I never worried about getting old. I figured that I would deal with it when it happened. Well, it happened, and I’m not dealing with it very well these days. Objects seem to fly out of my grasp. I’m constantly misplacing things. If I get down, I can’t get up without help. I trip when there’s nothing there to trip on. The technology that I used to use without a second thought now requires too much figuring out. It doesn’t help that, back in March, I accidentally sent my removable partial denture down the garbage disposal, making it unusable, and it’s taking forever to get a new one. I lose track of my finances and find myself owing more than I thought. My crazy sleep pattern doesn’t help, of course.
It wouldn’t have helped if I had worried about getting old before it happened. There’s no way to have known what it was going to mean for me. Everyone is different. My mother lived until she was 94, but her last 10 years were lost in dementia.
I wonder who those old people are who go out dancing, marathon running, paddling canoes. Of course, I’m assuming the Pandemic has put the kibosh on all of that now — unless they are the deniers. Good luck to them, I say.
I finally let my hair go gray more than a decade ago, and I was very happy with it. Only now, my hair is thinning. Not so happy, now.
The other day I took a magnifying mirror outside so I could see my eyebrows, which are also thinning – except for the long wiry white ones, which I plucked out. I suppose I could get one of those eyebrow stencils, that so many of the folks on tv seems to be using, but I think they look horrible. Not many choices here for me.
Over on Ronni Bennett’s blog, she has been chronicling what it’s like to get older. Exactly my age, she is now chronicling how she is dealing with the pancreatic cancer that is literally killing her. She is heroic in dealing with her situation. I wonder how I would handle it.
Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful that I can still drive, blog, see the tv, chat on the phone with the one close friend I’ve been able to make in the ten years since I’ve moved here (more on that another time). Grateful for the support of my family, especially during this time of quarantine.
All around me. All around my insides as well as my outsides.
I am used to being able to have some control over my life of 80 yeas. I get it that Covid 19 is in the driver’s seat right now. One of my “talents” has always been that I am able to find some pieces of myself to hang onto even in the midst of various forms of chaos; but I can’t seem to find any of those pieces.
As grateful as I am for the support and protection of my family, that all comes at a cost. And the cost is my sense of self at a time when very little is making sense at all. My reality has succumbed to the total chaos that rages all around me.
I am bummed that I don’t seem to be able to handle any of it. Mindfulness? Meditation? Forget it. Chaos rules my mind. I just want to sleep until I can wake to a better reality. And so I sleep. A lot.
I used to be able to gird my loins and launch myself into some creative craft project that would, at least, surround me with a brain buffer. I used to be able to take that chaos and re-purpose it into pretty decent poetry.
Is it so terribly hard now because I am old? Because I have used up my finite resources? I feel totally depleted. I don’t know who I am or why I am.
My late once-husband, who tended to be single-minded, once told me that he wonders what is at my “core”; he saw me like an onion. The layers get pealed back and there’s nothing at the core. And this is how I saw him.
.House cactus. You stand firm and fundamental in your solitary nesting place apart from your leafing, budding sill-mates. You remind me of someone I know
So, I am an onion. Each layer is a period of my life that I created and lived and survived. My layers are what I am. Does that mean I have nothing at the core? Nothing solid, impermeable? Does it matter?
Maybe it does, if I find myself adrift in a chaos that is being absorbed by whatever is left of who I am. Do I even have another layer in me, or is that all there is?
Of course, I’m late again. Of course I’m still trying to get my crazy sleep schedule under control. Of course I’m eating too much chocolate. Of course I’m still experimenting with medical marijuana, which is the only thing that can get me to fall asleep. Last night, I put some alcohol tincture in a glass with V8 juice. It tastes like a Bloody Mary.
It still took at least an hour for me to fall asleep, so while I was lying there, I listened to one of my playlists on Spotify. It includes most of the songs I liked over the past 50 years. As I listened, I realized that I could put the songs in an order that reflected where I was in my life at the time each song was popular. I might try to do that at some point.
Listening to each song brought back very specific feelings, some of which I wish I could choose to forget. I have always tended to make choices based on what I wanted or needed. It’s not that I didn’t consider the wants and needs of others involved; but, ultimately I did what I wanted.
When I lie in bed at night, waiting for the THC to kick in, I let each song take me back, like the images in a photo album, to past places. When my mind reviews what my life was like each time, I feel regret. Regret about how little I understood myself and what little wisdom I had. Regret that I never learned how to “plan” — financially, physically, inter-personally. Regret that many of my choices negatively affected other people. Regret that I must have been very emotionally immature.
Throughout these 80 years I never set long-term goals, but rather I took advantage of opportunities (which worked out fine as far as my various careers, but not so fine in terms of my various relationships.)
It’s obvious to me, now, that the men with whom I chose to have a relationship were chosen because I knew they would not be around long. (The exception was my late ex-husband, but that’s a whole other story.) I knew, instinctively, how to get them to leave when I was ready to move on. In the meanwhile, each contributed, in his own way, to something I wanted or needed in my life. (Perhaps I also knew, instinctively, that there was no one man who could give me all I thought I needed; and now I see that I didn’t particularly care what they needed as well.)
From the perspective of decades, I am finally realizing several things: I am a bit of a narcissist; I am good at manipulating situations and people; I need people more than they need me; I like beginnings and endings and don’t do well keeping things going in the middle; I never knew who I really was. I’m not sure I even do now.
“It was fun while it lasted.” I guess I could say that about many periods of my life, especially when it comes to relationships with men.
I am thinking about that as I read Jack’s obituary. Our relationship lasted about three years, back in the 80s, and it was fun while it lasted. One of the legacies of that relationship, oddly enough, is friendships I formed with a couple of the women whom he dated after me. He had a knack for seeking out smart, creative women.
I kept in touch with Jack on and off over the decades. When, after he moved to Portland OR and my pedestrian son needed a ride from the oral surgeon’s office, I called Jack and he took care of it all. He was a good, imperfect guy. I am glad that I knew him and sad that he is gone.
More than ever, these days, I am painfully aware of the relentlessness of time – which really does seem to accelerate as one ages. And, here I am, at age 78, still trying to figure myself out as those relentless sands continue to carry me along.
It is all about the journey. Slogging through the sands of time. It’s all about the metaphors. Baba Bogina. The Raven. The knight with the swan helmet crest.
My Jungian therapist often uses “sand play” to stir and spur our conversations. I find that I intuitively pick out figures for the sand play without consciously knowing why. And then we work on the why.
I am still pondering why I chose the warrior with the swan helmet crest. It is the only figure I chose that was not obviously either male or female. Its face and body are covered with armor. Its stance can be interpreted as aggressive, defensive, or protective. It is blocking my path. Welcoming? Warning? And then there’s that anomalous spread-winged swan sitting on the top of its head.
My therapist did some searching before I had a chance to, and she send me a link that explained: a medieval tale about a mysterious rescuer who comes in a swan-drawn boat to defend a damsel, his only condition being that he must never be asked his name.
Does that help or not. I don’t know. I will need to ponder this a lot more as I wait for some synchronicity to spark an epiphany.
Is there someone on my path waiting? To lead me to the authentic “me”? To accompany me for a while on my journey? Or is it me in there, under the armor, my wings wanting to escape the hold of the protective helmet.
This is what my “journey” looked like in sand play.
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.
I am no longer with my extended family for the holidays. Our life’s lessons have brought us to different places, literally and metaphorically. But there was an important time that we shared, and I celebrate those times of endearing family gatherings, before our realities diverged and they developed a need to pray for me.
And so I post these, remembering my extended family with nostalgia and also with an appreciation for even the tenuous connections that still exist.
They pray. I write.
Vigil Eve (“Wigilia’ 1950)
There was no mistaking this immigrant clan
for anything but a matriarchy,
bringing from its Polish homeland
the fundamentals of family, earthy foods,
a deference to the will of the grayest female.
The men earned hard money, revered their vodka.
as it was on the farms of the old country.
The rest was woman’s right and work.
So, when the magical time of Vigil Eve drew near
the men disappeared into their smokey enclaves
to share storied fatherland memories,
while the women gathered in her kitchen
a determined lineage of daughters,
by birth and marriage, armed with
the culinary legacies of generations.
Her enameled kitchen table, an assembly line
of dough, tools, bowls of rich concoctions,
filled with reflections of final farm harvests.
For days, they rolled floured, filled and pinched,
boiled, browned and layered.
We children sat at the floor, eye level to legs
in a corner of the steamy kitchen,
playing with scraps of pasty dough,
lulled by the soft humming of female voices,
the steady rumble of snowy urban streets.
The night of Vigil Eve flowed with prayers and feasting,
as full families gathered at the gray lady’s call,
reviving ancient rites of pine and light,
to sing the language and history of their people
carried across oceans of fear and hope.
They sang of homeland yearnings for freedom and faith,
of the tears of mountaineers displaced and despaired,
of the battles of heroes to free the heart’s land,
of mystical mothers and magical births.
Generations of voices in harmony
drifted through the lace-curtained windows
opened to the cold winter night, the night
when animals talked, wishes were granted,
and ancient rituals forged the bonds of blood.
Heart of Rom
(an earlier version published in The Berkshire Review, Volume 4, 1996)
Cyganka! My grandmother scolds,
as I bound off the front stoop
onto the wet city street,
propelled by the promise of stolen kisses
and the musky taste of Tangee
still slick on my lips.
Gypsy. Even the word brings blood
blood rushing to the pit of my stomach.
How I wish for the wild hair,
dark eyes, skin like old copper,
for a power ancient as the land,
the sweep of continents
and countless untamed hearts.
She ruled us with her will,
that Polish grandmother –
a small strong-handed woman
with a voice of faith-forged mettle
and a back turned straight against
truths too bold to hold.
Yet, they tell me once, as I lay young and dying,
she revealed her family secrets:
holy candles, crystal cups, vials of spirits, leeches,
while my mother watched from shadows
fighting demons with her eyes.
They tell me, when the priest arrived,
surprised to find the child alive,
he never commented on the faint red circles
following the tender length of spine,
the scattering of blood marks along the back
like ancient glyphs on altar stone.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Apparently, a colleague and friend of my e-mailer, who was missing since March 22, has been found dead. Police do not suspect foul play; my e-mailer suspects suicide. He also seems to believe that she was somehow involved in de Ruiter’s group.
I guess he is doing his own investigation, and so I gave him the names of my old friends who left all of those years ago, in case they are still around and can help him. And in case they might like to get back in touch with me.
That’s why I blog. Because all of my stuff is sitting somewhere out there in the world wide web, and sometimes it is just what someone is looking for.
Well, it’s one reason I blog. I blog because I’m a writer and I need a place to write.