I’ve got a Christopher Walken SNL dvd, some of his best sketches as a guest host. It’s one of the things I can watch when I really need to laugh and can’t.

It’s going to be an interesting and challenging new year for me. On the surface of my life, all continues as it has: seeing clients, art-making, the usual goofiness that comes from living in a house with a very smart, creative, high-energy husband who lapses into cartoon talk when he thinks I look bummed. And last but certainly not least is our amazingly smart, silly, high-energy caramel tabby cat, who from time to time teams up with my husband to perform utterly ridiculous acts that are way funnier than I could possibly describe. They both have a way of calling forth feelings of pure and simple happiness on my part. [Latest of hundreds of cat's nicknames: Fuzzbutton.]

But to the point. Over the last six months or so I’ve been experiencing multiple health symptoms that are neurological in flavor: rapidly increasing forgetfulness; mental fogginess; speech problems; increasing trouble completing thoughts when speaking to others (not all the time, but enough to cause concern); increasing balance problems that have sometimes resulted in falls while walking; at times forgetting what I’m doing while in the act of doing it; significant decrease in mental focus and ability to concentrate and complete tasks. From a diagnostic perspective, what my neurologist and I know so far after multiple tests is that I most likely don’t have early-onset Alzheimers.

And we now also know that there are some lesions on my brain that my doctor thinks are unusual for someone my age. And that they’re located in an area of the brain where multiple sclerosis often begins. BUT. There isn’t enough measurable evidence at this point to strongly suggest that I have MS. The next test would be a spinal tap to see whether there’s anything unusual about my cerebrospinal fluid. Unfortunately, it yields far from conclusive results, and is not considered to be an especially reliable diagnostic tool for MS. So my doctor and I agreed to take a “wait and see” approach for now, and run all of the same tests in a year, along with a spinal tap, to see if anything has changed. Of course if any of my symptoms become noticeably worse, or I develop additional symptoms between now and next December, we’ll go back to the drawing board. From what I have read, diagnosing MS is very difficult, as it has widely varying symptoms in each individual, many of which are not definitive.

All that having been said, I suspect that I do have MS, and that a few of my current symptoms that have been worsening actually started ten or more years ago. So let’s say I have it. Then what? There are medications to help decrease or manage some of the symptoms. My neurologist told me that many or most of them have terrible side effects, and said she would not recommend starting any of them if we think, in one year, that this is the illness I’m dealing with. And guess what? My oncologist also discouraged me from getting on these meds for another reason: in cancer survivors there is a much higher rate of developing new cancers as a result of some of these medications, particularly melanoma and lymphomas. So therein lies my possible dilemma.

YIKES.  : 0

Hopefully I haven’t bored you to sleep with the dreary details of my health problems. I look forward to getting back to my sparky curmudgeonly self and once again making sparky and curmudgeonly posts here. It’ll happen.

Just not tonight.

Peace out.


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Have You Shot Your Gun Into the Air Yet?

Happy New Year!  On my block there have been the requisite fireworks along with lots of gunshots. The gangbanger family down the street has been surprisingly tame lately, though I expect to see a police car down there in the not too distant future. But we’ve lived in this neighborhood for almost 13 years, and we know the score. Urban life is a kick in the head. But hey, when all is said and done, we’re all still made of the same stuff, have the same fears, desires, and needs. Welcome to the human race…

So some of my continuing goals for 2013 are the practices of loving-kindness, living in the present moment, and radical acceptance. Though I was raised in the Presbyterian church (can you get more Rainbo bread bland than that?), as I’ve gotten older I have found considerable wisdom and comfort in Buddhist philosophy. It has helped me make sense of an increasingly screwy (and often downright scary) world. And it reminds me what is most important to me: being present for and loving other people. Hey! That sounds suspiciously similar to Christianity. In the end we all have that final date with our mortality. In the meantime, living with good intent and genuine concern for our fellow humans seems like the best way to go, whatever you want to call that.

And now  . . .  with no further ado  . . .  my annual list of goals for the coming year, in no particular order:

1. Practice patience.

2. Talk (and text) less–rediscover the art of real face-to-face conversation.

3. Shock someone by writing an actual letter and mailing it to them.

4. Judge less, humble myself more.

5. Never let go of my rock’n’roll soul.

6. Dance my ass off to aforementioned rock’n’roll in the privacy of my home (don’t want to scare anybody).

7. Keep painting; keep entering art in local gallery shows.

8. Wear brighter colors. (Even if I look good in black, color is the bomb.)

9. Continue ongoing responsibility as Universal Mother to all Cats.

10. Work on mortality stuff. At 55 with a hx of cancer and neurological problems (brain lesions, anyone?), it never hurts to start doing the prep work early. And anyway, none of us knows when we’re going to die, so no sense in procrastinating. This means, essentially, that when I reach the end of my life, I won’t reflect back and say, “I wish I’d spent more time surfing the Internet.”

11. Eat more fresh food!

12. Write more!

13. “Sing songs, ride horses, and eat breakfast.” Actually I pilfered that phrase from a decades-ago tv commercial for a cereal called “King Vit-a-Min”].

14. Quit staying up until 1:00 and 2:00 in the morning.

15. Say hi to and smile at more strangers.

16. Continue working with my doctors to figure out what’s going wrong in my brain. (MS?)

17. Keep listening to favorite music (including my recent obsession with ’80s bands like Midnight Oil, The Church, Depeche Mode, The Cure, Morrissey, Tears for Fears, along with lifelong faves like Mark Knopfler, Neil Young, Lucinda Williams, Lou Reed…etc.).

18. Say goodnight to all the nice people in your blogosphere.  Good night, nice people!

red balloons

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Been missing in action for the last two years. I guess you could say I’ve been preoccupied with work, art-making, and pursuing a diagnosis for  increasing symptoms of some type of degenerative disease. More about that later.

But something has been stirring in the still-all right portions of my right brain. Lately I’ve been feeling that familiar compulsion to write again. Starting later in the day, perhaps. Time to head to bed.

It’s good to be back.

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Randomly and without categorization:

1.   British actor Bill Nighy

2.  Trader Joe’s Belgian Chocolate pudding

3.  Koh-I-Noor Chromatic Coloring Pencils

4.  Reading The Sun magazine on a Saturday afternoon

5.  Taking mental health days off from my job in mental health

6.  Writer Thomas Moore (the contemporary one)

7.  The dual whir of ceiling fans in the living room and dining room

8.  August days that do not require air conditioning in the semi-desert where I live

9.  Pruning the lantana

10. Solo living room dancing to Dire Strait’s “The Bug”

11. Dire Straits albums, especially Dire Straits, Love Over Gold, and Brothers in Arms

12. Mark Knopfler

13. Mark Knopfler solo albums, particularly Sailing to Philadelphia, Ragpicker’s Dream, Shangri-La, Kill to Get Crimson, and Get Lucky

14.  Connecting with other MK enthusiasts

15.  The movie Stranger Than Fiction

16.  Cate Blanchett in just about any movie she’s made

17.  Joseph Campbell, scholar of mythology and religion extraordinare, radiant being, and lover of life, the universe and everything (may his spirit continue to inhabit, inform, and inspire)

18.  The poetry of Dorianne Laux, Connie Hales, C.G. Hanzlicek, Wendell Berry, William Stafford, Denise Duhamel, Teddy Roethke, Rita Dove, and on and on and on

19.  Dark chocolate-covered raisins (“craisins” in our house)

20.  Old friends

21.  New friends

22.  New-old friends

23.  Mandalas

24.  Freesia that comes straight from our front yard

25.  Yanking out yard-length weeds from the flowerbeds

26.  Hurling snails into the street

27.  Walking to our local neighborhood coffeehouse/cafe on a Sunday morning

28.  All of my friends, even those with whom I can no longer (for whatever reason) communicate

29.  The intangible gifts my parents gave me

30.  Haagen-Dazs strawberry ice cream

31.  Practicing yoga

32.  Art retreats

33.  Intuitive painting

34.  A really excellent filet mignon once a year

35.  Getting packages in the mail (especially unexpected ones)

36.  Reading through my teenage journals

37.  Heath Ledger, RIP

38.  Prismacolor artist pencils

39.  Metallic tempera paint

40.  My increasingly silvery hair

41.  Fresh-off-the-tree peaches

42.  Making giant fruit salads

43.  Sitting on a beach-log, listening to the ocean

44.  “Dictation” poems that seem to come from something/somewhere outside my self

45.  Tree-shaded streets in old neighborhoods

46.  Living in a house that’s almost a century old

47.  My husband, in all of his vicissitudes, moods, creative states, semi-military moments, utter silliness, complete honesty, after-midnight runs on online guitar forums, total integrity, and absolute intolerance of bullshit

48.  She is my cat and I am her human

49.  My annual effort to master (against all odds) a layer cake for my husband’s birthday

50.  My great mentor, teacher, and friend, Ron K. (may his spirit/soul meet up with Joseph Campbell’s if it hasn’t already)

51.  Actually getting enough sleep once or twice a week

52.  Inheriting (and/or learning) my mother’s tolerance of and compassion for humankind (okay, ALMOST all of it–leaving out the Idi Amins, Sadam Husseins, et al)

53.  Getting to start over and try to do things right every day I wake up

54.  Oddly, blogging

55.  Seeing women grow old with acceptance and grace (a real kind of beauty)

56.  Giving myself a weekend off from “having to do” anything

57.  Cobalt blue

58.  The brilliant pinpoint map of stars in mountain-night skies

59.  The first teacher who gave me a blank composition book

60.  Neil Young, in all ways, ALWAYS

61.  Coloring books

62.  Warm brownies with melty vanilla ice cream

63.  Mountain meadows

64.  My 52 and 3/4-yr-old heart that still seems to work (most of the time)

65.  Daylight, as George Harrison said, that’s “good at arriving at the right time”

66.  There’s a little bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out (thank you Lou Reed)

67.  Surviving cancer

68.  And living to tell

(more later . . . )

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Why for you been dragging your sorry ass around like the world is coming to an end?  You’ve been acting badly, and you know it.  For example:  What’s up with all of the self-indulgent eating lately?  Remember how you changed your worst eating habits (excessive quantities of sugar, not enough vegetable matter) earlier in the year when you found out your cholesterol had gone through the roof?  And what about the last two months of almost no meditation?  Minimal exercise?  Didja FORGET how great you feel when you do even 15 or 20 minutes of yoga?

Face it:  you’ve been a crank and a grouch, undermotivated and over-whiney, and can I just say that it has been boring as HELL. So give yerself a slap in the face, and see if a friend will give you a loving boot in the ass so you can snap out of it.  You’re no good to anyone when you behave this way.

While you’re at it, why dontcha try getting enough sleep (that would require going to bed at a reasonable hour most nights), taking walks in the morning, and performing the occasional random (and anonymous) act of kindness for people who least expect it?

And quit thinking about being creative.  GO.  DO. You’ve got works in progress.  Go back to your mandala project.  Get busy again pulling poetry and essays together for your book lab.  Read what you want to read; put away all literature connected with work.  Excavate your artist/writer self and give her back the light of day.  And for god’s sake, throw those manacles and leg irons away.  What, are you training to be a barbarian?


P.S. — remember who and what inspires you:

Neil Young, still rocking out in his 60s . . . Martin Dockery and his crazy-manic-gorgeous storytelling . . . your mom and her quiet strength, courage, and determination . . . your insanely adorable feline pal . . . people who make sidewalk art with chalk under cover of darkness . . . your friends in all of their various incarnations . . . your creative mentor of juicy arts . . . Ken Kesey . . . Maya Angelou . . . Walt Whitman . . . paintings of gifted graffiti artists . . . anyone who paints any mural on any building . . . Thomas Moore . . . poets, of course:  Dorianne Laux . . . Connie Hales . . . Chuck Hanzlicek . . . Roethke . . . Susan Wooldridge and her word tickets . . . little kids finger-painting . . . constellations . . . connotations . . . conversations . . . WORDS ! . . . COLORS!!! . . . walking on the edge of the ocean . . . climbing to the top of giant slabs of rock for a change of view . . . Beethoven . . . Prokofiev . . . Mark Knopfler . . . a huge blank sheet of paper on an easel . . . a blank notebook . . . coffee with a friend . . . the way the sun slants through the day . . . how all of this is enough, somehow . . .

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Have you ever thought about how you’ve come to know yourself?  For example, how did you determine whether or not you’re strong or weak, happy or sad, fearful or courageous, interesting or dull?

Are you aware of the stories you may have learned to tell yourself so that you could explain to yourself–or to anyone else–who you are and how you got to be that way?

Have you ever considered the possibility that your stories do not represent any sort of definitive truth about you?

Has it ever occurred to you that if the story/stories you’re currently living aren’t working for you, it may possible to change them?

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And what about very old friends?

Today was brunch day for me and one of my old high school friends.  We were out of touch for a very long time until just a couple of years ago, when he tracked me down.  Turned out that he had begun writing fiction for the first time in his life, and hoped that we might talk about writing, as well as catch up on the main events of each other’s lives .  He had been working on an extremely imaginative and amusing story, and wondered if I might be willing to take a look at it.

Thus began our ritual Sunday brunch meetings at a favorite neighborhood café.  We talk quite a bit about writing, and a fair amount about a lot of other stuff.  We chuckle about how we’re morphing into our parents, the very thought of which would have struck horror into our rebellious adolescent hearts of 35 years past.  We drink lots of coffee and stay long after our waiter or waitress brings the check. 

I feel blessed to be able to renew old friendships, and have been fortunate in having two such opportunities since entering my fifties.  There is my friend, the burgeoning fiction writer.  Less than two weeks ago, another good friend whom I hadn’t seen for 24 years reappeared in my life. 

My ex-husband, who was visiting his family and getting ready to take a backpacking trek in the high Sierra before returning to his home in another state, contacted me and let me know that our mutual friend (with whom he had maintained regular contact over the years) was flying out to join him on the trip.  Would I be interested in meeting up with them when they got back?

Could there be more than one possible answer to that question?  As if!  It was fantastic to see my friend again, and we immediately fell back into the groove as if we had just seen each other a few days ago.  I’d forgotten how easy it had always been for me to talk to him about anything and everything.  And that hadn’t changed a smidge.

It is a rare gift to have friends like this.  I don’t want to take them for granted, and I absolutely don’t want to lose touch with them again.  These days I’m interested in those rock-solid, with-ya-till-the-end kinds of friendships.  Y’know, like Gandalf and Bilbo, Frodo and Sam.  Hekyl and Jekyl.  Lazy Boy and the Recliner.  Like that.

Later, ‘gators.

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