Category Archives: reading

Surviving with Battle Scars Wrapped in Love

It is not the strongest of the species that survive,

nor the most intelligent,

but the one most responsive to change.

~Charles Darwin

 

I looked at the calendar on July 10th are realized that it had been three-month since I took Gary to the Emergency Room that Sunday night, April 10th. That Sunday was the last day we would spend together, but I didn’t know that then. That evening, though he wasn’t feeling well, we sat together watching TV. While I worried, he tried to reassure me that some days were harder than others during his post cancer-surgery recovery. When we talked to my cousin, who is a doctor, and he talked to Gary, listening to him struggle to get a good breath, we were told to go to the ER, now. He was diagnosed with sepsis. What followed was the last- minute strong fight through surgery (once again), two procedures and the gradual slipping away from this world, to another.

 

It’s been three months, but the days are long and complicated. Complicated by changing moods, a million decisions small and large, new routines, and the empty vast space of departure. I never know if I will wake up sad or mad and tear bursts are unpredictable and often have terrible timing. I don’t want to scare people away with my sadness, which is not always in my control, and I need people. I find myself with a lot of time alone and am reading, looking for answers in the experiences of others brave enough to write about their survival, their journeys and those who share their expertise:

Martha Whitmore Hickman’s Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief

Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking

Brook Noel & Pamela D. Blair, Ph.D.’s I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.’s Healing A Spouse’s Grieving Heart

Genevieve Davis Ginsburg, M.S.’s Widow to Widow

 

It’s been three months since we last spoke, and as he was wheeled to the OR, morphine comfortable, with scared eyes resigned to fate, I made him promise to fight and stay strong, something I had said often during trying times over the past 37 years we shared. The doctors were amazed by his strength saying most people would not have survived the sepsis surgery, amazed that he had been joking around in the morning, talking about Porsches, describing his on order to arrive in June. After surgery, he was kept sedated awaiting the following procedures to complete closure. We never got closure with each other because we never spoke again. We never even shared another glance.

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I became an expert at signs. Signs on the monitors, signs of pain, signs of fluid levels, breathing, heart rate and the more difficult to read signs in the faces of the nursing staff as they changed shifts and gave updates to the next nurse on duty. I learned to decode the medical jargon during rounds, each morning, listening for encouraging signs. Stable is good. Sitting in the dark room, illuminated only by numbers on machines and blinking horizontal lines, I looked at my husband knowing something had shifted and he was leaving. I didn’t say this, because I hang onto the belief that I have some control and thoughts become things, so why would I jinx it? I didn’t say it, but I felt it. I felt Gary in the room, but not necessarily in his body.

 

I went home at 11:00 p.m. on April 20th. It happened in 14 seconds. His heart stopped at 2:59 a.m. I was called at 3:14 a.m. They performed (mandatory) resuscitation for 30 minutes. I arrived at 3:30 a.m. Time of Death is listed at 3:29 a.m. Since then I have been looking for signs. Signs I missed. Signs the doctors missed. Signs the nurses missed. There are really no answers. It seems this is a common reaction, trying to make sense of that which makes no sense, as if finding the missed sign could trigger a rewind. If only.

 

I am looking for signs now, the common ones of the folklore told to me, when the clock shows 11:11 (a message from one on “the other side”), visiting birds (like those that sit on the wire watching me, air-brushed clouds, a song on the radio or a small paper message found in a file. I am looking for a sign to let me know he is OK somehow, happier maybe, with long-lost friends and family. As time goes on, that day, April 10th gets further away and I struggle to hold on to feelings, his voice, that life before. I look for signs that I will be OK. A restful night’s sleep, a nice, helpful voice on the telephone, figuring out how to take care of this business of moving on, and glimmers of a meaningful future.

 

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Filed under change, death, Life thoughts, reading, signs

Comfortable Books

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The books are comfortable on their shelves. They are organized in the semi-haphazard way that works for me and since I feel comfortable surrounded by books, every room in my house (with the exception of the bathroom, which has a basket) has at least one bookcase. I grew up surrounded by books, being read to from birth, maybe even before, and I still have some of my original books, Goodnight Moon, Moy Moy (signed by Leo Politi with a water-color flair), The Umbrella, Lucy McLockett, The Birthday Party by Ruth Krauss, Harold and the Purple Crayon, and a collection of Beatrix Potter stories. I am not even sure that all of these books are still in print. They are on the top shelf as the crown jewels to my extensive children’s book collection.FullSizeRenderMost are too dear to part with and I can remember reading each one to my daughters during our traditional “three books before bed” story time each night. Of course, books were read during the day too, and kept in baskets, tubs and bookcases around the house for easy access. My mother managed a children’s bookstore for twenty years after she retired from teaching English and creative writing and found it impossible to visit my daughters without bringing a book for each one of them.  Leo Politi

 

 

The books are comfortable on their shelves. The dining room houses two tall bookcases filled with more mature memories, books belonging to my mother, then in her late 20’s and friends with Ray Bradbury, Norman Cousins (who was my godfather) and other young emerging writers of the time, those from my reading past and on a top shelf, the biographies of musicians that could suck Gary into reading. There are books with beautiful photography of Yosemite and hopeful gardening books for someday.FullSizeRender_2

The shelves of books are organized thematically: one bookcase holds the spiritual books, a bible from Gary’s bar mitzvah, and books seeking to answer the questions that seem to have no answers.  FullSizeRender_1

 

The books are comfortable on their shelves. The living room bookcase holds books more current, books about finances, organizing and an entire shelf devoted to books on writing. Most books here have been recommended by people I hold in high regard and whose opinions I respect, and though some have only been half-read, my stopping point noted by a bookmark, all have been started. The writing books have been read more than once and their exercises practiced to lend motivation during the times when I felt stuck or that I needed to expand. Some books here arrived as gifts of distraction, comedic books and popular books from the bestseller list to even out the fiction/non-fiction aspect of the bookcase.IMG_2049

The books are comfortable on their shelves. The small bedroom bookcase next to my bed holds treasured books, books that must reside close by, books with meditations to reflect on nightly and a few I need to look at just to regain a sense of composure and that feeling that friends are close by. Some stand tall and others rest on their sides, nestled together like long time family members who have lived together so long they take each other for granted. I don’t take them for granted and when I hold them, I remember when and why each one came into my life and take comfort in the special place they hold in my heart.FullSizeRender_3

The books are comfortable on their shelves. I was comfortable too, but now I find that I have to downsize, begin to purge or at least to sort through the lifetime accumulation of possessions in residence. I thought books would be the easiest things to start with, easier than say, clothes or mementos, but these books have personalities and they are so comfortable on their shelves. They look back at me and I find it hard to pick them up off the shelf and put them in a box. It’s just hard sometimes to say goodbye.

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Summer Writing: Goodreads and Teachers Write!

It is the dead middle of my summer break and I’ve finally found that I remember who I am:  a writer. It takes me about a month to detox from the crazy school year, but now that I have, I am diving into the world of the written word.

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Sorry Mom

Dear Mom,

I am sorry to tell you that after more than 50 years of waking up to the Los Angeles Times for breakfast, and having watched you spend a couple of hours reading it cover to cover every day, I am cancelling my subscription.  In a way it feels like sacrilege, but I just cannot support a newspaper that endorses irresponsible journalism.  I tried to ignore the pleas of my Union and covertly read the paper for the past couple of weeks, but after learning of Rigoberto Ruelas’ suicide in reaction to his name being published as “less than effective” in the Times, I cannot support this paper any longer.  I will miss the morning ritual, and the comforting remembrances of you mom, every morning.  I will miss reading the writers I love and have been reading for most of my life.  I myself had a small editorial published in the paper years ago.  But I cannot believe that the writers, Jason Felch, Stephanie Ferrell, Megan Garvey, Thomas Suh Lauder, David Lauter, Julie Marquis, Sandra Poindexter, Ken Schwencke, Beth Shuster, Jason Song, Doug Smith, of the education article on Value Added Evaluations of teachers could not have done the same article without naming names and humiliating hundreds of decent, hardworking teachers.

As a teacher, I know we are not in this profession for the money or the glory.  We are in this profession to help children.  I am not writing about evaluation methods, simply about the notoriety seeking journalists that are making names for themselves on the backs of many teachers.  I would like to see Value Added Evaluations of those in the following professions:

Journalists-how many people benefit from your articles?

Lawyers-how many cases were won/lost?

Doctors/Dentists-how healthy are your patients?

Money Managers-how successful are your investments for your clients?

Accountants-how many of your clients are audited?

Automobile Industry-how safe are your cars?

Parents-how ready are your children to start school?

Let’s start naming names!

Students arrive at 5 years old, but the five years before formal public school are filled with the impact of many others including parents, preschool teachers, siblings, relatives, television, video games, neighbors and environment. I know there are claims that Value Added takes all of this into account, but can’t it be used to privately help teachers who need support and publicly without naming names?

For public education to succeed, we need the support of the students, parents, community, government, and media.

I am sorry mom, but really I think you would be proud of me because you were a wonderful teacher; in the classroom and in my life.  I love you.  Good by L.A. Times.

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Listen

Last night my dear friend Danielle and I trekked out to Pasadena to the new KPCC building.  We went to hear readings and musings on the book Mom, the latest StoryCorps book introduced by Dave Isay.  The lovely Crawford Family Forum was the perfect venue to appreciate the stories told and recorded by StoryCorps.  It was so wonderful to listen, with no obligations, or expectations; nothing required.  It was a privilege to meet Rueben Martinez of Libreria Martinez Books & Art Gallery-a literacy advocate and MacArthur Fellow, who was selling the books for signing.  In fact, Dave Isay is also a MacArthur Fellow-which put us, as, as Bill Davis president of Southern California Public Radio said: “In the company of two geniuses.”

It was an honor to shake the hands and in the case of Rueben, to get a big hug, by three men so intent on preserving oral histories and the stories of common people, who in reality are not always so common.  What a fantastic project StoryCorps is.  To give people the opportunity to listen to the story of a relative or close friend and have it recorded for posterity.  The story-teller has the opportunity to be heard, to have someone they care about, truly listen to their story, without judgment, in the privacy of the recording booth.  We all deserve to be heard and we all must take the time to listen to others, face to face.  It is through listening that we learn, we appreciate and we grow.

Listening is a common thread in my life lately.  Having gone through the Council training of the Ojai Foundation, and practicing listening with the children in my kindergarten, I find myself slowing down and feeling the calm of uninterrupted listening, of making eye contact, of not formulating an answer immediately, but letting the words sink in.  The words reside in a spiral in my mind and I can close my eyes, patiently letting the words into my soul, the stories melding and becoming a part of me.

I believe my kindergarten children need the chance to do their own StoryCorps project.  They are often not given credit  for their ability to come up with insightful questions and their own curiosity leads them to question things we might otherwise miss.  These children are our future, and we must give them the opportunity to have the kind of special contact a true, intimate interview can provide.


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The Sun Came Out

Vroman's Bookstore: A book lovers fantasy.

Today, for the first time in a week, the sun was out when I woke up, providing rays of hope for a day filled with energy and productivity.  This is the first day in the three weeks since “the fall” that I have had enough energy to stay in an upright position for the majority of the day.  I decided to do a bit of belated Happiness Project goals from January in the form of moving energy, i.e. cleaning my cherished writing area of the massive amounts of clutter that have accumulated in three weeks and concurrently, I decided to de-germ our home since we have been under the influence of a nagging cold for the better part of the week.  I carefully listed the areas to be cleaned and I am happy to say I actually made good progress.  I can see the desktop, as well as the surfaces of a few random tables.  Papers have been filed, are waiting to be shredded or are resting comfortably in the trash bin.  I have (gag) paid bills, deleted e-mails and sent communications and now am finally settling in to write my latest thought.

I have decided that I want to be a featured author/speaker at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena.  I have fallen in love with this quaint store that is old (1894), classic in its independence and it’s style:  two-stories, sporting wood shelving and paneling and featuring real booksellers.  Yes, the people who work there are actually booksellers, not retail salespeople and they know of which they speak, their love and knowledge of books permeating the store.  The store features events:  book groups, talks, signings, and readings all listed on its informative website where you can find everything you want to know about this amazing store, past, present and future.

The Pasadena area is a great place for a field trip too, pedestrian friendly with many interesting places to eat.  The community is old and established, the home of the famous Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl its streets lined with mature trees and lovely, stately homes.  Traveling to Vroman’s is like taking a little visit back in time to days when times were simpler, technology was less and books read in their proper form, typeset on paper hardbound with sturdy jackets to protect the binding and flaps of information to entice the reader.

I can visualize myself upstairs in the area reserved for book events, presenting my new book to an enthusiastic crowd who waits patiently to have me sign their newly purchased copy of the book and perhaps pose with me for a picture.  A day when I will sit in the little café in Vroman’s and sigh, “I did it.”

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Filed under creative writing, Life thoughts, reading, writing

Commiting To Happiness

I made this butterfly cake to celebrate Hope's wonderful journey described in her book The Possibility of Everything.

Last night I spent the evening surrounded by some of my favorite women in the comfortable, serene atmosphere of my friend Sue’s home.  We had delicious potluck (somehow with this group there is always the right combination of food) and conversation followed by a great talk and description of her journey by Hope Edelman.  Her book: The Possibility of Everything is a fascinating story of trust, alternative viewpoints and hope. Hope writes in a most compelling way, and I felt involved in her story on many levels.  First of all, as a mother, I felt compassion for her struggles with her daughter and her commitment to help her daughter come out on the other side.  Secondly, I related to her role as a mother/wife/writer who has temporarily lost her sense of self.  Thirdly, her struggles with her relationship felt all too familiar, balancing time and the energy it takes to support modern lifestyles.  Hope inspired me to write more and to find out what my story will be.

Gretchen Rubin and Me at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena

Monday night I had  another literary adventure attending the book signing of Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena.  First of all, as my friend Danielle and I entered the store, audible gasps could be heard from us as we took in the amazing variety of wonderful things, books, cards, gifts and more books.  And, it’s two stories of wonderfulness!  We made our way upstairs in the elevator and enjoyed listening to Gretchen describe her realization of her need to create more happiness in her life. Reading both her blog and her book has motivated me to appreciate more, create what I need and to focus on happiness. We waited for the line to go down and got her signature in our books.  I even managed to have her write a note to my sister-who was unable to attend.  Spreading the happiness.

As we were leaving, we noticed that Friday night, Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame will be talking about and signing her new book, Commitment.  We got two books and two tickets and are looking forward to another night of book talk.

I want to be surrounded and embraced by books, words, new thoughts, random punctuation, other worlds and unforseen experiences.  And through some serendipity, I am.  My next task is to visualize myself as the writer, the creator and eventually the person giving the book talk.  Everything is possible with a commitment to happiness.

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