All posts by LSquared

Best laid plans…

While my carpenter and I adapt my sketched plans to the reality of the backyard site and materials, the cat has watched our progress from the window.

Smoky is a rescue and acquainted with street life. When we took him for vaccinations recently, he tested positive for kitty aids. So, immuno-suppressed, he should not go outdoors because he could get very sick. He must remain inside also to not spread the virus to other cats should he be provoked to scratch.

Hence the catio. Here in the bay area, we are feeling spring and I’ve become weary of the relentless pestering of my feline to go out. I am also delighted at the prospect of getting my strawberries in the ground in a protected place. So this project seemed like a good idea…

However, at 4:38 this morning I woke up to the insistent crying — meow, meow, meow — of said cat. As I became conscious, I had no doubt whose voice it was, but it seemed like it was outside, under my window. I sprang for my flip-flops and headed for the back door, opening to rain. Cold, windy rain.

One soggy gray cat came in, hesitantly, meowing weakly. I got a towel and started drying him. He went for some cat food, but quickly climbed up on the blankets on my bed. More toweling

“Well this is just great,” I muttered to no one in particular. “Here we are going to all this trouble to create a safe outdoor space for the cat and he sneaks out (how?) and gets himself a roaring cold. Terrific. A catio and a dead cat.”

This morning Smoky stayed in bed when I left. He stayed on the blankets all day, my mom reports. This evening he got up for awhile but he’s definitely low key. Perhaps tomorrow he’ll perk up.

He has snoozed beside me while I type. And curled back up in a new sleep position. Looks like he’s planning to get better. After all, we have such great plans…

Pink Slime, etc.

In the morning there was a poem, Crows, which reminded me I heard them on my morning walk, so they’re back. They rule the tall hood trees in summertime.

There was a belated present, my ancient marble collection, put in a drawstring bag I gave a second-grade friend. Never thought I’d say, “Google ‘how to play marbles.'”

Then assisting my fancy friend, a girl in that class, as she wrote to a new penpal in Alaska, I found out I’d just missed her birthday.

“What would you like for a present?” I asked. She could have asked for anything.

She lit up. “Pink slime. One time I saw it and my mom said it cost too much…” I have no idea where one buys pink slime, but I’m on it.

Midday, there were readers, unpacking portfolios and talking about books. It amazes me how quickly they can say yes or no to a book. It is like food. You don’t have to hold cauliflower in front of me long before I say, “Yes, please.” And visa versa with dead cow.

More poems later afternoon. I read aloud from Jacqueline Woodson. The writing club reads some poems. Then they had a go at some free verse. Line breaks and writing for sound and rhythm is new to those trained in complete sentences and paragraphs.

“Well, if you downloaded the lyrics to your favorite song, what do you think it would look like?”

“Oh, I get it,” one smiled.

Over the phone I held my youngest who was in tearful exhaustion, still recovering from the flood. She recounted how her discarded trunk of journals had been returned causing her to have to look again at all her writing of 30+ years. Some pages completely tie-dye ink smears, some clear, perfect penmanship. She wept telling me an entry at 10 years old, sitting on a dock wanting to die. She loves her life! She wept explaining that she bagged them all up again – this time not in a trunk – in white garbage bags and let them go again. She wanted my love and I gave it with phone hugs and listening.

Late afternoon I walked the surprisingly hot neighborhood. Mom asked for “a stiff martini” [limit one] so I went to the basement for the hidden gin. Store bought, not bathtub.

My neighbor came over and agreed to the new fence between our properties. This one will face my yard: he hardly sees the fence with all the giant clay sculptures on his side.

My long-lost handyman showed up after dinner to go over plans and materials for the catio. Clever ways to install the cat tunnel. Fence posts in the morning. Yippee.

And the sky got dark so now I’m thinking my day was like a poem. It was poemish, at least. Topped off with frozen dark sweet cherries.

Relief

The implant my mom had two weeks ago has created a bit of space between her L4 and L5 vertebrae and so the pressure on the nerves stretching down her left thigh is lessened. Her pain has gone from a 9 to a 3 on the 10 scale, most of the time. The first week after the procedure when I brought her coffee in she said, “My thigh hurts, but it isn’t ON FIRE.”

And the better news is that in the next two to three months she should feel better as the nerves began to heal after being compressed for several years.

If she needs it, in three months, then there’s the option to put one more Superion implant – I’m calling them spacers — in at L3-L4, I think.

I have held this intention for over a year, after three different pain doctors and 3 years of ineffectual treatment. My intention, thought during my yoga in the morning, and said aloud at my meditation table was “Relief from pain for D.”

If D. hadn’t gone off her kidney transplant anti-rejection medications, her doctor may not have referred her to another pain specialist. D.’s thinking was, “My kidney has been fine for 10 years, but due to interactions, I’m not allowed to take pain meds that reduce inflammation.”

I knew the new doctor referral was it.

This week D. has daily gone to the end of the block, rested on a wall, and walked back using her 3-wheel “sports cars” as she terms her walker. She walks around the house now without her cane. She isn’t pain free and still takes an opioid, but it is so much more manageable.

The main benefit is that she is mobile. This will bring back muscle strength and allow her to not be so isolated. I know it is a great relief for her. And for me it is a big, huge sigh.

Whewww! Holding my intention for the next three months. But breathing easier.

coffee house

I am sipping rose petal tea lemonade waiting for a friend to arrive at my favorite coffee house. I’m in Saturday mode: I’ve walked two miles, got a large load of laundry into the dryer, cleaned the kitchen, and started organizing things in the basement that have been in disarray since my last painting project.

I soaked in the fresh air and sunshine as I drove across downtown with the top down. This is a day I could have pulled the bicycle out of the garage.

But here I am, in the acoustically raucous Crema. The barristas call out over the machinery and some people are talking at their tables. Others have ear buds and laptops. The chairs out front are filled.

I like coffee houses because they are so clearly about time to think, to talk, to hang out, to read…to study and to meet.

They serve good coffee, although that’s lost on me, a tea drinker gone off caffeine. Still I like the smell of coffee and the bean roasting and grinding. It is a warm social ritual.

I’m meeting a friend who is an instructional coach and librarian who wants to talk about livening up writing in here school. This will be interesting. I have rehearsed one thing, to avoid going into my spiel from years of working this very topic in many school settings.

First I am going to research. I’m going to ask questions. I want to know how the teachers feel about writing? What they do for reading? Why writing? What is the strongest value in your school?

I like coffee houses. I think my friend is here.

Projects

“You sure are busy for a retired person!” my mother likes to remind me as I am heading off to volunteer in a classroom, or teach an after school writing group, attend a writing project meeting or seminar, or – my current project – coach groups of 4th graders at my old school using the LLI system.

I had promised my boss last year when I announced my retirement I’d be good for a project and this is it. About two months of being on campus 5 days a week, some days for only two groups, but across the week meeting with 4 groups of readers. I’m passionate about reading and coaching readers, however I’m beginning to feel the cut into “my time.”

Today, now that the groups are established in routines, but not all are getting the reading they take home done, I decided to stop and take stock. They reviewed their first journal entry on their relationship with reading. We wrote “Goals” on the page and I helped them see that the behaviors I point out they are doing to reinforce and the behaviors I model to teach, are the stuff that goals are made of.

Each made lists. And they shared about their reading spot at home. I shared my goal is to have more talking, writing and drawing time for the books we read, and that I need them to take the time to finish reading at home, so we can share more.

Then, my other goal was to break out of the numerical lesson order and have them choose what they want to read. It’s more work for me, but choice is worth it. Every time, it always works.

I gave the quick commercials for four books and student picked any number of them they wanted. Each group packed up their portfolios with a sense of ownership and satisfaction. I think we’re going to have a great reading week next week.

Self-Talk

Rehearsal is often key to a piece of writing as we think how it might go, try out the words and perhaps “dream the dream” of it.

I noticed my mind — one small department in my neuro structure, anyway, plans and rehearses for a class or an event as if I am creating it. That’s how powerful rehearsal can feel. I was watching my thoughts and feeling that I was arranging things to be just so. So what if these stories become habituated and self tell even when the situation changes?

Tonight I was talking with my sister on the phone about pain management and ways to develop a different story other than that one of a protracted struggle. Even when the body gets better, often the brain doesn’t believe it sends out the same messages.

One thing a Dr. Alexander did, who had been a back surgeon who became a patient requiring back surgery during his life…one part of his recovery was to write daily. Fifteen minutes, free write — meaning any subject, any stream of consciousness. Writing helped him re-map his mind’s imagery and his pain.

Peter Elbow, of course, is an advocate for free writing within composition or writing courses for the many benefits it brings to developing writers. I had never thought of the wider idea that free writing could be a way for the mind/body connect to re-wire in some way. Hm, I wonder?

I do know that free writing is good for my moods and brings clarity often to things which I cannot sort in my usual cognitive mode.

And, after talking to my sister, I began to think about the seemingly simply but powerful effect of studying kriya yoga and meditation. The simple instruction, in addition to setting time aside to sit, is to pay attention to the quality of my thoughts. And commit to being happy.

That’s done a bit of re-education in my brain. So now I want to learn more about ways that my dear mom, who has gotten some relief from a device implanted in between two vertebrae, how she might benefit from release from her brain’s long conditioned response as she has suffered debilitating pain. With writing. With releasing tension. With posture.

It seems simple, but I suspect there’s more to it. Not meaning complexity, but efficacy.

Birthday greetings

Timing is everything. I was so glad that my sister’s card arrived at the same time the other evening as my obligatory birthday card from my primary care doctor at Kaiser Permamente.

Why does a message about “What is My Doctor Online app?” and a photo of my doctor and a code to scan to view the home page for Adult & Family Medicine Department not bring me joy?

Nor did opening a browser this morning to see Google spelled out in birthday candles make my heart sing. Rolling my cursor over it wished me Happy Birthday by name, which I found chilling.

However, my Sis wrote me. Besides the curious, fluffy bird amidst exotic leaves on the card, captioned “Wonder is the beginning of wisdom. – Socrates” — her words made me dance for joy. She began:

I wonder, “What makes this a birthday card?” The beginning: [insert wisdom here.] Is a birth really a day? The future is hope, desire, intent. The past is meaning, identity. Birth is the wave of ceaseless becoming, aka eternity.

But to quote the Dalai Lama, “Pigeons sit.” Human becoming requires identity and intent, Bergson’s duration. As sublime as sit may be, it must bring the goods. Product, Baby! What does Be do? Oh, pigeon poop, did we ask to be born? — I don’t recall. [the end of wisdom]

But whether beamed whole as Universe (B. Fuller) or Darwin’s genetic wheel of fortune spun for the umptieth time…

Yes, life is good with love and wisdom, wit and a hilarious sister who writes to me.

This morning the organic Veggie Box was delivered to my porch fresh from the farm. I ordered chocolate babka (handmade bread that reminds me of pain au chocolate in Lyon) so I started on a slice for breakfast — and did not do yoga.

When I wandered out into the dining room I saw a green rabbit felt bucket with a bottle of Prosecco and a card from my dear Mom. We’ll have a few bubbles this evening. As I told my daughter on the phone last night, “I’ll be working all day,” when she asked she might drive down midday during her work schedule. Yikes, 99 miles in bay area traffic. We postponed a get together, but goodies are in the mail. And my other daughter and granddaughter will be going out with mom and me on Sunday. Instead of doing the St. Patrick thing, we’ll be enjoying sumptuous vegan food at a local restaurant.

So, yes, these little gifts and words of love do help. They offset the cold reality of aging and push back fears of facing medical mysteries. They remind me I am loved.

Which is something I forget easily.

Today

As I was leaving to take mom to her doctor appointment, I passed our feline who was shading his eyes to sleep better in the midday light.

This pose, besides being endearingly cute on a British Blue, speaks to how I felt today and still feel sitting down to write. I have functioned. Doctor appointment. Groceries. Meeting with co-director. Meeting with writing project team. Dinner. But with one paw over my eyes.

It is as if I have been trying to withdraw into my own space, shielding myself from input. Probably a good night’s sleep will cure it.

Just a sliver today. Perhaps tomorrow, a big juicy slice of life.

What I really want

About eight years ago, I self-assessed minor depression and asked my PC doctor to refer me to a therapist.

“You want drugs? I’ll give them to you,” he offered.

“No thanks, just need someone to talk to.” And so I had my first appointment. It was early summer and my school year had been intense — I did a masters in ed in math problem solving within the year while I taught full time and worked with SJ Writing Project.

Our first appointment didn’t go well, in my opinion. I was expecting someone to help me unravel my mind and offer solace and advice. Ha! The therapist leaned back and asked me what I want.

“Until you know what you want, we can’t get anything done,” he said folding his arms. My time was up so I took my nervous wreck out to the parking lot. Part of me was feeling gypped the other part ticked off.

Our second appointment was postponed which gave me a bit of time to realize I could write to myself about what I really wanted. Then write a letter to my future self naming what I accomplished.

It was stomach wrenching felt sense to begin with “I want….” and free write. And keep writing to that prompt. My guts were in turmoil because I usually asked what others wanted. It was a big shift with feelings of lost time.

So, the next appointment I came in, with the self-check on depression showing I’d changed, and two letters for the therapist. He tried to hide his surprise. He read them over and made a few comments. Then we had this great talk about middle age crisis and why I was not having one. He clearly supported me and said he preferred I’d get that new position and fly to France than come see him.

WIRW. This prompt has served me for centering for discovering since then, I was just leafing through one of my many unfinished journals and found a 10 minute write last May.

Here are some excerpts that ring true still:

I really want to hit the groove where it’s truth and love and it — my material is mine, with credits to awesome mentors, of course. This means I want balance between the inner and outer.

I want to read til my eyeballs roll up inside my head. I want to draw until my mind fizzles and write til I ache — and still do good to others in the real world.

I want to think unthinkable thoughts. Let stray ideas that need to be reunited merge and meld. I want to love more deeply and be way less attached. I want to take down that dumb wind chime.

I want to live off gratitude. I want to show up. I really want to let wanting go and move from something deeper.

I don’t want to die without being the person I came here to be I want to not want. I want to be. I want to truly belong and yet stand alone.

I think I’ll try that prompt again, soon. Meanwhile, there are blogs to read and comment on and dinner for my dear Mamma. And I’m only a third of the way into The Source of Self-Regard, by Toni Morrison. That will be a joy this evening.

Gauguin

A neighbor friend took me along to the De Young this morning on an extra ticket to see the Gauguin exhibit. I hadn’t looked at his paintings since the Carrières de Lumières in Les Baux-de-Provence, FR almost eight years ago.

And this exhibit featured wood carving, pottery and realia as well as some of Gauguin’s paintings. This curation told the story of his ambition.

I find it interesting to see what lands on my eye and mind at any given time, like when I walk a beach and tune in to a certain color shape or kind of shell or rock. My collection at the De Young today was more focused on Gauguin’s early paintings — and instead of the Tahitian portraits in lavish color, I tuned in and found myself re-visiting his almost-monochromatic snow scenes.

These paintings are not large or showy, but I detected that fresh beginner’s mind, the joy-in-the-paint as well as the study of the subject. They were lovely.

I was surprised to learn how intentionally Gauguin was promoting his later work in the tropics as something spectacularly new to the art world. However, his first portrait of a Tahitian woman was European painting through and through. Self-conscious portraiture.

A stock-broker deciding to become a painter is an interesting career turn, and I found his early works full of a natural feel for pigment and light. The self-conscious, moody paintings of his Tahitian companions (while his wife raised 5 children alone) seemed colder in a way. I had expected warmth. Vibrancy. They had a dark tone.

When I saw close-ups of some of his exotic paintings seven years ago in the Caves of Light show, combined with Van Gogh’s paintings and an incredible mix of classical music, the liveliness of painting showed up. But today in the gallery, his later work looked sad to me, even with bold colors.

And, odd as it seems, I found more play and sense of freedom in his early oils.