Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ten birthdays

This was the 10th time we’ve gone to the cemetery to celebrate Paul's birthday, and how I’ve managed to live through all these years is a miracle.

Well, I attribute my survival to how I’ve chosen to live my life since my son died: working, working out, and openly receiving and using the gift of writing that Paul’s death afforded me. And, of course I must also attribute my survival to family and friends who are always here for me. That the grief doesn’t go away in evident just by the way I feel today -- gray and wallowing in self pity like the color of the day -- yet I’m living proof that one can live through the most horrific tragedy of all.

So we’re moving on – we had a nice lunch at the Farmstand, we're writing the last of the charity donation checks, and later we'll go to a movie and dinner with Ben and Marissa to ring in the new year.

But, before I go, here’s a recent poem I wrote for Paul. One I've been saving for today.

What I Miss

Nine years didn’t erase him.
He is still with me everyday.
The memories haven’t dimmed.
His face, his body, his buzzed hair
are clearly visible in my mind.

I miss his sounds,
hearing him play
his music
as his bent fingers
lightly trickled up
and down the keyboard,
hearing his footsteps
on the stairs,
on the hardwood floors
as he prowled
around the house at night,
hearing his deep voice
as he said, “hello”
when he came home from work

I also miss his expertise.
He’d work on our computer problems at night
and leave carefully written instructions
in childish printing
for us to find the next morning.

I don’t miss his smoking,
I don’t miss his bad moods
during his last few years,
I don’t miss that his sickness
sometimes made him angry
and me angry at him.
No, I don’t miss those things.

But, I don’t think about them.
I just think about the things about him
that I miss.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A couple more

I wrote the following two poems the last time I was at the Bass/Laux/Millar poetry workshop at Esalen, Big Sur in August 2007. Although I still consider them works in progress, it's time to give them the light of day as well.
I wrote the second poem for Paul. Tomorrow would be his 37th birthday.

Ice Cream Party for One

He opens the freezer door
every night at 10.
He muses,
What will it be tonight?
The rum raisin, the natural vanilla bean with chocolate chunks,
the caramel swirl.
He does not discriminate.
Even the coffee in the back,
probably old and stiff, will do.
He takes out two,
maybe three, containers,
sets them on the red granite counter
and takes out a bowl
from the cabinet above his head.
His fingers curl
under the rim of each container
and pull until the top gives way.
With his serving spoon at the ready
he mounds scoop after scoop
into the bowl
licking his fingers, one at a time,
as he goes.
Finally, he walks to the table,
pulls out his chair
and sits hunched over
spooning the cold ice cream
into his mouth.
Soon I hear the last scraping sound
of spoon against bowl, spoon against bowl
over and over
until all the melted liquid is gone.
He walks back to the kitchen,
leaves the bowl and spoon
unrinsed on the counter
and goes to bed.

I Took You With Me

I took you with me this morning
past the big house and the school.
As we walked,
the gray sky hung over us
like tears.

I took you with me past the garden.
Black crows squawked and called to us
but didn’t interrupt
as we listened to your
Music for Yoga,
the last tunes you wrote for H
in 1999.

You left us eight years ago
with a box of your music
each tape marked by hand.
The jazz melodies sound so true
you could be playing them today.

I took you with me up to the highway.
We inhaled the pine and eucalyptus,
looked out to the colorless sea,
and felt the chill through our clothes.

Like everyday
I took you with me this morning.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Ready for prime time?

Here's a poem that has never seen the light of day except on my computer. I wrote it while sitting in a hotel bar in Bilbau, Spain in the Fall of 2006. I couldn't take my eyes off this man -- yes, he is real -- and felt I needed to immotalize him in a poem.

All comments and critiques welcome.

The Man in the Bar

He sits at the corner table
He doesn’t drink
He looks straight ahead
Or at his lap as he smokes

His hand goes
To his mouth
Away from his mouth

To his mouth
Away from his mouth

A puff and then away
Then back

A puff and then away
Then back.

He gets up, pulls his shoulder bag
Across his body
He looks down, mutters to himself
His eyes rimmed with dark circles
Look down,
His hand clutches his pack of ciggies
As he walks
Out of the bar

He returns a few minutes later
He sits in the same chair
In the same corner
Clutching a cigar in his hand
He takes the cigar
Out of the cellophane wrapper
And he begins again

To his mouth
away from his mouth

He smokes
Until the cigar is gone
He gets up again
He put his bag
Over his shoulder
Clutching his pack of ciggies
And he is gone

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Wishes for 2009

This year ends with bad news about two people I've known for years.

My dear friend's husband is having surgery tomorrow to deal with his prostate cancer. And, my next door neighbor will begin chemotherapy for her pancreatic cancer when she returns from their annual holiday ski trip. Right now, I'm reeling from this news about people so close to me -- and so young, and my hearts and thoughts are with them as they proceed on their journey to recovery.

Friday I spent some quality time with two of my women friends. We had lunch and walked along the beach in Santa Monica remarking about the absolute beauty of our surroundings and being thankful we lived in the mild Southern California climate. Even Catalina was out that afternoon. Sure we had a little wind and I had to borrow a pair of gloves. But, it certainly wasn't so cold that we could see our breath.

During our lunch conversation, one of the women asked what we wished for in the new year. I wished for more rest and no deaths. Those are definitely the things that mean the most right now. I’m forever tired. And I’m tired of the losses in my life.

In just three days it will be Paul’s 37th birthday. And, I’ll have to celebrate it at the cemetery again this year – the 10th of his birthdays I’ve spent there with him. So, no more deaths. Only happy occasions. And stop with the bad news already too. I’ll take the tiredness any day over sickness and death.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas day -- a day for going to the movies

We saw a terrific movie this afternoon – “Slumdog Millionaire.” Perhaps it’s the best movie I’ve seen all year. Such a vivid portrayal of the streets of India and the life of street children and how they were exploited and abused and even mutilated! It was heavy and then uplifting in the end. And, so full of the sights and sounds of Mumbai -- a part of India that probably no tourist ever gets a chance to see.

Later, after dinner, we went to see "Milk," the story of the first openly gay elected official. The phenomena of Harvey Milk and his gay rights movement happened in the 70s when I was a young mother and too preoccupied to pay attention to what was going on in the world around me. Also, when he finally came into power and was later assassinated we were living on Kwajalein where we were deprived of news of the goings on in the States. That was my loss. Seeing this movie tonight was a look back in a part of history that I unfortunately had no connection to. I’m glad to say I had the opportunity to go back tonight and catch up. The movie is well acted, well written, and definitely well worth seeing. Sean Penn is so believable in the role – he doesn’t shrink from fully acting the part of a homosexual.

So, two good movies in one day -- a great way to spend this day.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What can I do without?

The economic downturn has created a situation that I really didn’t want to have to face – ever. Just a little over a year ago we bragged to ourselves how comfortable we felt financially. And, now, it feels like we’re walking on eggshells. Yes, both of us are still working – that’s the good part. So we don’t have to use our dwindling IRAs to eat. At least not yet. But, who knows how long we’ll have viable jobs or be able to keep our jobs because of our age?

This year Bob, who has always earned way more than I, will earn less. Next year appears to be better for him – his consulting expertise still seems to be in high demand. That gives us room to breathe. And, it also looks like I’m secure in my job as well – I hate putting those words down on paper. What I’ve experienced lately is that things change very fast. So, the economic climate at my company could change just like that too.

What we need to do right now is think of ways to cut down on our spending and concentrate mightily on saving the majority of what we earn. And, hopefully (and yes, I know, hope is not a plan) by next year at this time we’ll have both a built up savings account and a reinvigorated IRA balance.

I’ve written down a few things here that I can do without. However, this list seems like tokenism. I really haven’t gone very far beyond very trivial things. It will have to do for now, while I keep thinking about other ways I can save.

Clearly I am spoiled. I still want my cleaning lady and my gardeners, and my facials and massages and manicures and hair dresser and my gym and Pilates instructor. I haven’t put them on the to-go list yet although I have considered limiting the amount of time I use their services.

Here’s what I have put down on my list of things I can do without -- for now:

Shopping at Maxmara
Shopping PERIOD
Eating out more than once a week
Drinking wine every day
Shopping at Bristol Farms – except for fresh fish
Professional eyebrow plucking
Hair color

Monday, December 22, 2008

The year 2008 -- a short review

Here's the letter that will go in with our holiday cards -- that is unless Bob bleeds all over it with his red pen....

The death of my brother, Ken, this year made the importance of seeing and keeping in touch with friends and family even more important.

So, this was a year of reconnection – with friends in town, in Ojai and Santa Barbara, in New York at Bob’s 50th Cooper Union reunion, in Washington State, in Colorado Springs at the Kwajalein reunion, and in Chicago and Winnetka for my 50th New Trier High School reunion.

We also visited family in the Washington DC area and New York twice, made a brief trip to my sister’s home in Oregon, and of course visited Denver many times – before and after Ken’s death. Going to Denver became like going across town on the shuttle bus.

Besides all these little trips we worked hard and sometimes very long – still on proposals to procure contracts worth billions of dollars for Northrop Grumman.

For leisure we saw our fill of movies, plays, and opera. Bob relaxed over his daily crossword and Sudoku puzzles and golf when he could find the time. He also started a training program at our gym and likes the results. I am still a gym rat, logging in at least an hour of some kind of exercise every day. I am also writing, querying agents to interest them in my memoir, and I’ve had a couple of publishing successes in the last few months. Sometimes there is an acceptance mixed in with all the rejections.

Ben starred in and produced a short film that was shown at the Downtown Los Angeles Film Festival, and he’s working to turn it into a “Webisode.” Plus he’s writing two other scripts. However, tennis lessons still provide his daily bread. Marissa is the love of his life – a very lovely and caring partner for him. She’s also an actor.

So, even though it was a tough year of death and economic downturn, we are doing well. It is so reassuring to have so many loving folks in our lives like you.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Revisiting my bucket list

So, what about the bucket list?

Definitely quitting work at this point is not on it. Our financial life has taken a downward turn along with everyone else’s. I’m just so fortunate to have a job.
Living in Italy will now have to be postponed indefinitely. Staying in my job is not consistent with living in Italy.
Traveling has also moved far down on the list or even off of it for now. We are definitely economizing on that front. We haven’t had a real trip in over two years and don’t have plans for any in the future – either near or far. I even cancelled going to a poetry writing workshop at Esalen in December because of the expense of the workshop and having to take a few days off work for no-pay – I didn’t have enough vacation time.

That is not to say that we’ve stopped living. We’re still eating out – probably much too much. We're still entertaining. We’re still going to movies, theater, and the opera (though I don’t know about re-upping for all of those things next season), and we’ve done a bit of shopping for gifts for the holidays.Thankfully, Bob has gotten some work and gas prices are way back down, so we feel we can afford to spend a little bit.

However, the goal for this coming year (what's on the top of next year's bucket list) is for both of us to keep working while the economy turns around and our IRA nest egg builds back up. Then, by the end of 2009, we can begin to make other plans again. Am I being too optimistic? Well, maybe so, but I better be. How could I stand it otherwise?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Cold versus death -- now there's a choice

I’ve spent most of the last two weeks feeling so ill that I found myself weighing: cold-death, death-cold. Each seemed equally bad to me. (I know. This is a little dramatic!) Finally I snapped out of it. I’m feeling better. The incessant coughing and scratchy throat are over, the aches and headaches are gone, and I seem to be getting some of my energy back. But, I’m still not 100% as my dad used to say. My eyes are watery and red, my voice is not yet my own, and just yesterday I broke into such a sweat I felt like I was having a long series of hot flashes – when I don’t even get hot flashes anymore.

And, throughout all this I kept my routine – up at 5:00; at the gym by 5:30 doing my usual cardio, weight, and/or yoga/pilates exercises; home by no later than 7. Then dress, have breakfast, and at work by 8:30. My friend and sometime workout buddy says I am crazy to continue to exercise while feeling so sick, but if I don’t get up and do my usual routine there is no way I can do my day at work. Plus, sweating after exercise definitely makes me feel better.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A turkey day delight

We asked our little great nieces to make decorations for our Thanksgiving table -- one edible turkey for each place at the table -- made from Nilla wafers, cherry cordials, corn candy, butterscotch chips and dried cranberries -- all glued together with chocolate frosting. Needless to say they were delighted with the idea and thrilled with the yummy (and perfect) results. As were we.

The Thanksgiving Turkey Project

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sick and tired

I've been sick with a cold for a week. I hate being sick. I don't know how to handle being sick. I try to do my normal life, but being sick won't let me. Even after I spent this weekend mostly in bed, taking cough syrup and throat lozenges and Advil, and eating tons of soup, I'm still sick. And work beckons me tomorrow. Needless to say, I haven't done one iota of creative activity during this time.

Here's a poem from the distant past after a happy (and well) time at the opera. Oh, how I love the opera!

At the Opera

The grand salon was ablaze in hues of crimson
enveloping the walls, the settees.
Even the floors, even the drapery,
even the hoop-skirted gowns
were on fire in shades of red.
I looked in awe of this fantastic bordello scene
anxious for more
and was not disappointed.
Writhing down the staircase like snakes,
rattling their teeth,
kicking up their tails
came the black cloaked sirens.
They disrobed revealing legs and arms
and bodies encased in fishnet.
Their long red fingernails
beckoned the divas
and their twirling mates dressed
in gleaming ebony patent
and satin and crisp white linen.
The sirens teased,
while the divas
bellowing their glee, pulsated their throats.
Well, what do you know?
Those girls sure can sing.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The loving couple

Now that all that Turkey Day stuff is over it's time to think about the next major family event. And, that would be my nephew's wedding to this lovely young woman he's standing next to. It took a little coercing, but he finally popped the question last August 20 (on my brother's birthday had he lived to be 71), and they plan to be married on June 20 in a Denver park. They both have sky-blue eyes. I can't wait to see what their baby will look like. Or am I rushing things? No, I don't think so. I understand she's already looking up names that start with a K to honor Jeremy's dad, my brother.

No matter how bad things can get, we always have beautiful things to look forward to. And, I do look forward to seeing this wonderful pair get married. I guess that's what keeps us going.