Saturday, May 28, 2011

White Spaces

it’s what isn’t said,
isn’t seen,
what remains idle,

ah, therein
is the wealth
of what might have been,
words of healing,
connections made,
songs of hope sung,

lovers too long silent,
the time unrecoverable.

from Dance on a Dirt Road

Monday, May 23, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Oprah

Until I retired five years ago, I had only watched a handful of Oprah shows. I’ve always thought her rise to fame an interesting phenomenon, but I have become a great admirer recently. I DVR her shows so that I can watch when I want and zip through the commercials, and I don’t watch every show. Sometimes her topics and/or guests don’t interest me. But she, as a person, interests me a great deal. She is clearly an iconic business woman and a very successful one. But what I think Oprah has brought to the airwaves is the ability to raise the standards of broadcasting and celebrity. She has built a huge following by doing good and generous things, not by becoming a circus act or a negative role model. She is a clear force for kindness and good in the world -- is there anything we need more?

Some of her beliefs are a little far out for me, but they harm no one. The key principle of her show, she tells the audience frequently, is intention. The good she has done with her fame and fortune is massive. Whether it is building a school, or giving away her favorite things, she is leaving a legacy of excellence and generosity. (Don’t you know how much I would have liked to be in the favorite things audience...screaming and head exploding like all the rest?) She has allowed herself to be known, glamorous one minute and flannel pajamas the next, and let us see her without makeup. As we women all know, that takes true grit! She has built an audience so loyal that she seldom had to worry about ratings, but she vowed to present shows that had value for the viewer and she has done that extremely well. And let’s not forget that she got people to read and made a lot of authors’ careers.

Yes, I will miss her. I will miss her like a dear friend with whom I can laugh and cry. I have come to love her humor, her passion for her dogs, her straight talk and her intention to live her best life. I wouldn’t mind trying to live her best life – but I will continue to try to live my best life as well as I can. She has inspired that in me, and for that I admire and thank her. She will no doubt surprise us with her next chapters.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Life Goes On, World Without End, Amen!

I've cycled through a series of thoughts and feelings about "the end of the world." I've shared quite a few laughs with friends, imagining all kinds of pranks that people could play on this the day some say is our last. Mostly it is irritating that people are able to be duped by religious fanatics who play on fears and lead others to believe ridiculous claims. Just another signal that P.T. Barnum was right! Still, if there is anything we can pull from this nonsense, maybe it is that we should live every day as if it were our last. Life is short, indeed.

Vita Brevis
all the more reason
to cling
to the barest scrap
of love
however unlikely
or undeserved
to disturb
sacred beliefs
cherished convictions
established truth
be done
with useless

from "Dance on a Dirt Road"

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Terrible Alone-ness

A few days ago I came across a book that has moved me deeply. Alzheimer's Diary: A Wife's Journal by Michelle Montgomery tells of the day-to-day challenge with her husband's disease and the impact on their lives. She writes with great simplicity and honesty, and it cracks my heart open to read each page. She has written my book. The similarities between her life with Dave and mine with Tom are striking. Dave's A.D. is more advanced when she begins her story, but I see myself on every page, always trying to balance what is possible against what is gone forever. Their marriage was a close and loving one also, which is the foundation on which each day is built, no matter how frustrating.

While I find myself close to tears on page after page, it is a feeling of recognition and almost relief that what we are experiencing is not unique, that someone else can articulate so accurately the sadness mixed with determination that we live. We are not alone in the constant struggle to extract pieces of normalcy from a distinctly abnormal existence.

She knows my flashes of anger, followed closely by guilt, when my frustration pushes me to raise my voice in anger. She knows the look in her husband's eyes when they both know he can't help forgetting the things that used to be so important. She knows the awful ache of watching a brilliant man fade into a shadow of himself. But she also understands how precious those flashes of connection are, how much joy can be felt when a joke makes us both laugh or an authentic moment in the present is shared.

I find myself slowing down as I read toward the end of this book. Her story, like mine, will not have a happy ending and I resist and deny whenever possible. It's my only weapon, ineffective though it is. I have wanted to tell our whole story, and maybe someday I will. But for now, I feel a kinship with someone who has told a story so close to home for Tom and me. I feel less alone in this very lonely place.

The poem that follows is from my first book "Sip Wine, Drink Stars" (with apologies to Alan Ginsberg).


Don’t bother with the moon
howl instead at love
that weaves your breath with another’s,

in the intimacy of oxygen
only to take it back
while you still need to breathe.

Howl at the vampire of memory,
who broods in the labyrinth of empty rooms
and hedge mazes of remembered events.

Howl at loneliness that fills the lungs
and drapes itself heavily around the shoulders
while memories pile up

on your side of the bed.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Longing for Rain

While our friends in the midwest are suffering so with epic flooding and rainfall, those of us in the southwest are wishing some of it could come this way. It has been so dry for so long that we are in high fire danger. A few days ago there was visible smoke in every direction. Our dedicated firefighters from all around the state have been working hard to get all the brush fires under control but it is a tough job.

I miss rain! I mean the all-day kind, the kind we almost never get. The kind that drives one to the bookshelf to settle in with an engrossing novel, maybe with a cup of tea or cocoa, occasionally looking up just to watch it cascade down the window. Don't get me wrong. I love the desert -- that's why I live here. But just ever so often I yearn for a good downpour. (Just please, not next Wednesday. That's when I'm having all our windows washed!)

Here's a poem based on a familiar quote, whose source I do not know.

Rain Dance ("Don't wait for the storm to end, learn to dance in the rain.")

Yes, I know the phrase
but not who penned it first.
Learn to dance in the rain,
it goes, mouth open wide
to quench your thirst,
with what falls from the sky -
you might as well invite
the storms that come in dark of night.

Arms outstretched to face
the outrage and deceit,
the petulance and greed,
the pain of hurt and loss,
far more than enough
for one to bear alone,
while your back straightens
and your skin grows tough

Bring on the aging bodies,
the aching joints, failing senses
whose mysteries no doctors
can decode in all their sterile halls,
go ahead, endure, survive
it all and even thrive
when life calls down upon your head
a shower of bowling balls.

Dance for your life,
dance wildly until every song is tasted.
Let yourself be lifted on the wind,
not a drop of precious rain wasted
and when it stops at last, stand still
with the people who love you.
Inhale the music and forgive the world
to lighten your step for the next dance.

from Sip Wine, Drink Stars, 2009

Friday, May 6, 2011

What a Difference a Week Makes

Ask anyone who knows me...they’ll say I’m a pretty positive person. I believe in the innate goodness of most people, I believe that we are resilient and able to deal with and rise above most of the bad things that happen to us, whether they be natural disasters, serious illnesses, untimely deaths or terrorist attacks. But since the Sunday night jolt of Breaking News burst upon us, I have had some strangely mixed feelings. Am I glad Osama bin Laden no longer menaces the planet? Of course. Am I proud of the incredibly brave men who risked so much to make it happen? Without a doubt. And as an ardent Barack Obama supporter, I am glad that his decisiveness led this mission to achieve its goals so well. It does feel like justice.

Now many are speculating about the national response, the mood of celebration that seized some as the news broke. What the news did for me was to bring up the unimaginable horror of that day nearly ten years ago when the towers fell, the Pentagon burned and a few brave men charged the cockpit to prevent an even worse calamity. When those images appear on TV, it seems like it happened yesterday. And nothing will ever change that or bring back the dear souls whose deaths were of the most terrible sort. I just can’t rise above those images to celebrate.

We are better off without Osama bin Laden but probably not much safer. Safety is not one of life’s guarantees, that much seems clear, so there may rise another name, another threat whose mission in life is the destruction of all things American. Life is risky, sometimes dangerous, and always, always fragile. All we can do is cling to the sacred moment, the NOW, which is all that we have. I won’t live in fear. Not of anything. There is too much for which I am grateful, too many precious people to love and too few hours in the day to spend them afraid of what might happen.

Last week I, and millions of others around the planet, had a brief fascination with the Royal Wedding. How distant that event seems now, along with the silliness over birth certificates and any number of distractions that keep us from confronting grave issues. The seriousness of life came home clearly this week, but it did illustrate the delicate equilibrium of life with ample servings of both good and evil.