July 8, 2014

Nights in White Satin

Some people are transported back in time by a smell or a food. For me, it's music. When a song like "Nights in White Satin" comes on, I am once again a moody, melancholy teenager full of questions about life. Why are we here? What will I do when I'm a grown-up?  Why doesn't that boy like me?

Lindsay Ryder Myers introduced me to the Moody Blues when I was at the George School. She's probably responsible for my nocturnal habits. Lindsay and I would stay up all night. Sometimes we'd sneak out of our dorm and hike over to the railroad tracks. We'd smoke stale cigarettes, talking about love and life. She was poetic and bohemian, and she was adventurous. Besides the midnight forays, we'd often take the train into Philly to Reading Market and get some old bum to buy us a bottle of Boones Farm wine. Then we'd sit on a curb, and drink the wine with our bread and cheese. She seemed to have no fear. I wonder what ever happened to her. I wish I could thank her for all those wild times.

Later on, when I came back home for school, I used to stay up all night long working on art projects, listening to my favorite LPs. The next day I'd get up and drag my ass to school. God, I hated school. Not only was it boring, but most of the kids were mean. I was regularly shoved into lockers and subjected to verbal abuse by the jocks, which far outnumbered us "freaks" as we were called. "HEY BERNAT, WHY DON'T YOU EVER WEAR A BRA?" I guess I asked for some of it.... then go into a classroom and listen to a teacher drone on and on about something I really did not care about. I'd daydream, imagining the finishing touches I'd put on the woven rug I was making, or the cool macrame swing I was working on. I'd doodle song lyrics on my notebooks -- "breathe deep the gathering gloom.... " "excuse me while I kiss the sky...." I just wanted to be back in my room with the darkness all around me. I can remember staring out my window into the street below for hours, smelling the rain, or listening to the crickets. Sometimes I'd be in a state of... altered consciousness ... an escape from boredom, surely, and the moments would stretch into eternity. Feeling like time stood still sometimes. I'd try to do magic. My favorite magical fantasy was that I could put myself into other people's dreams and make them really scary if I didn't like them, or really wonderful if I did. I'd still like to do that, actually. Or I'd try to send messages to someone I loved by focusing on a thought for them. Things like that seemed possible. I guess they still do, I just don't do them as much anymore.

I sit out in the dark most nights, trying to retrieve that rare creative, pensive energy I had as a teenager, when music could fill me like a bottomless well with emotion.. I stare at the trees, the black lace against a black sky, wondering if I'm just too jaded for that to happen again. Is it just that when you're young, you have nothing to measure your experience on, and now, it's always being compared to something else that happened? The fireflies blink, the heat lightning pulses, but it's been doing that for years, hasn't it?

Addicted to Technology?

I'll admit it, I love my iPhone. I also love my iPad, my Mac, and my FitBit. I use them for everything from waking up to my iPhone's alarm, to falling asleep with earbuds firmly planted, listening to an audiobook.I love imagining what kind of crazy gadgets there will be in the next 10 or so years, and am in awe thinking about how far it's come in just the last 20 years.

But yesterday was ridiculous. Actually, beginning very late Tuesday night, when I realized my new iPhone was not allowing me to text -- every time I tried to send a text, I got the dreaded Not delivered message. It didn't make sense! Everything had been fine for the past 48 since I'd booted up and installed my phone. Something was wrong!

I'm the kind of person who hates when anything isn't working -- the plug in the bathtub, the TV, the car. It gives me a sense of unease, paranoia. If I have even the vaguest notion that I can fix it, I obsess. I trawl the internet for solutions, scour user manuals. I'll try the same thing over a few times, convinced that I did something backwards the first time. I'm a good troubleshooter, actually, but some things are beyond my grasp.

But when something I depend on everyday isn't working -- especially the one thing that keeps me in touch with my girls, one in Costa Rica, the other in upper state New York -- I go bonkers. I was up until 2 reading with growing horror, stories of people with iPhones who were having exactly the same issue I was -- and no solution! Some blamed their cell carrier, others blamed Apple. There were some things to try, so I carefully went through the steps to no avail.... tried to backtrack to remember something I had changed to make things misbehave. Nada.

I woke yesterday morning with a sense of impending doom. I picked up my phone and tried to text Willa. It worked! It worked! I felt happy. An hour later, I was right back to where I was at 2:00 a.m. Not delivered.  Rather than fiddling around on the internet again, I called Sprint and was on the phone for at least an hour and a half. While I was on the phone with the patient representative, we got a text or two to go through. The minute I hung up, there it was. Not delivered.

I tried to be brave. This wasn't the end of the world. But the fact that this situation made almost no sense was driving me insane. If things like this could happen, with no explanation, what would be next? Would trees come out of their rooted homes and start dancing down the street? Would dinosaurs come back to life? Would birds start flying upside down? I was having reality issues. I went and sat on the deck for awhile, realizing I had wasted most of my day worrying about this silly little thing while there were kids in Sudan looking for a safe place to sleep. I chided myself for the work that had gone undone. I tried to make myself feel better by admiring the flowers I'd planted, and how well they were doing. I really felt like I was going nuts.

I called Sprint again, and went through several of the same troubleshooting procedures, but nothing was happening. The nice representative told me I should call Apple. So I did. This representative wanted me to backup my phone and completely reset it. My phone was still backed up from the install that I did the day before, so I was fine with that -- but when I chose the re-set option with the iPhone connected to my mac, my mac started to download a software update - the same software update that I'd had to install when I got my phone. I was resolved to let it do its thing, however, so I left it alone. When I came back an hour later, I saw with much chagrin that the download was going to take SIX HOURS. I called Apple back, and explained to the techie that I didn't think this was necessary at all. He agreed with me and told me to cancel it. We ran through a few procedures, when all of a sudden, I noticed a message popping up on my phone that my phone number was being added to my Apple ID. Wasn't it there before? I could've sworn it was. In any case, the next thing I knew, I was receiving about a million texts all at once. I asked the technie to wait for a minute, and sent a text to Willa. WIN! The rest of the day was technologically uneventful. I went to Zumba. I came home. I made dinner. I worked for awhile. All was well.

This morning when I woke up I was instantly happy and content as I got ready for work. It didn't hit me until the middle of the afternoon how tied up my emotions were with the state of my technology. It was almost embarrassing, realizing how connected my happiness was to how well "things" were working. And now, a week later, I find myself angrier and angrier when things -- my password, a website, a phone -- don't work. I want to go live in a cave! (No, I don't). I am really going to try to react better when things don't work. Maybe say "THE HELL WITH IT. I'm going to go sit outside with a nice cold drink." Or go work on a hobby.

June 18, 2014

Perfectly magical night

6/17/14 12:30 am
Listening to: Telesma O(h)m Eating: 80% dark chocolate with chiles Drinking: A spot of absinthe

What a perfectly magical night. The sky was alive with different kinds of light. The heat lightning was strobing; the lightning bugs were flashing secret code from the tops of the trees to the dark lawn; the stars were winking out from the clouds. And in the east, the glow of a waxing moon against those same clouds, like a gauze gown flung casually across a glowing goddess you couldn’t quite see. And lots of other things out there, too, that you couldn’t quite see. In the spasms of lightning, wispy bugs flew in and out of peripheral vision, becoming something else. For sure I saw a being at the edge of the woods, gliding along the tree-line, and unlike myself on that same walk, seemed to avoid easily all the prickly undergrowth. And the biophony of the night was quite unlike most. What drew me outside while letting the cat in was actually this sound, this thrumming sound, almost like a bullfrog but more regular and subtle. I thought maybe it was frogs, frightened by the lightning. The thrumming formed the low end of the percussion section of this orchestra. On top were the regular amphibian-type sounds, in several octaves. A nearby cricket joined in, slightly off beat from the cricket chorus further away. Now and then the barking of a lonely dog interrupted, but not in a distracting, alarming kind of way. I was distracted, however, by trying to identify a sound in the woods, like a small thing going through the trees. Nattie the cat didn’t seem concerned, but I was starting to feel overwhelmed by the mystic quality of the night. That, combined with the Effexor finally leaving my body, drove me inside. Yes, the Effexor is leaving. All weekend I felt like my head was filled with shifting sand, and when I moved my head it was like a landslide in there. I had vertigo for three days straight. Finally during Zumba (yay, Zumba!) I started to feel more like my old self than I had for months. Getting the edge back, baby!

I love when a perfectly mundane day ends in such an enchanted way. As soon as I got up I got ready for work and got there – no fooling around with Facebook or walking around, looking at the flowers today. Worked, worked, and worked some more, then came home and prepped dinner. Oh, ok, Zumba is not mundane, that’s true – so yeah, then, Zumba. And then Osman came over and told us all the wonderful things he’s going to do on our latest round of big house maintenance: replace all the wooden trim with composite, fix the leak in the roof, prep the outside of the house for paint, tear down the old gutters, replace a bunch of windows, close up the old A/C wall unit space, and replace a patio door. He stayed around and chatted for a while – he is such a great guy in all ways – friendly, funny, smart, and honest. And he’s an amazing home project contractor! And then, dinner. No internet tonight! Wonder what Frontier is managing to fuck up this time. I’m feeling pretty smart about not bringing home my laptop tonight. I don’t really miss it, but it would’ve been nice to be able to download another Telesma CD and look for some photos online to go with this blog post.

June 15, 2014

Fathers Day

I don't really remember much about anything special I did for my dad on Father's Day. That kind of makes me sad. My absence of memories certainly pales in comparison to the memory Phoebe must have of a particular Father's Day a few years ago. After years of being more or less estranged from her dad, Jay, she got a phone message from him. Her initial reaction of confusion, fear, and suspicion was well earned. Her dad had fallen into a deep well of drug addiction during her early teen years. His journey from being an Army helicopter pilot in Vietnam, to a civilian life where he never really found his fit, to a person who lost everything from his wife, his house, his dog, and finally, his daughter and nearly, his soul, was a long one. We were married for 10 years before the battle claimed our marriage; from there it was a steep decline. He fell out of sight for 16 years (I think). We had no idea where he was. We assumed he was still alive, but that was about it.
Phoebe got up the nerve to call him back, and she and her then-husband Jonathan arranged to visit Jay. It turned out he was living just 2 hours from them in West Haven Connecticut, close to the VA Hospital where he had been sent for drug rehabilitation after being arrested. He had been put on some pretty powerful drugs such as lithium, and nearly died from lithium poisoning. When he emerged from the fog, he decided to go off all the medication and joined AA. Gradually he returned to the world, and longed to reach out for Phoebe. And did. On Father's Day.
Their reunion ended up being a happy one, and he and Phoebe had several happy years. I was able to join in the reunion several times, and so many issues were laid to rest. I saw the man that I once knew, much older, vulnerable, but for the first time ever, happy, truly happy. Unfortunately, Jay passed away last year suddenly from a heart attack. This story could have been so much more sad, had he not made that Father's Day phone call.

June 12, 2014


Phoebe called me from Costa Rica the other day, and among other things, was describing her first scary experience with a storm in the tropics. It's the rainy season down there - winter -- and it rains almost constantly. She told me how the rain pounded on the tin roof, and the lightning and thunder seemed to strike at the same time for a good half hour......

It took me back to July of 1977, when the three of us - she as an infant, her dad Jay, and I -- lived out in Penn Run, Pennsylvania, in my dad's cabin. All of our neighbors were weekenders; the closest real neighbor was at least 2 miles away. We lived deep in the woods. Our driveway was long and crude, and I remember often parking at the end of it in the wintertime and lugging groceries, baby, and sometimes, laundry, up the endless snowy road. But this was the summer. One day Jay was out of town, and it was just the two of us. Well, not just the two of us, if you counted Doodah, our huge bloodhound, and Porker, our even huger pig. Also, a bunch of cats. I usually secretly treasured being there alone with her. I would wrap her up in her little sling, call Doodah, and the three of us would go hiking in the woods, picking flowers, watching the hawks floating around in the sky, playing in the many woodland creeks. 

This particular day started out bright and hot. By late afternoon, sinister clouds were gathering. The sky was transforming into that weird yellow-purple light, almost like a bruise. Later I put Phoebe to bed as usual and began settling in for the night. The rain started hard and suddenly. I looked out the window in the dwindling light and could barely see anything through it, the rain was coming down so hard. I remember looking at the pond in our front yard, and it just looked like a big black hole. The thunder and lightning started rolling in from the distance. I usually like storms - fond memories of my mom letting us put on our bathing suits and run around in the rain until the lightning came - I loved the smell of it. But as the storm got closer, the rain continued to pound even more relentlessly on the roof. I started worrying a little about the roof leaking, but my dad had done a good job of reinforcing the summer cabin for year-round living so I wasn't that worried. I remember dozing off with a book, and waking with a start as the thunder started really letting loose. And there was howling. Doodah was beside me on the couch; it was the wind. I tried to look outside again, but it was pitch dark. I heard a high keening sound, and knew that couldn't possibly be the wind. No, it was not. It was Porker. The poor guy was scared out of his wits! Porker was the original free range pig - he lived in the yard, followed me down the road to get the mail, and loved to have his belly scratched. I couldn't let him out there! So, yes, I let him in. All 300 pounds of him. As I opened the door, I saw what the howling wind was up to: debris and branches were flying everywhere.  I closed the door quickly. Porker was very confused and upset, but soon settled down on the floor with a grumble. 

This went on for another hour: wailing wind, pounding thunder, blazing lightning, torrential rain. It was pretty scary already, but then hell really broke loose. The thunder and lightning began to get closer together, until finally, they were simultaneous. I was afraid to look out the window, but when I did, I saw that the lightning was striking the pond. The thunder was making the whole house tremble. In fact, it was hitting so hard, it made the phone ring. The storm was directly over the cabin.

I started wondering about lightning striking houses. Did that happen? What happened if it happened? Did the house catch on fire? Did the entire house get electrocuted? Was there a lightning rod? What does a lightning rod do, anyway? I pulled out my Whole Earth Catalog and tried to find information (this is before the internet, kids). Nothing helpful. The only good thing about reading was it distracted me from the fact that I was alone, except for a dog, a pig, and a baby. A baby who was sleeping through the entire thing!  I tried the phone, but it was dead, not an uncommon occurrence under the best of circumstances. 

That night seemed to go on forever. The storm stayed over my cabin for a good three hours. Now and then I would hazard a glance out the window, watching branches blow by in the lightning's fierce flashes. It was too scary though, and I finally the storm started to roll away, and I fell asleep.

The next day I woke up to the grunting of Porker. I got out of bed in somewhat of a stupor, and as I opened the door to let him and Doodah outside, I was blown away. The entire landscape of the front yard had changed. The pond was completely washed away. In its place was a river, and it was washing out the road as it rushed its way through the woods. Luckily, it wasn't close enough to flood our house. Trees were down everywhere. I couldn't believe one hadn't hit the house. Our power didn't go out, either, possibly because the lines were underground. But no phone for days, and our road was impassable for a long time.

Later on, I learned that the storm had killed 85 people in the Johnstown area. FEMA came in and they were really great; our small well had been washed away and they replaced it with a deeper one and fixed our road. I think they also came and re-dug the pond later on. I guess we were really lucky. Read the article I linked to and some of the comments from others who lived through the storm. Here's another good story.

Here's a picture of my sisters and me enjoying the pond as kids, probably around 1969:

and later, here's a scene by the pond with some friends from around 1977

I still miss that place! It was magical.

June 10, 2014

Circle of Light

When I am faced with challenges, or I'm afraid, either for myself or a loved one, I often close my eyes and imagine all my loved ones who have passed forming a circle around me or my loved one. As Willa left for her first long road trip, 3 hours yesterday and 3 hours today, I often paused throughout the day and imagined them: her grandmother Marion, her grandfather (my dad) Bob, her other grandmother (my stepmother Nancy), my ex-husband Jay, her great grandmother Asch (Matt's grandmother), all holding hands around her spirit as she drove, and safely reached her destination. I thanked them for their presence, and I thanked them for the influence they've had on my life, and on Willa's even though she may not be aware of it. This is comforting to me, and it's an exercise in gratitude as well. As time goes on, I will reach out to them again, usually under the stars late at night, and ask them to bless both my daughters' lives, help them defeat obstacles, find love, work for the good, and to keep them healthy.

June 9, 2014

Empty nest!

I thought that when Willa left for college last year that I was an official empty nester. It took some getting used to, and we missed her, but Matt and I also have really enjoyed getting back to "just the two of us." But today is the real day that she flies from the nest. Why is this different? She's leaving on her own. After years of ambivalence towards driving, a boyfriend in New York and a job at a summer camp have inspired her to get behind the wheel much more seriously. And today she'll leave on her very first long solo drive, first to Riley's in Clifton Park, and then on to her summer job at Camp Schodeck in Nassau.

It's strange to imagine that this girl, who we've encouraged to go from wiggling around in her crib to crawling, from crawling to walking, and then all the other things beyond, is going to get in her car and pretty much drive out of the life we've had for almost 20 years. When we took her to school last August, we suspected she wouldn't want to be home in the summer - there's just not that much for her here in Berkeley Springs - no jobs, no real friends to hang out. She really seems to enjoy being with us, and that makes me so happy, but I know that's not enough.

So today, and tomorrow (since she's breaking the trip into 2 days) I'll be holding my breath until I hear that she's arrived safely. I'm trusting the Universe with this gift that it gave me 20 years ago to make sure her travels are trouble-free.

Now I have one daughter in the North, and another in the South. When Phoebe left the nest 19 years ago, it didn't seem as traumatic. I remember crying the whole way home from driving her to Philadelphia, yes. But I had another daughter and a full-time job to distract me! Phoebe was also a lot more independent by nature; even as a baby she would play contentedly by herself. I had no doubt that she would kick ass at school, and when she told me she was moving to New York City, I had no doubt that she would make it her own (even when she moved to the Bronx for a brief period!) Willa was just the opposite; she was one of those children who cried forlornly when left at the day care. So sometimes it's hard for me to imagine she's out there on her own! My happiest times are when I have them both with me, as it was just a couple of weeks ago. I know that the times like those are precious and even rare now; we will celebrate at holidays, and mourn together at the sad times. But it will most likely be on a "visiting" basis; time will be always be finite and planned. I hope they will always look forward to being home, and find their trips here to be restorative and relaxing. I want their visits home to reflect how much I love and treasure them. They are the best thing I've ever done, the best features of my life.

So, fly, little bird, fly! But don't forget your GPS!