Monthly Archives: May 2016

NOISE

I live beneath a vacation rental. Sometimes the noise from the tenants is tremendous. Clomp clomp clomp, sprint back and forth! bang pots around, play the television so loudly that I can hear every word Meredith Grey says to her colleagues at the hospital.

I wear earplugs. And ear muffs I bought at a hunting store. Many decibels deadened. And yet I can still hear them. Wah wah wah wah, like the adults in the Peanuts comic strip.

It doesn’t matter what you do
they don’t care about you
It doesn’t matter how you feel
they don’t care about you
It doesn’t matter what you say
they don’t care about you
They do not care about you.

That voice – I heard it distinctly this morning, full of schadenfreude: mean and smug with a nasty overtone – I have believed that voice for most of my life. It’s in my head. Which means:
~I don’t express my feelings
~I don’t defend myself
~I don’t speak up
~I don’t leave.

I tolerate
…and tolerate
…..and tolerate
…….and tolerate

until I crash and burn, poisoned by noise and other people’s bad behavior.

And they are oblivious, mostly.

Why am I so polite? Who am I protecting by not speaking my mind?
Why protect them, and not me?
Why not me?
Waiting for someone else to care is a waste of my time.

But today I heard that voice, that “They don’t care about you” voice, for what it was:

NOISE.

Not fact. Just sounds.

It’s really none of my business whether anybody cares about me or not.
My business – my job – is to care about me, to care for me.

And sometimes that means speaking up:
“Get your hands off my body, Director.”
“No, that doesn’t work for me, Boss.”
“I don’t think so, Mom.”
“Turn that stinking generator off and move it away from my windows, Landlord.”

I need privacy. I need solitude. I need quiet. I need peace.
Which starts with me.

So, break the silence. Stop tolerating. State my needs. And then set about meeting them.

Hold on–

Okay, I’m back. I just went around the corner to explain to the new upstairs tenants that their floor is my ceiling and I’d appreciate it if their Ring Around the Rosie fell down outside. “Your hardwood floor amplifies everything,” I said.

“We’ll try to keep it down,” said one of the many adults apparently living there until Saturday.

I don’t think I said Thank you. I was over the edge. Noise scrambles my brain, makes it hard to breathe.

Swimming helps, except I’m afraid of the ocean, or rather the big predatory creatures in the ocean. Which is funny, because there are big predatory creatures walking around the land mass every day – humans. There are several stomping around above my head right now.

Meditation helps. Singing helps. Walking helps. The ocean definitely helps.
But mostly speaking helps.
Speaking my truth, whether anyone else cares or not.
Because I DO.

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realization

The other day I noticed that I actually have everything I need.
Everything.
No matter where or when I am, I have exactly what I need in that moment.

I was swimming, alone. Not even a surfer was out. The ocean was at high tide, just turning. Calm, low swells – a regular rhythm. 6:30 a.m.

I took my time getting ready. Squirted drops of anti-fog on my goggles, smeared it around, in and out. Rinsed them in the ocean, pulled ’em on. Put the blue neoprene hood on my head, velcro’d it tight. Pulled on the webbed gloves and cinched ’em.

Goggles up, I stood at the edge of the sea where the sand was warmer, and stretched. Then I raised my hand to the sky and asked for help swimming, raised my other hand to receive it. Said, “Thank you.”

Calmed me.

Goggles down over my eyes, I walked into the surf, dove under a small wave, and swam past the breakers. Headed south toward the pier. Got into an alternate-side breathing pattern right away.

Swim swim breathe, swim swim breathe.

Lotta kelp, so looked straight ahead most of the time and swam through it.

Swim swim breathe, swim swim breathe.

Not a soul in sight, though I’d seen a maintenance truck drive by earlier, and there were probably lifeguards in the pier tower looking out with binoculars.

Swim swim breathe, swim swim breathe.

I swam steadily for a while, passing lifeguard stands on shore.

Swim swim breathe, swim swim breathe.

The current changed as I neared the pier, so I stopped, looked around, and got my bearings. Breathed. Began to backstroke north, back the way I’d come.

Dawn had broken, but the sun was behind clouds. The water was still peaceful. Tranquil. I flipped over to freestyle again.

Swim swim breathe, swim swim breathe.

Began to get scared. Is that dark shape down below – and that one and that one and that one – just seaweed on the ocean floor?

Or a shark?

Swim swim breathe, swim swim breathe.

Sharks don’t lie in wait. They have to keep moving.
Right.

Swim swim breathe, swim swim breathe.

And seals and sea lions breathe air, so they probably don’t hang around the bottom of the sea either, unless there’s a school of lunch down there.
Right.

Swim swim breathe, swim swim breathe.

Still no surfers or paddle-boarders. No other human swimmers.
Floated. Eyed the sky. Overcast.
Breathed.
Continued.

Swim swim breathe, swim swim breathe.

Finally saw Lifeguard Stand 19 – home! – and headed for it, diagonally, watching for incoming waves.

Swim swim breathe, swim swim breathe.

Looked back at the swells, waited for the waves to pass
and pass
and pass.

Swim swim breathe, swim swim breathe.

Now near the impact zone, I dove beneath waves that crashed too close for comfort. Bobbed up behind them, sometimes shooting up a few feet. Yeah!

A lull.
Swam straight for shore, caught a wave and rode it in, kicking fast. Yeah!

Rocks, pebbles, shells, and sand beneath my feet.
Safe.

Breathe.

You know how to swim.
You know how to dive beneath the crashing waves, down to the calm.
You know how to ride the waves without drowning.
You know that you have everything you need.
Everything.

Saturday Morning Porridge

Retrieve the pot with leftover Bhutan red rice, cooked in beef broth.
Add:

  • walnuts
  • raisins
  • chopped dried apricots
  • a Ceylon cinnamon stick
  • water, soymilk

Simmer so flavors meld, 15 minutes or so.
Stir occasionally, between chores.
Turn off heat, let cool.
Wash your hands.
Eat, and be amazed.


“I’ll race you down,” said the cyclist turning into my lane at the top of the 10th Street hill.

“No, thanks,” I said, “I’ve got eggs and flowers to think of.” I was on my way home from the farmers market, pink lisianthus wrapped in newspaper hanging out of the bike basket. I adjusted my seagrass hat more firmly on my head for the downhill glide.

“For Mother?” he asked, keeping up with me.

“Not even slightly,” I said.

“What are the eggs for then?” he asked. Now he was behind me, on my left.

“Breakfast,” I replied. I’d never seen this guy before; what did he care what I did with my eggs?

He passed me at a stop sign. “Have a good rest of your day!”

“You do the same,” I said, relieved as he pedaled away, cutting off a truck making a U-turn.

Mother’s Day, Mothers’ Day. I’d forgotten, though I’d seen a chalk board sign in front of a restaurant advertising Sunday Brunch. This Sunday. Mother’s Day.

My biological mother and I are estranged. Again. I don’t know why, this time, though it may have to do — if it has to do with anything — with a fight we had 15 years ago. She reminded me of it in the middle of another, more recent, fight.

“You called me a slut!” she cried.

“That’s because you are!” I replied. Just flew out of my mouth, bypassing my brain completely.

In 2001, my essay, “Free Love Ain’t,” was published in an anthology, Wild Child: Girlhoods in the Counterculture. In it, I related the goings-on in our house during 1970’s Santa Monica. Sex, drugs, etc.

The fallout from publication was estrangement with my father, who was barely mentioned. My mother neglected to read the galleys until after the book had been on Oprah. We discussed it once: she refuted how an event had occurred. I replied that yes, I was young, and that was how I remembered it – Mick Jagger, nuns, bye bye blackbird.

“Okay,” she said, and that was it. We never talked about it again. Estrangements came and went. My niece’s mother reconciled us once and convinced me to visit. Twice. 1200 miles by car.

My mother asked me to help her move to New Orleans. I agreed, put all my clients on hold, sublet my tiny house, and prepared for a long cross-country journey.

Imagine my rage when I found out that my ex-battering-boyfriend, the one she had made a point of telling me she’d slept with first, was trucking her things to her new home in the Tremé.

That was when I called her a slut. That was the fight she was referring to, years later.

Do I regret it? the second time? I don’t know. It was a revelation. I guess her behavior — and I know she was a grieving divorcée, mourning her dead son — affected me more deeply than I thought. Affects me.

When I am not angry at her (it comes and goes), I regret hurting her.
I don’t regret learning the truth about my feelings.

Fact: my mother belongs to a krewe called The Pizza Sluts.


Saturday Afternoon Soup
2 cups black beans, soaked overnight and rinsed
7 chopped carrots
3 cubed gold potatoes
1 turmeric root, skinned, broken into 3

Put ingredients in small stock pot, cover with water.
Add:

  • healthy dash of garlic powder
  • ground pepper
  • dried, ground sage
  • heaping tablespoon of fennel seeds
  • leftover beef broth

Bring to boil, then simmer an hour or three.
Stir occasionally, while washing socks.
Add:

  • a good squirt of lemon juice
  • a big white onion, chopped

Have a good cry.
Simmer another 15 minutes or so.
Serve while onions are still crisp.

Peace.
lisianthus

May, too

Today I have a story about May, and how she learned – again! – to say her own name.

When I met her, May lived in a nursing home. My mother was a physical therapist, and sometimes I accompanied her on her rounds. She had a few nursing homes on her route, and one day, when I was eight or nine or so, maybe younger, we stopped at this one.

May was not my mother’s patient, but she was in the parlor when we arrived. Sitting. I’m not sure who introduced us, maybe one of the nursing staff. Somehow I learned that May was recovering from a stroke, and could not speak. Yet. I think she was waiting for her speech therapist, who was late.

May and I liked the looks of each other right off. We both had blue eyes and curly hair, though hers was white and mine was blonde.

“I’ll stay here,” I told my mom, so she went off down the hall to put her patient through his paces.

“May,” I said carefully and clearly. I had decided that she could say her own name. Of course! And I was patient.

May looked at me expectantly.

“My name is Susie,” I said, “your name is May.”

She nodded.

“Mmmmmm,” I said, “Mmmm-aaaayy.”

“Mmm,” she said.

We both smiled.

“Mmmmm-aaaayy,” I said.

“Mmmmm,” she said.

“Mmmmm-aaay,” I said.

“Mmmmm-aaa,” she said.

“Yes!” I said, “Mmmm-aaayy.”

“Mmmm-aaa,” she said.

“You can do it,” I said, “Mmm-aaay.”

We got stuck on Mmm-aaa for awhile, so I changed tack. “May is such a beautiful name, don’t you think?”

May nodded.

We both smiled.

“The month of May,” I said, “is a very good month. You’ve got flowers and birds and sunshine and warm days. Am I right?”

May laughed, which crinkled her eyes.

“Mmm-aay,” I said, “May.”

“Mmm-aaa,” she said. She was beautiful, May was, not just her kind and amused face, but her spirit.

Some of the people in the nursing homes were dour and cranky — of course they were! One old guy in a wheelchair liked to pinch me. I stayed behind my mother when we saw him in the hallway. There were also creepy guys who leered at me, young as I was. Prepubescent! But mostly these places were filled with sad, old, tired, sick humans who rarely had visitors, other than the medically inclined.

Which is probably why my mother brought me along, to mix things up a bit. I was a change of scenery. And I liked it, except for the creeps. I liked watching my mother help people move their broken bodies, edging them toward homeostasis. She treated all sorts, from amputees to athletes, quadriplegics to the comatose.

A few of her patients were famous: Larry Fine, of the Three Stooges, a kind old bedridden man whose eyes lit up when he saw me; bandleader Xavier Cugat, married to a very jealous Charo; and Robert Shields of the mime duo Shields & Yarnell. (I had a crush on the graceful Lorene Yarnell, starstruck. Hard to believe that one day I’m in her kitchen and the next night she’s in our living room — on TV!)

Regardless of the patient’s station in life, my mother was competent and calm, and never condescending. She treated folks equally and equably, whether they had use of all their body parts or not.

I don’t know how long my mother was gone that day, doing range of movement exercises with her patient in that nursing home. 30 minutes? 45? 15? Time was fluid back then, sitting in the parlor with May.

And after we’d been practicing awhile, it popped right out of her mouth. “Mmm-aay,” she said, “Mm-aay!”

“Yes!” I said, “May!”

“Mm-ay!” she said. “May.”

“May,” I smiled, “hello!”