The Plague of Elders

I don’t mean that we Elders are the plague; I mean an awful lot of us Elders are afflicted with the same “plague.” It’s called There are lots of kinds of insomnia and there’s no cure for any of them.   There are a host of “remedies”, however, and I have tried all of them (see the end of this post), to no avail.  So had the author of a book I read several years ago, Insomniac, by Gayle Greene.  The book was published in 2008, and you would think there would have been some progress made since then with a treatment that works.  I contacted Greene last year to see if she ever found a way rid herself of insomnia  Basically, she said no; all she could do is schedule her life around it when she can, take sleep meds when she has no other choice, and keep looking for a solution.

Here’s a review from The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine Insomniac, by Gayle Greene, provides an interesting perspective and offers support to those with treatment resistant insomnia. It also offers a fresh perspective to readers who are also medical providers. The author defines insomnia in a way that sets the stage for the discussions that follow, as “Insomnia is when you can’t get the sleep you need to feel good, for no reason other than that you can’t.” By the end of the third chapter, the reader has a very clear understanding of the problems faced by insomniacs.

Greene’s book is both a memoir and a research paper. If you don’t read the book, read the whole review.  Here are some of the facts she shares in her book

A third of the American population suffers from insomnia enough to complain about it; in people over 65, estimates are as high as 60 percent.

⇒  Sleep has little part in medical curricula today, when doctors get an average of one or two hours’ instruction in sleep and sleep disorders.  The patient with a chronic complaint of insomnia will usually be referred to a psychiatrist.

  With all due respect, this is so ass-backwards, Greene states. The reason I want more sleep is so that I won’t feel depressed.  I need sleep not to avoid my life, but so that I can live it.

  This is what she learned from interviewing a range of sleep researchers and experts (all given citations in her book).  We do not know….the nature of the basic neural mechanisms underlying primary insomnia.  Nor do we know the identity of specific neurotransmitters that might be involved, or even whether specific neurotransmitter systems are involved.  The genetics of the disorder are also not known.

 The behavioral model (change your attitude, change your ways) has had, perhaps the unfortunate consequence of discouraging research into the neurobiology of the disorder.

 Insomnia is a subjective state..  There’s no blood test that it shows up on, no biopsy or x-ray that picks it up, and it doesn’t even show up on the EEG….. How much easier it is to tell us, as many clinics do, that we have “sleep disordered breathing,” or apnea.

  Exercise helps some people, but not all. “In order to make a difference, it has to intensive, enough to raise the core temperature (inside body temperature) to two degrees Fahrenheit for about twenty minutes, which happens with twenty to thirty minutes of aerobic exercise….. Since only people who are in shape can sustain vigorous exercise for twenty minutes or more, they’re the ones whose sleep is likely to be improved.

  Some billionaire who has a relative with terrible trouble sleeping…should endow a private foundation. There should be patient advocacy groups for insomnia, but they’ll need to stay independent of the pharmaceutical companies.

I wish every sleep doctor would read Greene’s book, which explores the various and complex reasons why folks have insomnia, including the gut-brain connections and the individual ways that insomnia manifests itself.  For example, I have the kind that prevents me from even falling asleep, from having my brain trigger what Greene calls the “sleep switch.”  I get relaxed and tired, but that last step evades me.

At the end of this month, I will have a sleep study.  I am going to give the doctors there a copy of this post.

Of all of the remedies I have tried for my insomnia,  I have to admit that I like the effect of medical marijuana (and I like the buzz I get before I fall asleep).  But trial and error has proven that I need sometimes 4 times the recommended dose to have any effect on my sleep.  That would cost me several hundred dollars a month, and I can’t afford that.  CBD helps with my daytime energy and mood, but has done nothing for my sleep issues.  And it’s not cheap, either.

I even bought some EMF fabric shield to cover my electronics at night. At my age (80), doctors will not give me prescription sleep meds.  Hell, I’m 80.  What’s it going to do, kill me?  Not sleeping is killing me and is depriving me of having any kind of satisfying life.

I no order of chronology or non-effectiveness, here is a list of what I have tried.
  Soto Bio-tuner; hypnosis; environmental changes; behavioral modification; yoga breathing; every pain and sleep-associated OTC on the market; a range of herbal, amino acids, and other supplements (sometimes combined); oxycodone (I’m running out of my old dental RX; I only take it when I can’t take the sleeplessness any more); binaural beats; relaxation, meditation, and music tapes; hot showers; massage (when I can afford it); decades of depression meds; tapping……..

Badly arthritic knees and a troublesome torn rotator cuff preclude me from doing the kinds of exercises that might tire me out enough to crash into sleep.

“Set your alarm and make sure you get up every morning even if you are tired,” they tell me.  Yeah, sure.  After finally falling asleep at 3 a.m. or so every night, I’m not about to get up at 9.  Maybe 11.  Sometimes noon or later.  When I finally sleep, I often sleep deeply and have great dreams.  But I miss half of the day.

There are still no advocacy groups for and by insomniacs to help spread the word and urge researcher and doctors to keep digging to discover the biological insomnia triggers and causes. There are plenty of support/forums for patients, but all those do is give us more places to complain.

Adrift in Archetypes

The ancient Hanged Man is the center of attention, oddly modern in straight lines and upright, bloodless repose.

I am at a funeral mass in a church that is a testament to privilege, from the pale polished wood of vaulted ceilings to the delicate stained glass windows, graceful allegories of allegiance and ardor.

My dead friend rests in a simple urn among flowers and photos. I am here to honor him, but the incense filled air and steady droning of apocrypha ease me into images from my past life.

I am in fourth grade, sitting next to my classmate, Stanley Szymanski, enthralled by the drama and special effects of a Black Friar production of the “Stations of the Cross.” As our bones vibrate to the crashes of recorded thunder and our hearts flutter to the rhythmic flashes lightening that signal the death of that Hanged Man, Stanley reaches over, grabs my hand, and whispers “Let’s get hitched.”

I am somewhere in my pre-teens, standing next to my father, who smells vaguely of Old Spice and who subtly hums along with the inspiring choir. He is tall and strong next to me, and, for the first time, I feel stirrings of some kind of desire. Someday I will learn about Electra, and I will take courses in psychology, and I will understand.

When I return home after the funeral service, I finish reading a book I requested from its author because, these days, I am even more fascinated by death and the processes of dying than I was as a child growing up above the viewing rooms in my father’s funeral home.

I also am a fan of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, so I tend to have an affinity for archetypes, and Polishing the Bones by Jungian Analyst Penelope Tarasuk tells of a journey that embraces both of my passions.

It is a unique story – one that can only evolve between two very creative, introspective, and unique individuals as they embark upon a shared journey to unravel and understand, first, who they are as patient and therapist and, finally, as companions on a final pilgrimage.

Tarasuk invests eight years in partnering with her “client” to prepare for the inevitable, which comes later than sooner and provides a richness of inner growth for both.

Theirs is not an experience that can be easily duplicated, but it does offer tremendous insight into how it is possible use the limitations of mortality to spark creative energies and insight.

More than 25 years ago, I was fortunate enough to pair with a therapist who used Jungian and Shamanistic techniques to help me explore my own dreams and demons. I wrote about it in an essay that was published in 1990 in a psychotherapy journal, Voices.

If you are interested, you can read it here: shadows2

More on “Awe”

The solace of amazement is the highest solace to which the free can aspire. While others experience solace in salvation, the free discover it in astonishment, mystery, and unfolding.

I am trying to reconnect myself to the feelings of “awe” that have always provided a context for my creativity, and from which I seem to have strayed. Irreverent and irreligious, I come at “awe” from a perspective that is pretty much examined in this book. Here’s a another quote:

Whereas the conventionally religious tend to resist inquiry about their faith, the internally (relatively) free tend to question their faith consistently; and whereas the conventionally religious tend to experience their faith as clear and specific, the internally (relatively) free tend to experience theirs as enigmatic and evolving. To put it more concretely, the conventionally religious tend to invest in divinities that are near at hand, that give them firm directions, and that divide the world into comforting categories (such as good and bad,Christian and non-Christian, sinful and moral, and so on). The result of this purview is that, ostensibly at last, life becomes orderly investments containable, and difficulties minimized. The internally (relatively) free, on the other hand, tend to invest in spirits/forces that lie far beyond conventional parameters, that yield minimal directions, and that apprehend the world in its diversity, complexity, and immensity. The result is that life becomes adventurous, investments daring, and difficulties animating.

Where’s the Awe?

I have forgotten how to feel “awe” — the Carl Sagan kind of awe. ““Once we overcome our fear of being tiny, we find ourselves on the threshold of a vast and awesome Universe that utterly dwarfs — in time, in space, and in potential — the tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors.”

Reading “The Rediscovery of Awe,” which inspires me with the following:

Awe is not a very comfortable standpoint for many people….hence, all about us today, we see avoidance of awe — by burying ourselves in materialist science, for example, or in absolutist religious positions, or by locking ourselves into systems whether corporate, familial, or consumerist; or by stupefying ourselves with drugs More than ever before, it seems to me, we are in need of the wisdom that awe inspires We are in need of paradoxical wisdom. We need to see the complexity of things,he wholeness of hings, which means the incompleteness and simplicity of things at the same time.

I would love to be part of a discussion group that explores how to become filled with an awe that has nothing to do with a deity or religion, but rather blooms from feeling a mythic connection to the marvels of life on this planet.

officially announcing the publication of my first poetry chapbook

coverdesignFinishing Line Press announces a new title: What the Seasons Leave. The poetry chapbook, part of Finishing Line’s acclaimed New Women’s Voices Series, is by Massachusetts author Elaine Frankonis.

“The poems in this chapbook,” Frankonis explains, “become a brief episodic memoir of an ordinary life lived with a sense of personal myth and magic.”

With the acceptance for publication of her first poetry chapbook by Finishing Line Press at age 74, Frankonis, has finally filled the only item on her bucket list.

A “chapbook” is a small collection of poetry centered around a specific theme and published in a limited edition. What the Seasons Leave begins with the metaphor of a compost pile and ends with the image of

...spears of brazen Jerusalem artichoke,
that perplexing garden gypsy
that blossoms and burrows,
grows up to nine feet tall, and
in the harsh summer storm
dances her defiance
to the grim arrogance
of gravity.

Psychotherapist, poet, and author Edward Tick (Dream Healing, War and the Soul, The Golden Tortoise) has said of Frankonis’ work: “Frankonis is a poet who is at once easy and difficult. She is easy because she is lyrical and familiar and embraces the everyday of loving, parenting, gardening. She is difficult in her demand that we go deeply into the simple and squeeze out the juices of love and wisdom. Frankonis lives up to her demand of poets – to make ‘the earth grow bones.’”

Over the past 50 years, Frankonis has had her poetry published in a variety of small presses and online journals (many of which no longer exist). Earlier versions of several of the poems in this chapbook have previously appeared in The Berkshire Review, the Ballard Street Poetry Journal, and Mused: the BellaOnline Literary Journal. In 1998, several of her pieces appeared in the anthology Which Lilith: Feminist Writers Recreate the World’s First Woman.

With a BA and MA in English/Education from the University at Albany, she was accepted by and participated in two competitive poetry workshops offered by the Writers-in-Residence Program of the New York State Writers Institute. For several years, she served on the Board of Directors of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild and was co-editor of, and contributor to, Gates to the City, the literary anthology for the Albany, New York Tricentennial celebration.

An admirer of all things Joseph Campbell, Karl Jung, Clarissa Pinkola Estes,
Ursula LaGuin, and the 1940s version of Wonder Woman, Frankonis is a perpetual student of feminist archetypes in various mythologies and science fiction.

When weblogs started to become popular, it was not surprising that she became one of the early adult female bloggers and was the first president of “Blogsisters,” the
oldest women’s group blog on the net. She continues to blog, although sporadically, at Kalilily Time.

Finishing Line Press is a poetry publisher based in Georgetown, Kentucky. In addition to the New Women’s Voices Series, it sponsors the Finishing Line Press Open Chapbook Competition.

Cover art for What the Seasons Leave is by Troy, New York artist and print-maker, Linda K. Ryder, Ryder Studio, Troy, NY. Stone and polyester plate lithograph detail from “Diva” series (2009 to present).

Copies of What the Seasons Leave is scheduled for release January 3, 2015. It can be pre-ordered online at www.finishinglinepress.com. Click on “Preorder forthcoming titles” and scroll down the list to her name.

It can also be ordered directly from the publisher. Send a check or money order in the amount of $15.58 (includes shipping), to

Finishing Line Press
Post Office Box 1626
Georgetown, KY 49324

10 books I have read that have stayed with me

There’s a Facebook meme circulating to which I am moved to respond, especially because, in thinking about the challenge, I see that my choices are very idiosyncratic. And, while I read much more fiction than non-fiction, it is mostly the non-fiction books that I remember because they had such an effect on my ways of thinking and creating. The fiction I remember because they were quirky and mind-bending.

1. If You Meet the Buddha on the Road by Sheldon Kopp
2. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
3. Women Who Run With Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
4. The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
5. The City Not Long After by Pat Murphy — a sci fi novel where artists save the world after an apocalyptic event
6. The Women’s Room by Marilyn French
7. Collected Poems, by T.S. Elliot
8. Words for the Wind by Theodore Roethke
9. a quirky transgender sci fi novel the title and author of which I can’t remember; but I remember the cover image, which looked a little like Prince (the artist formerly known as) with purple pompadour, and I remember becoming totally engrossed in the created reality of the novel
10 the Bible, both Old and New Testaments but not all of either — mostly the gospels because, as a kid, I liked reading about the dramatic exploits of Jesus while I sat through the boredom of mass

ADDENDUM: The sci fi book the title of which I couldn’t think of just popped into my head: Crygender by Thomas T. Thomas. Hardly great literature, but that was not the topic of this meme.

Mag 217

Magpie Tales is a blog “dedicated to the enjoyment of poets and writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like-minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well.” Each week, it offers an image as a writing prompt.

dog sofa

Mag 217 (Go there to read what others have written in response to this prompt.)

Your Perfect Spot

There is no better place
than this untrained oasis,
where medieval fancies
embellish instant facts,
urging the mind to weave anew
what lies, shelf-dormant,
among the dust.

Here your best friend waits
in rumpled comfort
for your return from silence
to the lively clatter of clutter ,
the ritual engagement with
the antics of digital cats.

Sit, Walk, Write

According to Natalie Goldberg, writer and teacher, the order should be “Sit, Walk, Write,” but, as is my nature, I fudge things to fit my nature. Following directions is not one of my strong suits. I improvise.

When the temperature hit 50 degrees today, I went out for a stroll (again, my nature) under a clear and sunny sky. The cool breeze brought the non-scent. of a waning winter. There is still snow on the ground. Vague puddles cross my path.

I can barely hear my footfalls, although that can be more the effect of my diminished hearing rather than the soft tread of my measured heel-to-toe pace. I doesn’t matter.

Cracks in the asphalt form telling mandalas, and I wish I had brought my camera to capture the symmetries of these unexpected partnerships between man and nature.

A young woman jogs past me and turns up a hill that I always find too strenuous for my strolls. I am not going anywhere. Have no place I have to be. It is that time of my life when strolling is the way to go. (Unless, of course the Amtrak Writers Residency project picks me to “sit, ride, write.”)

The same young woman passes me again, this time going the other way. I wait for her to pass me yet again, because three is a magical number, but she doesn’t. Is there meaning in that?

A young boy, about seven years old, walks past me on the other side of the street. He is pushing what looks like a doll’s carriage; it’s too small for a baby. When he walks toward me later, coming the other way (it seems like everyone is coming and going, but I just keep going), I stop and look through the mesh into the stroller. It’s a big orange cat. He says the cat’s name is Oliver. I look down at the logo on the stroller. It’s a pet carrier. Why not.

When I sit, it’s on the sunny front steps with my daughter and grandson. We sip our teas and chat. I need that kind of company/togetherness, and they provide it. I feel lucky.

In a moment of silence, I wonder how my son’s goats are doing. It is the year of the goat. And of goat therapy. Sometimes magic happens.

The clouds finally drift in from the west, and the breeze picks up.

Now it’s time to write. And I am.

a total spring cleaning

Obviously, I’ve cleaned out my blog house, going for a fresh new look. Now, the challenge is to clean the cobwebs out of my head and start to write here again. It’s not unusual for bloggers to take a break every once in a while.

I’m also motivated to tune up physically — went to the chiropractor today. Of course, it helps a lot that my daughter (who cooks for the family) has upped our intake of delicious vegetables and cut down the fleshy portions of our meals. That means I’m eating healthier (except for my late night snacking, which I’m trying to control). With Spring will come more walking and a greater willingness to get myself out for the exercise classes at the well-equipped local Jewish Community Center.

My next challenge is to clean out my living space and make room for the new Lazy-boy glider recliner I bought myself for my birthday with my tax refund.

In the meanwhile, I’m still putting out heirloom seeds for wintersowing, even though it’s kind of late for that. I can’t wait to get out and garden.

My son, who is still job-hunting, has been motivated to publish his late father’s novels, which have been sitting on old 5 inch floppy discs in WordPerfect. They are available via Amazon Kindle, and he has put up a website to promote them: www.myrlnbooks.com

10-the-wheel-of-fortune
The Wheel turns.

The wheels turn.

Spring. Sunshine. Energy. Hope.

not Another Pleasant Valley Sunday

Actually, it’s a laid-back Pioneer Valley Sunday. All I did all day was some knitting while I listened to an audio version of the second book of the Hunger Game series, Catching Fire.

I love the fact that I can download audio books free from the library, but I don’t like the fact that I have to hurry and finish listening before the allotted time. I just don’t understand, since it’s downloaded, why an audio book can’t be available to any number of borrowers at the same time and for as long as they need to finish the book.

My grandson is out in the back yard reading an oversized Calvin and Hobbes book of cartoons; his mom is out there reading some book about home schooling on her Kindle; his dad is nearby reading an actual book borrowed from the library — a biography of Frank Zappa.

My grandson takes a break from reading every once in a while to resume his imaginary globe-trotting journey that is based in a “camp” he has set up next to his “fort” in the yard– complete with globe, desk, drafting tools, and assorted mute companions — where he devises maps and plans his adventures. He has amused himself all day out there with only occasional bouts of participation by the rest of us in his continuing saga.

At some point, I unplug myself from my audio book and listen as my grandson reads aloud to us something from Calvin and Hobbes that he thinks is funny. My daughter shares a passage from the book she is reading about how important it is for kids to have time for imaginative unstructured play. I think about our neighbor’s young son whose days are taken up with competitive sports, school, karate, Pokemon, and video games. A basically nice kid, an ordinary kid, he is almost devoid of any flights of fancy or curiosity about the world around him.

Ours is not a typical or ordinary family, and our quirkiness extends way out to the west coast, where my imaginative untypical son still struggles to find a job.

I think about what the world will be like when my grandson is ready to participate fully in this society, to find work that is meaningful and satisfying. Hopefully, the Hunger Games is not prophetic, although if the Republicans had their way, it might come awfully close.

For now, we are thankful for what we have. And we hope for a future where curiosity, imagination, playfulness, and mutual support and cooperation across age levels are valued a lot more than they are today.