I'm not, and maybe that's why you have a wake or a funeral or a celebration or some sort of event to allow people the chance to say out loud what you meant to them.  And I suppose that your chance to specifically mention the people who are beloved to you needs to come with each day, because we never know when the day you're going to get hit by a bus will come.  I absolutely adore taking anybody I love aside and telling them to their face how important they are to me, because I need you to know how special you are.  Not Hallmark trite crap, but the real stuff that matters, that I enjoy observing. My grown-up nieces have all gotten used to that last tearful good-bye from their silly Aunt Heather when we visit; my whispered thoughts on how awesome they are, how much I love them. I don't want them to read a line in my obituary that says "she is survived by" many beloved nieces. They need to know exactly how I feel. My only nephew and the great-nieces and great-nephews haven't gotten as much of this due to distance, a gigantic failing on my part.
     And then where is the place in the obituary to mention your treasured friends, your mentors, life-changing teachers, your great loves, to thank them for how they made you the human you are? Perhaps we should think of our obituaries more like an acceptance speech where there's no music to play you off or an extended acknowledgements page or album liner notes, and then I suppose you'd need to write it yourself in advance. Why leave it to someone else, allowing them to create a mythos of the real you? They'll sanitize you, my friends, and you're much too complex for that.
     For those of you still around when my time comes, be prepared for a party. I want you to laugh and sing, to tell dirty jokes and read poetry out loud, to eat and drink and tell as many stories as you can. Talk about the question game we used to play in the car, as there will be no need for secrets at that point. Talk about what it was like to kiss me.  Did we act together? Sing together? Talk about what it looked like when I lost my temper, when my sense of humor strayed towards a 14 year-old males, my ability to conjugate my favorite curse words. You're welcome to say sweet and lovely things, but don't belabor it too much because I've never been good at taking a compliment. I will haunt you.    
     I will continue to tell you all how much I love you, whether you ever tell me back or not. I don't say it for any of you to feel beholden to me to reciprocate, but for you to know my heart. (Although, I welcome any feelings you want to share ...I'm dorky that way.) I will tell you how strong you are and how proud I am of you, how hard you're working on improving your health, what an amazing parent you are, how I admire your dedication to your elderly parents, your patients, your writing, your crafting, your faith, your true self. I want to celebrate your love stories and dance to your music. I want to look you in the eyes and tell you how fantastic you are and how lucky I am to know and love you.  

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Requiem for Sara

     Sara died this weekend.  Her best friend Pam called me today at work to tell me.  Sara was one of my clients, but we had become friends.  We met almost two years ago when she came into my branch to get some help after her partner of 20 years, Beverly, had died.
     Sara was the sort of stereotypical New Englander that pops into your mind when you conjure up an image of one; a gruff, almost unreadable exterior, masking an encyclopedic knowledge of the Red Sox and what the weather over the coming week is supposed to be, a smile that spread through her eyes long before it reached her lips and a lightly acerbic honesty that endeared her to you. When Sara came to me for help, I was my normal empathetic self, prepared to cry when she discussed her love story and armed with how I would guide her through removing Beverly's name from their accounts.
     She didn't want any of my bullshit, and she didn't need my empathy.  I wasn't going to get a love story, because that was theirs to own and not mine to intrude on. That was what Sara had left. We didn't cry, and we weren't taking Beverly's name off anything.  They would remain together on paper, if she couldn't have her in the flesh. Sara did share that she was upset Beverly had gone without any warning, that there was no way to prepare.  But can you ever be prepared.
     Sara came in a couple times a month, refusing to do anything online, preferring to work with us in person. We would laugh over something minor, talk about baseball ... I'd ask her how she was. She'd look me in the eyes and never say what I already knew. We did this a lot.  Over the last year, she started using a cane due to an exacerbated knee injury. No big deal, she said. She was going to get it taken care of after she dealt with a surgery that was planned in the coming new year. I pressed, and she told me she needed to have heart valve replacement. She wasn't worried, and I hid my fear.
     My mother had valve replacement surgery in 1996. It was challenging for her, and she took some time to recover, but she did. During the surgery, they installed a pacemaker, a standard part of the process then, although I don't know if that is still the case.  This pacemaker worked well until 2008 when it was time to change the battery.  It was this surgery, the "routine" one to replace the battery, that ultimately led to my mother's rapid decline and eventual death.  Her heart had come to rely on that pacemaker to work, and the shock of the change to her system was too much.
     Before Sara went into the hospital, she brought her best friend from college, Pam, to meet me. Sara had decided that she wanted to put Pam on her accounts to make sure the bills were paid while she was in the hospital. It was a very difficult decision for her, because it meant removing Beverly's name. The three of us soldiered through it though, and they had me rolling on the floor with laughter. They shared stories of their college days, female college sports before Title IX, how Sara had a hell of an arm and how Pam would still drive all the way down from Maine to share in their Red Sox season tickets. It was a good time.
     A week and a half ago, Pam called me to say that the surgery hadn't gone well. Sara had had a stroke immediately afterwards, and the surgeon wasn't very hopeful.  Strokes are a major concern after valve replacement; blood clots can form around the new valve - whether mechanical or pig valve - breaking off and speeding to your precious brain. My mother had a stroke several months after her surgery. Although she recovered fully from that one, she had multiple little ones in the years after that impacted her emotionally. She was always worried that a big one would come while she was driving and cause her to kill someone. Eventually, this worry and her worsening congestive heart failure led to her coming to live with us.
     This morning when Pam called, my first question was how Sara was doing. Her long pause confirmed what my heart already knew was coming. Sara had died on Saturday. She had struggled. She had suffered, even though the doctor told Pam she wasn't in pain. She had pulled her feeding tube from her throat, and then she died. I remained silent throughout and had to remind myself to speak before Pam had to ask if I was still there. She told me that Sara really liked me, and Pam felt it important to tell me, to not have me have to read about it after the fact. We cried, and I thanked her, told her that I would help in any way I could.  I didn't say anything trite about Sara finally being reunited with Beverly, because that would have been the sort of thing that would have pissed Sara off.  And honestly, I don't think they were ever really apart.  

Monday, February 27, 2017

Grave

     I've been gone too long, my loves, and for that I am truly sorry. Health issues and politics have sapped me.  Meanwhile at work, it seems as if every other day another client comes in to tell me about a partner who has suddenly died, a friend who's been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer or children lost to drug overdoses. If Star Trek were real, I think I'd be classified as an empath. And I am overloaded and overwrought.  Then I came home from work and the news showed me that another Jewish cemetery had been desecrated.
     As many of you might know, once a year my siblings and I make the trek to our mother's grave site to celebrate her birthday with her. We plant flowers and sit in the grass talking to her. My grandfather's grave is there. My mother's sister who died when she was three is there. My nana's unmarked grave is there. My great-grandmother and great-grandfather's graves are there. It's very peaceful when the mosquitoes aren't eating you alive. Mom always makes sure we have good weather while we have our communion.  We have dug in the earth with our bare hands to plant those flowers. I have rubbed the skin from the pads of my fingers taking the moss off her stone.
     I am perfectly aware that my mother isn't there in that cemetery, just what remains of the shell that housed her hopes and dreams for her children. Her shorter than me, slightly bitter and neurotic shell that was really good at guilt and knew how to push every button in my psyche.  When we were younger kids, she would take us to the cemetery to teach us how to respect our ancestors, how to have comfort in sitting in that quiet moment, to allow the sadness to come and go.  It was ok to bring a little picnic and be with your people.  My people.
     So my question tonight is how much hate do you have to have in your heart to walk up to the marker of someone's ancestor, someone's mother, father, sister or brother, someone's beloved, someone's child, to approach that spot and desecrate that space? How much hate does it take to harden your heart enough to take that quiet moment away from another human being? A cup of hate? A tablespoon? A pinch? My guess is that it takes a very small amount to rot you from the inside and give you the peace of mind to place yourself far above another human being's ancestors. Just a small amount of hate will change you forever.
     If my mother's stone were ever desecrated, I would certainly work to repair it through my tears. And after I was done, I would not rest until I found the people responsible. My heart says that I should make them pay, make them hurt the same way they would have hurt me. But what would that change, not their mind nor my pain. Instead, I would take them to their people - their parents, their children, their beloved - and make them explain why my mother mattered so little and why desecration of my quiet moment, her quiet forever, was so very important to prove their point. Expose the hate to the light.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Save your energy

     I have to keep reminding myself to not waste my energy on internet trolls. Does it help if I remind you to do the same? I'm talking about those "well-meaning" souls who post videos or running commentaries on why you people just don't understand Donald Trump.  You should be respecting him, trusting him.  They say that the women's march was unimportant/stupid/unnecessary and filled with liberal sore losers with vulgar signs.  How shameful.  How nasty.  
     Don't waste your energy on these people, because you need your energy now more than ever.  You need to fight and rage and do everything you can to make this country what it's supposed to be.  If you voted for Donald Trump, you need to hold his feet to the fire.  Tell him enough with the "there were 3 million fraudulent voters" bullshit and get to the making jobs.  He's demoralized by the media and the people who don't believe he's a legitimate President?  Are you kidding me? Methinks he doth protest too much.  Did President Obama tell people he was demoralized after years of you saying he was born in Kenya?  
     As for the misguided women who tell you that the women's march was a bad idea, imagine a big beautiful bell curve:


I love bell curves. This is a curve made up of women's opinions on the march. The women on the right loved that march, marched in that march and talk about every single moment of it.  The women on the left hated that march, make fun of the women and men who marched, and take every opportunity to tell you it was stupid.  The rest of us are in the middle somewhere ... loved this or that, would have liked some more or less of XYZ, were maybe thrilled to see Indigo Girls and/or intrigued by Madonna's lack of breath support, but I digress.  Those rare women who tell you the march was stupid and unnecessary are on the left side. You're never going to be able to change their opinion, and that's all it is ... an opinion. The fact is that they get to have an opinion, get to voice it and stomp their feet because of the thousands of women who came before them to fight for their right to voice that opinion.  Read this lovely retort from Dina Leygerman:


     Something else to bear in mind, the trolls and others who are responding to the "pussy hats" and "vulgar signs" as further proof of the shameful and nasty women who marched and support them. This is part of the foundation of slut-shaming, a further way to silence, shut down and shout over in their communication style.   The new President can talk about grabbing all the pussy he wants on tape, but a marcher reclaims the word on her sign and she's vulgar. He's "being a man" and she's being a slut. Real men, decent, honorable men, do not talk about women this way. Men who talk like this are predators. You may also hear this in phrases like, "settle or calm down," "little girl" spoken to a grown woman, "get over it," "stop being so emotional." These are all attempts to shut down the conversation.
     This is how the conversation will be framed over the next few weeks/months as regards to the abortion debate, reproductive rights and contraception access.  It'll be all about the slutty women who want sex without repercussions and want to force us to pay for their birth control.  Arm yourself with the facts and not opinion.  The abortion rate in the US is at its lowest since Roe v. Wade and this is due to better access to contraception. Some will tell you that it's because abortion access is being restricted in many areas around the country, but birth rates aren't increasing. Teen pregnancy is also at a historically low rate.  Public opinion has also remained relatively stable over the last two decades, so that's not why either.  As with many areas, education and prevention are much better investments than medical intervention and shaming.
     Don't waste your energy on the trolls and their opinions that you won't change.  Frame your arguments cogently and arm yourself with facts. Do you remember Wonder Woman's bracelets? They're called the Bracelets of Submission. A symbol of the Amazon's past oppression, they were indestructible cuffs given to girls when they turned 15 and used to defend themselves against projectiles. Channel your inner Amazon and bounce those lies, those alternative-facts right back at them. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Preparations

     Each day ticks us closer and closer to Trump's inauguration.  Meanwhile, the Republicans in the House and Senate prepare to repeal the Affordable Care Act with nothing to replace it, and millions of Americans wonder how they will be able to afford their family's healthcare or if their lives will be in jeopardy. Our President-elect continues to use his bully pulpit of Twitter, holds a press-conference filled with staffer shills to applaud him and a table filled with empty folders as "evidence" and tells us he doesn't need to release his tax records because he won.  Maybe these things excite you, but it brings up quite a different response in me.  I believe that my fears for friends, family and country will come to pass. But we should not despair since that's what they want us to do, wallow in misery and indecision. If we are mired, they have the complete upper hand, and it has clearly become us versus them. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a leader in health policy analysis and health journalism, found that 75% of Americans either want lawmakers to leave the Affordable Care Act alone or repeal it only when they can replace it with a new health care law.
     We need to take action and certainly, you should march, protest, write/call/email your legislators, make your voices heard in any way shape or form.  Meanwhile, you need to make preparations for yourself, your family, your friends and your neighbors.  You need to figure out pretty quickly what you will stand for and what you will do if called upon.  I'm not being reactionary. I'm being realistic. A year and a half ago, I was told that he'd never get elected with his plethora of lies, faults, lawsuits, moral failings, shady business dealings and bankruptcies, yet we stand on the edge. This man is evil and evil will come, so you need to prepare.
     Do you have food and water stored for an extended emergency, and don't forget your pet's needs? How about the medicines you and your family take? Have you considered your contraception needs? Medical supplies? Back-up power, communication, security? Do you have your family's paperwork in order; passports, licenses, health care proxies or living wills? Before you spend money on that fancy vacation, extra pair of pants you don't need, third cup of $5 coffee, expensive haircut or the next best piece of crap that you don't need - pay down your high interest credit cards or save the money.  Sell things you don't need or use the barter system.  If you are in one of the groups that have been potentially targeted for recrimination, lack of service or rights (i.e. women, the LGBTQIA community, Blacks, Hispanics, the disabled, the poor, journalists, people that live in blue states ... I could go on) you need to quickly assess what your needs would be in an emergency and who you could turn to for assistance. Make friends with like minded neighbors and community members.  If I'm wrong, then you're super prepared for an emergency and in better fiscal shape.  I hope I'm wrong.
     In my last post, I told you about how much reading has always meant to me and that some books have stayed with me.  In college, I was introduced to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.  A dystopian novel written in 1985 set in near-future New England where the totalitarian theocracy has overthrown the US government.  I know that Hulu is bringing the television adaptation of the novel to the small screen this year.  My husband asked me if I was going to watch it since the book was so important to me, but there's no way I can do it. I know that every woman I have ever met who has read that book was scared by the very real possibility of it. A small plot summary from wikipedia:

Beginning with a staged attack that kills the President and most of Congress, a movement calling itself the "Sons of Jacob" launches a revolution and suspends the US Constiution under the pretext of restoring order. They are quickly able to take away all of women's rights, largely attributed to financial records being stored electronically and labelled by gender. The new regime, the Republic of Gilead, moves quickly to consolidate its power and reorganize society along a new militarized, hierarchical, compulsory regime of Old Testament inspired social and religious fanaticism among its newly created social classes. In this society, human rights are severely limited and women's rights are unrecognized as almost all women are forbidden to read.

The story is told in the first person by a woman called Offred (literally Of-Fred). The character is one of a class of women kept for reproductive purposes and known as "handmaids" by the ruling class in an era of declining births due to sterility from pollution and sexually transmitted diseases. Offred describes her life during her third assignment as a handmaid, in this case to Fred (referred to as "The Commander"). Interspersed in flashbacks are portions of her life from before and during the beginning of the revolution, when she finds she has lost all autonomy to her husband, through her failed attempt to escape with her husband and daughter to Canada, to her indoctrination into life as a handmaid. Offred describes the structure of Gilead's society, including the several different classes of women and their circumscribed lives in the new theocracy.

Offred is considered a wanton woman when Gilead was established, because she married a man who was divorced. All divorces were nullified by Gilead, meaning her husband was still married to his previous wife and Offred was an adulteress. In trying to escape Gilead, she was separated from her husband and daughter. She is part of the first generation of Gilead's women: those who remember pre-Gilead times. Having proven fertile, she is considered an important commodity and has been placed as a handmaid in the home of the Commander Fred and his wife Serena Joy, to bear a child for them (Serena Joy is said to be infertile).

In Gilead, the bodies of women are politicized and controlled. The North American population is falling as more men and women become infertile (though in Gilead, legally, it is only women who can be the cause of infertility). Gilead's treatment of women is based upon a narrow, fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible, meaning that women are the property of and subordinate to their husband, father, or head of household. They are not allowed to do anything that would grant them any power independent of this system. They are not allowed to vote, hold a job, read, possess money, or own anything, among many other restrictions. In this society, there is no such thing as a sterile man anymore. In this culture, women are either fruitful or infertile, the latter of which is declared to be an "unwoman" and is sent to the colonies with the rest of the "unwomen" to do life-threatening work until their death, which is, on average, three years.

     This book scared me to my core. There's a scene in the book where Offred is remembering a time before the main story when she went to a local store to pick up groceries, swiped her bank card and it wouldn't work.  Within a short time, it was discovered that all women's access to their bank accounts had been turned off and they were completely beholden to their husbands, if they had one, for access to funds. Written in 1985, this is long before we used plastic for everything.  The super scary part of a well written dystopia is that as time progresses you can see how easy it would be for the events to take place.
     Make preparations not to be a handmaiden, but to be a warrior for your rights and needs, and for those of your family and friends. Be the light and be ready.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Reading

     I love to read. I always have. Books and music kept me alive during a childhood filled with walking on eggshells around my volatile father. I could escape from him and immerse myself in another world. Before I had children, I was the sort of reader who would forgo meals, screw-up her bedtime, walk with the book to the bathroom. I didn't want to leave that moment.  That got harder when the kids came, because you kind of have to feed them routinely, wash them routinely, routine them routinely. So, reading was crammed in-between things, on the train, bathroom breaks, lunch break at work, etc.  Interestingly enough, not at bedtime like a lot of people I know. Aside from parts of my life where insomnia would allow three fingers worth of sleep, usually I'm so wiped out by the time I go to bed, I can't even think about reading.
     My mother inspired and demanded this love of words.  When we were little, she would take us to the library long before we could sign our own name to the card. We could take whatever we wanted, as long as we remembered them all when it came time to take them back. No late fees. She'd cart them in big bags and usually cap us at 10 a piece. As we got older, we carried our own selections, wandered off alone throughout the library to reflect and breath. The library of my teenage years was in an old Victorian house that had been converted to book heaven. Shelves covering every available wall, nook and cranny. The upstairs was the kid's section; they had a turtle. We camped out for as long as Mom wanted to stay. There were no time limits on books.
     I can tell you about different parts of my life and the books I was reading during that time, how they changed me, helped me to have a better understanding about myself and those around me. I used to read something and share every detail with Mom. It's an eye opening experience when you realize that you can't do that all the time. We had very different opinions on a number of topics, and not surprisingly, we would butt heads. I remember very clearly being enamored by Erica Jong's Witches. Filled with fact and fiction, there was also a healthy dose of sexuality, paintings, prose, poetry ... provocative to say the least. I kept my library books under my bed, but I guess when Mom was cleaning or whatever, she came across it and was disturbed. I think I was 11 or 12. This led to her bringing my beloved Aunt in for what we would call an intervention nowadays for a discussion on how I was potentially jeopardizing my soul.  In my mind, my father was there, which if I'm remembering right means this was his doing. I was mortified that my Aunt was asked to do this and at the idea that this meant not all books were equal or worthy. But it taught me a very powerful lesson, to keep my own counsel. It also taught me that there were philosophies and ideas that would make others ashamed of you, and when you're young that can be daunting. The second lesson, learned over time, was that other people's concerns about what I was reading, and whether or not to shame me for it, was a way to control what I was thinking and how I would move my life forward.
      In 18 years of selling books, you saw that on both sides. Kids shouldn't read the Goosebumps series. Comics aren't real books.  This or that flavor of the month isn't any good. Oprah is bringing about our societal downfall. Romance books are all trash. Stephanie Meyer sucks. 50 Shades of Grey sucks. Harry Potter promotes the occult. Why do you have a Gay & Lesbian studies section? A Woman's studies section? A New Age section? The list goes on and on.  Most booksellers, and I would imagine librarians, don't care what you're reading, as long as you're reading.  There are some who probably fall in the above camps, and I would suggest you and your offspring avoid them at all costs.  We have always had a rule in our household. You can read whatever you want, but if something disturbs or concerns you, you have to talk to Mama or Dada about it. There are books in our home that we have suggested they should wait on consuming, as the themes might be more than they're ready for, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't read it one day. You need to challenge your comfort level, push your brain to question.  It's too easy to be a sheep, and frankly, that's what popular culture and the establishment want from you.  Those who read and write, those who question and challenge will keep the lamps lit.  Give books, read books, read online, read magazines, read cereal boxes, read every word you can.

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year, New What

     Happy New Year, my loves. I hope that this year brings us all good health, happiness and joy.  Although I fear that this year and the next three will bring incredible challenges that will test many of my fellow Americans, and probably most will be the least fortunate among us, my family and I are taking steps to be more active participants in our society to help others and to protect ourselves.
     Meanwhile, my brain has been hovering on the concept of new year = new you.  In my old profession, as soon as Christmas was over we would set up the "New Year, New You" tables. Displays filled with diet books, calorie counters, exercise books and the guru of the month guides. Everything to help you figure out how to be a better version of you, focusing predominantly of course on your outside, the facade, because that's all anyone really cares about, right? There might be a token table to learning a new language, picking up a craft or reading a new author, but the major displays left your internal workings a mystery.
     I was reminded of this a few days ago when the family went to a local mall to use their holiday gift cards. My youngest needed a break, and honestly so did I, so we grabbed two spots on a bench and waited for the big kids to finish. There was a ceiling mounted television spewing out inaudible commercials over the shoppers, but I could still read the character generated subtitle ... New Year, New You. On the screen, a happy looking nubile blonde was standing behind a table display. She was hawking these snazzy looking Jessica Simpson sneakers, Lululemon tank and yoga pants, Contigo water bottle and a Nike duffel bag to put the whole kit and caboodle inside.  Doing the math quickly, I figured I'd need @$250 to set forth on the appropriate track for a new me. And with a pretty shell, who cares what the inside looks like?
     I've never cared for new year's resolutions for this very reason.  Every day on this planet should bring a potential learning experience. Why wait for January 1st to spur yourself to action?  If you want to be healthier, start now. Want to spend more time with friends and family, plan now. New language, go for it. New craft or hobby, rock on. Never tried bourbon, what are you waiting for? Not sure if you should tell her you love her, please do it. Don't wait for the perceived right time or a mandated corporate display table in January. You can do it. I believe in you. And while you're at it, remember the facade isn't the best part of you.  It's that beautiful brain of yours that I'm in love with. Schoolhouse Rock! told us that knowledge is power.  And we'll need a lot of powerful minds for the road ahead.