Let Go or Be Dragged

Let go or be dragged.

I keep coming back to that ancient Zen proverb, mostly in relation to the daily challenges of trying to get back into shape. Should I let go of this goal? Or should I continue to be dragged through the now daily extreme fatigue and unrelenting soreness?

But I have a long history of holding on.

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Art by Ruth Sanderson, goldenwoodstudios.com

When I was eight years old I loved a pony named Little Bo Peep. Banish all mental images of the mild and dainty, frocked shepherdess which her name invokes, for Bo Peep was a battery of potential energy cleverly disguised as a thick-furred, thigh-high bundle of cuteness. Her little hooves went clip-pity-clop. Her muzzle fit in the hollow of my child-sized palm. Her inch long lashes lined beguiling eyes, one brown, the other half blue and half brown.  To brush Bo Peep’s dense winter fur only stirred the static electricity that made dust cling to it more tightly. When we played hide and seek I would climb into her manger and she would wibble my head with her lips. Later I’d find hardened horse slobber in my hair. She was my world.

If you don’t know ponies, you might not know that they can be, shall we say, difficult, and Bo Peep was no exception. On more than one occasion she schooled me, and my lesson was this: even though we are well matched in size, you are not nearly skilled enough to ride me. My lesson to her was this: I will be dragged rather than let go.

Bo Peep was inclined to do exactly as she pleased on occasion, which included grabbing her bit and taking off, skinny little Linda’s tugging be damned. There was no question that I could stay on her. The question was whether and when she would stop. I clearly recall the shouts of my sister, Gail, fading in the distance as Bo Peep galloped at full speed and forged a new trail on an old trail that had been devoured by sticker bushes. I tried with all my wimpy strength to pull her to a stop, as stickers ripped at my arms and legs. Finally I wrapped the reins around my hands and, once the sticker bushes gave way a bit, I jumped off her, my hands still tightly bound. The dragging was relatively short before she came to a halt, and my take on that episode was that I’d won. I also earned some street cred with Gail, my witness.

Another time I found myself once again moving involuntarily at an out-of-control gallop, this time through a wide open landscape, toward a busy road. My companions were powerless to intervene as I became a speck in the distance. I used the same drop and drag technique (which I think of every time someone says drag and drop in computer-speak) and was applauded by the onlookers, both because I was a ballsy eight year old, and because I had survived.

 

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Me on Little Bo Peep, circa 1968.

Little Bo Peep’s owner sold her before I was strong enough to stop her the normal way or outgrow her. But during the time she was in my life, letting go was never an option. And I fearlessly got back on every time.

So, should I let go or continue to be dragged?

I can’t clean my house. I can’t cook every night. I can’t work, earn money. I can’t swim a mile, run five, or bike twenty. I can’t save the world. That’s a lot of stuff that I could do, that I can’t do now. I might need to let some of this stuff go because that’s a lot of dragging.

I’ve previously encountered the suggestion that I had to create a “new normal,” and frankly it pisses me off.  I liked my old normal, thank you very much. But as I was putting the finishing touches on this piece (read: waiting for Gail to emerge from the wormhole with a good photo of Bo Peep), and not really knowing where I was going with the ending, I coincidentally read a piece in the NY Times that lead me to this article:

https://journals.lww.com/oncology-times/Fulltext/2019/10200/Patient_Handout__The_New_Normal_for_Now.8.aspx

The concept of defining a “new normal for now” is one that I can get behind. 

The first time I underwent treatment, I have to say it was about two years before I was fully back to where I was before my diagnosis, and a few years after that until I was an even better version of myself. So when I put things in perspective, I really have no business thinking that one year out from the discovery of my metastasis I’d be anywhere near where I was prior. 

Thinking about creating a “new normal for now” is going to work because it acknowledges that my situation will indeed continue to evolve. It encourages me to summon that fearless, gritty, eight year old I was, and be willing to be dragged occasionally and temporarily. It is hopeful, and that’s what I need right now.

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So…. Nothing To Write About

So…. nothing to write about except for this colossal day, filled with terribly ordinary, extraordinary things.  Things that suddenly inspire me to write pages about each. This day follows days filled with thinking I might never write again, because I was never going to be inspired because Lyrica has killed my ability to recognize a thought worth contemplating much less writing about. 

“Let’s not blame absolutely everything on the Lyrica,” said Dr Shaikh. Fair enough. But let’s blame what we can on the Lyrica because if we don’t we’ll have to blame it on my writing ability or lack thereof.  

I posted something I wrote about Ralphie. I wrote it to prove to myself that I actually can still write, if only I can find an inspiring little pig.  Ralphie, my muse…. and then on the following day everything is suddenly demanding to be written about, like this: 

My fragile immune system kept me from sharing the burden during my mother’s C. difficile adventure. I was away for a few days, lying in a swimming pool and hiking to water falls, while my sister changed poopy adult diapers.  While she spent 3 consecutive weekends in the ER with our mother, I went out to dinner yet again. While I went for a bike ride, she ran down the infectious disease doctor and tongue-lashed her into discharging Mom. She slept on our mother’s floor, she wiped down every surface with the special wipes I ordered (it was literally all I could do), only to tell me the next morning the big D started again. Of course this is concurrent with caring for our mother’s wound, and dealing with her gum-ache and recent case of gout. All this has confirmed a long held suspicion that my sister has no breaking point.

IMG_3212A gesture Mom learned on her 91st birthday.  It sums up her past few weeks.

And this: Cameron, with injured knee, used the 8-foot long branch on my porch, the one I intended to cut down for a walking stick when/if I become an old woman, to hobble to the car for her first visit with her new primary doctor.  Fletcher & I took bets on whether she would also use it to get from the car into the doctor’s office, thereby looking like the shaman that she is. 

And this: My treatment today was a piece of cake. I’m getting used to dropping my drawers on command. Then I had my final visit with Jan, the radiation oncology practice nurse, who discharged me saying, “You have enough people here looking after you.” True that. We talked for a few minutes about the tragic loss of Dr. Schupak, which I can’t talk about without tearing up.  Not only because of the loss of someone so skilled. Not only because of the fact that while she was treating patients she was herself a patient, unbeknownst to us.  But mostly because she was so very kind and reassuring and I wonder if she knew how much it meant to me.

And this: Laila and I were again chatting and dining, this time excellent Afghan food (apparently she’s not sick of me yet), while Fletcher took Cameron to the orthopedist who pronounced her lyme-riddled yet again, I learned by text.  I warned Fletcher via reply text to be prepared for the wrath of Cameron when they get back in the car, but they were apparently preoccupied by transporting bodily fluids drawn from her knee to a lab just minutes before it closed. 

And this: Julia wants to know what train to take. Ooops. I’d forgotten that she is also coming home tonight. Initially I had forbidden the overlap with Cameron being home because I refuse to again schlep that cat litter into my bedroom since they both refuse to host it in their rooms while they are home. “Are you saying I can’t see my sister? I could tolerate cat litter for one night until Cameron leaves,” said Julia, who has apparently grown into a complete adult since the last time I saw her. She can both host cat litter and wants to see her sister? Wait a minute! Is there a glitch in this here matrix?

And this is only my own family.  I can do more. How about a story about a couple seeking to rent an apartment that only allows small dogs, trading their sweet but neurotic and gigantic dog named Loki for their friend’s smaller dog (say, one the size of a small pig) just for the interview.  What could go wrong?

How about the thought that every time you dig in the garden you might be maiming a creature or destroying its home. We realized this when, as we savaged our out-of-control front garden, taking the lawnmower to it, the dirt began moving on its own and a precious, gray, silken creature emerged and scampered about, among hundreds of crickets who’d also just been rudely evicted. The vole looked around, bewildered by the changes to its above-ground world, before it slipped back underground. Add the Terror of Voles, triggered by home demolition, to the Sadness of Birds when you trim back their favorite bush. And the Anger of Hummingbirds when you pull out their favorite flowers. The sweet william were entangled with honeysuckle and virginia creeper – there was no saving them. Our hummingbird hovered by the window where the flowers used to be for a surprisingly long minute staring at us in disbelief, and, I swear, gave us the finger before flying away. Who knew gardening could be so emotional.

OK, enough! I said, that will do, Pig!

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Let’s Focus on Ralphie, Shall We?

Let’s focus on Ralphie, shall we? He won’t mind. 

First, imagine a small pig. He’s the same general shape, but a little thinner and a lot hairier. The same beady eyes and the same lovability, minus the hooves.  I shift my weight on the bed and notice by the tiny cracking of a beady eye that I have disturbed him. But only momentarily. His legs are so short that he sniffs his own feet when he sleeps.  His legs are so short that he gets The Crud on his belly from the wilderness outside. Doc says his undercarriage must be bathed daily with the $special$ shampoo to keep this microbial-inspired sort of manginess at bay.  Fat chance of that.  I can barely bathe myself some days. So I’m shooting for every other day, which by experience I know slips to every three days, then once a week, then The Crud returns.  

Suddenly he cries out, obviously being provoked by turkeys or murdered by thunder. He is paralyzed except for his feet, which twitch and spasm, and his voice box, which alternates between yelping and imitating Curly snoring.

Almost every night while we are eating, Ralphie stubbornly stands splay-footed, staring at us with those beady eyes from across the room. Only copious amounts of yelling or sweet talk will get him to budge. I gave him a piece of salmon from my plate tonight, something I never do. A bit later the staring started and when I told him to stop acting freaky and go lay down, he actually listened to me, likely in return for the bit of salmon. Noted.

Sometimes, when I am feeling self-indulgent, I wake Ralphie from a deep sleep. I do it to see the beady pig eyes swept clear of the fur that usually hides them.  To see the fur plastered to the side of his head in some approximation of an up-do.  To see the fur that usually hangs on either side of his nose, now on one side straight up, and on the other straight down. He looks ridiculous and endearing, but mostly confused.

Other times, also when I am feeling self-indulgent, as I lay on the couch I wake Ralphie from a deep sleep and, after appreciating his beady eyes and his up-do, I lug him on top of me (like a tiny, weighted, swine blanket) for a hug.  This distresses him greatly at first, but then he tolerates it, then he relaxes and, I like to think, enjoys the hugging.  He enjoys it until Fletcher comes in and says, “What are you doing to him? Dogs don’t like to be hugged!” Then he struggles to free himself, having just been told he should. Fletcher should just zip it and let me hug my dog. 

That’ll do pig.

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There is a Multi-Ring Circus in My Brain.

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There is a multi-ring circus in my brain.

In the Big Top, Breathing is a ringmaster who performs perpetually, whether anyone is in the stands surrendering their awareness or not. It’s not long before the side shows draw me away.

In this tent, memories of when Thurman Munson(1) lost his head.  There are only a few of us present, but we have a good laugh.

In the next tent, the freak show of the future is featured, in which I am in an emergency room (with Ralphie because it is too hot to leave him in the car) where we have rushed to tend to Fletcher who was hit by a car while stubbornly riding his bike to the shore.  Ah, the future. It never disappoints. In my future they let dogs in hospitals. 

It’s back to the Big Top, where Breathing is performing daring feats of….nope, still just breathing. Feel it in your nostrils, feel it in your belly, then wander off again.

Between circus rings, I wonder how I am able to sit in the sun with a sweatshirt on when it is 87 degrees. As long as I am meditating I don’t seem to feel the heat. Weird. Fletcher says he wants a new pillow that is “robust,” which strikes me as an odd description for a pillow.  I do like the word ‘robust’ though, and vow to use it in a sentence today.

“‘Grandma did you do your kegels today?’ I shout.”  These words come to me as a brilliant first line of a short story I discovered I need to write at just this very moment – the only moment that exists, so I should focus on it and be aware of it, my meditation guide(2) tells me.  He tells me I need to befriend my pain at this moment, the only moment that exists, and become intimate with it. He tells me this in a voice that sounds like a chill Woody Allen. Imagine Woody saying the word “intimate” and try not to get creeped out.

In the next ring, the beautiful horse from the farm down the street is cantering around and around and around.  It is dappled gray and fat.  A beautiful woman swings and splits and stands upon it, yet its movement is constant, constant, constant. The rhythm of its canter synchs with my breathing. I wander back over to the Big Top.

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I bring awareness to my breathing and manage to keep it there for more than a nanosecond. Perhaps I should spend more time in the Big Top. My guide insists I am doing great and that this is how it’s supposed to work – no matter what bizarre things go on in my head, no matter who arrives on my brain porch, whether my thoughts include pain or cancer or when I’m going to clean the sand out of my car, I just keep bringing my awareness back to my breathing. Then I notice that the cotton candy machine is in the Big Top so I bring my awareness to that as well.

I refer here to Thurman Munson the stuffed NY Yankees mascot doll, not the crackerjack Yankees catcher that was its namesake, although both had tragic endings.
 2 Jon Kabat-Zinn is a great meditation guide. I’m using this: Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief – Guided Practices for Reclaiming Your Body and Your Life
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Cancer Staggered Up My Brain Porch

Cancer staggered up my brain porch during meditation today. I made a decision; not a “quick decision” because cancer was pathetically slow.  It was just some cells trying to glom together and get inside my head.  Unlike death, which I turned away because I didn’t want him rattling around in there and stinking things up (see 3/17/19 post), I let cancer in, knowing that no one in there was going to engage with it, and that it would soon be sitting alone in a corner, crying.  Which is what it deserves really.  Who does it think it is? Who does it think I am? It actually doesn’t even think at all, those pathetic little cells.

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Credit: JOMFP – Some other person’s metastatic lobular breast cancer cells

Cancer’s arrival at my brain porch interrupted some important thoughts.  You might say, What was she doing thinking important thoughts during meditation? Isn’t the idea to keep your mind completely clear?  Well that is true, but I am also in the middle of reading about the placebo effect and how brain neuroplasticity and suggestibility can combine in a powerful way to support healing.   I haven’t yet learned how to actually make that happen, just that it can happen, and I know meditation is a key part so I was jumping the gun. 

I was thinking about pain from post herpetic neuralgia and fibromyalgia. I was affirming that yes, I understand how neuroplasticity works and yes, I am open to suggestion and yes, although I am a science-purist I truly believe that science doesn’t know everything, and science often disses what it doesn’t know, and maybe science will confirm* in 20 years that you can think yourself well, and I don’t want to wait 20 years so I’m going to do it now, thank you very much. 

Cancer struggled up my steps and reminded me that in focusing on these nerve-related issues I am ignoring the elephant in the room – the cancer that might kill me.  Well my answer to that is this: the nerve pain is what is front and center right now. It is bringing me down and to deal with the cancer I need to be up, not down. 

All pain signaling comes from the brain. Today I was focusing my healing energy on telling my brain to calm down. Ssshhhh – nothing to see here….Shingles is gone so, nerves, you can stand down. My activity level is coming back so, nerves, muscles, fascia, you can relax and serve my needs again. I look at it as practice for curing myself of cancer. Those little lonely cells, crying in a corner, won’t stand a chance.

*Obviously this won’t happen until more funding for science comes from sources interested in healing not in making $$$. So it will probably be more than 20 years….

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First Off, Let Me Remind Everyone

First off, let me remind everyone that you can’t control your dreams, so no judging. The only part I remember is walking up to the side of our house where the brick patio is off our kitchen and seeing a black man standing there dressed completely in black – black jeans and black hoodie with the hood up, partly obscuring his face. I immediately assumed it was death coming again to taunt me.  The last time death dropped by he was in his prototypical black robe so I must have just thought, you know, he was changing it up a bit. Then I realized he was assessing how to improve our front garden, was an employee of Mark, our landscaper friend.  I’m sure he was surprised when my dream-self ran up and hugged him and started crying. I probably explained to him that I was glad he was not death….so I’m sure that cleared things up for him. Again, this was a dream people.

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I Had a Few Eureka Moments

I had a few eureka moments the other day.

I was lying in savasana when I suddenly thought: I already do these things.  “These things” are all the things you are supposed to do to avoid getting cancer.  

I’ve previously thought, in anger and frustration: I already do “these things,” god damn mother fucker! 

This time the thought came to me in a different way: I already do “these things!!!” “These things” are the same things that will help me to achieve PFS (progression-free survival). 

I do yoga; I’ve begun to meditate(1); I’ve been to 4 tai chi classes(2) and a dance class(3); I try to draw something every few days, my personal art therapy session(4); I take ashwaghanda(5) (don’t even get me started on other supplements like mushrooms and nutritional yeast); I stopped drinking(6); I eat 99% organic and local plant-based home cooked food(7);  I’ve discovered that I love seaweed salad(8); most days I do a daily 13-hour fast(9); I’m trying to ramp exercise back up(10); I’ve reduced my stress level by at least 50%(11). 

I already do “these things!”  I could do them better, more frequently! I could do them with more intention! Imagine how totally lost I’d feel if I didn’t already do “these things!” I am halfway to nirvana! 

I’ve decided I’m not going to be resentful that I got cancer in spite of taking good care of myself.  It is very possible that I’m still around because of the care that I’ve taken. I like that story better. A lot of what I read about is what you can do to prevent cancer, or prevent recurrence, and I can’t help but think, “What about me?” What can those of us whose horse is already out of the barn do to improve our lot (besides take our chemo pills and shots)? Turns out it is “these things.” Until there is a cure, I’m going to do “these things” with gusto. Though the horse may be out of the barn, I’m going to try to keep it in the paddock.

My second eureka moment was when I realized that I was completely relaxed.  I was in my hammock. Everyone should have a hammock, under a magnificent tree – the sound of leaves rustling never gets old. When was the last time I was this relaxed? Was I ever this relaxed?

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…..Yes I was! Picture 13 year-old me. My horse, Dawn, would automatically stop and stand hipshot at our favorite spot, on a ridge overlooking a big beautiful meadow below.  Dawn always seemed to be competing in some nostril expansion contest, the way she inhaled deeply. I would lay back over her rump and also breathe deeply, watching the leaves dance. Imagine you are stroking the nap of a piece of cream colored velvet fabric. Now imagine that piece of cream colored velvet is warm. Now imagine that warm cream colored velvet moves below your fingers and huffs warm air into your palm.  You have just touched the muzzle of my favorite horse.  The one who relaxed by breathing with me.

Anyway. My moment of pure relaxation was on the Sunday of memorial day weekend.  We had not hosted a giant party the prior day, our annual cook out to kick off summer, as we had not hosted it for the prior five years since my initial diagnosis. It was an event I looked forward to annually, though with some anxiety because I am not by nature an entertainer and the event always felt like I was spinning plates. Until the sun went down, the crowd thinned out and I finally got to sit down and talk to my closest friends. 

I was out on the patio yesterday afternoon at about 6 and said to Fletcher, “The grill would be fired up and table covered with side dishes at about this time. I miss it! We should have had the party!” Instead, we sliced oranges into our San Pellegrino and ate vintage curry we found in the refrigerator – zero stress (if you don’t count worrying about food poisoning.) But in that hammock I must say that I was glad to not be picking cups out of the grass, dumping drunk bees out of near-empty beer bottles. Maybe next year. I am so much smarter now.  I’d be able to fool myself into thinking that hosting 50 people wouldn’t be stressful.

1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6282865/

2 https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/cancerwise/tai-chi-healing-from-the-inside-out.h00-158598468.html

3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25730591 AND http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0197455612000998

4 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19619378

5 https://integrativeonc.org/news/sio-news/178-herb-of-the-month-ashwagandha 

6 https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)31310-2/fulltext 

7 https://nutritionfacts.org/video/which-dietary-factors-affect-breast-cancer-most/  AND https://www.uab.edu/news/health/item/8798-plant-based-diet-converts-breast-cancer-in-mice-from-lethal-to-treatable-form 

8 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3651528/ 

9 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27032109

10 Re exercise, I love this image: “…. Increased aerobic fitness may counteract this communication by increasing the exosomal communication coming from healthy skeletal muscle cells, and since there are so many more skeletal muscle cells compared to cancer cells, the effect may be akin to a large crowd drowning out the speech of a small but vocal hate group…..”

11 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1019-4

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Random Things

Random things I thought I’d share…..

My CT results look great, and all 80+ cancer-related genetic mutations that they looked for in my genome were negative, including BRCA. Somatic results (tests on my tumor) aren’t back yet.

Living one day at a time, one hour at a time, is back. Because of the pain, not so much the cancer.  Pain management is an occupation.  It makes me forget I have cancer. Then the meds kick in and I remember. But I also remember that I have to clean the rabbit cage, gather tax info, do yoga and write something. Chop wood, carry water.

Those parts of my body that I was told will never regain feeling due to nerve damage during mastectomy & node removal? No one told the pain. Interesting.

There is a huge difference between these two side effects: May cause drowsiness and May cause fatigue.  Drowsiness means that instead of falling asleep during a super interesting TV show at exactly 9:20 pm I will fall asleep at 8:30.  Fatigue is something different all together.  Fatigue is sitting down in the shower before you fall down.  Fatigue is sitting down in front of the stove while you are cooking, and having trouble explaining why you are sitting on the kitchen floor.  It is trying not to drool. You should not try to take a walk while experiencing fatigue or this will happen:

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Never, never take Oxycontin.  I am going to ask them to put that in my allergy list, although I don’t think what I experienced was an allergy. And it wasn’t the fatigue I’d experienced with the prior drug. I would characterize it as a bad trip. I was prepared this time for the constipation and started a “bowel regimen” right away, so that wasn’t the issue.  And I only took 2 doses before I was switched to two different drugs, which each listed drowsiness as a side effect. (I worried: do two drowsies equal one fatigue? The answer is no.) With all due respect to those dealing with opioid addition, I could not wrap my head around how anyone could become addicted to that stuff. It is evil. I will never take it again.

We’re gonna need a bigger refrigerator. This is half of a winter share at our CSA, mind you. Imagine what summer will bring. “Greens management” is now a thing added to my To Do List.

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Finally, on a daily basis my honeybun tries his best to make sure we consume all the greens we possibly can, as well as all the blueberries within a 5 mile radius. He just brought me this:

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Bon appetite!

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Wasp Got Her Tongue

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Wasp Got Her Tongue was published in Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s 2019 Visible Ink Anthology, and was selected for live performance at the 11th Annual showcase of original works written by MSK patients, held at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College on 3/18/19.  Here is a link to the performance of my piece: WaspGotHerTongue (Edited slightly from previously posted version)

Wasp Got Her Tongue

By Linda Grayson

My mother tells me, There was a bird on the lam.

I’m thinking, Why was a bird hiding from the authorities? What did he do? Or maybe a bird was hitching a ride on an actual lamb, suddenly innocent and childish. She glances out the window, throws her hands in the air. She starts to laugh, so I do too.  Either scenario is funny, really. Until she accuses me of laughing at her and her frustration becomes palpable. In half a minute, Limb. Oh. There was a bird on the limb.

It was spring’s first robber, she says.

Here we go again.

A wasp emerges from my mother’s mouth.  I hear its wings flutter against her palate, then chatter against her teeth as she tries to hold it in, knowing it is wrong. Its pointy feet walk across her tongue and she must say it. The thin crepe of ancient skin covering her arms, like a wasp’s paper nest, foreshadows its emergence. A wisp was what she wanted, a whisper. The soft relay of a granddaughter’s wish, not pointy feet.  Not the lawless discourse of old age. Not the involuntary sputtering of random words.

I point out that 90 percent of her words are ones she intended. Citing statistics is not helpful. Logic is out of her reach. She only hears what she did not intend to say. Most of the letters are usually right, I say.  Still she is irked and beaten in equal measure.

One morning, when I was three years old, I awoke to a horrible smell.  It is my earliest memory. In a rented house at the Jersey shore, the only vacation we ever took, I called and she came.  What is that smell? Oh dear.  It was me.  All those blueberries I’d eaten while we watched the crabs spar on the bluestone patio reappeared in my pants in the morning.  I was hosed down and the blueberries were off limits. Crab I could eat, but no more blueberries. Mom’s request that I Take the garbage to the crab dredges up that memory.  She looks defeated.

My words.  I can’t find my words.  I talk nonsense.

It’s okay, I say.  We can usually figure out what you mean. And even if we can’t, you say it right a few minutes later and we all have a good laugh.

When I was 5 we made a mini snowman on the picnic table.  Just she and I.  I was special.  It was delightful.

When I was 7 she marched me down the street and made me apologize to another child for something I didn’t do.  I still haven’t forgiven her.

When I was 11 she helped me complete my epic science project, a bench-scale desalinization plant, decades before the term climate change was coined, well before it would occur to anyone that you might need to desalinate seawater. We finished at 2 a.m. on a school night. I recall it being fun, but as a parent I can’t imagine how that memory could possibly be right.

When I was 20 she left me alone to become myself.  Like all parents should.

Don’t sit on the beetle!

I freeze in mid squat. A second later comes, Needle! Needle! 

I don’t want to sit on a beetle or a knitting needle, so it’s all good, I tell her. You’re becoming a comedian in your old age! Don’t let the wrong word stop you – you’ll be a teller of fantastical stories!

As a diversion I suggest the piano and she plays me impeccable Chopin.  I ask her to play her signature piece, Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca but, with a laugh, she claims to have lost that ability in 1917.  I’m pretty sure she means 1970.

She always said just the right thing, using all the right words (except of course during “the apology incident” noted above). She also knew when to refrain and say nothing at all, her silence a strategic peace-keeping of sorts.  A golden rule I learned from her, which has served me well: If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all. My personal mantra derives from that sentiment: plant kindness, gather love.

I figure I have about 35 years before a wasp flies out of my mouth unintended. Or maybe a beetle will emerge, prying open my lips with its long proboscis, like my mother’s shiny gold knitting needle.  It will evade the first robber of spring, who would surely try to snatch its iridescent wings. The beetle and the crab, fast friends in search of a blueberry patch, will meet a whispering wasp on a lamb on the lam!

When my random words start to fly I will tell the best stories.

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I Was Just Sitting Alone On My Brain-Porch

I was just sitting alone on my brain-porch when death sat down beside me. 

My brain-porch is a solitary place where I figuratively sit during meditation. I look out on fields or woods, whatever landscape I conjure, and when any thought approaches I send it up the steps and into my brain. I don’t engage with the thought, as that is against the rules that are intended to keep my mind empty, and if I did so I wouldn’t be able to welcome the next thought like a good hostess.  So far this strategy has aided my mediation practice.

Although I know I shouldn’t, I’ve adorned my brain-porch with yellow sandstone steps that absorb the sun and a cedar front door.  On each side pink mandevillas grow in cobalt blue ceramic pots. Although it is always sunny on my imaginary porch, I eschew sunscreen.

During a recent meditation session, the thought that I will never participate in another triathlon approached. The idea that I will be lucky to do any of these activities alone, much less back-to-back, came racing toward me. I acknowledged a wave of sadness then I sent my friends Swimming, Biking and Running up the steps. Running winked at me, knowing she is my favorite; Biking looked coy and took comfort in Fletcher’s influence; Swimming started to whimper, thinking about the sale of the Hill Top Swim Club and the summer closure of Peddie Pool for maintenance. That dirty lake is no consolation to her given my fragile immune system.  

Then death approached and when I blocked the steps he sat down so close his black robe brushed my arm. He was mute and seemed moronic.  He smelled overwhelmingly of fuel oil, in case you were wondering.  I pushed him sideways and he fell off the porch face first into the dirt where the spring flowers have started to emerge.  Death lay in the dirt for awhile, then slowly got up and brushed off some but not all of the dirt.  He sat down again, this time not so close. After a few minutes he wandered away, leaving a stain on my sandstone step. What an asshole.

s-l225

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