Moving Mountains: Day 228

So 228 days of coping with isolation, terror diminishing to apprehension of Covid, apprehension building to terror about democracy, …

I stand in my entry way going over my armour – ok, glasses, sunglasses in case, scarf and hat for the other in case. I stare in the mirror. Oh yes, mask. It’s routine. Nothing happens except grocery shopping once a week. And recycling while I’m going down in the elevator and have to take the bundle buggy any way. There is so much recycling in the 15 storey building now that I have to hit the right day and hour or keep it til next week. Sometimes there is a parcel from Amazon, sometimes a Door Dash food delivery.

Then last week all hell broke loose.

So far as the family is concerned, I’m the eldest and centrally located. The latter is immaterial now since no one can flee to me and sleep in my solarium. There were video calls. The ones from across the sea had valiantly tried to wait but I am such a later sleeper. The ones from across the continent were more a slow burn. But, at least, the two took turns.

Our family gives us lots of opportunity to lose it. Past generations gave us a gene pool of psychosis, borderline personality, bi-polar disease, clinical depression, sociopathy, suicidality. Did I miss any?

In the course of my long life, I have had 5 therapists and 2 clinical psychologists. I have tried Christianity, Buddhism and Taoism, Transcendental Meditation, self hypnosis, hospitalization, journaling – I have 150 hard cover journals of 200 pages each, group therapy, primal therapy and a curious kind of mutual therapy, sort of damaged friend to damaged friend. My friend had a lot of money and all I learned was that the rich are more worried than the poor.

When someone calls in deep despair, I know what to do. Which is listen. Then listen and finally listen. It is also useful to inquire whether they are taking their meds. Across the ocean felt much better after taking the correct dose for the occasion.

Across the continent was a harder problem. Young person shooting himself in both feet, ending up with no income and no transport. Young person does not seek help because he is all powerful. If broke and possibly hungry. So we adults mull it over and over. We consult each other, even cross continent and ocean and conclude we have to leave him be. No more rescue ‘fish’. He needs to learn to ‘fish’.

I don’t mean to imply that I am beyond needing help myself. Depending on the problem, I can choose my sister, Georgia up the street or Julia, across the continent. Can’t breathe from acute anxiety, I usually choose Georgia in case she has to come down and apply a paper bag. Recently, a news item managed to pitch me deeply into PTSD. A family can’t have that many serious psychological problems without ‘breaking eggs’. Events from 40 years ago caught up with me, events I couldn’t stop then and have even less power over now. Twenty five years ago, we went to the police, but they were never able to substantiate our allegations. Recovered memories are shifty that way even when recovered by half a dozen members of the family subsequent to a funeral.

In Canada, we have almost 10,000 deaths from Covid with 1/3 the population of the U.S. which has about 220,000 deaths. We are glad to have Justin Trudeau leading a more or less effective national government and Doug Ford, our province. The number of cases is rising. Toronto and environs and Ottawa have closed bars and dine-in restaurants down again. It doesn’t materially change the way I have been living. Basically, a boring, long-haired life.

The U.S where most of my immediate family lives is either going to explode in two weeks or start repairing damage done. I can’t bear it, so I don’t watch anything but Netflix. I am reading Fareed Sakaria’s Ten Lessons from a Pandemic and intend to read Dan Rather’s What Unites Us. Please don’t assume I have not already read Bob Woodward, Mary Trump, Michael Cohen, John Dean, Brian Stelter, Michael Wolf, and John Bolton. But now I’m trying to read only more positive books. I also like a good mystery.

Why do I care? I’m Canadian. Why does the whole world care? And I have the kid who has no job or transport in L.A., the one I have to let be, as well as a willowy, red-haired 3-yr-old and her blonde little sister who is just getting words. And their dad and mom, both doctors in Texas.

And, as a child, I fought Hitler, scavenging metal and paper and meat fat for the war effort and praying for the Warsaw Jews. We won. So why is this starting up all over again?

Remember the line from Waiting for Godot: I can’t go on. I’ll go on.

Depression, Aspiration and Paris

Paris from Notre Dame

Well, the news isn’t good, we know that much. It’s October, 2020 and the number of Covid cases is rising everywhere, except Antarctica. Places are moving backwards, closing down bars and restaurants and gyms again. The people next door have moved their previously allowed 50 person party from a bar into their apartment. They are yelling and singing and smoking pot. Does this mean aerosol whatnots are flying through the wall?

This is Thanksgiving weekend here north of the 49th parallel and we are not supposed to mix households. Unless we are one-person households. We are. Three of us. So yahoo! I’m bringing champagne. Only problem is there were only three real champagnes left. One was rose, so I snagged a lesser known brand, weeping softly as I paid almost as much as I would for Veuve Cliquot. They just can’t get it, they told me. I’ve heard that first class Scotch is also scarce. All the first class Scotch islands were shut down for weeks and production suffered. But I gave up Scotch to save my stomach a long time ago. I gave up Scotch before most of you were born. Unless you are over 40.

So number two cause for some degree of unhappiness: I am 84 years and 5 months and 5 days old and at the present rate, it looks as if I will live the last years of my life in isolation reading e-books, watching Schitt’s Creek, and ironing my tastefully colored masks for my once a week grocery shopping expeditions.

But then I thought why should I? I have evaded Covid for nine months. I know how to do it. Just a question of discipline. Not that that is easy, but spending a couple of hours on video calls every day talks me down from rushing out with a bare-naked face looking for human touch. A hug! A hug! No, the problem is mortality in general. Actuarial tables. That sort of thing. So I came to a very serious decision – I will just have to go on.

My grandmother set an example. She was born in 1900 and passed on in 1996.

Now she lived her entire life on a farm surrounded by forest, high on a hill and under a mountain. She drank spring water, ate simple food and breathed clean air. I haven’t. On the other hand, I prepare all my own food and live on the 14th floor. Not good enough. All right. I’m up for this. I used to study and teach tai chi. I’ll start up again. I’ll learn to breathe. I know just who can tutor me on a video call. My goal is to get strong and healthy enough to have a few good years post virus.

But I need a carrot, something to pull me through the dark, isolated days of the next six months. Then it comes to me. There is an empty apartment in Paris. It’s a lovely old place with high ceilings and a balcony. It’s next to a subway stop and close to a grocery store. It belongs to my daughter’s Persian/American friends. They live in California. They don’t rent it out. They feel indebted to my daughter, who doctored their parents. Daughter assures me they would say yes in a minute. They have already sent her there on a first class ticket. Not that I expect they will send me, of course. But, if I keep saving the money I used to spend in bars and restaurants, I should get together enough to fly. If anybody ever flies for the hell of it again.

I invite my Brussel’s brother to join me. I have forgotten he hates Paris. He worked there for many years and lived in a 500 sq ft apartment in an iffy district. He talks my bizarre idea over with my sister Georgia. Who also hates Paris. She tells me. I don’t tell him, but I revoke my invitation. It would be better to go with my daughter anyway.

I love Paris. Did I say I love Paris. I went there long ago with the only man I ever really loved and our two young children. We separated 6 years later, about the time I reluctantly gave up Scotch. When he was in his last weeks with cancer a year ago, I said to him, “Do you remember that crazy little hotel near the Arc de triomphe in Paris? The children were across the hall and every time the subway passed the leg fell off the bottom of our bed. We thought the managers were gay but then…” “No,” he said.

“Well, I’ve been there so many times since,” he pleaded. With other women, I heard in my head. So no, we won’t always have Paris. I will have Paris.

I made my brother take me back one Christmas when I was in Brussels. We went to the Shakespeare bookstore across from Notre Dame. Ah, yes, Notre Dame! The centuries old trees in the attic. Well, who hasn’t suffered the ravages of age?

I will go back to Paris. I love the architecture. The city that Haussmann rebuilt, the ancient buildings like the Louvre, the bridges. I will go to look at the many-floored hotel de ville where the Ephrussi family lived. I will take a Cara Black mystery or two and visit where they are set. I know there are Cara Black tours of Paris.. I don’t do tours. And I don’t visit galleries. Too much standing and slow walking for me now. I have never taken a river boat. I would like to do that. I would like to see the tower that way. I think you can.

One wall of my home has black and white photos and sketches of Paris. One is a series of postcards depicting the construction of the tower in 1888-89. One is a photo taken from underneath, up into the woven iron work with a blazing rectangle of light in the centre. One is of the River Seine at night, all the bridges lit and Eiffel’s tower golden in the background. I know the gold is photo-shopped.

As is my dream. But how remarkable it will be if I rebuild some strength into this old body and survive and prosper and go to Paris once again.

Requiem: moving mountains #1

There were 4 of us, ages 11-13. I was eldest, there for the summer. The younger kids were my two uncles and my aunt. (I know – hill people.) We had climbed onto the roof of the wagon shed. The corrugated tin was hot under our feet. There had been a dance down at the hall the night before. It was too wonderful to let go, so we were putting on a show. We had sneaked out the potato masher and a wooden spoon for microphones. I was singing, “South of the border, down Mexico way’. Evelyn was backup because, honestly, she couldn’t carry a tune. Ted was on air guitar, twanging away and Percy was battering the roof with 2 sticks. I got to the sad part, “The mission bells told me that I could not stay.”

Hereford Mountain hunched over behind the corn field and the Old Place.

I was happy, really happy.

“Whaaat?” my grandmother screeched as she came around the corner. “Get down from there before you break your necks. And give me the masher. I need it. The men will be back for dinner.”

Mountains don’t move, not even for Mohammed. Hills don’t give up farming to find work in a steel mill. Hereford Mountain is still there, although it has a bike trail up from the East Hereford side. There’s a new vacation house out back of Bungee, snugged up under the mountain’s shoulder. The road to this dead-end has been improved. There is a pond.

But Hereford is gone.

The 10 farms that climbed up from river valley are turned into tree plantations or rental properties. The sunny hay fields are now mostly dark and foreboding, thick with tall spruce. Perhaps some dairy farmer out from the prosperous wide valley is still taking hay from the old Owen place.

Those hills were great for farming stone. They yielded an excellent crop every spring, but never more than one crop of hay. The top soil was thin having been scraped off and washed into the valley. The Owens who came to Plymouth on the Hopewell, 3 ships after the Mayflower, had too many surviving sons. My great great (about 1825) migrated north to these bony hills and set to work chopping down trees and hefting stones, starving and working themselves to death.

I joined them in 1936, arriving in a tiny backwoods house -out around the Horn- with no electricity, running water or telephone. No horse but shanks’ mare. A woodstove in the kitchen. The good news was that my father had worked at pulp logging all winter and saved up $18 for the doctor to deliver me. He brought ‘twilight sleep’ for my hysterical 19-year-old mother. My Aunt Mae, perfectly capable of delivering a baby and possibly more adept than the doctor and his bag, stood by. All she had by way of anesthetic was raspberry tea, laughter and Jesus.

The last time I went back was 8 years ago, a birthday treat for my younger sister, Georgia, on her 70th. We stayed at the Ayres Cliff Inn as if we were rich people. On the way home to Toronto, we realized we could not go back. One of us had a back spasm and both of us never wanted to get behind the wheel of a car again.

Last weekend, Georgia, thanks to DNA testing and Facebook found Julie, whose mother Rose grew up on the hill. Thus I learned that the only survivor of the people I knew is Rose’s 97-year-old father. One or two of my Aunt Mae’s grandsons may still be there, but I didn’t know them. All my mother’s 6 siblings are gone. Most had died in Ontario where she had, and of cancer as she had. They had all worked in steel or aluminum. Evelyn and Ted had crossed the border to work in the U.S. They had been born there in 1937 in a hospital because of the risk with twins. I had felt Ted was gone, but not Evelyn, yet she had in 2013. The last of the old people, the previous generation, Julie’s aunt, her husband and his brother, Ron, another Owen uncle, had died since 2019. These were the people I had last contacted. I had learned then that our favourite, Ron had dementia and was in a home.

I left there almost 80 years ago. Or rather, we escaped. Afterwards, we sometimes were hungry but never starved. I wish I could say we left the worst of hill life behind, but I can’t because we still had Dad. Hereford Hill breathed a sigh of relief that he was gone no doubt. Gradually uncles and other folk followed in our tracks and tried to create the good old days, plus readily available booze and the odd mob contract to supplement income.

So this week, as well as facing democracy’s destruction and rising Covid figures, I bade farewell to the beauty and joy and awfulness of hill life. Ave atque vale!

See also https://115journals.com/2018/03/01/hillbilly-elegy-a-personal-reflection/
https://115journals.com/2018/03/04/hillbilly-elegy-reflection-2/

Hair: Covid and 1968

She asks me why I’m such a hairy girl
I’m hairy noon and night, hair that’s a fright
I’m hairy high and low, don’t ask me why. Don’t know.
It’s not for lack of bread like the Grateful Dead.
***********
Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair,
Flow it, show it, as long as God can grow it, my hair

Hair, from the 1968 musical

Fifty two years and here we are again. I confess I enjoyed the musical immensely and I never nagged my husband or my son about their long hair,

For weeks now in 2020, the hair cutters were shut down and hair grew. Our Prime Minister Trudeau seems to have gone with flow and I love his curls. Some people, who lived with other people, ordered clippers on line and got hair cuts. For better or worse. Anderson Cooper’s was all right unless he turned his right side to the camera. Chris Cuomo not bad, but poor guy had been really sick. My Facebook friend, Jeanne, rushed gleefully out when our late opening city finally got to stage -whatever. My own sister got the first morning appointment and sat between plexiglass screens. At no risk. And why didn’t I go to her hairdresser as well? My sister still goes to a first class hairdresser. I had to down scale to First Cut, $21 with the senior discount. I object to paying $100, but even more I object to the unnecessary risk of infection every 6 weeks. (I am following the CDC advice to avoid routine dental care. as well, but, hey, I floss.)

It’s not even the price. My hair started growing as the quarantine went on and on, and I remembered it was curly. The mirror showed me an older, much older version of my young self. My hair is at present pewter colored, whereas it was once brown. But there were those same waves. Miracle of miracles!.

Waves are not to be envied. They are single-minded and defiant. Some days they sulk and droop or on others, stand on end like Medusa’s.

Every young woman, reporter, actress, congress woman has long straight hair. Persons like me with a flawed fusiform face area in their brain, can’t tell one from the other except by hair color. But there’s the age-old rule, passed down by grandmothers: older women should have short hair. My own grandmother wound her long white hair up in a chaste bun for many years and looked like a woman with a very short cut. And tell that to the women, who live in Pine Mountain Club in the California mountains. They proudly swing their long, grey locks over their canvases and pottery wheels. They clap on a straw sombrero or a cowboy hat to add to the effect.

When you decide to grow your hair out, it gets untidy, still too short for a pony tail or a twist, and prone to escaping in the front and low on the neck, especially when you wear a hat and a mask and glasses. How annoying to have this pointed out before you can get to a comb. Or this in the elevator: ‘But what are you going to do with it?’ (You can tie it in a knot. You can tie it in a bow. You can throw it o’er your shoulder, like a continental soldier..)

Look I’m bored out of my skin. I’m 84 years old. I go out to get groceries. Period. I read. I stream mysteries. I stare out at the sky from my 14th floor window. But I have found an engrossing activity: I watch my hair grow.

Let me be.

Or maybe I’ll shave my head down to a bristle like the ‘person’ in Millions. Or a Buddhist monk. They say it clears your mind.

A Hundred Days of Solitude: chpt 6

Blake is still just sleeping.

Day 150: but whose counting?

I could actually go out according to stage 3 rules of pandemic. I could go to a bar. I like sitting at Cagney’s with a glass of Butternut Chardonnay. With a book. At the short end where there is just enough light to read. Three guys will be sitting in the middle of the long side, separately, one talking to the owner, another flirting with the barmaid. Cagney’s is a Greek restaurant, oddly, and the owner goes to California to get wines no one else imports. It was tough discovering in the early days of the pandemic shut-down that this was the only hobby which got me out of the house. It was tough that the bars were closed for nearly five months. It was also tough that I had to stop drinking. Something about medication and continual dizziness.

But I don’t. Go out.

I get dizzy listening to the statistics. We are leveled off here in Toronto, fewer cases, fewer deaths. For now. I’ve given up keeping track of the deaths and hospitalizations in the U.S. I packed it in around 100,000 departed souls. No the statistic that bothers me is the one that tells me my chances of succumbing. I am 84 and apparently have a 75% chance of surviving. That seemed like good odds when I had cancer. Not anymore. Surviving Covid-19 is an adventure I want to skip. If I want to drown, I’ll just jump in the pool, I’m that bad a swimmer.

So I stay in. Except for weekly early seniors’ hour at the supermarket.

I spend the better part of an hour every day in the mountains of Kern County, California. Via Facetime. My daughter calls every day, realizing that I’m in solitary for my own protection. I know the place well and some of the people and I have her catalogue what’s she’s doing  there. The mornings are getting cold at 6000 ft. Autumn already on the wind. And some days I spend Facetime in a suburb of Brussels, which has seen a rise in cases and less freedom of movement. My brother’s bubble seems to be quite large, but as I reported in chapter 2, he also seems to have had Covid. I see my sister up the street a few times a week without aid of device, but we thrash over Trump every night on the phone. We should be suffering over our Prime Minister’s charity scandal, but the fate of the world is not riding on it. (The first 5 posts are available at 115journals.com.)

Last time, I talked about my idea of destiny https://115journals.com/2020/07/30/a-hundred-days-of-solitude-chpt-5/

In that post, I proposed the idea that we signed up for our roles in life before we undertook incarnation, and that as bits and pieces of God, we had a role in planning events as well. I pondered whether some souls put up their hands to play bad guy. It seemed to me that all types of experience were necessary throughout our many incarnations.

(There are several references in the Bible to reincarnation which the early censors failed to catch.)

I talked to a friend about this idea and she was equally convinced that souls fell into the role of villain through lack of awareness. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Soygal Rinpoche’s The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and  Robert Thurman’s Infinite Life among other books teach us the stages of dying, usually pictured as different kinds of light ending in the vast clear light of consciousness. It is essential to see that light in order to choose your next reincarnation wisely. Confused souls are swept willy-nilly into the next life. This is the way people find themselves incarnating as foundlings who grow into psychopaths or bad painters who found evil empires or rich boys who are given no love or spiritual grounding and become men without empathy. These books encourage us to meditate on this path to clear light so we are prepared when the time comes.

I find that I can’t even keep the stages in order and my experience with death tells me that it’s not  the only route. My father, who was the foundling, was not even likeable and even thoroughly evil and yet, I loved him. Before he died, he made an act of contrition, calling each of the children he could get hold of and saying ‘Sorry’.  I watched his cruel death. While many others wished him in hell, I knew that heaven makes no judgement. He had put in his time in hell on earth, as most of us do. I knew that he had been welcomed and that his nature there was as pure and good as it had been when he was born in a New Hampshire work house and sold to a ‘nice couple’. Years after his death, he appeared at the bedside of a loved one who was in the grip of acute psychotic terror. He assured her he was there to protect her. It was he, of course, who had caused the terror when she was a child.

In another case, a young-gish woman died in a state of rage, which no doubt prevented her from sorting out firefly light from moonlight or clear light. Almost instantly, several of us were aware of a great love she was sending back to us. We had striven to help her on her way, but the people closest to her fastened on her anger and grieved without consolation.

And then there was Blake, my ex-husband, whom we sat beside for ten days. He was grumpy with his pain and childlike, still arguing that he should be able to drive when he got out of hospital. Eventually, he sank into a sort of coma. We didn’t stop talking to him. The ‘girlfriend’, who said old men disgusted her, got into arguments with staff and had to be led away for private chats. His son and step-daughter talked to him and held his hand. I read him Rumi poetry and sang when we were alone. On the last day, we were all 4 there, telling stories about him. He could be very funny, sometimes intentionally. So we laughed a great deal. And cried too. As his executor, I was ready for my final duties, but when he shuddered out that last breath, I lost it. I could barely remember how to dial the undertaker, I was so shaken, So shaken, that I forgot his clothes and he went to the fire wearing a blue hospital gown.

My sister reported that he made an aerial pass through her living room that night, blue gown flying, clearly in bliss. The next glimpse we got of him, he was hurrying off to an advanced physics class, completely absorbed in his tablet and books.

Blake was not spiritually woke in his last years. He had some dementia. He left me his confirmation Bible, which he never, ever read. I have the King James Bible, the New English Bible, the NIV Study Bible and the Amplified Bible, so he thought I was the right recipient. He knew that to me the Bible was literature. He left his fervent wishes for Bernie Sanders, who was still in the running, and a colossal mess in his home and his affairs. I have cursed him many times as we sorted it out, but Blake is preparing to come back and implement a universal wage. Presumably, he will branch into advanced economics next semester.

Which is to say, with all due respect to the Dalai Lama, the Rinpoches and Thurman, that there are many ways to pass and not get swept into the gutter next time.

Having helpers is useful. I have chanted with the Taoists for the departed. I have lit candles and prayed by myself. During the pandemic, I have been very conscious of the dying and the dead. There is an army of us thinking and praying for them. And Angels. I worried initially about dying sedated on a ventilator. No worry now. I’ve opted out. DNR. At the worst, I’d just die sedated. Now I think it doesn’t matter. We don’t need religion to show us the way. And we don’t need to be there with a check list: “there goes the moonlight, clear light coming up.” We don’t even need mental health, although the one necessary thing may lead to that. All we need is love.

 

 

 

A Hundred Days of Solitude: chpt 5

Laocoon and his sons destroyed by sea serpents

A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family, which founded the riverside town on Macondo in the jungle of Columbia. In the first generation the isolated town has no outside contact except for an annual visit from a Gypsy band. It is a place where the inexplicable can happen and ghosts are commonplace. Many misfortunes befall the Buedias, all of which it turns out have been predicted. It is a long book, perfect if you are still, like me, a coronavirus shut-in.
********

“We are not here to be happy,” he said. He was a Catholic priest. I was a child. It wasn’t part of a sermon. I seem to be with a small group of children, standing around him. This is odd, since I grew up in Quebec, which was like Northern Ireland in those days, and I was Protestant. I was appalled to hear him say that. Of course, we were here to be happy. Jesus had pretty much confirmed that. The priest didn’t elaborate, leaving me to puzzle it out for the next 7 decades.

Which brings us to 2020 and Covid-19 among other things.

We thought we were living in end times when Donald J. Trump got hold of the most powerful office on the planet. Then we couldn’t breathe.

Because of my advanced age, I have been shut in for 140 days, except for essential shopping and visits to my sister and niece, part of my bubble since Day 78. Even then we wore masks and distanced. Lately, we have taken off the masks to eat together. We expect to live like this for a long while. I am 24% likely to die of Covid. Here in Canada, we have had about 9,000 deaths, but 2,000 have been elders in care homes. Note to self: stay out of care homes.

Tough on people who are praying to a merciful God. Had that experience as a child. We were 4 children, born over an 11 year period. I was oldest. Our childhoods taught us to be nimble, heart-broken, witty and kind. It was a mercy we all survived and a mercy that we have done as much good as we have. And we are all still here. Perhaps mercy is just a long term project.

Is this calamity destiny or the will of God? Is this pandemic and uprising for social justice part of a plan? Is that what is in operation now? There are 8 billion of us on the planet Earth. Is that just too many? Is nature just weeding the garden? Or is this a struggle between good and evil? In the midst of darkness has a greater darkness descended?

Some of us have had the leisure to consider such questions. Not the parents who have had to juggle home-schooling, home-office work and housekeeping, nor the essential workers who have risked their lives, but people like me, who have spent nearly 5 months in solitude.

CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) devised a secret plan to counteract riots here once the shut-down for the pandemic was announced. They took it upstairs. The higher-ups more or less laughed as I would have and canned the plan. Old joke: how do you get 50 frolicking Canadians out of a pool? You stand on the deck and say, ‘Please get out of the pool.” Of course we stayed home, as did Washington and California and other states, one by one. Lately, it has become clear that we have to wear masks if we want to shop. We wear masks. We don’t argue. Mostly. They are hot and not comfy. Ventilators are way worse.

That was my first glimpse of universal responsibility and open-heartedness. It was something like I saw as a child in World War II. Then there were the healthcare workers in New York City, working without PPE and in overcrowded conditions. They were getting sick and dying, but so were people, particularly immigrants, in less elevated jobs. I thanked the delivery people and the shop workers sincerely. They were out in the midst of it, while I was safe at home.

Their devotion and self-sacrifice cast light right across the globe. On dark days as the number of infected grew and bodies were stacked in refrigerator trucks and ice rinks and in mass graves, that love for each other, for absolute strangers, lit the darkness.

I had managed to figure out that the priest meant that we are here not to enjoy ourselves but to evolve, to become better people. I had had losses which felt unbearable, but eventually, made me a less self-centered person, more capable of empathy, of fellow feeling.

I wonder if he was a Jesuit. It seems Jesuitical.

The 13th century Sufi poet Jelaluddin Rumi takes a different tack and says that the soul is here for its own joy, that we are here to make God a reality. An acquaintance of mine says that in me, for example, God is experiencing godhood as an 84-year-old woman. But Rumi also says, “The rule is, Suffer the pain.
Your desire must be disciplined,
and what you want to happen
in time sacrificed.   (Coleman Barks: Rumi, the Book of Love, p.98)
He compares the soul to a newly skinned hide, “bloody and gross”, that has to be worked manually and with the “bitter tanning acid of grief” to become beautiful and strong. Rumi tells of “‘the Friend’ who knows more than you do,” who “will bring difficulties and grief and sickness,/ as medicine, as happiness, as the moment /when you’re beaten, when you hear Checkmate/ and can finally say with Hallaj’s voice,/ I trust you to kill me.”
(Barks: p. 127) (Al-Hallaj Mansour was martyred in Bagdad in 922,)

I suppose you have to believe in soul or the higher self to begin to make sense of these ideas, although the past five months may have moved even atheists closer to that belief. It seems as though Rumi is talking about something like the will of God. It might feel imposed but, in fact, the suffering is what a best friend sees is needed. This ‘will of God’ is rooted in love.

It is easier to see that in operation in the Black Lives Matter movement. It is not surprising that the urge for a fairer, more just society arose when it did. Most of us were paying attention. We felt helpless against the coronavirus but not so helpless against the injustice of George Floyd’s murder.

I am surprised and glad to find my close friends agree with my refinement of the will of God idea. You may find it a step too far. It seems to me that before we came into incarnation we helped to formulate these plans and volunteered for our own role. We have forgotten that for the most part and so we are not necessarily prepared for a sudden and early departure. We may be more ready to spend our lives in the service of others even though we think we made that decision for practical reasons toward the end of our education.

The corollary of that is, of course, that some of us have volunteered to play bad guy. Hitler, for example or my father. Imagine this pre-incarnated being madly waving its arm: I’ll be a  psychotic sociopath and cause millions to suffer and die. (My father’s score didn’t measure up to Hitler’s by the way.) Somebody had to do it. Does it go all the way down to invisible viruses? “I’ll be that one! I’ll do that.”

I have periodic collapses. My nerves give out around the dinner hour news. When I seek encouragement, one or other of these friends responds, “Stop worrying. We all signed up for this.” or “It’s all already happened.” It’s hard to be a witness. Even if we see what’s coming, we can’t change it. To try to do so would make things worse.

Laocoon, priest of Poseidon, tried to change the history of Troy by exposing the ruse of the wooden horse, in which were hidden Ulysses and his Greek cohorts. Poseidon sent sea serpents to destroy him and his sons. It was fated that the Greeks would prevail and Troy would fall.

Seers only
witness
to avoid
forfeiture

Sinche, Sinche (too much) celaidermontblog.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going To Church

celiadermontblog

Going To Church


(inspired by our president's 
walk of shame from the
White House to the church)

Like a BOSS
I know where to pray
on the mountain
with the Babylon of
rocks and boulders
on vertiginous peaks

Twisted Limber pines
much older than me
Flowers that no one else may see
succulent white liquid
petals, wet desert daisy
tiny... pink... stamens
(sparkling eyes) drowning
in the vast crown
Rooted in dry gravelly ground
Short-stemmed like me
Cutting every corner to
conserve energy
for the grand, miniature display
My heart is rejoicing automatically

Holy people praying on TV
The virus is culling our weak
Be a humanist and
take care of the herd because
we all have our turn to die

The Bishop is in a hurry The Rabbi is pedantic and brief The…

View original post 172 more words

The Two Percent

celiadermontblog

Photo by ksh2000 on Pexels.com

Sadistic sociopath
Streets and alleys bleed
across my adopted country
The Black man can't breathe

Centuries of slavery
make the blood run
bouncing over jagged rocks
I feel its legacy
in every Black pulse
people now assumed free
The rough run of fluid in veins
traumatized for generations

My Appalachian heart
distilled in the North country,
running from the violence
nurtured on Assassin's Hill
A successful white immigrant
brought down by comorbidities
of profound injury

My pulse is choppy too,
the imprint of torture and murder
resonating in the flow

One American son moving
corporate mountains
to heal the heritage of
Satanists and Nazis

The other hand in hand
with his love,
where I could not be,
wearing a gas mask,
shot by rubber bullets,
no lost eyes
Left his gun at home
and walked peacefully through
the hemorrhaging streets because he is a…

View original post 83 more words

100 Days of Solitude: chpt 4

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Upsplash

A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family, which founded the riverside town on Macondo in the jungle of Columbia. In the first generation the isolated town has no outside contact except for an annual visit from a Gypsy band. It is a place where the inexplicable can happen and ghosts are commonplace. Many misfortunes befall the Buedias, all of which it turns out have been predicted. It is a long book, perfect if you are still, like me, a coronavirus shut-in.

********

Day 74: Black Lives Matter:

Bona Fides: my mother’s people came over on the Hopewell, 3 ships or so after the Mayflower and landed in Plymouth. A cousin would brag we came over on the Mayflower and then add sardonically that we were well-bred and dirt poor.

I live in a building where the brown and black and other non-white complexions outnumber us whities. When I get off the elevator the only thing I remember about their appearance is whether they wore a mask. N.B. the children are incredibly beautiful. I once tried to describe a handyman to my sister – I had forgotten his name. She couldn’t figure out who I meant. “He put up my curtain hold-backs,” I said. “Oh, you mean G. Why didn’t you say he was black?” I stared at her. “He’s black?” I said.

We watch George Floyd dying as a policeman kneels on his neck for over 8 minutes. The next day we see the other angle – two other cops kneeling on his body. The cop on his neck had worked with  Floyd as a bouncer at a club. Police were called because Floyd had tried to pass a phony $20 bill, a capital punishment crime apparently. And how do you actually know you have a phony bill?

Demonstrations in support of  Black Lives Matter start across the United States and spread to Canada and around the world and they don’t stop, day after day, night after night. By day 78, Minneapolis is in flames.Then Atlanta and all across the country, cities are burning..

In December 2017, I had been talking to my ex-husband, Blake. We both loathed Donald Trump who gave us new reasons every day. Absentmindedly, I said, “I can see the cities burning.” It was a truly nasty vision and I put it well away. Blake didn’t. He kept repeating it as if it was his idea. He had had stage 4 cancer for 10 years and was only then beginning to weaken. In January 2019, it was clear he needed me and our son to take a hand in his care. He kept talking about cities burning and only Bernie Sanders could stop it. He thought it was a class revolution. He died before Bernie lost and well before the vision that I couldn’t remember came true.

Day 79: Watching the L.A. demonstration on TV at midnight, I was moved to call my grandson there. He had just got back from marching. He had been hit by rubber bullets three times, one glanced off his gas mask (!!), one hit his backpack, which he was wearing on his front (no score) and one made his foot bleed. At least eight people in the U.S. lost an eye to rubber bullets.

The Floyd family appeals to demonstrators to stop the carnage and they do. My grandson decides before that it is too dangerous and stops going.

Demonstrations continue. Trump retreats to his bunker. For inspection purposes. Then he calls some sort of military force out to clear Lafayette Square in front of the White House, so he can walk to the church across the square without permission from said church and hold up a Bible. One of the clergy of that church has just been tear gassed and another driven back from her first-aid post.

(Day 75: My Super Power

By the power of my negotiating skills, I save a marriage. It has to be saved again a few weeks later, but the couple can, by then, do it themselves.)

I have marched in many demonstrations, sometimes with my husband and small children, always for social justice causes. I was union rep when I taught. I hear Canadians sanctimoniously declare there is no systemic racism in Canada. While it is true since we didn’t have slavery, our racism may be harder to see, white people don’t get to decide that. Native people do and black and brown and yellow people, immigrants, do. Only they can see it.

Seers only
witness
to avoid
forfeiture
Sinche, Sinche 
celiadermontblog.com

Day 92: As a child, I was shut in boxes. Not for punishment. Far from it. I was a ‘special’ child. For one thing I had webbed toes. I was shut in boxes for increasingly longer periods of time so that I would develop my psychic skills. I was not keen on being special or shut in boxes or being psychic. But my cult was. The cult is shut down now, but I still know what’s in the mail before I open the box or when a loved one is in trouble and I see cinema-scope productions in my head – just flashes – momentary glimpses. Of the future.

Trump decided to hold a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I fight off these flashes for days, but then a week before it happens, in an unguarded moment, I have a horrific vision. It is at night. It has no color. But then colors can’t be seen at night. I try to focus on my TV program, but finally, I have to phone my sister. I find I can’t actually talk. But she knows me. She waits until I begin blurting it out. By now I can’t get my breath, I am shaking uncontrollably, I feel as if my head is going to explode and I want to vomit. Little by little she drags it out of me – the noise of explosions and falling fire, airplanes, rushing fire, machine gun shots, screams and  running feet. “It’s destroyed,” I say. “The whole town is destroyed. There’s nothing left but black ruins. The people are gone. They’re going to destroy Tulsa.” Trump’s followers fighting the BLM people. “It already happened,” she says. “Don’t get metaphysical on me,” I all but yell. “No, no, stop,” she says. “It happened in 1921. You’re seeing the past. It’s called the Greenwood Massacre. Look it up on your phone.”

While she tells me what she remembers from a recent report, I scan through the Wikepedia entry and race on to the next article. The prosperous black community of Greenwood leveled to the ground, looted, 300 people dead, 6,000 -black people of course – taken into custody for 8 days. Residents, impoverished, homeless, wandering.

“Why would I be seeing that?” I demand. Georgie sighs, “All time is one. You know the drill. You’ve seen it before probably.” I hate that idea. Al time is one. Everything that happened, happens or will happen is happening now. The panic threatens to restart. Some days of my life have been so awful that I want them sealed safely in the past.

Day 100: The day of the Tulsa rally arrives. the rally is ill-attended, partly because teenagers who do not intend to attend reserve seats on Tik Tok, partly because Trumpers are not that stupid. They prefer not to die of Covid. There are very few anti-rally demonstrators. A Republican senator subsequently gets Covid, along with a good many others no doubt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hundred Days of Solitude: chpt 3

The View -day after day- from my tower. (Taken after the Snowbirds, flew over to cheer us up, peutetre)

A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family, which founded the riverside town on Macondo in the jungle of Columbia. In the first generation the isolated town has no outside contact except for an annual visit from a Gypsy band. It is a place where the inexplicable can happen and ghosts are commonplace. Many misfortunes befall the Buedias, all of which it turns out have been predicted. It is a long book, perfect if you are still, like me, a coronavirus shut-in.

********

 HANK WILLIAM’S ADVICE

I asked Hank Williams, how lonely can it get?
Hank Williams hasn’t answered me yet,
But I hear him coughing all night long
A hundred floors above me in the Tower of Song. (Leonard Cohen)

My tower is actually named after a British city and it doesn’t have that many stories. I don’t write songs, but I could perhaps answer the question.

In the beginning, I actually feel lonely, abandoned, bereft. Sometimes I cry. Once or twice I howl. By Easter that has pretty well stopped. I am like the baby who figures out crying is useless.

Day 31: Easter arrives while it is still hard lock-down. Although I’m not a church-going Christian, I am still a cultural one. Easter is the most important church festival. It has always been a family time. My sister’s family is large with children of all ages. We usually drive north to Barrie where the long table is loaded with every vegetable available and roast ham. There is wine and laughter.

This year my sister, my niece and I are in our separate dwellings a few blocks apart. My niece has a sore throat. She is isolating to protect her mother. Normally, they treat each other as a family cohabiting. I order dessert from Sweet Things. The Door Dash delivery guy even comes up to the 14th floor. I drive to my sister’s, call her, she comes down in her N95 mask and I hand two desserts to her.  I come home and eat my key lime pie.

At a certain point, I feel so unseen that I am disappearing.

Day 2 – Day infinity: What to do? What to do?

The eastern sages that live in caves advise us that even the contemplative life must have a routine. I can do that, I think. I go to sleep at midnight, after reading in bed for an hour or more. I get up at 8. I pull myself together. I exercise as much as my body and a 950 Sq. ft. apartment permits. I eat breakfast while I read the news on my phone.

The rest of the day? What was I doing before? I was actually writing two books, a second memoir following Never Tell and a second mystery following Hour of the Hawk. The original two need to be marketed on line. https://www.joycehowe.com/books Many people are reading e-books with libraries closed. So go for it! Are you kidding? The world is ending, at least the world as we knew it. Why does it need another memoir of my abusive birth family? And now that woman has been pushed off a cliff in Kern County in my second mystery, I have no idea who did it? It took two people to get rid of her car, but what two people?

I’ve furloughed my cleaner. She also works in an essential retail store. So I have to do my own cleaning. It takes her 2 hours. It takes me 2 hours times 4 days. But I celebrate that I can do it at all and thank Cymbalta. I also decide my sister is right – an ironed pillow case is divine. The next thing I know I am ironing sheets and shirts and masks. Stop now!

I watch television. At first CNN is on all day. At lunch and dinner I watch Netflix, a documentary called Pandemic, which shows in six parts how ” tireless doctors and scientists” have been working for many years to learn how to make a vaccine for novo viruses. Each episode is episodic featuring several teams and one home-schooling anti-vaxxer and her many children. I take a vow to have the flu shot this year. I stopped getting shots because they make me sick, possibly because they are egg based. But this year, I’ll put up with that AND I will get a Covid shot as soon as I can. The scientists in the show spend a lot of time in full gear in bat caves. In general, it builds confidence, especially in Bill Gates’ money. I also watch Tiger King. God help me! Then I turn from Netflix to Acorn, which streams British, Australian and New Zealand shows. I love a good mystery. Whereas Netflix has taught me German, Finnish, Swedish and Russian, I learn Welsh English, even Welsh, Cornish, Irish and heavy, heavy Scots. I already knew how to decipher Australian and Kiwi.

I read. On the serious side, I read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The power of introverts. Probably I’m an introvert at heart. I needed to rest up after a day in the classroom before I could get dinner and relate to my family; however, I was able to avail myself of the ‘free trait’ and act out of character on the stage or in front of a class or even at dinner. Being introverted is an excellent trait to have when you have to stay home for months.

I frog march myself through John Bolton’s The Room Where it Happened, bending my brain around references to American foreign policy. I am testing a theory – is Donald Trump as incompetent as he seems. Then I read Mary Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough. Even without his suggestion that we ingest bleach to cure Covid, these two books confirm my opinion. I am terrified of coronavirus, and I am terrified of this man knowing the nuclear codes. As time goes on and the U.S. cases start to climb in Florida, Arizona, California again and Texas – oh my babies – the two anxieties come together.

I trade mystery titles with my California daughter and find them on my library’s website. I run through all of Mick Heron’s MI 5 books, which are satirical and funny and intriguing and sad. https://115journals.com/2020/04/19/slow-time-slow-horses-the-slough-house-spies/ I write a blog post about them. I read the SoHo mysteries, set in different countries: Thomas Perry, Dan Fesperson, Ken Bruen, Denise Mina, Mark Pryor, Colin Cotterill, Stuart Neville, and thus I travel to the British Isles, Germany, Russia, the U.S., Thailand, Laos. I read to rest during housework or cooking, but the last hour of the day is sacrosanct reading time and I end up lying my head down at midnight.

I don’t know Alice. What was the question?

As Alice lay dying, she seized Gertrude Stein’s hand and said, “Oh, Gertrude, what is the answer?” Gertrude replied, “I don’t know, Alice. What was the question?”

Then there is Leonard Cohen’s answer in The Tower of Song, “Dum de dum dum, de de dum dum.”

Alice wanted to know the meaning of life. Curiously, that becomes an urgent question as we contemplate death.  Part of what Aunt Mae taught my sister and me was that a person could have several possible exit dates. I have had a few close calls, which led me to read Robert Thurman and Sogyal Rinpoche and the Dalai Lama and Rumi. Now the shocking death tolls in our local long term care homes wake me up.

I had forgotten.

I know the way back – gratitude for the helpers, who are risking their lives and dying to help the sick, empathy for the dead and the dying and the ill – all isolated from their family’s support. I can leap on that train and ride it until I disappear into a universal cloud of love. In the morning, energy too low for that, I recite the Twenty Third Psalm by King David, for whom I named my son. Especially the last lines ground me:
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies
Thou annointest my head with oil. My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

A Hundred Days of Solitude still to come – those darned visions