Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Rigorous Introspection (or "I'm Just Like Them...sort of."

During George W. Bush's presidency, I and others of the same political persuasion would be having a conversation about some political event or administration position. Sooner or later someone would pose some variation of the following question:

"How can someone who has

a) lost a job while CEOs plundered 
b) found himself with no health insurance and ended up paying through the nose for private or "risk pool" insurance
c) living on a fixed income with high cost of whatever
d) been forced to work 2 or 3 part-time jobs with no benefits thanks to
the corporate trend of eliminating full-time jobs.
e) some combination of the above

possibly vote for Bush?"

We asked a variant of the question during the last election: "How can someone whose life has been decimated by Republican policy even consider voting for McCain?"

Now I think I know the answer, and it isn't pretty.

During the year or so leading up to the election, I was a passionate constant consumer of political writing.  I paid attention and spent countless hours informing myself.

But ever since the inauguration my consumption of such media has dropped by about 75%. 

At first I thought I had political burnout or a simply too much on my plate, but now I'm investigating an unflattering possibility:

Could I be a blind follower, too?

I have little interest in following issues these days. I no  longer read Huffington Post, Daily Kos, or Wonkette three times a day.  I no longer watch CNN during my time in the kitchen. I no longer read the newspaper regularly.

I am, under this hypothesis, exactly like the individuals on the right I used to castigate.

So I want to ask for your help. 

Will you let me know, in the comments if you (as a conservative) are now consuming more political media or if you (as a liberal) are consuming less?

Please throw your virtual two cents' worth into the fray.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Suitcase Central

I'm busy packing for a trip to West Virginia, home of Taylor Books and Ellen's Ice Cream and very dear friends.

Post may be few and far between, but I'll check in when I arrive. We're taking Young Girl to visit her BFF. Hope for some snow, okay?

For those who've asked, my mom is doing much better now that her docs have reintroduced steroids to reduce the inflammation around the tumors in her brain. Her aphasia is about 80% improved, as are her balance and handwriting. It's not a cure but it's a good management strategy.

Here's to safe travels.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Mea Culpa - Comments Encouraged

What I feared when I revealed my identity has happened.

Someone, mentioned during my years of anonymity, has expressed dissatisfaction with his or her portrayal.

During those years, the blog was a protected outlet. When I joined Lithia Writers Collective I needed to link my name to this blog for administrative reasons. I thought I'd "scrubbed" any significant identifying references to others; apparently I did not.

Over the next few days, I will endeavor to do so.  If you feel that I've have portrayed you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, please let me know ( ) or feel free to comment on the post in question.

Initial responsibility for the words on this forum lies with me. But only I know my intentions. Final responsibility lies with those who read. While I never bought into Reader Response Criticism, all readers shape their interpretations through their own experiences. I hope readers will remember that I mean no one harm.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Buddha Blanket Update (or "Planning to Fail")

I've resolutely decided to fail at knitting. 

What I needed to do, I decided, was just to knit, over and over and over again without thinking about pattern.

Big lap throw, I thought.

At the hobby store, I bought several skeins of the nobbliest yarn I could find, with colors that take me immediately to Lake Tahoe. I selected long needles, bigger than any I had at home. 

While sitting with my mother, I cast on 125 (more or less) stitches. And then I began with abandon. 

Sometimes the needle went through the nobbles instead of the loop. "Big Whoop," I told myself. Sometimes two stitched popped off instead of one. "Whatever," I blithely considered.  But the stitches were still too tight, too crammed together on the rigid, limited needles.

So I took a big leap, returned to the hobby store, and picked up 36" circular needles. Now my stitches can breathe, and the throw is growing, helixing lushly like DNA on the curving cables.

What I've learned so far:

* Loose is better than tight.
* Holes can be repaired later or left alone as "character" and "texture."
* If you cover the sharp points when you stop, your work won't unravel.
* Soft, organic shapes make things easier.
* Knit when you want to, and stop when you don't... where ever you are.

Not bad lessons for life, either.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


My well is dry, so I offer this - blatantly stolen from
Miles Inada's blog.

'coz this is Sunday night and everybody's got to go to work.....

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Taking a Bow.....

It’s a dreary day here today: pending rain, gray skies, temperature in the upper sixties. Everything outside is saying stasis.

But inside, progress is underway.

Unfortunately the progress is the other team’s.

On Friday, my mother made the decision to stop treating her ovarian cancer. For almost three years, palliative chemotherapy, her otherwise excellent health, and the smart, compassionate care of her physician, Dr. Tammy Roque, have kept the tumors in stasis.

Gray and pending, no doubt, but still.

We began the new year with bad news. Her disease had eluded the poisonous chemotherapy and found a new home in her brain. It immediately set up six malignant outposts, each of which began to march.

A radiation oncologist ordered total brain radiation, hoping to shrink the tumors and avoid any new symptoms. While we can’t be sure, it does not appear to have been successful; no one can be certain if Mother’s worsening aphasia and balance are caused by tumor spread or continued inflammation from the treatment.

And uncertainty intruded elsewhere. The usual question - “Have you reached a point where the treatment is worse than the disease?” - was not really pertinent for her case. Mother had no idea what the disease felt like on its own. The treatment was, however, causing such fatigue and lowered blood counts that her doctor had to postpone two infusions. When the weakness and fatigue did not improve, we faced the decision point.

Only one drug remained in Dr. Roque’s arsenal, and while it held out a very small chance of effectiveness it also promised severe side effects, ones that would not be easy to bear in a weakened state.

We’ve always known the cancer would win. That was never in doubt. The time had come to concede.

So on Saturday, my mother transitioned from treatment to
hospice care.

Her focus can now be on living rather than fighting.

I’m not sure how frequently I’ll be posting over the next few weeks. I’ll be spending more time with my mother and my focus will narrow. I hope to just sit with her, listen to her thoughts if she chooses to share them, and be a calm presence in her life.

Please continue to check the blog, though, and send compassionate, comforting thoughts our way.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Things I'm Trying To Tell Myself Tonight...

The laundry can wait.

People who talk endlessly about themselves despite social clues to stop are lonely and need our kindness.

Scrubby brown winter woods can be beautiful.

Wind is pleasant.

Mistakes are fine.

My daughter’s selfishness is not evidence of irrevocable spoiling.

I’m not tired.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Buddha Blanket - Part Four (or "In Development")

I had a long talk with a wise young woman today about knitting and writing. She posed a wonderful question. “Have you ever set out to fail?” she asked.

“Well, I knew when I started knitting that I would make mistakes. Other than that, honestly, I’ve never done so consciously but unconsciously is another story altogether.”

And right then and there a nutshell opened; fear of failure and fear of success tumbled out.

I resolve today no longer to fear either with my writing.

I resolve today to be gentle with myself.

I resolve today to write to explore rather than to control.

For that last, we have editors.

I may finish the blanket or I may not, but I have finished this series of posts. Let’s move on.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Buddha Blanket - Part Three (or "Let's Just Scupper This Whole Idea")

This is supposed to the post in which I wax rhapsodic on the joys of knitting. I’m supposed to tell you that nothing has ever brought me out of my head and into the moment like the hypnotic rhythm of looping and pulling. I’m supposed to tell you how I’ve abandoned my perfectionism, my inner critic, and learned to love each stitch, even the dropped ones.

That was all true.

For a bit.

I spent several days knitting and unraveling. Knitting and unraveling. Knitting and unraveling.

Binding off.

Gathering courage to purl, and discovering it wasn’t difficult at all.


Starting again.


I completed two little rectangles my daughter called “knitties” and took to bed each night.

I was totally relaxed. Peaceful and Mindful.

Then I noticed I was actually producing something and that it actually looked like knitting done by a knitter.

So I choked.

The minute my project began to have the potential to become a scarf, a sweater, a doll blanket, the minute the process disappeared, the joy went away.

I began to tense, to worry that I would make a mistake many rows into the project, a mistake so egregious I would have to abandon the entire thing, beautiful yarn and all.

This is, of course, pertinent to both meditation and writing.

More to follow.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Buddha Blanket - Part Two

A certain kind of religiosity hangs in the air around here. It’s heavy. You can barely breathe sometimes. I’m not talking about sincere Christians, for whom I have the utmost respect. It seems to me that central to a sincere belief system is the willingness to relinquish certainty. That act is called faith. We cannot know, so we choose to believe.

Yes, the faith is fine. It’s the folks with all the certainty who are oppressive. To me, presuming to know that mind of God is tantamount to blasphemy.

But tell that to the Gospel-Of-Affluence-I’ve-Got-A-Ticket-To-Heaven-That-You-Don’t crowd. They know.

But I digress. Isn’t this supposed to be a post about a Buddha Blanket or some such?

I know exactly enough about Buddhism to be dangerous – or at least annoying to those who seek to understand it. But central to my understanding is the concept of impermanence (I could go on about parallels to Christianity, but I’ll save that for another post). Joy and sadness will both come and go, no matter how hard we strive to control them. Being mindful of the moment you are experiencing – not the one you lived five years ago or the one you’re going to live tomorrow - becomes your practice.

Pretty simple, but exceedingly difficult.

The inability to get out of my head and into the moment has plagued me for as long as I can remember. It’s impacted relationships and decision-making, self-censored prayer, and dogged every attempt to learn formal meditation. It bloomed into crippling perfectionism earlier in my life, but the practice of motherhood has helped with that.

But it’s hell on hobbies, particularly those involving needles.

Over the years, I’ve tried many kinds of needlework (my jaunt into counted cross-stitch in the early 80s is particularly painful to remember), each bringing tension and aggravation instead of relaxation. But I’ve begun to have some dexterity issues and thought that I might try the Holy Grail, the big one, the craft that intimidates me more than any other.

Knitting. Pretty simple, but exceedingly difficult.

More tomorrow…

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Buddha Blanket - Part One

Religion is a complicated matter for me.

My childhood could best be described as “Christian Unchurched.” My father did not trust organized religion, believing that it was often about money rather than God. We would sometimes attend on Easter.

Then came youth group, in my case Methodist Youth Fellowship (or, as it was commonly known, MYF, now UMYF). I was fortunately to receive my “religious education” from people with a liberal theological bent (not to mention the fact that all this happened before the rise of the religious right…politics and church just did not mix). Our youth directors (often interns from Perkins School of Theology at SMU) would say things like, “Oh don’t be ridiculous. Jonah wasn’t swallowed by an actual whale. Bible stories use narrative constructs to teach.” Obviously this is why I became an English major.

We put on anti-war musicals, painted banners that read, “War is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things,” did an experimental communion once with tacos and Dr. Pepper.

What can I say? It was the 70s.

This all left me with a healthy suspicion of supernatural claims…. such as the fact that an actual dead body would get up and walk around on earth. Needless to say, in today’s theopolitcal world – especially here in Texas – this position must be shared judiciously (just ask the folks at Nicaea about consequences).

While many of my friends have crossed over completely to atheism, I still have my doubts about the nonexistence of God. What to do?

Gnosticism helped.

But Buddhism makes so much sense and, as is increasingly clear to me, conflicts in no substantive way with either doubt or belief.

More on this topic tomorrow.