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.  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 time.

I think 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 to 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.

So, here I am at 2 A.M……

While I’m waiting for that “sleep switch” to kick in, I’ve been trying to track down other bloggers around my age to see if we can develop into a virtual community of kindred spirits. That’s what I had back in the 2000s, and I miss the virtual camaraderie.

As part of my efforts to lesson my feelings of isolation, I am working with my local senior center to try to put together a weekly Zoom group of older folks who are disabled or are self quarantined. I only go out when I have to — medical appointments or grocery shopping. I would love to make new friends, and these days, Zoom is the way to do it.

I did spend most of my afternoon sending out my poetry in response to several “call for entries.” I have been pretty successful getting my poetry published, but it is three years since I have sent any out. At some point I will add a “Poetry” link to my primary menu.

Beginning next week, I will be part of a Zoom-based poetry group. I just love when synchronicities kick in and I become aware of the ongoing spirals that my life is on. I dreamed of a married couple with whom I was close friends for decades, but then they moved away. I contacted to tell them about the dream, and they put me in touch with the leader of the poetry group. The leader of the poetry group was one of my ex-husband’s college students and my daughter was a flower girl at his wedding. Circles into spirals.

Obviously, I have my depression under control. If only I could do that about my Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder.

Three or four a.m. has become my usual bedtime. Will I ever be awake again during those morning hours when the air smells fresh and the birds are just starting to sing?

It’s Not Insomnia, It’s DSPS

I don’t have insomnia, I have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome.

Over the past decade, I consulted with various sleep specialists, none of whom ever mentioned DSPS as a diagnosis. I finally had to diagnose myself. All of them told me that I, indeed, had a sleep disorder and provided various suggestions, all of which I tried and documented here. The last sleep study I endured, several months ago, required two Ambien to even get me to sleep on their schedule. Then they woke me up after 4 hours (5 am) because I had to leave, and I was barely able to walk out of the lab and find a place to sit and wait for my daughter to pick me up. I have found that few doctors do the investigations necessary to actually find an accurate diagnosis. It has become cookie-cutter medicine. One size fits most.

Three months ago, I had a serious emotional meltdown, which prompted me to find someone to prescribe more effective anti-depressants, since there would be days I would only get out of bed to eat and go to the bathroom. Struggling to change my circadian rhythm — and failing over and over — finally sent me on an internet search to see if my 3 or 4 am to noon or later sleep schedule was something others were experiencing. And they are. Many. All of the world. Almost all just learned to live with it because nothing worked when they tried to change it. One woman who lived on the east coast took a job on the west coast because she figured that would put her bedtime at midnight, and she could live with that. But it didn’t take long for her body to relapse back to a 3 am bedtime, even on the west coast.

This household shuts down around 11 pm each night. That leaves me with a good four hours to find something to do that won’t wake them up. It’s so easy to just sit, watch tv or read, and eat. I wish I could use that time to write poetry.

Anti-depressants, at the potency at which I am now consuming them, dull the sensibilities that I need to be inspired to create poetry. Even my prose becomes drab and spiritless. But now that I have a diagnosis and an actual official name for what I am experiencing, I will try to ease off some of what I began taking to climb out of the Major Depressive Disorder that I fell into because of all of my failed efforts to change my circadian rhythm.

What I wonder is, why now, since most folks with DSPS are adolescents or young adults. I think there’s a connection to the 5 year trauma I lived through taking care of my increasingly demented mother while dealing with the constant harassment and abuse heaped upon me by my brother. During that time I had no set sleep schedule and often had to resort to sleeping pills to get any rest at all. While enduring my recent meltdown, I realized that I really do have PTSD as a result. Knowing is always better than not knowing.

I’m back writing on this blog to fill up some of that time until 3 or 4 am, when my sleep switch activates. That’s really what it feels like. While I feel relaxed and tired during those wee morning hours, there comes a time when I simply fall asleep, as though a switch is flicked. There is nothing I can do to make that happen. When my brain is ready, it shuts off. And then I sleep deeply for 8 or 9 hours and wake up rested.

So, this is my life now, at age 81. It could be worse, and I try to be grateful that I can still see and hear (with help) and drive (but not at night) and I don’t have any serious medical conditions. I can live with that.

09/18/2020, 7:45 PM

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.

The one thing I certainly never expected to happen when I got old is the Great Orange Turd, who has made all of our lives a nightmare. And I just heard that Ruth Bader Ginsberg has died. Fuck it all.

Dear Diary: Late, Again

Here I am, already having missed a day venting my madness. This being late seems to be a trait I developed in my very late years. I used to arrive at my destinations at least 10 minutes early. None of that matters much any more anyway — and not because of the Coronovirus Pandemic, which has caused a lock-down and which gives folks too much time on their hands.

Today I’m mad about “Time.” It really seem to go faster as you get older. It takes me longer to do everything, including figuring out new things on this blog platform. You might have to bear with me for a while as I continue to climb the learning curve.

When I moved in here with my family, my grandson was 5 years old. Now, at age 17, he has completed his high school education as a home schooler. Twelve years, in the blink of an eye.

Today, I’m mad at Time, which can take me at any time. And I can’t turn it back to fix what I screwed up.

I will try to be on time tomorrow.

Starting Over. Again.

Once I was a prolific blogger. Once I was part of a larger blogging community. But that was almost 20 years ago.

The onslaught of social media drove personal blogging out into the internet hinterlands. But, as folks get fed up with the advertising and limited opportunity for actual communication on platforms like Twitter and FB, there is a growing interest in resuscitating old blogs and setting up new ones.

I originally got into blogging through the example set my my son, who is inspiring me, again. I haven’t written anything in over a year (including poetry), so I’m hoping this current effort will get me inspired.

Meanwhile, I continue to slog through the the depressing overtone of our times, hoping for impeachment, hoping my adult son, diagnosed with autism three years ago, will be able to find the help and support he needs from “the system.” Writing helps both of us deal with the struggles of our lives.

Well, here goes “starting again.”

It’s obviously in the genes.

We are a family that has always valued and encouraged creativity.

My late once husband was a gifted playwright and director. I continue to write and publish poetry. (I just had two accepted for publication by the Orchard Street Press.) Our daughter is a published novelist who has branched out into designing publications as well. Our son, who was recently diagnosed as autistic, is a talented writer and photographer; he uses social media as his venue.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeO7qkqMwAM

This is a film that my late once husband shot with an 8mm camera. B!X was recently contacted by someone who is working on a Netflix documentary on “The Toys That Made Us” to ask about using some clips, but that didn’t happen.

Since we all latched onto the original Star Trek television series with great enthusiasm, it’s not surprising that b!X’s bedroom walls became the Star Trek bridge (drawn with magic marker); a blue-painted foam board and a picture of the universe became the view screen.

There really weren’t any cosplay outfits available yet, so I painted the Star Trek logo on 4-year old b!X’s shirt (we called him “Kit” back then) so that he could play Captain Kirk, armed with laser gun and tricorder. The special effects are totally primitive, but the kids had fun making it and watching it.

As my kids were growing up, I would take a day off from work and let them play hooky from school every time a new Star Trek movie came out so that we could all go to the first showing. That tradition continues with my grandson, as we all go together to see all of the Star Wars, Avengers, and just about every sci-fi/fantasy movie that comes out.

My grandson has inherited those genes big time, and he and his mom are participating in Mastermind Adventures “Camp Half-Blood.” Melissa is Artemis and Lex is some character from Star Wars. They will both be in costume.

I’m the only one who has not been very creatively inspired lately; this is the first post I’ve written in a while. And I did create a little mini “Gnome Garden” in a spot near the driveway.

Little by little, I’ll get my groove back.

An Ode to Hecate

My assignment to my writing group was to write a ode. Here’s mine:

Ode to Hecate

Even though you exist only
in the deepest shadows of our psyches,
your warnings persist in the stories
that drive our most ferocious dreams.
Rise, Hecate, rise.

Claimed by countless cultures,
re-created across eons of fear,
you resist easy efforts to define you
as other than the maternal primal force.
Rise, Hecate, rise.

I sense your counsel in the stirring of autumnal oaks,
hear your sorrows in the howling of midnight dogs.
Those who fear their longings, call you witch;
those who live your bounty, call you Crone.
Rise, Hecate, rise.

Isis, Kali, Lilith, Astarte, Brigid, Hecate.
You are who I need you to be,
standing with me at each challenge of choices,
listening for your call to wonder and power.
Rise, Hecate, rise.

You are who we women need you to be,
relentless truth-teller, fierce warrior,
stand with us at this dangerous crossroads.
You are what we need to be.
Rise, Hecate, rise.

Paul read his poetry naked.

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.

eating.jpg
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,
moist heated
until firm, juice-laden,
ready for needing,
nibbling, gnawing–
lip-licking
fine night dining,
giving
thanks

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
      festooned with
      panty hose
C.   boots tooled
      with female in-
      initials, cellular
      calling codes
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.

they tickle my brain to words

Corinne Geersten composes “images of wonder and quirk,” and my ol’ blogger buddy Betsy Devine knew that I would be interested in Corinne’s “Call to Poets.”

I am absolutely intrigued by every one of her images in these two portfolio pages , and sent her three responses. I don’t now whether or not she will use any of them, but I like the combinations so much that I am sharing them here:

1

The Emissary
(Addendum 9/17/16: This poem is being exhibited next to the collage at Geersten’s exhibit as the Mesa Art Center in Arizona.)

She follows the lead
of the lone snow goose
released from the burden of flock —
a warrior in white and Mary Janes,
astride a steed from dreams.

Such is the muse that carries her,
along with miracles of fragrant earth,
safe across the deep seas of memory.

Emissary

2

Tornado

It is always there,
over her shoulder,
both threat and promise —
a whisper in a wind
that can send her flying
finally, into a landscape
devoid of browns and
navy blues, a rainbow
of wildflowers and sunlight
and a bright hint of birdsong.
If she sits, still enough,
breath held and ready…
wait for the moment….
wait for the moment…..

sp1Tornado

3

Fable

Sometimes it gets into a girl’s head
to wield staff instead of broom,
to stand like a stag in morning mist —
antlers the crowning touch —
to command with eyes devoid of fear,
demanding safety and serenity,
the sovereign right of rulers
to craft their own lives.

sp1Fable