Not long after my furious round of posting when blogging through Allah, I developed severe pain in my neck and upper back. And my doctor said yeah, that’s what people get from working on computers day and night. I’ve been going through physical therapy, which has been helping, but recovery is slow and I’ve been trying to ease off the endless typing. Which means no blogging until either I get a different job, or my body somehow reconfigures itself, or we get to a Tony Stark-like state of computer technology where I can do it all by talking and gesturing. So for the few and the brave who are still reading, thank you, but the blog is going officially back on hiatus.
May 11, 2011
October 7, 2009
My mother called me a few days ago and told me my brother-in-law has lymphoma. I haven’t felt much like blogging, and I don’t know when I will again. I don’t especially want to listen to my own thoughts, much less inflict them on anybody else.
I appreciate my readers as much as ever, but this blog is on hiatus.
June 25, 2009
Sorry I’ve been so quiet, but over the last two weeks or so I’ve been following, vicariously over email, the sudden decline and death of my (still friendly) ex-boyfriend’s father. It happened rather quickly in the end, but it was not that big a surprise since he was 88 years old; John is 12 years older than I am, and his father had him late in life. The one time I hung out with Paul, over dinner about three years ago, I was amazed that someone nearly as old as my grandparents was still so sharp.
Paul had quite a remarkable life. He grew up in a little Mennonite town on the Canadian prairie, with a strong ethic of communal self-reliance. I gather this belief in looking out for one’s neighbors was part of what inspired Paul and his wife Frieda to foster ten troubled boys before they got around to having their own kids. I remember seeing from the expression on Frieda’s face, as she was telling me this, how hard it must have been, but it was probably educational for Paul’s eventual career as a psychotherapist.
Paul was, in fact, one of the founders of Fuller Seminary’s psychology department back in the early ’60s, bringing together two disciplines that were historically rather suspicious of each other. He later moved on to private practice in Twenty-Nine Palms, which put him in the peculiar position of being a pacifist treating patients who were largely military people. (John explained to me wryly, “As we all know, Marines don’t have any psychological problems. But somehow, their families do.”) When I met him he was still practicing, and even over the dinner table he exuded that combination of warmth and penetrating insight that good therapists tend to have.
It’s sort of a running joke that therapists screw up their kids, but I never saw anything to indicate that the family was anything but close and happy. Those of you who pray, please put in a word for Paul’s soul and for those left behind.
April 19, 2009
That move took even longer than I expected, at least as far as the Internet is concerned. Verizon assured me that I could transfer my DSL service to the new location, but after two tries with no service, they finally realized that they don’t offer DSL service in this neighborhood after all. How weird is it that it took them so long to notice? Anyway, I am now connected thanks to the (hopefully more competent) services of Comcast, so now I might finally have a chance to get back to blogging.
The new apartment is in a much bigger building than I’ve ever lived in before. I can now look out my window from the imperious height of the eighth floor, over the treetops to a cluster of lovely church spires rising above the rooftops. It’s funny, they look so traditional (Washington, unlike L.A., is full of churchy-looking churches), but all of them are oddballs. One spire belongs to the Moonies, one to the Unitarians, and one appears to be shared by a few different congregations and a school (I assume it’s a repurposed Episcopal building or something).
The neighborhood, Adams Morgan, is a good example of what Washington as a whole, and indeed urban America as a whole, has been through in the last 50 years. An old family friend, who lives in the house he inherited from his parents, says that when they moved here in the 1940s they were the first black family on the block, and now he’s the last black guy on the block. I’m a little ways east of him, and the neighborhood is ethnically mixed; go a mile east of here, and you’re in an outright ghetto. Yet the ghetto also has a few shiny new apartment buildings for the gentrification pioneers.
Tomorrow the new owners take possession of my grandparents’ house. It’s tough to think about how I won’t ever go back to it, but the transition is made somewhat easier by the fact that I’m surrounded by furniture and housewares that I took from it. A great many other objects went out through Freecycle, so there must be a few dozen households around D.C. now with something that used to belong to my grandparents. Like the ashes that we poured into the Chesapeake Bay, their possessions have entered the circulatory system of the earth.
March 26, 2009
So … I decided to stay in D.C., at least for the time being. When I mentioned this to Wess recently he responded, “I’d like to hear more about your decision,” but I’ve been suffering a sort of writer’s block about it. I didn’t really want to announce anything until I’d nailed down an apartment, but I signed a lease on Monday for a place in Adams Morgan, which I will move into in a couple weeks. But also, I’m just not quite sure how to explain. L.A. just seemed like such a hostile environment that it was hard to believe how long I lived there. The only draw was the people, and the people are themselves so transient — Wess himself, after all, is about to leave, as are a few other significant people in my life.
Leaving my grandparents’ house for good is rather sad, but I’m looking forward to having my own place again. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year since I had a place all to myself. Theoretically I’ve been living alone here since November, but the house has really been a sort of communal property for a constant stream of relatives, who’ve brought in and taken out and rearranged things as they saw fit. (I still don’t know why I wound up with four jars of peanut butter.) I like the company, but it will be nice to have more control over things.
But once again I will be very busy for a while yet, so posting will be light.
March 10, 2009
I am lying on the daybed in the sunroom in a house in Urban Village, a street in Pasadena that has been half taken over by Mennonites forming an “intentional community.” Some friends from PMC are graciously hosting me this week while I figure out what to do with my life.
A group of bloggers recently launched a site called The Front Porch Republic, explaining the social significance of the front porch as, “where we can both see our neighbors and be seen by them, speak and listen to one another, and, above all, be in a place between (the public and private worlds), but firmly in place.” I think I like this sunroom so much because it’s sort of a front porch for introverts. It juts out of the front of the house with windows on three sides, where I can see the sky, the grand shade trees on the sidewalk, and pedestrians going by, many of whom I know. If only life in SoCal were always like this, I’d be back in a heartbeat.
Mostly, though, being back here has brought home to me just how much I dislike the built environment of L.A. I already knew I disliked it, but the force of it has surprised me a little. Ten years ago when I was getting my journalism degree at Stanford, we students test-drove our reporting skills by covering local Palo Alto issues, and one of the biggest issues of the time was dot-com millionaires building McMansions. We were visited by both a neighborhood association member extolling the benefits of preserving front porches (among other things) and also by a young property owner advocating the right of homeowners to build what they liked. As I remember it, we students were more sympathetic to him, probably because as nascent careerists ourselves we identified more with young dot-com millionaires than with middle-age folks sitting on wildly appreciated properties and closing the door behind them. In fact, when I moved to L.A. shortly thereafter, I was so sick of those quarrels — some folks tried to declare a freaking Lucky store a historic landmark! — that L.A.’s flagrant disinterest in quaint beauty was sort of refreshing.
But living in the radically different built environment of Washington, and then coming back to L.A., makes me a bit more sympathetic to the neighborhood associations. When I lived here, I used to try to make myself walk places rather than drive, but somehow, despite the mild climate, walking in L.A. was never as pleasant as walking in Washington. I’m not sure why that is, but I wonder if it’s a sort of herd instinct. In Washington there are usually lots of other pedestrians on the sidewalks, so even though there are a zillion cars, there’s a sort of feeling that they coexist as equals, like zebra and wildebeest grazing on the same plain. In L.A. the cars are so dominant that you feel more like you’re walking along the edge of a hostile alien environment, like the rim of a volcano.
The fact that my employer is housed in an office park on the edge of nowhere means that this week I have one of the worst commutes known to man: from one side of L.A. through the middle of downtown and out the other side. I rented a car for the purpose, and man, it sure reminds me of how I don’t miss driving. Most Americans seem to be in denial about how dangerous cars are, but I can feel how dangerous they are; when I reach my destination, my jaw aches and this evening my hands were even shaking. I think I had sort of accepted the stress as part of life, but now I am less inclined to put up with it.
On a completely different note, staying here is also reviving my reciprocity issues. I’ve somewhat belatedly realized that this business of coming back here to test the waters has again made me a potential ingrate: if I go back to Washington, I would seem to be rejecting people who have extended yet more hospitality to me. At my mother’s urging, I offered payment to anyone who would put me up for the week, but one party that offered explicitly rejected payment while the one that I wound up staying with hasn’t brought it up. My mother is telling me to push the issue, but my experience with Mennonites makes me wonder if that is itself a faux pas — after all, hospitality is part of their ethic. I don’t know, what do you all think? I don’t really trust my instincts on these matters.
February 27, 2009
So after months of frantic preparation, we’ve sold the house. I suppose you can’t say these things with total confidence until the keys are turned over, but someone’s made an offer and it’s been accepted. I haven’t nailed down a move-out date with the new owner yet, but I’m lobbying for May 1.
Everyone’s been asking me, for months, where I’m going to go after all this is over. I’ve been saying, probably I’ll stay in Washington, but really I don’t know. Who’s to say how I’ll feel when this is all over? A lot of people seem to have trouble believing that I could really be that vague about it, so I’ve been going along with plotting out which neighborhoods I should look in and that sort of thing. My sister points out to me that she’d be losing sleep over not knowing where she’ll end up, but I think this is one area where my road trip really helped me. If you don’t know where you’ll be tomorrow, not knowing where you’ll be this summer is no sweat.
But still, obviously now I have to start thinking about it more seriously. At this point it boils down to three options:
1) My original plan of staying in Washington. I like the place: it’s a handsome city, a nice place to be a pedestrian, and it’s relatively near my family. I haven’t had much chance to get attached to it though, because in my six months of living here I’ve been so busy with family stuff that I haven’t gotten out much. Eve and Lee and his wife have been very welcoming to me, but I’ve seen each of them maybe three times since I got here. So Washington is a bit of a default answer: I’ll stay here because it’s easiest, and so I can find out if I really like it.
2) Go back to L.A. It surprises me that I’m even thinking this, because a year ago I was so ready to leave. And truthfully, I don’t like L.A. as a city, and don’t much miss it. But I do miss the people I left behind there. I had a therapist I liked there, and as anyone who’s been in therapy knows, that’s nothing to take for granted. And I miss the church. Readers may recall that last fall I visited a few churches around here, but my heart wasn’t really in it, and I haven’t been to one since my grandmother died. That’s largely for theological reasons, but also I wonder if, despite everything, PMC has simply become my church. Like family, it’s just mine. Maybe there’s no getting around this.
3) Join the Peace Corps. Or if not specifically the Peace Corps, something like that. I think one reason I’m having trouble working up much enthusiasm for my future is that I had a definite mission when I came to D.C., and that mission is about to end. I like to feel that I am doing some good. Also, the road trip encouraged the wanderlust I already had, and I know that someday I’d like to travel outside the country — something I’ve done remarkably little of in my life, given my card-carrying membership in America’s cosmopolitan coastal class.
This option might be more appealing, though, if I were making this decision farther down the road. Truth be told, I’m amazed that we’ve sold the house this fast, so I was expecting to have a quiet stretch before having to move again. And after ten months of putting my life through continuous upheaval, I sure could use a quiet stretch.
I expect that what I’ll end up doing, assuming I have until May 1, is visiting L.A., seeing how it feels, settling either there or in Washington, and entertaining the Peace Corps idea later. In the meantime, I hope to have more time for blogging. I appreciate you, the few and faithful, for bearing with me!
November 10, 2008
Thank you, friends and readers, for your kind words and emails this past week, and sorry I haven’t been able to respond much. Since my grandmother’s death I’ve had a continuous stream of relatives visiting, which will go on for another week yet. And I’ve been working, and trying to help clean the house, and in the middle of all this I caught a cold. On election night I was so tired and ill that I could only make myself stay up long enough to hear that Obama won Virginia, and went to bed figuring that was enough. A little while later I heard some whooping and firecrackers out in the street, which affirmed my assumption. D.C. voted 93% for Obama, and there were some huge impromptu festivities here that night. (Interestingly enough, Obama lost his grandmother at almost exactly the same time I did. It must have been a very strange week for him.)
I’m feeling better this week, especially since I’ve now moved from the unheated attic into an actual bedroom. The master bedroom is very nice, but it was a little too weird to sleep in the bed I saw my grandmother die in so recently, so I’m in the room that used to be my mother’s. It’s another link to the past that I find oddly reassuring.
So last week was all aunts, uncles and neighbors, and this week will bring a wave of cousins from the far reaches. It will be nice to be among people my age again. And after this is all over, I hope to get back to blogging. Thank you for your patience, loyal readers…
November 3, 2008
My grandmother gave up the ghost at about a quarter to one this morning. I was still awake when it happened, because at about nine I went by her room and heard a sound like the last dregs of a drink sucked through a straw, only terribly, horribly loud. It was the sound of her breathing.
Fortuitously, my aunt had signed up with a hospice service just the day before. They gave me a 24-hour hotline in case anything happened, so I rang up and they sent a nurse over. Well, eventually. It took a while for them to get hold of the on-call nurse, and then for the nurse to get there. So as the clock dragged towards midnight I wandered in and out of my grandmother’s room as the home health aide sat vigil, wanting to keep her company but feeling that she did not really see me, and innately terrified of that ghastly sound.
I fidgeted. I prayed. I rearranged my closet. I cracked open my Bible for the first time in a while and tried reading psalms. But they all sounded so … harsh. Weariness was overtaking me, but I had to stay awake, and wait.
Finally the nurse came and examined her, and said she appeared to be “actively dying” and might not last the night, but then again, might last a few days. She propped my grandmother up on pillows and her breathing seemed to improve; she gave her a few drops of medicine, and went on her way. I called my aunt and uncle in Maryland and they said they’d come over. And I, exhausted and still assuming I’d have to get up and go to work in the morning, shuffled up to the attic, took a sleeping pill, and went to bed.
I had barely turned out the light when the home health aide ran up the stairs calling me. “She’s dead!”
Actually, she didn’t appear to be quite dead when I arrived back in her room. I distinctly saw a shoulder move, her eyelids roll closed, her mouth twitch. But when I called the aide back she felt her chest and shook her, and said definitively, “She’s dead.”
My aunt and uncle still hadn’t arrived, so I called the hospice back, and then my mother. Then I sat on the floor next to the bed and gazed at the body.
It’s a cliche, but true enough, that she looked remarkably peaceful in death. She had spent so much of the recent past in obvious fear, that dead she seemed strangely … friendly. I didn’t feel at all squeamish about being so near a corpse. Yet with the dim light, and the emotion, and the dizzying effects of the sleeping pill, the very matter around us seemed unsettled. I kept thinking I caught movement out of the corner of my eye, which stilled under a direct gaze. First one of the mounds of white comforter over her leg would seem to move; when I looked at it I could see it did not move, but then I would catch an eyebrow lifting. Unlike her last dying motions, I knew this was some kind of illusion, yet it fascinated me. I kept looking from one thing to another, until even what I stared at straight seemed to swim unsteadily before me.
Eventually the others arrived, and the hospice worker pronounced her dead, putting to rest the last shreds of doubt I may have had. We all fell asleep towards morning, except for the aide, who spent the rest of the night packing up her room.
I can’t say I’ve been the world’s greatest companion in old age, but I fulfilled the modest goal I’d set for myself. I was there. I’m glad I did it, and I hope that, wherever my grandmother is or isn’t, she’s glad too. Now my job is to stay on while we pack up the house in preparation for its sale. Given the decades of accumulation, that could take a while. And if any ghosts are still lingering about, I have no reason to fear them.
October 30, 2008
With Halloween almost upon us, I suppose it’s not surprising I’ve been thinking about ghosts. But actually, I’ve been thinking about them for a while. My grandmother sees them.
This is apparently pretty common for people in her condition. Before I left L.A., my therapist recommended a book to me called Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of Dying, by a couple of hospice nurses with experience in these matters. I didn’t read all of it, since they say upfront that this isn’t about people with dementia, which my grandmother has. But they say that even dying people without any particular brain dysfunction routinely see those who are already dead. Or sometimes they sense the presence of entities whose identity is unclear, but usually benevolent.
It occurred to me that this, more than anything, may be the reason why belief in ghosts is nearly universal across cultures. Modern materialists seem to more commonly attribute it to wishful thinking, but if you spend a lot of time around dying people — and folks without modern medicine spend a great deal of time around dying people — you will surely hear them talking about these spectral visitors. So unless you reject such notions on principle, you’d tend to take them at their word.
My grandmother’s aides seem to take these things matter-of-factly. The weekday aide said that at one point she said my grandfather was outside the door of her bedroom. The aide asked if she wanted to let him in. She said no, so the aide told him to run along.
Oddly enough, I don’t find the thought of my grandfather’s ghost wandering around here to be especially alarming. (Though I do hope he was not, as my aunt jokingly suggested, responsible for opening the window to my attic room while I was at work the other day. It was forty-five degrees out!) But my grandmother’s reaction to him seems to sum up her ambivalence about the whole business. Final Gifts seems largely to be a work of reassurance, telling story after story of people sailing peacefully into the great beyond, seeing light and loved ones before them. My grandmother’s journey has been a lot more distressing. When I first got here I could read her simple stories and she seemed to enjoy them, but I haven’t even tried to read to her in several weeks. She has either been asleep, or lately, spending time in a sort of fugue, staring ahead at something unseen but frightening. The other night when I came home she was tossing and shouting as if trapped in a nightmare from which she could not awake. The aide said she’d spent the whole of the previous night like that.
This may be partly because she’s had a minor lung infection the last few days, and has been unable to sleep fully, probably because it’s difficult for her to breathe. That would surely be frightening. But I must admit, this is all only increasing the anxieties I already had about the afterlife. Just as the experiences of the dying probably encouraged belief in ghosts, they may also have encouraged the notion that the next world isn’t invariably peaceful and light-filled.
My grandparents were atheists, though descended from Congregationalists. I don’t know what their beef with God was; this was something that the family never seemed to talk about. Now, of course, it’s impossible to talk to either one about it. But still, they’re my people, and I can’t accept that my grandmother’s torment is the final settlement of the matter.
Lord have mercy on us all.