Friday, November 14, 2008

I'll start with last Thursday night, a week ago, two days after the elction. Coke and I were co-teaching our class, Interplay Writing, or whatever it's called. But of course everyone was still stunned/giddy from the election.

Coke, who has an MSW said she felt the country had been under a cloud from Bush's mental illness for the last eight years.

"Mental illness?" I said. "Nixon was mentally ill. He was paranoid. Bush is the guy who won elections because so many people felt like they'd like to have a beer with him. He's affable and clueless."

"Delusional," she said. "Sometimes delusional people can be quite affable."

A student who is a clinical psychologist agreed. "He's delusional." This opened a window in my brain and I wanted to ask more. What about Cheney? evil or delusional? Karl Rove? Sarah Palin? Condoleeza Rice? I wanted to know everyone's diagnosis. But the class is not there to dissect the psychologies of politicians, it's for people to move and marry their word-making to their bodywisdom.

But just that little snippet allowed me to feel some compassion for Bush, which I've been feeling lately anyway. The thought that he might have done what he did sincerely not seeing reality because he's mentally il had never occured to me before.

When I was little and used to scream "I hate you!" at my brother or say it about another kid on the playground, my mother would always admonish me, "Don't say hate. You can't hate anyone except Hitler." In my little five-year-old mind, the two were synonymous, Hate and Hitler; and they both began with H!

Now, I notice that when I drop my hatred of Bush for a second, my self-judgement and self-hatred also soften and release. I benefit. I can feel it physically.

Of course it's easier to feel sorry for the poor bastard when he's down and being kicked.


I admit I went into a bridal shoppe with Marci. I publicly confess that I tried on a fake-gem-encrusted white satin strapless gown with a big stiff sequinned girdle-y thing, while the reed-thin shopgirl held it closed against my waist (it was the wrong size) to show me what it would look like. I admit I was wearing gym socks, and that the effect was less than camera-ready BUT that my waist and hoips looked great held into this contraption because it was so highly structured. At that price it ought to be--it cost somewhere around a mortgage payment. I will never ever wear a white satin wedding gown, but now I can say that I did try one on. Next stop: vintage clothing stores where I will be looking for a 50s style Marilyn Monroe type frock, hopefully in emerald green or something...


I also took my Little Sister (and her real, biological big sister) to Chuck E. Cheese. My only excuses for this excursion is that she had been begging for it for weeks, I had never been to Chuck E. Cheese before and didn't know what it was. It's Vegas for kids. Pinballs whistles bells lights flashing and total non-stop stimulation. Perfect place for a kid with ADD.

And of course it's a rip-off. You pay 20.00 for a dinky not-very-good medium pizza and two drinks, and then the kids start begging for tokens to put into the machines. You're trapped. You're a caught fish in a barrel of neon. You're an American sucker.

I flat-out refused to go there, earning me the title of Meanest Big Sister Ever I'm sure. I just know with her that it's never enough. You buy one thing and then she wants another. She collected enough tickets to get a couple of cheap-o made-in-China plastic thingys at the counter where you can redeem such things, and of course it broke in the car ten minutes later.

Which led me to reflect on her bottomless hunger for stuff, stimulation, candy, toys (and despite being poor, their house is stuffed to the gills with clkothing and toys, so much stuff that she can't even get to it. Stuff is easy to come by in America.)

She's no different from me. Tuesday night I went to a clothing swap with my friend Marci and half a dozen of her girlfriends. We had all cleaned our closets. I brought four shopping bags full of old clothes, clothes that I had spent hours shopping for, at Ross, on-line, at the Goodwill, wherever. Some were skinny pants that no longer fit. Some were things I'd ordered which never worked, and which I never wore and never will. Four bags.

It was great fun--soon there were six women in their underwear in the living room, stripping off sweaters and passing them around. I scored a great pair of Michael Kors jeans--thank you, Marci--a red cashmere designer sweater, and a great pair of high-heeled black ankle boots. I saw clothes that never fit me properly go home with other women, looking much better on them than they had on me.

The part of me that's like my little sister is that, like her, I attempt to fill in the void through the endless acquisition of stuff. After the clothing swap I got inspired and went through my closet again, being even more ruthless and thorough. I gleaned four more bags of cast-ffs which went to the Goodwill. Let the record show that I now have a neatly organized closet full of clothes I can wear and access. Good for me. But the process of weeding out made me confront just how much time I had spent in these stores and on-line (and how much money!) buying pretty things that gave me a momentary thrill but no lasting satisfaction and which ended up cluttering my closet and my life.

It's hard for me to find a happy medium between some of the Puritan values I imbibed growing up, and the incredibly wasteful spend-a-thon that is American culture right now. Where';s the balance between self-deprivation and mindless consumption?

What makes me happiest are experiences, not things. People. Movement. Moments. Before my birthday everyone was asking me what I wanted for a gift. The best gift was going back to Massachusetts and having my nephew Eli park his bony little butt on my lap and squirm around, oblivious to my bladder and kidneys, until he found just the right position for himself. The biggest gifts I want right now are things only I can give myself: exercise. Meaningful work. Sweet time with kids (not at Chuck E. Cheese!) Opening my heart.


Wednesday there was a meeting with the Driving Miss Craisy crew and Peggy Flynn, an angel/facilitator/caregiver-support person. We met for a couple of hours without Carla and then for about an hour or two with her. Peggy is ruddy, white-haired, kind, and direct, a self-described "Irish Matriarch" who spent fifteen years in the trnches during the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. One of the life-changing things I learned from her is that people suffering from the nervous system disorder/diseases--MS, ALS, Parkinson's--sometimes get jumpy or anxious simply because their nerves are misfiring. Aside from all the very real things there are to be anxious about with a fatal illness, there is a component that's like PMS or menopause, a purely physical surge of emotion which isn't aleways directly related to what seems to be causing it.

She also said that caregivers and people close to the person with MS or ALS may experience a sympathetic nervous response--because we're all attuned like strings on a guitar; when one string goes out of whack, our strings get jangled as well. She said that groups like ours, although composed of separate individuals are also like one big organism--like a family--and we share energetic patterns.

About our group, she remarked on the high degree of perfectionism and anxiety she noticed among us--also the intensity of feeling, the sensitivity--sometimes super, or over-sensitivity to the slightest nuance of feeling--and the love. She said most groups of long-term caregivers do not have this intensity of love for the person they are caring for. Carla being Carla it all makes sense; everyone falls in love with her instantly, doctors, nurses, people on the street--because she loves people freely and deeply and has a much wider-capacity than usual for attracting and feeling and giving love. It's probably her biggest talent--even more than her talent for singing, acting, writing, teaching, directing--this love thing.

She's also a perfectionist, of course, even now--she's trying to be the best ALS patient ever--and we're all trying to be the best caregivers ever. There are a lot worse things you could say about someone than that they are always striving for excellence, but the other side of that coin is that it's stressful and exhausting always to be trying so hard. I could understand better, listening to Peggy parse it out, why hired caregivers with a degree of detachment, might provide a welcome respite from all the intensity and mutuality and primal feminine caring that goes on all the time between carla and her friends.

I plead guilty myself to perfectionism--underneath my laid-back hippie exterior, I can be as tightly-wound as the next girl. I have to remember to ground myself, keep feet on the floor, keep breathing and remembering that I actually can manage the physical world, including whatever details I can do for Carla, just fine. The anxiety about my supposed incompetence that I absorbed growing up came more from my mother's illness than from anything else. It wasn't that we were incompetent, it's just that her nerves were misfiring which made her irritable and twitchy.

Peggy's insight was so helpful to me; I always blamed my mother for being so controlling, but it may have been just that we were too connected and my nervous system received too many of her stress signals. And women are like this--we connect on a whole-body level with each other. Put a few of us in a house together for a month and our hormones synch up; we all start menstruating at the same time. We'[re all giant puddles of water laced with finely detailed electrical conducting systems.

I wouldn't trade being a woman for anything, but male friendships more restful. And sometimes you need a rest.


Last night C and I watched The Kite Runner--finally. I had been afraid to watch it because I knew it would be intense, and it was--but it was also just what the doctor ordered--literally.

Peggy had said about our hyper-vigilant deeply loving overcontrolled group of perfectionists, "If you were Irish you could all get drunk together--and that might not be a bad idea. Why don't you watch a sad movie together, and all have a good cry."

That might be difficult to organize, given how many of us there are, but watching Kite Runner and thinking of the suffering of the poeple in Afghanistan--and people all over the world--allowed me to release at the end. Nothing dramatic. I just leaned into C's warm body, and felt the emotion move through me, qyuietly. It was very quiet. A warm rush of tears, and deep breaths. There is a lot of suffering in the world. We are living incredibly privileged lives, and there is suffering, but when you can move into the heart, it is warm and soft in there.


Anonymous said...

you say: "when you can move into the heart, it is warm and soft in there."

i say: "yes, go there often - frequently, daily, nightly, forever-ly."

all love

Anonymous said...

What you bring to Carla is perfect love, love with no strings attached, a caring love to be there when needed, do whatever you can and just simply love her for who she is. Not the person dying from a terrible disease but your friend who loves you unconditionally as you love her. Rejoice in that love and keep giving, for it is what you were meant to do.