Thursday, July 30, 2009

Poem: Rain

Last nite while making my bean salad I confessed over the phone to my friend Carolyn that the poetry department of my brain had closed down. Carolyn and I met at the River Poets group in Lambertville, NJ.

I told her I don't even have ideas for poems, tho I did read her my latest poem Flashbacks which I presented last month at our Coffeeshop Poetry Group here in Willow Grove, PA.

Gee, she said. You used to write practically a poem a day. Can't believe you don't have any ideas. It'll come back, she said.

I was up late reading Jeffery Deaver's latest Lincoln Rhyme crime novel: The Broken Window. It's my first Deaver book. A co-worker of Scott leant it to him. I recommended it to my future daughter/law who's a great reader. I told her that if she's bored at her wedding next month she can always pull out the book.

After I closed the book and attempted to go to sleep, an event occurred. I said to myself, Write a poem about it.

Just finished it a second ago. As is my wont, I called someone to read it aloud to. At the end of our conversation, I said: Robert, now you can add poetry consultant to your resume. He said that if he loses his current job, he'll seek employment in the burgeoning poetry field.


all day
we wait
listening for the sound
the sky darkens
birds quiet
winds sting the earth
you take your time
surprise is your name

it is dark
my eyes are closed
the porch door open
quiet at first
the drops arrive
singly then in droves
I saw a horse once
on the side of a hill
pissing as he walked
a huge stream of
splashing golden liquid

I can almost hear
my cucumbers moan
and the tomatoes
reddening on the vine

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Potato Salad Sans the Potatoes

I'm on a special diet for my stage 3 chronic kidney disease which I developed after being on lithium for 16 years. Main components of my diet are low potassium and low sodium. I've given up potatoes entirely due to their high potassium content. Today I'll make my first potato salad but without the potatoes. Here's my recipe which I've just invented this morning, based on 2 nutrition consults:

2 cups of lightly steamed green beans, cooled
1 cup of raw shredded carrots
1 diced onion
chopped fresh cucumber
sliced hard-boiled egg if desired

fold in dressing:

half-cup Hellmann's olive-oil mayo
1/4 cup Dijon mustard (check salt content. Grey Poupon has twice the salt of Dietz n Watson)
1-2 minced garlic cloves
fresh lemon juice
chopped basil or thyme from jardin

Since this is labor-intensive you might wish to call your mother while making it or a long-winded friend.

Whose car is this?

Although I've certainly bonded with my new car purchased 2 weeks ago on July 13 (dad's deathday), I still can't find the darn thing in the parking lot.

Case in point. I'm sitting in Terry's chair in Mark's living room. A cool breeze is blowing thru the screen door. Our movie is nearly over. The credits are coming on so I look out the window. Gee, I think, when I spot a parked car across the street. I could've sworn I parked further down the street but apparently not. There's my car!

It was not my car and of course I'd parked further down the street.

That nite I make a second trip to the Willow Grove Giant Supermarket. I haven't exercised since Sunday when Scott & I swam at our pool in Long Beach Island and walked miles along the beach. I feel guilty when I don't exercise, so I parked as far away as possible in the Giant parking lot and walked briskly to the store, carefully marking where I'd parked.

After shopping and now lugging 3 bags of groceries sans cart (to exercise my arms) I was surprised to see my car in a different spot than I'd parked it.

There must be some way to find my car short of using automatic finding mechanisms. My first hunch is always right, the memory of how and where I parked it. I've gotta have more faith in myself.

There's a strange car parked in my driveway now. I go outside and examine it closely. It has enormous tail-lights and they are quite beautiful. When you look closely at the color it has little sparkles all over it. Scott, a former car mechanic, told me the sparkles indicate the car color is 'metallic' whatever that means.

It's got a silly fin on the trunk which is called a spoiler. To me it interferes with my rear-view visibility. Scott told me the spoiler has a purpose: better traction. For me tho it's like I'm driving a pretend dolphin.

I showed Mailman Bob my new car yesterday.

Where'd you get the money to buy it? he asked.

He was handing me the mail.

See this? I say. It's from my bank. Every single penny I get I put into a CD. The interest rates are terrible now - 2.25 percent for a 10-month CD, but at least I make something.

I asked about his daughter. She's dating her third cop. I guess she likes the feeling of being protected. We talked about Henry Louis Gates and Officer Crowley. It wasn't hard to believe what Mailman Bob said about the whole thing. I also asked him about mail delivery this summer.

It's light, he said easily hefting his nearly empty bag.

I'll have some mail for you tomorrow, I said. My preferred mode of mailing things is to personally hand it to Mailman Bob. "Just don't give me any more cash to mail," he said. "Or at least don't tell me it's cash."

"Oh, it's impossible to know it's cash," I say. I wrap it up in a SEPTA work order."

He told me they're always arresting postal workers at the big center on Byberry Road for theft. People make it easy for thieves, he said. They put all sorts of Happy Birthday stickers on the envelopes which shout out "Calling all thieves." Most of em are honest though.

Now if only I knew whose car that is in my driveway. Curiously my sunglasses are on the front seat and the trunk, below the dorsal fin, is packed with my New Directions' stuff.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Movie day as a reward for finishing Compass

Mark called and said he was bored and lonely. Me too, I said. How bout if I come over and we'll watch one of my library DVDs.

First I stopped at the Giant and bought myself a huge salad complete with cottage cheese, watermelon, strawberries, chicken strips, and the usual lettuces and cucumbers and grated carrots. I slathered it with thick raspberry vinaigrette dressing and some greasy oil they had.

I got to sit in Terry's chair as Mark put on the 2004 British movie "Vera Drake."

I know what it's about, I said to Mark, cuz I read the liner notes but I'm not gonna tell you. It'll be a surprise.

The movie proceeds. It's astonishingly well-acted. Someone named Imelda Staunton plays the title role.

Dowdy, I comment when she comes on stage.

Yes, he says.

I wonder if I myself am dowdy but say nothing. I think I'm too young to be dowdy.

One of Mark's cats strolls by. "Who's this beauty?" I ask.

"He's Baby," says Mark.

I watch Baby sway across the room. He's huge and fat, sort of like my son's Xena, who alas is in squirrel heaven, as Stephen might say.

The movie is so interesting that I daren't move, so well-acted, so real. Mark is really into it, too, and marvels about the realistic period furnishings and dress. It takes place shortly after WW2.

Slowly we shift from animated domestic scenes into other worlds where we ascend along with Vera Drake the rather bleak stairways of people's homes where young women wait for her in their bedrooms. Vera brings a small suitcase with her, filled with the proper equipment to get them back to normal.

No shit! cries Mark. Is she gonna perform abortions?

Yep, I say.

The acting is so remarkable you can't for one single moment tear yourself away from Vera's performance.

They're all good, all the actors. Of course the minute I get home I goggle all their names as if I could preserve forever the wonder of being in that movie, for, yes, that's exactly how you feel, that like it or not you are right there in the same room for two intense anguished hours participating! Such is the power of this film.

The Compass - fini!

About six years ago, my local nature center, Pennypack Ecological Trust received huge 'open space' grants for the preservation of fields and meadows and forests and ponds - over 700 acres of them - which are now community property forever and ever. I remember asking David Robertson, the exec director, about the grantwriting process since, I as director of ND, also write grants. I figured I'm the only one who has difficulty getting grants in on time.

We worked around the clock, said David. We were so exhausted that when it came time to turn in the grants, we had no energy to celebrate. We all just wanted to go home and go to sleep.

Thus it was that yesterday, Monday, when I finished working on the Summer/Fall issue of the Compass magazine I was too tired to party. I felt like a huge burden had been lifted off my shoulders and that I was visibly lighter. I'd shipped out the 25 or so articles to group members to proofread. Our proofers were Mary, Tiffers, Ada, and Anthony. Four articles in particular are really exciting - My Life and Times as a Gay Bipolar Man, Life as a Black American with Bipolar, an in-depth Compass interview with psychoanalyst and author Bob Gordon, and the slow difficult recovery of a woman with borderline personality disorder. Those are my own personal favorites.

I woke up on Monday with the intention of re-reading all the stories and condensing them even further. I was absolutely merciless, pretending I was the editor Alan Kerr of the Intelligencer ("we just can't justify all the space" is something he might say"). One woman had written a 10-page story which I culled down to 8 pages. This woman was very difficult. She wanted to micromanage me, look over my shoulder and okay all my editorial corrections. Finally, I sent her an email and said, "I'm going to be blunt with you. I am the editor of this magazine and I'll do what's best for the magazine. If you don't like it, feel free to withdraw your story." That was hard for me to do but of course you must do what's best for the readers.

I sent it to a local printer in Hatboro, close enough for me to drive over. But I emailed the graphic designer six different emails with all the articles attached. Here's what my title line of the email said:

5 articles attached - batch 1

Up until the last minute I was re-reading the darn things until I thought I was gonna puke. I'd read the borderline story, then say to myself, okay read it again, make sure everything is correct. I felt like I was a surgeon sewing up the body parts of a patient and wanted to make sure everything was in there and that I didn't leave any sponges inside.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Bill Moyers Healthcare Report

Scott comes over. "Bill Moyers has a great show. Healthcare. Can I change the channel?"

"Absolutely not," I say. "I'm in the middle of The Karate Kid. When a person is experiencing pleasure they should never be interrupted."


"We'll watch it later online," I say.

He pretends to leave. "It's a good movie," I say.

"It's formulaic," says he.

"Look at the beautiful California scenery."

By now it's nearly 9:30 pm and yes, Scott has turned over and gone to sleep.

Last nite I finally watched Bill Moyers. I feel utterly betrayed as an American by the insurance industry and the drug companies. Here's the video. It's straight-talk about health-care reform.

I wonder why I'm taking it so hard. Just about everyone I know has decent health insurance. I guess it's the idea that big corporations are screwing with us and profiting when we get sick. There's no worse feeling than laws or policies being enacted that you have no control over. Hmmm, maybe I should join AARP or move to the parking lot of the Cleveland Clinic.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Who ate the squirrel?

My boyfriend Scott lives next door. Yes, right next door. We share grass. NO, not that kind of grass. On our shared lawn we have a garden and have already eaten its bell peppers and Scott eats the hot peppers but I don't cuz they make me cough.

Two days ago he told me there was a dead squirrel in his yard. He imitated its position - lying face down and stretched out. "You wanna come see?" he asked.

"I'll pass," I said. "Last year I had a dead robin on my driveway. That was enough."

My first thought was Why did the squirrel die? We each have a compost heap in our yards. Had they eaten something horrible from there? We decided against having an autopsy done.

This morning before work, Scott came over.

"The squirrel's gone," he said. "Someone ate him."

I was gonna call David Robertson at Pennypack Ecological Trust but decided to stand on my own four feet. Who took the squirrel? What's your guess, Dear Reader? Scott surmised it was either a fox or a coyote. We do have owls and hawks but they only eat moving targets. Vultures?

Hmm, maybe I'd better call Dave Robertson.

Obama speaks out!

At 8 pm sharp last nite, I unplugged my phone, turned on the PBS channel and listened to the president explain his healthcare plan. I liked his confidence, the principles he will abide by to assure cost-effective bills, choices he will give everyone concerned including employers, and his intolerance of the greedy insurance companies. He was also honest about various politicians playing politics over America's much-needed healthcare reforms instead of simply responding to the crisis at hand that affects all their constituents if only they would listen!

I was more impressed with Obama's speech last nite than any other speech he's given as president. "I am confident" was a phrase he used over and over. Like most Americans, I worry that nothing will come of the proposed healthcare reforms but actually felt hopeful after hearing his hour-long defense.

How fortuitous that a reporter asked him about the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr, allowing viewers a rare glimpse into a more private Obama. The president could not hide his outrage that this black professor was arrested in the lobby of his own home by local police who handcuffed him and took him to the police station where he was locked up for FOUR HOURS. Racial profiling is alive and well.

Obama's words last nite convinced me that we have much more than just a symbol of a president who travels around the world inspiring people. We have in fact someone whose knowledge and words are precursors to important actions that will transform our embarrassment of a country - with our staggeringly wonderful resources with our equally staggering poverty - into a nation that our founding fathers can be proud of.

In case you missed Obama's talk, you can watch the highlights here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ethan's interview with jazz legend Keith Jarrett

My son-in-law Ethan Iverson, pianist with The Bad Plus, was asked by the BBC radio people to interview jazz great Keith Jarrett. The two met at a studio in New Jersey where Ethan and Keith had an animated discussion. It's the sort of insightful interview that can only be conducted by an insider - a man thoroughly passionate and informed about jazz thru the ages. That's my son-in-law.

The interview is only available online for a week. Five days are left to hear it in its entirety which I've done twice. Here's the link. Scroll down, bottom left.

Ethan mentions the interview was easy to do b/c Keith loves to talk.

For an intro to Keith's music, find him on YouTube here. The camera-work is phenomenal!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Monday, July 20, 2009


Scott was doing the dishes yesterday and asked Is that a woodpecker on the backyard tree?

I went over to the window. "Absolutely," I said. "No other bird gets into that position or has that body shape." He was slender and was perched upside down on a tree limb on the only remaining tree in my yard. (The bird, not Scott.)

I'd reluctantly needed to take the other two trees down. They were dying. The previous owners planted them too close together.

At any given moment I can look out the window and find birds and squirrels roosting on that tree. From my second-floor bathroom window I get an entirely different view of the tree, its upper stories, as if it were a skyscraper with different activities.

Point being, I am in love with nature and crave its beauty.

Yesterday, Scott laboriously strapped our bikes onto his car bike rack and we rode off to Lorimer Park, one of Montgomery County's six or so huge parklands, and we rode a couple of miles down old railroad tracks which have been converted to biking and walking trails. We rode for about an hour in the hot sun but you generate such a breeze that you barely sweat. And what a great workout!

You can find Rails to Trails here.

We love our 8-speed bikes which we bought at Wheelwright in Abington, PA. Prominently on the bike it reads Made in China.

We also bought bike stands so we can use them as stationery exercise bikes in the off-season. Whenever I'm on a long phonecall, I'll hop on the bike and pedal, or else go out to the garden and clip weeds with my hand clippers. It's impossible for me not to multi-task. I have a big phonecall coming up later today and will do my weekly cooking while I'm chatting - I'll make my brown rice and hard-boiled eggs for the week. The woman on the other end will hear me clattering as I listen to her tale about her bipolar (fill in the blank).

Moon-walk anniversary hoopla!

Where were YOU 40 years ago today, July 20?

I was living in San Francisco in the Haight-Ashbury district with my black boyfriend, Curtis Branch. He was a Chivas-Regal drinking construction worker originally from Clarksdale, Mississippi. My life was enriched immeasurably by knowing Curtis. I've always been incredibly naive and trusting - and am still pretty much today - so when he betrayed me by sleeping with the woman across the hall whose last name was Kessler, I was absolutely shocked.

I picked up my belongings and left immediately, moving home to Philadelphia. On my way home from the Philadelphia airport were huge billboards reading SMOOTH AS SILK, KESSLER (it was a vodka or something).

Ah, the things we remember. Curtis and his friends were not at all interested in the moon landing. As marginalized Americans, some of them were ex-cons (read the excellent book Tally's Corner), they lived in another America, the fringes, a sick subculture, aspiring to become the rich Americans they despised, but their lack of training and education prevented them from doing so.

Curtis was always kind to me and my friends. He was upbeat with a great personality. We'd visit my Aunt Hy in Redwood City and she loved him too. Curtis cooked dinner for us. Notably I remember his shrimp and spaghetti sauce. My friend Iris Arenson-Abbot from Goddard College lived in our same building. When she's finished with her research paper, I'll ask about her memories of those days.

When Curtis's dad died and he needed money to go to the funeral, he asked me to lend him the money. I knew I'd never get it back but I wrote him a check for $2,000. When I got home to Pennsylvania, my dad said to me, "You got more than your moneys' worth by living with Curtis. Nothing can compare with your experience."

I reluctantly agreed with him.

What I learned from Curtis was indeed priceless. The best part of our relationship was our terrific sex life. His skin was soft and beautiful. He took good care of it. He smelled delicious. He was a good, decent person who used to tease me: "Look, what I brought home," he'd say. "A wedding ring!" We'd laugh and laugh. I would never have married him. The chasm between our cultures and lifestyles was too deep.

We wrote each other for a year or two after our break-up. I'd watch out the window for the mailtruck to see if the mail was on its way. Love comes in many ways into our lives, and is not to be taken lightly.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Survey says

People take such good c/o me at our New Directions meetings. After the meeting, Mark carried out my 'box of tricks' as I call it to the car. "Just put it here in my lap," he said from his wheelchair. People had packed up the box for me while I was chatting with everyone at meeting's end.

We had another fellow there, "Aubrey," who returned after a year of trauma. He'd undergone ECT (electroshock therapy) which was lifesaving for him and he was back at work part-time. Amazing! And who guided him throughout his ordeal? Our own Peggela! She was amazing. Once she takes you under her wing, your burden is lighter and will be lifted.

Iris had a record-setting Authentic Happiness group with what looked to be 10 people gathered round the table. I wished I could've been in that group, maybe next time, but there were some folks at the bipolar table I wanted to catch up with. Funny, we were sitting there jabbering, and suddenly Mary's face lit up cuz someone new was entering the room. I just watched her face instead of turning around and then saw who it was - "Lola" (ah! what a perfect fake name for this beautiful sun-tanned woman) - Lola came specifically to THANK US for helping her get thru painful divorce memories and living as a solitary woman rather than part of a couple.

In fact, in our large group discussion we did talk about Dating and how to meet a partner. A super-attractive single gay man who attends a downtown renegade church for gay Catholics said he considered the dating scene 'Mission Impossible.' Everyone gave suggestions ranging from joining activities you enjoy to telling friends you're looking. One of our lawyer guys met someone on - he and his gal are in their 60s - and one of our nurses paid a matchmaker who set her up with a man she's been dating for several months.

Before the meeting I typed up a survey and made 40 copies on my printer while I ran in the kitchen to make dinner. Here are the questions:

I'm a patient with....fill in the diagnosis

I'm a loved one (relationship to patient)

What kind of health insurance do you have? Are you satisfied with its coverage of mental health
issues? Also mention if you have NO insurance and what you do about this. (Ask us about free care.)

How long have you been attending ND?

What do you find most helpful?

What suggestions do you have?

Guest speakers: Are you willing to attend our special programs off-campus on Saturday or Sunday?

Any ideas for guest speakers?

Would you recommend our group? What would you tell someone about us?

Are you happy with our Small Group Leaders?

Do you encounter any problems in the small group? Be specific.


You might say our ratings were all Tip-Top. One of the best suggestions we received from this anon. survey was "People should be reminded to speak their questions while standing so everyone can hear."

When asked what you find most helpful, one person said, "Drawing strength from others who have the same illness as I do. I also love the small group atmosphere." and "The group interactions and exchanging phone numbers and email." and "Most people are nice, open, and honest."

People wanted the following guest speakers, which I've already begun seeking out:

-A research scientist (perhaps I'll contact Roberta Ball again? Any other ideas?)

-An expert in ECT (Dr. Worthington gets top reviews; he's always available for the patient. However, he's really busy. Pause. I just made a phone call & asked one of our members to call him.)

-Therapists (I've already sent out a request for this)

Farewell Walter Cronkite

When I read that Walter Cronkite died, I immediately Wiki'd him. I'd met his daughter, Kathy, once at a book signing at Friends Hospital here in Philadelphia when I was in the throes of my manic depression. She too had a mental illness, depression, with some cutting on the side.

According to Wiki, Walter was keeping company with one Joanna Simon, former opera singer, and now Manhattan real estate agent, and sister of Carly Simon.

My ex-Mike husband and I would watch Cronkite every nite at 6:30 - remember Mike? - oh, I forgot you were dead - we'd set up the TV tables in the living room and eat our dinners there - it was better than talking to each other - I think we stopped communicating after about a month of marriage - anyway, then we'd continue the evening by watching re-runs of Star Trek.

Both of us were as unhappy as two trees slowly dying of thirst.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

We filled the auditorium & I sold my books!

Two years ago after my triumphant performance at the Doylestown Hospital Wellness Center, I called local hospitals to see if I could get another gig speaking about my favorite topic: Pre-Columbian Pottery in the Age of the Ptolomies.

Surprisingly, Abington Memorial Hospital has never been interested in hearing me speak about bipolar disorder even tho we're the most longlasting member of their support group network.

What dyou do when you get rejected? You try again. I scratched my head and said, Where can I speak that's in the requisite 20 minute driving distance? So I made a phone call to the Holy Redeemer Hospital Counseling Center and lo, Sister Gerry Fitzpatrick, said Cmon down! However, it wasn't for another year and a half.

What a long wait. In the meantime, I did get other gigs including mine own Upper Moreland Library at which time I wrote up a 40-page booklet with the title Yes I Can: Living Well with Bipolar Disorder and Depression. I slaved over that book, a true labor of love, and included I believe 3 or 4 of my poems about the illness.

Driving down in my new car to the counseling center, I was in a fab mood, radio tuned into my new fave radio station WPRB in Princeton. They were playing some awesome music at 6:30, I don't know how to describe it, I'd never heard anything like it before.

Hey, did you know that in N Korea, the populace is unaware of jazz? It's verboten. One guy accidentally found out about it (they probly imprisoned him for it) and he became ecstatic, What is that, he wondered. What a repressive country!

I pull up and my assistant Ellen is also pulling up. She took great c/o me, another Ada. During the presentation I called her my wet-nurse after she brought me a bottle of water but nobody heard me and Ellen did know what it meant. Please don't tell her.

The secretary had emailed me before the program and said 52 people had signed up. I thought it was a typo but it was true. We had to move into the auditorium.

When I walked into the auditorium 12 minutes early, all these people were sitting in their chairs - nice cloth swivel chairs - and they were waiting for me! "Hello everyone!" I shouted happily. "I'm your guest speaker!"

They were all wearing nametags, per my suggestion, and I told them that from previous experience I know they're gonna have lots of questions and that I want this to be an interactive evening and I'm here to answer their questions. I also mentioned I'd written a book which was available after the meeting for $5 apiece. I signed a huge number of my books, just like my daughter Sarah has signed for her wonderful Iris, Messenger.

I began talking right away even before everyone had filed in and before Sister introduced me. Why waste time? When I finished up, people said they wished I could talk all nite. The time of course went quickly and I was glad to get off my feet and get home to Scott who was waiting in bed for me. When I came home I showed him my dress and took off my high-heeled sneakers which are a teeny bit tight but unlike Cinderella's stepsisters, I decided not to slice off my big toe.

Sister had a metal pitcher of cold water waiting for me at my table and as soon as I got there I drank an entire glass. Man, it was hot outside.

Right away people began raising their hands. "Lemme talk a few more minutes," I said, "and then I'll take questions."

People were STARVING for information and to tell their stories.

I do not adhere to a script but talk about whatever they're interested in. I learned from my Doylestown talk to speak about substance abuse. Why do people abuse substances, I asked. The audience provided different answers, all correct, but the chief reason is the individual "just wants to feel normal." One woman's brother died from an overdose. Another woman's husband had killed himself many years ago and the woman was still very angry. I suggested she learn to forgive him and said that in a moment of unendurable agony people will take their own lives. We must have compassion.

Unlike other talks I've given, they were very interested in hearing my own story, my hospitalization, a history of my manias and depressions, my paranoia, my suicidal ideation. "This is why I invented the Keys to Recovery," I said. "I've been through so many scenarios."

I was thrilled to talk about it. At one point I said, "I know this sounds funny but even tho I was in supreme agony during my first mania, the supremest I'd ever been in, I felt privileged that in this little body of mine, God had allowed me to experience such intense feelings they were unimaginable."

I have to say that a former psychiatrist of mine, who shall remain nameless, refused to honor this statement of mine and called it a rationalization.

Questions included: How do you find a good psychiatrist - always get a referral, I said - you can check our New Directions website for a partial listing of agencies.

The first word I wrote on the white board was HOPE. I talked about the incredible resiliency of the brain. I also mentioned 'hidden personality disorders,' an inefficient way of handling life - that when it doesn't make sense or add up, a person may well have a personality disorder that must be addressed.

I was talking to Pam London Barrett this evening and told her I advised the group that bipolar people take an average of 3 medications. She said, That's right, Ruth. I heard this recently in a lecture given by Dr. Post, a top psychiatrist. Whew! Our Pam is getting ready to start a private practice. I said, Our whole group will come to you!

I counseled them to always try new things to stimulate their brains. I actually mentioned that when I see cars turn down streets I never knew about, I follow them and have learned many shortcuts over the years!

Hey, is it raining where you live? A quick thunderstorm here. I had to run out and close my car windows. When will I ever learn?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Poem for my Father - Harold J Greenwold

POEM FOR MY FATHER (29th anniversary of his death on 7-13-09)

In memory of Harold J. Greenwold, b. May 4, 1921, d. July 13, 1980

I. Tell me your secret, says the solicitor

My father was a master at saying no.
When they called him up for a drawing for a free home in the Poconos
if only he’d accede to some ridiculous demand of theirs,
a survey, perhaps, or attending a matinee in an auditorium in downtown Philly….

but let us stop here and remember him before the phone rang,

it was October but the red leaves bore no beauty,

he was wandering around the house,
a man at home during the day,
in his bathrobe,
wearing men’s slippers that I never cared for,
they were so un-hip,
they sloshed over the floor making silly noises,

not the way I cared for his handkerchiefs anyway,
giant handkerchiefs that, when he was at work, I’d fish
from the second drawer in allergy season,
or borrow from the same drawer a pair of his
long black stretch socks. I took the liberty of using his
razor also when I took a shower and shaved my legs
in the master bathroom.

He raised fierce hell about the razor thing.
I always promised never to do it again, but always did, and tried
to wipe away the little hairs as best I could
but in some mysterious fashion he always found them.
There must have been little hairs stuck to the blade.
They were always better razors than mine,
real Gillettes with those double bladed
edges – swords - they talked about on commercials, not el cheapos like mine.

We were in the family room, like two lost golden retrievers,
Dad and I, not my favorite room, dark wood paneling that looked
fake, a stone fireplace I couldn’t reconcile
with the rest of the house,
I never liked my parents’ taste in houses,
though I’ve always lived there,
always read my books there, but my father and I
found ourselves this day down in the family room,
there was a red phone hanging on the wall.

And I was accompanying him on his journey
around the house, looking at all the things he loved, the carpets that
came all the way from China, the unabridged dictionary
that stood on the desk from B. Altman. You could even,
if you wanted to, look out the patio door and see the leaves
on the trees outside. I hated them.
My father’s body looked smaller
in his robe. He hadn’t shaved in days
and the stubble was coming in like a dark forest.

We were right there at the foot of the stairs
where the red phone hung on the wall.
Mom was big on fashion and color accents, its
long cord curling in stylish little perm’d curls, Rapunzel hair,
falling nearly to the floor. It rang. He had nothing
to do all day but pick up the phone, it was like
a miracle that it rang and gave him something to do,
this is my father, you must remember, who played
ping pong as if it were the World Series, hitting
the ball with his brother Marv,
arm cocked in battle.

You could hear that ball, goddamit, the syncopation of that hollow little plastic thing
wherever you were in the house, - even if you were upstairs in the pink bathroom,
you could hear it, that da-dum, da-dum, like Pygmy drumbeats.

So he got the phone as if it had come to save his life,
he answered it and held the red receiver to his ear.
I was never able to appreciate the charm he held over women,
or why he read that charismatic bullshit he subscribed to – Morris Cerullo! –
that was just the way he was, and I could vaguely hear the female voice on the other end,
you can always tell it’s female because it’s higher up,
and then, he was very kind and waited until she was done,
he had time,
and waited until she was done,
and said in that calm voice that made him famous, even to this day,
“I just got out of the hospital with a brain tumor and have six months to live,
what would I want with a house in the Poconos?”

II. Think only of the arbor vitae

“It’s like I’m walking through cobwebs,” he said at the start.
“Like there’s cobwebs and I’m pushing my way through them.”
When it happened, all this and sundry up to the hospital bed in
the family room and that bedstand that swings out in front of you when you eat
and then rolled away when you’re done.

I thought, My God, is this how I will remember my father? Yellow and immovable and needing to be fed and hearing him slurp,
bald, of course, like they always are after radiation, and the box-like commode next to the bed waiting for his next bowel movement?
And those godawful vegetable drinks my mother made for him, believing until the last moment they would save him, them and their orange bubbles and pieces of carrots that weren’t pulverized entirely?

I wondered what it felt like to lie next to a man
who was dying slowly next to you, rotting on the
inside, the smell of him not your father’s anymore,
the look of him certainly gone, oh I tried to memorize
what it felt like being with him, it was impossible,
but if truth be told he stopped being my father early in the game.
I hated going in. I had to read the newspaper to him.
That was my job. He appointed me. I had to do it
every day for six months while his head grew
massive with disease.

Can you imagine what that does to a girl
to see her father like that?
We used to play catch in the front yard when he’d come home from work.
He’d go in for supper and then I’d wait for him on the front lawn,
there were some arbor vitae growing near the porch, and he’d
pitch high balls to me.

Pitch… that’s entirely the wrong word.

He’d throw a ball underhand into the sky, as high as it could fly.
And the neighbors would come out of their houses to feel
the warm summer breeze on their cheeks, and he’d say, “Watch Ruthie catch
the high flies!” He’d throw the ball up and I’d look high into the sky,
and could never figure out where it went.
I wondered, How could it disappear so quickly?
And then in the middle of my puzzlement,
there it was! sailing down with terrible speed,
getting larger and larger,
time going faster and faster,
while I’d circle around the grass
in silent ecstasy -
choose my place to stand and
expect its imminently perfect arrival.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My Bipolar Talk tomorrow! - 52 people so far!

Gosh! I'm floored. So far, 52 people have signed up to hear me speak at the Holy Redeemer Counseling Center in Huntingdon Valley, PA.

Someone asked me if I get nervous. No, I said. Many years ago I learned how to take care of my nerves. I was giving a talk somewhere. I was still on lithium. I decided I would not take an extra half of Klonopin to calm me down but would use 'movements and gestures' to alleviate my anxiety.

People began filing into the room. I think this is when I used to teach a one-nite class at Upper Moreland Adult Evening School. As each person came in the room, I would shake their hand, introduce myself and give each person a name tag.

I kept up a patter of chatter. Nervous people talk a lot. So I did that. It worked!

I taught about 3 of these classes. One time a married couple attended. After class, I saw them in the parking lot. The woman said, My husband got very sick after class. He threw up in the parking lot. Apparently, he identified with what I was saying and had diagnosed himself with some major problems.

Look, I said. I live 4 minutes away from here. Follow me home and I'll talk to both of you in my living room.

We talked for over an hour. He was a very interesting man who had total control over his wife as if she were a puppet. It was unnatural. But he was suffering. I helped get them in therapy with their minister. Gradually I lost contact with them and only remembered them now.

Oh, the people I've met!

Tomorrow will be no different. Fifty-two more people. I wrote up a new 4-page handout. I like to challenge my brain by writing a new handout each time.

Tomorrow I'll drive up to the Provincialate in my new car. It's just like the old car except.....

-it has all its hubcaps
-the underbelly isn't rusting out
-if Scott locks me in the trunk again I can easily open it from inside
-all the power windows work instead of just the front ones
-outdoor temp shows up right on the dashboard: either 80 is the temp outside or the projected age of my death

I looked thru the door of the showroom at my old car sitting there and studied it for twenty magnificent moments, just gazing on its profile. Such dignity! I think if one word describes my old car it's dignity!

You have no idea what that car has been through. When I return to the dealer in a few moments I'm gonna ask to see the VIN report (it costs $40 online). I wanna see if they reported it stolen, which it once was. A man died in my car. I never met him. It was the thief who unwittingly passed away in the car. I consider it a sacred vehicle. This is not something I shared with the dealership tho I answered all their questions truthfully.

The one question they forgot to ask me was: Do you consider your car a sacred vehicle?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Calling Dr Ruth: Reclaim your life, Mary Jo!

My childhood friend from Shaker Heights "Mary Jo" calls me every so often to report on her struggles with her mental health. She is an incest survivor, having been molested from infancy to puberty by her father, a WWII veteran who reportedly was not the same person AFTER the war as before. Afterwards he developed extreme moodswings, later diagnosed as manic depression, and was treated with ECT (electroshock therapy) as well as lithium. Now deceased, he did very well financially and was regarded as a fine citizen.

I remember very little about him except that he was extremely quiet. So was the house. It was quiet as a tomb, not a fun place for active little kids.

Mary Jo was a firecracker of fun. She was enthusiastic, always up for a bike ride, a visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art, or exploring a cemetery. If childhood is for fun, we certainly had our share! Unbeknownst to either of us, tho, Mary Jo was being sexually molested by her dad in the family basement. Her memories of this trauma were shunted off from her main memory system and kept safely out of range.

Like many other incest survivors - and other trauma survivors - they resurfaced about 30 years later.

MJ and I have kept in touch all these years. When she became an adult, she lagged behind the norms of other adults her age, but unusually so for a woman with such gifts as she had - her ebulliance, her likeability, and her great creativity. She is an artist of the highest degree. But everything seemed to go wrong for her - her relationships with men and her dead-end jobs and her lack of confidence. Neither could she choose good counselors to help in her life's journey.

When she wrote me the other day she said she was desperately unhappy. I gladly called her and listened to her latest saga. The more she talked, the more I said to myself, What's going on with this woman? She NEVER gets better. She NEVER learns.

I'd helped her in the past giving her excellent suggestions on how to take charge of her life. Was it a question of self-sabotage? Partially. But it was deeper than that.

Mary Jo, I said, you have a hidden personality disorder that has never been detected.

No on ever diagnosed me w/that, she said. The one constant in her life is an excellent psychiatrist she sees - Dr. Schottenstein - who has her on meds for depression.

It doesn't matter, I said, all that matters is helping you get well. This new diagnosis I've given you - personality disorder NOS (not otherwise specified) - is also a mix of several personality disorders - it helps ME as your surrogate therapist to understand you better and to know the difficulty of your learning abilities.

Interestingly, she has always loved working with developmentally-challenged individuals and once thought of adopting a girl with a very low IQ. This makes sense as MJ herself has difficulty in learning to manage her emotional life.

I asked MJ to write down all my suggestions and to do her best to follow them.

A theme that cropped up in our conversation was she wants to get closer to God. I told her this was a cop-out, a way to avoid her current massive problems. She wanted to get closer to God by continuing to attend Overeaters Anonymous meetings even tho she no longer has a weight problem. Through attending, she must adhere to writing down her meal plans, which, for her, is now obsolete, but she was willing to make that sacrifice so she could attend meetings.

This is absolute nonsense, I told her. I suggested she feels so comfortable with these people she'll do anything to be around them. I stressed that she be around normal people. If you wanna be close to God, I said, go to a church! Get involved there!

She is drawn to unhealthy people, in particular, crazy people, like a horse to oats. She identifies with them plus her self-esteem won't allow her to be with normal people cuz she feels uncomfortable, inferior.

Above all, I said, you must find a good psychotherapist. She goes to losers. She managed to find, a couple yrs ago, a male therapist who had sex with her during the session. She's the type of person that If something bad is gonna happen, it'll happen to MJ. This is no coincidence. It's an inability on her part to "read" other people, to anticipate the future, and an inability to protect her inviolable self. She is the same victim she was when her father perpetrated the atrocities upon her young innocent body.

Then on the phone she tells me, "I have to work on my incest issues."

I almost jumped thru the phone! (Please realize I am NOT her therapist, I'm her friend.) Mary Jo, I said, you've been working on your incest issues for 10 years. You've processed them. It happened. The memories are still there. Just brush them away when they come. Don't go back for more... that's being a masochist.

So what's a personality disorder anyway? And is it treatable? It's an INEFFICIENT WAY of looking at life to solve problems. Ever read Lamb's Essay on a Roasted Pig? In order to roast a pig for dinner, they had to burn down the whole house and then they'd have the desired roasted pig. That's MJ's story. It takes her 10 years to figger out what she should've in one year. I'm exaggerating, of course, but you gt the point.

So does MJ. We talked on the phone today. She said I could blog this.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Did you watch Bill Moyers last nite?

Bill spoke to Wendell Potter, former insurance executive turned advocate for better healthcare in the US. He spoke candidly - and shockingly - about how the insurance industry has a history of denying care of its members. Even Bill Moyers was shocked. Read about it here.

In 1964 I attended Goddard College in Vermont. On the first day I rode a taxi from the Montpelier-Barre Airport, adorned with the marble famous in Vermont, with Larry Yurdin. Larry was a brilliant student and many years later appeared in an article in the NY Times. He and his wife had declared bankruptcy due to outrageous medical expenses not covered by his Aetna insurance. Here's the Times article.

For those readers in the Philadelphia area, good healthcare can be found for the working uninsured of Bucks and Montgomery Counties at HealthLink in Southampton, PA. I worked there for awhile as their Saturday receptionist.

The patients in the waiting room were eternally grateful for the care they received from beneficent physicians and dentists.

And Dan did the dishes! / Sock-it-to-me Salmon

I learned on Facebook that July 9 is my future daughter/law's birthday. On August 29 she will be my daughter/law. I have gotten used to saying "My future daughter-in-law" and love the way this sounds. So I invited Nicole and Dan over for a post-birthday dinner last nite. They arrived after 8 pm, after I'd picked up Scott at the train station.

Here's what we had for dinner, except I'm substituting for the sake of this blog a salmon dinner I'd made the other nite cuz I wanna preserve the recipe.

Fresh sockeye salmon with the following sauce painted on top:

-mayo, mustard, 2 cloves garlic, chopped fresh basil or other garden herb. Sprinkle with lemon when you take it out of the skillet where you've sauteed it in olive oil on low heat, covered.

Steamed fresh green beans n fresh carrots

Brown rice of your choice

Salad greens plus radish, cucumber, red pepper, Mann's sugar-snap peas, toasted pecans

For dessert we had vanilla-chocolate swirl frozen yogurt served with our choice of fresh fruit - strawberries or blubberies.

All this delicious food was in conformance with the new renal-friendly diet I began. I had a 90-minute consultation with Mary Ann Moylan, the nutritionist at the Willow Grove Giant Supermarket and learned what foods were best for my slowly diminishing kidney functions which will eventually lead to dialysis or a transplant.

Mary Ann is excellent and I highly recommend her. The cost is $20 which you recoup by getting a $20 gift card for groceries at Giant.

I also met thother day with a nurse-educator who apprised me of the rigors of dialysis. I took notes on the back of a huge envelope. Kathy offered me a sheet of paper but I said, Thanks, but this is my preferred method of note-taking.

When she met me in her waiting room, I was reading their bulletin board. "Ruth?" she said. We went back to her office. "I guess you had no trouble finding me," I said, "cause I was the healthiest looking person in the room."

The waiting patients looked exhausted, tired and old. Many had canes n walkers. Hard to believe that'll be my fate some day. You get increasingly tired when your kidneys don't work cuz you have all these toxins swirling around your body that you can't get rid of. I was thinking of puncturing little holes in my skin to let the toxins seep out.

Wouldn't that be funny if it became the preferred method? Deming Puncture Therapy.

Longevity on dialysis is the same as anyone else. Should you choose to forego dialysis when you're in End Stage Renal Failure you'll be dead within 9 months, going into a coma. All this, of course, because I was on Lithium for 16 years. I think an early bad sign I had was that I never sweated. I'd go jogging but barely perspired.

At dinner, Scott asked me if I went for a test drive in the Jaguar XJ8 sedan.

I did, I said. It was a smooth ride. The sound system was great. Excellent visibility. When I bought a new Toyota last year, which I returned the next day, I felt unsafe driving it cuz the windows are smaller on new cars and there are huge blind spots out back.

The Jag is a thing of beauty. Everyone but the dealer says it's high maintenance and not a particularly reliable car.

Needless to say, I didn't buy it. As a consolation, I drove over to Sloane Toyota on Easton Road to look at their pre-2003 cars, the ones with the big windows.

My new philosophy is: Live it up, girl! You may go on dialysis in the near future.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Last will and testament

The thing about life is: It's all in the past tense. What a set-up! Thing is, everything was invented before I came onstage. We come in as part of a family. They train and prepare us to go off on our own. I'm 63 years old and I'm still in training. Today I prepared to die. I went to an attorney and I commissioned him to do my will. It's easy when you're not planning to die any time soon. I went to the same attorney my former boyfriend Simon went to but Simon went after he received his death sentence.

On the way home from the lawyer's I stopped at a used car dealer I passed on the way over. First though I bought a bottle of Snapple lemonade. It tasted like cleaning fluid but I sipped it anyway. I wanted to reward myself for getting my will made. I saved the glass bottle to use as a flower vase. I just love my glass bottles and Pyrex containers.

So I pull into the drive at Kar Klinic in Southampton and backed into the one free space. I love backing in, the great feeling of turning your entire body around and acrobatically centering the car into the space.

Brian came out to greet me. "I want a four-door car with great visibility," I said. I gave him my price range. "I also want it to be the last car I'll ever own. I'm expecting to live another 20 years."

He walked me over to a 2001 smooth black Jaguar, gorgeous, with leather interior and a dashboard filled with accordion-like buttons and with the essential heated backseats. Fortunately the car was wedged in so I couldn't take it for a test drive.

We spent about half an hour chatting. A good salesperson like Brian knows to build up a rapport with a potential client.

While I was gazing at the back of the car I remembered I'd written a short story about a man who collects cars and one of them was this very same Jaguar model. Naturally I told this to Brian. A self-fulfilling prophecy I said to myself. I also dated a guy - Harry the Hoarder - who collected Jaguars.

I'd feel self-conscious, I said to Brian, driving a Jag b/c people might think I'm rich instead of a commoner. More to the point, the car is extremely long, like the LTD I used to drive. "How do people drive beautiful new cars?" I asked. "Don't they worry about scratching them up?"

He told me the metal they make them with is very strong, much stronger than mine own dimpled car.

I'll call Brian tomorrow and hit the road in the Jag early in the morning. It only gets 20 miles per gallon.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Never too late to get involved!

My sister Donna was here yesterday for our post-July 4 barbecue with - get this! - healthy hot dogs from Whole Foods. We were talking about my interest in the daily news and about politics.

"You were never interested in politics before," said Donna.

"You're right," I said. "I was too busy working and keeping my manic depression under control. I had no extra energy for anything else."

Growing up, we were not a family that talked politics at the kitchen table. Neither did our family dig sports yet as a teenager I became an ardent fan of the Cleveland Indians, our home team. Our family had the freedom to pursue our own interests.

Today when Scott and I go on vacation I can't bear not knowing what's going on in the world. Walking along the boardwalk I peered intently into the newspaper machines to read headlines. I feel cut off from the world when I'm on vacation!

Tonite on the PBS Nightly News I sat entranced watching Obama speak forcefully with Russian President Medvedev. He comported himself beautifully in that elaborate gilded conference room. I was so proud of him.

When people ask me, When is the Compass coming out (my mental health magazine) I say, As soon as I finish it. It won't be for awhile yet but Obama will still be in his first year.

The second news story was the death of 93-year-old Robert S McNamera, one of the 'architects of the Vietnam War.' One of the people they interviewed about his death was Errol Morris who filmed an award-winning documentary of McNamera in 2004. Roger Ebert called it one of the top documentaries ever made.

Out of curiosity, I goggled the name tonite - The Fog of War - and lo! The entire 90-minute film can be viewed online. Looky here. As the pundit Malcolm Gladwell noted in his most recent New Yorker column, Information is FREE!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Palin the Fascist is in the News

The best article I've read about the resigning Governor of Alaska is Todd Purdum's article for Vanity Fair magazine. Read all 6 pages here. I forwarded it to two of my blogger friends - Sue Katz at Consenting Adult and of course Stephen of Stephen Views the News.

The beauty of the article is that it is meticulously well-researched, has loads of quotes including one from Obama about Palin (he is never nasty), it offers sound reasons for her appeal to other Bible-thumping righteous right-wingers for whom the world is simply too complex to understand and so, like Palin, believe the best way to approach complexity is to close their minds to understanding and to empathy, and lastly, the article offers a psychiatric diagnosis of this self-described simple hockey mom as a narcissistic personality disorder.

In this way she follows one of our presidents - Nixon - whose paranoid personality disorder finally brought the man down. Personality disorders will get you every time. Nixon was far more successful, however, b/c, unlike Palin, the man had brains.

I believe that Palin has finally killed her chances for political advancement. Oh, her fans will still love her, those "see no evil, hear no evil" people who close their eyes to the less fortunate folks in these United States. To them, Sarah is their goddess, the way a cult figure reassures people with weak egos.

But let's pretend that by some chance she would get to rule America. Our government would become a fascist state just as Mussolini or Franco wrested the governments of Italy and of Spain from the population. People like myself who love to express their opinion would be forced to speak in hushed tones and to live an underground life as in other oppressed societies.

And - hey! - isn't it something what's happening in Iran! Tyranny is loosening its grip all on the eve of our own Independence Day.

The Morning After

The food we ate at last night's all-American barbeque at the home of blogger Stephen was so fantastic - and unusual - that I had an amazing dream. I was a patient at a teaching hospital. The interior was dark and dreary. The chief resident, a female, was pulling a very long wagon of interns, each one seated in his or her own little car. The resident was strong and the wheels of the wagon moved easily. Other interns kept pace by riding on their own scooters down the long hospital corridors.

The interpretation of dreams consists of 'free associations' - what's the first thing you think of when remembering your dream? I'm instantly reminded of our recent vacation at Cape May where whole families rented bicycle surreys and easily made their way down the highways of the Cape, while on my quiet street here at home, kids ride bikes and scooters. Scott and I biked for hours at Cape May and also biked once we got home.

The miracle of transportation.

In the dream I take a group of interns aside to tell them why I'm in the hospital. I'm far along in my pregnancy, I say, and as I do so, I feel an unaccustomed sadness come over me. Had I realized I was with child, I say, I would've gotten an immediate abortion, but it's too late now. In my head I realize I've got to prepare myself for the eventual arrival of this child I did not expect.

What pops into my mind with this thought?

Easy. Last nite, when Scott drove us home from Stephen's, there was a dog in the middle of our street. It was dark and the dog sauntered listlessly, tail down, as if he were disoriented.

Scott knew right away in was a dog but I thought perhaps it was a raccoon, its behavior was so undoglike. Scott slowed down and the dog came up to my passenger door. Now it looked like a lioness with a beautiful regal blond head with huge searching eyes.

Scott parked and we walked slowly after the dog. His fur was matted and he wore no collar. He was not a neighborhood dog. I went in the house and called the police who said they'd send out an officer. We could not allow the dog to roam free and possibly get run over.

Meantime we traveled behind the dog as he meandered through the neighborhood. People were coming home from the fireworks. One man carried his sleeping boy in the house. He knew not where the dog came from. At the firefighters' house the large family stood out on the porch. They said they'd never seen the dog before. The dog rarely stayed still but kept moving.

When I petted him I saw that he was shaking badly. Dogs, said Scott, are terrified of fireworks. His own deceased dog would hide under the bed. Spent firecrackers littered the street.

In the dark we could make out the black and white police car coming down our hill. We waved him over.

It took about 20 minutes to catch the dog and put him in the backseat. I watched as the officer opened up his trunk and got a leash out. With a flashlight he and Scott followed the dog into Scott's back yard where he went easily into the leash. When the officer put him in the car he said, This is an old dog. He had trouble climbing in the car.

The dog made no sounds at all. No barks, grunts or groans. We had to make up our own story of what he was doing here on our street. Here's my own invention:

Lion's owner is an old man who lives in a rundown unkempt house a few miles away. He loves his dog but doesn't have the heart to euthanize him, so he removed all traces of identification, put ole Lion in the backseat and dropped him off several miles from home.

The old, arthritic and disoriented dog wandered about and somehow found himself on our street. I briefly thought of adopting him, but then discarded the idea. The dog will be treated kindly by the police before they take him to the pound on Monday. We know what will happen at the pound. It's the same thing that happens to all of us, eventually.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

This is how I celebrated the Fourth!

Luckily, I stumbled upon this video which is Hitler's reaction to the death of Michael Jackson. It's better than fireworks.