Posts Tagged ‘body’

mary’zine #68: June 2014

May 29, 2014

41-burning-heart-in-flames--vector-illustration-1113tm-v1I am sick. Lovesick. I got a fever of a hundred and three. Hot blooded. Hot blooded. I wish I could tell you everything about her. But I can’t. I can only write about my own feelings. I’ll just say this one thing: She’s not “gay.” But she’s “a little bit gay for me.” It’s confusing for her, but not for me. I’m a seasoned lesbian. (Everything but cilantro.) I haven’t felt this way in a very long time.

Who knew this could happen at my advanced age? My baby sister Barb turned 60 recently, and now she signs herself, “Barbie 60.0.” That would make me Mary 67.5. Unimaginable. I first felt this way about a woman when I was a mere slip of an 18.0. “Our song”—unbeknownst to her—was “Woman” by Peter and Gordon. It was 1965, and it was the love that dared not speak its name. It was the first unconventional love I would experience, but not the last.

***

I wrote those first two paragraphs a few weeks ago. My fever has gone down slightly, but my love for (and trust of) this amazing woman has sky-rocketed. I can’t believe it.

I’ll call her “she.”

If only life were as simple as Facebook. I could just write, Relationship: Complicated.

My apologies to former lovers reading this. That was then, this is now. No comparisons. Life evolves, and sometimes we do, too. She and I feel that we were meant to get together on the playground (and workshop) of our minds and hearts. We have different—as well as similar—challenges, and we’ve already learned from each other. The banter and light verbal love play are intoxicating, but the drunkenness is fleeting. I’m learning that limitations and uncrossable boundaries can actually provide a freedom to soar above. She says she would like me to find a “complete” relationship, which she can’t give me for various reasons. I’m not interested in that. I’m much more interested in the inner life than the outer, and we are able to meet on that level. Though the screen is our palette, I am in love with the message, not the medium. She is a flesh and blood woman, proficient in the use of language, as I am. It’s amazing how much can be conveyed within that simple, seemingly colorless frame: some tears, some hearty LOLs, a few evocative icons, and the heart and intelligence to meet each other as equals and give and receive forgiveness for our failings. She believes in getting things out in the open. I’m more of a lurker. But I’m learning to love the challenge. One day there’s a misunderstanding—to be expected, since we are often typing at the same time, referring to earlier conversations or a parallel thread. She asks, “Are you playing games with me?” “No!” I stand my ground, assert my meaning. Suddenly “we can see clearly now”: Our first “fight” ends with mutual respect. I remind her what comes after a fight (make-up sex), but alas that’s not what we’re about. It’s a turning point, though, a moment of truth…. We both have trust issues, and we seem to be equally matched in guts and glory.

***

This thing started innocently enough. We were drawn to each other’s writing, and she to my paintings. I gave her a painting when I barely knew her. I could see that she was passionate about it, and the one she wanted was one I had thought no one would love but me.

Past middle age already, the body starts to fall apart. But the sexual flame can burn as hot as ever. The pounding heart when I see that she has left me a message: Priceless. It starts in the loins and progresses to the heart. On the one hand, my heart is sick with longing for what can never be. But on the other hand, I feel the simple joy of being alive and loving, not just her (in that heart-pounding way), but all my friends, and even some strangers, and humanity in general. I’m painting with my feverish heart. The images come fast and furious, and I paint them all, feel them all in my blood.

If I sound foolish, so be it. I am glad to feel this foolish, to have such a strong attraction to a woman with whom I can only relate via words on surrogate paper. I’m being here, now. Feeling what I feel as I go along. Dancing the pas de deux with a beautiful soul.

I had a new t-shirt made with the saying, “as is.” It was her idea, actually, that I would have to take her “as is.” And that’s exactly how I take her, and how she takes me. I have gained new confidence since my recent sexual escapade with an old friend… not just realizing that I’m capable of having sex, but that I want to. It’s been a long time since I even considered it. Self-confidence suffuses my being, makes me both lighter and stronger. This is true even though physical sex is not an option for us. But as I wrote in ‘zine #67, I am burning bright in myself. She is catching some of the passionate run-off, but I stake no claim on her. She’s only “a little bit gay.” Not enough to start a fire. I keep feeling like I’m borrowing Melissa Etheridge lyrics. Or Bruce Springsteen’s. Music is making me feel so full lately, so light on my feet. I dance inwardly and outwardly. We share songs that have touched us deeply. Music is the expression of sex, when sex is not on the table (so to speak). Sex is the heart’s blood. You don’t have to do it, but you can feel it, dammit… even we who live in the land where Puritans came to die.

I’m gushing. I know that. And instead of obeying the writer’s rule to “show, not tell,” I am just saying and saying and saying. And feeling and feeling. It feels good, it feels like almost too much but never quite. I am containing it, and it is pulsing within me. I am having an attack of the heart—but it’s a benign and joyous attack, like Death by Chocolate.

Besides: How can you not love someone who thinks your writing is “sublime”?

***

I love being gay, and it has almost nothing to do with sex (despite what I just said). Someday we will be completely absorbed into the larger society and it will seem odd that we were ever singled out for scorn and harassment. Society’s targets constantly change, while the methods and rationale remain the same. The Irish were the first “niggers” (A Different Mirror; Ronald Takaki). I worked with a woman direct from England who was scoffing at the idea of St. Patrick’s Day, and then she noticed that I was in the room and remembered the first 2 letters of my surname. She quickly backpedaled, but I caught the innuendo. And yet Irish Americans are, as far as I can tell, perfectly respectable now. And so will gay people be, one day.

Being gay, in the early 1970s when I came out, was difficult and awkward in many ways, but I loved living an “alternative lifestyle,” below the radar. By the way, I faced more surly looks and comments in the San Francisco Bay Area than I do here in the U.P. That probably just means that we’re still underground here, not at the top of anyone’s list of people to hate. But I’ve faced down a few men who thought they could stare and smirk and make me slink away with my vagina between my legs. One guy was sitting at the counter at the former Pat and Rayleen’s. I was paying my bill, the smirker smirked, and I stared back at him with fierce dyke eyes. Of course he backed down and looked away, what was he going to do? I happen to look more intimidating than I feel (or so I’ve been told: The enormous husband of a friend of mine thought I was going to kick his ass), so that can work for me in selected situations (daylight, public space, people around).

Back in those semi-dark ages, being gay seemed like a platinum credit card with no spending limit. We could move about, make changes, live our lives with no one being the wiser. P and I bought a house in Marin (suburb of San Francisco) when we couldn’t stand living in the cold and fog in S.F. anymore. The neighborhood was nice, the house and yard were quintessential suburbia, and the kitchen sported a counter with bar stools on one side, which perfectly matched our sense of ourselves as upwardly mobile semi-professionals. I said to P one day, “I feel like we fell through the cracks! How do they let us do this?” San Francisco was used to its “gays,” but Marin was a bedroom community that hadn’t quite registered our presence in its midst. It was like playing dress-up, or “store” or “house” in the basement when we were kids. It seemed like the ultimate payback for the discrimination we faced in other areas: “We will live like you!—not to mock you but because we watched Leave It to Beaver growing up, too, and we want nice things.” This could be the exact strategy of the baby-making gay men and lesbians who get to prove, finally, that we all have the equipment for reproduction regardless of who is paired with whom. Who knew that it would be “Adam and Steve” living in the garden? (“Ann and Eve”? I’ve never heard a female version of this meme.)

Lesbians were second-class gay citizens until we were (for some reason) included in the movement’s acronyms, LGBT and its more complicated successors; and not just included, but first! (For a handy definition of terms, see http://internationalspectrum.umich.edu/life/definitions). Now it’s de rigueur to say “lesbians and gay men,” although we’re still made to feel less than our male counterparts, because their public image is one of “slender, beautiful, and talented,” whereas ours is “fat and flannel wearing.” (Sex guy Dan Savage looks down on us for letting ourselves go. Dig a little deeper, Dan; there are reasons for that.) Men have agency. Women who don’t desire men and are not desired by them are either irrelevant or threatening to the world as men see it.

I love not being on a conventional track. I was “as good as married” for 12 years, and our break-up, though painful as any other, involved piling my VW Bug with whatever it would carry and driving 10 miles south to my new apartment. A good friend who got married when it was made legal in Massachusetts went through hell and a lot of money to get out of that contract.

***

When you’re in love, no one really wants to hear about it. Good friends will listen as they listen to any other story about your life, but there’s a limit to what you feel you can tell them. You don’t just want to give the barest details, the who, the why, the how-you-met—you want to repeat and chuckle over the endearments, the in-jokes, the “you won’t believe what she said last night”s. For some reason, it isn’t enough to laugh about this with your new love, you want to share. And we all know what sharing that sort of thing eventually turns into: too much information.

Lovers are inherently selfish. You’re delighted with yourselves, proud that someone chose you. You get giddy, adopt pet names, stay online, on the phone, or in bed (if you’re lucky) for hours. The rest of the world recedes, at least for the duration. It’s wonderful, but sometimes you feel it’s only a matter of time before the whole thing will come crashing down. The wrong person will find out, or, worse, one lover’s definition of the relationship (an unstoppable force) will meet the other lover’s quite different idea of what’s going on (an immovable object).

There is a certain amount of hubris involved in a new love relationship. You think you can change her life, just as she expects to make a few adjustments to yours. Neither plan may live up to the expectations of the other. Geography, marital status, sexual orientation, and other factors that seem like certainties may temporarily be finessed or passed over, as if the grand belief that “anything is possible” is really a solid basis for reconciling your two hearts. Yes, people can move, marriages can end, and sexual orientation can be redefined, but often these fixes are not possible or even desired.

***

I feel like I’ve gained a new lease on life and all the other clichés that say the same thing. My blood is pounding at more frequent intervals, my organs are sprucing themselves up and getting a new wardrobe, and I feel more alive and engaged than I have felt in years. I haven’t been unhappy here in the U.P.—quite the opposite. But a few years ago I felt complete, felt I had accomplished all I’d wanted to in life, and was perfectly happy to let it all go if that’s what was meant to happen. Now… I want to stick around. It was the farthest thing from my mind that I would ever fall in love again, let alone feel physically attracted to someone who returned the emotional attachment if not the full complement of sexual feelings.

But even that sexual asymmetry can work in one’s favor. It’s lovely to be loved, even if it can’t be embodied. Sex is there when we love the same song. We have been known to break out in lyrics when we’re typing onscreen. Music is in our blood. Our hot blood. My hot blood, maybe “a little bit” in hers. I’m not responsible for her blood, nor she for mine. Whatever’s happening with her is fine with me.

There are, of course, many patterns that lovers tend to play out. And maybe everyone thinks they will be different. But I truly feel that I have found someone who is able and willing to transcend the burden and complications of a physical love and living situation. When faced with limitations, you can turn them around to become advantages. We are both oriented toward the inner rather than the outer. We enjoy and are learning from each other in all the ways that matter: becoming stronger, more secure in our own beings. Working through the baggage we all carry, in whatever degree and kind. You could say it’s just cerebral, but it’s a lot more than that. She’s the only person I’ve found who is both emotionally and intellectually stimulating. Both familiar and exciting. Neither of us was looking for anything or anyone. We met under the most unlikely circumstances. And I will be forever grateful to her, regardless of what happens next.

***

Is that all you can talk about, Mare? Yeah, pretty much… for now. My heart is full, and so is my mind…. wondering at life’s sudden changes of direction. But what seems to be coming out of thin air actually has long-growing roots. A long-awaited bloom. A spring that took forever to get here but is now bursting with life.

Bring it on.

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mary’zine #65: February 2014

February 5, 2014

Well, this is awkward. I had this issue of the mary’zine all ready to go when something happened that completely changed my premise, my mood, and my confidence. But what I had written was pretty inspiring, if I do say so myself, so I am retaining some of it. I wrote about miracles, how they don’t come from outside—Jesus or “the universe”—but from deep within. What I didn’t realize was that miracles can reverse or redefine themselves. Imagine you’re savoring your cup of wine and suddenly it turns back into water. Perhaps the miracle was not the transformation of the substance but the discovery that something deeper is going on. Or you are successfully risen from the dead, only to keel over 5 minutes later from a heart attack. I can’t presume to know what deeper miracle could be at work in that case, but my point is that things are not always what they seem. Even miracles.

To be continued on the other side of my sad air travel stories.

adventure time

Adventure is just hardship with an inflated sense of self—Orange Is the New Black

This definition of adventure suits me to a tee. My trips to the West Coast certainly qualify as “hardship,” but I also have a rather inflated sense of self. Voilà: adventure. Most people who fly across the country don’t consider it adventure or hardship. But they are not me, are they?

When my alarm went off at 5 a.m. on the morning of my departure for the December painting intensive, I wished with all my heart that I could call it off. I sat there for 5 minutes hoping for an act of God, a small personal injury, or the huevos to call Barbara and simply announce, “I’m not coming—and you can’t make me!” This attitude is not much different from the feelings I had in high school when I had to get up before dawn to get ready for a long car trip to Marquette or Houghton for a debate tournament. I’ll never know why I put myself through that. As with painting, it was my choice to participate, to take those forays into the scary unknown—but the part of me that wants to hold back, stay home, stay safe has always been so strong.

I confess to having flown between Green Bay and Chicago without wearing a seat belt. I hate asking for the extension, and the flight attendants on United Express tend to be less than diligent in checking. They have virtually nothing to do on that flight… no beverage service, nothing. They drone on about what to do if the plane crashes over Lake Michigan (which they never say in so many words; they call it a “water landing,” making it sound like a fun ride at Six Flags), but they often don’t notice my lack of seat belt or the noncompliance of the person in the seat in front of me who does not return her seat back to its full upright position. With all the rude jokes about fat Midwesterners, you’d think the regional airlines would invest in seat belts that go all the way around a body. None of this is an excuse for “flying bareback,” as it were. I’m just saying it happens sometimes.

close encounters with the martinets of the airways

The TSA agents at the Green Bay airport are patient and kind. They fall all over themselves accommodating folks, even wishing us an enjoyable flight! This attitude is not known in other airports, or at least I haven’t experienced it.

Flying west, I only have to go through security in Green Bay, but on the way back, the San Francisco airport can be its own special ring of hell. You never know what you’re going to encounter, or indeed what the rules are. This is between 4 and 4:30 a.m. after driving from The City to SFO, getting past the side-by-side signs that tell you that San Bruno Ave. is this way and San Bruno (the town) is that way. San Bruno Ave. is the turnoff for the airport, but it has always been a mystery to me why they don’t do something—perhaps add “SFO” to the Ave. sign—so confused out-of-towners don’t have to make the split-second decision of which way to go. I mean, I mostly know how to get there after X number of years of doing it, but it still makes me nervous every time.

So this is after the 7-day painting intensive. Terry happens to be on my flight from SFO to Chicago, but we might as well be in different worlds, because I’m in first class and she’s back in coach. I even have a different security line to go through. Both of us had discovered at some point that we have been “pre-checked” by TSA (when did that happen, and how, and why?). The only perk I’ve noticed is that we don’t have to take our shoes off, for which small favor I am grateful in the extreme. In San Francisco this time I’ve put everything I’m carrying into the bins. I notice a TSA agent standing near the body scanner, or whatever they’re calling it now, but I don’t know or care what he’s doing there. As I start to move toward the scanner, he stops me and says, with a hefty dash of disbelief in his voice, “You didn’t take your shoes off!” I say, “I’m pre-checked.” He says, “I’ll need proof of that.” I point out that the proof—my boarding pass—is at that moment going through the conveyer belt x-ray, and he says he can’t let me through unless I take off my shoes. It is early enough, I am tired enough, and I’m just plain fucking annoyed enough to want to take this dispute all the way to the Shoepreme Court (ha). But he has been designated the interpreter and enforcer of the rules, a self-contained unit like the baby doll who can both drink water and pee it out. I have been threatened in the past with being “escorted out” for not having thrown my water bottle away, so I know there’s no room for an indignant customer to vent. We are just a few steps away from the conveyer belt, but of course the guy is not going to go over there and pull my bag out and check the boarding pass. I know it’s stupid, but I finally am granted the right to keep my goddamn shoes on, and now I have to take them off anyway? He tells me that I was told I’d have to hold on to my boarding pass. “No, I wasn’t.” “I’m sure you were.” Blah blah blah. I’m not going to say the U.S. is turning into 1930s Germany, but if it were, they wouldn’t have to change much to keep us in line. We are being schooled.

One of the most bizarre encounters I’ve ever had with a flight attendant (FA) was also on the flight out of San Francisco. Because a male passenger had condescendingly (“No, no, no, no, no…”) informed me that I couldn’t put my coat and cane in the overhead bin because he needed to put his ginormous roller bag up there (Me: “I checked MY baggage”), the FA put them up front. When we got to Chicago, we were delayed for about half an hour on the runway because another plane was sitting at our gate. I only had an hour or so to get to my connecting flight. As we’re finally inching toward the gate, the same FA gives me back my coat but not my top hat and cane. (OK, there was no top hat.) When we’re standing by the door waiting for it to open, I ask for my cane, and she says, “I told you to remain in your seat until I see your wheelchair.” (I always order a wheelchair to get me between concourses, terminals, or universes, as the case may be.) This is ridiculous. I ask her why. She says, “It’s cold out there” (in the Jetway), but what does that have to do with anything? I argue with her, and she finally changes her tack: “So what do you want to do, then?” This throws me off, because—what? She asks the same question several times—I guess I’m not responding coherently—I’m hopped up on goofballs, lady!—and reiterates that she can’t let me out until she sees my wheelchair. A male FA then reaches over several heads to hand me my cane. (Although they may be equal in rank, the male in the situation gets to make a unilateral decision. If the sexes were reversed, I don’t think the woman could have overridden the man’s demand).

So the door opens, and I huff and hobble my way up the ramp. Another employee comes out of nowhere and says my wheelchair is waiting at the top, but when I get there it’s gone. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to make it to my next flight, but I give it the old college try. I flag down a passing cart, and the very nice woman driver takes me to the other terminal. At some point Terry catches up with me, and we discover we’re stranded: All the flights leaving Chicago are being canceled because of a massive snowstorm. The last time this happened to me, I was stuck there for 3 days. This time, I’m thrilled to have the misery-loves-company. As we approach the Hilton, we have to be handed over because they can’t take us “out of the airport,” though it’s under the same roof. T kindly pays for the room, but I insist on paying for dinner in the dining room, which costs almost as much.

We are both given new reservations for our separate flights the next day—me to Green Bay, her to Hartford CT. It still looks very snowy, so I don’t have much faith that we’ll get out of there anytime soon, but past the initial delight at having the extra time together, I really want to get home so I can change my clothes. In the morning we’re given free chits for the buffet and have a decent breakfast before parting ways with such sweet sorrow.

Going through security, I make it through with my pre-check privilege intact, but then I’m told I’ve been randomly selected for special treatment. I have to go to another area, hold my hands out with my palms up, and get swabbed for… explosives. Really? I’ve been pre-checked for my shoes but not my hands? When he’s done, the guy has to tell me to put my hands down, because I am at heart a good little rule-follower—isn’t that always the way with rebels? We secretly crave security but fight against that humiliating desire whenever possible.

It’s on the United Express flight north that I don’t wear my seat belt. At Green Bay—not having had a “water landing” over a certain Great Lake—I discover that my suitcase has preceded me, so that’s a comfort. (But why does the plane carrying my luggage never get stranded like the plane carrying me?) My Jeep is covered in snow but starts right up. After my usual side trip to El Sarape, I drive the 50+ miles home, fighting sleep all the way. As always, it is bliss to get home and see my kitties, who are in a flurry, wanting at the same time to (a) bounce around me and (b) run through the house celebrating my return (or so I like to think). We end up in a pile on the big chair and ottoman and sleep like angels.

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… the delight, when your courage kindled,

And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

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Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

****************************************

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the body abides

In mary’zine #62 (June 2013), I wrote about a major change in my relationship to my physical self. It happened over the course of 7 days of painting—or at least that’s when it made itself known—and at my advanced age, it felt like a miracle. One of the signs was a completely unexpected attraction to an old friend. I was burning up with it, but she was hesitant… more than hesitant… she didn’t see how it could work. So I reluctantly put those thoughts aside and tried to see that the important part of what had happened was my feeling. I was the one who had changed, I who now knew the power of long repression of the life of the body, and its release.

 

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lez iz more

The feelings returned when I saw her next, 6 months later. She still had doubts, but then “one thing led to another” (as they say), and we became lovers. She didn’t hold anything back, and neither did I. I had never felt anything like this: We were completely compatible, like horse and carriage, like love and same-sex marriage. We were not afraid, or shy. We were both completely open to each other. She came to visit me over Christmas, and it was even better than before. I learned so much about my body, my expectations, my seemingly bottomless fount of desire and satisfaction. We felt as natural and close as we ever had in our almost 30-year friendship, but now with new feelings, new expressions. We didn’t know what was going to happen, but there was a strong sense of que sera sera, at least on my part. Of course, it’s always easier to trust the Truth when it’s working out so great for you in the moment.

This was huge for me. For at least 45 years I have worked on changing myself. I’ve followed people who seemed to have the truth, I’ve read books that seemed to have the truth…. I’ve had the practice of painting which has given me many rewards over the years, but the reward that has been the longest in coming to my conscious attention is this knowledge that we change, not only from the inside out, but from deep down, below our knowing. And I’ve learned to pay attention to the subtle indications, like when I started noticing I was getting more interested in my family and my hometown, back before I had any conscious knowledge that I would ever (in a million years) want to move back here. Something inside us knows before the conscious mind does, and given time and attention it eventually shows itself. So I say now that I don’t decide what to do, I find out what to do. When the time was right to make the move back home, everything fell into place. When I was finding out if I wanted to live here, I was committed to accepting the truth when it was revealed, whatever it was. I have a confidence in myself now that’s like the dreams I have in which I’m driving a car but I can’t see where I’m going. I panic, but suddenly I can see again and I’m perfectly safe.


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!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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One of the most amazing discoveries we made during the time my friend/lover and I spent together was the insignificance of orgasm. Not just insignificance: irrelevance. What we had was way better than     orgasm. More sustained, completely satisfying. I’m now spoiled for the self-induced orgasms I’ve used as my surrogate “sex life.” This is the opposite of “lesbian bed death.” This is lesbian bed resurrection, insurrection, uprising and rising and rising… a completely different way of experiencing sex.

ooh la la!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

But then—life turned on another dime, and I found myself on the wrong side of the door: the door of Love. She couldn’t “emotionally commit”; it didn’t feel “completely right.” There is no way to accurately interpret what the one who turns away is saying. All the assertions that “I love you so much” and “sex with you is so wonderful” do all but make the mind implode when she says she’s “not ready” to embrace this new/old relationship.img001 copy 8

Despite my assertions about my new-found confidence, I haven’t quite gotten my head around this. I finally have the best sex of my life with someone I love very much, and it’s suddenly snatched away. (When good writers make bad puns….) But I’m quite sure I have not lost the most important thing: the capacity to express and receive love through my body. It’s just hard to know what to do with it now.

I know that life’s pain—of love, of attraction, of rejection—is the doorway. It’s hard to explain what this doorway is. What’s on the other side, and why is it important to go there? I believe that Truth is there, behind the pain, and it is not dependent on anyone outside myself, even a wonderful lover. So: My mission now is to face the Truth—no holds barred, no excuses accepted, and no explanations required.

********************
For a New Beginning

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

—John O’Donohue (To Bless the Space Between Us)

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mary’zine #64: November 2013

November 8, 2013

baltimore love

Update: The highway is my byway once again. After many months of man-hours and dirt and noise and inconvenience, the road called M35 is now paved with good intentions. Fortunately, Hell, MI, is in the Lower Peninsula. My hat is off to the fellas who do this grueling work. It must have felt like Hell all summer. On the other hand, their brothers who work in our few remaining factories might envy them the sort-of fresh air, if not the annoyed drivers trying to get from A to B.

And though my wonderful contractor, Paul K, did not work the roads, he was busy all summer putting on roofs (rhymes with hoofs) and remodeling mobile and immobile homes and is finally freed up to do my bidding. Although I no longer have the ready cash that I used to throw around like confetti (as every once-poor person does who gets a windfall, thinking that it will last forever whether you spend it or not), I need to replace the shag carpet in Brutus and Luther’s room. There are so many stains from their throwing up (and worse) that I don’t even go in there barefoot anymore. So Paul is going to replace the carpet with vinyl, making me and my goddess-next-to-cleanliness niece, if not the cats themselves, happy and care-free. My task now is to pick out a color that will go with the blue, green, and lavender pastel walls that my sister K painted many years ago. The room has become a cat-chall (ha) for art supplies, boxes of old files, assorted tools—hammers, screwdrivers, a drill, a whatchamacallit (thing with a bubble in the middle to make sure something is—oh, level; good thing I wasn’t called upon to name it when it was first invented), two orange metal sawhorses that I bought just for color, a long table, half of which is topped with a comforter for a dedicated cat lookout spot, and a desk with shelves holding reams of xerox paper, on top of which sits a dollhouse exactly like the one I (and eventually my sisters) played with as a kid (which my sisters found at a garage sale), which is not outfitted with dollhouse-size furniture, oh no, it’s a house of pain, sand tray-style, with skulls and other oddities inside and toy men with bad intentions climbing the roof, and on the wall above it is a quilt hanging my mother made me that purports to be a representative pictorial of my life—an embroidered road along which a series of bonnet girls traverse the peaks and valleys from age 0 to about 30, and the weird thing is that most of what she considered valleys were actually peaks for me (like my publishing the Alternative Press Index in Northfield, MN, for no money) and vice versa. At the top she had embroidered “Pilgrim’s Progress” and at the bottom, “The Slough of Despond, the Delectable Mountains,” and got mad at me because I didn’t know the reference. On the opposite wall, above the orange sawhorses, is a larger quilt that my friend Diane L gave me that depicts a colorful series of snakes, not lifelike, alternating with geometric shapes, very cool. In a corner stands a dress form that has been dolled up with one of my shirts, a skull wearing a cap that says Scotch Lobster, and on and on.

Wanna come help me move all that stuff out of there?

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h

If you’re terribly averse to metaphysical speculation, you might want to skip this part. But I hope you’ll give it a look-see, anyway.

I sent my friend P this quote from Robert Lanza, MD (author of Biocentrism; How Life and Consciousness Are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe):

Our consciousness animates reality much like a phonograph. Listening to it doesn’t alter the record, and depending on where the needle is placed, you hear a certain piece of music. This is what we call “now.” In reality, there is no before or after. All nows, past, present and future, always have existed and will always exist, even though we can only listen to the songs one by one.

P replied:

Interesting, so where does “free will” come in—deciding where to place the needle?

So I pontificated, based on my limited (or no) understanding:

No one decides where to place the needle. It’s all happening at the same time and it’s just “what is” at any given point. Like, when I’m dreaming, I’m “there,” and when I wake up I’m “here.” I didn’t travel between the two places or decide where to be, when. When I have a very vivid memory (like you and me passing each other at dusk before we met but when we knew who each other was), I’m there. And when it “actually” happened, we were both there. (One could see memory not as a later recapitulation of a real event but as the needle coming down on that spot again.) “Free will” is a myth that we tell ourselves so we’ll feel like we’re in charge. We can make the little choices, like whether or not to eat the doughnut, but forces much larger than us are joining together (but without intention) to manifest the really big stuff (who we are). Back to the record: We think we are the record, and that we start at the beginning and play until the end. But as in Lanza’s analogy, any number of things can happen that don’t follow the linear “track 1,” “track 2,” etc. You can skip tracks, play one over and over, or even put them into other songs by sampling. For that matter, the people who played the music on the record probably didn’t play it in exactly that order. And they may be “dead” now, but we still experience them as “alive.” Or they went on to make other records. Or several people are listening to the “same” record at the same or different times. It’s more 3[or 4 or 10]D, as opposed to our 2D conception of “born, live, die” on a linear time line.

I’m making this stuff up as I go, obviously, trying to springboard off Lanza’s comments. But that’s fun for me.

along the same lines…

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love is a higher organizing principle than time, but its organization is hidden

I was lying in bed one night, playing solitaire on my Kindle, and a feeling of near-euphoria began to creep over me. There was no apparent reason for this, as I had not been taking any recreational drugs (unless you count chocolate chip muffins, and I do) and it hadn’t been a “wonderful” day or anything. After a while, I started to think about time. (Solitaire is not necessarily a waste of time, it’s a good way to keep the surface mind occupied while the depths are allowed to roam: free-range thinking, thinking without words.)

Time seems to be one of the few constants in our universe. It’s so obviously a linear, one-way phenomenon. So I’m thinking this while I idly tap on the cards, and then, again idly, inwardly, I see, as a little graph in the middle distance, first, the straight line of time, and then, off to the side, seemingly scattered and unclassifiable… love. I gasp out loud. I’m not sure what I have yet, but I know it’s something. Time to put the thinking without words into something more tangible.

Time isn’t really linear, it just feels that way. We “time-travel” all the time. (I can’t avoid using the word “time” in these two ways: the sacred and the mundane.) Time travel is remembering, misremembering, trying to pin down “the now”: Is it ever really “now,” or is it “now” all the time? We speak easily about “tomorrow,” but it never feels like tomorrow, does it? When “tomorrow” comes, it’s still now. So what if, like those turtles, it’s “now” all the way down? a through line rather than a clothesline?

It seems obvious that we grow, both physically and mentally, even as we decay and atrophy. It’s all very pat, this time thing. In 1945 I did not exist. But was I “dead”? When I become nonexistent “again,” what will be the difference (to me)—between nonexistence “after” life and nonexistence “before” life… between 1945 and 2033 or whenever I shuffle off. There’s really no “before” and no “after.” It’s all illusion.

Unlike time, love seems completely malleable, unreal or changeable, unorganized, given away and taken away, hardly eternal, rarely unconditional, no direction (home) let alone one-way-linear. No straight lines in love.

An old friend e-mailed me recently. We used to write each other daily—long, funny letters with paragraphs and everything. But in the past several years we’d hardly had any contact. Time kept on “slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.” When I apologized for being so out of touch, she replied simply, “Love has no boundaries.” Cliché? Not when it’s true. This happens a lot with my painting friends. If I saw Ann again after, what, 30 years?, one of us would surely harken back to our fabulous night of dancing at Esalen. That was an eternal moment in our relationship—a moment beyond either of us. It existed—exists—without us. At the painting intensives, this happens all the time. Time does not factor into our relationships, because we have seen and held each other out of time. If I see a Facebook post from Madeleine, the love is fully there “again,” below the surface but never lost. And so on.

Love seems erratic. If you look back on your life, you can easily make a timeline, establish events all along the line, draw conclusions (on the wall). Time is what happens to you on the outside. The love you have experienced is not in the past tense, it exists outside time, where the structure is invisible, the organization chart non- hierarchical. It is alive, apart from your memory of it, apart from your loss of the other person, physically or mentally. It’s like the letters that pile up on each other when your typewriter key gets stuck. (I mean, got stuck; typewriters are definitely of time, and now fully out of it, except for some geezer authors who can’t let them go.) Love is all in a moment, an eternal moment. Sometimes you feel (like a nut), sometimes you don’t. But feeling is not everything. Love has a paradoxical solidity, an effervescent presence, that time will never have. It’s the organizing principle of our lives. Time is horizontal. Love is vertical. When the timeline of our physical self is cut off, time also stops. But love is perpendicular to time. It is not affected by time. No love is ever lost. No time is ever gained.

the requisite cat tales

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 Pookie lives! Luther and Brutus are still babies! (see gray heap in the center of the comforter)

Diane and I were talking about my cats “lolling”—meaning “lounging around”—but “lolling” looks like they were laughing out loud! But no—they laff on the inside, all the goddamn time.

One morning I was opening the blinds, and I stood looking out the window with my hand on the cat tree. Suddenly, I felt a furry object slam against the side of my face, the tree rocked, and Brutus jumped for the ottoman. I was struck by a wide-body cat! I think he was a little freaked out, like what the heck just happened?? We just looked at each other for a long beat. Then it was over. (He always jumps from the floor to the top of the thing, and it always rocks a little. I’ve been waiting for it to tip over when he does that. I never suspected I would be involved.)

Some of the worst times in my life have been when a cat of mine died or, worse, when I had to decide to put him or her down, to spare it from pain. Radar, who had feline leukemia, died in the night. I waited to take Tweeter to the vet until her tumor broke through the skin. I like to think that Pookie and I agreed on the time for him to be released from his painful lack of kidney function. Toward the end, he weighed next to nothing. We were both sitting on my bed one day, and we just looked at each other. I’m not saying the look we exchanged was conscious on both our parts, or that we had a mind meld or anything. But we had come a long way, Pookie and I. Almost 20 years. When I would return after 10 or 12 days at a painting intensive, his cry of welcome was one of sheer bliss. One of those times, when I arrived home after midnight, I sat for over an hour just petting and combing him, talking to him. He would look back at me over his shoulder and just beam, radiating pleasure and love. Yes, I call it love.

You can’t take time away from a cat. A cat is not trying to hold on to life, like we humans do. We think of life as a quantity—more is more. A cat is always now. It’s for ourselves that we try to keep them with us, sometimes long past the time they need to go.

 

from the sacred to the deeply philosophical

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My friend Liz, who posted this cartoon on Facebook, commented,
“This is so deeply philosophical, had to post.”  I agree.


my “diz-zies”

My world was turned upside down for 9 days—part literally and part metaphorically. On day 1 I got out of bed feeling dizzy. It’s not a pleasant feeling, but I figured it would pass in minutes. It didn’t. It wasn’t vertigo—when the room seems to be spinning around—I had had that for a few hours about a month before. Never knew for sure what caused it, but possibly I inadvertently took a double dose of Zoloft that morning. This “diz-zies” was all on the inside, and it was positional. If I stood or sat without moving my head, I felt fine. Ah, the perfect state I’ve been longing for my whole life: no physical movement except for my eyes and hands. (I half expect I will end up like the Twilight Zone character who was the only one left on earth with nothing but time and no distractions to take him away from his precious books… but then his glasses broke. Not sure how that will play out for me, but I’m of the half-glass-empty persuasion.) I obviously couldn’t drive. So my sister Barb had to chauffeur me around, which I know she was more than happy to do (well, maybe not more than happy). I was grateful for her help but also uncomfortable with it, because, like all old people, I fear losing my independence.

The soonest I could see the doctor was on day 3. Barb drove me there, waited around for more than an hour, and then drove me to the pharmacy, the grocery store, and then lunch at Schloegel’s. The doctor gave it her best shot, but no diagnosis seemed to fit the symptom. She did some hands-on neurological tests, such as having me lie on my back with my head hanging off the table then held my head at a 45-degree angle as I sat up. We went through all the requisite questioning about what could have caused the diz-zies, but there were no answers. She checked various possibilities on the computer, but nothing seemed to fit. She said it was quite possible that it was “viral.” I thought, Does that mean I’m going to be famous on the Internet?? Thankfully, I didn’t share that pearl of humor with her. I keep learning that not everyone finds me funny, or indeed comprehensible. Many times when chatting with, say, a young woman who’s checking out my groceries (“Is this garlic?” she asks; oh honey, you have a lot to learn), I’ll try to make a wee funny and I usually get a blank stare in return. Like maybe she says, “I have a long drive home, so when I get off work at night, I have to eat or drink something on the way.” I comment that I don’t restrict myself to eating and drinking at night, I do it all day long. Stare. Blank. Maybe they don’t hear me, since I tend to mumble. Also, I’m sure I look really old to these young whippersnappers (and let’s face it….). Who would expect a specimen such as myself to try to relate through humor?

So… with a prescription for meclizine, a motion sickness pill that did absolutely nothing, and a date for a follow-up with the doc in 2 weeks, I spent the next 4 days trying to keep motion to a minimum. I was a motion minimalist. It was awkward when I had to clean out the cats’ litter boxes, and when Luther flopped on his back and rolled over in front of me, I couldn’t lean down to pet him, which made me feel strangely guilty. He would recover and then lounge there trying to look blasé about being rejected. I don’t treat my cats like they’re human, oh no. I mean, just because I will sit in an uncomfortable position with my left arm aching or having to go to the bathroom but unwilling to disturb their sleep….

I stayed home until day 7—lost at least 2 pounds because I had no access to potato chips—and then Barb offered to stop at the store for me and then get us both some lunch and bring it back to my house. I made a list—broccoli, eggs, milk, and a few other necessities, using all my self-control to not ask for chips or a muffin but hoping she would intuit that I would need some snack therapy. She didn’t… but she chose the broccoli crowns very well, which I’m really picky about. Then she drove back over the bridge to Menekaunee for fish fries and showed up chez moi with my very own meals on wheels. She stayed for a while as we ate and talked, but soon I felt like I was fading fast and I went back upstairs to nap in my chair. I kept thinking I could just sleep it off.

The previous night I had made the mistake of lying down for a few hours instead of slouching in my chair. When I woke up, I was so dizzy that I couldn’t take the garbage out to the road for fear that I would fall down outside. This wasn’t good news. I imagined this becoming a permanent condition.

On day 9 (Sunday) Barb came back to take me to her house to watch our shows: Homeland, Orphan Black, and a couple of new sit-coms. I had recovered from the intense diz-zies and was feeling hopeful that my long national nightmare was coming to an end. I was feeling more normal (or as close as I ever get) and enjoyed the chicken salad sandwich, chips, and Coke I had while watching TV. It’s the chips, I swear! I refuse to believe they are bad for you! I’m only half-joking!

Sure enough, I felt fully recovered by the next day, so I e-mailed my doctor’s office to cancel my follow-up appointment. I wish there had been a way to e-mail my job when I was feeling poorly or just needed a “me” day; it would have eliminated a lot of theatrical morning hoarseness during those awkward phone calls to say I wasn’t coming in. But that’s neither here nor there. It’s in the past. I have not lost my independence—in fact, I have gained a great deal of it, in that I can do my work in my own time. I now have the perfect work life, except for not getting paid very often. Hey, nothing’s perfect!

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what nightmares are made of

Every day you read the news or surf or stumble through the Internet, and there’s always some new atrocity, some stupid [Republican] opinion, some scary prospect, some fearful new law. I get tired of having to up my disbelief level to meet each new horrible challenge. Outrageous! Unbelievable! I become the girl who cries Wolf, but there’s always another Wolf around the corner. I’m going to print something here, in its entirety, from DailyKos.com, November 5, 2013. You may have seen it, but I think it’s worth another look. It’s a scary indicator of what America has come to, or is going toward, full speed ahead.

This news report out of New Mexico is so disturbing, it’s hard to imagine this could happen in America. Talk about an unreasonable search.

            The incident began January 2, 2013 after David Eckert finished shopping at the Wal-Mart in Deming.  According to a federal lawsuit, Eckert didn’t make a complete stop at a stop sign coming out of the parking lot and was immediately stopped by law enforcement.      

            Eckert’s attorney, Shannon Kennedy, said in an interview with KOB that after law enforcement asked him to step out of the vehicle, he appeared to be clenching his buttocks.  Law enforcement thought that was probable cause to suspect that Eckert was hiding narcotics in his anal cavity.  While officers detained Eckert, they secured a search warrant from a judge that allowed for an anal cavity search.  

            Initially the doctor on duty refused the search, citing it as “unethical.” Unfortunately, after several hours, hospital personnel relented and did the search.

            Here’s what happened to David Eckert at that hospital:

            While there, Eckert was subjected to repeated and humiliating forced medical procedures.  A review of Eckert’s medical records, which he released to KOB, and details in the lawsuit show the following happened:

            1. Eckert’s abdominal area was x-rayed; no narcotics were found.

            2. Doctors then performed an exam of Eckert’s anus with their fingers; no narcotics were found.

            3. Doctors performed a second exam of Eckert’s anus with their fingers; no narcotics were found.  

            4. Doctors penetrated Eckert’s anus to insert an enema.  Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers.  Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool.  No narcotics were found.

            5. Doctors penetrated Eckert’s anus to insert an enema a second time.  Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers.  Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool.  No narcotics were found.

            6. Doctors penetrated Eckert’s anus to insert an enema a third time.  Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers.  Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool.  No narcotics were found.

            7. Doctors then x-rayed Eckert again; no narcotics were found.  

            8. Doctors prepared Eckert for surgery, sedated him, and then performed a colonoscopy where a scope with a camera was inserted into Eckert’s anus, rectum, colon, and large intestines. No narcotics were found.  

            Throughout this ordeal, Eckert protested and never gave doctors at the Gila Regional Medical Center consent to perform any of these medical procedures.

            Think that’s outrageous? David Eckert has since been billed by the hospital for all the procedures and they are threatening to take him to collections.

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The Tent

Outside, the freezing desert night.
This other night inside grows warm, kindling.
Let the landscape be covered with thorny crust.
We have a soft garden in here.
The continents blasted,
cities and little towns, everything
become a scorched, blackened ball.

The news we hear is full of grief for that future,
but the real news inside here
is there’s no news at all.

–Rumi

BYBPrOUIEAApSrr

mary’zine #62: June 2013

June 8, 2013

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The Difference (King’s X)

 I walked through a garden
In the morning
I walked right into
A change

No words were spoken
Just a feeling
And I cannot explain
But I can feel the difference
I can feel the difference

Wind it comes and
It blows
Where it comes from
I don’t know

To look for a reason
Might just kill it
And I cannot explain
But I can feel the difference
I can feel the difference

I can feel the difference
I can feel the difference
I can feel the difference
I can feel the difference

And I cannot explain

 

7 days

Terry read us the above song lyric during the last sharing of the May painting intensive at the CCE Painting Studio in San Francisco. It fit my experience of the week perfectly. And now I face the challenge of using language to somehow “explain,” describe, or at least evoke it in some way.

As usual, I have lots of little things to share about my trip, some on the ground, some in the air, but one major theme has come up that doesn’t seem suited to intertwining with details about restaurants, traffic, and funny conversations. I’m not sure what to do about that. If I promise to put all that stuff at the end and call it The Lighter Side, can you stay with me here as I no doubt poorly “explain” the big thing that happened? OK, here goes.

Writing this the day after I got home, my mind is buzzing and my body is buzzing, but I don’t think they’re buzzing in the same direction. Or level. Or something. The mind is all earnest and heartfelt and wanting to share the strangeness and plumb the apparent disconnect between physicality and consciousness. Its agenda is to understand and thereby control the strange goings-on. But the body is all about the inarticulate but strongly felt sensations where old and new experiences and perceptions are stored. Far from languishing, it exerts its own control from down in the briny deep.

In the last issue of the mary’zine, I wrote about a body part that I loathe. But I have encountered new life, new blood in a region of my body that has been felt but unplumbed for a very long time. It is, for lack of a better term, the “lower region.” I would call it visceral, the “pit of my stomach,” but anatomically I don’t even think the stomach is that far down. I will just call it the “lower region”: the lower belly, just shy of the genital area but surely connected to it by plumbing (!) and magic.

So Barbara was talking about this “lower region” and about how much feeling and power is stored there. She was sitting cross-legged on the couch, and she gestured to the area on her own body, but I wasn’t sure what the perimeters were. I made her stand up and show me. I was really excited to know that something important goes on in that area, because I’ve had sensations there (rare but strong) since a young age. I couldn’t put a name to them, but I eventually came up with the words lovepityhome…. The love and pity seemed to be for my mother. I remember when I was about 12 years old she had bought me a pair of slacks for Easter. When I went into my bedroom to try them on, I had this intense sensation (quick, where’s my thesaurus?)—a short-lived piercing ache, an abyss of love closely linked to pain into which I could toss any number of words: regret? fear? guilt? the bleakness and joy of existence in this world? I wanted to escape my situation (home), but I felt inexorably tied to it, to my family whom I knew I would leave behind literally and in so many other ways. I knew my mother loved me. But her attempts to please me made me feel almost worse than her insensitivity to my feelings at other times. Her life was hard, with an invalid husband to care for and a family of five to support. She did her best, and maybe that’s why I felt that “strange brew” in my body. (The band Cream’s song “Strange Brew”—“kill what’s inside of you.”)

(I’m throwing a bunch of words on this, like sprinkling salt on a casserole. I hope it makes sense, on some level.)

I’ve had this sensation many times over the years, and I welcome it, I’m not sure why. It comes on its own, I can’t make it happen. And now that I know it’s an important part of the body’s feeling apparatus, uncontrolled by the mind—that ultimate emperor with no clothes—I want to become more aware of it and express it or follow it, or whatever will give it the freedom to flower.

I can’t believe that it took me more than a week to connect sex to this area. For almost the whole intensive, I was having strong sexual feelings, and by the last day it was clear that those feelings were being prompted by my new attention to this complicated area of my body. (“This old gray Mare still has some gas in her tank!”, I thought, or maybe that was Minnie Pearl.) I’m still not sure how sex enters into the love/pity/home theme, but I suppose it makes sense that the most difficult feelings, the ones most laden with significance and physicality, would all be related somehow.

***

During the week I had the usual feelings of disconnect between painting and life. As in the song lyrics I quoted at the beginning, painting made a huge difference but it wasn’t possible to trace the connecting lines, connect the dots, explain a damn thing. On the painting I started after the talk about the “lower region,” I painted myself standing knee-deep in a body of water, and all my attention was on what was below the water—as if my own body were a mere afterthought. Barbara and I saw this at the same time, and it was very telling. I had to focus on my body, which was difficult because I couldn’t paint my feelings literally: A black or muddied band around the lower region wasn’t going to be enough. So I just painted, and I have no idea what happened. The painting isn’t finished, but I scanned a couple parts of it to show you.

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Looking at these images now, I’m struck by two things: The “lower region” I’m talking about has an eye in it. This makes me wonder if that part of the body, an apparent storehouse of denied emotion, is more wise and sensitive than we can imagine. And the larger eyes, especially as seen in the second image, project intense power. As I was painting, I had no idea that they meant anything, and they weren’t even in the “area” I wanted to concentrate on. But looking at them now, it seems obvious.

The sexual resurgence I started to feel during the painting week has continued. Have I unleashed something—my own Pandora’s box*—only to be stymied in the face of consequences? (*According to that bastion of scholarly research, Wikipedia, the “box” was really a jar; [“I left Pandora’s box ajar”?] The mistranslation was blamed on Erasmus of Rotterdam. But I digress. No, wait, I’m not finished. Zeus gave Pandora the jar, with instructions not to open it under any circumstances. Remind you of anything? Hint: apple, snake? What is it with mythological male figures enticing women to do “evil” (assuming evil = mere curiosity) and thus bring down the wrath of the very same gods (or God). By the way, Zeus didn’t punish Pandora for disobeying him—“because he knew this would happen.” It was a set-up from the beginning!)

Since the first insight about the “lower region” struck me, I’ve been discovering layers upon layers of repercussions. One of the major ones is not just sex but Desire. Desire seeks an object. Pandora’s container is easily unhinged when Desire is on the lam. Is Pandora’s jar commensurate with desire? or merely with fantasy? Does fantasy lead to recklessness…cracking the foundation of truth by placing unearned weight on it? or balancing rickety ladders on chair rails to reach a higher understanding? Can fantasy be a means to the truth? One of my dalliances, years ago, resulted in my seeing beyond the illusion of lust to the truth that both of us were in it for ourselves. There was a lot of hot body action but no true communion of souls. Just two female animals trysting under the stars (or in my office after hours, but if this were a poem I wouldn’t mention that). But talk about being alone when you’re with someone. Selfishness (whether the driver or the result of fantasy) is isolating.

So when I got home after the intensive, I found—or imagined—an object of desire in the form of an old friend who had once been attracted to me. It surprised me indeed to open that door and find her there… as if she had been sitting on the other side, waiting patiently. It was astonishing to think that this could be real. But would my desire for her be a welcome gift? Or would it be seen as a mixed message, a mixed gift, a once-nixed gift, a gift too old to be of value?

Desire: a hard pounding in my heart, a hurt before it ever finds its happiness, and also after.

I held Desire in until I couldn’t hold it anymore: the hot potato of love. I threw it to her—made my proposition. I wanted to make a deal. I’d pick door #1, the least threatening, the least life-altering, the maximum good with the minimum cost or hazard. Sex is infinitely malleable, is it not? Couldn’t we define it, indulge in it, as narrowly or as broadly as we chose? We had a long-lasting friendship, had been through a lot together. And there are no rules for being gay (one of the best parts, frankly). Straight people have several well-worn paths laid out for them, whereas we are always, of necessity, blazing our own trails.

Unfortunately, being human does have rules. Truth has rules, as well as hard-and-fast demands. Truth will not be cheated or betrayed. Truth cannot be faked, or extended like a warranty, or cut to fit the Procrustean bed. It just is. Truth is. There is nothing else. Imagine that! We dither and debate and put our thumb on the scale to give ourselves a small advantage, but advantage does not exist, it is ephemeral, and still a cheat in the long run. Truth is. Being is. Honesty is all there is. Existence is truth, with an unyielding foundation—or none at all; which is scarier? I think truth matters but is not material. There’s not even a choice. All of our choices are imaginary escapes. To be still, silent, unreaching, unmoving, even burning with desire… Desire is a gift because it is fuel for being, and being still. It does not require tossing itself like a hot potato, hoping for another to catch it, keep it, nurture it, and pass it back and forth until the heat disperses.

If I can’t toss my hot love potato to a suitable (and willing) mate, then what is there to do? Loving, longing, lounging, logging. OK, logging won’t help, but maybe longing. What does one long for if not the unattainable? And what does one do with a lifetime of repressed power? If I let it grow and be, it will guide me. It will guide me right back to myself, because, really, it’s the only place to be. Longing is not for something, it’s an expression of self. Putting oneself out there by going nowhere. I do not long for, I just long.

At least, now, in my semi-dotage—I put myself somewhere around October 12th in the metaphor of months equaling a life—I am surely still capable of spinning golden threads of illusion, but I am also a seasoned veteran of the ineluctable Real: the stronger force—the stronger desire—which is for truth. Truth of my feeling. Truth of my lover’s feeling. Truth of relationship and loving connection whether or not the connection is the one desired in the moment. Honesty in talking about these things with openness, understanding of risk, self-awareness, love for the other even when her truth means she has to reject the offer, the longing, the desire. One knows one is loved when one is turned down so gently, almost wistfully.

A crisis of faith would be to dwell on what might have been at the expense of what is. What is true. Right here, right now. There is no other place I want to be.

 I was alive and I waited, waited
I was alive and I waited for this
Right here, right now
There is no other place I want to be
Right here, right now
Watching the world wake up… in me.

(“Right Here, Right Now,” sung by Jesus Jones; slight edit by Mare)

*

*

*
the lighter side!

So now I’ll tell you about my flight to S.F. At Chicago O’Hare (an airline-sponsored ring of hell) we sat on the runway for the usual unit of time (long). I dozed off, having taken the requisite Dramamine and lorazepam, and awoke as if after an entire night’s sleep to hear the pilot announce, “Ready for takeoff.” I was alarmed and asked my seat mate, a young man, “You mean we haven’t even left yet?” He looks out the window and dryly points out the obvious, that “we’re still on the ground.” I can see a large American Airlines building in the distance and, indeed, I can see ground, but in my drug-addled state I thought for a moment that I had slept all the way to San Francisco and the plane was now about to take off for somewhere else. I just said, “Oh my God” and fell back asleep. I was glad later that I hadn’t jumped up and cried, “I forgot to get off the plane!” The only other time I spoke to that guy was when I saw a flight attendant preparing the pilot’s meal. We in first class had been given the choice of spinach cannelloni or chicken cacciatore, but when the flight attendant got to me, the cannelloni was gone already and she had to give me a detailed explanation of which passengers got first choice: global, premiere, super-duper (I quickly lost track of United’s superlative brand names), front to back of cabin, most miles flown, etc. (Those last two don’t even make sense: your seat in the 6-row cabin is not determined by your customer status). So I picked at the chicken, ate a roll, and pondered how even paying for first class doesn’t guarantee you’ll get all the perks. You get a hot towel, though, and hot nuts, which impress me a lot less than they did on my first first class flight. So when I saw what the pilot was getting, I turned to my seat mate and said, with heavy emphasis, “The pilot got a baked potato.” The guy had to remove one earphone to hear me. “What?” “The pilot got a baked potato.” We chuckled in mock outrage, and I was quite proud of my brazen importuning of this perfect stranger.

I’ve noticed a difference in how I deal with strangers these days, especially during a painting intensive. Everywhere we went in the City, I felt like I was facing each person we encountered with my “front” completely undefended. It seemed so much easier than trying to shrink back and hide behind an imaginary shield of invisibility. My back, of course, was spine-sturdy, a literal back-up should things go wrong. Sensing danger or disdain, the openness shuts down quietly, like a Kindle cover clicking quietly closed (I should have gone into advertising). A case in point: I did not feel open to my seat mate on the flight back home. There was something about him, or the way he ignored me, I’m not sure what it was, but I held myself back and we didn’t say a word to each other. I wasn’t hiding from him, just self-contained. Thanks, 12 years of somatic psychotherapy!

Terry and I had a great week—with each other, with the other painters, and with the many strangers and old friends we encountered during our daily rounds of lunch, dinner, and grocery shopping. We stayed in a different house this time, in Bernal Heights a block off Mission, and enjoyed the amazing views and spacious upstairs with a beautiful long table that was our command center for eating, computing, and piling stuff. It had lots of stairs to contend with, but I’m happy to report that I had no walking-related pains during the week. I had my cane along, but I was able to get around pretty well without it. This was huge… and stood me in good stead when I had to walk/scuttle/shuffle halfway across O’Hare to make my connecting flight home when the cart driver off-loaded me far from the gate. (A not very interesting story for another day, perhaps when I publish my Stories That Don’t Fit Anywhere Else, and Aren’t That Interesting Anyway.)

Driving all over the City (and dipping down into Marin briefly) in a cramped and weak-willed Ford Fiesta, I had a few close calls in traffic, but I got us home without any major damage to ourselves or the car, didn’t I? I mean, that red arrow at the ramp onto South 101 in Mill Valley was obscured by my sun visor. And that yellow car on Mission came out of nowhere! Plus, I had no choice but to blast through the red light at Sloat and Ocean, because I was caught in the intersection and had to keep going, I couldn’t go back: “I have to! I have to!,” I cried, as T gazed in horror at the three or four lanes of traffic to our right that now had the right of way. Occasionally, I let her drive and we both felt empathy for the other’s position: She had to make the crucial decisions when there was no traffic light to legislate our stop-and-go, and I experienced the helplessness of having no control over those decisions except to say “Wait!” or “Go, go go!”

***

Yes, I’m all over the place with my stories, but though the 7 days seemed to progress in a linear fashion—night/day, night/day—the way one remembers things is not linear at all. It’s all a mishmash in there, and one thought that rises to the surface may lead to another that is not obviously related. Welcome to the human brain.

***

New restaurants. L’Avenida is gone now, a huge disappointment. We tried to go to El Toreador in West Portal, but there was a long wait. So we strolled across the street to Spiazzo at 6:30 on a Saturday night and were surprised to get seated within 15 minutes. Excellent food, too. We also had two meals at Tacos Los Altos on Cortland in Bernal Heights. I enjoyed the super veggie burrito, but the second meal of steak enchiladas didn’t meet the high standards of Mexican food that I have become accustomed to in Wisconsin. (I had lunch at El Sarape after I touched down at GRB, because, well, when in Green Bay, eat like the Green Bayans do. My favorite Mexican-American waiter there always remembers me and my sisters, so I thought I was giving him and the restaurant a compliment when I told him that I preferred the food he was serving me to what I had had in San Francisco. Too late, I realized that I was saying more about my limited palate than I was about the heavily Midwesternized meals they serve around here. The waiter said he was from Los Angeles and preferred the food out there. Yeah, OK, never mind.

The painting week was filled with good will and great conversations with Penny R, Diane L, Diane D (who didn’t paint and could only join us for dinner on Wednesday and Friday nights, but her presence was a mitzvah as always), Sandra, Carol, Kate, Linda, Kyle…. Barbara was a delight and a challenge—deeply caring, deeply trusting of her own truth, and deeply in tune with our process(es). Even when I wasn’t sure I was “feeling anything,” it was clear that “something was going on”; I think painting has made me lose my words, or at least my exacting ones. Barbara pointed out that I’m comfortable in the world of language, and that living in the body is more difficult for me. The shift confounds me, because I’ve always believed that coming up with just the right word or string of words is as good as any inchoate “feeling.” I’ve always thought I would be more comfortable as a head in a jar (but not Pandora’s), as long as I could write or speak. Maybe with Google glass and other high technical arts to remove the body’s distractions from the interface, humanity will eventually do away with the physical world altogether?  (But I would miss cats; maybe I could have a cat head in a jar next to me. Oh, now I’m just being silly.)

One day in the sharing, I relayed a true story I’d read online about a man who had been swallowed by a hippopotamus. Turns out he wasn’t actually swallowed (I’d been thinking: There are only two exits—which one did he escape from, and how?). He told it this way: “I was aware that my legs were surrounded by water, but my top half was almost dry. I seemed to be trapped in something slimy. There was a terrible, sulphurous smell, like rotten eggs, and a tremendous pressure against my chest. My arms were trapped but I managed to free one hand and felt around – my palm passed through the wiry bristles of the hippo’s snout. It was only then that I realised I was underwater, trapped up to my waist in his mouth.” Eventually, the hippo “spit [him] out.” My favorite part was the guy’s conclusion: “Time passes very slowly when you’re in a hippo’s mouth.” I thought it was quite an instructive message, raising questions as to the nature of time, perception, and WTF he was doing that close to a hippo. (Answer: He’s a river guide—a one-armed river guide at this point.)

I think the biggest laff of the week came when Barbara told us about being hugged by a neighbor who always says, “God bless you.” Barbara was unsure how to respond. “You too” didn’t seem right. Even less so: “Back atcha.” I suggested she answer her in German, in which Barbara is fluent. So Amanda pipes up: “Gesundheit?” OK, so you had to be there, but the thought of saying “Gesundheit” to someone who’s just said “God bless you” was just too hilarious. We laughed like crazy persons.

Neither Terry nor I could sleep the night before we were to leave, so we started the “day” at 2 a.m. We followed her GPS to SFO, dropped the rental car off at Hertz, and parted on the air train because we were leaving from different terminals. It was bittersweet. At security, I was astonished to find that the TSA (now CSA?) were all very kind. I never thought I’d hear the words “Have a good flight” in that corner of bureaucracy. And instead of marching me off to the side and demanding that I surrender my half bottle of water or be “escorted out,” the woman who found it in my bag merely asked if I wanted to go outside the security area and drink it or if she should toss it. Faced with this display of rationality and human feeling, I was practically speechless. In the terminal proper, I stopped at a kiosk to buy some non-bomb-containing water, and I asked the seller why everyone in the airport was so nice now: they’d never been before. She responded… nicely… that it was better than being nasty, and I told her I appreciated it. It really made everything about the airport experience more tolerable.

My flight home was relatively uneventful—I especially appreciate the jet stream, if that’s what explains the much shorter time in the air when going east—except in Chicago (hub of all airline ills) where something happened to the “auxiliary power” and we had to wait on the plane for airport maintenance to come and fix it. The delay was probably less than an hour, but I always have a heightened sense of fear when I get that close to home and face the possibility of being stranded, as I did a couple years ago.

The cats were thrilled to have me home, and for the first day and a half they didn’t let me out of their sight. I’m sure my sister Barb did a great job of caring for them—including a repeat of the lying on the floor by the bed and singing “Jesus Christ Superstar” to Luther when he thought he had found a secure hiding place. She says he eventually got out from under the bed and walked slowly away… I picture him backing slowly away, with two paws out as if to say, “That’s fine, don’t get up.”

My method of unpacking after a trip involves several days and an attempt to expend no extra energy whatsoever. If I happen to be going into the bathroom, I’m happy to pick up a used Kleenex or a plastic bottle of lotion along the way and bring it with me. If I’m going downstairs, I’ll bring along a t-shirt that needs to go in the laundry, as long as I don’t have to go out of my way. This doesn’t work for very long, because eventually I have to take active steps to empty the suitcase and organize the clean vs. dirty clothes, but it lets me feel for a short time like I’m getting away with something.

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Oh, what will become of me?

Mary McKenney

mary’zine #61: April 2013

April 18, 2013

Let’s

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with a body part…

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Synecdoche: substitution of a part for the whole (pronounced kind of like Schenectady)

I resent the vagina. I resent being defined by it, reduced to it. I resent having no choice about its existence or its exploitation. I know that it makes a terrific baby chute and that lots of people throughout the world enjoy using it. Which wouldn’t bother me in the least if I could have a “get out of my vagina” card.

Having a vagina is like being forced to live in a house without locks. You can hide it from view, but you can’t hide the fact that you’ve got one. Appearing unstylish, unattractive, even fat and old, is no defense against the seekers of your holy grail-part.

Man-boys somehow think they’re more manly by acting out their anger at Mommy on an innocent victim. Sexual orientation also doesn’t help and may even be a turn-on. I’ve never gotten more attention from men than when I wore a gay liberation button in the ‘70s. It’s not like you can hang a “No solicitors” sign on the entrance, or wear a tag that reads “My sexual preference is: not you.” “Oh, sorry, I thought you were heterosexual” has never been uttered by a would-be rapist who then tips his hat and continues on his way to find a more appropriate target.

I resent the vagina monologues… and the dialogues, diaries, notebooks, first person fictions. There’s a new “biography” of the vagina and even a “timeline history” (74 b.c.–2007). A young man of my acquaintance has a bumper sticker on his car that reads, “I  [heart] vagina.” The vagina is the holy grail for many, and I resent being the vessel, the culmination of the voyage, the be-all and vaj-all.

I resent being a synecdoche. The vagina has given me not a moment’s pleasure but instead many hours of pain. I have had no use for it except to carry away the blood on “red letter day” (“I got a letter from my aunt,” my mother would say). Its related parts have given me painful menses, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids. I was relieved of much of that by the removal of my uterus. The doctor asked if I wanted to keep as much of my “reproductive parts” as possible; I said I wanted to keep as much of myself as possible. Other body parts have gone the way of the uterus, namely, my tonsils, appendix, gall bladder. But there’s no way to remove the vagina, or shut it down for the season, or forever. It is never left to retire and disintegrate with grace, like an old barn with gray siding and a faded tobacco ad.

I don’t really resent the penis, strange as that may sound. It has one job—well, two; the clitoris is the only sex organ designed solely for pleasure. I can’t really blame the penis, but I do resent the owners of that inside-out clit, who seem to have an almost universal hatred of and attraction to that heavenly corridor, the vajheen. The clit is literally the root of all humanity, as we all start out as female. The fact that the primordial clit develops into an outer appendage on roughly half of humanity should be a mechanical issue only; instead, men have made their penises synecdoches of their own selves, and they vary in how happy they are with the result. But their synecdoches are self-defined; ours are defined by them.

 

something is happening here…

… what it is ain’t exactly clear. I’m getting vague intimations, seeing odd co-in-cidings, picking up faint signals, just as I did before I realized I had to move back to my hometown in Menominee, U.P., Michigan, USA. I’ve lived here now for 8½ years and have seemingly seen, remembered, relived all the associations: the woods and the wildflowers, the pastures and frozen creeks, the beaches, the abundant water on 3 sides that makes us a peninsula within a peninsula. The mise-en-scène is laid out before me; everything is either still here—the family houses, the boarded-up school, the old roads and sand hills, the memories attached to every building or patch of ground I see—or else there are placeholders for the things that used to be. I can see below the layers, like a personal archaeologist using my senses and my stock of memories to dig past the exterminated woods, the disappeared grove of cedar trees, the receding bay, the missing restaurants, the ghosts of churches replaced by fast food joints and dollar stores.

I never knew how attached I was to place. I thought I was living in my head so filled with fantasies and anxieties, but now I see that every fearful or wishful thought was embodied in a yard, a driveway, a basement, a garden, a crabapple tree, a homemade fort that held a predator and me, a tunnel dug beyond any adult’s knowing that could have killed us kids. An old man’s shack next door, a burnt-out abandoned house next to that, my grandfather’s long-gone farm and pretty rocks and milk truck. The birch trees, uniquely white-barked amidst the tedious green, the snow, the mud, the shortcuts through the fields, the long walks to school and back that I still walk in my dreams.

You’ll notice (I noticed) that I haven’t mentioned family, friends, or strangers whether benign or dangerous. The blessèd and the feared. Once when I was visiting back home, I took several pictures of old, mostly vacant buildings: a boarded-up gas station, an abandoned church, the exoskeleton of the factory where my father worked, a defunct paper mill, a street of taverns, an old dairy. Only the taverns are still in business. The theme seemed to be decay and neglect of the manmade world. My mother couldn’t understand why I didn’t take pictures of my relatives (her), why those forlorn, forgotten structures spoke to me. I didn’t understand it either.

My point is that I inhabited that life more than I knew. I thought I was thinking myself past it, past the dead-ends I saw all around me and into an Unknown that had to be better, a world I had read about in books, those life-savers. Begrudging the physical time that had to pass before I could get out.

The pleasures were many but mostly small. They dotted the landscape but never infused it. But they are as vivid and precious as the hurtful sad and madnesses, the betrayals and secrets, the intrusiveness of family and obligation. There were odd transcendences, like typing a paper due in English that day, out on the back porch at 6 in the morning, feeling like I was already gone to a world of literature and art, of experience I had only read about. Or in the basement making a cardboard switchboard for the school play. Living my hidden life while outwardly following all the rules, right down to the letter but rarely the spirit. Longing for someone to make me special.

It occurs to me, so many years later, that the world inside my head did not reflect the truth, that I created that bulwark of a world to defend against forces that may well have been imaginary. Can you believe, dear reader, that that thought has never before occurred to me in the 4½ decades of seemingly intelligent, accomplished adulthood, during which I struggled with relationships, both personal and societal—the deceitful lover, the harridan bosses, the nuts and bolts of car ownership, of furnaces and landlords and neighbors and always, always the question, “What does life mean?” For me it was not a rhetorical question, the answer was the only thing that could propel me past the adult equivalent of my anxious childhood. There were pleasures to be had in this wilderness, too, of course: the books and friends and attempts to write about… something, to make… art?, the summer pool parties and a male friend who wanted desperately to get in my pants. Mostly, I felt like an imposter, back before I knew that many people feel the same way. Discovering the common flaws and fortunes of humanity in myself and others has been a saving grace, along with love that I thought I was too damaged to give or receive, and the indefinable depths of painting without a need to produce either a beautiful object or a semblance of sense, which has led and spread to an acceptance of living for its own sake that I never, ever, knew was possible and that has permeated every molecule of my life experience.

The mystery has something to do with my youth, specifically high school, more specifically how I thought about myself then and how wrong I could have been, I mean, really wrong. It has never before occurred to me to question my overall world view and view of self, though I can quote you chapter and verse on specific misunderstandings and awkwardnesses. I thought I had it all figured out, what happened to me, what happened because of me, what added up and what went down.

I know this is crazily nonspecific, but that’s the thing: I haven’t put it all together yet. But it has something to do with Facebook, of all things—a football player from my class friending me; a couple other classmates remembering me though I have no memory of them; a gradual softening toward the very idea of high school and my experience there, which may have been 90% projection. If I dealt with high school by starting to see my classmates as real people, settled adults—and me as a real person, a settled adult… it would be like forgiving my hometown in general, which made it possible to come back and live here in peace and quiet. It’s an intriguing thought. But the biggest remaining challenge I face has to do with a classmate and childhood friend whom I think of as “my beggar.”

my beggar

I’ve had many memorable encounters with “beggars.” These encounters, far from being all the same, have brought up a whole range of feelings—on both sides, no doubt. I have ignored them, then felt guilty or afraid; I have said a quick “sorry” as I scurried on by, then felt guilty or afraid; or I have responded with my whole heart, most often with a $20 bill, and the counter-response has been about way more than the money. And it wasn’t just up to me whether I became scared or generous; I responded—to what, I wasn’t always sure.

We don’t have beggars where I live now: too fucking cold, for one thing. There are places to go for food and shelter, but beyond that I have no idea. I give my money to organizations instead of individuals, mostly in the form of bags of food from Angeli’s. Being a “nonencounter,” it’s more comfortable for me and probably does as much good, or more, as handing out dollars on street corners.

I say we don’t have beggars here, but I do have a personal beggar of sorts. She’s a childhood friend I thought I’d left behind when I entered high school and became an intellectual along with two boys with similar pretensions. She didn’t go to college, and I saw her only once in the ensuing years, at my mother’s wake, more than 20 years ago. But for some reason she has been holding on to the dream, ecstatic when she found out I was moving back home, obviously hoping to rekindle the childhood flame. After 8½ years she has not taken the hint that our girl scout girl hood died long ago. She seems dim—just this side of developmentally underdeveloped, slow, raw, unafraid of asking for alms (begging). This is way more personal than any of the encounters I’ve had with strangers on the street, obviously, but the same questions come up: What do I owe her? Do I have to feel guilty about not giving, or not giving enough? She’s like a stalker who doesn’t actually stalk: She waits for me to cross her path, like a spider that knows something good is going to get caught in her web if she’s patient enough. When I do run into her (web), as I did the other day, she’s all sticky and clingy and I can’t get loose no matter how much I flail. I become paralyzed by her spider venom and can barely answer her rapid-fire questions, “Do you ever hear from L__?” “Do you ever hear from G__?” “Are you coming to the reunion?” with my curt answers (“No” x3), and, as I make my narrow escape she wistfully calls out with a small “heh heh,” “I never get to see you anymore!” And I wonder, what does it mean that she can’t let it go? When I get the smallest hint that someone is trying to get away from me, I don’t pursue. Is my beggar’s persistence and lack of dignity in the face of outright rejection a sign of delusion? Mental fog extending inland nights and mornings? She comes from a family even poorer than mine; had a brother who was developmentally disabled; never went to college, never left the area, doesn’t drive…. I don’t know all that she’s never done.

So when I’ve made it to my car, feeling both guilty and resentful—it’s the street beggar scenario but 10 times worse—I ask myself why I think about her so much. I even dream about her, two kinds of dreams: either we’ve become friends, or she’s crowding me, pushing at me, pulling, begging, always begging for more. She must be standing in for something or someone else, right?

My friends and my sisters think I could choose to “be nice,” put up with a two-minute conversation every few months, and not think about her in-between times. In fact, I tried that the first time I ran into her, in Stephenson’s Bakery, after I moved back. I sat and talked with her about “old times,” though I couldn’t remember even one of the things she harked back to. I even gave her a ride home, I felt I was doing the right thing, giving the beggar a few dollars, so to speak, so I couldn’t be accused of being completely heartless—but in my mind, that “nice” response set up her expectations to become that girlhood friend again. But what amazes me is that she has not given up those expectations even after so many years of my obvious dodging of her and reluctant, even rude brush-offs. What she said to me the other day was, “Here I am, in the way, like always.” It was eerie, even creepy. It’s like she knows the truth but will not let go of that limp lifeline with no one on the other end.

If I could just feel as cold as I act toward her, it would be a lot easier. But it’s that guilt, that feeling that I’m handling it the wrong way, that it’s my fault she’s too dim-witted to take me at face value now, 57 years later, and see me as a jerk or a snob or an asshole, versus the happy friend I was as a kid. Why doesn’t she get mad at me? Or does her delusion depend on believing that I will someday greet her with a big smile and a “Hi!” and an invitation to go out for a malt at the (now-defunct) soda fountain? Is this like a failed love connection? Does she lust after me? Am I the best thing that’s ever happened to her? Oh god, every possibility is worse than the last.

The weird thing, and the thing that makes me wonder if I’m somehow causing this reaction in her, is that it has happened to me several times. Someone—always a woman, oddly enough (defying my demonization of men)—gets it in her head that she must have me, in one way or another. My therapist said, about one of those women, that I had “let her in.” Yeah, I’ve let a lot of people in, but most people know not to move in, not to keep demanding more and more of my time and attention. I could tell you stories! And sure, I too have loved and lost, more times than I can count, and it hurts—whether it’s a love interest or someone I just want to be closer to, as a friend, and I see that it’s not going to happen. I used to consider it proof of my unlikability, but now I see that it’s just a fact: not everyone likes everyone, or likes them in the same way.

The bright side: that I can accept my less than lovely character traits and not feel that I have to change them, overcome them, become better than, reach the goal of being a perfect person. Beating up on yourself is not the same as bravely looking at what is true in yourself and accepting it, and even accepting that you are still probably half-deluded, but you will be willing to look, take in, own whatever comes up. In fact, beating up on yourself is one of the ways of narcissism. It’s trying to eat the whole enchilada of self-hatred, claiming way more than what is even true, just to avoid doing a real accounting of dollars and sense. The best defense is no defense at all. When a friend points out a flaw, I find myself more willing to listen, to agree when it’s true, even to feel the pain of being exposed but letting it be. It’s like magic, this allowing the feeling in the moment to be fully experienced, instead of trying to push it down or turn it around. If you’re really willing to feel that feeling and let it take you to the core of whatever the truth is, there’s nothing more you have to do.

And maybe that’s where I’m failing not only my beggar but myself: I don’t want to feel the true extent of the feeling, whatever it is, for fear that she/it represents some deep part of me—so I put it off on her, on the inconvenience of her implicit challenge to me, on the inadequacy of her sensitivities, on her refusal to just get out of the goddamn way and let me live my new, self-accepting, happy life.

Mary McKenney

mary’zine #58: October 2012

October 12, 2012

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This photo was taken on October 11, 2012, a few hours north of Menominee. Winter! Bring it on!

 
 

Also, on 10-11-12, a child was born. She is the beautiful daughter of my dear godchild Kelly and her lovely husband Duncan. She has not yet been named. I’m rooting for Paloma Zapata, but I doubt it will make the cut.

 
 

long day’s journey into Neenah

                         Neenah, Wisconsin      

 

Once a year I have to drive down into the belly of the once-great state of Wisconsin (before Scott Walker et al.) to have a 15-minute session with my psychiatrist so he can determine if I’m still (in)sane enough to be taking two psychoactive drugs (sertraline and lorazepam). Mostly I tell him I’m doing great, he asks how my work is going (“It’s going going gone, doc”), and we make semi-small talk for the remaining minutes.

Last year I had borrowed Barb’s GPS to help me find his new office, but this year all I had was a primitive mapquest map showing an entirely different route that involved going farther down the highway, exiting, skirting 3 roundabouts, and then turning north again for what looked like several miles. I hadn’t thought to bring a real map with me, no, that would have been too easy.

I was deadly sleepy the whole way down there, 92 miles. I wanted to sleep so bad, it was all I could do not to give in to it. I sang along with a classic rock station, to the sort of music I haven’t listened to in decades: “Smoke on the Water,” “Rebel Yell,” “Hot Patootie/Bless My Soul,” “Riders on the Storm.” Actually, I still like a couple of those. I sang, I shouted, I made up nonsense lyrics—like to the tune of “The Rubberband Man” (The Spinners, 1976):

Hey, y’all prepare yourself
For lorazepam… man
You never heard a sound
Like lorazepam… man
You’re bound to lose control
When lorazepam man starts to jam

Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo doo….

I finally got off at exit 129, made it through 3 or 4 roundabouts (stopped counting at 2), and clearly missed the one where I was supposed to veer north again. So I’m driving, driving, and instead of turning around and searching for roundabout #3 and the road I was supposed to turn on, something with Breeze in the name, I decided just to randomly drive north for a while, then randomly drive west and, you know, maybe I would just run into the place. So I took a tour of Neenah, then found myself in Menasha, which was definitely not part of the plan. I had been looking for a cluster of president street names because I was pretty sure I needed to find Harrison St. (questmap had blown off console onto passenger side floor), but I only saw trees, Oak, Elm, then oh look, there’s Washington, and Lincoln, and… Franklin. Benjamin Franklin was never president, was he? I tried to put myself in the eager, intuitive state of a tourist who is lost but sees it as an opportunity to open up to the thrill of adventure. But I was not in Gay Paree…. Neenah was rapidly receding from me, or I from it, and I could end up in Appleton—or worse, Lake Nebagamon (hmm, sounds familiar)—if I didn’t look out. (Lake Nebagamon is a real place.)

Finally, I stopped a friendly mailman on the street, and he tried his darnedest to tell me how to get to Harrison. I was to “go up here and turn right”—then that street would turn into Commercial and I would see signs for 41 or maybe 117 and I should turn right again, then something about a viaduct (?) or an aqueduct (?)—do they still have those?—and then something-something Winneconne… and then he got confused and started over. “Go up here….” When he got to the Winneconne part, he forgot the name, and I, idiot savant, was actually able to come up with it, and he chuckled at the irony. I was sure I wouldn’t be able to follow his directions, but I thanked him anyway and started off. Amazingly, I did get to Harrison St. But then I wasn’t sure what came after that, and the time of my appointment was drawing near (fortunately, I got to town ‘round about 45 minutes early). By then I seemed to be in some godforsaken part of Neenah with a train yard and smokestacks. So I pulled off on a side street and called Dr. V’s office. Thank God for cell phones! The person who answered asked me where I was, and I said “Harrison and Jackson.” She said “Jackson?!” in a tone of voice that told me she had no idea where that was, but she quickly rallied and told me to go south on Harrison, and I would see “JJ’s” and then “Otto’s” and then some “trees and water” and then something-something, turn left or right, I was already at my limit of what I could remember. So then I start driving south on Harrison, and it occurs to me that if she wasn’t sure where Jackson St. was, maybe I was already south of her and I should be going north! There were lots more trains, a country road, what looked like a cement factory, not that I know what a cement factory looks like, and suddenly I see JJ’s! Then Otto’s! I was ecstatic. Then there were “trees and water”! Then I saw the sign for Jewelers Park Drive, drove right in like I knew where I was going all along, and arrived at #40, sweaty but triumphant, right on time for my appointment.

The two women in the office and I bantered a bit about my roundabout way of getting there, and they asked me where I was coming from. I said Menominee, Michigan, and one of them said, “We were just talking about Menominee, Michigan, at lunch.” Really? Yes, someone had recommended a Thai restaurant on 10th Avenue that was to die for. (I thought, “I bet.”) Then we had to do the insurance thing. I always just hand over what cards I have and expect people behind the counter to know what to do with them. But one of the women pointed out that there’s a phone number for “Behavioral Services” on the back of my Anthem card, but not the “Behavioral Health” that I apparently used to have. “Do you not have ‘Behavioral Health’ anymore?” she asked. “I don’t know, I guess not… whatever it says on the card.” She kept pointing at the name on the file sheet and asking the same question. I didn’t know how to say I don’t know any more clearly, I’ve had the same insurance for 16 years. But she says it again as she points to the name in a sort of clandestine way, as if the walls had ears or I was supposed to say the magic word and the duck would come down and I would win $50. So again I said “I … don’t … know.  I … guess … not” and threw in a “if … you … say … so” for good measure. She gave up on me and said they would figure something out. “Oh good,” I thought, “so I don’t have to go to insurance school and find out the difference between two names with “Behavioral” in them and then get back to you with my findings?”

(Now this is strange: Several days later, I happened to look at my insurance card again and it says right on there, “Behavioral Health Services.” Am I losing my ever-lovin’ mind?)

At that point Dr. V. came out to get me, which… saved by the psychiatrist. In his office, I asked about the roundabouts. Someone had told me they had removed one of them. No, he said, they’re making more and more, and the reason is that they apparently cut down on fatal accidents. As if no one minds if they get into a nonfatal but pain-in-the-ass accident.

I hadn’t decided whether I would bring up the Problem-in-law (in a very special episode of “CSI: U.P.”), but it popped right up when I told him that the lorazepam worked really well for restless leg syndrome but I was needing to take a lot more of it lately. Of course he asked if I’ve been under unusual stress, and I said YES, then told him the story of my fall-by-brother-in-law as succinctly as possible. I only had 15 minutes to set the stage, identify the relationships, and tell what happened and the range and intensity of the feelings I’d been having about it ever since. He said that I’m “doing all the right things,” that I have a form of PTSD, that it’s OK to take the lorazepam as needed. PTSD sounds rather dramatic for what I went through, but it doesn’t have to entail active traumas; it’s about reliving the disturbing feelings over and over… watching a dog get hit by a car, running over a cat myself after failing to rescue a friend’s dog from the pound because they had already killed it. And it doesn’t have to fit anyone else’s definition of trauma. Being betrayed is slower-acting, but it affects all the organs and nerve endings, makes us question our perceptions and shake our trust. I think this is reflected in the dream I had shortly after the incident, when I was standing in the entryway of my childhood home and the basement (foundation) was completely gone and I questioned the stability of the spot where I stood. When I let my mind wander and don’t try to be completely rational, I think what happened has even wider application than this relationship, which I don’t miss at all. My brother who died of leukemia when he was 2 years old had the same name as my Other-in-law, and during my best times with MP I thought of him as a brother without the hyphenated suffix, the closest I would ever get to having a grown male sibling. R.I.P. Michael William McKenney.

I’ve since realized that, 2-3 months later, I have fewer thoughts about the incident itself but often have a generalized feeling of dread and nervousness, and I can’t pin down what I’m afraid of. I think it was a bigger deal than I thought at first (and at first I thought it was a very big deal). So I have all these emotions, but at least my intellect is glad that it was a serious enough offense that I don’t have to justify staying away from the No-in-law forever. Can an intellect be glad?

After Dr. V and the office people explained in great detail how to get back on the highway, I achieved the task easily. Somewhat encouraged by the session and no longer sleepy, I drove to Green Bay, had lunch at El Sarape, then drove the rest of the way home. I love that feeling of being physically tired and all I have to do is sink into my big chair with my kitties, my Big Book of 500 New York Times crossword puzzles, and a bag of peanut M&Ms, which I’ve been craving lately though I hadn’t thought they were “worth the calories” for many years. Later, I looked up my psychiatrist on Facebook, found him, and messaged him that it was probably inappropriate to “friend” him but I wanted to thank him for his help. So I’m done being shrunk/evaluated/prescribed for another year. Without chemicals, life itself would be impossible for me, so I’m grateful to have a couple of good ones, and a nice guy with a fancy degree to keep an eye on me even though he’s so damn far away.

Oh, also. When I got home I took off my shirt to put on a fresh one, and there was a huge black BUG smashed on the back of it. I threw the disgusting thing down the toilet right away and didn’t get a really close look, but I thought it looked something like a combination wasp, fly, and June bug, super-sized. It freaked me out. I wondered when and where it had got on me, and why no one had noticed it and told me about it. I was reminded of Jung’s patient who was telling him about dreaming of a golden scarab when a scarab beetle rapped on the windowpane, and I thought, Is this gross giant bug a symbol of my inner self? I couldn’t get a nice ladybug? Oh well, I thought, as I settled in with my peanut M&Ms and other comforts and forgot all about the bug, and my day, and had many pleasant dreams.

 
 

the local nooz

(source: my niece)

Police called to high school again. My niece, L, came to clean my house the other morning, and she was upset. Two years ago, her then 15-year-old son had been caught up in a hostage crisis at his school. One of his best friends had brought in several guns and had kept the class from leaving for several hours. Eventually, the police burst in and the friend shot himself to death. This day was different, but still scary. There was an unknown “situation” in a house right across from the school, and 7 police cars were there, several of the officers outside with guns drawn. L couldn’t reach her son on his cell phone, and she couldn’t help thinking the worst. I went online and found a small news item about it on the website of a Green Bay TV station. The school had gone into lockdown, and finally all the students (just under 1,000) were bused to a college field house a couple miles down the road. Within an hour or so, the police had taken someone into custody, and all was well that ended well. L’s son sent her a text saying that they hadn’t been allowed to bring their cell phones with them to the field house and that he thought the whole thing was “no big deal.”

We are rising up! L also told me that her 21-year-old nephew had gone to Walmart the night before to buy a camouflage cap and gloves. The woman at the checkout counter asked him if he was buying them for hunting or just to keep warm. He said for hunting. Then she went into a diatribe about hunters and how could he kill those poor animals, did he need to prove he was a big strong man? She continued in this vein for awhile. This was a Walmart employee speaking to a customer. And of course Walmart sells hunting equipment. The boy was so taken aback (and probably not the most refined person in the world; I don’t know him) that he told her to “shut the fuck up.” Then the woman behind him in line lit into him about using “that kind of language” and joined in the employee’s attack on him for killing animals. She actually said this: “Why don’t you buy your meat at the store like everybody else?” (Does she think they grow it in the back room?) She said she was a member of PETA, that there was a PETA chapter here in town, and they were going to “rise up” and stop the hunters. L is married to a gentle man who comes from a long line of farmers and hunters. They raise chickens and turkeys, and in hunting season he takes the two boys (11 and 17) out with him; both boys have guns, know how to use them and how to care for them. They eat everything they kill. I’m not thrilled at the thought of Bambi or Bambi’s family members getting shot, but I have long since made peace with my hypocrisy. My meat comes from the store in a plastic-wrapped package, and I don’t want to think about what it is or where it came from. My niece actually “appreciates” this (that I own up to my hypocrisy). I have a visceral dislike of PETA, dating from their attempts to storm the labs at UCSF and release the laboratory animals. I think their “concern” for animals (with no thought of consequences, apparently) is a bit misplaced. Years ago I read a quote by a young man who thought that the world would be better off without his taking up oxygen and other scarce resources. This is extreme in a way that my cohorts in the ‘60s—at least those who didn’t blow themselves up accidentally—could never have matched.

Fowl play. And now for the lighter side of the news. L was bringing bread out to the chickens, whom she calls her “girls,” and one of the girls grabbed a loaf of French bread right out of her hand and took off with it. The girls are not an egalitarian society, it’s very much every hen for herself. The chicken was holding the loaf sideways in her mouth (the way a flamenco dancer holds a rose between her teeth), but one side was farther out than the other, so her head and body were tilted to that side trying to hold on to her ill-gotten gain. Hence, she was slower moving than the other chickens, so they quickly caught up with her and started pecking at the bread from both ends. But this gal was out for bear and not inclined to share. In a last, desperate burst of speed, she outran the other hens, turned the corner around the barn, and was never seen again. She did leave a trail of bread crumbs, but that’s another story. The moral? Don’t count your chickens before they snatch.

(This story is true up to the part where the bread-wielding chicken got away.)

 
 

I paint, I am; do I dare say “therefore”?

Terry and I were talking about painting (as we are wont to do), and marveling at what our lives would have been like if we had never found it. Neither of us could imagine it. This intuitive, non-result-oriented way of painting used to be called “the painting experience,” but it occurred to me that it goes way beyond the experience and touches into our actual existence. It cannot be done half-heartedly, or from a false premise. It is common to try to avoid facing ourselves, but painting with even a partially opened heart takes us to all the necessary places. So in that way, painting is existential.

Another thing: There has been a painting diaspora, if that’s not too charged a term: the distribution of one’s paintings to friends and maybe even gallery owners. I’ve given away several and did not keep accurate records. But they’re out there somewhere: with Diane, Barb, Diane, Susan, Peggy, Terry, Alice, Kathy, Polly, and probably others I can’t remember. It’s sort of like putting a message in a bottle, to be retrieved perhaps at someone’s garage sale someday, when we all have passed on. The price will be minimal, but in this way our work will carry on in the world without us… very much the way it carries on in our own homes and in our hearts. It’s not about “the painting,” as we always say, but I’ve seen the reactions of some… how shall I say… regular people who encounter our “footprints” as it were, and I think there can be some value in that, maybe even inspiration. When I offered Barb her choice of paintings several years ago, she took all the photos I had lent her and enlarged them on a machine at Walmart. A woman in line behind her saw them and exclaimed at how wonderful they were. I’m not braggin’, just sayin’. I think everyone is capable of responding to honest expression, to true passion and creativity, and there seems to be little of that in the art world, and less in the department store art whose sole function is not to clash with one’s furniture.

Speaking of value and inspiration, or their opposite, somehow the now-famous painting of Jesus that was “repaired” by the woman in Italy is grotesque to me… not because of the loss of one more religious painting in the world, but the image itself, I don’t know what it is about it, but it’s an abomination. I’m not going to reproduce it here, you can look it up.

 
 

new doctor

Did I tell you that my wonderful doctor, Dr. T, up and left his practice? No one, not even his staff, seems to know the why and the wherefore. Soon after that happened, my wonderful dentist, Dr. A, was out for 6 weeks with some sort of shoulder injury. Could it be? Did both docs take off together like Thelma and Louise, and only one returned? No, probably not. But I thought, Are they all going to abandon me?? I’ve had 2 dentists (whom I’d been seeing for years) and at least 2 doctors retire on me while I was under their care—one went crazy, one had debilitating back pain, one was old, and one wanted to give up doctoring to grow roses and visit France. (She’s the one who went oui, oui, oui all the way home.)

So Barb found another doctor, a woman who’s bright and peppy. Before we met her, I saw her picture, she’s a little on the heavy side, and I insensitively asked Barb if she chose her because she wouldn’t come down so hard on her about her weight. But I was thinking about myself, really, because I’m definitely on a one-way train to don’t-bother-saving-those-old-jeans-ville. I signed up with Dr. P too and liked her. But it seems doctoring has changed in recent years. Dr. T. told me I didn’t have to listen to any advice he gave me, and Dr. P asked me if I “wanted” a hearing test and a pap smear. (I think there are few worse combinations of words than “pap” and “smear.”) No thanks, I shrugged, and I waltzed out of my physical without even taking my clothes off. Well, no, that’s not true. Dr. P walked me through a “Welcome to Medicare!” questionnaire and told me that I could get a one-time free (!) EKG, so one of the nurses hooked me up and cardiographed me on the spot. I went in the following week for blood work. Later I’ll have to get a mammygram and an ultrasound of my abdominal aorta because I have very high levels of C-reactive protein. I used to edit papers about C-reactive protein and never dreamed it would mean anything to me personally.

 
 

hard times

From huffingtonpost.com  9-20-12

[Mitt Romney] was born to a wealthy and powerful family. While his father was governor of Michigan, the son attended an elite boarding school. His father also paid for his undergraduate education and his graduate study at Harvard Business School. His father then bought the younger Romneys a beautiful house in Massachusetts, lending them $42,000 in the 1970s. “We stayed there seven years and sold it for $90,000, so we not only stayed for free, we made money,” Ann Romney noted in 1994.

The Romneys have described their early years as ones of real hardship, hardship they overcame through hard work—and income from stocks.

“They were not easy years. … [W]e moved into a $62-a-month basement apartment with a cement floor and lived there two years as students with no income…. Neither one of us had a job, because Mitt had enough of an investment from stock that we could sell off a little at a time,” Ann Romney told the Boston Globe in 1994. “We had no income except the stock we were chipping away at. We were living on the edge….”
 
I love that humble-braggy admission: “no income except the stock we were chipping away at,” as if they were valiantly subsisting on a block of government cheese.

Most of us can look back and remember the hard times, the lean years. My family of 5 lived on $66/month in the 1950s. If it hadn’t been for the veterans disability benefits and a fake Santa who came by once a year with a sack full of toys and canned food, I don’t know what we would have done. I paid for my entire education through work-study jobs, loans, and scholarships. The loans (which I promptly paid off) came from the government, but the scholarships came from MSU and the Michigan Bankers Association (I won an essay contest). I think I can safely say that I earned every penny.

A few years ago, there was an article in the New York Times (2-17-08) about the former Plaza Hotel in New York City, which was being transformed into condominiums. Few of the buyers had moved in yet, and a woman who bought two apartments in the building—including a one-bedroom for $5.8 million and a two-bedroom (price not stated) “for themselves, their children and the grandchildren”—was bemoaning the fact that it’s hard to make new friends when there are so few people about.

Ms. Ruland said meeting people is hard simply because it’s hard to tell the residents from the help. One neighbor cast his eyes away from her one day when she walked through the lobby with a mop and bucket. [my emphasis] She said she felt like telling him her family owns two apartments in the Plaza.

Ms. Ruland and her mother hope their new neighbors at the Plaza will share their interests.

… And presumably their stock tips.
 

I sure hope that poor, I mean rich, woman was able to track down the neighbor who saw her in such a compromising position so she could regain her proper status in his eyes. Maybe she should henceforth transport her cleaning supplies through the common (haha) areas while wearing a ball gown and red ruby slippers.

Where I come from, working with a mop and bucket is nothing to be ashamed of. Though my family were not cleaners, they worked in a hospital cafeteria, a foundry, a furniture factory, the service department at Montgomery Ward, and similar low-paying jobs. Work was hard. When I was 16, my mother made me apply for a job as the society page writer at the Menominee Herald-Leader, for which I could not have been less suited. I didn’t get the job, to my great relief. She also drove me around to apply at all the factories in town, including Prescott’s foundry where my father had worked before he got sick. I was aiming a tad higher and hoped to get a summer job at Spies [pronounced Speez] Library, but they hired another girl from my class who was surely less qualified than me but not likely to leave town for a glamorous dorm room downstate. So my fate, if I hadn’t gotten the financial aid to cover my years at MSU, could have been far worse. Is there a parallel “me” out there who is getting all dolled up in her poodle skirt and fuzzy pink sweater and making the rounds of all the high society doin’s? Or another who is tending a hot furnace or inspecting machine parts on an assembly line, then stopping for a cold one at Dino’s Pine Knot after work and stumbling home half drunk to my put-upon wife and 3 kids… oh wait, I’m getting a little carried away here. I don’t think I would have survived the factory job, but you can see for yourself that I would have had a shot at hobnobbin’ with the upper Upper Peninsula classes by searching this site for my “society column.”

My mother was naïve about class. She joined the AAUW (American Association of University Women) because she loved to read (and she had, by then, graduated from college), and discovered that the women there were gossipy snobs. In a way, her naivety helped me, because I was raised to believe that I could do anything I wanted based on merit. I have since learned that there’s a lot of non-merit-based careering going around, but I stayed out of that pool by being proficient as an editor and working in academia and publishing. I did it my way, like Frank S. and Pookie M. And I’m proud of that.

 
 

(this is already dated material, but whatever)

I finally got to sit outside on my back porch…

…drink my coffee, and watch the birds. It was too hot all summer, and now it’s verging on too cold. But I got out my winter jacket and was able to enjoy the sunshine, the brisk breeze, and the comings and goings of birds, squirrels, and one brave chipmunk. I had bought safflower seeds for the first time, and darned if the cardinals didn’t figure it out and descend on my yard within a day. How did they know??

On the porch I sit tucked into the corner where no one can see me unless they come looking. I’m mainly looking at grass and trees, though I can see part of a neighbor’s garage across the way. I live in town, but the only sounds I hear are branches swishing, birdies chirping, and the tinkle of a large chime that hangs on my porch. I share the space with a wasp’s nest and its occupants. I keep thinking I should get some poison and spray them dead, but they don’t bother me so why go all commando on them.

There’s a common complaint, “Is this all there is?” But sitting here, I think instead, “How is it that there is even more than this?” If this were all there is, I could easily sit here for eternity. Just keep the birds coming and the coffee flowing. (Do they let you have caffeine in the afterlife?) Like the handmade sign on the way north from Green Bay that asks, “How will you spend eternity?” and the Japanese movie I told you about in the last ‘zine (After Life), it occurs to me that I could choose this moment—or all such moments condensed into one continually renewing one, like an endless seamless loop—for my eternal repeating experience. I’ve had more excitement in my life, more fun, more intensity, more feelings of love and connection, but there is something so completely fulfilling about the birds, the trees, the warmth, the coffee, the breeze…. I’m not rejecting the human element, I just feel most myself when I’m alone. And somehow it seems that all the more intense emotional depths I’ve experienced would inform that quiet reverie-cum-birdsong. So there wouldn’t be a lot of thought involved, just direct observation and pleasurable contemplation. Nothing would be required, no action, no memory, no words, no math or science, just simple existence through and through.

Amen.   


 
 
(Mary McKenney)

 

mary’zine #46: September 2010

September 17, 2010

my body, my selves

It was my first time in a doctor’s office since the spring of 2000. The nurse’s first order of business was to weigh me—while I was fully clothed and wearing wooden clogs. So I figure 10 pounds of that were not me. Then she took me to an examining room where there were two chairs against the wall to my left, and she told me to sit in “the first seat.” Have I mentioned that I sometimes feel like Rain Man without a feel for numbers? Here is exactly what passed through my mind when faced with this seemingly simple command: Well, it depends where you start counting, doesn’t it? So I did a rapid calculation—too rapid for the ordinary human brain to comprehend—and chose to sit in the farther chair. This made perfect sense to me at the time, but of course she meant the chair closer to me, i.e., “the first seat.”

It’s as if my brain responds to cues that are completely generated from within. A person of normal intelligence would immediately know that “the first seat” was the first one she came to. I, on the other hand, had to turn it into a complex binary equation-cum-philosophical query into the order of numbers, and I don’t even think there is such a thing. In the 2 milliseconds I spent trying to work this out, I did not take into account the situation and the environmental cues, such as the fact that there was a small table next to “the first seat,” where the nurse was obviously going to sit to take my blood pressure, temperature, and heart rate. But no, I was operating in an intellectual vacuum. And I felt like an idiot when she made me move to the other chair. Now I contend that mistakes like this may be evidence of high intelligence (I’m only half joking): People with “smart people’s disease” see ambiguities where the average person sees only the obvious. I’ll bet you that if I were editing IQ tests today, I’d find many such ambiguities, as I do in papers on cardiac surgery or asthma. “Book-smart” people are often mocked for lacking in common sense, and this may be part of the explanation. Look at me, turning lemons into lemonade! I know I sound terribly full of myself, but I readily admit that my E and S Q’s (Emotional and Social quotients) are sadly below average.

I hasten to clarify that people of high intelligence who have no trouble distinguishing the obvious from the inexplicable are blessed with a refined sense of their surroundings and should be thankful instead of judging me for looking for a silver lining.

I’m not sure if the following is evidence for or against my theory. Lately I’ve been noticing that I use the phrase “didn’t occur to me” an awful lot. I bought a product at Mighty Pet that you add to your cat’s drinking water to keep his teeth clean or give him better breath or something. The directions said to add a capful of the stuff to 16 oz. of water. I didn’t have a big enough water bowl to hold 16 oz., so I bought a bigger bowl, but my cats wouldn’t drink out of it. My sister Barb asked if I tried putting half a capful into 8 oz. of water, and I had to admit it “didn’t occur to me.” One day I locked my keys in the car at a farm market. When I told P about it later, she said, “Good thing you have AAA.” And I thought, Damn! It didn’t occur to me! (A nice policeman helped me out.) Even after this realization, I started to worry in advance about my Jeep’s gears freezing in the Green Bay airport parking lot while I’m in San Francisco for the painting intensive in December, like they did last year. Finally, I remembered, Oh, yeah, if it happens again I can call AAA! I haven’t used my AAA card in 20 years, and somehow I had stopped connecting the $48 annual fee with actually needing the service.

Am I embarrassed to be making these revelations? Yes, a bit. But I’m more interested in observing the wormholes in my personal “brainscape.” (That word, which I thought I made up, is actually the name of “a database for resting state functional connectivity studies… [for] mapping the intrinsic functional topography of the brain, evaluating neuroanatomical models, and investigating neurological and psychiatric disease.” The website has a drawing of a brain with colored splotches on it, and it looks like a painter’s palette! Think of the connections!) I’m not a scientist, and I couldn’t be more surprised at what I ended up doing for a living (editing for scientists). Quirky writing and metaphorical exploration are much more fun for me.

As I chart the waters at the horizon of the flat earth of my life span, wondering if I’m going to fall off the edge or pursue the horizon as it gets farther and farther away—or, less poetically, as I get closer to oblivion—I’ve vowed not to repeat my mother’s mantra in her later years, “It’s hell to get old.” She was talking not only about the body complaints but about the brain blips that I am now very familiar with, the “I walked into this room and now I have no idea what I’m doing here” natural loss of short-term whatchamacallit, memory. She died before she got dementia, thankfully. I hear that dementia is frightening, but would it have to be? I hypothesize (i.e., wishfully speculate) that it may be possible to keep one foot, or two tippy toes, on a safe spot while surrounded by confusion and loss of identity. Could I have myself a laugh while the aides at The Home tut-tut about my wearing panties on my head? Not knowing which chair to sit in will be small potatoes indeed. Could self-acceptance go so far as to allow one to celebrate being painted into a corner, having given up real estate but found the perfect place to preserve the brain’s eyes and ears and low-level functioning? My doctors and alternative healers never knew that I cured myself of agoraphobia and lower back pain through reading self-help books. So can I take my night dreams of death-acceptance and my autodidactic survey of self and my experience of painting beyond anything in the known world and create my own befuddled but privately cherished corner of the universe? I almost look forward to testing this out.

*

I’ve written before about having odd sentences pop into my mind when I’m in the twilight zone between wake and sleep. Recent example: “We had to resign from school all the way in.” And a more colorful one: “We would definitely become topless bitches.” What goes on in there?

*

You’ve heard of “Overheard”? Well, this is a new feature: “Overread.”  In Bob Dylan in America, Sean Wilhentz quotes someone saying that Dylan wasn’t stoned in a session, he “wasn’t hooked on anything but time and space.” Am I the only one who finds this  hilarious?

back to my body

Because I’ve been AWOL from the medical-industrial complex for so long, I now have to get lab work, X-rays, and a full physical, including a colonoscopy, a mammogram, and a vaginal invasion. Oh Lordy. The sky over the doctor’s office is dark with chickens coming home to roost. Back in 2000, my last doctor “visit” (as if you sit around chatting over a cup of tea: “How you been?” “Good… you?”) had culminated in gallbladder surgery, a shot in the dark by a doctor who had no idea how literal my mind-body connection really is. (When I googled “mind-body” to find the noun that goes after it, a listing on the first page of results was for “pole dance classes.” I decided not to try to figure out the connection—ah, the word I wanted!). Like a whole string of other physical problems that were actually based in emotional trauma, sublimation, ignorance, or stress, the tightening band of pain around my abdomen was still there after the gallbladder was gone, and I think in the past 10 years I’ve hoped that I’d meet my maker by getting hit by a bus or falling out of a window before I had to go back into the belly of the beast.

The reason I was finally forced to return was pain in both knees that came on all of a sudden as I was walking down the stairs. The pain lasted for 6 or 7 weeks, and I could no longer talk myself into the “That’s OK, I’ll probably die of bird flu before it becomes a real problem” avoidance tactic. My sister Barb likes her doctor, so I decided to go to him.

I tarted myself up by shaving my legs (first time this century) and wearing my “Olds Cool” t-shirt so he’d know I’m hip and happenin’ despite my chronological age. I had to run over to Walgreen’s the night before to buy a shaver. That was a waste, because I didn’t have to take my clothes off for the “visit,” and the hair is just going to grow back. It didn’t occur to me (there it goes again) to shave my armpits. For my physical, which is in a week or so, I’ll be sure to do all the appropriate personal grooming.

“Dr. T” is youngish—early 40s, I’d say—and a handsome devil. He assured me that “we live in America” so I don’t have to do anything he recommends. What a switch. Doctors used to browbeat us about giving up caffeine and losing weight, and airlines barely registered our existence. He dictated all my vital information into a recorder as I was sitting there so I could confirm or correct it on the spot. However, I suspect that he adds an addendum after the patient leaves, because he didn’t reveal his first impressions of me (“Patient is a 63-year-old woman with bad skin, dykey haircut, weird taste in clothes, and overweight due to wearing heavy clogs”).

In my provincial, West-Coast-leaning way, I had figured that doctors in the Midwest would be subpar because, Why would they want to live here? But so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the competence and friendliness of everyone I’ve encountered. I had spent several hours at the hospital—which they insist on calling “Bay Area” Medical Center (“BA”MC)—when my sister K (ironically) had knee surgery last month. It was one big happy family as RNs, LPNs, and MDs stopped by her room to say hi to the three members of my family who have been going to them for various ailments over the years. My sisters introduced me, and I’ve finally lost the label “sister from California.” I have gone native at last.

tech-no-no-how

I don’t have a smart phone, but it’s still a devious little thing. It lives in my pocket and connives to perform various functions when I am leaning forward, squatting down, or otherwise causing one of the buttons on the front of the phone to ping. It might turn itself off (then on), go to my contact list, try to send a text message, come this close to going online. Once at 4 a.m., I heard the telltale ping in my pocket, and I took it out to see what it was up to. Nothing was pressing against it, so I didn’t think my body language had sent any unintentional messages. When I looked at it, the screen was showing my contact list at M. P—. Before I could press End—like grabbing the cat before it escapes out the door—it rang. I press Talk and there’s nothing. I say, “M—“? and my sister K says, “This is his wife, can I help you?” But if I called him, why did my phone ring? I quickly say, “It’s Mary!” and we have a confusing back-and-forth about why are you calling, why are you calling? I explain that it was my cell phone’s doing. As we’re about to hang up, K says, “Thank you for not being ‘the other woman’.” We giggle and say bye. Later, MP refuses to believe that my phone called him all by itself. I have since learned that this is called “pocket dialing.” You would think that the geniuses at Apple or wherever would have come up with a way to prevent this. Flip phones are still popular on TV shows, because they make a dramatic and satisfying snik when they snap shut. But with my slide phone I pay extra every month for junk text messages (received, not sent) and “Casual Data Usage,” whatever that is.

Later that day, I force myself to leave the house and drive the seemingly interminable 5.83 miles (per Mapquest) to Shopko to get a prescription filled. I pull into the parking lot and find a spot near the door to the pharmacy. The car next to me is just starting to pull out. I get out of the Jeep, lock up, and turn to see that the driver of the other car is my other sister Barb. Now, this might not sound that unusual, but I rarely see anyone I know when I’m out and about. In the 6 years since I moved back to my hometown, I’ve run into K maybe 2 or 3 times at Angeli’s, Barb once before at Shopko, and MP a few times on the road, where we wave and grin maniacally at each other as we pass, as if it’s the most amazing thing in the world. (To defend myself against the charge of not recognizing my sister’s car, she got rid of the big purple truck and now drives a generic black SUV.)

So my brain puts these two unlikely events together—the errant phone call and the precise juxtaposition of Barb’s and my shopping trips, and I think, This has got to mean something. I’ve never really believed in coincidence. I’ve been determined to make sense out of the world (or, if necessary, impose sense on it) since I was first capable of wishful thinking. I’ve gone through periods when absolutely everything seemed like a message from The Universe. One day in the 1980s I found a dime on the ground in each of three different counties: San Francisco, Marin, and Alameda. Instead of just glorying in my 30-cent windfall, I set the parameters for significance. Surely there must be a meaningful pattern here? But then what could I do with that information? Unless some psychology grad student was going around dropping coins all over the Bay Area to study, I don’t know, dime migration, there was no way to decode the mystery. (Strangely, each dime had a little metal tag on it… now I’m just being silly.) I think a mathematician would say that each dime-finding was a separate event, with separate odds. But I insist on taking geography and time into account, making it one multi-event with supposedly low, low odds. This is why I’m not a mathematician: the rules! the absolutes! Plus, no feel for numbers.

It was lovely when I took Deepak Chopra at his word that “The universe is infinitely correlated.” I can’t know definitively that it’s not, but it’s suspiciously comforting, like the idea that Jesus is waiting for us up in heaven—or is he coming back here first? I’m not clear on that. I’ve had a long love affair with synchronicity, but it presupposes an order that is not necessarily there. So I’m down to not believing in anything, really—not in a nihilistic, depressing way, but just standing here on the edge of the Unknown, open to possibilities and opportunities, without trying to fit scenarios onto it like it’s a paper doll with infinite wardrobe choices.

*

Here in the U.P. and N.E.W. (Northeastern Wisconsin; I didn’t make it up), the stories keep rolling in. A formerly close friend of the family robs a Cash&Go (Check&Go? Well, Rob&Go, now) across the street from his house, to which he drives right after the heist. An ex-wife gets arrested for shoplifting at WalMart. A long-lost brother is discovered after supposedly jumping out of a 7-story building in California. The police have identified him from his fingerprints, but there is still some suspicion on this end that it may not be him because “it’s not that hard to fake fingerprints.” It’s not? I feel like I’ve lived such a normal, unassuming life up to this point, but back here in my “boring” Midwestern hometown these bizarre happenings are commonplace, as if the real action takes place in the middle of the country while people on the coasts sit around reading books and thinking great thoughts.

People around here divorce and move their kids to Madison or Texas while the other spouse moves also and then bemoans how far away the kids are. Or lives closer but resents being invited to the ex’s new place only to find that he is expected to babysit while the ex goes out. This is considered unconscionable, even after I retort that he’s the father. People take drugs and deal them, start fights in bars, go deep into debt (“How can you afford that trailer, Brian?” “Go into debt!” [an actual quote]), lose track of their grown kids. A 37-year-old man is estranged from certain family members over his involvement with a much younger cousin; he got out of that situation only to move in with a man he supervises at work and then took up with the guy’s 21-year-old daughter, who now lives with them. The roommate is threatening various things. The “drama queen,” as he is now known, calls home to Mama, who can only give him advice he should be able to figure out on his own.

The saddest thing for me in this flurry of dissolution and dislocation is that I lost my connection with two of Barb’s granddaughters (who are sisters). They have different fathers and now live with their mother and another man who is not the father of their new little sister. When I saw them frequently, one of them told me she wanted to take an after-school gymnastics class at the Y in Menominee, but her parents said they couldn’t afford it. So, using Barb as a go-between, I offered to pay for the class. Word filtered back to me that she couldn’t go anyway, because she had no way to get there (2.74 miles). So I offered to pick her up at school and drive her to the Y, then back again when the class was over. It was only twice a week, and I had nothing better to do. There was no word and no filter after that, just a big silent door slam. Were they suspicious of my motives? That could just be my paranoia, but I’ll never know. I do know that people without money are innately suspicious of others’ generosity, seeing it as lording it over them. No one wants to be beholden. You have to have something of your own to believe that someone with more is not trying to humiliate you. With my grandniece, I just wanted to help out my extended family. But the family did not extend itself to me.

*

I love my mostly solitary life, but some days are packjam with human contact, and those are nice, too. One day I had delightful visits (real ones) with my niece Lorraine and my haircutter Lois. Later, I stopped off at Barb’s house to help her with a problem she was having with her computer. Then I lay down on her couch and found it overwhelmingly comfortable, so I stayed while we watched 5 episodes of “Nurse Jackie” and ordered a pizza. Finally, I stumbled on home to find an e-mail from a second cousin, Sharon, who was offering scanned images of old photos of my mother’s family. Over the next few days, we corresponded about the photos and traded family stories. It was slightly disconcerting to realize that I had never really thought about any of my ancestors beyond my grandparents’ generation. But here was evidence that I did not emerge full-blown from the forehead of Grandpa Larsen: a photo of my great-grandfather Pieter Larsen, sitting at a desk back there in the 19th century. It was humbling.

Although it’s perhaps natural to think of oneself as the glorious culmination of thousands of years of procreation, it also occurred to me that, in the great pantheon of life as lived by the great-great-greats, none of it has much to do with me. Let’s say I’m a drop of water in a tiny creek in a cow pasture. (My sisters and I played in one across the road from our house.) As that water drop, I’m all about the creek, the cows, the trees, the changes of weather. Then I find out about the rivers in the area—the Menominee and Peshtigo rivers and their tributaries, Wausaukee, Pike, Pemebonwon, Little Popple, Pine, Popple, Brule, Little Peshtigo, Thunder, and Rat. Then there’s Green Bay off Lake Michigan, and all the Great Lakes, and it just goes on and on. You could argue that, as a drop in a tiny creek, I am not a product of these larger bodies of water but an antecedent, and you wouldn’t be wrong—but if the creek dried up, the other bodies would not be affected at all. So there you have it: my watery analogy for the significance, to me, of my untold myriad of ancestors: I am but a drop (or a drip). So if I were found to be distantly related to, say, Captain Lars Larsen of the Viking Navy, it would add barely a molecule of significance to my life. I admit I’m curious about the McKenney line too, but I’m not going to search it out. I’d rather explore my more immediate influences—the creek waters of which I am a part, the stones in the creek, the cow pies—do they go in the creek too?—the spring flowers, buttercups, violets, the splashing of summer and the frozen rigidity of winter. My ancestors are part of the geologic/physiologic past that formed me, but I’d rather stay in the present than search for remnants of self in those long-ago, many-times-diluted family ties.

*

So, the X-rays of my knees came back with the diagnosis, “degenerative changes,” meaning arthritis. When I was having lower back pain for a year and a half in the early ‘90s, I read about a study in which the X-rays or MRIs of people complaining of back pain were no more indicative of degeneration than were those of people who had no pain. The inescapable conclusion was that doctors see structural changes and then attribute the perceived pain to those changes. The book that cured me of my emotionally based pain (Healing Back Pain, by Dr. John Sarno) includes several references to knees. So now I have my work cut out for me: If I can banish the pain in the next 2 weeks, I won’t have to get a cortisone injection and/or be crippled for life. The power of the mind (and the duplicity of the body) is strong indeed. But I plan to wrestle my errant brain cells to the ground, saving the few that will keep me babbling incoherently at The Home while chuckling up my sleeve in my safe corner, free to think and ponder the secrets of the universe to my heart’s content.

You are here. Which is “the first” number?

[Mary McKenney]


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