Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Best ice cream ever! / Robin's Tale

Look, is it so terrible I can't make up my mind which flavor to get?

We're at the shore. I accidentally made a hotel reservation for a place in Ocean City. I prefer Cape May but I phoned a hotel in Ocean City. Fortunately before we set out Scott remembered, Hey that's Ocean City! You wanna call up and cancel?

Nah, I said. Ocean City is closer. Let's go there.

We're on the Boardwalk. Half of Philadelphia is there. A few New Yorkers. You have to look both ways before crossing from one side of the Boardwalk to another.

Hey, look! I say. There's no people at Kohr's Frozen Custard.

A teenage girl is behind the counter. I threw myself at her mercy. "I don't know what to get," I said. "I love them all."

"My favorite is strawberry," she said. "Wanna taste?"

"Sure, a teeny tiny taste please."


"Omigod," I said. "This is fantastic. I'll have it dipped in chocolate."

Scott and I shared it. The hot chocolate crunched in your mouth. Hmmm, I wonder if the local Dairy Queen has the same thing. I would not be surprised.

When we got home, we stopped at the Giant Supermarket so we could fulfill our tradition as Americans and grill out on Memorial Day. Scott already had hot dogs from Whole Foods - that's right - healthy hot dogs. No cancer-causing nitrates or extra sodium to puff up your veins n arteries.

We invited "Maria" over from the support group, a peppy woman who hears voices. The three of us sat on the front porch. If her drunken father hadn't abused her and taken all his self-hatred out on her, that woman would be another Dr Daniel Fisher or Elyn Sacks. Super smart. Notices everything. I drove her home. "What's that noise in the back of your car, Ruthie?" she wanted to know.

It was one of my innumerable bottles of water lost under the back seat.

Earlier, Scott made an announcement to Maria and me.

I have good news, he said. I think I'm a father.

I wondered who the proud mother was: me or Maria?

Ahhh, I said, I think I hear the babies now.

Yes, the mother is feeding them, said Scott. Delicious worms. Yummm!

Maria wanted to go look right away. And Scott wanted to show her. So they softly crept to the back porch where the nest hung on a high lamppost sheltered from the rain and the wind. They heard the birds chirping but couldn't see a thing.

Maria shared a sad story about a dead baby robin in her driveway. Did that happen recently? I asked. No, she said, when I was a child. Sorry for bringing it up.

Well, I said, it's good to get these things off your chest. Here's my dead baby robin story.

I closed my eyes and remembered. There was a storm, I said. One of those great midwestern thunderstorms that knocks everything about. The wind howls and if you're a kid you just wanna go outside and stand in the drive a few moments till the rain starts pouring down.

After the rain, you go outside to look at all the dead worms on the driveway and all the tiny sticks and leaves blown all over the place. But - hey! - what was this on our driveway. Little me, little Ruthie, playful nature-lovin little Ruthie ran over only to find an entire nest - twigs sticks gum wrappers and all - right there on our driveway in Cleveland Heights, Ohio - with four tiny naked baby robins howling for mama right there on the pavement.

Carefully, o so carefully, I put the little darlings back in the nest and brought them inside.

Thinking clearly, I went and got a wad of cotton to keep the little darlings warm throughout the night. The next morning I would feed them with an eye-dropper.

When morning came, I leaped out of bed only to find each and every one of the baby robins dead.

My father was upstairs getting ready for work, lathering his face.

Dad, I said, my baby robins died.

You smothered them to death, Ruthie, he said, pulling the razor over his stubble.

They were so darn cute.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Thanks for your kind comments.....

Last nite before settling in to watch Hitchcock's film Marnie (the master makes an early appearance in silhouette and big belly), I sent out an all-points bulletin about my latest Guest Column (typos and all) in the Doylestown-PA-based Intelligencer newspaper.

This morning before leaving for the shore, nice comments poured in.

The top article in today's Times is about very old people, the most successful old people in the world. They're wealthy men and women hovering around 90 who live in Laguna Beach, CA and play bridge. These odds-defying people are both sociable and intelligent. Click here.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Missing: Bowl of unsalted peanuts

I love to eat and drive at the same time. As a child my father forbad his 6 children to eat in the car. So much for senior citizen rebellion (moi).

Was feeling hungry but needed to drive to the bank to miss rush hour traffic, so I packed a bowl of peanuts, a Stayman apple, and a bottle of water to keep me happy while I rode twenty minutes to my bank.

When I got in the car, NO peanuts. Taking a cursory look back in the house, I could not find them, so I dutifully poured another handful and drove off, munching away.

Whenever I leave home, I back slowly out of the drive so I won't kill any of my fine neighbors and I take a long look at my house. I do love my house and I gaze lovingly at it when I pull out the drive. My people at various times have lived in:

shtetls or ghettoes
concentration camps
tents in the desert
wooden farmhouses in Hungary where they had blond hair and blue eyes and read during the long day while they watched the flocks of sheep

But nowhere could I find the glass bowl of peanuts.

I'm driving in the fast lane going up Huntingdon Pike, there's a mass of cars, we pass Holy Redeemer Hospital on the right with a lovely statue of one of The Redeemers out front and I'm munching away on my new bowl of peanuts when suddenly I hear the sound of glass shattering.

Hmmm, I think. Had I left the bowl on the back of my car it would've shattered much earlier. But, yes, I think, that's probably what happened. Possibly in another dimension, not here, b/c there's no glass in my driveway.

Life is a mystery. But I don't mind. Do you?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Surprise of a New Day

Can someone tell me why Memorial Day weekend is this weekend and not at the end of May? I am simply not ready to celebrate. Am still shaking off the long cold winter and lack of color. One of my red poppies came up yesterday. I was walking home from Scott's next door and saw this huge red dot in the middle of my garden. I had no idea what it was. I actually thought it was one of those shiny red stop signs on the back of a bike!

It's like I have to reinvent myself every morning. Does this ever happen to you? It's as if I've been so busy in the middle of the night, ostensibly sleeping, but maybe my spirit, unbeknownst to me, travels the cosmos, tiptoeing across the moon and the stars, inhaling fragrances unknown to us earthly creatures.

Woke up early so I could check online to see how my Guest Column looked in the Intelligencer. Unfortunately, they listed contents of the entire paper online except for the Guest Column so I'm now in negotiations to get it listed.

A Letter to the Editor appeared on the page next to mine. It was written by my former boss when I worked at a local day camp. I submitted a comment to his Letter. You can read it here.

I'd written a long newspaper article about him and his day camp - Willow Grove Day Camp - on Davisville Road for one of the local papers, either the Intell or the Public Spirit. I traced the history of Willow Grove and the ground the camp was built upon, the former Lichtenstein Family Dairy Restaurant and Summer Cabins for the heat-weary families from Philadelphia who trolleyed down to the farm.

What a great experience that was, writing the story and getting paid $27.50 for it.

Monday, May 18, 2009

One more God Rant & Then I'll Shut up

Dear Lord,

Please forgive me for not believing in You. I humbly swear it is not b/c religions distort your Holy Presence to serve their best interests which are usually in the name of hatred and not of love. I do know, Dear God, this is not your fault.

You or your imagined presence guided me thru my long travails with manic-depression before I was set free. For this I am deeply grateful. I erroneously - and I must say GRANDIOSELY - felt this was due to Your Intervention, yes, Divine Intervention. How can I have been so grandiose, fancying myself Your Pet, Your Beloved, Your Favored Child. Ahh! Christ! How I hate my naivete.

This morning when I was on the phone with my wonderful friend Freda (I am so thankful for her presence in my life) I told her I had given up the great burden of believing in God, that is, in You, Dear Lord. I told her my relief is palpable, as if a clogged chamber of my brain has been lightened.

And, lo, no sooner were the words out of my mouth than a flock of blackbirds settled themselves on my front lawn.

There they were, a flock of blackbirds, yes, I did think of the Wallace Stevens poem 13 blackbirds, how could I not, as each one settled himself down in the tall green grass and began pecking away at the earth.

I heard myself laugh aloud as they all floated down, coming in as if right on cue as I spoke to my beloved friend Freda.

And then, with nary a moment to spare, they looked up and sailed as one to the nearby telephone wire where they paused a moment on their endless flight to look over to where they had just been.

I watched them and wondered what they were thinking.

Only God knows.

Your Humble Ruthie

Bravo Peggela!

One of our stalwart group members - hey did you know I run the premiere support group in the Philadelphia area for folks with mood disorders & their loved ones? - is Peggela who may or not be confused with Pegasus the Flying Horse. Our Peg goes everywhere to help other members who need a good buddy to get them going thru their long and miserable depressions.

Months and months ago Peg took "Laura" under her big golden wing. Laura's depression was one of those horrible treatment-resistant babies, but finally - oh praise the lord and pass the ammunition - finally Laura went on - ta-da! - Parnate, an oldie but goodie - and is 100 percent back.

The sweet sound of success. Can you see me doffing my yarmulke to Our Peg?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

We may not be famous but we sure are good! / Husband Poem

On the third Saturday of every month, our Coffeeshop Writers' Group gathers around a couple of tables to read our latest work to one another and receive feedback.

I love this group!

Six folks showed up yesterday including a new man, Lee, who writes impromptu poetry while serving customers at the diner he's worked at for many years. One time he wrote some terrific lines on a cardboard box. Before he could retrieve them, the box had been shipped halfway across the country. Now he makes a point of carrying around a tiny black notebook in which he jots down stanzas. It reminded me of my father's pocket Old Testament he carried around during World War II.

One of our poets is addicted to caffeine. I have never seen this woman without a cup of coffee in her hands. She's a beautiful woman and a prolific poet who is always fishing for compliments from the group. She read one of her most recent poems to us, got great feedback, but needed, by the end of the meeting to make her usual statement: I'm such a terrible poet I think I should give it up.

I said nothing but let everyone else soothe her. One of my modus operandi in life is I don't like being manipulated.

In the beginning of the Writers' Group I ask: Who has something they want to share. Five out of six hands went up. The readings, as always, were utterly fascinating. One of our two garbage men, Bob, sang a country -western song he wrote. What an imagination! He also read a peerless poem.

Bob, I said to him, you have no idea about this but your poem is very sexual.

He laughed and looked around in confusion as I pointed out the erotic details. My daughter Sarah, who has visited our poetry group, taught me about unconscious sexuality in poetry.

Our writers' group gives people confidence. The confidence to write.


When you were my husband, Millard,
I tried to love you
but failed
there wasn't much to love
other than your Chinese eyes the color of
far-off rivers I never got to see
or your soft long-fingered hands
you balled into fists to pound the table
when your billfold went missing

I thought the art class might cure you
from your misery and hate
We hung up the charcoal nudes over my typewriter
but you refused to believe they were any good
maybe they looked too much like me

when you died last week
I went upstairs and took out the suit jacket
you left here last summer
examined it for traces of the man you grew into

without me

the pockets were empty
the label read Bobzien's of
Oklahoma City
my fingers searched
hungrily for any trace of you
so I could love you:
the mark of a pen
a business card in your pocket

I must content myself with a
few white hairs fallen on your back
I love you not enough to
bury my cheek in your sleeve
as I remember our wedding day
forty years earlier
your jacket, then, smaller, lighter weight,
encompassing a bright pink shirt
hiding your smooth hairless chest.

Low-flying aircraft

I was awakened out of a sound sleep by the unmistakable sound of a low-flying airplane. Scott and I were asleep in the comfy bed in my family room with the door open for cool air when the alarming sound woke us from our sleep.

Half-naked, I jumped out of bed and ran outside to scan the skies. It sounded as if a plane was grazing the house-tops and the trees. Since the Naval Air Base closed, we are no longer in a flight pattern, so it was very strange to hear such noises.

I prepared myself to see an explosion in the sky and a plane landing on our street. The noise faded away.

Scott commented that the engine was whining and sounded damaged.

We lay in bed listening for sounds. He fell asleep. I could not. Half an hour later I got up and called the Upper Moreland Police Department.

Did anyone report a low-flying plane, I asked.

No one, said Officer Garvin.

I had an interesting dream after that. I was at a BBQ at a neighbor's house, which was true yesterday, but while walking home my car was not in its usual place in my driveway.

Where did I leave my car, I asked myself. After that I woke up. Scott was up and I told him I'd lost my car. He said, "When I lived on F Street and the Boulevard, I lost my car, too, but it was stolen."

I've been awake now about 4 hours and not once did I look out the window to see if my car is still in the drive.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Under the Influence

Ever been under the influence? We can be under the influence of lots of things. Right now, I'm under the influence of the beauty of the spring. I'd live under the tree in the front yard if I could. I like to watch the people pass by. When I read a good book, I'm under its influence. I asked Bob Gordon, author of I Love You Madly if he could send me a review copy and it arrived a couple days ago in a zip-pak.

The book was so good I thought I was in therapy with Bob Gordon. Don't tell him that or he'll think I have a weak ego. Here's my Amazon review of his book. Apparently I've written 61 reviews. We have to question the Ego Strength of a woman who would spend so much time doing something so very few people would notice, esp. since she's a big show-off.

I'll ask my therapist-friend Russell Eisenman about this?


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mourning Heilman's Sunoco

Relationships are very important to me. I work hard to do my part in sustaining relationships with people I care about. Or with corporations. For many years I've taken my car to be serviced at Heilman's Sunoco in Hatboro PA. Like fine surgeons, they have saved my Nissan from certain death when various of its vital organs - known as automobile parts - have given out - and its vital juices leaked like blood to the ground.

My Nissan runs well and it runs fast. Just like me!

When I get my oil changed at the Sunoco I get a special Club Card for their gasoline which is a good 20 or 30 cents per gallon cheaper than their regular price and in fact is competitive with many gas prices in the Philadelphia area.

Due to a conflict at my last oil change, I was not given the Club Card and they refused to change their minds despite my passionate and tremendously logical reasoning skills.

I'm in a quandry about my feelings toward them. I had absolutely LOVED these people. They were "customer service" personified. But they did an about-face. It was as if they had had brain transplants and forgot who they were. It's as if You called Me, asking for my advice, and I hung up on you, such was the betrayal I felt.

I wake up in the middle of the nite with a slight headache. What is this about, I ask my headache. Why are you bugging me? I wanna go back to sleep.

Oh, I say. You wanna obsess over Heilman's Sunoco, do you? All right, I said, switching on the light. Go right ahead.

The thoughts go round and round. You know how it is. Obsessing, however, produces no forward movement, no human growth. I refuse to be a victim of my own obsessions. Okay, I say, we'll lie here a few minutes, we'll obsess a bit, and then we'll open our book and fall asleep again.

My obsessions were very intense. They lasted about four or five minutes. I just lay there and remembered my experiences. I was grieving. For the men they used to be. And the men they were now.

I realized I had fallen out of love with Heilman's Sunoco Station.

It is too soon to think of replacing them. Leave me alone to mourn my loss and then I will move on.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Information at the turn of our pretty little heads

Yesterday was our Upper Moreland PA Book Discussion Group. Our assignment was Wm Styron's Confessions of Nat Turner. Everyone but me thought it was a difficult read and struggled to finish it. I thought it was a sumptuous read, every sentence cooked to perfection, savory, delicious, satisfying as plum pudding with vanilla sauce. I did confess to the group however that I purposely did not finish the book. It tells of a slave's rebellion on a Virginia plantation in 1830 where he and his men butchered and hacked to death 60 slave-owners and their families.

The book was so true to life I knew that had I read it I would become in situ a murderer myself and I would also die a violent death by the hands of Turner's men. Then, like Nat himself, I would face the hangman's noose. This is the kind of response Styron draws out of me. He reaches into my psyche and pulls me in.

Our discussion as always was spirited led by our wonderful leader Margie Peters. There is of course controversy about the book since Styron is white and is writing about blacks. His portrait of Nat Turner was one of the most astute psychological portraits I've ever read. I've recommended the book to Marcy and to Sarah. In the writer's group I said The book should be pared down by one-third. It's too long.

Margie brought out some other books by Styron. I just finished his Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness, detailing Styron's own agonizing bout with depression. He speaks about the word "depression" itself, how lacklustre a term it is to describe the great horror of the illness. Here is a quote, one of the best I'd read of its horror:

Of the images recollected from that time the most bizarre and discomfiting remains the one of me, age four a half, tagging through a market after my long-suffering wife; not for an instant could I let out of my sight the endlessly patient soul who had become nanny, mommy, comforter, priestess, and, most important, confidante - a counselor of rocklike centrality to my existence whose wisdom far exceeded that of Dr. Gold.

I would hazard the opinion that many disastrous sequels to depression might be averted if the victims received support such as she gave me.

He writes a passionate treatise on accepting those unfortunates who felt forced to kill themselves due to their unmitigated agony and hopelessness. Truly, no one can understand this malady unless he has thus suffered.

What I noticed during the book discussion group was the way my mind works. With our eyes mostly, we take in information. We see everything within our purview but we don't necessarily process it. Yet, it's all in there. All inside our head, our mind. Later on, when necessary, we regurgitate it.

I was commenting on Nat Turner's ability to speak the King's English when it suited him, and at other times to speak "slave dialect." Then I mentioned how quickly our minds work to speak appropriately to whomever we're talking to, an important survival skill. For example, I said, I wouldn't address you ladies as "sweetie" the way I do my daughter when I talk to her. Then I said - and here's where I dug something out of my deep-seated memory traces where the memory was lollygagging listlessly until it could be summoned at an appropriate time -

I used to frequent a Dunkin Donuts owned by an Indian family. In an effort to cozy up to their patrons, they affected the common nicknames one uses to show endearment - a man called me "Sweetie" or "Honey" - but it was so patently ridiculous, so unfitting in their line of work that it only caused me to snicker snidely.

Styron himself did reckon with suicide. The time came when he and Suicide had a couple of showdowns. He tried to write a suicide note. The futility of doing so - whatcha gonna say? - made him chuck the idea. He liked what another writer wrote in his own note: a terse three-sentence note saying I will write no more. On his second showdown, he suddenly began to feel a wave of pseudo-love (you cannot feel love when you're supremely depressed and suicidal) but he felt a wave of love for his own personal objects.

This book is very moving. The Dr. Gold he speaks of, a fake name, gave him very poor counsel. He told Bill not to go into the hospital. Finally Bill realized that's where I need to be. Within days of hospitalization his overactive obsessive brain settled down and he began to improve. His hospitalization lasted 7 weeks. Afterwards, like all of us, he got his old self back.

It's an amazing illness triggered by early loss. Or, in my case, early deprivation of emotional nurturance and loss.

What then happened to Emily Dickinson to turn her into a recluse? We will have to go back to our notes to discover what happened to the Belle of Amhurst, says the Belle of Cowbell Road.

Ah! Just found the insinuating passage on Wiki: While Emily consistently described her father in a warm manner, her correspondence suggests that her mother was regularly cold and aloof. In a letter to a confidante, Emily wrote she "always ran Home to Awe [Austin] when a child, if anything befell me. He was an awful Mother, but I liked him better than none."[14]

You see, there's always a causative effect for everything except for..... What's the purpose of the Universe? I spose it's the same answer as: Why is there ME? To exist, proliferate, sing, admire and nurture the existence of others whether babies or boyfriends.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What I Learned from Obama

Barack Obama sticks to his daily schedule and gets things done. Whether you agree with him or not, that man sure makes good use of time and tackles every single issue dividing our troubled nation.

We all have challenges. I set a goal at our last New Directions meeting. I said that by tomorrow nite I'd get a good start on the Guest Column I was writing for the local paper. I also chided myself for volunteering to write the article. It's been maybe six months since my last story and I don't know if I'll remember how to write.

This is the way I think. Editorials are hard for me to write. They're factual, not colorful. So every nite I'd go to bed and worry about this darn article. But I couldn't begin writing it cuz I had too many other things to do.

Today was a free day. I made my oatmeal and fruit, plopped it down on my computer desk, and set my kitchen timer for one hour. I'd called my friend Carolyn who, each month, recites a different timely quote on her answering machine.

Carolyn, I said, can you find me a quote about spring?

"The earth laughs in flowers," by Ralph Waldo Emerson, she said.

That was my lead. Spooning a mouthful of oatmeal in my mouth, I began to type. Oh, it was so lonely. I put on some music. This is what I listened to: Bach's Goldberg Variations by Glenn Gould. Every time I get some grant money I go out and buy new CDs. So Glenn is tinkling away on his piano and I'm tinkling away at the computer.

When my timer goes off I've written half the piece.

Gee, I say to myself, it wasn't even hard!

Then I go at it again, and finish it off. I revise as I go along.

I go into the kitchen and look at my phone list. Who can I call to read it to? I have a premonition that no one will be home. I go down my list: Carolyn is in the mountains with her husband celebrating their wedding anniversary, Freda tells me to call back in an hour, Marion's answering machine is on, so are the machines of Mary, Judy, Cynthia got a job, Helene is out, I go down the list.

Time to go outdoors and do a little yardwork since no one's home.

The phone rings. I read it to Helene. "Beautiful," she says. "Don't change a word."

I call up the editor. It's 11 words over the limit I tell him. Send it on over anyway, he says, I'll fix it so you won't even know I changed a single word.

Alan, I say, I pared it down so there's not a word to spare.

Dyou realize how lucky I am having an editor who wants my stuff?

Directions to the Lower Moreland (PA) Community Room

I was just there today so I know it exists. It's hard to find but not impossible. Leave EARLY for our Seminar on Saturday, June 6, from 1 to 3 pm in case you get lost. Accept it as a challenge. I get lost everywhere I go. I don't think twice about it. I expect to get lost so there's no stress involved.

Okay. We're cruising along in our car. We notice all the incredible beauty of the long-awaited spring. I go mad for the dogwoods and the cherry trees and the lilacs in the dooryard blooming. We've got some good music on the radio to enhance our pleasure of being alive and in the world at this exact moment.

We're heading toward the HUNTINGDON VALLEY LIBRARY. It has two driveways. I take the first driveway in case I start dreaming and miss the second one. The name of the library is clearly spelled out on the building. Art deco.

Now we're gonna drive clear around the building to end up in the back of the library. There's a huge parking lot. We're looking for the door on the EXTREME LEFT as you face the building. We'll have signs posted (god willing we remember).

Enter the 2 doors that let you in the building (an outside door and an inside one. This township has money so they're gonna protect us from the cold, or the heat). After entering, make a right.

To get to the Community Room on the second floor, you can either take the alleviator or you can walk.

We start at 1 pm sharp. Tony Salvatore will go on first since he's gotta get back to work by late afternoon. Then Pam London-Barrett will discuss medications. Myself and some members of New Directions will discuss how to best help a suicidal person. You ask them How can I be of help and then follow their lead.

I'm hoping to host a very special guest and am awaiting his reply. He's a suicide survivor and his story will knock your socks off.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Atheists are coming!

In the large foyer of the Capital Building in Harrisburg, various booths were set up. Why, I have no idea. This was my first trip to the capital. One of the booths was for UNBELIEVERS! People who do not believe in god or who doubt the existence of god.

Ya know how certain things are so-called meant to be? Well, I've recently decided I don't believe in God, and there - right in front of me! - was a booth proclaiming it's okay not to believe in god. But, I said to the nice people behind the booth, we're taught from an early age to believe in a supreme BEING who created this whole universe. One of the guys behind the table looked exactly like god: nicely trimmed beard, eyeglasses, a very intelligent look emanating from him. How silly, I thought to myself, how obvious it is that curious man must always know the answers so we attribute the handiwork of the universe to a being like dear old dad. I was gonna say, or mum, but thought better of it. My mother engages in "splitting," a psychological term that actually would describe the Lord of Lords quite well. God plays favorites.

I grabbed some literature, tucking it into my pocketbook to read aloud to Jeanette on the car ride home. Ya know, it's a vast relief to end my search for god acknowledging the different variations of his manifestation (allah, jesus, jehovah, buddah, robt redford) and then conceding the treasure-trove of nothingness i found at the end of the rainbow. not that i would behave any differently if he were to put on his jodhpurs and riding boots, his silk scarf and rakish beret and come riding after me yelling into the sunset "gird up your loins like a woman, you!"

Who me? A Lobbyist?

writing is different than speaking. today i spoke from 6:30 in the a.m. until 6:30 in the p.m. and when i wasn't speaking i was probly listening to 2 other mental health advocates as we lobbied for Senate Bill 251 to get out of committee and up onto the Pennsylvania state Senate floor. the bill promotes assisted outpatient treatment for the most severe of the mentally ill. i got involved accidentally and decided to go along for the ride. a long ride, that is, all the way from the willow grove entrance on the turnpike to harrisburg. jeanette drove. both of us were plunged into the heart of darkness of mental illness by forces beyond our control. her kids have it, both of em, and i HAD it.

we met ileen there. her brother had it. the three of us got along famously. all of us unmarried, we could've been on a riverboat up the mississippi in our long summer frocks flirting with gamblers and ship captains and mark twain and circus operators but we weren't. we were in harrisburg, pa, dressed in business suits and shoes that pinched (mine did anyway), carrying big pocketsbooks filled with stapled handouts and business cards, being ushered into fancy offices of state senators with huge windows that looked out over green lawns and trees while the rain ceaselessly poured onto the old cement city.

each office was elegant and fine. a lady senator had a collection of glass elephants. it never occurred to me she was a republican until my new friends told me. the lady senator whose name was vance was the personification of a senatorial, a female everett dirksen: regal, gravelly voiced, tremendous power emanating from her and her rapidly moving hands and fingertips.

the views over the inner balcony were spectacular. the ceiling seemed about 12 stories high and had painted mural squares up top, very grand, huge noble figures staring down on us, counseling us to Do Your Best, Be Your Best Self While You're Here.

The entry to each suite of offices had pretty secretaries behind computers and a huge bowl of candy. I contented myself with 2 pieces of Hershey chocolate which I let melt in my mouth, the crumbs, that is, after I chewed them to bits.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Secret Garden.....

is, of course, the name of a wonderful children's book for literary-minded children and their parents who never read it as a kid. During my frenzy of writing book reviews on equaled only by my frenzy of blogging, which is somewhat abating, I titled the book An Abiding Classic.

My sister Donna and I who share extreme aesthetic sensibilities about nature, trees, tulips, calling birds, croaking frogs, croaking friends, blue skies dancing with clouds, rainbow banners sailing on porches, bushels of bleeding heart flowers floating in cascades in my backyard by leaf-covered deck, and more bleeding hearts I transplanted anywhere I could dig a deep enough hole, the two of us went to Pennypack Trust's Annual Native Plant Sale.

After we came home with a modest amount of purchases, I showed Donna a printout of an email sent to me by Bob Gordon, a psychoanalyst who will be featured in this issue of the Compass.

Psychotherapy, he wrote me, increases one's mental capacity.

I'd never heard of this concept before. He listed specific traits that are enhanced by therapy including:

Capacity for Learning from Experience
Capacity for Healthy Relationships
Quality of Confidence and Self-Regard
Capacity to Experience, Regulate and Communicate Emotions
Capacity to Use More Healthy Defense Mechanisms (such as anticipation and humor instead of denial)
Self-Observing Capacities
Capacity for Internal Standards and Ideals

I waved the printout at Donna. Indeed, I said, I was helped myself during six months of psychoanalysis by a woman named Beth Lindsey (o where art thou, Beth?) so that now, at last, I fancy myself a totally independent woman. My feeling of freedom is immense. At this very moment, I can do whatever I choose. I can turn on my music - look, I have just risen from my desk chair, and put on some Bad Plus - and prior to that I chose to go with Scott on a breathtakingly beautiful nature walk on the high hill overlooking the horse farm only five minutes away from home.

This is freedom: to freely choose your destiny, your weekend destiny of the great outdoors from whence we came when we crawled from the water onto dry land shaking off our reptilian bodies and evolving into men and women and hobbits over a million years ago.

Donna and I drove down the narrow drive of The Lord's New Church in Huntingdon Valley. How I love being a tour guide. I explained to her that the Swedenborgians have about three sects and this is one of them. This land has a European feel to it, vast green meadows, ancient-looking buildings, and brick walkways or cobblestones leading into the chapels and church offices and homes of the apostles. Not a soul but ourselves were there.

When I drove up to one of the buildings I said:

A friend of mine took me to an NA meeting here.

What? said Donna.

Yeah, a wealthy woman with bipolar disorder who used cocaine a couple times a week. She told me she could go off anytime she wanted.

They all say that, said Donna.

Yeah, I said. I told her that. I said to her, So, if you can go off how come you haven't deleted the phone no. of your drug dealer from your cell phone?

The woman was married, has a swimming pool in her backyard, and a six year old son. She's a great mom and goes up into the bathroom to snort. It was a secret from her husband.

I went over her house once or twice and she showed me her drug paraphernalia. She lived a secret life. Maybe it wasn't right of me but I confronted her a couple of times, taunting her with the words I can stop any time I want, until she began going to NA meetings.

When last I heard she's been off the stuff a year. But, baby, it was real real hard. But she worked the 12 Steps. Sure, she lapsed a little bit, but finally she caught on. "Okay, I wanna use, lemme call someone."

So Donna sees a sign "Chapel." We park the car, leave the keys in, and ascend the stone steps to see what the chapel looks like. Foliage covers everything. Mostly purple wisteria and lots of pine trees. We climb the stone steps until a magnificent aged building comes into view. It has pillars and balustrades and windows and we can't believe how beautiful it is.

We circle around it, try the doors, but everything is locked. No one is about. We're on vast acres of bright green lawns sprinkled with dandelions coming into bloom or releasing their puffs into the air.

"Somebody's in the garden," Donna said.

From where we were we could only see a pair of pants moving along. A groundskeeper perhaps?

"Hello!" I called. "Beautiful day today."

"Yes," said a cheerful voice. "You can let yourself in at the gate."

Sure enough, a green gate hung nearby and we let ourselves in. A small and magnificent garden lay before us, every spot filled with living green verdure, bordered by fragrant purple wisteria, white dogwood, dark pine trees.

Donna sat on a bench, and I, who never sit, cause that's all I do when I work at home, sit at my computer, stood nearby and we all introduced ourselves. Like us, Ilene lives near by and is a supreme nature lover. In fact she's an educator at a local nature center.

I never carry a watch preferring to be in blissful denial about the inevitable passing of time, preferring to trust my instincts about when it's time to leave.

After we'd said goodbye to Ilene (I memorized her unusual last name and told her I'd give her a call), I plucked some sweet-smelling wisteria from the vine and some pink dogwood off a tree and carried them home. They sit now on my kitchen windowsill arcing gently in a small Chinese vase filled to the brim with water. The wisteria will be dead in two days just like the lilac I picked from a friend's sideyard has lost its luster on my living room windowsill.

When we got back to my house, Donna saw one of my Oklahoma remembrances I brought back from Mike's funeral, a vivid picture of colorful aerial balloons floating in the Oklahoma skies.

"Okla-homa where the wind comes whispering down the plains," she sang.

"Oh," I said. "I forgot. I wanted to do a blog about that."

After "Daddy" died, Donna had a dream. She and Daddy were reunited in a grassy field along with the rest of our huge family - Ruth Donna Ellen Lynn Amy David and Mommy.

We were all singing at the top of our lungs Oklahoma where the wind comes whistling down the plains.

Our Daddy was with us once again. O how we loved that man.