Category Archives: Grief

Greetings Blogosphere!

I have not been the most consistent blogger in the world. If there’s anyone out there paying attention this is not such a big surprise. My last post was over a year ago. In that episode, I announced that my poor old sweet-faced kitty Angel was dying of cancer. I got all philosophical and weepy about it, as I have a tendency to do. So here’s what happened next.

Angel’s vet had been so dire about it, I assumed Angel was going to close her eyes and drop her body any minute. I’d go out to dead-head the roses, and I’d worry that when I came back inside she’d be stretched out in the hallway, dead. The first few nights after the diagnosis in July, I couldn’t sleep well. I left my bedroom and went out to read on the couch. I fell asleep, but then I was awakened by Angel, running around on the family room floor, chasing a catnip mouse with a bell on it. Okay, I thought, she’s going to be all right for a little while longer.

I didn’t want to leave town with her so sick, but I decided I’d go to Santa Cruz and sit on the beach as soon as she died. When she made it to September, I thought—great, I’ll get off-season rates at my favorite motel by the wharf. When she made it to October, I forgot about Santa Cruz and decided I wanted her to live till the election. Yeah, that’s when this story gets crazy. I wanted my cat to live to see the first woman elected president of the United States. That’s right, I’m not proud of this, I know it sounds crazy. But remember what it was like a year ago: we were all full of optimism and hope. The polls, the media, the late-night comedians were all saying Hillary was going to get elected. The pundits were even predicting Democrats would take back both houses of Congress. We were going to take back the Supreme Court! I think I wanted Angel to live to see this because I was feeling so sad that my mother (who died eight years ago this week) and my cousin Joanne (who been gone only a few months at that point) didn’t live to see a woman president. It was silly, but I wanted the cat to see it.

We all know how that turned out.

Angel died a few days before Thanksgiving. I’ll spare you the details. Suffice to say she got really really weak and really really sick, and I called the vet on a weekend and scheduled a time for her to euthanize Angel the following Monday. Then I went to the store and bought one of those rotisserie chickens, and Angel and I ate it together all weekend. She also went outside and roamed around on the lawn and ate grass. She had a good death. We should all be so lucky.

After that I was sad. I didn’t want another cat and didn’t want to bother with Christmas. I didn’t put up a tree and I didn’t send out cards. But grieving for Angel made me realize that I hadn’t grieved anybody very well. So I found a grief support group. I talked mainly about Joanne who’d died in March, but I also talked about my Mom and about my friend Craig. They let me talk about Angel too. They were good people, and we met until the week before Christmas. Then I surprised myself and decided I wanted a kitten for Christmas. But then I doubly surprised myself and adopted two kittens for Christmas!! Their names are Valentine Rose (my black kitty) and Suzanna Christmas (my tabby who is called Zuzu—you know like Zuzu’s petals in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”) They are joyful little girls and they love each other so much. Sometimes I sing them the Skylar Sisters song from Hamilton, only I say their names and I call them the “Holiday Sisters.” Yeah, I know, it’s weird, but it makes for a good story.

Adopting my new girls was great, but it didn’t alleviate the depression I’d been in since the election. I cried election night, and I cried for days afterwards. It was the pussy-grabbing comments that got me. I can’t believe we live in a country where people would elect a man who brags about such things. I won’t get into it here, but it’s a highly personal thing to me, as it is to many women. But my purpose today is not to rant about politics, no matter how personal I feel the situation is. I want to tell you what happened next.

As I said, I was very depressed. I wasn’t in a clinical depression. I got up every morning. I cleaned the house and weeded the garden, I did volunteer work at the women’s center where we serve breakfast to low income and homeless women, I wrote with my writer-friends, I went hiking by the river. But always I carried a deep heavy feeling in my throat and chest. I tired easily and I cried at cat food commercials. More than sad, I was feeling hopeless about my country.

On Inauguration Day I volunteered for an extra shift at the women’s center. I wanted to feel useful. The next day I went downtown with friends and we marched in the streets. It was a huge crowd. The organizers announced that we all would gather at a park southwest of the state capitol and then we’d march there for a celebration. It was mobbed. We lined up in the street adjacent to the park by the Catholic Church dedicated to the Black Madonna. We stood there for a couple hours before we started moving. I’d been in anti-nuke marches in the 80s like this—where the crowd was so big that those of us in the middle just had to wait and wait and wait before we could move.

I was there with my friends, and I felt great. I felt strong and healthy, as if I could stand there for days. I thought about a song Holly Near used to sing about a woman born on a mountain who was not going to let the developers come in—“You may drive a big machine, but I was born a great big woman!!” I love that song. My friends and I used to sing that to each other when we were young, living in our first apartments, going to Take Back the Night marches, raising money for the Peace Center.

My depression went away. Just like that. My friends said, oh, it was being out there in the crowd, it was taking action, feeling optimistic. But I knew that wasn’t it. I didn’t feel optimistic that day, and I don’t now. I feel terrible about my country. Just terrible. But for a while I felt a deep sense of grace. It was different than anything I’d ever felt before. There have been times in my life when I’ve felt very happy, filled with hope, even euphoric—you know, like falling in love, or finally getting that job you’ve been wanting, or getting your first poem published, then getting a poem published in a nationally distributed anthology! That’s good stuff. But this was different. What made it different was this: I felt forgiving.

I don’t know if this is a universal or even common experience, but there have been several people over the years that I’ve been unable to fully forgive. Some of them I don’t see any more, some I do. Some I’m friendly with, but I don’t trust them. Most I’m sympathetic to—I think, oh, I understand, they did what they did because of a misunderstanding, or because their life is hard too, or they had cold parents, a hard family life, a difficult spouse. Or maybe they were mean to me because they’re just mean, manipulative people and overbearing control freaks. Yeah, sounds about right.

I pray about this often. I’ve come to believe that when it comes to forgiveness, you can do the best you can—you can be friendly (though protective of yourself), you can pray for the other person, you can wish good things for them—but to fully forgive, to completely let go, that takes God’s grace. It’s not something we can do on our own.

And so here I was in the streets with my sisters on the day after Inauguration Day, and it began. My depression lifted and I felt forgiven and forgiving. This feeling lasted several months. I didn’t feel euphoric, though I generally felt good and healthy. Some days I was happy. Some days I was sad. It wasn’t about that. It was about an awareness of God’s grace. I couldn’t sustain it though. I’m not sure why. It drifted away. The Universe gave me a little taste, and then it drifted away. I don’t know if I did something to lose it. I don’t know. I wish I could feel that way all the time, but I know I can’t MAKE it happen. (I have another story about grace and forgiveness, but that’s for another day).

That brings me up to now. We’ve been bombarded these past few weeks by news of hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. We’ve seen the worst mass shooting in modern history in Las Vegas two days ago. We fear we may be at the brink of nuclear war with North Korea as our president tells the secretary of state (not in a face-to-face meeting, but via social media) that he’s wasting his time trying to negotiate with “Little Rocket Man.” I feel awful. But I keep writing, because I don’t know what else to do. I pray and I write and I hang with my cats and my friends, and that’s about all.

I’d like to say that I’m going to post more on my blog. I don’t know if that’s true right now. I don’t know if anyone cares. Is anybody out there? I’m not sure I really want to even have a blog. I want to write novels and poems and I was told at one conference or another that I should have the blog to promote the novels. And so here I go:

I have a new novel coming out in a month! It’s called Ghost Owl. It stars my young heroine Mariah Easter. I’m very proud of this one. My readers tell me it’s a page-turner!

So to update–I have three novels out now: Yellow-Billed Magpie, Red-Tailed Hawk, and Ghost Owl. They are stand-alone stories, but they have the same characters. I think it’s nice to read them in order, but it’s not necessary. I also have a short-story collection called Rover. All four books are available right now at Amazon—yes, even Ghost Owl. But if you’re in Sacramento, I suggest you wait and buy books from me at my Ghost Owl launch party at Hoppy Brewing Company on Thursday evening, November 2nd from 5:30 to 8:30. I’ll be selling all books that evening for the low low introductory price of $5!! Great for holiday gifts.

Finally—jumping ahead—my goal for 2018 is to learn how to market better. This will definitely include the website—but what about this blog. I don’t think I’m ready to give up on it yet. It will continue to be my usual crazy musings, and a bit of rough, barely edited flash fiction that I often write with my writing groups. I hope folks like it.

Thanks for reading this far. Now please drop me a line or give me a like so I’ll know somebody is there! Thank you!

Ps—Guess what! I went to Youtube and found a video of a group of strong and beautiful women singing The Kentucky Woman/Dreaming on This Mountain song—and I think it would do your heart good to spend a minute and forty seconds listening to it. Here’s the link

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Why I Left My Job

I spent a lovely Sunday afternoon yesterday, eating, walking, gossiping and sharing projects with Sister Writers, June Gillam and Leslie Rose.  For some reason I got started venting about an incident that happened a few years back–all part of the ongoing healing process, I guess.  So today I thought I would share a poem I wrote at the time.  It’s called:

Why I Left My Job

 The other driver and I

retreated to neutral corners

to wait for the police.

 

I had a cell phone

the size of a shoe box.

The other driver had a newer,

tinier model

that fit in the palm

of her hand. She stood

on her corner, talking,

talking, staring

at me, and flapping

her free hand.

 

My boyfriend didn’t

have a cell phone

so I couldn’t call him.

I called my Mom

on my shoe box.

She said she’d come

but I told her, no,

don’t be silly;

I was okay.

Neither of us mentioned

it was the anniversary

of my father’s death.

But each of us knew

the other was thinking

about it.

 

A police officer arrived

alone in a patrol car.

The other driver and I

both ventured toward him.

He said he’d speak to each

of us separately.

The other driver

stepped forward quickly

with narrowed eyes

glaring at me, clutching

her purse, as if

she expected me

to snatch it.

They went to her corner.

 

A man from the house

on my corner

came out and asked

if I was okay.

He had a spiked

dog collar

around his neck

and a ring

through his nose—

a big ring, like

the brass ring

on a merry-go-round.

I’m okay, I said.

Do you want a Pepsi?

he asked.

No, I’m okay, I repeated.

But it was nice of you

to ask.

 

The police officer came

to talk to me. He asked

my name and I gave him

my driver’s license.

He spent some time

writing on a pad.

He asked me what happened,

and I told him she’d run the stop sign.

I swerved, I said, I tried to miss her

but she pulled right out in front of me.

 

Just then the other driver sauntered over.

I called a tow truck, she said.

Her voice was cheerful,

almost lyrical.

“I can’t believe it, you know,

twenty years with a spotless

record, twenty years, and now this,

twenty years, what can I say?”

 

She laughed, shaking her head

so her long dark hair swayed

like in a shampoo commercial,

and in that moment I hated her.

She was at a dance club

or a country club,

coquettish and flirtatious,

on a sunny

patio drinking sangria.

Worse than that:

she was just like me,

seeking some kind of approval

as if the officer should tell her

it was okay that she pulled out in front of me,

no big deal, don’t worry

about it, Ma’am, happens all the time.

 

I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly through my nose.

 

The police officer turned to her.

“We need some privacy, Ma’am.

You had your turn.”

 

“Oh. Of course.” She sashayed away.

 

“How fast were you going?” he asked me.

 

“I don’t know,” I said, “but

I couldn’t have been going

more than 15 or 20 miles an hour.

This is my neighborhood.

This is where I live.

I wouldn’t speed in my own neighborhood.”

 

The officer nodded and smiled a little.

“You should know: the other lady

admitted she was in the wrong.”

 

“She did?” I was stunned.

“She didn’t say anything to me.”

I was batting back tears now.

I didn’t tell him she’d been rude

to me; had demanded to see

my license, had even reached into

my wallet trying to grab

my insurance card.

I looked down

at my hands, fingering the zipper

on my purse. “I wanted her

to apologize,” I admitted.

 

He looked down at his pad.

“She’s not going to apologize,”

he said curtly.

 

He had me sign his report,

told me I could go.

So I did; I didn’t call

a tow truck. My car

looked fine. But it wasn’t fine.

The damage was

so extensive

the insurance company

refused to fix it.

The car was totaled.

 

This happened well over a decade ago.

But what happened this year

at my work place—the circumstances

were very similar:

it was my own neighborhood.

My classroom was totaled.

No one apologized to me.

 

 

Here for the Weekend

Last week on NPR’s Morning Edition, in a segment on Story Corps, they played an interview with the first single man who was allowed to adopt a baby in the state of California. It was 1969. The man had always wanted to be a father. He knew it would be hard to raise a child alone but he forged on. His social worker brought him to see a toddler who had been born to a drug-addicted mother. The baby was born addicted to heroin and had gone through the pain of withdrawal in infancy. At 18 months old the boy was already a child with severe behavioral challenges. The man knew he should say no, but he said yes. He entered the adventure.

I knew as the man related his story that it wasn’t going to end well because he only spoke of his son in the past tense. The man’s voice broke when he said his son had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and had died of a heroin overdose at the age of thirty. His body was found in an alley between two buildings.

My first thought was: how do any of us stand it? How do any of us stand living here in these bodies on this planet? We don’t all have stories as tragic as this man’s, but each of us has something, our own private sadness. Life can be joyful, but even the happiest lives are spotted with episodes of such exquisite pain.

My friend Craig was a perfect master. He told me once that between lives we’re all hanging together on the astral planes, waiting to come down here. Finally it’s your turn. You’re born on Planet Earth. You live 70 or 80 years, give or take a decade or two, then BAM! You drop your body and you’re back on the astral plane. All your friends there say, “Hey! How was your weekend?”

What if coming here is like going to Disneyland? Some of us love roller coasters; some of us prefer to float with the Pirates of the Caribbean. When I was five years old I made my mother take me on the Peter Pan ride over and over again because I was thrilled to see his shadow racing across the wall. When I was eight my cousin Jimmy held up my long braided hair over my head as we rolled out of the haunted house ride on Santa Cruz’s Boardwalk. “Look how scared she is!” he taunted, laughing as I slapped his hands away from my head. Sure, sometimes it’s scary, but maybe our sojourn here on Earth is no more real than a trip to an amusement park.

I’ve got no wisdom, just stories. Stories about riding the waves, about enjoying the ride. You’ve got them too. Feel free to share them here with me.

 

New Year Musings

This is not about New Year’s resolutions, because I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.  I figure you don’t need to limit yourself to January 1st to try new things.  And I don’t think it’s necessary for us to try to improve ourselves, because we are already perfect.  We are God Essence, or (if you prefer) beloved children of God, and you just can’t improve on that.  What we can do is spend more time in prayer and meditation with the intent of discerning the unique energetic path that each of us has, that will lead to an expansion of consciousness.  As Rilke says, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. . . ask yourself what makes you alive because what the world needs are people who have come alive.”

Nonetheless, it occurred to me yesterday to try a few new things, and since it’s nearly New Year’s Eve, I thought I might share my quirky new ideas with you.  I invite you all to share any plans you have here too—whether you call them New Year’s resolutions or not.

I read in Parade Magazine yesterday that healthy active people simply stand up more!  The article said it doesn’t matter if you get up and run a couple miles first thing in the morning, if you then go to a desk job and sit for the next 23 hours (you know, give or take a few hours for sleeping when you will presumably be inert too!)  So I got this idea to tackle a couple issues at once:  I decided that every time I feel like crying I will do ten jumping jacks!

Regular readers and friends know I’ve been grieving the loss of a friend and I’ve gotten kinda weepy this holiday season.  It’s only been one day, but this jumping jacks idea has been pretty effective so far.  I’m not saying I’m working up enough of a sweat to get any endorphins flowing, but it does nip the weepiness in the bud.  On the down side, I’ve discovered I will need to wear a sports bra around the house.  Bummer.

My other—okay, I’ll call it a resolution—is to watch more comedies.  I’ve always been a big fan of the melancholy—be it movies, TV shows, sentimental songs, and novels.  This has aggravated my grief.  I do think it’s important to go through the grieving process—don’t get me wrong.  But I’m feeling a little stuck.  So I’m seeking suggestions of good funny movies and books to check out.  I’m not a fan of slapstick or bathroom humor, but I’m open to suggestions.

So hey, if you want to tell me about your resolutions, that’s cool!  I’m interested.  But please do me a favor and recommend a few comedies available on Netflix.  Many thanks, and Happy New Year!