Archive for the ‘Living and Learning’ Category

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.

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.

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!

Telephone-itis

April 14, 2020

I am discovering a curious disadvantage to what generally would be considered an advantaged upbringing. Or maybe the disadvantage is only the result of still working at an old enough age to have grown without phones? When I was small, in D.C. before we went overseas, there was a phone in the house – a 4 party line that my parents instructed me was never to be used except for a true crisis, like the house was on fire (and I the child was alone) so lady bug, lady bug, fly away home. I don’t remember which sort of ring meant the call was for my parents, only that our phone number was a Woodley followed by 5 numbers. I have no recollection of ever doing anything with the phone but answering it when my mother called out to me to do so because she was too far away to get to it in time. I was taught to say “hello, please wait until my mother comes” and then to be still.

By the time I was twelve, we went overseas to Vietnam, and again there was no phone for general use, only a connection to my father’s office at the Embassy, so he could be reached urgently if necessary. My parents did occasionally receive or issue an invitation by phone, but I was again constrained not to consider the instrument as available to me. Moving on to Paris when I turned 15, the rules changed only slightly.  The phone in our apartment could be used to arrange to meet a friend, or to pass along a message from my mother to my father at work, but calls were charged by the minute so brevity was essential. 

College meant dorm life, one pay phone at the end of the hall shared by 35 girls. Again brevity was mandated. So it wasn’t until after graduation and marriage that I actually had access to a phone, in my home, for every day communication. Needless to say, by that point, “hanging on the phone talking endlessly with friends” was absolutely NOT my pattern. Throughout my life and to this day I think of the phone as a basic tool for brief, essential communication, period.

I carry a cell phone, I have learned to text and in fact prefer texting to talking much of the time. Not sure why – something to do with having come to think of myself as a writer?

Anyway, that is the background against which the changes to my already-work-from-home-job have brought me up against a hard truth. No longer able to visit my clients for their many mandated assessments, having instead to complete two hour evaluations by phone, has turned what was the most enjoyable aspect of my work into the most onerous of tasks. Further, it has pushed me so far away from any other phone conversation that I find I am avoiding talking with friends whom I normally do connect with on the phone. 

Sad.

And troubling, in that I am left feeling like a failure as a friend, in these stressful and isolating times. I know some of the people with whom I was accustomed to having a reasonably long phone chat every couple of weeks need that interaction now more than before. I want to be a caring friend, not one who disappears when times get hard. Yet after a long work day spent largely on the phone, I so crave silence and freedom from the disembodied voice, that I don’t even listen to video clips embedded in the news. If I can’t read it, the information will not reach me.

Needless to say I don’t bother with podcasts. I have on a few occasions of long solo car trips listened to a talking book to keep me attentive. Otherwise I do not use that form of entertainment. At the end of my work days now, I mostly crave and seek silence, which I can fortunately have at home. Reading a novel, playing solitaire, cooking, going for a walk across our property, these are my activities.

They do not require talking, most especially not talking on a phone.

If you, reading this, are one of the people who is missing calls from me, please accept my apology for my incapacity. Know that you are in my thoughts. Email me, or text me, and I will reply. And know also, that once I can do my work as face to face visits with my clients, reducing my use of the work phone back to its pre-Covid level, I will once more enjoy chatting with you.

The New Reality

March 29, 2020

Being already a “work from home” employee, the stay at home order keeping us safe in New Mexico is not as severe a change for me as it is for those used to clustering in an office. The most engaging part of my job – visiting clients in their homes to complete assessments of their needs – has been altered to over-the-phone sessions which are challenging and, from my perspective and the feedback I’ve received, notably less satisfying to both parties. Not comfortable for me, a person who never learned to “hang on the phone” as a teenager, but a small price to pay for the general increase in health safety for me and my clients.

What is considerably less easy to accommodate is the withdrawal of almost all the support system that I rely on to keep my energy up and my own health assured. 

Last month, due to three successive weeks of snow storms on my scheduled appointment day, I repeatedly missed an acupuncture treatment and my overall health dipped noticeably. My provider wasn’t happy that I seem unable to maintain function without a weekly treatment. I can understand his view – but I hope I helped him feel better when I likened the weekly treatments, that I seem to be dependent on, to a person reliant on an oxygen concentrator. Without it they lose energy and fade, with it they can maintain a normal active life.

Under New Mexico’s fairly strict stay-at-home guidelines, I no longer have access to acupuncture. At the same time, the pressures of my work have doubled, as I not only have the normal load of assessments and contacts with my caseload to complete, but also have to help frail and dependent people meet their non-medical, every day needs despite the general shut down of almost all businesses and transportation.

Reading about the run on hair dye because beauty salons have closed, or the ongoing discussions of how to entertain and/or educate children at home from school, I am well aware of how many adjustments everyone (almost everyone – unbelievably there are still some who persist in disregarding the threat we all face) is having to make, and how difficult most of us find it to make major adjustments of any kind on short notice.

I was scheduled for a haircut two days after my state shut us all indoors. Many many years ago, I cut my own hair. If need be, I suppose I will do so again. Looking shaggy and slightly unkempt is perhaps not good for my emotional well being, but it is not on a par with adapting to going without acupuncture treatments. 

I have, like everyone, a list of the negatives of being limited to home except for accessing “vital” functions like groceries. But I am also listing the positives of living how and where I do – easy access to safe outdoor exercise, for example. I merely have to step outside my house and walk to the mailbox (a quarter mile by the time I go there and back), feed the chickens, hunt for where one aggravating hen has decided to lay hers hidden away from the usual places the rest favor, or follow my dog across our several acres as she chases cottontails.

Living comparatively remotely, in an area where electrical failures are not uncommon, I am habituated to keeping stocked with nonperishables. Working in health care, I keep a supply of cleansers that I routinely use after member visits. Thus I have not been caught short in the face of suddenly empty store shelves. My diet is perhaps not as varied as I would prefer, but I will not go hungry. 

After living the proverbial paycheck to paycheck for almost all my working life I am, better late than never, a little more comfortable. Enough so as not to worry about meeting my bills even if my spouse should be furloughed for some portion of the economic pause the nation is now experiencing. My plans to retire by mid-late summer are probably going to be scrapped, but they were not yet firmly in place. For now, although it is stressful and fatiguing, having the work to do is also rewarding. With so many usual outlets closed off, it is good to be able to still feel useful.

Pertinent to usual outlets – I am aware of wanting to help my favorite local restaurants to survive by supporting their take-out order processes now in place, but realize that my enjoyment of an occasional meal there has rarely been about the food. What I value is the “going out to eat”, being served in an atmosphere different from home. Bringing take out home does not satisfy that desire for change – and I enjoy cooking enough that replacing my own meal with a brought in one is of little benefit. If I can help the restaurant survive, though, I am doing something positive for my neighbors and community.

The reality of voluntary seclusion (or mandated seclusion in an increasing number of locations) is bringing out a new awareness of variations in level of trust in relationships that, at least for me, would not likely have come to mind otherwise. I tend to take people as they present themselves unless or until something significant exposes that they are not what they seem. This quality of not judging has been beneficial in my employment, enabling me to obtain cooperation from diverse clients whom others have found too difficult to work with.  Now however, circumstances have led me to reconsider even relatively close relationships, as I assess if I trust someone else enough to have them into my home, or me to go into theirs. Do they have an appropriate level of conscientiousness about hygiene to assure my safety? How do I balance the importance to mental health of occasional social contact with the equally important need to protect physical health?

That latter question is not so unlike the national challenge of balancing health of the population and health of the nation’s economy. Trade offs of all sorts are bringing to the fore our very varied senses of morality, ethics, and individual versus communal well-being. The only certainty is that we, both as individuals and as a society, will not come out unscathed nor unchanged.

May we all come out and have the opportunity to see what is altered, and in what ways!

Reflections on Change

January 13, 2020

No excuses being offered for my long absence from posting. And no assurances being offered that this post will be followed by regular new ones going forward. 

My current challenge is to adapt to changed daily routines, and the recognition that I have up to now mostly lived my life being “of service to” others, fitting my own interests into the bits of time left over. A not unfamiliar condition of women everywhere. 

Now I have blocks of time ‘just for me’ that were not available before – or that I did not create for myself before. 

Now I am confronted with the somewhat challenging question of how and with what to fill them?

Fortuitously a piano became available just as this shift in family routines initiated. I last played one when I was 12. I subsequently played recorder extensively, and learned guitar basics, but have not actively engaged as a performer of music now for many years. The piano was moved in over the holidays, and just recently. I have discovered that I can correctly finger scales one hand at a time, but coordinating the two, with proper fingering, is a skill to be relearned. I can still pick out melodies by ear, and can read notes thought not complex chords. So lots to learn/relearn as I decide what type of music I want to become able to play.

My stack of books to be read grows steadily higher even though I read daily, whenever I have a pause, including while standing in check out lines. Long ago, in a workshop on addiction for people not themselves addicts, the leader asked us to identify something that, were it absent from our lives, would make us anxious, upset, afraid, churlish, or otherwise “not your usual productive self.” My answer was immediate – not having a pile of books waiting for me to turn to after finishing the one I was reading. I should plaster over the entry to my home the sign I saw yesterday on a carrier bag in my local gift/book store, “It’s not hoarding when it’s books.” So far, the overflowing shelves seem to contribute to, rather than detract from, the sense of welcome and comfort in my home. At least, visitors tend to respond with positive comments when they come in for the first time. 

But maybe that’s despite the books and because of the plants? Really rather a lot of them that have managed to survive the fluctuations of wood heat (did you know that flowering cactus and poinsettias don’t flower readily when temperatures go up and down) and our super dry weather. I’m planning a comprehensive re-potting and re-positioning of them, giving them the attention they deserve for the pleasure the give so any. Especially the ivy in the bathroom which will be 40 years old come February. I call it my riot plant, not for how riotously it grows, but because it was a baby single shoot in my office at the NM Penitentiary on February 2 1980, day of the infamous prison riot. But that event marks a very different turn to my life, one I may revisit at some point in writing, but not today.

I have also identified numerous corners of the house where things are stacked that need to be sorted through, and either reorganized and condensed, or tossed. Always one of those tasks I procrastinate about, but one I know have time to complete, bit by bit. Ah, but do I have the motivation? Hmmmmm.

Make no mistake, I still have family commitments and partnered time, but differently shaped and structured. Yet another phase/change in the progress of shared life. Yet another opportunity to learn and grow and introspect if I choose to do so. Biggest lesson so early into this shift is how insidiously past negative experience can influence and color perception of the present very different one. This morning I am deeply grateful to have seen this error quickly, talked it over and banished it from the future. It cost me a weekend of stress-triggered symptoms, but not the many weeks that might have occurred in the past. Progress.

This morning the wind is howling and so is my dog, who remains safely on the porch, under her warm light, letting the world know she is on guard though not exposed. Rather how I intend to address this week, alert and prepared but sheltered in the comfort of knowing all is well within.

Baraka bashad, may the Blessings be.

Reparations

August 19, 2019

Discussion about reparations for the historical wrong of slavery now emerging on the national scene have stirred a number of reactions in affected populations, and also in me. Let me start by saying I think the final decision about what, when and how any reparations might be effectively made should be left to the affected parties – i.e. those Black Americans who are the descendants of slaves.

I have heard widely differing views expressed within that population, about whether money is the proper currency for reparations, what other methods of balancing out the inequities of our society might be more effective, and whether the process should be individual or institutional. Not being a Black American descendant of slaves, I accept that I do not have a right to make decisions on the topic. I do believe, as an American citizen, that I have a right to an opinion on the options, and perhaps also an obligation to voice my perspective and reflections on the topic in order to assist the discourse and analyses that are inevitably going to occupy the public domain for some time to come.

My first observation is one that can easily be misinterpreted. I do not feel any personal responsibility for repairing damage done several hundred years ago, given that my ancestors were not party to that damage, and in my own life I have not furthered the discrimination begun then. 

My mother was a first generation American citizen and my father was an immigrant from Germany. They were Jewish, and endured discrimination on that basis, as they built a life in the U.S. I felt the exclusion of being the Jewish child in public school subjected to a teacher’s inclusion of “in Jesus name” at the end of the morning prayer with which classes began. (Now you know I am no longer young.) I was denied a summer camp job that “always” went to the captain of my college archery team, which I was, when it emerged that I was Jewish. The camp did not accept Jews

I have lived out of the U.S. for extended portions of my youth, have had friendships, dated and married across racial and cultural lines, have worked with and on behalf of groups considered by some to be the rejects of society. I do not feel that I personally owe anyone anything for whatever they have been held back from by skin color, lack of finances, or other residuals of their ancestors’ enslavement. I do feel a responsibility to speak up against that part of the society within which I live, which owes a great deal to many for past wrongs, yet who are presently continuing their campaign of disrespect, violence and exclusion.

I am at least superficially aware of the givens of being Back in America, having learned them in an earlier interracial marriage at a time and place where I was alternately treated with cold politeness or abusive disdain for my choice of mate. I have now verbalized some of those lessons to my current African husband including the types of cautions to exercise in our community and especially if he is stopped for speeding on the highway, or otherwise has an encounter with the law. He grew up without direct experience of racial disparity and has had to learn how to be a Black man in this country. He has great skill at “fitting in” and setting people at ease with him, while maintaining his personal integrity and values, so I am confident he will adapt and also be safe. I am deeply saddened that my country requires that he make such adjustments.

Institutional reparations make good sense to me. Hearing how Georgetown University was built and financed by slavery, I applaud its recent decision to provide free tuition (room, board and books should be included in that grant) to black students accepted into its programs. Going a step further, I think it should invest in school enrichment programs in predominantly black high schools, to expand the pool of students who can qualify to enroll in their college course or who can attend other solid college programs. Many other institutions in this country, if they take an honest look, will find how much they benefited from slavery, and what might be an appropriate form of reparation to offer. 

One of those “successful despite the barriers” Black Americans interviewed in a recent survey of attitudes about reparations stressed that it is “too easy” to “throw money at a problem” and think it is being addressed. Much harder is the work of changing the attitudes within our society that accept and foster intolerance and exclusion, and deny our ugly history. The interviewee stated that nothing less than a major change in the prevailing ethos of our country would suffice to make reparations meaningful. I agree with that goal, but also realistically accept it is apt to be a long time coming, especially given the major regressive steps being encouraged by some of the present political leaders in Washington. I deny them as “our” or “my” leaders – they are NOT!

I find it curious that a discussion of reparations has arisen at the same time as society as a whole is now openly manifesting much of the ugly negativity, violence and exclusion that it has been claimed lie “in the past.” How can we manage to change the country’s entire ethos, if we cannot manage to pass laws to reduce gun violence, as desired by the vast majority of all sectors of our society? Our elected officials pay lip service to “the will of the people” but too many of them go no further than that meaningless mouthing of a platitude. 

I am not prepared to get into an analysis of all that has been undermined and shoved awry in our political system. That would need multiple essays and mostly just duplicate what is already being loudly – at times stridently – proclaimed by other writers. I do acknowledge my discomfort with the quandary presented by our society’s ever escalating disrespect for differences, and the challenge of how to continue to go high as some segments go lower and lower.

I find myself refusing to sign on to petitions I basically support, when they are worded as “DEMAND” that Congress do this or that. I may “request that my Senators give attention to” my views, I will ask that they support a particular bill, and I will thank them for doing so. I am not going to DEMAND in an angry tone that they do so (and I have to say I am profoundly grateful to live in a state where all 5 of my members of Congress listen, largely share my views, and are people I am proud to claim as “mine”.) I might feel differently if I were living in a place where my views are less well represented.

(Off the topic note: I definitely feel offended by software that questions my having written that previous sentence as “I might feel differently were I living in a place where… I KNOW my English grammar while the programmers clearly do not!)

It might seem I am straying from my topic, but I don’t think so. Effective reparations require a change in ethos – and the tone with which one conveys the importance of that change is itself part of the change. It is easy to feel one must meet force with force, and I have heard the public criticism of being “too nice” or too tolerant of offensive opinions out of respect for the basic value of freedom of speech.

Is inciting to violence an aspect of freedom of speech? I don’t think so. No more than arming with the machine guns of war is an aspect of the right to bear arms. 

The principles on which our society is presumed to be based were put in place “for the general good” and not for the good of individuals or corporations. Their distortion into “rights” that have made this country outstanding in its risk of public massacre, and more recently in its level of public hate speech, is a perversion that must be resisted because both perversions are for the benefit of singular groups, not for society as a whole. 

The most effective arguments I have read for reparations – and for valuing immigrants – are those that state we must change the interpretation of our laws to be more respectful of our history with both these issues. Respect is the value that is being trashed by the “divide and conquer” mentality overwhelming not just the U.S. public scene, but that of so many nations worldwide. The protesters in Hong Kong are standing up (and sitting down) for respect and the honoring of promises made. The Anglophone protests in Cameroon are rooted in the failure of that government to respect agreements made when sections of two different colonial empires were joined into one country, at independence.

So respect for differences instead of intolerance of them would seem to be the basis for healing past damages, bridging current divides and moving ahead into a more congenial future. 

Would that I thought that as a society we could at least begin to head in that direction.


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