Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summer Reruns: "The Smell of 'No-Palm' In The Morning"

Originally posted on Independence Day, 2008, I felt that, in the wake of electing an African-American President, it was important to revisit the issue of racism and bigotry in America this Independence Day. I think it bears taking a look at our attitudes regarding race in America, since I believe racism and the passion to which people cling to it are as relevant today as they have ever been. 

"Senator Helms certainly was no bigot. He was a man, however, not into subtlety. You know what he thought about a particular issue. You certainly knew because he was not into the kind of nuance and subtlety that so often divides American politicians." - Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), about the late Senator Jesse Helms, who passed away today at age 86.

I realize that when people die, and those that knew them try to eulogize them on the spot before microphones, some weird stuff can pass through the media ether. But I find this statement to be just plain bizarre.

Not a bigot? Really? Jesse Helms could be counted on in his years in the Senate for his vote against any kinds of civil rights, gay rights or reproductive rights legislation that came his way. He castigated homosexuals, civil rights protesters and activists, feminists and anti-nuclear activists without hesitation.

Now, I suppose, in some academic way, it could be argued that Helms wasn't arguing against civil rights, but rather for states' rights. If a state didn't want racial equality, we can imagine that argument would go, why should it be forced to tolerate it? Okay. I'll pick up that gauntlet.

Because racism is wrong.

Not just a little wrong, like, say stealing those orange roadwork cones or vandalizing bus benches. Big wrong. It's slavery wrong. It's witch-burning wrong. Racism is a violation of everything we say we believe as a democratic society. When it is practiced by local politicians on a local level, it is an insult to social justice and common decency. When it is practiced on the state and federal levels, it becomes an even bigger wrong, because it abrogates the very essence of the freedoms granted to all people in the Constitution. Five times in his life, Jesse Helms stood up, put his hand on the Holy Bible and swore, presumably with great reverence and a damp eye, to uphold and defend that Constitution of the United States. Then he turned around and said, in effect, that there were folks in this country that weren't entitled, either because of their sexuality, their race, their belief in equal rights for women and minorities, their stand against war and its instruments, to the freedoms and rights that Constitution guarantees. Which Constitution was he upholding and defending? The one written for only the white, straight folks who know for sure that a woman's place is in the home?

Since when does defending people who are being denied their basic, elemental human rights require qualities like nuance and subtlety? How about just a little compassion and humanity instead? Was he lacking in those qualities as well?

Merriam-Webster defines the word "bigot" as follows:

"a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance."
I know that Senator McConnell, a fellow Republican and Southerner, who grew up with stalwart traditions like Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, was probably trying to pay tribute to someone he thinks of as a legend the best way he knows how. But how on this good, green planet Earth can he say with a straight face that Jesse Helms was not a bigot when Helms' own voting record so categorically defines him as such?

Rest in peace, Senator Helms. I can only hope you find the enlightenment and empathy in the next life that you so resisted and overlooked in this one.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Shouldn't You Be Writing Something Just About Now

And the answer is... of course, I should.

Isn't that why I started this blog? So I'd have to write something, sometime -- even if it was something brief and meaningless?  Of course it was.

So, where are all these golden words of yours, I hear you ask? Where is this brilliant literary reverie?

Hm. Well... er.... uh.....

If you'll just tell me what to write, I'll be happy to accommodate.

It's all soooooo.... I don't know.... been done before. I just need a fresh idea.

Don't I?

Of course, I do.


Glad that's all settled.

So... how are you?

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Miracle of Time and Timing

Have you ever realized that at some point in the past you knew more than you do now?  You find an old letter or a journal or a painting, and it occurs to you that, at that moment in time, something had imbued you with a wisdom you had somehow since forgotten?  It's a little gift, I think, to realize that at some point we were smarter and better prepared for life than we thought.

I've been lost a little in my life.  I've been taking huge spiritual leaps, I've fixed some minor-but-nagging health issues that were distracting me, and I'm finally losing weight again.  My finances are still in a tizzy, my home life is chaotic and bustling (or -- to describe more accurately life with a very active eleven month old, staggering, grabbing, shrieking, babbling, Veggie-Tales-watching), and I still have a way to go to find my true creative spot in the world.  I'm closer than I was, though.

I have come to see things about myself that I didn't understand before.  I see better now what I like and don't like.  I have been working on becoming more compassionate and forgiving. I have worked through much of the residual animosity I had for my mother through a couple of very pointed and illuminating sessions of regression hypnotherapy with the amazing Dr. Susan Fisher.  While Dr. Susan has studied with the amazing Dr. Brian Weiss, and does advertise that she does past-life regression, for the purposes of full disclosure, the two sessions to which I refer did not involve my being regressed to a past life, but rather to an earlier point in this one.

Regressive hypnotherapy -- where hypnosis is used to review a memory or scene from the past -- can be useful, because it allows you to return to a moment in time and remember with more clarity and, in my case, a completely different visual perspective a memory that has haunted or caused you pain from your past.  In both scenes, Dr. Susan sent me back as an observer of the scene, where I watched mother and daughter interact with one another, but I was the today me -- the grown up woman, who stood outside the scene watching, rather than participating.  Rather than see the replaying of a hurtful scene, where mother was unduly harsh or sinister with daughter, and daughter was overly sensitive and obstinate, what I saw was two people locked in a struggle to be right, each desperately wanting to be heard and understood, yet each mutually failing to do so for the other.  It was still painful, but it was the kind of pain that promotes sympathy rather than anger.  How sorry I felt for this mother and this daughter, who were so alike in so many ways, yet so unable to connect on any level!  How obvious it was to me, as an adult observer, to see that they did love each other and care for each other, but had somehow drifted apart and were now unable to connect.  These sessions made me much softer toward the memory of my dead mother, much more able to see that she wasn't evil. She was clueless and struggling, and she didn't have a Dr. Susan to show her the way.

When I came out of the session, I asked Dr. Susan if the memory as accurate.  She said, "Does it matter? Was it healing?"  Then I mentioned that these new memories, found in her comfortable, safe office, might be manufactured in order to make me feel better about my mother.  Again, she repeated, "Does it matter? If you walk out the door tonight, and you get in your car, and you soften your heart because it occurs to you that memories you've remembered as harsh or abusive were really just misunderstandings, hasn't this accomplished healing?"  Yeah. I know. I was stumped myself.  Dr. Susan won't debate the accuracy of regression, whether in this life or a past life. She will simply point out that healing is the goal, and if a "past-life" memory is really more the subconscious taking a little dip in the Jungian whirlpool, then what difference does it make? Healing is healing. And it allowed me to forgive both of us -- my mother, and the young me -- for our failure to see and hear each other.

Alas, I cannot afford Dr. Susan at the moment to help with the lingering ache of my weird relationship with my late father.  So how might I finally heal enough to soften my heart sufficiently to forgive both of us for our alternately abusive and neglectful ways toward each other.  Fortunately, I had something else besides my subconscious to draw upon.  I had my writing.  These blog posts, and my long letters to friends while my father lay wasting away from the ALS and the C.O.P.D. have made for a pretty accurate record of that time. I've been reviewing some of my emails to confidantes back then.  Today, I was reading through some of  my emails to my dear cyber-buddy, Buddhist chaplain and family therapist Bill Hulley, and I came across one that allowed me to do with my father what Dr. Susan had helped me do with my mother.  Mind you, this wasn't something Bill had said.  As a therapist, Bill's style leans toward the "give 'em enough rope to hang themselves" school.  He let me write to him.  Exhaustively. Endlessly. Voluminously, even. He sweetly read my letters, he commented here and there, and then he shut up and let me emotional regurgitate on his computer screen all over again.

In the years since my father's death, I have written a mental narrative (similar to the narrative I've always had where my father was concerned) that he did not really like me or care for me much.  I believed this, because he made it clear how much he disliked my mother and how much I reminded him of her.  Because this narrative was so firmly entrenched, it was easy to reapply after my father's death.  But, much like my regressions with Dr. Susan, my own writing of this time with my dying father betrays the way things really went down.

In May of 2007, after I'd burned out, moved out and gone to live in the cave in Northridge, my sister, who had taken over caring for Dad when I couldn't do it any longer, found it necessary to return to her home in Hawaii for a few days to take a well-needed break and tend to her life a bit, which was withering while she'd been living in L.A..  With some dread and trepidation, I moved back into the house during those days and reprised my role as caregiver. I'd had several months to rest and revive myself, and I was determined to approach this time with a better, calmer energy for him.  We did not know it at the time, of course, but my father only had a little more than two months to live.  I'd forgotten about these days completely, until I stumbled across a letter I'd written to Bill during that time:
May 2, 2007

My sister has been in Hawaii for going on three days now.  The first night she was there, she sent me a picture message of her martini.  And then her second martini.  She really needed a break.  Dad only awoke once the first night, with cries that he was falling out of bed.  When I got in there, he was not really falling out of bed, but he has no sense of kinesthesis anymore, no concept of where his body parts are in relation to the rest of him.  After I'd shifted, first his hips, then his shoulders, then his head, then his knees, he said that was perfect.  I swear, if I'd drawn a police chalk outline around his body when we'd started, it would have fit perfectly around him when we'd finished.  But it made him feel better, so I guess it was worth it.  He's sleeping a lot more (I mean, a whole lot more) than he used to during the day.  He asked me that first night who was drugging him.  I promised him no one was drugging him, that it might be the changing weather or maybe he was fighting off a bug of some sort.  How do you say to someone, "It's probably because you're dying."  You just don't, that's all.  He knows.  I know.  But dealing with it every single day gets tiresome and difficult. Let's just pretend its something else, since we can't change it.
It's getting easier and easier for me to disconnect the man who used to be so horrible to me when I was growing up from this man here today.  It's like this helpless, scared guy was inside that other son of a bitch the whole time, but afraid to come out (not that we can blame him -- we knew the other guy).  But that other guy is gone now, and this guy here wouldn't really hurt a fly.  Today, I was readying myself to leave for work, and we shifted him in his chair one last time before I left.  I asked him if there something else I could give him before I left, and he said, "Just your love and affection," and he reached his hand out to me.  It was the first time I can ever remember him asking for a kiss or hug.  In my entire life.  And if I hadn't come back to do this this week, I'd have missed it.  All that schpilkis I had over these five days, and its proving to have been all for naught.  One of these days, Bill, I'm going to just trust that the Universe knows what its doing, and then I'll quit my backseat driving. 
 What a blessing this find was for me!  What a gift! And how rare and grateful I am to have written it in the first place, and then found it again when I needed it the most.  The story I have told myself that he did not love me, and that I didn't not love him either, turns out to be grossly distorted. It turns out that the past can do more than cripple and encumber. It can also heal and liberate. And it can make you realize that, deep down, everything you need is inside you, waiting to blossom and come out.  In the words of a wise woman I used to know:
"And if I hadn't come back, I'd have missed it."

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Pain -- Nature's Way of Getting You To Perk Up And Pay Attention!

Last blog post back in April, I went on and on about my intermittent, but persistently nagging back pain, and how it improved with the setting of boundaries.  Back then, the level of my discomfort, according to the chart at the left, registered somewhere around a 4 or 5.  By this time two weeks ago, it was up to around 7 or 8, and heading quickly into 9 territory.

Turns out, it wasn't back pain at all.  As I suspected, the cause was internal -- gastritis, which was causing inflammation in, among many other places, the regions of my lower back.  Though I had no diagnostic tests run to take a look, apparently, excess stomach acid was eating through my stomach wall, presumably so it could travel up to my brain and smack me upside the head.  (This is chronic pain's entire purpose for existing, I'm starting to realize.)

My fabulous MD, Dr. Simon, prescribed a pretty little orange pill, and I've felt fine ever since.  But the memory of the pain lingers, and with it, a desire to fix the root of the problem (why so much acid?) and not just handle the symptoms (ouchy stomach).  My father had a habit of constantly cracking his shins on objects around the house -- the coffee table, the hope chest at the foot of his bed, an open drawer at his desk.  I'd hear a "crack", a yelp, and when I'd ask if he was okay... he'd grimace, "Fine, fine... there's something about excruciating pain that lets you know you're alive!!"

True enough... you may not be happy you're alive when you're hurting. But at least you can rest assured that, if you're in pain, you're still here and kicking.

I have been working hard to make sure I meditate at least once a day, and I've even been getting two sessions in on a fairly regular basis.  Between the anemia and the gastritis, working out fell totally off the turnip truck.  But I figured, in those moments when the pain had subsided sufficiently to think clearly, I could at least take care of myself spiritually.  Meditation is very much like working out.  You might not feel a damn bit different if you do it once.  But do it once a day for two weeks, and it can change everything about your life.

And where my meditations -- mostly on gratitude, which I feel is the quickest way to feeling loved and loving simultaneously -- have led me is to the realization that, until I'm doing what I love, I'm wasting my life, my time, my health, my joy and my gifts, and the Universe is NOT going to let me forget it.  It's the infamous "pebble-brick-boulder" scenario.  First, the Universe pelts you with the pebble, then it hits you with a brick, and if you're still not listening, you get the boulder.

If there's one thing this experience over the past several weeks has taught me.... you really want to start paying attention before you get the boulder.  The boulder tends to be something like a heart attack or a massive stroke or a malignant tumor.  If you can catch it at pebble level (an achey and nonspecific mental ennui), or at the very least get it at the brick stage (gastritis, pancreatitis, a bladder or kidney infection), then you're going okay.  You can recover.

So, now that we've headed the boulder off at the pass, I am starting to take steps to change everything up, so that I can do what makes me happy, and actually get paid for it.  What makes me happy? This makes me happy.  Writing makes me happy.  Reading makes me happy.  Listening to other people read makes me happy.  Working as a legal assistant... does. Not. Make. Me. Happy.  (It does pay the occasional bill, however, and for this we are eternally grateful.) Doing the happy things makes me smile... kind of like that little yellow guy at the bottom of the pain chart, whose pain level is ZERO.

Because if everything is right, if it's going the way it's supposed to, life is really supposed to be pain-free.  Sans pain.  Absolutely, 100% painless.  That's how you know nothing is wrong.  Because it doesn't hurt when you do this.  Or that.  Or anything for that matter.

It's time to get right with the Universe and keep the boulders at bay.  There are phone calls to be made.  There is a business plan to draw up.  There are decisions to be made.  There is cheaper housing to find and there is packing to do.