Saturday, February 28, 2009

For Martine

This is a love letter to my sister #1, Martine, a way of sending you a squeeze so that you know, even from this distance, that your little hand is always in mine.

* * * * *

This morning Laura began the practice by telling the story of her eyes. Ten years ago, her retinas detached and she was blind for 5 months. Throughout that period of blindness, she wished and wished to see the love in her mother's face, to see color, to see the beauty of the world around us. The surgery that she had to restore her vision has left her with lingering pain which, at its most acute, serves as a constant reminder of the blessing of her restored sight. It is so easy to take it for granted, and when her pain is strongest, she remembers to appreciate and feel grateful and celebrate.

The dark reminds us of the light, underscores the brightness. When the heart is cloaked, she said, may we remember the graceful upturned foot of Shiva, showing us the way back up, the way out, the way back.

Of course, these were the words I most needed to hear this morning. And I thought you might appreciate them, too.

In the midst of this darkness we are in right now with Carla and her diagnosis and all of the other shit that has come with it, may we remember the good, the sweet, the beautiful of our life. May we use it to shine out all the brighter, to do more good and add more joy.

Out of this darkness I am celebrating my good fortune to have you as my sister, to feel the power of our kinship and deep gratitude to our parents.

Yes, this situation sucks and I wish it weren't true that we are now contemplating the loss of Carla from our lives so much sooner than we ever could have imagined. So let's sing *now*, let's not wait. Let's remember, through the haze of cancer and chemo and death, that we have is so very sweet.

All my love to you.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

World-class Worry Wart

I had the great good fortune of growing up in a three-story Victorian house that had survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. My parents bought this house in 1970 and slowly rehabilitated it away from its turn-of-the-century bordello interior and hideous stucco'ed exterior. For all its beauty and mostly-original charms, it was a pretty nerve-wracking place to grow up in and taught me at a young age to worry up a storm.

My room was on the third floor, under the eaves, with windows that looked down onto Liberty Street far below. It was cozy and fulfilled all my childhood fantasies of living in a garrett, spying the world from my crow's nest, hiding out in my hermit's cave. But in a strong wind or when the 24 rumbled up and down Castro in the days before the bus line was electrified, the windows rattled like mad. A little dwarf-size closet door under the eaves would also creakily and ever-so-slowly open on its own in that same strong wind, leaving me many a night wide-eyed and terrified, waiting for something to come crawling out. The stairs creaked and popped, sometimes when there was no one on them. Creepy cracked skylights scared the wits out of me more than once. And don't even get me started on the basement.

As a San Franciscan child, I was steeped in the lore of the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. I was constantly aware of it, thinking about how our house had survived it, and constantly waiting for the next Big One. Some well-meaning person had given me a reproduction of the front page of the San Francisco paper from the time of the Earthquake as a birthday gift when I was probably 9. In its cheap plastic frame, this stood in my room for years, filling my head with the details. April 18, 5:13 am. 3,000 dead. A fire that burned for four days, burning 2/3 of the city’s houses.

And here I was in our rickety wooden house that could barely withstand a gust of wind and would likely not be as lucky the next time.

Over and over, night after night, I’d mull the possibilities. When the Big One came, would the house crumble? If I was in my room, could I possibly survive, my third floor collapsing neatly on top of the other two?

Or would the house, instead, fall backward in one piece and slide down the steep hill toward 20th Street? That might be survivable, since I could crawl out the windows of my room and ride it out.

But what if somehow it toppled the other way, into Liberty Street? Could I move fast enough toward the back of the house, so that I could crawl out the windows and stand atop the rubble?

Would I be in my pajamas?

Where should I keep my valuables so I could grab them and how could I be sure to get Pancho, my beloved dog-brother, out with me?

And if the house survived, but the fire came, how would the firefighters get me out of those old windows? Would the ladders reach?

What if I had to jump?

It's no wonder I am so very good at worrying. Thanks to that house, I devoted countless sleepless childhood hours to honing my craft, so that the reflex to go mentally catastrophic is instantaneous and I can almost always - no matter the situation - find something to worry about. It's a source of endless amusement to my zen husband. But we'll see who's laughing when the roof caves in and I'm the one with the well-articulated escape plan. ;)

Huge Ackman

"Huge Ackman" is what Joe heard the first time he heard the name "Hugh Jackman." This cracks me up to no end, and reminds me how much I love errors and mispronunciation -- probably the kinder-gentler flip-side of my tendency to mentally red-pencil people as they speak. I think Joe *used* to think my tendency to giggle insanely about these things was mean -- but I hope he by now knows, twenty years later, that it's really just that these goofs tickle a part of my brain triggering the laugh response. Can't help it.

I still crack up about "anorka" (instead of "anorak," that one kills me), which happened at least 15 years ago if not longer, and am also fond of my own slip on the word "awry," which I pronounced "awe-ree" since that felt onomatopoeic -- the very word itself gone wrong.

And then of course there's all the classic weird English in translation, of which one of my favorites is not from a distant land, but from far away Mill Valley. On the menu at The Cantina, it is possible to order a dish which features "chunks offender pork."

Anyway, if you see me today and I'm snickering to myself, you'll know why. It's that damn Huge Ackman - just can't get him out of my head!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Unwittingly re-engineering my life?

As anyone who's talked to me (or been talked at by me) lately knows, I am fairly well a-buzz about the Biology course I'm taking. Except for some unhappiness with the lecturer, I am delighted with every aspect of the experience, with particular love for the laboratory component. What is not to love about examining predator-prey relationships with a handful of blue plastic beads and a glass bowl? Love it.

But what is occurring to me is that by signing up for this class, and devoting the hours and hours weekly to it that it requires, I think I may be, almost without meaning to, re-engineering my life.

This started for me, really, last Spring -- a year ago -- when I spent a few very happy months volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation hospital. I had to give it up as the ducklings got bigger, since there was no way I could leave my shift at 1pm, covered head to toe in duck muck, grab lunch on the fly, and head to the office. A little too smelly, and the time to run home, take a shower and change, made it ridiculous to then drive into the city. Anyway, I loved it, but had to give it up.

The time spent volunteering was dream-time. I was thoroughly happy, even when I was washing dishes or making owl food (cutting up mice with scissors) or folding endless piles of laundry -- utterly delighted to be in the company of animals, to be of assistance to them.

And I remembered: that that's what I always wanted when I was a kid, to be around animals. There was that long stretch of time with Medora, writing an endless report about cats [which proves what wonderful and weird kids we were: that we wrote a report for fun, on an animal that neither one of us could have since family allergies prevented it]; there was my fascination with the circus; there was Pancho, our dog, and Silky, my hamster; and there were dreams of being a vet.

I don't know exactly what will come of taking this Biology class. It may be enough to indulge this thirst to know more, to devote the time to acquiring this knowledge that unlocks the magic of how things work.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that it will be more than that. That this is the beginning of the un-folding of Something. And not knowing what exactly that Something is, just feeling it as a potential, makes it all the more fun. If nothing else, it is carrying out my new recipe for happiness: do more of what you love, less of what you don't. The process itself is so fulfilling that any outcome is just icing on the cake.

And who doesn't love cake?!