Incoherence

4DF4DF54-9C52-401E-9842-69A7A87EABFESometimes there’s just no making sense of anything. Despite all your best efforts to weave the random events of a life, a culture, a world, a planet, into an orderly cohesive structure, it just doesn’t work. I’ve been grappling with this for days. My brain is hopping from thing to thing. My main personal assignment right now is to continue writing the family history I’m working on for my kids and theirs. Mentally, I’m supposed to be in Chicago during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, writing my memories from about age 10 to my high school graduation at age seventeen.F20D1F5F-E101-43AD-96ED-EFE273E84C20

I’m not at a loss for what to write. Instead, I’m doing exactly what I always promised myself I wouldn’t do – I’m censoring myself. I’m trying to sort out my principles, my morality. I have plenty to say about that period in time. Some of the characters in my stories are dead. I don’t have to worry about exposing anything about them. But others are alive and even if they’re not part of my current life, the people who are still part of theirs are out there and I don’t want to create any issues between them, between me and them or any other variation on those themes. I’m funny about that stuff.F5C5C750-9AAD-444A-AD0F-51DAA432FBF5

My dad called me a weasel. My husband said I was the most larcenous individual he ever met. When I’m on a mission to get what I want, I’m relentless and a rulebender if not a rulebreaker. But I have my moral standards and one of them is to be protective of the privacy of others, especially if it’s been clear that their need for privacy is one of their most serious issues. It’s funny. I grew up in a family which had a widely varying degree of openness about personal matters. Some of the crew never wanted a word uttered about themselves to anyone. Others were more flexible or rather, more inconsistent about what could be shared. It all depended on the day. My mom was an interesting mix. She was a talker and often, inappropriately so. But she had invisible lines that made knowing what was open game for conversation confusing. She complained a lot about how close-mouthed my dad was, and ranked all four of her kids in terms of how much dad we had in us. I was the most open talker. After thinking things over, I realized that a lot of secrets people kept were fairly insignificant and often led to people being cut off and unhappy. Some of them even fretted themselves into ulcerative colitis.9604938E-E72F-41B6-BB1A-F4D89868CCE6

I shared a lot. But not everything.  I actually enjoyed realizing that most people figured they knew me really well while I was holding back some information that would have surprised them. That outgoing style was a good cover. I’m truly quite good at keeping secrets. My daughter calls me the vault. But my family of origin was different. Both my parents told me to never, ever put anything important in writing. That didn’t suit me at all. I wrote all the time. But in fairness, I’ve kept a copy of every significant letter or essay in which I’ve exposed myself. Insurance. I wanted to make sure that I had evidence to support myself in the event someone might question me. I’m all about paper trails. But anyway. Juggling these decisions has done a bit of a number on me. I used to write all the time in my head and never get any of it out because of quandaries like this. To me that’s going backwards. So I’m just going to share a bunch of random, disorganized thoughts in a stream of consciousness way until I make up my mind about how to go back and pick up my other task.A82A2253-FC49-4ED5-ADC6-F0FFD85424C3

I’ve been grumpy for days. I set myself up for this all the time. I have a lifelong habit of going to the mat for people in both big and little ways. I remember events from long ago that still have significance to me, but that have faded into the distant past for some people. When I was once important, I’m not so much any more. My time as a caregiver took me way out of the social loops I used to occupy in one way or another. So even though I’m trying to rejoin some of the circles I used to be in, I’m way out of those spheres. I’ve had some disappointments lately which made me feel excluded. I have to remind myself that if I’ve done, or if I choose to do something, it needs to be because it’s what I’m requiring of myself. No expectations on what the return will be. That’s a losing game. I’m up against a long history of being trained to keep score. My mom kept tabs on all kinds of her perceived injustices and I can still hear her voice in my head, pointing out the disparities between who did what for whom. Sometimes I forget that I chose not to go that route. On my emotionally sensitive days, I can get mean spirited and small. I’m not that much different than anyone else. I get to be a loser sometimes. I’ll willingly admit, all this kind of stuff is harder without the intimacy of having Michael backing me up. As fiercely as we could disagree about multiple issues, when it came to the bottom line, he was always on my team. And eventually we were so encoded with each other that it didn’t take much to feel embraced and accepted no matter what. Two years plus down the road after his death, his absence is no less noticeable today than it was right after he died. In fact, as daily life goes on, that secure space, now gone, is more amplified. There simply isn’t anyone or anything that can fill what we built during our 45 years together. I have a strong, independent spirit and I can do what I’m doing. But it’s lonely without him.

So, darling, be home soon
I couldn’t bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled
My darling, be home soon
It’s not just these few hours, but I’ve been waiting since I toddled
For the great relief of having you to talk to
with.

The other day, I couldn’t get The Lovin’ Spoonful song lyric from “Darling Be Home Soon” out of my head – “ for the great relief of having you to talk to.” Yeah. That’s what I miss the most. I keep trying to get it done by all my letter writing but it’s not the same as having someone with an understanding look listening to you speak. When I say this kind of thing, I find that people have a tendency to deflect what I feel.7135BE95-A903-42D1-B517-5E41172EB7D9.jpeg

They send me memes about things like hoping to get back the part of yourself that went with your dear departed. I don’t feel like that at all. I feel whole. Michael was whole too. We were together as equals. The thought of me missing a piece of myself is absurd to me. But maybe that’s what people think, especially those who think they know me and haven’t experienced the crises that I have. If they’re lucky they won’t. I’m mad that I got robbed of my life companion too early. I’d have liked another 10 or 15 years before becoming a widow. I don’t have many friends in my peer group who are in my spot. And those widows I did know have partnered up. That’s ok with me – it’s just not for me.91E74983-E57E-4862-80D2-A7656EA497A4

So I’m thinking back to when I was first going to start this blog. And one of my original names for it was The Observation Deck. Because all my life, I’ve felt that I’ve stood a bit apart, participating but holding back a little and watching, trying to figure things out. Trying to stay ahead of troubles. There were too many surprises when I was young and I didn’t like being caught off guard. I guess that makes me a control freak. For the most part it’s a successful tool for me. But having a partner who made me fully relax for so long has made going back to those old school anticipatory operations harder. I think lots of things get harder as you get older.6AE93DC6-2507-4FD2-80BA-7F9B1BE292BA.jpeg

Thankfully, some things get easier. I don’t care as much about as many things as I used to which is quite a relief. So, yeah, I hate the well-meaning memes. And I also hate when people try to remind me of all the great things I’ve got like kids and grandchildren. I realize there are plenty of people who want those but don’t have them. But that doesn’t mean that what I do have fits into the empty space where Michael belongs. We had ten years together before we had kids and we weren’t freaked out when we became “empty nesters.”96B56929-31E1-41E2-8FD9-854A3FB02F2E

We just went right back to the lifestyle we’d led before the kids came. I have trouble understanding why people can’t just let another person express an uncomfortable or sad thought without feeling they have to try ameliorating those expressions. I find it annoying and diminishing. Sometimes things just are the way they are and people should hold their spot and just be empathetic. Keep the memes and the comparative thoughts to yourselves, folks. It’s ok to be unhappy sometimes.A7DA1DDA-5271-4DD7-99CB-94D15CD5ADD1.jpeg

I went to my classes today and afterward I was hungry for a salad. I went to one of my favorite downtown restaurants and sat by the window, eating and watching people bustle around the streets. A number of them jangled my radar. They were disheveled, they were mumbling to themselves and they were panhandling. They clearly had mental issues. The chasm between the comfortable and the wealthy and the uncomfortable and the poor widens daily. So many troubled people roaming the streets with far too few resources available to assist them. I was on the fringes today, the fringes of my own feelings and thoughts, the fringes of my peers and the fringes of a society that allows for such disparities in its citizens. You have to pull yourself back from those edges when your thoughts start running together and you find yourself incoherent.

Time for a nature break. I drove myself to a lovely retaining pond which was built to shore up the problems of a dirty old creek. Michael and I would go sit there when he was sick and watch the waterfowl, the insects and the native plants swaying in the breeze when he couldn’t travel far. Since that time there’s been an apartment complex built on one side but it didn’t destroy the ambience of this in-town peaceful place. I took a lot of photos there to share in this post. They are what held me together on this incoherent day.

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Full Circle

We all have those epiphanies that pop up unexpectedly. I had one this morning. As September winds down I watch the leaves beginning to fall. My perennials take on the exhausted look of too many hot days with little rain. This, despite the fact that I’ve managed to get myself the biggest water bill I’ve ever had in the 40+ years I’ve lived in my house, a sign of my desperate attempt to coax a few more weeks out of my flowers and shrubs. I do this not only because of the intrinsic beauty of my garden, but to ensure that I’ll continue to have all my winged guests show up to drink their nectar and enthrall me with their  behavior. I’m never tired of watching them. I am never bored. I have to drag myself away from my yard to live the other parts of my life.85774534-4A1F-425F-A26D-E5B54FEF37AE

I fantasize about building a lap pool here. I am lucky enough to have room for one but I know that I might give in to my hermit tendencies and just stay home. I wander around from front to back and then front again, checking to make sure I catch sight of these delicate but strong fliers who are sometimes missing pieces of their wings it are otherwise bedraggled. They perform acrobatic dances on the air, some of which may be mating behavior and others which are about territoriality. I remind myself to look all this up but I’d rather stay outside and look at them.

Today I realized I am the same person I was at age 5, wandering around our yard in Sioux City, Iowa. We had a house there with open space so there was room to discover bees, butterflies and caterpillars, to collect them for a brief time and watch what they did. Lightning bugs were also high on my list of passions. I remember standing next to the tall hollyhocks on the corner, watching the bees disappear into each blossom, emerging in a bit covered with yellow pollen. When they left I’d stick my nose in the flower and look like I’d done a face plant into a mustard jar. I was a dirty little kid. Even in the concrete world of Chicago apartments, there were still grasshoppers to catch in the empty, weedy lot down the street.

A whole lifetime has passed between those early years and now. Growing up, love, marriage, work and children happened. But along the way, my interest in the natural world persisted. When Michael and I bought this big old farmhouse with its neglected double lot, we turned our attention outside and began to develop an environment that met both our needs. We dug and weeded and laid out our individual interests, section by section.89D496C6-4783-4785-91D0-BCA4F38076CA

Michael grew the food, and I grew the flowers, shrubs and trees. He kept things tidy while I hurled seeds and seedlings into the ground. So many hours, working out there, each inviting the other to check out what we’d done.

He was always giving me unasked for advice as I was more likely to be content with imperfect, jungle-esque beds while his were weedless and neatly manicured. Just the opposite of how the inside of the house was with only his desk as orderly as his vegetable and herb patches, and me trying to keep everything else from disappearing from his tossing of random things anywhere. We made it work for decades. Now he’s gone, the kids are grown. After I realized I couldn’t keep up with his vegetable garden, I repurposed it into a pollinator garden to benefit all the species under duress during this time of who knows what climate change will do next?

I plant tomatoes and peppers in his honor although they’re mostly stolen by rabbits and squirrels. They’re doing a nice job of eating my apples and pears as well. Only his perennial herbs and raspberry bushes remain and they can stay here as long as they choose to return. I feel like a child every day as I go out to this ground which feels like the two of us are in it and enjoy the creatures who’ve made this spot part of their itineraries. I’m so tuned in to this space that I wade into shrubs covered with bees because I now believe they know I’m on their side and so they won’t sting me. I guess that’s pretty ridiculous but it feels less neurotic than I used to be. Basically this post is to display what once was, what is now and the portraits of the beauties who’ve graced my days for months. I’ll miss them during the winter but there are the avian friends who stick around all year and who’ll need tending during cold, snow and ice. So here they are for your viewing pleasure, my summer obsessions of 2019. From that little girl grown older by decades but still filled with wonder.

 

Habits

4E4B9974-8225-481C-9C6A-94917EEA5BFAI started making lists when I was about twelve. I know this because I have them. Mostly the lists were about people. People I liked, people I had crushes on, people I hated. The lists changed frequently, sometimes almost daily. Often there were ties for first, second and even third place. When my friend Fern and I spent hours on the phone at night, reading each other our diary entries, we’d sometimes make lists together. We had enemies lists which often included politicians we heard our parents discussing. We had favorite athletes lists and music lists, teachers lists and of course, lists of our peers and family members.

We changed popular song lyrics to reflect our current passions and we had so much fun singing them, especially the ones that were Beatles songs. I still find myself substituting our words when a tune pops up in one of my playlists. You’d never have known that either one of us had a care in the world. But of course we did.2C3C38D7-153F-4A78-AAB3-A00CA2C3EDD5.jpeg

My lists got more complicated as time passed. There were the standard lists that were more like timetables, when work needed to be done, birthdays and events that needed to be remembered, the stuff of calendars. But I had lots of other lists too. In my attempt to keep my priorities straight, I managed to write lists for a wide variety of topics. I had self-improvement lists, lists of books to read and movies to see, lists of subjects to become knowledgeable about, lists of places to see and goals to accomplish. I have a list I call “the permanent list.” That’s the one that has the unforgivable words or actions of people that I’ll never forget or forgive until either my brain or breath goes.

“Michael Quotes”

Right now I have a list of nicknames Michael called me. I also have a list of his terrible jokes and funny quotes that are part of our family’s vernacular.

“Birds of today”
Starling
Blue jay
White breasted nuthatch
Sparrow
Cardinals
Downy woodpecker
Carolina wren
Brown thrasher
Cowbirds
Catbird
White crowned sparrow
Hummingbird
Grackle
House wren
Rose breasted Grosbeak
American Robin
Chipping sparrow
White throated sparrow
Redbellied woodpecker
Red breasted nuthatch
Goldfinch
Junco

I have lists of birds and butterflies that have visited my garden. I have lists that are so obtuse I can’t recall why the words are on the same page. The habit of listmaking is a part of me which I suspect will go on until I don’t. After years of waking up and thinking of the day ahead, asking myself what I should think about first, I figure this was a pretty rational response to the flood of thoughts that’s my typical response to opening my eyes.C08C79FA-014C-48F6-8F4E-6A375951D07F

I suspect that some of my dreams are my subconscious attempts to keep sorting through the ever burgeoning thought stack in my head. Some people hoard stuff. I hoard words, ideas and feelings. I’m aware that the sorting by list is ineffectual at times. For now, it’s become clear to me that I can’t anticipate how long it may take, if ever, to always remember that Michael is dead. I mean, I know that he is. But when ambling through my days there are countless times when I expect him to walk through the door. If I feel like ignoring a text, I always think, wait, it might be Michael. I’ve called my son his name periodically.753F6863-5EB9-4FC5-97F4-980D106C38E2

In our younger days, Michael owned the car of his dreams, a white 1967 GTO convertible. Vroom, vroom. Today I was in a bookstore and saw a thick shiny book on the history of GTO’s and walked straight over to it, thinking I’d buy it for him and how much he’d love it. These moments are fleeting but real. If I don’t like my dreams, the ones when he and I are arguing, it sours my day. When I have a good dream about him, I wake up and acknowledge that feeling before going back to sleep.

September 17th, 2019

 Hi baby,
 
Things are better now. Tristan is healing well from his surgery and Gabriel turned 9 today.

And I’m still writing the letters that represent our constant dialogue over so many years. I can’t list myself out of these deeply ingrained habits that had to do with our life together. Although not quite a complete germophobe, I don’t expect that I’ll ever be without a small container of hand sanitizer in my purse. When he was immunocompromised, I was determined not to let him get sick. I sprayed surfaces with Lysol and suspiciously counted the number of times people touched their mouths and noses and then put their hands on common surfaces. Whatever I could control I did control. Endless hand washing and hyper- awareness. Good luck getting rid of that. I know it’s a peculiar preoccupation to watch people spreading their contagion around but it’s just normal to me now. I forgive myself. I try not to be angry about all that he’s missed and that we’ll miss together. That’s a terrible place to be. I only allow myself those thoughts for short moments. I think my quality of life would truly be pathetic if I got stuck in those mean, jealous places. The list habit comes in handy during those times. I can think of about a zillion things that should supersede that negativity.6A0B79E9-2268-4AE1-BA57-F1B24602A382

Right now, I’m in the midst of other people’s hardships. I’m knowing more and more sick people and I have one very dear friend who’s in hospice awaiting her death. That’s at the top of all my lists now, along with the knowledge that as I’m aging, I’ll face more and more of those sad times. My dad always used to say that if you’re lucky enough to survive to age 70, sometimes you can just cruise along for awhile. He never got there. Neither did Michael or my favorite brother-in-law. All lost at age 67. I’m past that age now. I wonder when my turn will come to face my own demise. I don’t know if I’d think about it as much as I do except for how many early deaths I experienced. Nah, I probably would.3EA763C5-9962-423F-9926-B298CFBE5857

I always expected to just keel over one day like a tree felled in a wood. I certainly didn’t expect to be around longer than Michael who came from a family where everyone routinely lived into their 90’s. I think we’ve all been led to believe that’s possible for the majority of people but I don’t think that’s right. For every octogenarian, there are dozens of people who’ve already checked out.

I’m in the middle of three history classes this semester which are jamming huge swaths of time into 8 weekly hour and a half sessions. I come out of those classes dizzied by the compression of geologic time and long-gone civilizations that can be glanced over and set aside before tackling thousands more years. You realize how teeny you really are when looking at the world in these abbreviated segments. It’s fascinating stuff but absent a time machine, wrapping your mind around the brevity of our lives on a comparative scale is pretty daunting. And kind of comforting at the same time.

It’s only Wednesday and this week, I’ve considered the pre-Scottish elders and the Bog people alongside the Greeks and the Babylonians. We’ve looked at art and religious rituals, at least insofar as archaeologists have theorized about them and shared with us. I’ve been in ice ages and ridden tectonic plates and recognized that the Scottish oceanside rocks are basically the same as Maine’s because they used to be connected. All quite dazzling ideas that stimulate me to make more lists of things to explore, knowing full well there isn’t enough time for me in this universe to get through even a twentieth of what I’m writing down. But the habit is there and so I do it.

Lately because a cell phone makes it so easy to photograph anything, I’ve begun supplementing my endless writing with pictures to illustrate my lists. I have a photo of every place I’ve ever lived in but one because it was demolished a long time ago. I can always think of something new that needs to be photographed.

I have my butterfly and bird photos to go with their documentation as yard visitors. I keep having my storage on my phone fill up because I’m documenting everything. Maybe there’s a gene for this need to list and illustrate. It’s so much a part of me that I was lucky to start early and thus have plenty of writing and pictures of me in many moments with Michael and my family,  including really intimate ones. Ah, the days of the self-developing Polaroids. I was compelled to record. I think my daughter is like me. A record keeper. Maybe it’s a coping skill, a way to not be overwhelmed by the complexity of our lives. We certainly have more than our share of angst right now and I think lots of people feel the stress. So I suppose I’ll keep at it, trying to organize everything and trying not to forget what’s important. I guess I could have worse habits. Even a little Purell isn’t that bad. B3E3073E-31EC-443F-B83F-CAED33AEFEBE

Third Base

57CDAE0C-3087-4783-B636-8656230AABCEGrowing up I watched a lot of movies and a lot of television. Choices back then were more limited and tended to be family-oriented for the most part. Seems like you watched the same ones over and over again. I often find myself thinking lines that came from the ones that stuck, either because of their dramatic power or more often, because of their humor. Having a partner who was so similar to me was great because we shared a lot of the same cultural influences and often spoke in code. I still remember when our kids figured out that a good portion of our conversations were lines stolen from movies. When Michael was teaching, he incorporated many of his favorites into lesson plans.074377CA-E0E3-48FB-B04E-59A411017DB5

I don’t know what I want to do, what I need to do or what I should do. It’s kind of like freeze tag, the kids’ game when you get touched and have to hold your position. My position has been in my recliner lately. The facts of my life kind of belie that image. Objectively I’ve been doing a lot, some things by necessity and others by choice. But there’s an aimless quality about all the activities when taken together, as if they’re just reactive behaviors rather than part of a bigger plan. And I suppose that’s because I don’t really have a bigger plan, which was one of the essential ideas pounded into my head by my dad who repeated like a mantra, “you have to have a plan, you have to have a plan.”06985597-ED9D-4083-BB06-52F8AC0B1D88One sketch was from the famous Abbott and Costello, a comedic duo from the late 1940’s and 1950’s –  “Who’s on First?” Through the use of pronouns they wind up with a hilarious dialogue about a fantasy baseball team that goes in circles and is laugh-out-loud funny. Michael and my daughter adapted it into a political skit about characters from the George W. Bush era and performed it each semester in his history class. A big hit, pun intended. I found myself thinking about it today because “I don’t know” played third base in the original skit and after the recent past, I feel like I’m on third. I don’t know. Usually I know a lot, certainly enough to keep ahead of most games. Lately, though, I’m getting stuck because of a seemingly relentless series of events that just feels like too much. My brain is still operational but emotionally I’m frequently feeling like I’m in a paralytic state. I’ve misplaced my mojo.806EA27A-00B2-48E5-97CC-A6695DCAC655

He didn’t mean an inflexible unchanging one but rather a central guideline to help you shape the direction of your life. How do you do that when so many different things, out of your control, just happen and don’t fit into the plan’s framework? I feel like more of shock troop member, getting sent in to respond to some unexpected situation, rather than someone who’s following a designed pathway. Or maybe like a firefighter, waiting for the bell to sound, announcing where the next emergency is and letting you know that it’s time to fly out the door and do your best. I don’t know. Certainly not much that’s happened in the past seven and a half years has been part of what I thought my plan was. Things just happened. And I’ve reacted.633A7C00-1309-4F25-9B7A-2CE04CD7BBD2

First, there was Michael’s cancer and I reacted to that, along with him, for over five years until he finally succumbed to the disease. As I recovered from that, I had a plan, a plan for honoring him in a exhibition of his life, which took some months and turned out well. But in the midst of that planning, my daughter who is federal public defender, was assigned a tough and sensational murder case. Her job is to provide the best defense possible for all of her clients as is clearly stated in the Constitution. Even though we live in a state where the death penalty doesn’t exist, the attorney general assigned a death penalty to this federal case.77276C5C-3CC0-4AA0-81C5-C015747467F9

So suddenly, just months after Michael’s death, my kid was bearing the burden of being responsible for another person’s life. This much publicized case was a heavy load for our family to carry on the heels of our personal loss and everyone, from her own husband and children to her brother and me felt the weight of her job which went on until mid-July of this year, almost two years since she received the assignment. All of us hoped to find a way to some kind of “normal,” as we continued to adapt to a life without Michael, something none of us thought would happen when he was only 67, a good thirty years younger than the lifespans of his parents and virtually all the older members of his family. So we were recovering. Some weeks passed. My grandkids started school, the youngest beginning kindergarten. I was recovering well from my second knee surgery and started taking a few classes to give my days structure, to learn new things to enrich my life and begin a new regimen for myself.F353B17D-292C-4A9D-A2D9-916F275B73AA

The first week of my “plan” had begun when my five year old grandson began feeling sick. My kids took him to convenient care, ostensibly our first line of defense for garden variety illnesses which pop up unexpectedly.  When the examining doctor said he couldn’t find any evidence of a physical illness, my daughter asked, “are you implying he might have something terrible like lymphoma, he implied that a very sizable swelling on the little one’s neck might indeed be indicative of a life-threatening disease. How terrifying and crazy is that? What ensued were several days of miscommunication with our little guy getting sicker and sicker until finally, he was hospitalized, placed on IV antibiotics and painkillers, and ultimately CT scanned.77F6C073-825F-4138-97A5-BEF4D4CAA02C

What was unearthed was an abscess that required surgery. I’ll never know if the abscess would’ve gotten so large and scary had he only been prescribed antibiotics the first night he was examined. In these days of antibiotics as a last resort because of their having been over-prescribed in the past, now it seems that a logical bit of doctoring has become the proverbial baby thrown out with the bath water. He’s made it through his ordeal as have all the rest of us, but “plans” certainly were kicked to the curb as we all responded to the immediate need. Every family member here in our town tossed aside regular activities to do our part as we fearfully watched a healthy, active kid turn into an exhausted, feverish listless little person.F89E1FD2-1D75-424C-B703-6ADD4B4D6649

I don’t know. Standing here on third base. Now the crisis seems to be past us. But it’s our third test in two years, three months and fifteen days since Michael left us. What’s next? We’re all trying to do our things. There is school and there are jobs and projects to be done around our houses. The seasons are going to change soon and with that will come a variety of chores. Every day I look at my lists and my assignments and note how many I haven’t done a thing about in weeks. Still trying to get off third base. I can flee into nature. I have managed, despite the polar vortex of January and a strangely cold April, to create an environment in my garden which has drawn beautiful butterflies, moths and birds.

My biologist son gave me high praise by noting the variety of species appearing in the yard. We’ve had fledgling wrens, cardinals and robins this year. Also too many rabbits and squirrels who’ve eaten their way through most of my tomatoes, apples and pears. Still, the ground where Michael cultivated his vegetables and herbs, is now a place for pollinators to feast as they move through their life cycles. His perennial herbs remain and release heavenly scents although I rarely cook with them. Cooking has fallen to the bottom of my “plan” list.

I’m working with my rocks and placing them around my yard, labeled with the part of the world they came from. I’m replacing those plants that were lost to the deep freeze and hoping for a healthy return next spring. Sitting in my recliner will feel less like “I don’t know” when it’s cold outside. At least I hope so. I don’t want to be stuck on third base. I need a home run. Maybe if the world cuts my clan a little slack for awhile, I’ll get out of this old school comedy routine. There’s a lot going on in the world that’s pressing and more important than my little universe. But that’s easy to forget sometimes. I don’t ever want to get so self-involved that I ignore the big picture. Third base. Either someone bats me in or I find my mojo and steal home plate. Sometime soon.

If you’re interested in this routine, here’s a link for your viewing pleasure. 

The Silent Switch

0C8C6B72-26B8-4F57-B6F7-C284FFA8F94AI wonder if all people are born equipped for life’s passions. And if they are, is the capacity for them the same for everyone? Does everyone start out with a genetically determined amount or is there an infinite level that is sometimes achieved and sometimes not, depending on what happens to each of us? I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about this. Some people seem like they’re boiling over with passion and others act so subdued that it’s hard to know if they’ve every experienced a single moment of that powerful sensation.467C3065-720B-4130-934F-81C1356DD73B

I think passion has lots of different connotations, both positive and negative. Some passions are conscious and others lurk below our mind’s surface. They can be enriching and growth-inducing or deleterious and damaging to our health. Passion can be enthusiasm and avid devotion. It can be overwhelming in both rage and love. It can be intense sexual attraction. It can be vehemence and anger. Probably it’s combinations of a wide range of feelings and this can be very confusing. I know that I’ve felt all types of passions ever since I was a little kid.9E1265A4-5E0B-4F77-B852-5643A3E24C25

When I was about five, I got a chameleon. I loved it so much I squeezed it to death. What a horror. I was way too young to understand the implications of the potential for destruction associated with a positive feeling. But I learned more and more about that as I grew up. My parents told me I was born loving everyone and everything and that people loved me back. My mom said she was afraid someone might steal me, most particularly my dad’s sister, someone she detested. My older brother told me he first remembered being truly happy when I came along. Sad for him but good for me. I did love so many things with a passion. I loved my parents. I loved warm milk. I loved animals. I loved fudgsicles and chocolate popsicles. I loved playing outside. I loved school and school supplies, especially crayons, erasers and glue. So I guess I started out with my fair share of passions.

 

As I got older, I extended all that passionate love to people. I loved my friends. I started to love boys. I loved sports and movies. I loved justice. So much passion. It wasn’t long before I started getting knocked around by reality. Reality was that just because I loved what I loved didn’t mean that I was going to reap big returns on my passionate investments. I loved school but after 9th grade, it mostly bored me to death and as I went off on my own to learn, my grades tanked. I had just enough natural talent to take me into college but nothing about that structure worked any better for me at that level.

 

Then I realized that the just world I dreamed of may as well have been in a galaxy far, far away. The disappointment from that discovery ignited my negative passions which are still going strong today. Always something to be furious about and to fight against. Fuel for my engine.

 

I loved participating in sports but that brought me negative attention. I wanted to be an attractive girl but my youthful participation brought me the nickname “moose” which had a profoundly negative effect on the joy I found as an athlete. In my junior year of high school I cut 60 PE classes and as a senior, had to make them all up, two for one, in order to graduate. On swimming days, I was soaking wet on and off for hours. But I still loved sports although I became more of an observer rather than a participant. I still have my swimming but at one point I dreamed of smashing home runs and spiking volleyballs for a long time. I made it back to volleyball as an adult, playing while pregnant. Maybe that vibe is why my daughter turned out to be an exceptional athlete in a time that was somewhat kinder to women than the days of my youth. Although not yet kind enough.  But let me stay on track here.EEC54807-67EB-4109-9AF9-ECB2A8D68A46

I was a passionate friend and potentially a passionate girlfriend when I was a kid. I fell in love easily. And I stayed there. There’s another component to my particular brand of passion – loyalty. My husband and my kids always told me I was the most loyal person they ever knew. That’s probably a fair assessment. Once committed to someone, at least in my own mind, if not in actual practice with the person I’ve sekected, I stayed put. I’m hard to get rid of once I’ve made my choices. Despite the fire that burns in me so frequently, I’m not the type to flame out. My burn is slow and long-lasting. A lot of disappointment and pain have to happen before I walk away from someone. I guess it’s fair to say that I have personal standards of how people should treat one another, my rules, for sure. But I’ll bend and accommodate for a long time before I give up on a person. Over the years, I’ve developed what I call my permanent list. I have occupants on that list who said or did something egregious enough so that I know I’ll never forget it, at least as long as my brain is functioning. But for the most part, that list is of those individuals who are beyond my forgiveness. I know that’s not a very politically correct attitude in current culture. Forgiveness is a real thing advocated around me. Being unforgiving is supposed to be bad for you, toxic and unhealthy.

Your Greatest Strength

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Social intelligenceBeing aware of the motives/feelings of others and oneself; knowing what to do to fit into different social situations; knowing what makes other people tick.VIRTUE CATEGORY: HUMANITY

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Forgiveness Forgiving those who have done wrong; accepting others’ shortcomings; giving people a second chance; not being vengeful.VIRTUE CATEGORY: TEMPERANCE

I took a personality trait test from a Yale-sponsored class a few months ago. You answer all these questions and a list of your character traits ranked from best to worst is generated. My best trait was emotional intelligence, followed by loyalty and my worst was the inability to forgive. Sounded right.  And it works for me. Michael was always trying to get me to let things go and be more forgiving. He said my hot rage and grudge holding was going to damage me physically. Well, look who’s still here and who isn’t? I’m living on the terms that suit me.03A68944-F82E-410E-A143-7789DCDA88F3

I guess I got the most bashed around emotionally by my first serious college boyfriend. I thought I was going to marry him. The truth is, I thought I was going to marry everyone I ever loved, going all the way back to when I was five years old. But this was the first genuinely reciprocated love I’d felt as a grownup and despite warning flags about not being ready and immaturity, I was convinced that if I fought hard enough, I could make this happen, even with evidence to the contrary popping up regularly and painfully. We were together on and off for three years. One morning after feeling that we’d had the best night of our life, I woke up to him telling me that we needed to break up and that things just couldn’t work. I was astonished, hurt and enraged. As he made his way out of my apartment, I followed him into the street, screaming at the top of my lungs that he would never find anyone who loved him the way I did and that he’d regret this decision for the rest of his life. My roommate and another friend dragged me back into the house as his metallic blue Chevy Hornet pulled away.5F65EFD7-E3BF-47A6-9D62-9EB1920020A3

The fact is, he did figure that out later but by that time, I’d mostly recovered and was with Michael with whom I spent the rest of his life. Sadly, not the rest of our lives. Michael helped me rebuild myself and to believe that I could trust someone and reestablish my belief that a lifelong positive passion was possible. I’d already figured out that I could hang on to my negative passions about feminism, politics, economic justice, the health of the planet and the like. But I wasn’t sure about people. One of the places I put my positive passions was to sports, both teams and individuals. I could afford to invest myself in those without personal disappointments that had left me flattened and despairing. I picked my loyalties and stayed with them. I had favorite teams and players. I watched everything, football, basketball, hockey, swimming and became an Olympics junkie. As time went on I added tennis and soccer. I still remember the uniform numbers of those individuals who for whatever reason, won my heart. Jean Beliveau, #4 – Montreal Canadiens. Doug Mohns, #11 – Chicago Blackhawks. Doug Buffone, #55 – Chicago Bears. Fred Biletnikoff, #25 – Oakland Raiders. I could go on and on. A lot of my friends were surprised that I was so into sports, as many of them, particularly the contact ones dominated by males, seemed in direct conflict with my feminist politics. But I didn’t care what it seemed like. My personal passionate commitments had  cost me a significant amount of emotional angst. I think I was born with a fairly deep reservoir for giving but I’d come to realize that when I put myself out there, I’d best be prepared to be doing it because I needed to for me and not because of what I expected in return. I’d had a lot of disappointment from family, friends and lovers. With sports, the worst that could happen was that your favorites could lose. The pain threshold for those things was tolerable for me, easier than all the personal disappointments. At least, it always had been for many years. When the silent switch happened, I really wasn’t aware of it at all. I’ve only just figured out that my lines had gotten blurred below the surface of my consciousness because of what life dealt out to me. I was too busy in the living of it to recognize that I’d set myself up for a whole new undoing.

 

So these sports. As a Chicagoan and a southsider, I loved the White Sox. I branched out and embraced the Cubs. I was a hockey fan and I sat with my dad as he agonized over DePaul’s basketball team. Except for golf, I’d watch almost anything. Eventually, tennis got my attention. I watched the women, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and of course, finally Venus and Serena. I admired their skills and grit. But I always loved the boys and most particularly, the ones who behaved well, rarely had tantrums or broke their rackets and in general, seemed to play against that spoiled brat type. No John McEnroes or Ilie Nastases for me.

 

I liked the cool Swede Bjorn Borg, who played like a smooth machine. After him, it was Pete Sampras, who was just a kid when he started and had a long 14 year career, complete with those beautiful serves and the tenacity to keep playing after vomiting on the court from sickness and dehydration. The civilized guys. I made an exception for Jimmy Connors sometimes because he had high entertainment value. There were a few Australians thrown into the mix and the Croat Goran Ivanisevic who had sporadic talent but took forever to win the big tourney. But in the middle of Pete’s reign, Roger Federer appeared on the scene. And that was all she wrote for me.

 

Federer broke into the big time as a teenager and was kind of a punk for awhile. But the tragic car wreck death of his Australian coach when he was 21 was a life changing event for him. Between that and his relationship with his older girlfriend who eventually became his wife, he pulled himself together and became who he is today, a brilliant champion, a genuinely loved public figure and a generous philanthropist. In short, my favorite tennis player.

 

Federer’s been playing for 21 years. I’ve watched him countless times and always enjoyed his grace, elegance and tenacity. For most of those years I watched him and the other players during the four major tournaments, the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. There was a lot of other tennis happening off my radar, many tournaments and point systems for rankings. I didn’t really care about that stuff. I was happy with what I saw, read articles so I had some idea of the background for the majors, and was generally content.67D3E86B-35E6-4436-9182-8DE87FEC1A2B

When Michael got sick seven and a half years ago, that was where I was at. As we processed his disease and what we knew would be a limited future, I was trying to get a handle on interests that would distract me from the constant pressure of anticipating death. Michael liked tennis too and had played for years as a young man. Often we watched matches together. But as time went by and we rode the waves of anxiety, I started to seek out more and more information about tennis. We’d switched cable tv providers and the Tennis Channel was included in our package. I realized that there were all kinds of tournaments and that Roger participated in lots of them. He was famous for holding records in places that had never crossed my radar. And we had a DVR. I started taping everything. When I had nothing to do, I started watching more tennis. I liked other players but Roger was the one. As the months of Michael’s illness progressed, we both labored under the strain of wondering how much time we had left to enjoy our life. Sometimes I drove my reserved husband crazy, wanting to talk through everything all the time. He was in treatment, often tired and in need of rest. I had lots of time on my hands but I wanted to stay nearby, soaking in every minute of life with Michael. So I turned to the box where Roger waited in the DVR. He was such a joy to watch. Healthy, easy and an amazing contrast to my precious guy who was carrying such a huge load. Over time, I decided that who needed a DVR when you could set an alarm and watch a tournament live from Australia, China or the Middle East? We didn’t really have a normal routine or schedule any more so I could make my own hours. As years went by, Federer’s wins or losses began to affect me more and more. The worst time came in 2016 when he sustained a knee injury while bathing one of his kids. He decided to withdraw from the professional tour for months while he rehabbed thoroughly and tried to decide if he could return and play at the championship level again.

 

I was worried about it but at the time I was really focused on the stretch of good health Michael was enjoying so we took advantage of an excellent fall and traveled a lot. I had concerns about some signs of immune system letdown in Michael but as late as December, 2016, we were in our happy place at Starved Rock and life seemed even and predictable. Unfortunately that languorous period was short-lived. By the first week of January, Michael’s behavior was unusual. His appetite was diminished and he had some odd moments when he wasn’t making a lot of sense. We went in to see our oncologist who did some bloodwork and ordered a scan. Everything came back clean. So on we went. Things got stranger and stranger. I began to believe that there was an occult return of Michael’s cancer and began a nagging process that drove him nuts. He wanted to leave well enough alone and I didn’t. We began bickering. Right around the same time, Roger was getting ready to emerge from his medical exile and enter the Australian Open.C43021E2-8E04-43BB-8F52-CC4557C40E4B

As days went by, Michael’s behaviors became odder and odder and I kept dragging him back to the doctors. Meanwhile, Roger was winning match after match. I was up in the night, watching him in real time and trying to avoid arguing with Michael who was annoyed with me. The doctors kept finding nothing. On January 29th, 2017, I had the pleasure of watching Roger win his first major since being injured.E2DDE7EF-676A-4725-89DC-41CED38BC06C

On January 31st, I prevailed upon Michael to let me bring him to the ER to see if we could get him a brain MRI, the only test he hadn’t had. By that night we had the dreadful diagnosis of carcinomatous meningitis, a rare manifestation of certain solid tumors that’s becoming more common as people survive their original cancers for longer periods of time. We were devastated, Michael even more than me as he’d believed the continuing positive reports while I knew something was terribly wrong. We had a 32 day siege in the hospital and then I was able to bring him home in early March. The median survival time for this disease was 4 weeks from diagnosis. Michael hung on for almost seventeen.

 

Meanwhile, the French Open began close to the end of Michael’s life and I continued to watch through June 11th. I remember thinking how ironic it was that Roger’s playing bookended the last months of Michael’s life. When July came, along came Wimbledon. I watched all of it and Roger emerged victorious. That highlighted my summer of preparing for the celebration of Michael’s life which was planned for December. When that was over, I stared down 2018, trying to figure out what to do with myself. I started this blog on January 1st. I was in the midst of planning my 50th high school reunion and also wanted to do a little traveling.

 

I finally landed on the Western-Southern Open tennis tournament in Cincinnati, a chance to see Roger in the flesh for the first time. As he was getting older I figured I’d better get that bucket list item done. Additionally, the Laver Cup, Roger’s creation was happening in Chicago, at the same time as my reunion.

 

I bought tickets to that as well. Both events were wonderful and I was so glad I went. Roger won some and lost some and I felt satisfied. But as time passed I found watching him, especially when he lost, to become more and more stressful. I was aware of the negative feelings but not sure what to do about them. Each match got worse and worse. This was not supposed to be my relationship with sports. I was irritable, frustrated and hostile. I could barely stand being with myself. When my son was around he tried to be comforting but I was basically so obnoxious he’d wind up leaving me to my own devices. I started thinking really hard, going back over the seven and a half year history of Michael’s disease, death and this mourning period. A lot has happened to me during that time. I spent a lot of emotional capital during those years. I spent an extraordinary amount of love on my marriage, so much that I often wonder if I can love anyone or anything new ever again. Even a pet. And then just this past week in the midst of an ugly US Open for Roger, I recognized what I’m referring to as a silent switch. Somewhere back there, as I recognized that my time with Michael was running away, I put a lot of my heart into Roger, a sports guy who was supposed to be a distraction, not someone personal. As his fortunes ebb and he gets closer to retirement I realized that my outsized reactions are more like living through an intimate loss instead of just watching an athlete’s life come to its normal conclusion. I realized that I’d transferred some of my feelings about Michael’s absence to a weird anticipatory despair about Roger’s career coming to an end. How bizarre is that? Probably not very. Roger’s trajectory is another ending, a metaphor for what I’ve been coping with for a very long time. I didn’t recognize exactly when it happened but I know it did. And acknowledging the inappropriate outsized reactions I was having helped me see the need to face this metaphor for what is – a familiar road twisted into an inappropriate level of importance. It’s time to set it back in a more normal place. Ironically, during this week of internal probing and exploring, I’ve been outside in my garden a lot. I had no trouble identifying two adult butterflies, feeding, still strong but battered by predators, perhaps by wind. But still living out there in the world. I was aware that I identified with them. No silent switching in this case. Awareness is hard and often mysterious. I’m going to keep going after it. It’s better than living in the dark. 

 

 
 

The Next Lane

F3B1F693-4DC8-41CC-94C6-C875D825C9CAI think it’s been established that I love swimming in my slow turtle-ish way, up and back, up and back, five days a week. I used to be faster and better but I’m still pretty steady. I’ve actually convinced myself that I could pull a Gertrude Ederle and cross the English Channel, albeit at an impossibly slow pace. Being in the water allows for flights of fancy that I expect can be attributed to a lightness of being that doesn’t happen frequently on dry land. I have no scientific evidence for that idea – I just notice that my mind goes to drifty, fantastical places when I’m buoyant for awhile. Of course, you can always think about realistic things and emotional things or any combinations of those as well while immersed. I certainly have spent plenty of time when swimming along, thinking about who I am, what I’ve done, what’s important and what’s not, whether I’ll leave a legacy of some kind after I’m gone and on and on.

It’s interesting to experience these private thoughts while sharing space with the other water creatures in my space, mostly fellow human swimmers with an occasional frog or insect taking the waters. After you start swimming at the same times every day, if you’re a social entity, you tend to look around to see who’s happening to do the same thing as you over in the next lane. And over time, especially if your pace is comparable to the person beside you, conversations are sparked, first out of politeness and later, out of discovery and mutual experience. These become your people, the ones in the next lane. Sometimes the conversation is like gliding along the surface of the pool, light, casual and not something you’d pursue outside the context of that hour spent hauling yourself along, length after length, side by side. But often you find that you have things in common with these water lovers and relationships develop. Maybe you don’t ever see the person beyond the pool but sometimes surprises happen and you share time dressed out there in the world. Quite different from those people who you barely recognize without a bathing suit, making things like seeing a fellow swimmer in the grocery store a weird sensation, like, hey I know you from somewhere but where?

I’ve had several lovely bonds develop with some people one lane over. Bonds that bring unexpected gifts and surprises. I’ve found people who will listen to me talk about Michael and how much I feel him when I’m in the water where we spent so much time together. I’ve found people who have sick family members or who are sick themselves so we swap stories and theories and suggestions about that. There are the readers who discuss books and the travelers who trade tips and spark new ideas about where to go next. I love gardening and I love art. I’ve found several people who feel the same about those two areas as me and even better, I’ve found artists whose work I love and who’ve inspired me to stretch myself in trying to create my own art and to appreciate theirs.FA76F627-E5C7-45A2-8074-4BCEDCD2AE55

Which leads me to my friend, Melissa. I’d seen her for years and years in the pool but it wasn’t until Michael died that our relationship began to evolve. In the first days after his death, I needed to get back into the water but I was afraid to go at my usual hour because I knew people would talk to me about him and that I’d just cry all the time. I wanted to swim and get back some fitness after the long months of caregiving. So I went to the pool at different times, times when I could be relatively certain I wouldn’t know anyone and would be able to stay within myself and my needs. One of those days, I heard a voice behind me ask if she could share my lane and when I turned to say yes with the caveat that I didn’t want to talk, there was Melissa, a familiar face but not someone I knew well at all. Within a short time I was pouring out my feelings to her about a traumatic experience I’d had with an artist who’d done a project for Michael, a gift from him to be turned over to me after his death. A gift of comfort and warmth. That situation turned out to be an emotional debacle and I was angry and frustrated about it. Michael would have been appalled at how it worked out. I knew Melissa was an artist and her vibe was simpatico with mine. That one conversation led to many others and we learned that we knew a lot of people in common, that we were both people who wrote, loved music and gardens and nature and also shared similar political views. Over the course of these past few years, we now have our special connection, one in which we can share lots of personal things while not being wrapped around each other’s necks all the time. She is a safe place for me and I hope I’m that for her. But her art and talent drew me into a situation I never dreamed I’d be in – the subject of a photo shoot. I don’t have a negative opinion about my appearance, although I know full well that being the subject of a photographer was not likely to be one of my lifetime experiences. However unlikely that may have been, because of Melissa and her art, I am now going to be included in one of her exhibitions which is focusing on women and their garden experience.

After all of our talks as we swam next to each other, I got bumped into the group of women who have a special relationship with their dirt, flowers, insects, birds and all things connected to their piece of nature. Melissa is going to showcase them and their spaces.  I couldn’t be more honored. As the city girl who found myself parked on a big double lot, and as a citizen of the world profoundly interested and worried about climate change and habitats, I’ve spent years working to create a space that provides sanctuary for pollinators, and birds, a piece of ground that abounds with life. I love my garden and have been nurturing it for over 40 years now. Every flower, shrub and tree on my lot was planted by me. That is my accomplishment that brings hours of pleasure, beauty and a haven for so many creatures.

To be included in an art event that celebrates women who are engaged in this effort is truly gratifying. As I’ve looked at the photos, some of which will be included with other women I’ve never met but with whom I share a common vision, is an experience I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t talked to the person in the next lane. So I want to thank Melissa, photographer and repurposing artist extraordinaire, for making me realize that I will leave a legacy that I care deeply about, and that now, it’s captured in her work.FA9B7B8B-79CE-4792-9993-9FB590450E1D

Look around, people and check out who’s swimming beside you. You never know what may happen. C8E44AC5-04AE-4544-A710-1018FC52357A

More and Less

3114AE37-CBFB-4E62-AFC9-9904237C9309The other day I exchanged messages with a friend I’ve never seen. We met in an online Merkel Cell cancer support group. Her husband was a decade younger than Michael when he was diagnosed with Merkel, in his early fifties. The course of his disease was short, less than a year and a half from discovery to death. I got banned from that support group after being in it for a little over a week. I was bringing up questions about emotional issues rather than just talking about the nuts and bolts of the disease and its possible treatments. After I was kicked out, this friend begged the administrators for my email address and we’ve been corresponding ever since. The anniversary of her husband’s death was last week and I always check in with her on that day. I expressed my hope that she was getting along well and had found some space for small joys in her life. When she answered, I felt like she was troubled by her current emotional state. She wrote that we’d both had wonderful experiences in our marriages but that now we had to learn how to live again in real time. That caught me up short.

Live in real time? I’ve been living about as hard in real time as a person can, in my opinion. Since Michael’s death, I’ve traveled alone several times, organized my 50th high school reunion and seen my favorite tennis player, Roger Federer, twice in real life tournaments for the very first time. I’ve been to half a dozen music concerts from John Prine to Pete Yorn to Janis Ian and Paul McCartney, among others.

I swim five days a week. I go to movies and have joined a book club. I’m going to serve on my city’s historic preservation committee. I’ve taken a number of classes, had both my knees replaced and knocked many items off my to-do  list. Isn’t this living in real time? I think what she meant was that my constant emotional engagement with Michael means I’m living in the past. But that’s simply not true for me. Our long and deep emotional connection is still alive in me. He’s only been gone a tiny percentage of the time we were together. And he’s not going anywhere, not out of my head or my heart or my soul.34155DA6-CDFD-4DE8-A4FD-16257815AD53

But that seems to be a point of contention in regard to how people are “supposed” to be after a death. Michael isn’t in my way in terms of daily life. I am. He doesn’t interfere with what I do. He didn’t when he was alive either. And that’s the way it is.  I thought to myself, this exchange is another case of more and less, the story of my life. I am always talking about the things which are “more” while many around me could do with a little “less.”7C5387EE-3511-44B1-8A2E-8FADBD17CC12

I certainly know more now about lots of things than I ever have  in my life. And that “knowing” is not yet close to its endpoint. I’m learning every day. I’ve always been learning. I’m motivated. As long as my brain is healthy I expect I’ll continue increasing my stash of both useful and useless facts and ideas. I retain volumes of it, stuffed in the corners of my mind. And I like to talk about it all. In traditional terms that seems ok. Certain areas of my conversation are acceptable. For example there are topics which are nice and neutral. There’s gardening. Sometimes there’s politics, although I can’t say I’m exactly neutral in that regard. But there’s  school.  This fall I’m taking three classes. One is about current affairs in the Horn of Africa about which I know very little. Another focuses on Persia and Rome and will feature readings from Herodotus. I’ve always wanted to read Herodotus, especially after watching the smolderingly sexy Ralph Fiennes carrying around a battered leather copy of his histories in the film The English Patient. The third is about early Scottish history. I know a little bit about that, but after watching the Outlander television series with the equally smoldering Sam Heughan, (who just happens to look like my husband when he was young,) I figured it couldn’t hurt to learn more. I’m a curious mixture of intellectual and pop culture knowledge – I can disappear into the classics world and pop back into current entertainment pretty seamlessly.B94C3BA8-2B4B-4EB3-9A70-440C3CF33075

I was taking biology classes for a time during the past couple of years. Another socially acceptable conversation topic. But the science class offerings this fall weren’t that interesting to me this semester and frankly, I’ve got enough cancer stuff happening in real life without exploring more theory right now. Fucking cancer. I know several people who are actively engaged in their cancers, some of which are new and others which are old pals that lay dormant for a long time before reappearing in new places to create havoc. Now I’m moving into the “more” arena. This is where things get uncomfortable in my world. For example,  I think that the majority of people who live for a long while will get cancer. We actually have it every day, mutations that crop up at the genetic level but are squashed and eliminated by healthy immune systems. That is, until the mutations get tougher or the immune system gets weaker. After all my years of reading, that’s what I’ve concluded. Some treatments buy time. Others are still primitive. You don’t get to know whose body will react poorly or positively to what is attempted. Until there are wholly individual treatments that’s the way it’ll be. So where does that take me? I try to be a helper and do what I can for those I know.2D66BFC4-FE5D-4481-99DE-5D736D0EDA75

I think about myself too. I have no idea when my turn might come. I think a lot about the advocacy I was able to provide for my family and most especially my husband. Will I be able to advocate well for myself if necessary? That’s one question I have no answers for at this point. I think about this stuff a lot and I try talking about it but my kids don’t like it and some friends are taken aback. They say what I know they intend to be nice, defusing comments that move rapidly away from the morbid topics. I guess that having thought about death for all the years during Michael’s illness, coupled with my longheld death anxiety from my childhood, as I watched my mom go in and out of hospitals, has locked me into what some think is the morbid side of life. To me it’s more practical than morbid. But it’s one of “those” topics that I tend to bring up that is off-putting to a lot of people. When I talk about it I’m not sad or scared or maudlin. I’m just wondering. Death is something that will happen to everyone and pondering it doesn’t stop me from living a reasonably positive daily life. But the death arena fits into the “too much” category.C7C6650C-AAAB-4C93-AD08-12D4691BC83A

The issue of my feeling Michael’s presence so often is another “more” topic. I guess it makes some people uncomfortable. Maybe they think I’m nuts. Maybe they think I’m not living a healthy life. I don’t view other people’s opinions as my problem. I’m open to sharing but am also aware that red flags pop up when I start waxing eloquent about my “ghost.” I can feel that it’s time to move on to something else, a subject more palatable for whomever is the listener.  It seems that I’ve always brought up issues that no one wants to talk about. Michael used to say that if I would only be quiet about certain topics life would be perfect. But I never believed anything was really perfect. Rather, I thought that if you kept working on problems or disturbing ideas like death, or basically anything that caused people psychological discomfort, that the process itself was almost more important than the end goal. I really enjoy thinking and discussing and sorting through virtually everything. I always thought that the more I knew about any issue, the better off I’d be. Michael, more reserved and less prone to the deep inward dives I do, loved me enough to go outside his comfort zone, sometimes kicking and screaming, into places he’d rather have ignored. In the end these explorations brought us incredibly close and gave us the stamina to go through our personal challenge that ended with his death. But what’s perfectly clear to me is that a lot of people prefer doing with less of these internal explorations into what I think are life’s and death’s fascinating mysteries. So when I bluntly bring up one of the off-limits topics, I’ll often feel the invisible hand up in my face and I know I’m supposed to be quiet. Despite the fact that I think we humans share a considerable amount of commonality in life’s essential business, talking about those things out loud just doesn’t happen enough for my taste.C70E956F-B807-48B1-B889-0486C42DCE70.jpeg

There are all kinds of self-help books and advice websites about virtually everything. But say I decide to open up a sex conversation? Lots of people cut me off fast. I want to talk about how dreadful it feels for me to acknowledge that this most essential part of my life is over. I know that because I’m completely uninterested in being with anyone but Michael. But my drive isn’t dead. I’m going to miss intimacy and kissing and being touched in the way you build with bonds with another person for as long as I remain cognitive. But that’s a “less” conversation. I often wonder what other people feel and if they’re still sexually engaged but I rarely talk about this stuff because it feels like I’m crossing a social boundary line. Maybe I am.

I just think there’s comfort in sharing information and feelings that to me, must be widespread across our species. Am I outrageous? I guess some people might think that. But to me, I’m just myself. I’m still struggling with the separateness that I feel when shut down by the unwritten rules of social exchange. I just can’t stand all these implicit boundaries. Still, I have to live in the culture I occupy so I mostly abide them. More and less. Death and illness and sex are apparently for my private ruminations except for a very few people who accept me for who I am. With the others I guess I can talk about taxes and the weather. I’m glad I still feel Michael so strongly inside me. I can still talk to him about anything and he knows I’m living in real time. With a vengeance. Another thing he always told me was that he thought I was very polite to ask him his opinion on an issue when we both knew I would do exactly what I wanted to no matter what he thought. Still valid. Ultimately, I really don’t care what anyone thinks about my choices. But I’m pretty sure they’d like them if they gave me a chance to say more.1BED999B-1077-4C47-B26A-FEBB7332EF73