Thursday, May 31, 2007

Here's Just How to Do It, Doc!

So the new, blessed, human, attentive Doctor comes into the room to give me the results of the X-rays, MRIs etc. on the non-functioning right knee. Well, to be correct, the now somewhat functional, limp short distances, pain there but under control, knee - thanks to what he has already prescribed.

And here is what he said. "You", he said, with a smile emphasizing the 'you', "You have a most impressive amount of intense severe arthritic degeneration in this knee."

He went on to point out that my ostephytes (bony bumps your bone grows trying to compensate for the pain by making more bone to help out), usually small bumps or the size maybe of a fingertip, are actually in some places the size of a whole half a finger to the middle knuckle, especially behind my knee, where the most pain is, and inside my knee-cap (patella), making my knee-cap resemble an Iron Maiden. Let alone the tear in the anterior cruciate ligament, and the resulting crumple in the posterior cruciate ligament.

Now that's the way to deliver the news Doc. With a smile, eye contact, why even though I have a condition f#$% all can be done about, I left that office proud and with a spring in my limp.

Gotta love a doc who can do that!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

In My Other Life ...

Years ago, there was a cartoon called the Nebbish (Yiddish for a weak-willed, timid, or ineffectual person). The cartoon was a simple line drawing in a single panel of a blobbish character who sighed a lot and expressed the inner life of only normally achieving people. (I tried to find a sample on-line, but guess no one has put them up.)

In one cartoon, the nebbish is sitting under a street light musing to himself - "I'm waiting for the meek to inherit the earth."

In similar mood, one day, Ziggy (a similar cartoon character) mutters to himself "I like fantasy. You meet a better class of people." Is there, shock horror, a UU who has never felt this way about their own congregation? (Oh, say it ain't so...)

Anywaaaaay, today I'm grooving on imagination. My legs not taking me much of anywhere at the moment, and yelping at me when they do, I am still having a ball. Right now I am surfing the Severn Bore.

For those of you who don't know, the Severn Bore is a marvellous wave created by the combination of the moon's gravitational pull on ocean waters and the sudden forced entry of those waters into the narrow path of the tidal Severn River in Britain. This creates, several times a month, and especially at times of Spring and Fall tides, a wonderful sudden wave - the Severn Bore. As Thomas Harrel wrote in 1824 "The river does not swell by degrees but rolls in ... foaming and roaring as though it were enraged by the opposition which it encounters".

Often as high as six feet (arising from nothing all of a sudden), and surging inland at about 10 miles an hour, there are those who love to surf it. Now you might wonder why I would bother imagining and fantasizing about a miserable little six foot wave, but what if I were to tell you that, in this river magic, you can surf the damned thing as far as five miles inland! Now a five mile surfing wave is something else, amen? Let alone surfing miles from the ocean, whizzing upriver, driven by the pull of the moon, cruising past fields, houses and trees! (As described by Alex Wade in a recent edition of the London Sunday Times.)

You have to be careful. Fall off at the wrong place, and the undertow will make exit from the river nearly impossible. Some surfers plan their exits, getting off at a wide place in the river, jumping in a car, driving upstream to pick the wave up in a narrow place again. But for the experts, world records for the longest wave surfed are regularly set on the Severn.

So that's where I've been today. (While the car has been getting major repairs, I quilted some beautiful stuff, and my leg hurt.) Where have you been today? Got a good fantasy going?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Saturday, May 26, 2007

No Towel, but Honor to the Flexible

Just heard that yesterday (by two minutes out here in the desert) was Towel Day in honor of Douglas Adams.

One day in 1979, standing in a barren kitchenette in an Oxford college, making my cup of tea and beans on toast (cheap protein much used by students, though I was post-grad, visiting, and 40 years old!), I turned on my old green Roberts radio. It happened to come on about five minutes in to the first episode of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (still best of all on radio, regardless of worse and better films). Having never heard of the show, I was suddenly thrust into a very strange world indeed. Couldn't turn it off. Listened every day. When I got home, my local NPR station started it on late Saturday afternoons. Fabulous motivation to finish sermons.

HG was a very philosophical book - by a man who also wrote Last Chance To See, a wonderful tour of important, dying ecological sites, by a man who cared about this earth in reality, not just fantasy.

Sorry I missed towel day, though I have no idea whether my morning (and early afternoon, gawd it did go on) mammogram could have sustained one more weirdness like me insisting on clutching a towel. See, I can't stand up at the moment, so standing for the mammo wasn't possible. The experienced gal who said, oh sure, I can do it with you seated when I booked the appointment was off for the holiday week-end. Sweet, frantic newby in her place. Seated?? What?? Yikes.

But she just got on with it, found a highish stool chair, and off we went. Halfway through, bless her flexible heart and soul, she said, "You know what, this seated business is a lot better." I allowed as how it sure was better for me, because I could hold position instead of falling over. She said, "Yes, but I meant it is better for me too. I like this!"

She made a hard time for both of us amazingly easy, comfortable, and OK. Because she was truly open and flexible, she not only made it work, she let herself learn. Wow. Was I impressed. Now, if I can only learn to do likewise ... at least sometimes.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

News from the Technical World

Good news - no magnetic explosion in my knee -- and my sweetie's head MRI is normal!

Now, on to the business of blogging. Tonight, news from the world of technology.

First: Get ready to use that cell! Right now in Europe, you can get cash with your cell. Say the electric company needs to send you a refund (well, that's the example they give, though could they have chosen a more unlikely one??) They send you a text message with a bar code in it. You go to the Post Office, or a designated site in a store (in the US I'll bet Walmart, Walgreen's, etc. get on board). They scan your cell screen with the bar code, and give you the cash.

Like I say, already happening in Europe. Next, bar codes in your phone that are your credit and debit cards. And cash wages by phone (useful for those without bank accounts). And text coupons to use at the grocery (already done by European Unilever). Here comes your electronic wallet. A little matter of checking identity, of course, still remains, I mean, given how many cell phones are stolen in Europe! But get ready, you may have heard it here first.

Second, also in Europe, real-life police investigations may lead to real-life court trials for on-line rape - rape, that is, in the virtual world Second Life, where some disturbing cases of stalking and attacks have occurred. People who spend days and nights in a darkened room with their computer creating their fantasy being can, and I understand this, feel deeply violated when that on-line being is attacked, raped, savaged. The terms and conditions of joining Second Life, it must be said, prohibit all such activity. Thus the potential to apply real-life laws to those who violate others in virtual reality as well as on the real cement streets.

Oh sigh. Here is a beautiful second world, in which everyone gets to be pretty if they want to be (must explain the preponderence of big busted, long-legged young women, and studly gents)...and what happens? Because we can all go there, it begins to become, gee whiz, just like the real us after all. Full of good and evil, sanity and perversion. Except for appearances. It is harder to recreate the world in the image we would prefer than many wonderful good-hearted activists think.

Miracles of Modern Science? Maybe ...

What a day ... One of my favorite columnists when I lived in Holland (and was speaking and reading only Dutch) was Simon Carmiggelt. And one of the things he said, which I giggled at without understanding at the time, being only in my 30's, was "You know you're getting old when, instead of meeting your friends at the pub, you meet them waiting at the pharmacist".

Ah yes, or at the doctor's. This week is medical week for both my husband and myself -- today involving his MRI of his head (ouch) and mine of my knee (also ouch, the way things have been lately).

Now we await a call from the doctor for him, and a revisit to the doctor for me next week. Mammogram on Friday, oh frabjous day, callou, callay. I go to the soft mammo place, that uses padding, but you know what, it still hurts!

Meanwhile, new arthritis doc appears to be a peach, a real person, would you believe! And his new pain meds, so far, have got me almost mobile and no longer whimpering! Pain at the moment, but nothing to what it's been. Can this glory last?

Last time I had an MRI, on the other knee, the following morning the whole thing had blown up three times its size, bright red, turning purple over the next few days, about three weeks of yuck. One Australian doctor believes this happens to magnetically sensitive people.

Now I've heard of being charismatic. But magnetically sensitive? Turns out that means, what I've always been able to do since I was a child, and was an adult of 50 before I learned that everyone couldn't, namely, pick up a piece of metal and tell you immediately if it is a magnet. I mean, I just feel it, there in my hand. It's a magnet. Amazes me not everyone can. Hmmm.

Let you know tomorrow how this MRI went!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

How do you define "Drugs in Sports"

What a difference a year makes ... Floyd Landis triumphant, Floyd Landis angry and despairing.

What with baseball records about to be broken, and other sports sitting on similarly explosive stories (Operation Puerto has so far affected cyclists - rumor has it many, many other sports are involved), the whole topic of sports and drugs is in the news.

Blogs on various news sites are filled with screaming angry offerings that can't even spell liar (lier) ... in a kind of knee jerk progression: drugs...eek...bad...kill.

Few seem to remember that the whole idea of not "using drugs" in cycling began out of a simple concern that cyclists not die on route. English cyclist Tommy Simpson died of exhaustion on a hill in the Tour de France in 1967 because he had too much amphetamine and alcohol and too little water in his system.

Now the use of almost anything is called "doping" so it all sounds like the "war on drugs". Ooooo, bad.

Actually, re Operation Puerto, which appears to involve cyclists making autologous blood donations (their own), only to have their red blood cells infused back into them before a race, allowing more oxygen to be processed more quickly by their bodies, well, guys, face it -- there is really very little if any difference between this and training for six months at 10,000 feet, which you do because living at altitude where the air has less oxygen makes your own body make more blood cells of your own. That's how I used to ace my exams when I was at University in Switzerland, for heck's sake. Up to the top of the Jungfraujoch (14,700 feet or whatever) to study for the last two or three weeks, then down just in time to take the exams. A whole bunch of us did that, and our brains were fizzing ... straight alphas (A's).

Should an athlete who can not afford six months of training at high altitude (leaving their day job, extra rent and expenses) be prevented from achieving the same effect using their own blood?

Do women athletes still take the birth control pill in order to control their menstrual cycles (if they still have them, some severe training stops the whole business of course) for big sporting events like they used to? Does testosterone gel to recover after an event actually cause any danger to athletes? Careful science now goes into everything a cyclist eats or drinks for maximum energy output. Isn't that an unlevel playing field - if your team doesn't have the money for that much science? Should all sports people have to eat exactly the same things in the same quantities all the year round or be disqualified? Stupid, eh? But what about the negative health effects of all that protein powder?

I tell you, just calling it "doping, shock, horror", may have cost us our ability to think!!

Instead of a little club of pale males in suits, who create races and make money from them, setting down the law for everyone else, what about a true drugging policy for sports men and women created by those actually playing in those sports, specialist sports doctors, and other medical experts, focussed on what will help, and what might harm, athletes. Radical, I know, but isn't it about time?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Clergy Consultation Service, Abortion, and ...

What You Ask Me Has A Lot To Do With How I Answer

Elsewhere it has been noted that this is the 40th Anniversary of the Clergy Consultation Service, a pre-Roe v. Wade project through which many of us who were clergy referred women to those who could provide them with the abortion services they needed.

We were very intentional. We referred only to a provider in another state (or country) because it was questionable if state laws would apply to interstate or international transactions. At least in our neck of the woods, every health worker, nurse, lab tech, whatever who came to use our services was asked to provide an extremely thorough health and safety evaluation of the doctor to whom they were referred. Most doctors were scrupulous about hygiene, we stopped all relationships with any doctor who was not. We required all doctors to provide one free service for every five paid services. And raised money for transportation for those needing the free service.

I have a whole book I could write about my experiences in this work. Today, just one reflection. It's about statistics, surveys, and how it is that how you ask can be more important to your answers than anything else.

For although our work may have been legally questionable, a major hospital wanted us to keep statistics, to learn more about the nature of the situation. Thus we had a number of questions to ask the women who came to us.

The answers I got to those questions were vastly different from the answers many other clergy recorded. The simple difference was when we asked the questions. Many clergy began with the survey, thinking it was a way to get to know their client. Fair enough assumption, I suppose. Me, I had been terrified I was pregnant when I didn't want to be. I knew what that felt like. So first I dealt with the woman's terror. That is, we arranged her appointment, she had the date, the address, the whole enchilada in her hand. Then I asked the questions.

Most other clergy recorded almost every pregnancy was the result of the first time the woman had ever had sex. Me, it was part of a long pattern of sexual activity. Most other clergy recorded contraception had always been used. Me, in 450 cases, only 6 had used any form of contraception including withdrawal!

See, if you think they may not give you the information you want, you try to give them the answers you think they want too. Like gee, first time ever, and yes, of course we used contraception. Only when you have what you need will you feel free to tell the truth.

Can't tell you how often I think of this when I hear the results of polls and surveys. Lord knows, it isn't just the formulation of the questions, it's even how, and when you ask!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Pain I Don't Understand Is Different

Today, folks, I would have given thousands of dollars to walk as well as the folks on this sign.

After nursing things along all week, every day somewhat better, some actually walking without any pain, mostly getting there ... BANG, this morning, I slid out of bed to discover the d#$%^d leg right back where I started. For no d#$%^d reason. No strange motions. No stress. No hurt. But also great pain, no walking, GRRR

Ah, and so the discoveries continue. Every other thing I've got, every one, I understand the cause of that pain. Turns out that makes it a whole lot easier to handle! Or at least for me, to have no bloody idea why this is happening, and be in pain, is not at all a good time.

Sorry to be so unenlightening tonight, but this is, after all, wait for it, drum roll, the Blog of Truth.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Don't Frighten the Horses ... but ...

I don't know if the two ever met, but Jerry Falwell and former British Prime Minister John Major have been much in my mind of late.

Jerry Falwell, obviously, because of his recent death. John Major, well, this is yet another time of British Prime Ministerial transition.

But that's not why they have met so forcefully in my mind this week, not really.

As so many of my blogging friends, and my chat-with friends spend much time and energy trying to find just the right things to say about Jerry Falwell's death (and some, like Ms. Kitty have found them), and try to come to terms with straightening out what may be a large pot of conflicting opinions and feelings, I can not help but remember the singularly freeing and energizing comment of John Major when asked his opinion on some weighty matter or other.

I have discovered, he said, that I do not actually have to have an opinion about everything. And I do not yet have an opinion on this.

What a revelation this was for me! Good grief, as a born and bred Unitarian Universalist, I had opinions on things I hadn't even heard of yet!

Fancy that. And I have discovered one of the things I have no particular opinion about is the death of Jerry Falwell. Go figure.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Day in the Life of An Eye

This beautiful bue and green picture is a tribute to modern technology. What it's a photograph of, well, that's not so beautiful. It's a branch vein occlusion in someone's eye. Believe me, there are amazing pictures now available for our eyes, like architectural side views of our retinas in the red and yellow picture above.

I'd just as soon not know all this stuff, but on the other hand, one of the saving graces of being curious and educated is, when something happens, you may find some weird satisfaction (no, it's not enjoyment, really) in at least learning something new!

As some of you know, my husband, David, awoke one morning in July 2003 and, as he put it, there wasn't a straight line in his universe. Diagnosis, from one enthusiastic, curious and bang up-to-date doctor was retinal angiomatous proliferation. Blindness in as little as three months. But he knew this guy in New York with some new treatment.

Long story short, this new treatment, done in New York, repeated in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Las Cruces, New Mexico (would you believe we happened upon cities with docs who had been part of the NY doctors tests?!), and he is still seeing, and still able to drive.

A new complication, central vein occlusion, has arisen. It is clearing itself, but still there. So it's off for an MRI. My sweet has never had an MRI before -- I was telling him in the doctor's office how noisy they are (bang bang BANG Claattttter) when it suddenly hit me and I burst out, "On "House" they're always so quiet the staff are talking about their love lives - but that ain't real!", and the doctor turned around and burst out laughing. "Sure isn't!" he said.

Human doctors are a blessing too.

Quilting Tips for the Disabled...

It's been a good four days for quilting lately, despite not being able to get to my Quilting Guild tonight because I couldn't park near enough for my lame self to get there. I've got my mammoth Serengeti Plain quilt, with faces of jungle animals, African plains grasses, very fine leopard print, pale elephant skin grey etc. etc. off to get "stuffed" (quilted). I've nearly finished Chapter Five of our quilting bees mystery quilt, in the colors of our bedroom drapes. I've made progress on my daughter-in-laws, television watching lap quilt, in antique fabrics. And made a good beginning on another grand-daughter's "stack the deck" quilt. Love designing and piecing. But still, quilting can be tough on those with disabilities.

I suppose there's already a book of hints on quilting for the disabled, if anyone knows of it, let me know! Just in case there's not -- here's what I've discovered.

You can cut anything sitting down. Even if you have to cut clear across whole widths of fabric. You just have to fold the fabric differently. Depending on the length this can be pretty easy to do. Just fold from side to selvage (usually it comes like this), but then, do it again. Now you've got four-fold (easy for rotary cutters) and not a long distance to traverse. I've found the simple dining room table makes a great surface (with mat, of course), and the dining room chair height is just fine for this.

Ironing, another bugbear if you've got disabilities. I've tried a little ironing board and mini-iron right by my side at the machine. That's just about OK for little seam pressing, but the better the fabric, the less successful it is. Missing the steam, don't you know. Luckily most ironing boards can be set to a seated height, and man, I can go all day that way.

But my main complaint is the dratted pedal. There is no way my knee wants to go up into the air in order to get enough pressure on my toes to push the pedal down. What works? Having the pedal backwards!! So all I have to do is lower my toes and off we go, no knee involvement at all. Now if the machine manufacturers would just take this to heart, and make a pedal where the cord can be inserted either side, what a treat that would be!

If you know any other good tips, please leave them here in the comments section!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Blessings of Obsession

Wonderful day talking on the telephone to my kids and grandkids.

There's been much negative commentary, often well-earned, about activities like Little League baseball -- mostly about adult over-competitiveness, whether it's drill sergeant coaches or fist-fighting parents.

But my enthusiastic, happy, bubbling young grandson reminded me today of all that is right about it, too. Hearing about his home runs, his game while it was pouring down rain, his hopes and fears for future games, his delight, his ability to balance even evaluations of his own performance (and he's still very young) ... well, it was impressive stuff. And reminded me of a rule of thumb I learned with my own sons -- help your child develop an obsession with something they love, whether it be a sport, or singing in the chorus, or acting in the drama club, or taking care of animals as a veterinary assistant, or writing, and you will have taken the first step towards helping them get through the turbulence of their teen years in good shape.

I guess we all behave better if we have something to lose. Something we care about. Something we want enough to moderate other behaviors.

So thank you, tonight, to all those unsung, non-drill-sergeant, caring, helpful folk who make programs like Little League possible. Who knows how many kids you have helped onto healthy paths.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

For More Reasons Than You Know

For more reasons than you know, Mother's Day is painful for oh, so many people. For those who have tried and tried to have a child, even suffering the impoverishingly costly monthly roller coaster hell that is infertility treatment, the cloying sweetness of so many Mother's Day observances is hell on earth. As it can be hell for those who have taken care-filled decisions not to have children, but whom this day makes feel like somehow only part-humans. As it can be hell for those whose children have died, like my friend who, with her son's death, has now outlived all her children. As it can be hell for oh, so many reasons.

Have you ever watched people standing at the card displays before Mother's Day? Unable to find anything among the sugary poesy that even begins to reflect the more gritty and grotty realities of their real family backgrounds?

For me the day is painful because I didn't have a Mother. Oh my biological mother existed, but she was dreadfully physically and mentally ill all of my life. Even my brother, seven years older than I, can never remember seeing her hold me once. I certainly don't remember it.

When I left for school she would be sitting in the corner of the sofa crying. She'd still be there when I got back, to do the laundry, cook the supper, serve the supper, clean up after the supper, and do my homework. I remember her once combing my hair (painfully). That's it. From the age of 8 I was handed a bit of money in late August, and had to, by myself, walk a mile, get on the train, get on the subway, find my way to the department store, and buy my own back to school clothes. I was the weirdest dressed bloody kid. In fact I was 41 years old before a friend, (if you're reading this Judy Wheeler, thank you thank you thank you) went clothes shopping with me and told me what looked good on me and what didn't. 41!! Don't start with not knowing beans about make-up!

The only thing that makes up for all this for me was being able to be a mother myself. I grieve for my friends who have not had this totally accidental good fortune. I apologize profoundly to my own children for all my failings as a mother, well, how did I know what to do, who had had none of it done for me. I do remember the struggle I had taking my children to buy clothes - there was still that little child inside screaming "No one ever did this for me".

The Bible says "The fathers have eaten sour grapes and their children's teeth are set on edge". Well, folks, it's mothers too. I wish you all a day you can get through with as much grace as possible. And I bless my children for their existence.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Ten Truths No One Ever Tells You continued, and What I Did Today

Ten Things No One Ever Tells You

6. Between writing the first Five Things No One Ever Tells You and the second Five, you will totally forget the second Five. Rats. But luckily, I've just thought of something else!

7. Look! That's one thing I did today, a lot of looking. This past two weeks has been a time of spectacular skies over our high desert. Sun, no clouds, small white puffy clouds, giant thunderheads, great gulley washing storms, hail, it's all happening. And through it all our mountains continually change color, depth, sense of closeness, moving in and out of huge cloudbanks, it is a feast for the eyes. These are the Organ Mountains, on the east side of town, north are the Dona Ana mountains, northwest are the Robledos. Look. Look. And look again. Let where you are, whether you want to be there or not, talk to you through your eyes.

8. And listen! Listen. Today I listened to the vast variety of birds repopulating our new build area as our plantings grow the welcome them. I love to wake to the sound of the mourning doves, though they are not appreciated around here any more than pigeons are in cities. But all kinds of other songs burst through today, and peeps from nests, too. And the wind. And my teen-aged neighbor's joy with his big, unmufflered motorbike. Hey, he doesn't do it at 3am, so enjoy! And the voice of the one I love.

9. Taste and smell the air and what you will. Today I inhaled the scents of the desert which are stronger after the rain. Iodine, flowers, trees, pines, a heady mix. Then go inside and slow down and taste what you are eating. If it isn't good enough to want to taste, go get something fresh instead. An apple, a piece of real cheese, some raw veggies will do you more good than that frozen cardboard thing you were about to put in the microwave. Practice tasting.

10. Touch. Oh, yea, dangerous one here, we do have lots of limits on what we're allowed to touch in our culture. But today I touched so many fabrics as I cut them to move on with three different quilt projects. And the skin of one I love. And my fresh-washed hair. And hot stones that have been in the sun. And my sore arm where I fell.

Whatever you do, please don't go through another day of life without noticing everything you can. More on this tomorrow...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ten Truths No One Ever Tells You: Part I

Ten Truths No One Ever Tells You

that have been on my mind today either for obvious personal reasons, or in conversations with friends (spoken or, hey, even unspoken)

1. Being in pain takes energy - you may not have much energy left for anything else. You may not like the situation, but you'd better accept its reality.

2. No painkiller works forever. A frequent useful pattern those of us on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory meds discover is to keep a chart. On it there may be, say, naproxen (Aleve), Celebrex, ibuprofen, Tylenol Arthritis (personally does nothing for me, but hey, if it works for you), Relafyn (nabumetone), Mobic (too tough on my tum) -- whatever. And every three months you might want to switch. Learned this from a sports injury guy (he has them, professional rodeo rider, not just treats them). Certainly true in my experience - they work for a while and either just quit, or the side effects begin to overcome the benefits.

(Thus, the first picture tonight is an aspirin molecule!)

3. Grieving takes a long time - and during that time, you may find yourself suddenly, many times, bursting into tears. Not because anything "reminds you", not because anything bad or sad has happened just now, you may even be sailing along pretty well, and bam! Floods of tears. No, you are not going crazy. This is how it is. Doesn't fit our society's "death of a spouse, hey, I can be generous, why don't you take the whole day off!" attitude, but it's the truth.

4. In non-grieving times, however miserable you feel when you are depressed, or feeling negative, or just grotty, "This too shall pass". I don't know why it is, but I am not alone in tending to feel, when I feel rotten, that it's just going to go on like this forever. Funny, I never assume that when I'm happy! I know that will end. Well, so will feeling terrible, usually, though I think grotty times, being depressed, just like pain, take energy. I don't seem sometimes to have the energy to believe things will be better. Mostly now I just decide to believe that.

(Thus the second picture, an elegant statue for all not in the best shape tonight.)

5. When you're with someone sad, you don't have to be sad too. It's OK to have your own emotional weather. I learned this from a funeral director I worked with many times in a town long ago. He always smiled with people. All the other funeral directors I'd worked with looked for all the world like they were attending their own funerals. Fred stood by the door with a big smile on his face. He told me that, after all, he was not grieving. I was about to speak to him about this improper behavior when the woman going through the door, whose husband had just died, said to him, "Thank you so very much for smiling. Everybody around me is keeping a grim face. Your smile reminds me, life goes on, and even I may smile once again one day."

Thus, just for fun, my favorite laughing horse!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Walls, Fences, Boundaries, and Shibboleths

Yes, it's been a terrible day. Pain, disability, uninterested doctor, finally a fall. Grrr. Still, it was better than yesterday -- are things improving? Don't know, but ain't it great that the mind and heart can still function!

And I've been pondering walls, fences, boundaries.

I confess, I can get quite grouchy listening to ministers witter on about "boundaries", as in "he doesn't have good boundaries". It's become a shibboleth, folks (check your dictionary if that religious term hasn't crossed your boundaries yet...) And, all too often, stands as shorthand for "He does things I don't like" or "He's doing something too courageous for me to attempt, and I'm trying to justify my cowardice to myself" or just "He pisses me off".

There is nothing inherently morally superior about boundaries, folks. Some of them are just walls, like the wall against Mexicans, and the wall in Baghdad. Harsh, even cruel, unyielding, definitely non-organic.

And yet, yes, as Robert Frost said, there are times and ways in which good fences, good boundaries, make for humane and comfortable living. That fence on the beach lets a lot of sand move back and forth, OK for preserving dunes, but not such a good model for some times in our human lives. Sometimes we need boundaries that are not quite so porous. A friend has finally said "No, I'm sorry, but this must stop" to someone taking advantage of her, and they are both the better for it. And my friend is sorry, and it is right for her to say so, before any "boundaries specialists" write in to tell me she shouldn't have said that part. In this situation it was right and appropriate.

I like to think of the kind of boundaries we need as the lovely Kentucky fence you see above, a boundary through which one is still free to talk, and love, and relate ... totally organic.

Unless, of course, we find a way to make them simply splendid and for fun, like Christo's fantastic early art piece, a color-filled mind-blowing wall made out of thousands of discarded oil drums.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Hell, much relieved by good friends who care, and a fit of the giggles

Hell, well yes it is a bit like hell ... those handicapped signs look so anodyne, so, oh I don't know, gentle, comfortable.

Well, it's not like that for me. Not now, anyway. It's hell. It all began a week or two ago, with increasing weakness in my right leg, but working out as I do, with quads to die for, I soldiered on and all was really pretty OK.

Until yesterday. When the pain suddenly hit, mainly behind the knee (I've got a tear in the anterior cruciate ligament back there, ACL to you sportsters, has it gone completely??) and the leg became virtually unusable.

Out came the serious walking stick, for the first time in three years, and even then I can't get to the loo in my own bathroom, just the one in the hall. Pain excruciating, walking slow if at all, nooo bending of the knee or I get repaid with complete agony and apoplecty.

Made it to quilting bee this morning, just, sitting and listening and chatting and looking at patterns was worth the pain, just. Being the right leg, driving, let alone getting in and out of the van, well, Satan was somewhere giggling.

But he wasn't the only one laughing. Because there at the bee, as one woman was idly looking through a quilting catalogue she came upon the ironing board cover pictured above. A bit of a hottie, not least because when you are ironing, the heat of the iron makes the towel disappear and things are, well, apparent, apparently.

The half of the quilters who had been nurses growled and grumbled they'd seen enough of that thank you very much. Some others quietly took down the address. But whichever camp they fell into, and camp is probably the right word, they, we, all giggled. Quite a bit.

That, and friends who actually cared that it hurt, well, it doesn't get any better than that. Back in your hovel, Satan, you lost this round.

Now the Music for THIS GA should be spectacular!!

Wow! I just put it all together in my poor ancient head -- but GA is going to be in Portland, Oregon. That is Portland!!! people. Home of the greatest, most amazing, most independent, most exciting music of the day. In other words, cutting edge music, just right for our cutting edge theology, right?

We'll be in the home of Viva Voce, the duo up top whose new record Viva Voce Loves You is due out just about the time of GA. We'll be in the home of the Gossip, the punk/soul three piece group in the middle, with the inimitable Beth Ditto. We'll be in the home of intellectual rockers the Decemberists (see below). And in the home of the awesome Modest Mouse (bottom of the top, if you see what I mean) - their "We Were Dead Before the Ships Even Sank" entered the charts at number one.

Oh glory, oh wonder, oh excitement! Finally some good cutting edge music at GA -- now what a Ware Lecture that will be!! What's that you say? What???!!! You haven't heard that any of these groups have been booked for GA, or anything like them?

Oh say it isn't so -- UU's striving so hard to be cutting edge in theology (with mixed results it must be admitted), but oh, so, not when it comes to our music? As my friend Biddies in My Brain would say (and sooooo glad to see you back in the blogosphere, Biddies!) ::sigh:: ::sigh:: ::sigh::

Monday, May 7, 2007

Living at the Bottom of the Ocean

The past couple of days have been filled with dust storms. Here in the high desert, at 4,200 feet, these dust storms do not look like the Saharan sand storms you may have been imagining. For the dust is far finer than sand. In the high Spring winds, our dust just greys out the sky, lowers visibility, and gathers everywhere on your belongings even in the most hermetically sealed household.

Of course it does. After all, we are living here at the bottom of the ocean. Yes, even here at 4,200 feet, we are on the ocean bottom. Or what was the ocean bottom, not so long ago in geologic time. That's why our rocks fall apart so easily - they're only compacted sand and mud after all. And why our mountains change shape as the softer coverings erode away and only the hardest rock peaks remain.

If you look at a map of New Mexico, we sure look a long long way from water. But what is now the Gulf of Mexico reached way up into the landscape here. As the Rockies rumbled and crashed upwards and the land lifted, the water receded. And that ocean bottom is now our landscape.

And so fossil rich it is hard not to become a fanatic about this strange ancient beauty. Geologists fight each other for the chance to come to teach and research at one of our Universities - as one said to me just today - it's the dream location.

And it's not bad for normal humans either. I find it hard to get too verklempt about present day concerns with all this history around. Kinda lengthens my perspective willy-nilly, doncha know.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Illusions, Delusions, and Confusions

So there I was, watching one of my secret vice TV programs, Flip This House, and there is the lead developer, caught in a mess in one of the worst houses, full of feral cats, enormous rats, giant roaches, you name it. The stress really gets to him. His wife arranges an appointment with a "doctor". He gets there and discovers, ack, it's a psychotherapist.

Still outside, he calls his wife on his cell phone. "I'm not crazy!" After a bit of discussion he says he'll go in, but only for her sake.

The camera follows. We see snippets. He talks. As he hears himself talk, with gentle input from the therapist, he sees that he needs to decide to get on with it, and just get it done. He walks out from the therapist's office, in all senses of the word a new man. On the way out, he takes her card, remarks she said to call her if he wanted to talk, laughs scornfully, and throws the card into the bushes.

Delightful. No, really. He could not more clearly have been helped. Nor more clearly have refused to recognize it.

Reminds me of a late colleague who attended, many years ago, a pre-retirement seminar about two years before he retired. I asked him how it went. "Bloody waste of time!" was his reponse. "Oh?" I asked. "Yea," he said, "they had us sit around and play stupid bloody games. I mean, one of them, they made us list the ten things we liked best to do in the whole world. Then they gave us a bunch of monopoly money, and had an auction! They auctioned off everything we liked to do, but we couldn't bid any more money than we had! So and so bought my preaching, for G-d's sake, and so and so bought my chess playing! And we never even got to good medical care, I'd been out of money for half an hour! Stupid, stupid bloody game."

Now here's the thing. Before he went to this seminar, he was busy building his retirement home in a remote corner of Maine, miles from anything or anywhere, not even a village. When I next saw him, a year later, the Maine property was sold, and a new place purchased, this time in a town in New England with dozens of UU churches nearby, many of them small, and always looking for preachers. A town with an active chess club. And access to excellent medical care.

"That retirement seminar seems to have turned out to have been useful after all," I offered. "G-d, that thing, total waste of bloody time" was the response.

I've attended useless workshops, and even bad counselling in my day. But, my friends, oh but ... what did I think was bad that actually changed my life? And oh my counselling friends, don't take our ingratitude too personally, eh? It's so hard for us to acknowledge that we, even we, may have needed just a little bit of transformation.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

One UU writes in her blog of her sense that children are not welcome in her church. Another writes of hearing an earnest conversation at a District meeting that perhaps, in her area, there were now enough UU societies that there was finally room for an adults only congregation. (I wish I knew how to create links to these comments in this blog, but I am a newbie, and can't seem to make that work, however hard I try.) Both women, understandably, feel discounted, unrespected, anything but recipients of an awareness of their, and their children's, inherent worth and dignity.

These are not, alas, new sentiments among many UUs. For people who think UU worship (they'd prefer the word "program") is all about thinking and intellectual stimulation, and for ministers who value their words above life itself (I am a minister, so I can say this), the presence of children is an issue. As a member of one congregation I served wrote (complaining to the Board about me and my new custom of inviting the children to be part of the first 20 minutes of the service) and this is a direct verbatim quote: "I come to church for intellectual stimulation with my peers, and children are not my peers." So there.

There probably is room for a club without children, even a UU club, though you couldn't call it any more than a club, and I strongly doubt their buildings would be beautiful enough to wind up memorials to their movement, as the Shaker buildings and furniture have (the Shakers were also without children as I recall)! Indeed, I have also heard it said, in reference to some butt-wrenchingly murderous chairs at one congregation -- "They're part of our test for membership, to see if you're Stoic enough to be a UU". No, it wasn't a joke.

But not everywhere, and not every UU fortunately falls into this one-sided, left brain only camp. One of my favorite Unitarian moments was in a small congregation where five women happened to give birth round about the same time, and had taken to sitting at the rear of the sanctuary together with their babes, breast-feeding as needed.

Following one service an elderly gent approached me with the gentlest of complaints. "Um ... you know I do welcome the young people to our congregation ... but I have to say ... during the prayer this morning ... with all that feeding going on ... the silence was a bit too gurgly and snuffly even for me." We did find a wonderful solution, however. He began sitting at the front.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

How Come You Don't Have Any Friends?

A colleague has written in her blog about a friend's anger ... a friend somewhere my colleague used to live, but does not now that she has moved to be with the congregation she serves.
Ah yes, ministry, a place for deep relationships in each place you are ... and no relationships at all when you retire. Well not quite, but man, it can be lonely out here.
You spend years with people, becoming deeply fond of many of them. Then you move. Not only do you not have contact with them any more, you should not. There is another minister there now, and if they are to develop the best possible relationships with that new minister, their energies are best used there, where they are, with the minister they now have. All energy they spend maintaining their relationship with you, now that you are distant, is energy they are not spending where they are, with the people they are now with.
And the same is true for you, the minister, the mover. If, once in your new place, you use a lot of your time/soul energy maintaining distant friendships, you will not be using that energy to make new friendships where you are. And it is very lonely, in a Thich Nat Han sense, not being where you are.
It is often very hard for those "left behind" to understand this. They are not in a new physical place, and so do not usually have the expectation that they should need to use some of their time/soul energy to make a new friend now that you have gone. The void looms large. And all the worse because you are a "minister" which means you must never hurt anyone. And just look how you hurt me. Righteous anger often follows this progression. ::sigh::
To confuse matters even more, while people think they think about ministers as counsellors, teachers, preachers, etc., way at the back of the head what's going on is "father, mother, sister, brother, wife, husband, mistress, son, daughter, lover ... " Whatever one fits best.
That's one reason there's so much trouble when the new minister is more than 15 years younger than the last one. Whole generations of people go from a minister who was father to one who is contemporary; from one who was a contemporary to one who is a son or daughter. Yikes. Let alone those whose minister fit the lover, mistress mode in the stuff of dreams. They've been ditched, abandoned, breach of promise!
For the ministers, meanwhile, there is a landscape left behind, littered with former friends into whose lives we no longer fit. But not necessarily many where we now are. I cannot express the unbearable depth of loneliness this can be.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Wonders of Technology

Just read on another UU blog that today, May 1st, is a day for some consciousness raising about disablism.
Well, as a disabled person, let me say consciousnesses certainly do need to be raised. Here, there, and everywhere.
But all sorts of good things are happening too. Oh, not with people's attitudes, they still suck as often as not. Like, for about one week after 9/11, it was safe for me to cross the street on my mobility scooter, people would smile, wave, slow down, stop, roll down the window, wish me a good day.
Following week? Honk Honk, drive my Hummer right at you, you embarrassingly weak being with no right to exist cause you scare me that this could happen to me.
Sigh. No, the good things happening aren't so much attitudes, or even conscious attempts at accessibility (there are some, and that's great, there are many others not yet even tried) ... but the assistance the sheer march of development can bring.
Like, I've just bought four great tops. And I haven't had to shop. That is, go into a store on my scooter. (Ever try that? Oh, honey, it's all about filling the aisles with displays to increase sales per square foot these days. Forget gimps getting around.) Let alone trying to get into a changing room???
Now, however, I could shop in the comfort, literally, of my own home. With amazing visual tools that let me zoom in, move the garments around, check every detail. Wizard.
Sure, it doesn't include trying on, but a little honesty about one's own measurements goes a long way to success here. And if not, well, the Post Office is a lot easier to use on a scooter than a store.
I won't stop being a noisy disabled activist, but there sure are some things that help these days.

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