Friday, April 30, 2010

Two and a Half Months on the Island of Bed

I have begun to think of this last two and a half months as resting on an island -- everything I need is nearby -- water, juice, the dogs, books, a notebook, pen, napkins and kleenex, a kitchen towel to protect my clothes from spillage when I eat. At night I wrap myself in a lavender (not the best color, but so comfortable) quilt on top of the bed and sleep until I wake up, then watch PBS or read, then maybe sleep again.

Recently I've lost the marvelous zing that characterized my middle of the nights since I started getting prednisone in the hospital. I've decreased the dose, two weeks-by-two-weeks from 60mg to 20, so that's probably why. I hate to admit that I miss it because that bit of personality that appeared so startlingly at 1am, or maybe 3, was closer to my real, remembered self. 

Two nights ago, "Hamlet," a filmed production from London, was repeated sometime very late. I'd watched most of it the previous afternoon, but wanted very badly to see it again, since I've never been really read or thought about Shakespeare (in spite of one college class, so many years ago, that I never noticed.) And there it was, in my precious high-time, only there I was, flat, dull and eager to fall asleep again.

The bed still beckons me during the day. Right now I seem tied to it most of the time whether it's because of the change in medication or because when I started to walk, fifteen days ago, I thought that going up hills was the best way to strengthen, not having considered what lying down for two months does to a person. So, as is characteristic, I did too much and probably got to the piraformis muscle which is never, never fun.

Chris and Krissy still drive me to work, only now he's taking the big dig and then the expressway. I get to go over the Zakim bridge which is truly gorgeous though I would never drive on that highway myself, being phobic. Often I shut my eyes or mutter things like, "The right lane is a very good place to be. The right lane is really nice." But I can tell how much I've calmed down since I first drove with Chris.

On the way back from my class (where they dropped me conveniently and retrieved me after three hours), we stop at the Victoria Diner, where I order steak tips. I never imagined eating beef, but I am. Which reminds me of a woman I knew who said, "Never say never." I'd been photographing in a Catholic church in Roxbury, a predominantly black congregation and an Irish priest, for a project about the old elevated Orange Line trolley that ran from Jamaica Plain down into Boston, set to be torn down within the year. 

I'd decided to photograph and interview people who lived along that stretch and managed to spend a good bit of time with most of them -- a doctor from Healthcare for the Homeless, the daughter of my friend from Guyana who moved to Boston, the art librarian at the university, and the never-say-never nun, a Sister of St. Joseph, who took me to various folks that she visited in Via Victoria and became a good friend. She lived in a pleasant house with four or five bedrooms shared with others from her community. We often had lunch in that sunny kitchen. Was it there or somewhere else that I met another woman who was talking about her rather unpleasant position in a cloister, and I must have said, "But I thought everyone is equal." and she said, "Oh, yes, everyone is equal, but some are more equal that others." I loved that simple phrase. (What was odd, wonderful, is that folks in that church group accepted that I am an agnostic, just allowed me to be me.) Of course, the images with their transcribed text, difficult and complicated and very satisfactory to make, got lost in some bureaucratic shuffle. 

But as my daughter said, when she was a little girl, and I'd just gotten out of the hospital for an infected toe nail (give me a break) and got back to the apartment to see her and found that there was no heat, no hot water and that the cats had torn down the Christmas tree, "You can't have everything." (She's right and we went to stay with a friend and her son in their loft....)

Last Sunday, when I was feeling better than I am now, I decided to test out driving. I knew perfectly well that I'm not capable of normal Boston driving, but thought I could manage to get to Winthrop to have tea with the vespersparrow. I hadn't seen her in probably three months, or at least close to it. And knew that there's very little traffic on that route which actually takes me past the barn area of the racetrack. My car can do it in its sleep....      

I won't say that I was entirely secure or that I would have been happy driving with me. My reflexes are slow and one has to drive with great defensiveness here. I'm not sure where this city is on the scale of bad drivers, but it's very high on the list. A lot of extremely impatient people drive way above the speed limit in town, run red lights, honk if you're the slightest bit slow, cut you off in a minute, turn right on the light just in front of you when it's  your right-of-way. Etc. 

I brought her the muffins I'd made with the recipe from my Panera friend, but there were only two for each of us. I could have eaten seven, with that lovely honey.

Tulip and I weren't entirely sure about the drive. She's been reading up on the traffic rules, but wasn't all that helpful, except for her earnest interest in the trip.

I still, even though I've gotten even slower and it hurts to walk, make my way down to Ping at Marketbasket where he (or Peter) make the inari with avocado and shrimp. I convinced a friend, K., to have lunch with me there which was particularly nice. He got his form of treats and I ate my usual, very pleasant fare.

I apologize for being behind on reading blogs, most especially the Cuban in London, whose site I read, but too hurriedly, but will read again, along with the next two installments. And I'm behind on Tuesday Poems, but I'll catch up.

Perhaps this wasn't the best week because I finalized my decisions to stop teaching as of this fall, even though I'm scheduled for a class. It's very hard to give up a career that meant so much to me, especially since my pension is very modest. The decision was hard, not because I'm sick, but because I've worked since I was 14 and define myself in that way. But I'd gotten to a point where I would be happier bagging groceries in a supermarket (I've never done that before!) than I was working in someone else's photo program, much as I like the person who slid into my positio personally. Obviously this was hard, perhaps a reason for fatigue, but I think it's a combination of physical factors. But who knows? Only the Shadow. I e-mailed that attachment containing my letter on Sunday.

In class on Monday, we had a critique that started at 1:15 and ended at 3:30. It involved me thinking and talking about student work, encouraging them to talk, making sure it was clear that I might voice an opinion, but it's only an opinion, not meant to sway a decision and talking about the problems with the printer not being calibrated to the computer screen or visa versa, and that you can't use 16x20 paper ($3 a sheet) without sacrificing a piece for test strips, and that it's necessary to chose satin or matt paper for digital prints, etc. By the end, most everyone seemed fried, but I was major-league gone and decided to leave early. I never do that. But as I walked to the bathroom, I thought, "I was in the hospital, 6 or 7 weeks ago, near to needing a transfusion. Who am I kidding?"

I'm kidding myself, not believing that being 71 (ouch, ouch, ouch, ahhhhhhhh) is different than being 57 or 42. I would not have been this sick at those ages. But, I think, look who I was last summer, in the barns every morning, washing water buckets, mixing feed, walking a lot, the illusion that I had built myself up considerably. And I had, even if I now walk an uneven line and imagine the police assuming I'm some drunk carrying  her two bags of groceries back from the market!

Many thanks...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tuesday Poem, Flowers and Moonlight on the Spring River

Flowers and Moonlight on the Spring River

The evening river is level and motionless --
The spring colours just open to their full.
Suddenly a wave carries the moon away
And the tidal water comes with its freight of stars.

By Yang-Ti, Emperor of the Sui Dynassty from 605-617

(Chinese Poems, edited by Arthur Waley)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

My Father's Shoes

When my father was in his early eighties, he and my stepmother, Mari, still packed up the VW camper and made the long drive from Queensland, Nova Scotia, down to Mobile, Alabama. I know that my father hated going because he could never appreciate this narrowly religious, very proper relative, cousin Hilda But they were committed because Mari had promised that if Hilda would let my father's aged mother live with her for a few years, they would take care of Hilda, later.

By the time they visited on this particular trip down the coast, it had been clear to me, to all their friends, that Mari's memory, which has always been scatty, was getting progressively worse. And it was probable that she was developing alzheimers, though my father patiently answered her questions as often as she repeated them, never hinting that anything might be wrong. His silence was hard to breach. So I was surprised when he brought this subject up.

Probably Mari was sweeping the stairs, or the front sidewalk, when he said something like, "I've been thinking, I wasn't sure what to do, but I've finally solved the problem. I decided that I will outlive Mari and, therefore, will be able to take care of her." He smiled happily. By then he resembled a Halloween pumpkin, with his front teeth blackened by his determination never to visit a dentist again.  

I naturally didn't remind him that he might, possibly, in spite of his will power, die before she did, because he was so pleased with himself for having come up with a solution to a problem he must have been mulling over for a couple of years.

Anyway, things continued on. They kept driving to Alabama every year until he was eighty-four and had an aneurysm soon after their return trip. They had continued visiting cousin Hilda because Mari had made that promise a year or two after they married in 1958 or so. My father's mother, by then very frail and confined mostly to her room, was living with them. Mari had a quite uncharacteristic bout of what she must have considered selfishness - the desire to establish her married life without the burden of caring for an elderly person. I can imagine how long it took her to realize this, to broach the subject with my father (who would have been just delighted to have his mother out of the house. He had related a dream about her that he had around that time, that she was a tiny doll, wrapped in a handkerchief, left on a straight chair downstairs, and he'd been worried that my half-brother (my mother's son) would sit on her.)

They were both in their mid-fifties. This was Mari's first marriage and her family had to agree to take on the responsibility of her invalid mother, a woman she'd cared for most of her life, starting in her childhood in a mining town in Iowa. Her parents were Slovakian immigrants, and Mari, the oldest child, raised all the younger kids, also. When she was old enough to start teaching school, she rode a horse to get to the village and then came back for weekends. 

Once the family moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut, and all the others married and had families, Mari still lived at home. By then, she'd worked at General Electric as an executive secretary for many years and become inspired to get her Master's in something that I'm going to call secretarial courses for want of a better title and had begun teaching in that program at the University of Bridgeport. 

Then, she met my father. He would often tell of that day when she visited the International Statistical Bureau where he'd written probability reports for years (except during that dangerous time when he quit his job, sold the house my mother had cherished, married his second wife, started a business, failed utterly at everything except drinking large tumblers of scotch which caused him to be even more silent that he might have been). 

That day, while he sat in his office, the door closed, he heard footsteps in the hall and recognized them to be Mari's. 

Now, this has to be impossible because he'd only met her once years before, not that long after my mother died. I think he'd offered to take her to lunch then, but she had a date with someone to go to a baseball game. Oh, if only she hadn't, my teenage years would have been very different!

But here he was, six or seven years later, on the verge of divorcing that second wife, hearing footsteps that he knew were Mari's. This is the remarkable. My passive father had to open his door and go out into the hallway to greet her. 

She had only stopped by, briefly, to show the secretaries photographs of her sister's children, since Margaret had worked there some years earlier.

Anyway, it was fate. They did have lunch together. Who knows how many martinis he drank, but she hardly minded since her father drank a prodigious amount also. And so their courtship started. 

(Another story that amused my father was about the first time he met her father. Naturally he arrived for this important event with an unopened bottle in a paper bag. He and the 'old man' sat at a table in the kitchen with two empty glasses on it. My father reached down, took out his bottle, opened it,  and poured them a drink. 

After they finished that, her father got up, went to the cupboard, got out his bottle, walked to the table, poured them a drink, put the bottle back in the cupboard, sat down and they drank that. Then, of course, my father reached down to his bottle (I'm sure it was on the floor by his chair, because that seems more ceremonial) and poured them another. And then, as you will guess, his father got up from his chair, got his bottle, poured, put it back, etc. On and on, through the long evening. 

What he really liked about it all was the stubborn way the old man put his bottle back every time. And, of course, like many alcoholics, he loved any story about drinking foibles.

So, anyway, the sun rose and set on my father from Mari's point of view. From his, she was his best wife (who knows what life was like with my mother before she got cancer, but those four years were certainly hard.) And so they got married when I was eighteen or nineteen, the damage already done for me, but an extraordinary thirty years ahead for them.

They had nothing in common. She doted family, he was deeply suspicious of anyone who might be called a relative, though he learned, bless his hard heart, to appreciate hers. He read constantly and thought about mathematics and physics, and had no need to talk to her about his intellectual life. She told him everything about her day, and complained if the bus driver was impolite. "I'm going to write a letter to that company," and she did. He listened, though he would never have complained about anything. She cooked. He ate, though he liked cold left overs for breakfast and always took what was sitting on the front of the refrigerator shelf, not caring much to hunt around.

One of her grandest achievements was getting him to write a book about probabilities, how she did this is quite beyond me, after she got him to teach a course at the same university where she worked. This lead to his being offered a position at Dalhousie University in Halifax. He was already past retirement age when they moved up there and became landed immigrants and he started teaching in the Master's Program. 

It would probably have been better for Mari, a serious extrovert who loved company, if they'd lived in the city, but he chose an isolated house overlooking St. Margaret's Bay about a forty-five minutes drive from his work. They purchased the place, built as a summer retreat for a large family, with everything in tact -- the fake Persian rugs, the old couch and three living room chairs, single beds for the two downstairs guest rooms and all the cots upstairs in the open dormitory. The plates, cups and saucers remained just where the previous family had put them, in an ungainly glass incased contraption in the living room. 

My parents possessions, paintings that my father and mother had bought, an etching of a whale that my brother had made, a perfectly hideous plaster nude self-portrait I did in college, overlaid it all, as did the double bed, a platform with a thin mattress, in their bedroom (so very different from the dark, cumbersome dresser draws from the other family.)

They had a nice life, even after he had the aneurysm, until he had a stroke when he was eighty-seven. This presented problems because when he was in the hospital, Social Services noticed that the nurses had pinned a notice to Mari's dress, "Return to third floor" because she couldn't find her way back from the bathroom. And they refused to let him go home after rehab unless he had daily help, someone to cook and clean. For a man who never expressed anger, he had quite a tussle with his rage that an agency had control over his life, that he couldn't manage by himself. 

But, that passed and a cheerful housekeeper came in everyday, he even got to like her and lend her books, Mari learned her name and liked chatting, and life rolled along for almost three years

until he had another stroke (too long a story) and Mari was left, not knowing where the old man who sat in the chair across from her in the living room had gone

and her sister, Margaret, put Mari in the nursing home near her

and I had to clean out the house which is what this blog is all about.

For years, my daughter, Krissy, had been urging her grandpa to get grandma to clean out the dormitory that had gradually become filled with piles of old newspapers tied with string that Mari just couldn't part with, plastic bags of old clothes and sheets so worn that they were unusable, electric coffee pots that didn't work. But he wasn't about to have a fuss trying to get her to do it.

It took five or six people, working all day and well into the evening, for a week, and a dumpster in the driveway, to undo the debris she'd left. 

And then we looked at the basement, his domain, and were shocked to find so many old chairs that he'd been planning to cane, all those bottles left from the attempts to make wine, almost as much clutter as she'd collected.

It took a long time to look through everything, to haul and drag, push and shove, clean and sweep. But out things went. 

Until I came to my father's shoes. 

For many years he'd bought all his clothes second hand from Frenchie's, a dealer down the road who had piles of old clothes, probably some donated down in the States. He liked the cardigans he bought, thought the second hand pants were perfectly fine. Maybe he bought his shoes there, too, a pair of sneakers that for some incomprensible reason embodied him to me. 

They were him, molded, worn, tired. And I wanted to take them along with the boxes of books that had been my mother's, the family Bibles that belonged to my grandmother and revealed to me, for the first time, the exact date that my mother had died, May 31, 1951, the cups that grandma had promised to Krissy. But I didn't.

The shoes I wore when I was working at the track early mornings last summer began to remind me of my father's shoes, molded by all the water I spilled on them, by the dust and dirt ground in. 

But they aren't my father's shoes.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tuesday Poem, (The Reading, Museum of Fine Arts, October 2003

The Reading, Museum of Fine Arts, October 2003

Wearing the writer's quiet costume, Ferlinghetti quietly intones the rhythm
of The Beats whose words were trombones opening doors
and closing exits, floating on lucent light insanely dependent on the small 
thunder of their small houses as the sun roared
and threw shadows out of the night and souls of dark trees waved.

The lady next to me sighs each time he finishes a poem and stands quietly
waiting for the applause to stop. This eight-four-year-old-
poet-book-seller-publisher-activist-icon-remnant reads every god-dam
poem from an out-of-print book and then more from four

new ones, evoking Klempt's kiss, Chagall's horse, Monet's lilies giving
the impression he floated through life on them, Goya's disasters,
Gaugain, Picasso, Mondrian, etc. (Berthe Morissot tossed in) at the tail-end
of our twisted century as six gilded cherubs holding instruments

dance on the side wall and hundreds of us behold this poet's pleasant-pink
face, shiny bald head, neat white beard, skin wrinkling
on the back of his hand as he reads on, three more poems written since 9/11
before announcing himself as the advanced drumbeat

for the recall of Bush and everyone (cherubs included) claps wildly.

(Honorable Mention), 2009 Ellen La Forge Poetry Prize

Thursday, April 15, 2010


It has been a remarkable week, starting with the arrival of Krissy's friend, Parker, last Saturday, this delightful person. (Please take a look at A Glorious Sunday blog post because Parker is such a gem and I just can't give enough sense of that here.)

When my daughter was brought to me in the hospital, a tiny baby, her eyes were open and I had every sense that she was looking around, saying to herself, 'Okay, I'm ready. Let's get going.' As a child, I swore that she'd talk to a doorknob if no one was around to listen. She was alive, alive, alive, running, dancing, chattering, making up stories and languages. And she still talks, a lot, but not as much as Parker who is just chock full of stories, one after another and plans.

On Wednesday morning, Krissy and I went through my jewelry and found earrings that looked like Parker that Krissy put into little cloth bags, tiny boxes and then into a basket. After that K. and I took my first walk, as in truly first walk after I'd made the decision to try a few blocks toward the Chelsea City Cafe. To my surprise and relief, I made it to a bagel and ice water. 

When I got back, Parker and I sat on the back porch, and she opened her hand-me-down presents (quite nice, often silver with amethyst, or tiny jade leaves, all lovely gifts from I don't remember where), each pair reminded her of a story, often about someone in the ashram she visits every few years to continue her studies with her swami. (Twenty-two hours, not counting layovers and the taxi ride to the tiny village, yes, I would like to see India, but no, I won't ever, just tell me more stories about the two Nomads who came into the ashram, their muscular arms showing through the wraps, bracelets covering their arms so that they displayed their level of wealth and jingled when they strode out, having decided not to wait until swami appeared, tinkling bells and smiling -- these most fully-possessed-of-themselves, beautiful pair of women she'd ever seen, she couldn't stop starring. How could a pair of earrings remind her of them as we sat on my rickety steps overlooking the straggling back yard with a few daffodils starting to fade.)

Today, Parker's last day in Boston where she has been to Memorial Drive, Harvard Square, Marblehead (see Sunday blog), Salem,The Elisabeth Stewart Gardener Museum and on the Freedom Trail, she wanted to have tea at the Chelsea Cafe, the three of us, before we went to Revere Beach to walk the dogs. (So I could photograph Krissy and Parker, both with Cherokee cheekbones. Can you tell?)

THAT'S RIGHT. WALK THE DOGS. ME. ON THE BEACH. WALKING. It was quite amazing to be there, cool ("Is it always this cold? I'm freezing," Parker says. "This is nice," I say. She shivers. The dogs run ahead, around, Bogie rolls continually on his back, managing to unhook his leash and lose it for a while.)

The walking started last night after I got an e-mail from a friend of Elsa Dorfman's who has been advising me. Her latest hint is to keep up strength training. And my response ten minutes later was to decide that I could draggle around after Krissy when she walked the dogs. And to decide that I will walk twice a day, brute force if necessary. But it wasn't. I could actually do it. Followed by lying down, but who cares. I'd walked, slowly, for an hour.

Otherwise, I would be lying here reading Suetonius, something I never imagined I'd ever get around to.

I was touched to find a very old issue of Caterpillar 3/4, cost $2.50, with Atagawa's note to Masao Kume, dated 12 June, 1927, saying

 "Whether or not this manuscript ought to be published, and of course, when it should be published or where, I leave to you.
    You know most of the people who appear in it. But if you have it published, I'd rather it didn't have an index.
    I exist now in a most unhappy happiness. But strangely, without remorse. Only that I feel very sorry for those who had me as a husband, father, son.   Goodbye. In the manuscript, consciously (underlined) at least, there is no attempt to justify myself.
   Last, I leave this manuscript to you feeling that you knew me better than anyone else.   (The skin of this cosmopolitan me stripped away)  At the fool in this manuscript, go ahead and laugh."

Akutagawa (1892 - 1927): popular genius of his time.  Voracious reader, immersed in Chinese classics, Japanese history, Western literature. Author of "Rashomon" (1915), basis for the famed film..."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Two Months Ago, I Was Here

Two months ago, maybe three, not long before this whole ulcerative colitis smack-down befell me, or I fell under ot, I was here, with this unopened box holding twenty-five copies of my first chapbook, "The Real Story." And I couldn't open the box for many reasons. The Radish offered to send her cats along since they once opened a box of her books (not chapbooks, but a book, a real book), but it was just to far for them to fly. 

I just opened the box. That's done. 
Ping, who makes my lunch and dinner, (yes, it's getting expensive, but I'll think about that later,) works 85 hours a week, takes only Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter as days off, hasn't had any vacation in six years, is very tired, very tired, has two children, 14 and 4, a mortgage, car, insurance and owns this franchise. 

On my way to buy the Inari and Sushi (shrimp with avocado) today, we met our friend from Panera who knows a great deal about the inner and under workings of the food industry, the quality of food that's available in supermarkets and specialty stores like Whole Paycheck, who told us a little more about how hard it is to make a living as an independent contractor at a major league store that sells a million dollars a day of produce. He was actually on his way to pick up two platters that Ping had catered for him.

While C. and I stood there chatting with him, he explained why it's much better to make my own corn bread and not buy muffins anywhere. "Did you read the labels?" I'm not up to make anything from scratch, but he said that a boxed corn bread is better than store bought, so I'll make that. 

I long for the day when my diet includes brown rice, but I'm extremely grateful that this made-on-the-spot food has been available and that the men who make it (Ping and Peter) have been so obliging.

One of the important things about the blog has been how many people have been really helpful. I'm very indebted to Elsa Dorfman who forwarded my blogspot to a friend of hers who has been advising me by e-mail. I've learned crucial information from her experience, her knowledge of useful foods and suppliments, and her experience with medication including how important it is to build up strength before being weaned off of prednisone because that, in itself, presents it's own set of problems. So, I'm going to have to force myself to do more, hard as it is. I'm no where near being able to join the Y, but I can push myself more during the day, tired as I still am. I'm down to 30mg a day for another week and a half, then twenty, 15, 10, and 5, each for two weeks.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Tuesday Poem Project"

Fifth Floor Walk-U, 6th St., Avenue D

Stupid and twenty-six, head full of words,
I napped to escape -- earning a living,
raising a child, keeping the man with an Afro halo,
light brown skin, dancer's body and a painter's mind.
His sights were on San Francisco for a clean start or another woman,
but before he left me and our daughter,
there were worms, diapers and thick summer heat.
All day, kids screamed in the rubble below.
After dark, shadows of men scurried past the window, up the fire escape.
Our mattress lay on the floor I'd painted Chinese red.
Over my desk I taped a torn magazine reproduction --
the Magritte painting of a woman on horseback
shimmering in and behind tree trunks.
The crib was in the far room, past the room with no furniture,
past the narrow bathroom,
and the kitchen with no table or chairs.
One morning I found tiny worms
writhing at the bottom of the make-shift diaper pail.
Trembling, I rushed them and the baby uptown to the clinic,
"What does this mean?"
The sparkling doctor, middle class like me,
had never seen anything like it,
but worms meant medicine.
He prescribed three bottles of purple poison.
There was no persuading the father to drink it, but the baby
and I swallowed ours.

Magritte's rider's back was straight, her tight boots glistened.

(published in "The Real Story", a chapbook,

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Glorious Sunday

Krissy's friend, Parker, is visiting for a few days. What a gift. To me. She flew into Boston on Saturday, then C. took her for a long walk on Memorial Drive, and to Harvard and the Square, all of which was fascinating since she loves history and finds it remarkable to be here, where it's embodied almost everywhere.

When she got back later that evening, she came up, sat on the bed and talked to me for a couple of hours. Heaven. Many stories about the remarkable people she's read about -- like the woman who had been a laundress for all of her life, washing and ironing clothes, tithing, saving a third of her very small salary, centering her life about the family and her love of Jesus. After she had, little-by-little, saved more than a million dollars, she wanted to do something significant with it (but wasn't interested in recognition) and decided to endow a scholarship at the University of Mississippi (I think.) The whoever she spoke with couldn't imagine that a woman with no public stature, who had earned so little all of her life, had done this and naturally made a big fuss which lead to this humble woman giving public lectures on living modestly and doing something significant with savings.

A consummate extrovert, part Cherokee and from Tennessee, Parker's recovered (put behind her) a childhood that makes most, including mine, look like a walk in the park, and is consumed by a quick intelligence combined a remarkable openness to different experiences, an inner sense of joy, hope and enthusiasm. She's learned to forgive and exudes curiosity and, dare I say it, love. She has a lean face, high cheek bones, large eyes and an expressive mouth. Watching her face move is a past time in itself, as is following her breathless conversation. Heaven.

The first photo shows her beginning her demonstration of how a sari is 16 yards of cloth, folded into a gorgeous garment, so practical and comfortable. When she's at the ashram in India, she wears both western clothes and saris. At home and at work, she wears saris and western clothes, choosing to integrate both worlds that she lives in, instead of keeping them separate. The guru, with whom she has studied for many years,  discourages everyone from engagement with 'him,' as the focal point and she's thoroughly integrated this lesson. She has made part of her living doing complex astrological charts for well over twenty years as well as art modeling which is where she met Krissy some years ago.

The game plan for Sunday had been for C. to drive us up the coast (Krissy was working in New York) to Marblehead. I thought I was good for three hours, maybe, but at the last minute volunteered to stay home because I'm more than a drag, and because Parker really would have liked to stop in Salem, but fortunately, for me, they wouldn't let me. 

C. says that I'm like a wind-up doll. Get me going, shoved into the car, and I stay upright for a certain amount of time before the batteries run down and I have to eat. By the time we'd reached the restaurant I had in mind, seated ourselves at the counter overlooking the bay, I had disappeared. At least until the food arrived. I couldn't even listen to Parker and C. talk about whether there really was a white cross in back of the light house way across the water. The waitress didn't know, but by then C. and Parker had fabricated a story about all the fishermen lost at sea and this memorial. (Which later turned out to be something entirely different.

My aim had been to eat and then walk to Fort Sewall (1742, an earthworks fort) where I've been any number of times. I couldn't imagine walking further than the first bench (about 100 miles), but ended up making my way all around it and looking into the gated windows of the minute kitchen, guard and storage rooms. That's where Parker told us about the Sari.

While C. was driving around Marblehead earlier, I spotted a boat storage area and asked him to stop (he'd already stopped many times so Parker could photograph forsythia, lobster pots, a wooden swing in the middle of an island of daffodils. Later they would climb up into the cemetery and find gravestones so old that the writing has disappeared.) so that Parker could photograph the wrapped boats. And I found myself, for the first time, VOLUNTARILY getting out of the car and going to take pictures myself.

For several years I'd compulsively photographed (with film, black and white) any wrapped items, buildings under construction in winter, plastic wrapped boats, etc., with the intention of making a mock-Christo (sp?) piece. (His/his wife's work has so penetrated my references.) I never did, but here I was, VOLUNTARILY walking somewhere that was a mere luxury (instead of toward Ping and the Sushi bar...). Or toward my classroom, where I will go today.

That was quite a surprise. A fabulous day. Six hours outside. And Parker will be here until Thursday!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Adventures this Week

The last time I moved, an abortive attempt to buy a condo in Jamaica Plain, I rid myself of endless books with no real sense of why I kept what I kept. Such as Lying Stones of Marrakech by Gould. I started the first essay in the middle of last night, as I ate watermelon we'd bought earlier after a visit to Ping for the avocado and shrimp sushi.

I would have sworn that I've never read a book about structuring narrative, but my underlining is right there in a book that's on the way out.  I glanced through it and found a quote by Strunk which denotes the profound lessons of my teenage years --  use the clearest language, in the simplest way, to make the strongest statements. My father bought the book since he definitely conveyed those lessons with his economical, but still interesting prose. And I've taken them to heart, somewhere deep inside me, even though I've occasionally longed to clothe my ideas in sparking language, stacking on four adjectives when one, at most, would do, (though I hate to admit that.) I have never, never gone as far as wanting to use language like Updike did.............(I'd like to have black curls, a gold tooth, wear sparkling colors, lots of jewelry and sequins. Oh, yes, and gold tennis shoes!

Years ago, I found a novel on a Marlow case and sent it to a friend in L.A. It arrived back on my doorstep by return mail because she doesn't like graphic novels of this style. Why on earth did I keep it? Gone now.

I can't imagine having read Pasternak's book, "I Remember," when I was twenty. What would I have understood then when I understand so little now, except these marvelous paragraphs in the section called "Three Shadows."

"Ehrenburg spoke to me in high terms of marina Tsvetayeva and showed me her poems. I was present at a literary meeting at the beginning of the Revolution at which she, among other writers, red her verses. During one of the winters of the Civil War I went to see her with some kind of message. I talked about all sorts of unimportant things and listened to all sorts of trivialities in turn. Marina Tsvetayeva made no impression on me.

My ear was at the time perverted by pretentious extravagances and the break from everything natural that were in vogue in those days. Everything spoken in a normal way rebounded from me. I forgot that words by themselves can mean and contain something apart from the cheap toys with which they are strung.

It was just the harmony of Marina Tsvetayeva's, the clarity of their meaning, the presence of find qualities and absence of defects that interfered with and barred the way to my understanding of their true nature. It was not the essential I looked for in everything, but some nicety which had nothing to do with it.

For a long time I underestimaged Marina Tsvetayeva as in different ways I had underestimated Bagritsky, Khlebnikov, Mandelstam, and Gumiyov.

I have already said that among the young people who could not express themselves intellgibly and who raised their tongue-tied babblings into a virtue and tried to be original at all costs, only two, Aseyev and Marina Tsvetayeva, expressed themselves in human language and wrote in a classical style and language.

And suddently both of them renounced their skill. Aseyev was tempted by Khlebnikov's exmaple. Marina Tsvetayeva had undergone some inward changes of her own. But it was the original, the traditional Marina Tsvetayeva who in the end prevailed over me long before she suffered a rebirth."

Of course, I can't truly assess what Pasternak means. Though I thought I had a book of Tsvetayeva's work, I can't find it. Nor can I find Mayakovsky's poems, which I remember liking a great deal (though Pasternak didn't.) And I've read nothing of Pasternak's poetry. So, why was I so happy lying there, rereading this basically incomprehensible book? Probably because he was so hard on his early work, so interestingly dismissive.

Though I hardly had energy (I'm still not voluntarily been on my feet or sitting at a computer for a  whole eight hours a day,) I was determined to buy some pants that fit to wear when I teach on Monday. So we went to Kohl's, an exhausting outing made far more difficult because I find it so hard to eat in the mornings. My stomach is still swollen, but my body is smaller and I hope I found pants that fit. And underwear. By the time I was finished trying things on, I was totally exhausted. 

Luckily C. knew of a food bar in the mall, endless little islands of different foods. Though I'd like to eat all organic food, there are moments when that's not possible and this was one. I was so grateful for the little pieces of sole which I combined with pickled beets and a tiny bit of mashed potatoes.We all went up to fill our plates three times. Though I'm generally not excessively pushy, I stood at the cantaloupe, having figured out that the tender pieces are at the bottom of the tray.

It's all slow. The mornings, medication and eating, not barfing when I introduce a food that doesn't agree with me. But I'm getting better. I'm grateful for that, happy to be reading. Looking forward to starting on my own work again, sometime.  In the meantime, grateful.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Turning A Corner

After almost two months, I've turned a corner.

The celebration of it was actually meeting Ping, the manager of Market Basket sushi bars and the fellow who has so kindly made Krissy the Inari pouches that she bought so many times before I could go out.  

But there I was, tottering over to his stand to thank him. And, while I was standing there, I began to wonder what else I can eat that he makes. Avocado rolls? No sea weed. He understood that and showed me a package of tofu paper that works just as well. So my first fore beyond Inari was a package of six avocado rolls. 

And yesterday I asked whether he has any cooked fish. Yes, crab, but they are spiced. Why not try shrimp? Three avocado and three shrimp with avocado. You can see them here because I managed to take a photo before I ate them all! Today I'll order all shrimp and avocado and then K. & C. will sit with me while I edit some material for them and eat. (Yesterday they watched part of the Red Sox-Yankee game along with the guys who had parked themselves in this convenient corner of tables to stare into the nice flat screen.

The first night they took me to meet Ping, and I stood waiting for them to shop, I finally realized that I've been really sick. Really sick! It seems odd that I could have written this undoubtedly nauseating blog about this ulcerative colitis smack down without truly acknowledging how sick I've been. But, perhaps, when you're going through the worst, it's hard to face that.

After Marketbasket and my meal, we actually went to Mary O'Malley Park where I walked, not far, but farther than I'd imagined. When I got home I went to sleep immediately, but later I found myself on my yoga mat, doing what used to be my daily routine of back exercises and stretching for the first time in two months. I'd been imagining myself doing that for a week, but was surprised to find myself out of bed, on the floor. I've turned a corner.

Before the Sushi, we tried out Starbucks where I spent hours writing and editing material on my laptop for the last year. Though I hadn't been there in two months, the barristers asked if I wanted the usual - a tall, non-fat, extra hot latte. Yes, I did, very badly, but I had apple juice. I'm not quite ready for Starbucks yet, and certainly not ready to start writing or editing again. Soon, I hope.

It will be a milestone when I spend eight hours out of bed during the day. But lying there and reading has been curiously interesting. I finally found Allen Shawn's book that S. sent me more than a year ago. I read half of it before it disappeared. This time I started again and went right through it. Sometime I'll blog about my mild phobias, enough to plague me, but nothing, nothing, nothing like the prison that his have created. The odd thing, as he often mentions, is that he functions so well in many areas of his life, including teaching, composing and performing (as long as he doesn't have to fly, etc.) that he forgets that he's phobic.

And there are my underlinings in "Steppenwolf," so predictable, characteristic of who I was in the early 60s. 

And it's here's the Mary Poppins book that my mother bought me, long before she died. I loved Mary Poppins.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Such a Good Afternoon

Yesterday morning, I cleaned out the cat litter for the first time since early February (K. has been taking care of that detail, along with laundry, shopping, encouraging, etc...) and vacuumed my tiny living room. On the other hand, I threw up from the morning medication and then peed in my pants just as we were going out. (What's happening to these internal systems? Damn! And don't tell my daughter this. She can't stand me giving so much, too much, information. I have long since given up caring about what was once, when I was younger, a  humiliating accident, since I can't do anything to make my body behave.) (Once I was walking about Avenue B toward our tenement, have had a colitis attack a few blocks before, when some guy came along and said, "Hi, pretty lady." All I could think of was, "Can't he smell me?") So, I was pretty discouraged and also hungry, having failed breakfast and lunch.

We'd been invited to an Easter dinner with L. and K. They have such an interesting set of friends, some of whom I know well...and our Thanksgiving dinners there have always been so much fun. So, worried that I was, I was really looking forward to being there and to testing out whether I could pull sentences together with any cogency.

On the way over, we stopped at Wholefoods (also known as Wholepaycheck) and for the first time in months, I was walking through a (glorious, glorified, rarified) market, wheeling a basket, picking out food. Amazing. And picking out some food that I could possibly eat for dinner, knowing that my diet is too restricted to find much from offerings for mortals. I was so hungry that I had a small preliminary meal -- noodles that were too spicy (they tasted so good) and some beef! C. had noticed it in a nearby case and the woman behind the counter carefull chose two lovely, reddish pieces that actually tasted wonderful. (I ate a small piece, savoring it.) K. picked out a chocolate easter-egg cake to take along with us, a far cry from the homemade strawberry short cake, the apple, cranberry and raisin pies that others had brought. 

We got there early, actually, and had lots of time to sit in the back and talk to various people. Ten or so years ago, Bogie was the inspiration for Rosie's purchase, and he really loves going over there to visit, though I have no idea whether he has any particular passion for her. They have their own busy ways, going in and out of the house, sitting by our respective feet, wandering around. Another large, beautiful black and white dog came later - Oscar. He managed to create his own world, not bothering too much about them.

This colitis smack-down seems to have changed me. At least I hope it was. A conversation with P.,  a bubbly, talkative woman who has decided to accept the strength of her past experiences, no longer measure them against profound losses of a number of years ago, to live with mellowness and cheerfulness, was really inspiring. Then overhearing M's fascinating description of volunteering in a hospice, how much he gains from the relationships he develops, lead to a continued talk in the living room -- comparing notes on what we've both learned, far more than we've given, in volunteering -- may lead me in other directions toward more volunteering. It was such a relief to talk with both of these people, as it was to find someone who was studying at MIT just a few years after I stopped teaching there. She's a film editor, working on an engrossing project now, the best friend of the bubbly woman.

I generally failed food again, though the chickens that L. roasted were delicious and proved my hatred against chicken is unfounded. It just has to be organic. The food I brought tasted awful, but the sweet potatoes P. made and a hard boiled egg resting on the seductive asparagus (no, no) were good.

It was so nice to have become a real person again -- to have been able to take in these conversations, to enjoy the hospitality of L. and K....   K. and C. were, as usual, perfectly at home, talking and laughing. 

What a nice day! Thank you....

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Problem of Eating

The problem with a no lactose/low residue diet and no appetite is pretty serious. I can't thank Dutchbaby enough for actually doing some research on this and writing such a wonderful blog comment. How generous for her to take time with this problem.

Yesterday was particularly difficult. Quite against inclination, I pulled myself together, committed myself to going out for dinner with K. and C. and then, when it was time, got up to do it. We went to a steak house, inexpensive, very noisy, peanuts on the floor, in a bucket on the table. I thought about steak, but ordered salmon. It came with a fabulous baked sweet potato, but wasn't nearly as good as the Monday meal at the Victoria.

I sat, glaring at K.'s salad, wanting nothing but to stab the rest of her salad dressed lettuce and stuff it into my mouth! By then, I'd read the drinks menu (Marguirettas) and about the deserts (only three, including cheese cake and a brownie) and had shouted with everyone else, one, two, three, whoopie, for the young woman at the opposite table who was seated on a saddle, waving a napkin, for her birthday.

I felt better after dinner, and C. walked me over to Paneras where I bought a cinnamon bagel, the kind that my poet-friend particularly loves. I imagined that it would bring some spark of normal life into the early morning which begins at 5 when I take a thyroid pill, then at 6 the pill to protect my stomach against prednisone (that often makes me gag half an hour later), then 8:30 is the prednisone, then 10:30 is another anti-inflamnatory, and then, in the afternoon, a bit of Lexipro, followed up much later in the evening by another two anti-inflammatory pills.

In the afternoon, I'd forced myself downstairs and outside instead of lying there, rereading Oliver Sachs (No Leg to Stand wasn't worth it.) I've reread Dubliners, Travels with Charlie (what a wonderful book), a study by Luria, the first third of Stephen King's book on writing (I've never seen one of his movies or read his books, but the part about his childhood, marriage, alcoholism is touching.) I thought Liar's Club, though it's so novelized, gave interesting information about the cultural and economic plight of her family. A book on NY by Dan Wakefield and another on a trip down to see Ted Williams before he died that was so baseball technical that I could hardly understand it. And more.

But basically I failed food for the day. The miso soup didn't have the right proportion of miso, though the tofu tasted good. Carrots weren't worth it.

This time I tried sauteing the sole, but the couscous and zucchini tasted awful.

(In the early nineties, I took portraits and did interviews with women who had been homeless for an exhibition and catalogue. I'd met one of the women a few years earlier when I was working some 3-11 shifts in a women's shelter. She was a remarkably articulate woman who I'm quite sure had grown up with money, but fallen off her uppers. Therefore, her use of language was gorgeous, as was her ability to promote various schemes including renting an apartment on Commonwealth that she furnished almost entirely with things she found in the back alley on garbage day -- most of them not even unwrapped. Electric coffee pots, toaster ovens, sheets, towels, blankets. Some man who she met every month or so rented the furniture for her and she tried to rent out the downstairs apartment.

Over the time I knew her, she gave me any number of things including a brass lamp that needed rewiring ("What, you don't know how to rewire a lamp?"), another multi-headed lamp that I promptly ditched, and this parsley plate. I was so sorry that when she got really ill, just before she died, she wouldn't let the social worker call me. I would have thanked her for the experience of knowing her.)

I love to peel and cut a macintosh apple, but am I allowed to eat it? It's not apple sauce.

What I like in the morning is that K. comes up with Happy, sits against the wall, her face in sunlight, and talks about this and that. It's very comforting.

Now I'm waiting for her to take the dogs out and then they will drive up the coast for lunch, an outing..... that's good. I had half the bagel and have peeled an apple and will continue onward with the job of eating. I'm horrified by how much weight I've lost since February.