Facing Finalities

I am going to Maine with two friends next week. While there, I am going to put to rest what remains of the guilt and sorrow and regret regarding my relationship with my mother.

The other day I went and spent some time with a good friend, and who is also a healer of souls carrying burdens of regret and guilt. Ed Tick began as my therapist and over these 30 years, that relationship blossomed into a friendship. I still reach out to him when I am troubled, and I visited him earlier this week in his new home not far from where I now live.

The result is that, next week, in Maine, as part of solidifying this new phase of my life on which I have embarked, I will do a ritual to let go of stuff that needs to be freed. I will build a fire, read this last missive to my mom, and then burn the paper. And then burn the triptych with her images — sending her history as a woman to soar with the gulls.

In preparation, I have set up a little altar to honor the good parts of my relationship with my mother, who died five years ago. I have her wedding ring that I put on a chain, and beads from the old red coral necklace (that has been a part of my matriarchal lineage for several generations) that I made into another necklace. I will wear these during the ritual, but, for now, they are a part of the altar. One of the few things I have left of hers is her old statue of Saint Anthony, the heretic converter. I’m sure that she prayed to him all of the time to convert this heretic. It didn’t work, but this icon,one of her favorites, has become mine. Maybe I like him because he holds a lily. And a child. And an open book. In my poetic heresy, I can interpret that any way I like.

altar

So, here is what I will read. And what I will burn. In place of prayer, I write. Here and wherever. Because I can.

If we become the mother
we wanted, our children
grow the roots and wings
of our lost early yearnings,
Our daughters become
the women we wish we were,
our sons the men we dreamed.
But too often we succumb
to the echo of her voice,
caught in the tangle
of a cord never cut.
There is no burying our mothers,
though we lay them deep.
They live in us one way or other,
whether we heed or not.

I am sorry, Mom, that I was not the daughter you wanted. I’m sorry that you were not the mother I wanted. I know that you tried your best to be the best kind of mother that you knew how to be – the kind your mother was. And I did my best to break away from that kind of suffocating tradition.

Yet, despite how I disappointed you over and over, you were always there for me when I needed you. Because that is what the mothers in our family do, And that is how the best parts of you still live on in me – in the kind of mother I have finally become.

I’m sorry that your last years were filled with such turmoil. I wish I had made better choices about how to give you the care you needed. I guess it was my turn to try my best. That was all either of us could ever do.

I’m sorry that your last days were not what you had always hoped they would be – to die at home, in your own bed, with family around you. I did the best I could, Mom. I tried to make sure that you didn’t suffer. Instead, I suffered for you, and that was OK because it meant that in those last days I kept you safe from enduring some unnecessary familial narcissistic tyranny.

There were good times and bad times during the last of the years that we lived together. I like remembering the time we had then to talk and laugh, to dance the polka, to sing all of the old songs, to share our memories of times that were good for us both. I liked that I was finally able to do things for you that you really appreciated, that made you feel good. Because I know there were many other times before that when I made you feel bad.

All of those years as I struggled to grow up, I never really saw you the way that others did. You would have been glad to hear what cousin Cristine wrote to me about you after you died. She said:

I remember the enigmatic smile she always wore, like the one in The Portrait. I never remember her upset or angry. She was always dressed impeccably and I remember her love for Ferragamo shoes. Odd what we remember from our past — the strange minute things that become permanent strong memories and the important things that fade away. I always remember the bathroom at your house on Nepperhan — the l-o-n-g narrow pink bathroom with a door at each end (how cool!) and how it always smelled of green Palmolive soap. I remember your mom cooking and running back and forth to the kitchen and not sitting down and enjoying her own meal.

Someday, I will write a poem about that “enigmatic smile,” which I now think was a biting back of your disappointment and frustration for the parts of your life that you were never allowed to make your own — but I was too wrapped up in my own selfish agendas to realize that.

I don’t know if you were aware of much during your last days, but there was a sea gull who spent most of each day screeching from and pacing on the roof outside the window of your hospital room. This is what I found out about sea gulls:
Sea Gulls are messengers from the gods, especially ancient Celtic deities. They bridge the gap between the living world and the spirit world. Opening yourself to their energy enables you to communicate with the other side. Sea Gull can also give you the ability to soar above your problems and see things from above. Seeing all the different viewpoints.

So tonight I am here at the ocean, communing with the messenger seagulls, sending this message into the wind, into the endless sky: I miss you, mom, I’m glad we had some good last days together, and I wish we had been able to be closer, sooner. I release what is not worth carrying, and I cherish what is left: the comfort that, at the end, we knew how much we loved each other.

Street-smart Feminism — wary vigilance and personal responsibility

I have been an admirer of controversial Camille Paglia ever since I read her books back in the “olden days,” and this interview with her has some elemental points about women and their sexuality that I think are, unfortunately, ignored by most. She says:

Too many of today’s young feminists seem to want hovering, paternalistic authority figures to protect and soothe them, an attitude I regard as servile, reactionary and glaringly bourgeois. The world can never be made totally safe for anyone, male or female: there will always be sociopaths and psychotics impervious to social controls. I call my system ‘street-smart feminism'; there is no substitute for wary vigilance and personal responsibility.


Wary vigilance and personal responsibility as fundamental to street smart feminism
. Yes.

What I find missing from the preparation of girls/young women to deal with unwanted male attention is the absence of an understanding that sexuality is a powerful, (to use Paglia’s word) chthonic force — a primal power that they need to get to appreciate and control. Yes, males need to understand this concept as well, and while they “get it” on a subconscious level, they need to understand it intellectually as well. But that’s a whole other discussion.

For the moment, I’m focused on young women, especially teenagers, who are not guided to reach any fundamental appreciation and understanding of the power of their sexuality (over themselves and others) and so are seduced by the advertising industry to flaunt it, while staying totally unaware of the psychology of sexuality and its complex, subconscious, Dionysian impulses. Instead, they are taught to INTERNALLY deny and repress them WHILE AT THE SAME TIME EXTERNALLY ANNOUNCING THEM.

It becomes confusing to them, as well as to the males who only see the external signals.

There is a lot of education that has has to be done before what has been termed this “rape culture” can be brought under control. Because it is a matter of awareness and control — SELF AWARENESS AND SELF CONTROL on the part of each individual.

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I know a young woman

Well, I say I know her, but she’s really a friend of a Facebook friend. Well, I say that she’s young; she’s really my daughter’s age — just over 50. It’s all a matter of personal perspective.

Anyway, this young woman is very ill with a disease of the blood and will only get worse. She is very smart and creative and well-known and respected in the technical information/education publication world. That is not a world I know. I only know about her. And I only know about her because there is something in her brightness and bravery that moved me and made me want to learn more about her.

I needed/wanted to do something for her — because I can’t fix any of the things wrong with this world, with my country, with all of those folks hurting and trying and dying. Because I am a maker of things and because I wish — how much I wish — I could make magic.

And so I got on Google and downloaded images from her Facebook page and from her book covers on Amazon. I figured out how to do a simple world cloud using words from her various posts.

shirtfront I printed out the images on washable fabric. I appliqued the images onto the front of a t-shirt.

Then, I appliqued a healing mandala on the back of the shirt.back

And then I looked up her address on 411.com and put it in the mail.

And I included this note:

If Magic were something I could make,
I would spin you a spell of healing,

thread it with the strength and energy
of all of your best moments, color it
blue like water teeming with life,
the burgundy of blood, the red and white
of cells induced to dance again,
of a thousand loving thoughts
warming the fabric of hope.

Then you could wear it like armor
a curative cloak, medicinal mantle,
that primitive sympathetic magic
powerful in intent as any prayer
.

I did it as much for me as for her. We are both powerless against the arbitrary surges of fate that drag us into those dark places where we would not choose to go and then leave us, spent, to find a way out. Only she has no way out of this one.

the saga of my health issues……..and the promises of technology

I”m hoping someone with similar issues will stumble upon this post and share what works for them.

In the meanwhile, I am plagued by two health issues: a seemingly untreatable and serious sinus infection and frustrating insomnia. While they are no doubt related, I don’t believe that the former is the cause of the latter.

1. Sinus infection. After sinus surgery in May to clean out a bad infection that was lodged up near my eye (and to make a few other adjustments), I am back with a sinus infection that feels just as bad as the one that prompted the surgery. So, yesterday, I was examined by one of the three best sinus experts in Connecticut. (Why Connecticut and not Massachusetts, where I live? He is in my health insurance network, plus I didn’t want to go back to the original surgeon. Plus I was impressed by the information on the website.) The little video he took of my sinuses showed that they are an unholy mess. So, we start with a culture. He says that it’s bad, but he will figure out what needs to be done to treat and cure it. I’m sure that my immune system is shot to hell as I try to fight it off, and I feel sick and tired all of the time. I’m wondering if I should go to an endocrinologist.

In the meanwhile and in desperation, based on some of my own internet research, I am wearing this all of the time — and, damn, if it doesn’t make a difference!! My sinus don’t itch or water when I’m wearing it but do when I don’t. It’s not a cure for the infection, but it makes my life tolerable while I’m waiting for the cure. There is no way I would get on a plane without it.

2. Insomnia. Except for the last two nights (more on that coming) I have not slept more than three hours a night for the past several months. And then only for an hour at a time. I don’t fall asleep until 3 or 4 am. I’ve tried all of the suggested herbs, all of the homeopathic remedies, all of the relaxation techniques, just about all of the prescription alternatives. Nothing has worked. So, again, I did some extensive internet research and I discovered this, which is one of many such devices available. A little more research about its effect on the very important vagus nerve made me think that this might be worth a try.

A CES (Cranial Electric Stimulator) is very similar to a TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Stimulator), and I happen to have a TENS device, which is used for muscle pain management. So, I decided to try using the TENS the way they use the CES. Did it several times a day, including before bed time.

Last night, I actually fell asleep reading. I can’t remember the last time that happened. On top of that, I don’t feel constantly hungry the way I usually do, and I wonder if that’s because it’s stimulating the vagus nerve as well. I’m thinking of buying a CES if I can get my chiropractor to give me a prescription for it. But, in the meanwhile I’m going to keep doing the TENS stimulation on my mastoid bone and see if I keep getting the same results.

Placebos? Maybe. But the medical profession hasn’t helped me much, and these are technological processes that seem to work and have some bases in science. The medical professionals don’t even bother investigating or considering these options. They probably don’t even know about them

I’d love to hear from others who are dealing with the same issues as I am. Sometimes we just have to help ourselves.

Low Empathy: the root of all evil

LOW EMPATHY

I am obsessed with the conviction that our human race is devolving because we are losing our capacity for empathy. And I am not alone in believing that is the root of all of the evil in this world.

On the other hand, there is increasing research that is proving how other mammalian species are actually evolving in their capacity to feel and demonstrate empathy. All you have to do is do an online search for “animal empathy,” and you can spend the rest of the day being amazed and gratified at the increasingly widespread “humane” behaviors of our non-human brothers and sisters. (Do an online search for any of the areas of human violence in the world today – shootings, rapes, war zones…. — and you will spend the rest of the day, perhaps, starting to believe as I do.)

The tendency for humans seems to be violent. An online search for “human violence” will provide support for that assertion.

But it’s really more complicated – and overwhelming – than most folks are willing to admit.

Individual research projects are showing that there are complex connections among the healthy functioning of the brain’s “empathy spot,” the levels of the aggression hormone testosterone, the harmful psychological (and, perhaps neural) effects of violent sports/games/language, and this crisis of morality that is plaguing our species.

After spending the past few days searching online for perspectives on this issue, the best piece I have been able to find (although there are others) is “Why a Lack of Empathy is the Root of All Evil,” by psychologist Simon Baron Cohen, who offers this general definition:

Empathy is our ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling, and to respond to their thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion,” writes Baron-Cohen. People who lack empathy see others as mere objects.

And so we have rampant misogyny, bigotry, border disputes, extreme nationalism, racism,war, violence of all kinds.

What is fascinating to me is that the home of “empathy” seems to be in the brain itself. Scientific research has identified an area of the brain associated with empathy – the anterior insular cortex.

In other words, patients with anterior insular lesions had a hard time evaluating the emotional state of people in pain and feeling empathy for them, compared to the controls and the patients with anterior cingulate cortex lesions,” said the researchers.

This area of the brain that has been proven to be affected by a variety of variables, including testosterone levels and exposure to violent media.

One of Baron-Cohen’s longitudinal studies – which began 10 years ago – found that the more testosterone a foetus generates in the womb, the less empathy the child will have post- natally. In other words, there is a negative correlation between testosterone and empathy. It would appear the sex hormone is somehow involved in shaping the “empathy circuits” of the developing brain.
Given that testosterone is found in higher quantities in men than women, it may come as no surprise that men score lower on empathy than women. So there is a clear hormonal link to empathy. Another biological factor is genetics. Recent research by Baron-Cohen and colleagues found four genes associated with empathy – one sex steroid gene, one gene related to social-emotional behaviour and two associated with neural growth.

Contrary to what gamer developers would like us to believe, ongoing research is tending to prove that areas of the brain associated with empathy are being affected by constant exposure to violent video and other games.

New preliminary findings suggest that brain activation is altered in normal youths with significant past violent media exposure while viewing violent video games.

The reasons for our devolution are obviously complicated and involve some combination of nature and nurture and the opposite of nurture. As a culture and society, we seem to be intent on denying how we actually are encouraging a diminishment of empathy in favor of greed, selfish amorality, and vested interests — whether they be political, religious, economic, or national.

Of course, it’s easier to deny – from climate change to chemical food contamination, to promoting and glorifying violence – than it is to tackle the daunting job of trying to undo what we have done. But if we don’t, we will be a dead species before long. We will destroy ourselves from the simple lack of empathy.

I am hoping that some less corporate-manipulated and more holistic researchers will be able to bring together all of the factors that are pushing our species over the precipice of widespread violence and come up with a convincing argument for the necessity to put the brakes on across the board. Coming up with a plan after that is maybe more than government is capable of now. But if we don’t….

Having been a fan of speculative fiction my whole life and witnessing the manifestations of many of those “fictional” speculations, I don’t hold much hope.

My Achilles Heel

Ever since I as a little kid with allergies, my sinuses have been my “Achilles Heel.” I remember the doctor having to suction out my sinuses because the mucous was so thick that I couldn’t blow it out.

When I was teaching back in the 70s, I was always sick because of the chalk dust in the air. Teary eyes and a runny nose ruled my Springs and Summers. Over the years, even two rounds of allergy shots (20 years apart), and what must have amounted to millions of allergy pills, never made much difference.

A dozen years ago, an Otolaryngologist discovered that I had a badly deviated septum. I opted to have it surgically fixed. I blogged about that back in July 2002.

Last November I came down down a sinus infection that no amount of nasal irrigation, allergy nose spray, and other non-presription treatments affected. So, back to an ENT, another CT scan, and a diagnosis of scar tissue blockage on one side and a re-deviated septum on the other. Three rounds of three different antibiotics, prednisone, and cortisone nose spray didn’t do a thing.

Surgery, again, done three days ago. Packing and splint, antibiotics, and Vicodin.

I got the packing and splint out today, and I have no doubt that surgery was the right thing to do. The scar tissue blockage had caused puss to back up high into my sinus cavities. And there it remained stuck until the surgeon cleaned it out and removed the scar tissue. While he was in there, he fixed the deviated septum on the other side.

They totally sedate you for the surgery, so that was a piece of cake. These three post surgical days, however, were something I had to make up my mind to grin and bear. (Well, not really grin; it was very uncomfortable.) No bending down or lifting anything up. No nose blowing. No hair washing. You just have to stay at home and do nothing. Even reading is hard because your eyes keep tearing up.

I slept in my recliner, blitzed out on Vicodin. Last night, even that magical drug didn’t make it possible to sleep, so I spent the night looking through old photo albums and removing the pictures that I want to scan in to keep for posterity. I had to distract myself from the fact that I could only breathe through my mouth, my throat was getting sore, and my head hurt.

After he removed the packing today, the ENT vacuumed out what was left in my sinuses, even the ones high up over the eye. That wasn’t fun, even though he sprayed lidocaine in first.

It’s going to take me a few days to catch up on some sleep, and even longer than that to get my digestive system back on track after the antibiotics.

Do I think it was worth it? Being able to breathe freely and not feel sick all of the time from the sinus infection is definitely worth it. Hell, yes.

my raging PMS poem

One of the advantages of being post menopausal is that I no longer get the raging PMS that — in retrospect — I think was responsible for messing up my various relationships, including that with my parents.

Back in the 50s and 60s and 70s, PMS was considered a fabricated rationale for plain ol’ female bitchiness. Now, we know better, and I know that what I (and my friends and family) had to suffer through was actually my PMDD.

It’s hard to describe what it felt like to go through those terrible fits of insanity to those who have never experienced it. So, at the time, I wrote this poem — which, I think, pretty much says it all.

Tooth Mother

A sliver of moon
like a sharpened claw
slits the underside of April,
sending clouds as heaving as stones
onto the roiling rim of earth.

It is time for the Tooth Mother’s coming.
She tears through my skin,
talons sharp as the moon,
eyes that slice, breasts like scythes
along my hungry tongue.
She breathes into my mouth
the bold remains of winter,
turning my cries to ice,
my thoughts to stones
that roll like clouds
along my ragged edge of mind.

Insomnia

It’s one of those nights when my body can’t lie still.  So it’s a good time to try out blogging from my new phone pad — lying in bed, Simon and Garfunkel playing in the background because I’m feeling nostalgic for a time that I romanticized even more then than I do now. 

It’s too slow going on this flat screen keyboard. If I’m going to do this I’m going to have to get a little keyboard.

I’m wondering what ever happened to Art Garfunkle.

This is a test. 

the best mother’s day present under $25

I’ll admit that I am writing this because there’s a contest at nerdwallet.com. I don’t know whether my suggestion falls under “service” or “purchase.” I would think both.

I can’t imagine any mother who would not just swoon at the thought of getting a chair massage. Whether you’re a young mom hauling around a baby or toddler, a typical mom keeping up with household chores while also (or not) holding down a job, or an empty nester still carrying around the weight of family cares, your shoulders and upper back can always use some TLC.

Even an enterprising offspring might have a little trouble tracking down a place to get his/her mom that 20 minutes of nirvana, but it can be done. Fitness centers, spas, and Senior Centers sometimes offer them. Sometimes massage therapist offices do. You have to call around. But it’s worth every minute and every dollar spent.

I am lucky. My neighbor, a massage therapist, does them in her home. I think I’ll give myself one for mother’s day.

footloose (or not)

swing0001Almost twenty years ago, I was a pretty decent intermediate ballroom dancer. When the New York State Museum, where I worked in administration, was holding a fund raiser centered around a 1940’s exhibit, they asked if Dan Molloy (a museum scientist and ballroom dancer) and I would do a swing dance performance. This is a rehearsal shot; somewhere, I have videos of our performance and of a television promo that we did for the event. That’s “videos” as in “you need a VCR to play them”. Who has a VCR any more?? Not me.

I put a lot of miles on my feet in those days. By the time this photo was taken, the heels on my dance shoes had gotten considerably lower than they had been during my disco days, when I danced in heels so high that I now marvel at how I ever managed those intricate Latin Hustle steps. (No, I’m not in that video.)

That was then. This is now.

chairMy brand new La-Z-boy glider recliner arrived yesterday. I’m in love. And so are my feet — especially my left knee, which hurts all of the time. I do have an appointment at an orthopedist, but I couldn’t get in for another couple of weeks.

I really haven’t had a comfortable chair in which to relax since I moved here several years ago. It’s a small space, and I had to do some saving and thinking and shopping. I couldn’t have found a more comfortable relaxing place.shoes

Crazy as it is, I still have one brand new pair of ballroom dance shoes that I can’t bear to give up, even though I’ll never wear them again. They have these really sexy ankle straps and a medium high heel. I’m thinking I’ll wear them to my some-day cremation. It seems like a good way to dance my way along to Star Stuff.