Sunday Morning~Sharing Space

It’s so much easier to write when I am fired up about something, but it’s been a good, comfortable, loving week. No explosions, no crises, no injuries, no drama. Even the blizzard missed us (much to the disappointment of my Californian sweetheart). And after last Sunday’s disagreement/misunderstanding/set-Linda-off episode, we have settled into a calm period of respectfully claiming territory. We’ve had the occasional virtues of Bernie vs. superiority of Hillary discussions, but they have all been relatively thoughtful and calm. It’s not been boring, however. We have way too much life to catch up on, way too many stories to tell, and walks to take. It seems like we’re caught in a comfortable movie loop where only the pleasant things happen, the characters still developing.

I never thought at this age it would be possible to co-habitate again. I thought I was too comfortable living alone and convinced myself I was happier that way. The idea that two older adults, with vastly different pasts, could start a new life together was beyond the realm of possible. But here it is, over a week already, and it’s hard to imagine it being better. Really. Can this be happening? Can it last?

Of course I’ve seen it happen before, only not to me. I’d come to believe I was too hard to live with, too hard to work with, too fiery, just too everything. But here we are, learning about each other with honest curiosity and real compassion. This is such a new experience  that I’m still adjusting. The attack never comes. My arm with the shield is slowly lowering (emphasize slowly, lest it be a trick). But he has his own story, his own shield, and it makes me want to sand my edges. And though I’m still incredulous there is a person on this planet who had never seen It’s a Wonderful Life, I’m seeing more clearly how assumptions have been the source of much unnecessary heartache. (No wonder my Clarence the angel joke fell so flat on the train!)

I’d said many times since my divorce, that relationships are just too much work. I’d say the word work as if it were a pejorative. I didn’t want to do it again. I’d think of my marriage and all the misunderstandings turned into fights. The days of trying to resolve things and the energy that took. It just didn’t seem worth it again. But I wonder why, as someone who always liked to work, in fact, loves to work, considers work fun, fulfilling, exciting, meaningful, and rewarding, would I use the word so negatively when referring to relationships? Maybe a defense. Probably a defense. Definitely a defense. Because, as I’ve said over and over, when you really love your job, it doesn’t seem like work. Midwifery is certainly a lot of work, but I love it. Maintaining this house is a lot of work, but I love it. And, yes, relationships involve work, but I’m finding myself loving it.

It doesn’t seem like work.



Sunday Morning~Pulling it in

When I was in college and riding my bike around Boston in the 70’s I had a few close calls with parked cars. Drivers would park and, without looking, open their door as I was riding closely beside the line of cars. Depending on where I was when the door swung open meant the difference between a polite interaction with the driver issuing an apology, and a flight over the handlebars, over the car door, onto either their windshield to the right, or traffic to the left. My brother, also an avid city cyclist, and I were discussing this one day and he told me the thing to do at each close call was to start screaming at the driver. Apparently, this was the bikers method of making them not do it again. I’m not sure if a study was ever done to see if it was effective, but that image stuck in my mind. (What was more likely was that drivers just started hating cyclists.) It has taken decades to get bike lanes in cities and I’ve been in advocacy groups having hours of discussion about how to make the roads safer for bikers.  The groups usually convene after a cyclist is killed.

Which brings me to women in our health care system.

I’ve gotten accepted to do a TEDx talk about what is happening to health care for women in this country.  This is a huge responsibility. I’ll have between six and twelve minutes to describe what is happening in our system, how women are at increasingly higher risk for long term consequences (including death) from unnecessary procedures, and how they suffer lack of access to safe care. I’ll want to describe how discrimination against women in our system is escalating for various reasons: finances, ignorance, fear, and the long-standing culture of medicine. Then I will want to give a few examples. Then I will want to explain what we can do about it.  How we all can act to change the tide of the RISING MATERNAL MORTALITY RATE IN THE UNITED STATES, because, someone has to be killed to have the advocacy group meet to discuss what we can do, right?  We can’t just use common sense and value human life. We have to show there have been human sacrifices on the altar of money and power. This is a lot for six minutes.

I get angry when I hear women’s stories. A woman refused an unnecessary procedure and was consequently denied care. She was labeled a “difficult patient” and sent on her way for refusing a procedure with no documented medical value.

I was irate when relating this story to a friend this morning.  He questioned why she would refuse the procedure, and I made the immediate assumption that he was siding with the medical establishment; that the average woman isn’t educated enough to know what is good for her. My assumption was that he believed that a pregnant women should hand herself over to those in control, specifically, doctors. Well. I went into praying mantis mode and, while biting his head off, started my rant about how she was actually the more informed one, despite the doctor’s years of medical education. The procedure is, in fact, irrelevant in that situation. Was my assumption correct? Was that what he was saying? No (I hope). But he hit a nerve and I reacted.

Did my point get made? Will the driver open his door again in front of a cyclist? Or just start hating women’s advocates? How in six minutes, or eight, or twelve, can I be informative and passionate but not angry?  And then I think…how can what is happening to women NOT make you angry??

“You’ll turn people off with that anger.”  I’ve heard that more than once.

I sat in church this morning and thought about this. The doctor who denied this woman care was probably not intentionally abusing her. He may have believed the procedure was necessary. Or he may have known it wasn’t but felt it would protect him from a lawsuit. I don’t know his rationale. And the woman may have been very well informed and challenged him with the data about the procedure, or she may have been very ill informed and just scared. It doesn’t matter. What matters is she was not well cared for and punished for advocating for herself. This happens over and over again in our system.  If you are female and advocate for yourself, you’re difficult.  If your life circumstances have led you to drug addiction, you’re difficult. If you are obese, you are difficult. And instead of looking at the situations our society has created through poverty and hopelessness as a problem we all must deal with, medical practices can say, “Too difficult! Out with you!” And this, apparently, is legal.

So what can we do? How do I channel the anger into action? Should we sue them? That seems to be the ultimate fear of providers and hospitals. They get sued for bad outcomes which, is an incentive to do more unnecessary procedures, which drives up the cost of care, which means fewer people can afford care, which leads to poorer outcomes.

I’m starting to see the one minute application video was the easy part. I’ve got to fit a whole career’s worth of women’s stories into six minutes and leave people with their heads intact. Yikes.




Sunday Morning~Savannah Spirits

Ah, it’s girls weekend, the annual event that started six years ago as a buck-her-up weekend for a few of us going through hard times back then.  Well, it has turned into a phenomenon I think we should market.  We’ve outdone ourselves.

This was never meant to be exclusive or cliquey. Nine high school classmates just ended up together one MLK weekend at my house, hodgepodge style. I had invited Joyce and Paula to come up for some cross country skiing.  Paula needed to get away. Then Kathy called and said she’d love to come, too. Then Mike died, and I thought we should see if Carol wanted some girlfriend time. Then Patti was going to be in Maine dropping her son at school and said she’d love to come and thought Margie needed a break from caring for David, so asked her to come, too. Then I got a call from Margie asking if she could invite Doreen. Then I got a message from Tricia and told her about it and she said she’d love to come, too. That’s how the nine of us ended up in my living room for a long snowy weekend. We shared our souls and secrets and had a blast. And we vowed to do it again. And again. And again.

Patti was cheerleader captain in high school. Yes, four of the nine, including me, were cheerleaders.  And we were good! We won tournaments! It was hard! We practiced a lot!  And we were not sluts! We were cute! We got good grades!  Anyway, Patti always has good ideas, and she had made a 60 by 60 list.  Sixty things she wanted to do before she turned 60.  Isn’t that brilliant? Well, that was six years ago and we are turning 60 this year. She has eleven left and has till August. She’s so cool. And it got us talking about our own bucket lists and we toss them out and in our spirit-soaked weekends we think they are great ideas! Yes! Iceland in the winter! Let’s do it! So we did!

A few years ago we decided girls weekend should be a trip every other year. So it’s cozy up together in Bar Harbor one year and meet up in a pre-determined place the next. This year was destination-Savannah, and we picked a winner, though after last night we may be on a local no-fly list.

I really think everyone should consider doing this. Call up a few high school friends and get snowed-in someplace. Think of the money you’ll save on therapists! Okay, that might be offset by how much you spend on libation, but really, if everyone pitches in, it’s not that expensive. Cheap wine works fine to get the memories flowing. And when you discover that everyone’s families were as screwed up as yours, you’ll feel so much better! Hmm, there might be another TED talk in here somewhere.

I’m surprising myself with all the exclamation points this morning. They are not an indication of my head condition after last night’s martini tour. When Tricia got up to get a drink of water she said, “Oh. I feel like I am wearing a crown. A….very…heavy…crown.”  I started laughing so hard I couldn’t get back to sleep so decided to get up and write. My throat hurts as much as my head and I couldn’t figure out why until I started laughing again. Oh, right. It was from laughing. God, last night was fun.

As I said, we are all turning sixty this year, and Joyce’s big day happened to fall on this very weekend. We rang it in yesterday with no holes barred. In trying to do something to surprise her, Patti (queen of good ideas), learned that the martini was invented in Savannah and they offer a martini tour. It’s basically a girly pub crawl (and I do mean crawl) with a little history thrown in at the beginning. Because, believe me, no one gives a shit about history by the end of the tour. Four martinis are included in case anyone is considering signing up. Four large martinis. We did not need anything else to drink, though, we were such a hit about town that people were buying us shots by the end of the night. One very generous woman, with equally generous breasts and a boyfriend who wouldn’t dance, came out with a tray of fireball shots for us. Apparently we impressed her with our dancing skills. Or that was my take on it.

We weren’t allowed inside one of the high-end establishments, so waited on the sidewalk while Rebecca, our guide went in to get the martinis to go. (Savannah, bless it’s little heart, has an open carry law.) While waiting, we sang a repertoire of all our wedding songs like Christmas carolers at the door of the restaurant. Can’t remember whose idea that was. When Rebecca, came out I said, “I’m sorry if we are embarrassing you.”  She said, “Are you kidding? You are the most fun group I’ve ever had!” (We heard that a lot last night. They were probably just saying it to be nice. Southern hospitality or something.)

We were allowed into a dive bar, formerly a speakeasy, and sat in the back where they used to hide people and booze. There, Rebecca told us about the ghosts and spirits inhabiting this city. I’ll check my photos later for any strange rings or whatever she said to look for. There was something about insane asylums and being buried alive and some other insights I now can’t recall, but some weird shit happened here. I’m not surprised they sat around concocting very strong drinks.

Between there and the final destination, some guy on a motorcycle took Joyce, the birthday girl, on a spin around the block. Ok, I was a little worried about that one, but Rebecca reassured us he was ok. Then Patti took a spin with him and he was gone longer, I thought too long. More drunken anxiety on my part. Then when she happily returned, off we went to the final bar, also a restaurant, where Rebecca had arranged cake along with the real martini. (Remember, we are three in by now.) We were seated at tables and I said to Margie I was really worried about Patti being gone so long on that motorcycle. Margie, in the running for sweetest person in the world, says, “Oh, no! I wasn’t worried!  He was so nice! He was showing us pictures of his parrot.  How can you not trust someone who shows you pictures of his bird?”  There was a split second of stunned silence before our table exploded with howls of laughter, which caused a, let’s say, humorless patron to come to our table to tell us we were ruining her meal. Scolded, we quieted down and I leaned over and said, “Margie, that is going to be the title of my blog tomorrow.” (I was drunk. I didn’t realize at the time it was too long for the title.) Sweet Margie responded, “Oh! I’ve been secretly hoping you would write about me in your blog!”

How can you not trust someone who shows you pictures of his bird? There’s a better story in there somewhere.  I’m going to work on it. For Margie.

Sunday Morning~What happened to my state?

After my ex finished graduate school we decided on one more adventure before settling down. We were living in Connecticut and the pace was way beyond anything we wanted to subject ourselves to permanently. It seemed like first graders were already competing for places at Harvard or Yale and we couldn’t stand it. We had a romantic vision of sitting under a palm tree reading to our children and letting them run wild, being children and not mini-adults.

We knew we would settle in Maine, and had already bought a piece of property. Since I wanted mountains, he wanted ocean, and we both wanted New England, Maine made sense. And Maine had George Mitchell! Margaret Chase Smith! Thinkers! Advocates! States people! We imagined the great minds that lifestyle would produce.

We had spent a year traveling up the coast checking out communities for just the right fit. As we crossed the bridge onto Mt Desert Island, we both agreed it already felt good.  And it was. It’s a unique and beautiful place. It’s got the National Park, an artistic community, a scientific community, and small town values we shared. And at the time, land was affordable. We bought some.

One of our concerns about raising a family there, however, was that Maine is a racially homogeneous state. We worried about raising our children without racial diversity, though there is great socio-economic diversity. We had the idea that living overseas and having our kids go to a local school would help them understand what it’s like to be a minority. That it would foster compassion and inclusiveness. So we took off to Samoa for two years and the kids went to the local school there. There were many times when we wondered if we were doing the right thing. Our kids were scared to go to school. Other kids made fun of them. They couldn’t understand what the teacher was saying. This was to be expected, but it was hard to see our children struggling with it. We hoped we weren’t screwing them up forever. Over time they adjusted and made friends. We looked at it as an adventure and hoped their running wild in the jungle made up for the stress they felt at school. They seemed like they were having fun, and I don’t remember a single machete incident.

After two years in the tropics, we moved to Maine where we got used to having cold hands again. We settled in and built a house.  We raised our children and launched them into the world. Their father launched himself into a different world, but the place remains home. The problem now is the ugly twisted turn the politics have taken in the state. What happened to people? How did such an ignorant, racist man make his way to the governor’s mansion? Twice! It scares me. I wonder if it would have prevented us from moving there, had he been the governor back then.  I think it might have.

I get the fear mongering, the out of state money that paid for ads, and the general swing in politics in the country as a whole.  But come on. Blatant racism and misogyny? What year is this? I tried to imagine who would actually vote for that man and I discovered I knew people who did! It was shocking!

When a friend started dating after her divorce, she mentioned her anxiety about getting into a new relationship. She mused about the differences between them and his dating record.  It was girls night out and we were gently encouraging her to go for it! Take a risk!  He’s handsome! He’s smart!  He’s got a great job! You only live once! She leant in to the center of the table, elbows bent, and said in a low voice, “He voted for LePage.”

“Dump him”, we all said. “He’s an idiot.”

Sunday Morning~New Year Intentions

I’m starting the year in yet another time zone. Never in a million years would I have predicted where the past year would have taken me. A year ago I was content with my life, if not my job. I had options and security, an imagination and dreams.  The only thing to do was dial the lens to focus. Then Amtrak changed the picture in a quick fade out/fade in.  Out of it’s doors poured more options, more potential, more fun, more friends, and more love.

I can’t remember making New Year’s resolutions that I stuck by.  I think I resolved to get all my photos in albums about ten years in a row.  They still sit in boxes (curse you Scrapbook for making me believe it was possible!). Yesterday we spoke of intentions instead of resolutions, and though it may be only a word, it seems a little less authoritarian, more friendly, more fluid.

And now the dilemma of what to do with my life? What cause to focus on? What country? Amid all this fun and new beginnings, I have the lurking voice telling me to get to work. My idea of having three months off has turned to six, and has the potential to be nine or maybe twelve. I’m finding I spend very little when I’m not working, and my savings is lasting longer than expected. I’m getting used to going to sleep and staying in bed until morning. I find I have less anxiety about the impending winter. I won’t need to go out at night. In a storm. Before my driveway is plowed. I’m getting soft. But I feel ten years younger.

I took my first overseas trip with my college roommate when we were nineteen.  It was May between sophomore and junior year and we got it in our heads to take a bike trip in Ireland. We saved our pittance from side jobs and managed to buy airplane tickets and set off with our bikes packed in boxes and seventy dollars in our pockets for two weeks traveling. I think they were travelers checks. We had a tent and rain gear and figured we wouldn’t eat much, which we didn’t, until we stayed with some people who fed us. Terrible freeloaders, when I think back. We didn’t even know the people who took us in. One day, when we were cycling into the wind in the pouring rain, Sheilah yelled to me, “Why is it you’re not happy unless you are in pain?” (She had wanted to stop some miles back.) And I thought, “She’s right.” For reasons, then unclear to me, I never felt like I was being a good person unless I was suffering. And I got to take this cool trip, and that was a good thing, so I had to suffer for it. And no, it wasn’t just my Catholicism, though that probably reinforced it.

I spent a good deal of my adult life working on that. Trying to believe I deserved to be happy and have good things in my life. But childhood lessons die a long lingering death, and are sometimes immortal. And there is a difference between paying forward those free meals and paying for everything wrong in the world–––and making my family pay along with me.

So here I sit, again at dawn, contemplating all the goodness in my life and all the luck and blessings the past year bestowed on me. Feeling love and loved. Thinking about options and trying to adjust the lens so the distance is clear without messing up the foreground.