Little Stories (aka, Blog)

Dear Friends,

Thanks for reading!  The early blogs here were previously published at the Circle of Life Caregiver Cooperative website and on a blogspot website.  Beginning in March 2013, I plan to post here weekly, to share news with my readers about my writing and publishing efforts, and the rest of my life (caregiving etc).  My writing exercise is 500 words per entry, in the spirit of an old tradition, letters to friends and family.

love, atr

Living With Myself

Linda age about 5So much is new with me now that I almost don’t know myself, but certainly I am in love with the stranger I seem to be. In the process of getting to know her, I am rediscovering old parts of myself.

People can’t help noticing my happiness. Friends say I seem stronger, more sure of myself, and also more calm, alive, funny. I’ve been on an invisible heroic journey over the past four years, with human storms, floods, and famines, and now I am safe, home. Stories to be told, in good time. In our culture, we tend to think that the youth are the ones who have adventures, those years crammed with change and growth. Working with elders, I’ve seen otherwise, and given the past two years of my life, I again deny that ageist myth.

So, my mother lives in town, very happy at her Assisted Living place. I have a repeating conversation with acquaintances, and am trying to learn my socially sanctioned lines. They approve of my new happiness. Then, they ask about my mother. When I say she is also happy, they are thrilled, assuming this increases my joy. But, here’s the thing: if she’s not happy, that’s her problem. I don’t care. This is the truth I try to bite back. This is what my mother has been saying to me, about my happiness, as long as I can remember.

ATR hair and puppyThe other thing my friends seem to need to talk about lately is my hair. They’ve known me for fifteen years of puff and curls, short thick layers. What have I done to it? For once, nothing.

I’ve been digging through old photos.  I am posting two of them in this blog. My natural hair, forty years ago, and now. And the girl child, laughing, surely at my funny father. She is rare in my captured childhood images, but she’s alive now, loose in my soul, ready to take on the next thirty years.


Free Speech and Ghosts

Hanna and Will

Hanna and Will

I have never lived alone without a dog. Without people, often enough, and I’m loving it now, as usual. I’ve only been dogless while living with other folks. Solo doglessness turns out to be a painful mixed bag. Freedom, travel plans! Wagging dog kiss deprivations. No one to pretend to be talking to while thinking out loud. Meanwhile, I’ve been talking to myself, for months now, since I babbled in my cave. Now, in every room of this house– blab, blab, all the time. Sadly, it dawns on me that my voice has no limitations; I can shout and scream, laugh and cry, as loud and long as I like, without worrying about worrying my canine protector. FREEDOM!

I talk to myself, to the Goddess, to the stuffed elephants, to the blankets and chairs, to my precious ghosts, fictions, and obsessions. I talk to “stevie,” which turns out to be the name for my phone, derived from hours of listening to Steve Forbert songs and having wonderful fun ya-ya conversations with the person I imagine this sweet brilliant singer to be.

I listen to myself, and laugh to notice that I say, when delighted or surprised, “Oh mein Gott, shone dogge”… or however one spells “oh my god; good dog!” in German. This comes from a long ago old lady ghost of mine, and the dear ghost dog she loved. Edith and Hanna. I am not alone.

PS:  Dog-lover video, Steve singing, song link below. Tech experiment.  Someone needs to teach me how to buy music for stevie to play off net.

My Seaside Brown-Eyed Girl – Steve Forbert

A New Life

Living (WRITING!) in my liviing room!Singing loud, and dancing in my house! Pounding my Goddess drum, opening all the windows. Eating, sleeping, and bathing on my own schedule. Took mother to her new home on Monday. Came home and moved furniture for four hours. At eight pm Tues, I spontaneously called to the spirits, hollering the names of all my dead beloveds, yelling hard enough to sink my voice into the walls. A profound moment last night, looking at my new bedroom, the bed made with Will’s brown blanket, and his two favorite little old tables flanking it, his ghost whispering in my ear.   “We’re home now.”

February: Freedom Month

liveBig changes in my life, including slowly starting this blog again. I’m going to write shorter blog pieces. It’s a writing exercise, which I love. Plus, the latest common wisdom is that people, the “public”, whoever that is, won’t read long stuff. That bodes not well for my novels in progress, so I’d rather not believe that quite yet.  Pictures though?  People like pictures.  That’s not enough to change me from writer to photographer.  But other big changes are in the works.

My mother is moving to an assisted living place in February. That’s four days, five nights, left for her in this “assisted living” we call “our house.” My cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry and errand chores will be taken over by the crew at the new “Place.”  We’ve already found fun old friends there, including the cook! Ma’s safety will no longer be the hinge-pin of my schedules/plans. I can travel or hermit, as I please. The Ma is happy; she expects to enjoy the companionship of her peers. She’ll have people to play bridge with. I will be free.

So, congratulations to us, the Ma and me, on making this big peaceful shift. The timing is perfect, and the details are going quite smoothly, $$ gambles aside. Thanks to everyone who has been cheering us on, holding doors open, and propping me up here and there.   Stay tuned; anything is possible from here. I am breathing new air.

State of the Turtle

Dear Riverchild Friends — the state of the turtle: (Alice Turtle Robb)

Blogging again. Now! okay, good. I stopped in May, thinking it would be a brief rest. A breath.

Then, life hit like an avalanche. My rock girl friend moved away and had a mental breakdown for a while, again. So we fought all summer, like we always do in the crazy times, and by now we’ve made up, again, as we always do. In retrospect, I see that life started slipping sideways that spring night she and I worked until 3 in the morning, two 60-ish women loading her whole disheveled senior high-rise apartment into the rental truck. Pushing through exhaustion to what was, at the time, a rush, feeling young and strong there among her elder neighbors. When you’ve known someone since you were thirteen, you can be young with them. The other tenants, especially the guys, apologized for not helping. They advised, geezer-style.

So, the last half of 2015 was that kind of bad storm – my dog died, and there were hard elder friend losses, including my dog’s best pal. Also, I was ill. Gall bladder surgery. One of my sisters had a big life heartache, my heart all with her. Large difficult decisions in my faith and work communities required big commitments of head and heart, time and energy. My mother’s health continues to be unpredictable, but she is well enough to move to an assisted living community where more of her social and emotional needs can be met. This will allow me to freely occupy and open my home, which will help me to meet my basic emotional and practical needs.

In May, I was saying “I live with my mother.” Or, “she lives with me. We live together.”

Today, having caught my breath, I say “I share a house with my mother.” To you, dear Riverchild folk, I will add “I live in my cave.” Being a cohabitant family caregiver has ruined my friendship with my mother. Figuring that out was a roller coaster. Now, I recognize it as something I’ve often seen in other families in my twenty years as a professional caregiver. I can’t believe how hard this was to see. I have helped people with these things forever, but I could not help myself. I tried adding a housemate; this was a temporary improvement but eventually just illuminated and aggravated the problems to a breaking point. Living separately, I suspect she and I will become friends again, (instead of me feeling, as I said to a friend recently, “like her fucking maid.”)

BLESSINGS upon all of you personally present to carry me through that! I should say, through this, so far. Stand by, PLEASE.

So, that was 2015 – a wild exploding spiral of time, up and down and knots and cuts. At some point when I got dead-down lost, I was reminded of the practice of centering. Turtling in. I’ve renewed one of my practices from the 1900’s, the Friday peace vigil. It is my worship. And, now I mostly live in a space in my garage that is sweetly similar to how I lived in my bus, parked near shared houses. I have my little writing cave, space heaters and a microwave, rain on a metal roof, a cool dark room, my best fit bed. Bliss enough for now.

my girl cave

my girl cave

Bottom line, I’ve been having a tough time, but, all is well, BECAUSE I AM WRITING!! Wrote a new story. I might post it here. Working gloriously on the Nessa Allen comedian novel, again, yes, but wow, it is roaring! This time around, it’s kind of like doing improv, it is creating itself. Yes, and! my writer friends are perfect.

More, later. I’ve missed blogging! I need to redesign the website. I have stories to push this direction. For example, re-discovering the musician song-writer Steve Forbert.   “All ears may listen for free.”  And, all eyes may read, on me.  Truth. It’s an artist thing.  Welcome aboard, again.

Blog Gliding Toward a Rest

Soon, this set of blogs will hit #100, = 50,000 words and after that I think I will take some time off from blogging to get the rest of my life, writing and otherwise in order. Over two years ago, I took up this blogging thing, with some breaks and site changes. I still think this website will help me sell novels when they are ready. Soon, soon. So much other writing piled on my desk, and this blog has developed a few silly loose ends. Nothing like LOST (on TV), but a confused exploration, going down some goony sideroads.

A lot has happened over the past two years. Most significant to this post is that this “letter home” thinking has become a habit for me, and I will be back – Hozier, still amusing me, although he and Ms Nin seem to interest no one else – no comments or “likes” on the Facebook. The internet is so fickle. The website stats tell me there are readers. 113 one week; I was thrilled! So far all friendly, much less scary than I thought “social media” would be. I suspect this is because I’m still sitting on the beach and the party’s in the water, tweeting, following, hash-tagging. I’m not ready to jump into that pool with my whole body yet. I prefer real water. (Coolish water, natural, dark, me naked, to be heavenly, but then, that whole road is one of my loose ends – decorum. So not my style, but a public writing challenge to be puzzled out.)

A lot happening in my life. Increasing work with Circle of Life, now Board Chair again. Still have a caregiving load. Regular clients, Fri-Wed, about fifteen hours a week, plus about two hours a day with my housemate mother. Meetings with other writers almost weekly, sharing work in progress. My Quaker writing committee is in crucial stage, so we’ll meet a lot over the next six months, which means some nice travels and a lot more writing. And, yes, I’m still writing novels and reading old journals. My Alzheimer’s work memoir joggles in my mind, all along, all along, there’s poetry there. Oh, and summer’s coming, gardens, mowing, swimming! It’s a good life.

This is only a warning… tapping the brakes, slowing down. I’ll probably stop posting sometime this summer. I’ll be re-assessing the purpose and methods for this whole blogging project. Maybe give up my 500 word game. But I like it. Meanwhile, I don’t think I’ll quit writing these pieces so much as take some time, organize my weird knapsack of topics, prepare a backlog for when I start up again. When I travel, writing home (or to some future me) has always been a major part of the journey. I’m more at home than I’ve ever been in this life; blogging has replaced that writing home pleasure/tool and I’m sending my home thoughts/adventures out, traveling to you, whoever, wherever, whenever. I’m hooked; I’ll never want to give this up completely!

Mirrors, Imagined (reflecting Anais Nin & Hozier)

ANin and HozierPeople seem to admire in others traits that they already prize in themselves. If I get my hair shorn or permed, the short-haired ladies will praise the butchering and the curly-headed will admire the frizz. People who rave over purple clothing often wear it. If you like the same foods, books, music, or recreational habits as me, you must be a wonderful person. This goes to the heart: I have enormous affection and respect for my fellow writers. If you care for an aging parent, or work as a professional caregiver, you’re in my mirror, even on the days when we’re too overwhelmed to notice those shiny glimpses of one another. “I’m so tired, my blood feels like it’s full of lead,” said one of my nursing aide friends recently. Oh, honey, you dance on magic feet, on my mind’s bright stage.

The musician Hozier has a great line – honey, you’re familiar, like my mirror, years ago. That’s what we crave.   We can build a powerful idea of someone from the air they pass through. Electing strange perfections in any stranger I choose… Hozier’s poetry also speaks of being freshly disowned, in some frozen devotion. Nothing less than my hard-won maturity gives me a clean window view of Andrew Hozier-Byrne. 6’5”, Irish, 25 years old. I love the music, the voice, the words, but this musician-boy isn’t real in my world. The fuzzy glow in the mirror is nostalgia — forty years ago, I found men of 25 alluringly mature. Another blurry shape on that silvery glass, me, already thirty-six when this sweet Irish baby was born. Yet, here I am, reflecting this artist’s bright light, adding shadows to the walls of the cave.

I’m so happy in my cave lately. Anais Nin (1902-1977) has returned. I pick up her diary at age 53, when I was a baby. Anais mirrors Hozier; I hang between them, cradled in looking-glass infinity.   Anais Nin: “My image of others has gone through a thousand transformations, from idealization to total rejection, to re-creation and rescue of a totally new self… The theme of images. How one must struggle against this creation and invention of others, to listen to them attentively, let them state their own case, weigh and balance the impressions. Otherwise this invention takes over, or projection. We are like sculptors, constantly carving out of others the image we long for, need, love, or desire….“

Opening Ms Nin’s 1955 diary, I wanted her to guide me through my confusing crone life. She begins: “After my experience with LSD…” I laughed so hard, never imagining that opening, nor her useful advice. She couldn’t write for a long time, Anais says. Her account of post-LSD weariness persuades me to postpone my own curiosity indefinitely. I appreciate good advice — a seasoned writer friend once called Twitter “a cloud of mosquitos,” and gratefully, I remain untweeted, unbitten. We tried the world, good God, it wasn’t for us. In my mirrors, Hozier sings, Anais dances. I listen, glowing with gratitude.

Obsession (Hozier)

I enjoy my obsessions.  Generally, I’m good at avoiding fixations that don’t fit my own oddball version of fun.  The Hozier music is becoming manageable now; fever’s broken, ah…    I think of old musical passions, planning to revisit them. Fred Small. John Prine. Steve Forbert. My dear Harry Chapin.

In my car this week, I’ve actually turned off the Hozier CD and listened to the usual radio station junk, knowing Hozier was just one button push away. It’s always a relief with infatuations, when they fade into the pace of life rather than taking over with their own powerful demand for brainwaves.  In this case, the music slithered in from the background, on the radio, gradually more often until the whole radio band was buzzing with it in that way you can hardly get away from.  I hate it when the current most popular noise hurts my ears.  I quickly craved, got to hunting for, the church song. Pushing buttons. Found it on-line, gave in to the thrill of obsessing.

For a month or two there, I couldn’t get enough of the take me to church, let me give you my life poetry/music/voice.  I was surprised, as I often am lately, with my sudden lust.  I wanted these sounds in my ear at every opportunity.  Then I found more songs… a dozen more…  bought the CD at Starbucks.  My life: work, sleep, write, listen to Hozier.

Understated warning: this music might not be for everyone.  Love, oh, yes;  kissing and holding, Honey, Babe, darling.  Sweet as cherry wine.  Truth, quaking.  But also, bar songs and corpses, poisons, scum, dirt, hanging, animals and gods.  Love and abuse, right out there.  Open hand or closed fist. Frozen devotion.  We could just kiss.

For me, songs are always first the lyrics, the poetry and stories, the language.  With Hozier’s songs, I’m still absorbing the nuances, sorting the overlapping stories, embroidering characters, having new thoughts.  Just like understanding a dream, you can hear a song from any point of view, imagine any meaning that fits your mind when the music steps in.  I’ve been listening long enough and close enough to have imagined at least 13×13 interpretations of the words. All this nestles nicely in my mind; the experience of holding it is enjoyable, in some way similar to reading a great long novel.

The music:  guitar, that acoustic sliding sound, always a good feeling for me. Otherwise, I don’t have the exact vocabulary to say why, but I LOVE IT!  It holds the lyrics well, escorts all the words in and gives them seats in my mind. I can sing along, even howl a bit on my own. Then, as happens with too-oft played pesky hits on the radio, little bits of song echo internally, dancing long after the power’s off. You can’t turn off that brain wiggle, and, usually, it’s annoying. Except, Honey, Babe… I’m loving my little Hozier hiccups, ear kisses for my quiet days.  Feels good, God, it feels good!

Making Love like Mossy Music

Back in the early Eighties, I fell, like Alice in Wonderland, through some hole in the cosmos and landed in a magical place, for a few perfect days. My portal was a sudden unplanned vacation/retreat, which I’ve been re-creating recently, geographically, for my novel. My fictional character and I share this point on the map, but our maps differ more than any choice of satellite or terrain views offered by Google, because she’s imaginary, whereas I could, and did, actually touch that sweet place on our earth.

North of Spokane, Washington, the small town of Chewaleh lies southwest of the Pend Orielle National Forest lands, below a mesh of mountain ridges, rivers, valleys. My sister’s husband and his friends had a contract that summer to salvage copper wire from disintegrating telegraph lines. They took their trucks and hoists, chain saws, and wenches off at dawn to do this manly work, while my sister and some of the other men’s wives kept a camp for them by a creek running through a forest up in those mountains. Somehow, I got invited to go spend a weekend with this salvage camp gang.

Scan_Pic0010I resist reading my journal from that time, not wanting to relive my day-to-day labors or my petty annoyances with the other women, their pets, their babies. Such grounded truths would muddy the magic of my memories, which are as crystal clear as the water in that cold mountain creek. I remember amazement at the forest, because it contained not just the usual pine trees and wildflowers of Eastern Washington, but also Douglas Firs, vine maples, and many soft ferns and mosses generally not found on the dry side of the Cascade Mountain Range. Inside these mountains, the western slope’s rain zone supported this mixed East-West vegetation. The blend of climates delighted me.

Remembering my baby nephew, running before he walked, lurching around the creek and the campfire, falling only on the soft forest soil, yet still breaking one of his new teeth. Remembering the fire, the early morning chill, the long wait for coffee that burnt our mouths. The sun sneaking in through mossy-limbed trees. From the Chewelah newspaper, we read aloud, police reports and want ads, making everything hilarious, just with the lilt of our voices.

An afternoon, a day off for the guys, and we emerged from the forest into a warm meadow, thick with tall summer grasses. Laying around, smoking, drinking, telling our stories like theater. Listening so well to one another. John, raised by a high school English teacher, had Shakespearean tales for us. We acted them out, surely wrong, but with great roars of laughter. The men had a band called “The Rank Strangers.” Their country-western bluegrass style was as thrilling and odd as the mossy desert fauna.

At sunset, falling into a sun-warmed tent with Paul, the mandolin player. Making love like music, like mossy laughter. John and Paul, now both dead, drugs and motorcycles. And yet, they’re magically alive, singing, in my memories.

Zoo in My Brain

zoo in brain“Where did you get the name ‘Turtle’?” For many years, whenever people asked me that, I loved to say “I took it from a defenseless reptile…”   The unspoken end to that answer is: “… in total silly ignorance.” Vaguely, I hoped that taking the name of such a slow moving creature would help me to be a bit less impetuous in my approach to life. That never worked. But, I’ve sure learned a lot about turtles since I made that hasty decision to call myself Turtle, back when I was 29.

Turtles live a long time, and are amusing when they get rolled over on their backs, all four legs in the air. I can hope for the first characteristic, and vouch for the second. During my years as Turtle, I met many other humans who admire and appreciate the turtle/tortoise.   Turtle lovers enjoy the Native American story of Turtle Island, and the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. We cringe at the current jokes about Mitch McConnell, the turtle-faced senator; that comedy insults the mythical wisdom of our actual stinky reptile friends. Myth and reality. It’s a perpetual problem, balancing the art mind against the facts of life.

The animal I most identify with, mythically, isn’t the turtle, but the wolf. Sharing an affinity for the canine spirit is so common as to almost be part of the human condition. The wild wolf, archetype of the dog, lives free in nature. My rooms are adorned with wolf paintings and photos – wolves crossing rivers, in dens, in deep forests and frozen tundra. Wolf pup pictures make me mushy, way more than a photo of anyone’s infant grandchild. The wolf is probably my totem animal, if there is some “choose one” rule to totem spirituality. My affection for wolves is purely mystical; I know I can’t cuddle with the wolf, like I do with my dog. I love the wildness of the wolf as much, or maybe even more than, her essential dogness.

And then, there’s the elephant. Powerful dreams and images of elephants have gradually wandered into my psyche over the past two years. One of my earliest blogs is about a pachyderm dream. The Elephant Child has befriended me. My sister, an elephant lover, has collected elephant-inspired artwork, so perhaps it is from her that the elephant spirit escaped, crossing my subconscious borders, where, honestly, it’s wreaking some much needed havoc with the wolves and terrapins. There’s a zoo in my brain.

Manipulating the differences between images and reality, spirit fantasies and earthy truth, is the great challenge and exquisite joy of living my artistic life. In the typical sense, I’m not an “animal lover.” Nothing misty-eyed or environmentally passionate about me. When it comes to flesh and blood creatures, including humans, I’m most interested in the stories. Pain and pleasure feed stories, at the expense of flesh. Meanwhile, my spirit sings, in a voice inspired from animal shadows. Turtle, Wolf, and Elephant inhabit me, all completely welcome.