The Best Christmas Gift of All

Everybody knows I’m Jewish.  But.  I grew up being the only Jew in a world of Christians.  My teenage years were mostly in New England, in Southeast Massachusetts where people really do trace their family lineages back to the Mayflower, the ship that landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620.  I have been to Plymouth Rock and it is a disappointment.  All this hubbub about Plymouth Rock This and Plymouth Rock That, and all it is is a medium size boulder sticking out of the sand, with no distinguishing features save a bronze plaque:The Pilgrims Landed Here.  No mention of the Indians, turkeys, Indian corn, nothing.

With the exception of my parents, I had no other Jews to celebrate Jewish holidays with; and since my parents themselves did not have much exposure to Judaism, we bumbled through the two Jewish holidays we knew about (Hanukah and Passover) by rote: did the things we knew to do, ate the foods we knew to eat, but otherwise did not have any particular understanding of the significance of the festivals.  Since it was only the three of us, none of it lasted very long.

We moved to New England when I was twelve.  The other children were quick to let me know that “their ancestors got off the Mayflower,” meaning, “and you will never belong here or be one of us.”‘

On the other hand, since I had never belonged anywhere anyway, being from another planet etc., I got used to it and poked around to find families that would tolerate me crashing their Christmas traditions.

With the exception of Old England, I doubt there is any place on earth that takes Christmas so seriously as New England.  By “seriously,” I mean Serious Fun.  In those days you could count on two or three feet of snow on the ground and often more coming down, the night turned blue by the refraction of the snow so that the fields looked like vast undulating blue bosoms.

Over these blue bosoms we would tramp on Christmas Eve, freezing in galoshes, boiled-wool pea coats, and hand-knitted hats, gloves, and mittens, the latter so caked with snow from snowball fights that the wet wool threatened frostbitten fingers.

On arrival to our destination we would stand outside the two or three hundred year old clapboarded or shake-shingled house and sing our hearts out: the standards, O Holy Night, O Come All Ye Faithful, Joy To The World, like that.  The family would come to the door , backlit from the roaring Yule log in the great open fireplace.  After grinning through our performance, they would invite us in to warm up around the fire.  Mittens came off and steamed on the hearth while we were immersed in great mugs of hot chocolate floating with marshmallows.  The cookies went ’round, inquiries made after the health of Aunt Bessie, and after we were warm, dry, and refreshed, we said our “thank-you’s” and “Merry Christmases” and set off across the fields to our next destination.

Most families did not put up their tree until Christmas Eve, unlike the current trend that used to begin with after Thanksgiving and now seems to be encroaching on Halloween.  The suspense leading up to that joyous hour when the big Balsam fir (no one used anything else, for the Balsam’s delicious fragrance permeates the house and no potpourri is needed) was hauled upright in the bay window.  There really is no better place for a Christmas tree than a bay window, because there’s plenty of room to move all around the tree to decorate, and the window seats make great places to sit while opening presents.  And of course, anyone happening by gets a spectacular view of the tree!

I don’t know about today’s decorations, but in those days there were two kinds: home-made, and heirlooms.  The home-made kind ranged from little felt Santas, elves, and angels made by first-graders, to paper chains made by us, to popcorn-and-cranberry swags that we made on the spot with a felting needle and a lot of popcorn and fresh cranberries (being New England, where cranberries come from, and all), to gingerbread cookies made of a special recipe that hardens and you wouldn’t want to really eat them but they look great, and of course the candy canes, which we did eat.

Then the box of heirloom decorations was opened, and a hush fell on the room, succeeded by excited exclamations as each precious piece was unveiled from its tissue wrapping, where it had slept, dormant, since last Christmas.

The Star, of course, came out first.  New England Stars are often made of hand-crafted tin with whirly things and tinkly things.  Some of them are lanterns that you put a candle in, if your ceiling is high enough.  Getting it on the tip of the tree involved ladders and gymnastics and usually brothers.

The icicles were of drawn crystal.  Real crystal, that danced with light.

The balls included clear ones with snow scenes inside, and ones with red-cheeked Santa faces hand-painted on, and each one had its own story: who it had belonged to, to whom it had been passed down to, and how it came to be in this box.  There was a reverence to hanging each and every memory, connecting generations, on the fragrant branches.

Nothing was done without a rich egg nog, or a wassail, to cheer along the festivities; and the cookies that were meant for eating came out.  Every year someone made pfefferneuse, those abominable pepper cookies that look deceptively delicious, but taste so evil that one is forced to seek out a discreet trash can to spit them out.  Likewise the obligatory fruit cake, made at least a year ago and packed away soaking in rum.  Does anybody really like fruitcake?  Please.  I want to know.  And please send me your address.

In my experience, fruitcakes are a great gift to receive, because you can pack them up in a different tin and give them right straight to somebody else–just make sure you don’t give it back to the person who made it–which can be a little tricky in a small town like ours.

Now.  New England Brown Bread.  THAT is a horse of a different color.  Who has had it?  It is a moist, molasses-filled cake spiced with cloves and cinnamon, bristling with raisins, baked inside a number-something (I forget, but I think it might be twelve) tin can, in a water bath.  That makes it officially a pudding, I think, according to English culinary nomenclature, but in New England we just call it Brown Bread, and it is the most delicious thing of all, especially eaten warm, splashed with brandy and dolloped with vanilla ice cream or heavy whipped cream (not the kind in a can), or both.  And it is BROWN.  Whenever I have been the lucky recipient of a can of Brown Bread I have never recycled it like I do the fruit cakes, but hoarded it until I could enjoy it properly.

Roll forward many years, and I am in Seattle.  How I got there is another story, but let’s just say I was alone, without family or friends.  I was exploring my Jewish roots at the time, and bit by bit learning the how’s and why’s, but really between the worlds, and terribly lonely and depressed.

As everybody knows, the holidays can turn a normal everyday depression into a catastrophic one, so I did some advance planning and came up with a solution: rather than stay home and entertain myself by running movies in my head about the brilliant and elegant ways I would off myself, I would go to the mission food kitchen and take my mind off my troubles by running my ass off serving meals to people who didn’t have the luxury of a home in which to sit and contemplate suicide.

I showed up on Christmas morning.  Even though dinner wasn’t to be served till noon, the dining room was packed with people holding down their seats, eagerly awaiting one of the few real meals they would get this year.  It was cold outside, too, and of course raining, being Seattle, so they got to wait in a warm, dry place.  My heart opened to all these souls: there but for the grace of God go I.

Tables were set, the dinner gong “went” at noon, and we waiters began to scurry with heavy plates steaming full of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, canned yams, canned green beans, cranberry sauce….there was a bit of confusion when some of the guests decided to “help” with the table-waiting in order to procure seconds for themselves….an announcement was made that seconds would be available after everybody had “firsts,” providing we didn’t run out of food.  Everyone sat down again.

A sudden wave of panic broke out in the kitchen: the cook had fallen ill–now what to do?  I mentioned that I had been a chef some years back, and was instantly drafted and in fact, shoved physically into the huge stainless steel institutional kitchen.

To tell you the truth, it wasn’t a difficult job to fall into, since much of the food was already prepared and just needed to be heated up.  But there was a herd of turkeys sizzling in gigantic ovens, and pots of mashed potatoes that I needed  a ladder to even see into, and such pans of dressing, that needed two people to hoist out of their oven compartments!  And oceans of gravy hot enough to scald to death the unfortunate who fell into the gargantuan pots.

I was very fortunate to have a small army of kitchen assistants who knew what they were doing, so all I had to do was ask questions and do what they said.  In two sweat-drenched hours we fed well over 400 souls.

I helped to serve the pumpkin pie, since by that time there was no further chef-ing to be done.  I could barely make it from one diner to another, due to the fervent hand-squeezings and embraces and blessings from people I would not have previously thought of getting that close to, but somehow, and I think you’ll understand, a blessing from someone who lives in the cold, wet, filthy, dangerous, hungry world of the streets is worth more than a blessing from the Pope.  It is a blessing from a fallen angel.

That Christmas, I felt that (even though I am not a Christian in the conventional sense) if someone had asked Baby Jesus what he wanted for Christmas, he would have said: Take care of the poor, the destitute, the hungry, the sick, the outcast, the prostituted.  This is what I want for my birthday….for Christmas!

You’re Too Sensitive

How many of you have heard those words directed at you, from someone who is supposedly close to you?  A parent?  A sibling?  A Bestie?  A life partner?

I’ve heard that a lot from my immediate and extended family, and from lovers and friends too.  And all it means is that…”You need to grow a thicker skin,”  as my mother would say, when I sat crying over some stabbing remark from a school bully, or a school chum, or a teacher.

A thicker skin, so that their barbs would not penetrate my naked soul.

My excellent psychiatrist reminds me often: “Some people have sensitive stomachs.  Some people have sensitive lungs.  And some people have sensitive brains.”

For what is mental illness but an extra-sensitivity of the brain?

We perceive so sharply, we feel so deeply, that at times it drives us over the edge, becomes intolerable.  Sometimes we see things other people can’t see, hear things other people can’t hear.  Does this mean those things don’t exist?  Or are they scenes and voices of the Other Side of the Curtain that usually separates our present consciousness from what is, in some philosophies, said to be an alternative plane of existence that parallels ours.

Jewish oral tradition teaches that there are many such parallel universes, and that there is a thick curtain that divides our world from theirs.  On the other side of the curtain are angels, demons, creatures that we have no way of understanding.  If that curtain were to weaken so that human beings could perceive what was on the other side, we would instantly go mad, because our brains have no tools for integrating such phenomena, which are completely outside our human capacities.

What if a person’s brain was so sensitive that the curtain, for them, became thin, and they could perceive a tiny bit of what lies behind it?  What if, seeing that this person was so sensitive, beings from the other side were able to see him also?  A collision of worlds would ensue.  The deafening pounding on the Doors of Perception (Huxley) would be intolerable, and might cause what we call illness, madness, insanity.

Even in the absence of such a foray into the mystical, a sensitive brain will perceive subtle nuances that others will not even notice: a tone of voice, a disdainful glance, a rolling of the eyes, a certain walk and posture–all of these have meaning, but not all of us are aware.

Some of our brains are sensitive to the weather.  My mood changes if a cloud briefly covers the sun.  Some are bothered by the cold, others by heat.

Our sensitivity to our own feelings extends into the social realm, especially.  Some of us feel unstable and panicky when alone, and comforted in the bosom of friends and family.  Some are exactly the opposite.  For instance, the first thing I do when going to a club or restaurant when I’m with other people is to identify the rear exit, in case I need to make a quick escape.  I can deal with people one-on-one if they interest me, but if I find nothing to grab onto I will start feeling desperate to get away within a short time.  Likewise with parties, I have made a deal with myself that I will stay for one hour, no more, and sometimes less if the people are too loud for my brain, literally or figuratively.

Sensitive people are the pioneers, the innovators, because “out of the box” is our middle name.  We don’t have to force new ideas out of our brains.  Our brains teem with innovations, inventions, revelations of the intimate structure of existence.  Our main challenge is to put those new concepts into action, because our brains are not always gifted with marketing skills.  Some, like Steve Jobs, are brilliant promotors of their products: I believe one has to have a certain measure of grandiosity to take an idea out of its cradle and present it to the world in a package that is easily understood, a package that fills a void in some way.

For some of us, our extra-sensitivity is nothing but painful.  It is too invasive.  It disrupts every aspect of our lives.  We cannot function with it.  But neither can we get away from it, shed it like some extra (thin) skin, because we were born this way.  At best, we can learn to manage it, often with the aid of medicines and therapy.  At worst, it kills us.

If given a chance, would I give up my sensitivity?  No.  But I would modify it in the Jobs direction, except without the volatile and sometimes unpleasant temperament.  That might be too much to ask, but if given the chance, why not go all out?

Then, would people still say, “You’re too sensitive?”  I doubt it, because “success” makes other people smile and nod and want to get close to you.  The smell of success is sweet.

But if, like me, your sensitivity has been too much, and success in the accepted sense of the world has slipped away, then once again one is liable to hear the old refrain:

“You’re too sensitive.”

The Silence is Deafening

Calamity Rae courageously outed the mother who subjected her to hideous forms of abuse. I salute you, Calamity Rae, and I take you as one of my guides on my journey to health as an Adult Survivor of Child Abuse.

Denial is a River in Egypt

Pam Tillis co-wrote the song that goes, “Just call me Cleopatra, everybody, ’cause I’m the Queen of Denial.”  If you want to see her video, which is just wall-to-wall packed with cultural stereotypes  (somewhat embarrassing) but pretty funny, look here.   It would give Edward Said, author of Orientalism, an epileptic fit.

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, I took a graduate-level seminar in Cultural Anthropology.  There, they liked to throw around words like “hermeneutics.”  When I asked what that meant, the professor grew red in the face and told me that if I didn’t know, then I shouldn’t be asking.  Hmm.  Kind of like my mother’s favorite retort when I’d ask her what I’d done to deserve punishment:  “If you don’t know, then I’M certainly not going to tell you!

I don’t believe they knew what the word “hermeneutics” meant (it’s the theory of text interpretation, especially Biblical or scholarly).  I found out, though, quite by accident.  We were supposed to read Orientalism and write a paper on it to discuss in seminar.  So I read the book.  I thought it was a pompous, reverse-racist take on the “Western” ideas in art, music, film, and literature supposedly misrepresenting the Arab world.  But I have a nasty habit of reading footnotes and actually reading the original sources.  It takes a bit longer, but you can discover amazing things: like, for example, that the primary sources cited in the footnotes say something quite different than the author, in this case Said, made them out to be.

I brought a stack of these primary sources (we had libraries full of real books back then) to show my “hermeneutics” professor what I had found.  But oh dear, it seems I had shot a sacred cow!  For the sin of debunking Said’s theory by means of his own references (not to mention proving that he had committed a crime by misrepresenting the references as supporting his theory, when in fact they often said exactly the opposite of what he said they did), I was hauled before a tribunal (hauled before a tribunal!  I am not kidding you).  I was only a nobody undergraduate, but they didn’t want this accidental discovery of mine to get out.  I had to withdraw my paper and promise never to mention it again, if I wanted to get my degree from that venerable wellspring of hermeneutics.

Last week I wrote about the deplorable scene that erupted when I came out to my parents that I had been forced to resort to prostitution when I ran away from them at the age of 16.  So far, neither of them has asked me why I ran away.   I take that back: my father did once, when he thought he was dying, and I couldn’t bring myself to tell him.  I have wondered ever since if I did the right thing or not.  I tell myself that I didn’t want to distress him when he was so ill, but I really think it’s fear.  In fact, I know it’s fear.

The result of my revelation was a major catastrophic scene, blaming me for depriving them of their only child, and therefore I deserved whatever I got.  Not surprisingly, I had a major meltdown as a result of all that, and a flareup of physical symptoms as well as some serious PTSD flashbacks, nightmares, what have you.

I got an ugly email from my mother the next day, accusing me of accusing her of putting me out on the street to work as a prostitute (huh?), and of committing the crime of saying such things in the presence of my father, a “sick old man.”

Rather than engage with her and start a war, I rolled over like my dog does when she thinks she has done something bad, in appeasement, so I won’t scold her for peeing on the carpet.  I wrote her back and said I was sorry that she had perceived such things, that I never intended that she should perceive such things, and that I certainly never intended that she should perceive that I had accused her of such things.

Indeed, I did not roll over so far as to say that I was sorry if I hurt her or sorry to deprive her of her only child, etc., because those are delusions.  I am in no way sorry for crimes I did not commit.  I am in no way sorry that I read Said’s primary sources and exposed him as a liar, and I am in no way sorry that I came out and told my parents that I was forced to prostitute myself when I ran away from them.

Here’s what I am sorry for: I’m sorry that I don’t have the courage to tell them why I left.  I’m sorry that I don’t have the courage to face my mother and tell her that her screaming and her name-calling and her gaslighting and her growling “I can’t stand you” time and time again, drove me to the brink of suicide and I had to get out of there.  I’m sorry that I can’t tell her that for those reasons and more, I preferred to live on the street and get raped again and again.  At least that was an honest danger.

But everyone loves her.  Just today someone came to visit and was gushing about how sweet she is.  I had to get out of there.  Yes, I know that’s the way people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder operate.  They are just so sweet, such pillars of the community, such advocates for the underdog–on the outside.  But on the inside of the book, there’s a rat stinking.  A living lie that never gets past the door, and nobody is reading the footnotes.

And so, the day after the messy tribunal,  and after the non-apologetic apology, I was expecting the cold shoulder, the “silent treatment” as she likes to call it.  That’s what I can usually expect after an outburst of honesty. But wonder of wonders, she was just as cheerful and chipper as can be!  We can’t afford to actually deal with this, because I’m needed to help care for my dad, who is indeed a “sick old man.”  And it seems that we can’t afford the possible consequences of driving me away again with insults and gaslighting.  So I was spared the usual aftermath of a moment of honesty.  I can’t say it’s not a relief.  But I’m still spooky, waiting for the other shoe to fall.

So for now there is a lull in the action.  I’m debating whether to dive back into anonymity with this blog.  I’m terrified that sooner or later, she or one of her friends will find it and out me.  I mean, I’ve already outed myself, but I’m starting to regret it, because of the possible consequences.  I’m trying real hard to stay in the footnotes and not be afraid of the tribunal.  But I don’t know if I can hold out with this fear and tension much longer, because she hasn’t read the references, and wouldn’t believe them if she did.

On the other hand, what’s the price of living in fear?

Oh The Wind And The Rain

Two little girls in a boat one day

Oh the wind and the rain

Two little girls in a boat one day

Crying oh, the stormy wind and the rain

There are tens, if not hundreds, of versions of the song cycle “The Cruel Sister.”  This is the first verse of one version that I heard from Debby Saperstone, I think.  We were a duo back in “the day,” in and around 1976.  We sang and played in coffeehouses all over the Boston area.  She had an angelic voice, and knew all sorts of interesting variations on traditional British Isles songs.

The basic story of “The Cruel Sister” is that one of the sisters is being courted by a handsome suitor, and the other is jealous.  She lures her sister to the North Sea Shore and pushes her in.  In the above version, the unfortunate sister begs for help, promising the cruel one all of her possessions, and the cruel one pretends to extend an oar to help her, but instead pushes her farther in.

Then the poor drowning sister floats by a miller’s dam (how she got from the North Sea into the river is not explained) and the miller pulls her out, ravages her, take her gold ring, and throws her back in.  Poor girl!

The next scene is two musicians walking on the strand, who see the maiden float to land.  They make fiddle pegs of her little finger bones, oh the wind and the rain.  They make fiddle strings of her long yellow hair, crying oh, the stormy wind and the rain.  And the only song that it ever would play is Oh, the wind and the rain; the only song that it ever would play: crying oh, the stormy wind and the rain….

The power just came back on, after a few attempts that ended in darkness again.  That’s OK.  I have plenty of candles and a warm fuzzy dog cuddled up on my right side, where she always comes to rest.

Outside it is all stormy wind and rain.  Tree limbs are down everywhere, and the river is a-rahrin’ as they would say around here.  Hit’s a-wutherin’ ahtsahd.

Whar Ah’m a-livin’, ever-body yused’ta tawk lahk thees.  Sum on ’em steel dew.  Ah ruther lahk hit m’seln, but hit’s hard own hem Yankee fowks ta ken it, tahms.

It’s my mother’s birthday.  My dad and I took her to the Japanese-Chinese-Fakese restaurant on Upper Street.  There are two main streets in Spruce Pine:  Upper Street and Lower Street.  So we’re in this restaurant, and at the next table was a family with two adorable little girls, chattering away in a language that they knew to be English, but I wouldn’t have called it that.  Hit was about lahk whut I writ uh-buv.

The reason for this interesting regional accent is that until the 1940’s more or less, the region was completely isolated from the rest of the country.  It had been settled by Elizabethan English, along with a few Scots and Irish, and when the Civil War came along in the mid-1800s they wanted no part of it and fled deep into the hollers (hollows).  The language took its own course and developed into a distinctive dialect.  With the ingress of roads and transportation other than mules, and the invasion of television and now the Internet, the dialect is being fairly rapidly washed out.  But as I heard tonight, it’s still alive and pretty much unintelligible in some parts.

When I first started coming to these mountains in the ’70’s there were many singers and storytellers among the old folks.  Not one of them had any teeth.  There was one champion storyteller, whose name I can’t remember right now, who kept a pair of false teeth in his shirt pocket in case he wanted to play the harmonica.  I guess the harmonica is hard to play without teeth.  After he was done with the harmonica, why, he took his teeth back out and put them back in his shirt pocket.

My dear old friend, mentor, and teacher Tommy J. Jarrell, kept his teeth in his mouth except when he wanted to eat, and then he took them out.  I’ll tell you more about him in another post.  He deserves his own–with music.

Well, the wind and rain have settled down, and it’s time for me to settle down too.  I’ve got a nasty cough, probably got into some dust and riled up my asthma.  It’s time to have a visit with my next-to-last bottle of Arak–the universal Middle Eastern fire-water–will somebody pleeeeeeze send me some more–hit’s good medicine, hit is.

At The Crossroads of Everything

Ah, me.  Here I sit in my recliner, hairy golden Lhasa Apso Noga under my right elbow.  I’m sixty years old.  Sixty years old!   The half-way point. How did that happen?

It happened long, and it happened fast.  I have lived very fast.  I have lived several lives in tandem.  If you added it up, I’d be at least 180.  So I shouldn’t complain about a bit of arthritis here and there, and that my skin seems to be attempting to slide off my bones onto the floor.

Yeah.  I was watching G4 skiing the other day.  I never watch TV unless I’m at my parents’.  For one thing, I don’t have one.  For another, I think it’s a waste of my time.  I have books to write, blogs to write, paperwork not to get done.

Where was I?  Ah yes, G4 in Park City, Utah.  I lived in northern Utah for two years.  It was heaven, in a way.  Everyone walked around in spurs, like Chester in Gunsmoke.  Jingle, jingle.  I walked around in spurs too.  Don’t ever squat with your spurs on!

I brought four of my 19 horses with me when we moved from the horse farm in Ohio out to Utah.   We lived in a suburban neighborhood. Instead of manicured back yards people had barns and horse corrals.  Us too.  You’d look out the window and see somebody riding a horse down the street.  It was surreal.  Pretty soon I was doing it myself.

Everyone but us was Mormon.  I’m used to being the only Hebrew in a Christian environment, but I have never lived in a completely homogeneous population before.  It was like a pure culture.  That was their intention.  They were fascinating people, and I learned a lot from them.

One of the things I learned about was a little-known ski area that was just for the locals.  It had over 4000 acres of skiable terrain, 2200 of which were groomed.   The rest back bowl.

I started on the Bunny Hill.  I learned by watching the three-year-olds fearlessly snowplowing around, without poles.  Then I decided to take a lesson.

The instructor took me right up to the top of the mountain.  You had to ride three different ski lifts to get there.  It was snowing so hard I couldn’t see my skis hanging on the footrest.

I had never been on a real ski lift before, only rope tows.  A real ski lift requires swift and precise action to get on and off, if one does not want to find oneself face down in the snow.  Getting on was terrifying; getting off, heart-stopping.  Every time.

I got addicted and ended up skiing five days a week, from 11 to 2, during ski season, which goes from late September to June, sometimes July, there.  Nothing like it.  No-thing. Like. It.  It’s like flying, falling down a hill standing up (mostly).

What does this have to do with being at the crossroads of everything?  We Hebes, when someone has a birthday, we say “Ad Meah v’Esrim” which means “you should live to be a hundred and twenty,” which is the age Moses lived to be.  I always add, “B’simcha ve’rav bri’ut,” “with happiness and abundant good health.” So here I sit at sixty.  The half-way point between zero and 120.  And I wonder what will be.  Could it be a new beginning?  Or the beginning of the end?

It says in the Torah that Moses retained the strength of a youth until his dying day.

Well, I am sad to say that ain’t the case with me.

Some of it’s my own fault, because lately I have become a lazy slug.  When I wasn’t a lazy slug, I was tearing around on skis and horses and acquiring my share of bangs, biffs, knees surgeries, wrist surgeries, oh hell, I get bored with the list.  A good deal of my physical debility is due to some weird autoimmune plague that has not been pinned down, but several doctors have told me that whatever it is has to be autoimmune.  OK.  I don’t give a rat’s ass what’s causing my immune system to crash and burn–I am the only person I know who has had FIVE HIV tests–all of them negative.  I just want to be able to pick myself up and do whatever I want to, like I used to.

If I could just wake up and see that ol’ chair lift coming at me right at waist level, I’d know I was dead and jump right on that thing.  Woo-hoo!  Take me to the blue slopes, please, the blacks hurt my knees.

So who the hell cares about skiing but me?  Who cares about Latin dancing, camping trips on horseback in Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Utah…who cares about that shit besides me?  Probably nobody.

I really don’t want to live to 120.   I think 74 is a good age to go.  The Vedic astrologer (we Hebes are not supposed to go in for things that belong to other religions, but hey, I’m an anthropologist and besides I’m not so observant as I once was)– the Vedic astrologer who did my chart when I was in India gave me between 72 and 74.

That would be fine.  I don’t want to live a real long time, because the toll this disease has taken on my body and my mind makes me weary.  What can I do to break out of this state of the doldrums?

I guess I could get another horse; but it has to be a Peruvian Paso like the one I used to have, Joe Crow.  Man, he was an equine ATV.  One time we got chased by a Basque shepherd in the High Uintas range in Utah.  The Uintas are one of the very few mountain ranges that run East-West.  Anyway, I was riding Joe with my 130 lb. German Shepherd, Nero, by my side.  We came upon a herd of sheep, guarded by two enormous Great Pyrenees dogs.  They’re pure white, about the size of a St. Bernard, and they take their job as herd guardians seriously.

Nero wanted to go confabulate with them a bit, but I could tell from the murderous looks in their eyes that that was not a good idea, so I called him back.

Just happened to be a shepherd on horseback around the bend, who heard me, and came after me with a lecherous look in his eye.  The Basques don’t bring their women with them when they go out shepherding for weeks at a time, living in caravans that look like a wine cask stuck on the back of a truck.  So when this one saw me, he came after me at a dead gallop.

Joe did his signature 180 turn and took off like the devil was after him (he was), and when we hit the trail into the forest, the one we had just come out of, Joe took a sharp right and went straight up the mountainside.  Nero was right there with us.  Joe stopped in a grove of trees, heaving, and we watched the shepherd try to get his horse to follow our trail straight up.  If I hadn’t been so freaked out I would have laughed.

After a fruitless while, the shepherd desisted and meandered back toward his sheep, and Joe picked his way down the mountainside.  Joe was a horse who could take over the wheel when need be.

We headed back toward camp at a fair clip, and my heart stopped pounding in my ears and went back down in my chest to pound.  Suddenly Joe pulled up short and froze.  There, in the middle of the trail at eye level, was the enormous head and rack of a bull moose.  Do you know how deadly moose are?  Cow moose with calves are the most dangerous, but a bull moose, especially in rutting season, is very happy to run you over like a locomotive.

Curiously, the moose and Joe seemed to be having a conversation.  The moose was not at all interested in me.  After they had talked over whatever it was, Mr. Moose courteously moved aside to let Joe, Nero and I pass.  The rest of the trip was uneventful, thank God.

And do you know what?  That was 15 years ago.  15 years ago I was in top physical condition, and I didn’t even know it.  A lot of my energy was driven by hypomania, ah, that delightful state of feeling immortal!  And of course I got myself fired from my job in Utah, and instead of doing what I should have done, which was to go into partnership with a couple in Park City (another ski town in Utah) when they invited me, I decided it was time to try living near my parents again, and came to North Carolina–the first time.  That was in ’98.

But I could still do anything, anything at all, so I built a solo pediatrics practice from the ground up.  I like to do that sort of thing.  And I worked there in state somehow melding devastating depression and blissful contentment until a missionary group bought my hospital, and my building, and kicked me out, and I had a breakdown and had to go to the hospital and have never been the same since.  That was in 2000.

So much has happened since–it does seem like several more lives have passed, some frenetic, some catatonic.  Now I’m a card-carrying recluse.  It suits my suddenly-elderly Aspie temperament.  One small dog, no indoor plumbing, quiet except for the roar of the river on the small waterfall beneath my window, and the God-awful hooting of the damn trains that run on the other side of the river.

What’s going to happen next?  Dad is nearing the end of his life.  When he leaves the planet, then I have to do something with Mom and the museum that serves them for a house.  And then, back Home.  Jerusalem.  My Home.  But my faith is weak: what, I ask myself, if we lose Jerusalem once more, and then there is no more Home?  What if my health betrays me, and I can’t manage the hard life there?  Life in Israel is very rough.  It’s unforgiving, physically, and the spiritual power that rests over all of it and especially Jerusalem, can either make you or break you.  So far for me, it’s about Jerusalem 5, me 1, but at least I have a toehold.

And now I feel that I am standing at that ol’ Robert Johnson crossroads, looking the devilin the eye.  They say that Robert Johnson met the devil at the crossroads, and made that “devil’s deal” with him: if you make me the best blues guitarist ever, then my soul is yours.  The devil laughed, and made it so.  Johnson rocketed from being a novice player to a master musician in two years (of course he practiced a lot 😉 ).  Robert Johnson lived to be 27 years old, but according to Eric Clapton, who with his band Cream covered Crossroads, he was, by the time of his death from unclear yet certainly sinister causes, the greatest blues guitarist in history.

Standing at the crossroads, what will I do?  We Hebrews do not believe in a “devil,” so to speak.  I believe we live or die by our own hand: the “hand” we’re dealt at birth–genetics, temperament, intelligence, social situation, and so on–and our own “hand,” which is what we do with what we’ve been handed.  The hotter the fire, the quicker the fuel is burned up.  And my fire has burned mighty hot.  I don’t feel like there’s much left in me.  I feel as if my 120 year allotment has been folded in half, and I’m standing at the crossroads looking out into deep space, wondering what is going to happen to me.

The King and Queen of Denial

Today started out like any Wednesday, taking care of my 89-year-old father so my 87-year-old mother could get out of the house for the afternoon.

Dad was a little “off” today: he wasn’t happy with his omelette for lunch.  He would rather have had one more piece of toast but preferred to grumble about it rather than ask for it.  I didn’t mind.  After all, he’s 89 and very disabled, in pain all the time, and it amazes me that he manages to get through most of his days in mild-to-moderately good spirits.

Mom came in from shopping, bringing the mail that she picked up at the post office.  There was a package from LL Bean for me.  She wanted to see what was in it; I demurred, because the gift for her upcoming birthday was in it.  She got demanding and insistent.  There was a bit of a tussle until I finally remembered that there was something in that package for me, too, and I cagily extracted it.  That satisfied her.

I looked at my mail; nothing but “begging letters.”  I have specific charities I give to regularly, so I threw them all in the recycle bin.

The conversation turned to politics, and somehow got onto someone whose past as a prostitute had recently been revealed.

Mom reacted acidly.  How could anyone sink so low?  What in the world would cause anyone to do THAT?  She’d rather die.

“I did that,” I said quietly.

“YOU DID NOT!” She shouted, staring at me blinking out of her little birdy eyes as if I was the world’s biggest liar.

“Come OFF IT” shouted my father, several decibels softer than he would have in his prime, but doing the best he could muster.

“You were never a prostitute,” stated my mother matter-of-factly.

“Unfortunately, I was, when I ran away.”

“Then you deserved what you got!  You’re lucky you didn’t pick up some disease!  Maybe you DID pick up some disease,” she said thoughtfully.  “Why in the world did you do that?”

“I did it because I was cold and hungry, I needed food and shelter and safety from the streets.”

“You never told us that.  You never told us anything.  You just left us all of a sudden.  You robbed us of raising you!  You robbed us of our only child!”

I robbed them of their only child.  That was all they could think of.  They didn’t ask me why I ran away to California, or why, when they flew me back East for a family event, I ran back to California as soon as it was over.  Even if they had asked me then, I wouldn’t have told them.

I was scheduled for an abortion. I needed to get back to California.

It’s been forty-four years since I bought that one-way ticket to San Francisco.  Forty-four years since the bullying at school, my mother’s frequent unpredictable rages, and the vicious rape that took my virginity rolled up into critical mass.  I knew I had to either kill myself or get out of there.  I chose the latter.

I hit the streets in California broke, disoriented, and from my perspective now, unbelievably vulnerable.  Nowhere to stay, nothing to eat.  The weather was cold that spring, and I was dressed for California sunshine, not cold fog.

The first night I stayed with a friend I had met at a summer camp.  Her parents had a party that very night, and I went to bed early, exhausted from the trip.  The bedroom door opened and closed, and suddenly a man’s body was on top of mine.  A voice hissed in my ear, “Don’t make any noise and you won’t get hurt.”

It was the same thing my first rapist had hissed.  That first time.

Many more rapes, and finally it dawned on me that I could get food and places to stay and maybe a little money to buy a new toothbrush.  Nothing big-time: I didn’t even know what I was doing.  Just surviving, that’s all.

Why didn’t I give up and go home?

Because the streets and the rapes and the johns were better than the screaming and the “silent treatment” and the rapist there who watched me like a hawk, trying to get me to “be nice” to his friends in exchange for some Panama Red….and the school principal who regularly lectured me on the fact that I was a weirdo and would never amount to anything.  At least this bad scene was MY bad scene.  I chose it over being a one-girl shooting range at “home.”

“Home is where the heart is.”  There was only one heart, and it was beating in my chest.  Now, as then.

“You deprived us of raising you!  You robbed us of our only child!”

And yet…and yet what?  You only thought of yourselves?  You still, forty-four years later, think only of yourselves and not why I ran away, let alone what happened to me out there?

“You deserved whatever you got.  You chose it.  You deprived us of our only child!”

God help us.

A Most Unwelcome Visitor

Late last night

I’d a terrible fight

With a Wild Gazite

With eyes of white

And he gave me a fright

When he gave me a bite

But I fixed him, all right–

I turned on the light.

–Shel Silverstein

Well.  I wish it had been some imaginary bogey-creature that vanished when the light went on, but it wasn’t.

What it was, (past tense), was an arachnid the size of my hand, give or take.  On the door.  The door by the refrigerator, the one I have to pass by in order to get to the overhead light switch.  

I was on my way over there to do just that: turn off the light.

That was when I saw….it.

It was frozen, probably with fear of me, halfway up the door, right at eye level.  I jumped back, spine tingling like mad.

I hate spiders.  Especially gigantic ones.  And most particularly, gigantic ones that invade my living space.

I have had conversations with them in the past, that go something like this:

“Spider.  I know that you have a job to do, and that you are, in truth, my servant.  You eat other creatures that I don’t want in my living space.  I appreciate that, and I encourage you to continue, as long as you do not invade my space, and most importantly, as long as I don’t see you.  Because, spider, if I see you, you will die.  Guaranteed.”

I think this approach works, somewhat, because I seem to see fewer spiders after such a speech.  I think that spiders are actually quite intelligent, and that they pay attention.  They have to, to make a living, and keep from being killed.

I live in a building that used to be my father’s pottery studio, until he became too disabled to work, and I cleaned the place out (sort of) and moved in.  It’s quite….rustic here (no plumbing except for one spigot), and pretty well closed in from the outside elements, but there is an established spider population, because before I moved in it was damp, cool, and dark: just what a spider loves.

The first thing I did before moving in was to thoroughly bomb the place with anti-spider poisonous gas.  It worked pretty well.  Looks like it might be time to do it again, eh?

So.  Back to last night’s arachnophobic encounter.

After I got myself together from the initial shock, I ran for the big orange can labeled “Spider Killer,” which I have to keep turned around so that I don’t see the horribly explicit picture of a huge spider on the front of the can.  I sneaked up on the monster from behind my clothes rack (shudder: what if it had….never mind).

There it was, still on the door, but having tiptoed a little to the left, trailing a thread of silk.  I felt kind of sorry for it, but not for long.  I aimed the nozzle of the Spider Killer at it, and fired!

The can kind of fizzled and got Spider Killer all over my hand.  Cursing softly, so as not to alarm my prey, I washed my hand thoroughly under the one spigot and returned to the fray, having made sure that the nozzle was now functioning properly.

I aimed again and fired, this time covering the arachnid with a thick coating of white Spider Killer.  She jumped (the huge ones are always female) and kind of drew in her legs a bit.  Good, I thought, now the poison will quickly kill her and I can think about something else.

But no.  She picked herself up, and letting out some more line, shuffled in a diagonal fashion across the door, leaving an image of herself where I had sprayed the white substance on her: a nice spider-shaped stencil on the door.

I had at her again with the Spider Killer.  I sprayed her until she was totally white, like a spider snowman.  She stopped moving and looked a little sick, but in no fashion dead.  In a state of low-grade panic, I cast about for something to fatally whack her with.

The studio is full of every kind of tool, including a mattock and a machete (I am SO glad that I forgot about my .22 Ruger pistol that I keep under the bed), but the only thing I could imagine that would actually murder a spider at a distance without causing damage to my living space was the broad side of the broom, followed up by whacks with the dust-pan if necessary.

And that is what I did.  I gave her a tremendous whack with the broom, one that I hoped would cause instant death, not caring whether I had to clean the aftermath off the door.

But no.  She was a very tough customer.  Although she did fall **plop** on the floor, she was neither squashed nor dead, and in fact picked herself up and groggily tried to make a getaway.  It took several more smacks with the broom and frantic whacks with the dust-pan to reduce her to a pile of spider debris, which I triumphantly swept into the dust-pan.  I grabbed the door handle, planning to throw her remains outside, but my hand just slipped and sloshed around, because the handle was covered with Spider Killer (indeed!).  Cursing out loud now (the spider being beyond hearing me), I rushed once again to the spigot to wash the Spider Killer off.  It didn’t kill the spider, but who knows what it would do to me???

Armed with paper towels, I wiped the door handle down, and also the door which now boasted two spider stencils.  And then, holding the dead spider in the dust-pan in my left hand, I opened the door with my right.

Only it didn’t open.  It was stuck.  It does that sometimes, from the humidity.  There are advantages and disadvantages from living on a cliff 500 feet above a Scenic River.  Humidity is a Disadvantage.

I put the pan with the spider down and wrestled with the door.  It took a pretty good whack to get it unstuck at the top, where it always sticks.  I really need new doors in this place.

At long last I stepped out onto the bridge that connects the studio to what used to be the kiln room, and dumped the crumpled corpse over the side.

Then I had a whisky while I waited for my meds to take effect, tranquil in the aftermath of battle.

I have HAD It With Stalkers!

I’ve HAD it.  HAD IT with lurkers from my past who read my blogs and either comment, knowing I will delete them (but I’ve fixed that now), or don’t comment and then private email me because they’ve figured out they’ve been blocked.  Or try to Facebook me, which results in my blocking them there too.  Don’t they GET it?  I don’t WANT certain people from my private life, whom I have already banned from my private life, stalking my blog.  I mean, didn’t I JUST write a post about that very thing???  You people from my private life (NOT my Bloggie Friends), get out of my blog and leave me alone.

One of the truly wonderfully comforting things about our welcoming and supportive community of bloggers here in this corner of the Blogosphere is that we choose each other, because we are people we want to share with.  We share deeply, honestly, openly.  It’s a world of trust that I don’t have “in real life,” so I really treasure it here.  We are “family of choice.”

I’ve considered doing a blogroll, but there are so many of you whose blogs I love that it would take much more sidebar space than is allotted to get you all in.  And that’s not even including those of you whom I read and don’t comment, usually late at night when my brain isn’t so functional anyway.  There, you see, I am a lurker too, I admit it 😉

What I’m trying to say here is that our ever-growing Bloggie Community, and especially our Mental Health bloggers, are my trusted family.  And I don’t want to have it in the back of my mind that some creepy person that I used to date, or some other people with whom I’ve gone No Contact, are reading my words–because in this blog, I don’t hold back.  It’s straight from the gut.  Yes, sometimes I write anecdotes or amusing stories for comic relief, but then I often follow those up with exactly what’s going down for me now.

And I really love and appreciate all of you amazing friends who support me with your wonderful comments.  It’s such a comfort to know that you are there, each and every one of you.  I wish we could have a party.  Hey, wouldn’t that be fun?  A bunch of us could all get on at the same time and hop from one person’s blog to another….I’m sure that’s not an original idea but it sounds good to me right now!

I’m slowly recovering from Thursday night’s attack of mania or whatever it was.  One of my shrink-o-matics thinks that I have nocturnal seizures.  I think I agree with him, at least this time, because after making some food for myself Friday afternoon, I fell into bed at 7 pm and slept until 12:30 Saturday afternoon.  And woke up with a headache that has lasted till now, Saturday evening.  I even put my carbon monoxide monitors into service, just in case, and they said zero so it’s not that.

Even now, I don’t feel like the sharpest knife in the drawer.  It might take a while to recover from that one.

So I think I’m going to wind up this day with our usual 5 minutes of obedience training (my dog Noga and I) followed by her Tooth Cleaning Treat, my Tooth Cleaning Ritual, a dose of Cod-Acamol, which is a wonderful Israeli concoction of 10 mg codeine and 500 mg acetominophen, just enough codeine to get a run-of-the-mill headache gone, and a large dose of Bedtime.

‘Night, y’all, and thanks for listening.

And Now For Something COMPLETELY Different (really)

I guess most of you don’t know that I’m an Old-Time Clawhammer Banjo player.  Well, I am, have been since I was 19 (a long long time ago), and always will be, until my hands just quit on me.  That banjo has pulled me out of some dreadfully dark places.  I have clung to it like a life raft, and it has never let me down.

Last night was horrible.  I woke up with a just-shy-of full-blown manic attack at two AM.  After a total of 5 mg of Ativan failed to stop the racing squirrels rushing round in their cage (read: my head), and by now it was 5 AM, I took some more Seroquel and at last managed to at least lie down and close my eyes for a couple of hours.  Now I just feel gross and exhausted and can’t do anything.  I’m supposed to make Friday Night dinner for my family, but now I just don’t know how I could possibly manage that.  So I’m going to have to call my mother and disappoint her, but there’s only so much I can squeeze out of myself.  I guess that’s the “disability” part of it, eh?

But back to the banjo part.  There’s this outfit called Number One Music, an internet radio station, that I apparently signed  up my one existing album for, without paying any attention to it, some years back.  I guess.  I really don’t remember. Forgot.

It’s an international, well, worldwide, you know, because of the Web, thing.  Radio station.  They send me weekly emails, which I ignore.  But this morning with my vision pretty hazy, I opened today’s email from them instead of throwing it in the trash.

It seems that on this week’s charts I am numbers One, Five and Six in the Top Ten in the Acoustic genre.  EH?  How did that happen????  That’s kinda...BITCHEN, really.

Durn, I better start working on that second album, if people seem to like the first one so much!

If you want to listen to all the tracks for free you can go to their site.

If you wanna buy my music (nice stocking stuffer!  Shameless plug) you can go to CDBaby, where ALL my music is half-price thru Dec. 31, including digital downloads and single tracks, but if I were you I’d go for the physical disk because it has awesome photos like the one you see here, and a jewel case liner with very sparse but present liner notes.  I was so sick when I made that recording that I listen to it and go, how in the hell did we manage to squeeze that one out???

Now to return to the interesting task of trying to walk straight after all those drugs.  I might use my cane to keep from falling down.  Again.

me n my ol' banjo

me n my ol’ banjo