Thursday, July 30, 2009

Don't Be the Ricky

A new book called, “How Not to Act Old”, gives us a list of things to NOT do which includes not wearing flesh colored pantyhose and not leaving long voicemails on cell phones and not dangling reading glasses around your neck.

And this one: “Don’t be the Ricky.”

The author explains that every relationship has a Lucy and a Ricky. Lucy is wacky and fun and fun loving and adventurous and the Ricky is worried, controlled, chastising, cleaning up after and very grown up. At some point grown up crosses the line into being old.

Are you Lucy or Ricky? Can you do one Lucy thing today?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Making Love and Making Peace

Today is about coming to some understanding of sex and sensuality and aging. His and Mine and Ours. Wanting to have all the freedom my body demands. Also wanting to be as free as possible while simultaneously haunted by messages of Good-girl and being nice. Nice can kill sex and being good makes it hard to be bad. Talking helps. But something else is lingering underneath. Maybe it is regret. Maybe it is summer melancholy. Maybe it is desire for the impossibly perfect relationship and the impossibly perfect me.

Monday, July 27, 2009

La Traviata

Yesterday was opera day in this arts week. We saw La Traviata at Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown.

The perfect juxtaposition: Before going to the opera we spent the morning in Cooperstown spotting ball players and broadcasters as it was also Hall of Fame Induction Day. I’m a baseball fanatic and powerfully moved by the game but also by the people and books and history and the idea of baseball so it was such a pleasure to be pushed and shoved along the sidewalks crammed with dealers and fans and autograph hounds and collectors and scalpers and old, old ball players of whom passers by whispered, “Who is he?” and “Is he anybody?”

But then the opera. Famous and well known music, sung beautifully. It’s a heartbreaking story: A “Courtesan” or Traviata—wayward woman, struggling woman. She gives up one life for another only to sacrifice that new life for family values and a father’s peace. She is dying, she sings, he laments and they embrace and then she dies. Yes, it’s an opera: she dies singing beautifully.

I have been at many death beds and though I have not witnessed dying people singing I have seen and heard stranger things so opera works for me.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Art and Courage

This has been my arts week. New York City for museums and dance and an absolute miracle of good luck at the theater. I scored the last—the very last --ticket for the opening night of Boris Godunov –and it turned out that the very last ticket was in first row center. It was a guest or reviewer ticket and I got it. The play was wonderful, the staging stunning—being in the first row put me in the jury box for this production which turns on the audience at the end.

But the thing that really has stayed with me since coming home from New York is the courage of the artists I experienced this week. Declan Donnelan, who directed “Boris” got to take a rousing curtain call on opening night and I looked at this 55 year old man imagining the choices that he has made in the last 30 years: a career in theater, in theater that is not “popular”, to work on the edges and take creative and therefore financial and therefore personal risks. Are a curtain call and a great big review in the New York Times compensation? Does compensation even come into the equation? Does he feel courageous? Or creative? Or is that my imagining for him? My projection?

Where do we take courage in our lives? The bumper sticker advocates for daily acts of kindness. Maybe we need small acts of courage each day and kindness will take care of itself.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Web Help for Caregivers

One of the most stressful challenges for caregiving and cancer is dealing with the people who love you and the person you care for. Just updating everyone and talking to people about what is happening can be exhausting. If you have been there you know that, “Let me know what you need.” does not help. You are often so tired that you don’t think clearly or you’d say: get the dry-cleaning, make sure there is milk in the fridge, walk my dog, and let me cry. But you are too tired to be this direct and you feel uncomfortable asking for the small but actually most helpful things.

There are two free caregiving websites that offer caregivers a way to keep friends and family updated—and they are yours only not public. These sites have a calendar device so your team can see what is happening and the list of needs can be posted and assigned thru the websites. Here is the trick: If you are the primary caregiver do not be the host of the site. Pick one competent helper and you talk to them and them only. They will post the needs list and the calendar. It’s human nature but it’s often easier for someone to say “Max needs milk once a week” rather than “I need milk”. I know we are supposed to be able to ask for what we need, but hey this is CancerLand, when we leave here we can all go to therapy and assertiveness workshops in our free time.

The websites to check out are:

Monday, July 20, 2009

No Saints in CancerLand

Yesterday I gave a class for caregivers. The one thing I told them and that I am adamant about is this: You must never allow anyone to call you a saint.
Saint and all of its companions: selfless, good, wonderful and other praiseworthy words are traps for caregivers. Yes, we know what people mean when they say words like that but it’s a trap. If you are a caregiver and someone says, “You are a saint”, you must snap and bark and hiss and slap and say “No”. You must say “I’m no saint; in fact, I’m a real bitch sometimes.”

The danger to taking in those well-meaning words is that soon—sooner than you’d think—you start to feel like you should be good and you should be a saint and that means that the anger, the sadness, the inequity and most critically, the resentment will get pushed below the surface. When that happens you lose yourself—and in fact, become a not very good caregiver because your most creative energy is used up in keeping the truth hidden from yourself.

The best caregivers can say they are angry, resentful, hurt and –the biggie—that they wish caregiving was over. Sometimes “over” means their person gets well and sometimes “over” means their person dies. Wishing for it to be over is not unloving and it is not uncaring; it’s just a real, honest feeling for a human being stressed to the max.

For years I cared for my brothers. One was dying of ALS and one was dying of Anti-Trypsin Disorder. Two horrible diseases. Some people in my life said all the “saint” “good” and “wonderful” words. I survived because I had two people who could hear my truth. I had one person to whom-- when my brothers care was especially hard—I could say, “If he doesn’t die soon I’m gonna kill him.” That friend also knew that I cried myself to and from Pittsburgh every weekend and who knew the devastation of losing my big brothers. But my sanity was saved by being able to say the truth of the moment in the moment.

If you are a caregiver you must find someone like that in your life or online. A place you can say, “I am no saint”. and “This sucks.”

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cancer Caregiver Redux

A year later and I am walloped by unexpected resentment. I am remembering last July and how everyday was exhausting from taking care of him, all the household needs and work. He was lost in a fog of chemo and exhaustion. I had no partner and no comfort. But people all around me were praising me and saying wonderful things and I bought in.

I realized this week that I was making a deal and I didn’t even know I was doing it. I thought this summer would be mine; that he would be so appreciative that he’d say “Hey honey, this is your summer, lets make this one good for you.” Wrong. Surprise. The unspoken deals and even the unconscious deal I had made within myself. This summer is hard too and no one is giving me roses or a break.

Time to grow up: No one is going to take care of me but me. Makes me sad and the resentment is there, but better to face this than live is a pond of resentful expectation.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Jealousy and the Other Woman

“The girl wants the mother and feels shame with her jealousy for wanting the mother. The father is the fulcrum in the triangle of the girl reaching for her mother.”

--from The Mermaid and the Minotaur

I found this in a file dated 1996. I was struggling with jealousy in some relationship then and trying to understand it. What is striking about this idea is that it explains something I have felt and been unable to articulate and that is the complexity of jealousy for women. Women’s jealousy about another woman gets confusing because there is an element of desire for the other woman even as we wish to kick her out. A woman not only wants her man to give up or quit the other woman but she also wants the other woman. This explains how anger gets misdirected in infidelity and affairs. It explains the obsession with “her”. There is a taboo being activated and some dark homoerotic lust/revulsion pushing up from down deep in the archetypes.

I have felt this before and I have been the object of this quality coming from other women’s jealousy toward me. I have certainly felt this confusion about John’s ex-wife, and I have been ashamed of these feelings in myself.

We are not simple creatures and so it means we must—and I must—be gentle and self-forgiving.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Taking a Risk

The past week has been good. Travels and reading and art. And fear. Fears rise up again and push me and pull me. It is cancer and death and money and other women and the story in my imagination always has the same ending: I am alone. Years of therapy have taught me that I come by this fear honestly. There were huge and horrible abandonments in my early life. But while I can chronicle them they have left scars and bad emotional habits. One is scaring myself to death on a regular basis.

But this week something new. Risk taking by going toward John and not away from him. Risk taking by going toward intimacy rather than girding myself from it. Risk taking by letting him in—bit by bit—on the fears and fantasies that make being me a daily challenge.

I have a new idea. This vulnerability-and it is that—is not a concession of weakness or something I give over to him, but a strength in me and an acceptance of the woman I am who has survived so much and who still wants to give and receive love.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Lessons from Drumming

In 1994 until 1996 I studied African dance and had the opportunity to dance with live drummers. It is the best way to dance—feeling the percussion as it enters the body not just the ears.

In my notes from 1994 I found this note to myself that I wrote down after an African dance class at Omega Institute. It says:

Listen for the beat under the beat.
Listen for the break—for the signs and signals that tell you to change or to stop what you are doing.

There is a dance lesson for the heart, for the lover and for making choices in a relationship.