Tuesday, July 31, 2012

BARACK, BOOZE, AND ROCK 'N ROLL


Last night I dreamed I was on a date with Barack Obama.  The most amazing part was that there were no Secret Service guys around at all!  I kept thinking in my dream that was weird, right?  Barack was very sweet.  We held hands at one point...that was all.  A chaste affair.

Anyway....the dream was probably prompted by my reading, again, the Rolling Stone interview with the President in the May 10th edition.  There Barack was, on the cover of Rolling Stone, looking all handsome and debonair and ready to say smart words and demonstrate  his sweet self-deprecating sense of humor, all of which is an aphrodisiac to me.  So, I enjoyed re-reading it before the recycle bin claimed the copy.

I also thumbed through the other stories, which were as depressing as the Obama interview was inspiring.

"Gregg Allman's Memoirs" was mostly a recitation of the events leading to fame, chaos, drug abuse, heroin addiction, jail time, hepatitis C and a liver transplant, death of his brother and, of course, life with Cher.

"Remembering Levon Helm", the renowned drummer/singer of The Band, traced the history of the band including Helm's own descent into herion addiction ("a part of the scene and part of the era" -- as if that is an excuse).

"Boozin' and Cruisin' with...Eric Church" delves into the angry, defiant, violent and hard-drinking lifestyle of "country's rowdiest star".

Then we have Floyd "Money" Mayweather Jr., a young boxer living the high-life story we've heard a million times of a kid coming out of an impoverished childhood to find a version of fame and fortune in the boxing ring, at least when he isn't in jail for domestic assault against his girlfriend.

I came away from this foray, at least in this issue,  into a male-dominated story selection that left me feeling sort of sick and sad.  Really?  Drugs, violence, sexism?  It's enough to drive me back to drink too.

Well.....not really.  Today is my one year anniversary of not drinking alcohol.  If anything, these stories of waste and wantonness only solidify my newfound commitment to sobriety.    The drinking, drugging life ain't pretty.

I was never really a flat-out drunk.   My recreational drug use (abandoned for good over 30 years ago) was relatively tame.  But I did surely enjoy my daily dose of Chardonnay.  And an occasional cigarette, even after I "quit smoking" in 1982.

Two events caused me to quit the smokes and the wine.  My brother, a smoker, was diagnosed with bladder cancer in late 2010.  When he called with the news and after I hung up from talking to him, tears still flowing, I vowed to myself to never have another cigarette.  They killed my dad with emphysema and were now wrecking havoc on my brother.   And how could I even justify my very occasional foray into a pack of Virginia Slims by calling it "party time"?  I only smoked when I was feeling rowdy and carefree.  Yes, by all means, let's party down by not being able to breathe! DUH!

The drinking was harder because I liked it a lot more and did it more often.  Daily.  In the evening over dinner, to relax and socialize with friends, to celebrate a special occasion...it's so much a part of our culture that once I stopped, most people were not quite sure what to do with me.  Sure, I'd given up wine, but "Does that mean Vodka too?" I was asked.  Or "We could go to Happy Hour, but you aren't drinking"...because I guess a soft drink and an appetizer make me less fun to be with?  I started to bring my own club soda or tonic water to have with a lime when we went to friends' homes.  There was a certain look of concern, panic, or uncomfortableness until people got used to the fact that "Ivy isn't drinking."

I'm sure some who knew me less well assumed there was AA involvement.  But no.  Actually, I'd had a few bouts of unexplained (and completely unrelated to any alcohol consumption) syncope -- fainting.  It was weird and sort of terrifying to have this come out of the blue and wake up to find paramedics standing over me.  All the tests in the medical world revealed no specific cause so, of course, I took to the Internet to find a diagnosis.  I came up empty but found a whole bunch of conversational streams populated by others who also have "unexplained syncope" and at least some recommended no alcohol consumption.  That was enough for me.  I was ready to do anything to make the episodes stop.

I had my last drink on July 31, 2011.  I haven't fainted since then, but absolutely no one credits my being "on the wagon" for that.  It would be hard to sort out all of the variables.  I've also started to eat better, exercise, meditate, lose weight, and stay hydrated.   I also noticed I liked not drinking.  I didn't miss it (OK, a couple of times I was tempted) and now I rarely even think of it.

So when Barack and I go out again, we may stop for a FroYo Swirl and I may lament the carbs involved, but driving won't be a problem.  And if there's ever a story about me in Rolling Stone, it will outline the ways in which I have left nearly all my vices behind and become the Saint of Clean Living.  I'm sure that issue will sell out in no time.

At least, that's the view from here....©

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

WITH THIS RING, I THEE WED

I'm struggling here.  I feel I should have lots of wisdom to impart upon the occasion of this month's personal milestone -- having been married for 40 years, to the same man.  But I'm coming up short.

Someone told me I should write a book and "tell us how it's done".  Wouldn't that be nice?  A "how-to" manual in a one-size fits all format.  It would have saved me a lot of heartache had someone handed me that 40 years ago.  But that's not how it works.  We all make our own way in relationships.  Sometimes the way works; sometimes it doesn't.  Sometimes we ought to run for the hills; other times hanging in there is the best course.  Who am I to know what would work for someone else?

This is do know.  I said I was married to the "same man" for 40 years.  That's not really true.  Nor is he married to the "same woman" who stood at the altar with him on that hot July afternoon.  Hub and I often joke about our "many lifetimes" together.  We recognize the changes we've undergone, separately and together, and realize that we are no longer the same people we were then in some very essential ways.  I love that!  I guess I love it because I think we are better now, but not as good as we are gonna get.

And therein lies what works for us.  We've learned that change is inevitable, that introspection and the desire to live a life of integrity, accountability, commitment, and inner peace are touchstones that allow us to stretch into unfamiliar lands of exploration and discovery.  We are willing to wrestle with our personal demons, acknowledge them, heal them, and move into the light of self-knowledge that precedes meaningful personal growth.  We have the compass of those guiding principles and find we are lost less often and have an easier time getting back on track when we do lose our way.

Also, we love each other.  We accept each other.  And most importantly we respect each other and have each other's backs.  I am like a Mother Bear when I feel Hub is unjustly treated; it's hard to get back in my good graces if you mess with my man.  As for him, he is my constant champion, always believing in me, cheering me on.

We also tend to agree, usually, on the stuff that often creates un-breachable rifts in couples:  money, religion, politics, sex, how to raise kids...basically, we have the same "world view".  We both tend toward introversion.  We like the same music and movies and sports teams.  We value family.  We have mutual friends and give each other lots of space to enjoy individual friendships as well.  I think many of these commonalities were there from the beginning, or maybe it's the many years of trial/error/compromise that has created so much "alikeness" at this point.  Reminds me of people who tend to look like their dogs.  We often choose those who are a reflection of ourselves -- we are compatible.

But there are points of difference too.  Sometimes we choose those very unlike ourselves, being drawn to that very different-ness as a way to experience another way of being without having to really be that other way.  Hub and I have made some peace, although frustration sometimes rears an ugly head, with those places that we probably won't ever share with the same passion.

He is an outdoorsy, athletic, mathematically-inclined, rational individual, who knows what he wants and how to get it, and is persistent enough to ensure he is successful in whatever he undertakes.   I think he sees life as a problem to be solved and he is sure he can do it.  He can be sort of serious. I, on the other hand, could spend days in a bookstore and/or coffee shop, love pop culture, the world of words (reading/writing), have a "messy" mind that seems to see all sides of every issue and "feels" rather than "thinks" my way through situations.  I see life as absurd; if you are articulate and can make me laugh, I'm yours.

Together we get to be all of these things.  I visit beautiful places in nature, love football, and have learned to be organized and work toward goals.  He shares my passion for Ecstatic Dance, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, and can often "go with the flow" now even better than I.  In some ways, since retirement, we've even done some role reversal -- he lazing about 'til noon most days and me up at 5:30 ready to tackle a to-do list.  Weird!

So, anyway, I don't know.  There are no easy answers to how to stay married for 40 years.  Those many lifetimes together have sometimes just been an endurance race....hanging in there.  And sometimes I have thought about what my life would be like without him, losing myself in a fantasy of singleness, freedom, no more negotiating and compromising....and it feels both liberating and lonely. At other times those many lifetimes together have just been the air I breathe.  I am so connected to this man and our marriage that without him I'd feel cut loose in space, floating forever alone, unable to ground myself in all that I have known and loved, without him by my side.  I know how that sounds.  I still mean it.

We are a couple; we love each other; we re-commit every single day that we wake up together and move through another day together and go to sleep at night together.  We are here, companions on this path.  We aren't going anywhere else.  We don't know what future lifetimes await us -- certainly there will be joy and challenge, just as there always has been.  Our desire now is to be fully present in each moment, moving into our Eldering years with grace and gratitude, together.  We'll do our best; life will do the rest.

At least, that's the view from here....©


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

THE CAMP LIFE

Today's word: ambivalent.  About what?  Well, as I sit to write this post I could go in any number of directions and find ambivalence lurking.  But for today our topic, dear readers, is camping.

Yes, camping.  Something legions of folks seem to enjoy immensely given the traffic jam that has become our State and National Parks.  Reservations made a year in advance for a tiny patch of dirt and grass and a few trees are necessary at the most popular destinations.  I'm afraid I don't really get it.

Last weekend we took to the woods on a family camping trip an hour north of where I live.  We spent a few days packing up "the rig" -- our truck and truck camper -- with ample supplies of clothing, dishes, utensils, cookware, food, drink, lawn chairs, firewood, tarps, hiking poles, grill, bug spray, and toys (plus books and crocheting -- for me -- for possibly sleepless nights).

We drove to the campsite and "set up" under gray skies, having endured an impressive thunderstorm and driving rain at home only a few hours prior to our departure.  We gazed upward with some anxiety, but decided it had mostly blown over.  Mostly.

Shortly after Son One and his family arrived, and their tent was set up next to our rig, and we were about to settle in for a nice picnic dinner of grilled salmon, the thunder started to roll again, the skies darkened even more and sprinkles started to fall.  We "girls" headed into the relative comfort and shelter of the camper while Hub and Son One put up a tarp while caught in steadily increasing rain, loud claps of thunder, and too close-for-total-comfort lighting strikes.  The tarp was held in place with a startlingly complex and weblike number of ropes tied to various trees, truck, camper, and shrubs.  I give it to them, it was impressive.  We ate inside the camper.

Finally the rain stopped and we ventured out.  The tarp protected us from dripping branches and we enjoyed a nice campfire, although the smoke from any campfire, no matter where I sit, tends to blow right in my face and I worry about breathing all those carcinogens in addition to finding "eau de smokey" not a fragrance of my liking.  Still, spirits were high.

Then the Burlington Northern freight train rolled by, about 200 yards from our campsite on a busy set of tracks obscured by trees and behind a barbed wire fence, but when that whistle blew and the wheels clickity-clacked over the rails, I swear it sounded like it was pretty much coming through our campsite.  This happened about 10 times a day.  And night.

But we persevered.  Next day the sun peeked out and we had a beautiful family  hike.  It was terrific fun hiking upward through a lush NW forest to a look out over the vast expanse of sea dotted with islands in the distance between the U.S. and Canada.   We came back to the campsite to enjoy some lazy late afternoon quiet time.... well, except for the trains, and what seemed to be a family reunion behind us at the adjacent campsite, and the steady stream of cars, trucks, RV's, kids on bikes, camp rangers, dogs, dogs, dogs, and an infestation of raccoons with no qualms about daytime strolls into the campsite to see what was for lunch.

So it went on like this...times of great fun, connection, natural beauty; and times, for me, of wondering...Why?  Here's the thing.  We are very fortunate to live in a beautiful home, with a view of the city, mountains, and bay.  We have a forested greenbelt behind us and a large yard with no neighbors on two sides and other neighbors, who are quiet and well-behaved, a fine distance away.  We have a covered porch, with a view, and a heater in case it is chilly when we sit out there.  We have a very comfortable bed and a large bathroom and a fully equipped kitchen.  We have lots of entertainments at hand.  It is more comfortable, more convenient, quieter, and more private AT HOME than it was in that campground.

I hate how I sound.  I don't want to be "that person" for whom roughing it is the Marriott.  (HAHA)  But, alas, I sort of like my creature comforts, the warmth and familiarity of the home I've created, the beauty surrounding me where I live, the quiet I'm enjoying right now as I sit to write and hear birdsong from the open deck door.

On the other hand, I loved the hike, the beach and tide pools at low tide, the novelty of our family enjoying time together away from home, the joy on "Angel's" face as she experienced the wild freedom of living outdoors for a couple of days, and most especially the S'more's for lunch, which I almost never make over the stove at home.

I know some of you will admonish me for going the State Park route, where all of the noisy, crowded, annoying encumbrances I've mentioned are to be expected.  You might suggest I put as many belongings as I can carry into a metal framed pack, strap it to my back, and take off for the wilderness.  I suggest you get a clue.  I am no way going to do that again.  Been there.  Not going back.

So, I know I will continue to camp on occasion.  I really can't complain too much about the camper -- it is quite comfortable.  It's just that I still don't really get the allure of parking in the woods for the weekend.  But I do love the smell of a pine forest, an open meadow of wildflowers, the vast expanse of a Pacific Beach, the sound of crashing waves, the open vista of a high country highway....so if camping gets me all that, I guess I'm still "in", even if somewhat reluctantly.

At least, that's the view from here...©


Friday, July 6, 2012

MOM



These 6 days in July are a tough time for me.  July 4, 2008 was the last time I talked to my mother, saw her smile, held her hand and felt her squeeze mine back.  July 5, 2008 was the day she had a massive cerebral hemorrhage, likely wiping out  at least the meaningful consciousness we identify with healthy brain functioning, except for that part that keeps a body breathing.  July 10, 2008 was the day she died, hanging on far longer than doctors, nurses, or Hospice workers thought she would.

So, these bright summer days so associated with fireworks, parades, picnics, and beach-going remind me instead of shock, sadness, loss, and grief.

My relationship with my mom had historically been a complicated one from my perspective.  She was complex -- at turns rigid, judgmental, and opinionated, while also generous, creative, loving, and gentle.  She loved her family above all else, and what felt like judgement came from a place of worry and care. She often had a glass half-empty perspective on life, expecting the worst.  She came by this stance honestly, based on the hard times of the Great Depression, which formed her, as well as life experiences she'd encountered as an adult.  I felt, at times, that she was hard to please, hard to know, hard to understand--at least when I was also trying to find myself, my way, my identity.  In my youthful arrogance, I was determined NOT to be like her.  (The laugh's on me, of course.)

After my dad died in 1994, she seemed to mellow, and allowed herself to be more vulnerable, admitting she was lonely and depressed.  I lived 2000 miles away.  Together we made a plan, in 1996, for her move to the Northwest, finding a home for her 2 miles from my house.  For several years we were able to finally have a relationship based on mutual love and respect.  I guess we'd both mellowed -- me into a middle-aged realization that life doesn't always go as planned; she into elder years of more ease and acceptance.  We had fun together -- women sharing and connecting about "woman stuff".

And she seemed content.  She spent her time with a few friends in her neighborhood, went to church, took the bus to the Mall, worked in her garden, decorated her home, wrote her historical fiction, walked 2 miles a day, ate well, did her crossword puzzles, sewed, read voraciously, spent lots of time with me and my family.  In other words, she did everything "right" in terms of commonly reported tips on remaining healthy and active into our elder years.

Still, I started to notice the changes in 2003, when she was 83 years old.  Over the next two years she gradually started sleeping late into the morning, not eating well, neglecting her housework, sitting in the same chair for hours on end, forgetting to take her medicines, having trouble with her finances, and becoming addicted to sending money to any charity and sweepstakes "come on" she received in the mail.  At each change, along with an increased number of medical issues, I was vigilant in trying to find the cause and to mediate any deficits.  I was DETERMINED and CONVINCED she would return to "normal" once we figured out what was causing this disruption in the mom I knew.

Finally it became clear we were dealing with a "new normal" -- one with the name "vascular dementia".  The neurologist said the changes in gray matter he saw on MRI and CAT scans were consistent with the damage a life-long smoker does to their brain.  My mother never smoked, but she lived with smokers for most of her life, from childhood until my dad died.  Don't believe second-hand smoke isn't harmful to those around you; it is.

She moved from her small home to an assisted living facility until she needed even more assistance than they could offer, then again to an Adult Family Home.  I was so fortunate to find absolutely lovely and loving places for her to live in both instances, close to my home.  Over the 5 years of her gradual decline into increasing dementia I suspected, as did the doctors, that she may have been having small strokes.  Eventually she could not walk unaided and her confusion at times was profound.  I was often sad and disbelieving that this was happening to her.  It didn't seem fair; she'd always been the picture of health and vitality.

Gradually, however, I gave up on the "fairness" argument and began to see the gifts in the new mom before me.  She was unfailingly polite and even happy, no longer worrying herself with the "what if's" that had plagued her throughout her life.  She was always delighted to see me and my family, joked with her caregivers, enjoyed her housemates for the most part, had a childlike joy and wonder over the most mundane of events, was up, dressed, and a part of the life of the home in which she lived every single day.

Until that day when she wasn't.  She always said she didn't want to "linger" and hoped the end would be fast and painless.  It was.  She had that massive stroke while getting ready for bed and never regained consciousness.  She hung on for several days, quite unexpectedly, until the Hospice nurse suggested there might be some "unfinished business".  Indeed.

The rest of her family had become geographically far flung; she had not seen most of them in many years.  The day before she died, I called each of them on the phone and asked them if they wanted to talk to mom/grandma.   The Hospice nurses said we never really know what a comatose person can understand -- words, the sound and cadence of a voice, a gentle touch -- maybe on some level beyond our comprehension there is a consciousness still aware.  I held the phone to her ear as each member of her family spoke to her, offering her their love and gratitude.  It might be coincidence, I know, but I choose to believe this connection allowed her to let go peacefully and with assurance that all was well in the world she was leaving.

So I think of her these early July days and of that time 4 years ago when I sat vigil at her bedside, holding her hand, resting my head on the pillow next to hers, singing Happy Birthday to her a month shy of her 88th, telling her how much I loved and appreciated her, asking her forgiveness for my naive judgements of her, and telling her I would do my best to be happy, which is all she ever wanted for any of her children.

It's all any mother wants.

At least, that's the view from here....©

Monday, July 2, 2012

"FRIEND" ME SOMETIME!


I'm on shaky ground here, because I'm no expert.  I just think it's sort of self-defeating, and silly, to simply refuse to understand and use 21st century technology.

Last week, when volunteering at the agency where I used to work, I was charged with downloading some confidential information onto a "thumb drive" to be hand-delivered the next day to the person at the agency headquarters responsible for collecting this information.  My counterpart in one of the other offices simply typed the information and delivered it as a "hard copy" because she was not familiar with a thumb drive or how to get information onto it, making to necessary, then, for someone else to get the information into a useable electronic format.  Something so easy to learn became, for her, a barrier to following workplace procedure.

I also know folks who refuse to use Facebook (and lots of other social media sites) because they don't know how to sign up, post status updates, upload photos, and/or are afraid of privacy issues.  Same is true for using "smart" phones,  texting, MP3 players, tablets, e-readers, GPS devices, DVRs, Skype capabilities.....the very stuff of modern connection and communication.

I held out on Facebook until my niece convinced me to try it.  It felt weird and foreign at first.  Now I am a daily poster and look forward to "seeing" my friends there too.  I have found, and been found, by people from other places and other lifetimes ago and it's been a wonderful and ongoing re-connection. I have my privacy controls tamped down as best I can, and otherwise don't worry too much about it.  (When I was a kid, we still had a phone system with party lines --- nosy neighbors could listen in then too, mining information about our family and reporting it hither and yon if we weren't careful.  So I try to be careful, but not paranoid).

Some lament that these electronic relationships are not "real" and leave us unable or unwilling to have face-to-face relationships.  I disagree.  I have found many places of connection with people on Facebook whom I do not see often or know well in real life, but for whom I have developed a fondness and caring through our virtual sharing together.  I am genuinely happy to see these folks at the grocery store or farmer's market and immediately have something to say to them about what is real in their lives -- something that I wouldn't have known otherwise -- instant deepening of connection.  And if my 24- year-old son is any example, his electronic relationships have in no way hampered his ability to have legions of friends and a full social calendar in the real world.

I notice that there is a definite generation gap in this refusal to understand and use technology.  Youngers have no such hesitation, qualms, or feelings of incompetence.  If they don't utilize some form of technology available to them it's based on some other reasoning, but not on an "I don't know how and I refuse to learn" attitude.

And it's this attitude with which I take exception.  Why elders would choose to opt out is a mystery to me and one that may result in further feelings of isolation as technology becomes even more prevalent.  We may not understand it and may find it frustrating and may wish back the "good old days", but how does that serve us?  It's simply a learning-curve issue.  Yes, it's confusing at first, and then it's easy.  Just like anything else we've learned along the way.

I'm limping along with an old Blackberry until the I-Phone 5 comes out.  I will find it initially frustrating to learn to use.  I will stick with it.  I will end up loving it.  My e-reader/tablet has allowed me to take a virtual suitcase full of reading material on trips.  I type my journal and other writing onto a thumb drive that I can plug into any device handy to keep on working.  My favorite music is in my purse and I can easily connect it to my car stereo to listen to a self-made customized playlist, my TV shows are recorded for me to watch at my convenience, happily zapping through commercials.  My laptop and my email are as much a part of my life as any other appliance or form of communication.

I am among the legions of fans of the British TV series, Downton Abbey.  It takes place in the early 20th Century, just before and after WWI.  The societal changes depicted there seem quaint and amusing to us now -- telephones, automobiles, gramophones -- but to the people of that time they were often judged and dismissed as confusing, unsafe, unreliable, and completely unnecessary.

Just goes to show you, ignoring the sea-change of culture's ongoing march into ever more advanced and ubiquitous technology may leave us as "old-fashioned" as a corseted countess.

At least, that's the view from here....©