Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Chaos in Verse

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house

Four dogs were happily stirring
While Cindy cat was stalking a mouse
A bra in the yard ‘cause one dog dragged it there
Another had hopes of cat doo soon being theirs
Biddy Kitty lurked quietly in dread
That the puppy would find her and slobber her head.
Treats were under the tree which wobbled
While carrots and cookies by dogs were gobbled.
For everyone knows that when moms are away
Most of the pets will bound and play.

Deb in her jacket and I in new boots
Had just sat at church with some hot, yummy soup.

(meanwhile, back at the house
Where a cat quietly looked for a mouse…)

Within our abode there arose such a clatter
With the dogs all a barking, saying “something’s the matter”
When what to their wondering eyes did appear
But something to chase, a whole herd of reindeer!

Up the dogs jumped, through the dog door they rushed
Barking so loud all else sounded really hushed.
'Round the big yard, they chased Santa’s sleigh
Never once wondering if it would ruin his day.
The wily deer led them on a merry night chase.
The dogs played their game until tired and in a daze.
After a bit, Santa called it a day
And thanked the dogs for coming out to play,

And he boomed his deep voice in a sing-songy way:
“on Dasher on Dancer on Prancer and Vixen
On Comet on Cupid on Donner and Blitzen
On Rudolph- you, with the bright nose-
Let’s get goin’, it’s no time for dozin’”
Up to the rooftop they nimbly jumped
Leaving the shingles not terribly bumped.

We pulled in the drive with our blue pickup truck
Little did we know, the dogs had brought us good luck.
Happy, tired and full, wanting nothing but our beds
We heard bells ringing over our hat-covered heads.
As we lifted our wondering eyes toward the sound
We heard a deep voice bouncing around:
“You down there, your coal’s under the tree
Right where my cookies and carrots should be!
No, not really, I’m just kidding
You know this night’s fun is most in the giving
And laughing and loving and joyously living.
So my best holiday gift to you this year
Is granting some time with those you hold so dear.”

Then quick as a flash
Bells ringing with the dash
A bright shooting star, like a new hybrid car
Headed north, toward a town called Afar.

(Note:  any resemblence to events past or present real or imagined is totally fabricated, well-mostly fabricated with poetic license.  Also, the rhyming and rythms were fabricated with poetic license.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Who Says and Ant Can't

(written December 14, 2009)

I think that when ants die, they go to the warrior heaven, Valhalla, and steal food from the gods.

I watched an ant stealing a shred of cheese which was about eight times its size.

I admired its strength, daring and tenacity.

As I killed it, I wished it a good journey and good hunting in Valhalla.

Perhaps there is cheese there.

It only seemed right, to send it off with a warrior’s honor for its warrior life and warrior’s death.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Presenting Presence, Presents and Preparation

(written on December 12, 2009)
“The day you stop learning is the day you die.” –My dad

Thursday was my last day of classes for fall 2009 semester. I turned in my Rock and Roll final and we had a class wake for psychology of death. These have both been great classes. I had great instructors who aren’t simply steeped in the culture of academia. Thy both also live in the real world. They interspersed personal tales of life (and death) with fun as well as with academic insight. I will miss this semester. In a way, I already do, even though I’m no longer scrambling to write a paper or study for a test.

Did I mention that winter is here? Forget waiting for solstice to declare it. Winter is here! It’s time for hats and parties and gloves and snow and cookies and coats and wrapping paper and ice and carols and donating and Fffffrrrrreeeeezzzzziiinnnggg. And then hot chocolate.

A holiday tip: to wrap something really large, cut up a paper lawn/leaf bag. Separate the two layers, use each separately. Secure with duck tape and decorate by writing “NO PEEKING” in large black marker. You can also add stamped or drawn-on decorations as well.

If you are out and about and need a bite to eat, in the right column, I have added a list of my favorite local places to eat.

About an hour later…

Thinking I was done with writing this post, I started flipping through the Winter 2009 copy of UU World, looking for a quote to stick at the top and I was caught by two things, simply by skimming. (I need to read through the whole thing this weekend to find mre gems.)

The first thing to catch my eye was a fable by Doug Muder called “Ghosts of Unitarian Christmas.” I loved it!

The second thing ws a small column buried on page 49 called “OWL OUT brings sex ed outside the church.” I am so glad to see that this well thought out values(not abstinence)based comprehensive sex ed program penned by the UUA and UCC is being offered outside of our elite settings (yes, elite, I hate to say) and being brought to at-risk youth- those who most need guidance and stability and self-esteem building and recognition of life sustaining choice options! I would love for the kids I work with to get to experience OWL, the way that the kids that I volunteered with got to. I think it can literally save lives. At the end of the article, my heart skipped a butterfly beat when it was mentioned that the Obama administration has asked for information about it. I actually went on their website several months ago and mentioned OWL by name as an effective and balanced alternative to the lying by omission crap (not the words I used) that they teach in schools now. I wonder if Obama’s UCC affiliation or my note or someone else’s suggestion prompted this request.

YEAH for believing that people can make sound decisions, regardless of their age, social status, etc.!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Exploring the Paths of Possibilities

“Polls say that as many as 45 percent of Americans believe in creationism. Not intelligent design. We’re talking strict the-Earth-is-less-than-ten-thousand-years-old creationism.” –A.J. Jacobs, from “The Year of Living Biblically”

I spent much of November re-working a paper that I had written last spring on evolution and the god of Moses and human misinterpretation of, well, pretty much everything. The limits of language and the constraints and biases of interpretation really curtail our ability to experience a world beyond our already limited understanding.

We are really blessed in this day and age to have amazing ways to expand our vision and beliefs. Tools like the printing press, television, telephone and the internet allow us interaction with people from cultures, beliefs and even times different from our own, forcing us to step outside our personal zone of comfort and head-on physical view. We are, today, forced to use our peripheral vision to see what in days past may have seemed to be illusion or delusion, foreign or evil. In using our peripheral vision, what was lost may be found. Pieces of the puzzle that is humanity can be found and put into place to reveal a wider, truer understanding of who we are. Setting aside the narrow, concrete thinking of simply saying “I am who I am” and embracing the prospect that “I will be who I determine I want to be,” empowers us to think outside the factory made box that our culture too often dictates we “must” confine our thoughts in.

Trying to confine a god into a tiny box of one present moment from thousands of years ago, believing that the words, when translated, indicate a stagnant statement of completeness and immutable consistency, can be a dangerous thing to do. Wars are fought and minds and souls are lost over the human tendency to stick god in the tiny box of an ancient moment. Re-thinking that simple statement, “I am” into “I am becoming what will be needed,” a future, incomplete action, would open up possibilities for this limited, warring species called humanity. If we didn’t insist that there is only one way to be and instead focused on the myriad ways of becoming, perhaps we could strive toward lifting one another up to become and create in god’s image rather than try to deny the evolution of god and humanity and every piece of this beautiful, living earth from its magma center to its Mount Everest.

Perhaps, instead of living like this earth will always have unlimited, unchanging resources because it is created by an unmoving god, we could come to understand the beautiful, dynamic nature of earth and god, and know that as humans, we are stewards of the earth, responsible for her care and nurturing. We are her stewards because out of all of the amazing life in her web, we are the ones who have evolved to understand that in order to live, we must someday die, so that others may live. We understand the inevitability of our own death, and therefore should recognize ways in which to postpone the death of our living earth planet so our genes can continue on.

The idea of an unchanging god, perhaps, creates a belief in us that we can transcend death and if death is not real for us, then surely it is not real for this beautiful earth that is so much greater than our small selves in human minds, a physical transcendence and not just a spiritual one. Therein lies the danger: therein lies human disregard for the health of the earth, the lives of our perceived enemies and even our own lives.

Embracing an evolving god may, perhaps, allow us to expand our embrace of the idea of life beyond just a physical “I am” but to also include “I will be” a spiritual/psychological presence even after my body has returned to nourish the earth so that she may live yet a moment more in her physical form. We will be a presence of memory. We will be a presence of our impact upon the earth’s resources. We will be a presence of love echoing and spiraling out in gratitude form each pebble of kindness and joy that we tossed into the waters of humanity while our bodies walked the earth. And, perhaps, we will be a presence walking the corporeal earth in a form or a presence in some heaven or a presence when we reincarnate as a newt or as a bodhavista, or as a presence in the stomach of a worm in the stomach of a fish in the stomach of the earth within the planting of a stalk of corn within the stomach of a stag within the stomach of a human who carries the seed of a new generation in her belly. The possibilities are endless in the ways our lives can go on as a presence beyond this physical life, just as the possibilities are endless for the future of a god whose name is rooted in the present and future tense of “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh”, “Adonai”. God as evolution itself.

(Even though what you just read is kind of what my sermon was about last weekend, none of that was in the sermon. But really, that’s what I meant behind the words in a round-about-analyzing-language kind of way.)

Closer to the end of the semester

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any How”- Nietzche

This past week, I have been intensly working on a paper for my psychology of death class. It is the second paper for that class, and I think I did pretty well with it. The paper was a book report on “Tuesdays with Morrie”, a book that I have recommended before. It’s a bit different, treating it as a resource for a paper rather than reading it because of a love of the written word. Both approaches definitely have their value, for sure, but they are different.

In my paper, I also drew extensively from Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”. Written a generation ago, the truths between those covers is timeless and powerful. I also drew upon my own experiences of dealing with depression and loss in my own life.

Frankl is a concentration camp survivor, and Morrie Schwartz is a man dying of ALS who disburses life wisdom like gumdrops to sports writer, Mitch Albom. Both Morrie and Frankl have much in common to share with the world (if the world reads their books). Both men spoke about the psychological tension within each of us that propels us toward action. Both en spoke about the importance of finding meaning in one’s life. Both men spoke about the importance of love and beauty and detachment. These two books are written with very different voices and in different times. One written by a young man whose interest up to that point had been sports and money, about an aged man who seems young at heart and the other by a young man who has witnessed more suffering than most old men ever will. One is the story of a sociologist and one is the story of a psychologist. Both who found their life’s meaning in helping others to find theirs. Both books intersperse memories with wisdom in very different ways and each is poetic, direct and stark at times.

If I get nothing else out of my class on the psychology of death, I will always remind myself that my suffering is the same as others, no greater, no less. And that in the inevitable end, all will be made equal by death.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It Didn't Even Hurt

"Strategic planning is worthless -- unless there is first a strategic vision.” –John Naisbitt

Today, I took the latest step on my stumbling path of trying to make decisions out of love instead of fear.

I faced my fears of paralysis, mercury poisoning, needles and eggs-oh yeah, not eggs. I caved in and got the H1N1 vaccine today. I am usually dead set against getting the flu vaccine. This is only the third time in my life that I have. The first time was the last time that a variant of H1N1 was scaring the poop out of people in the late 1970s, also known as the “swine flu”. The second time was after my chemo but before my surgery, because my oncologist wanted me to get it. Then, this time I got it today at school. Oddly, even though the media and the government are fear mongering around this virus, I am far more afraid of the vaccine than the flu itself. I have always had a strong immune system, despite the harm I have done to my body over the years. I was not going to get the vaccine, but I realize that I have people around me that could die if I get the flu. So, out of love, I got the shot. It didn’t even hurt. I’ll let you know later if I die or get paralyzed or anything from it. (If you want a report from me about it after I die, you will have to summon me into your dreams or have a séance to get it.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Walking among the Ghosts of Flint

(written October 29, 2009, sorry so late)

As a field trip for my psychology of death class, today we went to Glenwood Cemetery on Court Street. After wasting a quarter of a tank of gas by driving around in circles, several times taking the wrong fork and ending up in Grand Blanc once, I finally pulled in to the drive. Despite my agitation and frustration at being half an hour late, as soon as I got out of my car and stepped on that sacred ground, I felt at peace.

I was surrounded with burial markers so old as to be difficult to read and others, shiny new, as if recently placed. The ground is dotted with soft green moss and bright orange maple leaves. And, there was a calm silence surrounding the place (which, at that moment I needed badly because the young woman I had given a ride to barely took a breath or shut her mouth during our entire circular, frustrating tour of the streets of Flint).

As I walked along the one lane drive looking for our classmates, I passed by familiar names: Mott (I said a small thank you at that one for their family’s generosity which continues on to this day), Whiting, Dort, and even White, my mom’s maiden name.

Finally, we caught up to our class, our professor, and the sexton who was giving them a tour. He was going over the who’s who in the great history of flint and the history of the motor car industry and lumber baronies of 150 years ago. So many of the names mentioned weren’t on my radar as being of significance, but without these brave and resilient souls, Flint wouldn’t be what it is today- or what it was in its heyday. Decker. Payne. McCreery.

Each grave marker has a unique beauty, even those that started out plain but have been worn at the edges by time and the elements. My favorite was what I at first thought to be trees that had been cut to stumps. There was a whole family of markers in the shape and texture of trees that had been felled. My professor said that during Victorian times, the chopped tree motif was a common symbol for a life cut short. I left the lane to touch a couple of these, to feel the stone of them and get a closer look at their striking, simple beauty. If I were going to choose a grave marker for myself and a living tree were not a possibility, these beautiful markers could be used as a model for my monument. Interspersed here and there among the stone grave markers are similarly shaped stone objects with metal chain loops sticking out of the sides. These stone hitching posts are there so that we can secure the horse we rode in on. Whitwam. Bergin. Lake.

I was really surprised among the older markers, before antibiotics or sterile anything, how long some of these people lived: 70, 80,90 even. Of course, these seemed to be the monied folk who could afford the extra expense and care of a doctor or a midwife to attend births and illnesses that the poorer folks couldn’t afford. (Things don’t seem to have changed much in that regard.) McCall. Burlingame. Durand.

We were given worksheets to fill out to draw our attention to different aspects of how death memorials and lifespans have changed through time. Since I was so late, I will probably go back on Monday to take a slower look, a more mindful walk at my leisure. Decker. Bishop. MacKinnon.

As I drove out through the wrought iron gates, I posed the question to the chatterbox: “I wonder if there are any black people or Native Americans buried here.” She shrugged off my query and said that you can’t really tell from the names. I think, from the political, social and economic power of many of these families, it is safe to answer “probably not” to my question. During the time of some of these deaths, the underground railroad was very active in the area and, by the 19 teens, a lot of poor white and black folks were migrating here from the South, bringing jazz and Jim Crow. Fenton. Burton. Smith.

Many of the graves are planted in goupings, where the largest marker is in the center, memorializing the family name and patriarch. Smaller headstones are arranged around it naming men and their wives, gathered around the larger marker, like family members roasting marshmallows around the campfire flames reaching toward the stars and making wishes for the future. Aldrich. Northrup. Hess.


(Article published in the online paper Baltimore Chronicle and sentinel:)

How does an old man get arrested?

Here’s the story. I joined 30-some folks in front of a high rise building those houses offices of Carefirst in Canton. Our collective energy brightened up a damp, drab October 29th at lunch hour. Marching and chanting slogans like; “Patients, not profits!, Singlepayer now, everybody in, nobody out!, we weren’t welcome. Front doors of this public building were locked so we couldn’t enter.

Later, a group of 4 walked to the back entrance to confront a Carefirst spokesperson. We continued marching in front.

Heading the small delegation, Kevin Zeese, Executive Director of Prosperity Agenda, US. He organized our little adventure locally for the national group called Mobilization for Healthcare for All. So far there have been 26 sit-ins in 23 cities across the country. 138 arrests have occurred while over 200 willingly risked arrests. Dr. Margaret Flowers, a staunch Medicare for all activist accompanied Kevin. She suspended her pediatrics practice to work on this cause fulltime. Margaret’s sparkling personality and intense dedication inspires many to join us to work toward a singlepayer medical system. Dr. Eric Naumberg, a pediatrician from Columbia, went with Kevin and Margaret. Eric, a quiet, compassionate man, is single-minded about singlepayer. He contends that too much of his time and energy trying to be a healer was sucked away by fighting with insurance companies over denial of necessary treatments. Rounding out the group was Maryland State

Delegate, Jill Carter (D-Baltimore).

They demanded, “An end to insurance abuse and immediate approval of all doctor recommended treatment.”

On returning to us, Kevin reported the Carefist response. “He told us to send it in writing and we’ll consider it.”

My silent response, “Fat chance!”

Four of us decided to risk arrest. The plan was for our entire bunch to fill the spacious lobby in the back. However, as we approached the entrance, a rushing tide of Baltimore police, ran for the doors to block our way. In the excitement, Margaret and Eric, along with a Millersville teacher, Patricia Courtney, slipped in and sat down. A policeman and I, simultaneously, spied an unattended door. The race was on. This creaky-kneed old body got there first. Huffing and puffing, I fell on the floor with the others.

When asked to leave, we smiled politely but refused. Officers seemed reluctant to arrest, except the young stud that I beat. Of course, they did their duty. We really tried to be dignified as they marched us to the awaiting paddywagon, but it’s tough to do with handcuffs on. On the ride to Central Booking, we tried to laugh about our situation. Don’t know how the others felt, but I was a bit queasy anticipating this new and mysterious experience in my life.

Why submit ourselves to this degrading aggravation? Let me recount only a few of a myriad of well-known reasons;

- 47 million of our fellow citizens are uninsured.

- 120 Americans die every day from lack of coverage.

- One million of us go bankrupt from medical debt, and 78 percent of those had insurance.

- Sometimes those insurance denials are a death sentence for sentence for patients who trusted their insurance company to protect them from harm.

Health insurance injustices should raise your blood pressure to dangerous levels. We should want to buck the political-corporate establishment that shames our country now. If that arouse frustration and anger, you need to be resuscitated.

Here’s an example of bypassing the present madness. One of my sons lost his medical coverage because the small construction company he works for could no longer afford to carry it. He is an excellent interior house painter and drywall installer.

His teeth became painfully infected. They began to rot, loosen and fall out. He couldn’t afford to get them fixed. On Craig’s list, he found a dentist who was willing to trade dental work for painting the walls in his house. So, the dentist got a great paint job, and my son got a new set of choppers and a healed mouth.

A young father I met just this week recounted his Care first story to me. When his daughter was born, his wife’s water broke earlier than expected. He rushed her to the hospital. His doctor found no pulse in his wife’s tummy. Something was terribly wrong! An emergency caesarian section was performed. The baby’s umbilical cord was positioned so that it cut the flow of blood and life giving oxygen. The doctor’s quick and heroic action saved her life.

There seemed no reason the deny payment for great medical treatment. Ah, but, the insurance company manufactured one. They denied payment on grounds that the young dad did not seek a second opinion! Took him a while, but he did pay cash for the life of his, now, healthy, vibrant 4 year old daughter.

Back to our arrest story.

Central Booking was very busy that day. Eric and I waited in a long line of handcuffed men. Margaret and Patty were processed in another area.

When we finally got in the door, the first person we were required to talk to was a nurse. She carefully took our vital signs and asked us about our general health. Next we were shuffled to a physician’s assistant who grilled thoroughly on our entire medical history. Finally, we faced an extensive review of what we had revealed earlier.

Can you see the irony? We protested for a Medicare for all system with no pay for treatment. Going to jail gets you exactly what we have been fighting for. Any incoming inmate with any kind of medical problem can count on a whole team of medical experts to give the full spectrum of needed care.

Eric and I were put in a small, crowded, smelly and very cold holding cell to await a hearing. Our younger cellmates were fascinated and questioned us eagerly about why we were among them. Despite being bored, detoxing, miserable and cold, this mixed-race bunch of so-called, “bad guys”, coexisted peacefully. No nasty name-calling and no fights. Complaining was directed at people outside the cell. Surprisingly, we became a quasi-impermanent family.

Everyone, other than we two old guys, was arrested for drug offenses. If marijuana were legalized, we would have had the miserable place to ourselves.

It took approximately 7 hours to get our hearing with the Court Commissioner. When we rose to leave, many of our young brothers stood up, slapped hands and wished us luck.

The Commissioner quickly set our trial date and released us on our own recog. That’s recognizance to those of you not educated in a jail cell.

After picking our belongings confiscated by police, we were greeted by the smiling face of Kevin Zeese. We found out he had called several times to track our progress through processing. Thank you Kevin!

Would I do this again? Yes if the cause was righteous.

Did I learn anything? Yes, that we are all One family, and we ought to take care of each other.

Charles Loubert
Retired Counseling Psychologist
Writer of two unpublished books
Community Mediator

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Revolutionary Harmonies

Imagine Peter, Paul nd Mary transformed, complete with tight harmonies and anti-war messages, into Petra, Paula and Mry. If you can imagine this transformation, you can pictury Near, Pat Humphries and Sandy O, also known as Holly Near and emma’s revolution.

Holly Near alone has been a vocal musical part of the Social Justice movement since I was very young (so young I didn’t know what that meant, but I was listening to “Puff the Magic Dragon”). She has been one of the leading voices of the women’s music scene and can be found at equal rights rallies and anti-war protests all up and down the Americas.

Emma’s revolution have beautiful lyrics and flawless harmonies in pretty much anything they sing. Pat Humphries is a talented singer/songwriter, but when paired with Sandy O, her wife and singing partner, their music makes me want to dance and sing all the way to the Revolution!

These three amazingly talented women have released a new CD together (oops-I almost wrote “album”) called “We Came to Sing!” Listening to this collection, you would think they had perfected their style over years of performances together, but other than at the occasional peace rally, their time in the studio was really their first time coming together. Holly said all she had to do was tell Pat and Sandy what she wanted to do, then they would go off into a corner and whisper. They would come back with amazing harmonies to her second soprano voice. Often, Sandy was harmonizing above Holly while Pat harmonized a base line in her smooth alto, sandwiching Holly’s voice in a luscious bread of sound.

I had the pleasure and honor of getting to see the three of them sing together live. I highly recommend this concert if you can catch them in their last few appearances across the country. I think their last gig on the tour is November 2ne or 3rd.

There was not one mediocre song in the entire concert, and, I must say of both their concert performance and their recorded version of “Study War No More”, I have never heard white folks sing that song so heartfelt. I felt it from my pinky toenail to the cowlick on the crown of my head. And, if you loved Holly’s version of “Sky Dances,” your breath will be swept away on musical winds when you hear Emma’s Revolution add their harmonies to Holly’s.

You can check either of their websites for scheduling information or to buy their lovely CD: www.hollynear.com or www.emmasrevolution.com . I believe you can also buy the CD through the websites, or you can go to goldenrod Music’s website at http://www.goldenrod.com where you can find not just Holly and emma’s revolution, but a whole mess of amazing artists and groups, including all of my favorites: Sweet Honey in the Rock, Libana, Lucie Blue Tremblay, Libby Roderick, Ubaka Hill, Chris Williamson and hundreds, maybe even thousands more of my favorites-many of which I have yet to hear!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Life is a Jumble of Rumbles

I just looked at the date of my last post and feel guilty.  So much has happened over the past couple of weeks that I just haven't had the time or the heart to write.  This is a very non inspirational entry, just so you are prepared.  I'm just going to give a very quick run-down on my past couple of weeks.

The good news is that I have now been officially cancer free for two years!!!  The bad news is that I can't get my port out for three more months due to they found some slightly enlarged lymph nodes that they want to re check but aren't too concerned about.

My friend Charlie from work died suddenly.  My friend Eva died after a long battle with pain and a long 95 year life.  Another friend went into the hospital, then came home from the hospital to a life much changed.  I am getting a 2.5 percent pay cut, and my differed comp is no longer being matched by my employer.  Waiting to see which other shoe is going to be thrown at us.  I am having trouble getting motivated for school even though I really like both of my classes this semester.

So, sadly, I am short on humor and on inspiration these days.  I appologize.  I'll be back soon.  I have, however, been trying to update the local events calendar as I hear of things, so check it out over there to the right!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Parting the Red Sea of History

(Written on October1, 2009)

The other night, someone was telling me a cute story about his very young son and his bible study class. The part that struck me is that he tells his kid that “Jesus parted the Red Sea.” How does that make any sense to anyone? This person believes and teaches his son that Jesus and Moses were both truly historical figures, and that the bible is incontrovertible historical fact. If he truly believes that, how on Earth can he say that Jesus parted the Red Sea? Moses lived a couple thousand years before Jesus, didn’t he?

How could Jesus part the red sea?

This guy said that they say that Jesus parted the Red Sea in order to simplify matters, and that it would be too complicated to explain the distinction to a little kid. Heck, it’s too complicated to explain to me and the trinity shared our dinner table when I was growing up.

Wouldn’t telling your kid that Jesus parted the Red Sea be kind of like telling your kid that Martin Luther King Jr. campaigned for Barak Obama? Or that today’s Republican Tea Baggers started the American Revolution when they protested paying taxes to the American British?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Angles, Roundness and Laughter: My First Yoga Adventure

(Written Thursday September 24, 2009)

Today, I learned that I’m pretty much as flexible as I ever was during my track running high school days. (Except I can’t do the lotus position.) I also learned that no matter how flexible I am, my fat belly just plain gets in the way of me being able to do certain things (like grab my feet while I balance precariously on the flat part of my flat butt). I also learned that I need to work on strength training. And, the fourth thing I learned is that Yoga push-ups are far more complicated and physically demanding than any regular push up.

The class was an hour long and fifteen minutes into it, I was panting and sweating and staring at the clock, demanding that it go faster because I didn’t want to wimp out so early. I thought for sure I was in some movie-type of time warp where time had slowed, or, at least, the clock had broken. By the time sixty minutes rolled around I was relaxed and energized all at the same time. In my head I composed a Facebook blurb that I never posted, it went something like “just had my first yoga class. I was exhausted when it started and now I’m energized. How’s a girl to sleep?” I didn’t post it. I didn’t even get on the computer because I got home, peeled off my sweaty clothes, showered, talked to Deb for a minute, laid down, petted Biddy Kitty, told Jake the Little Booger Puppy to get his ding-a-ling off of my face and snuggled Indigo who seems to feel left out whenever we are dog sitting Serena and the Booger. Then I fell immediately and deeply asleep. I hit the snooze twice without waking and on the third time I was going to reset the alarm for fifteen minutes ago and realized I had to get my sore butt out of bed and quickly get ready for work because I was already a half hour later than what I expected.

Oddly enough, on some of the poses where the instructor counseled people that this one is really hard for a lot of people and for us to just do the best we can, I had no problem with, and the stretch felt really good (the triangle pose, standing, feet apart, leaning to the side, touching the floor with one hand and stretching the other to the ceiling). But some of the other poses that should have been easy (the aforementioned holding my feet in a crouch while balancing on my flat butt) were just plain funny when I though about getting this body there. During the butt balancing pose, I lay on the floor and laughed instead of grabbing my feet. (It is kind of like the old nuclear blast protection-grab your feet and kiss your behind goodbye-except instead of leaning down to protect your head, you are on your backside, kind of like a turtle who has been flipped upside-down.)

So, “they” say that if you are overweight and you lose ten percent of your body weight, you improve your chances of beating heart disease, diabetes, etc. (although my ten percent would be radically different than my 20 years ago ten percent, so I’m not sure where they get that figure). I wonder, if I were to lose ten percent of my body weight, would my yoga angles be able to be ten percent more acute? Would ten percent get me to the upside-down-butt-turtle pose? Would it get me back into the lotus position that was so easy for me as a kid? I wonder, would losing ten percent of my body weight push less on my diaphragm/lungs when I’m stretched so I am upside-down and touching the floor, sweating and gasping for air?

Being one of Kinsey’s ten percent, ten percent should be a lucky number for me, shouldn’t it? I’m going to try it, and I’m putting it her ein typing in order to try to make it more real and more of a commitment. If I make a public declaration of a thing, I am more likely to put it in to practice.

So, here it is: I am going to lose 28.48 pounds by the end of the year. That gives me 3 months-less than ten pounds per month. I can do that. Then comes the hard part- keeping it off.

Considering that today I got up and down more times in an hour than is required during a Catholic mass, I feel pretty good. My hips don’t hurt for the first time in months. And, although my shoulder is in a lot of pain, it’s a different type of gain than the senseless pain I’ve been having. Today’s pain is one of muscles well used, not of random violent bursts of agony. I’d say that’s an improvement. Oh yeah, despite laughing instead of doing the upside-down-turtle-but pose (I have no idea what the real name is), my butt muscles hurt. I feel like I am breathing deeper and freer than I have in a while, and my ribs don’t hurt as bad as they did yesterday. My radiated surgery scar hurts since that class. I think maybe it got stretched along with my muscles. Perhaps it will stretch enough to lose its rigid painful lumps. No expectations as far as that goes, but it would be a good side effect if it happened that way.

Thursdays are going to be a bit rough with Wednesday night being my Monday and having two academic classes on Thursday, and now Yoga after that. But, I think this is something good I can do for myself that is free (it is the official twice weekly meetings of the U of M Flint Yoga Club) and healthy and I get to entertain myself with the absurdity of trying to get this body into those positions. I’m running a comedy film in my brain.

Through it all, Jessica, the leader of the club, kept saying “that’s perfect” no matter how awkward or totally wrong we (me) posed. In her philosophy, it’s the movement and the act of being intentional that count. The first time I met her, last week, she said that everyone does yoga every day when they do something nice for another person. She says yoga is more than exercise; it’s a way of life. I’m not sure I can jump into that one, but I can stretch and move and breathe and laugh at myself.

During the final meditation, she asked that today “you do something good for yourself, someihtg good for another, and something good for your community.” I did one of those three, I took an hour of Rock and Roll, and hour of contemplating death, and an hour of breathing life. Those were for me. I didn’t do anything for another or for my community today, but as an imperfect person in an imperfect world, I can try again tomorrow.

Now stretch. Now breathe. Now laugh at yourself.

(the following was written on Friday, the next day)

Ow. Ow owowowowwwwch.
(the following was written a few hours after that)

I did some of the yoga stretches that I remember from class and I don’t feel quite so sore. More like achy now.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Healthcare Throwdown!

(Roughly written on September 18, 2009. Posted today)

I had an encounter with a republican guy (Rick Wilson) who is running against Dale Kildee for the 5th Michigan Congressional District. He has invited/challenged Kildee to come to a town hall meeting on healthcare reform. I picked up a flier and I asked him what exactly did he see as needing to be done about healthcare reform. His sole changes would be to change the litigation laws to keep the lawsuits to a minimum, and to help the poorest of the poor, ignoring the middle class altogether.
He only ever mentioned the poorest, from what I can tell, as a sort of nod to political correctness. He looked me in the eye and said “I am not my brothers’ keeper.”

Wilson definitely knows his history in terms of when insurance abuses and such started, but he has no compassion for people. He did say something good in that people need to take an active roll in making their healthcare decisions. The flaw in his argument is that his sole reasoning for that is to save the insurance companies money. He said that people need higher medical co pays so that they can say “no” to expensive tests (and not necessary by his terms) that their doctor might want to order. This guy not only lacks compassion, but he over estimates the ability of the average person to understand the exact medical terminology and standards of care and purpose of various tests and treatments that doctors take years of training to understand.

When I said that primary care physicians need to be paid more, he skirted that issue and said that the ones who really manage their patients’ care should get paid better. He doesn’t seem to realize that if primary care physicians were paid better, they would be able to take the time to care for people properly instead of only allowing for 3-5 minutes of talking at them instead of taking the time to really listen to their circumstances. He seems to not understand that in order to cover education, insurance, personnel and other overhead costs, combined with the limited payouts of the insurance companies, primary care physicians have to over schedule their days at the expense of time with each patient. If they were paid what they are worth, they would be able to schedule fewer patients in a day and longer times with each patient.
This Wilson guy has everything backwards. If people had access to affordable preventative care and early screenings, that would greatly reduce the costs to insurance companies and individuals and any governmental agencies that help with medical expenses. If people had primary care physicians that they trust and who get paid a fair wage to spend the time it takes to properly diagnose their patients, emergency rooms wouldn’t be overtaxed with people going in for well baby checks and routine maintenance, not to mention all of the emergencies that are caused by waiting until it was a life or death situation when something as simple as blood pressure medication or a home nebulizer could have prevented it. Without affordable access to those things, ERs become the doctor of the day. Wilson said that Medicare and Medicaid take care of most of those who need help and that the working (very) poor are the only ones who need help still. He said basically that people who are middle class need to buy their own insurance and have higher co pays. He also said if they “choose” not to buy insurance, they should get no help from the government. (“People are willing to pay for their iPods and cell phones, so they need to set priorities and pay for their own healthcare.”)

I ran several different real-life health scenarios by him to find out how his politics would weigh in on each. The first scenario was the fact that I am a cancer survivor and because of that I can never change jobs for fear of losing health insurance for a preexisting condition. He did say that preexisting conditions should be covered, but only if you have had continuous previous health insurance, not if you were uninsured before being diagnosed, or if your insurance had lapsed after a diagnosis and/or remission, then been restarted. He said that my circumstances would allow a safety net because I have insurance already and have not let it lapse.

I also get the impression that this Wilson guy is homophobic because when I started to pose the second situation, I mentioned my domestic partner… he interrupted me there, tilting his head so far sideways I was thinking I should be looking for a hinge in his neck, “you said your PARTNER?” I said, “yes, my partner…”again he cut me off, “not your legal spouse, a husband…” I then interrupted him, ”right, my partner of fifteen years who I can’t even legally marry, but that is a whole different issue that has no part in this conversation.” I went on to say that due to Medicare and her insurance from the job she retired from, that the very expensive product that keeps her alive is covered. I said that it costs about $60,000 per year and that if her circumstances were different and she didn’t have Medicare or insurance to pick up the difference, but was still in a middle class income bracket, she would have no help under his plan. He looked me in the eye and said that someone in that situation “would have some hard decisions to make then”.

This “town hall meeting” that he has invited/challenged Representative Kildee to is also open to the constituents of the 5th Michigan congressional district. It will be on Wednesday October 7 from 7pm-9pm at U of M Flint in the William S. White building- Tuscola rooms A and B.

I would like to see a good showing of people who support MEANINGFUL healthcare reform come to this meeting. I don’t want it to end up being an attack of zealots against Kildee the way the “town hall meeting” that my dad attended did. (I wrote about that in an earlier post.) I would like to see this be a meaningful, thoughtful and balanced discussion of the issue. And, while we are at it, should we think about thinking about healthcare reform separate from health insurance reform, or is it all one issue? I have no answer to that question, I am just throwing it out there for ponderation (I know, I’m channeling W again in my language, it’s like a big huge mental burp-I can’t help myself.).

I’m debating on whether or not to ask Wilson, who thinks the middle class should fend for themselves, “If elected, will you opt out of congressional medical insurance and your current GM retiree insurance in order to show that a middle class income is enough to cover private medical insurance and medical bills?”

When I called Representative Kildee’s office to voice support for meaningful healthcare reform, the young woman on the phone said that more voices of support need to be heard because those shouting the loudest and the most are mainly those who only want superficial reform.

If you support meaningful healthcare reform, I encourage you to call your representative and let your voice be heard. If you are a supporter of the public option, make sure that your representatives, senators and president know that this is an important part of any healthcare bill in order to level the playing field and make healthcare affordable to everyone. Also, if you live in the 5th Michigan congressional district (all of Genesee County, Tuscola County, The Eastern part of Saginaw County, including the city of Saginaw, and the Southeastern part of Bay County, including Bay City), I encourage you to take two hours out of your evening on October 7 and make your voice heard to our Representative, Dale Kildee, and his republican opponent, Rick Wilson.

Monday, September 7, 2009

I came to a realization recently that I have imposed a type of silence upon myself since getting my cancer diagnosis. My silence is obviously not one of the mouth or the pen or the keyboard.
My silence is one of the body. I have put my mind and mouth in one compartment and left my body (at least the root chakra) in a dark and silent tomb somewhere else.

I recently read a very powerful and moving book called Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence. The author, Matthew Sanford, chronicles his life as a paraplegic, beginning with the car accident that severed his spinal cord when he was 13 years old, an age when kids are just learning about their bodies. Sanford was coerced by the medical establishment to silence his “phantom pains” and emotionally distance himself from the bottom 2/3 of his body. Once he accepted their directives, he felt like just a head and shoulders person. He was this disembodied person for many years, living with a silence of body that only few can understand.

Eventually, he made peace with the living, unmoving body that is a part of himself. He found yoga and re-introduced his body to his mind and visa versa. He now teaches yoga even though he is still paraplegic.
Toward the end of this book, as he was describing how it felt when yoga opened him up to his whole body’s energy, I remembered that feeling of a kundalini rush while meditating or doing energy work and I cried. (What is it with menopause anyway? I seem more emotional than I ever was before.) I was crying in joy and relief for Sanford, but also in grief and anger at myself.
I realized that it has been over two years since I really felt alive throughout my whole body. I’m not sure if the disconnect started when I first got my cancer diagnosis, I don’t think so because I was still meditating and doing Reiki at first.

The disconnect likely happened when Dr. B went out of his way to verbally intimidate and mostly castigate me before doing my vaginal exam which left me feeling unclean and ashamed of having cancer. He said I was too fat to do surgery on and the radiation that he ordered had a possibility of rendering sex so painful as to be impossible, or at least unenjoyable, for the rest of my life. And, he said that because I do not sleep with men, that doesn’t matter anyway.

The disconnect could have happened as I went on the internet and sought out the worst case scenarios for the treatments I was to get.
The disconnect could have happened during the radiation process (you can read about the gory details in some of my earlier posts) and with a radiation doctor that only sees women as property and without physical or emotional considerations.

The disconnect could have happened after my surgery, with the painful recovery (even now, the scar is often a bit painful and there is a hard lump of tissue that healed wrong because of the previous radiation damage).

Despite all my ruminating, trying to pinpoint a moment where I disengaged from my body, ultimately just gives me an excuse to stay in my mind where I feel safer, more in control. (Okay, if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, that last sentence sounds unlikely. But, believe it or not, that mental chaos feels safe compared to the idea of reconnecting with my root chakra or physical body.)

Another thing I realized from reading Waking, is that I totally take my body for granted. I have aches and pains and crackles and creaks, and I notice those, but it has been a long time since I just sat or did some activity and felt proud of my muscles, my strong legs, my feet that support twice the weight they did when I was young and fit. I have felt more embarrassed of my body than grateful, or even present.

So, I am trying to get back into this shell of mine by breathing deep (as deep as an ex-smoker with pneumonia can), walking, biking, stretching, touching my toes, meditating and paying attention to what my body feels- not just how my mind interprets parts of what I feel.

Reaching back in my memory, I’ll try to describe what I had forgotten that I lost- or, rather, what I actively blocked until the blocking felt more “normal” than being unblocked:

I remember sitting on the ground at the base of an old oak tree. My butt was nestled between two big roots and my back- the whole of my back from sacrum to lumbar to thoracic to cervical spine- was leaning completely against the bark. I closed my eyes and breathed deep, paying attention to what my breath felt like. The more focused I became, the less I noticed the people walking past me to and from the mess hall, to and from rehearsals for the big concert coming up, to and from their dorms or temporary apartments (I was at the University of Kentucky for a Sister Singers’ conference). As others faded, my heartbeat and my breath blended and created a quiet music of their own. Then, I felt energy, almost like my spiral fluid flowing from my root up through each vertebra, around the back of my head to the crown, up through the branches and leaves, then circulating back down through me into the Earth through my pelvis. I don’t know how long I sat like that before I felt something that really startled me. The bark touching my spine, that channel of energy that was so palpable, began to buzz in relation to the buzzing inside of me. It was like the tree’s sap and my spinal fluid were one in the same. I became high from the joy of the moment. I was high without drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or anything else polluting my body. That remarkable moment had to have been 18 or so years ago.

Before the silence, I regularly became a tree, firmly planting my roots in the loamy Earth to stay grounded. I’ve only been a sickly sapling for the past couple of years, whereas before I was a great oak, willow or birch, depending upon the moment.

I also remember the joy and amazement the first time I felt the coiled-snake energy begin to dance: Kundalini. The red snake wound its body up in my womb to sleep and when it woke, it woke my whole body. That fire snake introduced me to the Phoenix, which is the spirit animal born to me again and again, rising out of the ashes I make of myself every now and then.
The other day, a day or two after finishing Waking, I woke up naturally, without the alarm. (It was Tuesday or Wednesday morning, so I had slept the night before since I have Mondays off work.) I sat up on the edge of the bed. (Deb and the three girls staying with us were all still asleep.). I quietly but securely placed both bare feet flat on the bare wooden floor. I straightened my spine from the bottom up and unrolled my shoulders. I put my hands to either side of me, palm sides down. I breathed slowly, deeply, deliberately. I felt myself settle into my body, like an old farmhouse settling, except without the creaking sounds or cracking foundation. As a matter of fact, my foundation felt more solid than it had in a while. More solid than it has for two years. I felt the tree that the settling farmhouse was made of inside my body, sending grounding roots thirstily into the Earth, tentatively as if not wanting to over drink like a dehydrated person might. It felt good for that moment. I felt solid. For that moment, I felt at home again in me.

Did I mention that I highly recommend the book, Waking, by Matthew Sanford for everyone who has ever felt silence: adolescents, differently abled people, women, transgendered people, people of color, arthritic people, diabetics, anyone who has ever had a car accident or a major surgery, menopausal women, men with ED, anyone who has wanted to be a parent but couldn’t, alcoholics, yoga instructors, massage therapists, overweight people, anorexics, ministers, teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers, body workers, body builders, home builders, amputees, veterans, the elderly, people of all faiths, humanists, and you.

If you are interested in hearing a fantastic interview with Matthew Sanford, you can go to http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/bodysgrace/ .  If you are not convinced to read this book yet, listen to him as he tells his story.  Even if you choose not to read the book, the interview alone is inspiring.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I Love My Bathroom

Even though we are still paying off the loan to redo the bathroom, I have discovered several advantages to the total redesign:
1) The bench is good to put my foot up on while I shave.
2) The built in nook is pretty and perfect for holding shampoo, etc.
3) The bench is good to sit down on if one isn't up to standing.
4) The glass door shows off all of the beautiful tile work.
5) Even though I miss having a bathtub, it's easy to get in and out of the shower without having to step over the side of a tub with sore muscles or fake joints.
6) The tile is not nearly as slippery as a tub, so I don't have to look at an ugly rubber mat.
7) I no longer feel like I am a genie in a Pepto Bismol bottle while sitting on the toilet.
8) When the dog rolls in poop, I don't have to do a full body hug to lift her over the edge of a tub as she struggles and wiggles. Instead, I can just drag her stinky but to the door of the shower, lift her front paws, push then lift her butt, carefully avoiding the huge smear of freshly squashed poop slathering her back.
9) Turning on both showerheads at once doesn't give her anywhere to go to get away from the cleansing water.
10) The handheld showerhead has a nice long hose so that I can rinse her whole stinky poop body even when she is totally pressed up against the shower bench.

11) Did I mention that I no longer have to do a full body grab on a stinky, soapy dog jumping out of the tub in the middle of bathing?  The Shower door keeps her from having anywhere to escape.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Borrowed Time is Eternal Life

(written August 30, 2009)

“Living on borrowed time.” What does that mean? Spiritual teachings of many sorts and (if I remember correctly) science tell us that when something dies, the energy doesn’t just disappear, it manifests itself in some other way: reincarnation, decomposition, heavenly ascension, fossil fuels, ghosts, supernovas, food.

Each person, tree, animal, plant and planet is made up of atoms which are essentially embodied energy. Solidity is an illusion.

There is an ongoing global dialogue about planting trees to capture CO2 to help save the planet that we humans have quickly begun to destroy by cutting trees and by burning fossil fuels which are decomposed trees and other lives. Each time we plant a tree, carbon is collected and stored in its beautiful form, within the cells of its leaves or needles, the cells of its strong core and protective bark. Eventually, in the years, or in two thousand years, each tree will die and that CO2 does not just stay in the tree. As it decays and feeds the worms or feeds the fire, all that stored carbon- that embodied energy is released back into the air from which it was tree-vacuumed up in the first place. “Borrowed Time” for trees may simply mean that the tree borrowed carbon from the air in order to live for the limited time of its beautiful life. Its life-force lives on as it is drawn into the cells of other trees, insects, worms and bacteria through digestion or respiration. In that way, each tree borrows its energy from the trees that came before and lends that energy in turn to all that grows after. In that way, the ethereal carbon gas that once sustained the tree could, perhaps, be known as the “spirit” of the tree. When the tree dies, that once embodied energy, tree spirit becomes ethereal, a ghost-like invisibility that lives in and around those things that still maintain the illusion of solidity. In this way, the tree, the tree’s spirit is one of the tightrope strands on the web of life to which we are all connected.

When someone, say, a person, lives its (our) life with the illusion of solidity, deep down, at a molecular and spiritual level, we are embodied energy- much like our tree. We think and talk and move and laugh and cry and we use language to call that living. When we say someone is “living on borrowed time,” generally we mean that their bodies are staying animated against the odds. But really-aren’t we all simply “living on borrowed time”?

We, (the we that we know ourselves to be) were created from an unlikely union between two single cells with only half the required DNA to grow. Beyond reasonable expectation these half DNA cells merged together to form a single, and complete strand of DNA. They split and merged again and again until each split became beyond all odds, an ear here, a toenail there, a mucus membrane there, a heart here. The energy for all of this embodiment taking place came and still comes from the energy of those that came and died before: our mothers and fathers, beef, carbon exhaled and from decomposing things, oxygen exhaled by plants, lettuce, nuts, fruit, dandelion greens and bacon. In order for each of our cells to thrive, we take in and embody the energy of those other beings that we encounter. This energy brings us life as we know it. We are embodied energy, spirit, ethereal unknowns on an atomic and global level.

In this respect, aren’t we all “living on borrowed time”? Or, should we more aptly say that we are “living on borrowed spirit/enerty/molecules” or, should we say we are “living with shared energy, mixing time up because energy is timeless and we are simply energy embedded”?

As someone who believes in science, spirit, and in the unknowable unknown, it help s me to meld those beliefs into stories or explanations that make sense to me. Intellectually, I celebrate with joy the changing of the seasons and the miraculous circle of lives. But I still feel a sense of loss as I watch the trees lose a bit of that lifeforce each fall when they give up their green leaves for red, yellow and brown. Eventually, even those leaves that have transformed still die and fall to feed the Earth as compost- transference of embedded energy one leaf, one cell at a time. Going, going, going, gone but not gone at all.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tripping Down the Path of Buried Fears

(Written Sunday August 23, 2009 about 3am)

I am a little over a third of the way through Sherwin Nuland’s book, How We Die. It is a book of compassion and clinical dispassion all at the same time. Even as he describes his friend’s descent into Alzheimer’s disease and the step by step progression of the disease as his friend, in proportionate amounts, digresses, Nuland maintains a clinical distance that allows room for my own grief and fear to surface and fill in the space.

Tears ran down my face unabashedly as I read about his friend and his friend’s wife’s deep love for one another and how occasionally his friend would come to the surface for a few seconds and tell his wife he loves her. My grief and wonder were woven into this man’s very personal story as I remembered an experience that happened during my grandma White’s last years in a nursing home for Alzheimer’s patients: My Aunt Ronnie got a call from the nursing home one day and they said that grandma was missing. They were out looking for her and I think they even had the police looking. Aunt Ronnie went to my grandpa’s house to tell him, and there they were-napping together. He was asleep in his chair and she was asleep in hers. Across the gap, they were holding hands with the romantic music of snoring.

As I read this chapter (which I’m still not done with-I have had to take a break as this subject speaks to my greatest fears) snippets of conversations and personal experiences engulf me: Deb’s dad asking the same question every two minutes; seeing my grandma being fed like a baby (I was ten); listening to my cousin, Tim, a couple of weeks ago as he related the description of his once strong, beautiful independent mother forgetting how to suck on a straw in her last days (Aunt Ronnie, from the earlier story); feeling that my Aunt Annie had been loved so much by her garden that the bees spared her and her family the agony of the quick descent into oblivion that Alzheimer’s was leading her to.

My aunts’ and my mom’s greatest fears were to disintegrate from the brain down, the way their mother did with Alzheimer’s. That fear has become part of my inheritance, even more enveloping than an heirloom quilt. Reading such a clinical description of the various ways that Alzheimer’s first deludes, then destroys, then kills its victims, without even their knowledge, brings out that heirloom quilt yet once again. Today, it wraps me in its folds like the newborn baby that my grandmother became before she died.

There seems to be disagreement as to whether or not Alzheimer’s is genetic, but they really don’t seem to know much about it at all. However, having lost a grandmother and two Aunts to it (Aunt Annie forgot she was allergic to bees, so with their help, the disease killed her). (My paternal grandmother had a different type of dementia as well.) I can’t help but wonder if I, too, will have to face it one day. My chemo-brain experience gave me an in my face reminder of my fears of dying with the fog of dementia. I can’t help but wonder and fear if the future will make me into someone I’ve never wanted to be-angry, frustrated and forgetful. So, each time I forget a word or yell at Deb for some idiotic imagined slight- somewhere in the back of my mind is the fear that maybe my family’s nemesis is lurking in my brain’s DNA and maybe the chemo I had two years ago already set the wheels in motion. Even though I feel like I’m back to “normal”, whatever that means, I can’t help but think about the fact that people with Alzheimer’s don’t know they have it and believe that they are “normal”. The fear is always lurking…

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Healthy Health Care Reform Needed

I keep hearing all over the news and even on the Colbert Report about these “town hall meetings” and how disruptive and destructive they are to the democratic process. My dad went to one in Baltimore to try to make his voice heard. He couldn’t get inside because the venue only holds about 500 people and there were more than that who showed up. My dad, along with 200-300 other people, was outside participating on the periphery. Most of the people that surrounded him were spewing ignorance and lies about rationing and imaginary “death panels” fabricated by conservative pundits in order to scare the American public out of commonsense reforms.

My dad tried to reason with those near him, explaining the difference between the lies generated by the conservative media and the actual proposed healthcare options. They all ignored or talked over the voice of reason. The moment that my dad gave up being that voice in that crowd went something like this, in a paraphrase of his words:

“People were shouting and holding up signs and trying to block any dialogue. One sign that I saw being held up showed a picture of Obama on one side, made up to look like the Joker, and that’s okay, we used to do that kind of stuff with Bush when he was in power. It’s part of the American right to free speech. But on the other side of that sign, there wre no pictures, just the words ‘KILL THE BEAST.’ I saw that and knew there was no reasoning with these people. I left then. I couldn’t sleep for two days after that”

It’s a shame that freedom of speech includes the right to openly campaign for assassination.

On the website called “Standing on the Side of Love”, I read a blog entry of a guy who read about the congressman whose parking space was sprayed with a swastika in a possible attempt to intimidate him into turning his back on supporting meaningful reform in this country. The blogger took a bouquet of flowers to the congressman’s office with a note thanking him for standing on the side of love when faced with threats and anger. It’s a good website, with some loving voices of reason. If you want to read that blog or join with those Standing On the Side of Love, you can click on this link: http://www.standingonthesideoflove.org/ to find out more.

Since reading that blog, I’ve been trying to think of ways to live up to the accusation that a right wing zealot once made toward me. He accused me, during the Gulf War, of being a “Peace Monger”. I like it. (The other best attempted epithet that I’ve enjoyed as much was “Porcupine Head”, yelled at me by a kid who was mad at me. I had just gotten my hair cut and I had hair glue in it, which did give it a spikey porcupine look and a spikey porcupine feel.)

This week I plan on calling 866-279-5474 to let my representatives know that healthcare reform is essential to keep our country healthy.

In church on Sunday, a doctor friend of mine led the service and had some really good insights into what HealthCare means. It means that the doctor (or the doctor’s representative) needs to take the time to listen and ask questions and motivate and educate their patients. The current system of commercial insurance economics driven medical system is not healthy healthcare. I believe that healthcare reform would help move toward a better system to nurture health, including prevention, research and improved services.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dancing with Ghosts

This week is a bittersweet one for me. I am sitting here in my living room waiting for my sister to pick me up so that we can go up north for my Aunt Annie's funeral. And, yesterday was the last time I will see my friend, David, at least for a long time. It was his last day as our minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Flint, and I will miss his lively energy during services. The sweet part of this week is that on Saturday, I get to go to my newphew, Alfred's wedding!! He is marrying a woman that he has known for many years, and he seems tickled to be marrying a ready-made family.

Aunt Annie had the most incredible gardens. She died from bees who nurtured that garden as much as she did. When I was young, probaly 9 or 10 years old, AuntAnnie was shopping for a pice of land up in the Cross Village area, where so much of our family lives and loves. There was a pice of land surrounded with juniper bushes and grass and wildflowers. When she showed us the land, I thought it was nice, but didn't understand her excitement over it, then she told my mom and I a true story. She said that when she was looking at the land for the first time, she saw a rainbow. Now, I know that there is no end of the rainbow, in a natural science type of world, but there is an end of the rainbow, and she found it. She followed the rainbow and saw it touch down on that land. She figured that she had found her pot of gold. Her son designed and built her a beautiful house, and she has spent the past 30 years nurturing the land, the way it nurtured her. Aunt Annie will be missed by all of us who loved her.

David is leaving to take a position at a church in Baltimore. He has some social contacts there already, so I think it will be a better place for him to be. It had to have been really hard to come to a place where he knew absolutely no one ahead of time. The only contacts he had at first were in the congregation that he served. Walking that fine line between being a minister and being a friend has to be difficult. He did find friends outside the congregation, but I think his heart was still on the East Coast with his family and his history. I can't blame him. Also, I think that there is a lot of healing that needs to take place in our congregation that probably couldn't happen with him there. I will miss singing with him. I will miss his ability to call in spirit even though his theology really is that he has faith in human beings living, loving, working and playing together, transforming the world together to be better for all. He is very aware of his flawed humanity and believes that together, we are each better.

I don't know Krysten, Alfred's bride, very well, but I admire the way she loves him for himself and expects him to be the best person he can be. She knows that he has flaws and expects him to be aware of his flaws and do his best to overcome them. I think that he adores her and her children, and for that, I do too. Alfred is a funny and loving person who has had a much harder life than anyone should have to live. When he entered Mig and Tim's lives, he was only 8 years old, but I think that many had already given up on him. He was one of those kids that the "child protection" system failed, except when one worker met Mig and Tim and realized that Alfred was born to bring them the joy and challange of being parents. She also realized that Mig and Tim had the patience and ability to love unconditionally that a child like Alfred needed and deserved. I am ever grateful that she brought them together because I love Alfred and am so happy that he is in my life. And now, I am looking forward to seeing how he blossoms as a father and a husband.

Also, the tenth anniversary of my mom's death is on Thursday. I'm sure that she and Aunt Annie are laughing together and sending their love out to the rest of us who still walk this Earth in corporeal form. They will dance togeher, with Bud and Uncle Don, at Alfred's wedding.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


The polls open in 20 minutes and I still don't know who I believe would be best for the next Flint city mayor. Both seem to be in it for the good of the city rather than their own glory.

I'm definitely voting YES on the HURLEY millage. I would pay even more if it meant saving even one person's life. And besides, I really believe that they are the best hospital in the area. Unfortunately, over the years between me and Deb and friends, I've had quite a bit of experience with all three.

Off to do some more research.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Eat Bug or Not Eat Bug, That Is the Question

(written July 12, 2009 5:00 am-ish)

In my quest toward eating more local, organic food, I may have just eaten a bug. This was not just any bug, it was a small beetle that looks/looked suspiciously like a little section of one of the blackberries I picked to put in my yogurt.

Maybe I should start from the beginning. I was packing my lunch for work and I decided to try to bring mostly veggies and fruit since I really had already had my main meal of the day-but I still usually get hungry at work. I packed some organic carrots grown by local kids who sold them to me at the Farmers’ Market. I made a small salad using up the last of the lettuce and dpinaceh that I got at the Farmers’ Market on that same day. I decided I also needed to have something a bit more substantial, so I decided on gogurt. (I must confess that the container of plain yogurt in my fridge was not produced or bought locally. I was out of the goats’ milk yogurt that I usually get from Simple Times Farm, and I happened to be at Costco, so…that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!) I went outside around 9pm to pick whatever berries were ripe to use in my yogurt. I have purple smear stains on my arms where I was whacking the mosquitoes as they dive-bombed me by the tens. I think my record was killing six with one whack. (Perhaps my pacifist gene is not so dominant after all.) For every two or three mosquitoes I killed, I spilled one or two berries as my arm jerked with the frantic force of my blows. The blackberries, jostaberries and mulberries are all begging to be eaten, frozen or made into jam, juice or vinaigrette. I picked about a cup of blackberries and picked up about 60 mosquito bites. (Where do they all come from???!)

As I was rinsing the berries and picking out the few bad ones that I had collected in my mosquito-riddled haste, I saw a little beetle... I tried to get it. I thought I did, but then I saw it again. I rinsed again but I didn’t want to be late for work, so I put the berries in my yogurt along with some locally produced honey and…maybe the bug.

I looked at every spoonful and swooshed the berries all around in the yogurt but didn’t see the bug. I don’t think I did. Earlier, when I had seen the bug for sure, it looked an awful lot like one of the tiny dark sections of the berries. And, since it was a beetle, I imagine the hard shell probably crunches like the seeds in the little berry sections. Maybe I didn’t eat the bug. Maybe.

Eating one little bug should not be so disturbing to me. According to my mom, we each eat a bushel of dirt before we die. What she didn’t mention at the time, but that I know now, is that much of what we call dirt is really worm poop.

Maybe I did eat the bug.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Gift of Blood

Yesterday, I had a disturbing encounter with a woman who seemed to honestly not know why giving blood is a good thing. She appeared to believe that saving someone’s life is not a good enough reason to give blood.

I really hope that her saying to her 10-12 year old son “why would anyone want to do that?” was simply her way of stimulating thoughtful conversation with him. I really hope she was trying to get him to say what I was saying behind her, “because it saves people’s lives.” (She had a blank look at that answer.) I really hope that the mistake is mine in misinterpreting her question. I really hope (but doubt) that the ignorance is not hers in believing that the personal discomfort of a needle in the arm is a mere annoyance in the face of saving someone’s life with the red elixir. I really hope that the mistake is mine in failing to see her as trying to get her son to think critically about such an important gift. I really hope (but doubt) that the selfishness is not hers in believing that it is not her or anyone responsibility to help people besides themselves. I really hope that the mistake is mine in seeing the whole short exchange in a cynical light.

I cannot give blood, unfortunately. The first time I donated as a freshman at MSU, I allowed myself to sink into blissful oblivion and got really annoyed when the nurse put smelling salts under my nose to wake me up. I was trying to take a mini mind vacate-tion from the chaos that was my life at the time. The second time I tried to give blood, they told me not to come back. My body would only give up a partial unit. My veins gave up giving up the red with less than a half pint. They had to toss it, because they said that they can only use full units. They said that my veins weren’t able to perform as required.

I am thankful for people like my friend, John, who not only volunteers for the Red Cross, but also donates platelets and whole blood as often as possible. I am thankful because I have a partner who requires a weekly infusion of blood products in the form of Gama globulin in order to stay healthy, probably in order to stay alive. I am thankful because I had a friend in high school who relied on human insulin because his body wouldn’t respond appropriately to swine or synthetic insulin. I am thankful because a friend of mine who is dealing with cancer needs periodic blood transfusions in order to keep up her strength so that she can keep up with her beautiful children. I am thankful because the little old lady across the street had transfusions last week because her own blood was not doing its job on its own. I am thankful for people like John because I cannot give blood myself and I feel like he is giving of himself on my behalf.

For more information on giving blood, you can visit the website of the American Red Cross at: http://www.redcross.org/donate/give/

Monday, June 29, 2009

Puppy Dog Tails Change the World

(written June 25, 2009 posted today due to internet glitch)

Monday of last week (I know, my brain does not work in chronological order), I had my regular four month pap smear. It’s hard to believe that two years ago this week I was in shock from being told that I had cancer and then going to a misogynistic gyn oncologist. I hadn’t yet gone to my doctor at U of M. I should be a poster child for yearly checkups for women-except I hate getting my picture taken. I always have, even when I weighed half what I weigh now.

I go back again in four months. At that point, I will be considered to be at low risk for recurrence, and can go down to every 6 months for exams. I’ll also finally get my port removed at that point. Yippee and yippee, respectively.

One of my high school buddies (a different one than I mentioned before), recently re-connected with me through Facebook. She is just now reading my blog, including the steroid and stress induced mania from the beginning. I think I was more interesting then, but I’m glad my brain chemicals seem to be back to normal-well, my normal, which probably isn’t NORMAL normal.

Deb is home recovering from having her gallbladder removed. Now she will have a four inch horizontal scar to keep the long vertical scar company. I’m sure she probably feels trapped like a rat. Still no driving, lifting, coughing hard, laughing hard, sneezing, sitting up fast, laying down fast, or pushing to poop. Ahh, a life of leisure. I’m glad it’s not me-again.

On a whole ‘nother subject- I seem to have little dogs running through my brain tonight. Perhaps it’s because my across the street neighbor’s yorkie has taken a liking to me. Perhaps it’s because I’m fascinated with Jake, the puggle that has captured the hearts of my goddaughters, attends obedience school with them and regularly falls asleep in their arms after eating his own poop. Perhaps it is because the other day, someone gave me two organically grown carrots with the tops still on, fresh from the garden and I wanted to share them with Little Bit, so it made me miss Little Bit a bit. Perhaps it is because I saw a toad the other day. Perhaps it is because it is 4:30 in the morning and the only way to stay alert is to embrace my musical turrets and internal tail wagging.

Speaking of tail wagging- we got the dogs groomed a couple of weeks ago and asked that Indigo get a field cut, using a “#7 blade” all over. We forgot to ask for her beautiful fluffy tail to stay fluffy. Now she has a skinny naked black tale like Pluto, except hers has a white spot on it-right toward the top. I never knew she had a white spot on her tail! Without the fluff to catch the air and provide resistance, her wag now seems really really fast. Thumpthumpthumpthumpthump instead of thump thump thump thump. It’s like she has got tail tachycardia. (Indigo is the dog that has not only concealed her white dot from us for about 11 years, but for about 8 years she totally hid the fact that she is perfectly trained on leash. What next, is she secretly engaged or running a business on the side, renting out her kitty sisters to kill mice for the neighbors?)

By the way, has anyone seen my missing screw? If you find it, please let me know. Thumpthumpthumpthump.

Once Upon a Tale of Tales

Once upon a time, (actually, a few weeks ago), there were two beautiful princesses. Their names were Maddie and Ana. One day, the princesses, along with their Faerie Godmother, Aimee, wove a tale of adventure and mystery. In their tale were a princess and a fairy and a unicorn and an evil wizard with an evil cat whose name kept changing. There were three majic jewels and some raspberries. There were mountains and caves and magic pathways and an invisible castle.

As the princesses wove their tale of magic over breakfast and the faerie godmother added scary voices, a bit of magic leaked into the mundane world as the story about “they” became a story about “we”.

This berry season, I shall not be surprised if I accidentally chip a tooth on a crystal raspberry from a bush in the backyard. Nor will I be surprised if a large green crystal creates a protective barrier to protect us from an evil wizard named “Wiz”. However, I bet that my fearless pets will never allow Wiz’s evil cat into our yard. No majic jewels are needed for this.

The Modern Miricle of the Maze of Technology

(Written June 24, 2009. Posted today)

This time, my blog neglect isn’t due to my laziness, busyness, uncreative funk or forgetfulness (I still blame that one on the chemo!). This time, I have had no internet for about two weeks.

It’s really odd to think about the fact that 15 years ago, I had never even used the internet and today, I can barely remember what life was like without it! How did I do research? How did I make reservations or comparison shop for cell phone plans? (Wait…I didn’t have a cell phone then, either.) How did I get the word out when I was having a party? How did I hear about upcoming family additions? (Wait…I didn’t, that was a major reason for getting the internet in the first place. Being forgotten for the simple reason of not being online was kind of a jolt for me. Now it’s a matter of getting people to send stuff to my active account.)

Now, the contract on our cell phones is up. I’m torn between renewing the contract as it is, or switching carriers. Here’s the really big part of that decision no matter which company we choose: The internet tempts me yet again! It would be great to just look up stuff as it pops into my brain instead of writing it on scraps of paper to be found later and give me a mental “huh?” when I’m emptying my pockets into the same place day after day so that I will look at it “tomorrow”. On the other hand, at home I have the internet (theoretically, as I’m finding out this week). I can’t safely access the internet on a phone (or desktop computer or laptop computer) while driving, and, I’m not supposed to use my cell phone at work. So, why bother paying $30.oo a month (for 2 phones) for internet access, when my cost divided by probable time online using said phone per month will probably equal around $1.00 per minute. Okay, put in those terms, perhaps I’ll stick to doing things the olde fashioned way- writing with 7mm uni-ball gel-grip pens scribbling illegibly on purple legal pads or on the backs of sale fliers, Homo Depot receipts, half-finished thoughts, or paper towels (lightly used or previously unused).

On the other hand, our president uses a “Blackberry”, and it does have that cool keypad…

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Teachers of Life in the Classroom

(written June 12, 2009, posted today)

I just finished Tuesdays with Morrie, and I still recommend it. I don’t want to go into too much detail because this small tome speaks volumes for itself. It is a story of a man and his dying teacher. It is their story to tell, not mine. I’m sure it will be another one of those books I re-read periodically.

This book brought to mind so many people whose lives have touched mine, but in particular, I’d like to single out some of my teachers to honor. Although I have had many informal teachers, I want to recognize some of those who have stood in front of my many classes over the years, some of those who touched me in some pivotal way in my life. (They all did on some level whether or not I was/am conscious of their influences. I just am not mentioning all of them.)

Mrs. Bishop- my first grade teacher who caught me cheating on a test on how to tell time. She taught me that I don’t need to cheat in order to look smart. Cheating is stupid and like stealing from another person’s brain. (Besides, what if their answers are wrong?)

Mrs. Arnold- my second grade teacher. I had a crush on her, but was still happy for her when she got married. She helped me learn to deal with bullies without beating them up.

Mr. Pence-my sixth grade social studies and science teacher. Before coming to our school, he taught on a Hopi reservation for a year. Through his stories and his obvious love of the people and the culture and his acute awareness of the devastating poverty and health issues there, he opened my eyes to the richness of diversity. And, he had me build a really cool eyeball model even when I didn’t think I could.

Mrs. Bouton- an English teacher from East Junior High who made linguistics into a fun game and first boosted my confidence in the written word.

Mrs. Neira- my high school English teacher who was the toughest teacher in the school. She piled on homework and graded hard. She didn’t let me get away with only doing as well as everyone else. She made me do my best in order to get a decent grade. Mrs. Neira always gave us her best and expected the same from us. We called her the “ditto queen” (with her total consent) because she didn’t think that any of the English textbooks on the market were adequate. She designed her own exercises and assignments, tailoring them for each class as needed to help us love English and ourselves as much as she did. I trusted her with some of my very personal writings that were not written for class. She said to me “never stop writing”. I have always been grateful for her faith in me. I write letters to her still. She never writes back, but she told me she wouldn’t. After all those years, I still hold out hope that she will write back.

Randall Robinson- an English professor from MSU. I took four or five different classes with him and went to England for a summer to learn from him. Randall taught me to love Shakespeare and made me sit down and shut up while other students lavished me with compliments. That was probably the single most uncomfortable, actually horrifying ten minutes of my life, and I thank him for it. He would never give me a 4.0, not because my writing wasn’t excellent, but because he knew that I was holding back my true soul from the page. He gave me a 4.0 the summer that I wrote a play about someone coming out for the first time as a lesbian to a lifelong friend. (I wish the real experience the following January had been as successful.)

Sister Beard- an African American studies professor at MSU was the coolest feminist black nun that I have ever met. Come to think of it, she is the only one. I had a bit (big) of a crush on her.

Reverend Doctor Kim Yarber- my history of African American religion professor at U of M Flint. Dr. Yarber taught me most of all not to write off anyone based upon their religious label (he is a Baptist minister). And, most of all, he cares what his students learn and he seems invested in how the knowledge his class inspired/inspires his students in everyday, long term and extraordinary ways. He speaks his truth and listens to others as they speak their truth.

Charles Thomas- my religion in American culture professor, who I also know from church. He teaches a touchy and personal subject in a way that encourages his students to express their views and share insights with one another. He seems to enjoy learning from his students as much as he enjoys seeing them get excited about their subjects. I must admit that I was nervous about taking his class because he has seen me at my very best-in the pulpit-where every word and note has been precisely chosen. I was afraid that he would either grade me really hard-using my performance in the pulpit as a measure of my abilities, or grading me too easy because of our church affiliation. He actually did neither of those things. He graded me fairly and I worked hard for his class-as it should be.

Tristan Hassell- teaches Philosophical Foundations of World Religions. His vast and varied mental library of knowledge blows my mind. I had a really hard time deciding on a paper topic for his class because I was afraid I couldn’t be original enough or inspiring enough. Insights from his class have really helped me to go further on the road to clarifying the language for my spiritual journey.

Larry Koch-(pronounced like the word, “cook”) is a sociology professor at U of M Flint. Larry agreed to supervise me in an independent reading class that was the most informative and fun grade I have ever earned. Larry is to me what Morrie is to Mitch Album- but without the terminal illness as a catalyst to the passing on of wisdom.

These are only a few of the formal teachers who have helped me to become who I am becoming. I know there are others whose lessons remain with me in everyday ways. They are in my heart and memories as well.

Of course, I have far more teachers of the informal kind: friends, past lovers and present partner, co-workers, kids I get paid to work with, kids I volunteer to work with, former customers, strangers. Each moment with someone has the potential to become a teaching moment. Each person becomes a teacher when one is receptive to being a student.

I plan to always be a student of those I meet.

Meditation on Mental Toilet Flushing

(written June 11, 2009 (at a different time than the other one) and posted today)

I really hate it when I do or say something mean or stupid. I am wracked with guilt and anxiety until I make it right- through apology or action. In a world where sleep is a daytime chore, this whirlwind in my brain keeps gaining momentum until sleep releases me from that mental toilet flush. That happens only when my body shuts my brain down in exhaustion.

Pausing on Page 55

(Written on June 11, not posted until today)

A couple of weeks before my mom got really sick, she and Deb and I were talking at her dinner table. I don’t remember if it was an afternoon of coffee drinking or one of her dinner talk-a-thons. She knew she had a surgery coming up and I think that on some level, she knew everything was about to go terribly wrong.

Mom had never shied away from talking about death with us kids. We always knew that death is a part of life. It all fits together into a cohesive, harmonious whole. From as far back as I can remember, the older kids had their names on various furniture, with the understanding that those pieces would go to the designated names when she died. It was all part of the grand scheme of things.

On this fall day ten years ago, the three of us (Deb, Mom and I) brought the conversation around to death and our wishes regarding end of life issues. None of us want long term life support. Mom recalled her days working at St. Joes Hospital, caring for terminally ill patients. At that point, I’d never been in a room with anyone when they died. Mom said that the greatest honor that anyone had ever given her was to ask her to sit with them when they died.

In that same conversation, she said that no one should ever have to die alone. Deb and I promised on that day that she would not die alone, that we would both be with her. We were, and so were many of her other children, children by marriage, and grandchildren.

This conversation and the events leading from from it to her death a little over ten months later, often find a place in the forfront of my mind. Oddly enough, it is not always a place of sadness or grief. Most often, it is a place of grace, beauty and gratitude. I think this sounds odd to most people, but to me, it is a good place, a loving place, a place of peace.

I bring all of this up here because, since I am between semesters and was, until tonight, between books to read. I found myself “shopping” among my bookshelves in the basement for something to read. I wanted something quick, that I’d not read before. I looked in my fiction section with shelves and shlves of books lined up neatly and stacked up haphazardly in front of those rows since I ran out of room for orderliness. There were too many to sift thorugh and too little time before I’d be late getting off to work. So I looked to my nonfiction titles: more orderly and fewer titles to scan. I looked to the small ones. I wanted something quick but compeling. My eyes and hand landed on a book that since it was first released, dozens-literally dozens of people have told me that I MUST READ. I never did. It came out when I still worked at the bookstore, and for a good long time, sold several copies a day. Sometimes several went to the same person so they could give them out to everyone they love.

So now, I pause on page 55 just to write this blog entry to recommend that you read Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom. Even without skipping to the last page, I know how it ends. Morrie dies in the end. And Mitch Albom lives. The story is found in the ways in which they live and die. It brings back Moms two statements: “no one should ever have to die alone” and the greatest honor anyone can give is to ask that you be with them when they die.