Tuesday, March 31, 2009

no regrets

The cable channel SOAPnet has recently launched a new original series Becoming Erica, that has an interesting premise: Erica a single, 30 year old, is searching for herself, and with the assistance of a magical therapist is allowed to go back and re-do crucial moments in her life. Often these "re-dos" have no overall consequences or negative consequences, and my sense after watching several episodes this weekend is that the underlying message is to stop obsessing about the past and focus on what you can do in the present.

Watching episodes of Becoming Erica this past weekend got me to thinking whether or not I would want to go back and re-do anything in my life. There are many situations where I behaved in ways that were hurtful to someone else, and if I could undo the hurt without otherwise changing my life than I probably would. But when I think about the key moments in my life that I viewed as "mistakes" at the time, decisions that cost me jobs or relationships, decisions that I regretted in the short run, there is not one that I would go back and change. Because if any one of those significant moments in my life had turned in another direction, I would not have found John and not have the life I have now, which is a wonderful life. Not a perfect life, no one has a perfect life, but its the right life for me.

Monday, March 30, 2009

tremulous clouds of white

pear trees flush with
fragrant blossoms,
wreath the town
in veils pale
and ethereal.

Monday March 30, 2009

The phrase "tremulous white," has been reverberating in my mind for the past two weeks as I observe all the ornamental pear trees around the area dressed in their spring finery. The phrase originally comes from the poem "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Sara Teasdale dealing with the return of spring to the battle fields of World War I and it referred to the blossoms of wild plum trees.

The title of Teasdale's poem (and several verses from it) were borrowed by Ray Bradbury for a short story also entitled "There will Come Soft Rains" about the return of spring after a devastating nuclear war in the future. I was an avid science fiction reader as a child, and Bradbury's story led me to Sara Teasdale, who quickly became my favorite poet during my teenage years.

The phrase "tremulous clouds" is very commonly used by various writers over the past 150 years (including Harriet Beecher Stowe) and is most often associated with dark, stormy clouds that show a great deal of movement and churning.

Photo was taken March 2007 in Whitesburg, Kentucky.

Monday, March 23, 2009

One Single Impression -- Smoke

"Where there's smoke there's fire,"
so the saying goes,
but a smothered fire
billows clouds of black,
while stars burn fierce and clean.
So let me blaze a stellar life,
and leave no smoke behind.

Sunday March 29, 2009

Image from NASA from the Hubble Space Telescope.

One Single Impression -- Equals (a different take)

After some sleep and some thought, another point of view (see yesterday's entry below):


We dance our lives
in the great ocean of air,
exchanging carbon for oxygen;
our atoms vibrate
to harmonic universals;
we warm ourselves
in Sol’s yellow rays;
entropy winds us down
returning our molecules
to dust.

Monday March 23, 2009

Life and death, the great equalizers.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

One Single Impression -- Equals

Some random thoughts late at night, prompted by One Single Impression March 22 prompt "Equals."

All men are equals
they say with sincerity
--except for the lazy.

Who are the lazy?
That's easy, they say, just look,
they're poorer than us.

Sunday March 22, 2009

A central concept in sociology is inequality and social stratification. It's an important topic in every sociology course I teach, and I even teach an entire course entitled "Inequality." Teaching it right now as a matter of fact. My students are hugely ambivalent on the topic of inequality and equality. They insist adamantly, that everyone is equal, that no one is better than anyone else. Or at least, they insist, that is how it ought to be. But....when it comes to income, then inequality is right and good. It would be terrible they think if everyone made the same amount of money. Got to have inequality they say, it's necessary to motivate people.

Of course, they believe that despite the poverty of their youth, and the financial obstacles they currently face, that they will be among the winners. Any one can make it they tell me, any one can get a college education, there's no excuse they say for not getting a college education, anyone can if they really want it. Then later of course, when the contradiction escapes them, they will give me all kinds of excuses (my car broke down and I couldn't afford to fix it, my computer broke down and I couldn't afford to fix it, my Mam-maw was in the hospital and someone had to stay with her, I don't have any one to take care of my children, my employer changed my work hours, the creek rose and we got flooded out, they cut off my electricity, I had go to court...) for why they can't turn their paper in on time, why they need an extension, why they have to drop out. Like the Red Queen (speaking to Alice), my students believe six impossible things before breakfast every day.

I am mystified as to why American seem so dead set against equality of outcomes. We talk a good game about equal opportunity, but start talking about "sharing the wealth" and watch the hackles go up. But how can opportunities really be equal if outcomes are unequal. Unequal outcomes just sets up unequal opportunities for the next generation.

Did you know that the current per capital personal income in the United States is $35,328. That means that if you take all the income made in the entire United States, including all wages and salaries, all social security benefits, all retirement benefits, all disability payments, unemployment payments, all rental income, all business income, all royalties, then subtract all the taxes owed, and then divide that total by every living person in the U.S. all 300+ million of us, every infant, child, teen, adult and elderly person would get $35,328. That's a lot of money. Now think about the fact that 13 percent of Americans today live below the poverty line, which for a family of 4 is $22,050 (not $22,050 a piece but $22,050 for all four people). If personal income was distributed equally, a family of four would have $141,312. Obviously some one is getting way more than their equal share -- and some of them work for AIG.

Sunday sans poetry

I have come to look forward to my Sunday poetry fix -- both writing and reading. But this Sunday is devoted to grading massive numbers of 'papers' (in electronic form)and tests (that are on paper). Years ago, I used to put a message on my answering machine on days like today, that said "Am drowning in a sea of paper, will return your call when I get my head above water." Perhaps later this week there will be time for poetry.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

taking out the trash

In this age of planned obsolescence we have accumulated a large number of broken appliances, broken down and rusted out furniture, and other junk items.

We recycle everything we can -- for a rural area we actually have a pretty good local recycling program that actually does "curbside" recycling (not that anyone here actually has a curb) that is picked up at the same time as the stuff headed for the landfill. But there's a lot of things that don't fall within the purview of our recycling center, that are too large to put into the weekly garbage.

If we lived in an urban area there might be places that took broken things and fixed them, but here in this area, there is not. We have no Goodwill, no St. Vincent de Paul, no Salvation Army. The nearest Goodwill is a 90 minute drive (over winding mountain roads), and they do not pick up this far away. Since all we own are very small compact (fuel efficient) cars, we have no way to haul our junk to the Goodwill.

Clothing can go to several local church based clothing programs, so that's where all our clothing goes; but there's no local outlet for other household goods, especially for those that need minor repairs.

So, after a year of calling every few weeks, we finally got a big dumpster from the county. Our project for the next week or so, will be filling that dumpster with all our accumulated crap, to be hauled away. I look forward to having my back patio and front porch, and the shed out back cleared of all the accumulated junk. Also going in the dumpster are the metal file cabinets and metal kitchen cabinets that as the result of 20 years of cat pee have bottoms that are almost completely rusted out. They will be replaced by wooden furniture that won't rust.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

One Single Impression -- farewells

Faring Well

I said “welcome”
and “come in”
when wisdom
and experience
cried “farewell!”

So entered love,
a river swift
and strong
wearing down the stones,
carrying me
to places

Saturday March 14, 2009

For other poems on the theme "Farewells" go to One Single Impression.

Portrait of John Pitt, the day before I said "come in," July 4, 1994.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

how should we live?

From geographic but not emotional distance, I follow through daily phone calls my parents lives. My father's life only comes to me from others. His profound deafness cut off his ability to communicate by phone some years ago. His detachment from the world put an end to even the occasional letter. But my mother still speaks for herself, every day. She doesn't always make sense but she shares her thoughts and feelings with me freely.

My parents example is a fearful one. At 97 (Dad) and 86 (Mom, in two weeks) their physical bodies are outlasting their minds and their abilities to care for themselves. Each of them is the second youngest child in their families, and their older siblings who died before them stayed mentally alert and in possession of their faculties until they died, even when they faced far worse physical ailments (cancer, heart disease).

My father has now lived four years longer than the longest lived of his siblings -- Aunt Mary died at 93, a sharp and irascible woman who made all her own decisions, including pre-arranging her funeral exactly as she wished it a few months before her death. The others died at even younger ages. Mother's oldest brother, James, was well into his 90's, and still went out to the fields every day.

I observe my parents and I am afraid. They have greater financial resources than my husband and I are likely to have in old age -- my father inherited substantial property from his deceased siblings, most of whom did not have children, and their California home is worth, even in this market, nearly a half-million dollars. And yet, given the costs of care, this may not be enough to provide for them.

My parents also have children, three of us, although only my brother Charles is both able (by retirement and proximity) and willing to shoulder the arduous responsibilities. My husband and I have no children.

I want to be healthier than I am at present. My current mantra is "I will not be a diabetic. I will not be a diabetic," as I struggle to lose weight to back away from the precipice ("pre-diabetic"). I want to enjoy walking, dancing, riding bikes, and things that have escaped me for some years as rheumatoid arthritis and other maladies have limited mobility (and helped to add the pounds).

Yet I wonder, is it possible to be too healthy. For the body to go on long after the mind and spirit have given up, or gone away? I think about the people I have known who have dropped dead suddenly from heart attack or stroke, or who have died fairly quickly after diagnosis of cancer. I fear pain far less than I fear helplessness, isolation and loss of control.

An academic and mystery fiction writer, Carolyn Heilbrun (better known to mystery fans as Amanda Cross), "often mused about killing herself at 70" (New York Times) rather than become old and dependent. Instead she waited until she was 77. She was a reasonable, rational, pragmatic and principled person, who made a deliberate choice to end her life while it was still enjoyable. I do not think that I ever could or would make such a choice, but I find myself admiring her for her choice.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

things take time

A year ago, I wrote about my mother deciding that it was time for she and my father to move into assisted living. What I never reported was that she changed her mind within forty-eight hours. She does that a lot.

In the past year, she, with the help of my brother Charlie, has tried out a number of in home help arrangements, lasting for varying amounts of time with various degrees of success. During the summer (2008), after several months of contact, her physician decided to bring in a psychologist to evaluate her. The resulting diagnosis of mild to moderate dementia shook my mom to her core.

Before the test my mom's grasp on reality and her reasoning ability had been steadily and obviously deteriorating for sometime, but she remained unshakably confident that she was right and the whole rest of the world was wrong. This made her seem far more competent than she actually was. When she learned the results of the test, her first reaction was denial, then anger, which now alternates with bargaining and depression and to anger and back again to depression (Kubler-Ross new what she was talking about when she described the stages of grief). Unfortunately my mother has not yet moved on to acceptance.

The insecurity and uncertainty engendered in my mother by hearing a diagnosis of "dementia" has changed her in ways that are both sad and frustrating. While she accepts physical help with the household and care of my father, she fiercely resists attempts to help her with decisions all the while complaining every day to me (during our daily phone call) about being overwhelmed by those decisions.

Three weeks ago, shortly after a shake up in their home care arrangements, she contracted a cold. The cold got progressively worse, and day after day, both I and her new home care worker tried to get her to agree to call her doctor. She refused to tell Charlie, and refused to call the doctor because "she [the doctor] would just call Charlie." A week later the cold turned into bronchitis, another week passed and it became pneumonia. She finally recognized she needed help, but refused to do anything. [She is still technically considered competent and able to make her own decisions.] I contacted Charlie, who immediately got her care worker to get her to the emergency room where she was admitted to the hospital.

This has been a really bad week for her and by extension for Charlie -- and to a much lesser extent for me. Within a day of entering the hospital she began to demand to be taken home, loudly, repeatedly to anyone who would listen. She refused breathing treatments and any oral medications (for some reason she never resisted the IV with the antibiotics). She kept getting out of bed and getting dressed, and threatening to get a taxi and go home. She was completely irrational, claiming that she was not sick, that the pneumonia was "a dream" and not real.

Charlie dealt patiently with her, returning to the hospital several times a day, to help the staff deal with her. She was angrier than I've ever seen her in all my 58 years as her daughter.

The antibiotics have done their work, and the pneumonia is gone. She has been moved from the hospital to a skilled nursing facility, nearby, and she has become calmer and more rational. In a few days she will return home, where Charlie has arranged for 24 hour care with the pleasant and competent young woman currently caring for my dad. Charlie will give her a break every other weekend and take over for a few days.

Perhaps this is the time to move to a group care situation, but Charlie is justifiably concerned about the costs. My parents are just affluent enough not to qualify for assistance, but their resources would probably run out with in a couple of years in a group home situation, requiring yet a whole new set of arrangements. And Charlie listens to my mother and her overwhelming fears of living in a group home situation.

There is little I can do, from 2500 miles away, but listen, provide encouragement and support.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

One Single Impression -- fork in the road

alternative realities

take a breath,
speak a word,
make a choice,
life branches.

Sunday March 8, 2009

Life is a painting by pointillist Georges Seurat, it may seem from a distance as a continuous pattern, but it is composed of tiny moments, an accretion of thousands of minute choices. Although every life has a few moments when we consciously make big decisions that alter our trajectories, more often our paths are directed by the small everyday choices that we make. It is only in retrospect that we realize that we have, in fact, chosen one "fork" over another.

One of my favorite movies Sliding Doors (1998), starring Gwyneth Paltrow, takes a fraction of a second, the time it takes to decide to leap forward before the subway door closes or stay put and take the next train, to trace two separate paths for a young woman. In real life, we can never know what our path would have been like if we chose differently, acted differently. This is true whether the moment of choice and branching is obvious to us (Shall I take this job? Say "yes" to this man?) or seemingly inconsequential and routine (Shall I hit the snooze bar again? Shall I stop and speak or hurry on my way?).

Our lives become what they are as a result of that multitude of daily actions, each one takes us along one of the forks of possibility rather than another.

Painting by Georges Seurat, Seascape at Port-en-Bessin, Normandy, 1888, Image from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the W. Averell Harriman Foundation in memory of Marie N. Harriman 1972.9.21

Sunday, March 1, 2009

One Single Impression -- Circles

Cycles of nature,
cycles of life,
beginning to end,
beginning again,
renewal, rebirth.

Rhythm of life,
breathing it in,
breathing it out,
oxygen to carbon,
feeding the grass.

Make the link,
draw the connection,
giving in measure
as you received,
sharing the wisdom
sharing the wealth.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Graphic is a diagram I created for SOC 260 Population, Resources and Change in 1999.

Celebrate the one year anniversary of One Single Impression and enjoy other poems on the theme "circles."