30 March 2008

22 of 50 - Sister and horses

Distracted by a day filled with scenes of no connections, I can’t pick just one to write about. Morning was waking with my sister’s Staffordshire terrier’s solid round bottom tucked into my armpit; then a run to the place nearby where she keeps her horse, a tall and beautiful Thoroughbred jumper named “Roby.” She fed and watered the animals. I took photos. Around the horses, filling feed buckets and forking up piles of manure, she’s happy as a child. Later, breakfast and shopping in brown Santa Fe, then home to cook her favorite meal, chicken fried steak, for her birthday. 

29 March 2008

21/50 - White Rock

“I’ve lived here since 1950,” the old timer says, gripping a walking staff he calls a shelalagh. We’re on the viewing platform at the park in White Rock called Overlook. Far below, the Rio Grande twists through the striated rock, brown and glittering in the clear morning sun.

“Why is this town called ‘White Rock?’” I ask.

“Scientists lived in trailers here before it was a town,” he says. “There was calcite on the rocks. Guess that’s why. But it got covered up when they built the houses.”

 He points to a bend in the river. “Den of diamondbacks there.”

20/50 - Westworld

Plane didn’t go bang.

It bounced into Albuquerque quite gently. It’s very brown here in White Rock (next town over from Los Alamos, of nuclear bomb-making fame). It’s not hot, but I’m thirsty. Saw Black Mesa from a distance on the drive from the airport to my sister’s house. The terrain is oddly familiar, in spite of my having never been here before. Must be all those Westerns I watched on Sunday afternoons when I was a kid. I keep expecting to see Clint galloping his horse in a cloud of dust down one of these dry, scrubby mountains.

Not part of the 100: The first shot is of our descent into Albuquerque. The second is Black Mesa, shot out the car window on Hwy. 502 toward Los Alamos.

27 March 2008

19/50 - Animals know

Suitcase packed? Check. Briefcase packed with laptop, notepads, pens, sketchbook, and colored pencils? Check. Camera and extra batteries? Coat? Book to read on the plane? Check, check, check. Did you remember the clean underwear? Toothbrush? Check and check. Cellphone charger? And what about the allergy tablets? Got ‘em.



Mr.  Wren promised me he’ll take very good care of my ol’ buddy, who did his best to get swept up in the pre-travel whirlwind. When I saw him perched on top of the suitcase, I had to sit down with him and do some reassuring. I’ll be back, PIB.

Flying again

My stomach is knotting, and my flight to Albuquerque isn’t even until tomorrow morning. About 23 hours from now, actually. But I really dislike flying. That’s in spite of having done a fair amount of it over my lifetime. In big airliners, I’ve flown to places all over the U.S., and I’ve flown to England, and to Europe and back.

 In an attempt to face my fear I once took a flying lesson. I It was exhilarating, fabulous. I flew that little two-seater Cessna around for an hour or so. I was afraid but it was fun, too, and now I understand the reason people want to fly. I’ve flown in other small planes, taking photos out the window for the newspaper. I’ve even flown endless figure-8s over Portland, Oregon in an AWACs aircraft.

But I still really don’t like to fly, particularly in airliners. Perhaps it’s the closed-in-a-tin-can feeling. Maybe it’s the packed crowds of people. My mind can’t wrap around the idea of a plane filled with people, each one weighing 100-200 pounds (or more), and the plane itself weighing several hundred tons, flying through the air at 35,000 feet. My mind rejects the idea it can even get off the ground.

Of course, it can. And airliners do, every day, all over the world, and accidents are exceedingly rare. I know this.

My stomach is in knots anyway. So, I’ll go concentrate on packing. Ten days in Los Alamos, New Mexico, with my mom and sister, and her two dogs and her horse. We’ll be seeing the sights. Should be a hoot. I’m taking my laptop so I can keep meeting the challenge of 100 words a day for 50 days (and read the news each morning and evening), And I’m taking my digital camera, too, so I might be posting some photos before long.

Well, I will if the airliner manages to lumber up into the air and then back down without a bang, anyway. Sigh.

26 March 2008

18/50 - Illustration by degrees

Clicked on an ad the other night. It was for the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. It offers a BFA in Illustration.

I have always loved the art of illustrators best. Maurice Sendak. N.C. Wyeth. I love children’s books more for the art than the stories. But it wasn’t until I was married, working and had a child and a life that was far too busy to consider it, that I discovered one could get a real degree in illustration.

Tonight I’m perusing the AAU catalog. I’m an artist who dreams of illustrating whimsical stories. I’m also broke.

Ancestor dreams

I’m a quarter Finnish. My maternal great-grandparents emigrated from Finland to Saskatchewan, Canada, where they lived surrounded by vast, rustling fields of yellow wheat. My great-grandfather, I’m told, was murdered there, shot dead by another man. The remaining members of the family no longer know his story, so I have no idea why or how it happened. Even great-grandfather’s name is gone.

My great-grandmother remarried after a time, and it was her second, non-Finnish married name I knew her by. She remained in Saskatchewan, outliving her second husband by decades, and went on to live independently well into her 90s. She died only a few years after she was finally forced by great age to live with relatives.

My mother remembers her as a tiny powerhouse, a tyrannical woman who swept into her childhood Idaho home like a scolding whirlwind. She didn’t come to coo over or cuddle her young granddaughters, but to put them to work scrubbing already spotless floors on their hands and knees. My mother, now halfway into her 70s herself, still speaks of grandma-great not with love but with wide-eyed awe and nervous humor.

I met her once when I was a child. We went on a vacation to visit Mom’s relatives in Canada and we stayed for a couple of days at an old, plain, wind-scoured two-storey farmhouse in the middle of the wheat fields that belonged to one of the relatives. There was nothing else out there – just the narrow road through the wheat and then a spinning windmill and the house, rising out of the flat, tan-colored dirt like a minor miracle. It was scorchingly hot.

Grandma-great was there. I remember being very shy around that powerful old lady. I wanted her to like me, so I drew her a picture of Baba Louie. Drawing was my claim to fame back then. I believe she may have patted my arm and I think I tried to talk to her a little, but I couldn’t understand what she said. Now I wonder if it may have been that she had a thick Finnish accent. I didn’t really “get” any of it back then. At the time, Canada felt so far removed from my familiar, suburban Northern California home that it seemed like another planet entirely.

It was the1960s, but there were no toilets in the farmhouse. Just chamber pots.  I imagine there must have been outhouses, as well, but  I never saw any. Using the chamber pot was a messy, humiliating disaster for me. In two days I think I peed once.

I was a young teen when grandma-great (pronounced ‘grammagreat’) passed away. I’ve always wished I was a braver child and that I could have somehow gotten to know her better.

And, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become much more curious about her and her first husband, the young couple who emigrated from Finland. Why did they do that? When I think about how brave they were to leave the country in which they’d been born to travel to another country they’d never seen before and probably didn’t know much about, I have to smile. Did they know then that they’d never go back to Finland, even to visit?

My mother remembers grandma-great as tough as nails and mean as cat-spit. Maybe she needed to be. It would take great strength and determination to survive a lifetime of bleak brown dirt, endless wheat fields and no trees for miles around after growing up surrounded by thousands of blue lakes, evergreen forests, ice-bound seas and the midnight sun.

Now I dream of going to Finland to see the land she was from. I’d like to validate and acknowledge the strong blood she and my unknown, murdered great-grandfather left coursing through my veins.

I’d like to start my journey in Bremerhaven, Germany, mainly because I would like to see that city again and perhaps visit some old friends there, but also because it was there that I first conceived of this particular journey. Although I was living and working in Bremerhaven, I didn’t have the vacation time or the money I’d need to make the trip. It was – and still is – far beyond my humble means.  But the dream took shape there, and it’s stayed with me ever since.

Here it is: It’s late fall. I’ll drive the long, two-lane surface roads north from Bremerhaven and Lower Saxony into Schleswig-Holstein, my destination the harbor city of Kiel and the Baltic Sea. I’ll take my time and enjoy the road and the countryside. Perhaps I’ll stop in Haithabu, like I did so many years ago, and visit the Viking museum there. I’d like to see, once again, the ghostly Viking long ship which floats on the lake behind the museum.  With its tall, graceful dragon-head prow, it looks as if it could set off on its own journey at any moment.

I visited Kiel once and loved it, a small, beautiful, gleaming old city on Kiel Bay. It was bright and sunny and very cool, with a brisk wind snapping the flags flying over the harbor. I ate fresh fish for lunch and enjoyed strong coffee and a delicious slice of chocolatey torte in the afternoon.

But it’s here in Kiel that my journey to the land of my grandma-great turns to fantasy.

I imagine boarding a ship and sailing out onto Kiel Bay, where the wild swans flock. I’d watch the islands of Denmark go by to the north as we make our way out into the Baltic Sea, and once we reached open water the ship would turn due north again.

North has always been my favorite direction.

It would be a sea journey of about 600 miles, my destination Helsinki, Finland. During the journey the landmass of Sweden would slip by, unseen, to the west and to the east, the mysteries of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and finally, Estonia.

And then, Helsinki. My mind holds a few images of it, snatched from photographs perused in books and more lately, on the Internet. Other images, more alive somehow, have come to me courtesy of the Finnish-American poet and memoirist Stephen Kuusisto, who describes wandering Helsinki with his scholar father when he was child in his book, Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening.

We turned back and walked toward the shore. A troupe of women emerged from the mist. They were indistinct, liquid, black and green. These were old women from the neighborhood unfurling their carpets on the shore of the frozen sea.

Lordy! Then they sang!

The tree women sang and beat their carpets in the Baltic wind.

My father told me to listen.

“These are the old songs,” he said.

The women croaked, chanted, breathed, and wept.

The women were forest people. They had survived starvations, civil war, and then another war, the “Winter War” with the Russians.

Their carpets swayed on wooden racks that stood along the shore. They sang and beat dust from the rugs with sticks.

They sang over and over a song of night. The song unwound from a spool. I remember its terrible darkness. They were together singing a song that rose from a place deeper than dreams. Even a boy knows what this is.


From 1958 to 1960 my parents and I lived in the south harbor of Helsinki, just a short walk from the open-air market where fish peddlers and butchers had their stalls. We walked across the cobbled square and I’d tilt my head in the gray light and listen to the gulls and ravens. The gulls sounded like mewing cats and the ravens sounded like hinges in need of oil. I walked about listening to polyphony of hungry birds.

The Russian Orthodox Church had mysterious chimes.

And winter wouldn’t give up. We traveled into the country and I heard the reindeer bells. At an old farm I heard the runners of a sleigh crossing ice. What else?

A woman who sold flowers outside the railway station sang just for me. And her little daughter played a wooden recorder…

Wind poured into the city through the masts of sailboats.

There was an old man who sold potatoes from a dory in the harbor. His voice was like sand. He talked to me every day.

“Potatoes from the earth, potatoes from the cellar! You can still taste the summer! You can still taste the summer!”

Later I would think of his voice when reading of trolls under bridges.

Thank you, Mr. Kuusisto. This is the Helsinki I see in my mind’s eye as I disembark my imaginary ship, now berthed in Helsinki Harbor, where there are icebreakers and cranes and old gray buildings with winking windows and at ground level, the smell of fresh-caught and smoked fish and snow, and saltwater and evergreen forests.

After some time in the city, wandering, drinking tea, checking out the beds in old hotels and eating unfamiliar but delicious meals in restaurants, after attempting to talk with people even though I have no Finnish, I want to board a train.

I love trains. I love the pace they set, I love the countryside they glide through, I love the opportunity to get up and walk around while still moving ever forward. I dream of the chance to watch the Northern Lights from the window in my berth, listening to the wheels clackety-clacking into the night.

The train, that wonderful thing,  will once again head north, taking me up the length of Finland. It’s another 600 miles as the crow flies, but I’d like to crisscross the country, so in reality the journey would be hundreds of miles more than that. Along the way I’d like to stop in towns and villages, and see forests and lakes, and if the snow has come, perhaps spend some time snowshoeing or Nordic skiing to the song of the wind in the treetops. Kuusisto’s reindeer bells? I hope so.

I want to see it all. I want, when I’ve gone nearly as far north as its possible to go before falling into the Arctic Ocean, to see Lapland, where there really are reindeer in herds and people travel by sleigh. Where was grandma-great from in Finland? Where was her home when she was a young girl? Where are my ancestors there today? Do I look like any of them? I’m short, blonde, blue-eyed and fair-skinned. I bet I look like a lot of people in Finland. And Sweden, and Norway and Denmark, too.

But I don’t know, really.

After I’ve petted some reindeer, ridden in a sleigh and seen the snows, I’ll board the train again and head west to Norway and Sweden. I’d love to see the Norse fjords and the Swedish forests. I’d love to see the Gulf of Bothnia from Sweden and the Atlantic Ocean from Norway. And finally, after hundreds of miles of travel, even thousands of miles, I’ll end up in Malmo, take the ferry to Copenhagen, and then back across the Baltic to Kiel, and my car, and the leisurely drive back to Bremerhaven in Germany.

I imagine a journey of months, not days, with lots of spent stopped in villages and towns, visiting local sights, taking photographs and notes, talking to people, and writing the whole thing up at night before I sleep.

I guess what I want to know is if I go there, will I feel like I’m coming home? Is there enough Finn in me to trigger ancestral memory? Will my molecules hum, soothed by the flickering, unearthly silence of the aurora?

One day, I’ll find out.


25 March 2008

17/50 - Bush's War

Today was a day of lots of words. Written words, silent in the reading, voiced in the mind, heartfelt, angry, resigned, saddened by a world too big to grab hold of, too rough to smooth, too mean to reason with.

On the TV tonight there were more words, speaking in detached, documentary form about Bush’s War: How it was started, the criminal ignorance with which it was waged by a leadership which had no clue, the arrogance of men without souls, high on power, exhilarating in breaking and destroying and beating and killing and all because …

… they could.

We ought to be quiet ...

Sometimes, it takes a poet to say it best:


Poem From Washington Upon Hearing the President Praise the War


Maybe men and women need to be quiet for part of the day

Like Orphic birds asleep on the tombs in Italy—

Tuck your head, sleep in the sidelong avian mysteries,

Sleep like the frittilaries in the cemetery grass.

Yes we need less talk. Our country is sick with talk.

We ought to be quiet—put down the telephones—

To inquire of the numberless dead

With the offertory of our minds alone,

No tongues, no tongues at all.


--Stephen Kuusisto

Lions and tigers and families, oh my!

I want to know who really thinks that families in America are a threatened species.

I’m serious.

Just today I saw a headline which implied I could be either for Obama, or be for The Family. I couldn’t be for both. The implication was my vote for Obama will be a vote against The Family.

Does that mean if I vote for Obama I won’t have to endure another Christmas with the family ever again? Does that mean I won’t have to put up with family members I only endure because they’re family? I mean, these are people who I wouldn’t have as friends, but I’m stuck with them by virtue of being related.

Heheh. I’ll vote for Obama.

But really, this is ridiculous. American families aren’t under any sort of threat. Families have always been both close and acrimonious. Families have always stayed together – or blown apart. Usually it’s internal: quarrels, divorces, hurt feelings top the list of reasons families break up. Honestly, how I vote come Election Day won’t have any more than a brief and passing influence on my family – if it has any influence at all.

My Mom, who is with me in her dislike of Hillary Clinton, but against me in that she’ll vote blindly for John McCain by virtue of his being Republican, will probably forgive me for voting for Obama. She likes Obama too, but it’s that Republican thing, you know? I’m working on her.

Her vote will not make me love her less or like her more. I respect her right to vote for the person she thinks will be best as President. She respects me back. That's what reasonable people -- family or not -- do.

Now, if a Democrat wins the presidency – and we have a good shot at it this time – that won’t mean that The Family will disappear. Au contraire – my personal family has both fallen apart and reformed during the rule of both parties. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans had anything to do with what happened in my family.

If the party that believes in the separation of church and state is elected, it won’t mean that families will cease to be. As a liberal, I have no problem with people going to church if that’s what they like to do. But I don't want the church to get involved in the secular business of the state. It's great that the church works hard to keep families together, and that’s a good thing until it forces families to stay together when they'd be better off, individually, if they were to break apart. The doctrine that tells a woman to stay with an abusive husband because of the sanctity of marriage, for instance, is broken. It's bad. But generally, I’ve no problem with church people having families of their own. Bully for them.

I’d like them to let me do the same. Or not, if I prefer. But who I vote for, and my personal politics, don’t threaten The Family.

How about those wicked gays? Should we let them get married and form actual new families? Well, if we’re worried about the Demise of The Family, letting John and Joe get married if they love each other should be pretty smart. There! Another family, instantly! And if John and Joe get married, they aren’t going to threaten Bob and Linda and their two kids or make them break apart. John and Joe are happy that Bob and Linda have a family too. We’re all part of a big, happy family that way!

Saying that letting gay people get married will threaten The American Family is just stupid. I really wish we'd stop that.

And if we don’t want our kids to be forced to learn about the Christian version of creation or to forced to pray to the Christian god in school, how does that threaten The Family? I’d like to know. Christians are free to believe whatever they want. I won’t stop them if they want to believe in a Great White Father in the Clouds, or if they’d prefer to believe he made everything in the world in six days, then took a day off. (I would too, actually. That had to be hard work!) They can believe in the importance of the family and they're welcome to it. I believe it's important too, but not the be-all and end-all of civilization.

And in return for my respect for their belief, I expect them to respect my non-belief. Or, my belief in Allah instead. Or in Lakshmi. Or Buddha. Or the Goddess (whichever one is ‘in’ today). None of those beliefs, from Christianity to Goddess Appreciation to No Belief At All, threatens The Family in any way. In fact, they all celebrate the family and encourage people to love and care for each other.

So what is it with these silly headlines? Who are we afraid of?

Ohhhh right. Ourselves. And Obama.




No answers.

In my last post I asked, at the end, “Why are we letting the criminal George W. Bush get away with this?”

But you know, the more I thought about it, the more the question bothered me. Not because I asked it, but because I can’t think of any good reason except “heheh…  follow the money.”

And that just irritates me even more, because America’s prosecution of Bush’s War sure hasn’t made most Americans any money. In fact, it’s cost us thousands and thousands and thousands and… oh, hell. Billions. Eventually, trillions. My daughter will be paying for Bush’s War long after I’ve died.

And all that money won’t buy her gasoline, or clean air and water, or food free of chemical additives and fat-inducing corn sugar. It won’t help slow or stop global warming and the inevitable climate change and plant and animal species die-outs that warming will cause. The money we’ve spent now, and the money she’ll be forced to keep spending, paying for Bush’s War, won’t help her live better, or ensure her freedom from imposed religion. It won’t insure that she, as a woman, has the right to choose whether or not she’ll bear a child. And it won’t help her children if she does have them.

I hate to say it, but all that is the case no matter who becomes president in 2008. Some of those things would be in the balance whether the criminal George W. Bush got to have his war or not. But some of them might not be, too. Those trillions of dollars might well have gone to more productive and positive things. Hundreds of thousands of people, at least 4,000 of our own included, might not have died.

Why ARE we giving the criminal George w. Bush a pass?

Why aren’t we holding him, personally, to account? It can be argued that he’s an idiot, a puppet whose masters stand behind the curtains, pulling the strings. Dick Cheney is one of them, probably the Head Puppetmaster. Then there’s Karl Rove. Richard Perle. Paul Wolfowitz. John Yoo. And lots of others, of course, all who worked to empower this criminal president.

But the fact is, in the end it was the criminal George W. Bush who took the oath of the office of the presidency. Twice. He said, with his hand on a Bible:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

He hasn’t done that. In fact, he’s done just the opposite, using his office and his power to destroy and dismantle the Constitution, to make a mockery of it. He hasn’t been faithful in the execution of his office, which requires him to act responsibly in representing the People of the United States, all of us, including those who voted for him in good faith.

Perhaps that’s the problem. He didn’t actually win the popular vote of the People, but instead through nefarious means and a rigged election, stole the Presidency. In which case he was a criminal walking in, and never intended from the start to do anything except make himself and his cronies fabulously rich. We knew it then. We knew it when he ran for the presidency the second time and squeaked by with the popular vote.

The American people gave him a pass. We couldn’t believe he really was that bad.

He really is that bad.

And so now, here we are, with the new presidential elections only a little over seven months away. Meanwhile, the criminal George W. Bush is still in charge. He has not been made to account to anyone for his mistakes or his lies or his wholesale destruction of the principles our country was built upon. As far as I can tell, he never will be made to face up to any of it, not even the hideous deaths and maimings he’s personally responsible for in insisting upon waging a war based on lies and greed.

Why not? What does this say about us as Americans in the New Millennium, Americans who won’t demand accountability from their leaders? Americans who ignore it all as long as we have cars and gasoline and big screen TVs and fast food and Tivo and cellphones …

All of which may collapse shortly, given the skyrocketing price of the world’s dwindling supply of oil – another situation that the criminal George W. Bush knows well is looming but doesn’t care about because he and his cronies will be so freaking rich the misery they’ve brought upon us all with their criminal neglect won’t touch them.

The odds, at this rate, are pretty good that sometime before November, our country will attack Iran with nuclear weapons (based on lies about Iran’s nuclear program and intents) and push the hapless Germans, the Soviets and the Communist Chinese aside in the unending competition for the dark and dubious title of The Most Evil Nation in the History of the World.

And we … we’re letting him do it to us. 

No justice.

WASHINGTON — Troop levels in Iraq would remain nearly the same through 2008 as they have been through most of the five years of war there, under plans presented to President Bush on Monday by the senior American commander and the top American diplomat in Iraq, senior administration and military officials said.

Mr. Bush announced no final decision on future troop levels after the video briefing by the commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, and the diplomat, Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker. The briefing took place on the day when the 4,000th American military death of the war was reported and just after the invasion’s fifth anniversary.

But it now appears likely that any decision on major reductions in American troops from Iraq will be left to the next president. That ensures that the question over what comes next will remain in the center of the presidential campaign through Election Day.

Why are we letting the criminal George W. Bush get away with this?

h/t: Atrios

24 March 2008

16/50 - They just misspoke

John McCain “misspoke” when he said (four separate times) that al Qaida in Iraq was trained in Iran.

George W. Bush “misspoke” when he said that Iran wants nukes “to destroy people.”

Hillary Clinton “misspoke” when she said she’d landed at Tuzla, Bosnia under sniper fire.

In "misspeaking," McCain meant “insurgents” rather than al Qaida, which is Sunni and the deadly enemy of Shia Iran; that Bush only meant that Iran is bad, in general; and that Hillary was, oh, I don’t know, dreaming?

“Misspoke” has been adopted by prevaricating politicians and the complicit media as the new word for “lied.”

23 March 2008

15/50 - Cringing fools

Four more U.S. soldiers were killed today in Iraq, bringing the total number of Americans sacrificed for George W. Bush’s vanity to 4,000.

Hardly anyone anymore argues that this war was just or necessary. Almost everyone understands that the reasons for going to war in the first place were all lies.

Yet we continue to allow this evil man to lead us. We smirk as he talks about freedom, and how America doesn’t torture. We sigh when he tells us that the nation’s economy is just fine. We wait instead for November, hoping he won’t blow everything up before then.

Easter greetings

Now here's the way to spend an Easter Sunday morning. My friend J and her 9-year-old son Jjr (he calls me Tata Wren, which totally charms me) joined me for a nice springtime walk.

We took to the El Dorado Trail, J and myself on foot and Jjr riding his BMX bike, and made our way along the 2-and-a-half-mile, uphill trail to the crossroads. We hung a left and puffed up the long, long, winding steep road to Today's Goal, a yummy Easter breakfast outside at the Apple Cafe. Near the top, J snapped this photo of me being silly, but you know, a year ago I couldn't have managed even the walk, let alone the big hill. I feel good in spite of achy hands, and if I've a ways to go before I reach my fitness goals, that's all right. Getting out there is half the battle, and I know I'll win.

Once sufficiently stuffed with omelets and over-easies, hash browns and the Apple Cafe's signature biscuits slathered with the best apple butter this side of ... oh ... the Great Divide, we walked back. Jjr rode circles around us, then zoomed down the hills on his bike; J and I set up a pretty brisk pace and before we knew it, we were back at the parking lot, sweating lightly in the 70-degree noontime and pleasantly worn out. Five miles yesterday, five miles today ... five miles tomorrow? Just might do that.

Happy Easter, everyone.

22 March 2008

14/50 - Grim hands

The remission lasted for as long as the initial active period did – ten years. She’s trying to readjust her thinking so that she can accept, reluctantly, the fact of the disease’s return. She can’t ignore it any more. Her hands have a constant, dull headache in them that spikes whenever she stresses the joints by lifting a coffee pot, or shutting a car door. Tying her shoes. For five weeks, her hands have hurt. Now her hope lies in her new VA medical card, her appointment upcoming. She tries to detach. She is re-learning the grim dance of rheumatoid arthritis.

21 March 2008

13/50 - Spontaneous serendipity

The checker at the grocery store is sliding my purchases over the scanner. Suddenly he stops. He leans toward me and, gesturing for the woman right behind me to come closer, points to a very old man in line behind her.

“On the count of three,” he whispers conspiratorially, “say, ‘Good evening, Dean!’ One, two, three!”

“Good evening, Dean!” we chorus with him.

The old man, painfully thin, is reaching into his basket to put his purchases on the belt. He glances up, startled. The serendipity of the moment hits – and he gives us a smile of pure, unadulterated joy.

20 March 2008

12/50 - Karma babies

Went to a mall today. I bought some new clothes for my upcoming trip to New Mexico to visit my sister. Afterwards, I was waiting for Mr. Wren on the benches in front of the shop when a young woman with a beautiful baby sat down across from me. I complimented her baby and asked how old she was.

“She’s four months and one week,” the mom said proudly.

“My daughter is 26 now,” I smiled.

“Oh! You must have have been very young when you had her!”

She gets good karma points. I decided right then I loved her.

19 March 2008

11/50 - "Victory" in Iraq

Up is down. Black is white. In is out. Dark is light.

On the fifth anniversary of the launch of Bush’s War in Iraq, The Liar is on TV saying that we’ve managed a victory there. That’s in spite of violence levels in Baghdad that never fell below those in 2005, and which are rising again. In spite of an American body count that’s risen to 3,982. And in spite of tens of thousands of Iraqis who’ve died because they were unlucky enough to be alive when George W. Bush decided to show his father who had the bigger dick.

18 March 2008

10/50 - Baba Louie

Remember him? He was Quick Draw McGraw’s sidekick. I watched them as I ate big bowls of mushy Wheaties every Saturday morning, sitting on the floor in front of the TV in my pajamas, blissfully parent-free. They were sleeping in.

I liked Baba Louie a lot more than Quick Draw. He was cute. He was smart. QD was just a big, white dork, dumb as dirt. Today I know that Baba Louie was a blatant stereotype: small, heavy accent, was a donkey. The depiction was bigoted. But it backfired. I loved that little guy.

17 March 2008

9/50 - Ominous rumblings

America is sliding into economic recession. That’s bad enough, but kinder than what the ominous whispers out there predict: That we’re actually on our way into another Great Depression.

My parents were children during the last one, in the 1930s. I’m a middle-aged adult; I’ve lived through several recessions in my lifetime but never a depression. I wonder how we’ll manage with gasoline that costs $4 or more per gallon. A loaf of bread already costs about that much.

I guess we’ll soon be learning to live a lot more simply than we do now. Perhaps that’s not all bad.

16 March 2008

8/50 - A post about nothing

It’s well after 10 and I haven’t written my 100-word post for today. I did some other things, though. I did laundry, and I stoked the woodstove, and I noticed that the almond blossoms are already falling off the neighbor’s almond tree. I drank coffee. I rested my sore hands. I drew a picture of my friend J, which you can see here. I haven’t drawn anything in a long time, and I had fun with this. I think it’s a fair likeness. It was really a pretty lazy Sunday, and while I wasn’t particularly productive, I’m good with it.

15 March 2008

7/50 - Disgruntled wine

Olive Garden, my maiden visit, a rescue lunch for my dear friend J. A very tall, freckly, boyish waiter with shark’s eyes tries to talk us into an expensive bottle of wine before we’ve even looked at the menu. He puts two bottles on the table. One’s a Chianti, the other a cabernet sauvignon. I’m too weary to be rude, so I sample the cabernet. It’s rough, tannic. I’m annoyed by this boy telling me It’s the most popular when it tastes like plonk. I order a glass of merlot instead, and the tilapia with angelhair. The fish is undercooked.

14 March 2008

6/50 - Late winter dawn

I swing the woodstove door open. The groan of the hinges makes me anticipate warmth, just like treats made Pavlov’s dog drool. I stick the end of the long iron poker into the thick ash in the stovebox. I rake it back and forth. An orangey live coal wakes up, suddenly uncovered. And then, another. I roll those to one side and continue with the lusty raking, finding more live ones, and more. With a small shovel I remove the cool, powdery ash. Now there are just hot coals, glowing bright in the draft. Add logs and blow. Flames. Done.

13 March 2008

5/50 - Wandering in Norddeutschland

I am driving along the narrow streets, trying to abide by the unfamiliar European traffic signs while remembering the impossible-to-pronounce German street names. My 6-year-old daughter sits next to me. I mutter to myself. I am trying to be calm, but I am new to Germany and I’ve just realized that I am driving down the same street yet again.

Somehow I’ve gotten us into one of those vortex places where no matter which way you go, you end up in the same place again.

“Mommy, are we lost?” my daughter asks.

“No,” I smile, determined. “We’re having an adventure!”

12 March 2008

4/50 - Missing fiction

Reading only non-fiction, I’ve forgotten how to fly.

I’ve always been a hungry reader. My nose in a book, with the real world around me tuned out, I outwitted the clever hound as “Haunt Fox” and shared Alec’s fear and exhilaration as he rode The Black to victory on the racetrack.

There’s a certain magic to reading fiction; a quieting of the mind. Today I have to search for that familiar pathway into my imagination instead of simply stepping onto it like I used to.

I crave that sweet mental shift and suspension of time. Non-fiction can’t begin to compare.

11 March 2008

3/50 - Sensual spring

Vernal equinox is still a few weeks away, but don’t tell the forsythias. Their whip-like limbs are studded with canary-yellow blossoms that fairly shout “spring.” Fat wads of vermillion Kleenex snared in spiky bushes: that’s the flowering quince. Daffodils compete for attention. Exuberant bird-arias fill the sensuous air. And after a long hiatus, the hens are laying lovely, big, brown eggs. Some days there are five. Each egg has a rich, orange yolk. They taste earthy and fabulous soft-boiled, then fork smashed on warm, seedy whole grain toast and sprinkled with crushed French tarragon. Add a pinch of salt – sublime.

10 March 2008

2/50 - Rats

Mr. Wren stalked down the dusky hall, a hulking silhouette carrying a rifle.

“Gonna kill someone?” I inquired.


He’s a retired Disgruntled Postal Worker, but I wasn’t alarmed. It’s a Daisy rifle. It shoots only tiny BBs. Mr. Wren bought it a few years back after I noticed a humongous gray rat hanging off one of the bird feeders, stuffing his cheek-pockets as fast as he could. When we heard them romping in the attic over our heads, sounding more like energetic, hefty poodles than rodents, he decided to shoot them.

As rat control, this method sucks.

09 March 2008

Opinions solicited ...

Not really hypothetical: So is it serious if it’s dark because the porchlight was out and you trip and pitch headfirst over a potted plant at your mom’s and land hard on the driveway a couple feet lower down, mostly on your left hand and left knee, and you’re all sputtering and surprised when it happens and your elderly mom cries because it scared her so bad when you fell all of a sudden and damn, that was just how your dad died, from a freak fall, but of course he hit his head and was on Coumadin so it started a bleed in his brain, and that was what actually got him, not the fall, and you aren’t on Coumadin and you didn’t hit your head but you sure felt bad for scaring your mom so you said you were just fine to calm her down and reassure her but your knee sure did hurt and so did your hand, because the ring and middle fingers were curled when you hit but then got bent backwards at the knuckles where they meet the palm but you could still move them just fine and they weren’t even grazed, so you drove on home and they hurt but not all that bad, and the next morning your hand was puffy and swollen around those knuckles but they weren't bruised and you could still use the hand and fingers, it just hurt some and making a fist wasn’t so easy and anyway the next day the swelling went down a little and it still didn’t hurt as much, but now it’s six days later and that hand is still swollen around the knuckles and those two fingers and the whole thing still hurts, more today than yesterday ...

So should you spend big personal bucks on doctors and x-rays and possible treatment without medical insurance or should you just wait and see if your hand heals? Thank you.

1/50 - For starters ...

A few days ago, Blue Girl was admiring the intrepid writer of the oocRadio for his creativity and tenacity in publishing, every single day for 50 days, a 100-word post. Many of them were fabulous.

Blue Girl, my hero who is ever looking to improve her writing, decided to give it a try. Fifty posts in 50 days, each post 100 words long. She’s on Post #4 today. They’re amazingly good, like quick snapshots that capture a fleeting moment in time. One of them even has a nostalgia-inducing song.

So hey, I’m up for the challenge. I’m playing too.

05 March 2008

Flush twice.

Hillary Clinton rented an Austin men’s room for the national reporters covering her Texas campaign to work from on Tuesday. And that’s not all -- she kindly had tables brought in and even hooked up WiFi for them.

Yup, you read right. A men’s room. Complete with stalls and urinals.

She had a nice pile of tasty tamales delivered for dinner, too. The reporters chowed down. Right there in the loo.

After more than seven years of mindless cheerleading for the Bush administration, while ignoring the many massive shitpiles he and his corporate cronies have left all over this country and, indeed, the world, this was … a fitting salute to our national press corps, which has gone spinning down the toilet.

Way to go, Hills. Wow.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

03 March 2008

Just when you though it was safe to get back in the water ...

… Washington Post op-ed columnist Charlotte Allen writes a whole column explaining how it is, actually, that women are … dim. (Honestly. Read this. It's a jawdropper.)

If that’s not enough to make you grind your teeth, we learn the House Democrats, having managed to actually show some courage and backbone a couple of weeks ago by standing up to the President and the Republicans on the Protect America Act (which actually means the Protect the Bush Administration by Immunizing the Lawbreaking Telecoms Act) may now be rethinking their whole position.

Spinelessness is easier, after all.

01 March 2008

Where I am now

I’m sitting in my giant overstuffed leather chair in the living room. It’s the one that makes me feel like a little girl when I sit in it. It’s oddly comforting. If I sit with my tailbone all the way back against the back cushion, my feet don’t quite touch the floor. OK, I’ll admit it. I’m pretty short and getting shorter.

Mr. Wren started the logs burning sluggishly in the wood stove before he came to bed at 1ish this morning, so there’s one thin flame licking up around the new splits I just chunked in on top of the smoldering, partially burned wood that was left over from the night’s fire. It must have been burning pretty well while I was sleeping, though, because it’s about 64 in here, rather than the usual 58 if the fire has burned down. The fan comes on periodically still; soon, because of the flames in there, which will grow, it will start blowing warm air into the room continuously. I asked him to make the fire because I didn’t want to be cold this morning and I’d had trouble when I tried to make it myself a couple of nights ago. The wood simply wouldn’t catch. The weather has been unseasonably warm, in the 50s and low 60s during the day, so I just bundled up instead.

But my hands have been aching, off and on, with arthritis for the last month, and much worse in the last week or so in spite of having gotten Vicodin from Rapid Care last Sunday. And the cold makes them ache harder and with far more intensity, so I’m grateful to Mr. Wren for the relative warmth in the house this morning. Right now my hands only feel like they have mild headaches. I have not lost any mobility in them this go-round. So far. Because of my past struggles with arthritis, when it often immobilized me and made me groan with the most intense and miserable pain, this lesser pain makes me nervous. In the past, flares often started small and grew big and overwhelming.

Distracting myself from the pain is helpful. I used to read all the time. Now I type on the computer and read on the screen, which requires more of my hands. Fortunately, I’ve been stocking up on books the last several years, anticipating the return of the active disease. I always knew I wasn’t over it, only enjoying a long remission. And I was never complacent about it. I appreciated the fact that I was getting up each day without pain in my feet or in any of my joints. I could move freely, live normally. I reminded myself frequently to be mindful, and to remember what the active disease had been like so I could more appreciate its remission. Because, you know, there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. Now it looks like its shifting back into an active phase in my body. I’m not looking forward to it, but I’m strong and ready to deal with it.

An hour later: I’m comfortable. The wood in the stove is blazing, the fan is blowing. I have my warm, goosedown lap blanket over my legs. The cat is curled into his round cat-bed on the leather love seat caddy-corner to me. He spends his days, when I’m home, either on my lap or snoozing as near to me as he can get while maintaining a high comfort level. Comfort is his reason for living. I’m taking lessons from him.

And later still: I just finished making breakfast. Mr. Wren is going to a Master Gardener class this morning, and then out to listen to “frog calls” with the American River Conservancy. He may be 6’3” and weigh nearly 250 pounds, but I can imagine him doing this, a goofy grin on his face as he leans on his cane and learns the difference between a tree frog’s chirp and a pond frog’s burp. The value of this knowledge, for a retired, disabled postal service employee, is debatable. But it makes him happy, which is good for him and, since the liquid shit of a bad mood always trickles downhill, good for me. He’ll be out all day long without much of a break between events, so I’m feeding him well now. Of course, neither of us would die if we went completely without meals for a week, but Mr. Wren has got himself so trained to feel rotten when his belly is empty that I generally cook for him out of self-defense.

I think the idea in writing this was to hand-write and do it all at once – three pages, handwritten – in a sort of run-on here I am here’s what’s happening sort of style. Well, I don’t like handwriting, particularly when my hands ache. And doing it all at once is easier said than done. So I’ll just do this stream-of-consciousness, I’m-here-now-writing exercise in my own way. Being comfortable.

It’s darkish in here. Shadowy, with nice yellow light from the lamp, which is on the round oak table tucked into the corner made by my chair and the loveseat. I don’t like bright light; it bothers my eyes and makes them tired. I squint a lot in bright light. That could be part of my animosity for summertime. It’s bright for so long each day. The sun is always in my eyes.

I’m facing the slider. Outside is the north patio (that sounds sort of grand, doesn’t it? North Patio?) It’s really just a narrow patio of big, cracked, old, square cement pavers bounded by a cedar retaining wall that’s shot through with wood-bee tunnels. After three-and-a-half decades of weathering rain, snow, summer sun and wood bees while holding back the steep side of the hill, the wall is tipped drunkenly at the top and missing in spots. Moss has grown in places on the cement. Mr. Wren built a big cedar arbor, which is now heavy with wisteria vines, between the patio and the walkway along the north side of the house. There’s an unkempt garden bed on one side of the walk and, above the retaining wall, what I call the “hedgerow” on the other. The hill slopes up sharply above the retaining wall to our neighbor Hal’s property. Many years ago – probably the same 35 years that is the age of our house and the retaining wall – he planted cedar trees along the edge of his driveway. As they grew large, he started lopping the tops off the trees, so they grew out but not up very much. Their long roots now keep the whole hill from tumbling into my kitchen and living room. Thank you, Hal.

To stave off erosion on the hill, the first owners of my house planted flowering vinca, which is a thick growing, insidious and deeply rooted ground cover. It’s beautiful and green in the winter, fades a lot and wilts under the intense summer sun (but survives by tapping the ground water in China) and blooms with small, simple, purple-blue flowers from spring through autumn. Mr. Wren hates it because it takes over everything if it’s left alone. I like it because it’s pretty and it can be left alone. And now, among the lopped cedars and thick vinca, there grow blackberry brambles and grape vines, volunteer cherry trees and a myriad of tough weeds. It looks like a dense tangle, and it is. Within the protection of the spiny blackberry canes and beneath the cool of the cedar branches that form the hedgerow live wrens, towhees and alligator lizards, opossums and nuthatches. Bluebellies sun along the top of the wall in the summer and butterflies weave through the peeping flowers like intoxicated Lotharios among virgins at a dance. There are darker creatures living in the hedgerow, too – black widow spiders, rats and nests of ground-dwelling yellowjackets. But every good thing comes with some bad as a balance. I love the hedgerow in its entirety.

It’s gray today. When I got up, the cement on the patio was dark and wet. Rainpearls hung on the branches, leaves and pine needles of the plants and trees, and glittered with porchlight in the hedgerow. The gutter along the edge of the roof gurgled. It hasn’t actually rained any more since I got up at 6 (it’s a few minutes after 9 now) but it’s still damp and gray out there. I like it; I’m not ready for spring and summer to start yet. Both are such long, long seasons here. I wear sunglasses from mid-March to mid-November.

I have a single dose of Vicodin left from the prescription for pain in my hands the doctor gave me on Sunday, but I don’t want to go back to Rapid Care for another prescription. I fear they’ll mark me down as a pain-pill junkie and start refusing me, even though I’m in pain and my last prescription was seven months back. I understand their caution even as it frustrates me. I wish medical science could come up with a painkiller that really did ease nagging, severe pain without narcotics. I’ll admit to being one of those people who enjoys the gentle high that comes with the cessation of pain, but I’m not an abuser. Oh, well. With luck this current flare in my hands will go any time now. The flares always come on suddenly and go just as suddenly. Each day I wake up hoping … but then, there it is.

I guess I’ll save that last dose of painkiller until later in the day. The pain is always worse then, and I’ll appreciate the partial easing of it more. Vicodin doesn’t have much of an effect on me. Tylenol 3 always worked a lot better, but since I’ve been back in the States, no doctor has ever prescribed that for pain relief. So I’ll take what I can get, which is Vicodin. And for now I’ll take 800 mgs of Ibuprofen three times a day, like the doctor told me to. It won’t touch the pain directly, but it might, over time, reduce the inflammation that causes it. I wish the doctors also could just prescribe the narcotics, which do relieve the pain, in sufficient quantity and without concern about being busted by the government. I have this theory, you see, that when you can relieve the pain for a while, the muscles around the joints can relax, allowing the joints which are tight and sore to rest, too, and that helps to relieve the inflammation that causes the pain of arthritis in the first place. They say painkillers only treat symptoms. I disagree. Pain begets pain in a vicious cycle. But narcotic painkillers are seen as bad in our society. Why is this?

It seems to me that the government prefers its populace to remain in enough constant pain to be gulled into paying for ever-more- expensive, fancy superdrugs (which still do not work particularly well and sometimes cause even bigger medical problems) made by huge pharmaceuticals for a monster profit. They, in grateful reciprocation, keep the government in Scottish golf vacations, cocktail wienies and yachts. I’m just enough of a libertarian to be incensed that the government feels just fine about pushing alcohol on us – with all of its terrible effects on individuals, families and society at large – but won’t allow people with chronic, untreatable pain to get narcotic pain relievers without feeling like criminals. Even marijuana might help, but that’s illegal too.

There’s something wrong with this picture.

Ibuprofen, that old workhorse, has never worked in relieving my arthritis in the past. But I’m trying it again on the strength of hope and the fact that Ibuprofen is cheap and I don’t need a prescription for it. Lacking health insurance, such amenities are precious.

Well, I’ve managed to fill up most of three pages, typewritten instead of handwritten, just talking about where I am in the here and now. Unfortunately, it’s mostly about pain. But I’ve decided to go ahead and post this on Blue Wren, anyway. There’s nothing in Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write that says I have to keep this first writing exercise private if I choose not to – and I choose not to. I hope all three of you, my faithful readers, won’t be too bored.