Friday, March 28, 2008

More about books

"You will achieve grand dream, a day at a time, so set goals for each day/not long
and difficult projects,
but chores that will take you, step by step toward your rainbow."
Og Mandino (American Essayist and Psychologist)

If removing every book, wiping away any residue of cat urine, rubbing a dressing of orange smelling oil into parched wood, and tossing out books that no longer seem relevant to my life puts me on the way to my rainbow, then boys and girls, I think I'm seeing color just over the horizon. Woohoo!

There is a lesson to be learned in the fact that without even meaning to I discovered the stinky remains of my black cat's inability to find the litter box. Just think how many days, months, years (?) might have passed by without me giving the bookshelves in question a good going over. The chore itself has been kind of a pain in the ass, but I feel good about finishing the job. I especially like getting reacquainted with some old friends.

And here's the kicker, I even put some of my "old faithfuls" in a box to donate to a book sale. They are old and yellowed. Many of the pages are dog-eared as it is my habit to turn down the corner of a page that has a particularly meaningful message on it. Then, when I'm through reading, I go back and copy all the notes in one of my many journals.

By letting go of these books, I believe I may also be letting go of some of the reminders of bygone days that no longer have importance in my life. Such as:

Passive Men and Wild Women (Pierre Mornell) was a suggested read by a therapist/marriage counselor back in the 80's. I don't know the true reason Jim balked at discussing or even reading this book, but I think, with the benefit of hindsight, that he just didn't like the title. He surely didn't want to be considered "passive" and undoubtedly flinched at the possibility of his wife being "wild."

I don't even remember what significance the book had for me except that it was recommended. Back then I was all into doing as the doctor ordered. Perhaps because our lines had already been drawn in the sand, Jim just wasn't interested. We've been divorced for almost 18 years. Why have I held on to the book for so long? It feels like taking a drink from a healing tonic to remove this reminder of not so good times from the bookshelf.

I think I kept She's Come Undone (Wally Lamb) and The Year it Rained (Crescent Dragonwagon - don't you love that name?) because of their descriptions of depression. Maybe they even spoke of the hope of recovery; I don't remember anymore. Years after I read She's Come Undone, I was surprised to find that Oprah picked it for one of her book club selections. As I recall, she commented on the male author's ability to write in the feminine voice. I

t's weird to think that a person who was as depressed as I was would want to read books about depression. Or maybe it's not so weird. Because when one is lost in the deep dark hole it helps to read things that describe their situation; there is often little difference between fact and fiction. Reading about another person's depression, even a made up person, somehow validated what I was feeling and made me feel less alone. Plus, lets face it, negativity feeds on negativity.

As if to prove my point, I just opened The Year it Rained to a page with the following passage highlighted: "At that point I began to seriously observe myself, measure my condition as if I were myself an orderly in a hospital; and what I observed was that another gradual change was taking place, the violent thunderstorms of feeling were giving way to - to what? That I didn't know. Certainly not to happiness, for I felt sad most of the time, confused about what had happened to me and to my family and utterly at a loss as to what I would do in the future." (pg. 196)

It seems depressing to even choose that paragraph to copy, but here's the good news. I no longer feel the attachment to the words and feelings. It's as if the depression, that was so much a part of me for so long, has indeed released it's grip. I can see, no I can feel, the difference. Like throwing out the size 8 dresses, I used to wear when I whittled myself down to 115 lbs., I no longer need to keep reminders of my sick self around anymore.

The Diary of a Country Priest (Georges Bernanos) is another therapist recommended book. This one more for the story than the possibility of improved mental health. You've got to say this for me, I gave it the old "he-won't-like-me-if-I-don't-read-it" co-dependent's try. I struggled through 81 pages (I know because this is last page that is marked), then placed it on the shelf for safe-keeping. Why I ask, did Mr. Wiggle Bottom pee on some of my favorite stories instead of this tome? Perhaps there is a science to putting books on shelves. Favorites go on the top shelves while pee attractors stay at low levels.

The Purpose Driven Church (Rick Warren). Let's face it, I may be the only Christian in America who has not read, studied in a serious church setting, and put to good use the message of this book. There is still a note inside, marking the 18th chapter. It's from my Dad with the suggestion, "may I recommend chapters 18, 19, 20." I'm guessing since the note is still there, I didn't get past marking the page. I seem to be driven by a lot of things , obviously "purpose" is not one of them.

It's hard to let go of any book. But like a smile, a book can give pleasure to others by being passed on, rather than kept to oneself. What started out as an unappealing kind of chore that I made myself do before sewing again, has turned into an uplifting process of "out with the old and in with the new." Maybe that's what Spring cleaning is all about. Who knew?

Merry ME

Speaking of Books

"In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was `Read,' "
Alia Muhammad Baker
New York Times, July 27, 2003*
It's funny how things happen. I was at Barnes and Noble the other day doing research for some upcoming posts. It's not that I fancy myself a "real" journalist so much as I was curious about the number of ABC books there are in the world. To my surprise and amazement there are many. In fact, there is a whole website dedicated to this most basic of primers. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE ABC books. I can't tell you why. I just know I do. If I had a library in my house - you know, one of those big rooms you see in rich people's homes, lined with bookcases, with comfortable leather furniture, a big cherry-finished desk and fresh flowers on the table next to the window where a light breeze gently moves the sheer curtains - I'd have a whole section set aside for ABC books.
But, as often happens, I digress. While crawling around on the floor checking out the bottom shelves ( you can do this in the children's section and nobody thinks you are strange; it being the one place in the store where crawling is acceptable!). I came across a title that instantly captured my attention: The Librarian of Basra - A True Story from Iraq. I find anything that says "true story" in the title to be captivating. So, I picked it up and not only thumbed through the pages of brightly colored pictures, I sat right down on one of those child sized chairs and read the story of a remarkable lady and her dedication to not only her job but the preservation of her country's history.
We've all seen the news reports on TV. In fact, we've seen way too many videos of bombed out buildings, tank-strewn roads where children play soccer, punks carrying shoulder rockets and mothers carrying corpses. We've seen American GI's waving goodby to families at home, and we seen flag draped caskets lined up in the back of C130's. We've seen Saddam's statue fall to the ground, oil refineries burning and the President on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier telling us we're winning the war.
But seldom do we hear the stories of the people, the everyday people like you and me, not the soldiers, or terrorists, or politicians, but the people who must find a way to live and love and survive in a war zone. Mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. Doctors, nurses, teachers, shop keepers and, yes, even librarians. While I hate seeing the terrified brown eyes of a generation of children who are learning A is for AK-47, B is for Bomb, and C is for collateral damage, I'd like a truer picture than we get from either CNN or the President. I'm not saying that either side is telling lies, but I do believe the real truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Enter, Jeanette Winter, who, upon reading an article in the NY Times in 2003, took it upon herself to retell the story of Alia Muhammad Baker, the Librarian of Basra. In a nutshell, Alia, "who's library has been a meeting place for those who love books" fears that the war will "destroy the library along with the 30,000 books within it." 30,000 books! Some dating back 700 years. 700 years! What's a librarian to do?
Well, with the help of a neighbor she manages to move a good portion of the books to her own house. " In Alia's house, books are everywhere, filling floors and cupboards and windows - leaving barely enough room for anything else." And, as often happens in war-stricken areas, nine days later a fire burned the library to the ground. Alia wasn't able to save all the books, but she was able to save some. In doing so, she became a hero. She might not get a medal pinned on her chest, but Winters has written her story to inspire generations to come.
I encourage you to find youself a copy of this delightful book. Grab a cup of tea, sit in your favorite chair and read what it really means to love books. "A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to a fund to help rebuild the book collection of Basra's Central Library."
Signing off,
Merry ME
The Librarian of Basra, A True Story from Iraq, written & illustrated by Jeanette Winter, Harcourt, Inc., 2005

Thursday, March 27, 2008

It's all good!!!! Sort of!!!

"One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one
is contantly making exciting discoveries."
A.A. Milne

Unless hit by a staggering bolt of get-off-your-butt-and-start-moving adrenaline, I'm often a slow starter. Suspecting the bottom shelf of books had been sitting in dried pee for months, I had trouble rushing right into the cleaning mode. I mean, really, who's going to be down on the floor sniffing the carpet? Who's going to suddenly want to read about gaseous Walter?
Sure there was a natural resistance on my part to avoid the aroma of urine for as long as I could, but I think the main reason for my foot-dragging was the thought of throwing out so many beloved books. Which, I believe, begs the question what puts a book in the "beloved" category?
I have a thing about books. I love to read. I love to collect. I love to stroll leisurely through bookstores, large or small, even on the internet. Can you say As much as I like to curl up with a suspenseful mystery where a super-sleuth police detective matches wits with a psycho so creepy I want to sleep with the lights on, or be entertained by a delightful love story with a happily-ever-after ending, I especially like children's picture books with short, readable stories, and beautiful illustrations. Mmmmmmm. They conjure up memories of naptime with Mother, before which she'd read me a sleep-inducing story.
Since my children have grown up, the only reason I have to spend time with kids' books is to delight my inner child. And in doing so, there are certain books, that I just cannot resist. It's strange I know, but some books speak to me: "Take me home," one might say. Or, "I'll be your friend forever." Unlike a bottle of Stoli talking to an alcoholic, books pose no adverse effects. In my way of thinking, the money spent is somehow considered an investment rather than a debt.
And after awhile, as with other collections - fabric, knick-nacks, pens, greeting cards, journals, etc. - the books pile up. The need for another bookshelf presents itself as the cherished "opscules" (I just discovered that word!) are crowded into spaces and crannies too small to hold them all. Alas, the books on the bottom shelf present themselves as targets for a certain feline pee-shooter.
But in the hustle and bustle of every day life, the only book that really matters is the one Iam currently reading - the one lying open by the side of the bed. The overflowing bookcase collects dust; the books sit there quietly, no longer singing their particular siren song. It's sad but true. The stories have not changed, nor have the illustrations. Sadly, it is the reader who has moved on, forgetting most of the special titles. I am ashamed to admit this, but what is one to do?
Not wanting to face the fact that I was going to have to toss many of my forgotten friends, I resisted the job of cleaning up the stinkiness. However, like most dark clouds, this tale has a silver lining. I reverently picked up each book, removed its dust cover (should be renamed pee-cover) and took a deep whiff. Surprisingly almost all the books smelled of ink or age rather than cat urine or roach poop. This is a good thing! I had to say a gentle goodbye to a couple of classics, but mostly the books had been granted a reprieve.
And I became reacquainted with some very special stories. As with fine crystal or china, I wiped each cover down with a soft cloth. I thumbed through the pags. I read snippets of tales that (re)tweaked my desire for more. What might have been a sad and painful job began to take on the life of the stories themselves. It was looking like there was going to be a happy ending. One final misting of Lysol and the books are ready to go back on the shelf.
I'm thinking I need to rearrange things. One lesson I learned from this experience is to put my favorite books on the higher shelves. But, more importantly, I need to set aside some time to read these books, so I don't forget how good they make me feel.
So many books .... so little time.
Merry ME

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Something bad has happened

I may be a churchy kind of girl, but I'm not much of a Bible student. I'll be honest, I don't spend time "in the word" even though I'm sure there is a lot of wisdom to be had there.

Still, there are a few Bible stories I've heard over the years that they are somewhat recognizeable. Such as the one about King Solomon and the two women arguing over a baby. They both claimed the baby was hers. Wise old Solomon's advice, to cut the child in half, was something akin to what my father used to suggest when shown a little girl's booboo. Instead of kissing it and reassuring the daughter du jour that the limb containing the booboo will surely survive in one piece, my Dad would offer to cut off the affected leg/arm/foot/hand and let the blood drip in a bucket. Nice ....

Without skipping a beat, the women considered the advice. Afterall it was given by the king. Lady 1 actually thought it a great idea. "Let the baby be neither mine nor hers, but divide it. If I can't have the child," she cried, "she can't have it either." *

Lady 2 was aghast and begged the king not to hurt the child. "Give her the baby. I'd rather lose the child that see it slain." This is what Solomon needed to hear to determine which woman was the real mother. Alls well that ends well.

My life is not a Bible story. But I've just discovered a little matter that begs the advice of a king.

I was crawling on the floor, looking for a particular book on the bottom shelf of the bookcase.
As I ran my fingers across the book spines, I noticed something scratchy and sticky on several books. Picking one for a closer look, hoping against hope that the problem wasn't roach residue, i.e. poop. I know there are creepy crawlers that scutter about the house once the lights are turned off. I just don't want to think about it. "What Mary doesn't see, doesn't exist" is a pretty good life motto and has served me well over the years.

Unfortunately, living with blinders on, is not the cleanest of ways to live. As I examined one book, then another, then another, I noticed not only sticky book covers, but a suspicious odor.

"No I told myself, not wanting to believe it. No!" Alas, the nose does not lie. It was not roach poop I had discovered, it was dried up cat pee. Damn! Double Damn!

In his defense (it's undoubtedly the "He-cat" as I just can't figure how a girl cat could pee up 3 or 4 inches) if the cat in question is guilty, I don't believe this to be an ongoing guerrila pee tactic. I think he did the deed when he first arrived in a strange home and needed to "mark his territory." Obviously he wanted the other animals in the house, humans included, to know that he was an intellectual feline and the bottom shelf of books would be his alone. The shelf that contains such all time favorites as "Walter the Farting Dog," "Porkenstein," and "Skeleton Hiccups."

So, dear readers, I have to ask, what do I do now? I've already thrown out two almost new leather couches because of the impenetrating odor that resisted all cleaning products that swear to remove pet urine. Do I toss the books and pretend I'm just making room for new ones? Or do I toss the little black pee-er out on his little black pee maker. I know what my sweetie would say, but what would Solomon suggest?

I had really hoped to spend the day surrounded by the feel and aroma of just washed cotton ... a quilt just waiting to come together from the pieces. Instead I see pee removal in my future.

There may be Biblical wisdom to attach to this post, but I'm not sure what it is.

I'm off to strangle a cat,
Merry ME


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ode to My Birthday

"What we need are more ways to experience our interconnectedness -
it is a precursor to deep love.
So in this quickening light, with the dawn of each new day, let us look for love.
Let us no longer struggle.
Let us ever become who we most want to be.
As we begin to be who we truly are, the world will be a better place.”
John Denver

Last week I attended a funeral. While I believe memorial services are an important part of the grieving process, I find it a little strange that a person's death is often the only catalyst for his friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family to come together to celebrate his life. In my opinion, that's kind of backwards. It seems one's life should be acknowledged while a person is still alive to enjoy it, learn from it, and be blessed by it. In other words that's what birthdays are for!

Maybe I'm just thinking that way because today is MY birthday! My father, who is going on 92, thinks I'm past the age of having birthdays; or should I say celebrating birthdays the way a 4 year old might. But I have to (respectfully) disagree. In my opinion it's just not possible to be so grown up that one would miss the chance to call attention to their special day. After all, a birthday is not just any day. It's the anniversary of our birth; the day when God kissed us with His holy breath then set us down in the world to live and love.

Oh sure, there are plenty of reasons why a person might not take pleasure in the physical part of having a birthday. I think it was Bette Davis that said, "old age is no place for sissies." Even though my granddaughter might disagree, I'm not yet what someone might consider "old," but I'm getting there. I am old enough to realize that added years take their toll on a person's body. Hairs disappear from where they once grew and spring up in places like one's nose, or ears or chin. Eyes and ears and joints no longer work as well as they once did. Lowering your cholesterol, getting enough fiber and remembering where you put your keys become the rule rather than the exception.

I am also aware that the older we get, the closer we get to dying. And let's face it, there's not much good about dying. Well there is if you are a religious sort, but that's not where I'm going. What I'm trying to say is this. I believe that as long as there is air to breath, each of us should inhale deeply the gifts of love and beauty that life has to offer, then loudly exhale the poop that happens on any given day. It's not easy to do. I know, I've been at the end of the proverbial tunnel with no light at all. Still, when we lie on our death beds and look back over the life we've led, in the end, I think, it's all about gratitude.

That's not an original thought. And I'd be the first to admit, I don't practice gratitude on a daily basis. I've become aware, however, that being thankful is so much nicer than being pissy. And prettier too!

And in my grateful moments, I realize that there are all kinds of people who have crossed my path and made a difference in my life. There are people, known and unknown, who have inspired me to be more than I thought possible. There are people who have cried with me, laughed with me, and held my hand in silence. There are people who have kicked my butt into action I couldn't, or wouldn't, do by myself. There are people who have taught me how to better live my life by sharing their "experience, strength and hope." My prayer this day, as I celebrate another year of living, is that I will be a light to others, and an example. If not how one should live, then certainly how one should NOT live! Take your pick.

In gratitude and love, in no particular order, I share with you some of the people who have motivated me:

1. Zubin, Wendy, Jay and Zori - they showed me how to play the cards you are dealt with dignity, courage and humor
2. Maragret Wynn, Clarence Greff, Lisa Smith, Christine Osterloh, George Joseph, Laura Wareh, Virginia Boney - a long list of angels disguised as therapists who held up a lighted candle in my darkness(s)
3. My sisters - who remind me that we are born into a family for a reason. I'm not always sure what the reason is, but I believe there is one!
4. My mom - who used silence as a weapon, then, when the table was turned, used her inability to speak as a tool of courage and strength
5. My dad - The very essence of the words commitment and curmudgeon. You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy. Thankfully, Dad's love for the Smokey mountains was passed down in my DNA.
6. Chuck Chapman - who decided one day to stop being someone he was not. He embraced himself and others from a place of truth. When Chuck makes up his mind he's going to do something, i.e. 150 mile bike ride, participate in a marathon, go on a cruise alone, he throws himself into it heart and soul - no backing down.
7. Johnson - shows me that marching to one's own drummer is not always a bad thing (of course, that's easier to say now that he is grown and I'm no longer responsible for the direction his marching takes!)
8. Jim Ellington - saw something in me, that I could never imagine. His years of running track taught him to pick up the baton and run with it even when he knew he was going to throw up after he crossed the finish line! Jim never let the vomit of life keep him down for long.
9. Reddi Arts - like a spiritual oasis in the middle of a busy world. People like Bruce, Caitlin, Patty, Amy, Jim, Michael, Stephanie and Aaron, to name a few, welcome paying customers and visitors alike into their little sanctuary with a smile. Whenever I feel like I need a stress reliever, I know I can find it at RA, with or without spending a dime.
10. Fr. Ken, Mtr. Davette, Mtr. Bridgers, Heather Johnston, Fr. David, Fr. Georges, Fr. Miguel -men and women of the cloth who share(d) with me their knowledge of the Divine and help(ed) me to seek out my own
11. Cloth World, Joann Fabrics, Material Things, Olde Green Cupboard, J.B. Victoria, Peaceful Journey, Cobalt Moon - other places of refuge where indulging my senses centers me
12. My mailman, Marlon - who delivered over 350 catalogs to our house last fall, and never failed to smile when both of us knew his shoulders would never be the same
13. The women of River City Piecmakers - who share a love of quilting and carry on the tradition of fabric and fellowship
14. My Grandmothers - two women facing life with different styles. I wish I had known them better.
15. Mrs. Carden, Miss Bates, Mrs. Mason, Robert Blade - teachers who's classroom lessons were life lessons
16. Angie - who takes the job of rubbing the kinks out of my shoulders seriously! When all else fails, I can trust Angie to give me a queen's royal treatment. Angie's hands, like those of a 5-star chef, can turn luxurious lotions, good smelling creams, hot steamy towels, aromatic candles and soul soothing music into a veritable potpourri of calming delight
17. Larry& Akiko, MJ&Gary, Kathy Wilson, Paul & Marnie, Jenner, etal, - the personification of friendship
18. John Katz, Carol O'Dell - ordinary people who, in my opinion, wrote extraordinary books. What makes them inspirational is not just their writing, but the fact that they answered my emails as if I might really matter to them.
19.Pam/Betty Stuyvesant - taught me how to work for a living and spoiled me for all time by letting me think that's the way it was in the "real" world!
20. Navy friends, like the Dragers, Clothiers, Roops, Burnes, Bruners, Arends and Porters - who made moving from place to place, long at sea periods, emergency room visits, broken ice makers, having babies, gala dinner parties and Christmas teas look easy.
21 Belchers, Ercolines, Bruces - who trusted me with their most prized possession. I will forever be blessed.
22. People like the Chinese lady at the hospital cafe who taught me how to make jasmine tea, the lady in the Walmart parking lot who waited for me to empty my cart so she could take it back to the front of the store, Bella at Peaceful Journey, and Brenda, at the New Balance shoe store - who took an extra few minutes out of their day to share kindness with a stranger.
23. The people at my church who welcomed me home.
24. Terri St. Cloud - even though we've never formally met, Terri is like a fairy with a magic wand. When she touches you with her love and candor, she makes you feel special.
25. Fred Culvyhouse - who shows me how important it is to remember where you came from, but not let it hold you back!
26. All those people who weren't afraid to go to Denny's in the wee hours of the morning, hang Easter eggs on trees, drop everything for a trip to the bookstore, venture into the Grand Canyon or Anne Frank's house, drive 8 hours to see a hot air balloon race that was cancelled because of wind gusts, and hang upside down in a carnival ride with me. You showed me that failure is being too afraid to try something new. (I don't always put this lesson into practice but am aware of it's truth).
27. Emily - dear, sweet Emily. Like a cool, gentle rain sprinkling life-sustaining nectar to the desert blooms, you appeared in our lives when we needed you most. You did what needed to be done with a cheerful heart and ready smile. Sometimes I wonder if you are a figment of my imagination. I pray for your safety. May God bless you and keep you.
28. Katherine Pierce - who's photography brings to life places I'll never see for myself. And who donates the proceeds to finding a cure for cancer. ( Talent and generosity all rolled up in one!
29. Authors in general who have the ability to tell a story, to paint a word picture and have the courage to let others read their work.
30. John Denver - he said it all in a song .... Sunshine on my shouders makes me happy.

31. People who rescue animals, take posting everyday on their blog seriously, people who spend a year studying for the LSAT, people who spend a year studying, people who run marathons even when they are undergoing chemotherapy, people who don't wear a wig when they've lost their hair from chemotherapy, people with sticker collections, people who love pens, people who still write letters, people who whistle, people who pray, people who plant gardens, people who walk dogs, people who knit, etc. etc etc.

32. Last but not least is Jack - my love, my mirror, my knight in shining armor. He continues to show me a new way by ever so gently suggesting that I give up what hasn't worked for me in the past and embrace tomorrow with a happy heart. His willingness to listen to the ramblings of a dreamer, and the songs of my heart - neither of which make much sense or has much of a melody - puts him in the running for a Nobel prize of some sort!

I end this epistle, which has taken way too long to write, with a quote I found that really says it all about birthdays. Plus, even though I've never heard of the person(s) who said it, I think he(she?they?) has a cool name!

"There is nothing better than birthday cake. It's like a slice of concentrated love with buttercream frosting. "

Takayuki Ikkaku, Arisa Hosaka and Toshihiro Kawabata,
Animal Crossing: Wild World, 2005
Happy Birthday to ME!
P.S. Please forgive the spacing - I can't figure out how to fix it!
P.S.S. Add please add people who understand computers to my list item #31

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

You and ME against the World

"Too often we underestimate the power of
a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment,
or the smallest act of caring,
all of which have the potential to turn a life around. "
Leo Buscaglia

I was awakened this morning by the phone ringing. It was late enough that I should have already been up an moving, yet still early enough to start my day with that shot of adrenaline that moves one from a deep sleep to immediate action in the blink of an eye. Phone calls in the wee morning hours almost always mean an emergency of some sort. Either that or someone calling from another time zone who forgets to add or subtract the hours as the case may be. Or, now that I've learned about "drunk dialing" from AntiJen (, I guess the nerve shattering jingle need not be an emergency, just the musing of someone under the influence of too much Apple Jacks and Sauvingnon Blanc. My all time best experience with an early morning phone call was when Wendy phoned to say she'd just hit a $65,000 jackpot in LasVegas.

I know what you are thinking. Yeh, right! That's what I thought at the time and regret that it took several excited squeals on her end of the line, and more than a few angry, "I'm not in the mood for jokes, it's 3 o'clock in the morning,this isn't funny" comments from me before I realized she was indeed a winner. In my book Wendy has always been (will always be) a winner, but in this case she broke the three generation Ellington Las Vegas losing streak. It might take several generations before it ever happens again; if, in fact, it ever does.

Whoo-boy, I got way off track! Back to this morning's call ....

A friend of my sister called for some information on attending a funeral. I woke up fast enough to track down the obituary and answer the question. Good deed for the day done and I had barely opened my eyes! Then, as phone conversations usually go, we exchanged a few pleasantries - asked about each other's families and lamented Jean's being so far away. Before hanging up, Leslie said to me, " Mary I've got to tell you something." My stomach lurched to my throat - I knew it had to be BAD news! My ability to see the negative in any situation far surpasses my desire to anticipate the positive.

So imagine my surprise when Leslie recounted something her college-aged daughter told her. Like grown kids are wont to do, in a recent family discussion, Camille was reminding her mom of childhood horrors to which the blame was clearly affixed to the adult in the situation, i.e. it's always the mother's fault. She spoke of a ski trip that the church youth group had taken and how her mother had insisted that she participate even though she was suffering the early stages of what turned out to be a particularly ghastly stomach flu.

Having been a mother, and in defense of child abusing mother in question, I am sure Leslie believed the queasiness to be a case of nerves brought about from going on a trip with a bunch of strangers, except, of course, for the sister of her mother's lifelong friend. Now I ask, from the child's point of view, does that relationship make you feel warm and safe? Placed in the same boat (or van packed with kids and coolers as the case may be) I would have thrown up before leaving the church parking lot.

After the retelling of the story, Leslie, felt genuinely remorseful, forgot all the good things she'd done as a mother that now surely never counted as much as this onetime failure to provide adequate health care and comfort. "Camille, I'm so sorry," she lamented.

The part of the story Leslie wanted me to know is this, Camille's response. "Oh, Mom, it's okay, Mary was there for me."

I have written recently about my intermittent (okay, regular as final stage labor pains) memory loss. But I have to tell you, I remember that trip. In my mind it will go down in the annals of our church history as the "trip from (to?) Hell." It was long, the age spread of the kids from 5 (way to0 young) to about 13 (way too adolescently inclined), and ,because of a last minute glich in permission slips, the group was packed into too few transportation vehicles. Without a doubt the car to travel in was the one that held the food and sleeping bags. Alas, I was one of the approved of drivers!

If ever there was a trip when someone needed to take control by saying, "everyone sit down, keep your hands to yourselves, and don't say a word!" it was this one. Which, as I recall, is what I said about an hour away from Jacksonville, on our way home. Needless to say it was nightmarish, probably for everyone, not just me!

I remember the drive. I remember the whining. I remember the sleeping in a cabin that would have been quaint if I'd been there by myself or with my sweetie, but had the rank odor of damp clothes tinged with pubescent body odor. I remember waking up way too early and going to sleep way too late ("I SAID GO TO SLEEP, NOW!!!!). I remember having Holy Communion around the kitchen table. I remember kids from Florida who had never seen snow (or skis) except on TV, playing in the aforementioned sleet like it was a wintery wonderland. I remember driving through a place called Cade's Cove and wondering how much longer until we got back to the cabin which was beginning to take on the semblance of a haven from the chill.

What I don't remember, however, is poor little sick Camille.

After a hot shower and some contemplation, I realized this morning that our lives are full of instances when we touch another's life, or they touch ours, and we are unware of the impact we have. What seems normal and everyday-ish to us, could be the very thing that leaves a fingerprint on someone else's heart. And that's how God works, isn't it?

Zub used to talk of the 6 degrees of separation; how all of us are connected somehow to Kevin Bacon. (Was it Kevin Bacon or Patrick Swayze?) I don't know if that is really true, but I do think we are connected with and by God/Spirit/Love - call it what you will. What I do in this world is not just about me. What you do in this world is not just about you. Like the ripples in a pond when a kid (who is standing too close to the edge making the chaperone nervous) throws an icy snowball into the water, the good I do can reach to the other side and splash on the the unbooted feet of others standing near the shore. Not quite the metaphor, I was going for, but you get what I mean don't you?

I think the timing of Leslie's phone call was perfect. Today is the day before my 56th birthday. It was good for me to spend some time in thought and gratitude about an occasion when I, without even realizing it, made a difference in someone else's life. Because even when I don my Birthday Princess garb - glittery tiara, well-worn flannel pj's, and magic wand - I want to remember it's not just about ME! Well, maybe for the few hours that I hold court and accept indulgences it will be about me, but when I take a big breath to blow out my candles, I'll wish for a life that reaches out and touches others. In my book, that's really what birthdays are all about.

Merry ME

Friday, March 7, 2008


"The heart, like the mind, has a memory. And in it are kept the most precious keepsakes."
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

From all I've been reading about middle-aged memory loss, it's apparently not a big deal. It's not uncommon. And, even though Iworry that forgetting where I put my keys is an indication that I am on the fast train to full-blown dementia, researchers are proving this is not the case. "Even in the 65-and-older age group, only 15% of people suffering from mild cognitive impairment will go on to develop Alzheimer's disease." *

We boomers, who have long since passed our babyhood, are overstressed, don't always get enough exercise, and eat foods that are not good for our mental or physical muscles. Many of us our sandwiched between caring for (once a mother always a mother) our children and/or grandchildren who once flew the coop but now, for whatever reason, think there's no place like Grandma's, and our parents who can no longer care for themselves the way they once cared for us. Women in this age group must add the triumvirate bouquet garni of hormone deprivation, mood swings and temperature changes to the memory loss soup.

This stage of my life is just another one that I must muddle through because my mom is no longer here to guide me through the aging minefield. When I was 13 and started my period, I was in Vermont, my mother was in Florida. Now I'm 55, wondering if hot flashes ever end and mom is in a shrink-wrapped box on my Dad's closet shelf.
And that's one of the things that causes me great concern about not remembering things; the fact that the people I once loved so dearly are becoming an unfocused blur in my mind's eye. It's not that I can't see, i.e. remember them, it's that I can't see them clearly. I remember significant events, but I can't conjure up the memory of what they smelled like, or how it felt to touch them or how it sounded when they laughed. I'm afraid that what's blurry now, will one day not be there at all. Like the detailed stories that Johnson tells of living in San Diego, will I someday have no recollection of who these people are?
I don't really think this is what happens, but I still get fearful. Dad told me recently it's his memories that transport him to a particular place in time. He can look at the picture on his wall of the trees lining his beloved Smokey Mountains all decked out in their autumnal splendor, and actually feel like he's there, smelling the Fall air, and hearing the crunch of dried leaves under his feet. I can only imagine what he remembers when he looks at the picture of his bride or his mother or his brother.

I have pictures, too. I rely on those pictures to fill in the blank spots. On any given occasion, I can look at a picture and rejoice in the memory of good times shared, or cry with the pain of a loss that still feels too great to bear. I've been assured that one day, with the gift of time, that the pain will fade like the memory of a person's touch. I know that to be true except for the times, when I least expect them, when a song, or a photo can jog my memory so hard that the scars on my heart feel like they may come undone.

I don't want to expose others to that kind of sadness. But for today, the anniversary of Zubin's leaving us, I want to make a list of reasons why I loved him so much. My hope is that by doing so, I'll be able to remember the smile I believe he saved for me alone. The one that he wore on those rare occasions when I was with him just after he'd taken his sleeping medication. In those moments when he was in his own personal twilight zone and allowed me to join him on his journey to nighttime oblivion. His eyes were kind of distant, yet they still sparkled. His words were a little confusing, yet they were chosen with great care. His smile was a little crooked, yet it lit up his face and my heart at the same time.
I remember:
1. The first time I met Zubin and the discussion we had about the movie "Dirty Dancing" that caused Wendy to re-think ever bringing that young man (or any young man) home to me her mother.**
2. Zubin's story of stealing a batman poster. This kid was just not cut out to be a thief. Which, in the long run, proved to be a good thing.
3. Hearing about the BB-gun fight years after the drama was over.
4. W&Z's tradition of calling each other on New Year's Eve even when they were dating other people.
5. Zubin using the "F" word in front of me to see how I would react!
6. Watching Zub and his family play hearts.
7. Hearing Zub's stories about his brother.
8. Meeting Jay and Zori for the first time.
9. The Hindu wedding ceremony.
10. Watching Zub as he lay tilted back in his wheel chair to take the pressure of his butt. He looked like he was asleep, but in reality I think he was in a secret place where only he could go.
11. Watching Zub use the computer.
12. Seeing W&Z lying under a stack of quilts and magazines.
13. Seeing and rejoicing in the way Zubin loved Wendy, and vice versa.
14. Zubin's hats
15. Zub's birkenstock shoes
16. Loving Zub's family
17. Zubin getting overheated and watching Wendy cool him off by soaking a sock in cold water and gently laying it across his forehead.
18. Going to B movies
19. Sharing holidays with the Mehtas
20. Listening to him tease his mother and the way they laughed
21. Drinking Emily's tea
22. Zubin's art: drawings, photos, writings
23. 100 roses
24. Watching W&Z play the hand they were dealt
25. I especially think of Zubin every time I hear the song, "How Great Thou Art". Not because he was religious or sang gospel music. But because there is a line in the song that says, "I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder" and it always ... ALWAYS ... reminds me of Zub's "rolling thunder" term of endearment for Wendy.

If it didn't sound so selfish*** I'd offer to cut off my right arm or leg to have Zub back for awhile. Yet, I realize that even as much as I miss him, there are other people who's missing him quotient is far greater than mine. I wonder how they bear it. The answer has to lie somewhere in the knowledge that in that place where Zubin is now, he knows no boundaries, limits or restrictions. His soul is free. And when he tells a story that makes the other angels smile, the sunshines down on all of us with a great big Zubin smile.
I miss you, Zub.
Merry ME

** I don't know if I believe in ghosts but I do think that spirits hang around even after they are gone and if we pay real close attention they will tap us on the shoulder and remind us of their presence. I don't think it was coincidence that tonight when I flipped through the movie channels I happened upon Patrick Swazey and Jennifer Gray practicing the Mambo. Talk about timing, sense of humor, and proof that Zub is never too far away.

*** Ironically, the last conversation I had with Zub was about being selfish. Maybe my neurons and synapses don't work as well as they once did, but obviously information is still stored there and comes tumbling out when needed.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Anger Management ... Part II

"No one can be uncheered by a balloon."
Winnie the Pooh

And no one can stay angry when they see things like this:

Or this:

Or this:

Or this:

Or this:

Not so pissy now,
Merry ME

Anger Management

"Get mad, then get over it."
Colin Powell

How is it that one can lie in bed next to the man she loves, eventually kiss him goodnight, listen to his breathing as it becomes one with her own - inhale, exhale, inhale - thank God for this man's presence in her life then wake up the next morning and feel like she wants to kick him in the ass? Or yell at him, "What's up? I'll tell you what's up!" before her own eyes are even opened enough to see his sweet face?

And since I'm asking, how is it that a person can sleep for six or seven or eight hours, and still wake up feeling weighted down and cranky?

One doesn't need to be Sigmond Freud to diagnose a rather severe case of anger. And it might not take a rocket scientist to look at a certain girl's stressful life and see possible anger atoms swimming in every corner of the house. Even an American child, who's never lived in a place where he has to be careful of stepping on land mines, can tell that this girl's life is littered with emotional booby traps.

Okay, so I'm angry. I'm frustrated, tired, bored, weary and a little bit lonely for some female companionship. But what, pray tell, do I have to be so angry about?

Could it be that the last thing the man I love so dearly said to me before he went to sleep was something along the lines, of "pain, left side of my chest, heart ....". I know it's irrational to be mad at a person who is possibly in the throws of a heart attack, but dammit, if he dies on me, I'm going to be really mad.

And if his imminent death isn't enough to piss me off, guess how I felt when, after a night full of fitful, worrisome sleep for me, I realized he actually had enough energy to almost single-handedly remove the hood from his car to fix something that would undoubtedly be the cause of his demise. Of course, I helped. [And of course it crossed my mind to accidentally let it slip just enought to give him a slight kabong on the head.] But that's not the point. The point is that he was supposed to be sitting in an easy chair, wrapped in a blanket, resting his heart while I paced the floor, wringing my hands like they did in old black and white movies when everyone was waiting for the doctor to arrive to give the bad news. Automobile maintenance was never part of the script.

It sounds as if I am unpleaseable. I suppose I am. I don't want him in pain or dead. But I also don't want to waste my perfectly good worrying on what could have just been a case of indigestion.

Here's a bit of an insight into my psyche:
For me, anger and fear, love and un-love are braided into a kind of emotional bullwhip that I use to beat up on myself. I used to say, "I don't do anger." Then my therapist at the time, ruined that bit of self-righteous bullshit by reminding me that indeed, the reason clinical depression has been my best/worst friend for so many years is because I do, do anger. I just don't do it overtly. Well, most of the time, I don't do it overtly.

Most of the time, I am skilled at burying the first signs of any irksomeness somewhere in my gut, below my ribs, right around my spleen. It sits there like a steaming volcano, shooting off sparks, but mostly boiling under the surface. The poisonous fumes seep into my body, deplenishing my spirit. That's kind of what depression is all about; what the psychology textbooks call "anger turned inward."

You'd think, after years of therapy, that at the first sign of pissiness, I would go somewhere private, let out a few vociferous F-words, bash my fists into a three-tiered pillow and release the demons before they have a chance to get into my gut. Sadly, even after all the awarenesses, it is still easier for me to internalize rather than emote.

Dumb. I know. The other dumb thing is this, I'm pretty sure of one thing about my anger. Mostly it's based on my fear. And when all is said and done, I'm just a big baby who never got passed being a scaredy cat. I've heard it said that the brains of kids who use drugs stop maturing at the age when they started using. You might see a grown man, smoking crack, but really he's only got the brain power of, say a 12 year old.

I suspect, the same is true of me when it comes to fear. Somewhere in my early childhood, I got good and scared about something. Or maybe I got good and mad, who knows? For whatever reason(s) that fear was not addressed or the anger was punished or the fear was demeaned or the anger left unattended. Today, the emotions are so closely entwined that one triggers the other and both are so abusive to my psychological makeup that I run and hide; or try to.

An example that just popped into my head for some unknown reason is the time I thought I'd lost my son John. He must have been only 3 or 4 at the time. We lived in a neighborhood called Timberlake, probably because there was water somewhere on the community property. [I remember it being the size of Lake Michigan, but in reality it was more like muddy olympic-sized swimming pool.] At this point I should probably note that a: my husband was gone on cruise, which was most always the case when what I deemed a family emergency occurred and b: even as a toddler Johnson was a gadabout, a wanderer, an explorer. He didn't pay a whole lot of attention to rules like "don't leave the driveway" or "tell me where you're going." As quickly as I could turn my back he'd be gone.

So on this particular day, he's there one minute and gone the next. I looked high and low for him to no avail. The neighbors hadn't seen him. He seemed to have vanished. Then I remembered the pond. As I walked the short distance to the place I was sure I was going to find my son lying face down in the water, my thought process when something like this:

Holy shit! The lake! How did he get that far? Oh, my God, what am I going to do? John, where are you? Please John come home. God, please don't let him be in the lake. Should I call the police? What will I tell them? That my three year old thinks he's Daniel Boone, boy trailblazer? Shit! Christ! How am I going to tell Jim? Dammit, why isn't Jim here? If I find that kid, I'm going to kill him! Where's Wendy? What was he wearing? Damn, I'm a horrible mother. Why did I ever have kids? Wait a minute, is that him sitting on the side of the road watching the grass grow? John? Where the hell have you been?

He looked up at me with a smile, that seemed to say, "what's all the fuss about?" [That same look he has perfected over the years and still gives me on occasion.]

And at the exact moment when my heart nearly leapt out of my chest with relief, I swooned with an equal amount of desire to shake my little wanderer in a stupor and walk into the lake myself. See how emotions get kind of twisted in my head?

I went to sleep last night, sick with worry. In my sleep the fear and anger did their well-choreographed ballet. I awoke about the time fear led anger into a final pas de deux, and both emotions bowed for a final curtain call; in other words, less than rested. This morning I feel kind of angry, but maybe I'm just tired. Tired of waking up and wondering with dread "what crisis will befall us today?" I don't like being Chicken Little. I want to be the Rooster who, with anticipatory excitement crows "what's going to happen today?"

Journaling about my feelings is supposed to be a good thing. It sounds a little like whining to me. But since I've just spent the last two hours typing it I don't think I'll delete a thing. I do think I feel less uptight and I think my sweetie needs a hug. I think I do too!

Merry ME

P.S. Since I obviously need a little pick-me-up, I'm going to treat myself to a reading of "The Pig of Happiness." Better late than never!!!!!!!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Lose

"A retentive memory may be a good thing,
but the ability to forget is the true token of greatness."
Elbert Hubbard *

I need to be careful what I say about losing my memory because if the Law of Attraction is real then putting all my fearful thoughts into the universe could hurt me way more than being honest about the loss of my short term memory. Still I worry; and when I worry, I write.

When I was young, I prided myself on my ability to remember things. Perhaps I couldn't always put a name with a face, but at least I remembered one or the other! Numbers were my specialty. There for awhile I could recite all my former addresses down to the zipcode; plus most of my phone numbers. I can still recite my ex's social security number even though there is absolutely no reason for this little tidbit of knowledge to be retaining space in my brain when remembering to put the ice cream in the freezer, not the vegetable drawer would serve me so much better.

One of my best memories could also be one of my worst. I was in the sixth grade, which would make me what, 11 or 12 years old? I had a tall, stringbean stature; no boobs and scarred legs from trying to shave the dark fur off them with a double edged Gillette razor and no instruction. I had a haircut that looked like something a toddler would do with a pair of pinking shears. I had no fashion sense whatsoever. 1963 was the year I failed my first eye exam and discovered a world so much easier to see when I wore glasses. Beauty was in the clear vision of the beholder, but perhaps not in the geeky, spectacle-wearing beholder herself.

But what I did have going for me was my desire to learn and my even greater desire to please. I was all about doing good in school because, being the quick study I would pride myself on for years to come, I could see that there were rewards for good behavior and good test scores. Sure, I was probably "teacher's pet" and, no doubt, a little obnoxious to my fellow classmates. The mean, however, justified the ends. I was a shy-ish, introverted, scared little girl who craved positive attention and feedback. I got that in the person on Mrs. Carden, my sixth grade teacher.

She seemed to thrive on my successes. It was hard not to want to please her. At home I had 4 other sisters to compete with; bringing home all A's was a personal challenge for me. I was too nerdy to even realize I was a nerd! Good thing I had my sister Jo around to put me in my place! And my mom who really only wanted to get on with making dinner, not singing praises on report card day. And my Dad, who's style of praise was all military in that he could point out the speck of dust missed, instead of the rest of the room cleaned.

At the end of the school year there was a contest between what I thought at the time was the students with the highest GPA (not that we even knew the term GPA in 1963). More than likely it was really a contest between teachers and teacher's pets to see who would win the coveted honor of addressing parents, teachers and students at the annual graduation exercises. The other kids were allowed to pick a poem to read in front of the judges. My mentor, however, decided I should memorize and recite, without notecards, the entire Gettysburg Address.

Oh, my God, even today my hands sweat and my stomach churns at the very idea of it. Not so much the memorization, mind you, but the recitation. I don't recall that I even had a choice about being selected for this honor; and if I did, it never would have occurred to me to tell anyone that I'd rather pass. Good girls do as they are told. Good girls keep their anxiety deep inside their gut. Good girls memorize:

"Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation. Conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal......."

Good girls win the prize and all the glory. Well, some of the glory. When my father saw how things were going, that Mary Reynolds was being singled out as an honor student, good citizen, all-round helper and student who was "most likely to succeed," he showed no outward signs of pride or praise. I think what he saw was a daughter who's head was growing before his very eyes. So at the dinner table that night he announced that he'd attended the Mary Reynolds Ceremony. To an untrained ear this could have sounded like a father's attempt to acknowledge his middle daughter's achievemenets. But to my, skillfully atuned self-deprecating, co-dependent hearing, it was a sarcastic reminder that I had, perhaps, gotten a little too big for my britches.

That was the day I determined that even a good girl needs to get a little dirt on her so as not to stand out in a crowd. And so began my inward struggle to be who I really wanted to be but with just enough "spice" to fit in.

I remember that day as clearly as if it were yesterday. I remember other days full of confused pride and anxiety, being hopeful for recognition and sorry for the attention. But I don't remember where I put my keys or checkbook. The other day, I had one of those fleeting moments of returning to a parking lot full of cars and not having a clue as to where I parked.

I've asked my doctor about this memory loss. There's a special name for it, but for the life of me I can't remember anything about it except it has the word "cognitive" in it. In an effort to placate me, because he really doesn't believe I have early onset dementia (does he?) he gave me a simple little test. He said the words, apple, table and penny. I repeated them. Breathing a sigh of relief, and puffing myself up, kind of reminiscent of my Lincoln-reciting 12 year old persona, I moved on to the next quiz.

"Count backwords from 100 in multiples of seven," the doctor directed, tapping the clipboard he held in his lap with his pencil.

"Damn!" I thought to myself, "what did I get myself into?" When I passed my College Algebra class I gave myself permission to never again put pressure on myself in the form of addition, subtraction, multiplication or division." I can balance my checkbook (ha!) with a calculator and beyond that who needs math skills?

So I begin... "100, 93, 86." Just as one side of my brain was applauding the fact that I was on a numerical roll, the other side of my brain shut down ... went blank ... crashed. I had trouble remembering my name. I was acutely aware that the doctor was looking at me and tapping his pencil. I started shaking my foot. I felt a hot flash coming on.

I started over. "100, 93, 86 ...... 79 ...72," I stuttered.

"That's good," said the doctor, either sensing my embarrassment or having all the information he needed. "Now repeat the words."

Brief moment of panic, then like the memory pro I used to be, I looked him square in the eye and repeated, "apple, table, penny." I could hear the strains of the Rocky theme song playing in the background!

So, I proved to myself and the doctor that I have some cognitive deficiencies, but apparently I'm not ready for the old folks home yet. I don't know whether to worry or not. I can't figure if having the ability to count backwards by 7, or 8 or 6 is really important to my everyday life. But just in case I find myself doing mental aerobics by doing this particular exercise. I'll be ready for the next test.

God, I hope he doesn't ask me where I put my keys!

I leave you with this question, posed by Winnie the Pooh, who, like me, sometimes had trouble remembering the little things, but never forgot what really mattered, like who his friends were.

"Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?"
Merry ME

*(American editor, publisher and writer, 1856-1915)