Sunday, September 07, 2014

Coming Out is Hard To Do

Kudos to Mark Olmsted for telling his story in the Huffington Post.and in his blog, The Trash Whisperer. Olmsted, who earned a Master's degree so he could become a teacher, is prohibited from teaching in most school districts because of drug-related felony convictions. A recovering meth addict, he shares his story in support of "ban the box" statutes that soften the impact of previous felony convictions in employment. Olmsted appreciates such laws, but argues that they don't go far enough because he could still be banned from teaching.

While I get the reasons for not giving felons access to young, sensitive, impressionable minds, I agree with Olmstead that someone with his life experience has a lot to offer. As an HIV positive man watching friends die all around during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, he lived his life on a "two year plan," figuring there was not much point in planning for the future. I think a lot of addicts live on that plan, and so do a lot of at-risk kids. A teacher who understands that mindset could be a wonderful asset, and could probably even save a life or two. Experience doesn't have to be yours to be educational.

These days, even conservatives are willing to concede that throwing people in prison isn't always the answer; this despite the increasing privatization of the American prison industrial complex. Maybe we're seeing the beginning of a paradigm shift. As people like Olmsted "come out" and tell their stories, maybe we'll see the law follow changing cultural mores. I'm encouraged, for example, by the growing public support for the legalization of marijuana. Someday maybe we'll find the idea of arresting drug users quaintly old-fashioned and counterproductive, like Prohibition.

And after all, who would I rather have teaching my kid: a thin-lipped prune who's lived the straight and narrow all his life but hates children? Or somebody with "life experience" who thrives in the classroom? Yes, I know, that's a false dichotomy. But there are enough shitty teachers out there to make the point relevant. Give me somebody who loves teaching. Even if he's a recovering meth addict with a criminal record.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

On Getting Older, God, and Cherry Spit

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
Boy, oh boy, am I excited. Tomorrow is my very first colonoscopy! And that means I haven't eaten anything since yesterday. This morning, when I started this colon-cleansing adventure, I took a picture of my fasting diet for the day. Yum!

But I didn't realize the best was yet to come. Since six o'clock this evening, I've been enjoying a seductive and effective elixir: four liters of cherry spit, designed to clean out my lower intestine until it's so clean you can eat off of it.

Four liters. Two 2-liter bottles, to be consumed one glass at a time, every fifteen minutes. Somehow I've got to fit bathroom, uh, duties into this manic schedule, and there's not a whole lot of room for error. Add blogging to that, and you can see I've had one busy evening.

(It's pretty bad when this is the best thing I can come up with to blog about. But I digress.)

Anyway, going through this interesting new process has been something of a reality check, both physically and spiritually.

Physically, it's a reminder that I'm getting older. Actually, way older, because I was supposed to start doing this seven years ago, at age 50. Do as I say, not as I do.

Spiritually, it's a vivid and colorful reminder that I'm terribly ordinary and subject to the same human indignities as everybody else on the planet. If you make me drink four liters of spit-flavored laxative, I'm going to get diarrhea, and all the terminal uniqueness in the world isn't going to quell the urge.

Not to change the subject or anything, but Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is almost upon us, and ten days after that is Yom Kippur. I'm supposed to fast on Yom Kippur.

You know, if I'd just scheduled my colonoscopy for the day after Yom Kippur, I could be getting God points right now.

So if you're Jewish, and over 50, and you live in Atlanta, don't even think about scheduling your next colonoscopy around Yom Kippur. It's mine. I thought of it, it, and I've got dibs on it from now on.

Jesus fucking Christ.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

My Other Bucket List

Don't worry, I'm not dying, but I'm working on my bucket list anyway.  My other bucket list.

Oh, sure, there's the usual stuff -- I need to finish the play that's languishing on a dead computer in the closet. I've got a novel that's half-written, and some other writing to finish or edit or submit for publication. And I would really like to get my shit together generally, again. And lose weight, again. I should read something that's good for me, like War and Peace, or Shakespeare, or Elizabeth Barrett Browning or Yeats or something. I ought to either cancel my gym membership or start going. And before I die, I really, really need to clean out my closets.


That bucket is a burden. It's molded of cement, and I drag it with me everywhere. That's the bucket list I save for when I already feel guilty and want to feel guiltier. The one I dig through when I want to remind myself how little I've accomplished. The one I dig through when trying on swimsuits at Walmart sounds too self-affirming.

But I've got a different bucket list. This one is in a better. lighter bucket that's shiny and fun and ridiculously colorful. It's full of confetti that I can throw into the air just because. It gives me energy instead of sapping it. And it's completely, utterly, frivolous.

Here's what I've got so far:

1. I want to have Thanksgiving dinner at Hooters. I've wanted to do this for years, but I've never found any takers. Maybe this is the year!

2. I want to see the bats fly out of Carlsbad Caverns at sunset.

3. Kudzu is said to grow as much as a foot a day. We have lots of kudzu here in Georgia. I want to take a lawn chair, sit down in a field, and watch it grow for 24 hours.

4. I'm pretty sure the sloth is my totem animal. I want a sloth encounter.

5. I want to go an entire calendar year without wearing matching socks. I've been practicing for this one. Matching socks are so pedestrian.

I wasn't going to post this list until I had more, better stuff on it. But that would have put it into my yucky bucket. 

So it's a work in progress. It's uniquely mine. And you know, I have a feeling that working on this one will lighten the load of the other one. Just maybe.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Deliver my heart. Please.

Soooo... it's a busy time in the Land of Current Events. Boehner is suing the president. The Supreme Court has been deconstructing collective bargaining rights for public employees. The opinion in Hobby Lobby may or may not be a disaster, depending on who’s talking. Meanwhile, Ann Coulter and others are amusing themselves by debating which sport is morally superior, football or futbol, while lots of people take her way, way too seriously.

Oh, and I think the US lost that soccer thing that's happening.

You know what? I just don't give a shit right now about any of it. And do you know why?

I’ll tell you why:

Last night I ordered my groceries online and they were delivered today. To my door! Like, as in, the nice lady carried the groceries into my house and everything. I have eggs and apples and oranges and cola and carrots and yogurt and frozen meals and stuff.

I haven't been this happy since Webvan went out of business. God, I loved Webvan.

But now? Instacart! Oh, yeah, baby! Fuck, yes!

The secret to happiness is getting your priorities straight. And oh, I haz happiness.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Father's Day -- An Epilogue

Dad died three weeks ago.   My stepmom likes to tell people that my dad never knowingly lied, and he never said anything bad about anyone. I don't have the heart to correct her. Whatever he may have been, they loved each other deeply, and their 30-year relationship was a sight to behold. "He's a good man," my stepmom has always said, and to her, he certainly was. Who am I to argue?

I feel quite sure that my dad wanted to be a great father, and he did the best he knew how. But he wasn’t very good at it. He was emotionally unavailable to his kids and their mother. He was narcissistic and judgmental; he could be cold and unforgiving and miserly. His memory was relentlessly selective. Dad was, at times, a destructive force in our lives.

Every once in a while, though, he would surprise us with an uncharacteristic act of love and support, and I would hang on tight because I was so hungry for it. With Dad, you had to pretend.

For a long time, I idealized my dad, refusing to see what others saw. Eventually, I succumbed to outside pressure – I still regret that – and broke off all contact with him. For much too long, my only contact with my dad consisted of the three emails I sent each year: on Christmas, Father's Day, and his birthday. I became as lousy a daughter as he was a dad. Worse, in fact, especially because I knew better.

By the time the cancer came, I was too mired in my own dysfunction to be any help. My only act of support was to ask Dad to keep me posted on developments.  He didn’t, of course. I used that as an excuse to withdraw further. We pretended we wanted to be close while we played off each other’s more authentic mutual disinterest. 

It was the fourth cancer diagnosis – lung cancer – that finally got my attention.

And so I did finally come around, and I did my best to make up for lost time with visits and phone calls. I made it my job to listen, and I got to know him. I learned about a man who had worked hard all his life, who served in the Navy on an aircraft carrier. While on that ship, he asked to be in charge of movie night so he could order Singing in the Rain whenever he wanted. He went to college on the GI Bill, became an electrical engineer, and was a pioneer in the development of early computers for General Electric in the 1960s.

Now Dad was just a sick old man, fighting like hell to postpone a difficult death.  I wondered, looking at him, if he ever could have caused the harm I had attributed to him. But then I saw him vivisect my niece and one of his tenants, and I realized he still had the capacity to be enormously destructive. He gave me a taste of it as well, but I had expected it, so I was prepared.  

Then, two months ago, a loving act of breathtaking generosity. His gift allowed me to pay off all but one of my debts, repair my car, and replace the broken-down HVAC system in my home. The gift was truly life-changing, and I made sure he knew exactly where the money went and how grateful I was for the fresh start.

I wish I could tell you that everything was peaches and cream after that. Three days before Dad died, he called me into his bedroom for a private conversation. We both knew that death was closing in, but it wasn’t that kind of talk. Instead, he started shouting, which must have been very difficult in his physical condition. I’m completely irresponsible with money, he lectured, and I’ve been out of law school for how long? Even now I had to be bailed out. His voice rose as he declared that I will never get my act together, and thanks to me, my daughter is destined for financial ruin, too.

I’m glad to say I didn’t engage. I just became kind of dead inside. I thanked him for his honesty and told him I loved him. He said he loved me, too, and I went home to Georgia. That night he took a bad fall, and went to the hospital for the last time.  That was our final conversation.

My sponsor suggested that instead of focusing on my Dad’s last words to me, I focus instead on his last, loving, generous gift. I’m working on that. I’m working on remembering the dad who loved old movies just like I do. The dad who took us camping every summer, and taught us to sing “Blood on the Saddle,” and took the family out for sunrise cook-outs in the desert. The dad who taught me two perfectly awful jokes that still make me laugh. The dad who was the very best dad he knew how to be. 

A few months back, my therapist said it was important, if someone close to you is dying, to tell them four things: I love you. Thank you. I’m sorry. I forgive you.

So I told Dad I loved him, and I said it often. I thanked him for teaching me self-reliance, for standing up for what he believed in, and for showing me the importance of education. I told him how sorry I was for staying away from him for so long, for denying him access to my daughter, and for the horrible time I gave him as a teenager.

And as for forgiveness? Well, I told my Dad that he hadn’t done anything that needed forgiving. It seemed best to confirm what he already knew.

He was a good man, my dad.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mother's Day -- And Nancy Rae's Two Cents.

Yes, I'm back, and I'm lazy, too, because this is a repost from 2010. 

I really miss my mom. But I'm grateful for a wonderful stepmom and an even more wonderful daughter.

I am truly blessed.


For Mother’s Day, I thought I’d tell you all about my mom. Instead, I’m posting this letter she wrote to me about a month before I got sober. It says more about her than I ever could.

A little background: She had just visited my husband and me in Kalamazoo, Michigan. A lung cancer survivor, she drove all by herself from Albuquerque and back in her little red Datsun.

Just a few months later, she would learn that she had several malignant, and inoperable, brain tumors.  That’s when we moved to Albuquerque.

Mom died a month and a half after she saw me pick up my one-year chip. She was 52, and had nearly 11 years sober herself.

Until today, I've never shown this letter to anyone except my current sponsor and my daughter. I haven’t changed a word, although I have shortened it.  I would have preferred to leave out some other parts, but I believe she would have insisted that I leave them in. So, I did.  Sadly, I’m just now learning the lessons she was trying to teach me back then. Even so, her letter has helped me through countless difficult times.

Mom, thank you. I love you always.

June 29, 1981

Dear Lynne,

I think we haven’t had much chance over the past ten years or so to have mother-daughter – or woman-to-woman talks. I hope Donald will understand if, because of this feeling, I sometimes write to you separately. I don’t mean to exclude him at all. But he has had a mother all his life and you haven’t had your fair share of mothering.

I got the feeling when I was with you that there are some things you don’t know about Lynne. I am your mother and allowed to be prejudiced in your favor. But I am also a mother in the unique position of having seen you so seldom as you changed from a child to a woman, that I am quite objective about you in many ways.

You have heard it so often you don’t hear it – If I could have any daughter in the whole world, I would choose you. I have told Bob the same about a son. These are not just words to me. It is a prayer of thanksgiving. I am twice blessed and my gratitude is boundless.

Lynne is beautiful, intelligent and she has a good heart. That is the way it is. Perhaps a mother could want more in a daughter, but I can’t imagine what it would be. Perhaps a human being could want more in another human being – but what?

I am going to assume you know you are intelligent. If you question that, let me know and I’ll address the question. I have answers that have nothing to do with my opinions or observations. If you don’t give Lynne credit for outstanding intelligence, it’s time you do that.

You are beautiful – physically beautiful. I don’t use the words often because I believe it is seldom appropriate. But you are a beautiful young woman. I know you are not aware of your beauty. I think that’s a terrible waste. It is nothing to gloat over or take credit for. But it should surely be appreciated and cared for.

You quit hiding that beauty, and I guarantee you, Lynne will be one helluva beautiful woman. 

It has taken me 50 years to accept my attractiveness. And the Nancy I finally accepted as attractive has outrageous scars and a face that aged from the illness.

You don’t have to do that to Lynne. I want desperately for you to begin to allow Lynne to live now.

Okay – as for the good heart. You have tried to be good all your life. I’m not saying you’ve been good every minute or that there aren’t times when you just say, “The hell with it, I’ll just be bad.” No one is good every minute. (But) you’ve never been able to avoid trying to be good for very long. You have sought approval from other people – so you have tried to be good as you thought they wanted. But we can’t read the other guy’s mind.

The only “good” we can rely on is our own instinct to be good. I am human – not bad. I’m quite practical, loving, try to be honest and fair with others, mean no harm to other people, and believe everyone has a right to share my world. I think these are good instincts. I believe I have a good heart. I’ve a long way to go, of course. But I am working my life in the direction of acceptance of this one of God’s children.

I am obligated to know your instincts as best I can. You have a good heart, in my opinion.

If you could have any daughter in the whole, wide world, wouldn’t you choose one who is intelligent, beautiful and has a good heart? And wouldn’t you want for her to accept herself as she is?

I want you to learn to accept my daughter as she is – intelligent, beautiful and good-hearted. That’s worth fighting for. And, honey, I’m gonna fight for it.

If we were closer I could tell you all these things in bits and pieces as we go along. I would keep reminding you that you are intelligent, beautiful and have a good heart. We don’t have that luxury. But we do have cheap paper and pens. We do have 18 cents for a stamp. We do both express ourselves in writing when we choose to.

So – whatever –

I love you right where you are right this minute – and this minute – and this minute. That is a given. So you might as well stick it in your personality computer system’s memory and push the memory button a hundred times a day. You won’t figure in enough love – but you’d be on the right equation.

The message is acceptance and love.