Sunday, June 28, 2009

Those amazing Ecuadoreans!

My sister Donna married and subsequently (foolishly) divorced Roberto Hernando Cartagena, a New York schoolteacher born in Ecuador. Enter a whole different culture into our Jewish family.

When we were growing up Dad said, I'll disown any of you who don't marry Jews. We were surprised that dad, a true rebel and self-made man who hired anyone to work at Majestic Specialties women's apparel in Cleveland, OH, as long as they were hard workers and didn't steal, was so adamant about marrying within our religion.

I used to prefer anyone other than Jews. The Jews were too predictable. You knew all about them - their love of education, their warmth and kindness, their business sense, love of family. I wanted something different. I wanted to explore other cultures. Curiosity always won out for me. Interestingly, when my kids came into the world, they followed my tradition of dating people from many other ethnic groups.

The Ecuadoreans arrived en masse at a surprise shower given in New Jersey by my niece Nikki and husband Steve in honor of the forthcoming marriage of Donna and Roberto's daughter, Melissa.

As my gift to them, I spent three days composing a one-page prose-poem. When finally I was about to finish, I printed it up and showed it to boyfriend Scott, who, ironically is Jewish, but I just look the other way.

Scott, reading my poem silently in the kitchen, blurts out: Dyou really wanna say "killed ruthlessly?"

RZ: Well, yeah, that's the heritage of her people.

Scott: Yes, but dyou wanna say that in your poem? If she was German would you say, proud ancestor of the Nazis?

RZ: Of course not. But everyone's got the same stuff in their history. I like those words, killed ruthlessly.

Actually, tho, perhaps Scott was right. It caused doubt in my mind. When Sarah and Ethan came to pick me up and drive me to the party, I had them read the poem.

Sarah: It's beautiful, Mom.


The party was held in one of those huge American backyards complete with swimming pool and illegal diving board, the kind Springsteen does NOT sing about in his Jersey songs. Steve's barbecue grill was twice as big as my kitchen stove. Fat marinated chicken breasts sent sizzling smells across the dozens of round tables with favors on them.

I remembered when these fun-loving people held a bonfire in the autumn.

A live band played exclusively Beatles music, after all, Stevie's wife is half-Ecuadorean and music fills their life. Never have you met such loving people. The Ecuadoreans are family-minded, business-minded, hard-workers. My dad, of course, fell in love with them and forgot his oath to disinherit.

One Ecuadorean family drove down in several cars from their homes in Connecticut. Each one of these cousins took turns keeping my 86-year-old mother company, holding her hand, telling her how beautiful she looked, bringing her fruit salad. What kind of people are these?

They took me by the hand and dragged me to the dance floor, or the dance grass and looped their arms in mine and danced with me. When we left, they walked us to the car, kissed and hugged us, and bid us adios. You felt guilty leaving!

At the party I sat by Ethan awhile and we marveled at how good the faux Beatles band was. It's been said before that rock music is the modern equivalent of classical, that its rock composers are every bit the musical genius as the Old Masters.

I agree. I mentioned I love Genesis. Ethan said his band recorded in Peter Gabriel's London studio with Gabriel himself in attendance.

I know, I said. But I have no idea who Peter Gabriel is. I'm mostly hooked on Phil Collins. After the party I'm gonna look him up on YouTube.

That's the first thing I did when I got home. I studied YouTube and then slipped on my shoes and walked over Scott's.

"Look what I found on YouTube," I said setting up the laptop.

Then I played him this amazing video of the young Peter Gabriel doing Musical Box. Listen to his voice, like molten gold. BUT... we can't agree on who the drummer is. Is it Collins. Scott says it's an earlier drummer. I say Collins. What do YOU think?

Friday, June 26, 2009

You can't say I didn't try!

During my 20-minute Rotary talk thother day, I said that creativity and imagination are often a by-product of our bipolar illness. I briefly mentioned that when a person is diagnosed they need to learn all about their illness as a roadmap in successfully managing their illness. I've had incredible good fortune in being medication-respondent so the roadmap I developed for myself worked out quite well. Naturally, I teach this to others at New Directions and the smart ones follow it.

Life is fleeting. Get with it!

I also mentioned that I proposed the ideas of free classes to the powers-that-be at the Bucks County Office of Mental Health and the Montgomery County Office of Behavioral Health, over and over again, to no avail. I even tried to get funding from Magellan who of course never called me back.

After New Directions got our first grant in 2001, for the humongous amount of $35,000 (I was on Lamictal at the time and was literally suicidal!) I was buoyed with the confidence of having people take my ideas seriously.

We had a powerful board of directors including a top bipolar researcher (who later dumped us) and I suggested that we form The Bipolar Foundation, a national organization like The Kidney Foundation that was an authoritative source on all things bipolar.

I got no support from the Board. One member asked me then and there if I were manic! I guess he wasn't used to thinking on a large scale. I was aghast that no one supported my fantastic idea.

I'd forgotten all about this until I received an email yesterday stating that The Bipolar Foundation, headquartered in the UK, is hosting its bienniel conference this week in Pittsburgh, home of the terrific work of the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Psychiatry, Paul Keck etcetera. The board member who dumped us is presenting a paper.

Also presenting is the DBSA, an organization that New Directions no longer belongs to. I had lobbied at a local conference on bipolar to give a brief presentation of the importance of support groups in managing bipolar disorder but they were not interested.

All a person can do is try!

I added the Bipolar Foundation conference website to our New Directions website for people interested in learning more from the plethora of papers that will be presented there. Wonder if it's raining in Pittsburgh the way it is right now in Willow Grove, PA.

Just wanted my followers to know that I was in the vanguard of great ideas that would be carried out by other people a decade after I thought of them. At 63, I'm content being an armchair quarterback and letting others do the hard work.

Me, I like sitting barefoot and letting the cool breeze tickle my toes.

The World Stops to Ponder / Happy Half Birthday

For nearly 20 hours, the Times top headline and dozens of side articles continue to focus on the death of Michael Jackson. Forgotten, for the moment, are the weighty issues of healthcare reform, the rebuilding of the economy, immigration reform, transparency in government, and most important, When will the next Compass magazine be coming out.

I too am swept away. I don't know why. Possibly b/c I work from home I have the luxury of sitting at the computer and listening to selected Jackson performances which fan my fires. I got up and danced a little to Billie Jean until I got a kink in my neck.

Yesterday I rose early to speak at the Horsham Rotary Group which meets at Silvestri's restaurant. I'm not used to driving in rush hour and was amazed at all the traffic. When the Rotary president asked if it was anyone's birthday, there were no takers, so I raised my hand and said:

RZ: It's my half-birthday today.

Andre: Which half.

RZ: The top half.

With that, they sang Happy Birthday to me! I was thrilled. I've never been embarrassed telling my age. I spoke for about 20 minutes, looking around at all the audience members, and then Andre broke in and said, Thank you Ruth! I was shocked. The time went so fast. I thanked them and said they'd been a great audience.

They presented me with a pen. I opened it and said, Great! It's got both a top and a bottom.

When I sat back down I said to Rick, my host, that I hadn't even practiced what I was gonna say. You don't need to, he said and told me he'd refer me to another Rotary group nearby.

On the way home I stopped at a garden nursery to see if they had any raspberry bushes. "Not unless I go home and pull out some of my own," said Sheila.

The quest for the bushes has stopped. I must say I'm pleased with my herb garden in the front yard. I make spearmint tea, I put basil over my mahi mahi, and rosemary in my eggs.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

R.I.P Michael Jackson of Gary, Indiana!

A master performance artist dies as he's about to make his comeback tour in Britain. Click for amazing video of Michael singing Billie Jean and doing the Moonwalk. The action begins at 1.34 minutes.

A three-column headline in the Times announced his shocking demise. I was talking to my psychiatrist friend Pam London Barrett who opined that he suffered from body dysmorphic disorder, hence his multiple facial operations.

Here he is as a cute little kid on the Ed Sullivan Show.

But we'll let Steve Martin have the last word about Michael Jackson (1958-2009). Hmmm, Liz Taylor must be weeping.

PS - Thanks to my future daughter/law Nicole for commenting on this blog! Thanks, Nikki. See you tomorrow. Also, check out my son/law Ethan's blog for his note on Michael Jackson's passing and the ultimate question: What price fame?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Judy Diaz called! Villages at Pine Valley

Early this morning I was across the street bringing Nancy some cut flowers from my blue hydrangea. I was wearing my Starbucks apron with pockets so I could talk on the phone when I was cutting the hydrangea blossoms. The phone goes in the pocket. Two important calls came in while standing on the hill talking to Nancy. One was the guy from Rotary where I'm speaking tomorrow at the ungodly hour of 8 a.m.

You know where I was this morning at 8? Still snoring away.

Judy told me that her best friend died. Years ago, Judy had said to me, she'll be distraught when this happens, and she said to me, It's hard, it's very very hard. Lifetime friends. Lucky for me, I'm such a despicable person I have no lifetime friends.

The irony is that I wrote about Judy in my poem Lakota, published below, so I was fairly certain she'd be calling me. Things like this happen. An unspoken communication thru forces we don't understand. Thought waves. Talk waves. I'd like to learn more about this. Lemme know if you have any good reading material about this.

I'm trying to think of what feelings describe my response to calling my mom this morning.

Yesterday I drove her to an assisted living facility in Northeast Philly. It's near my bank so first we stopped at my bank so I wouldn't have to mail in the $100 bill a client gave me. I've mailed in cash for about 7 years rather than make the 35-minute round trip. I am incredibly lazy.

When I parked, my mom asked if she wanted my help in robbing the bank. I said, Just keep the car running so we can make a fast get-away. She's g0t the wit, my mom, she's got the wit.

Off we went to ....oh god, what's the name... Villages of Pine Run, no, Pine Valley, Villages of Pine Valley. "Village" must be the operative word now in old-age homes. We sat in an air-conditioned room with Holly, our nursemaid. Oops, our rental agent. She knew e-v-e-r-y-thing, plus she was not high pressure.

We looked at a couple of models of apartments. There's 89 units in one apartment building. Brand-new. And filling up fast. By the time mom makes up her mind to move in, she'll be put on a waiting list. Me, I would've given Holly a check then n there and begun the process, but hey, that's me, Little Ruthie.

My mother has never lived alone. This would be a first. We entered the Douglas Fir model apartment. Douglas Fir. Please. Well, it's better than the Adolf Hitler Corner or Josef Stalin Suite. A feeling of spaciousness and openness greeted us. Huge floor to ceiling windows let in lights of lot. The carpet was eggshell white. If I were 86 years old, I would love it. Being just a youngster of 63 - hey, my half-birthday is coming up on Thursday (no gifts please!) - I felt a pinge (pang plus twinge) of terrible sadness at the thought of losing my house and its sphere of room after room streaming with light and the kitchen where my brown rice is cooking as we speak), I felt an awful pang of grief.

This morning I call mom. She hasn't given a thought to moving, she said. She's busy baking brownies. WTF!

Snip, snip, I was cutting the hydrangeas as we spoke. I was so mad at her. I kept my big mouth shut. Well, I did say something. I used words like 'prioritize' and 'you're making excuses.' Then I came in the house and thought IF ONLY MY FATHER WERE ALIVE he'd get things moving.

Where are you dad when we need you?

Like Judy Diaz's best friend who just died, we're all plucked up by some giant invisible forklift and never seen again.

Unsolicited Email from Patrick

(Name and details have been changed but the 'voice' of the individual is preserved. You'll find my comments in italix. What? You think I can keep quiet?)

Hello Ruth,

My name is Patrick and I have bipolar. (Hey, the guy knows not to say I'm bipolar. Good sign) I was encouraged and amazed to find your New Directions website. The resources you provide there are so valuable. (thank god somebody noticed us!)

Brief history: I'm in my fifties, work in computers and right now feel like I am totally overwhelmed at work. Paradoxically, I am "highly motivated" and very depressed - drawn to the bed like a magnet. I am not by nature a lazy person, but this depression has gone on for far too long.

Your meds aren't working, as you know, Patrick. It's also probable that your work situation is causing your overwhelming depression.You have what's called an agitated depression. Avoid the bed or set the timer for five minutes once you climb in.

I've been hospitalized four times during my life, most recently at Abington, (oy! with all those people who have dementia, it's a small unit), then in the Adult Partial program at Horsham Clinic (great place! Lots of our members go there!). I'm under the care of a psychiatrist and psychologist through Life Counseling Services.

I feel lately that I see things much more clearly, but sadly I see the destruction that bipolar has caused over my life. I realize that some of this is the "lens of depression", and that there are positive actions that I can/will take. But I feel a tremendous sense of loss. I also feel that I am barely clinging to my job, and the only reason that I still am employed is the kindness of my supervisor. I feel a great deal of shame and stigma at work, and wish I could move on (yes, despite the kindness).

Moving on has been a pattern for me - about every three years. However - if I lose my job, I lose my medical and prescription benefits, and also I lose the structure of a job. I cannot imagine how I would respond now to unemployment. And then there is the economic recession to consider.

You are no different from 75 percent of the population who only remain employed for the benefits and the uncertainty of finding a new job. You're also correct about needing the structure of a job to keep you up and running. Stay employed!

My guess is that many bipolar people feel a sense of loss of what they might have accomplished had they not had the disorder. Process these feelings of loss and shame w/your therapist - quickly -and then move on. We cannot change the past but can indeed change the future as you mentioned above, that you 'can/will' take positive actions.

Learn to live in the present moment, the here and now. Your meds, when correct, should give you this ability.

My home is in very poor repair, filled with junk from 50 years. Bipolar contributed to my lack of care for it I am sure, but I am responsible.

You have a wonderful ability, Patrick, to observe yourself and to take responsibility for your actions. I am impressed. However, your main problem is you don't see yourself the way others do. You lack a sense of who you are. This may be due to your recurrent depression which robs you of knowing yourself.

As a psychotherapist, I worked with a client on the same issues. I believed that if I could get him to cry over his lost life it would help him move on. He had never cried in his entire life. I did get him to weep, copiously, and miraculously he was never depressed again. Sometimes intuitive interventions like this work.

I have a wonderful lady in my life who teaches piano and creates lovely music. Now it just seems that I let her down. She is incredibly loving and kind, but I hate what my illness does to her. She deserves far better...

Again, Patrick, like the people you work with, you have a tough time accepting love and affection from people who know you. This unconscious trait most likely dates back to your childhood when you were not given unconditional love by parenting figures. "Good enough parents," in the words of the late British psychoanalyst DW Winnicott produces healthy children.As adults, we bipolar folks must learn, usually thru therapy, that we are lovable and that people enjoy being around us.

I am really pouring my soul out to you - but after reading a bit at your website I feel as if I know you very well.

Will be in touch about New Directions - it will be a challenge with my work and energy level, but I see this as so valuable. For now I just wanted to say hello and thanks.

All the Best,

I wrote an immediate thank-you note to Patrick, asking him to read my blog. It's kind of a handy tool, methinks, to see how a healthy person lives her life. Here's his reply again with my responses.

Hi Ruth,

Quick note for now -- thanks so much for your warm reply and helpful suggestion about nutrition. During my most recent depression I was eating very little and although I was glad to lose about 30 pounds this was not my preferred method. Will add this to possible/likely strategies. I am committed to health and to heading off the terrible burden this is to my loved ones.

Okay, Patrick, now we're gonna talk about semantics, about the words we choose to use. I don't feel like I know you at all. One beef I have w/some therapists is they pathologize the patient and encourage them to 'spill their guts' with no forward movement at all. You've used the word 'burden' a couple of times. Drop this word from your vocabulary. Although you're not yet the healthy person you wish to become, you must learn to TALK like a healthy person. You must talk healthy, first to yourself, and then to others. Absolutely no pity parties.

For example, as I write this, I'm taking a tremendous risk. I could be totally one hundred percent wrong about my beliefs about you. Altho I've written for your permission to blog this entry, you could write me and say, How dare you? I trusted you and now look at what you've done.

We all hang by a slender thread in this life of ours, Patrick.

I had a chance to take a quick look at your blog. Wow!!!

- We just recently picked up Jill Taylor's "A Stroke of Insight". Thanks for the link to the great video!

-I have a good friend who is very much into the Lakota culture and goes to sweat lodge ceremonies

- I love art and exploring human consciousness. I probably never have belonged in the computer field at all. (Have you heard Bill Moyer interviewing Joseph Campbell? The best!)

- Right now, this evening, I'm engaged in reading your blog, and thanks to you I am not depressed -- I am fascinated.

Aha! When you're engaged in life, your depression vanishes. Good sign!


Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Best Little Church in the World / Lakota

The following is a piece I read aloud this afternoon to our Saturday Writers Group. I wrote it in half an hour before the meeting. I did not wanna come empty-handed but I couldn't think of anything to write. What memory, I said to myself, is fresh in my mind. What memory shall I preserve? Just an ordinary day, yesterday, and so I typed one and a half single-spaced pages thus:


I’d written the directions on the back of an envelope and remembered Liz telling me, Two turns, Ruth, that's all there is, two turns. She was wrong of course. But I was prepared and left well in advance. I had to gas up which is not easy. The tiny swing door on my gas tank requires assistance from someone. When I pulled into the huge Hess gas station I swung my eyes across the dozen gas pumps to see who might help me. As I walked up to a Hispanic truck driver filling up his gas can I realized he may not speak English. But he did. Ah, he said, when he came over to my car, you need help because the door is smashed in.

Yes, I laughed. Thank you so much.

I kept the radio off while I drove down two-lane highways toward New Hope the better to concentrate. There was the bed and breakfast nuzzled in between green rain-drenched farm fields, there was Bryan's corn and tomato stand pitching fresh vegetables. You see, I’d gone to Beaver Pond before, several times, always arriving late because I’d gotten lost. Was it actually possible I could find it correctly this time?

Passing through the resort town of New Hope I detoured onto Waterloo Street where my sister once lived for many years. As I entered her former street I saw the wide Delaware River flowing swiftly from a month full of rain. The river gleamed brown with tiny wavelets streaming endlessly by and I thought briefly of pulling over to watch the river roll and smell the fish.

As I passed their house I saw the wooden frame was beginning to crumble but the brick in the drive held fast its pattern. Who lived there now?

Back on the road again, I remembered a small motel at the end of the town and braced myself to look for it. I couldn’t quite remember the details but I had loved a man who stayed in that motel, at least I thought that was correct, that was why, wasn’t it, I had an attachment to the Studio Motel, but what would he be doing in the motel? He was a carpenter and wanted to take me out, that I do remember, but by then I had become engaged to my ex-husband.

I reached over and opened up my water bottle and drank a few sips. It was fresh from the refrigerator and very cold.

The hairpin turn was just ahead. I reveled in the athletic feat of turning my wheel just so, remaining in my lane, and facing oncoming traffic who swerved slightly but not dangerously into my lane. “202 Bridge Ahead” read the sign. I pulled over and studied my notes. This was where I always went wrong. I had to select the correct lane.

Off I went. No sooner had my little Nissan with its windows open for the cool breezes traveled a few hundred yards than I saw the church on the left. It sat among tall grassy fields, all alone, its fieldstone masonry firm and steadfast, built in 1862, its spire piercing the sky as if to say I have survived all these years and so shall you.

I was early. No one was there. I backed in my car and took another sip of water. Getting out of the car I smoothed down my fancy black lace skirt, slipped on a jacket and began walking around the church. Liz, a landscape architect, had planted a garden. I walked on the flagstones and let the leaves of her plantings tickle my hands. Further down, a small tree shaped like an umbrella had been planted in memory of a woman with three names who died at age 34.

A strong sound rose up from a neighboring field. A huge boing! Then another one. The bullfrogs were singing. I moved from the remembrance of the young woman whose memory still reigns in the people who knew her as I tried to find the pond that held the frogs. I longed to see their bulbous throats.

Their noises had stopped. And so had I. The pond was beyond my reach. I should never see it. And now the first car pulled into the drive. I caught a brief glimpse of the driver. It was not Liz. It could only be Carole, a woman I had not seen in a year. These are the people I would always remember, the people of Beaver Pond.


Beaver Pond, of course, is St. Philip's Episcopal Church a mile north of New Hope, PA. Liz is the keeper of her flock of poets and writers. When I spoke to her on the phone she said, "You know, Sandy Bender will be there with his banjo."

"Good," I said, "I just may try to make a fool of myself and sing my poetry while he strums behind me."

Ya know what? When you mention something like this to someone, you are fortifying yourself to do it. I just about always sing when Sandy is there. It's tough tho cause I never sing in between. I don't practice. When I'm by myself, which is most of the time, I only think, not sing.

A little group of us gathered on the stones outside the red door of the church. I met so many new people. Some of them shake your hand. I met a fellow named Alan. His last name, I remarked to him, sounded like halibut, the fish. When we were taking seats inside the church, I said to him, "Alan, can I sit next to you? I must have someone I can whisper to."

He had a huge smile. His friend was filming the occasion. Liz announced that we would all rise to read our work when the spirit moved us, just like the Quakers do. I was about the fifth one to rise and amble toward the podium. Many people had come just to listen, like they were watching a play. The readers themselves were very dramatic. We had all learned to read our work like actors. It was expected here. Liz brings out the best in each person. It's a gift.

I remembered when I invited many of these same folks to a party right here in Willow Grove. I felt so privileged to have these people in mine own backyard, even Sandy the banjo player. I whispered to Alan that Sandy's wife left him for another woman. I am probably the nosiest person - and the noisiest - in the whole group.

What is it with poets, I asked David Mook. You're always getting divorced. This of course also includes me who divorces herself from one bad boyfriend to another. Boyfriend Scott, says my daughter, is her favorite boyfriend of all. Mine too!

Before I met Scott, there was a man named Lincoln I met right here at Beaver Pond. He was short like me and had a small white beard, just like me. He liked me and I looked forward to meeting him again at Beaver Pond.

What happened to Lincoln? I asked poet Bob Muller one time.

"Oh," said Bob, "he had a heart attack and died."

They loved the poem I read about my ex-husband and I also dragged out an oldie called Lakota. That was the one I sang. Altho I didn't mention this to the group, as I began singing, I imagined I was soprano Eleanor Steber singing Knoxville Summer of 1915 set to music by Samuel Barber. I tried to emphasize the important words by pausing on them like Eleanor Steber. Here's Lakota:


I was in the company this evening
of people who take death seriously.
Until then, I hadn’t realized
I was not the only one.

We sat at a table in Houlihans,
the noise level was excruciatingly high,
but you got used to it.
There was Judy and her grown son, Michael,
a mountain climber visiting from
Boulder where he lived with his wife Tory and
their faux son, Lakota, a large and
handsome dog who looked like a domesticated wolf.
The three of them lived in a trailer
while they saved up money
to buy a house.
Each had a job. Tory was a food broker,
Michael a cabinet maker who carried
a business card
with a picture of a silver hammer.

“How's Tory doing without you?” I asked.
“Oh, she’s missing me,” he said with that
glittering smile that must have disarmed her
right from the start.

His bright eyes didn’t for a moment
flag from the knowledge that the
presence of death bound us all together,
making everything important.

I was spooning into my mouth
the special baked potato soup they had
with the fresh-cut chives,
while his mother was sipping from an odorless
martini with four olives skewed onto a toothpick
set across the top of the glass.

She was getting on in age,
not terribly old,
newly collecting retirement funds,
but getting forgetful.
She wouldn’t lie and told us she left the
burner on once and had gone upstairs.
“It’s when you do it five or six times!” she shouted
pounding her fist on the table,
“that they throw you in the old age home!”

We were not as yet picked off, none of us,
none of the three, four, if you count Tory,
struck down
the way you might imagine a lone bowling pin
waiting in its station while a well aimed black
ball – or maybe it was blue with white streaks -
came hurtling down the shiny runway
with velocity unrivaled.

It was dark on the way home and
I stopped at the Wawa,
the one I used to go to when I worked in Bensalem.
They’d changed the place around.
The new arrangement had a large
open feel to it,
fluorescent lights spilling down almost like
the sun.
The same woman was behind the deli counter,
making someone a sandwich. A lovely woman,
who I noticed quickly looked older than when I
used to come in. Older people, I thought to myself,
look older quicker.
“Hello, Louise,” I said,
and watched to see if her face lit up
and she remembered me.

Friday, June 19, 2009

An hour with Brother Thuy (pronounced TIE)

Brother Thuy is but another name for the enlightened Thich Nhat Hahn, Vietnamese-born poet and monk, residing for many years now in Plum Village, France. The 82-year-old was once nominated by Martin Luther King Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize. I listened to Krista Tippett's interview with him in 2003 on the great radio program Speaking of Faith. You can listen online.

Central to Brother Thuy's beliefs is the simple notion of knowing how to live in the present moment. If you know how to handle the present moment, you have done well for yourself.

Tippett asked an interesting ever-so-American question. "What are some of your most pressing questions in your life today?" Thich said he hadn't any, that the whole point of living a mindful life is that you face each situation as it comes so you'll be ready for the next opportunity that arises.

He spoke about anger. Right behind me on my bookshelf is his book Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames. We have a right to our own anger, he says, but we haven't a right to let it fester and not learn from it. I have spent lots of my life around angry people. Sadly, my mother is still a very angry woman, at age 86, and growing up I escaped into my own world of books and writing and sports to get out of our very angry household. Years later, my own inability to handle my own anger manifested itself in my acquiring manic-depression, which I've subsequently licked.

For some reason, I rarely get angry anymore. Thich might say it's because I possess so much compassion, or the ability to view every human being as a feeling person who experiences pain, yes, even my own mother. If we feel another person's pain it's hard to be angry with them for long. We can practice the important art of forgiveness.

Thus it was that I checked the blog of a woman called Stephany where I had left her a compassionate comment after her blogpost of a day of life's inevitable woes. Checking on the post today, I saw that Stephany had never published my comment.

My first response was anger. Then hurt. What had I done wrong? Hadn't she liked my comment? Had I perhaps written too long a comment and it detracted from the power of her own comment? Although I don't know Stephany, I do read her posts, enjoy her love of nature and find her life of such interest that I'll often stop by to read about it.

What should I do? Well, I sent her a note. Will she write me back? I have no idea. I'm not one of her regulars the way I'm a regular with Iris or with Stephen.

I learned something interesting about myself yesterday. My brain is like a 300-ring circus. I have so many interests and loves that if I'm disappointed about one thing, I rapidly forget about it cuz something else comes along. I was forced to stop reading my current book The Queen's Sorrow, about the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, as it was time to get ready for our New Directions meeting.

I was terribly sad to abandon the book as it's quite suspenseful. The moment I put it down, with sadness, I soon forgot about it as I gathered my things together for New Directions and my sadness dissipated.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Secret: Hang around Fun Folks

My nephew Miles graduated from high school yesterday. In this far-flung American life of ours his relatives came in from coast to coast.

His father, the irrepressible impresario Warren flew in from Venice, CA, where as usual he has found himself the center of attention among the hip culture of that city. Warren, always fashionable and wearing gorgeous comfy looking red clogs, lives on a houseboat and currently earns a living by selling jewelry. He greeted me by calling me "ageless." Thanks, Warren, tell that to my 63-year-old organs.

It's interesting to watch who hangs around who at parties. Miles was quite often in the presence of his long-gone daddy. As was I. I got a chance to share a story about a transgender individual with Warren, a story I can't share with my homophobic boyfriend, whose response is just to look away and say, Yuch! (with the requisite Jewish pronunciation of the 'ch')

Seems that family doctor Sheldon Berkowitz felt like he was trapped in a woman's body his entire life. Happily married and with 2 grown kids, he got counseling and decided to undergo treatment to become a woman. First he had hormone infusions and finally facial surgery to feminize his manly features. Although he doesn't despise his manly parts, he is saving money to undergo surgery to have a woman's sexual organs.

Now known as Dr. Deborah Bershel, he was surprised to find his wife no longer wanted to remain married. Hmmm. Let's say Scott decided to have a sex change operation and become a woman. Would I enjoy sleeping in the same bed with him? Hell no!

Dr Deb found out she is attracted to both men and women. So she's bixesual. She is currently dating a lesbian. For more info, check out this excellent video.

One thing about our family: we are very open and can talk about anything. I was very moved by a conversation I had with another family member I'll call Maria, a young woman who had a troubled life due to the drug addiction of her mother. Maria is fine now, became a physician herself, and will soon marry the man of her dreams.

She found out about the death of my ex-husband Millard and was absolutely distraught. I hadn't realized the depths of her caring about people. It moved me deeply. She cannot stand that people die. That they die young. That they die because they are manhandled in operations like my ex. Or die of natural causes when they get old.

Maria, I said. This is the human condition. Bury yourself in people you love and the work you love. This is why people write literature, to console us about the eternal human condition that will never change.

She is marrying, as all people must, a person who will comfort her, who will soothe her during the inequities of life. Otherwise, why marry? Go instead to your pillow or your teddy bear. I have always said that for me, no man is better than a man whose spirit is dead.

To Maria, I dedicate my favorite poem, Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold.

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the A gaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Best Yogurt I Ever Made

For the first time ever, I bought a packet of freeze-dried yogurt starter. I emailed the directions to my neighbor's niece, Chrissy, who lives in southern New Jersey. Chrissy and husband Matt own a farm they bought a few years back. Their son Ethan is 2 and has huge dark eyes that take in everything. How he loved the Roto-Rooter activity on our quiet street, just like my little Dapper Dan did some thirty years ago.

To make yogurt:

- bring 2-4 cups of milk to boil.

- let cool until you can dip in your finger without burning it. milk should still be very warm.

- transfer hot milk into a container in which you will let it ferment for several hours.

- add one packet of powdered yogurt bacteria OR one tablespoon real yogurt.

- thoroughly stir the mixture.

- cover it and place in warm place for 4 to 4.5 hours - or longer - until yogurt is totally firm. (warm place may be oven w/pilot light or stove range w/pilot light or in a large tub of very warm water)

- refrigerate when the yogurt is firm.

Since I left home to party all afternoon, I left the yogurt in the oven to congeal. When I returned home, I opened the oven and - presto! - the yogurt was firm.

Next morning I had two cups with fresh blueberries for breakfast. Truly the best yogurt I've ever made. The manufacturer is Yogourmet from Quebec. Cliquez-vous s'il vous plait.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Commotion on Cowbell!

A backhoe is sitting on a long trailer across the street, ready to depart. It arrived at 9 a.m. this morning while I was doing my morning reading in bed. I love the sound of trucks! All that masculine energy. Growl! As soon as I got dressed I ran outside to ask what was going on.

Two - count em! - two houses on our street are getting new sewers put in.

"Am I next?" I said to the Roto-Rooter man. He explained that the sewer pipes in our neighborhood were made of a particular material which is corroding. The new pipes are a black plastic and will hold up better.

Shucks, I was hoping to save my money for a new - what? - cmon, Ruthie, flex your capitalistic muscles - whatcha saving your money for? - uh, er, well, I'd like to buy some raspberry bushes for my yard, you have to order them special. I called around and no one has them.

Dr. Stamper had them years ago when I went traipsing through his backyard. He taught science at Abington Friends where my daughter went and somehow me and some other nosy people ended up in his backyard. A rifle sat against a lawn chair. It was the only way, he said, to get rid of squirrels.

Yesterday I went cruising around looking for raspberry bushes. I stopped in the the Holy Redeemer Counseling Center where I'm giving a talk on - Bi-polar! They spell it with a hyphen. I do not. As you know, I can't stand the word, I much prefer manic depression which is soooo descriptive but hey, I'm a modern gal.

So I met Sister Gerry who said Yes to my talk. About 8 years ago I applied for a job there as a counselor. I was dying to get out of working at Family Services and there's nothing so sweet as getting another job while you've already got one that you don't like. Ever done that before?

Well I didn't get the job b/c I made a fatal mistake. Sister Gerry and I were jibing together and of course I told her I ran New Directions for folks with mood disorders and she said, What made you start the group.

Foolish me confessed she had bipolar disorder. That clinched it. She gave me a bogus reason for not hiring me and I was sorely ashamed of myself for taking the bait and trusting her.

The Redeemer Counseling Center is exquisitively beautiful. Located on emerald green acres, it has a chapel of stained glass, a retirement center upstairs for retired nuns, and a swimming pool out back.

Sister, I said with a straight face, I'm seriously thinking of becoming a nun.

Oh, it takes a lot of work, she said in her loving voice.

I asked the secretary what kind of PR they do to advertise my program. She told me where they send notices. Decidedly poor advertising. I emailed the secretary my list of PR contacts. Nothing worse than an empty room for one of my seminars.

When I was leaving I spoke with an elderly volunteer who manned the front desk. A tinkling water fountain splashed merrily against the wall. A forty-ish black priest in collar smiled and walked out the door. Wow, did I ever wanna talk to him. Giving up his manhood for the church!

Betty and I spoke. She lives near me on Terwood Road. She calls up Pennypack Trust just like I do every time she sees an extraordinary animal. I told her about the Little Foxes I saw in Huntingdon Valley, my most cherished sighting.

And Betty told me about..... coyotes in her backyard! She called Dave Robertson right up and he said, Isn't that wonderful.

Today I submitted my Final Report for a grant we got last year. I mailed it in FOURTEEN DAYS early. This is amazing. It took me 63 years to realize, Ruthie, you don't have to wait till the last minute. It feels great to get it in early.

My friend Marcy called from California just as I was reading the final letter. I print these things out and re-read them as if I were reading it for the first time. Suddenly, a "placement" mistake jumped right out at me. I scribbled a huge black arrow onto the page, and with Marcy holding on from California where she's celebrating the graduation of her nephew Aaron from UC Santa Barbara, I cut and paste the sentence, "I am requesting another $1,000,000 for the next year."

Then I stuffed everything into the envelope and stuck on a Black Heritage Stamp. I give messages in everything I do. I'm a trumpeter. However, it felt pretty heavy, like I needed an additional 17 cents so I took it to the dentist's office with me (thankfully I don't have to return until my postmortem exam) and then went to the PO for a 17-cent stamp.

One thing is this. You don't wanna put excess postage on a letter to your funder cuz it'll show them you don't know the value of a dollar. So I spent 70 cents in gasoline driving to the post office to buy a 17-cent stamp.

Postman Jim asked what kind of support group I run. Then he told me the story of his sister, "Laura." She's 52 and has schizophrenia. At age 45, she got pregnant and has a 7-year-old son. She goes on and off meds. Since she's skinny now, Jim knows she's not on medicine. She's usually off the wall. She doesn't answer the phone when the family calls.

What on earth is gonna happen to her little boy blue?

When people tell me they have a bad day, said Jim, that they had a crazy day, I think to myself, You don't know what crazy is.

Amen to that. And you know what I said to Jim when he sold me the 17-cent stamp? I said, Jim, I've gotta put this stamp on myself. It's gotta be perfectly straight.

Money is riding on this letter. New sewer pipes? Or new raspberry bushes. I'm betting on raspberries and cream. I'll invite you over if you're nice to me, if you read my blog and laff at my jokes.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Dingaling-aling! Don't Rush to Answer

My telephone has become a terror zone. Yesterday, when my psychologist friend Greg Perri called, I yelled loudly into the telephone: YESSSS!

That's cuz the Caller ID read "Kentucky Call." I was afraid it was one of the two scam artists who call me at least twice a day.

The moment I got home from vacation, the phone rang. The Caller ID said: Person-to-Person, 814-940- 0200. I was certain I recognized the number.

"Don't you ever call here again, dyou understand?" I said in my mean voice.

"Sorry you feel that way," said the man sadly on the other end.

"I mean it," I said, and hung up.

Then I goggled the phone number. Fortunately I was correct. I would've been embarrassed had it been the Philadelphia Museum of Art asking for a donation.

The other scamster is Allied Data Corp at 281- 214 -1203. The recorded woman's voice is really mean like one of those female guards at Auschwitz.

What kind of a person would work a scam like that?

Speaking of which, I checked on ole yesterday. They seem to have changed their format and no longer have Quote of the Day or This Happened Twenty Years Ago. No, the web's preeminent publisher of literature, reference and verse had as their lead advertiser master scam artist Kevin Hoeffer.

I did have to ask myself, Ruthie, if Kevin gave you a million dollars cash, would you publish his ad in The Compass?

Then there's ole Bernie Madoff. His wife Ruth, 68, is a pariah. Even her own hairdresser won't see her. I spent hours worrying about her last nite. How is this woman gonna get her highlights put in? They won't even come up to her "ambassador-like" Manhattan apartment. Ah, how the mighty topple.

When I was a teenager, and this is really pathetic, I dunno what possessed me, the great JFK was assassinated on November 22, 1963, Terry Greenstein's birthday. I didn't much care for Terry but I sure loved Kennedy. Going home from 11th grade that day from Shaker Heights High School via 'rapid transit' there wasn't a sound on the entire train.

Everyone was distraught. We all went home and watched TV.

As we know, the killer Harvey Oswald was himself assassinated by Jack Ruby.

And what do I do?

Dad, I said. I wanna send Oswald's wife some money. Where should I send it?

Dad: Just send it to Dallas, TX. They'll forward it onto her.

And that's what I did. A crisp twenty for Marina.

Stephen, dyou think I'm nuts?

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Joys of the Commonwealth: Off to Gettysburg

Not only does PA call itself a Commonwealth, but so do four other states! For a prize of an autodidact trip to Gettysburg, PA, what are the other 3 states? The answers are below. I've written them backwards.

SSAM, YK, and AV.

Just gimme a car and a radio and I'll travel anywhere. Never was I so aware of the importance of auto travel than on my week's vacation with Scott. We took turns driving while the other one slept, noshed on red apples, adjusted the radio stations, checked her phone messages. The summer has yet to begin and yet the traffic was horrific.

Unlike me, Scott is stoic. He won't eat while he drives or even sip from a bottle of water. I get restless when I drive and need constant entertainment.

Oh! Look what I just found on the empty chair next to my desk. It's this huge folded postcard of the cyclorama at Gettysburg Memorial Battlefield, one of the best museums in the whole world, I'd venture. We spent two days there. The Gettysburg Cyclorama Panoramic Strip is one of the greatest battle scenes ever painted. It's located within the Visitors Center and is larger than a FOOTBALL FIELD. Begun in 1882, 20 years after the South's worst defeat in the War Against the States, French artist Paul Philippoteaux had 5 assistants to help create this larger than life phantasmagoria that brings viewers right into the battle.

We all stood around a circular platform while lights flashed on and off, a lifelike sunrise arose in the east, and cannon-fire frightened us with its loud booming sounds, followed by the blast of musket-fire. Bam bam bam!

Music played to highlight the drama. Drums and bugles were coded information sent out from regiment to regiment while horse-riding couriers hand-delivered messages.

I said to our licensed tour-bus guide, Dave Richards, I'm learning about all the history I missed when I was a kid.

We stayed at a terrific hotel, Country Inn and Sweets, where I arose at 8 yesterday morning - yes, only yesterday - and went for a lone swim in the indoor swimming pool. How refreshing!

When we finished up Gettysburg, we drove about 45 minutes south to the little-known Grotto in Emmitsburg, MD, a shrine dedicated to Bernadette of Lourdes, my favorite saint, I wrote a poem about her once, I doubt if I can find it, it was very clever. I did research on the real Bernadette Soubirous in the Hatboro Library, a 14-year-old peasant girl who claimed to see The Holy Mother 18 times. That's 17 times more than I've seen her.

Altho, wait a sec, there she is right now, on the Adams Family Roof right next door! She's wearing that lovely blue robe just like her statue.

The Grotto was spectacular. No one was there but the gnats. It had been raining so they rained down on us. I wore a hooded sweatshirt and had to wear my hood so they couldn't get into my ears. When I got home and itched my ears, I found some dead ones in there. YUK YUK YUK!!!

When you get home from vacation, life starts all over again. You know, the emails, the returning phone calls, jeez, I even had to write a Letter to the Editor earlier today. Life goes on and on until it stops. Not yet, thankfully, I've still got a lot of writing to do before I'm all used up like a delicious stick of black licorice with only the wrapper left.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Time for a vacation!

Scott and I are leaving shortly for the Inner Harbor, Baltimore. Last year I couldn't go on vacation due to my bad back. I told Tony Salvatore at our Suicide Seminar on Saturday that I understood how people can kill themselves due to immense pain. I refused to take opiates as I was afraid I'd lose my mind! I'm the only person who refuses free Percodans.

This year Scott and I will whoop it up! I'm psyched!!!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Suicide Prevention Seminar - smashing success! / The Little Foxes

What a victory, I said to myself as I was leaving the Huntingdon Valley Community Room for our 3 hour and 15 minute seminar. Perhaps I used the term 'victory' cuz it was D-Day, June 6, the invasion of Normandy. The nite before I watched the 1998 Spielberg film Saving Private Ryan, a movie I was finally ready to see. Most of it was filmed in - of all places - Ireland!

The first 24 minutes were voted 'best battle scenes ever' and forever changed the way war movies were made, according to Wikipedia. 30 to 40 amputees were hired to play extras. Underwater cameras caught injured American soldiers falling in the ocean and bleeding under the water. The carnage was immense and powerful. I couldn't take the final battle scene however cuz I'd had enough so I asked Scott to fill me in on it. They succeeded in their mission to Save Private Ryan.

Now, newer wars are being fought. Will there ever be an end to wars? Yes, when the last human being is wiped off the earth. Even animals are territorial and fight to the death.

Our first guest speaker at our Suicide Seminar was State Rep Tom Murt, Republican from the 152nd District of PA, who told about his deployment as an Army reservist to Iraq in 2003 at the age of 44. He was able physically to keep up with young men and women half his age and served as a counselor for his platoon in Takrit. He told our audience of about 30 that many of the men were so scared to fight that they tried to get out of it by thinking of harming themselves by having someone run over their foot with a Humvee.

He was critical of Army protocol which wouldn't allow one of his men to go home for the funeral of his mother or a man who would miss the birth of his first child. Murt personally assisted these men - and many others - to make certain their reasonable desires were carefully considered by top brass and put into effect.

Tony Salvatore whose 28-yr-old son died by suicide 13 years ago gave an impassioned presentation about the stigma of talking about suicide and how he, Tony, will always address any audience where he's asked to speak to help tear down these barriers.

And Dr. Pam London Barrett, aka The Singing Psychiatrist, provided ways to deal with suicidal thoughts such as developing spirituality (a higher power such as your children to keep you alive during these horrible thoughts) and the importance of TALKING about your thoughts, getting them out of your head and calling someone.

I could not have been more pleased with the program! I was busy that day from morning until evening. I barely had time to check the headlines on the NY Times, or check my daughter's blog, or my son/law's blog, or clean out my birdbath.

The hardest thing of all was THE SIGNAGE. I had no idea what to do. I called lots of people for ideas. Then I went down to Michael's and threw myself into the hands of the woman behind the counter. I actually felt guilty - no no Ruthie! - asking her to ACCOMPANY me to find posterboard on which to write the signs. I mean, here she was in the middle of conversation with someone, and I'm interrupting her. First she pointed, then I told her I checked there, and then I said, Could you possibly accompany me.

Whew! I selected hot pink posterboard that showed up a mile away so people got the clue to follow the hot pink color to the Community Room. A woman from New Directions helped me. I'm not allowed to say her name so I'll call her - hmmm - Jenny. That's a good name. The two of us drew ARROWS on the posterboard and wrote the word SEMINAR - about 12 different times.

While doing so I learned All About Jenny who has been on a zillion medications, none of which do any good, and in fact have instigated mania. I told her, You've been misdiagnosed. You do not have schizoaffective disorder (her first diagnosis) which was changed to bipolar. I said if I were a shrink I'd give you a V-Code. That's a lesser diagnosis. I'd say you had problems with obsessions for which you could indeed try an SSRI, which she had tried but it did no good, or else get some powerful psychotherapy to help you stop obsessing.

People like Jenny who receive a psychiatric diagnosis, and I told her this, are reluctant to give it up b/c they use it to define themselves and to blame their problems on their so-called illness. She will most likely not listen to me b/c I'm not a shrink but I must proffer an opinion.

After the program, Tom Murt offered to pay the bill when we went out afterward to a pizzeria. I always like to unwind after a program by going out and schmoozing. Well, the pizzeria was now off-limits cuz the owner told me we had to get in there by 4:45 so it wouldn't interfere with his patrons who had reservations, so we went instead to Cafe Preeya, Le Bec Fin of Montgomery County PA.

The prices were really high and I didn't wanna take advantage of Tom's good nature. I said to everyone we've gotta share entrees (which are always huge here in spendthrift America where money grows on trees) and that we couldn't order beverages or dessert or coffee, except if we pay for it individually.

We had a super-nice waiter who I'm gonna look up on Facebook and he brought us out some spring rolls courtesy of the House and we had a magnificent time. Judy said it was one of the best days of her life. Me too.

Now here's the clincher.

After we ate, I dropped off the Community Room Keys at the Lower Moreland Police Station. I LOVE COPS. Besides holding the power of life n death in their hands, they can also be really cute, at least the younger ones, who often train at the gym and have big biceps.

So I hop out of my car, jingling my keys and rookie cop Mike Donohue gets out of his car. He goes on duty at 7 pm and it's now 6:30. I ask him to please take the keys and make sure the Administration Bldg next door gets them.

Are you following me?

He runs in the department to check if he can do this (they did it for us 2 years ago when we gave another seminar) and then he came out and said Yes.

Mike, I said, I really appreciate this. I'm gonna tell you a little secret.

And I told him the secret. And I told him where. And I told him when.

Scott and I had found a den of bright orange foxes. We saw them from the distance. They looked like kitty cats except, unlike cats, they all looked the same. It was one of the greatest thrills of my life seeing those Little Foxes. How they shone in the sun! their coats were bright orange like tabby cats. They were playing with each other and rolling on the ground as all youngsters do.

When I got home from the Seminar, Scott asked me: How many times did you look at the foxes? I'll bet you looked at them five times, he said.

That's about right, I said.

NAMI Mental Health Walk / Poem: Violets for Susan

Saturday a week ago we met at the ungodly hour of 7 am and drove in a couple of cars to Philadelphia's Fairmount Park for the annual NAMI Walk for Mental Health.

The day was beautiful. We hopped in Peggie's huge white car. Peggie raised some money for New Directions. Thanks Peggela!!!

There were 80 Walking Teams. Each had a banner. Our banner read New Directions. What? It should read Atheists Unite? Or Jimmy Piersall Fan Club?

There were 11 of us including daughter Sarah who was here for a long weekend. They grow up so fast, don't they Roberto?

Due to those fantastic banners, I introduced myself to a lot of folks I'd never met before. I like to tell the following story. Yes, yes, I know, I'm a blabber.

I saw a sign reading Magellan. They're a huge insurance company and have loads of money. Three blond bombshells were carrying the banner. They have no idea the toll mental illness takes on a life. They keep people waiting for as long as SIX HOURS in the ER until they agree to spend their insurance money - of which they have millions - to admit a suffering individual into the hospital for treatment. This includes suicidal individuals who must sit there in the sterile emergency room alone with their thoughts until the Magellan power-hungry assholes grant them hospital admission.

I went up to the Magellan gals. Hi, I said cheerily, I run a fantastic support group for people with depression and bipolar disorder and their loved ones and I was wondering if we could apply for a grant from Magellan.

I knew that Magellan gives grants.

The Magellanite in charge gave me some bullshit.

RZD: Ya know, I said, I'm not surprised that you're giving me the run-around. I've called Magellan only last week, twice, and they never called me back.

In fact, I'd called Magellan numerous times over the years and was always given the run-around.

MAGELLAN: Oh, we're not giving you a run-around.

RZD: Yes, you are. You never told me who to contact about my request.

MAG: Oh, you want me to give you a name right here on the walk?

RZD: Sure, I said, I have a piece of paper and pen in my backpack.

MAG: Well, I didn't bring my business card.

RZD: Well, do you remember your name and email address?

MAG: What? Right here during the walk.

RZD: Actually, no. You just go ahead and have a nice walk.

I turned away and re-joined my group.

Later on, I saw a booth for Aetna Insurance. David Stimmler gave me his name and email address. He wrote back the same day with website links to contact.

During the walk I met a woman who used to come to New Directions, the support group I founded to help me deal with my manic depression, an illness I thought I would never shake. As you know, I like to use the word 'cured' when I refer to my condition. I've learned to 'contain' all my emotions within my brain so I don't need to resort to the unconscious mechanisms of mania, anxiety, and depression.

I did not know what to do with my intense feelings about "Susan" so when I came home I jotted down some notes about her and wrote the following poem. Details are changed.


only this morning
on good morning america
a learned psychiatrist stunned
the audience with
his remarkable looks,
hair that looked like
it was undergoing shock treatments
and hands flitting about his face
as if warding off flies

no one laughed

perhaps he had taken
on these characteristics from the
depths of his unconscious
to wake up an ignorant world
to the unimaginable horrors
and wasted lives of the
people on his ward

I wondered, did you watch it susan?

schizophrenia scratches the brain like
stiletto heels ripping through fresh growing grass
it sculpts a rent between thoughts and emotions:
think a sad thought
then giggle or guffaw
until your voice breaks

you were not like that, susan,
what you did was smart, symbol-laden
- are schizophrenics like that? –
is there room for diversity? –
no, you never laughed
not now, not ever
the best we can expect is
a forced smile
in conformance with your parents’ wishes
another mark of a schizophrenic
always your parents child
- oh, how is she these days?
has she gotten a job? –
living with mom and dad
till they die one by one
leaving you to drown in
their backyard pool
when the time comes around

your hair going slowly gray
your fingernails lengthening
unpolished forever –
you do not turn heads –
your skull
a warrior’s helmet
hiding the rages within
fjords of jagged Norwegian ice
where quarrelling birds
swipe at each other mid-air
only you can hear their screams,
small spectator
with sad eyes
surveying the damage

far from a giggle
you planned a war
a rescue operation when you
realized the truth,
o brave soul,
your very own sister,
the social worker in Yardley,
was planning to smother her third grader
you couldn’t be fooled
the news came disguised as a
$22 sewer bill
you would rescue the child
the way you failed to rescue your
life as the spinster sister

silent as a mouse tiptoeing in the basement
you filled your cerulean blue Beetle
with your children’s books and some
hastily thrown together sandwiches
for when you bore her away
out of captivity
Perseus unchaining his lady

but they spotted you
didn’t they
when you pulled up unexpected
your forced smile appearing as
your body crumpled into its
position of repose

I found you ten years later
sitting on a park bench
with your keepers and your

did you know I care about you susan?
that I remember you from the writers group
when the worm began nibbling you ever so gently

you could barely grant me a hello
sitting in the sun on the park bench
in your customary shirtwaist
a sprig of nostril hairs sprouting
like violets

I longed to pluck
and deliver
at your sandaled feet.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Obama Artwork

From the NY Times June 4, 2009. Click here and feast your eyes.

My daughter told me that the night Obama was elected she was in her Brooklyn apartment. Her husband was overseas on a musical tour. It was around 2 a.m. Suddenly she heard shouts from the street below. Louder and louder shouts. She knew he had won. She called her husband to tell him the great news.

From Cairo, Obama said, Anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. . . . Six million Jews were killed . . . Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful.

He was our first black President, praise the lord! Now click on those amazing photos of artwork created around the world in celebration of this brilliant man, logical yet passionate who has gone where no man or woman has gone before. He is our Fearless Leader. And I am his Fearless Follower.

To tell you the truth, I feel like sending this artwork to Gina, my therapist.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Timing is everything: a rescue mission

Was it the spirit of Marjorie Bayersdorfer that led us to Pennypack Trust at the exact perfect moment? Who knows why we dilly and dally, how we decide to go to a particular place and then leave when it's time to go.

My goal was to entertain Sarah and show her the beauty of the emerald green suburbs on her whirlwind visit with her Pennsylvania kin. First I took her to The Secret Garden, part of The Lord's New Church in Bryn Athyn where a wooden gate with a cut-out symbol of some sort of cross actually swung open at our approach as if inviting us inside.

The pond was overgrown with yellow-flowered cedum. A white fountain with cupid-like figures seemed to stop gushing as if waiting to be turned on again.

Marvelous iris and daisies and tiny shrubs grew wild all around it as if awaiting a gardener and his trowel to pick up where he last left off. Benches seemed to ask us to sit down and contemplate the tranquility of the garden and take a huge bite out of life, a golden sandwich.

I picked up a few fallen branches and tossed them in a pile to neaten up the place.

Then we headed for Pennypack Trust where I wanted to show Sarah my favorite view: Raytharn Farm. They made up the name Raytharn after the founders of Bryn Athyn - Raymond and Theodore Pitcairn. We went into the Barn which Sarah remembered as a kid. A group were huddled together talking very seriously. Some words they used were:

Lake, turtle, fishing line, tangled, what are we gonna do.

Here's what the Demings did about it.

Sarah and Scott went down to the pond. Scott stood on the deck with two other virile muscular handsome hairy men while Sarah waded in the water in her jeans, T-shirt and shoes to protect her feet. She waded in the water about 15 feet, hands held in the air, water up to her waist, and then picked up a calmly thrashing turtle who'd gotten tangled in some fishing wire.

Bringing it to the overhanging pier, she handed the turtle to the virile men who in an amazing operation turned Mr. T upside down and removed the fish hook from his claw. After handing him back to Sarah, she gently put him back in the water and watched him swim away.

We all applauded our teamwork and I handed Sarah a towel. I always keep a towel and my bathing suit in the trunk in case I find a place to swim or save turtles.

Reward Yourself after an Odious Task

I told this to my therapy client the other day. "Yeah," she said, "but all my rewards are bad for me."

After I did today's most odious task I went downstairs and watched an hour's worth of the HBO show "In Treatment." When I originally requested it online from the library, a message popped up saying, "You're the 18th person to request this video. Dyou still want it?"

"More than ever!" I typed in. But since it's a Yes or No question, I wrote Yes.

Sarah was in town for an unprecedented three whole days. I couldn't believe she didn't like In Treatment so I asked her to watch an episode w/me and this time she really enjoyed it. And now, Dear Reader, I'd like to open up YOUR eyes to this show and ask you a question.

Should we watch a half-hour segment at New Directions?