Out of Focus

I wote this in 2004, four years into being the full-time, live-in caregiver for my mother, who had severe dementia and the object of the abuse heaped upon me by myi brother. It is a reminder that I have been through writer’s block before.
I think I remember a time when I could focus on one thing at a time — a poem, a person, a pleasure — when the process was as important as the product. I’m trying to remember when the last time was that I felt that focus, that stillpoint. Oddly enough, I think it was was a decade ago when I used to go out on Thursday nights to dance the Hustle for hours on end. I would follow the lead with such total focus that all I was aware of was my blood humming to the rhythm of the bass and my body carving sharp arcs through the smokey air.
I think I used to know that same kind of focus when writing a really good poem, feeling the rhythm come, hearing the hum of swarming words. But that was when I lived alone, with long, quiet moments to feed my focus. That was when I would have hours of down-time at work, alone in my own office, with nothing to do but let myself succumb to the processes of dream timethink what happened is that I got really good at my job — multi-tasking, meeting deadlines, serving many masters. Scheme thinking. Quick thinking. No time to dream, alone, in a corner with a window.

I think what happened is I learned t.o care too much. I think what happened is that I let the world nibble away at my layers so that I lost my deepest secrets.

“The Many Breasted Artemis,” my shrink once noted, as I unloaded my distress at being expected to always be the nurturer, the feeder, the source of unlimited resources, the problem-solver, the responsible one.

I thought that when I retired, I would be able to find, again, that dreamy focus. Instead, it takes me until midnight to finally breathe evenly and deeply, to let go of all of the knowing. It takes me until midnight to finally feel the yearning for deep secrets.

But to have secrets, one has to have a life beyond the giving of care.

I’m waiting for my time to come again, when I will, again, simmer and stir, ladle, at last, into mounds of midnight words, that witch’s brew.

It’s going to be an all-nighter.

It’s 3:30 am. By now I have usually taken my Remeron and also 35 mg of marijuana and am on the verge of sleep. Last night I did that, fell asleep about 4:30 am, and slept for 12 hours. Which means I got up in time for dinner. Their dinner was my breakfast. Enchiladas. That’s what I had for breakfast.

The truth is, I never know when I’m going to fall asleep even though I go through the same routine every night. I take my Remeron at 11:30 pm and take my marijuana edibles (THC/CBN) between 12 and 1 am, with the lights down low. I get ready for bed at 2 am and am in bed by 3 am.

But that doesn’t mean I will necessarily fall asleep right away. There are nights (days) I don’t fall asleep until 6 or 7 am. There are some mornings when I’m still awake while my son-in-law is up getting ready for work.

For a while, it was “asleep by 3:30 am and up by 12:30 pm.” And I could live with that. But as time goes on, my sleep schedule gets more and erratic, and I don’t know how I’m going to be able live with that.

And I am having a hard time productively using those night hours when I am awake. I guess, psychologically, for me, night time has always been for sleep. Or dancing. It’s like I’m on my old dancing schedule: I used to go out a 11 pm, dance until 2 am, and be asleep by 3 am. Sometimes, now, I actually put on music during those dark hours and dance. But it’s not the same. Nothing is the same. I am caught in this limbo of a non-life.

Since I have an overwhelming backlog of yarn, I started to crochet a sweater from what seemed like a simple pattern. Made continuously from the top, down. Half double crochet all the way, with some increases. What is making me crazy, is that every time I make the indicated increases and then go to check the number of stitches, I get a different number. It’s making me crazy at 3 am. So I ripped it all out and am starting again, and I’m still never getting the number of stitches I’m supposed to have. I’ll try again tomorrow.

Eating on this crazy schedule is also a problem. If I wake up around noon, no problem. I have “brunch.” And then dinner is around 5:30. By 10 pm, I’m hungry, so I have a snack. And around 1 am, I’m hungry again. So, maybe a banana and chocolate almond milk. What I need to do is stock up on some yogurt.

And when should I take my vitamins? If I take them with dinner, will they increase my energy at night so that sleep becomes even more difficult?

My isolation has become toxic. I don’t even see much of my family. We used to at least have dinner together, but the “dog experiment” messed with the old patterns. It was an “experiment” because, while we all loved the dog, who was very smart and was already learning to respond to commands, he was not able to be “cured” of biting. We know he just wanted to play, the way he might with other dogs. Except that he had not been around other dogs to get the message from them that biting them was not OK. It all got very complicated, and he had to be taken back to the Rescue folks.

So, the family will be looking at more middle aged dogs who tend to be couch potatoes. And, while they are looking, they are fencing in the yard, in anticipation of finding a dog that is a better fit for this family.

Meanwhile, here I sit, at 4:14 am, not sure what to do now, except to just stay up for the rest of the night and try to make it through the day.

I binged watched some stuff that is streaming: Evil, Midnight Mass, Chuck, and now I’m watching Why Women Kill. Maybe I’ll just watch more tv.

Maybe I’ll look on Pet Finder and see if I can find an older cat to keep me company. Their mean prissy “don’t touch me” cat can just suck it up. And if they finally find a dog, he will have to suck it up too. My comfort/happiness/ is just as important as theirs.

I just don’t know how I’m going to manage living like this.

The Gypsy Coat Tale

I gave my writing circle the prompt “the coat was shabby.” And I gave them a challenge to use strong verbs and specific nouns. As I began to write my response to that prompt, I decided to put it someplace in history and do a little research for details. This is my result, my first ever try at historical fiction:

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The Gypsy Coat Tale

The coat was shabby, but its aspect still spoke of nights thrown over a naked shoulder at a smokey Montparnasse cafe, or tossed onto the back of a scarlet sofa at a late night Paris salon. Its stained fabric revealed a careless pattern of absinthe, bathtub gin, and the mascaraed tears of its most passionate devotees.

They say it once belonged to Nina Hamnett, self-proclaimed and notorious “Queen of Bohemia,” who wore its gold satin lining next to her skin while she danced shimmering lights into the weave of the rich silk brocade. On those nights, the coat created its own melody, a mesmerizing harmony of color, texture, and pattern, the timeless echo of a Siren’s song.

Legend has it that the coat was created by the two Japanese weavers and the Gypsy woman whom Hamnett befriended during her brief stay in Paris before the war started, before everyone folded themselves into enclaves of creative ferment or else fled to the safer shores of England and America.

And that, they say is how the coat finally wound up in the window of the Fifth Avenue Parisian boutique on the afternoon that Zelda Fitzgerald walked out of New York City’s Palais Royale Hotel in search of the perfect evening dress.

She did find the perfect dress: a long black beaded silk with a sheer back that dipped down to her tailbone. But is was the coat that took her breath away – the coat and the legend and the fantasy.

The multicolored floral brocade boasted gleaming gold threads that reflected the bright city sunlight. Elaborate scrolls etched its lush black velvet cuffs and ankle-skimming border. A face-framing swath of black fox, added as an afterthought, brought the coat to the level of a work of art.

By the time I rescued the coat from the empty corner of my spinster aunt’s nursing home closet, its shabbiness was well-earned, having been Zelda’s constant companion through her bi-polar adventures played out over two continents and two decades, until both she and the coat began to unravel.

My aunt had been a nurse at the Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, where Zelda spent her final years capturing on canvas the remaining bright colors of her memories and telling my aunt the elaborate coat-tales that fed her lonely dreams of prodigal nights ablaze in the heart of a drowning Jazz Age.

Just days before the hospital fire that took her life, Zelda gave my aunt the coat to wear to a costume party.

And so the Gypsy Coat was retired to the back of my aunt’s closet, although she always took it with her whenever she moved, unable to dispose of its vibrant history. The Gypsy Coat is mine, now, to ponder on the relic that it is – a remnant of legendary lives lived with creative abandon, dazzling artistry, and deadly excess.

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The day after I wrote this, as I was watching a “Friends” rerun with the family, Phoebe appeared wearing the coat I had described the day before.

gypsy coatbI love it when stuff like that happens.

Old Poems

My son-in-law found the box of my poetry that I packed up to move here five years ago. I have enough for a book. They are mostly very dark. I would call the book “Dark Matters.”

In the bottom of the box is a journal where I wrote poems about some of the lovers that moved through my life back in those disco dancing days. I take the journal to bed and read their names, remember their faces, how they danced. I remember them all except one. Brad. My poem remembers him even though I no longer do. Why is he the one I can’t remember?

I think of who I was back then. It was when I discovered Lilith in an article by Lilly Rivlin’s in the first issue of Ms Magazine. That was in 1972. That’s when it all started.

my delightful writing circle

I finally got off my lazy butt and organized a “writing circle” at the public library. It’s held every other Wednesday afternoon and is loosely based on the Amherst Writing Method. I say “loosely” because, while I have participated in the program in the past, I have not been officially trained to lead a group. But we follow the suggested “prompt, write, respond” method, and it is working very well for us, I think.

So, today the folks each brought in an object for someone else to use as a prompt. I chose a pair of very worn women’s shoes from the turn of 19th century. I had posted it here but removed it because I am submitting it to a poetry journal.

Mag #231

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.

Go here to read what others have written.

wild women

Wild Women

Wild Women wear
tight jeans, western boots,
dance in bars
’til bras melt to skin
and wolves howl the hillsides.
Wild Women step hard
enough to warp the wood,
set the blues on fire —
all the better to
eye the eyes,
rope one or not,
sing full-moon songs
until dawn.

when I was 20

I am looking through my pages of poetry, some written when I was in grade school, but I’ll spare you those. I wrote this when I had just turned twenty and was home from college during a part of the summer. It’s not great poetry, but it’s a great thought, I think.

on the boatbwhen I am old
I will not care for
rock ‘n roll
slopping
and jazz
bongos drums
beat poetry and
Kafka
Kerouac
Jake Trussell and
lifeguards with
sea-burnished hair
and convertibles.
but now I am young
and I know that all of these
will one day be
the cushions
on the couch of memories
on which I will repose
when I am old.

The Slop was a dance from the fifties. I had to google Jake Trussell and I still don’t remember why he was important to me back then. But I still like rock ‘n roll. And convertibles. And I’m still known to ogle lifeguards.

addictions

I’ve never smoked. I don’t drink because it bothers my GERD.

But I’m addicted to sneakers.
moresneakers

Left to right:
Top row: light weight Rockport walking sneakers; old worn out Easy Spirit slip-ons that I use for gardening; dance sneakers with suede soles that I hope I will use again for NIA

Middle row: cheap Champion slip-ons; my favorite old Rocket Dog slip ons with velcro that are almost worn out; new plaid Sorel sneakers that irritate the back of my heel but I love the plaid

Bottom row: Keds; Keds stretch; second favorite, Dr. School’s slip-ons

I’m also addicted to denim jeans, gray and blue and black; cotton, blend, and stretch; knit and woven; boot cut and straight.

I live in jeans and sneakers. I just need more places to go to wear them.

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.

minding the mortal

Thinking about it. Annoyed by it. Just not yet destroyed by it.

There were times during that icy week without heat that I could imagine just slipping into a frozen sleep and not waking up.

There were times during the week or so after, floundering in a mix of aches and fever and stuffed sinuses and peppery throat, unable to rest or eat or think, that I could imagine dosing myself into a cloudy sleep and not waking up.

Discomforts for the young can become depressing struggles for elders.

And, if it’s more than just discomfort, if it is, indeed, mortality beleaguering your cells — as it is for my first hospice patient with whom I sat for several hours today — how do you wrap your mind around that?

When I got home from that visit, I found an email letting me know that I have three poems accepted for an online poetry site, the new version of which will be up sometime over the winter. Two of the poems I submitted were based on my experiences with my mother during the last stages of her dementia.

Mortality. It’s just the way it is. We are all terminal.

In the meanwhile, I have to come up with a recent photo to go along with my bio that will go along with my poems on Cyclamens and Swords. The photo that they have — and the one that was on this blog for a while — is almost a couple of years old.

So I take a new photo.

Yeah. More reminders of mortality.

But I do my best to look my best — a little blush, a little hair teasing. Only there’s no denying the passage of time, fine-lining it toward the final loosing of that mortal coil.

Like Mehitabel, I used to brag that “there’s a dance in the ol’ dame yet!”

Well, today, I’m not so sure about a dance. But a song, for sure.

….my youth i shall never forget
but there s nothing i really regret
wotthehell wotthehell
there s a dance in the old dame yet
toujours gai toujours gai

the things that i had not ought to
i do because i ve gotto
wotthehell wotthehell
and i end with my favorite motto
toujours gai toujours gai.

Wotthehell.