Saturday, December 31, 2011

Out of the Dark

After a million years of shining
The sun doesn’t say to the earth –
‘You owe me.’
Imagine a love like this.
-- Hafiz

A day outside like spring, mild in the low 70s and sunny. Because I’m leaving for 10 days, I watered because we haven’t heard the sound of rain in a while. While rain would be a sound for sore ears right now, I expect my wish will be granted in Portland OR. So, I went outside to say hello to the sun as it begins it journey back north, lengthening my days by merely perceptible moments. But something inside me feels the change and knows we’re heading back into the sun.

My petite lemons in the shade nevertheless seem to glow in the reflected light, and to sparkle with the dewy secret of their ripeness. The sprinkler drops have yet to dry on their fragrant skin; their fragrance is a presence in the air nearby, smelling like sunshine.

I see the sun everywhere in the yard this afternoon. This is a good time and a good place to thank my love for this year and bid it gone and, and to imagine more love for everyone in the new year about to begin.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Goodbye 2011, and Good Riddance

“As is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity. The wind scatters the leaves on the ground, but the live timber burgeons with leaves again in the season of spring returning. So one generation of men will grow while another dies.”

~Homer, Iliad

I’ve been caught up in a plague of stupid. It's too soon to tell if it's fatal.

My recent visit to the Cardiac Nurse Practitioner to recount my increasingly troublesome symptoms and drug side effects was another exercise in futility that always ceases to amaze me. My concerns were met with a blank uncaring shrug and the advice to increase my medications. I've experienced better bedside manner from hospital nurse call buttons. I've experienced more compassion from Chase Bank.

Trying to explain the details of how Chase Bank has once again screwed me would make my eyes bleed, and reading them would make your heart break. That is, unless you already suspected what the greedy, rapacious, inept thieves at Chase Bank do for a living. I've experienced more competence from the California Department of Human Services.

Meanwhile, my friends at California DHS have embarked on yet another round of vague demands for further documentation before ruling on an application for a family member to receive MediCal. In case you’re playing along at home, this is the fourth time they have demanded, and I have submitted, documents to validate the qualifications of the applicant. I have to wonder how many potential applicants simply give up, pack their belongings into a grocery cart, and move into the nearest alley to await death.

If 2011 was a patient on life support, I would tattoo "DNR" on it's forehead. The winter winds can't scatter the misfortunes of 2011 like dead leaves on the ground soon enough for me.

Friday, December 16, 2011

RIP Christopher Hitchens

‘From quiet homes and first beginnings, out to the undiscovered ends, there’s nothing worth the wear of winning but laughter and the love of friends’
Hilaire Belloc’s ’Dedicatory Ode’

Christopher Hitchens died the other day.

To me, Hitchens was an inspired writer. His writing was articulate, amazing, cogent and sparkling throughout with literary gems and original thoughts. He was a master who could craft the perfectly expressed thought and clearly present the most inspired original idea. He could nail the most devastating argument; or voice the most scornfully appropriate criticism; or coin the most delightful term. And because we were both the same age, and shared a similar taste for dark humor, I persuaded myself that I had at least something in common with this complex man whose writing has given me such pleasure over the years – even when I disagreed with him.

You can probably find dozens of tributes by his famous admirers, and samples of his writing on line (here’s one of my favorites) but I particularly was struck by the impromptu eulogy in his brother Richard’s blog today, and from which I take Belloc’s poem quoted above. The post thanks people for their kind wishes and then takes Christopher’s courage as its topic:

“Much of civilisation rests on the proper response to death, simple unalloyed kindness, the desire to show sympathy for irrecoverable less, the understanding that a unique and irreplaceable something has been lost to us. If we ceased to care, we wouldn’t be properly human…

“Here’s a thing I will say now without hesitation, unqualified and important. The one word that comes to mind when I think of my brother is ‘courage’. By this I don’t mean the lack of fear which some people have, which enables them to do very dangerous or frightening things because they have no idea what it is to be afraid. I mean a courage which overcomes real fear, while actually experiencing it…

“He would always rather fight than give way, not for its own sake but because it came naturally to him…

“Courage is deliberately taking a known risk, sometimes physical, sometimes to your livelihood, because you think it is too important not to… I’ve mentioned here before C.S.Lewis’s statement that courage is the supreme virtue, making all the others possible. It should be praised and celebrated, and is the thing I‘d most wish to remember…”

Peter Hitchens on the death of his brother Christopher Hitchens on 12/15/11

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Margins of Error

The bells jostle in the tower
The lonely night amid.
And on my tongue the taste is sour
Of all I ever did.
- A.E. Houseman

The days are getting shorter, but soon they will begin to grow marginally longer. There is something about December that makes one think of endings more than beginnings. I always take a deep breath of relief when I make it to the winter solstice. It feels to me like I have rounded the racetrack once more and crossed the finish line to begin another lap. Right now though, tonight is the last full moon of 2011, and I'm not quite at the line, and sorrow dogs my steps.

Right now, as I approach the end of the final lap of the lunar year, the doubts and regrets I carry are heavy, and I keep my thoughts from freezing only by blowing on the last coal of slowly smoldering anger deep inside. If I can hold on another ten days, we can chuckle at the tired family joke – always told on 22 December – about how the days seem to be getting longer.

I came across an old poem I’d saved many years ago on a similar dim December day, and I imagine its speaker must have been writing it on a similar day. It’s a sort of science fiction imagining of a post-apocalyptic future, and it has seeped into my restless dreams, accompanied by the mysterious thumps and squeaks the dark house makes in the night.

I know I should lighten up, just like Houseman should have. It's going to be close this year, but I estimate I have just enough energy left to make it to the solstice. I can only hope my estimate is within the margin of error. After that, things will begin to look up. Which is more than you can say for the people who left this epistle behind.

Blogger removes the lovely spacing of this poem and makes it into solid blocks below. You should really appreciate the poem as the author wrote it by clicking on the link at the end of the poem.

...It is colder now
there are many stars
we are drifting
North by the Great Bear
the leaves are falling
The water is stone in the scooped rock
to southward
Red sun grey air
the crows are
Slow on their crooked wings
the jays have left us
Long since we passed the flares of Orion
Each man believes in his heart he will die
Many have written last thoughts and last letters
None know if our deaths are now or forever
None know if this wandering earth will be found

We lie down and the snow covers our garments
I pray you
you (if any open this writing)
Make in your mouths the words that were our names
I will tell you all we have learned
I will tell you everything
The earth is round
there are springs under the orchards
The loam cuts with a blunt knife
beware of
Elms in thunder
the lights in the sky are stars
We think they do not see
we think also
The trees do not know nor the leaves of the grasses hear us
The birds too are ignorant
do not listen
Do not stand at dark in the open windows
We before you have heard this
they are voices
They are not words at all but the wind rising
Also noone among us has seen God
(... We have thought often
the flaws of sun in the late and driving weather
pointed to one tree but it was not so.)
As for the nights I warn you the nights are dangerous
The wind changes at night and the dreams come

It is very cold
there are strange stars near Arcturus
Voices are crying an unknown name in the sky

Archibald MacLeish, Epistle To Be Left In The Earth

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

My Tax Dollars At Work, Not to Mention My Public Education System

I have been dancing with California Department of Health and Human Services since September to apply for benefits for a family member. Because they routinely lose papers sent via mail, I have braved the online application system. This system is fraught with its own perils, mostly associated with attaching documents to verify various and sundry things about the applicant's status. In response to my latest attempt to reply to an earlier request for additional verifications, I received this message this morning.

I have altered the following document only to remove the case number at the beginning and the lengthly privacy notice at the end. I have also, mercifully, deleted the name of the person who sent the following:

Good Morning,

Case number XXXXXXX

Thank you for emailing us at ACCESS Center. We apologized, we do not
processed paperworks here at ACCESS. I will just send your
verifications to the imaging to be imaged and so the worker who will
processed your case and see these verification provided.

Thank you.

“Please feel free to contact ACCESS again if you have any additional
questions. Thank you….”

Friday, December 02, 2011

Await Anticipation

“I Like You. I’ll Kill You Last.”

- My favorite Hallmark birthday card ever

Douglas Adams once wrote two sentences that sum up my day so far. I’ve been trying to tilt my virtual lance at the metaphorical windmill of Internet banking. Got knocked off my faithful steed within the first nanosecond I tried to access my account so I could balance my checkbook prior to paying bills. Now, balancing my checkbook is fraught with peril at the best of times, but today has been more perilous than most in recent memory. (Good thing recent memory goes no farther than 48 hours.) I had to offer up the name of my first pet to even get through the door of the credit union online banking site. A dark foreboding filled my veins like ice water filling your boot as you step onto the thin ice.

But I was talking about Douglas Adams. Here’s his existential brainteaser: "He hoped and prayed that there wasn't an afterlife. Then he realized there was a contradiction involved here and merely hoped that there wasn't an afterlife."

In the event that there is an afterlife, consider this post my sincere, desperate, hope and prayer that incompetent bureaucrats get their guts eaten out for all eternity while they’re chained to rocks like that mythological character What’s His Name.

In a completely unrelated but equally baffling message from beyond, there was a marquee on the church down the hill from me that said “Expect Hope”. This infuriates me, and not just the gratuitous capitalization. Next week will they have something else repetitious and redundant and not to mention content-free like “Believe Faith”? I hope not, but I expect so.

For someone constantly on the lookout for meaning, I can only take these recent events as a clear message that the end of civilization is near.

Once I was a bureaucrat myself. I know firsthand how depressing the quotidian existence of one who is paid too little to sort forms at a metal desk where one’s predecessor died of a massive stroke while sorting an earlier version of the same forms. So, there is a special place in my heart for the bureaucrats who have been pecking at my own guts while I try to comply with The State, the Internet, and the “would you like to complete a survey about our service?” pop-up windows.

Unfortunately for us all, that special place in my heart has been clogged with atherosclerotic plaque and slowly shriveled into a blackened scab through which blood flow is only a distant memory. So I merely hope.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Muddy Water = Sleepless Nights

“Do the things external which fall upon thee distract thee? Give thyself time to learn something new and good, and cease to be whirled around. But then thou must also avoid being carried about the other way. For those too are triflers who have wearied themselves in life by their activity, and yet have no object to which to direct every movement, and, in a word, all their thoughts. “ - Marcus Aurelius. The Meditations

Sound advice, right? Wrong. Although he doesn’t say so, Marcus surely knows there is often a fine line between trying to learn something new and good, and wearying oneself by such activity. It comes down to finding a way to govern one’s thoughts.

We have all had nights when our body is tired and wants to rest, while our thoughts are flitting around from past to future, from regrets to hopes, and from thought to unrelated thought like a 9-year-old on a Kool-Aid jag.

On such nights, I find Marcus Aurelius to be a bit of a pedantic jerk, full of what purports to be wisdom but empty of a single practical idea for living a peaceful life. I’m unable to sleep anyway, so I might as well fault this preachy pedantic philosopher as admit that while I toss and turn I’m merely stirring up the mud from the bottom of the pool of thought inside my head.

Even that kid with ADD running around on a playground knows that if you stop stirring a muddy pool of water with a stick, it will gradually become clear.

“Who can make the muddy water clear? Let it be still, and it will gradually become clear. Who can secure the condition of rest? Let movement go on, and the condition of rest will gradually arise.” - Lao-tzu, The Tao-te Ching

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The More You Know...

“If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding. How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”

Pink Floyd

Happy thanksgiving everybody.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Storm for Every Calm

“Oh, grassy glades! oh, ever vernal endless landscapes in the soul; in ye, — though long parched by the dead drought of the earthy life, — in ye, men yet may roll, like young horses in new morning clover; and for some few fleeting moments, feel the cool dew of the life immortal on them. Would to God these blessed calms would last. But the mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm. There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause: — through infancy’s unconscious spell, boyhood’s thoughtless faith, adolescence’ doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood’s pondering repose of If. But once gone through, we trace the round again; and are infants, boys, and men, and Ifs eternally. Where lies the final harbor, whence we unmoor no more? In what rapt ether sails the world, of which the weariest will never weary? Where is the foundling’s father hidden? Our souls are like those orphans whose unwedded mothers die in bearing them: the secret of our paternity lies in their grave, and we must there to learn it.” - Herman Melville

I am not generally one for drinking away my sorrows, but I was driven to try last week - and not just because it was raining outdoors and gloomy in. November 13 was a sad anniversary for me; one toasted with B&B and a PG Netflix movie. Of late, my “pondering repose of If” more closely resembles a heavy mental lumber through the deck of memories – more ponderous than pondering. The focus of my attention devoted to pondering of “If” has narrowed its beam light a dying flashlight down the damp basement steps to replace a fuse. Last week, I was so sad I would have traded my tickets to the moon for a couple of metaphorical C batteries and a pair of shoes with insulated soles.

So, to cheer myself up (this was before the B&B) I tried to think of a funny joke. Hmmm….

One of the funniest jokes in the world, to me, has always been: Why do elephants drink? Why? To forget. Now, to appreciate why the answer to this riddle was so hilarious when I was 10, you need to know the precursor cliché about elephants never forgetting. So, the joke has built-in nod-and-wink to those of us clever enough (like I was at 10) to know the secret handshake to decode this shibboleth of a joke. It’s even funnier as I age and begin to consider how hard it must be for an elephant to actually drink enough to get drunk, given its body weight.

Melville totally captures a bleak time when the earth has been long parched by the dead drought of earthy life. And I totally relate to his comparison of this soul-deep inborn longing to return to the cool dew in the Garden of Eden as it was before snakes invaded. The halting and stumbling progress of our lives toward some imagined “If” is, Melville seems to say, is a journey with an end shrouded in riddles like a dilemma, inside an enigma, wrapped in bacon. Like a hilarious riddle but with the punch line we don’t quite get until we die.

If I had a dollar for every time I wandered from “…
doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood’s pondering repose of "If". If only I had a dollar. If only. Fifty cents. I'd be richer than Oprah.
If. But. But it’s sunny today. Today at least, I get a brief remission in the symptoms of my seasonal affective disorder. If only it would stay this way.

Friday, November 11, 2011

La Plus Ca Change

The Women of Darius Invoking the Clemency of Alexander

"A widow is like a frigate of which the first captain has been shipwrecked."
- Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr

I'm wondering if anybody else has noticed this. There are two parallel news stories that are almost more instructive in the coverage they are receiving than in their content. One is the boy child rape at Penn State. The other is the sexual harassment/assault of grown women by Herman Cain. Both of these stories are about sordid things that happened years ago and are just now coming to light. And yet…

Our national news the media is shocked, SHOCKED, that little boys were sodomized all those years ago and they’re just now hearing about it. The outrage and righteous indignation at the victimization of young boys is breathtaking. Nobody seems to be questioning at all whether these incidents really took place.

The Herman Cain story: not quite so much shock and outrage. Victims of Cain’s sexual abuse are being called – predictably – sluts out for money preying on a virtuous powerful man. The few stories that attempt to be fair and/or balanced to the accusers still pepper their concerns with weak conditional language: alleged, unproven, “he said/she said” and shit. Cain thinks it's all a conspiracy at worst or a joke at best. He called Speaker Pelosi “Princess Nancy” at the recent debate, and was overheard (by Fox news) making a joke about Anita Hill. That guy kills. Is this our image of a Man's Man? Sad.

While I am perfectly aware that there are many places in this world where women treated very much worse by clueless men who are little more than spoiled old children, watching these cases unfold in public simply confirms that discrimination against women happens pretty much all over the world. But here and now, in the virtual community telling us the story of these two cases of sex abuse of a weaker person by a stronger person. And by weaker person, I mean women, and by a stronger person, I mean men.

No matter how enlightened we (and our media) like to think we are about all y'all connivin' bitches, the different approaches to these two different stories, strangely, both reflect the same double standard: Guilt by Gender. Like dirty linen drying on the rope above a sooty alley, our gender-biased judgments are all the more shameful because they are almost subconscious.

Women who are sexually abused and speak out are subjected to something cruel that looks to me a lot like a presumption of guilt. But let a different class of powerless people (who just happen to have penises) be sexually mistreated, and suddenly we will have to fire the entire chain of authority and pay millions to make it right. Otherwise, those poor victims might be further victimized. When the poor Penn State victims do come forward, should we consider whether they might just have been asking for it?

One might argue that the difference that makes it so much sadder is that the mistreatment of boys was witnessed and that of the women was not. Not true. "Allegedly", other people saw Cain being a dick to women and actually told him to cool it. How nice of them, and how nice for the ladies. They also told the man raping boys to cut it out. End of story. But in Cain’s case, there were settlement agreements for Crissake. That is an acknowledgement that - notwithstanding that something inappropriate and possibly illegal happened - we all agree to exchange some money to keep it quiet. In the Penn State cases, it's (as of now) unproven "he said/they said."

The only difference with the boys is that they’ll receive their (probably costlier) settlement much longer after the fact; and of course, that we’ll all feel really sorry for them, poor kids. Meanwhile, let’s drag those “ugly,” “bleach blond” tramps through the mud for daring to challenge a respected (!) man. And should the abused boys accept a settlement? When they do, should they have to sign a non-disclosure agreement in consideration for their hush money?

Ironic isn't it, the guy who is most famous for his epigram in the title of this post considered women no more than vessels who needed men to steer them. It's sad isn't it, that Al Karr would probably identify with the level of respect given to women today. Douche.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Winterize Your Robots!

"The world is full of fickle people/
you old friend aren’t one/
inspired you write like a god/
drunk you’re crazier still/
enjoying white hair and idle days/
blue clouds now rise before you/
how many times will you still sleep/
with a jug of wine by your bed."
-- Kao Shih, To Chang Hsu after Drinking, Quoted in Poems of the Masters, China’s Classic Anthology of T’and and Sung Dynasty Verse, Red Pine, trans.

Winter is here. Hibernation has begun. I’ve lived so long here that the first rain announces winter’s arrival somewhere inside me. Despite the relative mildness of our Zone 9 winters, I have acclimated. All that is left of my roots - those east coast Mid-Atlantic snow days of yesteryear - is the fond memories.

The first big rain sooths my soul and that’s what winter feels like today after a long hot summer and a mild and warm Indian Summer. It is time to put away my tools and leave the garden behind. It’s almost time to make Dad’s eggnog, aka Bot Nog, with Southern Comfort. Almost time to turn to my indoor self; cook comfort food with last summer’s canned tomato sauce; and make your pasta from scratch.

And it is time to sew. I’ve got a date with the Pfaff-Whisperer. He’s booked for six weeks. But I scored an appointment for him to service Pfaff Creative, aka F Sewing Machine, right after Thanksgiving. I take the FSM to rehab at the end of November. I’m thinking I need a new name for FSM if I’ve got a prayer of learning how to use it by emphasizing the fucking positive and burying the burning regret and failure in the Springfield Tire Fire inside my head, where its smoldering ashes will give off toxic smoke that will cast a pall on the my attempts to approach this year’s learning curve with anything shorter than a fully-extended fire truck ladder. Seasonal affective Disorder, or psychotic break? You decide.

This gives me from now til the end of the month to get the F Quilt off the Dustbin of History shelf and tear out last year’s stubborn mistakes. My simple plan is to complete the FQ and get on to the next quilt that will surely be a thing of beauty, and a joy forever. Last spring, I met my latest quilting waterloo, folded it resentfully and put it in the I Hate You Closet, and then went outside to play.

Do I hear you say it's time for me to face the FQ with courage and valor, not with smoldering hate. You might counsel me to approach this coming indoor season’s cabin fever with a better attitude. To which I say, screw you. So, as I turn the clocks back that I should have turned back yesterday, I have to ask myself: how many times have I slept with a jug of wine by my bed?

But who’s counting? Not me, anyway. Thanks to an alcohol-induced rapidly deteriorating short term memory best described as intermittent with chance of hallucinations. And you don't even have to sleep at a Comfort Inn Express to know that's wack.

So, winterize now, gardeners. Time for comfort food and drink and living large off summer’s bounty. To the Quilting Cave!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Utility vs. Beauty

“The landscape gardener attempts to establish a sort of hierarchy of nature, based on much the same principle as that which distinguishes a gentleman by his incapacity to do any useful work. Directly it is proved that a plant or a tree is good for food, it is expelled from the flower garden without any regard to its intrinsic beauty.”
Reginald Blomfield, The Formal Garden in England, 1892, as quoted in The Royal Horticultural Society treasury of garden writing, Charles Elliott, Ed.

As a genteel retired person of leisure, I prefer to refer to it not as my incapacity to do any useful work; but as my failure to find any use for work. I am not exactly the 99%, having a pension and health insurance; both vanishing privileges of the working class I no longer belong to. I belong in the sane class of gentlemen as the bird in my distant birdbath. These days, I spend more time splashing around and having fun, than I do trying to clean up.

If this were a blog that strives to contribute to the discourse of ideas, I’d be saying WTF, or words to that effect. If this was such a blog however, I’d have to forgo reading Chinese poetry and resume reading The Nation, something I can only read after the caffeine has diluted my blood system sufficiently enough to give me the energy to get mad without stroking out. These days, my coffee lasts barely long enough for me to get some news (by which I mean news) and some politics (by which I mean what passes for news). There are enough people out there, most of them more literate than I (well, in all modesty, maybe not most) who can better express my discouragement with what passes for governing and leadership.

Instead, I think I’ll take issue with Reginald who, back in 1892, was whining about people planting flowers instead of fruit. Let’s assume he was speaking with his tongue lodged firmly in his cheek when he proclaimed there is a landscaping “hierarchy of nature” wherein a plant is chosen for it’s beauty which is inversely proportional to its utility. In case he was serious: apple trees flower, Reginald. They are useful and beautiful and would never be expelled from my garden – if I could grow apples, that is. So go suck a fruit I can grow in my yard – a lemon.

Unless of course, you are like me and waiting for your delicate Meyer lemons to ripen. The fruit on Eureka lemon trees are now ripe. Problem is, tough Eureka lemons have a rind as thick and gnarly as a gardener’s elbow, and only marginally more appealing. The hybrids like Meyer lemons will not ripen until early in the new year. Meyers have a dainty rind suitable for marmalades or other candied fates. The fruit on my dwarf Meyer is the size of a golf ball and solid green. They’re so adorable; they look like baby limes.

I would sooner expel my few flowering chrysanthemums from my yard than my lemon tree. My lemon tree is useful as well as beautiful. So thanks, Meyer, for maintaining these two traits that I - as a gentle old person of leisure - no longer bring to my garden in measurable quantities.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

This Year's View

Alone on a river tower my thoughts full of sorrow
The moonlight like the water, the water like the sky
Where is the person with whom I shared the moon?
The view isn’t quite the same as last year.

- Chao Ku, Reflections at a River Tower
(From Red Pine, Trans., Poems of the Masters: China’s Classic Anthology of T’ang and Sung Dynasty Verse)

About this time last year, I was embarking on a cross-country road trip with J.

Today, J is in Afghanistan, listening to the Taliban preach and pray over loudspeakers.

So, yeah.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Lovely Vacation

“This time she came upon a large flower-bed, with a border of daisies, and a willow-tree growing in the middle.
‘O Tiger-lily,’ said Alice, addressing herself to one that was waving gracefully about in the wind, “I wish you could talk!”
“We can talk,” said the Tiger-lily: “when there’s anybody worth talking to.”
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, 1872

The life of a hermit in a hut with a calligraphy pen and some green tea has its charms. I could live high in the pointy Chinese mountains writing haiku and listening to the soft hiss of falling snow. At least for a while. And at least if I had a good wireless connection. I have recently decided however, that life is simply about finding people worth talking to.

Having spent some time with interesting extended family members recently, I realize that I am just another social animal like the rest of youse (sic) guys. I enjoy talking about what we blandly call politics, because these are interesting times and we were in an interesting place. There are many tasty topics that provide food for thought, and discussion, and disagreement. One of my brothers who didn’t make it to NYC last week, once famously refused to agree to disagree – just for the sake of keeping the conversation going. It’s just as well, because his opinions are stupid. I say that, of course, with all respect due to those who don’t happen to share my enlightened and informed opinions. The best sign I saw from an Occupy Wall Street protester was: The worst thing about censorship is XXXXX.

I proved to my satisfaction that I can’t stay up drinking with the youngsters until 3:00 in the morning. I surrendered to the chocolate on my pillow at 1:30. The next day, some of us strolled through Soho and had lunch in an Italian restaurant in Little Italy. The restroom in this place complied with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) as well as my above brother complied with the rules of civil conversation. And by this I mean that the restroom was about the size of the window on your browser, and that my brother is stupid.

So, now I’m back home looking for botanical conversations with my plants. And considering the alternative, that’s a good thing: because either my plants can talk to me, or I’m hearing voices in my head. Given these choices, I’m going outside to say good morning to my morning glories.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Ten-Four, Eleanor

"SOCRATES (loftily): Mortal, what do you want with me?
STREPSIADES: First, what are you doing up there? Tell me, I beseech you.
SOCRATES (Pompously): I am traversing the air and contemplating the sun."

- Aristophanes, The Clouds

I’m traversing the air to NYC where I might join in the demonstration and get my protest on.

Then, I’m off to Detroit where I will contemplate nothing more complex than a good book and some good coffee, and maybe a political demonstration about local school board politics.

Then, I’ll traverse the air back to California and contemplate sewing with a twin needle. Neither pompous nor lofty. Just fun.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cold Morning Skies, Porn Names, and Winter Cover Crops for Vegetable Gardens

Oh, morning fresh and clear as heavenly light,
Like warmth of love within the unwilling breast,
Sad to be so possessed,
Always the delicate shafts, piercing and bright,
Troubling my rest.

But airy-light, and fragile, bitter sweet,
A small bell rings and all enchantment's done
In smallest intervals of expanding dawn;
But quiet fills the eyes, lightens the feet,
Dissolves the wonder, all fulfilled, complete.
Marya Zaturenska, Cold Morning Sky

Unlike Zaturenska, I’m not a morning person. I’m not much for late nights either. Not much troubles my rest these lengthening nights. Truth be told, I would call myself a noontime person, but the term “nooner” has some vaguely pornographic overtones. And speaking of porn, I learned something recently from Matt Smith (the best Dr. Who ever). He said everyone has a porn name - the pseudonym you would use if you became a porn star. It never occurred to me that we should all have a personal porn name. Here’s The Doctor’s advice.

Your porn name is made up of the name of your first pet, and the name of the first street you lived on. Imagine: Dusty River, or Lucky Harding, or Buddy High. Of course now days, this formula seems to be breaking down, and after careful consideration I blame two trends for this deterioration in porn naming convention. First of all, people seem to be naming their pets less cleverly. Second, is the sad trend of suburban developers to name streets with pretentions of bygone Olde England. I mean, how would you expect to make the big-time porn-wise if you were billed as Tiny Meadowbrook, or Sweetie Pie Golden Acres, or Angie Sherwood Forest.

Perhaps it’s the cool smell of autumn in the air. Perhaps it’s the more oblique slant of the light as the sun shifts itself southward in its daily path and deepens the shadows. Or perhaps it’s just that I haven’t been outdoors enough lately. Why I find myself thinking and writing about the deteriorating state of porn names, instead of putting my garden to rest is as much a mystery to me as figuring out the perfect seed mix for the winter cover crop for our Veggie Garden.

I want some legumes of course, like hairy vetch to fix nitrogen. But do I want only cold-hardy ones like hairy vetch, or can I select some of the more cold-sensitive species like cow peas since the garden lives in Zone 9? I confess that Sunn Hemp is a legume that calls to me, but maybe that’s just because of its slightly naughty name.

Then, I’ll want some grasses to germinate quickly and generate organic biomass to be tilled back in as green manure. But do I want to stick with boring winter rye or should I risk something more exciting like oats or barley or buckwheat that might self-sow if I don’t till it back in before it produces seed next spring?

And crimson or rose clover sounds pretty, but do I want to stay away from white clover because of the risk that it will produce so many volunteers? And what about our pestilent wildlife? Will the entire cover crop experiment merely provide forage for rabbits, rats and squirrels?

Better I just spend some time with that tempting second cup of coffee and sit outside and fill my eyes with quiet until the wonder dissolves and the answers come to me.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Star that Comes at Summer's End

“Old Priam first beheld him with his eyes
As, shining like a star, Achilles streaked across the plain,
The star that comes at summer’s end, its clear gleaming
In the milky murk of night displayed among the multitude of stars
 - the star they give the name Orion’s Dog;
most radiant it is, but it makes an evil portent
and brings great feverish heat on pitiful mortal men…”
 - Homer, Iliad, Carolyn Alexander, trans.

 Autumn has found my backyard, and tortures the parched garden with overcast skies, cooler days, longer nights, but still no rain.  The night sky however, even in light polluted suburbia, is beginning to take on the clarity I associate with cold winter nights. I’ve been reading Carolyn Alexander’s book, The War that Killed Achilles, and find it engrossing and more than a little disturbingly apt in the tenth year of America’s foreign war in Afghanistan.

What we know as the Dog Star (in the constellation Canis Major) is the brightest star in our night sky here in the northern hemisphere. The Greeks called this star Sirius, a word which means searing or scorching.  What we see as as the dog star is actually two stars. (Now, you say: “Seriously?”, and I say, “Sirius-ly!” because it’s true.) Canis Major, and it’s companion constellation Canis Minor represent the two hunting dogs of Orion, and familiar Orion, with his pointy sword and bow, is one of the constellations most people recognize.

According to this guy Sirus was “famed from times long past, the first glimpse of Sirius in dawn announced the rising of the Nile in ancient Egypt. (It no longer does because of precession, the 26,000-year wobble of the Earth's axis.)” 

Sirus and Orion are harbingers of winter. As days shorten, they begin their nocturnal hunt later - after the sun sets. In summer, Orion and his dogs cross the sky while the sun is above the horizon, and thus we can't see them in the sky until winter. 

In the Iliad, scenes with Achilles are often filled with metaphors about light, from dimly glowing to brightly searing. But unlike allusions to light that modern readers might  associate with good cheer or sunny dispositions, descriptions  involving light associated with Achilles are often heavily weighted with ill omens and dark portents. Here’s my favorite example of that - a digression in the description of Achilles donning his armor before he joins the battle in which he will slay Hecktor:

“He…caught up the great shield, huge and heavy
next, and from it the light glimmered far, as from the moon.
And as when from across water a light shines to mariners
From a blazing fire, when the fire is burning high in the mountains
In a desolate steading, as the mariners are carried unwilling
By storm winds over the fish-swarming sea, far away from their loved ones;
So the light from the fair elaborate shield of Achilles
Shot into the high air…”

I love the way this passage (Alexander quotes from Lattimore's translation) relentlessly focuses on increasingly fearful detail. While at first the light reflected from his shield seems to hint at good, but then we zoom into focus an image of storm-tossed sailors on a restless sea spotting a faraway signal fire evokes the sort of grimness. The light, intended as a beacon of hope and safety, becomes their final glimpse of unreachable safety upon a dry and distant mountain. The metaphor forces you to imagine that then the sea swallows them whole. This, to me, foreshadows the eventual fate of these soldiers. 

While the star that comes at summer's end may refer to an evil omen when described by Homer, for me it will continue to signal the season of harvest and feasting. Unlike those sailors who were unable to avoid their cruel fate, my garden today seems to look forward to it's destiny and to a long cool rest. My backgard will begin to thrive again when the skies change to signal that Spring is coming. 

Monday, September 05, 2011

Growing Old Disgracefully

"Sun smudge on
the smoky water."
Archibald MacLeish, Autumn

Autumn is in the air, finally. Because the air is shifting more onshore, blowing the eastern metropolitan San Diego smog up against the mountains, I can see the smog trapped across the valley that is the eastern border of the El Cajon valley. My front window faces north, looking down from halfway up the old mountains on the western side of the El Cajon valley. The valley slope of the northern side of the valley forms a cup, now half filed with brown fuzzy smog below. Above the skyline of these low mountains, is the clear blue sky highlighted with brightly lit cumulus clouds that tantalize us with their promise of cooling rain on parched summer ground. I heard thunder rumble as I was making my morning coffee.

My small town orbits like a satellite a typical American city in SoCal. El Cajon is a former frontier town, one that ruthlessly vanquished the “primitive” natives barely three generations ago. As the culture of our big city oozes out to us, we become another cookie cutter suburb. This is the place where Tom Petty said there’s a freeway running through our yard.  Our public landscapes are designed mostly by gringos now.

Everywhere, the crepe myrtle blossom effortlessly. I remember only the almost salmon red ones from my east coast childhood. Here and now, they seem mostly the softer and cleaner pink, delicate lace-white, and my favorite lavender ice.

Here and now, crepe myrtles come in two basic styles. First, are the rustic unpruned tall bushes with multiple graceful trunks tall open shrubs you see in peoples’ yards.  

The second landscape style could be called Early Twenty-first Century Urban Street Island Low Bid. This version features slightly embarrassed and pretentious plantings grown into standards – single-trunked bushes striving to be tiny trees. They are all more-or-less pruned into bloated baloons and lowish lollipops that would offer scant shade to a goat.  

 Either way, their lovely trunks thrive in our auto-centric urban environment, bathed in smog and auto pollution. Crepe mytrle bark sloughs off in smooth strips leaving behind hundreds of shades of brown and grey in a changing mosaic pattern. The bark would make lovely paper.

These small standards are often alternated with bright pastel varieties of oleander - that go-to barrier strip bush that seemingly evolved to stop a crashing car going 65. Another companion planting are Natal Plum bushes, with stars of fragrant flowers winking whitely amid the shiny dark foliage. These rigorously clipped hedges surround strip malls, seeming to try with their thorny limbs to contain the despair leaking out from the vacant storefronts.

Typically, within blocks of freeway exits, my neighborhood is still mostly suburban roadside and choked drainage ditches beneath dry and crumbling banks and hillsides covered with flammable dead undergrowth. Here often grow ubiquitous naked lady flowers who have, unfortunately, lost their virginal pink glow. They are growing old, and seriously, who wants to see their anorexic beauty that has withered them into naked old ladies.

Despite these borderline relentless flowers, every small garden bush, summer annual, and most of the background landscape seems to me to be accepting that it isn’t growing gracefully like grandma did. This isn’t where my grandmas lived and died.

The world has changed around me. In the half-life of my time here in Zone 9, a mere 30 years, it has become hotter and drier.  Even the allegedly low-water plants like Sonoran Desert natives and similar Mediterranean Climate plants (natives of west-facing coastal climates in earth's plump midsection, like South Africa, South America and Western Australia) - all are fatigued having spent their summer energy. But all are still here. All of us seem to be entering late middle age and seem, in this dry autumn season before our rains begin, to be growing old disgracefully. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What Are Years

By: Maianne Moore (1940)

What is our innocence,
what is our guilt? All are
naked, none is safe. And whence
is courage: the unanswered question,
the resolute doubt,——
dumbly calling, deafly listening——that
in misfortune, even death,
encourages others
and in its defeat, stirs

the soul to be strong? He
sees deep and is glad, who
accedes to mortality
and in his imprisonment rises
upon himself as
the sea in a chasm, struggling to be
free and unable to be,
in its surrendering
finds its continuing.

So he who strongly feels,
behaves. The very bird,
grown taller as he sings, steels
his form straight up. Though he is captive
his mighty singing
says, satisfaction is a lowly
thing, how pure a thing is joy.
This is mortality,
this is eternity.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Too Hot to Garden

There once was a guy from Peru
Who had some growin’ up to do.
He’d ring my doorbell,
Then run like hell,
‘Til I nailed him with my old .22.
- Anonymous

Ever walk out to work in your garden, take one look around, and turn around and go back inside? That’s me and that’s today. It’s been hot and dry and I need to hand water. It’s too hot and sunny to water now though. The parched plants can’t believe their eyes when I ignore their silent withering looks and their wilted imploring leaves. Clutching my heart and dramatically promising I’ll be back later when it cools down, I calmly explain the sun will just fry them if I get their leaves wet now. I plead medical reasons. Their glaring silence reproaches me. Ok, then I plead laziness. You’re not the boss of me.

So, last week, after bringing the cardiologist my list of prescriptions and herbal supplements and having it be completely ignored, he proceeded to lecture me on taking my rat poison, excuse me, my warfarin. Two months in, I am still failing my INR lab tests that measure how fast my blood clots. Funny story. Turns out that the package inserts, legitimate medical websites and crazy conspiracy wack job bloggers are unanimous: Vitamin K and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage promote good blood clotting. Too good, as it turns out for somebody who is at risk of becoming bedridden broccoli if a blood clot lodges in my brain. Such supplements and vitamins completely offset the blood thinning efforts of the rat poison. Which, it turns out, one of my supplements has 1000 IU of Vitamin K and another has vegetable extracts of broccoli and cabbage. After pointing this out on my medicines spreadsheet, he said: stop taking those supplements. Good to know.

So, if I knew this before he said so, why did I continue to take them despite the failure of every medical professional to tell me so? Because every medical professional told me not to significantly change my dietary and nutritional intake since my body had habituated to whatever I was taking, which they didn’t bother to determine when the information was literally handed to them on a single page with yellow highlighter. It's almost like I expected them to give me informed and correct medical advice or something.

So, today for the first time in two months, my INR has moved from .9 to 1.1, due entirely I am sure to the fact that I stopped the vitamin K and cruciferous vegetable extract supplements 4 days before yesterday's test. But when Coumadin Clinic Cindy called with yesterday’s INR results, and I started to say “Yay, that must be because…” She fucking interrupted me to say that score isn’t good and I should take a double dose tomorrow and test again next week. Shut up you idiot. I know more than you have bothered to glance at before lecturing me like I was 10! I don’t need this shit.

But then again, the garden didn’t offer much of a prospect for peaceful repose. So I’m inside thinking of other supplements that I should research. My medical care fails me now while I’m competent to notice and educate myself and learn what experts would do if they were paying attention. Heaven help me when I get dementia and I’m left to the mercy of these health care experts who don’t have the attention span to read more than the top line on a patient’s chart and ask you to repeat your name back to them like a secret password before they’ll say more than hello. That's what they consider taking a patient medical history.

Then again, it occurs to me that my generation of greedy rich Americans will have only ourselves to blame when we’re warehoused in Medicare nursing homes and eventually killed by medical neglect or mistreatment. We’re sending the next generation of doctors who will replace Coumadin Clinic Cindy to elementary school without lunches and dropping them out of high school for unemployment.

So, perhaps it’s another early happy hour in the air conditioning. I promise I’ll spend time outside once it cools off. Meanwhile, my kitty will have to sit on my lap for a half hour. That’s better than any Big Pharma and/or controlled substance for correcting my blood pressure after talking to Coumadin Clinic Cindy. Idiots.

BTW, I don't have a gun and can't throw a knife, but if you ring my doorbell and run away, I'll shake my fist and yell at you louder than Grandpa Simpson.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

My My, Hey Hey

“My my, hey hey. Rock and roll is here to stay... It's better to burn out than to rust.”
Neil Young, My My, Hey Hey Hey

If you’ve ever considered murder – or as I prefer to call it, third party assisted suicide – you have probably considered the antifreeze appletini. The color is genuine, the taste is divine, and the result is (one must assume) gratifying. Disclaimer: I wouldn’t know. As anybody knows who has ever watched any episode of CSI, the active ingredient in antifreeze is propylene glycol, and enough of it will kill you. (I can’t google specific doses/outcomes or it will leave an Internet history trail on my home computer that I’d prefer not to create.) According to the Internet, this organic compound is used in degreasers, wallpaper strippers, antifreeze, and strangely also in baby powder, shampoo and skin cream. Go figure.

So, on a seemingly unrelated topic, I’ve been trying to get Tech Support Guy to hydrate more. He’s not a fan of appletinis just so you know. He’s apparently also allergic to water. He used to drink diet soda by the liter, until his doctors explained that this leaches calcium out of your bones, and by middle age he had the bones of a ninety-year-old female anorexic meth addict. So, he pretty much sticks to cheap wine and coffee, both of which I have explained using small words, are diuretics. Which means they pretty much do the opposite of hydrate you.

Well then, he’s recently seen this amazing new product advertised on the TV. They’ve patented something I discovered years ago. You can add a tiny bit of fruit juice or red wine to a glass of cold water and you get a pretty and mildly flavored beverage that will in fact hydrate you without rotting your teeth or making you drunk. So TCG gets some of this new stuff. It colors and flavors water like my invention only with a lovely (not!) diet sweetener finish that makes my teeth itch.

Imagine my surprise when I looked at the ingredients. WTF? Have I discovered a replacement for the antifreeze appletini? I suppose the advantage to this stuff is that your guts won't rust.

Monday, August 08, 2011

From Wisdom to Madness Via Woe

"Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee; as for the time it did me. There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness."
Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Trying to educate myself about my new irregular heartbeat and deadening drug side-effects has been like giving myself up to fire. I’ve had irregular heartbeats intermittently (no, that’s not redundant) for a few weeks. When I finally got to the doctor last week, he blew off my list of side effects from the rat poison and the antiarrhythmic saying I’d had a life-changing experience, so some disruption in mood was to be expected. Which did nothing to make me wiser and a lot to make me madder.

My side effects include menopausal hot flashes that leave me drenched in sweat, itching skin that seems to move around my arms and legs like ants when I try to sleep, mood swings that make menopause look like a slightly cloudy afternoon (no that’s not redundant either), unprovoked crying, feeling totally overwhelmed at the least little problem, and headaches. He increased one of my prescriptions because my blood pressure is also elevated. All doctors do these days is practice medicine with prescription pads - meaning he paid attention to the one symptom a prescription pad purports to cure (without consideration of what new side-effects it might cause). When I drop something on the floor, instead of cleaning it up, I just say fuck this and walk away. I’ve pretty much lost interest in everything except my favorite kitty. So I suppose that’s a good sign – the kitty part, not the other stuff.

The backyard has defeated me. I now consider myself a lapsed gardener. The neglected table-top miniature pots with moss in them have now succumbed to high heat and a shut-off sprinkler. They were to give me something cool and calm to meditate on. I plan to go outside to see what stage of slow and gruesome death by lack of hydration they are in as soon as I finish my caffeine-free coffee that tastes like worn-out socks. I’ve also vitrually stopped drinking alcohol too, which hasn’t exactly contributed positively to my outlook.

Despite its failure to operate as a quilting machine, my new sewing machine works quite well as a sewing machine, so that’s a ray of frickin’ sunshine in my currently dismal life. To restore the balance to the universe, I made pillow cases for TCG’s two tiny pillows and embroidered the following rhyme on one: Goodnight my dear,/ And sweet repose./ Lie on your back/ So you don’t squish your nose.

I did a lot of medical research on line, being careful to distinguish between batshit crazy wacko sites and, say, Mayo Clinic and, a process which involves a minimum of a third grade education and the application of judgment which, surprisingly, doctors seem to think those without a postgraduate degree in some biological science are incapable of exercising. Turns out the cute ER doc who mentioned that cannabis use is linked to tachycardia might have been right. I say might, because he fact that the relevant research was conducted on healthy 20-something men and involved only smoking (rather than oral ingestion of) marijuana may not be significant, and wasn't terribly specific about dosing. Now because I lack a medical-related degree I might just be blowing smoke here, metaphorically speaking, of course. I’m refraining from my go-to herbal cure for depression at least until I finish adapting to the rat poison and apparently non-functioning shit that’s supposed to regulate my heart. I may or may not bother to see the cardiologist. At this point in my research, I’m leaning to getting some blood tests for cardiac blood markers like C-reactive protein and other inflammatory cytokines like Tumor Necrosis Factors that are better indications of stroke risk, but what do I know.

WRT the non-functioning antiarrhythmia med, called Amioderone, I found a study (could only access the abstract) that said: “The management of AF (atrial fibrillation – what I had) can vary among individuals depending on factors such as underlying heart condition, age, stroke risk, and the severity of symptoms associated with AF. The Atrial Fibrillation Follow-up Investigation of Rhythm Management (AFFIRM) trial randomized AF patients into 2 treatment strategies: heart rate control without attempting to maintain normal rhythm versus heart-rhythm control that attempted to maintain normal rhythm through the use of medications. Both groups received warfarin (aka, rat poison). The study showed that there was no advantage of one approach over the other in terms of survival. Patients treated with heart rhythm medications were hospitalized more often for their treatment and were exposed to possible side effects of antiarrhythmic medications. Therefore, the selection of treatment strategy is often guided by symptoms. Anticoagulation should be considered for all patients at increased risk for stroke” (Chung MK. Vitamins, supplements, herbal medicines, and arrhythmias. Cardiol Rev. 2004 Mar;12(2):73–8).

Now, as an uneducated drug-addled old broad, I read that as saying the Amioderone was more trouble than it was worth. My doc read that part of the 9-page research paper I compiled in doing my research, and shook his head patronizingly and said “You should ask your cardiologist about that”. So, should I survive the questionable care of these distracted mechanics, I might do that. Funny story about the side effects of Amioderone: “Though this medication often gives great benefits to people with irregular heartbeat, it may infrequently worsen an irregular heartbeat or cause serious (sometimes fatal) side effects.” I’m pretty sure death is a “fatal side effect” but I’ll have to ask my cardiologist to be sure.

Friday, August 05, 2011

So Much For Docile Earth

"Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!"
Herman Melville, Moby Dick

So, I haven’t been to my own Tahiti in the backyard for a while - or to this blog - because I encountered my own white whale in the middle of July. Following a day working outside, I began to feel the horrors of the half known life: the now-familiar racing heartbeat I recognize as atrial fibrillation.

I had spent the third day in a row outside, cleaning up the backyard after the guys put down dg rock where nothing will grow. I moved flower pots, chairs etc and generally rearranged the furniture. I had everything swept and tidy and spent the last hour watering and generally appreciating how lovely everything looks. I take great satisfaction, and Ireceive great peace when my work in the yard is complete. The best part of the day is hand watering and then sitting still to enjoy the fruits of what I considered healthy exercise and hard work. So much for that little theory. I had experienced irregular cardiac symptoms over the past few days and chose to ignore them: when I felt funny heartbeats, I'd stop and sit still for a while until things settled down. Apparently, you shouldn’t do that, despite the fact that I felt ok at the time.

I had some left over dinner while talking to my sister on the phone for a good half hour. I then hit the shower, which is where the unannounced and uncontrollable heart racing began. My pulse went up to 155 over the next hour, and included what the doc calls "palpitations". That word conjures an image of an old lady wearing a flower-print dress with a lace collar, sitting in an overstuffed chair fanning herself with a hankie and complaining of having the vapors. The actual medical term is premature ventricle contractions. To me, it was the kind of pounding and thumping that you can feel in your chest after running too fast too long, but it was irregular and jumpy. I took a few atenelols and tried to get some cat purring therapy, but Lily wasn't particularly interested in rocking quietly on my shoulder, the ungrateful little bitch. At least, I didn't hyperventilate and/or panic like I did when this happened on my birthday a few months ago. So, Tech Support Guy and I decided it was time to avail myself of the health care system’s benefits. Being concerned about hurting delicate feelings, not to mention incurring legal liability, let’s just say my health care system’s name rhymes with Geyser Vermin and Tea, or GVT for short, and the names below have been changed.

So, we drove to the ER, taking it easy on surface streets. TSG had discovered a flat tire on trying to go to the grocery earlier in the day. At least AAA had already been out to change the tire, but we were using the little toy spare tire and didn't want to take the freeway. This time, we didn't snark at each other out of misplaced panic like we did on the ER run a couple of months ago, and by now, the palpitations had stopped. My heart was still racing, but it seemed to be smoother, and we took that as a good sign.

I got right in at the ER by sitting down and calmly explaining I was in a-fib and presenting a list of blood pressure and heart rates and times and meds taken in the prior hour. So far, this was pretty much like before. The difference began when they gave me the first IV med and it didn't stop the a-fib in its tracks. Watching this on a hospital monitor is very instructive. I am convinced I should be able to do some biofeedback and make it smooth out, but no such luck. The pulse rate actually went down to the 100-120 range thanx to the meds, but the distances between the tall upward pointy spikes in the heartbeat continued to be unevenly spaced, and that's what is called atrial fibrillation. By now, it's about 20:00 and we are not amused.

It took about 6 hours and several variations on type of med and type of delivery before my heartbeat settled back into what they call normal sinus rhythm. By now, they were insisting I had to be admitted - something we were both determined to avoid. This isn't out of some misplaced idea that I'm a superhero. It's because the ER is a very loud and stressful place, and the last time I spent the night in the hospital I brought home some bad bug and mother ended up in a rehab facility, and I just wanted to go home to sleep in my own bed. It took until 3:00 am before the very busy ER admitting doc got to us. He not only looked at me instead of the monitor when he spoke, he assumed I had a functioning brain. He also said I should stick around and he could get me a quiet room. So TCG drove home slowly and texted me on his safe arrival (on the toy tire) and said he got to bed at 4 and later said that he got to sleep at 5. I finally got to a room at 5:30 but this talkative nurse kept me up until 6:30 doing her on-line questionnaire (Do you feel safe at home? Do you want to see a Chaplin? I know, but we have to ask this etc.). I finally told her I was exhausted and to leave me alone and fell asleep promptly until awoken exactly one hour later for more shit like getting my temp taken and my IV untangled and making sure I turned over so I wouldn't get bedsores ("I know, but we have to do this" - apparently even if the patient dies from sleep deprivation). As I once again realized, I'm not at my best when cranky and nap-deprived.

By 10:30 the next morning I was off the IV and my heartbeat was regular. I was seen by two shifts of nurses, including 2 more shift supervisors, a dietician wanting to know what I wanted for dinner, an attending doc, a cardiologist, a pharmacist and at least 4 other people who went over several variations of my prescription drugs (though curiously, all reading presumably the same online version of my file) and I think either Zombie Mother Teresa or a homeless bag lady with a hospital ID she stole from a nurse who must have caught her going through the hazardous waste trash looking for syringes and who she had to shank. Pretty sure that's what happened. I had breakfast (that sat there for 2 hours while I tried to nap in between visits from people who didn't realize I wasn't wearing my hearing aids and that I was faking understanding them just to get them to leave me alone). I had lunch. I finally got to pee all by myself. BTW, did you know that when you get several gallons of saline intravenously with a tiny bit of drugs, it goes directly to your bladder? Someday, you'll thank me for this important information. It's apparently something completely unknown to professional medical people.

I finally got discharged at 3:00 just when Nurse Betty promised me she'd let me out. We stopped to pick up my new drugs, and listen to the bored pharmacist read from the pile of papers in front of me and tell me not to be worried by all the DIRE WARNINGS IN CAPITAL LETTERS sprinkled through the quarter-ream of package inserts. The ER Admitting doc mentioned that one of my new prescriptions (Coumadin/warfarin) actually includes an anticoagulant ingredient used in rat poison. Ahh, the miracles of modern chemistry never start to cease to amaze me.

The scariest part of this particular episode was about midnight when nothing would make the a-fib stop and some idiot who took a chest x-ray explained that he was a medic in Iraq and my ER nurse, Heather, (who was about 16 and very competent and nice) was new and he knew this because she didn't want to let people die who were going to die anyway but tried to save them when she should move on to other patients who might actually not die. Upon completion of the x-ray he said: I hope I didn't scare you. The douche.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Real and Imagined Official State Stuff

“I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”
T. S. Eliot

Like most states, California has a state flag, and a state animal (California grizzly bear, aka Ursus californicus) and a state flower (Eschsholtzia california, or California poppy). Here’s a fun fact not know to many people outside The Inland Empire: April 6 is California Poppy Day, which Californians celebrate by eating lemon poppy seed muffins instead of our usual granola bar.

But wait, there’s more. Because we weren’t satisfied to have merely a flower, in 2004, we selected a state grass. Now, you might think that would be Cannabis sativa, but you’d be wrong. It’s Nassella pulchra or purple needlegrass. Once established, Purple needlegrass is tolerant of summer drought and heat, and a single plant can live more than 150 years, which I’m sure was the deciding factor in picking purple needlegrass over common spurge which, in my yard at least, is as immortal as the legendary phoenix. And of course we have a state motto: Eureka! I’m not positive, but I think we’re the only state who’s motto includes an exclamation point!

California legislators, when not engaged in budget talks or passing substantive legislation, find the time to designate stuff as our official state things. For example, we've had a state fossil (Smilodon californicus, aka, saber-toothed cat), since 1973, by which time I’m pretty sure they were extinct so we could safely designate them as state fossils instead of, say, state park mascots. Not only that, we have a state prehistoric artifact. It happens to be a small chipped stone bear, discovered at an archaeological dig site in San Diego County in 1985, a fact that, since we learned of this in 2011, has made San Diegans very proud.

Some of California’s things aren’t very dignified. Our state insect is the California dogface butterfly or dog head (Zerene eurydice). And while I bet other states’ insects can kick our insect’s butt, but keep in mind our state animal could probably kill and eat yours for brunch (which happens to be our official state meal between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM).

Other official California stuff is just as lame. We have a state soil. Seriously. “The San Joaquin Soil was designated as the official state soil in 1997. The designation commemorates the completion of the state's most comprehensive soil inventory and acknowledges the importance of soil.” Also, being more like compacted clay, a handful of our official state soil will not include fear. All this official stuff I didn’t make up can be found Here.

California is also the first state to have an official state recipe (organic hash brownies, of course), bedroom slipper, (Grandpa Simpson’s footwear), addictive prescription drug, overused cliché, and Starbucks coffee drink. Don’t be surprised if you can’t find these official things on the website. Some of our stuff is password protected and can only be revealed to people who know our official state secret handshake.

But what are we waiting for? Recently some states like Arizona (the Kentucky of the Southwest) have designated official state guns. I wish I was kidding. So, starting today, I'm accepting nominations to a Special Commission that will identify an official California recreational substance, double murder, embroidery stitch, existensial quandry, profane insult, yoga position, processed meat product, outpatient medical procedure, preferred homeless residence, parody motto, excuse for being late, most bitter regret, and favorite method of suicide. The sooner the better, since at this very moment, Arizona is working on an official public official fall from grace, wet t-shirt contest, misuse of a common kitchen utensil (but, being Arizona, they have yet to designate an official common kitchen utensil), auto GPS voice (Elmer Fudd is on the short list) laundry sorting method, texting shorthand, and victimless crime.

Friday, July 01, 2011

All in War with Time

When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment,
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and cheque'd even by the self-same sky,
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory;
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay,
To change your day of youth to sullied night;
And all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I engraft you new.
- William Shakespeare, Sonnet XV

We finally put netting over the stonefruit tree in the Veggie Garden, but by the time we got to it, all the fruits pictured were pecked to death. While we can't exactly engraft the fruit new, we at least managed to protect a handful of fuzzy peaches.

This tree is a healthy rootstock with three different fruits grafted on top. We've seen peaches every few years, particularly when harvest is preceeded by a hard winter frost (rare). We once saw nectarines. But the third branch, possibly an apricot, has never borne fruit. The lesson here seems to be if you want three kinds of stonefruit, plant three trees. The strongest seems to starve out the weaker grafts. The birds, or squirrels or whoever is taking the peaches the minute they ripen, bothers only to taste a bite and wastes the rest of the hard unripe fruit. Nature can be kind of a dick sometimes.