Boy, am I doing a lot of sleeping and dreaming. As a matter of fact, my dreams are a hell of a lot more engaging than my life these days. It gets so I don’t want to get out of bed, because if I stay there and fall back to sleep, I will have more adventurous dreams that are more interesting than any of my daily doings.
My dream world has very specific landscapes that include a section that is some odd representation of the campus where I went to college; a distorted version of the part of the city where I worked for 20 years; a kind of Catskill Mountain vacation hotel where I once attended ballroom dance weekends; and a weird version of an apartment complex where I used to live. I am always trying to get somewhere among those places, but it’s usually a matter of “you can’t there from here”. On those excursions, however, I might meet up with friends, go dancing, play with cats, and come up with a good first line for a poem. But then I wake up, and it’s all gone where dreams go.
No matter how hard I try I can’t reclaim a normal sleep schedule. I often don’t fall asleep until early morning hours, and then I sleep until afternoon. My sleep got messed up more than a decade ago when I was taking care of my demented mother. A search of this blog for “caregiving” or “dementia” will unearth full details.
I have tried to get control of my insomnia (search “insomnia” if you are curious). Medical Marijuana worksto get me to fall asleep, but it is awfully expensive because it takes a double dose to have any effect on me.
There actually have been more than a couple of times when I didn’t get out of bed for more than 24 hours. To be honest, I there are times that I would just as soon not wake up. I kind of identify with a 1999 episode of Ally McBeal, in which “Ally’s favorite teacher from high school is dying, but she has a wonderful dream life which she would like to remain in. Ally decides to get a court order to force the hospital to put her into a coma.”
In my dreams, I have relationships, friends, hugs, interactions, adventures — kind of the opposite of life with Covid-19. (I do live with family, but that’s not the same as hanging out with peers.)
On the Late Show last night, Bill Gates suggested that it might be close to a couple of years before we can settle into some kind of normalcy. How are we all going to keep from going off the deep end before then? Will I even live long enough to see a “new normal.”
In the meanwhile, lacking motivation, energy, and inspiration, I continue to avoid my pile of half-done creative projects that are wasting away in the corner where I piled them months ago. And, also in the meanwhile, I have tracked down a former therapist and have started, again, trying to find my muse, looking for some fuse that will propel me out of this mindless funk.
I have been through the process before, and blogged about it decades ago (somewhere on my old blog, which is only partially still available on blogspot). Severe sleep issues, depression (only partially helped with meds), and writer’s block have led me to try it again, this time with a different analyst, because my previous one is focusing these days on veterans and PTSD. Jungian analysis connects well with Shamanistic “soul retrieval”, in which I’ve also engaged before and which also has been successful.
One of the concepts Jung espoused is “synchronicity”, which, simply, is meaningful coincidence. And there already have been several as I work with this therapist: we both use a pen with purple ink; we both have hair issues; we both sport wearables that identify us — me my t-shirts and she exotic necklaces. Jungians also deal with dream interpretation, and I had one last night that is rife with meaning.
In real life, I am always worried about getting locked out of the house if no one else is home, so I found a very esoteric place to hide a key, which I wrap in plastic before I hide
it. Last night I dreamed that someone I was with wanted to come into the locked house, so I went an got the hidden key, let us in, and then started to re-wrap the key. Except I was having a hard time manipulating the plastic. I woke up before the story ended.
I have only had three sessions, but already stuff is shaking out.
One of the fascinating techniques that Jungians use is “sandplay.” My therapist has walls of shelves with various figurines, from realistic to imaginary, to use in setting up a sandplay scene. The figure at the beginning of this post was the one I picked to begin my scene. (I didn’t know why until I got home and started analyzing why I might have.) The actual figurine did not have that Celtic Raven on her shoulder, but she did have some sort of a black bird. I replaced it with a Celtic Raven because I have become fascinated with its mythology — and this representation of it. (I even made a shirt with a Celtic Raven on it.)
I have named her “Baba Bogina,” Polish for “Crone Goddess.”
So much is happening, and I have just begun. One of things I will be doing in the next few weeks is making an appointment with a nurse who is also a shaman, to do a “soul retrieval.” Those of you who read my blog eight or so years ago, know about the traumatic five years I spent living with my demented mother and my emotionally volatile brother — resulting in what my Primary Care doctor was convinced is PTSD. There is stuff still stuck in my subconscious that I can feel is keeping me from moving on. I’m still feeling angry. I’m still feeling guilty.
I was in a similar place after my divorce, and, thanks to my former Jungian therapist, I was able to move on. Follow me if you want to get a idea of how Jungian therapy can work from a very personal perspective, as I learn to access the wisdom of Baba Bogina, who is an archetype and who is a part of me.
That sound has been a long-time coming, mostly because the cultural context for male-female interaction has been dominated by a male world view, a perspective influenced by both biological/hormonal as well as environmental/experiential histories. The myth of the superior Alpha Male, unfortunately, still endures in our society.
While some men continue to evolve beyond the influence of adolescent hormones and cultural aberrations and learn to interact with women as respected equals, others still cling to the mistaken notion that women are their inferiors and exist mostly as the means to fulfill their unrealistic fantasies. The worlds of sports, entertainment, and politics are well-populated with ego-driven men who relish asserting the power of their popularity and wealth. These men are many of the ones who are currently being “outed” for their long histories of sexually harassing women.
For women, sexual harassment ranges from an unwanted kiss or sexual comment, to the extremes of rape and pedophilia. But, it seems to me that it is unfair to judge the evil of all incidents of “sexual harassment” by the same standards.
Several years ago, when I volunteered in the Alzheimer unit at an upscale assisted living center, one sad 90 year old gentleman kept trying to pat my butt. Each time I saw him coming, I would try to grab his hand before it grabbed me. Sometimes I succeeded; sometimes I didn’t. He was 90 years old and suffering from dementia. I did not feel sexually harassed.
Like many of the men over 65, he grew up in a cultural context in which men expected men to “come on” to women as an assertion of their male egos. That is why the older politicians and entertainers who have been notorious for the sexual harassment of women don’t think it’s such a big deal. They don’t have a clue that the really big deal is that they never grew out of their limited understandings of women and never emotionally evolved into mature, responsible adults males. I can excuse (and gently correct) a 90 year old man with dementia when he makes a grab, because he is on the very low end of the harasser spectrum.
But It’s another thing to be a powerful elder male still engaging in sexual harassment (like Donald Trump and Roy Moore). It is also another thing to be a powerful elder male who did some stupid adolescent pranks in his early years, has proven that he has evolved way past that kind of behavior, and is embarrassed and apologetic about those past transgressions (like Al Franken). Punching someone is not as horrendous as murder; trying to kiss someone is not as bad as forcing more intimate sexual contact.
Most women neither expect nor want any of those advances, but, as we have been reading in countless current confessions, women usually feel powerless to resist, afraid to lose whatever the harassers had the power to take away from them.
For whatever reason, they didn’t slap their harassers when it happened, so they are slapping back now, loud and hard. They are setting an example for other women who felt and might feel powerless to tell their harassers to stop, to back off, to show respect and not condescension.
Oddly enough, I don’t remember ever being harassed, except maybe by the nuns in elementary school, who definitely felt obliged to assert their power over us puny kids in the most unappealing ways.
Maybe it was that I was careful to appropriately dress for every occasion, well aware of the visual signals that purposeful cleavage and a short, tight skirt tend to send to the eager male eye. That is not to say that I never used what limited assets I had to give those signals; but my doing so was a conscious choice, with a consensual expectation and an acceptance of responsibility for what came next.
And that is the responsibility that we women need to take for how we present ourselves to the world of the puerile assumptions of some males. We need to stand against misogyny where it surfaces, and discredit the advertising media that keeps presenting women as sexual objects and therefore encourages the cultural context that we need to reveal, revise, and reform, We need to engage life (as suggested by Camille Paglia) with wary vigilance, personal responsibility, and enough self-assurance to assert our right to hear the sound of our one hand, slapping.
He was a crowd favorite at urban poetry readings, especially at the former punk club QE2 on Central Avenue, where he screamed his edgy and ironic “White Boy” poems — often completely naked. Occasionally, he wore a baseball catcher’s mask to go with full-frontal nudity.
Such is how my once friend and colleague, Paul Weinman, is described in a tribute posted in the Albany Times Union today. He just died from the complications of Alzheimer’s. He was 75 years old. The newspaper piece celebrates Paul’s delightfully skewed lifestyle and creative pursuits and is an entertaining read even if you never knew him.
I met Paul when I began working at the New York State Museum in 1980. He already was a fixture and a legend in that institution, often annoying the staid administrators with his controversial off-site antics, while, at the same time, becoming a beloved and entertaining teacher in the Museum’s educational program. Parents and kids alike flocked to his workshops based on the Museum’s exhibits, and inner city neighborhood kids would show up in the Museum after school hours just to hang out with Paul and be entertained by his adventurous historical tales and re-enactments of life in the wilderness of the Adirondacks. He treated all kids with respect and affirmation; he dealt with adults with honest response to the way in which they dealt with him; he responded to the hypocrisies of every power structure with naively gutsy irreverence.
My professional path crossed with Paul’s because we were both poets in an institution that shared a building with the New York Sate Library and Archives and that often held literature-related events. Together, Paul and I organized and hosted the Museum’s annual “Banned Book Week” public readings. We held ekphrastic poetry events in conjunction with Museum art exhibits. We worked well together as colleagues supporting the educational mission of the New York State Museum.
Outside of our jobs, as part of the Albany poetry community, we came to know each other as writers, although our styles — in both content in presentation — had very little in common. As a challenge to my more conservative bent, one day Paul suggested that we do a collaborative poetry chapbook that explored male-female sexual tensions. I would write a poem and then he would write a poem in response. We would go back and forth like that until we had enough for a chapbook. Paul would print out and staple copies of the chapbook and then distribute it, for free, around the area, as he did with all of his poetry projects.
The whole idea was way out of my comfort zone, but Paul was pretty much an icon in the local poetry scene, and I was intrigued by both him and the challenge.
This is what the cover and back page our chapbook looked like. “Fruits of the Harvest Press” is just the name Paul gave to his own personal printing and distribution system. There’s no date on the publication, but it probably was in the late 1980s.
It took me a while to figure out how to approach the subject of sexuality, but I found a way to do it my way: through food metaphors. Hence the title: “Eating Disorders and Other Mastications.” My first effort was inspired by a Thanksgiving turkey neck.
something about turkey necks,
gizzards nestled in palm of hand,
stroked with oil,
until firm, juice-laden,
ready for needing,
fine night dining,
And we went on from there, as I branched out from the food metaphors into other expressions of female sensuality and Paul responded with blatant come-ons such as this, which became one of his famous “White Boy” series:
IN QUIVERS OF INAD-
EQUACY, WHITEBOY TRIES
BUCKUP UP HIS IMAGE
AS HE STRUTS FOR ELAINE
A. autographing pens
strapped to hips
B. rakish hat
C. boots tooled
with female in-
WHITE BOY TRIPS…
POLEVAULTS ON THAT
POINT HE’S TRYING 2
GET ACROSS: ARRESTED
4 SEXUAL HARASSMENT
My relationship with Paul never moved beyond friendship, although as a willing participant in Dionysian revelry, he might have taken it in that direction. But as attracted as I often was to “bad boys,” Paul was way out of my league in that arena. Plus I got to know Paul’s wife at the time, Judith Braun , a talented visual artist who really didn’t come into her own until she divorced Paul. I liked Judith, enjoyed the bohemian parties they threw, was energized by the creative energies with which they always were surrounded. Paul caused me to stretch the boundaries of my writing and my perceptions of what is acceptable to me in both words and life.
Paul loved the lore of the Adirondacks, and he spent the last five years of his Alzheimer-ridden life making miniature chairs out of tree branches. As the newspaper tribute reports: He built miniature chairs in the Adirondack twig furniture style and left them anonymously around town with a note: “I’m an orphan chair. Please take me home and put a stuffed animal or plant on me.”
I don’t know his latest wife, but I’m going to try to contact her to see if I can get one of those chairs to hold a plant in my garden and hold his memory in my heart.
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.
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.
Really, I can’t find my set of keys that hold, not only my car and house keys, but all of those little tags they give you with bar codes that give you special privileges — like discounts at the food market, drugstore, and gas station. It also had my library card on the ring. And a tag that gives my phone number in case the keys are found.
Since I haven’t gotten any calls, I assume that the keys are somewhere in the house. I keep looking. For all I know, they fell into the trash at some point.
There is a place to hang our rings of keys right by the front door when we come in. But I forget to do that.
When I was my mother’s caregiver, and dementia caused her to hide stuff all over the place, I bought a set of key finders and attached them to her keys and her wallet. I would press the remote and the beeping would lead me to the lost article — sometimes tucked in the corner of her pillow case, sometimes in a purse at the bottom of her closet, sometimes under the mattress. Once in the refrigerator.
So I just bought a set of key finders for myself and attached one to my spare set of keys. But I don’t have all of those tags, and now I have to replace them all. I have one “key” finder that can be stuck to the back of something like the tv remote. I think I’ll stick on the back of my iPhone, since that’s the other thing I keep misplacing.
It’s bad enough that, more and more often, I can’t find the word I want to complete my thought. Now it’s my keys that get lost. What’s next? Me?
A volunteering moment: A memory-impaired nonagenarian pats me on the butt. I just ignore it, since earlier today, for the first time, he actually conversed with me and willingly participated in a group activity. I can’t save the world, but today I make a sad old man smile.
Twice a week I volunteer at a geriatric facility that includes folks in assisted living (where I lead “Trivia” and other such group sessions) and a separate space for individuals who are memory-impaired (with whom I sing songs, share photographs and stories, go out for walks, and even play kids’ games). I think doing these things is my way of compensating for the fact that so much of this world is in such a large scale mess that I have no power to affect any of it in any positive way.
I don’t have the money to contribute to saving abused animals, abused environments, and abused people; listening to Sara McLachlan sing in the ASPCA commercial only makes my distress worse, so I avoid even doing that.
Instead of feeling overwhelmed by all of the horrors of the “big picture,” I cut out a piece of the “little picture” that I might be able make a little better. Maybe this geriatric facility is not the worse place in the world for elders to find themselves, but it’s no Eden, either. However, it is a place where I can make a difference without the effort impacting me in a negative way.
As a matter of fact, I’m always surprised at how much of the time I spend with these folks that I actually enjoy. Sometimes I even get inspired in crafty ways that I’d never expect.
For example, I noticed one woman had a really pretty quilted pouch attached to the front of her walker. It’s just big enough to hold some tissues, a few photos, and a pair of glasses. You can buy similar ones online for about $35. It’s a handy little item that I realized other women who use walkers would find helpful. So, I’ve been inspired to design my own version that combines crochet and fabric. Maybe I’ll try to sell them online. Maybe I’ll just give them as gifts. Either way, I now have the kind of creatively useful project that I like to work on at home as I sit around in the evening and watch escapist television.
In her post today on Time Goes By, Ronni Bennett confesses to having become a “cowardly” about dealing with the overwhelming problems in the world around her. She says:
Confronted with calamity – personal, private or global – I have always been strong, eager to understand and self-confident in my ability to do my best to help when I can and pass the word on to others who might have more resources than I.
Now, I’ve become a coward. If I cannot look at the photos, will not read the news stories, won’t listen to the appeals for starving children and abused animals, how can I possibly be part of any solution.
In a real way, it’s my similar cowardice that has led me to volunteer where I do. I can feel I’m helping to make the lives of at least a very small part of the human population a little better, in only three or four hours a week. And, as it turns out (as it so often does when you give of yourself), I get back unexpected appreciation and inspiration.
Although I can do without the nonagenarian’s pat on the butt.
It’s Father’s Day tomorrow, and I’ll think about him then.
But today I’m thinking about my mother because we find ourselves in East Sandwich MA driving along roads that we drove with her a dozen or so years ago when I took her on the last vacation she had.
When I rented the house we are now in (for this week), I had forgotten that we all had been out this way before, before dementia took my mother away into her own world.
It was my son-in-law who recognized familiar sites — the place we had gone several times for ice cream; the miniature golf course where my mom actually did very well for a little old woman in her 80s. And then I remembered, too — taking her into Hyannis to shop, taking her on a nature walk through some strange grove of bamboo that also served as exhibit space for even stranger sculptures. She had time to sit and laugh with her granddaughter and grandson-in-law. It was a good time for all of us.
I think of her now after we walked on the beach this evening — my daughter, her husband, and the soon-to-be nine-year old.
Someday, after I’m gone, I hope that they will smile when they remember this vacation with me — despite my limping along with a bout of vacation-annoying sciatica.
I am thinking of my mom today and wishing that I had been able to giver her more chances to enjoy her family while she was still able to enjoy them.
I am looking forward to this week of relaxation and adventure with my family. (Even the drive out with several stops to ease my grandson’s car-ride queasiness was part of the adventure.) There are plans to go to Plymouth and make other day trips around the Cape. Chances are, however, unless my sacroiliac calms down, I might just sit on the deck and read.
After all, I’m on vacation, and Cape Cod Bay is just the perfect place to be.
This is the kind of day for skiing or snowshoeing or snow-fort building. But I don’t do any of them. I can’t seem to even walk very far these days.
But today, with the sky a clear blue and a sun that has finally left the falling snow behind, I bundle up and get myself outside for the first time in weeks. I take a short walk around a few blocks — just about as much as my joints can take today.
When I come back to the house, I haul out a stool and sit on the small porch. I close my eyes. For a moment I am back in my babyhood carriage — the old kind from the 40s, with an oil cloth cover that rolls up to my chin, so that I am warm and snuggly inside, even though my nose is cold. The sun is warm and bright on my closed eyelids. I want to be a child again.
I think of my mother — how young and happy she was when she pushed me in that carriage — how disappointment and dementia drained from her spirit what was the best of her. I think of her because her 95th birthday would have been this month; she would have made it had she lived for three more months. But it’s just as well that she didn’t; those months would have only extended her hell on earth.
I could sit here all day, pretending. But I have a math challenge to confront — figuring out how to use a sweater pattern I like but using a different weight yarn and different size needles. It’s all algebra, but math-challenged that I am, I have to work myself up to grappling with setting up the equations. I can’t seem to keep my body in shape, but I try to do so with my brain.
I do have to deal with my body, though, despite the back problems. I’m hoping I can try the “chair yoga” this week at the senior center in town — that is if it’s not canceled again because of a another snow storm. And I’ve begun firing up my wii around 4 p.m. every day just to do some balance and aerobic exercises, which I seem to sorely need.
We are all waiting for spring. But for today, I’ll take the sun on snow.