Patience – again

September 19, 2020

Quite some time ago, when I was educating myself on Twelve Step programs in the course of learning about addictions, I was told about a phenomenon noted among participants that was too often a contributor to relapse – the emergence of serious health challenges in the months after sobriety was achieved.
“I was never sick when I was using, except for withdrawals when I couldn’t get a new supply.”
“I didn’t have any health problems until after I got sober.”

It never occurred to me that there might be a similar response to retirement and its accompanying cessation of the adrenalin rush which faded with the end of deadline pressures.

Feeling somewhat at sea, unsure how to structure one’s days, seeking a new balance of tasks and relaxation – those were feelings I anticipated or had been alerted to expect, and ones that seemed reasonable. A marked decrease in interpersonal contacts would also be inevitable, given the necessary isolation already in place due to the pandemic. Loss of energy would naturally follow from a drop in adrenalin. I was prepared to avert a parallel mental/emotional sag that could seem misleadingly like depression.

I was not prepared to experience the above referenced upsurge in health issues.

The explanation generally accepted in the Twelve Step situation is that the addict/alcoholic/codependent has been too engaged with the focus of their addiction to care for themselves. Not so different a situation as that of health caregivers who ignore their own needs in the process of tending to their parent or partner ill with cancer, Alzheimer’s or other care-demanding conditions. Once attention returns to the individual, previously ignored symptoms become salient and require attention.

I did not need a day of sick leave in the last 4 years of my employment. I maintained – still do – a regular weekly schedule of health support treatments. I am an appropriate weight, have never smoked, drink very sparingly, and exercise daily. I do not have any “underlying conditions” to make me vulnerable, other than being somewhat up there in years (late 70’s) and having lived through a 5 year period, some 35 years ago, of a bad time with bronchitis. It has not been an issue since, beyond a bit of congestion if I become seriously overtired.

So why, 6 weeks into retirement, free of stress and sleeping well, am I experiencing an upsurge in frequency of ocular migraine headaches and an aggravating bout of bronchitis?

The more rest I get, the less energy I seem to have. Breathing in an unknown contaminant last week apparently triggered the bronchitis (Covid test negative) that now refuses to subside. Yes our air in New Mexico is seriously smoky, downwind from the West Coast fires and that undoubtedly is exacerbating the bronchitis flare up. But why is this lung irritation stubbornly persistent while I am relaxed and rested, when it never did so while I was highly stressed and working 50 plus hour weeks?

Probably the question I should be asking is “what, that I have not yet identified, needs my attention just now?” such that I am being slowed down, held in place, prevented from moving into new activities until I recognize the missing element. At least, that seems to be how illness has played out in my life so far.

Sometimes, when I frame the question, I get the answer promptly. Other times, I get to practice the difficult lesson of patience. This seems to be one of those latter occasions.

I’ll let you know when the insight arrives.

Waking Up

September 14, 2020

The best part of waking up is … was it Folger’s in your cup? Another coffee brand? Don’t remember that detail, only the tune and the ad line, as I wake to another silent morning, alone without anyone present to greet me as I greet the day.
I think that is, for me, the hardest aspect of days alone. Once I am up and going, with tasks to be done and responding to messages and emails, or checking news feeds, I no longer feel so isolated. I have never been one to have music playing in the background and I don’t have TV (hate the blah blah blah background in spaces where the TV is never turned off though not being attended to) but maybe the former will need to change? Might having a musical greeting alter my sense of aloneness?
Guess that is one more “you won’t know until you try it” item on a long list.

I enjoy music, but recognize that my greatest pleasure comes from words – a cleverly written sentence, a challenging crossword puzzle, a lively discussion with a compatible partner, whether over coffee or – as now required – distanced and by text.
There is a qualitative difference between written and spoken words, and I am finding in this enforced aloneness a fatigue with reading that I never thought I’d encounter. I put down my book and play hands of solitaire to “zone out” and let my inner self refocus.
Would it be different with music in the background?

I won’t know until I try it (smiley face).

The Meaning of Alone

September 10, 2020

Alone but not lonely
Lonely even though not alone
Sleeping single in a double bed
No one to talk to
No one who cares
No one trusted enough to share with
No one who will (or can) listen

Free to make one’s one decisions
Empowered to act without waiting for approval or agreement
Challenged to be creative

Look Ma, no hands
Wheeeeee
Crash

I want to hold your hand
I want you to hold me, please
Babies with adequate hygiene and food but not held do suffer and die from the lack of touch
A variant of marasmus

Touch deprived adults may fall into depression, poor health
A may die prematurely

Alone can be content
Lonely cannot

What makes the difference?
Attitude
Faith
Upbringing
Insight
Learning
Choice

All challenges to the Self
That enhance growth

But mostly, I think, that last one
Choice
Think about it.

Frustration

September 10, 2020

Please be advised, I have essays to post

but am unable to use the new format

to my liking and am therefore

not putting up anything until

someone

comes to my rescue.

Specifically I do not like the enforced

double spacing, but find NO guidance

on how to change it.

Consider this my declaration of WAR

against thoughtless, mindless computer

nerds who ignore the needs of older

more traditional writers.

I Still Go for Walks

August 26, 2020

My walks these days are mostly down and back up the steep hill in the long driveway from our house to the mailbox by the road. I started with just a single trip, to collect the mail and take a break from the computer and phone of my work day. Now that I am untethered from those bindings, I make the trip an increasing number of times per day, usually 3-4 in the cool of morning followed by single or double hill climbs a couple more times until evening. I have been using the morning walks to prioritize the activities pending in my day, both cleaning out the house of its years of accumulated stuff, and organizing a new laptop with files saved from 8 or more years ago when I set aside my writing career to resume being an overworked but productive peon in the health care system.

In the course of the file retrieval, I came upon a piece I wrote probably ten years ago, that resonates with me now. I have welcomed input from friends both about what to do next in my life, and what changes to expect in how I will feel and how my physical self will respond to the lessening of the stress under which I have lived for so many years. My essay reconnected me with another important source of input still salient despite the fact that the person described passed on more than 45 years ago.

Enjoy the encounter with me.

A Walk with My Grampa

“I Went For a Walk in the Forest” was the book title and first phrase I learned to read, precociously at age three, sitting on my Grampa’s lap as he read the story over and over to me. The book was paper bound, about 6 inches high and 10 inches long, with a black and white cover sketch of the forest surrounded by a pumpkin-orange border. If you opened the book out flat, so that the back and front covers made one whole picture, all the animals met on that forest walk could be seen hidden among the trees. In the delightful manner of children’s fantasy, the animals collected in that forest ignored the habitat restrictions which would normally prevent them meeting, except perhaps in a zoo.

From the safety of Grampa’s lap I learned about lions and horses, a giraffe, an elephant, deer and antelope, and a monkey. When the reading walk was done we rested. He smoked, and I trapped the smoke rings he blew into a wide mouth bottle, where they magically retained shape until the genie who also lived in the bottle stirred them into a fog to give himself shelter.

I went for a walk at the zoo, with my Grampa, most Sundays from when I was seven until I was twelve. He would come down on the train from Baltimore to spend the day with us, and would take me for ‘our’ time. Not always to the zoo, sometimes to the park or just for a walk around the neighborhood. He would ask me about my week in school, what I had learned and what I was reading, and he would tell me about the poem he was working on, or the article he was writing (in Hebrew, or Yiddish) for The Forward (which he pronounced as though a “v” began the second syllable). It was important to him to pick just the right Hebrew word from among several choices for his poems, to convey mood and spirit, as well as meaning.

I went for a walk on the beach – alone now, a world away from my Grampa, he still in Baltimore and I on the sand at Nha Trang, picking up tiny pink and black and pearl-colored shells which elderly Vietnamese refugees from the north collected to string into elaborate necklaces. I wore a small gold pendant my Grampa gave me, with the Tree of Life etched into it. A link, he said, that would stretch from Vietnam back to Maryland, to keep us sharing our walks. Those were harder years, without his immediate presence and gentle wisdom to balance the emotional stresses of my early teens.

I missed him still, when I went for a walk in the Bois de Boulogne during my high school years. I wrote to him, sitting on a sarcophagus in Pierre La Chaise cemetery, one of the few places in bustling Paris that I could find solitude and quiet. Those were very hard years, for both of us. He was no longer working in his dental practice and had fewer places to publish his essays and poems. He was no longer as able to care for himself, and not very aware of time, so his replies to me were intermittent, and rarely responsive to the questions I asked.

I went for a walk in the Crum Woods on Swarthmore’s campus, during my college years, and felt his presence through the guitar in my room, a fine instrument I’d found in a pawn shop, which he gave me the seventy-five dollars to purchase. I’d asked my parents for the money, but my mother had responded in her usual fashion. “Why don’t you prove your interest in playing guitar by learning on a borrowed one before you ask me to spend my money on something you may not pursue?” Fifty years later, that guitar stays easily in tune and it’s tone is admired by everyone who plays it.

I went for walks by the Chicago shore of Lake Michigan, and along the Charles River in Boston, after helping my mother to settle Grampa in Miami, where the better weather and the presence of a few close friends made it easier for him to manage. We talked on the phone since his eyes had failed to the point that he could not write, nor easily read. With a metal-bound, rectangular, hand-held magnifying glass left from his collection of dental tools, he would slowly read the daily Yiddish press, sharing his opinions with me on the events which he didn’t trust TV news to present fairly. He worried, after the Six Days War, that while its outcome improved Israel’s security at the time, there would come from it a negative turn in world opinion toward the Jewish state. He would, I know, be distraught over the actions and decisions taken recently – the wall, and the West Bank settlements which have become symbols of oppression rather than statements of freedom.

I went for one last walk with my Grampa, along the path beside the railroad tracks in Lamy, here in New Mexico, after he could no longer live on his own. My mother and I moved him into a nursing home outside Santa Fe, where I visited with him several times a month, and brought him to my little converted boxcar house for an outing, the one weekend he was strong enough to come. I told him the story of looking out the train window, age twelve and on my way to Vietnam, seeing Lamy as a strange, wild and western place – missing him desperately and never imagining that we two would walk together there. He answered that it was good to walk with me, though he didn’t really grasp where we were, and complained to me that there were people in his nursing home whom he could hear speaking Yiddish from a distance but who, when he came close and spoke to them, would not answer. I tried to explain that they were speaking Spanish, not Yiddish. He was by then seriously deafened, hearing just enough scraps of language to know when it wasn’t English being spoken. Like most speakers of more than one tongue, with advanced age Grampa’s communication abilities lasted longest in his first language, or in his case his first two, Yiddish for everyday and his beloved Hebrew for poetry and praise.

My grampa died within days of his official 91st birthday. Official, rather than real, because he had to transfer a birth date from the Jewish (lunar) calendar used in what he called the “dot on the map village outside the dot on a map town” where he was born in Russia, to the western calendar he encountered when he entered the US as a twenty year old man in 1907. Knowing Shvat to be a spring month, he arbitrarily called it March. He equally firmly rejected the proposed Americanizing of his name to Hill, insisting that “no, my name is Domnitz, Aaron Domnitz.”

I go for walks now, often a brisk measured mile by Storrie Lake, or a leisurely stroll along Bridge Street, and realize I am just a bit above the age my Grampa was as my parents prepared to take us (his only close family) across the world to Vietnam. After 14 or more years of weekly trips from Baltimore to DC (he began them when my mother became pregnant with me), how great a change – and loss – that must have been for him!

I wonder – but obviously have no one to ask – why my parents didn’t bring him with us? Perhaps it was discussed and he refused? More likely, I’m afraid, my mother determined that she “didn’t want the responsibility” as that was her standard reply with which to block everything from my having friends for a sleep over, to helping host visiting dignitaries whom it was my father’s job to entertain. Blessedly it was also her response when Grampa needed nursing home care, so that I got to have him close to me for those precious last 18 months of his life. We went for so many lovely walks, in our talks, during my on-my-way-home-from-work visits with him!

Because life in his natal village had gone virtually unchanged for centuries before he left it, his awareness bridged nearly 300 years. Thus, we talk-walked streets of the 1700s in Russia as readily as those of Santa Fe in 1975. He shared the concern of many, that our technological skills so far exceed our ethical advances. “Will we now bring war to the moon?” was his question after that one giant step for mankind.

Grampa’s dental cabinet, filled with a fragile, gaily decorated porcelain tea service from Vietnam, sits in my Sapello home. I use his magnifying glass when I need stronger eyes. The guitar provides music from many cultures, when I entertain students from the United World College. I pick my written words with care, respecting the importance he gave to nuances of meaning.

My Grampa started me reading about a walk through a forest to meet different animals. He continues to guide me on my walk through life, meeting its varied challenges. Some of that guidance arises from one of the last things Grampa said to me, shortly before he died. I’d asked if he had his life to live over, what he might have done differently. His answer was that he had only two regrets. The first was that he thought perhaps my mother might have been a happier person if he had remarried (he raised her on his own), but he’d never found the right woman. The second was that he wished he’d learned to play the mandolin. No wonder he supported my learning the guitar!

However long my own life walk turns out to be, I hope that when it ends, I will have as few regrets as my Grampa did. With his gifts surrounding me, and his ethics a part of me, I have every reason to succeed.

Just Checking

August 25, 2020

This isn’t really a post – a thought out reflection such as I usually put out. It is just a hello, shout out, greeting to all who bother to follow me, to alert that I have retired from my full time, demanding and stressful job, and am getting a new computer set up established, rescuing old files off memory sticks, and generally reorganizing my office space, work concepts and daily routines to resume being a more reliable writer and communicator.

Thanks to all who have remained patient with my long absences. I look forward to a more consistent and engaging interaction with you.

Stay well, stay masked, take care and be safe.

Brooding

July 19, 2020

When a hen goes broody, sitting on eggs, she spends 99% of her time in one place, only getting off the eggs for a few minutes to peck up some food and take a few sips of water. She sits for several weeks and – if she is my grey “Easter egg” hen, she does more. She has chosen to sit in a trough that runs about four feet along the top of a feed manger now used only for storage of miscellany. My other hens have, until now, taken it in turns to lay their eggs along that trough, often in much the same position, such that I envision them lining up to take it in turns leaving their daily deposits to collect to a total of 4-6 that I pick up in the evenings.

Only two of the hens have the habit of announcing their laying prowess with repetitive loud crowing. I have heard those two regularly over the past couple weeks, but have generally only found one egg when I make my nightly checks. I recently mentioned to a friend that perhaps instead of two hens laying, only one was doing so and announcing herself twice – or that two hens were crowing their accomplishments but one was lying.

Instead, apparently both are laying and the gray hen is shoving their eggs beneath herself along with her own that she is trying to hatch. Otherwise there would not be, after just a week, more than ten eggs beneath her as my spouse ascertained to be the case yesterday. Grey hen gets ‘fatter’ looking each day, as she spreads herself more an more trying to cover and maintain warmth in so large  clutch.

I initially picked four eggs from her brooding spot when, just a couple days after she settled in, she was out to eat. I decided then to let her sit on eggs laid subsequently, since it is warm enough and enough summer still remains, for her to actually hatch and raise them. I did not anticipate that she would collect everyone else’s eggs to add to her own. Now I’m just curious to see the outcome. Will we in fact get babies? Of several different colors and breeds (my hens are a mixed bunch)?

It also has struck me that, in the midst of the ugly “everyone for him/herself” dynamic being perpetuated in our societal life these days, it is heartening to observe an example of self sacrifice for the collective good in a creature too often maligned as stupid.

Would that more of us purportedly intelligent bipeds were equally concerned for the well being and perpetuation of our young, particularly when it comes to finding the means to balance their health with their education and their impact on their families.

World Enough and Time

May 25, 2020

The wear and tear of time, plus assorted horse and motor vehicle accidents and a couple slip and falls have collectively resulted in a task of aging. More of my time than I wish had been needed over the past 18 months has been spent sorting out the causes of a variety of body pains, the triggers that set them off, and what treatments can reduce the pain to livable without creating new and different health problems. Along the way I verified the now-scientifically-proven hypothesis that ups and downs of the barometer are felt in the joints in advance of the visible weather changes they herald. I succeeded in identifying a sluggish gallbladder that the tests my doctor ordered merely confirmed. I’ve adopted some preventive herbals treatments and now have a few that have proven effective when different types of pain become too strong to ignore.

So I’m about as settled into effective symptom management as I expect is possible. And trying at the same time to settle into accepting that I can only respond to, not control, the variables, so will always have to be flexible in facing what each day presents.

All of which activity I now find may have had a different ultimate purpose than the obvious one of helping me become more comfortable in my daily activities. The detecting involved is now being called upon for quite another challenge. I want to sort out what underlies the so far inexplicable fluctuation in egg production from my small flock of hens.

Some of the variables – weather in particular – are probably the same as those that affect my pain levels. Cold and damp are not helpful. High wind is also probably as disturbing to the ladies as it is to my joints. But other potential factors are unique to the flock and as yet unidentified by me. I’m considering their amount of food (type also) and access to water in the small bowl they prefer (the bigger one that assures they do not go without is consistently shunned). I try to note whether our protective dog has been barking more – or less – at the variety of four legged visitors who pass nearby. Is she engaged with running off stray dogs who can be considered a threat by the hens , or merely alerting that the neighbor’s cows are in an adjacent pasture? Might there be a snake or a passing skunk disturbing them? Are some of them, like me, just feeling the aches and fatigue of age? I know there is one that must be recovering from the exquisite pain of laying the largest double yolk egg I have ever seen!

Two of the hens have gone broody, despite not having a rooster around to impregnate them. They will, I trust, resume laying when they fail in their attempts to hatch sterile eggs. Will they be challenged into more consistent production by the presence of 5 new flock members, including a young rooster? Or will they instead divert their energy to the establishment of a new pecking order with the youngsters put in their bottom-of-the-pole place?

Without access to comprehensible feedback, such as my own body gave me, I question whether I will ever have answers that enable me to reliably collect eggs from everyone each day. No matter – puzzling my way through the variables is a good distraction from equally unanswerable questions about what lies ahead for us all as we move on into the changing world we are glimpsing. As often as I have heard, and have quoted to myself, that the only certainty is change, my mind continues to try to find answers – certainty – in complex situations which defy resolution. Undoubtedly that is why I relax at night with crossword puzzles and Free Cell. Solvable challenges, with set answers.

That same mind that likes order and seeks connections recently made me aware of a list of seemingly unconnected situations. Green ice in the Antarctic, shrinking of the polar caps, bark beetle devastation of forests in the southern Rockies, insect destruction of olive groves in France and Italy, more frequent and more fierce storms of all types all around the globe, non-seasonal temperature extremes setting ever new records, spread of hostile insects like the killer bees into environments where they have not previously been known, and of course now the worldwide spread of virulent new virus-based illnesses. A quick and easy answer is “climate change” if the question is “what is the cause of all these negatives?” 

But when the question is “what is the solution?” no such single simple answer presents itself. 

Nor is there a single simple answer to my questions about how I will adapt to a recently changed pattern in my personal life, a change that is still evolving, with key decisions yet to be made. In past years my life circumstances enforced the learning of patience – waiting for the time to be right for significant alteration in employment, companionship and other facets of daily life. Now I seem to be facing the opposite lesson. Or maybe just a different facet of patience – learning to step back and observe fast moving changes without feeling I have to act or “figure it all out.”

Just as I am unlikely to sort out all the influences on my chickens’ egg laying propensities, and I know I don’t have many answers to the multitude of manifestations of change in the environment; just as I know my scope of action in our tormented civil (uncivil) society is limited to what I can do in my immediate surroundings; so too I need to remind myself daily that my mind is not in charge of finding answers to my personal challenges. Those require detachment, patience, observation and tolerance of uncertainty.

The way forward for me personally, and for the larger society as well, will show itself in due time.

Who knows, maybe I’ll also be gifted with an insight that turns my poultry yard into the most prolific egg production unit in the region. Wouldn’t that be fun!

End of Apolitical – Pt.2

May 3, 2020

Further thoughts on how challenging it has become to be apolitical, and still express anything meaningful – the simple act of being consistent in what one states as true has become a political act. Saying one thing one day, denying that one said it the next, reversing yet again and asserting that one spoke the truth “based on facts known at the time” whether or not those were the known facts is a behavioral practice commonly seen now.

To me, it stands in stark contrast to the behavior exhibited, for example, by New Mexico’s governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham as she directs the response to Covid-19. She states “what we know now” and “what the projections and science indicate is most likely to happen going forward”, followed by her assessment of how to best mitigate both medical and economic harm in the best interests of the citizens of the state as a whole. If the situation changes, as it recently has done with a spike in infections in the corner of NM that overlaps the Navajo Nation, Ms. Lujan-Grisham factually states that changed conditions now dictate a different way forward.

Consistent, responsible, believable, reliable conduct. Much needed in uncertain times.

Would that more of us all could find within ourselves the fortitude to be consistent and factual – accepting that in so doing we are of necessity also being political.

The End of Apolitical

May 2, 2020

One aspect of Quaker belief has historically been an engagement in social action, whether in support of emancipation of slaves in the mid 1800’s, as pacifists opposed to war as a solution to political conflicts from the U.S Civil War through the World Wars, to Korea, Vietnam, and the “police actions” in multiple sites around the world, or more currently in testimony against the abuse of peaceful immigrants to the U.S. This activity is often expressed as “speaking Truth to power.”

I respect the decision of a local Jewish Community entity to “keep politics out of” the monthly newsletter which informs of social and cultural events and, most recently, of how to access worship and support online. Reading of that decision I did wonder, however, whether it can be meaningfully implemented?

Avoiding outright expression of political preferences is achievable. But has not the simple statement of proven facts, whether scientific or cultural, historical or ecological, now become a form of political expression?

I admire the small individually owned fueling station/store in Santa Rosa where I purchased diesel for the exceptional price of $2.14 per gallon, not so much for the price I paid but for the fact that the store had signs announcing – and implemented the precautions – of everyone who entered wearing a mask and no more than three customers inside at one time. I am stating simple facts but am I not also expressing a political position? If I drop the first two words (my opinion) and rearrange the sentence structure, have I eliminated politics from the statement?

 Probably. 

Have I communicated anything meaningful to my reader or listener?

Probably not. 

Oh, I’ve saved someone who doesn’t have a mask the waste of time involved in driving around Santa Rosa looking for that cheap-fuel gas station. Not a gesture very high on my scale of caring activities, though perhaps important to a now-out-of-work individual trying to save their limited cash by getting cheaper gas.

Driving around myself, with VoteSmart (Facts Matter) and Science Supporter bumper stickers, I am making simple statements of fact. In today’s toxic public sphere I am also unavoidably making a political statement.

The personal has become political. Not to my liking, not the world I wish to see re-emerge from the present upheaval. But most likely the world as it will continue to be, at least in the U.S. for some time yet.

Too bad.

So sad.

Would that it were not so.

So


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